Will The Real Joe Hisaishi Please Stand Up?
(continued from page 4)

Even in Hisaishi’s non-film work, many sounds and melodies are reminiscent of his anime scores.

Upon Export…
The American treatment of Hisaishi's anime music is intriguing, to say the least. Totoro and Venus Wars are available on video; Robot Carnival came out some years ago, though it's presently unobtainable. All these scores were unchanged, as was the music for Mononoke in its recent theatrical outing. Apart, that is, from the song; it may have been the replacement of counter-tenor Yoshikazu Mera with 'Trance Opera' artist Sasha Lazard that led to some critics dismissing the song as a "power ballad." However, that was minor compared to what happened to Buena's Kiki release, with its musical "adaptation" by Paul Chihara.

Buena's subtitled "collector's edition" video is unchanged, allowing for direct comparison. Briefly, the dub keeps Hisaishi's main melodies. However, there are such extensive reorderings, additions and "enhancements" -- such as Titanic-style wordless vocals -- that the score is really a separate entity. Most obviously, the additions cover the deliberate silences that typify Miyazaki films (and much other anime). Elsewhere, passages are split into shorter pieces, with old or new music pushed in between. Whole sections of the film sound different. The sequence in which Kiki makes her first delivery, encountering geese and crows (accompanied in the dub by a cheesy ‘Mountain King’) is almost entirely altered.

For Hisaishi purists (myself included), these changes are often clumsy and ill-advised, leading to clashes and repetitions. (Indeed, there's a moment just before Osono appears when two tunes are heard fighting each other.) Then again, newcomers may not find any problem with Buena's score. As Ghibli publicity head Stephen Alpert told Animerica (Vol 7, No 11), "The differences have to do with what Buena feels is a Japanese audience's tolerance for silence. U.S. audiences apparently feel uncomfortable if they don't constantly hear music on the soundtrack. I personally don't agree, but I've often been told I may not be representative of the ‘typical’ U.S. audience."

Hisaishi made an equivalent point in the Japanese magazine Keyboard (August 1999) regarding the new Laputa/Castle score: "According to Disney's staff, non-Japanese feel uncomfortable if there is no music for more than three minutes. You see this in the Western movies, which have music throughout. It's the natural state for a (non-Japanese) animated film to have music all the time. However in the original Laputa, there was only one-hour's music in the 124-minute movie. There were parts that don't have music for seven to eight minutes. So, we decided to redo the music as (the existing soundtrack) will not be suitable for markets outside Japan."

Of course, the upside to this is a new Hisaishi anime score. How will it measure up to the likes of Arion, Totoro and Mononoke? For once, we shouldn't have long to wait. The re-scored version of Laputa has been premiered in New York, and a video should hopefully follow this year. The possibility of more cinema screenings has yet to be confirmed.

Would you like to read more about anime? Animation World Magazine has published numerous articles on all aspects of Japanese produced animation. Just visit the Animation World Magazine Archives and use the keyword: anime.

Andrew Osmond is a freelance writer specializing in fantasy media and animation.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to