General

  • There was once a time when I would begin planning the annual April Fools’ joke weeks in advance. Sometimes the concept would be locked in as early as January. Those days are gone, at least from me. If I end up being in charge of the festivities, it’s gonna be a scramble, and April Fools’ day 2020 fit that description. Basically about 72 hours before the day of, there was no plan. Me and Chris mulled over possibilities, but came to no conclusion. I was waiting for inspiration to hit, and it did in an unlikely place…

    Comic Strips

    At the time of trying to come up with a concept I was working on the comic panels for Nick’s review of Godzilla World, which he had translated. The book features not just a wide range of different Toho monsters but also styles as well.

    “Monster Laugh Attack” by Lovely Shou

    “Monster Laugh Attack” by Lovely Shou from Godzilla World

    While many of them reminded me of old school mangas… a few reminded me of the type of comic strips you’d find in a newspaper. In particular the weekday ones, that weren’t given the full color glory of their Sunday edition brethren.

    It was enough of a spark, though, to form the April Fools’ day prank: why not re-imagine the site as an old school new paper? With that thought the Toho Kingdom Times were born, and now came the task of executing on it.

    Toho Kingdom Times: Circa… 1993?

    First up was to decide on the format, which was a couple of comics and three stories related to historic upcoming events. Naturally the stories would be written so they were talking about things that already happened, but from the perspective of what someone might have written about them while they were still developing news stories.

    Next was to decide the year. 1993 was selected pretty much right away. I’ve been asked if this was because it was ten years before the April Fools’ 2019 prank, which saw the site roll back to its 2003 design. That would have been a genius reason actually… but no, my reasoning was as mundane as using 1993 because that was the year Godzilla World was published and honoring that as the basis for this idea.

    Third up was to establish the design. I briefly considered going with something authentic for the period, so a full color, mostly white design to match 1993. Instead I went for a very old timey approach, more like a newspaper circa the 1970’s that had stained yellow from sitting in a slightly damp attic for decades. The styles clashed, but I got a kick out of the idea of Photoshopping images to look retro and so ran with it. After all, the Toho Kingdom April Fools’ day events are rarely intended to actually fool people, although it did succeed at that for April Fool’s 2016 prank that the forums were closing down and when we once announced a membership donation feature way back before we started archiving the April Fools jokes. So I doubled down on the old timey idea, although I will admit I went way too far with the Super Famicom image.

    The Times Preserved

    The Toho Kingdom Times launched at 1AM, Eastern Standard Time. It stayed up for roughly 23 hours, before being removed at midnight. For those who missed it, or want to relive it, below is what greeted site visitors on this day.

    The Toho Kingdom Times

    Thoughts on this year’s April fools’? Feel free to sound off in the comments area below.

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

    Unfortunately, many of the cut scenes were vital in establishing character motive and maintaining the story’s rhythm, and their absence results in awkward narrative skimps and plot threads that don’t feel complete in and of themselves. (For instance: characters we’ve never seen suddenly pop up in what were meant to be their second scenes, without sufficient material to inform us who they are and what they want—requiring the audience to fill in the blanks based on what they remember from an intertitle from much earlier.) Although the remnants are certainly interesting and demonstrate that Kurosawa’s technical brilliance was on fast track development, this heavily fragmented film is more of a curious specimen, notable for its historical importance as opposed to any greater artistic achievement. Kurosawa had had multiple run-ins with Japan’s wartime censors—including the first time he released Sanshiro Sugata in 1943—and it seemed they’d gotten the last laugh with the permanent scarring of his maiden film.

    Or so I thought until a few weeks ago, when my colleague François Coulombe messaged me asking what I knew about a longer version of the film that had supposedly played on Japanese television. My response was one of sheer perplexion. As far as I knew, the 79-minute version was the only version extant today. Japan’s motion picture legacy suffered catastrophic damage in the final years of World War II, with thousands of films either annihilated in the Allied firebombings or confiscated by the occupation censors—or, in some cases, destroyed by their own creators to prevent the Americans from getting their hands on them. Given that Toho failed to locate an uncut print of Sanshiro Sugata on their own, I presumed it had perished along with many of its pre-1945 brethren.

    Still, I wanted to hold out hope. After receiving François’s message, I went through every Kurosawa book in my collection; perhaps there’d been some info about a longer extant version I’d forgotten about. I also checked the liner notes of Criterion’s 2010 DVD of the film, wondering if the cut scenes were too damaged or simply not made available. (It wouldn’t be the first time Toho’s denied an international distributor access to something of interest.) Alas, every resource in my possession asserted the 79-minute cut is the one and only in existence. If there was recently exhumed footage, I assumed it’d turned up within the last two or three years. Then, François informed me the deleted scenes had been restored to the film in a Japanese DVD—all the way back in 2002! (A likely source for the television broadcast he’d heard about.) Genuinely perplexed, I hopped on the web to do a little extra specific scouring. What I uncovered next surprised me on several fronts.

    In September 2002, The Japan Times ran an article announcing: “An almost uncut version of […] Akira Kurosawa’s first movie will make a comeback on DVD in October thanks to a Russian motion picture depository that kept a portion of the scenes removed from the original work.” As it turns out, back in the mid-1990s, a researcher from Tokyo’s National Museum of Modern Arts had ventured to the Gosfilmofond (the state film archive in Moscow) to investigate the multitude of wartime Japanese films in its collection. “It is believed,” The Japan Times explained, “the Soviet army advancing into Manchuria to fight Japanese troops in the closing days of the war may have taken the films back to Russia after the end of the war in 1945.” Sure enough, one of the films preserved and found there was a longer version of Sanshiro Sugata, containing about eleven minutes of footage not seen since 1943. These were the scenes that made their way into the earlier mentioned 2002 DVD, commercially available in Japan for almost twenty years.

    Then, after some more scouring, came another discovery: those very same scenes have also been accessible in English-speaking markets for a long time, ported over to Australia and Great Britain in 2005 and 2011 respectively. Curiosity gnawing at me, I promptly ordered the Australian DVD released by Madmen Entertainment, which includes the cut scenes as a bonus feature (conveniently provided with English subtitles). Now, Kurosawa’s vision has not been fully restored. Six or seven minutes remains missing (including a key scene regarding the hero’s spiritual transformation), but what has been uncovered goes a long way in bridging the all too noticeable gaps in the 79-minute version. And since not much has been written about this film’s longer cut (at least in English), I thought it would be worthwhile to go through the deleted scenes and point out how their restoration improves the flow and content of the story (when possible, as some of the deleted scenes only exist in pieces).

    One last observation before we delve into the meat of this article. Despite having gone over the deleted scenes a number of times, I must admit I’m having difficulty discerning what it was that the censors of 1944 could’ve found so objectionable. In fact, I question if they were the ones who chose to take out these scenes, at all. When Sanshiro Sugata was first submitted for review/approval in 1943, a great deal of fuss rose over the “British-American” love scene between Susumu Fujita and Yukiko Todokori; and yet when the movie was re-released a year later, that scene was left intact. (Had the censors been demanding re-edits, one would think that part would’ve been first to go.) Tomonori Saiki, who found the deleted footage in Russia, has similarly remarked: “I found it hard to believe the content […] posed any problem for censors of the (wartime) Home Ministry.” Thereby implying the cuts were purposely made by the studio.

    Saiki suggests the cuts were enacted to increase box office potential. His argument has merit. Toho was enduring immense poverty in the final years of World War II and was starved for product; re-releasing a successful movie (like Sanshiro Sugata) was a cost-efficient venture; and the shorter a film ran, the more times it could be screened in a day. However, considering the film’s disclaimer blames government “wartime entertainment policies” for the missing footage, I’m inclined to believe another factor was some regulation concerning the run time of Japanese films. While I myself am not aware of any such law, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn one existed, given how fiercely the government controlled the film industry in the early 1940s (limiting the number of films that could be made, forcing the major studios to consolidate, shutting down production nationwide once a month to conserve electricity, etc.) and considering Japanese movies, in the last two years of the war, usually ran 80 minutes or less.

    Regardless, it also seems length was the issue when one takes into account the testimony of Kurosawa’s longtime script supervisor, Teruyo Nogami, who asserts the director had been forced to make the excisions himself. “I think he had to cut the film with an aching heart after he was told to make it shorter. Knowing how Mr. Kurosawa cherished his works, he must really have felt frustrated. I only wish we could have shown (the original version of the film again) while he was still alive.” While not a smoking gun, notice she doesn’t say anything about axing objectionable content, just trimming the film’s length. (Though it does raise a few questions. Was Kurosawa not consulted in shortening the film? If he himself physically took the scenes out, as Nogami claims, surely he would’ve at least tried to have input in which scenes were axed. And at what point was he informed his directorial debut needed to be shortened? Did he protest, as he had before, when the censors raised objections over scripts he’d written? There’s so much more context that would be useful to know.)

     

    The Priest Visits Sanshiro

    In the 79-minute version, after Sanshiro (Susumu Fujita) experiences his first spiritual awakening—witnessing the bloom of a lotus flower—we suddenly cut to a medium shot of him doing chores, when someone appears behind him. He turns to see the villain of the story, Gennosuke Higaki (Ryunosuke Tsukigata), who wants a match at the judo school Sanshiro attends. If this sequence feels like it starts abruptly, that’s because the first part of it was lopped off.

    The uncut version of this scene began with an exchange between Sanshiro and the local priest (Kokuten Kodo). The latter comes upon our protagonist doing his chores and remarks how quiet things are around town. Suddenly, a loud yelp comes from the school. Sanshiro explains that one of his fellow disciples (Akira Nakamura) is sparring with Iinuma (Sugisaku Aoyama), a visiting master of Kito jujitsu. We then cut inside the building to see the pupil being thrown to the floor, Iinuma standing over him with a bemused smirk. Back outside, the priest notices Sanshiro staring toward the school and assumes he wants a match with Iinuma. Sanshiro nods in acknowledgement, clearly not having lost the urge to prove himself. (However, he’s been banned from fighting for the last two months due to using his strength to bully people.) The priest tells him the respite being forced upon him will help improve his spirit. He walks off, and Sanshiro resumes his chores.

    The restoration of this particular scene (or partial scene) doesn’t fix any gaps in the plot. It explains who Iinuma is, but since he’s not a major character—not to mention Sanshiro never actually spars with him—learning his background isn’t that fundamental to the audience. What it does accomplish, however, is correcting the narrative’s rhythm. Up to this point, the film had been moving at a very smooth and natural pace, each scene permitted ample breathing space to resonate; and with this footage reinstated, it continues to move efficiently—rather than stumbling with a scene that feels (and is) half complete.

     

    Sayo, Murai, and Higaki

    Of great detriment to the shorter version was the manner in which it “introduced” two major characters. After Higaki’s denied a match with Sanshiro for the first time, we abruptly cut to an intertitle telling us about how he learned jujitsu from a man named Murai; and how Murai’s daughter, Sayo, fears Higaki’s “dark side, his snakelike shadow.” The placement of this intertitle always struck me as odd since none of the characters it addresses appear in its wake. Instead of following up with Higaki, Murai, and Sayo, the shorter version jumps from this intertitle to Sanshiro, his teacher Yano (Denjiro Okochi), and the other judo students—prompting us to forget the characters whose stories we were just told about. Thus making it harder to identify the as-yet-unseen characters when they do appear.

    In fact, Murai doesn’t show up until a whole four minutes after that intertitle, presented as a witness at a match, with nothing aside from a medium shot (and the fact that he’s played by Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura) to distinguish him from the others spectators. Sayo’s “intro” takes place later still: sitting in the background of a wide shot while Higaki gabs away center stage, the scene playing out for a spell before the audience puts two and two together and realizes the woman at the back of the room is, in fact, our heroine. Had the earlier mentioned intertitle been placed in front of this scene, it would’ve been a tad easier to follow along (and it would’ve made logical sense, since Murai himself later enters the room and interacts with Higaki and Sayo). At the same time, though, no amount of rearrangement would completely make up for what had been taken out.

    Here’s what originally played in Kurosawa’s cut. Following Higaki’s victory at the judo school, we see our villain standing on a bridge with Sayo (Yukiko Todokori), an air of tension quickly established as the latter avoids making eye contact—showing the fear she has for Higaki’s “dark side.” Higaki inquires about his old master and learns he’s still drinking excessively. After giving Sayo some money, shoving it down the neck of her kimono, he recalls seeing a Chinese woman who resembled her (“She was really beautiful. And suddenly she reminded me of you.”) before asking his master’s daughter to marry him. Sayo, nervous from the start, promptly runs home, her journey captured in a beautifully executed montage with dissolves taking us from shot to shot. We’re then properly introduced to Murai, who inquires why his daughter’s so quiet. Sayo remains still until she hears Higaki entering the house, at which point she flees into another room.

    Talking with his old master, Higaki reveals he’s returned for two reasons. He wants 1) a recommendation to become the police force’s martial arts instructor after Murai retires, and 2) marriage with Sayo after accomplishing his goal of unifying jujitsu under the Ryoshinto style that Murai has taught him. Murai dodges around this second request by pointing out they’ll have a hard time getting Yano and his students under their thumbs. Higaki realizes this, too, confessing he’d gone to Yano’s school that day hoping to fight either him or a strong, worthy student. In other words, he challenged the school not for the sake of fighting (as was the impression in the shorter version) but as part of his mission to coalesce Japanese martial arts.

    Through just a few minutes of extra footage, Higaki’s revealed to be a fairly complex character with goals and desires; and we realize why his dynamic with Sanshiro changes from seeking a fight to determinedly trying to kill him. In the third act, Sanshiro’s paired against Murai in a tournament to decide which school shall teach martial arts to the police henceforth. Sanshiro wins, granting the job to Yano’s school—in consequence wrenching away Higaki’s career. And when the young judo student becomes a special guest in Murai and Sayo’s home, he acquires the respect of the old master as well as Sayo’s affections. Higaki’s lost everything he’d been striving for (unified martial arts; the job of his dreams; the woman he wanted). Hence why, in the climax, he challenges Sanshiro to a fight to the death.

    One more noteworthy detail. The 79-minute cut only lightly—almost imperceptibly—touched on Murai’s weak physical condition, leaving some viewers (such as myself) wondering how this supposedly formidable jujitsu instructor (someone hired to teach martial arts to the police) could, in the third act, become bedridden after just being thrown a few times. But the deleted scene under discussion clearly establishes that Murai’s health has been diminishing for some time, a problem compounded by excessive drinking. (Higaki mentions the old man’s health was once so bad that he vomited blood.) Now it makes sense that Murai would not only lose a fight with Sanshiro but struggle to recover from it.

    Monma’s Daughter

    After his ban from sparring has been lifted, Sanshiro duels with Saburo Monma (Yoshio Kosugi), the jujitsu “master” he’d initially approached in his quest to learn martial arts. Sanshiro proves to be a more than worthy adversary, throwing his former instructor into a wall and accidentally killing him. The fight is witnessed by Monma’s daughter, Osumi (Ranko Hanai), who later visits the judo school and asks to see Sanshiro, a knife hidden in her kimono. Fortunately, she’s recognized by one of the disciples and apprehended, Kurosawa giving us a close-up of the knife clattering to the ground. At this point, in the shorter version, we cut to an intertitle. “Sanshiro is still young. Nonetheless, he is badly shaken by her failed attempt. That night, Yano trains him by moonlight. Sanshiro is like a lifeless puppet. But as he is thrown by the instructor, he regains his courage and understands. Yano has taught him what life is. Sanshiro is of sound mind once again.”

    Watching the recovered footage, in this particular instance, is something of a bittersweet experience, as only its prelude has been found. After Osugi’s intercepted, we jump to an interior scene of her talking with the priest, who reminds her that Monma’s death was an accident. Despite his best efforts to dissuade her (“Killing someone with intention and doing something that leads to someone’s death by chance are completely different.”), the seemingly emotionless Osugi insists Sanshiro is her “sworn enemy” and that she’ll only be at peace once she kills him. Angry, the priest returns her knife and tells her she’s free to do what she wants once Sanshiro returns to the school grounds. Stillness and silence ensues. The scene then goes outside as someone off-screen asks, “Where has everyone gone?”

    That, alas, is all that survives of this particular scene. The crucial moments (Osugi’s reaction when Sanshiro returns, Sanshiro learning of the botched assassination, his subsequent depression, Yano throwing him around, his second spiritual awakening) remain absent, so we’re still dependent on the intertitle transcribed above to learn about a key moment in our hero’s personal journey. Still, it is nice seeing some additional material with Osugi and getting an idea of how her part might’ve resonated had all her scenes been preserved.

     

    Higaki’s Request

    Filmed in an unbroken take lasting about a minute and a half, Higaki tries to persuade Murai to let him take his place in the police tournament match against Sanshiro. Murai refuses, insisting only he can properly represent Ryoshinto. Higaki calls this a betrayal of the style, to which the police officer in charge shouts back, “[A] person or individual style can lose, but it will never affect the whole of Japanese martial arts.”

    This exchange originally took place between Sanshiro running off to the tournament and the moment of his arrival, providing some quintessentially paced filler: our hero doesn’t magically teleport from one part of the city to the next as in the 79-minute cut, maintaining continuity without slowing things down.

     

    Sanshiro Refuses to see Sayo

    In spite of his ambition to prove himself and the fact that he’s won a major honor for his school, Sanshiro responds to victory against Murai with sheer remorse. He’d grown close to Sayo prior to the match—enchanted by her beauty and spiritual dedication, oblivious to the fact that he’d soon be facing her father. And when the match is over, Sanshiro’s not only remorseful for the now-bedridden Murai but disheartened to see Sayo somber and dejected.

    The final recovered scene, which takes place between the victory and Sanshiro’s visit to Murai’s home, details his guilt. All that survives is two partial shots. We fade into a tilted camera angle looking down at Sanshiro sprawled on the floor of the judo school. He’s staring blankly at the ceiling when a shadow crosses over him, announcing the arrival of fellow student Yoshimaro Dan (Akitake Kono). “You’re a very lucky person,” Dan teases as Kurosawa’s camera elegantly descends and levels out to show both men. “Everytime you win a match, a beautiful girl comes to see you.” As it turns out, Murai wishes to see Sanshiro and has sent Sayo to fetch him.

    The first shot of this scene is missing its middle, so it abruptly skips from Sanshiro sitting up to him on his feet and walking away from the camera. In the second shot, he leans against the door overseeing the school garden, insisting he cannot face Sayo.

    That, unfortunately, is all that remains of this scene.

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

    The owner of the item in question has since set its online status to private, so I must rely on a four-year-old memory in this case, but in mid-2016, Jonathan Kiefer of Fandor’s now defunct digital magazine Keyframe released a short video combining trailer clips of Shin Godzilla with footage from Ozu’s 1959 film Floating Weeds. (One of those videos that splices together shots from different movies to create new “scenes.”) As I recall, the video started with characters from the Ozu film sitting on a beach and, one by one, looking up at something which has nabbed their attention. At that point, we cut to a shot from Shin Godzilla: of the monster’s fourth form lumbering forward. Back in the Ozu scene, everyone sits calmly and keeps looking up. Memory compels me to believe the wide shot in which one of the characters raises his hand and gives a little wave was also included—the implication being he was greeting Godzilla. A fun and surreal video, to be sure. (For the record: what the characters were originally looking/waving at was an airplane.)

    Kiefer’s video had obviously been made for fun and was not meant to be taken serious (like, what was the first clue, right?). Still, when I thought back on it recently, the whimsical part of me couldn’t help but run with the idea and speculate: If Ozu had been given the reins for a Godzilla movie, what might we have seen?

    Granted, there’s not much to go on. Ozu never dabbled in tokusatsu (in his late-career films, the closest thing you get to a special effect is simulated rain); he only worked with Toho once, on his penultimate film, The End of Summer (1961); he died between the releases of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) and Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964); and I seriously doubt he would’ve agreed to make a kaiju movie even if someone had approached him with the idea. After all, this is the same director who responded to the Japanese New Wave by saying: “A lot of people now equate drama with sensational incident, such as someone getting killed. But that’s not drama; it’s a freak occurrence.” His impulse was not to produce events, but to show things one sees and knows—and feels—in ordinary life, evoking them through very simple framework.

    Now, having said that, the fact that Ozu’s storytelling methods were so completely antithetical to what one expects in a Godzilla movie only makes it all the more enticing for me, as a fan of both, to imagine a kaiju movie in his hands. And having pontificated on the idea, I decided to write down my thoughts. For absolutely no reason other than, like Mr. Kiefer’s video, it’d be fun.

     

    Yasujiro Ozu’s early films tended to be more “conventional” in the kinds of stories they told (it is shocking for anyone who knows his movies to remember his directorial debut was a period piece featuring swordplay, and that he also made a crime picture in which—gasp!—people get shot on camera), but as his career progressed and he honed his own style and gained more creative control, he gradually shied away from “big moments” other directors take for granted.

    In a late Ozu film, death usually occurs because of something like a stroke or a heart attack, and it typically befalls someone in their upper years. If a young person’s done in through more dramatic means (drowning, getting hit by a train), the accident is talked about but not shown. Similarly, a husband who perished in World War II is either referred to in conversation or appears via a photograph on a shelf (there are no flashbacks and certainly no prologues showing his death in combat). And even though Ozu preferred to tell stories about ordinary life, he often steered clear of domestic “climaxes.” A movie about a daughter being pushed out of the nest likely ends with her departing for her wedding, the actual ceremony—and her groom—never observed by the camera. (In a situation like this, Ozu was more interested in how a young woman’s marriage impacts the home she’s leaving, not the one she’s joining.)

    In fact, the few times he went the “melodramatic” route in his later career were often slagged upon as serious missteps. The record shows, for instance, many felt he went overboard in having Kinuyo Tanaka fall down the stairs at the end of A Hen in the Wind (1949), and Ozu himself agreed that the movie was something of a lesser effort, calling it a “bad failure.” Even though the film’s subject matter—namely the censorable things a person might do when pushed to the point of desperation—is certainly relevant, it was deemed inappropriate for a director with such a gentle aesthetic and narrative style. Ozu’s usual screenwriting collaborator, Kogo Noda, opined that A Hen in the Wind flopped artistically because it had tried too hard in depicting the suffering of the postwar Japanese. (He, too, might’ve been of the view that the climax was overly, for lack of a better word, “climactic.”) In short: the material wasn’t necessarily unfit for cinema; it just wasn’t right for Ozu.

    Many Godzilla films show regular people whose world is suddenly impacted by extraordinary events, but Ozu wasn’t interested in the extraordinary. Grand-scale cataclysms (like war) are in the past; memories; climaxes that happened before the opening credits. Even when the American Occupation vacated in 1952 and Japanese filmmakers were free to recreate the death and destruction their country had endured, Ozu tended to stick to his tactic of less-is-more. Buildings crumbling, monsters stomping around, scores of people running in a panic, etc. probably would’ve constituted too much distraction, too much “freak occurrence.” So, Ozu’s instinct likely would’ve been to take what few components he found useful in a kaiju movie and then work them into his own formula.

    I like to believe that, with this hypothetical Godzilla movie, the director would’ve treated a monster attack the same way he treated World War II in his post-1945 work. His film would probably be set a couple of months (or even a few years) after the monster was defeated, the story transpiring not in the ruins but in some city district Godzilla never touched. I picture a narrative revolving around Ozu’s usual subjects (work, school, family, marriage, etc.), embodied through locals who remember the disaster but just occasionally comment on it as they go about their daily lives. The primary drama consists of simple material like: parents marrying off a daughter; college graduates enduring the rigors of office life; salarymen drinking long into the night. In other words: the movie’s not about the monster attack; it’s about the ordinary lives of people in a city that just so happens to have experienced a monster attack long ago. (Just as 1949’s Late Spring features characters who endured World War II, even though the film itself is not largely about the war or its effect on the populace.)

    Maybe there’s a widow whose husband perished in the destruction. Maybe a retired soldier, now a bar patron, turns up and reminisces about how he had to fight Godzilla, similar to how Chishu Ryu recalls his war service in An Autumn Afternoon (1962). But dialogue would consist of simple remarks like, “It was a scary time. Yes.” The widow recalls her husband with a smile and then goes back to work; the former soldier continues drinking. And if Ozu did choose to set the film in the damaged part of the city, he’d most likely refrain from showcasing the ruins (at least in graphic detail) and still have the story take place years later, so that the people have had a chance to move on (i.e., hide some of the destruction).

    I similarly doubt wed have seen any characters dying of radiation poisoning. When someone dies of sickness in an Ozu film, as in Tokyo Story (1953), it comes suddenly, with no warning outside of maybe an isolated bit of lightheadedness. Showing someone withering away over the course of a film likely wouldn’t have gotten past the “ideas” stage. Again, when Ozu pushed the suffering button too hard—as in A Hen in the Wind or 1957’s Tokyo Twilight, which is also not among of his most celebrated—he was usually criticized for sinking into a kind of melodrama unbecoming for his style.

    It’s fitting that Shin Godzilla came up in this article, because one might be tempted to ask: If Godzilla’s not allowed to stomp around and smash things—and if the story must take place after the calamity is over—are we at least permitted to see him frozen like a big piece of concrete à la the end of Anno’s movie? This is the only condition under which I could picture Ozu allowing such a special effect to appear, though Godzilla would not be the main focus of the scene he’s in. A possible scenario: a husband and wife sit on a park bench, where they can see Godzilla from a long way away, talking about finding a husband for their daughter; they chat about this for a few minutes (their conversation filmed in Ozu’s usual cross-cutting with the occasional medium shot); and before they leave for home, one of them looks at the frozen monster and remarks what a terrifying time it was when Godzilla raided Japan. Then we’d get a distant shot of Godzilla (no close-ups of those humanoid things sprawled out of his tail), then cut to some trees or an alley—and be off to our next scene, somewhere else, back to the drama of current, everyday life.

    General // March 3, 2020
  • For some time there has been some intriguing artwork kind of floating around the Internet portraying a golden, fully-robotic Mecha-Ghidorah that was originally published in a magazine in the early 1980s, a super robot which apparently fought Godzilla in some sort of officially licensed story. I have seen the picture passed around on forums and speculated about repeatedly without much in the form of direct knowledge pertaining to the contents of the article/short-story/whatever the heck it was, except some dismissive remark that the original article amounted to something akin to lousy fan-fiction from someone who may or may not have actually read the material.

    So I was really curious when I saw that the article/story was being republished in the Godzilla All-Movie DVD Collector’s Box Vol. 41, which features the Toho Champion Festival cut of Invasion of Astro-Monster, originally shown in 1971 at the Champion Festivals at the time. I initially had not been planning to purchase this volume, but the fact that I could finally put the mystery of the golden Mecha-Ghidorah to rest was enough to tempt me into purchasing the box.

    I bought the box, took it home, opened it, and dug out the pages—predictably enough printed on terrible paper. So now I know.

    And… what is it? Well, it’s not exactly a story. Let’s start with the basics.

    The Yuji Kaida painting of Mecha-Ghidorah in all his glory.

    The article was originally published in the March 1983 issue of Terebi Magazine, and the reprint includes several pieces of art. Note that the reprint from the box set that I own indicates that the piece was originally published in March 1981, but I received a correction from Monster Island Buddies that this is actually a mistake, and he helpfully provided a scan of the cover of the March 1983 magazine so we can see what it looks like. Big thanks to Monster Island Buddies for the correction!

    Anyway, back to the article. The piece of artwork I most often saw attached on online forums—a beautiful painting featuring a grinning Godzilla busting the right head off of a rampaging Mecha-Ghidorah in the middle of a city while a Japanese couple in an action pose looks on in the corner—was done by Masami Watanabe, who is a frequent illustrator of tokusatsu. Just google the name and feast your eyes on a wide variety of really excellent artwork! I probably just don’t pay enough attention, but I think Watanabe deserves more acclaim in fandom circles. Anyway, on the next page is a full-page, full-body drawing by monster-art legend Yuji Kaida. The publication also includes an enormous two-page dissection illustration, showing the robot’s inner workings and an explanation of the robot’s various powers—and some information about the man who designed the monster, Kunio Okawara, who is famous for basically inventing the “mechanical design” job description in anime with his groundbreaking work on designing the Gundam mecha. There are a few other illustrations of the villains behind Mecha-Ghidorah’s design, though I did not see an attribution for those art pieces.

    The March 1983 issue of Terebi Magazine
    The March 1983 issue of Terebi Magazine

    So now that we have seen the names behind the art, what is the STORY? Well, to be frank, there isn’t much of a story given—just kind of the bare-bones of a scenario suggested for the robot’s background and powers. The first two pages have text that says the following:

    The terrible villain Mecha-Ghidorah has appeared. Mecha-Ghidorah goes on a rampage, and Godzilla faces off with him! Can Godzilla’s attack against Mecha-Ghidorah protect the world? Do your best, monster king Godzilla!

    Godzilla tries with all of his strength to bite off the head of Mecha-Ghidorah, which is made from space metal.

    Each of the three heads of Mecha-Ghidorah emits a different kind of light beam.

    Mecha-Ghidorah was built modeled off of that monster King Ghidorah.

    And that’s it so far as the battle between Godzilla and Mecha-Ghidorah is described, because the story is mostly left up to the imaginations of the readers. Nevertheless, there are some more specific details about the design of Mecha-Ghidorah and his various powers, and a full page about the secret of Mecha-Ghidorah’s birth… but no real narrative. Which doesn’t mean we don’t have some interesting background details to look into.

    It probably makes more sense to reveal the secret of Mecha-Ghidorah’s birth first, because that plays into the robot’s various design features. The creators of this version of Mecha-Ghidorah are a group known as the Dark Mysterious Star Alliance, which has made the robot in order to destroy Godzilla and take over the world. The Dark Mysterious Star Alliance is made up of a whole slew of Toho villainy, including the X-Seijin, the Mysterians, the Natalians, the Kilaaks, the cockroach aliens, the ape aliens, and even the aliens from the planet Yomi of The War in Space (1977) fame. Mecha-Ghidorah was built on a planet that the Dark Mysterious Star Alliance controls, and an image of the construction process is also provided, with a short passage to the side about how giant robots based off of powerful kaiju are very tough just from looking at examples like Mechagodzilla and Mechani-Kong.

    The Dark Mysterious Star Alliance hanging out at their evil lair of evilness.

    And it’s true–this version of Mecha-Ghidorah is a real powerhouse. Like King Ghidorah, Mecha-Ghidorah sports three heads, and each of these heads houses a massive eye, each with a different color—red on the right, white in the middle, green on the left. Each of these eyes can emit a different kind of ray, with the red eye emitting a heat ray, the white eye emitting a freeze ray, and the green eye emitting the familiar gravity beam that the real King Ghidorah was known for. Interestingly, in the 1991 film, King Ghidorah was originally going to shoot three different rays, which can still be seen on the famous poster by Noriyoshi Ohrai, and also in early shots for the film that were actually completed and can be found on YouTube. The rays, or beams, are modeled after the beam weaponry that had been installed in Mechagodzilla and the Daimakan (the alien ship used by the Messiah 13 aliens from the planet Yomi from The War in Space).

    Moving on to Mecha-Ghidorah’s tails, each tail is tipped with a drill fashioned after the Showa Mogera robot’s drill nose built by the Mysterians. The robot’s back features an enormous buzzsaw, based off of Gigan’s massive cutter. The robot’s main energy pack is housed in its crotch area, and anti-gravity plates are installed in the robot’s wings. Various other, smaller features are also pointed out on a sprawling double-page spread, including high efficiency antennae and mechanisms to make the feet move.

    And that is about it as far as the magazine article is concerned. We never learn how the Dark Mysterious Star Alliance came together, or what happened when they attacked, or if Godzilla wins or loses. It all seems to be up in the air, and it isn’t really clear why this design was made, although it is possible that it was part of some kind of promotion to try to garner more interest in the Godzilla reboot projects that ultimately failed at the time (my colleague Patrick suggested this explanation to me). The Mecha-Ghidorah design must have been fairly popular with the Japanese fans at the time, because I was able to find pictures on Twitter of a scan from SF Puramo Magazine in which a model of the mech was included as an example of “super modelling,” which was apparently a monthly feature. The best I can understand is that the model was created from scratch (it’s a “full-scratch” model) by amateur (?) modeler Toshikazu Shishizawa, and was made to match the Bandai vinyl scale of 350/1. The Shishizawa model has an original design for the robot’s backside, however, replacing the Gigan buzzsaw with a pair of jets.

    Still, to me, the fact that this version of Mecha-Ghidorah exists as this sort of nebulous “what-if?” design is puzzling—but other speculative designs have also appeared in magazines and been the basis of models as well, such as the Kongzilla design made by Matt Frank and also made into a really amazing sculpture, the “Metal Gear” Mechagodzilla, and others. I have seen images of a kind of souped-up Gigan that were also published in a magazine at one point, and there are other examples I am sure as well—the Internet is a treasure trove of confusing bits of artwork and mysteriousness. Nevertheless, as I have uncovered more about this particular Mecha-Ghidorah, I still wish there would have been some kind of short story attached rather than just a mostly empty scenario! Maybe some enterprising fan-fiction writer could take up the challenge and write one…

    A pic of the Toshikazu Shishizawa miniature—pic taken from a tweet by Sutenosu.

    General // March 2, 2020
  • Looking Deeper at Overlooked Godzilla Costumes
    With Nicholas Driscoll and Marcus Gwin

    Over the years, there have been many, many Godzilla costumes created, and while the Godzilla costumes from the actual Toho movies have received a great deal of attention, the Godzilla costumes from other sources, such as movie cameo appearances and commercials, really need more special attention, as their designs and histories are also quite fascinating. This article (which can hopefully be built upon in the future) is an attempt to start that process of taking a deeper look at some of these often overlooked Godzilla costumes.

     

    John Belushi/Interview costume

    Background Details: Created by Robert Short, originally appeared in Hollywood Boulevard (1976). Also appeared later in an SNL skit with John Belushi, and the airing of an edited version of Godzilla vs. Megalon.

    Date Aired: 1976, Godzilla vs. Megalon broadcast 1977?

    Links: Godzilla Hits the Skids: Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) – Den of Geeks!
    Godzilla Vs. Megalon Bumpers (1978 NBC John Belushi bits) – Lost Media Wiki
    12 Strange Non-Japanese Manifestations of Godzilla – Topless Robot
    (Grogan-costumed John Candy is kind of interesting)
    Robert Short’s Godzilla suit was first used in… – Astounding Beyond Belief
    Hollywood Bouldevard (1976) – Trailer (Hollywood Boulevard trailer, suit appears in the trailer)

     

    Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure Godzilla Costume

    Background details: The suit was created by Cleve Hall, who also performed as the monster in the film and described the experience as “Awesome”. In an interview with B Movie Nation, Hall said he could have died that day and he wouldn’t have cared (given how happy he was to have that opportunity). According to that interview, the Godzilla sequence took six days to shoot.
    According to an interview with Ravenous Monster, Hall made a Godzilla costume when he was a junior in high school for a costume contest in Houston, Texas, which garnered the attention of Six Flags Amusement Park. The park hired Hall to create a costume for them, and so began Hall’s lifelong career building monster costumes.

    Date aired: July 26, 1985

    Links: Five Quick Questions with Cleve Hall – B Movie Nation
    Interview with Monster Man Cleve Hall: Chicago Wizard World Satire Edition – Ravenous Monster

     

    Dr. Pepper Godzilla Costume

    Background details: Apparently, the advertising campaign had a budget of 10,000,000 dollars. The commercials were originally independent of the Godzilla 1985 film, and product placement was negotiated after New World learned of Dr. Pepper’s deal with Toho. In addition to the commercials, the suit also appears on shirts one could get via mailaway offer. Interestingly, the shirt alters Godzilla’s eyes to being yellow.

    Date Aired: Godzilla 1985 (1985)

    Links: DR PEPPER BUBBLES UP TO GODZILLA – Los Angeles Times
    Diet Dr. Pepper Can with Godzilla T-Shirt Offer (1986) – the sphinx

     

    One Crazy Summer Godzilla Costume

    Background details: TBD

    Date Aired: August 8, 1986

     

    Charles Barkley vs. Godzilla Nike commercial costume

    Background details: Created by ILM, animatronic face. Directed by Michael Owens. Painter Richard Miller worked on the paint job of Godzilla’s teeth. Richard Miller designed the teeth so that they were dirty from breathing flames, but “white on the ends from chewing up a lot of people.”
    The tail was twelve feet long. Barkley is supposed to be 160 feet tall. The tape was filmed in slow motion to create a sense of size. Godzilla’s flame was created by tracing on top of the film with a pencil and tracing paper, with 72 drawings needed over the three seconds of animation. Smoke was produced from a vat of boiling mineral oil. The scene in which Barkley is crouched down and then lunges for Godzilla was very awkward and difficult to film effectively, requiring many takes–some of which can be seen in the making-of video.
    The tail was sometimes manipulated detached from the body, such as in the scene in which it knocks the basketball skyward.
    Four puppeteers worked together to manipulate the Godzilla face.
    To capture the right look from Charles Barkley when he elbows Godzilla in the face, the director asked him to make the expression first and do the action in reverse–pulling away from the camera. Then, in the commercial, the scene was played backwards. The thirty second commercial required eight days of filming and four weeks of editing.

    Date Aired: 1992

    Links: The Making of Nike’s Godzilla vs. Barkley: Scientific American Frontiers 301 – PBS 1992 (Making-of documentary)

     

    Lottery Godzilla Costume

    Background details: TBA

    Date aired: TBA

     

    Snickers Godzilla Costume

    Background details: Douglas Tait, a 6’ 5” experienced monster and suit actor with appearances ranging from Freddy vs. Jason (as the titular Jason Voorhees) to the Long-Faced Bar Alien in J. J. Abrams Star Trek film, played the part of Godzilla. The suit itself took about two weeks to construct, between November 14th and December 2nd, 2013, when filming started, and was built by Legacy FX, the former Stan Winston studios that would have made the Godzilla for the cancelled American film from 1994. The suit was built around a body cast of Tait and made to be nine feet tall in order to tower above the other characters in the commercial. The suit itself, including a combined backpack and animatronic head, weighed over 120 pounds.
    During parts of the ATV sequence in the commercial, Tait actually rode the ATV while wearing the Godzilla suit, although he reports that a triangular piece was taken out of the neck so that he could see better, and close ups were accomplished with an empty puppet. The waterskiing sequence was accomplished with a combination of green screen and stuntman Tim Soergel waterskiing with Godzilla feet. Tait was filmed against a green screen wearing the suit and standing on a kind of moving gimbal, and the shots were later combined. The commercial was shot between December 2nd and December 6th in 2013. Apparently a making-of feature was made as well, which may have included sequences of Tait improvising in the Godzilla part that didn’t make it into the final commercial.
    According to Tait in another interview with Monster Legacy, the suit was built to resemble the original 1954 Godzilla, and thus used “similar techniques” in its manufacture. Tait stated that corn flakes were mixed into the latex to help create the suit’s skin texture.

    Date aired: Online–February 28, 2014; On air March 2, 2014 during the Academy Awards (originally intended to be a Super Bowl commercial)

    Links: Snickers Godzilla Suit (Behind the scenes video)
    Snickers Satisfies Godzilla – SciFi Japan
    From the suit actor, Douglas Tait’s facebook – pininterest.jp
    Exclusive: Interview with Douglas Tait! – Monster Legacy

    General // February 16, 2020
  • The staff of Toho Kingdom sound off their top Toho film picks. For these lists, each staff member is selecting their top six Toho movies. Why six? Because five is too short and ten feels way too long. In terms of criteria, this is strictly based on which films the staff member would consider their favorite. It doesn’t necessarily tie into the merits of the production itself, so for example don’t be surprised to see more Godzilla movies than Akira Kurosawa films here.

    Each list is separated by the staff member who submitted it. As part of the hiring process, the top six films are asked of the incoming staff member. An odd, but consistent ritual from the early days. As a result, some of these will discuss the movies and why they were selected while others will just be a raw list of the six films.

    Also note that this article is currently a work in progress with more picks and descriptions forth coming.

    Anthony Romero’s Picks

    1. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

    This isn’t just my favorite Toho film, but my favorite movie of all time. I watched it at just the right period in my adolescence, particularly as it hit during the “eXtreme” period of the 1990’s when X-Force was turning heads. The swearing, violence and other elements convinced a young me that this was a more “grown up” Godzilla movie. While that might have been the initial lure, what kept me coming back for more  were the special effects, pacing, music and the great representation of the title monsters. For me this was a near perfect Godzilla film and while I have grown to recognize its numerous faults, its pound for pound my favorite movie and the one I have watched way more than any others.

    2. Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

    Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro

    I never expected to fall in love with this film when I first saw it on DVD. While I know this is an extreme dark horse pick as one’s favorite Hayao Miyazaki movie, I adore this late 1970’s production. Rain or shine, it’s a great piece of escapism to turn on and get swept up in the adventure the characters are having. Although there is some tension to be had, it’s primarily a very fun movie with excellent pacing that keeps the viewer’s interest from the casino break-in to the end credits.

    3. Yojimbo (1961)

    I often flip-flop between this and the next film, but usually side with this 1961 entry for how approachable it is. It’s incredibly easy to turn it on and enjoy it as the pacing is incredible, a reoccurring theme for my list actually. The character development is fantastic, but the way it juggles dark comedy, action and even tension is all phenomenal. The plot is also fantastic, the idea of pitting two gangs against each other, even if it has been remade over and over again.

    4. Seven Samurai (1954)

    Generally regarded as the best Japanese movie and who is to argue? The concept of a group of initially mismatched samurai coming together to defend a village is simple yet executed so well. It’s often been emulated, but the magic of the original has never been replicated. The characters are so well fleshed out that none feel disposable, and as the events of the movie unfold the emotions it triggers only increase. The only reason this movie isn’t higher on my list is the run time. It’s over three hours, so you really gotta dedicate yourself to it for each viewing.

    5. Matango (1963)

    This movie feels slightly overrated these days …although I would like to say I loved it before it became cliché to love it. Or at least would like to make that claim, although have seen publications from before my time confessing their admiration for the movie. While the 1963 film isn’t ground breaking, it’s just well made and sticks with you for the unique portrayal of how society norms can break down in some situations while the Matango mushroom species is thrown into the mix to engage those with a tendency for science fiction.

    6. The Return of Godzilla (1984)

    My sixth choice tends to rotate I find. For a time it was Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) and then the incredible documentary Tokyo Olympiad (1964). However, if I ask myself the question: if I was stuck somewhere for years and could only bring six Toho films, which would make the cut? Well with a question like that I have to side with the first 1980’s Godzilla film. The darker atmosphere of the movie stands out for me, as does the menacing portrayal of Godzilla. One element that really keeps me coming back, though, is the incredible score by Reijiro Koroku.

    Joshua Sudomerski’s picks

    1. Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999)

    2. The Cat Returns (2002)

    3. Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)

    4. Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)

    5. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)

    6. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)

     

    Chris Mirjahangir’s picks

    1. Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)

    2. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)

    3. Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

    4. Godzilla (1954)

    5. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

    6. Destroy All Monsters (1968)

     

    Tyler Trieschock’s picks

    1. Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)

    For me, my favorite movies are the ones that can put a smile on my face and Tokyo S.O.S. does this by bringing the best parts of a Godzilla film in one action-packed premise. Godzilla returns, with my favorite design to this day, and all hands are on deck to best the nuclear leviathan. Kiryu, Mothra, even the JSDF, bring about some stellar effects driven sequences trying to halt the King of the Mon… Huh. Déjà vu. Throughout the entire film, Godzilla feels like a threat, blowing through every obstacle in his way until his final battle with Kiryu ends his reign of terror in a satisfying conclusion. Couple this action with a stellar send off for Kiryu, and the cheesy dialogue or weaker story can’t help myself from calling this my favorite Toho film.

    2. Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (1996)

    Gamera 2: Advent of Legion

    If I could sum up this movie in one word it would be: Blockbuster. And I mean that in every meaning of the word. The plot is pretty bare and the human characters are at their weakest in the trilogy, excluding Ayako Fujitani and Toshiyuki Nagashima as Asagi Kusanagi and Colonel Watarase respectively, but wow does everything else appear in style. Once the action begins, the stakes consistently raise with fantastic camera work, effects, choreography and more ending with an over the top finale which will finally give you a chance to take a breath. I love all three of the Gamera movies, but the cheesiness of the first and the slower pace of the third don’t make them too rewatchable. Gamera 2 though is where I think director Shusuke Kaneko struck the perfect balance and it’s my 2nd favorite due to this.

    3. Godzilla (2014)

    Gareth Edwards came the closest to a perfect Godzilla film for me and rewatching the film recently, after watching Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), I have to say I have more appreciation for it. Yes, there is less action, and Aaron Taylor Johnson is bit reserved in his acting, but these gripes aside, excluding the original, I believe this movie has some of the most memorable acting, cinematography, editing, sound, and action in the series. I’ll never forget watching this on the big screen with my best friend, tearing up at Cranston’s monologue, shaking in my seat from Godzilla’s arrival at the airport or feeling pure awe upon watching the atomic ray decapitate a monster. I’ve heard many say this film is awful and while people have every right to their opinion, in this case I would tend to agree as this film leaves me in awe every time I happily watch it.

    4. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

    Shusuke Kaneko made a Godzilla movie. After the Gamera Trilogy, was there any real doubt this movie wouldn’t be at least great? No… thought so.

    5. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

    I recently rewatched Godzilla vs. Biollante and if director Kazuki Omori did one thing to make me really enjoy this film, it would be that he made it unique to all that came before and after. Godzilla returns, with my favorite design of the Heisei era, and all hands are on deck to best the nuclear leviathan. The Super X II, Biollante, even the JSDF, bring about some stellar effects driven sequences trying to halt the

    King of the Monsters. Biollante especially is breath taking in its execution and while the Kaiju action is relatively brief, it is memorable. While not every concept lands, and there are a ton thrown at you throughout the movie, its darker tone and solid characters make it a far more memorable movie than I gave it credit for and it earns a place in my favorite Toho films of all time because of this

    6. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

    The first Godzilla movie I watched and it holds a special place ever since. Yes, the human plot is insane, but that insanity is a fun guide through a monster filled brawl of a movie. From Godzilla’s constant battles with Rodan, to the fun character moments of the humans and Kaiju alike, to the final battle with Ghidorah, make this movie my favorite Showa era Godzilla film.

     

    Patrick Galvan’s picks

    1. Seven Samurai (1954)

    Seven Samurai

    One of the landmarks of 20th century art, Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece about poor villagers hiring seven ronin to help defend their home from a gang of bandits accomplishes so much within its 207-minute runtime. No time is wasted fleshing out a large cast of instantly memorable characters—all while developing the tension, drama, humor, and searing humanity of which Kurosawa was a master. The many imitators of Seven Samurai often mimic its premise as an excuse for showing off action set pieces, but this most remarkable film goes a step further and is worthy of its status as one of the greatest films of all time.

    2. The Return of Godzilla (1984)

    When asked to name my favorite Godzilla movie—not necessarily the best but the one that reaches me the most on a personal level—this is the one that always turns up. Directed by Koji Hashimoto, one of Ishiro Honda’s former assistants (and someone who got the job based on a recommendation from his senior), The Return of Godzilla successfully brings Godzilla into a new generation while answering the question of why, aside from monetary reasons, the monster should have been resurrected in the first place. It is also one of the few Heisei pictures to really show off its budget: in addition to Teruyoshi Nakano’s dynamic special effects, the picture has an overwhelming sense of scale, gigantic interior and exterior sets, and a lush audio track that, played with a good sound system in the film’s original stereo release, allows for one of the most immersive experiences the Godzilla series has to offer.

    3. Godzilla (1954)

    What is there to say about the original Godzilla that hasn’t been said before? It’s one of the best monster movies in history, because it is so much more than a monster movie.

    4. Two in the Shadow (1967)

    Two in the Shadow was the third film directed by Mikio Naruse I ever saw, but the first to make me realize I had stumbled upon one of the great unsung masters of Japanese cinema. In the final picture he made before his passing in 1969, Naruse takes a plot that, on the surface, might sound like cheap melodrama (a woman falls in love with the man who accidentally killed her husband, and he with her) and slowly develops a believable relationship between two people who want to be together but are forever haunted by the tragedy which binds them. Some critics have argued that Naruse hit a slump in the 1960s. I would argue otherwise: that many of the films he made in the last few years of his life were quite wonderful, with Two in the Shadow closing off his career on a note of near-perfection.

    5. Matango (1963)

    Ishiro Honda’s strengths as a director stemmed from his natural talent for coercing strong performances from his cast and his interest in social commentary, and when these strengths joined forces in service of a good script, the results were often mesmerizing. All of which is on full display in Matango, a picture employing minimal action set pieces in favor of suspense, tension, and intricate character study.

    6. High and Low (1963)

    High and Low

    This may seem to be a recurring theme with my choices by now, but it is always admirable when a director takes what could’ve been simple escapism and goes the extra mile to produce something of genuine depth, something which engages the minds of the audience and pushes them to think while they are being entertained. High and Low might’ve been a fine police procedural under the care of most directors; and in Kurosawa’s hands, it becomes infused with unflattering and sometimes terrifying portraits of social conditions in postwar Japan. As the director Takashi Miike recently told interviewers from the Criterion Collection, “If you study Kurosawa’s filmmaking, you see […] [h]e was exploring the idea of the truth and what the real answers were while he was making the film.” And let it be said the closing shot of this picture ranks as one of the most haunting and hauntingly perfect pieces of celluloid this reviewer has ever come across.

     

    Mathew Webber’s picks

    1. Shin Godzilla (2016)

    2. Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)

    3. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)

    4. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

    5. Matango (1963)

    6. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)

     

    Nicholas Driscoll’s picks

    1. Spirited Away (2001)

    2. Swing Girls (2004)

    3. King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

    4. Rodan (1956)

    5. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

    6. Whisper of the Heart (1995)

     

    Thomas Fairchild’s picks

    1. Spirited Away (2001)

    Spirited Away

    Years ago, I walked into my Japanese language learning class, not knowing what to expect, and saw Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Since then, it’s become my all-time favorite film. I covet it so much that for my film making classes, we used to celebrate our production wrap-ups by watching Spirited Away. I’ll never forget the looks of wonder on my students’ faces seeing Miyazaki’s masterpiece for the first time. You owe it to yourselves to see this wondrous work of art.

    2. Godzilla (1954)

    Ishiro Honda’s Gojira is a cultural milestone. It was instrumental in introducing Western audiences to foreign films, which has since changed pop culture as we know it. More importantly, it helped post-war audiences empathize with a nation still reeling from nuclear trauma. Unlike its predecessors, Gojira’s titular monster is more than just a glorified city-stomper or a giant superhero, he is a victim of the horrors of nuclear war. Godzilla is an animal infected by human hubris, a creature that was minding its own business until a hydrogen bomb turned him against his will into a rampaging monster. But are the humans in this film entirely to blame? No, and that may be the most daunting takeaway. Even if we’re not to blame for the sins of our forefathers, the onus is on us to act because doing nothing seals our fate.

    2. Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)

    The third and final chapter in Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy proved this genre could compete with modern cinema. G3 will always be one of my favorite monster movies. It has everything: pulse-pounding action scenes, amazingly choreographed monster fights, pitch-perfect kaiju designs (Iris is a sight to behold), compelling human character involvement, a riveting score by Kow Otani, and—last but most certainly not least—it established Gamera as being Godzilla’s equal.

    4. Godzilla (2014)

    Gareth Edward’s Godzilla (2014) currently stands as my favorite Godzilla film. Its divisiveness boldly challenges age-old tropes while introducing new concepts and ideas that reinvigorated the Godzilla mythos. I was initially disappointed by Godzilla’s lackluster screen time; however, my perspective has since changed. I’m a firm believer in the quality over quantity rule. This depiction of Godzilla has become one of my favorites, striking me as a hybridized version of his Showa/Heisei counterparts. LegendaryGoji is as ferocious as he is majestic. In the pantheon of monsters, he is truly king. The humans are, for the most part, compelling. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s portrayal of a veteran trying to get home to his family is palatable. My military friends report feeling a stirring connection to him. Ken Watanabe’s performance as Serizawa was substantial and further expanded upon in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). I’m more disappointed by the treatments of Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen’s characters than by Godzilla’s screen time. Cranston either should’ve been the protagonist or received a respectable extension; Olsen did the best she could with a two-dimensionally written role. Her character should’ve been given a few extra scenes of development (e.g., during a monster attack, we see her risking her life by treating civilians). The MUTOs were surprisingly complex antagonists; I hope to see them return in future MonsterVerse installments. Alexandre Desplat’s score is top-notch and complements Seamus McGarvey’s exemplary cinematography. My appreciation of this film rises every time I see it.

    5. Shin Godzilla (2016)

    Shin Godzilla

    Firstly, let’s take a second and applaud this film for being the first Japanese Godzilla film sporting a magnificent-looking, fully computer-generated Godzilla. Shin Godzilla requires multiple viewings to appreciate fully. Its nuanced commentary on bureaucracy and governmental oversight made for a compelling drama. Technically, there is a human protagonist, and he is a competent main character to follow; however, I see the human cast as a whole acting as a representation of Japan. In the face of atomic destruction, be it at the hand of an irradiated monstrosity or by foreign human powers, Japan persevered through unity, perseverance, and innovation. Japan, like Godzilla, evolved. But in this race between two dominant species, whose evolution will beget the end of the other? Whereas Godzilla is capable of self-evolution, suggesting his transformations are only the beginning, humanity may have reached its limits. While the film deconstructs human politics and societal norms, it grudgingly concedes it’s still the best system we have going for us. For the first time in this planet’s history, a species’ fate is in its hands. What the human race will choose to do with this knowledge, according to Shin Godzilla’s overarching theme, remains elusive.

    6. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

    There’s so much to love about this film. It fully embraces its sci-fi premise while boldly taking the Godzilla series into a new direction. Not only does this film star one of my favorite Godzilla designs (BioGoji is iconic), it succeeds in doing the unimaginable: introducing a brand-new monster that overshadows Godzilla himself. Biollante is arguably the most unique, intricate creature Godzilla has ever faced. While I’d love to see her return with a modern VFX makeover, I can’t imagine it topping her first appearance. Moreover, the human characters are interesting, the score is resonating, and the look and grit is a celebration of the ‘80s decade of film. Besides, Godzilla vs. Biollante will always hold a special place in my Tokusatsu-loving heart because I was watching it when my wife informed me that I was going to be a father.

     

    Andrew Sudomerski’s picks

    1. Godzilla (1954)

    2. Throne of Blood (1957)

    3. Akira (1988)

    4. Kong: Skull Island (2017)

    5. Virus (1980)

    6. Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)

     

    François Coulombe’s picks

    1. Samurai Saga (1959)

    2. Godzilla (1954)

    3. A Whistle in My Heart (1959)

    4. Ikiru (1952)

    5. The Legend of the White Serpent (1956)

    6. Sandakan No. 8 (1974)

     


    Feeling like mentioning your own top Toho film picks? Feel free to list them in the comments below.

    General // February 13, 2020
  • Over the last few years I have seen a BUNCH of Toho films that I never got around to reviewing, which seems like a lost opportunity as Toho still releases a lot of movies each year, and most of them get very little attention—plus a few more famous ones from yesteryear that I watched, but have no plan to write full reviews of. There were quite a few, so let’s get started!

     

    Gintama (2017)

    Not being a big fan of the manga, I did not have very high hopes for the live-action adaptation, but being a sucker for fantasy/action movies, I went to see this one anyway… and I had a really good time! Sure, the plot is higgledy-piggledy, and a lot of stuff seems kind of hodge-podge dumped on the screen. However, everything is so good-natured, the fun infected like a fun-gi, and soon I had a smile sprouting like a mushroom and—what on earth am I writing? I had a good time. Are the special effects good? Decidedly not much of the time, but there are purposely poor effects (like rubber animal masks, or bizarre beetle costumes) bashed together for grins, not for gawping, and there are some pretty cool moments, such as an unexpected shout-out to Nausicaa of all things. While there are some real acting duds, the mains are fine. Go with mind open, and you will have a stupid good time.

    Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017)

    Distributed by Toho, here we have a new Ghibli movie that isn’t really Ghibli. Really, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the director of the excellent Secret World of Arrietty (2010) and Marnie Was There (2014), has made what is essentially a Ghibli movie in all but name, and I think the resultant film is worthy, even if it is not as fantastic as Miyazaki’s best (but what is?). The story, about a young girl who gets yoinked into a magical kingdom after poking about where she doesn’t belong, and then dragged further into rescuing a friend and changing the world, would fit perfectly into early Ghibli, and the animation is absolutely gorgeous. Haunting music, delightful characters, and magical storytelling—this is good stuff. But it is also deliberately derivative. Everything from the character designs, to many story beats, to certain beasts and monsters—even the new logo of the nascent movie Studio Ponoc founded by Yonebayashi screams Ghibli. For that reason, to me the film feels like it doesn’t quite have a life of its own despite the undeniable quality of the picture, and I Just wish Yonebayashi and his team had struck out and created something more uniquely their own.

    Daigoro vs. Goliath (1972)

    Honestly I can’t remember if it was 2016 or 2017 that I finally got around to watching this spectacle of silly, but this is a kaiju film that I wish could get a bit more attention, so I want to give a quick shout-out here. Daigoro vs. Goliath is unapologetically silly, with monster action so childish that some fans have disowned the work—and there is no doubt that the plot machinations are sometimes downright embarrassing (kaiju sized water closet?). However, for me, the sheer audacity of dumb that this film strives to be makes it even more endearing, like an elaborate crayon messterpiece scribbled with love by your children. If you haven’t seen this bonkers bit of monster history, don’t hesitate to get your copy and plop down for a great old school monster shindig!

    Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable Chapter 1 (2017)

    Being mostly unfamiliar with the source material, my expectations were quite low when I attended this film back in August. This film was also directed by Takashi Miike, and while I have enjoyed some of his films, I tend to find them uneven, and I was no fan of his adaptation of Terra Formars from 2016. However, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure was one of my favorite movie experiences of 2017. I loved, loved, loved the main character and his pompadour hair and rough-guy punk talk, I adored the increasingly off-the-wall powers and plot twists, and I was really impressed by how the entire film just swaggers with style. The story, about a punk kid with super powers fighting a group of delinquents traveling about killing people in hopes of creating an army of supermen, is not particularly new, but everything is delivered with oomph and pizzazz, and the special effects were actually quite good. I really hope Jojo gets the sequel(s) the studios were hoping for.

    Ajin (2017)

    What if you could not die? If every time your body was killed, you came back to life, feeling the pain, but overcoming it, healing into something new? And what if the world hated you for it? Ajin, a live-action adaptation of the manga of the same name, explores that scenario with dark and frenetic results. The story presented comes through a gimlet lens in which the scientific community, government, and the public at large are depicted as paranoid and flawed if not downright evil. This is a world in which the titular nigh-immortal Ajin are hunted down and viciously experimented upon via neverending torture. The resulting conflicts are the center of the story, as two Ajin take opposite sides and murder each other with crazed abandon. The manga upon which the movie is based is creative and darkly clever, and the movie adopts many of the same tricks and twists—perhaps, as is often the case with movies like this, cramming in too much story for its own good. However, the main characters are acted competently (even if the same cannot be said for some of the more minor characters, particularly a female Ajin), and the action is often visceral and exciting, with the film’s depiction of the Ajin-generated IBMs coming off quite well. Not the best live-action manga adaptation of the year, but far from the worst or most disappointing (here’s looking at you, Full Metal Alchemist).

    Ghost Man (1954)

    This year I was planning to review the Toho Invisible Man film, and in preparation I watched all the Universal Invisible Man films, the Daiei Invisible Man films, and even the Daiei invisible samurai films (I was shocked they have been so overlooked in the west). Also as part of my preparations, and also with an eye to reviewing it as well, I picked up Ghost Man. Directed by Motoyoshi Oda, I first stumbled on the title while reading David Kalat’s Godzilla book, in which he names the film but seems to think it may have been in the Toho Mutated Man series. Despite the fact that the titular Ghost Man is wrapped up like the Invisible Man traditionally is depicted, the Ghost Man film does not feature any mutated monsters—just a psycho wrapped in gauze. (Interestingly, despite the earlier Daiei film featuring an invisible man clothed in bandages, the Toho Invisible Man film opts for a different sort of camouflage…) Given that the director also made Invisible Man the same year, I was really curious about this film—and it has its highlights, most notably a poster for the same year’s Godzilla release, before that film had its wide release!!! However, for me at least, this movie was quite disturbing. The movie is based on a book in the Detective Kindaichi series, and follows our brilliant detective as he tries to track down a nasty serial killer who strips women naked, murders them, and poses their bare bodies as art objects. The movie features lots and lots of nudity, usually in the form of the abused and murdered women—and I was just not expecting that, and found the proceeds frankly tasteless and awful. The film seems competently made, but the nastiness really put me off.

    Invisible Man (1954)

    I hope I can go back and give this one a proper review someday, but I will just give my brief impressions here for now. To be honest, I really enjoyed this film! While I think my colleague Patrick’s critique is spot on, nevertheless I really liked the characters and found the story to be quite compelling. The story centers on a former special forces operative from the Japanese army who became invisible as part of a military experiment and is now trying to live a normal life. When the public finds out about the invisible men operatives, though, some criminals take advantage of the public outcry and paranoia, and eventually the real invisible man is cornered into revealing himself and fighting the criminals. There are a number of flaws in the way that the plot plays itself out (again, Patrick does a great job enumerating these), but I still greatly enjoyed the film from start to finish, and wish that the movie had an official release Stateside. It deserves more recognition as the exciting, interesting tokusatsu footnote that it is.

    Come Marry Me (1966)

    One of the few non-tokusatsu films in Ishiro Honda’s oeuvre that had an official DVD release, Come Marry Me tells the story of… well, I am honestly starting to forget a lot of the main plot details. The film is kind of a lighthearted romantic film with comedic elements, with the plot concerning a young woman caught between her career and two men vying for her romantic affections. After much drama and dating, she makes her fateful decision—and I was honestly surprised by the outcome. While I found the film quite watchable with energetic and sincere performances, obviously the plot has not stuck with me very well. This is a somewhat insubstantial but perfectly inoffensive romance from a legendary director stuck doing monster flicks. As my Japanese improves, I hope to revisit this one for a more complete understanding and hopefully a better appreciation for what it is as well.

    Ringu (1998)

    Why on earth do they call this movie “Ringu” in America? Leaving the Japanese pronunciation makes the name sound ridiculous in English! Of course, even leaving the name as “Ring” is a confusing title, but I digress. Anyway, I finally sat through the entire legendary “Ringu” film and witnessed the beginning of the long-haired-freaky-people horror boom. And the film has lost some of its impact, at least for me. Unfortunately, watching the film now after the concept of monster women with long unwashed hair has become an overused cliché, the concept of a nasty wet corpse-like woman crawling out of a TV and scaring people so that they have a heart attack and die seems… unconvincing anymore. Still, the film has a great mystery plot going as the protagonists race against time to figure out why the shampoo-impaired Sadako wants to kill everyone, and the mystery drives the story and makes it exciting and engaging for horror fans.

    Destiny: Story of Kamakura (2017)

    Being a huge fan of the Always films, I was pretty flipping excited when I heard there was going to be a new film from the same team of creators—but this time with yokai monsters! And while the end result does not match up to the highs of the Always series, the film still has gobs of sweetness to share. The main relationship of the story between an author and his much younger, absolutely adorable bride as they learn to get along with each others’ quirks, and the quirks of the spirit world they find themselves entangled within, is very charming—at least through the first half of the film. Towards the end, when the story switches gears into a more action-adventure mode, much of the charm is forsaken for what came across to me as CG-glutted, poorly conceived action set pieces. A large monster appears towards the end which looks pretty cool, but the face-off between the beasty and our heroes is undermined by weak writing and shallow world building. Then again, given the world of CGI yokai adventures such as The Great Yokai War and the live-action Kitaro films, Destiny compares relatively well, and to be honest the tendency of many films in this genre is to be bloated and kind of slipshod in the storytelling department. At least this one has very likable leads and some rather imaginative set pieces.

    Let’s Go, Jets! (2017)

    When this movie was released last year, I was tempted to go see it in theaters because I have become something of a Suzu Hirose fan (even though almost every role I see her play is pretty similar), and because I love movies about dance. This one is based on a true story apparently, and the real dance groups are even shown briefly in the credits sequence. Let’s Go, Jets! follows the well-worn tropes of underdog sports/competition dramas—completely unknown group of amateurs in a small, largely unremarkable city/area/village (in this case, a small city in Japan) are inspired by a go-get-‘em coach to work hard at a sport/competitive something-or-other (in this case, cheer dance—which is not quite the same as cheerleading), and go after the biggest competition in their area of expertise (with cheer dancing, there is a world competition each year staged in the USA). This movie takes those old tropes and tries to whip some life into them with spunky performances and spunky music, and Suzu is pretty danged lovable in the lead as she bounds through the thoroughly formulaic script while encouraging the usual band of rag-tag wannabes (the scornful dance pro, the socially awkward punk kid, the overweight one, etc). For this kind of movie, it is still pretty fun to watch but… I watch dancing movies to see dancing, and this film teases the dances over and over and over with no pay-off until the very end. In the middle of the film we see our heroines dash out on to the stage to compete… and then the next scene is them running back off having won their latest competition. We see them practice a lot, but never see a real dance routine until the final ten minutes—and even then, it really is not that impressive, and is made worse by a pair of Caucasian pseudo-actors enthusiastically delivering super-cringe lines. I found this one to be pretty mediocre when I watched it on a flight at the end of the year.

    My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday (2017)

    Another movie I watched on a flight to the USA this year, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday is a sort of supernatural romance type film along the lines of something like The Girl in the Sunny Place or Twilight or Beauty and the Beast. It is difficult to talk about the movie at all without going into spoilers, but in a nutshell (or at least in a train car) our protagonist sees and instantly falls in love with a totally hot babe and, despite being a super shy guy, somehow musters up the chutzpah to chase her down on the platform and confess his impromptu feelings to her face. And instead of being creeped out or offering him a picture of her seven-foot-tall karate-champion boyfriend or otherwise dashing his hopes completely, said girl of extreme hotness is all for the hanging out and the dating. Pretty soon Mr. Suddenly Lucky In Love and Miss Terious Hotness are getting along well, although the lady side of the equation keeps crying all the time for some reason—and when she reveals the reason, the story gets a lot more interesting—or the audience finds the premise so ridiculous that they tune out. (No, she is not a cat or a werewolf or an angel). For me, while the story does not strictly make sense on a logical level, the paradox that is created by the central romance is tenderly and thoughtfully portrayed by the mains, and the conundrum created by their relationship creates a sort of poignant reminder of the transience of human life and the fragility of relationships which nevertheless affect us to the core of our beings. Nana Komatsu, who I felt was so wooden and frankly terrible in Bakuman, is much better here, and I for one am really glad to see the growth.

    Let Me Eat Your Pancreas (2017)

    I am cheating with this one because I saw it in 2018 on my flight back to Japan, and yet it is hard for me not to categorize it with the films I saw last year since it was part of that round trip journey that sort of wrapped up my 2017 activities. Let Me Eat Your Pancreas has to be one of the strangest names for a film I have ever seen—and I have seen it often. The film and the book upon which it is based have proved quite popular in Japan, with several of my students recommending the film version to me (and others recommending me not to see it). Some friends visited me in August when this film was still playing in theaters, and when I was reading off the titles of the films at a local movie theater we were considering attending, I read this title and received a chorus of hoots and laughter, and one friend declared that I could make up anything I wanted as the translations of the titles and they would have little choice but to believe me. Well, believe me when I say that while this movie does not live up to its title in strangeness, the formula-heavy story is still told well with solid performances all around. Let Me Eat Your Pancreas is another story in the “romance with a spunky sick girl” genre which are ubiquitous in Japan. In this one, our stolid, reticent, emotionally stunted loser male protagonist (checking off all the usual lame-o boxes for romantic leads in Japanese fiction) finds himself the object of attention by the most popular girl in school. As she begins spending time with him, she quickly reveals her secret that she is hiding from even her closest friends: terminal pancreatic cancer. The ensuing relationship was enough to keep me awake and interested despite the massive sleep deprivation that comes with international travel and a festering cold assaulting my respiratory system mid-flight (which is more than I can say for Wolf Warrior II and Kung Fu Yoga). The story is not completely predictable either, though all the story beats essentially are—this is Crying Out for Love at the Center of the World 2017 edition pretty much. Yeah, the movie is drenched in sap and dreamy, soft lighting… but for appreciators of this sort of frothy, romantic bilge (such as myself), you can do a lot worse than Pancreas.

    And that’s it for 2017! I hope you enjoyed reading, and here’s to another great year of movies!

     

    2018

    Kids on the Slope (2018)

    One of the pleasant surprises for me recently in my anime-viewing career was the beguiling Kids on the Slope, based on the manga of the same name. The story, centered around an awkward boy moving to Nagasaki and being pulled unwillingly into a friendship with a violent but warm-hearted half-Caucasian classmate, is often surprisingly touching, with endearingly sketched characterizations and a focus on jazz (the aforementioned main characters are both musicians) that adds a lot of emotion to the mix. 2018 saw a decent live-action adaptation of the film… but also a perfectly forgettable adaptation. I say that because for the life of me, even after revisiting a trailer for the film, I can barely remember anything about the film. Nana Komatsu also feels a bit miscast as love interest Ritsuko, as Ritsuko was more of a girl-next-door sort of beautiful in the comics, and Komatsu is so strikingly gorgeous it doesn’t seem to fit. Still, from the fragments of my memory I can’t say the movie was bad… but I can’t altogether recommend it either.

    Before the Coffee Gets Cold (2018)

    This movie actually made a much bigger impression on me than Kids on the Slope, though the impression was not entirely good. I love the sort of out-there premise the movie has, first of all. The gist is that a magical coffee shop exists, and in that coffee shop there is one particular table at which people who want to talk with the dead can do so, though with a number of conditions. The way it works is that applicant must order coffee and sit at the table, at which point they go back in time to meet the person they want to see who has died. The thing is, that person must have visited the coffee shop in the past—if not, then it’s impossible to meet them again. Also, it’s impossible to change the past. You can have a real conversation, but you can’t change the future. Finally, you have to finish your coffee before it cools—if you forget and talk too long, you become stuck, and your ghost will haunt the coffee shop forever. The ways that the movie plays with the rules of this premise are the source of the movie’s real enjoyment, and there are some clever twists at times, and some emotional moments. That said, some of the applicants’ stories are a bit overdone, while on the other hand a romance between a waitress at the shop and a young man felt underdone and poorly motivated. Still, for fans of high-concept, sort of fantasy Hallmark type movies (are there fans of such a specific genre?), I actually would recommend this.

    Gintama 2 (2018)

    2017’s Gintama was a big hit in Japan, so one year later an inevitable sequel followed close after, with mixed results. My coworker actually thought that Gintama 2 was far superior to the previous film, but for me I felt it was a step down. While some of the humorous sequences are still quite funny, and the casting was great, with even more amusing cameos and references to other manga, this particular film felt like it was trying too hard. Sometimes the jokes drag on a few steps too far, and the same goes for the action scenes, which, while crazy and stupid, rarely feel like they have stakes. Late in the movie, too, there is a fight so over-the-top melodramatic I just couldn’t. I couldn’t take it. To me, this felt like a lesser live-action remake, and I was once again pretty sad that the Jojo movie did not receive a sequel after the excellent movie last year. I enjoyed both Gintama films, but ultimately I just find them less satisfying as a whole.

    Mirai (2018)

    I am a big fan of Mamoru Hosoda’s films, especially The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and The Beast and His Boy, so I was greatly looking forward to this release last year, and even went out of my way to attend the film on the first day of release despite being stressed out with work. Unfortunately, this was easily my least favorite of Hosoda’s films so far, despite it being so personal a film for him. On the plus side, the movie has really pretty animation, which captures so much of a child’s world, but also is so accomplished at depicting the movements of a child, the stumble-walk and general maladroit bumbling. The attention to those sorts of small, mundane details make the movie much better than it would otherwise be. However, the premise of the film never really grabbed my attention very well, and the movie never establishes a real sense of narrative tension—at least it didn’t for me. The conceit of the film is that a bratty young toddler is jealous of his new sister—and then he starts getting visited by that same sister from the future, as well as getting transported through time to visit other family members or go on other adventures. These adventures our “hero” goes on are basically like dreams, and so the little kid never seems to be in real danger, and I never really understood why he was going on these trips since he seemed so young as to be incapable of understanding the important lessons he might otherwise take away from them. Plus, each adventure never felt to me to build up to anything. Even when later the boy has a stressful experience in a dream train station, the supposedly scary sequence had me wondering when the movie would end because I couldn’t get invested. When Mirai was released Stateside, it received mostly positive reviews, so you may well get a lot more out of the film than I did—but still, I cannot in good conscience recommend this one.

    My Hero Academia: Two Heroes (2018)

    When I learned that one of the new heroes that appears in this movie was based on Godzilla, I got pretty excited and used it as an excuse to pick up the entire manga run up to that point in English and read through them—something I had been intending to do anyway as I had so often heard of what high quality the Shonen Jump series supposedly achieved. And while now I can vouch for that quality personally, at least in some respects (great character design and fun characters, great art, exciting battles), the actual MOVIE felt somewhat disappointing, if still a decent time-waster.

    The problem with movies like this is that they are inevitably filler. They can’t affect anything in the main story because that is unfolding in the manga, so they always have to be written in such a way as to be exciting WITHOUT making any major revelations or causing any character changes that would reflect on the main story. Plus they have to find ways to shoehorn in all the characters so that the fans can go and see their favorites on the big screen. That’s a lot of constrictions for any story, so it’s no wonder movies like this usually are of middling quality or worse. I think MHA:TH works under those constraints better than many, with an amusing and sometimes exciting story away from Japan and a new (throwaway) villain. But don’t go in expecting anything game-changing.

    As for the Godzilla-based here, Godzillo (not to be confused with the offbeat novel Gojiro), he barely shows up and just basically walks by in one scene, letting out a big signature roar before disappearing from the story. Seems like a waste to me!

    General // February 9, 2020
  • It’s been months since updates have stopped for Godzilla: Defense Force. That said, the game is still quite available. So for those still playing the game, or those just starting, here is a Godzilla: Defense Force card tier list. This should help players decide what cards to focus on or what cards to play.

    This tier list is “end game”. That’s being defined as after a player reaches about a dozen stages into the Moon and has a large number of artifacts. This tier list also assumes the player is using card stacking. The trick involves clicking the mission tab, pausing the game to let G-cells regenerate to full, and then clicking the card selection to choose new cards to play. Afterwards the trick can be repeated to play even more cards. Using this allows players to utilize 6, 9 or even 12-15 cards at a time depending on the level of the DNA Computer.

    If you choose not to do this trick, the tier list is pretty much limited to the S tier as these are the best cards to formulate a three card combo from. That said, even if you do card stack, it can be time consuming and not efficient for easier bosses. In which case it helps to know what cards to focus on so you can play as few cards as possible to achieve victory, speeding your run. This tier list is focused on that as well.

    S Tier: Godzilla '67, Keizer Ghidorah, Godzilla '03, Destoroyah Perfect Form

    S Tier: Godzilla ’67, Keizer Ghidorah, Godzilla ’03, Destoroyah Perfect Type

     

    Godzilla ’67

    Duration: 20 seconds
    Attack +360%  (+180% for each additional level)

    This is the top card in the game. All the best combos include Godzilla ’67. Credit belongs to the fact that it boosts all units with an attack power that’s unmatched by any other card in the game.

    Keizer Ghidorah

    Duration: 20 seconds
    Plane Turret Attack +300%  (+150% for each additional level)

    This game is all about multiplying all boost cards with type specific boosts. Essentially the game works like this: if you mix Godzilla ’67 with Godzilla ’02 the “all damage” boosts are seen as similar and add together. However, if you mix Godzilla ’67 with Keizer Ghidorah the damage boosts multiply instead, granting a huge attack boost to all turret and plane units. Essentially the “all modifier” type is considered different from the unit specific modifier, making mixing the two a priority for card combos. This works for attack, critical damage and production speed. Of these, attack boost is the most universally beneficial and Keizer Ghidorah leads the pack for type specific damage cards, being based on the two best unit types in the game.

    Godzilla ’03

    Duration: 20 seconds
    Production Speed +120%  (+60% for each additional level)

    Dependent on your artifacts, for most of the late game Godzilla ’03 is part of an incredible three card combo with Godzilla ’67 + Keizer Ghidorah. This is because the production speed modifier works nicely with the multiplied damage of those two titans. Not only that but the boost is visible on the listed DPS, which can help certain elements like the money generated by the Shobijin ’66 ally.

    Destoroyah Perfect Type

    Duration: 20 seconds
    Plane Turret Critical Attack +1000%  (+500% for each additional level)

    While the game features considerable focus on the skill attack cards (the hologram cards), the true end game is critical damage. This is an end game only investment, though, as unless your first two artifacts are the FM Missile and the Tracer Bullet the benefit will take a long time to materialize. When it finally does, usually with maxed card levels, the player will generate huge damage that will melt opponents. Destoroyah Perfect Type is the most important card of this playstyle. His damage actually multiples with the Tracer Bullet artifact, unlike Godzilla ’01, and he is the only four star card in the game that boosts turret critical damage. If the player has a high level FM Missile and Tracer Bullet, Destoroyah easily becomes the third best card in the game and functions as part of the best three card combo with Godzilla ’67 + Keizer Ghidorah. In fact, the only reason why he’s not above Godzilla ’03 is because he requires those two artifacts to be at his peak.

    A Tier: Godzilla ’00/Godzilla ’68, Godzilla ’01

     

    Godzilla ’00/Godzilla ’68

    Duration: 30 seconds
    All Critical Rate +24%/+20% (+12%/+10% for each additional level)

    These cards help with the all important critical chance. As a player moves more into a critical playstyle, and starts to do larger card combos, either of these cards can play a key role in making those critical hits land all the time. Of the two, Godzilla ’00 is flat out better as at level 7 this card reaches a +96% critical chance. However, both cards can easily hit 100% when combined with the FM Missile artifact. So if for some reason the player prefers the Godzilla ’68 card, they can use that instead with the same result as long as they have that artifact.

    Godzilla ’01

    Duration: 20 seconds
    All Critical Attack +1000%  (+500% for each additional level)

    Godzilla ’01 is the only all critical damage card in the game. This means he can combine with Destoroyah Perfect Type for some lethal damage output as their modifiers multiply together. So why is Godzilla ’01 so much lower than Destoroyah? The reason is the Tracer Bullet. For some reason, this artifact seems to multiply with Destoroyah but works to add to the boost of Godzilla ’01. This results in a dramatic performance difference in combos with and without Destoroyah that use this artifact, as can be seen in the data we compiled here. That said, 6th best card in the game is still a great position to be in when doing six card combos isn’t that much effort.

    B-Tier

    B Tier: Mothra ’92, Star Falcon/Moonlight SY-3, Mechagodzilla ’74, Godzilla ’02

     

    Mothra ’92

    Duration: 30 seconds
    All Attack +360% (+180% for each additional level – caps at level 6)

    For those looking to go beyond a six card combo, Mothra ’92 stands far above other options. The greatest benefit is the huge duration that this card lasts, at 30 seconds. This makes it easy with the DNA computer to even reach a duration that covers the entire match against a Godzilla. The damage boost it gives to all units, while below Godzilla ’67 due to capping at level 6, is also sizeable. Sadly, this card is very hard to get. If you don’t have it, no worries, the Godzilla ’02 card can be used instead in a nine card combo.

    Star Falcon/Moonlight SY-3

    Duration: 20 seconds
    Plane Turret / Vehicle Turret Production Speed +100% (+50% for each additional level)

    The production speed effect of these cards multiply with Godzilla ’03 for a huge production speed boost. This not only increases damage output but also visible DPS. While this is not as optimal as mixing damage boosts or critical damage boosts, it does still hold a large benefit and makes the B tier for that reason. Of the two mentioned here, the Star Falcon is the better card. However, both can be hard to get and the Moonlight SY-3 is a good substitute. That said, you should use one or the other but not both. The reason being that increasing production speed too much slows down the game, making it hard to combo cards which can result in a negative effect. It’s also why Godzilla ’99 isn’t in the higher tiers.

    Mechagodzilla ’74

    Duration: 20 seconds
    Vehicle Turret Attack +300%  (+150% for each additional level)

    Not only is Mechagodzilla ’74 a great card, but he’s unlocked early in the game in London. As a result newer players looking for a good long term investment can feel safe putting card powder into the original Mechagodzilla. As for why the card stands out, it’s similar to Keizer Ghidorah but boosting tanks and turrets. The turret is the optimal part, adding to Kezier Ghidorah and then multiplying with the all damage modifiers, although the tank part can help when progressing in the game.

    Godzilla ’02

    Duration: 20 seconds
    All Attack +300%  (+150% for each additional level)

    Unlocked in Sydney, this card can give players the first taste of the power in adding all attack modifiers with type specific modifiers. While it’s great as a growth card, it’s also a safe long term investment as if you are playing a nine card combo and don’t have Mothra ’92 then this is your card. If you do have Mothra ’92… well then this could be your tenth card, and it’s for that reason that this makes it into the B tier is that level of utility.

    C Tier: Mothra '04, Mothra Leo, Titanosaurus, Cretaceous King Ghidorah

    C Tier: Mothra ’04, Mothra Leo, Titanosaurus, Cretaceous King Ghidorah

     

    Mothra ’04, Mothra Leo, Titanosaurus

    Duration: 16 seconds
    Plane Turret / Vehicle Turret / Troop Turret Critical Attack +375% (+187.5% for each additional level)

    This is known as the “pushing your luck” trio. Essentially you probably don’t want to do a card combo that’s 10 or more cards often. It’s time consuming and at some point it’s more efficient to time travel than keep struggling out wins with gigantic combos. …however, some times you just really want to beat the opponent you are up against, regardless of how long it might take. In those scenarios, these three are your best bet to get a ludicrously long combo as their boosts to turret critical attack damage will have the most impact.

    Cretaceous King Ghidorah

    Duration: 16 seconds
    Plane Turret Production Speed +35% (+17.5% for each additional level)

    Don’t have the Star Falcon or the Moonlight SY-3? Don’t worry, a lot of players don’t as they are hard cards to get. For those players that don’t, Cretaceous King Ghidorah works as a poor man’s substitute in the normal nine card combo to get a type boost mixed with an all boost around production speed.

    D Tier: Mothra '01/King Ghidorah '01/Mecha-King Ghidorah, Rodan '64, MOTHER/GX-813 Griffon

    D Tier: Mothra ’01/King Ghidorah ’01/Mecha-King Ghidorah, Rodan ’64, MOTHER/GX-813 Griffon

     

    Mothra ’01/King Ghidorah ’01/Mecha-King Ghidorah

    Duration: 20 seconds
    Vehicle Plane / Troop Vehicle / Troop Plane Attack +300%  (+150% for each additional level)

    This is mostly a “growth tier”. These are cards that aren’t optimal, but it recognizes that even toward the end game you will be in situations where your most powerful unit is not a turret. In fact, it takes getting to around stage 29 or 30 on the Moon before you can max a turret on New York ($1.77xx for the final upgrade to the Railgun Tower). Consequently, you can have your most powerful unit actually be a plane, a tank… or even a troop. In those cases, these three cards can be used to swap out either Keizer Ghidorah or Mechagodzilla ’74 in your combo depending on the unit type.

    Rodan ’64

    Duration: 13 seconds
    Turret Production Speed +25% (+12.5% for each additional level)

    Poor Rodan. Before allies came into the game, he actually saw a fair bit of use. He combos really well with Godzilla ’67 + Keizer Ghidorah while their total G-cells were 8, which is the max. This made him efficient for using quick three card combos on easier opponents before you have to start card stacking. However, with allies that can boost the number of G-cells to 9 or increase regeneration, Rodan ’64 becomes a dark horse pick only for those looking to use an ally that generates Moonstones or produces money for a bit longer in a run.

    MOTHER/GX-813 Griffon

    Duration: 20 seconds
    Troop Vehicle / Vehicle Plane Critical Attack +1000%  (+500% for each additional level)

    Again, you have to reach stage 29 or 30 on the Moon before you can max a turret on New York. As a result, you might need a card to replace Destoroyah (Perfect Type) in your card combo. This is where the MOTHER or GX-813 Griffon come into play. They can boost other units to help fill that gap. …the only problem is that these cards are very hard to get, resulting in very few players actually using them when they need them.

    F Tier: Skill Attack cards, everything else

     

    Skill Attack cards

    It’s easy to rag on the Skill Attack cards, aka the hologram cards that summon a monster to attack the opponent. To be fair, though, they do have a use as the player is initially progressing in the game and are quite powerful at that stage. The main problem is they don’t synergize with critical attack, which becomes the end game strategy. In addition, there are a lot of skill attack cards. It feels like the player is constantly getting a more powerful one, which makes them bad investments even in the short term.

    Everything else

    Any critical chance card that isn’t Godzilla ’68 or Godzilla ’03 is worthless. In fact, there are a lot of useless cards in the game that the player will never use. Others might serve a one time or several time use, like the Ultrasonic Wave Generator or King Ghidorah ’64, but the player will quickly outgrow them and never look back.

    General // February 2, 2020
  • “Monsters are tragic beings. They are born too tall, too strong, too heavy. They are not evil by choice. That is their tragedy.”

    – Ishiro Honda

    Several decades ago, Godzilla dethroned humanity as the master of the world. Brought low, we watched helplessly as our mightiest weapons and machines failed to kill the beast. We fell silent when our sciences couldn’t explain his nature. With a purposeful grimace, Godzilla pulled high-tension wires down and set our greatest cities ablaze.

    My name is Steve Martin. I’m a foreign correspondent for United World News. Regretfully, I must inform you that Godzilla has returned—and there’s more than one. As I write these words down, several Godzillas are attacking all over Japan. Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Itsukushima are all under siege. I’m also getting mixed reports of a mysterious Godzilla sighting in Hiroshima. I don’t know how much more time, if any, we have left. But I’ve taken the liberty of collecting as many eyewitness testimonials that I can.

    We can survive Godzilla’s wrath. We can and we will. These survivors are living proof of that. Let their stories be heard.

     

    Kiryu-Goji Appears in Kyoto

    Story by Patrick Galvan

    At the time of the Great Kyoto Incident, I’d been living in the former capital of Japan for three years. The first two years had seen the rainy season—or tsuyu, as I’ve learned to call it—arrive predictably in the month of June. On the third year, however, the rains came early. I was stepping outside my apartment, expecting to walk into a lovely mid-May morning, only to see a mass of cumulonimbus clouds spreading throughout the skies above me. I mumbled my displeasure, realizing my trip to Arashiyama would have to wait. Arashiyama was one of the major sightseeing destinations in the western outskirts of the city, and I’d hoped to go there to track down some of the locations where Akira Kurosawa had shot his wonderful 1946 film No Regrets for Our Youth. I’d looked forward to climbing Mount Yoshida and finding the spot where, at the beginning of the film, Setsuko Hara and her admirers had stopped for a picnic and looked down on Kyoto Imperial University; I’d planned to find the banks of the stream where, at the end of the film, Hara had sat in silence and somberly remembered the naïve innocence of her past.

    But the moment I saw those clouds and heard the distant tapping of rain, I knew I would have to put it off for another—much calmer—day.

    Once I was done huffing my disappointment, I stood idly outside my apartment, watching the clouds before returning inside and retrieving my umbrella. Rain or no rain, I still had the entire day to myself and figured I might as well make something of it. At the very least, I could take a walk around town. Umbrella in hand, I marched off into the city. As I did, the first rumble of thunder sounded out. A very rhythmic thunder, with “claps” reminiscent of a heartbeat. Thump. Thump. Thump.

    Crazy weather, I remember thinking.

    After walking about aimlessly for twenty minutes, I set off in the direction of Kiyomizu-dera, one of the many Buddhist temples in Kyoto. I wasn’t sure if the temple would be open to visitors on a rainy day like this, but at the very least I could admire the beautiful infrastructure from the outside and enjoy the scenery to be found along the way. I was passing through a narrow street fringed on both sides by low-lying buildings, walking in the midst of ten or twelve other people, when I noticed those earlier mentioned “heartbeats” were still acting up. Normally, thunderclaps varied between soft rumbles to long, trebling meteorological explosions; and sometimes whole minutes passed between them, as thunder was dependent on lightning cutting through the atmosphere. But today, each clap sounded exactly the same—same pitch, same length—and occurred two or three seconds after the one before it.

    It was odd from the start, but I continued to give it no particular mind.

    I passed a few gift shops and rounded a street corner, at last coming within view of Kiyomizu-dera. As I continued my approach, an ambulance siren sounded off from a few blocks away. Probably an automobile accident, I told myself. The rain was becoming more intense, pouring in sheaths off the sides of my umbrella. Despite having come all this way, I was contemplating turning around.

    That was when a new sound rattled the air. A blood-curdling, otherworldly screech—like the warning cry of some wild animal.

    The most horrifying sound I’d ever heard.

    I paused in my tracks along with everyone else and we turned toward the left side of the street, staring up over the rooftops. It was then that the “heartbeats” became so intense the ground beneath us began to tremble; loose chunks of pavement clattered near my feet. It was also then that I realized these “heartbeats” were not, in fact, a phenomenon triggered by lightning in the sky. Rather, they were being generated by something physical pounding into the ground again and again. Something huge and immense was moving toward us.

    “What the…?” I said aloud.

    As if in reply, the ground shook again, this time with enough force to send all of us staggering. I lost grip on my umbrella as I fell and from over the rooftops came a barrage of bricks, shingles, and shattered planks. Instinctively, I rolled onto my knees and covered my head with my hands, grimacing as tiny bits of brick pelted my back and a half-shattered chunk of shingle landed into my shoulder. When the debris stopped falling, I rose to my feet and, doing my best to ignore the pain racing through my arm, took off running with everyone else. We ran to the stone stairs leading up to the temple entrance, and I was just reaching the top when someone crashed into me and I was sent careening to the ground, the stone surface rushing up to strike my forehead.

    I must have lain there for a whole minute before attempting to get up again, a throbbing sensation pulsating just to the side of my right temple. I managed to open my eyes as I regained my footing, glancing over my shoulder. And through my still clearing vision, I saw it.

    Another house was violently broken apart as an enormous column of flesh and muscle crashed into it, kicking up a cloud of dust. My eye traveled upward as the dust eventually thinned at a height of about twenty meters, where that column—an enormous leg covered with thick gray scales—connected into a torso swollen with muscle. I continued to look upward, my blood running cold as I watched water cascade in sheaths off jagged plates of bone protruding from the thing’s back and saw the talons on its forearms glistening in the rain. After what seemed like forever, my eyes wandered up the thick, muscular neck, ultimately arriving (at a staggering height of fifty-five meters) at a colossal set of jaws lined with conical teeth. Behind those jaws sat the coldest eyes imaginable—eyes which calmly surveyed their surroundings, as though relishing in the panic that was ensuing bellow. I continued to stand there, watching until the monster released a guttural snarl from within its throat and then tilted its head back, parted those jaws, and that same horrifying, other-worldly screech rattled the air.

    I took off running again, head throbbing as I bounded up the remainder of the stone steps and collapsed against one of the wooden posts at the temple entrance, suddenly aware of the warm feeling of blood pouring out across my forehead.

    The sound of another building being torn to shreds nabbed my attention and I glanced over my shoulder again. Gouts of fire were now starting to rise from the debris at the creature’s feet, pumping thick black smoke into the sky. The monster had stopped again; now it just stood inertly in the middle of the city, the only movement coming from its elongated tail, which repeatedly rose and thudded against the ground, pulverizing what little remained of the shredded buildings behind it. Abruptly, the monster straightened its back and the jagged spines adorning its back suddenly began to cast off strobes of neon blue light.

    Too afraid to watch on, I scrambled to my feet and limped inside the temple, amongst crowds of covering people, losing my balance and collapsing when the ground shook in a series of violent tremors. The unmistakable roar of an explosion sounded from outside as I let my face sink into the cold stone floor of the temple. Consciousness started to drift away as bits and pieces of rubble rattled on the roof of the temple. When I regained consciousness in a field hospital outside the city, the Incident was over.

     

    GMK Godzilla: The Haunting of Itsukushima

    By Thomas Fairchild

    My name is Rumi Yamaguchi. Ever since I was a little girl, the ocean fascinated me. One of my earliest memories was visiting a beach with my family. Without waiting for permission, I chased after the receding waves like the unstoppable force I believed myself to be. My first lesson in humility came when I lost my balance and slipped face-first into the mud. Wiping away the wet sand from off my brow, I looked to my parents and grandparents with outstretched arms. I remember crying, helplessly. But the fates were unmoved; the waves rapidly returned to shore and, after scraping me against the seafloor, threatened to pull me into the ocean. I feared for my life. Thank goodness, my grandfather grabbed me in just the nick of time.

    Recently, my parents visited me in my dorm. My mother joked that I was studying to be a fish. I told her being a fish and studying to be a marine biologist are two different things. But my father was unconvinced. Unlike my mother, who expressed her disapproval through non-confrontational quips, my father was blissfully more transparent about things that were on his mind. He couldn’t seem to fathom why I was studying to be a marine biologist when, well, being near the water frightened me. That conversation haunted me for months, and now I know why. It’s because he was right. Growing up, my grandfather was the only one who encouraged me to pursue my interests. But what is it about the water that made me want to stay away? It couldn’t be the animals because I could talk about marine life for hours. Not even Turritopsis dohrnii could outlive my enthusiastic ramblings. So, if I wasn’t secretly afraid of something pulling me underwater to consume me, then what was keeping me from exploring the creatures of the sea?

    This past summer was unbearably humid. Every day felt like being crammed inside an oven. But when Yuki Tachibana, a classmate of mine from Hiroshima University, invited me to go jet skiing with some friends, my parents’ words, still lingering in my mind like a ghost, prompted me to take a leap of faith. Yuki’s face was priceless when I told him I’d go. I don’t think he was expecting me to say yes.

    The next day we took a ferry ride to Miyajima Island. Blue skies hung over our heads as we sailed past the Itsukushima Shrine’s world-famous Torri gate. To the tourists’ dismay, the Torri gate was covered in scaffoldings in preparation for the 2020 Olympics. No worries, there’s still much to see and appreciate. According to legend, Miyajima is home to the gods. Its soil is considered to be so pure and revered neither the dead nor the dying can set foot on its shores. I come here often mainly to see and feed the deer, though I do like visiting the shrine in order to pay my respects to the ancestors—and wish for good grades. But not this time. My party had other plans. After docking at the pier, we made our way a few miles down the road to an old aquatic rental shop. I partnered up with Yuki, selected a green jet ski to ride, and then waited for the others to join us on the dock. While waiting, I saw this little boy playing down by the water’s edge, waving a Jizo statue over his head. Jizo statues honor children who have died before their parents. It’s distasteful to play with them. His mother finally realized what he was doing and pulled him away. She seemed more concerned with how others might judge her parenting than of the statue’s condition because the boy dropped it in the sand. The mother hurried off with her son in a huff, leaving the Jizo statue where it rested. I wanted to stand it back up, but it was time for us to head out onto the water. My anxiety didn’t hit until we were no longer in shallow water. Despite my pleadings for everyone to have a good time and not to worry at my expense, they stayed close to my side. I will always love them for that.

    The next few hours turned out to be pleasantly fun. For the first time in my life, I was not only riding a jet ski, but I was also behind the steering wheel. The whole experience felt cathartic. There were a few close calls; our ski flipped, and I wasn’t exactly great at swimming. Years of being afraid of the water would do that to you. But Yuki helped me out, and we eventually all found ourselves racing each other near the Itsukushima Port. One of the ferries, probably the same one we traveled on earlier, was returning to the mainland. I turned to wave at the passengers waving at us.

    Then I saw pale eyes staring up at me from under the water.

    I could barely make out its other features. At first, I thought I was hallucinating, like my worst fears returning to haunt me one last time. Then the creature rose upright in front of one of our racing friends. It lunged at a speed that belied its massive size, gobbling them up in its foul crunching jaws. By then, I had Yuki in a vice-like grip. He swerved our jet ski around in the opposite direction, confused by my sudden frantic behavior. I cranked my neck back to see where the sea monster had gone.

    For a split second, it looked like it had vanished. Then its shadow fell over us. With preternatural speed, the creature plowed through the water, kicking up massive tidal waves. We were instantly swept up in its wake. A split second before going down, I saw our other friends in their ski tumble beneath the waves. It was the last time I ever saw them. At that point, I was holding on to Yuki’s hand for dear life as we were pulled down into the cold depths. Then everything went black.

    When I came to, I was gasping for air on the same beach from earlier. I felt the water lapping over my trembling legs; it felt good to breathe. Several yards away, I was relieved to see an old man fetching an unconscious Yuki from the surf. He gently rested Yuki next to me. Somehow, I found the strength to hunch over Yuki to perform CPR. While pushing down on Yuki’s chest, I kept thanking the old man—I even called him grandfather, which is strange because my grandpa passed away when I was a child. The old man politely indulged me with a knowing smile. Suddenly, Yuki coughed up water. I held him in my arms and smiled, genuinely grateful to have him in my life.

    I looked for the old man to thank him for saving our lives. But he was nowhere to be seen. It honestly looked like he was never there, to begin with.

    With a lump in the back of my throat, I whispered, “Arigatō, sofu.”

    Yuki and I held each other close, sobbing gently on the other’s shoulder. Across the water, we saw plumes of billowing smoke drowning out the blue sky. Distant sirens blared. I could barely see the creature wading through the devastated ruins of Miyajimaguchi, its heavy stomps reverberating for miles. But then a tongue of dark smoke curled up to spare me its haunting appearance.

    Somehow, I pulled away from the terrifying sight to see Yuki crawling to the fallen Jizo statue, his hands trembling as he tried lifting it. I slipped my hands over his to help the sculpture—to help us—find the strength to stand again.

     

    Showa Godzilla: It Couldn’t Be Worse

    Story by Anthony Romero

    38 billion yen…

    I’m not a gambling man, in fact I’ve never gambled. …or I guess I had never gambled before. Stocks never felt like gambling to me. I knew there was a risk, but investing in this company after their IPO went so well felt like a no brainer.

    I had invested a lot… I had borrowed a lot. A lot was riding on this. My savings, my mortgage, my wife’s inheritance…. [long pause] Everything was riding on this. But at first it was great, I could see my investment grow quickly. I could see us paying off the house in no time, vacations wherever we wanted, being able to live it up, and all thanks to my smart investments.

    Then came the scandal. CEO misconduct, misreporting of revenue and even illegal practices. The company imploded, almost overnight, and with it their stock. I had gotten the news during an extended business trip to Osaka. Or should say I couldn’t avoid the news. It was everywhere.

    So I tuned it out. Locked myself away in my hotel room… and just started drinking. Trying to forget the pain, all the money I had lost, my failure, and what this meant for my family. I honestly lost myself a bit. Became derelict about my job, or even communicating with anyone in general. Spent a lot of bonding time with that hotel shower, fighting off hangovers.

    [chuckles] …and I remember it clearly. I remember saying to myself as I was wallowing in my room that things couldn’t possibly get worse. Then seconds later, or maybe minutes I’m not sure, is when I heard the sirens. They were distant, I didn’t think anything of them… some emergency test I figured. But then they got louder, they got closer. I realized more sirens were going off.

    Tsunami? That was my first thought. With my splitting hangover I sloppily tossed on my clothes. I opened my front door into the hotel hallway and it was empty… but what was creepy is how many doors were open. There were traces everywhere that people had left in a hurry. I then got back inside and opened my drapes and saw the large, sickening sight of the smoke in the far distance going into the air.

    Was it an earthquake? I then heard helicopters flying very low overhead as they traveled in the direction of where the smoke was originating. My adrenaline was pumping, helping to wash away the pain from my headache, despite the noise from the low flying helicopters making it feel like someone was squeezing my temple. That’s when I saw them. Giant maser tanks making their way down the street. Huge vehicles, I’d honestly never seen one before. They took up both lanes of traffic as they made their slow advance toward the smoke in the distance.

    I started to panic. I knew what this meant.

    I wasn’t thinking straight I will admit, because if I was I probably would have turned on the TV… gotten some information on where to go or where the danger was. Instead I was grabbing a backpack with a laptop inside and really not much else, maybe some oatmeal packets or whatever else I kept in the outside pockets, and rushing out the door. Thinking straight or not, my objective was pretty clear: run in the opposite direction that the masers were going.

    So I rushed down the hotel stairs, and the eerie quiet of my hotel hallway was replaced with sounds of panic at the lobby level. It was chaos. Most had already left the hotel, but a few were still making their way out to the streets where a sea of people were all fleeing in the same direction. I made my way out and joined them, being pushed around as I did.

    I felt like I was swimming out there. That only made my panic worse, all the confusion and feeling trapped in that sea of people all moving in the same direction. Then we heard the explosion. Well we thought it was an explosion, but more likely a fire beam… or atomic fire or whatever the appropriate name for it is. Anyway random people started to scream after that which only made things worse as the pushing intensified. We heard more explosions, this time actual explosions. A lot of them. They were still distant, though, and eventually… they stopped.

    As the panic subsided a little it got quieter, or at least as quiet as a huge group of people moving in a single direction can be. It was then that we felt the tremors. At first it was easy to ignore because we were moving, but then we heard the source: a large stomping sound. A few people started sobbing, others got more aggressive in their pushing. We all realized the danger was real…. Well “real” is a bad word, it was emainate. Much closer than we thought, much closer than I thought when I first saw that billowing cloud of smoke from my hotel window.

    We then heard buildings start to crumble behind us. Some stopped and turned to see the source, but I kept running. Partially because I didn’t want to slow down, partially because I didn’t want to know anymore how close that… thing actually was to us. I then started to really panic: where the hell was I going? I really didn’t know this city that well, and no longer recognized any landmarks. I was too far from my hotel. We then heard a loud roar. I watched as glass windows in the taller buildings quivered.

    Still not wanting to turn around, I figured this was it as my breathing started to get labored from a minor panic attack. That was when suddenly the building to the right of us began to collapse. I had to watch as a few people were crushed by the debris, before avoiding eye contact and fleeing as far away as possible from the falling rubble amongst the mass of people all trying to do the same. It was a sickening sight. Seeing those people crushed. It was also a haunting feeling knowing I survived simply because I happened to be running on one side of the street versus the other.

    The noise, the destruction was unavoidable. It was everywhere. Left, right, straight. It wasn’t clear where safety was, especially as another ray, or fire beam, decimated a building in the distance. The cloud of smoke and dust from the debris being kicked up didn’t help either. Even if I knew the city well I wouldn’t have been able to navigate it anymore.

    We were all running, full panic. You could hear our collective panting, as many were exhausted but didn’t want to stop. Didn’t want to give up. And so we didn’t… How long were we running? Felt like hours, although I’m sure it wasn’t.

    Eventually we noticed the stomping, the roaring, the destruction… it had gotten more distant. This gave us a kind of second wind. Like that… that last burst of energy to run past the finish line in a marathon. And so we ran, and then a few of us, myself included, kind of collapsed.

    I was sitting there, panting, feeling like a lung was going to burst. Covered in dirt, debris and sweat. I tried to decrease my panting, decrease my noise… I just wanted to listen. To confirm that the creature was in fact still moving away from us. He was.

    I don’t know how long I was like that. Eventually ambulances started to arrive. They assessed those in the crowd and grabbed those who appeared the most injured. They got me in the third wave, or at least third wave that I saw. Seems I had a pretty bad gash on one of my legs, probably from when the building fell and debris was flying everywhere. My adrenaline was so high, though, I guess I hadn’t really noticed the pain. Or maybe it had mixed so much with my exhaustion it was hard to separate the two.

    I was then approached by a doctor who, after tending to my wound, asked if there was anyone I needed to call. That kind of snapped me back. Up to that point it was hard not to focus on… the destruction, the need to survive, on… Godzilla.

    Anyway, I told him yes and called my wife on instinct. I wanted to tell her I was okay. I was alright. When I heard her pickup the phone I had that dumb realization that it had been days, days since I talked to her. Since I locked myself up in the hotel room. What was I going to say? Thankfully she talked first, asking “honey is that you?” For a minute I felt relieved, like things were normal and I could tell her I was safe… but she immediately started talking about being declined from a withdrawal from the bank and how that was impossible, especially with the recent inheritance. She related how she spent days with them only to come to the same conclusion: the money was gone. I could tell she was confused, frustrated. I could feel that confusion starting to build into anger as, although she tried to hide it, she suspected this was all because of me. I think she was searching for me to reassure it wasn’t, this was all a misunderstanding… that we weren’t in financial ruin.

    So once more I was face to face with my failure. And then, without even thinking, I just blurted it out: “at least things couldn’t be worse…”

     

    I feel the rumblings getting closer.

    If you witnessed these harrowing events, share your testimonies down below. The world must know what happened here. The human race must know monsters exist and we must be ready to defend ourselves, no matter the cost. I don’t know what Godzilla wants. I don’t even know if it’s possible for Godzilla to be reasoned with. Maybe he’s not the only one that needs reasoning. All we can do now is strive toward a better future.

    This is Steve Martin signing off from Tokyo, Japan.

    Monster Sightings: Godzilla Videos

    “You have your fear, which might become a reality, and you have Godzilla, which is reality.” – Lt. Hideto Ogata (Gojira, 1954)

    General // January 28, 2020
  • Have you ever wanted to experience firsthand what it would be like to try to escape from Godzilla? As fans, I think there are a lot of folks who would love to experience (safely!) an encounter with Godzilla beyond just another video game or even yet another VR experience. People wish they could feel the experience, not just get dizzy with a heavy electronic headset blocking your vision. And that experience was sort of what was promised by Tokyo Mystery Circus in 2018 in their Godzilla-themed escape room.

    Tokyo Mystery Circus is a sort of escape-room indoor theme park in Shinjuku, and opened just in 2017 by escape room pioneers SCRAP. They feature both English-language and Japanese-language escape rooms, as well as “stealth games” and projection map games. As of this writing, some of the escape rooms that are currently running include a Yu-Gi-Oh themed room, a Lupin the 3rd themed game, a Hunter X Hunter themed game, and many more… including an attraction with an English-language option called “Escape from the Toilet of Despair” (I think I have to sign up for that one… it just sounds too wonderfully stupid).

    The Tokyo Mystery Circus building
    The Tokyo Mystery Circus building

    Now I don’t have much experience with escape rooms, but I was always curious about them because growing up I loved solving what my family called “note trails” wherein first my mother would create elaborate puzzles that I had to solve, following a series of clues until I found a gift somewhere around the house or the nearby area. These puzzles were often ciphers or word puzzles and etc, and eventually I started making my own, trying to get more and more creative each time. The fact that folks are now creating their own puzzles on a grander scale within “escape room” puzzles makes me kind of excited. I love it when people use their creativity in such interesting ways to bring regular folks a new and exciting experience, and the fact that here in Japan we got an escape room experience about Godzilla was even better!

    The escape room, called “Shin Godzilla kara no Dashutsu” (Escape from Shin Godzilla), was available for anyone to experience from April of 2018 and continued for a just a few months unfortunately. It was also only available in Japanese, so most kaiju-loving tourists were kind of outta luck.

    The poster of the Godzilla escape room
    The poster of the Godzilla escape room

    I have some Japanese ability, though, and I wanted to give the experience a shot. So I wrangled a friend into going with me, and one weekend we wandered on over to Shinjuku to have the experience. I went with an American friend who, though his Japanese is far better than mine, still does not really possess native-level Japanese, and thus we were in for a pretty big challenge. We arrived and were ushered into a basement area with a series of tables and a décor predominated by red. We then were given booklets similar in shape and size to restaurant menus. These booklets sort of gave background details about the story—Godzilla appears and we have to stop him, basically. The staff were friendly, and they even said they would try to keep things simple so we could understand.

    They also paired us up with a Japanese player. I felt sorry for him immediately.

    Along with our “menu,” we received documents we weren’t allowed to open yet, as well as a big booklet of laminated cheat-sheets if we needed hints to overcome the puzzles, and a box attached to the table had some props inside. We dumb foreigners were not the only ones who got those cheatbooks—every table got them. I guess the idea is that they don’t want you to feel cheated in your experience. They don’t want you to just get stymied and miss out on the experience of half the game or something.

    The packets given to participants of the Godzilla escape room
    The packets given to participants of the Godzilla escape room

    And it’s quite an experience. The staff running the game basically double (or triple) as actors playing various parts in the drama to fight against Godzilla. One lady, for example, seemed to be the daughter of Dr. Serizawa and she was also the commander that we would later report to as we solved puzzles and learned things about Godzilla and his approach.

    That experience started with a narrative/lecture delivered by some of the actors, as well as footage of Godzilla approaching Tokyo. The Godzilla footage featured the Godzilla design from Godzilla Resurgence (2016), albeit I think some of the shots were original—I didn’t recognize some water shots of the fully-formed Godzilla wading towards the shore.

    And then we had to open our envelopes and start doing the puzzles. There were often multiple puzzles to complete at any one time, and so I can’t comment on all of them—I didn’t do all of them. I can’t even clearly remember all of the ones that I did—the process was chaotic as we struggled to blaze through each puzzle as fast as possible (our Japanese partner immediately referred to the cheat sheets over and over again). So I will just give a few highlights to the madness.

    One of the screens showing information about Godzilla's approach
    One of the screens showing information about Godzilla’s approach

    One of the early memorable puzzles was about tracking where Godzilla would be moving across the landscape—his predicted path. We had a big color map, and on separate paper we had images from the map minus key details (such as landmarks and building names) that we had to match to the actual map and then, after finding the matching images, paste transparent stickers with lines embedded in them to indicate the monster’s path, matching the lines together across the map. My explanation kind of sucks, but it was memorable, and after completing the puzzle and getting a check from the staff to make sure we didn’t bungle it, we went into another room to announce to the press (a bunch of staff with cameras and flashing lights) where Godzilla would be attacking.

    And there were a lot of great moments like that. Breaking a code about some part of the nature of Godzilla and reporting it to the female Serizawa (who graciously acted impressed every time), or delivering a bottle of water to a thirsty staff member (who graciously pretended to drink the water every time), or just receiving updates about the monster from the staff and from videos—it was a totally unique experience. The game included some fan-service such as a clue featuring the number “1954.” As I recall, at one point the lights flickered as Godzilla came close to the building. The realization of the situation was excellent and really, really fun… even though I was often really lost as to what was happening.

    Some of the inside of the booklets, plus I think some fake business cards given to us
    Some of the inside of the booklets, plus I think some fake business cards given to us

    But frankly I was pretty dang lost, and there is little chance I could have finished the puzzles without the hapless Japanese guy. The puzzles were sometimes just nigh impossible for my friend and I with our inferior Japanese. If we had been given ample time (that is to say, all day) to complete the puzzles, maybe we would have been fine… but with the tight time frame, it was really freaking hard. Some of the puzzles were language based, such as a kana chart with missing bits you had to put together to find some specific words, or a couple dozen copies of a report and we had to find the mistakes in each copy to spell out a clue (which sounds much harder than it was). There were a few times when, even with the help of our Japanese partner, we just took too long and the staff of Tokyo Mystery Circus dropped by to help us out. This particular game must be completed all the way through, and you don’t know if you lost until the very end.

    The conclusion of the game dealt with placing a bomb and chemicals to take out Godzilla around Shinjuku as a trap. We had to consider the best places to position the equipment to get the electricity where it needed and the bomb where it could do the most damage to Godzilla by placing overlays on a map of Shinjuku—kind of similar to the previous map activity. It was really tricky, though, working through all the vague hints and placing the equipment for the final trap. Only ONE of the tables actually guessed everything right, and I am not sure how they did. To actually win, not only did you have to put the overlays on the right places for the trap to go off, but the bomb had to be placed in an area not clearly marked on the map—as I recall it had to be placed in an elevator in the very room where we were playing the game.

    I would be lying if I said I knew why.

    I don’t know why.

    Neither do I know how the one team knew the answer. I wondered if they had played the game several times previously.

    Anyway, our team utterly failed. Personally, though I was really confused, I had a good time. And after the event was over, there was yet more to experience in the café and goods area. The café had several Godzilla-themed foods. I was tempted to try all of them, though it would be too much on my poor stomach probably and my friend wasn’t interested so I didn’t want to force him to stick around all afternoon. So I picked the most ridiculous Godzilla treat I could find at the café—a big flavored ice treat (chocolate) with big googly eyes that was apparently supposed to look kind of Godzilla-ish. It tasted pretty good, but I felt pressure to eat it quickly.

    My friend and I posing after we failed. The sign says "Escape Failed" in Japanese.
    My friend and I posing after we failed. The sign says “Escape Failed” in Japanese.

    Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to avoid one of the most embarrassing incidents that has happened to me in Japan. To give context, you have to picture this café with lots of small tables and chairs jam-packed together. It was difficult to find a place to sit or stand because there were too many chairs and such, and they were too close together. Also, you have to understand in Japan very frequently Japanese people will reserve a chair or a table by putting something on those tables and chairs—even sometimes very valuable things, such as their bags. Then they go and purchase something and have a seat to return to.

    Some lady had reserved a seat at one of the tables with her purse. I was awkwardly standing nearby, trying to eat the Godzilla ice and feeling crammed in. Suddenly the ice of the Godzilla treat collapsed a bit and parts of the flavored ice splattered across the woman’s purse and on the table.

    And I just stood there mortified.

    I didn’t know what to do. Run? Clean up the table and purse? Just wait and apologize? I couldn’t just leave—my conscience wouldn’t allow it. And I didn’t want to clean up her purse for fear she might thing I was trying to steal from her. So I waited for her to return so I could apologize to her.

    Those few minutes were truly agonizing. I felt so bad. The woman was gracious, but my friend was convinced she was really ticked off. She didn’t stay at her table that she had reserved, if that is any evidence!

    Also while I was at Tokyo Mystery Circus, I also bought three sets of Godzilla puzzles which, together, apparently complete something, like maybe a secret message. I am not sure, I haven’t done the puzzles yet, but I am curious to play with them in the near future.

    The Godzilla escape room experience was very memorable and fun. I love the space was developed by people passionate about Godzilla and about customer service, and the puzzles were top notch and fun. The main downside was the cramped and uncomfortable café. And I wish the escape room was open year round! Definitely one of the more unique experiences I have had in Japan!

    The Godzilla snack... before it collapsed onto a stranger's purse.
    The Godzilla snack… before it collapsed onto a stranger’s purse.

    General // December 7, 2019