© 2010 Lawrence Tuczynski
|CD Label||TOHO Music Corporation|
|Music by:||Yuji Koseki|
|Number of tracks||Disc 1 - 61|
Disc 2 - 66
|Running time||Disc 1 - 69:59|
Disc 2 - 75:57
|Number of discs||2|
|Year of release/manufacture||July 30, 2010|
|Year Movie Released in Japan||1961|
|Year Movie Released in U.S.||1962|
September 30, 2010
Review courtesy of Sam Scali
From the first notes of Yuji Koseki's wondrous title theme, it's clear that his music for MOTHRA (1961) is not a typical monster film score. In fact, in many ways MOTHRA is more like a fairy tale than a typical monster film. Unlike most giant cinematic beasts, Mothra is a deity, a protector of nuke-ravaged Infant Island, and the enormous insect's destructive "rampage" is merely an unfortunate side effect of its single-minded mission: to rescue the island's miniature twin priestesses, the Shobijin (small beauties), from the clutches of Nelson - a greedy businessman whose primary motive is exploitation (and whose default facial expression is a twisted evil grimace).
MOTHRA's delightful score has been given a new lease on life, thanks to a lavish 2-CD presentation by Toho Music (part of an ongoing campaign to upgrade and reissue their classic science fiction soundtracks). Despite its early 60s vintage, the movie's full score did not see the light of day until 1995, as a single disc release on the SLC label (SLCS-5064). That album presented the music as it was heard in the film, edited and mixed in a contemporary process called Perspecta Stereophonic Sound (more on that later). The same "stereo" mix is featured on Disc One of the Toho Music reissue, while Disc Two unearths the score's complete, uncut and (for the most part) previously unavailable monaural session cues, from which the film version was ultimately derived. Both discs also offer a generous selection of bonus tracks, many appearing on CD for the first time.
The lush, orchestral grandeur of Koseki's score is embellished with numerous exotic touches - tribal rhythms, "native" chants and seductive melodies - as well as the dubious presence of a pair of highly infectious pop songs (for which Koseki composed the music). Koseki's background was primarily that of a songwriter, and he was recruited only after director Ishiro Honda's perennial musical foil, Akira Ifukube, turned down the assignment for the very reason that such songs were required. Ultimately, the task of singing these plaintive ditties fell on the shoulders of Emi and Yumi Ito, a successful twin sister act collectively known as The Peanuts, who were indelibly cast as the captive (and captivating) Shobijin.
The stately "Overture" opens Disc One, setting the mood with a majestic flourish. This piece is technically not part of the score itself, as it was originally intended to be played in theaters before the start of the film. The story really begins with the sweeping, harp-infused "Main Title", a deceptively idyllic opener that would not sound out of place in a romantic adventure flick. A more mysterious variation, which later forms the basis of Mothra's theme, propels the cues "Infant Island", "Big Jungle Discovery" and "Nelson on Infant Island", while the hypnotic "Cave Inscription" is both haunting and beautiful.
The score's recurring "Telepathy Music" interludes are eerie manifestations of the twin fairies' wordless language. They are comprised primarily of oscillating organ trills, played and recorded at various speeds, and for the most part they rely on abstract sounds and tones - though "Telepathy Music III" and "IV" distinctly foreshadow the melody to "Song of Mothra". One can argue that such cues might be more appropriately placed at the end of the disc, as they can be somewhat grating and repetitive, and interrupt the score's musical flow. The same could be said for other source music cues, such as the two "Counter-Intelligence Corps" marching band themes, and even the church bells heard before the climax of the film. Nevertheless, these tracks do play key roles in the story, and their presence adds color and contrast to an already vibrant aural palette.
While Koseki's attempts at tribal music are not nearly as intricate or authentic as some of Ifukube's indigenous themes, they nonetheless do an admirable job of getting their point across. "The Native People Appear" consists solely of sparse, primitive drumbeats that steadily rise in tempo, while "Appearance of the Giant Egg" is a curious hybrid, combining hollow percussion and strains of telepathy music with a stirring, orchestra-and-chorus allusion to the "Main Title". "Infant Island Prayer" is blessed with an even less likely, yet perversely effective, blend of beating drums, tolling gongs and orchestral interplay, topped off with chants of "MO-SU-RA" in pitch-perfect harmony. This incongruous, hooked-on-symphonics approach reaches its audacious apex in "Birth of Mothra", where relentless percussion, serpentine woodwinds, blaring brass and frenetic, densely layered minor-key vocals merge together in ritualistic passion, summoning forth the thunderous fury of Mothra's theme.
The centerpiece of the score is the Peanuts' show-stopping "Song of Mothra", a catchy little number with soaring harmonies that provided the duo with one of their biggest hits, not to mention a degree of international notoriety. To ensure the song had an authentic South Seas flavor, its lyrics were first written in Japanese, and then translated into Malaysian dialect. Plot-wise, the tune served the dual purpose of charming the hapless Shobijin's unsuspecting theater audience, while acting as a subversive (and telepathic) cry for help from their insect island guardian. The lovely "Daughters of Infant" is another enchanting Peanuts effort, less upbeat than "Song of Mothra" but just as compelling. In the film, the fairies' performance of the song is artfully juxtaposed with a slow-motion visual of the Mothra larva, furiously swimming towards Tokyo to rescue her diminutive handmaidens.
Koseki shows off his considerable dramatic chops with three riveting action motifs: "Mothra in the Ocean" (repeated as "The Third Dam Breaks Down"), "Mothra Annihilation Maneuvers" (reprised in "Tokyo Tower and Mothra") and the awe-inspiring "Charge of Mothra". While these magnificent themes don't quite pack the same visceral wallop as Ifukube's apocalyptic compositions, they manage to conjure up a sizeable dose of menace and dread on their own. "Charge of Mothra" in particular evokes the urgency and desperation of the monster's relentless mission, and it is one of the score's indisputable highlights.
The score's closing cues wrap up the storyline in resplendent fashion. "Mothra Spins the Web" and "Cocoon of Mothra" feature brief, enigmatic strains of Mothra's theme, while "The Atomic Heat Ray Gun" unfolds as a grimly defiant, militaristic fanfare. The nearly a cappella "Appearance of the Adult Mothra" (briefly previewed earlier in the film as "Fairies in Captivity II") is a celebratory chant by the Peanuts, accompanied only by telepathy music. "Mothra Sho Bu", perhaps the most spirited rendition of the monster's theme, is a glorious concoction of quivering strings, imperious brass, trilling woodwinds and cascading harp flourishes, and the triumphant "Nelson's Final Moment" makes it abundantly clear that justice has been served. The film's spiritual symbolism is affirmed in the two "New Kirk City Bell" cues, where chiming church bells evoke the melody from "Song of Mothra". Finally, a rejoicing chorus blends with the Peanuts' own rapturous vocals in the exquisite "Ending" theme. All in all, Koseki's soundtrack is fit for a king (or queen, as Mothra's gender has always been somewhat ambiguously defined).
As mentioned above, Disc One of Toho Music's MOTHRA reissue spotlights the "stereo" mix of the score as heard in the film, though technically speaking, the tracks are not true stereo at all. While careful analysis of the left and right channels reveals obvious contrasts in tone, there is no distinct separation or isolation of instruments on either side. That's because the score was initially recorded in mono, and remixed for theatrical exhibition using the Perspecta Stereophonic Sound system, a technology developed in the early 1950s as a less costly way to simulate stereo in movie theaters. The Perspecta process involved altering the characteristics of the mono signal across three channels in order to create the illusion of directional sound - an illusion further enhanced by the addition of reverb and other audio effects. Hollywood abandoned the practice by 1958, but Toho continued to employ it through at least the early 60s. Audio trickery or not, its use on the MOTHRA soundtrack is effective, unobtrusive, and generally pleasing to the ear.
In terms of overall sound quality, Disc One shows little discernable improvement over the 1995 SLC release, which was a terrific-sounding CD to begin with. In fact, side-by-side comparison shows that the previous edition was mastered at a noticeably louder volume than the reissue, and arguably feels slightly fuller, with more presence and space. The Toho Music version seems just marginally flatter, though the music's clarity is, for the most part, undiminished (as is, unfortunately, its tape hiss). This is not to say that the new edition sounds conclusively inferior to its predecessor. Other than volume the differences are subtle at best, and open to subjective interpretation.
Content-wise, the score portion of Disc One (Tracks 1-46) is identical to the first 17 tracks of the SLC edition. Most of the cues on that release were grouped together as suites, while the THM reissue conveniently separates them into individual tracks. Both editions present the cues as closely as possible to the way they are heard in the film, including abbreviated edits ("Fairies in Captivity II" and "III" and "Newkirk City Bell II", among others), early fades (both "Counter-Intelligence Corps" tracks, as well as "Song of Mothra") and duplicated cues ("Mothra in the Ocean", "The Third Dam Breaks Down" and "Tokyo Tower and Mothra", all of which are sourced from cue M28) The edits are somewhat more precise on the new edition; for example, the missing first syllable of the Peanuts' "Fairies in Captivity III" is restored - a very minor fix indeed, as even the corrected edit represents just a portion of the original cue, and sounds awkward when heard outside of the film.
The version of "Daughters of Infant" on Track 25 raises some puzzling questions, because the first third of the song plays at a lower pitch than the same cue on the SLC edition and most other CD compilations, as well as in the film itself (this anomaly can also be heard on Track 24 of the mono disc). Is it an error? Did the tape accidentally stretch or slip during mastering of the reissue? Or was the higher-pitched version a decades-old mistake that Toho is now attempting to correct? Adding to the confusion, the same take of the song is presented at its more familiar pitch as a Disc One bonus track (Track 51), as well as an instrumental version (Track 54), a vocal-only version (Track 55) and a mono bonus track on Disc Two (Track 56). The fact that the lower-pitched or "slow" version appeared on at least one previous CD release (1997's BEST OF MOTHRA) only compounds the mystery, and suggests that this variant has been floating around the studio's vaults for some time. It's possible that the discrepancy is addressed in the reissue's Japanese language booklet (translations welcome!) but whatever the explanation, the inclusion of both versions was evidently a conscious decision on Toho's part.
Audio purists will welcome Disc Two's mono presentation with open arms, because they can now experience MOTHRA's complete, unedited score as it was originally recorded, prior to its faux-stereo makeover. Though the mono cues lack the seductive gloss (and fabricated low frequencies) of the Perspecta mix, most of the tracks benefit from an increased presence and clarity. Many of the individual instruments are conspicuously more audible than those of their stereo counterparts, such as the harps and woodwinds of "Cave Inscription" and the percussion and chanting on the tribal cues. The drums and vocals on "Song of Mothra" are particularly snappy, and the mono "Charge of Mothra" packs a formidable punch. Another striking variation can be heard in the "Ending" theme, where the Peanuts' vocals (recorded separately from the choral vocals) are much louder in the mix.
There are several structural differences in the mono version as well, the most obvious being the absence of the "Overture" - which, as mentioned above, was not used in the film, and was likely recorded later (its dual mono elements are nevertheless included as bonus tracks). Other cues, such as the two "Counter-Intelligence Corps" march themes (Tracks 4 and 12), "Telepathy Music VIII" and "Fairies in Captivity III", are heard in their entirety, with proper beginnings and endings, instead of truncated and/or faded as they are in the film mix. This also holds true for the mono "Song of Mothra" (Track 19), which concludes with an extended drum coda that was not utilized in the film. Disc Two also eliminates redundant or repeated cues - for example, M28 shows up three times (including a brief edit) on the stereo soundtrack, but appears only once, in uncut form (Track 32), on the mono disc. Despite these revelations, deciding which version of the score offers a better listening experience is a matter of personal taste. While the mono session tracks more accurately represent the original recordings, many listeners will embrace the heightened dynamics and enhanced bottom end that the Perspecta mix provides.
Another notable attribute of the Toho Music reissue is its wealth of bonus tracks. Disc One has 15, while Disc Two features a whopping 24. Sixteen of these cues were previously released on the SLC edition (which also included four of the unedited mono score cues cited above), but that still leaves 23 cues making their CD debut. Sadly, none of the unreleased tracks offer anything really new, though they are nonetheless interesting to hear. Disc One/Track 47 edits together four cues, "Telepathy Music VI", "Song of Mothra", "Infant Island Prayer" and "Fairies in Captivity I", exactly as they are heard in the film. Tracks 48 and 49 feature separately recorded elements of telepathy music and native drums, which were ultimately combined in "Appearance of the Giant Egg". Track 50 seems to be a slightly longer version of "Charge of Mothra I", though the difference is barely perceptible. The rest of Disc One's bonus tracks are already familiar from the SLC edition, including eight isolated vocal and instrumental tracks from "Song of Mothra", "Daughters of Infant", "Appearance of the Adult Mothra" and "Ending".
Disc Two's bonus material is a bit more varied, starting with the unused first take of the "Overture's" isolated orchestral section (Track 43). The next track presents Take 2 of the same cue (the one that was actually used), followed by a separate drum cue (Track 45) that it was later combined with. This may partially explain why the complete "Overture" as heard on Disc One has more clarity and definition than most of the other Perspecta tracks, though its final mix is still not true stereo. Other extras include unused first takes of the "Main Title", "The Native People Appear" and "Infant Island Prayer", plus some alternate "Telepathy Music" and "Bell" cues. (For a more comprehensive guide to of all of MOTHRA's bonus tracks, see the table at the bottom of the page).
Needless to say, the Toho Music edition of MOTHRA offers the most complete presentation of the score to date. While Disc One's stereo mix shows little (if any) measurable improvement over its previous digital incarnation, it is still a highly satisfying and sonically faithful representation of the score as heard in the film. The real treat for collectors and soundtrack enthusiasts is the inclusion of the mono session tracks on Disc Two, most of which have never been commercially available, and sound wonderful in their own right. Either way, Koseki's MOTHRA score is an important musical touchstone from Toho's sci-fi heyday, and fans of that era, as well as aficionados of vintage film music in general, will thoroughly enjoy this new CD edition.
|Track listing courtesy of Sci-Fi Japan at: |
DISC 1: Tracks 25, 51, 54 and 55
DISC 1: Tracks 20, 31 and 53
DISC 1: Tracks 20, 22, 25, 30, 31, 40, 46, 51, 53, 55, 57, 59 and 61
|GUIDE TO BONUS TRACKS|
|Bonus Tracks on Disc 1||Title and Description||Track number on SLC edition|
|47||Blended medley of Disc 1 tracks 19-22, as heard in film||unreleased|
|48||Isolated drum cue from Track 16||unreleased|
|49||Isolated "Telepathy" cue from Track 16||unreleased|
|50||Longer edit of Track 34||unreleased|
|51||Daughters of Infant("fast" pitch, stereo mix)||9|
|52||Song of Mothra (music track only)||18.1|
|53||Song of Mothra (vocal track only)||18.2|
|54||Daughters of Infant (music track only / "slow" pitch)||18.3|
|55||Daughters of Infant (vocal track only / "slow" pitch)||18.4|
|56||Fairies in Captivity I (music track only)||18.5|
|57||Fairies in Captivity I (vocal track only)||18.6|
|58||Appearance of the Adult Mothra (telepathy music only)||18.7|
|59||Appearance of the Adult Mothra (vocals only)||18.8|
|60||Ending (music and choral track only)||18.9|
|61||Ending (Peanuts vocals only)||18.10|
|Bonus Tracks on Disc 2||Title and Description||Track number on SLC edition|
|43||Overture (Take 1 - unused)||unreleased|
|44||Overture (Take 2 - orchestral track only)||unreleased|
|45||Overture (Drum track only)||19.3|
|46||Main Title (Take 1 - unused)||unreleased|
|47||Telepathy Music (M8 uncut, not speeded up)||unreleased|
|48||Telepathy Music (M9 - apparently unused)||unreleased|
|49||The Native People Appear (Take 1, unused)||unreleased|
|50||Telepathy Music (apparently unused)||unreleased|
|51||Telepathy Music (apparently unused)||unreleased|
|52||Bell of Mothra (church bell music, apparently unused)||unreleased|
|53||Appearance of the Giant Egg (drum track only)||unreleased|
|54||Telepathy Music VI (isolated from above cue)||unreleased|
|55||Infant Island Prayer (Take 1, unused)||unreleased|
|56||Daughters of Infant ("fast" pitch, mono)||unreleased|
|57||Telepathy Music (unused)||unreleased|
|58||Telepathy Music (unused)||unreleased|
|59||Charge of Mothra (longer ? edit)||19.6|
|60||New Kirk City Bell (isolated bell sounds without Mothra melody)||unreleased|
|61||Ending (incomplete take - chorus and partial orchestra only)||unreleased|
|62||Ending (incomplete take - chorus and partial orchestra only)||unreleased|
|63||Native drums and music||unreleased|
|64||Native drums and vocal chants||20.1|
|65||Native drums and vocal chants||20.2|
|66||Ending (choral vocals, drums and Peanuts - no orchestra)||20.3|
|Score Tracks on Disc 2 (mono)|
|Note:The following Disc 2 mono score tracks also appeared as bonus tracks on the SLC edition.|
|Track number||Title and Description||Track number on SLC edition|
|4||Counter Intelligence Corps Starting (unedited)||19.4|
|12||Counter Intelligence Corps Return (unedited)||19.5|
|19||Song of Mothra (extended ending)||19.1|
|28||Fairies In Captivity III (unedited)||19.2|