The Path Of Wind
January 15, 2011 8:01 PM   Subscribe

"You're a sleepy man, eh? Cthulhu?"

It was that parody, by the way, that reminded me to pick up a copy of the film for my six-year-old stepsister (neither of us had seen it). We had a great time watching it together during Christmas break -- Miyazaki does brilliant work, and Hisaishi's luscious music was just icing on the cake. Thanks for the post!
posted by Rhaomi at 8:12 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's impossible to overestimate the importance and popularity of the Totoro music here in Japan. Really, you hear it everywhere. And yet, I didn't know until now who wrote this. But god, I must have heard it 10,000 times by now.

Listening to the first video clip now. They've really taken a page from Astor Piazzolla's Book of Musical Overdramatization, haven't they? I mean, guys, it's a little ditty from a kiddy movie, OK? Bring it down a notch!

Much more appropriate, to my ears, is the linked version played on hand-cranked paper strip music box.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:25 PM on January 15, 2011

Some more scenes from the (actual) movie:

Mei meets Totoro

Waiting in the rain (HD)

The Grow Dance

I'm not sure which of these are in English, but it really doesn't matter. The animation is just gorgeous.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:31 PM on January 15, 2011

That song really works me up.

It reminds me of childhood.
posted by Askiba at 8:42 PM on January 15, 2011

I linked this in an askme asking for happy music, but Joe H really is the king of drippy sentimentality (in a good way).
posted by juv3nal at 8:51 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

OK. Two movies have made me cry as an adult. One was the final scene of "Mary and Max." The other was when the woman in the hospital picks up the ear of corn that says "For Mommy," and you know she's going to be all right, the kids and the Totoros are completely on the case.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:10 PM on January 15, 2011

What a fantastic movie. We've watched it probably 50 times as a family. Fifteen years ago when I first arrived in Japan I lived on the Noto Peninsula, which is a lot like this movie, right down to the white bonnets farmwomen used to wear back in the old days.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:45 PM on January 15, 2011

One of the greatest gifts I ever got was a box set with the soundtracks for all the Ghibli stuff to date. So much Joe Hisaishi, and still not enough as my favorite of all his work - Mononoke - wasn't done yet. To borrow from office space, "I celebrate his entire catalog."

Wonderful post.
posted by absalom at 9:51 PM on January 15, 2011

Slap*Happy Grave of the Fireflies could be the third…
posted by jsled at 10:13 PM on January 15, 2011

I would like to, but I have not yet had the fortitude to watch Grave of the Fireflies all the way through...

Two favorite moments of mine in Totoro which are not plot related: The view through the glinting little overfall to the discarded can at bottom of the stream that runs in front of their new house, and the moment of silence while the snail slowly moves along the plant stalk and then the water drips.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:25 PM on January 15, 2011

Oh and thanks for the post!
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:26 PM on January 15, 2011

*pushes play*
*kids come running from other end of house*

posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:28 PM on January 15, 2011 [11 favorites]

My moment in Totoro is where Mei-chan is climbing up into the house, and her little sandal won't come off, so she shakes it ... This is so realistic - my own two little girls must have done that gesture a million times ...

Our family first met Totoro when there were three of us - a single dad with two little girls, 7 and 5. Not many movies in my life will ever resonate like this one did!
posted by woodblock100 at 10:29 PM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

Grave of the Fireflies could be the third…

No, that movie made me angry. Enraged. Growing up, our family were the "Rich Relatives", and brotha, we weren't all that rich. No matter how lean times got, no matter how little there was to go around, no matter how tough things got... family is family. We're all in this together, and we'll find a way, all of us, together.

My wife would starve to death before taking food from the mouth of my brother's or sister's kids, and while she has no nieces or nephews on her side yet, if she did, damn skippy they'd be fed and cared for without complaint, even if I never ate another bite before my grave.

I know this isn't the universal reaction, but it's the same damn reaction I, my siblings and our cousins all had. That movie mad us too angry to be sad.

If there's something to be said for us Swamp Yankees, I hope it's that.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:33 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Any friend of Totoro is a friend of mine.
posted by Catblack at 10:36 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's been said before, but one of the great joys of watching Miyazaki is witnessing his mastery and his love of the mere mechanics of childhood. How a kid shakes off a sandal, how you hold a kid sister on your back and an umbrella as well. Watch the motions and gestures as Satsuki makes lunch for herself and her sister, the way she deftly juggles the chopsticks and the pot lids. It is pure delight.

Gotta agree with the Piazzolla-ization of the piano and cello arrangement. That simple little melody just can't take it!
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:46 PM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Gotta agree with the Piazzolla-ization of the piano and cello arrangement.

For the record, my comment was in reference to the piano/violin clip, but I can imagine the cello one was overwrought as well...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:48 PM on January 15, 2011

Oh man, I love Joe Hisaishi. My favorite of his is probably "Ashitaka and San" from Princess Mononoke.

Original version (with a few seconds at the beginning of random stuff).

Joe Hisaishi live with children's choir

Version from the Symphonic Soundtrack

Fan covers: 1 2 3 (among many many others)
posted by kmz at 11:36 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Now I will spend the next few days listening to orchestral versions of the Princess Mononoke soundtrack. Damn you/thank you.
posted by yeloson at 11:38 PM on January 15, 2011

and cross posting with kmz.
posted by yeloson at 11:39 PM on January 15, 2011

Came across this translation of the song...

From the depths of the woods where the wind originates
To the field where alone stands an elm tree
Floating, softly embracing, it has come
Over there is the pathway of the wind

** From the depths of the woods where the wind originates
Its invisible hand extends over the ears of barley
Floating, softly embracing, your hair
flutters as it passes by

* Faraway land travelling wind waypost
Going alone I give you a hair ornament

From the depths of the woods where the wind originates
To the field where alone stands an elm tree
Floating, sofly embracing, it is going
Over there is the pathway of wind

* repeat
** repeat
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:11 AM on January 16, 2011

I watched this movie last year, about a week before I moved to rural Japan, and could barely contain my excitement. Now my life mostly revolves around a 40-minute commute, a desk job, boring expat drama, fast food, and shoveling snow, but occasionally this song will come on while I'm driving and remind me where I am. Magical, thanks for posting.
posted by sunset in snow country at 1:42 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Joe Hisaishi can control my emotions better than I do. Which makes him God in my religion.

If you haven't seen his work on Takeshi Kitano films (and if you haven't, and you consider yourself someone who likes hard-boiled gangster flicks, do yourself a favor and watch them NOW), you probably only associate Hisaishi's music with evoking emotions like wonder and sadness and nostalgia--child-like stuff. And just based on what I remember, outside of a couple songs from Mononoke, you'd probably be right. He doesn't often do brutal, argumentative, dissonant, adult music--he does (this is the word I always see associated with him) whimsical songs. Hisashi is indeed brilliant at translating the whimsical emotions of kids into music. But if that's all you think, you're be selling him short. What I love about him is how well the seemingly same music that describes how it might feel to ride a catbus(!) can be used as set pieces in bloodthirsty Yakuza films. Indeed, with Takeshi, who has this style (that I personally love and others hate) of going long stretches with no dialogue, his characters intentionally inert, sometimes the music is all that's communicating anything at all. For instance, see this clip from the end of Hanabi (HUGE SPOILER, don't watch or read the rest of this if you still intend to see the film).

Sure, with a kid running around in the background with a kite and a couple whiling away on a peaceful beach, you'd think it was an idyllic scene, and Hisaishi's score seems about right, using the familiar elements that you'd find in a Miyazaki-Hisaishi collaboration: the sweeping dynamics, a Japanese flute over a running keyboard line, the... well, you've all seen Totoro or any other Miyazaki film. You know what I'm talking about. They're all Hisaishi trademarks. With a superficial listen, it might not seem all that out of the ordinary, what whimsical music! you think. But if you listen closer or let the music do its intended work, you get these little moments of sadness, you feel these intense longings for the past, and every now and then a flicker of optimism bubbles up... you can sense all this without even looking at your screen. Sure, the whole movie sets up this scene, but the music, which couldn't be more typically Hisaishi, is just PERFECT at conveying this complex morass of stuff. And even if you haven't seen the rest of the movie, you can sense the dread inherent in the clip, so when he shoots her and commits suicide, you're not at all shocked. Or at least I wasn't, even watching this clip in isolation years later. I'm no music scholar, but I think I can point to that break at around 1:30, where the same few notes are repeated with pauses between, where you really start to feel uneasy. I can almost hear Kitano's brain whirring as he wills himself to action, as if each pregnant pause was a question mark, one that urgently asked him to make up his mind. Either way, when the plaintive theme kicks back in, it's so goddamn sad I want to weep.

One last one before I completely derail the Totoro love in here (which is well-deserved!): I get chills every time I watch this clip and it's because of the music, which feels so completely right. You could take that bit out and attach it to any Miyazki scene where a character is doing a simple task in preparation for something more important. There's something embedded in the music that just screams "Play this when the protagonists are doing boring, daily routine stuff--before they prepare for battle!" Except in this case the boring, mundane activity--which is indeed boring and mundane in the context of this film which has all sorts of out and out revenge murders--IS THE FABRICATION OF A COUNTERFEIT COP CAR and battle would be the ROBBING OF A BANK. Genius!
posted by jng at 1:44 AM on January 16, 2011

I love Totoro (though my true heart lies with Pompoko and Sen to Chihiro), and the scene that really makes it for me is the heartbroken face of the nice old neighbor lady when she offers up the found sandal to Satsuki, sure that Mei is gone. The complete change, the range of emotions she goes through when Satsuki says that it's not Mei's slipper, that is powerful, haunting filmmaking to me.

On a related note, I can't get to it at the moment, but the theme song to Sen to Chihiro, the one that plays over the end credits and sounds like the best lullaby ever is one of my favorite Ghibli things. It was used in the trailer for the film, and even though I couldn't tell you what movie I saw that day, and given the fact that, at the time, my Japanese was too poor to understand anything being sung, I wept like a little child, just from the trailer to the film.

The shadow people on the train are just about the best thing ever committed to film
posted by Ghidorah at 2:31 AM on January 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

Ghidorah: but the theme song to Sen to Chihiro, the one that plays over the end credits

I believe you mean this one. That song can be the last straw if you have just the right amount of things on your mind and you haven't let it all out recently.

I watched Okuribito (Departures) twice (tell me the Joe Hisaishi score wasn't eminently obvious in the film). The first time I saw it alone. I may have gotten a knot in my throat by the end.

The second time I watched it with my at-the-time girlfriend (my wife). The movie was over, credits were rolling, and I had the knot in my throat but no crying. My wife was silently crying. I let my mind briefly touch upon some of the different themes in the movie, burakumin and who knows what else, maybe my family situation at the time, and suddenly I lost control. And that was that. I was broken, bawling like a baby.

It feels really silly when you're unconsciously trying to keep your composure and you lose it, only to realize that you'd been needing the catharsis all along. Which reminds me, it's been a while. I need to find a good song or a movie or something.
posted by donttouchmymustache at 5:16 AM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this. Joe Hisaishi is a wonderful composer.

I spent this Fall hiking through the Shirakami Sanchi region which straddles Akita and Aomori prefectures in northern Japan, and is the setting of Mononoke Hime, listening to Hisaishi's soundtrack over and over. Absolutely magical.

A World Heritage area, Shirakami Sanchi ("Mountains of the White Gods") is one of the most mysterious places I've had the great fortune to visit in my life.

The area is said to have never been disturbed by human hands, due to difficulties in cultivating such a rugged and isolated landscape. A lot of unique flora. It is also known as the last refuge of the Emishi, the native people of Northern Honshu, who according to legend retreated to this region in their final days before complete annihilation/assimilation by the Yamato (Japanese) Emperors. Ashitaka, the protagonist of Mononoke, is Emishi. Miyazaki is intensely interested in pre-Yamato Japanese culture, and many of his films touch on those mysterious ancient times.

A beautiful, off-the-beaten-track part of Japan that, if any Mefites ever get a chance to visit, I recommend wholeheartedly. Make sure you bring a copy of the Mononoke soundtrack with you :)
posted by jet_manifesto at 6:18 AM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

They've really taken a page from Astor Piazzolla's Book of Musical Overdramatization

True, but concert goers are so desperate and grateful for contemporary compositions with some emotional content, that they give this sort of thing excessive exposure and reward, when, really, it should not be too much to ask contemporary composers to give us something in between cold academic formalism and this type of overdramatization. Something that balances the load between the performer, composer and the notes on the page.

That said, I am mad for all things Miyazaki (except for the "big lady" in "Ponyo").
posted by Faze at 6:46 AM on January 16, 2011

I like the idea of Totoro (and the catbus) more than I actually like the film 'My Neighbour Totoro'. There isn't enough Totoro in that film for me. Having said that, the rain scene is a particularly brilliant scene.

I was really excited when a Totoro doll showed up in Toy Story 3 - wish it had had a bigger part. The Totoro and the catbus would totally have sorted out that strawberry bear thing.
posted by Summer at 7:51 AM on January 16, 2011

My kids and I love Totoro, but I think our favorite Miyazaki film is Spirited Away. We've watched that one 20 or more times.
posted by garnetgirl at 8:50 AM on January 16, 2011

The shadow people on the train are just about the best thing ever committed to film

On days when I feel gloomy, stressed and just plain under the weather, I'll watch this scene. This often leads to watching the whole film in my pajamas, time permitting.

My favorite Ghibli movie is Pom Poko, though. The score is, if anything, quite understated. The muted melancholy in so much of the music really cements the nostalgia for a lost period running underneath all the film's silliness. There are so many wonderful moments--the Spirit Parade, the narrotor's quietly wistful reflections, the scene at the end when, realizing they're losing their home, the tanuki all reimagine and for a moment relive the bucolic past for one last time. The spirit of cheerful optimism in the face of dire circumstance that defines the movie makes it one of the saddest, tear jerkiest children's movies I know.

Another one that doesn't get nearly enough recognition is Whisper of the Heart. This is simply one of the best scenes in any movie, ever.

I still haven't seen Totoro.
posted by byanyothername at 9:37 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Narrator's, too. I'm not sure what a narrotor is but it sounds vaguely unpleasant.)
posted by byanyothername at 9:39 AM on January 16, 2011

Listening to the first video clip now. They've really taken a page from Astor Piazzolla's Book of Musical Overdramatization, haven't they? I mean, guys, it's a little ditty from a kiddy movie, OK? Bring it down a notch!

It’s probably the best-known piece of music from a Japanese classical composer, both in and out of Japan. The crowd is expecting a capital-P Performance, and Joe Hisaishi has probably played the piece a thousand times by now. I saw two musicians having fun, playing off each other, and playing to their audience’s expectations.

Now that that’s out of the way, I just have to say that I love both the films and the music. Hisaishi has always struck me as a modern-day Debussy — his work is playful and childlike, but also has incredible depth and sophistication upon close listening.

Great post, mintcake!
posted by spitefulcrow at 9:59 AM on January 16, 2011

It still amazes me that Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies premiered as a double bill. Talk about mood whiplash!
posted by kmz at 1:35 PM on January 16, 2011

Haven't seen Fireflies. Do. Not. Want.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:59 PM on January 16, 2011

don't touch my moustache, that link didn't work for me, but this one does. It's called Itsumo Nando Demo, and it's just perfect.

and, byanyothername, Pompoko is definitely my favorite as well. I can't watch it without crying. It's kind of interesting that most of the times I've seen it have been without English subtitles, kind of charting my understanding of the language. The first time I saw it, I could only barely make out certain words here and there, but the scene you mention at the end, where they try to dream back their past, I can't even think about it without (as I am at the moment) getting a little teary eyed. If I try to explain it to anyone, I will cry, and it's something I can't help. It's a fantastic film, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:38 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

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