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A 2011 survey of his career by Anime Instrumentality:
A 2000 article which explores his work in a thorough yet concise manner:
I think it was Ponyo that first made me a fan; it wasn't my first Ghibli, Princess Mononoke, though I obviously should have taken notice. I have listened to Hisaishi's works nowhere near enough to be able to pick decisive favorites. The one score I have given a decent amount of attention to is Nausicaä, due to my adoration for the movie, so for now I'll write about that.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
To me the standout track, the one I've listened to the most, is the Opening Theme; the version I've listened to the most is off the "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Symphony" and "Best Collection," where it's called 風の伝説 / Legend of the Wind, a version which excludes the toxic jungle theme from the start and end of Opening Theme. It also has a different intro, with heavy percussion.
I could just watch Nausicaa flying over her world for the whole duration of it. Nothing that long happens in the film, but there is a short flight sequence set to this theme, and when I listen to it outside the film, I picture Nausicaa in the sky.
I seem to favor music from flight scenes:
Typically I go for exciting music, written for characters experiencing the thrill of flight for the first time:
Ramin Djawadi - Driving With the Top Down (Iron Man)
John Powell - Test Drive (How To Train Your Dragon; score for Hiccup's first flight with Toothless)
James Newton Howard - Flying (Peter Pan 2003), later devalued somewhat by reuse as Disney's theme for itself
James Newton Howard - We're Going To Fly Now (Green Lantern)
Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell - Ride the Dragon (Shrek)
Hans Zimmer - Flight (Man of Steel)
Bruce Broughton - Cody's Flight (The Rescuers Down Under)
Or in these cases, the first flight on a new, unfamiliar mount:
John Williams - Buckbeak's Flight (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)
Nicholas Hooper - Flight of the Order Of The Phoenix (Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix)
Alexandre Desplat - Dragon Flight (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II)
The slowest in my collection of western examples is Elmer Bernstein's Flight from Heavy Metal, the 1981 American-animated ecchi fantasy action movie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqqa_oiHw5g
Legend of the Wind is slower than any of those. It introduces Nausicaa as already a lifelong master pilot, the best of her people since her father fell ill, as comfortable in the air as she is on land. After the opening credits spend a minute showing the long-ago apocalypse and subsequent lore tapestries, we first see Nausicaa serenely gliding over the jungle on her Mehve/Möwe, in what to her is a routine "slice of life."
It's exquisite. After a grand opening, the melody is carried for a while by solo piano with minimal backing. As a barbarian, normally I might want a track like this to hurry up and get to the orchestra, but this part already sounds like perfection to me. Then it gets even better, as the strings unintrusively build until they entirely take over at the halfway point. That point in the film is where the tapestries end at a girl with angelic white wings, and give way to a shot of the open sky. The climax is... awesome. I've made a point of avoiding that word in all these opening posts I've been writing for this group, but if anything deserves it it's this track.
Sadly, only the first half was used in this live performance with Joe Hisaishi on piano. Still great to see though. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSxOzfecizY
Thinking about it, based on the theme's three locations of use in the film - the opening, the revelation beneath the toxic jungle, and the closing credits (the track Bird Person ~ Ending / 「鳥の人」～ エンディング) - I think it's safe to say it represents Nausicaa's world. But to me it's about flight. In a way I feel like it was a missed opportunity having the climax accompany Nausicaa's landing, rather than high-altitude grandeur, but I need to remember that this is a film, not a music video.
The opening to the later Good Morning Althea by Nobuhiko Kashiwara immediately brought to mind Legend of the Wind's piano, but with guitar instead. https://youtu.be/OwHgSp9XoVs?t=34s I can't say whether the inspiration was Nausicaa, or the Eagles' Journey of the Sorceror.
A Princess Who Loves Insects / 虫を愛ずる姫
I suppose this (its first minute) is the other main theme, and in my mind this is typically the track used to represent the film, because of its grand, sweeping opening. It plays near the start when Nausica gives Yupa the Ohmu eye shell and takes off, to Yupa's wonder at her skill. It also plays during a victorious moment in the final moments of the film. I don't love it as much as the opening theme, but I've given it a lot of plays because of its title (which may be a reference to this tale, though the titles are not the same.) After the first minute, it switches to the jungle/insects' music, which mostly consists of synthesizer, plus a sitar, which I assume was chosen for the insects because it sounds "exotic" and strange in Japan, much the way it (or erhu, etc.) does here in the west.
Interchange with the Ohmu / 王蟲との交流
During Nausicaa's mind meld with an Ohmu, she hears a child's voice singing, and I've always interpreted that as representing the inner voice or spirit of the Ohmu. Perhaps a source somewhere may prove this was not the intent; even so, I love the idea. It seems clear that the child's voice is intended to be associated with the Ohmu, as it plays again at the end when the mollified Ohmu surprise everyone.
A Battle Between Mehve and Corvette / メーヴェとコルベットの戦い
The iconic moment where a defiant Nausicaa rises out of a cloud layer, taking the course of the story back into her own hands. (At least, I think I can assume that moment is iconic? To me it is. My Nausicaa experience mostly exists in a bubble, aside from my having rewatched it four times with people who hadn't seen it before.) It begins with a simple repetition which, now that I listen closely, makes me think of Terry Riley's In C, the chamber ensemble version as performed by Bang on a Can: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVfAoNHjTHQ After 30 seconds, there's a little woodwind theme which seems to have stuck in my mind so much that I made a completely useless discovery: using a felt tip marker to write "OLL OLI" or "OTT OTI" at the right tempo can sound like it. Boom, you're a musician.
Only last year I discovered the self-titled vocal single, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, set to the score track of the same name. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEDkko7lBK8 It's pleasant enough, but I've never been very fond of that track, and I want to hear a vocal version of the opening theme. Just a soprano vocalizing sounds great when I play it in my mind. I'm sure fans have experimented with that over the years.
What about stuff that isn't Nausicaa?
There's not much point adding anything until I've properly rewatched the other films; I'll reply whenever I do that with each film, if I have anything to say. Two brief thoughts:
1) Laputa / Castle in the Sky: most Miyazaki films I've still only seen once, around 2007-2010, this one included. Last year I rediscovered that soundtrack, and was amazed that the main theme did not immediately spur me to get the soundtrack when I saw the film. Thankfully, in this case that theme did become the song, and it's wonderful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rs1WKwuwoM
2) The score I most want to get back into and get the most out of is Ponyo. Its adaptation of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries is so obvious that even I could pick it out, and the strings go together perfectly with the film's swirling waters. Apparently the film itself is patterned after Die Walküre. Does that mean I should make my long-procrastinated (since 2006) study of The Ring of the Nibelung before I rewatch Ponyo? That seems a bit much. Well, the whole thing is only 14.5 hours long, that's no problem, right?
Robot Carnival (MAL page) is a 1987 anthology of short films by some legendary animators (so I'm told - I haven't reached the point of following individual animators yet), all scored by Joe Hisaishi except for #6, "Cloud." My favorite is "Deprive." Listen to Joe Hisashi's score of that part here:
I reacted, "The realization that Joe Hisaishi wrote this 80's synth-rock action music blows my mind. Yeah, I know great composers can adapt to any genre, but I don't often hear examples." (Well, aside from Yoko Kanno, whom I don't even think of as having a "default" genre to begin with.)
Info about Robot Carnival: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/buried-treasure/2006-10-26
And from one of the articles I linked at the top: https://www.awn.com/animationworld/will-real-joe-hisaishi-please-stand
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.
Modified by nDroae, Oct 6, 2018 9:47 PM
"Composer Joe Hisaishi of Studio Ghibli fame commented on the appeal of the film and the challenges on working on its soundtrack. He described the story as both unpredictable and philosophical. He thought the soundtrack was quite challenging as it permeated the entire film, but with a minimal music style. He added that the film inspires the viewer's imagination with the faint whiff of the universe's memories and the effervescence of life."
I know barely anything about it, but I plan to see it at the theater if I can. No dates announced yet, though. https://gkids.com/films/children-of-the-sea/
Crunchyroll put out a video today called "How Music Transforms Nausicaa of The Valley of The Wind":
YouTuber James Easterly (EasterlyArt) comments (permalink):
Joe Hisaishi also composed for the animated film Robot Carnival, which one of the shorts titled Star Light Angel was directed by Hiroyuki Kitazume. Some of his more recognizable work happened to be for the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, from Zeta Gundam to Char's Counter Attack. Speaking of Gundam, Joe Hisaishi actually composed music for the Gundam franchise as well, and worked on one of the most iconic song from the Mobile Suit Gundam trilogy, the song Soldiers of Sorrow. Though if we tie it back to Miyazaki, his first directorial debut with Lupin III featured music by Yuji Ohno, and brought an amazing score that would serve to ultimately help evolve the sound of Lupin III over the coming years. Last but not least, Yuji Ohno composed the opening theme to the series Space Cobra, which the main music was composed by Kentaro Haneda who also composed the music for Robotech aka Macross.
ALL OF THIS HAPPENING BEFORE Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in 1985.
And here is that song: