Yoko Kanno

Dictionary entry for The Grove Dictionary of American Music Oxford University Press, New York, 2010

(b Miyagi, Japan, 19 March 1964). Japanese pianist, arranger and composer. Since 1988 she has composed and arranged select studio tracks for a wide range of mostly female Japanese Pop artists. Her longest musical relationship is with the singer Maya Sakamoto (8 albums between 1997 and 2009). Her initial forays into film music were for Japanese PC games. Combining her Pop studio work and game scoring, she developed a typically Japanese approach to film scoring based on polyglot styles, studio ensemble production, and embellished orchestral arrangements. Her first distinctive work is for a range of anime (Japanese animation) titles, mostly based on shojo manga (girls’ comics). Early work representing this are key themes for Please Save My Earth (1994) and The Vision of Escaflowne (1996). Their floral vocal harmonies and swirling mix of real and synthesised instrumentation aptly interpret the baroque richness of shojo manga. Kanno’s break-out score is for the TV series Cowboy BeBop (1998), which employed a range of jazz idioms to colour the series’ characters with an emotional complexity unexpected for anime at the time. Successive anime series established her creative power in molding character through musical portraiture: Earth Girl Arjuna (1998), Brain Powerd (1998), Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002-2005), and Darker Than Black (2007). Her feature film scores for live action titles (mostly screened at international film festivals) evidence her most delicate orchestrations and arrangements: Woman of Water (2002), Tokyo.Sora (2002), Kamikaze Girls (2004), Ashura (2005), Su-ki-da (2005) and Honey And Clover (2006).

Text © Philip Brophy. Images © Yoko Kanno.