The Japanese Master of Soundtracks in Chinese Films

Kitaro, Shigeru Umebayashi, Joe Hisaishi, Taro Iwashiro, SENS… the names of the film soundtrack masters from Japan have repeatedly appeared in the Hong Kong Film Awards nominations and winners, and often honored as their trump cards for the film by many Asian film directors, to add the finishing touch and to make the stone into gold.

In the heart of every audience, who loves movies, there are always several familiar soundtracks, which often remind the audience of unforgettable Jigsaw puppets in a moving melody. Film music is as important as film story itself, or even beyond the picture. Wonderful film soundtrack adds the finishing touch. Music played as the background of the turning point of the plot, will show its amazing beauty. And the drama with the ups and downs of music will strengthen its dramatic tension.

Kitaro, Shigeru Umebayashi, Joe Hisaishi, Taro Iwashiro, SENS… the names of the film soundtrack masters from Japan have repeatedly appeared in the Hong Kong Film Awards nominations and winners, and often honored as their trump cards for the film by many Asian film directors, to add the finishing touch and to make the stone into gold.


Japanese soundtrack masters in Chinese films 


The 63-year-old Japanese musician, Kitaro, was born in Aichi Prefecture of Japan, a Shinto family. The Chinese audience was very familiar with his music, such as the “Silk Road”. The powerful, wild, warm and indifferent music lines have been beyond the national and regional, to arouse a lot of Chinese people’s cultural nostalgia on the Silk Road.

In the film “The Soong Sisters “, Kitaro played his melody, which is full of beautiful and profound artistic conception, vividly reproduced the Song family story that had played a huge role in modern Chinese history. By virtue of the album “The Soong Sisters “, he won the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards and Hong Kong Film Awards.

Joe Hisaishi 

Joe Hisaishi, was born in 1950, the famous Japanese musicians, composers, singers and pianists. He was born in Nagano Prefecture, Nakano City. Many people are familiar with Joe Hisaishi, because his music is always linked to Hayao Miyazaki’s films. In addition, he has also made the soundtrack for the Korean film “Welcome to the Dongmakgol“, which won the MBC Film Awards in Korea. He also participated in the Chinese films “Tall Story“, “Soldiers Sortie”, “The Postmodern Life of My Aunt”, “The Sun Also Rises “, “Let the bullets fly” and other well-known film music creation.

Shigeru Umebayashi 

Shigeru Umebayashi is a well-known Asian film musician and member of the Japan’s national rock band EX. After the band broke up in 1985, Shigeru Umebayashi engaged in the work of film soundtrack. In the completion of the soundtrack for director Wong Kar-wai “In the Mood for Love“, Shigeru Umebayashi got greater recognition in the international arena, followed by another “Zhou Yu’s train “,”House of Flying Daggers “,” Curse of the Golden Flower “,” Fearless “,” Crime and Punishment “,”True Legend” and other wonderful creation.

From the passionate “California Dreaming” in “Chongqing Forest” to the “Quizas Quizas” in the “In the Mood for Love“, even those who have not seen Wong Kar-wai films are familiar with these moving melodies. In fact, in Wong Kar – wai ‘s film world, the status of images and music are almost equal at certain times, and music is often independent of the screen, but become the protagonist of the film. It can be said that Wong Kar-wai’s image has set up a “skeleton”, and Shigeru Umebayashi’s music is the “essence” of Wong Kar-wai films.

Taro Iwashiro

Taro Iwashiro was born on May 1st, 1965 in Tokyo, Japan, and he is a famous Japanese contemporary composer, pianist and music producer. Taro Iwashiro’s music style is very powerful yet elegant, so he won the audience favorite. His music works involved in film, television, games, stage play and other broad areas. In 2008 he made the soundtrack for director John Woo’s film “Red Cliff” and has continued to make the creation so far.

Ikuro Fujiwara

Ikuro Fujiwara, Japan’s famous musician, pianist, conductor and music producer, he works for a large number of movies, TV shows, cartoons, games, music, music and electronic music in particular. In 2008, Ikuro Fujiwara worked as the film “Painted Skin” music director, and as the composer for the theme song “Painting Heart“, which is very outstanding and moving.

Kawai Kenji

Kawai Kenji was born in Tokyo in 1957. Kawaii’s improvisational creation won the best award in a competition. He then accepted some advertising and other music production work, and gradually made the soundtrack for a lot of animation, special photography and other films. When Tsui Hark, director of Hong Kong, produced “Seven Swords“, he specifically found Kawai and asked him to make the soundtrack for the film, and the creation has become a classic work in the film soundtracks.


Why Chinese films favor Japanese Musicians 

Japan’s developed music industry

Japan is an important market for music in the world and one of the regions with the highest level of music in Asia. No matter for classical music, folk music, pop music or new century music, Japan all has world-class masters. And for these rich segments of the field, they can have stable audiences in Japan. The music market is almost no piracy phenomenon, which provides the conditions to support different categories of music continuing to develop.

This also created an important condition for the creation of music masters, because the film soundtrack is different from the music, it must service for film and director. The style and cultural topics involved in different types of films are complex. If the composer has no deep understanding on various types of music, it is impossible for him to provide music support to the colorful world of light and shadow.

Japanese musicians are more intimate with Chinese culture

Compare with inviting Hollywood big-name musicians to create film music, selecting the Japanese composer can also ensure a high standard in the premise, and they are more close to the East’s cultural style and fun. Before the great development of the film market in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan as highly developed Chinese film industry pioneers, have tasted the sweetness from the use of Japanese music. In recent years, for the mainland filming, these three teams often work together. Especially, Hong Kong or Taiwan veteran film producer works for mainland films is now very common. They naturally pass their producing experience to the mainland director and management, so hiring the Japanese soundtrack will get important experience.

As early as 1989, Hou Hsiao-hsien, the famous director in Taiwan, invited the Japanese music combination SENS to create music for his film “City of Sadness“. The film participated in the Venice Film Festival and won the best film “Golden Lion Award” award, becoming the first Taiwan film, which won the first prize in one of the three world-class film festivals.

SENS is Japan’s electronic music group, founded in 1984. Members are Akihiko Fukaura and Yukari Katsuki. Before the creation and interpretation of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s world famous film “City of Sadness” soundtrack, they had the rich experience of participating in the work of Chinese cultural images. In 1988, they were composer, arranger and performer in the NHK documentary “Sea Silk Road” of “Silk Road Series“. And later they wrote a classic soundtrack “Memory of Forbidden City” for the documentary “Forbidden City“. The music has become the classic melody familiar to the audience. Due to the deep understanding of Chinese culture, in 2011, the mainland film “The Warring States” paid high remuneration to hire them as musician, for the creation of the theme song and soundtrack.

The Particularity of Soundtrack

Different from the general sense of music creation, film soundtrack as a cross-border areas and a strong practical operation, it not only requires the musician’s talent, but also their rich experience in the film industry of so many years. So they can understand the idea of directors, figure out the audience psychology, and make the greatest effort within the reasonable constraints of the budget.

Japanese musician Joe Hisaishi has participated in a lot of Chinese film soundtrack for a long time. He has been invited constantly, claiming to be able to write 70 works in three days. He is very creative. His soundtrack for Miyazaki’s animation film has become a classic in the classics. But who knows that every time in the creation of music, he hadn’t watched the film! Because Hayao Miyazaki’s work habit is to pursue excellence, everyone does not know what the film is until the last minute. So their working way is that Hayao Miyazaki provides some watercolor painting of some of the film concept to Joe Hisaishi. Joe Hisaishi then created music based on these paintings. With such a capacity, no wonder that Joe Hisaishi will become the most favorite soundtrack master of the directors.

The Chinese director, who has the most profound relationship to Joe Hisaishi is Jiang Wen. They have had three times of cooperation. One of the most outstanding is the soundtrack he made for Jiang Wen’s film “The Sun Also Rises“. The film’s director of publicity, Yan Yunfei, said that “The Sun Also Rises” is a film full of metaphors and reverie, and Joe Hisaishi ‘s music does have a fairy tale for the appeal of the dream.

Japan’s soundtrack has a high degree of specialization

Japan’s soundtrack is famous for its high degree of specialization and multiple styles. Almost every type of film can find the best musicians to perform. Wong Kar-wai’s “Queen” of the Japanese musician is Shigeru Umebayashi, who is very familiar with and has good performance in Wong Kar-wai films, which have blurred ambiguous and literary touching characteristics. He has produced the complement soundtrack for Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love“, “2046“, and “The Grandmaster“. In the movie “In the Mood for Love“, each time Chow Mo-yun and Su Li-zhen met on the stairs, the light waltz melody always brought us unlimited reverie. And to the “The Grandmaster“, the music has combined the literati breath into martial arts world. This is very similar with his original soundtrack in Zhang Yimou’s “House of Flying Daggers“, which has presented all of his powerful ability to control literary films.

Kawai Kenji has long been engaged in the study of Japanese folk music, so most of his earlier genre is slow and beautiful, with a strong oriental classical style. Later, Kawai’s musical style gradually changes to cadence, vigorous and deep direction. In addition to the Japanese traditional instruments, the orchestra also accounted for a large proportion. Kawai grasps the melody in very detail and he can change the melody to reflect the story changes. In addition, Ikuro Fujiwara and Taro Iwashiro have created the soundtrack for “Red Cliff“,”Painted Skin” and other pieces of music, which also show their special abilities to control of the classic, war, fantasy and other topics. The reason is that in Japan, they have made the soundtrack for ancient war theme of the game, animation and other music for very longtime. They are very familiar with this type of music requirements, but specialties with this talent in China are rare.


Don’t let music become the weakness of Chinese Film

Facing the phenomenon that domestic film “obsessives” overseas music master, the famous musician Zhao Jiping has said: “There are many good musicians in China, but most domestic musicians prefer closing doors to create music. Commercialization is not enough.” Experts of the industry also point out: the neglect of the soundtrack for the film also led to the current phenomenon that Chinese film lack of classical film music.

In fact, we have seen many Chinese films, in which the so-called film music often combined only one to a few theme songs or episodes. Sometimes the music doesn’t match the plot. The simple and crude “taking” doctrine has made the film soundtrack become the combination of popular songs and movies. And in fact the film music requires masters to manage.

In the countries with developed film industry, music has long been an important part of the film industry. Most of the soundtrack from the film began to intervene, synchronize with the screen clip. The composer creates the appropriate work according to the plot and the director’s intention; selects the right performers, the final completion of the overall creation. Today, almost all of the Europe and the American films will make the soundtrack into special edition of CD and sell them before the release of the films. It can play a publicity effect, and also increase the value of derivatives.



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  2. Yu Fan: “Controversies on the Chinese Films Use Foreign Soundtrack. Where Is the Musician for Chinese Film Soundtrack?” from “China Culture Daily”
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