Spirited Away Original Soundtrack (U.S. Release)

Yushiro (Former Staff) — May 18th, 2003
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Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro Kamikakushi) is one of the few animated films that the word "magical" ought to be applied to, having captivating viewers of all ages with its fantastic tale and astounding animation. Of course, it would not be a Miyazaki film without a score composed by the accomplished Joe Hisaishi. Performed by the New Japan Philharmonic (conducted by Hisaishi), the film's orchestral music is largely Western influenced, though Eastern tones appear occasionally. These tones usually take the form of accents to more traditional structure, such as the interesting half-majestic, half-exotic conflict that is "Procession of the Spirits," sampled below and an excellent example of what to expect from the record.

The film certainly courses with a goodly amount of darker and tension-driven tones, but typically rises or prevents itself from falling too deeply, which is reflected in the soundtrack prominently. Seen mostly in the second half, such as in "Kaonashi (No Face)" or "Sen's Courage," an uneasiness dominates at first, but recedes and allows strings to take small, quick steps. If anything, this is the shortcoming I find with the album, as a tactic of having strong percussion-driven opening and closing strong with quiet string interludes is used quite a bit and causes some of the songs to lack personality. Every formulaic "Yubaba's Panic," though, is met in by a lovely "Reprise," an exotic "Its Hard Work," and half a dozen other songs just as unique.

Hisashi is known for his fantastic piano work almost as much as for his composition skill, which the album offers a few glimpses off. His performance can be accompanied by playful woodwinds in the cheery Sootballs, and just as easily turn towards the dramatic with sweeping strings in Day of the River. Though not highlighted as much in Spirited Away as his other scores, it remains a significant aspect of the music.

The theme song, "Itsumo Nando-demo" ("Always With Me"), written and peformed by Youmi Kimura, apparently had an effect on Miyazaki during the creation of the film. He listened to a demo sent to him by Kimura during much of the animation process and admits to it having an influence on the film. Though I am not nearly as enamored with the often rather unmelodious vocals as the director was, it is a fitting complement in tone, if nothing else.

As wonderfully as the score works as another piece of the film, it is just as brilliant as a stand-alone album and is an easy recommendation. I've linked to the import in the affiliate link under the cover, but the record was released domestically and you should have little difficulty finding it at most music stores, online or otherwise. (Though Animenation does not appear to carry it.) The releases are identical, save for the translations and a variant cover, which should make the inexpensive domestic release the logical choice.