Movie Reviews

  • Although we here at Toho Kingdom tend to focus a great deal of our energy on the tokusatsu output of Toho studios, given that Toho is one of the biggest movie studios in Japan, they also are responsible for just scads of anime films of many stripes and colors–some of which get relatively little attention Stateside… and some of which have made massive waves and big bucks around the world. Here are my recent impressions of a number of these films which I personally had the opportunity to watch in movie theaters within the last six or so months. If you have also had a chance to watch any of these movies, share your thoughts below! (more…)

    Movie Reviews // June 11, 2021
  • I’ll be honest, Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) left me disappointed and apathetic toward the future of the MonsterVerse. As a result, I didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for Godzilla vs. Kong (2021). To be fair, when the trailer hit I was definitely energized, but I had also thought the 2019 Godzilla film had an excellent trailer as well. So, I probably wasn’t alone in approaching the latest Godzilla and Kong movie with cautious optimism. Thankfully, I can say that Godzilla vs. Kong exceeded my expectations, adding another solid entry to the franchise. The film has its flaws, particularly from the characters and the way the plot is divided. The pacing, action and effects, though, are enough to create something that’s solid popcorn entertainment and worth revisiting. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // May 17, 2021
  • Godzilla & Kong. A titanic pairing not on the big screen together in nearly sixty years returns with a climactic clash available in theaters and the comfort of your own home. Does Adam Wingard’s vision for Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) succeed in capturing the spirit of the 1962 original? I’d say it does and even exceeds expectations in a few areas but not without a few stumbles.

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    Movie Reviews // May 4, 2021
  • Over the last few years, I was teaching a class I called Japan and World Cinema, and in that class I introduced to my students many movies from around the world based on Japanese cultural properties while examining issues like Japanese stereotypes, yellow-face, whitewashing, etc—as well as just looking at how different countries and their particular cultural outlook might affect how a story is told. I made it a point last year in this class to delve deeper into movies based on Japanese video games, and thus caught up on the Street Fighter movies, the Silent Hill films, and even lesser-known fare such as the (very, very bad) King of Fighters film and Tekken: Kazuya’s Revenge (also terrible). Unfortunately, most movies based on Japanese video games (or rather video games in general) tend to be quite poor, with weak stories, cheesy special effects, and an insulting slapdash quality to them. Still, recent entries like Detective Pikachu (which I reviewed) and Sonic the Hedgehog have garnered some level of financial and critical success, combining some impressive special effects with charming (if still somewhat pedestrian) plots. While I was not ecstatic about either of the above films, I enjoyed each for what they were—the Pokemon film obviously had a lot of love and care put into its fantasy world and characters, and the Sonic film showed an astonishing degree of humility and a sense of responsibility towards the fanbase when the studio actually caved-in to fan demands calling for the Sonic design to be reworked. There was, then, reason to hold onto some hope for a higher level of quality in video game adaptations moving forward based on these successes.

    Then along came Monster Hunter, and much of that hope was dashed. The film was released in the USA back in December of 2020, but not here in Japan until March 26, 2021, so I was well aware of its negative reputation before I had my chance to see it. And, even though I can say that the film has its charms, the bad reputation is deserved.

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    Movie Reviews // April 24, 2021
  • Released in 1958, Toho gives another shot at something topical for their science fiction inspiration. In this case, the subject is once more the March 1954 incident around the “Lucky Dragon” (Daigo Fukuryu Maru – 第五福龍丸). This is where the fishing vessel ended up being too close to a nuclear test site, despite being in a designated “safe” area. The radioactive fallout caused symptoms of radiation poisoning in the 23 crew-members, with one passing away as a result. The incident sparked news coverage and anger that led to the creation of an anti-nuclear movement in Japan. Famously, Toho tied aspects of the March incident to the original Godzilla (1954), with scenes that hit close to home for Japanese viewers of survivors later succumbing to the effects of radiation poisoning after encountering Godzilla at sea. For this 1958 movie, the company took things a step further, producing a film that’s much more overt in its topical inspiration. The end result by director Ishiro Honda is one of his better movies, something that works as a horror film mixed with a crime drama that takes the subject matter seriously while being aided by great special effects. It does falter though from especially weak characters in the narrative, which stop the movie from reaching its true potential.
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    Movie Reviews // July 3, 2020
  • Although superheroes are often considered a particularly American creation what with Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man originating from the land of red, white, and blue, superheroes have appeared in comics and other media all over the world, from Mars Ravelo’s comic universe in the Philippines to Super Inframan in China to the masked wrestlers of Mexico. Japan, too, has become well-known for their slate of superheroes, and indeed, with Golden Bat, Japan arguably created the first comic book super hero, having appeared in the paper theater kamishibai well before Superman debuted in 1939. Of course Japan has had many superheroes since then, including such notables as Ultraman, Kamen Rider, and the Super Sentai series, but more recently a super hero series largely inspired by Western hero trends—the My Hero Academia franchise, which started as a serialized manga in the Weekly Shonen Jump manga magazine, and blossomed out into an animated television show, movies, and more. The particular focus of today’s review is the second My Hero Academia movie, My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising, which was released in 2019 in Japan and is receiving a run in theaters in the USA courtesy of Funimation Studios. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // April 15, 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! (more…)

    Movie Reviews // February 9, 2020
  • One of my favorite moments in Ishiro Honda’s All Monsters Attack is actually a small one focused upon a character we rarely see. It occurs about five minutes in. A railroad engineer played by that wonderful actor Kenji Sahara sits down next to his train for a smoke break with a co-worker. His fellow engineer concernedly asks him if he’s noticed anything out of the ordinary with his son. They live and work in Kawasaki (one of the most heavily polluted cities in late-60s Japan), and the co-worker’s wondering if the boy’s coming down with asthma. But Sahara’s worried about something else entirely. His son is very shy, reluctant to come out of his shell—a problem no doubt amplified by the fact that he spends most of his afternoons and evenings in complete loneliness. The father is well aware of his son’s plight, but there’s little he or his wife can do about the matter. Extreme poverty, a consequence brought about by Japan’s postwar economic miracle, has forced both parents to take up long hours of work, even though their combined pay only permits them to scrape by with a tiny, cramped apartment in a dilapidated neighborhood. (Sahara admits he’s been saving money to relocate the family, but such a day is long into the future.) When the fellow engineer, reading the newspaper, mentions police have uncovered a getaway car used in a robbery, the impoverished father looks into the distance and comments on the stolen loot—fifty million yen—almost as though secretly envious of the massive amount of cash the thieves acquired. The dialogue is trim and economical, never too explanatory, with Sahara’s humanistic expressions deepening every line. Within these few minutes, he creates a character who, frankly, could have held the lead role in his own movie. Best of all: this is but a minor moment in a lovingly detailed, thoughtful film empowered with a fine streak of social commentary. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // April 15, 2017
  • It’s been ten years since we last saw a new Godzilla film. That’s the longest gap the franchise has ever experienced, topping the nine year gap after Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975). Expectations were high for the American film to follow. Rock solid marketing for Godzilla (2014) placed expectations even higher. The acting pedigree involved and interviews stating that the cast should treat this like an Oscar aimed “pet project” told us we had a totally different beast than what the blockbuster genre was used to. Ultimately, though, what we got was a bait and switch. Something that was sure to disappoint some moviegoers due to those expectations, but one that also succeeds on the grounds of the film it actually is, even if that is closer to the blockbuster genre we are familiar with after all. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // June 1, 2014
  • Toho sure loves its alien invasion stories. Godzilla has played inhospitable host to sundry extraterrestrial malcontents, in one form or another, at least ten times in his films alone. Outside of the G-series, aliens have also invaded in such planet-clashing notables such as Dogora (1964), The Mysterians (1957), The War in Space (1977) and Returner (2002). These examples don’t even include the many animated films Toho has distributed, such as the infamously hard-to-find (but critically extolled) Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love? All great cinematic trends, however, must have a beginning—even trends with as dubious a track record as this one. One of the earliest alien invasion flicks to come out of Japan was the pseudo-sequel to The Mysterians (1957), Battle in Outer Space (or BIOS). Neither movie reached Godzilla-level fame, but while The Mysterians (1957) is fondly remembered (mostly due to the popular inclusion of Moguera), the more ambitious BIOS has been largely forgotten, reaching an obscurity in America roughly equal to that of say, Gorath (1962). This is the price a Toho classic sci-fi pays when it doesn’t toss in a giant kaiju—enormous edited-out walruses notwithstanding. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // December 17, 2009