Western art music from the mid-twentieth century onward has often greatly benefitted from Eastern influences. Various composers have featured traditional Asian instruments, used Eastern compositional and improvisational techniques, and attempted to transfer aesthetics of the East to Western music. While often the result is an interesting juxtaposition of Eastern and Western features, one may well wonder whether the complete integration of Eastern and Western musical traditions is indeed possible or even desirable. British author Rudyard Kipling once wrote that “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Nonetheless, it would seem that the music of Japan’s leading composer, Toru Takemitsu, achieves precisely this, a thorough integration of materials from both the East and West that results in a new and different world of sound, a music whose coherency is derived equally from both traditions.
Takemitsu was born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1930. He first decided to pursue a career in music when he was in his teens at the end of World War II. Recalling this time in an interview for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Takemitsu said that he was “very negative about everything Japanese. During the war it was forbidden to listen to anything but Japanese music, and we were thirsty to hear music of the West and wanted to learn just that music. Only afterwards could I find my own way to Japanese tradition.”
At age 18 Takemitsu studied composition privately with Yosuji Kiyose, but otherwise is self-taught and holds no degrees in music. He told Edward Downes, program annotator for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, that his teacher was “his daily life, including all of music and nature.” It is probably this lack of formal musical education and prolonged study with no particular composer that in part accounts for Takemitsu’s highly original style—and this in spite of his experimenting with every new musical method and current among other contemporary composers since World War II.
Takemitsu’s compositions demonstrate the entire gamut of compositional features current in the West: In addition to conventional features, he uses improvisation, non-musical notation, electro-acoustic means of composition on tape, unusual instrumentation, and instrumental passages of such difficulty that they challenge the ability of even the most seasoned performers. Yet, all of Takemitsu’s compositions have some added quality—which the composer says is their bicultural nature—which distinguishes them from the rest of Western music that uses these same techniques. He told Downes, “Maybe it can be said that I am rather a gardener, not a composer. I don’t like to construct sounds as great architecture the way Beethoven did. My music is different. I set up a place where sounds meet each other. I don’t construct but create some order which makes my music quite close to the idea of a Japanese garden. In the garden there are different cycles, short and long; there is mobility and immobility. The growing of trees and the growing of grass is different you know.”
Takemitsu has not always been able to use the word “bicultural” to describe his music. In the 1950s his music was entirely in the style of the Western avant-garde; only in the 1960s did he become seriously interested in traditional Japanese instruments, such as the lute-like biwa, and begin to combine them with Western instruments. By the 1970s his integration of Eastern and Western elements was nearly complete. While the ensembles and compositional technique are for the most part Western, the spirit of Takemitsu’s
For the Record…
Born October 8, 1920, in Tokyo, Japan. Education: Studied composition with Yosuji Kiyose.
Organized the Experimental Laboratory, 1951, in Tokyo, with Toshiro Mayuzumi, to combine traditional Japanese music with contemporary procedures; designed the Space Theater for Expo ’70, Osaka, Japan; lectured on composition in the U.S., 1975; composition November Steps was commissioned and performed by the New York Philharmonic for the orchestra’s 125th anniversary celebration at Lincoln Center.
music is Eastern and almost always evokes natural phenomena. His greatest artistry lies in creating timbres and textures, and the titles of his compositions most frequently allude to sound or sound color as it occurs in nature, for example, Garden Rain, Waves, In an Autumn Garden.
As Bernard Rands pointed out in the Musical Times, such titles are quite different from “abstract or technological ideas contained in the thousands of titles that dominate contemporary music publishers’ catalogues: Fragments, Formants, Phonics, Prisms, Variants, Collage, Projections etc. The complexity of experience implied in Takemitsu’s titles is universal human experience whereas the complexity of technical abstract ideas implied in the others is Western, local, culturally conditioned in its cerebral, esoteric concern with process.”
Rather than having an all-consuming interest in the process of composing or in abstract musical problems, Takemitsu is intrigued by the contemplation of natural phenomena. Thus he has not written extensively about his own compositional procedure as the overwhelming majority of contemporary composers have, and what writing and lecturing he has done do not include any particular terminology to explain his compositional techniques. Instead, Takemitsu tends to focus on the listener’s potential response.
Aside from his talent in the realm of sound and sound colors, Takemitsu’s music is also unique in its pacing. The listener may get the impression that the music evolves on its own, a characteristic that is directly related to Takemitsu’s evocation of natural phenomena. The structure and climax of his works are often strictly non-Western and thus the aspect of his music the most often misunderstood by Western listeners. Ellen Pfeifer, writing for the Boston Herald, said that there is an “unfortunate sameness about [Takemitsu’s] writing—unvarying dynamic level (quiet) and pace (slowish).” The Japanese critic Hidekazu Yoshida, writing for a Japanese recording of Takemitsu’s works, observed that “in Japanese music, however, it is not unusual for one to bring out the climax, which is supposed to be the cardinal element in the work concerned, very abruptly and without any preparation, or suddenly to cut it…. This traditional sense of beauty of the Japanese has been revived in a very vivid way in Takemitsu’s work. I do not think it was done unconsciously. This is the reason why a piece which at first may sound monotonous and lacking in compactness of structure leaves one with a generally fresh memory after one has listened to it.”
Takemitsu gained his greatest international acclaim as a result of the immediate success of his 1967 work, November Steps, commissioned and performed by the New York Philharmonic as part of its 125th anniversary celebration. He continues to be an active and successful composer with a large catalog of published works for all media, including cinema, radio, and television. He is also a frequent lecturer and composer-in-residence at music schools and festivals throughout the world.
Ikiru yorokobi [The joy to live] (ballet), 1951.
Shitsunai kyosokyoku [Chamber concerto], 1955.
Requiem (for strings), 1957.
Solitude sonore, 1958.
Ki no kyoku [Tree music], 1961.
Arc (piano and orchestra), 1963-66.
Chiheisen no doria [Dorian horizon], 1966.
November Steps, 1967.
Green (November Steps II), 1967.
Asterism (piano and orchestra), 1968.
Cassiopea (percussion and orchestra), 1971.
Aki [Autumn], 1973.
Kuroi kaiga [Black painting], 1958.
Kansho [Coral island], 1962.
Kaze no uma [Horse in the wind], 1962.
Arc, for Piano and Orchestra (contains “Solitude,” “Your Love and theCrossing,” “Textures,”“Reflection,” and “Coda”), Varese/Sarabande.
Asterism for Piano and Orchestra; Requiem for String Orchestra; Green for Orchestra (November Steps II); Dorian Horizon for Seventeen Strings, Victor.
In an Autumn Garden, Varese/Sarabande.
Coral Island for Soprano and Orchestra; Water Music for Magnetic Tape; Vocalism A I for Tape, RCA.
Corona; Far Away; Piano Distance; Undisturbed Rest, London.
Dorian Horizon, Columbia.
Miniature: Stanza No. 1—Sacrific-Ring-Valeria, DG.
Munari by Munari, for Percussion, RCA.
November Steps, RCA.
Piano Distance; Uninterrupted Rests.
Piano Music, RCA.
Quatrain; A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden, DG.
Quatrain II; Water Ways; Waves, RCA.
Seasons for Glass Trombone, Metal Instruments and Tape, Oiseau.
Toward the Sea, for Alto Flute and Guitar, Bridge.
Oto, chinmoku to hakariaeru hodo ni (Translated as “As much as can be measured with sounds and silence”), Tokyo, 1971.
Boston Herald, November 23, 1984.
Classical Guitar, May 1988.
Guitar Player, October 1987.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner, January 11, 1985, January 12, 1985.
MLA Notes, vol. 43, no. 1, 1986; vol. 44, no. 2, 1987.
Musical Opinion, August 1988.
Musical Times, September 1987.
Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, July/August 1988.
Nutida Musik, vol. 3/2, 1988/1989.
Orchester, April 1987, September 1987.
Record geijutsu, September 1973.
—Margaret Escobar and Jeanne M. Lesinski
Widely considered modern Japan's greatest composer in the classical music tradition, Toru Takemitsu (1930–1996) merged Japanese and Western instruments and techniques in his music. Equally important, perhaps, was the way he humanized some of the intellectual devices used by contemporary classical composers of the West, not diluting their rigor but attaching them to concrete images rooted in nature and in Japanese aesthetics.
Growing up amid the destruction of World War II, Takemitsu learned to despise the culture of his native country. Almost completely self-taught as a composer, he immersed himself in Western techniques, returning to Japanese music only later, at the suggestion of an American associate. Takemitsu's music is sensuous and accessible, and he was an acclaimed and enthusiastic composer of film music, the classical genre most oriented toward mass appeal. The detail and density of his music also drew the admiration of specialists, including many of his fellow composers. Some of his music involved tonal depictions of Japanese gardens, and he often acknowledged the garden as a source of inspiration. "I can imagine a garden superimposed over the image of an orchestra," Takemitsu was quoted as saying on England's Soundintermedia website. "A garden is composed of various different elements and sophisticated details that converge to form a harmonious whole."
Drafted into Labor Gang
Born October 8, 1930, in Tokyo, Japan, Takemitsu spent his early life in China with his family. By the time he was brought back to Japan to attend school in 1938, Japanese militarism was on the rise and Western music and films were mostly forbidden. Takemitsu kept up a secret fascination with the West. After war broke out he saw a newsreel film of a British destroyer, the Prince of Wales, being sunk by a Japanese attack, but felt only awe at the sophistication of the British ship. In 1944, at 14, Takemitsu was drafted and put to work in a labor gang assigned to build a Japanese army camp. While he was working, an officer played a recording of the French popular song "Parlez-moi d'amour" (Speak to Me of Love, 1930). "I did not know there was such beautiful music in the world," Takemitsu later recalled, according to the Economist.
After the war Takemitsu tuned into the American Armed Forces Radio, hearing a broad mix of music, including popular songs, Western classical music, and jazz. In the last of these categories, it was bandleader and composer Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, with his range of instrumental effects, whom he especially admired. By the time he was 16, Takemitsu had decided he wanted to be a composer. He studied briefly with composer Yasuji Kiyose beginning in 1948, but mostly he learned musical composition on his own. "My teachers," he was quoted as saying by Soundintermedia, "are Duke Ellington and nature." He also admired the quiet, subtly colored impressionist music of French composer Claude Debussy.
In poor health due to lung ailments, Takemitsu turned for moral support to his girlfriend, Asaka, who later became his wife and the mother of his daughter Maki. "He had holes in his lungs" when the two first met, Asaka told Kevin Jackson of the London Independent, "and his father had died early, so his mother had to go out to work, but in spite of their financial difficulties he really wanted to study music. When I met him, he almost forced me into taking care of him; he needed to be taken care of."
Takemitsu quickly absorbed the latest developments in Western music, proceeding from Debussy to the contemporary French music of Olivier Messiaen. His first work to be publicly performed, the Lento in Two Movements, was influenced by Messiaen but had Takemitsu's own distinctive style, which would remain recognizable even as he adopted various new Western techniques. His music was often quiet, with small, sudden climaxes rather than a strong feeling of movement toward a goal, and with a strong focus on timbre (the "color" of a sound"), texture, and register (the highness or lowness of a pitch). There was something Japanese about Takemitsu's music, even during the years when he would have been reluctant to admit such a thing.
Wrote Electronic Piece
During the 1950s Takemitsu kept up with new Western styles, mastered them quickly, and gained wider recognition. He studied the serialist music of Austrian composers Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, which rejected the idea of key and instead derived the pitch material of a piece of music from a small cell or sequence of notes announced at the beginning of the work. Electronic music, made on a large computer apparatus prior to the invention of the synthesizer, was on the rise, and Takemitsu's 1956 piece Vocalism A.I., which manipulated recordings of actors speaking those vowel sounds, was one of Japan's first electronic compositions. Takemitsu's reputation grew when Russian-American composer Igor Stravinsky, visiting Japan, heard Takemitsu's Requiem for strings (1957) and praised it.
In the early 1960s Takemitsu began to travel to the West for performances of his works. In Hawaii he met experimentalist composer John Cage, whose works often involved leaving portions of his compositions to chance in one way or another, and the two became friends. Takemitsu had already experimented with chance procedures in such works as Corona for one or more pianists, 1962, whose score resembled a diagram rather than conventional music notation. Cage, an adherent of Zen Buddhism, encouraged Takemitsu to reconnect with his Japanese roots, and Takemitsu began to think about the power of ritualistic Japanese art forms such as puppet theater. At the same time, he was becoming disillusioned with the hard-core intellectualism of serialist composers and more and more interested in nature as a source of inspiration. Takemitsu's Coral Island (1962) won recognition in the West.
His real breakthrough, however, was November Steps, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1967 and conducted in its premiere by Seiji Ozawa, a close friend of Takemitsu. One of Takemitsu's first works to use Japanese traditional instruments, it was a concerto for solo biwa (a scraped and plucked Japanese lute) and shakuhachi (a Japanese flute), with Western orchestra. Barry Conyngham and Roger Woodward wrote in the London Guardian that "the music has an almost overpowering focus, as if—in trying to make the two musics one, in striving to accommodate the two rich worlds—the composer draws himself and us into a strange new state." Other major orchestras performed and recorded the work, and by around 1970 Takemitsu was a well-known name in classical music circles, invited to compose music for ensembles and festivals around the world.
Takemitsu's fascination with gardens came to the fore in his music of the 1970s and 1980s, in such works as Garden Rain (1974) for brass ensemble. He likened the intended experience of hearing his music to walking through a garden; the scenery changes as the listener moves through time, but there is no clear starting or end point. One of Takemitsu's best-known works remains the orchestral A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden (1977). The piece mixes Japanese and Western techniques at a deep level, with a vivid evocation of the title scene (a solo oboe represents the descending birds) concealing a densely mathematical exploitation of permutations of the number five, based on the use of a pentatonic (five-tone) scale, in the shifting orchestral fields representing the shape of the garden.
Takemitsu's Waterways for piano and orchestra (1975) was inspired by the garden at Spain's Alhambra fortress. At first he was unmoved. "Since music is for me not symmetrical, I did not like the regularity of the garden at all," he was quoted as saying by Paula Deitz in the New York Times. But then a woman walked through the garden, breaking the symmetry of the scene and disturbing the water on a pond. "Only then, the music came," Takemitsu said.
Composed Film Scores
Despite the cutting-edge qualities of his concert music, Takemitsu never lost his appreciation for the popular songs that had originally inspired him. He was said to have an encyclopedic knowledge of Western pop music. Takemitsu found a meeting place between pop and classical music in his 93 scores for Japanese films, which he wrote with enthusiasm over the last three decades of his life and which covered all genres from sophisticated art-house films to thrillers. Takemitsu's film career began with the 1964 art film Woman in the Dunes and included scores for such classics as director Akira Kurosawa's Ran, a film based on Shakespeare's King Lear. His film scores varied according to the nature of the project; the Woman in the Dunes score was a sparse, minimal affair that would not have sounded out of place on a program of his concert music, while other scores were overtly emotional in the Western fashion. Takemitsu viewed some 200 films a year, and one of his favorite activities on arriving in a new city during his world travels was to head for a movie theater, whether he spoke the local language or not. In 1993 he wrote the score for the American film Rising Sun. Takemitsu's film scores represent an under-investigated aspect of his total output.
Takemitsu's genial personality won him friends as well as admirers. In person he was more boisterous than his calm music might suggest. Pointing to a picture of a spiritual-looking Takemitsu on a printed concert program, his daughter Maki told Jackson that "he certainly wasn't like that. He loved to play the Beatles or jazz on the piano; he loved to dance around and play, he loved socializing and drinking with other people, especially writers and painters and younger musicians…. He was really a lot of fun." Takemitsu had many friends at the top levels of Japanese literature and arts, including novelist Kenzaburo Oe and poet Shuntaro Tanikawa. His sense of humor was legendary. In broken English, he once told an interviewer that he thought silence was the mother of music. Then he backed off and corrected himself, saying that perhaps it was only the grandmother.
One of Takemitsu's major compositions of the 1970s, In an Autumn Garden (1979), was written entirely for the traditional gagaku Japanese court musical ensemble, but in the last two decades of his life he more often wrote for Western instruments. His music was often gentle in spirit, and he continued to refine his instrumental textures in the direction of greater and greater distinctiveness and clarity. Takemitsu's music continued to be frequently performed in the 1990s. His Fantasma/Cantos (1991) was awarded the 1994 Grawemeyer Prize, one of the classical music world's most prestigious honors and one that carried a $150,000 stipend. Little of his music to that point had been for voices, and he set to work on an opera, with a libretto by California novelist Barry Gifford. He was suffering from cancer, however, and he died in Tokyo on February 20, 1996.
Contemporary Musicians, vol. 6, Gale, 1991.
Sadie, Stanley, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., Macmillan, 2001.
Daily News (Los Angeles), May 8, 2002.
Economist, March 2, 1996.
Guardian (London, England), February 22, 1996; August 29, 1997.
Independent (London, England), October 1, 1998.
New York Times, February 21, 1996; March 3, 1996.
San Francisco Chronicle, February 21, 1996.
Times (London, England), February 22, 1996.
"Who Was Toru Takemitsu?," http://www.soundintermedia.co.uk/treeline-online/biog.html (February 2, 2006).
Composer. Nationality: Japanese. Born: Tokyo, 8 October 1930; grew up in Manchuria. Education: Studied with Kasuji Kiyose. Career: Member of the avant-garde group Jikken Kobo; entered films as assistant to Fumio Hayasaka; 1955—first film score, for Ginrin; has composed orchestra works; 1975—taught at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Awards: Japanese Academy Award and Los Angeles Film Critics Award, for Ran, 1985. Died: 16 February 1996.
Films as Composer:
Ginrin (Silver Circle) (Matsumoto) (co); Kinegraphy (Ohtsuji)
Kurutta kajitsu (Crazed Fruit) (Nakahira); Shu to midori (Red and Green) (Nakamura); Tsuyu no atosaki (Toward the Rainy Season) (Nakamura)
Doshaburi (Hard Rain) (Nakamura); Kaoyaku (The Boss) (Nakamura)
Haru o matsu hitobito (Those Who Wait for Spring) (Nakamura); Kiyen ryoko (Dangerous Voyage) (Nakamura); Asu e no seiso (Tomorrow's Costume) (Nakamura); Itazura (The Joke) (Nakamura)
José Torres (Teshigahara—short); Kawaita mizuumi (Youth in Fury) (Shinoda)
Mozu (Shibuya); Furyo shonen (Bad Boys) (Hani); Hanjo (Nakamura); Mitasareta seikatsu (A Full Life) (Hani)
Karami-ai (Heritage) (Kobayashi); Otoshiana (Pitfall) (Teshigahara); Namida o shishi no tategami no (Tears in the Lion's Mane) (Shinoda); Seppuku (Harakiri) (Kobayashi); "Japan" ep. of L'Amour à vingt ans (Love at Twenty) (Ishihara); Ratai (The Body) (Narusawa)
Kawaita hana (Pale Flower) (Shinoda); Subarashii akujo (Wonderful Bad Woman) (Onchi); Miren (Regrets) (Chiba); Taiheiyo hitoribotchi (My Enemy, the Sea; Alone on the Pacific) (Ichikawa) (co); Shiro to kuro (Pressure of Guilt) (Horikawa); Koto (Twin Sisters of Kyoto) (Nakamura); Sunna no onna (Woman in the Dunes) (Teshigahara); Kanojo to kare (She and He) (Hani)
Nijuissa no chichi (A Father at 21) (Nakamura); "Ako" ep. of La Fleur de l'age (The Adolescents) (Teshigahara); Ansatsu (Assassination) (Shinoda); Nihon dashutsu (Escape from Japan) (Yoshida); Te o tsunagu ko-ra (Children Hand in Hand) (Hani); Jidosha doroba (Car Thief) (Wada); Kaidan (Kwaidan) (Kobayashi); Shiroi asa (White Morning) (Teshigahara—short); Jotai (The Call of Flesh) (Onchi); Le Mystère Koumiko (The Koumiko Mystery) (Marker)
Utsukushisa to kanashimi to (With Beauty and Sorrow) (Shinoda); Saigo no shinpan (The Last Judgment) (Horikawa); Ibun Sarutobi sasuke (Samurai Spy) (Shinoda); Kemonomichi (Beast Alley) (Sugawa); José Torres, Part II (Teshigahara—doc); Yotsuya kaidan (Illusion of Blood) (Toyoda); Buwana Toshi no uta (Bwana Toshi) (Hani)
Shokei no shima (Punishment Island) (Shinoda); Monokurohmu no gaka: Yves Kline (Monochrome Painter Yves Kline) (Noda); Ki no kawa (Ki River) (Nakamura); Tanin no kao (The Face of Another) (Teshigahara); Akogare (Once a Rainy Day) (Onchi)
Akanegumo (Clouds at Sunset) (Shinoda); Joi-Uchi (Rebellion) (Kobayashi); Izol no odoriko (Onchi); Midaregumo (Two in the Shadow) (Naruse)
Meguriai (The Meeting) (Onchi); Moetikuta chizu (The Man without a Map) (Teshigahara); Nihon no seishun (Japanese Youth) (Kobayashi); Kyo (Kyoto) (Ichikawa); Hatsukoi jigokuhen (Nanami: Inferno of First Love) (Hani)
Dankon (Bullet Wound) (Moritani); Shinju ten no amijima (Double Suicide) (Shinoda)
Taiyo no karyudo (Hunter of the Sun) (Onchi); Dodesukaden (Dodeskaden) (Kurosawa); Yomigaeru daichi (The Rebirth of the Soil) (Nakamura); Tokyo senso sengo hiwa (He Died after the War) (Oshima); Inochi bonifuro (Inn of Evil) (Kobayashi)
Gishiki (The Ceremony) (Oshima); Chinmoko (Silence) (Shinoda)
Natsu no imoto (Dear Summer Sister) (Oshima); Wonder World (Funakoshi); Summer Soldiers (Teshigahara); Seigenki (Time without Memory) (Narushima)
Kaseki no mori (The Petrified Forest) (Shinoda)
Himiko (Shinoda); Shiawase (Happiness) (Onchi)
Sakura no mori no mankai no shita (Under the Cherry Blossoms) (Shinoda); Kaseki (Fossils) (Kobayashi)
Nihontou: Miyairi Kouhei no waza (Japanese Swords: The Work of Kouhei Miyairi) (Yamauchi)
Sabita honoo (Rusty Flame) (Sadanaga); Hanare goze Orin (The Ballad of Orin) (Shinoda)
Ai no borei (Empire of Passion) (Oshima); Moeru aki (Burning Autumn; Glowing Autumn) (Kobayashi)
Le Musée du Louvre (The Louvre Museum) (Uruta); Kataku (This World) (Kawamoto)
Tenpyou no iraka (Slates of the Tenpyo Period) (Kumai)
Yogen (Prophecy) (Hani)
Tokyo saiban (The Tokyo Trial) (Kobayashi—doc)
Himatsuri (Fire Festival) (Yanagimachi)
Antonio Gaudi (Teshigahara); Ran (Kurosawa); Shokutaku no nai ie (Family without a Dinner Table) (Kobayashi); Yari no Gonza (Gonza the Spearman) (Shinoda)
Kuroi Ame (Black Rain) (Imamura)
Rising Sun (Kaufman)
Music for the Movies: Toru Takemitsu (Zwerin—doc) (+ ro as interviewee)
By TAKEMITSU: book—
Confronting Silence: Selected Writings, Berkeley, California, 1995.
By TAKEMITSU: article—
Cinejap (Paris), September 1978.
On TAKEMITSU: book—
Ohtake, Norike, Creative Sources for the Music of Toru Takemitsu, Hertfordshire, England, 1993.
On TAKEMITSU: articles—
Chaplin (Stockholm), April-May 1965.
Focus on Film (London), March-April 1970.
Ecran (Paris), September 1975.
Revue du Cinéma (Paris), September 1985.
Obituary in Cue Sheet (Hollywood), January 1996.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 26 February 1996.
* * *
Toru Takemitsu was not only one of the greatest contemporary Japanese composers and theoreticians of experimental music, but he was also a cinema fanatic who wrote music for more than 80 films. His film career began in the mid-1950s after he studied with the master composer Fumio Hayasaka. His first feature film was Kou Nakahira's Crazed Fruit, a popular film about sensational bourgeois youth, which also attracted critical attention for its refreshing sensibility.
After working on a number of films by Noboru Nakamura, a successful Shochiku Studio melodrama director, Takemitsu began to work for the most ambitious young directors of his generation such as Masahiro Shinoda, Susumu Hani, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Nagisa Oshima, and Yoshishige Yoshida, as well as master directors including Masaki Kobayashi, Kon Ichikawa and Akira Kurosawa.
Takemitsu's modern and unconventional style has greatly advanced Japanese film music. He responded to the highly experimental and stylized visual images created by Shinoda, Hani, Teshigahara, Oshima, and Yoshida with equally bold, often dissonant and avantgarde sounds. His scores compel the audience to perceive a film as a montage of visual and auditory images.
Takemitsu experimented with Japanese traditional instruments and musical concepts, as evidenced in Kobayashi's Kwaidan and Kurosawa's Ran. His use of silence and his sense of taste and timing were particularly effective in conveying suspense.
Toru Takemitsu (tō´rōō täkā´mĬtsōō), 1930–96, Japanese composer, b. Tokyo. Largely self-taught and particularly influenced by Debussy and Cage, Takemitsu successfully combined serial music and other techniques from Europe and the United States with traditional Japanese modalities. His music has a marked sensuous quality, its opulent textures and tones mixed with passages of harsh timbres and rasping dissonance. Championed by Igor Stravinsky, he was the first contemporary Japanese composer to become known in the West. Takemitsu organized (1951) Tokyo's Experimental Workshop, the first of several avant-garde groups he founded, and in 1970 he designed the
for the exposition in Osaka. His best-known work is Requiem for Strings (1958), which launched his international career. Other compositions include Undisturbed Rest (1952) for piano, Dorian Horizon (1967) for string orchestra, and the piano trio Between Tides (1993). He also is noted for the many evocative scores he wrote for Japanese films, e.g., Woman in the Dunes (1964), Ran (1985), and Black Rain (1989).
See his Confronting Silence (1995); P. Burt, The Music of Toru Takemitsu (2001); C. Zwerin, Music for the Movies: Toru Takemitsu (film, 1995).