Akira Ifukube, best known in the West as the composer of the “Godzilla” theme, died Feb. 8 in Tokyo of multiple organ failure. He was 91.
Born in Kushiro, Hokkaido — Japan’s northernmost main island — Ifukube taught himself composing while still a teenager. As a 19-year-old student at Hokkaido University, he wrote an orchestral composition, “Japanese Rhapsody,” that won the Tcherepnin Prize in Paris in 1935 and was later performed several times in Europe.
In 1947, while a teacher at Tokyo University of Arts, Ifukube scored his first of nearly 300 films. His most famous credit, however, was Ishiro Honda’s “Godzilla,” in 1954. Ifukube not only composed the slashing theme that was featured in all the series films, but came up with Godzilla trademark roar — made by running a resin-coated glove over the strings of a double bass. He later scored many of the Godzilla series entries for Toho, as well as other monster films for the studio such as “War of the Gargantuas.”
Non-Godzilla credits include Kaneto Shindo’s “Children of Hiroshima” (1952), Josef von Sternberg’s “Anatahan” (1954), Kon Ichikawa’s “The Harp of Burma” (1956) and the Daimajin and Zatoichi series.
Despite his success in films, Ifukube never abandoned his first love — classical music. He also maintained his connection with the academic world, serving as president of Tokyo Music College for eleven years, starting in 1976.
In 1995 Ifukube came out of retirement to score “Godzilla Vs. Destroyer” — his last film, though his theme could be heard on the last Godzilla series entry, “Godzilla: Final Wars” (2004).