While possessing a stylistically distinct sound, Hisaishi’s music has been known to explore and incorporate different genres, including minimalist, experimental electronic, European classical, and Japanese classical. Lesser known are the other musical roles he plays; he is also a typesetter, author, arranger, and head of an orchestra.
He is best known for his work with animator Hayao Miyazaki, having composed many scores for many of his films including Spirited Away (2001), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), Princess Mononoke (1997), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). He is also recognized for the soundtracks he has provided for filmmaker ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano, including Dolls (2002), Kikujiro (1999), Hana-bi (1997), Kids Return (1996), and Sonatine (1993).
Joe Hisaishi was born in Nakano, Nagano, Japan as Mamoru Fujisawa. When he started to take violin lessons at age five, Hisaishi discovered his passion for music. Realizing his love, he attended the Kunitachi College of Music in 1969 to major in music composition. Hisaishi collaborated with minimalist artists as a typesetter, furthering his experience in the musical world.
As his works were becoming well known, Hisaishi formulated an alias inspired by Quincy Jones, an African-American musician and producer. Retranscribed in Japanese, “Quincy Jones” became “Joe Hisaishi.” (“Quincy,” pronounced “Kuishi” in Japanese, can be written using the same kanji in “Hisaishi”; “Joe” comes from “Jones.”)
In 1983, with his new name, Hisaishi was recommended by a record company to create an album for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Hisaishi and the director of the animated film, Hayao Miyazaki, became great friends and would work together on many future projects. This big break led to Hisaishi’s overwhelming success as a composer of film scores. In 1986, Laputa Castle in the Sky, and later, in the 1990s, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, were released. As Hisaishi strengthened his reputation as one of the budding anime industry’s top musical contributors, his compositions (including eight theatrical films and one OAV) would proceed to become some of the very hallmarks of early anime in the 1980s and 1990s. Hisaishi also composed for such TV hits as Sasuga no Sarutobi, Two Down Full Base (both 1982), Sasrygar (1983), Futari Taka (1984) and Honō no Alpen Rose (1985). He also scored the sci-fi adventure Mospeada (1983), which was later reworked (without his music) into the third segment of Carl Macek’s compilation, Robotech. Other films he scored included Arion, Totoro (1988), Venus Wars, Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), and Porco Rosso (1992).
As more exposure was given to Hisaishi and the anime industry, his career grew. He initiated a solo career, began to produce music, and created his own label (Wonder Land Inc.). A year later, the label released its first album, Pretender, in New York.
As a result of his work throughout the years, Hisaishi has won the Japanese Academy Award for Best Music five times—in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1999 and 2000. He also received the 48th Newcomer Award in 1997 from the Ministry of Education (Public Entertainment Section) among numerous other awards, being recognized as an influential figure in the Japanese film industry.
In 1998, he provided the soundtrack to the 1998 Winter Paralympics. The following year, he composed the music for the third installment in a series of popular computer-animated educational films about the human body.
In 2001, Hisaishi produced music for Takeshi Kitano’s film, Brother, and Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Spirited Away. He also served as executive producer of the Night Fantasia 4 Movement at the Japan Expo in Fukushima 2001. On October 6, Hisaishi made his debut as a film director in Quartet, having also written both its music and script. The film received excellent reviews at the Montreal Film Festival. His first soundtrack for a foreign film, Le Petit Poucet, was released in the same year.
Another Miyazaki film, Howl’s Moving Castle, for which Hisaishi composed the score, was released on November 20, 2004 in Japan. From November 3 to November 29, 2004, Hisaishi embarked on his “Joe Hisaishi Freedom – Piano Stories 2004” tour with Canadian musicians. In 2005, he composed the soundtrack for the Korean film, Welcome to Dongmakgol. He also partook in Korea’s historically landmarked big budget drama series production by composing the soundtrack for Korea’s MBC drama series, The Legend (“The Story of the First King’s Four Gods”), which released in 2007. Hisaishi has a large fan base in Korea due to the popularity of Miyazaki films.
In 2006, Hisaishi released a studio album, Asian X.T.C., the compositions of which demonstrated a significantly eclectic and contemporary Eastern style. The erhu player of the Chinese band 12 Girls Band Zhan Li Jun played in a live concert featuring music from that album. The following year, he composed and recorded the soundtrack for Frederic Lepage’s film, “Sunny and the Elephant” and the Miyazaki film, “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea”, both released in 2008, as well as the score for Jiang Wen’s film, “The Sun Also Rises”.
In 2008, Hisaishi composed soundtracks for Academy Award-winning film Okuribito (a.k.a. Departures) as well as for I’d Rather Be a Shellfish, a post-World War II war crimes trial drama which is based on the 1959 Tetsutaro Kato novel and film currently being remade and directed by Katsuo Fukuzawa, starring Masahiro Nakai and Yukie Nakama.
Hisaishi also released a new solo album in early 2009 featuring tracks from “Shellfish” and “Departures”.
Edited by Reevaluation on 30 Jul 2009, 13:13
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