Part XII - A New Direction


Akira Ifukube and his lute, 1970

At the very start of 1970, Ifukube completed yet another guitar work, Toccata for Guitar. Markedly more rhythmically driven than either Tôka or Kugoka, Toccata is an attractive yet brooding work based on ancient Japanese modes. As its name openly suggests, the work requires relentlessly quick fingering in a campanella style easily redolent of Spanish guitar. Ifukube dedicated the work to the famed Japanese guitar virtuoso, Yasuo Abe (1925-1999), who had studied under Adrés Segovia. Immediately after its completion, Toccata was published in the April issue of Gendai Gitâ (Modern Guitar), a Japanese guitar magazine. Unfortunately, scant other information about this work is currently available; while the date and place of Toccata's premiere is seemingly lost to history, it is known that it was Abe who performed it in public for the first time.

January 15 saw the premiere of yet another Zatoichi sequel, Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (Zatôichi to Yojinbo). Directed by Kihachi Okamoto (1924-2005) and scored by Ifukube, this film pits Shintaro Katsu's perennially popular Zatoichi against a scheming, roguish character named Daisaku Sasa, played with great gusto by Toshiro Mifune. While Sasa is not a direct carry-over from Akira Kurosawa's two highly successful samurai films Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962), Mifune's character was expressly written to be similar enough, hence the film's title. Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo certainly delivers the action-packed thrills--much of it unapologetically bloody--that one would expect from a film featuring a face-off between two of Japan's most beloved cinematic swordsmen and Ifukube's score, while not doing much to break any new ground, adds apt flourishes to the overall production. The music accompanying the main titles is perhaps the most instrumentally interesting, requiring a harpsichord and combo organ (a precursor to the modern synthesizer) in addition to his standard orchestra. Continuing his experimentation with electronic instruments in his film scores, Ifukube's use of the combo organ in Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, with its strange, metallic-sounding ostinato pulse, adds a subtle touch of far out modernism to an otherwise run-of-the-mill period film score.


A publicity still from Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo.

Not long after the release of Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, Ifukube began work on a new score for Toho, but the music in question was this time not for a film. Rather, Ifukube was writing for a massive multimedia exhibit, the Mitsubishi Future Pavilion, at the Expo '70 world's fair to take place in Osaka starting on March 15. Expo '70, the first international event of its kind ever to take place in Japan, showcased the latest in technological advancements and the newest cultural trends from around the world. The fair, whose theme was "Progress and Humanity for Mankind," afforded Japan a unique opportunity to flaunt its own progress twenty-five years after the end of World War II and demonstrate to the world that it had become an international player of the highest caliber.

As is the case at any world's fair, the grounds of Expo '70 were home to a multitude of temporary pavilions where various entities, either individual companies or entire nations, could present to the world their most exciting innovations and visions for the future. Several Japanese firms established pavilions at the Expo, including Mitsubishi Motors Corporation. The Mitsubishi Future Pavilion sought to articulate through a wide variety spectacular multimedia displays how Japan's natural resources could be harnessed to the benefit of mankind in the twenty-first century.


Photo Photo of the exterior of the Mitsubishi Future Pavilion.
Image courtesy of Sam Scali.

Since the Mitsubishi Future Pavilion was to depict through films, elaborate miniatures, and other visuals a futuristic utopia worthy of a good science fiction story, Mitsubishi contacted Tomoyuki Tanaka, Toho's prolific producer of special effects-intensive fantasy films, to create the exhibit. Tanaka accepted the task and in earnest went about the business of assembling a team sufficiently capable of fulfilling Mitsubishi's ambitious demands. To invent futuristic scenarios, Tanaka engaged the respected science fiction writers Masami Fukushima, Shinichi Hoshi, and Tetsu Yano. [1] Tanaka hired an ailing Eiji Tsuburaya, then aged 68, and his team of technicians to bring the writers' ideas to life. Undoubtedly, Ifukube was brought on board due to his expertise in science fiction music. To supervise the overall completion of the project, Tanaka chose an up-and-coming director, Yoshimitsu Banno.

By the time he was handpicked by Tanaka to oversee the creation of the Mitsubishi Future Pavilion, Banno (1931-2017) had served as an assistant director on roughly a dozen films, including Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (1957) and The Hidden Fortress (1958). Although he had never previously directed his own film--or managed a project of this type, for that matter--clearly Tanaka deemed Banno capable enough to take full control of this complicated and highly unusual enterprise.

Among Banno's most outstanding contributions to the pavilion was his footage of an erupting volcano. Backed by Mitsubishi's ample funds, Banno was personally able to travel to the Big Island of Hawaii to photograph eruptions at Kilauea. [2] The principal task of Tsuburaya and his team, which included his chief assistant and protégé Teruyoshi Nakano (b. 1935), was to conceive and film a special effects storm sequence taking place at sea and build a wide range of moving mechanical models. All appeared to be going well for the special effects unit until midway through production of his storm footage when, on January 25, Tsuburaya died suddenly of a heart attack. Certainly, the pioneer technician's passing sent a huge shockwave throughout the Japanese film industry, especially at Toho. While there are no definitive records outlining how long the production on the storm footage was halted in response to Tsuburaya's death, it was assuredly not a long pause; the sequence needed to be ready for use in less than two months. Teruyoshi Nakano took over in his former master's stead immediately.

Tsuburaya's memorial service took place at Toho on February 2. Presiding over the event was Masumi Fujimoto, the studio's president. Attending the service were all of Tsuburaya's former colleagues including Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishiro Honda, the Godzilla suit actor Haruo Nakajima, and Akira Ifukube. Ifukube had tremendous affection for Tsuburaya, a man whom the composer felt to be humble, humorous, and a true imaginative genius. According to the composer's son Kiwami, Tsuburaya was one of his father's favorite people to work with in the film industry. Ifukube once recalled that on his way home from the memorial service, he got off the bus at Jiyugaoka just outside of Setagaya and stopped at a shop to replace his broken pocket watch with a new one. Ifukube bought a brand-new Omega timepiece in Tsuburaya's memory and thought of his old friend every time that he looked at it. [3]

Tsuburaya was laid to rest at Fuchu Catholic Cemetery in Tokyo.


Eiji Tsuburaya's grave.
Image courtesy of Brett Homenick.

Ifukube wrote a considerable amount of music for the various exhibits within the walls of the Future Pavilion, and it is uniformly excellent. Each individual piece was played on loudspeakers in a constant loop in its corresponding room and was accompanied by a recorded narration explaining the significance of the visual elements.

Upon entering the Future Pavilion, visitors took an escalator which moved into the first section of the exhibit, titled Japan's Nature, which begins by showing colorful images of the four seasons in Japan. Ifukube's music here is appropriately peaceful but soon turns turbulent as the spectators are taken by the Travator, a moving walkway, into the second section of the Japan's Nature area, a large room housing a special projection system showing Tsuburaya and Nakano's frightening special effects typhoon. Banno himself described this projection technology: "The projection system was called 'Holimiror' and was the the first exhibition technique of its kind in the world by projecting onto large screens (twenty meters wide and ten meters high) with two 70mm projectors and a combination of mirrors. Each mirror edge attached to the screens like boxes at five degree angles. Images on both screens constantly reflected on the mirrors and wrap the spectators in 360 degrees (of projected images)...The audience feels and experiences an overwhelming sense of natural wonder by being totally wrapped in this three-dimensional audiovisual world." [4] Ifukube's music for this room is appropriately tempestuous and melodramatic, easily evoking falling sheets of rain with its icy string tremolos. The trombones snarl and the gong crashes in colorful imitations of thunder claps.


Concept art of the Storm Room.


The Storm Room.
Image courtesy of Sam Scali.

Next, the Travator ushers the public into the second Holimiror room showing the footage of Kilauea's eruptions. (Although the footage is from Hawaii, it is meant to represent Japan's volcanic origins.) As in the Storm Room, Ifukube's music here makes for a perfect accompaniment to the visuals. The music unfolds at an urgent tempo, which is accentuated by restless strings and the constant, frenetic beating of the timpani. Surly glissandos from the brass immediately bring to mind jets of spewing lava. Certainly, the sensory stimulation brought about my these all-enveloping images and the blasts of Ifukube's music must have been staggering; Banno recalled that one woman exclaimed "Ah, this is like hell!" upon entering the Volcano Room. [5]


Concept art of the Volcano Room.


The Volcano Room.
Image courtesy of Sam Scali.

After taking in these combined images of Japan's natural environment, visitors are moved into the remaining rooms that envisage a prosperous future. In the Japan's Sky section, space stations and weather monitoring systems are described with a combination of models and dioramas created by Tsuburaya's team. Ifukube's space music is wonderfully eerie thanks to its sul ponticello drones from the strings. High register notes from the piano accompanied by vibraphone flourishes aurally illustrate the flickering of stars. An Electone contributes to the feeling of space age mystery and weird glissandos from a musical saw are indeed the icing on Ifukube's cosmic cake.


Concept art for Japan's Sky.


Revolving space station model in the Japan's Sky Room.
Image courtesy of Sam Scali.

In the Japan's Sea section more multimedia elements, including smoke screens upon which film footage of deep sea fish is projected, predict that in the near future mankind will produce food and energy beneath the waves. After this the final section of the exhibition, Japan's Earth, treats the spectators to the shape of things to come in the domain of urban development. Japan's Earth is divided into two sub-areas: Land, in which the visitors are whisked through huge models of futuristic cityscapes, and the Recreation Room, where public leisure activities in the year 2020, such as dancing at the discotheque, are conceptualized. Ifukube's Land music is strikingly majestic and employs a haunting, angelic female choir that conjures feelings of considerable awe. There are also stately declarations on the trumpets, which are tantalizingly evocative of the 17th century British composer Henry Purcell's march from his Funeral of Queen Mary (1695). The music heard in the Recreation Room is not the raucous dance music that one might expect; rather, it is conspicuously subdued and, in fact, an adaptation of a march melody only recently composed for Ishiro Honda's Destroy All Monsters. Scored for flute, piano, celesta, vibraphone, and a snare drum struck with brushes, the Recreation Room music is gentle, shimmering, and even slightly glum.


Concept art for Japan's Sea.


Concept art for Japan's Earth.


Concept art for the Recreation Room.


The Recreation Room.
Image courtesy of Sam Scali.

According to Banno, the Mitsubishi Future Pavilion was a tremendous success and he estimated that over eleven million people visited the attraction during its run at the fair. Among those who passed through its walls were the famed science fiction writers Martin Aldiss and Arthur C. Clarke. [6] The pavilion closed and was torn down after the end of Expo '70, which was on September 13.

August 1 saw the release of a Toho's newest giant monster film, Ishiro Honda's Space Amoeba (Gezora, Ganime, Kamêba: Kessen! Nankai no Daikaijû). Despite the introduction of three new giant monsters, Gezora, Ganime, and Kameba--a giant squid, crab, and turtle, respectively--the film offers nothing truly original in terms of kaiju action and suffers from sub-par production values resulting from a tighter than normal budget and a rushed schedule. Ifukube, who wrote the score for this film mere months after his outstanding Mitsubishi Future Pavilion endeavor, was clearly caught up in the general malaise of the rest of the film's crew: there is virtually nothing remarkable about the music for Space Amoeba; it is simply another exercise in the composer's ready-made, all-purpose monster bombast. Ifukube's lack of inventiveness here is perhaps best illustrated by his brazen recycling of the Faro Island chant made famous in King Kong vs. Godzilla less than a decade earlier. In Space Amoeba, the chant is sung by an indigenous population living on the fictitious south seas island of Selgio. Aside from some subtle differences in orchestration, the Selgio chant is musically identical to the the Faro chant. The most salient difference between the two are Ifukube's new lyrics for the Selgio islanders:

Imokisaku soamu a
Usami sanemoto i ma kagau
Usami sanemoto i ma kagau
Imokisaku soamu a
Imokisaku soamu a
Usami sanemoto i ma kagau
Usami sanemoto i ma kagau
Etora hoikisa eamutekusato
Etora hoikisa eamutekusato
Rau rau rau
Rau rau rau

Despite his thoughtful use of real languages in past science fiction scores that required native chants such as King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Undersea Warship, it appears that, in Space Amoeba, Ifukube merely made up nonsense words to match the rhythmic flow of the music. It is not known why Ifukube put less effort than normal into the Selgio chant, but based on the multiple extant anecdotes that describe the hurried production of Space Amoeba, it is likely that the composer simply did not have enough time to compose a piece that was more linguistically authentic.

On September 18, not long after the premiere of Space Amoeba (and five days after the closure of Expo '70), Ifukube debuted a new song commissioned by the Hokkaido town of Otofuke where the composer-to-be had lived between the ages of nine and twelve and where his father Toshizo had served as mayor. Otofuke Town Song is a brief, sentimental, and even slightly mournful work written for solo voice and small orchestra. The lyrics to the song were penned by Hiroshi Mimura, a local writer. Otofuke Town Song was recorded and received a limited SP release by Columbia Records. Ifukube's work is found on the B-side of the recording; on the A-side is another albeit slightly earlier commissioned piece, Otofuke Ondô by the Mothra composer Yuji Koseki. (An ondô is a type of rhythmic folk dance in 2/4 time often performed at public festivals such as Obon.) Otofuke Ondô had been requested by Otofuke in 1968 to mark the seventieth anniversary of the town's founding.


Cover of the Otofuke Ondô/Otofuke Town Song SP release.
Image courtesy of Sam Scali.


Reproduction of Ifukube's Otofuke Town Song manuscript in the album booklet.
Image courtesy of Sam Scali.

After a moderately busy 1970, Ifukube took the majority of 1971 off, producing no new music at all. Really, 1971 marked the beginning of the composer's period of taking his life and career in a new direction: after over two decades of relentless work within the film industry, Ifukube was surely financially stable enough to begin to make an exit from that field. And since his concert output had been quite limited over the previous decade of the 1960s--he composed a mere six works, only two of which, Fox's Sword Dance and Ritmica Ostinata, were orchestral--Ifukube desired to take advantage of the financial comfort that he had worked so hard to attain and focus on what was, for him, his true artistic calling, the composition of concert works.

As in 1971, Ifukube composed no film music in 1972. Even if he had wanted to write movie scores, there wasn't much opportunity, anyway. Not long after the release of Space Amoeba, significant changes came to Toho and practically every other major Japanese film studio. Audience attendance numbers across the board had been dropping since at least the early 1960s and consequently studios were no longer raking in the yen like they used to. Inevitably, sweeping budget cuts and layoffs hit Japan's film industry severely. At Toho, the downsizing was tremendous: long-standing contracts among the studio's sizable stable of actors and crew members were reduced to the barest of minimums and, by 1972, Toho had cut its annual film production by roughly fifty percent. When new films were made, crews were hired on a per-project basis. [7]

Godzilla vs. Gigan, which was released in the very midst of this period of austerity on March 12, bespeaks very clearly of Toho's financial woes. Since Ishiro Honda had gone into retirement after Space Amoeba, to direct the film Toho selected Jun Fukuda (1923-2000), a specialist in action and comedy films who had helmed two Godzilla outings, Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966) and Son of Godzilla (1967), the previous decade. The special effects were handled by Teruyoshi Nakano. Godzilla vs. Gigan pits Godzilla and his tag team partner Anguirus against King Ghidorah and a new menace, the birdlike space invader Gigan. In addition to Nakano's original (and mostly competent) FX work in the film, a healthy amount of stock footage from Toho's previous monster romps, such as Ghidorah's Tokyo attack from Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, was spliced into Gigan to avoid the high costs of filming original destruction scenes. Further exposing the frugal nature of the production was the raggedy Godzilla suit: having been used (and abused) in three previous films, by time it made its fourth appearance in Godzilla vs. Gigan, the suit was in desperate need of repairs--repairs apparently too costly to make--as evidenced by the visible tears under the arms and the chunks of it that can be seen falling off during fight scenes. (Incidentally, Godzilla vs. Gigan marked the last time that Haruo Nakajima would play Godzilla after a run of almost two decades.)

Godzilla vs. Gigan's soundtrack is composed exclusively of moneysaving stock music, all of it by Ifukube. The cue heard over the main titles is the Volcano music from the rather recent Mitsubishi Future Pavilion at Expo '70 and during a scene in which Anguirus is taking a particularly bad beating from King Ghidorah and Gigan, the same exhibition's Storm music is recycled to surprisingly dramatic effect.


Poster for Godzilla vs. Gigan.

As 1972 drew to a close, November 21 saw the debut of Ifukube's latest concert work, Rondo in Burlesque for Wind Band, which had been commissioned by the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra. Founded in 1960, the TKWO has long been considered to be one of the world's finest ensembles of its type and certainly by 1972, when it requested the Rondo from Ifukube, it had already enjoyed a prestigious reputation.

Like any rondo, Rondo in Burlesque contains a principal theme (Theme A) that repeatedly alternates with several additional contrasting themes. Theme A of the Rondo is an adaptation of a march from Ifukube's score for The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon, Themes B and C are sourced from Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, and Theme D originally appeared in Varan. As Themes B, C, and D persistently interchange with Theme A over the course of the music's roughly ten minute duration, the pulsating, bolero-like excitement of the music builds to an exhilaratingly emphatic crescendo. Rondo in Burlesque's first performance took place at the Hibiya Public Hall with Yukinori Tezuka conducting the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra.

While working on Rondo in Burlesque in 1972, the composer had also been piecing together another commissioned work. Ifukube was approached by the Agency of Cultural Affairs, a governmental body recently established in 1968 to promote Japanese arts, to write a work exclusively for traditional Japanese instruments. Fulfilling the Agency's request, the end result of Ifukube's labor was Eikyo Bintatara for 16 Japanese Instruments.

Eikyo Bintatara takes its inspiration from the gagaku, or court music, of Japan's medieval Heian Period. Eikyo refers to a type of sung music of particular popularity during this period; curiously, Ifukube's composition is completely instrumental despite the suggestion of the title. As for the instruments in Ifukube's piece, they are two shinobue (transverse bamboo flute); ryûteki (transverse bamboo flute); nôkan (transverse bamboo flute); hichirki (double reed Japanese flute); shô (mouth organ); kotsuzumi (small adjustable pitch drum); two taiko (large drum); gakudaiko (large hanging drum); chikuzen biwa (Japanese lute); satsuma biwa (Japanese lute); three 13-string koto (Japanese plucked zither); one 17-string koto.

Ifukube noted that in music for an ensemble of traditional Japanese instruments, such as in gagaku, the sound of the music may seem thin: this is due to a general lack of a continuous bass line, or "background," from the instruments capable of producing mid- and low-range pitches. This is in contrast to customs within Western music where a more distinct and constant lower pitched bass line, such as a baroque basso continuo, is usually more important. On this point, Ifukube made the following remark:

"When you put traditional Japanese instruments together, you will find that none of them has a sustained tone in their low- and middle-pitched ranges. While the lack of a sustained tone makes us feel a compositional problem, this is also a traditional sense of beauty in Japanese music. As it is often mentioned, when (the artist) Ike no Taiga was asked about the most difficult aspect of painting a picture, he answered in the following way: 'the most difficult part is to deal with the unpainted parts of the paper.' In painting, contrary to the Western style that seeks to fill the background with detail, the Japanese style draws an object and boldly leaves the other parts blank. This idea seems to lead to the musical thinking that does not compensate for low- and middle-pitched sounds with a sustained tone. What I attempted in Eikyo Bintatara was to express this idea." [8]

In other words, in keeping with gagaku tradition, Eikyo Bintatara does not make use of distinct and sustained bass lines from any of its mid- and low-rage instruments. This lack of "background detail," as it were, serves to emphasize the presence of the instruments heard in the aural foreground. In Ifukube's mind, this is an aesthetic link between traditional Japanese visual arts, such as in the works of Ike no Taiga, and its music: Eikyo Bintatara seeks to express this minimalist concept in a deliberate fashion through the composer's excellent skills as an orchestrator.


Cover page of Eikyo Bintatara. Note the composer's use of Italian in the full title.

Eikyo Bintatara is a freeform work alternating between intensely rhythmic fast sections and phantasmal slow sections. At several points throughout the work, Ifukube introduces a fleet melody adapted from the main theme of the first movement of his Deux Caractères for Violin and Piano written in 1955. In typical Ifukube fashion, Eikyo Bintatara works itself into an instrumental frenzy as it soars toward its rousing conclusion.

Ifukube had worked on Eikyo Bintatara for most of 1973, only diverting his attention from it twice to compose two good albeit unremarkable film scores, Daiei's Zatoichi's Conspiracy (Shin Zatoichi monogatari: Kasama no chimatsuri), released on April 15, and Toho's The Human Revolution (Ningen kakumei), released on September 8. Of the two, the Zatoichi score is more interesting: Ifukube's use of the warbly-sounding Korean geomungo zither adds charming touches of the exotic to the soundtrack. Around the opening of The Human Revolution, Ifukube finished Eikyo Bintatara and it was premiered on October 5, 1973 at Toranomon Hall in Minato, Tokyo. It was played by the Pro Musica Nipponica ensemble that specializes in performances with traditional Japanese instruments. The conductor was Takuo Tamura.

It was around the time of Eikyo Bintatara's premiere that Ifukube was approached by the Tokyo College of Music to join their faculty as the chief professor of composition, a full-time position. The proposal came from the college's president, Hideo Abe, a bass vocalist who had been primarily active as a performer before the Second World War. Abe and his board of directors were well aware of the quality of Ifukube's teaching during his stint at the Tokyo School of Music in the 1940s and 1950s; surely, the fact that many of Ifukube's former pupils such as Yasushi Akutagawa and Toshiro Mayuzumi had gone on to make internationally recognized names for themselves in the postwar period was undeniable evidence of Ifukube's value and potential as a mentor to greatness. Desiring to return to the world of education, Ifukube accepted the Tokyo College of Music's offer to begin teaching in the spring of the following year.

In April 1974, Ifukube joined the faculty of the Tokyo College of Music as their lead Professor of Composition. Other composers--each of whom had previously studied under Ifukube--were also brought on board in subordinate capacities: they were Sei Ikeno, Teizo Matsumura (1929-2007), and Minoru Miki (1930-2011).

Ifukube taught on the top floor of the campus's eleven-story Building B. As one of his former students Reiko Yamada once explained, Ifukube's composition seminars were similar in style to the French salons of the 16th and 17th centuries in which academically-minded people gathered to discuss all aspects of high culture such as art and literature. "[W]e talked over a cup of hot tea, and some students [would smoke] cigarettes, as did maestro Ifukube," Yamada elaborates. "We discussed all kinds of subjects such as ethnology, culture, orchestration, history of instruments, manners of the tea ceremony, film criticism, and acoustic vibration...His knowledge was astonishing as if he were a dictionary."


Building B at the Tokyo College of Music.
Photo by Erik Homenick.

At his very first seminar, Ifukube invoked one of his favorite maxims, "Music cannot express anything but itself," an idea made famous by Igor Stravinsky, the composer whom Ifukube probably admired the most.* This quote is highly revealing of Ifukube's state of mind by the time that he had arrived at the College: the first impression that he wished to make on his students was that of a purveyor of pure, absolute music in a Stravinskian vein.

Stravinsky's influence had always strongly exerted itself on Ifukube up until and indeed after the Russian composer's death in April 1971. So moved was Ifukube by Stravinsky's passing at the time that he penned an article about his hero's artistic contributions to the world roughly two months later in the June 1971 edition of Music Art (Ongaku Geijutsu), a Japanese magazine. In his article "The Denial of and Departure from Romanticism," Ifukube made the following elaborations on Stravinsky's famous assertion:

"Stravinsky made various remarks throughout his life and I think the most important among them is the following statement: 'Music cannot express anything but itself.' As it is a very natural idea for us [musicians], we do not need to think it special. But I think it is extremely remarkable that Stravinsky proposed the idea and had even put it into practice in an era in which people somehow regarded music as a kind of derivative of literature, thought, philosophy, and so on.

"This idea of Stravinsky's is inextricably associated with that of Mallarmé: 'You cannot make a poem with ideas, you make it with words.'** Either idea has been equally disliked not by artists but by dilettantes, for the idea easily leads them to misunderstandings about music, such as the notion that music is unphilosophical, low-level, or an unworthy artform because it is nothing but a technique. However, it is undoubtable that this idea is the cardinal point for creating music or poetry in the true sense.

"On this point, I think Stravinsky is a composer who resides in the same position as Paul Valéry in poetry, although they seem to be largely different at a glance.***

"I have a reason for stressing this point. Indeed, I can see a certain tendency in modern music in part that puts up a meaningful title, presents a sequence of suggestive sounds as if it were meaningful, and thus regards music as a highly sophisticated art beyond the understanding of ordinary people. But I cannot stop thinking that this tendency represents a phenomenon based on the elementary misunderstanding that music can express something other than music itself. I would be very happy if it were not so, but if such works are a result of this elementary misunderstanding, they end up being nothing but banal popular music.**** Music is originally a more advanced form of art.

"Of course, many of Stravinsky's works have their own titles, but what I mean here is a far cry from the notion that having a title immediately renders them low-level. In fact, there are also times that a title is necessitated by a composer to expedite the process of musical creativity. To summarize, what is important is not what to express, but how to express. Although the point is slightly different from what I have been talking about, I can propose a similar example in painting. That is, whether you draw a saint or 'the woman who was a prostitute,'***** your choice of content does not affect the value of the picture itself." [9]


Professor Ifukube, 1970s.

To summarize the above idea, for Ifukube, musical Romanticism is to be rejected because in this mindset the creation of music per se is not its goal; for the Romantic or other like-minded composers, music is a means to an end to express emotions or other complex ideas, which music cannot truly do in the first place. One cannot write music as if writing the narrative in a novel; when the structural integrity and other formal elements of the composition take a subordinate position to the attempted expression of a thought or feeling, the music necessarily collapses onto itself and becomes banal. "What is important is not what to express, but how to express." The extra-musical "content" of a composition ultimately has no artistic bearing on the final product. What determines the quality of the composition are its practical and tangible elements--the music itself. This was the all-important message that Ifukube desired to transmit to his students on their first day of class.******

Naturally, complex and highly philosophical concepts such as this provided ample food for though for the professor's students and, when discussions got particularly intense and needed to continue after class, Ifukube would often invite his pupils to a nearby café to keep the intellectual exchanges going. These after-hours café sessions were highly emblematic of the respect and consideration that Ifukube was known to show toward his students: he took his role as a mentor exceedingly seriously and, whenever possible, was happy to give of himself to his students--even when he was off the clock.

Throughout the rest of 1974, Ifukube was continuing to settle in as a full-time faculty member at the Tokyo College of Music. Toward the the end of the year, he did find the time to produce scores for two films, The Last Samurai (Okami yo rakujitsu o kire) and Sandakan no. 8 (Sandakan hachiban shôkan: Bôkyô). The Last Samurai, which would end up being the final film of Ifukube's dear friend Kenji Misumi, deals primarily with the process of Westernization that took place in Japan at the start of the Meiji Restoration in the mid-19th century. Produced at Shochiku Studios, The Last Samurai, which has a duration of one hundred and sixty minutes, required a lengthy score. Accordingly, Ifukube wrote an sizable bulk of music for Misumi's cinematic swan song but, in keeping with the composer's other recent cinematic efforts, much of the music fails to stand out as particularly original or noteworthy. The Last Samurai debuted on September 21. Almost exactly a year later, on September 24, 1975, Misumi passed away at the young age of fifty-four.

Toho and the independant studio Haiyûza Eiga's co-production Sandakan no. 8, which was directed by Kei Kumai (1929-2007), deals with a young female journalist, Keiko Mitani (Komaki Kurihara), who is writing an article on Japan's policy of forcing women into prostitution during the early 20th century. Her research takes her to the ramshackle home of an elderly woman named Osaki (Kinuyo Tanaka), who suffered the terrible life of a karayuki-san, or "comfort woman" during the Second World War in Sandakan, Malaysia. Osaki agrees to share her painful memories with Mitani. The film takes its title from the notorious, real-life brothel where the fictitous Osaki was entrapped, Sandakan no. 8. The film is notable for its frank coming to terms with Japan's horrific--and at the time still fairly recent--history of imposing sexual slavery upon women throughout the Asian continent.


Komaki Mitani and Kinuyo Tanaka in Sandakan no. 8.

In comparison to The Last Samurai, Ifukube composed much less music for Kumai's production. The most outstanding portion of Ifukube's Sandakan score is heard at the very beginning of the film: a combined marimba and karimba thumb piano deftly imitate the metallic resonances of a traditional Malaysian kulintang percussion ensemble while a timpani and congas beat out an ostinato rhythm underneath. All of this is occasionally punctuated by distant outbursts from a pungi shawm. Interestingly, Ifukube used the karimba and pungi in the Infant Island ritual scene in Mothra vs. Godzilla; keeping in mind that Ifukube associated Infant Island with the Philippines--a country culturally similar to Malaysia--it becomes clear that in the composer's imagination these two exotic instruments are representitive--or at least imitative--of the musical sounds one may encounter in the Southeast Asian region.

Sandakan no. 8 received wide critical acclaim in Japan and was eventually selected for competition in the "Best Foreign Language Film" catagory at the forty-seventh Academy Awards in 1975, making it the second film scored by Ifukube--the first was The Burmese Harp in 1957--to receive such an honor. Sandakan no. 8 failed to take home the Oscar, however; it lost to Akira Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala, a co-production between Japan and the Soviet Union.

Early 1975 saw the release of two films scored by Ifukube, Terror of Mechagodzilla (Mekagojira no gyakushû), released on March 15, and The Door Has Opened (Tobira wa hirakareta), released on April 22. Terror of Mechagodzilla is a direct sequel to 1974's Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, directed by Jun Fukuda and scored by Masaru Sato, in which Toho's famous titan dukes it out with a robotic version of himself that is under the control of dastardly space aliens from "the Third Planet of the Black Hole." Terror of Mechagodzilla was directed by Ishiro Honda, who briefly came out of retirement to oversee the production of the film. Honda's involvement likely explains Ifukube's participation: the two greatly enjoyed working together.

In Terror of Mechagodzilla, the titular robot monster is rebuilt by the alien invaders to have another go at conquering the earth. To help the get the job done this time, they enlist the help of a misanthropic mad scientist named Dr. Mafune (Akihiko Hirata) and his cyborg daughter Katsura (Tomoko Ai), both of whom control the actions of a huge dinosaur, Titanosaurus. Honda's film culminates in a spectacular three-way mêlée between Godzilla, Mechagodzilla, and Titanosaurus staged with great pyrotechnic gusto by the special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano. Ifukube's Terror score principally relies on the almost relentless repetiton of the film's impressive and imposing Mechagodzilla theme. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Ifukube's music here is the return of the famous C-B-A (Do-Si-La/Go-Ji-Ra) theme used again for the first time in a Godzilla film since the monster's first outing in 1954. Although in that original film the theme represented the military's operations against Godzilla, in Terror, the theme represents the monster himself.

There are other parts of the Terror of Mechagodzilla score worthy of mention: for a flashback scene made up of black and white still photographs depicting Dr. Mafune's forced explusion from an oceanogrpahic research institute, Ifukube wrote a splendidly creepy solo for the combo organ that would not be out of place in a gothic horror film and, at the conclusion of the film after Godzilla has vanquished his enemies, he returns to the sea as a touchingly bittersweet melody overtakes the soundtrack. In this moment, it is as if Ifukube is not only saying his goodbyes to Godzilla but also to his revered colleague, Ishiro Honda: Terror of Mechagodzilla would be the last film Honda would ever direct and, as well, the final collaboration between two of the Godzilla series' "founding fathers."


Poster for Terror of Mechagodzilla.

The Door Has Opened, which was co-produced by two independant companies, Japan Personal and Shinboshi, is a drama about the persecution of 19th century Shintoist farmers. Directed by Tokuzô Tanaka (1925-2007), who was an assistant director or Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950), The Door Has Opened ocassionally shows off its modest production values with some clumsy camera work and editing, but Ifukube's music here is a decent effort. The arresting main theme of the film is an adaptation of the composer's Land music from the Mitsubishi Pavilion at Expo '70. Similarly to Terror of Mechagodzilla, the main theme of this film appears continuously throughout its duration.

On July 20, Expo '75 opened on Okinawa. This world's fair was the second event of its type to take place in Japan, only five years after Expo '70 in Osaka. Due to its island location, Expo '75 had an overriding ocean theme and, naturally, aquatic technologies, both contemporary and future, took center stage.

As it had done at Expo '70, the Mitsubishi Motors Corporation built a pavilion at Expo '75, this time on a slightly smaller scale. The Mitsubishi Marine Future Museum, like its 1970 predecesor, employed a conveyor belt to move the public through its display rooms.****** Simulating a ride on a submarine, visitors to the pavilion were whisked past models and moving images depicting futuristic underwater cities, erupting underwater volacnoes, undersea life, and underwater mining and factories. [10] Ifukube was again asked by Mitsubishi to contribute his musical talents to their exhibition, a request that he fulfilled. Ifukube's music for the Marine Future Museum, while competent, lacks the originality and overall quality of his Expo '70 efforts: As the public begins their journey on the ocean's surface, Ifukube recycles the Eiko-maru harmonica and guitar music from the opening of Godzilla (1954), this time arranged for flute and harp. After taking an imaginary plunge, the visitors witness volcanic eruptions accompanied by the frenetic military music originally from Toho's science fiction film Dogora (1964). As the ride comes to an end and the visitors are returned to the water's surface, Ifukube, as he had done at the Expo '70 pavilion, composed music for choir and orchestra, however this time around the material is less distinguished and fails to make as lasting an impression.

The Akira Ifukube Biography is to be continued...


* "Music cannot express anything but itself" is a common paraphrasis of Stravinsky's more elaborate quote, which appears in his 1935 biography. His full statement on the matter is: "For I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc...Expression has never been an inherent property of music. That is by no means the purpose of its existence. If, as is nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this is only an illusion and not a reality. It is simply an additional attribute which, by tacit and inveterate agreement, we have lent it, thrust upon it, as a label, a convention--in short, an aspect unconsciously or by force of habit, we have come to confuse with its essential being." (Stravinksy, Igor. An Autobiography. WW Norton & Company, 1998. Pages 53-54.)

** "Ce n'est point avec des idées qu'on fait des vers, c'est avec des mots."

*** Paul Valéry (1871-1945) was a French poet and philosopher famous for his aphorisms on myriad subjects, including the nature of art. One of his most famous quotes is "Le peintre ne doit pas faire ce qu'il voit, mais ce qui sera vu." (The painter should not paint what he sees, but what will be seen.) This bit of wisdom is very closely related to Ifukube's discourse on Stravinsky and Mallarmé.

**** By "popular music," Ifukube is not referring to the type of music one would hear on the Top 40 countdown. Rather, he is stating that popular music or, more aptly, program music--art music seeking to express a slew of extra-musical ideas with a highly descriptive title and a string of "suggestive sounds," as the composer himself put it--is banal because it attempts to appeal to its audience by spoon-feeding them the ultimate "meaning" of the music in question.

**** Ifukube appears to suggest Mary Magdalena.

***** Although Ifukube invoked the Stravinsky quote and his own related ideas on music's lack of ability to express anything other than itself especially in his later years as a composer--this was certainly a mantra of his while teaching at the Tokyo College of Music--we must remember that his thinking on this topic is certainly not as rigid as his "Denial of and Departure from Romanticism" may suggest at a first glance. Consequently, this discussion as it relates to Ifukube and his artistic aims becomes quite complicated and even problematic. The composer certainly dabbled in the very Romantic exercise of image-infused program music throughout his career to varying degrees: Triptyque aborigène and Arctic Forest are excellent examples of this from his early days. Doubtless, Ifukube's multitudinous forays into ballet and film music also tend to show a composer seeking to portray certain emotions related to on-stage or on-screen scenes. One of his final orchestral works, Kushiro Marshland: Symphonic Tableaux (1993) openly insinuates its attempt at tone painting in its very title. It is worth keeping in mind, though, that the vast majority of Ifukube's most important works composed in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s--Ritmica Ostinata, Eikyo Bintatara, Lauda Concertata for Marimba and Orchestra, Concerto no. 2 for Violin and Orchestra, and Eglogue symphonique for 20-string Koto and Orchestra--are all works of absolute music. That said, it is not my intention to fully analyze how other quotes or actions by Ifukube either fall in line with his "music cannot express anything but itself" mantra or go against it, and what is at stake as a result. That is an exercise for another time and place and I invite the readers of this text to come to their own conclusions on whether or not Ifukube truly practiced what he preached when it came to his insistance that composers should only endeavor to write absolute music.

****** For reasons unknown to me, very has been written--either in Japanese or English--about Expo '75 and, consequently, information about the Mitsubishi Marine Future Museum is quite hard to come by. This is in contrast to the relative wealth of information available about Expo '70 and, for that matter, the Mitsubishi Future pavilion at that event. Although Toho's participation at the '70 pavilion is well documented, it is unclear if the studio had anything to do with the '75 exhibition. In 2018, Brett Homenick personally asked the former Toho special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano if he had any involvement in the Marine Future Museum and he confirmed that he did not. This suggests, very strongly, that Toho was not employed by Mitsubishi to create their '75 exhibits. I hope to have more information about this in the future.


[1] Gardner, William O. "The 1970 Osaka Expo And/As Science Fiction". Review of Japanese Culture and Society, Volume 28, 26-43, December 1, 2011.
[2] Banno, Yoshimitsu. Godzilla Flies!. Manuscript. Courtesy of Brett Homenick.
[3] Thank you, Atsushi Kobayashi.
[4] Banno, Yoshimitsu. Godzilla Flies!. Manuscript. Courtesy of Brett Homenick.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Rylfe, Steve and Godziszewski, Ed. Ishiro Honda, A Life in Film from Godzilla to Kurosawa. Wesleyan University Press, 2017. Page 261.
[8] Kibe, Yohani. Ifukube Akira Ongakuka no tanjô: Tapukâra no kanata e. Hon no Fûkeisha, 2004. Page 307. Translation by Yui Kasane.
[9] Ifukube, Akira. "Roman shugi no hitei aruiwa to no ketsubetsu". Ongaku geijutsu Volume 29, No. 6, June 1971. Pages 26-27. Translation by Yui Kasane.
[10] Welding Design & Fabrication. Volume 48. Industrial Publishing, 1975.



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