Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The influence lives on A Yuzo Koshiro Music Spotlight - Pt 1

Part One - Go Ninja Go Ninja Go

Everyone knows who koshiro is, they know the games he's provided music for, the legendary talent he provided while working with other great composers such as Motohiro Kawashima (who had worked with him on both Streets of Rage 2 and 3, as well as the Game Gear version of Shinobi II and a few other titles), but few know of his musical background. For the sake of giving a detailed account of the composer we'll be providing information provided by both Wikipedia and  Sega-16.

"Born in Tokyo Japan on December 12, 1967, Koshiro was introduced to music early. At the age of three, his mother Tomo Koshiro (a concert pianist) taught him to play the piano and by eight, he was studying under composer Jo Hisaishi (famed for his work with Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli on many anime classics). Within five years, Hisaishi had taught young Yuzo to compose for and play both the violin and the cello."

The amazing part of the Fillmore track is that you can hear the classical music influences, that are only enhanced by the funky use of slap bass.

moving on...

"By the time he reached high school, Koshiro had a developed a growing interest in video games and began to work with friends, composing music in the Microputer Basic Magazine under the moniker "YK-2." His music, deeply inspired by greats such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach; garnered the attention of game developer Nihon Falcom, which recruited him at age eighteen upon hearing a demo he had brought them (he had seen their classified ad in a PC magazine). His first work was Ys: Vanished Omens, for the PC-8801. Contrary to popular belief, the Turbo Grafx-16 CDROM version of Ys was not done by him. The original soundtrack was rearranged for the CD version by Ryo Yonemitsu. However, since it was standard Falcom practice to credit the sound programmers and not the composers themselves, Ys is listed as the work of Falcom Sound Team JDK. While at Falcom, Koshiro also composed the music for Xanadu Scenario 2, Romancia, Sorcerian, Dragon Slayer IV, and Ys II."
By the late 80's Koshiro was called in to do freelance work with Sega on Revenge of Shinobi, a launch title for the Sega Genesis, which was already out in Japan by 1988 and was slated for release in August of 1989.

"By this time, he had acquired enough experience to begin freelancing. His first major hit was Revenge of Shinobi (Super Shinobi in Japan), which was the sequel to the hit coin-op Shinobi and also a Genesis launch title. The game's incredible soundtrack combined several different styles of music, ranging from fast-paced techno to slow, mystical ballads. Koshiro came up with all the songs himself, though the song Ninja Step was inspired by Prince's Batman soundtrack. "

The part about "Ninja Step" being basically a homage to Prince's Batman soundtrack is actually interesting, and lead me to go back to the actual 1989 batman soundtrack to figure out what exact song. After initally believing it was "Partyman", I found that Batdance has enough similarities to Ninja Step to be the song in question that inspired it. Even then I'm kind of taken aback that once again Prince is responsible for another set of music that I have thoroughly enjoyed.

This also makes me wonder if this was the reason for the use of Batman as the original (due to licensing issues he was replaced by Go Nagai's Devilman character) second boss of the Chinatown stage after you defeat Spider-man (ironically due to activision owning the spiderman license this kept future versions of Revenge of Shinobi being used on compliations The VC version of Revenge features a pinkish Spider-man pallete swap - Activision always has to ruin it for everyone, huh?

"The piece for the first stage in the game, The Shinobi, set the standard for the rest of the score, which brought an already great adventure to even greater heights. Revenge was a runaway hit and Yuzo Koshiro suddenly found himself to be a star."

"The Shinobi" was the song that hooked me into liking this game, but the entire soundtrack was just fantastic. Even the introduction music ( Additionally the intro featured a photo referenced still of Film and screen star, Sonny Chiba dressed as Hattori Hanzo from the 1980s Japanese tv show "Shadow Warriors" (Kage no Gundan). Of course you Kill Bill fans will remember he reprised this role in a brief cameo as a forgemaster of the same name in Volume One, but I'm digressing).

Chiba,when he's not punching in skulls likes to pose for video game intros

The soundtrack is a mixture of everything from hybrid Japanese Folk/dance (The Shinobi) Jazz (The Dark City, Run or Die) to to early techno (Labyrinth), to Pop (Make me Dance, Ninja Step) to Rock(Like A Wind). Koshiro managed to take a little bit of everything in pop culture and actually craft an interesitng mix that brings the atmosphere of each stage to life. Chinatown actually felt like you were going through chinatown and that's not just because of the stereotypical Asian chime in the opening. Terrible Beat sounds genuinely threatening, as does the ominous nature of the Labyrinth stage. Each track brings something to the whole and just adds onto the experience. And I can honestly say that I loved every minute of it. Next time we're going to be covering the jazzy sounds of three ex cops beating the crap out of people for great justice. Stay tuned!!

Game on.

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