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  • “Everyone, deep in their hearts, is waiting for the end of the world to come.” – Haruko Murakami, 1Q84

    When the last dice has been cast, how will it all end? Humans have pondered this question since before we had words to speak. Will our doom be delivered to us in the form of a burning meteor? What if a terrible outbreak sentenced our collective species to an early grave? What if we destroyed ourselves in a nuclear holocaust? Some cultures believe Armageddon is preordained and the fate of destruction is the emergence of an eternal rebirth. Nobody knows for certain. Personally, I think the end will come on the golden wings of a three-headed space dragon.

    Monster Sightings: GHIDORAH is the third installment in a series of short films designed to make the viewer feel like they’re witnessing a kaiju attack firsthand. In this blog entry, I will be breaking down how key scenes were shot using a combination of stop motion, computer graphics, and compositing techniques. I have no compunction about keeping my techniques a secret; my goal is to help you make your dream monster movie a reality.

    If you’re just here to watch a fun little short, then please enjoy the show. If you’re an avid filmmaker or you’re curious about how I made this little flick, read on.

    Prep: Advice for Beginners

    Firstly, know your capabilities. Are you a beginner? If so, don’t sweat it. Start small. It’s nice dreaming about doing a ten-minute video or, Godzilla-willing, a dream feature length project. But every second of your idea will require considerable time and effort. So, I suggest you make your first project a ten-second video. Run a series of tests to make sure you have the basics down. Build up from there.

    To make your film, you need equipment. Chief among your tools of trade will be your camera. But not all cameras are equal. They vary in terms of quality and usefulness. To determine what camera is right for you, it’s good to do as much research on this subject as humanely possible. Most of us start on a shoestring budget, so you’ll need to choose your first camera wisely.

    Since the objective is to make a monster film, you’ll need to work with monsters. Don’t worry, they’re not as bad as you think. All the monsters I’ve worked with are humble and professional (except Rodan). Are you interested in doing stop motion? Great, consider investing in high-quality action figures with excellent articulation. S.H. MonsterArts, Revoltech, and NECA make superb figurines. If stop motion is not your thing, there are software programs that can help you design computer generated characters. Blender is a good place to start. Maybe you want to

    take things into your own hands by donning a rubber suit. I’ve done that and it’s fun/exhausting. Shop around. Touch base with any local costume shops. Consult local talent if you need help in designing a costume, or make your own monster suit. Doing the latter opens the doors to other possibilities. What if instead of designing your own Godzilla suit, you made a completely new monster.

    What about a film set? Find space. For my stop motion projects, I designed a green screen set. Other artists have more traditional sets full of miniatures and materials that are easily attainable. You can build a set yourself or buy one. Be prepared to improvise. If you want to add an element of ‘realism’ to your production, shoot on location. Find a city near you and make your day-off a filming day.

    Storyboard

    Storyboard

    Storyboarding is a godsend. Writing a script is essential, especially if you’re working with actors. But when it comes to planning VFX-heavy scenes? Storyboarding goes a long way in visualizing the story you want to tell. It not only shows you what your film could be, but what it might become.

    Now we get to one of the most underappreciated jobs in the film industry: editing. Once you have the right computer and video editing software, consider investing in Adobe After Effects (AAE). Adobe has a plan where for only $30 a month you have unlimited access to all their products. There are hundreds of tutorials that can help you master AAE and doing so would be in your best interests. It’s unimaginable how versatile AAE is. If you have money to spare, consider buying exclusive VFX content from Red Giant, ActionVFX, and Video Copilot.

    Stop Motion, VFX, and Ghidorah

    Green Screen Studio

    Green Screen Studio

    Composite shots are my forte. Incorporating stop motion characters into real world settings enhances the overall scope. If executed correctly, it can elevate any film regardless of its budget. Through trial and error, I’ve designed an effective green screen studio. Lighting the green screen and your subject is your top priority. For maximum efficiency, make sure you have overhead lighting. It does wonders. Speaking of lighting, fluorescent lights are the right way to

    go. Lighting equipment may not be cheap but they are a must-have for any and all green screen endeavors.

    Helpful tip: There is an app called Green Screener. If you don’t want to use a light meter, the Green Screener app makes for a fine replacement. I highly recommend it.

    Camera, Tripod, and Watch

    For video recordings, I use my iPhone X. Its camera capabilities are topnotch and the quality is easily comparable to camcorders that cost tens of thousands of dollars. I’ve used it to film weddings, tutorials, and interviews. For better results, I utilize the ProCamera app for maximum efficiency. When it comes to doing stop motion, it’s best to take photos in high-resolution. I’ll go into more detail on the nuts and bolts soon enough. One caveat about using your smartphone for video productions is how the focus might be offset by constant motion. Luckily, there are ways to counteract this.

    Tripod

    Tripod

    I cannot stress the importance of a good tripod. You want a multipurpose tripod that is simplistic, strong, flexible, and durable. Mine has a special little gadget designed to hold my iPhone X steady, with an adjustable top.

    If you’re doing stop motion, I’d strongly advise you to have a camera clicker. Pushing your recording device to take a still might shake or distort the camera, compromising your shot. This is why I use the ProCamera feature on my Apple Watch. With one push of the button, I have my shot, and I’m free to continue without missing a beat.

    Putty at Work

    Putty at Work

    Stop Motion and Working with Ghidorah

    Lights, camera, and—be patient. Hours of hard work and labor can result in only a few seconds of screen time. Commit to your vision and follow through with a can-do attitude, and you will create something stunning.

    My subject was S.H. MonsterArts’ King Ghidorah Special Color Version. Its attention to detail is magnificent and its articulation met my high expectations. During the pre-production phase, I researched different ways to utilize Ghidorah in the art of stop motion; however, I didn’t find anything useful. Fortunately, I developed techniques on my own that were effective and acquired the necessary materials that helped spur the process. I’m happy to share my findings with you.

    I used a Camera Tripod to hold Ghidorah up in a flight position. There are alternative ways to pull this off. Use your imagination. Ghidorah and the tripod were held in place by putty. It’s important to keep your subject as still as possible, so that when you move, say, their arms and legs, their entire body doesn’t shuffle out of place. During the editing phase, I keyed out the tripod using After Effects. When it comes to opening and closing mouths, I use a special little tool. ‘Slow and steady wins the race,’ is a very apt saying when it comes to creating art.

    Ghidorah has dozens of articulation positions to shape. I used anywhere between six-to-twelve points of articulation (e.g., heads, wings, tails, mouths, etc.), and it came out rather well. See for yourself.

    Stop Motion

    Stop Motion

    VFX

    Everything at this point hinges on the editing phase. First, I merge ALL the images into one comp. Inside that comp is where we take care of the green screen. If I can’t incorporate Ghidorah into my footage then my efforts will be in vain. To chroma key out the green screen, Red Giant’s Smooth Cleaner and Primatte Keyer are excellent assets. If you don’t use Red Giant, don’t fret; After Effects has its own chroma key plug-ins. After removing the green background, my next job is to trim the images down (to two-frames per second should suffice, but there are exceptions depending on what looks right). If everything checks out, I’ll go about adjusting the lighting, color scheme, and brightness level of the subject before working out its position, size, and motion. If everything is not ok, I’ll go back to the very beginning and reshoot. It’s not fun having to do everything all over again but the ends do justify the means.

    For me personally, this is where the fun begins. In the scene we’ll be analyzing, Ghidorah is flying over a devastated city. The following screen captures will show the gradual process of mixing together our stop motion subject with the original footage and interlacing visual effects. Here we go!

    Original footage

    Original footage

    Sky has changed in order to further sell the sense of dread. Burn marks, building damage, and a humongous impact crater have been added

    Sky has changed in order to further sell the sense of dread. Burn marks, building damage, and a humongous impact crater have been added.

    The insertion of the asteroid and its eerie glow was a necessity. Various fire effects and embers were added to sell the apocalyptic feel.

    The insertion of the asteroid and its eerie glow was a necessity. Various fire effects and embers were added to sell the apocalyptic feel.

    A flash of lightning and a complementing crater glow adds a further feeling of depth and dread.

    A flash of lightning and a complementing crater glow adds a further feeling of depth and dread.

    Our star joins the scene at last. I’m happy to say Ghidorah reported for filming on time. He’s a professional!

    Our star joins the scene at last. I’m happy to say Ghidorah reported for filming on time. He’s a professional!

    Billowing smoke and falling ash joins the fray. The falling ash further sells the widespread destruction.

    Billowing smoke and falling ash joins the fray. The falling ash further sells the widespread destruction.

    In order to help blend KG and the apocalyptic environment together, various layers of smoke are added in conjunction with color palette tweaks.

    In order to help blend KG and the apocalyptic environment together, various layers of smoke are added in conjunction with color palette tweaks.

    Using Red Giant’s Particular plug-in, I’m able to whip up a dark storm that swirls around Ghidorah. ProductionCrate lightning effects, fractural noise glow, and wiggling the opacity of KG shadow on and off enhances the scene.

    Using Red Giant’s Particular plug-in, I’m able to whip up a dark storm that swirls around Ghidorah. ProductionCrate lightning effects, fractural noise glow, and wiggling the opacity of KG shadow on and off enhances the scene.

     

    Final Touches: Sound Design, Score, and Cuts

    Congratulations on completing the VFX phase. All your hard work is close to paying off. But the time has come to do something many filmmakers hate doing, and that’s leaving footage on the cutting room floor. I recommend showing your film to a group of trusted confidants, people whose opinions you take seriously. Their feedback has worth so long as it’s honest and constructive. If all they’re doing is telling you what you want to hear (e.g., massaging your ego), find a more neutral group to listen to. I’ve worked thousands of hours on numerous VFX sequences. And despite the amount of pride I have for my accomplishments, I will trim a scene or cut it out completely if it doesn’t belong. Be prepared to do this. The time to be objective is nigh. When your sound design work is completed, don’t be afraid to cut out anything else that hinders the movie. Follow through on your instincts. If it’s a problem that is preventable,

    prevent it. Filmmakers will always see their movies as being incomplete works of art. But you can do your future self a solid favor by cutting out things you know you’ll regret to see again someday.

    To sell the visuals, you need to make your film as much of an immersive experience as possible, and this can only be achieved through sound design and, if your film needs it, a rhythmic score to add feeling to the story. Whether you’re experienced or inexperienced in doing sound design, the first thing that matters is approaching it with an open mind. Since the beginning you’ve likely been imagining what your film will sound like. If the sound effects are as good as you imagined, then bring your plan to fruition. There is more to sound design than adding to the eyepopping visuals. Visual effects and sound design make wonderful companions. But sound is crucial in many other sectors. If your film has actors with speaking roles, the dialogue needs to be crisp and discernable.

    My film didn’t need a score because King Ghidorah’s actions and sound effects moved the story forward. In my personal opinion, Ghidorah’s unique sound functions as a score in itself. Regardless, I’ve used original scores in my projects before. And as much as I’d love to throw in a track from one of Akira Ifukube’s many classics, the truth is I don’t want my film to be taken down due to copyright infringement. That’s why I use companies like PremiumBeat. For $49, I’m free to use original songs for as many projects as I want.

    Good sound design is invaluable not just for the reasons we can think of, but for the reasons we can’t think of. You’ll never know how important sound design is to your work until you hear it bring your motion picture to life for the first time.

    Final Thoughts

    There are a growing number of talented filmmakers in the online kaiju community. We’re seeing a resurgence in studio monster movies that will inspire generations of new artists. It is a good time to be a Godzilla fan. We are now, more than ever, in a prime position to share our passion for the movies and characters we love. I’m having the time of my life making Godzilla movies.

    All else I have to say is welcome constructive feedback. Vow to grow as a filmmaker and storyteller. Connect with your audience. Take pride in what you do and you will go a long way. Thank you.

    Be Seeing You

    Be Seeing You

    General // July 16, 2019
  • The latest Godzilla movie, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, has now spent four weekends at the box office. As we are now well past any normal grace period for avoiding spoilers, the staff of Toho Kingdom is giving their full thoughts on the latest movie. As expected, stuff will not be held back, so if you haven’t seen the film and are still looking to avoid spoilers, this article isn’t for you. So without further ado, the staff’s impressions after seeing the film.

     

    Nicholas Driscoll
    I was excited to see GKOTM. I went out of my way to go see it in IMAX on the Friday the film was released in Shinjuku with a nearly full theater because I wanted to get the audience buzz and excitement (unfortunately, there wasn’t much). I had along with me a homemade Godzilla hat my mom had made for me. I had read the graphic novel, listened to the soundtrack, and even started reading the novel version. I was primed for a good time.

    But much to my shock, I did not have a good time. Quite the opposite. Please understand, I usually like crazy and silly monster movies. I even liked Rampage and Pacific Rim: Uprising, and I thought Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) was a lot of fun. The reviews for GKOTM were bad, but I still figured I would just have a good time with the movie.

    Yet when all was said and done I hated this movie–and I have never hated a Godzilla movie before. Certainly I didn’t hate the film because it had lots of monster scenes–I love monsters. Certainly not because I thought it needed more human scenes–it had plenty. But from start to finish I felt like the movie was undermining its own tension, that despite sometimes fantastic effects the film felt slipshod and rushed, that nothing really seemed to gel. I don’t say this to make anyone angry, but just… that’s how the film felt to me.

    Sure, one can complain about the human characters, how Kyle Chandler’s character always seemed to know exactly what to do (I figured he was still receiving tomorrow’s newspaper today), how ineffectual the military was even against a small group of terrorists, the groan worthy lines, or the way that the characters often say or do things that make no sense, etc, etc. I liked the conceit of having the family drama in the middle of the monster attack, but it is VERY hard to understand or buy into a character who, after losing her child, decides it’s a good idea to destroy all of civilization and allow for the deaths of millions and billions of people. And whose daughter initially goes along with this plan (she admittedly didn’t fully understand the plan, but she had a general idea of how giant monsters would be released to change the world, and it’s made clearer in the novel). And then we are just supposed to accept when she and her daughter think, oh, maybe killing millions of people might NOT be the best way to handle their personal emotional problems. But I often felt like there were many plot elements that just were barely put together, not just the characters, but events and monsters as well. I could go on and on.

    Even the monster action felt uninteresting to me. King Ghidorah looks cool… but he runs away from his first fight, and is losing the second until Godzilla gets hit by the Oxygen Destroyer, which is now just a green bomb for some reason. Over and over again, almost every time KG is about to attack, another monster appears to stop him at the last moment. It becomes like a bad drinking game, and happened so often that I was waiting for it to happen. KG is our big bad, but he comes across as a big wuss! Godzilla, meanwhile, is “killed,” but not really, and in his nearly-dead state he swims far away to a regeneration room to heal. Our heroes find him there, and decide to nuke him to charge him up faster (you know… the same method they were using to KILL Godzilla and the MUTOs in the previous film is now used to bring Godzilla back to life), and even though drones are conked out just by approaching Godzilla due to the high radiation, an old man (the least capable person on the whole ship for the mission) volunteers to go alone with barely a peep of protest, then handily manages to deliver the missile payload instead, and he feels good enough even after taking off his mask right next to Godzilla that he has the energy to caress the monster’s face instead of instantly dying. To me, Serizawa’s sacrifice just felt forced and ridiculous. (I was hoping he would emerge from the explosion as a giant monster ala a certain Dreamcast video game, but alas.)

    And the last fight… wasn’t interesting to me. The fight tended to be quick snippets rather than a sustained battle sequence. It felt like a string of money shots interspersed with humans yelling and carrying on rather than a fight building upon itself. Also, the monsters just kept developing new powers whenever they needed them, with little build up. KG has the power to regenerate, but we don’t really see him use it during the fight. Mothra fights Rodan and suddenly has a giant stinger that she uses to kill Rodan… who then comes back to life to grovel at Godzilla’s feet later anyway, further undermining the stakes of the battle because monsters can just resurrect at will. KG suddenly in one really short scene has the ability to suck energy out of Godzilla, and nearly sucks him dry somehow. Godzilla, after nearly getting sucked dry, suddenly goes thermonuclear and implodes, but is completely fine afterwards and enjoys a nice KG-brand cigar. For what it’s worth, it is implied in the film that Godzilla’s transformation into fire Godzilla is facilitated by Mothra’s death, though this, too, follows the same problem as above—a monster conveniently manifesting just the power it needs in just one scene to make things work out. It’s a total deus ex machina move, made all the more confusing because the movie already set up fire Godzilla via the effects of the Serizawa bomb underwater and the fact that the image of fire Godzilla hearkens back (for fans) to Godzilla dying in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995). It’s confusing and, to me, poorly done, and it all felt like flash and bang without any real excitement or tension. It also kind of feels like Hollywood saying, “our Godzilla is better than yours because he can survive the Oxygen Destroyer AND blowing himself up—and he is bigger than Shin Godzilla, too, so there!” (I have read the novelization, which makes a lot of aspects of the plot clearer… but the novel makes no explicit connection between Mothra’s demise and Godzilla going Super Saiyan.)

    The King of the Monsters

    The King of the Monsters

    I left the theater confused and shocked at how much I disliked the film. Upon reflection, there were things I liked, such as the references to the original Rodan (1956) and the music and the monster designs (especially Rodan), and particular scenes, such as Mothra webbing Ghidorah. I liked seeing the extra Titans, though I wish there had been more of them. But as for the movie as a whole, I left feeling like it was a huge missed opportunity. I wished that the action could have more real tension and excitement and build-up. I wished that the story could’ve had more clever twists and fewer (to me) lousy one-liners. To me, the whole affair came across as a slapped-together monstrosity with a heavy sprinkling of what seemed to me almost ironic, haphazard fan-service.

    And I say all this with great regret because I absolutely wanted to enjoy the film and embrace it like so many fans have apparently done. But I just couldn’t do it. Even though I have found many of the “dumbest” Godzilla movies in the past were also my favorites, and they often had similarly nonsensical plots. But for me, they also had a straightforward charm that this film lacked. I mean, I enjoyed the anime trilogy more than I did GKOTM.

    I don’t say any of this to discount your opinion if you loved the movie. If you did, that’s great. And I really want to thank the director and the makers of the film for all their hard work, and I really wish them all the best. I don’t want to write this to be hateful or anything of the sort. These were just my impressions, my honest emotional reaction. They could change upon further viewings.

    Maybe someday I can revisit the movie and just enjoy it for what it is, but for whatever reason, this time I just couldn’t. To those who could, I am glad you did, but… I just didn’t, for the reasons listed above and others. It’s tough to say it, but at least after one viewing, I have to give GKOTM a big thumbs down.

     

    Chris Mirjahangir

    My impressions?

    Well…

    Godzilla King of the Monsters Trailer Quotes

    Still from a TV spot

    I’m not sure how much I can elaborate on that quote in the lower left corner without over explaining.

     

    Andrew Sudomerski

    From director Michael Dougherty comes the anticipated Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), the long awaited sequel to Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014) and connected to Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island (2017) in the greater universe of films known as the MonsterVerse. So how does it hold up?

    In my first and only viewing, combined with the weeks that have passed since then, I find myself mixed about it. I’ll be one to fully admit that the trailer hype may have set up something of a false expectation to what the film actually is. Even with that in mind, it doesn’t mean that the film should be excused for its flaws, no matter how much fan service is thrown in.

    Aside from false expectations, it still feels like it’s missing something. To me, all the right ingredients are in place that could rival that of an Avengers movie in terms of scope and scale. I feel, at least for the theatrical edit, it boiled down to sloppy execution. The breakneck pace combined with the human-focused sequences in the middle of the monster action I think are two of the biggest sins that hamper the spectacle it’s trying to go for. And the contrivance of the human story just to get the ball rolling or to act as set pieces for action sequences takes away any tension it could have had. While I didn’t mind our leads playing the Russell family, some aspects to their character and character arcs could’ve been handled much better for a truly emotional story about a broken family in the aftermath of discovering monsters.

    The fan service I think is also a major contributor here… Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty I’m truly appreciative of. The score from Bear McCreary is utterly gorgeous and to hear the Godzilla and Mothra themes modernized is truly a treat in of itself. Even the reinvention of the Burning Godzilla concept in the form of Fire Godzilla is also a surprise return, let alone in an American production. Kudos to the team for that. But I feel the excessive amount of the fan service hinders it as well and all could’ve been either removed or replaced with something that doesn’t need to be explicitly stated. The Oxygen Destroyer I think is a prime example of what I mean, only being haphazardly used as a one-time plot device to render Godzilla useless with none of the build up to justify its spot there.

    As a whole, I still got a nice bit of enjoyment out of the film. Even if it’s a little bit forced, I think Dr. Serizawa’s sacrifice was one of the more emotional moments of the film. But a lot of it is undercut by the pacing and the editing (sans the Serizawa scene, which I felt was handled really well), and leaves much to be desired. My only hope is for the alleged Director’s Cut that has 40-something minutes of footage could clear up the issues I have currently.

    And now, for the kick of the curb and for perspective’s sake, this is my personal ranking between all stories in the MonsterVerse canon, so that’ll include the comics.

    1. Kong: Skull Island (2017)
    2. Godzilla (2014)
    3. Skull Island: The Birth of Kong (2017)
    4. Godzilla: Aftershock (2019)
    5. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
    6. Godzilla Awakening (2014)

    Going off that list, it becomes abundantly clear I find KOTM to be the weakest of the MonsterVerse movies. It’s a bit of a shame, because I want to have good reason to place it higher. But compared to the two movies that came before, despite their flaws, they’re still much better constructed movies; even the comic book tie-ins (for the most part) told more structured and coherent stories.

    And who knows? Maybe a second viewing of KOTM may change my stance on it. As it currently stands, I’m mixed about this long-awaited sequel and hope the next entry doesn’t disappoint. I await with mild curiosity how Adam Wingard and crew handle the even more anticipated crossover event.

    Mixed

     

    Noah Percival

    Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a dream come true. Seeing Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah on the big screen in a new film is something I’d been dreaming about since 2004 and in some ways never expected to see.

    So seeing these old friends onscreen was terrific but what about the film itself? I have some issues with it. I loved the human cast although I thought some characters were poorly used in particular Dr. Vivian Graham. Many people have mentioned that the story isn’t particularly new or deep. It’s nowhere near as deep or nuanced as Gojira 1954 or GMK. However is that a bad thing? I agree the story could have used more depth but I don’t think a Godzilla film that errs on the side of pure entertainment more than a deep philosophical approach is a bad thing. This is what makes Godzilla such an enduring icon. He can be many things and his movies can be infinitely diverse in tone. Looking at KOTM in that perspective does the film work? ABSOLUTELY! This movie is the closest Godzilla movie to match the energy and soul of the classic Showa films like Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) or Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) more so than the last attempt to do so with Godzilla Final Wars. The greatest achievement of Godzilla 2014 was making its version of Godzilla FEEL like the Godzilla character we know and love. KOTM only improves on Legendary’s success as Godzilla’s power is only matched by his personality. The film makers knew that Godzilla isn’t a monster but a CHARACTER and they treat him as such. KOTM also revitalizes the characters of King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan like never before. So much personality has been reintroduced to these characters that I loved so much. Rodan is a truly frightening sight in mid air and his volcanic entrance was amazing. I was afraid that the lack of her two priestesses would remove the humanity and hope of Mothra as a character but I couldn’t be more wrong. The fact she has become so popular across the internet from Facebook posts to fan art or memes is testament to her character and appearance in the film. King Ghidorah is perfectly terrifying in a way unseen in any Godzilla film since Invasion of Astro-Monster. His is truly an apocalyptic presence in the film. The choice to have a separate motion capture actor for each head was inspired and gave him a new depth of character never seen in the character before.

    The visuals are breath taking. The scope of the fights and destruction are beyond what I expected from the film going in and I couldn’t have enjoyed them more. The visuals are only matched by the sound design and soundtrack. To hear the classic Ifukube themes on the big screen in an American production was beautiful and moving. McCreary’s original score work is just as good blending these themes in with his own original compositions in a perfect mix.

    While not ground breaking I thought the human cast and characters were more than serviceable. I enjoyed just about every performance and each character regardless of their depth or lack thereof.

    As a Godzilla fan I truly feel blessed to be alive now. It’s hard for me to think of a better time for the Godzilla character. For those who wanted more from KOTM’s story or something new from this movie can enjoy the Anime Trilogy for creating something never seen before with the character. If you want more political subtext in your Godzilla films then Shin Godzilla is one of the greatest examples of Godzilla as political commentary. If you were disappointed in Shin Godzilla (2016) or The Anime Trilogy for their lack of action then you have King of The Monsters to turn too. Each new Godzilla releases complements the last by taking separate directions for the character. I believe that Godzilla King of the Monsters is on the way to being one of my favorite Godzilla movies and a wonderful introduction for the main stream audiences to this tremendous character.

     

    Thomas Fairchild

    Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) is a thermonuclear-sized gift to monster cinema. The monsters may be the stars, but we are the beneficiaries of their cataclysmic feuds. Generally, monsters are portrayed as being mindless forces of destruction, meant only to challenge the humans caught in their wake. It is nice to see that trope elegantly subverted here; in this film, monster and human are equal.

    Mothra vs. Rodan

    Mothra vs. Rodan

    Godzilla has never been better. The aesthetics of his design evoke a delicate balance of power, savagery, and grace, casting him as a majestic god while simultaneously humanizing him. This film and its predecessor rekindled my long-lost appreciation for Godzilla as a good guy; I loved Godzilla’s hero journey in this story. Mothra is truly a divine monster, and every scene she’s in is awe-inspiring. Give this Mothra a solo movie. Rodan is nearly perfect, with a design that could very well be my favorite. I loved his molten feather-like scales and how sparks of ember shot out of his wings whenever he took flight. My single regret is they didn’t let him keep his classic roar. Out of all of the monsters, King Ghidorah arguably benefits the most. Despite being Godzilla’s archenemy and one of the most dangerous kaiju around, Ghidorah has never scared me — until now, that is. Each Ghidorah has a unique personality that makes every scene he’s in memorable. I must say, the part where he regenerated one of his severed heads like the hydra of old? Yeah, I’m still picking my jaw up from the floor.

    Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) are compelling, each bringing dignity to their respective roles. Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) was endearing, and I hope she continues to evolve as a person in future installments. In a film teeming with amazing scenes, Serizawa’s heartfelt goodbye to Godzilla is without question my favorite. For me, it’s an inspiring scene. Serizawa, while holding his father’s watch from Hiroshima, faces his inner demons by turning the very same weapon that has haunted his people for generations into a life-saving instrument. Beautiful.

    Unfortunately, some of the human characters were generic, namely the human antagonist: Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga). Her genocidal plan—delivered in an excruciatingly long villainous monologue—and the onus placed on us to sympathize with her plight made it all but impossible for me to forgive her, which is a shame because Vera is an outstanding actress. Some of the humor felt forced and was unnecessary (i.e., “I record everything, man,” and “Gonorrhea?” was eye-rolling). Ultimately, more time spent on developing the principal human cast would have significantly benefited the film. Monster scenes are great, but compelling human drama in these kinds-of-films is a necessity. No story has ever suffered for giving us relatable human characters to follow.

    All good films have a music composer orchestrating the emotional journey of its characters. Bear McCreary’s soundtrack awakened the emotional Titan within. Bear’s homages to the legendary works of Akira Ifukube and Yuji Koseki brought a smile to my face. Every time Godzilla’s iconic theme boomed, I felt like I was discovering Godzilla for the first time. Bear’s rendition of Mothra’s Song was perfect. It’s a beautiful melody to listen to by itself. I thought the beatings of the drums juxtaposed with Godzilla leading his human allies into battle was beyond impressive. Who wouldn’t follow Godzilla into battle? Just make sure you let him go first.

    Michael Dougherty is no stranger to directing creature features (e.g., Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus). Here, his Godzilla-loving credentials are on full display. There are a few discrepancies I have with the film, like how I think Emma’s villainous monologue speech should’ve been left on the cutting room floor, or how the Oxygen Destroyer was shoehorned in as a convenient plot device. Don’t get me wrong; it was a cool scene and, as a fan, I was smiling ear-to-ear. However, when you incorporate the Oxygen Destroyer for only a few minutes, it comes across as a missed opportunity. Nitpicks aside, I’m satisfied with what Mike and his crew set out to achieve, and I hope he returns to the kaiju genre.

    At the end of the day I cared about the characters—both human and monster alike—and I know I’ll be enjoying Godzilla: King of the Monsters for many years to come. Long live the King!

     

    Tyler Trieschock

    With what I would consider one of the best trailers of 2018, Godzilla: King of the Monsters finally roared into theaters in May of 2019. After waiting nearly 2 weeks to see it with a friend, I can definitively say Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a mixed bag that I enjoyed. A collection of some jaw-dropping set pieces that barely overcomes elements as endearing as nails on a chalkboard.

    To get the worst out of the way, the family in the film begin as sympathetic characters, but by its end, I wished for Ghidorah to disintegrate them all where they stood. Not to say their acting is atrocious, as all give solid performances, but Kyle Chandler as Mark Russell, Millie Bobby Brown as Madison Russell and Vera Farmiga as Emma Russell can’t overcome one opponent in the film, the script. Motivations change on a dime, characters are looked to for advice even though experts fill every square inch of the screen and every moment the family appeared I felt myself despising the movie more and more. Aaron Taylor Johnson’s character of Ford Brody in Godzilla may have proven dull, but I did not actively wish for his death by the film’s conclusion by comparison. The other side characters proved more engaging with Charles Dance as Alan Jonah and Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa being my personal highlights, the latter receiving a wonderful sendoff scene with Godzilla.

    Speaking of Godzilla, wow does he shine in this movie whenever he appears. Mothra, Ghidorah and Rodan have also never come to life in such a spectacular fashion with Rodan’s awakening in particular stealing the movie for me. Whether its Mothra illuminating the horizon or Ghidorah battling Rodan high above the clouds, these moments put a genuine smile on my face in the theater and are easily the highlights of the film. I’d even argue some of the action is the best in the three movies of the Legendary series, but for every peak that the film achieves, the characters take you to a valley you wish went undiscovered.

    King Ghidorah

    King Ghidorah in Mexico

    I could nitpick other elements like the unexplained use of the Oxygen Destroyer, or praise certain details like Ghidorah’s personalities or McCarthy’s fantastic score, but what I’m left with at the end of the day is a film at odds with itself. A film I’d praise and tear apart in the same sentence. Do the positives outweigh the negatives? Yes, and its easily superior to the Anime Trilogy or Shin Godzilla, but for someone who wanted a film to stand side by side with the classics of Godzilla, I can say what we got is a flawed, good Godzilla movie, just not a great one.

     

    Marcus Gwin

    If you had told me that one day I would watch two Godzilla movies back to back, and Godzilla 2014 was the one I enjoyed more, I would’ve said “Ohhhhhhhhh no…”
    Yes, as someone who didn’t like Godzilla 2014, I was hoping that this would be a step up, but to my shock Godzilla 2014 is better on every level. The special effects in Godzilla King of the Monsters are nothing short of underwhelming, the animation is terrible, and worst of all the story is awful. While there may not be as many plot holes as in Godzilla 2014, it more than easily makes up for it with terrible dialogue, nonsensical logic, and a complete lack of understanding towards any aspect of science, natural or otherwise. The film simply has no idea of what animals are actually like, and the behavior exhibited by the Kaiju is distinctly non animalistic. Seriously, Godzilla 1998 does a much better job portraying Godzilla as a real animal.
    There are also many things i didn’t like on a more subjective note as well. For example, “Titans” is the most awful way of referring to Kaiju throughout any film that needs a term for the monsters. It just sounds pretentious and stupid the way they say it. Also, what if we wanted to bring Titanosaurus into the monsterverse? This term would make all the more awkward.
    Suffice to say, Godzilla KOTM is a failure on every cinematic level, and competes with Godzilla Planet Eater for the position of worst film in the entire franchise from an objective standpoint.

    Anthony Romero

    Having enjoyed the cinematic entries in the MonsterVerse to date, my anticipation and excitement for this latest film was pretty high after the 2018 Comic Con trailer. Many months later, those expectations were brought back down to earth as the review embargo lifted and the movie took a critical thumping. So I went into the theater with excitement, but with expectations I thought were in line for what I was about to see.

    Sadly the movie didn’t meet those lower expectations, and instead was a film I would give 2 or 2.5 stars out of 5 to. In fact, I found the latest MonsterVerse entry much more forgettable than anticipated, although not nearly to the degree that the Anime trilogy suffers from. I think my biggest complaint with the production was just a lack of highlights. I loved King Ghidorah carrying Godzilla into the sky and also the brief moment when Mothra and Godzilla teamed up against King Ghidorah… but that’s kind of it. Sadly there just isn’t a lot of moments where I go: “oh yeah, I want to see that again”. This is in contrast to the earlier films, where I was thrilled by the build up the first time Godzilla used his atomic ray in 2014 or the tense sequence on the bridge with the MUTO. Similarly in Kong: Skull Island (2017), the final battle itself was packed with great moments. I was not expecting this lack of highlights at all, as the trailer did a great job at showcasing Rodan’s arrival from the volcano or King Ghidorah emerging from the clouds, yet in the final product these sequences just didn’t carry the same gravitas. Not sure if that’s pacing or just general editing, but I wasn’t wowed like I was expecting to be.

    As for the human cast… couldn’t care less for them. When Emma Russell unveils her big plan to let the titans rule the earth, returning it to glory, I was ready for the film to develop her as the villain. Instead? She heel turns pretty much immediately to regret her actions due to her daughter and, it would seem, not thinking the plan all the way through. It’s the kind of turn of events that gives the viewer new found respect for Emmy Kano from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), whose badly handled confusion over the Futurians’ plan was at least executed better than this. Speaking of poorly executed, the death of Vivienne Graham was a joke, and it felt like someone looked over the film and said “crap, we kind of glossed over this… let’s throw her face on a computer monitor and note she is deceased just so it’s clear she is dead.”

    Overall, I don’t want to dive too much into the film, as to avoid a full review, but I can say this did temper my excitement for Godzilla vs. Kong a bit… hopefully the trailers for that turn things around. On the plus side, at least Rodan lived to see another day… which did bring a smile to my face, even if it was in a role that sees him more as a lackey.

    Mixed

     

    Have your own impressions related to the film? Feel free to sound off in the comments.

    General // June 25, 2019
  • Often remembered in her country as “The Eternal Virgin” (as well as “The Goddess of Militarism” and “The Goddess of Democracy,” depending on which section of her career one wishes to focus on), Setsuko Hara first appeared on cinema screens as a teenager when she was cast in 1935’s Don’t Hesitate, Young Folks, produced by Nikkatsu. Two years and ten films later, she rose to immense popularity with The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai, a Japan-Nazi Germany co-production whose success sent her on an international voyage and—it was hoped—a career in the west. For German filmmaker Arnold Fanck, the young actress (who he claimed to have discovered on the set of Sadao Yamanaka’s 1936 The Priest of Darkness), evoked a pure “Japaneseness” ideal for his picture’s heroine*; for the domestic co-producers, however, she embodied an opportunity to inaugurate a more prominent stream of Japanese film exports and establish the most globally recognized Asian actress since Anna May Wong.

    To a certain extent, the producers’ hope was realized. Regular exports of Japanese film did not become a thing for a while and Hara never enjoyed a career in Hollywood, but they’d found a star and gradually got her recognized abroad. In 1937, the press scrambled to cover Hara’s visit to Germany, for which she attended the Berlin premiere of The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai, stayed at the luxurious Eden Hotel, and shook hands with several of Germany’s top film stars as well as the Nazi politician Joseph Goebbels. And even though the film was not shown theatrically in the U.S., she ended up traversing to America to meet Marlene Dietrich and Spencer Tracy, even celebrating her seventeenth birthday aboard the Queen Mary. In 1939, she was chosen to embody “the face of Japan” at the New York World Fair.

    Hara remained in the Japanese public eye throughout the remainder of the ‘30s, soon seguing into films championing militaristic politics (as international tensions were escalating into what became World War II). Since Japanese screen performers were not persecuted by the western occupying forces who took over Japan after the 1945 surrender, she was allowed to continue working into the postwar years, now appearing in films favoring democratic ideals pushed by the Americans; and when Japan’s first post-surrender print poster (a colossal color ad for Shiseido Cosmetics) appeared in the fall of 1946, it was Hara’s face that was used to represent “the emergence of the postwar modern nation of Japan, including the Japanese new woman.” (In all of this, we can see why the actress obtained the two “Goddess” monikers listed above.)

    But, of course, it was mainly through the exposure of her work in the 1950s that Hara attained true international prominence. Though much of it reached foreign audiences after her sudden retirement in the 1960s**, these later films were the ones that came closest to realizing the sort of recognition the producers of The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai had hoped their starlet would receive in 1937. To this day, Setsuko Hara has been the subject of considerable attention in numerous film events, including the 56th Berlin International Film Festival in 2011; and back in 2000, fifteen years before her death at the age of 95, she was chosen by Kinema Jumpo magazine as the greatest Japanese film actress of the 20th century—her six films with Yasujiro Ozu no doubt having been first and foremost in the voters’ minds.

    It is because of this default association of Hara and Ozu that I have chosen to exclude their collaborations from this list. Despite my immense admiration for Late Spring (1949), Early Summer (1951), Tokyo Story (1953), Tokyo Twilight (1957), Late Autumn (1960), and The End of Summer (1961), none of them will make an appearance going forward. Hara made a number of very noteworthy pictures with other directors in the course of her too-brief career (which lasted less than three decades), and it is a handful of those less-talked-about films which shall be saluted here.

     

    Toward the Decisive Battle in the Sky

    #10. TOWARD THE DECISIVE BATTLE IN THE SKY

    The first movie to appear on this list is something of a nonconformist choice, as it is not a picture I would recommend to anyone on the basis of quality or entertainment. Like many of the “spiritist” propaganda films spat up by Japan during the second world war, Kunio Watanabe’s Toward the Decisive Battle in the Sky (1943) is perfectly sufficient from a technical standpoint (well shot and put together) and boasts an array of very fine performances; unfortunately, it is also like many of its brethren in that it is cloyingly simplistic and so superficial in its “characterizations” that it ultimately proves to be ridiculous and, more often than not, simply boring.

    The story revolves around a family, the Marumatsus, who regularly receive visits from local military trainees. The cadets come by ostensibly to rest, but their primary purpose in stopping by is to share cheery stories from their training sessions—stories their hosts are all too eager to hear. The family is excited and proud to be in the presence of young men who’re not only prepping for war but who are actually excited to die in battle (as voiced in a song the characters themselves write***; none of these boys expect to come back alive). And in the picture’s absurdly jovial denouement, the Marumatsus beam with elation as the cadets depart for certain death in the Pacific—their pride further enhanced by the fact that the young son of the family has started prepping for military training himself.

    I chose to begin this list with a national policy film mainly to exemplify an important chapter in Setsuko Hara’s life and career. As touched on earlier, Hara was, due to her star status, a regular presence in nationalistic/jingoistic propaganda films of the ‘30s and ‘40s, and she even had familial ties to people with aggressive wartime politics****. (Another curious detail: unlike other movie stars of her time, such as frequent co-star Susumu Fujita, she never, in any document I’ve come across, expressed regret for her involvement in military recruitment pictures or movies championing the Japanese invasion of the Far East.) Her character in Toward the Decisive Battle in the Sky is a textbook example of the Japanese “spiritist” woman: a movie stereotype of the time encompassing mothers, sisters, etc. who openly support the men in their lives (lovers, children, etc.) going to war—without expressing, even in private, the slightest ounce of sadness*****. These women are honored to see those close to them perish for the honor of the nation; when mothers cry upon learning of the deaths of their loved ones, they shed tears of pride, not sorrow.

    In the case of this film, Hara plays the oldest daughter in the Marumatsu family, whose unapologetic admiration for the army inspires a new generation of nationalistic fighters in the form of her little brother, himself transforming from a weakling into a proud soldier-in-training. Hara had played an imperial soldier’s sibling the year before, in Kajiro Yamamoto’s The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya (1942), but in that picture, she was confined mostly to standing in the background and had no influence over the narrative or anyone around her; here, she is up front and center—ostensibly the star—giving a vivacious performance, and plays an active role in persuading her bedridden sibling to man up and enter the services. Viewed with a certain historical context, the character—and the film—has an air of fascination to it; and on that level, I’d argue it’s one of Hara’s most important movies and, therefore, worth seeing.

     

    #9. HERE’S TO THE YOUNG LADY

    After the surrender of 1945, Setsuko Hara’s reign as “The Goddess of Militarism” came to an end. For the next seven years, every film she made would be subject to an entirely different set of political agendas. More details can be found in my article on Kurosawa’s Those Who Make Tomorrow (1945), but in short: when the Allied Powers (namely, the United States) took over the Land of the Rising Sun from 1945-1952, it was with the intent of “democratizing” and “westernizing” the country and its people. This in turn led to some major restructuring of Japanese society and the complete and total supervision of Japanese media. Until the end of the occupation, everything from literature to the motion picture industry would be scrutinized in great detail prior to being released to the public.

    During this time, “feudalistic” traditions such as arranged marriages and miai (the practice of setting up meetings between prospective marriage partners) were frowned upon by the Americans (who wanted to push the idea of young people deciding on their own who they will marry—i.e., marrying for love as opposed to tradition), though there were some instances where films tackling these subjects could still receive a general release. The romantic comedy Here’s to the Young Lady (1949) begins with a successful automotive entrepreneur (played by Shuji Sano) being reluctantly talked into attending a miai. He’s 34 years old and needs to find a wife as soon as possible—or so says a business associate who hounds him into agreeing to meet the girl in question. Sano has no interest in marriage and shows up at the miai determined to make a disaster of it, insisting on an unromantic locale (a bar) and showing up in his work clothes. But when he sees the woman (Setsuko Hara) and is dumbstruck by her beauty, he rashly agrees to marry her and is surprised when she accepts his proposal.

    However, as it turns out, there’s more to this arrangement than meets the eye. The woman’s family, a once-wealthy aristocratic group, has since fallen into poverty and is looking to wed off their daughter in hopes of gaining an in-law who can provide a secure future for everyone. (Sano was chosen because of his success as a businessman.) Furthermore, the girl had a fiancé who died some time ago and, as she admits, she used up all her love on him and finds it difficult to express affection for anyone now. After many trials and tribulations regarding class and lifestyle differences, Sano, despite his love for Hara, calls off the wedding (but gives the family a check to save themselves) and departs for a visit to his hometown—only to have Hara chase after him, as she’s fallen in love with him as well. It might’ve been this portrayal of an arranged marriage being initiated by people interested solely in capital gain and the ultimate depiction of two people deciding to be together out of love that convinced the censors to let it get through. That the girl’s imprisoned father encourages her to ignore the family’s plans and find someone who makes her happy might’ve also played in the film’s favor. (Also possible is this unflattering portrayal came about per the censors’ suggestions, since the record shows they initially objected to some of the film’s subject matter******.)

    Here’s to the Young Lady marked the first and only time Hara worked with the versatile director Keisuke Kinoshita, and it is not one of her finest hours. While her unrivaled good looks certainly fit the physical demands of the part, Hara overplays (underplays?) the “ill-at-ease” aspect of her character to the point of not being very interesting. Instead, the strength of the film is evoked through the people surrounding her. Sano, in particular, is delightful, as is Keiji Sada as the brother with romantic woes of his own. The women who work at the bar where the miai takes place—which itself becomes a recurring setting throughout the film—are also quite likable. The movie ultimately fares as an enjoyable romantic comedy which just so happens to co-star Setsuko Hara—as opposed to an all-out great film exhibiting the actress at her peak.

     

    #8. THE BLUE MOUNTAINS

    Like a good many of the major Japanese film artists of her generation, Setsuko Hara had no childhood aspirations to work in the movies. Rather, her dream job in youth was to one day become a teacher; but, due to her family’s poor financial status at the time, she was never able to attain the education necessary for such a profession. It is strangely fitting, therefore, that fourteen years into her career, she would play a teacher in one of her most fascinating roles. Though one can only wonder: had her teaching career come to fruition, would she have become even half as progressive and challenging to the social norm as the educator she played in Tadashi Imai’s two-part drama The Blue Mountains (1949)?

    Based on Yojiro Ishizaka’s novel of the same name, the film stars Hara as a free-minded English teacher at an all-girls school. She works in a small town in which the residents are still reluctant to adopt the democratic views of the postwar era; this is a place where if two teenagers of the opposite sex are seen walking side by side in public, they become objects of scorn and mockery among their peers. When such circumstances befall one of her own pupils, Hara decides to take a stand, denouncing what she perceives to be the closed-minded views of the past; and this attitude, in turn, filters out to make the entire town question its own ethics and beliefs.

    The Blue Mountains was precisely the sort of film which would’ve appealed to the occupation censors: a liberal drama defiant of outmoded feudal values and loaded with unambiguous dialogue. Consider some of the lines used when Hara challenges the bullies in her classroom: “Walking with a boy or knowing boys is not some immoral act, and to think so is very old-fashioned. I would like you to stop thinking that way. Dating boys and being honest about your feelings is perfectly natural.” As the scene continues, she calls into question whether the tormentors went after their pupil for the honor of the school or if they used that antiquated notion as an excuse to bully. “To fetter individuals in the name of ‘the family’ or of ‘the nation’ [has] been the greatest wrong in Japan.”

    In another crucial scene, Hara is walking home with the town doctor (Ichiro Ryuzaki, who bears a certain resemblance to Toshiro Mifune) when he essentially speaks for the town with his conservative and nigh-misogynistic views. “I know there is a new constitution and new laws, but […] all the girls leave school and get married. Then they get bullied by their female in-laws. And their husbands will often hit them. They put up with this life, and just when they think they’ve got enough money to have it a bit easier, their husbands start drinking and chasing other women.” To which Hara responds, “It’s as if you’re saying you want to keep this town like that.” In scenes following their conversation, the doctor becomes an ally to Hara and fights alongside her in the struggle for acceptance and change within their town.

    Much like the wartime propaganda films of the early to mid-1940s, The Blue Mountains is a fascinating if not especially subtle time capsule reflecting political diatribes occurring within Japan at the time; but it’s vastly entertaining compared to many of those earlier films. The picture is full of lively characters, well-realized by the cast—which includes Michiyo Kogure and Setsuko Wakayama, who would later play the heroine of Godzilla Raids Again (1955)—and a vivacious performance by an adolescent Ryo Ikebe (far more impressionable here than in any of his science fiction endeavors). But most of all, there’s Setsuko Hara. Here, the actress is at the top of her form, taking what could’ve been a preachy, obnoxious character and rendering her into a truly fascinating individual. And in this we can see a fine example of her reign as “The Goddess of Democracy.”

     

    #7. THE BALL AT THE ANJO HOUSE

    In her first role after becoming an independent actress in 1947, Hara teamed up with the director Kozaburo Yoshimura for a story about an aristocratic family whose “days of glory” are coming to an end. With their wealth depleted by the postwar tax hikes and agrarian reforms, the Anjo family stages a final ball at the mansion that will soon no longer be theirs. For the father, Mr. Anjo (Osamu Takizawa), the ball is an opportunity to make some last-minute negotiations with a wartime associate in hopes it would allow him to keep his house and his way of life. His son Masahiko (a marvelous performance from the always dependable Masayuki Mori) seeks to humiliate his former fiancée (the daughter of that same man) upon discovering her father has no interest in Mr. Anjo now that his days of power are gone; mixed in with this is a subplot involving his affair with one of the family’s maids (Akemi Sora). The family’s oldest daughter (Yumeko Aizome) wishes the ball to serve as a final, lasting memory of her family’s noble past—but does not wish to see the presence of their former chauffeur, who’s continued to love her even after leaving servitude, and who is now a potential buyer for the mansion. A plethora of other stories intertwine within the narrative. And running through the entire film like a quiet stream of reason is the younger daughter, Atsuko (Hara).

    The Ball at the Anjo House (1947) is one of the most immaculately written films Setsuko Hara ever starred in and features one of her most well-rounded characters. From the beginning, Atsuko battles calmly and intelligently against the raging winds of arrogance, pride, and misguidedness within her home. The film opens with her adamantly opposing the titular ball and suggesting everyone simply accept the inevitable—in other words: try to make the most of their new life—while also being smart enough to recognize it might be tough, given most of them have never worked a day in their lives. She refuses to cling to the ways of yesteryear (brilliantly conveyed when a guest knocks over a suit of samurai armor—a symbol of Japan’s feudal past—and she tells a servant to leave it where it is) while taking serious the future. She acts against the wishes of her kin by trying to arrange their former chauffeur to purchase the mansion (knowing the father’s old associate has no interest in helping). And as the ball progresses and the various subplots erupt to climax, Atsuko regularly appears, constantly trying to keep things under control.

    The film’s final sequence is nothing short of perfect. After the ball has ended and the rooms have gone dark, Atsuko searches the home for her father and manages to stop him from taking his own life. After saving him, she pleads for him not to despair what’s been lost but to embrace the future. She turns on the gramophone and invites her father to one final dance. The picture ends with the father and daughter dancing as the morning sun comes up; and appropriately, the final shot is one of Hara venturing up close to the camera, her hauntingly perfect smile agleam, a glowing representative of Japan in a new age.

    The screenplay for The Ball at the Anjo House was written by Kaneto Shindo, but director Yoshimura claimed the idea came from his own personal experiences. As Donald Richie and Joseph L. Anderson recounted in their book The Japanese Film – Art and Industry, “The original idea was conceived when Yoshimura was invited to a dance party held at a peer’s mansion the night before it was sold, and many of the occurrences shown in the film actually happened that night. Yoshimura was so taken with what was happening that he stayed up until morning writing down ideas.” If the character of Atsuko was, indeed, based on a real person, one can only wonder how wondrous and inspiring her real-life counterpart must have been and if the girl was even half as charming and inspirational as Hara is in this picture.

     

    #6. TEMPTATION

    A year after The Ball at the Anjo House, Hara reunited with director Kozaburo Yoshimura for what this writer sincerely believes to be one of the most beautiful and touching movies ever made about a May-September romance. In my review for Takashi Minamoto’s Tokyo Tower (2005), I concluded with a recommendation: that readers skip over that picture and instead seek out Yoshimura’s Temptation (1948) for a superior story about love between people of different generations; and I stand by that suggestion to this day.

    From the beginning of Temptation, when a middle-aged father of two (Shin Saburi) runs into Hara, here playing the daughter of a colleague who died in the war, the relationship between the two is immediately fascinating. At first, Saburi holds no particular affection for Hara; he has sympathy for her becoming orphaned and feels obligated to look after her. As the story progresses, they spend more time together, their relationship naturally evolving from platonically mutual respect to special friendship to pure bliss—which comes through in one of the most romantic dance scenes ever put on film.

    In contrast to some of the pictures discussed thus far, Temptation is not overtly political. It contains some food for thought (a few observations regarding postwar Japanese society—such as poverty among the lower classes), but at its core, it’s a simple love story about two people who care for one another and who just happen to be separated by a few decades of age; it doesn’t sling mud at its subject or utilize it for a series of crass jokes; it just tells its story sweetly and sincerely; and it ranks with pictures such as Delbert Mann’s Middle of the Night (1959) as one of the most touching movies about such romances I’ve come across to date. The sooner a western disc/streaming label adds this lovely gem to its itinerary, the better.

     

    #5. NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH

    I’ve written extensively about Akira Kurosawa’s No Regrets for Our Youth (1946) over the last couple of years—including in an in-depth article back in January—so I’ll keep my thoughts here relatively brief. Although Setsuko Hara admitted to having had no particular interest in starring in this film (and likely only took the part due to being under contract to Toho at the time), whatever apathy she felt toward the project goes completely undetected in her simply remarkable performance. The actress’s versatility and Kurosawa’s interest in personal growth and self-discovery combine to form one of the most transfixing female characters in postwar Japanese cinema: an initially care-free bourgeois girl who comes to recognize the vapidity of her own existence and begins a quest to uncover a way to lead her life with meaning during one of the most intense chapters in Japan’s sociopolitical history.

    No Regrets for Our Youth is not one of Kurosawa’s masterpieces, but it is—I sincerely believe—his first truly special motion picture, and Hara’s performance stands firm as one of its most hauntingly perfect qualities.

     

    #4. SUDDEN RAIN

    In one of the best scenes from Mikio Naruse’s Sudden Rain (1956), Setsuko Hara, playing a lower middle-class woman trapped in a passionless marriage, arrives on a Tokyo rooftop, where she has agreed to meet her husband. When she reaches the roof, another couple starts advancing in her direction. The wife, she notices, is clad in elegant attire: quite the opposite of her own drab clothing which reveals her poverty-stricken lifestyle. Humiliated, Hara bows her head, clutches the lapels of her coat, and deliberately tries to avoid eye contact with the better-off woman as they pass one another (even after the other woman temporarily meets her gaze and gives her a long, somewhat contemptuous stare afterward). Poverty and loveless marriages were among the most recurrent subjects in Naruse’s oeuvre, and that’s true also of this extremely powerful film.

    Hara’s husband is played by Shuji Sano (of Here’s to the Young Lady) and this time both of them are at the top of their form as an impoverished couple who exhibit no love whatsoever for one another. The movie opens with them going through the almost comic monotony of their existence: he yawns, she yawns; he asks for his stomach medicine, she unenthusiastically supplies it for him; he complains about her cutting out recipes in the paper (leaving big gaping holes in the newsprint on the other side), she asks him to drop a letter at the post office only to find he abandoned it at the doorstep. When her niece (Kyoko Kagawa) comes by to visit and complain about the (very funny) nature of her not-so-happy marriage, the advice Hara and Sano offer results in them turning on one another, offering harsh critiques of their individual shortcomings. And then there’s the ending of the movie, in which the couple—having openly contemplated separation—engage in a juvenile game of toss, yelling and cursing as they swat a paper balloon back and forth (to the utter bewilderment of the children who accidentally knocked the toy into their yard).

    The neighborhood in which the couple resides is loaded with gossip and distrust; just about everyone spends their day griping about everyone else. Hara herself is hardly an angel and is rather prone to being critical of other people: about her husband, about her neighbors, about the proprietors in the town who only treat their highest-paying customers with any kind of special politeness. This recurring theme comes to a “climax” in the form of a town meeting, in which everyone congregates at the local school building, the adults squatting on the undersized chairs before engaging in another all-out complaint brawl.

    As all of the above description above would indicate, Sudden Rain is something of a comedy of manners, but more than anything it is an extremely bleak, pessimistic, and at times downright depressing film from the director who knew how to evoke such emotions like few others. The scenes depicting Hara’s loneliness and struggles with poverty are among the most gripping in the film. When her husband fails to return home one night—after she gives up waiting for him at the train station—she winds up sharing her dinner with a local stray dog. And whenever she ventures into the local marketplace, the entire world seems content in reminding her of her own poverty. The street vendors push her to buy expensive appliances she cannot afford, and while watching a salesman in action, she becomes the victim of a pickpocket.

     

    #3. SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN

    Continuing on a thematic note from the last entry: Setsuko Hara’s five-movie association with Mikio Naruse showcases the actress tackling a broad variety of roles and, even when working with scenarios that appear to be similar on a surface level, being able to evoke completely different characterizations each time out. As far as her work with Naruse is concerned: in the lost propaganda film Until Victory Day (1945), Hara was merely an entertainment act, someone who—literally—came popping out of an exploding “Entertainment Bomb” along with a plethora of other Japanese celebrities to amuse troops on a South Seas island. (For more information regarding this perplexingly bizarre project, see my article on The Lost Films of Mikio Naruse.) In the director and actress’s final collaboration, the 1960 color melodrama Daughters, Wives, and a Mother, Hara played a recently widowed woman juggling between love with a younger man and a more “compatible” marriage.

    And in between these two end points, Hara starred in a “miserable housewife” trilogy, if you will, for Naruse, in which she three times played an unhappily married woman whose drama often stemmed from a strained relationship with her husband (Sudden Rain was the third and final “chapter” in this series). However, despite some basic similarities between the three films, Hara didn’t replicate the same performance each time; no two roles or performances mirror one another in minute detail; each woman had her own assortment of personalities, agendas, and—most importantly—interactions with those surrounding her. For example, the protagonists of Sudden Rain and Naruse’s earlier Sound of the Mountain (1954) are diametric opposites of one another in many respects. To begin with the simplest of distinctions, the former resides in an impoverished, two-person household whereas the latter has married into a well-off upper middle class family; both are burdened by the duties expected of a Japanese housewife (in Sound of the Mountain, it’s because the family’s recently lost their maid), but that’s about it as far as similarities go.

    Now, consider the characterizations. In Sudden Rain, Hara played a blunt and at times censorious woman; the character she plays in Sound of the Mountain, by contrast, is meek, shy, and extremely vulnerable: too passive to make a stand or speak out against anything, even her own unhappiness. Both women have to deal with an apathetic husband, but they respond in entirely different ways. Rather than complain about her situation or argue her way into a possible separation, the non-confrontational housewife in Sound of the Mountain suffers silently as her husband repeatedly comes home drunk and later impregnates both her and a mistress—until finally she decides to abort her unborn child and untie her marital bonds. Because she’s not as outspoken as her counterpart in Sudden Rain, Hara evokes an entirely different breed of acting, relying not so much on dialogue and shifting emphasis instead to physical nuances—facial expressions and movement—to demonstrate what her character is feeling, even when she’s trying to “mask” her emotions (as Naruse cleverly indicates in a scene where a character observes a Noh mask and realizes the face of the mask can appear ecstatically happy when viewed from one angle and depressingly sad when viewed from another).

    The most fascinating relationship in the film exists between the housewife and her caring father-in-law (So Yamamura). As Catherine Russell notes in her book The Cinema of Naruse Mikio: Women and Japanese Modernity, the further Hara’s husband pushes her away, the closer Hara and Yamamura become. And at the end of the movie, the father-in-law exhibits a very progressive attitude in encouraging her to free herself completely and find what little happiness she can still achieve. They have grown close and are sad not to see each other anymore but realize this is the only way she can go on. Naruse considered Sound of the Mountain one of his favorites from his oeuvre and had personally pitched the idea of adapting Yasunari Kawabata’s source novel to Toho, and the end results are simply mesmerizing.

     

    #2. THE IDIOT

    In 1951, Akira Kurosawa assembled what is unquestionably the single most impressive cast in his entire filmography. In adapting Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot for the big screen, he recruited the talents of several people he’d worked with before (Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Yoshiko Kuga, Bokuzen Hidari, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Noriko Sengoku, etc.) as well as adding some impressive faces new to his cinematic canon (Chieko Higashiyama, for one). The entire cast is excellent and brings a tremendous amount of energy to this unusual and intoxicatingly watchable film (as this intro might suggest, this is a picture I hold with considerably higher regard than most Kurosawa aficionados), but it is Mori, in the eponymous role of a prisoner of war mentally scarred by his experiences, and Hara as a sinister yet sympathetic “kept woman” who really stand out.

    Despite her sinister appearance (perpetually dressed in dark clothing with her hair slicked back—an appearance reputedly modeled after María Casares in Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus), Hara doesn’t play her character as a cold-blooded villainess, instead depicting a lonely person who has spent her life believing the world to be an unfriendly place completely against her and whose cynicism and at times unpleasant demeanor is a byproduct of said conditions. But at the same time, she is presented as still in touch with her own humanity and carrying a willingness to respond to someone capable of—or at least willing to try—understanding her and accepting of the truth that she did not ask for the miserable existence she’s stuck with. This becomes especially prevalent in the film’s marvelous “birthday” sequence: a twenty-seven-minute masterwork of cinematic storytelling in which the mentally damaged Mori converses with Hara and accomplishes what no “sane” person has managed.

    She invites him to her birthday party, having previously been touched by his innocence, and stands defiant of those scorning him. Over the course of the evening, Mori tells Hara about his experiences during the war and compares her to a fellow POW whose execution he witnessed; she reminds him of that twenty-year-old boy who seemed all alone and whose eyes, like hers, seemed to beg the question: “Why have I suffered like this?” In doing so, he sees straight into her heart and professes his belief that she is a good person who has simply endured a horrible life. “You see,” she tells him, “I’ve been waiting for somebody like you. Ever since I began this awful life as a kept woman, I’ve been waiting. I hoped and prayed, imagining someone like you. Hoping that a good, honest, kind man would appear [and say] ‘Taeko, it’s not your fault. I still respect you.’ How I longed to hear those words!” So moved is she that she ultimately decides not to let him take care of her. Even after all that has transpired, she still views herself as a damaged woman and doesn’t want to taint the life of someone so pure. Instead, she leaves with a man who has offered to pay a million yen for her “hand,” but not after taking the money and throwing it in a fireplace, burning it before the man who was to receive it.

    As with the movie itself, Hara’s performance in The Idiot is simultaneously unusual and electrifying: the actress consciously goes for an over-the-top acting style with exaggerated expressions and sweeping gestures while still maintaining control of her character. Although she had been cast against type before—such as in Hideo Oba’s crime picture The Woman in the Midst of the Typhoon (1948)—under Kurosawa’s direction, she completely sells the role, giving a much better portrayal of a promiscuous woman with shades of sympathy than she had in the dreary aforementioned Oba thriller.

     

    #1. REPAST

    Released in the same year as The Idiot was Hara’s second movie with Mikio Naruse and the first entry in the earlier mentioned “miserable housewife” trilogy. Based on an unfinished novel by Naruse’s favorite author, Fumiko Hayashi, Repast is one of the two or three finest Naruse films I’ve come across yet and is unquestionably the greatest film of Hara’s I’ve seen outside of the best of her collaborations with Ozu: a compelling character study revolving around a lower middle class woman so disheartened by the passionless repetition of her day-to-day existence that she ultimately tries to escape from it.

    Once again, on a surface level, all three films in this “trilogy”—Repast, Sound of the Mountain, and Sudden Rain—sound quite similar, but examined in greater context, we see three entirely different stories and three entirely different women. Whereas Sound of the Mountain presented the struggles of Hara’s character mainly through the observations of her kindly father-in-law (the actual protagonist of that film), the story of Repast is told predominately from the perspective of the housewife herself, sometimes in the first person. In the film’s beginning, she describes to us through voiceover her unhappiness as we witness the monotony of her daily life: relentlessly cleaning her cramped Osaka suburb home and tending to her husband (who mostly just lets her know when he wants something to eat). Every day is nonstop work for her, her life confined almost exclusively to the kitchen and family room 365 days a year. “I had hopes and dreams before,” Hara asks through narration. “Where have they gone?” (In one revealing moment, she takes advantage of an opportunity to get out of the house and meet with some old friends. One of them asks what she talks about with her husband all day, to which she replies, “I have a cat.”)

    The idiosyncratic details of the marriage in this film further distinguishes Repast from the other two Naruse pictures discussed thus far. For example, the husband in Repast is nothing at all like his counterpart in Sound of the Mountain. Both men are played by the same actor (Ken Uehara), but the characterizations are starkly different. Uehara in Sound of the Mountain was completely negligible, caring not at all about his wife’s feelings as he stumbled home drunk every night and regularly betrayed her trust in the arms of another woman. By contrast, the husband in Repast is, at his core, a decent and kindhearted person.  His central flaw is naïvete toward his wife’s feelings and his taking for granted the “duties” expected of a Japanese housewife. But he works hard and by the end of the movie becomes conscious of and more sympathetic to her unhappiness. And he no doubt becomes more appreciative of her hard work—which he initially took for granted—after she leaves home and he proves incapable of handling most of the household chores.

    In the third act, the estranged couple bump into one another in Tokyo. Uehara informs his spouse he’s been offered a better-paying job but won’t accept it without discussing it with her first—an acknowledgement of respect, that he cares what she thinks, an implication of willingness to treat her better going forward. (Meantime, Hara herself has gone through a journey of her own, being awakened to her own shortcomings—her brother calls her out for taking advantage of their mother’s hospitability—and witnessing first-hand the difficulties of surviving on one’s own in postwar Japan.) Before they leave for home, Uehara rubs his stomach and remarks “I’m hungry,” before suddenly looking up at his wife and apologizing, and they share a laugh.

    In this we can see another quality distinguishing Repast from, say, Sudden Rain, whose protagonists simply tolerated one another and nothing more. Despite the bumps in their matrimony, the protagonists of Repast still love one another (the key word being still: in Hara’s opening monologue, she confesses she married her husband against the wishes her family, out of personal desire). They just need to work out their differences—i.e., the husband needs to be more aware of his wife’s plights. Hara agrees to go home with him not only because she’s run out of options, but also because she hopes they can still find happiness together, if they work at it.

    The emotional climax of Repast is one of the most uplifting and beautifully filmed sequences in the annals of cinema. On the train ride home, Hara sits by the window as her husband lounges sleepily in the chair next to her. She reaches into her purse and withdraws a letter—presumably one asking for divorce—before glancing over at her husband and then tearing the letter to pieces, smiling as she does. Hara’s wordless performance here is nothing short of immaculate; she acts with everything from her eyes to her hands—every gesture, every glance timed exactly right—complemented by Naruse’s simple yet mesmerizing camerawork and Fumio Hayasaka’s hauntingly romantic score. As the picture comes to a close, Hara’s monologue returns, this time voicing optimism. “My husband sits beside me. I see the profile of an ordinary man, with his eyes closed. He is floating in the current of life, exhausted from swimming. Still, he will continue swimming and struggle through the current. I stand beside him as we share our lives together in search of happiness. Perhaps that is what true happiness means for me. Happiness for women is perhaps to live life in just such a way.”

    The ending of Repast is quite unexpected for Naruse, who almost always ended his pictures on a pessimistic “life goes on” note—and this upbeat denouement likely resulted from the fact that Fumiko Hayashi’s source novel had never been finished, thereby allowing someone at the studio to create the ending for her******. The film does champion a “life goes on” message but with much more optimism than is expected from this director. And yet this ending still ends up working. For Repast is not about a neglected woman who has no choice but to escape from her circumstances or die miserable (as in Sound of the Mountain) but rather about a woman who mutually agrees with her life partner to try and make a better future by working together, caring for one another, not simply accepting the status quo. And throughout the film, Setsuko Hara never strikes a false note, validating once again her status as one of the most important and gifted film actresses of the 20th century.

     


     

    * Fanck’s original intention was to cast Kinuyo Tanaka in The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai. Tanaka was already an established star in her home country and her work had been seen, to an extent, in Germany, but this casting prospect was never realized due to contractual issues.

     

    ** Not long after making her final screen appearance—in Hiroshi Inagaki’s 1962 film version of Chushingura—Setsuko Hara withdrew from the motion picture industry, claiming she had never enjoyed being an actress and only took on her career to assist with her family’s financial difficulties, which were now resolved. Over the years, people have speculated there might’ve been other factors in her decision, but regardless, she never returned to the silver screen and spent the rest of her life in Kamakura, shunning publicity and living under her birth name, Masae Aida.

     

    *** Young Eagle’s Song, the song used prominently this film, was a popular martial tune during the Pacific War, reportedly selling more than 230,000 records. It has since been used in movies looking back on Japan’s wartime involvement, including Kihachi Okamoto’s Japan’s Longest Day (1967).

     

    **** Setsuko Hara entered the film industry through the assistance of her brother-in-law, the director Hisatora Kumagai. Kumagai acted ostensibly as her manager while she was overseas promoting The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai and later cast Hara in his 1939 production Naval Brigade at Shanghai. In that picture, Hara played a Chinese woman who initially hates the Japanese soldiers occupying Shanghai but later comes to admire them for their “true” intentions in invading the Far East.

    It has been suggested—though not proven—through some accounts that Hara’s personal politics might’ve been influenced by her brother-in-law, who was an outspoken nationalist and a purveyor of Jewish conspiracy in Japan during the war. Tadashi Imai, who also directed Hara in the 1943 film Suicide Troops of the Watchtower, recalled: “One night, Setsuko Hara visited me with a letter from her brother-in-law, Hisatora Kumagai. The letter went something as follows: ‘Just when Japan must pour all its energies into securing its strategic position among the southern countries, the Jews start an intrigue to divert our eyes to the north. Suicide Troops of the Watchtower is clearly part of this Jewish plot designed to throw us into confusion. The film must be halted immediately.’” On a side note, it is worth noting that anti-Semitism had been somewhat prevalent in Japan during the war years; one survey reported at least thirty-eight Japanese books were published about “the Jewish attack on Japan” in 1938 alone.

     

    ***** Wartime Japanese films which depicted parents saddened or concerned about their children going to war were often attacked by the government. Keisuke Kinoshita’s Army (1944), for example, pleased the nationalist authorities with its depiction of two parents shaping their son into a soldier but angered them with its final scene, in which the mother worriedly chased her son through the streets as he went off to war.

     

    ****** It is also possible the film was allowed to get by due to the occupation censors being more lenient with subjects such as arranged marriages. While they strictly enforced policies of banning nationalistic and militaristic material, they had a record of being less strict with movies tackling arranged marriage. For example, the script for Ozu’s Late Spring initially ran into trouble because of its subject of a young woman being married off to someone she’s never met and a line of dialogue reporting that the prospective husband comes from a well-off family (making him a good match on grounds unrelated to emotion). The censors instructed this line be written out but for reasons unknown allowed it to be reinstated in the final draft and kept in the finished film.

     

    ******* Screenwriters Toshiro Ide and Sumie Tanaka intended the film to end with the couple divorcing, but the front office at Toho vetoed the idea, resulting in Tanaka walking away from the project.

    General // June 17, 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
  • 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.

    "Kingdom" Manga CoverFor 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
  • 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).

    Now, to be fair, Honda often had to deal with factors that were beyond his control (shrinking budgets, changes in business strategies at Toho), but I think one could fairly argue his poor handling of certain types of sequences (namely physical action) and his lack of a visual flair (it was his cinematographers and art directors who predominately created the look of his films) contributed to the failings of pictures such as Latitude Zero (1969) and Atragon (1963). More action-heavy films like these probably would’ve benefited from a director who could not only approve a decent-looking shot but also make it his own and coordinate moving components for exhilarating effect.

    In general, Honda’s finer qualities seemed to emerge through his natural direction of actors and his attempts to address social issues. When he was matched with a strong script and situations that were within his range, the results were often absorbing: the long, grueling aftermath of Tokyo’s destruction in the original Godzilla; the depiction of a mini-society breaking down into anarchy in Matango; the three leads of Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) pleading with the residents of Infant Island to forgive the wrongs of the past; the real-world struggles of children (loneliness, bullying) presented within the context of one of Japan’s toughest socioeconomic times in All Monsters Attack (1969). These are highlights which used science fiction predominately as framework—or even didn’t use science fiction at all—in favor of cogent examinations of the human condition and showcased Honda playing to his strengths.

    Because of everything described thus far, I’ve taken a keen interest in the last few years in exploring Honda’s lesser known films—especially after the release of Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski’s superb biography on the director, Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa. That book, in addition to painting a compelling picture of Honda’s life and the times he lived in, presented great insight into the man’s entire filmmaking spectrum and how some of his pictures related to his personal experiences. Not to mention: many of the “missing” films didn’t seem to require from him the building of compelling action set pieces or some kind of pictorial tour de force—instead depending on interesting characters, good performances, and stories about ordinary life.

    As of the time of this writing, I’ve seen Honda’s two war pictures, Eagle of the Pacific (1953) and Farewell Rabaul (1954); his romantic comedy Come Marry Me (1966); and the 1961 gangster picture The Scarlet Man. (I also have a copy of 1956’s Night School, which he made for Daiei, but haven’t gotten around to watching it yet.)* And most recently, just a few days ago, I had an opportunity to watch a certain film that’s been on my radar for some months now: the non-genre film covered in the aforementioned biography that I most wanted to see.

    1957’s Good Luck to These Two, starring Hiroshi Koizumi and Yumi Shirakawa and featuring a fine supporting cast (Toshiro Mifune, Keiko Tsushima, Takashi Shimura, Shizue Natsukawa, Yoshifumi Tajima, and Kamatari Fujiwara), tells the story of a couple whose love is tested by poverty, familial demurral, and ultimately each other. I was compelled to seek out this film because while Honda did touch on the subject of young people marrying for love in Godzilla (1954), a motion picture without a monster in it would allow the human element to take center stage and offer a more upfront examination of the theme under discussion. The fact that Koizumi and Shirakawa have always been two of my favorites in Honda’s “stock company” only amplified my curiosity. And finally, based on what Ryfle and Godziszewski described in their book, some of the events in Good Luck to These Two seemed to mirror trials and tribulations that Honda and his wife had endured themselves.

    A note before we continue. The print of Good Luck to These Two that I saw naturally came with no subtitles, and my bare minimum understanding of Japanese permitted me to grasp only the gist of a handful of sentences; but thanks to the detailed plot descriptions in the Honda biography, I was able to connect some of the narrative dots/understand character motivations a little easier, and I feel confident enough to offer basic thoughts and observations (I shall reserve more in-depth analysis for when and if the film ever receives a subtitled release).

     

    Yumi Shirakawa and Hiroshi Koizumi

    DRAWING COMPARISONS

    The screenplay for Good Luck to These Two was penned by Zenzo Matsuyama, whose credits include other melodramas such as Mikio Naruse’s Yearning (1964), and I suspect director Honda might’ve applied some touches of his own to the film’s story**. It might be a stretch to call the film “autobiographical,” but certainly a number of sequences would’ve reminded the director of things that had happened in his own life.

    I am thinking predominately in terms of how the couple in the movie falls in love and gets married, and the reactions to their getting married. In the beginning, Wasao (Hiroshi Koizumi) and Masako (Yumi Shirakawa) are presented as platonic colleagues who exhibit no especially strong feelings for one another. The first time we see them together is when Wasao steps into the office where they both work and Masako casually informs her co-worker the branch manager wishes to see him; he thanks her and heads for the manager’s office while she returns to her desk, neither so much as glancing back at the other. Now, long before this film’s making, Honda and the woman he married, Kimi Yamasaki, were employed at the same company (Toho) and were, by all accounts, completely unromantic in their friendship for many years. They spent time together and were fond of one another but were not involved on any particularly deep level. That is, until one day, when Honda and Kimi were standing alone on an overpass and he abruptly asked if she wanted to marry him.

    In Good Luck to These Two, the first indication that Wasao has any special interest in Masako comes when we see him waiting for her outside a subway station on the way to the office. They spend a day together and it’s when walking her home—crossing an overpass—that he confesses he’s in love with her. And just as Honda and his wife survived on very little money in the early years of their matrimony (him drawing a meager salary from the studio, her giving up her livelihood per tradition), Wasao and Masako agree to live on one income and consciously enter poverty.

    Overt similarities extend to the reactions of Masako’s parents. Just as Kimi’s well-off father was adamantly opposed to his daughter marrying a low-wage salaryman, Masako’s father (Takashi Shimura) vocally and fiercely refuses to give his blessing to Masako becoming engaged to anyone other than a man who could take over the family business. Like her real-life “counterpart,” Masako gives up financial support to marry the man she loves; and like Honda and Kimi, Wasao and Masako go through an utterly anti-exorbitant wedding: simply making the arrangements, paying their respects at a shrine, and beginning their life together.

    One nice little touch that, as far as I know, doesn’t bear any overt similarities to events in Honda’s life: when Masako gets married, her parents quietly watch from outside the shrine—heartbroken not to participate but too proud to show themselves. When a crowd of people approach the shrine, they retreat and look on from a hilltop as their daughter gets into a car with her groom and is driven away. To alleviate some of the sadness, Honda adds a bit of whimsy, with Toshiro Mifune, as the musician brother-in-law, playing an impromptu wedding march on his French horn.

     

    Good Luck to These Two, directed by Ishiro Honda

    SOME GENERAL THOUGHTS

    Once again, it’s difficult for me to offer deeply analytical thoughts on an un-subtitled film whose language I can’t really understand, but in terms of basic technicalities, Good Luck to These Two is well made and features some nice black-and-white photography by Hajime Koizumi (no relation to Hiroshi), who would remain Honda’s regular cinematographer for the next ten years. Honda and Koizumi make great use of their Tokyo locations, most notably in a scene where Masako meets a friend at a diner and we can see, through the window behind them, the distortions of sunlight bouncing off a hidden water source, the warbling light effect plastered on the infrastructure outside. Scenes set in darkness are lit quintessentially: showing just enough of what we need to see while drenching the rest of the frame in shadow.

    As for dramatics: watching the film, I was reminded of a quote in Ryfle and Godziszewski’s book in which producer Tomoyuki Tanaka compared Honda to Mikio Naruse***, a director whose films very often depicted the hardships of life in poverty. Tanaka’s words came to mind because while Honda’s film isn’t nearly as pessimistic and morose as those by Naruse, he does tackle a number of the same issues that were of interest to Naruse and other directors of shomin-geki (films about ordinary life). In a key scene, Wasao loses his job trying to break up a fight between two of his company’s managers and returns home with a bandage around his head; his attempt to do something noble backfired and left him for the worse; Masako tearfully cleans the stains from her husband’s jacket, realizing they’ll be plunged even deeper into poverty now that they’ve lost their only source of income. Continuing on that note, much of the film’s third act follows Wasao’s unsuccessful quest to find work—at a time when there weren’t nearly enough jobs for everyone despite the lush economy the country was enjoying. Also akin to a Naruse film, the couple in Good Luck to These Two remains childless—likely because they can barely afford to feed themselves.

    The performances are uniformly good. As mentioned before, Hiroshi Koizumi and Yumi Shirakawa were always two of my favorite regulars in Honda’s sci-fi filmography. Even though the former was generally cast as a stoic science type and the latter as a milquetoast love interest, there was always something immensely appealing about both of them which managed to shine through; and I certainly enjoyed the more dynamic characters they respectively enacted in Matango and H-Man (1958). However, in Good Luck to These Two, they play average, everyday people living under ordinary circumstances and are utterly natural and believable as such. And this comes through especially well—along with everything else—in the movie’s incredibly touching finale.

    Following an argument with her husband, Masako goes to visit her sister and brother-in-law before returning home—just as Tokyo experiences a citywide blackout, a rather common occurrence at the time. She steps inside her cramped apartment to find Wasao attempting to cook dinner over a grill, the only illumination in the room stemming from a single candle. The couple talk through their problems and gently hold one another, foreheads touching, speaking softly. Honda then cuts to a beautifully composed master shot of Wasao and Masako standing in the middle of their dark, shadow-laced apartment, the score by Yoshinao Nakada swelling in the background. As our protagonists embrace, the power comes back on—in what could be read as a symbol for their newfound hope. They throw their arms around each other again and the picture fades to black. I cannot think of an ending I would’ve wanted more for this film, and it also offers a distinction between Honda and the director I’ve compared him to thus far. Whereas Naruse’s pictures typically concluded with the protagonists accepting their unhappiness and moving on in spite of it, Honda gives us an ending that, while not a total victory for the heroes (Wasao is still unemployed), is nonetheless cheery, hopeful, and optimistic.

     

    Hiroshi Koizumi and Yumi Shirakawa

    CONCLUSION

    Of the five non-genre pictures directed by Ishiro Honda that I’ve seen, Good Luck to These Two might be my second favorite, coming in behind Farewell Rabaul. Part of the fun for me might’ve been in drawing comparisons to Honda’s life as I watched this film—and also in seeing two of my favorite kaiju eiga regulars tackling a more emotional story—but it’s movies like this which really make me wonder what sort of director Honda might’ve been had he not gotten stuck making science fiction almost exclusively throughout the later parts of his career. The lack of monsters and spectacle allows Honda to exhibit his genuine talent for directing actors and his interests in the struggles of ordinary life. I’m not sure if the film would rank with the best of what shomin-geki has to offer, but I have a feeling that if I ever got to see a subtitled print (thereby obtaining a stronger understanding of the characters and the dialogue), I might find myself ranking it favorably in the company of films made by people such as Kozaburo Yoshimura and Heinosuke Gosho.

    Regardless, even with the language barrier that will exist for some, Good Luck to These Two is a very nice little film. And again, that ending with the couple reconciling under that “ray of hope” lingers in my mind still—one of the sweetest and most satisfying denouements I’ve seen in a long, long time.


     

    * Brief thoughts on the other non-genre Honda pictures I’ve seen thus far.

    Eagle of the Pacific: Well-meaning but somewhat static picture about Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto that comes alive mostly in its flashy air battle sequences composed of special effects (both new and recycled) from Eiji Tsuburaya. Veteran actor Denjiro Okochi is uncharacteristically dull as Yamamoto. The most memorable performance comes from Toshiro Mifune, who has a small part as a fighter pilot. It is very talky, so it might be easier to enjoy for someone with a solid understanding of Japanese.

    Farewell Rabaul: The best of the lot; a riveting antiwar drama with interesting characters and a remarkable leading performance by Ryo Ikebe. Those who only know Ikebe for Battle in Outer Space, Gorath (1962), and The War in Space (1977) owe it to themselves to see this film, for his performance is completely unlike the wooden, resolutely inexpressive “acting” he gave for Honda and Jun Fukuda in their science fiction pictures.

    The Scarlet Man: I would give a good deal to learn more about how Honda worked with whoever it was that choreographed the action in this colorful and very entertaining gangster movie. The fistfights and shootouts are surprisingly well executed, much better than I expected from a Honda movie. Excellent color photography by Hajime Koizumi, another nice performance from Yumi Shirakawa, and a great leading man in the form of Makoto Sato, who had also acted for Honda in H-Man but was most memorable for playing smart-alecks in the films of Kihachi Okamoto, such as Desperado Outpost (1959) and The Big Boss (1959). Highly enjoyed this one.

    Come Marry Me: Interesting little romantic comedy about marrying for love rather than gain. As a huge fan of actor/singer Yuzo Kayama, this one was also on my radar for a while. Kayama, of course, gets a chance to show off his magnificent vocal talents a couple of times.

     

    ** Ishiro Honda’s mentor during his days as an assistant director for Photo Chemical Laboratories (a laboratory service provider which later started making films of its own and was subsequently merged with other filmmaking companies into Toho) was Kajiro Yamamoto, who also trained directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Senkichi Taniguchi, and Motoyoshi Oda, the director of Godzilla Raids Again (1955). One of the filmmaking principles that Yamamoto taught his apprentices was the value of rewriting screenplays. As is documented in the Ryfle-Godziszewski book, Honda sometimes reworked screenplays written by other writers to suit his own image.

     

    *** In Tomoyuki Tanaka’s biography, the producer is quoted saying that if Honda had not become pigeonholed in making science fiction throughout much of his career, he probably would’ve become a director “like Mikio Naruse.”

    General // April 21, 2019
  • It’s always a challenge to think of what to do on April 1st for Toho Kingdom, and April Fools’ day 2019 was no exception. As the years go on, we try not to repeat ourselves… too much. We’ve done concepts more than once, like blanketing the site with fake ads has been done a couple of times. That said, we do try to keep things a little fresh.

    Now when it came to this year’s April Fools, I really didn’t have a concept. Chris Mirjahangir on the site’s staff was spit balling a few ideas, while also noting the remarkability of this year: it marks the 20th anniversary of Toho Kingdom. On that note, Jack Jordan on the staff suggested we roll it back: “to make the site resemble its first incarnation in some way? Some sort of ‘the site crashed, now we’re back to zero’ moment?”

    It was a novel idea we hadn’t tried before, and one that could pay off as the site had gone through a number of face-lifts over the two decades. So it got the green light from me and I started to work on it.

    Taking the site back circa 1999… 2003

    I initially planned to roll the site all the way back to its rough beginnings… however, while I have a lot of backups of Toho Kingdom, I have nothing that predates the past ten years. So this would have to be done from scratch. The plan was to roll out a splash screen with a counter on it and then drop viewers into a framed version of the site, which is the earliest version I can recall.

    This concept was scrapped for one important reason: I don’t think many people recall what the site was like way back then. We didn’t really kick our viewership into high gear until Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee was in production and the forums launched, giving us a chance to make a name for ourselves. At that point we went through pretty quick revisions compared to how things are done now, with no site design lasting longer than a year up until the 2004 design that became the mainstay appearance of the site for 11 (!?) years.

    2005 Site Design

    The “popular” 2004 site design, as it appeared in 2005

    Now the genesis for that design was launched on February 3rd, 2003. I say genesis as although it was different it contained the same exact header (although with a Toho logo inside that we can’t use anymore… for legal reasons) and did contain a purple navigation area to the left. The updates banner was also the same, although didn’t rotate characters as it would on later versions. For those curious on the origins of that banner, it’s actually the globe at the start of Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000) during the retro segment.

    So it was decided to roll with this version of the site instead for the April Fools joke, hoping we would catch visitors who have been with us long enough that they would get a nostalgic reaction to seeing it. As for this 2003 design, one of the trademark elements, in memory for me, were the annoying roll over buttons on the navigation. When scrolled over, the text would transition from white to black and a cheesy outer glow effect would appear.

    Rollover Effects

    The rollover effects in question

    I loathed this design as, at the time, connection speeds weren’t the fastest and this caused ample load time just to create this effect. In my memory, this was with us for a long time… however, it was actually only up for around 11 months and went through a couple of different versions of those roll over buttons before they were retired for actual text with scroll over effects.

    As visitors who came to the site on April Fools will note, all the links were updated to reflect the current pages on the site… and if clicked the appearance would revert to its modern design. The page counter was also added to the design. By 2003 the counter was actually removed, but felt like such a relic of these older web days that I wanted to include it as a further hint what was happening for those who might be visiting but only knew us for the current design.

    Listed updates

    With the design done, the next question was what was the messaging? I had considered using Jack’s concept of the site crashing and we had to go back to step one. In retrospect, that probably would have been better. Instead, I just recycled, word for word, older updates from this time. As mentioned, I don’t have any backups of the site that are ancient. However, thanks to the Wayback Machine, I could visit older versions of the site. In doing so, I grabbed text from older updates (horrible grammar and all) and placed them on the site with the 2003 date on them… although with the month and date adjusted for March.

    I’ll post below what we shared on the site at that time, and yes we were god damn machines back then in terms of the amount of work that would be put into the site in a single day:

    March 31, 2003 11:56 PM

    • Heh heh… well it would appear that took longer than I thought. My original projection for this was one night, then two, then three… you get the picture. Anyway it is finally done. Toho Kingdom got a huge face lift, as did many of its sections. Its hard to imagine how much different the Toho Kingdom looks after this one (although along time coming) update. There were tons of things changed along the way, the list below hardly does the changes made to the site justice.
      Oh also the GCN Covers Section has not been deleted, it can be found here. It’s future is just currently in limbo as I doubt I will ever make another one.
    • Got rid of a lot of combatants from the T.M.W.F. section, and as a result lost a couple of matches. If people were curious they were all done by me quite some time ago (pre-1999) so not much of a loss. Anyway the new roster has less repetition, will make for more even matches, and heck we might actually get to some kind of championship with it now someday.
    • Redesigned the look of the movie bios in the Movie List
    • Redesigned the look of the lost films in the Lost Projects
    • Added Bloodthirsty Eyes (1971) Bio to the Movie List
    • Updated Godzilla vs. GhostGodzilla in the Lost Projects
    • Updated Godzilla 2000 (ver. 1) in the Lost Projects
    • Updated Godzilla 2000 (ver. 2) in the Lost Projects
    • Updated Godzilla, Angilas, Varan: Giant Monsters All Out Attack in the Lost Projects
    • Updated Article 2: Subtitled vs. Dubbed in the Articles Section
    • Updated Article 3: Tooth and Claw in the Articles Section
    • Updated Article 4: Millennium Series Continuity in the Articles Section
    • Updated Match 2: King Kong vs. SpaceGodzilla in the T.M.W.F.
    • Changed the picture of Magma from the Showa Series in the Monster Bios
    • Changed the picture of Mechagodzilla from the Showa Series in the Monster Bios
    • Changed the picture of Dorats from the Heisei Series in the Monster Bios
    • Changed the picture of Dimention Tide from the Millennium Series in the Aliens & SDF Section
    • Changed the picture of King Ghidorah (God) in the D20 Section
    • Changed the picture of Planet X (Arena) in the T.M.W.F.
    • Moved Green Monkey from the Millennium Series to Aliens & SDF Section
      -Anthony Romero
    • Added a description to Daigoro from the Showa Series in the Monster Bios
    • Added a description to Goliath from the Showa Series in the Monster Bios
    • Added a description to Daigoro’s Mother from the Showa Series in the Monster Bios
    • Added a description to Markalite Cannon from the Showa Series in the Aliens & SDF Section
      -James Webster
    • Added SpaceGodzilla (God) to the D20 Section
    • Added Corona Domain to the D20 Section
    • Added Big Bang (Spell) to the D20 Section
    • Added Corona Bolt (Spell) to the D20 Section
    • Added Corona Storm (Spell) to the D20 Section
    • Added Wall of Lightning (Spell) to the D20 Section
    • Updated Terror Domain in the D20 Section 
      -Forrest Freund

    March 27, 2003 2:35 PM

    • Well the Toho Kingdom is now on a countdown for a overhaul… The plan is to get rid of the frames, a idea that I have been thinking about since before December rolled around, but haven’t had the “courage” to do it. This will be a time consumsing project, and for all I know I might not go through with it in the end, but I will keep everyone updated.
    • Added Type 74 Tank to Godzilla Eternal Struggle in the Video Game Section
    • Added AH-1S to Godzilla Eternal Struggle in the Video Game Section
      -Anthony Romero

    March 26, 2003 11:38 PM

    • Let me tell you I have been bingeing in Toho goodness all weekend! ^_^ Samurai 1, High and Low, Kwaidan. Watched all of them for the first time, awesome, awesome, awesome! So I am pumped let me tell you. Well atleast I was until I walked down to my car and found my passenger window smashed in, and my CD player ripped out… That kind of killed the good mood if ya know what I mean. Anyway I felt the need to reevaluate the current scores I gave in my reviews. Kind of looked back, and saw that the bar needed to be raised after watching even more of Toho’s films such as those I mentioned, Yojimbo, Onmyoji and others.
    • Added Godzilla 2 to the Lost Projects
    • Updated the Search function on the site, it now includes the new pages, and I changed it to include some of the more common alter names (example minilla)
      -Anthony Romero

    March 25, 2003 11:47 PM

    • Tried out a new type of scoring system for the update of Hypnosis, will probably add it to others soon
    • Added Lady of the Snow from the Showa Series to the Aliens & SDF Section
    • Added a description to Lady of the Snow from the Showa Series in the Monster Bios
    • Updated Hypnosis (1999) Bio in the Movie List
    • Changed the picture of “Green Monkey” from the Millennium Series in the Aliens & SDF Section
      -Anthony Romero

    March 24, 2003 11:59 PM

    • Ok, need some help trying to determine how to get the medals in Godzilla Eternal Struggle. Supposedly there is a 5th level in the game, and getting a medal in each level is the logically way to unlock it since just beating the game doesn’t open it. Anyway there is a huge trial and error process to try and figure out what triggers the medals for the different levels. Obtaining medals seems to be connected with the amount of destruction, either how much you cause (Godzilla) or how much you prevent (G-Force), in each level. If anyone else has this game and would be able to send in there figures for obtaining medals I would be very appreciative as then I can test it out myself and try to narrow down what the exact %’s are needed for each level.
    • Added Demons from the Millennium Series to the Monster Bios
    • Added Mysterians’ Universe Ship from the Showa Series to the Aliens & SDF Section
    • Added Markalite GYRO from the Showa Series to the Aliens & SDF Section
    • Added a review to Godzilla Millennium (1999) in the Movie List
    • Added a description to Demons from the Millennium Series in the Monster Bios
      -Anthony Romero

    March 23, 2003 11:50 PM

    • Added King Ghidorah to Godzilla Eternal Struggle in the Video Game Section
    • Added Gigan to Godzilla Eternal Struggle in the Video Game Section
    • Added SpaceGodzilla to Godzilla Eternal Struggle in the Video Game Section
      -Anthony Romero & James Webster
    • Added Enemies: UN-Playable Kajiu section to Godzilla Eternal Struggle in the Video Game Section
      -Anthony Romero

    March 22, 2003 2:46 AM

    General // April 1, 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.

    Having said that, I am certainly not oblivious to the film’s multitude of defects—the most damaging of which inspired this article. The first time I ever saw Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla was not through any kind of home release, but rather via taping it off the SyFy Channel sometime in the early 2000s (and this was the copy I ended up watching again and again, to the point where I’m surprised the tape didn’t wear out). It wasn’t until I got the old Tristar DVD some years later that I discovered the film I’d grown up with was, in fact, a shorter, more condensed version of its original theatrical release. Seeing the film in full for the first time, I was all of a sudden being treated to a plethora of scenes unfamiliar to me. “New” moments of character interplay; “additional” buildup in the first act; “more” cutaways during SpaceGodzilla’s aerial traverse to Fukuoka; gobs of material that had technically always been part of the film but had never been part of my experience until now.

    Alas, in complete and brutal honesty, I cannot say I was enthused by most of this “unseen” material. Especially in regards to what I found in the first act. It just seemed to slow the film down. Granted, pacing was, in general, not one of the Heisei series’ strongest assets; all of the post-1991 entries could’ve afforded to be whittled down; but Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, more than the others, feels like a rough cut as opposed to a polished theatrical release. The picture is hampered by pointless scenes and extraneous shots that accomplish nothing other than to pad out the runtime. And when SyFy’s editors employed their editing scissors for the sake of commercial airtime—cutting a scene here, taking out a few shots there—they actually greatly improved the film’s pace, resulting in something that was considerably more manageable and enjoyable. And these days, when I occasionally revisit Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, I find myself wishing about 90% of their edits had been in the cut that went to theaters.

    Since the film under discussion is so guilty of sloppy editing, I thought it would be fun to look back on the 1994 Godzilla film, remember the most notable trims SyFy had made, and discuss how they improved the flow of the story. Very little special effects footage is going to turn up on this list (in fact, SyFy’s editors left the monster scenes largely intact, to no objection from me*). By contrast, it’ll primarily be the more lead-footed moments in director Yamashita’s live-action footage that gets called out. And once again, we’re tackling only post-production (post-post-production?) excisions that would impact the film from a pacing standpoint—there are plenty of fundamental scripting issues here that no amount of cutting could ever fix.

    But I digress. On we go.

     

    NASA scene from SpaceGodzilla

    NASA

    Let us begin with what I personally consider the most egregiously awful scene in the entire movie: a mind-numbing concoction so poorly executed it makes the infamous Asteroid Belt scene from later in the movie look and feel masterly by comparison. I am, of course, referring to that dreadful confab in which representatives of NASA and G-Force gather around a table and review shoddy-looking footage of SpaceGodzilla’s crystals obliterating a space station. Badly shot, ineptly paced, utterly devoid of atmosphere or tension. A truly embarrassing scene.

    And one that, from a narrative standpoint, is not even necessary—as SyFy’s editors so persuasively demonstrated when they axed this abominable sequence from their cut. The NASA scene serves no fundamental importance to the story. For immediately after we’re done being told about “some sort of huge monster” threatening outer space, we cut to Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka) receiving a warning from the Cosmos that an extra-terrestrial monster is en route to Earth, repeating what we already know. And, only a few minutes after that, in an entirely different scene, we get a much tighter, more efficient scene in which G-Force picks up the inbound SpaceGodzilla on their radar—thus validating their decision to send Moguera to intercept it. So even if the NASA sequence had been well shot and edited—even if Koichi Kawakita’s effects didn’t look like something out of a television commercial—it still wouldn’t have contributed anything outside of providing excess buildup.

    SyFy’s sequence of events is more efficient. We cut straight from our male leads meeting on Birth Island to Miki being greeted by the Cosmos, and the moment of SpaceGodzilla appearing on G-Force’s radar remains intact. Nothing of importance is lost (Miki and the military still learn of the incoming threat), one of director Yamashita’s most crushing missteps is done away with, and the film flows much better as a result.

     

    EXCESS BIRTH ISLAND FOOTAGE

    A great amount of time passes between Moguera’s taking off to battle SpaceGodzilla in the Asteroid Belt and the operation to attempt to control Godzilla through Project T. During this interlude (all set on Birth Island), we get lots of undeniably gorgeous location work (filmed at Okinoerabu-Shima Island), a cute scene of Miki exploring the terrain and encountering Little Godzilla, some dialogue establishing a rapport/history between Yuki (Akira Emoto) and Dr. Gondo (Towako Kimijima) which also reveals where the former got the chemicals for his blood coagulant bullets, and a rather slow sequence of Little Godzilla accidentally setting off the tear gas mines intended for his adoptive parent.

    As nice as some of these scenes are—and as good-looking as most of them are—their combined runtime does dampen the film’s pace considerably. And, truthfully, the exchange between Yuki and Dr. Gondo is needless. There’s already enough material in the film showcasing their relationship and it’s really not that essential for the audience to know where Yuki got the chemicals for his “Yuki’s Special.” He’s a soldier, he worked for G-Force, we can fill in the blanks on our own (as I did as a kid).

    In the television edit, however, we promptly cut from Moguera’s space-bound departure to inside the Project T tent as Miki informs Dr. Okubo (Yosuke Saito) that Godzilla’s on his way. A four-minute deletion that drastically streamlines the pace and keeps the story moving.

     

    SHORTENED BEACH SKIRMISH

    This next entry concerns not the removal of any particular scene but the process of simply axing inapposite shots from scenes that run a bit long for their own good. All throughout the movie, SyFy’s editors whittled out little clips of dead air where needed, allowing individual scenes to flow more smoothly. Gone were static landscape shots, pointless shots of mines sitting inertly in the water, etc. Little cuts such as these added up in the long run and tightened the overall film for superior effect.

    One scene that benefited from this practice was: Godzilla marching ashore on Birth Island while being struck by mines and tear gas bombs. The scene has a nice skirmish feel to it, but it does drag with too much of the characters moving about in search of good shooting positions. When SyFy re-edited the film, they took out a few shots here and there (such as an awkward composite placing the characters into a foreground plate before the special effects shot of Godzilla coming ashore) to keep things moving. They also brought the axe upon the moment of Yuki aiming at Godzilla, lowering his gun to put on a gas mask, and then shouldering his gun again—as well as him subsequently firing a few shots into Godzilla’s shoulder. Taking out all of this greatly improves the scene’s rhythm—and makes it a little easier to ignore the sheer stupidity of trying to kill Godzilla with a finger-sized bullet.

     

    COMIC RELIEF

    As far as whittling down the film’s middle section is concerned, one of SyFy’s wisest choices was trimming SpaceGodzilla’s long flight over various cities. Namely, cutting a comic relief scene set in a gaming room.

     

    FAREWELLS

    In the theatrical version, director Yamashita made a little too much room for extensions of the peculiar romantic theme that runs throughout his picture, including a little moment in which Yuki and Gondo say their farewells before the former gets ready to board Moguera for the final battle. Also present here was a silent exchange between Miki and Shinjo (Jun Hashizumi) in which the two, who had started bonding on the island, give each other a worried glimpse just before the doors shut between them. This scene was wisely removed for the television edit for it’s just additional footage beefing up character relationships that are already sufficiently defined elsewhere. (In short: most of the island scenes and the denouement after the climax provide us with everything we need to know.) In the television edit, Commander Aso (Akira Nakao) distributes helmets to Yuki and his two co-pilots, wishes them good luck—jump cut to Moguera taking off.

     

    EXTRA FOOTAGE OF GODZILLA’S MARCH

    One of my favorite sections in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is without a doubt Godzilla’s episodic march across Kyushu, heading from Kagoshima Bay to combat SpaceGodzilla in Fukuoka. Matched with Takayuki Hattori’s exquisite theme for the character—itself charged with a sense of determination—it sticks out in my mind as a highlight. As much as I enjoy it, however, there are too many cutaways to Godzilla, especially after SpaceGodzilla and Moguera have already started their fight. At one point, we go from SpaceGodzilla knocking his mechanical opponent down and then approaching the fallen machine—and then cut to some shots of Godzilla marching through the city—and then back to the battle zone as SpaceGodzilla starts hitting Moguera with his corona beam. Here was another good editing decision when the film was adjusted for television. Instead of cutting away to Godzilla, we remain at the battle zone. SpaceGodzilla topples Moguera, roars, starts approaching, strikes him, and we immediately cut inside the machine’s cockpit as Yuki regains consciousness. Much more streamlined than its theatrical counterpart.

    Not to mention: that additional footage of Godzilla is incongruent on two fronts. One, we see Godzilla plainly entering the outer rim of SpaceGodzilla’s crystal fortress even though he doesn’t actually join the battle until much later. And second—in what recalls a similarly sloppy sound editing job during Rodan’s entrance in Ghidorah the Three-headed Monster (1964)—Godzilla opens his mouth and roars…and SpaceGodzilla’s roar is heard instead of his own.


    * A lot of commentators on Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, even those with a generally softer view on the film like myself, are of the opinion that the film’s final battle goes on for much too long. I sympathize with this sentiment, but it’s never been an issue for me personally. I’ve always enjoyed the visual splendor of this sequence (the unique setting of the crystal fortress helps) as well as the broad variety of battle techniques employed, many of them unseen before: the Gravity Tornado; SpaceGodzilla using his crystals as projectiles; Moguera breaking into two separate machines and fighting from the air and underground at the same time; the strategy of needing to destroy Fukuoka Tower in order to cut off SpaceGodzilla’s energy.

    General // March 14, 2019
  • When famed director Akira Kurosawa took to the stage in 1989 to accept an Honorary Academy Award, in many ways he did so to correct some of the past wrongs of the academy itself. Being one of the most influential directors of all time, Kurosawa was amazingly only nominated by the academy once over his very long career. So, in 1989, directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were selected to call out his contributions through the honorary category.

    This wouldn’t be the last time that a famous director from Japan would achieve this award, as in 2014 Hayao Miyazaki picked up an Honorary Academy Award of his own. Likewise to Kurosawa, Miyazaki never received an Academy Award before… but his films did.

    This article is coming right after the 91st Academy Award winners have been announced: an event that did include the Japanese movies Mirai (2018) and Shoplifters, although this was not released by Toho. To that point, we are going to take a trip down memory lane, examining all of the past Toho films that were nominated by the academy. These will be in chronological order of the Academy Awards themselves. If the film or person won the award, it will be noted, although more often they were just nominated.

    1955

    Best Foreign Language Film: Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954) – WON

    1956

    Best Production Design: So Matsuyama for Seven Samurai (1954)
    Best Costume Design: Kohei Ezaki for Seven Samurai (1954)

    1961

    Best Costume Design: Yoshiro Muraki for Yojimbo (1961)

    1965

    Best Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara for The Woman in the Dunes (1964)
    Best Foreign Language Film: The Woman in the Dunes (1964)

    Kwaidan (1965)

    Kwaidan (1965)

    1966

    Best Foreign Language Film: Kwaidan (1965)

    1971

    Best Foreign Language Film: Dodes’kaden (1970)

    1975

    Best Foreign Language Film: Sandakan No. 8 (1974)

    1980

    Best Production Design: Yoshiro Muraki for Kagemusha (1980)
    Best Foreign Language Film: Kagemusha (1980)

    Ran (1985)

    Ran (1985)

    1985

    Best Director: Akira Kurosawa for Ran (1985)
    Best Production Design: Yoshiro Muraki and Shinobu Muraki for Ran (1985)
    Best Costume Design: Emi Wada for Ran (1985) – WON

    2002

    Best Animated Feature: Spirited Away (2001) – WON

    2005

    Best Animated Feature: Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

    2013

    Best Animated Feature: The Wind Rises (2013)

    The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

    The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

    2014

    Best Animated Feature: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

    2015

    Best Animated Feature: When Marnie Was There (2014)

    2016

    Best Animated Feature: The Red Turtle (2016)

    2019

    Best Animated Feature: Mirai (2018)

     

    For a bit of trivia, Yoshiro Muraki has secured the largest number of nominations of anyone from Japan by the academy with four nominations, as beyond the listed Toho titles he was also nominated for his work on the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! in 1970. Also, the first Japanese movie to not just be nominated but actually receive an Oscar was Daiei studios’ Rashomon in 1951.

    As another side note, this list is not to be confused with the Japanese Academy Awards. This is a separate event, done by a different academy found inside Japan. That said, perhaps an article for a different day will cover which Toho films and staff have been honored through those awards.

    General // February 25, 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.

    Two in the Shadow

    Two in the Shadow

    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.

    Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla

    Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla

    #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.

    Your Name

    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