Brad Pitt’s Bullet Train is an Assassin Movie Full of Killer Sounds
By Caitlin White
What do you get when you mix the of an assassin movie with the time and space constraints of a train film? Bullet Train, one of the latest pictures starring Brad Pitt alongside other talents like Sandra Bullock, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Michael Shannon. Surprisingly, the film also included Bad Bunny—not as a musical guest but as an actor—which follows up other appearances in My Spy in 2020 and a role in The Fast and the Furious franchise, F9: The Fast Saga, in 2021. With a star-studded cast, David Leitch on board as director, and a prime release date last August, the film was poised for success, especially once the dramatic needle drops were in place to tie the whole thing together.
But before anyone buys a ticket to see a movie in a theater, they saw a preview that convinced them to get there, and that is why the sonics in a trailer can be even more important and influential than whatever songs and scores appear in the film. For Bullet Train, the filmmakers and music supervisors tapped into APM’s extensive back catalogue of sound effects and sound design tools to enhance the action. Namely, they utilized some selections from KPM Main Series’ collection of tools and sound effects specifically designed for promos and trailers. As a movie built around the concept of a moving train full of lethal assassins, a deep impact sound with a rolling effect helped give the Bullet Train trailer the feel of a moving train itself.
Once hooked on the idea of watching Brad Pitt, aka “unlucky assassin” Ladybug in the film, it was time to flesh out the feel of the movie with some music. Since the bulk of the journey takes place in Japan, working with some Asian-influenced soundscapes from composer Mathieu Neil made sense. His album, Asian Temple, is part of the AXS World library that APM carries, and the track “Kyoto Flowers” a delicate, melancholy song with erhu, pipa, piano and Asian strings was included to punctuate one of the more emotional scenes in the movie.
In that same vein, the film once again tapped into APM’s diverse array of instrumental, regional music by working with Kosinus World composer Yoofu. His album Japanese Shakuhachi is a record exclusively dedicated to Japanese flute solos. A Shakuhachi is a bamboo flute used by Zen Buddhists for meditation that is also frequently incorporated into all kinds of Japanese music, including Jazz and Classical, Traditional, and Folk. Because of Yoofu’s authentic playing, his song “Senseki” was another essential needle drop in the film. Since that title translates to “teacher” or “master,” you can imagine the context it might appear in within a movie that pits assassins battling against one another on a moving train.
It is also heartening that Western filmmaking has come far enough that the teams working on these films now try to tap Asian composers and musicians who are using authentic instruments and storytelling to create music from their culture to be used in a cinematic context. It is not just a studio musician picking up a shakuhachi and playing something because a flute solo is needed for the film; instead, these music supervisors did their homework, searched through a music publisher with a whole array of cultural albums like APM, and selected authentic music for the film.
Insisting on this kind of quality and thoughtful sourcing is the way that modern cinematographers, actors, and everyone involved can help make Hollywood a more respectful place that accurately depicts other cultures with dignity. It may seem like such a small thing but getting the proper music—and working with musicians who know the context involved with it—is a wonderful place to start.
Listen to the tracks:
- Deep Gaia Extra Oomph Rolling Impact (Used in trailer)
- Senseki (Used in film)
- Kyoto Flowers (Used in film)
About the film Bullet Train
- The film’s original score was composed by Dominic Lewis.
- The film stars Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Andrew Koji, Brian Tyree Henry, Zazie Beetz, Michael Shannon, and Hiroyuki Sanada in lead roles.
- The story revolves around a group of assassins with conflicting motives who board a bullet train in Tokyo, Japan. The train becomes a battleground as they all try to outsmart and kill each other.
- "Bullet Train" is David Leitch's fourth feature film as a director, following "Atomic Blonde," "Deadpool 2," and "Hobbs & Shaw."
- The film was shot in Los Angeles and Japan, and principal photography began in February 2020, but it was temporarily halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Filming resumed in October 2020 and was completed in early 2021.
- "Bullet Train" is produced by Kelly McCormick, Antoine Fuqua, and Kat Samick, under the production banner of 87North, along with Sony Pictures Entertainment.
- The movie is based on the Japanese novel "Maria Beetle" by Kotaro Isaka, which was originally published in 2010. The book has been translated into several languages and has won numerous literary awards in Japan.