Welcome Home, Hayabusa

Welcome Home, HayabusaHayabusa was a Japanese space probe that landed on and sampled asteroid Itokawa in 2011. This would be a stunning space feat for any country’s space agency, but Japan happened to get there first, and the surge of national pride for this technological accomplishment has spawned no fewer than three movies, ranging from documentaries to – in the case of Okaeri Hayabusa (Welcome Home, Hayabusa) – a fictionalized family drama with the mission as backdrop and framing story.

And who better to score a movie whose drama takes place around the launch and flight of one of Japan’s crowning space achievements? None other than the late, great Japanese synth pioneer Isao Tomita. Whether you realize it or not, Tomita’s connection with space exploration is lengthy – and almost purely coincidental. Tomita’s late ’70s synth reworking of Debussy’s “Arabesque No. 1” was appropriated by the Miami Planetarium to top and tail each installment of the planetarium’s long-running PBS series Star Hustler (later Star Gazer, after the realities of the search engine age caught up with the show and began directing young viewers toward a certain adult periodical with “hustler” in the title). Tomita’s music was synonymous with astronomer Jack Horkheimer’s exuberant weekly lessons on amateur astronomy from then on.

Tomita is an absolutely brilliant choice to score this film. Not only is his synthesizer work as crisp and inventive as ever, but he gives brilliant musical accompaniment to visualizations of data being transmitted to Earth from deep space, and uses appropriately icy synths to illustrate the bleak emptiness of space traversed by Hayabusa. There have been many musical odes to major space missions, and by fairly high 4 out of 4profile composers (Vangelis springs to mind), but Tomita’s translation of event to music makes this among the best. This soundtrack also steps outside the usual all-synth comfort zone with which Tomita is associated, allowing the composer to bring his classical training into play with real trumpet solos, woodwinds and strings augmenting his normally “icy” synthesizers with a warmer human touch.

The real tragedy is that Japan has launched Hayabusa 2 to dare even mightier things, and Tomita is no longer around to give that mission its own soundtrack.

Order this CD

  1. Challenge To The Universe (5:03)
  2. Engineer Crush (1:20)
  3. Dreaming Of The Flyby (1:21)
  4. Toward The Asteroid (3:30)
  5. Touchdown On Itokawa! (2:43)
  6. Recollection Of Naoko (1:34)
  7. The Fight Against Sickness (3:23)
  8. 1-Bit Communication / Connecting The Hope (3:19)
  9. Mother’s Joy / Surgery Success (1:49)
  10. Cross Operation? (1:52)
  11. Finally To Return (1:36)
  12. Tristan & Isolde / From Beyond The Galaxy (8:15)
  13. Hayabusa / Tristan & Isolde To The Future (5:47)

Released by: Shochiku Records
Release date: 2-29-2012
Total running time: 41:32

Isao Tomita – The Planets

Isao Tomita - The PlanetsAlso known as The Tomita Planets, this is Japanese synth whiz Isao Tomita’s rendition of Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Tomita used no traditional acoustic instruments, but did lean somewhat on the traditional arrangement. Opening with a bit of vocoder-and-synth “babble” to set the mood, Tomita launches into an energetic “Mars, The Bringer Of War” which appropriately now sounds like it belongs to the space age.

The same treatment is delivered on the other pieces in the suite, with “Venus: The Bringer Of Peace” and “Jupiter: The Bringer Of Jollity” getting an especially spacey treatment; the synth work on “Mercury: The Winged Messenger” dates it a bit, but for something recorded over 30 years ago, the whole thing still manages to sound futuristic. In places you might even catch a hint of the synthesized “whistle” sound which Tomita also used on what is arguably his most famous recording, Debussy’s “Arabesque No. 1”, also known as the theme song for Jack Horkheimer’s PBS stargazing show.

Of the outer planet pieces, “Saturn, Bringer of Old Age” and “Neptune, The Mystic” are the real highlights; “Saturn” ticks away like a time bomb with a synth “tick-tock” motif and flanged synths a la Jarre or Vangelis. “Neptune” has long been my favorite part of The Planets – I’ve always felt that it may be the most spiritual piece of music that anyone in the western world has ever composed (take that, Handel!) – so I was eager to see what Tomita would do with this particular segment. For the most part, “Neptune” sticks almost slavishly to the traditional arrangement, allowing enough wiggle room for some interesting changes in emphasis and “instrument” balance.

3 out of 4Overall, Tomita’s rendition of The Planets is interesting, a fascinating listen, but I can’t help but feel that there one could go further “out there” with arrangements and instrumentation, further afield from the orchestral arrangements that we’re all so used to. Other interpretations by folks like Rick Wakeman and Jeff (Musucal Version of War Of The Worlds) Wayne have also failed to break out of the orbit of the orchestral Planets. I know that there’s only so far one can go without actually changing the music itself, but within that limitation, I don’t think all the possibilities have been fully explored. Tomita does a good job, but The Planets could probably stand up to more intense, offbeat exploration.

Order this CD

  1. Mars: The Bringer Of War (10:58)
  2. Venus: The Bringer Of Peace (9:20)
  3. Mercury: The Winged Messenger (4:37)
  4. Jupiter: The Bringer Of Jollity (9:22)
  5. Saturn: The Bringer Of Old Age (8:41)
  6. Uranus: The Magician (2:14)
  7. Neptune: The Mystic (6:49)

Released by: RCA Victor
Release date: 1976
Total running time: 52:01