Ooku: The Inner Chambers

Kenji Kawai

" Ooku: The Inner Chambers stands as Kawai's most consistent and outstanding work of the year. "

Written by Joep de Bruijn - Review of the download only release

In 2023, a captivating Japanese animated television series, Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, has been brought to life based on a popular manga. Set in an alternate history where men are scarce, the show explores a unique world where eligible men serve as concubines to the powerful female shogun within the walls of the Ooku. The reversal of traditional gender roles adds an intriguing twist to the narrative as the female rulers strive to shape this new existence. Amidst the storyline, one particular aspect takes center stage – the love affair between the female shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, who has taken her father's name, and Madenokôji Arikoto.

Kenji Kawai took the helm in writing the score for the series. His compositions feature recognizable trademarks and are often heard in relatively short cues, totalling around 74 minutes of score. As a standalone listening experience, the music offers a consistent and pleasant flow that holds considerable appeal. Kawai's music stands out due to a variety of elements. Notably, his atypical action and power anthems, showcased in tracks like 2 and 15, make a good impression. Although reminiscent of his previous works, these pieces possess a high level of quality that transcends the generic and acquired taste for which the composer is known.

In regard to the central focus on the love affair between the two characters, and overall dramatic developments, Kawai delivers around 10 superb cues that evoke a sense of melancholy and engagement. The piano and cello-based "Destiny" (track 5), in particular, exemplify the beautiful symbiosis between love and melancholy that Kawai previously perfected in his brilliant Avalon score. The composer continues along this path with exceptional cues like "Vow of Love," featuring a lovely cello, and "Head of Keikoin," showcasing a varied use of instruments such as strings, woodwinds, and atmospheric sounds. These cues possess the signature Kawai touch, offering a broad and attractive appeal through variations in tone and orchestration.

Throughout the score, Kawai incorporates ethnic Japanese flavours, which are wonderfully spread across various tracks. Notably, tracks 7, 8, and 9 underscore traditional dance and entertainment segments in the series, adding a touch of cliché, quirkiness, but above all memorability. The enchanting woodwind, stringed instruments, and percussion featured in cues like "Edo's Business" and "Defiance" are very appealing. The latter is so catchy that it could easily serve as the opening theme for a TV series.

Additionally, Kawai's score features several cues that intensify the suspense with layered strings, dissonant woodwinds, a haunting synthetic choir, and generic elements. Notable tracks in this regard include 8, 11, and 25.

In 2023, Kawai composed music for numerous projects, approximately 10 in total, several of which were released on CD and digitally. While releases like Shikakenin Fujieda Baian and My Home Heroes showcase their own merits, Ōoku: The Inner Chambers stands as Kawai's most consistent and outstanding work of the year.

1. 御鈴廊下 - Court Bells (2:10)
2. 終幕、時代を超えて - Final Act, Beyond Time (1:41)
3. 赤面疱瘡 - Blushing Smallpox (2:32)
4. 没日録 - Death Anniversary Record (2:06)
5. さだめ - Destiny (2:02)
6. 悠久のとき - Eternal Time (2:07)
7. 江戸の営み - Edo's Business (1:37)
8. 座興 - Entertainment (2:21)
9. 啖呵 - Defiance (1:26)
10. 素朴な願い - Simple Wish (2:04)
11. 威光 - Prestige (1:36)
12. 奸計 - Cunning Plan (2:03)
13. 窮地 - Predicament (1:39)
14. ひずみ - Distortion (1:52)
15. 腕比べ - Test of Strength (2:06)
16. 慶光院院主 - Head of Keikoin (1:54)
17. 頭角 - Prominence (1:59)
18. 一触即発 - Hair-trigger (2:06)
19. 魂の安息 - Soul's Rest (3:02)
20. 家筋 - Family Line (2:03)
21. 男女逆転 - Gender Reversal (2:24)
22. 八朔御祝儀 - Hassaku Celebration (2:08)
23. 厳粛 - Solemnity (1:39)
24. 数奇な運命 - Bizarre Fate (2:07)
25. 愛の誓い - Vow of Love (2:32)
26. 女将軍 - Female Shogun (2:22)
27. 女将軍誕生 - Birth of the Female Shogun (2:32)
28. 内憂外患 - Internal and External Troubles (2:01)
29. 惨劇 - Tragedy (1:38)
30. 一縷の望み - A Glimmer of Hope (3:08)
31. 大奥総取締 - Total Control of the Ooku (2:34)
32. 憂き世 - Troubled World (2:15)
33. 真の絆 - True Bond (2:35)
34. 気概 - Spirit (2:05)
35. あるべき姿 - Proper Form (2:09)

Total length: 74:35

(click to rate this score)  
(total of 4 votes - average 2.5/5)

Released by

Netflix Music (download only release 2023)