Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > GODZILLA [GOJIRA] – Akira Ifukube

GODZILLA [GOJIRA] – Akira Ifukube


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Toho studio producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was greatly impressed by the film The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and resolved to create a Japanese version. He penned his own script and pitched it to Toho Studio executive Iwao Mori, who signed off on the project. Renowned special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya was hired and affirmed that it was financially and technologically feasible to create the monster, suggesting the use suitmation (an actor in a costume suit) over stop motion animation. Ishirō Honda was given the reigns to direct the film and he selected a fine cast which included Akira Takarada as Captain Hideto Ogata, Momoko Kochi as Emiko Yamane, Akihiko Hirata as Daisuke Serizawa and Takashi Shimura as Dr. Kyohei Yamane. The screenplay underwent several incarnations, evolving over time with contributions from many writers including Tsuburaya, science fiction writer Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata, and Honda.

Producer Tanaka was insistent that the film serve as an allegory on the atomic bomb, which devastated Japan. He ordered Honda to portray the monster’s devastation of Tokyo in a manner one would expect from a nuclear blast. He related;

“The theme of the film, from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind. If Godzilla had been a dinosaur or some other animal, he would have been killed by just one cannonball. But if he were equal to an atomic bomb, we wouldn’t know what to do. So, I took the characteristics of an atomic bomb and applied them to Godzilla.”

The film’s narrative crystallized around this monster, who would serve as a metaphor for all that is wrong with the Atomic Age. The story opens with fisherman at a loss to explain why all the fish have vanished. This is followed by the mysterious destruction of two ships. A scientific team is sent to investigate Ootojima Island after 17 homes are crushed, with people and livestock killed. Large radioactive footprints are discovered and it is postulated that atomic bomb testing has released a monster from the ocean depths. Soon all is revealed as the behemoth Godzilla appears and proceeds to wreck havoc upon Japan. It destroys Tokyo, and is apparently impervious to electricity and all conventional weaponry. Ultimately Godzilla succumbs to a diabolical new weapon, the “Oxygen Destroyer” created by the inscrutable Dr. Serizawa. He personally fires the weapon, which disintegrates oxygen atoms, thus asphyxiating Godzilla. Humanity triumphs this time, but the threat of another Godzilla looms, waiting for another nuclear explosion to unleash it. The film performed well enough commercially in Japan, but met with mixed critical response. There was no Academy Award consideration, but the film did spawn an amazing franchise, with 30 additional movies over five decades. Lastly, Godzilla represented a seminal event in cinematic history in that it created a new genre – massive monster destruction films.

Tanaka was purposeful in selecting his creative team, and had only one composer in mind for Godzilla – Akira Ifukube. They had collaborated on several projects and Tanaka understood that his behemoth Godzilla would require “big music” to match his awesome presence. He felt Ifukube’s grandiose sound would be a perfect complement to the film. He offered Ifukube the project unconventionally – he had the script delivered to his door![1] Ifukube was captivated by the story and felt obligated to Tanaka, who had given him his first scoring assignment Snow Trail (1947)[1]. He took up the project with a passion and never looked back, creating two primary themes, three secondary themes, and lastly, some source music. He understood that Godzilla required an anthem whose weight and power matched his massive onscreen presence. For Godzilla’s identity he created Godzilla’s March, a 15 note melodic line powered by repeating triplet phrasing. It emotes with an aura of melancholia born by three-note (C-B-A)[1] string doloroso figures emoted over thundering bass statements, which echo Godzilla’s deafening footsteps – a marcia distruttiva. Ifukube demonstrates mastery of his craft by providing a truly horrific and monstrous cadence of destruction. Sharp piercing string jabs join to unsettle and fill us with dread. This theme carries the monster’s progress, its destruction, and devastation. The second theme for Godzilla is the Godzilla Fury Theme, which speaks to its primal nature and supports its destructive rampage. It too is long lined with a syncopated 18-note A Phrase, and a 17-note B Phrase. It emotes with a slower and more pronounced plodding cadence than the march, and is carried by unison horns and woodwinds, and a pianist striking his keyboard with his fist!

For his secondary themes we have the Oxygen Destroyer Theme, which consists of sul ponticello violins playing a high-pitched screeching tremolo near their bridges, joined by a crushing, violent piano tone cluster with all the pedals down[1]. Next we have the Military Theme, a classic marcia militare with unison trumpets, which supports the efforts of the Japanese Defense Force to attack Godzilla. Lastly, we have the Prayer For Peace Theme, a very moving string laden elegy, which speaks to the suffering of the fallen as well as the hope of a brighter future. It was the first score piece that Ifukube composed, and he offers both an instrumental and choral version. For the choral version he recruited a very large girls’ choir from the Toho Gakuen School of Music to sing his solemn Heiwa no inori, “Prayer for Peace” cue[1]. I align the cues in film sequence for my review. Worth noting is that it was Ifukube who also created Godzilla’s roar and thunderous foot falls. By uncoiling the E string of a contrabass and yanking it away from its bridge with leather gloves coated in pine tar, he created a roar. Several yanking speeds were recorded and then overlaid to create a composite roar[1]. For the footfalls Ifukube found a primitive amplifier with ten internal coils, which when struck hard created a shattering, thunderous boom[1].

“Godzilla Approaches” opens the film as the Toho Studio logo display. We are assaulted by monstrous thunderous footfalls that would surely shatter the Earth’s crust. As the roll of the opening credits begin deafening roars resound evoking aural terror. Godzilla is nowhere to be seen but we are never the less beset by his presence. We segue into “Godzilla Main Title” where Ifukube introduces his now iconic Godzilla March, which joins in unholy communion with Godzilla’s monstrous roars and thundering footfalls. These two cues are score highlights, which reveal Ifukube’s genius in conception, and execution in instilling fear and capturing the film’s core narrative. Cue #23 features the film version where the aforementioned cues are joined. “Ship Music” reveal sailors playing source music consisting of a harmonica and guitar on the deck of the Eikou-Maru. At 0:18 we segue ominously into the “Sinking of Eikou-Maru” as a massive fireball erupts from out of the ocean depths, consuming the ship in a fiery cataclysm as a futile SOS is radioed out. Dark, low, strummed piano strings rumble, joined with a grim descending bass figure and kindred strings furioso, which impart terror and perfectly support the Eikou-Maru’s fiery death.

In “Sinking of Bingou-Maru” a rescue ship has been deployed in response to the SOS plea. The ship suffers the same fate and we have a reprise of the prior cue’s terror by the rumbling of dark, low, strummed piano strings with strings furiosa churning over a grim, slow falling brass figure. “Anxieties on Ootojima Island” reveals a rising panic as newspaper headlines report the mysterious ship sinkings. Ifukube sows mystery and anxiety with a milieu of repeating atonal piano scales. At 0:11 we scene change to Ootojima Island where concerned islanders spot a raft off shore. Ifukube sustains his soundscape with repeating, falling woodwind and string figures. “Ootojima Temple Festival” offers exotic source music, which supports a village elder recounting how in the old days they would sacrifice a girl to appease Godzilla. Costumed shamans perform a ritual dance to support an exorcism instead, which Ifukube supports with a small retinue consisting of oboe, harp, shinobue and noh flutes, gongs, and tom toms. In “Stormy Ootojima Island” a fierce storm is battering the island, and families are awoken by thundering footfalls, which shakes the island to its foundation. A hut begins shaking and collapses, as the villagers cry out in fear. Ifukube sows terror with falling low register horns attended by tremolo bass, with rising and descending string waves as the deafening footfalls resound. We conclude with a nascent statement of the Godzilla Fury Theme, carried by a descending horn figure attended by trumpets and eerie string figures.

In the film the Military Theme, a classic festive marcia militare sounds as a research vessel is launched to investigate the disconcerting disasters. With the crowd we see the mysterious professor Serizawa watching Emiko depart with Professor Yamane. In “Theme for OOotojima Island” professor Yamane’s team surveys the damage on Ootojima Island. They discover 17 homes have been crushed, and many people and livestock killed. Large radioactive footprints are discovered and it is postulated that atomic bomb testing has released a monster from the ocean depths. The mood is somber as a repeating line of descending horns lugubri sound over a string sustain. “Godzilla Appears On Odo Island” offers an unrecorded cue. It was Ifukube’s original conception to have music for the scene as the villagers hear thundering foot falls and rush up a hill for a sighting of Godzilla. As they approach the hilltop Godzilla rears his monstrous head up over the crest, which causes everyone to flee in abject terror. Ifukube’s manuscript indicates he wrote a suspenseful ascending ostinato for piano and contrabassoon with a tam-tam strike for Godzilla’s first appearance, but it appears Honda decided to instead use only Godzilla’s footfalls and roars[1].

In “Japanese Army March I” the government orders its fleet to attack and destroy Godzilla. The bold and confident horns of the Military Theme propels and supports the sight of Japanese frigates detonating a series of depth charges. “Horror of the Water Tank” introduces the mysterious Dr. Serizawa who demonstrates to love interest Emiko the horrific destructive power of his Oxygen Destroyer. He puts a pellet into an aquarium filled with fish, and activates the device. Emiko turns away and screams in horror, leaving us to imagine what she saw. Ifukube introduces his diabolical Oxygen Destroyer Theme, emoted by intense sul ponticello violin bowing near their bridges, which creates a high-pitched screeching tremolo. This is joined with a crushing, violent piano tone cluster, struck with all the pedals down. In “Godzilla Comes Ashore” thunderous footfalls signal Godzilla’s presence in Tokyo bay. Soldiers open fire with machine guns in a futile attempt to stop it. We bear witness to grim falling woodwind figures, and a powerful, pounding, low register piano cadence, which joins with Godzilla’s Fury Theme propelled by dire low register horns and timpani. The scene concludes with Dr. Yamane and Emiko escaping up a hill, as Godzilla comes ashore and destroys a train. He then destroys a bridge before returning to the waters of the bay.

The government resolves to build an electrical wire barrier to prevent further incursions by Godzilla. The intense energy and drive of the Godzilla March propels the mobilization and building of the grid. The cue for this scene is omitted from the album. In “Godzilla’s Rampage” we are offered a score highlight with a full rendering of the Godzilla Fury Theme. The army has assumed defensive positions as Godzilla is sighted in the bay heading towards Tokyo. It comes ashore and is greeted with an ineffective barrage of artillery fire. Godzilla is impervious and first destroys the electrical fence, and then unleashes his fiery atomic breath to lay waste to the city. The dire horn fare and pounding piano strikes of both the A and B Phrases of the Godzilla Fury Theme carries his plodding progress and path of destruction. “Desperate Broadcast” reveal reporters broadcasting from a tower to catalogue Godzilla’s devastation. Their flash bulb photography attracts Godzilla’s attention and rage, resulting in their death as it smashes the tower and they fall to their doom. A harsh sawing violin ostinato, powerful horn blasts, and a grim cadence of low register hammered piano strikes support the scene. In “Godzilla Comes to Tokyo Bay” Godzilla turns back towards Tokyo Bay, laying waste to all that stands in his way. A variant plodding cadence of very low register piano, bass and clarinet carry his destructive progress.

“Intercept Godzilla” reveals a relentless aerial assault by the Japanese air force, which pounds Godzilla with a barrage of missiles. There is hope of survival as Godzilla departs, descending into the bays watery depths. The scene is supported with the energy of the Godzilla March in all its monstrous glory. “Tragic Sight of the Imperial Capital” offers a stirring score highlight. It reveals the aftermath of Godzilla’s devastation as we bear witness to the tragedy, which has befallen Tokyo. The city lies in ruins and we see the desperate, injured and dying flocking to hospitals. Ifukube introduces an instrumental version of his Prayer For Peace Theme, a very emotional heartfelt elegy, which brings a quiver and a tear. Strings doloroso, muted horns and plaintive woodwinds fill us with sadness and empathy. In “Oxygen Destroyer” we are offered yet another score highlight. Emiko makes a fateful decision to tell her boyfriend Ogata about Serizawa’s terrible secret weapon. A flashback to Serizawa’s laboratory reveals the terrible power of the Oxygen Destroyer as we see all the fish turned to skeletons. Serizawa portends his doom when he informs Ogata that the secret of the Oxygen Destroyer is too dangerous as long as he lives. We have a reprise of the Oxygen Destroyer Theme, although this variant carries much greater pathos, as it is embellished with a threnody by solo cello doloroso.

“Prayer for Peace” is a supreme score highlight, which graces us with a poignant choral rendering of Ifukube’s timeless “Prayer for Peace” melody. We see the girl’s choir assembled and singing as the choral elegy is broadcast over the radio. The camera supports the pathos by providing a panorama of the ghastly human tragedy, as well as Tokyo’s ruin and devastation. This choral rendering is supported by strings and horns solenne. As Serizawa hears it, he is moved and decides to forfeit his life by personally using the device to destroy Godzilla. “Japanese Army March II” offers the Military Theme, a classic festive marcia militare as a naval flotilla takes Serizawa, Ogata, Emiko and Dr. Yamane out into the bay. In “Godzilla at the Ocean Floor” the score reaches its emotional apogee. Serizawa and Ogata descend into the bay with the oxygen destroyer. Serizawa and Ogata’s descent is supported by the Prayer For Peace Theme, now rendered solemnly as a paean of hope. Their arrival at the bay bottom stirs Godzilla awake and Ogata ascends, leaving Serizawa to his fate. As Godzilla approaches, Serizawa activates the oxygen destroyer and wishes Emiko and Ogata well as he cuts off his own lifeline. We see Godzilla consumed in the chemical fury of the oxygen destroyer, its flesh obliterated, leaving only its skeleton. Strings nobile honor Serizawa’s sacrifice, and are countered by a faint and fleeting echo of the Godzilla Fury Theme as Godzilla perishes.

In “Ending” Emiko and Ogata mourn Serizawa’s sacrifice. Dr. Yamane however is plagued by what has happened and theorizes that another Godzilla may someday appear if nuclear testing continues. The film ends with the crew honoring Serizawa’s sacrifice with a salute. Ifukube supports the powerful emotions in play and end the film forthrightly with a heartfelt rendering of his Prayer for Peace Theme, carried by chorus, strings doloroso and muted horns. “Godzilla Leaving” offers a reprise of the horrific roars and footfalls of Godzilla, which slowly dissipate, fading out in a grim diminuendo.

I would like to thank Michael V. Gerhard and Matt Verboys of La La Land Records for this long sought restoration of Akira Ifukube’s masterwork, Godzilla, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the film’s debut. The original monaural recordings were abysmal and thanks to the efforts of James Nelson’s digital re-mastering, we now have dramatically improved stereophonic sound. Sonic purists will find fault with some of the recordings remaining imperfections, but still am thankful and appreciative of this effort. I would also like to personally thank Eric Homenick, the webmaster of akiraifukube.org. His site is a magnificent testament to the composer, and the chapter on Godzilla provided a wealth of details and information instrumental in assisting me understand Ifukube’s efforts. I have noted these as [1] and am thankful for the information. I highly encourage you to visit this wonderful site and journey through its treasure trove of information regarding this wonderful composer.

Just as Godzilla was a seminal film in that it established the “Massive Monster Destruction” genre, so to was Ifukube’s score a seminal event in that he created the “Massive Monster” sound, which fully matched the film’s visuals. The Godzilla March is iconic and has passed into legend, spawning numerous efforts by subsequent composers to empower the massive monsters of their films. Ifukube wrote a thematically rich score with his innovative Oxygen Destroyer Theme as well as his superb elegiac Prayer For Peace Theme, which captured the pathos of the Japanese people as well as their hope and longing for a brighter future. Also noteworthy is his sonic creation of Godzilla’s monstrous roar and thundering footfalls. This score is a cinematic triumph for Ifukube and a Golden Age classic. I highly recommend you seek out this score and add to your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar, I have embedded a YouTube link for the astounding Main Title: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0G_X-mQWa0o&list=PL60rI_HpVJ4iUUI3uxiLbaDHDJXcVMrjp

Buy the Godzilla soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Godzilla Approaches (Sound Effects) (0:49)
  • Godzilla Main Title (1:31)
  • Ship Music/Sinking of Eikou-Maru (1:06)
  • Sinking of Bingou-Maru (0:23)
  • Anxieties on Ootojima Island (0:50)
  • Ootojima Temple Festival (1:21)
  • Stormy Ootojima Island (1:53)
  • Theme for Ootojima Island (0:34)
  • Japanese Army March I (0:42)
  • Horror of the Water Tank (0:42)
  • Godzilla Comes Ashore (1:52)
  • Godzilla’s Rampage (2:25)
  • Desperate Broadcast (1:12)
  • Godzilla Comes to Tokyo Bay (1:25)
  • Intercept Godzilla (1:27)
  • Tragic Sight of the Imperial Capital (2:18)
  • Oxygen Destroyer (3:11)
  • Prayer for Peace (2:48)
  • Japanese Army March II (0:21)
  • Godzilla at the Ocean Floor (6:20)
  • Ending (1:41)
  • Godzilla Leaving (Sound Effects) (1:04)
  • Main Title (Film Version) (2:03) [BONUS]
  • First Landing (Film Version) (3:37) [BONUS]
  • Tokyo in Flames (Film Version) (2:17) [BONUS]
  • Last Assault (Film Version) (2:21) [BONUS]

Running Time: 46 minutes 28 seconds

La-La Land Records LLCD-1022 (1954/2012)

Music composed and conducted by Akira Ifukube. Orchestrations by Akira Ifukube. Score produced by Akira Ifukube. Album produced by MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys.

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