NHK Special Drama “Saka no Ue no Kumo” Original Soundtrack 2 – Review

Album Title: NHK Special Drama “Saka no Ue no Kumo” Original Soundtrack 2
J-Drama Title: Saka no Ue no Kumo AKA Clouds Over the Hill
Artist: NHK Symphony Orchestra, Sarah Brightman, Joe Hisaishi,
Tokyo New City Orchestra, Maki Mori
Catalog Number: TOCT-27010
Release Type: Soundtrack
Release Date: November 17, 2010
Purchase at: CDJapan, Play-Asia


Tracklist

Show »

Track Title Artist Time
01. Country Boys Joe Hisaishi 5:17
02. Bully Boy! Masayuki Joe Hisaishi 2:18
03. Time of Miracles Joe Hisaishi 2:07
04. Evil Bully March Joe Hisaishi 2:31
05. Stand Alone for Violin & Violoncello Joe Hisaishi 2:25
06. Crack Joe Hisaishi 2:36
07. Reconnaissance Joe Hisaishi 2:16
08. Signal Fire Joe Hisaishi 2:18
09. Beginning of the Cataclysm Joe Hisaishi 2:08
10. The End of the House Joe Hisaishi 4:26
11. Country Boys for Woodwinds & Strings Joe Hisaishi 3:27
12. Hirose ~A Man of Lively Character Joe Hisaishi 2:53
13. Stand Alone with Piano Joe Hisaishi 3:26
14. Our Young Elite Joe Hisaishi 3:29
15. Masayuki and Sueko Joe Hisaishi 2:49
16. Law ~Love and Sorrow~ Joe Hisaishi 3:57
17. Powerful Russia Joe Hisaishi 2:53
18. Ariadna Joe Hisaishi 2:14
19. Great Powers and Japan Joe Hisaishi 3:23
20. Trick Joe Hisaishi 2:31
21. Longing Joe Hisaishi 4:15
22. Toward the Decision of Starting a War Joe Hisaishi 2:28
23. Hirose’s Final Moment Joe Hisaishi 5:23
24. Stand Alone Joe Hisaishi, Sarah Brightman 4:13

Review: Set during the rapid modernization of the Meiji Era leading up to the Russo-Japanese War, Saka no Ue no Kumo (Clouds Over the Hill) focuses on the Akiyama brothers, the poet Masaoka Shiki, and the crucial role they play in winning the aforementioned war. Amidst the societal changes and the turbulence during the war years depicted in the TV show, we find Joe Hisaishi plying his trade in the live-action medium once more, using his compositions to capture the heroism, the characters, and, of course, the drama. In taking his musical brush and using it to capture the events that happen in the TV series in vivid detail, Hisaishi’s music delivers. And then some.

And then some. While Hisaishi’s themes for his Ghibli works have endured, he continues to offer outstanding surprises in other media formats. In Saka no Ue no Kumo, that surprise comes in the form of the show’s main theme, titled “Stand Alone.” In listening to the violin and cello version, it’s easy to be overcome by the serene, nostalgic aura the piece evokes and the piano version is simple yet sublime. But throw in the weight of Sarah Brightman’s sonorous vocals, and the piece transforms into a divine experience. Brightman has demonstrated a capacity to take over a piece with her vocal talents over the years and here, the way her voice gently glides over the instrumentals with her trademark serene, soul-stirring delivery leaves me feeling both at ease and in awe by the beauty she conjures forth in this unforgettable performance.

Stand Alone

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“Stand Alone” is the highlight of this album, but the other tracks are also impressive, especially the ones that channel the inspiring mood of the era. “Country Boys’” uplifting trumpet fanfare captures the can-do zeitgeist before fading to a series of measures featuring the strings and woodwinds as they build an atmosphere that sends a strong, confident signal of Japan’s brighter future as they enter the world’s stage. Although there are quieter moments in the track that lend themselves to introspection, there’s no doubt that upbeat attitudes and optimism rule the day. This strong self-belief continues in “Time of Miracles,” which starts off quietly before sweeping me off my feet with its grandiose, brassy air that speaks of greater things to come as Japan modernizes.

Country Boys

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Time of Miracles

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Hisaishi’s compositions also do well in their depiction of Saka no Ue no Kumo’s characters, even if the depictions are at odds with the track title at times. For example, “Bully Boy! Masayuki” feels a little too giddy and excitable in the way the brass, percussion, and woodwinds, and later on, the strings, give it the feel of a lively march rather than a more menacing aura that you might expect from a bully. That’s not to say it’s a bad track. On the contrary, its boisterous, grand atmosphere makes me feel like this character will be a part of something bigger as he takes in the historical period’s mentality. “Hirose ~A Man of Lively Character” is much more fitting as the melody brims with confidence through the percussion’s heavy accents as they accompany the opening brass fanfares. Not long after, the strings take over, instilling Hirose with a sense of impeccable grace and charm. The ensuing woodwinds sculpt his personality further, and the softness with which the instruments deliver their melody paint him as a deep thinker who’s full of heart.

Hirose ~A Man of Lively Character

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As the TV show progresses, the specter of war is never really far away. From the standpoint of this album, the rumblings of conflict begin with “Crack,” featuring a solo trumpet playing a forlorn melody. The strings also chime in with an overwrought melody, and together, hints at the tragedies that will unfold. “Beginning of the Cataclysm’s” urgency materializes through its militaristic air borne by the short string segments which build up the tension and keep me engaged through their dynamic melody. While these tracks lay the groundwork, “Powerful Russia,” with its domineering chants, gives off a menacing vibe that fits well with the image of a formidable foe. And when you add in “Toward the Decision of Starting a War’s” weighted delivery coupled with the expressions of sorrow borne by the dirge-like melody towards the middle, it leaves you with little doubt that there will be a monumental struggle that will change the destiny of Saka no Ue no Kumo’s characters on both the Russian and Japanese sides.

Powerful Russia

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The war itself is the primary driver behind the tragedies and this is where the dramatic moments come in with the music to back it up. Two examples of such tracks, “The End of the House” and “Longing,” are captivating, if just a bit conventional in the way they draw out the drama. The former utilizes sustained notes, alternating between the strings, which allow the tragedies to sink in, and the woodwinds which cultivate a sense of nostalgia for days now irretrievable. Finally, “Longing” would be the classic melancholy track that incorporates the piano, followed by the woodwinds, then the strings to weave a sorrowful melody that captures the suffering the characters feel. Its success lies in how the melody moves along, ebbing and flowing in a way that takes me through the ups and downs of love and loss without resorting to static, repetitive melodies.

Longing

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When’s all’s said and done, Joe Hisaishi’s compositions for Saka no Ue no Kumo are masterful. Between the upbeatness of the Meiji Era, to the harbingers of war, to the character themes and drama tracks, Hisaishi effortlessly captures the full swath of emotions that include the expression of Japanese nationalism, suffering, and sorrow as the listener is placed in the middle of the action or into the characters’ shoes as we empathize with their plight. Finally, in “Stand Alone,” it must be said that though Hisaishi is already a formidable composer, when you pair him with someone with the vocal chops of a Sarah Brightman, he becomes nearly invincible, a musical force to be reckoned with.

Rating: Excellent

About the author

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.

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5 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. random says:

    A bit late with this drama review, eh?

    Joe Hisaishi is one of those few great anime composers that I haven’t exactly gotten around to. Well, not exactly. I am familiar with all his work on the Ghibli movies, I’ve just never listened to his Ghibli soundtracks on their own. It’s probably due to the fact that I saw all the Ghibli movies years ago, before I was really into music.

    That said, I’ve actually listened to this soundtrack before, somehow. I really loved “Stand Alone”, it was definitely the highlight of the album for me as well. Sarah Brightman is a very talented singer.

    Any recommendations on where to start with Hisaishi? Non-anime, I mean. Those “Piano Stories” albums look tempting.

    • signorRossi says:

      I haven’t listened to his Piano Stories albums for a while, but I remember that they include an anime track here and there too, as does his ‘Melodyphony’ album with the LSO, which may be suitable as a start nevertheless.
      But you shouldn’t dismiss Hisaishi’s anime music in favour of his other non-anime works beforehand when looking for good stuff now anyway, as he has released a lot of anime albums that are not OST’s, with tracks rearranged, reworked or combined; listen to this:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clJEd1VWNOQ
      And the concert at the Budokan is a must, anyway.
      http://blog.animeinstrumentality.net/2011/04/joe-hisaishi-in-budokan-concert-dvd-review/
      And among his piano albums I like ‘Encore’ the most.

    • @random
      Juuuust a little late. But yeah, what signorRossi said. I own his Piano Stories Best ’88-’08 and what better place to start than a best-of compilation of some already best-of collections? In addition to that, there’s also a live-action movie, titled Watashi wa Kai ni Naritai and a track that you can listen to here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQs_8IGjoM0

      And of course, as far as Sarah Brightman’s concerned, I first encountered her through her “Time to Say Goodbye” with Andrea Bocelli. Talk about meshing well together… that song did stick around on my playlist for quite some time.

    • random says:

      @signorRossi: Thanks, I’ll check out ‘Melodyphony’ and the Budokan concert. I only meant the his anime soundtracks since I’m familiar with them due to having seen all the Ghibli movies that he has composed for. I’m all for new arranges since I haven’t heard them before.

      @zzeroparticle: I actually missed that “Best Of Piano Stories” when I looked them up before. I only noticed the I-IV albums and the “Another Piano Stories” album so thanks for pointing that out – I’ll start there. And that movie track sounds really nice so I’ll look that up as well.

      Thanks for the replies, both of you.

  2. Arthur Marsh says:

    One other Joe Hisaishi album that I have that isn’t even a soundtrack or pieces from soundtracks is Asian XTC, which I bought on the strength of youtube clips of “Asian Crisis” and “Asian XTC”.

    Might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but another side to the composer.

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