Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Superhero Theme Project: Wolverine and 13 Assassins

We enrolled the Little One in music classes this summer. She was very apprehensive and nervous at first, but after a few weeks, she really took to them. We learned some songs to sing around the house, and she got better acquainted with musical instruments. By summer’s end, it was one of her favorite things to do. After her last class for the summer, she asked me to come in and show her teacher some of the superhero songs in my phone, starting with Wolverine.

In my last post, I said that the Little One, inspired by The Superhero Squad Show, had acquired some favorite Marvel heroes and I used this interest to expand the Superhero Theme playlist. I gave the first two of these characters, the Scarlet Witch and the Silver Surfer, themes that were already sort of in a holding pattern, waiting for assignment. Her favorite, however, was Wolverine. I thought that, with all of the movies in the X-Men franchise, I would be able to easily find something from one of the soundtracks that would layer well with the character. Like the Matrix soundtracks, however, all of them were too incidental to give the sense that they could stand alone as a concise, memorable theme.

An admission: I think that Wolverine is a bit overrated in the Marvel universe. In my view, he was a late comer whose popularity resulted in some pretty serious retconning to other established characters. I do like him a lot, however, and I did not want to haphazardly assign him a theme, especially since the Little One had taken a liking to him. I began beating the streams again to find something that made sense.

Quite famously, Wolverine is Canadian, but his fictional history places him at intersections with Japanese culture. Just as a place to begin, I researched in Asian cinema for his theme. It did not take me too long to come across the soundtrack to 13 Assassins.

I saw this movie when it was in theaters a couple of years ago and it stands as one of my all-time favorites in the genre. Its dramatic and unrelenting tone certainly matched Wolverine’s character, but I could not recall anything specific about the movie’s soundtrack. My concern was that it would be too identifiably “Japanese,” perhaps using shamisen and shakuhachi music as its central instrumentation. Although that would certainly be to my personal tastes, it wouldn’t work as a representation of Wolverine.

I was pleased to find out that the soundtrack is almost entirely string ensemble with pronounced percussion. The only other theme that I used that employed this kind of instrumentation was Hawkgirl’s, but the execution on 13 Assassins stood in sharp contrast to her noble, gliding theme. Many of the tracks were too melancholy to be effective as Wolverine’s theme, but the tenth track, which is simply named Juu on its YouTube posting, caught my attention.

The melodic and harmonic components of this composition are fiery and vivacious, and its aggressive rhythm imbues it with a wild, primal energy. It evoked a very clear visualization of Wolverine running through the woods, senses ablaze. I was sold when its format included a thematic recapitulation that very clearly provided a beginning, middle, and end to the piece. When I paired this track with the Wolverine image, I felt very confident I had made the right choice. Although I am very fond of all of the tracks I added to the playlist in this recent expansion, this one is probably my favorite.

I became so enamored of the track that I special-ordered the full 13 Assassins soundtrack from Japan. Looking at the case, I don’t know that the track is actually called “Juu” (Japanese for “ten”), but I can’t read kanji well enough to tell what its actual name might be. Regardless, the soundtrack is absolutely outstanding throughout. I have not revisited this movie since I saw it a few years ago, but its soundtrack coheres incredibly well and stands on its own as a musical statement. I think that a live performance of the 13 Assassins soundtrack would be extremely satisfying to both audience and artist. I would certainly attend such a concert, and you can bet that I would bring the Little One along to watch her cheer and dance.

Which she would do. Undignified for a samurai, I know.

To go to the previous post in this series, click HERE.
To go see the next one, click HERE.

No comments:

Post a Comment