Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Yoko Kanno Reviews: Ashura-jo no Hitomi OST

(The series lives again!)

Sometimes, I hear and enjoy soundtracks before I see the film or TV show they are from. This is often the case with anime soundtracks. I heard the Arjuna soundtracks before I watched the series (which probably explains why I was thoroughly disappointed in the show). In many cases, I end up listening to and enjoying anime soundtracks without ever seeing the show. I like the soundtracks to Noir, .hack//SIGN, Brain Powerd, and RahXephon, but I have watched, at most, only one or two episodes of these shows.

This type of thing rarely happens for live-action films. Usually, I hear the music in the film and if I like it, I buy the soundtrack. However, given that I am a fan of Yoko Kanno, I gravitate to whatever work she has done. For the first time, this includes a soundtrack to a live-action film…one I have yet to see.

The movie in question is calld Ashura-jo no Hitomi or Ashura, for short. Here's the description from IMDB:

Adapted from the successful play, the film takes place in the 19th Japan where a war between demons and their slayers is fought. Izumo, an Kabuki actor with a demon-slaying past, meets and falls in love with Tsubaki. However, something is not right as mysterious marks appear on her body as time progresses. At the same time, it is announced that Ashura, the queen of all demons, will be resurrected and bring destruction to the universe.

It actually seems like it could be a pretty cool movie and I'm kind of surprised that it hasn't made its way to America yet. In the meantime, I am certainly enjoying the music.

"Perdeski Cloyn" opens the album with an interesting Old World vibe. Ilaria Graziano, who previously appeared on Kanno's soundtracks to Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Wolf's Rain, provides vocals for the song and sounds pretty different from her usual self.

Most of the pieces are quite moody. "Tsukudajima Yarippanashi" switches back and forth between moody and rousing. The piece "Chirimen Air" has a feel similar to that of the song "Medicine Eater" from Escaflowne. It has a dark, strange feel to it without sounding creepy and you wish that it wasn't only about a minute long. Saxophones play a big part in "Ikki ya Kora" even while keeping the Old World feel established earlier in the album by "Perdeski Cloyn."

"Sakashi Mada" and "Maku no Uchi Western" sound closest to what you'd expect from a samurai film. The familiar strings heard in many a samurai film appear throughout the songs. What makes the songs stand apart are Kanno's unique percussion arrangements. They are especially apparent at the end of both songs. "Sakashi Mada" features some intense drums while "Maku no Uchi Western" has the variety of percussion we've come to expect from Kanno.

"Blues In My Heaven," the only other vocal track on the album, is a great pop song. Rin Oikawa provides vocals for this song and it's sung in English. I hadn't heard anything by Rin Oikawa before, but I like this song. She sings in the style of female singer-songwriters with a voice that's sort of smoky.

One of the standout tracks, however, is "Haraiso, Haraiso," the soundtrack's final song. It's nearly seven minutes long and a wonderful orchestral piece. The overall feel of this song is of sadness and I bet that it comes during an emotional part of the film. This type of piece is something you hear in a lot of films and Kanno's take on it may get to you.

Overall, the soundtrack to Ashura-jo no Hitomi is very good. It's more of a score than a soundtrack since all but two songs are instrumental and the instrumental pieces are pretty similar in style. Upon hearing this soundtrack, I have definitely become interested in seeing the film and how the music is used. Given how long it takes for live-action Japanese films to visit our shores, it may be a while before I get the chance to see Ashura.


  1. The OST is ohkay but the movie is cheesy.

  2. Excellent review! I have a blog where I write about the work of Yoko Kanno. If you are interested can go and see it. It's in Spanish. Greetings from Argentina!