Movies are so much more than visuals on a screen. This is one of the reasons why this medium is so different from others, like literature. The atmosphere of cinema is so gripping and enveloping. It would be hard to look away from a big screen in the theater as a movie’s being projected. Why is that? There are many explanations for these states of wonderment, but today I’ll give credit to the movie’s soundtracks.
There are many movies which I adore that have very understated soundtracks. So quiet that you barely notice them. Some films have no soundtracks at all. However, you know a good soundtrack when you hear it. I love when I hear a song featured in a film and I’m instantly met with visuals from the movie’s scenes. One soundtrack that stands out to me specifically is the 2008 anime movie, Ponyo.
The great soundtrack of Ponyo
Composed by Joe Hisaishi, I think that Ponyo’s soundtrack is one of the best to be made. Ponyo is a famous work by director and writer Hayao Miyazaki. Its story is another retelling of Hans Christian Anderson‘s The Little Mermaid, bearing many similarities to Disney’s animated feature of the same name. Yet, despite sharing the similar roots, Ponyo feels drastically different, with more adventures, tension, and ramen.
Ponyo’s sounds equal its visuals
As each song reflects the scenes from Ponyo, viewers are able to listen to specific songs and visualize their associated on-screen moments. Each song, in my opinion, was perfectly crafted and curated to assist in its storytelling. As the story rises and falls, so does the music to accompany it. Let’s look at three songs that effortlessly progress the timeline of Ponyo:
“Deep Sea Pastures” – The Beginning
The first on its soundtrack, “Deep Sea Pastures”, glides its listener across the ocean floor. With swirling strings and operatic voices, it’s easy to drift away. Spurts of sounds glitter across carpeted melodies, filling the audience with curiosity and interest. Just as the two main characters in Ponyo feel and exercise. Since it is the beginning of the movie, Hisaishi maintains a cool draw on his sound, only hinting at the beauty to be seen. This is also shown visually with each character’s on-screen explorations.
“Ponyo Flies” – The Middle
“Ponyo Flies” sends strings fluttering in the wind with sharp draws and shifts. A large brass section bombards through the undertones of the strings. This pushes the momentum of the track forward, like the moon does the waves. Symbols crash and ricochet off each other at unaware moments, just as the ocean acts upon a cliffside during a storm.
There is never a moment when the song calms, just as there is never a moment of peace in the movie’s scene. The two characters joining together in this scene is a turning point for the movie. Through Hisaishi’s soundtrack, the audience really feels the build up for it.
“A Song for Mothers and the Sea” – The End
Floating its audience to its end, “A Song for Mothers and the Sea” sums up the emotions of the movie, while also showcasing the current, conclusive events. At this point, the conflict is over, the choices have been made. The two characters of Ponyo have a whole new life ahead of them. These moments are reflected in “A Song for Mothers and the Sea” through its drawn-out strings, remorseful vocals, and cascading percussion. The song is not sad, it is hopeful, while also nodding at the past experiences that brought it there. These are same feelings that are shown on-screen.
A love for the work
Joe Hisaishi’s soundtrack for Ponyo is alive, exactly how the movie is. Without having to look at its scenes, and just listening to its soundtrack, the audience knows exactly what to visualize. Both projects are filled with love and passion for the work, and it is felt in both their mediums: music and film. This is why Joe Hisaishi’s soundtrack for Ponyo remains one of the best in the industry.
What is your favorite soundtrack?