introduction to miyazaki, hisaishi and studio ghibli

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Exploring music in Hayao Miyazaki’s animated worlds Differences between Hollywood scores and the Japanese scores of Miyazaki’s animated features Pim Beliën 3216713 26-01-14 Begeleider: Prof. Dr. E. Wennekes 0

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Exploring music in Hayao Miyazaki’s animated worlds

Differences between Hollywood scores and the Japanese scores of Miyazaki’s animated features

Pim Beliën 321671326-01-14

Begeleider: Prof. Dr. E. Wennekes


Table of Contents

Table of Contents 1

Introduction to Miyazaki, Hisaishi and Studio Ghibli 2

Chapter 1: Anime with and without a Japanese identity 7A model to analyze anime 13Miyazaki’s worlds and the Japanese identity 15

Chapter 2: Anime music and the scores of Hollywood 19Anime and the music of Hollywood’s live-action cinema 23

Chapter 3: Finding ‘Japaneseness’ 28Ma in Japanese film 32

Chapter 4: Calling it Japanese 37

Conclusion 41

Bibliography 44

Appendix 50


Introduction to Miyazaki, Hisaishi and Studio Ghibli

In June 1985 Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki founded an animation

production studio called Studio Ghibli together with another animation director Isao

Takahata The studio was founded after the huge success Miyazaki had in Japan with

his film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki, 1984) and afterwards

the studio produced many more box office hits directed by Miyazaki or Takahata. The

studio’s immense success while producing only feature films was even a primer for

animation studios in Japan as most animation studios just produced TV series and

only occasionally a movie. From its small start with a mere handfuls of part-time

employees, the production studio grew to a massive production company and

eventually had to build their own new studio in a Tokyo suburb after the release of

Porco Rosso (Miyazaki, 1992).

It was only after 1996 that Miyazaki’s work became well known outside of

Japan, because in that year the Walt Disney Coorperation was granted the distribution

rights to Studio Ghibli’s films. This meant another boost in the global awareness

about Japanese animation (anime) as one of Japan’s biggest cultural products. The

first anime boost was in 1989 after the international release and critical success of

Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988), which led to the appearance of more Japanese

cartoons on television in the West.1 The impact of Miyazaki’s animations on Western

cinema could not be denied after the release of Spirited Away (Miyazaki, 2001). This

film eventually won the academy award in 2002 for best-animated feature and

Miyazaki’s next movie would earn another nomination for the same award in 2004.

The popularity and impact of Japanese animation would also lead to more scholarly

attention and the work of Miyazaki in particular.2

In September 2013 after the premiere of his latest feature, Miyazaki officially

announced his retirement from directing. His body of work proved to be a lot of

valuable research material concerning the nature of Japanese animation by exploring

the building blocks of this particular kind of animation. Furthermore these

explorations of Japanese cartoons also gave insight to the contemporary Japanese

cultural identity in which these cartoons sprouted according to some of the academics

1 Napier, Susan J. Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. New York: Palgrave, 2000. p. 3-14.

2 Many of the books covering at least a bit of Japanese animation have separate chapters devoted to Miyazaki. For example Wells, Paul. “The impact of anime”, in An Introduction to Film Studies, edited by Jill Nelmes, 248-253. (London: Routledge, 1999).


researching these films.3 Many of these academics stress the fact that the influences of

Japanese animations, including Miyazaki’s, are very broad and that this cultural

product is, like any other cultural product, a hybrid.4 There has not been much

attention for the music in anime research, but like anime it can be seen as an

important Japanese cultural product and is thus well worth investigating. The music in

anime is of course like anime also a hybrid product but no literature on anime music

focuses on how this hybrid product is constructed. Therefore this thesis shall explore

the music of Miyazaki’s anime and it will try to find a structural ground on what this

music is based on by examining the relations between the music of Miyazaki’s anime,

the music of Hollywood animation and live-action cinema and a Japanese cultural

identity which in turn is defined by hybridity.

‘Hybridity’ has been a key concept in defining cultures and it originates from

post-colonial theory but its definition is not at all easy to describe. Post-colonial

theorist Homi K. Bhabha first elaborately described this concept following the

Edward Said’s work on cultural imperialism. At its basic level, hybridity refers to any

mixing of various cultures trough interaction, but this definition of cultural mixing in

general is very limited and does not account for the various ways cultures can be

mixed.5 To adequately use the concept in case studies, the way the cultures are

negotiated and reformed needs to be examined and taken into consideration as well

when discussing cultural products.

In the case of Japan there are several academics that have occupied themselves

with describing the structure of a Japanese cultural identity. One of these theorists is

Koichi Iwabuchi and of course the concept of hybridity is a crucial in his discussion

of a Japanese cultural identity and its cultural products. How this hybridity is

structured is according to Iwabuchi rather unique. One of Iwabuchi’s central ideas

about Japanese cultural products is that these products are not associated with a

specific Japanese contemporary way of life. Anime is one of these products Iwabuchi

mentions as being ‘culturally odorless.’6 This is in contrast to some of Japanese

traditions such as religious Shinto practices and festivals that do have a cultural odor.

3 For example see: Poitras, Gilles. The Anime Companion. Berkeley, Calif: Stone Bridge Press, 1999.

4 This concept is discussed at length in Bhabha, Homi. K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

5 Ibid. p. 1-27.6 Iwabuchi, Koichi. Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese

Transnationalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002. p. 24-28.


But because anime is not bound to these kind of cultural expressions and only limited

to the imagination of its creator Iwabuchi believes anime does not even have to be

related to any nationality at all.7

In the works of film scholars such as Susan Napier this has proven to be not

entirely true. As stated before, the animation of Miyazaki seems to be quite connected

to a contemporary Japanese identity and, as it shall be discussed below, Miyazaki’s

anime also has a connection to not only some of Japanese traditions, but also to

several Japanese social and political concepts and to Western culture.8 So in these

animations it again becomes apparent that hybridity, or a Japanese is crucial when

discussing anime in relation to a Japanese cultural identity.

The first part of this thesis shall further elaborate on what is understood about

anime and how it relates to a Japanese cultural identity and how it can be explained

through a ‘Japanese’ form of hybridity. Subsequently there will be a short discussion

on how anime could be analyzed as a product of this hybrid culture. One of the

analytic models proposed by Darrel W. Davis on the analysis of Japanese national

cinema will provide a guideline for analyzing anime because it focuses on how

Japanese film relates to a hybrid Japanese cultural identity instead of defining

Japanese film. It will be useful in the analysis of anime because it might have similar

relations to this Japanese cultural identity. One film scholar who uses this kind of

model as the basis of his research on anime is Thomas Lamarre. He pleads for a

‘relational’ understanding of anime that takes the interconnected structures and

influences in consideration. This will avoid making descriptions of anime on a general

level and allows for further discussions.9 Furthermore the model Davis proposed will

not only become useful in analyzing the animations but also the music, because the

same reasoning. Finally the relation between Miyazaki’s anime and the contemporary

Japanese identity shall be discussed using several examples of Spirited Away and the

analysis of Susan Napier.

It must be emphasized that the quality of Miyazaki’s work owes at least

something to Joe Hisaishi, who composed the scores for all of Miyazaki’s Studio

Ghibli outputs. However unlike the scholarly attention Miyazaki has got by film

theorists as Napier, Hisaishi only gets credit for his work as the composer. Miyazaki 7 ibid. p. 29-32.8 Napier. Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke. p. 3-14.9 Lamarre, Thomas. “Between cinema and anime.” Japan Forum 14, no. 2 (2002): 183-



is however not the only director who collaborated with Hisaishi. There is one other

important Japanese director, Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano, for whom Hisaishi composed

multiple scores. Yet Hisaishi did not only compose film scores, but also multiple

piano works and concert pieces. His work is known to incorporate many different

genres such as minimalism and electronic music (see for example one of his first

albums MKWAJU (1981) or his scores for Kitano’s A Scene by the Sea (1991) and

Miyazaki’s Nausicaa). And as his career advanced so did his style of composing

started to get more symphonic (see for example his score for Spirited Away and the

symphonic adaptations of other scores).

There are reasons to believe that Hisaishi’s music shows the same kind of

differences as the animations show when compared to Hollywood films. For example

Hisaishi had to rewrite a score once for the US release of Laputa: Castle in the sky

(Miyazaki, 1986, US release 2000), because the original score would make non-

Japanese viewers uncomfortable according to the Disney staff.10 This suggests that the

score would have some characteristics that only the Japanese viewer would feel

comfortable with.

Therefore one could assume there are major differences between the scores of

Miyazaki’s animations and the scores of Hollywood animations and live-action

features, yet up until now there is little to no research to be found regarding this

subject. That is why the second part of thesis will shed some light on the importance

Hisaishi’s music by addressing the functions of music in film. Claudia Gorbman is of

the first authors on the subject of the functions of film music and her academic studies

will provide the basis for analyzing the functions of Hisaishi’s music. Gorbman

proposed several principles on how film music in the Hollywood narrative cinema is

used.11 Several of these principals will be used to find a common ground between

music in the films of Hollywood and the music in Miyazaki’s anime.

Most of the analysis will be done on examples from Spirited Away but

examples from other animations directed by Miyazaki, such as Porco Rosso will be

used as well. The analysis of the functions of Hisaishi’s music will be split in two

parts in order to discover not only what the music has in common but also what makes

10 Osmond, Andrew. “Will The Real Joe Hisaishi Please Stand Up?” AWN | Animation World Network. Accessed October 24, 2013.

11 See Gorbman, Claudia. Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music. Bloomington: Indianna University Press, 1987. p. 73.


it different from first the Hollywood animations and second the Hollywood live-

action cinema. These similarities and differences will become clear by first of all

analyzing the relations between the music and the visuals in certain scenes and by

analyzing the music itself, by using self-made transcriptions, to find some

compositional properties of the music that are similar of different from the

compositional properties of Hollywood film scores.

The third part will try and provide an explanation for the differences by

focusing upon what several prominent Japanese artists such as composer Toru

Takemitsu and architect Arata Isozaki have called essentially Japanese. The concept

of ‘ma’ is such essential Japanese characteristic, which will be fully explained in this

section, as it is an incredible complex concept. Though ma has been acknowledged by

Western scholars to be of importance Takemitsu’s concert music, yet by analyzing the

relations between Takemitsu’s film music and the image in one of the scenes of Ran

(1985), one of the well know Japanese films by Akira Kurosawa, several elements of

the music can probably be explained by the concept of ma. Subsequently ma may

explain similar elements in Hisaishi’s scores as well and may establish an essential

Japanese quality of the music. And if its not the concept of ma that provides a link

between the scores and the ‘Japaneseness’ of it, there are several other ways to

provide this link that will become apparent after analyzing several musical themes in

Spirited Away. Yet the question remains how strong this connection this link is and

how it relates to the previously mentioned discussion of the link between anime and

this ‘Japaneseness.’

The final part of this thesis will put the entire discussion into a broader context

of cultural identity and explain how it is justified to connect qualities of a cultural

product to a certain nationality. To do so some important trends regarding

globalization discussed by sociologist Roland Robertson such will be addressed and it

will explain how something can be called ‘Japanese.’ Most important of these trends

is the relation between what is called universalism, which roughly means the

homogenization of culture, and particularism, which is the consequence of the will to

distinguish one culture from another. This relation is defined by what Robinson calls

glocalism.12 Furthermore there will be some musicological examples of similar cases

of nationality in music to further justify the reference of essential Japanese qualities in

12 Robertson, Roland. Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. London: Sage, 1992. p. 97-115.


Hisaishi’s scores. Explicitly the case of Russian music, which has been extensively

studied by musicologist Richard Taruskin, will be discussed. This does not mean that

Russian music is the only other case of having an essential national quality, what

Tarusin calls a ‘national substance,’13 but it shows that reference to a certain national

quality in music is not uncommon and even helpful in the analysis of the structure of a

hybrid cultural product.

Chapter 1: Anime with and without a Japanese identity

Ever since the beginning of the 1990’s, Japanese animation, better known by the term

‘anime,’ has become an increasingly significant player in global popular culture. As a

result, it has received more scholarly attention not only in Japan but also in the West.

The term ‘anime’ is mostly used to refer to animation series or films that are created

and produced in Japan, however the term is simply derived from the English word

‘animation’ or the French term ‘dessin animé.’14 Both of these terms basically mean

animated drawings and thus refer to any kind of animated picture of any origin. The

term anime is usually defined however by its origin, hence in practice anime means

animation produced in Japan. This definition allows an easy application of this label

on animated cartoons, even though there are numerous cartoons that are partially

produced outside of Japan and therefore fall inside a gray area. One example is the

television series Alfred J. Kwak (1989–1991) that was co-produced by Dutch, German

and Japanese companies.

However to define anime as animation from Japan does not give credit to the

variety of the different films and series. Anime can be cartoon series for kids (for

example Pokémon), but also full-length movies aimed at a more adult audience.

Western animation, such as Warner Bros.’ Loony Tunes or the movies and shorts by

Disney, are primarily aimed at younger children and are intended to be lighthearted

and comical. Therefore the mainstream Western public often links animation of any

origin with slapstick comedy and ludicrous visual images. Anime differs from

Western animation because it generally does not deal with cartoonish situations.

Instead anime deals with issues that are more commonly found in Western live-action

13 Taruskin, Richard. On Russian Music. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009. p. 27-45.

14 Anime News Network. “Anime.” Accessed September 27, 2013.


cinema such as tragedy, romance and psychological or philosophical themes. It covers

almost every cinematographic genre, and anime heroes and villains are often not just

embodiments of good and evil, but have complex personalities.15 This does not mean

that this is true for every anime, nor is every example of Western animation a comical

adventure for children.

A definition of anime cannot be described without mentioning the comic

books and graphic novels produced in Japan called ‘manga.’ Like anime, manga is

incredibly diverse and addresses a wide arrange of interests and audiences (there

appears to be even a category for ex-juvenile delinquent mothers).16 Also like anime it

often exhibits a specific visual style, for example most characters have large eyes and

lipless mouths. One final link between anime and manga is that many popular manga

series get an animated series or movie, yet this is not always the case. In short manga

and anime share many characteristics and the one would probably not exist without

the other in their current forms.17

Anime is definitely a phenomenon of Japanese popular culture. However

anime shows a profound relation to Japanese ‘high’ cultural traditions such as kabuki

and Noh-theatre but also to Japanese religious practices and beliefs. The god-like

spirits in film Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1998) can for example easily be

linked to Shinto religion. Furthermore anime frequently deals with heavy

philosophical and complex themes that are often explored by so-called high culture as

well.18 For example the film Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995) deals with the

question of what makes us human or the personal suffering of wartime violence in

Japan exemplified in Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988). In these aspects

anime films don’t differ very much from Japanese live-action cinema. The film Ran

(1985) by Akira Kurosawa, the most successful Japanese director in the West, for

example draws inspiration from Noh-theatre, because of its use of color,

expressionless faces and mannered movements.19 The film also offers a critique to the

bleak theatrical representation of Japanese history in the Japanese period films.20

15 Napier. Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke. p. 3-14.16 Cavallaro, Dani. The Animé Art of Hayao Miyazaki. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co,

2006. p. 15.17 Cavallaro. The Animé Art of Hayao Miyazaki. p. 1518 Many examples of this can be found in: Poitras. The Anime Companion.19 Davis, Darrell W. Picturing Japaneseness: Monumental Style, National Identity,

Japanese Film. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. p. 237. 20 Ibid. p. 244.


By the end of the 20th century animation became more important to the

Japanese film industry than live-action cinema, because competing against Hollywood

live action features was getting difficult. Around the same time anime’s importance

within the global cultural economy grew as well and it has even been called Japan’s

‘chief cultural export.’21 Notable examples of anime’s growing popularity and impact

between the early 1990s and 2000s are the international box office results for Akira

(1988) and Spirited Away (2001). Japanese critic Ueno Toshiya for instance

encountered a mural from Akira on a crumbled wall in the middle of the destroyed

city of Sarajevo in war-torn Serbia so this scene was used as an icon of political

resistance. 22 One more example of the popularity of anime is of course the Pokémon

series that has been aired by many different network stations around the world,

however it should be noted that this popularity also has something to do with the huge

amount merchandizing products and not just the series.23

One anime scholar, Susan Napier, argues that the international popularity of

anime stems from the position it has between national and international cultures.24

Many anime films and series do not only find inspiration in Japanese cultural

traditions but also from Western artistic traditions and techniques of contemporary

cinema. Works of anime are in fact a hybrid product that uses both cross-cultural

elements and aspects from its country of origin. This is one of two reasons why anime

is of any academic significance according to Napier, the second reason is because of

the relation anime has with the Japanese culture:

‘For those interested in Japanese culture, it (anime) is a richly fascinating

contemporary Japanese art form with a distinctive narrative and visual

aesthetic that harks back to traditional Japanese culture and moves forward to

the cutting edge of art and media. Furthermore, anime, with its enormous

breadth of subject material, it is also a useful mirror on contemporary Japanese

society, offering an array of insights into significant issues, dreams and

nightmares of the day.’25

21 Newitz, Annalee. “Anime otaku: Japanese animation fans outside Japan.” Bad subjects 13 (1994): Accessed September 28, 2013.

22 Napier. Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke. p. 3-1423 Tobin, Joseph. Pikachu's global adventure: the rise and fall of Pokémon. Durham: Duke

University Press, 2004. p. 1-11.24 Ibid. p. 14-34.25 Ibid. p. 8.


The works of Japan’s most prominent anime director, Hayao Miyazaki, are a

very good example to illustrate what Napier means. First of all Miyazaki’s settings

vary from the Adriatic Sea and the city of Milan in Porco Rosso (1992) to a small

Japanese village in the countryside in My Neighbor Totoro (1990) and to various

fantasy worlds that have been based on either European looking architecture in

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) or Japanese temples and bathhouses in Spirited Away.

Secondly the central themes and issues handled in most of Miyazaki’s films hold

international relevance and often offer thought to provoke critiques on these issues.

The most prominent of these themes are the uneasy relationship between human

technology and society versus nature and the ever-present phantom of war.26 Though

these issues are the major themes in Miyazaki’s oeuvre some issues Miyazaki uses in

his films are also very much related to the Japanese culture instead of a global culture.

The most important example is the ambiguity and purity of the Japanese national

identity addressed in his internationally most successful movie: Spirited Away.27

As many critics and scholars point out however that even if there is a

connection to be found between anime and Japanese culture, the animated features

often lack the positive association with the cultural features of Japan or with the ideas

of a, most likely stereotyped, Japanese way of life. This is what cultural theorist

Koichi Iwabuchi describes as ‘culturally odorless’.28 A cultural odor is not an

association of the product with its origins based upon the knowledge it is ‘made in

Japan,’ but the cultural odor becomes apparent when the image of the contemporary

lifestyle of Japan (in this case) comes to mind. The typically Japanese festivals

(matsuri), kabuki theater and religious Shinto practices do ‘reek’ of (an essentialized

view of) Japaneseness. However anime, but also Japanese computer games and

Japanese consumer technologies do not seek to sell a Japanese way of life and

therefore do not invoke these images.29

The lack of a cultural odor, Japanese or any other kind, is also a result from

the settings many anime films use. The films Akira (1988) and Nausicaa of the Valley

26 Cavallaro. The Animé Art of Hayao Miyazaki. p. 7.27 Napier, Susan J. “Matter Out of Place: Carnival, Containment, and Cultural Recovery in

Miyazaki's Spirited Away.” The Journal of Japanese Studies 32, no. 2 (2006): 287-310.28 Iwabuchi. Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism.

p. 27.29 Featherstone, Mike. Undoing Culture: Globalization, Postmodernism and Identity.

London: Sage Publications, 1995. p. 9.


of the Wind (Miyazaki, 1984) for instance offer versions of apocalyptic worlds and the

anime series Space Battleship Yamato (Leiji Matsumoto, 1974-1975) takes place in

outer space. Of course there are also anime films that do display many Japanese

characteristics such as My Neighbor Totoro (Miyazaki, 1988) and Spirited Away

(2001), but even these two films are mostly played out on fantasy worlds. So these

anime films all have created surroundings that are potentially free from cultural

context. Furthermore it is not only the settings that are free from a cultural context but

also the characters. Many anime characters do not look Japanese at all and sometimes

do not even show any kind of ethnicity. This is of course one of the benefits of

animation in general, because the creators of animation films and series only have to

draw whatever comes to their minds. For this reason some academics, for example

Iwabuchi, also have described anime with the term ‘mukokuseki’ which roughly

translates into ‘nationless’ or ‘stateless.’30 What it means is that anime should not be

related to any national identity at all. Yet this is of course not entirely the case,

because the influences of both Japanese and Western are noticeable.

Although Iwabuchi, among others, specifically describe anime as a product

without national identity or at least without a cultural specific fragrance, the question

remains if the makers deliberately choose to create stateless fantasy worlds and

culturally odorless products. There are however some animators who, like Iwabuchi,

believe that anime films have no national identity. Mamoru Oshii for example,

famous for his works Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

(2004), believes that animators unconsciously create non-Japanese characters because

they wish to draw internationally attractive characters. Furthermore many animators

never really experienced the essential qualities of traditional Japanese values and

instead they create their own world that is distinctive from Japan but also from the

rest of the world. However at the same time their creations are products from a

country that incorporates both essences.31 In other words they do not deliberately

reject either the Western or the Japanese cultures to create their own identity, but at

the same time they show Japanese and non-Japanese essences together and so create a

culturally hybrid product.

30 Iwabuchi, Recentering Globalization. p. 29-32.31 Oshii has stated this in an interview in 1996 for a Japanese magazine. The original

article can be found in Oshii, Mamoru, Ueno Toshiya, and Ito Kazunori. "Eigo to wa jitsu wa animeshon datta." Eureka 28, no. 9 (1996): 50-81. This interview is cited in both Napier, Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke and Iwabuchi, Recentering Globalization.


Furthermore Oshii believes along with other animators and critics that anime

is an expression or even a reflection of the Japanese contemporary cultural identity.32

This comment is exactly the same as one of Napier’s reasons to study anime. Again

the reason behind this belief is that anime is a hybrid form of art based upon Western

and Japanese cultural aspects, yet it is not dominated by either. These claims are

indeed plausible because the Japanese culture is, just like any other national culture, a

hybrid. However this kind of hybridity is not exactly the same as Bhabha’s original

concept of hybridity, which is based upon colonial power and cultural enforcement.33

It is rather a hybridity of equalizing cultural forces and therefore leans more towards

how Iwabuchi describes hybridity in a Japanese context.

Iwabuchi defines this Japanese kind of hybridity by focusing on the ability of

Japan to domesticate the foreign. This is a process that according to Iwabuchi goes

beyond Homi Bhabha’s process of hybridization, because Japan strategically borrows

from other cultures.34 This ‘strategic hybridism’ is an act of self-representation and is

an attempt to control Japan’s own identity instead of being controlled by the West.

Besides that it is because of the threat of foreign dominance that these foreign

influences must be managed.35 This hybridism differs from hybridization because

hybridism is based upon assimilation of culture, while hybridization stresses the

ambiguity of cultural difference. Iwabuchi calls this a fluid essentialism in which

‘identity is represented as a sponge that is constantly absorbing foreign cultures

without changing its essence and wholeness.’36 In other words, according to Iwabuchi

there exists a core identity that cannot be changed, but foreign influences cannot be

ignored because all cultures, including the Japanese, are a result of constant cultural

borrowing. However the origins of these influences are oppressed to fit them in the

Japanese culture.

However with anime this kind of oppression also works the other way around.

Anime has indeed the potential to be culturally odorless and this aspect returns in the

mukokuseki quality of the settings and characters. On the other hand there are aspects

that are closely related to the country of origin and the beliefs of the Japanese people.

32 Napier. Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke. p. 24.33 Bhabha, Homi. K. The Location of Culture. p. 1-27.34 Iwabuchi. Recentering Globalization. p. 53.35 Ivy, Marilyn. Discourses of the Vanishing Modernity, Phantasm, Japan. Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 1995. p. 3-4.36 Iwabuchi. Recentering Globalization. p. 54.


Though neither of these influences takes the upper hand in the plot or the visuals of

many anime, it is still arguable that anime does not portray any ‘Japanese way of life’

as the products main interest. But as Oshii already has commented in an interview,

these negotiations between cultural fragrances could very well directly reflect the

contemporary ‘Japanese way of life.’

A model to analyze anime

The previous comment still needs some nuances for it to become more acceptable. To

view any Japanese film as a direct reflection of the Japanese lifestyle is, according to

film scholar Darrel W. Davis, one of three different models for Japanese national

cinema to relate to Japanese culture and is called the reflectionist model. It basically

means that the film directly reflects the Japanese cultural identity because the film is a

product of that culture.37 This is a difficult model to work with because there is no

guarantee that what the viewer perceives is in fact the same as what they would

perceive when living in Japan. On the contrary, movies can easily create a

romanticized or stereotyped image. Furthermore it is not clear whether anime series

reflect Japanese culture or if people just start to think this way about Japanese culture

because of what anime portrays. Then there is also the problem with who makes the

film; the director would portray his or her own version of a Japanese agency.

The second model is a dialogic model and it focuses on the relation Japanese

cinema has with Western cinema (Hollywood). Within this model there are two

different angles to look upon Japanese cinema though. One focuses on differences and

the other on similarities between Japan and the West. Davis uses the works of Noël

Burch and David Bordwell/Kirstin Thompson to exemplify these views. For the film

scholar Burch Japanese national cinema is an opposite of Western cinema because it

is influenced by Japanese traditional conventions, which pose a critical attitude to

Western aesthetics.38 The point of view Davis writes about does not focus upon the

differences but on the similarities between Japanese film and Hollywood. Film

theorists Bordwell and Thompson describe in their work how it would be impossible

37 Davis, Darrell W. “Reigniting Japanese Tradition with Hana-Bi.” Cinema Journal 40, no. 4 (2001): 55-80.

38 Ibid. p. 63.


for Japanese director Ozu Yasujiro to use his experimental style and techniques

without knowledge of Western cinema conventions and techniques.39

The focus in both angles lies on a single point and therefore cannot form a

complete picture on what Japanese cinema means within its cultural context. Though

together they seem to indicate the complexity of the Japanese culture and its products,

because both Burch as Bordwell and Thompson claims do not necessarily exclude

each other. The fact that they both find evidence in the same movies of the same

director to back up their claims rather supports the ideas that both can be true. In other

words these movies are constructed using both Western and Japanese traditions,

cinematographic styles and aesthetics and neither of these influences are more

important than the other. Furthermore it shows that Japanese national cinema indeed

has a connection to Western cinema and discussing Japanese cinema without this

connection would be undesirable.

This all comes together in the third model Davis proposes to approach

Japanese cinema with, which is called the contamination model. Any culture is

constructed with bits and pieces from inside or outside national borders. Furthermore

nationality only becomes relevant when there is difference to be pointed out. This is

however a relative difference and not a dialectic difference. It states that films are not

a direct reflection of culture, nor is there a dialectical relation between cinemas and

cultures. For Davis it is ‘both of these, a reflection and a dialogue, plus the next stage

in its evolution.’40 Again this is a plea for the hybrid nature of cultural products in

which there is no absolute nationality, but instead it is a patchwork of influences.

Japanese cinema therefore does not directly reflect the Japanese culture, but instead it

is more a reflection of a global culture with a national origin. Thus when analyzing

films the focus needs to lie upon the relations it has with locale and foreign culture on

various levels.

With this in mind, there may be some truth to Oshii’s remarks on the Japanese

cultural identity. Even though anime does not necessarily reflect the Japanese identity,

it does shed light on how a part of this identity is constructed. Like Davis argued it is

a patchwork or a mixture of cultural influences. But by searching for how and where

the different influences are used and how they are related gives us information on the

possible construction of the Japanese identity. This means that anime has to be

39 Ibid. p. 64.40 Ibid. p. 65.


approached from a relational point of view rather than establishing a singular meaning

of the subject. It is what Thomas Lamarre refers to as a ‘relational’ understanding that

theorizes the relations between cinema and anime or animation and anime.41 In other

words there is no way to define and specify what anime is just as it is impossible to

define a single definitive Japanese culture because of the hybrid nature of both.

According to Lamarre thinking in relations is much more effective as it takes this

hybridity in consideration and allows for a more complete understanding of anime.42

For the understanding of anime music this method will be useful as well because it

may or may not have similar relations to a Japanese cultural identity as anime and of

course because it too is a mixture of cultural influences.

Miyazaki’s worlds and the Japanese identity

Similar to Oshii’s beliefs are some of the ideas of Western anime researchers. Susan

Napier for example examines the movie Spirited Away (2001) as a representation of

Japan’s current cultural position within the global culture and as a way to reinforce

some boundaries between Japan’s and the global cultural identity.43 On the surface

Miyazaki’s films exemplify the hybrid identity of Japan that is discussed above. The

settings vary from European locations such as the Adriatic Sea and Milan during the

rise of fascism in Porco Rosso (1992) to Miyazaki’s version of fourteenth-century

Japan in Princess Mononoke (1997). His stories, settings and themes are intertwined

with two very important aspects of a Japanese cultural identity: ‘kokusaika’ (meaning

internationalization) and ‘furusato’ (literally native place).44 This is one reason to

believe that Miyazaki’s oeuvre could tell us more about a Japanese identity.

Kokusaika is an important aspect of a Japanese identity because it is closely

associated with the opening up of Japan to the world and with the incorporation of

Western culture. There is however a lack of consensus on what kokusaika actually

means for the construction of a Japanese identity. The lack of consensus is most likely

the result of the use of the concept to describe slightly different trends in different

decades, in other words the meaning of kokusaika shifts with the passage of time.

This has probably to do with the multiple times Japan had to open up their borders to 41 Lamarre. “Between cinema and anime.” p. 183-189.42 Ibid. p. 186-187.43 Napier. “Matter Out of Place.” p. 287.44 Ibid. p. 288.


the Western world since the beginning of the so-called Meiji period (1868-1912). To

successfully adapt however, Japan needed to change the secluded nature of its society,

which obviously stemmed from its geographical position as an island and a 250-year

period of cultural isolation during the Tokugawa period (1603–1868).45

For some academics the term kokusaika describes another trend as well,

namely the spread of the Japanese culture throughout the world.46 The opening up of

the Japanese boundaries also meant that Japanese culture could be, or according to

some researchers had to be, exported. Edward Said, though only briefly mentioning

Japan and not using the term kokusaika in his book Culture and Imperialism, claims

for example that because of the internationalization Japan became a major economic

power, but at the same time it became culturally dominated by the West.47 This means

that Western culture was a threat to the Japanese cultural integrity and by spreading

Japanese values their cultural heritage was better protected.48

What is this Japanese cultural heritage then? This could best be described by

another term, furusato. Furusato literally means old village and can be associated with

conservatism and tradition, but like the term kokusaika, it is not so easily defined.

Although the protection of what is believed to be traditional Japanese culture against

the Western culture plays a role in the definition of furusato, for Robertson it also

means a reduction of a Japanese cultural identity and to a feeling of nostalgia to this

ancient place that in reality is not there anymore.49 Furusato can in this way be

explained as a self-essentialization of Japan and it is driven by the will to distinguish

Japanese culture from Western culture and thus Japan presents itself as the ‘other’ by

focusing upon archaic Japanese cultural traditions and values to make this distinction.

The cultural expressions that can be associated with the concept of furusato are for

example Japanese festivals (matsuri), religious Shinto music and dance (kagura),

kabuki and Noh-theatre and music. These are all believed to be typically Japanese

cultural expressions because some were once, during the Tokugawa period for

45 Itoh, Mayumi. Globalization of Japan: Japanese Sakoku Mentality and U.S. Efforts to Open Japan. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. p. 23-35.

46 Ivy, Marilyn. Discourses of the Vanishing. p. 3.47 Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Knopf, 1993. p. 329-330.48 Burgess, Chris. “Maintaining Identities: Discourses of Homogeneity in a Rapidly

Globalizing Japan.” electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies 4, no. 1 (2004): Accessed September 25, 2013.

49 Robertson, J. “Empire of Nostalgia: Rethinking `Internationalization' in Japan Today.” Theory Culture & Society 14, no. 4 (1997): 97-122.


example, a great part of the Japanese society, although that does not mean these

practices are exactly the same nowadays as they were in the past. They are most likely

reinvented and even used as tourist attractions, so it is highly debatable whether these

expressions represent a Japanese identity as a whole.50

Nevertheless this self-essentialization of Japan clearly plays a role within

Japanese cultural export products such as Miyazaki’s anime films, by picturing

Japaneseness using these examples of furusato. For example the spirits or gods from

the bathhouse in Spirited Away and from the forest in Princess Mononoke are a clear

reference to Shintoism. The latter film also uses some presumably Japanese customs,

such as the cutting of the protagonist hair, signifying a permanent departure from the

clan, and features the samurai warriors and architecture from the Japanese medieval


Another reason to examine Miyazaki’s work is because of its popularity. In

Japan Miyazaki’s popularity is comparable to Spielberg’s popularity in Hollywood,

but internationally Miyazaki has also received much critical acclaim.51 His movie

Spirited Away won an Academy Award in 2002 for example and his following film

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) was nominated in 2005. His international success was

also due to a deal Miyazaki’s production studio made with Disney to export his work

to the US. Though due to the fact that his animations are fundamentally different from

Western animation, his popularity among the general Western public is not yet that

great, but at the same time many people within the Hollywood film industry, for

example, have acknowledged to be great admirers of his work.52

It is safe to assume that Spirited Away is Miyazaki’s best-known work, but it

is also one of the most culturally ambiguous works.53 The story revolves around a girl

(Chihiro) who is on the way to her new home with her parents. They never get there

in the film because they are wound up in what they think is an abandoned theme park.

The theme park is actually a gateway to the spirit world and Chihiro becomes trapped

within while her parents turned into pigs. In order to survive and ultimately escape

with her parents Chihiro must work in a magical bathhouse for the spirits. Most

inhabitants of the spirit world react very xenophobic and hostile to this intrusion, but

some supporting characters do help her to return their world successfully.50 Ibid. p. 106.51 Cavallaro. The Animé Art of Hayao Miyazaki. p.5-7.52 Ibid. p. 5.53 Napier. “Matter Out of Place.” p.288.


There is an obvious relation between both the story and the setting and a

Japanese cultural identity. At first glance the bathhouse seems to be based on

Japanese history and tradition, it is an object of furusato. The bathhouse very much

looks like a Shinto temple (though Chinese and Western elements are also found in

the environment) and because of its function also symbolizes Japanese kind of

cleansing and purity. Furthermore during the film the bathhouse deals with multiple

intrusions polluting elements, such as a human stench, blood, a river spirit tainted

with human waste and a spirit that corrupts the workers in the bathhouse. If the

bathhouse symbolizes Japanese purity then these elements represent foreign societies

and their negative influences; greed for example can easily be connected to the

Western neo-liberalist economy and politics.54 This is however nothing but a simple

exploration of the superficial meaning of the film.

The bathhouse as a representation of Japanese tradition is, according to

Napier, not so simple because of its liminality. The bathhouse lays within some

fantasy world and this suggests that it is not so much a representative of furusato but

more of an estranged Japanese traditional culture, which it should represent. Yet at the

same time this world is easily accessible.55 This does not mean however that the

bathhouse is not still strongly linked to furusato. Even Chihiro seems to take up a

liminal and culturally ambiguous position. She is forced to discard her original

identity and has to pass some difficult tasks to construct a new identity, which she

needs to survive and leave the bathhouse and the spirit world (though at the same time

she is being reminded not to lose her old identity entirely).56 Her original identity (and

that of her parents) exemplifies the current Japanese cultural identity, which has

become more Western, materialistic and has almost lost touch with the more

traditional values (Chihiro’s difficulty to adapt to the spirit world shows this for

instance). In the end however it is not clear whether she has fully changed and

accepted her new identity. Her new hair tie is proof of her trails in the fantasy world

but her behavior mirrors her behavior in the opening scene.57

There is much more to say about the liminality of the plot, setting and

characters, but the important part is that this liminality perfectly fits within the

cultural ambiguity or hybridity of Japan and the statelessness anime can create. The 54 Ibid. p. 290.55 Ibid. p. 294.56 Ibid. p. 298.57 Ibid. p. 309.


film shows the relation between the Japanese and the foreign by signifying difference

and by showing how the contemporary Japanese identity is influenced by foreign

elements. But at the same time it shows that the traditional values are not forgotten

and that the Japanese are able to connect with it in a way. Furthermore the liminal

elements work very well with the concept of animation. For Napier animation itself is

suggestive of a liminal state clearly distinguished from reality.58 Yet this liminalty

could easily translate into mukokuseki, which means the quality of not being related

to a national identity. Miyazaki presents his characters, surroundings and reasons for

his characters to act in a way that they are not bound to any national essence. The role

music plays in this presentation is however completely ignored by Napier.

Chapter 2: Anime music and the scores of Hollywood

In fact in most of the anime research the music is ignored, but this does not mean that

the music does not add anything at all to the meaning of the film. On the contrary it is

an essential part of almost any film as a whole. This does not only mean that music

should be part of an analysis of film but also that, as film music scholar Claudia

Gorman puts it, the successful evaluation of the effectiveness of music in film

requires film music to be analyzed in the context of the entire film. Meaning the

visual and narrative elements need to be taken into account.59

This is especially true in music for animated films. Anime is in its essence an

animated cartoon and anime music also shares some of the characteristics of Western

cartoon music. Even though Western cartoons are often more comical and ludicrous

than the anime that are discussed above, anime still remains a cartoon that, by

definition, ‘can do things that we cannot (or should not) do and the music exaggerates

and celebrates that difference.’60 Furthermore because animation is also inherently

unreal and the character’s emotions lack vitality and therefore believability, it needs

music to add this.61 This would mean that the music predominantly functions as a

signifier of emotion, specifically the character’s emotions and that it adds life to the


58 Ibid. p. 295.59 Gorbman. Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music. p. 12.60 Goldmark, Daniel, and Yuval Taylor. The Cartoon Music Book. Chicago, Ill: A

Cappella, 2002. p. xiv.61 Ibid. p. xiv.


It is however unwise to generalize the functions of anime music since we

cannot speak of anime as a specific genre, so are the functions of anime music not

always the same. But what an analysis of one of the anime scores can tell us is how it

fits within the movie and how this is different (or not at all) from other Hollywood or

cartoon scores. Subsequently it can either reinforce the earlier statements about the

statelessness of anime and the cultural hybrid nature of the Japanese culture or

question these claims. This is forgotten in one of the articles on anime music by Milo

Miles. He states that the works of Joe Hisaishi (composer for all of Miyazaki’s films)

is ‘not conducive to radical thoughts about music,’62 because the music is like many

other anime scores ‘surprisingly formulaic, old-fashioned, soppy and stiff when

played without the visuals.’63 This latter statement is indeed true for the music in

Miyazaki’s films. Hisaishi’s lush melodies and romantic scores often sound very

appealing, but most of them are not at all complex. But because it is music to

accompany a film it does not have to be complex. Furthermore film music often uses

the visuals to become meaningful in any way and therefore Miles’ statement does not

mean anything.

Even though music in anime has to add emotion into the drawings just like the

music in Western cartoons, the similarities between the anime scores by Hisaishi and

cartoon scores by Carl Stalling or Scott Bradly are scarce. Just like anime differs from

Western cartoons in terms of themes and issues the medium uses, the music could

also be considered more serious instead of what could be called cartoonish. For Edith

Lang and George West this cartoonish quality is associated with the ability the music

has (or should have) to ‘mock’ emotional cues and to celebrate the unreality of the

cartoon.64 Furthermore cartoon music often follows and exaggerates movement and

actions happening on screen (mickey-mousing), which has been done since the silent

film era.65 This also shows the importance of visual cues in cartoons.

However when looking at (and listening to) one of the scenes from Miyazaki’s

Porco Rosso (1992) the music does none of the above. After 67 minutes the

protagonist, an Italian pilot who left the Air Force after WWI and for unknown

62 Miles, Milo. “Robots, Romance and Ronin: Music in Japanese Anime.” In The Cartoon Music Book. 219-224. p. 221.

63 Ibid. p. 219.64 Lang, Edith, and George West. “Animated cartoons and Slap-Stick Comedy.” In The

Cartoon Music Book. 17-20. p.18.65 Cooke, Mervyn. A History of Film Music. New York: Cambridge University Press,

2008. p. 289.


reasons turned into an anthropomorphic pig, begins to tell a story about his past.

When he starts to recall the last summer of the war a piano starts playing a simple but

touching melody (see the appendix 1.1 for my own transcription of this melody). The

melody is played slowly and expressively using high register notes and softly

accompanied by strings. The image however shows planes in the sky fighting each

other and apart from some engine sounds there are no other sound effects like

shooting or planes being blown up. Instead there is only music that does not reflect

the action, but it reflects Porco’s saddened psychological state because he lost all his

friends during that fight and he was the sole survivor.

A similar example can be found in Spirited Away (2001) at 48 minutes into the

film. This time there is not much happening on screen. The protagonist (Chihiro) just

got to see her parents for the first time after they were transformed into pigs.

Afterwards she sits down and has a conversation with a boy Haku, one of the few

people who want to help her, and again a piano is heard playing the main theme of the

film accompanied by strings. The music itself is thus quite similar to the previous

example, but not only because of its instrumentation. Again the theme is played

slowly and expressively, especially at the moment Chihiro starts crying and has to

recognize her fate when the theme again uses high register notes. The music does not

try to mock her sadness using clichés, but instead the music uses certain musical

conventions (slow tempo, high pitches on the piano, strings) to make the viewer

believe she is genuinely sad. So the music in both examples has the ability to provide

the psychological subtext, which is often harder to accomplish in dialogue or visually.

But this quality is more associated with music in live-action films than in cartoons.66

Even though anime is often unreal and therefore could be considered

nationless from a visual aspect, the psychological states and subsequently the reasons

behind the character’s actions are more real, or at least they try to be by using music

to add subtext. But this is not at all surprising when considering the view of Miyazaki

on his own work. He never creates truly good or truly evil characters for example,

mainly because there are no truly good or truly evil persons in reality. Everyone has

their own reasons for the way they act, which are neither good nor bad.67 So even

66 Karlin, Fred. Listening to Movies: The Film Lover's Guide to Film Music. New York: Schirmer Books, 1994. p. 83.

67 Miyazaki, Hayao. “Interview Miyazaki on Mononoke-hime.” Translated by Ryoko Toyama. Theatre Program, July 1997. Accessed September 28, 2013.


though the characters are visually not bound to reality, the emotions and actions are

bound to reality and the music is used to convey this.

This does not mean that the music in Miyazaki’s films has nothing in common

with Western cartoon music. First of all Western cartoons do not always have to use

music only to mock emotions, because Western cartoons can be as diverse as anime

and thus use music in the same way as discussed above. Secondly, anime music is not

always used to provide the psychological subtext, but is used to mimic movements by

‘mickey-mousing,’ which is a typical function in Western cartoons. In Spirited Away

for example when Haku instructs Chihiro to use the stairs outside of the bathhouse to

the boiler room in order to survive, music accompanies her when going down the

stairs. The music starts when she slowly climbs down the stairs mimicking her first

steps and facial movements. Eventually she slips and has to run down crashing into a

wall abruptly stopping the music. This of course adds a bit more comedy to the

otherwise serious film.

Miyazaki sometimes also uses some sound effects accompanying a character’s

movements in the same manner as Western cartoons. Although this technique is used

way more frequently in the films that are clearly more aimed at a younger audience.

For example the film My Neighbor Totoro (1988), which revolves around two young

girls that moved to a new house in the countryside while their mother lies in a

hospital. The youngest stumbles upon two small unfamiliar creatures and decides to

follow them into the nearby woods. Eventually she falls down a hole in a tree (of

course an obvious reference to Alice in Wonderland) and into the lair of a giant

version of the creatures. When she approaches the beast, she pokes him twice and

these pokes are accompanied by two simple sounds. These sounds are surprisingly

recognizable as ‘poking sounds’ because they are comparable to the sounds used to

illustrate these kinds of gestures in cartoons like Tom and Jerry.

These kind sound effects are however more of an exception than a rule. It is

obvious that in the most films a lot of attention went into the careful selection of

realistic sound effects. For example the sounds of Chihiro running through various

places in the bathhouse on her bare feet are carefully selected on what type of ground

she is running. The wooden floors of the bathhouse give a dull stump while the soft

cushion-like floor in the room next to Yubaba’s office gives a muted sound. These

detailed sound effects are somewhat rare in Western cartoons.


Anime and the music of Hollywood’s live-action cinema

Though there are some elements in the music of Miyazaki’s films that obviously

inspired by Western cartoon music, the majority of the music is more closely related

to the Hollywood scores.68 One of the functions of anime music is to add

psychological subtext to the film, which is more associated with Hollywood live-

action cinema. But there are many different theories about the Hollywood film scores

that offer many different functions of music in cinema. Many of these functions are

also applicable to the Hisaishi’s scores. One clear example is the musical style and the

orchestration of the scores, especially in Miyazaki’s later works. Many of the themes

in Princess Mononoke (1996), Spirited Away (2001) and Howl’s Moving Castle

(2003) for example are presented by a late Romantic orchestra, which according to

Claudia Gorbman can trigger an epic feeling and can make the characters bigger than

life. 69 This function is of course very suitable for animation in general, because it

often lacks ‘life.’

Furthermore the music is also often used merely as background music and also

follows Gorbmans principle of the ‘inaudibility’ of music.70 The majority of

Miyazaki’s animated features also do not have any kind of diegetic music. One of the

few exceptions is Porco Rosso (1992) in which the French chanson ‘Le Temp des

cerises’ is first heard on a radio and is later sung in a bar. It is notable that this is also

one of the very few times Miyazaki used a pre-written song instead of letting Hisaishi

write his own music. Yet most of the music Hisaishi writes is often used to underscore

a character’s emotion and thus does not have an identified source. But this does not

mean of course that the music is non-diegetic as any music underscoring a character’s

emotion is easy to place in the ‘fantastical gap’ between diegetic and non-diegetic

68 Even though there is no such thing as a general type of Hollywood score, many scores from classic and contemporary Hollywood films adhere to similar rules and principals in relation to the narrative, setting or moods. These are discussed at length in multiple books such as: Gorbman. Unheard Melodies, or Kassabian, Anahid. Hearing Film: Tracking Identifications in Contemporary Hollywood Film Music. New York: Routledge, 2001.

69 Gorbman. Unheard Melodies. p. 81.70 Gorbman. Unheard Melodies. p. 76-79.


music.71 The inaudibility of the music is however perfectly suited for what could be

called metadiegetic music.72

One example of this metadiegetic music is the main theme of Spirited Away,

which is used in the film multiple times and it sometimes serves to illustrate a

characters emotions. But the entire theme itself adheres to this inaudibility, mainly

because of its simplicity. During the opening scene the theme can be structured into

several sections after the opening chords: AA’BCC’DD’. The two D sections however

do not return when the main theme returns in the movie and other themes or previous

sections take its place instead (see the appendix 1.2 for my own transcription of the

opening theme).

The first two A sections consist of no more that two related motives

accompanied by stacked fourths first played by synthesizers but during the A’ section

strings take over accompanying the melody on the piano. The melody and the

underlying stacked fourths are tonally ambiguous giving the music the freedom to go

anywhere it wants. This sense of freedom is in this way very useful for music to be

inaudible because it means that it is not bound to solve chords to the tonic for example

in a tonal structure. However there are limits to this freedom because the music would

be drawing too much attention and creating inappropriate moods when it deliberately

avoids tonality. Though atonal music is often found in Western cartoons or Western

film-noir cinema,73 Miyazaki’s anime films generally tries to portray moods that are

not associated with these genres.

The sweeping strings in the A’ section eventually do bring a sense of stability

right before the melody intensifies in the B section. The motives in the B, C and C’

sections again are very simple and closely related to the previous motives. The

melody during these and previous sections uses many repetitive notes together with

sustained ones. The simplicity of the melody makes it also possible to stop the music

at almost any given time without distracting the audience because the music never

really creates expectations. For example the music technically stops halfway the first

71 Stilwell, Robynn “The Fantastical Gap Between Diegetic and Nondiegetic.” In Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema, edited by.Daniel Goldmark, Lawrence Kramer, and Richard Leppert. 184-202. (Berkeley:University of California Press, 2007).

72 Gorbman. Unheard Melodies. p. 23.73 Cook. A History of Film Music p. 287-303.


measure of the C’ sections at about 51 minutes in the film. In short the musical

structure is very adaptable and it can easily be called elastic or extensile.74

Other principles that according to Gorbman are often found in the classical

Hollywood scores are also found in the scores of Hisaishi for Miyazaki’s films. One

of these is unity and again the main theme of Spirited Away can be regarded as a good

example. During the move the main theme is heard a total of four times but each time

the orchestration and structure slightly varies. For example the D sections are replaced

and the melodies are sometimes played by a piano and sometimes by an orchestra.

The repetition of the theme suggests it could function as a motive for remembrance,

however this motive is not associated with a character but rather with some important

plot points.

The main theme opens the film when Chihiro and her parents are driving

towards their new home. This can be considered as the beginning of a new adventure,

although neither the characters nor the viewer has any idea what this adventure might

be. The second time the theme returns is when Chihiro has to accept her situation and

needs to go to work in the bathhouse in order to survive. The third time the theme

returns is when Chihiro decides to go Zeniba, the twin sister of Yubaba who is the

owner of the bathhouse, to return a special seal and to remove the curse cast on the

boy Haku. The theme returns one final time near the end when Chihiro is finally able

to go home after she has saved her parents. Repeating these recognizable melodies

just before or right on specific narrative points therefore aids in the construction of

narrative unity.

Though as established, the melodies return in slight variations and these

variations are perhaps determined by the psychological subtext they should represent.

The timid piano melody, as discussed before, serves to illustrate Chihiro’s sadness.

Yet by the time the theme recurs for the third time Chihiro no longer seems to be

afraid and she has fully adapted to her surroundings. She has matured and this is also

reflected in the orchestration because the melody in the B section is now played by

French horns instead of piano, creating a more stable and bolder sound. Hisaishi

apparently makes these choices in orchestration very consciously, because in an

interview he states that he tries to discern what the director is trying to convey in a

scene and then to do the same with the music thematically.75

74 Gorbman. Unheard melodies. p. 76.75 Osmond. “Will The Real Joe Hisaishi Please Stand Up?”


In another interview Hisaishi makes a statement about the difference between

his scores and those of Hollywood composers. ‘The Hollywood style of using music

to introduce characters and explain what's on screen is a method that I don't normally

use in Japan.’76 However when looking at the score of Spirited Away this in only

partly true. The previous examples show that Hisaishi’s music indeed hardly ever

mimics the action on screen or uses physical cues and that it is mostly used to

illustrate a characters mood or psychological state. Furthermore most characters in

Spirited Away do not have a theme attached to them to introduce them on screen.

There is however one character, called Kaonashi (No Face in the translation), that

does have a specific motive that is heard every time he makes an appearance before

Chihiro goes to Zeniba. Kaonashi is a mysterious spirit who uses Chihiro to sneak

into the bathhouse. Before he enters the bathhouse he is seen multiple times, though

only briefly. However each time a very short percussive motive is heard often in

between or during other musical themes. For example the second time the main theme

returns the D sections are replaced by a short transition that prepares to return to the B

section. During this transition Kaonashi appears and walking on the bridge for no

more than a second or two before he disappears. At the moment he appears the small

theme is heard played by what sounds like a gamelan type of instrument.

This theme fully expands during a confrontation between Chihiro and

Kaonashi about 92 minutes into the film when Kaonashi has become a malevolent

entity. This time East Asian percussion instruments like gongs and Taiko drums

accompany the short motive, which keeps returning in an unpredictable manner.

Eventually string pizzicatos start accompanying theme and when Kaonashi starts to

go in a rampage while vomiting, the theme accelerates and brass instruments start

playing. When Kaonashi starts spitting some of the bathhouse employees he ate, he

begins to move more slowly and the brass instruments stop playing. The fast tempo is

maintained but the instrumentation suggests that Kaonashi starts to calm down as

well. In other words the music again is used to illustrate the characters psychological

state. Also notable is that although Kaonashi is seen in almost every scene after this

the theme never returns. A possible explanation can be found in Hisaishi’s statement

that he tries to convey what Miyazaki meant, because at this moment in the film

76 Hisaishi, Joe. “Castle in the Sky - Joe Hisaishi Interview.” Team Ghiblink. Accessed October 20, 2013.


Kaonashi has become friends with Chihiro. He is no longer a stranger or a malicious

being and it is in fact possible that the theme is not connected to the character but to

the current status of the character in relation to Chihiro.

In short the score of Spirited Away contains many elements that are also found

in the classic Hollywood scores. But at the same time Hisaishi seems to avoid some

Hollywood conventions by scoring the characters moods instead the characters

themselves or the actions on screen. Hisaishi also ignores many narrative or visual

cues in favor of musical continuity whereas Western composers probably would adapt

their music at these points. For example at seventy-two minutes in the film the music

does not start at the moment Haku appears in his dragon form but a second later.

Furthermore the moment the horns start playing and the moment the camera switches

to a close-up image of the action are not timed together, but also are a split second


There are more of these examples of timing in the film, but also in other

Miyazaki films there are numerous examples. Most notable is the timing in the first

scenes of the Japanese version of Laputa (1986). One of the protagonists, Sheeta, falls

from the sky, but before she hits the ground her necklace starts glowing violently and

she begins to descent slowly. During the production of this film Hisaishi has ignored

this visual cue and he brought the music to a climax a few seconds earlier. However

when Disney produced the film for American audiences, Hisaishi had to rewrite most

of the score. First of all he had to extend the length of the score by more that thirty

minutes because Disney believed the American audience was used to hear more music

in animated features.77 Hisaishi completely rewrote the score for the American release

and as a result the music also adapts to the visual cues. The music in the opening

scene for example climaxes at the exact same moment the necklace glows. Laputa is

however the only anime by Miyazaki that got an entire new score for the American

release. All the other movies only got new voices and sometimes an English version

of the opening theme or ending credits theme. The fact remains that most of the movie

scores do not adhere to the Hollywood conventions of visual cues. Instead Hisiashi

music also follows a path on its own, rather than following along with the visuals.

77 This is taken from an interview originally published in the Japanese Keyboard Magazine, August 1999: Team Ghiblink. “Music // Laputa: The Castle in the Sky.” Accessed October 20, 2013.


Chapter 3: Finding ‘Japaneseness’

So the functions of music in Miyazaki’s work are not that much different from the

functions music has in classic Hollywood movies. Yet it is also clear that Hisaishi

first of all does not wish to follow every Hollywood conventions and that he is indeed

successful in avoiding some of them. But next to the issue of timing, there are more

differences between Hisaishi’s scores and those of Hollywood films. These

differences are important, because according to Davis’ contamination model

nationality becomes relevant when there is difference to be pointed out. This does not

mean that every score that does not follow Hollywood conventions is always an

example of non-Western national cinema. But some of the differences between the

classical Hollywood scores and Hisaishi’s scores might be explained by the fact it is a

product of a Japanese culture. In other word these difference can point to a kind of


As it is already discussed the search for Japaneseness has been a major

influence on Japanese cultural expressions and it has been summed up by the term

furusato. Even though furusato is one of the catchwords within contemporary

Japanese society the will to distinct itself from the West and the following self-

essentialization of a Japanese national identity can be traced back to the opening up of

Japan at the beginning of the Meiji Period. Since then many traditional cultural

practices have been displaced in favor of Western culture. People were getting

educated in the Western styles of music for instance.78 However as a reaction to the

dominant position of the West, Japanese academics and even artists started to explore

their own unique (essential) identity.79

The discourse around an essential Japanese national identity has been called

‘nihonjinron’, which literally means ‘theories about the Japanese people.’ The fact

that these are just theories should be emphasized, because a lot of nihonjinron

literature is merely a search for Japanese uniqueness. It is only natural to be very

critical about the claims coming from some nihonjinron literature. Peter Dale for

example shows in his book ‘The myth of Japanese uniqueness’ how even the more

78 Yang, Mina. “East Meets West in the Concert Hall: Asians and Classical Music in the Century of Imperialism, Post-Colonialism, and Multiculturalism.” Asian Music 28, no. 1 (2007): 1-30. p. 4.

79 Tezuka, Yoshiharu. Japanese Cinema Goes Global Filmworkers' Journeys. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012. p. 9-10.


plausible claims are debatable and that all stems from a cultural nationalism, one that

is not much unlike German nationalism in the previous century.80

Though not all critique is necessarily a fact. In a review of the previous book,

Robert Marshall begins with: ‘To salvage anything from this intellectually dishonest

an intensely contentious book, we must begin with what we know: in the broadest

context of world history, Japan is unique.’81 One of the central counterarguments

Marshall makes is that uniqueness, or the search for distinction between Japan and the

rest of the world, serves the Japanese construction of reality in the same way that

‘freedom’ serves Americans.82 Moreover it is not uncommon for a nation to try and

distinct itself from others, especially when the other is represented by the West.

Nihonjinron asserts nothing more than that Japan is distinct, for example it is the only

non-Western nation that has fully industrialized every aspect of its economy.

Therefore it should not be portrayed as a mere myth. Though some claims proposed

by nihonjinron are indeed highly debatable and can even be considered propaganda,

others can be useful when theorizing about Japanese culture because it can reveal the

reasons behind the differences in cultural products.

The written works of Toru Takemitsu, one of the most famous Japanese

composers during the postwar period, can also be considered part of the nihonjinron

literature, yet it might prove useful for analyzing Hisashi’s scores. Takemitsu was

trained in the Western concert idiom and long avoided being ‘Japanese’ until

American composer John Cage convinced Takemitsu otherwise and Takemitsu

ultimately recognized the elegance of traditional Japanese music. From the early

1960s Takemitsu began to explore the differences between Japanese and Western

musical traditions. He began searching for the essence of Japanese music in contrast

to Western music.83 He eventually explained the concepts of ‘sawari’ and ‘ma’ as

essential qualities of Japanese music in contrast to the essential elements of Western

music; rhythm, melody and harmony. Sawari for example is explained as a noisy

sound that gives an individual meaning to the played note instead of the relational

meanings, such as the chord progressions that are found in Western music.84

80 Dale, Peter N. The Myth of Japanese Uniqueness. London: Croom Helm, 1986. p. 215.81 Marshall, Robert C. Review of The Myth of Japanese Uniqueness, Peter Dale. Journal

of Japanish Studies 15, no 1 (1989): 266-272. p.26682 Ibid. p.26883 Takemitsu, Toru. “Contemporary Music in Japan.” Perspectives of New Music 27, no. 2

(1989): 198-204.84 Takemitsu, Toru. Confronting Silence: Selected Writings. Translated by Yoshiko


A second important concept for Takemitsu was the concept of ‘ma.’

To define this concept of ma seems to be a rather difficult task and many scholars

remain at least a little bit vague about the true meaning of the word. Research on this

particular concept has furthermore shown that ma is a Japanese ‘way of seeing.’

Takemitsu is one of the writers on ma who shares this view, for him ma is a

(Japanese) way of understanding time and space and it is seen as fundamentally

different from the Western perception of a linear time and space.85 Ma is seen as the

intervals of space and time that invite a certain action to fill them with meaning, yet

this does not really show ma’s deeper significance. Kenjiro Miyamoto further

suggests that when Takumitsu relates ma with traditional Japanese music, he

describes the concept as the silences that are consciously integrated between the notes

and that these silences are never a void but is filled with the sounds of space.86 The

result would be that the silences are equally important as the sounds, though they need

to be recognized by the listeners. Furthermore Takemitsu emphasizes that ma is not

just a silence or an empty space, but it is an interval marked out by events and objects

in time and space and cannot be separated from these events accordingly. In other

words silence does not exist without sound.87

The concept of ma does not only form a key element in Japanese music but

also in other Japanese art forms, such as Noh-theatre.88 Even Japanese architectural

design can be related to ma, because even a room can be seen as a space between

walls.89 Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, who also uses ma in his designs, believes

that the concept has a close connection to an ancient Japanese religious experience of

intense waiting for the moment the Japanese spirits (kami) will descent to earth. These

kami were believed to descent in vacant places marked by four posts, one in each of

the corners of the area. These places were to be filled with the kami’s spiritual force

called chi. Ma is the period of waiting for this place to be filled with chi. In Isozaki’s

Kakudo, and Glenn Glasow. Berkeley: Fallen Leaf Press, 1995. p. 64-66.85 Ibid. p. 56-57.86 Miyamoto, Kenjiro. Klang im Osten: Klang im Westen : der Komponist Toru Takemitsu

und die Rezeption europäischer Musik in Japan. Saarbrücken: PFAU, 1996. p. 150.87 Takemitsu. Confronting Silence. p. 51.88 Konparu, Kunio. The Noh Theater: Principles and Perspectives. Translated by Jane

Corddry. New York: Weatherhill/Tankosha, 1983. p. 70-95.89 There have been multiple exhibits on this relation in museums in Paris, New York and

Chicago between 1978 and 1980. The relations presented in one of these exhibits have been summarized: Isozaki, Arata. “Ma: Japanese Time-Space.” The Japan Architect 54, no. 2 (1979): 69-81.


own words ma would thus mean something in both space and time: ‘Space was

perceived as identical with events or phenomena occurring in it; that is, space was

perceived only in relation to time flow.’90 Furthermore Isosaki also explains that this

place was a bridge between two different points, the spirit world and the real word

and that ma thus connects these edges but it again needs some kind of action to

successfully do so.91

The complexity of the concept should now be evident and to create single

clear and meaningful definition is an incredible arduous or even impossible task. But

even in absence of such a definition researchers have been able to pinpoint how ma is

used in Takemitsu’s music. Peter Burt for example believes that ma in Takemitsu’s

refers to silences surrounding the notes which again are never void, but part of the

stream of sound.92 But looking back at some of the descriptions above ma can also

easily be connected to Takemitsu’s use of Western and Japanese instruments or

sounds. These sounds represent two different points (separated because of the nature

of Japanese sound which is called ‘sawari’) that can be connected through ma. For

example in Lewis Cornwell’s discussion of November Steps ma is seen as a product

of the interaction between the sounds of the biwa, shakuhachi and

conductor/orchestra. Even the seating arrangement of the players was of great

importance to Takemitsu in order to create not only a bridge between sounds but also

a bridge covering a literal space.93

Ma in Japanese film

Takemitsu did not only compose music for the concert hall but he composed music

for over a hundred films, including some directed by Akira Kurosawa. One quick look

at the film Ran (1985) also shows that Takemitsu incorporated the concepts like

sawari and ma into the score. For example the main title features a high-pitched

musical motive played by strings that resemble the sound of a Japanese flute used in

Noh-theatre.94 Also during the final moments of the film Takemitsu uses an 90 Ibid p. 71.91 Ibid p. 74,92 Burt, Peter. The Music of Toru Takemitsu. New York: Cambridge University Press,

2001. p. 30, 236-237.93 Cornwell, Lewis. “Toru Takemitsu’s November Steps.” Journal of New Music Research

31, no. 3 (2002): 211-220. p. 212-213.94 Doering, James M. “A look at Japanese film music through the lens of Akira

Kurosawa.” Randolph-Macon College.


instrument that again sounds like a Japanese flute. These sounds clearly display what

Takemitsu means by the difference between the Japanese and Western instruments.

The complexity of the timbre produced by these sounds is a clear example of sawari.

These ‘Japanese’ sounds become even more notable when heard next to the heavy

symphonic music Takemitsu composed for the siege of the warlord’s castle. It creates

a careful synthesis between Western and Eastern elements that become clear because

of difference.95

There are also examples in the score of Ran that can be connected to the

concept of ma. For Takemitsu the sounds of silence before and after music are perfect

to convey emotions. For example, during the siege of the warlord’s castle in which all

the sounds of battle are replaced by a Mahlerian symphonic sequence. This sequence

abruptly comes to a halt after a gunshot and all that is left is a painful silence followed

by the sounds of death.96 So this silence is not just a void moment, but rather intense

as it invites the viewer to actively contemplate on what has happened and is currently

happening in the film.

There is also another way to find ma in this sequence, though not in the form

of a silent moment. The motion picture and the music that together form a film can

also be interpreted as two worlds and the meaning of both of these worlds are

supposed to be connected by the viewer. Yet in this sense every bit of film music

would be called ma, which is of course not the case. As seen in one of the

explanations of ma it is the bridge between different worlds, for example the spirit

world and the real world as pointed out by Isozaki or the difference between Eastern

and Western sounds and even culture described by Takemitsu.97 In the case of Ran the

difference between Eastern and Western are blatantly obvious as Takemitsu scored a

Mahlerian symphonic sequence in a film based on Japanese history. Furthermore the

gap between the music and picture is made even bigger because the music does not

mirror the action. Instead the music implies the terrible sadness and horrors of the

Foundation/~/media/82D3F7F561BD4F2EB454FC42D35ECAF1.ashx. Accessed October 26, 2013.

95 Calabretto, Roberto. “Takemitsu's Film music.” In Music Facing Up to Silence. Writings on Toru Takemitsu, edited by Gianmario Borio, and Luciana Galiano, 177-201. Pavia: Pavia University press, 2010.

96 Kalinak, Kathryn Marie. Film Music A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. p. 75.

97 Takemitsu. Confronting silence p. 51-71.


bloody battle, but it is the viewer’s task to give that meaning and bridge the gap

between the music and de picture.

Both examples of ma in Ran (1985) can also explain some of the choices and

statements made by Hisaishi when he composed for Miyazaki. Beginning with the

short amount of music that is often found in Miyazaki’s anime, the amount of music

in Laputa (1986) was only sixty minutes and had to be expanded for American

audiences. In Princess Mononoke (1996) for example the battles between the forest

gods and the humans are almost never scored, letting the images and sound effects

speak and letting the viewer add an appropriate emotion. Yet the preparations and the

first glimpse of the aftermath of one of the major battles (around respectively 85 and

93 minutes into the film) are provided with music, but here the short pauses between

rhythmic patterns on presumably Japanese percussion instruments create the most

intense moments of silence. It should also be noted that during these moments the

music is not inaudible anymore and instead takes the viewers attention because

loudness and a-synchronic relation the music has with the visuals. One of these

moments that deserves a bit more attention is the first glimpse of the aftermath

mentioned above. The moment the protagonist looks towards the battlefield is

underscored by nothing more than a couple of consecutive Taiko drum sounds. These

sounds seem to be asynchronic and unpredictable and thus create moments of intense

waiting between them, much like the intense waiting for the spirits to come down.

In Spirited Away (2001) a similar way of using silence can be found in the

multiple encounters with the spirit Kaonashi during the first half of the film. He is one

of the few characters with its own musical theme or motive, though it only exists of a

couple of percussive sounds. This motive is used the same way as the drum sounds

mentioned before as they occur in an arhythmic fashion and the space in between

invites just an uneasy and strange feeling as the motive itself. It should be noted that

these spaces are however almost never silent because the Kaonashi theme often

appears as a part of other musical themes. But even together with the other musical

theme, the intervals between the Kaonashi motives seem to tie these events together

and forming a complete cycle.

Whether Hisaishi is fully aware of using ma in the scores is however debatable

and even though there are some examples to be found in his scores, these are not very

common. Furthermore Hisaishi never stated that he would use such a concept to

compose his music, nor is music films the best place to use such aesthetic concepts


like Takemitsu did in his orchestral works. But the fact that ma can explain some of

the qualities of music also creates an explanation to how and why Japanese film music

is different from Hollywood film music. For example in Japanese films such as Akira

Kurosawa’s Ran and anime films such as Princess Mononoke use less music than

Hollywood films and that the Japanese audience is probably not bothered with it as

much. The concept of ma as a unique Japanese quality in Japanese art is a plausible

explanation for the use of more silence; because of ma it can become a very fruitful

way to express meaning.

There are also some more similarities to be found between Hisaishi’s scores

and Takemitsu’s, which could imply more characteristics of film music in Japan. Both

Takemitsu and Hisaishi do not try capturing the action on screen in the music, which

according to Hisaishi is a very Hollywood way of using music, but use music for the

psychological subtext. But of course this is not a unique Japanese quality of film

music. On the contrary, this function of film music is more of a feature of film music

in general and hence can be found in many Hollywood films as well.98 However one

of the characteristics of the music used in the Japanese Noh-theater is that the music is

put to the characters mood and to portray the emotional tension of the plot.99 So the

use of music in Japanese and anime films could very well be influenced by these

traditional Japanese art forms.

Nevertheless looking at Hisaishi’s score for Spirited Away shows many

elements that can be considered Japanese, such as Japanese instruments or at least

instruments that a Western viewer believes to be East Asian. This is a very superficial

way of expressing Japanessness, however because these Japanese instruments sound

notably different from Western instruments they are perfect to express nationality.

This creates yet another possibility of using ma as the interval between separate

worlds (the Japanese and the West) that has to be bridged.

This also seems one of the key elements within some of Miyazaki’s films. As

seen in Napier’s analysis of Spirited Away, the film exactly represents her so-called

liminal space between the edges of traditional Japanese culture and modern Western

culture and even the space between the concepts of furusato and kokusaika can be

considered to be ma. Though coloring this space with his own vision of how this

98 Prendergast, Roy M. Film Music: A Neglected Art: a Critical Study of Music in Films. New York: W.W. Norton, 1992. p. 216.

99 Malm, William P. Nagauta: The Heart of Kabuki Music. Rutland, Vt: C.E. Tuttle Co, 1963. p. 29-30.


space should be filled (surely it is his imagination that is drawn), he also leaves some

bits open to interpretation of the viewer. Among the most notable ones are some of

the endings to his movies that do not give away a sense of closure. In Princess

Mononoke it is uncertain if the distance between nature and man has been bridged,

that it could happen in the future or that it never will. More importantly Miyazaki

shows that at least a status quo can be achieved but to connect both worlds we have to

be patient and sensible about it.

Just like the movie plots, the music also often sits between the sounds of the

West and the sounds of Japan. Looking back at the examples of ma in the scores these

solely occur in combination with non-Western sounding instruments. Furthermore the

moments the sounds of these instruments appear seem to be carefully planned because

the appearance of these instruments is significantly greater during scenes that show a

connection with Japanese tradition and myth such as the introduction of the spirits and

the spirit world in Spirited Away about 14 minutes in the film. At the moment night

falls and Chihiro becomes trapped in what has now become spirit world, the

instrumentation changes from a string orchestra to an instrument that sounds like a

Japanese plucked string instrument like a koto. The music during this moment seems

to be more ‘audible’ than at other points, first of all because it is an (from a Western

viewers point of view) unfamiliar instrument, which stands out more. Secondly the

music is not subordinate to voices or the image at that point.

Another moment worth mentioning is the first day of Chihiro’s work in the

bathhouse about 52 minutes in the film. The bathhouse is of course linked with the

traditional Japanese identity (furusato), even though Napier has argued it is more an

object of an estranged identity. The music supports the idea that the bathhouse

represents a kind of Japaneseness, because next to the use of non-Western instruments

(consisting of percussion and a plucked string instrument) Hisaishi also used a

pentatonic scale instead of one of the (Western) diatonic scale he mostly uses. This of

course makes the theme to sound even more non-Western100 (see appendix 1.3 for my

own transcription of the first motive).

The majority of Hisaishi’s music is however scored for a late romantic

orchestra and the Japanese instruments only play a minor role in the entire film. This

100 It should be noted that pentatonality is not at all uncommon in Western music. However the use of certain clichés to induce in this case oriental connotations is very common and usefull. See for example Burnand, David & Benedict Sarnaker. “The Articulation of National Identity Through Film Music,” National Identities 1, no. 1 (1999): 7-13.


of course makes them stand out more in the first place, like the Kaonashi theme that is

heard during a theme played by the orchestra most of the time. But in many other

instances the Japanese instruments seem to blend in with the orchestra eventually and

become inaudible. Even in the previous example of Chihiro’s work in the bathhouse

the strings and French horns start supporting the song after a minute. Furthermore the

melody of that theme is not at all a reflection of the distinctive Japanese sound

Takemitsu called sawari. Instead it seems to be played by Western concert flutes

because it sounds very pure and bright, unlike the complex sound a Japanese flute like

the shakuhachi would give, which would of course not be suitable for the inaudibility

of the music.

In many other cases these Japanese instruments only take the part of

supporting roles in the music. The theme played by a koto at the moment Chihiro is

trapped in the spirit world eventually becomes a mere rhythmic ostinato underlining

the fanfare-like music played by loud brass instruments and lush strings. This is

another example of the Japanese instruments blending in with the overall Western

romantic style of composing. Even though the Japanese instruments are used and are

sometimes very noticeable within the score, mainly because of the different sound

they produce, in the end most times the music does not fit within a distinctively

Japanese sound after all. Instead of distinguishing Japanese sounds from Western

sounds, Hisaishi seems to tighten gap between these worlds, either by letting the

Japanese instruments have a minor role in the bigger picture or by avoiding using

instruments that cannot produce more pure sounds. For example using a Western

concert flute instead of a Japanese flute in the previous example.

Chapter 4: Calling it Japanese

So even when in both Miyazaki’s animations and Hisaishi’s music some aspects are

closely related to a traditional Japanese identity, it can also be considered a

representation of a modern Japanese identity according to director Mamoru Oshii’s

beliefs. The music, like the story and animation, is heavily influenced by Western

cinema but at the same time its differences from Western cinema can be connected to

Japanese tradition making it a hybrid product. So could we thus label the movies

including the scores still Japanese? Of course it is already established in the previous


chapters that it cannot be purely Japanese, yet there could be multiple answers to this

question depending on whose point of view is taken. From to either the director

Oshii’s or the scholar Iwabuchi’s point of view this hybrid product could very well be

called Japanese, because. Miyazaki’s anime, like many other anime in general, covers

both Western and Japanese identities and even highlighting the friction between

them.101 In other words neither of the identities show dominance over the other, but

they rather exist together much like Iwabuchi’s theory about the Japanese identity. If

this is still true for the music however is still debatable.

The music is of course also a hybrid product, but it is questionable whether it

follows the same kind of hybridity the other aspects of anime follow. As discussed

above, the more Japanese characteristics in the music are not as clear and noticeable

as they can be, even though most of the time they are heard during the more

‘Japanese’ images. Hisaishi almost never uses Japanese instruments in a leading role

and only occasionally using distinctively non-Western musical structures in favor of a

romantic style of composing. Because of this it seems that the music leans to a

Western style creating scores with only minor influences from it Japanese roots. Thus

the music is not at all a hybrid of equal influences, nor is it a very Japanese sounding

score that has assimilated Western influences like Iwabuchi would argue is the case

for most Japanese cultural products. In the case of the score it seems more like the

other way around. It is mostly a Western score that has incorporated some Japanese


Yet the score itself is of course not the entire cultural product as it is only a

part of the entire movie. In contrast to just the scores Miyazaki’s storytelling does

seem to adhere to Iwabuchi’s theory. When looking at both Spirited Away (2001) and

My Neighbor Totoro (1988) a viewer might notice some similarities with Disney’s

Alice in Wonderland (1951) for example.102 Spirited Away deals with a young girl

who becomes trapped in another world and in My Neighbor Totoro a girl falls down a

hole in a tree into the lair of an otherworldly catlike creature. Though these

similarities seem quite obvious, the worlds and characters Miyazaki has created are

notably different and show off a more Japanese odor, as Iwabuchi would call it, than

Alice’s wonderland and thus hiding away this Western influence. In other words

Miyazaki borrows Western elements but incorporates them to create something that

101 Cavallaro. The Animé Art of Hayao Miyazaki. p.7.102 Napier. “Matter Out of Place.” p. 290.


seems entirely new and, more importantly, different or even non-Western. This could

very well be the case with the music as well. Though the music in Miyazaki’s movies

sounds like music used in Hollywood cinema most of the time, it is still notably

different. To summarize the scores uses just enough Japanese influences, like the use

of more silence or ma, to be different from Hollywood scores.

The question whether to label Miyazaki’s films Japanese is still difficult to

answer, because how would it be possible to label cultural product that, like Davis

mentioned earlier, is influenced and built using elements from various sources that

either have roots in Japan or are more related to other cultures. But this is something it

has in common with almost any kind of cultural product, most of all due the concept

of globalization and its relating trends that are as old as ancient human civilizations.

Two trends are those of universalism (or homogenization) and of particularism.103

Universalism describes the process through different cultures become the

same, mostly because of the spread of Western (or even American) popular culture.

The products of this culture, such as music, movies and tv-shows, are spread by mass

media and promote a Western way of life. Particularism occurs at the same time as

universalism and as a reaction to it. It stems from the will of having a unique identity

but also from the unique historical backgrounds that distinguishes certain cultures

from others.104 Thus instead of the rise of a single ‘world culture’ distinctness and

differences between ‘local cultures’ still exist and are actively celebrated. Although

these two processes seem contradictory, it is not impossible for them to coexist. For

instance the awareness of the differences between cultures is seen everywhere and at

the same time universal ideas such as human rights or free trade are enacted in

different ways in different cultures. This relation between universalism and

particularism can also be summarized with Robertson’s concept of glocalization,

because “glocalization means the simultaneity --- the co-presence --- of both

universalizing and particularizing tendencies.” 105

The third trend is that of hybridity and in its basic sense within the cultural

globalization debate it refers to the blending of different cultures that eventually

103 Robertson. Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. p. 97-115.104 Ibid. p. 98-105.105 Robertson, Roland. “Comments on the "Global Triad" and "Glocalization".” In

Globalization and Indigenous Culture: 40th Anniversary Memorial Symposium, January, 1996, edited by Nobutaka Inoue. Tokyo, Japan: Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics, Kokugakuin University, 1997.


create new cultural products. This does not mean that the hybridity leads to a single

world culture, because as Robinson already stated that there are still differences to be

found between cultures due to particularizing tendencies. These differences appear for

example in languages or in cultural traditions. These differences are exactly what can

be found in the Miyazaki’s animations and Hisaishi’s scores and it is thus not strange

that the reasons behind these differences can be linked to Japanese tradition and

therefore the scores might be called at least a bit ‘Japanese.’

Even in other musicological literature it is not uncommon to keep referring

something as ‘Japanese’ or ‘Russian’ or ‘German’ because some characteristics of the

music have a connection to a certain cultural tradition or history. In other words the

labeling and connection of a nation to a piece of music is not at all unique. Many

examples of this can be found in romantic German or Italian opera’s. One more

example is Stravinsky’s so-called ‘Russian period’ that is called Russian due to the

influences of Russian folklore and folksong, both of which greatly contributed to his

three great ballet pieces; The Firebird, Petrushka and the Rite of Spring. This resulted

in something that sounded different from the conventional Western music at that

time.106 A similar argument can be found for Stravinsky’s teacher Rimsky-Korsakov

who also drew inspiration from many folksongs and legends operas. Subsequently his

operas are one of the most celebrated ‘Russian’ opera’s, though in many cases it

seems that these operas show many features that are more related to non-Russian and

more Western music, such as Wagner’s operas.107 In other words his treatment of his

Russian sources often followed principles of conventional Western art music.

So even though it is not purely Russian music, nevertheless there remain

reasons to call it Russia. In the case of these Russian examples (and many others) the

reason relates to the nationalism of the 19th century.108 Of course in our case of

Japanese film scores its incorporation of Japanese elements do not have very much to

do 19th century nationalism. It does however show some kind ‘national substance’, as

Taruskin calls it, similar to the music of many Russian composers that are regarded as

‘Russian’ composers.109 This suggests that even in the late 20th century, Japanese

106 Taruskin, Richard. The Oxford History of Western Music Vol. 4. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. p. 151-190, 488.

107 Taruskin. On Russian Music. p.166-178.108 Dahlhaus, Carl, “Nationalism and Music.” In Between Romanticism and Modernism:

Four Studies in the Music of the late Nineteenth Century, 79-101. Translated by Mary Whittall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

109 Taruskin. On Russian Music. p. 27-45.


cultural products follow similar principals of distinguishing some kind of nationality.

Yet the answer to the question ‘what is this national substance?’ remains unclear,

because there is no plain answer to give. Richard Wagner even agrees on this in a

postscript on his essay ‘What is German?’ He answers: “I have come up against this

question with more and more confusion… it is impossible to answer.”110

Hence when looking at Hisaishi’s scores it is not relevant to answer the

question ‘what is Japanese about it?’ That is why the research must focus on what

makes it different from other films and where those differences could come from.

These are the areas that are explored in the scores and as result it might be possible to

call the scores and even the films in general at least something different from

Hollywood films. Yet to be calling it Japanese is unwise, as there should be no such

thing as something ‘Japanese.’ On the other hand the differences are often a result of

using elements that are rooted in a native or perhaps a national place, thus labeling the

scores Japanese might just be like referring to this quality and it distinguishes it from

Hollywood scores.


Japanese animation has proven to be a valuable research subject not only because of

its popularity in Japan and increasing awareness of this cultural product in the West,

but also for the way it is constructed. Many of the anime series and films discussed

before show the deep connection they have to their Japanese roots while at the same

time they can appear to be very disconnected from any kind of national culture. The

settings, characters and story often do not invoke any image of a distinctively

Japanese way of life and therefore, as Iwabuchi calls it, anime is culturally odorless. It

is thus believed that most anime have a unique quality of not showing off any cultural

identity, while still being influenced by both Western and non-Western cultures. In

turn this is also believed to be exactly what the contemporary Japanese cultural

identity would beheld.

This is however a dangerous statement because one could oversimplify and

essentialize the Japanese cultural identity this way which makes it not very useful to

110 Applegate, Celia, and Pamela M. Potter. "Germans as the ‘People of Music’: Genealogy of an Identity." In Music and German National Identity, 1-35. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. p. 33.


approach anime in this matter. However analyzing anime can be useful in order to

figure out how the input of different cultural influences are negotiated in a Japanese

cultural product and subsequently discover how and why anime is something different

from Hollywood animation and live-action cinema. The work of director Hayao

Miyazaki often served as a valuable research subject regarding these questions

because his work ranges across the two interconnected concepts that appear to be

defining Japanese contemporary society, named kokusaika and furusato. Up until now

almost none of the research on Miyazaki’s work however has involved the scores, of

which Joe Hisiashi composed almost all.

In analyzing the scores of some of Miyazaki’s best known works there are

many relations to be found between the way music is used in Hollywood live-action

cinema and Miyazaki’s anime. Many of the concepts describing the functions and

features of Hollywood film music are easily applicable the scores of Hisaishi. The

music is simple and inaudible, creates unity and adds a psychological subtext. The

connections Hisaishi’s music has to specifically Western animation like The Loony

Tunes or Tom and Jerry are considerably less. In the case of Western cartoons the

music generally exaggerates actions and mocks emotions to create a more lighthearted

atmosphere. But anime in general is often not very lighthearted itself, and so is the

music in Miyazaki’s anime. There are however moments in the films in which the

music is in fact used to create a more ‘cartoonish’ situation. This suggests that

Hisaishi is very aware of how the music can make a scene funny and that Miyazaki

sometimes wants to add some comic relief within the movie.

There are also differences between the general Hollywood scores and the

scores of Hisaishi, such as the use of certain instruments and the amount and silence

in the entire score. Most importantly there is a connection that can be drawn between

these differences and the concept of ma. This concept has been related to many

different Japanese cultural products, such as music, theatre and even architecture.

Many of the theorists on this concept are however Japanese and hence might be

biased. Furthermore the concept itself is difficult to define, but it is implausible to

deny that this concept played a pivotal role in much of Japan’s art because most artists

have consciously worked with similar ideas. Working with the definitions given by

both composer Takemitsu and architect Isozaki, the concept can easily also be related

to the film scores by Hisaishi and it can explain the absence of sound during multiple

scenes in the anime films.


The music has definitely shown some similar trends that also seem to appear

in the other aspects of the anime. It also ranges across a Western or international style

of composing for film while implementing a distinct Japanese touch to it, supported

by the visual animations. Though this Japanese touch appears in a far less obvious

sense than the visual animations do. Would the score stand on its own it is even

possible to claim it has almost nothing to do with a distinctively Japanese culture,

because the Japanese influences seem to only have a minor role.

But even with regard to the characteristics that do make the score different

from a general Hollywood score, it is inadvisable to call the score a uniquely Japanese

cultural product that exemplifies the contemporary Japanese identity, mainly because

it is not unique at all. Due to the process of globalization and constant cross-

pollination of cultures, every product is a hybrid even though many theorists have

tried to come up with distinctive national qualities of their own culture tied to certain

national traditions or folklore and as a result Hisaishi’s scores ‘Japanese.’ In short the

Japaneseness of the scores has it’s meaning attached to characteristics that relate to a

view on Japanese tradition. From this point of view we could view the scores, and

perhaps all aspects of Miyazaki’s anime, as something uniquely Japanese, because it

is indeed tied to some Japanese roots. And it is because of this connection the scores

are something different than the Hollywood standard.



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