Seven Swords Original Score
ilm soundtracks detached from their visual counterparts are quite remarkable for what they reveal about both. In essence, the sequence of music contains overwhelming gaps that inherently lead to an inchoate appreciation—a movie score acts only as a shadow, not a light source. The recourse, then, is to defer to a score for its mechanical efficiency; to ask not of its meaning but how it speaks because its inconsistency, its lack of cohesion turns you off. It is against this backdrop that pretty much all soundtracks and scores are reviewed, for usually if the person can attach history, characters, or a unifying theme to one, then they become amply more percipient.
Kenji Kawai is known primarily for his impressive work on Avalon and the Ghost in The Shell feature films, both of which were positionally different yet impressively unified chronologically. No doubt working often with a director as esteemed as Mamoru Oshii provided ample pressure and impetus, but Kawai matched him on both occasions, providing scores that were sweeping and meticulous. In a sense, then, whoever creates the score has to wed himself to the film’s vision, lest they want to create incongruity in an important aspect of the project, and Kawai has done so.
Thus the Seven Swords soundtrack is somewhat disappointing and even a little prosaic upon first survey. No doubt this comes primarily from the film itself, which doesn’t possess the subtleties of either anime feature films, but Kawai sought to match the film’s purpose irrespective of its personality. It makes no sense to blame the cook for sticking to the recipe and ingredient list. Now, the product is an entirely different matter, and Kawai manages to create a satisfying, strangely revelatory and thin set of songs. It is the thinness of it that brings it down some notches, but this is hardly the fault of the conductor.
Indeed, the 30-second opening pretty much captures the variance of the music to follow, especially nearing the song’s uplifted conclusion. The build you hear on the first half of “Ode to the Seven Swords” is used again on “Massacre Rhapsody”—given a nefarious edge courtesy of screeching violins and foggy, ambient noise—as well as “Flute in Danger,” which is highlighted by a muscular bass drum. Those that stray from the pattern of the opening sequence emerge as welcomed breaks from the monolithic rest, like the predominantly percussive “Woman From Yonder” whose use of certain Gagaku (Japanese classical) instruments proves to be a welcome drift from the Symphonic construction of the others. The second half of “Fire From Heaven/Mount Heaven Serenade” even includes the vocal representations of Gagaku.
All this isn’t to say that the score’s enjoyment is found solely in its digressions; each recreation of the same refrain manages to constrain and let loose certain unseen features, like “Encounter at the Shrine’s” emphasis of horns or “The Attack Aftermath’s” slightly more electronic character. In fact, the score begins to wan a little after the second half when you can easily detect the film’s denouement (“The Spirit of The Swords” and “The Final Sword Battle – The Dragon vs. The Transience”) and almost risibly mawkish conclusion (“Children at Dawn” and “Seven Swords’ Victory”), the former complete with the saccharine sounds of children singing the refrain.
The score’s straightness is, in the end, merely a function of the film it is meant to portray, and Seven Swords the film isn’t terribly deep or arresting. Impressive mostly when the action picks up—which, apparently, is often in the movie—the score probably won’t merit very many repeat listens. It differs from other scores in just how much it reveals about the film itself, but its revelations are neither compelling nor novel.