Masaru Sato Interview

by David Milner

Translation by Yoshihiko Shibata

Masaru Sato

(Conducted in December 1994)

Masaru Sato scored GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955), GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966), SON OF GODZILLA (1967), and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974). He also scored more than three hundred other movies.

David Milner: How did you become interested in music?

Masaru Sato: I was the youngest of six brothers. My older brothers were all fond of music.

DM: What kind of music did you listen to when you were young?

MS: Japanese popular music. I didn't listen to much classical music.

DM: Have you received any formal training in music?

MS: Yes. I attended music school after junior high school.

DM: I have heard that you studied with Fumio Hayasaka. Is this true? (Mr. Hayasaka scored DRUNKEN ANGEL (1948), RASHOMON (1950), SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), and many other movies.)

MS: Yes. I studied with him for four years after I graduated from college.

DM: What did you study with Mr. Hayasaka?

MS: I studied contemporary composition and orchestration with Mr. Hayasaka. I studied only classical music while I was in school.

DM: Do you compose and orchestrate at the same time?

MS: I prepare a rough draft of the music and then begin orchestrating. I occasionally will compose additional music while I am orchestrating. I work this way because it allows me to edit my music not just once, but twice.

American film score composers are allowed to see the movies they score while they are working on them, but because Japanese movies are produced on such tight schedules, Japanese film score composers are not. So, when I score a movie, I have to prepare a rough draft and then go back and edit it after the film has been completed.

DM: Are you allowed to see any footage while you are preparing the rough draft?

MS: No. I just read the script and then begin writing.

DM: Which instruments do you play?

MS: Just piano.

DM: Many composers play a number of different instruments. Do you believe that it is helpful for composers to do so?

MS: Of course.

DM: How much time were you given to score the Akira Kurosawa movies on which you worked? (They include THE THRONE OF BLOOD (1957), THE LOWER DEPTHS (1957), THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958), THE BAD SLEEP WELL (1960), YOJIMBO (1961), SANJURO (1962), HIGH AND LOW (1963), and RED BEARD (1965). Mr. Sato and Mr. Hayasaka both worked on the score for RECORD OF A LIVING BEING (1955).)

MS: One week.

DM: How much time were you given to score the science fiction and fantasy films on which you worked? (They include not only the four entries in the Godzilla series, but also HALF HUMAN: THE STORY OF THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN (1955), THE H-MAN (1958), THE LOST WORLD OF SINBAD (1963), and TIDAL WAVE (1973).)

MS: About the same amount of time I was given to score the Akira Kurosawa movies on which I worked. However, I spent up to two weeks writing the scores for some of those films because they required such unusual orchestration.

DM: How much time do you spend recording the music for the movies you score?

MS: Two days.

DM: How much time do you spend dubbing the films?

MS: About one week.

DM: Do you write the lyrics for the songs heard in the movies you score?

MS: No.

DM: Who wrote the lyrics for the two songs in THE H-MAN? (THE MAGIC BEGINS and SO DEEP IS MY LOVE are sung in English.)

MS: A woman who worked for the British embassy.

DM: Have you scored any animated films?

MS: I worked on one called TOWARD THE TERRA (1980). I also worked on one about a panda.

DM: How was that different from working on standard movies?

MS: The production budget and schedule for both films were very luxurious. In addition, portions of the scores had to be written before production on some parts of the movies could begin.

DM: Why was that?

MS: Some of the movement of the characters was going to be set to music.

DM: Did you create the sound effects for either of the animated films you scored?

MS: I created many of the sound effects heard in both the animated and standard movies I scored.

DM: Do you show footage from the films you score to the people who perform your music?

MS: Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. In some cases there is not enough time for me to do that.

DM: Have you scored any television shows?

MS: I've scored several of them.

DM: How was that different from working on movies?

MS: I had to make sure my music would appeal to a very broad audience. In addition, the orchestras used to record my television scores were much smaller than those used to record my film scores.

DM: Have you composed any classical pieces?

MS: No. I don't have any interest in writing that kind of music.

DM: Do you enjoy listening to classical music?

MS: I very much enjoy listening to the music of Igor Stravinsky, Jean Sibelius, and Manuel de Falla.

DM: You always conduct your own music. Why is that?

MS: It takes too much time and money to prepare someone else to conduct the music. I know that many American film score composers do not conduct their own music, but most Japanese film score composers do.

DM: By which composers were you most influenced?

MS: Mr. Hayasaka.

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

MS: It hasn't changed very much. However, I think that I overwrote the scores I composed in the 1950s and early 1960s because the recording equipment used back then was not as responsive as the equipment that is used today.

DM: You scored a very large number of movies during the 1950s and early 1960s. Was that very difficult for you?

MS: My record is eighteen in one year.

DM: In what year did you score that many films?

MS: 1959. It was crazy.

DM: You completed the score for RECORD OF A LIVING BEING when Mr. Hayasaka unexpectedly died. Was it difficult for you to complete a score that had been started by another composer?

MS: Mr. Hayasaka and I had discussed the score, so it was not very difficult for me to complete it.

DM: You originally were going to score Akira Kurosawa's KAGEMUSHA - THE SHADOW WARRIOR (1980), but did not. Why is that?

MS: Mr. Kurosawa and I could not agree on the manner in which the movie should be scored.

DM: What was working with Mr. Kurosawa like?

MS: He gave me a lot of advice about the scores I wrote for his films. We sometimes would watch the same scene over and over again and he would ask me to change the orchestration or the placement of the music in the scene. None of the other directors with whom I worked did this.

DM: Did you find that frustrating?

MS: Sometimes.

DM: Was the manner in which you worked with Ishiro Honda any different from the one in which you worked with Jun Fukuda? (Mr. Honda directed HALF HUMAN: THE STORY OF THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN and THE H-MAN. He also directed EAGLE OF THE PACIFIC (1953), GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS (1954), COME MARRY ME (1966), and a large number of other movies. Mr. Fukuda directed not only GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER, SON OF GODZILLA, and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, but also FANGS OF THE UNDERWORLD (1962), YOUNG GUY IN HAWAII (1963), and many other films.)

MS: Mr. Fukuda's work on the scores for his movies was much more sophisticated than Mr. Honda's.

DM: Have you worked only as a film score composer?

MS: Yes. I started scoring movies right after I graduated from college. I was very fond of them when I was young.

DM: Which of your film scores are your favorites?

MS: That's a very difficult question. There are too many from which to choose.

DM: On which of the movies you scored did you most enjoy working?

MS: I most enjoyed working on the melodramas because they offered me the greatest range of artistic freedom. I could score them with one piano or a full orchestra.

DM: Did you enjoy working on the animated films you scored?

MS: No. There was no human drama in them. In addition, there was very little room for music in them.

DM: Do you find period movies any more or less difficult to score than films that are set in the present?

MS: Boring period movies are the most difficult to score.

DM: When Akira Ifukube was asked to write the score for GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS, he said, "I can't write music for a film like this!" How did you react when you were asked to write the score for GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN? (Mr. Ifukube, one of Japan's most respected classical composers, scored CHILDREN OF HIROSHIMA (1951), GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS, BUDDHA (1961), and over two hundred other movies.)

MS: I was very young and enthusiastic at the time. I remember that I tried to make sure my music would sound different from Mr. Ifukube's.

DM: What do you think of Mr. Ifukube's music?

MS: I like it. I considered studying music with Mr. Ifukube instead of Mr. Hayasaka, but Mr. Hayasaka was more successful at the time so I chose to study with him.

DM: You recently conducted a concert featuring music Mr. Ifukube wrote for a number of different science fiction films. Did you work with him to prepare for the concert? (BATTRA'S THEME from GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992), EMMIE'S THEME from GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH (1991), and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE MARCH from BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959) are among the pieces that were performed at the Godzilla 40th Anniversary Symphonic Concert.)

MS: We discussed some of the music, but Mr. Ifukube didn't give me any special advice.

DM: Did you enjoy conducting the concert?

MS: The music was very well written, but it was very difficult to conduct. It sounds simple, but it is not.

DM: Do you enjoy the music of any American film score composers?

MS: I enjoy the music of Dimitri Tiomkin, John Williams, Henry Mancini, and Alfred Newman.

DM: Do you like American popular music?

MS: I like jazz. It's very different. I especially like Quincy Jones' music.

DM: Are you working on any film scores at the moment?

MS: Yes. I'm working on two different scores. One is for a western called EAST MEETS WEST that is being produced by the Shochiku Company Ltd. and the other is for a movie about the battle of Okinawa that is being produced by the Toho Company Ltd. to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II.

Masaru Sato Interview © 1998 David Milner