Ifukube at home, 1954.
Ifukube was born May 31, 1914 in Kushiro on the northern Japanese
island of Hokkaido. He was the third son of Toshizo, a respected 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 Western
classical music, Japanese folk song, and the traditional music of
the Ainu, northern Japan's indigenous population.
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 seventeen.
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
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 nearly three hundred film scores.
During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s Ifukube was active as a composer
of film and concert music. 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 (1976).
In 1974 Ifukube was hired by the Tokyo College of Music to teach composition.
Two years later in 1976 he became the College's president but continued
to serve as an instructor. At this time he began to distance himself
from film music to focus on academic pursuits and the writing of 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 briefly returned to the world of cinema
to write the scores for several Godzilla films. After this, Ifukube
went on to compose a handful of 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 by the Japanese government 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