Will The Real Joe Hisaishi Please Stand Up?
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More cheerful, human environments are represented by graceful orchestral pieces. Think of the music for Nausicaa's valley home; dawn over Pazu's village in Laputa (Japanese); the jovial drive to the new house in Totoro; the flight to the city in Kiki; and the industrious female factory in Porco. As for Mononoke, the brief passage following Ashitaka's welcome to Irontown has strong echoes of all those frontier towns in Hollywood Westerns -- interesting, given Miyazaki is a fan of John Ford. The snatch from the forge-women's song, extended on the soundtrack CD, helps establish a sense of female solidarity.

Hisaishi truly captures the mood of the kodama-haunted forest scene in Princess Mononoke.

Beyond these categorizations, there are many pieces of music that are just plain good on their own terms. My own favourites include the dynamic theme as Nausicaa escapes from the Pejite ship, dodging enemy bullets; Arion's sky-battle over the valley of Tartarus; all of the Japanese Laputa "rescue" sequence, from the powerful robot theme to Pazu's catching of Sheeta; Mei's pursuit of the Totoro (listen for the mini-melody with the butterfly); Kiki's metronomic bicycle; the martial music when Porco comes ashore from Gina's island; Mononoke's spine-chilling distortions as the headless god arises; plus the majestic main themes for Arion, Laputa and Mononoke.

All the soundtracks have strong individual identities, though there are passing similarities between Nausicaa and Arion, and Venus Wars' debt to the latter is mentioned above. However, there are complaints that Hisaishi's live-action work reflects his animation scores a little too closely. This is borne out by the Hana-Bi soundtrack, a beautiful, elegiac score in its own right, but one with echoes of Porco and definite borrowings from Mononoke. (Watch the Hana-Bi sequence with the disabled character outside the shop and the montage of Kitano's flower-drawings; then compare Mononoke's 'Adagio of Life and Death' where the deer god takes the life of the boar.)

The same is reportedly true of other Hisaishi-scored live-actioners. Parasite Eve (1997), directed by Masayuki Ochiai, is also said to be uncomfortably close to Mononoke, while the earlier score for Drifting Classroom (1987), directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi, allegedly echoes Nausicaa. These limits are surprising, given Hisaishi's varied work outside film. That said, there are traces of his anime tunes on some of his non-film albums. For example, the first volume of ‘Universe Within’ is reminiscent of at least three Ghibli scores.

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