|Nintendo R&D1||Game Developer||1990 - 1996||Composer|
|Spiritual Vibes||Music Group||1992 - 1997||Composer, Vibraphone, Piano|
|Nintendo EAD||Game Developer||1996 -||Composer|
|A Slice of Life||Music Group||1997 -||Founder, Vibraphone, Piano|
|Nintendo EAD||Game Developer||2000 -||Sound Director|
Kazumi Totaka is an experienced composer and sound director at Nintendo, as well as the voice actor for Yoshi. Born on August 23, 1967 in Hino, Tokyo, Totaka enjoyed a wide range of music from a young age and went on to play multiple instruments, including the piano, vibrophone, guitar, and bass. Between 1986 and 1990, he attended the prestigious Kunitachi College of Music. Straight after graduation, he joined Nintendo Research & Development 1 and started work on the Game Boy title F1 Race; under the guidance of Ryoji Yoshitomi, he learned much about various technical and creative aspects of sound creation for video games. Having impressed his seniors on this project, he was subsequently asked to compose all the music for the 3D action game X, under the supervision of Hirokazu Tanaka. The dense score pushed the Game Boy to its limits with dazzling arpeggios and powerful crisis motifs. A little later, Totaka joined his superiors once more to work on Mario Paint. The score was comparatively simple, focusing on a few catchy melodies and light jazz stylings, though a number of themes have attained iconic status. One of them was an Easter Egg from Totaka — a quirky 19 note melody that would play whenever the ’O’ in the word MARIO was pressed on the title screen. Since dubbed ’Totaka’s Song’, the melody has made secret appearances in most of the artist’s other projects and has become subject to something of a cult following.
Continuing a prolific year, Totaka subsequently scored the action-adventure title Kaeru no Tameni Kane wa Naru in his first solo work. The artist produced a wide range of charming and heroic themes, some of which have been 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. After contributing music to the compilation Tetris & Dr. Mario and testing Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3. In his spare time, the artist served as the pianist and vibraphonist of the band Spiritual Vibes alongside producer Nobukazu Takemura and vocalist Kiku. He composed a number of tracks for their studio albums and singles, many of them exhibiting a smooth jazz and bossa-nova style, between performing at their numerous concerts. The artist often amazed audiences with his free-spirited vibraphone solos. In further roles, he was briefly active as a solo artist for the singles "Undercurrent" and "In The Valley In The Cosmos", and also performed vibraphone on several releases by Nobukazu Takemura and Silent Poets. He concluded his time at Nintendo Research & Development 1 by producing the score and sound effects for Virtual Boy Wario Land.
In 1996, Totaka was transferred to Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development, given the legendary subdivision was looking for more composers at the start of the Nintendo 64 era. His previous experience meant he was soon given major roles on several projects and he soon emerged as a leading member of the sound team, second only to Koji Kondo. Building on his stylings for Spiritual Vibes, 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 than his previous works. The following year, he produced one of his defining scores with Yoshi’s Story. While his childish tunes received a mixed reaction among soundtrack listeners, they generally matched the tone and audience of the game. On this project, he also ended up adopting the role of a voice actor for the first time, providing different voices for each Yoshi while interpreting their unique language. These voices were since reused in various instalments of the Yoshi, 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. While working on this project, he also contributed music for the e-Reader titles Machop at Work and Machop at Work on behalf of Creatures President Hirokazu Tanaka.
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 was later released as the enhanced GameCube port Animal Crossing worldwide. For this title, Totaka reflected his seniority at Nintendo EAD’s sound team by directing Toru Minegishi, Kenta Nagata, and Shinobu Tanaka to respectively handled indoor, field, and event music. The 200+ piece score was Nintendo’s most interactive at that point, for instance changing according to the hour and season in the game. The score is best known for Totaka and Minegishi’s catchy compositions performed by K.K. Slider every Saturday night. Incidentally, Totaka was the inspiration for K.K. Slider’s caricature as well as the character’s Japanese name, Totakeke. Tanaka also scored much of the GameCube launch title Luigi’s Mansion. He offered a catchy ’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. On this title, he also served as the voice actor for Professor E. Gadd.
Having impressed producers with his work on Animal Crossing, Totaka was appointed as sound director for two sequels demanding large-scale interactive scores, Pikmin 2 and Animal Crossing: Wild World. For the former, he worked closely with composer Hajime Wakai to maintain the whimsical ambient style of the original Pikmin score, while offering a more varied, adaptive accompaniment to the environments. Animal Crossing: Wild World translated the concept of the original to a portable console, generating enormous critical and commercial success. Totaka also served as music director on the puzzle game Yoshi Touch & Go, but produced no compositions on his own. On all three projects, he impressed game producers with his creativity and assertiveness, while commanding the respect of the composers and sound designers working under him. Away from the usual challenges of game scoring, Totaka was delighted to be involved in the casual game 1000 Cooking Recipes from ELLE à table, given he was able to produce soft bossa-nova tunes reminiscent of his independent work. Also still active as a performer, Totaka regrouped with members of the now-defunct Spiritual Vibes to found the jazz band A Slice of Life and performed at several concerts in the Kansai region since. He also performed on several albums and concerts within Nintendo, offering guitar renditions of Yoshi music at Mario & Zelda Big Band Live to much applause.
In 2006, Totaka was asked to create the system sounds and music for Nintendo’s smash-hit console, the Wii. The light jazz music and warm synthesizer sounds that he created certainly matched the casual focus of the console, as well as the white menus. The artist was also responsible for many of the catchy tunes featured on the Wii’s channels, as well as the entire soundtrack for the top-selling launch game Wii Sports. Such compositions have been enjoyed by millions and have become symbolic of the Wii. In his highest-profile role to date, Totaka was promoted to the role of game director for Wii Music. Facilitated by a discussion with Koji Kondo, Totaka joined the project while it was in limbo and soon gave it the creative push it needed to continue. Influenced by his experiences on bands such as A Slice of Life, Totaka wanted gamers to feel the music, not just play the notes; believing conventional music games were too restrictive, he ditched musical notation early on in the project and gave players plenty of room to improvise and experiment. As he said himself, "When I play music in my free time, the enjoyment lies in letting myself go." He also ensured the game was a rich one, offering a range of gameplay styles, a diverse soundtrack selection, and rewarding goals. Despite mixed reviews, the game sold well and helped to awaken a passion for making music in many gamers.
Totaka returned to the post of sound director for the Wii’s Animal Crossing: City Folk. Once again, he carefully considered the big picture of how to integrate music and sound effects into the game, while paying meticulous attention to detail. The artist also arranged the series’ music for Super Smash Bros. Brawl and contributed the music for Animal Forest The Movie; though most compositions for the film were externally produced arrangements of favourites from the game soundtracks, Totaka also created a few new compositions for the title. In more recent roles, Totaka was proud to return to X-Scape, the DSiWare sequel to one of his earliest works. Also continuing to serve as the voice actor of Yoshi, he re-recorded the character’s sounds for the first time for Super Mario Galaxy 2. Most recently, Totaka served as the sound director for the 3DS’ Animal Crossing: New Leaf. As with previous titles in the series, he cultivated the talents of the latest members of Nintendo’s sound team on the soundtrack, which included some contemporary twists on the K.K. tune and an obligatory appearance of Totaka’s Song. The ever-busy artist also remains active as a wider artist — he continues to spearhead A Slice of Life and recently performed vibraphone at several concerts with the House meets Orchestra unit A Hundred Birds. Totaka has clearly left quite a legacy at Nintendo through his compositional and wider roles alike.
© Biography by Chris Greening (September 2007). Last updated on January 20, 2013. Do not republish without formal permission.