Mamoru Fujisawa is not a name that rings many bells. Yet, he is the most famous film composer in Japan, with over 100 features to his credit, including almost every film by anime guru Hayao Miyazaki. Professionally, Mr. Fujisawa goes by Joe Hisaishi. In Japanese, the last names go first, so he is Hisaishi Joe. The way that’s spelled in kanji, it could also be pronounced Kuishi Joe. That is the Japanese transliteration of a certain famous African-American musician’s name, Quincy Jones. So, Japan’s top film composer is Quincy Jones. (QED, BTW). And this is no accident: Hisaishi was a big fan of Jones growing up, so when the time came to choose a stage name, it seemed like a natural choice. Hisaishi was born in 1950 in Nagano, Japan. His early interest in music led him to experiment in many genres before teaming up with Miyazaki on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind in 1983. Thus began a long and distinguished career.
Princess Mononoke (originally Mononoke Hime, 1997) is one of the many collaborations between Hisaishi and Miyazaki. As is typical of Miyazaki films, it features stunning landscapes and fantastical, godlike creatures, and it explores themes of feminism and the relationship of humanity to technology and nature. It is a historical fantasy of sorts, set in the late Muromachi period (roughly early 1500s) of Japan’s history, with numerous fantasy elements added. The hero is Ashitaka, a young prince of the Emishi clan. His village is attacked by a Tatari Gami (Curse God), a forest deity (in this case a boar god) overtaken with hate and rage. During the battle, Ashitaka touches the Tatari Gami and becomes infected with its curse, which is destined to slowly kill him. He finds an iron bullet embedded in the god’s body: to find its maker, and to search for a cure for his affliction, he must leave his village forever and travel west. He eventually arrives at Iron Town and the surrounding forest, where humans are at war with the forest gods. He also meets San, the Princess Mononoke of the title (in Japanese, Mononoke means angry spirit). She is a human that has been raised by Moro, the wolf god, and her pups. San hates the humans for all the damage they have inflicted on the forest and its mystical inhabitants. As the plot unfolds, it becomes less and less clear whether the humans or the forest gods are in the right. By helping both sides, Ashitaka gains both of their contempt.
Here’s a full rundown of the characters in Princess Mononoke. In case it helps.
Hisaishi’s score helps add an expansive atmosphere to the film. Here’s a trailer, which unfortunately doesn’t use Hisaishi’s music until the very end:
The Selections from “Princess Mononoke” that we are playing comes from an arrangement by Kazuhiro Morita. Read his full account, translated by CUWE euphonist (euphist? eupher?) Sayaka Tsuna from the original Japanese:
I love the melody that Mr. Joe Hisaishi composes. I have previously arranged his music from Director Miyazaki’s animation movies, and each time I am extremely careful not to destroy the beautiful and inspiring melody created by Hisaishi. The first time I encountered Hisaishi’s work was in the fall of 1998, when I was approached by a high school music teacher in the Shizuoka prefecture and was asked to arrange music from the movie Princess Mononoke. Although I knew that the movie had been in the theaters the summer before with great responses, it was my first time listening to the music of the movie. The CD that I listened to was not the soundtrack of the movie, but a recording by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra; after listening to the amazing performance, I was soon enthralled by the power of this piece just as the high school teacher was. Using the recording as an example, I rearranged the three movements “The Legend of Ashitaka”, “Tatari Gami”, and “Princess Mononoke”, which later became available as rental copies through Brain Co., Ltd [now called Bravo Music].
This particular score has a different composition than that of my original arrangement, because one of the performers of my first arrangement (Mr. Tomoki Ubata, the advisor for a wind ensemble at the Saitama Prefecture Ina Middle and High School) suggested that the 16-minute piece might be shortened, so it could be used in music contests. In the shorter version, I replaced the title of the third movement “Princess Mononoke” with “Ashitaka and San”, and created a clear transition from each theme in addition to changing a few minor details. It should be noted that the third clarinet part is written for novice players and does not require the use of a register key, but that the part is no less important to the piece. This piece could be performed even by a small group of musicians, so please enjoy the piece without omission of any parts.
Here’s the full arrangement in concert. They go too fast in Tatari Gami’s section, but otherwise it’s good:
Finally, I couldn’t resist putting in one extra video. This is a track from a death metal album, called Imaginary Flying Machines, playing the “Mononoke Theme” (which unfortunately is not in our selections). The whole album consists of metal versions of famous Hisaishi tunes from Miyazaki movies. Enjoy!