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Joe Hisaishi – Symphonic Castle in the Sky Review

Transforming a magical anime soundtrack into a 30 minute symphony

Joe Hisaishi’s compositions for Studio Ghibli have always been remarkable and rich with their orchestrations which is why I was quite surprised when a Symphonic Suite version of the Laputa: Castle in the Sky soundtrack was announced and released. If you loved the original soundtrack, this is a beefed up arrangement on it and classical music lovers will be right at home too.

Joe Hisaishi

The album is divided into two sections with nine and five tracks respectively and these two suites flow their tracks into each other to create a story of their own. The first selection of nine tracks are all prefaced “Symphonic Suite: Castle in the Sky” and it kicks off with the beautiful and uplifting main themes “Doves From the Sky ~ The Girl Who Fell From the Sky”. The orchestration is huge and bombastic with the strings and wooden percussion really standing out. It moves effortlessly into the lightning fast but comedically circus-like at times trio of “A Street Brawl ~ The Chase ~ Floating with the Crystal”. The woodwind is superb here, as it is with the gentle interlude of “Memories of Gondoa” which gives you light relief from the swell of 60 musicians attacking your every fibre. You’ll need it because the next four tracks are absolutely full on. The tension builds higher with each piece as the pace either quickens to a fury or slows down to have a huge percussive smash before letting loose again. It ends with a more regal “The Castle of Time” which starts to soothe you from afar and then Joe Hisaishi himself plays a piano solo ballad rendition of “Innocent” reprising themes you’ve touched on before, but this time in a serene and feminine way. That paves the way for the Disney like finale of “The Eternal Tree of Life” which is like a 3-minute epilogue of fanfare after fanfare. It sounds like it could end with its huge unveilings about ten times but keeps coming back for more. Dramatic is a vast understatement.

The final five tracks contain a reworking of a collection of songs under the umbrella of “Asian Symphony” which were released in 2006. These are less theatrical but much more song structured. “Dawn of Asia” has a wonderful brass and string call and response to their main riffs that works really well. “Hurly-Burly” is as jostling and free-flowing as the name suggests. Initially, the main melody doesn’t come to the fore but in its explosive second half, it has a verve to it that you cannot deny. “Monkey Forest” has a sense of intrigue and wonder about it because half the orchestration feels like it wants to be still yet the other half wants to dart about a bit and it makes the lost and solemn “Absolution” feel more poignant and remorseful. The suite closes with “Asian Crisis” which feels like a foreboding warning with its darker undertones despite its lush arrangements.

Classical music lovers will lap this up, as will fans of Ghibli music. Elsewhere it may be a hard sell initially because arrangements are often difficult to get if you don’t know the source material. I really like the way Joe Hisaishi and Chad Cannon have arranged the film soundtrack into a 30-minute musical story and the Asian Symphony was new to me and felt rich and indulgent.  Joe Hisaishi hasn’t done a bad score yet.

Recommended track: Gran’ma Dola

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Joe Hisaishi - Symphonic Castle in the Sky


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