SEKIRO Shadows Die Twice: On Sculpting a Cinematic Score

Jerry on 2021-04-09
Recorded in Tokyo, the cinematic score for cutscenes found in SEKIRO: Shadows Die Twice were overseen by Tenchu series composer Noriyuki Asaskura of Mega-Alpha Inc. FromSoftware's action role-playing game reimagines the military conflicts of 16th century Sengoku period Japan through the lens of dark fantasy previously encountered in Bloodbourne and Dark Souls.

The story's prologue introduces us to a skilled shinobi, known simply as "Wolf," tasked with protecting his young master Kuro at all costs. Known as the "Divine Heir," the Dragon Heritage of the blood running through Kuro's veins is rumored to convey immortality. Before long, Kuro is tracked down by Genichiro Ashina, a swordsman intent on uniting Japan under the rule of his clan.

In his service as bodyguard, Wolf fails in battle and his left arm is severed, leading to Kuro's abduction by the Ashina Clan.

Sculptor Of The Dilapidated Temple

In recording the cinematic score for SEKIRO, Asakura's compositions served to create an atmosphere of dread and deep karmic debt. The composer made use of Tantic Buddhist chanting on music track "Great Serpent," as an analog to the otherworldly forces compelling Wolf's mission. Presumed dead, an elderly sculptor of Buddha statues drags Wolf's body to a dilapidated temple, where he is miraculously revived and furnished with a prosthetic arm.

To capture this atmosphere of dread, the composer unearthed chanting sound files found on his 25-year old Kurzweil K2VX CD-ROM. The sculptor who fashions a "fang" for the one-armed Wolf, he explains, is driven day and night to carve Buddha statues out of wood. The Tantic Buddhist chanting heard on the cinematic score represents this obsession by the sculptor, and its extension on the battlefield, as Wolf seeks to deliver his young master from capture.


The shamisen is a traditional instrument that is so commonly associated with ancient Japanese music, and Asakura made use of its distinctive sound on the music track "Great Shinobi." The composer first made contact with third-generation Tsugaru-Shamisen master Yutaka Oyama when the performer was playing the electronic shamisen on stage with a rock band, fifteen years ago. It was the musician's ability to play popular Western music in a live setting, not a common trait among classically trained shamisen players, that piqued his interest.

According to Asakura, there are aspects of traditional court music that clash with the rhythm of genres like rock and jazz. In the tradition of Japanese aesthetics, there is an important concept that must be studied, known as "ma," and it denotes an interval of silence. There are many cases that Asakura has observed where a practitioner of traditional music will have their sense of rhythm impacted so indelibly that playing in a rock band would never pan out.

In addition to Oyama's versatility in performing with an ensemble, Asakura found the sound of the Tsugaru-Shamisen matched his compositional style more than other varieties of the instrument. The composer describes the sound as more resonant and stronger on the attack. The shamisen does not involve chords that can be harmonized with by Western instruments like guitars and keyboards, and thereby refuses to blend in. Another unconventional property of the shamisen, the composer quipped, was that its surface is commonly made of cat skin.

During climactic passages of the cinematic score, such as two minutes into "Great Shinobi," Asakura magnified the Tsugaru-Shamisen's distinctive capacity for standing out by overdubbing Oyama' instrument. Rather than call in four to six additional players, overdubbing allowed for the magnification of Oyama's unique skill. By layering his instruments' sound, compounding its impact four to six times, Asakura was confident he could capture stronger beats and accents than any competing method, such as seeking out additional performers capable of rivaling those of the third-generation Tsugaru-Shamisen master.


Laced Records' SEKIRO: Shadows Die Twice vinyl soundtrack ships from HighScore Records in Nantes and PixelCrib in Melbourne. The publisher's compact disc release ships from Laced Records in London and Light in the Attic in Seattle. Team Entertainment's compact disc release ships from CDJapan.