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Laputa: USA Soundtrack Review

(Low quality montage of: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, Memories of Gondoa, The Forgotten Robot Soldier, The Destruction of Laputa)

The original Laputa had about 30-35 minutes of score for its length of around two hours.  One of the things which stuck most in my mind when I first watched the film was the silence that was so prevalent throughout, including dramatic sequences that in Hollywood films would have exploited with plenty of bombastic music.  When Laputa was brought over for release in America, it was decided that the long stretches of silence might make American viewers uncomfortable.  Many will disagree, but in the end, the result was commissioning Joe Hisaishi to rescore the entire film, bringing the runtime up to about an hour of music.  There is a potential here for an endless debate about altering a classic film in such a way.  Some people will argue that the charm of the original is lost with this fresh symphonic score (which is a lot more sophisticated in composition, echoing Hisaishi’s current style, than the original).  Others will find it to be a welcome update to a dated score.

I’m not going to spend most of this review on this debate, instead I will evaluate this as a fresh Hisaishi composition rather than some sort of infringement upon my purist Ghibli tendencies.  As I always watch Ghibli films with their Japanese track, my experience and enjoyment of the film is not altered by this rerecording.  If there’s one noticeable change that disturbed me in particular, it was “Pazu’s Fanfare”.  In the original, Pazu gets up in the morning and plays his solitary trumpet on the rooftop as the camera pans across the mining town.  In the USA soundtrack, after a bar or two, his lone trumpet is suddenly joined by a phantom, nonexistent lyre for a duet in the corniest Disney tradition.  We can only be thankful the mining town doesn’t suddenly break out into song with Broadway accompaniment.

“The Girl Who Fell From the Sky” is the track that I think most of us were looking forward to the most.  This is the music which backs the opening credits with a lush, beautiful rendition of Hisaishi’s main Laputa theme.  The rerecording was worth it just to get our hands on this track.  Even though Hisaishi’s orchestration skills back in the Laputa days weren’t what they are today, his knack for melody is evident in this theme, which is my favourite Hisaishi melody – bittersweet, moving….just wonderful.  You can imagine how rewarding it is to hear it updated like this.

There is something of a secondary theme in the score which appears throughout the score.  We hear it first as a tinkling piano near the end of “The Legend of Laputa”.   It is a somewhat melancholic melody, very evocative.  It reappears in other tracks, such as “The Forgotten Robot Soldier”.  Despite the film having a heavy load of action and chase sequences, there are some very beautiful images and ideas throughout, such as the mentioned “Forgotten Robot Soldier” that the track represents.  You’ll notice that I’m not mentioning the action cues all too much, and that’s because action music doesn’t really interest me.  It’s these understated and bittersweet moments that really make both the film and the soundtrack shine.

“The Destruction of Laputa”, in the original film, was a piece for solo choir, and this version has been updated to be more dynamic and with a fuller orchestral accompaniment.  I’ve been tepid about direct comparisons so far, but this is one case where I do prefer the new version.  The emotion of the bittersweet theme in its expansive new rendition is just beautiful.  The juxtaposition of this choral piece with the crumbling and destruction of Laputa is also one of the most effective decisions Hisaishi/Miyazaki have ever made, music-wise.  My only complaint is that I still don’t feel like the Laputa theme is explored to its most dramatic orchestral heights in the score, even with this track.  Now, the presence of Kimi o Nosete, the closing song which makes full use of the main theme, could offset that, but it is not present on the U.S. score for whatever reason.

Let’s talk about Kimi o Nosete for a moment.  Without a doubt, this is one of my favourite songs from any Ghibli film.  It is so remarkably moving, tear-jerking, uplifting, and the lyrics are wonderful as well.  The song wouldn’t be complete, however, without the vocals of Azumi Inoue.  In her prime (AKA around the time of this recording), not only did she possess a crystal-clear, pure voice, but her own skills as a singer add so much to the song, which cannot be said for a lot of contemporary-style singers.  Just listen to the myriad of anime songs out there these days, would anyone notice if the generic pop singers were switched?  But the shape of her phrases, the passion of her chorus, her whispered variations on repeated lyrics (“chikyuu wa mawaru...”)….these are the marks of an artist.

If you are a Hisaishi fan, I couldn’t imagine why you would pass on this soundtrack.  We can argue about its use in the film all we want, but at the end of the day, you have about an hour of new Hisaishi material featuring one of his greatest melodies.  There’s really no reason to pass on this one.  I have to wonder, though, what the Japanese Hisaishi fans’ reactions to this rerecording have been.  Has it become a popular import?  Are they grateful for this new material?  Or is it a source of dissatisfaction, to see old classics tampered with for American rerelease?  Whatever the case, the soundtrack alone gets a definite recommendation from me.

10 responses so far

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10 Responses to “Laputa: USA Soundtrack Review”

  1. sodsodsodon Dec 23rd 2009

    Just wanted to let you what an immense pleasure it is to read this blog (and sometimes, to listen to) . I can’t for the life of me say, why it isn’t more popular.

  2. Theowneon Dec 23rd 2009

    Thanks, I’m glad to hear that =)

  3. Jon Turneron Mar 30th 2010

    As someone who has seen the film both in the Japanese version AND in Disney’s version, I personally will admit that both versions are fantastic in their own right. The latter in particular gets a lot of replay value from me for the superb performances by Leachman and Hamill–those two are perfectly cast (although I do like the rest of the voice actors, too–rarely do you get a dub which feature Jim Cummings, Mandy Patinkin, Mike McShane, and Tress MacNeille in the same cast… even the leads while perhaps too mature, both get B+s from me); but also for this rescore. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the original score, but I really find it hard to go back to the original after hearing this rerecording. It is simply amazing, and in many ways I feel it really enhances the film. The Collapse of Laputa you mentioned, in particular, sounds really spectacular with the backed up orchestra, and it really makes this moment in the movie all the more breathtaking. Other cues which I thought really added to the picture were the “Robot Soldier~Resurrection”; I felt this version was much more powerful with the new score and less “harsh” in electronic tone. (Too bad it’s chopped in half on the album however.) The “Dragon’s Nest” cue is also electrifying; the pulsating bass beneath the orchestra really provides for a very exciting cue.

    As for the ending song, don’t worry, it IS included on the Disney dub; the only thing that is different about it is that it has some extra instruments cleverly mixed into it. I don’t understand why it wasn’t included on the soundtrack album either, as I really liked the music enhancements to this version.

    My only two quibbles with the rescore were the accompanying lyre in “Pazu’s Fanfare” and an extra cue for the scene where Pazu and Sheeta pass through the stormcloud (where the former utters “Father?”–I know, an extra line, but it really doesn’t harm the film for me that much), which isn’t terrible, but just not particularly necessary. Other than that, however, the rescore is superb.

    I feel that both Disney’s dub and this rescore are both grossly underrated, even though I know you prefer the original, but it still pleases me to see you give this rescore a second look. A lot of so-called “reviews” have blasted this rescore (although there were several exceptions), and I really don’t understand why; it works well for the movie and as a terrific listening experience. Glad to see your review is an exception to that.

  4. Theowneon Mar 30th 2010

    Hi Jon,

    I think you’ve misinterpreted my review! I do in fact enjoy the rescore as a product in its own right, and think it very much improves the film in some ways – particularly when the original score was too gratingly synthy. At the same time, I wonder if some of the charm of the original film is lost with this modern update (it doesn’t help that the Seattle Orchestra sounds a little mechanical at times throughout).

    The only part which I outright dislike is that *addition* of music where silence carried scenes before (such as the aforementioned air-flying). I think it really disrupts what was a very noticeable quirk to the original. That, and various little things like the Pazu’s fanfare addition.

    I also notice you have a post in your blog about the dislike of dubs. I admit, I personally dislike watching dubs – however, I *completely* understand their need. I would be very upset if dubs didn’t exist and so many people were cut off from being able to enjoy the Ghibli films.

  5. Jon Turneron Mar 31st 2010

    Exactly. I am personally a big dub fan myself, but I recognize that not everyone likes them. Even so, I hope I don’t come across as too overbearing in my enthusiasm for the dubs.

    Sorry if I misinterpreted your review; I was just very happy to see a review which compliments this rescore. I meant to say that it was very nice to see it well written. Yeah there are a few mechanical moments from the Seattle Music orchestra and some of the extra cues were a bit unnecessary, but overall I definitely really like the new score, and I’m glad you do too. And yeah, sometimes the original DID sound a little too synthy.

    (Incidentally, I also wrote a review for this rescore on SoundtrackCentral.com. I have the original OST covered there too. Here’s my links:

    http://www.soundtrackcentral.com/cds/laputa_ost.htm

    http://www.soundtrackcentral.com/cds/laputa_usavst.htm

  6. signorRossion Jul 4th 2010

    Got my hands on a gorgeous new arrangement of Laputa music by Hisaishi lately and found this post while I was poking in your blog posts (yours’ is one of the few I visit), so I thought I may rec it to you in case you don’t already know it. It’s this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clJEd1VWNOQ
    and you can find a proper recording on the ‘World Dreams’ album.

  7. Theowneon Jul 4th 2010

    Yeah, I’m familiar with that video, it’s very beautiful. It also appears to feature the same orchestra that played at the Hisaishi 25 years concert, if I’m seeing correctly. I suppose they are frequent collaborators.

    I can’t decide whether I like “Kimi o Nosete” better when played by an orchestra or sung by Azumi Inoue.

  8. signorRossion Jul 4th 2010

    The orchestra is the ‘New Japan Philharmonic World Dream Orchesta’. 🙂
    BTW, Hisaishi is doing a Best Album with the London Symphony Orchestra this summer, lets see if there will be a new recording of Kimo o Nosete too.
    http://www.nausicaa.net/wiki/Latest_News#Help_Choose_Songs_for_Joe_Hisaishi.27s_Best_Album
    As for Kimi o Nosete sung by Azumi Inoue, I don’t like the first part of it (where she doesn’t sing yet 😉 ), so I do like the orchstral versions more.

  9. Theowneon Jul 4th 2010

    I heard about that new album. Should be great to hear a world class orchestra like the LSO, I thought the Seattle orchestra was a little stiff in the Laputa USA recording.

    As for Kimi o Nosete, I just edited the mp3 to fade in after the instrumental opening finishes 😉

  10. Elviaon Sep 28th 2014

    Ηi everyone, it’s my first visit at thiis web paցe, and article
    is iin fact fruitful for me, keep up posting such content.

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