Welcome back to The High Notes! This week, we’re going to take a look at some songs from a few of the movies directed by Hayao Miyazaki. A lot of fans had their first experience with anime by way of a Miyazaki film, and one thing most of those movies have in common is amazing music. Most of the songs we’ll spotlight today were composed by the talented Joe Hisaishi. Hisaishi created music for nine of Miyazaki’s movies, so you might recognize his style from any of them that you’ve seen.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Created in 1984, this was the first Miyazaki film containing Hisaishi’s music. Technically, it was actually made before Studio Ghibli was founded, though it is still associated with them. It tells the story of Nausicaa, princess of a valley in a dying world. While everyone else blindly tries to destroy a toxic forest that seems to threaten the last of humanity, Nausicaa makes an effort to understand the nature of the forest and discovers that it is actually the key to her world’s survival. The opening theme of this film is hauntingly beautiful, yet it crescendos to something distinctly more hopeful toward the end. The version from the soundtrack opens with a bit of electronic music, but the film starts it at about the 1:20 mark in the video below.
My Neighbor Totoro
On a distinctly more upbeat note, this next song appeared at the end of My Neighbor Totoro in 1988, and it is probably one of the most recognizable songs in the soundtrack. In this film, two sisters move to the countryside with their father and have an adventure complete with a catbus, some soot sprites, and spirits called Totoros. This is an adorable tale that emphasizes the magic of childhood, and the song that follows certainly captures that spirit splendidly.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
This heartwarming story about a young witch heading off to begin life in a new town came out the year after Totoro. At the beginning of the movie, Kiki flies off on her broom with her black cat, Jiji, and they look for a city by the sea where she can become the resident witch. She has some trouble settling in at first, but ultimately, she comes to call the town home. If you’ve seen the English translation of the film, you’ll recognize this song straight away as the theme that plays during Kiki’s flight. Titled “Soaring,” it gives the movie a great start and definitely leaves viewers excited for Kiki’s adventure. This entry in our list is the odd one out since the English version was written and performed by Sydney Forest. We used the English version here out of nostalgia, but “Message of Rouge,” the Japanese theme song, is also fantastic, and you should definitely listen to it.
Of course, I probably couldn’t make any Miyazaki-related list without Spirited Away, which was the first anime feature film to earn an Academy Award. This one is another story about a little girl moving out of the city with her family. Along the way to their new home, Chihiro’s parents decide to take the scenic route. When her folks wind up transformed into a pair of pigs, Chihiro starts working in a bathhouse for Japanese spirits while she tries to figure out how to fix them. Everything about this movie is lovely, but the soundtrack is just shines. This song, called “The Dragon Boy,” is one of the prettiest pieces in the movie. It starts off softly and builds to this grand melody that just carries you away every time.
We’re going to wrap up this spotlight on music from Miyazaki films here, but don’t start raging just yet if no songs from your favorite movie made the cut. We’ll be back next week with part two of our list, which will showcase more music from several of Hisaishi’s incredible soundtracks. Until then, take to the comments and let us know which songs you think should be on our next list!
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