Ifukube was born May 31, 1914 in Kushiro on the northern Japanese
island of Hokkaido. He was the third son of Toshizo, a respected ex-soldier
and public official, and Kiwa (née Suzuki) Ifukube. Growing
up on the cold and mountainous island, Ifukube became fascinated with
music at an early age. In his youth, he was well acquainted with Japanese
folk song and the traditional music of the Ainu, northern Japan's
This interest in music led the young Ifukube to teach himself to play
the violin. From junior high school, Ifukube studied in Hokkaido's
largest city, Sapporo. In Sapporo he heard a gramophone recording
of Igor Stravinsky's Petrushka (1911). This was a revelatory
experience for Ifukube, prompting the student to become a composer
himself. Influenced by the musical nationalism of composers such as
Stravinsky, Manuel de Falla and Modest Mussorgsky, Ifukube's aim as
a composer was to incorporate the aesthetics of traditional Japanese
and Ainu music into Western-style art music.
Ifukube began writing original compositions at the age of 17. In 1933
he wrote his first published work, Piano Suite.
After high school, Ifukube studied forestry at Hokkaido Imperial University
where he completed a thesis on the acoustics of wood. After graduating,
he worked as a forestry officer in the remote mountains of Akkeshi,
Hokkaido and composed in his spare time.
In 1936 Ifukube's career as a composer took an important step forward
when his first orchestral work, Japanese Rhapsody (1935), won
the Tcherepnin Prize at a competition in Paris. After the international
success of Japanese Rhapsody, Ifukube went on to write several more
orchestral works such as Symphony Concertante for Piano and Orchestra
(1941), Ballata Sinfonica (1943) and Rapsodia Concertante
per Violino ed Orchestra (1948, revised 1971). He also began composing
chamber works based on the folk music of northern Asian peoples such
as his Ancient Minstrelsies of Gilyak Tribes (1946) and Three
Lullabies among the Native Tribes of Sakhalin (1949).
In 1946 Ifukube accepted a teaching position at the Tokyo National
University of Fine Arts and Music. Shortly thereafter, he was hired
by Toho, Japan's leading film studio, to write music for films. In
1954 Ifukube wrote the famous score for the giant monster film Gojira
(Godzilla). Ifukube went on to be prolific in this medium;
he composed over 300 film scores.
During the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s Ifukube was active as a composer
of film and concert music as well as an educator. He became very well
known for his musical contributions to numerous daikaiju (giant monster)
and tokusatsu (special effects) films such as Rodan (1956),
The Mysterians (1957), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962),
Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964), Destroy All Monsters
(1969) and many others. During this period he also wrote some of his
best-known concert compositions such as Sinfonia Tapkaara (1954,
revised 1979), Ritmica Ostinata for Piano and Orchestra
(1961, revised 1972) and Lauda Concertata for Marimba and Orchestra
In 1976 Ifukube accepted the prestigious position of president of
the Tokyo College of Music. At this time he began to distance himself
from film music to focus on teaching and writing concert works. In
1987 Ifukube decided to step down as the college's president to become
the director of the school's Department of Ethnomusicology. In the
early 1990s, Ifukube returned to the world of cinema and wrote his
final film score for Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995) at the age
of 81. After this, Ifukube went on to compose several small-scale
chamber pieces such as Pipa Xing for 25-string Koto (1999).
In 1980 Ifukube was awarded the Japanese Medal of Honor with Purple
Ribbon. In 1987 he received the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Third
Class. In 2003 he was recognized as a Person of Cultural Merit.
the night of February 8, 2006, Akira Ifukube died in Tokyo at the
age of 91.
Biographical notes by Erik C. Homenick