Part XI - Film Composer Triumphant


Akira Ifukube circa 1965

At the start of 1963, Akira Ifukube continued to be on roll. After having his name attached to the series of blockbusters that was of Tale of Zatoichi, King Kong vs. Godzilla, The Tale of Zatoichi Continues and Chushingura, Ifukube remained the "go-to" composer for major film productions. So willing was Ifukube to meet the relentless demands of producers to score their films that he was again, as he had been in the past, willing to step away from writing large-scale concert works in deference to the abundant film work available to him.

The year's first notable film score was for yet another Zatoichi sequel, director Tokuzô Tanaka's New Tale of Zatoichi (Shin Zatôichi monogatari), released on March 15. Back in the title role, naturally, was Shintaro Katsu, who by now had become a household name throughout Japan due to the extremely popular Zatoichi role. (Indeed, Zatoichi would become the actor's calling card; he would eventually star in no less than twenty-four subsequent Zatoichi films and even play the role in a popular television series.)

The New Tale of Zatoichi marked the tenth time that Ifukube and Katsu had worked on a film together, and certainly by this point, the two had well established a very warm friendship with each other. Katsu was himself a talented singer and shamisen player and, in The New Tale of Zatoichi, he was given the opportunity to put his musical skills on display by singing and playing that instrument in a scene at an inn. Ifukube had known various actors with musical abilities over the years but felt that Katsu was the most genuinely talented among them; this attracted the composer to him. In turn, Katsu, who thus had an above average capacity to appreciate Ifukube's own musicality, was known to pour praise on Ifukube's film scores and even went so far as to refer to the composer as "sensei," or "teacher." Ifukube had his own name for Katsu, the diminutive but respectful "Kattyan." [1]

Of course, Ifukube also had great admiration for Katsu's acting and, in particular, greatly enjoyed his portrayal of Zatoichi. In fact, Katsu's idiosyncratic mannerisms as the often bumbling blind swordsman left such an impression on Ifukube that on occasion, when the composer was feeling especially humorous, he would take pleasure in closing his eyes and imitating Zatoichi's trademark shuffling walk complete with an imaginary cane in hand!

About a week and a half after the debut of New Tale of Zatoichi on March 24, Yûgo Serikawa's animated feature, The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon (Wanpaku ôji no Orochi taiji), hit Japanese movie screens. This epic film was produced by the Kyoto-based studio Toei, which was known for its lavish productions of animated films. The Little Prince, which was the one and only animated movie that Ifukube would ever score, is based on the exploits of the young Shinto deity, Prince Susanô, from the mythological Kojiki texts. After the death of the prince's mother, Izanami, the youth embarks on an adventure to try to find her. Toward the end of his quest, Susanô comes face to face with the eight-headed dragon, Orochi, and bravely fights and conquers the beast. After this, Susanô is soon reunited the the spirit of his deceased mother.

Certainly, this is not the first time that Ifukube scored a film based on the Susanô story from the Kojiki; The Birth of Japan, made less than five years earlier, also dealt with this material, albeit in a live action form. Ifukube was enthusiastic to have received the Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon assignment for the same reasons that he was so happy to score The Birth of Japan: The composer loved the theme of ancient Japan and he felt a close family connection to the story.

"I was quite familiar with the legend of the dragon, as it is from the Izumo district that the Ifukube family has its origins in.* So it seemed almost like a kind of fate or coincidence that I should work on this story," Ifukube told Ed Godziszewski in 1995. "The dragon's story took place in the same location that the Ifukube family had come from over 1300 years ago." [2]

When working on more routine films, Ifukube would normally begin to write his scores near to or during the post-production phase. Here, however, he began scoring some sequences during pre-production. This was necessary for scenes in which the animation was required to follow the flow of prewritten musical cues. [3] Especially important to score in advance was the extended sequence in which the kami Ame-no-Uzume does her energetic and fanciful dance to trick the sun goddess, Ameterasu, into emerging from her cave in order to bring light back to the world. After having reviewed the script and the storyboards that outlined the general continuity of that section of the film, Ifukube wrote the Ame-no-Uzume dance music based on what he gleaned from those materials. After the music's completion, Toei hired the the choreographer Emi Hatano to create accompanying dances for not only Ame-no-Uzume but also the other kami who join in her performance. Hatano's dancers were filmed dancing to Ifukube's music and their movements were later replicated - extremely skillfully - by the animators.

The remainder and largest portion of the score was written during post-production. More than usual, Ifukube felt an especially heavy responsibility to compose music of exceptional quality for The Little Prince. "While I was [observing the animators], I came to realize just how hard and meticulous the work was to make even a one second sequence of animated film. So many people were working very hard on such small details. Well, I was deeply moved, so I decided to do my very best." [4]


Akira Ifukube reviews his Little Prince score with lead animator Koji Mori (center) and the director Yûgo Sekigawa.

Although Ifukube normally believed that music should be used as minimally as possible in a film, The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon was a rare example of a situation where the composer felt that more music was preferable; like The Birth of Japan, The Little Prince required an almost continuous musical score. "In animation, all of the pictures are amplified when compared to live action. We can understand the expressions more clearly. But when characters have their backs to the camera in live action, still the viewer can get an impression of the feeling of the scene. Not so in animation. Animation must be more direct, or something else is needed. So, because of the nature of the medium, I decided to take much deeper care and interest in explanatory melodies and phrasing and subtlety of expression. I need a lower or more basic level for animation since I must both express and explain more." [5]

Ifukube had rather specific recollections of the recording sessions for his Little Prince score. "It was a four day recording session. Because it was so lengthy and costly a process, I used the whole orchestra for the first two days, on day three I used a smaller ensemble, and on the fourth day we recorded just small solo pieces." Ifukube also commented on the size of the orchestra used for the film: "It was my largest film orchestra [ever] - 104 pieces." [6] **

Ifukube's fine Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon music has no shortage of memorable moments. The typically Ifukubean Main Title music - with its bombast and rhythmic drive - is among the most noteworthy cues in the score. Also needing mention is the hauntingly tender Lullaby for a Motherless Child (Haha no Nai Ko no Komoriuta) that Susanô's mother sings to her son; this music appears several times and, most strikingly, at the end of the film with soaring strings and a female choir. As well, the aforementioned Ame-no-Uzume dance music is highly remarkable. It is a showpiece of orchestral color and, in typical Ifukube fashion, several traditional Japanese instruments such as a koto and a shô mouth organ are added to the mix. It also ups the rhythmic ante of the Main Titles: With its ready use of heavily accented "stabs" played by the low strings, Ame-no-Uzume's dance is often conspicuously redolent of Stravinsky's Augurs of Spring segment from The Rite of Spring. ***

During the film's climactic battle between Susanô and Orochi, there is more music that also sounds quite familiar: Interestingly, Ifukube refashions his impressive battle march from The Mysterians for this sequence and, due to its ferocious intensity, the music works just as well to accompany the battle against a multi-headed dragon as it does to underpin the struggle against alien invaders.


Susanô battles Orochi in this publicity still for The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon.
Image from the collection of Ed Godziszewski. Used with permission.

The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon was yet another financial and critical triumph to which Ifukube could attach his name. Domestically, the film was awarded the Ôfuji Noburô animation award at the 1963 Mainichi Film Awards and it was officially recommended by the Japanese Ministry of Education and the the Ministry of Health's Central Child Welfare Council. In Italy, the film was screened at the Venice Film Festival, where it won a Bronze Osella. On January 1, 1964, Columbia Pictures would release a dubbed version of the film in the United States.


Poster for The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon.
Image from the collection of Ed Godziszewski. Used with permission.

Between April and the start of December, Ifukube scored six films, two of which were additional Zatoichi sequels, Zatoichi the Fugitive (Zatôichi kyôjô-tabi) and Zatoichi on the Road (Zatôichi kenka-tabi), released on August 10 and November 30, respectively. Finally, the year closed with Ifukube's participation on a new Toho special effects spectacular titled Undersea Warship (Kaitei Gunkan), released on December 22.

The production of Undersea Warship reassembled Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya and screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa. Sekizawa's plot deals with the former World War II-era naval captain, Hachiro Jinguji (played by Toho regular Jun Tazaki), who uses his technologically advanced submarine super weapon, the Gotengo, to battle the nefarious underwater empire, Mu. The people of Mu, led by their empress, and aided by their huge serpentine, dragon-like god (and obligatory kaiju) Manda, seek to rise to the surface of the ocean and go to war with terrestrial humanity in a fight to the finish.

Ifukube's music for Undersea Warship is a solid effort, loud and martial, in the vein of The Mysterians and Battle in Outer Space. The main battle march is especially rousing. However, the score is not without its more lyrical moments and the theme written for Makoto, Jinguji's daughter, is particularly poignant.

Like Varan and King Kong vs. Godzilla, Undersea Warship required a "native chant" for a scene in which the denizens of Mu sing a prayer to their monster-god, Manda. When faced with the task of writing lyrics for the people of Mu to sing, Ifukube penned the following Mu Prayer:

Susemusota Manda
Susemusota Manda
Obu solo buowa Lu bale
Obu solo solo
Susemusota Manda
Susemusota Manda
Susemusota Manda
A...

Research suggests that these lyrics are not, at least for for the most part, merely random combinations of consonant and vowels arbitrarily invented by the composer. They appear, rather, to be variaions on real words sourced from dictionaries dealing with two African languages. The languages are Mandinka (formerly known as Mandingo), which is spoken in Senegal, the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, and Buluba-Lulua, spoken in the Congo. In this sense, he repeated the technique that he used when writing chants for Varan and King Kong vs. Godzilla; that is, Ifukube took a mishmash of real words from existing (albeit obscure) languages and manipulated them to endow the Mu Prayer with a feeling of the exotic and arcane - and even a hint of reality.****

Undersea Battleship was yet another hit film featuring Ifukube's music: the film ended up being Toho's number one moneymaker for the month of December. The film eventually made it to the United States with a new title, Atragon, on March 11, 1965.


Poster for Undersea Warship.

After having enjoyed an immensely successful two year period, Ifukube began 1964 at a slower pace, having written only three film scores by the end of the summer. But it was at this time that the composer began work on a brand-new Godzilla sequel in production at Toho, Ishiro Honda's Mothra vs. Godzilla (Mosura tai Gojira).

Mothra was a kaiju that was first brought to life in a 1961 film, appropriately enough titled Mothra (Mosura), courtesy of Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya and company. This creature is, as the name suggests, a giant insect that appears in two stages, the first being a giant larva and the second a fully formed moth with massive, rainbow-colored wings. In the original film, explorers visit a remote Pacific island, Infant Island, and discover two tiny twin fairies, known as the Shobijin (Little Beauties), played by identical twins Emi and Yumi Ito, the stars of the real-life pop act known as The Peanuts. One of the explorers, the unscrupulous Nelson (Jerry Ito), kidnaps the fairies and brings them back to Japan, forcing them to sing in an elaborate night club act. Little does Nelson know, however, that his actions have roused the anger of the larval Mothra, a monster-goddess that resides on the Shobijins' island. Consequently, Mothra swims her way to Japan to rescue her tiny friends. After laying some waste to Tokyo, larval Mothra spins a coccoon at the base of Tokyo Tower only to emerge later as a fully formed mammoth moth. Mothra leaves Japanese airspace and makes her way to the New Kirk City in the fictitious nation of Rolisica, to where Nelson has fled with the captive Shobijin. After a spectacular aerial attack on New Kirk City, Mothra is able to rescue the Shobijin and, with them in tow, she returns home.

Ifukube elected not to write the score for the first Mothra film, and there are two principal reasons for this. First, Toho had begun production on Mothra in the late spring of 1961. At this time, Ifukube had already been engaged in two major musical projects: He was not only writing the unusually large-scale score for Kenji Misumi's film Buddha, but he was also heavily immersed in the task of completing his major concert work, Ritmica Ostinata. Second, knowing that The Peanuts were performers of popular music and that the Mothra script called for the twins to sing in a night club-style stage show, Ifukube felt that his style of music, more serious and vocally demanding in nature, would not be a good fit for them and therefore for the film in general.

The famed composer of popular music, Yuji Koseki (1909 - 1989), was eventually brought on board to score the first Mothra film. The Mothra Song (Mosura no uta) that he wrote for the Ito Sisters (with lyrics in both Malay and Japanese) became a widely successful pop hit unto itself after the release of the film. (Even today, it is likely The Peanuts' most famous song.)

Due to his wide open schedule this time around, and apparently undaunted by the fact that the Ito Sisters would be reprising their roles as the singing Shobijin in Mothra vs. Godzilla, Ifukube agreed to write the score. In this film, written by the stalwart Shinichi Sekigawa, a huge egg washes up on the Japanese coast near Nagoya and is later claimed as the property of a villainous businessman, Mr. Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima). He turns the egg into a moneymaking tourist attraction. The Shobijin arrive in Japan to explain that the egg belongs to Mothra and must be returned to their home, Infant Island. To accomplish this, the fairies solicit the help of three sympathetic people, the reporter Ichiro Sakai (Akira Takarada), the photographer Junko Nakanishi (Yuriko Hoshi) and the scientist Shunsuke Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi).

When Sakai, Nakanishi and Miura confront Kumayama to ask him to surrender the egg to the Infant Islanders, the money-grubber balks at this idea. Soon after, Godzilla emerges on the scene and is instinctually attracted to the egg. Naturally, one his path toward it, Godzilla wrecks tremendous havoc and the three protagonists decide to visit Infant Island to ask for help themselves. They plead with the island chief to send the winged Mothra to Japan to neutralize Godzilla. At first, the chief refuses but eventually gives in. Mothra, though weak and near death, flies off to fight Godzilla.

Mothra and Godzilla engage in a spectacular battle (thanks to the brilliant work of Eiji Tsuburaya and his crew) but the giant insect eventually succumbs to Godzilla's fiery breath and dies, resting one of her wings on the giant egg. Knowing that the egg contains two larval Mothras, the Infant Islanders perform a ceremonial dance and sing a prayer to encourage the baby beasts to hatch. The juvenile Mothras emerge and attack Godzilla with their silk spray. Godzilla is mummified in their web and, incapacitated, tumbles into the ocean. The Shobijin are reunited with the Mothra babies and they return to Infant Island.

Ifukube's music for Mothra vs Godzilla is one of his finest efforts in the realm of kaiju eiga. As one would expect, it is brimming with all of the musical gestures that by now have become part and parcel of Ifukube's genre music: snarling brass, pounding percussion and rhythmic intensity. Certainly, by now, the textures and the timbres of this type of music sound familiar; one gets the distinct impression that the composer has comfortably settled into what he deemed to by his universal "kaiju sound." Although the style now feels familiar, however, the Mothra vs. Godzilla music remains inspired and inspirited throughout and appropriately provides all of the requisite tonal thrills and chills so vital to giant creature features of this type.

There are numerous standout moments in the score, one of which is the Main Title cue. As the introductory Toho logo appears, the composer requires the percussionist to rapidly strike the harp of the piano with mallets to create a jarring, metallic cacophony that evokes a type of demonic dulcimer. This is followed by a stern proclamation of the chromatic Godzilla theme carried over from King King vs. Godzilla, which then segues to a sweeping, pulsating and slow-moving ostinato that foreshadows Ifukube's Mothra Theme.

Another salient cue is the Sacred Fountain***** music. This is possibly the most well known music from this film and, probably, one of the most famous - and beloved - themes in the entire Godzilla canon. It is heard during a scene on Infant Island. After their initial request for Mothra's help is rejected by the island chief, Sakai, Nakanishi and Miura discover the Shobijin singing a gorgeous albeit slightly forlorn melody in front of an oasis-like spring. It is an emotional turning point in film as the scene portrays a moment of reflection on mankind's wanton use of nuclear weapons.

The effortless, magnificent beauty of this song belies certain troubles Ifukube experienced when writing an original song for the Ito Sisters to sing. "I had a hard time composing for them in [Mothra vs. Godzilla]," Ifukube once said. Their [vocal] range is wide, but for the nicest tones, it was a bit narrow. The [Sacred Fountain] piece was extremely difficult for me to do as a result." [7]

The lyrics that Ifukube wrote for the Sacred Fountain song are in Tagalog, the principal language of the Philippines. In the first Mothra film, the composer Koseki used Malay for the Shobijin songs; it is unclear why Ifukube decided to use a different, albeit related language here.

It is also unclear how much help, if any, Ifukube had when writing these lyrics. Unlike his practice in King Kong vs. Godzilla where, for the most part, he simply extracted preexisting, non sequitur words from a textbook and strung them together, the Tagalog used in The Sacred Fountain is not only original, but grammatically sound and idiomatic. Several of the words are misspelled, however, and that may not be due to a mistake on the composer's part. The kotoist Yasuko Sato has a credible theory about this: " [S]ome words may have been transliterated in a style closer to Japanese to make them easier for a Japanese to sing. The "g" at the end of a phrase - which is difficult for Japanese speakers to hear - may have been intentionally omitted. The "r" may have been inserted to augment the sonority." [8]

Here are Ifukube's version of the Tagalog lyrics for The Sacred Fountain as they appear in his Godzilla vs. Mothra manuscript.

Na intindihan mo ba
Meyroun doan maganda balon
Punta, ka lang dito, ka Lang dito
Halika, at marupo
Halika, at marupo
lulululululu lulululululu

Here are the same lyrics in corrected Tagalog followed by an English translation:


Naintindihan mo ba
Mayroon doong magandang balon
Punta, ka lang dito, ka lang dito
Halika, at maupo
Halika, at maupo
lulululululu lulululululu

Do you understand
There is a beautiful well there
Just come here
Just come here
Come and sit
Come and sit
lulululululu lulululululu

These unadorned, gentle words match perfectly with the innocent tenderness of the music.

Ifukube also wrote lyrics for the cue in which the inhabitants of Infant Island perform a ceremonial song and dance, Mahal Mothra, to bring about the birth of the two juvenile Mothras after their winged mother is defeated by Godzilla. These lyrics are also completely original, yet are not quite as idiomatic as The Sacred Fountain. Here are Ifukube's original lyrics (with several spelling mistakes, again likely made on purpose to aid the Japanese singers):


Mahal Mahal Mothra
Mahal Mahal Mothra
Tama Mothra Tama
Tama Mothra Tama
Laban Guerra Labanan

Laban Guerra Labanan
Laban Guerra Labanan
Magutan gol Magutan gol

Magutan gol Magutan gol
Bigai! Mahal, Bigai! Mahal
Ipang anak Manga anak

Ipang anak Manga anak
Mahal Mahal Mahal

The corrected Tagolog lyrics are below followed by an English translation:

Mahal Mahal Mothra
Mahal Mahal Mothra
Tama Mothra Tama
Tama Mothra Tama
Laban Guerra Labanan

Laban Guerra Labanan
Laban Guerra Labanan
Magtanggol Magtanggol

Bigay! Mahal, Bigay! Mahal
Ipanganak Mga Anak

Ipanganak Mga Anak
Mahal Mahal Mahal

Beloved, Beloved Mothra
Beloved, Beloved Mothra
Strike, Mothra, Strike
Strike, Mothra, Strike
Battle, War, Struggle
Battle, War, Struggle
Defend, Defend
Give what we ask, Beloved One! Give what we ask, Beloved One!
Be born, children, Be born, children
Beloved One, Beloved One, Beloved One
[9]

As we have seen in the Sacred Fountain, these lyrics are not at random. Rather, they have very specific meaning that relates directly to the narrative of the film.

When the Mahal Mothra cue appears, it includes two interesting instrumental choices. In addition to his standard orchestration, Ifukube adds the buzzing woodwind tones of a pungi, the "snake charmer's instrument" native to India but found throughout Southeast Asia, and, somewhat oddly, a karimba, the type of "thumb piano" that is endemic to Africa.

It was during the post-production phase of Mothra vs. Godzilla that Ifukube and Ishiro Honda had a rare disagreement over the composer's "less is more" approach to film music. Normally, Honda was happy to cede the most important musical decisions to his trusted Ifukube and would not seek to challenge him; this was not the case here. Ifukube recalled: "Mr. Honda asked me to use attack music as a bridge for an [upward] view of Godzilla's appearance (over a hillside)." I said 'Well, Mr. Honda, no music is necessary there. Godzilla is impressive enough.' 'Yes, you are right, I agree,' he told me. So I did not write any music for that sequence. But when I saw the final print at a staff screening, it had the kind of music that Mr. Honda had asked for...he had taken attack music from the tapes for another scene and used it there anyway. It was used without my permission. So I glared very hard at Mr. Honda and he just shrugged his shoulders kind of innocently and said 'sorry' very softly." [10]

Mothra vs. Godzilla was released on April 29. (It would secure an American release later the same year on September 17.) Although it was not as financially successful as King Kong vs. Godzilla, it was a substantial moneymaker nevertheless and proved to Toho that Godzilla and giant monsters in general continued to be substantially lucrative cinematic commodities.


Poster for Mothra vs. Godzilla.

So lucrative were these films, in fact, that Toho immediately ordered another monster movie, Dogora, The Space Monster (Uchû daikaiju Dogora). Ifukube, Honda, Tsuburaya, Sekigawa and company were all called back to bring this story about a huge, extraterrestrial jellyfish to life.

In terms of Ifukube's Dogora instrumentation, there is nothing new here except for the very widespread use of a musical saw, which is an outstanding element of his portentous Dogora theme. With its ability to create continuous glissandos, the ethereal, out-of-this-world tones of the musical saw resemble those of the electric theremin, an instrument so often used in American science fiction films of the 1950s and 1960s.

Also notable is a brief jazz cue that Ifukube wrote for a scene in which a female bank robber, played by Japanese sexpot Akiko Wakabayashi, listens to the radio while waiting in her car. Though lasting just under twenty seconds, the syncopated, percussive ostinato scored for trumpet, tenor trombone, drums, conga, piano and contrabass offers a fascinating glimpse into what Ifukube is able to produce when required to write in styles and genres not normally of interest to him.

Dogora, The Space Monster opened in Japanese theaters on August 11.


Poster for Dogora, The Space Monster.

It was probably during the production of Dogora that Ifukube was hired by the Hong Kong-based film studio, Shaw Brothers, to provide the music for their upcoming big budget, epic costume drama, The Last Woman of Shang (Da Ji). During the 1950s and the 1960s, it was not uncommon for the famed Shaw Brothers studio to solicit the participation of foreign filmmakers from all over Asia in their productions. There were several reasons for this, including the the reduction of costs, market expansion and production enhancement. [11] The Japanese were seen as particularly advanced in terms of all aspects of filmmaking and this led the head of Shaw Brothers, Run Run Shaw, to make as many professional relationships within the Japanese film industry as possible. Shaw believed that working with the Japanese specifically elevated his own productions to the highest levels of quality within Asia. He once said to the Japanese media: "Japan and Hong Kong are in the leading position in Asian cinema. The relation between Japan and Southeast Asia is always close as we share many cultural similarities. Hong Kong must work together with Japan in order to bring Asian movies to the world." [12]

It seems completely plausible that Shaw Brothers became interested in Ifukube, who had never previously worked for that studio, due to his name being associated with a recent and virtually relentless string of successful Japanese films. Ifukube was contacted by Shaw Brother by way of Daiei, a studio that had already established a working relationship with the enterprising Hong Kong production company.

The Last Woman of Shang was in reality a co-production between Shaw Brothers and South Korea's Shin Films: Interior scenes were shot in Hong Kong's Clearwater Bay studios and the scenes requiring expansive outdoor landscapes - certainly not easy to find on Hong Kong's tiny, cramped island - were filmed on location in Suwon, Korea. [13]

This film, which set during the final days of China's Shang Dynasty (1600 BC - 1046 BC), deals with a young woman, Da Ji, whose father is killed by the ruthless Emperor Zhou, the last of the Shang rulers. To exact revenge against Zhou for killing her father, she marries him in order to subvert his reign from within. In the film's grand climax, Da Ji's real lover, the nobleman Ji Fa, leads a massive raid on Zhou's palace, burns it to the ground and kills the emperor. It is presumed that Da Ji and Ji Fa then live happily ever after.

Ifukube's Last Woman of Shang score is a mixture of Western-style orchestral music and music sumptuously written for ensembles of traditional Chinese instruments. These latter cues are the most noteworthy; they aptly demonstrate how skilled Ifukube was when writing for folk instruments in an authentic style. (And why not - the composer was an avid collector and curator of Chinese instruments.) Interestingly, during a festival scene in which the Chinese instruments are heard in full force, Ifukube works into the music a melody that he had originally written for the third movement of his China-inspired Arctic Forest (1944).

Sadly, the other half of the score using the standard, Western-style orchestra is not usually as inspired nor as impressive due to Ifukube's conspicuous over use of music liberally recycled from other - and in some cases very recent - film scores. During The Last Woman of Shang's opening battle scene, Ifukube uses a variation of the air corps attack music that he had just written for Toho's Dogora. Also, melodic fragments from The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon's Main Title music, albeit in a slower, more sensual style for woodwinds, harp and Electone underpin a scene in which Da Ji take a bath. Finally, during the palace raid, Ifukube throws in his Mysterians march as well as the chromatic Godzilla theme heard in King Kong vs. Godzilla, Chushingura and Mothra vs. Godzilla to augment the onscreen action.

It is anyone's guess as to why Ifukube showed such an apparent lack of interest in writing a greater deal of original orchestral music for The Last Woman of Shang, especially given the fact that it was a top tier production for Shaw Brothers. Perhaps it was due to Ifukube's taking greater interest in composing the music for the traditional Chinese ensemble, which is indeed excellent. Another theory is because the film was intended for a foreign audience and would not be shown in Japan, he felt that he could reasonably and justifiably cut corners by using music that would be wholly unfamiliar to its intended viewers.

To record the Last Woman of Shang score, Ifukube never left Japan; all of the music was recorded at Daiei studios and the tapes were then shipped to Hong Kong, where they were given their final mix into the film. [14]

The Last Woman of Shang was released in Hong Kong on August 11, roughly two weeks after the premiere of Dogora in Japan. It would finally make its debut in South Korea on September 19. In Korea, the film was a major hit, attracting record audiences.

October saw the release of the seventh Zatoichi sequel, Fight, Zatôichi, Fight (Zatôichi kesshô-tabi). The original film's director, Ifukube's friend Kenji Misumi, came back to direct this film, which must have greatly pleased the composer when he agreed to write the score. Godzilla also got a sequel, his second one of 1964, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (San daikaijû: Chikyû saidai no kessen). For the fourth time in the span of a year, Ifukube was back in the monster saddle with the Honda/Tsuburaya/Sekizawa triumvirate to supply the music for this film, in which Godzilla is joined by Rodan and Mothra to take on a completely new opponent, the golden three-headed dragon from outer space, King Ghidorah.****** The Peanuts returned as the Shobijin, Mothra's guardians, and were again given their own musical number. Although Ifukube was the film's composer, the brass at Toho delegated the Shobijin song, Cry for Happiness, to another Hokkaido-born composer, Hiroshi Miyagawa (1931 - 2006). "[T]he producers thought that Miyagawa would be better for popular songs such as The Peanuts were good at singing," Ifukube said.

Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster opened on December 20. It would later come to the United States on September 13, 1965.


Poster for Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster.

The Biography is to be continued...


* As previously mentioned in the Family Origins and Childhood section of this biography, Ifukube family tradition claims lineage to the mythical Susanô.

** Although this is Ifukube's personal recollection, it cannot be independently verified. We can at least assume that if The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon did not definitively employ the largest orchestra that Ifukube ever used to record a film score, we can at least assume that the film did, at least, boast one of Ifukube's largest film ensembles.

*** Perhaps it should not be surprising that Ifukube's music during the Ame-no-Uzume dance number so readily recalls Stravinsky's ballet, The Rite of Spring. For Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring was his opportunity to express, through dance and music, the spirit of ancient and primitive Russia. It seems quite possible that, for Ifukube - who was always so ready to admit how much Stravinksy influenced him - Ame-no-Uzume's dance, a miniature ballet unto itself, was his own moment to evoke, also through dance and music, a similar essence of the ancient and the primitive, but for Japan. As mentioned previously in the Family Origins and Childhood section of the biography, Ifukube firmly believed that the Japanese and Russian peoples were in many ways culturally interrelated due to the intermingling of the Mongols within both societies; this is why he felt that the music in The Rite was, more than anything, inherently and saliently "Asian." Stravinsky's ability - and audacity - to express this type of so-called Asian music with Western orchestral instruments is what gave Ifukube the impetus to become a composer in the first place. Therefore, by virtually quoting Stravinsky's Augurs of Spring music from The Rite in Ame-no-Uzume's dance, Ifukube is simultaneously offering his hommage to the Russian master as well as demonstrating how Russian and Japanese pagan antiquity can be tangibly linked through music.

**** There are specific reasons why I believe that the Mu Prayer lyrics are sourced from Mandinka and Buluba-Lulua, and I will explain them here. Keeping in mind that Ifukube used real languages for both his Varan and King Kong chants, I figured that the composer, who had a sincere interest in world languages, must have used an existing language or languages to write the Mu Prayer. Using Google Books, which a tremendous tool to find and reference old, obscure texts, I found two dictionaries that contain either the exact words used in Ifukube's lyrics, or close variations thereof. These books are A Grammar of the Mandingo Language with Vocabularies by The Reverend R. Maxwell Macbraire (printed in London in 1839) and Grammar and Dictionary of the Buluba-Lulua Language as Spoken in the Upper Kasai and Congo Basin by William McCutchan Morrison (printed in New York in 1906). Since both texts were printed well before the production of Undersea Battleship, Ifukube would certainly have had access to them. But why would Ifukube have researched African languages to create lyrics for a mythical society under the waters of the Pacific Ocean? My theory is the following: I believe that Ifukube may have used the word "Manda" as a starting point during his linguistic research and found that there was a small family of African languages called Mandé, which was similar enough to the name of Mu's monster-god. One of the languages in this family is Mandinka. Ifukube found Reverend Macbraire's Mandinka dictionary, I posit, and ended up on page 42. On that single page, there are two words that appear in the Mu Prayer, solo and susemuso. According to this dictionary, solo means "leopard" and susemuso means "hen." My theory is that Ifukube liked the sounds of these words (non sequitur though they indeed were) and thus selected them for inclusion in his text. Then, wishing to remain focused on Africa, he consulted McCutchan's dictionary on the Buluba-Lulua language. On the same page of that text, page 151, two other words from the Mu Prayer can be seen: buowa, which means "awe," and lubale, which describes the hard outer layer of bamboo. I am quite certain that all of this is much more than a mere coincidence; it is my belief that Ifukube took the words susemuso, solo, buowa and lubale and manipulated them to concoct his chant. He added -to to the end of susemuso and split lubale in two to create Lu bale. Since I could not find the word Obu on its own in either text, I suspect that Ifukube either invented it or "broke it off" from another word somewhere in either dictionary for its rhythmic and/or phonetic value. To conclude, if my theory is correct, these words were not chosen to have any true meaning unto themselves and clearly have nothing to do with the monster Manda nor the general narrative of Undersea Battleship. They were chosen, rather, for their rhythmic and phonetic qualities. This is similar to the way in which Ifukube selected words for the chant in King Kong vs. Godzilla. What can be gleaned from this pattern is that Ifukube, even when writing such fanciful chants and prayers, wanted the sounds of his lyrics to be based in some measure or reality; this was preferable to inventing strings of nonsense syllables and words. By basing the lyrics of his monster chants on real sounds from real languages, it endowed these chants with a greater sense of authenticity and realism, so to speak.

***** When Ifukube originally wrote this music in 1964, he assigned no specific title to it. It was the Japanese musician and performer Makoto Inoue who gave this name to the music in the 1980s. "The Sacred Fountain" has stuck ever since. Since it is such a well known title today, I use it in this biography to make identification of the music easier.

****** Ifukube's first kaiju love was always Godzilla, but his second favorite monster was King Ghidorah, according to Kiwami, the composer's son.


[1] Thank you, Atsushi Kobayashi.
[2] Godziszewski, Ed, Ifukube on Ifukube, G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995, page 29.
[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Godziszewski, Ed, Ifukube on Ifukube, G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995, page 34.
[8] Sato, Yusako. Liner notes for Akira Ifukube: Works for 25-stringed Koto. Zele Music, 2016.
[9] Thanks to Oliver Limbo for helping with this translation.
[10]
Godziszewski, Ed, Ifukube on Ifukube, G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995, page 35.
[11] Yecies, Brian. Shim, Aegyung. The Changing Face of Korean Cinema: 1960 to 2015. Routledge, 2015.
[12] Yau Shuk-ting, Kinnia. Japanese and Hong Kong Film Industries: Understanding the Origins of East Asian Film Networks. Routledge, 2009. Page 88.
[13] Yecies, Brian. Shim, Aegyung. The Changing Face of Korean Cinema: 1960 to 2015. Routledge, 2015.
[14]
Thank you, Atsushi Kobayashi.



© Erik Homenick. All rights reserved