Composer Eiko Ishibashi leaves the convention with “Drive My Car”

Eiko Ishibashi is a Japanese composer and musician known for her chameleon-like approach to the genre and her polymath playing abilities. Using the piano as his main mode of expression, Ishibashi works at the intersection of jazz, experimental and pop. She has released over a dozen albums and her rich musical universe has been brought into the visual realm with installation, theater and film collaborations.

Ishibashi’s recent work on the Oscar-winning Japanese drama road movie drive my car possesses caught her eye, though she remains humbled by her success. “As far as the soundtrack goes, I honestly don’t feel like I nailed it. But if people who saw the film liked it, I’m very happy,” she says.

In 1981, Czech filmmaker Ivan Passer directed Jeff Bridges in the neo-noir thriller cutter path, whose soundtrack is Ishibashi’s all-time favorite. “[It has] a very beautiful score by Jack Nitzsche. It’s music that makes you think about the context and the story of the story, and you can relate it to your own life,” she notes. The same can be said of Ishibashi’s music in drive my car.

Centered on the friendship between a director with a troubled past and his equally complex chauffeur, many themes are at play throughout the film’s three hours; fables, human capacity and loneliness are just a few. Ishibashi internalized the script in his deeply philosophical way: “I thought it was like a long poem based on many testimonies of the tragedies of history. It was as if the characters’ words were spirits borrowing bodies to express themselves.

drive my car has plenty of silent moments that give the viewer space to digest the heightened vibe, and Ishibashi’s soundtrack is used conservatively, to great effect. Talk with Variety earlier this year, director Ryusuke Hamaguchi said, “Something I asked Ishibashi at the beginning is that the music almost feels like the scenery.” It is, and Ishibashi instinctively knew what Hamaguchi was talking about: “When the director first told me about his request for ‘music as a setting’, I really understood. I didn’t want the music to control how the words were received by making them emotional.

The film’s opening section is virtually music-free, with jigsaw family drama unfolding through lengthy dialogue and hushed physical intimacy. It’s not until the late title sequence, 30 minutes later, that we hear the score. Ishibashi’s music washes over you when it comes, allowing the seeds planted by Hamaguchi to sprout and grow without drowning you in sentimentality.

Ishibashi is a renowned musician and chooses her projects carefully. “In the Japanese system, the budget is very low for soundtracks, and I’m not interested in producing a soundtrack disc because the music is made for the movie,” she explains. “But the movie [Drive My Car] was fantastic, and thanks to [foley artist] Miki Nomura, the sounds of cars and boats were wonderful. So I decided to make an exception this time.

When asked what stage of production she was involved in, she notes that “I wrote a few songs when I read the script, a few songs when the pictures were done, then I finished all the songs. before the final scene where Misaki is driving in Korea. About the composition of this final scene, Ishibashi says that the idea came naturally: “I was worried because I don’t think much about the audience. came softly when I thought of a song that the public could listen to – a song that would connect the film and the real world.

“My initial interest was not so much in the story itself as in why the director chose to script the film in this way,” she notes after being asked if she felt a connection to the characters or the story. “It’s a quiet movie, but once the characters open their mouths, they go out of their way to talk about things they dare not say, and it’s up to the audience to take it or dodge it. .”

Ishibashi’s prolific output and touring schedule demonstrate his compulsion to make music. However, she tells me that she may be wrapped up in the process and that her frequent collaborator, American musician Jim O’Rourke, who played on the soundtrack, can remind her not to stray too far into obsession. . “I’m used to getting lost in the energy and time it takes to get my scores. Jim is very objective about this. So even if he doesn’t say anything, I can think, oh, maybe I’m exaggerating. Jim is also very encouraging as someone who does a lot of singing, experimental work and film music.

Photo: Seiji Shibuya / Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR

“For me, he is more a teacher than a collaborator,” she says.

Another musician on the soundtrack is the drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto, who Ishibashi says played a vital role in the process. “I wanted the songs to have an awesome drum score, so I asked my good friend, drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto, who is a very good conductor, to play some drum patterns. I have my own beats that I like to listen to when I’m driving, so I picked some of those and wrote some of the songs from there.

“Music helps me focus on driving,” she notes when asked if there’s a connection between the two. “I thought I was not a good driver because I easily get lost in my thoughts. However, I moved to the countryside and was forced to drive. After a year of searching for music that would help me focus on driving, I found Autechre’s music to be the best to help me focus on driving without making me think about unnecessary things.

Although drive my car has found an audience overseas, Ishibashi says the same cannot be said for its domestic market. “I was surprised by the reaction in Japan. I’ve heard the audience has grown since he won the Oscar, but when I went to see him in the theater when he first came out last year, there weren’t many people. The world of Japanese cinema is almost the same as television and entertainment, and unrelated songs with famous singers are in trailers, so I think it didn’t sit well with audiences used to this kind of cinematic world. ”

Although it received the award for best film by the three major groups of American critics, Ishibashi explains that it did not find the same critical reception in Japan either, describing it as “a film shunned by Japanese moviegoers. People in the Japanese subculture don’t like films that are made with great care and honesty, and have received a fair amount of recognition. They treat it like it’s a movie made by an honor student. I think it’s mostly due to childish jealousy.

Eiko Ishibashi
Photo: Seiji Shibuya / Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR

At the start of this piece, Ishibashi noted that they didn’t feel like they were successful with this soundtrack. When asked why, Ishibashi thinks “maybe, I think, it’s about what constitutes success. Maybe I don’t consider it a success because I don’t think the work I’ve done is perfect yet.

Self-critical assessments aside, Ishibashi is “currently gearing up for solo gigs in Dublin, London, Brussels, San Francisco and New York in May and June.” The success of drive my car will see her perform in front of an audience who are also fans of the film and who were no doubt moved by its jagged tenderness and haunting score. Whether Eiko feels she succeeded or not, everyone knows she succeeded.

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