Norwegian, Japanese musicians team up for show inspired by A-bomb anime

by Natasha Vik

Staff Writer

Norway is exporting more than just salmon this summer. A group of some 60 musicians, led by composer Magnar Am, have arrived in Japan.

The group includes a 60-person choir from Volda, Norway, as well as Japanese singer Sizzle Ohtaka and the group Asian Wings. They performed in Hiroshima and Kyoto earlier in the week and will play the Hollywood Hall in Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills complex tomorrow. The performances mark the Japanese debut of Am’s most recent composition, “Will This Moment Ever Let Go?”

The composition was inspired by a silent animated film by Renzo and Sayako Kinoshita titled “Picadon” (1979), which centered on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

“Existential pain and resolution are topics I frequently touch upon in my music,” explains Am. “Human rights are an issue for me, and it upsets me when individuals or groups are deprived of these rights. When something upsets me, it’s a natural reaction to write music that not only highlights the injustice, but also visualizes a better future.”

Despite vividly depicting the horrors of the bombing, Am explains he was inspired by the clear underlying motif of hope in the film.

“The moment that the bomb exploded will always maintain a grip on those who experienced and survived it. However, for many of them this is the very driving force that allows them to dedicate the rest of their lives to work on preventing something like it ever happening again,” says Am of his composition and his meetings with survivors of the bombing. “My piece tries to achieve the same, turning a catastrophic moment into indomitable faith in the good of the world.”

His composition is the basis of the Picadon Project. Initiated by Gunnar Strom, associate professor and film scholar at the University of Volda, the Picadon project is a non-profit organization promoting a future without nuclear weapons.

Strom has a long history with Hiroshima, and has frequently attended the Hiroshima Animation Festival. He is also a member of the 60-person Volda Vocal choir, which is directed by Am. Strom approached the composer about writing a piece based on the film. He also brought Asian Wings and singer Sizzle Ohtaka onboard.

“Since then, all contact between us, and Volda and Hiroshima, has had the atomic bomb as its basis,” he says. “Visits to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, meetings with survivors such as Miyoko Matsubara, and the overall attitude of peace that rests over Hiroshima have all been important.”

Ohtaka, a singer with a long history of performing abroad, gained international recognition after several collaborations and her contributions to the “Final Fantasy” and “Spirited Away” soundtracks. However, Strom first heard her music at a bar near the venue of Hiroshima’s annual animation festival.

“Actually, I met Magnar (Am) when I performed at the 2006 Northern Lights festival in Tromso (Norway),” Ohtaka recalls. “But we didn’t realize that we all knew each other. Volda and Tromso are very far away.”

The Picadon project takes part in a concert titled “Mirai e no Dengon” (“A Message for the Future”) tomorrow. Held annually, it centers around a piano that survived the Hiroshima bombing. Ohtaka has participated several times in the show over the past six years, but notes that her music is not necessarily political in nature.

“I don’t represent a campaign, and my songs aren’t for politics,” she says, “but my life and my music include my way of thinking. I think music is a tool — non-violent, a quiet way to reach people.”

“A Message for the Future” featuring The Picadon Project with Sizzle Ohtaka and Asian Wings takes place at Hollywood Hall on the fifth floor of Roppongi Hills in Minato-ku, Tokyo, on Aug. 9. Tickets cost ¥4,000 (¥2,500 for students). For more information, vall 03-3998-8254 or visit voicek.co.jp.