Part X - To Conquer and Slay the Cause of Opposition
With the arrival of the 1960s, Akira Ifukube found himself in a moment of transition: For the first time in his career, the composer was going to shift his principal focus from the writing of concert works to devote himself more readily to scoring films. True, Ifukube still found himself at odds with Japan's musical establishment (or, more accurately, the establishment still found itself at odds with him) and it is indeed probable that his continued status as an outcast in mainstream musical circles influenced his decision to reduce his concert hall output. However, an even more probable reason for his more robust embrace of film music was the fact that his works in this domain was immensely well received by the public - especially his scores for monster and sci-fi films - and, certainly, working for movie studios paid very well. *
In the first year of the new decade, Ifukube scored nine films, none of which are of particular note. In the midst of all of this film work, though, the composer did allow himself the time to write two concert pieces, a ballet entitled Fox's Sword Dance and the smaller scale A Shanty of the Shiretoko Peninsula.**
Like Sea of Okhotsk, A Shanty of the Shiretoko Peninsula is a vocal work based on a poem by Genzo Sarashina. Unlike Okhotsk, Shanty is a chamber piece scored for bass and piano.
In his Shanty of the Shiretoko Peninsula text, Sarashina again explores the theme of anguish over the loss of a happier, more simple past. In this case, the scene is a gloomy Ainu fishing village on the Shiretoko Peninsula, Hokkaido's easternmost point. (The name Shiretoko is derived from the Ainu word sir etok, which means "the end of the Earth.")
With his decision to set A Shanty of the Shiretoko Peninsula to music, Ifukube yet again puts on display his anti-modernist tendencies. This five-stanza poem is a description of Shiretoko's barren landscape as observed through the eyes of weary Ainu fishermen. In the poem, the area has fallen victim to several destructive fires, further adding to the stark and cheerless atmosphere; references to flames and smoke permeate Sarashina's imagery.
In setting these words words to music, Ifukube was apparently eager to take advantage of his artistic license and add some additional material to Sarashina's poem. Between the third and fourth stanzas, Ifukube elected to add the lyrics of a traditional Ainu fisherman's song in the original language.
The music that accompanies Sarashina's lyrics is often ponderous and intensely melancholy, skillfully portraying what the Japanese musicologist Morihide Katayama describes as "the deep emotion of sorrow and anger of the northern folks who have been forced to accept the political, economical and cultural distortion [brought about by] modern civilization."  In contrast to this, the Ainu song interlude provides a moment of light serenity with the distinct feeling of a swaying lullaby.
A Shanty of the Shiretoko Peninsula was first performed by the bass Stefano Kinai (the singer to whom Ifukube dedicated the score) and the pianist Masayasu Oshima on February 9, 1961 at the Dai-Ichi Seimei Hall in Tokyo.
With the premiere of A Shanty of the Shiretoko Peninsula, 1961 was surely off to a satisfying start. But there was little time for the composer to rest - he was immediately back to his desk to complete yet another vocal composition with a Hokkaido connection.
The piece in question was the Ode to Hokkaido, a brief work for mixed choir and orchestra. In October of the previous year, the Hokkaido Shinbun newspaper in collaboration with the Hokkaido Broadcasting Company held a competition to solicit original lyrics for a sort of "Hokkaido anthem;" it was thought that a new musical work of this type would promote the growth of industry and infrastructure on Japan's most northerly island. The Hokkaido Shinbun and the HBC decided early on that Ifukube would write the music for this proposed piece: After all, he had worked with the HBC before to compose Upopo, the broadcaster's signature jingle, and, as Hokkaido's most famous musical son, he was far and away the most logical choice for a composer.
The Hokkaido public was indeed enthusiastic to participate in this competition: The so-called Ode to Hokkaido Enactment Committee received over twenty three hundred entries. The winning lyrics were penned by the amateur poet Mitsu Mori (1922 - 1967). Mori, a housewife by day who had dabbled in writing throughout her life, may have held a slight advantage over the other contestants as her name was not exactly unknown. Her poetry had previously appeared in several Japanese publications over the years and was routinely met with critical praise. (Mori would pass away in 1967, roughly seven years after she won the Ode to Hokkaido competition. A year after her death in 1968, an anthology of her poetry, A Smile's Yearning, would be published.)
As one might expect, Mori's Ode to Hokkaido lyrics sing the praises of the island's abundant natural beauty - an ironic thought, to be sure, if one remembers that the purpose of the music in the first place was to promote industrial development! Notwithstanding, her writing abounds with references to sunlight reflecting on the surface of the island's northern waters, beautiful skies brimming with green clouds, thick snows and, somewhat predictably, optimistic dreams for the future. Once these lyrics landed on Ifukube's desk in Tokyo, his task was to write original music to match the text.
Ifukube's resultant music for the choral Ode to Hokkaido is a solemn and dignified andante grandioso. It is a brief work, lasting about four and a half minutes.
As far as the Hokkaido Shinbun and the HBC were concerned, it was not enough to ask Ifukube to simply compose the music for the Ode: The two organizations invited the composer to travel to Sapporo to personally conduct the premiere performance of the island's new anthem. Ifukube, who nowadays rarely traveled long distances (his steady stream of work in the film industry kept him in Tokyo with occasional treks to Kyoto) was delighted by this opportunity. Thanks to the gracious invitation extended to him by the Enactment Committee, Ifukube would be able to make his first voyage back to his remote home prefecture in years and pay a visit to his extended family, whom he rarely had an occasion to see.
In late March, Ifukube and his wife Ai boarded a Seikan Company ferry from Aomori Prefecture to Hokkaido's southern port of Hakodate. From Hakodate, the two took a train to Sapporo where, upon their arrival, they were enthusiastically met at the station by the composer's brother Muneo with his wife and two children, as well as by his mother Kiwa and his mother-in-law, Kano Yuzaki. From the station, Akira and AI were immediately driven to Muneo's home in the Yamahana district of Sapporo for what could justifiably be deemed a long overdue Ifukube family reunion.
The decidedly candid photos from this day showing Ifukube's landing at the Sapporo train station, as well as his posing with family members, surely give an indication of the composer's feelings after having returned "home" under such remarkable circumstances. His smiling, whether subdued or more overt, bespeaks of a certain contentment and pride. After all, if Ifukube could triumphantly come back to his native soil as a musical hero and the composer of Hokkaido's new musical anthem - and physically show off to his family just how successful he had become since leaving the island in 1946 - why wouldn't he have something to smile about?
On April 2, Ifukube led the HBC Orchestra in a live radio broadcast of Ode to Hokkaido's premiere performance.
With a successful concert and a gratifying visit with his family under his belt, it was now time for Ifukube to make his way back to Tokyo and begin work on other musical endeavors. When Akira and Ai arrived at the train station to begin their journey southward, they were met with a heartening surprise. Their teenage nephew, Takuya Yuzaki, had gathered several of his high school friends to sing the Ode to Hokkaido on the platform as the composer and his wife departed. An extant photograph of this moment shows Akira and Ai happily observing the singers from a train window moments before it leaves for Hakodate.
After returning to Tokyo, Ifukube was back at work plugging away at several scores. He was nearing the completion of his largest orchestral work since the previous year's Fox's Sword Dance, a concertante-style work for piano and orchestra. Additionally, he had several film assignments to take on and the most notable of these was his score for director Kenji Misumi's (1921 - 1975) extravagant production of Shaka, a film portraying the life of the Buddha.
Just as Toho's Birth of Japan had been a response to Hollywood's The Ten Commandments, Shaka, which was being produced by Toho's main rival, Daiei, was itself an attempt to match the grandeur of another and more recent American religious epic, William Wyler's Ben-Hur (1959). So eager were Misumi and the production staff at Daiei to make a "Japanese Ben-Hur" that they elected to shoot the film the same 70 mm ultra-wide screen format as Wyler's film. This would be the first Japanese film to make use of this photographic format.
The technical wonders of 70 mm film were not limited to a bigger, more detailed image: The physical size of the film stock allowed room for a lavish six-channel stereo soundtrack. Again mirroring Ben-Hur, Daiei was determined to take advantage of the the same state-of-the-art Westrex recording technology employed by the composer Miklós Rozsá in that film to record Ifukube's own music for Shaka.
Ifukube's music for Misumi's Shaka, while indeed grand and sumptuous, was not completely original: For the film, the composer liberally reworked some of the music that the he had written for his similarly themed Buddha ballet of (coincidentally) the same name in 1953. In one example of this, the film's Main Title music is simply a verbatim quotation of the ballet's moving Ode to Buddha music for mixed choir and full orchestra. Another instance of Ifukube's reuse of earlier music can be heard during the scene in which Buddha is tempted by demons while meditating under a tree at Bodh Gaya. Because the ballet also portrays this scene, it was easy for the composer to transpose this section of the ballet score into the film.
Ifukube's recycling does not end there: He also includes music sourced from another earlier work, Deux caractères pour violon et piano written in 1955. Here, Ifukube transforms the introductory violin melody of that piece's third movement into a wheezy folkloric dance for multiple strings and layers underneath it the clamor of traditional Asian percussion instruments.
Indeed, Ifukube also wrote completely new cues to fit the film's story line. Several of these feature the weirdly warbling sounds of the Korean geomungo, the zither that Ifukube also included in his Birth of Japan score.
Although the music written for Shaka was recorded at Daiei, the studio was not equipped with the proper technology to mix it themselves for the final film. Therefore, Ifukube's session tapes were shipped to the more technologically capable RCA labs in London, England where his music would be processed and added to the soundtrack.
When Shaka premiered in Japan on July 2, Ifukube was able to hear for the first time how his music would sound in glorious six-channel stereo. Upon his first viewing of the film, however, the composer was less than impressed and even taken aback. Ifukube, who was accustomed to being closely involved in the final mixes of his film scores, had absolutely no input here - he was never at any moment in communication with RCA. As a result, the music was not added to the film in the way that Ifukube would have intended. According to him, volume levels were poorly handled across the board resulting in loud music often played back at an inappropriate low volume and soft music played back too loudly.
An standout example of these playback problems was a scene in which Buddha (played by Kôjirô Hôngo) performs a dramatic public miracle. To heighten the wonder of this moment, Ifukube had written a sweeping orchestral tutti that was meant to be heard at an overwhelmingly high volume. To the composer's consternation, the music was reproduced at such a low level on the soundtrack that was it rendered unfavorably subdued, inconspicuous and, ultimately, unimpressive.
There was even music added to the final cut of the film that he had never intended to be heard at all. Misumi had filmed a scene where Buddha's enemy, Devadatta (played by Japanese acting legend Shintaro Katsu) rapes Buddha's wife, Yasodhara. During post-production, Ifukube viewed the scene and opined that it was poorly executed. He thought it was so bad, in fact, that he assumed it would never make it into the final cut. Regardless, he was asked to write music for the scene and Ifukube obliged, albeit in a rather perfunctory manner. Strongly believing there was no way that this scene would survive the cutting room, Ifukube wrote what he himself considered to be a "sloppy" filler cue for solo bass clarinet and a cymbal to accompany Yasodhara's violation. When the composer saw that not only had the rape scene with his "sloppy" cue been retained in the final version of the film, but the music was also played back at very high volume, he could not help but be mortified. 
Ifukube never found out why the British sound technicians made the unfortunate choices that they did when preparing the Shaka soundtrack, but he had his theories. He posited that, due to inherent cultural differences, there was no way that European recording engineers could have understood the artistic ambitions and intentions of an Asian composer. Indeed, the nuances of Ifukube's music must have been lost in translation. 
After the release of Shaka, Ifukube took a several month break from film music to focus on the completion of his latest concert composition, Ritmica Ostinata for Piano and Orchestra. This, the first work for solo instrument and orchestra that he had written since his Rapsodia Concertante for Violin and Orchestra in 1948, was not at all a traditional piano concerto.
To start, the role of the piano in Ritmica Ostinata is an unconventional one for two main reasons: First, the instrument plays a decidedly obbligato role as opposed to more clearly protruded one, as might be expected in a more conventional concertante work. As the music critic David Hurwitz once stated, Ritmica Ostinata's piano is really "a leading voice embedded within the orchestral textures rather than front and center at all times." 
Secondly, Ifukube does away with all grace and gentility and requires that the piano be treated as a true percussion instrument. As a result of the performer's almost relentless assault of the keyboard, in Ritmica Ostinata, the piano readily takes on the flavor of a huge hammered dulcimer or even an Indonesian gamelan.
Besides this out of the ordinary piano part, there are other noteworthy aspects to the music, one being its persistent repetitiveness. Certainly, the concept of ostinato was at the forefront of Ifukube's mind throughout the composition process, as it often was: Repetition of melodic and rhythmic fragments was assuredly nothing new to the composer's style, but by using the word "ostinata" in the new work's title, Ifukube seems to be giving this ever-essential musical element an especially prominent role. The Japanese musicologist Morihide Katayama offers a very succinct description of how ostinato factors into Ritmica Ostinata: "This work is in A - B - A - B - A form. The A is an allegro and the B an adagio and both are built up by a single theme with its repetition and transfiguration, not by contrast and conflict of multiple themes. Every small part (of the music) is full of ostinatos of short melodic fragments, accompaniments and rhythmic patterns." 
In terms of those repeated rhythmic patterns, Ritmica Ostinata has more in common with traditional Japanese poetry than it does with Japanese music. Ifukube once stated that "Japanese traditional music is based on rhythmic patterns of even-numbered beats, an equivalent of simple duple or quadruple meter in Western music." Ritmica Ostinata does not adhere to these standard rhythmic patterns; rather, to give Ritmica Ostinata an unusually distinctive rhythmic character, Ifukube looked to traditional Japanese poetry, a common feature of which is an alteration between five and seven syllables (beats) per line, as in the haiku tradition. Shinto and No drama recitations also follow this pattern.  Because the Japanese were so accustomed to cadences of five and seven syllables in their traditional verse, Katayama feels that this begins to explain why the composer elected to adopt these rather unorthodox rhythmic patterns into his new work: "In this concerto, Ifukube attempts to make that odd rhythm tangible: the rhythm which does not usually appear in actual music but is hidden in the heart of the Japanese." 
To craft his melodies, Ifukube employs yet another extraordinary technique by incorporating into the music several hexatonic (six-note) scales. Though hexatonic scales exist in various countries throughout Asia, they are by no means as wide spread in Japan as are the much more commonplace pentatonic (five-note) scales. Why, then, was Ifukube so adamant to use hexatonic scales throughout Ritmica Ostinata?
Morihide Katayama's assessment of tonal effects produced by Ifukube's hexatonic scales may furnish some clues. He points out that the the six-notes scales throughout Ritmica Ostinata resemble several traditional Japanese pentatonic scales, such as the Min'yo, Ritsu and Miyako-bushi scales, but with the addition of an extra note.  By adding these single extra notes, Ifukube is able to maintain the suggestion of a distinctive Japanese flavor in the piece's melodic content but at the same time, by slightly augmenting the range of available pitches in the scale, the music is opened up to wider melodic and tonal possibilities.
Ifukube was unusually candid when discussing the origins of this exceedingly unique work; he expressed two principal reasons for writing it. The first reason, he stated rather tantalizingly, was that by combining the elements of ostinato, irregular rhythm based on Japanese verse and hexatonic scales in Ritmica Ostinata, he sought to "reveal the collective unconscious" of the Japanese people. In other words, Ifukube believed that the Japanese would naturally understand and relate to, on a practically spiritual level, a musical aesthetic in which constant repetition, rhythms of five and seven beats and slightly augmented pentatonic scales come together as a whole.
That Ifukube would use this type of language to describe his attempt at such a lofty and even somewhat mystical goal - to expose with music the "collective unconscious" of his fellow countrymen - likely demonstrates the composer's most overt embrace of a nationalist sentiment since the Second World War. This is important to note since Ifukube's nationalistic, Nippon-centric tendencies, which he never at any point abandoned but had surely expressed with more subtlety after the war - and certainly after Sinfonia Tapkaara - had been one of the principal facets of the composer's style that the Japanese modernists had attacked with the most vigor. Again, in their eyes, nationalism in music was outmoded and vulgar. In making his extra-artistic intentions with Ritmica Ostinata known in such an undisguised way, Ifukube, with tremendous confidence and in facile defiance, seems to have thrown down the gauntlet. Ritmica Ostinata was Ifukube's newest challenge to the status quo: After several years of making more subtle rebukes against the avant-garde establishment with works like Eclogues after Epos among Aino Races, Fashan Jarboo and A Shanty of the Shiretoko Peninsula, he was - undoubtedly emboldened by his ongoing and gratifying successes in the film world - no longer hesitant to more openly express himself artistically...and no criticism was going to stop him from doing so.
Morihide Katayama further affirms the apparent anti-modernist message in Ifukube's music: "Ritmica Ostinata was composed in the heyday of (twelve tone) or serial music. With this work, Ifukube claims that six notes (half of twelve notes) is able to produce meaningful music." 
The second main reason that Ifukube mentioned for writing Ritmica Ostinata was to put into practice, so to speak, a scientific theory concocted by none other than Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), the famed Italian Renaissance-era polymath. "(In Ritmica Ostinata, my) strict adherence to (the) self-imposed restrictions (of using ostinato, rhythms of five and seven beats and hexatonic scales) is a reflection of my deep-rooted admiration for an aphorism by Leonardo DA Vinci: Force lives by restriction and dies from liberty."
It should be noted that Ifukube's quote by DA Vinci is not exact; it is a paraphrase of a larger idea that appeared in of of the Italian genius's essays, The Four Powers, which is an early attempt to describe the laws of physics. In describing the multiple properties of energy, which DA Vinci refers to as "force," he says: "Force I define as incorporeal agency, an invisible power [...] It drives away in fury whatever opposes its destruction. It desires to conquer and slay the cause of opposition, and in conquering destroys itself. It waxes more powerful where it finds the greater obstacle [...] Retardation strengthens, and speed weakens it. It lives by violence and dies from liberty." 
By examining the greater context of the DA Vinci quote, we can begin to better understand how it applies to Ritmica Ostinata. Again, Ifukube keeps the music beholden to three principal restrictions: ostinato, rhythms of five and seven beats and hexatonic scales. This can be seen as an opposition to the purposefully structureless, freeform music of the avant-garde and thus yet another effort to censure it. By insisting on a retention of strict form, the music is able to build tremendous force, which it could not possibly do without adhering to such a strict regulations, or "obstacles," as DA Vinci might have said. Consequently, in Ifukube's mind, music with stringent structural guidelines will necessarily contain more "force" than music without such guidelines: Conservatism allows for more vitality than modernism.
The ever increasing force produced by Ifukube's restrictions is more than just an abstract idea: It can tangibly be heard in the music. In Ritmica Ostinata's first allegro section, the music builds formidable momentum until it is stopped in its tracks by the slow, dreamlike adagio, which aptly evokes the ancient court music of gagaku. In the allegro's second appearance, it gains even more forward propulsion before again being abruptly impeded by a return of the static adagio. In its third and final manifestation, the allegro stampedes forth with more fury than ever, building to one of the most violently urgent and irresistible crescendos in all of Ifukube's oeuvre. Ifukube restrains the music's explosive passion no more and, gaining in speed and in potency, it "dies from liberty."
It should be noted that, like the recent Shaka score, Ritmica Ostinata has its share of recycled material, too. As he had done in Sinfonia Tapkaara, Ifukube lifted several fragments from his first - and (at the time) believed lost - piano concerto, Symphony Concertante for Piano and Orchestra, and appropriated them for the new work.
Ritmica Ostinata for Piano and Orchestra was completed by the composer on September 7 and first performed a month later in the Japanese capital on October 9. The premiere performance, which saw Masashi Ueda conducting the Tokyo Symphony with Yutaka Kanai as the soloist, was attended by the de facto leader of the Japanese modernist composers, Toru Takemitsu. Somewhat unexpectedly, Takemitsu offered some limited praise for Ifukube's newest composition: He found merit in the fast sections of the work but did not care much for the slower portions.
It is not clear what Ifukube's exact reactions to Takemitsu's comments were, but the fact that Japan's doyen of the avant-garde would have anything positive to say about Ritmica Ostinata clearly impressed Ifukube to some extent: He would occasionally mention this anecdote, perhaps with a bit of veiled pride, to his future music students at the Tokyo College of Music. Surely, this was worth bringing up: After all, Ritmica Ostinata was Ifukube's boldest move in years to fire back at the Japanese musical establishment, it was his endeavor "to conquer and slay the cause of opposition." Perhaps Takemitsu's compliment, limited though it was, indicated that even he was "conquered," to some extent, by Ifukube's unflinching musical and philosophical offensive.
And thus Ifukube ended 1961 with a cathartic bang. Although the composer was very happy with the artistic (and in his mind, philosophical) triumph of Ritmica Ostinata, it would be the last concert work that he would compose for roughly six years. With the start of 1962, Ifukube would begin a period in his career devoted exclusively to writing film scores - a period itself brimming with a different type triumph.
February 21, 1962 saw the release of Daiei's Onnakeizu, the second collaboration between Ifukube and the Shaka director Kenji Misumi. Immediately after the release of that film, Misumi recruited Ifukube to score his next project, The Tale of Zatôichi (Zatôichi monogatari).
Now collaborating on their third film, it was increasingly apparent to both Ifukube and Misumi how much they enjoyed working with each other: Among the countless directors that Ifukube had worked with over the years, the composer took an especial liking to Misumi. "I had good feelings about him," Ifukube once stated. "He took making movies seriously."  The feelings were mutual; Misumi, feeling that Ifukube was an exceptional talent, gave his composer more artistic freedom than he was generally used to. Unlike other directors, such as Senkichi Taniguchi or Akira Kurosawa who were known for a much more "hands on" approach when consulting with their composers, Misumi was comfortable allowing Ifukube to make practically all of the final musical decisions for his films. As a result, the freedom-loving Ifukube could not help but be profoundly endeared to Misumi and his trusting nature. Really, if Ifukube had any complaints about his association with Misumi, it was that he never drank alcohol: The composer, who certainly enjoyed the occasional drink, was sometimes frustrated that, during meetings, Misumi only served tea. 
The Tale of Zatôichi is the first of what would eventually develop into a highly successful series of chanbara films and even television programs.*** The titular character, Zatôichi, is blind masseur who also happens to be an exceedingly skilled and deadly swordsman during the Edo Period. The character was originally created by the Japanese writer Kan Shimozawa (1892 - 1968) in 1948 in his short story Tale of Zatoichi. When Daiei purchased the rights to the story and began the process of turning it into a feature film, the screenwriter Minoru Inuzuka (1901 - 2007) expanded the Zatôichi role, taking him from a more minor character and turning him into a hero of virtually mythical proportions, whom the cinema historian John Berra has referred to as the "Robin Hood of Japan." 
For the role of Zatoichi, the production selected Shintarô Katsu (1931 - 1997), an up-and-coming actor who had a supporting part in Misumi's Shaka two years previously. By no means classically handsome, Katsu combined both the pathos and physical agility necessary to bring his unusual role to life.
In The Tale of Zatoichi, the masseur, due to his great skill as a fighter, is hired by a yakuza boss to participate in a battle against a rival gang. The opposing side's main combatant, the ronin Miki Hirate (played by Shigeru Amachi), happens to be friendly with Ichi. (Ichi is the character's actual name. The prefix Zatô merely designates Ichi's class, which is that of a lowly blind man.) Inevitably the day comes when Ichi and Hirate must face each other in a duel to the death and the blind swordsman is victorious. Ichi then leaves the scene of his bittersweet triumph to wander off into the countryside, wanting nothing more to do with yakuza conflicts.
Ifukube's Tale of Zatôichi score is markedly sparse; certainly, most of the film has no music in it all. Even the film's dramatic high point, the climactic sword fight between Ichi and Hirate, has not one note of score. In many ways, this is not surprising if one takes into consideration Ifukube's personal feelings about the role that music should play in films. The composer was well known in the Japanese film industry for his "less is more" attitude: "I became famous for eliminating music," the composer once explained.  In a 1986 interview with the film commentator Randall Larson, Ifukube expounded upon this minimalist philosophy: "When music starts to create its own world, visual and dramatic elements get pushed away. I think film music must has its own microcosm. The perfect sound will have no room for visual and dramatic phrases. Music has to sacrifice itself for other things. I do not like any scene in which drama, color and music are equally balanced. A scene can be just beautiful, dramatic or full of music, but it should not be a mixture of all three. In other words, each scene should not contain each element to the same degree. A musical work can be weak dramatically. An opera might have a very simple story. The life of a movie is in its camera work and its drama. Music is only to support the above. That is how I feel." 
That The Tale of Zatôichi makes such little use of music serves as an outstanding illustration of the aforementioned, exceptional artistic liberty that Misumi granted to Ifukube. Whereas other directors might have pushed Ifukube to have written more music, especially for the fight scenes, Misumi trusted Ifukube's idea that the intrinsic drama of those scenes required no aural augmentation whatsoever.
Of the music that Ifukube did supply, however, perhaps Zatôichi's most memorable cue is the one written for the opening credits: It is an imposingly rhythmic andantino for orchestra underscored with the twang of a rapidly strummed biwa, a type of Japanese lute, and the drum-like pulsations of an Electone, an electronic organ first prodcued by Yamaha in 1959.
As the soundtracks for films like The Mysterians and Battle in Outer Space demonstrate, Ifukube felt more comfortable to experiement with unsual instrumental effects in his movie music than in his concert works; Zatôichi certainly reinforces this notion; it is probably Ifukube's first notable film score to employ an electronic instrument and, as it turns out, the composer would go on to make ready use of the Electone in several of his subsequent cinematic compositions. Even a relative traditionalist like Ifukube was certainly open, in certain contexts, to trying new things in order to create the right effect.******
The Tale of Zatôichi was released on April 18 and was an immediate critical and financial hit. Although Ifukube's contributions to the film were ultimately minimal, having his name attached to the film was certainly a huge feather in his cap. As it turned out, this cinematic success was only the first of more to come in 1962.
By the time The Tale of Zatôichi made its debut throughout Japan, Toho had started pre-production on their latest foray into the kaiju eiga genre, King Kong vs. Godzilla. The story of how King Kong made his way into a Japanese Godzilla film is somewhat circuitous, starting with an original idea by Willis O'Brien. O'Brien (1886 - 1962) was the special effects genius who employed stop motion techniques to give birth to the simian beast in the original 1933 film produced by RKO. He would eventually acquire the rights to the Kong character from RKO - the studio had become defunct in 1959 - and, about a year later in 1960, he wanted to produce a new film in which his big ape battles another famous creature, the Frankenstein monster. With RKO out of the picture and no way to fund the production himself, O'Brien began to shop his idea to various Hollywood producers. Amazingly, nobody took an interest in his concept - nobody, that is, except for a certain John Beck. Beck (1909 - 1993) was by no means an A-list producer, but he wasn't without any credentials either, having produced a bona fide hit film, Harvey, starring James Stewart, in 1950.
Beck was apparently intrigued by the notion of a "monster versus monster" picture and purchased the King Kong vs. Frankenstein rights. Then Beck himself began to make his own rounds throughout Hollywood looking for a studio to back the film but, unfortunately, he met the same fate as O'Brien and was refused at every turn. Ultimately unable to secure any interest in the proposed film stateside, Beck turned his attention to Toho. Since the Japanese studio had established a solid reputation for its own growing canon of monster films internationally, Toho seemed to be a logical place to pitch the idea.
Indeed, Toho took a solid interest in Beck's proposal, but only to acquire the rights to Kong. The studio felt that their own property, Godzilla, would be the best monster to take on the gargantuan gorilla and would only go forward if Beck allowed for Godzilla's inclusion in a reworked scenario. It seems that Beck was more than comfortable with this - or perhaps he didn't care. Thus a deal was struck and King Kong was now in Toho's hands.
For what would now be their third Godzilla movie, Toho rallied their staff of monster specialists: Shinichi Sekizawa would pen the screenplay, Ishiro Honda would direct and, as expected, Eiji Tsuburaya would be in charge of the special effects. When Ifukube was asked to score the film, the composer - by now a monster specialist himself - quickly said yes.
Sekizawa's script was unusual in that it was part monster film, part social satire. It involves the unscrupulous, bumbling Mr. Tako (brilliantly played by Ichirô Arishima) the president of Pacific Pharmaceuticals. Vexed that the television shows his company sponsors have lackluster ratings, Tako gets the idea that he should send an expedition to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific to find a legendary giant ape, Kong, and bring him back to Japan. There is a reason for this absurd idea: If Kong appears in Pacific Pharmaceuticals' television commercials, it would garner the company more publicity and increase the viewership of its television programs!
Thus the Pacific Pharmaceuticals explorers Osamu Sakurai and Kinsaburo Furue (played by Tadao Takashima and Yu Fujiki, respectively) travel to (the fictitious) Faro Island, Kong's purported home in the Solomon Islands chain near Bougainville, to find and capture the monster. Upon their arrival to Faro, the expedition team is met by slightly hostile natives who, despite some initial trepidation, eventually welcome the outsiders to their village. In the village, Sakurai and Furue observe the natives preparing a juice made from large red berries; this fruit has a powerful narcotic effect and its juice is used to incapacitate Kong should he ever become too restless and threaten the natives who, in fact, worship him as a god.
One evening, a giant octopus slithers ashore and attacks the native village. The resultant commotion caused by the octopus's unwelcome incursion attracts Kong who quickly defeats the tentacled beast. Apparently in celebration of his victory, Kong grabs several large terra cotta pots filled with the red berry juice and has a few drinks. The consumption of the juice knocks Kong out cold and this prompts the natives to perform a ceremonial song and dance around the sleeping giant in order to further appease him. Sakurai and Furue take adverting of Kong's vulnerable state by shackling him to a huge raft to tug him back to Japan with their ship.
Meanwhile, Godzilla has also made an appearance, unexpectedly emerging from an iceberg in the Arctic Ocean. The huge reptile then sets a direct course for Japan eventually making landfall in Hokkaido where he quickly demolishes a military base.
Back in the Pacific, Kong breaks free from the raft and, instead of returning to Faro Island, he decides himself to make a beeline for Japan. Inevitably, Kong and Godzilla meet face to face on the main island of Honshu and engage in two spectacular battles, naturally causing plenty of mayhem and destruction. The final skirmish, which begins at the base of Mount Fuji and ends at the coast, results in both behemoths toppling into the sea. Only Kong is seen to return to the water's surface; with Godzilla nowhere in sight, Kong finally begins his long swim back to Faro Island.
The overriding satirical element in King Kong vs. Godzilla is Sekigawa and Honda's skewering of the growing trend of "rampant commercialism," as the Godzilla expert Steve Ryfle once called it, in 1960s Japan.  Ryfle states that "the postwar gloom that hung over Japan during Godzilla's first rampage was replaced by newfound economic prosperity and guarded optimism under Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda's reform programs. Just as director Ishiro Honda captured Japan's uneasiness about nuclear testing in the first Godzilla movie, he now seized upon another social dilemma [...] Television was still a relatively new phenomenon in Japan in 1962, and ratings wars were turning the medium into a circus." Ryfle continues: "(King Kong vs. Godzilla) is a great parody of Japanese corporate greed and ruthlessness in the advertising age, symbolized by Mr. Tako, the foolhardy publicity man willing to risk the the safety of an entire nation to hype his company's products through a television program." 
The whimsical, more comical elements of the film were not limited to Mr. Tako and his harebrained schemes. On his end of the production, Eiji Tsuburaya elected to lighten up much of the monster action by staging the battles between Kong and Godzilla as if they were gigantic wresting matches: The two monsters (or, more accurately, the suit actors Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla and Soichi Hirosei as Kong) grapple, jump, flip and tumble with spirited abandon, and, at one point, even hurl huge boulders back and forth to each other as if they were massive beach balls!
Despite the prevalent satirical and comedic components of King Kong vs. Godzilla, Akira Ifukube was determined not to let them affect his approach to scoring the film; he was not at any point going to write silly, "dumbed-down" music. Rather, it was his resolution to treat the subject matter with the same high level of seriousness, thoughtfulness and respect as any other high profile film assignment. So seriously did Ifukube take this music, in fact, that when it came to the task of creating lyrics for the Faro Islanders to sing while worshipping Kong, he set aside the time to research the actual languages of the the Solomon Islands - more specifically, of the Bougainville area - to give linguistic authenticity to their chants.
While conducting his research, Ifukube apparently consulted a book printed in 1922 entitled Mono-Alu Folklore by Gerald Camden Wheeler. Wheeler (1872 - 1943), a Briton who in 1908 had personally visited the Bougainville Straight in the Western Solomon Islands to undertake a comprehensive survey of that region's indigenous folklore, complied the fruits of his labor into this meticulously conceived ethnological text. All of the material that Wheeler collected was in Mono-Alu, a little-known language spoken on Bougainville and several nearby islands. 
One of those nearby islands is called, probably not too coincidentally, Fauro. (It has to be assumed that King Kong vs. Godzilla's screenwriter Sekizawa based the name of his fictitious Faro Island on the real-life Fauro Island!) Wheeler spent time on tiny Fauro during his expedition (the land mass has a mere area of ten by six miles) and recorded the Mono-Alu lyrics of several traditional songs that were commonly sung by the native inhabitants. For obvious reasons, while poring over Wheeler's book, Ifukube was drawn specifically to the lyrics collected from Fauro due to its similarity to "Faro."
For King Kong vs. Godzilla, Ifukube wrote two principal musical numbers that require sung lyrics: The irresistibly rhythmic first one (A si anaroi...) is heard during the film's opening credits and is repeated in the scene where the Faro Islanders dance around Kong's sleeping body. (It also reoccurs during a scene later in film after Kong has gone on a solo rampage of metropolitan Tokyo.) The second, more solemn number (Atipa tiriroroi ate...) is heard when Sakurai and Furue first arrive in the native village. Both numbers make use of words from two of Wheeler's songs, Song 75 on page 140 of his book and Song 77 on page 141.
Instead of taking the entirety of either song and setting it to music, Ifukube elected to take a word here, a phrase there and compile them into what is, in essence, his own original hodgepodge of authentic Mono-Alu words. For example, note how the A si anaroi lyrics amalgamates elements from both Songs 75 and 77:
si anaroi aseke samoai
Now observe how the Atipa tiriroroi ate lyrics make use of words primarily culled from Song 77:
Since both chants are nothing more than a mixture of disparate elements, it follows that the lyrics in this context have no real meaning unto themselves; that is, Ifukube selected the words not for what they represent semantically, but rather, for the quality of their sounds and their rhythmic possibilities.**** Magunu nitu, however, is exceptional: It's meaning is quite significant.
In both sets of Ifukube's lyrics, the element Magunu nitu prominently appears despite being absent from the two original resource songs. Their inclusion in the Kong chants is by no means arbitrary: the word Magunu appears on page 13 of Wheeler's book in the context of a folk tale. Magunu is the name of a type of thunder god. The word nitu is ever-present throughout Wheeler's anthology; it is a common Mono-Alu word denoting "spirit," "supernatural being" or "fantastic or legendary creature."  Therefore, a possible translation for Magunu nitu could be "Legendary Spirit of Thunder."
This is important to note because, in Honda's film, King Kong is closely associated with thunder and lightning. When Sakurai and Furue first arrive in the village on Faro Island, a storm quickly gathers and the natives, in quite a bit of panic, being to sing Atipa tiriroi ate. Lightning shoots across the dark gray skies and thunder rumbles. Then, piercing through the clamor of the storm, a jarring howl - that of King Kong - rings out from the distant mountains. Later in the film, during Kong and Godzilla's final fight near Mount Fuji, Kong is temporarily knocked unconscious. Out of nowhere, storm clouds take shape above the monsters' battle ground and, with the terrifying crashes of thunder inundating the soundtrack, Kong is struck by several bolts of lightning. The "Legendary Spirit of Thunder" is reenergized by the lightning and now, stronger than ever, returns to the fight.
Kong's relationship to thunder is further solidified by the film's two sound designers, Hisashi Shimonaga and Sadamasa Nishimoto. To craft Kong's deeply guttural roar, the two engineers took a thunder sound effect and layered on top of it the growl of a lion and the bellow of an elephant. 
It is clear, therefore, that Ifukube was well aware of the the film's King Kong / thunder relationship during his study of the Wheeler text. Ifukube conscientiously researched the book well enough to discover how to say "Legendary Spirit of Thunder" - or something along those lines - in Mono-Alu in order to add at least one direct reference to Kong in his chant lyrics.
Incidentally, the element rau that concludes both chants does not appear anywhere in Mono-Alu Folklore and therefore may simply be a word of the composer's own invention.
Lyrics aside, in terms of Ifukube's actual score for King Kong vs. Godzilla, it is substantially less clear to what extent the composer researched the traditional music of the Solomon Islands. Assuming that Ifukube was at least semi-cognizant of the region's musical practices, we can be assured that certain instrumental choices, such as his use of a marimba and two congas in the impressive Main Title cue, are not at random and are meant to bring to mind sounds that are tangibly redolent of the South Pacific.*****
In addition to the "old world" sounds of the marimba and congas, the Main Title marks the composer's return to the decidedly more "new world" Electone organ. As in Zatôichi, Ifukube's Electone in King Kong vs. Godzilla is virtually never used as a melodic instrument. Rather, the composer employs it to create menacing, "far out"-sounding pedals (sustained single notes or chords) to add a layer of weirdness to his otherwise traditional orchestration.
In writing themes for Kong, Godzilla and the giant octopus - referred to as the "Devil Fish" in the manuscript - Ifukube resorts to his tried-and-true technique of utilizing chromaticism to express that which is monstrous. Godzilla's music in this film is not yet the GO-ji-ra GO-ji-ra theme that is today so inextricably linked to the character. Rather, it is a refashioning of the "rampage" music heard during the beast's nocturnal attacks in the original 1954 film.
The chromaticism in the octopus music is especially effective: The rising and falling chromatic figures in the strings combined with the drawn-out downward glissandi on the trombones serve as vivid aural illustrations of a slithering, slimy "devil fish."
King Kong vs. Godzilla marked the fifth time that Ifukube had worked with the director Ishiro Honda. As was the case with Kenji Misumi, Honda believed in giving Ifukube uncommon amounts of artistic freedom when scoring his films. Because of this, Ifukube enjoyed working with Honda as much as he did with Misumi.******* "Basically speaking, our relationship was very good," Ifukube said to Ed Godziszewski in 1995. "Mr. Honda was genuinely a gentleman. [T]here was never any quarrel between us, and I enjoyed working with him very much. He always told me 'Mr. Ifukube, I am totally ignorant about music, so I'll give you total freedom about it.' But in truth, Mr. Honda was quite knowledgeable about music. He very much enjoyed the recording sessions for the score. All of the other directors confined themselves to the recording booth, but Mr. Honda came right up to me, listening and watching. Especially I remember in recording the dance music of King Kong vs. Godzilla, I told him, "Mr. Honda, I'll add much more percussion here.' But Mr. Honda claimed back, 'No, it's not necessary. It's perfect.' He knew very well. We had this kind of conversation all them time. Mr. Honda was very earnest and heartwarming...it was his personality." 
When King Kong vs. Godzilla opened on August 11, it was a smash hit. Having sold 11.2 million tickets, it made even bigger financial gains than the original Godzilla outing in 1954. 
As 1962 was coming to a close, Ifukube wrote the music for the high profile epic Chushingura, released on November 3. Toho's Chushingura, directed by Hiroshi Inagaki, was an all-star production of the famous 18th century historical event in which forty-seven ronin, or masterless samurai, band together to avenge the death of their daimyô, or lord. (The term Chushingura is the title given to any fictionalized representation of the Forty-Seven Ronin incident that appears in literature, the theater or in films.) For this film, whose cast included such luminaries as Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Yûzô Kayama, Tatsuya Mihashi and Akira Takarada, Ifukube provides a serviceable, if generally unremarkable score. Perhaps the two standout moments from Ifukube's Chushingura music are heard during the opening credits and the battle of the film's climax. The melancholy, slow moving Main Title music, with its mixed choir and koto flourishes, is certainly reminicent of the opening of The Birth of Japan, if not as immediately inspired. The battle music is sufficiently exciting and, with its roaring brass, pounding percussion and gomiti tone clusters from the piano, it could have very easily been lifted from one of Ifukube's kaiju scores. It seems that to some extent, while writing this music, Ifukube did indeed have monsters on the mind: a variation of his three-note "GO-ji-ra, GO-ji-ra" motif is worked several times into this clamorous cue.
thus Ifukube, literally as well as figuratively, ended 1962 with a
* I have often mused on the significance of this. Ifukube stated time and again that he was first and foremost a composer of concert works and that film music was less important to him artistically. It was, more or less, a means to a financial end to him. Therefore, it is striking that the composer would go on to devote most of his time and energy to writing film music. One suspects that Ifukube turned primarily to writing film scores because he enjoyed the mass praise that he received for his works in this field. Did film music end up becoming, ironically, a more satisfying artistic endeavor from him as a result of the ceaseless admiration he received?
** Fox's Sword Dance is another ballet work that, as of now, remains obscure in Akira Ifukube's history. It seems to have been quickly forgotten after its completion and today it is considered lost. There are virtually no writings available to reference it. A researcher's work is never done, certainly, and as soon as I am able to dig up more information on this elusive work, I will add commentary about it to this text.
*** Chanbara is the word used to describe the genre of Japanese swordplay films. The term is onomatopoeic: Chanbara, to Japanese ears, resembles the sound of clanging swords.
**** G.C. Wheeler often provides English translations and / or summaries for the Mono-Alu songs and tales that he includes in his book. For example, and obviously, Song 75 (A si anaroi...) has absolutely nothing to do with King Kong, let alone any other type of giant monster. In fact, it is about a canoe race! The reoccuring word samoai in that song means "sawfish," which is a species of shark. In this context, Samoai is the name of the canoe in the race. Song 77 (Atipa tiriroroi ate...) is ostensibly about an old man smoking a pipe and observing a distant American ship, or sikuna marikan, from the shore. Could this image of the American ship be an exceedingly well veiled reference on the part of Ifukube to the first King Kong film of 1933? Though a tempting thought, this seems quite unlikely to me.
***** In the film, the natives are seen playing indigenous instruments whenever Ifukube's purely orchestral music is playing.
****** Although electric instruments would continue in Ifukube's film scores all the way until the end of his cinematic career, he never once used one in any of this concert compositions.
******* Ifukube once said his two favorite directors to work with were Ishiro Honda and Kenji Misumi.
Katayama, Morihide. Liner notes for Akira Ifukube: Anthology of
vox principal works. Camerata. 1995.
© Erik Homenick. All rights reserved