Home > Reviews > GUNSHI KANBEE – Yugo Kanno


gunshikanbeeOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The annual NHK Taiga drama is a year-long television series broadcast on Japan’s main television network, NHK, and has been a staple of Japanese television since the first one was broadcast in 1963. It is widely considered to be one of the most prestigious television events of the Japanese calendar, attracting the dream of Japan’s dramatic talent, actors, writers, directors and composers – recent previous Taiga dramas have included Clouds on the Slope scored by Joe Hisaishi, Yae No Sakura scored by Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Ryōmaden scored by Naoki Sato. The 2014 NHK Taiga drama is Gunshi Kanbee, an epic story of a young man finding his way through the war-like and feudal Japanese society of the 16th century. Directed by Kenji Yanaka, it stars Junichi Okada in the title role, and has an original score by 37-year-old Japanese composer Yugo Kanno.

To say that the score for Gunshi Kanbee is excellent may be the greatest understatement of the year. It has everything film music aficionados look for in scores: a big orchestra (it was actually performed by three separate orchestras – the NHK Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Junichi Hirokami, the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Michał Dworzyński, and the Tokyo Studio Orchestra conducted by Koji Haishima), gorgeous multi-faceted orchestrations, memorable themes with clear development and emotional range, intelligent dramatic application, and much more besides.

In an album full of highlights, a number of cues stand out. The “Gunshi Kanbee Main Theme” moves from longing romance to frantic action; “Kanbee the Prodigy” showcases a longing, heartfelt string theme emphasizing the scope and importance of the character’s journey; “Turbulent Country” has some gorgeous, lyrical flute writing; “Otatsu the First Love” is light and flighty, with more lovely woodwind writing, this time accompanied with light tapped percussion, chimes and harp glissandi to give it a ‘magical’ feeling redolent of young romance. “Kanbee Runs” has a powerful, dramatic, Poledouris-like horn line full of heroism and adventure, which feeds in to the subsequent and equally bold “Nobunaga the Revolutionary Leader”.

Later, “Buhee the Aide” is a lovely, classical waltz pastiche full of light and elegance; “Love for One’s Mother” has a piano and cello duet that is just heartbreakingly gorgeous, and feeds into the solo piano version in “Iwa’s Affection”. “Mankichi of Conviction” introduces a slightly disturbing vocal effect underneath the cue’s prominent string lament, adding a touch of uncertainty and grief to the piece. The two “Kanbee Travelogue” pieces showcase sublime solo violin performances of the main theme accompanied by a rhapsodic piano element; both “Kanbee the General” and “Tahee the Spearman” have militaristic, martial drumbeats beneath stirring brass action sequences, while the wonderful “Kanbee the Tactician” is one of the most rousing cues on the album, centered around a wonderful, heroic central theme.

I really can’t recommend the score for Gunshi Kanbee highly enough. At this time, when many film music aficionados are decrying the state of mainstream film music, I would suggest that they start looking to places like Japan to find the types scores they are missing in mainstream Hollywood projects. Had a score like Gunshi Kanbee been written for one of 2014’s box office blockbusters, we would all have been falling over ourselves to praise it; instead, because it’s written by a comparatively obscure Japanese composer for a comparatively obscure Japanese TV drama series, it’s on very few people’s radar. But, make no mistake, there is some truly wonderful music to be found here, and I recommend it unreservedly.

Buy the Gunshi Kanbee soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Gunshi Kanbee Main Theme (2:50)
  • Kanbee the Prodigy (3:47)
  • Turbulent Country (1:56)
  • Hideyoshi the Ruler (2:39)
  • Kohee the Loyal (2:46)
  • Otatsu the First Love (2:26)
  • The Lord of Himeji Castle (2:21)
  • Kanbee Runs (2:41)
  • Nobunaga the Revolutionary Leader (1:31)
  • Zori Tokichiro (2:08)
  • Buhee the Aide (1:55)
  • Shigetaka the Eye Drop Seller (1:47)
  • Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child (2:36)
  • Love for One’s Mother (3:45)
  • Masahide of Tatsuno Castle (1:54)
  • Iwa’s Affection (3:40)
  • Mankichi of Conviction (2:04)
  • Sign of Genius (3:20)
  • Kanbee Travelogue I (3:08)
  • Kanbee the General (2:53)
  • The Beloved Wife Teru (4:55)
  • Tahee the Spearman (2:42)
  • Sakyounoshin the Brother-in-Law (1:40)
  • Power Relations in Harima (2:57)
  • Kanbee the Tactician (2:08)
  • Shojumaru the Heir (2:44)
  • Stirring Lords (2:56)
  • Tenka Fubu Seal (2:01)
  • Kanbee Travelogue II (1:31)

Sony Music Japan SICL-30001 (2014)

Running Time: 75 minutes 42 seconds

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