Akira Ifukube. If you’re not an aficionado of Japanese film or a follower of Japanese symphonic music, his name won’t be familiar. But for millions of kaiju fans around the world, he is a legend. He composed the music and soundtracks for many of the Godzilla films, as well as many scifi and other films produced by the Toho film corporation. He has been ranked among the world’s great film composers along with people like John Williams, Ennio Morricone, and Nino Rota.*
I spent some time reading about the classically-trained Ifukube this past week after I received two CDs with selections from the Godzilla soundtracks, one from 1954 to 1975 (the Showa era films), the other from 1984 to 1995 (the Heisei era films). Ifukube was not the only composer for many of these films, but he was the most prolific. He is credited as the composer in eight of the Showa films, and four in the Heisei, but other composers often based their work on his themes. Masaru Satoh, Yuji Koseki, Kunio Miyauchi, Riichiroh Manabe, Reijiroh Koroku, Kochi Sugiyama, and Takayuki Hattori are credited on other films.
There are still more composers for the post-Heisei and US-made Godzilla films**, but Ifukube is credited for at least some of the music on four post-1995 Toho films. Although he died in 2006, he has credits in 2016’s Shin Godzilla and Legendary’s 2019 Godzilla King of the monsters.
The thrilling opening title of the very first Godzilla was as important to the franchise as Monty Norman’s catchy James Bond theme was for that franchise. It is the signature for Godzilla as defining as the duh-duh duh-duh theme that John Williams wrote for the shark in Jaws. While other composers created their own themes for Godzilla, few could abandon Ifukube’s masterful work and many incorporated at least part of it into theirs.
But Ifukube was more than just a film composer: he was a prolific, accomplished, highly creative classical composer of considerable renown and would have been recognized as such even without his film scores. There’s a good, albeit brief biography of him in the chapter on Godzilla’s music in Brian Solomon’s Godzilla FAQ (Applause, 2017).