My favourite pieces by Japanese composers

I always loved watching Japanese anime movies and aside from the sensational creativity that goes into producing the stories, I really admire the strong musical themes. As soon as you hear a theme, your mind instantly pictures that quirky, cute and sort of innocent character lost in a mythical world.

I then discovered a whole host of Japanese composers' music outside of anime movies echoing the great Romantic composers such as Strauss, Brahms and Rachmaninoff. Below are a list of my favourite pieces:

8. 'Bibo No Aozora' by Ryuichi Sakamoto featured in 'Babel'

The minimalistic descending thirds on the piano create progression and the cloudy strings fill this piece with sadness, which goes well with the ominous stories of the film.

7. 'Howl's Moving Castle' theme by Joe Hisaishi

What a theme to convey a dream - a castle that moves according to your wishes. Imagine the ability to go wherever you would want to go in the world with your home. This theme is playful and sweet, and as it sounds like a waltz, it carries with it romance (as in the anime, the magical characters falls in love eventually).

6. 'Piano Concerto in D minor: I: Lento' by Humiwo Hayasaka

This is a piece that reminded me of Rachmaninoff's aura of gloom in his piano concertos, which reflects Hayasaka's personal story for this piece as it was composed for his fallen brother. I adore the agitated passages of the piano against the build-up of orchestra. A sombre melody carries through in a subtle way in the piece.

5. 'The Sheltering Sky' theme by Ryuichi Sakamoto

The heart-melting repetitions of the high violins does bring a lump to the throat.

4. 'Legend of the Wind' by Joe Hisaishi featured in 'Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind'

The sweetness of the piano against the swarming tides of the wind and string sections really encapsulates the image of the young princess, Nausicaä who strives to protect creatures in a post-apocalyptic world.

3. 'Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence' theme by Ryuichi Sakamoto

The delicate opening, which repeats later in the piece sounds like the light playing of a koto (a Japanese string instrument that reminds me of the dulcimer). The main theme comprises of this beautiful melody which sounds 'Japanese' I think because of the use of pentatonic scales.

2. 'One Summer's Day' by Joe Hisaishi featured in 'Spirited Away'

Who can not be taken aback as to how wonderful the anime 'Spirited Away' is? This piece showcases the innocence of Chihiro, a young girl who gets lost into the spirit world. The impressionist progressions in the piece brings vivid colours and I hear conversation in the music, which reflects communication in the spirit world.

1. 'The Revenant' theme by Ryuichi Sakamoto

When I listen to this piece, I think of myself being alone on top of a snowy mountain feeling free and reflective. Of course, one cannot avoid casting their mind to Hugh Glass in the movie 'Revenant' where he braves the freezing temperatures under a terrible condition.

Particularly, I love the echoey pauses in between the rich, dark chords in this piece - they give a lot of room for breathing, which creates an image of vast space.

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