A Director and a Rock Band Are Redrawing the Contours of Anime

Makoto Shinkai is a Japanese animator, film director, and producer who has worked with Radwimps on the narrative as well as the score for hits like 'Your Name' and 'Suzume.'

A Director and a Rock Band Are Redrawing the Contours of Anime

The music of animated epics by Japanese director Makoto Shikai is inextricable with their moving images since the release in 2016 of the global hit 'Your Name'.

Radwimps' upbeat songs and instrumental tracks are the perfect accompaniment to Shinkai’s high-stakes dramas about star-crossed teenagers and supernatural disasters. The compositions of the Japanese rock band Radwimps have persuaded Shinkai to change his narratives on several occasions.

The third collaboration between the storyteller and musicians, "Suzume," a fantasy saga inspired the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, will be released in U.S. theatres on Friday.

Radwimps has expanded its audience beyond Japan because of the international success of Shinkai films. This weekend, the band will begin its first North American Tour in San Jose.

Shinkai said, 'Radwimps, you and I are both wheels on the same bike' via an interpreter in a West Hollywood hotel.

Shinkai worked on his early films with Tenmon, his former colleague in the video game industry, before he hired Radwimps.

Shinkai wanted to distinguish himself from Studio Ghibli and its co-founder Hayao Miyazaki with the ambitious body-swap story 'Your Name'. As Shinkai’s profile grew over the years, the director recalled, journalists referred to him as ‘the next Miyazaki out of Japan’. Shinkai, despite his undeniable admiration for Miyazaki's master animation, disliked the constant comparisons.

He said, "I wanted to use rock music in 'Your Name', something Miyazaki never did in any of his films."

Shinkai approached the band, which had been playing for more than a decade, in 2014. The artists had played together for over 10 years but hadn't yet created music for movies. Yojiro, the 37-year-old lead singer and songwriter of Radwimps, saw it as an opportunity to reinvigorate and expand the band's artistic boundaries, while learning new skills such as orchestration.

Noda, upon reading the screenplay for the film, immediately turned to the song'ZenZenZense' ('Past Past Life '), which was used as the soundtrack of the opening sequence. He also chose the power ballad, 'Sparkle'.


Noda explained, through a translator, that when he receives the script, he immediately writes a few songs without thinking about it.

Noda spent his childhood in the United States. His English vocabulary was very limited. However, two words stuck out: "rad" to describe something exciting and "wimp" with its negative connotation. Combining the two words created an oxymoron he felt fit his band that he founded with friends from middle school in early 2000s.

Radwimps have gone through many different configurations, some members leaving or taking a hiatus. The current lineup includes Noda who plays both guitar and piano, Yusuke Takeda on bass and Satoshi Yamaguchi on drums.

Noda shares the melody, the lyrical theme, and the percussion with his bandmates. They then add their own instruments, synthesizers, and percussion to the sound.

Noda, however, is the only one who can write such beautiful hyperbolic lyrics. Shinkai stated that 'he's one the few poets in Japan who can write like he does'.

The composer who has also performed English versions of some songs written for Shinkai’s animated romances explained that: "All the music for Your Name" came from the longing for each other between Mitsuha's and Taki's characters.

The soundtrack album for 'Your Name" debuted at number one on the Japanese national album chart. The Japanese national album chart remained at No. 1 for another week. That distinction came on top of the monumental box-office success that eventually turned the film into the third-highest-grossing Japanese production in the country's history, animated or otherwise.

Shinkai stated that the music of 'Radwimps was crucial to 'Your Name's success.' It really made that film a global social phenomenon,'' Shinkai said.

Noda's musical interpretations of Shinkai's stories are, for him, a way to give feedback on his screenplay. He believes that these exchanges have helped him see the potential of the film.

Shinkai expanded a crucial sequence in which the protagonists drop from the sky, after listening to the choir voices in 'Grand Escape', one of the early Radwimps songs produced for the film.

Suzume was a similar case. Noda sang 'Tamaki', a song that was about the aunt of the title character's 17-year-old. Shinkai was inspired by the song and realized Tamaki had a lot of relevance. He added more interaction between Tamaki and Suzume. These changes are possible because the band is involved long before visual development begins.

Noda took Shinkai's advice to heart when composing the theme song 'Suzume no Tojimari,' which is also the title of the film, in Japan. The film has already become a huge hit.

The group also agreed that the song needed a female vocalist, since the story is about a girl coming of age. They searched multiple social media platforms to find the perfect voice and found a TikToker called Toaka. Although she had no experience in the music industry, videos of her singing were enough to impress them.

Radwimps have now won three Japan Academy Awards for the best music. One for each of their collaborations. They shared the award for 'Suzume' with Kazuma Junnouchi who composed some of the score’s instrumental moments.

Noda, who has no intention of ending the partnership, thanks destiny for bringing the two together. This concept is crucial to Noda's metaphysical adventures.

Noda: 'Shinkai tells me often that there is no limit to creativity.' He's an inspirational figure, and I'll always find it special to write songs for his animated series.