The missing music of
GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER

Despite the name “Gigantis” in the title, this 1955 Japanese film was the first sequel to the previous year’s Gojira, better known to many as Godzilla, King of the Monsters“Gigantis” was used in the American release due to the film company’s belief that they couldn’t use the name “Godzilla.”  Known in Japan as Gojira No Gyakushu, this sequel also goes by the names Godzilla’s Counterattack and Godzilla Raids Again. Gigantis, the Fire Monster first played in the U. S. in 1959, four years after it was made, and when it was released here, it was missing a large portion of Masaru Satoh’s original film score.  

Satoh’s brooding, atmospheric score for Gojira No Gyakushu is quite different from the brassy, outgoing monster music written by regular Godzilla-composer, Akira Ifukube.  Satoh’s exceptional score features prominent low strings with piano, harp, and percussion.  Brass, woodwinds, and high strings are kept to a minimum, with only the jaunty “Main Title,” its variations, and a few other cues using the conventional colors of the symphony orchestra.  There is a bit of repetition throughout the score, but that is probably due to the fact that Satoh had very little time to compose the music.

The low strings are often combined with what sounds like a timpani roll, which results in pitch changes that create a unique and memorable sound, one that is used in many scenes showing the radiation-breathing behemoth. 

The composer’s slow-moving string writing is used to create a sense of impending dread, but was probably mainly designed to lend some “bulk” to the two giant beasts in the movie, the other being Anguinus, a colossal Ankylosaurus.  The monster scenes in the movie were not filmed in slow-motion as in most other Japanese monster movies, and therefore the creatures look even more like the men-in-suits they are.  In fact, due to a technical error, some of the monster footage was actually sped up rather than slowed down, and it appears that Satoh tried valiantly to slow down some of this high-speed action with his music!  The energetic music that replaced Satoh’s cues in the Americanized Gigantis, the Fire Monster only made the battle scenes seem more cartoonish than they already were.

Satoh’s music is actually closer in style to Ifukube’s Godzilla, King of the Monsters score, as Ifukube’s initial Godzilla effort was darker than later G-films, just as the first film was bleaker than subsequent sequels.  The serious tone of Satoh’s score is quite dissimilar from the lighter jazz, pop, and “fusion” approaches Satoh later took with the more comedic Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla, or even the straight horror or science fiction of The H-Man. or Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

The vast majority of music that’s heard in Gigantis, the Fire Monster came from music libraries, with a number of cues originating in the Paul Sawtell/Bert Shefter score for 1957’s Kronos.  Although originally composed for Kronos, Shefter/Sawtell recycled some of these cues for their later pictures, with a few motifs used in 1958’s It! The Terror From Beyond Space.  The “Main Title” from Kronos serves as the “Main Title” for Gigantis, The Fire Monster, and other Kronos’ cues appearing in the Godzilla sequel include military battle music from the giant robot film.  These cues were probably written by Sawtell rather than Shefter, since he often scored the action sequences in their pictures.  Other music in Gigantis, The Fire Monster was originally written by Herschell Burke Gilbert for 1953’s Project Moon Base, and you can hear a lot of this music during the opening sequence when Kobayashi lands on the island and witnesses Gigantis battling Anguirus. 

The library cues heard in Gigantis, the Fire Monster  came from a wide variety of sources, including the MUTEL library, and they were all written for prior pictures.  Many composers are credited with music used in the film, and besides Sawtell, Shefter, and Gilbert, there is also music credited to Byron Ross, George Tzipine, Bill Byers, and others.  Whether or not some or all of these composers are real people or only pseudonyms for actual composers isn’t known at this time.  The cues are given MUTEL titles having nothing to do with Gigantis, the Fire Monster, instead containing the MUTEL library reference numbers and titles such as “Met At Night,” “Moon Captives,” “Blue Sea,” “Silent Heart,” “Way Out There,” and “At The Arena.”  What’s interesting is that Masaru Satoh’s music isn’t credited on the Gigantis, the Fire Monster cue sheets, although it’s possible he was credited via a pseudonym himself.  However, it’s more likely that one or more  American composers got credited with his music on the American cue sheets.

It’s a safe bet that no new recording sessions were held for Gigantis, the Fire Monster, and that the earlier films’ music tracks were re-used, because the recordings in Gigantis, the Fire Monster sound identical to their uses in the earlier films, and the cue names and numbers point to the fact that these were library cues being used.  Also telling is the fact that no composer or conductor is credited in the film -- only music editor Rex Lipton is.  The appearance of a music editor’s credit is a telltale sign that music library tracks have been used. 

Other Toho monster films had their original Japanese scores decimated in their American releases.  Rodan had much of its original Akira Ifukube score either removed or replaced by other music by Shefter, Sawtell, Gilbert, and others.  And the horrendously re-edited and partly-refilmed Varan the Unbelievable removed all but a few seconds of Ifukube’s exciting score and replaced it with strident library tracks composed in large part by Albert Glasser, some being Theremin-laden cues from The Spider.  So messy was the music editing that in one scene they needed a sound effect from the Japanese print, so they borrowed it complete with about half a bar of Ifukube’s music that happened to be on the film’s soundtrack at the same time.  Ifukube’s “contribution” enters and vanishes in about one second!  As Ifukube’s remarkable score was probably the best part of the Japanese version of the film, removing it from Varan the Unbelievable only made the Americanized movie that much worse.  In a future essay, I’ll discuss the use of Universal-International’s music tracks in the American release of King Kong vs. Godzilla., which used Hans Salter’s music from Creature From the Black Lagoon and other films, as well as some of Heinz Roemheld’s score from The Monster That Challenged The World.

A little of Satoh’s original score from Gojira No Gyakushu remains in Gigantis, the Fire Monster, and you can hear some of it about 25 minutes into the film, just before the titular monster is first spotted in Osaka Bay.  Another excerpt is heard approximately 40 minutes into the film when Gigantis wrestles with Anguinus in metropolitan Osaka, although the climax of their battle is tracked with more Sawtell/Shefter Kronos music.  A third instance of Satoh’s score appears about 70 minutes into Gigantis, the Fire Monster, when the monster climbs out of a pile of giant ice cubes that have been covering him.  It’s not hard to pick out Satoh’s cues, as they are markedly different from the other music in the picture.

For some reason, other parts of Satoh’s score were not used in the American version of the film, nor were they replaced with any library music, including the movie’s finale when jet fighters bury Gigantis under tons of ice and snow.  A nonmusical climax in a monster movie is rather rare, with another example being TarantulaRodan also had a lot of its Ifukube music removed for the American version, as Rodan’s flights that should have featured a high-powered march were conspicuously devoid of music in the American version.

Considering Satoh wrote less than 30 minutes of music for the film, it’s odd that some of his cues were replaced with silence.  Whether this was due to a restriction on how much of his original scores could be used, or whether it was just laziness or a creative lapse on the part of those dubbing the American version isn’t known.

Gigantis, the Fire Monster is a fairly good entry in the Godzilla cycle, although it isn’t held in as high regard as it probably should be, possibly due to the fact that it’s one of the rarest Godzilla films and hasn’t been seen very often.  Although Godzilla’s character is not fleshed-out from his first film, and there is not really much of a theme in the American version of the picture, the human drama is at least as interesting is it is in the majority of the Japanese monster movies.  The movie took a solemn approach, focusing on how the monsters’ havoc affected the human characters’ lives, something it shared with the original Gojira.   The effects are mostly substandard -- due largely to budgetary constraints -- but it’s nice to see another black-and-white Godzilla picture besides the original.  The lack of color helps emphasize the picture’s serious approach.

Masaru Satoh’s score for Gigantis, the Fire Monster is not widely appreciated by Godzilla music-lovers, which isn’t surprising considering the film’s rarity, the lack of a composer’s credit in the film, and because so little of his music remains in the picture.  What is odd is that many people who’ve seen Gojira No Gyakushu or have heard the Japanese CD of Satoh’s original score don’t seem to laud this music very much.  This is probably because Ifukube’s style of scoring with marches and miltary music is so beloved and inseparable from many of Toho’s numerous monster flicks.

Satoh’s score is unique in the Godzilla canon, and despite its brevity, it’s up there with the better Godzilla scores.  It would have been an asset to Gigantis, the Fire Monster if much more of it had been used.

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