Mononoke Hime: Symphonic Suite – Joe Hisaishi

When you are on holiday there is sadly no time to see movies in theaters and listen to the new soundtracks that are coming out. At least it was the case for me. Hence I want to take this opportunity to focus on one of my favorites, or even my favorite soundtrack of all time: the music for the Japanese animation movie Mononoke Hime composed by Joe Hisaishi. The movie was created by Ghibli Studio and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Other movies by him include My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle – all with music by Hisaishi. 

Mononoke Hime (English title: Princess Mononoke) is set in a fantasy world and focuses on the relation between the hunter boy Ashitaka and a savage girl, Mononoke, as well as their battle to save a forest from dying from demonic powers. In my opinion, most of the Ghibli movies can be seen as Japanese counterparts of Disney movies. However, Mononoke Hime is a bit darker. In addition to violence, there are also gruesome moments, which can be perceived as unsuitable for children. 

Since the main theme of the movie is also a song, sung in Japanese for the original movie and in English for the dubbed version, an official soundtrack album has been released for each language. To make things a bit more confusing, while both of them are amazing scores, I will be focusing on a third release, which is the Symphonic Suite, containing eight suites based on music from the movie. The reason for that is that I came to know this album first and since the suites are well thought out, without musical cuts and transitions to fit the scenes of the movie, it is more accessible for listening independently. The original score also contains a lot of artificial synthesizer sounds and this suite version is purely orchestral,  performed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, with some additional instruments like the piano, played by Hisaishi himself.

The album starts extremely strong with the track “The Legend of Ashitaka.” With the first sounds of the drum and the low strings, you know that something is about to happen. What follows is the most gorgeous melody I have ever heard played by the strings. Next to the fact that this melody is amazing, it is also the first piece of music that grabbed me emotionally, when I heard it for the first time, and it also triggered me to explore soundtrack music, which eventually became my passion. The rest of this track is a continuation of variations of this melody by various musicians with occasional countermelodies. A version of this track with the same name can also be found on the original soundtrack.

The second important suite on the album is music written for the savage girl. ‘Mononoke Hime’ means ‘wolf princess’ in Japanese, but she also goes by the name San, and her theme can be heard in “Mononoke Hime.” It is also the main theme of the movie, where the melody is used in the bilingual song. In this suite, the beautiful melody sounds even better on the piano played by Hisaishi himself. This track is a beautiful collaboration between the piano and the orchestra: Sometimes the orchestra plays together with the piano, and other times they take over from Hisaishi, creating this back and forth musical game on the theme’s melody.

The movie is visually and artistically stunning with intimate scenes, action sequences and overall visuals of a very interesting fantasy world. These are beautifully supported by the music using melodies, the occasional Mononoke theme and taiko drums to highlight the action sequences, as can be heard in the tracks “The Journey to the West,” “The Forest of the Dear God,” “Requiem – The Demon Power” and “The World of the Dead – Adagio of Life & Death.”

There is only one track on this album left to be mentioned, and that is “Ashitaka and San,” which is another fantastic collaboration between the piano and the orchestra. It is a new melody on the piano representing the relationship between San and Ashitaka, as the title of the suite suggests, and is a wonderful conclusion of this amazing album.

It should be very obvious that I totally recommend this album to everyone. I hope it will spark something in you as it did in me. Unfortunately, there is also some bad news. The album is hard to come by. At the moment of writing this report, Amazon.com has only one used copy available, but you can also try websites like CDJapan. Also, this album is not available on streaming services like Spotify, which makes me very sad. Luckily the internet is a big place, so if you look hard enough you can find the music. It is such a shame that it is difficult to get hold of the music, but if you manage to listen to it, and you love it as much as I do, then let people know. This album deserves maximum love and attention. 

Listen or buy

Tracklist

The highlights are in bold.

  1. The Legend Of Ashitaka (5:49)
  2. TA TA RI GAMI (6:44)
  3. The Journey To The West (4:58)
  4. Mononoke Hime (4:44)
  5. The Forest Of The Deer God (6:09)
  6. The Demon Power (7:10)
  7. The World Of The Dead – Adagio Of Life & Death(7:22)
  8. Ashitaka And San (4:30)

Total length: 47 minutes
Studio Ghibli Records / Milan (1998/2001)

Author

  • Anton is the editor-in-chief and founder of Soundtrack World. After writing about film music occasionally, he thought it was time to create his own site to celebrate music from film but also other media. Next to working on this website as a hobby Anton has a full-time job in IT and plays the tuba in a local orchestra.

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