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INTERVIEW | Eiko Ishibashi on Innovative Project 'Gift' and Working with Ryusuke Hamaguchi

"I wanted to know about the role of film music. I created this project to consider that" — Eiko Ishibashi, two-time winner of the Asian Film Awards

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Eiko Ishibashi performing "Gift". (©Far East Film Festival)

Japanese multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Eiko Ishibashi has garnered international acclaim in recent years for her collaborations with Oscar-winning arthouse film director Ryusuke Hamaguchi.

First with Drive My Car in 2021, then with Evil Does Not Exist in 2023, the pair have established an artistic process that has been as empathic and mutually driven as the films. And Ishibashi has won the Asian Film Awards for Best Original Music for both works.

Ishibashi is now touring film festivals and cultural institutions around the globe with an idiosyncratic reworking of the Evil Does Not Exist. Titled "Gift," she performs the piece live with an array of instruments and technology accompanying a new silent edit of footage from the film. 

We sat down with Ishibashi at the Far East Film Festival in Udine, northern Italy, ahead of her performance of the work on April 28.

Eiko Ishibashi at the Far East Film Festival (©Far East Film Festival)

Live Score Performance 'Gift'

How does combining live performance and cinema affect how you deliver your music?

The interesting thing about the "Gift" project is that my performance changes every time. Also, depending on the size of the screen and the size of the venue, the way I feel changes as well as the way the audience feels.

Your music hones and sharpens the senses in a meditative yet eerily unsettling way. How would you characterize your film scores, especially in relation to silence?

I believe that voices, sounds, or silences in a film are more important than music. I think this idea is reflected in the music I make, and I hope the viewer feels similarly.

What are the kinds of films that you enjoy personally? 

Well, I love films and watch a lot of films every day. I enjoy films across various genres, but science fiction and spy stories are the ones I can always enjoy, even when I'm tired.

Hamaguchi has been quoted as saying that your music provides the emotional bridge between the viewer and the film. What is it about your music that you feel conjures emotion? 

There's no particular emotion that I'm trying to provoke through my music. I would rather distance myself from such things. But I hope my music prompts the audience to recall the film years on. If a particular phrase or sound in my music triggers them to remember the film that would be great.

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How does your approach to scoring Evil Does Not Exist differ from Drive My Car?

I feel that Hamaguchi's personal emotions are more evident in Evil Does Not Exist than in Drive My Car. I didn't think I would write a score for the strings, but I felt inspired by Hamaguchi's emotions present in the images to challenge myself to develop new things like these phrases for strings.

Eiko Ishibashi performing "Gift". (©Far East Film Festival)

Working with Hamaguchi

Your music and Hamaguchi's images seem a perfect symbiotic fit. Do you plan to work together on further projects?

I don't know, maybe he needs a rest from me! [laughs]

Were you familiar with Hamaguchi's work before working with him on Drive My Car? Were you a fan of his work?

Yes. My favorite of his works is the documentary, Storytellers. I'm so impressed by that film. That film is the main reason I asked for the visuals for the performance.

There's a recurrent element in Hamaguchi's filmography of life-inspiring performance and performance-inspiring life. And in a way, that two-handed mirroring parallels yourself and Hamaguchi.

I think "Gift" as a project is very necessary for us both. We are learning what we want to do in the future. To learn, to study, or to understand what we want to create moving forward. That's why I think this project was very important for both of us.

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Author: Blake Simons

Blake Simons attended the 26th Far East Film Festival as part of the FEFF Campus for aspiring critics, writers, and film industry professionals.