My Friends

[May 2000 Miki Higashino]

Right to Left: Mr. Hirata, the stylish sound creator of "Aitakute"; Mr. Soeyama, the man who drives around the red Alpha Romeo; the lovely Ms. Sayaka, the next generation composer, and Higashino.
The evil Dr. Higa seduces Mr. Hirata.
Q: First of all, could you tell us your date of birth, your sign of the Zodiac, and your blood-type?

Miki Higashino (hereafter referred to as MH): I'm a Capricorn, born on January 1st, ... aaand, let's stop right about there (laughs).

Q: Could you tell us about when, where and how you first met Mitsuda?

MH: I met him at this party commemorating the completion of the "TEN PLANTS" soundtrack. The party was held in the Irish Pub in Shinjuku called, "Dubliner's".

Q: And what were your impressions of Mitsuda back then?

MH: I was surprised by how friendly and amicable he was. If I were compare him to an animal, I'd say he's like a cute little puppy.

Q: And what are your impressions of him now? Has anything changed from back then?

MH: Not really. In general, I don't think he's really changed that much, but I think he may have grown from a little puppy to a medium-sized puppy.

Q: It seems that you've been working in the game industry for quite a while now, but could you tell us a little bit about your background?

MH: I started off working as a part-time composer for Konami back when I was still a student, and I've been here ever since. If I go into details, it could get rea--lly rea--lly long, so I'll leave that for next time.

Q: Could you tell us what kind of games you've worked on so far?

MH: I've worked on projects for many different genres and platforms including: AC, MSX (unpublicized), X6800 (unpublicized), Nintendo, Super Nintendo, PC-Engine, PICNO (Konami's toy targetted for kids), Sega Genesis, PlayStation, and PlayStation2.

I always find it difficult to state which one as being my representative work, but some of my better known works include, the "Gensousuikoden" series, "Gradius" and "Salamander".

Q: Of all the projects that you've worked on so far, which one would you say was the most fun to work on? And also, could you tell us the reasons why?

MH: I'd have to say - the project in which I received the ultimate test as a sound creator, "Hyper Dunk" and "TMNT FIGHTERS" for the Sega Genesis. The limitation for these games was 8bit 6k; and I had to work with that to see what kind of cool dribbling sounds I could make and also how I could "beef up" the snares and the kicks. Back then, I didn't like using the PCM sounds in the Super Nintendo, so I would always try tinkeingr with the FM sound modules until I got the sounds that I really wanted.

Besides that, "Premier Soccer" was also one of my really memorable works because I had to work on EVERYTHING by myself except the programming. But times have changed, and since companies these days are shifting their focus towards big name titles and higher quality sounds, I don't think anything like that will ever happen again. And finally, PICNO games such as "Chibi-Maruko chan were very easy-going and fun to make, even though they never came out with the soundtracks.

Q: Do you feel that there are any differences in creating songs for shooters such as "Gradius" and role playing games such as "Gensousuikoden"? If so, what do you think these differences are?

MH: Well, I think one common point shared by these two works is that I wasn't given too many directions on how to make the songs. I was given complete freedom. But looking at it from the composition point of view, the main difference that I see is "which part of the brain the music is targetted towards". In other words, in games such as "Gradius", I tried to create songs that would stimulate the listener's ears and send out pleasant pulses to their shooter-brains; whereas in "Gensousuikoden", I tried to create songs that would touch more upon people's hearts and emotions. Compared to back when I used to compose songs as a part-time worker, working as a employee is very different in that there's an enormous amount of pressure and responsibility, which in a way has changed my composition style a bit.

Q: In "Gensousuikoden" and "Gensousuikoden 2", you've adopted many different styles of music, but why did you decide to take the approach that you did in those titles?

MH: Hmm... That's a tough question (laughs). In my opinion, for a game with that kind of setting and scenario, I thought that that type of music was the ONLY approach that I could take. I didn't really "put" the music onto the game, but I think it just "flowed out" from within me, naturally.

Q: Could you tell us about some of the struggles that you went through, and also the fun things that occurred during the making of "Gensousuikoden (1&2)"?

MH: Usually, by the time I finish the production process, my mind's a blank slate. The way I look at it, "as long as I have the ROM and the soundtrack in my hands, I'll survive".
The album cover of Orrizonte.

Q: I hear that lately, you've been working on an arrange album for "Gensousuikoden 2", but how is that coming along? Maybe you could introduce the CD to us or tell us a little about the concept.

MH: But of course! On May 10th, an arrange album called, "Gensousuikoden 2 Orrizonte" (product number KMCA57; 3,059 yen) is scheduled to go on sale. It's mainly an acoustic arrange of the town songs off of "Gensousuikoden 2", and it uses many rare and interesting instruments such as the hurdy-gurdy and the Renaissance bagpipe. The people down in KME (Konami Music Entertainment) kept insisting on making a fusion arrange or an orchestra arrange, but me, being the stubborn little lady that I am, kept on saying "NON, NON!" until they finally gave in and allowed me to make this album. My initial image that I had in mind was "an acoustic arrange using archaic musical instruments, with a non-Japanese vocal arrange" and it was brought to life beautifully with the help of Vita Nova's Mr. Yuji Yoshino and Mrs. Yoko Ueno.

The content goes "far beyond just fan service". It's marvelous. I know that the budget for this project wasn't much to begin with, but I'm truly amazed by all the effort put in by all the people around me. The recording process was a very fun experience to say the least, and I was able to learn many new things. Even if you've never played the game, I'm sure that you'll enjoy this album very much. And in case you're wondering, I also participated in a couple of songs on this album too (chorus, handclaps, etc).

Q: I hear that you have a keen interest in French music, movies, and fashion, but could you tell us how this began? Also, what is it about the French culture that interests you so much?

MH: No matter how many "all nighter's" I may go through, composing songs, I have this policy of "working with elegance" (laughs), and if I could, I'd like to try aging the same way as the great French actress, Anouk Aimee. Although recently, my country of interest has begun to shift to other places, I know that every young girl must have been attracted to that French ESPRIT at least once in their lifetime.

Well, if we talk about music, there was a period of time when I was really into the music of French composers such as Maurice Ravel, Gabriel Faure, and Claude Debussy. I was really captivated by their pleasant French harmony and the colorful sounds created by their music.

Q: What kind of music do you listen to the most, recently?

There's this 4-man Irish band (flute, fiddle, bass, guitar) called, LUNASA that I've been really hooked on for a while now, and their stoic playing style is so--- cool! Their CD's good too, but I really recommend their live performances (it even says so in their CD liner). The rhythm of their acoustic guitar and bass is the best that I've ever heard. I even went to their live in this place called "CAY" just the other day. The place was packed and I couldn't get a seat for myself, so after standing around for a while, I retreated to the counter section and listened to their music from there (the standing around was just too much on my feet). The designers and the planners down in the Murayama team (Gensousuikoden) are really hooked on Celtic music too lately, and I've heard that they listen to alot of Hevia while they work. It's wierd how some of them know more about Celtic music than the people in the sound team. Well, anyway, after the live I went to a nearby Irish bar to have myself a drink, and as I was sipping on my Guiness, I saw some of the band members and their staff members walk right in. I got to see the bass player so up close! It was great. I have both their first and second albums, and in my opinion, they're both "must buy's".

Well, they're just one of my personal favorites, and I'm sure that Mitsuda-san would like them too. Before this, whenever I heard the word, "Celtic", I always associated it with music of traditional Celt bands, like the Chieftans (which I've never really been a real big fan of), but I think I've really had my eyes opened with the new age music of artists such as Hevia, Capercaillie, and The Corrs.

Q: How do you spend your time away from work?

MH: Sometimes, I go take a walk in my "backyard", the Shinjuku Gyoen Park, and other times, I pedal my bike down to Shinjuku to go watch a movie. There's this one Hong Kong movie that I saw recently, called "Storm Riders" (based on the comic book) and well, it's kind of hard to explain in words, but the visuals are stunning. A very interesting movie to say the least (laughs). You have to go see it sometime. The heros in this movie don't fly in a parabola, like in the "MATRIX". Everywhere they go, they fly in straight lines (laughs). Even good ole' Shinichi Chiba (61 years old) stars in this movie, and when the guys in the Murayama team went to see this movie, they all came back shouting how great he was. Me? Personally I fell in love with the young man who played the part of Hwang, Ekin Cheng.

Q: Could you tell us a little bit about your day at work? (for example... what time do you start work, and also what time do you usually stop working?)

MH: (a typical Higashino-Monday)

09:00 Arrives at the company. Checks for mail, reports, or messages.
Takes a few minutes to listen to the songs composed during the week before.

10:00 Time for the morning chit-chat. Talks with other employees about movies watched or any new CD's bought over the weekend.

11:45 Well, what do you know!? Lunch Time... already!
Since the company is located next to the Imperial Palace, she grabs some sushi at the Kita no Maru Park, and also catches some beautiful rays while she's at it.

13:30 Team meeting time.
This is usually followed by a team leader meeting in which each team leader reports their team's condition and progress.

14:30 Finally starts composing some songs.
(Enters her "zone" and begins to emit a mysterious aura that prevents co-workers from coming near. She rarely smokes, so she remains seated like a stone statue.)

17:30 A director's meeting for the Sound Production Division.
Reports to others of the recent activities of the division.

19:00 If hungry, goes out to grab a bite to eat.
Today, she decides to have some bagels at Tarley's Cafe.
Returns to her compositions.

21:00 Leaves work. Decides to save some energy for the remaining week.

21:30 Arrives at her home. Checks mail. Gives phone calls to family and friends.

23:00 Enter sandman.

02:00 Wakes up for a little while. Checks mail. Surfs the net for sites on playing the piano.
Watches some CBS News, TV shopping channels...

05:00 Sandman returns.

08:00 Rise n'shine.

I don't know if this is really good or bad, but I tend to have these awkward sleeping patterns every now and then. So... what did you think? Sounds like a typical salaryman's work schedule, ehh? Well, Mondays are usually packed with meetings, and I really don't feel like I've done any real work. Recently, I've been having to take on things such as evaluating the younger employees, screening applicants for work, and giving consultations to other workers. It's really tough trying to concentrate on music while taking on all these different tasks, but then again, sometimes, it's this tension that fuels my engine.

Q: Do you ever work at your home? Or are you the type of person that keeps her home-life separated from her work-life?

MH: I never bring my work home.

Q: What do you think about Mitsuda quitting his job to become a freelance composer?

MH: How does Mr. Mitsuda, himself feel? I always say to my friends at my workplace, "Mr. Mitsuda has this aura about him that makes people feel like he's going to make something BIG happen" so no matter what stance he may take, I'm confident that Mr. Mitsuda's music will always stay the same.

Q: Do you have any plans on becoming a freelance? (or maybe this wasn't such a good question to ask...?)

MH: I've been in this business for 15 years now, ever since my part-time years. I've seen the organization change as time passes; seen people come and go; and just being in this lil' Konami-town gets me spin-dizzy. There are so many fun experiences, not to mention a lot of excitement and tension. It would be reckless for me to try going out into the world relying only on my strengths. Right now, I feel that the merit that comes from putting myself inside an organization is a really big part of my life.

Q: What are your dreams for the future?

MH: I have over 100 dreams that I still have to realize, so each day I work to clear these goals, one step at a time. And what are these goals, you ask? I'm too embarassed to say them here.

Q: A while back, there was an omnibus album, "TEN PLANTS" in which you participated in the first album and Mitsuda worked in the second, but how do you feel about doing those types of albums? And also, how did you feel about writing songs away from the game world (not to mention a song with a vocal track)?

MH: Well I consider myself to be more of a songwriter than a composer, so actually, I'd like to try writing more songs like that if I could. Also, I think that I've begun to move away from the traditional "Melody-A, Melody-B, Chorus" type of songs and have begun to write songs where I use the voice as more of an "instrument". On this album, I especially enjoyed working on "Tokyo Seikatsu" with Mr. Uematsu, simply because he's one of my most respected game composers. I think that for "TEN PLANTS" they were really strict in choosing the artists, and they chose only the people whom they could call, "game music composers" but it seems that recently, there just aren't too many people who could truly be called "game music composers". I think there are still tons of hidden talent out there that have far greater skills than me. There are also plently of composers out there that write great songs, but are still unknown to the world, and I know a lot of the young talented composers who are bound to become big name composers one of these days. Also, I know that between each of the game companies, there's an unseen wall that separates us all, but still I would like to send a big "Good luck!" to Mr. Uematsu.

Q: Do you have any plans of making say, like an all-vocal or all-instrumental original album? (Or, would you like to make one someday?)

MH: The possibilities of me releasing something like that from Konami, are slim to none. But if someday, you go to a comic market, and find an old lady secretly selling CD's at the side... that would be me.

The heart and bear-shaped cereal from Switzerland. What a cute little package!
A very delicious yogurt made by Heichinrou.
Q: OK, and now let's go for the big question-of-the-day! (this question is from Mitsuda. He says... "no is NOT an option") Are you married? (laughs)

MH: Woah. (laughs) Would you mind if I bring in the Higashino-version of Dark-Mitsuda in here?

(Enter Dr. Higa)
"Non, non, non monsieur... You know better than to ask a question like that to a mademoiselle like moi!"

Um... Excuse me. (laughs) I know that there are some people out there that already know, but Higashino has one strike already. I was asked the ultimate question of "Me or your music, which is it going to be?" and I chose "music". I think people have their different thoughts on marriage, and if we speak in terms of merits and demerits, the demerit was just too great for me, so I've decided to remain single. Wheeeeew... Please spare me the rest, Monsieur Dark-Mitsuda!

Q: And now, could you send a word out to Mitsuda?

MH: Are you planning on making an original album someday? If you're thinking about making a French omnibus someday, please don't hesitate to call me up. I also talked to Miki and Maki the other day, and they told me that Vartinna is going to be visiting Japan this June. If I remember correctly, Vartinna is one of your favorite bands, isn't it? I'm very excited to see that the European Celtic artists and acoustic bands visiting Japan are beginning to get more and more attention. I'll probably be going to see them too, so if you're going on the same day, maybe we can arrange to meet up somewhere. I'll mail you again if I get some information on any new good music.

Q: Finally, could you please send out a word to all the readers of this page (feel free to use this section to PR your future activities)?

MH: Thank you for inviting me to this interview today. And for those of you who stuck around to the very end, thank you very much for your time. I may have lost control of myself at the end there (laughs), but I hope you'll forgive me. Also, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce my latest work, "Gensousuikoden 2 Orrizonte" (product code : KMCA57, price : \3059). It's a wonderful album, so please give it a listen if you have the time.

Finally, I'd like to say how deeply I am in love with Mr. Mitsuda's attitude toward music. His straight-forwardness, his friendly spirit, and his honesty can really be felt from his songs. I really hope that Mr. Mitsuda will continue to be loved by all his fans and will continue to work hard to achieve his dreams. As a fan of his works, I too am looking forward to his future activities.

Thank you very much!
A truly amazing lady she is, Ms. Higashino. Leading the arduous life of a game music composer and going through all-nighters to write songs (and to think, you chose to take music over a man!... Normally, it would be the other way around). Personally, I'm really looking forward to your new album, "Gensousuikoden 2 Orrizonte". Listening to your sounds, I feel that you and Mitsuda have very similar tastes in music. I hope that you and Mitsuda will remain to be good friends for many years to come. And finally, a message to you from Mitsuda!

Yasunori Mitsuda: I'm very glad that I was able to see "another side of you" in this interview (laughs). When I first took a look at your schedule, I was amazed by the amount of work that you had in a single day, but what surprised me more was how much of your time was taken up by meetings and how little time you actually had to compose songs. Having to lead a dual life as a composer and a manager and still being able to come up with these cool sounds is truly a gift. I really respect you on that point (I don't think I'd be able to do such a thing. That's why I quit my job at SQUARE. hehe... just kidding).

Although this is totally off the topic, one little sidenote: Did you know that one of the reasons why Lunasa visited Japan this time was because of the "CREID"? It's true. When I went to Ireland to record that album, I stopped by a nearby pub with the album coordinator, and there in the pub was Lunasa, playing a live set. I spoke with the coordinator, saying how "these guys would probably be a big success if they ever came to Japan", and believe it or not, a few months later, this coordinator actually talked Lunasa into coming to Japan for a live tour! I'm glad to hear that you like their music too.

Sorry I got off the subject there... but anyway, I hope that we can continue to be good friends and also continue to share more information with each other. I'm looking forward to hearing more of that Higashino-sound so please let me know when you release your next album.

PS. Vartinna's live? I'm definitely going. Hope to see you there.