Joe Hisaishi - Biography
By Eric Brightwell
Joe Hisaishi (or sometimes Jô Hisaishi) is the nom de plume of Mamoru Fujisawa, a prolific Japanese score composer best known for his work with acclaimed directors Hayao Miyazaki and Takeshi Kitano. His scores have won him six Nippon Akademī-shō, Japan’s most prestigious film award. His style is characterized by mix of European and Japanese classical with minimalism, New Age, and often elements of electronic music and jazz.
Mamoru Fujisawa was born December 6, 1950 in Nagano, Japan. His music studies began at five, when he started violin lessons. In 1969, he continued pursuing music at Tokyo’s Kunitachi Ongaku Daigaku, where he majored in composition. There, working as a typesetter, he collaborated with several minimalist composers, contributing to The Evening of Contemporary Music Now ’71 at the Masuhino Public Hall and Six New Work Exhibitions at Asahi Seimei Hall. In 1974, his first composition was debuted, a Satie and Glass-influenced score for an animated short, Gyatoruzu.
His first live performances followed shortly after, for the next few years, they were his focus. In 1976 he performed minimalist pieces at Asahi Seimei Hall and Yasuda Life Hall. That year he also contributed music to the anime Robokko Beeton. The following year, he performed at the Pan Music Festival 2 Tokyo ’77, at the Seibu Art Museum. Joined by Norihiko Watanabe and Katsuya Yokoyama, he performed at the Tokyo Festival Hall. In 1978, he again performed at the Seibu Art Museum Concert ’78. At this point Fujisawa chose the pseudonym “Hisaishi Jo” for its phonetic similarity to “Quincy Jones” and formed the ensemble, Hisaishi’s Troup, who performed Floating Sound 1 at Mozard Salon.
Hiasishi Jo returned to score work in 1981, when he arranged the theme of Hello! Sandybelle. By the time he released his debut album, MKWAJU (1981-Columbia), his compositions still evinced his background in minimalism but also reflected an increasing interest in popular electronic music, new age and melodic percussion. The album was recorded at a live performance at the Haiyuu Zagekijoo theater in Tokyo. His second album, Information (1982-Tokuma Japan), followed a year later and was released whilst the composer was still in school. After graduation, the composer began contributing many more scores, including the anime TV series Sasuga no Sarutobi and Two Down Full Base. In film, he scored Techno Police 21c and, collaborating with Yuichiro Oda, Ozu no Mahōtsukai, an adaptation of Wizard of Oz. The following year he provided music for the anime Kikô sôseiki Mospeada, and Sasrygar.
Hisaishi’s first big break came in 1983 when he began a long running professional partnership with a giant of anime, director Hayao Miyazaki. For his latest film, Kaze no Tani no Naushika, Isao Takahata was originally slated to provide the score. Hisaishi released an image album (an album of music based on storyboards and preliminary art) that Miyazaki listened to during production. As a result, Miyazaki strongly recommended Hisaishi write the score, which he did, Kaze no Tani no Naushika (1983-Tokuma Japan). From that point on, Miyazaki and Hisaishi would collaborate on many projects.
In 1984, Hisaishi provided the music for the anime Bâsu, (1984-RCA Victor), the series, Futari Taka, the live action film, W no higeki. The following year he contributed music to the series Honō no Arupen Rôzu and Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive as well as the films Soushun monogatari and Haru no kane (later included on B+1). He also released another album of original material, the comparatively experimental, α-Bet-City (1985-Tokuma Japan), which showed considerable hip-hop influence.
Hisaishi contributed scores to several works in 1986, including the anime films Arion (1986-Tokuma) and Miyazaki’s Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta (1986-Tokuma). He also wrote the music for the series, Ozu no mahôtsukai and Maison Ikkoku (1986-Kitty Records) as well as the live action Atami satsujin jiken. In addition to his many scores that year, he composed, arranged and played on Syoko’s album Soil (Toshiba EMI Ltd) and released another solo album, Curved Music (1986-Polydor).
Another collaboration with Miyazaki followed in 1987, Tonari no Totoro (Tokuma). In keeping with his prolific schedule, he also proved the music for the anime Robotto kânibaru, Koibitotachino jikoku and Kono aino monogatari. His score for Hyôryu kyôshitsu also marked the beginning of several collaborations with experimental director Ōbayashi Nobuhiko. The following year, he scored Don-matsugoro no daiboke, Yakuza tosei no sutekina menmen, Guriin rekuiemu and the anime, Vinasu senki (1988-Warner Pioneer). He also released two solo albums, Illusion (1988-NEC Avenue) and Piano Stories (1988-NEC Avenue), the latter featuring reworkings of some of his movie themes. In 1989, he released The Universe Within (1989-NEC Avenue), scored another Miyazaki film, Majo no takkyûbin (1989-Tokuma) as well as Tsuribaka nisshi 2. He recorded his next solo album, Pretender (NEC Avenue), in New York City. In 1990, he wrote scores for Peesuke - Gatapishi monogatari,the live action Tasumania monogatari (1990-Pony Canyon) as well as Kanbakku and Gokudou Tosei no Suteki na Menmen.
In 1991, Hisaishi released Animage Best Symphony (1991-Tokuma), another solo album, I Am (1991-Toshiba EMI) as well as scores for the anime Robotto kânibaru (1991-JVC), Kojika monogatari (1991-NEC Avenue) and the live action Futari (1991-NEC Avenue). 1991 was also the year that Hisaishi Jo began another successful and fruitful partnership with a Japanese director; this time with actor/comedian/director Takeshi Kitano for his film, Ano natsu, ichiban shizukana umi (1992-Toshiba EMI), the score of which was released the following year.
The following year, Hisaishi released another solo album, My Lost City (1992-Toshiba EMI) as well as the Symphonic treatment of earlier compositions, Symphonic Best Selection (1992-Toshiba EMI). His work was also released on the compilation, B+1 (1992-NEC Avenue), and the score for Seishun dendekedekedeke (1992-Toshiba EMI). He also released another score for Miyazaki’s Kurenai no buta (1992-Tokuma). Hisaishi’s second collaboration with Kitano was Sonachine (1993-Toshiba EMI), released the same year as Haruka, nosutarujii (1993-NEC Avenue) and Mizu no tabibito -Samurai kizzu (1993-King Records). In 1994, he provide some music for the series Toki o kakeru shôjo, the film, Onna zakari and released another solo album, Chijou no Rakuen (1994-Pioneer LDC). The following year, Hisaishi took a long deserved break from scoring and only released a solo record, Melody Blvd. (1995-Pioneer LDC).
Hisaishi’s break from scoring was short and he returned to film work the following year with Parasaito Ivu (1996-Polydor), Miyazaki’s Mononoke Hime (1996-Tokuma), Kitano’s Kizzu ritân (1996-Polydor), Kyougaku no Shou Uchujintai (1996-NEC Avenue). He also released another solo piano album, Piano Stories II – The Wind of Life (1996-Polydor). In 1997, he scored Kitano’s Hana-bi (the score of which was released the following year by Polydor) and also received the 48th Newcomer Award from the Ministry of Education. In 1998, he released Music From The Motion Picture Kikujiro (1998-WEA), Princess Mononoke (Symphonic Suite) (1998-Tokuma) – recorded in Prague with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. He released another solo piano album, Piano Stories III - Nostalgia (1998-Polydor) as well as the score for Shigure no Ki (1998-Columbia). He was also tapped to write the theme music for the Winter Paralympics, included on the release Hope - Nagano Paralympics 1998 Tribute (1998-Tokuma). In 1999, Hisaishi scored Kitano’s Kikujirô no natsu (1999-Polydor) as well as the third installment for the computer-animated educational series, Jintai III: Idenshi Soundtrack Vol.1 (1999-Pony Canyon). The same year he released another symphonic album of his themes, Works II '98 Orchestra Nights (1999-Polygram).
In the first year of the new millennium, Hisaishi’s scores for Hatsukoi (2000-Polydor), Kawa no nagare no you ni (2000-Columbia), the anime series, Hono no Arupenrouzu (2000-Tokuma), Kichijoutenjou (2000-Tokuma) and another solo album, Violist wo Ute (2000-Polydor), were released.
In 2001, he scored Kitano’s Brother (2001-Polydor), his first foreign film, Le Petit Poucet (2001-ULM) and Miyazaki’s Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (2001-Tokuma). He also served as executive producer of the Night Fantasia 4 Movement at the Japan Expo in Fukushima. Hisaishi scored, wrote and directed the film, Quartet (2001-Polydor). 2002’s Kitano film, Dolls (2002-Universal) proved to be his last collaboration. There were claims that Hisaishi didn’t like the film although Kitano claimed that Hishaishi’s asking price was no longer affordable. However, his relationship with Miyazaki continued and Hisaishi scored his short, Mei to Koneko basu. He also scored Kusoh no kikai-tachi no naka no hakai no hatsumei and Mibu gishi den (2002-Volcano). He released his own album, Encore (2002-Polydor), and another album orchestrated film music, Super Orchestra Night 2001 (released in 2002 on his own label, Wonderland Records). In 2003, he released two DVDs, 4 Movement and A Wish to the Moon - Joe Hisaishi & 9 Cellos - 2003 Etude/Encore Tour. The following year, he scored Miyazaki’s Hauru no ugoku shiro (2004-Miya Records) and the TV series, Art Museums of the World. In November, joined by a group of Canadian musicians, he embarked on the Joe Hisaishi Freedom – Piano Stories 2004 tour.
In the middle of the decade, with his reputation still growing at home, Hisaishi’s international profile rose as well. In 2005, he scored his first Korean film, Welcome to Dongmakgol (2006-Universal), his first Chinese film, Ching din dai sing (2005-EEG Emperor Entertainment), as well as the Japanese war film, Otoko-tachi no Yamato. Another studio album, Asian X.T.C. (Universal) followed in 2006, which showed considerable Chinese influence and featured a collaboration with Depapepe. He also scored another Chinese film, Yi ma de hou xian dai sheng huo. In December, he released another DVD, Joe Hisaishi and New Japan Philharmonic World Dream Orchestra. The score for another Chinese film followed in 2007, Tai yang zhao chang sheng qi (Universal) and he composed the music for the Korean drama, The Legend. In another Korean drama of the same year, Soul Mate, Hisaishi is even part of the plot, with a main character leaving his homeland to work with the composer. A CD/DVD combo, W.D.O. Best (2007-Universal), included his versions (with the World Dream Orchestra) of works by Francis Lai, Michel Legrand and others. That year he also scored Miyazaki’s Gake no ue no Ponyo (2008-Phantom), the Oscar-winning Okuribito (2008-Universal), Watashi wa kai ni naritai (2008-Universal) and the French film, Sunny et L'Eléphant (2009-Cristal). In 2009, Hisaishi released his most recent solo album, Another Piano Stories - The End of the World (2009-Universal), featuring piano treatments of tracks from recent films. In July, he released another DVD, Joe Hisaishi in Budokan - 25 years with the Animations of Hayao Miyazaki .In November, he was awarded with a Medal of Honor by the Government of Japan. His next score will most likely be 2010’s Akunin.