Akira Ifukube Interview II

by David Milner

Translation by Yoshihiko Shibata

Akira Ifukube

(Conducted in December 1993)

Akira Ifukube, one of Japan's most highly regarded classical composers, scored GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS (1954), TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975), GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993), and many other science fiction films. He also scored numerous dramas and period movies.

David Milner: Many people have said that they think your score for GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA is the best of your last three. (Mr. Ifukube scored GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH (1991) and GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992) before working on GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA.)

Akira Ifukube: I was given only three days to write the score! Usually a composer named Mr. Ikeno assists me, but since I was so rushed this time, I had to hire another man who used to be a student of mine to help out as well.

DM: Do you feel that the score is the best of your last three?

AI: It's the one that was most painful for me to finish! GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA was not completed on schedule, so I had less time than I usually do to compose the score.

We spent two days recording the music, two days mixing it and another two days dubbing the film. We had to spend more time mixing and dubbing than we usually do because we were using digital sound equipment. (GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA is the first Japanese movie to feature digital sound.)

DM: I didn't know that you hired assistants to help you write your film scores. What exactly do they do?

AI: They don't compose any of the music or do the orchestration. They just write out the full orchestra score from the parts that I write for each of the instruments.

DM: Was it your idea to associate the vocal piece in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA with Baby Godzilla, or did the idea already exist when you were brought in to score the movie? (The piece is perceived by a group of psychic children after they are presented with scrapings from the egg of Baby Godzilla.)

AI: It was my idea.

DM: I understand that the piece is in Ainu. What made you decide to write it in that language? (The Ainu are Japan's equivalent of the American Indian.)

AI: At first, I didn't intend to use the piece in the film. I instead planned to use it only as a timing cue. So, I originally wrote it only with nonsense syllables.

Since the piece was going to be sung by children, difficult words would not have been appropriate. Latin also wouldn't have worked. So, I decided to use Ainu. The Ainu live in Hokkaido, close to Adonoa Island. (In GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, Rodan and the egg of Baby Godzilla are discovered on Adonoa Island, which is located in the Bering Sea.)

By the way, the word tapkaara originally was Ainu. (One of Mr. Ifukube's orchestral works is titled SYMPHONIA TAPKAARA.)

DM: There are a few scenes in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA that are reminiscent of scenes in some of the earlier Godzilla movies. Did you give any thought to scoring those scenes with the music you had composed for the earlier films?

AI: Yes. I did that at a few different points in the movie.

DM: Many film composers have begun recording their scores without giving the people who perform the music an opportunity to see footage from the movie on which they are working. Do you work this way?

AI: More and more film scores are being recorded the way television scores are recorded. The performers are not shown any footage. I personally don't like working that way because if you do not allow the members of the orchestra to see footage on a big screen, they will tend to perform as if they are in a concert hall. They will try not to stand out. They will try to perform as members of an orchestra.

What is needed when scoring a movie such as GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA is playing that is much more aggressive. No matter how much you explain the character of Godzilla to the performers and urge them to play aggressively, they still will play as if they are in a concert hall. However, if you show the performers footage of Godzilla, their playing will dramatically change. That is why I insisted on being allowed to show footage to the performers before I agreed to score GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH.

The most difficult members of the orchestra to select are the violin players. They are trained to play with some sophistication, and that's not how you want them to perform when they are working on a Godzilla film. Brass players, on the other hand, just naturally tend to perform a little more aggressively.

DM: I was very sorry to hear about the death of Mr. Honda. What was your professional relationship with him like? (Director Ishiro Honda worked on GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS, GHIDRAH - THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964), TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975), and many other science fiction movies with Mr. Ifukube.)

AI: Mr. Honda would always give me complete control over the score. Even though he was very knowledgeable about music, he would always say to me, "Mr. Ifukube, I know very little about music, so I'll allow you to make all of the decisions about the score." Mr. Honda was a very generous man.

All of the other directors with whom I worked would stay in the control booth while the scores for their films were being recorded. Only Mr. Honda would come out of the booth and stand beside me while I was conducting. He was always very curious.

DM: Did he only observe?

AI: Yes. That's right.

By the way, the last time I saw Mr. Honda, I was in KINOKUNIYA BOOKSTORE in Shibuya. I was there looking for some books, and at one point I noticed that the man standing next to me was Mr. Honda. That took place about a year or two ago.

DM: How was working with Takao Okawara and Kazuki Omori different from working with Mr. Honda? (Mr. Omori wrote and directed GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989) and GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH. In addition, he wrote GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA. Mr. Okawara directed GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA.)

AI: Mr. Honda's editing had more continuity to it. Like many other contemporary directors, both Mr. Omori and Mr. Okawara tend to insert footage that interrupts the flow of the story. It is very difficult to have the music accommodate that footage.

DM: Have you worked on any television shows?

AI: I wrote a few television scores about thirty years ago, but I was not very happy with the way they turned out. Most people listen to television with the sound much lower than it should be, and that reduces the intensity with which they hear lower frequencies much more than the intensity with which they hear higher ones. Because of this, my music did not sound the way it should have. So, after scoring one documentary and several dramas, I decided not to work on anymore television shows.

I worked on a few radio dramas. In them, the suspense was created with words, rather than music, so I couldn't really create any excitement with my music.

I recently scored a documentary about the Kushiro marshlands in Hokkaido. The producers asked only if they could use some of my music in the documentary, but when I saw the rushes, I noticed that the music didn't fit very well. So, I decided to compose some new pieces for the documentary.

DM: Which of your orchestral works would you recommend to people who aren't familiar with your music?

AI: JAPANESE RHAPSODY, SYMPHONIA TAPKAARA, and SHAKA.

DM: Are those your favorites of your orchestral works?

AI: They are not the most popular ones, but they are my favorites.

DM: When we talked last year, you mentioned that much of your music was influenced by Ainu music. Which of your orchestral pieces would you say were most influenced by it?

AI: ECLOGUES AFTER EPOS AMONG AINU RACES is especially influenced by Ainu music. There are even some traditional Ainu motifs in it.

A lot of Ainu music features long phrasing, and this is characteristic of my music as well. In addition, a great deal of both Ainu and Japanese folk music is made up of short motifs that are repeated over and over again, and I often use this technique, which is called ostinato, in my music.

DM: Your BALLATA SYMPHONICA is especially well known in the United States. Is that the first piece for which you received international recognition?

AI: My debut work, JAPANESE RHAPSODY, was well received by foreign music critics, but it was not recorded right away. The premiere performance of my second work, BALLATA SYMPHONICA, was recorded and broadcast, and this allowed it to be heard by a much greater number of people.

DM: Did you give any thought to arranging your JAPANESE SUITE for the orchestra when you first wrote it? (Mr. Ifukube originally wrote the piece for piano alone, but many years later rearranged it for the orchestra when he was commissioned to do so by the Suntory Music Foundation.)

AI: I composed that piece when I was only nineteen years old as a tribute to the Spanish pianist George Copland. It did not occur to me to arrange it for the orchestra at the time.

DM: Which instruments do you play?

AI: Piano, violin, and lute.

DM: How would you say your compositional style has changed over the years?

AI: My earlier pieces seem a little unpolished to me now. I spend more time revising my work these days.

DM: Your style of conducting is very subdued. You often give cues only by slightly nodding your head.

AI: I work out all of the problems during the rehearsals, so there really is no need for me to do more than what I do during the final performances.

DM: What work did you do before you started scoring films?

AI: I taught composition at a music school in Nikko.

DM: What do you think of the music of Masaru Sato? (Mr. Sato wrote the scores for GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955), GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966), SON OF GODZILLA (1967), GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974), and over three hundred other movies.)

AI: I am not very familiar with his music. He only does film work, and I don't go to see very many movies.

DM: Toho has announced that it intends to produce another Godzilla movie in the near future. Will you score it if you are asked to do so? (The Toho Company Ltd. produces the Godzilla films.)

AI: No more Godzilla movies for me! They'll have to get someone much younger. I'm too old.

DM: What about YAMATO TAKERU? (It is a fantasy film featuring several different giant monsters that Toho is planning to produce.)

AI: Give me more time or give me more strength! During the press conference that was held to promote GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, I didn't directly say, but I suggested, that it would be the last movie that I would score.

DM: How definite is that decision?

AI: It's really not possible for me to do anymore film scores.

DM: Well, I think that your score to GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA is a very good one. I think it's one of which you can be proud.

AI: Thank you.

Akira Ifukube Interview II © 1998 David Milner