“Japanamerica” or “Amerijapan”? Globalization, Localization, and the Film Scores of Joe Hisaishi

Between 1984 and 2013, Japanese film composer Joe Hisaishi (b. 1950) has scored ten feature-length animated films for one of Japan’s most respected animators, Hayao Miyazaki (b. 1941). In those forty years, while many of the basic elements of his style did not change, his film scoring practices in terms of placement, timing, and audiovisual synchronization underwent a dramatic shift away from a historically Japanese practice to a historically American one. Historically, Japanese anime music comes from a production model wherein music is written prior to animation and added in later. This, and the love of silence that many major Japanese film directors seem to possess has led to a generally asynchronous, sparse scoring practice. In Hisaishi’s case, this meant long, unbroken melodies usually tested on each film’s pre-release “image album,” and then modified somewhat for the film soundtrack. American film scoring, in contrast, has historically been tightly bound to the visuals, subservient to narrative and dialogue, and frequently highly synchronized, to the extent that the term “mickey-mousing” has emerged as a description of film music which matches isochronically and isomorphically both the timing and shape of the actions on screen. To understand and explain this change, I explore Hisaishi’s body of work for Miyazaki within a framework of soft power and evolutionary constraints, positing each new film score as the result of specific, if unknown, influences. Because film composers write their music “to order” (Akira Senju, interview, 2012), each project is dependent upon the success of the last, and composers are constantly learning what tactics and practices lead to continuing work: cultural evolution in the non-teleological sense. American film music has exerted a gentle but consistent influence on Japanese composers, many of whom admire Hollywood soundtracks and find them extremely effective (Senju, 2012; Kuriyama, interview, 2012). In response to this influence, in the past thirty years many Japanese film scores, not just Hisaishi’s, have drifted towards a Hollywood style of scoring. At the same time, Japanese anime has, since its first flowering in the 1960s, been desired by Americans: first by industry who attempted, and failed, to market it to television audiences in the 1960s and 70s; then by fans who imported VHS tapes and subtitled shows themselves, often at extraordinary cost; and now again by industry with the signing of the global distribution agreement between Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli and the Walt Disney Company in 1998. Each of these elements of soft power have been a factor in the growing globalization of film music. Hisaishi’s scores for Miyazaki’s films serve as an excellent case study of transnational cultural flows. I combine close analysis of each film with fieldwork, including interviews with Hisaishi and several of his contemporaries, to trace the evolution of what I believe to be the end of national film music styles.