Growing up, I remember falling in love with Studio Ghibli films and the score compositions by composer Joe Hisaishi. His daughter, Mai Fujisawa ‘the voice of Studio Ghibli’ who is in many of Hisaishi’s works, graced the Melbourne Recital Centre stage on Thursday the 14th of November, 2019 for her debut solo concert in Australia titled “Melody of Japan: Animation, Film and Classics with MAI FUJISAWA”.
Despite the show being part of her first headlining tour of Australia, Fujisawa is no stranger to Melbourne, having performed with her father and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra last year for a Studio Ghibli themed concert series. Even though I did attend this last year, I was curious to see how Mai Fujisawa would perform in a solo concert environment.
Completely acoustic, Mai Fujisawa was accompanied only by a 7-member female choir named Little Carol (whom Fujisawa was once a member of and has been performing with for 20 years) and pianist Ryota Kikuchi (who played incredibly well and was passionately entertaining, dropping sheet music on the floor when going to the next page). The acoustic set-up made the concert feel personal and very intimate, which I found refreshing.
Opening with “Sunflower’s House Rondo for Family of HIMAWARI” from Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, the Melbourne audience was taken on a journey through Fujisawa’s decorated musical career spanning through Studio Ghibli themed compositions, translated English covers and original music including songs “I Will Be” and “Sky Up” . When Fujisawa performed “Carrying You” from Laputa: Castle in the Sky, the audience were respectfully quiet and intensely enchanted by her hauntingly beautiful rendition. Fujisawa also shared that she was only 4 years old when she recorded and initially sung “Nausicaä Requiem” for Studio Ghibli’s Nausicaä: Valley of the Wind.
Not just consisting of Studio Ghibli content, Fujisawa also performed “Pieces of a Broken Heart” from video game Ni No Kuni, where Fujisawa jokingly told the crowd that “after many hours of playing and solving puzzles, you finally get to hear my voice”, which was adorably hilarious.
A standout performance of the night was when Fujisawa performed a Japanese translated version of “You Raise Me Up”, originally by Secret Garden, made famous by both Josh Groban and Westlife. It was so beautiful, it almost moved me to tears and is a song that I have not heard (in any language) since my father’s funeral. Being such a fan of live music and film, the tears could not be held back when Fujisawa performed both “The Name of Life” and “Reprise/Again” from my favourite Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away.
I daresay that Mai Fujisawa sounds even better live than on any recording, and every single performance was a welcome delight to my ears. With a kind smile, a humble attitude and beautiful vocals, it is clear that Mai Fujisawa has been doing this all her life and belongs on the stage.
I wish more Japanese artists would tour Australia like Mai Fujisawa has done and I am glad that Castiglione Arts & Culture brought Fujisawa down to Australia for this debut headlining tour. It is always a gamble and somewhat frightening for an artist to travel the world to perform music in their own language, but music too is a language of its own. However, despite majority of the lyrics being in Japanese, the crowd were deeply touched by Fujisawa‘s performance, some patrons leaving in tears and others leaving with beaming smiles. I was one of the attendees that left in tears, but honestly, I am so grateful for it.
Witnessing Mai Fujisawa perform live is such an incredible experience that one must have if you love Japanese culture, Japanese music, anime and Studio Ghibli. I went into this concert as a massive Studio Ghibli fan and left as a Mai Fujisawa fan. I cannot wait for the next time she visits Australia, which will be next year with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra again in February.
For more information on Mai Fujisawa, visit: http://www.sing-mai.com
Fo more information on Little Carol, visit: http://www.littlecarol.com
For information on Castiglione Art & Culture, visit: http://castiglione.com.au
Photography by Penn Zhang.