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Kazumi Totaka :: 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 November 9, 2008.

Born on August 23, 1967 in Tokyo, Kazumi Totaka has been a composer at Nintendo since 1992 and is a veteran sound director at the company. However, he is also known for his roles as the voice actor of Yoshi, inspiration of Totakeke, and director of Wii Music. He made his debut with the Game Boy 3D action game X under supervision from Hirokazu Tanaka. He created a dense action-packed score with dazzling arpeggios and powerful crisis motifs. On this project, he also introduced a 19 note melody dubbed 'Totaka's Song' that has since made appearances in most of Totaka's other scores and became subject to a cult following as a prime example of Nintendo's quirkiness. A little later in the year, several of Totaka's pieces were featured in Mario Paint; its score focused on a few simple barely harmonised melodies, among them Totaka's song, that have since been elaborated on by multiple fan arrangements. Continuing a prolific year, Totaka subsequently scored the action-adventure title Kaeru no Tameni Kane wa Naru. Here he produced some charming and heroic themes commemorated in the Nintendo Sound Selection series.

In 1992, Totaka composed the hit Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. The score was more elaborate than the other Mario scores produced at that time, but also continued what Hirokazu Tanaka's previous score did best by offering simple, quirky, and unforgettable melodies. In subsequent years, Totaka joined three others on The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. He created a large and emotional score in the spirit of Koji Kondo's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, though it was never released on CD. After testing a prototype of Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3, Totaka concluding his time at Nintendo Research & Development 1 with the score and sound effects to Virtual Boy Wario Land. In 1996, Totaka was transferred to Nintendo Entertainment & Development given the subdivision intended to increase its productivity at the start of the Nintendo 64 era. He initially scored the jetskiing title Wave Race 64 in a jazz fusion style; he used the increased technical capacity of its console to create more elaborate and expressive compositions, but continued to ensure his music complemented the inspiring visuals and exciting gameplay.

In 1997, Totaka created a very cheerful score to Yoshi's Story. It was received well by some gamers, though some audiences found the soundtrack overbearing and repetitious nevertheless. He adopted the role of a voice actor for the first time on this title, providing different voices for each Yoshi while interpreting their unique language. He has since reprised this role to represent Yoshi in various instalments of the Mario Sports, Mario Party, Super Smash Bros., and Mario & Luigi series. Totaka was subsequently assigned to score three out of four of the scores to the Mario Artist line of games published for the Nintendo 64DD, reflecting just how far his musicianship had progressed since Mario Paint. Tanaka scored much of the GameCube launch title Luigi's Mansion. He offered a simple 'cello- and whistle-based main theme that simultaneously reflected the horror and comic aspects of the game and was integrated prominently throughout the score. The soundtrack was not released on CD, reflecting Nintendo's general policy for the GameCube era, though its main theme has been used as Luigi's leitmotif for several Nintendo scores since.

A landmark of Totaka's career was his score for Animal Crossing. It was originally released as the Japan-only Animal Forest on the Nintendo 64 but later received the enhanced GameCube port Animal Crossing worldwide. Totaka reflected his status of second-in-command at Nintendo EAD's sound team by scoring the major compositions and directing three others to handle other indoor, field, and event music. The 200+ piece score is one of Nintendo's most interactive to date, for instance changing according to the hour and season in the game. It is also well known for the catchy compositions performed by K.K. Slider every Saturday night. Incidentally, Totaka was the inspiration for K.K. Slider's caricature and the character's Japanese name, Totakeke. This was emphasised at Mario & Zelda Big Band Live, where Totaka performed Yoshi music on guitar. Totaka's success on this project resulted in him being assigned to 2004's Pikmin 2 as musical director. To enhance the interactivity and variety of the game, he ensured there were multiple well-developed pieces for each area while maintaining the original's whimsical ambient style.

Given his experience on Yoshi's Story, Totaka was the musical director of the puzzle game Yoshi Touch & Go. Though he produced few compositions of his own, he impressed the game producers by demonstrating assertiveness, even daring to tell those working under him what he disliked about their music or attitude. He subsequently composed the DS' Animal Crossing: Wild World with Asuka Ota to positive reception. Much of the score was written the spirit of its predecessor, though various innovations were made to complement the gameplay. He also contributed all the compositions to Animal Forest The Movie; while most compositions were faithful externally produced arrangements of favourites from the game soundtracks, Totaka also created a few new compositions for the title. He also contributed two Animal Crossing arrangements to Super Smash Bros. Brawl and commemorated the series on the Touch! Generations Soundtrack. Totaka has also composed light jazzy music for Wii Sports and the various Wii channels. These compositions have been enjoyed by millions and have become symbolic of the Wii.

Though not originally part of Wii Music, Totaka was asked by Koji Kondo what he thought about the approach of the title after development halted. Following negative experiences with other music games, Totaka asserted that he would prefer to see a title where gamers could elaborate on the music and let themselves go rather than precisely following a score. He eventually convinced other game staff that this was the approach to take and was appointed director in January 2007 given his clear ideas and musical experience. Following positive experiences hearing a non-musician develop a jazzy tune with the game, he decided to expand the stylistic range of the title through introducing a slew of genres including classical, popular, and game music. He received the help of the Nintendo sound team to create 50 pieces and also oversaw the inclusion of interactive instruments and various mini-games. The project was full of firsts for him and he learned a lot about the difficulties of management. While the game did not live up to financial expectations, Totaka's unique approach was often enjoyed by gamers and helped to reawaken their passion for making music. Currently believed to be scoring Animal Crossing Wii, Totaka has left a legacy with his compositions and beyond.