Tales from the Otaking: The Strife Between Ryuichi Sakamoto and the Staff of Royal Space Force

This is a follow-up to a claim made in a previous article about Ryuichi Sakamoto and his dislike of the music in Royal Space Force. To many, this comes as a surprise given that he was one of the composers that worked on this production, and his name was heavily used in the marketing of the film. On May 6, 2018, Toshio Okada addressed an item on his news feed that came out that same morning regarding this topic. Since this blog is about theoretical nostalgia, I’ve provided a translation below of the relevant section in this seminar so you can follow along like it’s a screening at a convention in the US circa the late 1980s. Bust out your KFC and let’s hear it from the Otaking himself.

[03:11]

Alright, onto the next item [1]. So the following news also came out this morning. During an interview with musician Ryuichi Sakamoto that took place in New York, he was asked about his work in anime films. Isao Takahata came up in the discussion.

[03:31]

“I wasn’t particularly pleased with the music for an anime film I worked on 35 years ago (so much so that he couldn’t even say the title). Currently I’m working on the music for a Tezuka Productions animated movie with Korean producers involved. This work is scheduled to be unveiled in the latter half of this year.” [2]

[03:48]

Reading further along, “statements he made afterwards revealed some shocking news: ‘actually I met with Takahata 2-3 years ago and was hired to produce some music for his next work. However, the music I composed was too serious and I was dismissed from the project.’ ” It says here that 2-3 years ago he was hired by Takahata so that would have been The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

[04:04]

Well actually, Princess Kaguya took a very long time to make, so it might have been The Red Turtle. I’m not sure. Either way, naturally the part that caught my attention was this statement: “I wasn’t particularly pleased with the music for an anime film I worked on 35 years ago.”

[04:19]

This addition in parentheses, “so much so that he couldn’t even say the title,” was written by the interviewer. This probably meant “during the interview in New York, I asked for clarification but he didn’t answer.” Ahhh… It’s kind of distressing to hear that. Of course, the referenced movie is the Gainax film Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise.

[04:39]

Regarding why it’s distressing for me, when we met with Sakamoto to discuss The Royal Space Force of Honnêamise, he was actually really enthusiastic. “So I want to do it kind of like this and kind of like that.” He would say this with immense zeal. He was also like this at the kick-off party to mark the official start of the sound production. These meetings would proceed so harmoniously.

[05:00]

At the time, our sponsor Bandai and the PR firm Yomiko Advertising Inc. would tell me “Okada, you shouldn’t take Sakamoto’s enthusiasm too seriously.” They also said something along the lines of “Sakamoto is very well known but his albums don’t sell. He just wants to use anime to sell his albums.”

[05:22]

However, Sakamoto clearly read through all the storyboards quite thoroughly. He’d make comments like “this scene should definitely have this kind of music,” so I really didn’t feel like he was coming to me with ulterior motives. “After looking through the storyboards, I’ve decided I’m in,” he said. He thought quite highly of the project, Royal Space Force.

[05:46]

However, some problems occured. Because he saw the storyboards and went “oh I am definitely going to be part of this.” He then said “I’ll produce the music according to the storyboards.” As far as anime storyboards are concerned, they’re kind of like commercials in that they depict how many shots comprise a scene and how long it lasts. It’s kind of like a detailed blueprint.

[06:10]

I’m not sure if it’s because his roots are in Techno music or if it’s because he composes music methodically, but it seemed that Sakamoto was particularly fascinated by the immense possibilities that lay in the storyboards. I think that he was under the impression that if he used the storyboards as reference, then he could ensure the sound is perfectly in sync with the visuals.

[06:28]

At the first meeting with Sakamoto, both Yamaga and myself were excitedly responding, “yeah, yeah! Exactly!” However, when it comes to the realities of creating anime, anime is made from the shots produced by the animators. As expected, the way the animators produce shots will differ from the storyboards.

[06:41]

Hence in anime production, when the storyboards indicate that a scene is X seconds long, the produced shots don’t necessarily comprise X seconds of film. There will be minor variations in terms of duration. Thus from Sakamoto’s perspective, it’s kind of like “hey that’s not what we discussed.” At that time, no matter if it’s Joe Hisashi or anyone else, the composer makes the music, and then the sound director will split and splice it together.

[06:58]

For example, even if sound director was told “this music should be played with this timing,” he is going to adjust it because he thinks “I think this should start playing a little earlier” or “it would fit better to play this later.” But if you do something like that, then from Sakamoto’s perspective it’s like “hold on, what do you mean you’re going adjust the timing?!”

[07:11]

Of course, if we were to discuss changes directly with Sakamoto and adjust from there, I think we could have made it work. However, Sakamoto would give us the directions, like “please do exactly like this,” through his record label at the time: Yoroshita Music.

[07:27]

Just as it had been delivered to us, sound director Atsumi Tashiro of Group TAC also received this information not from Sakamoto directly but through Yoroshita Music. From the perspective of the sound director, it’s like “even if you are the distinguished Ryuichi Sakamoto, you’re only one of several people composing the music. I’m the SOUND DIRECTOR, you’re in charge of MUSIC COMPOSITION!”

[07:45]

Well, he’s not actually that high-handed a person. But to unify the pieces into a cohesive whole, the director sits at the top, while the rest of the staff members support the director. This was widely considered standard practice, and Tashiro worked this way too. Due to that mindset, he flatly rejected the instructions from Sakamoto via Yoroshita Music.

[08:05]

Then the folks at Yoroshita reached their tipping point. But even so, the reality was that Sakamoto wasn’t coming to the meetings. He was flying back and forth to London and China for Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor.

[08:22]

Upon hearing that, Tashiro said something along the lines of “hold on! We’re both working on the music for the same movie, why the hell are you always going off to work on Bertolucci’s movie. Why don’t you ever come here to work on The Wings of Honnêamise?” Outside of Sakamoto and Yamaga themselves, a lot of issues kept popping up with the rest of the staff due to frustration with this.

[08:44]

Consequently, sound director Tashiro of Group TAC and the president of Yoroshita Music were fiercly at odds with each other. The folks at Yoroshita said, “Even if you change the storyboards, as awful as that is, we don’t mind.”

[08:59]

“But if you are going to make changes to those amazing storyboards, the original reason why Sakamoto even agreed to be involved in the first place… Even if you absolutely have to do it, then give Sakamoto the damn finalized scenes after the changes are made! If you gave this to him half a year ago, then Sakamoto could have composed the music to the film perfectly!”

[09:14]

But from our perspective, we didn’t even know if we were going to make the scheduled theatrical release date. “Look, even if you say we should have given him the finalized scenes half a year ago, we’re not like the big-wigs you know over in Hollywood, okay?!” That’s how we felt.

[09:28]

Then Tashiro said to me, “who has the final say on what music gets placed where? Is it Sakamoto? Is it me? Okada you’re the producer, just make the call!” Man, it was a pretty dire situation.

[09:49]

When we reached this tense tipping point, for whatever reason the producers at Yomiko Advertising Inc. and Bandai suddenly disappeared. “Well I’ll be damned,” I thought. Well, I wasn’t too surprised that happened either.

[10:02]

Given that the situation keeps changing on-site production and Tashiro was most up to date with the current state of affairs, I decided that he would be the one to make the call where and for how long the music would be played over the scenes. Yamaga and I would also make sure to be present at the sound mixing process so we could oversee the work of matching the sound to the scenes. This is the working relationship we decided on.

[10:26]

Tashiro isn’t really the kind of guy that pushes for having complete authority. This happened because if things kept proceeding as they had been, the movie production would have become an uncontrolled disaster. I understood this, which is why as producer I decided the sound director’s vision would be the one to unify the sound. I told this to the folks at Yoroshita as well.

[10:55]

Probably because of this incident, whenever Sakamoto gets asked about Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise, he looks upon it as if it’s a black mark on his career. He just avoids the topic or treats it as though it never happened.

[11:05]

In the end, I think this one is on me since I decided that we would let Tashiro be the final say on the sound mix. That interview kinda pissed me off, but ultimately the onus is on me for making that judgement call.

[11:22]

When I think about how even to this day Sakamoto still talks about Royal Space Force this way, I feel a bit apologetic toward the people who worked on Royal Space Force. I had completely forgot about all of this, but it all came rushing back to me after reading that interview with Sakamoto.

[11:39 – end of segment]


Source: https://youtu.be/iGDszIjhTrU?t=191
The Toshio Okada Seminar airs live to paid subscribers every Sunday at 8PM (JST) on Nico Nico Douga here. Portions of the episodes are later made available free of charge on his official YouTube channel.
For more fascinating production details about Royal Space Force, I highly recommend Carl Horn’s excellent fanzine which can be purchased here.


Notes:

  1. Just before this he commented on news of a previously unknown Ohmu cel (from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) rescued from the trash. He thinks it may shed light on how the complex movement of the Ohmu was actually shot on film. Specifically, the movement shown in the scene near the beginning of the movie around the 10 minute mark where Nausicaä is flying above the enraged Ohmu.

  2. I have not found any mention online about this title. I guess it hasn’t been announced yet.

4 thoughts on “Tales from the Otaking: The Strife Between Ryuichi Sakamoto and the Staff of Royal Space Force

  1. Dear Austin,

    Wow, this is a fantastic follow-up article! And thank you so much for coming to the party at Otakon. I had completely forgotten that you needed a card key to access the floor, and how that might cause some difficulties for anyone trying to get there ^_^”

    You may already be aware of it, but in Okada’s four-part Animerica interview (published in the February through May 1996 issues), he touches briefly on Sakamoto at one point. This is the excerpt, from the final part in May 1996 (Vol. 4, No. 5):

    ———————-

    ANIMERICA: Concerning the music, why did you want to have Ryuichi Sakamoto for Wings’ music? Were you a fan of his?

    OKADA: No, no. [LAUGHS]

    ANIMERICA: You just thought he’d be good?

    OKADA: It’s not that, but…in Japan, at that time, he was the only choice for an original movie soundtrack.

    ANIMERICA: Why do you say that?

    OKADA: Composers for ordinary anime music can make a pop song, something in the enka style—you know, just songs, like an opening theme. But they can’t do orchestration, or a sad melody like “Leiqunni’s Theme.” I didn’t really like Sakamoto’s style back then, or even now. But I know his talent, his ability to construct a strong score, and write an entire orchestration. That’s why I chose him.

    ANIMERICA: Why not, for example, Jo Hisaishi, who composes the scores for Miyazaki’s films?

    OKADA: Jo Hisaishi always writes one or two melodies, and the rest of the soundtrack is constructed around them. You can see that in Nausicaä and Laputa. But his kind of style wouldn’t have worked for Wings. As I said—for better or worse, the film has a very differentiated structure, and we needed a score to match that. So I told Sakamoto, “Don’t make the soundtrack all by yourself. You should direct it, but get a staff with real musical talent, young and old, and incorporate their work.”

    ———————-

    The interview itself had been conducted at Otakon 1995—only eight years after Royal Space Force—so Okada’s perspective could be said to have been much closer to the film than it is today; he had only left GAINAX itself three years before.

    I was in Japan in 1987, but during June and July, after RSF had already left the movie theaters, although goods for it were still available in shops like Animate. In fact, I remember seeing a commercial on TV that used Sakamoto’s “Risky” off Neo Geo (Sakamoto himself is in the CM). For some strange reason, I remembered it as a curry commercial 🙂 but in fact it was for the Nissan Cedric:

    In the RSF 25 zine, I didn’t discuss the sound elements of the film much; not because I don’t like the film’s music or sound design (I like it a lot) but because the zine’s approach was centered around GAINAX itself, their relation to anime and the otaku identity, and the implications of their film for anime and the otaku identity. That’s why Sakamoto isn’t included among the main staffers on the cover, even though, from another perspective, he could be counted as one of the most important contributors to the film (it’s a good thing I made that excuse in the introduction about how this was not a comprehensive look at Royal Space Force ^_^).

    Perhaps, as you’ve detailed with this article, it also reflects a certain historical reality—that Sakamoto has never really associated himself with the film in retrospective, and perhaps also was losing his engagement with it even before its completion: “…The reality was that Sakamoto wasn’t coming to the meetings. He was flying back and forth to London and China for Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor.” Of course, that movie was going to win the Academy Award for Best Picture; Best Director for Bertolucci—and Best Original Score for Sakamoto (and for David Byrne and Cong Su). As Okada put it to Sakamoto’s agency, “…We’re not like the big-wigs you know over in Hollywood, okay?!”

    Sakamoto wasn’t some unknown at the time—far from it. But compared to the worldwide acclaim Sakamoto was about to receive for the score to The Last Emperor, it might indeed be a job to put behind him—scoring this anime film by a bunch of decidedly unglamorous art school dropout oddballs (Sakamoto did it the other way around from GAINAX ^_^ earning his masters’ degree before co-founding YMO) that was not even a hit or mainstream critical favorite in Japan, let alone abroad. From a career perspective, I can understand why Sakamoto would have little to say about it—but I can also well understand how, to Okada, his remarks were just adding one more insult (not even mentioning the film’s name!) to injury.

    I don’t believe Sakamoto’s 2009 autobiography (with the somewhat provocative title Musik macht frei) has been translated into English. This is going to sound a little silly, perhaps ^_^ but in thinking about a revised version of the zine, I went through Bryan Cranston’s autobiography A Life in Parts. Of course, anime fans know that long before he became famous, he did English voice acting work—including, of course, the part of Matti in the dub of Royal Space Force. But Cranston, while definitely mentioning it was a period in his career when he was doing odd jobs to get by, makes no specific mention in the book of any anime roles.

    I don’t take this as an insult 🙂 but, as with Sakamoto, a matter of career perspective—do you think of yourself as the guy who won four Emmys for his portrayal of Walter White in the 2010s, or the guy who did voiceovers for some Japanese animation works in the 1990s? I think the important thing to say about Cranston regarding Royal Space Force is, just like Sakamoto, he did in fact do a good job with his contribution (even though I would rather people watch the subtitled version of RSF). I remember at Animerica in the late 90s when Cranston appeared in Saving Private Ryan, and we were thinking, “It’s cool how his career is taking off!” Of course, he was just beginning.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Carl,

    Thanks again for your comments!

    I’d be hard pressed to feel unsympathetic for any particular individual detailed in Okada’s recollection of the events. Well, I’m not sure I entirely understand the producers that claimed Sakamoto’s albums don’t sell. That one still puzzles me; as you’ve pointed out, he was far from an unknown at the time. But I had also learned of YMO after I had learned of Sakamoto from RSF. When my primary knowledge of a generally well known individual comes mostly from anime, I assume I don’t have a well-rounded picture of the public recognition of that person. Similarly, whenever I see a statement about times back then that puzzles me, I assume I’m just lacking context. After all, I’m looking back at a past before my time (as the title of this blog suggests).

    To take a long tangent on this note, I re-read the zine thoroughly again after putting out this article. I mentioned to you in person that “it was my pleasure” to have purchased and read the zine, but I hadn’t actually given it a thorough look since my first read through it around 2014—my best guess of a date given the mention in the AWO episode 124 show notes. That was a time when I wasn’t watching much anime anymore, and I had only seen the film once prior as a senior in high school in 2012. As a senior with not enough sleep, my main take-away from the film was “I really don’t feel like I understood this movie, but there’s something here and I want to revisit it.” It’s hard for me to recall, but my guess is that in 2014 my main takeaway from the zine is that there was indeed a lot to this movie, and other people are way better at film analysis than myself (^_^;).

    On my re-read a few days ago I feel like I can articulate better what struck me so much about the zine. One was that the zine really did feel like a labor of love, and I’ve always been moved by such efforts. My reaction to some anime titles are rooted in a similar sentiment (although, that may just be my fan interpretation). Another was the diverse perspectives included, including wah’s not-so-positive but valuable take. It felt like an earnest and honest attempt at a discussion of the film.

    The biggest one was that it gave me so much more context surrounding the film, that particular moment of anime fandom, and the people involved. As someone who wasn’t alive in the 1980s, it definitely felt magical to me when I made the conscious decision to go look through the back catalogue of anime. But later on I came around to the idea that it only felt like a magical decade because I’m severely lacking the context to evaluate it properly. As the zine correctly points out, “RSF was not an exceptional film because it came from a magical time called the 1980s. It was exceptional because of the people who worked on it, and the work they put into it.”

    Although I didn’t come to this realization until my re-read, in some ways RSF 25 is a symbol of what drives my current fandom interests. Settling for “magic” is not enough to reach a well-rounded understanding. Anime isn’t born in an isolated bubble; there are many circumstances involved, many of which fans may never know. I’ll be damned if I don’t at least give it a shot of trying to understand.

    When I considered what I might cover on this blog, truth be told I had considered RSF basically untouchable. I didn’t see much of a point when it had been examined so thoroughly, not only on the zine but also on the rest of internet fandom (rec.arts.anime included). Then the following occurred to me: while I have a good idea of the anglosphere reaction and the perspective of the anime industry folks regarding RSF, I really have no idea what “ordinary” Japanese fans are saying about the film. Certainly, its #4 Grand Prix placing suggests it was quite well received by a certain section of fandom at the time. But what are Japanese fans actually saying about it?

    Hence, when I came across the article about the music of RSF completely by coincidence, I felt like this would be worth bringing over to English speaking fandom. Not only would it be something fresh, as most reviews gloss over the sound details (admittedly, perhaps I did not look hard enough for English reviews), but it would also give us a view into what a Japanese fan actually thinks of the movie. It also helps that the piece is within my amateurish translation capacities (^_^;).

    Beyond a wonderful discussion and renewed appreciation of the movie, RSF 25 also prompted me to analyze and better understand my own approach to anime fandom in general. For that, I’ll always be thankful.

    Austin

    P.S. As a high school senior, I started watching Breaking Bad with friends at their suggestion. When Bryan Crantson appeared on screen, I exclaimed “holy shit, that’s Hal from Malcom in the Middle!” As much as I enjoyed Breaking Bad, MitM cemented the image of Bryan Cranston as a goof-ball, sex-addicted, irresponsible dad in my head. My American friends weren’t familiar with MitM. As an American who grew up in Hong Kong (until high school), I had no idea what growing up in America was actually like but I had assumed it was something Malcom in the Middle. Another example of the importance of context I suppose (^_^;).

    P.S.2. One thing I’ve been curious about is RSF doujinshi. A simple google search only pulls up Royal Air Force: Another Story of The Wings of Honnêamise 『王立空軍 Another Story of オネアミスの翼』, released August 12, 2017. As the title suggests, it’s a side story about the pilots in air-combat amidst the launching rocket. I figure that perhaps the doujinshi further back might just not be catalogued on the internet given how old some of that stuff would be. Or perhaps more simply, the audience among otaku for RSF doujinshi is just much smaller. After all, it’s not the most glamorous of otaku subjects. That’s something I would really want to try bringing over to the English audience – fanzine articles from the 1980s/1990s about RSF, but I’ve been unable to find more information online. Ah well.

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  3. Dear Austin,

    I wanted to apologize for taking so long to reply ^_^ and before too much time passes, I should at least try to address one of your questions (but I’ll hope to get back to you later). I think that you’re right, in both that RSF is less glamorous as a doujinshi subject, and that older doujin may not be as researchable online. When I think about all the professional manga from decades past that have fallen into obscurity, it’s no surprise that can be even more true for doujinshi. There are simply so many of them, in either instance. I think if one wanted to truly research the question in earnest, the place to consult would be the Yoshihiro Yonezawa Memorial Library of Manga and Subculture at Meiji University.

    In the case of doujinshi, moreover, while we have a mental image of what a typical Japanese doujin looks like (that is, a square-bound, offset-printed booklet in JIS B5 size, with a glossy color cover and b/w interiors), lots of doujinshi are both more modest and at the same time more idiosyncratic in appearance, much as many American fanzines are. This is illustrated by a circle that *has* been doing Royal Space Force doujinshi since at least 2002, known as GX殴り込み艦隊; I’m guessing GX is a reference to GAINAX (as they’ve also done Gunbuster doujinshi) whereas Nagurikomi Kantai is a 1961 Toei film about the Japanese Imperial Navy that is, of course, itself referenced in Gunbuster, in the title of the music track “Ginga-chuushin nagurikomi kantai.”

    I have four of GX’s RSF doujin, all from the early 2000s. A friend gave them to me; I don’t think I would have discovered them on my own. They’re all modest A5 size books, small in page count (between 8 and 20 pages), and center-stapled; my guess is that they were made on a home printer or copy machine, and hand-assembled. But, as I said, such modest books can also still be idiosyncratic—for example, one of GX’s doujin uses three different paper stocks, all with varying colors and patterns—a blue marbled cover, pale yellow endpapers, and a brown wrapping paper-like stock for interiors. In 2017, GX put out a 56-page RSF doujinshi to mark the film’s 30th anniversary (also in A5 size), although I don’t have a copy.

    A further issue that might obscure the existence of RSF doujinshi content is that it was (at least, in my impression) more common in the 1980s and 90s for doujinshi to have multiple contributors and multiple topics. In other words, a doujinshi might have a few pages on a certain anime or character, but you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell that from the cover art or title, which might have no relation to a particular piece of interior content. There have been a number of doujinshi over the years that took GAINAX as their general theme (I mean, a single issue that covered various works from the studio), and while this might more often than not mean “Noriko, Asuka, and Nadia” 🙂 I know at least one such GAINAX doujin had a RSF piece in it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Carl,

    Looks like I myself am overdue for an apology. Somehow your comment got caught by the WordPress spam filter and I had totally missed it until just now. I’ll have to be more diligent in checking occasionally to approve comments.

    Thank you so much for the information on the doujinshi line of inquiry. I’ve learned much more than I could from the whims of internet searches, and I have much better lines of inquiry now.

    In case you make your way back to this page again, if you don’t mind I’d like to ask about the Japanese letter in the bottom right of the centerfold in the RSF25 zine. From what I can discern, it appears to be a letter sent to Bandai. Perhaps an inquiry into or a proposal for a potential stateside release of RSF? Purely for my own curiosity, I’d be interested in the full text of both this letter (and the response, if any) and the English letter above, which appears to be a response to a proposal for a potential Houston broadcast of the movie.

    And I’m in no hurry to find the answers to these inquiries, which I’m kind of just shooting off the top of my head. After all, we are talking about a movie that’s over 30 years old at this point.

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