Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.
Today we’re going to talk about Wii Music. I’d like to begin by asking about your early encounters with music.
My early encounters with music? Whew...
Like the types of instruments you played, or your favourite songs...
The first instrument I played was the ukulele.
The ukulele? When was that?
Junior high. I don’t know what they were thinking, but my parents bought me a ukulele for Christmas.
Are you sure you didn’t ask for one?
No. Maybe they misunderstood something. (laughs) Anyway, for some reason my parents bought me a ukulele when I was in junior high. So I started practicing... Uh, am I going into too much detail?
No, not at all. (laughs)
Okay, here I go. (laughs) I am a person who loves practicing many things and I wanted to practice the ukulele at night without having to worry about the noise, so I made a ukulele neck without a body. I cut wood to create a fingerboard, then added markings and yarn.
Just as I thought! You were already in love with creating something with your hands when you were that small (laughs)
Yeah. (laughs) So at first I used that to practice chords.
That’s quite something. What did you do next?
Um, that was about it. I didn’t get any better.
Even after all that work?
Yeah. I quit without ever improving or playing together with anyone. Another early encounter with music that I remember is the first record I bought. This also was during junior high. Of course, I didn’t have much money then, so buying a record took a lot of courage. Back then, there were small records called 45s...
Yes, I remember. It was called Extended Play Record, or EPs.
Right. The first one I bought was a great buy. It had four songs on it!
Four? I thought 45s usually only had two songs.
I know. They were overtures, sort of like marches. For some reason, I bought a record with four of them on it.
I liked brass bands. I would often go listen to the school band practicing.
You weren’t in the band yourself?
No, I never was. There’s an explanation for it, but it’s a little complicated. In junior high, I was in basketball, but I wanted to start a manga club. One of my senior teammates told me I couldn’t be in a sports club and a literary club at the same time, and we got into a big fight. In the end, even though I was a starter on the basketball team, I quit and formed a manga club. So I just ended up listening to the brass band.
I see. (laughs)
Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, the record. It had songs like Pomp and Circumstance, Light Cavalry Overture, French Military March Music and the Radetzky March on it. Whilst listening to it at home alone, I’d be, like (closes eyes and mimics conducting), da-dum, da-da-dum-dum, da-da-dum-dum-dummmm!
You were conducting? Wow! So that’s why you were able to conduct in front of all those people at the Kodak Theatre.(In 2006, Shigeru Miyamoto opened an Nintendo press conference at the Kodak Theatre by performing a demo for Wii Music.)
No, I don’t think they’re related. (laughs) I wasn’t doing anything in particular, I was just enjoying the music and moving however the feeling struck me.
While I was doing that, the Beatles boom hit. My older brother introduced me to them, and in high school I joined the popular music club. Everyone but me could play guitar, so they taught me how to play simple 4/4 beats on the drums. I learned how to play those, but not much else.
It seems like you tried out a little of just about everything. I’m a little surprised.
I quit everything halfway through, though. Then I started going to concerts and learning to play Ventures (an American surf-rock band) tunes. In college, I was big into Takuro Yoshida (a Japanese singer-songwriter who became extremely popular in the ‘70s). My brother had a guitar and banjo, so I even took an interest in folk music. In college, I saved up money and bought a guitar and stereo as soon as I could. Back then, folk musicians in Japan were mostly copying the older style of folk music from America. Then I started listening to the originals. During my college days I was crazy about that music. Well...does that answer your question? (laughs)
Yes. Thank you. (laughs)
Why am I getting so into this? (laughs)
It’s fascinating. If you hadn’t experienced music in so many different ways, you might never have made some of the games that you have. For example, you might not have paid as much attention to the music in the Mario games, and Wii Music might never have been made at all.
Oh, well, you’re half right about that, and half overestimating me. As much as I’ve shown an interest in music, the truth is, I don’t really understand it.
I just don’t have the skills. That’s one reason. The other is that, basically, I’ve only copied other people’s music. So, whilst I like music, I have this complex about not making any music myself.
But everything you’ve mentioned connects to Wii Music.
Hmm, maybe you’re right. (laughs) Anyway, I didn’t think I stood a chance of becoming a musician, so after graduating, I entered Nintendo. At the time, not many people at Nintendo were seriously into music. That was good for me because then I could throw my weight around on musical matters. As soon as Koji Kondo and others who know a lot about music joined, that came to a screeching halt. I thought it best to keep my mouth shut about music. (laughs)
After that, the number of staff members knowledgeable about music grew rapidly. I had my own ideas about music and wanted to share them, but everyone else was on a much higher level, so I couldn’t. To this day I have a complex about it.
Listening to you talk, I can tell.
Yeah, so there you have it. (laughs) When it comes to music games—as opposed to music for games—a lot of good games have been developed that require pressing buttons in line with a musical score, but they don’t represent the idea I have of music very well.
In other words, most music games are fun as games, but you feel music is enjoyed in a different way from your perspective.
That’s the basic idea. When I heard that director Kazumi Totaka wanted to take Wii Music in a different direction than conventional music games, I thought, “Let’s do it! It’ll be great, so do it!” I cheered him on.