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Takeshi Furukawa On How He Composed The Beautiful Score For 'The Last Guardian'

For both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, the music in those games played an integral part in building their atmosphere. So I was lucky enough to catch up with Takeshi Furukawa, and find out more about how he composed the score for The Last Guardian.

Considering how long The Last Guardian has been in development, people often tend to forget the musical side of things. Most modern games integrate the music into the game in a variety of ways and the subsequent composition for something like that is by no means cursory.

With Michiru Oshima penning the score for Ico and Kow Otani for Shadow of the Colossus, I wanted to know more about Furukawa and his musical background and find out how he got into composition, something he was happy to explain, “I was born in Tokyo, and grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles after moving to the States at the age of three. My parents, though nonmusical themselves, accorded me a very privileged music education; I started on the piano then later the viola, while also receiving private instructions in basic theory such as solfège and counterpoint. When I heard John Williams’ score for Jurassic Park, I was mesmerized by the power of film music, and was inspired to pursue composition for media. I continued my studies through college, and received my first professional assignment orchestrating on Star Trek: Enterprise upon graduating. I have been extremely blessed ever since, as one thing has continuously led to the next in my career thus far.”

Moving from film into game scoring is not trivial though, as the two media are very separate in how the music is utilized. Naturally, Furukawa went on to clarify this further, “The biggest difference between the scoring for a game or a film results from the interactive nature of video games. Game music is often conceived to function in a non-linear manner, as the player’s actions dictate how a scene unfolds. For this reason, it is written in a broader fashion, focusing on mood and energy levels instead of synchronizing to particular events. While such an approach accords the composer more structural freedom, other restrictions are burdened in order to render the music loop-able and easier to transition to and from. In contrast, the linear nature of film allows for a tighter marriage between the visuals and music, as a scene’s timings are predefined. This, however, means that the composition may be dictated by picture, at times contradicting what would be most musical. Whether it be video games or films, I am a firm believer of creative limitations being conducive to better results, and thus enjoy working within the confines of each medium.”

As with film scoring, understanding film is a necessary part in composing music for that medium. Likewise, with games you need to have more than a passing familiarity with gaming and how it operates. Thankfully, Furukawa has far more than just a passing interest in games, “Some of my favorite games along with their accompanying scores are naturally those from my youth such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy V. Besides their contribution to hours of my childhood bliss, as a composer I appreciate the effectiveness of Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu’s scores despite the limitations faced at the time. While nostalgia admittedly may be a big factor, I can’t help but feel that game music back then spurred more memorable melodies and had more heart. It is my humble ambition that The Last Guardian’s score delivers the same sense of wonder and excitement I experienced as a child through my favorite video game scores.”

One major aspect to modern game scores is that they can now use full orchestral recordings and it’s no surprise that like the previous games in this series, The Last Guardian also uses a traditional orchestra, specifically that of the London Symphony Orchestra, “Instrumentation is, to a certain extent, dictated by the game’s overall tone be it orchestral, hybrid, or electronic. However, in cases with room for creative interpretation, I personally lean towards the traditional orchestra. I believe this is where my musical identity lies, and simply put, what I most enjoy writing. Even with the advent of modern music technology, there is no substitute for the emotional layer a symphonic orchestra adds. Whereas synth productions can be completely realized by the composer him or herself, orchestral music requires the coordinated efforts of many musicians and engineers, ultimately resulting in what I believe to be much greater than the sum of its parts.”

The Last Guardian has already had quite the extended development cycle, so I wanted to know not only how Furukawa got involved but also when he started on the project, “I joined The Last Guardian about five years ago as a result of a short demo piece. At the time, Tommy Kikuchi, who had also supervised the score for Shadow of the Colossus, was auditioning composers for The Last Guardian. He had become familiar with my work through a mutual acquaintance, and extended to me the opportunity to submit a demo based off of several early development images. Something in my music must have struck a chord with Fumito Ueda and the development team, as I was invited aboard the project thereafter.

“The most difficult part of scoring The Last Guardian, which I believe is a universal challenge for any project, was finding the proper musical tone to complement the stunning visuals. A sensitive game like The Last Guardian required extra attention and finesse to dial in the appropriate emotional voltage of the score. Just as how Ueda-san’s game is characterized by a wonderful sense of ambiguity, it was important for the music to likewise function in a restrained and suggestive manner, rather than verbosely spoon-feed the audience. To this end, a minimalist mentality was employed as to not disrupt the artistic aesthetic of The Last Guardian with anything superfluous and tawdry.

“Whereas the most enjoyable part was working alongside the wonderful development team. Ueda-san is a visionary with impeccable taste whose creativity knows no bounds, and his team is an all-star squad including some of the most gracious and talented artists in their respective fields. As we all shared the same sensibilities, nothing throughout our collaborative process felt forced or inherently mismatched. It is a sincere privilege to be able to now count such esteemed colleagues amongst some of my closest friends.”

The scores for both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus have their own identity and I wanted to know if score to The Last Guardian referenced them in any way, “While stylistically unique from each other, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus indeed share a common ethos that each perfectly complement Ueda-san’s stunning visuals. Both are seminal masterpieces with their respective identities, so to craft a score worthy of their legacy was daunting to say the least. To this end, I felt it best to start with a blank slate neither being conscious of nor deliberately avoiding the heritage of Oshima-san and Otani-san’s works. As such, the score for The Last Guardian doesn’t directly reference any musical motifs from the two previous scores, and instead has its own set of themes including those for the boy and Trico.

“The music for The Last Guardian is best described as a traditional orchestral fantasy score. Compared to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, the subtle ethnicity beautifully conveyed by Oshima-san and Otani-san in their scores have been deliberately restrained to make way for a more orthodox orchestral sound. By employing a timeless tonal palette of orchestra, choir, and piano, I endeavored to craft a score reminiscent of the stirring adventure soundtracks from my own childhood.”

After all this time, like many I am simply happy that The Last Guardian is finally getting released. However, from talking with Furukawa and listening to some of the score to games, it’s already clear to me that this game’s score is already up there with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

You can purchase the score to The Last Guardian on vinyl via the iam8bit online store.

Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. I also manage Mecha Damashii and do toy reviews over at hobbylink.tv.

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