After years of being available in hard copy only, the beloved soundtracks to Studio Ghibli films are streaming on several popular services.
When HBO announced that the catalog of Studio Ghibli films would join the library of its HBO Max service beginning in 2020, it wasn’t just surprising; it was a complete about-face for the studio’s co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki, who has long been resistant to the idea. In January, Netflix broke the news that it had acquired the rights to 21 Ghibli films for streaming outside of North America and Japan. Now comes the news that Ghibli has released its soundtracks on popular music streaming services such as Apple Music, YouTube Music, Spotify and Google Play.
For years, fans of the films of Studio Ghibli (of which there are incredible many worldwide) had no choice but to hunt down hard copies of the studio’s films and music. This wasn’t exactly a terrible thing since animated modern classics such as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Ponyo are endlessly rewatchable, but it’s become inconvenient by the instant gratification standards of the today. However, if the last few months are any indication, change is in the wind: Studio Ghibli’s movies and now, their just as excellent soundtracks, will be much more accessible to audiences going forward.
Miyazaki had long scoffed at the idea of making his work digitally available. He also strictly limits the creation and distribution of Ghibli merchandise, even though demand is surely there. Combine that with the relatively few screens on which Ghibli films play in North America, and one can see, it’s hard out there for a Studio Ghibli fan.
His reluctance is understandable. Despite high output and critical acclaim, Studio Ghibli itself was often in a frustrating state of flux. Control changed hands, from Miramax to Disney to smaller distributors, and resulted in what Miyazaki considered to be less-than-ideal cuts, dubs and other renderings. For a director who sees his art as an extension of himself and his worldview, it must have been difficult.
With the possible exception of Disney — the only other animation studio with which the world is on a one-name basis — there couldn’t be a fandom more ready, and happy, to be tapped for streaming. YouTube compilations of Ghibli music regularly attract tens of millions of views. With authentic merch hard to come by, Etsy features Ghibli-inspired fan art by the tens of thousands. The podcast Blank Check with Griffin & David — and its legion of devoted listeners and Reddit users — discussed Miyazaki’s full filmography in painstaking detail just before the HBO announcement. Ghibli enthusiasts are certain to appreciate the ease with which they can now transport themselves to Miyazaki’s many castles, be they moving or in the sky.
A total of 693 individual tracks are currently available for fans’ listening pleasure. These include the scores of 23 of Ghibli’s films. Only 1988’s Grave of the Fireflies is missing, due to the fact the studio was unable to secure rights to every song it used. It also includes music from 15 “image albums” of music inspired by the artwork of Miyazaki.
The auteur’s movies, like his masterpiece Spirited Away, are emotionally evocative and atmospheric, thanks in no small part to their scores. The whimsical, piano-heavy soundtracks are, for the most part, the product of Joe Hisaishi, a close collaborator of Miyazaki’s since 1984’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The composer is a seven-time Japanese Academy Award nominee, and his artistic relationship with Miyazaki has been compared to that of John William’s work with Steven Spielberg.
The painterly animation and the happy, hypnotic music combine to create a sweetly sad and contemplative alternate reality that fans know all too well. Soon, they can revisit it on-screen whenever they like. And, starting now, they can also go back via their speakers.