Part V - Birth of a Film Composer


Akira Ifukube in 1946

There is no doubting that the Second World War took its toll on Akira Ifukube: his physical frailty caused by radiation exposure and the depression brought about by Japan's defeat nearly killed his artistic ambitions. Yes, hearing Ballata Sinfonica on the radio...that ghostly message from Isao...was a definite boost to his morale, but first thing's first: how would he now be able to financially support himself and his family? Ifukube determined that there was no chance of a stable future in forestry, especially after the war; during the United States occupation, poverty and starvation were widespread throughout Japan and prices rose precipitously, even for the most basic of products. Ifukube recalled that "The cost of a sweet rice cake went up to ¥10, for example. My salary at the time (in forestry) was less than ¥100, so just ten rice cakes would exhaust my monthly salary. So I was thinking that there was no future in forestry." [1]

Since Ifukube was now in need of a job, Fumio Hayasaka reached out to his old friend. Hayasaka suggested that Ifukube come to Tokyo, the heart of the Japanese film industry, to try his hand at writing film scores. Hayasaka had already been in the Japanese capital for seven years writing music for films and, in so doing, he was making good money and a good name for himself. This idea was highly appealing to Ifukube: the prospect of writing music full-time and being handsomely paid to do it was too good to pass up.

Although Ifukube was certainly ready, willing and able to make the move from Sapporo to the huge metropolis of Tokyo, there was a problem. Douglas MacArthur's General Headquarters enforced tight restrictions on movement in and out of the capital, especially if you did not have established family or business connections there. Because Ifukube had no significant ties to Tokyo, he was not allowed into city limits to set up a home base for his family. Notwithstanding, Hayasaka was determined to get his friend as close to Tokyo as possible; he had a friend who owned a vacant villa in the Kujira neighborhood in the mountainous area of Nikko, Tochigi, which is located about 130 kilometers to the north of Tokyo. With Hayasaka's help, Ifukube made arrangements to rent the villa and, on August 16, the Ifukube family left Sapporo (an exact year after MacArthur's arrival in Japan) to make an attempt at a new life on the main Japanese island of Honshu.


Ifukube in Nikko.

Not long after moving into the rather spartan mountain villa, Ifukube received a surprise communication. "About four days after I arrived (in Nikko), Toyotaka Komiya contacted me. He'd become president of (the) Tokyo (School of Music) [...] and he asked me to teach at his university. I told him I had no teaching credentials, but he said his approval as university president was sufficient." [2]

Komiya (1884 - 1966), a specialist in German literature and a former protégé of the celebrated writer Soseki Natsume, had just become president of the school in January of that year. Feeling that the Japanese music world would experience dramatic changes in the postwar period, Komiya wanted to create a new position at the school specifically for Ifukube; since Ifukube was seen as a break-away from the rigid adherence to music in the Austro-German tradition in Japan's musical academia, Komiya determined that Ifukube, with his ecclectic expertise in Japanese, Russian and French music, could offer a fresh perspective to the next generation of Japanese composers.

Indeed, the offer to teach music at an established institution was tempting; really, as this opportunity would allow Ifukube to begin planting roots in Tokyo, it was an invitation he could not refuse, regardless of how impractical and time-consuming the commute between Nikko and Tokyo would be. Ifukube accepted Komiya's offer.

Ifukube began working at the Tokyo School of Music* immediately in September as a part-time assistant lecturer in orchestration. Once a week he would take a crowded Tobu Railway train from Nikko to Tokyo, teach at the university and commute back again, all in the same day. Coming back home to Nikko was especially uncomfortable: after a long day of giving instruction, Ifukube would take the last train of the day back north and, for the majority of the journey, the train would be so crowded that the steadfast composer usually had to ride standing. He would arrive home fairly late at night and recalled having to walk from the train station back to the villa in almost complete darkness: there were no street lights in Kujira at the time. Ifukube once remarked that he was able to tolerate such an arduous situation due to the toughness he developed during his days in the rugged Akkeshi forests.

Not long after beginning his teaching stint, Ai gave birth to the couple's second daughter, Kyoko. If Ifukube's family was growing, so was his desire to return to composing. Despite having such a busy schedule filled with train rides and teaching, Ifukube did find time to return to a small backlog of unfinished works that he had begun sketching during the war years. Now, perhaps reinvigorated by his lecturing position, he finally had the energy to complete a good handful of unfinished compositions.

The first work on his list was Ancient Minstrelsies of Gilyak Tribes. This small scale chamber work, for "female voice" and piano, had actually been started by Ifukube in 1944. By looking at his manuscript sketches for this piece, there is evidence that shows that Ifukube had actually begun writing it earlier that summer while still in Sapporo; he likely finished most of it there. However, family reminiscences reveal that he was still working on Ancient Minstrelsies in Nikko and this is where he finished it.

Ifukube became interested in the Gilyak people, or the Nivkh as they are referred to today, when he was working as a forester in Akkeshi. Ifukube had the occasion to meet a young anthropologist named Ken Hattori (1909 - 1991) in 1937 during one of his trips to Sapporo. Hattori, originally from Fukuoka in southern Japan and who had just been hired into Hokkaido Imperial University's Faculty of Science as a professor and researcher, had, like Ifukube, an especial interest in the peoples of northern Asia and, in particular, their languages. Professor Hattori had just made his first of at least two trips to the island of Sakhalin to carry out a survey of the Nivkh language and to make audio recordings of their folk music when he made Ifukube's acquaintance.

Sakhalin, or Karafuto, as it was known in Japanese, is a long, slender island located directly to the north of Hokkaido. Traditionally Sakhalin had been a territory in the Russian Far East. Following Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Japan was able to annex the southern portion of Sakhalin while Russia retained control over the northern half. Karafuto remained in the Japanese Empire for forty years until the Soviets invaded and reclaimed all of Sakhalin for the USSR at the end of World War Two.

The island was as it is today home to a variety of indigenous northern Asian people including the Ainu and several Tungusic peoples (peoples native to areas in and around Siberia) such as the Evenk, the Orok and the Nivkh. Ifukube was naturally fascinated by Hattori's excursion to Sakhalin and desired to stay in contact with the professor after their first encounter.


Nivkh (Gilyak) men

In 1940 while Ifukube was living in Toyohira, Hattori asked for Ifukube's assistance to analyze the Nivkh folk music he had recorded over the years. Ifukube enthusiastically agreed to participate in Hattori's ongoing ethnological research and notated on paper, to the best of his abilities, the music on the professor's recordings. In turn, with Hattori's help, Ifukube translated the lyrics of several Nivkh folk songs. With his own notes of Nivkh music and translated lyrics in hand, Ifukube began sketching an original piece of music based on this material at some point in 1944, but no doubt due to his scientific and musical responsibilities to the Imperial Japanese government at that time, he had to relegate this "Gilyak piece" the backburner.

With an original (and somewhat stilted) working title of Chansons antiques de Gilyak, this piece finally returned to the fore by at least the late spring of 1946. Finally complete in either the fall or very early winter of that same year in Nikko, Ancient Minstrelsies of Gilyak Tribes is scored for soprano and solo piano and is in four movements, each with a title in Nivkh: Ai Ai Gomteira (Lost Proposal); Ujunajujana (Burthen** of a Virgin Gathering Huckleberries); Takkar (Remote Rivage); Lokoru:ju (Ballad of Seeing Men Leave for the Bear Sacrifice).

The lyrics for each section were apparently taken from traditional sources and translated into Japanese by the composer himself (with Hattori's help). The music throughout is original; although Ifukube bases the music on Nivkh aesthetics, he never quotes the original source music directly.


Title page and first page of the Ai Ai Gomteira section of Ancient Minstrelsies

Ai Ai Gomteira is sprightly and upbeat. The "lost proposal" of the movement's subtitle is a reference to the lyrical content: the song is sung by a woman amused to see a man from an outside village attempting to make marriage proposals to various young women. His proposals are rejected. Ujunajujana depicts the song, as the subtitles suggests, of a young, virginal maiden gathering huckleberries and lamenting the fact that she is unmarried. Ifukube's music here is both tranquil and touching. Takkar consists of a slow, rocking rhythm throughout with an ever-present hint of melancholy in the melody. The lyrics depict a woman viewing a far-off, frozen river. The final movement, Lokoru:ju, also evokes women viewing something from a distance: the village men departing to participate in a bear sacrifice ceremony. Opening with strongly melismatic vocal lines and sparse piano accompaniment that give way to a steady march rhythm, the music in the Lokoru:ju movement skillfully depicts the men walking off.

Ancient Minstrelsies for Gilyak Tribes is interesting for several reasons and not just because of its musical content; on many levels, it represents something of a cut off with the past...it represents Ifukube's creativity branching out into new areas.

First, it is the first truly small scale work that the composer had written since his Piano Suite in 1933. One gets the impression that Ifukube was either too physically weak to complete a larger-scale symphonic work or, perhaps, that he sought to write a piece with certain postwar gentleness and simplicity. Maybe it is both. Second, it is notable that the composer's first completed work after the Second World War would eschew any reference to Japan or Japanese culture; it is almost as if Ifukube is trying to rid his thoughts of Japan-centric nationalism and militarism to explore broader themes in the greater Asian context. And third, the work takes a decidedly feminine point of view; this is in quite stark contrast to the ruggedly aggressive"masculinity" in his music prior to and during the war.

Ancient Minstrelsies of Gilyak Tribes débuted early the next year on January 26, 1947 with a vocal interpretation by the popular soprano Yoshiko Beltramelli (1903 - 1973).

Thus 1947 was off to a good start creatively. Not only did the new year open with the première of a new work (Ifukube's first since Arctic Forest in 1944) but the composer was also able to return his attention to another uncompleted piece, a violin concerto. Like Ancient Minstrelsies, Ifukube's concerto had actually been started during the war period, likely around 1945. As was his habit, Ifukube would compose at night and he often recalled how the screaming of the monkeys echoing from the not-so-distant mountains give him moments of great inspiration while working on the concerto.

Of course, Ifukube was still making the taxing commute between Nikko and Tokyo. Despite the difficulty of this constant travel back and forth, Ifukube was sincerely enjoying the role of professor. And why not? After all, the self-taught-country-boy-cum-composer was establishing himself as a mentor to the new generation of Japanese composers, many of whom would became famous and influential in their own right; among Ifukube's pupils at the university were Yasushi Akutagawa (1925 - 1989), Toshiro Mayuzumi (1929 - 1997) and Akio Yashiro (1929 - 1976).

One area of teaching where Ifukube was apparently dissatisfied was the Japanese language texts, or the lack thereof. Most of the available materials (of any quality) were available in languages other than Japanese. Although Ifukube himself had a strong command of several languages, most notably English, French, Italian and some Russian, his pupils were often less linguistically talented. Figuring that the Japanese music world could use a high-quality textbook, in this case on the subject of orchestration, Ifukube took it upon himself to start penning an original tome in Japanese.

It finally came to the point where the long trips between Nikko and Tokyo were becoming too much for Ifukube and his family to bear. The financial strain it caused was just getting worse: the ¥400 per week Ifukube was earning from the university was not leaving much left over for his family of four after spending the majority of it on train rides. [3] Luckily, however, Ifukube was indeed getting to know the Japanese capital better and consequently he was able to start laying a foundation there, as he had intended. Because of this, the Ifukubes were finally able to move to the Setagaya neighborhood of Tokyo, probably around the spring of 1947.


Akira Ifukube in Tokyo, circa 1947 / 1948

Interestingly, Setagaya happened to be the very neighborhood were Fumio Hayasaka was living. Perhaps Ifukube chose this neighborhood to be close to his old friend but, according to the Ifukube family, he chose Setagaya for no other reason than it was pleasant area.

Not long after Ifukube's arrival in Setagaya, opportunity came knocking.

In about the early summer of 1947, Ifukube was contacted by Tomoyuki Tanaka (1910 - 1997), a producer at Japan's biggest movie studio, Toho. Tanaka wanted to offer Ifukube the opportunity to write the music for an upcoming film entitled Three Villains in a Mountain Lodge. Ifukube was surely flattered but also surprised; he had never had any prior contact with Tanaka, nor with any other film industry executive. As it turns out, despite seeking his talent, Tanaka was equally unfamiliar with Ifukube: "He didn't know who I was (and) had no idea what kind of a composer I was." [4] In fact, Ifukube was completely unaware of why he was contacted at all: "I was puzzled as to why I'd been offered the job. But when I read the script, there were lots of scenes of forests and mountains. Someone who knew I used to live in the mountains must have suggested that the studio contact me. That's my guess." [5]

It is likely that the "someone" to whom Ifukube is referring is Fumio Hayasaka. Of course, it was Hayasaka who had initially suggested to Ifukube that he should make an attempt at entering the field of film music as he had done himself eight years previously. Also, it is unlikely that anyone else in the Japanese film industry at the time could have had such an intimate knowledge of Ifukube's past work as a forester in the mountains of Akkeshi.

Although Ifukube was excited by this new artistic...and financial...opportunity that seemed to randomly fall into his lap, he hated the title of this proposed film. "Working on film music was fine by me, but I was discouraged by the title," he once explained. "Then I heard that it was to be changed to Snow Trail.*** I could work on a film with that title without embarrassment." [6].

Thus Ifukube accepted this assignment. By chance, Toho was located in Setagaya, the very neighborhood where Ifukube was living.

Ifukube recalled feeling a sort of culture shock when arriving at Toho for the first time: "At the Imperial Forestry Bureau where I'd worked, people were extremely well-mannered and everything was at least orderly, if not efficient. Coming from a place like that to a film studio was a 180-degree change. I was very surprised. What was most surprising was that studio people worked four times more than forestry staff. Assistant directors and everyone else were working busily. In contrast, at the forestry station, though we worked hard we did things in a polite, unhurried manner. Anyway, how hard people worked at a private company was my first big surprise. Also, no one seemed to be fazed by anything. A man wearing a topknot might walk through the commissary or a man in armor might be eating curry rice. Everything surprised me at first but I eventually got used to it." [7]

Snow Trail was conceived by the writers Senkichi Taniguchi (1912 -2007) and Akira Kurosawa (1910 - 1998) earlier in 1947 at a hot-spring inn, or onsen, south of Tokyo on the Izu Peninsula. [8] Although the wunderkind Kurosawa already had several directing credits to his name including Sanshiro Sugata (1943), The Most Beautiful (1944) and Those Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945), it was the first-timer Taniguchi who would helm this picture; since Snow Trail would feature several suspenseful mountain climbing scenes it was determined that Taniguchi, an experienced mountaineer himself, would be the best man to lead the production.


Akira Kurosawa and Senkichi Taniguchi

The cast would feature the veteran actor Takashi Shimura (1905 -1982) and a handsome and charismatic newcomer by the name of Toshiro Mifune (1920 -1997). Shimura and Mifune would play two of the three villains of the original title - bank robbers - who hole up in a mountain cabin with an unsuspecting family while on the lam from the law.

Ifukube did not get much contact with the majority of the production staff but certainly he and the director Taniguchi had several discussions on how various scenes should be scored. The two met eye-to-eye on virtually every aspect of the music until one day, during a recording session, the conversation came to a scene in which two young lovers, played by Akitake Kono and Setsuko Wakayama, share a romantic skiing scene. Taniguchi had originally envisioned this scene to be accompanied by a light, upbeat cue resembling the famous Skater's Waltz by Emile Waldteufel. Ifukube flatly disagreed with the director; rather, the composer felt a melancholic cor aglais solo would be more appropriate to give an appropriate element of darkness to the film which was, after all, a crime drama. What started as an artistic disagreement quickly morphed into a spirited argument. Akira Kurosawa saw Taniguchi and Ifukube quarreling and decided to approach them. "(Kurosawa) said that since the composer was insisting strongly, (we) should postpone the recording for that day, so we did that and we left. The next day I suppose there was some talk that my insistence stemmed from strong conviction and that Taniguchi should give in. Anyway, we finished the recording to my ideas." [9]

With the cor anglais intact, Ifukube's Snow Trail score brims with all of the composer's signatures. His love for pulsating rhythm is immediately obvious during the imposing and frenetic cue written for the opening credits. Similar music appears throughout the film to accompany scenes of avalanches, chases, etc.

Ifukube also makes apt use of the more hauntingly tranquil side of his style, though not all of Snow Trail's music in this vein was written expressly for the film. The cor anglais melody that accompanies the skiing scene was indeed an original cue but, interestingly, Ifukube adapts portions from his three-movement tone poem Arctic Forest written three years earlier into this soundtrack: a pensive solo piano version of Song of the Woodcutter underscores a delicately moving scene in which a pigeon is buried in a makeshift funeral. Additionally, the opening segment from the tone poem's first movement, The Dimming of Light in the Forest, is utilized during a downbeat conversation scene between Toshiro Mifune and Akitake Kono's characters.

Ifukube recycled music from The Arctic Forest for one main reason: time constraints. In working on Snow Trail, Ifukube was quickly learning that Japanese films were made much more quickly and efficiently than in other major markets such as the United States and Europe. In Japan, composers were often given as little as a week...or less...to write, rehearse and record entire scores, all of this based on only having read the shooting script and having discussions with the director. Because Ifukube had only a short period to write the score for Snow Trail****, and because he was busy concurrently teaching, working on concert pieces and writing a musical textbook, adapting bits and pieces from Arctic Forest must have been an easy choice to make. And why not? The tone poem's original manuscript had been confiscated by the Chinese government after the end of the Second World War; since this piece was now "lost" and completely unknown in Japan, Ifukube determined that nobody in the movie-going public would have known that some of Snow Trail's music was actually sourced from a separate piece of music. Also, since the film takes place in snowy mountains and forests, the tones and textures of Arctic Forest were a perfect fit for Snow Trail anyway.

Another constraint placed on the composer was the size of the orchestra. Ifukube, who was used to writing for unusually large ensembles, faced artistic challenges in having to adapt his sound to smaller instrumental forces. Again, he did what he had to do given the circumstances. Ifukube once spoke about this: "The size of the orchestras was mandated by the studios. In the age of silent movies, the orchestra would have to fit into a pit in front of the screen. So, a small orchestra was what seemed to be appropriate to people in the film industry. In addition, the recording studios that we used were pretty small, so there were physical limitations on the size of the orchestras." [10]

Snow Trail was completed toward the end of the summer of 1947. Ifukube must have felt a sense of triumph that he was able to stick to his artistic principals despite a disagreement with the director, but his ego would soon deflate considerably at the film's wrap party. "I was at the film's wrap party when man named Yoshio Kosugi (the actor who plays Takasugi in the film) came over to me. He asked if I was Ifukube, and I said yes. He then said I had some nerve to quarrel with a veteran director on my first job. I replied that it wasn't a quarrel but a disagreement. In any case, he reprimanded me in front of everybody for my insolence. I couldn't believe it, I was mortified. When Kosugi went away, Takashi Shimura, who was standing to my left, tapped me on the shoulder. He said no composer before me had enough conviction to get into an argument with a director, and that's why Kosugi had admonished me. He also said I should continue to stand my ground. Then after the party, I was told that arguing with a director meant no more work for me. I had thought that might be the case, and I wondered how I'd make a living." [11]

Snow Trail was released into Japanese cinemas on August 5, 1947.


Poster for Snow Trail

Although Ifukube feared he had become persona non grata in the Japanese film world in one fell swoop, he was immediately offered, perhaps miraculously, another film assignment. He was asked by director Yasuki Chiba (1910 -1985) to score a drama, Invitation to Happiness, at Toho's rival studio, Shintoho. Ifukube gratefully accepted Chiba's offer and the film was released on November 11. One can only assume that the fact Ifukube was offered a second film assignment so quickly must have made him feel that he dodged a bullet with the Snow Trail debacle!

The latter half of 1947 was not restricted to film music alone: during the production of both Snow Trail and Invitation to Happiness, Ifukube had begun discussions with the famed dancer Takaya Eguchi (1900 - 1977), the mentor of his wife Ai, to conceive a "modernist" ballet that would showcase Eguchi's choreographic specialty, Neue Tanz. Thus Ifukube and Eguchi developed Egozeider (or Egozaida, in Japanese).


Takaya Eguchi

When working on new ballets, Eguchi always insisted on creating the choreography first; it was then the composer's duty to write music to fit Eguchi's dancing. Egozeider was conceived in this way with Ifukube having to write his music after the fact. (Ifukube once remarked that working with Eguchi was similar to working on film scores in that the music would be written as a latter part of the production to fit the pre-established movements characters.) Interestingly, Ifukube's score was composed for solo piano, not for full orchestra.


Envelope and a portion from the score to Egozeider.

The strange word Egozeider makes reference to an icosehedron, a 20-sided geometric shape. During the performance of the ballet, a large icosehedron is prominently placed on stage and the dancers, which included Eguchi himself, would either dance in or around it. Ifukube's music for Egozeider is marked by his typically strong rhythms and even, at times, a violent forward drive. The piece was performed only twice on December 1 and 2 in Tokyo.


An image from the 1947 production of Egozeider.

1948 would prove be a creatively busy year for Ifukube, perhaps his busiest ever. February 3 saw the debut of Toho studios' Second Life, Ifukube's third full-length motion picture. Directed by Hideo Sekigawa (1908 - 1977), Second Life features Takashi Shimura in a leading role. Although film work seemed to be coming his way with some amount of regularity, Ifukube was still known in cinematic circles for his now almost legendary disagreement with Senkichi Taniguchi. This less-than-favorable reputation was attractive to the director Sekigawa, however; Ifukube once remarked that:"Hideo Sekigawa said he'd appreciate a composer who argued with him." [12] (History does not record any argument between Ifukube and Sekigawa during the production of Second Life!)


Fumio Hayasaka and Akira Ifukube in 1948.

In March the Ifukubes moved from Setagaya to a roomier house in the Tamagawa Okusawa neighborhood. Here, Ifukube scored two more films before the summer of 1948 and, in late May of that year, Ifukube saw the début of yet another new ballet, Salome.

Ifukube's Salome, based on Oscar Wilde's play of the same name (which is in turn based on the story from the New Testament of the Bible) was a commission from the Yaoko Kaitani Ballet Company. Kaitani (1921 - 1991), a well-respected dancer and choreographer, was looking to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her dance troupe with a spectacular production to include the Dance of the Seven Veils segment from Richard Strauss's opera Salome (1905). Kaitani was not able to secure the Strauss score due to copyright issues but she refused to abandon the Salome theme. Since Ifukube had premiered Egozeider only about six months prior, and Kaitani had heard and been impressed by the music, she turned to Ifukube, who had been riding high on a wave of creativity ever since arriving in Tokyo, and asked him to create a completely new ballet based on Wilde's play.

Ifukube's Salome premiered at the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo on May 28, 1948 with Kaitani herself interpreting the title role. Masashi Ueda led the Toho Symphony in this performance.


Yaoko Kaitani as Salome and conductor Masashi Ueda

Ifukube's Salome is a tour de force of mood and color: in order to create an authentic Biblical atmosphere, Ifukube studied Middle Eastern scales and used them liberally through the score to exotic effect. As is typical for the composer, Salome is replete with wild dance rhythms: this is especially true of the Dance of the Seven Veils section; this is uninhibited, sumptuous music that expresses Salome's aggressive sexuality with great vigor. And speaking of aggressive, the ending of the ballet where King Herod calls on his guards to seize and kill Salome must be some of the most devastating music ever to flow from Ifukube's imagination. The closing pages of the score, which depict Salome's violent death, overwhelm the listener with a crushing fury from the full orchestra that both shocks and excites.

While writing Salome, the tireless Ifukube was also at work on his languishing Violin Concerto, a piece he had been laboring over off-and-on since 1945. Changing its name at the last minute from the rather deliberate Violin Concert no. 1 to the more flowery Rapsodia Concertante for Violin and Orchestra, the piece was premiered in Japan's capital on June 22, not even a month after the début performance of Salome, with Masashi Ueda and his Toho Symphony. The soloist was Toshiya Eto, a friend of Ifukube's, and at the time one of Japan's most promising young violinists.


Toshiya Eto

Rapsodia Concertante must be counted among Ifukube's finest concert works: it brims with catchy melodies, colorful orchestration and an alluring part for the violin that often recalls empassioned gypsy-style fiddling. Although he began writing it during the end of the Second World War, Rapsodia Concertante is most definitely a product of the postwar period: at times introspective and at others bursting with a sort of celebratory optimism, the concerto is devoid of the martial bombast of his works before and during the international conflicts of only a few years prior. It is as if Ifukube is "shrugging off" the darkness of World War II with this concerto and welcoming the promise of a bright future.

Rapsodia Concertante is divided into three movements: Adagio-Allegro; Arioso; Vivace Spirituoso.

Adagio-Allergro opens with a light string flourish that is immediately followed by a lengthy and decidedly mournful violin solo. The effect is one of the composer trying to make sense of the dark times of only a few years ago. The music then picks up into a very folkloric, faster section filled with pleasing exchanges between the violin and orchestra. Most notably, in this movement, Ifukube recycles the descending three-note melody from the third movement of the "lost" Arctic Forest; this is what would later be transformed into the Godzilla theme, which will be discussed in greater detail in the next section of this biography. Arioso is a lengthy adagio and Vivace Spirituoso begins with an unusual introduction for tuned timpani and pizzicato strings before a playful oboe melody takes over. The violin returns for more à la rustique virtuosity, often at a furious pace, and the work ends with pronounced Ifukubian excitement.

By the close of 1948 Ifukube scored two additional films and, almost unimaginably, prodcued a score for a third ballet, this time teaming up with Baku Ishii (1886 - 1962), another prominant figure in Japan's dance world.


Baku Ishii

Ishii, a proponant of modern dance (much like Takaya Eguchi) was primarily influenced by Isadora Duncan and Emile Jacques-Dalcroze. With Ifukube he devised The Wandering People. Like Egozeider, the score was written only for solo piano; there is no orchestral version. It premiered on October 31 at the Imperial Theater.*****

The year 1949 got off to a rough start. First, Ifukube's father, Toshizo, passed away on January 19 at the age of 85. Second, around this very time, Ifukube was hired to write a score for Akira Kurosawa's next film, A Quiet Duel, to be produced at Daiei Studios. One has to imagine that Ifukube would have been initially excited to work with Kurosawa, already one of the top directors in Japan who was fresh from the triumph of his internationally acclaimed Drunken Angel (which, incidentally, was scored by Fumio Hayasaka). But what should have been a positive experience would end up being quite negative...


Toshizo Ifukube (1866 - 1949)

Ifukube felt an immediate sense of frustration when he read the screenplay, which was conceived by Kurosawa and Senkichi Taniguchi. It involved a physician who becomes infected with syphilis. In order to avoid shaming his reputation, the doctor, who was to be played by Toshiro Mifune, cannot disclose the condition of his health to anyone and must hide his secret from his fiancée.

When Ifukube began discussing the storyline with Kurosawa, he showed no restraint in explaining to the director how hard it would be to write music for a story that, as far as the composer was concerned, lacked logic. " I felt something strange about his script – it seemed unnatural to me," Ifukube once said. " I told him it’s an unnatural, stupid story..." [13] What is more, Ifukube was not happy that Kurosawa strongly pushed him to write cheerful waltz for the film in the style of Juventino Rosas' famous Over the Waves. The composer once remarked: "I was shocked...when you ask someone to write music but bring samples (of other composers' music), that is very bad. That will ruin composers. The imagination of the composer can't work, then. If I have an image, and someone tells me another image, it will ruin everything. [14]

Regardless of the artistic differences between the director and the composer, Ifukube went forward and produced a memorable score. His imposing music for the main titles is scored only for congas and timpani, not unlike the percussion-intensive music that Hayasaka would later write for the opening titles for Kurosawa's Seven Samurai in 1954. For two scenes among the patients in the hospital, Ifukube wrote a jaunty (and quite Western sounding) tune for solo harmonica. And, ultimately, Kurosawa got his Rosas-inspired music: For a scene in which Mifune's character reveals to his former patient how he contracted syphillis, Ifukube did cede to the director's demands - one imagines that he did this under great duress - and wrote a 1920s-style waltz for strings, piano, clarinet and vibraphone.

A Quiet Duel opened on March 13. After the completion of the film, due to their artistic incompatibilities, both Kurosawa and Ifukube decided to part ways professionally. "We didn’t have good feelings for each other," Ifukube said. [15]******


Poster for A Quiet Duel

If Ifukube's own "duel" with Kurosawa left the composer with a bad taste in his mouth, it would soon fade away only to be replaced by a father's joy: on April 5, Akira and Ai welcomed their third and final child into the world, their son Kiwami.


Akira and Kiwami

Although Ifukube's recent encounter with Kurosawa did nothing to improve his reputation as an argumentative film composer, this obviously continued to have no effect on his desirability: before the end of 1949, Ifukube would score no less than eight additional films!

In addition to these film scores, the final year of the 1940s also saw the production of three new concert works as well as a special commission from the Japanese Ministry of Education. The fruit of his government assignment was Rhythmic Games for Children. The Ministry of Education, taking its inspiration Emile Jacques-Dalcroze's technique of Eurythmics, requested from Ifukube a suite of music that was intended to accompany the exercise movements of elementary school children.

Ifukube wrote nine original numbers for Rhythmic Games, each for a small orchestra, based on the aesthetics of Japanese folk melodies and children's songs. Never intended for live public performance as this was "educational music," the piece was recorded onto 78-RPM records by the Japan Polydor company for use in classrooms throughout Japan.

Interestingly, although Ifukube wrote nine pieces, the recorded version of Rhythmic Games included a total of ten numbers. The very first of these ten segments is a song called Nogiku (Wild Chrysanthemums) written by a composer named Kan'ichi Shimosha. Whether Ifukube liked it or not, Nogiku was tacked on to the beginning of his composition by the Ministry of Education.

The names of Ifukube's nine simple but attractive numbers are: Game of Arhat; Hanetsuki (Japanese Badminton); Mountain March; Gallop Time; Falling Leaves; Sports Day March; A Jolly School; Jaunty Double Time; Musical Chairs.

Strangely, the section entitled Mountain March is not a march at all but, rather, a waltz in 3/4 time. Akira Ifukube's former secretary Hirohiko Nagase has an interesting theory about this which is, incidentally, related to Ifukube's argument with Senkichi Taniguchi about the Skater's Waltz during the production of Snow Trail. Nagase says: "Ifukube did not want to write a saccharine waltz (for the ski scene between two lovers) but since this was the first movie for him and perhaps he did write a back-up waltz in case his cor anglais idea would not be accepted. I wonder if Mountain March was almost the waltz for this movie. If that is the case, the "mountain" in this title is the "silvery snowy slope" in the movie, and that explains the mystery of the title." [16]

Turning his thoughts back to the music of the indigenous peoples of Sakhalin, Ifukube wrote a follow-up work to his Ancient Minstrelsies, also for female voice and piano. Referring again to Ken Hattori's ethnic research on Sakhalin as his point of departure, and not limiting himself exclusively to the Nivkh people this time, Ifukube finished his Lullabies Among the Native Tribes on the Island of Sakhalin around the late summer of 1949. It has three sections: bu :lu bu :lu; buppun lu; umpari :ja :ja.

Unlike Ancient Minstrelsies, Ifukube elected not to translate his lyrical content from the native tongues into Japanese. Here, he retains the original languages. The first lullaby, a gentle, bittersweet melody, is sung in the Evenki language. The second, more dramatic and dynamic tune, is sung in Nivkh. The unusually rhythmic, syncopated third lullaby is sung in Orok.

Three Lullabies premiered in October of 1949 in an NHK radio broadcast. The singer was Yoshiko Beltramelli, the same soprano who sung the début of Ancient Minstrelsies.

The largest-scale concert work by Ifukube in 1949 was the ballet Enchanted Castle, another collaboration with Yaoko Kaitani.******* The premiere performance of this work was on December 12 of that year with Kaitani's dance troupe and the Toho Symphony conducted by Masashi Ueda.********

As Ifukube's tumultuous but ultimately prosperous decade of the 1940s quickly transitioned into the 1950s, Akira Ifukube, continuing to gain renown as a composer of concert works and films scores, could not have imagined how the coming decade would ultimately launch his career to its greatest heights yet.


Akira and Ai in Tokyo circa late 1940s.


* The Tokyo Music School was founded in 1887. In 1949, this school merged with the Tokyo School of Fine Arts to create the Tokyo University of the Arts, as it is known today.

** Burthen is an archaic way of spelling burden. Ifukube uses the word burthen on his manuscript for this score.

*** The title of this film is Japanese is Ginrei no hate. The English version of the title is sometimes given as (the rather unruly) To the End of the Silver Mountains. I will refer to the film as Snow Trail, which is nowadays the preferred English language title.

**** While it is known that Ifukube had a limited amount of time to write the score for Snow Trail, as was customary in the Japanese film industry, the exact amount of time he had, whether it was a few days, a week, etc., is not known.

***** The title of this ballet can also be translated as Scattered People. Ifukube did not keep extesnive records about this score and it quickly fell into obscurity after its initial performance. Ifukube's former assistant and confidant Hirohiko Nagase believes that the "wandering" or "scattered" people of the title is a reference to the Japanese people themselves living in a state of darkness and confusion after the Second World War. I hope that as my research goes on and on I'll be able to uncover additional details about this piece and add them to the biography at some point.

****** Despite Ifukube's comment that their negative feelings were mutual, he takes a decidedly different tone in an interview that was released as a supplementary feature on Ronin Entertainment's American DVD release of A Quiet Duel. When asked if he found working with Kurosawa difficult, Ifukube says: "We didn't dislike each other. I don't think it was bad. But we're a bit different." [17] Which was it? Did they or did they not like each other? It seems that their relationship on A Quiet Duel was indeed difficult, even contentious, and this resulted in their mutual lack of desire to work with each other again immediately after the completion of the film. Apparently, however, after some time had passed the two did work with each other one more time, albeit indirectly: In 1951, Ifukube would score Senkichi Taniguchi's Beyond Love and Hate, which was co-written by Kurosawa. All of this strongly suggests that after the initial mutual disdain wore off, although they did never directly work for each other again, they could at least regain and maintain a friendly relationship.

******* Like Wandering People, not much is currently known or written about Enchanted Castle. Again, I hope that research will allow me to write about this piece in greater depth in the future.

******** The Toho Symphony, which had only been recently formed in 1946, had no relation whatsoever to Toho Studios. In 1951 it changed its name to the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra.


[1] Interview with Akira Ifukube (supplementary material). Godzilla. DVD. Criterion Collection, 2012.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ryfle, Steve. Final Notes: Ifukube Interview. G-Fan Magazine September/October 1999. Page 10.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Interview with Akira Ifukube (supplementary material). Godzilla. DVD. Criterion Collection, 2012.
[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.
[8] Kurosawa, Akira. Something Like an Autobiography. Vintage Book, New York. 1982. Page 152.
[9] Interview with Akira Ifukube (supplementary material). Godzilla. DVD. Criterion Collection, 2012.
[10] Milner, David. Akira Ifukube Interview I. www.davmil.org.
[11] Interview with Akira Ifukube (supplementary material). Godzilla. DVD. Criterion Collection, 2012.
[12] Ibid.

[13] Breyer, Wolfgang. A Conversation with Akira Ifukube. runmovies.eu/?p=3270.
[14] Ibid.
[15]
Interview with Akira Ifukube (supplementary material). A Quiet Duel. DVD. Ronin Entertainment, 2006
[16] Nagase, Hirohiko. Liner notes for Akira Ifukube: Works for Piano, Volume 3. RAISON. 2013.
[17]
Interview with Akira Ifukube (supplementary material). A Quiet Duel. DVD. Ronin Entertainment, 2006



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