When thinking about movies, most people will think about Hollywood blockbusters first, but movies are made all over the world, and they all need music. One of my favorite composers, the Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi, has written some magnificent music for animated movies by Studio Ghibli, including my all-time favorite soundtrack: Mononoke Hime. In addition to writing music for these Japanese animations, Hisaishi has also created some stunning scores for live-action movies like Kids Return and Kikujiro.
Soul Snatcher, the latest movie Hisaishi has composed the music for, is something in between. It is a live-action Chinese fantasy movie, with a story that would have been fitting for an animation. The story revolves around a fox spirit who wants to become immortal by taking the soul, and with that the life, from a clueless young scholar. After meeting each other, they go on an adventure in historic China, during which the fox spirit gets the poor scholar into all kinds of trouble. The story, the characters and the world itself are perfect for Hisaishi’s style of music. There is quite some music to explore, as the album is 1 hour and 19 minutes long, divided into 34 tracks, the best of which I would like to point out to you.
The first track “A Fox and a Scholar” is an interesting piece in which long notes by the strings flow into each other with energetic middle sections. The same melody of long notes can also be found in “Providence.” “The Furious Showdown” is Hisaishi’s take on composing music for a battle. It is a fast-paced piece with many drums, and the orchestra playing bursts of notes on top of that, together with other patterns and fast melodies.
There are also some beautiful and emotional tracks on the album. In the second half of “Looking for Brother Daoran” you can listen to some gorgeous string play. That part is a recurring theme that can also be heard, for example, in “Rousing of Thunderbolts.” “Yinglian” has a wonderful clarinet solo in it, supported by the piano, which is probably played by Hisaishi himself. In “Proposal” you can hear the same concept, but this time it is a trumpet solo supported by the piano, and in “Promise” the flute and violin are the solo instruments.
In other tracks some of the highlighted thematic ideas return, but for most of them Hisaishi wrote music to support the actions of the scene. To accomplish this, he used the orchestra for rhythmic patterns and musical textures. Additionally, he also applied some synth sounds and lots of percussion. The word ‘actions’ deserves emphasis here, because most of the time when I say that the music supports a scene, I use the word ‘happening,’ but that includes emotion, and that is something I am missing in most of these supportive cues.
In this review I have used the words ‘interesting’ and ‘beautiful’ to describe some of the tracks, and to be honest, those were not the words I had hoped to be using when I started listening to the score. I was hoping for ‘superb’ and ‘magnificent,’ which was unfortunately not the case here. The tracks I have highlighted are worth a listen and certainly contain some beauty, but in my opinion they do not reach the same level as the music Hisaishi has written in the past. The main reason why I love his music so much, is its ability to grab me emotionally with stunning melodies that go straight to the heart. I had to think hard about what is missing in this score, and the best way to describe my feelings on it is that the music sounds too methodical to me. I could not find the emotion I was looking for, and I will have to go back to his older works to get my Hisaishi fix.
Listen or buy
The highlights are in bold.
- A Fox and a Scholar (3:16)
- The Moonlight Gathering (2:34)
- The Beginning of the Journey (3:26)
- Finding My Clamen (1:57)
- Donkey Running Away (2:20)
- Secret Talk (0:25)
- A Quiet Town (1:36)
- The Academy of Miserable Sea (0:42)
- Frog’s Trap (2:09)
- The Frog Monster (1:29)
- Puppet Scholars (1:15)
- Battle with the Frog Monster (3:22)
- Mission Failed (0:39)
- Looking for Brother Daoran (2:32)
- Boat Ride (2:09)
- Temptation of Jiankang City (2:09)
- Yinglian (3:05)
- The Peony Brothel (1:18)
- Curse of the Evil Spirits (1:22)
- Proposal (3:16)
- Rousing of Thunderbolts (2:13)
- Starting the Imperial Examination (2:28)
- Lure of the Evil Spirits (2:05)
- The Bardo World (4:46)
- Promise (3:42)
- Truth (1:57)
- Death of Yinglian (2:35)
- Rupture of a Friendship (2:03)
- Providence (2:22)
- Last Wish (2:31)
- The Furious Showdown (3:14)
- For Zijin (2:02)
- A Real Immortal Fox (2:30)
- Xiao Bai and Zijin (3:55)
Total length: 1 hour and 19 minutes
Universal Music (2021)