Kenji Kawai – Innocence O.S.T. (2004)

Quentin Tarantino once described the relationship between a good soundtrack and a movie in terms of wondrous codependency – a good song can make one fondly remember even a sub-par scene from a film, whereas a badly chosen song can send even a brilliantly constructed scene into the memory’s oblivion. I believe there are many instances when this mode of though is proven correct, especially when a soundtrack is so good it can make you relive the film, transport you into that mood and context again, years later, from the confines of a CD. It’s happened to me with some of Vangelis’ work (I dare say I like the Blade Runner soundtrack even more than the movie, at times), as well as John Williams’ (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, oh dear, this man is a real film-score genius), but the most energetic example of a soundtrack which stuck with me on its own, many years after having seen the movie, is Kenji Kawai’s score for the original Ghost in the Shell anime, and, five years later, the one for its successor, titled Innocence.


I am tempted, right off the bat, to compare this soundtrack to Vangelis’ Blade Runner album – both films have a lot in common (the android theme, the implications of humanity constructing a post-human, self-sustaining and intelligent entity which ends up showing more empathy than its creators), and in spite of appearances, so do the soundtracks. It’s impossible not to notice the way Vangelis adds a jazz/lounge track right in the middle of his score for Blade Runner, just as Kenji Kawai uses Kimiko Itoh’s smokey voice to create a nostalgic mood in his score for Innocence. The contrast between the sonic universe of a futuristic reality, mechanized, bleeping and squeaking with circuitry, superimposed over a deeply emotional, human harmony is simply amazing both in Vangelis’ Memories of Green from Blade Runner and throughout Kenji Kawai’s use of a Japanese female choir singing a reinterpreted part of a Shinto prayer as a recurring motive on this soundtrack, mingled majestically with some of the most overwhelmingly powerful percussion I’ve ever heard. There’s exquisite tension here, machine-like rhythmic urgency which clashes and blooms into explosions of harmony when confronted with the tremendous effect the mighty choir brings to the songs, not to mention the expertly dosed additions by the symphonic orchestra in the background bringing an almost palpable feeling of ominous drama to the mix.

This music has shaped my mental image of Japan today, shallow and limited as a statement like that might seem. Unstoppable, awe-inspiring focus and strength shifting from one realm to the next, from ritualistic song so powerfully recalling the ideal of tradition and history to perfectly engineered rhythm, constructed out of a myriad components and percussive instances, all supporting the same feeling, that same gigantic mass which once glimpsed can only send shivers down your spine. Thirteen years after having seen Ghost in the Shell, Kenji Kawai’s soundtrack still, every single time, gives me goosebumps. Innocence takes that to a whole new level, accelerating the whole endeavor, veering ever closer to that arcane connective element between man and machine within the conceptual confines of humanity itself. This is all in the music, mind you, I’m doing my very best not to interpret this soundtrack in relation to the movie itself – this tension, this self-perpetuating, self-feeding collision of extremes permeates every fiber of the music itself, and communicates the same ideas and views as the movie on a completely different level of understanding, relying only on the sense of hearing (if you don’t count the tactile effect of listening to it at window-splitting volume, as I am right now) to convey the same sense of danger, scale and complexity as the original anime.

Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” was the basis for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and I can’t help but turn back to that text when listening to Kenji Kawai. Philip K Dick imagines a world in which all animals are extinct and humans, devoid of empathy in a condition which treads the line between spiritual and psychological disease, attempt to program their emotions with machines, and supplement a gnawing, consuming void in themselves by bonding with mechanical imitations of pets. In this world, androids show more will to live, more zest for life than the humans themselves, confronting them with a tragic dilemma. So, in Kenji Kawai’s music, out of the formidable wall of rhythm erupts the ethereal, overwhelming choir, at every turn, surprising and majestic every time, to leave the mind boggled and the senses in a state of disarray. Confronted with the tragic realization, Deckard, the main character from “Do androids dream…”, has the same, inconsolable reaction of loss. So does the Innocence O.S.T. album end with a jazzy vocal reinterpretation of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, a hollow, faded, heart-breaking memory of it’s original self, painfully close to becoming meaningless.

I definitely recommend this wonderful album (along with the soundtrack for Ghost in the Shell, issued five years earlier), it’s one of the most eloquent and self-sustaining film-scores I’ve ever heard. Enjoy! See you soon.

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