School Ghost Story - Special Soundtrack
International Title
Music By: Kow Otani
Record Label: King Records
Running Time: 71:30 Discs: 1
Release: July 1997 CD Number: KICS-628
Anthony Romero
Before I begin, I would like to give thanks to Robert Storch who has provided another very rare soundtrack for me to review!

Now, this CD is a compilation disc for Toho's Haunted School series and was released the same month as the third film in the franchise. Consequently, its not surprising that this disc focuses on the music from Haunted School 3 (1997) more than the others. In fact, the first 14 tracks are from this film. Thankfully, the score to the third movie, composed by Kow Otani, really delivers. The first track, "Opening", brilliantly sets the tone of the disc as the slightly somber and choir supported theme is the perfect marriage of Danny Elfman and Otani's styles. For the track, the composer brings in qualities that will hark to some of the soundtracks to Tim Burton's movies, yet still retain his own unique flavor, as a similar approach to the end of this theme would reappear in his Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999) score. The composer's playful, yet rousing, "To Love Shakashaka" is another great cue off this soundtrack. The theme for the faceless Nopperabo is also nice. As Robert has noted to me, there is a slight similarity to John Williams' Jaws theme in the cue, yet the inspiration is brief and not very embracive, and the overall flow of the track, which is very dramatic toward the end, perfectly fits the creature's malicious intent to remove the protagonists' faces with his sharpened tools. Another dramatic track off this CD is "Dinosaur Skeleton", which utilizes drums and trumpets to give a sense of mass through the cue, while also keeping a great tempo through out. Overall, Otani hits one out of the park with this soundtrack, delivering a score that is second only to his phenomenal work on Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995).

Now following this is track 14, still from the third film in the series, which is "Splash" by Dual Dream, a popular band that featured Kenji Kojima and Michiaki Koike. The song, which is sadly quite a bit louder than any other track on this CD, features a nice melody. It's an upbeat song, and people who love Japanese pop should really enjoy this track as it has a very memorable tempo to the lyrics and music.

Next up are nine tracks that are kind of a mish mashed in terms of order, jumping back and forth between the first and second movie. Why this might have been done is anyone's guess, although it could be because of the large disparity in quality of the two scores. The culprit here is Fuji-Yama, who was in charge of the soundtrack to the first movie. To be fair, this was actually the composer's first theatrical score, yet one listen will quickly relate the fact that he wasn't quite up to the task yet. His work for Haunted School (1995) is very synthesizer heavy, and this becomes a huge problem in Fuji-Yama's hands as he tries for more robust themes that make this minimalist approach glaringly obvious and even awkward. The track to best describe this is "Theme of the Old School Building", which sounds like it would have been better suited for a made for TV production rather than a theatrical endeavor. Thankfully, Fuji-Yama's work, while largely under whelming, does have at least two moments where it shines. The first is the creepy "Main Title", which actually uses the synthesizer to good effect to produce something that is akin to a wind up toy mixed with a more ominous feeling that fits perfectly with the subject. His other diamond in the rough is the "Ending Titles", which is more upbeat. It features a lot of violin work and a varying range of styles through out, but the best part kicks in around the two minute mark after the Hanako character laughs as the violin kicks into high gear and the tempo is increased creating a very energetic piece of music.

On the opposite end of the spectrum to Fuji-Yama's synthesized approach, is composer Tamiya Terashima's soundtrack for the second movie. Unfortunately, this score has the least amount of coverage on this disc, having only three tracks featured for it. This is a shame as Terashima really delivers a grande soundtrack for the movie. For the scoring of this feature, Toho outsourced the orchestra work to the massive Moscow International Symphony, as the company would also do years later for Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002). The ending result is a much more robust sound to the score than one would expect from a soundtrack from Japan. It gives Terashima's work an almost classical flavor, which might be a turn off for some but it also really helps the composer's work come to life. The fairly long track "4:44", which is eight minutes in length, is the perfect demonstration of this, as the larger orchestra helps to give the theme a dramatic flair and a slightly more epic quality.

Overall, this disc represents three very different styles of scoring all housed on the same CD. Now, while it's true that Fuji Yama drops the ball on the first film, both Otani and Terashima do such outstanding jobs on the other two entries that this disc really deserves a resounding recommendation in the end, which is only helped by the disc's generous runtime of over 70 minutes.

As a side note, it's worth mentioning that this CD is incredibly rare. It doesn't often show up for sale on auction sites, and when it does it hardly ever goes below ¥8,000 (the equivalent of $70 at the time of writing this). Why is the disc so sought after? Rarity is probably a key factor, as the initial run was likely very limited. This is also about the only means of acquiring the music from this franchise as well, and the phenomenal scores for the second and third movies are likely to drive up interest. The third factor is also that it features the song "Splash" by Dual Dream . Now this song is also found on a single, which was actually released the same day as this disc, although it's become equally as hard to find. So the real reason is likely a combination of the three factors. Regardless, one can only hope that Toho Music one day decides to open up the vaults and give all four films in the series complete soundtrack releases some day. Until then, hardcore collectors are definitely well merited to continue to keep an eye out for this rare gem.
Rating: Star Rating
    Haunted School 3 (1997)
  1. Opening - Main Title
  2. Supernatural Phenomenon - To Taichi's World
  3. Paradoxical Mirror World
  4. To Love Shakashaka
  5. Love2 - Change Fate by Yourself
  6. Nopperabo - I Want a Face
  7. Dynamite Eight Bridge vs. Teketeke
  8. Desperate Situation! The Approaching Wall
  9. Taichi
  10. The Game of Friendship
  11. Dinosaur Skeleton
  12. Taichi - The Guidepost of Light
  13. A New Frontier
  14. Splash
    By: Dual Dream

    Haunted School (1995)
    Composer: Fuji-Yama
  15. Opening - Main Title
  16. Theme of the Old School Building

    Haunted School 2 (1996)
    Composer: Tamiya Terashima
  17. Nushi - The Mechanized Doll

    Haunted School (1995)
    Composer: Fuji-Yama
  18. A Magic Circle and the Haniwa

    Haunted School 2 (1996)
    Composer: Tamiya Terashima
  19. 4:44 - The Clock Tower Adventure

    Haunted School (1995)
    Composer: Fuji-Yama
  20. The Tunnel of Space-Time

    Haunted School 2 (1996)
    Composer: Tamiya Terashima
  21. Light - At the End of Time

    Haunted School (1995)
    Composer: Fuji-Yama
  22. Don't Forget Me
  23. Ending Theme