06 July 2011

Episode 36: Kinuyo Yamashita

Brent and Rob focus on famed Castlevania composer, Kinuyo Yamashita.  Through an exclusive interview with Yamashita-san herself, the Legacy Music Hour reveals some very interesting information regarding the composer credits of Castlevania.  Special thanks to Kinuyo Yamashita for taking the time to do this interview and prepare her answers in English.  Text version of the interview and track listing below.

Game - Composer - Song - Company - Console - Year (North American release unless otherwise indicated)

Castlevania - Kinuyo Yamashita - Heart of Fire (Stage 5) - Konami - NES - 1987

Arumana no Kiseki - Kinuyo Yamashita - Stage 5 - Konami - Famicom Disk System - 1987

Mega Man X3 - Kinuyo Yamashita - Opening - Capcom - SNES - 1996

Castlevania - Kinuyo Yamashita - Walking Edge (Stage 4) - Konami - NES - 1987

Power Blade - Kinuyo Yamashita - Sector 7 - Taito - NES - 1991

Esper Dream - Kinuyo Yamashita - Main BGM - Konami - Famicom Disk System - 1987

Medarot: Kabuto Version - Kinuyo Yamashita - gameplay - Natsume - Game Boy - 1997

Medarot: Kabuto Version - Kinuyo Yamashita - gameplay - Natsume - Game Boy - 1997

Mega Man X3 - Kinuyo Yamashita - Gravity Beetle - Capcom - SNES - 1996

Power Blade - Kinuyo Yamashita - Sector 5 - Taito - NES - 1991

Power Blade - Kinuyo Yamashita - Stage Select - Taito - NES - 1991

Medarot: Kabuto Version - Kinuyo Yamashita - gameplay - Natsume - Game Boy - 1997

Arumana no Kiseki - Kinuyo Yamashita - Stage 1, 4, and 6 - Konami - Famicom Disk System - 1987

Power Blade - Kinuyo Yamashita - Sector 1 - Taito - NES - 1991

Interview with Kinuyo Yamashita:

Brent: At Konami, you were given the alias "James Banana."  Do you know why Konami picked that name for you?

Kinuyo Yamashita: No, I don't know why they chose the name James Banana.

Aliases for video game music composers were common in the 1980s, especially at Capcom.  Why did video game music composers use aliases for the credits instead of their real names?  How come there wasn't better record keeping when it came to crediting composers?

Kinuyo Yamashita: The Japanese style is very different from the USA.  They are a lot more reserved and don't want to give away their secrets.  So I guess they felt like they had to protect their talent.  And so they used fake names.

Brent: Looking at video game music from the 80s and early to mid-90s, there were so many prominent female composers.  It seems like at least half of my favorite composers are women.  In comparison, there aren't really any prominent female composers in film music.  Why do you think that is?  Why were there so many female composers working on video games during the 8-bit and 16-bit era?

Kinuyo Yamashita: Haha, I don't know the answer to those questions.  But I would like to compose music for films!

Brent: Who are some of your favorite composers from the 8-bit and 16-bit era?  Were there any composers or soundtracks that were an influence on you?

Kinuyo Yamashita: No, I don't really have any influences.  And I don't know all the composer's names.  I played the game called "Mother" in Japan.  I thought that game had great music.  And Mario and Megaman I like as well.

Brent: During the 8-bit and 16-bit era, did you compose on real instruments and then adapt it to the hardware, or did you compose the music from the hardware itself?

Kinuyo Yamashita: Yes, I would compose the music on a keyboard first.  Then I would have to convert the notes to hex numbers.  And program them into the computer.

Brent: Did you play the game first without sound?  Or did you compose the music from storyboards, screen shots, and/or illustrations?

Kinuyo Yamashita: Usually I can't play the game first.  I am given a story or screen shots like you said.

Brent: As someone who was active in the mid-80s and is still active today, how has technology influenced the way you compose?  Has your compositional technique evolved over time as a result of technology?  Has it evolved as a result of something else?  Or is your approach the same as it has always been?

Kinuyo Yamashita: Technology has greatly changed my composition technique.  With 8-bit music, the sounds had to be programmed.  And I could only use 4 sounds at one time.  So the hardware had a lot more limitations.  Now it's more simple.  I can just play the music on the keyboard.  And have it record directly into the computer.  Now it's a lot more user friendly.  Software allows me to sequence everything easily.  There are almost no musical limitations.

However, with all the advancements in technology.  The arrangement of music became more complex.  Because there are endless possibilities.  So I sometimes get help arranging my music now.

Brent: With regards to the level design, how much did the visual setting of the level factor into the music composition?  For example, the first level of Castlevania takes place in a house.  Does the "house setting" factor into the composition at all?  When you composed the music for that level, were you specifically writing something that you thought would fit a house environment?  Or for the third level, did you write something that you thought would fit an outdoor/balcony/patio-type environment?  Or was this stuff irrelevant?

Kinuyo Yamashita: Yes, I would see the image of the stage.  For example, the stage that has water.  I try to put the the water atmosphere into the music.  And the stage that near the final stage.  I give the music a more tense feeling.  The music is matched with the intensity of the game.

Brent: Did you ever think that the music for Castlevania would become as popular as it is today?

Kinuyo Yamashita: Honestly, no I never thought it would be so popular.  It was a very busy time.  So I was working on a lot of games.

Brent: When you were composing music for earlier video games, did you ever think the music was too good for a video game?  In other words, were you ever discouraged that only a relatively small amount of people would be hearing music that you put so much work into and were proud of?

Kinuyo Yamashita: No, it didn't matter how many people heard my music.  I was glad to work on all the games.

Brent: What was Satoe Terashima's involvement with Castlevania?  Did she
compose any of the music?  Or did she only do sound effects and programming?

Kinuyo Yamashita: Terashima-san composed some music from Castlevania.  She didn't make the sound effects.  We didn't collaborate, we made songs separately.  So all the music from Castlevania is from Terashima-san or me.

Brent: Can you list the songs you composed for Castlevania?  And can you list the songs Terashima-san composed?

Kinuyo Yamashita: Terashima-san composed Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 6, and Ending.  I composed Stage 3, Stage 4, Stage 5, Boss, Dracula, and Dracula 2.

Brent: After working at Konami, why did you decide to go freelance? Were there things at Konami that you didn't like?

Kinuyo Yamashita: When I worked at Konami, the expectations were very high.  The long hours were too difficult for my body.  So I had to leave.  I went to another smaller company working on video game projects.  When that ended, the people I worked with wanted me to work at Taito.  But it was in Tokyo, and I didn't want to move there.  So I became freelance by default after that.

What was it like working freelance in comparison to working at Konami?

Kinuyo Yamashita: Freelance composing is good becaue I can work at home.  But it's inconsistent work.  So that part is a challenge.

Rob: In another interview, you mentioned that you wanted to work on Castlevania II, but were removed from Castlevania to work on other stuff.  Who was the superior that removed you from Castlevania II?  Has he worked on other games?

Kinuyo Yamashita: I don't remember the superior's name.  He directed me to work on other games.  And, I don't remember who composed music for Castlevania II.

Rob: Hideo Kojima was working on Metal Gear around the time you were employed by Konami.  Were you ever asked to participate in the composition of that soundtrack?

Kinuyo Yamashita: He was a peer of mine at Konami.  But I have never composed music for Metal Gear.  But I would love to work on one of the new Metal Gear games.

Brent: Aside from the technical and synthetic aspect, do you think that there is a difference between video game music and non-video game music?  In other words, is there something compositionally and structurally unique about music made for video games?

Kinuyo Yamashita: I think that video game music is similar to film music.  It's different from popular music with singers.  Music doesn't usually stand out in video games.  It's made to go along with the movement of the characters.  But some important scenes from the game make it memorable.

Brent: Did you play video games during the 8-bit and 16-bit era?

Kinuyo Yamashita: Yes, I played some video games.  Usually I played the games I composed music for.  I would have to check the game for bugs.

Brent: What are your favorite games?

Kinuyo Yamashita: I once played "Mother" in Japan.  I thought the story, music and program were good.  And "Medarot" in Japan, which is "Medabots" in the USA.  I beat the game many times to watch the ending, haha.

Rob: What's your favorite Chopin piece?

Kinuyo Yamashita: Nocturne.  Mainly the 3/4 rhythm music, etc.  Also, I like the intense Beethoven.

Rob: Do you think 8-bit and 16-bit music can be romantic?

Kinuyo Yamashita: Yes, it can be romantic.  PSG is inorganic.  But the sound becomes sharp and soft by changing its data.  I liked to make that data.  Also, I think it depends on the listener.  If the music is heard while having a romantic experience, it can take them into it.  But haha, I don't usually think romantically about it.

Rob: Are you married?

Kinuyo Yamashita: Yes.

Brent: Why did you move to the United States?  More specifically, why New Jersey? 

Kinuyo Yamashita:
I moved to New Jersey because that's where my husband lives.

Brent: Well, that's about all the questions we have for you.  Is there anything you would like to mention or promote?

Kinuyo Yamashita:
Please donate to Japan!


  1. I love her works! In fact, the game I'm currently playing through, Ghost Sweeper Mikami for the Super Famicom, is something she worked on. If you got a Super Famicom or a way of playing Super Famicom games, definitely give it a try. It's a fun little platform game.

  2. Right, we forgot to mention that game in the Natsume list of games she worked on. But again, it's hard to know which tracks she did specifically.

  3. Fascinating interview guys.

    I was curious myself on why nicknames was used instead of actual names. Good questions asked, little bit of everything here and there. :3

    I'm curious to hear/read a definite answer if she is influenced by Baroque composers... it would explain some, if not a lot, of Castlevanias' music :3

    Great stuff!

  4. Great episode, great interview. Would love to see a Castlevania focus sometime. BTW, these are the more known titles for the music of Castlevania:
    (please correct me, if I'm wrong)

    Composed by Satoe Terashima:
    Stage 1 - Vampire Killer
    Stage 2 - Stalker
    Stage 6 - Out of Time
    Ending - Voyager

    Composed by Kinuyo Yamashita:
    Stage 3 - Wicked Child
    Stage 4 - Walking Edge
    Stage 5 - Heart of Fire
    Boss - Poison Mind
    Dracula - Nothing to Lose
    Dracula 2 - Black Night

    1. Same as here:


      Anybody know where I can find info on who composed/arranged each specific song in Simon's Quest, Dracula's Curse, Adventure, Belmont's Revenge, and other old-school Castlevanias?

  5. With the knowledge of the Yamashita/Terashima breakdown of the main Castlevania tracks, I'm finding it fun to get a sense of the general sounds of the two. For example, I think Terashima's adaptation of "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough" matches the sound in stage 6 of Castlevania, at least in their intros.

    But mostly I'm focusing on the three short pieces in Castlevania, to determine who composed those:
    The intro (when Simon walks up to the gate) sounds like a shorter, more harmonious version of the stage 4 swamp music, so I think that's Yamashita.
    The game over music kind of quotes stage 2's music, so Terashima.
    That leaves the death music, which is kind of short to compare to anything. I kind of feel like that also goes well with the stage 2 music, but I can be swayed in a lot of directions on that one.

  6. Whoops, this may be my second go through LMH's episodes, but I forgot Brent clarified who did the smaller pieces in the next episode. (Sounds like they were all Yamashita's.)

  7. I always believed the use of pseudonyms was to prevent talent being poached from other companies, after reading about the famous developer credit easter egg hidden inside the atari Adventure game. The reason may be totally different in this case, considering we are talking about Japanese society. I would like to add that the credits of Castlevania were presented as movie-like credits including a screenwriter (this was also done in other games to give it a movie type or even western feeling, some games even presenting the games as a movie being shot or a play, etc). Additionally, the pseudonyms were also jokes, alluding to various horror books and films. In the case of James Banana, it seems to be a reference to James Bernard, who composed the music to one of the Dracula films