>Subject: Re: question/request
>Date: Wed, 17 Apr 2002 23:40:23 EDT
Thank you for looking into this-- I remember being interviewed in
Tokyo (as part of the Destroy All Monsters art collective, in 1996)
and we were discussing the workers and designers of the great Japanese
monster films-the writers tended to agree that the majority of people
working on the films were considered "artists" -- but
in a 'outsider/beatnik' type sense. The science fiction soundtrack
(especially the Japanese monster films) were a strong influence
on us not only us, but probably a generation of artists-- and I
would like to look into
the social life/stylesof some of the creators -- IFUKUBE was partly
Ainu --or raised by this inside subculture of native, aboriginal
Japanese and was probably considered or treated "outsider"
by main-stream standards. Perhaps the prejudice and treatment he
received helped send him to the edge creatively.
I would like to address the subject of bohemian culture and the
Japanese monster film. I was also amazed with the soundtrack of
"Attack of the Mushroom People" -- but don't know much
about the composer --
I look forward to your notes and further discussion.
Akira Ikufube, composer
You raise some interesting points, but everything that I have
read on the subject would seem to contradict the notion that Akira
Ifukube (and other "Godzilla" creators) worked outside
the mainstream. Ifukube, though known in the West mainly for his
genre film scores, is also one of Japan's most respected classical
artists. Masaru Sato, another figure closely associated with "Godzilla"
music, was one of Japan's most prolific and versatile film composers.
Rather than being outsiders, they were as much a part of their
country's film industry as American counterparts Bernard Herrmann,
Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams were (and are) part of theirs.
It is true that Ifukube was raised in an area of Japan that had
a large Ainu population, but he was not part-Ainu. In fact, he
was the descendant of a respected family with a proud tradition
that lasted over 1300 years - each generation's firstborn son
would become a Shinto priest. Ifukube's father, Toshizo, was the
first to break with that tradition by taking his family out of
Tottori and moving to the northern Island of Hokkaido.
Toshizo's third son, Akira, was born in Kushiro, Hokkaido in 1914.
Since his infancy he had been exposed to the music and dance of
the Ainu, the original native people of Japan, who had been persecuted
for centuries and slowly driven up north. Toshizo, unhampered
by the still-common prejudices against this tribe, often socialized
with the Ainu, frequently inviting them to his house. Though young
Akira did not plan on becoming a composer, he was greatly inspired
by the music he heard around him. Not only was he greatly influenced
by the improvisational style and traditional motifs of the Ainu
(an influence evident in many of his later classical compositions
and film scores), but by the sixth grade he also became enthralled
with the Western classical music he heard on the radio.
taught himself violin and attended junior high school in Sapporo,
where he was further exposed to the music of European composers.
He was especially inspired by the works of Igor Stravinsky and
Manuel de Falla, citing them as the main reason he decided to
become a composer. He also greatly admired the work of George
Copeland, with whom he briefly corresponded in 1934. Copland encouraged
him to compose his first work, the solo piano "Bon Odori
Suite", which Ifukube dedicated to Copeland.
Ifukube then turned his attention toward his studies of forestry
at The University of Sapporo, where he completed a thesis on the
acoustics of wood. In 1936 he won first prize for his "Bon
Odori Suite" in a contest promoted by Russian composer Alexander
Tcherepnin, with whom he later studied modern western composition.
Tcherepnin suggested that he try writing a symphonic piece, resulting
in "Japanese Rhapsody", Ifukube's first orchestral work.
Completed in 1937, it brought him great recognition, winning awards
and admirers throughout Europe.
After college, Ifukube worked as a forestry officer and lumber
processor. Although he did not serve in the armed forces during
World War II, he was appointed by the Imperial Army toward the
end of the war to conduct a study on the vibratory strength and
elasticity of wood. Unfortunately, this process involved the extensive
use of X-rays, and because of the wartime shortage of lead, these
experiments were performed without the benefit of a
protective suit. Ifukube was later hospitalized for radiation
exposure, unable to work again for over a year.
Still struggling as a classical composer, and in need of a steadier
income, Ifukube decided to try his hand at film scoring. On the
recommendation of his friend Fumio Hayasaka (chief composer at
the time for legendary director Akira Kurosawa), Ifukube scored
his first film, "The End of the Silver Mountains", for
Toho Studios in 1947, beginning a distinguished career that included
the scores for more than 250 films over a nearly 50-year period.
His groundbreaking music for 1954's "Godzilla" and many
of its sequels, as well as other sci-fi/fantasy films such as
"Rodan", "The Mysterians", the "Majin"
series and others, brought him even greater worldwide fame and
recognition. Though primarily known in the West for his monster
scores, Ifukube was equally adept at composing music for crime
dramas, samurai films, war films, romances and even comedies.
As prolific as he was, Ifukube was always frustrated by the strict
limitations imposed on him by tight shooting schedules. He was
usually only given a few days to compose and record a score, and
small budgets rarely afforded him the luxury of a large orchestra.
Because of these restrictions, Ifukube was often forced to borrow
and rearrange motifs from his own classical work (as well as his
other film scores) in order to meet deadlines.
Even so, Ifukube took his film work very seriously, always delivering
the best job he could, even under the most trying conditions.
Because if his creative instincts, innovative arrangements and
uncompromising perfectionism, he earned the trust of many of Japan's
top directors and producers and quickly became one of Japan's
most in-demand film composers. His unique artistry even extended
to sound effects - he was responsible for Godzilla's famous roar,
produced by rubbing a resin-covered leather glove along the loosened
strings of a contrabass. He also created the sound of the monster's
footsteps by striking a crude amplifier box that he found in the
Though more widely known for his film music, Ifukube's preferred
form of expression has always been his classical work. He has
accumulated an impressive body of material that has been performed
and recorded extensively over the years. In 1974 he was hired
as a professor at the Tokyo College of Music, and later became
the president of its Institute of Ethnomusicology. He also published
a 1000-page book on music theory titled, "Orchestration".
Since 1975 he has done little soundtrack work, with the notable
exception of four films in the revived "Godzilla" series
in the '90's. Since then he has concentrated mainly on teaching
and overseeing recordings of his classical compositions. He has
also been decorated by the Japanese government with the Order
of Culture and the Order of the Sacred Treasure. This May he will
be celebrating his 88th birthday.
Masaru Sato, the other composer most frequently associated with
Godzilla's "classic" period, has a somewhat different
story. While Ifukube was mainly a classical composer and teacher,
Sato's entire career revolved around film music. His scores for
"Godzilla Raids Again", "Half Human", "The
H-Man", "Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster", "The
Lost World of Sinbad", "Son of Godzilla", "Tidal
Wave" and "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla" are but
a small fraction of the over 300 film scores he has composed.
He was also responsible for the acclaimed scores of some of Akira
Kurosawa's most famous films.
Like Ifukube, he was born in Hokkaido, in 1928. He studied at
the National Music Academy, and went right into film composition
and orchestration after he graduated, under the tutelage of Kurosawa's
principal composer, Fumio Hayasaka. Upon Hayasaka's death in 1955,
Sato inherited his master's job as composer for Kurosawa's films.
Earlier that same year, he contributed his first sci-fi score
to "Godzilla Raids Again", with only occasional forays
into the genre over the course of his career. Like Ifukube, Sato
composed the soundtracks for a broad range of work, including
samurai films, comedies, crime dramas, romances and action thrillers.
But unlike Ifukube, many of Sato's scores showed an obvious jazz
influence, and he professed a great admiration for such Western
composers as Quincy Jones and Henry Mancini. His versatility has
also invited comparisons to the work of the prolific Jerry Goldsmith.
Sato died in 1999.
As you can see, the high-profile careers of both of these musical
talents clearly disqualify them from being categorized as "outsider"
artists. Other Japanese composers such as Yuji Koseki ("Mothra"),
Sadao Bekku ("Attack of the Mushroom People") and Ikuma
Dan ("The Last War") actually composed few genre scores,
and were known for more conventional film and classical work.
The scores of more recent "Godzilla" and "Gamera"
films, by composers such as Reijiro Koroku, Takayuki Hattori and
Ko Otani, seem to be even more rooted in the mainstream, sounding
stylistically very similar to many of todays's state-of-the-art
Aside from composers, I would be hard-pressed to associate ANY
creator of Japanese monster films with "bohemian" or
"beatnik" culture. The director most associated with
the classic "Godzilla" films, Ishiro Honda, had a long
and distinguished career at Toho, directing not only monster pictures
but many other types of films as well, even collaborating with
Kurosawa toward the end of his life. Godzilla's other legendary
creator, special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya, was one of Japan's
most influential film artists. Both of these men were true innovators,
yet they were able to work their "magic" within the
confines of the Japanese film industry, commanding the utmost
respect of their peers (not to mention impressive box-office success).
I hope this essay has been helpful, though I haven't been able
to come up with any solid information to support your theory.
Does this mean that the "outsider" connection has no
factual basis? Please keep in mind that my information is limited
to what we have access to in the West. Most of the major creators
of Japanese sci-fi films have been repeatedly interviewed for
English-speaking publications, but that doesn't mean there are
not Japanese or European texts on the subject that might be more
revealing. Admittedly, I neither speak Japanese nor read music,
so it's possible that there may be another side to this question.
If so, I would be very interested to learn about it.
My primary sources of information included the excellent out-of-print
book, "Age of the Gods", by Guy Mariner Tucker (Daikaiju
Publishing, 1996), "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Godzilla",
by Ed Godziszewski (self-published? 1995/out-of-print), "Monsters
are Attacking Tokyo!" by Stuart Galbraith IV (Feral House,
1998), "Japan's Favorite Mon-Star" by Steve Ryfle (ECW
Press, 1998) and the Canadian fanzine "G-Fan" (issues
18 and 41, Daikaiju
Enterprises, Ltd.), as well as Larry Tuczynski's great "Godzilla
and Other Monster Music" website and "The
Akira Ifukube Informational Page" website by Duncan Leaf.