neversettingsunOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Never-Setting Sun is a Japanese TV series, a remake of the 2009 film of the same name, both of which are based on a popular novel by Toyoko Yamasaki. The story follows Hajime Onchi, an employee of a large Japanese airline, through his work as the chairman of the employees union in the 1960s, his ascent through the company and his travels in Pakistan, Iran, and Kenya in the 1970s, and the aftermath of a 1985 plane crash in which 500 people were killed, which Onchi is charged with investigating. The 20-episode series aired on the Japanese channel WOWOW in May 2006, was directed by Toshiyuki Mizutani and Kosuke Suzuki, and has a score by the incredible Naoki Sato, chronologically the third of the nine scores he wrote in 2016.

Contrary to the expectations one may have about the score considering the rather bland-sounding plot of the series, Naoki Sato’s music is utterly gorgeous, captivating from the first bar to the last. There is a seriousness and a dramatic weight to the music throughout much of its running time, but Sato never strays far from the tonal, theme-based core, presenting cue after cue of profound, important-sounding music. In terms of instrumental color, Sato uses a fairly standard symphony orchestra, but makes liberal use of exotic woodwinds, tribal percussion, and Celine Dion-esque wordless vocals, to capture the sounds of the far-flung locations Onchi finds himself working; this is captured in the stunning opening “Main Title” cue, which uses all of these sounds to wonderful effect.

Subsequent cues like “Shinou,” “Honoo Takeshi,” and “Fushichou” are wonderfully optimistic and powerful, with strong and ambitious cascading string figures driven forward by an undercurrent of relentless movement and, occasionally, a muscular chanting choir. Sato frequently uses subtle electronics too, but they are used carefully and with precision, such as when they underpin the dramatic and dance-like faux-classical piece “Futou No Tori,” or the clattering, ostentatious “Gekishin,” or the heavy-sounding “Anun,” which overflows with regret.

Sato’s forays into regional ethnic music are, by and large, successful, from the infectious Bollywood rhythms and instrumental flavors of the Indian subcontinent heard in “Chi Tori No Tsume” and “Yokaku,” to the Middle Eastern inflections of “Kongun”, which blends a Toccata-and-Fugue-style pipe organ with Arabic woodwinds, strings, and baroque religioso voices. But there is darker music too, as offered by the thunderous timpani patterns and moody string chords in “Zankyou,” the more introspective, poignant cello lines of “Kaikon,” and the insect-like unnerving dissonance at the beginning of the turbulent “Dokuga”.

However, for me, the most effective parts of the score are the ones where Sato simply goes for broke and writes music that is passionate, deeply emotional, and overwhelmingly beautiful. Hajime Onchi was clearly forced to deal with numerous tragedies in his professional life, and Sato is not afraid to depict them boldly through his music; these parts of his story are captured most expressively in “Zan Namida,” “Shinen,” and the powerful “Yuubae,” a trio of soaring, but deeply moving string themes which almost seem to cry out in anguish. Best of all is the the finale, “Hiyoku,” which features a solo vocal performance by soprano Hiroko Kouda which is so clear, so clean, that it will surely melt the hardest hearts.

This is yet another outstanding score by Naoki Sato, whose wellspring of creative ideas for themes and orchestrations is clearly limitless. It’s scores like The Never Setting Sun which provide the ultimate rebuttal to those who claim that rich, thematic, dramatic orchestral film music is a thing of the past. It may not be de rigeur in Hollywood these days, but the flames of the genre are being fanned brightly elsewhere, and Japan is one of those markets fanning it most fervently. Do yourself a favor and seek out The Never-Setting Sun immediately; it is available as an import from all the usual Japanese retailers like Yesasia and Play Asia.

Track Listing:

  • Shizumanu Taiyo Main Title (5:22)
  • Futou No Tori (3:23)
  • Gekishin (3:26)
  • Shinou (3:58)
  • Enmu (3:23)
  • Zankyou (4:23)
  • Chi Tori No Tsume (2:56)
  • Kaikon (3:44)
  • Anun (3:35)
  • Yokaku (3:19)
  • Honoo Takeshi (2:33)
  • Dokuga (4:01)
  • Kongun (3:32)
  • Zan Namida (2:58)
  • Shinen (4:28)
  • Hakuchuumu (4:44)
  • Fushichou (3:00)
  • Kokou No Tsubasa (4:11)
  • Shinkirou (3:34)
  • Yuubae (3:09)
  • Hiyoku (4:47)

Nippon Columbia COCQ-85305, 78 minutes 34 seconds.

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