“I love you more than you’ll ever know…”

If there’s anyone who knows how to soundtrack a series, it’s Hikaru Utada.

Aside from casually reigning as one of the top-selling Japanese artists of all time and laying the groundwork as one of the first major crossover acts in America, Hikaru’s also established herself as a Theme Queen™. Go ahead and mention her name to a Kingdom Hearts nerd, and you’ll likely reduce them to tears.

There’s good reason for that: through her own lyrics and melodies, Utada consistently manages to tap into some of the most vivid imagery and memories of distant romances, simple pleasures and solemn goodbyes, leaving a lasting impression that genuinely sets her apart as a songwriter.

Regardless of whether the specific events that unfold in her songs have actually happened in your own life, the music still makes it all feel entirely real. Were you giving sad, tobacco-flavored last kisses at 15? Maybe. Does “First Love” make you feel like your teenage heart just got torn in half for the first time, every single time? Absolutely. In other words, she’s a very good storyteller and emotion conductor – and that bodes well for providing sentimental songs for movies, video games and TV shows.

Nearly ten months after her last single “Darenimo Iwanai,” Hikki returned on Tuesday (March 9) in Japan with the long awaited, long delayed “One Last Kiss,” the theme song for the final Evangelion movie Evangelion:3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time, which, like most things in the past year, was pushed back for months amid the pandemic.

In a true “didn’t see that one coming” moment that meets the chaotic vibe of the past year, the song’s co-producer is none other than PC Music‘s own A.G. Cook, responsible for crafting edgy hyperpop cuts with everyone from Charli XCX to Caroline Polachek to the late, great SOPHIE.

That’s right: Hikaru is officially part of the PC Music Cinematic Universe. Vroom, vroom.

A wave of electronica draws us into “One Last Kiss,” which recalls the warmth of the Ultra Blue and Heart Station eras. Like last year’s “Time,” which turns into a full-on, hands-aloft party, the track treads into more joyful sonic territory. It feels like a continued emergence from the somber shadows of Fantome and, to an extent, Hatsukoi. A happier Hikki? We love to hear it.

My first time to the Louvre / I didn’t think much of it / Because I had found my very own Mona Lisa,” she swoons. (English translation via Lyrical Nonsense.)

It’s a love song through and through, bolstered by a light and springy pulse, but in true Hikki fashion, there are bittersweet layers scattered deeper within: “The first time I laid eyes on you / The gears that started turning that day / I could feel an unavoidable loss would come.”

As the song goes on, she paints a picture of a deep romance, and the couple’s vulnerable first steps towards mutually letting their guard down.

“’I hate when people take my picture,’ you say
But I don’t need any
For you’re already burned
Into the projector in my heart
I pretended that I wasn’t lonely
…well, we both did, didn’t we?
Desiring someone, in other words
Was the same as hurting myself.”

Oh oh oh oh oh… / The one I can never forget / Oh oh oh oh oh… / I love you more than you’ll ever know,” she repeats over and over again. It’s a simple, familiar, feel-good chorus – just like a longtime love would feel.

The bleep-bloops to be expected from an A.G. Cook collaboration are present – two-thirds into the track, most noticeably – as the track starts to sputter into metallic, twinkling noises and hypnotic vocal stutters, hitting a euphoric, club-ready stride that wouldn’t sound at all out of place on a Charli or Caroline record.

That said, the production isn’t nearly as jarring as some of PC Music’s most experimental stuff. In fact, it feels more like a PC polish on what Utada already started. In other words, this is not “Bitch, I’m Utada” – although, I wouldn’t be mad about that happening, either. (Also: is it me, or is that opening piano melody not strikingly similar to Dannii Minogue‘s Club Disco smash, “Feel Like I Do”? Anyone?)

There are some lovely moments later on, including “I know who it is now / Even at the end of the world / Even as I grow older / The one I can never forget,” which recalls the eternal vows of another one of her more recent soundtrack songs, “Don’t Think Twice / Chikai.”

The song winds down beautifully from its ecstatic heights with a pretty, poetic finish: “A dazzling afternoon / Chasing after a wind blown past.” That line is sort of the happy-sad embodiment of everything Hikaru Utada is about: finding joy in a fleeting moment, while still acknowledging that it, like all things, is impermanent.

Fittingly, the accompanying self-shot music video captures otherwise rare glimpses of Hikki enjoying herself in otherwise mundane circumstances, from a socially distanced park stroll, to a day at the seemingly empty arcade/amusement park, to twirling around in the kitchen. The intimate close-ups of the smiling superstar as she lounges on the floor and takes us around town also provides footage fit for a movie montage of a longtime romance. And although the self-shoot was almost surely a limited affair due to the pandemic, it’s thoroughly Hikaru – the at-home DIY-style videos for “Hikari” and “Goodbye Happiness” come to mind.

“One Last Kiss” isn’t even all that’s new here: according to the initial round of movie-goers, not only is “One Last Kiss” featured at the end of the movie, but so is “Beautiful World (Da Capo Version),” Hikki’s first-ever self-cover.

Originally released in 2007 as the theme for Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, “Beautiful World” got the PlanitB remix treatment for 2009’s Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance. Over a decade later, director Hideaki Anno requested a new version of the song to complete the ending sequence of the series, as “One Last Kiss” would likely not be long enough, according to a press release.

Hikaru responded to the request by creating a completely new version of “Beautiful World,” resulting in a medley with “One Last Kiss.” The end result feels like the definitive version of the track that manages to traverse all of the emotions, from an entirely haunting opening to the more familiar pulse of the original and beyond. She sounds incredible with each added ad-lib, and the weight of knowing she’s got a “beautiful boy…” of her own since recording the original track makes for a much more emotionally loaded affair.

Speaking of loaded, the One Last Kiss EP is a pretty sweet deal: it’s got all of the themes Utada’s sung over the past 15 years – “Beautiful World,” “Sakura Nagashi” and “One Last Kiss,” her cover of “Fly Me to the Moon” and all the remixes in one place.

Another day, another satisfying conclusion to a beloved series as sung by our Hikaru.

But when one door closes, another opens: “Pink Blood” is coming. And the Netflix series based on her discography. And also that album…at last? Hopefully? Oh baby, wait and see…

You can buy the “One Last Kiss” 12″ vinyl and the CD now. An international edition is set to be released later this year.

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Photo credit: Sony Music Japan