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Aug 31 2011

Freaky Tiki Surf-ari: King Kong vs. Godzilla Soundtrack

Akira Ikufube
Official Site (Label)
King Kong vs. Godzilla Soundtrack, La-La Land Records 2006 (Original release date: 1962)

Yeah, like we'd be dumb enough to try using a picture of Godzilla without Toho's expressed written consent.

I know this seems like a bizarre way to close out this year’s Freaky Tiki Surf-ari. Truth be told, even I thought the idea that the King Kong vs. Godzilla soundtrack had anything to do with exotica music seemed odd at first. But as strange as it seemed, seeing the phrase “It’s Cocktail Hour at the Godzilla Tiki Bar” at the Amazon listing for the CD definitely caught my interest. Being a big Godzilla fan, I ordered the CD in order to experience it for myself.

I think part of the reason people might find the idea so surprising is due to their only being exposed to the American version of the film. What was originally a humorous commentary on commercialism in Japan was reedited into a serious science fiction movie. One of the casualties was the vast majority of the film’s score, which was replaced with stock music from a variety of Universal films. According to this, these films include Creature from the Black Lagoon, Bend of the River, Untamed Frontier, The Golden Horde, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Man Made Monster and The Monster That Challenged the World. It wasn’t until La-La Land Records issued this CD in 2006 that the original soundtrack had an official release in America. Rather than discuss things like how the film originally started development as “King Kong vs. Frankenstein” or the how Godzilla really doesn’t win in the Japanese version, I’d rather discuss the composer for awhile before reviewing the album itself. Oh, and since this is a soundtrack review, please be warned that the names of the tracks may contain spoilers for the events depicted in the film.

Back when the classic Godzilla films were first hitting American screens, Akira Ifukube was one of the few (if not the only one) people involved in the making of Godzilla movies whose name could be found in American reference books. Ifukube’s love of music began in his youth and he even practiced composing in his spare time after his university studies. He obtained his first taste of international recognition in 1935 for his winning of the Tcherepnin Prize with his composition “Japanese Rhapsody.” His first film score came in 1947, when he composed the score for the movie The End of the Silver Mountains. Many more film scores would follow, including numerous daikaiju films for Toho. In fact, Ifukube was responsible for creating Godzilla’s famous roar and footstep sound effects! Although he is sadly no longer with us (he passed away in 2006 from multiple organ dysfunction syndrome), his music and legacy live on.

Powerful music and native chanting make up the “Main Title” while “Series of World Wonders” is an extremely brief vibraphone-style opening theme. Those who have seen the American version of the film might remember a shot of a less than realistic model of the planet Earth floating in space. In the original Japanese version, this was part of a gag involving the opening of the above-mentioned fictional television series. However, the footage revealing the joke was removed from the US cut of the film and led to many reviewers citing the scene as an example of “cheesy special effects.” In the first of many combo tracks, “The Sparkling Iceberg/Pashin Commercial” starts off very soft (with a touch of creepiness) and builds up, while cymbals and percussion lead to the commercial tune. The Lymanesque “Fujita & Fumiko” is a fantastic jazzy piano tune with soft saxophone work and what seems to be a touch of vibe work. “The Seahawk in Crisis/Great News Gathering Team Departure” starts with a buildup of suspenseful music with touches of the classic Godzilla theme while bass drums give a sense of power. This contrasts with the next song’s cheerful tuba march music. “The Seahawk’s S.O.S.” is appropriately dark and mournful, with eerie touches that would fit in well inside The Twilight Zone. In the quick “Faro Island,” drums and soft wind instruments convey a tropical feel. In the similarly quick “The Natives” features a soft, slow build up on the gong and chorus of native voices. “Southern Island Tale” is a jaunty, jazzy tune with pianos and playful female Japanese vocals.

“Thunder and the Devil/Fumiko’s Misgivings” opens with pounding and chanting that is similar to (but distinctly different from) the opening track. However, things slow down and soft drums take over for the Fumiko part. “Godzilla’s Resurrection” is pure power and terror in audio form. In other words, it’s the Godzilla theme that all G-fans know and love. “The Cry of the Devil/A Prayer to the Rolling Thunder” opens with soft (but stern) drums and the occasional use of horns. Both parts blend very well into each other. In “The Devil of the South Seas/Drums of Battle/Giant Octopus vs. King Kong,” things pick up in terms of both volume and feel, as terror and unease enter the picture. Native drums quickly build up and vanish as we enter next portion. It may surprise some to learn that the octopus was realized through a combination of puppetry, stop motion animation and use of live octopuses on miniature sets. In fact, one of them wound up as special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya’s dinner! In “The Sleeping Devil,” soft drums and familiar chanting are used to lull the giant ape to sleep. In “The Terror of Godzilla,” the classic Godzilla theme returns and in “The Invincible King Kong/Preparation for Operation ‘Burial,'” more unease and a sense of regality are heard. “King Kong vs. Godzilla I” has a soft opening buildup which quickly builds in both power and intensity. There are also echoes of the native chanting in terms of overall feel and not actual usage of said chanting. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll know what I mean when you hear it. “Preparations for Operation ‘One Million Volts'” is serious and militaristic while “Operation ‘Burial'” is suspenseful and owes much to the Godzilla theme, as does “Operation “Burial” Fails” and “Operation “One Million Volts” I.” In sharp contrast, “Operation “One Million Volts” II” features soft drums and more of the unease/King Kong feel. “Kong Shows Up in Tokyo” builds upon the themes set by last track and also incorporates vibe-like touches. While “The Plan to Rescue Fumiko I” features drums and soft native chanting, “The Plan to Rescue Fumiko II” use of chanting and drums is more energetic and even a touch militaristic. The busy “The Plan to Transport King Kong” coveys a military-style sense of purpose and action thanks to its use of drums and horns. The creepy opening drums of “King Kong Advances on Fuji” creates the sense of a gigantic monster approaching. “The Confrontation at Fuji” offers a fusion of styles: native chanting playing under a military march/Godzilla theme variation. Similarly, “King Kong’s Resurrection” combines Toho’s King Kong theme and native drums. “King Kong vs. Godzilla II” is frantic and fast-paced battle theme while “Ending” has a soft opening that builds up to big farewell. In the first of two bonus tracks, “Main Title (mono)” provides exactly what the name implies. “Main Title (a cappella)” is a drum-free version of opening. I should stress that this is an all new version of the opening theme and is not just the opening with instruments stripped out. It’s fascinating to hear only native chanting without any backing instruments, along with the new touches which seem to have been thrown in.

Although not of the all is exotica-related, there is enough of it to interest fans of the genre. If you’re looking for a present for the Tiki fan who has everything, this is the perfect choice. Japanese monster movie fans will appreciate the detailed liner notes by David Hirsch, which cover both the making of the film and provides details about each track on the album. Even if you are not an exotica fan, this is an amazing album that demonstrates how Akira Ikufube is a true master of his craft. Just be sure not to dawdle, because it’s now out of print and the price is rising fast!

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  1. avatar
    Freaky Tiki Surf-ari: Les Baxter | Gravedigger's Local 16

    [...] fans (myself once included) tend to think of him as a lesser composer just because he isn’t Akira Ifukube. Given Toho’s habit of reusing selections from past Ifukube scores (including material he had [...]

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