Toru Takemitsu – Japanese Composer

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Near the end of the Second World War, soldiers and civilians on the Japanese home front constructed networks of underground bases in anticipation of an invasion that never came. In one of those dugout fortresses, in the mountains west of Tokyo, the future composer Toru Takemitsu was stationed in 1944; he was all of fourteen years old. Although no music aside from patriotic songs was allowed, one day a kindhearted officer ushered the children-soldiers into a back room and played some records for them, using a windup phonograph with a handmade bamboo needle. One disk had Lucienne Boyer singing “Parlez-Moi d’Amour.” Takemitsu listened, he later said, in a state of “enormous shock.” After so much sunless, soulless labor, that winsome chanson opened a world of possibility in his mind. Ever after, he honored the moment as the birth of his musical consciousness. (from Alex Ross’ article on Takemitsu in the “New Yorker”).


Widely considered modern Japan’s greatest composer in the classical music tradition, Toru Takemitsu (1930–1996) merged Japanese and Western instruments and techniques in his music. He has had synthesised his personal style from elements of Debussy, Messiaen and Berg.

In the foreword to a selection of Takemitsu’s writings in English, conductor Seiji Ozawa writes: “I am very proud of my friend Toru Takemitsu. He is the first Japanese composer to write for a world audience and achieve international recognition.” (Source: Wikipedia.)

Self-taught musician and composer Toru Takemitsu embraced the leading edge of Japanese new wave music, a style that blended western classical music with traditional Japanese instruments and songs.

One of his best works is “Requiem for Strings Orchestra, composed in 1957. In the video that follows, Seiji Ozawa  conducts the New Japan Philharmonic (1990).

Another major composition of Takemitsu’s is “November Steps”, commissioned by Leonard Bernstein to celebrate New York Philharmonic’s 125th anniversary. Seiji Ozawa  conducts the New Japan Philharmonic (1990).

Takemitsu loved movies. And this is proven by the scores he has written for more than 100 films!

As a composer, he made no distinction between his movie scores and his compositions for the concert hall. “It is all music,” he would say, “… and probably my music will be heard by millions more moviegoers than by concert audiences.” He often used a film score as a sort of sketch-pad for a major orchestral commission that he might be working on at the same time; musical innovations or challenging themes that might be used experimentally in a film score often reappeared in a major orchestral composition a year or two later. Takemitsu had an uncanny instinct for film music, and his intuitive understanding of how music worked in the minds of filmgoers helped him know how his sounds might best reinforce the visual language of the filmmakers. Great Japanese film directors, recognizing how effectively Takemitsu’s music supported their films (even when they themselves did not fully understand how film music works), relied constantly on him and returned repeatedly to him for music for their movies.

Toru Takemitsu Tribute: The JapanNYC Festival celebration of this composer’s contribution to film featured, from left, Kazumi Watanabe, Tomohiro Yahiro, Daisuke Suzuki and Coba (December 2010)

Source: Peter Grilli on the Film Music of Tōru Takemitsu

Toru Takemitsu Soundtrack Documentary – Part 1/6

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