Top 34 Toho Soundtracks
by Anthony Romero
November 23, 2015
Blog
 

This is a lofty goal of compiling the top 34 Toho soundtracks. Why 34? Because I'm feeling random. The rankings aren't based on a particular CD or LP release, but rather the entire music that surrounds the film. To make the list I actually made a top 65 and then removed 31 of them to prevent any soundtracks from slipping in that might not be worthy.

Soundtracks are ranked based on their enjoyment as a standalone experience. Music, especially soundtracks when you start to build an association with the final product, can be hard to rate. Musical scores tend to mean different things for different people, especially when nostalgia seeps in. That said, even a bad film can have an incredible score, and this list does host movies that are so-so where the composers poured their soul into the soundtrack to earn it a rightful spot here.

The list includes soundtracks from Toho produced films, Toho owned movies, films based on Toho's characters and also Japanese productions that Toho released. Basically the normal suspects of contents included on the site.


 

#34 Zatoichi's Conspiracy

This 1973 entry in the Zatoichi series, the last to go through Toho, is a tour de force from maestro Akira Ifukube.

The soundtrack is surprisingly soothing, giving Ifukube a chance to hone in on a softer approach to his cues. The score still boasts a bit of the composer's bombastic tendencies, though, such as with "Shinbei's Final Moment". Its strength, however, is found in those more peaceful melodies. Chief among them are the oddly beautiful themes centered around Zatoichi and Omiyo.

It's a wonderful body of work and, sadly, often overlooked when discussions of the composer's best material is brought up.


 

#33 Ultraman: The Adventure Begins

This 1989 score by Shinsuke Kazato is slightly dated and often over the top... and utterly enjoyable as a stand alone experience because of it.

The soundtrack to the animated film boasts several themes just over flowing with energy, such as the big band style "The Flying Angels" and "Ultra Force: The Choosen Three". The score is unabashed at times, and all the better for it, offering up an infectious level of energy from its themes.

While the score is at its best when it's offering up a big band style or dated tunes, the soundtrack does boast some range and that includes some nice vocal work (although not from the opening song...) to add some variety.


 

#32 Haunted School 3

Composer Kow Otani turns in one of his better performances for this 1997 children's horror film.

The movie has a wide variety of themes to its claim, ranging from the uplifting and energetic "To Love Shakashaka" to the chorus powered and more serious "Main Title".

The score is consistent in quality, and shows a nice mix of orchestration with only a little bit of synth work, unlike some of the composer's later material which became very synth heavy. All the same, it does feature the composer's trademark "whale-like sound" that was also heard in scores like Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999) and Pyrokinesis (2000).

Haunted School 3

 

#31 GODZILLA

You are going to see quite a few live action kaiju films on this list. Part of that is I believe the subject matter lends itself well to action motifs, which hold up well to stand alone experiences.

On that note, what better way to start off than with a controversial pick through David Arnold's score for GODZILLA. Soundtracks are often judged unfairly based on their subject matter. Given the infamy of the first American Godzilla film, it's not hard to imagine many fans who have turned their nose up at the score.

Thankfully, due to being finally released in commercial form in 2007 and a couple times there after as well, Arnold's soundtrack is finally getting some of the positive recognition it deserves and missed out on back in the 1990's. Simply put, while some themes match the more carefree tone of the production, others are great action pieces that stand wonderfully on their own. "Godzilla vs the Submarine" is one such example, and a stellar battle theme that really ramps up the energy.


 

#30 Godzilla vs. Mothra

Like above, this soundtrack tends to get unfairly overlooked. This is likely because the film isn't known as a popular entry among fans, despite doing phenomenal business at the box office.

While the Godzilla theme certainly sounded better in both the film that proceeded and followed it, the musical work for Mothra set a new standard. "The Birth of Adult Mothra" is a great soothing interpretation of Mothra's song, while the chorus led "Ending" is fantastic.

Thankfully the score is not a simple retread of Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), with Battra getting a very fearsome and commanding theme that does great to contrast with both Godzilla's and Mothra's in the movie.

Godzilla vs. Mothra

 

#29 Villain

Composer Joe Hisaishi, who will appear a number of times on this list, does a fantastic job with this score to the conflicting 2010 movie Villain.

Piano dominated, the soundtrack is both beautiful while evoking a sense of unease, matching well with the story that focuses on a murderer and the devotion received from his new girlfriend despite this. "Faith" and "Twilight" are wonderful themes, some of the better piano work I have heard on a soundtrack. Meanwhile, other themes like "Uneasiness" and "To Hate" bring an almost horror vibe to the proceedings.

As it is, the only real downfall of the score is that it's a little on the short side, leaving the listener wanting more.

Villain


 

#28 The Samurai I Loved

Taro Iwashiro's sweeping score for The Samurai I Loved is a joy to listen to.

When it comes to soothing melodies, it's hard to best Iwashiro. The composer has mastered string instruments, allowing him to invoke both an epic sense while never being overzealous in his execution.

While this soundtrack is fairly one note, with only the "Deadly Blade" infusing a bit of energy into the score, the other themes are just so relaxing that the soundtrack is definitely an enjoyable body of work from start to finish.


 

#27 Rebirth of Mothra II

While Rebirth of Mothra II was the weakest of the three films in that series, it also had the best soundtrack.

Unlike the scores before and after it, composer Toshiyuki Watanabe showed a surprising level of variety in his themes for this 1997 film. The new monster, Dagahra, has a nice sinister theme to go with him, and stands out from the rest of the score because of this, having one of the more reoccurring themes here. The rest of the score, though, does a good job of balancing both a sense of adventure and wonderment to match the plot surrounding the kids.

The score makes for an overall engaging, sometimes whimsical listening experience.


 

#26 Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.

Michiru Oshima's final score in the Godzilla franchise, and this time utilizing the New Japan Philharmonic in Tokyo.

For this score, Oshima continues to show a wide range of theme diversity in her material. For example, the stellar "Main Title" theme is a wonderful cue that makes a solid impact as it's not utilized again for the course of the film.

Mothra is also given a new theme for the movie, which is both soothing with a sense of regality behind it, fitting the character like a glove. Ultimately, though, the show stopper of the score is the great battle music, heard in tracks like "Tokyo Tower Collapses".


 

#25 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

Composer Masaru Sato hit a career high with this 1974 entry in the Godzilla franchise, and Sato's last in the series. While the composer had a lot of high pedigree films among his resume, including many Akira Kurosawa movies, the 20th anniversary Godzilla film really allowed the composer to tap into his best talent: his love for big band music.

The soundtrack offers a surprising level of variety, although given the mix of both mythical and the robotic in the story perhaps this shouldn't be so shocking. Still, the composer really brings the house down for themes like "Godzilla vs. Anguirus", bringing a sense of energy and uniqueness that's hard to top.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

 

#24 Hell's Gate Island

Toho's Kosuke Kindaichi series has been pretty prolific on both LP and CD. While the musical quality of the franchise as a whole varies, this 1977 entry is a highlight.

The first film in the series composed by Shinichi Tanabe, who would score the next two movies as well, adds a distinctively 1970's vibe to the proceedings. The end result is an odd mix of whimsical and soothing, given the subject matter is the investigation of a series of murders. As far as dated 1970's music goes, though, this entry is nirvana and it's easy to see why it has been released on CD so many times.

As a side note, this movie features both a movie edit and an album. I will attest to this score getting inflated thanks to the album version, which is phenomenal in contrast to the merely "good" movie edit.

Hell's Gate Island

 

#23 The Gransazers

When selecting the composer for the 2003 show The Gransazers, the first entry in what would be a three year run for the "Star God" franchise, Naruto regular Yasuharu Takanashi was selected.

Takanashi ended up being an inspired choice, infusing the material with a delicious sense of contemporary style. His love for guitars really helped the production mask the smaller orchestrations, giving a great sense of energy to the TV show. Tracks like "The Gransazers Theme" are the variety that you can listen to over and over again.

The program also featured some solid songs from U-Ya Asaoka and Abe Asami, opening and closing out the show.

The Gransazers

 

#22 Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris

The highly memorable finale to director Shusuke Kaneko's Gamera series. Composed by Kow Otani, the score loses some of the more uplifting music heard earlier in the franchise in favor a darker approach which matches the subject matter.

The end result is a more serious and foreboding body of work. This is best symbolized in the motif for Iris, seen in tracks like "The Birth", which walk a fine line between soothing with a slight sense of dread.

Due to the darker subject matter, the infrequent use of the heroic Gamera theme, heard in themes like " Kyoto in Flames", does wonders to contrast and makes Gamera feel even more alone in the film.


 

#21 Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster

Akira Ifukube was on a roll in the 1960's. As the kaiju craze in Japan hit a fever pitch, so did Ifukube's ability to masterfully craft themes that encompassed both the action and also sense of might of the giant monsters.

The 1964 score to Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is one of thosee moments of the composer at his finest. The battle royale picture features a host of excellent action pieces. While the Godzilla theme was toned down from its amazing use in Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), it's made up for by an incredible Rodan theme, which is adapted from the earlier theme created for Varan.

The show stopper here, though, is the music surrounding the title character: King Ghidorah. The "Main Title" is excellent as is "The Fury of the Gravity Beam" which encompass such a sense of power that is generally hard to capture in music.


 

#20 Battle in Outer Space

In perhaps a controversial view point, I give credit to the best representation of a theme rather than its origins. For Akira Ifukube, who continued to evolve his themes over his career, that can create a hurdle for early scores.

Battle in Outer Space is a bit of an anomaly. While a lot of the themes got featured in off screen use, like his Symphonic Fantasia, they missed out on getting heavily reworked in other films. There's a lot of amazing themes here too, like the wonderful "Starry Sky" or "The Magnificence of the Base", that stand up pretty well to his later work. The fact that Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) utilized this score so heavily when picking stock music is also a pretty good testament to its staying power.


 

#19 Mothra vs. Godzilla

Who can forget that first time they heard the 'new' Godzilla theme. While previously utilized in both the original Godzilla (1954) and King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), it was this 1964 entry that really pioneered the lasting interpretation of it.

The soundtrack itself is an interesting mix of action pieces and soothing melodies, which lines up well with the differing nature of its title characters. Despite not being the original composer for the Mothra character, Akira Ifukube's work on themes like the beautiful "Sacred Springs" have forever been associated with the kaiju now. The action pieces offer a lot of enjoyment from this score as well. There are great themes for "Godzilla vs. the Tank Corps" and "Electrical Discharge Strike" which add a lot of energy to Godzilla's conflicts with the military.


 

#18 K-20: Legend of the Mask

Naoki Sato crafted a wonderful, energetic score for this period adventure piece.

The main title piece, "K-20", wonderfully encompasses a sense of heroism through a very upbeat melody. Other themes, like "1949", give off a sense of a 19th century Batman, capturing the bygone era that the film takes place in. In terms of pure energy, though, it's hard to best the short "Trick" track, which definitely builds the action sentiments of the production.

The score is generally solid from start to finish. It does have a few over the top themes, similar to the composer's work on the "Always" series, but the cues work here.


 

#17 Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah

As alluded to, I firmly believe that the best of Akira Ifukube's work is toward the end of his career. Either due to a refinement of his skills, or more likely just being able to take a moment to breath rather than having to quickly move from one score to the next as he did during the Showa era, the composer's later day scores are his most enjoyable.

This 1991 score, the first from Ifukube after coming out of self retirement, is a great return to form for the composer. It suffers a little from being largely based on his past themes, but succeeds in often adapting those pieces into more engaging cues thanks to a combination of stereo versus mono and larger orchestration.

While the score as a whole is pretty solid, the stand out work is the fast paced theme for the MOTHER ship, "UFO in Flight", and the improved themes for Godzilla and King Ghidorah, the latter of which had some of the battle music from King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) woven in to extend it.


 

#16 Spirited Away

Joe Hisaishi's score to this 2001 box office phenomenon is immensely satisfying, although overshadowed a bit by the other amazing scores he conducted for Hayao Miyazaki.

While the soundtrack is consistently strong from start to finish, it's best done when it's trying to be soothing. The main title, " One Summer's Day...", is one such example playing to Hisaishi's strength with piano composition. In fact, the piano work is really what elevates the material from a good soundtrack to a great one. The star player in that sense is the wonderful "The Sixth Station" theme, which really transports the listener to that unknowing feeling that the main character is experiencing while perfectly capturing a slightly morbid sense of the passing of time.


 

#15 Godzilla vs. Biollante

Composed by Koichi Sugiyama, best known at this time and today for his work on the Dragon Quest video games, the soundtrack took a different approach to the character from his peers leading up to the 1989 film. The end result is a great mix of action, soothing pieces and even some exotic motifs such as those for "The Saradia Republic".

What elevates the soundtrack, though, is some infusion of Akira Ifukube's music into the material. In particular, the themes created for Ostinato were added in. The end result nicely ramps up the sense of action in the film. The editing for the pieces is also creative, in particular the main title theme which is a wonderful mixture of Sugiyama's Cell theme with Ifukube's Godzilla theme.

I feel it should be noted that the score has its critics. In particular those who loathe "Bio Wars" with a fiery passion. If you are one those, you can take comfort in the fact that the film is my favorite of all time and bias might have been at play here.

Godzilla vs. Biollante

 

#14 Spring Snow

The soundtrack for Spring Snow is one of those rare examples of a score that gets better with each listen. I feel it's a great representation of why soundtracks are so enjoyable, as the lack of vocals lend to the material a surprising amount of staying power without feeling overwhelmed by the repetition of it all.

In this case, it's hard for me to think of a more soothing body of work than composer Taro Iwashiro's Spring Snow. It's regal and majestic, creating a score that you just want to get lost in. I typically listen to music while I go to sleep, and generally mix things up frequently. Spring Snow must have broken some sort of record, though, for being locked in my CD player for 10 months straight. The full orchestrations lend themselves so effortlessly to a desire for dreams.


 

#13 Steamboy

Scored by Steve Jablonsky, best known for his work on Michael Bay's Transformers series, comes a earnest soundtrack for the 2004 animated film Steamboy.

The end result shows a good deal of range, offering a few whimsical themes to go with its steampunk settings. A lot of score does pack a sense of energy too, which helps on the stand alone side. Other tracks like "Ray's Theme" sound much more majestic, and the closest this soundtrack gets toward the approach Jablonsky utilized on Transformers. All said and done, though, the movie's best asset on the musical side is actually a track called "The Chase", which is a very rousing action piece.


 

#12 Porco Rosso

Feel in the mode for a light-hearted adventure?

Joe Hisaishi has you covered with this almost whimsical score for the 1992 production of a human turned pig and his high flying escapades after World War I. The soundtrack is fun, striking a light tone from the composer. One can only assume that Hisaishi had a bit of fun with this score, as the feeling is contagious from the listener.

It does break the care-free course of the soundtrack for a couple of themes, though. One of them is "Crazy / Flight", which is actually because it was originally created for another 1992 release that same year. The theme is wonderful, though, and makes for a perfect addition to the soundtrack.


 

#11 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II

'Dat main title...

While this 1993 score does feature repetition, the Godzilla theme, the Rodan theme, the Baby Godzilla theme and the new Mechagodzilla theme are all incredible. The energy that three of those themes pack in each note is powerful, while the Baby Godzilla theme is a soothing melody that works well to counter balance the other material.

While Akira Ifukube is still going back to the well of his past scores for inspiration, the end results are far more diverse from their source material than the earlier 1990's work. The blood pumping main title for example is a totally re-energized version of the Operation "One Million Volts" theme from King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) and the Mechani-Kong theme from King Kong Escapes (1967). In fact, it's quite impressive that the composer was able to take a previously "good to okay" theme and transform it into one of the best of his career.


 

#10 The Return of Godzilla

When Toho rebooted the Godzilla franchise to its 1954 roots, they hired a new composer to craft a score that stood out from its peers. The result was not only a career high for Reijiro Koroku, but an incredibly unique soundtrack for the Godzilla series as it gave the 1984 production a Gothic overtone.

The soundtrack kicks off from the first theme, swelling for the Main Title before kicking up the underlining dread. While the soundtrack does include a few well done marches, like the Super-X theme and "The Search for the Enemy Begins", it's ultimately the more sinister music in the film that has endeared fans to the score for decades. It's touching send off for the character in "Godzilla Falls into Mt. Mihara" also made for a good finale, as audiences would bid farewell to the King of the Monsters until his triumphant return five years later.

The Return of Godzilla

 

#9 Super Atragon

Super Atragon the movie? Not so hot. Super Atragon the soundtrack? Phenomenal.

This is one of those key instances where Masamichi Amano was able to craft a soundtrack which immensely surpassed the quality of the film it was attached to. While there are some nice soothing melodies, it's the marches and action pieces that draw the most attention. Stuff like "Launch of the Water Dragon" and "Ra vs. Liberty" are great themes, and the latter is especially impressive as it's a 6 minute piece that keeps a diverse approach through out.

The score is one of those instances where the actual orchestration happened outside of the Japan. For this production, the Poland National Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra was utilized. The robust orchestra adds a lot to the material, giving it a gravitas that far exceeds what one would expect from an OVA (direct to video animated film).


 

#8 Godzilla vs. Destoroyah

Akira Ifukube's final score, and the maestro goes out with a bang.

Offering way more variety than a normal soundtrack by Ifukube, the score hits a range of emotions. The composer is on point here as well, with even short themes like "Fear of the Oxygen Destroyer" being a show stopper.

Godzilla vs. Destoroyah borrows from past scores, as the composer had been for years, but really breaths new life into the material. The "End Title" feels like a perfect send off for the composer, being a rousing theme that adapts several past cues. Meanwhile, tracks like "Requiem" are simply perfection, to the point it's hard not to think of a better death theme for the King of the Monsters or not to feel the swelling emotion behind the track.


 

#7 Princess Mononoke

"Whoa..."

That about sums up my first experience with the score for Princess Mononoke when I saw the film in theaters. Joe Hisaishi is a wonderfully diverse composer. Warm, playful and lighthearted can be used to sum up several scores in his long resume.

This 1997 score feels like a more adult-facing extension of his work, encompassing a sense of majesty in its opening title and at other times having action based themes with an underlining sense of dread. The soundtrack fires on all cylinders as well, boasting a range of unique themes while tying the material together with one reoccurring cue motif heard in the main title to make the score feel like it flows together.


 

#6 Always: Sunset on Third Street 2

Three films in the "Always" series, three soundtracks. Of the trilogy, Naoki Sato's score for the second is far and away the best.

It reuses a number of themes from the first film, and works to refine them. The orchestration is tighter and generally more majestic, to the point it's hard to go back to the score for the first movie as this just does the material so much better. While the score is still over the top at times, as is the film it's based on, it's a bit more refrained in its appraoch than the other soundtracks in the series. Meanwhile, themes like the "Opening Title" and "Dancer" are simply beautiful. Truly breathtaking and some of the best themes to appear in Toho's large library of movies.

...of course, it also helps that the score opens with the Godzilla theme, giving a great bit of diversity to an already A+ soundtrack.


 

#5 Godzilla vs. Gigan

↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → B A

Putting Godzilla vs. Gigan on a top soundtrack list is like entering a cheat code in a video game. Outside of a ho-hum final song, the score is all stock music of Akira Ifukube's earlier work. It feels like a compilation, grabbing music from 11 different productions ranging from 1959 to 1970 and slapping them into a new soundtrack.

...and the end result is incredible. One of the weaknesses of a lot of early Ifukube work is the lack of variety within the score. Due to the tight production schedules, many themes were used over and over again in soundtracks. By culling from 11 different scores, the monotony is removed. Themes from Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965), Destroy All Monsters (1968) and more benefit greatly from this. The themes are edited well too, with "Vicious Attack of the Space Monsters" being one example where it transitions into the "Fury of the Gravity Beams" at just the right moment to give it a boost of energy.


 

#4 Howl's Moving Castle

Joe Hisaishi's finest hour. The 2004 production boasts a playful and light hearted score at times. Others, it's a soothing, waltz-like approach to the subject matter.

"Wandering Sophie", a four minute long track, is a clear highlight from the score, evoking a range of emotions while maintaining a sense of continuity through the theme. The soundtrack is enjoyable from start to finish, and shows a nice range to the material that boasts a wealth of standout cues.

As a side note, this soundtrack also boasts the best image album (scoring round based on storyboards) of Hisaishi's career. While the image album is very similar to the themes found in the final product, they are much more realized at this stage that other image albums and work as a nice extension to the movie's soundtrack.


 

#3 Prophecies of Nostradamus

I have an odd relationship with Prophecies of Nostradamus. I first saw the US version, The Last Days of Planet Earth, as a kid and hated it. I considered it one of Toho's worst. That view has certainly changed over the years, and now hold it up as one of Toho's most memorable productions.

While my view of the film changed, my view of the soundtrack did not. Even from first viewing I fell for composer Isao Tomita's synthesized, experimental soundtrack. The haunting "Main Title", a perfect melding of synth work with a full orchestra, is just one of those things you never forget. While Tomita's career has both hits and misses, this 1974 soundtrack is indisputably a highlight and one of the most enjoyable and different scores to come from Toho.


 

#2 Space Battleship Yamato

Composer Naoki Sato gives it his all for the live action take of Space Battleship Yamato, and ends up with a body of work that is far better than the film that utilizes it.

The soundtrack is heart pumping, featuring solid action themes that occur during the space battles seen in the movie. Tracks like the drum heavy "Fire the Wave Motion Gun" and the march-like "Faith" are wonderfully engaging. The score also boasts some light chorus work to give it just the right amount of diversity and really bring out a sense of pedigree to the whole production.


 

#1 Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla

Ranking at the top spot, Michiru Oshima pulls out all the breaks for the 2002 Godzilla film. With the orchestration done by the Moscow International Symphonic Orchestra, the score really comes alive, sounding more robust and matching the epic scale of the battles on the big screen.

While Godzilla's and Kiryu's themes are used frequently, the score is varied in its hits, branching out with fantastic themes like "Running Wild", "Intense Fighting" and the beautifully done "Ominous Memories" that plays while footage of Mothra and Gaira is seen.

The score is a treat from start to finish, and a highlight of the Godzilla franchise.