The Summer-Illuminating "Fireworks" Born of a Miraculous Meeting
DAOKO released her new single "Fireworks" on August 16th.
The title song of the single is the theme song to the animated film releasing August 18th, "Do You View Fireworks From Below, Or From the Side?" Kenshi Yonezu worked on the lyrics, the composition, and production, and the two of them sang it together as "DAOKO x Kenshi Yonezu." The film is based on the original work by Shunji Iwai, written by Hitoshi Ohne, directed by Akiyuki Shinbo - and produced by Genki Kawamura, who was apparently also the one who joined Kenshi Yonezu and DAOKO together. The single's coupling song is a DAOKO cover of the theme song for the original "Do You View Fireworks From Below, Or From the Side?" drama, "Forever Friends."
How did this song come to be? Natalie interviewed both creators and had them speak about what lies in the background of this composition.
— How did the two of you meet?
DAOKO: Yonezu-san came to one of my shows once.
Yonezu: First things first, Genki Kawamura invited me to DAOKO-chan's Akasaka Blitz solo concert. At the time, I believe there had been no talks about the movie, but that was a really good show.
DAOKO: But we weren't able to actually meet yet that day. Then this song got brought up, and that was when we really first met, basically.
Yonezu: After that show, Kawamura-san spoke to me about this movie. I liked Shunji Iwai's original a whole lot to begin with, so it felt like a bunch of puzzle pieces fitting into place.
— What were your impressions of one another before that, then? Let's start with DAOKO - how did you see Kenshi Yonezu?
DAOKO: I joined an indie label by way of posting to NicoNico Douga in middle school, so I knew of Yonezu-san back since he was there operating under the name Hachi. Especially since I didn't know a thing about music at the time, the whole Vocaloid thing was really fresh, music like I'd never heard before. So if I think hard about it, my musical roots lie in Vocaloid. It was a major influence. So I was really happy about this, too. Being able to work with someone who's such a big part of my own roots made me think "I'm glad to be in music."
— What was the impression you got from DAOKO, Yonezu-san? You said her show was really good, but what did you find appealing about it?
Yonezu: It's been about 4 or 5 years since I started to sing for myself, but I'm always getting irritated at my own voice, like "Why do I have a voice like this?" or "Can't I sing more eloquently than this?" To be frank, I hated my voice. That's gradually gotten better, but I still feel that way sometimes. And, at one such time, I saw her singing on stage, with a delicate, transient voice, the polar opposite of mine. I guess I felt "I'd like to sing with a voice like that." So even personally, I had a premonition of sorts that making a song for DAOKO-chan might let me express something new.
— When you were contacted about this film, "Do You View Fireworks From Below, Or From the Side?", how did it feel?
Yonezu: Well, as I said before, I liked the original. Kawamura-san was someone I worked with for Nanimono, and DAOKO-chan was someone I'd sort of been thinking about making a song with for a while. It felt like a bunch of scattered pieces locked into place all of a sudden. Sometimes things have just the right timing. In the flow of time, there are sometimes moments where you get convenient concurrences like that. It's unrelated to this song, but for instance, if it weren't for me being asked to make the theme song for Magical Mirai for Hatsune Miku's 10th anniversary, I don't think I could have made the song Sand Planet (under the name Hachi). I really think you need to catch those things and not let any slip away. I've always wanted to make things that represent the era. But the way eras change is awfully incidental, you know? I think when things just happen to come together just right, it can result in some interesting stuff.
— You said you liked the original that Shunji Iwai worked on, but what do you like about it?
Yonezu: I just like Shunji Iwai to begin with. Initially, it was the soundtrack to "All About Lily Chou-Chou," and from there I watched a bunch of films and read a bunch of novels.
— And DAOKO?
DAOKO: When I was in my first year of high school, I watched a double-feature of All About Lily Chou-Chou and Swallowtail, and was rather impacted by it. It was an emotional time of my life, and I was dealt a blow by their worldview, and came to follow Iwai-san's works. I rewatched the original for this, and was nostalgically reminded of things from elementary school, like the smell of summer.
— To make the song, where exactly did you start?
Yonezu: At first, I received the request to just do the song, and I was thinking to myself about what to make it. But afterward, I talked together with Kawamura-san and DAOKO-chan. That's where I started. What Kawamura-san was picturing wasn't so different from what I had imagined. I wanted it to be a ballad, emotional, and at least in my eyes, a song that condensed the sadness of summer. That's how that conversation ended up. Well, but it was a huge ordeal.
— I see. It's not simply that Yonezu-san made the song and DAOKO-san sang it, but from the first steps of making the song, it was you two and Kawamura-san.
DAOKO: That's right.
— Do you remember anything from that time, DAOKO?
DAOKO: Oh, yes. I also thought "I get it" when I heard Kawamura-san's idea for the song. But it was still a huge unknown, we'll say, what kind of song Yonezu-san would make from that discussion. See, there were a number of songs to "refer to." I was excited to see what sort of song he would make from that guidance.
— Yonezu, you said it was an ordeal. What about it?
Yonezu: In reality, if you don't count Vocaloid, I've rarely ever made a song for someone else to sing. Up to now, it was fine to just make the music for myself, so it was really very comfortable. But this time, someone with a different voice and different point of view would be singing my song. It was really difficult to even start figuring out how to compromise there. Naturally, she has a higher voice, so I couldn't just make it at a key that feels good to me. Her voice also has a different tone, so I went around and around figuring out how to make the best of a voice like that.
— What about the themes of the song?
Yonezu: Movie theme songs get heard by lots of people in a movie theater, so it's essential that they have the appropriate intensity. Thus, I didn't want it to be something self-satisfied or limited. From there, I thought "What makes something ubiquitous?", and "What exactly is the sadness of summer, really?" Listening to DAOKO-chan's songs over and over, I wondered in what place I could find all the various elements. Trying over and over and scrapping it when it felt wrong, I was finally able to arrive at my destination. It took a ton of time.
— DAOKO, what was your impression when you first heard Yonezu's composition?
DAOKO: There had been those "for reference" songs, but I thought this was not only a proper Yonezu-san song, but also the best of all the songs. Oh, and "it's summery!" (laughs)
— There's definitely a summer feel.
DAOKO: It's very summer! (laughs) You can just feel the blue sky and towering clouds...
Yonezu: Summer indeed. I think it became a poppy song.
— DAOKO, which parts did you really dedicate yourself to singing?
DAOKO: I decided to get up close to the story. I took on the feelings of Nazuna-san (a main character in the film), and pictured the things she was seeing as I sang. Here, I would express myself by way of singing - I thought it would be better for the film that I not think in reverse about "how to express the song."
Yonezu: I think that worked out really well. Singing with a voice that is, in a good way, "blank" gave it a more heartwrenching feel. I think "the days of youth" are defined by the people in them not noticing them. Those looking on see them sparkling, but the people within don't think they're sparkling at all. So rather than sing with a 100% understanding of like, the intentions with which this song was created, it's more emotional to sing it without any consideration for that. Like it's more poetic when you're not being poetic. I thought that was the kind of song this was, and once I explained that, she did it spot on.
DAOKO: I was singing rather emotionally during the demo stage, but they went "maybe you should sing a little more detached?" On top of that, I also had to express a wave of sorts that was pushing me along, so it wasn't easy. By not singing at the top of my voice, but like I'm in an indifferent lull, I think I helped make it a really heartwrenching song.
— This song has vocal parts for both Yonezu and DAOKO, as well as parts where you sing together. It ends up being a duet. What was the idea behind this?
Yonezu: It wasn't like that at first. Hey, why did it end up like that?
DAOKO: That was also Kawamura-san's design.
Yonezu: Right. At first, I thought there was no need for me to get in there. DAOKO-chan has a good voice, so I thought she could last 3 or 4 minutes easily, and heck, I had started this wanting to make a song like that. I was skeptical whether my voice really needed to play at the end of the movie, but as I carried on, I came to think that maybe it could work that way. I started to think about how I could make use of that.
— How did you feel about it, DAOKO?
DAOKO: I work as a rapper, so I've collaborated with men plenty of times in a "featuring" way, but I've never had a full-on duet like this before, so it was a fresh challenge. Still, ultimately, I think it really suits the movie. For instance, the lyrics also get you thinking about their connection to Nazuna-san or Norimichi-kun. There are things that the song is able to express because a man and a woman are singing it.
— Yes, you're right. Between DAOKO's parts and Yonezu's parts, it's like you're looking at the same thing, but maybe not. They both carry a similar fleeting sadness, but they're passing each other by. If this were a song sung by DAOKO in first person, I don't think it would be like that. But while Yonezu's voice comes in, and you sing together, the feeling that you're looking at different things made it more in line with the movie's themes.
Yonezu: I was definitely uneasy at first since our voices are completely different, but once I tried it, I found a comfortable spot. It fits a lot more nicely than I'd expected. In the end, it settled into a nice shape.
DAOKO: It really makes the lyrics resonate more deeply.
— Are there any parts in the lyrics to Fireworks you especially think are good?
DAOKO: If it's just phrases that follow the melody, then I really like the duet parts. But all of it is good. On the whole, the lyrics really paint a picture, so it was easy to imagine as I sang, and I think the words helped me at times.
Yonezu: I think you did great in the chorus. This is a bit technical, but starting with a plosive "pa" sound, it really feels like something popped open.
DAOKO: It's a really good-feeling song to sing. There's a synergy between the melody and lyrics, so I think the lyrics are based upon the melody.
— Especially the "with a pop, the fireworks" parts in the chorus and duet sections - the rhythm and melody there really supports the words.
DAOKO: Right. I felt like these were lyrics only Yonezu-san could write.
— A lot of the films Kawamura is involved in have compelling music. He's very aware of the role theme songs play.
Yonezu: Yes, I've thought the same thing seeing Kawamura-san's other productions. The music is given an important position. Of course, that's exactly what made this project so difficult.
DAOKO: Kawamura-san must really like music, I think. He digs up all these different songs, and is always checking on new ones, and goes to FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL ever year. I got the impression he was very fond of music.
— There's a cover of Forever Friends, the original drama's theme song, as the single's coupling song. What are your feelings about singing this song?
DAOKO: The scene where the song plays in the original is the most memorable to me. But it was my first time doing a cover, and there are some English lyrics in it, so it was a lot of new things to deal with. I sang it quite a lot, for nearly half a year. At first, I was pronouncing the English more like a native speaker. But ultimately, I dared to make it more like English a Japanese person would sing, trying to show my own voice and elements of myself. I think it might be because by singing it again and again, I was able to digest the song. It took quite a while before I could "make the song mine" in that way, so I'm rather emotionally attached.
— In the new film as well, the scene where Forever Friends plays, and lastly the scene where Fireworks plays, were very impactful.
DAOKO: Right. It had a really good flow to it, and it truly hit home. The theme song at the end makes for good closure, and I think it fulfills its role of encompassing the world of the film.
— Have the two of you seen the final movie? (This interview was done in late July.)
DAOKO: It wasn't complete yet, but I saw a private preview showing.
Yonezu: I haven't watched it yet. When making the song, I was able to see storyboards and concept illustrations, but that's all.
— DAOKO, what were your feelings upon seeing the movie?
DAOKO: It was more faithful to the original than I expected, but even so, I could see how the staff mixed in their own color. There's parts of the story and presentation that are made possible because of the lineup working on it, and I felt they really went for it. That was interesting. Also, there's a scene in a train where they suddenly go to a fairy-tale world, and it definitely felt like a very teenager thing to fantasize and go into another world in your head. It's a wild thing from out of the blue, but it felt like a fitting part of a teenage summer.
Yonezu: Even from the storyboards, I saw differences from the original, and an added sense of fantasy. It seemed they were really taking it further, and I was excited to see what it'd be like once it's done. So I'd really like to see it soon.