HK: You are a very famous composer in Japan. How did you come from there to write film music?

Joe Hisaishi: I began with composing the score for documentaries. But my first true experiment goes back to 1984, when I wrote the score for the film "Kaze no tani no Naushika" by Hayao Miyazaki.

HK: Do you spend time discussing the score with the director before composing the music?

Joe Hisaishi: The majority of the Japanese directors are very timid, they seldom tell me what they expect of / from me. But it is not a problem, the music does not rely on it. Instead of having a simple conversation with the directors, I try to understand the their intentions visually. What is important for me, is, that I understand the general idea behind a scene. This is why I allow the story to determining to the score. I read it with extreme attention. Initially, I try to decipher the script in order to understand what drives, even then intentions of, the writer. Then I try to capture the rhythm, the tempo of each director with whom I work. Finally, and only then, do I try to visualize the film.

HK: When did you meet Takeshi Kitano ?

Joe Hisaishi: It was in 1991, when I was in New York. I received a phone call of my manager who told me that Kitano wanted me to compose the music for his latest film, "A Scene at the Sea". I initially believed that it was a mistake. I had seen "Violent cop" and "Boiling Point" and I did not understand how my universe and his could be connected. When I returned to Tokyo, I saw "A Scene at the Sea" and I understood what he had in mind. The atmosphere of the film matched perfectly with the style of solo compositions, where I approached the work of John Cage and Philip Glass. Kitano did not want a overtly melodic score, but a minimalist and repetitive score. We were both very satisfied with the result.

HK: When you composed the music of "A Scene at the Sea", the film was already finished. That was not the case for "Sonatine"...

Joe Hisaishi: That is true. I was part of "Sonatine" right from the very start. I came along to the island of Shigaki, in the northern part of Japan, for the shooting. My approach to the composition thereby distorted. I wanted at all costs to capture the particular atmosphere of arriving to this isolated island and to revive this unforgettable experiment through my music.

HK: There was talk about surging relations between you and Kitano after this film.

Joe Hisaishi: That is untrue. There was no quarrel between us. The music for this next film, "Getting Any?", was based on Japanese popular songs and I did not have anything to do with it. When he was working on "Kids Return" after his terrible accident, our reunion was essential naturally. At that time, I was influenced a lot by the work of Deep Forest and the music Peter Gabriel had written for the film "Strange Days". I thus focussed a bit more on the rhythm.

HK: You have been also the composer used by Hayao Miyazaki for almost fifteen years. Did your relationship evolve with the number of films?

Joe Hisaishi: The basic process of our working relationships has not changed since 1984. I always make a "driver" before putting my music on the final sound track of film. On the basis of this driver, I discuss the pieces with Miyazaki who then decides to which scenes they should be used. What has changed is the pressure which weights our work because of the success of his films.

HK: Because of the international distribution of "Princess Mononoke", do you plan to compose music accessible for a Western audience?

Joe Hisaishi: Not really, not. The music of "Princess Mononoke" is very Japanese because the history of film itself is based on a Japanese legend. But this folk aspect does not prevent it from being universal. The original soundtrack of Mel Gibson?s "Braveheart" incorporates very exotic Irish melodies for an American public. But the composer knew how to blend these traditional instruments in with a modern orchestration. I did the same with "Princess Mononoke". The foundation is Japanese, but the orchestration is western inspiration.

HK : While working with Kitano and Miyazaki, you expressed different sides of your personality...

Joe Hisaishi: Absolutely. I became aware of it some time ago. In me there are two very different aspects. One is very emotional and humanistic, the other is minimalist and modern. While working with Miyazaki and Kitano, I balance my own artistic creation. I can express my sentimental side on a side and the approach of the modernity of the other. The majority of people represent this duality. "Hana-Bi" is a perfect example. The film illustrates the violent side of Kitano but also his sensitive side. It is good that these two aspects coexist in the same person. With my music, it is the same thing. It is natural for me to break the traditional musical structures while continuing an ideal of beauty rather than the traditional.

By St?phane Lacombe (HK Orient Extreme Cinema, Number 5, December 1997). All rights are reserved by St?phane Lacombe and HK Orient Extreme Cinema. The article is reproduced by Kitanotakeshi.com.