TOKYO: Earlier this year, Keiichiro Shibuya premiered Android Opera®︎ MIRROR, a symphony surrounding a robotic android, on Dubai Expo’s stage. Presented by the Japan Pavilion, Shibuya was accompanied on stage by Alter3, an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-equipped humanoid robot making its musical debut to Dubai’s cheering crowds.
Continuing with Alter4, he recently composed the original soundtrack for “Kaguya by Gucci”, Gucci’s newest short film celebrating the House’s 75th anniversary of its iconic bamboo-handle handbags.
“This is the debut project for Alter4,” explains Shibuya. Speaking to Arab News Japan, the artist shares his excitement for Alter4’s updated body and structure. “Alter4’s facial expressions and body movements have been improved from its last edition. It has more body joints, making his movements more robust.” While collaborating with Gucci’s film creative team, “everybody was excited about Alter4” – making the robot one of the star figures of this project.
“Kaguya by Gucci” was directed by acclaimed director Makoto Nagahisa, who won the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival. The film is set in Tokyo and recalls the ancient Japanese folktale Taketori Monogatari (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter). The story follows Princess Kaguya, played by Hikari Mitsushima, who falls from the moon and is discovered by a bamboo cutter, played by Aoi Yamada. The 5-minutes film takes us on an emotional rollercoaster with stark changes in tempo, narrated storyboards, and incredible graphics marking the rhythm of modern-day Tokyo.
A celestial princess embodies the beauty of the moonlight, exploring the city streets between gleaming electric light and a calm sense of natural landscapes. Shibuya’s soundtrack accompanies our immersion in this simple, yet emotionally complex story between Princess Kaguya and an emperor who falls in love with her, played by Eita Nagayama. The cast wears pieces from Gucci’s Love Parade collection, adding an additional flair of drama to the story.
About the process of this Gucci collaboration, Shibuya credits a team that understood his vision from the get-go. “Toshihiko Tanabe [in charge of the film’s creative concept] contacted me about composing the soundtrack. I knew him from Ars Electronica, where I performed in 2019. He had previously worked with Gucci, and invited me to compose an android track for this project. It was great timing – usually, advertising directors may be reticent to collaborate with artists, but as a producer, Mr. Tanabe was not shy about inviting strongly-minded creators to the project. Mr. Nagahisa [the film’s director] has also strong conceptual visions.”
“I welcomed the [Gucci] collaboration, as I think very interesting results can emerge from the meeting point between an art project, a music project, and an advertising campaign.” Amassing over 1 million views on Gucci’s Youtube channel, the film took about three months to produce, and it stands blends perfectly elements of avant-garde cinema, technological experiments, and commercial advertisement. Shibuya also notes the fashion industry’s quick pace and fresh energy when it comes to realizing creative ideas, as compared to the slower-moving music industry.
Shibuya has gained notoriety as a composer and musician in Japan, at the head of Tokyo-based independent music label ATAK, and co-founder of the Android and Music Science Laboratory at Osaka University of Arts. He has also performed worldwide, since premiering a computer-generated opera called The End at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in 2013.
This is the first time that Shibuya and Alter4 bring their collaboration to film, having previously done so in live concert performances. “I always have freedom in all of my creative projects,” reflects Shibuya, “there is a big difference between composing pre-recorded film soundtrack and a live performance, but in both, I feel a sense of improvisation.”
Shibuya’s success is due to his unequivocal dedication to technology’s potential to push the boundaries of contemporary performance, music, and art, but also his respect for traditional Japanese forms of performance. The old-meets-new rhetoric has been championed by many leading Japanese artists, but Shibuya stands above the rest with incredible machine-learning innovation juxtaposed to collaboration with Buddhist monks’ chants and his deep-found respect for kabuki and nōh theater.
The same is true for this new film, celebrating the new moon – a famous Japanese autumn tradition.
“My intention with the soundtrack was to emulate the idea of the moon. I love the film E.T. and I wanted to recall a romantic story between alien and human, to also go with the romantic story of Princess Kaguya,” shares Shibuya.
In a future-centric city such as Tokyo, especially with such heavy use of technology, a whimsical and fantastical folktale such as Taketori Monogatari is given new meanings.
“70 percent to 80 percent of the lyrics were written by Mr. Nagahisa but there were some parts of the soundtrack where we needed more lyrics. We tried to produce lyrics by using AI, and it worked. Our AI software could create new lyrics based on the ones written by the director,” Shibuya recalls. “We even asked the AI what would be a good name for an AI-lyricist, and it answered “Cypher.” We went with that.” The soundtrack lyrics are indeed credited as ‘Makoto Nagahisa, Cypher (AI).’
On upcoming projects, Shibuya is currently busy working on releasing the 20th-anniversary record for his independent label ATAK, which he co-founded with his late wife. The record will be released on September 11th, and will incorporate electronic sounds and noise music, going back to the roots of Shibuya’s musical career.
He is also currently collaborating with various partners, including scientists, researchers, architects, and performers leading up to Osaka 2025 Expo. “From Dubai Expo, we are looking towards Osaka now. There is a nice relationship between the UAE and Japan when it comes to Expo. It was a pleasure to premiere the android opera in Dubai Expo and we are developing a new android movement for Osaka.”
Finally, Shibuya is looking forward to coming back to the Gulf region. “After collaborating with many partners and institutions worldwide, I have come to find out that the Gulf proposes a unique enthusiasm towards technology and all future-related ventures in general. My experience in the UAE was lovely, and I hope I could return to this region, perhaps on a concert tour to explore Saudi Arabia and Qatar too.”
In celebration of the film’s release, a Gucci pop-up store will open in the Mitsukoshi department store in Nihombashi, Tokyo, from Aug. 31 to Sept. 20, with an installation inviting the public to view “Kaguya by Gucci ” in-person. The film can also be viewed on Gucci.com and the brand’s Youtube channel.