[Guestspot] Joe Hisaishi

by David Lee
During my elementary school years, my family would rent DVDs on a weekly basis from the public library. We upheld this family tradition with the most heated fervor. Along with the stack of books we borrowed for a certain week, a movie from either the Disney genre (back when 2-D animation was not such a thing of the distant past) or a mystical cinematic work that my (movie freak) mother enthusiastically deemed a “classic” would accompany us back home. Some of the movies that I watched during this time span have stayed with me to this day. But, there was one movie that I wasn’t so sure of when I first saw the cover. From the overly-large eyes to the brunette, solidified hair of the characters, I recognized the genre that much of Asian youth, except me, had beenaccommodated with: Anime. The title of the film was “Princess Mononoke,” a title that I was most unfamiliar with. Following much imploration from my mother, I watched a movie unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was animated but didn’t have the oversimplifying caricatures found in many Disney movies. It was animated from its unworldly yet frighteningly realistic landscapes to the painful dripping of scarlet blood (Little did I know that one decapitation would be followed by many others in the movie). It was the work of Hayao Miyazaki, a walking milestone in international film history.

Princess Mononoke {download}

Hayao Miyazaki is best known for creating mythical and fantastical worlds with the stroke of pencil and brush and emmersing the audience into these worlds with his graceful, one-of-a-kind storytelling. But like any great director, he fuses the purest of his fantasies with the reality that we live in. In “Princess Mononoke” (I’m sorry that this is beginning to look like a movie review), Miyazaki illustrates both a cyclic war and symbiotic relationship between humanity and Mother Nature through the hateful conflicts between the people of a blue-collar town called Irontown and the surrounding forest and its inhabitants. And while the attentions of moviegoers may be tied down by Miyazaki’s narrative, there is always something bigger, a statement pleading to be heard. However, one of the more entertaining (sometimes baffling) eccentricities of Miyazaki is that his statements are never served on a silver platter nor can they be captured easily with words. Rather, a moviegoer must travel through a personal maze of forks and bends to eventually find their own interpretation of Miyazaki’s vision (although it is fact that the majority of his movies deal with the whole Man vs. Nature theme).

A fellow artist that shares this psyche is Miyazaki’s partner-in-crime, Joe Hisaishi. Many movie viewers and directors have their personal favorite film composers. As you may have guessed, Joe Hisaishi is mine. Joe Hisaishi is the film composer for many of Miyazaki’s works, from “Spirited Away” to “Princess Mononoke” to “Howl’s Moving Castle.” It is always fascinating to recognize the mutual vision shared by director and composer, especially when the director is intent on creating worlds and scenarios that are simply too eccentric to be juxtaposed to any other. And as fantastical as Miyazaki’s storytelling may be, the music of Hisaishi extends each scene and illustration into a fusion of nostalgic, almost haunting visuals and sound.

Hisaishi’s scores stand on their own as easy listening. While some pieces are clearly written to drive a certain scene, others exist as musical selections that can be truly appreciated for their artistic merit. Like Miyazaki’s stance on film, Hisaishi’s music tips on a very tight rope between fantasy and reality. On a personal note, whenever I listen to selections from a movie score, I normally play them to the scene from the movie. However, it is different with Hisaishi. I find myself replacing animation with the images and daily emotions from my life, sometimes completely irrelevant to the theme of the music. I must say that it can be the most eerie feeling, unconsciously submitting to the stream of classical music designed to portray a world opposite of the reality that we live in. But, it can also be very gratifying. Besides, isn’t that one of the more basic definitions of music: a means for our minds to separate from our given reality and yet stay in tune with the emotional luggage that we carry every day? In this pure aspect, the artistry of both Miyazaki and Hisaishi achieve on profound levels. They provide us a train that takes our most rebellious and beautiful thoughts to the world we want to live in. Unfortunately, this train tends to disappear as we busily go about our lives, but in the moments that we do catch this train, we think thoughts and feel emotions that are hard to forget.

Summer – 久石譲 (from Kikujiro No Natsu) {download}

Sam’s Note: If any other non-regular contributors would like to over their thoughts in a similar way David has here, please feel free to send me a message either through our email, middleclasswhitenoise@gmail.com or through out facebook page. Even though I’ve seen Miyazaki’s films, I’d never given much thought to Hisaishi’s contributions and discovering his work through a collaboration like this is the kind of thing I absolutely love. This invite extends to anyone.
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