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Miki Higashino :: Biography

Overview Biography Discography Game Projects Interviews

Note: This biography was written exclusively for Square Enix Music Online by Chris. The act of using it without advance written permission is regarded as a copyright infringement. It was last updated on April 21, 2009.

Born on January 1, 1968, Miki Higashino is a former Konami composer that has scored initial instalments of the Gradius, Salamander, Tokimeki Memorial, and Suikoden franchises while active between 1985 and 2001. Higashino joined Konami as a part-time composer in 1985 while still a student. Looking to fund her studies rather than initiate a career, she joined just as game music was to achieve prominence in Japan. As one of the company's few composers, she was given little direction and complete musical freedom in her projects. She initially created 13 compositions to accompany the massively successful space shooter Gradius, released in 1985 for the Arcade. She principally composed buoyant melodic music intended to stimulate listeners and send pleasant pulses to their shooter brains. Her most successful theme was the cheery "Challenger 1985" to accompany the first stage. However, some of the intermediate stage music and the series' trademark boss theme was composed with the purpose of creating tension, resulting in rhythmical eccentricities and repetition of certain intervallic leaps or motifs. A testament to its popularity is that the score influenced Yuzo Koshiro, Hitoshi Sakimoto, and Motoi Sakuraba to enter the industry.

Also in 1985, Higashino created a short score for the versus fighter Yie Ar Kung Fu. To fit the setting and fighting style of the game, the compositions mostly used oriental scales and percussion. The subsequent year, she created the powerful melodies of the popular MSX vertical-scrolling shooter Knightmare. By her fourth solo effort, 1986's Gradius spinoff Salamander, it was evident that her musicianship had significantly refined; the game still relied on attractive melodic compositions, but they were more thoroughly developed, had a more resolute mood, and featured mostly conventional rhythms. For its overseas adaptation Life Force, Higashino created three new stage themes adding a more energetic rock-based feeling. The same year, she had her works reprised for the Nintendo port and co-composed a new score for its MSX version. In 1989, she led the final score to the series, Gradius III. Regarded by many as the definitive soundtrack in the series, it featured upbeat captivating melodies, diverse stage themes, and technically commanded synth. To celebrate the popularity of the series' shooters, Higashino produced two arrangements for Salamander Again and an elaborate arrangement performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Gradius in Classic II in the early 90s.

Following her Gradius works, Higashino contributed to various other productions. She soon co-composed the energetic score to the space-based beat 'em up Surprise Attack and, by mixing obligatory arrangements of the series' main theme with memorable and fitting original compositions, the Arcade adaptation Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In 1992, Higashino created the score for Contra III: The Alien Wars with Tappi Iwase and Masanori Adachi. The quasi-orchestral score was more dark and dramatic than her previous efforts, ideal for representing apocalyptic atmosphere and relentless pace of the run and gun title. The trio reunited the subsequent year to score a mixture of oriental and orchestral music for the RPG Mouryousenki Madara 2. While both scores were major successes, Higashino subsequently requested to not be assigned Super Nintendo scores due to her difficulty using the PCM modules. She later tinkered with the Mega Drive's FM sound modules to create a electrofunk score and sound effects library for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters. Around the same time, she worked on several games that she was uncredited for. For instance, she enjoyed creating a line of scores for Konami's kids-targeted Picmo Learning System that never received soundtrack releases.

Higashino nevertheless continued to challenge herself with several major projects. On Premier Soccer, she worked on everything except sound programming alone for the first and only time in her career. For another sports game, Double Dribble, she created convincing dribbling sounds and beefed up snares and kicks despite the notorious limitations of the Mega Drive. In 1994, Higashino composed the huge score to the TurboGrafx-16's dating simulator Tokimeki Memorial with Mikio Saito, Seiya Murai, and Hiroe Noguchi. The game was an unprecedented success in Japan, endearing to many for its likeable characters and fun gameplay, resulting in it becoming one of the country's most recognisable gaming franchise and inspiring much merchandise. Its music portrayed the game's scenes fittingly while being a memorable and entertaining listen on a stand-alone basis. A testament to its music is the influx of original, arranged, vocal, and drama album releases the game's remakes and successors inspired — over 150 albums in total to date. During her spare time, Higashino also formed the instrumental band, the Thelonious Monkees, with former Konami employees Hirofumi Taniguchi, Masanori Adachi, and Taro Kudou. They debuted with a contribution to the original album Infinity in 1995.

In 1995, Higashino composed the majority of the soundtrack to PlayStation RPG Suikoden, known as Genso Suikoden in Japan. The ethnically inspired but highly accessible soundtrack gushed with emotion, featured excellent sound quality, and was jam-packed with gems. Higashino's timeless main theme "Into a World of Illusions" remains an important component of the series' legacy and has prominently featured in the series' scores and albums since. Following its production, Higashino coloured Tamawari's soundtrack to Vandal Hearts with ten compositions and made three additional compositions for the Gradius Deluxe Pack compilation. The following year, she reunited with Thelonious Monkees to perform the soundtrack for Love-de-Lic's obscure RPG Moon. The soundtrack featured spectacular stylistic diversity by combining contributions from all band members and various other artists. A year later, Higashino made two contributions to the original vocal album Ten Plants on behalf of Nobuo Uematsu. She had the honour of opening the album with "Tokyo Life", an eccentric solo composition featuring youthful ethnic vocals and bustling electronic and organic forces. She also reunited with the Thelonious Monkees to perform "Karina", which blended Japanese vocals with 60s big band instrumentals.

Between these independent projects, Higashino worked on the behemoth Suikoden II. She composed all but seven of its 105 tracks spread across two volumes of soundtracks. Widely regarded to be Higashino's magnum opus, the soundtrack preserved the excellence of the original and featured a full orchestral opening theme, creative Suikoden arrangements, and even several songs. The score also exposed Higashino's name in the West given she received prominent credits on the game and album releases. She also directed Genso Suikoden II Music Collection ~Orrizonte~, a fascinating arranged album that used archaic musical instruments. Inspired by the success of the Suikoden II arranged album, her compositions for the series have since been arranged by a variety of external artists for eleven more arranged albums. Higashino continued to embrace freedom of expression in several independent contributions. She contributed a furious electronica piece "Future is Now" to Shinji Hosoe's futuristic concept album 2197 in 1999. Alongside the Thelonious Monkees, she later interpreted Celtic music from Moon and Tactics Ogre on the Melody of Legend arranged albums. Also with the band, she featured on the abstract orchestral score to UFO: A Day in the Life and performed acid jazz and ska pieces on beatmania III.

Higashino's final scores at Konami were the two Genso Suikogaiden scores. She treated these scores retrospectively, offering many arrangements of past Suikoden themes with more intricate musicality and enhanced sound quality. Nevertheless, she included a range of new compositions appropriate for the various new events and scenarios. Unfortunately, she continued to find production the Suikoden series' scores incredibly tiring despite their rewards. Her time at Konami was dominated by meetings with the sound production division and development teams, but she was also expected to create a large number of compositions and sometimes act as a team manager. This enormous about of responsibility resulted in a 12 hour working day, disrupted sleep patterns, and fatigue after finishing each of her projects. After contributing a piano arrangement of her first major Konami composition, Gradius's "Challenger 1985", Higashino departed Konami and game music in general in 2002. Since leaving Konami, Higashino had a massive change of life. After neglecting her personal life for her career for so long, she married, moved city, and became a mother. Nevertheless, she remained as busy as ever, balancing bringing up her children with various projects outside game music.

Despite being largely retired from game music, Higashino has occasionally found the time to create some new compositions. In 2005, she made a surprising but short-lived return to game music to create ten tracks for the PlayStation 2's Tsukyo ni Saraba. She agreed to help Yasunori Mitsuda on the project after learning he was shorthanded, having maintained a friendship with him since Ten Plants. The pair used the time and budget available to craft a stylistic experiment. The entire score was composed in a jazz style for big band and some of the tracks even integrated rap samples. It wasn't the return many expected, but many appreciated the creativity. Also that year, Higashino wrote the B-side of Yu Michigoe's debut single alongside Kazumi Mitome. She appreciated this opportunity, haing regarded herself more as a songwriter than a composer since her work on Moon and Tokimeki Memorial. In 2007, Higashino also contributed two pieces to the Konami music game pop'n music 15 ADVENTURE; she blended warm melodies, organic palette, and new age vibes for the instrumental piece "Forest Song" and united with Bemani veterans Shoichiro Hirata and Sanae Shintani for the uplifting pop song "FU-FA".

In recent years, Higashino has also offered some tributes to her past works. In 2006, she reunited with the Thelonious Monkees to perform a remix and two new compositions for Moon's tenth anniversary tribute albums. Two years later, she remixed the Life Force track "Slash Fighter" in a techno-pop fashion for the shooting tribute game Otomedius G and oversaw the retro arrangements of Gradius ReBirth. Though she was recently asked to contribute some compositions for Suikoden Tierkreis, her busy schedule prevented her from committing. After controversially passing to Michiru Yamane and Masahiko Kimura's hands, Higashino's distinct style for the Suikoden series has nonetheless since been preserved by Norikazu Miura in Suikoden V, Suikoden Tactics, and Suikoden Tierkreis. In addition, her trademark compositions for the series have been prominently featured in the series' scores and arranged albums since. Higashino has left a legacy through her work on the Suikoden, Gradius, and Tokimeki Memorial series. There is optimism that she may one day create some original instrumental or vocal albums. After all, she has mentioned her eagerness to create a French-themed album and once joked 'if someday, you go to a comic market, and find an old lady secretly selling CDs at the side that would be me'.