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Joe Hisaishi: A Symphonic Celebration: Music from the Studio Ghibli films of Hayao Miyazaki


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Joe Hisaishi: A Symphonic Celebration: Music from the Studio Ghibli films of Hayao Miyazaki
Many movie directors have forged tight bonds with musicians/composers and crafted long lasting and trusted partnerships. Director Hayao Miyazaki is the creator, architect and wizard behind the curtain of arguably the greatest film animation studio on the planet, Japan's Studio Ghibli (with all due respect to, and an occasional photo finish with, Disney.) Joe Hisaishi is the intuitive composer of dozens of film scores including numerous projects with Studio Ghibli. Together, they've mastered the delicate art of combining image and sound to create a deep sea of emotion.

To better appreciate Hisashi's fusion of Western and Japanese styles it is helpful to understand the history of Western music's introduction to Japan. Western music such as European classical music was beginning to influence Japan toward the end of the 19th century. Shinichi Suzuki (founder of the Suzuki Method of teaching) was one of the men responsible for bringing Western music to Japan. Fascinated by the music of revered artists such as Vivaldi, Schubert and others, Suzuki even lived in Germany during the 1920s, learning and absorbing. After his return to Japan, East/West sounds cross-pollinated and merged. By midcentury, even American jazz had filtered into Japan and connected with millions of passionate fans. Hisaishi knows how and when to introduce strains of both into his soundtrack scores. He began composing for movies in his native Japan decades ago. As both a performer and composer, he deftly combined the spirit of ancient Japanese music, classical, new age jazz, minimalism and more. Hisaishi was crafting movie soundscapes even before the mid-1980s founding of Studio Ghibli and has worked closely with Miyazaki ever since.

The orchestra of choice for this collection of suites and new interpretations of the soundtracks is the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with many selections enhanced by individual vocals or a choir. With a knowing combination of bold and dramatic music that only a full orchestra can deliver, composer/conductor and orchestra also introduce the serenity of childlike innocence throughout the collection. As well crafted as the original soundtracks were, an orchestra with the word 'Royal' in it's name certainly brings a majestic elegance to this recording. The disc opens with a foreboding percussive and horn announcement countered by a melancholy yet optimistic new age styled piano— followed by an uplifting chorus (from 1984, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the very first Miyazaki/Hisaishi collaboration). That is followed by uplifting and whimsical music (Kiki's Delivery Service) and then potent, tense gothic iron-age industrial sounds and an insistent, intrusive military march (Princess Mononoke).

The fourth piece introduces an eastern European influenced mandolin and accordion which gracefully sweeps listeners away (The Wind Rises), while there's a bit of delight borrowed from Disney as heard throughout Fantasia on the following piece, (Ponyo). The sixth selection presents majestic horns that boldly blossom and are joined by a children's chorus (Castle In the Sky) while an elegant Duke Ellington-like piano plus snazzy trumpets and clarinets introduce the following number, (Porco Rosso). The final third of the disc starts by presenting an energetic yet skittering lead-in to an elegant waltz (Howl's Moving Castle,) an idyllic lead-in by piano and vocals with music that inhabits the world of a child on the verge of adult responsibilities (Spirited Away) and, finally, a joyfully and spirited adieu (My Neighbor Totoro). Always challenging, uplifting and inspiring, the music from the various movies is occasionally balanced by touches of melancholy and sadness. Take a deep breath—and enjoy.

There are dashes of music from The Adventures of Robin Hood (Erich Korngold), Star Wars (John Williams), Disney and more, yet Hisaishi's musical creations are very much his own. Together, Miyazaki and Hisaishi repeatedly create beautiful and symbiotic balances of sight and sound yet there's no question that Hisaishi's music stands confidently on its own as well. For those who have delayed or dismissed seeking out Miyazaki films because they are animated, here's a chance to catch up on the music you're missing.

Track Listing

Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind; Kiki's Delivery Service; Princess Mononoke; The Wind Rises; Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea; Castle In The Sky; Porco Rosso; Howl's Moving Castle; Spirited Away; My Neighbor Totoro.


Joe Hisaishi
composer / conductor
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
band / ensemble / orchestra

Album information

Title: A Symphonic Celebration: Music from the Studio Ghibli films of Hayao Miyazaki | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Deutsche Grammophon

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