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The Cat Returns Soundtrack Review

You can listen to some low-quality clips from the score in this montage:

(The clips are from the following tracks, in order: Neko to Ohanashi, Nekoou no Gyoretsu, Kaereta Watashi Kaeretanda, Youkoso Neko no Jimusho He)

Yuuji Nomi, who delivered a fantastic score for Whisper of the Heart, was brought back for this spiritual spinoff film, The Cat Returns.  Unfortunately, these are the only two feature films he has worked on, which is quite a shame.  Although I enjoy the works of Joe Hisaishi as much as the next person, there is so much potential in these two scores by Nomi that they leave me wanting to hear more large-scale, fantasy scores from him.  Instead, it seems that the rest of his work consists of scores for television dramas or opening themes to Japanese network shows.

My first interest in Nomi came from one track in particular from Whisper of the Heart, “Oka no Machi” (A Windy Town).  Using a relatively simple and pleasant theme, he built a wonderfully engaging orchestral piece which, in my opinion, ranks among the best musical pieces in any Ghibli film.  I particularly enjoyed his very colorful orchestration, which I felt had a great sense of clarity.  What I also liked was that he managed to keep the piece both musically interesting while being accessible and enjoyable, particularly in his constant changes of key, reflecting the flightiness of the scenes it represented.  Whisper, though, also had plenty of non-orchestral tracks interspersed throughout, which were good, but distracted from what was clearly the man’s strength: orchestral music.

His music isn’t revolutionary or groundbreaking, it simply represents a clearly well-developed grasp of film scoring and writing for orchestra and who is obviously well-steeped in the classics.  What’s even better is that his music manages to be engaging both inside and outside of the film.  I’ve listened to his score for Cat Returns a few times now and not once do I find myself bored or waiting to skip to a new track.  It isn’t overtly thematic – there are one or two themes, notably the one for the main character, which appear occasionally throughout, as well as a homage to Whisper. Regardless, there is a wonderful cohesiveness to the entire album.  Part of that is the optimistic touch that seems to pervade much of the score, a bright, idealistic tone which is consistent even in the heaviest parts of the score.

A few tracks stood out in particular.  First was the introduction of Haru’s theme in “Neko to Ohanashi”, a lovely little waltz which introduces the melody on the flute.  The immediately following track, “Nekoou no Gyoretsu” is a very strange and haunting piece which portrays the procession of royalty from the cat realm.  It works fantastically in the film.   “Youkoso Neko no Jimusho He” has a wonderfully impressionistic opening that convinces me that Nomi must be a fan of Debussy and Ravel – the influence is clear.  Finally, “Kaereta Watashi Kaeretanda” is one of the high points of the score, main themes are delivered in their full glory.

Even when the score is at it’s loudest, the orchestration is still crystal-clear and never becomes muddy or overly heavy as some other scores tend to do.  A fantastic and well-rounded score from a clearly skilled composer who unfortunately appears to be rather underrated.  Give it a listen if you’re fond of symphonic scores.  

4 responses so far

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4 Responses to “The Cat Returns Soundtrack Review”

  1. zzeroparticleon Dec 23rd 2009

    Man, I remember some of these themes from the Czech Philharmonic’s performance of Ghibli themes on that one album that they released. Just out of curiosity, is this the soundtrack that featured the “Baron” theme? I love that melody to bits because it sounds like such a brilliant call to adventure!

  2. Theowneon Dec 23rd 2009

    Yep, this is the one. I’m not certain, but I think it was carried over from Whisper.

  3. Kon Dec 1st 2011

    You are the only person I can find so far who appreciate Nomi Yuji as much as I do. Actually I myself prefer Nomi Yuji over Joe Hisaishi, because I find him, albeit strong in melody composition, not quite so in providing a unified and harmonious symphonic piece overall. Of course he’s not bad, but just pale in comparison with Nomi Yuji.

    “Oka no machi” is a piece of gem. I would die to hear any orchestra do it live. I’m a little frustrated by the artificial sound in it because it’s mostly done by synthesiser…

    Pastorale in Cat’s Return’s soundtrack is also … well, sublime.

  4. chrison Sep 5th 2012

    I totally agree with this review. I’m so glad someone else is praising this guy. I wish he did more high-profile orchestral work, though.

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