Monday, January 9, 2012

The Wondrous Works of Joe Hisaishi

Close friends call him Mamoru Fujisawa, but most laymen and fans know him as Joe Hisaishi (pronounced His-ah-ee-shee). He's the prolific Japanese composer for Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli (who has been compared to the Walt Disney of Japan).
Indeed, he is best known for his Studio Ghibli soundtrack scores. His most popular compositions are most frequently heard accompanying the fantastical imaginative movies of said director Miyazaki. As such, the union between movie director and composer are fitting, combining the whimsical, fantasy-like qualities of both arts into a harmonious blend of thrilling entertainment. So significant have his contributions to modern Japanese music been, that he has been awarded the Japanese Academy Award for Best Music six times- in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1999, 2000, 2009, and and 2011.
If you are a frequent listener, you might know him for a smorgasbord of styles and sounds outside of the Japanese movie industry. From minimalist to experimental electronic, and European classical to Japanese classical, Hisaishi has covered and created forms of genres entirely his own.
Nostalgia pervades his mystical lore-inspired Japanese albums "Piano stories" I,II, III, IV. Clearly inspired by classical, romanticism, contemporary, and new age, these albums are simple yet poignant in charm, delivering contemplative piano music that is perfect to relax to.

[Listen to Highlander from Piano Stories II]

Of his Ghibli film music, my personal favorites are his scores to Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and Laputa: Castle in the Sky. 
The Howl's Moving Castle score is reminiscent of a Parisian sidewalk cafe setting- with free, waltz-like style. The film takes place in a fantastical kingdom in the19th century. The music captures that feel with expertise. Despite his Asian heritage, the composer adapts Western music with supreme accuracy. You get the simplistic feel of old classics, the colorful harmonies of the romantic era, and the brisk 3/4 tempo of a Viennese waltz.

Howl's Moving Castle Theme

The score for Spirited Away is captivating and entrancing. From subtle, gentle tracks like "One Summer's Day", and "Sixth Station" to the powerful and magnificent "Reprise" and "Dragon Boy", it's a score that perfectly captures a girl's mystical adventure to a dream-like world full of odd spirit-beings. It contains pieces that are slow and soft, yet powerful enough to coax tears from the emotional listeners. 

One Summer's Day from Spirited Away

Then we have Laputa: Castle in the Sky, a movie a young girl and boy's fascinating adventure to find a legendary floating castle in the clouds. If you could envision a soundtrack to one such movie, this would be it. Full of New Age synth, Classical sophistication, memorable hooks, and wistful harmonies, this album is stirringly sublime. It is definitely one of Hisaishi's best.

"Collapse of Laputa": Castle in the Sky

Hisaishi's music is fairly accessible off and iTunes. If you want to listen but not purchase, Spotify and Pandora has many of his selections. Sadly, his sheet music is not too easy to come by in the United States.
If you are insistent and desperate like me, you'll have to feel your way around the Japanese Amazon website to access Piano Stories, Encore, and other sheet music by him:
 Japanese Amazon: Joe Hisaishi
Official website:
 A few fans have compiled their own arrangements of his Studio Ghibli music and uploaded it to obscure anime-music forums. 
If browsing foreign sites is completely unfamiliar to you, one helpful tool is Google translate. Good luck! 


Piano Stories
Etudes ~A Wish to the Moon~
Laputa: Castle in the Sky soundtrack
Howl's Moving Castle soundtrack
Spirited Away Soundtrack
Joe Hisaishi review
Joe Hisaishi soundtrack review
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea soundtrack
Kiki's Delivery service soundtrack


Joe Hisaishi sheet music, Joe Hisaishi Laputa sheet music, Joe Hisaishi Ghibli Sheet music, Joe Hisaishi Piano stories sheet music, Ponyo, Castle in the Sky sheet music 

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