Ever since Toho released their War History of Men - Toho War Movies Soundtrack Collection I have been hungry for a more fleshed out offering of the scores presented in that set... and with track titles. A full eleven years later, Cinema-Kan has answered that call with the full soundtrack release for several films in that set, including Battle of the Japan Sea. This CD contains the full, march heavy score to the 1969 movie, along with outtakes, source music and record releases relevant to the title.
Often remarked as one of the better soundtracks for Toho's war films, Masaru Sato delivers a rousing body of work complete with many marches to accompany the subject matter. Amazingly, Cinema-Kan was able to secure a stereo version of this soundtrack too, save for four themes noted on the track listing. The themes sound much fuller and more rich with the added directionality, and the effort to present the score in this manner is much appreciated. The quality on the tracks is quite good for a film this age as well, although a few of them sound like they have rushed, digital fades added such as "The First Port Arthur Blockade Strategy"... which to be fair does mention the fade in the notation on this title.
As for the music itself, it's a more traditional collection from Sato, bypassing the big band style he would be known. The stand out themes are the "Yoshikazu Incident", the "Main Title", "Battle of the Yellow Sea", "Port Arthur Blockade Strategy", "All Ships Launch", and the chorus led "Fight Training in Zhenhai Bay", the latter of which is a modified version of the "Main Title". While most of the score is quite rousing, it does sneak in a well timed, soothing cue in the form of "Heigachiro Togo". It's also worth bringing up the "Far East Expedition", which many will probably recognize for its use as Mechagodzilla's theme in the trailer for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). The only major weakness to the soundtrack is its repetitiveness. A lot of the same motifs are used again and again, in shortened versions that are sometimes either actual shorter versions or cues that were edited to be that way.
In terms of the bonus material, first off are two outtakes. Sadly, the outtakes are muffled, with some signs of deterioration and they lack clarity. This is very apparent when compared to the takes of these tracks which made it into the film. This is followed by five trumpet solos, which act like source music, and one chorus song called "Sakurai's Farewell". None of these are particularly memorable. Finally, the disc concludes with five tracks from the "The Nissin Japan and Russia Army Anthology" record that was released. Three of these tracks are not very important, either being identical to what made it into the film or very similar as is the case with the "Main Title" which fades out early to remove 20 seconds of music. The exceptions, though, are the great "Sea of Japan March" and the "Warship March", which are longer versions of what made it into the film, the "Port Arthur Blockade Strategy" for the former and the "All Ships Launch!" for the latter. Both are more complete and more enjoyable in this form.
Overall: do you like march music? If so, this release has a lot of cues that will likely appeal to you. While the repetitiveness and short run time aren't the greatest, those who enjoy this type of music will really enjoy Sato's energetic take at the war genre. If you already own the Toho War Movies Soundtrack Collection, though... I would probably recommend skipping this release unless one loved the score or is a completest. There are some great themes not found on that set, but most of the highlights are there while the other good themes from this soundtrack are derived from other theme motifs that were present in the earlier collection.