And you thought this was all an April Fool’s Day joke…
Now that we have the shocking announcement out of the way, let’s move on to this week’s piece by starting off with the source. If you’re like me at all, you probably haven’t heard of Suna no Utsuwa, a J-drama that aired in 2004 and revolves around murder and a pianist, subjects that aren’t normally bedfellows, but I’m told it works well here.
But if there is something about this show that I have heard of, it would be composer Akira Senju. I first became aware of how well Senju can channel drama and melancholy when he scored the Red Garden soundtrack (I rated it a rare masterpiece) though I’m sure most people really know him best through his Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood soundtrack (not as well-regarded by me, but I seem to be a minority opinion-holder). Through Suna no Utsuwa, Senju gives us a firm reminder of his ability to capture the mix of hope and despair, and nowhere is that displayed more brilliantly than in the piano concerto that he composed for the show (Speaking as a fanboy for piano concertos, one need only look at the number of piano concertos in anime to quickly see why J-drama OSTs are superior).
Piano Concerto ‘Shukumei’ 1st movement
[audio:01-Piano Concerto ‘Shukumei’ 1st movement.mp3]
In listening to the first movement of “Piano Concerto ‘Shukumei,'” I’m entranced by how well it balances out the feeling of dread and despair with the glimmer of hope that materializes amidst the gloom. The piece starts off on an ominous foot, with chords that evoke a feeling of suffering, one that’s further augmented by the orchestra’s melancholy melody highlighting the tragedies that gnaw away at the protagonist, Eiryo Waga. As the orchestra continues on, you get a sense for the battle Waga faces as he looks back upon his dark past; the piece evokes this with a slow, ponderous melody that carries with it a sense of hopelessness, that the emotional scars that mar his soul are too deep and will never heal.
Or perhaps the past that haunts him can be overcome. The shift around 3:30 seems to indicate as such, as the ensemble plays a hopeful section that bears a lightness borne out of the possibility of Waga’s redemption. The piano and orchestra work together well to convey these feelings, not only in this section alone, but in subsequent hopeful sections, suggesting that the shackles that bind him to the past will dissolve so that he may live his new life a free man.
But all of that’s nothing more than a brief respite as the ponderous theme in the earlier part comes back with a vengeance. Every subsequent hopeful section is followed by a section that is dark and tension-filled, and you begin to wonder to what degree the hope is but an illusion that only leads Waga to futility and despair? As the piece continues, the glimpses of redemption appear, only to be overcome and beaten down by the trials and tribulations that come after. The first movement certainly doesn’t end on a hopeful note; Senju’s poignant depiction of the suffering Waga must endure suggests further spiritual pains that come from Waga wrestling with his demons. And as his crimes catch up to him, the melody responds with a swift blow of incoming retribution. Needless to say, the listener is left feeling pessimistic about Waga’s mental state and whether he can atone for his misdeeds.
(For all of you who’ve gotten this far and are fretting, yes, this actually is an April Fool’s joke, albeit, one that lasts longer than the usual one-day routine that everyone else seems to enjoy pulling. In fact, this will run for a week. If you’re here only for anime music, have patience with us until then! For those who don’t mind our amusing diversion, we hope you’re enjoying it find a track or two to enjoy.)