Correspondent Nicholas D. Kent went to the "Godzilla Legend" concert held recently in New York. Here's his report!
"Godzilla Legend—Music of Akira Ifukube"
April 28, 2017 at Japan Society, NYC
For the past few years I had seen Tokyo concert announcements from time to time announcing a special concert called "Godzilla Legend" with performances by Hikashu. But I was never in town when one was scheduled. I was thrilled to discover that one of these concerts was set to take place at Japan Society in NYC, for the first time outside of Japan.
The man behind the project is Inoue Makoto, who originally played keyboards for Hikashu in the late 70s though departed as a band member in the early 1990s. He greatly admires the Godzilla film scores of Ifukube Akira (1914-2006). Ifukube composed the score for the original "Godzilla" in 1954 and wrote many but not all the Godzilla scores up until 1995 as well as a number of other Toho non-Godzilla giant monster films (Like "Rodan", 1956) that take place in the same fictional universe.
The Godzilla Legend concerts feature Inoue as musical director and Hikashu as the core band and then add guests to fill out the brass section (Tatsumi Kogorō, Gotō Atsushi, Yoshida Ryūichi) and featured guests Charan-Po-Rantan with sisters Momo and Koharu singing vocals + Koharu on accordion.
The show opens with the first scene's music from the first Godzilla film. There is a melancholy song sung by Charan-Po-Rantan which was originally sung by the sailors on the ill-fated ship the Eiko-maru who soon have a fatal encounter with Godzilla. The audience is launched musically into a number of classic Godzilla themes. One of the things I consider a "trademark" of Hikashu is the ability to perform a sort of freak out improv and then snap on the beat into a very tightly arranged melody. That's something that takes place a number of times and always impresses.
Besides the brooding suspense and rousing marches, a number of the films contain some sort of imaginary ethnic, sometimes primitive music. We hear some on King Kong's Island in "King Kong vs Godzilla" (1962) with Makigami Kōichi singing. Though a group, I'm sure Makigami is often referred to as Hikashu's frontman. During the evening he plays Theremin, does what I believe is Tuvan overtone chanting and occasionally plays a big gong and at one point a pocket trumpet.
A bit into the show Inoue Makoto provides a couple speeches (subtitled on a video monitor) with background info about the movies and music. While not in his speech, I found quite a number of details about him in the press notes that I was unaware of. While Hikashu performed Mothra & Godzilla covers at their debut concert in 1978, Inoue has worked with Toho for decades to release old and new versions of Godzilla scores. Most recently he was score manager on "Shin Godzilla" (2016). The connection I remember him for are the (at times extremely elusive to buy) Godzilla Chronology albums from 1983-4. These were originally studio albums by Inoue covering Godzilla themes on synths with some wonderful guests like Togawa Jun, Tachibana Hajime and Makigami Kōichi. The first two albums were re-issued not long after as a 3 disc box called "Godzilla Legend". Differing from the concert, the albums are far more synth heavy and have far less improv. At times they've been very high priced on the collectors market. Fortunately Bridge re-released them in 2014 as a 4 disc set ("Godzilla Densetsu", cat# BRIDGE-175). Looking at recent Instagram posts, I'm pretty sure this production recorded what seems to be a live in the studio new recording of this show while in town for a future release.
After additional monster themes there a break with some music from the Mu Empire from the film Atragon (1963). While popular in Japan and credited as starting the super submarine subgenre :-) it's hardly known beyond serious Godzilla fans overseas. Momo sings in costume alone as the queen of the Mu Empire and then Makigami sings another Mu song from the film.
After the film theme for the Maser canons, you know, those miniature vehicles the Japanese Self Defense Force trot out in Godzilla films that shoot wiggly rays from giant parabolic mirrors aimed at rampaging monsters (and they don't tend to do any good to stop them), comes a show highlight. It's a medley of all the Mothra songs with Momo and Koharu in costume as the identical Shōbijin, that's the official name of the "tiny beauties" legendarily played by the Peanuts in "Mothra" (1961). I have to say, IMHO, Charan-Po-Rantan capture the roles far more wonderfully than any of the Mothra movies other than the three with the Peanuts. The most famous Mothra theme was written by Koseki Yūji which I think is the only music not by Ifukube in the show. Ifukube did score "Godzilla vs Mothra". At the concert we also have Makigami in the role of the unscrupulous night club emcee who forces the kidnapped Shōbijin to perform onstage. In the film though, comeuppance comes when Mothra heeds their plea to make her big city debut.
We get a hydrogen bomb related improv and the final Ifukube Godzilla theme. As an encore there was one of the big 1990s themes including Charan-Po-Rantan with Momo dancing and Koharu playing accordion still dressed as the Shōbijin and everyone else in a rousing finale.