The premature death of Toru Takemitsu in 1996 robbed us of the most prominent Japanese composer, easily combining Eastern and Western sounds in his works: he was also one of the greatest movie composers of all time. Straddling the line between classicism and modernism, sometimes within the same work, Takemitsu’s music continues to be performed and recorded, proof of his brilliance and influence.
This month brings his movie to the screen and concert music to the stage. Film Forum‘s retrospective Takemitsu presents 19 films that contain his expansive and eclectic scores, while Carnegie Hall’s Japan NYC Festival (which begins in December and continues in the spring) includes a trio of concerts (two on Carnegie stages) that feature his music.
Film Forum’s retro comprises 19 films (out of the dozens he scored in a career spanning nearly four decades) that showcase the impressive scope of his soundscapes. An unabashed movie buff—he famously complained on his death bed that he couldn’t watch any more movies—he must have felt privileged to work with Japan’s best directors, from Akira Kurosawa and Hiroshi Teshigahara to Masaki Kobayashi and Masahiro Shinoda, on many seminal films that made Japan one of the world’s cinematic capitals.
In addition to inarguable classics (Kurosawa’s Ran and Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes), the retrospective includes lesser-known titles such as Kurosawa’s Dodes-ka-Den and Teshigahara’s Pitfall, The Face of Another and Antonio Gaudi, to all of which the composer contributed innovative scores that remain firmly wedded to the images for which they were created.
Best about the retro is the inclusion of a quartet of films by underrated but masterly director Masaki Kobayashi: Hara-kiri and Samurai Rebellion are splendid anti-samurai epics, Kwaidan is a haunting omnibus film comprising four ghost stories, and the rarely-seen Hymn to a Tired Man — in which Kobayashi (with an important assist from Takemitsu’s alternately tasteful and stringent score) ponders the state of post-war Japan, circa 1968, through the eyes of a middle-aged worker who lost his hearing during the war—is a poetic character study that should not be missed, especially since the Japan Foundation’s print will be returned to Tokyo after its only showing on December 4.
Takemitsu’s art is also celebrated by JapanNYC, the imposingly large-scale festival that bridges East and West through music and culture. This makes Takemitsu a natural fit for the festival, whose artistic director is conductor Seiji Ozawa, an admirer of the composer. Maestro Ozawa conducts the Saito Kinen Orchestra on December 15 in November Steps, Takemitsu’s concerto for two Eastern instruments, biwa and shakuhachi, and large orchestra. Originally written for the New York Philharmonic, led by Ozawa in its 1967 premiere, the 20-minute work shares a program with Berlioz’s boisterous Symphonie fantastique.
November Steps will also be heard on December 16 at Columbia University’s Miller Theater on a program of traditional Japanese music. And on December 17 at Zankel Hall, Takemitsu’s daughter Maki curates a tribute concert to her father which features improvisations of his movie music, including selections from Dodes-ka-den and The Face of Another, which bring us (and Takemitsu‘s music) full circle.
December 3-16, 2010
Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street
December 15-17, 2010
Carnegie Hall, 7th Avenue & 57th Street