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GODZILLA SINGULAR POINT – Kan Sawada

September 14, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Godzilla Singular Point is the 287th television series and/or film based on the popular Japanese kaiju lizard character to be released since he first appeared in 1955. Actually, that’s not true; it just feels like it sometimes. It’s actually an animated TV series directed by Atsushi Takahashi, produced in Japan for Netflix, which debuted on the streaming platform in April 2021. The setting is Nigashio City in the year 2030. Engineer Yun Arikawa (voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch in English) investigates happenings in a Western-style house, long thought abandoned. Meanwhile Mei Kamino (Erika Harlacher), a graduate student studying imaginary creatures, investigates a series of mysterious signals emanating from a different abandoned building. These two strangers, visiting completely different places as part of completely different investigations, eventually contact one other when they realize they are hearing the same song, and once they become united they are led into a battle against a new group of kaiju monsters – and one very old, very famous one.

Out of all the most popular global media franchises, Godzilla is probably the one with which I am least familiar. My first ever exposure to it was via the 1978 Hanna-Barbera English-language animated TV series; I have since seen Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film, Gareth Edwards’s 2014 film, and the two sequels in the Legendary ‘monsterverse’ which feature the character, plus I have heard all those scores. In terms of the classic Japanese Shōwa Era films, I have seen a few clips from the original 1955 film, and I have heard the classic score by Akira Ifukube… and that’s where my knowledge essentially ends. I have seen none of the subsequent 14 Shōwa films, none from the Heisei era, none from the Millennium era, none from the Reiwa era, and none of the Japanese TV series. In terms of music, I have heard bits and pieces here and there – a few cues from Ifukube’s sequels, Michiru Ohshima’s Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, Shirô Sagisu’s Shin Godzilla, and Takayuki Hattori’s quartet Godzilla 2000, Planet of the Monsters, City on the Edge of Battle, and The Planet Eater – but I am not super familiar with any of them. There’s probably a ton of terrific music that I’m missing out on, but Godzilla is just not a part of my personal cultural lexicon, and at this point it just feels too daunting to get involved in it now – which is why it’s so surprising to me that this particular project’s music caught my imagination in the way it did.

The score for Godzilla Singular Point is by composer Kan Sawada, who says that “the Godzilla Singular Point soundtrack is an homage to my favorite Shōwa tokusatsu and fantasy films. The Jet Jaguar theme at the factory, the mysterious song that solves the secret of the singularity, the song of cute Pelops II, and the themes of the various monsters, all color the story.” It’s a score that is enormously creative, sometimes very silly, sometimes very beautiful, and sometimes reaches enormous heights of heroism and intensity through its action and adventure music. Sawada also spotlights a new arrangement of Akira Ifukube’s famous Godzilla theme from the original 1950s movie, to ensure that the links between this show and its predecessors is maintained.

The anchor of the score is an original song, called “Alapu Upala,” which is the aforementioned tune that brings the protagonists together when they hear it being broadcast from various buildings, and which is intended to sound like an Indian folk song. It appears in several versions, including a ‘Popular Song’ version, a ‘Choral’ version, a ‘Requiem’ version, and what Sawada calls the ‘Unknown Future’ version. Indian vocalist Annette Philip provides much of the content for these cues; her rich, dense, complicated vocal stylings add an unusual tone to both the ‘Popular Song’ and the ‘Unknown Future’ versions, which is unexpectedly excellent. The ‘Unknown Future’ version also contains an unusual electronic effect which reminds me of the things Maurice Jarre was doing in the 1980s. However, the standouts are the ‘Choral’ version and the ‘Requiem’ version, both of which are stunningly beautiful and swell to large, emotional heights. It’s an interesting idea, having a ‘pop song’ be the thematic anchor for the score, but it also allows Sawada to be clever with it, dropping it in and out of the score in lots of different guises, so it earworms its way into the consciousness of the listener without you ever really being aware of it.

Weaving in and out of the score are several other themes; some of them recur, while some of them only appear once due to the leitmotif nature of the score, but their effectiveness is excellent. A sort of all-encompassing ‘mystery theme’ first appears in the second cue, “A Man Named Ashihara,” and is full of moody cello textures, augmented with an equally sinister duet for piano and dulcimer; it re-appears much later, in “The Ashihara Catastrophe,” with a sound and feel that reminds me of a John Williams 1990s thriller – perhaps Presumed Innocent, or something like that. Related to this is a theme which underscores the various online investigations the protagonists undertake while trying to discover the source of the song and the reason for the kaiju attacks; cues like “Hunch” and “Solve It and Find Out” feature this idea prominently, an inquisitive combination of light piano chords, string sustains, quirky woodwinds, and upbeat bubbling electronic textures.

Perhaps the oddest theme in the score is the one relating to Pelops, a cute artificial intelligence dog, which is a quirky and offbeat comedy march for saccharine-sweet video-game synth textures, pizzicato strings, and vaguely jazzy clarinets, and which can be heard in the three “I’m Pelops II!” cues. Conversely, the show’s three prominent kaiju – the dragon-like Rodan, the monkey-like Salunga, and the dinosaur-like Anguirus – all get their own motif, and this is where the score gets really good. In these cues Sawada starts bringing out his enormous orchestral and choral forces to give musical voice to these equally enormous creatures. “Radio Wave Monster Rodan” is a huge, imposing march with a terrific rhythmic part in the cue’s second half; “New Monster Salunga” is just superb, and features some remarkably complicated string writing underpinned with furious percussion and throbbing brass clusters; and “Precognitive Monster Anguirus” is perhaps a little more ominous, with slithery woodwind textures that emerge into wondrous crescendos where the choir combines with harps, and then with rousing, dramatic brass chords.

Finally, the star of the show – Godzilla himself – has his brief appearances underscored with Sawada’s arrangement of the classic Akira Ifukube Godzilla theme, which can be heard in “Godzilla Appearance Theme – Prologue,” “Godzilla Appearance Theme – Singular Point,” and “Godzilla’s Theme – Singular Point”. The arrangement in “Godzilla Appearance Theme – Prologue” is interesting in terms of how Sawada makes the theme feel almost like a lament through the use of a prominent cello solo and searching, emotional strings. Later, the arrangement in “Godzilla’s Theme – Singular Point” is epic and rousing, with an especially tremendous finale.

Everything else is balls-to-the-wall action, and it’s outstanding, some of the best and most intense orchestral writing of this type this year. Cues like “Approaching Monsters,” “Battle Positions,” “Kaiju Appear,” and “Monster Battle Gong” have a density and weight and powerfulness to them that is quite intoxicating, with notably strong and rousing brass phrases backed by fast-paced rhythmic string ostinatos. “Go! Jet Jaguar” is a sensational marching band-esque action variant of the main Alapu Upala song, and is a ton of throwback fun. “Monsters’ Awakening” has some outstanding writing for layers of strings, trilling and dancing around each other. “Fighting Youth” is a terrific, upbeat, heroic anthem built around a memorable melody that wouldn’t sound out of place in a super-hero movie.

There’s also something identifiably ‘Japanese’ about this music that I really don’t have the technical knowledge to fully describe; there’s something about the actual rhythms, the structuring and layering of the instruments, the chord progressions, which relates back to traditional Japanese folk and classical music, and which in turn influences the way these composers write for western orchestras. Naoki Sato does it when he really goes for it in his action writing, as do Joe Hisaishi, Takayuki Hattori, Yoko Kanno, and many others, including now Kan Sawada. I absolutely love it.

However, my favorite action cue is undoubtedly “Yun and Haberu,” which contains a chanted vocal effect – ‘dom dobba dobba dobba dobba dobba dom’ – that is both completely ridiculous and completely brilliant, and made me laugh out loud and grin like an idiot the first time I heard it. The way it builds over the course of just over two minutes, eventually emerging to a stunning, triumphant anthem for soaring brass and intense snare drum riffs, it just outstanding. “The Singular Point” is Sawada’s take on a brand new Ifukube-esque march for the titular concept, complete with a chanting choir and sampled Godzilla roars, before the climax in “Humanity’s All-Out Attack,” which is as massive and overwhelming as one might anticipate with a title such as that, and even includes a bank of electric guitars for added coolness!

Unfortunately Godzilla Singular Point is not available on streaming services in North America, although a physical album can be ordered online as an import from retailers like CD Japan, Play Asia, and others. The full album is also available to hear on YouTube, and if that’s your only available resource, I strongly recommend taking advantage of it. Here’s a handy link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3QH_-nCXrQ&list=PLKbVb9NODfL4UykZKw9lmnI-kQq4ArtyU

This is the first score by Kan Sawada I have heard, and one of the only non-American Godzilla scores I have ever heard, but if this is the standard across the genre then I am certainly inclined to investigate more. While I acknowledge that there are likely to be some deep-cut references to Godzilla score lore buried deep within this music that I’m simply unaware of, even without that frame of reference Godzilla Singular Point is outstanding purely on its own terms. The multiplicity of themes, the loving respect to the legacy of Akira Ifukube, and the strength and power of the action music, are all things worthy of significant praise, and I hope we get a Season 2 of this show next year so that Sawada can bring us some more of this brilliance.

Buy the Godzilla Singular Point soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Alapu Upala – Popular Song Version (2:39)
  • A Man Named Ashihara (2:09)
  • The Strange Misakioku (2:53)
  • Hunch (2:01)
  • I’m Pelops II! (1:11)
  • Mr. O’s Attack (2:05)
  • Approaching Monsters (2:28)
  • Go! Jet Jaguar (2:13)
  • I’m Pelops II! – Friendly Version (1:45)
  • Battle Positions (1:48)
  • Alapu Upala – Choir Version (2:31)
  • Godzilla Appearance Theme – Prologue (2:37)
  • Monsters’ Awakening (3:00)
  • Radio Wave Monster Rodan (2:56)
  • Kaiju Appear (2:21)
  • Solve It and Find Out (2:01)
  • I’m Pelops II! – Intelligence Level Increased Version (1:48)
  • Fighting Youth (3:37)
  • Yun and Haberu (2:19)
  • Alapu Upala – Requiem Version (2:59)
  • The Ashihara Catastrophe (2:06)
  • New Monster Salunga (1:45)
  • Monster Battle Gong (2:01)
  • Red Dust (1:40)
  • Precognitive Monster Anguirus (2:52)
  • The Singular Point (3:20)
  • Alapu Upala – Unknown Future Version (3:22)
  • Humanity’s All-Out Attack (3:36)
  • Godzilla Appearance Theme – Singular Point (3:31)
  • Godzilla’s Theme – Singular Point (3:54)
  • Alapu Upala (2:03)

Running Time: 77 minutes 16 seconds

Toho Records (2021)

Music composed by Kan Sawada. Conducted by XXXX. Orchestrations by XXXX. Original Godzilla theme by Akira Ifukube. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Edited by XXXX. Album produced by Kan Sawada.

  1. John E
    September 14, 2021 at 6:09 pm

    I think that the “WANDABADA” in the “Yun and Haberu” song is an homage to Ultraman, another popular Japanese sci-fi series. Toru Fuyuki, who wrote a lot of music for the Ultraman series in the ’60s and ’70s, used that technique for the themes of various science teams such as MAT and TAC.

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