"I don't consider myself, or want to become, an artist; instead, I want to be a craftsman."
One of Japan's major video game composers, Masafumi Takada may have the musical chops to match the work of his colleague at cult Japanese developer Grasshopper Manufacture, Suda51, whose recent No More Heroes features a sizzling (and apparently very Audiosurf-able!) soundtrack Takada created - delivering the crucial aural component of Grasshopper's "video game band" ethos.
But Takada's modesty and dedication speaks to a more traditional work ethic. Working even without a studio on Grasshopper Manufacture's premises, he strives to create memorable musical compositions that evoke emotion in the player, also shown in his work for Killer7.
Outside his Grasshopper work, Takada has been landing surprisingly high-profile work, including contributing music to games like Super Smash Bros Brawl, God Hand, and Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles - and also provided music for Earth Defense Force 2017 and the Beatmania series.
In the most in-depth English-language interview of Takada's career, the musician discusses working with Goichi Suda, the company's innovative music-based combat game Samurai Champloo, and much more.
Where did you learn music, and what instruments are you trained on?
Masafumi Takada: I started learning music at age 3 on a keyboard called the Electone. It was an organ-like keyboard from Yamaha. So I learned piano, and tuba in the brass band after that, when I was in high school. I'm from Aichi, which is near Nagoya. When I came to Tokyo, I started studying music for about six years, and got a degree.
And how did you get into games from there?
MT: I wanted to make a living doing music... and right around that time the transition from the Super Famicom (SNES) to the PlayStation was going on. Music was changing from the blippy chiptune sounds to real music. And I really liked video games a lot, and basically just had some hope to eventually write music for games, and that transition seemed like a good time to break in.
Did you actually start with chiptunes, like Super Famicom type stuff? Or did you go straight into orchestrated music?
MT: When I entered the industry, it was sort of the end of the Super Famicom, so I did a bit of that, but was also able to sample the higher-end stuff. That's why I got in when I did...
Can you name some of the early games that you've worked on?
MT: Hmm, I didn't really work on any major titles in the old days! First there was 2Tax Gold on Sega Saturn [by now-defunct developer/publisher Human]. That's the game where my name was actually shown in the credits. I also worked on Ranma 1/2, and Tsuri Baka Nisshi, a Japanese manga-related fishing game.
What sort of music do you listen to, personally?
MT: Hmm. Right now I'm listening to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack. Also I'm listening to something I used to listen to when I was high school, a guy named Haruomi Hosono. He was part of Yellow Magic Orchestra. But I'm really not listening to that much music right now!
Oh really? Where do you draw inspiration from?
MT: Well when I have to work on new music for a new title, I do look for a bit of inspiration, but since I don't right now... not so much.
Can you give an example of some things you listened to that turned into some sort of inspiration?
MT: Well for example the boss fights in No More Heroes were inspired by the Chemical Brothers' new album.
Are there other game composers that you admire, or just composers in general?
MT: In terms of classical, there's Debussy. And otherwise, Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Do you do sound effects as well, and sound design?
MT: Yes, I do.
On average how long does it take for you to compose music for a game?
MT: Well, it varies. There are some that took a while, and...
A couple of examples, maybe?
MT: For Killer7 it took two years. But in the mean time I had a lot of little projects so... Hmm... I'm pretty fast at writing music, so basically, even when I come into the office, sometimes half of my time is spent on my music work and half of my time is spent on personal work (laughs). If possible, I want to finish one song in one day.
And how long for sound design?
MT: As for sound effects, because all together there are a lot... I often work on a game from beginning to end, but in terms of sound design, there are other audio staff members in addition to me, so we can divide up the work. So it takes about four months or so to complete.