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Hayasaka Fumio on Criterion

by Michael Harris

Created 07/15/12

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One of Japan's groundbreaking film composers, Hayasaka Fumio (1914-1955) died while at the height of his career at age 41. Remembered today for his work with directors Kurosawa Akira and Mizoguchi Kenji, most of the films he worked on are hard to obtain so only a small sliver of his work is known. In addition to those listed here, two other Hayasaka scored Mizoguchi films, Princess Yang Kwei Fei (1955) and A Story from Chikamatsu (aka The Crucified Lovers, 1954) are available on Criterion's Hulu service. There are many other films out there, he scored over 80 feature films plus around 20 documentaries, many of which deserve the Criterion treatment.

  • 1948 - Hayasaka's first work for Kurosawa. The director noted multiple times in interviews that working with Hayasaka made him change his thoughts and approach to how music can be used in films. But it is not just the traditional film underscore that is at play here, but listen carefully to the music played in the film: the jazz music, guitar songs, etc. The entire musical environment is tied to how the story progresses throughout the film.

  • 1949 - I have yet to analyze this work so I'll just wait to comment.

  • 1950 - The first of two Kurosawa films Hayasaka worked on in 1950. This film features some interesting music, but is usually lost when considered next to his other film from the same year. Obviously more work to be done here.

  • 1950 - Most remembered for the infamous scene for which Kurosawa demanded a piece like Ravel's "Bolero," knowing only that scene causes a skewed view of the score. Together, Hayasaka and Kurosawa brilliantly use traditional Japanese theatre aesthetics upon which to hang this fractured tale of memory and lies. And no, the score is not a theme and variation on the Bolero-esque melody, but each character's music is intimately tied into how they remember the crime.

  • 1951 - As with Stray Dog, I need to do more work on this film!

  • 1952 - A tour-de-force for Kurosawa, and almost most notable for when music is NOT used (i.e. - the funeral/wake scene at the end, which famously had music but was taken out after a test screening of the finished film).

  • 1953 - Hayasaka's fourth film for Mizoguchi (the first three can only be had through bootlegs or imports), but also one of his best. His blending of both traditional and Western instruments begins to take shape in this film, something that, while not new, was still rare at this time.

  • 1954 - A score built upon conflict between instrument classes, seemingly in parallel to the conflict of ideologies on screen. Scores like this makes one wonder what else Hayasaka could have done had it not been for his illness and death the following year.

  • 1954 - By far Hayasaka's most well known film and score, though one that does not give the listener an adequate picture of what the composer was able to do when not restricted by the instructions of Kurosawa.

  • 1955 - One of many scores Hayasaka left unfinished after his death, and completed by his student and assistant Sato Masaru, who would continue to work with Kurosawa until 1965's "Red Beard."

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