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  • I started corresponding with Norman England in the summer of 2015, previously knowing him for directing the 2008 documentary Bringing Godzilla Down to Size and authoring numerous articles on Japanese genre cinema for Fangoria magazine in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. We quickly struck up a friendship, our correspondence largely consisting of me delighting in his observations about Japan—where he’s lived since 1992—and his first-hand recollections of visiting the sets of kaiju movies that were an integral part of my adolescence. (Most detailed were the memories of Shusuke Kaneko’s Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack: that picture he’d followed starting with a private conversation wherein Kaneko sheepishly admitted to Toho offering him the next Godzilla film—before the news had been made public. Norman ended up visiting the live-action and special effects sets almost daily, following production up to GMK’s release in December 2001.) In addition to learning about the movies—and the people who made them—I gained insights on the culture present on a Japanese film set. So you can imagine my excitement when, in 2017, Norman told me about his plans to publish a book on his experiences. And the humility I felt when asked to assist with the editing of it.

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    General // November 18, 2021
  • In April 2020, when covid-19 was shutting down conventions across the United States, I was asked to join a team of people organizing a rather exciting project. Led by genre historian Steve Ryfle, we undertook the task of putting together a free online convention dedicated to informative discussion on kaiju eiga. The result was Kaiju Masterclass, broadcast to YouTube on October 2-4, 2020, featuring a number of info-heavy panels as well as original interviews with directors (Shusuke Kaneko, Shinji Higuchi), composers (Michiru Oshima, David Arnold, Bear McCreary), suit maker Shinichi Wakasa, and more! The event remains something I’m extremely proud to have been a part of; and now it is my sincere pleasure to announce that a follow-up, Kaiju Masterclass II, is around the corner!

    Like its predecessor, Kaiju Masterclass II—to be held November 5-7, 2021—will be free to watch via the convention’s YouTube channel. We’ve expanded our organizational team by four people (genre historian Ed Godziszewski; his wife Mariko; translator Amanda Whalen; and Matt Burkett, creator of the popular YouTube channel MONSTROSITIES: A Vlog of Tokusatsu) and assembled a list of guests that include writer/director Kazuki Omori, Millennium Godzilla suit actor Tsutomu Kitagawa, sculptor Fuyuki Shinada, illustrator William Stout (one of the personnel behind Steve Miner’s unmade Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 3-D), and Latitude Zero (1969) cast member Linda Haynes.

    The event will also feature interviews/presentations with people who’ve written about the genre and about the Japanese film industry: authors Jasper Sharp, Mike Bogue, Kevin Derendorf, and John LeMay; Japan Times film critic Mark Schilling; and Norman England, who covered the makings of Gamera: Revenge of Iris (1999) and the Millennium Godzilla films for Fangoria—and who is now publishing a book about his set experiences, Behind the Kaiju Curtain: A Journey onto Japan’s Biggest Film Sets, to come out from Awai Books this November!

    A complete list of guests and contributors is available on the convention’s website, and a schedule is forthcoming. However, there is one last marquee guest I’d like to mention….

    It is with great excitement that Kaiju Masterclass II announces a forthcoming interview with none other than Reijiro Koroku, composer of 1984’s The Return of Godzilla! Koroku’s score for the ’84 film is often cited as one of the finest in the series; and as best as our research can tell, he’s never talked about the score with an English language platform. So we are incredibly honored to have him for Kaiju Masterclass year—and hope you’ll join us in learning about the time he wrote the music for Godzilla’s 30th anniversary comeback!

    Be sure to check out Kaiju Masterclass’s website and to follow the convention on social media for updates.

    News // October 10, 2021
  • One of the fun things about research is that one usually ends up with more material than can reasonably be used in a single run—and rather than pad out an essay to tedious length, findings can be spread across multiple projects. When preparing for my recent Toho Kingdom article Godzilla vs. Destoroyah: The Legacy of Godzilla’s Demise, I reached out to genre historian Ed Godziszewski and Norman England, the latter of whom directed the documentary Bringing Godzilla Down to Size and covered a number of Japanese special effects sets for Fangoria magazine. Both saw Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) during its domestic theatrical run, and so I wanted their first-hand recollections about the marketing and circumstances surrounding Godzilla’s death. Between the two interviews, I got more than enough material and decided to repurpose some of it for this new essay—along with additional comments that couldn’t fit into the first.

    My earlier piece focused on historical context: recounting how Godzilla vs. Destoroyah was made at a time when Toho’s flagship property was losing steam at the box office; how the monster was failing to acquire international distribution; how the series was put on hiatus to “make room” for TriStar’s GODZILLA (1998); and how, for all its pretensions, the ’95 Godzilla film comes across more like a publicity stunt than a truly thoughtful sendoff for the monster. It is this last point that I would like to emphasize in this follow-up article—along with anecdotes regarding another series of 1990s kaiju pictures that surpassed anything Toho had done with their monster in quite a spell.

    Left: Toho pressbook cover. Right: Destoroyah juvenile form on display at Ariake Coliseum. Images Courtesy of Ed Godziszewski.

    When Toho producer Shogo Tomiyama announced in July 1995 that Godzilla would die in his next movie, the news went around the world, even being reported to American audiences who would not see the picture for a number of years. In Japan, the slogan “Godzilla Dies” was brandished on billboards, posters, and twenty-foot-high signs as part of the pre-release hype.1 The publicity ultimately worked, as the film garnered an attendance of about four million—a step up from the 3.4 million for the previous year’s Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) and not far beneath the whopping 4.2 million of 1992’s Godzilla vs. Mothra. In terms of response from Japanese fans, the studio allegedly received more than 100,000 protest letters demanding the monster’s resurrection2—despite assurance from studio spokesmen that the hiatus was only temporary.

    For some, Godzilla’s death came across as little more than sensationalism: an attempt to get back the numbers on Godzilla vs. Mothra and make the monster ‘relevant’ one more time before the arrival of his Hollywood counterpart. “None of my friends believed this was going to be the last Godzilla movie,” Norman England recalled. “It was obviously PR talk. But a lot of us felt, ‘Well, let’s just get into the spirit of the thing.’ And there was a great deal of publicity for Destoroyah: gas station ads; TV commercials with Godzilla in them; Momoko Kochi, from the first Godzilla (1954), was appearing on the morning shows. I was living in Osaka at the time and went to a suit display at Banpaku Memorial Park, where Expo ’70 had been held. All of that was really fun.” England further stated that the experience of seeing the late Heisei films in Japan was always “more than just the movies. The movies were a little anticlimactic compared to what went on around them.”

    Teruyoshi Nakano‘s Cybot Godzilla on display outside Ariake Coliseum. Image Courtesy of Ed Godziszewski.

    The marketing was still in force when Ed Godziszewski visited Japan in January 1996. “Most of the billboards were still up, and those words [“Godzilla Dies”] were as big as life wherever you looked.” The historian also recalled attending an Ariake Coliseum exhibition put together by Toho and the Tokyo metropolitan government. “They had the Cybot from The Return of Godzilla (1984) outside the main entrance, operating ever so clunkily—and this was the first time that I had seen a pretty comprehensive display of props and suits.” Despite the curious absence of Godzilla Junior, the exhibition featured monster costumes from the new movie, plus suits and statues representing creatures from previous ‘90s entries. “It was definitely set up as a Heisei Godzilla exhibit, as there wasn’t much about the original series of consequence—and that felt fair since they were saying goodbye to this Godzilla with the current film.”

    Godziszewski, however, was similarly unconvinced that the monster’s death would be permanent. “Toho’s #1 rule was always that Godzilla can never die, and given that (as I always say) no one is ever really dead in science fiction, it just seemed like misdirection. But this misdirection bought Toho more publicity than they could ever have garnered with just another ‘versus’ film.”

    Monster costumes from Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II (1993) and Destoroyah flying form on display at Ariake Coliseum. Images Courtesy of Ed Godziszewski.

    Norman England saw Godzilla vs. Destoroyah on opening day—December 9, 1995. “My friends and I had this tradition where we’d go out for coffee after seeing a new film and talk about it. None of us were really happy with the movie. We felt the opening scenes with Burning Godzilla attacking Hong Kong were visually interesting, and the shot at the end of Godzilla Junior in the smoke looked nice. But the story, the plot, there was nothing to really talk about. My friend Akio had given up on the series after Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991). We practically had to beg him to come with us. And, man, the look of annoyance on his face after seeing Destoroyah was just incredible. ‘The movie was crap,’ he said. ‘This is garbage.’ He put us in a position where we had to defend the movie, because he was so down on it.”

    Godziszewski’s memories were a tad more positive. “In retrospect,” the historian told Toho Kingdom, “it seems a ‘death’ was the best way to wrap things up. The suspense for me was just how they would do it. I will admit I was thrown off for a moment when they killed Junior. I gave them some points for the way the ending was handled: having Godzilla’s radiation revive and mature Junior into the new Godzilla. I thought that was a clever way to have your cake and eat it, too. Godzilla’s death was well handled and had some emotional impact. The theater, which was still fairly packed even though the film had been out for almost a month by then, was dead silent. Not just politely quiet; the kind of silence where people are holding their breath. I felt the theater audience really was affected. That’s one of my strongest memories of seeing the film.”

    Writing board, Sides A and B. Images Courtesy of Ed Godziszewski.

    Aside from the ending, though, Godziszewski recalled fairly mixed reception to the 1995 extravaganza. “The reaction from my friends was all pretty much the same: it was a nice way to wrap up the series for the time being, but the film itself was so wildly uneven that it wasn’t anyone’s favorite.” And in summarizing Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, Norman England described it as “an event film. It was more about what it represented than what it actually was.”

    Also working against the film, reception-wise, was a superior product from rival studio Daiei. Directed by Shusuke Kaneko and made for a fraction of the cost of the previous few Godzilla movies, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe opened to glowing praise in March 1995. Variety’s Todd McCarthy wrote favorably about this “action-packed monster mash that zestily revives the Japanese megabeast tradition,” noting that it “could find a certain niche [in the U.S.] with clever marketing and placement.”3 Sure enough, Kaneko’s film was given limited theatrical distribution and a home video release in North America in 1997—whereas Toho struggled to sell the Heisei movies to international buyers. “I would say up until Gamera,” England commented, “the Heisei Godzillas were thought of as the best Japan could do, and that’s why Guardian of the Universe was so shocking to everybody. ‘Oh, we can do better! It’s not that Japan can’t make good films. It’s just that the people at Toho can’t make a decent kaiju movie.’”

    Over the next few years, as Godzilla went into hiatus and Toho turned to Mothra to fill gaps in its New Years’ schedule, Daiei released two more Kaneko-directed Gamera pictures that similarly met acclaim. Japan Times film critic Mark Schilling had written lukewarmly about Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (“This is all rather silly”)4 and unenthusiastically about 1996’s Rebirth of Mothra (“This is less the quoting of a classic and more the mouthing of a tired cliché.”)5 but found much to praise in Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999), the finale of Kaneko’s trilogy:

    “Those who have lived through a few Japanese natural disasters, including the inevitable earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, can better understand why monster movies have had such a deep and enduring impact here. The bombings of World War II added to the general insecurity—the feeling that one is living under threat from large, inhuman, and horrifically destructive forces—but they certainly didn’t create it. Gamera 3 expresses the psychology of that insecurity, including its mythological underpinnings, with more clarity than the usual genre outing.” Schilling also championed the “awesome battle scenes, edited for maximum impact” and, in comparing Kaneko’s film to the recently released TriStar GODZILLA, wrote: “Gamera […] still has it all over that overgrown iguana from Manhattan.”6

    In wrapping up, I would like to close with one final contribution from Ed Godziszewski, who offered this personal anecdote of the impression Gamera made outside the kaiju fandom circle: “My wife always cringes watching even small bits of the ‘90s Godzilla films, because the acting is so incredibly bad. But I will always remember how she ducked into my room when I first got a copy of Guardian of the Universe. At first, she rolled her eyes. ‘Now they’re doing Gamera, too?’ But within a couple of minutes, she was hooked, and before you knew it had watched the whole thing. All she could say afterward was: ‘It’s not that this is a good monster movie. It’s a good movie, period.’”

     

    Bibliography

    1. Ryfle, Steve. Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of “The Big G.” Toronto: ECW Press, 1998, p. 307
    2. Ibid., p. 313
    3. McCarthy, Todd. “Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe.” Variety, 4 September 1995
    4. Schilling, Mark. Contemporary Japanese Film. Boston: Weatherhill, 1999, p. 189
    5. Ibid., p. 265
    6. Ibid., p. 186
    General // June 6, 2021
  • On July 15, 1995, Toho producer Shogo Tomiyama made an announcement to the Reuters news service that went around the world: the second run of Japanese Godzilla movies—which had started in 1984 and encompassed six entries—was going to end later that year. The studio line-up for the franchise included one more picture, slated for release that December, to climax with a scene described by the filmmakers as “unforgettable.” As CNN correspondent May Lee reported to American audiences who wouldn’t see the picture for several years: “Godzilla will die.” Despite not achieving international distribution, the finished movie, Takao Okawara’s Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), drew in a domestic attendance of about four million and to this day remains one of the better known and more widely discussed entries in the series.

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    General // May 23, 2021
  • Back in April, when it seemed likely covid-19 would lead to the cancellation of G-FEST 2020, a discussion began among some friends of mine, which turned into the idea of creating an online Godzilla-themed convention. A few days later, we were in serious talks; and now, after much hard work, it is my sincere pleasure to announce Kaiju Masterclass — a free online event dedicated to informative discussions on kaiju eiga — is right around the corner!

    Kaiju Masterclass will be held on October 2-4, 2020 — starting that Friday and lasting through Sunday. (A schedule is coming soon.) As mentioned above, the event is free to attend, with all panels streaming to the convention’s YouTube channel. Panels include original interviews with people who’ve worked on the Godzilla series — among the special guests are directors Shusuke Kaneko and Shinji Higuchi, suit maker Shinichi Wakasa, and GODZILLA (1998) composer David Arnold!

    Also giving talks will be genre historians Steve Ryfle (the head organizer of this event), Ed Godziszewski, and Stuart Galbraith IV; kaiju set veteran Norman England, whose science fiction film The iDol is now available on Blu-ray; staff members behind the unmade TriStar Godzilla films; the daughters of Nick Adams and Henry G. Saperstein; and many others! A list of confirmed guests can be found here.

    I myself will be involved in two panels. The first is a discussion with Akira Ifukube biographer Erik Homenick on Ifukube’s work in Children of Hiroshima (1952), Hiroshima (1953), and the original Godzilla (1954) — a nominal trilogy of post-occupation movies dealing with the subject of nuclear weapons and Japanese society. The second is a conversation with historians Steve Ryfle and Stuart Galbraith IV on the director Jun Fukuda.

    Be sure to check out Kaiju Masterclass’s website and follow the convention on social media for updates.

    News // September 21, 2020
  • When pre-production began on 1984’s The Return of Godzilla, director Koji Hashimoto gathered a team of experts to lend a sense of authenticity to his film. Like Ishiro Honda, under whom he’d worked in the ‘60s, Hashimoto approached his task seriously, wanting to show modern-day Japan responding to an extraordinary situation, and to keep the science fiction elements—fantastic as they weresomewhat in the realm of plausibility. To achieve this, a military analyst was hired to calculate the orbit of satellites equipped to carry nuclear weapons; a journalist provided feedback regarding media reactions; and after science fiction writer Ryuichi Kodama1 suggested using magnetism to lure Godzilla, geophysicist Hitoshi Takeuchi proposed a few locations where the monster could be trapped. The staff considered finales set at Mount Fuji and the Fossa Magna before ultimately deciding on Mount Mihara, the infamous stratovolcano of Izu Oshima Island.2

    Exquisitely photographed and propelled by Reijiro Koroku’s outstanding score, the picture generates rightly earned sympathy when Godzilla—“that strangely innocent and tragic monster,” as so eloquently described in the film’s American re-edit—becomes trapped in the volcano and plunges into the molten rock below.3 At the time of the film’s release, director Hashimoto stated that a sequel was possible; though based on his exact verbiage, it would appear Toho had no concrete plans while the ‘84 film was in immediate circulation.4 This was the first Godzilla movie in nine years and the first to be marketed for general audiences since 1968’s Destroy All Monsters.5 Given that context, some speculated Godzilla would remain in Mount Mihara6: imprisoned on an island which, in centuries past, had been designated for banishing exiles. And inside a volcano with a long history related to death.

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    General // September 17, 2020
  • In the early months of 1969, actress Hideko Takamine journeyed to the home of film director Mikio Naruse, with whom she’d made seventeen movies over the course of twenty-five years. Naruse had been fighting a losing battle with cancer for some time and had recently decided not to be hospitalized again. Perhaps realizing her chances to say goodbye were running out, Takamine paid him a visit and was surprised to find the director talkative and cheery, forthcoming and humorous—the total opposite of the shy, reticent person who’d made such gems as Floating Clouds (1955), When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960), and Lonely Lane (1962).

    In thinking back on their time working together, Takamine wrote, “[Naruse] was a person whose refusal to talk was downright malicious. Even during the shooting of a picture, he would never say if something was good or bad, interesting or trite. He was a completely unresponsive director [and] there was never an instance in which he gave me any acting instructions.” Another frequent star in these films, Tatsuya Nakadai, had the same experience, saying, “He was the most difficult director I ever worked for. He never said a word. A real nihilist.” On the set of Untamed in 1957, Takamine finally mustered the courage to ask Naruse for guidance on how to play her character, to which he just answered: “It’ll be over before you know it.”

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    General // July 26, 2020
  • On June 30, 2020, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the same organization behind the Oscars) announced through their website their plans to extend “invitations to join the organization to 819 artists and executives who have distinguished themselves by their contributions to theatrical motion pictures.” Among the invitees was composer Michiru Oshima, whom fans of this website know for writing the music of Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000), Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (2002), and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003).

    In a 2016 interview with site owner Anthony Romero, Oshima recalled how she had not seen a Godzilla film prior to Megaguirus and how she avoided listening to past kaiju scores even after getting the job. “I wanted to bring out the originality [and] create music without any preconceptions,” she explained. The results were a trio of outstanding scores with an aesthetic of their own—led by a distinctive, drum-heavy theme for the King of the Monsters—fittingly applied to three pictures that themselves were very much alike on a number of fronts. Oshima’s Godzilla music continues to rank with the most popular in the franchise, and deservedly so. 

    Which is not to say her achievements in film scoring are limited to those three movies; for throughout her career, Michiru Oshima has continually turned out high quality music acclimating different genres. Example: when I looked up the composer’s name in the Academy’s announcement, I was particularly happy to see they’d included the 1997 romantic tragedy Lost Paradise (or Paradise Lost, as it’s labeled on its OST case) as a sample of her work. Her somber score for that film comprises some of the most hauntingly beautiful music I’ve ever heard in a motion picture; and I was overjoyed to learn via Anthony’s interview that she considers it one of her favorites.

    Lost Paradise was the first of ten pictures Oshima scored for Yoshimitsu Morita, a director of tremendous diversity whose every project was unlike what he’d made before, jumping between dark comedies, horror pictures, period dramas, even a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro (1962). And just as his films tended to be drastically different from one another, the music Oshima wrote for him appropriately exhibited a new mood and aesthetic each time, as well: relentlessly solemn in Lost Paradise; quirky and atmospheric in Copycat Killer (2002); quirky and amusing in Like Asura (2003); energetic and spectacular in Tsubaki Sanjuro (2007); playful in The Mamiya Brothers (2006); and so on. Their collaborations continued up through Morita’s last film, Take the “A” Train (2012), which went to theaters a few months after his death in December 2011. One can only imagine what else they might’ve done together had he lived a little longer….

    Needless to say, Oshima has turned out exemplary work for other filmmakers. Seijun Suzuki’s musical Princess Raccoon (2005); Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s Memories of Tomorrow (2006), starring Ken Watanabe as a man suffering from an early onset of Alzheimer’s; Isshin Inudo’s mother-daughter tearjerker Bizan: The Mountain of Mother’s Love (2007), for which Oshima won a Japanese Academy Prize. I could keep listing examples—her music for animation; the number of Chinese films she’s scored—but any composer with such an extraordinary output spanning so many genres and styles, I feel, is more than worthy of cross-continental recognition.

    One last bit of music-related news. In Chicago last July, Oshima co-conducted a concert for an international crowd of music and genre fans called Kaiju Crescendo: An Evening of Japanese Monster Music. For this event, she herself wielded a baton, conducting suites of her three Godzilla scores—the first time her genre music had ever been performed live—and then premiered Godzilla in Chicago, an original piece written specifically for that night and written around a narrative the composer herself had devised.

    “We went over the printed score together,” concert producer and emcee Erik Homenick told Toho Kingdom, “and she explained to me what the various parts of the music represented in this original Godzilla story of her own invention: Godzilla emerges from Lake Michigan and subsequently grapples with a legendary lake monster before laying waste to downtown Chicago. It was a great deal of fun to recount this fanciful story to the audience before Miss Oshima thrilled all of us with the world premiere performance of Godzilla in Chicago.”

    The author of this news article was front-row center for the whole evening and cannot encourage people more heartily to pick up the CD or buy the digital download when they become available in the near future. And for a more personal congratulations of Oshima’s invitation from the Academy, I’d like to offer this closing testimony from her Kaiju Crescendo co-conductor, John DeSentis. “I cannot state enough how deserving Michiru is of this honor. She is a composer of colossal musical talent with a wonderful heart to match it. Congratulations, Michiru!”

    Michiru Oshima at Kaiju Crescendo in July 2019.
    Image Courtesy of Len Medlock

    General // July 18, 2020
  • For this Toho Kingdom interview, I am speaking with Reiko Yamada, principal keyboardist of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. Miss Yamada was a piano major at the Tokyo College of Music in the 1980sat a time when famed composer Akira Ifukube served as president of the school. She attended four years of his composition seminars and came to know him very well through the last few decades of his life. She has performed Ifukube’s music in concerts both in Japan and in the United States—most notably his classical piece Ritmica Ostinata for Piano and Orchestra. We will be talking about all of this and more in the course of this interview.

     

    Patrick Galvan: In starting this interview, I would like to ask about your background.  When did you first become interested in music? Did you have family members who were professional musicians?

    Reiko Yamada: I started taking piano lessons when I was 5 years old. My father was a traditional folk song (minyō) singer when he was young.

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    Interviews // July 5, 2020
  • Not long after the release of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai in 1954—during which it sold more tickets than any other Toho-produced film that year and ranked at #3 on Kinema Junpo’s annual “Best Ten” list1—Toho began searching for an international market for this extraordinary film about poor farmers hiring samurai to defend their village.

    Questioning whether a 207-minute subtitled film would sell in the Occident, the studio opted to cut the picture down to 155 minutes before submitting it to the Venice International Film Festival in September 1954. There it won the Silver Lion Prize but nonetheless went home without a distributor. Kurosawa wasn’t shocked, as he recalled the studio edits had done catastrophic damage to the movie’s first half, resulting in a confused narrative that didn’t pick up until the more action-heavy second half, which had only been slightly trimmed.2 The film eventually opened at New York’s Guild Theater in late 1956, after having been re-edited again (this time to 160 minutes), and was exhibited under a new title, The Magnificent Seven. And this was the title United Artists/The Mirsch Company decided to use when they remade the Japanese film as a two-hour western in 1960.

    Directed by John Sturges, colorful and entertaining, with one of the most memorable film scores in cinema history, The Magnificent Seven has rightly earned its place as a minor classic, spawning three sequels, a television series, and a remake of its own in 2016. Many of those involved in the 1960 film worked with sheer veneration for Kurosawa’s original. Supporting actor James Coburn recalled seeing Seven Samurai twelve times in twelve days, taking everyone he knew to see it in the process. Leading man Yul Brynner, who’d been one of many parties racing to get remake rights of Kurosawa’s film, stated: “I felt it was one of the great westerns of all time, only it was made by the Japanese in the Japanese idiom.”3 And director Sturges, while fully aware that he was copying another filmmaker’s story, at no point pretended he could surpass the majesty of the original. The immense popularity of both movies has only flourished in the years since, overshadowing the legal trouble that arose in their wake.

    Hashimoto, Kurosawa, Oguni

    The writers of Seven Samurai (1954)
    Left to right: Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni.

    In 1973, Kurosawa and his co-screenwriters on Seven Samurai—Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni—filed a lawsuit against Toho, arguing that the American remake (and its sequels) had been improperly authorized. Their complaint was based on the fact that they’d written the screenplay of Seven Samurai independent of Toho, and that the studio had merely produced the 1954 film; therefore the script was the writers’ intellectual property and Toho was not in a position to approve any third-party remakes without their consent. The Tokyo District Court agreed with the plaintiffs, determining in 1978 that Toho had signed a “one-picture license” with no remake/sequel rights included.4 For this, Kurosawa, Hashimoto, and Oguni were granted a sizable portion of the money Toho acquired through their deal with United Artists.

    This would not be the end of the legal scuffles. In 1991, a few years before moving ahead with the television series version of The Magnificent Seven, MGM (having taken over copyright ownership from United Artists) brought a lawsuit of their own against Toho and Kurosawa’s production company, arguing they still had the rights to produce remakes and sequels to Sturges’ 1960 film. Kurosawa countersued, and the dispute was eventually settled out of court in 1993. Toho ended up paying $50,000 to MGM, and new rules were set regarding ownership. Per the new agreement, Kurosawa and his fellow screenwriters retained ownership of their script; Toho retained ownership of Seven Samurai the 1954 movie; MGM retained ownership of The Magnificent Seven and its franchise; and the American studio also retained the right to continue producing remakes/sequels “but only in the Western genre.”5

    Any other Seven Samurai remakes would have to be cleared through Kurosawa and his screenwriters (and apparently nowadays through the heirs of Kurosawa Production, who’d authorized another remake to be produced by The Weinstein Company, with a director and a writer attached by 2011;6 that project, it would seem, has faded into oblivion).

    As for the Japanese screenwriters and their views on the 1960 The Magnificent Seven. Kurosawa called it “entertaining”7 and was by all accounts very amiable with John Sturges when they met;8 however, he disputed that Sturges’ western was a true version of his film. In 1980, speaking about all the times Occidental filmmakers remade his period films as westerns, he remarked, “Gunslingers are not samurai.”9 Shinobu Hashimoto claimed never to have watched The Magnificent Seven. And Hideo Oguni recalled only the time he met Yul Brynner on a return flight from Paris, during which Brynner gave him a bottle of Napoleon brandy as a souvenir.10

     


     

      1. Galbraith, Stuart, IV. The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. New York: Faber & Faber, 2002, p. 190. The magazine’s #1 and #2 spots were respectively occupied by The Twenty-Four Eyes and The Garden of Women, both directed by Keisuke Kinoshita.
      2. Kurosawa Akira. Translated by Donald Richie. Seven Samurai and Other Screenplays. New York: Faber & Faber, 1992, p. 67
      3. Guns for Hire: The Making of The Magnificent Seven. October Films, 2000.
      4. Cox, Dan. “MGM, Kurosawa Settle ‘Seven.’” Variety, 12 January 1994.
      5. Galbraith, p. 196
      6. “Helmer Rolls a Seven.” Variety, 4 May 2011.
      7. Cardullo, Bert (ed.) Akira Kurosawa Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008, p. 42
      8. A popular story goes that Kurosawa gave Sturges a samurai sword as a gift after seeing The Magnificent Seven. Sturges biographer Glenn Lovell repeats this story in his book, additionally claiming the American director’s present also included a kabuki doll. Source: Lovell, Glenn. Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. Kindle edition.
      9. Waggoner, Dianna. “In Homage to the Master, George Lucas and Francis Coppola Unleash Their Clout for Kurosawa.” People, 27 October 1980.
      10. Galbraith, p. 195
    General // June 27, 2020
  • For this Toho Kingdom interview, I am speaking with Norman England, the director of the documentary Bringing Godzilla Down to Size and a writer/photographer with twenty-two years’ experience working on Japanese film sets. He reported on a number of kaiju movies for Fangoria magazine in the late ‘90s/early 2000s, many of his articles documenting set visits—including several for Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999). His time on this particular film will be the main subject of our conversation today.

    Norman’s Fangoria articles on Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy will be reprinted in the upcoming Gamera Blu-ray collection by Arrow Video, so now is an ideal time to delve into what he saw on the Gamera 3 set and learn more about the production. We will also be discussing a science fiction film Norman himself directed, called The iDol (co-starring an actor from Gamera 3), available for preorder from SRS Cinema, LLC.

     

    Patrick Galvan: In starting off, please tell us about the first time you met Shusuke Kaneko, and how you got onto the set of his third Gamera film.

    Norman England: I met Kaneko in December 1997, when I interviewed him for Fangoria. At the time, he was at Nikkatsu, in the midst of post-production on F, a film he shot in-between Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (1996) and Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999). To be honest, the interview didn’t start out particularly well. For example, when I asked why he became a director, he said something to the effect of: “I like movies.” The interview wouldn’t turn out very good if we kept this up. I’d learned beforehand that Kaneko had gone to school to be a teacher—his backup plan in case he couldn’t get a job in movies—so I changed tactics and asked him about the history of filmmaking in Japan. That got him out of his shell, and we ended up talking for hours.

    Fangoria really liked the Kaneko piece. They also really liked my second article, in which I spoke with Haruo Nakajima and Kenpachiro Satsuma. Since I’d now interviewed people who’d worked in kaiju films, the next thing Fangoria wanted was for me to get onto the set of a kaiju film. And because I had a healthy relationship with Kaneko and I knew a Daiei public relations man from the first interview, I was able to visit the production of Gamera 3 in summer 1998.

     

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    Interviews // June 13, 2020
  • In April 1952, Akira Kurosawa’s directorial debut, Sanshiro Sugata (1943), was re-released to Japanese theaters with a rather heart-wrenching disclaimer: “This film has been modified from its original version […] without consulting the director or the production staff. 1,845 feet of footage was cut in 1944, to comply with the government’s wartime entertainment policies. As much as we’d like to show the original version, we were not able to locate the cut footage.” Kurosawa’s original ran an hour and thirty-seven minutes in length, but the version that returned to theaters clocked in at only 79. To compensate for the missing scenes, Toho’s editors spliced in big, wordy intertitles describing their content; and it is this shorter version—disclaimer and intertitles intact—which remains most accessible today. (more…)

    General // March 12, 2020
  • Not long ago, I was chatting with some fellow cinema fans, one of whom confessed he had never seen a film by Yasujiro Ozu and would be rectifying that in the near future. Since the group of us had met through our mutual affinity for kaiju eiga, the joke inevitably came up that he best not look for any giant monsters in whatever film he chose to watch, because none ever turn up in an Ozu film. (Though King Kong does get a mention in 1935’s An Inn in Tokyo, in which the great ape’s declared to be tougher than lions and tigers!) The joke had no sooner played out when I thought of a similar cyberweb gag which had made its way through the fandom back in 2016, when the hype for Hideaki Anno’s Shin Godzilla was current and strong. (more…)

    General // March 3, 2020
  • In 1947, a blossoming filmmaker at Toho named Senkichi Taniguchi started production on the crime thriller Snow Trail, his second directorial effort. Having previously helmed the star-studded musical Toho Show Boat (1946), he was ready to expand his creative spectrum, channeling his energy into a straight-forward caper about three criminals who rob a bank and then flee into the mountains with their loot. In what marked another significant difference from his first movie, Taniguchi was forced to fill his cast with lesser-known or even completely unknown actors—as the studio had recently lost most of its established “box office” talent during a labor union strike and, per the speculations of one actor, wasn’t keen on their remaining “big name” stars shooting on location in the rugged mountain wilderness*. Among the newcomers appearing in Taniguchi’s film was a vibrant young actress by the name of Setsuko Wakayama, whom the director married two years after the film’s release and divorced seven years after that. (more…)

    General // November 18, 2019
  • In terms of its reputation here in the United States, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000) is widely considered one of the weaker entries in the Godzilla franchise; and while I cannot bring myself to outright loathe the film, I don’t necessarily disagree with most of the points brought up by its detractors. On the surface, the movie seems to have all the right components for a colorful, lightweight piece of entertainment (futuristic world-building; imaginative new weapons and gadgets with which to combat Godzilla; a finale that doesn’t consist solely of the protagonists watching the monsters fight) but is ultimately undone by weak characters and largely inept direction courtesy of Masaaki Tezuka. Especially in its first hour, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus comes across as turgid and aimless, flat and unfocused, dragging its feet from one mediocre scene to the next as the audience exhaustedly waits for the monsters to show up. (What this film really needed, more than anything else, was a more experienced director: someone who could charge the narrative with real energy, bring out the best of his actors, stylize the visuals, and zero in on the script’s finer qualities for maximum entertainment value.) (more…)

    General // September 22, 2019
  • My relationship with the films of Ishiro Honda has always been a bit, shall we say, nonconformist. While I am certainly of the opinion that he was by and large the best and most capable director to work in kaiju eiga, I’ve never been able to rank him in the same league as the true masters of his generation (Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Mikio Naruse, Yasujiro Ozu, etc.). His track record is simply less consistent and not as impressive as theirs. As far as his work in science fiction is concerned, Honda made, to my mind, one masterpiece—the original Godzilla (1954)—a few solid entertainments…and more than a few unfortunate misfires. As a matter of fact—and I say this at the risk of voicing blasphemy in the minds of fellow kaiju fans—it’s always been my opinion that only about half of Honda’s genre movies were truly any good and that for every worthwhile film he made, there was another that was incredibly dissatisfying. For every Godzilla (1954), there was a Varan (1958). For every Matango (1963), there was a Dogora (1964). For every Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), there was a Battle in Outer Space (1959). (more…)

    General // April 21, 2019
  • Kensho Yamashita’s Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) is a film I’ve always held with somewhat higher regard than most genre fans. While it’s never been one of my all-time favorites, the penultimate Heisei film has always struck me as a decent enough piece of feel-good entertainment and has charmed me from the start with its lighthearted tone, memorable characters, gorgeous cinematography (the best to be found in the post-‘80s Heisei movies, in my opinion), and one of my personal favorite soundtracks from composer Takayuki Hattori; and I was genuinely sad to learn of the passing of the film’s director three years ago—realizing then I would never have the chance to shake his hand and thank him for the many wonderful hours of joy his movie had given me as a kid. (more…)

    General // March 14, 2019
  • The opening of Akira Kurosawa’s No Regrets for Our Youth (1946) is set in 1933—two years after the Manchurian Incident, the event which hastened the invasion of northern China by the Imperial Japanese Army—and depicts a love triangle between the daughter of a well-off bourgeois family and a pair of university student suitors. The two men are diametric opposites in terms of their personalities and agendas. One is an outspoken antimilitarist determined to save Japan from its own expansionist policies. The other’s a weak-willed law student perfectly content to live in accordance with the system rather than take a stand or even voice a word against it. Both can see the wrong in their country’s recent actions—especially when one of their professors loses his job for liberalism—but only one sees fit to do anything about it. As for Yukie Yagihara, the young woman caught between them, her choosing between these two embodies a struggle which runs much deeper than the mere selection of a marital partner. Life with one would provide total economic security at the cost of free speech; marriage with the other would “blaze so brightly” with passion reminiscent of that which the man carries in his struggles for academic freedom in Japan and peace for the world. (more…)

    General // January 17, 2019
  • Ever since I first learned about Mikio Naruse—I remember very well: during my senior year in college, I happened upon an archived review of 1955’s Floating Clouds, which Vincent Canby of the New York Times described as the work of one of Japan’s best directors—I’ve been disheartened by the general lack of exposure this man’s films have received in the United States and the even scarcer availability of information pertaining to his life and legacy. As of the time of this writing, a mere six Naruse films have acquired stateside DVD releases; ten more are available through Criterion, but only in streaming format; and the number of comprehensive, book-length studies published in English on the director can be counted on one finger. And while my efforts in writing about Naruse over the last couple of years have been primarily out of pleasure, there has always been a certain (perhaps naïve) hope in the back of my mind that my writing about a lesser-known artist might encourage readers of this site to track down a few of his films or, at the very least, explore what Japanese cinema has to offer outside of Godzilla. I know not how successful my efforts have been, but surely to acknowledge these films for even a modicum of interested parties is of greater service than to not acknowledge them at all. (more…)

    General // December 3, 2018
  • It was a few weeks ago from the time of this writing that I had the opportunity to see Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) in a theater; and at the risk of stating the obvious, it was an experience I am certain I’ll never forget. Of course, I had seen this remarkable motion picture several times before, enjoying it on Blu-ray and DVD in the comfort of my own home; but this was my first time seeing Kurosawa’s masterpiece the way it was meant—and frankly deserves—to be seen. So amazing was the experience that, when it was over, I was mighty tempted to rush on home and start drumming up a comprehensive review for the site. I ended up dropping that notion for fear of producing a hollow imitation of what greater minds have said. After all, Seven Samurai is one of the most carefully scrutinized films in the annals of 20th century art; like Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s been the subject of videos, essays, even full-length books—meticulously analyzed by people far more intuitive and knowledgeable than myself. (What could I possibly say about this film that hasn’t been said before?) As much as I enjoyed seeing one of my all-time favorite movies on the big screen, there won’t be a Seven Samurai review coming anytime in the foreseeable future. (more…)

    General // October 2, 2018