Movie Reviews

  • 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.

    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
  • H-Man was one of the steadily dwindling number of classic Toho sci-fi films that, for years, languished in relative obscurity in America due to an out-of-print video release and—let’s be honest—the sheer fact that Godzilla never shows up in the plot. A member of the so-called “mutant” films, wherein the primary monsters are the size of humans instead of skyscrapers, H-Man further distinguishes itself from the average Toho creature feature with its noir-ish ambiance and crime-thriller flavor. On a sheer plotting and technical level, this might be the best of the mutant series I’ve seen so far. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // December 16, 2009
  • The Human Vapour is notable to kaiju-philes for a number of reasons. Directed by legendary Godzilla guru Ishiro Honda, yet still relatively unknown to many monster lovers in the States, The Human Vapour was one of a number of human-sized creature films released by Toho that are often termed the “mutant series.” The Toho mutant films include such works of note as the ultra-rare Invisible Man from 1954, the banned Half Human (1955), and the adventure extravaganza Latitude Zero (1969). With special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya and a story by frequent Godzilla-and-company scribe Takeshi Kimura, one would expect The Human Vapor might have more of an international following, but the film has languished in relative obscurity. There might be a good reason for that… (more…)

    Movie Reviews // June 23, 2009
  • It was well over a decade ago when I first viewed Godzilla vs. Gigan. To my young eyes, that movie was just plain magical. It was my first exposure to King Ghidorah, and the beginning of my fondness for Anguirus (called Angilas in this dub). I used to watch this movie until my eyes were raw, and so many years later, I still watch the exact same VHS that I was given when I was 7 or 8 years old (say what you will, a well-made tape will last). Even though I see more flaws here and there now, I still can’t help but have fun watching the film that kept my gaze for an infinite number of weekends and Summer vacations back in the early 90’s. Godzilla vs. Gigan is a triumph, perhaps not in a critical sense or in a big-time production sense, but instead in it’s indefinable charm that doesn’t seem to go away, even with age. And yes, I still go wild during the monster-talk scenes. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // July 8, 2006
  • For starters, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah was once my favorite Godzilla movie. I don’t think I’ve outgrown this kind of film; I’m still a fan of many bizarre kaiju flicks. But I think the initial awe at the origin plot, time travel, and the updated Ghidorah and Godzilla has just worn off with time, and the fundamental flaws of the film are far more visible now. The sub par acting, poor character development, and special effects blemishes have become more obvious. Also, the Americanization of the film is saturated with terrible dubbing. These negative aspects do not, however, detract from the positives of the film: the triumphant return of Akira Ifukube and the raw innovation of a back-to-Showa, kitschy plot. However, the storyline did create a swiss cheese continuum of eye-brow raising “huh, wait…?” moments with the paradoxical time travel aspect. Nevertheless, the film is light-years from a disaster, and it was a substantial box-office success. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // July 6, 2006