Latest Blog - News Articles
It’s been a while since Toho Kingdom held a contest on the site and I thought that it not only might be nice to have another one but also our biggest yet! To do this, we worked with Warner Bros., Kidrobot, NECA, Bluefin Distribution, Tamashii Nations, Diamond Select Toys and artist Matt Frank. As a result, we have a rich collection of prizes for the contest this year. These range from a poster, figures, Blu-rays/DVDs and a print with many items signed as well.
Godzilla 2019 Contest Prizes
- Godzilla King of the Monsters poster signed by director Michael Doughtery, and actors O’Shea Jackson Jr., Millie Bobbie Brown, Thomas Middleditch, Kyle Chandler, Bradley Whitford and Ken Watanabe
- Godzilla 2019 figure by S.H. MonsterArts
- Rodan figure by NECA
- Godzilla version 2 figure by NECA
- Godzilla 1974 and Godzilla 1989 banks by Diamond Select Toys
- Godzilla series one vinimates by Diamond Select Toys
- HugMe Godzilla and Phunny plush Godzilla toys by Kid Robot
- Signed Matt Frank Mothra 2019 print
- Pacific Rim Uprising blu-ray/dvd signed by director Steven Deknight
- Rampage blu-ray/dvd copy signed by motion capture artist Jason liles (who plays George in the film and is Ghidorah’s middle head in Godzilla King of the Monsters) and actor P.J. Byrne (who plays Nelson in the film)
- Blu-ray/dvd copy of Ready Player One
***A small note about the poster: there are small creases on the sides and a small tear on the top of the poster. I don’t know how they got there but that’s how they were sent over. They Shouldn’t be noticeable if you frame the poster, however.***
Entering the Contest
As with other contests on the site in the past, to enter all you have to do is send an email with your name and address to: TKSummer2019@hotmail.com
The contest ends September 19th! Enter today!
Thanks goes to Warner Bros., Kidrobot, NECA, Bluefin Distribution, Tamashii Nations, Diamond Select Toys, and Matt Frank for being so gracious to donate prizes offered in this contest!
ONE entry per person only. Due to shipping this contest is only for North America entrants. Winner will be randomly selected using an automated process by e-mails received. Date of entry has no bearing on probability of winning. No requests for bundles as winners will be chosen at random. The winner will be announced by September 24th, 2019. Contest ends September 19th, 2019. Toho Kingdom staff (forum and main site) are not eligible to compete. The site is not responsible for lost, late or misdirected mail when prizes are sent out. Toho Kingdom reserves the right to change these rules at any time.General // September 3, 2019
The Godzilla Certification Exam—Beginner AND Intermediate
I have done a lot of really nerdy stuff for Toho Kingdom, and it’s kind of difficult to categorize what the “nerdiest” articles or projects might have been. Writing lots of book reviews is arguably really nerdy; writing about Godzilla’s love life is nerdy AND embarrassing; spending over a hundred bucks on Godzilla Valentine’s Day candy just to review them for the site is nerdy, embarrassing, and almost seems emblematic of the stereotype of an obsessed otaku who can’t get a date. I don’t just do embarrassing stuff for my fandom—I spend lots of money, then spend lots of time writing about it, and then post about it WITH MY REAL NAME on the Internet.
But even I kept asking myself why I had spent 9500 yen to take a test on Godzilla knowledge. No, scratch that—two tests. Each an hour long, both on the same day. In Japanese, yet. I mean, who DOES this stuff?
Actually, quite a few people, as I found out.
So I took the first-ever Godzilla Kentei—the Godzilla Certification Exam. I spent the cash, got the papers, got the study book (and even studied it for about a half an hour or so), and went to the Tokyo site (fans in Osaka could go there instead) to see how much Godzilla knowledge I had up in my head. The Tokyo site was at the Takanawa campus of Tokai University. Having experience with the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect… The assigned seat, the assigned number, the rule that we have to put away our stuff during the test, the long explanations, etc. As anticipated, I was the only white guy there, at least that I saw. But there were a lot of things I didn’t really expect.
For one thing… well, lots of people were there. Mostly men, but I saw a few women taking the test. (For once, during the break, the men’s rooms each had a long line, and the women had no wait at all.) I didn’t really think very many people would take the test, since the certification doesn’t really mean much, and people can take Godzilla quizzes online for free. I also expected more kids, but I saw fewer children than I saw women. For many test-takers, maybe it was the merch that lured them—the lines for merch were intense, but I just didn’t really care to buy another T-shirt and “clear file” and pin.
I took both tests, but I thought there would be different crowds taking the beginner’s and the intermediate tests. However, in my room, the test-takers were virtually the same for both tests. I guess everybody else had the same idea as me—they figured this was their one big chance and they wanted to show how much they know. And it’s kind of fun, too.
So how hard were the tests? Well, first of all, they were both in Japanese, obviously. Some questions had a little English (one question was about the acronym for MOGERA used in Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla), but the test was designed for native Japanese speakers. I had to fully rely on my Japanese, and usually I could figure out the questions. Even with my somewhat poor Japanese, I had little problem finishing the first test within the time limit, though I had just a few minutes to spare on the intermediate test.
The test questions were all multiple choice—just fill in the correct oval. The questions were not broken up into different question types really—it’s not like the JLPT with its grammar section, listening section, reading section, and so on. The questions of the Godzilla Kentei are sort of mixed together. Some of the questions had pictures in the test booklet, and these questions were usually about putting particular monsters in the order in which they grew or evolved—like the Mothra caterpillar, cocoon, and imago (I know, that one is super easy). However, the exam items with pictures were just mixed at random with the other question types. There didn’t seem to be a lot of rhyme or reason to the exam format.
Many, many of the questions (with their exact wordings) were included in the study book, which I bought and studied briefly. I sort of wanted to see how far I could get with my own Godzilla knowledge, though, and was too lazy to study much. That choice would come back to bite me later.
The questions pretty much exclusively focused on the movies—not the comics or shows. In both tests there was a heavy focus on Godzilla Resurgence and the original 1954 film, with Resurgence getting a lot of obnoxious (for me) questions such as where in Tokyo certain events took place (I just couldn’t remember). Nevertheless, both tests included questions about virtually all of the Japan-made Godzilla films… except for the recent anime trilogy. Not one question (out of two hundred) was about the anime films, nor the American films. Some questions in the study book were about the anime and American films, but the actual test did not feature them—the closest the test got to featuring a question about an American film was an image of Zilla from Final Wars in one of the picture items.
A LOT of the questions were quite easy for me. Stuff like which specific monsters appeared in which movies, or the name of the evil organization in Ebirah, or how many films had Mechagodzilla in them, or even how many necks King Ghidorah has. Much more difficult for me were some of the questions about particular actors, many of which were from Resurgence again—and I just don’t know the names of most of the actors in that film. Some questions featured a lot of kanji, too, though usually the test included furigana above any kanji used.
I liked the questions that tended to go a little more obscure, and was really pleased to see a question about Shukra and Mamagon from Godzilla vs. Gigan. The second test had a lot more of the somewhat obscure questions, or questions that just took longer to answer as I was trying to count movies (such as “what was the twentieth movie in the Japanese Godzilla films?”). One question that caught me off guard in the beginner’s test was about the year the original Godzilla was released in Japan—but calculated according to the Japanese calendar. I think I got it by calculating from my birth year (the Showa year for which I have memorized), but at first I was afraid I was a goner on that one. One strategy I used that proved especially helpful was to glance through my booklet at the intermediate level questions before starting the second test and quickly memorizing the right answer. Many of those questions I had quickly memorized were on the test, and so it helped me a lot… That decision probably actually enabled me to pass the test!
And as much as I had second thoughts about paying for and taking the exams, it was kind of exciting to be able to sit down and take a test in Godzilla of all things. So often in school we have to take tests on subjects we aren’t especially excited about, and so it was quite a bit more fun to tackle something that I love—and doing it in Japanese, with a lot of real Japanese fans, and to STILL finish both exams with time to spare without much study prep was pretty satisfying. Hearing the fans chat with each other about questions they thought they got wrong, or lamenting that they just couldn’t remember during the test, was a lot of fun.
I also met a guy at the test spot who was wearing a Godzilla hat made from balloons. He claimed he had made the balloon hat himself. I took a picture of him, and then he offered to let me wear the hat, and he took pictures of me. He was super nice!
Some time later, I received the results. I passed the beginner test with an 87, and the intermediate (the certificate says “advance”) with just a 71. In other words, I almost failed the intermediate one, because the cut-off was at 70 points!
So yes, the Godzilla Certification Exam was arguably a big waste of money really, and was… kind of pointless. The exam doesn’t really test Godzilla knowledge well, since it is so focused on the 2016 film and the test can be aced by just trying to remember the questions in the test prep book. But honestly I had fun, and the experience was quite unique. This year they had a beginner and intermediate test, but the book also had questions for an advanced test, though with the caveat that there may never be one. I kind of hope that there will be one—and that they will give some kind of a prize to those who get a perfect score!General // September 2, 2019
Back in 2017, I was excited for the Godzilla the Real 4-D ride featured in Universal Studios Japan that was being put together as part of their Cool Japan campaign. I really wanted to go and experience the ride myself, in addition to simply enjoying USJ for the first time as well. As is often the case with me, I hesitated and procrastinated and worried about the cost or just couldn’t muster up the gumption to buy my tickets for months. The ride was scheduled to end in June, close to my birthday, and so I decided finally to just get a hotel room and go at the last minute.
I ended up going by myself to USJ, and at first I was worried that I might be bored. However, it was actually incredibly fun to just wander about, doing anything I wanted to do at my own pace, without worrying about what a friend or lover might prefer. I tried to go to Godzilla the Real right away, but found out that there was a schedule for the special theater in which the ride (really a film with fancy seats and added effects) took place. The first showing was an Attack on Titan show, which I tried out first to get a taste of what was to come.
The idea of these shows is really similar to movie theaters that are enhanced with DBOX, 4D, or (I believe) MXD technology. DBOX theaters add lots of movement to the action on the screen, while 4D showings include the moving chairs as well as mists of water, puffs of air, flashing lights, and scents (at least the scent of dust/sand/dirt). The Cool Japan theater experiences also had the mobile seating, puffs of air, mist sprays, and so on. In the Attack on Titan show, the gushes of mist corresponded to arterial spray from the monsters or human characters—pretty gross! Still, it gave me a sense of what to expect from the upcoming Godzilla event. Another fun touch of the Attack on Titan ride was that they had the staff decked out in uniforms from the manga and anime.
After wandering about and trying out some of USJ’s other attractions (which I found honestly really enjoyable—with the exception of the Flying Dinosaur, which gave me a crick in my neck), I came back to Godzilla the Real.
Before going in, I went over to a Godzilla Snack food stand, which apparently at some point offered Godzilla Footprint Buns for 550 yen. These buns, judging from the pic, apparently were filled with sweet beans. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, the Godzilla Snack stand was sold out of buns. I just bought a Coca-Cola from them instead because I felt some compunction to purchase SOMETHING from the friendly purveyors of Godzilla foodstuffs.
I then got in line for the Godzilla the Real 4-D ride. Given that the Attack on Titan ride came with staff in awesome cosplay, I was hoping for something similar when the Godzilla attraction was live. If I remember correctly, the staff was wearing faux military gear, but I didn’t take pictures of them so I am not sure. Also with the Godzilla the Real 4-D ride, fake newspapers were handed out that had an article about Godzilla attacking the Osaka area. The line for the ride was pretty long, and so I was thankful for the reading material. Some folks just used the newspapers as something to sit on while they were waiting—Philistines!
Finally my group was ushered into a sort of antechamber area before the show proper commenced, in which we viewed a screen prepping us for the real deal. The Attack on Titan event had the same thing, presumably used to help with the transition from one group to the next. This time we were told that we would be flying a special aircraft to take on Godzilla, since he had just appeared in Osaka Bay. The plane was a pretty awesome VTOL craft, and we were supposed to shoot something into Godzilla’s mouth to stop him (if I recall correctly). Then we were ushered to our seats after the mission briefing, though the changeover was noticeably less smooth than the one for the Attack on Titan showing—maybe the staff were getting tired.
I wasn’t a big fan of the Attack on Titan movie, but the Godzilla the Real 4-D show was much better in most respects. For one thing, while the Attack on Titan was a sort of awkward 3D animated conversion of the anime, the Godzilla movie was rendered realistically. And I thought it looked great!
The movie was shown from a first-person perspective. As the main character, you jump into your VTOL and blast through the streets of Osaka. The sense of speed was incredible in the theater. Godzilla, too, looked really great—basically it appeared that they used the same computer model that was created for Godzilla Resurgence (2016). The encounters with Godzilla were thrilling, and once the glass on the cockpit gets blasted off, you get added gusts of air and, when the jet flew down low near the water, splashes of water. As the story unfolds, your VTOL is damaged irreparably and you have to make a perilous landing before jumping in another VTOL to finish the mission.
At the climax, in what I felt was a pretty silly decision, Godzilla is actually in USJ and interacts with the USJ globe in gratuitous fashion—at one point the globe basically gets thrown towards the camera. However, you manage to complete your mission successfully and fire the goods used to incapacitate Godzilla right into his gaping maw. Unfortunately, your jet doesn’t come out well from the last encounter, and the conclusion is an ambiguous one. (I remember feeling a bit disappointed, but unsurprised.)
Afterwards I went and picked up a few goodies, including a Godzilla the Real 4-D towel which I now make use at my local gym (though you might not know it from looking at my gut). When I purchased them, the fellow behind the register was wearing an Attack on Titan uniform, and I couldn’t help but make the salute and belt out “Shinzo wo sasageyo!” to him. I was hoping he would enthusiastically return my gesture, but he looked a bit weary, or perhaps wary of the weird foreigner.
I always intended to write up my experiences long before now, but to be honest I sometimes just want to enjoy the various attractions and events without worrying about writing up my experiences later. I often feel like I HAVE to write about every little Toho and Godzilla-related event I go to, and it adds a weight of responsibility to the events that can drain some of the fun out of the proceedings. So for this and other Godzilla events I just never wrote about my experiences, even when I really enjoyed them—which was certainly the case with Godzilla the Real 4-D.
However, with Godzilla’s return to USJ (in which everyone’s favorite irradiated beastie takes on Evangelion FOR REAL this time!), I thought the timing isn’t too bad for revisiting the 2017 ride and what the experience was really like! If you have a chance, I hope you can make the 2019 event for yourself! The Godzilla vs. Evangelion theater attraction will be featured at USJ from May 31st to August 25ththis year, along with Sailor Moon and Attack on Titan attractions—and I absolutely hope to make a return trip!General // August 18, 2019
Trailers for past films are surprisingly enjoyable. A window into yesteryear in how the movie was marketed, while sometimes having Easter Eggs with scenes that only appear in the trailer, as is the case for Son of Godzilla (1967) and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). Now the music found inside trailers is an aspect of their own. As is the case for Toho trailers, in particular those for the kaiju genre, many will recognize the music from past films, with Akira Ifukube‘s work being particularly prevalent for the Godzilla series. Sometimes Toho is a bit more unorthodox in their choices, such as an early advert for King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) that featured music from The Hidden Fortress (1958). However, sometimes the music is totally alien… feeling like it didn’t come from another Toho movie at all. In fact, this became a growing trend in the 1990’s and beyond, as the company leaned toward using library music from outside sources.
This is the focus of the article: identifying outside music in Toho trailers. This can include content from production music libraries or other movie sources. Essentially the only criteria is that the music has to not appear in a Toho film. To best elaborate, trailers will be shown when possible along with linking to the library source material or failing that a place where one can listen or buy the piece of music. The trailers themselves will be coming from Toho’s source, for optimal compliance.
Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)
Composer: Modest Mussorgsky
Source: A Night on Bare Mountain
Many of the Showa era trailers from Toho utilize music from their own film library. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966) is an exception, though. The kaiju genre entry looks toward a classical source, selecting Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain. The song, made famous by Walt Disney’s Fantasia, plays prominently at the start of the trailer. Now this particular composition appears to be the 1962 recording done by René Leibowitz as he conducts the The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which he titled “A Night on Bare Mountain”.
This exact version was also used for the Conflagration (1975) trailer.
Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
Trailers: Early teasers
Composer: Frederic Talgorn
Source: The Attack Begins
From the De Wolfe Library, composer Frederic Talgorn’s became a centerpiece of the early adverts for the 2001 movie. This includes both the earliest teaser, which features stock footage, and also the second teaser, which uses very early special effects shots such as the source material for what would end up being Godzilla and King Ghidorah’s underwater battle.
This theme was also used in a trailer for Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003).
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Composer: “Immediate Music”
While it might not have been the first, 2004 marks a period where Toho seems to have turned their back on the De Wolfe Library they had utilized heavily in favor of the themes coming from the label Immediate Music, who is less forth coming on composer details. Solidifying that transition was the heavy use of the Redrum theme in the trailers for the 2004 Godzilla film, heard in the trailer above at the 39 second mark.BY: Anthony RomeroGeneral // August 15, 2019
During a long hike in the mountains, two friends come face-to-face with the most tenacious monster in the world…
They weren’t always friends
When Godzilla and Anguirus first met, the rivalry between them was fierce. Ultimately, Godzilla emerged the victor after crunching poor Anguirus’s neck and setting his carcass on fire in front of Osaka Castle. Years later, Godzilla and Anguirus would rise to fight again but this time not as enemies but friends. What prompted this alliance? How did these two monsters go from being bloodthirsty rivals to forging a friendship that would last generations?
Likely the same way Mark and I became friends.
Recently, my best friend Mark Monson came up to visit, and we shot a short film together. I’ve been thinking about doing an Anguirus Sightings video for months. It was one of the most requested videos I received and I had the perfect location in mind. There’s just one small problem: It was at the top of a mountain and getting there wasn’t easy. Enter Mark. He wanted to climb up the mountain in question. Right then—unbeknownst to Mark at the time—the Anguirus Sightings video was greenlit.
Doing an Anguirus Sightings video with Mark felt like it was meant to be given our colorful history. We weren’t always friends. We were once rivals, kind of like Godzilla and Anguirus (although I never tried biting him or setting him on fire). But that changed over time. Gradually, we learned to trust one another and accept the differences that defined us as human beings. We became close friends.
Today he’s family.
As a Godzilla fan, I couldn’t help but cast my friends and family in monster roles. Mark was the Anguirus to my Godzilla. The parallels keep getting better, don’t they? Like Anguirus, Mark is stubborn, relentless, loyal, and brave. I’d trust him with my life even if we were marching into battle against a giant three-headed space dragon.
How did Godzilla and Anguirus become friends? I’d imagine they worked out their differences the same way humans do through communication, empathy, and mutual respect. By the late 1960s, Godzilla had changed; he was no longer the ruthless creature that Anguirus fought in 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again. Technically, neither was Anguirus; the one Godzilla befriended was a different specimen than the one he first fought and subsequently killed. But given how Godzilla and the new Anguirus are highly aggressive and territorial, I’d imagine their first encounter was uncivil. But make no mistake, Godzilla was a changed monster; he was smarter, empathetic, and humane. Aside from what he did to the first Anguirus and Mothra, Godzilla rarely killed other monsters. What ended up happening is he would encounter several monsters that started out as his enemies but then over time, like Anguirus, they became his friends. In many ways, the progressive themes of trust and friendship of the Showa Era films inspired me
at a young age. It seems like they helped play a role in shaping my friendship with Mark and for that I’m grateful.
I hope you enjoyed this Sightings video. We had so much fun making it. It was a rough hike and climb, but we came through like we always do.BY: Thomas FairchildGeneral // August 5, 2019
The massive crowd, many carrying massive bags sporting shiny attractive depictions of female cuteness promoting the very event to which all of us were going, moves in crushing waves, the policemen waving us through and directing the rivers of solid nerdery. I walked at my classic Midwestern stroll speed, and usually that is fast enough to match or even overtake my lollygagging students at school. Here, though, the spurs of anticipation—and perhaps the fear of missing out on favorite publications—stirred the assembly of enthusiasts to pick up speed. I was being passed on all sides by manga fans bedecked in pop-culture overload.
I was at Comiket 2018, Winter 2018.
There was a lot of excitement that New Year’s Eve at Comiket Winter 2018. Hundreds, thousands of fans had gathered together to browse and purchase comics, art books, and mountains of paraphernalia, or just to dress up in sometimes absurd, sometimes incredible, often phantasmagorical costumes and pose for endless pictures as the flow of fans flicked by, cameras flashing.
Comiket is short for Comic Market and has been a regular event, now biannual, which was started by amateur manga artists to sell “doujinshi”—fan-made comics. These comics are often unofficial spin-off work from popular mainstream titles, most notoriously in which familiar characters like Naruto or Luffy are put into new erotic couplings—perhaps even with each other. I had often heard rumours about the event, and while I emphatically do not fancy sexy slash fiction (I didn’t like the Godzilla one sold on Amazon), the idea of amateur artists coming together to sell and share their work appeals to me enormously. This year I had a great excuse to go—I would be in Japan for the event for one thing, and for another, this time I knew some of the manga artists selling their wares due to the connections forged from the interview I had with manga legend Daiji Kazumine.
For fans of Godzilla and kaiju more generally, Comiket definitely holds interest—and not just for folks looking for some monster smut (though there may be some of that available as well, for those who are so inclined). Along with new hero manga from Daiji Kazumine featuring his original character Denjin Arrow (who often fights giant robots or even dinosaurs), a number of Godzilla doujinshi have also been released in Comiket—perhaps most notably from Shinji Nishikawa (MASH), who was selling a Godzilla doujinshi this year as well.
Comiket stretches out over three days of art and indulgence—the Winter 2018 event spanning December 29th to the 31st. Given that this was my first time going, though, unfortunately I made a few false assumptions going in.
- I just had this idea that all the participants would be there all three days.
- I thought I could easily read the catalog online, since the guides I read said you could do so for free.
One, the participants are definitely not there for three days. I found this out from looking at the catalog online for free. But the process of looking at that catalog was far from easy. I kept running in circles on the website, downloaded an unintuitive app, and eventually made my way onto the actual catalog only to discover that users who have not paid can only click a few times before being electronically shunned for a set period of five minutes, after which you can have a few more precious clicks before being shunned once more.
Given that each day of Comiket features hundreds of titles and goods, a pathetic few clicks barely nabs readers a taste of the wares available. And to get the catalog, you have to pay 2000 yen or so—which, on the website, was confusingly presented as a subscription service.
I forwent purchasing the catalog, but I didn’t check the catalog early, and by the time I had browsed even with those paltry pokes of my mouse, the first day of the event was already over, and I had already missed several Godzilla doujinshi.
But luckily I could still get Denjin Arrow and MASH’s latest Godzilla doujinshi on the 31st!
Thus and so on the last day of 2018 I moseyed my way on down to Tokyo Big Sight and was indeed treated to a big sight of seething humanity.
Tip: follow the crowds. If you slip out of the currents of humanity, you can end up unexpectedly walking into a storm of individuals going the opposite way and thus be forced into an increasingly difficult game of dodge-the-otaku (and by this time you, too, are a certified otaku as well).
Jusssssst don’t expect to find piles and piles of kaiju and adventure manga everywhere you turn.
DO expect to find UNENDING rows of manga and art books featuring an infinite number of cute girls, as well as retina-ripping pornography (often with minimally helpful tape over the nipples on the posters, but not in the comics themselves)—including, yes, what sure look like child porn comics with unapologetically graphic art. At first I was wondering if there was really anything but cute girl comics and porn, frankly—and the titles tended to look so generic. I couldn’t tell much about the stories except that they featured cute girls, sex, and/or cute girls and sex—and at first I was scared out of my ever-loving mind to even open up a sample comic, for fear that I would be assaulted by lovingly detailed sequences of debauchery—look, whatever your tastes may be, I just wasn’t there to look at that kind of work.
But maybe the initial porn-fest functions as a gauntlet, weeding out the weak-willed so that they never reach the less erotic stuff. For eventually I did find quite the number of monster manga, humour comics, and more. I got my copy of Daiji Kazumine’s latest Denjin Arrow and snagged Shinji Nishikawa’s Godzilla doujinshi, but also quite a number of original kaiju stories, as well as some four-panel humor titles, some adventure comics, some art books, and a case of sensory overload. What was even more awesome was that I could meet some of the manga artists themselves. While Daiji Kazumine was not there, Shinji Nishikawa was, and so I had the opportunity to gush at him about how much I liked his work and pose for a photo. (I also told him I had contributed to the Toho Kingdom interview we did a while back, which I think really surprised him.) Daiji Kazumine’s assistant, Atsushi Sasaki, was also there, and I picked up his recent magical girl manga, Randoserun Zero-Based. Sasaki-sensei is a huge fan of tokusatsu, so it isn’t surprising that Randoserun Zero-Basedfeatures an enormous kaiju battling it out with the titular heroine! It’s pretty entertaining. Atsushi Sasaki also introduced me to another manga artist, Kouji Kiki, who did Metal K for Shonen Jumpback in the 1980s. He was selling some comics that furthered the adventures of Metal K, and I picked some up. I also got an Ultraman parody book called Loyalty Man, featuring a humorous Ultraman knock-off biding his time in a lousy salaryman position while he waits to fight real monsters (the story turns surprisingly serious by the end of the first volume), as well as a few other books of varying quality.
Attendees can expect to find a huge variety of goods at the event, ranging from the aforementioned manga titles, to art books, clear files, and tons of other goods. Some folks actually give away some samples for free!
Comiket was in some ways an amazing experience. I am not a big fan of erotic books, but in the end I found a lot more there than just the sexy stuff, and it was really fun getting to meet a number of manga artists there! Overwhelming, exciting, exhausting—that was Comiket. Maybe I’ll go again this year!General // July 27, 2019
“Everyone, deep in their hearts, is waiting for the end of the world to come.” – Haruko Murakami, 1Q84
When the last dice has been cast, how will it all end? Humans have pondered this question since before we had words to speak. Will our doom be delivered to us in the form of a burning meteor? What if a terrible outbreak sentenced our collective species to an early grave? What if we destroyed ourselves in a nuclear holocaust? Some cultures believe Armageddon is preordained and the fate of destruction is the emergence of an eternal rebirth. Nobody knows for certain. Personally, I think the end will come on the golden wings of a three-headed space dragon.
Monster Sightings: GHIDORAH is the third installment in a series of short films designed to make the viewer feel like they’re witnessing a kaiju attack firsthand. In this blog entry, I will be breaking down how key scenes were shot using a combination of stop motion, computer graphics, and compositing techniques. I have no compunction about keeping my techniques a secret; my goal is to help you make your dream monster movie a reality.
If you’re just here to watch a fun little short, then please enjoy the show. If you’re an avid filmmaker or you’re curious about how I made this little flick, read on.
Prep: Advice for Beginners
Firstly, know your capabilities. Are you a beginner? If so, don’t sweat it. Start small. It’s nice dreaming about doing a ten-minute video or, Godzilla-willing, a dream feature length project. But every second of your idea will require considerable time and effort. So, I suggest you make your first project a ten-second video. Run a series of tests to make sure you have the basics down. Build up from there.
To make your film, you need equipment. Chief among your tools of trade will be your camera. But not all cameras are equal. They vary in terms of quality and usefulness. To determine what camera is right for you, it’s good to do as much research on this subject as humanely possible. Most of us start on a shoestring budget, so you’ll need to choose your first camera wisely.
Since the objective is to make a monster film, you’ll need to work with monsters. Don’t worry, they’re not as bad as you think. All the monsters I’ve worked with are humble and professional (except Rodan). Are you interested in doing stop motion? Great, consider investing in high-quality action figures with excellent articulation. S.H. MonsterArts, Revoltech, and NECA make superb figurines. If stop motion is not your thing, there are software programs that can help you design computer generated characters. Blender is a good place to start. Maybe you want to
take things into your own hands by donning a rubber suit. I’ve done that and it’s fun/exhausting. Shop around. Touch base with any local costume shops. Consult local talent if you need help in designing a costume, or make your own monster suit. Doing the latter opens the doors to other possibilities. What if instead of designing your own Godzilla suit, you made a completely new monster.
What about a film set? Find space. For my stop motion projects, I designed a green screen set. Other artists have more traditional sets full of miniatures and materials that are easily attainable. You can build a set yourself or buy one. Be prepared to improvise. If you want to add an element of ‘realism’ to your production, shoot on location. Find a city near you and make your day-off a filming day.
Storyboarding is a godsend. Writing a script is essential, especially if you’re working with actors. But when it comes to planning VFX-heavy scenes? Storyboarding goes a long way in visualizing the story you want to tell. It not only shows you what your film could be, but what it might become.
Now we get to one of the most underappreciated jobs in the film industry: editing. Once you have the right computer and video editing software, consider investing in Adobe After Effects (AAE). Adobe has a plan where for only $30 a month you have unlimited access to all their products. There are hundreds of tutorials that can help you master AAE and doing so would be in your best interests. It’s unimaginable how versatile AAE is. If you have money to spare, consider buying exclusive VFX content from Red Giant, ActionVFX, and Video Copilot.
Stop Motion, VFX, and Ghidorah
Composite shots are my forte. Incorporating stop motion characters into real world settings enhances the overall scope. If executed correctly, it can elevate any film regardless of its budget. Through trial and error, I’ve designed an effective green screen studio. Lighting the green screen and your subject is your top priority. For maximum efficiency, make sure you have overhead lighting. It does wonders. Speaking of lighting, fluorescent lights are the right way to
go. Lighting equipment may not be cheap but they are a must-have for any and all green screen endeavors.
Helpful tip: There is an app called Green Screener. If you don’t want to use a light meter, the Green Screener app makes for a fine replacement. I highly recommend it.
Camera, Tripod, and Watch
For video recordings, I use my iPhone X. Its camera capabilities are topnotch and the quality is easily comparable to camcorders that cost tens of thousands of dollars. I’ve used it to film weddings, tutorials, and interviews. For better results, I utilize the ProCamera app for maximum efficiency. When it comes to doing stop motion, it’s best to take photos in high-resolution. I’ll go into more detail on the nuts and bolts soon enough. One caveat about using your smartphone for video productions is how the focus might be offset by constant motion. Luckily, there are ways to counteract this.
I cannot stress the importance of a good tripod. You want a multipurpose tripod that is simplistic, strong, flexible, and durable. Mine has a special little gadget designed to hold my iPhone X steady, with an adjustable top.
If you’re doing stop motion, I’d strongly advise you to have a camera clicker. Pushing your recording device to take a still might shake or distort the camera, compromising your shot. This is why I use the ProCamera feature on my Apple Watch. With one push of the button, I have my shot, and I’m free to continue without missing a beat.
Stop Motion and Working with Ghidorah
Lights, camera, and—be patient. Hours of hard work and labor can result in only a few seconds of screen time. Commit to your vision and follow through with a can-do attitude, and you will create something stunning.
My subject was S.H. MonsterArts’ King Ghidorah Special Color Version. Its attention to detail is magnificent and its articulation met my high expectations. During the pre-production phase, I researched different ways to utilize Ghidorah in the art of stop motion; however, I didn’t find anything useful. Fortunately, I developed techniques on my own that were effective and acquired the necessary materials that helped spur the process. I’m happy to share my findings with you.
I used a Camera Tripod to hold Ghidorah up in a flight position. There are alternative ways to pull this off. Use your imagination. Ghidorah and the tripod were held in place by putty. It’s important to keep your subject as still as possible, so that when you move, say, their arms and legs, their entire body doesn’t shuffle out of place. During the editing phase, I keyed out the tripod using After Effects. When it comes to opening and closing mouths, I use a special little tool. ‘Slow and steady wins the race,’ is a very apt saying when it comes to creating art.
Ghidorah has dozens of articulation positions to shape. I used anywhere between six-to-twelve points of articulation (e.g., heads, wings, tails, mouths, etc.), and it came out rather well. See for yourself.
Everything at this point hinges on the editing phase. First, I merge ALL the images into one comp. Inside that comp is where we take care of the green screen. If I can’t incorporate Ghidorah into my footage then my efforts will be in vain. To chroma key out the green screen, Red Giant’s Smooth Cleaner and Primatte Keyer are excellent assets. If you don’t use Red Giant, don’t fret; After Effects has its own chroma key plug-ins. After removing the green background, my next job is to trim the images down (to two-frames per second should suffice, but there are exceptions depending on what looks right). If everything checks out, I’ll go about adjusting the lighting, color scheme, and brightness level of the subject before working out its position, size, and motion. If everything is not ok, I’ll go back to the very beginning and reshoot. It’s not fun having to do everything all over again but the ends do justify the means.
For me personally, this is where the fun begins. In the scene we’ll be analyzing, Ghidorah is flying over a devastated city. The following screen captures will show the gradual process of mixing together our stop motion subject with the original footage and interlacing visual effects. Here we go!
Final Touches: Sound Design, Score, and Cuts
Congratulations on completing the VFX phase. All your hard work is close to paying off. But the time has come to do something many filmmakers hate doing, and that’s leaving footage on the cutting room floor. I recommend showing your film to a group of trusted confidants, people whose opinions you take seriously. Their feedback has worth so long as it’s honest and constructive. If all they’re doing is telling you what you want to hear (e.g., massaging your ego), find a more neutral group to listen to. I’ve worked thousands of hours on numerous VFX sequences. And despite the amount of pride I have for my accomplishments, I will trim a scene or cut it out completely if it doesn’t belong. Be prepared to do this. The time to be objective is nigh. When your sound design work is completed, don’t be afraid to cut out anything else that hinders the movie. Follow through on your instincts. If it’s a problem that is preventable,
prevent it. Filmmakers will always see their movies as being incomplete works of art. But you can do your future self a solid favor by cutting out things you know you’ll regret to see again someday.
To sell the visuals, you need to make your film as much of an immersive experience as possible, and this can only be achieved through sound design and, if your film needs it, a rhythmic score to add feeling to the story. Whether you’re experienced or inexperienced in doing sound design, the first thing that matters is approaching it with an open mind. Since the beginning you’ve likely been imagining what your film will sound like. If the sound effects are as good as you imagined, then bring your plan to fruition. There is more to sound design than adding to the eyepopping visuals. Visual effects and sound design make wonderful companions. But sound is crucial in many other sectors. If your film has actors with speaking roles, the dialogue needs to be crisp and discernable.
My film didn’t need a score because King Ghidorah’s actions and sound effects moved the story forward. In my personal opinion, Ghidorah’s unique sound functions as a score in itself. Regardless, I’ve used original scores in my projects before. And as much as I’d love to throw in a track from one of Akira Ifukube’s many classics, the truth is I don’t want my film to be taken down due to copyright infringement. That’s why I use companies like PremiumBeat. For $49, I’m free to use original songs for as many projects as I want.
Good sound design is invaluable not just for the reasons we can think of, but for the reasons we can’t think of. You’ll never know how important sound design is to your work until you hear it bring your motion picture to life for the first time.
There are a growing number of talented filmmakers in the online kaiju community. We’re seeing a resurgence in studio monster movies that will inspire generations of new artists. It is a good time to be a Godzilla fan. We are now, more than ever, in a prime position to share our passion for the movies and characters we love. I’m having the time of my life making Godzilla movies.
All else I have to say is welcome constructive feedback. Vow to grow as a filmmaker and storyteller. Connect with your audience. Take pride in what you do and you will go a long way. Thank you.BY: Thomas FairchildGeneral // July 16, 2019
The latest Godzilla movie, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, has now spent four weekends at the box office. As we are now well past any normal grace period for avoiding spoilers, the staff of Toho Kingdom is giving their full thoughts on the latest movie. As expected, stuff will not be held back, so if you haven’t seen the film and are still looking to avoid spoilers, this article isn’t for you. So without further ado, the staff’s impressions after seeing the film.
I was excited to see GKOTM. I went out of my way to go see it in IMAX on the Friday the film was released in Shinjuku with a nearly full theater because I wanted to get the audience buzz and excitement (unfortunately, there wasn’t much). I had along with me a homemade Godzilla hat my mom had made for me. I had read the graphic novel, listened to the soundtrack, and even started reading the novel version. I was primed for a good time.
But much to my shock, I did not have a good time. Quite the opposite. Please understand, I usually like crazy and silly monster movies. I even liked Rampage and Pacific Rim: Uprising, and I thought Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) was a lot of fun. The reviews for GKOTM were bad, but I still figured I would just have a good time with the movie.
Yet when all was said and done I hated this movie–and I have never hated a Godzilla movie before. Certainly I didn’t hate the film because it had lots of monster scenes–I love monsters. Certainly not because I thought it needed more human scenes–it had plenty. But from start to finish I felt like the movie was undermining its own tension, that despite sometimes fantastic effects the film felt slipshod and rushed, that nothing really seemed to gel. I don’t say this to make anyone angry, but just… that’s how the film felt to me.
Sure, one can complain about the human characters, how Kyle Chandler’s character always seemed to know exactly what to do (I figured he was still receiving tomorrow’s newspaper today), how ineffectual the military was even against a small group of terrorists, the groan worthy lines, or the way that the characters often say or do things that make no sense, etc, etc. I liked the conceit of having the family drama in the middle of the monster attack, but it is VERY hard to understand or buy into a character who, after losing her child, decides it’s a good idea to destroy all of civilization and allow for the deaths of millions and billions of people. And whose daughter initially goes along with this plan (she admittedly didn’t fully understand the plan, but she had a general idea of how giant monsters would be released to change the world, and it’s made clearer in the novel). And then we are just supposed to accept when she and her daughter think, oh, maybe killing millions of people might NOT be the best way to handle their personal emotional problems. But I often felt like there were many plot elements that just were barely put together, not just the characters, but events and monsters as well. I could go on and on.
Even the monster action felt uninteresting to me. King Ghidorah looks cool… but he runs away from his first fight, and is losing the second until Godzilla gets hit by the Oxygen Destroyer, which is now just a green bomb for some reason. Over and over again, almost every time KG is about to attack, another monster appears to stop him at the last moment. It becomes like a bad drinking game, and happened so often that I was waiting for it to happen. KG is our big bad, but he comes across as a big wuss! Godzilla, meanwhile, is “killed,” but not really, and in his nearly-dead state he swims far away to a regeneration room to heal. Our heroes find him there, and decide to nuke him to charge him up faster (you know… the same method they were using to KILL Godzilla and the MUTOs in the previous film is now used to bring Godzilla back to life), and even though drones are conked out just by approaching Godzilla due to the high radiation, an old man (the least capable person on the whole ship for the mission) volunteers to go alone with barely a peep of protest, then handily manages to deliver the missile payload instead, and he feels good enough even after taking off his mask right next to Godzilla that he has the energy to caress the monster’s face instead of instantly dying. To me, Serizawa’s sacrifice just felt forced and ridiculous. (I was hoping he would emerge from the explosion as a giant monster ala a certain Dreamcast video game, but alas.)
And the last fight… wasn’t interesting to me. The fight tended to be quick snippets rather than a sustained battle sequence. It felt like a string of money shots interspersed with humans yelling and carrying on rather than a fight building upon itself. Also, the monsters just kept developing new powers whenever they needed them, with little build up. KG has the power to regenerate, but we don’t really see him use it during the fight. Mothra fights Rodan and suddenly has a giant stinger that she uses to kill Rodan… who then comes back to life to grovel at Godzilla’s feet later anyway, further undermining the stakes of the battle because monsters can just resurrect at will. KG suddenly in one really short scene has the ability to suck energy out of Godzilla, and nearly sucks him dry somehow. Godzilla, after nearly getting sucked dry, suddenly goes thermonuclear and implodes, but is completely fine afterwards and enjoys a nice KG-brand cigar. For what it’s worth, it is implied in the film that Godzilla’s transformation into fire Godzilla is facilitated by Mothra’s death, though this, too, follows the same problem as above—a monster conveniently manifesting just the power it needs in just one scene to make things work out. It’s a total deus ex machina move, made all the more confusing because the movie already set up fire Godzilla via the effects of the Serizawa bomb underwater and the fact that the image of fire Godzilla hearkens back (for fans) to Godzilla dying in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995). It’s confusing and, to me, poorly done, and it all felt like flash and bang without any real excitement or tension. It also kind of feels like Hollywood saying, “our Godzilla is better than yours because he can survive the Oxygen Destroyer AND blowing himself up—and he is bigger than Shin Godzilla, too, so there!” (I have read the novelization, which makes a lot of aspects of the plot clearer… but the novel makes no explicit connection between Mothra’s demise and Godzilla going Super Saiyan.)
I left the theater confused and shocked at how much I disliked the film. Upon reflection, there were things I liked, such as the references to the original Rodan (1956) and the music and the monster designs (especially Rodan), and particular scenes, such as Mothra webbing Ghidorah. I liked seeing the extra Titans, though I wish there had been more of them. But as for the movie as a whole, I left feeling like it was a huge missed opportunity. I wished that the action could have more real tension and excitement and build-up. I wished that the story could’ve had more clever twists and fewer (to me) lousy one-liners. To me, the whole affair came across as a slapped-together monstrosity with a heavy sprinkling of what seemed to me almost ironic, haphazard fan-service.
And I say all this with great regret because I absolutely wanted to enjoy the film and embrace it like so many fans have apparently done. But I just couldn’t do it. Even though I have found many of the “dumbest” Godzilla movies in the past were also my favorites, and they often had similarly nonsensical plots. But for me, they also had a straightforward charm that this film lacked. I mean, I enjoyed the anime trilogy more than I did GKOTM.
I don’t say any of this to discount your opinion if you loved the movie. If you did, that’s great. And I really want to thank the director and the makers of the film for all their hard work, and I really wish them all the best. I don’t want to write this to be hateful or anything of the sort. These were just my impressions, my honest emotional reaction. They could change upon further viewings.
Maybe someday I can revisit the movie and just enjoy it for what it is, but for whatever reason, this time I just couldn’t. To those who could, I am glad you did, but… I just didn’t, for the reasons listed above and others. It’s tough to say it, but at least after one viewing, I have to give GKOTM a big thumbs down.
I’m not sure how much I can elaborate on that quote in the lower left corner without over explaining.
From director Michael Dougherty comes the anticipated Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), the long awaited sequel to Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014) and connected to Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island (2017) in the greater universe of films known as the MonsterVerse. So how does it hold up?
In my first and only viewing, combined with the weeks that have passed since then, I find myself mixed about it. I’ll be one to fully admit that the trailer hype may have set up something of a false expectation to what the film actually is. Even with that in mind, it doesn’t mean that the film should be excused for its flaws, no matter how much fan service is thrown in.
Aside from false expectations, it still feels like it’s missing something. To me, all the right ingredients are in place that could rival that of an Avengers movie in terms of scope and scale. I feel, at least for the theatrical edit, it boiled down to sloppy execution. The breakneck pace combined with the human-focused sequences in the middle of the monster action I think are two of the biggest sins that hamper the spectacle it’s trying to go for. And the contrivance of the human story just to get the ball rolling or to act as set pieces for action sequences takes away any tension it could have had. While I didn’t mind our leads playing the Russell family, some aspects to their character and character arcs could’ve been handled much better for a truly emotional story about a broken family in the aftermath of discovering monsters.
The fan service I think is also a major contributor here… Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty I’m truly appreciative of. The score from Bear McCreary is utterly gorgeous and to hear the Godzilla and Mothra themes modernized is truly a treat in of itself. Even the reinvention of the Burning Godzilla concept in the form of Fire Godzilla is also a surprise return, let alone in an American production. Kudos to the team for that. But I feel the excessive amount of the fan service hinders it as well and all could’ve been either removed or replaced with something that doesn’t need to be explicitly stated. The Oxygen Destroyer I think is a prime example of what I mean, only being haphazardly used as a one-time plot device to render Godzilla useless with none of the build up to justify its spot there.
As a whole, I still got a nice bit of enjoyment out of the film. Even if it’s a little bit forced, I think Dr. Serizawa’s sacrifice was one of the more emotional moments of the film. But a lot of it is undercut by the pacing and the editing (sans the Serizawa scene, which I felt was handled really well), and leaves much to be desired. My only hope is for the alleged Director’s Cut that has 40-something minutes of footage could clear up the issues I have currently.
And now, for the kick of the curb and for perspective’s sake, this is my personal ranking between all stories in the MonsterVerse canon, so that’ll include the comics.
- Kong: Skull Island (2017)
- Godzilla (2014)
- Skull Island: The Birth of Kong (2017)
- Godzilla: Aftershock (2019)
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
- Godzilla Awakening (2014)
Going off that list, it becomes abundantly clear I find KOTM to be the weakest of the MonsterVerse movies. It’s a bit of a shame, because I want to have good reason to place it higher. But compared to the two movies that came before, despite their flaws, they’re still much better constructed movies; even the comic book tie-ins (for the most part) told more structured and coherent stories.
And who knows? Maybe a second viewing of KOTM may change my stance on it. As it currently stands, I’m mixed about this long-awaited sequel and hope the next entry doesn’t disappoint. I await with mild curiosity how Adam Wingard and crew handle the even more anticipated crossover event.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a dream come true. Seeing Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah on the big screen in a new film is something I’d been dreaming about since 2004 and in some ways never expected to see.
So seeing these old friends onscreen was terrific but what about the film itself? I have some issues with it. I loved the human cast although I thought some characters were poorly used in particular Dr. Vivian Graham. Many people have mentioned that the story isn’t particularly new or deep. It’s nowhere near as deep or nuanced as Gojira 1954 or GMK. However is that a bad thing? I agree the story could have used more depth but I don’t think a Godzilla film that errs on the side of pure entertainment more than a deep philosophical approach is a bad thing. This is what makes Godzilla such an enduring icon. He can be many things and his movies can be infinitely diverse in tone. Looking at KOTM in that perspective does the film work? ABSOLUTELY! This movie is the closest Godzilla movie to match the energy and soul of the classic Showa films like Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) or Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) more so than the last attempt to do so with Godzilla Final Wars. The greatest achievement of Godzilla 2014 was making its version of Godzilla FEEL like the Godzilla character we know and love. KOTM only improves on Legendary’s success as Godzilla’s power is only matched by his personality. The film makers knew that Godzilla isn’t a monster but a CHARACTER and they treat him as such. KOTM also revitalizes the characters of King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan like never before. So much personality has been reintroduced to these characters that I loved so much. Rodan is a truly frightening sight in mid air and his volcanic entrance was amazing. I was afraid that the lack of her two priestesses would remove the humanity and hope of Mothra as a character but I couldn’t be more wrong. The fact she has become so popular across the internet from Facebook posts to fan art or memes is testament to her character and appearance in the film. King Ghidorah is perfectly terrifying in a way unseen in any Godzilla film since Invasion of Astro-Monster. His is truly an apocalyptic presence in the film. The choice to have a separate motion capture actor for each head was inspired and gave him a new depth of character never seen in the character before.
The visuals are breath taking. The scope of the fights and destruction are beyond what I expected from the film going in and I couldn’t have enjoyed them more. The visuals are only matched by the sound design and soundtrack. To hear the classic Ifukube themes on the big screen in an American production was beautiful and moving. McCreary’s original score work is just as good blending these themes in with his own original compositions in a perfect mix.
While not ground breaking I thought the human cast and characters were more than serviceable. I enjoyed just about every performance and each character regardless of their depth or lack thereof.
As a Godzilla fan I truly feel blessed to be alive now. It’s hard for me to think of a better time for the Godzilla character. For those who wanted more from KOTM’s story or something new from this movie can enjoy the Anime Trilogy for creating something never seen before with the character. If you want more political subtext in your Godzilla films then Shin Godzilla is one of the greatest examples of Godzilla as political commentary. If you were disappointed in Shin Godzilla (2016) or The Anime Trilogy for their lack of action then you have King of The Monsters to turn too. Each new Godzilla releases complements the last by taking separate directions for the character. I believe that Godzilla King of the Monsters is on the way to being one of my favorite Godzilla movies and a wonderful introduction for the main stream audiences to this tremendous character.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) is a thermonuclear-sized gift to monster cinema. The monsters may be the stars, but we are the beneficiaries of their cataclysmic feuds. Generally, monsters are portrayed as being mindless forces of destruction, meant only to challenge the humans caught in their wake. It is nice to see that trope elegantly subverted here; in this film, monster and human are equal.
Godzilla has never been better. The aesthetics of his design evoke a delicate balance of power, savagery, and grace, casting him as a majestic god while simultaneously humanizing him. This film and its predecessor rekindled my long-lost appreciation for Godzilla as a good guy; I loved Godzilla’s hero journey in this story. Mothra is truly a divine monster, and every scene she’s in is awe-inspiring. Give this Mothra a solo movie. Rodan is nearly perfect, with a design that could very well be my favorite. I loved his molten feather-like scales and how sparks of ember shot out of his wings whenever he took flight. My single regret is they didn’t let him keep his classic roar. Out of all of the monsters, King Ghidorah arguably benefits the most. Despite being Godzilla’s archenemy and one of the most dangerous kaiju around, Ghidorah has never scared me — until now, that is. Each Ghidorah has a unique personality that makes every scene he’s in memorable. I must say, the part where he regenerated one of his severed heads like the hydra of old? Yeah, I’m still picking my jaw up from the floor.
Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) are compelling, each bringing dignity to their respective roles. Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) was endearing, and I hope she continues to evolve as a person in future installments. In a film teeming with amazing scenes, Serizawa’s heartfelt goodbye to Godzilla is without question my favorite. For me, it’s an inspiring scene. Serizawa, while holding his father’s watch from Hiroshima, faces his inner demons by turning the very same weapon that has haunted his people for generations into a life-saving instrument. Beautiful.
Unfortunately, some of the human characters were generic, namely the human antagonist: Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga). Her genocidal plan—delivered in an excruciatingly long villainous monologue—and the onus placed on us to sympathize with her plight made it all but impossible for me to forgive her, which is a shame because Vera is an outstanding actress. Some of the humor felt forced and was unnecessary (i.e., “I record everything, man,” and “Gonorrhea?” was eye-rolling). Ultimately, more time spent on developing the principal human cast would have significantly benefited the film. Monster scenes are great, but compelling human drama in these kinds-of-films is a necessity. No story has ever suffered for giving us relatable human characters to follow.
All good films have a music composer orchestrating the emotional journey of its characters. Bear McCreary’s soundtrack awakened the emotional Titan within. Bear’s homages to the legendary works of Akira Ifukube and Yuji Koseki brought a smile to my face. Every time Godzilla’s iconic theme boomed, I felt like I was discovering Godzilla for the first time. Bear’s rendition of Mothra’s Song was perfect. It’s a beautiful melody to listen to by itself. I thought the beatings of the drums juxtaposed with Godzilla leading his human allies into battle was beyond impressive. Who wouldn’t follow Godzilla into battle? Just make sure you let him go first.
Michael Dougherty is no stranger to directing creature features (e.g., Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus). Here, his Godzilla-loving credentials are on full display. There are a few discrepancies I have with the film, like how I think Emma’s villainous monologue speech should’ve been left on the cutting room floor, or how the Oxygen Destroyer was shoehorned in as a convenient plot device. Don’t get me wrong; it was a cool scene and, as a fan, I was smiling ear-to-ear. However, when you incorporate the Oxygen Destroyer for only a few minutes, it comes across as a missed opportunity. Nitpicks aside, I’m satisfied with what Mike and his crew set out to achieve, and I hope he returns to the kaiju genre.
At the end of the day I cared about the characters—both human and monster alike—and I know I’ll be enjoying Godzilla: King of the Monsters for many years to come. Long live the King!
With what I would consider one of the best trailers of 2018, Godzilla: King of the Monsters finally roared into theaters in May of 2019. After waiting nearly 2 weeks to see it with a friend, I can definitively say Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a mixed bag that I enjoyed. A collection of some jaw-dropping set pieces that barely overcomes elements as endearing as nails on a chalkboard.
To get the worst out of the way, the family in the film begin as sympathetic characters, but by its end, I wished for Ghidorah to disintegrate them all where they stood. Not to say their acting is atrocious, as all give solid performances, but Kyle Chandler as Mark Russell, Millie Bobby Brown as Madison Russell and Vera Farmiga as Emma Russell can’t overcome one opponent in the film, the script. Motivations change on a dime, characters are looked to for advice even though experts fill every square inch of the screen and every moment the family appeared I felt myself despising the movie more and more. Aaron Taylor Johnson’s character of Ford Brody in Godzilla may have proven dull, but I did not actively wish for his death by the film’s conclusion by comparison. The other side characters proved more engaging with Charles Dance as Alan Jonah and Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa being my personal highlights, the latter receiving a wonderful sendoff scene with Godzilla.
Speaking of Godzilla, wow does he shine in this movie whenever he appears. Mothra, Ghidorah and Rodan have also never come to life in such a spectacular fashion with Rodan’s awakening in particular stealing the movie for me. Whether its Mothra illuminating the horizon or Ghidorah battling Rodan high above the clouds, these moments put a genuine smile on my face in the theater and are easily the highlights of the film. I’d even argue some of the action is the best in the three movies of the Legendary series, but for every peak that the film achieves, the characters take you to a valley you wish went undiscovered.
I could nitpick other elements like the unexplained use of the Oxygen Destroyer, or praise certain details like Ghidorah’s personalities or McCarthy’s fantastic score, but what I’m left with at the end of the day is a film at odds with itself. A film I’d praise and tear apart in the same sentence. Do the positives outweigh the negatives? Yes, and its easily superior to the Anime Trilogy or Shin Godzilla, but for someone who wanted a film to stand side by side with the classics of Godzilla, I can say what we got is a flawed, good Godzilla movie, just not a great one.
Marcus GwinIf you had told me that one day I would watch two Godzilla movies back to back, and Godzilla 2014 was the one I enjoyed more, I would’ve said “Ohhhhhhhhh no…”Yes, as someone who didn’t like Godzilla 2014, I was hoping that this would be a step up, but to my shock Godzilla 2014 is better on every level. The special effects in Godzilla King of the Monsters are nothing short of underwhelming, the animation is terrible, and worst of all the story is awful. While there may not be as many plot holes as in Godzilla 2014, it more than easily makes up for it with terrible dialogue, nonsensical logic, and a complete lack of understanding towards any aspect of science, natural or otherwise. The film simply has no idea of what animals are actually like, and the behavior exhibited by the Kaiju is distinctly non animalistic. Seriously, Godzilla 1998 does a much better job portraying Godzilla as a real animal.There are also many things i didn’t like on a more subjective note as well. For example, “Titans” is the most awful way of referring to Kaiju throughout any film that needs a term for the monsters. It just sounds pretentious and stupid the way they say it. Also, what if we wanted to bring Titanosaurus into the monsterverse? This term would make all the more awkward.Suffice to say, Godzilla KOTM is a failure on every cinematic level, and competes with Godzilla Planet Eater for the position of worst film in the entire franchise from an objective standpoint.
Having enjoyed the cinematic entries in the MonsterVerse to date, my anticipation and excitement for this latest film was pretty high after the 2018 Comic Con trailer. Many months later, those expectations were brought back down to earth as the review embargo lifted and the movie took a critical thumping. So I went into the theater with excitement, but with expectations I thought were in line for what I was about to see.
Sadly the movie didn’t meet those lower expectations, and instead was a film I would give 2 or 2.5 stars out of 5 to. In fact, I found the latest MonsterVerse entry much more forgettable than anticipated, although not nearly to the degree that the Anime trilogy suffers from. I think my biggest complaint with the production was just a lack of highlights. I loved King Ghidorah carrying Godzilla into the sky and also the brief moment when Mothra and Godzilla teamed up against King Ghidorah… but that’s kind of it. Sadly there just isn’t a lot of moments where I go: “oh yeah, I want to see that again”. This is in contrast to the earlier films, where I was thrilled by the build up the first time Godzilla used his atomic ray in 2014 or the tense sequence on the bridge with the MUTO. Similarly in Kong: Skull Island (2017), the final battle itself was packed with great moments. I was not expecting this lack of highlights at all, as the trailer did a great job at showcasing Rodan’s arrival from the volcano or King Ghidorah emerging from the clouds, yet in the final product these sequences just didn’t carry the same gravitas. Not sure if that’s pacing or just general editing, but I wasn’t wowed like I was expecting to be.
As for the human cast… couldn’t care less for them. When Emma Russell unveils her big plan to let the titans rule the earth, returning it to glory, I was ready for the film to develop her as the villain. Instead? She heel turns pretty much immediately to regret her actions due to her daughter and, it would seem, not thinking the plan all the way through. It’s the kind of turn of events that gives the viewer new found respect for Emmy Kano from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), whose badly handled confusion over the Futurians’ plan was at least executed better than this. Speaking of poorly executed, the death of Vivienne Graham was a joke, and it felt like someone looked over the film and said “crap, we kind of glossed over this… let’s throw her face on a computer monitor and note she is deceased just so it’s clear she is dead.”
Overall, I don’t want to dive too much into the film, as to avoid a full review, but I can say this did temper my excitement for Godzilla vs. Kong a bit… hopefully the trailers for that turn things around. On the plus side, at least Rodan lived to see another day… which did bring a smile to my face, even if it was in a role that sees him more as a lackey.
Have your own impressions related to the film? Feel free to sound off in the comments.General // June 25, 2019
Often remembered in her country as “The Eternal Virgin” (as well as “The Goddess of Militarism” and “The Goddess of Democracy,” depending on which section of her career one wishes to focus on), Setsuko Hara first appeared on cinema screens as a teenager when she was cast in 1935’s Don’t Hesitate, Young Folks, produced by Nikkatsu. Two years and ten films later, she rose to immense popularity with The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai, a Japan-Nazi Germany co-production whose success sent her on an international voyage and—it was hoped—a career in the west. For German filmmaker Arnold Fanck, the young actress (who he claimed to have discovered on the set of Sadao Yamanaka’s 1936 The Priest of Darkness), evoked a pure “Japaneseness” ideal for his picture’s heroine*; for the domestic co-producers, however, she embodied an opportunity to inaugurate a more prominent stream of Japanese film exports and establish the most globally recognized Asian actress since Anna May Wong.
To a certain extent, the producers’ hope was realized. Regular exports of Japanese film did not become a thing for a while and Hara never enjoyed a career in Hollywood, but they’d found a star and gradually got her recognized abroad. In 1937, the press scrambled to cover Hara’s visit to Germany, for which she attended the Berlin premiere of The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai, stayed at the luxurious Eden Hotel, and shook hands with several of Germany’s top film stars as well as the Nazi politician Joseph Goebbels. And even though the film was not shown theatrically in the U.S., she ended up traversing to America to meet Marlene Dietrich and Spencer Tracy, even celebrating her seventeenth birthday aboard the Queen Mary. In 1939, she was chosen to embody “the face of Japan” at the New York World Fair.
Hara remained in the Japanese public eye throughout the remainder of the ‘30s, soon seguing into films championing militaristic politics (as international tensions were escalating into what became World War II). Since Japanese screen performers were not persecuted by the western occupying forces who took over Japan after the 1945 surrender, she was allowed to continue working into the postwar years, now appearing in films favoring democratic ideals pushed by the Americans; and when Japan’s first post-surrender print poster (a colossal color ad for Shiseido Cosmetics) appeared in the fall of 1946, it was Hara’s face that was used to represent “the emergence of the postwar modern nation of Japan, including the Japanese new woman.” (In all of this, we can see why the actress obtained the two “Goddess” monikers listed above.)
But, of course, it was mainly through the exposure of her work in the 1950s that Hara attained true international prominence. Though much of it reached foreign audiences after her sudden retirement in the 1960s**, these later films were the ones that came closest to realizing the sort of recognition the producers of The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai had hoped their starlet would receive in 1937. To this day, Setsuko Hara has been the subject of considerable attention in numerous film events, including the 56th Berlin International Film Festival in 2011; and back in 2000, fifteen years before her death at the age of 95, she was chosen by Kinema Jumpo magazine as the greatest Japanese film actress of the 20th century—her six films with Yasujiro Ozu no doubt having been first and foremost in the voters’ minds.
It is because of this default association of Hara and Ozu that I have chosen to exclude their collaborations from this list. Despite my immense admiration for Late Spring (1949), Early Summer (1951), Tokyo Story (1953), Tokyo Twilight (1957), Late Autumn (1960), and The End of Summer (1961), none of them will make an appearance going forward. Hara made a number of very noteworthy pictures with other directors in the course of her too-brief career (which lasted less than three decades), and it is a handful of those less-talked-about films which shall be saluted here.
The first movie to appear on this list is something of a nonconformist choice, as it is not a picture I would recommend to anyone on the basis of quality or entertainment. Like many of the “spiritist” propaganda films spat up by Japan during the second world war, Kunio Watanabe’s Toward the Decisive Battle in the Sky (1943) is perfectly sufficient from a technical standpoint (well shot and put together) and boasts an array of very fine performances; unfortunately, it is also like many of its brethren in that it is cloyingly simplistic and so superficial in its “characterizations” that it ultimately proves to be ridiculous and, more often than not, simply boring.
The story revolves around a family, the Marumatsus, who regularly receive visits from local military trainees. The cadets come by ostensibly to rest, but their primary purpose in stopping by is to share cheery stories from their training sessions—stories their hosts are all too eager to hear. The family is excited and proud to be in the presence of young men who’re not only prepping for war but who are actually excited to die in battle (as voiced in a song the characters themselves write***; none of these boys expect to come back alive). And in the picture’s absurdly jovial denouement, the Marumatsus beam with elation as the cadets depart for certain death in the Pacific—their pride further enhanced by the fact that the young son of the family has started prepping for military training himself.
I chose to begin this list with a national policy film mainly to exemplify an important chapter in Setsuko Hara’s life and career. As touched on earlier, Hara was, due to her star status, a regular presence in nationalistic/jingoistic propaganda films of the ‘30s and ‘40s, and she even had familial ties to people with aggressive wartime politics****. (Another curious detail: unlike other movie stars of her time, such as frequent co-star Susumu Fujita, she never, in any document I’ve come across, expressed regret for her involvement in military recruitment pictures or movies championing the Japanese invasion of the Far East.) Her character in Toward the Decisive Battle in the Sky is a textbook example of the Japanese “spiritist” woman: a movie stereotype of the time encompassing mothers, sisters, etc. who openly support the men in their lives (lovers, children, etc.) going to war—without expressing, even in private, the slightest ounce of sadness*****. These women are honored to see those close to them perish for the honor of the nation; when mothers cry upon learning of the deaths of their loved ones, they shed tears of pride, not sorrow.
In the case of this film, Hara plays the oldest daughter in the Marumatsu family, whose unapologetic admiration for the army inspires a new generation of nationalistic fighters in the form of her little brother, himself transforming from a weakling into a proud soldier-in-training. Hara had played an imperial soldier’s sibling the year before, in Kajiro Yamamoto’s The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya (1942), but in that picture, she was confined mostly to standing in the background and had no influence over the narrative or anyone around her; here, she is up front and center—ostensibly the star—giving a vivacious performance, and plays an active role in persuading her bedridden sibling to man up and enter the services. Viewed with a certain historical context, the character—and the film—has an air of fascination to it; and on that level, I’d argue it’s one of Hara’s most important movies and, therefore, worth seeing.
After the surrender of 1945, Setsuko Hara’s reign as “The Goddess of Militarism” came to an end. For the next seven years, every film she made would be subject to an entirely different set of political agendas. More details can be found in my article on Kurosawa’s Those Who Make Tomorrow (1945), but in short: when the Allied Powers (namely, the United States) took over the Land of the Rising Sun from 1945-1952, it was with the intent of “democratizing” and “westernizing” the country and its people. This in turn led to some major restructuring of Japanese society and the complete and total supervision of Japanese media. Until the end of the occupation, everything from literature to the motion picture industry would be scrutinized in great detail prior to being released to the public.
During this time, “feudalistic” traditions such as arranged marriages and miai (the practice of setting up meetings between prospective marriage partners) were frowned upon by the Americans (who wanted to push the idea of young people deciding on their own who they will marry—i.e., marrying for love as opposed to tradition), though there were some instances where films tackling these subjects could still receive a general release. The romantic comedy Here’s to the Young Lady (1949) begins with a successful automotive entrepreneur (played by Shuji Sano) being reluctantly talked into attending a miai. He’s 34 years old and needs to find a wife as soon as possible—or so says a business associate who hounds him into agreeing to meet the girl in question. Sano has no interest in marriage and shows up at the miai determined to make a disaster of it, insisting on an unromantic locale (a bar) and showing up in his work clothes. But when he sees the woman (Setsuko Hara) and is dumbstruck by her beauty, he rashly agrees to marry her and is surprised when she accepts his proposal.
However, as it turns out, there’s more to this arrangement than meets the eye. The woman’s family, a once-wealthy aristocratic group, has since fallen into poverty and is looking to wed off their daughter in hopes of gaining an in-law who can provide a secure future for everyone. (Sano was chosen because of his success as a businessman.) Furthermore, the girl had a fiancé who died some time ago and, as she admits, she used up all her love on him and finds it difficult to express affection for anyone now. After many trials and tribulations regarding class and lifestyle differences, Sano, despite his love for Hara, calls off the wedding (but gives the family a check to save themselves) and departs for a visit to his hometown—only to have Hara chase after him, as she’s fallen in love with him as well. It might’ve been this portrayal of an arranged marriage being initiated by people interested solely in capital gain and the ultimate depiction of two people deciding to be together out of love that convinced the censors to let it get through. That the girl’s imprisoned father encourages her to ignore the family’s plans and find someone who makes her happy might’ve also played in the film’s favor. (Also possible is this unflattering portrayal came about per the censors’ suggestions, since the record shows they initially objected to some of the film’s subject matter******.)
Here’s to the Young Lady marked the first and only time Hara worked with the versatile director Keisuke Kinoshita, and it is not one of her finest hours. While her unrivaled good looks certainly fit the physical demands of the part, Hara overplays (underplays?) the “ill-at-ease” aspect of her character to the point of not being very interesting. Instead, the strength of the film is evoked through the people surrounding her. Sano, in particular, is delightful, as is Keiji Sada as the brother with romantic woes of his own. The women who work at the bar where the miai takes place—which itself becomes a recurring setting throughout the film—are also quite likable. The movie ultimately fares as an enjoyable romantic comedy which just so happens to co-star Setsuko Hara—as opposed to an all-out great film exhibiting the actress at her peak.
Like a good many of the major Japanese film artists of her generation, Setsuko Hara had no childhood aspirations to work in the movies. Rather, her dream job in youth was to one day become a teacher; but, due to her family’s poor financial status at the time, she was never able to attain the education necessary for such a profession. It is strangely fitting, therefore, that fourteen years into her career, she would play a teacher in one of her most fascinating roles. Though one can only wonder: had her teaching career come to fruition, would she have become even half as progressive and challenging to the social norm as the educator she played in Tadashi Imai’s two-part drama The Blue Mountains (1949)?
Based on Yojiro Ishizaka’s novel of the same name, the film stars Hara as a free-minded English teacher at an all-girls school. She works in a small town in which the residents are still reluctant to adopt the democratic views of the postwar era; this is a place where if two teenagers of the opposite sex are seen walking side by side in public, they become objects of scorn and mockery among their peers. When such circumstances befall one of her own pupils, Hara decides to take a stand, denouncing what she perceives to be the closed-minded views of the past; and this attitude, in turn, filters out to make the entire town question its own ethics and beliefs.
The Blue Mountains was precisely the sort of film which would’ve appealed to the occupation censors: a liberal drama defiant of outmoded feudal values and loaded with unambiguous dialogue. Consider some of the lines used when Hara challenges the bullies in her classroom: “Walking with a boy or knowing boys is not some immoral act, and to think so is very old-fashioned. I would like you to stop thinking that way. Dating boys and being honest about your feelings is perfectly natural.” As the scene continues, she calls into question whether the tormentors went after their pupil for the honor of the school or if they used that antiquated notion as an excuse to bully. “To fetter individuals in the name of ‘the family’ or of ‘the nation’ [has] been the greatest wrong in Japan.”
In another crucial scene, Hara is walking home with the town doctor (Ichiro Ryuzaki, who bears a certain resemblance to Toshiro Mifune) when he essentially speaks for the town with his conservative and nigh-misogynistic views. “I know there is a new constitution and new laws, but […] all the girls leave school and get married. Then they get bullied by their female in-laws. And their husbands will often hit them. They put up with this life, and just when they think they’ve got enough money to have it a bit easier, their husbands start drinking and chasing other women.” To which Hara responds, “It’s as if you’re saying you want to keep this town like that.” In scenes following their conversation, the doctor becomes an ally to Hara and fights alongside her in the struggle for acceptance and change within their town.
Much like the wartime propaganda films of the early to mid-1940s, The Blue Mountains is a fascinating if not especially subtle time capsule reflecting political diatribes occurring within Japan at the time; but it’s vastly entertaining compared to many of those earlier films. The picture is full of lively characters, well-realized by the cast—which includes Michiyo Kogure and Setsuko Wakayama, who would later play the heroine of Godzilla Raids Again (1955)—and a vivacious performance by an adolescent Ryo Ikebe (far more impressionable here than in any of his science fiction endeavors). But most of all, there’s Setsuko Hara. Here, the actress is at the top of her form, taking what could’ve been a preachy, obnoxious character and rendering her into a truly fascinating individual. And in this we can see a fine example of her reign as “The Goddess of Democracy.”
In her first role after becoming an independent actress in 1947, Hara teamed up with the director Kozaburo Yoshimura for a story about an aristocratic family whose “days of glory” are coming to an end. With their wealth depleted by the postwar tax hikes and agrarian reforms, the Anjo family stages a final ball at the mansion that will soon no longer be theirs. For the father, Mr. Anjo (Osamu Takizawa), the ball is an opportunity to make some last-minute negotiations with a wartime associate in hopes it would allow him to keep his house and his way of life. His son Masahiko (a marvelous performance from the always dependable Masayuki Mori) seeks to humiliate his former fiancée (the daughter of that same man) upon discovering her father has no interest in Mr. Anjo now that his days of power are gone; mixed in with this is a subplot involving his affair with one of the family’s maids (Akemi Sora). The family’s oldest daughter (Yumeko Aizome) wishes the ball to serve as a final, lasting memory of her family’s noble past—but does not wish to see the presence of their former chauffeur, who’s continued to love her even after leaving servitude, and who is now a potential buyer for the mansion. A plethora of other stories intertwine within the narrative. And running through the entire film like a quiet stream of reason is the younger daughter, Atsuko (Hara).
The Ball at the Anjo House (1947) is one of the most immaculately written films Setsuko Hara ever starred in and features one of her most well-rounded characters. From the beginning, Atsuko battles calmly and intelligently against the raging winds of arrogance, pride, and misguidedness within her home. The film opens with her adamantly opposing the titular ball and suggesting everyone simply accept the inevitable—in other words: try to make the most of their new life—while also being smart enough to recognize it might be tough, given most of them have never worked a day in their lives. She refuses to cling to the ways of yesteryear (brilliantly conveyed when a guest knocks over a suit of samurai armor—a symbol of Japan’s feudal past—and she tells a servant to leave it where it is) while taking serious the future. She acts against the wishes of her kin by trying to arrange their former chauffeur to purchase the mansion (knowing the father’s old associate has no interest in helping). And as the ball progresses and the various subplots erupt to climax, Atsuko regularly appears, constantly trying to keep things under control.
The film’s final sequence is nothing short of perfect. After the ball has ended and the rooms have gone dark, Atsuko searches the home for her father and manages to stop him from taking his own life. After saving him, she pleads for him not to despair what’s been lost but to embrace the future. She turns on the gramophone and invites her father to one final dance. The picture ends with the father and daughter dancing as the morning sun comes up; and appropriately, the final shot is one of Hara venturing up close to the camera, her hauntingly perfect smile agleam, a glowing representative of Japan in a new age.
The screenplay for The Ball at the Anjo House was written by Kaneto Shindo, but director Yoshimura claimed the idea came from his own personal experiences. As Donald Richie and Joseph L. Anderson recounted in their book The Japanese Film – Art and Industry, “The original idea was conceived when Yoshimura was invited to a dance party held at a peer’s mansion the night before it was sold, and many of the occurrences shown in the film actually happened that night. Yoshimura was so taken with what was happening that he stayed up until morning writing down ideas.” If the character of Atsuko was, indeed, based on a real person, one can only wonder how wondrous and inspiring her real-life counterpart must have been and if the girl was even half as charming and inspirational as Hara is in this picture.
A year after The Ball at the Anjo House, Hara reunited with director Kozaburo Yoshimura for what this writer sincerely believes to be one of the most beautiful and touching movies ever made about a May-September romance. In my review for Takashi Minamoto’s Tokyo Tower (2005), I concluded with a recommendation: that readers skip over that picture and instead seek out Yoshimura’s Temptation (1948) for a superior story about love between people of different generations; and I stand by that suggestion to this day.
From the beginning of Temptation, when a middle-aged father of two (Shin Saburi) runs into Hara, here playing the daughter of a colleague who died in the war, the relationship between the two is immediately fascinating. At first, Saburi holds no particular affection for Hara; he has sympathy for her becoming orphaned and feels obligated to look after her. As the story progresses, they spend more time together, their relationship naturally evolving from platonically mutual respect to special friendship to pure bliss—which comes through in one of the most romantic dance scenes ever put on film.
In contrast to some of the pictures discussed thus far, Temptation is not overtly political. It contains some food for thought (a few observations regarding postwar Japanese society—such as poverty among the lower classes), but at its core, it’s a simple love story about two people who care for one another and who just happen to be separated by a few decades of age; it doesn’t sling mud at its subject or utilize it for a series of crass jokes; it just tells its story sweetly and sincerely; and it ranks with pictures such as Delbert Mann’s Middle of the Night (1959) as one of the most touching movies about such romances I’ve come across to date. The sooner a western disc/streaming label adds this lovely gem to its itinerary, the better.
I’ve written extensively about Akira Kurosawa’s No Regrets for Our Youth (1946) over the last couple of years—including in an in-depth article back in January—so I’ll keep my thoughts here relatively brief. Although Setsuko Hara admitted to having had no particular interest in starring in this film (and likely only took the part due to being under contract to Toho at the time), whatever apathy she felt toward the project goes completely undetected in her simply remarkable performance. The actress’s versatility and Kurosawa’s interest in personal growth and self-discovery combine to form one of the most transfixing female characters in postwar Japanese cinema: an initially care-free bourgeois girl who comes to recognize the vapidity of her own existence and begins a quest to uncover a way to lead her life with meaning during one of the most intense chapters in Japan’s sociopolitical history.
No Regrets for Our Youth is not one of Kurosawa’s masterpieces, but it is—I sincerely believe—his first truly special motion picture, and Hara’s performance stands firm as one of its most hauntingly perfect qualities.
In one of the best scenes from Mikio Naruse’s Sudden Rain (1956), Setsuko Hara, playing a lower middle-class woman trapped in a passionless marriage, arrives on a Tokyo rooftop, where she has agreed to meet her husband. When she reaches the roof, another couple starts advancing in her direction. The wife, she notices, is clad in elegant attire: quite the opposite of her own drab clothing which reveals her poverty-stricken lifestyle. Humiliated, Hara bows her head, clutches the lapels of her coat, and deliberately tries to avoid eye contact with the better-off woman as they pass one another (even after the other woman temporarily meets her gaze and gives her a long, somewhat contemptuous stare afterward). Poverty and loveless marriages were among the most recurrent subjects in Naruse’s oeuvre, and that’s true also of this extremely powerful film.
Hara’s husband is played by Shuji Sano (of Here’s to the Young Lady) and this time both of them are at the top of their form as an impoverished couple who exhibit no love whatsoever for one another. The movie opens with them going through the almost comic monotony of their existence: he yawns, she yawns; he asks for his stomach medicine, she unenthusiastically supplies it for him; he complains about her cutting out recipes in the paper (leaving big gaping holes in the newsprint on the other side), she asks him to drop a letter at the post office only to find he abandoned it at the doorstep. When her niece (Kyoko Kagawa) comes by to visit and complain about the (very funny) nature of her not-so-happy marriage, the advice Hara and Sano offer results in them turning on one another, offering harsh critiques of their individual shortcomings. And then there’s the ending of the movie, in which the couple—having openly contemplated separation—engage in a juvenile game of toss, yelling and cursing as they swat a paper balloon back and forth (to the utter bewilderment of the children who accidentally knocked the toy into their yard).
The neighborhood in which the couple resides is loaded with gossip and distrust; just about everyone spends their day griping about everyone else. Hara herself is hardly an angel and is rather prone to being critical of other people: about her husband, about her neighbors, about the proprietors in the town who only treat their highest-paying customers with any kind of special politeness. This recurring theme comes to a “climax” in the form of a town meeting, in which everyone congregates at the local school building, the adults squatting on the undersized chairs before engaging in another all-out complaint brawl.
As all of the above description above would indicate, Sudden Rain is something of a comedy of manners, but more than anything it is an extremely bleak, pessimistic, and at times downright depressing film from the director who knew how to evoke such emotions like few others. The scenes depicting Hara’s loneliness and struggles with poverty are among the most gripping in the film. When her husband fails to return home one night—after she gives up waiting for him at the train station—she winds up sharing her dinner with a local stray dog. And whenever she ventures into the local marketplace, the entire world seems content in reminding her of her own poverty. The street vendors push her to buy expensive appliances she cannot afford, and while watching a salesman in action, she becomes the victim of a pickpocket.
Continuing on a thematic note from the last entry: Setsuko Hara’s five-movie association with Mikio Naruse showcases the actress tackling a broad variety of roles and, even when working with scenarios that appear to be similar on a surface level, being able to evoke completely different characterizations each time out. As far as her work with Naruse is concerned: in the lost propaganda film Until Victory Day (1945), Hara was merely an entertainment act, someone who—literally—came popping out of an exploding “Entertainment Bomb” along with a plethora of other Japanese celebrities to amuse troops on a South Seas island. (For more information regarding this perplexingly bizarre project, see my article on The Lost Films of Mikio Naruse.) In the director and actress’s final collaboration, the 1960 color melodrama Daughters, Wives, and a Mother, Hara played a recently widowed woman juggling between love with a younger man and a more “compatible” marriage.
And in between these two end points, Hara starred in a “miserable housewife” trilogy, if you will, for Naruse, in which she three times played an unhappily married woman whose drama often stemmed from a strained relationship with her husband (Sudden Rain was the third and final “chapter” in this series). However, despite some basic similarities between the three films, Hara didn’t replicate the same performance each time; no two roles or performances mirror one another in minute detail; each woman had her own assortment of personalities, agendas, and—most importantly—interactions with those surrounding her. For example, the protagonists of Sudden Rain and Naruse’s earlier Sound of the Mountain (1954) are diametric opposites of one another in many respects. To begin with the simplest of distinctions, the former resides in an impoverished, two-person household whereas the latter has married into a well-off upper middle class family; both are burdened by the duties expected of a Japanese housewife (in Sound of the Mountain, it’s because the family’s recently lost their maid), but that’s about it as far as similarities go.
Now, consider the characterizations. In Sudden Rain, Hara played a blunt and at times censorious woman; the character she plays in Sound of the Mountain, by contrast, is meek, shy, and extremely vulnerable: too passive to make a stand or speak out against anything, even her own unhappiness. Both women have to deal with an apathetic husband, but they respond in entirely different ways. Rather than complain about her situation or argue her way into a possible separation, the non-confrontational housewife in Sound of the Mountain suffers silently as her husband repeatedly comes home drunk and later impregnates both her and a mistress—until finally she decides to abort her unborn child and untie her marital bonds. Because she’s not as outspoken as her counterpart in Sudden Rain, Hara evokes an entirely different breed of acting, relying not so much on dialogue and shifting emphasis instead to physical nuances—facial expressions and movement—to demonstrate what her character is feeling, even when she’s trying to “mask” her emotions (as Naruse cleverly indicates in a scene where a character observes a Noh mask and realizes the face of the mask can appear ecstatically happy when viewed from one angle and depressingly sad when viewed from another).
The most fascinating relationship in the film exists between the housewife and her caring father-in-law (So Yamamura). As Catherine Russell notes in her book The Cinema of Naruse Mikio: Women and Japanese Modernity, the further Hara’s husband pushes her away, the closer Hara and Yamamura become. And at the end of the movie, the father-in-law exhibits a very progressive attitude in encouraging her to free herself completely and find what little happiness she can still achieve. They have grown close and are sad not to see each other anymore but realize this is the only way she can go on. Naruse considered Sound of the Mountain one of his favorites from his oeuvre and had personally pitched the idea of adapting Yasunari Kawabata’s source novel to Toho, and the end results are simply mesmerizing.
In 1951, Akira Kurosawa assembled what is unquestionably the single most impressive cast in his entire filmography. In adapting Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot for the big screen, he recruited the talents of several people he’d worked with before (Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Yoshiko Kuga, Bokuzen Hidari, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Noriko Sengoku, etc.) as well as adding some impressive faces new to his cinematic canon (Chieko Higashiyama, for one). The entire cast is excellent and brings a tremendous amount of energy to this unusual and intoxicatingly watchable film (as this intro might suggest, this is a picture I hold with considerably higher regard than most Kurosawa aficionados), but it is Mori, in the eponymous role of a prisoner of war mentally scarred by his experiences, and Hara as a sinister yet sympathetic “kept woman” who really stand out.
Despite her sinister appearance (perpetually dressed in dark clothing with her hair slicked back—an appearance reputedly modeled after María Casares in Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus), Hara doesn’t play her character as a cold-blooded villainess, instead depicting a lonely person who has spent her life believing the world to be an unfriendly place completely against her and whose cynicism and at times unpleasant demeanor is a byproduct of said conditions. But at the same time, she is presented as still in touch with her own humanity and carrying a willingness to respond to someone capable of—or at least willing to try—understanding her and accepting of the truth that she did not ask for the miserable existence she’s stuck with. This becomes especially prevalent in the film’s marvelous “birthday” sequence: a twenty-seven-minute masterwork of cinematic storytelling in which the mentally damaged Mori converses with Hara and accomplishes what no “sane” person has managed.
She invites him to her birthday party, having previously been touched by his innocence, and stands defiant of those scorning him. Over the course of the evening, Mori tells Hara about his experiences during the war and compares her to a fellow POW whose execution he witnessed; she reminds him of that twenty-year-old boy who seemed all alone and whose eyes, like hers, seemed to beg the question: “Why have I suffered like this?” In doing so, he sees straight into her heart and professes his belief that she is a good person who has simply endured a horrible life. “You see,” she tells him, “I’ve been waiting for somebody like you. Ever since I began this awful life as a kept woman, I’ve been waiting. I hoped and prayed, imagining someone like you. Hoping that a good, honest, kind man would appear [and say] ‘Taeko, it’s not your fault. I still respect you.’ How I longed to hear those words!” So moved is she that she ultimately decides not to let him take care of her. Even after all that has transpired, she still views herself as a damaged woman and doesn’t want to taint the life of someone so pure. Instead, she leaves with a man who has offered to pay a million yen for her “hand,” but not after taking the money and throwing it in a fireplace, burning it before the man who was to receive it.
As with the movie itself, Hara’s performance in The Idiot is simultaneously unusual and electrifying: the actress consciously goes for an over-the-top acting style with exaggerated expressions and sweeping gestures while still maintaining control of her character. Although she had been cast against type before—such as in Hideo Oba’s crime picture The Woman in the Midst of the Typhoon (1948)—under Kurosawa’s direction, she completely sells the role, giving a much better portrayal of a promiscuous woman with shades of sympathy than she had in the dreary aforementioned Oba thriller.
Released in the same year as The Idiot was Hara’s second movie with Mikio Naruse and the first entry in the earlier mentioned “miserable housewife” trilogy. Based on an unfinished novel by Naruse’s favorite author, Fumiko Hayashi, Repast is one of the two or three finest Naruse films I’ve come across yet and is unquestionably the greatest film of Hara’s I’ve seen outside of the best of her collaborations with Ozu: a compelling character study revolving around a lower middle class woman so disheartened by the passionless repetition of her day-to-day existence that she ultimately tries to escape from it.
Once again, on a surface level, all three films in this “trilogy”—Repast, Sound of the Mountain, and Sudden Rain—sound quite similar, but examined in greater context, we see three entirely different stories and three entirely different women. Whereas Sound of the Mountain presented the struggles of Hara’s character mainly through the observations of her kindly father-in-law (the actual protagonist of that film), the story of Repast is told predominately from the perspective of the housewife herself, sometimes in the first person. In the film’s beginning, she describes to us through voiceover her unhappiness as we witness the monotony of her daily life: relentlessly cleaning her cramped Osaka suburb home and tending to her husband (who mostly just lets her know when he wants something to eat). Every day is nonstop work for her, her life confined almost exclusively to the kitchen and family room 365 days a year. “I had hopes and dreams before,” Hara asks through narration. “Where have they gone?” (In one revealing moment, she takes advantage of an opportunity to get out of the house and meet with some old friends. One of them asks what she talks about with her husband all day, to which she replies, “I have a cat.”)
The idiosyncratic details of the marriage in this film further distinguishes Repast from the other two Naruse pictures discussed thus far. For example, the husband in Repast is nothing at all like his counterpart in Sound of the Mountain. Both men are played by the same actor (Ken Uehara), but the characterizations are starkly different. Uehara in Sound of the Mountain was completely negligible, caring not at all about his wife’s feelings as he stumbled home drunk every night and regularly betrayed her trust in the arms of another woman. By contrast, the husband in Repast is, at his core, a decent and kindhearted person. His central flaw is naïvete toward his wife’s feelings and his taking for granted the “duties” expected of a Japanese housewife. But he works hard and by the end of the movie becomes conscious of and more sympathetic to her unhappiness. And he no doubt becomes more appreciative of her hard work—which he initially took for granted—after she leaves home and he proves incapable of handling most of the household chores.
In the third act, the estranged couple bump into one another in Tokyo. Uehara informs his spouse he’s been offered a better-paying job but won’t accept it without discussing it with her first—an acknowledgement of respect, that he cares what she thinks, an implication of willingness to treat her better going forward. (Meantime, Hara herself has gone through a journey of her own, being awakened to her own shortcomings—her brother calls her out for taking advantage of their mother’s hospitability—and witnessing first-hand the difficulties of surviving on one’s own in postwar Japan.) Before they leave for home, Uehara rubs his stomach and remarks “I’m hungry,” before suddenly looking up at his wife and apologizing, and they share a laugh.
In this we can see another quality distinguishing Repast from, say, Sudden Rain, whose protagonists simply tolerated one another and nothing more. Despite the bumps in their matrimony, the protagonists of Repast still love one another (the key word being still: in Hara’s opening monologue, she confesses she married her husband against the wishes her family, out of personal desire). They just need to work out their differences—i.e., the husband needs to be more aware of his wife’s plights. Hara agrees to go home with him not only because she’s run out of options, but also because she hopes they can still find happiness together, if they work at it.
The emotional climax of Repast is one of the most uplifting and beautifully filmed sequences in the annals of cinema. On the train ride home, Hara sits by the window as her husband lounges sleepily in the chair next to her. She reaches into her purse and withdraws a letter—presumably one asking for divorce—before glancing over at her husband and then tearing the letter to pieces, smiling as she does. Hara’s wordless performance here is nothing short of immaculate; she acts with everything from her eyes to her hands—every gesture, every glance timed exactly right—complemented by Naruse’s simple yet mesmerizing camerawork and Fumio Hayasaka’s hauntingly romantic score. As the picture comes to a close, Hara’s monologue returns, this time voicing optimism. “My husband sits beside me. I see the profile of an ordinary man, with his eyes closed. He is floating in the current of life, exhausted from swimming. Still, he will continue swimming and struggle through the current. I stand beside him as we share our lives together in search of happiness. Perhaps that is what true happiness means for me. Happiness for women is perhaps to live life in just such a way.”
The ending of Repast is quite unexpected for Naruse, who almost always ended his pictures on a pessimistic “life goes on” note—and this upbeat denouement likely resulted from the fact that Fumiko Hayashi’s source novel had never been finished, thereby allowing someone at the studio to create the ending for her******. The film does champion a “life goes on” message but with much more optimism than is expected from this director. And yet this ending still ends up working. For Repast is not about a neglected woman who has no choice but to escape from her circumstances or die miserable (as in Sound of the Mountain) but rather about a woman who mutually agrees with her life partner to try and make a better future by working together, caring for one another, not simply accepting the status quo. And throughout the film, Setsuko Hara never strikes a false note, validating once again her status as one of the most important and gifted film actresses of the 20th century.
* Fanck’s original intention was to cast Kinuyo Tanaka in The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai. Tanaka was already an established star in her home country and her work had been seen, to an extent, in Germany, but this casting prospect was never realized due to contractual issues.
** Not long after making her final screen appearance—in Hiroshi Inagaki’s 1962 film version of Chushingura—Setsuko Hara withdrew from the motion picture industry, claiming she had never enjoyed being an actress and only took on her career to assist with her family’s financial difficulties, which were now resolved. Over the years, people have speculated there might’ve been other factors in her decision, but regardless, she never returned to the silver screen and spent the rest of her life in Kamakura, shunning publicity and living under her birth name, Masae Aida.
*** Young Eagle’s Song, the song used prominently this film, was a popular martial tune during the Pacific War, reportedly selling more than 230,000 records. It has since been used in movies looking back on Japan’s wartime involvement, including Kihachi Okamoto’s Japan’s Longest Day (1967).
**** Setsuko Hara entered the film industry through the assistance of her brother-in-law, the director Hisatora Kumagai. Kumagai acted ostensibly as her manager while she was overseas promoting The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai and later cast Hara in his 1939 production Naval Brigade at Shanghai. In that picture, Hara played a Chinese woman who initially hates the Japanese soldiers occupying Shanghai but later comes to admire them for their “true” intentions in invading the Far East.
It has been suggested—though not proven—through some accounts that Hara’s personal politics might’ve been influenced by her brother-in-law, who was an outspoken nationalist and a purveyor of Jewish conspiracy in Japan during the war. Tadashi Imai, who also directed Hara in the 1943 film Suicide Troops of the Watchtower, recalled: “One night, Setsuko Hara visited me with a letter from her brother-in-law, Hisatora Kumagai. The letter went something as follows: ‘Just when Japan must pour all its energies into securing its strategic position among the southern countries, the Jews start an intrigue to divert our eyes to the north. Suicide Troops of the Watchtower is clearly part of this Jewish plot designed to throw us into confusion. The film must be halted immediately.’” On a side note, it is worth noting that anti-Semitism had been somewhat prevalent in Japan during the war years; one survey reported at least thirty-eight Japanese books were published about “the Jewish attack on Japan” in 1938 alone.
***** Wartime Japanese films which depicted parents saddened or concerned about their children going to war were often attacked by the government. Keisuke Kinoshita’s Army (1944), for example, pleased the nationalist authorities with its depiction of two parents shaping their son into a soldier but angered them with its final scene, in which the mother worriedly chased her son through the streets as he went off to war.
****** It is also possible the film was allowed to get by due to the occupation censors being more lenient with subjects such as arranged marriages. While they strictly enforced policies of banning nationalistic and militaristic material, they had a record of being less strict with movies tackling arranged marriage. For example, the script for Ozu’s Late Spring initially ran into trouble because of its subject of a young woman being married off to someone she’s never met and a line of dialogue reporting that the prospective husband comes from a well-off family (making him a good match on grounds unrelated to emotion). The censors instructed this line be written out but for reasons unknown allowed it to be reinstated in the final draft and kept in the finished film.BY: Patrick GalvanGeneral // June 17, 2019
Recently on a trip to Kyushu (one of the main islands of Japan, this one to the south of Honshu), I stopped over in Oita City to enjoy the local life and noticed there were a number of Godzilla King of the Monsters (2019) posters scattered around the local mall attached to the train station—this particular one roughly translated as “Find the Legendary Four Giant Monsters! Monsters Rally Campaign.” After further examination, I realized that they were part of a rally promotion for the movie. These “rallies” are a common form of promotion in Japan, and they are often featured in museum exhibits as well—I saw one at the Yokohama Godzilla exhibit back in 2016 as well. At the Oita mall I visited, there was a concurrent rally going on for the newest Detective Conan movie, and when I visited another mall in Kokura to see Kingdom (2019) with my friend, I saw there was a stamp rally for Avengers: Endgame (2019), complete with standees of some of Marvel’s more popular heroes.
But what is a “rally” in this sense of the word? Here we are dealing with Japanese English, after all. It’s not like a point-to-point race, and it is not a protest or the like. Instead, a rally in Japan used in this way generally means a promotion in which you have to wander about a particular space (such as a museum, train station, or mall) in which a number of stations have been scattered. These stations can amount to just posters with parts of a word on each, and participants have to put the word together by finding all the stations. They can also feature little tables with rubber stamps at each one, and you take a particular paper with spaces for each stamp to each station and, well, stamp the designated areas. At a dinosaur exhibit I attended at a museum in Chiba, these stamps completed a message. At an advertisement museum in Tokyo, the stamps actually overlapped, with each stamp contributing a different color, and once all of the stamps were applied they created a complete image—in this case, a kabuki character. The aforementioned Detective Conan rally challenges participants to complete a crossword puzzle. And sometimes the rallies can also include a further promotion—collect all the parts of the word or put together the phrase or collect the stamps, and then turn in the finished rally to a website to enter a lottery to possibly win some goodies. Even a school I have worked at featured this kind of rally at their yearly festival.
For the Monsters Rally Campaign, there were four monster posters scattered around the mall, and each poster has one hiragana character that, when put together, spells out “kaijuu” (the actual word “kaiju” includes an extended vowel at the end, unlike how we in the West tend to pronounce the word), with the Godzilla poster featuring “ka,” the Mothra poster featuring “i”, the Rodan poster featuring “ju,” and the King Ghidorah poster featuring “u”. After putting together the word, a fifth poster explaining the campaign can be found in an attached movie theater, and on that poster can also be found a QR code at which the contestant can enter the assembled word and hopefully win something.
The goods that participants can win include the following, with ten winners for each: The “A” prize is a Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) tote bag. The “B” prize is a smartphone stand that looks like Godzilla’s tail. The “C” prize is a copy of the recent Ganbare Chibi Godzilla picture book. The “D” prize is a Chibi Godzilla jigsaw puzzle. Presumably the winners are chosen at random.
The rally is taking place between April 26 and June 2, and is presumably only available to folks living in Japan. Obviously the contest is very much aimed at children rather than adults (though perhaps the smart phone tail and the tote bag are aimed more at older participants). Given how easy it is to participate, the chances of actually winning something seem pretty slim.
Now… when I was in Oita, I tried my darnedest to find all four of the posters on my own. I found Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan pretty easily, but for the life of me I could not figure out where King Ghidorah was hiding out. I must have walked around the mall for an hour carrying my rather heavy bag looking for the three-headed dread beast.
Now, looking at the pictures I took for this article, I notice that the fifth poster that explains the terms of the contest also features a small white column that… tells where all the monster posters can be located.
King Ghidorah, as it turns out, was on the roof.
Luckily, when I visited the Riverwalk Mall in Kokura, finding all four monster posters was a snap, with King Ghidorah actually residing right next to the campaign explanation poster in T-Joy Cinema. The posters in Riverwalk, though, were much smaller than the ones I found in Oita.
I haven’t actually entered the contest yet. I feel a bit like if I actually won, I would feel like I was yoinking a gift from an innocent Japanese kid somewhere who was really hoping for that Chibi Godzilla Jigsaw. Still, that tote bag looks pretty tempting, and the Godzilla tail would go well with my Godzilla-themed smartphone cover. I tried to enter the rally at the Yokohama Godzilla exhibit and got nothing. Maybe this time could be my lucky day!General // June 11, 2019