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FSMO contributor Cary Wong scored a nomination from Los Angeles Press Club - National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards in the Music category. The awards were founded in 2008 to “recognize the finest work from U.S.-based entertainment reporters and editors in theater, film and television critics in all media. We wish Cary the best of luck as he faces off against three Variety writers and one Los Angeles Times writer. (Variety also received the most overall nominations this year with 99, while Film Score Monthly Online received the one.) The winners will be announced virtually in late March/early April.

 

Here is one of the reviews that made Cary a finalist:

 

Dream Songs: The Essential Joe Hisaishi ****

JOE HISAISHI
Decca Gold B0030941-02
Disc One: 12 tracks - 62:45
Disc Two: 16 tracks - 68:34

Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi (né Mamoru Fujisawa) will forever be known for his longtime collaboration with master animation director Hayao Miyazaki, but his most recent greatest hits compilation, Dream Songs: The Essential Joe Hisaishi, clearly shows that other directors have also stimulated his musical genius. This collection was released in conjunction with Hisaishi’s recent concert tour, which sadly had to be cut short because of the covid-19 pandemic. As a casual fan of Hisaishi, I know some of his more popular scores that have had U.S. soundtrack releases: things like Spirited Away, Kikujiro, Departures, and perhaps his most famous work, Princess Mononoke. This album fills in a lot of blanks, providing access to highlights from scores not released widely outside of Japan.

The veteran composer turns 70 this December, and is basically the John Williams or the Ennio Morricone of Japan. He has won seven Japanese Academy Film Prizes, including for The Wind Rises and Ponyo (but shamefully has not landed even a single American Oscar nomination). Hisaishi has also directed one of the movies for which he composed the score: Quartet. Compared to the work of Toru Takemitsu, Japan’s first great film composer, and whose reputation was known in America, Hisaishi’s music is much more traditionally melodic and orchestral (especially in his family films), making him more accessible to general audiences.

Dream Songs: The Essential Joe Hisaishi, Decca’s excellent 2-CD retrospective of the composer’s output, offers a well-rounded view of his work in film, as well as some compositions not written to picture. The album starts with Spirited Away and continues with Kiki’s Delivery Service, two of the Hisaishi’s most gorgeous, fanciful scores for Miyazaki films. The aforementioned Princess Mononoke was actually the first work I experienced of both Hisaishi and Miyazaki, and the score blew me away at the time. The music’s power is matched only by its beauty, and there are two representative tracks here: the concert suite and “Ashitaka and San.” The only other score that gets two selections on the playlist is the delicate and whimsical My Neighbor Totoro.

Hisaishi has scored for live action as well, with many such projects being for director Takeshi Kitano. Examples here include the bouncy “Summer” from Kikujiro, and the jazzy “Ballade” from Brothers. My favorite amongst the non-animated score selections is that for the Oscar-winning Foreign Language Film, Departures, about a cellist who returns to his hometown to be a ritual mortician. That premise may sound morbid, but the title track, heard here, is anything but.

As for Hisaishi’s non-film works in the collection, “Asian Dream Song” may be the most memorable, as it was used by Olympic gold medalist figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu for part of his free skate program a few years ago. These pieces, many of which are piano solos or at least piano-centric, come from the composer’s “Piano Stories” series of albums.

Overall, there’s quite a lot to unpack in this lengthy collection, but it doesn’t even scratch the surface of many fine scores and other works that go unrepresented. In the end, this is as good a place as any for beginners to be introduced to Hisaishi’s work, and also a worthwhile find for avid fans already familiar with his genius. —Cary Wong

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