Sunday, July 30, 2017

MASARU SATO IN CONCERT! Attending an Excellent Performance of the Maestro's Movie Music!

Shibuya Cultural Center Owada, site of the Masaru Sato concert. Photo by Brett Homenick.

In the past several years, there's been a slew of Akira Ifukube concerts in Japan. And why not? He was an excellent composer, whose influence goes well beyond his movie music. On the other hand, concert performances of Masaru Sato's compositions have been frustratingly scarce, especially for someone who actually prefers his music to Ifukube's.

The man of the hour. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On July 30, Shibuya Cultural Center Owada's Sakura Hall hosted a two-hour concert dedicated to Masaru Sato's film scores. The Sato family, Kihachi Productions, and Toho Music all cooperated with the concert, making it about as official (and authentic) as it could possibly get.

The program started off with comments by former Toho SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano, who directed the special effects for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), music from which closed the concert. After Nakano-san spoke, Kihachi Okamoto's widow, Mineko Okamoto, addressed the audience and spoke about her late husband. After that, it was time for the music!

SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano during intermission. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Things kicked off with Yoji Yamada's The Yellow Handkerchief (1977), followed by selections from several Kihachi Okamoto films, namely Desperado Outpost (1959), The Human Bullet (1968), and Tokkan (1975). From there, it was on to the Akira Kurosawa films, which were The Hidden Fortress (1958), Yojimbo (1961), and Red Beard (1965). Of all these performances, Red Beard was my favorite (followed closely by The Hidden Fortress).

Mineko Okamoto speaks from the stage. Photo by Brett Homenick.

There were a couple of breaks during the performance. A couple of times, Shin Godzilla co-director Shinji Higuchi went onstage and spoke about the movies and music that were being honored. After the Kurosawa selections, it was time for intermission. In the lobby, I bumped into a few old friends and familiar faces, including Teruyoshi Nakano and artist extraordinaire Yuji Kaida.  

Attendees milling about and shopping for CDs. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Following the 20-minute intermission, the concert resumed. The rest of the performance focused on Sato's contributions to the Godzilla series. The first film was Godzilla Raids Again (1955), which unfortunately didn't give the orchestra much to work with (except for the opening title, which was very well done). This score isn't one of Sato's better ones, unfortunately.

Thankfully, things kicked into high gear with Son of Godzilla (1967). Numerous tracks were performed, and they were all about as close to perfect as any orchestra could get without Sato himself conducting and arranging the music. The ending theme, in particular, was very moving.

The energy was maintained (if not surpassed) with Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), which sounded nearly identical to the original recording most of the time. I've always loved this score, and to hear so many of its highlights performed live by a full orchestra was a real treat.

Overall, it was a great concert, but the Son of Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla performances were the true knockouts for me. I usually don't go to concerts, and live music isn't that much of a priority for me, but this has to be the biggest exception of all time. If only I could go back and relive it all again...

Gotta get the CD!

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