June 1st, 2011
Pure instrumental bliss. Joe Hisaishi takes us on a journey for the soul with the anime film soundtrack to Princess Mononoke. This whimsical treat for the ears has become a well-known triumph in Hisaishi's career and a critical high point in anime film music. The music of Princess Mononoke combines a creative-classical motif with unexpected modern twists. This soundtrack is highly commendable due to its very dynamic and diverse track listing. To demonstrate this diversity, I have focused on five stand-out tracks on the album.
The main theme presented first in the track, "The Legend of Ashitaka", wastes no time encompassing the listener with intense melodic beauty. The theme utilizes a full orchestra to paint the picture of a dreamy time long ago in Japan. The alternating crescendos of the strings and woodwinds are extremely moving here. At times throughout the song, it presents a royal-sounding march filled with the strength and duty of a warrior's devotion.
The track, "Demon God", brings a native video game battle-feel; full of warning and foreshadowing especially in the beginning of the song. The high tempo and troublesome build-ups keep you on your toes as it is different from the other serene themes on the album. The consistent drum beat with overlaying brass horns expands the range in the album's overall sound. This track is so compelling, it's almost as if the instruments are acting out a scene--no words or description necessary. This track is a perfect example of bringing variation to a film score.
In "Kodamas", Hisaishi experiments with plucking percussions and trickling, clicking woodwinds to make imaginations come to life. These unique sounds are used to represent the Kodamas, or spirits that live in trees in Japanese folk-lore. In the film they are portrayed as having large rattling heads and the music precisely embellishes this vision. Just from this track alone, you can see the amount of musical detail Hisaishi puts in to play up the roles of these supernatural creatures.
"Lady Eboshi" is an ambient and abstract classical track that contains a beautifully slow adaptation of the main theme. It brings peace and simplicity in the midst of many adventurous tracks on the album. Again, we see Hisaishi giving each piece of this film its own voice, using a distinguished oboe and flute solo to act as the guiding voice of Lady Eboshi.
Included on this album is one of my favorite Hisaishi's staples: georgeous piano solos. And there is no shortage of gorgeous piano solos in the track, "Ashitaka and San". These grand piano melodies bring with them such a spectrum of emotions; it takes the listener from the depths of an earthy forest to the brightest side of the moon in ten seconds. It brings a much needed romantic interlude to the struggle between the supernatural guardians of the forest and the humans of the Iron Town.
The soundtrack of Princess Mononoke is one of, if not THE, best anime score to date. It is not just background music to an anime feature film- it is an otherworldly experience. I could only imagine how breathtaking this score would be to hear live, in concert. To those lucky few who have gotten this opportunity- I will forever envy you!