meet radwimps, the band who soundtracked coming-of-age anime 'your name'

Rocketing to the top of Japan's chart, we caught up with the Japanese trio to discuss the film's impact on their careers.

by Oliver Lunn
17 February 2017, 3:20pm

Unless you've been living under a rock these past few months, you've probably heard of Your Name, the Japanese coming-of-age anime about body-swapping teens. You've heard how it's broken box office records. You've heard how its director, Makoto Shinkai, has been hailed as the next Hayao Miyazaki. But you probably haven't heard about Radwimps, the band who wrote all the music for the film. That is unless you live in Japan, where the band's soundtrack received a digital download album certification of Gold for sky-high sales, with the song "Zen Zen Zense" going straight to number one on the Billboard Japan Hot 100.

With the help of a translator, I recently Skyped the band — Yojiro Noda, Akira Kuwahara, Yusuke Takeda — as they finished up rehearsing for their upcoming tour of Japan. We talked about their soaring success since the film, how they approached the soundtrack creatively, and the crazy response from fans at shows whenever they play the music from the movie.

Read: Your Name, the Japanese anime about body-swapping teens.

How did you end up making the music for Your Name?
Before the film was made, the director, Makoto Shinkai, was asked by the producer, 'Who do you want to do the music with? Who's on your wishlist?' And he said Radwimps. It turned out the producer actually knew our singer, Yojiro. So that's how we ended up doing all the music in the film.

What was your approach, knowing what the film was about?
Yusuke: First we got the script — that was only text, no visuals — but we knew the story of the film. And so Yojiro started writing the full vocal tracks, according to the script.

Yojiro, did you write specifically about these characters?
All the lyrics are basically written from my experiences. But this was the first time collaborating with other people, like Makoto Shinkai. I felt the energy and passion from the two main characters and kind of re-built a new story for the songs. It was an interesting process.

What was the most challenging thing about scoring the film?
Yojiro: It was nothing like I planned it in my mind. Making music for your band is always easier. You're the one who judges, you're the one who arranges. But for this, the director, animator, musician — they all work individually, and they all affect one another. So there were many changes, even after the director would say, 'Okay, it's fixed,' which sometimes made us a little sad [laughs]. But more than that, it was fun to affect each other with our creation. You can't have that moment when you're just making music all by yourself.

You formed the band when you were in high school, and you've been friends since middle school. Did you find yourselves looking back to those times for this project?
Akira: Hmm… not really [laughs].

What were you guys listening to back then as teens?
I used to listen to Green Day, The Offspring, Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers… And then we listened to a Japanese band called Glay a little bit.

Did this score come naturally to you, or was it quite different from how you normally make music?
Yusuke: It wasn't very difficult. It was just different from what we used to do, like I had to put my instrument aside and search for some sounds on my computer. It all started from there, so it was an entirely different experience. 

Did you watch the film first and then react to it?
Akira: It wasn't a video, it was more like the images with voices over it, so it wasn't a final film at that stage, more like images. It's totally different from the version you've seen. The voices that we heard were actually the director, who'd recorded his voice over the images. 

Was it hard to react musically to that — just seeing simple images — to find the right emotion?
Yusuke: It wasn't too hard actually, because the director was playing the role pretty well, and he recorded the voice so well that we could actually see the story unfold. They were all images but it was very detailed so we were able to get some emotions out of it. 

Did you enjoy the experience of scoring a film or do you generally prefer making your own stuff, free from constraints?
Yusuke: I enjoyed everything overall.
Akira: At the end everybody seemed to really enjoy the film, and there were fans all over the world who got to know us, so I was really satisfied with the whole experience.

What was your response when you saw your music set to the final version of the film?
We were very touched. And very happy with how it turned out.

Would you soundtrack another anime?
Akira: Hmm, if there are any good movies or animation to work with, maybe... [laughs]

The album has had huge success with digital downloads. Have you gained a lot of new fans from the film?
Yusuke: We didn't expect the movie to become such a big hit. So a lot of people in countries that we've never been to know about the band now. We hear from people, like, 'Oh your album's on the chart', in the countries we've never been to, so we really feel like all these movie fans have gotten to know us who we couldn't have reached without the movie. We've only done a few shows in Japan since the movie hit at the end of last year, but even at those shows, when we played the songs from the movie the fans just went crazy. 

Do you guys have a favorite anime?
Yusuke: There are so many! I love animation. I love the ones with robots in… Gundam. It's like one of those Transformers robot things… But I've also seen all of Makoto Shinkai's films since his debut, from high school on, I've seen everything. 

You guys are a big deal in Asia right now; is your next stop America and the West?
Akira: If people want us we'll go! [laughs] Right now we're about to kick off our nationwide tour in Japan and that's why we're rehearsing right now.

Where did the band name come from?
Yusuke: It's a combination of the words "rad" and "wimps", and the idea was that it's like having two sides to a person. Yojiro named the band.

Do you see yourselves as "rad wimps"?
[laughs] Yeah, we do. 


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