The Boy and the Heron, the latest feature from master animator Hayao Miyazaki, opened in Japan this past summer. In that it marks his latest emergence from his supposed “retirement,” we could label it not just as late Miyazaki, but perhaps even “post-late” Miyazaki. But the film nevertheless shares significant qualities with his earlier work, not least a score composed by Joe Hisaishi. Since Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind — which opened in 1984, even before the foundation of Studio Ghibli — Hisaishi’s music has done nearly as much to establish the sensibility of Miyazaki’s films as their lavish, imaginative animation, and you can stream hundreds of hours of it with this Youtube playlist.
Each of the playlist’s 121 two-hour videos offers musical selections from a mix of Ghibli movies, including Miyazaki favorites like My Neighbor Totoro, Porco Rosso, and Spirited Away, and also the works of other directors: Yoshifumi Kondō’s Whisper of the Heart, Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s Arrietty, Gorō Miyazaki’s From Up on Poppy Hill.
If you’ve seen those pictures, these quiet, often minimal renditions of their music will surely bring their animated fantasies right back to mind. Even if you haven’t, they can still fulfill the function promised by the videos’ titles of setting a mood conducive to study, work, or simple relaxation.
So beloved are Hisaishi’s scores, for Miyazaki and others (most notably comedian-auteur Takeshi Kitano), that it’s possible to know the music long before you’ve seen the movies. And even in performances considerably different from the versions heard on the actual soundtracks, they always sound immediately recognizable as Hisaishi’s work. Shaped by an eclectic set of influences (born Mamoru Fujisawa, he took on his professional name as an homage to Quincy Jones), he developed a compositional style neither strictly Eastern nor Western. The same can be said about Ghibli movies themselves, which often possess both fairy-tale European settings and Japanese philosophical underpinnings. Wherever you place yourself on the cultural map, you’d do well to make their music the soundtrack of your own life.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.