Spy Sorge - Original Soundtrack
International Title
 Spy Sorge
Music By: Shinichiro Ikebe
Record Label: Camerata
Running Time: 43:32 Discs: 1
Release: May 2003 CD Number: CMCD-25006
Anthony Romero
Spy Sorge, a movie about the spy Richard Sorge who informs the Soviet Union that Japan doesn't intend to join Germany in a joint invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II, was a production primed for a international release from the get go. Given a rather generous budget, and starring English speaking actor Iain Glen in the title role, the film and plot seemed like the perfect spring board to get foreign distributors interested. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Internationally the movie was ignored while domestically, in Japan, audiences didn't seem smitten by the concept either, leading to one of the biggest financial disasters Toho has been involved with since the turn of the century. The movie certainly wouldn't be the last from the company that would be produced with foreign distribution in mind only to fail to achieve this; one could argue the similarly budgeted Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) suffered the same fate. However, Spy Sorge is particularly disheartening due to the many efforts made to make it more appealing to foreign audiences. Part of this is the score that was composed for the movie. Helmed by international favorite Shinichiro Ikebe, who composed for most of Akira Kurosawa's latter-day films, the soundtrack also features themes done by several large orchestras across Japan, such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, giving it a more robust sound than what's usually heard in Japanese cinema from the smaller orchestras. Despite the measures taken, though, it's probably unfortunate to know that the ending result for the soundtrack is, like the movie, mixed.

I won't lie in saying that I had high hopes for the soundtrack. I love Ikebe's score for Dreams (1990), and was disappointed that this CD did not contain the same type of grandeur that is displayed in that soundtrack, despite the sometimes larger orchestra being incorporated. As it turns out, the larger orchestra is also a problem here, at least in regards to the CD as a whole. The reason for this is that it's not consistent. Only six of the 22 tracks are actually being conducted by these larger orchestras (for reference, these are tracks 1, 8, 13, 16, 18 and 22). This creates an almost clashing experience as you have very minimally composed tracks like "Intelligence II", which isn't very interesting to begin with, juxtaposed against more rousing and robust compositions like "The Document." The other problem is that many tracks sound very similar against each other, and these are easy to spot due to the similar names for track titles such as the Tokko (short for Special Higher Police) cues.

In the end, what saves this CD are the fleshed out compositions. This includes "Title", "2.26: The Previous Night," "Summer at the Grounds of Execution" and the previously mentioned "The Document." All of these sound wonderful, and it's a shame the rest of the score doesn't match this same level of presentation quality. "Suliko" is also another interesting cue here, although different from the rest in that it's a very gothic track that has a slightly creepy yet beautiful quality to it as it's done by a chorus -- the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus to be exact. It's also worth mentioning the three cues on this disc which aren't from Ikebe. One of these is the fairly uninteresting "International" by Pierre C. Degeyter, which just doesn't work as a stand alone piece, while another is a Pipe Organ version of John Lennon's "Imagine", which makes the music seem more apt for a teary funeral than what the original uplifting song by Lennon manages to invoke. The final of these, and probably most interesting to Toho fans, is the "Rolling Titles" by none other than Toru Takemitsu. Yes, this score manages to feature both of Kurosawa's composer stables for his later career, with Takemitsu being best known for his work on Ran (1985). Regrettably, this is a posthumous appearance, as Takemitsu passed away in 1996, but the stock music, from Requiem Pour Orchestre à Cordes, is well selected. It certainly doesn't disappoint, as the theme is a very haunting track and lets the CD end on a good final note.

In closing, this ends up being a very uneven soundtrack. There are a few good cues here, but they get bogged down by the simpler and repeated themes found elsewhere on an already short CD. If someone really likes Ikebe's work, though, then this is probably still worth checking out, although it doesn't get a strong recommendation either way.
Rating: Star Rating
  1. Title - 1941.10.15
  2. Suliko (Georgia Folk Song)
  3. Intelligence I
  4. Intelligence II
  5. Katja I
  6. Suppression I
  7. Suppression II
  8. The Document
  9. Ramsey I
  10. Ramsey II
  11. Ramsey III
  12. Katja II
  13. Agnes Smedley
  14. Tokko I
  15. Leica
  16. Summer at the Grounds of Execution - 1936.2.26
  17. Tokko II
  18. 2.26: The Previous Night
  19. Funeral Attendance - 1944.11.7
  20. International
    By: Pierre C. Degeyter
  21. Imagine (Pipe Organ Version)
    By: John Lennon
  22. Rolling Titles
    By: Toru Takemitsu