Today’s interview guest joining Monologue Blogger for our Conversation Series is Music Composer Asuka Ito.
Asuka’s work spans from working as an in-house composer for Nintendo for eight years to composing music for motion pictures from Los Angeles, California.
Asuka shares with us her travels, work and ambitions.
When did you find out that you wanted to be a composer?
Asuka Ito: I was always a music lover, but I never thought I would pursue music as a career. I started the piano at the age of 5, but I never liked practicing. I kept changing instruments. I tried the violin, clarinet, saxophone, and viola, which none of them I was ever good at. The only thing I was good at was, I could just listen to a song and play it by ear.
I found out I wanted to be a composer when I was 20 years-old. My friend in college was making a short movie with a CG character blended in a live action film. She knew I could somewhat play the piano, and suggested me to compose music for it. It was challenging, since it wasn’t just making music. It was about making music to a moving picture. That was my first scoring experience. Finding the right tempo, mood, instrumentation… and learning DAWs from scratch. As I started, I realized how the music can influence a scene, or even the entire story. The character became alive. When he (the character) was sad, he was SO sad with the music. It was like, giving life to the characters and telling the story with music.
Since that experience, I became addicted in making music for moving pictures. I started networking with student directors and also kept working with that friend. The way I watch movies changed dramatically. I was more focused on soundtracks. My journey as a nerdy composer began.
Can you tell us about your background, where did you grow up?
Asuka Ito: I was born in Japan, but I spent most of my teenage years in foreign countries. I spent 3 years in France, attending a local middle school. That was the toughest time for me, since I didn’t even write alphabet when I first arrived in Paris. Then my family moved to Ankara, Turkey. I attended an American School there, so I had to switch my language from French to English. Then I was enrolled to a boarding high school in New York for 3 years. I came back to Japan to attend university.
How did this influence you?
Asuka Ito: I was always a foreigner wherever I would go. I think I was a lonely kid, since I couldn’t communicate well because of language barriers. I also had to move every 2-3 years, meaning so many goodbyes to friends. I always kept thinking about my friends in the previous place, who would obviously move on without me. By the time I came back to my home town in Japan, my life was too different from old local friends that I couldn’t connect with them anymore. I was a foreigner again, even in Japan! I might be sounding so pessimistic, but besides that loneliness, I can say I was the luckiest kid in the world to be able to travel a lot, to explore different cultures and beautiful countries across Europe, Middle East and America.
I’m sure the loneliness helped you create. What music inspired you when you were growing up?
Asuka Ito: I wasn’t an adventurous kid who could explore a lot of new things. I tended to stick to one genre for many months/years until I would discover new artists. The first CD album I bought was Dave Brubeck’s 70-year anniversary album, which happened to be playing in a Fnac store. Then there was a Japanese pop group called Chage & Aska. One of the singers had same name as mine. I started listening to them and became so obsessed. Their chord progressions and lyrics are amazing.
As for classical pieces, since I had long fingers, my piano teachers gave me a lot of pieces by French composers, such as Ravel, Debussy, and Faure. I still love them.
What music inspires you now?
Asuka Ito: Pat Metheny. I was his fan since many years ago, but now that I live in Los Angeles, I feel like I’m in a right place to listen to his songs. The beach and his songs are a perfect combination for me.
What has influenced you the most as a composer?
Asuka Ito: My working experience as an in-house composer for Nintendo. Soon after I decided to be a composer, I was luckily hired as one of their new recruits. First, it was going to be my temporary job before going to Hollywood, but I ended up staying there for 8 years. I had a chance to collaborate with the world’s top game producers.
What has been your most exciting project to date?
Asuka Ito: Hmmm, it’s hard to pick one. For games, I would say Smash Bros. Wii U.
For films, I had a chance to work for a composer who had an orchestral recording in Barbara Streisand Scoring Stage in Sony Studio. Yes, one of the legendary scoring stages in Los Angeles. (E.T. was recorded there.) 74 piece orchestra. That was amazing! The movie is called “The Healer”.
What are your dreams and desires?
Asuka Ito: My dream is to live in a place where the view would fit my favorite music.
If you could work on any project in the world right now, what would it be?
Asuka Ito: Pixar movies! or next Star Wars!
How would you describe your music style?
Asuka Ito: I’m definitely a melody writer, which is a little old-school. But I believe the trend will come back. Also, my music is up-lifting, happy/comedic/romantic rather than depressing/scary. I think it’s because I was trained in Nintendo, famous for happy & catchy melodies that would stick to your brain forever!
Can you describe your process when working on a film/project?
Asuka Ito: I get the final cut, I have a spotting session with the director, and then I would be stuck in my studio composing for days and weeks. Well, this is the ideal situation. In reality, I get a lot of rough cuts which are not locked time wise. But it’s ok. Filmmaking is a collaborative process.
Are there other art forms that you extract inspiration from?
Asuka Ito: It’s not art, but I would say, personal experiences in general. For example, ten years ago I think I knew only two or three kinds of sadness. As I grew older, now I know… probably 10 kinds of sadness. I will know more after 20 years. Experiences will inspire you and help you connect with the characters in the story you are scoring.
How important is the role of composer in film? Can you give us your thoughts on this?
Asuka Ito: The role of a composer is immense. Music cannot only enhance the emotion, but also enhance the whole storytelling. It can provide reference to a certain geographic / time references (in addition to costumes and sets), it can highlight a specific moment, connect scenes, foreshadow what’s going to happen next, etc. The power of music can literally manipulate the whole film.
Although composers are one of the last crews to join the post-production, I would recommend filmmakers to start thinking about music earlier, even during shooting.
If there is a composer you could meet and creatively collaborate with on a score for 6 months, who would this be?
John Williams!! I’ll cancel all my work if I can work for him for the next Star Wars. I mean, I’ll be just fine making tea for him, if it’s John Williams!!
What are your three favorite movie soundtracks to listen to?
Asuka Ito: Legend of 1900, Prince of Egypt and Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Where do you currently live and do you like living there or is there some place else you’d rather be?
Asuka Ito: I live in Los Angeles. I like the positive, international vibe here. I don’t have to belong to any nationality / culture. It’s a perfect city for travelers. And for people seeking careers in the film industry, it’s definitely the right place to be.
Every week, there are some film festivals with powerful films that you would never get a chance to watch in theaters or Netflix. Lots of opportunities, beautiful people, and talented filmmakers who give us hands. They are so humble and hard working. So many good role models. I don’t know if I want to live here forever, since I’ve always been a traveler, but so far I am satisfied with all the experiences here.
- Click here to learn more about Composer Asuka Ito