Memorial: Composer Ryu Umemoto
September 25, 2012 Page 3 of 4
Veteran and Producer
As 2007 came to a close, Umemoto was approached by Haruhisa Tanaka, a popular game composer and performing under the name Hally. Tanaka had an undeniable passion for classic video game music -- so much so that he created his own digital release label dedicated specifically to video game soundtracks from the 80s and 90s, Egg Music, which acquired soundtracks from retro games like Xak, Valis, and Langrisser.
But simply releasing classic soundtracks was not enough for Egg, which aimed to use the original source code -- some of it two decades old -- to remaster each and every soundtrack. Umemoto was Tanaka's first and only choice; no one else had the technical expertise and the musical understanding to go back and remaster these scores. He accepted the job after only one meeting with Tanaka.
The process was beyond painstaking; outdated and incomplete code filled Umemoto's days as he went through each line up 100 times to make sure all was properly constructed. One single error could result in hours of work being wasted. However, he saw the job as blessing; he was officially responsible for mastering and producing soundtracks he had himself been inspired by throughout the years, allowing them to be preserved for the next generation to enjoy.
In 2008, Tanaka approached Umemoto with yet another opportunity -- the chance to return to his very own work: Xenon, EVE, and Desire. The offer was a surprise to Umemoto. He had never expected the chance to return to the scores that brought his name to national attention. As a showcase of gratitude towards his irreplaceable services, the soundtracks -- along with his more recent work GroundSeed and Eclipse -- would be released physically on CD.
The eventual release of the Ryu Umemoto Rare Tracks series became one of his most emotional and proudest moments, as the CDs sold out almost immediately, and the reaction from fans was overwhelmingly positive -- from overseas as well. From the moment of the release of his CDs, Umemoto began to extensively blog and communicate online, in order to show his gratitude to his fans.
Another company had begun to show increasing interest in Umemoto. At Cave, Makoto Asada had risen to a prominent position in the company. During his late teens, Asada had crossed paths with Umemoto; as the two struck up a friendship, he sensed great potential in Asada, and offered him assistance and advice. Asada had always felt in debt to Umemoto due to this bond, and promised to one day work with him on a game. He remained true to his word, and invited the veteran to become part of Cave in 2008 as an in-house sound engineer and composer.
Umemoto would contribute numerous arrangements to Cave's increasing number of Xbox 360 ports including Ketsui, Deathsmiles, Dodonpachi Dai-Ou-Jou, and Mushihimesama Futari. His warm personality seemed to fit right in at Cave, and his status as a veteran garnered him the upmost respect.
Eventually, the trust in Umemoto was such that Cave was eager to not only let him compose for their latest games, but to make him its flagship composer as it began to expand from the shooter genre into adventure and action games. At this point, Umemoto also undertook the company's expansion into Western markets and began to study English at a local American church in his off time, eager to begin his travels.
Cave was on its way to becoming one of the biggest niche publishers in Japan, and its games and their soundtracks had become a sought after commodity in the U.S. and Europe. Umemoto was in the front seat, ready to take on the world.
Umemoto oversaw the planning stages of numerous projects and would involve talent, giving experienced composers who had faded from the public eye a chance to take part in big projects once again; he also gave younger composers opportunities to work alongside these veterans. It was during this time that he became a highly respected leader to the video game composer community, a man who was universally known as someone one could ask for advice, and someone who would give a newcomer a chance.
Thanks to this, composers affectionately nicknamed him "big brother". For him, it was nickname he humbly accepted; he had, in fact, been a big brother for most of his life, and he brought the same care and trust to his closest friends as he did to his own family.
For its part, Cave began to announce its plans with Umemoto publicly. The all-new arcade shooter Akai Katana would feature a full rock soundtrack by the now legendary composer, and the news of an adventure game with his involvement came to light. Akai Katana was a hit at Japanese arcades, and a soundtrack CD followed shortly thereafter, becoming one of Cave's bestselling soundtracks.
With the increased workload, Umemoto again returned to Zen Buddhism for tranquility and peace of mind. He had also began to become increasingly interested in preservation of life and DNA, doing extensive research on his own blood lineage, designing blueprints for green energy devices, and attending science fairs to exchange ideas. In his research, he discovered himself to be from the bloodline of Takeda Shingen, the most famous military general in Feudal Japan history.
The discovery had a rather profound impact on Umemoto's spiritual view on life, increasing his belief in Zen even further. He began even more extensive research on his family history, preserving the traditions he found in his family tree. He also began to see himself as a sort of spokesperson of Zen to others. To him, it was the most important component to his spirit and body, keeping him calm in a stormy working environment of difficult deadlines and increasing amounts of responsibilities.
Cave's Western expansion was, at best, rocky, due to the differences in both the culture of business and the lack of general interest for 2D shooters with steep learning curves. However, Umemoto was adamant that Cave needed to bring its titles worldwide -- even if the fan base was not as large as the company had originally expected -- and treat every fan from every continent as a valued costumer.
In late 2010, he traveled to Europe for the first time in his life, beginning his search for a central hub for his operations, and to find a new home and new endeavors. His destination became the city of Stockholm, where he spent his days exploring the city and discussing his career and philosophies at length with members of the local video game industry. He returned home to Japan in winter of 2010 rejuvenated, immediately beginning the paperwork for his Visa and company registration in Sweden, preparing a trade company he named Hisui.
Umemoto in Sweden
Cave's very first action title was beginning to take shape. The ninja actioner Nin2-Jump was an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive with music composed by Umemoto. The adventure game that Cave had made mention of was announced to be Instant Brain, a visual novel about Zenya, a paparazzi who finds himself caught in a murder mystery surrounding a Japanese idol. Umemoto provided the score. By now, his music had shifted towards an edgier, energetic a style he called G-ROCK.
However, things came to a sudden halt in February of 2011. Umemoto had lost weight and found himself suffering from insomnia and chronic bronchitis. His days had become filled with endless work and other responsibilities. Office hours from 8 till 5, a train rides of over an hour in the opposite direction of his home in order to visit his ailing uncle in at the hospital daily, and paperwork regarding his planned emigration to Europe -- there were simply not enough hours in the day for Umemoto to get it all done.
As April came, his planned trip to Europe had to be postponed on his doctor's advice. Regardless, Umemoto remained optimistic, never wanting those close to him to worry -- but his health did not improve. Week after week, he lost more weight, became more ill, and had to abandon his work and be admitted to the hospital. Throughout the summer of 2011, he would occasionally email and call friends from bedside, never once allowing himself a weak moment, putting on a smile.
On August 17, 2011, during the early morning hours, the music box stopped singing before the last note had been played. Ryu Umemoto passed away peacefully in his sleep, aged 37.
In the wake of his death, fans around the world were in tears; the online outcry was immense. Composers from nearly every company in Japan paid their respects, remembering the man as a gentle and incredibly generous soul, one who never asked anything in return. Fans from all corners of the world shared their thoughts, often with the regret of not having discovered his music before his demise. In December of 2011, five months after the passing of Ryu Umemoto, his closest collaborator, Hiroyuki Kanno, also passed away from illness -- also aged 37.
Umemoto's dream of reaching his worldwide fans did not go unrealized, however. Nin2-Jump and Guwange were made available worldwide on the XBLA service, and in May of 2012, Rising Star Games released its localized version of Akai Katana in Europe and the U.S. for the Xbox 360, enabling fans to enjoy what was Umemoto's last great work.
Instant Brain, the visual novel produced by Cave, saw release in November of 2011. Umemoto had produced five completed tracks for the game, out of the 33 planned. In order to finish the score and keep it in style of the late composer, several of his longtime colleagues were brought in to finish the soundtrack -- Keishi Yonao, Hideki Higuchi, Yuji Takenouchi, and WASi303.
Several arranged albums which Umemoto had participated in were also released posthumously. The last work he would be able to participate in was a soundtrack, alongside his friend Higuchi, entitled Tenshi no Hane wo Fumanaide. At the time before his death, he was also working on his own design and story for a self-published visual novel game.
Umemoto's close friends and family held a memorial concert in hise honor on August 19, 2012, marking the beginning of the Ryu Umemoto Memorial Project, dedicated to ensuring that his name is kept alive for generations to come.
The loss of Ryu Umemoto left a deep tear in the community of video game composers around the world. To them, he had opened doors, been a mentor and a friend who many saw as their very reason for being in the video game industry. But Umemoto himself was not one to despair or stand still. All challenges that came his way, he faced with energy and optimism. As his body has left this earth, his spirit remains as strong as it ever has, and his music speaks a language more clear than words, forever telling a timeless story.
"I want to make sure everyone knows the importance of going out in the world and exploring life, because it has taught me so much" - Ryu Umemoto, 2010
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