Close-Up: Yasunori Mitsuda  

Original Soundtrack of Life
by Elliot Guisinger

   Video game music is often downplayed by many who don't understand it as "music for toys." Through the years of video games becoming more prominent and mainstream in society, it has been a long, difficult journey for the music of these games to get much lift. Sure, there have been good soundtracks, but being written for video games has prevented them from getting much recognition as valid forms of music as classical, baroque, and jazz have. This ignorant view of video game music began to crumble in the late '80s and early '90s when more people began to take notice of the fantastic new music coming from these games, mainly popular RPGs such as Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. The composers of this music were literally revolutionizing game music, the way people viewed game music, and, as a result, the entire industry and history of music. Yasunori Mitsuda was a big part of this revolution, and he continues to contribute to the music world the best way he knows how--through video games.

   Yasunori Mitsuda was born on January 21, 1972, in the Japanese city of Tokuyama, which is within the Yamaguchi prefecture. Just before enrolling in elementary school, however, the Mitsudas packed up their bags and moved to Kumake-city in the Kumake-district. It was here that the young Mitsuda spent the remainder of his childhood until his graduation from high school. As a child, the young Yasunori was very active and playful, always playing along the mountainside of Mount Fuji.


   Thanks to the influence of his older sister, Yasunori learned to play the piano while he was attending elementary school. He was never able to improve much, however, as he despised having to practice the instrument. Mitsuda, himself even admits to this when he says, "I don't know if you could really call that practicing." Most of the young boy's practicing sessions consisted of him playing around on the piano, not following any sort of routine, whenever he visited his piano instructor's home. Unfortunately, this was the most exposure to music Mitsuda would get during his childhood.

   Though music wasn't his forte, Mitsuda was certainly a gifted athlete. During his elementary school years, he was a member of the swim team and known as a fast runner. When he got to junior high, Mitsuda was forced into joining the track and field team in the hurdles and short-distance relay events. Although he was good at these sports, the young teenager again failed to show improvement due to his disdain of practicing.

   Also during his enrollment in junior high school, Mitsuda took up a great interest in golf. In fact, he liked the sport so much, and had such high aspirations for himself, that he actually took the time to practice his swing every day. This soon came to an end, however, when his father offered a piece of advice: "In order to become a professional golfer, you have to have the proper training and education from a very young age, like Tiger Woods." After this, Mitsuda gave up on his golfing dreams.


   It wasn't until his senior year in high school that Yasunori first began to show an interest in music. He was captivated by the musical scores of movies such as Poppo-ya and Blade Runner and by the musical works of Henry Mancini. It wasn't long afterwards that Mitsuda developed a new dream to replace his fallen golfing dream; he dreamed of becoming a movie music composer.

   By the time of his graduation from high school, Yasunori was very anxious to move out of his home and set out on his own--due mostly to presumably stressed relationships with certain family members. It was at this time, also, that Yasunori's sister was getting married and moving out, so it was easier for him to decide to leave for Tokyo. Apprehensive at first, it was his father's words of encouragement to go to Tokyo and study music that finally pushed him out of the door. In Tokyo, Mitsuda enrolled in a junior college of music where he focused his studies on composing and arranging. Because he had such limited music knowledge going into the school, the years he spent studying there were filled with constant hard work and training. This was also part of the reason he chose to go to a junior college, rather than a regular college--he didn't have the necessary background to make it into a regular college.

   Though he studied and trained a lot at the college, Mitsuda says that what provided him with his greatest music lessons was his work as a roadie for his professors (who were also professional musicians). Though he was never reimbursed for this work, Mitsuda would follow his instructors to wherever they had to be and help them carry their instruments and music equipment. He gained some valuable insight doing this by paying close attention to the business and work of his professors. Unfortunately, it was also at this time that Mitsuda suffered a lot of verbal and emotional abuse. The instructors and musicians he helped would often look down upon him and give him snide remarks, such as, "You low-level musician... you're not even a student of a TRUE music school... you're just a student of a MERE junior-college." Though remarks such as this might cause some people to lose hope, it only empowered Mitsuda with a new determination and energy. During the remainder of his stay at the music college, Mitsuda studied and trained harder than he had ever done before with anything else in his life. It was this new, powerful will to succeed that supported him through his college years. A few months prior to his graduation from the college, Mitsuda was ready to begin scouting the job market.

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Currents - News Column: 04.30.2005

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