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The Godzilla Certification Exam—Beginner AND Intermediate
I have done a lot of really nerdy stuff for Toho Kingdom, and it’s kind of difficult to categorize what the “nerdiest” articles or projects might have been. Writing lots of book reviews is arguably really nerdy; writing about Godzilla’s love life is nerdy AND embarrassing; spending over a hundred bucks on Godzilla Valentine’s Day candy just to review them for the site is nerdy, embarrassing, and almost seems emblematic of the stereotype of an obsessed otaku who can’t get a date. I don’t just do embarrassing stuff for my fandom—I spend lots of money, then spend lots of time writing about it, and then post about it WITH MY REAL NAME on the Internet.
But even I kept asking myself why I had spent 9500 yen to take a test on Godzilla knowledge. No, scratch that—two tests. Each an hour long, both on the same day. In Japanese, yet. I mean, who DOES this stuff?
Actually, quite a few people, as I found out.
So I took the first-ever Godzilla Kentei—the Godzilla Certification Exam. I spent the cash, got the papers, got the study book (and even studied it for about a half an hour or so), and went to the Tokyo site (fans in Osaka could go there instead) to see how much Godzilla knowledge I had up in my head. The Tokyo site was at the Takanawa campus of Tokai University. Having experience with the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect… The assigned seat, the assigned number, the rule that we have to put away our stuff during the test, the long explanations, etc. As anticipated, I was the only white guy there, at least that I saw. But there were a lot of things I didn’t really expect.
For one thing… well, lots of people were there. Mostly men, but I saw a few women taking the test. (For once, during the break, the men’s rooms each had a long line, and the women had no wait at all.) I didn’t really think very many people would take the test, since the certification doesn’t really mean much, and people can take Godzilla quizzes online for free. I also expected more kids, but I saw fewer children than I saw women. For many test-takers, maybe it was the merch that lured them—the lines for merch were intense, but I just didn’t really care to buy another T-shirt and “clear file” and pin.
I took both tests, but I thought there would be different crowds taking the beginner’s and the intermediate tests. However, in my room, the test-takers were virtually the same for both tests. I guess everybody else had the same idea as me—they figured this was their one big chance and they wanted to show how much they know. And it’s kind of fun, too.
So how hard were the tests? Well, first of all, they were both in Japanese, obviously. Some questions had a little English (one question was about the acronym for MOGERA used in Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla), but the test was designed for native Japanese speakers. I had to fully rely on my Japanese, and usually I could figure out the questions. Even with my somewhat poor Japanese, I had little problem finishing the first test within the time limit, though I had just a few minutes to spare on the intermediate test.
The test questions were all multiple choice—just fill in the correct oval. The questions were not broken up into different question types really—it’s not like the JLPT with its grammar section, listening section, reading section, and so on. The questions of the Godzilla Kentei are sort of mixed together. Some of the questions had pictures in the test booklet, and these questions were usually about putting particular monsters in the order in which they grew or evolved—like the Mothra caterpillar, cocoon, and imago (I know, that one is super easy). However, the exam items with pictures were just mixed at random with the other question types. There didn’t seem to be a lot of rhyme or reason to the exam format.
Many, many of the questions (with their exact wordings) were included in the study book, which I bought and studied briefly. I sort of wanted to see how far I could get with my own Godzilla knowledge, though, and was too lazy to study much. That choice would come back to bite me later.
The questions pretty much exclusively focused on the movies—not the comics or shows. In both tests there was a heavy focus on Godzilla Resurgence and the original 1954 film, with Resurgence getting a lot of obnoxious (for me) questions such as where in Tokyo certain events took place (I just couldn’t remember). Nevertheless, both tests included questions about virtually all of the Japan-made Godzilla films… except for the recent anime trilogy. Not one question (out of two hundred) was about the anime films, nor the American films. Some questions in the study book were about the anime and American films, but the actual test did not feature them—the closest the test got to featuring a question about an American film was an image of Zilla from Final Wars in one of the picture items.
A LOT of the questions were quite easy for me. Stuff like which specific monsters appeared in which movies, or the name of the evil organization in Ebirah, or how many films had Mechagodzilla in them, or even how many necks King Ghidorah has. Much more difficult for me were some of the questions about particular actors, many of which were from Resurgence again—and I just don’t know the names of most of the actors in that film. Some questions featured a lot of kanji, too, though usually the test included furigana above any kanji used.
I liked the questions that tended to go a little more obscure, and was really pleased to see a question about Shukra and Mamagon from Godzilla vs. Gigan. The second test had a lot more of the somewhat obscure questions, or questions that just took longer to answer as I was trying to count movies (such as “what was the twentieth movie in the Japanese Godzilla films?”). One question that caught me off guard in the beginner’s test was about the year the original Godzilla was released in Japan—but calculated according to the Japanese calendar. I think I got it by calculating from my birth year (the Showa year for which I have memorized), but at first I was afraid I was a goner on that one. One strategy I used that proved especially helpful was to glance through my booklet at the intermediate level questions before starting the second test and quickly memorizing the right answer. Many of those questions I had quickly memorized were on the test, and so it helped me a lot… That decision probably actually enabled me to pass the test!
And as much as I had second thoughts about paying for and taking the exams, it was kind of exciting to be able to sit down and take a test in Godzilla of all things. So often in school we have to take tests on subjects we aren’t especially excited about, and so it was quite a bit more fun to tackle something that I love—and doing it in Japanese, with a lot of real Japanese fans, and to STILL finish both exams with time to spare without much study prep was pretty satisfying. Hearing the fans chat with each other about questions they thought they got wrong, or lamenting that they just couldn’t remember during the test, was a lot of fun.
I also met a guy at the test spot who was wearing a Godzilla hat made from balloons. He claimed he had made the balloon hat himself. I took a picture of him, and then he offered to let me wear the hat, and he took pictures of me. He was super nice!
Some time later, I received the results. I passed the beginner test with an 87, and the intermediate (the certificate says “advance”) with just a 71. In other words, I almost failed the intermediate one, because the cut-off was at 70 points!
So yes, the Godzilla Certification Exam was arguably a big waste of money really, and was… kind of pointless. The exam doesn’t really test Godzilla knowledge well, since it is so focused on the 2016 film and the test can be aced by just trying to remember the questions in the test prep book. But honestly I had fun, and the experience was quite unique. This year they had a beginner and intermediate test, but the book also had questions for an advanced test, though with the caveat that there may never be one. I kind of hope that there will be one—and that they will give some kind of a prize to those who get a perfect score!General // September 2, 2019
Back in 2017, I was excited for the Godzilla the Real 4-D ride featured in Universal Studios Japan that was being put together as part of their Cool Japan campaign. I really wanted to go and experience the ride myself, in addition to simply enjoying USJ for the first time as well. As is often the case with me, I hesitated and procrastinated and worried about the cost or just couldn’t muster up the gumption to buy my tickets for months. The ride was scheduled to end in June, close to my birthday, and so I decided finally to just get a hotel room and go at the last minute.
I ended up going by myself to USJ, and at first I was worried that I might be bored. However, it was actually incredibly fun to just wander about, doing anything I wanted to do at my own pace, without worrying about what a friend or lover might prefer. I tried to go to Godzilla the Real right away, but found out that there was a schedule for the special theater in which the ride (really a film with fancy seats and added effects) took place. The first showing was an Attack on Titan show, which I tried out first to get a taste of what was to come.
The idea of these shows is really similar to movie theaters that are enhanced with DBOX, 4D, or (I believe) MXD technology. DBOX theaters add lots of movement to the action on the screen, while 4D showings include the moving chairs as well as mists of water, puffs of air, flashing lights, and scents (at least the scent of dust/sand/dirt). The Cool Japan theater experiences also had the mobile seating, puffs of air, mist sprays, and so on. In the Attack on Titan show, the gushes of mist corresponded to arterial spray from the monsters or human characters—pretty gross! Still, it gave me a sense of what to expect from the upcoming Godzilla event. Another fun touch of the Attack on Titan ride was that they had the staff decked out in uniforms from the manga and anime.
After wandering about and trying out some of USJ’s other attractions (which I found honestly really enjoyable—with the exception of the Flying Dinosaur, which gave me a crick in my neck), I came back to Godzilla the Real.
Before going in, I went over to a Godzilla Snack food stand, which apparently at some point offered Godzilla Footprint Buns for 550 yen. These buns, judging from the pic, apparently were filled with sweet beans. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, the Godzilla Snack stand was sold out of buns. I just bought a Coca-Cola from them instead because I felt some compunction to purchase SOMETHING from the friendly purveyors of Godzilla foodstuffs.
I then got in line for the Godzilla the Real 4-D ride. Given that the Attack on Titan ride came with staff in awesome cosplay, I was hoping for something similar when the Godzilla attraction was live. If I remember correctly, the staff was wearing faux military gear, but I didn’t take pictures of them so I am not sure. Also with the Godzilla the Real 4-D ride, fake newspapers were handed out that had an article about Godzilla attacking the Osaka area. The line for the ride was pretty long, and so I was thankful for the reading material. Some folks just used the newspapers as something to sit on while they were waiting—Philistines!
Finally my group was ushered into a sort of antechamber area before the show proper commenced, in which we viewed a screen prepping us for the real deal. The Attack on Titan event had the same thing, presumably used to help with the transition from one group to the next. This time we were told that we would be flying a special aircraft to take on Godzilla, since he had just appeared in Osaka Bay. The plane was a pretty awesome VTOL craft, and we were supposed to shoot something into Godzilla’s mouth to stop him (if I recall correctly). Then we were ushered to our seats after the mission briefing, though the changeover was noticeably less smooth than the one for the Attack on Titan showing—maybe the staff were getting tired.
I wasn’t a big fan of the Attack on Titan movie, but the Godzilla the Real 4-D show was much better in most respects. For one thing, while the Attack on Titan was a sort of awkward 3D animated conversion of the anime, the Godzilla movie was rendered realistically. And I thought it looked great!
The movie was shown from a first-person perspective. As the main character, you jump into your VTOL and blast through the streets of Osaka. The sense of speed was incredible in the theater. Godzilla, too, looked really great—basically it appeared that they used the same computer model that was created for Godzilla Resurgence (2016). The encounters with Godzilla were thrilling, and once the glass on the cockpit gets blasted off, you get added gusts of air and, when the jet flew down low near the water, splashes of water. As the story unfolds, your VTOL is damaged irreparably and you have to make a perilous landing before jumping in another VTOL to finish the mission.
At the climax, in what I felt was a pretty silly decision, Godzilla is actually in USJ and interacts with the USJ globe in gratuitous fashion—at one point the globe basically gets thrown towards the camera. However, you manage to complete your mission successfully and fire the goods used to incapacitate Godzilla right into his gaping maw. Unfortunately, your jet doesn’t come out well from the last encounter, and the conclusion is an ambiguous one. (I remember feeling a bit disappointed, but unsurprised.)
Afterwards I went and picked up a few goodies, including a Godzilla the Real 4-D towel which I now make use at my local gym (though you might not know it from looking at my gut). When I purchased them, the fellow behind the register was wearing an Attack on Titan uniform, and I couldn’t help but make the salute and belt out “Shinzo wo sasageyo!” to him. I was hoping he would enthusiastically return my gesture, but he looked a bit weary, or perhaps wary of the weird foreigner.
I always intended to write up my experiences long before now, but to be honest I sometimes just want to enjoy the various attractions and events without worrying about writing up my experiences later. I often feel like I HAVE to write about every little Toho and Godzilla-related event I go to, and it adds a weight of responsibility to the events that can drain some of the fun out of the proceedings. So for this and other Godzilla events I just never wrote about my experiences, even when I really enjoyed them—which was certainly the case with Godzilla the Real 4-D.
However, with Godzilla’s return to USJ (in which everyone’s favorite irradiated beastie takes on Evangelion FOR REAL this time!), I thought the timing isn’t too bad for revisiting the 2017 ride and what the experience was really like! If you have a chance, I hope you can make the 2019 event for yourself! The Godzilla vs. Evangelion theater attraction will be featured at USJ from May 31st to August 25ththis year, along with Sailor Moon and Attack on Titan attractions—and I absolutely hope to make a return trip!General // August 18, 2019
This is another one of those Godzilla-related snacks that I can’t help but kind of puzzle over a little bit. I picked it up at the Tokusatsu no DNA exhibit back in January (along with the Godzilla Honey Pie and a few other things), and I just have to kind of wonder: Why cola? At least with, say, the arare crackers we have a snack that originates from Japan. At least with the Godzilla curries, we have something spicy that sort of goes along well with Godzilla’s nuclear breath (and, as I love to mention over and again, curry was the source of Godzilla’s fiery breath back in the Japanese version of the Godzilla Game Boy game). At least with pies you can say it’s part of the omiyage/souvenir culture. But cola drops, along with fruit-flavored chocolate bars and chocolate wafers, really puzzles me.
Not saying they are bad. Just puzzling. (Turns out the chocolate wafers sold with collectible cards are pretty common.)
As usual, let’s start with the packaging. Here we have a metal rectangular can (the same style as the candy fruit drops can you may recall from Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies), this time with images of Godzilla Resurgence on the outside. On one side we have the much-overused leering Shin Godzilla with his hands curled and his nasty ribcage and so on, while on the other side we get an extreme close-up of Kamata Kun’s face.
Alright, sure, if you think those images are appetizing, I don’t really agree, but sure.
The worst part of the packaging is the circular lid on top which fits into a hole to close the can up. The problem is that it’s hard to open—the sort of lid that is liable to break your fingernails if you aren’t careful. When I was sharing the drops with friends back home, I really struggled with that lid, and even after bringing the blasted thing back to Japan with me, I try to be careful when I replace the lid lest I push too hard and make it into the Excalibur of candy dispenser lids.
But okay, what about the candy? My friends and I agreed: It’s good. I am not much for cola candies (though over the last few years my fondness of Coca-Cola has unfortunately grown), and I rarely eat hard candies of any kind, but these have a solid flavor which makes the entire process of melting the thing down on my tongue a taste-tacular experience. When I pop one into my mouth, it kind of reminds me of pop rocks, except much milder. This may be just my imagination, but the candy, for me, does have a sort of effervescent taste which adds to the experience.
The Godzilla cola drops are a fine diversion for fans of the giant monster, and yet another rather successful confection from Sawarabi STK (which also made things like the Print Cookies and the Godzilla Pie). While I don’t think this one is going to be available all over given that it was an exhibit exclusive, if you can get your mitts on it, it’s genuinely tasty. Good times.Kaiju Kuisine // August 12, 2019
The massive crowd, many carrying massive bags sporting shiny attractive depictions of female cuteness promoting the very event to which all of us were going, moves in crushing waves, the policemen waving us through and directing the rivers of solid nerdery. I walked at my classic Midwestern stroll speed, and usually that is fast enough to match or even overtake my lollygagging students at school. Here, though, the spurs of anticipation—and perhaps the fear of missing out on favorite publications—stirred the assembly of enthusiasts to pick up speed. I was being passed on all sides by manga fans bedecked in pop-culture overload.
I was at Comiket 2018, Winter 2018.
There was a lot of excitement that New Year’s Eve at Comiket Winter 2018. Hundreds, thousands of fans had gathered together to browse and purchase comics, art books, and mountains of paraphernalia, or just to dress up in sometimes absurd, sometimes incredible, often phantasmagorical costumes and pose for endless pictures as the flow of fans flicked by, cameras flashing.
Comiket is short for Comic Market and has been a regular event, now biannual, which was started by amateur manga artists to sell “doujinshi”—fan-made comics. These comics are often unofficial spin-off work from popular mainstream titles, most notoriously in which familiar characters like Naruto or Luffy are put into new erotic couplings—perhaps even with each other. I had often heard rumours about the event, and while I emphatically do not fancy sexy slash fiction (I didn’t like the Godzilla one sold on Amazon), the idea of amateur artists coming together to sell and share their work appeals to me enormously. This year I had a great excuse to go—I would be in Japan for the event for one thing, and for another, this time I knew some of the manga artists selling their wares due to the connections forged from the interview I had with manga legend Daiji Kazumine.
For fans of Godzilla and kaiju more generally, Comiket definitely holds interest—and not just for folks looking for some monster smut (though there may be some of that available as well, for those who are so inclined). Along with new hero manga from Daiji Kazumine featuring his original character Denjin Arrow (who often fights giant robots or even dinosaurs), a number of Godzilla doujinshi have also been released in Comiket—perhaps most notably from Shinji Nishikawa (MASH), who was selling a Godzilla doujinshi this year as well.
Comiket stretches out over three days of art and indulgence—the Winter 2018 event spanning December 29th to the 31st. Given that this was my first time going, though, unfortunately I made a few false assumptions going in.
- I just had this idea that all the participants would be there all three days.
- I thought I could easily read the catalog online, since the guides I read said you could do so for free.
One, the participants are definitely not there for three days. I found this out from looking at the catalog online for free. But the process of looking at that catalog was far from easy. I kept running in circles on the website, downloaded an unintuitive app, and eventually made my way onto the actual catalog only to discover that users who have not paid can only click a few times before being electronically shunned for a set period of five minutes, after which you can have a few more precious clicks before being shunned once more.
Given that each day of Comiket features hundreds of titles and goods, a pathetic few clicks barely nabs readers a taste of the wares available. And to get the catalog, you have to pay 2000 yen or so—which, on the website, was confusingly presented as a subscription service.
I forwent purchasing the catalog, but I didn’t check the catalog early, and by the time I had browsed even with those paltry pokes of my mouse, the first day of the event was already over, and I had already missed several Godzilla doujinshi.
But luckily I could still get Denjin Arrow and MASH’s latest Godzilla doujinshi on the 31st!
Thus and so on the last day of 2018 I moseyed my way on down to Tokyo Big Sight and was indeed treated to a big sight of seething humanity.
Tip: follow the crowds. If you slip out of the currents of humanity, you can end up unexpectedly walking into a storm of individuals going the opposite way and thus be forced into an increasingly difficult game of dodge-the-otaku (and by this time you, too, are a certified otaku as well).
Jusssssst don’t expect to find piles and piles of kaiju and adventure manga everywhere you turn.
DO expect to find UNENDING rows of manga and art books featuring an infinite number of cute girls, as well as retina-ripping pornography (often with minimally helpful tape over the nipples on the posters, but not in the comics themselves)—including, yes, what sure look like child porn comics with unapologetically graphic art. At first I was wondering if there was really anything but cute girl comics and porn, frankly—and the titles tended to look so generic. I couldn’t tell much about the stories except that they featured cute girls, sex, and/or cute girls and sex—and at first I was scared out of my ever-loving mind to even open up a sample comic, for fear that I would be assaulted by lovingly detailed sequences of debauchery—look, whatever your tastes may be, I just wasn’t there to look at that kind of work.
But maybe the initial porn-fest functions as a gauntlet, weeding out the weak-willed so that they never reach the less erotic stuff. For eventually I did find quite the number of monster manga, humour comics, and more. I got my copy of Daiji Kazumine’s latest Denjin Arrow and snagged Shinji Nishikawa’s Godzilla doujinshi, but also quite a number of original kaiju stories, as well as some four-panel humor titles, some adventure comics, some art books, and a case of sensory overload. What was even more awesome was that I could meet some of the manga artists themselves. While Daiji Kazumine was not there, Shinji Nishikawa was, and so I had the opportunity to gush at him about how much I liked his work and pose for a photo. (I also told him I had contributed to the Toho Kingdom interview we did a while back, which I think really surprised him.) Daiji Kazumine’s assistant, Atsushi Sasaki, was also there, and I picked up his recent magical girl manga, Randoserun Zero-Based. Sasaki-sensei is a huge fan of tokusatsu, so it isn’t surprising that Randoserun Zero-Basedfeatures an enormous kaiju battling it out with the titular heroine! It’s pretty entertaining. Atsushi Sasaki also introduced me to another manga artist, Kouji Kiki, who did Metal K for Shonen Jumpback in the 1980s. He was selling some comics that furthered the adventures of Metal K, and I picked some up. I also got an Ultraman parody book called Loyalty Man, featuring a humorous Ultraman knock-off biding his time in a lousy salaryman position while he waits to fight real monsters (the story turns surprisingly serious by the end of the first volume), as well as a few other books of varying quality.
Attendees can expect to find a huge variety of goods at the event, ranging from the aforementioned manga titles, to art books, clear files, and tons of other goods. Some folks actually give away some samples for free!
Comiket was in some ways an amazing experience. I am not a big fan of erotic books, but in the end I found a lot more there than just the sexy stuff, and it was really fun getting to meet a number of manga artists there! Overwhelming, exciting, exhausting—that was Comiket. Maybe I’ll go again this year!General // July 27, 2019
When I visited the Tokusatsu no DNA exhibit in Tokyo in January, I was happy to find a few more Godzilla snacks about which I could write reviews. The biggest package I picked up was the Godzilla Honey Pie. Let’s have our usual rundown!
The package for this one, as with many Godzilla snacks, is pretty memorable. This time we have Godzilla from The Return of Godzilla (1984) prominently featured in the background, with the English text “Godzilla revives in Oshima Miharayama” (referring to the volcano into which the Big G plunged in that film), plus in romanized Japanese “makka ni utsukushiku sakihokoru izuoshima no Tsubaki ni miserarete godzilla ga miharayama kara fukkatsu!” If I am reading it right, the text roughly translates to something like “Godzilla, having been able to gaze upon the full beauty of the blossoming red camellias, revived from Mt. Mihara”—thus implying that the radioactive beastie was getting power from the flowers themselves. Given that the movie in which Godzilla is revived from Mihara was Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), the flower theme seems at least somewhat appropriate!
Actually, upon inspecting the back of the box, I found out that the pies were apparently made from ingredients sourced from Oshima, where Mt. Mihara resides, so these are real Oshima Godzilla pies—maybe the monster was snacking on them while he rested in the volcano.
What about those snacks and their flavor? Well, the box comes with 24 individually wrapped honey pies, all of them sporting the same glowering Godzilla visage. The word “pie” in this case refers to the same sort of “pie” that was sold in the Godzilla Pie box I reviewed a few years ago. This time, though, the pies are not black, but are rather white with honey flavoring. I actually really like them, as the flavor is pleasantly sweet, but the pie itself is not overly dry and tastes really nice with a flaky and enjoyable texture. The pies do fall apart easily, though, and are rather messy.
Twenty-four pies is a bit much for me, so I shared the snacks with my friends on a recent visit to the USA, and they went over reasonably well. If you have a chance, I think these pies are worth a munch—much more so than some of the Godzilla-themed garbage I have eaten!Kaiju Kuisine // July 19, 2019
A few months ago I had the great honor of interviewing costume-design legend Keizo Murase in the actual studio at which many of the classic Toho monsters were created. We had an amazing two-hour conversation ranging over kaiju history and covering dozens of stories, and I am looking forward to getting the video translated and posted for fans in the West to enjoy. Chris Mirjanhangir set up the interview in conjunction with Daisuke Sato, who was also the mastermind behind Howl from Beyond the Fog, a Kickstarter-funded tokusatsu short film set in ancient Japan and featuring a cast of puppets—and a film which will soon premiere at G-Fest! After interviewing Mr. Murase, I got to talking with Mr. Sato (who we also interviewed here on TK in the past), and he casually mentioned that he was the one who assembled the Godzilla costume in Godzilla Final Wars, which was designed by Shinichi Wakasa. I was flabbergasted and asked if it would be possible to interview Mr. Sato personally as well, and he graciously agreed. That interview took place on June 22, 2019.
For now, I just want to give the highlights of that interview, and also invite any G-Fest attendees to go check out Howl from Beyond the Fog. Daisuke Sato is a super nice guy (and he speaks English!), so I hope his film will get a lot of attention at this year’s G-Fest.
I met Mr. Sato at Burger Mania, one of the best hamburger restaurants in Tokyo (my recommendation) before moving to a nearby café so that I could audio-record more easily, given that Burger Mania was a bit noisy (unfortunately recording in the café may not have been much better, as my mic picked up way too much background noise). Nevertheless, we still had a nice time over tea and/or coffee chatting about Sato’s history of making monster costumes. Our conversation went this way and that way, but Sato was really patient with my multitude of questions.
Here I want to especially focus on Daisuke Sato’s experiences making Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), and Gamera the Brave (2006), though he also worked on the sets for The Great Yokai War (2005), and worked on the TV show Gransazers (for which he made gloves for the human costumes, as well as cannons and legs for some of the robots), plus Ultraman Mebius & Ultraman Brothers (2006) and other monster-related projects, as well as Samurai Commando: Mission 1549 (2005), for which he made some of the prop firearms.
Daisuke Sato got his start working on GMK while he was still a student at the now-defunct Tokyo Eizou Geijutsu Gakuin. His role on GMK was relatively small. He made a wall of life-size Godzilla scales which were used for a scene in which Godzilla emerges from the water and can briefly be glimpsed through the rush of liquid (Sato showed me the scene, but it was hard to catch his work). Sato was also the man behind the puppet in one shot in which Godzilla was under water. A puppet was utilized for that scene in particular shots, and Sato was the performer, turning Godzilla’s head threateningly!
The other Godzilla film that Sato worked on was Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), on which he had a much larger role. Comparing the two films, Sato recalled that when shooting for GMK, the crew did about ten shots each day, but for GFW they did 16 shots every day (split into two shooting crews). However, according to Sato, GFW was the less stressful as they got off at six each day, but on GMK they might go much longer into the evening, which was exhausting.
On Godzilla: Final Wars, Sato had an incredible opportunity: he was the man put in charge of assembling the suit designed by Shinichi Wakasa. This windfall did not just plop into his lap, though; Sato personally requested the duty from special make-up man Rikiya Soh, who granted his request. Sato was in charge of assembling three suits, which he did in three months. Those suits included the main suit, a heavier armored suit for scenes in which the monster was taking fire and explosions, and an action suit that was lighter and allowed the actor freer movement for active scenes.
Sato also has memories of eating at the studio café with some of the actors and staff, and recalls that the actors playing the Xiliens would eat in full costume. (Unfortunately, apparently they did not stay in character while at lunch. Still, the image of Xiliens eating lunch together at a café is priceless.)
Soon after GFW, Sato would then work on Gamera the Brave (2006), creating the front carapace of the main suit as well as a cheaper Zedus head created specifically to be destroyed in the climactic fight. The original Zedus head was quite expensive and detailed, and thus the second head was commissioned. Asked whether he felt any regret that his monster head had been destroyed, he said, no, since that was its purpose all along.
Outside of creating parts of the costumes for Gamera and Zedus, Sato was also in charge of costume maintenance, fixing any wear and tear that the costumes might take in the course of filming. However, at least one time damage to one of the suits came not from on-screen monster action, but from an unexpected source: Sato himself! One day, Sato was exhausted after a long day and was trying to load up the costume of the older Gamera that appears in the flashback at the beginning of the movie. Due to his fatigue, Sato accidentally let the costume fall and smash against the floor, damaging the monster. This was before they had shot any of the scenes featuring the beast! Luckily, Sato was skilled enough to fix the costume himself, albeit perhaps with a bit of egg on his face.
Sato also made performance suits of Ultraman for promotional events related to the 2005 film Ultraman in which he built up the musculature first and then added armor over the top. Sato disparaged these suits in our interview, though, claiming that due to his lack of talent they were heavier than they should have been. These would not be the only promotional suits Sato would make, however, as he would go on to create more hero suits for Gotochi Hero.
Sato’s most recent project is the ambitious Howl from Beyond the Fog, which was successfully Kickstarted some time ago in November 2017, and on which he worked beside monster effects legend Keizo Murase, who created so many of the classic Toho monster costumes of old. Howl from Beyond the Fog was partially inspired by Ray Bradbury’s The Fog Horn (upon which Sato also created a fan film years ago, which was later tragically lost due to a hard drive crash). However, unlike The Fog Horn, Howl from Beyond the Fog takes place in ancient Japan. The main characters are a young boy named Izana and a beautiful blind woman named Takiri, who shares a bond with the monster of the film, an equally blind (and in this case, aged) monster called Nebula. (The monster was originally named Amenosagiri, after the Japanese myth, but a child asking about the monster’s name at a convention in France inspired Sato to change the name to something simpler. Nebula has the classic kaiju name aesthetic, ending in “la”, but also sports a double-meaning, since the word “nebula” comes from a Latin term for “fog.)
Howl from Beyond the Fog is a story done completely in puppets so that Sato could have more control over the shoot and was influenced by a puppet TV dramatization of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms made in the early 1980s (when asked, Sato admitted he had never watched the more recent Thunderbolt Fantasy, and thus was not influenced by that series). According to Sato, almost all the shots are composite shots, and when asked what was most difficult in making the movie, he said “everything!” Still, despite all the hardships, it seemed obvious Sato was excited about the movie, and he said his favorite scene was when Nebula destroys the town.
When I asked Sato if he has a message for fans of tokusatsu, he spoke about how while mainstream movies have moved on to CGI, independent films can still do the more traditional suitmation effects, and he hopes that both kinds of films can be made in the future (if I understood him correctly—my recording is hard to hear, with too much background noise).
I was hoping there would be a chance to get my hands on the movie on DVD or Blu-Ray, but as of this time the DVD/Blu-Ray will only be available to Kickstarter backers. In the future there may be more opportunities to see the film, but for now fans will have to be content to watch the movie at conventions such as G-Fest and the Atami Kaiju Movie Festival in November, 2019.
If you are attending either festival, please consider giving the movie a view. The story is a celebration of classic tokusatsu with a unique aesthetic and a fantastic pedigree. I am so envious because I wish I could go to G-Fest and see the film myself!Interviews // July 12, 2019
Recently on a trip to Kyushu (one of the main islands of Japan, this one to the south of Honshu), I stopped over in Oita City to enjoy the local life and noticed there were a number of Godzilla King of the Monsters (2019) posters scattered around the local mall attached to the train station—this particular one roughly translated as “Find the Legendary Four Giant Monsters! Monsters Rally Campaign.” After further examination, I realized that they were part of a rally promotion for the movie. These “rallies” are a common form of promotion in Japan, and they are often featured in museum exhibits as well—I saw one at the Yokohama Godzilla exhibit back in 2016 as well. At the Oita mall I visited, there was a concurrent rally going on for the newest Detective Conan movie, and when I visited another mall in Kokura to see Kingdom (2019) with my friend, I saw there was a stamp rally for Avengers: Endgame (2019), complete with standees of some of Marvel’s more popular heroes.
But what is a “rally” in this sense of the word? Here we are dealing with Japanese English, after all. It’s not like a point-to-point race, and it is not a protest or the like. Instead, a rally in Japan used in this way generally means a promotion in which you have to wander about a particular space (such as a museum, train station, or mall) in which a number of stations have been scattered. These stations can amount to just posters with parts of a word on each, and participants have to put the word together by finding all the stations. They can also feature little tables with rubber stamps at each one, and you take a particular paper with spaces for each stamp to each station and, well, stamp the designated areas. At a dinosaur exhibit I attended at a museum in Chiba, these stamps completed a message. At an advertisement museum in Tokyo, the stamps actually overlapped, with each stamp contributing a different color, and once all of the stamps were applied they created a complete image—in this case, a kabuki character. The aforementioned Detective Conan rally challenges participants to complete a crossword puzzle. And sometimes the rallies can also include a further promotion—collect all the parts of the word or put together the phrase or collect the stamps, and then turn in the finished rally to a website to enter a lottery to possibly win some goodies. Even a school I have worked at featured this kind of rally at their yearly festival.
For the Monsters Rally Campaign, there were four monster posters scattered around the mall, and each poster has one hiragana character that, when put together, spells out “kaijuu” (the actual word “kaiju” includes an extended vowel at the end, unlike how we in the West tend to pronounce the word), with the Godzilla poster featuring “ka,” the Mothra poster featuring “i”, the Rodan poster featuring “ju,” and the King Ghidorah poster featuring “u”. After putting together the word, a fifth poster explaining the campaign can be found in an attached movie theater, and on that poster can also be found a QR code at which the contestant can enter the assembled word and hopefully win something.
The goods that participants can win include the following, with ten winners for each: The “A” prize is a Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) tote bag. The “B” prize is a smartphone stand that looks like Godzilla’s tail. The “C” prize is a copy of the recent Ganbare Chibi Godzilla picture book. The “D” prize is a Chibi Godzilla jigsaw puzzle. Presumably the winners are chosen at random.
The rally is taking place between April 26 and June 2, and is presumably only available to folks living in Japan. Obviously the contest is very much aimed at children rather than adults (though perhaps the smart phone tail and the tote bag are aimed more at older participants). Given how easy it is to participate, the chances of actually winning something seem pretty slim.
Now… when I was in Oita, I tried my darnedest to find all four of the posters on my own. I found Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan pretty easily, but for the life of me I could not figure out where King Ghidorah was hiding out. I must have walked around the mall for an hour carrying my rather heavy bag looking for the three-headed dread beast.
Now, looking at the pictures I took for this article, I notice that the fifth poster that explains the terms of the contest also features a small white column that… tells where all the monster posters can be located.
King Ghidorah, as it turns out, was on the roof.
Luckily, when I visited the Riverwalk Mall in Kokura, finding all four monster posters was a snap, with King Ghidorah actually residing right next to the campaign explanation poster in T-Joy Cinema. The posters in Riverwalk, though, were much smaller than the ones I found in Oita.
I haven’t actually entered the contest yet. I feel a bit like if I actually won, I would feel like I was yoinking a gift from an innocent Japanese kid somewhere who was really hoping for that Chibi Godzilla Jigsaw. Still, that tote bag looks pretty tempting, and the Godzilla tail would go well with my Godzilla-themed smartphone cover. I tried to enter the rally at the Yokohama Godzilla exhibit and got nothing. Maybe this time could be my lucky day!General // June 11, 2019
Nicholas Driscoll: Let’s just jump right into this! Since I last interviewed you, I think you’ve been pretty busy! Could you update us, especially on the books or other things you have been doing that might interest the Toho aficionados who read the site?
John LeMay: Thanks for interviewing me again, hopefully folks don’t start getting sick of me! I have two new books of interest out: Terror of the Lost Tokusatsu Films and Kong Unmade: The Lost Films of Skull Island.
Driscoll: Maybe could you tell us a bit more about how you have revised some of your books? For example, if I already bought the paperback version of one of your previous books, why should I buy the updated version?
LeMay: I started out with a publisher that did my layouts for me with my first few books (history titles on New Mexico starting in 2008). The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies Vol. 1 was the first title I self-published (in 2016) and did the layout myself. It was very rudimentary, I even forgot to include page numbers in one of the versions! So I updated Vol. 1 and 2 to where they have much nicer layouts, plus tons of new reviews and trivia in each. My favorite aspect of the redesign is that the titles are listed in Japanese in the footers. Or in other words, in the footer on the section for Destroy All Monsters you will see 怪獣総進撃 and so on. Japanese books often have little headers or footers in English so I thought it would be fun to do the same thing. Also, the revised version of Vol. 1 added in reviews for over 25 films not covered in the first version. There’s some rare stuff in there, even reviews for Jumborg Ace and Giant (1974) to list just one. Similarly, Vol. 2 also has 25 new reviews in it—I added in Thunder of Gigantic Serpent (as a Bonus Review) specifically because a high schooler actually wrote me a letter in the mail the old fashioned way requesting its inclusion which I thought was pretty cool.
Driscoll: Can you tell us about Terror of the Lost Tokusatsu Films and why kaiju lovers might get a kick out of it?
LeMay: A wise fan told me that books that don’t feature Godzilla typically don’t sell well, and unfortunately so far that has been true of that book. But, if you’re a true Toho or Japanese sci-fi fan it is a book that you would enjoy. To me, in addition to being a book on unmade Japanese sci-fi films—the ones without any giant monsters—it’s sort of a love letter to Toho’s mutant and horror films. To be frank, as far as lost films and projects go, probably only a little over 100 pages is devoted to those, not enough to be a “feature length” book in my opinion. That’s why it also features pretty extensive reviews and production overviews of completed movies like Toho and Daiei’s Invisible Man films. Toho’s Horror of the Wolf (1973) is covered as are Blue Christmas (1978) and Tokyo Blackout (1987). Though they aren’t technically lost, they were never released in the U.S. so in that sense are lost to non-Japanese speaking fans. For most fans the interest will lie in the following unproduced Toho scripts: Frankenstein vs. the Human Vapor (1963), The Flying Battleship (1966), The Human Torch (1974) and Invisible Man vs. the Human Torch (1975). That’s not all of them, just the better known ones. So there’s a lot of interesting stuff packed into the book if you care to explore beyond just giant monsters.
Driscoll: What are some of the most surprising things you found out when researching that book?
LeMay: Shinichi Sekizawa’s script for Frankenstein vs. the Human Vapor really surprised me in how wild it was. There’s literally a scene where the Human Vapor and Frankenstein jump out of a commercial airplane together! If I wasn’t mistaken, Frankenstein was wearing a parachute in that scene. Sekizawa’s take on the monster was that of an actual intelligent being, not a dumb brute, which really surprised me. Similarly, his Flying Battleship script was also great, very James Bondish. And when reading the climax, some of the maneuvers between the battleships are similar enough to those in Latitude Zero (1969) that I’m positive Sekizawa used them there when Flying Battleship was dropped. I loved the scripts for Human Torch and Invisible Man vs. Human Torch (that wasn’t a sequel to the former, but a second evolution of the concept). Invisible Man vs. the Human Torch is a crime thriller with super-humans thrown in. Since it was a crime thriller I listened to Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man soundtrack as I translated it which really matched the script’s atmosphere and made it come alive for me. I would love to see someone do a better translation of it, but what I read was still pretty fantastic.
Driscoll: What about the spaghetti westerns book you did? Could you tell us about that one just a bit?
LeMay: Yes, in addition to Japanese genre films I love Spaghetti Westerns like Companeros and Once Upon a Time in the West. However, a lot of them are really terrible! For instance, there’s one called White Comanche where William Shatner plays twin brothers—one good and one bad. It’s hilarious. So I wrote Deadly Spaghetti: The Goodest, the Baddest and the Ugliest Italian Westerns Ever Made, a scathing critique of the lesser Spaghettis. It was actually inspired by the book There Goes Tokyo by Mike Grant. It’s a book that pokes fun at Godzilla movies. Even though I never viewed G-films as laughable I loved Grant’s book and it made me want to do the same for Spaghetti Westerns. I got Mike’s blessing before I did, and he even wrote a great foreword for me on it. As an aside, I also looked into possibly doing a “Lost Spaghetti’s” book, but there just wasn’t enough material (the only one I found was an unmade sequel to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly).
Driscoll: Your most recent book is Kong Unmade: The Lost Films of Skull Island. Could you tell us a bit about the concept for this book? By the way, I love how the cover is made to mimic the look of the old Ian Thorne books!
LeMay: Originally that was going to be a general guide/review book for movies tangent to King Kong about giant apes or just apes on the loose in general (like Gorilla at Large and so on). I eventually realized there probably weren’t enough of those to make a very thick book so I figured I’d include an Appendix on unmade giant ape movies. I was shocked to find there was a ton of material out there on unmade King Kong sequels and remakes. Therefore I switched the focus to lost films and just made the guide and review into an Appendix. So I got the best of both worlds.
As to the lost films information, the bulk of it comes straight from the Merian C. Cooper papers at Brigham Young University, so it’s totally legit. The New Adventures of King Kong, Tarzan vs. King Kong and even Space Kong (a remake of King Kong which reimagined Skull Island as an alien planet) are all real! Then there are a lot of tangential projects like Baboon: A Tale About a Yeti which Willis O’Brien cooked up. It didn’t feature King Kong, but would have featured Carl Denham searching for a Yeti so it’s still tied to King Kong.
Yes, the design is a tribute to the old Crestwood House Ian Thorne books which I loved as a kid. The cover image I used is from an uncompleted 1934 film, The Lost Island, which I felt matched the look of the Crestwood books. The Lost Island originated from a studio that no longer exists. So really, no studio today owns that image. As to interior images, the great thing about King Kong compared to Toho and Godzilla is that the rights are a little easier to navigate for fan projects, ironically, because legal rights to just who owns Kong is incredibly, incredibly complicated. You’re on very shaky ground if you cite fair use when it comes to using Toho images or characters, but with Kong you can basically get away with it—hence this book actually has photos and illustrations on the inside. Some of them are exclusive (and are used with permission) including a whole sketchbook for Kid Kong—an axed animated series focusing on the baby ape from King Kong Lives from Filmation. The Kid Kong project developer, Rob Lamb, let me publish them and as far as I know most of those haven’t been published anywhere that I know. So that was a pretty big exclusive and I’m very grateful to him.
Driscoll: You also cover some Toho films in your Kong book—did you find out anything interesting?
LeMay: So, before anyone assumes that I just cut and pasted my chapters on Continuation: King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong vs. Ebirah from The Lost Films into Kong Unmade, that is NOT the case. I actually went back and did a smoother translation of Continuation and found some really awesome details that I missed, so you will see new information in Kong Unmade even if you have The Lost Films. A big detail that I missed in Continuation was the fact that Godzilla doesn’t just show up in Kyushu, but he actually bursts out of an erupting Mt. Aso to battle Kong! Also, Kong Unmade features a whole chapter on the unmade Heisei King Kong vs. Godzilla, something I didn’t even do in The Lost Films.
Driscoll: What are some of your future projects you have coming up that we can look forward to?
LeMay: Well, ironically, in my attempts to better The Lost Films for a future 2nd edition, it led to the creation of two brand new books. One of the things I was doing was beefing up the Appendix that dealt with the developmental process of finished films. I ended up expanding on some of those to the point that they became chapters of their own rather than Appendix entries. However, I eventually realized that some of these really weren’t ever lost films. I was just having fun tracking the changes. Researching the development of Atragon, which is based off of a novel from 1899, was when it really hit me that this could be its own book. I had also planned on adding in writer bios on Shinichi Sekizawa and his cohorts into the next Lost Films. Instead, I decided to do a whole book on the writing and development process. It’s called Writing Japanese Monsters. As a good example of the type of information that you can expect, did you know that in the original script for Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster that a yakuza character (to tentatively be played by Yoshio Tsuchiya) is the character possessed by a Venusian spirit? There is no Princess Salno in the first draft! Or, did you know Mechagodzilla was meant to be disguised as Godzilla yet again in the original draft of Terror of Mechagodzilla? Or wilder still, that Godzilla and Kiryu almost fought underwater in Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.? Fun stuff like that. Hopefully it will be out by Christmas. The other book is Editing Japanese Monsters. It covers the many alternate cuts of Japanese monster movies from Japan, the U.S. and even Germany and other countries. Everything from “Cozzilla” to Command from the Dark (the German Monster Zero) to the Italian edit of Catastrophe 1999 is covered. I’m already 600 pages into that one and there’s still lots more to go!
Driscoll: Thank you so much for your time!
No, thank you! I enjoy reading Toho Kingdom and am always happy to contribute to the site in any way I can. Thanks for all the hard work and research you all do also—your Cutting Room is one of the best resources I have. Please keep those great translations coming!Interviews // May 27, 2019
Perhaps it might count as evidence of a sort of masochistic tendency in my behavior, but whenever a new live-action adaptation of a manga comes out (especially if it is a ridiculous action manga), I like to try to go out and see it. Sure, I will skip out on some of the romance ones, or I just forget about some of them, but if it is a big action manga, I usually like to go. Even if I don’t know much about the manga.
The recent Kingdom film has the added benefit (for me) of being about ancient China. I have harbored an interest in China for years—enough to sit through over fifteen hours of lectures about Chinese history as well as quite a few books, not to mention dozens of Chinese lessons and hundreds of hours of study.
And kung fu movies. I can’t forget the endless kung fu movies. Chop socky almost always makes things better.
So it was with a background of mad manga fandom and mad China interest that I went in to see Kingdom—that, and I bought the first volume of the manga and read it quick before attending the film with a good friend. The manga was enough to prime me on the characters and also really helped me to follow the story better as well.
The story follows Shin and Hyou, two orphans (living under the same somewhat kind master) with big dreams to become the most powerful war generals in China. To accomplish that goal, they incessantly practice fighting each other, and through that unending training regimen, they both become quite skilled fighters. One day a passing Chinese official sees them in the midst of their wild battle practice. The official takes a special interest in Hyou and enlists the boy for a special mission, leaving Shin behind.
To reveal what that mission is, though revealed very early on in the manga and in the movie as well, seems like a big spoiler to me. I think it is more fun to go into the story without knowing, as it caught me by surprise when I read the manga. Anyway, suffice it to say that Shin gets pulled into a dangerous world of intrigue and backstabbing and incredible violence as various forces vie for the throne and weird and wild warriors appear to challenge and attempt to slaughter Shin and his friends.
For me, the story was very engaging, if sometimes presented a bit simplistically in the movie. The manga allows the plot to breathe more so that character motivations can be explored in a more leisurely fashion. The movie tries to tell a pretty big chunk of story in a couple hours, and I think it succeeds more than many live-action manga travesties… but it still is trying to do a lot in a short time, so fans of the manga may get a bit of whiplash and they may find themselves longing for the more nuanced serial storytelling allowed in fifty plus volumes of manga.
Acting is fine, though it leans on the “scream your emotions” side. Shin especially tends to rage and roar and rarely has real soft and tender moments. Other characters, too, are quite a bit larger than life, such as a strutting and unstoppable general and a bizarre leaping, whipping hunter/killer with a blowpipe and poison darts and sort of octopus legs flopping all around as part of his clothing. Villains tend to fall into the sneering and insufferable variety, but that makes it more fun when they get theirs later.
One aspect of the story that I could not completely buy into was the strength of the main character, Shin. Yes, I get that he has been practicing endlessly with Hyou, but they never had any formal training, no real fight experience—I mean an actual fight, not just training with sticks. Yet when faced with a ferocious assassin for the first time, in his first real fight for his life, Shin wins, and then wins against a group of murderous ruffians with ease straight afterward. If anything, though, the manga is worse in this respect, and the movie actually tones down Shin’s unbeatable fighting prowess… but his supreme abilities still strike me as a bit too much.
Special effects are uneven. Costumes are often gorgeous, and the “owl” costume looks very manga-perfect, though some of the armor on soldiers looks like rubber. Some ornamental masks that appear later in the film are very cool and quite varied and impactful, but they don’t really look like something made in the past so much as movie props. The swords look sweet, but they look like they painted in chrome. A huge troll-like man-beast makes an appearance, and his costume is a bit stiff frankly.
Still, the sets are very impressive, and some of the CGI looks respectful, even good. Other times characters get woosh like flies through the air, bouncing and crashing with little sense of weight.
That weightlessness is worst in some of the fight sequences, wherein sometimes a baddie or goodie gets swatted effortlessly out of a dramatic leap. But these moments of lousy CG are only minor stains on the frequently kinetic and exciting fight sequences, which often end in blood and glory. While often I am not a fan of Japanese movie action, I would suggest this one is better than most, though not by a wide margin. With movies like Bleach (2018, also from the same director) and Ajin (2017) recently also sporting impressive fights, I think the manga movie world has been improving… even if they don’t approach the best of the Chinese/Hong Kong martial arts smash-a-thons yet.
I also want to say something quick about the cinematography, which captures the sense of wonder and the gorgeousness of the landscapes and buildings well. Some of the shots are truly spectacular, and the editing job usually presents the characters so that the action is easy to follow.
In addition, I think it’s important to say something about what amounts to a big elephant in the room—or maybe rather a panda. This is a Japanese movie depicting Chinese people in ancient China. All the characters are played by Japanese, not Chinese. Given the rocky nature of the historical and current relations between Japan and China, it may seem strange or even a bit dangerous to create a movie like this. After all, back when Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) was released, some people were offended that many of the Japanese characters were played by Chinese actors, presumably for extra name recognition in the West. While I did not think Kingdom was especially disrespectful of China or Chinese people, some Chinese may see things differently. It certainly isn’t a realistic take.
And maybe that’s a point in the film’s favor. Kingdom never pretends to be accurate historical fiction, but is instead a rollicking and wild ride with high drama and fast action. When I mentioned to one of my Chinese friends I had watched the movie, she said it sounded interesting (and she knew what the movie was about).
At any rate, for me the movie was a lot of bombastic fun, energetic and entertaining, if not particularly deep, with likable if not especially deep characters and a story that feels complete. Not bad. The director, Shinsuke Sato, has now made a name for himself with quite the string of manga adaptations, and though I haven’t seen them all, and some I have heard were much more successful than others, the accumulated experience really has paid off I think. It may not quite conquer the world of manga movies, but it is dang good for what it is, and that’s enough for me.General // May 20, 2019
I recently asked my colleagues at Toho Kingdom for their recommendations for romantic Toho films to watch on or around Valentine’s Day. Now I realize that here at Toho Kingdom we don’t really focus a lot on the Toho romance films, of which there are many—and even when we do review them, sometimes they are pretty awful (I am looking at you, Clover and Blue Spring Ride). Still, for lovey-dovey movie fans, there are many Toho movies worth watching that will tickle the old heart strings—and maybe a few that have monsters in them, too!
Nicholas Driscoll’s Picks
Recommended Animated Romance—Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Okay, the title is majorly cheesy (the English title, anyway—the Japanese title actually translates to something like “If you listen closely”), but this Ghibli movie is one of my favorite Japanese films of all time. Based on a fairly obscure shojo manga and a script by Hayao Miyazaki, Whisper of the Heart tells the story of a junior high girl named Shizuku who loves creative writing and challenges herself to write an original fantasy novel telling the adventures of “the Baron,” a cat statuette at a local antique shop. In the process, she makes a lot of friends and falls in love with a local boy who has big dreams of his own. I don’t want to go into the plot details too much, but suffice to say there is a lot to love as the characters are well-drawn and exceedingly loveable, the romance bits are very sweet, and I just love a good story about creative expression and the sacrifices that have to be made to do it well. Plus it’s a Ghibli movie, so it has beautiful animation! This is also the only Ghibli movie with a movie-length spin-off sequel, The Cat Returns. I can’t recommend the sequel as much, but the original is an excellent movie, whether you like romance or not. (And for those looking for more animated Ghibli romance after finishing Whisper of the Heart, I also can recommend From Up On Poppy Hill
Recommended Dance Romance—Shall We Dance? (1996)
Many romance films also feature dancing in the plot, which is a big plus for me since I love a good turn on the dance floor. This particular dance flick even spawned a Hollywood remake, which is pretty rare for Japanese romance films. The story, about a repressed Japanese family man and office worker Shohei struggling in the doldrums who glimpses a hot babe Mai in a dance studio window and takes up ballroom dancing as a means to chase her and gets more than he bargained for, has many whimsical moments and some big laughs. The romance elements I think are understated and a bit lacking to be honest, though, as our “hero” sort of makes things right with his wife, but their relationship is pretty much sidelined for the Shohei/Mai one. For those looking for a more romantic take, the Hollywood version I think is a decent replacement. However, THIS film inspired a real romance between the director and the Tamiyo Kusakari, the ballet dancer playing Mai, which ended in marriage!
Recommended Supernatural Romance—My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday
I almost gave this spot to The Girl in the Sunny Place, but I already wrote a review of that movie (which I do recommend, as it is a pretty and surprisingly engrossing little film), so I want to give a little attention to another film by the same director, Miki Takahiro: My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday. I will be giving some spoilers to the film here, though those spoilers are kind of given away by the title itself. The movie is about college student Takatoshi, who falls in love with Emi upon noticing her on a train. He works up the guts to tell her his feelings, and soon after they start going out. But Emi has a huge secret, which, when it comes out, hugely complicates their love—she is from the future, in a sense. It’s a bit hard to explain, but basically she lives her life backwards in time and already has memories of their romance together when she first meets Takatoshi. While upon even short reflection the story doesn’t make a lot of sense, it is interesting to see how it all plays out in the highly imaginative universe of the film.
Recommended Live-Action Adaptation of a Manga—Your Lie in April
I have reviewed a number of live-action manga romance films, including the aforementioned howlers Clover (2014) and Blue Spring Ride, but also some pretty good flicks like the two Nana films. I am a sucker for these live-action adaptations, and often watch them even though they are often bad. One of the best I have seen (and which I had intended to review) was Your Lie in April. I had first watched the anime version of this story and enjoyed it very much, so then I became curious about the movie version, not least of all because it featured Suzu Hirose (probably my favorite current young female actress in Japan) in a lead role. I think the movie version works pretty well because the story is not really so complicated, but still deals with some heavy themes and has great music. The story centers on Kosei Arima, a teenager who is a virtuoso on the piano—but who has absolutely sworn off playing because of his awful relationship with his domineering mother. However, Kosei soon meets a free-spirited violinist named Kaori who bullies him into performing with her on stage and facing his demons, and he begins to fall in love with her. Of course things can’t go so simply, and Your Lie in April does suffer from several common romance tropes that occur frequently in Japanese chick flicks, but again the story is well-paced, the actors are good, and the music is beautiful.
Patrick Galvan’s Picks
My recommendation is not likely to surprise anyone even remotely familiar with my tastes in classic Toho movies. I’ve written at length about the great director Mikio Naruse over the last couple of years, devoting reviews and whole articles to his work, so I guess it’s only expected that I would salute one of his movies in today’s Valentine’s Day article. 1967’s Two in the Shadow, better known as Scattered Clouds (the literal translation of its Japanese title), was the last movie Naruse shot before his death in 1969; it was the second or third film of his I saw but the first which really impressed me; and to this day, I tend to pick this film above all others in naming my personal favorite from his oeuvre.
It’s also one of the most beautiful movies about tragic love I’ve ever seen. The premise is one that might sound like setup for forced contrivances (a man falls in love with the woman whose husband he accidentally killed) but Naruse and scenarist Nobuo Yamada treat it in the smartest possible manner, allowing the relationship between the characters to develop slowly, naturally, and believably—and they never allow them, or the audience, to forget the tragedy that binds them together. Yuzo Kayama and Yoko Tsukasa are perfectly cast as the leads, and the location photography of Aomori Prefecture renders this one of the most gorgeous-looking movies in Toho’s catalogue. Naruse was notorious for despising color in film, declaring it a needless distraction (the dream project he never got to realize was a black-and-white movie in which all the drama unfolded before a blank curtain) but he and cinematographer Yuzuru Aizawa use color and their settings to their advantage here.
Seeing Two in the Shadow has been a bit problematic as, like many Naruse films, it’s never been given a bona fide disc release in the Region 1 market. Criterion has a streaming-only print which has switched platforms a couple of times, and access to it disappeared completely with the demise of Filmstruck last November. Thankfully, the film is destined to return on April 8 through Criterion’s new, forthcoming streaming service. And I remain hopeful that, one day, the company will consider giving this quiet little gem a physical release of some capacity. A bonus feature-packed Blu-ray might be hard to justify given Naruse’s obscurity, but Two in the Shadow would make an ideal entry in one of their Eclipse boxsets.
Say, Late Naruse, with titles such as Lonely Lane (1962), A Woman’s Life (1963), Yearning (1964), and The Stranger Within a Woman (1966) serving as companion pieces.
Marcus Gwin’s Picks
I cannot say that I watch a lot of romantic films, as I find many of the films built around such a narrative to be try-hard corporate hack fests that try to manipulate one’s emotions to get positive reception rather than genuinely creating a well crafted tale of two people coming together. Besides, how can one even build an entire film around such a thing? People always have more going on in their lives than just a romantic relationship, so I find it more realistic to include such themes as a sub plot in part of larger narrative. That’s just my opinion though. But from my views, it’s obviously a very hard sell to invest me in any kind of romance. So if I actually recommend something, that means that I hold it to a very high regard. That being said though, I definitely don’t know enough romance films to make any kind of full list, so I’ll be partaking in some genre hoping mischief… even with my free Kaiju pick.
Most Romantic Kaiju Film: This one is a pretty easy pick. Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002), has an excellent unlikely romance between a down on his luck extremely average single dad trying to impress a military pilot in the Kiryu program that is obviously WAY out of his league. I absolutely LOVE the awkward confidence shown by scientist (INSERT NAME) which absolutely comes off as creepy, but through persistence and actually trying to understand Akane, he eventually gets a date. The two have great chemistry, and their interactions serve as a very important way to flesh out the characters throughout the plot. Easily the best use of romance in a Kaiju film in my opinion.
#2 Densha Otoko: Okay, this is pretty much the only actual ROMANCE I’ve seen from Toho… I was forced to watch it in a class I was taking at the time. Apparently, it became something of a cultural icon at the time of its release… I don’t really care about that, and I wouldn’t even say its a particularly great movie. HOWEVER. I don’t think it’s a bad movie either. The plot follows a forever-alone shut-in that winds up protecting a woman on a train from a drunken bum, and ends up getting her number. He then proceeds to get romantic advice from two-chan degenerates. Yeah, this film is rather dated. Anyway, despite the fact that I don’t especially care for the film, I can definitely see why many people do. There definiteky WERE a couple moments I genuinely liked in the film. (None of which were during the climax…). This is the sort of film where I can say, “I didn’t like it, but you might.” That’s how I would recommend it.
#1 Sweet Home: It strikes again! I can use this movie for EVERY article, haha! In all seriousness though, one of the things in this movie that absolutely warms my heart is how it handles romance. I really don’t want to spoil this one, so all I’ll say is that all of the performances are spot-on, and the chemestry between each character enhances the plot, and greatly increases the tension to a boiling point. Past relationships are already a key theme in this film, and as I’ve mentioned many times, the ending is SATISFYING.
With warm regards, have a happy Valentines Day.
Tyler Trieschock’s Recommendations
Recommended Anime Romance – Your Name
For an engaging, comedic, emotional journey to enjoy this Valentine’s Day with your significant other look no further than Japanese classic from Makota Shinkai known as Your Name.
Starting off the film with two characters set in distinctly foreign environments, the film grabs your attention immediately with its introduction of the main leads, Mitsuha and Taki. Each long for more than they find in their rural and urban lives respectively, wanting nothing more than to break free of the challenges their routinely faced with. Fate not only gives them a chance to do just this, but at something I dare not spoil in my recommendation. What I can definitely say is you and your significant other may shed a collective tear at the film’s conclusion, and to cleanse your respective film pallet look no further than my second recommendation.
Recommended Kaiju Romance – Rodan (1956)
Tyler, you speak aloud as you read this article, Rodan (1956) isn’t a romance. How does it relate to Valentines Day? Well to you avid reader, I would say that in all relationships, being able to subvert your significant other’s expectations is a worthwhile aspiration and this movie is the perfect choice to achieve such a goal.
Easily one of Toho’s greatest early Kaiju films, Rodan holds aspects of every genre within its hour and a half run time for you and your significant other to enjoy. Hold your other close as the monstrous insect’s shadow distorts across the eerie, dimly lit mineshaft. Laugh in unison as the Meganulon makes its presence known and runs like a looney toons character onto and then down the nearby mountain. Shake in suspense as Shigeru recalls the horrifying creature he watched come to life within the mountain before the aerial monster, and its mate, embark on a destructive rampage across Japan until their untimely deaths by nature’s fury.
As was mentioned earlier, Rodan isn’t a love story, but its conclusion is one of tragedy formed from the connection of the two aerial terrors. It’s a silent, gripping scene that reinforces how far love in all of our lives can take us and it alone justifies the film’s recommendation this holiday. Just please avoid taking your significant other to any volcanos this Valentine’s Day!General // February 14, 2019
Today, we are interviewing Peter H. Brothers, author whose work includes Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda and the recent The Sons of Godzilla.
ND: First of all, I just wanted to thank you for agreeing to the interview. Even though I criticized your first book, I also found a lot of good in it, and I really would love to hear more about your books in general and offer up some encouragement because I think writers need it! I know I do. First, I like to ask a few fan-related questions. First Godzilla movie you saw? Favorite Godzilla movie? Favorite Godzilla suit? Favorite monster outside of Godzilla? Favorite Gamera movie? Any recommendations of obscure or overlooked monster films? And to be a little more controversial: Least favorite Godzilla movie?
PB: Well the first Godzilla film I saw was the first Godzilla movie: Godzilla, King of the Monsters! when I was about seven years old; I was stunned. Even though I had a fairly good idea of what a movie was at my young age, I thought I was watching a real-time documentary. I was hooked, and have been hooked ever since! I have seen both the U.S. and Japanese versions hundreds of times, and the original Japanese version remains my favorite all-time movie. The original “suit” – which I insist on calling a “costume” – is also my favorite of the various designs. Outside of Godzilla, I am very fond of the original King Kong, Gorgo, the Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Varan (1958) and the first Rodan (1956). I don’t really have a favorite Gamera movie, not too much into him, although I do plan on catching-up to the 90s films soon. As far as recommendations go, the 1981 Dragonslayer is somewhat overlooked. My least favorite Godzilla movie? At this stage I would have to say Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994), it’s really a chore for me getting through that one…
ND: How did you get into monster movies?
PB: Watching Godzilla, King of the Monsters!. It started my interest in so many things: dinosaurs, dragons, movies, soundtracks, special effects, and the films of Ishiro Honda. I was also very fortunate to grow-up during the Golden Age of monster movies, fantasy and science-fiction films in the late 50s to early 60s, so many marvelous movies! I saw five of Ishiro Honda‘s films in theatres during their initial U.S. releases: Battle in Outer Space (1959), Atragon (1963), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), and Mothra (1961), which I saw in a drive-in on a double-bill with Dr. No. I also saw many George Pal and Ray Harryhausen films and many other wonderful ones as well. I was also very lucky to purchase advertising art from G,KotM! such as posters, lobby cards and stills, and own several kits of the 1954 Godzilla.
ND: I know you’ve written quite a few articles about Toho films and fantasy cinema, especially for G-Fan magazine, including an article on Half Human (1955) that received a Rondo nomination! Could you tell us about how you got into writing articles on movies? How many articles do you think you have written?
PB: Yes, I remember that article: Tom Weaver beat me out on that one; he interviewed Donnie Dunagan who played Peter (“Well, helloooooo!”) in Son of Frankenstein. I started writing articles for fanzines such as Japanese Giants in the mid-Seventies, and J.D. Lees was kind enough to accept my articles in G-Fan; in fact it was due to the publishing of those articles and the feedback I received on them, that motivated me to write a book on the subject. I think I’ve written about a dozen articles for G-Fan (for the record, my treatise on The Mysterians was also nominated for a Rondo).
ND: Some of those articles eventually became the starting point of your first book on Ishiro Honda, Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Films of Ishiro Honda, right? How many of your articles were later re-edited as chapters in your books?
PB: I would say about a dozen; it’s funny, some people have criticized me for reprinting them in book form, but I can’t assume everyone reading the book read all the articles. For the Second Edition of my Mushroom book I was able to include additional detail on some of those films.
ND: I remember reading in the introduction to your first book (I think) that you had several of the Japanese books on Honda and on Godzilla translated into English. Could you give a little more information on that? I think probably there are many fans that would be curious about how to get English versions of the Japanese books, and how much it might cost to get them translated!
PB: Since I do not have a Japanese friend or relative to translate material for me, I have to pay either transfer students or others to do it for me; I wish there were English versions of those books! I currently have a friend in England named Kate who has done the majority of the translations of Japanese texts as well as other publications for my more-recent books, and it isn’t cheap: I pay $25 for each single page of text; the material I had translated for The Mysterians alone cost me $180, and I paid nearly $300 for the Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) information on my current book. I figure I may have just made the money back on the Mushroom book by this time (I’ve sold about 900 copies) and maybe – just maybe – on the Godzilla book. Why do I do it? Well, for the love of the genre, and besides, if I spend my money on something, it may as well be on information kaiju eiga fans might be interested in.
ND: What were some of the big changes to the second edition of Mushroom Clouds?
PB: More expanded information on certain films as well as photographs and additional information on Mr. Honda’s life, non-monster movies, and his combat career; I’m glad to have had the opportunity to do that, as I was very unhappy with how the First Edition came out.
ND: How did your book, Atomic Dreams and the Nuclear Nightmare: The Making of Godzilla (1954) come about? Was the second book easier after writing the first?
PB: Basically, I waited 30 years to write a book on Mr. Honda, and when no one else did, I decided to give it a try, and it was the same with the Godzilla book; I just couldn’t believe no one in America had ever written a book about that incredible film. Was it easier the second time around? To a certain degree, since I was a bit more-familiar with the process (for example, I will never do a two-column format again), but writing does not come easy for me; frankly it’s a bit of a struggle, and my self-proofing leaves much to be desired. However, being self-published gives one a certain amount of creative freedom, as well as pride of ownership, since it’s my book and my responsibility.
ND: What were some of the highlights you discovered in making Atomic Dreams?
PB: Just finding out whatever new information I could, such as contemporary reviews of the film which were very interesting. I’m unashamedly obsessed with that film, so it was interesting to evaluate it, but my biggest concern was: okay, after dissecting it, will I still be able to enjoy it as an audience member or not find it as involving, since I know so many of the details (“here’s a tracking shot, here comes a close-up, etc.”), and I’m happy to say that when I recently viewed it (on November 3rd, naturally), I still found it as compelling and awesome as ever. I never get tired of watching it; it really is an incredible film – very moving – and it astounds me how so many people don’t care for it; in many ways it’s still so very underrated.
ND: You recently released a third book on Godzilla films, The Sons of Godzilla: From Destroyer to Defender-from Ridicule to Respect (1955-1995). What was the genesis of this book, and how do you think it differentiates itself from the pack, so to speak?
PB: I’m a big fan of trilogies and thought it might be fun. I’ve always wanted to evaluate films like Son of Godzilla (1967) and Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), but in doing my research, I found that many people are big fans of the 1970s films, so I had to respect that. In many ways it was a frustrating book to write, since so many of those films are frustrating to watch. I guess I’m a purist and still have a 1950s mentality about the series; it’s probably a generational thing. Some people are fans of all of the Godzilla films but I’m not one of them, so I can confidently predict this will be a very controversial book!
ND: Why didn’t you cover the Millennium Godzilla films as well? Are you planning to write another book about them, as well as the latest films such as Godzilla Resurgence and the anime trilogy?
PB: That’s a good question and there are a couple of reasons: one, I would have to purchase more texts and have them translated, and that requires more funds. I suppose I could do a “Go Fund Me” page but feel awkward asking strangers for money. But the main reason is that I have never been able to find an emotional connection with the films after the Heisei Series. Maybe it’s due to the different designs of Godzilla, but those films just don’t reach me as do the earlier ones; basically I got off the bus after 1995. Some of the Millennium Films are interesting and the latter ones are as well, so I guess if Sons of Godzilla is a “best-seller,” I might consider it.
ND: Could you give us a few highlights of some of the things you learned as you put together this latest book, to sort of whet the appetite of possible readers?
PB: Some of the comments from the filmmakers and the challenges and difficulties they faced while making these films, from the low-budgets of Jun Fukuda and Teruyoshi Nakano to the elaborateness of the Kazuki Omori and Koichi Kawakita films. It really was an amazing period for Godzilla, going from being a villain to a hero, a dad, and even becoming friends with monsters it used to fight to the death! The different approaches the filmmakers took in making them, the special effects, the music, and the various changes in the monster itself. The series was really all over the map, as unpredictable as it was entertaining.
ND: Moving on, in an interview with Armand Vaquer, you made some pretty provocative statements about the genesis of the recently-published Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa, intimating that Ryfle stole the idea from you. In the comment section of that interview, film scholar Stuart Galbraith IV called you out on those statements. Do you want to respond to them? Have you read Ryfle and Godziszewski’s Ishiro Honda, and if so, what did you think?
PB: It’s a long story, but what happened was: in 2003, during lunch at the Pig ‘N Whistle restaurant in Hollywood with Brett Homenick and Brant Elliott, they encouraged me to forge ahead with it, and shortly thereafter, I was speaking with Armand on the phone who then got me in touch with Steve, and as soon as I told him I was writing a book on Mr. Honda, his first words to me were: “Well, I hope you don’t think you’re going to make a lot of money on it,” which he followed-up with, “And remember, fans are only interested in new information.” To a certain extent I agree with his “new information” comment, but the fact is that if I know something you don’t, when you learn about it, even if the information is decades old, it is new information to you, and anyway I would rather repeat certain “known” facts to avoid leaving them out. Not everybody knows everything.
But my biggest issue was his comment about “not making a lot of money” as if he suspected this was the only reason I was writing a book on Mr. Honda, as if he thought he knew all about me. First of all (and this is to all those aspiring authors out there) if you want to make a lot of money, don’t be a writer, although some have done quite well with it. Second, why was he being so discouraging? Then I found out some years later that he and Ed were writing a book on Mr. Honda with the “permission” of the family, and that’s when it occurred to me that he was most-likely trying to talk me out of writing a book on Mr. Honda so he could have the field all to himself; what other explanation is there? One should always encourage people, not try to talk them out of doing what they want to do, and although he might say he was only trying to be realistic, I see it differently.
As far as the new book on Mr. Honda is concerned, I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but look forward to it, as I’m sure Mr. Honda would be delighted to know that two books have been written about him and his films (incidentally, neither myself or my book are mentioned in the Index as if they wished it had never been written or not important enough to cite; but this sort of thing happens to me all the time. For example, although I haven’t checked in awhile, on the “official” Honda website, my book – which was the first in English on the subject – has never been mentioned. Keith Aiken of Sci-Fi Japan requested a free copy of the First Edition of my Mushroom book – presumably to review it on his site – but never did, and I once lost a key collaborator named Oki Miyano because he believed lies being told about me instead of getting the story from me firsthand; but that, as they say, is another story).
I’m also sorry to hear Mr. Galbraith has “called me out” as the least he could do is check with me and get the details from me personally – after all I was there and he wasn’t – before going public about his dissatisfaction with me.
[Addendum question] ND: It appears from your review on Amazon that you did in fact read Ryfle and Godziszewski’s book. Why did you say you hadn’t read it?
Also, it seems like there are many reasons why Ryfle may have told you that you probably wouldn’t make money from your book. It seems true, for one thing, based on what you said in this interview. He probably has had many people ask him about publishing Kaiju books, and some of them may have some idea that they will make some cash. His own book is also very different from yours and came out many years later. it doesn’t seem he was trying to undermine the sales of your book, and if, as you say, you aren’t interested in money, shouldn’t you be excited that others are writing about one of your favorite directors in a serious fashion?
PB: I appreciate you contacting me about the discrepancies about whether or not I have read Ryfle’s book. I have in fact not read it, and posted my Amazon review out of spite I suppose. It was wrong, and I have now removed the review. You brought up some good points, however I stand by my statements regarding Mr. Ryfle and his motives. I did want to thank you however for giving me the opportunity to clear the air about certain issues, and am sorry it has cause so much confusion and discomfort. We all make mistakes, and this was one of mine.
ND: I understand you have also written some fiction and poetry. Could you tell us a little about those projects?
PB: I have written two horror novels, Devil Bat Diary and Terror in Tinseltown which are both loosely based on the Bela Lugosi film The Devil Bat (Mr. Honda is my hero, but Mr. Lugosi is my idol; I visit his grave every year on his birthday and always leave him a fresh cigar!). Neither of the two novels have done particularly well; in fact the response to Tinseltown has been downright hostile due to its touchy subject matter – some people are soooo sensitive – and I used to write verse many years ago and thought it would be nice to put them all in a book. My next book will be an anthology of three plays I wrote years ago, so I might as well put them in print, you never know!
ND: What further projects do you have in the pipeline that we can look forward to?
PB: Along with the the plays, I am considering doing a book on the films of Mr. Lugosi.
ND: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview!
PB: It is I who thanks you for your kind attention!Interviews // December 11, 2018
Okay, so I realize this article is really late—about a month late to be honest. I saw Godzilla: The Planet Eater several weeks ago, but not on opening night, and so I missed my chance to really publish my Godzilla: The Planet Eater impressions in a timely fashion, which really put a damper on my eagerness to write up my thoughts.
That and, to be honest, I have pretty much cooled off on the anime trilogy. I missed the opening because I wanted to eat some turkey with friends—a rare chance in Japan—and I was busy that weekend. But I still didn’t head off to see the movie until a couple weeks later. It just wasn’t a big priority after the last two films really failed to light my fire.
So how was the film? Well, I will keep the spoilers until later, but my brief reaction was that Godzilla: The Planet Eater is probably the best film in the trilogy (if perhaps only because we finally get a proper ending), and by far the weirdest as well. The characters felt somewhat more rounded this time, with slightly more understandable motivations (even if the motivations might just be libido sometimes). The movie also plays with a lot of heavy themes about religion and the like, which might turn off some—it’s not subtle or… particularly sensitive. We finally do get some kaiju-on-kaiju action, though fans will still probably be disappointed in how that plays out (you can’t expect fast and exciting action out of a Godzilla who moves with the speed of a tree creaking in the wind). King Ghidorah is indeed the weirdest incarnation of the monster yet, for better and for worse. On the good side, I sometimes felt KG was honestly scary and intimidating. On the bad side, he, like Godzilla Earth, doesn’t exhibit a lot of personality. There are also a number of surprises and revelations that come out which kind of made the movie feel worth it in the end.
And speaking of the ending, it’s… kind of touching. It felt good to get to the end after three rather disappointing movies. This one still has a post-credits sequence, though, so be sure to watch to the very end.
Okay, let me give just a few actual SPOILERS for those who really want to know, though bear in mind that I saw this movie in raw Japanese and there was plenty I didn’t understand.
Spoilers on the human action: As interesting as the Exif machinations are in the movie, the most surprising “human action” for a lot of fans will probably be that Haruo has not one, but BOTH of the twins come on to him in separate scenes. They just drop their clothes and practically beg our hero to have sex with them, to which he eventually complies (at least with one of them). This at least explains to me why the theater pamphlet of the previous film featured naked pics of both girls. In this movie, they are both seen naked, although the camera angles mostly hide their naughty bits.
Oh, and yeah, the Exif are evil.
How about the monster action? Some happens. KG appears as three glittery snakes that glom onto Godzilla Earth and suck his energy while carrying him into the air. Godzilla can’t touch the three heads (which never actually combine into the more traditional form except in dream sequences), and so he blasts at them and bats at them and nothing happens. The eventual conclusion to their fight is exceedingly lame, but at least we had some monster madness.
Oh yes, and Mothra makes a very brief, very weird appearance, though only in a dream sequence really. The natives pray and stuff, and Mothra appears as a giant moth inside Haruo’s dreams, disrupting the Exifs’ plans. It’s kind of exciting to see the giant moth, but everyone’s favorite bug-god is on screen less than ten seconds I think—barely enough time for us to say “Gah!” (This is a really dumb joke—“ga” is “moth” in Japanese. Thank you, I’ll be here all night.)
I don’t want to give away anything else, though. It’s worth watching to experience yourself. While I don’t think the film holds up as one of the best in the series, it certainly is memorable and worth watching for fans. Just don’t get your hopes up that it will be something that will appeal to what you traditionally expect from films like this.General // December 10, 2018
Mike Bogue is a frequent author of monster movie reviews and articles, and has contributed to many magazines such as Wonder, Scary Monsters, and G-Fan. He has also written a commendable and thoroughly readable book on movies related to the nuclear fears so prominent in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly focusing on the USA and Japan–including many radioactive-flavored monster films! Bogue has also written fiction, including a collection of short stories, and much of his work can be found on the American Kaiju website. Recently I asked him to do an interview for Toho Kingdom, and he graciously agreed!
ND: Thanks a lot for agreeing to the interview, Mr. Bogue! I would like to start off with some of the standard fan questions if that’s all right! Favorite monster? Favorite Godzilla movie? First Godzilla movie? Favorite Gamera movie? Favorite Godzilla costume?
MB: My favorite monster is Bob Newhart. Seriously, my favorite monster is – who else? – Godzilla. My favorite Big G movie is a hard one, but if I could only choose one Godzilla movie to take with me to a desert island, it would be a subtitled edition of the original 1954 Gojira.
My first Godzilla movie was 1964’s Godzilla vs. The Thing (aka Mothra vs. Godzilla), which I saw at an indoor movie theater when I was nine years old.
Favorite Gamera movie would be Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (1996), with the Americanized Gammera the Invincible (I have a strong sentimental attachment to this one) a close second.
My favorite Godzilla costume? That’s a toughie. But I’d have to choose the Mosu-Goji from Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964).
ND: How did you first become a fan of giant monster movies, and especially the Toho films?
MB: I must have a kaiju gene, because from a very young age, I loved giant monsters. For example, the first giant monster film I remember seeing is Rodan, which I saw on local TV on a Friday night before I even started grade school. I was enthralled, to say the least, and to my delight, the channel played the movie several more times over the next few weeks. Also, I remember seeing photos of Varan in the first Castle of Frankenstein.
The next two giant monster films I saw (both on TV) were The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Behemoth. And the 1963 newspaper movie ad for King Kong vs. Godzilla made me a giant monster fan for life, particularly of the Toho titans, and extra-particularly of Godzilla.
ND: You’ve written quite a few articles and reviews about giant monster films which were originally published in notable magazines and fan magazines such as Scary Monsters, G-Fan, and Castle of Frankenstein. Many of your articles are available on Todd Tennant’s website American Kaiju. How did you get into writing about monsters?
MB: I’d always written reviews of Japanese monster movies, but had never tried to get them published anywhere. However, WONDER magazine, which briefly flourished in the mid 1990’s, accepted my pitch to do a “Confessions of a Japanese Monster Fanatic” article in 1995, and that was my first monster article to see print. After that, I started writing for Scary Monster Magazine, and the next logical step was to become one of G-FAN’s regular scribes.
ND: Are there any articles or reviews you are especially proud of that you can recommend?
MB: Probably my retrospective of Toho’s 1961 The Last War that appeared in G-FAN #56, 2002 issue.
ND: Recently you had a book about monsters and nuclear cinema published—Apocalypse Then: American and Japanese Atomic Cinema, 1951-1967. How did this book come about?
MB: Film-wise, I have always been interested in three genres – atomic holocaust movies; giant monster movies; and 1950’s science fiction movies. I was familiar with many of the books in these categories, particularly the late Bill Warren’s wonderful Keep Watching the Skies! But I realized no one had written a book that telescoped in on only those American and Japanese imagi-movies that dealt solely with the nuclear threat.
To make a long story short, I pitched this idea to McFarland Publishing via a query letter and sample chapters, and they offered me a book contract, which I accepted. This was a thrilling moment, as I’d always loved McFarland books, but had never dreamed I would one day be writing one.
ND: Why 1951-1967 specifically?
MB: Because it is during those years that Cold War anxiety was at its height, and hence atomic cinema flourished, not just in American, but also Japan. The cinematic specter of the nuclear threat started with America’s 1951 Five, and lasted in Japanese films through 1967’s Son of Godzilla. After that, until the 1980s, few American or Japanese films dealt with the nuclear threat.
ND: What were some of the most interesting things you learned or found out about while you were working on this book?
MB: I was fascinated to find out that in the fifties, nuclear hysteria was far more pronounced in America than even I had thought (I was born in 1955, and hence don’t remember much about the fifties, though I remember well the Cold War jitters of the sixties).
In the fifties, the basic attitude was not if there would be a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, but when. I was also surprised to find evidence that some in the American military, such as SAC Commander Curtis LeMay, wanted to goad the Soviets into a nuclear showdown.
Then, of course, there was the reality of above-ground nuclear testing in the U.S., and the scores of American troops ordered to march over areas that had just been nuked. Also, it was interesting to discover the level of Japanese anti-nuke sentiment in the fifties, and the country’s sense of helplessness being caught between the atomic superpowers, an angst well-depicted in Toho’s 1961 production The Last War.
ND: One of the observations in your book (as I recall) was that American monster movies often have more positive depictions of nuclear energy and a more optimistic appraisal of humankind’s abilities and powers as opposed to Japan’s often more cynical or pessimistic outlook. Do you think those general perspectives have persisted in both nations and their cinema past the 60’s and through the years until now?
MB: Fascinating question. Actually, I think in America, the positive attitude suggested in 1950’s atomic monster movies had pretty much dissipated by the mid-sixties, as demonstrated in films such as Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove. Indeed, these films depict almost the same level of pessimism expressed in the Japanese films The Final War (1960) and The Last War (1961).
Speaking of Final War, though it wasn’t legally available when I wrote Apocalypse Then, it is available now on the Internet via a Toei Archive. The film displays a dark, cynical take on nuclear war and human nature. I think the Japanese continue to take a dim view of the nuclear threat, which to some extent can be seen in 2016’s Shin Godzilla (aka Godzilla Resurgence).
By the 1980’s, atomic cinema in America saw a renaissance, but these films were dark and plausible. No more big bugs or revived prehistoric monsters. Instead, Americans got a dose of reality in movies like 1983’s The Day After and Testament. U.S. citizens in the 1980s were not as naively trusting of their government as in the 1950s, and many feared then President Reagan was going to get us into a nuclear war. Indeed, in 1982, an estimated one million anti-nuke protesters gathered in New York City.
ND: One of the things I really enjoyed about your book was that it covered so many movies that I rarely see discussed in fan circles. Do you have any recommendations for monster films or even other related films (like the nuclear-holocaust films you covered) that are often kind of overlooked?
MB: One nuke-related film that immediately comes to mind is 1958’s The Lost Missile. I almost included the movie in my book, and now I wish I had. The film concerns a strange extraterrestrial missile that is orbiting five miles over the earth at a temperature of one million degrees, leaving a swath of destruction as it passes overhead. Though low-budget and rife with stock footage, the movie is worth seeing, and features an unexpectedly grim finale. It is available on DVD from Amazon.
A second nuke-related film worth seeing is 1963’s Ladybug, Ladybug, another movie I almost included in Apocalypse Then. This one concerns a possible nuclear alert in a rural Florida area that causes a school principal to send the children home. As it turns out, the alert was a false alarm (the reason I didn’t include the movie in my book). But the film features fascinating moments, and a horrible albeit non-graphic fate for one of the schoolchildren. It can be seen in its entirety on youtube.
ND: I understand you have also written some fiction. I also love writing short stories and novels. Could you tell us about your fiction writing? Anything that might appeal to the audience of Toho Kingdom?
MB: I had a short story called “Going Back” that appeared in G-FAN #58, a coming-of-age tale concerning two Godzilla fans, that might interest Toho Kingdom’s audience.
Also, the American Kaiju website features two of my kaiju tales of fiction – “Getting Your Wish” and the five-part novella “The G People.”
Finally, there is Atomic Drive-In, a 2013 book self-published through CreateSpace, which features the title novella, as well as five short stories. One of them, “A Calculated Sacrifice,” features a kaiju that rules over a small Japanese community, and another, “Sleeping Dragons,” employs a kaiju-related theme featuring nanotechnology.
ND: Any other projects you are working on now that we can look forward to?
MB: I have considered writing a sequel to Apocalypse Then that would look at the nuclear threat films from 1968 through 2018, though I would broaden the umbrella from America and Japan to Britain and Europe. This would allow me to include 1984’s acclaimed British-made Threads, perhaps the last word in realistic atomic war cinema.
My tentative title for this project is The Days After: Fifty Years of Atomic Cinema, 1968-2018. Of course, this project would also cover the Heisei Godzilla film series, given Godzilla’s renewed atomic significance in them.
Fiction-wise, I am writing a novel called Be Ye Perfect. It blends science fiction, horror, and religion, and features a sort of reverse Invasion of the Body Snatchers theme. I hope to have it finished by next spring.
ND: Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Bogue!
MB: Thank you for your questions and for your interest. Take care, and all the best to Toho Kingdom readers!Interviews // November 29, 2018
Todd Tennant is a long-time kaiju artist who has contributed art to G-Fan magazine as well as worked closely together with monster-author Mike Bogue (author of Apocalypse Then: American and Japanese Atomic Cinema, 1951-1967), who wrote the script for Tennant’s unfinished King Kong vs. Godzilla graphic novel, and dinosaur expert Allen Debus, for whom Tennant created book cover artwork, specifically for Dinosaur Memories II: Pop-Cultural Reflections on Dino-Daikaiju & Paleoimagery. Tennant has created a number of his own kaiju creations, perhaps most notably King Komodo, but Godzilla fans might know him as the man behind the graphic novelization of the 1994 unmade Godzilla film. Tennant recently agreed to an interview about the project and its release.
ND: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview, Mr. Tennant! First I want to get a few standard fan questions out of the way. What are your favorite movie monsters?
TT: You’re very welcome and Godzilla, (of course), King Kong ’33, the Beast from 20,000 fathoms, the Giant Behemoth and Gorgo.
ND: What was your first Godzilla movie?
TT: I saw Godzilla (1954) for the first time on TV one Saturday afternoon in the early sixties.
ND: Favorite Godzilla movie? Favorite Gamera movie?
TT: Shusuke Kaneko’s Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001) and Kaneko’s Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (1996), though his Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995) and Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999) are also favorites.
ND: Favorite Godzilla suit?
TT: GODZILLA 2000.
ND: Who would win, Jet Jaguar or Red Ronin (the robot from the Marvel Godzilla comics)?
TT: I’m not familiar enough with them to make a fair assessment on that question for either character.
ND: How did you get into doing kaiju comics?
TT: I’ve been making my own monster comics since the early 60’s. My biggest influence and inspiration for those are from the 1960’s (pre-super-hero) giant monster comics of Jack the King Kirby.
ND: Can you give us a little history of your Godzilla comics?
TT: When the TriStar GODZILLA film was released in 1998, my kids developed an interest in the Toho GODZILLA series, and my childhood love of the 60’s GODZILLA films was rekindled. My first Kaiju-art piece was my version of KING KONG vs. GODZILLA, which went on to be the cover-art for G-FAN #64. I also did artwork for SCARY MONSTERS magazine, where I met writer Mike Bogue. We began a King Kong vs. Godzilla comics series for G-FAN (#58), which lasted for that one and only issue before Toho contacted J.D. Lees & asked him to “cease and desist”.
In 2006, I began the very difficult-but-enjoyable task of illustrating the first 1994 screenplay for what should have been SONY/Tri-Star’s GODZILLA movie, written by Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott.
ND: So your Godzilla 94 comic is being revamped and will be published on Thanksgiving Day!
TT: Actually, the GODZILLA ’94 graphic novel was fully-completed a few years ago, with the help of fellow Kaiju-artist Elden Ardiente. Yes, the first 10 pages will be released at Kaijuphile.com on November, 22, Thanksgiving Day.
ND: How did you get the official go ahead from the screenwriters for your comic version of their work?
TT: Well, as said, I started out totally on my own. I sent the pages to Kaijuphile webmaster Brandon Waggle, who put the first 78 graphic novel pages up on my American Kaiju website there.
Later on, Terry Rossio contacted me via an email. He asked and commissioned me to finish the GODZILLA ’94 graphic novel.
ND: I understand you have made some changes to the script, right? Can you give us some insight behind that?
TT: From the time I began illustrating the ’94 GODZILLA screenplay onward, I got multiple emails from G-fans, asking if I was aware of the complete destruction of one of the World Trade Center towers, and the half destruction of the second WTC tower that occurs during the NYC battle between Godzilla and his nemesis the Gryphon. They then asked, “how are you going to handle that?”. Because of 9-11, I asked Terry if I could alter this part of the story, feeling that if we destroyed the WTC towers, we would end up “dead in the water” as far as any favorable public sentiments for the G’94 graphic novel. Terry agreed, and I made changes to that part of the story. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say, the Twin Towers are damaged, but both stay standing.
ND: Any chance that the King Kong vs. Godzilla comic will get finished?
TT: I think about that from time to time. If Mike Bogue is still interested in that comic story, maybe someday.
ND: Could you tell us about your original kaiju creations, King Komodo and Gigante? Also, any plans to do more with them?
TT: KING KOMODO & GIGANTE are Dai-Kaiju characters I created/designed in the early 2000’s.
Mike Bogue wrote several KK stories back then. We tried but failed to find a publisher for KK. If you go to americankaiju.kaijuphile.com/main.shtml, you can see art for both KK & GIGANTE.
I’m also currently working on an AMERICAN KAIJU graphic novel that includes KING KOMODO, GIGANTE, and much more.
ND: How do you pronounce “Gigante”?
ND: What future projects do we have to look forward to from you?
TT: I’m sticking with the AMERICAN KAIJU graphic novel for now.
ND: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview!
TT: Thank you for asking me. It was my pleasure:).Interviews // November 19, 2018
For some time there has been some intriguing artwork kind of floating around the Internet portraying a golden, fully-robotic Mecha-Ghidorah that was originally published in a magazine in the early 1980s, a super robot which apparently fought Godzilla in some sort of officially licensed story. I have seen the picture passed around on forums and speculated about repeatedly without much in the form of direct knowledge pertaining to the contents of the article/short-story/whatever the heck it was, except some dismissive remark that the original article amounted to something akin to lousy fan-fiction from someone who may or may not have actually read the material.
So I was really curious when I saw that the article/story was being republished in the Godzilla All-Movie DVD Collector’s Box Vol. 41, which features the Toho Champion Festival cut of Invasion of Astro-Monster, originally shown in 1971 at the Champion Festivals at the time. I initially had not been planning to purchase this volume, but the fact that I could finally put the mystery of the golden Mecha-Ghidorah to rest was enough to tempt me into purchasing the box.
I bought the box, took it home, opened it, and dug out the pages—predictably enough printed on terrible paper. So now I know.
And… what is it? Well, it’s not exactly a story. Let’s start with the basics.
The Yuji Kaida painting of Mecha-Ghidorah in all his glory.
The article was originally published in the March 1981 issue of Terebi Magazine, and the reprint includes several pieces of art. The piece of artwork I most often saw attached on those forums—a beautiful painting featuring a grinning Godzilla busting the right head off of a rampaging Mecha-Ghidorah in the middle of a city while a Japanese couple in an action pose looks on in the corner—was done by Masami Watanabe, who is a frequent illustrator of tokusatsu. Just google the name and feast your eyes on a wide variety of really excellent artwork! I probably just don’t pay enough attention, but I think Watanabe deserves more acclaim in fandom circles. Anyway, on the next page is a full-page, full-body drawing by monster-art legend Yuji Kaida. The publication also includes an enormous two-page dissection illustration, showing the robot’s inner workings and an explanation of the robot’s various powers—and some information about the man who designed the monster, Kunio Okawara, who is famous for basically inventing the “mechanical design” job description in anime with his groundbreaking work on designing the Gundam mecha. There are a few other illustrations of the villains behind Mecha-Ghidorah’s design, though I did not see an attribution for those art pieces.
So now that we have seen the names behind the art, what is the STORY? Well, to be frank, there isn’t much of a story given—just kind of the bare-bones of a scenario suggested for the robot’s background and powers. The first two pages have text that says the following:
The terrible villain Mecha-Ghidorah has appeared. Mecha-Ghidorah goes on a rampage, and Godzilla faces off with him! Can Godzilla’s attack against Mecha-Ghidorah protect the world? Do your best, monster king Godzilla!
Godzilla tries with all of his strength to bite off the head of Mecha-Ghidorah, which is made from space metal.
Each of the three heads of Mecha-Ghidorah emits a different kind of light beam.
Mecha-Ghidorah was built modeled off of that monster King Ghidorah.
And that’s it so far as the battle between Godzilla and Mecha-Ghidorah is described, because the story is mostly left up to the imaginations of the readers. Nevertheless, there are some more specific details about the design of Mecha-Ghidorah and his various powers, and a full page about the secret of Mecha-Ghidorah’s birth… but no real narrative. Which doesn’t mean we don’t have some interesting background details to look into.
It probably makes more sense to reveal the secret of Mecha-Ghidorah’s birth first, because that plays into the robot’s various design features. The creators of this version of Mecha-Ghidorah are a group known as the Dark Mysterious Star Alliance, which has made the robot in order to destroy Godzilla and take over the world. The Dark Mysterious Star Alliance is made up of a whole slew of Toho villainy, including the X-Seijin, the Mysterians, the Natalians, the Kilaaks, the cockroach aliens, the ape aliens, and even the aliens from the planet Yomi of The War in Space (1977) fame. Mecha-Ghidorah was built on a planet that the Dark Mysterious Star Alliance controls, and an image of the construction process is also provided, with a short passage to the side about how giant robots based off of powerful kaiju are very tough just from looking at examples like Mechagodzilla and Mechani-Kong.
The Dark Mysterious Star Alliance hanging out at their evil lair of evilness.
And it’s true–this version of Mecha-Ghidorah is a real powerhouse. Like King Ghidorah, Mecha-Ghidorah sports three heads, and each of these heads houses a massive eye, each with a different color—red on the right, white in the middle, green on the left. Each of these eyes can emit a different kind of ray, with the red eye emitting a heat ray, the white eye emitting a freeze ray, and the green eye emitting the familiar gravity beam that the real King Ghidorah was known for. Interestingly, in the 1991 film, King Ghidorah was originally going to shoot three different rays, which can still be seen on the famous poster by Noriyoshi Ohrai, and also in early shots for the film that were actually completed and can be found on YouTube. The rays, or beams, are modeled after the beam weaponry that had been installed in Mechagodzilla and the Daimakan (the alien ship used by the Messiah 13 aliens from the planet Yomi from The War in Space).
Moving on to Mecha-Ghidorah’s tails, each tail is tipped with a drill fashioned after the Showa Mogera robot’s drill nose built by the Mysterians. The robot’s back features an enormous buzzsaw, based off of Gigan’s massive cutter. The robot’s main energy pack is housed in its crotch area, and anti-gravity plates are installed in the robot’s wings. Various other, smaller features are also pointed out on a sprawling double-page spread, including high efficiency antennae and mechanisms to make the feet move.
And that is about it as far as the magazine article is concerned. We never learn how the Dark Mysterious Star Alliance came together, or what happened when they attacked, or if Godzilla wins or loses. It all seems to be up in the air, and it isn’t really clear why this design was made, although it is possible that it was part of some kind of promotion to try to garner more interest in the Godzilla reboot projects that ultimately failed at the time (my colleague Patrick suggested this explanation to me). The Mecha-Ghidorah design must have been fairly popular with the Japanese fans at the time, because I was able to find pictures on Twitter of a scan from SF Puramo Magazine in which a model of the mech was included as an example of “super modelling,” which was apparently a monthly feature. The best I can understand is that the model was created from scratch (it’s a “full-scratch” model) by amateur (?) modeler Toshikazu Shishizawa, and was made to match the Bandai vinyl scale of 350/1. The Shishizawa model has an original design for the robot’s backside, however, replacing the Gigan buzzsaw with a pair of jets.
Still, to me, the fact that this version of Mecha-Ghidorah exists as this sort of nebulous “what-if?” design is puzzling—but other speculative designs have also appeared in magazines and been the basis of models as well, such as the Kongzilla design made by Matt Frank and also made into a really amazing sculpture, the “Metal Gear” Mechagodzilla, and others. I have seen images of a kind of souped-up Gigan that were also published in a magazine at one point, and there are other examples I am sure as well—the Internet is a treasure trove of confusing bits of artwork and mysteriousness. Nevertheless, as I have uncovered more about this particular Mecha-Ghidorah, I still wish there would have been some kind of short story attached rather than just a mostly empty scenario! Maybe some enterprising fan-fiction writer could take up the challenge and write one…
A pic of the Toshikazu Shishizawa miniature—pic taken from a tweet by Sutenosu.General // November 18, 2018
On my recent periodic trips to the Godzilla Store in Shinjuku, along with the copious amounts of chocolate that I purchased (gosh, I am sick of the stuff), I was also pleased to see there were other fattening foods to help me achieve Godzilla-size weight gain, including ramune-flavored candies, print cookies, the gaufrette cookies which I already reviewed, and today’s subject of review, the Godzilla Popcorn from the Jippu Corporation. This one doesn’t do any tricks except raise your blood sugar, but let’s dive right in.
The packaging itself consists of a clear plastic bag with a big packaging sticker on the front. The plastic bag is resealable, which is great because I didn’t want to eat the whole thing in one sitting. The packaging sticker features the usual Godzilla text, plus the now very familiar cartoon-style Godzilla and Mothra which we also have seen on a number of other kaiju food products, such as the Lotteria vs. Shin Godzilla campaign and the Godzilla vs. Evangelion Box. For what it’s worth, I think this is the largest version of the cartoon Godzilla I have seen, so us fanboys can get a clearer look at the lack of detail in the drawing. I really like that the sticker features a sort of triangular cut-out which both shows the choco popcorn inside and represents Godzilla’s atomic ray.
Strangely, the Godzilla that is shilling for all this snack food actually is much slimmer than the often much fatter Godzillas that appear in the movies.
This raises the all-important question: What does the chocolate popcorn actually represent? Given that it features within the triangle of fire, so to speak, does that mean it is supposed to look like charred rubble? Or could it possible represent the boulders that kaiju sometimes use to play volleyball? Given that the dark black resembles some versions of Godzilla’s flesh tone, could it be representative of chunks of G-cells?
I guess it doesn’t matter much—the more pressing question is, how does the popcorn taste? And it’s pretty good. Kind of a rich chocolate flavor, sweeter and richer than I expected. If you like chocolate-flavored popcorn, the Godzilla Popcorn is pretty decent, though the portions are not exactly voluminous. (Oddly, I cannot find anywhere on the package that expressly states the volume of munchies inside, but suffice it to say it’s less than your average movie bucket.)
Still, the Godzilla Popcorn only costs 300 yen, it tastes pretty good, and it has pleasing if somewhat unimaginative packaging. This isn’t like the fancy Godzilla chocolates, but it isn’t trying to be, and given that some of the chocolates aren’t that great (I’m looking at you, Noshi), and many of the other Godzilla-related snacks are kind of hit-and-miss, the popcorn is a more sensible and still tasty alternative.
Extreme close-up of Godzilla chocolaty popcorn goodness.Kaiju Kuisine // November 10, 2018
There is no guarantee that holidays celebrated in the west will be celebrated at all in Japan, to say nothing about being celebrated in the same way that, say, Americans would feel familiar with. Christmas in Japan, for example, is considered a romantic holiday, and if someone asks if you have plans for Christmas in Japan, they are often more or less asking if you have a significant other. Valentine’s Day, meanwhile, is not just romantic—it is a day in which the ladies of the island nation are pressured by custom into giving the men in their lives chocolate, with lovers sometimes receiving handmade goodies, and bosses and male coworkers receiving more boring “obligation chocolate” (guys are expected to repay their female counterparts on White Day a month later). Even Easter is, if not entirely celebrated, at least… acknowledged, with stores being decked out in Easter themed posters and paraphernalia every year.
And that brings us to Halloween—a holiday known and celebrated in its way in Japan, but not quite in the same way as in the USA. Japan does not so much have trick or treat night for kids (although some people do the custom, and the Yakuza have a tradition of offering kids snacks on Halloween—no joke), dressing up in elaborate costumes has increasingly become cool in Japan, with monsters, zombies, sexy nurses, and movie characters of all sorts swarming the trains and gathering for special events in places like Disneyland or flashy clubs on Halloween night. In other words, it is an official day of cosplay for adults as much as if not moreso than for children.
The beautiful box-art with the Marui building behind!
Thus perhaps it should come as little surprise that even Godzilla is getting in on the Halloween spirit with his Godzilla Halloween Print Cookie, which I did not discover until Halloween was already over with last year. Similar in style and flavor to the previous Godzilla Print Cookie which I wrote about before, these Halloween Print Cookies are somewhat more elaborate even that the Namja Town edition of the traditional version. Each print cookie (this time produced by Coms instead of Sawarabi STK) comes individually packaged in white plastic packaging with doily-esque designs adding an air of class and sophistication to the Godzilla-goings on. The prints on each of the cookies, too, are more visually impressive than the monochrome red or black prints from the Print Cookies available in 2016, with these Halloween scenes going full, vivid color, and with fairly impressive detail on all four varieties. Although the box itself is less flashy than the previous Print Cookie packaging (no pop-up cardboard monster here), each box comes with one clear sticker randomly inserted depicting one of the Halloween-themed kaiju designs that appear on the cookies—and in this case, the designs are really the point of attraction.
There are four designs, each one featuring a different kaiju—Godzilla, Mothra in her imago form, King Ghidorah, and the 1970s Mechagodzilla. Each round cookie comes with its own cartoonishly rendered giant monster of destruction interacting in some cute way with one or more jack-o-lanterns, random orange stars and bats floating in the background. So thus we have a red-eyed burning Godzilla about ready to take a bite out of a cheerful pumpkin in a wizard hat, Mothra carrying her jack-o-lantern (back to Infant Island?), KG proudly protective of a triple pumpkin tower, and Mechagodzilla dashing with five little pumpkins in his arms—including one mecha-jack-o-lantern with glowing yellow eyes! Each image is rendered nicely on the cookies, but even better on the stickers and on the box art in which the colors really pop (and the background on the box gains a skyline that includes the Marui building—location of the Godzilla Store).
Here we have a cheap cash-grab sticker, but I still love the art!
As to the flavor of the cookies, they are good, with a strong vanilla taste and an especially crisp texture (more so even than the aforementioned Godzilla Print Cookies from 2016). There is only the one flavor, though—the images on the cookies, while they look nice, make no difference as to taste, but the relatively mild, sugar-cookie flavor is pleasant if unremarkable.
Despite the relatively uninteresting flavor of the final cookies, of the three varieties of Godzilla Print Cookie that I have tried so far, these Halloween-themed ones are probably my favorite. I like the extra crunch, I like the adorable art, and, though the “random clear sticker” is obviously a transparent means of tricking kaiju fans with extra cash into buying multiple boxes of cookies, I like the fact that a sticker is included. It’s just really fun, and while these omiyage boxes are definitely unnecessary, that makes them no less enjoyable for the fans. Still, Halloween cookies for omiyage seems like an odd mix given that omiyage is usually bought by travelers for friends and family back home. Do a lot of people travel on Halloween?
Godzilla with heartburn from eating too much Halloween candy.
Mothra on a mission to deliver a pumpkin.
Mechagodzilla has a mech-a-lantern.
King Ghidorah made a Halloween version of a snowman.Kaiju Kuisine // November 4, 2018
While I have really enjoyed all the flashy and ridiculous Godzilla Valentine’s Day chocolates, from the memorable Godzilla Can that can double as a thumb spinner to the Chocolate Blocks which are kind of like kid’s puzzles, I was in some ways most curious about the Noshi Chocolate Godzilla Store Noshi (why does it have such a stupid name?) because it looks so unassuming. I just had to guess that this choco might be something extra special because, on the outside, it looks like it doesn’t have anything to do with Godzilla. Instead, it features a traditional noshi design on the outside, with no Godzilla art, no silver military camouflage, no footprints, no ludicrous brown ribbon. Just that noshi design. Well, okay, it has the Godzilla Store Tokyo logo and a silver Godzilla 2018 sticker on the back. Whoopee.
A noshi, by the way, is a kind of origami design used as a sort of wrapping for gifts, though I think it has also become just the design for an envelope. The gifts are apparently for well-wishing, and the gifts can be stuff like fish. Luckily, the chocolate inside was NOT fish-flavored.
Anyway, in my mind I was imagining something elaborate. A secret Godzilla design carved into the chocolate, like with the Godzilla Milk Chocolate Bar. Given that the manufacturer of the Noshi Chocolate Godzilla Store Noshi is none other than Sawarabi STK, the makers of the pretty decent Godzilla Print Cookie and the quite delicious Godzilla Gaufrette, how could I not have high expectations?
And, oh, how those high expectations can so quickly be dashed to the ground. Inside the noshi wrapping is some cardboard wrapped around another silver wrapper—can’t fault them for not providing enough wrappers. (I can fault them for bulking up the candy bar’s apparent size with that random cardboard, though.) Then, my friends, inside the silver wrapping paper was…
Yeah, okay, so I was complaining a lot before about how the other chocolates were almost universally milk chocolate confections, right? (Okay, there were a few white chocolate masterpieces, such as the Godzilla Disks, and those dark chocolate tanks.) Still, I didn’t really want a STRAWBERRY flavored chocolate bar. What does that even mean? Apparently it doesn’t mean actual chocolate with strawberry filling.
It means a pink candy bar. That tastes like really bad strawberry candy. And leaves an unpleasant aftertaste in your mouth.
Look, I ate a few squares of that candy horror bar. It did not taste good. It did not make me think, Whoo, this is Godzilla! The strawberry flavor did not for me bring forth vivid pictures of giant monsters representing nuclear fears appearing in Tokyo and stomping buildings. Instead, that flavor brought forth vivid desires not to eat the rest of the pink bar!
I saved this chocolate bar for the last! It was supposed to be something special! It’s a Godzilla Store EXCLUSIVE, man!
And what’s more, apparently these Noshi Chocolate Godzilla Store Noshi thingees were a bit of a hit. I went to the Godzilla Store on another day, and I found that they were selling three flavors of noshi choco—the strawberry one that I already unfortunately bought, plus an apple flavored one and a blueberry flavored one. I wasn’t sure which one I had already bought because I hadn’t looked closely at the wrapping, so I didn’t buy the others (and I stupidly did not take a picture to share with this story either), but in retrospect, if the apple and blueberry bars taste anywhere as Not Good as this strawberry bar tastes, I dodged a Maser Blast by not buying those things.
Okay, I am exaggerating a little bit, but I didn’t enjoy the Noshi Chocolate Godzilla Store Noshi—no, sir! Basically what we have here is a big pile of disappointment and an even bigger, “What does THIS have to do with giant monsters portrayed by dudes in costumes?!??!” Maybe the idea is that, like a monster costume, the outside looks cool, but on the inside is a boring pink thing that isn’t good to eat. Pass.Kaiju Kuisine // October 21, 2018
I have never really been a fan of overpriced chocolate. When I happen to visit a Godiva chocolate store (say, for one of their delicious chocolate shakes), the prices on their boxes of chocolate are positively terrifying—almost, but not quite, enough to kill my appetite. So it’s kind of ironic that I plunked down the huge chunk of change required to purchase the Godzilla Poster Collection chocolates—2700 yen?!!?? And, as with most (probably all) of the Valentine’s Day Godzilla chocolates, with the Poster Collection, you are mostly paying for the packaging… but in this case, gosh, the packaging is really flipping cool!
The cool inside front cover!
Once again provided by the fine folks at Hunter Confectionery, the box itself (on the outside) has the now-familiar “Godzilla Chocolate” ribbon and strange silvery military design, but this time the top of the box also features a huge footprint (I believe from the Shin Godzilla promo a few years back), and a list of 29 different years—the release years for the first 29 Godzilla films.
The reason that the box features those release years is simple enough—inside, there are 30 square chocolates, and on those 30 chocolates are individual wrappers that feature the posters for all 30 Godzilla films released up to this point! (Why “2017” is not listed on the box is anyone’s guess—maybe it wouldn’t fit?). The posters often don’t fit very well on the wrappers, and thus the images for the posters wrap around the top and bottom of the chocolates… but once you unwrap the chocolates, the posters can be viewed more effectively, and the hungry chocolate muncher can also read the back of the wrapper, which features the sequential number of the film released, as well as its Japanese title. The unwrapped poster wrapper looks really spiffy, and I am tempted to stick some of them up around my apartment or office so I can happily squint at them all day. If I had a doll house or, say, Castle Grayskull or Krang’s Technodrome playset, these posters would look great plastered to the plastic walls while my action figures fought out their frustrations alongside.
And… wow, look at that square… Godzilla chocolate.
But what about the chocolates themselves? Well, again, we have some—rather high quality—milk chocolate here. This time the chocolate itself bears no Godzilla design at all, but rather a generic pattern running diagonally across the choco-squares that looks more like the impressions of tires than anything. I chowed down on two different Godzilla choco-squares—the original Godzilla (1954) square, and the Ebirah: Terror from the Deep (1966) square. Regardless of how you feel about the quality of those two movies (I happen to like Ebirah a lot), the quality of the chocolate is the same—pretty dang yummy. But still… when I pay beaucoup bucks (or should I say a yuge amount of yen?) on some chocolate, I kind of expect more than just… milk chocolate, no matter how good it is.
But again, what you are paying for in this case is not so much the chocolate and much more the packaging—this time especially the wildly cool wrapping paper on the chocolates! The box is also spifferific, with the inside lid printed with a shimmery promotional still from the original Godzilla film. Still, you should only buy this admittedly impressive box of chocolates if you have a serious jonesing for mini-posters, because otherwise, honey, it just ain’t worth it.
The most expensive—and the coolest—chocolate wrappers ever made!
Flipping cool! The other side has the titles and sequential numbers!Kaiju Kuisine // October 19, 2018
Kevin Derendorf is a huge name in tokusatsu fandom and has been for some time now, with his fantastic blog news site Maser Patrol and deep knowledge of a vast array of kaiju productions including (but certainly not limited to) Godzilla and Toho, which he has also shared in podcasts and in convention talks and, most recently, in a new book, Kaiju for Hipsters, in addition to the aforementioned blog site. I was lucky enough that he agreed to an interview about his activities, which you can read below!
ND: Hi Kevin, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview!
KD: Thanks for having me! I gotta say, it’s a little intimidating to be the next interview following someone like Daiji Kazumine, so hopefully I’ll be interesting.
ND: First of all, some standard fan-related questions that obviously just need to be asked: First Godzilla movie? Favorite Godzilla movie? Favorite Godzilla suit? Favorite monster outside of Godzilla?
KD: Oh boy, that probably won’t help on the whole “being interesting” front, since all of those are pretty standard answers. I first discovered Godzilla as a wee third-grader, on, as I’ve since deduced through the magic of investigating old TV schedules, February 21, 1994, when TNT did one of their Godzilla-rama events…but the only movie on the roster I actually caught that day was Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975). There’s something magical about that picture, so I often call it my favorite, though, depending on capricious whimsy, I could also call my favorite Godzilla flick Son of Godzilla (1967), Destroy All Monsters (1968), Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) or Godzilla: Final Wars (I know, fight me). Oh, and if we’re allowed to count imaginary movies, I’d probably also say A Space Godzilla.
For favorite suit, I’m going to be super boring and say the BioGodzi version. It’s a common answer, but as they say, it’s “handsome.” The DesGodzi and ShoshingekiGodzisuits are up there too, though.
Would it likewise be pedestrian to say that King Ghidorah is my favorite monster? I mean, he is, but my number two is probably Rhiahn from the Marvel Godzilla series. Maybe I just have a thing for weird-looking yellow alien kaiju.
ND: How and why did you start Maser Patrol, and what did you hope to accomplish with the website?
KD: It was sort of a weird evolution. See, back in the ancient days of ten years ago, Facebook wasn’t really all that it is now, so I was part of a Google group to keep in touch with my high school and undergrad buddies. We’d shoot the breeze about a lot of stuff, but traded a ton of movie recommendations, which I started putting on a public blog (called “Per Diem Cinema”) as they became more and more elaborate. Fast-forward to my last year in grad school, and I’m again separated from my nerdy social group by a long stay at a remote laboratory. The work I was doing required long stretches of down time (if you think waiting for water to boil is tedious, try waiting for melting zirconium), so I sort of reconceived the blogging thing as a news/reviews aggregate that could be a one-stop site for Japanese genre fiction, mostly to pass the idle periods.
Back in those days, western fandoms for Japanese properties were even more siloed than they are now. Anime fans would play video games and read manga, but they wouldn’t watch tokusatsu. Kaiju fans wouldn’t watch henshin heroes and vice versa, and horror movie junkies seemed to also be out there doing their own unrelated thing. Nobody was reading light novels. These media are all interrelated, and I like them all, so I thought I’d like to expose the fandoms to each other a little through putting them together into a single place, and hopefully people can discover neat new properties through recommendations on the blog. I always find it fascinating to do a deep dive into some cultural cornerstone and see how it influences another one, but the scope of Maser Patrol resides in Japanese (and Japanese-inspired) science fiction/fantasy/horror territory, so we pretty much only venture out into stuff like chanbara, idol culture, or pro wrestling when it intersects with that core.
So, long story short, the reason for the blog is that hopefully some Guyver and Fist of the North Star fan will come to the blog and discover Guyferd. And then, maybe if that happens enough, one day we can even get Guyferd released over here…
ND: How did you start your kaiju-related podcasts? How long does it usually take to put those together, and what is the process like?
KD: Remember how I worked long hours in a laboratory? I listen to a lot of podcasts. The thing is, often times, listening like that, you want to interject your own thoughts, so the natural progression is to do one yourself. The podcast format also gives a very different feel from a blog post, with repartee between multiple parties; whereas the articles on the site are a lecture, a podcast can be a discussion. I was blessed with a number of great friends from my college anime club who are passionate and knowledgeable about this stuff, and contribute to Maser Patrol behind the scenes at times, so this gives them a voice as well. There have been a rotating cycle of hosts, depending on the topic, but mostly my pals Josh and Andy, who have a real knack for this sort of thing (Josh was a radio DJ for a while).
While kaiju are a home base for Maser Patrol, the podcasts, as you put it, are “kaiju-related” and not always “kaiju-centric”. For example, we’ve done episodes spotlighting the whole careers of the likes of Hideaki Anno, Gen Urobuchi, Rumiko Takahashi, Keita Amemiya, Mamoru Hosoda, and Nobuhiko Obayashi, and talked at length about Slayers, Garo, and more. But, there’s almost always some thread to tie it into kaiju, however tangential.
The production process can be a bit on the rough side, since we usually pick a topic and talk about it to the point of exhaustion, so the first step is identifying a subject that we’re excited to talk about, and, usually, reviewing a bit about it. Then, for the recording itself, we’ve found that it works best if each person records their own audio and I’ll mix them together at the end, ensuring reasonable volume and the ability to remove some of the background noise, but that can also be pretty tedious. The longest episode was the one where Justin Mullis and I talked about HP Lovecraft in Japan for eight straight hours, and it probably spent twice that in editing. Audacity’s performance drops off a lot with more audio streams, so when five people are recording, it can get dicey to edit. For that reason, it’s a particular joy when Matt and Byrd let me drop by Kaiju Transmissions, since I don’t have to do anything but show up.
ND: How did you come about hosting several panels at G-Fest, and what was the experience like? Any favorite moments?
KD: The first convention panel I ever wound up hosting was a total accident. I was at an anime con and my friend was presenting, but he got a phone call partway through, handed me the mic, and said “be back in a few; tell them about Kimba the White Lion.” But, it was fun. I’ve seen plenty of subpar panels in my day that have me squirming in my seat (I recall one at an anime convention where the presenter proclaimed that that the original Godzilla has “at least two sequels”), and as they say: if you want something done right, you do it yourself. So, I started doing anime cons around St. Louis and Chicago, and even did a couple of university lectures.
G-Fest is something of a whole other level, though. I’ve been attending that convention for two decades now, so it’s got a special place in my heart, and I’ve seen some amazing panels there over the years, panels that inspire one to be a higher caliber of fan. But, from running the blog for a few years and getting a lot of encouragement from my amazing girlfriend Amanda, eventually I decided that I might know enough about certain subjects that I could contribute to the public discourse in that venue. I pitched an idea to Martin Arlt, who gave me an early Friday slot the Kennedy Room, a tradition which has continued for three whole conventions now.I must have done something right, since in subsequent years I’ve gotten Sunday and Saturday slots as well.
It’s a total rush talking to a room of Godzilla fans, and I’m always surprised by how many people actually show up to one of my talks. G-Fest is a place where there are always at least four concurrent interesting things to check out, and I certainly know there have been times when I know I would want to see someone else who’s presenting during my time slot. So, it really means a lot to hear back from folks after the panel, or even (in some cases) during it.
To anyone reading this who thinks they have a great idea for a panel that they’d be good to talk to, I’d recommend giving it a shot. Just remember to run through your presentation beforehand to make sure you’ll be okay for time, have a backup of your slides (because spontaneous updates *will* try to ruin your computer), and keep in mind the audience. G-Fest in particular can have some very little kids in attendance, so sometimes you should choose your wording carefully.
ND: You recently published your first book. Would you like to tell us what it is and what makes your book unique and awesome?
KD: Ah, yes. You must be referring to Kaiju for Hipsters: 101 “Alternative” Giant Monster Movies, available now in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com! (The ebook is free if you buy it in print, btw.) The book is a compilation of reviews of kaiju movies, much like many others on the market. However, what makes it unique, and perhaps wholly inappropriate for discussion at Toho Kingdom, is that it omits the Godzilla series and extended Toho science fiction universe. It assumes that the reader is already sort of familiar with those, and is looking for some more off-the-beaten-path entries in the genre, hence the somewhat facetious title. I really did embrace the “hipster” aspect of the book, deliberately including some relatively obscure and obtuse titles with VHS-only releases and no subtitles available, and include two ratings for every film: a regular movie rating, and a “hipster cred” score, based more or less on the film being in some fashion difficult, artsy, hard-to-find, etc. So, I’m confident that this book covers some movies that you won’t find discussed in print elsewhere, but for the movies that have been discussed I try to elaborate on lesser-known aspects of them. For example, any kaiju fan worth their salt has seen Cloverfield, so I don’t talk about the plot of that movie as much as its twisted franchise development, marketing, and manga tie-in. I figure that way the book can work on a couple of levels, helping to deepen understanding of the movies people are already familiar with while simultaneously encouraging them to track down under-appreciated gems like War God (1976) or Star Virgin (1988).
Also, I got to draw cartoon hipster monsters for the cover, which was a hoot.
ND: How long did it take you to put together your book, and what was the process like?
KD: Almost exactly one year. A number of folks (okay, maybe three) suggested that I write a book at G-Fest 2017, so the goal was to have something ready for the fest in 2018. It was quite fast, especially considering that I had to move across the country during the middle of the year. I’ve made a few minor updates since that initial release (more typographical than content edits), but by and large it was completed in about 11 months.
As for the process, I started with the title idea, deciding on the target number of 101 because it sounded catchy. Next was making a list of movies, which evolved a lot as I was writing. Several films wound up getting lumped into the chapters for other related pictures, getting unnumbered “bonus talk” reviews, or show up in an appendix at the back. My criteria for film qualification are likely controversial:
- A kaiju is, for our purposes, a giant creature of Japanese origins or with an aesthetic demonstrably invoking that of Eiji Tsuburaya.
- A movie is a motion picture or serialized collection of motion pictures longer than 20 minutes (because I wanted to include Geharha: The Dark and Long Hair Monster) but watchable in a single sitting (the longest entry in the book is a TV miniseries totaling just over four hours).
- A “kaiju movie” is a movie in which the monster is a key selling point. It doesn’t need to be in the movie for a significant amount of time or even crucial to the plot (see: Gorath or Atragon), but if it’s prominently featured on a poster, a trailer, or other publicity materials, then we count it.
So, once the list was in place, I started watching the films, writing the chapters, and often tracking down rare entertainment that had up until then evaded even my sizable collection. Some of the movies had previously been written up on the blog, and if my opinions hadn’t changed much, that made them easy to transition to print. Since this is a print project, though, I did try to up the game research-wise, and looked up as much about each movie as I could find, about the filmmakers who produced them, and about the cultural landscape that they’re tied into. It can take one down some interesting rabbit holes at times.
ND: What are some of the most interesting facts you dug up while putting together your book?
KD: Well, for example, on the cultural context Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds got me interested in the Japanese cryptozoological scene in the 1970s, and it turns out there was a whole phenomenon of various lake and sea monster sightings at the time. You can see this idea of undiscovered modern dinosaurs reflected in cinema, from Born Free to The Last Dinosaur (1977) to Toho’s unmade Nessie movie, and suddenly Terror of Mechagodzilla makes a lot more sense because of it. As another example, a deep dive into the history of the petroleum company Idemitsuelucidates just how pervasive the product placement is in Ultraman Zearth; I find the little corporate Easter eggs sprinkled throughout those movies just makes them more amazing. A few of the filmmakers, such as Minoru Kawasaki and Hyung-rae Shim, also wound up having really interesting careers.
But most of the neat factoids were linking entertainment together that one would not have necessarily expected, like how much the Taiwanese fantasy films were influenced by Japanese ninja cinema, or how huge the overlap was between the Daimajin and Zatoichi franchises. And don’t worry, G-fans: while the book is pointedly not about Godzilla, he just keeps popping up in the conversation. The aborted Japanese production of Gorgo raises questions about the manga The Last Godzilla. The dinosaurs in Kenya Boy naturally lead to mention of the theory that Wasuke Abe’s original Godzilla design was inspired by that movie’s source material. And of course, no discussion of Daigoro vs. Goliath (1972) is complete without a Godzilla vs. Redmoon breakdown. The list goes on…
ND: What obscure kaiju films are your top recommendations?
KD: As a top five sort of thing? Okay, here goes.
- The Magic Serpent – for insane ninja action
- Love & Peace – it’s charming, cute, and really funny
- Tekkouki Mikazuki: the Prologue Night – this is a feature-length TV pilot, but it’s awesome, and has the scariest watermelon you can imagine
- Luna Varga– a sword-&-sorcery anime with copious kaiju action and amusingly zany characters
- Jellyfish Eyes –a kids’ movie mashup of Japanese popular culture that touches on legitimate social issues
I go into a lot more details about each of these in their respective chapters, obviously.
ND: What future projects do we have to look forward to from you?
KD: For the time being, I’ll just get back into the regular blogging routine, hoping to get out some regular-sized articles and maybe even a podcast episode or two from Maser Patrol, rather than just guest hosting on other folks’ shows. But, having said that, there are a couple of other book ideas rattling around in my brain, so who knows what the future may bring?
ND: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview!
Thanks for having me! As you may have surmised, I’m always happy to talk about this stuff.Interviews // October 17, 2018