Homage to Miyazaki: The world in the sounds of Joe Hisaishi


Photo courtesy of www.movies.disney.com/my-neighbor-totoro. Joe Hisaishi is an essential member of the production o Studio Ghibli through his contributions in the films’ music.

Esther Kim, Co-Editor-In-Chief

A film is never complete without the music.

In all honesty, I never considered sound as an integral part of filmmaking until I became fascinated by Studio Ghibli and Japanese animation films. For the genre of animation, it is extremely difficult to convey the character’s emotions (for they are essentially two-dimensional) and the underlying atmosphere of specific scenes. There is an apparent distinction between what is delivered through human emotions and through the creativity of the human hand, and in such circumstances, music becomes the medium in which the audience more easily communicates with the film. 

To Hayao Miyazaki, the one and only person who could complement his films was Joe Hisaishi. A renowned Japanese composer, Hisaishi has been a long-known partner of Miyazaki, producing the soundtrack for many of Studio Ghibli’s films, including Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away.

There is a unique atmosphere that is created Hisaishi’s music that draws me closer to Miyazaki’s films. It is the subtle enigma in his music that flows so well with the mysterious and often surreal tone that permeates Miyazaki’s works; especially with “Spirited Away,” the strange coming-of-age story of a pre-teen girl would never be the same without the music that intensifies its dark and eccentric tone.

Hisaishi’s music are often composed of very simple melodies, one that he could easily play by himself on piano. However, he incorporates strings, woodwinds and brass to accompany his simple and repeating melody, providing harmonies that bring out the music’s fairy-tale-like feel.

As a long-time aficionado of Studio Ghibli’s splendid soundtrack, below are some of my favorite works by Hisaishi that deserves a listen from anyone interested in exploring new spectrums of music:

  1. “One Summer’s Day”  from Spirited Away
  2. “The Sixth Station” from Spirited Away
  3. “The Dragon Boy” from Spirited Away
  4. First Movement from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds
  5. “The Path of Wind” from My Neighbor Totoro