General

  • When pre-production began on 1984’s The Return of Godzilla, director Koji Hashimoto gathered a team of experts to lend a sense of authenticity to his film. Like Ishiro Honda, under whom he’d worked in the ‘60s, Hashimoto approached his task seriously, wanting to show modern-day Japan responding to an extraordinary situation, and to keep the science fiction elements—fantastic as they weresomewhat in the realm of plausibility. To achieve this, a military analyst was hired to calculate the orbit of satellites equipped to carry nuclear weapons; a journalist provided feedback regarding media reactions; and after science fiction writer Ryuichi Kodama1 suggested using magnetism to lure Godzilla, geophysicist Hitoshi Takeuchi proposed a few locations where the monster could be trapped. The staff considered finales set at Mount Fuji and the Fossa Magna before ultimately deciding on Mount Mihara, the infamous stratovolcano of Izu Oshima Island.2

    Exquisitely photographed and propelled by Reijiro Koroku’s outstanding score, the picture generates rightly earned sympathy when Godzilla—“that strangely innocent and tragic monster,” as so eloquently described in the film’s American re-edit—becomes trapped in the volcano and plunges into the molten rock below.3 At the time of the film’s release, director Hashimoto stated that a sequel was possible; though based on his exact verbiage, it would appear Toho had no concrete plans while the ‘84 film was in immediate circulation.4 This was the first Godzilla movie in nine years and the first to be marketed for general audiences since 1968’s Destroy All Monsters.5 Given that context, some speculated Godzilla would remain in Mount Mihara6: imprisoned on an island which, in centuries past, had been designated for banishing exiles. And inside a volcano with a long history related to death.

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    General // September 17, 2020
  • Edits, additions and replacements. Toho’s large catalogue of films have sometimes been released untouched for the international markets, and other times have been hacked up almost beyond recognition. This article focuses on the rarely talked about musical component of this process, and looks to cite where music was inserted into a Toho film from an outside source when brought overseas. (more…)

    General // September 8, 2020
  • Updates have stalled for Godzilla: Defense Force, meaning the state of the current game will likely reflect the final state of the title. As a result, we are ready to present our last tier list for the mobile game, a much delayed Godzilla: Defense Force artifact tier list.

    This is arguably the most important tier list. While all artifacts are beneficial, as they all boost attack by +25% and have an added effect, the game is setup so that players won’t get them all. This is because of the scaling costs, which make it harder and harder to get the next artifact. Consequently, players should expect to get 18-20 artifacts out of a total of 23. This means players need to prioritize their artifacts, deciding which ones to keep and which ones to invest in through upgrading. The sooner the player makes this decision the better, as investing in artifacts makes them more expensive to deconstruct to try and get a new one. This can be unfairly punishing as for example it can cost 5,000 X-nium to deconstruct a level 25 artifact.
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    General // August 25, 2020
  • One good way to befriend a Godzilla fan is by asking them, “What was your first Godzilla film?” For years, I’ve always said Godzilla 1985. A few years later, I started to respond back with The Return of Godzilla (1984), the superior Japanese version of the same film. It’d be even longer before I realized that Bambi Meets Godzilla was technically my first Godzilla movie, as it preceded Godzilla 1985 on my VHS copy. (more…)

    General // August 9, 2020
  • It was always a dream to visit Japan. After spending years watching Japanese icons like Godzilla, Gamera, and Ultraman, the chance to roam around the very land that played a crucial part in enriching my childhood was something I had to do. In the summer of 2019, my dream came true, and it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. But something happened there that I was not truly prepared for. (more…)

    General // August 5, 2020
  • In the early months of 1969, actress Hideko Takamine journeyed to the home of film director Mikio Naruse, with whom she’d made seventeen movies over the course of twenty-five years. Naruse had been fighting a losing battle with cancer for some time and had recently decided not to be hospitalized again. Perhaps realizing her chances to say goodbye were running out, Takamine paid him a visit and was surprised to find the director talkative and cheery, forthcoming and humorous—the total opposite of the shy, reticent person who’d made such gems as Floating Clouds (1955), When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960), and Lonely Lane (1962).

    In thinking back on their time working together, Takamine wrote, “[Naruse] was a person whose refusal to talk was downright malicious. Even during the shooting of a picture, he would never say if something was good or bad, interesting or trite. He was a completely unresponsive director [and] there was never an instance in which he gave me any acting instructions.” Another frequent star in these films, Tatsuya Nakadai, had the same experience, saying, “He was the most difficult director I ever worked for. He never said a word. A real nihilist.” On the set of Untamed in 1957, Takamine finally mustered the courage to ask Naruse for guidance on how to play her character, to which he just answered: “It’ll be over before you know it.”

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    General // July 26, 2020
  • On June 30, 2020, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the same organization behind the Oscars) announced through their website their plans to extend “invitations to join the organization to 819 artists and executives who have distinguished themselves by their contributions to theatrical motion pictures.” Among the invitees was composer Michiru Oshima, whom fans of this website know for writing the music of Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000), Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (2002), and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003).

    In a 2016 interview with site owner Anthony Romero, Oshima recalled how she had not seen a Godzilla film prior to Megaguirus and how she avoided listening to past kaiju scores even after getting the job. “I wanted to bring out the originality [and] create music without any preconceptions,” she explained. The results were a trio of outstanding scores with an aesthetic of their own—led by a distinctive, drum-heavy theme for the King of the Monsters—fittingly applied to three pictures that themselves were very much alike on a number of fronts. Oshima’s Godzilla music continues to rank with the most popular in the franchise, and deservedly so. 

    Which is not to say her achievements in film scoring are limited to those three movies; for throughout her career, Michiru Oshima has continually turned out high quality music acclimating different genres. Example: when I looked up the composer’s name in the Academy’s announcement, I was particularly happy to see they’d included the 1997 romantic tragedy Lost Paradise (or Paradise Lost, as it’s labeled on its OST case) as a sample of her work. Her somber score for that film comprises some of the most hauntingly beautiful music I’ve ever heard in a motion picture; and I was overjoyed to learn via Anthony’s interview that she considers it one of her favorites.

    Lost Paradise was the first of ten pictures Oshima scored for Yoshimitsu Morita, a director of tremendous diversity whose every project was unlike what he’d made before, jumping between dark comedies, horror pictures, period dramas, even a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro (1962). And just as his films tended to be drastically different from one another, the music Oshima wrote for him appropriately exhibited a new mood and aesthetic each time, as well: relentlessly solemn in Lost Paradise; quirky and atmospheric in Copycat Killer (2002); quirky and amusing in Like Asura (2003); energetic and spectacular in Tsubaki Sanjuro (2007); playful in The Mamiya Brothers (2006); and so on. Their collaborations continued up through Morita’s last film, Take the “A” Train (2012), which went to theaters a few months after his death in December 2011. One can only imagine what else they might’ve done together had he lived a little longer….

    Needless to say, Oshima has turned out exemplary work for other filmmakers. Seijun Suzuki’s musical Princess Raccoon (2005); Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s Memories of Tomorrow (2006), starring Ken Watanabe as a man suffering from an early onset of Alzheimer’s; Isshin Inudo’s mother-daughter tearjerker Bizan: The Mountain of Mother’s Love (2007), for which Oshima won a Japanese Academy Prize. I could keep listing examples—her music for animation; the number of Chinese films she’s scored—but any composer with such an extraordinary output spanning so many genres and styles, I feel, is more than worthy of cross-continental recognition.

    One last bit of music-related news. In Chicago last July, Oshima co-conducted a concert for an international crowd of music and genre fans called Kaiju Crescendo: An Evening of Japanese Monster Music. For this event, she herself wielded a baton, conducting suites of her three Godzilla scores—the first time her genre music had ever been performed live—and then premiered Godzilla in Chicago, an original piece written specifically for that night and written around a narrative the composer herself had devised.

    “We went over the printed score together,” concert producer and emcee Erik Homenick told Toho Kingdom, “and she explained to me what the various parts of the music represented in this original Godzilla story of her own invention: Godzilla emerges from Lake Michigan and subsequently grapples with a legendary lake monster before laying waste to downtown Chicago. It was a great deal of fun to recount this fanciful story to the audience before Miss Oshima thrilled all of us with the world premiere performance of Godzilla in Chicago.”

    The author of this news article was front-row center for the whole evening and cannot encourage people more heartily to pick up the CD or buy the digital download when they become available in the near future. And for a more personal congratulations of Oshima’s invitation from the Academy, I’d like to offer this closing testimony from her Kaiju Crescendo co-conductor, John DeSentis. “I cannot state enough how deserving Michiru is of this honor. She is a composer of colossal musical talent with a wonderful heart to match it. Congratulations, Michiru!”

    Michiru Oshima at Kaiju Crescendo in July 2019.
    Image Courtesy of Len Medlock

    General // July 18, 2020
  • Not long after the release of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai in 1954—during which it sold more tickets than any other Toho-produced film that year and ranked at #3 on Kinema Junpo’s annual “Best Ten” list1—Toho began searching for an international market for this extraordinary film about poor farmers hiring samurai to defend their village.

    Questioning whether a 207-minute subtitled film would sell in the Occident, the studio opted to cut the picture down to 155 minutes before submitting it to the Venice International Film Festival in September 1954. There it won the Silver Lion Prize but nonetheless went home without a distributor. Kurosawa wasn’t shocked, as he recalled the studio edits had done catastrophic damage to the movie’s first half, resulting in a confused narrative that didn’t pick up until the more action-heavy second half, which had only been slightly trimmed.2 The film eventually opened at New York’s Guild Theater in late 1956, after having been re-edited again (this time to 160 minutes), and was exhibited under a new title, The Magnificent Seven. And this was the title United Artists/The Mirsch Company decided to use when they remade the Japanese film as a two-hour western in 1960.

    Directed by John Sturges, colorful and entertaining, with one of the most memorable film scores in cinema history, The Magnificent Seven has rightly earned its place as a minor classic, spawning three sequels, a television series, and a remake of its own in 2016. Many of those involved in the 1960 film worked with sheer veneration for Kurosawa’s original. Supporting actor James Coburn recalled seeing Seven Samurai twelve times in twelve days, taking everyone he knew to see it in the process. Leading man Yul Brynner, who’d been one of many parties racing to get remake rights of Kurosawa’s film, stated: “I felt it was one of the great westerns of all time, only it was made by the Japanese in the Japanese idiom.”3 And director Sturges, while fully aware that he was copying another filmmaker’s story, at no point pretended he could surpass the majesty of the original. The immense popularity of both movies has only flourished in the years since, overshadowing the legal trouble that arose in their wake.

    Hashimoto, Kurosawa, Oguni

    The writers of Seven Samurai (1954)
    Left to right: Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni.

    In 1973, Kurosawa and his co-screenwriters on Seven Samurai—Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni—filed a lawsuit against Toho, arguing that the American remake (and its sequels) had been improperly authorized. Their complaint was based on the fact that they’d written the screenplay of Seven Samurai independent of Toho, and that the studio had merely produced the 1954 film; therefore the script was the writers’ intellectual property and Toho was not in a position to approve any third-party remakes without their consent. The Tokyo District Court agreed with the plaintiffs, determining in 1978 that Toho had signed a “one-picture license” with no remake/sequel rights included.4 For this, Kurosawa, Hashimoto, and Oguni were granted a sizable portion of the money Toho acquired through their deal with United Artists.

    This would not be the end of the legal scuffles. In 1991, a few years before moving ahead with the television series version of The Magnificent Seven, MGM (having taken over copyright ownership from United Artists) brought a lawsuit of their own against Toho and Kurosawa’s production company, arguing they still had the rights to produce remakes and sequels to Sturges’ 1960 film. Kurosawa countersued, and the dispute was eventually settled out of court in 1993. Toho ended up paying $50,000 to MGM, and new rules were set regarding ownership. Per the new agreement, Kurosawa and his fellow screenwriters retained ownership of their script; Toho retained ownership of Seven Samurai the 1954 movie; MGM retained ownership of The Magnificent Seven and its franchise; and the American studio also retained the right to continue producing remakes/sequels “but only in the Western genre.”5

    Any other Seven Samurai remakes would have to be cleared through Kurosawa and his screenwriters (and apparently nowadays through the heirs of Kurosawa Production, who’d authorized another remake to be produced by The Weinstein Company, with a director and a writer attached by 2011;6 that project, it would seem, has faded into oblivion).

    As for the Japanese screenwriters and their views on the 1960 The Magnificent Seven. Kurosawa called it “entertaining”7 and was by all accounts very amiable with John Sturges when they met;8 however, he disputed that Sturges’ western was a true version of his film. In 1980, speaking about all the times Occidental filmmakers remade his period films as westerns, he remarked, “Gunslingers are not samurai.”9 Shinobu Hashimoto claimed never to have watched The Magnificent Seven. And Hideo Oguni recalled only the time he met Yul Brynner on a return flight from Paris, during which Brynner gave him a bottle of Napoleon brandy as a souvenir.10

     


     

      1. Galbraith, Stuart, IV. The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. New York: Faber & Faber, 2002, p. 190. The magazine’s #1 and #2 spots were respectively occupied by The Twenty-Four Eyes and The Garden of Women, both directed by Keisuke Kinoshita.
      2. Kurosawa Akira. Translated by Donald Richie. Seven Samurai and Other Screenplays. New York: Faber & Faber, 1992, p. 67
      3. Guns for Hire: The Making of The Magnificent Seven. October Films, 2000.
      4. Cox, Dan. “MGM, Kurosawa Settle ‘Seven.’” Variety, 12 January 1994.
      5. Galbraith, p. 196
      6. “Helmer Rolls a Seven.” Variety, 4 May 2011.
      7. Cardullo, Bert (ed.) Akira Kurosawa Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008, p. 42
      8. A popular story goes that Kurosawa gave Sturges a samurai sword as a gift after seeing The Magnificent Seven. Sturges biographer Glenn Lovell repeats this story in his book, additionally claiming the American director’s present also included a kabuki doll. Source: Lovell, Glenn. Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. Kindle edition.
      9. Waggoner, Dianna. “In Homage to the Master, George Lucas and Francis Coppola Unleash Their Clout for Kurosawa.” People, 27 October 1980.
      10. Galbraith, p. 195
    General // June 27, 2020
  • One of the main attractions of collecting old movies is to find forgotten gems where your favorite actors or directors worked on. In the case of Toho, I am especially a fan of the works of directors Kihachi Okamoto, Ishiro Honda and Senkichi Taniguchi, to cite a few. One actor who worked for all three was Toshiro Mifune, whose acting career spanned 48 years, from Snow Trail (1947) to Deep River (1995). (more…)

    General // April 28, 2020
  • Spanning a legacy of over 60 years, Godzilla has seen just as many changes to his design as he has seen movie appearances. From the most subtle details on the suits to the Japanese names and meanings behind them, Godzilla: Through the Ages will take an in-depth look at the many iterations of the famous monster. (more…)

    General // April 12, 2020