On June 30, 2020, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the same organization behind the Oscars) announced through their website their plans to extend “invitations to join the organization to 819 artists and executives who have distinguished themselves by their contributions to theatrical motion pictures.” Among the invitees was composer Michiru Oshima, whom fans of this website know for writing the music of Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000), Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (2002), and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003).
In a 2016 interview with site owner Anthony Romero, Oshima recalled how she had not seen a Godzilla film prior to Megaguirus and how she avoided listening to past kaiju scores even after getting the job. “I wanted to bring out the originality [and] create music without any preconceptions,” she explained. The results were a trio of outstanding scores with an aesthetic of their own—led by a distinctive, drum-heavy theme for the King of the Monsters—fittingly applied to three pictures that themselves were very much alike on a number of fronts. Oshima’s Godzilla music continues to rank with the most popular in the franchise, and deservedly so.
Which is not to say her achievements in film scoring are limited to those three movies; for throughout her career, Michiru Oshima has continually turned out high quality music acclimating different genres. Example: when I looked up the composer’s name in the Academy’s announcement, I was particularly happy to see they’d included the 1997 romantic tragedy Lost Paradise (or Paradise Lost, as it’s labeled on its OST case) as a sample of her work. Her somber score for that film comprises some of the most hauntingly beautiful music I’ve ever heard in a motion picture; and I was overjoyed to learn via Anthony’s interview that she considers it one of her favorites.
Lost Paradise was the first of ten pictures Oshima scored for Yoshimitsu Morita, a director of tremendous diversity whose every project was unlike what he’d made before, jumping between dark comedies, horror pictures, period dramas, even a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro (1962). And just as his films tended to be drastically different from one another, the music Oshima wrote for him appropriately exhibited a new mood and aesthetic each time, as well: relentlessly solemn in Lost Paradise; quirky and atmospheric in Copycat Killer (2002); quirky and amusing in Like Asura (2003); energetic and spectacular in Tsubaki Sanjuro (2007); playful in The Mamiya Brothers (2006); and so on. Their collaborations continued up through Morita’s last film, Take the “A” Train (2012), which went to theaters a few months after his death in December 2011. One can only imagine what else they might’ve done together had he lived a little longer….
Needless to say, Oshima has turned out exemplary work for other filmmakers. Seijun Suzuki’s musical Princess Raccoon (2005); Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s Memories of Tomorrow (2006), starring Ken Watanabe as a man suffering from an early onset of Alzheimer’s; Isshin Inudo’s mother-daughter tearjerker Bizan: The Mountain of Mother’s Love (2007), for which Oshima won a Japanese Academy Prize. I could keep listing examples—her music for animation; the number of Chinese films she’s scored—but any composer with such an extraordinary output spanning so many genres and styles, I feel, is more than worthy of cross-continental recognition.
One last bit of music-related news. In Chicago last July, Oshima co-conducted a concert for an international crowd of music and genre fans called Kaiju Crescendo: An Evening of Japanese Monster Music. For this event, she herself wielded a baton, conducting suites of her three Godzilla scores—the first time her genre music had ever been performed live—and then premiered Godzilla in Chicago, an original piece written specifically for that night and written around a narrative the composer herself had devised.
“We went over the printed score together,” concert producer and emcee Erik Homenick told Toho Kingdom, “and she explained to me what the various parts of the music represented in this original Godzilla story of her own invention: Godzilla emerges from Lake Michigan and subsequently grapples with a legendary lake monster before laying waste to downtown Chicago. It was a great deal of fun to recount this fanciful story to the audience before Miss Oshima thrilled all of us with the world premiere performance of Godzilla in Chicago.”
The author of this news article was front-row center for the whole evening and cannot encourage people more heartily to pick up the CD or buy the digital download when they become available in the near future. And for a more personal congratulations of Oshima’s invitation from the Academy, I’d like to offer this closing testimony from her Kaiju Crescendo co-conductor, John DeSentis. “I cannot state enough how deserving Michiru is of this honor. She is a composer of colossal musical talent with a wonderful heart to match it. Congratulations, Michiru!”
Michiru Oshima at Kaiju Crescendo in July 2019.
Image Courtesy of Len Medlock