Kikuchi’s GENOCIDE: Music for Insects to War By
Out of the string of grim and out-there sci-fi horrors Shochiku Company produced at the tail end of the 1960s, perhaps the grimmest and most out-there of them all was 1968’s 「昆虫大戦争」 Genocide.
A sort of precursor to the ecologically-minded nature-gone-wild horrors of the 1970s, Genocide finds a small island in the South Pacific serving as ground zero for clandestine biological warfare experiments, a wrong-man murder mystery, simmering Vietnam-era East-West tensions, and an apocalyptic revolt of the insect world as well. Drug-addled soldiers descend into trauma-fueled murder frenzies, fifth-columnist hotel managers letch, and scientists elucidate insidious insect intent from out of a groovy psychotropic haze, all while a lost H-bomb ticks ever more ominously away.
Needless to say, Genocide had an awful lot on its plate.
The production boasts plenty of talent with recent experience in Shochiku sci-fi – director Kazui NIHONMATSU, a long-time assistant director for the company best known for 1967’s one-of-a-kind kaiju goof-off The X From Outer Space, X‘s effects supervisor Keiji KAWAKAMI (The Thick-Walled Room), X and Goké Bodysnatcher From Hell photographer Shizuo HIRASE, as well as X-actor Keisuke SONOI (Affair of the Heart), Goké co-star Kathy Horan, and long-time scenarist and Goké scribe Susumu TAKAKU (The Blood Sword of the 99th Virgin). Chief among the returning staff however, for the sake of this article at least, is prolific composer Shunsuke KIKUCHI, who had been tasked with Goké‘s score just a few months prior.
Kikuchi’s work on Genocide is marked by his usual trademarks (staccato low-brass for action and extended muted brass for suspense and atmosphere, with ecstatic ascending motifs to punctuate the major plot beats), but it is also possessed of a nuance and subtlety not typically expected of the composer.
The latter is evident from the very beginning, with the main title’s more emphatic strains complemented by a Vertigo-esque layer of violins and flutes and the first tentative appeals towards Genocide‘s melancholic love theme. The theme reveals itself in full for Joji and Yukari (love theme), a restrained minute and 43 seconds whose judicious blend of high and mid-range strings perfectly evoke the fated nature of the two lovers – Joji, in over his head with a mysterious foreign mistress and jailed for murders he did not commit, and Yukari, faced with the prospect of raising their unborn child on her own.
As Yukari is to the greater film, Kikuchi’s bittersweet love theme is a glimmer of hope and humanity amidst Genocide‘s overwhelming gloominess, receiving plaintive reprises all the way through to the film’s doom-ridden finale. In Mankind’s Final Sunrise the theme emerges tentatively from a plume of nuclear destruction, a single violin with increasingly rich harmonized accompaniment, but its resolution is cut short by Ending‘s resounding and atonal piano din.
Cinema-Kan’s restored CD release of Genocide‘s score makes it easier to appreciate Kikuchi’s work than ever before. The film’s eccentric narrative seems to have compelled him towards more variety than his scores typically achieve, from the bright chords and jungle-trotting exoticism of Jungle Search to the insectine woodwinds and mounting tonal chaos of Revived Fear. Cinema-Kan went back to the original 6mm tape recordings to build this 42 minute release, which collects the film’s music in total for the first time ever, and with excellent sound to boot – Kikuchi’s laser brass is crisp and clear, free of the distortion I’ve become accustomed to hearing with it.
In addition to the requisite liner notes (in this case a heavily illustrated booklet complete with film credits, release notes, a listing of Genocide‘s past LP and CD releases, track-specific commentary, and a biographical section on the composer) Cinema-Kan offer a few on-disc surprises as well. The incidental music heard over the radio in the film is present in full, and what a weird mix it is. Lobby BGM is in the light chamber music style, while Radio Music 1 is pure glitzy pop, electric guitar and all. Radio Music 2 and 3 are different still, lurid and torchy numbers to compliment the seediness of the hotel bar they’re overheard in. Listeners get a couple of bonus tracks as well – a percussion-only alternate take for Jungle Search, and a recording of the isolated music from the film’s trailer.
Cinema-Kan’s CD release of Genocide is available now, through third-party sellers at Amazon.com and directly through Amazon.co.jp and elsewhere. The film itself is available on DVD, with English subtitles, through the Criterion Collection’s Eclipse sub-label as part of the four-film set When Horror Came to Shochiku.