Diggin’ In The Carts
A documentary series about Japanese video game music
For many of us, the music of video games played more in our households growing up than any other form of music. Over six episodes, Diggin’ In The Carts shines a spotlight on the composers who created a style of music that has had an immense impact on modern pop culture. From the personal studios of these legendary composers, to the concert halls of Japan where symphony orchestras are performing their compositions to sold-out crowds today - the series will document how the music of video games was created, what inspired it, and how it evolved into its own cultural phenomenon. Peppered with commentary from some of modern music’s finest DJs, musicians and electronic producers from around the world, the documentary also shows the influence these Japanese composers had on the world - and the world of music.
THE RISE OF VGM
In this episode we look at the birth and rise of music in video games - from the earliest sounds and melodies to the first fully formed continuous music to be pioneered in the arcade games from Namco. We meet Junko Ozawa, one of Namco’s earliest sound team composers, and also the legendary Hirokazu ‘Hip’ Tanaka, who joined Nintendo in 1980 and was responsible for composing some of the giant’s most loved classics like Metroid and Tetris.
THE OUTER REACHES OF 8-BIT
In the second episode of Diggin’ In The Carts we take a look at the “bubble era,” where inflated stock and real-estate prices in Japan meant that 8-bit technology was soaring: and so was the creativity it inspired. The Konami sound team leader Hidenori Maezawa, and 8-bit composer Masashi Kageyama trace back to the technology’s roots, uncovering the birth and boom of 8-bit music.
THE COOL KID
By the beginning of the ’90s, video game sales became colossal worldwide and a “war” erupted between the two biggest companies in the business: Nintendo and Sega. Although Sega had their flag firmly planted in the arcades in the ’80s, the home console market belonged to Nintendo. That started to change when Sega’s Megadrive developed a reputation for putting out games that were just that little bit “cooler.” In part down to the unique sound of the Megadrive’s inbuilt FM Synth, some of the most incredible game music heard to date was unleashed with J-Pop star Masato Nakamura assigned to compose the Sonic The Hedgehog soundtracks, and Yuzo Koshiro bringing the influence of the clubs he was going to in Tokyo to one of the most memorable soundtracks in video game history, Streets of Rage.
THE END OF AN ERA
Since 32-bit and CD technology spelt the end of the chip era in the ’90s, video game music has never been the same. These days, unlike the distinctive early soundtracks of Sega and Nintendo, games are more likely to feature “real” music; Flying Lotus-curated mixes, or compositions performed by full orchestras.
So as we go Diggin’ In The Carts for the final session, it’s time to get to know the composers and producers who took the mantle of this next generation of video game music. This episode features Michiru Yamane, most well-known for her work on the Castlevania series, alongside director/writer Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear Solid’s Teruta and Namco composer/engineer Yuu Miyake.
PRODUCED & DIRECTED BY NICK DWYER & TU NEILL
WRITTEN BY NICK DWYER
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY – TIM FLOWER
EDITED BY TU NEILL
Header image © RBMA