Book: Collecting Japanese Movie Monsters

Collecting Japanese Movie Monsters


English Book Title

Collecting Japanese Movie Monsters

Authors:

Dana Cain

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

English
Non-fiction
1998
Antique Trader Books
175
978-0930625559

Preview:

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Book

COMMENTS

By: Josh Rizzo (submission)

Western books about giant monster collectibles are quite rare, even during a time when kaiju interest is at an all-time high. Fans will no doubt know of Sean Linkenback’s two tomes An Unauthorized Guide to Godzilla Collectibles and The Art of Japanese Monsters and may even be aware of the few Japanese-language books whose untranslated covers lurk about in internet image searches. However, one book has slipped under the radar of G-Fans for practically all its life. Dana Cain’s Collecting Japanese Movie Monsters is understandably low-profile as it came out roughly eleven months following the Unauthorized Guide and the content inside isn’t as expansive nor informative. However, I feel that this book still has some solid points and it deserves an unbiased look on its own, and considering I’ve never laid hands on Sean Linkenback’s guide, you’ll get that and a lot more with this review.

The book starts off not talking about collectibles, but going into detail about the history of Godzilla (as the section proclaims, “in Toho Films”; more on this later). Godzilla’s first outing is detailed in a pretty good way, going by the original Japanese title and even mentioning the film’s allegorical message, a “very serious monster” as the paragraph says. More kudos to Ms. Cain in the paragraph about King Kong vs. Godzilla in which she debunks the dual-ending myth in true Twain fashion claiming the rumors were “greatly exaggerated”. A few quizzical errors in these opening pages such as Dr. Serizawa is misspelled as “Sarazawa”, Godzilla Raids Again goes by its direct Japanese translation Godzilla’s Counterattack and the Americanization’s new name is claimed to have been “to avoid confusion with the first movie” as if the public wouldn’t know what a sequel is. Cain also claims that Invasion of Astro-Monster is the “first of many times” that Godzilla would be mind-controlled by aliens. I can only think of one other time, Destroy All Monsters, so it’s weird to have it considered a running theme in the franchise. Diving into the Heisei series, the strange Godzilla vs. Queen Mothra title makes a re-appearance. These errors aside, the section is not too bad for a quick run-down of the series up until Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. The writing is simple and seemingly for a more casual audience. David Kalat’s A Critical History & Filmography this is not.

Following the Godzilla history lesson, we’re still not to the collectibles section yet. A Japanese Monster Movie Chronology is next on the list, featuring what amounts to a quick bulleted list of every kaiju film from 1954-1997. Each film features a year of release (U.S. and Japan), titles (including alternates), and the featured monsters. Quickly running down the list, it doesn’t seem to have too many errors aside from Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992) still featuring the Queen Mothra title, strangely under the “Alternate Titles” instead of being the primary title. The entire section features some inconsistent titling, as some films have their original Japanese title as the featured title and some with their U.S. one. It’s not really something a modern-day kaiju fan would need, what with the internet and all, but it would definitely have been useful back in the late 90’s.

Next section, and we’re still not into the collectibles yet! More reference material here, as we’ve got a guide to Japanese Monsters, from Angilas to Zigra as the book claims. While I do respect Ms. Cain’s dedication to informing new readers, in my opinion this material would be better off in a book of its own. Still, it is a nice addition for someone who isn’t too knowledgeable about Japanese monsters. The different profiles are varying lengths, with the big players getting up to two paragraphs and lesser monsters garnering little more than a sentence or two. Skimming through this section wields some interesting comments (Cain apparently is a big fan of Baragon, proclaiming him a “a finalist in the ‘Cutest Monster’ competition and winner of the ‘Best Ears’ category hands down”) and some bizarre errors (Cain correctly writes in Ebirah’s profile that “ebi” is Japanese for “shrimp” but then goes on to say “Hedorah”, rather than “hedo” is Japanese for “sludge” and says that one of the monsters that appeared in War of the Gargantuas was called Frankenstein) but still it remains a casual yet fairly well written section for newer fans.

Finally, we get our last section pre-price guide and it’s thankfully related to the book’s primary theme. “A History of Collecting Japanese Monster Toys” details exactly what it says on the tin. From 1955’s gun and target game to the then-recent Trendmasters series, this little history lesson is well-researched and worth a read if you’re new to the hobby.

At last, we get to the meat and potatoes of this book: the price guide. The book is split up into nine chapters (Japanese & American Figures, Movie Posters, Model Kits, Toys & Games, Books, Cards & Music, Godzilla Around the House, American Godzilla 1998, Gamera Universe, and G-Fandom) and each feature a wide variety of photos for select items in the guide. The photos are mostly shot well, clearly lit and showing off the merchandise at good angles. This is the section of the book that readers will be most definitely get lost in; I can attest that as a child I drooled over the figures, toys, and posters shown off in the pages of this book. While the pictures may be nice, the actual information is…less than stellar. It’s hard to not compare it to Sean Linkenback’s book, considering just how close both are in tone and purpose. The Japanese & American Figures section is probably the best, as there’s clear pictures of nearly all of Bandai’s original 8” line up and the Trendmasters line is prominently featured as well (here and in the later chapter Toys & Games). The Movie Posters section also features one or two video cassette releases for each film, usually one Japanese and one American. This section fares just as good with pictures as nearly all the Godzilla films are represented with at least one image here (along with some of Toho’s non-Godzilla output and, strangely, Legend of Dinosaurs & Monster Birds). Following this is the Model Kits section which is pretty self-explanatory. Everything from Aurora’s original 60’s kits to Kaiyodo is listed here. I’m not very knowledgeable on Godzilla model kits, but this section doesn’t seem to have many errors. Chapter Four: Toys & Games features non-vinyl toys of Godzilla and friends, such as the infamous Mattel board game and many of Trendmasters’ unique releases like the bendable figures, New York playset, and hatchlings. Strangely, this section, as well as the first chapter, feature a fair amount of unlicensed Godzilla figures (thankfully labeled as such). For a general guide to collectibles, it seems strange that Cain would include these, but nice for her to let newcomers know that there are knock-off figures out there. Chapter Five features Japanese and English language books, comic books, magazines (including a two-page spread of early G-FAN issues), and trading cards. One item of note in this section is a sticker sheet apparently for the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon. Along with images of the human cast, Godzooky, and the Big G himself are two very unusual-looking dinosaurs: a pudgy, pig-like Stegosaurus, a gangly, skeletal Tyrannosaurus, apparently the original forms of Godzilla himself. I have not seen the series in some time, so if these are in any episode please excuse my ignorance. Regardless, it is a very unusual item that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Chapter Six is arguably the oddest of them all; it is entirely devoted to common household items in the shape of Godzilla. Everything from ash trays, backpacks, fans, magnets, keychains, mugs, and even toilet paper holders are shown. There are enough items here for one mega-fan to conceivably have his entire household revolve around the king of monsters.

The last three chapters are half-information, half-price guide (apart from Chapter Nine). Chapter Seven features a page-length synopsis and general overview of the 1998 American Godzilla movie, including the lukewarm fan reaction. The price guide goes over the Trendmasters toy line and various miscellaneous pieces of merchandise released at the time of the film’s release. Chapter Eight is much of the same, except far lengthier as it goes over the entire (at the time) history of the Gamera series and focuses on the same categories of merchandise as the Godzilla sections.

The final chapter, G-Fandom, highlights the author’s trip to G-CON 1998 including a small gallery of photos, as well as a small section of contact info for the convention and its organizers (which would be G-FAN Magazine for those who do not know).

In an age where the internet is an enormous part of everyone’s lives, there just is no reasonable place for Collecting Japanese Movie Monsters on anyone but a die-hard collector’s shelf. The book is well-researched, well-written, and features some pretty good pictures, but it just feels so outclassed. If you’re looking for a book about Godzilla collectibles, you’re better off paying the $35+ for a used copy of The Unauthorized Guide to Godzilla Collectibles.