The Art of Scoring

by Sanai Meles

After a long Wednesday filled with assignments, e-mails, and a mountain of homework, I was glad that I was able to find some down time and watch a film. Attending Emory’ Cinematheque series in White Hall 208, I was able to watch The Wind Rises (2013). The film, directed by the legendary of Hayao Miyazaki, is one in a series of anime films that make up the theme of this semester’s Cinematheque series.

The film itself was a beautifully animated, fictionalized account of Jiro Horikoshi, a famed Japanese aircraft engineer during World War II. I enjoyed the film, and found myself back at White Hall again the very next week to catch the next film in the series. The film this time around, Ghost in the Shell (1995), was much darker in tone and more along the lines of what I have come to expect from Japanese sci-fi. The story centers around a futuristic female cyborg cop hunting for a hacker alongside her human partner in a dystopian future. (I know sounds crazy).

The films I watched were critically acclaimed, but the aspect that grasped my attention the most, besides the riveting plots and elaborate animation, were the film scores. The music was glorious sounding in certain scenes, especially in the context of being able to watch these movies on the big screen in 35mm film. I soon found myself searching for each film’s soundtrack, wondering who created these compositions. My search led to some other great films and equally great composers.

One example is Joe Hisaishi, a prolific Japanese composer who has scored over 100 films. Some of his more well known scores include anime films, Spirited Away (2001) and Princess Mononoke (1997), all films featured in the Cinematheque series, much to my satisfaction. Interestingly enough, these films were also directed by Hayao Miyazaki (great artists seem to know how to find one another). However, one of my favorite works by Hisaishi may very well be his work on the film, Hana-bi (1997) (aka Fireworks in the US). A surrealist film with little dialog, Hanai-bi follows a psychotic, traumatized cop befallen with misfortunes. With a lack of dialogue, music plays an important role in breathing life into the film, creating a delicate balance that compliments its minimalist nature.

Hisaishi’s sweeping strings, twinkling pianos, and crisp flutes invoke European and Japanese classical music alongside some electronic influences for good measure. The music puts into perspective the psyche of the film’s protagonist, Nishi, immersing viewers into his troubled world. The score brings forth so many emotions: bliss, harrow, despair, etc., all of which lend emotional weight to various scenes like the one below. The music is both subtle and all encompassing at the same time. Check out the soundtrack for Hana-bi here.


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