Interview:
Erik Homenick

Patrick Galvan: For this Toho Kingdom interview, I am speaking with Erik Homenick, webmaster of akiraifukube.org, the foremost English language resource devoted to the late Japanese composer. We will be talking about Ifukube and his legacy, the vast wealth of information Erik has dug up over the years, as well as Erik's thoughts on tokusatsu in general. Erik, thank you for this interview.

Erik Homenick: It is a sincere pleasure, Patrick. I love talking about this stuff. Thanks for reaching out.

Galvan: As usual with my interviews, I would like to begin a set of general questions—the ones every fan gets asked at some point. Where did your fascination with Japanese science-fiction and fantasy begin? What was the first tokusatsu film—Godzilla or not—you saw? How old were you at the time? And did you see said film in a theater, on television, on VHS?

Homenick: Well, this goes back to the mid-80s. I am pretty sure that the first Godzilla movie that I saw was Godzilla 1985. [Interviewer's note: Godzilla 1985 is the title of the U.S. re-edit of The Return of Godzilla (1984)] It would have just been released on VHS. When I was a very young kid, somehow I gravitated toward monster movies. I am not exactly sure how I came to like those kinds of movies — it’s just one of those things. It must have been the influence of my dad, now that I think of it. He grew up watching classic monster movies on TV and would take me to see horror films when I was very, very young. I do not remember this personally, but he took me to see An American Werewolf in London at the drive-in when it first came out. Maybe that had something to do with it. My mom knew that I had a taste for monster movies and she would rent them for me all the time. I would have been a first or second grader and she was renting movies like Ghoulies, Troll, and C.H.U.D. for me! She knew that I wasn’t scared of that stuff and she knew that I knew it was all fake. But I liked watching the monsters, so, she gave me what I wanted. That is the definition of great parenting, in my opinion! Anyhow, Godzilla 1985 would have been one of the myriad monster movies that she rented for me at that time. I don’t really recall what most of my feelings about that particular movie were, but I remember thinking it was scary. It had a very dark atmosphere. Godzilla himself had an impressive screen presence. The scene at the nuclear power plant was especially striking.

King Kong vs. GodzillaFast-forward — pun not intended — to a year or so later and my mom started buying monster movies for me and my younger brother Brett instead of renting them. Our dad would also record them when they played on TV and would send us the tapes. It was fun starting my own collection. At the time I was more interested in the Universal monsters like Frankenstein and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I really, really loved the silent 1925 version of Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney. Brett, it seems, took a liking to Godzilla a little bit before me. The first Godzilla VHS tape that we had was, I think, Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973). The second may have been King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). I don’t remember being as impressed with Godzilla vs. Megalon as Brett was, but when we got King Kong vs. Godzilla, that movie really did it for me. I fell in love with it immediately. I liked the monsters, I liked the sets and I even liked those unrealistically vivid 1960s colors. It was like no movie I had previously seen. I am certain that it was King Kong vs. Godzilla that got me hooked on Godzilla movies in general.

Galvan: When did your fascination with music begin? Did it begin with film music? Classical music? Modern music? Are you a musician yourself?

Homenick: That is a hard question to answer. I am pretty sure that, to some extent, I have always liked music, particularly the music that I heard in films. Now that I think about it, I am fairly certain that the soundtrack of Godzilla 1985 would have made an impression on me. As I said earlier, I remember thinking the movie was quite dark. The music was too — it only reinforced the overall feeling of doom and gloom in that movie.

I remember liking the music in the original King Kong, too. As a young child, I would not have paid any attention to the name of the person who wrote it; the name Max Steiner would have been completely unknown to me, but I feel that I knew his Kong music well. I remember that I used to hum it. It etched itself into my brain.

A movie I loved as a kid was the Frank Oz remake of Little Shop of Horrors. Audrey II still impresses me to this day — it's a great example of how amazing and real-looking practical special effects can be, but I digress. I loved the music in that film as well. Well, it was a musical, after all!

Ironically, I also liked the music in King Kong vs. Godzilla, although the majority of the music in the American version of the film was not Ifukube’s. I am certain that my favorite bits of music from that movie were by Ifukube, though — the Faro Island chants were quite impressive. They were catchy, anyway.

As I got a little older and I started watching more and more Godzilla movies, the music started to make a deeper impression on me. I did what I think a lot of young Godzilla fans did: I would hold a cassette recorder up to the speaker on my TV to tape just the music so I could go back and listen to it on its own terms, separate from the images of the film. I enjoyed that. That’s how so many of Ifukube’s famous monster melodies got permanently stuck in my head.

The first movie soundtrack that I wanted to buy was Danny Elfman’s Batman. When I saw that movie for the first time, the music jumped out at me immediately. I remember going to the Sam Goodie music store at the mall (remember those?) with my mom hoping that they would have that music on cassette. We walked in and I didn’t even know how to ask for it. I remember walking up to a salesman and asking “Do you have a tape of the background music from Batman?” Luckily, he knew what I meant. He very kindly explained to me that what I was looking for was called “the score” to the movie. And yes, they had it. I played that tape so much.

Another movie soundtrack that I had on cassette and played the hell out of was Wojciech Kilar’s music for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Godzilla Symphonic Concert CD

When I was in high school it became known to me that Godzilla soundtrack CDs were available in Japan. Since I had loved that music since my childhood, it was only natural that I’d want to find those and get them. It was around that time that I really became aware of the name Akira Ifukube. He was no longer just an anonymous person who wrote the very memorable Godzilla music, he actually had a name!

My favorite Godzilla CD at the time was called Godzilla: Symphonic Concert. It’s a live recording of Ifukube’s three Symphonic Fantasias, which are, of course, his concert suites of music from Godzilla and tokusatsu films. Interestingly, the concert was conducted by Masaru Sato. I liked how the music sounded on a modern recording. These familiar melodies sounded more powerful than ever. I listened to that disc on a practical repeat!

Shortly after that, I became aware of the world of classical music. The way I came to develop my lifelong love — and dare I say obsession — with that type of music is kind of strange and had a direct effect on how I came to study Akira Ifukube on such a profound level. My brother and I were both into professional wrestling. One of my favorite wrestlers at the time was Ludvig Borga, a villain from Finland. Borga would often speak in Finnish in his interviews and this, for some reason, made me want to learn that language. I began getting books and cassette tapes that would help me learn Finnish, as a result. (I eventually got pretty good at it, by the way!) When you are learning a language, inevitably you will learn about the history and culture of the country or countries where the language is spoken. This led me to become acquainted with the name Jean Sibelius. Sibelius is Finland’s most famous composer of classical music. Since his name kept popping up in the context of my Finnish/Finland studies, I figured that I had to hear what all the fuss was about. I found an inexpensive CD of his music and was not immediately taken by it – it was sort of strange and mystifying. But I didn’t give up on it and, one day, it all clicked. Because I liked Sibelius now, I wanted to explore other composers of classical music.

After reading Ed Godziszewski’s incredible 1995 interview with Akira Ifukube in G-FAN magazine, that’s when my Ifukube obsession really started to take off. Since I was newly fascinated by classical music, through Ed’s interview, I learned that Ifukube, the Godzilla composer whom I adored, had this whole other side to his career, a world of concert music. I figured that his concert music had to be every bit as good as his film scores; this prompted me to find CDs of that music. The first classical piece by Ifukube that I heard is called Ballata Sinfonica, which was written in 1943. Suffice it to say that it was a revelation. This music definitely sounded like it was from the same person that had written the Godzilla music, but there was something different and special about it. It felt more sophisticated, more refined. Quite simply, it was like being struck by lightning. I knew at that point that I had to hear more of his concert music and, the more of it that I heard, the more I continued to fall in love with it.

The bulk of his concert music has a very “Japanese sound;” that is, for example, he purposefully makes use of traditional Japanese musical scales to give his music a certain non-European flavor. He will also have the instruments of his Western-style symphonic orchestra occasionally imitate the sounds of Japanese instruments. Despite the deliberate “Japaneseness” of his music, somehow it resonated very deeply with me, a white kid from San Diego. It made sense to me. Even to this day I cannot put my finger on why I am so drawn to the unsubtle ethnic character of Ifukube’s music.

Am I a musician myself? I suppose I am, of sorts. The one and only instrument that I play are Scottish bagpipes. Well, honestly, I really do not play anymore. But I can read and write music and I have a decent understanding of music theory. That helps me in my Ifukube studies, certainly.

Galvan: There are many, many reputable Japanese composers who have worked in film over the last several decades, many of whom were contemporaries of Ifukube’s—Masaru Sato, Toru Takemitsu, Fumio Hayasaka, just to name a few. What was it about Ifukube, in particular, that compelled you to focus your time and energy on researching his life and career?

Akira Ifukube color photoHomenick: Good question. It’s sort of hard to put my finger on why Ifukube matters so much to me. Even to this day I find myself at a loss to really give a complete answer to that type of question. But I will try. First of all, there is grandiosity to his music, be it for films or for the concert hall. His sound is big, it’s imposing, thrilling and overwhelming, much like Godzilla and his monster friends and foes. Listening to Ifukube’s music gives me the same type of feeling that I get when I observe a massive skyscraper or a huge statue. You feel little and in awe of it. It is almost mystical in its power to impress. I am drawn to that power. Also, Ifukube had a true talent for writing great melodies. Consequently, his music falls very easily on the ear – it’s extraordinarily accessible and populist. His tunes are often every bit as catchy and toe-tapping as a good pop tune. I love that he is not afraid to write music that is so welcoming to his audience, in that sense. One of my favorite quotes by him is “Music should not show disdain for its audience.” That about sums it up: He does not seek to talk down to his listeners; rather, his intent is to talk to them in a way that is readily comprehensible. “Good music is always simple” is another one of his quotes and was, actually, his artistic motto. And again, the built-in “Japaneseness” of his sound is also compelling. And it is an authentic, organic Japaneseness. It is not forced nor a superficial affectation to sound exotic for exotic’s sake.

Allow me to explain. I have often said that Ifukube’s music is Japanese from the inside out, not from the outside in. What I mean is that it is genuinely Japanese at its core, and so naturally so. Ifukube was able to internalize the Japanese folk music that he heard as a youth and make it a part of his authentic artistic self. The music that radiates from Ifukube’s artistic core, therefore, is the result of that internalization. His music doesn’t wear a shabby, ill-fitting Japanese Halloween costume for a cheap effect. The authentic, sincere Japanese character of his sound is, to me, highly appealing. Again, somehow I relate to it.

These combined elements of his sound-world merit a close and academic examination and appreciation, in my opinion. When it all comes together, Ifukube creates a sound that is totally unique to him. He sounds like no other composer. He is one of the few composers that I know of that can be easily and definitively identified after hearing a few bars of music or perhaps a few notes. Like Philip Glass, Ifukube was able to establish a type of sound that had not previously existed in the world of music. That’s not easy for a composer to do.

You mentioned a few other Japanese composers. I quite like Fumio Hayasaka. I would count him among my top ten favorite composers, if I were ever compelled to create such a list. He is similar to Ifukube in that he sought to express a Japanese spirit in his music. Hayasaka was more a more elegant composer, though; his sound often recalls a certain French-style lightness. Think of composers like Claude Debussy or Jacques Ibert. Ifukube, on the other hand, was more of an in-your-face primitivist. His sound was decidedly more Russian or Slavic. Think of Igor Stravinsky, Modest Mussorgsky and Sergei Prokofiev, all of whom Ifukube adored.

I like Sato a lot too. His style is more popular or “jazzy,” if you will. He was a great orchestrator and, like Ifukube, could write a great tune. Interestingly, Sato was exclusively a film composer — he did not write even one piece of music for the concert hall. Sato studied under Hayasaka, by the way.

Takemitsu is, for me, often a tough nut to crack. He was definitely a modernist, avant-garde composer. I generally do not like this type of music. It is too esoteric, too diffuse and, quite often, too ugly. I have to be in just the right mood to listen to Takemitsu. And that mood does not come around very often. He was quite a talented composer for the piano, I will give him that. Somehow his style works very well on the keyboard.

Erik Homenick and Ifukube's son
Erik Homenick with Akira Ifukube's son Kiwami, 2010.

Galvan: Let’s talk about your website, akiraifukube.org. Please tell us about its origins. When and why did you create this site? What was your goal when you started? What did you hope to accomplish?

Homenick: I started the website several weeks after Ifukube’s death in February 2006. It was a result of my sadness over his death. I felt something had to be done to preserve his memory and legacy. Really, I had wanted to start a website about him for some time prior to that but there were a few factors that prevented me. First, way back in the mid- to late-90s there had already been a website called The Akira Ifukube Informational Page. It was run by a fellow by the name of Duncan Leaf. I never knew who he was and in the past I have made attempts to find him online. Those attempts bore no fruit. I have no idea what his connection to Ifukube was or if his level of interest was as deep as mine. Anyhow, he had a site and I figured that it wouldn’t make much sense to try to compete with what he was doing. If my memory serves me right, the site was not very big nor did it have a lot on it. There was a brief biography of the composer and perhaps some information about some of his classical works. I am not even sure if it had pictures. I would often return to the site hoping to see updates, but there never seemed to be any growth. At some point the site disappeared, I’d reckon in the late 1990s.

Second, even though Mr. Leaf’s website eventually went belly-up, I had no idea how to purchase a domain name or build a site to fill that vacuum. I was under the impression that purchasing a domain name was exorbitantly expensive. Also, I did not have any way of building the site. Site building software was probably also too expensive for me! So, I figured this was not an enterprise that I’d be capable of taking on and I thought that I should just wait for someone to fill the void.

As it turns out, another Ifukube website was never created. So, when the composer died, I knew that there was no more time to wait. Action had to be taken! At least I now had the drive to whip something together and at that point I was willing to learn about what I had to do to make something happen.

I purchased the domain name (it was not as difficult and pricy as I had thought) and used a rather limited, pre-fab template to get things started. To the template I added any loose photos of the composer that I had and disparate bits of biographical information. It was indeed ragtag, but it was something, it was a start.

A friend of mine saw what I was trying to do and gave me a copy of a site building software called Dreamweaver — I’m not even sure if people use that anymore. Not being by any means a web designer, there was only so much I could do in with that software; it is not very intuitive at all and actually struck me as being somewhat complicated. No matter, I played around with it and came up with my own template — terribly basic as it was and continues to be — to organize and display the content on the site.

My site began to take off as a more legitimate outlet of information after I was contacted by former students, colleagues and even the family members of the late composer. I was surprised to see that that they had been aware of what I was doing. I guess the site was indeed getting some attention! I never met the composer, but being in contact with people like this was the next best thing. Talking to the Ifukube family was especially gratifying because they were able to provide me with all types of information, photos and so on that added an invaluable authenticity and authority to my efforts. The more I was able to learn about Ifukube, and the more I was able to get information about him from my various Japanese sources, the more I was able to start piecing together the puzzle pieces of his life in a way never before attempted in English – or any other language other than Japanese, for that matter.

My goal was from the start to make a large amount of information about Akira Ifukube available in English. I think that I have done much up to this point, some eleven years later, to meet that goal. And thanks to the Ifukube family, I have been able to designate my work as “the official English language website” about the composer. I cannot tell you how proud of that I am.

Galvan: The highlight of your website is the immensely detailed Biography section, which you have divided into chapters, very much like a book. As of the moment, the biography encompasses Ifukube’s life and career up through the 1960s; and Chapter XI ends with a note that the remainder of the biography is pending. When you started writing this bio, did you have any templates to work from? (Were there any comprehensive biographies on Ifukube published in Japanese, for instance?) Was it difficult to come across trustworthy information regarding the composer and his life? What sources did you seek out in addition to conducting original research?

image of Akira IfukubeHomenick: Yes, I have often said that the biography on the site is “my book,” albeit in electronic form. It reads like a book, too. So, if one takes the time to read it from start to finish, it will take a while. And when I say finish, I mean the point where I have currently left off, which is the year 1970. (I still have much more to do.) Anyhow, did I have a template? In short, no. There are no truly comprehensive biographies about Ifukube, even in Japan. So, I had nothing to imitate. Books about him either focus on his film scores or his concert scores separately with little true overlap. With the biography that I am writing, I am approaching the totality of his career — I am writing about all of the music that he wrote. In this sense, this biography truly is the first of its kind. I suppose if there were templates that have inspired me, they would have been the biographies of other composers that I have read over the years. My friend Andrew Barnett’s book on Jean Sibelius, appropriately titled Sibelius, probably inspired me.

As to the difficulty of finding trustworthy information about Ifukube, I’d say that as long as you stick with Japanese sources — and especially if you stick with people like his family members and former colleagues — the information tends to be pretty accurate. Where you run into trouble is when you read about him in other languages. There are myriad myths about him and his life that have been propagated over the years in English. These have been due to bad translations of interviews and other Japanese sources, I suppose. One such myth is that he scored Godzilla (1954) in one week not having seen any footage of the film. Another one is that he used the one and only contrabass in all of Japan to create Godzilla’s roar, after having stolen it, no less! This is utter nonsense. I am happy that my site corrects a lot of these falsehoods.

Galvan: Were there specific aspects of Ifukube’s life and career you felt were not sufficiently covered by other historians that you wished to emphasize with your biography? If so, what were they and what measures have you taken to fill in these gaps?

Homenick: In English, there is not much at all written about his concert scores. My biography seeks to make information about is non-film music more easily accessible. That is most certainly one of my overall aims. Also, I think that the Japanese biographies tend to give only the cold facts about his life and music without adding any academic-style critical analysis. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Ifukube uses lot of chromatic music in his monster films scores. This is something that he all but avoided in his concert works. Chromaticism means that you use all twelve notes of the scale. Chromatic music was highly favored by the avant-garde composers of the mid-20th century; Ifukube was in many ways a musical conservative and he had great disdain for this type of music. He once said that he liked to use chromatic music to describe “otherworldly things,” be it kaiju or alien invaders. This stands out to me. When the kaiju or aliens arrive on earth in Toho’s tokusatsu films, they are usually hostile, they are on the attack. I believe that Ifukube associates chromatic music with monsters and alien invaders to make an artistic and intellectual point: The monsters and aliens are every bit as destructive and subversive as avant-garde music. These are the types of points that I bring up in my biography that are not touched upon in other literature about the composer.

Galvan: Do you have an estimate of when the biography will be complete?

Homenick: With a chuckle, I say no. It has taken me eleven years to go from his birth in 1914 to 1970. He doesn’t pass away until 2006, so, as you can see, I am by no means close to the end. Having said that, I think that writing about him from 1970 onward will be comparatively easy. Because it is later in his life, it will be easier for his family and former associates to remember things about his career, so gathering that type of information should be less arduous. The further back in time you go, the harder it is to dig up and corroborate facts. I’d like to think, though, that it will be less than eleven years before I finish the second half of the biography. All I can say at this point is hang in there and stay tuned.

Galvan: Since the biography reads like a book and is divided into chapters like a book and (even in its present, incomplete form) is substantial enough to be a book…do you entertain plans to eventually publish it in print form, as a book?

Homenick: Yes, I would like to see it as a physical, bona fide book one day. Truthfully, when I started writing it, I did not at all entertain that idea; I would have been genuinely content if the biographical text remained on the website. But friends and colleagues of mine in the Godzilla community began to tell me how much they wanted to see a book version one day. The more I thought about it, the more I came to feel that it would be a good idea. Most recently, my friend Steve Ryfle explained to me that, in his opinion, the biography would make for a good, solid book and, well, you have got to listen to a guy like that!

Fumio Hayasaka and Akira Ifukube
Fumio Hayasaka (right) and Akira Ifukube (left)

Galvan: Have your criteria in writing, researching, etc. changed at all over the years? How have you changed as a researcher and historian since the day you started?

Homenick: Have I changed as a writer and researcher over the years? Oh, yes! Naturally, when I started writing the biography, I had never done anything like it before. It was a baptism by fire. Over time, my writing definitely improved. As I had mentioned earlier, writing a biography is indeed like putting together a type of puzzle — a puzzle with no shortage of missing pieces. When I was more or less a debutant, I was not as adept at filling in those missing puzzle pieces and, as a result, my writing showed a certain weakness in bridging those gaps. Over time, I learned how to fill in those blank spaces better — it was definitely a case of learning by doing. Of course, further research helps bridge those gaps, too.

In addition to the improvement of my writing, I would say that my ability to offer critical analysis has gotten better, too.

Galvan: In addition to completing the biography, do you have any other projects in mind for your website?

Homenick: At this time, no. The biography is far and away the most important aspect of the site that I am focusing on. The only project I have is to finish the damn thing!

Galvan: When it comes to research on tokusatsu published in English, we’ve had more than our fair share of apocryphal stories and things which turn out to be, simply, not true. For example, I think most of us can remember when the “double ending” myth of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) was generally accepted as a fact. In the course of your research, have you debunked any myths regarding Ifukube’s life and career?

Homenick: I mentioned some of those earlier: That Ifukube wrote the Godzilla (1954) score in a week without seeing any footage and that he stole the only contrabass in all of Japan to make Godzilla’s roar.

And then there are other things that are not exactly myths but just inaccurate information. I will not name names, but there is one book out there that describes how Ifukube created a musical sound effect for the brief earthquake scene in Rodan (1956). The author’s description of the technique that Ifukube used was incorrect. My biography corrects that; after all, I have been able to observe exactly what Ifukube notated in the Rodan score to create that sound effect.

There are also varying stories out there of how Ifukube created Godzilla’s roar and footfall sound effects in Godzilla (1954). My biography has what is assuredly the most accurate and authentic description of how those effects were created. It has often been said over the years that the footfall sounds were made by striking a timpani with a knotted rope. I have no idea where that idea came from. That’s another piece of information that is not true despite its repetition over the years.

Galvan: When I was conducting research for my Top 15 Godzilla Soundtracks article earlier this year, I regularly consulted your website for historical and technical information, particularly in regards to the Godzilla (1954) score. And one of the many things I learned—something which might come as a surprise to many readers—is: Ifukube had a rather different interpretation of Godzilla (1954) than director Ishiro Honda did. Could you describe their difference of interpretations for the readership?

Homenick: Ishiro Honda was one of Ifukube’s favorite directors to work with. I am certain this is because Honda gave Ifukube all of the artistic leeway that Ifukube could ask for. Having said that, they were very different when it came to their outlooks on the Second World War. Honda served in the Japanese military throughout the war because he had too; he was drafted three times, if I am not mistaken. He was forced into a situation that he found untenable. Ifukube, on the other hand, worked as a composer and a scientist for the Japanese war effort, and was quite content to do so. As a scientist, he was helping study technology to make wooden airplanes that could avoid radar detection. After the war, Ifukube was shocked that the Allied Forces were as technologically advanced — and superior — as they were. He genuinely thought that Japan would come out of the conflict victorious. What a naïve thought, if you think about it. As well, Ifukube believed that Japan was doing the right thing by invading and “liberating” Asian countries such as China, Burma and the Philippines from the clutches of the evil imperialist white man. I have the impression that, at the end of the war, Honda was relieved that the hostilities were over whereas Ifukube was upset and disappointed, to an extent.

Godzilla menaces the Diet BuildingHonda saw the first Godzilla film as a humanist statement against nuclear weapons. The message that Honda sought to transmit in Godzilla (1954) can likely be summed up by Dr. Yamane’s line at the end of the film that man should stop tinkering with nuclear weapons lest another Godzilla appear one day. Ifukube saw things a little differently. For him, Godzilla was an appealing character because he represented the superiority or supremacy of the forces of nature over man’s technological advancements. Godzilla is a god worshipped by the Odo Islanders; these are not by any means metropolitan people; this is a population far removed from the hustle and bustle and city lights of Tokyo; they cling to the old ways and Godzilla is their pagan god, their avatar. When man’s technology, i.e. the hydrogen bomb, irritates Godzilla and wakes him from his aquatic slumber, he sets off to Tokyo and obliterates it. All of man’s modern weaponry such as tanks, planes and missiles do nothing to stop him. Godzilla destroys all of modern Tokyo including the Diet Building, the literal representation of the modern, post-war Japanese government and society. At no point do we see Godzilla destroy any of Tokyo’s “old world” sites such as the Asakusa Temple or the Imperial Palace. Godzilla spares those.

Again, in Ifukube’s mind, Godzilla represented a sort of anti-technological catharsis. Pagan nature’s power over technology, as I have said. Indeed, a very different outlook from Honda’s.

Galvan: Continuing on that note, I learned via your site Ifukube was something of a nationalist: he was very much ashamed by Japan’s defeat in World War II and, as you said, saw Godzilla (1954) as a movie in which nature retaliated against technology. Having said that, in the most famous films Ifukube scored, we often see Japan attacked by giant monsters or alien invaders, with the Self Defense Forces promptly swinging into action to combat the menace (even if the intuition of civilians and scientists is ultimately required to save the day). Given how he felt about Japan’s surrender, do you think Ifukube was enamored by the idea of a Japanese military quick to fight off invading forces and who could—with assistance—repel the dangers threatening Japan?

Homenick: Yes, as I mentioned, Ifukube felt that Japan’s cause during the war was just. When the war was over and Japan was crushed, Ifukube became depressed and felt shame, as you mentioned. Of course, the reasons for Japan’s aggressions throughout Asia were many and the situation is too complex to paint with a single broad brush. But one of the reasons for Japan’s colonialism prior to and during the war was due to the Imperial government’s policy and philosophy of Pan-Asianism. This is the idea that Japan had the divine and moral obligation to liberate other Asian countries from their Western captors. Ironically, “liberating” didn’t just mean kicking the Europeans and the Americans out of countries like the Philippines or Burma — it meant kicking the Europeans and the Americans out and then recolonizing under the flag of the Rising Sun. After the war, Japan, “the great liberator,” if you will, itself was invaded and taken over by the very forces that the island nation was seeking to remove from the region. Indeed, an ironic twist of fate and a huge humiliation, at least as far as Ifukube was concerned. I don’t think he ever really got over those feelings of humiliation. For the first year directly after the war, those sentiments were especially strong; his depression was such that he thought that he should give up composing. His inspiration to write music had been completely dissolved, at least for a short period. Thankfully, his lack of will to compose was only a passing phase and he would go on to write some of his best music after the war.

Fumio Hayasaka and Akira Ifukube

Regarding his thoughts on the use of the military in order for Japan to defend itself from giant monsters and alien invaders, to my knowledge he did not express anything specific on this topic. His comments about military technology in Godzilla (1954) are quite explicit. After that, he seems to have been less vociferous. This is, actually, an ongoing point of frustration for me. While writing the biography, I have often had questions about Ifukube’s personal take on several of the films that he worked on. I have asked questions about his thoughts on this or that film to his family or to his former colleagues and the answer I get is almost always the same: “I don’t know, he never talked much about his film music.” Certainly, Ifukube is on record speaking about his film scores in several interviews, but what I find interesting about that is that these are interviews carried out by foreigners, not Japanese. I have the impression that it was people from other countries that always wanted to talk about his film scores. When foreign interviewers would come to his house to talk about his film music, I think that the composer was polite and did the best he could to recall anecdotes about his work on films, but if you notice, often times his answers are not very detailed or he will begin talking about general concepts related to art of film scoring. But if you asked him something very specific about, say, the theme of nationalism in Atragon (1963), for example, those are the types of questions that he could not answer with much clarity. I have the impression that he might have remembered more about the music itself as opposed to the film that it appeared in.

I can only offer an opinion about Ifukube’s feelings as they relate to the images of the Self Defense Force taking on kaiju and space aliens. I think that, generally, he was in the corner of the monsters. Like in Godzilla (1954), the Toho’s kaiju repertory represented the primal forces of nature. Nature is superior to man’s technology, as I have said. And notice, whenever there are scenes of monsters in their death throes, be it Godzilla, Rodan or the Gargantuas, the music is always incredibly sad, and sincerely so. This is the composer lamenting the deaths of these “noble beasts.”

He surely would not have had any sympathy for the alien invaders such as the Mysterians or the Kilaaks. You would have to think that, to some extent, he saw them as stand-ins for the real invaders that took over Japan in the summer of 1945.

But this is a complex, multilayered issue. As I mentioned earlier, the composer uses chromatic music to represent his monsters and alien invaders, and again I see this as his statement against the “monstrous” avant-garde music of the day. Yet he sympathized with the monsters.

In a sense, Ifukube is an artist of contradictions. He often said that he did not want his music to sound “too European,” but he used a Western style orchestra — a European invention — to propagate his Japanese-inspired sound.

I think the most fascinating artists are those of complexity and of contradiction, like the Marquis de Sade, one of my favorite writers. With him, you cannot always wrap your head around what he is really saying or where he is really coming from. As a result, you get to thinking and you try to solve the intellectual puzzle in your head. This sort of thing is very mentally stimulating and Ifukube offers similar puzzles to his listeners, in a sense. He was clearly a complex, multi-dimensional thinker.

Galvan: As of the moment, your biography on Ifukube does not cover his 1990s return to the Godzilla series, which began with him writing the score for Kazuki Omori’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), a movie which depicted Japan resisting subjugation from western forces. Given what we’ve been talking about, do you know if Ifukube took any particular interest in the subject matter of this film?

Homenick: I’ll get to the Heisei films one day! To piggyback on my last answer, no, I am not aware of any specific statements that Ifukube made regarding the film’s somewhat notorious “Anti-American” theme. Having said that, I would have to think that the theme would have been of interest to him.

Akira Ifukube's sake cup
a sake cup which belonged to Akira Ifukube

Galvan: Ifukube grew up close to the Ainu—an indigenous populace in Japan—and admitted in multiple interviews to having been heavily influenced by their music. During his career, Ifukube worked on a few projects which must’ve reminded him of the Ainu. For instance, the opening sequences of Varan (1958) take place in a rural village, far away from civilization, with heavy emphasis on the native people. Given his close association with the aboriginal people of Japan, did Ifukube take special interest in projects such as these?

Homenick: I would say so, yes. Ifukube grew up in Hokkaido, the northernmost Japanese island. This is the region of Japan where the Ainu had lived for centuries. Akira Ifukube first encountered the Ainu at the age of nine in the early 1920s. His father Toshizo had just become the mayor of a small town called Otofuke where the population was about fifty percent Ainu. In those days, it was commonplace for ethnic Japanese to discriminate against the Ainu, but the Ifukubes were different; they showed an unusual amount of warmth and generosity to their Ainu neighbors. And why not — after all, Mayor Toshizo Ifukube had to be a good man to all of the citizens of his town.

Especially in the 1920s, Hokkaido was very, very rural. It was far removed from the much more cosmopolitan Japanese mainland of Honshu. Ifukube loved growing up in that rural environment. He loved his Ainu friends who were themselves very attached to the land and very respectful of nature. Being raised in Hokkaido, Ifukube developed what the Japanese musicologist Morihide Katayama once described as an “antipathy to the Occidental concept of modern urban life.” (This is again another contradiction — Ifukube moved to very urban Tokyo in the late 1940s and remained there for the rest of his days!)

In movies like Godzilla (1954) where you have the Odo Islanders, or Varan (1958) where you have the mountain people, or Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) where you have the Infant Islanders, yes, I haven't any doubts that Ifukube felt a certain sympathy for or kinship to with these types of people — people that live rural, traditional lives far from the modern world with all of its deadly technology and corrupting modernism.

Galvan: Since most western fans are only familiar with Ifukube’s work in tokusatsu, what are some of the hidden gems in his film scoring repertoire: great scores he wrote for movies not involving monsters/aliens you would highly recommend?

Homenick: There are so many films scores to choose from; after all, he wrote nearly three hundred! In my opinion, I think his kaiju film scores tend to be his best. Even the composer himself said that monster and science fiction films were his favorite to score.

I really, really like his score for The Three Treasures (1959). It is such a sweeping survey of ancient Japanese music. Truly epic in scale. Zatoichi’s Revenge is another one that comes to mind for me. It’s brimming with wonderful guitar music. His score for the film Buddha is terrific and it is based on music that he had written for a Buddha-themed ballet in the early 1950s. His music for the film Love and Faith, which deals with the story of the twenty-six Catholic martyrs of Japan, is also exemplary.

Galvan: We’ve touched on this a bit, but even though he’s renowned for his film scoring, Ifukube had quite a résumé of concert works as well. How is Ifukube’s concert work similar to his film scoring work? How is it different? Did he favor working in one field over the other? Do you think he turned out his best work in one field versus the other?

Homenick: Ifukube’s concert work shares plenty of similarities with his film music. You get the big sound, the bombast, the irregular time signatures and the audacious percussion. And, sometime, you get even more of that in the concert pieces. His ballet Salome from 1948 is a great example of that. In the closing moments of this ballet score, which is based on a biblical story from the New Testament, King Herod orders his guards to seize and kill his daughter Salome. The music that Ifukube wrote for this scene is blisteringly intense and even savage, barbarous. It’s quite breathtaking. A true thrill to hear. His concert work is also no stranger to the hauntingly beautiful melodies that Ifukube was wont to write in his films like Godzilla on the Ocean Floor cue from Godzilla (1954) and The Sacred Fountain from Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964).

I would say his concert music is different in the sense that it almost always seems more refined or thought out. You can clearly tell that the composer put more effort and consideration into his concert music. And this is because he did indeed prefer writing music for the concert hall. He thought of himself first and foremost a concert composer. Yes, he did like scoring films and he was quite obviously good at it, but I think that he more often than not saw film scoring as a means to a financial end. He made a lot of money scoring films and this financial security gave him the luxury of being able to write his concert scores. His best work, in my opinion, is definitely to be found in his concert music.

Akira Ifukube's Rachals piano
Akira Ifukube's Rachals piano

Galvan: Most Ifukube fans in the United States are primarily familiar with his film work as opposed to his classical work. Based on your research, would you say this is also true in Japan?

Homenick: Yes, in Japan his best-known music is definitely related to film. While Akira Ifukube may not be a household name in Japan, I think it’s safe to say that everyone there knows his Godzilla music. Whenever his name is mentioned in the media, he is always labeled as “The Godzilla Composer” or “The Composer of the Godzilla Theme.” When he passed away in Japan, the stories about his death on Japanese TV were necessarily accompanied by the Godzilla theme. This is how people there know him even if they do not know his name.

Ifukube often lamented that people knew his film music much better than any of his concert scores. He once said that he might work on a film score for several weeks and everyone will remember that, but nobody knows about the concert score that he labored over for two years.

Galvan: If someone approached you and said they were interested in checking out Ifukube’s concert works, where would you recommend they start?

Homenick: I’d recommend the following works: Japanese Rhapsody (1935), Symphony Concertante for Piano and Orchestra (1941), Ballata Sinfonica (1943), Salome (1948) and Ritmica Ostinata for Piano and Orchestra (1961). These are only five; I could have picked more, but these tend to be pretty raucous pieces. Therefore, I think that they make great transitions for people who love the big sound of his kaiju music — you will certainly find more of that big sound within these works. And the nice thing is that each of the pieces that I just mentioned can be found on YouTube. You have no excuse not to check these pieces of music out!

Galvan: Since we’re on the non-film side of Akira Ifukube’s career: in 2016, you attended a concert in Tokyo commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Ifukube’s death. One of the pieces performed was Three Songs of Autumn from the Heian Period, which had been considered lost for quite some time. Please tell us about this experience. What was it like to attend the first public performance of a composition by this great composer many once believed to be gone forever?

Homenick: When I was in Tokyo in 2016, there were actually two concerts that I attended to commemorate Akira Ifukube’s death. The first was with the Tokyo Symphony conducted by Michiyoshi Inoue at the MUZA Hall in Kawasaki. That concert was something else! The grand finale of the evening was Ritmica Ostinata for Piano and Orchestra. My dear friend Reiko Yamada was the solo pianist for that piece. She knocked it out the park! What a thrill.

The second concert that you mention was much smaller in scale. It was a concert of his chamber pieces. Chamber music is music written for solo instruments or small ensembles of instruments. This concert took place at the Tokyo College of Music in Ikebukuro, where Ifukube himself used to be the president. For me — and I am sure for everyone else there that evening — the main event of the night was the premiere public performance of Three Songs of Autumn from the Heian Period, which is considered to be the Ifukube’s very first attempt at writing an original piece of music. It was written probably in 1932 or 1933 when the composer was a teenager. The piece went missing more or less immediately upon it completion. It is written for soprano and solo piano. It seems that after young Ifukube wrote the piece, he sent the score — his only copy — to a Japanese soprano, Ayoko Ogino, hoping that she would perform it one day. It is known that she received the score, but it’s not known if it was ever performed. It probably wasn’t. After Ogino died in the 1940s, her personal belonging went into storage and languished in obscurity. A few years ago, people were sorting through her items and the score for Three Songs was found — after about eighty years!

After being rediscovered, the Tokyo College of Music worked with the late composer’s eldest daughter to give Three Songs what would assuredly be its premiere. I am fortunate that not only was I in Tokyo at the same time of this concert, but my hotel was literally walking distance from the College. As an Ifukube researcher, I had to be there when this long lost work was unveiled.

The small performance hall was packed, to my surprise. Ifukube’s eldest daughter was in attendance. When the soprano and pianist took to the stage, the already silent hall somehow became even more silent; we were all anticipating what was to come. Once the music began to play, I was struck by how dark it was. The score is, after all, based on three Japanese tanka poems that describe forlorn feelings during the autumn season. Ifukube did well to express those feelings of sadness in the music. On a technical level, the music was quite simple; it maintains a constant 4/4 time signature throughout its duration of ten minutes, using a lot of even half notes and quarter notes; there was virtually no syncopation.

What was it like to be in attendance for an Ifukube premiere, especially for such a long lost work of this significance? It was magical. Fascinating. It was an honor. Perhaps I really don’t have the right words to describe how I felt at this time. Suffice it to say that it is an experience that I shall not soon forget.

Kaoru Wada Godzilla CD

Galvan: Composer Kaoru Wada—who studied under Ifukube—conducted a live cinema performance of the Godzilla (1954) score, which was subsequently released on CD last year. Have you listened to this CD and what are your thoughts on it?

Homenick: Yes, I have the CD and I love it. Wada takes some artistic license with the music and makes changes here and there — he either removes entire bars of music from segments of the original score or re-orchestrates some of the music in his own particular way — but all in all, I think it was a tremendous effort and I think that he did an excellent job. There have been four recent attempts to do modern recordings of the Godzilla (1954) music. Two of those have been by a conductor named Ichiro Saito, one by my dear friend and colleague John DeSentis at the Ifukube 100 Concert that took place in Chicago in 2014 and the one by Wada. In my opinion, the recordings by DeSentis and Wada are the best of the lot.

By the way, Wada is a fantastic composer. His Folkloric Dance Suite is an amazing piece of music. He’s also been a great help to me in my research.

Galvan: Speaking of Kaoru Wada, Ifukube was a mentor to a great many successful composers. In addition to Wada, he taught Sei Ikeno, Yasushi Akutagawa, Reiko Yamada, among others. When you examine the work of his pupils, do you recognize any of his influences?

Homenick: Indeed I do. Especially in Kaoru Wada and Yasushi Akutagawa. The Folkloric Dance Suite by Wada that I just mentioned often sounds like Ifukube, if Ifukube had been more harmonically adventurous. But listen to those rhythms and percussion. There is definitely a link to Ifukube there! Akutagawa, like Ifukube, had admiration for Russian music. Perhaps that was due to Ifukube’s influence. Akutagawa’s music, like Ifukube’s, is also very rhythmic and percussive but his melodies are usually less ethnic sounding. Also, his harmonies are more Western. If Ifukube often sounded like Prokofiev, Akutagawa’s sound definitely recalled Shostakovich.

Galvan: Could you describe your involvement in the 2014 concert Ifukube 100: A Legacy of Monster Music as well as its 2015 follow-up Symphony Fury! The Music of Japanese Monsters? (A note for the readership: recordings for both concerts are available for purchase on CD from Genesis54 Inc.)

Homenick: At some point in 2014 I was contacted by John DeSentis. He was seeking to put on this concert of Ifukube’s Godzilla music at G-FEST that year with his co-producer Chris Oglio. At that time I really had no involvement in American Godzilla fandom. My site was certainly out there, but I wasn’t. As a consequence, I really didn’t know anybody in the North American Godzilla community, and I did not know John or Chris. John knew of my site, though, and asked if I would help him advertise this concert that he and Chris were trying to fund. I was happy to help — after all, if I could in any small way help get this music performed stateside, sign me up! After several interactions with John and Chris, I got to know more about them and their personalities. They seemed like pretty up-front people, and I liked that. Then I saw the promotional video that Chris produced to solicit donations to fund the concert. The video was very professionally done, in good taste, and I thought to myself that these guys were the real deal. Feeling that I could trust them, I had some musical material that I offered to share if it meant that it would improve the overall quality of the concert. John was very appreciative of that, to be sure!

concert CDs

I was asked at some point if I would be interested in MCing the concert. I was very, very honored to be asked and I said that I’d do it. Even if I had no further involvement in the concert, I wanted to go to G-FEST anyway to hear this music live and meet John and Chris.

When I attended the rehearsal right before the actual concert, I was blown away by what I heard. The music sounded great. It was truly the work of group of talented, sincere professionals. At that point I knew that John and Chris had done it. This was not some sloppy, half-assed attempt to put on a cheap show for the convention-goers, this was an honest-to-goodness professional concert. It made me feel good that I had put my trust into their efforts.

And then the concert happened. It was a smashing success. During the intermission and after the show, people came up to me left and right saying it was one of the best things that had ever happened at G-FEST and, in some cases, people said it was one of the most emotional moments of their entire lives. I understand that. I, like many, teared up at several points throughout the concert.

After the undisputed success of Ifukube 100, John and Chris wanted to do a follow-up concert the next year at G-FEST. The concept was to mix Ifukube’s music with Kow Otani’s three Heisei Gamera scores and his Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001) music.

John was the Otani point man. He worked directly with the composer to secure the scores and see to it that Otani could attend the concert in person. I was the Ifukube guy. I worked with the late composer’s estate to get the music for Kishi Mai, a World War Two-era march, and with Toho Music to get the three Symphonic Fantasias.

I was asked to return as the MC, which again was an honor. I was happy to do it.

By the way, Symphonic Fury! was special because each piece on the program was in one way or another a premiere. Otani’s Gamera and GMK music had never before been performed live — not even in Japan. Kishi Mai has only been performed a handful of times in Japan since the 1940s. This was its American premiere. It was also the American premiere of all three Fantasias.

John, Chris, Archie Waugh and the rest of the people behind the production of those two concerts deserve all the praise in the world. They are all good people who love good music and gave so much of themselves in ways most people do not realize to bring this music to American fans. I always joke that I had the easiest job of all of them. But I repeat, without their audacity and vision, these concerts would have never happened.

Galvan: You were also involved in Reiko Yamada’s Akira Ifukube – Works for Piano series. Please describe your involvement working on these.

Homenick: I either wrote or contributed to the liner notes for Reiko’s CDs in that series. That was great fun because each of those CDs contains at least one world premiere recording. Therefore, I was the first person to write in English about two of Ifukube’s works that appeared in her series, Deux Caractères for Violin and Piano and Fire of Prometheus. Those two pieces will always have a special place in my heart as a result.

Akira Ifukube Works for Piano Series Reiko Yamada

A few words about Reiko Yamada. She was a student of Ifukube at the Tokyo College of Music in the 1980s. Her classmates included the likes of Kaoru Wada, Satoshi Imai (the man that conducted the recordings of Ifukube’s Heisei-era Godzilla scores) and Junichi Hirokami, a very famous conductor who led the Japan Philharmonic on their groundbreaking Artistry of Akira Ifukube CD series during the mid-1990s. She actually became quite close to Ifukube and his wife Ai during this time. She often spent time at Ifukube’s home in the presence of other composers such as Toshiro Mayuzumi, Yasushi Akutagawa, Sei Ikeno and Riichiro Manabe. In the last decade or so, it has been her mission to perform and promote the music of Akira Ifukube as much as possible. She performed the American premiere of Ritmica Ostinata in 2008 with the Kalamazoo Symphony and, subsequent to that, has performed that piece several times in Japan. She has played Ritmica a handful of times with the Tochigi-ken Symphony, which is based in her hometown of Nikko. Twice she has played the same piece with the Tokyo Symphony. She has become the preeminent Ifukube pianist of our time and many consider her 2016 performance of Ritmica Ostinata with the Tokyo Symphony, which was turned into a recording by King Records, to be the best modern performance of that piece. I am very proud of her.

Galvan: A great many composers worked in the Godzilla series during Ifukube’s time and in the years since. When you consider these many scores, which ones stick out to you? Whose approach did you appreciate the most? Whose approach did you appreciate the least? In regards to the scores you didn’t care for, are there any you feel function very well as music in their own right but just do not fit in the tokusatsu genre? (In other words: do you feel anyone was mismatched to the genre?)

Homenick: I really like Sato’s scores. Yes, his style is very different from Ifukube’s but his music worked very well for the tone of the Godzilla films that he worked on. I especially like his Son of Godzilla (1967) score. Some of the most beautiful music in the entire Godzilla franchise is heard at the very end of that film when Godzilla and Minya huddle in the snow.

Poor Riichiro Manabe. To use a word that the Godzilla fandom seems legitimately obsessed with, his music is so “underrated.” And I think it is. OK, his Godzilla theme is a little goofy and perhaps even absurdly ugly. But take for example the music heard during the Seatopia ritual to awaken Megalon in Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973). It is indeed effective, even scary music. It adds a real unsettled feeling to that scene with its highly surreal visuals. Come on people, stop “underrating” Riichiro Manabe!

Reijiro Koroku’s The Return of Godzilla (1984) music is up there for me. A very dark, memorable score.

I really do not get the music of Takayuki Hattori. His Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) score is at least a little better than Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999), which isn’t saying much. Aside from his Moguera theme, which is at least decent, the rest of his music for either film is cheap and ugly sounding to me. He is assuredly my least favorite Godzilla composer. He was just out of his league when scoring Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla and Godzilla 2000: Millennium.

Galvan: Some more fan questions regarding tokusatsu. What is your favorite Godzilla film from the Showa, Heisei, and Millennium eras?

Homenick: From the Showa period, Godzilla (1954), hands down. It’s one of my top five favorite films, period. From the Heisei period, that’s tougher. Either Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) or Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II (1993). From the Millennium series, it would have to be Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001).

Godzilla 1954Galvan: Favorite Godzilla suit?

Homenick: Godzilla ’54. It’s definitely a scary looking suit, especially when filmed in that gorgeous black and white by Masao Tamai. Second favorite is GMK. Godzilla will never look more badass than that.



Galvan: What are your thoughts on the two Hollywood Godzilla movies and Kong: Skull Island (2017)?

Homenick: GODZILLA (1998) is not really Godzilla, true. But it’s one hell of a fun film to watch, even today. A lot of the special effects hold up extremely well. The acting is terrible and I’ll never quite understand the point of including the complete cast of The Simpsons in a Godzilla movie, but despite some shortcomings, it’s an enjoyable, loud popcorn picture that delivers legitimate excitement. I think most Godzilla fans would agree with me that it’s a good monster flick, but they are too scared to admit it in public. Those online forums can be brutal.

GODZILLA (1998) is actually a much better film that Gareth “I’m A Fan! / What-Would-Spielberg-Do” Edwards’ debacle of a movie. What a missed opportunity. I guess if you are primarily a MUTO fan, this film delivers in spades. If you are like me, though, and are Godzilla fan first and foremost, I am just not sure what is so cool about seeing Godzilla for five seconds at the airport before cutting to a scene of one of the long-lost Olsen twins putting her kid to sleep. This is more or less the same problem is the “climactic” — and I use that word loosely — battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs in San Francisco. Notice how Edwards never allows his camera to just sit back, relax and stay fixed on the monster action. Instead, you get fifteen seconds of Godzilla swatting at the MUTOs before cutting to three minutes of the soldiers looking for the nuclear bomb. Cut back to twenty seconds of Godzilla and the MUTOS where maybe you get to see some debris falling from a building and then cut back to another three-minute portion of the significantly less interesting bomb hunt. Ironically, Edwards, thanks to his weird editing choices, does not “let them fight.”

At least Roland Emmerich understands that we, the humble audience, came to the movie to see the titular monster. No faux-Spielbergian teases there — Emmerich has the decency to give us the goods upfront and often.

Kong: Skull Island. What a juvenile, poorly written and poorly acted piece of ape crap. Better monster action than in Godzilla (2014), though. Maybe Gareth should study Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ monster action techniques instead of Spielberg’s. Just don’t grow that ridiculous beard, Gareth. Don’t do it.

Galvan: What are your thoughts on Godzilla Resurgence (2016)?

Homenick: Another stinker. I like the way Godzilla looks in the film, and I actually quite like some of his scenes, but the rest of the movie is like sitting through a boring, never-ending meeting. Hmmmm, I wonder why that is.

I get that the director Hideaki Anno was trying to make satirical points about Japanese bureaucracy — among other things — but what may have seemed clever on paper translates poorly to film. I’d rather just attend a real meeting.

Galvan: In regards to Godzilla Resurgence, the score for that film consists of recycled Ifukube tracks and music by Shiro Sagisu. Now, some of the Millennium Godzilla films recycled an Ifukube Godzilla theme now and then—Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999) is one such example—but the vast majority of those films’ scores consisted of original work by the new composer. By contrast, the soundtrack for Godzilla Resurgence literally jumps back and forth between the classic Ifukube tracks and Sagisu’s tracks. Do you think the blending of Ifukube’s style and Sagisu’s style worked to the film’s benefit? Also: did you think it was a wise decision to simply reuse the Showa era Ifukube recordings instead of re-recording them to match the sound quality of the new music?

Homenick: Interesting question. I will admit that, when I saw Godzilla Resurgence at my local theater, it was a lot of fun to hear Ifukube’s music blasting from the speakers. That’s something one does not often get to experience at their local multiplex. So, I liked that for selfish reasons. Whether or not it works in the greater context of the film is another question. I am inclined to say no. To be fair, many of those recordings used sounded pretty darn old, especially when contrasted against the modern sound of Sagisu’s music. It was a very conspicuous sound difference and I just don’t understand the reasoning to include those old cues. Maybe the Ifukube material would have worked better if it had been rerecorded to match the sonic qualities of the Sagisu cuts, but who knows? I suppose it was done the way it was done to be ironic or arty. Whatever the ultimate purpose, it’s lost on me.

Galvan: Do you have any expectations for Godzilla: Monster Planet?

Homenick: None. I am not an anime fan and Godzilla looks ugly. He looks like a geriatric version of the ’14 incarnation, which itself was not a particularly impressive look. I’m sure I’ll end up seeing it, but I am by no means excited for its release. I’m not even sure when it’s hitting Japanese theaters, now that I think of it.

Galvan: Besides tokusatsu, are there any genres of Japanese cinema you are particularly fond of?

Homenick: I like jidaigeki and chanbara films. I love Seven Samurai (1954) — Hayasaka’s music for that film is exemplary. And I am a huge Zatoichi fan. Lady Snowblood (1973) is always a fun one. And the first entry of Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy [Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954)] is sumptuously beautiful. Inagaki’s Chushingura (1962) is also up there. It boasts a good Ifukube score, too.

Hiroshi Inagaki's Chushingura

Galvan: Intensely researching the career of Akira Ifukube must’ve introduced you to a number of very fine (non-tokusatsu) films he was associated with. Of these movies, are there any you would recommend?

Homenick: There are just too many to name. I’d recommend any of the Zatoichi films that he scored, of which there are many. I especially like the first Zatoichi film, Tale of Zatoichi. Buddha would be another. It’s sort of like the Japanese version of King of Kings, or The Ten Commandments.

Galvan: Besides Ifukube, who are some of your favorite Japanese composers? (This topic is not limited to those who have worked in tokusatsu; in fact, this question is not limited to those who have written for cinema.)

Homenick: Fumio Hayasaka is my second favorite Japanese composer. After him, there are several that I admire greatly. Yasushi Akutagawa, Saburo Moroi, Kosaku Yamada, Isotaro Sugata and Hiroshi Oguri come to mind immediately. Aside from Akutagawa, I am not sure that the other composers that I just mentioned ever scored a film.

Galvan: Can you think of any modern Japanese composers who you think would make ideal candidate for scoring a Godzilla movie?

Homenick: I think Kaoru Wada would be a great choice. He’s got the talent and I know he is a Godzilla fan, so I think he would put his heart and soul into such a score. He is capable of the big sound that Godzilla requires.

Galvan: Any projects we can expect from you besides the continuation of your Akira Ifukube biography?

Homenick: I cannot think of any at this time. In terms of Ifukube-related activities, I am currently working on revising and updating the existing text of the biography. Once that is done, and I have the time, it’ll be time for me to continue plugging away at his life from 1970 onwards. Other than that, no, there is nothing else.

Akira Ifukube Works for Piano Series Reiko Yamada

Galvan: I wanted to save this question for last as I think it more or less ties into everything we’ve been talking about. Had you had the opportunity to meet Akira Ifukube, what would you have said to him? Had you met him and he agreed to an interview, what would you have asked him?

Homenick: Wow, what an interesting question. As I mentioned, I actually never got to meet the composer. I will be eternally jealous of people that did get to meet him and interview him.

What would I have said to him? That his music gives me passion, that it means the world to me. I would have told him that his music has somehow become part of my own personal identity and I could not imagine an existence without it.

What would I have asked him in an interview? Where would I even begin? There are so many questions I would have asked him. I’d have loved to have discussed the works of other composers with him and asked him about his experiences hearing Ainu music for the first time. I’d have asked him a lot of questions about his formative years in Hokkaido. I’d have asked him questions on Japanese culture, on musical aesthetics. What wouldn’t I have asked him might be a more apt question, and easier to answer!

Galvan: Thank you so much, Erik, for taking the time to do this interview.

Homenick: Again, the pleasure has been mine. Thank you, Patrick.

PERSON DETAILS

Interview: Brett Homenick (2017)

ERIK HOMENICK

Creator and webmaster of akiraifukube.org, Erik Homenick has spent more than a decade putting together the most comprehensive and intensely researched biography on the Japanese composer Akira Ifukube, which can be read on his website.

Date: 08/25/2017
Interviewer: Patrick Galvan

 

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