Michiru Oshima

Anthony Romero: First off, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Being a soundtrack fan, this is an immense honor to be able to talk to you about your growing work for Toho. Before I start, I would like to thank Emi Tago for acting as the liaison for this interview in terms of translating the questions and answers between us.

Now I want to jump right in with my first question, which is why you decided to get into a career in music?

Michiru Oshima: I've been in the music world since age 3, so it was quite natural for me.

Romero: After graduating from school, why did you end up going toward soundtrack work? What was it about this line of work that appealed to you as a composer?

Oshima: During my college years, I was a part time worker working at a commercial music production company and I just continued to be in the field of music for audiovisual content after that.

Romero: Growing up, were there any soundtracks that particularly inspired you and might continue to influence your work?

Oshima: A lot music from Disney. Also, the soundtracks from the [Akira] Kurosawa films.

Romero: Now, I would like to ask some questions very specific to your film scores for Toho. On that note: in 2000, you scored your first Godzilla film with Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (ゴジラ X メガギラス G消滅作戦). Can you describe a bit about how you were first approached for this project? Was it director Masaaki Tezuka (手塚昌明) that selected you for this role?

Oshima: Mr. Tezuka selected me after hearing my work from the soundtrack from the TV show Shomuni. He told me to express the scariness and the massiveness of Godzilla.

Godzilla vs. MegaguirusRomero: At the time you were selected to score Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (ゴジラ X メガギラス G消滅作戦), how many of the earlier Godzilla films had you seen?

Oshima: None. I wanted to bring out the originality, so I choose not to watch any. So, I was able to do create music without any preconceptions.

Romero: The 2000 Godzilla film was the first to feature your ominous, drum heavy Godzilla theme. The cue has become a fan favorite, and was used in both of your later Godzilla scores. Can you describe your thought process that went into creating it?

Oshima: I wanted to express the massiveness and the heaviness of Godzilla; the heavy low drum sound is the sound of Godzilla walking.

Romero: Speaking personally, your action themes are among my favorite. Capturing a sense of energy within music can be hard, but you did this very well in your Godzilla work. One of my favorite themes from your 2000 score was the self-titled "Godzilla X Megaguirus" (M40 - ゴジラ X メガギラス) track. It's a very unique theme, that fits the onscreen battle sequence perfectly. Do you recall creating this theme, and the elements that went into it?

Oshima: I've leaned that the music for the battle sequence are very important in Godzilla movies. Since there is no dialogue during the battle sequence, music becomes very, very important. Composing music requires quite a bit of time and since there is a lot of music, it was physically hard as well.

Copycat KillerRomero: In 2002, you scored the soundtrack for the film Copycat Killer (模倣犯).

This soundtrack includes a fairly odd theme by Takahashi Taku called "Modulation" which features English dialogue. Did you have any input on this theme?

Oshima: The music by Taku was there first, and I arranged the theme and used on some sections [of the score]. It was requested by the director.

Romero: While on the topic of Copycat Killer (模倣犯), the score features a lot of incredible piano work. The standout theme for many, though, is the self-titled track "Copycat Killer" (模倣犯) which also appears on the CD: Michiru Oshima - Cinema Music Best (大島ミチル・ベスト~映画音楽編~). The theme is sad and yet epic, and ranks as one of my favorite piano works. Do you recall scoring this theme or how you approached doing it?

Oshima: When I saw the movie for the first time, that theme came to my head. The scene where Tsutomu Yamazaki is standing was so sad, expressing the sorrow of human being, so I tried to match that emotion.

Romero: Moving back to Godzilla, 2002 also was the year that you scored Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (ゴジラ×メカゴジラ). Now this particular soundtrack was composed by the Moscow International Symphonic Orchestra. Can you relate a bit about this experience? Was this also the first time you had been to Moscow?

Oshima: I've done several recordings in Moscow prior to that film. Therefor, I knew quite well that particular orchestra, the conductor, and the studio.

Romero: One of my favorite themes from the 2002 Godzilla film is actually "Prime Minister's Recollection" (M4). This theme was placed in front of footage from earlier films, like Mothra (モスラ) and The War of the Gargantuas (フランケンシュタインの怪獣 サンダ対ガイラ). It feels like a pretty standard sequence, given it's created with stock footage, yet the music is this odd mixture of being both ominous and epic at the same time, evoking an emotion that makes the sequence incredibly memorable even though it's using older footage. Do you recall creating this theme, and if so can you give any insight into how you approached scoring it? Did you know it was going to be placed in front of footage from older films?

Oshima: No matter what type of music, I always want to create music that would touch the heart of people. I do the orchestration and the composing of the music at the same time, so by watching the scenes, I would select the instruments that would be suitable.

Romero: There are a lot of incredible musical motifs from the 2002 film, such as Running Wild (M16 + M17), Intense Fighting I (M25) and of course the new Mechagodzilla Theme. Is there a particular theme that stands out to you as one you are most proud of from the 2002 score?

Oshima: It would be the theme of Mechagodzilla. Using the triplet for the theme, the melody is to be the opposite from Godzilla['s theme]. Plus during the battle scenes between Godzilla and Mechagodzilla, both of these two themes are used.

Composing for this [theme] was quite difficult. The music was a fast tempo thus 1 bar is only about a second; so some of the pieces were like 200 bars of music.

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.Romero: In 2003 you were brought back to score the final Godzilla film of your career, which is Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (ゴジラ X モスラ X メカゴジラ: 東京SOS). The soundtrack also utilized the Moscow International Symphonic Orchestra. Was there anything different about working with them on this score versus the 2002 film?

Oshima: I believe that was the New Japan Philharmonic in Tokyo. It was a Japanese Orchestra and studio in Japan. The sound quality is little more delicate than of Moscow.

[Interviewer's note: huge blunder on my part on this question]

Romero: There are a few themes from this film, like the Main Title (M1), that feature minor choral work. Unless I'm mistaken, I believe you worked with a choir back in school. Was it nice to be able to work in the choir elements for music around the Mothra character?

Oshima: I think that was my "Symphony No.1" in which the music written for the "Kakure Kirishitan" (Hidden Christian in Japan) when I've used a choir during my school years. There is an element of Requiem and a prayer in Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (ゴジラ X モスラ X メカゴジラ: 東京SOS), so that was also a very important element to use it.

Romero: A few themes were composed for the 2003 film that where never used, such as the Beached Kamoebas (M9) motif. These sequences are played with no music in the final cut of the film. Was this a choice you were involved in, or was their decision to be cut done by someone else?

Oshima: That was decided during the final mix done by the director. I was not involved.

Romero: I would actually like to go outside of the Toho scores you did to briefly talk about the score for Toei's 1998 Pride: Moment of Destiny (プライド・運命の瞬間). A track related to this production is found on the CD: Michiru Oshima - Cinema Music Best (大島ミチル・ベスト~映画音楽編~). This track also ends with a swell to the music that sounds incredibly similar to the credits music for Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (ゴジラ×メカゴジラ). Was this intentional or coincidence?

Oshima: I love music that ends with a swell personally. I like the music with grand and powerful swell as if the orchestra is having a great time.

Bizan: The Mountain of Mother's LoveRomero: In 2007, you created the soundtrack for the film Bizan: The Mountain of Mother's Love (眉山 -びざん-). This score is very soothing, featuring a lot of string and piano work that makes it very pleasant to listen to. Can you describe your experience creating this score a bit?

Oshima: The story is about a mother and a daughter, so it would not be a grand scale type of music and I've tried to bring out the delicate changes of human emotions.

Romero: While on the topic of Bizan, do you prefer working on soundtracks that are more soothing in nature, or do you prefer working on those with action motifs, such as the Godzilla movies you scored?

Oshima: I love both!

Romero: Also in 2007, you scored the soundtrack for Tsubaki Sanjuro (椿三十郎). When you were crafting the score for this film, did you reference the soundtrack to the original 1962 film beforehand?

Oshima: I did listen to the original soundtrack since the director told me to do so, but I did not reference any.

Romero: Now, you have done quite a few soundtracks in your career at this stage. Does one stick out for you as a personal favorite from those you have created?

Oshima: Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and Shitsurakuen.

Romero: On a similar note, was there a soundtrack that you found particularly challenging to write? Maybe because of a time restraint or some other element?

Oshima: It would be the new production called Ertugrul which was released last year. I was requested by the director to use only one melodic theme and variations of that for the entire score.

Romero: On average, how long does it generally take you to create a movie's score?

Oshima: It would depend on the situation and also who the director is. The shortest time I had to work on was 3 days,. The longest one was 2 months, as the director was into very small details.

Romero: As a final question, I'm curious how much input do you have when a record label releases one of your soundtracks on CD? Are you consulted in terms of what themes you want included or how the work is presented?

Oshima: Most of the soundtracks are usually up to me. I decide the titles or sometimes I consult with others, but the Liner notes are always done by me.

Godzilla Against MechagodzillaRomero: In closing, would just like to thank you for all of your incredible work. I'm a huge soundtrack fan, and I doubt a month has gone by since 2003 that I haven't listened to at least one of your themes. In particular, it's hard for me to express how much I enjoy your soundtrack for Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (ゴジラ×メカゴジラ), which topped my favorite soundtrack list here.

Oshima: Thank you so much! I'm very glad that you have listened to my other music besides from the Godzilla movies.


Interview: Michiru Oshima (2016)


Michiru Oshima has been in the soundtrack industry since the mid-1980's after scoring her first animated series. Her career has been diverse, from music plays to video game scores, although she is best known for her theatrical film work. This includes movies such as Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) and Tsubaki Sanjuro (2007).

Date: 02/23/2016
Interviewer: Anthony Romero


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