In science fiction, 25 years may as well be an eternity. The genre is littered with visions of the future that were initially compelling, yet suddenly felt overwhelmingly dated and dull just a few years later.

That said, it’s been a quarter-century since the first manga installment of Ghost in the Shell was published, and Japan’s most successful cyberpunk franchise is still going strong. Ghost in the Shell succeed where others failed because the story’s true focus isn’t on shiny, imaginary technology itself, but rather on the question of what it means to be human in a rapidly evolving society, and how an individual’s personal answer to that ties into the concepts of identity, free will, and interconnectedness.

Those are concepts mankind has grappled with for centuries, so it’s only fitting that this live performance of the anime’s most iconic piece of music feels at once both modern and ancient.

Composer Kenji Kawai is one of the true stalwarts of the anime world, with a career that spans almost 30 years. He has provided music for beloved anime series such as Maison Ikkoku, Ranma 1.2, Blue Seed, and Seirei no Moribito, as well as dozens of others. He’s also lent his talents to live-action films such as Japanese horror classic Ring and its 1999 sequel.

But although Kawai has worked on projects in numerous genres and with multiple studios, his most notable collaboration is his long-standing creative partnership with cerebral anime director Mamoru Oshii. When the time came to adapt creator Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell into an animated theatrical feature, it was Oshii who took the helm, and so it was naturally Kawai who supplied the music.

The soundtrack’s signature track titled “Utai,” the term for the recitation of chants in Noh theatre, has a melody that’s almost literally haunting. With a composition that’s simultaneously sparse and complex, its most striking element is its wailing vocals.

The effect is powerful under any circumstances, but perhaps none more so than when it’s being performed live with a full chorus.

Clocking in at over 18 minutes, there’s no way to thoroughly describe “Utai” without using the word “long.” Thankfully, the emotions it stirs and the questions it raises tend to remain with listeners far longer than its run time.

Source: Japaaan
Images: YouTube