Akira Komatsu studied at the Musicians Institute in L.A. on his path to composing of Hollywood films. (Photos courtesy Akira Komatsu)

By TOMOKO NAGAI, Rafu Staff Writer

Akira Komatsu started his career as a musician and guitarist while he was a student at Waseda University in Tokyo. After graduating, he studied jazz improvisation at the Musicians Institute of Technology (MI) in Los Angeles. He received the Human Relations Award upon graduation.

After returning to Japan, he worked as a music instructor at music schools in Tokyo such as MI Tokyo while performing and recording as a guitarist. He was also involved in many works by film director Naoto Yamakawa.

Komatsu ended his career in Japan and returned to Los Angeles in 2016. Since then, he has been producing music from library sound sources to scores for indie movies as a composer.

Why did he abandon his smooth sailing in Japan and return to Los Angeles? “Putting Los Angeles’ wonderful weather aside for one of the reasons, after returning to Japan from studying abroad, I still wanted to live in the U.S. However, I didn’t know how to make it happen for a few years.

“In 2016, my achievement in Japan were sufficient to qualify for the O visa. That is the U.S. visa issued to people with achievements in sports, science and entertainment … I needed no time to think (about returning to the U.S.), because my dream is coming true.”

What was it about American life that charmed the Tokyo-born artist? “When we were the children in the 1970s, American culture was very influential. In my case, it was a movie,” he said, showing a DVD package of 1976 film, “Kenny & Company.” “It is a comedy-drama about boys becoming teenagers. I loved this movie very much, even though this movie was obscure among Japanese.

“Then, after this movie, the director Don Coscarelli and the lead child actor Michael Baldwin made the world renowned horror movie ‘Phantasm.’”

With Diego Ramirez, director of “Still Strumming,” for which Komatsu co-wrote the music.

While “Kenny and Friends” is the formative experience for Komatsu’s interest in life outside of Japan, the cult horror masterpiece series “Phantasm” is the initial encounter shaping his creative mind. No wonder he composes music scores for horror movies and suspense dramas.

Since settling down in Los Angeles, he has produced a lot of library sound sources and indie movie music as a composer. In addition, under the guidance of orchestration and nontonality from Norman Ludwin, who is a leading figure in orchestration and film music research, Komatsu produced library sound sources for horror and suspense, and released two albums. The sound source is licensed around the world. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he participated in various online projects such as “Quarantine Music Chain” with Kenny G.

Late September, a feature documentary film, “Still Strumming,” for which he co-wrote the music, premiered at The Frida Cinema in Santa Ana. It is an independent film that follows a young guitarist who died of brain cancer. “I created music consciously to liaison the main character’s musicality.”

Director Diego Ramirez said, “Akira is an amazing collaborator but most importantly a brilliant artist. He really allows his music to have its own personal identity regardless if it’s for a project of his or for someone else. Akira is someone to truly marvel at in terms of initiative and for his easy-going nature.”

“Composing film music is the process of uniting myself with the film. At completion, the sense of accomplishment is huge,” says Komatsu. “I never want to go back to Japan. I don’t think I should push myself being Japanese or Asian. I was once asked if I could make Nintendo-style music because I am Japanese, but I refused because I don’t do game music. My Japanese look has nothing to do with my work, does it?”

The next film project is currently under way. He is also preparing to record his original works with the Budapest Orchestra.


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