Ms Yoko Shimomura: the heart of the KH3D music three-person creation team
–What was the concept for the music for this title?
Shimomura: For this title, it was ‘dreams’ and ‘night’. Working with an image of a glittering night time theme park in my mind, I wanted to create tracks that were adorable and yet seeming to hold secrets.
–Were there any particular orders from director Nomura in relation to the music?
Shimomura: He gave me they keyword I mentioned just before, ‘dreams’. He also told me he wanted me to make the music generally up-tempo, with a busy feel.
–There are many new worlds this time, aren’t there?
Shimomura: The new world Country of the Musketeers, from The Three Musketeers, was impressive. We hadn’t had a world with that atmosphere until now, so it was a lot of fun to make. However, the Country of the Musketeers and another world, La Cité des Cloches from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, were both set in Paris so in order to stop their music sounding similar I divided them into a dark, oppressive atmosphere and an energetic feel.
–It was impressive how you had matching tracks called ‘One for All’ and ‘All for One’ in Country of the Musketeers.
Shimomura: I used that in the titles on purpose, because it’s a world-famous phrase. The pair feels sort of like a two-in-one track, doesn’t it?
Three kinds of music, three kinds of charm
–Mr Ishimoto and Mr Sekito, this is the second time you’ve worked on the KH series after your involvement in KHBBS. Mr Ishimoto, what is the story behind your involvement?
Ishimoto: This title was going to use music from The World Ends With You which I had been in charge of, and I decided I wanted to put my hand up for that and also the music for The Grid from Tron: Legacy. Saying I’d do it was easy, but then the music from the Tron: Legacy movie was far too good, I was like, oh no this’ll be hard… (dry laughter).
Shimomura: Thanks for doing it for me (laughs).
–The music for Traverse Town and the music from The World Ends With You are completely different despite being for the same world, aren’t they?
Shimomura: In the beginning I was like, how on earth is this going to work?? But the way it turned out sounds unexpectedly fitting, doesn’t it?
Ishimoto: Do you think so? (laughs)
Shimomura: What! It does, right!? I thought it was really nice, having the modern and cool music from The World Ends With You and the same old Kingdom Heartsy Traverse Town theme play in the same world.
–The tracks from The World Ends With You have been remixed quite a bit compared to the original songs, haven’t they?
Ishimoto: We already released a remix album for TWEWY so I thought I was all remixed out, but this time we changed the vocals and even just that gives it quite a different atmosphere, I think.
–What’s something we should listen out for in the remixes?
Ishimoto: The moment in ‘TWISTER -KINGDOM MIX-‘ where there’s only acoustic guitar and vocals. I think you’ll be surprised the first time you hear it.
–Many of the tracks that Mr Sekito was in charge of, for example ‘Storm Drive’ for Dive Mode, are cheerful songs, aren’t they?
Sekito: Actually, in the beginning I’d done about two tracks before Nomura came to me and said, ‘they’re good songs but they aren’t very KH-like’. So, I did them all over again twice. I was very careful not to make them gloomy, but I was still shaking like a leaf when I presented them for the third time (laughs).
–(Laughs) Ms Shimomura, did you listen to their tracks during production of your own?
Shimomura: No, I only listened a little in the final stage of development. I submitted so much more music data than I received, so I had to give priority to checking my own parts, even when I was checking the music by playing the game. But, I think it’s great that theirs has a different atmosphere to mine. I thought, wow, I love Mr Sekito’s cheerful boss themes. I wonder why mine are so gloomy (laughs).
–However, Ms Shimomura’s ‘Dream Eaters’ with ‘la la la♪’ playing in the background is a very cheerful song, isn’t it? I was surprised the first time I heard it (laughs).
Shimomura: That’s the double-edged sword of a reputation, isn’t it? In the beginning I wanted to have a deep manly voice singing that song, sort of like a track that’s both cute and off-putting at the same time? But Tetsu (Mr Tetsuya Nomura) said no (laughs). So, we went with the cute voice in it now, and even though I felt it was an easy way out, the gamers seem more surprised than I expected. I think it made a good impact, in a way.
Arrangements breathing new life in
–How did the title screen’s ‘Dearly Beloved’ come to be a cheerful waltz-like arrangement?
Shimomura: We decided from the start that this title would have a positive and cheerful feel. Also, since the title was ‘3D’ I went with triple metre (laughs).
–So that’s the reason (laughs). What’s the secret to arranging a theme you’ve done so many times before?
Shimomura: There’s no real secret, I don’t think… If there are some I’ve popped out right away, there are some that I thought would be impossible to make sound different from the one before. In this title Mr Sekito arranged ‘Destati’ from KH1 in the two tracks ‘My Heart’s Descent’ and ‘The Eye of Darkness’. Those arrangements wouldn’t have come to mind for me, I thought they were great. It’s very welcome to see arrangements that start from such a different angle.
–Mr Sekito, what’s the story behind the two different arrangements of ‘Destati’ that you worked on?
Sekito: I originally arranged them for use in Dive Mode. In the place where the music was to be used, scenes from the past were going to come up like floating lanterns, so unlike other Dive Modes I prepared two of them, one that tapped out the rhythm and one that didn’t. And then, for whatever reason, both tracks ended up being used. Furthermore, one track was used as a boss theme. I thought it would be better to add a chorus if it was to be used for such an important part, so Kawamori (Mr Keiji Kawamori, synthesiser operator for this title) put one in for me. He did a beautiful job with that chorus.
–So, Ms Shimomura, do you think the two tracks were impressive, too?
Shimomura: Yes, I do. The tracks from ‘The World Ends With You’ give quite the impact near the opening, then Mr Sekito’s arrangement wraps up the boss at the end, so, it felt sort of like they were taking all the tasty parts (laughs).
Sekito: No no, we were simply dancing the Fool’s Dance in the palm of your hand, Ms Shimomura (laughs).
Shimomura: Why the Fool’s Dance?? (laughs)
Sekito: Whoops, I meant the Bon Dance! Or even the hula dance (laughs).*
[*Translator Note: I think the joke is that he meant to equate Shimomura as his selfless and generous ancestor from the origin story of the traditional Japanese Bon Dance. However, he accidentally used the name of a different dance performed for the same festival in a particular region, known as the Fool’s Dance, which has a different origin story, involving drunken people dancing quite entertainingly!]
Composing in a three-person team
–Do you think that the music of KH will be composed in a three-person team from now on?
Shimomura: I hope so…
–What was it like, working with three other people?
Shimomura: It gave me such peace of mind. It felt good knowing that things would still get done somehow if, and this is a weird example, but if my health were to deteriorate and I collapsed. It’s not about escaping work, but just the sense of security that if something were to happen to me, these people would complete the music of KH for me. Also, I think it’s more stimulating composing in a group of three. When you work with someone else, it creates a sort of sense of nervousness that they might end up taking over the tracks you want to be in charge of.
Ishimoto: I don’t know if the next title will have a three-person team. I am not aware that I’ll be working on KH regularly in the future. I feel like it will work out that I can be there to help out any time if things are too much for Ms Shimomura.
Sekito: I think I’ll end up participating as some sort of support too, but I’d love to be put on the KH staff roll, so I’ll take the chance if it comes again! (laughs)
Shimomura: I definitely want to compose for the next titles, but Tetsu is so hard on me… Actually, I don’t get many opportunities to see him, basically only when he comes to evaluate the tracks I’ve made. So I have to do my absolute best… so I do really want to ask you two for help again (laughs).
–In our KH 10th Anniversary Special Feature (Weekly Famitsu edition published 19/4), Mr Nomura answered that he defined the music of KH as ‘Shimomura Style’.
Shimomura: What an honour. However, he doesn’t make a habit of telling me that (laughs).
–So there are many do-overs, then?
Shimomura: We’ve had less do-overs as the series has gone on, but to an extent that’s because I now take longer to submit a piece… See, as I’ve gotten older I’ve raised the bar for myself, and when I make a track I am much more likely to judge that it is no good. I can pinpoint the one section in a track that I’m not happy with. So, these days I’m not asked as often to redo parts I was personally happy enough to submit, I think I get more requests for additions or amendments like ‘up the tempo’.
–I see. How do you feel about KH reaching a 10th Anniversary?
Shimomura: I feel old (laughs). Ishimoto, you did the manipulation on KH Chain of Memories and KH2 for me, didn’t you. Thank you so much for your troubles back then!
Ishimoto: Don’t even worry about it. Ten years… I definitely didn’t think the three of us would be working on one package. That said, Ms Shimomura, you were the one who interviewed me when I joined Square (as it was known), weren’t you (laughs)
Shimomura: Oh wow, yeah! Back in those days, seeing as we often continued our work at bars it was important to know if people could handle their alcohol, so as part of the interview I’d ask them if they drank. When I asked, both heavy drinkers and lightweights would usually answer with a vague ‘a little bit’. But Ishimoto answered with a plain ‘I don’t drink’. So, I thought, wow, this person has a strong will. I can definitely rely on him. At that time I was in charge of Legend of Mana, and the manipulators were short on hands. The interview was to hire someone we could rely on to do the job straight away, and it was that last word that made me trust I could go with him. …But, you actually do drink, don’t you? (laughs)
Ishimoto: Just a very little.
Shimomura: Mr Sekito, how about you?
Sekito: I don’t drink (laughs).
Shimomura: Oh, so none of us drink? …What a team of lightweights we must be (laughs).
Sekito: Ms Shimomura, you drink like a fish! (laughs)
–(Laughs). How about a last message to the fans.
Ishimoto: I didn’t originally join this company as a composer, so I am happy to be able to compose as much as I am allowed. And so, if you buy the game or the soundtrack and my tracks are part of your enjoyment, it would be my greatest pleasure. By all means purchase the soundtrack, I would love you to tell me your impressions on Twitter.
Sekito: We thought of many ideas to make the game more fun while we were composing, so I would love for you to first and foremost enjoy the game. And then if you buy the soundtrack, I’ll be able to eat next month (laughs). I’m joking. I really hope you enjoy the game as well as the sound track.
Shimomura: I would love for the soundtrack and the game to work together to stretch out your enjoyment, like you play the game and think ooh I love this song and buy the soundtrack, then after a while listen to the soundtrack and have it make you want to play the game again.