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Inside the Creation of ‘The Boy and The Heron’ Theme Song, Which Moved Miyazaki to Tears

Mr. Nimbus | 12/14/2023

Although The Boy and The Heron, the first film from beloved Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki in a decade, was released internationally in July, the breathtaking fantasy has caused quite a stir since its wide release in the U.S. on Dec. 8. The story of a troubled boy who enters a mysterious world following the death of his mother, The Boy and The Heron grossed nearly $13 million in its opening weekend to top the North American box office – the first Miyazaki film to do so.

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As more moviegoers discover the wonder of The Boy and The Heron, they’re also interacting with “Spinning Globe,” the moving end-credits song performed by longtime Japanese star Kenshi Yonezu. Years after Miyazaki first approached the artist about contributing a song to his long-awaited new film, “Spinning Globe,” a heartfelt ballad that blooms into a giant pop sing-along while incorporating element of Scottish folk music, has developed a following in its own right. The song earned 1.1 million official on-demand U.S. streams through Dec. 7, according to Luminate, and that number will surely rise following the film’s North American debut.

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Prior to The Boy and The Heron hitting North American theaters, Kenshi Yonezu discussed the creation of “Spinning Globe,” and how the song yielded one of the most unforgettable moments of his career, in an email interview with Billboard.

What was your reaction when Hayao Miyazaki first approached you to write the theme to his next project?

I was simply flabbergasted, like, “What!?!”

Naturally, I thought, “Why me?,” you know. I heard some background stories of the approach and it turned out that Mr. Miyazaki had heard “Paprika” [a hit song Yonezu produced] on the radio. At a nursery school run by Ghibli, children were singing and dancing to the song; one day, Mr. Suzuki noticed Mr. Miyazaki singing along with them. He thought this could be some kind of destiny and brought up the idea, “How about asking the one who wrote this song to make the theme song of The Boy and the Heron?” and Mr. Miyazaki said, “That’s a good idea.”

Actually, I remember little of the first impression I had on their proposal. It could have had an impact on my memory, but I don’t even remember most of the scene either. I wonder why, and come to think of it, it was an honor, but at the same time, it was very much a scary thing. While it was the biggest honor in my life, chances were, it would put an end to my life as a music maker. That vague anxiety remained intact throughout the four years of making the song. So, to be honest, I don’t really remember how I felt at first.

How much pressure did you feel to create a song worthy of his genius?

For the past four years, this movie has always been in the corner of my head. No matter what I did – when I was writing a song that had nothing to do with it, or just living everyday life, a thin membrane that had the phrase The Boy and The Heron on it was always screening my view. It certainly put a heavy pressure on me, and there was always a sense of preparation for it.

Upon making the theme song of The Boy and The Heron, I thought once again, about what Ghibli movies were, and furthermore, what Mr. Hayao Miyazaki was to me. Then I realized that I have never had anyone to call my master. For instance, in neither music nor art, I experienced being taught something clearly by someone. I have never been into schoolwork and hardly experienced senior-junior or boss-subordinate relationships. I took a look back at my life and realized that I had very little experience of learning from older people and being greatly influenced by them as I shaped my personality. So perhaps I was looking for a master-like figure in Mr. Hayao Miyazaki, as a great master, or if I would say further, a father-like figure.

While his movies are full of celebrations, his books are full of poignant remarks. So, his words do deny me, but at the same time, tell me, “It’s okay for you to live.” I realized only recently, but somewhere in my mind, I might have been seeking that sort of fatherliness in him.

Ever since childhood, his movies have saved my life. And into adolescence, I just started considering him my mentor without asking. Personally speaking, he is probably my all-time number one master. And now I get to work with The Man. Here I am, face-to-face with him, who is seated at the other side of the table… I must take in his every single move, deed, and word. At first, I was trying so hard to look big, strained with tension.

“Spinning Globe” was inspired by the story of the film, but also your passion for Miyazaki’s work. How did you try to capture that passion in the music and lyrics?

At the first meeting I had with Mr. Miyazaki, he said that he would depict all the parts he had “hidden” in his past works, which were “the darkness and mess inside” of himself.

I thought the movie was entirely focused on them. And I had been fully aware since day one that it was simply impossible to make a song by summarizing the story itself. Then how should I do it? I came to the conclusion that the only way to make sense of this song was to focus on the relationship between the two axes: myself, who had grown up watching his movies, enjoying them, and gazing at his back creating them, and Hayao Miyazaki.

Therefore, although the (Japanese) title of the movie could be translated as “How do you live?,” my stance on making this song was more like, “I have lived my life this way,” or, “This is how I will keep going on with my life.” The only way for me to do this was to recapture Hayao Miyazaki in that sense and turn it into music. Therefore, the lyrics were written in that way as well. Having said that, this song is, of course, not on personal matters. I wrote this song for the movie; it projects the main character and what had swirled in the story. But at the same time, all sorts of things, such as Mr. Miyazaki himself and myself growing up watching Miyazaki movies, are also unraveled here while still in opacity. The lyrics go all the way back to one’s birth and into how to live life.

I wanted to start the lyrics from absolute celebration. Mr. Miyazaki has made movies to this day to tell children that “this world is worth living.” Taking that into consideration, I was pretty sure that the song should start from “You were brought into this world to be wanted,” otherwise it wouldn’t make sense.

How did “Spinning Globe” evolve over the years between Miyazaki first approaching you about the theme and its eventual release?

I received the storyboard in 2019, and spent the next four years reading it over and over again, and seeing the rushes of the movie.

At the beginning, it was the time to see if there was anything I could take in from the storyboard, or what to take in. When I received the storyboard, the movie did not have a release date yet; it was probably going to be quite far away in the future. So, I didn’t start working on the song immediately, but instead, spent a very long time figuring out what the movie was all about, and how I felt through looking at it with my own eyes. In fact, for about two years, I had the storyboard at the back of my head while working on other songs and living everyday life.

Then I found myself gradually becoming unable to see the storyboard in an objective way. Even the songs I had been working on at that time, I wondered if they were really okay. Maybe that was the time I had the deepest experience of such things. And when you take a long time working on a song, your appetite comes with eating… you might wonder if you should make it more gorgeous. So, I told myself not to forget the primal sensation of when I first thought it was okay. I created a demo first, and always went back to the feeling of the moment when I thought it was okay, and took a long time disciplining myself, “Adding will do no good… Adding will do no good…”.

Mr. Miyazaki said to me, “Be ambitious when you make a song.” I interpreted it my way, and making “Paprika 2” or something splashy with strings [is] something lazy for me. If asked if such things are ambitious, I don’t think so. As a music maker, I have always sought for something that was not there at that time. With each and every song, I have made it by taking in new elements, no matter how many. Personally speaking, that is what I call ambition.

This time, I made the song extremely simple and earthy. In a sense, it may make the song less pop, but I believe there are things and words that can only be depicted that way. Therefore, to me, this song – “Spinning Globe” – is a very ambitious piece of music.

One day, I had Mr. Miyazaki listen to the pre-recorded demo on the CD I had burned. I went to see him as if I had been on death row, thinking, “Do I have to be there?” We sat around a table, and while listening to this song coming from the speaker, Mr. Miyazaki shed tears in front of me. That is the most memorable moment in the past four years. I will carry it in my heart for the rest of my life.

The film focuses on profound loss, among other issues. Was it difficult to translate that theme into a pop format?

From day one, I already had the foundation of the song, which started with an idea of “creating a Scottish folk tune.” Why Scottish folk tune? It’s very hard to explain, but I have always felt something close to Scottish folk tunes to Mr. Miyazaki’s movies. And at the same time, I wanted to make something simple. Rather than layering different instruments to make it sound gorgeous, I wanted it to be really simple, with minimal instruments like the piano, and use my voice for the rest. I should make music that won’t age but not novel either. In other words, I should make something that is old from the start, in the format that you can listen to it for a long time. That idea has been my focus from the beginning.

I wanted to take an elaborate [creative] process for this song. As pre-production, I crafted the demo as I did the recording at the studio. However, although I did a proper recording, I was trying different instruments, and the mic setting was not really fixed yet. Then, even the creaking sound of the piano pedal made it in the demo. It was not intentional, but when I actually had it, I really liked the sound. I recorded the piano under proper recording circumstances, but the results were always not enough. I tried recording in many settings too.

I went to different studios and tried many pianos. Still, I couldn’t wipe away the feeling that nothing could beat the first piano with that creaking pedal…

I ended up recording with the piano that Yuta Bandoh, the co-arranger of the song, had at his parents’ place. It was an ordinary piano at a very general household. We set up a mic in the room he had lived since childhood, using this old piano his mother had played and passed onto him. The piano had not been maintained regularly, but the texture of its sound was the best to me.

What has the reaction to the song been like since its release, from both your fans and Miyazaki fans?

What kind of presence was the song “Spinning Globe” in The Boy and the Heron? Was it able to serve its role? I consciously try not to be a part of such discussions. I had four years of working face to face with this movie, and in the course of time, many forms were born and gone. It has been several months since the movie was out; I see four years’ worth of flashbacks come and go. But those should not be told anymore. The song “Spinning Globe” should be evaluated by the fans. Now I’m ready to face the next songwriting process.

This post was originally published on this site

Written by Mr. Nimbus




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