The composer for Rice Rhapsody, Masahiro Kawasaki, passed away on May 3rd, 2006. It was my honor and good fortune to have worked with him. He was a great and generous man, full of compassion, curiosity and humour.
I came to appreciate his music when I first saw Bounce Ko Gals directed by Masato Harada. His music became, for me, the soul of that film, speaking the unspeakable, letting us glimpse into the souls of the three young women in the film. It was truly inspired work.
I really wanted Kawasaki-san to do the music for my first film Rice Rhapsody. It fits his sensibility and I knew he would do a fantastic job. The final result was much greater than I ever expected. What a great gift he gave to me.
One of the hardest things to do is to communicate to the composer what one wants. Music is so unquantifiable and elusive. Even if one can provide the composer with a reference piece, the composer still has to create something original. It's not easy to do. One can only allude to certain ideas and styles. One cannot be overly specific and laden the composer with reference music, nor can one be so general that the composer would have to guess with the result being hit and miss.
For Rice Rhapsody, I ran my ideas for the music by Kawasaki-san in terms of color and ambience. He was interested to hear what I had to say when he came to Singapore to visit us on the set, to gauge my depth of knowledge, I’d guess. To be honest, I think Kawasaki wanted to know who I really was and what the film was all about. We had only met on the Internet with an introduction by Masato Harada-san. He told me his daughter worked and lived in Singapore where we would be shooting the film. Tomomi-san, his daughter, came to see me. After that, Kawasaki-san said he would come to see us film in Singapore and visit his daughter at the same time.
Kawasaki-san, his wife and daughter came to visit us on location. I was excited to meet this idol of mine. I introduced him to Sylvia Chang and Martin Yan and all the other actors in the film. Lam Wah Chuen, the cinematographer and an award-nominated composer himself, also is a big fan of his. It was a great meeting.
He watched us film with great curiosity. He said that he was surprised that all the crew on the film was so young. He said in Japan the crew usually all has white hair. He was especially happy to see Martin Yan, whom he called “Mr. Martin,” doing his kitchen-knife wielding stunts. It was such a relief for me to see him enjoy watching Martin perform his comical bits.
He also sat in on the finale of the film in the audience of the TV studio. He sat in the audience, mostly by himself, for more than half a day. He watched us film Sylvia Chang's emotional scene where her son makes amends with her. We were all touched during Sylvia's subtle yet powerful performance. There was not a dry eye on the set. It must have stirred Kawasaki-san’s creativity because when he came to Hong Kong to see the first cut of the film, he brought with him some initial tracks and the music for the finale was written already. The editor and I sat in the editing room listening to that track in awe. It pulled us in with an ephemeral gravity. It was at once melancholic and inspiring. The only word to describe it was magic.
For the final mixing of the film, he flew to Bangkok and stayed there for two to three weeks. We had lots of Thai food together. He enjoyed a neck and arm massage while he was cutting the music to the film. It was a perk that I really wanted him to enjoy, for it was tedious and tiring work cutting and mixing music in a studio everyday for 14 hours.
Every time we get to reels 5 and 6 where the emotional sequences kick in, he would have a great reaction as to how well everything worked.
A detail that may be of interest for those readers working in film is that nowadays when one edits a film, it's usually on a computer. The monitor is usually not that big and not all the ambience sounds would have been laid in. So whenever there isn't that much going on onscreen, the tendency is to bump up the music to create an emotional effect whether it'd be fast and furious or sentimental to sustain the viewer's interest. So in the mixing studio, I mixed the music quite loud as we had first edited it in the editing room. Also, with Kawasaki-san's presence there, I felt obliged to highlight his music and put it in the foreground.
After viewing the film a few times, I began to think that some of the scenes didn't work because I had mixed the music too loud. I finally asked him whether he agreed the music was too loud. He replied, “I felt a lot of pressure from the music.” He asked me to add some atmosphere sounds. As a rookie, I didn't think the ambience sounds would help but he was right, I discovered that the ambience sound is part of the music. It really depends on how one uses it.
I was extremely happy and proud that Kawasaki-san was nominated for Best Original Film Score at the Golden Horse Awards and that Rice Rhapsody was selected into the Tokyo International Film Festival's competition section. He and Tomomi came to see the film in Tokyo with an audience of 400. After the Q&A, he treated us to the most amazing dinner I've ever had. Please check our website later to see the photos and movie clips of my experience with Kawasaki-san. http://www.kenbiroli.com/kawasaki.html, http://www.kenbiroli.com/HCR-KawasakiVideo.html
As I write this sentence and tribute to him, as if Kawasaki-san is speaking to me from the great beyond, his “Crossroads” from Rice Rhapsody comes on on my iTunes. It’s a simple yet powerful and beautiful piece of music. “Hi, Kawasaki-san.” We miss you down here.
I'll never forget what he said in his first email to me when I told him that our budget for the film was not big. He replied, “Don't worry about the budget. We will create simple music but we will create great human emotions.”