Akira Ifukube's Biography

Akira Ifukube was born on May 31, 1914 in Hokkaido, Japan. He was the third son of a chief constable (his grandfather was a priest of Shin-to) and spent a majority of his childhood in areas with a mixed Japanese and Ainu population. Therefore, Ifukube was strongly influenced by their musical traditions and styles. As a result, he studied the violin. Later, he attended secondary school in Sapporo, and decided to become a composer at the age of 14 after hearing a radio performance of Igor Stravinsky's the Rite of Spring. Ifukube studied forestry at Hokkaido University and composed music in his spare time. His first piece was the piano solo "Piano Suite" and his big break came in 1935, when his first orchestral piece, "Japanese Rhapsody," won first prize in an international contest for young composers promoted by Alexander Tcherepnin. In 1936, Ifukube studied modern Western composition while Tcherepnin was visiting Japan, and in 1938, Ifukube's piano suite obtained an honorable mention at the I.C.S.M. Festival in Venice, Italy. In the late 1930s his music, including "Japanese Rhapsody," was performed in areas throughout Europe. After completing his studies, Ifukube worked as a forestry officer and lumber processor. Towards the end of World War II, he was appointed by the Japanese Imperial Army to study the elasticity and vibratory strength of wood. He suffered radiation exposure after carrying out x-rays without protection. As a result, Ifukube left forestry work and ultimately became a full-time professional music composer and teacher. From 1946 to 1953, he taught at the Nihon University College of Art. In 1947, after encouragement from a friend, Ifukube came to the Big Screen, and composed the music score for Toho Studio's Ginrei no hate (1947). Ifukube continued to compose music scores for many drama and comedy movies, many of them produced by Toho. However, classical music remained Ifukube's greatest passion. But yet, the world would probably remember him mostly as the man who brought music and soul to the King of the Monsters: Godzilla. When producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, director Ishirô Honda and special effects man Eiji Tsuburaya of Toho Studios decided to make a movie about a gigantic monster brought to life by nuclear bomb testing, Godzilla was born. Having placed together all the elements for the intriguing and haunting monster film, Godzilla (1954), only one element was left: the music score. Thus, Akira Ifukube came into the picture. He created a somber and masterful score to match the on-screen drama. He went on to score eight Godzilla films in Toho's "Showa" Godzilla series. In addition to Godzilla, Ifukube also scored a number of other sci-fi films produced by Toho including "Rodan," "The Mysterians," "Atragon" and "Frankenstein Conquers the World." A number of the Godzilla films contains the "Godzilla Theme," which will forever etch in fans' minds that this is Godzilla's musical cue, and the "Monster Battle Theme," which occur in several Godzilla films whenever monster attacks and battles erupt. Probably Ifukube's most memorable work in these sci-fi films is his "monster marches," which are militaristic and rousing. The film Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) (Godzilla vs. Monster Zero) was once screened in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo, and the audience was stomping to its feet and clapping their hands to the rhythm - most of these were children who have not seen a Godzilla film in their lives. Ifukube returned to teaching at the Tokyo College of Music in 1974, becoming president in 1976. In 1978, Ifukube retired from film work and in 1985, he became president of the college's ethnomusicology department. He trained younger generation composers such as Toshiro Mayuzumi, Yasushi Akutagawa and Kaoru Wada. He also published "Orchestration," a 1,000-page book on theory. The Japanese government awarded him the Order of Culture and the Order of the Sacred Treasures. In 1984, after a nine-year hiatus, Toho revived the Godzilla series, and released Godzilla 1985 (1984), thus marked the beginning of the Godzilla "Heisei" series. Five years later, Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) was released. The composer of the film, Kôichi Sugiyama asked Ifukube if he could use some of his Godzilla themes. He said yes, as long as he doesn't change it into "pop music," which Ifukube dislikes. So, his themes were used, but unfortunately, to the contrary of what Ifukube wished. His daughter told him that no matter how much he stays away from scoring another Godzilla film, his themes will always be heard. So, she suggested that he score the next Godzilla film. Taking his daughter's suggestion into consideration, and after Toho came knocking on his door again, Ifukube came out of retirement; he scored the next three Godzilla films. He brought his classic Godzilla themes with him, utilizing the recognizable "Godzilla Theme" and "Monster Battle Theme" where appropriate, and backed with larger orchestras and enhanced with modern-day digital recording techniques. Ifukube was usually only given a short amount of time to score a movie. He was given only three days to score Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993). After that film was completed, Ifukube said that he couldn't possibly score any more Godzilla films, especially at his advanced age. Therefore, fellow composer Takayuki Hattori scored the next film, Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994). He was going to take over the reins, but producer Tanaka decided to make one last Godzilla movie. And, what would be more appropriate than to have Akira Ifukube provide Godzilla's final musical bow? Ifukube agreed, and scored Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995). The score for this film is a blending of haunting music, rousing marches and a heartbreaking requiem. Ifukube stated that he regarded this film score as his best work. The rushed job that Ifukube experienced while writing these monster film scores became his magnum opus. Godzilla was a huge part of his life, and Ifukube stated that writing music for the monster was like writing music for his own. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) was not only the last Godzilla film of the "Heisei" series and the last Godzilla film Tanaka produced, but was Ifukube's last musical work in films. After the film was completed, Ifukube resumed retirement, this time for good. Ifukube was known as the "John Williams" of Japan, and became one of cinema's finest composers. He passed away in Tokyo on February 8, 2006 at age 91.

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