The Artistic Bond of Joe Hisaishi and Hayao Miyazaki

From left to right: No Face (Spirited Away), Mei Kusakabe (My Neighbor Totoro), Mini Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro), a Soot Sprite (Spirited Away), Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro), Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service), Jiji (Kiki’s Delivery Service), Ponyo (Ponyo) Chihiro Ogino (Spirited Away), Satsuki Kusakabe (My Neighbor Totoro), Mini Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro) and Sen (Princess Mononoke).

From Howl’s Moving Castle to My Neighbor Totoro, the movies produced by Studio Ghibli have been known for their stunning animation, talented voice cast, and memorable film scores. All but one of these movie soundtracks have been scored by a single man known as Joe Hisaishi, who is widely considered “the most acclaimed Japanese composer to have ever worked in film.”.

Hisaishi and Miyazaki have had a long partnership dating back to their first film project, Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind in 1984. They have kept this relationship strong, and Hisaishi will even be the composer for the upcoming Studio Ghibli film How Do You Live?, which Miyazaki left retirement to work on with his son, Goro. In the linked podcast, I discuss the relationship between Hisaishi and Miyazaki, the importance of Hisaishi’s music in Miyazaki’s films, and the ways in which the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures could have utilized their space to better incorporate Hisaishi’s music in the Hayao Miyazaki exhibit.

“Merry-Go-Round of Life” by Joe Hisaishi, which was on the soundtrack for Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle.

Works Cited

“Composer: Hildur Guodnadottir.” Academy Museum,

Dazed. “Joe Hisaishi: The Genius Composer Who Gave Studio Ghibli Its Sound.” Dazed, 21 Jan. 2020,

Gerber, Brady. “The John Williams of Japan: Joe Hisaishi in 9 Songs.” Pitchfork, 10 Jan. 2017,

Hara, Kunio. “Joe Hisaishi’s Soundtrack for My Neighbor Totoro.” Bloomsbury, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020.

Laaninen, Mark. “The Spirit of a Composer: An Analysis of the Works of Joe Hisaishi.” SUNY Open Access Repository (SOAR), 1 May 2020,

Napier, Susan. Miyazakiworld. Yale University Press, 2020.

Pappas, Anthony. “Why Joe Hisaishi’s Music for Studio Ghibli Tugs at OUR HEARTSTRINGS.” Flypaper, Soundfly, 23 Dec. 2021,

Wyse, Alex. “10 Studio Ghibli Movies with the Greatest Scores.” ScreenRant, 14 May 2020,,bring%20you%20to%20tears%2C%20its%20score%20certainly%20will.

5 thoughts on “The Artistic Bond of Joe Hisaishi and Hayao Miyazaki”

  1. I absolutely adore the work and editing that you have put into your podcast. It was really interesting and fun to learn the relationship that Miyazaki has been able to curate with Hisaishi and how long standing it has become. It was definitely a missed opportunity to add more sections on the music that was used for his films and would’ve been super interactive. Can’t wait to see the outcome of their work done together in the next film!

  2. You have such a great narrating voice! Amazing job on this, I can tell you put a lot of work into it and I learned a lot.

  3. I’m with Azya: excellent work on this cast! Accomplished, confident delivery; effective music scoring; intelligent editing; great content!

    Re: the idea that Hisaishi may be “the most acclaimed Japanese composer to have ever worked in film,” I think that could be a stretch, since Japanese cinema has included composers renowned for their work in classical and avant-garde music, such as Tôru Takemitsu and Akira Ifukube. Also, there was the great Fumio Hayasaka, who scored several films by Akira Kurosawa that greatly influenced Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke contains visual nods to Kurosawa’s Rashomon and Seven Samurai).

    I’ve found this listicle from the blog J-Film Pow-Wow helpful:

    Also, a blog post about Takemitsu from, oddly enough, LAPL:

    My guess (and I hasten to add that it is only a guess) is that Hisaishi is the Japanese film composer with the longest list of popular tunes, i.e. earworms! 🙂

    1. PS. Hisaishi seems very aware of musical sources, both east and west. He borrows liberally (see Miranda’s post for a critique of the idea of “originality”!). Ponyo, for example, seems to draw from both French Impressionist composers (Debussy, et al.) and Wagner. And Hisaishi is surely aware of Western film composers. For example, the score to Mononoke reminds me of various heroic or epic scores in Hollywood film, such as Ernest Gold’s for Exodus and Miklós Rózsa’s scores for such widescreen epics as Ben Hur and King of Kings.

      Check out the main theme of Exodus, for example, which reminds me a lot of Mononoke:

      This is funny, because Hisaishi’s first score for Miyazaki, Nausicaä, is full of 1980s synth-pop touches! Hisaishi is versatile. 🙂

  4. Brilliant! The music of Joe Hisaishi weaves throughout the narrative, giving background information on the relationship, collaboration, between Hisaishi and Miyazaki. The narration is clear and the timing perfect. Just in case you become too hypnotized and miss some of the details, there is the transcription of the narrative. Last but not least, I felt rewarded by being able to just sit back and listen to “Merry-go-round of Life” from Howl’s Moving Castle. – Michele Hatfield

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