It took a long time for me to appreciate Masaru Satoh‘s soundtrack for Yojimbo. I’d seen the film, directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1961, many times but never paid attention to the music — I was watching Toshiro Mifune be the badass, or thinking about Yojimbo remakes like A Fistful of Dollars or Last Man Standing.
What impressed me about the music was that I could see that Ennio Morricone had borrowed a little of Satoh’s power and playfulness when it came time for him to score Sergio Leone‘s Westerns — as Philip Brophy says, “electric guitar, bongoes and harpsichord jostle against brooding Gothic intonations … Just as Marco Polo imported noodles from the Chinese to make Italian pasta, Morricone fused this postwar Japanese eclecticism with an equally unique Italian tradition of excessive ornamentation.” The constant whistling of Mifune’s revenge-obsessed character in The Bad Sleep Well reminds me of Charles Bronson’s harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West.
Satoh scored many more Kurosawa classics, beginning with Throne of Blood in 1957, to Red Beard in 1965, coincidentally Toshiro Mifune’s last film with Kurosawa as well. Satoh also scored less-well-known but fantastic Kihachi Okamoto samurai films like Sword of Doom and Kill!, starring the incredibly underrated (in the West) Tatsuya Nakadai.
Another thing he was known for was his music for the Godzilla films — his Godzilla career began with the second Godzilla film (the first was memorably scored by Akira Ifukube, who would do the music for Zatoichi vs. Yojimbo in 1970) and ended in 1974 with Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.