FILM COMPOSER AND PEDAGOGUE
In 1939 Ifukube's long-time friend Fumio Hayasaka moved to Tokyo to become a film composer. Upon Ifukube's recovery from radiation exposure in 1946, Hayasaka urged Ifukube to join him in the Japanese capital to try his hand at writing music for movies. This was certainly a more lucrative opportunity than working for the university, and, for Ifukube, the idea of composing on a more full-time basis was extremely appealing. The Ifukube family, however, did not move to Tokyo right away.
In 1946 Ifukubes moved from Hokkaido to Kujira, Nikko, Japan. Although he was no longer in the "wilderness" of northern Japan, mountainous Nikko offered a rural lifestyle that Ifukube could thrive in.
The shinto shrine in Kujira, Nikko. Ifukube and his family lived in the Kujira neighborhood for about a year. Ifukube's wife and three children at the shirne (left, photo by Akira Ifukube) and the shrine today (right, photo by the webmaster)
Now that Ifukube was enjoying his prestigious teaching post the the Tokyo National University, he was hired by Toho (Japan's leading film studio) to write film music. By 1947 he had scored his first film, Ginrei no hate (To the End of the Silver Mountains). (Incidentally, Ginrei no hate was written by Akira Kurosawa and was Toshiro Mifune's first feature film.)
Posters fot Ginrei no hate (left) and Shizukanaru ketto (right)
In order to be closer to the university and the film industry in Tokyo, Ifukube moved his family to Oyamadai neighborhood of the Japanese capital.
Later in 1947 Ifukube was chosen by Akira Kurosawa to write the score for a film called Shizukanaru ketto (The Quiet Duel). However, the composor and the director had very divergent views on how music should be used in a film and this led to a less-than-compatible relationship. Due to their constant disagreements, the two master artists parted ways permanently after the film was completed.
During the late 1940s and into the early 1950s, Ifukube scored a multitude of other films including Kaneto Shindô's Children of Hiroshima (1952) and Josef von Sternberg's Saga of Anatahan (1953). Ifukube's scores were well respected and his skills as a composer became a valuable commodity within the Japanese film industry. Due to this, Ifukube decided to abandon his teaching post at the Tokyo National University in 1953 to focus on the more lucrative prospects of writing film music.
Ifukube, circa 1950
1954, Ifukube was asked by Toho to score Gojira (Godzilla), a giant monster
film to be directed by Ishiro Honda, produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka with special
effect by Eiji Tsuburaya. Many of Ifukube's colleagues tried to convince him
not to take the job, thinking the film would not be a success. Ifukube did not
listen to his colleagues and accepted the project. As a result, his score for
Gojira has become one of the most famous film scores in history and propelled
Ifukube to heights of fame that no other Japanese film composer has ever reached.
Additionally, Ifukube regarded his Gojira music as the best score he
had ever written for a motion picture.
The first page of Ifukube's original manuscript for the opening credits of Gojira (with Russian title!) and poster
Ifukube also created Godzilla's trademark roar. Technicians at Toho originally went to the Tokyo Zoo and recorded the grunts and growls of several animals hoping to find the perfect sound effect for Godzilla's roar. Dissatisfied with the animal sounds they had collected, the technicians turned to Ifukube, an expert in acoustics, and asked him to produce the needed sound effect. After some experimentation, Ifukube recorded himself taking a resin-covered leather glove and dragging it along the loosened strings of a double bass (the largest and lowest pitched bowed orchestral string instrument) and slowed down the playback speed of the tape. The result was the now familiar Godzilla roar. Additionally, Ifukube created the sound of Godzilla's footfalls by striking an amplifier box with a large, knotted piece of rope.
After the huge success of Gojira, Ifukube became even more heavily sought after by Japanese directors and studios to write music for their films. Some of Ifukube's most famous scores after the success of Godzilla include The Burmese Harp (1956), The Birth of Japan (1959), Shaka (1961), The Little Prince and the Eight Headed Dragon (1963), Daimajin (1966) and Sandakan 8 (1974). Of course, during the span of his film career, Ifukube remained the primary composer for Toho's internationally successful Godzilla series, and he also wrote the music for the famous Zatoichi movies. But the composer would always be best know for his work in the genres of monster, fantasy and science fiction films.
After Gojira, Ifukube was called upon by Toho to score two additional science fiction spectaculars, Sora no daikaju radon (Rodan) (1956) and Chikyû bôeigun (The Mysterians) (1957).
Posters for Sora no daikaiju radon (left) and Chikyû bôeigun (right)
Certainly, this was the beginning of a partnership between Toho and Ifukube to breathe musical life into their growing specialty of daikaiju (giant monster) and tokusatsu (special effects) films. In all, Ifukube scored over 20 such films for Toho, culminating with his final original film score Gojira tai desutoroya (Godzilla vs. Destroyer) in 1996. Along with the director Honda, the producer Tanaka and special effects wizard Tsuburaya, Ifukube is considered on of the four "founding fathers" of the Godzilla franchise.
Akira Ifukube (far right) meets with director Ishiro Honda (left, in hat) during the production of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
In 1975 Ifukube became the president of the Tokyo College of Music but still composed a handful of film scores before he "retired" from the film industry in 1978 having completed the music to the period film Ogin-sama (Lady Ogin). (Ifukube would go on to score four Godzilla movies for Toho between 1991 and 1996 before "officially" retiring from film scores.) During this time, Ifukube focused his attention on teaching and writing concert works.
Akira Ifukube during his days as a teacher
Years later in 1988, Ifukube gave up his post as President of the Tokyo College of Music. Though he did not want to be the president anymore, he became the head of the school's Department of Ethnomusicolgy. In this capacity, Ifukube was one of Japan's foremost authorities on the music of the Ainu and other northern Asian peoples.
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Copyright 2009 Erik Homenick. All rights reserved.