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I WANT TO BE A SHELLFISH
Opulent orchestral tour-de-force is a welcome reminder of how things should be done
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Universal Sigma; review copyright (c) 2009 James Southall.
Translating film titles from one language to another often throws out curious results (the crazy French name for Jaws is The Teeth of the Sea), but when it comes to getting lost in translation, you can't beat Japanese titles. I assume that this film's title probably means something really rather profound in its native language - this tale of a man falsely accused by the Americans of war crimes in post-war Japan is not light fare, but it's title - I Want to be a Shellfish - conjures up images of children frolicking by the sea, or something. Never mind.
Composer Joe Hisaishi is best-known to western film music listeners because of his scores for animation, specifically Hayao Miyazaki, directed of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away and countless other films which have found a place in the hearts of many, all over the world. But Hisaishi has scored nearly 70 films, which leads me to believe that there must be much to explore through his back-catalogue. If I Want to be a Shellfish is anything to go by, that exploration should begin without delay.
This rich, dramatic album is wonderful. The seven-minute "Deai Mei" is a stunning piece, a waltz which plays with a bittersweet nostalgic glow which is simply wonderful; the material is reprised in the later (similarly-lengthy) "Aishisa", which is perhaps a little more florid. Another great theme comes in "13 Ookitayama Jiken", a much darker, more dramatic piece, but still with a great elegance in its construction. There isn't much in the way of action music - this is mostly weighty dramatic material - but Hisaishi occasionally lends his music a militaristic air, such as in "Renko" and "Michiyuki", whose furious brassy outbursts remind me of Leonard Bernstein of all people.
The theme that will melt everyone's hearts occurs in the two "Yujo" pieces. A noble trumpet solo plays a gorgeous theme, then taken up by the strings; there are undoubted hints of John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, the former in the nobility of the theme, the latter in the spot-on delicate presentation. And while describing them as "harrowing" would be taking things to far, there are some very moving pieces elsewhere - the arrangement of the main theme in "Chenji Block" is pretty devestating, and Hisaishi impressively avoids overloading the schmaltz, which isn't easy when you write this sort of music for a big orchestra.
I was tempted to say that this was the best traditionally-orchestral, Hollywood-style score I've heard from a 2008 film; but then I thought about it, and it may be the only traditionally-orchestral, Hollywood-style score I've heard from a 2008 film. Following the deaths of Messrs Bernstein and Goldsmith and the apparent virtual-retirement of Mr Williams, you just don't hear this sort of full-bodied score any more, and hearing one done as well as this just reinforces what a great pity that is. It's expensive, but this import CD is available from the usual soundtrack retailers, and is highly recommended. This is what film music should sound like.