Joe Hisaishi’s Piano Stories Best ’88-’08 – Review

Joe Hisaishi Piano Best

Album Title: Piano Stories Best ’88-’08
Anime Title: Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind
Laputa: Castle in the Sky
Porco Rosso
My Neighbor Totoro
Howl’s Moving Castle
Artist: Joe Hisaishi, Masahiro Sayama
Catalog Number: UPCI-1080
Release Type: Arrangement
Release Date: April 16, 2008
Purchase at: CDJapan, iTunes

Review: Delving through Joe Hisaishi’s vast body of work gives reassurance that the quality of his compositions are a virtual certainty. His film scores, both for Takeshi Kitano’s idiosyncratic movies and Hayao Miyazaki’s imaginative flights of fancy, transcend the medium for which they were composed, touching upon every part of our heart and soul. Context becomes extraneous when Hisaishi’s music celebrates humanity by joining every note and chord into an awe-inspiring cavalcade evoking sorrow, nostalgia, hopes, and dreams.

With Hisaishi’s successes in mind, his Piano Stories albums become an appreciated convenience. These CDs take some of his most memorable themes and set them to piano and orchestra. This change in setting yields extraordinary results: the new melodies and arrangements tap deeply into the swirl of human emotion, allowing the music to flourish. Piano Stories Best ’88-’08 takes this idea a step further by picking out some of his best works from the Piano Stories albums, combining them such that it’s effectively a best-of album of a set of best-of albums.

Every track on Piano Stories Best ’88-’08 leaves listeners in awe at the beauty of Hisaishi’s music. Part of what makes his music so stirring is how well they mimic the ebbs and flows of life. “The Wind of Life” moves gracefully, proffering none of the wild moments of exhilaration nor the deep depression that lays one low, opting instead to portray life as a steadier progression. The piano soothes, laying out the simple joys and quiet struggles in a way that leaves listeners feeling warm. Its calm, mellow aura effortlessly induces introspection and the steadiness of its melody likens life’s progressions to a marathon rather than a sprint. Ultimately, “The Wind of Life” is comforting, giving listeners the strength to glide along life’s unpredictable currents towards happiness.

The Wind of Life

[audio:1 – PianoStories.mp3]

While “The Wind of Life” reaches a state of contentment, “HANA-BI” is more depressing as a fog of constant suffering permeates the piece. From the opening notes, a tortured downpour takes form, weighing the piece’s subject with responsibilities, hardships, and overwhelming grief that must be endured. The strings contribute to this weighted quality as do the woodwinds later on, riding out the motif to a tranquil melancholia. This quietness is all too brief, and the full fury of the subject’s physical and emotional burdens rear their head once more, capturing a mind slowly unraveling in the face of life’s pains.


[audio:3 – PianoStories.mp3]

The first of Hisaishi’s Ghibli compositions is “Fantasia for Nausicaa,” where the original synthy piano theme maintains its poignancy as it fills the air with sadness and a feeling of fragility. Through its minimalistic delivery, the music paints a complete package as the movie’s devastated landscapes come to life and Nausicaa’s desperate struggles to save her Valley and the Ohmu come through in the piano’s repeated entreaties. With “Innocent,” you have the iconic “Carrying You” theme from Laputa, which plays it straight without adding much in the way of ornamentation. Nevertheless, the wandering theme persists as this short and sweet arrangement retains the moving qualities that made the original so captivating.

Fantasia for Nausicaa

[audio:4 – PianoStories.mp3]

“Angel Springs” comes in shortly after, bearing a soothing melody that swells with hope and joy. The lofty delivery radiates a lightness that buoys the listener towards a love and beauty that leaves them in wonder at its majesty. In “il porco rosso,” the album moves into calmer waters as its introduction invites listeners to daydream of lofty sights and nostalgic love. As the piece proceeds, the feeling of a mind wandering through the back alleys of memory lane takes hold as the piano immerses in the wispy memories. When the trumpet makes its appearance, the piece quietly sighs with happiness as the wonderful memory sashays out in full form, leaving listeners to savor this reverie.

Angel Springs

[audio:7 – PianoStories.mp3]

il porco rosso

[audio:8 – PianoStories.mp3]

As the album winds down, My Neighbor Totoro‘s iconic “The Wind Forest” delights by draping an enchanting veil of mystery over the album. But in the end, “Life’s Merry Go Round” from Howl’s Moving Castle closes out the album. A Hisaishi waltz through and through, “Life’s Merry Go Round’s” initial restraint gives off some trepidation for the magical adventure ahead, but by the middle, the piece traipses along, growing more determined with each passing measure. The buildup continues to the end, where the piece whirls about, carrying listeners through the movie’s fantastic environs before ending emphatically to close the curtains on a wondrous journey.

Life’s Merry Go Round

[audio:13 – PianoStories.mp3]

Throughout Piano Stories Best ’88-’08, Joe Hisaishi affirms his ability to sculpt melodies that capture the emotional essences borne from Miyazaki’s vision and Kitano’s narratives. With so many tracks that tear at the heartstrings, stir listeners’ curiosity by weaving an aura of mystery, or set the direction for life’s progression, Hisaishi’s musical brilliance is undeniable. But most importantly, this album serves as a reminder that Hisaishi’s iconic classics will remain etched in our consciousness and in doing so, stand the test of time.

Rating: Masterpiece


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.

4 thoughts on “Joe Hisaishi’s Piano Stories Best ’88-’08 – Review

  • June 11, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    His music is awesome, I need to get some of his osts. No idea why I don’t have any…. xD

    Tell me, which osts do you personally like most from Joe Hisaishi? His music seems really upbeat and uplifting, coinciding with the flow of nature.

    • June 11, 2014 at 9:49 pm

      Of his OSTs, Howl’s Moving Castle has definitely topped out that list because I adore how his music takes you on a whirlwind magical adventure. Spirited Away is also up there because of the mysterious moods and melancholia that he can evoke through pieces like Sixth Station or the iconic Summer’s Day.

      I’ve also been pleased with his latest work in collaboration with Miyazaki. The Wind Rises OST is pretty sublime!

      • June 12, 2014 at 1:37 am

        He, Howl’s Moving Castle OST is also my fav, even if I usually prefer his compilation albums with longer and rearranged versions of his usually shorter OST scores.
        Second for me comes the Mononoke Hime OST with his top tracks ‘Mononoke Hime’, ‘Ashitaka and San’ and the best variation of the main theme ‘Journey to the West’.
        ‘Spirited Away’ is also in the top for me with the arrangements Hisaishi made for four tracks of it on the ‘The Tokyo Concert’ album the ones I like the most.
        The song of his I like the most is from a mostly unknown earlier album, though, ‘Resphoina’ or ‘Resufina’ from the soundtrack for the ‘Arion’ anime movie; this one is just so touching…

  • June 27, 2022 at 7:01 pm

    hi i love your blog!!! been trying to start something similar but it’s so hard HAHA
    i really like the way you format everything and describe the pieces


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