Godzilla, King of the Monsters

Composed by: Akira Ifukube

Toho, one of the major studios of the burgeoning Japanese film industry, decided to get into the giant-monster-created-by-nuclear-energy genre popularized in America. However, the Japanese actually had suffered the effects of nuclear weapons at the end of World War II, not to mention massive fire-bombing, so their film had a lot more weight and gravitas. Gojira, Americanized as Godzilla, King of the Monsters, is actually a deep and heavily thematic film. It’s incredible how the series progressed to kiddie superhero fare by the 70s. Imagine the Godfather turning into an over-the-top gangster action series. The film was even able to maintain some of its atmosphere in the Americanized version, which cut out much of the film and inserted scenes of Raymond Burr as an American reporter (all things considering, the Americanization did a good job linking him to pre-existing Japanese characters).

Godzilla himself is one of Japan’s most iconic exports, an amphibious dinosaur who looks like a mix between a tyrannosaur and stegosaurus and breathes atomic fire. His distinctive roar was actually produced with musical instruments by his first composer, Akira Ifukube. The roar was so linked to the franchise and its sound that it often appears on soundtracks. Ifukube himself is regarded as the franchise’s primary composer, scoring eleven of the thirty or so films. Though never having scored a film since the mid-90s and his death, each recent Godzilla film has featured at least one of his compositions.

Ifukube’s music for the first entry is still one of the best scores in the series. The sound quality from the recordings isn’t the sharpest, but this does add to the atmosphere of dread at points. The album kicks off with footsteps and Godzilla’s roar before launching into a heroic march. This march graced the main titles and appeared a couple times for Japan’s defense force, but has been linked to Godzilla since 1975. This theme was brought back at that time when, after a long absence, Ifukube returned to a much more heroic Godzilla. Since then it has become Godzilla’s official theme. But in the original film his actual theme is a dirge that appears in “Godzilla Comes Ashore.” This theme, the first version of Terror of Godzilla, would be slightly altered in subsequent films.

The Japanese navy gets its own “Frigate March,” which would receive its own further development in a future film. More memorable is a somber theme for Serizawa and his struggle over a new weapon he has accidentally created: the Oxygen Destroyer. This theme is introduced late in the film in “Tragic Sight of the Imperial Capital.” It next appears as a children’s choir in “Prayer of Peace,” playing a very pivotal role in the plot. It receives an extended treatment in “Godzilla Under the Sea.” It’s interesting that the climax of the score is a somber and reflective piece in contrast to the big action cues of the following films. The Oxygen Destroyer has its own little motif, a very dissonant and eerie string piece (“Horror in the Water Tank”).

Another highlight is “Ritual Music on Odo Island,” styled as the title suggests to be like a traditional Japanese piece with gongs, percussion, and flutes. It’s quite catchy. Over eight minutes in the middle are dedicated to Godzilla’s spree of destruction. In addition to the Terror of Godzilla there is “Deadly Broadcast,” a pounding primal cue, and “Godzilla to Tokyo Bay,” which has its own dread motif that would get more play in the American version.

There are several different versions of this soundtrack. La-La Land Records’ release is my preferred version. It has the same music as the Japanese release, being the entire 40-minute score and some alternate takes. The issue with the Japanese version, at least in the massive Perfect Collection set, is that several tracks actually keep in the dialogue and other sounds! “Tragic Sight of the Imperial Capital” has children crying and “Prayer for Peace” has the characters talking at the beginning. Ifukube’s Godzilla, King of the Monsters remains one of the strongest musical entries. It was more original and varied in its material, and introduced many themes and motifs that would be altered and developed into further recognizable music down the line.

Final Rating: 8/10

Tracklisting (50th anniversary American release)

  1. Godzilla Approaches (Sound Effects)
  2. Godzilla Main Title
  3. Ship Music/Sinking of Eikou-Maru
  4. Sinking of Bingou-Marou
  5. Anxieties on Ootojima Island
  6. Ootojima Temple Festival
  7. Stormy Ootojima Island
  8. Theme for Ootojima Island
  9. Japanese Army March I
  10. Horror of the Water Tank
  11. Godzilla Comes Ashore
  12. Godzilla’s Rampage
  13. Desperate Broadcast
  14. Godzilla Comes to Tokyo Bay
  15. Intercept Godzilla
  16. Tragic Sight of the Imperial Capital
  17. Oxygen Destroyer
  18. Prayer for Peace
  19. Japanese Army March II
  20. Godzilla at the Ocean Floor
  21. Ending
  22. Godzilla Leaving (Sound Effects)
  23. Main Title (Film Version)
  24. First Landing (Film Version)
  25. Tokyo in Flames (Film Version)
  26. Last Assault (Film Version)

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