(02 – Village in May)
My Neighbor Totoro was Hisaishi’s third score for Miyazaki and a bit of a divergence for the composer. Compared to his previous two scores for Studio Ghibli, which accompanied large-scale adventure stories, the content of Totoro was far more intimate and called for material which was fairly new territory for Hisaishi. It was also the last Hisaishi score for Ghibli to make generous use of synthesized instruments, which is an aspect that tends to date his earlier work for the studio. The resulting score appropriately is gentler in scope and revolves around a few melodies with simple and lasting appeal, two of which are sourced from the original songs which serve as the opening and closing credits music.
(05 – Wind At Dusk)
The bulk of Hisaishi’s score, as it appears on album, predominantly consists of short tracks of about 1 or 2 minutes in length, as the film uses its musical track sparingly and often simply as a bookend to its’ important scenes (indeed, many of the film’s most beautiful moments are accompanied by nothing except silence, a very memorable aspect of the film). A fair portion of the music, particularly in the beginning of the score, is used mostly to push momentum forward during scenes of wordless exploration by the sisters. Some of this music suffers from their reliance, as alluded to earlier, on synthesized sounds that sound a bit archaic to our modern ears. There are, however, melodic portions (usually treated by a small orchestral ensemble) scattered throughout these early portions which borrow from the lively Sanpo and Totoro melodies (the opening and closing songs). My personal favourite is the lyrical rendition of Totoro theme performed by strings during the final minute of the tenth track (also called Totoro). In the film, this passage closes the first wonderful encounter between both sisters and Totoro as they share the joyous experience with their father who has finally returned home in the rain.
(16 – Mei’s Gone)
There is a third theme which is used frequently throughout the score, generally referred to as the Path of the Wind theme, though I think of it more as being the theme of the forest and its creatures. The pentatonic flavour of the melody gives it a vague mysticism, but it is grounded by the familiar instrumentation and simple harmony. The theme itself appears in various forms, sometimes lyrical and performed by woodwinds (Wind at Dusk) while other times more rhythmically, almost as a dance (Giant Trees on the Forest Hill and especially the second Wind at Dusk track). The climax of this theme is undoubtedly in Moonlight Journey, which characterizes the sisters’ flight into the sky and transitions. at the end, into a full orchestral treatment of the final Totoro theme.
(15 – Moonlight Journey)
The two original songs are rendered by the beautiful voice of Azumi Inoue, a singer I have always enjoyed for her clear, light articulation and the purity of her tone. She handles the opener, Sanpo (Walk), which is a brief but energetic march, with an infectious liveliness. Her rendition here is a taster for the longer and equally lovely closing song, Tonari no Totoro, which provides the bed for some impressive vocal range from Inoue, both in the actual melodic range as well as evoking subtle emotions across the song, ranging from an inviting tenderness to outright joy. With relatively simple, charming instrumentation and chord progressions, the song provides a wonderful sense of warmth and closure to the film. It certainly deserves a mention among the best of Ghibli’s original songs, though Inoue’s other famous Ghibli song – Kimi o Nosete – is still undoubtedly her greatest contribution to Ghibli’s films.
(19 – My Neighbor Totoro)
The score for Totoro may not be the most musically substantial of Hisaishi’s Ghibli scores, but it’s hard to discount the charm and appeal of his melodies and their impact on the film (and conversely, the film’s role in making the music as memorable as it feels). Though its synth-driven portions tend to be forgettable, the intimate orchestral rendering of the primary melodies of the film are beautiful in their own right and evocative of the gentle charm of the film itself.
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