Documentarists of Japan, #22

Matsumura Teizo

Interviewer: Kitakoji Takashi


Kitakoji Takashi (KT): As one of the representative composers of music in modern Japan your work in film soundtracks is only a small part of your career, but today I’d like to ask you in detail about documentary film, which has a rather minor position in film music and makes up an even smaller portion of your work. With that clarified, in today’s interview I hope you can explain how you position film music within your career as a whole. For example, does film music in particular have any special characteristics, and if so what are they? You were born in Kyoto and made your debut as a musician while experiencing many twists and turns in your life. Would you mind speaking about that period first? Your home was near Muromachi, an area that has retained a traditionally Kyoto-like environment since old times. Is that correct?

Matsumura Teizo (MT): Yes, a place called Muromachi Nishiiru on Bukkodera Dori.

KT: Were there any factors in your home environment that helped encourage your interest in music?

MT: No, nothing like that at all. I spent my childhood living in our home behind my father’s kimono warehouse. My father indulged his children. When I entered elementary school he said, “children should live in a place where there’s a lot of nature,” so we moved to the suburbs.

KT: According to your biographical information, both of your parents passed away early.

MT: That’s right. My father died from cancer, when I was ten. When I was twenty my mother passed away with pulmonary tuberculosis.

KT: If your home environment didn’t naturally lead you to Western music, what was the reason you set your sights on music?

MT: From the time I was very young I often listened to the radio. Once I told my mother I wanted some pretty music and dragged her to a record store called Jujiya in the Sanjo district of Kyoto. The store clerk picked out Schubert’s “Serenade,” with a violin and piano arrangement, and Schumann’s “Traumerei.” I would listen to them over and over, day after day, from morning until night. My elementary school, Joshi Shihan Fuzoku, was a somewhat upper-level school where students had to take an entrance exam to enter. The school had a teacher named Higuchi Shodo, who later became a producer for NHK and made a television show called “Music for Millions” (Hyakumannin no ongaku). He constantly drilled us on musical score, simple choruses and rounds as well as things like music appreciation and Mozart symphonies. He was a wonderful teacher. As soon as I started taking his music class in the third grade I began writing musical scores. I kept telling my mother, “I want a piano! I want a piano!” but regardless of my demands of course I couldn’t get a grand piano right away. Do you know those toy table pianos with the black painted keys? I wanted something with a wide register so I put two of those table pianos next to each other to compose. I would take the lyrics from something like “Morning at the Dailian Nihon Bridge” in Japanese class and set them to music. At the part when the train comes I would play do-mi-so-do-mi-so and do-so-mi-so with my right and left hands simultaneously. I’d gradually play harder and then softer as the train came closer and moved away.

KT: It’s amazing that you started composing in your third year of elementary school. Your description of musically expressing the image of a far away steam train coming closer and then moving on seems to foreshadow your later work in film music. What about films during your childhood?

MT: I was a fan of Betty Boop cartoons. The only times I asked my mother to take me to the movie theater was when they were playing. I did watch some of the other children’s films that you could see in Kyoto back then, but not many. Movies for me really weren’t until after the war. The year the war ended I entered No. Three Senior High School, as it was called under the old education system. Many wartime classics like Julien Duvivier films started coming out after the war. I saw everything that played in Kyoto, like Dance of Life (“Un carnet de bal,” 1937) and Escape from Yesterday (“La bandera,” 1935). I watched quite a lot of Duvivier.


KT: While you were watching films around that time did you feel that your ears were especially drawn to the music?

MT: I was really attracted to the music in Dance of Life. I remember being very impressed in Pépé le Moko (1937) when the music box is knocked over and that person gets killed right when the music starts playing. I did like music, but it was impossible to become a musician during the war. I liked science and thought about becoming an architect, so I used to draw blueprints for houses. However, as soon as the war ended I started a music club at school. I monopolized the school’s brand new grand piano, arrogantly shoving the other students off the bench. I think I played piano about seven hours a day and I didn’t go to any of my classes. I started off with Beyer and two years later was playing Liszt, Chopin and anything else I could. I flunked school. I had a hard time deciding whether I should become a musician or find a regular job. When I finally decided to become a musician I declared it to my mother. The University of Tokyo had a Musical Aesthetics program and to start I planned to go there and do comparative research on Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande, so I prepared to move to Tokyo. I studied science in high school but music was cultural studies, so I was frantically studying for the entrance exams when my mother’s tuberculosis got worse. She died right before the test. Before her death she said to me, “please, do me a favor and become a lawyer” (laughs). She supported me earlier, but all of a sudden she changed her mind and told me to do music as a hobby instead. I had no choice so I went to the Kyoto University Law Department and picked up an exam admission ticket to show to her. I told her I would take the test but she died very soon after that. I failed the test because I didn’t take it seriously, and I decided to go to Tokyo after all. My father was also gone so all that was left of my family were us unreliable kids. My relatives all gathered together and held a family meeting, and they asked me what I wanted to do. I said I wanted to become a composer. They all treated me like a lunatic. “Here we’re willing to pay all the money for you to go to Kyoto University, but you want to be a composer instead? We’re through with you!” Most of my relatives harassed me about that. My mother was dead so we had to decide what to do with the inheritance. When I was a boy my father’s store had about twenty employees, and our plot of land out of the city was about 1600 square meters, so I was in a rather blessed environment. But after the war, by the time my mother died, there was nothing left.

KT: Did the store keep running even after your father passed away?

MT: Yes, my mother took over and changed the company to a corporation. At the end of the war we were told that kimonos were considered a luxury and asked to merge or sell our title deed, and we merged. When the war ended we lost everything; the stereotypical fall of the aristocracy. My mother wasn’t well suited to business anyway.


KT: In 1949 you went to Tokyo. You left the same year your mother died.

MT: Yes, that’s right. It was a bit like that hit Indian film by Satyajit Ray, The Unvanquished (“Aparajito,” 1957). His mother dies and he decides to go to Calcutta, carrying her bones with him as he boards the train. That’s the same state of mind I was in too.

KT: After that you became ill yourself. According to your biographical information you failed the entrance exams because of your illness.

MT: I had tuberculosis once in my second year at high school. I probably contracted it from my mother. I spent one semester in the hospital at Kyoto University for pulmonary infiltration. I underwent a procedure called artificial pneumothorax, where they put air into the pleural cavity to recuperate the lungs. At the time that seemed to have worked. I had to go for the pneumothorax once every two weeks, so after I went to Tokyo I started treatment at the hospital at the University of Tokyo. However, apparently I wasn’t getting any air in after all. I thought I was safe because I was being treated, but that wasn’t the case. I came to Tokyo that August and planned to take the entrance test for the composition program at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (Geidai) the next March. I started studying under a professor of composition at Geidai who I had met through an introduction from a teacher in Kyoto. Another composer, Kiyose Yasuji, had a son who went to the University of Tokyo with an old classmate of mine from No. 3 High School in Kyoto. As a result I was introduced to Kiyose too. When I went to meet him he asked me, “Who are you studying with?” I told him it was XXX and he became very angry. “What a careless choice! I’ll introduce you to Ikenouchi Tomojiro at Geidai, so study under him instead.” Thus I went to study with Ikenouchi, and those were truly wonderful lessons. The scales dropped from my eyes. I learned the fundamental and important things there. It felt like I had been just wasting time until then. I was totally drawn into it. For half a year I was studying heavily for the entrance exams, but Ikenouchi told me, “You don’t need to do anything else, just be careful not to catch a cold.” I got the top score in the entrance exams, but in the health test results there was a report that one of the students was so unhealthy he would probably die within two years so it was better not to let him in. That was me. I thought I was all right after doing the pneumothorax treatments at the University of Tokyo, but we realized the disease had actually spread all the way over to the other side of my lungs, so instead of entering Geidai I entered the sanatorium at Kiyose Village. At the time the beds at all of the hospitals were full with tuberculosis patients. There weren’t any hospitals available in Tokyo, so I had to enter a sanatorium even farther away than Mito, in fact so far away I couldn’t go and return in one day. However I still couldn’t consider returning to Kyoto. I ran out of that city with everyone angry at me, and if I returned to Kyoto to enter a lung hospital there it would have taken me even farther away from composition. I wanted to stick it out in Tokyo. Ikeno Sei—a friend who took the entrance exam with me—his mother searched for a sanatorium for me and eventually I was able to get into the Kiyose Village sanatorium. I lived there for the next five or six years.

KT: Of course this may be too much to sum up into one answer, but you became ill in your youth, at the liveliest, most active period of your life. In a sense you were on an elite straight course into a university to become a composer, but then you were set off that course for a while. How do you feel that affected your later work as a composer?

MT: Well you see, it’s a bit embarrassing to talk about, but at one point I took an operation that failed and I had to spend two months lying face up in bed perfectly still. There were some severe complications that could have resulted in tuberculosis germs entering my lungs again and ruining any chances for recovery. Nonetheless there was a small chance of recovery. When the germs enter the lungs white blood cells fight with them and turn into something like cheese. That’s how it first shows up as a shadow on the X-ray, but it takes about two months before the shadow appears. I had to lie on my back for two months waiting to see what happened. That really gives you, how would you put it, a very depressing outlook on things. I could see the top of a pine tree out my window that was shaped just like the head of a cow. I spent two months staring upwards, looking at it. Finally I recovered, and was even able to move normally again. At that time I was determined to keep trying to write just one more piece, write one better composition, as long as I was still alive. I’m still alive but these days I fool around and daze off quite a bit. I really waste a lot of time (laughs). Back then I was young and energetic, and that’s what I truly felt.


KT: Around the time you entered the hospital, you were writing haiku and you met Terayama Shuji. Could you speak a little bit about that? For example the fact that you both contributed to the same magazine?
MT: The haiku poet Akimoto Fujio supervised a poetry journal called Hyokai, which developed out of Yamaguchi Seishi’s magazine Tenro. A high school student from Aomori named Terayama Shuji contributed some writing, and I sent work from the hospital under the haiku pseudonym of Matsumura Hiderio, the “sun-dried man.” The sun-dried man and the high school student competed for the first page of the magazine. One issue would be Terayama, the next me, the one after that me again, and then Terayama again. Soon the Hyokai Award was created, and I won first place the first time. After that Terayama was disappointed and gave up haiku (laughs). He took all the good parts from his haiku, stretched them out and wrote them into tanka verse. He won an award for his tanka and ended up a tanka writer. Of course I think he was a wonderful tanka writer and poet, and his haiku was wonderful too. We used to send letters to each other between Aomori and the hospital. I visited him a few times after I got out of the hospital, after he moved to Tokyo to become a student at Waseda University. Soon afterwards I got married. One time when my wife got ill and was hospitalized, Terayama checked in to the same hospital. We must have had some sort of connection to each other. In 1962 I went to his house and played a tape of my composition Music for String Quartet and Piano for him. He responded very strongly to that. To an extent I think he respected my abilities as a composer.

KT: Did you have any opportunities to work with him later?

MT: The Shiki Theatre Company commissioned him to do the play Blood Sleeps While Standing (dir. Asari Keita), and I did the music. Also some music for an NHK radio drama.


KT: At last we’re moving on to the subject of film music. In addition to Ikenouchi Tomojiro, whose name you just brought up, Ifukube Akira is often noted as another one of your instructors. I’d like to ask a little about how you met Ifukube and what kind of relationship you had with him.

MT: I just mentioned Ikeno Sei, whose mother searched for a bed for me at the sanatorium at Kiyose Village. He gave me a lot of help with a piece I submitted to a competition at the end of my recuperation at the hospital. It won first place. Ifukube was one of the judges and he and Akutagawa Yasushi rated it as first place, so I won. In the lobby at the final selection meeting he praised my composition and said it was the best one. Immediately afterwards I became his pupil. He was a wonderfully charming teacher. After I began studying with him he badmouthed me all the time.

KT: Did he do that to all of his students, or just you in particular?

MT: Every year on the second day of January we would all gather at Ifukube’s house for an overnight drinking party. He would badmouth me in front of everyone. He had nothing to say but complaints. I try to be proud about it, thinking that he did that just because he had such high hopes for me in the future (laughs). I’d write a symphony, and he’d start out with his complaining, “Matsumura, why you . . . !” Then everyone would swarm around and spend the whole night criticizing my symphony. Even the people who didn’t write music talked high and mighty. It was really interesting. To put their comments into other words, it was like “an idiot like you should quit composing and die!” That might not even capture the feeling. Should I keep talking like this?

KT: It’s fine—this is important background information. What kind of influence Ifukube leave on you?

MT: Everything, including a dirty mind (laughs).

KT: . . . dirty mind?

MT: Ideas on culture, history, music, life, everything. Especially his oversensitive puritanism in regards to vulgar, worldly things. I was drawn into it. Ikenouchi was the same way though . . .

KT: Ifukube started making film music right after the end of the war, in about 1947, and became the top in his field. But regarding what you just said about his “truly oversensitive puritanism in regards to worldly things,” how do you think he justified work in the field of film music, which itself may be considered very worldly and vulgar?

MT: There’s no “vulgar” versus “non-vulgar” when it comes to work. It’s a matter of the attitude with which you approach it. He used to say that any kind of work was legitimate in order to support a family. I wanted to hurry up and start making film music too, but Ifukube didn’t encourage that at all. In fact he may have tried to interfere.

KT: You mean film music as a means to put food on the table?

MT: Yes, that’s it. But putting food on the table doesn’t mean compromising your work. It’s very tough. If I write a wrong note one day, I might not be able to eat properly the next. I desperately tried to write good music. I want to write music that fits the film, I thought. I worked with a lot of very sincere directors, and they tried to nurture that part of me. Working together with such wonderful, cultured filmmakers—they were very serious about their work. But they were also considerate and modest enough to help draw something else out of me. I had to respond sincerely to that. However I started working on feature films towards the end of Shin Toho and Nikkatsu Studios, working on gang movies for both. Gangs usually hide out in night clubs, where they’re playing these explosive mambos and what not, so I wrote those as well. For better or for worse that lasted only a while.


KT: What then was the reason you first started working on film music? According to the materials your first film was Nikkatsu Studio’s Dangerous Beast (“Kizutsukeru yaju,” dir. Noguchi Hiroshi) in 1959. What led up to you accepting that project?

MT: There was a conductor named Yoshizawa Hiroshi who was like a god to young people who were trying to work in film music. Mayuzumi Toshiro and Yamamoto Naozumi were both indebted to him. Nikkatsu, Shochiku, Toei and many directors trusted Yoshizawa. They all went to Yoshizawa for advice about film music. Yoshizawa would watch over everything and recommend composers for the different projects. A director friend of mine introduced me to him. One day Yoshizawa and his manager walked up from the banks of the Tama River and came to my home carrying a script. That was Dangerous Beast. Apparently they thought I was stubborn about doing classical music, but since the film has a scene where a criminal runs into a symphony hall where the Ninth Symphony is being performed they thought I’d be perfect. The script was written by Kumai Kei. It was Yoshizawa’s insight to put us together.

KT: Later you and Kumai developed a close cooperative relationship. Perhaps it was a coincidence that you did the music for Kumai’s film right at the beginning of your career. Were you acquainted then?

MT: No, that was the first time we met. In the script it was the Ninth Symphony, but that has a chorus so considering expenses it was changed to the Fifth Symphony instead. It was an action film.

KT: That was 1959. In 1960 you did over ten films.

MT: Is that right?

KT: Yes. It’s easy to imagine that in conditions like that, with so many projects, you might lose track of which film is which. But regardless, how were you able to do so much work (laughs)? Unfortunately it’s impossible to see many of the films today . . . Death Row Women Prison Break (“Onnashikeishu no datsugoku,” 1960) was directed by Nakagawa Nobuo, wasn’t it?

MT: Yes, and that’s another unusual story. The first film I worked on before Dangerous Beast was the Shin Toho film Lady Vampire (“Onna kyuketsuki,” dir Nakagawa Nobuo, 1959). The vampire was played by Amachi Shigeru. Nakagawa Nobuo was famous for his work directing monster movies. On a moonlit night, using a variety of special effects Amachi would grow out fangs with this incredible music in the background. All in all there were thirty some-odd compositions; a huge amount of music. We used a big orchestra and even a musical saw. The manager got the credit for the music, and I received quite a bit of money. Nakagawa was very happy about it. The next film was Death Row Women Prison Break.

KT: In your first one or two years of working on film music you participated in a large number of films. Were you able to do this huge amount of work under satisfactory conditions, without any particularly bad feelings about it?

MT: I’m sure I had a lot of bad memories too, but I’ve forgotten them all. I was always happy when a film script arrived, but as time passed I started to feel happier getting commissioned for one film instead of receiving the scripts for one hundred films.

KT: I’m sure you had discussions with directors as you were putting music to films, but at this time your jobs were standard program pictures, which had a different feel from the films you later worked on with Kuroki Kazuo and Kumai. In that sense, when you first faced working on film music did you have something like your own methodology?

MT: I never really learned about methodology; fumbling around with all my effort was my methodology. Here’s one thing I remember—I think it was Kosugi Isamu’s Detective’s Tale: Face within the Gunshot (“Keiji monogatari: Jusei ni ukabu kao,” 1960). Before the opening titles there’s an extreme close up of a criminal’s face set to some really loud music. I wanted to make a sound louder than anything the world had heard. I used a huge orchestra that would be unthinkable today, with five or seven woodwinds and brass instruments. I called in a bunch of trombones and trumpets and had them all make this huge sound, “Bwaaaaah!” I excitedly called Terayama Shuji to tell him, “it’s the loudest sound on the face of the earth!” Film music really was a great place of study for me. It was a valuable experience for me to hear the music I wrote turn into sound, listen to it together with other people, and watch people’s reactions and see the result live. I tried a lot of different things through my experiments with film music. Documentary films in particular gave me a lot of freedom to experiment, so my symphonies contain a lot of the sections I tried out in documentary films.

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Matsumura Teizo

Born in Kyoto in 1929. Composer. Studied under Ikenouchi Tomojiro and Ifukube Akira. After winning first place in the Mainichi Concours Music Composition Division in 1955 released several compositions, including Prelude for Orchestra and Piano Concerto No. 1 and No. 2. In 1978, won the Suntory Music Award and received a commission to compose an opera. Silence took over thirteen years to write and was first performed in 1993 to critical acclaim as the birth of a new kind of opera. The following year, a Matsumura Teizo retrospective was organized in New York and drew high praise as well. Has contributed music to many stage and over 100 film productions, including collaborations on many films from directors Kumai Kei and Kuroki Kazuo. Apart from Life (“Chi no mure,” dir. Kumai Kei, 1970) and The Long Darkness (“Shinobukawa,” dir. Kumai Kei, 1972) both won the Best Film Score Award at the Mainichi Film Concours for their respective years. Received a Purple Ribbon Medal in 1990. Has talent not only in the world of music, but also in haiku and essay writing. Published writings include Fidelio-sho Haiku-shu by Matsumura Teizo.


Selected Filmography:

1959_ Lady Vampire (“Onna kyuketsuki,” dir. Nakagawa Nobuo)
Dangerous Beast (“Kizutsukeru yaju,” dir. Noguchi Hiroshi)
The Seawall (“Kaiheki,” dir. Kuroki Kazuo)

1960 Death Row Women Prison Break (“Onnashikeishu no datsugoku,” dir. Nakagawa Nobuo)
Pacific War: The Enigmatic Warship Mutsu (“Taiheiyo senso: Nazo no senkan Mutsu,” dir. Komori Kiyoshi)
Detective’s Tale: Face within the Gunshot (“Keiji monogatari: Jusei ni ukabu kao,” dir. Kosugi Isamu)
Reportage: Fire (“Ruporutaju honoo,” dir. Kuroki Kazuo)
* Worked on fourteen films in 1960, the most in any single year.

1961 The Horizon Line Sparkles (“Chiheisen ga gira girra,” dir. Doi Michiyoshi)
Cancer Cells in Living Bodies (“Seitainai no gansaibo,” dir. Kobayashi Yonesaku, Watanabe Masaki)

1962 Iron and Steel of Tomorrow (“Ashita no tekko,” dir. Ise Chonosuke)
Hokkaido, My Love (“Waga ai Hokkaido,” dir. Kuroki Kazuo)

1964 Modern Industrial Nation: Japan Today (“Kindaikogyokoku: Nihon no konnichi,” dir. Horikoshi Yoshio)

1965 Las Meninas (“Rasu meninasu,” dir. Matsukawa Yasuo)
High Plains (“Kogen,” dir. Iwasa Ujihisa)

1966 Silence Has No Wings (“Tobenai chinmoku,” dir. Kuroki Kazuo)

1967 Impasse (“Honoo to onna,” dir. Yoshida Yoshishige)
Japan’s Contemporary Architecture (“Nihon no gendaikenchiku,” dir. Iwasa Ujihisa)

1969 A Cuban Lover (“Kyuba no koibito,” dir. Kuroki Kazuo)
Okinawa Islands (“Okinawa retto,” dir. Higashi Yoichi)

1970 Apart from Life (“Chi no mure,” dir. Kumai Kei)

1971 Night and Morning Inside Myself (“Boku no naka no yoru to asa,” dir. Yanagisawa Hisao)

1972 The Long Darkness (“Shinobukawa,” dir. Kumai Kei)

1973 Rise, Fair Sun (“Asayake no uta,” dir. Kumai Kei)

1974 The Assassination of Ryoma (“Ryoma ansatsu,” dir. Kuroki Kazuo)

1975 The Shiranui Sea (“Shiranuikai,” dir. Tsuchimoto Noriaki)
Preparations for the Festival (“Matsuri no junbi,” dir. Kuroki Kazuo)

1976 Dojo Temple (“Dojoji,” dir. Kawamoto Kihachiro)

1978 Nuclear War—Lost Love (“Genshiryoku senso—LOST LOVE,” dir. Kuroki Kazuo)

1980 Ocean and the Moons (“Umi to otsukisamatachi,” dir. Tsuchimoto Noriaki)

1983 Recalling the East Pagoda (“Yomigaeru Todo,” dir. Tabata Keikichi)
Namida-bashi (“Namida-bashi,” dir. Kuroki Kazuo)
Darkroom (“Anshitsu,” dir. Urayama Kiriro)

1985 Yumechiyo Diary (“Yumechiyo nikki,” dir. Urayama Kiriro)

1986 The Sea and Poison (“Umi to dokuyaku,” dir. Kumai Kei)

1988 Hope and Pain (“Dauntaun hirozu,” dir. Yamada Yoji)
TOMORROW (“TOMORROW / Ashita,” dir. Kuroki Kazuo)

1989 The Death of the Tea Master (“Sen no Rikyu: Honkakubo ibun,” dir. Kumai Kei)

1990 Roningai (“Roningai,” dir. Kuroki Kazuo)
Mount Aso’s Passions (“Shikibu monogatari,” dir. Kumai Kei)

1991 My Sons (“Musuko,” dir. Yamada Yoji)

1992 Luminous Moss (“Hikarigoke,” dir. Kumai Kei)

1995 Deep River (“Fukai kawa,” dir. Kumai Kei)
House of Sleeping Beauties (“Nemureru bijo,” dir. Yokoyama Hiroto)

1997 To Love (“Aisuru,” dir. Kumai Kei)

1998 Love Letter (“Rabu retaa,” dir. Morisaki Azuma)

2000 Pickpocket (“Suri,” dir. Kuroki Kazuo)
Darkness in the Light (“Nippon no kuroi natsu: Enzai,” dir. Kumai Kei)

2002 The Sea Is Watching (“Umi wa miteita,” dir. Kumai Kei)

2003 A Boy’s Summer in 1945 (“Utsukushii natsu Kirishima,” dir. Kuroki Kazuo)

2004 The Face of Jizo (“Chichi to kuraseba,” dir. Kuroki Kazuo)