Will The Real Joe Hisaishi Please Stand Up?
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Anime has a history of hauntingly beautiful scores like Grave of the Fireflies.

To forestall confusion, Hisaishi did not work on any of the other Ghibli films, some of which boast excellent scores of their own, especially Grave of the Fireflies by Michio Mamiya and Whisper of the Heart by Yuji Nomi. Of the songs, Hisaishi wrote the music for the closing number in Laputa, the pair in Totoro and the haunting Mononoke. The ones in Kiki (Japanese version) and Porco Rosso were by Yumi Arai (Kiki), JB Clement and A. Renard (Porco's 'Le Temps des Cerises') and Gina voice actress Tokiko Kato (Porco end-tune). Miyazaki's Ghibli "music video" On Your Mark (1995) was composed and sung by pop-duo Chage and Aska.

As well as the eight films already listed, Hisaishi also wrote most of the music for the 1987 OAV anthology Robot Carnival (the big exception is the 'Cloud' sequence). Recommended to readers who want a better idea of Hisaishi's repertoire, the score slides easily from rock and synthesized pieces (check out the pulpy 'Deprive' and inventive 'Tale of Two Robots'), to orchestral music (the brassy opening fanfare) and delicate piano for the poetic 'Presence,' a brilliantly directed segment by Yasuomi Ometsu. In contrast, the theatrical Venus Wars merits little further mention. Hisaishi provides an efficient, generic score for a well-made generic film. The music's two points of interest are the inclusion of some Hisaishi rock numbers, and the suspicious resemblance of the climactic battle music -- the best in the film -- to a track in Arion as the forces of Poseidon and Ares clash.

Similarities and Strengths
That leaves seven Hisaishi-scored anime: the six Miyazaki entries plus Arion. (Arion, while it doesn't overly resemble Miyazaki's work, has some interesting commonalties: a fantasy theme, a gentle heroine with hidden powers and a hubristic plot foreshadowing Mononoke.) The scores for these films have a fair continuity, which isn't to say they all resemble each other, but they share overlapping similarities and comparable strengths. One useful starting-point -- and a contrast with Disney -- was provided by Hisaishi in the Scorelogue interview.

"In Disney films," says Hisaishi, "in order to explain the type for each character, specific cues are married to their appearance. When I composed for the English version of Laputa, we actually did this Hollywood method so I understand the mechanics very well. The way I [normally] compose, however, is that none of my cues are necessarily married to any character. What I do instead is discern what the director is trying to convey in a scene and try to do the same with the music thematically."

The most obvious thematic element is the sense of gentle innocence, especially in films like Laputa, Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service. Think of the (Japanese) Laputa soundtrack as the children share a meal underground; when Lesphina tends to Arion; the sisters' race through the house in Totoro; and on the hilltop at the start of Kiki. The methods vary -- the "pitter-patter" beat in Totoro is the most inventive -- but the child-perspective is always the same: naive without being cloying. Ironically, Hisaishi once told Animerica, "I'm not much of an innocent... When it comes to a melody that's supposed to be aspiring and gentle and embracing, I have a hard time of it."

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