© 2005 Lawrence Tuczynski
|Title:||Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster|
|Japanese Title:||Gojira Tai Hedorah|
|Movie also known as:||Godzilla vs. Hedorah|
|CD Label:||Toho Music Corporation|
|Music by:||Riichiro Manabe|
|Number of tracks:||73|
|Number of discs:||1|
|Year of release/manufacture:||April 25, 2005|
|Year Movie Released in Japan:||1971|
|Year Movie Released in U.S.:||1972|
May 05, 2006
Review Courtesy of Sam Scali
Of all of the composers associated with original Godzilla series, none has stirred up more controversy than Riichiro Manabe. Like the '70s G-films themselves, with their budget-challenged special effects and increasingly juvenile plots, Manabe's music arguably represents a creative low point - an aural embodiment of the series' decline. While Akira Ifukube's classic scores are irresistibly melodic, and as monumental as the King of the Monsters himself, Manabe uses a decidedly irreverent and even minimalist approach in embellishing the exploits of a kinder and (somewhat) gentler Big G.
Still, the Manabe scores have their supporters. Younger fans who grew up watching the '70s films tend to be more forgiving of their perceived musical shortcomings. In fact, many truly enjoy Manabe's work, and cannot imagine the films presented in any other way. Therefore, rather than measuring these scores against the daunting achievements of the past, perhaps the fairest way to evaluate them is on their own terms. Does the music fit the films? Is it entertaining to listen to when separated from the moving image?
GODZILLA VS.THE SMOG MONSTER (1971) is the first of Manabe's two contributions to the canon. What is it about this score that makes fans' collective skins crawl? It's not simply that Ifukube was a hard act to follow. Masaru Satoh enriched the series with four imaginative entries of his own, and at least three of them are in a far more upbeat style than any of Ifukube's monolithic works. Even Kunio Miyauchi's score for GODZILLA'S REVENGE, one of the most reviled films in the series, is a respectable offering in its own way (though it also has its share of jarring moments). The score for SMOG MONSTER, on the other hand, seems almost resolutely non-musical at times. Many of Manabe's "themes" function more as abstract sound collages - sparse juxtapositions of sustained notes and sounds, rather than conventional musical motifs.
Then again, SMOG MONSTER is not a typical Godzilla movie. While Toho Studios had already begun tailoring the films for a younger audience, by 1971 the transformation was only partially complete. Despite its more kid-friendly tone, SMOG MONSTER employs darker elements not seen since the series' 1954 debut: a monster who symbolizes a real-life global threat (namely pollution, in contrast to nuclear testing in the first film) and on-screen depictions of human death. Of course, the movie presents its bleak message in a decidedly unorthodox way (even for a kaiju film), and its stylized nature cries out for an equally eccentric, offbeat score - which Manabe certainly delivers.
The score's most notorious theme is its much-maligned slide trombone fanfare, an audacious new Godzilla motif that inspires serious-minded G-fans to run for the hills. Particularly cranky listeners might even classify it as the single scariest Godzilla theme ever produced. Nevertheless, its comically disoriented tone actually suits the surreal, almost hallucinogenic quality of the film. The bombastic theme is first heard as the introduction to the "Main Title" (Track 1), quickly giving way to an ominous passage dominated by low woodwinds, tuned percussion and dissonant organ chords. On screen the music accompanies unpleasant images of polluted air and water (as well as an early glimpse of the partially submerged Hedorah, the Smog Monster himself), and the effect is both sinister and almost cartoonishly melodramatic.
Next comes the movie's obligatory "pop" moment in the form of "Give Back the Sun", an ecologically minded ditty earnestly performed by female lead Keiko Mari (and backed by an oddly discordant male refrain). The song appears several times throughout the score, in a variety of tempos and arrangements. Interestingly it was re-recorded for the film's American dub as "Save the Earth", with vocals by aspiring singer Adryan Russ, but copyright restrictions have prevented its inclusion on this CD (though it makes a surreptitious appearance as a hidden track on Russ's own 1999 album, Everyone Has A Story).
The song is followed by a string of eerie jazz-inflected cues featuring organ, tuned percussion, woodwinds and abstract electronic effects. While these sonic "stingers" succeed in creating a feeling of tension, they work far more effectively as part of the film. There are several such interludes throughout the score, and most of them are very brief, sometimes serving as little more than musical punctuation.
Godzilla's blaring brass theme resurfaces on Track 9, heralding the monster's first appearance in the film. The cue evolves into another atonal passage consisting primarily of flute, mouth harp and electronic washes before closing with a reprise of the horn signature. Fittingly, the motif for Hedorah assumes a variety of different forms, though it is most often heard as a series of clipped, bell-like sounds backed by an eerie keyboard melody. Track 13 (an embryonic incarnation of the creepy theme) is especially tedious, consisting only of shrill, repeatedly struck metallic tones that resemble Morse code.
"Give Back the Sun!" makes a return appearance with a couple of wah-wah drenched rock arrangements (Tracks 12 and 15) played during the film's psychedelic club scene. Other highlights include the whimsical "Anti-Hedorah Masks Hit the Market" (Track 25), with its sprightly flute melody, "The Transforming Pollution Monster" (Track 28), with its jangling percussive effects and "Arano's Guitar I" (Track 30), a lovely, and uncharacteristically low-key acoustic interlude. "Our Energy" (Tracks 32 and 34) is less successful - a funky but essentially tuneless jam that ultimately leads nowhere.
After seemingly endless repetitions of the two monster motifs, "Godzilla in Flight" (Track 46) livens things up considerably with a frenetic, over-the-top military march, offset by spectral, dissonant organ chords. A couple of final blasts of the Godzilla brass theme, followed by a series of male chorus renditions of "Give Back the Sun!" tie up loose ends, and the "Ending" (Track 52) reprises the "Flight" march for an energetic finish.
Despite the soundtrack's shaky reputation, it works remarkably well in the context of the film. Of course, the movie itself is not everyone's cup of acid rain, so it's no surprise that its off-kilter score has a similarly polarizing effect. To his credit, Manabe makes imaginative use of some eclectic instrumentation, including mouth harp, synthesizer, assorted tuned percussion and what sounds like a wobbling saw blade. But his reliance on unusual sounds often dilutes the score's impact. Instead of cultivating an illusion of impending doom, Manabe's cheesy organ flourishes tend to sacrifice real drama for mock suspense. This approach may be fun for young listeners, but it is of limited appeal to serious music fans. In addition, the soundtrack suffers from a maddening lack of variety. Listening to such a repetitive score in one sitting, without the benefit of the visuals, can be a trying experience.
The remastered 50th Anniversary edition of GODZILLA VS.THE SMOG MONSTER shows little sonic improvement over the 1993 Futureland release (TYCY-5355), though overall the sound quality is quite good - far better than most of the previous soundtracks in the series. In addition to presenting the 52 basic film cues in the same order as the Futureland disc, it adds a whopping 21 bonus tracks (the '93 version only contained eight). Eleven are devoted to assorted karaoke and male chorus versions of "Give Back the Sun!" while six others present alternate takes of various score cues. The final four (Tracks 70-73) are apparently taken from two stereo 45-rpm singles that were released to tie in with the film. Each features a slightly different pop arrangement of "Give Back the Sun!" as well as a more child-like offering called "Attack Hedorah".
Like the movie itself, the SMOG MONSTER soundtrack features some unique and entertaining moments, despite its questionable status in Godzilla history. Its inclusion in the boxed set is unlikely to excite hardcore Ifukube enthusiasts, but devotees of the '70s films, as well as kaiju fans who missed the previous releases, will welcome the opportunity to update their collections.
Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster
‘Return, Sun!’ lyrics Banno Yoshimitsu, arrangement Hiroshi Takada