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Joe HISAISHI (b.1950)
Songs of Hope – The Essential Joe Hisaishi Volume 2
Rec. 1989-2021
DECCA 3555634 [63:00 + 67:48]

The name of Joe Hisaishi will be hugely familiar to anyone in southeast Asia, and in particular in his native Japan, where his music has achieved something akin to cult status. The booklet to this latest compilation of his music, recorded at various times by various artists over the past 40 years, generously describes him as “leading melody maker of our time, lyrical poet of the piano”. It is not just the easy listening style, the delicate orchestral colours, and its habit of tugging at the heart strings that attracts such a devoted and dedicated following, but the fact that his music has become even more associated with the Japanese film industry than John Williams’s has on its American counterpart; Hisaishi is often compared with Williams for this reason. His fame rests on the many scores he has written for the anime genre of Japanese film, and as this genre has become ever more popular in the west – not least on the back of the gaming industry – his fame as a composer is also spreading westwards, and next August he is presenting a two-night show at the Wembley Arena in London. If the magic of this music has so far passed you by, this latest two-disc compilation of his music, subtitled “Songs of Hope”, should provide you with more than you need to get some insight into this musical phenomenon.

There are 27 tracks here, each lasting around four minutes – although the jauntily repetitive DA-MA SHI-E clocks in at almost eight minutes - and presenting a diet of soft-core jazz wrapped up in lavish orchestral textures, usually underpinned by a gentle rhythm section, mixed with some watered-down attempts at a more serious style based on both the American minimalists and the Second Viennese School.

Many of the tracks feature Hisaishi himself playing the piano – he’s most affectionate in the soothing Lost Sheep on the Bed in which the piano takes the lion’s share of the material – and he also appears on other keyboard instruments, most notably the synthesiser. The opening track of the first disc, ANGEL DOLL, is a synthesiser solo which, effectively, finds Hisaishi setting his agenda for the whole disc – gentle music, easy melodies, catchy rhythms, and an all-embracing wash of sound which is soothing rather than overwhelming. In this, he differs from John Williams who, we might say, wallows in the big sounds of huge orchestras; for Hisaishi, warm sounds are the thing, and while he might show a certain extravagance in his use of available resources, nothing sounds over-stated or even powerful. The other big difference is, of course, Hisaishi’s’ fondness for making use of electronically-generated sounds either to support or supplant traditional analogue instruments, yet there are plenty of genuine instrumental solos, including a lovely cello melody in the tender FOR YOU.

For most of us, the titles would seem as elusive as Hisaishi’s habit of apparently randomly using upper and lower case letters for complete titles, but it will all make sense to those who know the movies or play the games. Do not look to the miniscule print of the cramped booklet for unbiased guidance, as its text is largely gushing praise for his apparently matchless talents. But from it we do learn that his music falls into two distinct categories, “minimal music, and music for commercial use”. Examples of the former are found here in the DA-MA-SHI-E, MKWAJU (which is, apparently, Swahili, for tamarind tree), and Links, both of which show the influence of the American minimalists in their agitated use of repetitive musical fragments which evolve and expand over time – a kind of bite-sixed Steve Reich without the attitude – and it is in these works that the players of the London Symphony Orchestra shine, transforming what is, at heart, fairly uneventful musical material into glittering orchestral showpieces. An unusual foray into the world of early 20th century atonalism comes with DEAD for Strings, Perc., Harpe and Piano, 1. D.e.a.d. which toys with the four-note figure of the title as if it were a tone-row, and at times treats it in an almost Bergian manner. It is not exactly pastiche, but somehow you get the impression this music only pays lip-service to the Second Viennese School, and at heart is simply after finding new ways of producing a pleasing aural effect – that said, a chugging momentum which builds up around 3:03 promises something which might be fulfilled were Hisaishi more willing to break free of his short time-frames.

Marc Rochester


ANGEL DOLL [2:20] - Joe Hisaishi (synthesizer). Rec.1995.
la pioggia [5:14] - Joe Hisaishi (piano), Orchestra Cittą di Ferrara. Rec.1998-9.
il porco rosso [4:50] - Orchestra Cittą di Ferrara, Joe Hisaishi (piano), Masahiro
Sayama (piano), Tomonao Hara (flugelhorn), Hideo Yamaki (drums), Kunimitsu Inaba (upright bass). Rec.1998-9.
Lost Sheep on the bed [3:38] - Joe Hisaishi (piano and melodica), Angčle Dubeau
(violin), Emilie Pare, Natalia Kononova, Natacha Gauthier, Myriam Pelletier, Marilou Robitaille, Gwendolyn Smith, Anne-Marie Leblanc, Mariane Charlebois-Deschamps (strings), Yasue Sawako (percussion), Koji Kyotani (bandoneon), Masayoshi Furukawa (guitar). Rec.2004
FOR YOU [4:14] - Joe Hisaishi (piano), London Philharmonic Orchestra. Rec.1997-8
White Night [3:58] - Pan Strings, Joe Hisaishi (piano), Toshihiro Nakanishi (electric
violin) – Rec.1996
DA-MA-SHI-E [7:49] - London Symphony Orchestra, Carmine Lauri (conductor).
Rec. 2009
Departures -memory- [4:09] – rec.2008
TWO OF US [4:58] - Joe Hisaishi Ensemble. Rec. 2000
Rain Garden [5:01] - Joe Hisaishi (piano). Rec. 1996
Friends [3:57] - Joe Hisaishi Ensemble – rec. 2021
Les Aventuriers [4:16] - Eiko Onuki (cello), Yuko Taguchi (harp), Reiko Komatu,
Momoko Kamiya (percussion), Igor Spallati (upright bass), Keiko Daito,
Takayoshi Sakurai, Shigeo Horiuchi, Mikiko Mimori, Robin Dupuy, Eiichiro
Nakada, Mikio Unno, Akina Karasawa, Yumiko Morooka, Nobuo Furukawa,
Ludovit Kanta (cello), Joe Hisaishi (piano), Micol Picchioni (harp). Rec. 2008
KIDS RETURN [4:08] - New Japan Philharmonic World Dream Orchestra. Rec. 2021
Links [5:55] - London Symphony Orchestra, Carmine Lauri (conductor). Rec, 2009
VIEW OF SILENCE [5:30] – rec. 1989
Nocturne [4:09] - Joe Hisaishi (piano). Rec. 1998
Silence [4:31] - Joe Hisaishi (piano). Rec. 2003
MKWAJU 1981-2009 [ 4:55] - London Symphony Orchestra, Carmine Lauri
(conductor) rec. 2009
Ashitaka and San [4:17] – rec. 1998
The Rain [5:38] - Joe Hisaishi (piano), Yinlin Pan Group (strings), Rieko Suzuki
(violin), Yumiko Morooka (cello). Rec.1999
DEAD for Strings, Perc., Harpe and Piano: 1. D.e.a.d [6:15] - New Japan
Philharmonic World Dream Orchestra, Joe Hisaishi (piano). Rec. 2005
TANGO X.T.C. [4:52] – Rec.1998
The Little House [5:36] - New Japan Philharmonic World Dream Orchestra, Joe
Hisaishi (piano), Yasushi Toyoshima (conductor), Tadashi Aoyama
(balalaika), Tadashi Aoyama (mandolin), Hirofumi Mizuno (accordion), Tomomi Ota (accordion), Masayuki Chiyo (guitar). Rec. 2014
HANA-BI [3:14] - New Japan Philharmonic World Dream Orchestra. Rec. 2017
Silencio de Parc Güell [2:35] - Joe Hisaishi (piano). Rec. 2001
WAVE [5:04] - Joe Hisaishi (keyboards) – rec. 2015
World Dreams [4:52] - New Japan Philharmonic World Dream Orchestra, Yasushi
Ichihara (drums), Mitsuaki Furuno (upright bass). Rec. 2004.

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