Clear Spot on Akira Ifukube

Miguel Santos (Musa Lusa, Atlantic Waves Festival, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation) presents a special programme on the music of Japanese composer Akira Ifukube, this Tuesday 18th April 2006, 7-8pm (GMT), on Resonance 104.4fm ( This show will be repeated in the following Tuesday, 25 April, at 11am.

On 8 February 2006 Akira Ifukube, the Japanese composer best known for the Godzilla soundtrack, died of multiple organ failure at a Tokyo hospital aged 91. Ifukube wrote more than 250 film scores over the course of 50 years, and was head of the Tokyo College of Music from 1976 to 1987. He rose to fame in 1954 with his menacing Godzilla score. In 2003 the Japanese government named him a Person of Cultural Merit, one of its highest awards.

One of the most respected contemporary composers in Japan, Akira Ifukube has also led something of a double life as one of the most popular and prolific film composers in Japan since the late 1940s. He was born in 1914 in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, which was one of the homes of the aboriginal Ainu, the native people of Japan. As a boy, Ifukube listened to their music, which greatly influenced his own musical creativity. The “ostinato” style that Akira Ifukube later used in his film scores recapitulated the percussive, repetitive nature of Ainu’s folk music and dancing.

Ifukube was a self-taught violinist and earned prizes for his early compositional efforts. He majored in music and forestry, and the latter provided him with his living until just after World War II, when he began teaching music as a professor at Tokyo Art University, and started writing film scores, mainly at Toho Studios. His movie scores quickly distinguished themselves for their inventiveness and richness, incorporating Eastern and Western elements.

In 1954, Ifukube was assigned to score the Toho film Gojira, directed by Ishiro Honda, which provided him with a unique canvas on which to work. A science fiction film shot in a neo-realist style and inspired by a tragic incident involving Japanese fishermen whose boat was contaminated by fallout from an American H-bomb test, Gojira became a vehicle for some of the most expressive orchestral music of Ifukube’s career. He also became the Japanese film music composer most widely heard in the West, when the movie was recut, partly dubbed, and released in America as Godzilla, King Of The Monsters.

Ifukube went on to write more than 250 film scores in a career lasting 50 years, including some of the most respected movies ever made in Japan, among them Harp Of Burma (aka The Burmese Harp), for which he would appropriate the funereal music from his Gojira score and expand on its thematic material.

Akira Ifukube retired in the 1990s, but returned to Toho one last time to write the music for what was then proposed to be the studio’s final Godzilla movie, Godzilla Vs. Destroyer, for which he reprised his 1954 work once more in a film with a direct link to the original movie. Ifukube remains a uniquely revered figure in Japanese music, among the nation’s most respected and widely recorded (and performed) composers for the concert hall, and also the country’s most well known and widely recorded (and re-recorded) film composer. In 2003, he received a Person of Cultural Merit award, one of Japan’s highest honours.

Make sure you tune in to 104.4fm or click on (wherever in the world you are).

01 Akira Ifukube: “Sound Effect: Varan’s Cry” (1958) (00:25) from “ Varan, The Unbelievable” (Futureland/Toshiba EMI Japan TYCY-5500, 1996)
02 Akira Ifukube: “Symphonic Fantasia” (1983) (15:03) from “Symphonic Ode” (Les Disques du Soleil et de l’Acier DSA 54024, 1989)
03 Akira Ifukube: “Ode (Acynthia Buddha)” (1989) (11:05) from “Symphonic Ode” (Les Disques du Soleil et de l’Acier DSA 54024, 1989)
04 Akira Ifukube: “The Lake Kimtaankamuito” (1992) (16:07) from “Anthology of vox principal works” (Camerata 30CM-391-2, 1995)
05 Akira Ifukube: “Fifth Poem After ‘Inaba Manyo’ “ (1994) (04:23) from “Anthology of vox principal works” (Camerata 30CM-391-2, 1995)
06 Akira Ifukube: “Sakuma Damu Daiichibu – The Tenryugawa River in Full View” (1954) (03:15) from “Film Composer Selection: Iwanami” (Vap Inc. Japan VPCD-81190, 1997)
07 Akira Ifukube: “Zatoichi, Nidangiri – Main Title” (1965) (02:16) from “Film Composer Selection: Daiei” (Vap Inc. Japan VPCD-81186, 1997)
08 Akira Ifukube: “Sky Scraper! – Ending” (1969) (02:03) from “Film Composer Selection: Toei” (Vap Inc. Japan VPCD-81188, 1997)