Joe Hisaishi has worked with Hayao Miyazaki for most of this cult director's award winning animations. It's almost like a John Williams-Steven Spielberg or Danny Elfman-Tim Burton partnership. And the good thing is this merge of geniuses really works. The original score to HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE is a gem.
The original score to SPIRITED AWAY was treasure; it was a complete misfortune that it was not nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Score. Never mind that. But just note that if you've somehow wanted to buy either SPIRITED AWAY or HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, then buy both, because you're sure to like them.
The original score to HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE revolves around one main key theme. Watch the movie, or test the CD, you're sure to catch it. It appears on almost every track. But that's not necessarily a bad thing (just in case you're wondering that if every track sounds the same, it must be dead boring). Joe Hisaishi has crafted a very memorable and instantly likeable tune, and milked it for what it's worth. But he uses the main theme in different variations and tempo. There is your typical minor key to signify danger or that something mysterious, but in general there are two standard variations.
The first is the 'merry-go-round' type music. Some may think that it is (also) similar to some grand ball during the 17th or 18th century. Indeed, this piece of fast paced, light hearted music evokes a certain grandeur, yet manages to transport the listener to a far-away magical, fantasy kingdom. There are even hints of accordion, meaning that you might hear some Parisian sidewalk cafe-type music. This piece gives the listener a very warm and cosy feeling too, as if sitting in front of a fireplace, on a winter's night, snow falling outside, wrapped in a nice woolly blanket. It's amazing how much this theme captures.
The second is a much slower, piano-heavy variation. It reminds me of John Williams in The Reunion on the ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE soundtrack and Rachel Portman in the Main Theme on THE CIDER HOUSE RULES soundtrack. It's very thoughtful, very emotional but such a pleasure to listen to.
Joe Hisaishi has generally sprinkled this masterpiece with the main two variations as described above here and there, with some other lively instrumentation and orchestra playing throughout. The style does not depart greatly from that found in SPIRITED AWAY. If you had to compare Joe Hisaishi to a Western composer, perhaps you would find great likeness in John Williams. A maestro in telling the story with his music, Joe Hisaishi's music sends images and scenes from the film into your head starting from Track 1. Joe Hisaishi's music, like John Williams, is occassionally grand, loud, lush and rich and at times quiet and serene - but just as powerful.
I'd recommend that you get this soundtrack. It's not your average cartoon music. It easily stands as one of the best soundtracks released this year (and perhaps years to come).