Joe Hisaishi’s Greatest Hits From Miyazaki Movies Is An Essential Family Record
The new Symphonic Celebration of Music from Studio Ghibli Films is wonderful for kids and parents alike.
Maybe, like me, you caught word that the amazing stage Japanese production of Spirited Away is coming to London soon–and, like me, you know you and your kids ain’t gonna be flying over to catch it. And then you were thrilled to hear that Hayao Miyazaki, the genius creator of all your beloved Studio Ghibli films, has released his latest–and long-awaited (but maybe not?) last—film, The Boy and the Heron in July–but then realized you can’t see it in the U.S. until December! Where is a Ghibli-obsessed family like yours or mind supposed to get a new fix? One can only collect so many Totoro music boxes!
Well, we’re all in luck. Deutsche Grammophon has released A Symphonic Celebration – Music from the Studio Ghibli Films of Hayao Miyazaki. This beautiful recording features twenty-nine tracks from ten of your favorite Ghibli films rearranged by composer Joe Hisaishi and recorded by the London Philharmonic. The record — available via streaming services but also on lovely vinyl for all y’all turntable heads — has quickly become a staple for car rides to soccer practice (though, of course, my children can’t agree on which favorite tracks to have on loop).
Like many of you, Miyazaki’s films helped carry our family through the lockdown days of 2020 and 2021. There was something about the mocktail of whimsy, watercolored landscapes, and touches of real human feeling that kept us returning to Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro more than to –ahem–certain other less affecting children’s fare. But there was also, of course, the music. The Studio Ghibli films would not be what they are without the astonishing music of Joe Hisaishi.
The tastemakers at Pitchfork have called Hisaishi “the John Williams of Japan.” Beyond the regrettable bit of Western-centrism here, the comparison is pretty apt. Hisaishi is a monster of the Japanese film and classical music worlds. He has written over 100 film scores and records ranging from minimalist rhythmic electronica in the vein of Philip Glass to music for Yakuza crime dramas. But he’s best known for his work with Miyazaki on the Studio Ghibli films.
The new orchestral record surveys Hisaishi’s long collaboration with Hayao Miyazaki in creating the felt worlds of the Studio Ghibli films. For this record, Hisaishi rearranged twenty-nine pieces for a 96-piece woodwind orchestra and a chorus and carefully ordered the track list to take advantage of this new symphonic context. Take a moment to watch Hisaishi directing the London Philharmonic performing “A Town with an Ocean View” from Kiki’s Delivery Service: the church in London where they recorded could have itself been dreamt up by Miyazaki’s storyboard artists. Listening to this new record, your kids–like mine–will probably pick up on the differences between the version of “The Path of the Wind” they carry around in their heads from My Neighbor Totoro and this new symphonic version. But the recordings carry all the spirit of his original soundtracks while giving the music an exciting new life as an orchestral work.
The intensity and immersive nature of these pieces are reinforced by the process Hisaishi used in creating them. Since their first collaboration on Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Hisaishi has worked with Miyazaki nearly every four years on a new film. “When I finish one of his works,” Hisaishi said in a recent interview, “I’m really worn out.” Between the films, Hisaishi feels he needs to “find a renewed self,” to recharge so he’s ready for the world-building to come with the collaboration with Miyazaki.
Listening to this stunning new recording, it becomes clear just how essential Hisaishi’s music is to making these films what they are. Spirited Away wouldn’t carry quite the same blend of wistful anxiety and melancholy beauty without Hisaishi’s “One Summer Day.” As one YouTube commenter put it, “Sometimes I forget that the person who created Ghibli movies and wrote this wonderful music are not one and the same. Hisaishi and Miyazaki appear to be soul mates!” A Symphonic Celebration is a wonderful testament to the worlds that Hisaishi helped Miyaki build over the last nearly forty years. And it’ll carry you and your kids through many soccer practice car rides–and tide them over until you win that $1.2 billion Powerball and buy us all tickets to go see Spirited Away in London next summer.