The Overlap of Rei Kiriyama and Myself
In 2016, he contributed an illustration to Universal Studios Osaka's "Overkill Collaboration" celebrating the 15th anniversary of the park's opening, wrote an official theme song and drew an illustration for the Louvre's special exhibition "Louvre No. 9 ~Manga, the Ninth Art~", and worked with Yasutaka Nakata on the theme for the film Nanimono - indeed, Kenshi Yonezu has been putting his broad talents on full display.
And now, his first single of 2017 will be "orion," headed by a title song written as the ending theme for the anime March Comes In Like A Lion. With this song, Yonezu converts hidden feelings and raw emotion flowing deep within into music. Through the process of creating it, it seems he found much overlap between himself and the protagonist who dedicates his life to shogi, Rei Kiriyama.
Q. orion was created as an ending song for the anime March Comes In Like A Lion, based on the original manga by Chica Umino. Were you a reader of the manga?
A. Yes. The manga takes place in Tsukishima, Tokyo. As a matter of fact, I once lived in Tsukishima as well, and it was then that I started reading it. Just happened to see it at a convenience store. The scenes in the manga matched my own daily life, so I'd be like "oh, I've seen this river and this bridge!" Especially with things like that, it's always been a special manga to me.
Q. Did you read any of Umino's past works?
A. I liked Honey and Clover before that, so I remember that when I saw it in the store, I thought "oh, it's the H&C author's new manga." So I was very happy when I received this offer.
Q. Ah, I see. What kind of impression do you get from March Comes In Like A Lion?
A. While I could also say this about H&C, I thought it was a very detailed manga. There's a soft mood and elements of comedy, and it has a feel like it just earnestly glitters. But weaved between the glitter, there's also this dedication to expressing the finest subtleties of the mind's workings. So I felt it showed Umino's profoundly sincere sense of humanity.
Q. It's one of this manga's charms that you think "this is soothing and heartwarming" as you start to read, then find it's actually a really messy human drama. And I feel that comes through in your music as well.
A. Thank you very much. When I made "orion," I pictured the protagonist, Rei Kiriyama. Back when I read the manga, too, I felt there was a lot in common between me and Rei. That's why making this song was deeply significant to me.
Q. What sort of theme did you follow to make the song?
A. First of all, I thought about "what should I do if I'm making a theme song for an anime?" And since the story was already there from the beginning, I thought "okay, I'll hold up that story from underneath." To do that, I needed to re-examine my notions of March Comes In Like A Lion, and reconstruct it through my own filter. Doing this, making a song from Rei's standpoint, felt like the ideal thing to do to me. Given how Rei uses shogi to open up his world, I felt a lot of connections to myself making music. His humanity and perceptions felt somehow familiar... (laughs) To properly express the softness of the original and a kind of solidity, I needed to be an intermediary for Rei.
Q. Of course, you've made many songs from scratch using only your own imagination, but this song has a priorly-existing protagonist. How did you feel about that?
A. I made the song picturing Rei, but while it is him, I have to say it's also me. I can picture him, sure, but I'm obviously not Rei, so I don't know the truth of what he's thinking. The words that come out of his mouth are ultimately just my words. But that's totally natural, of course. So as far as "was it a difficult task," even just writing the lyrics was extremely difficult... which is to say, the same as usual.
Q. How about the composition? The strings are powerful, and just like the title, it made me want to look up at the stars on a cold winter night.
A. Thank you very much. As far as the season, I did decide to make it a wintery song. Winter has a dignified feel. And the air is dry, so you can see the stars well. When I started making the song, I thought "what exactly is the winter of my memories?" And the first thing that came to mind was looking to the sky as a kid and seeing some really pretty stars, and finding Orion among them. That glittering Orion was the first constellation I ever recognized. It was a really impactful moment for me, so it's stuck with me all this time. Thus, digging around in my head with the keyword "winter" made "Orion" come up right away, which became the motif I went with.
Q. Now the second track, Lullabye Goodbye, has a completely different style from "orion." It expresses splintered feelings and anger, and has an air of unrest.
A. This song really warrants explaining, because... well, it's rather bitter, isn't it. (laughs) It's not really about being angry, but... hmm, maybe just not trusting people. In fact, that's always been a fundamental driving force for me. There's a part of me that doesn't much trust other people. I don't want to be anyone's ally. By not allying with anyone, I want to be kind to everyone. Especially in the past, I've lived my life thinking that way... I feel like I'll trust people in order to not trust people, or not trust people in order to trust people. That's my basic theory. I made that "engine" for myself when I was a child.
Q. I see.
A. It definitely holds a strong influence even now, and part of me still uses it as energy to make music. Which is why after making "orion," I needed to make a song like this to even things out.
Q. So how do you feel about your balance between what you seek, what you want to make, and what you should make?
A. I'm moving sort of aimlessly in that regard. Maybe I should strike a balance, or maybe I shouldn't strike a balance. For instance, "orion" is a song for March Comes In Like A Lion. It's derived from that story, its characters, its art. There isn't much of what I personally want to do or my ego in there, and even if there were, it'd just be sneaking in where it can manage to sneak in. At least at present, I feel like I'm keeping a balance.
Q. I suppose so. In doing it this way, your music feels transitory, while also shining beautifully with intense emotion.
A. That's how music is able to easily move people. Sometimes the influence a 2-hour movie can have on your life, music can do in 5 minutes. But it's a very dangerous thing. I mean, there's tons of garbage music. Children will listen to that music and get deceived just like that. And in a way, I'm supporting this deceit. Right... so that's why you need to earnestly engage in childish deceit. It might sound awfully negative to talk about deceiving people, but I think that's just what music is.
Q. You have a point.
A. I always think this when I'm writing lyrics: "Poetic expressions and lies have a lot in common." I mean, fantasy is lies, isn't it? Making up a fantastical world sometimes highlights the vague reality we live in.
A. "Lying can save people." That's why I need to be really attuned to those lies. It's a serious duty I'm responsible for. It's like, say there were a god of music inside of me - if that god says "I want to go over there," I have to be ready to serve them with all my might in heading that way. I don't want it to sound frivolous, but I have a lot of affection for music. At least speaking for myself, I think I'll keep earnestly engaging in "childish deceit."