Part VII - Godzilla


Akira Ifukube and his most famous "co-star" in 1954.

One day in mid-June of 1954, Akira Ifukube received visitor from Toho at his home to discuss a top-secret film project. Upon entering the composer's house, the representative from the studio handed to Ifukube a screenplay, the cover of which was emblazoned with a large letter G. Puzzled, Ifukube asked what the screenplay was about. The man from Toho explained that G was about daikaiju, or giant monster, and that the studio was requesting Ifukube's agreement to write the score for the proposed film. Ifukube was surely intrigued...

And thus the stage was set for Ifukube to begin his celebrated collaboration on one of the most famous monster movies of all time, Godzilla.*

G, short for Giant and a working title for this monster film, was the brainchild of the Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka who had just recently gotten the go-ahead from the studio to produce the film when Ifukube received the screenplay. Interestingly, the initial idea for Tanaka's G story was born out of last-minute necessity.

In February 1954, Tanaka and director Senkichi Taniguchi were in Jakarta, Indonesia putting the finishing touches on deal between Toho and the Indonesian government to make a World War Two-themed film to be to titled Beyond the Glory. Due to political tensions between Japan and Indonesia, however, the Indonesian government decided at the eleventh hour not to let the studio, Indonesian National Films, proceed with the production. Although nothing could be done to save the film, Tanaka's boss, Iwao Mori, had already set aside the funds for Beyond the Glory, which was hoped to be a spectacular blockbuster film, and mandated that Tanaka whip together an idea for a replacement production. Up against the wall to come up with a good idea, it seems Tanaka had two thoughts on his mind: the ocean off of Indonesia and a recent nuclear disaster that had involved a group of Japanese fisherman. "All I could think about was the ocean in Indonesia," Tanaka once explained. "I wanted to do another story where the ocean played an important role in the film. Around that time, there was a major uproar over nuclear testing on the Bikini Island. So, I thought of this story: what if there was this big monster near Bikini Island which was awakened by the shock wave of hydrogen bomb testing? And the energy from the bomb affected the monster and gave it very unique features. And what if the monster invades Japan?" [1]

The "major uproar" to which Tanaka was referring was the Daigo Fukuryu Maru disaster, which occurred on March 1, 1954. A Japanese fishing boat called Daigo Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon no. 5) wandered into waters near the Bikini Atoll where the United States military happened to be conducting a hydrogen bomb test. Although the fishermen were far enough away from the test site not to be immediately affected be the detonation, they did see the brilliant flash of the explosion at a distance and, subsequent to this, they were rained upon by a strange, sticky white ash. This ash turned out to be highly irradiated coral dust and, due to the crew's direct exposure to it, they became gravely ill and, tragically, one crew member died. This scandalous story involving, yet again, the Japanese people being adversely affected by an American nuclear weapon gripped Japan's media and stoked the public's already well-imbedded fears of nuclear bombs and radiation sickness.


The Lucky Dragon no. 5.

When Tanaka pitched his fantastic (and unexpectedly topical) "replacement film" about a nuclear monster to Mori, the producer was surely interested but unsure if Toho had the technical capability to pull off this unprecedented type of production. Therefore, Mori consulted Eiji Tsuburaya, Japan's preeminent special effects wizard who had recently completed work on a war film called Eagle of the Pacific for the studio. After listening to Mori's description of the proposed film, Tsuburaya determined that he would indeed be able to create the types of special effects needed. Consequently, to Tanaka's delight, Mori approved the project.

An enthused Tanaka, who already had Tsuburaya on board, began in earnest to assemble his G crew. Searching for a director, the producer pitched the project to Ishiro Honda, a prolific assistant director who to-date had helmed six feature films of his own, the fifth of which being Eagle of the Pacific, the previously mentioned war film that featured Tsuburaya's special effects. Since Honda and Tsuburaya were hardly strangers to each other, then, the brass at Toho must have felt confident about their pairing on G. Honda agreed to direct the film.

Really, Honda was a fine choice to direct and not purely because of his previous work with Tsuburaya. Ishiro Honda (1911 - 1993), the son of a Buddhist monk who had joined Toho's predecessor, PCL, in 1933 as an assistant director, was drafted into the Japanese military in 1938 and subsequently saw active duty during the Second World War. Toward the end of the war, Honda was taken prisoner in China where he was held for about a year. After the end of conflicts, Honda was released and, on his journey back to Japan, he made a stop in Hiroshima and saw, with his own eyes, the unthinkable aftermath of the atom bomb in that city. Since G was to directly take on the nuclear issue, Honda, an avowed pacifist who feared that the proliferation of nuclear weapons would eventually lead to humankind's obliteration, was uniquely positioned to bring an uncommon emotional and psychological sensibility to the film.

To write the screenplay, Tanaka chose Shigeru Kayama (1904 - 1975), one of Japan's foremost thriller novelists. Kayama's original scenario involved four principal characters: Dr. Kyohei Yamane, Emiko Yamane (the doctor's daughter), Hideto Ogata and Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, the latter three being involved in a type of love triangle. Of course, there was also the monster himself, a huge reptilian beast with large ears who had been awaken by nuclear tests. Agitated by these tests, the monster comes ashore to Japan and ravages the country in search of food. [2] In order to kill the beast, a doomsday weapon called the Oxygen Destroyer, an invention by Dr. Serizawa, is deployed.

With the director, writer and special effects technician in place, Tanaka's thoughts turned to the composer. As far as Tanaka was concerned, Akira Ifukube was the only person artistically qualified to fill the composer's position for G; having worked with Ifukube several times before over the years. Tanaka was well familiar with the grandiosity of Ifukube's sound (G would require "big music," after all) and, additionally, one has to assume that Ifukube would have been seen as an "atomic bomb film expert" as he had written the scores for both Children of Hiroshima and Hiroshima the previous year. Thus Tanaka had the G script delivered to Ifukube's door...

Now with the G script in hand, Ifukube began to read it. His imagination was instantly set ablaze by Kayama's strange but spectacular story and he decided, rather quickly, to accept the assignment for two principal reasons: first, he felt a sense of duty toward Tanaka, who had secured for him his first soundtrack gig with Snow Trail. "I could never say no to him," Ifukube once said. [3] Second, the monster itself aroused a certain visceral passion within him: "Something monstrous comes out and makes you jump out of your wits! It is sheer fear, not an abstraction and it is global. Moreover, my specialty was biology. I couldn't sit still when I heard that in this movie the main character was a reptile that would be rampaging through the city." [4]

The composer's enthusiasm for the script did not end there. Since the monster was to battle the military...and was impervious to its modern weaponry...this struck a much more personal chord within him. Still embittered over Japan's crushing loss in the Second World War, Ifukube once remarked: "When I read the scenario, I intuitively felt the philosophy of anti-technology. After we lost the war, I was more shocked by the technology and science imported from America [more] than I was dissatisfied with the shortage of food. I had a strong impression that we had been defeated by [American science and technology]. I had an inferiority complex about the highly advanced scientific weapons [in the United States] but the airplane, the jet plane the electricity were all no use for [the monster]. He pulled down the high voltage poles. Nothing can beat him. I felt so good. I felt the film suggested anti-civilization and the limit of today's technology." [5]

Although Ifukube was in love with the script, his colleagues in the music world and in the film industry warned him not to accept the assignment. "[S]ome friends in the industry warned me against it. The film was considered trash at the time. Just as it was deemed career suicide for an actress to star in a ghost film, people said working on a monster film would end my career and advised me to back out. But I felt it was a serious film. I refused to listen and proceeded to work on it." [6].

Ifukube was officially on board!

Not long after the composer accepted the job, Toho held a public press conference on July 5 to announce their new production and introduce its creative team. [7] With most of the crew assembled on stage, Ifukube was presented as the composer. At this moment Ifukube noticed that Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects director who was also on stage, shot him a look of surprise. Looking back at Tsuburaya, Ifukube was equally taken aback: these two men had met before...

Eiji Tsuburaya (1901 - 1970) was the father of Japanese special effects films. As a youth, Tsuburaya had the initial desire to become a pilot due to his love of airplanes but, at the age of 18, his life took a decidedly different path when he began a career in the Japanese film industry, starting out as a scenario writer and eventually becoming a cameraman. After seeing the film King Kong in the mid-1930s, Tsuburaya, already an accomplished camera technician, was inspired to dabble in trick photography. This (apparently successful) experimentation led him to conceive and execute the special effects for the (now lost) fantasy film Princess of the Moon in 1935. [8]

In 1937, the rising star Tsuburaya was hired by PCL. By 1939 PLC had become Toho and that new studio appointed Tsuburaya as the head of their special photographic techniques department [9] and, after the outbreak of the Second World War only a short time later, Tsuburaya was the natural choice to work on Toho's propaganda films as they often required elaborate special effects to recreate famous battles. The most notable of these films is The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya (1942), which boasted a spectacularly convincing recreation of the attack at Pearl Harbor with highly detailed miniature props and various elaborate photographic effects.

After the conclusion of the war, Tsuburaya was forbidden by the United States General Headquarters to continue making films due to his contributions to wartime propaganda. However, slowly but surely, Tsuburaya was able to make his entrée back into film work at Toho. In 1948, Toho was racked by labor disputes (this is what ultimately led to the formation of their rival studio Shintoho) and Tsuburaya, amid this atmosphere of chaos, decided to leave the studio and create his own company, Tsuburaya Special Effects Laboratory, in Kyoto. Despite his best efforts, Tsuburaya experienced a fair amount of difficulty establishing himself as a filmmaker in Japan's ancient capital and was, for all intents and purposes, a man down on his luck.

Ifukube was in Kyoto in late 1949 working at Toei Studios to write the score for Hiroshi Inagaki's (1905 - 1980) period film I Am a Bodyguard. One chilly evening, Ifukube went out for drinks with one of the film's stars, Ryonosuke Tsukigata (1902 - 1970) (who was famous for playing the villain Higaki in Akira Kurosawa's first film, Sanshiro Sugata, in 1941). "There was a big street in front of the studio and we went to a small restaurant at the corner of that street. I'd never spoken to Tsukigata before that. [...] As we were talking a man walked in. Tsukigata said to him 'Here to get free drinks off me again?' The man seemed undaunted by the rude remark. We were drinking at a table warmed from below by hot coals and [the man] joined us. Assuming we knew each other, Tsukigata didn't introduce us [...] so we never learned each other's names as we drank together. I ran into [the man] at least two or three times after that. Since I was visiting Kyoto, I wasn't familiar with the place. I'd go out for a drink by myself, and I'd find him at a bar, or he'd come after me. That kind of thing kept happening. Since I was visiting on business I had some cash on me to pay for drinks. It might sound like an exaggeration but every time I ran to him like that I paid for his drinks." [10]

To Ifukube's surprise, the very person who used to bum drinks off of him years ago in Kyoto was staring at him on stage at the G publicity event...it was Tsuburaya! The two happily greeted each other at the conclusion of the press conference.

By the end of July, G was in its initial stages of production. A completely overhauled version of Kayama's script was prepared by Honda and a fellow director who was participating in the production as a screen writer, Takeo Murata. Feeling the initial scenario needed more emphasis on the human element, Honda and Murata made several key changes to the story including a stronger focus on the love triangle between Ogata, Emiko and Serizawa. As well, Honda and Murata thought that the monster should not be motivated by an animalistic need for food as much as he should be motivated by a sort of angry will to take his revenge against mankind for dabbling in nuclear weapons. [11]

Another important change to the script was the film's name. G was replaced by the title Gojira. This word, a combination of the Japanese words kujira (whale) and gorira (gorilla) seems at once to describe Godzilla's aquatic origins as well as Tsuburaya's fascination with King Kong. Although this name would suggest that the monster might be some sort of strange hybrid between these two animals, Godzilla was to remain a huge dinosaur-like creature albeit minus the large ears originally described in Kayama's initial version of the story. (Godzilla was to retain small ears, however.) To design the monster, which would be played by an actor wearing a latex suit (stop motion photography in the style of King Kong would have been too expensive and time consuming), was the sculptor Teizo Toshimitsu. Toshimitsu personally oversaw Eizo Kaimai and two brothers, Kanzi and Yasue Yagi, who built the suit based on the sculptor's clay models. [12]


Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya examine a puppet on the set of Godzilla.

Also, the cast was finalized: handsome newcomer Akira Takarada was to play his first major role as Hideto Ogata, the salvage sailor; veteran Takashi Shimura would be the paleontologist Kyohei Yamane; Momoki Kochi was cast as Yamane's daughter and Ogata's love interest, Emiko; and Akihiko Hirata took on the brilliant but troubled scientist Daisuke Serizawa, the inventor of the Oxygen Destroyer. Sharing the role of Godzilla were two suit actors, Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka.


The cast of Godzilla: Akira Takarada, Toyoaki Suzuki, Kokuten Kodo, Momoko Kochi, Takashi Shimura and Akihiko Hirata.

Early August saw the start of principal photography undertaken by various filming units. [13] Tsuburaya and his staff began shooting their special effects footage on soundstages at Toho while Honda and his team traveled to Mie Prefecture south of Tokyo to shoot the Odo Island scenes. (Odo Island is the fictitious "home" of Godzilla; in the film, he is a legendary, godlike monster who lives in the waters off the island.)

Ifukube got to work as well. With the finalized script in hand the composer, who was concurrently busy putting the final touches on his "Ainu Symphony," began to seriously think of how to write music for a massive monster. Sitting at his piano, he would stare at the ceiling trying to envision Godzilla's size based on the creature's description in the script. The composer found, however, that attempting to visualize the scale of the beast in his mind's eye based on a mere print description was impossible; he actually needed to see the monster in question in order to write adequate music for it. He decided to approach Tsuburaya.

Ifukube personally visited Tsuburaya at Toho and asked the effects director if he could be allowed to preview the footage of Godzilla that had already been shot. Tsuburaya, who was so secretive about his footage that he did not even allow the director Honda to see it during the bulk of the production (!), instantly refused, and, rather curtly, advised Ifukube to "just make up music suitable for a huge creature." [14] Ifukube could not accept this refusal. The composer passionately explained to Tsuburaya how important this film was to him as he had personally experienced the adverse effects of radiation during the war and, in order to produce the best music possible and give the subject matter its proper due, previewing the special effects footage was vital. Miraculously, Ifukube's plea worked and Tsuburaya caved. "[H]e showed the footage to me, secretly, only for me. I guess it was repayment for those drinks," Ifukube postulated.[15]

Ifukube and Tsuburaya snuck into a screening room that the composer recalled was strewn with various electric motors (used for miniature props). [16] In short order, Tsuburaya fired up the projector and his eerily silent moving images of Godzilla rampaging through a convincing miniaturization of Tokyo astounded the composer. Ifukube was flush with awe and a childlike excitement. Now he was ready. After the screening, with his imagination in a frenzy, he rushed home to begin sketching out his score.

One wonders if Ifukube, riding high atop his wave of much needed inspiration, was at least a little frustrated when he was asked in the early stages of his writing to take a break; Tomoyuki Tanaka requested the composer's company on a several-day business trip to Mie Prefecture in order to observe Honda and his team shooting the Odo Island scenes on location. Again, Ifukube was staunchly loyal to the man who gave him his break into film scoring and traveled with his boss to Mie. The film's lead, Akira Takarada, once recalled Ifukube's visit and, in particular, dining with him at the hotel where all of the cast and crew were staying: "We spent a few days together and, sharing time over dinner, [Ifukube] told me how difficult it was to compose for this film. He told us his ideas for the music for (Godzilla) and, because the music was difficult to compose, he said it was a heavy responsibility."

Takarada's anecdote is certainly revealing of Ifukube's mind set: the composer, despite the somewhat "pulp" subject matter of Godzilla, was approaching the musical element with the utmost seriousness and artistic integrity.

Back in Tokyo, as the Godzilla score was coming along, Ifukube turned to a former student and burgeoning composer, Sei Ikeno (1931 - 2004), to help him organize and make performance copies of the Godzilla manuscript material. Ikeno, a native of Ifukube's home island of Hokkaido (perhaps this begins to explain their close relationship throughout the years) who had studied under the composer at the Tokyo Music School, had already been aiding his former master in this very task with the score for the "Ainu Symphony," which was surely approaching completion in the late summer of 1954. (Ikeno would go on to be an accomplished film composer himself. Possibly, his best known film score is from Toho's Secret of the Telegian (1960), directed by Jun Fukuda.)


Akira Ifukube and Sei Ikeno in the early 1950s.

Ifukube's work on the score would be interrupted on a second occasion, this time by two of the production's sound technicians, Ichiro Minawa (1918 - ) and Hisashi Shimonaga. With some amount of desperation, Minawa and Shimonaga asked Ifukube to help them conceive a roar effect for the monster. The two technicians had already made several attempts to record the sounds of various animals on magnetic tape (a rather new technology at Toho) at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo. Although many of the sounds came close to being acceptable (in particular, the call of the night heron seemed to impress Minawa), it was concluded that, no matter how much the sound effects were processed and manipulated, they still sounded too "natural." Therefore, Minawa and Shimonaga determined that the composer, an expert in acoustics who had dabbled in sound effects on previous films (most notably Hiroshima) might be able to help them concoct the perfect sound.

At first, Ifukube was dubious that Godzilla should make any sound at all. Well aware of the fact that reptiles do not have vocal chords and thus cannot make sounds...certainly not roars...Ifukube was not sure that giving Godzilla "a voice" would make scientific sense. The director Honda (perhaps bemused by Ifukube's literal take on the issue), however, wanted his monster to have the ability to give terrifying screams and explained to Ifukube that Godzilla was something of a mutation due to his exposure to hydrogen bomb radiation. Honda's reasoning was apparently convincing and, thus, Ifukube began to think about how such a sound effect could be produced.

After discussions with Minawa and Shimonaga, Ifukube concluded that, with experimentation and unusual manipulation, a musical instrument might be able to yield appropriately monster-like sounds. The three rummaged through Toho's on-site cache of spare musical instruments and found an old, decidedly shabby contrabass that was in such bad condition that it was missing its back. The contrabass, which is the lowest pitched string instrument in the symphony orchestra, seemed like a good place to start.

Ifukube resolved that, although he would be experimenting with a contrabass, it should not by any means be "played" in a traditionally musical way: The method in which the instrument would be manipulated had to be completely unconventional. With this in mind, Ifukube got to work: he first unwound the E string - the lowest pitched of the contrabass's four strings - from the peg box; the string, however, remained attached to the bridge and the head piece. After doing this, he discovered that if the string was vibrated by rubbing it lengthwise, as opposed to a horizontal motion as if with a bow, the instrument produced a strange wail. Ifukube delegated the task of "playing" the contrabass in this way to his assistant Sei Ikeno; Ikeno wore two leather gloves that were coated in thick, gluey pine tar and grabbed the E string, as if he were "choking" it, with both hands. Ikeno then scraped his hands down the string toward the peg box, which was positioned by his chest. The resulting noise, which was produced by the sticky leather strongly resisting the downward pull, was sufficiently guttural and otherworldly. This technique was recorded several times, each instance with Ikeno yanking the string with various amounts of speed and pressure. "To explain (the contrabass technique) theoretically," Ifukube once said, "the vibration of the strings were (sic) combined with the noise produced by the friction." [17] The best sounding "pulls"(which were, like the zoo experiments, recorded on magnetic tape) were then processed by Minawa at various playback speeds, with some echo and with several animal noises that had been recorded during his zoo excursions layered on top. Thus Godzilla's roar was born.

Since Ifukube's assistance in procuring Godzilla's roar was so fruitful, he was consequently asked by Minawa to create a few other sound effects, including Godzilla's shattering footfalls. Immediately, Ifukube's thoughts went to a somewhat primitive amplifier box that he had encountered several months earlier; this "Magic Box," as Ifukube called it, had been constructed by another one of Toho's sound technicians, Kitaro Tonegawa. While in-studio recording a film score earlier in 1954, Ifukube accidentally knocked into Tonegawa's amplifier, which resulted in an alarming boom. "Inside the box were about ten wire coils. If the coils contacted each other, they mad e a buzz. If they didn't, they made a thundering sound. I found it fascinating," Ifukube once said. [18]

Ifukube approached Tonegawa and asked if he could borrow the amplifier, strike it and record the resulting crash. Tonegawa was initially uncertain of Ifukube's request but ended up letting him use it in the way the composer requested. [19] As was the case with Godzilla's roar, the boom that emanated from Tonegawa's box was processed by Minawa and layered with additional sound effects such as bomb detonations.

Two additional musically-based effects were needed: the sound of the "explosions" heard when two boats, the Eiko Maru and the Bingo Maru are sunk by Godzilla as well as the shriek of the Oxygen Destroyer when Dr. Serizawa demonstrates its lethal power in a fish tank.

The explosions that sink the Eiko Maru fishing boat (a not-to-subtle reference to the Daigo Fukuryu Maru) and the Bingo Maru search vessel, both caused by a blast of Godzilla's atomic breath, are a combination of "real" stock explosion sound effects with more of Ifukube's musical ingenuity. Ifukube's "explosion," which is layered with the stock sounds, was conceived rather simply: it is a triple forte (very loud) glissando from the upper strings of the piano toward the lower stings played directly on the harp. (This is, of course, similar to the sound effect Ifukube devised for the atom bomb explosion in Hiroshima.) This is underpinned by a mezzo-forte (moderately loud) crash of the tam-tam. The fermata symbol above the the piano and tam-tam notation indicate that the sounds of both instruments should resonate for as long as possible.


The musical "explosion" that sinks the Eiko Maru and the Bingo Maru.

The initial sound that Ifukube created to accompany the activation of the Oxygen Destroyer in Serizawa's water tank was a harmonically consonant string tremolo that is followed by a downward piano glissando, this time on the keys as opposed to the strings, ending with a dissonant tone cluster on the keyboard. To create this tone cluster (a technique Ifukube enjoyed using in both concert and film scores), which is actually heard throughout the Godzilla score, the player lays his two forearms over the lowest pitched keys of the piano, one arm on top of as many white keys as possible with the other on top of as many black keys as possible. With a quick jolt, the player smashes his arms onto the keyboard to produce a shockingly dissonant bang. Admittedly, this first consonant version of the Oxygen Destroyer sound effect does not effectively convey the needed sense of horror and, no doubt, the composer thought so as well. Therefore, he revised the effect to make it much more jarring: the strings play an achingly dissonant, high-pitched screeching tremolo on or near their bridges (sul ponticello) and this is followed directly by the piano tone cluster with all the pedals down; the composer decided to omit the original (and rather whimsical-sounding) glissando. This second version of the Oxygen Destroyer effect is what is heard in the film.

The first piece of Ifukube's music to be recorded was the girls' choir, which took place at some point during principal photography. The choir appears during the scene in which Dr. Serizawa makes the difficult decision to deploy his weapon, the Oxygen Destroyer, against Godzilla. Ifukube had contacted the Toho Gakuen School of Music and asked if he could borrow their girls' choir to sing his solemnly touching Prayer for Peace (Heiwa no inori) cue. Ifukube recalled that "(t)he chorus consisted of a great number of singers [...] I believe they volunteered to take part. I don't think they were paid." He continued: "I needed the song to be sung by lots of people to match the great sense of tragedy. It wasn't enough just to convey sadness. The song had to have a sense of gravity that would push Serizawa to risk his life [...] A blueprint machine was used to make a sufficient amount of copies for the choir to read. [21]


Akira Ifukube conducting the Prayer for Peace.

Joining Ifukube at the Toho Gakuen Music School for the recording session was Honda and his crew. Honda's footage of the girls singing would be inserted into the film as a moving television broadcast after Godzilla's main Tokyo attack; it is this broadcast, with its heart-wrenching song, that convinces Serizawa that the Oxygen Destroyer must be used to neutralize Godzilla. The orchestral accompaniment to the choir's Prayer for Peace would be recorded later during the main musical recording session.

By the final third of October, all elements of the production were entering into their final phases and principal photography was all but finished. On the musical side of things, the rest of Ifukube's Godzilla score was complete and ready to be recorded. The recording session took place on October 21 at Toho. Ifukube personally conducted the studio's own Toho Symphony, which was a part-time "in-house" orchestra comprised of a mixture of professional musicians on loan from various local Tokyo-based ensembles. Probably the most notable musician to participate in the recording of Godzilla's score was Moritsuna Kuroyanagi, an well-known violinist who was acting as the concertmaster of the NHK Symphony at that time. (Kuroyanagi would go on to perform on the soundtracks of several other Toho monster and science fiction films into the 1960s.)


The label from the large envelope containing Ifukube's completed Godzilla manuscript.

Ifukube required an unusually large (as far as Japanese film scores go) instrumentation for this score: flutes, a piccolo, oboes, clarinets, a bass clarinet, bassoons, a contrabassoon, horns, trumpets (in B-flat and in C), trombones, a tuba, a piano, timpani, tam-tam (also known as a gong), pien-ku also often transliterated as bian gu) (a type of traditional Chinese flat drum, heard during the exorcism scene on Odo Island), a snare drum, cymbals, violins, violas, cellos, contrabasses, choir and even a harmonica in C and a guitar. The pien-ku was from Ifukube's personal collection of traditional Asian instruments and the contrabassoon used in the recording had to be borrowed from the stockpile of instruments at the Tokyo School of Art, where the composer had taught from 1946 until 1953.**

Composing for a larger-than-average ensemble was not enough to evoke Godzilla's spirit; in order to coax an appropriately "kaiju-like" sound from his orchestra, Ifukube had the novel idea to show Tsuburaya's monster footage on a large screen in the recording room hoping that, if the musicians could see the massive beast wreaking havoc while they played, that they would respond in kind with more assertive and agitated performances. "No matter how much you explain the character of Godzilla to the performers and urge them to play aggressively, they still will play as if they are in a concert hall. However, if you show the performers footage of Godzilla, their playing will dramatically change," Ifukube once explained. [20]

The technology used to record the soundtrack was the Westrex Cinecorder, which had been purchased by Toho earlier in 1954. Godzilla was among the first Japanese films to make use of this magnetic audio tape technology. (Fumio Hayasaka himself used the system to record his Seven Samurai soundtrack earlier that year.) [22] The recordings were made on Scotch brand 6mm tapes, which are today preserved in Toho's archives.

Incidentally, Ifukube did not record everything that he had written: this was due to several scenes that he had scored being either shortened, altered or deleted. For example, the composer only recorded a portion of the guitar and harmonica music which is heard during the introductory scene on the Eiko Maru fishing vessel. Originally thirty bars long, Ifukube only taped the first eight bars; this abbreviated version of the original cue is what is heard before the fisherman observe the flash of light emanating from the ocean (complete with Ifukube's explosion sound effect) before the soundtrack transitions to the frenetic orchestral passage accompanying the sinking of the boat. We can glean from this example that the guitar and harmonica cue (referred to as cue "2" in the manuscript) was originally written to accompany a longer scene. (Or, perhaps, the composer simply wrote too much material.)

A case were Ifukube wrote a cue for a scene initially requiring music but did not record it is Godzilla's thrilling first appearance looking over the mountain on Odo Island: a suspenseful rising ostinato figure on the piano and contrabassoon push against the same melody heard at the beginning of the Storm on Odo Island cue (which appears earlier in the film), here played on a bassoon; this music aptly underpins the frenzied mountainside ascent of Dr. Yamane's scientific team and the villagers. When Godzilla's head becomes visible, there is a dramatic tam-tam strike. The music swells and then goes silent after Emiko screams. The fact that this cue was not recorded suggests that, at some point prior to the recording session, the director Honda determined the scene would work better without any music at all. (In later years, Ifukube, looking back on this scene, felt that music should have been included to augment the impact of Godzilla's first appearance.)***

Finally, there was originally another Odo Island scene in which Dr. Yamane, Ogata, Emiko, Shinkichi, etc., pay their respects to Godzilla's victims at a seaside cemetary; this scene was likely filmed (there exists at least one still photograph of the actors, in costume, in a cemetary) but it did not make the final cut. Ifukube did write a lengthy cue (lasting about three minutes and ten seconds) to accompany this scene, however, due to its exclusion from the final version of the film, Ifukube, like in the instances above, had no need to record it. The appropriately solemn "cemetary cue" makes use of melodic fragments from the first movement of the often-cannibalized Arctic Forest as well as motifs that would be heard later in the Prayer for Peace music. ****

Despite this handful of material that was to remain on paper, the vast majority of Ifukube's appropriately primitivist and funereal score, of course, made it into the film. The score begins with the ominous sound of Godzilla's footsteps and roars as the opening credits start to roll...

Interestingly, Ifukube "notated" the roar and footfall sound effects into his manuscript score; this was likely for timing purposes. As we can see on the page, Ifukube notates the footfalls first with a baritone clef at the start of the staff. He notates 4/4 time with an accented (>) whole note showing how Tonegawa's "Magic Box" should be struck. After three bars, Godzilla's roar comes in with a bass clef (a bass instrument, the contrabass, was being used after all). The roar is notated as a dot starting on E with wavy downward glissando. Though Godzilla's voice is notated in this way, there is no actual musical value to it; it simply describes where the sound effect is to be added in relation to the timing. Incidentally, while the extant portion of the manuscript called Title shows how the composer's sound effects notation was written, it does not perfectly match the order in which those effects are actually heard before the opening title music.

Another interesting feature on the "effects page" is how Ifukube, in English, describes Godzilla's roar as Song of Gozila. This is not a reference to anything purely musical; rather, he refers to Godzilla's call as a song, just as we may describe the song of a bird or, perhaps more aptly, the song of a whale.


Ifukube's "notation" of the roar and footfall sound effects.

After the imposing blare of Godzilla's sound effects, the famous main title music energetically takes over. This repetitive, oddly rhythmed 15-note melody, which is nowadays as closely linked to the character of Godzilla as Monty Norman's James Bond theme is connected to that fictitious British agent, had a long history before becoming definitively associated with the world's most well-known kaiju. It first appeared exactly ten years prior in the Mountain Wine Festival, the third movement of (yet again) Arctic Forest. A few years later, in 1948, the theme was adapted for use in the second movement of the Rapsodia Concertante for Violin and Orchestra. The theme had even been used for the title music of another film (!), The President and the Shopgirl, which was, incidentally, released the same year as the Rapsodia Concertante.


Ifukube's music to accompany the opening credits of Godzilla.

Although today this theme is undeniably Godzilla's own, the composer had originally intended for the music to represent the military forces who combat Godzilla. Aside from its use in the main titles (where the music seems to engage in a sonic battle with the monster effects for supremacy on the soundtrack), the theme only reappears in the film when the military is set into action. It was perhaps fate, however, that the theme would eventually...and inevitably...be linked only to Godzilla himself. In Ifukube's mind, the first three notes of the theme, C-B-A, which correspond to the solfège syllables Do-Ti-La (or Do-Shi-Ra, as they would be pronounced in Japanese) seemed to "sing" the monster's name: Go-ji-ra!


The (eventual) Godzilla Theme (violin part) as it appears in the Godzilla manuscript.

Another famous section of the score is also indebted to Ifukube's war-period music: the brassy Frigate March, which is heard when Dr. Yamane and company leave for Odo Island on a boat, and when the Japanese navy dump depth charges in the water in a (futile) attempt to kill Godzilla, is a reworking of the second theme from Kishi Mai.

The evocative, ethnic-sounding music for the Odo Island Shintoist exorcism scene, scored for piccolo, oboe, bassoon, violins, harp, timpani, tam-tam and the Chinese pien-ku drum is a reduced orchestration of one of the principal themes from the Fête movement of Japanese Rhapsody.

The haunting cues entitled Tragic Site at the Imperial Capital and Godzilla on the Ocean Floor are very similar. The former is heard over the touching and tragic images of Godzilla's injured and irradiated victims after his siege of Tokyo and the latter is heard when Dr. Serizawa and Ogata dive into Tokyo Bay to deploy the Oxygen Destroyer in order to kill Godzilla. This is also reworked music: it was first written for Snow Trail in 1947. In that film, the music is titled Life and Death. As well, Ifukube used the same material, with different phrasing and slightly different orchestration, to accompany the heart-wrenching bombing scene in the previous year's Hiroshima. Again, Ifukube made slight changes to the structure and orchestration of this music for its use in Godzilla.

Regarding the Tragic Site and Ocean Floor cues, the musical "intertext" between Snow Trail, Hiroshima and Godzilla is fascinating. In each of these films, this reoccurring music seems to act as the composer's own musical mediation on the frailty of life. Indeed, the link that the music forges between Hiroshima and Godzilla is especially poignant: this is Ifukube's highly emotional statement on the calamitous consequences of nuclear weapons. The bomb in Hiroshima and the monster in Godzilla are the same, the aftermath of their respective terrors is the same and thus the music to describe that aftermath, to make the same point across the two films, must be the same.

Aside from the profoundly haunting choral cue, Prayer for Peace (a variation of which is also heard at the very end of the film), the most striking purely original cue in Godzilla must be Godzilla's Rampage (or Entree as it is called in the manuscript), which accompanies the monster's spectacular obliteration of Tokyo. Scored primarily for percussion (tam-tam, timpani and piano), the lowest pitched woodwinds (bass clarinet, bassoon and [the elusive] contrabassoon) and brass (trombones, horns, tuba), the music rejects all strings except the low-pitched contrabasses. The resulting effect of this deep, rumbling music, complete with regular tone clusters from the piano that vividly evoke Godzilla's "march" through the city, is nothing short of brilliant in its capacity to describe, musically, the cataclysmic death and destruction on screen.

The completed film was privately screened at Toho for the cast and crew of Godzilla just prior to its national release. Ifukube attended this screening but history does not record his exact reactions to seeing the completed film for the first time. Akira Takarada did recall, however, how he wept during the scene where his character, Ogata, and Akihiko Hirata's Dr. Serizawa dive into Tokyo Bay with the Oxygen Destroyer to kill Godzilla. He credited Ifukube's Godzilla on the Ocean Floor music for contributing to his strong emotional reaction. "I could not help crying when I first listened to the solemn music for the scene where Godzilla was turning into a skeleton and sinking deep into the sea," Takarada said.

Godzilla was released on November 3 (an astounding 13 days after Ifukube recorded the bulk of the score!) to mixed critical reaction. Although critics were torn between seeing the film as either an important commentary on the horrors of nuclear weapons or as cheap sensationalist nonsense, Godzilla captivated the imagination of the Japanese public; never before had they seen a "made in Japan" monster movie of this scale and ambition and the film became a massive hit. Godzilla broke opening-day ticket sale records in Tokyo (word of mouth spread quickly) and ultimately attracted a massive audience of 9.6 million people. [23]. No doubt, Tomoyuki Tanaka, for whom a few months prior Godzilla was only a crazy dream, was nothing short of relieved and deeply satisfied with the financial success of his big, radioactive beast.

Ifukube was happy, too. Never before in his career had so many people heard his music; Godzilla became, practically overnight, his best-known musical work and the score was exceedingly popular with the movie-going public. He was likely happiest, however, that his family took to the film so readily. The composer's son, Kiwami (who was six years old at the time), recalled how he and his mother, Ai, saw Godzilla several times at a cinema in downtown Tokyo. (Ifukube did not see the film with his family; as strange as it seems, he very rarely saw the films he scored with his wife and practically never took his children. The family attributes this to his constantly busy schedule of composing, reading, etc.) The fact that his wife and son saw the movie multiple times greatly pleased the composer, according to Kiwami.


Poster for Godzilla.

The year 1954, thus, ended with one of the greatest artistic triumphs of Ifukube's career. And the commercial triumphs soon followed: although Ifukube had already been a sought-after film composer prior to Godzilla, his desirability within the Japanese film industry grew quickly...and exponentially...thanks to the success of the film so many of his colleagues told him to avoid.


* I will refer to the monster by the English version of his name, Godzilla, which was invented by Toho for the film's distribution in the United States in 1956. Also, it is worth noting that Gojira/Godzilla is a registered trademark of Toho Co., LTD.

** As mentioned, Toho's "in-house" orchestra was made up various musicians from around the Tokyo metropolitan area. When showing up to Toho to perform on a film score, the members of the orchestra either brought their own personal instruments or borrowed one of studio's. In Ifukube's mind, using the lowest pitched orchestral instruments from their respective categories, the contrabass (strings), the tuba (brass) and the contrabassoon (woodwinds) was necessary to portray Godzilla's massive size. Since nobody in the Godzilla orchestra had access to their own contrabassoon, and Toho didn't have one either, Ifukube was lucky to have good connections to the university where he once taught (which was now called the Tokyo School of Art) to borrow the needed instrument in good faith.

*** John DeSentis, a devoted proponent and performer of Ifukube's film scores, was instrumental (pun not intended) in deducing the origins of this mysterious unused cue, marked "10," in the original Godzilla manuscript. DeSentis explains: "One night into the wee hours of the morning, I was examining the handwritten manuscript from the score to Godzilla (1954). As I was paging through, I came across what I thought was the music for the storm scene on Odo Island. A quick glance at the bassoon part made me think this. But something wasn’t quite right. For starters, there was only one page of it (marked page 24). Second, the other music in the cue seemed a bit off. The final two measures had another figure from the storm music, but something just wasn’t adding up. The cue number on the top of the page was 10 and it fell in with consecutive pages from the previous and following cues (Odo Island Theme and Frigate March respectively. That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks. I began transcribing the cue furiously so I could try and match it up. Sure enough, if you get it at just right tempo, it fits the scene where Godzilla peeks his head above the mountain like a glove. The cue begins with an ascending bass figure as everyone is running up the mountain right after the bell rings. There is a musical acknowledgment of Godzilla’s appearance with a key change, a tam-tam hit, and a jump to forte dynamic and finally a huge swell in the final two measures which are meant to underscore when Emiko screams. The cue then cuts off abruptly, matching Godzilla’s abrupt departure. There is simply no other place that this cue could have fallen into the film and the fact that the cue number is directly where the scene should be made me 100% sure of this."

**** This cue was recorded in 1999 and appears on the 2-disc Akira Ifukube Soundtrack Anthology (KICC 296/7).


[1] Godzizsewski, Ed. The Making of Godzilla. Japanese Giants. Page 5.
[2] Ibid.
[3]
Interview with Akira Ifukube (supplementary material). Godzilla. DVD. Criterion Collection, 2012.
{4] Ryfle, Steve. Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of "The Big G". Page 32. Ontario: ECW Press. 1998.
[5] Hosokawa, Shuhei. Off the Planet: Music, Sound and Science Fiction Cinema. Pages 47-48. Indiana University Press. Bloomington, IN. 2004.
[6] Interview with Akira Ifukube (supplementary material). Godzilla. DVD. Criterion Collection, 2012.
[7] Ryfle, Steve. Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of "The Big G". Page 26. Ontario: ECW Press. 1998.
[8] Ibid. Page 44.
[9] Ibid. Page 46.
[10] Interview with Akira Ifukube (supplementary material). Godzilla. DVD. Criterion Collection, 2012.
[11] Godzizsewski, Ed. The Making of Godzilla. Japanese Giants. Page 11.
[12] Ibid. Page 12.
[13] Ibid. 14.
[14]
Interview with Akira Ifukube (supplementary material). Godzilla. DVD. Criterion Collection, 2012.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Milner, David. Akira Ifukube Interview II. www.davmil.org.
[21] Interview with Akira Ifukube (supplementary material). Godzilla. DVD. Criterion Collection, 2012.
[22] Hosokawa, Shuhei. Off the Planet: Music, Sound and Science Fiction Cinema. Pages 48. Indiana University Press. Bloomington, IN. 2004.
[23] Ryfle, Steve. Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of "The Big G". Page 43.



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