Symphonic Suite Princess Mononoke – Review

Album Title: Symphonic Suite Princess Mononoke
Anime Title: Princess Mononoke
Artist: Joe Hisaishi, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Catalog Number: TKCA-71395
Release Type: Arrangement
Release Date: July 08, 1998
Purchase at: CDJapan


Tracklist

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Track Title Artist Time
1. 1st mvt: The Legend of Ashitaka Joe Hisaishi 5:50
2. 2nd mvt: TA TA RI GAMI Joe Hisaishi 6:45
3. 3rd mvt: The Journey to the West Joe Hisaishi 4:59
4. 4th mvt: Mononoke Hime Joe Hisaishi 4:44
5. 5th mvt: The Forest of the Deer God Joe Hisaishi 6:10
6. 6th mvt: Requiem – The Demon Power Joe Hisaishi 7:10
7. 7th mvt: The World of the Dead – Adagio of Life and Death Joe Hisaishi 7:22
8. 8th mvt: Ashitaka and San Tenmon 4:31

Review: The existence of an orchestral arrangement of an anime movie’s score makes one wonder why that album was ever made, since the danger of redundancy is all too real when the anime itself sets its music to a magnificent, orchestral soundtrack. In this instance, the effort the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra pours into this symphonic suite pays off handsomely as they take the shorter tracks from Princess Mononoke’s soundtrack and by lengthening them, casts them into a mold worthy of the show’s epic plot. The best way to describe Symphonic Suite Princess Mononoke is that if the soundtrack conjures up the movie scene by scene, the music in the Symphonic Suite takes it a step further by delivering a full-fledged, awe-inspiring odyssey that immerses me into the middle of all the action.

This journey is reflected in “The Legend of Ashitaka,” which delivers a stirring orchestral air that leaves no doubt about the status of the eponymous character’s rendezvous with destiny. It’s grandeur sweeps the listener into its clutches as the string melody gushes forth with a commanding air, ushering all in its grasp far away from the misty mountains of Ashitaka’s village and into the rough and tumble of the world beyond. By removing himself from the comforts of home, Ashitaka embarks upon a path less traveled, but one that leads to greatness. The smooth, intrepid musical passages dominated mostly by the strings attest to the strength of his will to see things through to the end and become the force which shapes the world for the better.

The Legend of Ashitaka

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But for that journey to begin, there must be an impetus and that moment is depicted in “TA TA RI GAMI.” This track, with its drumbeats, takes on the air of a chaotic battle as the dissonant melody brings out the savagery that only Nature herself could conjure up. There’s no stopping the fury evoked in this piece; the music’s relentlessness only slows down to depict the climactic showdown between man and beast. In that brief moment, the orchestra makes the most of it by weaving a thick layer of tension, before returning to the intense battle theme. As the encounter winds down, the aftermath leaves me uneasy with the discordant string phrases highlighting that anxiety keenly. Though the immediate threat has been quelled, it opens up many questions; to answer them, Ashitaka must go west.

TA TA RI GAMI

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The next few tracks are evocative of the middle part of the story which starts with Ashitaka’s departure. “Journey to the West’s” introduction contains a hint of melancholy, reflecting the sadness of leaving home, but those somber tones quickly dissipate, making way for melody that carries a richer sort of purpose, elevating it beyond the textbook travel/adventure music and places it in the realm of quest music. Thoroughly grand, this track is where the scope of the odyssey is at its most apparent. “Mononoke Hime” is softer and more introspective, utilizing a warm, serene piano melody that nevertheless carries a slight dash of willfulness to encompass San’s multifaceted personality, delivering an excellent, heartfelt track all the while. The music takes a dissonant turn in “Forest of the Deer God” which tilts more towards the atmospheric as the strings play a glistening tone that radiantly reflects the warmth of the sunlight cascading through the treetops. Further in however, a thick, mysterious layer begins to form through a tone shift, and in doing so, depicts deeper forays into the heart of the forest. It’s at this point that the piece turns menacing once the bassoons settle in with their dissonant melody, and it’s soon evident why.

Mononoke Hime

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“Requiem – The Demon Power,” true to its name, is grim, with a melody more foul than fair once it hits the two-minute mark. Its harshness, heard through the dreadful crescendos that segue into dissonant phrases, is a harbinger of doom, which takes the form of a monstrous being that bears Nature’s fury. Those tones don’t subside until five minutes in when they’re replaced by the requiem that represents the death of Nature’s innocence as the call to reclaim what is hers sounds. This sets the stage for the danger that becomes fully-realized in “The World of the Dead – Adagio of Life and Death,” where the feeling of urgency dominates as the floodgates of doom are unleashed and few can survive its onslaught. Yet, even a rampaging entity can be appeased, and with that decisive chord to close out the piece, it signals an end to the entity’s anger as mankind is allowed a new beginning.

“The World of the Dead – Adagio of Life and Death

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The wellspring of hope emerges in “Ashitaka and San” draws me in with tones suggestive of a rebirth. Through the piano melody, punctuated with moments in which the woodwinds take over, the ardor and gentleness seep into every fiber of my being, nourishing me by melting the pains and sorrows accumulated, and letting me start fresh. The gladness that stirs forth through the woodwind sections is soothing and as the rays of hope shine radiantly, I cannot help but feel optimistic for what lies ahead. Ashitaka has given his all to bring peace. May his efforts not be in vain as the spirit of cooperation he’s forged tie us together with Nature forevermore.

Ashitaka and San

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Rating: Excellent

zzeroparticle

Anime Instrumentality's Founder and Editor-in-Chief. As you can probably guess, I'm a big anime music junkie with a special love for composers who've put out some beautiful melodies to accompany some of my favorite anime series. I tend to gravitate towards music in the classical style with Joe Hisaishi and Yoko Kanno being a few of my favorite composers, but I've come to appreciate jazz and rock as anime music has widened my tastes.

10 thoughts on “Symphonic Suite Princess Mononoke – Review

  • November 13, 2010 at 8:07 am
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    Haven’t listened to this for a while, thanks for reviewing it and reminding me of it..
    It’s a wonderful soundtrack to begin with, but this arrangement takes the tracks which are I guess you can call the ‘best of’, fleshes it out, making it longer and more grand. Works out really well, because it really does feel like you’re being taken on a journey, rather than being left with a feeling of ‘oh I wish that track was longer’ which can happen with a normal OST.

    Btw, have you seen/heard the ‘Studio Ghibli Concert 2008’ dvd? Was conducted by Joe Hisaishi himself. Highly recommended.

    =)

    Reply
  • November 13, 2010 at 5:31 pm
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    @Jo
    There are unfortunately a lot of DVDs I need to give a watch. The one you cited… that wouldn’t happen to be the concert that was held around New Year’s was it? Because that’s the one that’s been on my watch list since forever, and I need to sit down and give it a shot one of these days.

    Also, for the reason you cited, I prefer this album slightly over that of the actual soundtrack, especially when I’m listening in the car. Somehow, the long passages in the Symphonic Suite are a better match overall. It’s just a shame that they didn’t include 1-2 more to fill that album out since there’s still time left over. Maybe the Kodamas would have been a nice touch.

    Reply
  • November 13, 2010 at 7:43 pm
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    Just the other day while I was driving to work, the radio station played “Mononoke Hime”. I was so tempted to go buy the CD later on.

    Reply
  • November 14, 2010 at 5:34 am
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    Hisaishi has done a lot of Symphonic renditions of all the soundtracks he did for Ghibli and others, only last month the latest album was released (Melodyphony with the LSO), all are highly recommended. :) My favourite is the ‘Symphonic Poem Nausicaa’ on his ‘Works I’ album. As for the Live concert Jo recommended, I think he meant the double performance at the Tokyo Budokan in the summer of 2008. It was released as DVD and Blu Ray and I can’t recommend it enough, too. I wish I could have been there in person. Ah, I could recommend you so much of Hisaishi, you wouldn’t be able to listen anything else anymore. 😉

    Reply
  • November 14, 2010 at 6:37 pm
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    ZZERO, your written review seems like something that Hector Berlioz would conjure up for one of his programmatic pieces, one multi-movement piece to name would be his “Symphonie Fantastique”. He would depict the whole piece in detail in the program for his audience, and they would follow along with this program while the piece is being preformed.

    Is this kind of what is happening here with this orchestral arrangement of extended works? If so, then I may be so inclined to pick this album up on a future date.

    Reply
  • November 16, 2010 at 12:56 am
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    @Reltair
    What kind of radio station plays Princess Mononoke music? I’m going to have to scout that out for myself since that sure as hell sounds like a radio station worth listening to!

    @signorRossi
    Oh to be able to travel and see a live concert with Hisaishi doing the conducting… maybe I’ll catch wind of another one one of these days and hop on out of serendipity since it sounds like a chance to be awed by his moving compositions.

    And yeah, he’s got a lot of symphonic arrangements floating about and I really do need to set my mind straight so that I can sample ’em all. He’s that solid for sure.

    @Rhythmroo
    Oh man, I can’t even believe I forgot about connecting Berlioz to this. Yes, this album is pretty much in the same flavor and if you had a rough idea for how the story unfolds, this album does a pretty good job of depicting all that. I’ve also heard this album labeled a symphonic poem or something similar-y too.

    Reply
  • November 16, 2010 at 1:11 am
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    What a coincidence. I was just looking around for Princess Mononoke music a few days ago.

    Mononoke Hime, Ashitaka and San, and the Legend of Ashitaka are amazing, especially Mononoke Hime. Warm and serene indeed. ^ ^
    Joe Hisashi never disappoints.

    Reply
  • November 16, 2010 at 12:59 pm
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    @zzero
    Symphonic poem best describe this album if no “official program” (Or Description of what was happening in each piece), hence programmatic music, was included. The SPs are just as amazing to listen to, especially if you get into composers like Franz Liszt and César Franck.

    Here are the first parts of one of their Symphonic poems from both composers:

    Liszt: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPDrN-3U2ks
    Franck: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6z3LKfSwIQ

    Reply
  • November 17, 2010 at 10:30 am
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    I have this album and I listened to it as if it was the actual movie ost. The tracks are more refined and complete. I love it a lot, especially Ashitaka and San track

    Reply
  • November 18, 2010 at 4:06 pm
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    @Yi
    As expected from my favorite anime composer of all time! I’ve yet to run across any Hisaishi that I disliked, and here, he really does a good job of setting Princess Mononoke apart through a much grimmer and more adventure-y soundtrack overall. Can’t go wrong with that combination.

    @Rhythmroo
    As I mentioned, my SP experience is limited to Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead, which I confused for movie soundtrack music once before because of how wonderfully cinematic it was. I guess based on the definitions you’ve supplied, this one would be more Program Music since there is a script to be followed (the movie, technically).

    Also, great stuff on the Liszt and Franck works. I’ve been looking for an entry piece for Franck and that one hits the spot quite nicely!

    @Canne
    Yeah, this has been pretty much my replacement for the movie soundtrack. Ashitaka and San in particular wraps it up nicely with its message of hope, joy, restoration, and renewal!

    Reply

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