Book: Age of the Gods - A History of the Japanese Fantasy Film

 

Age of the Gods - A History of the Japanese Fantasy Film


English Book Title

Age of the Gods

Authors:

Guy Mariner Tucker

Language:
Genre:
Release:
Publisher
:
Pages:
ISBN:

English
Non-fiction
1997
Daikaiju Publishing
272
[self-published]

Preview:

Back Cover

Book

COMMENTS

By: Anthony Romero

As a disclaimer, author Guy Mariner Tucker was a staff member of Toho Kingdom. While it would be extremely disingenuous to say we were close friends, all the same I felt honored that he joined us and treasured our long talks about the fandom. Like many, I was also devastated by his passing. With this context in mind, I have tried to check my bias in this particular review at the door, but felt the context should be disclosed before starting.

...and with that said, I would like to open with the bold claim that Age of the Gods - A History of the Japanese Fantasy Film is one of the greatest English books on the fandom. This mid-1990's publication details the events around Toho leading up to Godzilla (1954) before diving in with full admiration for the glut of science fiction productions to come from Toho. This takes the book all the way from The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya (1942) to Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (1996), although with the greatest emphasis placed on the 1950's and early 1960's productions and those by director Ishiro Honda. The publication goes very in-depth on the material, offering both insights and critique on the movies and decisions behind them.

Age of the Gods takes a slightly chronological approach to the material. Chapters 1 through 5 are devoted to the rise of Toho, back story on the men behind Godzilla (1954) and the production as a whole. The 1954 film gets the lion's share of the coverage in the book, and Tucker doesn't hesitate to research some common beliefs, like documenting his tribulations to discover the person in Toho's publicity department who was nicknamed "Gojira" before the film was named. Ultimately, despite Honda and others relating this story, Tucker believes otherwise due to no one knowing who this person actually was. This level of depth is appreciated, and the book is packed with information that was gathered from interviews Tucker did in Japan with those involved in the industry.

Keeping with the chronological approach, chapter 5 is actually devoted to both the first Godzilla film and the Invisible Man (1954), which was under the magnifying glass by the studio as they tried to wrap their head around the immense success of Godzilla (1954). This approach helps the author to build context overtime and also gives a great way to transition from one film to the next. The coverage of each film does vary wildly, though. Movies like Half Human (1955) and Rodan (1956) are given lots of details and many facts are revealed about them. Others don't lack coverage, but aren't as factual. An example is The Mysterians (1957) which is given a full chapter but is light on facts gathered around the production, although the movie is clearly not one of Tucker's favorites to put it lightly. On that note, the author doesn't shy away from giving their opinion on the movies either, which might be a positive or a negative depending on the reader's preference.

As the book progresses, the coverage on the individual titles diminishes. Matango (1963) is one of the last to be given a level of depth that matches those before it. The movies of the late 1960's are covered in shared chapters while the 1970's productions are briefly focused on, leaving the movies of the 1980's and 1990's to feel a bit like an after thought. Regardless, though, facts are littered through out, even on the Heisei entries like Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989). Consequently, it's probably best if someone goes into this book with knowledge that the 1950's and early 1960's are going to be the focus.

Now I have gotten far enough in the review before addressing the aspect of typos found in the publication. I talked with Mr. Tucker long before reading his book, and the author lamented at lengths about these errors. Given his description, I thought the book was to be littered with them. This is not the case. Many go under the radar and do little to impact the enjoyment of Age of the Gods. All the same, a small few are noticeable and prompt a dead stop from the reader. The most glaring offender is this passage leading up to the release of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995): "...Yuasa was delighted when Daiei made the Gamera exclusively made for kids...". Another is the part from 167 to 168 where the same line is repeated at the bottom of one page and the beginning of the next. These are exceptions, though, as most of the errors are small in nature.

Overall: one of the reasons I hold this book in such high regard is the level of information packed inside. When we started putting background information in our movie bios, I went back and re-read many books in my collection to take notes for this. Tucker's Age of the Gods was one that I got lost in. I took pages and pages of notes as so much information was to be found that just isn't covered elsewhere. Tucker challenges common conceptions, but wasn't afraid to hunt down many individuals involved in the creation of these films to gain greater depth on the subject matter. To better flesh out the experiences of those making the movies while exploring both how things were created and often times why. Writing this review in 2016, almost 20 years after its release, I'm still impressed how well the information holds up. Tucker had a passion for Japanese fantasy films and that drive, that passion continues to make this publication a suggested reading.