Godzilla Legend—Music of Akira Ifukube”

Posted by Justin D Williams

For the first time in the U.S., legendary Japanese composer Akira Ifukube’s massively influential monster music comes to life in the chamber pop/rock aural extravaganza, Godzilla Legend—Music of Akira Ifukube. Presented by Japan's popular techno-pop band Hikashu, this 90-minute tour de force performance features favorite themes and sensational musical set pieces from some of the most revered Godzilla movies of all time. Devised and arranged by Hikashu founding member INOUE Makoto under Ifukube's endorsement, the performance features narration by Inoue, who also plays synthesizers, and appearances by 'extreme vocalist' and multi-instrumentalist MAKIGAMI Koichi, current Hikashu front man, and rising star art-pop duo Charan-Po-Rantan. The one-night-only concert takes place Friday, April 28, 7:30 pm, at Japan Society.

Playing throughout Japan in various incarnations since 1984 (most notably for 100,000 people at the 2012 Fuji Rock Festival, Japan's largest annual summer outdoor concert), Godzilla Legend—Music of Akira Ifukube opens with a haunting rendition of the sea shanty sung by ill-fated sailors in the opening of the original 1954 Godzilla film. This dives into the immediately recognizable "Main Title," a pounding, perpetual mixed-meter march, incessantly loping and lurching forward like the monster itself. What follows is an adventurous compilation of some of the most memorable music adapted from such classic films as RODAN! (1956), MOTHRA (1961), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) and many more. Styles encompass rousing military marches, stirring dirges echoing human heartache of destruction (and sometimes the sentimentality of the monsters), pastiches of Japanese folk music, a range of atonal experiments and the signature sci-fi quavers of synthesizers, theremin and more.

A highlight is the aural appearance of the only beast to best Godzilla: Mothra, including the hymn-like theme for the creature and the infections "Mothra’s Song", taking flight through the hypotonic harmonies of Charan-Po-Rantan, standing in for the twin fairies made famous by the 60s pop duo The Peanuts (note: the latter song is the only music on the bill not composed by Ifukube.)

The concert is brought to life through a blend of rock, pop, jazz, and electronica as well as spectacular improvised interludes—experimental soundscapes that capture the exotic locations of the films or the doom dripping darkness from which the monsters rise. While a night of fun and celebration, Inoue also pays homage to serious themes of the films: that these cinematic horrors were inspired by the prevalence of natural disasters in Japan, as well as man-made catastrophes such as the devastating fires that resulted from the Tokyo air raids during WWII and the cataclysmic atomic bombings. He notes that these themes still echo today with the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis following the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011.

In addition to Inoue (synthesizer, narration), Makigami (vocals, Theremin, gong), and Charan-Po-Rantan (vocals, accordion), musicians include Hikashu members MITA Freeman (guitar), SAKAIDE Masami (bass), SHIMIZU Kazuto (synthesizer), and SATO Masaharu (drums), and seasoned guest musicians Tatsumi Kogoro (trumpet), YOSHIDA Ryuichi (baritone sax), and GOTO Atsushi (trombone). [NOTE: Most members of the band prefer that their names appear in standard Japanese order, surname followed by given name; in these instances, surnames appear in all caps.]

Since Godzilla first stepped out of the sea in 1954, it has been a global cinematic phenomenon. While many credit the film's producer, director and special effects designer for the genesis of Japan's most recognized movie monster, there was a seminal fourth figure instrumental to the creature’s conception and lasting resonance in the hearts and imaginations of audiences around the world: composer Akira Ifukube (1914–2006). A profoundly prolific, classically trained composer with dozens of concert works and nearly 300 film scores to his credit, Ifukube not only provided Godzilla’s indelible musical accompaniment for the first film and many of its most popular sequels, he literally gave voice to Godzilla, creating the creature’s signature roar by stroking a tuned-down double base with resin-covered gloves and ominous footsteps by kettledrum struck with a knotted rope.

Born in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido in 1914, Ifukube became interested in music at a young age, with early influences ranging from traditional Japanese music and the folk music of Japan’s indigenous Ainu people of the Hokkaido region, to Western 20th century composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Manuel de Falla. Before his teens, Ifukube started practicing violin and guitar, and was writing music at age 13. Though he studied forestry at Hokkaido University (his thesis was on the acoustics of wood), he established himself as a concert music composer after graduating, winning the international Tcherepnin Award at the age of 21 for his Japanese Symphony.

After WWII Ifukube was invited to Tokyo to produce music for Toho Studios. His first film score in 1948 was for Senkichi Taniguchi's To the End of the Silver Mountains, and he would go on to score several of the studio's dramas and adventure films by leading and then-emerging directors, such as Akira Kurosawa, Kon Ichikawa, Hideo Sekigawa, Hiroshi Inagaki, Daisuke Ito, and Kenji Misumi. In 1954 he accepted assignment for Godzilla, composing much of the score before the film was complete and helping to launch Toho's giant-monster movie global franchise. In 1978 following his score to Lady Ogin (Love and Faith in the U.S.), Ifukube stopped contributing music to films to focus on teaching duties and composition. In 1983 he created the concert work Symphonic Fantasia (a.k.a. Godzilla Fantasia) based on existing movie themes, and in 1986 was commissioned by Toho to write Ostinato, a collection of newly updated themes produced by INOUE Makoto. In 1991 he came out of ostensible retirement from film music to score Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, a lavish remake of Toho's first monster-versus-monster film 1964's Ghidrah, the Three Headed Monster, and scored the remakes Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), after which he retired. Ifukube died on February 8, 2006. [Sources: Inoue, Randall D. Larson's "Voice of Gojira" and akiraifukube.org.]

 Born in 1956, INOUE Makoto is a founding member of Hikashu, for which he composed and played synthesizer and mellotron. For Hikashu’s debut concert in 1978, Inoue first arranged Ifukube’s film compositions into Mothra’s Song, a suite consisting of "The Terror of Godzilla", "Mothra’s Song" and "Rodan Appears". In 1983 he produced the Godzilla Legend album as a tribute to the Godzilla music and later produced Ostinato (1986), newly recorded Godzilla music by Akira Ifukube, and Akira Ifukube (1987), which presented all the movie soundtracks to date by the composer. Since then, Inoue has endeavored to preserve Ifukube’s music through CDs, concerts and writing, and he worked as the score manager for the Japanese release Shin Godzilla (2016). While he departed Hikashu in 1991 to pursue other projects, he still performs with the band for the Godzilla Legend concerts.

Established in 1978, Hikashu is widely recognized and acclaimed as a new wave, rock and techno pop band that incorporations, theatrics, free improvisation, folk, jazz, classical andgagaku (Imperial Japanese court music), among other styles, into their music. Hikashu explores new grounds of art and expression. Their 2013 album Uragoe was a collaboration with Japanese contemporary artist Tabaimo, and in 2014 they recorded their 21th album Bankan in New York as well as the mini album Chakura Hiraki with Charan-Po-Rantan. In 2015 they produced their most recent album Ikite Koi Chinmoku. Hikashu made its North American debut at Japan Society in May 2011 in concert with Tomoe Shinohara.

MAKIGAMI Koichi is a co-founder and the current leader/vocalist/cornet player for Hikashu, known for his virtuosic vocal range and his unique incorporation of theatrical elements into live performance. Also a voice improvisation artist and solo performer, Makigami’s performances incorporate a range of vocal techniques, including Tuvian throat singing Japanese Rokyoku recitation. He has collaborated with artists such as Takahashi Yuji, John Zorn, Ikue Mori, Otomo Yoshihide, David Moss, Lauren Newton, Anthony Coleman, Umezu Kazutoki, Carl Stone, Jon Rose, Guy Klucevsek and Derek Bailey. He is also an accomplished film and stage actor, director and author. He performed solo at Japan Society in 2006 and 2008, and with Hikashu for its North American debut in 2011. Reviewing his 2006 performance, Jon Pareles of The New York Times noted that Makigami "uses the techniques of throat-singing to float pure, eerie overtones above a guttural growl… [also] playing a Central Asian jaw harp and then singing what may have been an old folk melody -- with preternaturally clear overtones".

Charan-Po-Rantan is an "alternative chanson" sister duo comprising Momo on vocals and her older sister, Koharu on the accordion. The duo’s music is an eclectic melting pot of French chanson, gypsy music, retro 50s-60s J-pop with a pinch of Russian melancholy, all mixed together with a modern twist. Lyrics are dripped with wit and black humor, an exact opposite and surprising contrast to their colorful, eye-catching outfits (which are all designed by Koharu, and handmade by the sisters' mother and grandmother). Since the duo's formation in 2009, they have performed anywhere from the street to the legendary Nippon Budokan, to gigs in Canada, Taiwan, New York and SXSW and twice at Japan's famed Fuji Rock Festival. Charan-Po-Rantan made their New York debut at Japan Society in fall 2015 and were profiled by The Wall Street Journal: "Imagine an accordion-fueled soundtrack for circus performers dashing through a gypsy camp, on their way to a particularly rowdy bar mitzvah—by way of Paris… And while their look may be pure candy, the duo finds inventive ways to undercut the standard girl-group iconography."


Film Series: Beyond Godzilla: Alternative Futures & Fantasies in Japanese Cinema

Through April 8, at Japan Society


Monthly Classics Film: Zatoichi the Fugitive, featuring a score by Akira Ikufube
Friday, April 7, 7:00 pm, at Japan Society


Charan-Po-Rantan @ Joe's Pub

Monday, April 24, 7:30 pm, at The Public Theater


Godzilla Legend—Music of Akira Ifukube takes place Friday, April 28, at 7:30 pm. Cash bar opens at 6:00 pm. Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and M subway at Lexington Avenue). Tickets are $32/$28 Japan Society members, seniors and students. This event is SOLD OUT; a waitlist will begin at the Box Office one hour prior to the event; waitlist does not guarantee admission. For more information, please visit www.japansociety.org or call the the box office at 212-715-1258.