Horrible news, Godzilla music composer Akira Ifukube has died. Ifukube was one of the three people who were the heart of Godzilla, along with director Ishiro Honda and special effects director Eiji Tsubaraya. In fact, Ifukube was Godzilla's voice. It was his idea to run a metal glove down a bass string that created the distinctive sound of G's roar.
Even people who don't know about who scored the Godzilla films intuitively know Ifukube. When you hear those first bass notes of Godzilla's theme, you know the giant monster is about to arrive. For me, his themes for the movements of the military and the actions of the heroes always cheer me up. They are march songs, stirring and moving. I could listen to them at any time.
Here's what Steve Ryfle says about Ifukube in his book "Japan's Favorite Mon-Star" (which is a classic book about Godzilla, a must read):
A KAIJU CACOPHONY: The illusion of Godzilla's size and irrefutable power was reinforced by the thundering sounds of Akira Ifukube, who wrote one of the most memorable musical scores in sci-fi movie history and who supervised the creation of Godzilla's distinctive, immortal roar. Despite his background in classical music and as a composer of serious dramatic films, Ifukube never shied away from [G producer Tomoyuki] Tanaka's oddball monster movie, not even when his contemporaries said it was beneath him and urged him not to do it. After just a few introductory meetings with Tanaka, Tsuburaya, and Honda to discuss the project, Ifukube enthusiastically accepted the assignment. "Something monstrous comes out and makes you jump out of your wits!" Ifukube said. "It is sheer fear, not an abstraction, and it is global. Moreover, my specialty was biology. [Ifukube had worked in forestry.] I couldn't sit still when I heard that in this movie the main character was a reptile that would be rampaging through the city."
Ifukube also did work outside of the Godzilla films, from science fiction spectacular's like The Mysterians and Atragon to samurai classics such as they Zatoichi series. For a listing of his work, check out The Akira Ifukube Page.
It is less well known that Ifukube was an accomplished classical composer. His Japanese Rhapsody won a prestigious international prize and was first performed in 1936 by the Boston People's Orchestra.
Here's an interesting passage from David Kalat's "A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series":
Ifukube's compositional style, which creates music with distinctly Asian qualities whileusing the instruments of traditiona European classical music, is one of emotional extremes and operatic values. During World War II, the Japanese military commissioned him to compose nationalistic hymns for the Pacific islands the Japanese "liberated" from the white people. Ironically, when General Douglas MacArthur arrived at Atsugi Air Force Base in August 1945 at the end of the war, the band performed Ifukubes brass band march for the Filipino people, much to Ifukube's surprise.There's a lot more about him in Kalat's book, another essential text for Godzilla fans. You can also find information on Ifukube on Wikipedia. Tim Lucas writes a well thought out piece on the composer here.
At the peak of his career, Ifukube scored as many as fifteen films per year, eventually scoring more than two hundred features. Ifukube's themes would make an indelible mark on listeners and would be used frequently over forty years, although ironically, he composed the Gojira soundtrack in under a week, without having seen any of the footage. Ifukube simply relied on Honda's assertion that Godzilla would be "one of the biggest things ever on the screen."
Celebrate the man's life by picking up the King Kong vs. Godzilla soundtrack, one of the soundtracks he was most proud of. (And it's always been a crime that his music was taken out of the American version of the film.) Also, check out this Amazon Listmania! for what Ifukube music is available.
This also marks the end of an era. Ifukube was the only one of the creative masters behind the original Gojira who lived past its 50th anniversary. With the composer's passing, the creators of Godzilla pass into history. Long may their work live on.
UPDATE: Picture of Ifukube found at Tokyo Monsters.