By: Kolby Johnson
I first watched Makoto Shinkai’s Short Film Garden of Words when I was in middle school and to this day it remains one of my favorite films I have ever watched. One piece of the movie that stuck with me was the soundtrack. The roughly 45-minute film was dominated by a soundtrack that beautifully complimented the scenes and I just needed to know who composed these songs. On a fateful day I searched on YouTube for an extended version of the opening theme and that’s when I first saw Kashiwa Daisuke’s name accompanied by the piano piece “Swan Song” from his album 88. It was love at first sight.
Kashiwa Daisuke is an artist born in Hiroshima and based in Tokyo who has been making music since the early 2000s. Since the beginning of his musical career he has had a small following, not just in the United States but in Japan as well. Despite this he manages to create music that deeply affects anyone who listens to it. While he may be most known for his work in Makoto Shinkai’s film, he primarily focuses on post-rock and neo-classical works; wonderfully blending both orchestra and electronics to create a truly unique sound.
Since I found him, I always feared being stigmatized or sounding pretentious if I ever showed him and his music off to others despite my love for his music coming from a genuine place of wonder and excitement. I kept my passion for Daisuke to myself for years. It wasn’t until I came to college and met new friends that I became more willing to show off his music. They were also the friends who convinced me to reach out for an interview with him.
I spoke with and interviewed Kashiwa Daisuke over email. The interview was conducted in Japanese but has been translated below for clarity. The raw interview between Daisuke and I will be below the translated version.
- What is currently your favourite song to listen to?
That’s a difficult question… There are so many songs I like it’s difficult to decide. That’s why I like to create the best songs for myself.
- Wh+at are some hobbies of yours?
Aquarium and Gardening. I like to be around nature and nature gives me many hints (to writing music.)
- Why did you decide to become a musician?
When I was a kid I never thought about becoming a musician as I wasn’t good at it. But I always liked creating and expressing things so I think I always wanted a job where I could do that.
When I was a student I began getting into post-rock which was very different from the music taught in music classes and began composing music by myself. It was really fun; I would forget to eat and sleep. At first, I intended to continue doing it as a hobby but I was blessed with various encounters and luck and now I can live as a musician.
- Delving deeper into your pieces, your most recent album, Program Music 3, I can only describe as a passionate interpretation of life. Could you explain your vision of making Program Music 3 and how you create your music as a whole?
I began working on Program Music 3 (A 52 minute album with just one song: “Sons”) in the spring of 2020. With the Coronavirus causing a great deal of confusion around the world, a lot of my planned work had been postponed or canceled. I was confused because my schedule was empty so I began working on the album to not waste the time I had been given.
I have two sons and this song was made with the thought of cheering for them and other young people around the world. The coronavirus has caused lots of unhappiness and I’m sure there are various other misfortunes from many other countries, times, and lives. I’m sure I can’t even imagine them all. However, I feel that there are always hopes and opportunities hidden behind unhappiness. I wanted to find hope that would lead to the future even if it was painful and to live strongly. I wanted to leave that for my sons and other young people.
- Your piece April #2, I’ve heard from people that it is considered your Magnum Opus piece. Could you talk about April #2, what it’s about and what were you looking to convey with the album
In the first album I packed up many of the things I wanted to express many of the things I was feeling at that time and my ideals but it is a very immature and incomplete piece.
By making April #2 I learned I lacked many skills in composition, performance, arranging, and mixing so in subsequent works I challenged myself to create things from various genres in order to learn what I felt was lacking.
- One of the first songs you produced, “stella” is still a favourite among the fanbase and one of my personal favourites. Why did you decide to debut with Stella?
Thank you! I like to tell stories with music and I wanted to express the story with the music itself and not with the BGM[soundtrack] of a story(That’s why I named the title, “Program Music”)
Stella is based on a Japanese Story by Kenji Miyazawa called “Night on the Milky Way Railroad” which I expressed in my own way. It’s a very very beautiful and sad dreamy story. You should read if you’re interested.(Authors Note: I have read Night on the Milky Way Railroad it is a very good story and a classic in Japanese Literature)
However, I didn’t like Stella during production and erased everything. I am happy it’s popular among my works but to me it’s also an incomplete and immature work.
- You have a lot of collaborative pieces and remixes with the artist Piana. Whenever I hear your music and her voice together it is always a life-changing experience. Can you explain your partnership with her and is there anything else we can expect from you two in the future?
Piana is actually my wife and a very great musician. Her vocals go really well with my music and it always gives me new discoveries. I don’t know what the future plans are but I hope we can continue to cooperate with each other.
- You made the soundtrack to Makoto Shinkai’s short movie “Garden of Words”, you’ve said before you’ve always been a fan of Shinkai’s work and it was an honour to work on the movie. Were there any takeaways after making the soundtrack?
From the time I began my musical career it was one of my dreams to be in charge of a soundtrack, so I was very honoured and happy. The takeaway and change as a musician has taught me the importance of composing from an objective perspective when making music for someone else. The perspectives that captures the world of Director Shinkai, the beauty of his visual expressions, and the sense of sound are wonderful and I respect him very much.
- What’s the most meaningful piece of art to you?
I think music, paintings, novels, etc. can be expressed in any way. The most meaningful thing for me is whether it contains the thoughts and feelings of the author. It doesn’t matter if it’s selling or popular. I like works where I can feel the author’s passion and feelings, no matter the expression or emotion.
- Do you have any final words you’d like to say?
Thank you for listening[Reading] my interview! In fact, the country that listens to my music the most is the United States. That’s why I’m really happy to have the opportunity to do an interview, and I’d like to have a live concert in the US someday. I hope that people all over the world can get along and have peace. Thank you for listening[reading] to the radio!
Kashiwa Daisuke gave me a link for a trailer to a 52 minute long music video to accompany his piece “Sons” mentioned earlier. He told me he plans to have it entirely in CGI and hopes everyone can watch it when it comes out.
I also compiled a small playlist of some of Kashiwa Daisukes music including all the pieces mentioned in the interview plus a few more from his many albums that I believe are must listens! You can find the playlist here!