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Okay, so I realize this article is really late—about a month late to be honest. I saw Godzilla: The Planet Eater several weeks ago, but not on opening night, and so I missed my chance to really publish my Godzilla: The Planet Eater impressions in a timely fashion, which really put a damper on my eagerness to write up my thoughts.
That and, to be honest, I have pretty much cooled off on the anime trilogy. I missed the opening because I wanted to eat some turkey with friends—a rare chance in Japan—and I was busy that weekend. But I still didn’t head off to see the movie until a couple weeks later. It just wasn’t a big priority after the last two films really failed to light my fire.
So how was the film? Well, I will keep the spoilers until later, but my brief reaction was that Godzilla: The Planet Eater is probably the best film in the trilogy (if perhaps only because we finally get a proper ending), and by far the weirdest as well. The characters felt somewhat more rounded this time, with slightly more understandable motivations (even if the motivations might just be libido sometimes). The movie also plays with a lot of heavy themes about religion and the like, which might turn off some—it’s not subtle or… particularly sensitive. We finally do get some kaiju-on-kaiju action, though fans will still probably be disappointed in how that plays out (you can’t expect fast and exciting action out of a Godzilla who moves with the speed of a tree creaking in the wind). King Ghidorah is indeed the weirdest incarnation of the monster yet, for better and for worse. On the good side, I sometimes felt KG was honestly scary and intimidating. On the bad side, he, like Godzilla Earth, doesn’t exhibit a lot of personality. There are also a number of surprises and revelations that come out which kind of made the movie feel worth it in the end.
And speaking of the ending, it’s… kind of touching. It felt good to get to the end after three rather disappointing movies. This one still has a post-credits sequence, though, so be sure to watch to the very end.
Okay, let me give just a few actual SPOILERS for those who really want to know, though bear in mind that I saw this movie in raw Japanese and there was plenty I didn’t understand.
Spoilers on the human action: As interesting as the Exif machinations are in the movie, the most surprising “human action” for a lot of fans will probably be that Haruo has not one, but BOTH of the twins come on to him in separate scenes. They just drop their clothes and practically beg our hero to have sex with them, to which he eventually complies (at least with one of them). This at least explains to me why the theater pamphlet of the previous film featured naked pics of both girls. In this movie, they are both seen naked, although the camera angles mostly hide their naughty bits.
Oh, and yeah, the Exif are evil.
How about the monster action? Some happens. KG appears as three glittery snakes that glom onto Godzilla Earth and suck his energy while carrying him into the air. Godzilla can’t touch the three heads (which never actually combine into the more traditional form except in dream sequences), and so he blasts at them and bats at them and nothing happens. The eventual conclusion to their fight is exceedingly lame, but at least we had some monster madness.
Oh yes, and Mothra makes a very brief, very weird appearance, though only in a dream sequence really. The natives pray and stuff, and Mothra appears as a giant moth inside Haruo’s dreams, disrupting the Exifs’ plans. It’s kind of exciting to see the giant moth, but everyone’s favorite bug-god is on screen less than ten seconds I think—barely enough time for us to say “Gah!” (This is a really dumb joke—“ga” is “moth” in Japanese. Thank you, I’ll be here all night.)
I don’t want to give away anything else, though. It’s worth watching to experience yourself. While I don’t think the film holds up as one of the best in the series, it certainly is memorable and worth watching for fans. Just don’t get your hopes up that it will be something that will appeal to what you traditionally expect from films like this.General // December 10, 2018
Ever since I first learned about Mikio Naruse—I remember very well: during my senior year in college, I happened upon an archived review of 1955’s Floating Clouds, which Vincent Canby of the New York Times described as the work of one of Japan’s best directors—I’ve been disheartened by the general lack of exposure this man’s films have received in the United States and the even scarcer availability of information pertaining to his life and legacy. As of the time of this writing, a mere six films have acquired stateside DVD releases; ten more are available through Criterion, but only in streaming format; and the number of comprehensive, book-length studies published in English on the director can be counted on a single finger. And while my efforts in writing about Naruse over the last couple of years have been primarily out of pleasure, there has always been a certain (perhaps naïve) hope in the back of my mind that my writing about a lesser-known artist might encourage readers of this site to track down a few of his films or, at the very least, explore what Japanese cinema has to offer outside of Godzilla. I know not how successful my efforts have been, but surely to acknowledge these films for even a modicum of interested parties is of greater service than to not acknowledge them at all.
It is similarly for this reason that I took it upon myself to put together a guide on Naruse’s lost movies. (After all, if the extant films struggle to find an audience, how can interest in the non-surviving ones develop without someone shedding light on them?) Naruse directed eighty-nine pictures between 1930 and 1967. Of those eighty-nine, twenty-one have vanished. Nineteen herald from his brisk period of directing silent cinema, and the remaining two preceded what is generally acknowledged as his peak in the 1950s. All were part of a great director’s oeuvre and, as such, are worthy of investigation. This was my sentiment in researching and writing this article. I only hope my efforts will provide, at the very least, a good idea of what the missing films were about and what the experience of watching them might’ve been like. I also took great care to detail historical context—the circumstances under which the films were made and how some of them came to be lost—and hope this will be of interest as well.
And now, to extend my thanks to the authors and film historians whose individual research efforts into the lost films of Mikio Naruse made all of this possible. What you are about to read consists of data collected from various sources published in various countries—amassed and put together into a single document for easy accessibility. Everything is, unless directly quoted, my own words, but let it be known the truly hard work was carried out—decades ago, in most cases—by people far more authoritative than myself. First and foremost, there’s Audie Bock, who, along with Catherine Russell, has done more to share information about Naruse with western audiences than any other American critic; her French language book on the director, simply titled Mikio Naruse, offered not only a guide as to the order and release dates of his films but also presented a window into how Japanese film critics responded to them at the time of their release. Russell’s colossal study on Naruse, The Cinema of Naruse Mikio: Women and Japanese Modernity, detailed the various career stages in which these films were made and was, in its own way, equally valuable. Another French book, Jean Narboni’s Mikio Naruse: The Uncertain Times, provided the backbone for almost all of the plot descriptions. I’ve praised, on many past occasions, Kyoko Hirano’s excellent Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo: Japanese Cinema Under the Occupation, and I praise it once more, as her findings remained useful in contextualizing the Japanese film industry as it existed in the 1940s. Major credit goes to Peter B. High’s The Imperial Screen: Japanese Film Culture in the Fifteen Years’ War, 1931-1945 for the lush information on 1945’s Until Victory Day, the one Toho film covered here. High’s book was an unexpected treasure in that it was not something I initially intended to use for this article; it just happened to be what I was reading in evenings before bed; and yet, it ended up containing the most information on the one film that, frankly, justifies this article’s presence here on Toho Kingdom in the first place. (A happy coincidence this happened to be my “for-fun” book at the same time I was conducting research.) A smattering of other resources were used to fill in certain details and are noted where applied.
Last but most certainly not least, I wish to thank my friend and colleague Erik Homenick, webmaster of akiraifukube.org, whose expertise on the French language provided authoritative translations of the more difficult material in the Bock and Narboni texts regarding the films Hard Times (1930), Until Victory Day (1945), and Delinquent Girl (1949).
Mikio Naruse came to P.C.L. (Photo Chemical Laboratories—the antecedent of Toho) in 1934, after a suffocating fourteen-year stint at rival film studio Shochiku, where he’d received less than stellar treatment. And right away, excitement began to build as people in both the creative and critical fields eagerly awaited his next project. For Naruse, pleasure came in realizing that his joining P.C.L. came with a nice bump in pay and that his producers had taken the liberty of acquiring for him the rights to a novel by esteemed author Yasunari Kawabata (which would serve as the basis for his 1935 film Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts). Also in Naruse’s favor and especially of interest to the critics was the fact that his changing studios also signified his transition from silent cinema to sound cinema. The director had never been given the chance to work with sound during his time at Shochiku, but he would work exclusively in this medium from here on out. He would also remain loyal to this studio, staying with them through their fateful August 1937 merge (in which P.C.L. joined with other filmmaking subsidiaries, the amalgamation christened Toho) and directed almost every single one of his subsequent movies under their banner. Though he occasionally made films for other companies such as Daiei and Shin-Toho, with one very slight exception in 1950*, he would never again return to the production house where his career had started; and in articulating the record, one can easily see why.
Examining the behind-the-scenes narrative of Naruse’s early career is both frustrating and fascinating. On the fascinating side, here was a director who, pretty early on, started leaving notable footprints within his industry. For one thing, he practically made a star out of actress Sumiko Mizukubo, introducing her to audiences with his 1932 film Moth-eaten Spring, itself chosen by Kinema Jumpo magazine as the sixth best Japanese film of the year**. In 1933, two more films—Every-Night Dreams and Apart from You—respectively occupied the #3 and #4 rankings on the same publication’s “Best Ten” list. Critics championed his rhythm and sensitivity. He befriended and was openly supported by colleagues at Shochiku. Later films saw him adapting respected novels; and in time, he was directing young starlets such as Kinuyo Tanaka and Sumiko Kurishima.
And yet—swinging to the frustrating side of the equation—despite all of the above mentioned accolades, he remained coldly regarded by the front office: an attitude which had seemingly and mercilessly been geared at him from the beginning. Naruse came to Shochiku in 1920 at a time when most employees at this particular studio could rise to director’s status within a few years (Yoshinobu Ikeda, for instance, made his first movie after a single year’s employment). But Naruse himself didn’t receive his sought-after promotion for, literally, a full decade. For ten agonizing years, he was confined, first to the prop department and later as an assistant (often to people who had joined the studio long after him), the stress of waiting while his colleagues continually advanced past him proving so unbearable that he came within inches of tendering his resignation. And when, at last, he moved into the director’s chair, it was at the insistence that he film a script written by studio boss Shiro Kido, the man solely responsible for stalling his promotion in the first place.
Ginza Cosmetics (1951) screenwriter Matsuo Kishi once voiced his suspicion that the head of the studio simply disliked Naruse on a personal level and that he may have intentionally made professional life difficult for him on this basis alone. And while no account in my recollection has ever proven genuine hostility, Kido certainly didn’t refrain from dismissing Naruse’s storytelling, labeling him a second-string Yasujiro Ozu (“We don’t need two Ozus,” he famously said). Unsurprisingly, and perhaps because of this, Kido regularly assigned Naruse material for which he was ill-suited; he shelved two completed films for months at a time; and, in what placed the proverbial final straw that broke the camel’s back, the studio boss declined Naruse’s request to adapt a Fumiko Hayashi novel he very much wanted to film. Add to all of this the fact that Naruse spent his entire tenure at Shochiku on a miserable pay grade of less than ¥100 a month*** and one can easily understand his wish to move to a company where his intelligence and talents might be respected. Or, at the very least, where he might be able to earn a decent living.
Having said that, it’s strangely—for lack of a better word—“expected” that the majority of Naruse’s missing films should come from his rather unhappy years directing at Shochiku.
The five silent Naruse movies that Criterion released in 2011 as part of their Eclipse series are the only such films of his which survive; the other nineteen he made fell victim to a cinematic holocaust that wiped out—it is estimated—96% of all Japanese silent films. Between poor preservation systems, catastrophic damage brought down upon the studios during the second world war, and additional factors****, the legacies of vintage Japanese cinema and the people who made it possible suffered irreparable harm. (As Donald Richie so eloquently wrote in The Japan Times in 2000, “Even in a medium where two-thirds of all silent cinema is lost […] the destruction of early Japanese cinema is extraordinary.”) As such, all that remains of the films under discussion are critical reviews, plot details, behind-the-scenes factoids, and the occasional comment from the director himself.
Mr. and Mrs. Swordplay
Release date: January 15, 1930
Running time: 21 min
Chaos momentarily erupts at the home of Hachiro Momogawa (Hisao Yoshitani) when a café waitress named Eiko (Nobuko Wakaba) shows up at the front door and asks to speak with his wife (Mitsuko Yoshikawa). Rash assumptions are forged and the two women engage in an intense scuffle. The trouble ends with Eiko reveals she merely came to collect the debt Hachiro still owes to the café. Hachiro’s wife, suddenly relieved, pays the money, and Hachiro himself settles his nerves by going to the movies. (The movie he sees, incidentally, is The Husband’s Fight, an actual Shochiku movie from the same time period.)
This burlesque comedy, set during the Japanese New Year, comes from a screenplay credited to Haruo Akaho (the penname of studio boss Shiro Kido). Naruse cast the actors immediately after receiving the script, scouted out locations the following day, and then proceeded to shoot the entire thing nonstop over a period of thirty-six hours, after which he promptly collapsed from exhaustion; editing was completed by his friend and mentor, Heinosuke Gosho. In his review for Kinema Jumpo, film critic Akira Okamura expressed reservations with the script but otherwise championed Mr. and Mrs. Swordplay as a very promising directorial debut.
Release date: February 14, 1930
Running time: 45 min
Otsuta Takeda (Mitsuko Takao) spends her days toiling in the fields near the small mountain town where her impoverished family resides. A routine existence…until the day the local teacher comes forward with his belief that Otsuta’s brother Keichi (Shoichi Kofujita) is a very bright student who should continue his studies after primary school. Unfortunately, the Takeda family is in such poor financial shape they cannot afford to pay for tuition. This doesn’t deter Otsuta, who takes it upon herself to move to the capital, where she can get a better job and start saving money for her brother’s schooling; also, she’s been harboring a desire to become a city-dweller like her childhood friend (Hatsuko Tsukioka), so this is an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Keichi insists he’s fine with the status quo, but Otsuta’s made up her mind. The film ends with the sister boarding a train destined for Tokyo.
Naruse mentioned in a 1960 interview that this medium-length picture, released on Valentine’s Day thirty years earlier, exhibited a mature style comparable to that of his later work. His colleague, Yasujiro Ozu, was greatly impressed with Pure Love, proclaiming: “Someone who can do that well on only his second film has real directorial strength.”
Release date: May 2, 1930
Running time: 26 min
A man (Tatsuo Saito) and his son (Tomio Aoki) are out for a walk with their dog, Poochie, when the father starts contemplating whether their four-legged friend might be able to help them make some money. During their walk, they stumble upon an advertisement for dogs, and the father comes up with the idea of stealing and reselling other peoples’ pets for gain. They attempt to steal a puppy from an affluent home, only to get caught by the young girl of the family (Hiroko Kawasaki). The girl’s father (Takeshi Sakamoto) arrives on the scene and agrees to give the would-be crooks money if they leave them alone. After being reprimanded by his son, the father returns the cash, and the duo continues their journey down the street, penniless once more.
A Record of Shameless Newlyweds
Release date: August 29, 1930
Running time: 37min
In the late 1920s, a new comedic genre exploded within Japanese film. As Donald Richie and Joseph L. Anderson write in their book The Japanese Film – Art and Industry, “nonsense” comedies featured “little to no sense whatever, amusing happenings, one thing tacked onto the other, something ludicrous—though not often slapstick—for its own sake” and “[t]he characters cavorted and chased each other across the screen with very little regard for plot, characterization, or motive.” The genre instantly gained an audience thanks to “the vast number of naughtily erotic or purposely frivolous novels […] which, if it could not make full-scale tragedy out of the most minute of personal experiences, could at least create a comedy out of nothing at all.” In other words, these films capitalized on a taste already provoked by other forms of media.
Richie and Anderson categorize, in that same book, A Record of Shameless Newlyweds as a “nonsense sex comedy.” The story concerns Sabuko (Hisao Yoshitani), a blue-collar worker in a textile factory who falls in love with a woman named Aiko (Midori Matsuba). Too shy to confess his feelings, he asks his friend Yuji (Teruo Mori) to arrange a double-date with Aiko and one of her friends (Mariko Aoyama). While the group is out together, Yuji finds himself alone with Aiko and reveals to her his friend’s secret longing. But then, Aiko confesses she’s in love, too, but not with Sabuko; the man she loves is, in fact, Yuji. Upon learning the girl of his desires is infatuated with his friend, Sabuko runs away.
A Record of Shameless Newlyweds was actually the third movie Naruse directed—he shot it after Pure Love—but the studio withheld it from release for several months. Naruse himself considered it a failure and took full blame for ruining what he described as a very good script by Tadao Ikeda.
Love is Strength
Release date: August 29, 1930
Running time: 65min
Toshio (Ichiro Yuki), the son of a sensonarikin (a person of affluence who earned their fortune during wartime), is to marry Teruko (Hiroko Kawasaki) of the wealthy Yanagida family, their forthcoming matrimony having been arranged by their kin and not by affection for one another. Toshio leads a reckless and frivolous life, his spare time eaten up by booze, parties, and games. That is, until he happens to visit Café Showa and meets one of its waitresses, a pretty orphan named Chiyoko (Shizue Tatsuta). Smitten, he becomes inspired to take up a job in his father’s business and start leading a responsible life. A happy ending’s achieved when the Yanagida family agrees to adopt Chiyoko. She and Toshio are then permitted to marry, and Teruko weds her true love (Shin’ichiro Izawa).
Released on the same day as A Record of Shameless Newlyweds, this melodrama had also been shelved for some time, though it’s not clear whether Naruse started working on it before or after Hard Times. The picture opened to mixed and negative reviews.
Now, Do Not Get Excited!
Release date: February 7, 1931
Running time: 15min
The title is in reference to one of the main characters: a sailor with a tendency to faint whenever he becomes nervous or excited. One day, when his ship is at port, our agitation-prone hero, Yokoyama (Tomio Yokoo), and his fellow mariner Sano (Eiran Yoshikawa) take leave and disembark into town. During their stopover, they witness a man purloining a woman’s handbag. Yokoyama chases after the thief while Sano stays behind to comfort—and seduce—the victim, quickly winning her over. Having failed to catch the thief, Yokoyama returns to the scene of the crime, whereupon he suddenly becomes agitated—envy to the core over his friend’s way with the ladies—and faints. Sano abandons his friend in favor of accompanying the woman to the bar where she works. Yokoyama regains consciousness and follows, running into the purse-snatcher along the way. After winning a scuffle with the thief, the victorious sailor finds himself surrounded by a plethora of women applauding his heroics…and he faints again. Sano puts his friend in a rickshaw and they return to the port, only to discover they overstayed their leave—the ship is leaving without them! The film ends with the two sailors hopping into a rowboat and frantically paddling after their ship.
Kinema Jumpo’s Jun’ichiro Tomota, who had given a mixed review to Love is Strength, labeled this offering one of the best-made “nonsense” comedies. In his review, Tomota further suggested the filmmakers might’ve been influenced by Hollywood comedies starring Sammy Cohen and Ted McNamara.
Screams from the Second Floor
Release date: May 29, 1931
Running time: 30min
In writing this picture (the first time he was allowed to shoot one of his own scripts*****), Naruse drew from his own experiences. At the time, he was living with a family of sushi proprietors, occupying the second floor over their shop (and, some years down the road, he would return to live with them, after the collapse of his first marriage). The protagonist of this picture is an unemployed man named Yagi (Isamu Yamaguchi), who resides on the second floor of a family somewhat better off than him. Because he has no money, Yagi earns his keep performing mundane chores: shopping, babysitting, etc. Eventually, he finds work and leaves the house but is quickly begged to come back after Mr. Hosokawa (Hisao Yoshitani) receives a letter of dismissal from his company. Much of the story focuses on tension between Yagi and Hosokawa’s wife (Nobuko Wakaba), who doesn’t want a non-paying guest in the house.
Flunky! Work Hard, released August 8, 1931. The earliest surviving Naruse film.
Fickleness Gets on the Train
Release date: August 15, 1931
Running time: 32min
Struggling with creative block and unable to find work, a painter named Murayama (Isamu Yamaguchi) decides to take his wife (Tomoki Naniwa) and their son (Masao Hayama) on a trip. Their destination: the fishing village where his in-laws live. On the train ride over, they run into an office worker and his wife. Engaging in conversation, Murayama and his spouse conjure up a fantasy, bragging about an affluent lifestyle they do not have, trying to impress their fellow passengers. Unbeknownst to them at the time, their companions, in telling their own “story,” are doing the same thing. The couples exchange lies, making one another envious of luxuries that, in reality, none of them possess. By chance, they meet again in the aforementioned fishing village, whereupon everyone realizes the fickleness of everyone’s dishonesty. And then, as though karma’s seeking to rub salt in the wound, Murayama’s turned away by his in-laws as they already have a tenant and cannot accommodate any other guests at the time. Dejected and disappointed, the painter and his family hop on the first train back to Tokyo.
The Strength of a Mustache
Release date: October 16, 1931
Running time: 32min
Naruse’s penultimate film of 1931 bears certain similarities to Ozu’s The Lady and the Beard from the same year in that the narrative comically focuses on facial hair and how it affects one’s social image and relation to others. In this case, Kato (Ken’ichi Miyajima) is a working class father who boasts a very fine mustache—an adornment which draws admiration from his son and envy from his boss (Reiko Tani). After his employer fails to grow comparably chic facial hair, Kato’s ordered to shave or else lose his job—and then he loses his job anyway after his son gets into a fight with the boss’s son. To remedy the situation, Kato strips his upper lip of hair and presents to the boss a “miracle lotion.” With this, the boss succeeds in growing some nice whiskers, and Kato gets his job back—though his son no longer reveres him like he used to.
According to Audie Bock’s book on Naruse, the script originally called for a different ending. As initially penned, the boss was to return the “miracle lotion” to Kato rather than accepting it. No explanation is given as to why the studio opted to change this denouement, though Kinema Jumpo reviewer Shigeru Wadayama felt it lessened the impact of the ending (he otherwise championed the film, comparing it to Flunky! Work Hard).
Under the Neighbor’s Roof
Release date: November 28, 1931
Running time: 34min
Another “nonsense” comedy, this time about mutual assumptions of adultery between a married couple. After catching her husband buying a shawl, Hamako (Tomoko Naniwa) assumes the item being purchased is for her spouse’s pretty secretary (Masako Kiyokawa) and moves out in a huff. In turn, the husband, Aoyama (Shigeru Ogura), suspects his wife’s up to some philandering of her own, as the apartment building she moves into is the same one occupied by his colleague, Machida (Kan Ikki); he even climbs onto the roof of the building to keep an eye on them. In the end, the couple reconciles and Hamako returns home.
Ladies, Be Careful of Your Sleeves
Release date: January 29, 1932
Running time: 28min
An unmarried office worker named Tabe (Kenji Oyama), who’s a little on the hefty side, has a habit of slipping love letters into the sleeves of women he finds attractive. But sometimes the letters end up in the hands of people for whom they were not intended, leading to hysterical results. Tabe’s antics take a turn for the humiliating when one of the letters finds its way into his boss’s daughter’s purse. Immediately fearful of losing his job, he makes a vain effort to get the letter back, crashing into a statue in the process. Giving up, he goes home, only to find a woman waiting for him. But instead of the boss’s pretty daughter, it’s an unsightly typist (Shizue Heito); she, too, accidentally received one of his love letters, and now she’s moved into his apartment. The film ends with Tabe envisioning the years ahead, right up to his funeral.
Eiga Hyoron magazine critic Shun’ichi Sugimoto described this film as one of the best of the “nonsense” genre.
Crying to the Blue Sky
Release date: March 10, 1932
Running time: 53min
Reuniting with the screenwriter of Pure Love (Ayame Mizushima), Naruse once again tells a story about a bond between brother and sister, albeit this one concludes with a tragic finish. Kikue (Mitsuko Takao) and her younger brother Eiichi (Hideo Sugawara) have lived with their uncle (Shoichi Nodera) since the death of their parents. One day, Kikue decides to leave for Tokyo to find work. Eiichi asks his elder sister to bring him back a gift: a toy airplane. She agrees. Some time after his sister’s departure, Eiichi falls into the river while fighting with another boy and comes down with a deadly case of pneumonia. In Tokyo, Kikue receives a telegram that her brother’s prognosis is not good; she quickly buys the model airplane he asked for and hurries home—but it’s too late. With her brother dead and her heart broken, the dejected sister somberly walks to the river, sets the toy upon the water’s surface, and watches as it’s carried away by the current.
Release date: April 15, 1932
Running time: 39min
Yamano (Shigeru Ogura) is a poor office worker who cannot afford to buy his son the toy kite he wants. One day, he and his wife (Tomoko Naniwa) receive an unexpected visit from a couple who’ve invited themselves over for dinner. To get them to leave, they lie, claiming to be in the process of housecleaning—and scramble to cancel the food they’d asked be delivered to their address. Later on, their son, Shin’ichi, is pushed into a puddle by another boy. While cleaning his clothes, the parents think back to much happier times: when they were newlyweds, frolicking on the beach, dragging sand between their fingers. (All they have now is cold ash in the stove—perhaps a crude metaphor for the way poverty has diminished their passion.) The film ends with the couple encouraging their son to become someone important—someone great!—and thereby avoid a life in poverty.
Naruse compared this to his earlier Flunky! Work Hard. Shigeru Wadayama, writing in Kinema Jumpo, showered the film with glowing comments, describing it as a “psychological nonsense film” done to perfection. Less enthusiastic was Eiga Hyoron’s Shun’ichi Sugimoto, who deemed the movie too similar to Ozu’s I Was Born, But… (1932). The box office was in this film’s favor, and Naruse moved on to direct what just might’ve been the first great movie of his career.
Release date: May 27, 1932
Running time: 103min
After the success of Be Great!, Naruse was entrusted to adapt a novel by respected author Kan Kikuchi and, with this promotion, scored a number of career milestones. In addition to being able to adapt something by an esteemed writer, he was permitted for the first time to shoot a picture of feature length (everything he’d made up to this point consisted of shorts and medium-length productions). And the film—in what was also a first for the director—was saluted by Kinema Jumpo in their annual “Best Ten” list, ranking at #6. Printed some months earlier in the same magazine was a review by Fuyuhiko Kitagawa, who applauded Naruse’s success with a “difficult adaptation,” his capturing the psychology of the young bourgeois, the Soviet-influenced editing, and the direction of the actors.
Speaking of which, Moth-eaten Spring also marked the screen debut and essentially made a star of Sumiko Mizukubo, an actress whose career spanned a mere three years but which nonetheless granted her the opportunity to work with a number of Japan’s finest directors. In addition to three more collaborations with Naruse, she acted under the guidance of such people as Hiroshi Shimizu, Yasujiro Shimazu, Heinosuke Gosho, Hiroshi Inagaki, and Yoshinobu Ikeda. She also had a sizable role in Ozu’s excellent Dragnet Girl (1933), as the record store girl of whom the shadier characters are universally enamored. (Image of Mizukubo, in the Ozu film, seen to the left.)
In Moth-eaten Spring, Mizukubo plays the youngest of three sisters in a family saddled with an uncertain future. The father’s poor business practices have wrecked their financial stability, and his attempt to bribe an official results in him becoming incarcerated and, later, committing suicide. The loss of their parent affects the three daughters in different ways. Kazuko (Kinuko Wakamizu), the eldest, calls off her engagement in order to assume responsibility for the entire family. The middle daughter, Kumiko (Yumeko Aizome), sinks into a state of depression when her fiancé hears of the suicide and breaks up with her. As for Kasumi (Sumiko Mizukubo), the youngest, she takes a job to help make ends meet and later becomes engaged to the nephew of a businessman. Learning about her sibling’s engagement exacerbates Kasumi’s state of mind and she attempts to seduce Kazuko’s former lover. But the young man, still in love with Kazuko, rejects her advances.
Release date: August 26, 1932
Running time: 56min
Based on an award-winning novel by Ryuji Nagami (who also penned the screenplay), this project was brought to Naruse’s attention by Kogo Noda, Ozu’s regular co-screenwriter. The director described it as a combination of the various genres he’d worked with and furthermore labeled the finished product his best film up to that point. In terms of a narrative, it certainly shares much in common with Naruse’s best-known movies: divides between upper and lower classes, issues pertaining to money, a denouement in which the main character doesn’t receive the happiness she wanted but tries to endure life all the same, etc.
Sumiko Mizukubo, who’d exploded into popularity after the release of Moth-eaten Spring, is promoted to lead. Here, she plays Mieko, a young woman whose life changes after she’s invited to accompany rich student Mizushima (Koji Kaga) to an upper class party. At the get-together, Mieko proves a rousing success with the boys and a source of jealousy for the other girls. The next day, two of the girls show up at Mieko’s workplace, sneering at her—and on their way out, they leave her a tip (a practice virtually unheard of in Japan, even to this day—and which can be interpreted as an insult). Mieko later learns Mizushima is to wed a girl his father has chosen for him; and when she gets home that night, her mother and uncle announce they’ve arranged a match for her as well. Surrendering to their will and giving up the man she loves, Mieko allows time and society to take their course. The film ends with her boarding a Tokyo-bound train, her hair now arranged in the marumage (the knotted hairstyle identified with married women in Japan).
Kinema Jumpo’s Shigeru Wadayama praised Naruse’s editing and his sympathy for the lower class, though he was turned off by the “excessive sadness” of the picture’s finale.
The second extant silent Naruse film, No Blood Relation, released December 16, 1932.
The Scenery of Tokyo with Cake
Release date: 1932
Running time: Unknown
Little is known about this advertisement film other than it was produced for the still-extant snack food company Meiji Seika. Whether Naruse used crew and equipment from Shochiku or if Meiji Seika provided everything for him remains unknown.
Apart from You (released April 1, 1933) and Every-Night Dreams (June 8, 1933) which placed at #4 and #3, respectively, on Kinema Jumpo’s “Best Ten” list for that year. Naruse collaborated with Sumiko Mizukubo once again on the former and the latter paired him up with Sumiko Kurishima, often described as the first Japanese female movie star. Both of these films survive today.
My Bride’s Hairstyle
Release date: September 21, 1933
Running time: 75min
A light comedy written for Sumiko Mizukubo, My Bride’s Hairstyle was met with approval from studio head Shiro Kido, who deemed it one of Naruse’s “greatest achievements.” A rare compliment, and one perhaps explainable in that this particular movie seemed to possess little in the way of semblance to Naruse’s last few films. The happy ending, for instance, is completely unlike the sad—even tragic—denouements found in Every-Night Dreams and Chocolate Girl. In any case, the studio boss’s affinity was not shared by Naruse himself. To him, My Bride’s Hairstyle was a big wad of mediocrity and not something he looked back on very fondly. Kinema Jumpo’s Tadahisa Murakami reciprocated this sentiment when he panned the film, blaming Kido for relegating a poor subject to such a talented and capable (and proven) director.
Mizukubo plays Toshiko, the love interest of Matsui (Mitsugu Fujii), who has been infatuated with her since they were children and who finds himself close to her again when he becomes employed at her workplace. Unfortunately for him, the boss of the company also has designs on Toshiko. Because their employer has been deliberately making things difficult for Matsui, both he and Toshiko agree to quit the company together. But love and roses ever after has not been ascertained yet: Toshiko’s parents want her to return home and marry a suitor of their choice. While on a picnic, Matsui notices Toshiko’s styled her hair in the marumage: seemingly a sign he’s going to lose her. In the end, though, he lands a good job and is permitted to marry the woman of his dreams. Matsui and Toshiko live happily ever after.
Release date: December 7, 1933
Running time: 107min
Now in the twilight of his Shochiku years, Naruse was granted the chance to work with Kinuyo Tanaka (already one of the major stars of Japanese cinema). Given his feelings that the project was not his kind of film and much closer to the melodramas Yasujiro Ozu and Hiroshi Shimizu specialized in, Naruse tried to make it stand out by employing techniques influenced by veteran craftsman Hotei Nomura. (Shiro Kido labeled Two Eyes a “big film.”)
Yoshiko (Kinuyo Tanaka) and Naeko (Yumeko Aizome), the daughters of political rivals, have maintained their friendship in spite of the bad blood between their fathers—and in spite of the fact that they’re in love with the same man. Both women are infatuated with Sunaga (Joji Oka), but since they don’t want to jeopardize their friendship, they mutually agree not to pursue him. That is, until the day Naeko discovers that Sunaga has romantic feelings for Yoshiko—at which point she conjures up a story that her friend’s already betrothed. Meantime, Yoshiko’s father is ordered to pay a fine for attempted bribery and, lacking the capital, instructs his daughter to marry the son of a rich family. Unwilling to take the fall for her father’s lawbreaking, Yoshiko leaves home, taking a job in sales—at the same company, it so happens, where Sunaga works. Both of them are chosen to model for a pretend wedding at the store and are subsequently spotted by Naeko, who confuses the mock ceremony for the real thing. Yoshiko learns her father has been jailed, and the daughter reluctantly agrees to marry the rich suitor in order to spare her father of prison time. But when she returns home, she discovers Naeko has already married the young man, leaving her and Sunaga free to be together.
The film was based on a novel by Masao Kume, which Kinema Jumpo’s Fuyuhiko Kitagawa deemed well beneath the author’s usual standards and certainly beneath Naruse’s, as he expressed in his vicious, hostility-laden review. The critic wasn’t enthused with Naruse’s Nomura-inspired techniques, either, passing off bits of frantic camera movement intended to emphasize emotion. In the end, Kitagawa only commended the performances by Tanaka and Oka and offered his hope that Naruse would return to filming original scripts and find something closer in quality to Apart from You and Every-Night Dreams.
Happy New Year!
Release date: December 21, 1933
Running time: Unknown
Naruse’s penultimate silent film, of which there seems to be no extant information.
On April 26 of the following year, the director released his last picture for Shochiku, the dull and mediocre Street without End (1934), which survives today (a screen-cap can be seen above). Filmed from a script that no one at the studio dared touch, the project had been accepted by Naruse on the condition that he would be allowed to make whatever he wanted for his next movie. Alas—and not unexpectedly—Shiro Kido didn’t uphold his end of the bargain, denying Naruse the chance to adapt Fumiko Hayashi’s novel Fallen Woman, and the director made his fateful move to P.C.L. that same year. Interviewed decades later on the subject by Audie Bock, Kido denied having ever held any personal grudge against Naruse and even admitted he shouldn’t have let him leave the studio—though he nonetheless claimed he’d never cared much for Naruse’s aesthetic.
Film censorship had played a role in Japan since the early 20th century; although, in the beginning, it was mostly implemented in policing foreign imports (and usually to gauge respect for the Imperial House). The prime example of this practice concerns the French film The Reign of King Louis XVI (1905) and what needed to be done to get it shown in Japanese theaters. When the picture came to Japan in 1908, it was initially banned due to a key scene in which the common people rose up in arms against their king. Even though the sequence depicted French townsfolk rebelling against French monarchs, authorities in Japan did not like the idea of popular entertainment showing rebellion against royalty of any kind; what if such a scene inspired radicals to attempt something similar against the Emperor? In the end, due to pressure from exhibitors to show the film in some capacity, reworked dialogue (read aloud by benshi******) and a new title—The Curious Story of North America: The Cave King—sufficiently changed things up so that the French monarchs became American bandits and the film was passed for distribution. The domineering interest, in these days, was to preserve a very pure image of Japan and avoid provoking subversive thinking. And it was this sort of censorship that was maintained and then expanded when, on April 15, 1939, the government set the Film Law loose on the motion picture industry.
Provoked by the Sino-Japan Incident of 1937 and modeled after the Spitzenorganisation der Filmwirstchaft program of Nazi Germany, the Film Law set out not only to keep the Emperor’s image pure but to also “promote the quality of film and the sound development of the film industry so that films can contribute to the nation’s cultural development.” Essentially outlawed was anything that “might hamper the enlightenment and propaganda basic to the exercise of national policy.”
Conditions intensified with the rise of World War II; and in 1940, the Ministry of Affairs implemented a new set of censorship rules. Slice-of-life films promoting individual happiness were banned, to be replaced by stories embodying feudalistic values (read: absolute loyalty to the government). Movies showcasing industrial productivity fell into favor. Comedians and satirists received instructions to tone down their act. And, most notably, the government sought to advocate the making of “national movies of healthy entertainment value with themes showing persons ready to serve.” From this came a slew of jingoistic national policy films, including Yutaka Abe’s Flaming Sky (1940), Eiichi Koishi’s Soaring Passion (1941), Kajiro Yamamoto’s The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya (1942), and Kunio Watanabe’s Toward the Decisive Battle in the Sky (1943). Films which essentially came to represent Japanese populist cinema in the early 1940s due to their sheer quantity and the profits they reaped.*******
Of course, movies on other subjects were still possible, provided they operated within certain parameters. In regards to Naruse, he for the most part managed to avoid making propaganda, though some of his films in the late 1930s and early ‘40s contained little glimpses of Japan’s political climate. His 1939 film Sincerity concludes with one of the characters receiving a draft notice. In A Face from the Past (1941), parents recognize their son as one of the soldiers in a military newsreel. More overt politicization appeared in Shanghai Moon (1941), a film which still exists (albeit in fragmented form) and stars Isuzu Yamada as a terrorist who infiltrates a pro-Japan propaganda radio station, cannot bring herself to kill its occupants, and is done away with by her fellow terrorists.
Yet another case of unambiguous propaganda appeared in Naruse’s Until Victory Day, his last movie before the surrender of Japan to the Allied Powers; the only film in his Toho repertoire which, it seems, has vanished from the face of the earth.
Until Victory Day
Release date: January 25, 1945
Running time: 59min
Well before the release of this film, it had become unmistakably clear Japan would end up on the losing side of the war. A reality that was steadily making itself felt within the entertainment industry. Film stock was running short on supply. Nearly one thousand movie theaters either ceased operation, converted into facilities for other uses, or perished completely in the Allied air raids. Studio structures endured damage, sound stages reduced in number, budgets shrank, and it wasn’t unheard of for editors to drop what they were doing in the sudden arrival of an attack and rush to the shelter with all the footage they could carry. So rather than turn out huge, special effects-laden projects like The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya, the studios, still under the control of the government, opted to make small-scale movies with nationalistic and jingoistic themes. (Akira Kurosawa’s The Most Beautiful, about patriots employed in a war factory, functioned as a replacement project for a fighter pilot movie which had recently fallen through.) In addition, comedians were still welcome to employ restricted doses of their personalities for the screen—especially in feel-good entertainments that supported the military, or movies designed specifically to entertain soldiers. Films of the latter category could sometimes attain funding from the militarists themselves, as was the case with Mikio Naruse’s Until Victory Day.
Described by its director as a project utterly lacking narrative coherency and made for the purpose of amusing troops on the front, this comedy venture had been funded by the Imperial Japanese Navy, allowing Toho to take a breather in terms of expenses. The sheer ridiculousness of the plot was described in Nihon Eiga magazine: “A scientist invents an ‘entertainment bomb.’ When it explodes, various kinds of acts and comedy routines come popping out. The ‘bomb’ is detonated in front of soldiers and sailors on a lonely South Sea island, bringing unexpected joy to their hearts.” Originally, the film was to be directed by Tadashi Imai, but a conscription notice and a summons to the front prevented him from taking the job (one wonders, therefore, if he was among the soldiers who saw this movie while on duty overseas).
Perhaps to give the target audience a sense of home, Toho went the distance in cramming Until Victory Day with recognizable faces. In addition to comedians Ken’ichi Enomoto (better known by his stage name, Enoken) and Roppa Furukawa, the entertainers who came out of the rocket included well-known actresses such as Isuzu Yamada, Setsuko Hara, Hideko Takamine, and Yukiko Todokori. Another familiar presence was former benshi Musei Tokugawa, who reflected the general attitude toward the picture in an interview many years later: “[Y]ou could actually feel the approach of [Japan’s] inevitable defeat in the utter imbecility of the storyline. The fact that it had been directly commissioned by the navy made it all the more pathetic.”
The circumstances under which Until Victory Day and many other Japanese national policy films became lost were as diverse as they were devastating. A sizable number vanished in the same poor preservation systems and the same firebombing raids responsible for whittling down Japan’s silent cinema legacy. Others were confiscated and subsequently destroyed by the victorious Allied Forces. Still others were lost when film studios, perhaps anticipating censorship from the Americans, exterminated copies of various films in their possession. Toho, for example, burned every last trace of the 1945 film I Believe I Am Being Followed. Unless a copy was hidden in secret and has yet to turn up, this particular film is gone forever, wiped away by its own creators.
Of course, not every nationalistic film extant in Japan at the time was obliterated. In some cases, the Americans chose to collect certain films rather than destroy them and send them to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. for study and preservation. In other cases, studio staffers stowed away copies until such a time when the films could be shown again. (Toho’s studio boss, Iwao Mori, assigned a select few employees to bury prints of eight national policy films until the Americans vacated. The interred reels were never discovered by the occupying forces, and the films survived to be run again.) But it appears such favorable circumstances did not befall Until Victory Day. It remains classified as a lost film. Over the years, I’ve come across scant rumors on the internet claiming about fifteen minutes of the picture still exist today; but these sources, lacking corroboration, don’t offer much in the way of hope or credibility.
The final missing film in Naruse’s oeuvre comes from an era in which Toho was experiencing intense political unrest. In the early years of the occupation, when the Americans first set out to “westernize” and “democratize” the Land of the Rising Sun, organized labor was heartily encouraged to the Japanese (the hope being that encouraging working class people to demand better perks from their employers would help weed out allegiance-oriented sentiments prevalent during the war—see my article on Kurosawa’s Those Who Make Tomorrow for more detail). And seeing as how Toho possessed the strongest labor union among the studios, theirs was naturally the one which took the most noteworthy actions.
Between the years of 1946 and 1948, the unionists at Toho conducted a total of three strikes, resulting in a few positive changes (such as increased wages) and a vast quantity of negative consequences. Over the course of these events, most of the major stars under contact left the studio, alternate unions came into existence, the short-lived and incompetently managed Shin-Toho was formed, fewer Toho movies were produced, and in what constituted the third and final strike, the studio shut down completely for 134 days. For more than a third of the year, unionists occupied the studio grounds, holding off their employers and the police with, among other things, barbed wire and firehoses. In the end, it required the presence of the United States military—a dispatch of troops, three aircraft, and seven tanks—to coerce the unionists to yield.
Naruse’s participation in this tumultuous chapter seems to have been minimal. He did join an “Artist’s Group” demanding the resignation of Toho’s anticommunist executives but apart from that kept a low profile, became an independent director, and took work wherever he could find it. He made no movies in 1948, instead directing for the stage, and the few films he directed shortly thereafter were produced by other production companies. One of those companies was Toyoko Eiga, for whom he made the last movie under discussion.
Studio: Toyoko Eiga
Release date: March 29, 1949
Running time: 72min
The story concerns a pair of schoolgirls, Eiko (Yoshiko Kuga) and Tamie (Michiko Aizome). Tamie, the daughter of an English teacher, passes her exams and takes a job in an insurance company; Eiko, the daughter of a single parent, flunks out and begins the life of a delinquent, hanging around bars with a dubious class of people. Tamie, whose life has become dull and drab, feels a surge of envy for her schoolmate’s newfound lifestyle. Both girls experience an assortment of troubles related to men and money, and by the end, Tamie realizes her “boring” life wasn’t so bad after all.
This was Naruse’s only movie released in 1949. Despite attaining commercial success, the film was panned by film critics. Naruse himself knew from the start that his talents were not suited for this kind of film; he’d taken the job for the money. Audie Bock’s book on the director contains the following remark: “Certainly, nobody would have been able to make a good film based on a vulgar erotic novel like [Tajiro] Tamura’s.”
After Delinquent Girl, Naruse took on the assignment of Conduct Report on Professor Ishinaka (1950), which he made for Shin-Toho, before coming back to Toho that same year with The Angry Street. And despite the occasional future job for another production house, he was more or less back to being a company man. A great many of his best films—Repast (1951), Sound of the Mountain (1954), Floating Clouds (1955), Sudden Rain (1956), When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960), Lonely Lane (1962), Yearning (1964), Two in the Shadow (1967), etc.—would be produced by Toho and, thankfully, none of these pictures have been obliterated by forces of any kind. One does not have to settle for plot synopses and reviews in trying to understand these later pictures; each and every one survives to be sought out and analyzed—and enjoyed—today.
** To achieve a ranking on this publication’s annual “Best Ten” list was considered a major accomplishment. Most prestigious was the #1 ranking, also known as the “Best One.” As Donald Richie and Joseph L. Anderson wrote in The Japanese Film – Art and Industry: “There is nothing quite like it in the West. Japanese critics poll to select the ten best films of the year and their choice has the greatest influence, not only in critical circles but also among the public and within the industry itself. It is an award relatively untouched by commercial consideration and is, therefore, highly respected.” During his lifetime, fourteen of Naruse’s films appeared on the magazine’s “Best Ten” list, and two of them—Wife! Be Like a Rose (1935) and Floating Clouds (1955)—garnered the coveted “Best One” prize.
**** Even though Naruse’s directing career began after this event and was not directly affected by it, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 played a major role in the destruction of vintage Japanese cinema.
***** In the ten years prior to becoming a director, Naruse continually wrote and submitted screenplays to the front office, knowing Shiro Kido usually determined promotions according to scriptwriting. Unsurprisingly, none of these early scripts of his were approved. Screenwriter Matsuo Kishi speculated Kido might not have even bothered to read them due to (he suspected) a personal disliking of Naruse.
****** In the days of silent film in Japan, movies—domestic and foreign imports alike—were very often narrated live by performers called benshi. Many of these performers became famous and, in a sense, became the starring attractions, more so than the on-camera actors, the directors, and sometimes even the movies themselves.
******* The prime example is Kajiro Yamamoto’s The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya, which cost a whopping $380,000 to produce, featured an infamous recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor (with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya), quickly recouped its costs, and was saluted by Kinema Jumpo as the “Best One” in their annual “Best Ten” list. Its success resulted in Yamamoto later directing Colonel Kato’s Falcon Squadron, itself the first big hit of 1944.General // December 3, 2018
The fandom is known to seek out the original versions of Toho’s films when at all possible, and for good reason. American distributors sometimes cut scenes, alter music and even add sequences to movies.
The Return of Godzilla (1984) faced a similar treatment when it was brought over to the US as Godzilla 1985 by New World Pictures. However, while fans are quick to turn their nose up at the version for its “young general, evil Soviets, Dr. Pepper vending machine” ways, the American version did a lot of things right. Now I’m not defending Godzilla 1985 as the better version, it’s not. The US version added some awfully pointless scenes, but I feel it should be recognized for the many positive changes that were done.
Many things were altered about the 1984 movie, some more respectful than others, and some did improve the film. Below is a list of some of the greatest alterations New World Pictures did when preparing The Return of Godzilla for the US market, in order of enjoyment.
Less “Foreigner” Dialogue
“This is no time to be discussing PRINCipals…”
Bad acting from non-Japanese actors is a norm for a lot of the Godzilla franchise. The Showa films used to address this by dubbing over most of them, even though the caliber of actors like Nick Adams and Russ Tamblyn was high and their performances great. The Return of Godzilla started a new trend of leaving the original actors’ dialogue in.
While the performances are better in this film than the ones that would follow, there is still cringe worthy moments. Oddly, the US version elects not to dub these over and keeps the original performances. Thankfully, though, Godzilla 1985 instead removes a lot of these lines. This does have a negative by-product though on a few of the scenes that employee them. The best example is the Soviet submarine sequence, which has a lot of the lines cut. This includes axing the cheesy nuclear “conflicto” line. However, the removal gets to the point where the scene feels very brisk, totally removing the tension the sequence was going for.
On the scale of changes, this one does some good along with the bad.
Making Tokyo Actually Seem Evacuated
This is a pet peeve of mine, but in The Return of Godzilla Tokyo never feels like it’s actually evacuated. The film makes an effort to show daytime evacuation scenes as notice is given that Godzilla is heading toward Tokyo… and then night falls and the city still seems packed with people. This includes footage of a bustling shopping district that reacts to Godzilla almost on top of them. In fact, it feels like most of Tokyo kind of ignored the evacuation notification.
New World Pictures addresses this by using the shopping district shot without the crowds below and two other major contributions to make it feel like Tokyo actually made more of an effort to evacuate.
The first is the removal of a crowd scene that happens after Godzilla collapses from fighting the Super-X. This occurs almost immediately after Godzilla falls over, making it feel like there were throngs of people, in running distance, of Godzilla while he was attacking Tokyo’s downtown area. I mean this isn’t just a handful of people who might have struggled to evacuate, this is a regular flash mob that shows up on cue and is held back by police in riot gear who are also immediately on the scene (Godzilla has quite the entourage). All of these scenes were wisely removed.
The next contribution is through the ordering of scenes. When the Japanese government announces that the Russian nuke has been launched at Tokyo, we get shots of them announcing this to crowds and footage of citizens rushing into subways. It gets a smirk: shouldn’t these people already be evacuated? New World instead takes this footage and places it just BEFORE Godzilla arrives. This is much better, making it feel like the final stages of the evacuation rather than a second attempt to evacuate the people who must not have listened the first time.
Cutting Bad Effects
While special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano was at the top of his game for the 1984 film, the production does exhibit the Japanese norm of being uneven in its effects. It’s rare for any Tokusatsu (Japanese special effects films) to not exhibit this, often having at least one below par or cringe worthy effect. This is largely due to the tight schedule that most Japanese productions are created under. The Return of Godzilla has a few, and thankfully these were cut from the US version.
First up is the Shockirus attack, which is much longer in the Japanese version. Godzilla 1985 cuts a little too much here, but it does remove the greatest offending point: the part where the prop jumps onto actor Ken Tanaka’s back. It’s totally unconvincing as it dangles part on the actor, part off, being held by the actor. This segment is not only better left forgotten, but also doesn’t make sense in the story, as Tanaka’s character Goro Maki turns around and the Shockirus that was on his back is suddenly across the room (!?) and then jumps on his chest.
The other offending special effects shots are numerous, but are all related to the “real size” Godzilla foot prop. Sadly, the prop is not only unconvincing but also just doesn’t match how the foot looks in other scenes. Given the budget probably spent on these scenes, one can sympathize with director Nakano wanting to keep them in, but they aren’t particularly exciting on their own and the film benefits from their removal.
Trimmed Super-X vs. Godzilla Battle
In the original version, Godzilla seems very lethargic at some points. The worst offender of this is during his initial battle with the Super-X.
For the battle, Godzilla stands around for long spans of time before and when he is first confronted by the Super-X. This includes standing in place as the ship approaches, before the ship starts to fire its flares, during the flares, and even after being injected by the cadmium missiles. Other than roaring, his only response is a belated atomic ray AFTER Godzilla is having issues breathing from the cadmium… and Godzilla continues to stand, off on a small monitor, while the prime minister and his staff go over the likely scenario of the nuke that the Soviets just launched. FINALLY the movie cuts back and Godzilla collapses into a building, as the cadmium begins to affect him. The editing structure is painful, and oddly de-emphasizes Godzilla during what should be a key sequence.
The US edit is much more concise, with faster pacing that doesn’t make it seem like Godzilla is just sitting there perplexed for what feels like an hour while the Super-X does it’s thing. The editing makes Godzilla feel more appropriately hostile, as his first response is to attempt to blast the craft with his ray, which has no impact thanks to the ship’s shielding. The Super-X then responds in turn with the flares and cadmium missiles, which cause Godzilla to topple over without the needless minutes of him standing in place. It’s an infinitely more engaging turn of events than what happens in the original cut.
The second battle after Godzilla awakes is good in both versions, although even here the US version makes a wise cut of a long scene as Godzilla waits for the Super-X to emerge from behind a building.
While most of the improvements to the film can be chalked up to editing choices, and most of the negatives associated with the added scenes, this alteration does buck that trend. As Godzilla ascends into the volcano, Raymond Burr’s Steve Martin gives a heartfelt speech about the monster:
Nature has a way sometimes of reminding man of just how small he is. She occasionally throws up terrible offspring’s of our pride and carelessness to remind us of how puny we really are in the face of a tornado, an earthquake, or a Godzilla. The reckless ambitions of man are often dwarfed by their dangerous consequences. For now, Godzilla, that strangely innocent and tragic monster, has gone to earth. Whether he returns or not, or is never again seen by human eyes, the things he has taught us… remain…
While much of the dialogue for the new film leaves some to be desired, the overly poetic closure feels on point. Burr’s delivery is also impeccable, giving some new closing meat to the film during a sequence that was otherwise dialogue-less.
The Return of Godzilla features two songs, both of which were removed when New World Pictures edited the film. The first is “Good-bye Sweetheart Godzilla” and the second is the “Godzilla: Theme of Love”. If those song titles sound out of place for the more gothic 1984 film, it’s because they are.
The first song is actually done by the main actress of the film, Yasuko Sawaguchi. It’s heard on the radio during the opening on the small leisure boat before it finds the Yahata Maru. It really cuts through the mood, being way too happy and poppy, as its placed between the fishing ship struggling the night before and the upcoming sequence of the Shockirus. If the original film crew placed the song there as a moment of humor, it missed the mark and feels more like Toho was looking for some place to just cram and promote Sawaguchi’s musical career.
The second song is better, but also unneeded. It’s located during the movie’s credits, as Godzilla is trapped in the volcano. Done by The Star Sisters, the song is actually in English and has the singers saying: “Good-bye now Godzilla, good-bye now Godzilla, until then… take care now Godzilla, take care now Godzilla my old friend… Sayonara ‘til we meet again.” Yes there was a saddened relief felt by the characters as Godzilla was falling into the volcano, but the lyrics of the song feel totally out of place. It would fit much better as a finisher on one of the 1970’s films, as opposed to one where Godzilla returned to his evil roots.
For the record, I don’t dislike either song, but feel neither fits with the 1984 Godzilla film.
Added Music by Christopher Young
*drum roll* …and the greatest achievement from Godzilla 1985 is the added music. Original composer Reijiro Koroku did a phenomenal job on the movie’s score. It’s one of the better in the franchise, and the dark, moody music fits the gothic motif of the production perfectly.
The fault of the music is not in the themes themselves, which are incredible, but rather than the sequences that lack them. Realizing this, New World Pictures tapped the musical work of composer Christopher Young to fill in the blank sequences. While Young is a very prolific composer now, having scored films like Spider-Man 3 and The Rum Diary, he was relatively new to the industry back in the mid-1980’s. The source of the music is actually the score for Def-Con 4, which was released in the US just five months prior.
Young’s score not only fits well with Koroku’s music, but was brilliant in its own right, and likely would have been very obscure if not for its use in the Godzilla film. The added themes from Young greatly improved certain, previously music-less sequences. The best examples include the eerie search through the Yahata Maru, the Soviet Submarine scenes before Godzilla attacks and the high rise evacuation by helicopter. The new end credits also utilized a new suite of music that nicely mixed Koroku’s music with Young’s to great effect.
As a side note, a lot of the musical score for Def-Con 4 can be found on an old 1990 Intrada CD release that we have reviewed on the site.
Agree or disagree with this list? Feel free to list your own things Godzilla 1985 did better than The Return of Godzilla in the comments below.BY: Anthony RomeroGeneral // November 30, 2018
To celebrate Thanksgiving, the Toho Kingdom team has put together some of the things they are really thankful for in kaiju fandom to share the holiday cheer—and we think there is a lot to be thankful for recently! So grab a monster-sized turkey leg and an extra helping of radioactive cranberry sauce and a slice of pumpkin pie (made from leftover jack-o-lanterns perhaps) and gather around for the celebration! Also, if you have something that you’re thankful for, be sure to share it in the comments!
There are so many things to be thankful for it’s hard to know where to start! Let me share three things that make me really grateful.
1. Godzilla movies being made in BOTH the USA and in Japan! Okay, so the Japan films are completed now, and while I am not the biggest fan of the anime trilogy, it is still exciting to have the opportunity to see a new take on Godzilla and (for me at least) go to see them in a movie theater. And we have not one, but TWO Monsterverse movies being made now, and the trailers for the first of those two films I still think is surprisingly beautiful! We really do have a Godzilla resurgence going on, and I am looking forward to seeing what will happen next!
2. I really enjoyed the Godzilla DVD Collectors sets, which I think finally concluded recently. My main reason for enjoying them has been the reprinted manga! While the manga itself is often printed on depressingly cheap paper, just the chance to read some of these classic monster manga is a dream come true. It’s so fun to see some of the bizarre liberties some of the manga have taken with the source material, and after reviewing the manga version of Godzilla vs. Hedorah, I even had the chance to meet and interview Daiji Kazumine! I just feel incredibly lucky!
3. And perhaps for me I feel most lucky just to be in Japan, and close to Tokyo. Because I am here, I can easily attend a lot of events I normally would not have the chance to. Yes, I can go see the new Godzilla movies in theaters, but that’s almost the least of it. As mentioned above, I could meet Daiji Kazumine, but I also got to see the original Godzilla (1954) with a live orchestra playing the music last year. I attended the Godzilla Festival last year and this year. I have gone to multiple exhibitions, played a Godzilla AR game, saw Godzilla the Real in Universal Studios, and attempted the Tokyo Mystery Circus Godzilla escape room experience with a friend (though we ultimately failed). And my Japanese has gotten a lot better as well! Honestly, I just feel very, very thankful for so many things in my life. And with that, I just want to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving as well! I hope everything is the best it can be with you.
This truly is a great time to be G-Fan huh? Back around 2004 or 2005 I really thought we’d seen the end of the series for a long time and even then I only figured it would be a single film. I still can’t quite grasp the fact that we’ve had a new American made Godzilla film, a new Japanese Godzilla film, and an animated trilogy of Godzilla films. That’s also not even counting Godzilla King of the Monsters, Godzilla vs. Kong, and a whole new series from Toho! I truly feel blessed and thankful to be alive and a Godzilla fan right now. But my thankfulness goes beyond getting new Godzilla films. I never would have believed as a kid that my passion for Godzilla would lead to me getting to write for the biggest Godzilla website ever, getting to meet and film a professional interview with a director of a Godzilla film, and even getting to meet Godzilla (Haruo Nakajima, Kenpachiro Satsuma, and Tsutomu Kitagawa) himself in person. Finally I am also thankful for all the friends I have made who share my passion for Godzilla many of whom I meet on this very site. For all of this and more I am well and truly Thankful.
Being a Godzilla fan has always been an interesting proposition. It’s far different from being a Star Wars fan, a Marvel fan, a Nintendo fan or any other prominent franchise where you could reasonably expect to walk down to a Target or Walmart and find at least some toys or shirts to represent it.
Godzilla fans have always been the type who are on the cusp of mainstream, which might be part of the allure for some. I don’t expect that to change, but I’m thankful for the degree of spotlight the nuclear leviathan has gotten of late. While I was majorly indifferent to the Anime Godzilla films, it’s an exciting time for me, with a constant news cycle around the upcoming two Godzilla films from Legendary Pictures.
So what am I thankful for? I considered something more overarching, but I’d rather focus on something hyper focused, timely and on the near horizon: I’m thankful for Rodan in Godzilla King of the Monsters.
It might seem like a small aspect, but I’m a huge Rodan fan for a very distinct reason. That reason being that there are arguably three films that made me a life long Godzilla fan:
Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) – for being the film that got a young Anthony to actually become fascinated with the character and the hints at this larger monster world.
Rodan (1956) – for not just introducing the idea that this universe extended beyond Godzilla for me, but for the personal attachment as I watched it on VHS with my father who recounted seeing the movie as a kid in theaters.
Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) – for quickly becoming my favorite film, and hitting just that right level of “maturity” to appeal to a teenager wanting something more “adult” (this was the exxxxtreme 1990’s, when everything felt ramped to 11 to try to appeal to this notion).
So I’ve long been a Rodan fan, who has been an important pillar to my fascination with the Godzilla franchise. However, the character really hasn’t gotten a great role since Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965). Destroy All Monsters (1968) and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) were okay from an assemble sense, and certainly he got a better role than others like Varan or Hedorah respectively. The character did have a meaty presence in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), although at the same time the flying kaiju had somewhat been reduced to showing off how strong both Godzilla and Mechagodzilla were in contrast.
I’m hopeful that next year will see the winged monster’s return to glory. Heck, even if the best moments for Rodan were in the first trailer, I’d argue it would be a more impressive role than the character has gotten since 1993. So I’m thankful for where the franchise is headed, and that the spotlight is expanding to focus on characters outside of Godzilla in the West.
Thanksgiving being a time for gratefulness and reflection, you’ll often hear it used for reminiscing with friends and family. While that is true, it’s also a good time for remembering how grateful we are for Godzilla! For the past few years, Thanksgiving has brought with it the opportunity to partake in some fine Godzilla movie marathons like the days of old. Families can gather around the table/couch/radioactive spring and bond over one of the many enjoyable movies being broadcast that day; a perfect companion for your holiday meal of choice! And then, if that’s not enough kaiju goodness to whet your whistle, there’s plenty of great collectibles to be purchased come the deals to follow the holiday! Honestly, the ease of buying X-Plus figures in the US is something that I’m pretty thankful for as my burgeoning collection slowly grows.
Of course, I’m most grateful for is the continuation of the Godzilla series at large. I’m certain that I’m not alone in my excitement for Legendary’s MonsterVerse movies. Both Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Godzilla vs Kong are setting up to be something special if the world building that’s slowly happening in the background is any indication. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited just to see what’s happening on the Godzilla radar that MONARCH has set up. The thought that he’s out there, peacefully swimming the oceans is rather pleasing to me. 🙂 But it’s not just Legendary’s movies that have my heart aflutter, it’s Toho’s own. From the anime series to the planned Godzilla films after 2020, it’s a pretty exciting time for the house that made Godzilla, if still somewhat on the horizon.
Then there’s all of you out there! My personal life is pretty crazy; I’m taking nursing classes, working, and making the rest of life come together as well. But with all that, when I’m feeling like I need to see what’s going on in the land of kaiju, there’s still a place for me to stop back in and talk to someone about giant monsters. It might not always seem like the friendliest place (depending on where you’re looking around the web), but there’s a lot of good people around these parts. And that is a far cry from the lonely playgrounds I was on as a kid with my Trendmaster figures in hand. So thank you all for keeping those radioactive flames burning!! I hope we can all manage to have a happy and safe holiday this week!
With giant monsters rising to dominate modern day media, there is plenty to be thankful for. Whether it be the latest American version of Godzilla, the revival of Gridman in animation, or the ever-expanding library of physical and digital novels revolving around kaiju, there is a little something for everyone to enjoy. Despite how long monsters have been present in the world of fiction, the kaiju fandom still has some growing to do, and there is fortunately plenty of room for newcomers. I’ve always been appreciative of how accessible the fandom can be, and I find myself constantly amazed by just how creative fans are with their artwork and writing. The devotion others have when it comes to sharing their discoveries from Japanese sources is something I also greatly admire. There are small communities dedicated to breaking the language barrier and providing information for the sole purpose of informing others. Some even go so far as to hire professional translators to subtitle television shows, such as Toho’s own Zone Fighter.
Yes, I am extremely grateful to be part of a community of such talented and committed individuals, and I sincerely look forward to seeing the growth of the next generation of fans. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
So what are you thankful for in the Godzilla Fandom? Sound off in the comments.General // November 22, 2018
For some time there has been some intriguing artwork kind of floating around the Internet portraying a golden, fully-robotic Mecha-Ghidorah that was originally published in a magazine in the early 1980s, a super robot which apparently fought Godzilla in some sort of officially licensed story. I have seen the picture passed around on forums and speculated about repeatedly without much in the form of direct knowledge pertaining to the contents of the article/short-story/whatever the heck it was, except some dismissive remark that the original article amounted to something akin to lousy fan-fiction from someone who may or may not have actually read the material.
So I was really curious when I saw that the article/story was being republished in the Godzilla All-Movie DVD Collector’s Box Vol. 41, which features the Toho Champion Festival cut of Invasion of Astro-Monster, originally shown in 1971 at the Champion Festivals at the time. I initially had not been planning to purchase this volume, but the fact that I could finally put the mystery of the golden Mecha-Ghidorah to rest was enough to tempt me into purchasing the box.
I bought the box, took it home, opened it, and dug out the pages—predictably enough printed on terrible paper. So now I know.
And… what is it? Well, it’s not exactly a story. Let’s start with the basics.
The Yuji Kaida painting of Mecha-Ghidorah in all his glory.
The article was originally published in the March 1981 issue of Terebi Magazine, and the reprint includes several pieces of art. The piece of artwork I most often saw attached on those forums—a beautiful painting featuring a grinning Godzilla busting the right head off of a rampaging Mecha-Ghidorah in the middle of a city while a Japanese couple in an action pose looks on in the corner—was done by Masami Watanabe, who is a frequent illustrator of tokusatsu. Just google the name and feast your eyes on a wide variety of really excellent artwork! I probably just don’t pay enough attention, but I think Watanabe deserves more acclaim in fandom circles. Anyway, on the next page is a full-page, full-body drawing by monster-art legend Yuji Kaida. The publication also includes an enormous two-page dissection illustration, showing the robot’s inner workings and an explanation of the robot’s various powers—and some information about the man who designed the monster, Kunio Okawara, who is famous for basically inventing the “mechanical design” job description in anime with his groundbreaking work on designing the Gundam mecha. There are a few other illustrations of the villains behind Mecha-Ghidorah’s design, though I did not see an attribution for those art pieces.
So now that we have seen the names behind the art, what is the STORY? Well, to be frank, there isn’t much of a story given—just kind of the bare-bones of a scenario suggested for the robot’s background and powers. The first two pages have text that says the following:
The terrible villain Mecha-Ghidorah has appeared. Mecha-Ghidorah goes on a rampage, and Godzilla faces off with him! Can Godzilla’s attack against Mecha-Ghidorah protect the world? Do your best, monster king Godzilla!
Godzilla tries with all of his strength to bite off the head of Mecha-Ghidorah, which is made from space metal.
Each of the three heads of Mecha-Ghidorah emits a different kind of light beam.
Mecha-Ghidorah was built modeled off of that monster King Ghidorah.
And that’s it so far as the battle between Godzilla and Mecha-Ghidorah is described, because the story is mostly left up to the imaginations of the readers. Nevertheless, there are some more specific details about the design of Mecha-Ghidorah and his various powers, and a full page about the secret of Mecha-Ghidorah’s birth… but no real narrative. Which doesn’t mean we don’t have some interesting background details to look into.
It probably makes more sense to reveal the secret of Mecha-Ghidorah’s birth first, because that plays into the robot’s various design features. The creators of this version of Mecha-Ghidorah are a group known as the Dark Mysterious Star Alliance, which has made the robot in order to destroy Godzilla and take over the world. The Dark Mysterious Star Alliance is made up of a whole slew of Toho villainy, including the X-Seijin, the Mysterians, the Natalians, the Kilaaks, the cockroach aliens, the ape aliens, and even the aliens from the planet Yomi of The War in Space (1977) fame. Mecha-Ghidorah was built on a planet that the Dark Mysterious Star Alliance controls, and an image of the construction process is also provided, with a short passage to the side about how giant robots based off of powerful kaiju are very tough just from looking at examples like Mechagodzilla and Mechani-Kong.
The Dark Mysterious Star Alliance hanging out at their evil lair of evilness.
And it’s true–this version of Mecha-Ghidorah is a real powerhouse. Like King Ghidorah, Mecha-Ghidorah sports three heads, and each of these heads houses a massive eye, each with a different color—red on the right, white in the middle, green on the left. Each of these eyes can emit a different kind of ray, with the red eye emitting a heat ray, the white eye emitting a freeze ray, and the green eye emitting the familiar gravity beam that the real King Ghidorah was known for. Interestingly, in the 1991 film, King Ghidorah was originally going to shoot three different rays, which can still be seen on the famous poster by Noriyoshi Ohrai, and also in early shots for the film that were actually completed and can be found on YouTube. The rays, or beams, are modeled after the beam weaponry that had been installed in Mechagodzilla and the Daimakan (the alien ship used by the Messiah 13 aliens from the planet Yomi from The War in Space).
Moving on to Mecha-Ghidorah’s tails, each tail is tipped with a drill fashioned after the Showa Mogera robot’s drill nose built by the Mysterians. The robot’s back features an enormous buzzsaw, based off of Gigan’s massive cutter. The robot’s main energy pack is housed in its crotch area, and anti-gravity plates are installed in the robot’s wings. Various other, smaller features are also pointed out on a sprawling double-page spread, including high efficiency antennae and mechanisms to make the feet move.
And that is about it as far as the magazine article is concerned. We never learn how the Dark Mysterious Star Alliance came together, or what happened when they attacked, or if Godzilla wins or loses. It all seems to be up in the air, and it isn’t really clear why this design was made, although it is possible that it was part of some kind of promotion to try to garner more interest in the Godzilla reboot projects that ultimately failed at the time (my colleague Patrick suggested this explanation to me). The Mecha-Ghidorah design must have been fairly popular with the Japanese fans at the time, because I was able to find pictures on Twitter of a scan from SF Puramo Magazine in which a model of the mech was included as an example of “super modelling,” which was apparently a monthly feature. The best I can understand is that the model was created from scratch (it’s a “full-scratch” model) by amateur (?) modeler Toshikazu Shishizawa, and was made to match the Bandai vinyl scale of 350/1. The Shishizawa model has an original design for the robot’s backside, however, replacing the Gigan buzzsaw with a pair of jets.
Still, to me, the fact that this version of Mecha-Ghidorah exists as this sort of nebulous “what-if?” design is puzzling—but other speculative designs have also appeared in magazines and been the basis of models as well, such as the Kongzilla design made by Matt Frank and also made into a really amazing sculpture, the “Metal Gear” Mechagodzilla, and others. I have seen images of a kind of souped-up Gigan that were also published in a magazine at one point, and there are other examples I am sure as well—the Internet is a treasure trove of confusing bits of artwork and mysteriousness. Nevertheless, as I have uncovered more about this particular Mecha-Ghidorah, I still wish there would have been some kind of short story attached rather than just a mostly empty scenario! Maybe some enterprising fan-fiction writer could take up the challenge and write one…
A pic of the Toshikazu Shishizawa miniature—pic taken from a tweet by Sutenosu.General // November 18, 2018
Living proof that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, comes a collection of films, done outside of Japan, which were heavily influenced by Toho produced, and distributed, movies. As expected, Akira Kurosawa‘s movies are easily the most influential films to have come out of Toho, or Japan for that matter, and their impact is reflected below. However, in more recent years, there has been a outreach to pay homage to other films to have gone through Toho by different directors. As a general note, GODZILLA (1998) and Godzilla (2014) are not listed in this section due to the more direct involvement with Toho and the utilization of Toho copyrighted characters.
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
John Sturges’ western picture about seven gunfighters who are hired to protect a Mexican village from their bandit oppressors. The film is the first, of many, to take their own swing at Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) while moving the story to a western setting, which would become a popular trend in adapting Kurosawa’s work. The film does credit its source material, though, listing: “This picture is based on the Japanese film Seven Samurai, Toho Company, Ltd.” The Magnificent Seven starred Yul Brynner in Takashi Shimura‘s role, and has Horst Buchholz playing a hybrid of Toshiro Mifune‘s role and Isao Kimura’s role. The film was followed up in 1966 with Return of the Magnificent Seven.
Influence: Seven Samurai (1954)
Star Wars (1977)
Without question, the most famous film which was inspired from a Toho movie. George Lucas’ Star Wars follows the basic principles of The Hidden Fortress (1958). The movie is told from the perspective of two droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO who are obviously playing out the roles of the two thieves in The Hidden Fortress, with the first twenty minutes of Star Wars being remarkably similar to the same scenes in Kurosawa’s 1958 film. Star Wars shares numerous similar plot points with its inspiration as well, including Obi-Wan (playing Mifune’s role, more or less) attempting to escort the princess to safety. Star Wars is a rather large deviation from the source material, though, with numerous twists and characters added in. The film was followed up in 1980 with The Empire Strikes Back.
Influence: The Hidden Fortress (1958)
Last Man Standing (1996)
This mid 1990’s offering by Walter Hill is a different take on Kurosawa’s masterpiece Yojimbo (1961). The Bruce Willis vehicle moves the story to a western setting with a mercenary getting caught between the conflict of local Italian and Irish gangs. This film is a little more faithful to the source, Dashiell Hammett’s The Red Harvest, than Kurosawa was, but still borrows more from Kurosawa’s movie than anything else. The film has Bruce Willis in Mifune’s role and Christopher Walken in Tatsuya Nakadai‘s role.
Influence: Yojimbo (1961)
The Ring (2002)
Gore Verbinski’s remake of the 1998 film Ring. Like its Japanese counterpart, The Ring focuses on a cursed tape which will kill those who watch it seven days later. The film is, more or less, a direct remake with several scenes added in to explain the origin of the film’s antagonist, Samara (instead of Sadako) in this version, adding a lot of back story that wasn’t in the 1998 offering. The film was followed up in 2005 by The Ring Two, which is directed by Hideo Nakata, the director behind the original 1998 film.
Influence: Ring (1998)
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
Quentin Tarantino’s largely different take on the 1973 film Lady Snowblood, which was released in a two volume series. It would be unfair to credit Lady Snowblood full heartily for Kill Bill, as the series is really a homage to so many different sources; however, it would not be unfair to credit the 1973 film as the prime inspiration. To put it bluntly, Kill Bill merges the role of Yuki Shurayuki and her mother into one, and adds one member to the roster of murderers. Kill Bill still keeps the chapter story approach, along with several shots (such as when the murders are peering down at the defeated Mother/Bride) and keeps the main title theme of Lady Snowblood (Flower of Carnage by Masaaki Hirao). The film was followed up in 2004 with Kill Bill: Volume 2.
Influence: Lady Snowblood (1973)
Shall We Dance? (2004)
A remake of the 1996 movie of the same name, Shall We Dance?. Produced by Miramax, the same company which had released the original Japanese production in the United States in 1997, the film took the overall story and made it a vehicle for stars Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon. Although with a similar plot, the new movie focuses more on the supporting cast than the original did.
Influence: Shall We Dance? (1996)
Dark Water (2005)
Staring Jennifer Connelly, the film is a reimagining of the original 2002 production Dark Water. The movie is one of the more faithful remakes of a Japanese production committed to a Toho film, although still adds and removes sequences that in turn separates it from the original.
Unlike other horror remakes, the movie keeps the grim ending of the original source with only minor changes.
Influence: Dark Water (2002)
Following the wave of Japanese horror remakes, this production adapts Pulse (2001) for the US market. Although with a similar plot, the movie is 30 minutes shorter than the original and takes a vastly different approach to the material wherein trying to elaborate on the strange occurrences rather than falling back on a sense of mystery that the 2001 feature did.
The film was followed up in 2008 by Pulse 2: Afterlife.
Influence: Pulse (2001)
One Missed Call (2008)
A remake of the 2003 film One Missed Call, which is faithful to the overall plot but adds new sequences and a totally different ending. This particular “influence” is an interesting scenario as the original 2003 movie was actually made with hopes that it would be remade in the United States, as there was a “remake me” fervor in the Japanese horror genre after The Ring‘s success. In the end, it took five years and the original production studio Kadokawa working with Warner Bros themselves to get the remake they wanted.
Influence: One Missed Call (2003)
The Magnificent Seven (2016)
A remake of a remake. The 2016 production took John Sturges’ original 1960 film, which transplanted Akira Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai (1954) in a western setting, and updates the premise with more choreographed action and a more racially diverse cast.
While the Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt vehicle owes more to Sturges’ film than Kurosawa’s, the 2016 production does right by crediting the writing talent behind the 1954 samurai epic.
Influence: Seven Samurai (1954)
Uncredited or Unauthorized Influences
Not all films are forthcoming with their influence, or sometimes even source material. Below are entries that are influenced by Toho films but are not officially credited. Some of these are up for debate, others, like A Fistful of Dollars where lawsuits are involved, are more clear despite the lack of source citing.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
The most famous incident of an uncredited influence. Sergio Leone’s first entry in his “Dollars Trilogy” is an Italian remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) starring Clint Eastwood in Toshiro Mifune‘s role. The film is set in the old west with the “Man With No Name”, the story’s mercenary protagonist, going up against two rival gangs, who he pits against each other. The film keeps the slightly humorist approach to the story, that was a trademark of Kurosawa’s film. Released just three years after the Mifune vehicle, the production caught the attention of Kurosawa who famously stated it was “a fine movie, but it was MY movie”. Toho intervened at this point with a lawsuit, and the filmmakers settled out of court.
The film was followed up in 1965 with For a Few Dollars More.
Influence: Yojimbo (1961)
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
Roger Corman, who will appear again on this list, set out to capitalize on the ongoing science fiction craze by crafting what was called “The Magnificent Seven in space”. While the movie, at least from the cast, cites influence from John Sturges’ 1960 production, Kurosawa’s original Seven Samurai (1954) is never given similar credit. The similarities to the 1960 Western are sometimes overt, especially with the casting of Robert Vaughn who appears in both.
In terms of plot, the story covers a young man attempting to search the galaxy for defenders to help him protect his planet from an invader called Sador the Malmori. Ultimately, a band of warriors is assembled, although much like the 1954 and 1960 productions they are met with heavy casualties and sacrifices in their quest.
Influence: Seven Samurai (1954)
The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984)
Produced in the 1980’s, this production attempts to adapt the story of Yojimbo (1961) in a sword and sorcery setting. Although drastically more outlandish than its inspiration, the remake lifts numerous segments wholesale from the original besides the fact that the basic plots are virtually identical.
While the film never fairly credits itself as a remake, star David Carradine freely admits it. In fact, in his book Spirit of Shaolin he recounts a conversation with executive producer Roger Corman. The incident involves Carradine countering a claim that it was “like” Yojimbo (1961) with a response that “it’s not like Yojimbo… it is Yojimbo.” Humorously, Corman diffused the conversation citing that Kurosawa’s film was influenced by Dashiel Hammet’s Red Harvest and this prevented Toho from suing other films like A Fistful of Dollars… seemingly unaware that Toho had actually sued those filmmakers.
Influence: Yojimbo (1961)
A Bug’s Life (1998)
The Disney/Pixar production’s influence from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai(1954) is almost something of an in-joke now, although no one on the production side has ever referenced the connection. The movie places ants in the role of the peasants, with a group of grasshoppers as the film’s bandit antagonists. This time around, a group of eight circus performers are hired to get rid of the colony of bandits.
The Seven Samurai (1954) influence on the film was picked up early, with release date reviews such as this one from the Chicago Tribune noting it. The in-joke part comes from director John Landis’ reaction to the film in respects to his own ¡Three Amigos! movie, bringing it up several times until he erupted in a 2011 interview: “They completely ripped it off! The first Pixar movie about the ants, A Bug’s Life, took the same plot.”. The irony being that the ¡Three Amigos! is a bit of a parody of The Magnificent Seven. Ultimately, A Bug’s Life owes more to the 1954 and 1960 films rather than Landis’ production, with the exception of the element of the circus performers not realizing the real danger they have signed up for.
Influence: Seven Samurai (1954)
This article was first published on August 19th, 2004.BY: Anthony RomeroGeneral // November 5, 2018
The panel for “Godzilla: Secrets of the MonsterVerse” and the graphic novel Godzilla: Aftershock at LA Comic Con in Los Angeles, California on 10/27/2018. The video runs for a little over 40 minutes.
*Notes: This footage was filmed on a Samsung Galaxy S9+. The gimbal used was doing some slight drifting out of frame so it had to be corrected during filming.
***Special thanks to Michal Shipman for his help in taking care of the audio sync issue!General // November 3, 2018
The staff of Toho Kingdom makes some Toho film recommendations for the Halloween season. This covers creepy, atmospheric and horror movies produced or released by Toho that are perfect for the month of October. Recommendations run the gamut, dating from the 1950’s all the way to films released a few years ago. If you are looking for even more horror productions from Japan, also be sure to check the Horror Movie Listing.
Hi gang! For me, I do rather like a good horror flick or creepy movie, though I have to admit I have not seen a great many of the Japanese horror classics—I am still catching up! The following is just a list of some horror and monster flicks outside of the usual kaiju canon that I enjoyed and would like to recommend to Toho fans out looking to try out something new! Thus, with no further ado, here we go!
1. Invisible Man (1954)
As a fan of old monster films, and as someone who enjoyed the Universal Invisible Man franchise much more than I anticipated when I visited them recently, I was looking forward to seeing what an Invisible Man film would be like in the hands of eventual Godzilla Raids Again (1955) director Motoyoshi Oda (who had that same year directed Ghost Man, an exploitative detective film with a villain boasting a mask of bandages much more akin to traditional depictions of the Invisible Man!). I found the answer to be—quite entertaining! While perhaps the plot may be a bit predictable, but boy howdy does it have a memorable opening scene of an invisible-man suicide, and I later found myself quickly growing attached to the central clown character Nanjo and his relationship with a little blind girl. The eventual reveal of the identity of the invisible man was, in my opinion, quite well-done. As for scares, well, this movie is light on them, but lots of fans of old monster films don’t really watch them to be scared anyway, and this is also a great way to get into the surprisingly robust “invisible man” genre of Japanese cinema, which also includes at least FOUR MORE films from rival Daiei films, including TWO which are (invisible) samurai films.
2. Haunted School (1995)
Given the very low score my colleague Anthony Romero gave this film, it may be a surprise to see that I am here recommending the flick. And to be honest, I find the film to be a vigorously mixed bag. Nevertheless, as far as monster movies for younger viewers go, I found a lot to enjoy in this story of a bunch of kids who end up trapped in a ghost-infested old school. A lot of the ghost effects reminded me of Ghostbusters, including a sort of mascot-like furry guy who shows up multiple times to harass various victims, and I really enjoyed several scenes of major ghost mayhem in the school itself. For me, I also really got a big kick out of a huge cockroach-like beasty that menaces our heroes late in the story. While by no means a high quality movie, this one nevertheless really appealed to me, and for lovers of practical effects looking for mild thrills, I found it fun.
These gory sci-fi horror movies based on the influential Hitoshi Iwaaki manga and anime of the same name (and both of which I reviewed a few years ago) are in my opinion highly entertaining monster flicks with memorable and impressive effects and a likable lead performance by Shota Sometani. While the second film is arguably a pretty big step-down from the first, I found them both to be rather thoughtful, sometimes shocking, and very engaging monster-fests. The plot, in which alien worms from outer space attack earth by taking over the bodies of human beings and transforming them into flesh-munching monsters, shows a lot of influence from body-horror greats like The Thing (1982), and our hero—infected with an alien parasite in his hand, but not taken over entirely—has to struggle with his new identity, like in many half-monster stories such as Blade or Tokyo Ghoul. Gore hounds will appreciate the abundant flow of blood and gore, though the aforementioned infected hand (named Migi) looks pretty absurd in live action. Still, for creepy, slimy, monster-action thrills, this duology is a fine choice.
4. Vampire Doll (1970)
Sometimes I just get in the mood for a decent vampire flick—after all, I have written two as-yet-unpublished vampire novels. So I was kind of excited to check out Toho’s take on the old bloodsucking mythos, and while Vampire Doll does not feature traditional nosferatu as such, the menacing Yuko and her seemingly supernatural powers fit the bill. The story is a little bit convoluted, dealing with missing people, hypnotism, unrequited love, and creepy butlers, but all the dark shenanigans build up into a movie overflowing with classic horror atmosphere, and the local haunted mansion where much of the film takes place gives an appropriately creepy backdrop to an already spine-tingling story. I greatly enjoyed this film, far more than either of its spiritual sequels, and heartily recommend it to lovers of gothic monster mayhem.
5. Ring (1998) and The Ring (2002)
Ringu is probably the most influential film on this list, and if you are at all interested in the genre of J-horror, this now-classic movie was basically the film that kicked off a worldwide phenomenon of creeping long-haired soaked ghost women stalking folks and scaring moviegoers. The first film honestly didn’t scare me very much, but the story itself is suitably weird and pretty enthralling. The story is about a cursed video tape that, once watched, triggers a mysterious phone call and a death sentence—after one week, SOMETHING will kill you. (Yes, that something is the aforementioned ghost woman, and her eventual emergence has become one of THE iconic horror sequences in movie history.) The mystery behind the cursed tape (and more specifically the ghostly Sadako) adds a great deal of interest and suspense to the movie, especially as the main character, Reiko… well, let’s just say she finds some very deep motivating factors to discovering the truth behind the video. For me, the American remake was even scarier than the original, despite a silly CG horse dashing about on a boat at one point in the film. While Ringu may be an overly obvious choice for a list like this, seriously, if you haven’t seen it and you are interested in Japanese horror films, this is a good place to start.
Time to kick off my list of recommendations, and like Nicholas I don’t really associate the kaiju movies with Halloween. I think it’s because I’m such a Godzilla fan that the movies appeal to me year around so to speak, and they usually don’t dwell to much on the horror element but rather city destruction… save perhaps Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971). Anyway, here is a list of five recommendations for Halloween.
1. Ring (1998)
Well we have a repeat across the two lists here, and I’m starting with the movie that arguably defined the Japanese horror industry for decades. In addition, this is the only movie on this list that I would qualify as being truly scary. While I actually prefer the American remake, the original Ring had a stellar concept: a tape that doomed you after watching it. It was a simple premise, but introduced the deadly stakes early in the movie while it kept your interest through learning more about the mysterious elements surrounding the curse. The countdown aspect helped tremendously too, while the climax with Sadako is downright chilling. Like a lot of successful horror movies, this had a load of sequels and imitators after it, but none captured the same level of atmosphere and dread as the original Ring.
2. The “Bloodthirsty” Trilogy
I’m going to cheat and recommend three in one stroke. This unconnected series of vampire films shifts from the more original Vampire Doll (1970), far and away the best of the three, to the stereotypical with Lake of Dracula (1971). All three deal with topics ripe for the Halloween season, though. From creepy, isolated mansions to your standard vampire fare. While quality might vary, I’ve found myself revisiting them all quite frequently. Faults aside, they have good special effects for the time, save the bat props that were also used in Space Amoeba (1970), and the latter two, while lacking in quality compared to the first, are vibrant with colorful sequences and good to okay pacing.
3. House (1977)
This psychedelic horror movie is slightly self-aware, crafting a bizarre movie that strikes just the right balance to offset the cruelty being played on the movie’s characters due to the tone it strikes. While it doesn’t always click with the viewer, the movie is well regarded for its experimental style. This results in some lacking special effects, as it feels like the movie was more focused on vision than realization. Regardless, the movie has stood the test of time because of these risks, as it comes across as a rather crazy horror movie that, at the minimum, features a number of creative deaths against the backdrop of a haunted house. For those looking for something darker and crueler, and with a stomach for strong gore, Sweet Home (1989) could be seen as in a similar vein.
4. H-Man (1958)
When director Ishiro Honda took on the mutant and crime genre at the same time he struck gold, creating a movie that is both lively and creepy. The flashback attack on boat by the liquid people is down right chilling as well, even today, and do a good job at portraying the threat and keeping the stakes high throughout the rest of the movie. Also, the 1950’s club setting, while contemporary at the time, feels a bit more unique in retrospect now and helps the film stand out. As a side note to Honda, I was also going to include Matango (1963) on this list, my favorite horror film. However, I just never saw it as a Halloween film due to the tropical setting, even though the atmospheric night sequences fit right in with this time of year.
5. One Missed Call (2004)
The early millennium was stuffed with “J-horror” pictures looking to capitalize on the success of Ring (1998). In fact, this took a fascinating turn where they eventually started to create movies with the hopes they would be picked up to be remade in the US… an odd turn, but enough of them were successful like Pulse (2001) and Dark Water (2002) that the Japanese industry doubled down on this strategy. One film to arise from this odd trend was One Missed Call, from Takashi Miike. The result is entertaining fluff, but enough to stand the test of time to make it recommended viewing. It’s got a creepy atmosphere at times, and doesn’t even try to hide that it’s swapping Ring’s VHS tape concept for a cellphone call… all the same, that death bringing ring tone is truly iconic after seeing the movie and this is one of the few horror movies of this period that I would be willing to watch again and again.
Hey everyone! How’s it going? Well, since all the cool kids are doing it, here’s my list of Halloween recommendations! Unlike my peers however, I will include a few Kaiju flicks in mine, as there are a few that I find seasonally appropriate. Also given the nature of our site’s user base, I think mentioning these pieces would be appreciated. So without further ado, here’s my list in order of least recommended to most recommended
1. House (1977)
This will no doubt be sacrilegious to some, but I must confess that I don’t particularly care for this film. I found it lacking in substance, and the psychedelic aspect to more be a mask for poor filmmaking that didn’t particularly add anything to the film. Also, while I won’t be going into spoilers for any entries on this list, I will say that I found the ending too cliché, which knocks it down a few pegs for me. Nonetheless, I do think this film is worth a watch. It is simply dripping in memorable imagery, and it does feature a few sequences that are nothing short of bat… erm, “guano” crazy. The soundtrack isn’t half bad, and Godzilla fans familiar with “A Space Godzilla” will no doubt be interested to see what the would be filmmakers have also created. Also, this film does have a massive cult fanbase, so who knows. Maybe you’ll see something in it that I don’t.
2. Frankenstein vs Baragon (1965)
What’s Halloween without a Frankenstein movie? Even better, a Frankenstein KAIJU movie! Yep, Toho went all out for Mary Shelly’s classic tale of a man who plays god and faces the consequences, and took it to the next logical step of having the monster fight a giant dinosaur! While the premise may sound laughable, I actually really enjoy this film. It’s notable for several reasons, including the first appearance of Baragon, the second appearance of the Giant Octopus (sort of), and being the direct precursor to The War of the Gargantuas (1966). The film itself, while being squarely in the kaiju genre, does an excellent job staying true to its horror roots. Throughout the whole film, there’s this vaguely disturbing undertone… Particularly in regards to death and mutilation. There are some dead animals, questions of cutting off the monster’s limbs… and let’s just say Baragon wasn’t too friendly in his first romp. Frankenstein vs. Baragon is one ride that will have you on the edge of your seat to the end, and a definite must watch for any kaiju, OR Franky fans.
3. Varan (1958)
When Nicholas initially suggested I make my own list of recommendations, I was hesitant, as I wasn’t sure if I could come up with five like he did… but then I remembered Varan. I will fully admit that Varan isn’t the best made kaiju movie ever, but it’s always been something of a favorite of mine. You see, while Varan may not have the best acting or highest budget, it has something that almost makes up for it, and makes it perfect for the Halloween season: Atmosphere. Everything about this movie feels so memorable to me, from the chilling statues of Baradagi, to the foreboding exploration of the jungle, to the mysterious natives. It all oozes an atmosphere that makes you feel the location, the setting, and the danger. All of it scored by Akira Ifukube at his finest. I don’t care whether you like the movie or not, I think this soundtrack belongs in the maestro’s top five greatest! Atmosphere is one of the most difficult things to describe in cinema, so you’ll forgive me if that’s a little vague. Suffice to say, I think Varan is a film that makes you FEEL what’s on screen which is where its true strength lies.
4. “Haunted School” Series aka Gakkou no Kaidan
Alright… This one is a bit of a cheat. But if Nick can recommend the Western version of Ring and Anthony the The “Bloodthirsty” Trilogy, I’d like to mention the “Haunted School” series, although in particular the Gakkou no Kaidan anime, which is based on the same book series as the film. The series is best known for its strange English localization, which opted to turn the series into a raunchy adult comedy. Legend has it that since the series performed poorly in Japan, the English localization team were told to do whatever they thought would make the series sell better. Due to this, I often see anime critics call it a “bad anime saved by the dub” which I feel is a bit unfair. I genuinely like the how the series portrays the monsters, which are always depicted as very real threats (even in the dub). Furthermore, all of the monsters have excellent designs that, along with the appealing set pieces, let the show keep a great creepy feeling. And just to cover my basis… I’ll also recommend the first Toho film.
5. Sweet Home (1989)
And here we have it. My all-time favorite horror movie, the criminally underrated Sweet Home! This film is probably best known for the video game tie in by Capcom, which was a massive influence on the Biohazard (or Resident Evil) franchise. What many people don’t realize however is that the film had a great influence on the iconic survival horror game as well! If you’re a huge fan of the original game like me, more than a few things might look familiar to you However, the film is great in its own right as well. We are given a tight plot, likable characters, appealing special effects, and great setting. Unfortunately, this film is pretty hard to come by. It has yet to receive any disc release, in any region and Japanese VHS tapes go for upwards of 300 dollars. Overall, Toho should just give a Blu-Ray or DVD release already! (Maybe Shout Factory could do something over here?) Regardless, if you see this one don’t hesitate! It’s a great film that is well worth your time.
This article was first published on October 27th, 2018.General // October 31, 2018
It was a few weeks ago from the time of this writing that I had the opportunity to see Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) in a theater; and at the risk of stating the obvious, it was an experience I am certain I’ll never forget. Of course, I had seen this remarkable motion picture several times before, enjoying it on Blu-ray and DVD in the comfort of my own home; but this was my first time seeing Kurosawa’s masterpiece the way it was meant (and frankly deserves) to be seen. So amazing was the experience that, when it was over, I was mighty tempted to rush on home and start drumming up a comprehensive review for the site. Though I ended up dropping that notion for fear of producing a hollow imitation of what greater minds have said. Seven Samurai is arguably one of the most carefully scrutinized films in the annals of 20th century art; like Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s been the subject of videos, essays, even full-length books—meticulously analyzed by people far more intuitive and knowledgeable than myself. (What could I possibly say about this film that hasn’t been said before?) As much as I enjoyed seeing one of my all-time favorite movies on the big screen, there won’t be a Seven Samurai review coming anytime in the foreseeable future.
There was, however, a second idea for an article which came into my head recently—and this one I was determined to write from the start. As is common with such things, the screening I attended began with an introduction: our host for the evening stepped up to the front of the auditorium and rattled off, for our entertainment, some “fun facts” about the making of Seven Samurai and the extent of its legacy. Or, perhaps better put, he spewed an entirely predictable assortment of factoids which had no doubt been culled from the movie’s Trivia page on IMDb. By this point, I’d already learned a great deal about Akira Kurosawa (and from sources more prestigious and reliable than the Internet Movie Database), so I just sat back and waited for the lights to go down. But then, a certain “factoid” came up and nabbed my attention. Our host (who shall remain nameless) told a rather dubious story which I’d also heard before—because it’s become disturbingly widespread among fans of Japanese cinema. A story my younger self once took for granted. A story which has, for years, been reiterated on websites, on podcasts, and in discourse—despite the sheer lack of evidence to support it and the volumes of information indicative of the contrary.
A story which claims, to use the words uttered that night: “Toho spent so much money making Seven Samurai and a little movie called Godzilla that the studio almost went bankrupt.”
I remained civil, of course, and kept my mouth shut; there was no point in making a scene. But deep within the random archives that is my mind, gears were turning. It was time. Time to raise some important questions no one else seemed to be asking.
A disclaimer before we continue. While I am about to describe in great detail the many things leery about this supposed “bankruptcy” story, I cannot, for the time being, definitively prove it a myth. Despite my best efforts to trace its origin, it’s never turned up in any book, magazine, interview, documentary, etc. in my recollection. On top of that, the websites recapitulating it consistently fail to offer citations; thus, I have no original source to track down and analyze.
That said, there’s plenty of evidence—from plenty of resources—strongly suggesting it’s not true.
Figurative Figures and Actual Figures
As mentioned before, the story goes that the makings of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla (1954) ate up so much money that they nearly put Toho out of business, and that the studio only survived because both pictures became hits at the box office. Right away, there are problems with that statement.
Let’s begin with what’s accurate. It is absolutely, undeniably true that both Seven Samurai and Godzilla required budgets quite exorbitant for Japanese features of their day. And with context kept in mind, it’s not the least bit difficult to imagine why. Godzilla utilized a variety of then-untested special effects techniques, namely the process now known as “suitmation,” in which stunt actors donned thick, cumbersome monster costumes and were turned loose on intricately detailed miniature city sets. A production this lavish naturally demanded more funding than what was typically allotted to a Japanese movie. And while the screenplay of Seven Samurai (which included no special effects sequences) probably could’ve been filmed in a miserly manner by the average studio director, Kurosawa’s working methods and his insistence on capturing the exact image in his head ultimately prolonged the shoot to just under a year (filming of Godzilla, by contrast, finished in about three months). Time is money, as they say, and the studio was famously unhappy as Kurosawa continued sacrificing his already large budget at the altar of perfectionism.
These were costly products to make. Of that there is no question. Both films also earned their keep, securing rankings on Kinema Jumpo’s list of the year’s most successful movies as well as attaining further profits in their (edited) overseas editions. Of that there is no question, either. So, where do the problems start showing up?
First off, contrary to what has been reported in some venues, Godzilla was not the more expensive of the two pictures. All costs accounted for—including advertising and printing—disbursements on Honda’s monster movie came to roughly $275,000. Seven Samurai, by contrast, was the most expensive Japanese feature ever made up to that point, with an end budget hovering somewhere between $560,000-580,000 (blown up from an original allocation of $150,000-200,000). Secondly, even if these two movies had come close to sinking the studio, they wouldn’t have been alone in doing so. For there was a third “culprit”—another über-exorbitant Toho picture from 1954—whom repeaters of this urban legend seem curiously unaware of.
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954) was a gigantic production featuring hundreds of fully costumed actors and considerable location work. Director Hiroshi Inagaki was no rampant perfectionist—more a highly skilled journeyman—and he didn’t have hordes of special effects on which to deliver, but the mechanics of this picture nonetheless resulted in a higher-than-average budget. He furthermore was instructed to photograph it in color, resulting in lengthier filming and more expensive lab work. As assistant director Jun Fukuda recalled, “There were something like 210 warriors on horseback, and 800 samurai extras. […] Filming it in Eastman Color took longer to shoot than black and white […] it took six months to shoot the film.” Inagaki’s picture ended up with a rough budget of $500,000, not too far beneath that of Kurosawa’s movie. As claimed by the press at the time, it was “the second most expensive motion picture to be produced in Japan.”
(Before we continue, sources for those who desire them: Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa and The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune.)
So even if Godzilla had been a factor in some near-bankruptcy gamble, it would’ve played second—no, third—fiddle to two notably more expensive features made that same year. (So, why no ubiquitous cyberspace story about a duo of Toho-produced samurai movies threatening to derail the studio?) Now, switching back to the main topic at hand, all three movies required a great deal to get made; but did they pose any actual threat to the studio in the long run? The overwhelming lack of evidence would suggest no.
Let us address that now.
Oh Evidence! Where Art Thou?
To reiterate from my disclaimer: I have yet to come across any reliable source even suggesting the rumor in question is true. In fact, in my experience, it’s been consistently absent in every serious study done on Japanese cinema of this time period.
Consider, for instance, Donald Richie and Joseph L. Anderson’s The Japanese Film – Art and Industry, first published in 1959. Perhaps the single greatest study on cinema from the Land of the Rising Sun, Richie and Anderson’s book covers, among other things, all the major Japanese studios in existence at the time—detailing their origins, their histories, their personnel, their politics, their strengths, their shortcomings, even their respective close encounters with bankruptcy. Having said that, the authors address and articulate, at various points and with great detail, the many roadblocks Toho had endured up to that point (for instance: the postwar labor strikes of the 1940s, which set the studio back in more ways than one until producer Iwao Mori stepped in and put the company back on its “financial feet”). And yet, nowhere in the text, in any chapter, is there mention of the studio nearly foundering in 1954—for any reason at all, let alone because of the simultaneous shooting of Godzilla and Seven Samurai. Both films are (separately) covered and credited for the revolutions they spawned (the rise of the Japanese science fiction picture, then a recent thing, receives some page space), but never are they paired together as culprits of anything greater than that. Nor are the expenses incurred by Inagaki’s samurai movie blamed for any kind of short or long-term suffering within the studio.
Absence of proof is of course not proof of absence, but this was a comprehensive study made just a few years after the supposed “bankruptcy debacle.” The fact that Richie and Anderson omitted such an event from their book—and that it remained omitted in updated editions; and that no other Japanese film historian, to my knowledge, has ever published a single word on it—could very well indicate it never happened at all, that the studio experienced no serious financial peril that year.
Not So Dangerous Financial Danger
In preparing for this article, I sought insight from film historian Stuart Galbraith IV, author of such books as Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! and The Toho Studios Story. When I asked for his opinion on whether Toho nearly collapsed shooting Godzilla and Seven Samurai, he told me:
“I found no evidence of that at all, and there’s probably no truth to it, either. Seven Samurai did go over budget, but I’d doubt the final cost of the two films combined was even 7-8% of the total negative cost of the studio’s annual slate that year. So, no, it wouldn’t have bankrupted them, even if the films had flopped.”
That, too, makes imminent sense in context. As expensive as these films were and as miffed as the Toho execs would’ve surely been had one or all of them flopped, the studio was holding up very well on a financial level and more than likely would’ve survived. At the time, the Japanese film industry was in full force, cranking out—literally—hundreds of films each year. While Toho’s bastard child Shin-Toho (formed during the unrest of the earlier mentioned labor strikes) was struggling along due to poor management and insufficient bookings, the parent company was thriving, spawning an average annual output of 60-100 pictures, with a total of 68 Toho-produced films released in 1954 (hence the 7-8% negative cost estimate Galbraith suggests above). Very few of these smaller pictures shot in 1954 would’ve had budgets even remotely comparable to that spent on Seven Samurai or even Godzilla; but with an overall quantity that huge produced in a single year, the combined costs would’ve greatly outdistanced the two films under discussion, and then some. On top of that, Toho, then as now, owned many of its own theaters, meaning they could keep a greater percentage of the profits.
And profits there were. According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in 1958, the average Japanese citizen at the time attended up to twelve movies a year; and for Tokyo residents, the number metastasized to twenty. That, in turn, was reflected in the often claustrophobic packing of movie houses. As Richie and Anderson write in their book, contemporary theaters in Japan were typically jam-packed with audiences, to the point where every available inch of space was used to fit another body. “The aisles at the sides and down the middle are full of people. Some even sit on the edge of the stage while others stand outside the exit doors looking into the auditorium.” The movies were there, and so were the audiences.
This is not to say, of course, that Japanese films made in the 1950s never flopped or that Seven Samurai and Godzilla were incapable of flopping; but the truth of the matter is that the industry and the studio were, by and large, in good shape. Had the two movies (and Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto–don’t forget about that one!) bombed, the studio likely could’ve afforded to go on due to the omnipresent audiences and the vast multitude of other pictures they were simultaneously cranking out and profiting from. (In short, it would’ve taken more than two or three flops to put the Toho of 1954 in any kind of dire straits.)
That alone makes this Godzilla + Seven Samurai = Bankruptcy “factoid”—questionable and unlikely from the beginning—seem all the more dubious in the end.General // October 2, 2018
Of the many stories which have been said about Akira Ifukube, one of the most widespread and admittedly endearing examples concerns the manner in which the composer supposedly rejected the opportunity to score 1984’s The Return of Godzilla. As the tale goes, Ifukube, after receiving Toho’s offer to write music for the aforementioned 30th anniversary reboot, expressed displeasure with some of the changes being made to the titular character, namely the decision to increase Godzilla’s height from 50 to 80 meters; and in refusing the assignment, he’s reported to have said: “I do not write music for 80-meter monsters.”
A wonderful anecdote, one that’s been reiterated in numerous books, magazines, web articles, forums, etc. over the last thirty-some years—and one I seriously question in terms of its validity. Now, I personally love stories about artists turning down work via snark-laden comments (I’m rather fond of Noël Coward allegedly refusing the eponymous part in Dr. No with, “Dr. No? No! No! No!”), but this putative statement of Ifukube’s strikes me as little more than an urban legend, something fun to share in jest, but not to be taken serious. It’s been my stance for a long time now that if Ifukube uttered these words at all, he used them ironically; and my guts compel me to believe he never used them in the first place. I cannot claim expertise on Ifukube’s life and career, but I have read/watched a sizable number of post-1984 interviews featuring him—not one of which contain quibbles on his part with Godzilla’s stature here or in the later Heisei movies, in which Godzilla became even bigger. Also: having never come across the supposed quotation in any Japanese source, I’ve been inclined to believe its propagation occurred predominately here in the west. And considering it was believed for many decades on this side of the Pacific that Godzilla emerged victorious in the Japanese ending of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), my willingness to accept yet another unsubstantiated rumor regarding this franchise resides about three notches beneath the tier labeled “dubious.”
And so, in the interest of research, I thought it would be fun to get to the bottom of this “I do not write music for 80-meter monsters!” yarn: pinpoint its origins, consult with people with more knowledge on the matter than I possess, and try and figure out what’s what.
In carrying out my detective work, I first amassed every English language book, magazine, etc. in my collection that contains the infamous Akira Ifukube “quote,” going through each of them for reference. I also scoured the world wide web for additional clues. From there, it was a matter of locating mentions that came with citations and bibliographies, and searching through my archives for what I hoped would end up being the very first instance of this quote appearing in the English-speaking world. Following a session of backtracking citations, I arrived at Issue #7 of Ed Godziszewski’s magazine Japanese Giants.
And now, I would also like to make clear something else: Godziszewski’s magazine may have been the first time this anecdote was shared stateside, but it was not the avenue through which the story in question came to be passed off as “the truth.” Please pay close attention to the exact verbiage in which this ostensible collection of words was initially reported. In detailing preproduction of the 1984 Godzilla movie, Godziszewski specified that Ifukube was offered the chance to score the film but turned it down and that (again, please read this verbatim) “upon learning that changes were being made to the Godzilla legend such as increasing Godzilla’s height from 50 to 80 meters, Ifukube was rumored to have said, ‘I do not write music for 80 meter monsters.’”
Notice that key word. “…rumored to have said…”
And it doesn’t end there. When I started planning this Urban Legends article, I reached out to Godziszewski for further details as to where he heard the story and what he’s gathered on it in the thirty-some years since. His response:
“[The quote] was something that I had heard from a couple of friends in Japan during my visit there in January 1985, to see the new Godzilla film. This was well before I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Ifukube, so it was not something I got first-hand. When I used it, I qualified it as something he was rumored to have said. It was certainly an amusing way to explain his absence from this film. Not having met him at the time, I couldn’t say if he had a wry sense of humor and said this as a way to dismiss the endless badgering from Toho’s people who were asking him to work on Godzilla again. It seemed believable in that vein, but I never took that statement terribly seriously. By chance, during a recent trip to Japan, I happened to run into one of the people who I heard this from, and he told me that “it was just a joke.” Given the way this rumor has sort of morphed into something quoted as fact in some circles, I now regret that I used it at all in the article.”
For even though Ed Godziszewski clarified the status of “I do not write music for 80-meter monsters!” as a rumor in Issue #7 of Japanese Giants, some of us who’ve passed it along in the decades since have forgotten to repeat his use of that wonderful word “rumored” (or at least utilize members of its kin, such as “alleged”). Alas, the subsequent circulation of this infamous quote merely exemplifies what sometimes happens in distributing the research of others, especially when the finding in question sounds so juicy: a rumor initially clarified as a rumor, eventually repeated and repeated and repeated until it began transmuting into a “fact.” A mistake on our part since the “fact” ended up being “just a joke.”
As for Ifukube’s not taking part in the 1984 film: that, too, can be explained with postulations far more plausible than an upsurge in Godzilla’s height. To gain insight into what Ifukube was up to at the time of this film, I consulted Erik Homenick, webmaster of akiraifukube.org, who explicated with the following:
“I supposed that the refusal comment attributed to Ifukube had to be false because, in the 1980s, he did not compose any film music at all—not for Godzilla, not for anything. Ifukube had retired from the world of film music and at the time was focused on his career as a professor of composition at the Tokyo College of Music. Even his concert output in the 1980s was comparatively meager; his overriding priorities were in education. Long story short, Akira Ifukube did not compose music for The Return of Godzilla not because of any objection to Godzilla’s size, but because he was funneling his energies elsewhere.”
As history demonstrates, Akira Ifukube eventually returned to the franchise, scoring 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, a film in which the radioactive behemoth’s height was increased further still, to a whopping—and utterly ridiculous—100 meters. In his 1996 interview with Steve Ryfle, Ifukube cited familial persuasion and Toho’s use of his music in Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) as the factors behind his return. “I did not accept the assignment for Godzilla vs. Biollante, but after the film was released, my daughter pointed out they had used some of my music in the film. Also, they had made some of my music into a rock theme, and I did not like that! So, my daughter encouraged me to accept the next Godzilla movie so I would have some control over how my music was used.”
When all’s said and done, the claim of Ifukube commenting “I do not write music for 80-meter monsters!” certainly makes for a humorous conversation piece, but it doesn’t appear to be true at all. And with that, another dubious story bites the dust.General // September 1, 2018