By Charlie Brigden
Horror movies. It’s a bit of a subjective term, especially as the matter of what scares you itself is very subjective. For example, many people are scared to death by spiders. It’s a popular one, but it doesn’t apply to me at all, especially as I keep spiders as pets. But as soon as I hear a loud bang near me, I generally soil my trousers. But it’s a moot point. While the subject of today’s review may have turned into a hero, in his 1954 debut he was very much the antagonist. The destroyer of worlds. Godzilla.
While composing music for a ton of films, Akira Ifukube has always been – and always will be – associated with Toho and The Big G. Not only did he write the music, he also created sound effects, including Godzilla’s trademark roar, which was a leather glove on a double bass. But it’s absolutely right that Ifukube is ensconced in the Godzilla legend, as his contribution is far bigger than the lizard himself, starting with Godzilla’s theme.
Running over the main titles, Godzilla’s theme is a marvel, a propulsive and entertainingly jaunty piece that’s a surprisingly upbeat opener for the film (although it was not originally composed for the monster). You have to remember, the original Godzilla is a horror film, not just a simple monster movie but a film where a country is attacked by the ghost of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Where we’re dealing with facing our own fears, our own actions, and the terrible weapons of mass destruction we create. Therefore, much of the music is serious, and very, very somber. A lot of it is designed strictly to build tension, such as the ominous low chords in ‘Stormy Ootojima Island’ that precede Godzilla’s arrival. The island itself has its own theme, a short and pretty powerful lament, while the Japanese Army has a very upbeat, suitably nationalistic theme. Godzilla has a six-note motif that heralds his coming, followed by clashing dissonant piano chords in ‘Godzilla Comes Ashore’, which work to great effect, especially with the stark black and white photography.
One piece that always stood out to me is the relatively brief but creepy motif for the oxygen destroyer, which features almost unbearably scratchy violins and low piano notes to illustrate the terror of the device, and what it means for Japan in past, present and future. It’s this kind of impact that makes the score what it is – a masterpiece of brutal terror, human optimism and thoughtful reflection that is one of the important film scores. ‘Godzilla At The Ocean Floor’ is a wonderfully emotional piece, lamenting both the damage Godzilla has caused and also what has been done to stop him with heartrending strings that sound like an echo of history. The motif is reprised several times, and it’s a really powerful piece.
Death Waltz’s vinyl release is an impressive pressing. Issued on 180g black or grey vinyl (the now sold-out special editions were either atomic breath blue or black and yellow), it’s amazing to hear a sixty-year old recording for what many purport to be a Z-movie in such good condition. Of course, there are limitations from the source – surface noise and slight distortion is unavoidable – but Toho and Death Waltz have to be commended for the mastering done on this release.
In film and score, Godzilla is a masterpiece. We can be thankful that we live in an age where music like this is treasured, and where it can find a home amongst some of the classics of its medium. Where it belongs.
Godzilla is available now from Death Waltz Recording Co.