Joe Hisaishi Symphonic Concert: Music from the Studio Ghibli Films of Hayao Miyazaki at Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, February 29, 2020 – Live Review

It is phenomenal, the number of lives that have been impacted by Hayao Miyazaki’s work, but Miyazaki’s visuals and storytelling go hand in hand with Joe Hisaishi’s heartfelt and incredible compositions. In the words of Toshio Suzuki from Studio Ghibli, “Joe Hisaishi is the only match for Miyazaki’s anime.” Tonight, I witnessed Hisaishi-san at his best, conducting the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra with the music that he created for the beloved Studio Ghibli animated features.

Returning to Melbourne from his last visit in 2018 where he held 4 sold out concerts at Art Centre Melbourne’s Hamer Hall, Hisaishi returns to Melbourne as part of the ASIA TOPA Festival to perform 2 encore shows of Joe Hisaishi Symphonic Concert: Music from the Studio Ghibli Films of Hayao Miyazaki at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on Saturday February 29 and Sunday March 1.

With a wonderful introduction by Kazuyoshi Matsunaga, the Consulate-General of Japan, Melbourne, Hisaishi was quick to grace the stage with his presence, accompanied by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Australian Girls Choir. Performing his works from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Howl’s Moving Castle and The Wind Rises, just to name a few, I couldn’t help but laugh during the Kiki’s Delivery Service portion of the concert, as on-screen when Kiki was flying over the ocean amongst seagulls, you could hear actual seagulls clearly squawking above and flying over the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Antionette Halloran in contrast, sounded beautiful performing in Japanese (which I can imagine is no easy feat) the songs “Princess Mononoke” and “Mother Sea” from films Princess Mononoke and Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, respectively. The mood lifted completely when the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra played the Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea theme song, which inspired patrons to sway in their chairs and sing along, myself included, as I was bouncing around in my chair along to the music.

Prior to interval however, it was the Australian Air Force Band that surprised the audience by marching down the aisles with their instruments while performing “Doves and Boy” from Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Joe Hisaishi soon changed the pace quickly with a fun intimate jazz performance of “Bygone Days” from Porco Rosso with 5 brass section musicians and 3 woodwind musicians of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

In all honesty, the interval came and went far too quickly, and sure enough, I was captivated and taken on an emotional journey when Hisaishi brought out his daughter Mai Fujisawa to perform “One Summer’s Day” and “Reprise” from Spirited Away, admittedly my favourite of Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films.

Unlike the 2018 Studio Ghibli concerts, “My Neighbour Totoro” although still as catchy and joyful as ever, was not the encore song of the show tonight. Instead, Joe Hisaishi performed a touching rendition of “Aishitaka and San” from Princess Mononoke for the first time ever in Melbourne, dedicating the exquisite composition to the people of Australia in condolence for the recent bushfires. With a message showing up on the giant screens while the orchestra played, Hisaishi shared, “I’m very sorry about the devastating wildfires in Australia. Nature is always alive and I hope that soon the greenery will be restored. I pray for everyone’s health and happiness.” This final performance was met with a standing ovation.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t cry after Hisaishi’s final number and would be surprised if others didn’t also do the same. I didn’t even expect Joe Hisaishi to do so, but in returning to Melbourne for the encore Ghibli shows, Hisaishi has outdone himself. He is even better than before. This was not only the best Joe Hisaishi concert that I have ever witnessed, but I also can shamelessly share that tonight was one of the best experiences of my life. And this is coming from someone who has seen Joe Hisaishi live before.

There were many fans in the audience that were seeing Joe Hisaishi again after seeing him in 2018. But there were also many attendees tonight ticking Joe Hisaishi off their bucket lists with the help of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, making their dreams come true by witnessing the celebrated composer live for the first time. It is not often that a composer tours the world conducting their own works, let alone visits Australia. Thanks to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, we have been blessed twice over to be visited by Joe Hisaishi and have him share his iconic works with us.

While there is one more show left tomorrow night with only a handful tickets left, I hope that this is not the last time that Joe Hisaishi performs in Melbourne.

Attending tonight has inspired me to re-watch all the Hayao Miyazaki Studio Ghibli films and re-listen to the soundtracks of Joe Hisaishi’s compositions. The concert was not only a celebration of Hisaishi and Miyazaki’s works, but a celebration of Japanese film, music and anime. Bravo, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra! Bravo, Joe Hisaishi, and please come back again soon!

For more information on the concert and ticketing, visit: https://www.mso.com.au/whats-on/2020/studio-ghibli
For more information on ASIA TOPA, visit: https://www.asiatopa.com.au

Photography by Mark Gambino.

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