(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.
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