There’s something comforting about the deliberate pace and quiet build of “Ashitaka and San,” a stand-out instrumental piece from Princess Mononoke, a fantasy epic about the constant struggle between man and nature. Director Hayao Miyazki does not provide easy solutions to this conflict in the film, but instead presents realistic steps to achieve some form of compromise. “Ashitaka and San” speaks of life and death, war and peace, and love and hate; all of which cyclically repeat over time.
Frequent Studio Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi has a knack for writing simple, but powerful melodies. “Ashitaka and San” is one of his best, boasting a feeling of tranquility reminiscent of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.”
“Ashitaka and San’s” chord progression is predictable in the best way possible. It doesn’t need to be daring; in fact, it shouldn’t be. The song, which follows the aftermath of Princess Mononoke’s climatic battle, depicts rebirth. In this scene, we’re treated to the sights of tulips blooming, grass sprouting on desolate land and warriors dropping their weapons. “Ashitaka and San” shines brightest as an audio-visual experience, broadcasting its message of hope through a bouquet of flowers. However, it is still transcendent as an isolated piece of music.
Musically, “Ashitaka and San” is an orchestral piece that undulates like a gentle lullaby, gradually melting until attaining pure placidity. After an opening piano section, the melody is repeated by a delicate flute and subtle violin, expanding on the softness of the track.
“Ashitaka and San” represents the peace times which must be remembered to move forward; even in harmony, human nature inevitably turns to conflict. We can learn from mistakes, but it is imperative to record these precious moments of unadulterated beauty so they can be reached again.