KAIJU CONVERSATIONS:
The Complete Akira Ifukube Interview
Conducted by David Milner
Translation by Yohihiko Shibata

   



Akira Ifukube, one of Japan's most highly regarded classical composers, passed away in February 2006 at the age of 91.  He scored GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS (1954), TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975), GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992), and many other science fiction films. He also scored numerous dramas and period movies.  In the early 1990s Kaiju historian David Milner sat down with the maestro for two conversations.  Here for the first time are the complete interviews presented in a single format.

Conducted in December of 1992

David Milner: I was very sorry to hear about the recent death of Shinichi Sekizawa. How well did you know him? (Mr. Sekizawa wrote the screenplays for MOTHRA (1961), GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1965), GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972), and many of the other science fiction films that have been produced by the Toho Company Ltd.)

Akira Ifukube: We never met. BUDDHA (1961) is the only movie on which I worked with a screenwriter.

DM: How did you become interested in music?

AI: I was born in a very small village in Hokkaido. My father was the mayor. The population of the village was half Japanese and half Ainu. So, I was raised with the folk songs of both the Japanese and the Ainu. (The Ainu are Japan's equivalent of the American Indian.)

I began my music career as a performer in the student orchestra at school. Then, while I was in college, I became a concert master. I performed many European classical pieces, but I really liked only Igor Stravinsky's and Manuel de Falla's music. That was because their music was very different. It is what made me decide to become a composer.

The Ainu, with their improvisational style of both composing music and dancing, greatly influenced me. I became very different from the other music students, who had been raised with European pieces, because of this. They had been taught that composition is very difficult, but to me, it seemed relatively easy because of the freedom allowed for by the improvisational style of the Ainu.

DM: Do you think that perhaps it was easier for you to write music not only because of your Ainu influence, but also because you were gifted with a talent for music?

AI: I really don't know how to answer that question.

DM: You mentioned Stravinsky and de Falla. Do you especially like the music of any other classical composers?

AI: Modest Musorgsky, Johann Sebastian Bach, Maurice Ravel, and Robert de Visee. He was a lute player who would perform lullabies while Louis XIV of France went to sleep. Sergei Prokofiev, too.

DM: Not Ludwig van Beethoven or Wolgang Amadeus Mozart?

AI: I have performed their music, and it certainly is great, but I can't really relate to it. It culturally is just too different.

DM: Is there any contemporary music that you especially like?

AI: I don't pay much attention to popular music.

DM: Kitaro has become popular in the United States. What do you think of his music?

AI: Kitaro's harmony is European, but his melodies are Asian. This combination is what makes his music popular in the United States. Kitaro is very well known in Japan, but he is not as popular here.

DM: You have said that your favorite of your film scores is the one you wrote for GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS. Which of your other scores do you especially like?

AI: Unlike American film score composers, Japanese film score composers are given only three or four days in which to write the music for a movie. Because of this, I have almost always been very frustrated while writing a score. I therefore can't select any of my scores as favorites.

DM: Are you especially unhappy with the way any of your scores turned out?

AI: Several, but I can't say which ones. I am unhappy with them not because the music is bad, but instead because the movies are not well suited for my kind of music.

DM: I have heard that you scored GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS without seeing any footage from the film. Is this true?

AI: The relationship between Eiji Tsuburaya and myself was a very unique one. (Mr. Tsuburaya directed the special effects for not only the first seven Godzilla movies, but also RODAN (1956), MOTHRA, KING KONG ESCAPES (1967), and many of Toho's other science fiction films.)

Back in the late 1940s, Mr. Tsuburaya was purged by the General Headquarters of the United States occupation forces because he had worked on war movies. Mr. Tsuburaya therefore could no longer work on films. One day, while I was living in Kyoto, I was drinking sake with a friend of mine who was an actor, and a man came to visit the actor. The actor knew that the man had no money because he was unemployed, so he gave him some sake. I met the man several more times, and I always gave him some sake when I did.

Shortly after I was commissioned by Toho to score GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS, I was introduced to the person who was going to direct the special effects for the movie, and it turned out to be the man to whom I'd given sake a number of times. Mr. Tsuburaya, who would never show his rushes to anyone, must have felt indebted. He would allow me to see the rushes. That continued until the day he died.

DM: Your early film scores are all written for small orchestras. Did the studios force you to use small orchestras?

AI: The size of the orchestras was mandated by the studios. In the age of silent movies, the orchestra would have to fit into a pit in front of the screen. So, a small orchestra was what seemed to be appropriate to people in the film industry. In addition, the recording studios that we used were pretty small, so there were physical limitations on the size of the orchestras.

DM: Would you have written your early scores differently if you had been able to use larger orchestras?

AI: Yes. Absolutely.

DM: Your marches all have relatively simple melodies. However, many of them are in complex time signatures. How did you develop this style of writing marches?

AI: It was not a conscious decision. It is simply the way I write music. I do, however, consciously try to keep my music from sounding too European.

DM: Do you compose and orchestrate at the same time?

AI: There are two types of composers. Like Stravinsky, some always are aware of the instrument that will be playing a given melody. However, other composers do work out the orchestration only after they have finished composing.

I'm like Stravinsky. I always write music with specific instruments in mind.

DM: Many composers feel that doing the orchestration afterward is more difficult. Do you feel this way?

AI: Yes. Doing the orchestration afterward is much more difficult. The same melody can make a very different impression when played on different instruments.

DM: I have heard that you created the roar and the footfalls of Godzilla. Is this true?

AI: One of Toho's electrical engineers made a simplistic amplifying device some time before production on GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS got underway. It was just a box that had several coils connected to an amplifier and a speaker in it. When you struck it, the coils would vibrate, and a loud, shocking sound would be created. I accidentally stepped on the device while I was conducting the score for a movie that was produced shortly before GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS was made. I said, ""What the heck is that?" when I heard the noise that was produced. When I was asked to create Godzilla's footfalls, I decided to use the device.

For the roar of Godzilla, I took out the lowest string of a contrabass and then ran a glove that had resin on it across the string. The different kinds of roars were created by playing the recording of the sound that I'd made at different speeds.

Toho's sound engineers previously had tried to use the roars of many different animals for Godzilla's roar. They went to a zoo and recorded the roars of many different mammals, but no matter how the sounds were manipulated, they seemed too much like the roars of each of the animals. The sound engineers also tried to alter the call of a night heron bird, but that also was not successful.

DM: The scene in GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH (1991) that features a number of tanks approaching the spaceship from the future is very similar to the one in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) that features a number of tanks approaching the Kilaak base. In addition, the scene that features a number of F-15s attacking Ghidrah is similar to the one in RODAN that features a number of F-86s attacking Rodan. The music that is heard during these two scenes in GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH is the same as the music heard during the similar ones in the earlier films. Was your intention to remind the members of the audience of the scenes in the earlier movies?

AI: I'm amazed that you remember those scenes so well!

At first, the Japanese Self Defense Force said that it could not cooperate with Toho in the production of GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH because of the possibility of classified information being revealed. However, an officer of the JSDF came to see the rushes of the film, and he agreed to allow footage of F-15s to be used. The the length of the sequence in which the F-15s attack Ghidrah then was changed. I therefore had to change the piece that I'd written for the sequence. The score was going to be recorded the following day, however, and I had no time in which to compose a new piece of music. So, I looked through the motion picture library, and found that the theme I'd written for RODAN would fit. That's why I used it.

I used the theme from DESTROY ALL MONSTERS for the sequence in which the tanks approach the spaceship from the future for the same reason.

By the way, the scenes in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA that feature the glowing title and NASA officials detecting a meteor approaching Earth were both added at the last moment. So, I had to modify my original score for the movie to accommodate those changes.

DM: Speaking of GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, I very much like your new arrangement of SONG OF MOTHRA, but why did you increase the tempo of the piece?

AI: Takao Okawara set the length of the sequence into which I had to fit that piece, and it forced me to speed up the piece a little bit. (Mr. Okawara directed GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA. He also directed SUPER GIRL REIKO (1991).)

DM: What do you think of the scores to GODZILLA 1985 (1984) and GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989)?

AI: I don't know much about the score for GODZILLA 1985. However, my impression of GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE is a negative one, both in terms of the direction and the music. For example, the music that is heard while the scenes that take place in Saradia are shown is just ridiculous. The composer used European music instead of some modern Arabic music. (The score for GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE was composed by Koichi Sugiyama.)

By the way, during the production of GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE, Toho asked for permission to use some of my music in the film. I said that I would allow its use as long as it was not turned into popular music. Toho agreed to that, but just before GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE was completed, a Toho representative came to me and said, "Well, your music was turned into popular music." By that time, it was too late to do anything about the situation.

After GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE was released, my daughter came to me and said, "No matter how much you try to escape from Godzilla movies, Toho always uses your name and your melodies, so why don't you just score the next Godzilla film yourself?" That is why I agreed to work on GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH.

DM: What do you think of the work of John Williams?

AI: I have some of his recordings. I don't see many movies, but some people have told me that his music is similar to mine.

DM: TriStar Pictures is planning to produce a Godzilla film in the United States. How would you feel about the studio using your music in the movie?

AI: It is hard for me to imagine that my music would be used in the film. I don't think that American audiences would accept the tonal character of my music.

DM: One last question - should Beethoven have included vocals in his Ninth Symphony or not?

AI: He should have called the piece a symphonic cantata instead of a symphony.

Conducted in December of 1993

David Milner: Many people have said that they think your score for GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA is the best of your last three. (Mr. Ifukube scored GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH (1991) and GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992) before working on GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA.)

Akira Ifukube: I was given only three days to write the score! Usually a composer named Mr. Ikeno assists me, but since I was so rushed this time, I had to hire another man who used to be a student of mine to help out as well.

DM: Do you feel that the score is the best of your last three?

AI: It's the one that was most painful for me to finish! GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA was not completed on schedule, so I had less time than I usually do to compose the score.

We spent two days recording the music, two days mixing it and another two days dubbing the film. We had to spend more time mixing and dubbing than we usually do because we were using digital sound equipment. (GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA is the first Japanese movie to feature digital sound.)

DM: I didn't know that you hired assistants to help you write your film scores. What exactly do they do?

AI: They don't compose any of the music or do the orchestration. They just write out the full orchestra score from the parts that I write for each of the instruments.

DM: Was it your idea to associate the vocal piece in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA with Baby Godzilla, or did the idea already exist when you were brought in to score the movie? (The piece is perceived by a group of psychic children after they are presented with scrapings from the egg of Baby Godzilla.)

AI: It was my idea.

DM: I understand that the piece is in Ainu. What made you decide to write it in that language? (The Ainu are Japan's equivalent of the American Indian.)

AI: At first, I didn't intend to use the piece in the film. I instead planned to use it only as a timing cue. So, I originally wrote it only with nonsense syllables.

Since the piece was going to be sung by children, difficult words would not have been appropriate. Latin also wouldn't have worked. So, I decided to use Ainu. The Ainu live in Hokkaido, close to Adonoa Island. (In GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, Rodan and the egg of Baby Godzilla are discovered on Adonoa Island, which is located in the Bering Sea.)

By the way, the word tapkaara originally was Ainu. (One of Mr. Ifukube's orchestral works is titled SYMPHONIA TAPKAARA.)

DM: There are a few scenes in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA that are reminiscent of scenes in some of the earlier Godzilla movies. Did you give any thought to scoring those scenes with the music you had composed for the earlier films?

AI: Yes. I did that at a few different points in the movie.

DM: Many film composers have begun recording their scores without giving the people who perform the music an opportunity to see footage from the movie on which they are working. Do you work this way?

AI: More and more film scores are being recorded the way television scores are recorded. The performers are not shown any footage. I personally don't like working that way because if you do not allow the members of the orchestra to see footage on a big screen, they will tend to perform as if they are in a concert hall. They will try not to stand out. They will try to perform as members of an orchestra.

What is needed when scoring a movie such as GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA is playing that is much more aggressive. No matter how much you explain the character of Godzilla to the performers and urge them to play aggressively, they still will play as if they are in a concert hall. However, if you show the performers footage of Godzilla, their playing will dramatically change. That is why I insisted on being allowed to show footage to the performers before I agreed to score GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH.

The most difficult members of the orchestra to select are the violin players. They are trained to play with some sophistication, and that's not how you want them to perform when they are working on a Godzilla film. Brass players, on the other hand, just naturally tend to perform a little more aggressively.

DM: I was very sorry to hear about the death of Mr. Honda. What was your professional relationship with him like? (Director Ishiro Honda worked on GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS, GHIDRAH - THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964), TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975), and many other science fiction movies with Mr. Ifukube.)

AI: Mr. Honda would always give me complete control over the score. Even though he was very knowledgeable about music, he would always say to me, "Mr. Ifukube, I know very little about music, so I'll allow you to make all of the decisions about the score." Mr. Honda was a very generous man.

All of the other directors with whom I worked would stay in the control booth while the scores for their films were being recorded. Only Mr. Honda would come out of the booth and stand beside me while I was conducting. He was always very curious.

DM: Did he only observe?

AI: Yes. That's right.

By the way, the last time I saw Mr. Honda, I was in KINOKUNIYA BOOKSTORE in Shibuya. I was there looking for some books, and at one point I noticed that the man standing next to me was Mr. Honda. That took place about a year or two ago.

DM: How was working with Takao Okawara and Kazuki Omori different from working with Mr. Honda? (Mr. Omori wrote and directed GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989) and GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH. In addition, he wrote GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA. Mr. Okawara directed GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA.)

AI: Mr. Honda's editing had more continuity to it. Like many other contemporary directors, both Mr. Omori and Mr. Okawara tend to insert footage that interrupts the flow of the story. It is very difficult to have the music accommodate that footage.

DM: Have you worked on any television shows?

AI: I wrote a few television scores about thirty years ago, but I was not very happy with the way they turned out. Most people listen to television with the sound much lower than it should be, and that reduces the intensity with which they hear lower frequencies much more than the intensity with which they hear higher ones. Because of this, my music did not sound the way it should have. So, after scoring one documentary and several dramas, I decided not to work on anymore television shows.

I worked on a few radio dramas. In them, the suspense was created with words, rather than music, so I couldn't really create any excitement with my music.

I recently scored a documentary about the Kushiro marshlands in Hokkaido. The producers asked only if they could use some of my music in the documentary, but when I saw the rushes, I noticed that the music didn't fit very well. So, I decided to compose some new pieces for the documentary.

DM: Which of your orchestral works would you recommend to people who aren't familiar with your music?

AI: JAPANESE RHAPSODY, SYMPHONIA TAPKAARA, and SHAKA.

DM: Are those your favorites of your orchestral works?

AI: They are not the most popular ones, but they are my favorites.

DM: When we talked last year, you mentioned that much of your music was influenced by Ainu music. Which of your orchestral pieces would you say were most influenced by it?

AI: ECLOGUES AFTER EPOS AMONG AINU RACES is especially influenced by Ainu music. There are even some traditional Ainu motifs in it.

A lot of Ainu music features long phrasing, and this is characteristic of my music as well. In addition, a great deal of both Ainu and Japanese folk music is made up of short motifs that are repeated over and over again, and I often use this technique, which is called ostinato, in my music.

DM: Your BALLATA SYMPHONICA is especially well known in the United States. Is that the first piece for which you received international recognition?

AI: My debut work, JAPANESE RHAPSODY, was well received by foreign music critics, but it was not recorded right away. The premiere performance of my second work, BALLATA SYMPHONICA, was recorded and broadcast, and this allowed it to be heard by a much greater number of people.

DM: Did you give any thought to arranging your JAPANESE SUITE for the orchestra when you first wrote it? (Mr. Ifukube originally wrote the piece for piano alone, but many years later rearranged it for the orchestra when he was commissioned to do so by the Suntory Music Foundation.)

AI: I composed that piece when I was only nineteen years old as a tribute to the Spanish pianist George Copland. It did not occur to me to arrange it for the orchestra at the time.

DM: Which instruments do you play?

AI: Piano, violin, and lute.

DM: How would you say your compositional style has changed over the years?

AI: My earlier pieces seem a little unpolished to me now. I spend more time revising my work these days.

DM: Your style of conducting is very subdued. You often give cues only by slightly nodding your head.

AI: I work out all of the problems during the rehearsals, so there really is no need for me to do more than what I do during the final performances.

DM: What work did you do before you started scoring films?

AI: I taught composition at a music school in Nikko.

DM: What do you think of the music of Masaru Sato? (Mr. Sato wrote the scores for GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955), GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966), SON OF GODZILLA (1967), GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974), and over three hundred other movies.)

AI: I am not very familiar with his music. He only does film work, and I don't go to see very many movies.

DM: Toho has announced that it intends to produce another Godzilla movie in the near future. Will you score it if you are asked to do so? (The Toho Company Ltd. produces the Godzilla films.)

AI: No more Godzilla movies for me! They'll have to get someone much younger. I'm too old.

DM: What about YAMATO TAKERU? (It is a fantasy film featuring several different giant monsters that Toho is planning to produce.)

AI: Give me more time or give me more strength! During the press conference that was held to promote GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, I didn't directly say, but I suggested, that it would be the last movie that I would score.

DM: How definite is that decision?

AI: It's really not possible for me to do anymore film scores.

DM: Well, I think that your score to GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA is a very good one. I think it's one of which you can be proud.

AI: Thank you.

DM: What made you decide to score GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER?

AI: I decided not to score GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA (1994) when I read the script for the film. The atmosphere was very different. However, when I read the screenplay for GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER, I discovered that it was directly related to GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS. There was even going to be footage from GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS in the movie! I felt that since I'd been involved in Godzilla's birth, it was fitting for me to be involved in his death. I also was interested because Momoko Kochi was going to return. (Godzilla dies in GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER. Ms. Kochi plays Emiko Yamane, the daughter of paleontologist Kyohei Yamane, in both GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER.)

DM: I've heard that Toho was originally going to put the Godzilla series on hiatus after GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993). Is this true? (The Toho Company Ltd. produced all twenty- two of the Godzilla films. It also produced RODAN (1956), MOTHRA (1961), and many other science fiction movies.)

AI: I and all of the other staff members thought that GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA was going to be the last Godzilla film made by Toho for a while. During the closing credits, Godzilla and Baby Godzilla are seen leaving man behind as they head out to sea. However, the movie was very successful, so Toho's executives decided to produce another entry in the series.

When I read the script for GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA, it reminded me of teenage idol films. In addition, the movie was going to have rap music in it. So, I thought, "Well, this is not my world, so I better not score this one."

DM: Did you take the same approach to scoring GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH (1991), GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992), GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER?

AI: Yes. I took the same basic approach to scoring all of them.

DM: Did you run into any unusual problems while scoring GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER?

AI: I couldn't decide whether to use a different motif for each of Destroyer's incarnations or simply reorchestrate the same motif for each one. I eventually decided to use the same motif. (Destroyer transforms several times. He starts off as a microscopic organism, and ends up as a huge flying monster.)

I composed a total of forty-six pieces for GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER. There were many changes made to the film during production, so it was very difficult for me to do my work.

DM: Did you use the oxygen destroyer theme from GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS to help remind the audience of that movie? (The oxygen destroyer is used to kill Godzilla at the end of GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS.)

AI: Yes. I used the theme in the scene in which Emiko has a nightmare about the oxygen destroyer. I used a harp for the introduction of the theme, but the younger people in the recording booth felt that the introduction was too reminiscent of classical music. So, only one of the notes played by the harpist ended up being used. I was very surprised. To me, the harp is merely one of the instruments of the orchestra.

By the way, shortly after we finished recording the score for GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER, a young music critic named Atsushi Kobayashi told me that the original introduction was better. So, I think that opinion about the harp is divided among young people.

I intentionally avoided using the oxygen destroyer theme for Destroyer. I used the theme to help express the tragedy of Dr. Serizawa, so it wasn't appropriate for the monster. (Destroyer's mutation is triggered by residue from the oxygen destroyer. Daisuke Serizawa, the inventor of the device, commits suicide in the interest of preventing the wrong people from obtaining the knowledge necessary to make a copy of it.)

I was sent a VHS tape with the hypothetical sequence in which Godzilla melts down and destroys all of Tokyo on it during production, and I wrote music that lasted exactly as long as the sequence. Unfortunately, it was changed late in production, so the timing does not match precisely.

I didn't use the music from the scene in which Godzilla dies in GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS for the one in whicch he does actually meltdown because Godzilla was not what I was trying to focus on this time. Instead, I tried to focus on the dark side of humanity, which lead to the creation of atomic weapons, and Godzilla.

The recording engineer wanted to have the music become louder when the first close-up of Godzilla appears during the meltdown sequence, but I told him that since the music was not about Godzilla, it should not become louder or softer. Both he and the members of his staff agreed.

DM: How much time were you given to score GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER?

AI: I began writing individual motifs right after I received the script in July. I frequently went to Toho to see rushes once filming got underway. After seeing the rough cut, I spent four days composing and orchestrating.

I wasn't very happy with the way the music for Battra turned out. It was hard to tell whether it was a motif or just transitional material. So, I tried to avoid having that happen again. (Battra, a "battle Mothra," appears in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA.)

DM: Was GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER edited much?

AI: Yes. Never before had I scored a movie that was edited so much. After listening to the two compact disc set featuring the music from the film, you'll see how much I had to change the score to accommodate all of the editing. (The two compact disc set features a large number of outtakes.)

When I worked with Ishiro Honda, we would decide which scenes would feature music before the recording of the score began. However, directors these days often change their mind about musical cues during the recording sessions. If I were using synthesizers and computers I could probably change the music easily, but since I use a full orchestra, it's very difficult for me to do so. (Mr. Honda directed GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS, TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA, and many other science fiction movies.)

DM: How much time did you spend recording the score?

AI: We spent two days recording, two days mixing, and two days dubbing the film. I later spent two days working with the sound effects director to finalize both the sound effects and the music.

The recording sessions were held on October 27th and 28th, and the mixing was done on the 29th and 30th. The sound effects director and I met on November 13th and 14th. The first private screening of GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER was held on November 17th.

DM: Did Takao Okawara offer you much advice about the score? (Mr. Okawara directed GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER.)

AI: No. He was very busy shooting and editing, so he had little time to devote to the score.

DM: What made you decide to use one of the themes from KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962) during the closing credits?

AI: They feature footage from Godzilla movies spanning more than forty years. It's easy to show clips from a number of the films in two and a half minutes, but it's impossible to perform themes from many of them in such a short amount of time.

I didn't want to use only motifs that I'd written for Godzilla because the end result would have sounded too much like my SYMPHONIC FANTASIA. So, I decided to use the Faroh Island theme from KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and the Adonoa Island theme from GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA. (SYMPHONIC FANTASIA is a suite featuring music from many of the science fiction movies that Mr. Ifukube scored.)

After one of my students saw GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER, he told me that none of the members of the audience left the theater during the ending credits. My guess was that the people stayed to see the clips from the earlier Godzilla films, but my student thought that since the credits covered most of the screen, the audience must have stayed to hear the music.

DM: Are you pleased with your score for GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER?

AI: I can't really offer an opinion on it yet. Maybe I will be able to after a few years have passed.

Many people have come up to me and said that they like the score very much. In fact, several have said that they think it is the best of all of my recent scores.

DM: You composed much more music for THE LITTLE PRINCE AND THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON (1963) than you did for most of the other movies you scored. How much time did you spend working on that film?

AI: Since it was an animated movie, I was given a much longer period of time than usual to write the score. I spent about four months working on it.

Music for animated films must help express the nature of each of the characters. So, you have to compose much more music than you would for a standard movie. In addition, I was asked to create all of the sound effects, and that took a large amount of time.

DM: How much time did you spend writing music and how much time did you spend creating sound effects?

AI: I can't remember. I was working on another project at the same time.

My clearest memory about scoring THE LITTLE PRINCE AND THE EIGHT- HEADED DRAGON is about working on the music heard during the dance of the goddess. I composed and recorded the music, and then a professional ballet dancer came in and performed to it. The animators watched what she did and modeled their work after her dancing. That's why the timing of the music and the movements of the goddess match so well.

DM: Did you find creating the sound effects difficult?

AI: Choosing the instruments with which to create them took a very long time.

DM: Did you often work on more than one project at a time?

AI: I never scored more than one film at a time. However, I did sometimes work on an orchestral piece or conduct research while I was in the process of composing a score.

DM: How much time did you spend scoring THE THREE TREASURES (1959)?

AI: I spent about as much time working on that movie as I did working on THE LITTLE PRINCE AND THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON. I had to conduct a lot of research. (THE THREE TREASURES is based on KOJIKI, the mythological story of the creation of Japan.)

We had to create replicas of a number of ancient musical instruments. For example, we had a ceramic artist make a replica of a stone flute. It was one of the instruments played by the gods during the dance sequence. We also used some authentic ancient musical instruments.

The stone flute replica is seen in THE THREE TREASURES, but the sound heard coming from it was created with a bamboo flute. The sound produced by the replica was just too weak.

By the way, I was asked to find the score for THE LITTLE PRINCE AND THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON recently so the dance music could be performed for a television program.

I remember that the animators were not very knowledgeable about musical instruments. So, I drew pictures of many for them. That's how each of the gods ended up playing a different instrument.

DM: Did you find scoring the Majin films any easier or harder than scoring the other movies you worked on because they were all made in the same year? (MAJIN - THE MONSTER OF TERROR (1966), THE RETURN OF THE GIANT MAJIN (1966), and MAJIN COUNTERATTACK (1966) were produced by the Daiei Motion Picture Company Ltd., which also produced all of the Gamera films.)

AI: It was easier because I just reused the same theme for Majin in all three movies. The only difficult aspect was creating the theme in the first place.

It is hard to compose music for a god.

By the way, when I was asked to score the first Majin film, I was told that it was going to be very similar to THE GOLEM (1936).

DM: Did you generally find scoring period movies any easier or harder than scoring films set in the present?

AI: I generally found period movies easy to score. The actors' performances were always either exaggerated or very formal, and that made scoring the films easy for me.

There were no cars or telephones in the distant past, so there are very few ambient noises heard in period movies. That's why I always had to compose more music for them than for films set in the present.

Back when the studios were using Mitchell cameras, which made a loud cranking noise, the microphones would pick up the noise. So, I was often asked to try to mask it.

Family dramas were the most difficult movies for me to score. It was always hard for me to compose music to accompany grandparents, parents, and children talking to each other. There are composers who are very good at that sort of thing, but it was always very difficult for me.

DM: Who came up with the idea to produce the recent four compact disc set featuring many of your orchestral works?

AI: Hisaki Matsushita of the King Record Company. I didn't think he was serious when he first approached me, but he did soon afterward reach an agreement with the Japan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra to produce the discs. Almost all of my orchestral works had only been recorded live, so Mr. Matsushita decided to produce studio recordings.

Mr. Matsushita went to China to retrieve the score for ARCTIC FOREST. Unfortunately, since he went during the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II, the person who had the score refused to give it to him out of fear of adversely affecting relations between China and Japan. (Mr. Ifukube composed ARCTIC FOREST in 1944.)

It was very brave of Mr. Matsushita to include OVERTURE OF THE SOLDIERS in the collection. Very few of the orchestral works written by Japanese composers during the war have been released on compact disc.

I remember that Mr. Matsushita said, "If this project fails, I probably will be fired." Fortunately, the discs are selling well.

DM: What was your role in the production of the discs?

AI: Executive director.

Shortly after the collection was released, the Fontec Company came out with a compact disc featuring the premiere performance of JAPANESE SUITE. In addition, a disc featuring a performance of the piece by the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra was released.

DM: Why were the four compact discs recorded with analog equipment instead of digital equipment?

AI: Hatsuro Takanami, the chief recording engineer, made that decision. He told me what his reasons were, but I couldn't understand them because they were too technical.

DM: Are you pleased with the way the collection turned out?

AI: I haven't listened to it carefully yet, so I can't comment on it.

By the way, the conductor, Junichi Hirokami, was a student of mine at the Tokyo College of Music's Institute of Ethnomusicology.

DM: Did Akkeshi Forest inspire you to write TRIPTYQUE ABORIGENE? (Mr. Ifukube was working as a ranger in the forest when he wrote the piece.)

AI: It did. The women of the countryside were very hard workers, so I decided to depict them in the first movement, Payses. The title of the second movement, Timbe, is the name of a cliff on which Japanese forces once killed a group of Ainu. I used to live near the top of that cliff. Pakkai, the third movement, is the name of a song that Ainu men used to sing and dance to when they were drunk. (The Ainu are Japan's equivalent of Native Americans.)

DM: During one of our earlier conversations, you mentioned that JAPANESE RHAPSODY was very well received by foreign music critics. Was BALLATA SINFONICA also well received by them?

AI: JAPANESE RHAPSODY, which was premiered in Boston, became very famous internationally during the 1930s. However, there was no way for BALLATA SINFONICA to be heard by foreign audiences because I composed it in 1943.

SINFONIA TAPKAARA was premiered in Indianapolis. The United States' embassy in Tokyo helped arrange the performance. I remember giving the score to a member of the ambassador's staff.

I later found out that the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra performed Alexander Tcherepnin's Third Symphony shortly after performing SINFONIA TAPKAARA. So, I think Mr. Tcherepnin may have helped arrange its debut. Unfortunately, he died before I had a chance to ask him. (Mr. Ifukube was a student of Mr. Tcherepnin's.)

DM: Was the approach you took toward writing KISHI MAI any different from the one you took toward writing OVERTURE FOR THE SOLDIERS? (Mr. Ifukube wrote KISHI MAI for the Japanese Navy and OVERTURE FOR THE SOLDIERS for the Army.)

AI: I don't remember if the Defense Ministry commissioned those pieces or NHK did. All I remember is that I tried to avoid writing ordinary marches. (NHK is Japan's equivalent of PBS.)

I hadn't seen the score for OVERTURE FOR THE SOLDIERS in more than fifty years. The title was written in French and all of the instructions were in English. I don't know if the piece was ever performed during the war or not.

DM: You included one of the motifs that you composed for SALOME in the score for BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959). Did you often use material from your orchestral works in your film scores?

AI: I would do that whenever I was rushed.

I always feel a little guilty when I hear that another of my scores is going to be released on compact disc. I thought that the scores would be heard in the theater and then forgotten. I never imagined that they would be made available on compact disc.

By the way, I took my wife to see GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER in one of the theaters in the Yurakucho Mullion Building. She said to me, "For forty years you have not taken me to see the movies you score, so why don't you take me to this one?" Unfortunately, we went on a rainy day, and I caught a cold.

DM: What did your wife think of the film?

AI: She just said, "He's huge!" She is used to watching television.

DM: What prompted you to compose RONDO IN BURLESQUE?

AI: It was commissioned by a music association. The original arrangement was strictly for brass band, but then I was asked to add some additional drumming to the arrangement to help give the band run by the university at which I was teaching a more Japanese-sounding repertoire for its upcoming tour of the United States. A number of years later, I was commissioned to orchestrate RONDO IN BURLESQUE so it could be used to round out a performance of SYMPHONIC FANTASIA. (RONDO IN BURLESQUE also features themes from science fiction movies Mr. Ifukube scored.)

DM: Do you prefer the orchestral arrangement of JAPANESE SUITE to the original piano arrangement of the piece?

AI: The orchestral arrangement was commissioned by the Suntory Music Foundation, which holds a special concert featuring the music of one composer every year. After I was chosen to be the composer in 1991, I was asked to orchestrate JAPANESE SUITE for the special concert.

I feel that the original piano arrangement and the orchestral one both have advantages. The piano arrangement is very difficult to play, so the orchestral one is performed more often.

DM: Why are JAPANESE RHAPSODY, SINFONIA TAPKAARA, and SHAKA your favorites of your orchestral works?

AI: JAPANESE RHAPSODY is a very ambitious piece that I wrote when I was very young. I couldn't write a piece like it now.

I like the form of SINFONIA TAPKAARA.

I felt very fulfilled when I wrote SHAKA because it was very difficult for me to compose an extended work that didn't sound European.

By the way, a French company released SHAKA on compact disc recently. The company at first could not afford plastic cases, so it used cardboard packaging. Later on, after the disc proved to be successful, the company reissued it in plastic cases.

DM: What prompted you to write MUSIC GUIDE?

AI: Many Japanese people lost interest in traditional music during the early 1950s. All they wanted to hear was European and American music. So, I tried to promote traditional music. I discussed the history of music from its beginnings in ancient times through to the end of World War II. Another reason why I wrote the book was that I'd noticed that people tended to form opinions about music not by actually listening to it, but by reading reviews of it. So, I tried to persuade people to listen with their own ears.

DM: Did you have any difficulty finding a publisher?

AI: Kanami, the publishing company, approached me.

DM: What prompted you to write ORCHESTRATION?

AI: I taught at a music college after the war, and spent a lot of time researching orchestration. I'd had the idea to write a book on the subject for many years. I thought that amateur composers would find such a book very helpful.

Unfortunately, I lost the manuscript shortly after I completed it. It fell out a window while I was riding a train home from work. I went to look for the manuscript the next day, but couldn't find it.

Fortunately, I remembered everything that I'd written. So, I managed to rewrite the book. The process took me about a year.

Volume Two was published about fifteen years after Volume One. One reason why I didn't write it earlier was a lack of acoustic research. Another was that I had to use a lot of charts that had been created by various researchers, and obtaining permission to do so took a very long time.

The materials I used for teaching were my own manuscripts. At one point I was told not to use them because they were too advanced, so I resigned.

There were a lot of misprints in ORCHESTRATION when it was first published. That was because the text was in English, German, and Italian along with Japanese. Even the dedication to Mr. Tcherepnin, which was in Russian because he was Russian, wasn't printed correctly. It was very frustrating for me. However, I'm very glad the book was published. It's the story of my life.


Akira Ifukube Interview © 1992, 1993, 2006 David Milner. Used with permission of the author.
Format © 2006 Daikaiju Publishing.

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