Music is the connective tissue of people throughout distance and time. When you hear music you will likely immediately have an image of people and places based on its character. Whether it is a person wearing a white wig conducting a symphony in Vienna in the 1700’s, indigenous tribe members in a drum circle of the 1800’s, or a punk rocker of the past 30 years, the sounds we hear imply a great deal. It tells us about the people but it can also tell us about the state of their heart, as it does in the short film “A Thousand Cranes.” This film about love and reincarnation had some very specific musical requirements which led the filmmakers to composer Eiko Jin. The composer’s lauded work on such productions as “The Last Page”, “My Sweet Prince”, “Humor Me”, have garnered acclaim for her but it was her cultural expertise which sealed the deal for her as the provider of the musical character and accent of this film. Key to the film is the ability of this sonic backdrop to connect the lives of different characters in different periods of time. The two constant threads in “A Thousand Cranes” are enduring love and the compositions of Eiko Jin.
Director Leonard Chan had been searching for a music composer and experiencing great difficulty finding a professional who had the expertise in traditional Chinese instrumentation and culture to give the proper validity to “A Thousand Cranes.” In the same manner that he would cast an actor for a role, he was much more discerning in terms of hiring a composer to create the music for this film because of the different time periods presented in the film. It wasn’t Jin’s work for traditional films which convinced him but rather the music pieces she created for the Silk Road(Dunhuang) International Cultural Expo in 2016. The project focuses on ethnic music pieces which each represented a different city on the silk road. The nucleus of “A Thousand Cranes” is a love story that begins in ancient China. Eiko’s talent, cultural background, and multilingual abilities (she speaks English, Mandarin, and Cantonese) made her the ideal choice for this film. Chan declares, “Eiko Yichen Jin is a great collaborator. Meeting Eiko is a blessing because she aided in the sound effects, dialogue, and music composition for the film. These three categories were a challenge for me because I could not find someone experienced and talented enough to tackle this project. It included the use of playing Chinese instruments such as the guzheng, an instrument with over 2,500 years of history. Finding a music composer who knew how to play such an instrument was not easy. Having already spoken to some other composers, I was so happy and fortunate to have met her. Eiko introduced me to how music can have character and how sound effects create another layer in a film. What captivated me was the diverse and revolutionary way she described music and used sound in her film. What I learned from her added value to my not just my short film but also to my own filmmaking as well.”
The film is a story about enduring love and the ability of reincarnation to sustain it. A Chinese princess falls in love with a common man. Society’s rules forbid them to be together. The young man sacrifices himself protecting the princess but first tells her, “I’ll meet you in the next life and all the coming ones. No matter how my outlook changes, my soul and my heart will not. I will find you.” The second scenario of the couple is in San Francisco finds a wife stricken with Alzheimer’s and losing her memory. Distressed, she states to her husband, “The doctor told me I’ll lose my memory. Aren’t you afraid?” The husband calmly responds, “As long as we are together everything will be okay.” The final part of this series depicts a young boy and girl on a playground. The boy finds paper cranes on the ground and the little girl asks him about them. In both of the prior parts of the story, the cranes are also seen. These artistic presentations of the couple’s timeless connection are the yin to the yang of Eiko’s compositions. The paper cranes bring the couple together just as the music connects the viewer to their timeless story.
The film’s director had provided Jin with reference music to give her an idea of the mood he wanted to create but it was her job to bring an authentic Chinese sound and instrumentation to the actual score of the film. The composer carefully reviewed the film to discern the connective tissue. Even though the film was comprised of three separate stories, she didn’t want it to appear to be three independent stories. Similar to the way Leonard used the paper crane to communicate that all these stories take place between the same two souls, Eiko used the theme melody line to connect them. The composer created a theme similar to a suite with slight variations. Eiko explains her preferences for instrumentation and the ideas it communicates stating, “Usually I will set up different personalities for different instruments. Sometimes even the same instrument will have two different personalities in different pitches/ranges. For example, I always think of harp as an elegant lady. She’s very emotional but also perfect for horror films with a screaming high pitch. Violin/viola are sisters while cello is a mom & bass is a dad. Violin is more positive and vivid. Cello holds the note for harmony, bass plays a not too obvious audible note but it’s the fundamental of the whole story. Piano is usually used for very emotional situations. In this situation, I chose piano as the only instrument for the second story. It’s very sad that this couple who are deeply in love are being separated by disease. Music has the ability to express all the unspoken words, especially when this elderly wife begins to forget her husband. That’s very hopeless and helpless. Without saying anything, I leave all the work to the piano, adjusted and turned the main theme to a piano version.
Perhaps the most striking and important part of Eiko’s contribution is her expertise in playing and writing for the guzheng. This Chinese style harp which looks like a wooden box with strings is performed with fake nails. Similar in sound to the Japanese koto, its sound is fragile but very powerful and emotional. The guzheng’s cultural character and wide emotional range made it ideal for the film. Jin describes, “It could be powerful with a fast tempo or very light with a glimmering feeling sound with a slower tempo. It’s really good and popular to be used to describe the glimmering lake or water. By pressing on the string it easily gives a bending sound. No matter what kind of words that I use to describe it, each person will have their own feelings about this instrument’s sound. There’s something that speaks to everyone with the guzheng. I know that if someday I write the music for a kung fu film, I’ll definitely use guzheng for a fight scene.” This type of forward and creative thinking is what leads Leonard Chan and numerous other filmmakers to enlist Eiko Jin to augment their stories and propel them to greater heights.