Special Interview with Yuri!! on ICE Music Producer, Keisuke Tominaga (Pash!, January 2017)

The following article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of Pash!. Scans for translation provided by Aliasanonyme. The interview has been translated by Twitter user @karice67 © 2017 Wave Motion Cannon

This translation was paid for in part by our supporters on Patreon. If you would like to see more translations like this, please consider supporting us for as little as a dollar!


The numerous songs that we hear during the competitions. Just how were those 12 minutes of music that represent the character of each skater and their feelings about skating created? We ask the show’s music producer, PIANO’s Keisuke Tominaga, to elaborate. On top of that, we also ask Tominaga-san, along with composers Taro Umebayashi-san and Taku Matsushiba-san, to give detailed explanations of the 20 songs that we have heard from the beginning of the show through to the Cup of Russia. It’s a voluminous special about the themes and passionate feelings behind the music of this show!

Profile: Keisuke Tominaga

keisuke-tominaga-yuri-on-ice* Born 1978, from Yokohama. Music Producer.

* After graduating from the Department of Photography at Nihon University’s College of Art, he spent several years at the music production company, GRANDFUNK Inc., before founding PIANO Inc. in 2012, where is he now the representative director. His hobby is deep-sea fishing.

* The major music production projects that he’s been involved with so far include Pocari Sweat’s 2016 commercial “Your dream is my dream,” SUNTORY Pepsi’s Momotaro series of commercials (starring Shun Oguri), and anime series such as Terror in Tokyo, Space Dandy, and Kids on the Slope. He also produced the song “Half a Century Honor Student” for the female rock unit 5572320.

– Could you tell us about the process through which these songs were created?

At the start of fall 2015, I met with Director Sayo Yamamoto, Mitsurō Kubo-san and choreographer Kenji Miyamoto-san to discuss what they were looking for in this project. That’s when we started planning the music. After consulting them on the image and tempo of each skating song and coming to a more concrete idea about each piece, Tarō Umebayashi, Taku Matsushiba and I started creating them—that was around November last year. We battled to create the demos by spring so that Miyamoto-san could choreograph the programs, and in parallel, worked on the recordings from January through to June of this year. After that, we worked on additional background music, focused on mixing in July and August, and somehow managed to finish it all. Then I turned my attention to the opening and ending themes. It involved making use of just about every spare moment I had, but all up, it’s taken about a year so far. And since I’m still involved in choosing and editing music for the anime even now, it’s still ongoing.

– Was there anything from your discussions with Director Yamamoto and Kubo-san that has left a lasting impression on you?

This show is pretty much the first time that I’ve worked directly with Director Yamamoto. This has no relation to Yuri!!! on ICE whatsoever, but long before I met the director, I happened to read some interviews that she did for Michiko and Hacthin. In them, she talked about “All the guys on this show are worthless pieces of garbage,” and how “Girls who are so conveniently there for guys, like (Doraemon’s) Shizuka-chan and (Touch’s) Minami-chan, just don’t exist” and “I came up with this story right when I’d broken up with the guy I was seeing”… The impression that I got from all those words on the page was “What a hard-boiled female director…damn cool, but she seems pretty scary.” However, when I met her through Director Shin’ichirō Watanabe, back when we were working on Space Dandy, I was like “Huh? This is the same person, right…? No no, I’d better not let my guard down…” (chuckles). And actually working with her this time, my impression of her has done a full 180. Yamamoto-san talks to you like an equal, she’s modest and has this warm attentiveness, making her an incredibly courteous director. As someone who’s engaged in the same field of creative endeavors, she’s an individual I really respect.

With regards to Mitsurō Kubo-san, I knew about her manga beforehand, but this was the first time I’d met her. I feel that she’s an amazing author, someone who seems to abound with a deep love and red-hot passion for creating stories. If memory serves, when the topic of ‘the pain of creating stories’ came up during one of our meetings, Kubo-san said something like “The show is a ‘container’, but rather than being crammed with, filled to the brim with all of your own thoughts and feelings, you need to make it a huge container that’s filled with the myriad and numerous thoughts and feelings of all the viewers.” That left a really, really deep impression on me, such that I’ve come to idolize that idea.

– Was there anything that you paid particular attention to for this anime?

When I first saw the project’s planning documents and the manga storyboards, I felt that the story, the dialogue and the characters were all incredibly elaborate, with great depth. But at the same time, they were incredibly easy to understand, depicted as they were so richly and broadly, and I felt that this was one of the important points of this anime. Hence, when creating the music, I endeavored to keep this idea in mind: to write “bold and daring” music.

Director Yamamoto asked me to create “a song that would have a huge scale, a song befitting figure skaters who’ve taken the entire world as their stage.

Umebayashi-kun is a composer with an excellent sense for music melodies—beginning with ‘Yuri on ICE,’ ‘History Maker’ and the ‘Theme of King JJ,’ he’s done a lot to create modern sounding music for this project. On the other hand, Matsushiba-kun is someone who has command of classical techniques and composition from all times periods and locations—there’s almost no one in Japan today who is able to write such precise orchestral music. He really is a rare talent, and he’s wielded his immense skills to produce the classic, orchestral pieces for the show. The skillful orchestration of songs like ‘Stammi vicino, non te ne andare,’and ‘Piano concerto in B-minor: Allegro appasionato,’ is at a level that you might say is unprecedented not only for works of animation, but most kinds of entertainment today.

In the end, we recorded new music spanning many different musical genres, from truly classical compositions through mixtures and genres that feature many different musicians, all the way to pop music with lots of synthesizers. We paid attention to the different considerations of each musical style when creating each song, but the one thing that we were particular about for all of them was “rhythm.”

Because figure skating music is said to be music for dancing, before we started the composing process, I inspected a range of figure skating music from a rhythmic point of view. And what I realized was that figure skating turns, jumps, jump revolutions, even simple stretching and contracting etc—the different elements of the performance—can all be expressed beautifully in triple time. As a point of contrast, music that’s in quadruple time tends to give off feeling of vigor that’s easy to get into, something that focuses on entertainment value and impulsive feelings.

So if we look at the score, there are many songs that are in triple time—’History Maker’ (six-eight time), ‘Aria: Stammi vicino, no te ne andare’ (six-eight time) ‘Yuri on ICE’ (twelve-eight time), ‘In Regards to Love ~ Eros~’ and ‘In Regards to Love ~Agape~’ (six-eight time), Guang Hong’s short program ‘La Parfum de Fleurs’ (three-four time) and JJ’s free skate ‘Partizan Hope’ (six-eight time) as well. I think it’s unusual to see a soundtrack with this many songs in triple time. And we’ve used lots of waltzes even in the background music.

DEAN-san came into my PIANO office quite suddenly one day, and laid out some lyrics he’d written on the table.

That’s probably why I remember feeling as if we were dancing our way through the music composition, what with all these triple time and waltz rhythms. It’s like I’d become able to take pleasure in dancing just to the grove of a violin string, even if there are no beats to it. Is this take of the music something that can be danced to? Is the swirling pleasure from the piano uninterrupted? Do the strengths and weaknesses of the performance give birth to a good grove? Whatever we were doing in order to create each one of these songs—directing the musical performances or the singing, arranging the music, or doing the mixing—in order to test at any time whether you can dance to the song or not, we were always feeling the mood of the piece and moving our arms, feet and bodies. In any case, as we were creating this music, it felt like we were always dancing (chuckles). As a result, I think that my conducting has probably improved, compared to one year ago.

keisuke-tominaga-yuri-on-ice-interview– All of the songs are incredibly charming, but are there any that have left a particularly deep impression on you?

That’s a difficult question to answer… None of them were easy for us, so there are memorable episodes from when we were composing each piece. But if I were to pick just one song outside of the opening theme, the ending theme and ‘Yuri on ICE,’ then it has to be JJ’s ‘Theme of King JJ.’ Whether it be composing the music, coming up with the lyrics, editing, performing it, singing it, recording it, or mixing it…there was a high degree of agreement and satisfaction on what we came up with. In particular, the feelings captured in the lyrics were just so pure that they pierced right through us. I was the person who translated the song into Japanese for the booklet, and I was just cracking up the entire time, like “No frigging way! Just who is this guy?!”

…we hurriedly recorded a demo of DEAN-san singing just one chorus

– Could you tell us of any interesting episodes from the time you were working on the opening theme, ‘History Maker,’ sung by DEAN FUJIOKA?

Before DEAN-san had his huge break as an actor in Japan, I happened to listen to one of his songs, ‘My Dimension,’ and came away with the thought “I didn’t know that there was such a cosmopolitan artiste around, an alternative one that you can’t put into any one box. Is he a foreigner of Japanese descent? I’d love the opportunity to work with him one day.” And then when we came to the point of creating this opening theme, Director Yamamoto asked me to create “a song that would have a huge scale, a song befitting figure skaters who’ve taken the entire world as their stage.” When we were considering a range of ideas around that, DEAN-san’s name popped into my head, and after getting the OK from the director, I made an offer to him.

After getting suggestions for the general framework of the song, DEAN-san, Umebayashi-kun, Matsushiba-kun and I worked together to develop the song, all of us throwing ideas out there as we went along. After Umebayashi-kun and Matsushiba-kun did some great work, giving us a rough version of the music, DEAN-san came into my PIANO office quite suddenly one day, and laid out some lyrics he’d written on the table. And right there and then, we hurriedly recorded a demo of DEAN-san singing just one chorus, and put it together with the orchestra demo. And just like that, it was clear that we’d created something wonderful, a song that seemed to shine and break through the clouds. And the lyrics in the chorus that echo the title are also wonderful. In order to make this anime into something really epoch-making, we spent many a night wrestling with it, and I am really moved at how this song has become not only something that speaks for the entire production team’s feelings for Yuri!!! on ICE, but also a cheering song that has really boosted and encouraged them in their efforts.

…all the guys in the studio at the time come into the booth, crowding in a circle

After that, we sent the demo tape to Director Yamamoto straight away, and I was so excited that I spent the rest of the night listening to it. And then we heard back from the director, “I’ve just been listening to it non-stop!” And then dawn came and she sent us an image with “I’ve come up with an idea for the opening sequence”… I will never, ever forget that one day.

After that, when DEAN-san and I were discussing how we should arrange it, we asked his music partner who lives in Jakarta, Indonesia—DJ Sumo-san—to help arrange and produce it. We had Sumo-san come to Japan ASAP, and after he and I recorded DEAN-san’s vocals in Tokyo, we recorded the orchestra playing the song with Matsushiba conducting, and then I actually went to Jakarta for the final mixing process. There, I spent two days in Sumo-san’s studio working on it with him, and we finally completed it. Thanks to this collaboration with DEAN-san and Sumo-san, I think that we’ve been able to create push the song beyond the world of figure skating, to the point where it can be a theme for any and every sporting competition, an anthem for the intense, modern athlete.

Oh, and since we’re talking about the opening, that moment in the chorus, the hook where you hear “Oh—oh—oh—…” There, we had all the guys in the studio at the time come into the booth, crowding in a circle around the mic with arms on each other’s shoulders, to sing in response to DEAN-san at that point. We got all hot and sweaty but in a good way, so I really like that part (chuckles).

– And how about the creation of the ending theme—were there any memorable episodes there? What, if anything, did you discuss with Wataru Hatano-san?

For the ending theme, I heard from the director about her idea to use Instagram snaps for the ending sequence, and we started working on it right from when we started planning all the music. Thinking about it with the English lyrics of the opening theme, “History Maker,” also in mind, there was a fear that something that sounds like it came out of the domestic music scene would represent too much of a departure from the world view of Yuri!!! on ICE. And so, in discussions with the director, we settled on the idea of a lively and catchy dance tune with some English lyrics also added to the mix.

When we looked into actually producing the song, we decided to join forces with Genki Hikota-san from the music production company Hifumi, Inc. Genki-san wrote us an incredibly catchy melody and riff, so I was already feeling that we had something great in our hands at that point.

we explored English words that sounded like “Yuri.” It was like “For example, there’s ‘You Live, You leave, You only…’ hey, how about going with ‘You Only Live Once’?!” and just like that, we had the name of the song

As for the lyrics, I knew straight away that I wanted to ask Gouta Nishidera-san (from the music group NONA REEVES) to write them, and made the request of him. I’ve had indirect points of contact with Nishidera-san ever since he worked on the lyrics of the Space Dandy opening theme, Yasuyuki Okamura’s ‘Viva Tears’ (Director Yamamoto directed Okamura-san’s MV for that song). Furthermore, Umebayashi-kun, too, has been acquainted with Nishidera-san ever since they both worked on “Your dream is my dream,” the Pocari Sweat TV commercial—Nishidera-san was asked to write the lyrics for that song. He’s incredibly good at writing music that’s bold and daring”—music that speaks of normality, youth and a sense of ‘kitschness’—so I thought that he was perfect for this project. Unfortunately, both of us were so busy that we weren’t able to actually meet up, so I made my requests to him over telephone meetings, whilst he looked at the material I sent him. And when we were discussing what to put into the lyrics, we explored English words that sounded like “Yūri.” It was like “For example, there’s ‘You Live, You leave, You only…’ hey, how about going with ‘You Only Live Once’?!” and just like that, we had the name of the song, the hook, and the song’s image. And it was half coincidental, but the lyrics of the chorus are something of an answer to ‘History Maker’— being able to do that had me grinning to myself over the clever outcome we’d managed to arrive at (chuckles).

When recording the vocal track with Hatano-san, I was surprised at the breadth of the emotions and character that he could express with his voice, and the process ended up being a whole lot of fun. At first, I’d thought of doing more post-processing to make his voice sound a bit more mechanic, more vocaloid-like. But after listening carefully to the takes that we’d recorded, there were so many wonderful takes that I shifted direction and kept more of Hatano-san’s natural voice than I’d originally intended.

Also, one thing that we weren’t aware of and certainly didn’t anticipate was that the completed song would give off an impression similar to the songs of TM NETWORK (particularly their 10th single, ‘Get Wild‘), so it really is perfect for this generation. When I mentioned at the studio that “It sounds like TM!” the rest of the staff gave me a blank look (chuckles), but I was really glad when Wataru Hatano-san agreed with me. And by the way, the edit that we made for the final moments of episode 7, where the intro to “You Only Live Once” played before we went into the ending credit sequence—to me, that’s “City Hunter Style” (sorry for the old reference). But those who know will know what I’m talking about! (chuckles)

I’ve mobilized all of the ideas and skills that I had within myself

– Finally, could you leave a message for the fans, please?!

In order to respond to the passion that Director Yamamoto and Kubo-san have, I’ve mobilized all of the ideas and skills that I had within myself, so I’d be incredibly happy if you are able to enjoy the show, together with the music, all the way through to the last skating program. The story and the animation are both wonderful, and when we cross-fertilized it with the music, the songs completely surpassed any frame that we could have imagined, reaching a place far deeper and further than the music alone could ever have gone. I am also grateful for the opportunity to speak about the music like this, and honored to have been able to share the some facts and behind-the-scenes stories with you. At the same time, I think that music has the power to convey emotions, important things and beautiful scenes that simply cannot be expressed in words—it can cheer you up and move you in many ways. And that is something that you don’t feel alone, but instead, something that you can share with other people, so even if you don’t know someone, through music, you can become good friends with them and come to understand each other. If the music of Yuri!!! on ICE were to get through to the never-before reached depths of the hearts of the people who’ve seen the show and listened to the soundtrack, and become the impetus for people to connect with something or with each other, that really would be a peace-building, wonderful thing.

This translation was paid for in part by our supporters on Patreon. If you would like to see more translations like this, please consider supporting us for as little as a dollar!


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