INTERVIEW: Liz and the Blue Bird Composer Kensuke Ushio

Anime Trending was given the incredible opportunity to interview Kensuke Ushio, the composer for Liz and the Blue Bird thanks to ELEVEN ARTS anime studio and for translating! Kensuke Ushio is also known for his work as composer for Devilman Crybaby and A Silent Voice. See what he has to say about his experience writing the music for the upcoming movie! 

Special EXCLUSIVE sneak peak of Liz and the Blue Bird at the end of the article, courtesy of ELEVEN ARTS. 


Anime Trending: When I heard Liz and the Blue Bird, I was blown away by the music, from the first beat to the very last. The music was simple yet masterful all at once, a complexity that I cannot possibly imagine on composing. For Liz and the Blue Bird, where music is a central theme to the story itself, what are the first steps you took to compose it?

Kensuke UshioThe very first step we took was to identify the main concept.  I sat down with director Yamada and started by having a thorough discussion on what type of film this is and what the core concept of this film is.  The concept cannot be described with just words and is difficult to explain, but if I were to put it in words, it would be something like “coprime”, “decalcomania” or “holding one’s breath.”  Once we had the concept, I started composing the music from a deductive approach.

 

In comparison to your other works, was composing for Liz and the Blue Bird easier or more difficult? And why did you feel that way?

Ushio-sanIt was both.  There were times when I encountered several challenges composing, and when I enjoyed composing after having to overcome those obstacles.  It may be that these difficulties and the joy of overcoming them are a result of the solid relationship I have with the director based on mutual trust.

 

What details in the music do you hope that the audience will catch onto when watching Liz and the Blue Bird?

Ushio-sanI actually do not want the audience to notice anything about the music.  This film is based on the school brass band, but essentially, I believe that does not have anything to do with the core theme of this film.  This film is a bittersweet story of the friendship between two teenage girls. It must go unnoticed that these delicate and private emotions are being watched by us audiences.  Music must secretly and inconspicuously hold its breath and simply become the surrounding atmosphere of the girls. In order to bring this to life, we recorded sound and noises at an actual high school (banging chairs, scraping windows, and even rubbing beakers together!), and scattered them across the score in low volume.  Please watch over the girls as if you are the window or the beaker in the classroom that are watching over them. The music in this film is a manifestation of yourself watching the film – there is absolutely no need to be conscious of it.

Story of Friendship

 

After you have completed the composition, what other steps are you part of in bringing the music to the final production of Liz and the Blue Bird?

Ushio-sanGenerally, it is mission accomplished as a film score composer when the completed music is delivered, but with films I have worked on with director Yamada, we work together to determine every detail of where there should be sound.  I brought my own equipment into the studio to place the music I composed onto the picture, arrange the music on the spot or even compose anew. Therefore, the music was on the final feature of the film at the same time I finished the composition.

 

One thing that I was amazed at was how precise the animation and the music fit together. From every footstep to every blink of the eye, it was almost as if the music and the animation was made at the exact same time. Did you have to compose music to the animation or was the animation made to fit itself into your music?

Hard work and teamwork creates an artistic masterpiece

Ushio-sanIn fact, the music and the animation was made at the exact same time.  This is done by following a very complex process.

First, director Yamada creates the storyboard.  Then, our team creates the animation frame by frame, as if it is a video file of a flip book. By looking at this animation, you know exactly what goes on in that entire sequence.  This is where I come in and obtain necessary sound effects to create music that fits into the animation. During this process, we change various timings of the animation according to how I feel the timing should be music wise (for example, the timing of eyes closing, walking and/or closing the shoe locker).  

The animation production team then calculates the timing of the movement on their end and provides me with feedback if there are any issues with the altered timings, and I make further arrangement to the music…  This process goes on and on. As a result, we have a final feature, which could be said that I created the timings of the animation, and that director Yamada composed the music.

 

In the soundtrack for Liz and the Blue Bird, lots of the non-symphonic tracks have a floaty, ethereal effect, especially the piano. What was the production process behind creating this effect and why the frequent use of the piano?

Ushio-sanThe use of the piano is my personal preference, but if there is a reason behind this, it is because most of the music in this project is played using a prepared piano.  (A piano that has its sound altered by placing objects like erasers and nails between the strings.)

I used the prepared piano as I personally think that a “school” where people of the same age in the same neighborhood gather is an extremely unique and prepared environment.  It’s almost like a joke. But it is very nostalgic and is a sound I truly love.

 

Before you started composing for film and TV anime, you wrote electronic music under the name agraph. How was the past experience influence Liz and the Blue Bird soundtrack?

Ushio-sanAs a solo artist, I believe my ideology, philosophical and technical parts have influenced my work.  My past experience as a solo artist was indispensable to be able to think based on a certain concept and acquiring the technique of delicate programming of electronic music.

Music built around a movie’s concept

Are there any closing statements you would like to say to the fans and moviegoers?

Ushio-sanI always feel anxious whenever a film is released overseas.  I cannot help but to imagine what if the film we created does not reach the hearts of the audience due to the difference in culture?  However, I do believe that the bittersweet struggle of adolescence in this film is most probably universal. I would be more than grateful if you think of being nice to your friend, or to email a long lost friend after watching this film.


Make sure to come out and support Ushio-san as well as Liz and the Blue Bird by seeing it in theaters! First opening in the United States start on November 9th. For more information please visit ELEVEN ARTS’ website here.

EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEAK COURTESY OF ELEVEN ARTS!

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