Game Music

We say “Hakuna Matata” in Afrika: Wataru Hokoyama Interview

September 22, 2009 | | 4 Comments Share thison Facebook We say “Hakuna Matata” in Afrika: Wataru Hokoyama Interviewon Twitter

Wataru Hokoyama has had plenty of experience in composition, arrangement, and orchestration prior to getting involved in the world of game music. Nerdy trivia: remember the musical episode of Buffy? Hokoyama worked on the orchestration for that episode. He’s done a lot of film and television work in Los Angeles, as a matter of fact.

But in recent years, Hokoyama orchestrated the music for Resident Evil 5, and scored the entirety of the PS3 game Afrika (known in other parts of the world as Hakuna Matata). Note that the release for Afrika (via Natsume) in North America is coming very soon; if there are no further delays, it should be coming on October 6th. Hint hint, nudge nudge, wink wink. Go buy it.

After the jump, check out our interview with the Japanese composer who has spent most of his adult life here in America.

OSV: Mr. Hokoyama, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.

Wataru Hokoyama: Thank you for doing this.

OSV: Your two most recent projects to date have been orchestrating music for Resident Evil 5 (which takes place in Africa), and scoring the entirety of the game Afrika. Though the two games have very little in common, one thing they do share is an African setting and landscape. What did you do as a composer to prepare to work on these games, since they both took place in Africa? Also, have you ever been anywhere on the African continent in your life?

Wataru: I studied many African instruments for these projects, especially the percussion instruments. Though the two projects have completely different concepts and stories, the African percussion instruments helped create the atmosphere of “Africa.” I haven’t been to Africa yet, but that’s one place I’d love to visit in the future.

OSV: The entire Afrika soundtrack was recorded in Hollywood, is that correct? Can you tell us about what it’s like working with a symphony orchestra in Hollywood?

Wataru: Yes, that is correct. I had the privilege of working with the Hollywood Studio Symphony, formed by many of the best musicians in the L.A. recording field. It was absolutely amazing to work with them. On the first run through of a cue, they’d be sight reading the piece, yet they nail every note. The orchestra sounds like as if they’ve rehearsed the cue before the session. The quality of the sound, the energy and the emotions that the musicians pour into each cue really made my music come alive so much.

OSV: When listening to the soundtrack, I get a distinct “John Williams” feeling. Nothing too specific… I wouldn’t say this sounds like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Hook, or any other film in particular. But the influence seems to be there. Tell me, are you a fan of John Williams, or other film score composers? Who would you consider as an influence for your work, particularly on Afrika?

Wataru: (laughs) I get that a lot… and yes, I grew up listening to John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and many other giants. I love the sound of “old school” orchestral scores, and that is my forte and the style. I think all the composer’s works that I’ve listened to had influences in my writing for Afrika.

OSV: The creative process for writing music of this nature is generally very cumbersome. Can you give us an estimated timeline, how long did it take to write the music for Afrika, from start to finish?

Wataru: I started writing the two main themes for Afrika at the spring of 2007, then the writing for the rest of the cues started during the summer. For this project, there was no rush and I had a comfortable writing schedule. Though I like to write with a certain pace, and for most of the cues, I’d spend a day to write each one, and maybe spend another day to orchestrate it.

For the main themes, I spent about two to three days to write them, and spent about two days to orchestrate them.

OSV: Do you maintain that the entirety of the Afrika score is consistently good, or are there some tracks on the album that you think came out better than others? And if so, which ones?

Wataru: I put in my entire soul and life-force into each cue, and at that time each cue was done by my best effort. I’ve gained more experience and knowledge through the project. It makes me feel “Now I want to do even better on the next project.”

OSV: The game Afrika is essentially a photographer-sim. You stay at camp, you take assignments to photograph animals, you come home, and you try not to get attacked by wild animals along the way. Do you have any experience in photography, or wildlife photography? Did you watch any nature documentaries or something in the same vein to inspire yourself for Afrika?

Wataru: I used to love watching nature documentaries in my childhood. I still love to watch many of the nature programs on Discovery channel (BBC’s Planet Earth is absolutely amazing).

I’m not much of a photographer, but my father is a landscape photographer, and I certainly appreciate the art of photography very much.

OSV: You’ve spent most of your adult life in America, yet you still have strong ties with your home country of Japan. What is it like trying to juggle working with people in these two very different countries/cultures?

Wataru: I feel fortunate to have grown up in two different cultures and with two different languages. It certainly helps me understand what the differences are between the cultures and the manner of Japan and the States. Though, I feel that people are very much the same at heart regardless of their language or cultural differences. I had an amazing time working with the game development team in Japan and the music side of the team in the States.

After all, we all want to do something good, make something we can be proud of, and to serve the world with what we make and love the process of it.

OSV: What can we expect to see (or rather, hear) from you in the near future? Please tell us anything you can!

Wataru: I hope I will be writing many orchestral scores from now on. I also conduct at concerts in different occasions. I will keep on updating my website with any exciting news and events that I may be involved with.

OSV: Thank you again, Mr. Hokoyama, for your time.

Wataru: Thank you so much.

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