© 2013 Lawrence Tuczynski

Title: Symphonic Fantasia - Guitar Transcriptions
CD Label: BKM
CD Number: GRGT-01
Music Composed by: Akira Ifukube
Music Performed by Guitarists: Kohiro Sasozaki and Toshihiro Iwaki
Number of tracks: 20
Running time: 75:55
Number of discs: 1
Year of release/manufacture: September 01, 2011


February 11, 2013

Review courtesy of Sam Scali

"BRAVO!" That simple, two-syllable exclamation aptly sums up my reaction to SYMPHONIC FANTASIA - GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS, and I'm tempted to let it stand as my review. But courtesy and common sense oblige me to offer a more detailed analysis, so I will endeavor to explain the reasons for my rapturous response.

This unassuming release features the accomplished six-string stylings of two talented musicians, Kohiro Sasozaki and Toshihiro Iwaki, as they inventively reimagine Akira Ifukube's orchestral, sci-fi based compositions on acoustic guitar. It's a daunting premise - after all, Ifukube's sweeping, larger-than-life themes do not readily lend themselves to such ambitious aural downsizing. Yet the duo pulls it off beautifully, without sacrificing the works' artistic vision or stylistic integrity. Sasozaki is no stranger to Ifukube's work, having previously collaborated with the late maestro on two CDs for the Mittenwald label (MTWD-99019 and MTWD-99027).

The album begins with an interpretation of Ifukube's iconic main title from the 1965 film MONSTER ZERO, and it's a finely-wrought gem. The musicians' delicate guitar interplay is brilliantly executed, magically transforming the relentless march into a whimsical, lighthearted jaunt - in short, it's a great way to kick off the disc.

After that tantalizing warm-up, Sasozaki and Iwaki deliver a tri-pronged triumph with the first three movements of "Symphonic Fantasia", Ifukube's 1983 concert medley of classic sci-fi movie themes. Not surprisingly, these works sound far more sparse and intimate in an acoustic guitar setting, yet they manage to retain an astonishing degree of richness. Each section is performed with impeccable skill and sensitivity, clearly demonstrating not only the duo's high level of musicianship, but their uncanny ability to get the most out of their instruments. Who would have thought such ominous and ostentatious music could be made to sound tranquil and contemplative? Of course, the acoustic makeover does not completely drain these works of their distinctive tension, but the overall effect is more calming than jarring.

This isn't the first time that "Symphonic Fantasia" has been adapted for the six-string format. The husband and wife team of Eiji and Chiyo Ueda recorded the work's first movement for their 2005 release, DUO UEDA PLAYS AKIRA IFUKUBE. Their somewhat more uptempo performance, while impressive in its own right, is arguably a harsher, colder interpretation of the material, and the recording is sonically flatter and thinner. In contrast, the GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS version reveals a greater warmth and intricacy, with a softer, fuller sound thanks to Sasozaki and Iwaki's increased use of tremolo and other rhythmic embellishments. I find it to be personally more satisfying, and more successful in capturing the spirit of the original composition.

The duo follows a different but not dissimilar path on the second half of the CD, presenting highlights from two latter-day Godzilla movies, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993) and GODZILLA VS. DESTOROYAH (1995). Rather than composing new scores for those films, Ifukube opted for large-scale reworkings of his earlier themes, utilizing a more expansive orchestra and state-of-the-art recording techniques. Wisely, Sasozaki and Iwaki do not attempt to duplicate the power of the original cues, but instead focus on distilling their melodic essence and inherent beauty. The results are breathtaking - particularly MECHAGODZILLA's "Introduction", "Main Title" and "G-Force March", and DESTOROYAH's "Main Title", "Super X III Attacks" and "Maser Tank Cryogenic Attack". The acoustic arrangements of these formerly apocalyptic motifs make them sound far less sinister - in fact, the latter two tracks have such a reduced sonic threat level that they almost beg for a title change.

SYMPHONIC FANTASIA - GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS clocks in at a generous 79:16, and the recording quality is appealingly warm and intimate. The disc was co-produced by Kohiro Sasozaki and The Bukimisha Weird Secret Society, and was released on Bukimisha's label, BKM (Bukimisha has avidly interpreted and supported Ifukube's music for many years, and their releases are a story in themselves). As a reassuring aside, the CD insert features photos of Sasozaki posing with Ifukube in his home, which underscores his close working relationship with the departed maestro.

Unfortunately this disc is now extremely difficult to find, having sold out within just a couple of months of its release. One can only hope it will be reissued at some point in the future, because hearing Ifukube's music in this context is a genuine revelation. Or, to put it another way... "BRAVO!"

Symphonic Fantasia - Guitar Transcriptions (GRGT-01)
Title translations courtesy of Sam Scali

  1. Monster Zero March (1964)
  2. Symphonic Fantasia No. 1 (1983)
  3. Symphonic Fantasia No. 2 (1983)
  4. Symphonic Fantasia No. 3 (1983)
  5. SF Fantasia, "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla" (1993)

  6. Introduction
  7. Main Title
  8. Baby Godzilla in Transport
  9. The Pterosaur Robot
  10. Godzilla vs. Radon
  11. The G-Force March
  12. Radon's Life Force
  13. Rolling Titles
  14. SF Fantasia, "Godzilla vs. Destoroyah" (1995)

  15. Main Title
  16. The Terror of the Oxygen Destroyer
  17. Super-X III Attacks
  18. Godzilla's Decision/Godzilla vs. Destoroyah I
  19. Destroyer Counterattacks
  20. Maser Tank Cryogenic Attack
  21. Requiem
  22. End Titles