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  • Writer's pictureandreahywong

Album: My Neighbor Totoro OST – Joe Hisaishi

A bit of a prologue: My previous post was a bit of a quest for a Totoro theme for an #AR #filter my friend and I are experimenting to make! I ended up listening to entire OST album, so here is that journey documented in one place!


I decided a few tracks in, that the music was just too good to skim through and decided to spend 45 minutes listening to all 20 tracks. I also later realized, what a perfect example to pay attention to the sound design! It’s been ages since I’ve watched this movie, and at the time, I wasn’t aware of the fun sound design! I really should revisit this classic. Anyway, this started as a place to get ideas for an AR filter, but I think I’m just going to jot down my overall thoughts and reactions to the album since I’m listening to the whole thing. What a work of art.


Hey Let’s Go – Opening Theme Song

Honestly, this is going to be harder than I thought because this whole soundtrack is so good! This theme song is also very fun and youthful! The beginning almost sounded like Scottish drones/bagpipes to me for some reason! But the brass quickly tied me back to the famous theme.


The Village in May

Oh my, I love the playfulness of the strings and winds here. It’s so cute, so carefree, and joyful! The octave leap in the melody at 0:15, the “boom-bap” oompa-loompa accompaniment between the lower string pizz down beats and brass off beats, the descending chromatic lines in the woodwinds at 0:20… it reminds me of something I’d hear in a Disney Toy Story movie!


A Haunted House!

What is this? It’s such a party! I don’t really remember this piece playing in the film! Maybe when they approach their new house and the little girl is discovering the soot sprite creatures? Or following the little Totoro?



Mei and the Dust Bunnies

What a fun opening! The lack of a regular pulse is sort of disorienting at the beginning! I could see the first 40 seconds being used in a game like whack-a-mole where you need to tap on the soot-sprites peering over your phone’s edge, or appearing on your screen with where the sound is panned (more left/right). I don’t know, just some ideas. It truly feels like a Japanese arcade game. #future


Evening Wind

Solo flute. + Harp. Is that an oboe playing the melody around 0:16? I should really re-visit my woodwind instruments. They’re a big more foreign to me, and difficult to differentiate. I love the occasional tinkles of glock.


Not Afraid

This is so interesting! Focusing on just the audio, it’s much more obvious that the samples of children(?) voices from Mei and the Dust Bunnies are re-used here on the fourth beat of every bar. Love the use of samples for percussive effect. The beginning of this short track is quite effective too! The Latin American(?) percussion and the almost horror-like orchestral hits in the first 10 seconds here caught me off guard. Yet, it was able to transition to something so calming and reflective…


Let’s Go to the Hospital

A review of the opening theme, Hey Let’s Go here. The ongoing snare makes this feel more like a march. I don’t remember, but I bet it’s when the children are walking to visit their mom.


Mother

I got chills from the voice. It sounds very pure! I wonder if the lack of actual words/meaning found in language adds to that? The percussion near the end sort of even sounded like 808s for some reason! I wonder what was used to make that sound…



A Little Monster

Can I just say how neatly this is all mixed? Around a minute in, you can really hear the spatialization(?)/panning of the different instruments. Fun! The Totoro Ending Theme sneaks its way in – my bet is it’s foreshadowing to when the girl finds Totoro in the forest. Around 2:00, the strings alternating on two notes fading in and out, with some harp later, and the punches of brass, pointillistic winds, marimba… it’s all very mysterious.



Totoro

I felt a bit pulled in different directions between all the repeating patterns, the voices, the mallet percussion(?) in the left ear, some more synthy sounds… before realizing this is (I think…) in 7! It’s confusing to analyze which someone feels meditative? I wonder if because of how jumbled it feels, that the listener can sort of just “give up” making sense of it and allow it to just “be”. The cello/string entrances in 2:00-2:20 are so angelic and expansive. The beauty in the harmony is sort of known for Joe Hisaishi’s music. I realize I haven’t really noted anything regarding that, more so on the instrumentation. I’ll have to take a look at the actual composition/notes/harmony when I choose a theme for this filter.


A Huge Tree in the Tsukamori Forest

Is it a synth? The beginning melody? It’s almost eerie(?) to me. The repeating high-pitched pointed patterns definitely make it feel delicate, but still contemplative with the sustained notes, until we get some bass drum(?) hits around 0:57 that make it all grow outwards. It’s almost like different elements of the forest (birds, night-animals, sprites, fairies..) are waking up and coming together in a fantasy world. Also, this is developing off the same theme we heard in Evening Wind!


A Lost Child

Is that a classical guitar at 0:17? A harp? It slightly feels like a bard with a lute in some medieval era. I should really brush up on my instrumentation and recognizing instruments. The short entrance at 0:09 must be a synth right? Almost haunting like a theremin. It gets more pop-like a minute in – it reminds me a lot of some older Chinese classic songs from the 80s(?) I hear when my aunties and uncles sing karaoke. I wonder why that is. What features make these pieces recognizable as this era? Percussion? Other instrumentation? Harmony? Melodic contours? That’s always intrigued me. What makes [genre] [genre]? What makes 80’s Chinese classics… 80’s Chinese classics?


The Path of the Wind – Instrumental

Ah. I like the use of the repeating pattern from the previous track, A Lost Child, applied to a melody we’ve already heard (in A Huge Tree in the Tsukamori Forest). Around 0:49 there appears to be some interjections of a “wobbly synth” that sounds very 8-bit to me! I believe it’s the same as the main voice at 2:31 – this almost seems like a jazz improv solo!



A Soaking Wet Monster

Ooh. Those slightly out-of-tune hits sound like pitched droplets of water. I also don’t know if I’ve ever noticed a synthetic tremolo in this before. I think it works nicely! 1:48 the basses and other instruments start playing bits and pieces of the Totoro Theme song. What a jumble of fun.


Moonlight Flight

Triumphant was the first word that came to mind. The alternating lower and high brass instruments opening up for that same melody in Evening Wind, A Huge Tree in the Tsukamori Forest, and Path of the Wind. It must be tied thematically with the forest or something else visually. Perhaps nature. I really need to re-watch the movie and see where in the story the soundtracks happen. The mallet percussion around 1:08 when the Totoro theme comes back is so fun. And then the strings have those scalar runs going up and down around 1:20! 1:45 alludes back to the opening Hey Let’s Go theme. I’ve always thought it was neat how composers would tie multiple themes together.




Mei is Missing

This was quite a dramatic moment in the plot. The little girl is gone! I loved how the first 50 seconds sounded so lonely and heartfelt with the solo instrument + harp. Is that an ethnic flute? I sounds almost like a Chinese dizi but I’m not too sure if the Japanese equivalent would sound quite the same. The string tremolos building to a repeated note pattern to accompany the English Horn on melody gave it such a nice weighted version of this theme. and then the cellos coming in with a counter-melody(?) at 1:26… I’m so glad I decided to listen to this whole album. What a treat. Gosh. The melody seems to be passed around a lot: from English Horn(?) (1:03), violins doubled with flute (1:25), piano (1:47), back to violins (1:57), oboe(?) (2:13), flute (2:20), ending with some harp. On second listen, I realize just how seamlessly this happens! I’ll have to come back and take notes. The trading back and forth between accompaniment and melody is so thoughtful.




Cat Bus

That bassline with the muted trumpets feel like a driving (vs. swung) boogie-woogie(?)! I love this dovetail effect at 0:33 between all the different instruments. The solo piano in the middle at 0:40 felt out of place though, I wonder what’s happening visually to prompt that musical decision. It gets interrupted by so abrupted at 0:54! 1:07 – is that a tambourine? I think the addition of those semitones/chromaticism and accented off-beats inject an element of fun! And the syncopation like at 1:51! And the marimba(?) at 1:34! (I always mix up xylophone and marimba somehow…). The last 10 seconds feel like something you’d hear in Disney’s Hercules or The Little Mermaid – I think it’s the proud brass and flattened thirds here and there.


I’m So Glad

In just 75 seconds, there are so many different orchestrations of the Totoro Ending Theme! Let’s see if I can make note of them: the beginning sounds a lot like 1:20 of Moonlight Flight with those violin runs heard with the muted brass on melody, the lonely trumpet with harp accompaniment at 0:14, strings with high tremolos and persisting harp Alberti accompaniment figure at 0:24 (the drops of cello pizz at 0:39 are so refreshing, it makes the long arco note at 0:47 sound even sweeter!), ending off with 0:53 sounding like a string orchestra until the last note. Wow what a journey.




My Neighbor Totoro – Ending Theme Song

This was almost jolting! I suddenly got transformed to I don’t know... disco? What am I listening to? This makes sense for an ending credit song though. It’s like, ‘hey! it’s over! But let me remind you of some parts of the piece of art you just watched!” with the same theme we’ve heard in A Little Monster, Moonlight Flight, I’m So Glad.


Hey Let’s Go – With Chorus

I wonder how often this happens, but the album ends with the same theme it opened with - Hey Let’s Go – Opening! (also heard in Let’s Go to the Hospital, Moonlight Flight). You’ve got the characteristic march-like snare pattern in the background and vocal voices on melody.



Last Thoughts...

What a trip! I think I need to jot down which melodies are which and decide on which one to pick for this filter but I loved this listening exercise(?) – really just some focused listening. I find so many times, we listen to music as background sound while we do something else, but it’s so different from sitting down with the task of only listening. I should definitely add movie original sound tracks (OSTs) to my album listening.


Anyway! Some recurring themes in the My Neighbor Totoro OST: [transcription of themes coming soon!]

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