Perhaps the most basic principle of the appeal of art is that it has a communicative ability. The most unambiguous, and arguably most accessible way, in which art communicates is through linear storytelling, wherein the audience can easily empathise with the characters’ objectives, emotions and philosophies conveyed through dialogue. When said linear storytelling takes place in the form of a live action film, however, another dimension of communication is introduced, in that cinema has the ability to translate concepts visually in a way that language alone cannot do, whether these visual representations play a supportive role, by simply reinforcing the conceptual themes of the film’s narrative, or allude to much deeper metaphors that bear a significance to the plot and its motifs. One could argue that the next level of communication from this, therefore, is animation, which, like live action cinematography, can represent ideas both narratively and visually, but is not bound by what can be represented in the physical world. In terms of filmmaking, one aspect of artistic communication that is often overlooked is music. Indeed, although a film’s soundtrack largely plays a supportive role in aurally reflecting the general mood of a scene, it’s hard to imagine many of film’s most defining cinematic moments without their corresponding scores, which communicate to the listener exactly what they are supposed to be feeling. This is true to the extent that simply hearing a theme from a beloved childhood movie can fill me with a feeling of nostalgia more than looking at artwork for the film, and I’m sure that this is the case for others besides myself. For me, one such film is legendary anime director Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away — and several other Miyazaki works, for that matter — primarily because of how cogently Joe Hisaishi’s score mirrors the beauty, detail and simplicity of Studio Ghibli’s animation style. Hearing of a mixtape dedicated to reinventing the soundtracks to Miyazaki’s films, therefore, piqued my interest, but also put me on the defensive, given just how dear Hisaishi’s compositions are to me.
The mixtape in question is Reimagining Miyazaki, the debut from Melbourne-based record producer Andrei Eremin under the pseudonym of Ghosting, which is an appropriate alias, given that it was his initial remix of One Summer’s Day from Miyazaki’s supernatural classic, Spirited Away, that inspired Eremin to rework themes from all of the legendary filmmaker’s feature-lengths in the form of a lo-fi hip hop beat tape. Although Reimagining Miyazaki will be a lot of people’s first introduction to Eremin by name, many will have heard his work as a producer and sound engineer for Miami Horror, Chet Faker, Ta-ku and a host of other artists, with his most notable work behind the scenes coming in the form of his mastering contributions to the critically-acclaimed Choose Your Weapon, the sophomore record from lauded neo soul group Hiatus Kaiyote. Ghosting, therefore, is a new creative outlet for Eremin, wherein he primarily draws influences from renowned turntablists, like Nujabes, J Dilla, Madlib and MF Doom, as well as some more specific production styles, such as the wonky and future bass-tinged stylings of Flume and Metro Boomin’s eclectic brand of trap production. In incorporating his diverse stylistic influences into a breezy, lo-fi, borderline ambient aesthetic, Eremin manages to mould these themes into a beat-driven format, whilst still retaining their original sense of breath-taking beauty and ethereal fantasy, making Reimagining Miyazaki a mystifying revision of some of animation’s most iconic pieces of music.
The mixtape opens with the track that inspired its inception, Eremin’s reworking of One Summer’s Day from Spirited Away. Largely lifting from the opening 20 seconds of the original recording, Eremin’s reimagination of this piece is similarly minimalist, but for entirely different reasons. Hisaishi’s original composition is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of what makes an effective film score. The overwhelming melancholia and simplistic beauty that mirrors the gorgeous animation style of Spirited Away is so emphatic that, even without having seen the film in a long time, it requires no effort when listening to the piece to recall Chihiro spread across the cluttered backseats of her parents’ car, with pink flowers on her chest, during the movie’s opening moments. Eremin’s revision of One Summer’s Night is indeed simplistic, but in a very different manner that nevertheless yields similar results. The first breaths of the track simply play the opening 10 seconds of the original recording uninterrupted, allowing Hisaishi’s composition to initially speak for itself, before the beat-making magic begins. Eremin primarily samples the fluttering broken chords that introduce the original piece, exploiting their high-pitched, dainty sounds to construct a glitchy beat that complements them graciously. The smooth synth bass and flickering ambience that accompany the main beat reflect the subtleties of the original composition, whilst the intermittent stops and starts keep the listener attuned to these intricacies, ensuring that they never quite become completely lost in the mesmerising beat. The second track from Reimagining Miyazaki follows suit, sampling several pretty piano melodies from 2013’s The Wind Rises, Miyazaki’s fictionalised biopic of World War II fighter aircraft engineer, Jiro Horikoshi, employing a wobbly bass line and jittery beat in a similarly infectious fashion. Continuing the theme of planes, the eighth track from the tape, entitled 78rpm, lifts piano samples from the director’s story of an ex-World War One aeroplane fighter, Porco Rosso, but with these delicate keys playing more of a supportive role, whilst the main melody of the cut comes from the squelchy, 8-bit-sounding synth patch.
Not every track from Reimagining Miyazaki lifts from Hisaishi’s compositions for piano and strings that are celebrated for their grace and beauty, however. stereonoke, for instance, samples some tense horns from the soundtrack to Princess Mononoke, whilst cutting up and pitch-shifting a particular voice excerpt past the point of recognition. With the suspenseful beat and oscillating bass drone setting the tone of the cut and creating a sense of urgency that would be fitting for a theme from a spy film, the booming horns and skittish vocal sample compete against one another on top, almost like a musical representation of the struggle between nature and humanity presented in Princess Mononoke. badgalkiki is a jittery and playful mess of warped and reversed sounds atop excerpts from the soundtrack to Kiki’s Delivery Service, presented in a way that seemingly seeks to reflect the childish innocence of Kiki that acts as such a pivotal point of focus for the film’s arc. Similarly, the loose, airy atmosphere of watercolour evokes the sounds of the ocean, with various forms of wistful ambience that bring to mind the sound of waves or sea breezes, which is highly felicitous in how it mimics the coastal setting of the film that it samples, Ponyo. Indeed, across Reimagining Miyazaki, Eremin manages to consistently convey concepts from Miyazaki’s films through his eclectic, lo-fi beats, and this is wherein the greatest success of the mixtape lies, in that the artist blends splashes of his own colour into the already striking compositions that serve as his source material.
Whilst Reimagining Miyazaki is a compelling project, both in principle and in execution, there is one fundamental criticism to be made of it, and that relates to its brevity. With the mixtape’s 11 tracks spanning across only 20 minutes of material, many of these cuts are disappointingly short and underdeveloped. Nearly half of the beats from the tape clock in at around the one-minute mark, so even some of the release’s best moments, such as sea of decay, badgalkiki and 78rpm, come to abrupt conclusions, occasionally ending just as the music seems to be hinting towards a new direction for the piece, leaving in the listener a feeling that many of these tracks could have been advanced further. As such, much of Reimagining Miyazaki comes across like a selection of auditory vignettes, or tasters for a bigger, more fleshed-out and developed project. Outside of this, however, Reimagining Miyazaki is an enthralling and charming experience, wherein Eremin explores refreshing and captivating ways to play with the thematic tones of the original compositions and rework them into an entirely alien aesthetic.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10