Latest Blog - News Articles

  • 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)—four or five outstanding pictures, a number of 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’s 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
  • Of the many stories which have been said about Akira Ifukube, one of the most widespread and admittedly endearing examples concerns the manner in which the composer supposedly rejected the opportunity to score 1984’s The Return of Godzilla. As the tale goes, Ifukube, after receiving Toho’s offer to write music for the aforementioned 30th anniversary reboot, expressed displeasure with some of the changes being made to the titular character, namely the decision to increase Godzilla’s height from 50 to 80 meters; and in refusing the assignment, he’s reported to have said: “I do not write music for 80-meter monsters.” (more…)

    General // September 1, 2018
  • On September 6, 1998, veteran screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto was visiting his daughter at a lodge in Kita-Karuizawa when he received some dismaying news: one of his colleagues—someone whose name he will forever be associated with—had just passed away. That colleague being none other than the internationally acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa. Hashimoto had collaborated with Kurosawa (always one to participate in the writing of his films’ scripts) a total of eight times, their combined efforts leading to classics such as Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), and Throne of Blood (1957). And upon learning of his associate’s death, Hashimoto realized he was the sole surviving member of a once-prominent team of storytellers. All the other writers who’d participated in crafting Kurosawa’s movies—Hideo Oguni, Ryuzo Kikushima, etc.—had already passed on. Hashimoto, then a physically decrepit man of 80, was unable to attend the farewell gathering due to poor health, so he sent the following in a condolence telegram: “I want to ask a favor of our leader, Mr. Kurosawa. Tell everyone ‘Hashimoto’ll be here soon.’ Leave some space for me to sit with my legs crossed. It will probably be only a little while, so until then, Mr. Kurosawa, from Kita-Karuizawa […] goodbye.” (more…)

    General // August 16, 2018
  • At her interview at this year’s G-Fest, actress Megumi Odaka was presented with a question which always seems to turn up whenever a former kaiju eiga performer speaks before a live audience: Would you ever want to be in another Godzilla movie? And, in what also seems to be tradition with such Q&As, Odaka answered by turning toward the audience and exclaiming—in English—two words: “Of course!” The response throughout the ballroom was unanimous applause, and I was right there with the audience, pounding the palms of my hands together with great vigor. Though I get the feeling my enthusiasm was unlike most everyone else’s in that it was tinted with bittersweet hope. Hope this formerly omnipresent actress would one day be blessed with an opportunity to show fans what she can really do. An opportunity she never had working in the Godzilla series. (more…)

    General // August 6, 2018
  • In the late 1950s, Ishiro Honda directed Inao: Story of an Iron Arm (1959), a biographical film about famed baseball player Kazuhisa Inao. One of the director’s non-genre efforts, this 106-minute picture was subjected to a number of post-production excisions, in which some now-reputable cast members had their screen time mercilessly trimmed or entirely eradicated. Among those to suffer the wrath of the editor’s scissors was a newcomer named Yuriko Hoshi. As revealed in the recent biography Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa, Hoshi had been sequestered on location in Kyushu for an entire month during the shoot, the vast majority of her time spent waiting for the crew to get around to filming her scene; and when the finished product hit theaters in March of that year, the future star’s image was nowhere to be found. Presumably for the sake of pacing—and despite the fact that her name still appears in the credits—Hoshi’s scene had been cut. (more…)

    General // May 23, 2018
  • One of the benefits of being an Akira Kurosawa fan in the 21st century is that the vast majority of the cinematic endeavors by this fine artist are, these days, easily accessible. Of the thirty motion pictures Kurosawa considered part of his official filmography, not one has been refused a bona fide Blu-ray or DVD release and not one has gone undistributed in the stateside market (appropriately subtitled). Film fans who are just now getting into Kurosawa’s work are quite fortunate. No longer must we hunt down old VHS tapes or the books of Donald Richie to, say, get an idea of what his four wartime movies were like; nowadays, it’s a simple matter of picking up the Eclipse boxset put out by Criterion. What’s more, the director’s non-“canon” projects are steadily making their way into our hands. His 1971 television documentary Song of the Horse can be located with some resourceful searching. A few films he wrote but did not direct are available on DVD in Japan. Scripts he never had the chance to shoot have since been realized by other movie makers (and these films have been distributed in the United States as well). (more…)

    General // April 24, 2018
  • About this time a year ago, I published an article here on Toho Kingdom called They Weren’t Fans: Godzilla Directors, in which I examined two film artists who did not hold Godzilla especially dear to their hearts but who nonetheless turned out some of the best, most memorable entries in this series. It was a subject I felt had been in dire need of attention for quite some time. Ever since the release of the TriStar GODZILLA (1998) twenty years ago, it has become incredibly common within the fanbase to leap to the (rash) assumption that a non-fan director coming within ten miles of our beloved franchise will ipso facto result in a product which disgraces the character and completely fails to capture even a little bit of what made it interesting to begin with. I still vividly recall when news came out a few years ago that Gareth Edwards, the director of Godzilla (2014), was no longer attached to the Legendary film’s upcoming sequel and how quickly fans on social media were to proclaim their hope that his successor would also be an enthusiast, for fear that the King of the Monsters would otherwise return to fleeing from rockets and being shot dead on the pavement by the military. (more…)

    General // April 12, 2018
  • GODZILLA (1998), the first big-budget Hollywood adaptation of the popular Japanese monster, has been on my mind a lot as of late, albeit not for the same reasons as most fans. (I critiqued the film back in 2014, in which I examined it predominately as a generic science-fiction action flick which just so happened to bear the name ‘Godzilla,’ and I stand by every word in that mixed but hardly venomous review.) Rather, I have been focusing my attention on a certain bias the movie imprinted on Godzilla fans in terms of who they want and do not want to see in the directors’ chairs for these films. Roland Emmerich, who made the 1998 film, never made an effort to hide his lack of enthusiasm for Godzilla or, for that matter, his wish to completely change the character once he agreed to direct the film. He certainly followed through in terms of that second regard: presenting a creature whose primary scenes involved weaving around high-rises, fleeing from rockets, and falling dead when a couple of commonplace missiles pounded into its ribs. The film remains, to this very day, for a good many Godzilla fans, the standard example of what happens when you turn over a beloved pop culture figure to someone who is not a major enthusiast. And Emmerich remains, to this very day, for a good many Godzilla fans, the standard example of a non-fan director: someone whose apathy results in a movie completely failing to translate the property’s recognizable characteristics in virtually every regard. (more…)

    General // June 14, 2017
  • The recent passing of Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) director Yoshimitsu Banno and the expected refocus on his limited involvement in Toho’s iconic monster movie franchise brought to mind two things regarding this series and the way fans react to it. The first concerns the making-of stories surrounding these movies and how they are, so very often, swamped in a messy bog of truths and half-truths. In regards to how the front office at Toho reacted to Godzilla vs. Hedorah, the legend reiterated to most people depicts an ambitious young filmmaker teeming with fresh ideas, whose career was mercilessly cut down by a narrow-minded tyrant just when it seemed to be getting started and whose only crimes were exerting his imagination and daring to stray from the norm. It’s become one of the most popular tales in Godzilla lore, and just about every fan in the last few decades has heard it. (more…)

    General // May 28, 2017
  • One of my favorite moments in Ishiro Honda’s All Monsters Attack is actually a small one focused upon a character we rarely see. It occurs about five minutes in. A railroad engineer played by that wonderful actor Kenji Sahara sits down next to his train for a smoke break with a co-worker. His fellow engineer concernedly asks him if he’s noticed anything out of the ordinary with his son. They live and work in Kawasaki (one of the most heavily polluted cities in late-60s Japan), and the co-worker’s wondering if the boy’s coming down with asthma. But Sahara’s worried about something else entirely. His son is very shy, reluctant to come out of his shell—a problem no doubt amplified by the fact that he spends most of his afternoons and evenings in complete loneliness. The father is well aware of his son’s plight, but there’s little he or his wife can do about the matter. Extreme poverty, a consequence brought about by Japan’s postwar economic miracle, has forced both parents to take up long hours of work, even though their combined pay only permits them to scrape by with a tiny, cramped apartment in a dilapidated neighborhood. (Sahara admits he’s been saving money to relocate the family, but such a day is long into the future.) When the fellow engineer, reading the newspaper, mentions police have uncovered a getaway car used in a robbery, the impoverished father looks into the distance and comments on the stolen loot—fifty million yen—almost as though secretly envious of the massive amount of cash the thieves acquired. The dialogue is trim and economical, never too explanatory, with Sahara’s humanistic expressions deepening every line. Within these few minutes, he creates a character who, frankly, could have held the lead role in his own movie. Best of all: this is but a minor moment in a lovingly detailed, thoughtful film empowered with a fine streak of social commentary. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // April 15, 2017
  • I have been an appreciator of film scores for as long as I can remember. In fact, when asked to name my favorite musical artists, I tend to cite—in addition to composers of classical music—the men and women whose recorded notes complement the images when we watch a film. And as the title of this article would suggest, quite a few of the scores in the Godzilla series spring to mind when naming my favorites. Hence why I could not settle for the customary numerical figure of ten when compiling this list! So here are the top 15 Godzilla soundtracks. (more…)

    General // February 14, 2017
  • I found out about the death of Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) director Kensho Yamashita about a month and a half after the actual day of his passing (heart failure claimed his life at the age of 72 on August 16, 2016), and the moment I realized he was no longer with us, a small part of me cried out with sorrow and regret. In the previous few years, I’d been harboring, in the most sentimental depths of my heart, a desire to meet Yamashita in person, shake his hand, and let him know how much his Godzilla movie has meant to me over the years. (more…)

    General // September 30, 2016