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.
Alright, onto the next item . 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.
“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.” 
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?!”
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.
- 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.⬏
- I have not found any mention online about this title. I guess it hasn’t been announced yet.⬏