Introduction to Miyazaki, Hisaishi and Studio Ghibli

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Exploring music in Hayao Miyazakis animated worlds

Differences between Hollywood scores and the Japanese scores of Miyazakis animated features

Pim Belin 3216713


Begeleider: Prof. Dr. E. Wennekes

Table of Contents

Table of Contents1

Introduction to Miyazaki, Hisaishi and Studio Ghibli2

Chapter 1: Anime with and without a Japanese identity7

A model to analyze anime13

Miyazakis worlds and the Japanese identity15

Chapter 2: Anime music and the scores of Hollywood19

Anime and the music of Hollywoods live-action cinema23

Chapter 3: Finding Japaneseness28

Ma in Japanese film32

Chapter 4: Calling it Japanese37




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 studios 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 Miyazakis work became well known outside of Japan, because in that year the Walt Disney Coorperation was granted the distribution rights to Studio Ghiblis films. This meant another boost in the global awareness about Japanese animation (anime) as one of Japans 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.[footnoteRef:1] The impact of Miyazakis 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 Miyazakis 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.[footnoteRef:2] [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).]

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 researching these films.[footnoteRef:3] Many of these academics stress the fact that the influences of Japanese animations, including Miyazakis, are very broad and that this cultural product is, like any other cultural product, a hybrid.[footnoteRef: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 Miyazakis 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 Miyazakis anime, the music of Hollywood animation and live-action cinema and a Japanese cultural identity which in turn is defined by hybridity. [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.]

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 Saids 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.[footnoteRef: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. [5: Ibid. p. 1-27.]

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 Iwabuchis 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.[footnoteRef:6] This is in contrast to some of Japanese traditions such as religious Shinto practices and festivals that do have a cultural odor. 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.[footnoteRef:7] [6: Iwabuchi, Koichi. Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002. p. 24-28.] [7: ibid. p. 29-32.]

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, Miyazakis 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.[footnoteRef: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. [8: Napier. Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke. p. 3-14.]

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.[footnoteRef: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 Miyazakis anime and the contemporary Japanese identity shall be discussed using several examples of Spirited Away and the analysis of Susan Napier. [9: Lamarre, Thomas. Between cinema and anime. Japan Forum 14, no. 2 (2002): 183-189.]

It must be emphasized that the quality of Miyazakis work owes at least something to Joe Hisaishi, who composed the scores for all of Miyazakis 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 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 Kitanos A Scene by the Sea (1991) and Miyazakis 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 Hisaishis 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.[footnoteRef:10] This suggests that the score would have some characteristics that only the Japanese viewer would feel comfortable with. [10: Osmond, Andrew. Will The Real Joe Hisaishi Please Stand Up? AWN | Animation World Network. Accessed October24,2013.]

Therefore one could assume there are major differences between the scores of Miyazakis 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 Hisaishis 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 Hisaishis music. Gorbman proposed several principles on how film music in the Hollywood narrative cinema is used.[footnoteRef:11] Several of these principals will be used to find a common ground between music in the films of Hollywood and the music in Miyazakis anime. [11: See Gorbman, Claudia. Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music. Bloomington: Indianna University Press, 1987. p. 73.]

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 Hisaishis music will be split in two parts in order to discover not only what the music has in common but also what makes 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 Takemitsus concert music, yet by analyzing the relations between Takemitsus 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 Hisaishis 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.[footnoteRef: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 Hisaishis 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,[footnoteRef: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. [12: Robertson, Roland. Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. London: Sage, 1992. p. 97-115.] [13: Taruskin, Richard. On Russian Music. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009. p. 27-45.]

Chapter 1: Anime with and without a Japanese identity

Ever since the beginning of the 1990s, Japanese animation, better known by the term anime, has become an increasingly significant playe...


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