Akira Ifukube Interview III

by David Milner

Translation by Yoshihiko Shibata

Akira Ifukube

(Conducted in December 1995)

Akira Ifukube, one of Japan's most highly regarded classical composers, scored GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS (1954), TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975), GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER (1995), and many other science fiction films. He also scored numerous dramas and period movies.

David Milner: What made you decide to score GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER?

Akira Ifukube: I decided not to score GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA (1994) when I read the script for the film. The atmosphere was very different. However, when I read the screenplay for GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER, I discovered that it was directly related to GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS. There was even going to be footage from GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS in the movie! I felt that since I'd been involved in Godzilla's birth, it was fitting for me to be involved in his death. I also was interested because Momoko Kochi was going to return. (Godzilla dies in GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER. Ms. Kochi plays Emiko Yamane, the daughter of paleontologist Kyohei Yamane, in both GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER.)

DM: I've heard that Toho was originally going to put the Godzilla series on hiatus after GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993). Is this true? (The Toho Company Ltd. produced all twenty- two of the Godzilla films. It also produced RODAN (1956), MOTHRA (1961), and many other science fiction movies.)

AI: I and all of the other staff members thought that GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA was going to be the last Godzilla film made by Toho for a while. During the closing credits, Godzilla and Baby Godzilla are seen leaving man behind as they head out to sea. However, the movie was very successful, so Toho's executives decided to produce another entry in the series.

When I read the script for GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA, it reminded me of teenage idol films. In addition, the movie was going to have rap music in it. So, I thought, "Well, this is not my world, so I better not score this one."

DM: Did you take the same approach to scoring GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH (1991), GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992), GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER?

AI: Yes. I took the same basic approach to scoring all of them.

DM: Did you run into any unusual problems while scoring GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER?

AI: I couldn't decide whether to use a different motif for each of Destroyer's incarnations or simply reorchestrate the same motif for each one. I eventually decided to use the same motif. (Destroyer transforms several times. He starts off as a microscopic organism, and ends up as a huge flying monster.)

I composed a total of forty-six pieces for GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER. There were many changes made to the film during production, so it was very difficult for me to do my work.

DM: Did you use the oxygen destroyer theme from GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS to help remind the audience of that movie? (The oxygen destroyer is used to kill Godzilla at the end of GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS.)

AI: Yes. I used the theme in the scene in which Emiko has a nightmare about the oxygen destroyer. I used a harp for the introduction of the theme, but the younger people in the recording booth felt that the introduction was too reminiscent of classical music. So, only one of the notes played by the harpist ended up being used. I was very surprised. To me, the harp is merely one of the instruments of the orchestra.

By the way, shortly after we finished recording the score for GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER, a young music critic named Atsushi Kobayashi told me that the original introduction was better. So, I think that opinion about the harp is divided among young people.

I intentionally avoided using the oxygen destroyer theme for Destroyer. I used the theme to help express the tragedy of Dr. Serizawa, so it wasn't appropriate for the monster. (Destroyer's mutation is triggered by residue from the oxygen destroyer. Daisuke Serizawa, the inventor of the device, commits suicide in the interest of preventing the wrong people from obtaining the knowledge necessary to make a copy of it.)

I was sent a VHS tape with the hypothetical sequence in which Godzilla melts down and destroys all of Tokyo on it during production, and I wrote music that lasted exactly as long as the sequence. Unfortunately, it was changed late in production, so the timing does not match precisely.

I didn't use the music from the scene in which Godzilla dies in GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS for the one in which he does actually meltdown because Godzilla was not what I was trying to focus on this time. Instead, I tried to focus on the dark side of humanity, which lead to the creation of atomic weapons, and Godzilla.

The recording engineer wanted to have the music become louder when the first close-up of Godzilla appears during the meltdown sequence, but I told him that since the music was not about Godzilla, it should not become louder or softer. Both he and the members of his staff agreed.

DM: How much time were you given to score GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER?

AI: I began writing individual motifs right after I received the script in July. I frequently went to Toho to see rushes once filming got underway. After seeing the rough cut, I spent four days composing and orchestrating.

I wasn't very happy with the way the music for Battra turned out. It was hard to tell whether it was a motif or just transitional material. So, I tried to avoid having that happen again. (Battra, a "battle Mothra," appears in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA.)


AI: Yes. Never before had I scored a movie that was edited so much. After listening to the two compact disc set featuring the music from the film, you'll see how much I had to change the score to accommodate all of the editing. (The two compact disc set features a large number of outtakes.)

When I worked with Ishiro Honda, we would decide which scenes would feature music before the recording of the score began. However, directors these days often change their mind about musical cues during the recording sessions. If I were using synthesizers and computers I could probably change the music easily, but since I use a full orchestra, it's very difficult for me to do so. (Mr. Honda directed GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS, TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA, and many other science fiction movies.)

DM: How much time did you spend recording the score?

AI: We spent two days recording, two days mixing, and two days dubbing the film. I later spent two days working with the sound effects director to finalize both the sound effects and the music.

The recording sessions were held on October 27th and 28th, and the mixing was done on the 29th and 30th. The sound effects director and I met on November 13th and 14th. The first private screening of GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER was held on November 17th.

DM: Did Takao Okawara offer you much advice about the score? (Mr. Okawara directed GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER.)

AI: No. He was very busy shooting and editing, so he had little time to devote to the score.

DM: What made you decide to use one of the themes from KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962) during the closing credits?

AI: They feature footage from Godzilla movies spanning more than forty years. It's easy to show clips from a number of the films in two and a half minutes, but it's impossible to perform themes from many of them in such a short amount of time.

I didn't want to use only motifs that I'd written for Godzilla because the end result would have sounded too much like my SYMPHONIC FANTASIA. So, I decided to use the Faroh Island theme from KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and the Adonoa Island theme from GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA. (SYMPHONIC FANTASIA is a suite featuring music from many of the science fiction movies that Mr. Ifukube scored.)

After one of my students saw GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER, he told me that none of the members of the audience left the theater during the ending credits. My guess was that the people stayed to see the clips from the earlier Godzilla films, but my student thought that since the credits covered most of the screen, the audience must have stayed to hear the music.

DM: Are you pleased with your score for GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER?

AI: I can't really offer an opinion on it yet. Maybe I will be able to after a few years have passed.

Many people have come up to me and said that they like the score very much. In fact, several have said that they think it is the best of all of my recent scores.

DM: You composed much more music for THE LITTLE PRINCE AND THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON (1963) than you did for most of the other movies you scored. How much time did you spend working on that film?

AI: Since it was an animated movie, I was given a much longer period of time than usual to write the score. I spent about four months working on it.

Music for animated films must help express the nature of each of the characters. So, you have to compose much more music than you would for a standard movie. In addition, I was asked to create all of the sound effects, and that took a large amount of time.

DM: How much time did you spend writing music and how much time did you spend creating sound effects?

AI: I can't remember. I was working on another project at the same time.

My clearest memory about scoring THE LITTLE PRINCE AND THE EIGHT- HEADED DRAGON is about working on the music heard during the dance of the goddess. I composed and recorded the music, and then a professional ballet dancer came in and performed to it. The animators watched what she did and modeled their work after her dancing. That's why the timing of the music and the movements of the goddess match so well.

DM: Did you find creating the sound effects difficult?

AI: Choosing the instruments with which to create them took a very long time.

DM: Did you often work on more than one project at a time?

AI: I never scored more than one film at a time. However, I did sometimes work on an orchestral piece or conduct research while I was in the process of composing a score.

DM: How much time did you spend scoring THE THREE TREASURES (1959)?

AI: I spent about as much time working on that movie as I did working on THE LITTLE PRINCE AND THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON. I had to conduct a lot of research. (THE THREE TREASURES is based on KOJIKI, the mythological story of the creation of Japan.)

We had to create replicas of a number of ancient musical instruments. For example, we had a ceramic artist make a replica of a stone flute. It was one of the instruments played by the gods during the dance sequence. We also used some authentic ancient musical instruments.

The stone flute replica is seen in THE THREE TREASURES, but the sound heard coming from it was created with a bamboo flute. The sound produced by the replica was just too weak.

By the way, I was asked to find the score for THE LITTLE PRINCE AND THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON recently so the dance music could be performed for a television program.

I remember that the animators were not very knowledgeable about musical instruments. So, I drew pictures of many for them. That's how each of the gods ended up playing a different instrument.

DM: Did you find scoring the Majin films any easier or harder than scoring the other movies you worked on because they were all made in the same year? (MAJIN - THE MONSTER OF TERROR (1966), THE RETURN OF THE GIANT MAJIN (1966), and MAJIN COUNTERATTACK (1966) were produced by the Daiei Motion Picture Company Ltd., which also produced all of the Gamera films.)

AI: It was easier because I just reused the same theme for Majin in all three movies. The only difficult aspect was creating the theme in the first place.

It is hard to compose music for a god.

By the way, when I was asked to score the first Majin film, I was told that it was going to be very similar to THE GOLEM (1936).

DM: Did you generally find scoring period movies any easier or harder than scoring films set in the present?

AI: I generally found period movies easy to score. The actors' performances were always either exaggerated or very formal, and that made scoring the films easy for me.

There were no cars or telephones in the distant past, so there are very few ambient noises heard in period movies. That's why I always had to compose more music for them than for films set in the present.

Back when the studios were using Mitchell cameras, which made a loud cranking noise, the microphones would pick up the noise. So, I was often asked to try to mask it.

Family dramas were the most difficult movies for me to score. It was always hard for me to compose music to accompany grandparents, parents, and children talking to each other. There are composers who are very good at that sort of thing, but it was always very difficult for me.

DM: Who came up with the idea to produce the recent four compact disc set featuring many of your orchestral works?

AI: Hisaki Matsushita of the King Record Company. I didn't think he was serious when he first approached me, but he did soon afterward reach an agreement with the Japan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra to produce the discs. Almost all of my orchestral works had only been recorded live, so Mr. Matsushita decided to produce studio recordings.

Mr. Matsushita went to China to retrieve the score for ARCTIC FOREST. Unfortunately, since he went during the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II, the person who had the score refused to give it to him out of fear of adversely affecting relations between China and Japan. (Mr. Ifukube composed ARCTIC FOREST in 1944.)

It was very brave of Mr. Matsushita to include OVERTURE OF THE SOLDIERS in the collection. Very few of the orchestral works written by Japanese composers during the war have been released on compact disc.

I remember that Mr. Matsushita said, "If this project fails, I probably will be fired." Fortunately, the discs are selling well.

DM: What was your role in the production of the discs?

AI: Executive director.

Shortly after the collection was released, the Fontec Company came out with a compact disc featuring the premiere performance of JAPANESE SUITE. In addition, a disc featuring a performance of the piece by the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra was released.

DM: Why were the four compact discs recorded with analog equipment instead of digital equipment?

AI: Hatsuro Takanami, the chief recording engineer, made that decision. He told me what his reasons were, but I couldn't understand them because they were too technical.

DM: Are you pleased with the way the collection turned out?

AI: I haven't listened to it carefully yet, so I can't comment on it.

By the way, the conductor, Junichi Hirokami, was a student of mine at the Tokyo College of Music's Institute of Ethnomusicology.

DM: Did Akkeshi Forest inspire you to write TRIPTYQUE ABORIGENE? (Mr. Ifukube was working as a ranger in the forest when he wrote the piece.)

AI: It did. The women of the countryside were very hard workers, so I decided to depict them in the first movement, Payses. The title of the second movement, Timbe, is the name of a cliff on which Japanese forces once killed a group of Ainu. I used to live near the top of that cliff. Pakkai, the third movement, is the name of a song that Ainu men used to sing and dance to when they were drunk. (The Ainu are Japan's equivalent of Native Americans.)

DM: During one of our earlier conversations, you mentioned that JAPANESE RHAPSODY was very well received by foreign music critics. Was BALLATA SINFONICA also well received by them?

AI: JAPANESE RHAPSODY, which was premiered in Boston, became very famous internationally during the 1930s. However, there was no way for BALLATA SINFONICA to be heard by foreign audiences because I composed it in 1943.

SINFONIA TAPKAARA was premiered in Indianapolis. The United States' embassy in Tokyo helped arrange the performance. I remember giving the score to a member of the ambassador's staff.

I later found out that the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra performed Alexander Tcherepnin's Third Symphony shortly after performing SINFONIA TAPKAARA. So, I think Mr. Tcherepnin may have helped arrange its debut. Unfortunately, he died before I had a chance to ask him. (Mr. Ifukube was a student of Mr. Tcherepnin's.)

DM: Was the approach you took toward writing KISHI MAI any different from the one you took toward writing OVERTURE FOR THE SOLDIERS? (Mr. Ifukube wrote KISHI MAI for the Japanese Navy and OVERTURE FOR THE SOLDIERS for the Army.)

AI: I don't remember if the Defense Ministry commissioned those pieces or NHK did. All I remember is that I tried to avoid writing ordinary marches. (NHK is Japan's equivalent of PBS.)

I hadn't seen the score for OVERTURE FOR THE SOLDIERS in more than fifty years. The title was written in French and all of the instructions were in English. I don't know if the piece was ever performed during the war or not.

DM: You included one of the motifs that you composed for SALOME in the score for BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959). Did you often use material from your orchestral works in your film scores?

AI: I would do that whenever I was rushed.

I always feel a little guilty when I hear that another of my scores is going to be released on compact disc. I thought that the scores would be heard in the theater and then forgotten. I never imagined that they would be made available on compact disc.

By the way, I took my wife to see GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER in one of the theaters in the Yurakucho Mullion Building. She said to me, "For forty years you have not taken me to see the movies you score, so why don't you take me to this one?" Unfortunately, we went on a rainy day, and I caught a cold.

DM: What did your wife think of the film?

AI: She just said, "He's huge!" She is used to watching television.

DM: What prompted you to compose RONDO IN BURLESQUE?

AI: It was commissioned by a music association. The original arrangement was strictly for brass band, but then I was asked to add some additional drumming to the arrangement to help give the band run by the university at which I was teaching a more Japanese-sounding repertoire for its upcoming tour of the United States. A number of years later, I was commissioned to orchestrate RONDO IN BURLESQUE so it could be used to round out a performance of SYMPHONIC FANTASIA. (RONDO IN BURLESQUE also features themes from science fiction movies Mr. Ifukube scored.)

DM: Do you prefer the orchestral arrangement of JAPANESE SUITE to the original piano arrangement of the piece?

AI: The orchestral arrangement was commissioned by the Suntory Music Foundation, which holds a special concert featuring the music of one composer every year. After I was chosen to be the composer in 1991, I was asked to orchestrate JAPANESE SUITE for the special concert.

I feel that the original piano arrangement and the orchestral one both have advantages. The piano arrangement is very difficult to play, so the orchestral one is performed more often.

DM: Why are JAPANESE RHAPSODY, SINFONIA TAPKAARA, and SHAKA your favorites of your orchestral works?

AI: JAPANESE RHAPSODY is a very ambitious piece that I wrote when I was very young. I couldn't write a piece like it now.

I like the form of SINFONIA TAPKAARA.

I felt very fulfilled when I wrote SHAKA because it was very difficult for me to compose an extended work that didn't sound European.

By the way, a French company released SHAKA on compact disc recently. The company at first could not afford plastic cases, so it used cardboard packaging. Later on, after the disc proved to be successful, the company reissued it in plastic cases.

DM: What prompted you to write MUSIC GUIDE?

AI: Many Japanese people lost interest in traditional music during the early 1950s. All they wanted to hear was European and American music. So, I tried to promote traditional music. I discussed the history of music from its beginnings in ancient times through to the end of World War II. Another reason why I wrote the book was that I'd noticed that people tended to form opinions about music not by actually listening to it, but by reading reviews of it. So, I tried to persuade people to listen with their own ears.

DM: Did you have any difficulty finding a publisher?

AI: Kanami, the publishing company, approached me.

DM: What prompted you to write ORCHESTRATION?

AI: I taught at a music college after the war, and spent a lot of time researching orchestration. I'd had the idea to write a book on the subject for many years. I thought that amateur composers would find such a book very helpful.

Unfortunately, I lost the manuscript shortly after I completed it. It fell out a window while I was riding a train home from work. I went to look for the manuscript the next day, but couldn't find it.

Fortunately, I remembered everything that I'd written. So, I managed to rewrite the book. The process took me about a year.

Volume Two was published about fifteen years after Volume One. One reason why I didn't write it earlier was a lack of acoustic research. Another was that I had to use a lot of charts that had been created by various researchers, and obtaining permission to do so took a very long time.

The materials I used for teaching were my own manuscripts. At one point I was told not to use them because they were too advanced, so I resigned.

There were a lot of misprints in ORCHESTRATION when it was first published. That was because the text was in English, German, and Italian along with Japanese. Even the dedication to Mr. Tcherepnin, which was in Russian because he was Russian, wasn't printed correctly. It was very frustrating for me. However, I'm very glad the book was published. It's the story of my life.

Akira Ifukube Interview III © 1998 David Milner