Sunday, November 29, 2009

From Demons to Wizards: Film Scores of Joe Hisaishi

All right, so I've stuck to some typical genres so far in this blog. However, I decided I should stray a bit from the norm and mention my favorite score composer and director, Joe Hisaishi. He has done more than 100 scores and solo albums since the early eighties. I think far too often people underestimate the power a movie score can have over the overall film. Movie scores help emphasizes characters, plots, emotions and other things in the films. I believe horror movies would be a lot less scary if there wasn't the suspenseful music in the background.

Joe Hisaishi is probably best known for is work with animator Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli films. These films are some of my favorite and includes Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, and NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind. These films are fantastic on their own, but the score makes them even more amazing.

The film Princess Mononoke is set in medieval Japan is a story of a struggle between man and nature. It's a world of both man and machine as well as nature and it's forest demons and talking demon beasts (I am awful at summing up movies without going into too much detail, since this is about music anyways). Hisaishi produces a score that emulates all of these elements. Princess Mononoke's theme song is airy and sad, reflecting her split life between being human and living among the demons, but also a strong female character. The male character's, Ashitaka, theme depicts his strength and the epic his journey well too. The theme of both these character is a beautiful piano duet, which reflects their relationship I believe.With the exception of those themes and a handful of other songs, the rest of the score is very harsh, because those are the elements of the film. There are battles and bloodshed which leads to steady and marching dumb beats; the destructive ironworks in the film are given very deep sounds. I will advise this is not a soundtrack to try to sleep to, the tracks including themes of demons are down right creepy. In "The World of the Dead" I'm honestly not sure of they have people or of they are using an instrument, but there is wailing. It's fitting, but it really is a spooky, depressing song to listen to. There are many bass and cello parts, keeping the songs deep and powerful; however, brass like to boom in and create a sense of urgency, also an awful way to try to sleep.

A very different theme would be Howl's Moving Castle, which is a different sort of magical, whimsical, character and love story. Again, Hisaishi's music reflects this. The movie is very dreamlike so the music tends to have a lot of slow piano solos with light instruments like harps, flutes, and violins. In a song called "Stroll Through the Sky" begins in the film when the two main characters are being follows by demons, they are more like giant blobs, because the male character is a wizard. The song begins with the strings plucking and picks up pace as they are being followed faster. There is a big crescendo as the two reach a dead in but they actually take off into the air. The music gives the sense of the rush and take off into flight and the full orchestra enters with a version of the main theme. This film especially liked to take its main theme song, "The Merry-go-round of Life" and alter it slightly pending on the moments and events in the film.

I'm honestly not sure how much sense that all made. For someone who played in an orchestra I'm awful at describing orchestral music. Maybe that's because there is so much emotion in it that it's hard to describe, or I'm my musical term knowledge is really rusty. Either way, I would recommend both Hisaishi's soundtracks and the films they are for, and next time you're watching a film pay attention to the soundtrack and not just the songs you can sing to.


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