A Celtic Change - The Borrower Arrietty Soundtrack

Lionrampant (Editor) — July 5th, 2011
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The soundtrack to the Studio Ghibli film The Borrower Arrietty (aka, The Borrowers) marks a significant musical departure for the studio. Joe Hisaishi has provided the soundtrack scores for pretty much every Hayao Miyazaki film going back to the 1980s, but for this film a change was made. Those duties went to Cecile Corbel, a Celtic harpist from the Brittany region of France. So right up front, the listener knows that the soundtrack album for the film isn't going to sound like a regular Ghibli soundtrack.

As much as I enjoy the work of Joe Hisaishi, a change in composers is not necessarily a bad thing. A change allows a different interpretative spirit to be in play for the music and the way it supports the film. In this case the studio went with a composer who isn't even Japanese. While Ms. Corbel's style is naturally different from Mr. Hisaishi's, it turns out that both of them can produce a damn fine soundtrack.

The album starts with The Neglected Garden, a vocal number sung by Ms. Corbel in English. It is penned from the perspective of the film's heroine (that perspective is maintained throughout the vocal tracks on the album). The track relies on celtic harp and guitar, primarily, with the addition of what sounds like a pan flute or Irish whistle in the latter parts of the piece. The next two tracks are the vocal and instrumental versions, respectively, of the film's main theme, Our House Below, with the vocal version again being in English. These tracks use similar instrumentation to the first track, with the notable addition of fiddles. This song is a nice, upbeat number that is very enjoyable to listen to in either version.

The remaining tracks on the album are mostly instrumental, generally not straying from the small group of instruments used in the first three tracks. While generally upbeat in tone, some of them are more melancholy or wary as befits their use in the film. Track 13, An Uneasy Feeling, is a good example of this. Some of the tracks prominently feature Ms. Corbet's harp skills (such as the aforementioned An Uneasy Feeling), while in others the harp fades more into the background and other instruments take primary position (such as track 16, Sho's Song). The skill of the musicians is top notch, so a listener's enjoyment of the album will depend on how much they enjoy Celtic music, because that is definitely what this album contains. I have enjoyed Celtic music in many forms for years, from ceilidh to more modern forms. The use of this style of music in the film's soundtrack gives it more of a "fairytale" feel than could likely be achieved with other forms of music, and I believe that it is a solid choice given the subject matter of the film, which covers a family of fairy-like tiny people living in the house of a regular human family.

The consistent instrumentation across the album gives it a very cohesive feel that makes it easy to listen to all the way through. Even though the tone of each song may vary somewhat from track to track, the underlying foundation of celtic harp means that every song sounds like it fits together. Some of the soundtrack albums I have reviewed recently have had a problem of too much variance in tone and nature between tracks, but that problem is absent, here. Each track flows naturally into the next, even as the tone shifts.

Track 20, Arrietty's Song, is another vocal piece. As opposed to the vocal numbers at the beginning of the album, on this track Ms. Corbel sings in Japanese. Track 22, Goodbye My Friend is another vocal track in English, and is probably the saddest song on the album, as the lyrics deal with a lost friend and the need to physically leave them behind. It is a good ending to the album, speaking as it does of leaving and remembering.

In the end, The Borrower Arrietty Soundtrack is one of the better soundtrack albums I have heard in years. If you have any appreciation for Celtic or harp music, then this album is strongly recommended.