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In regards to one opinion on the late Japanese special effects director Koichi Kawakita there is no disagreement: he was a man of repetition. He started directing effects for television and feature-length motion pictures in the early-to-mid 1970s and following the departure of Teruyoshi Nakano about a decade later became Toho’s go-to man for visual effects. It did not take him long to adequately declare his style. A style that continues to draw a fair amount of criticism. Simply put: some feel Kawakita was too redundant in the way he would stage and dramatize effects sequences.
It’s a fair criticism. No matter my personal affection for the man’s work, I will not deny Kawakita liked to fall back on the same tricks again and again. The depiction of giant monsters who, for the most part, discarded physical combat in favor of constantly spraying animated rays at one another—beam wars—did feel superfluous toward the end of the Heisei series. And as much as it played into the fantasy element, one does wonder if the effects team was capable of dramatizing a film without one or more of the monsters changing shape and form: something that happened, without exception, in all six of Kawakita’s Godzilla movies as well as the first two Rebirth of Mothra films. (The trend continued in 1998’s Rebirth of Mothra III under the care of former assistant Kenji Suzuki.)
I will concede Kawakita was repetitive to a fault. However, there were instances in his films where I’d argue returning to familiar territory was not only welcome but, in a sense, justified. For Kawakita had the capacity to improve his technique with practice. Sometimes a second attempt at a particular effects trick or scenario would completely dominate and make up for a disappointing first try.
Sometimes being repetitive paid off.
1. Volcanic Eruptions
Godzilla’s grand appearance out of an erupting volcano in Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) is a prime example. The pyrotechnics in this scene are efficient but could have done more. The eruption, which is supposed to have been set off by terrorist-planted explosives, produces little more than sparks and a couple localized columns of flame. (Teruyoshi Nakano would have insisted on more dynamic explosions and lighting.) As is, much of the scene’s effectiveness stems from the impressive appearance and filming of the monster costume in action, aided by the inclusion of Akira Ifukube‘s classic Godzilla theme on the soundtrack. It is a very good sequence overall, but one which probably should have upped the spectacle.
A great display of special effects, one that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Kawakita’s second chance came three years later with Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), and this time he did not disappoint. Seen on the above image on the right, the mid-movie eruption, with Godzilla emerging from the famous Mount Fuji, is a masterful tour de force of camerawork, lighting, and pyrotechnics. All coming together and forming a genuine highlight. By staging the scene at night (as opposed to its daytime counterpart in Godzilla vs. Biollante), Kawakita could take full advantage of dynamic, colorful lights. The crimson glow cast upon—sometimes silhouetting—Godzilla makes for sheer eye candy that would not have been possible under a sunny sky. Compositional tricks come into play as well. At key points, the camera shakes—not to distort the imagery but to enhance the illusion of the earth undergoing a tumultuous eruption. And the combination of explosions, smoke, and fountains of sparks outshine any previous volcano-set scene in the franchise; the brilliant touch of electrical disturbances (a phenomenon caused by volcanic activity in real life) makes the scene even more amazing to behold. There also comes a shot in which Kawakita succeeds where many other special effects directors have struggled: filming the Godzilla costume from a high angle without losing the sense of scale.
2. Godzilla’s Nuclear Pulse
This second point concerns not so much the physical (or optical) execution of special effects but rather the editing of them. Editing is an absolutely fundamental part of filmmaking, so I feel it is very much worth drawing attention to. Let’s consider another first attempt in Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989). It is during the final battle of this film that we are introduced to Godzilla’s nuclear pulse: when the monster attempts to charge his atomic breath as something wraps around his neck or torso and he discharges all the energy outward from his body in the form of a shock wave, devastating anything within close proximity. It’s a brilliant concept and something new for the monster’s arsenal. It’s also plausible, in the parameters of this universe, that something preventing Godzilla from discharging his heat-ray would result in a chain reaction.
However, in Godzilla vs. Biollante, the editing of this special effect feels rushed and incomplete. All due to a single truncated shot. The key shot of one of Biollante’s tendrils constricting around Godzilla’s torso cuts off much too early for its own good. And the good of what happens next. Had the camera been allowed to linger long enough for us to see the tendril complete its motion and tighten its grip around Godzilla’s body (giving us some visual emphasis), the illusion would have been better sustained. But since the most important shot ends before it can really make its point, it all comes across more as a clumsy moment than a breathtaking battle technique.
But Kawakita learned from his mistake and made sure not to repeat it when he returned to the nuclear pulse in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991). During the first battle sequence, a fallen King Ghidorah lunges up from the ground, collides head-on into a perplexed Godzilla, and coils his middle neck around the adversary’s neck like a giant golden python. Godzilla writhes his head about and futilely claws at Ghidorah in wide shots, unable to break free. A little later, foam starts bubbling from his maw, accompanied by agonized gurgles. The extended amount of time spent on this buildup and the brilliant use of Foley allows the audience to viscerally feel and understand that Godzilla is unable to breathe or use his heat ray.
What’s more: by drawing things out, Kawakita builds suspense. For the second time in the course of this battle, Godzilla appears to be on the losing end. And it is therefore all the more spectacular—and dramatic—when Godzilla’s body starts emitting patches of blue light and the shock wave casts outward, tearing King Ghidorah away and hurling the dragon-like monster onto its back with a thunderous crash. The payoff is heightened thanks to the tension.
In future entries, Kawakita employed the nuclear pulse mostly for aesthetics. (Godzilla used it without something cutting off his energy charge; although it could be argued the regular use of the nuclear pulse in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) reflects his constantly increasing power.) Nonetheless, in Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992) and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, Kawakita makes sure the shock waves occur in well-paced and unobstructed wide shots so that the audience is not left scratching their heads, wondering what just happened.
Very much like the films they appeared in, Kawakita’s effects are often credited with eradicating monster anthropomorphization: no longer did the skyscraper-sized beasts toss rocks at each other, perform bounding dances of victory, homage Yuzo Kayama with nose-scratches, etc. Kawakita’s 90s effects helped prove Japanese monsters could be straight-forward again; they also proved, however, that improvements in technology did not always yield improvements in believability.
As certain effects in Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992) vividly demonstrated.
The Mothra larvae in the 1992 box office smash leaves a lot to be desired. Despite retaining a segmented exoskeleton, the creature, when in motion, mostly slides across the ground rather than undulating the various parts of its body like a real caterpillar would. There is very little sense of it moving under its own power. (Too many close-ups revealing its completely inert legs only amplify the damage.) There is some mobility in the head while it “crawls,” but not enough to 1) maintain the illusion and 2) believably match the speed at which the model is moving. And this is a significant downgrade considering the degree of fluctuating movement Eiji Tsuburaya and Sadamasa Arikawa evoked from their Mothra larvae all through the 1960s. In spite of the resources, Kawakita’s attempt was a step down.
That is, until he took another stab at the character.
For the prop utilized in the first Rebirth of Mothra (1996) is not only a vast upgrade; it is arguably the best depiction of Mothra’s infant stage to date. Equipped with far superior capacities for movement, the prop undulates in a completely smooth and lifelike manner that surpasses even the work of Tsuburaya. A nice touch: as the larvae crawls, the rounded segments of its exoskeleton separate very slightly, organic tissue underneath.
Kawakita further redeems himself by pulling off other complicated tricks. At one point in the mid-movie battle with Desghidorah, the larvae is hurled against the ground, lands partially on its side, rights itself, and proceeds to crawl for cover. The performance is superb, conveying intelligence and survival instincts; and each movement—the fall, the regaining of balance, the escape—is carried out immaculately. Kawakita has once again proven his ability to improve with a second try.
The same can be said to a somewhat lesser degree about his adult Mothra puppetry. Kawakita never fully mastered winged monsters; although, to his credit, very few special effects directors since the Tsuburaya years have been able to pull off this illusion in a convincing manner; and the imago Mothra in Godzilla vs. Mothra suffered similar problems as its larval stage. Stiff movement. The wings rarely flapped enough to make the audience believe it could really fly, and until the end of the final battle, its six legs did nothing more than hang in a fixed position from the body. Another significant downgrade, performance-wise, from Eiji Tsuburaya’s absolutely masterful work several decades prior.
However, returning to Rebirth of Mothra, even though Kawakita still failed to match his former master, he did display some moments of personal growth. There are numerous shots of Mothra flying in which her legs are flexing—helping convey the impression this is, in fact, a living creature. Excellent close-ups of the head, antennae constantly twitching, enhance the realism even further. And even though the giant insect’s wings still move a little too stiffly, a boost in creativity shines in the wirework. In one beautifully composed wide shot, Mothra is hit by one of Desghidorah’s energy bolts, and the puppet visibly jitters, struggling to stay in the air. This too is an improvement over Kawakita’s previous adaptation of the character, who seemed to take every ray fired by Godzilla and Battra without much of a physical reaction.
And then comes one of the milestones in Kawakita’s career—in which his best Mothra larvae prop and his best Mothra imago prop were both used to their utmost potential.
Unable to defeat Desghidorah, the dying adult Mothra plucks her offspring from the ground and carries it to safety out in the middle of the ocean before losing her stamina and crashing into the water, where she eventually drowns. The special effects director’s ability to generate a performance out of inanimate objects comes through in this highly emotional sequence. As she gradually loses her ability to stay airborne, the adult Mothra reels back and forth. She allows her child to land in the water, knowing it can swim, and tries again to keep herself in the air—to no avail. After its mother crashes into the sea, the larvae rushes to her aid. Mothra tries again and again to rise up, the water weighing her down and plunging her deeper; the larvae frantically tries to support her. Eventually, Mothra’s exhaustion, old age, and injuries prove too much; and her lifeless form sounds into the depths. The devastating emotional impact triumphs due to the sublime coordination and performance of the special effects. Kawakita improved his technique and, more importantly, he instilled his creations with personality, with life, with feeling, and evoked an empathetic reaction from the audience.
And that in and of itself is a true accomplishment.General // August 1, 2016
These are just some impressions about the new Godzilla movie because, even though I can speak relatively decent Japanese, I couldn’t really understand enough of the story in this case for me to comfortably write a review of the film. Please enjoy—I hope to write a review later after I get a chance to watch the movie in English or perhaps, through repeat viewings, understand enough to warrant a review. These are fairly hastily written reflections, but, again, hopefully I can write more later.
Last night I couldn’t sleep very well. I was really looking forward to seeing Godzilla Resurgence (2016), aka Shin Godzilla (シン・ゴジラ), the very first showing at 9:10 am, and even when I did fall asleep, I found I was dreaming about our favorite nuclear dinosaur. Look, it’s been 12 years since our last Toho Godzilla movie, Godzilla Final Wars (2004), which I also saw in theaters in Japan in 2005. While I enjoyed Gareth Edwards’ movie well enough a couple years ago, it didn’t completely scratch my Godzilla itch. Twelve years is the longest gap between Toho Godzilla films yet, and you better believe I was feeling the drought.
Thus I wanted to watch the first film as soon as possible and write up a detailed review for Toho Kingdom. I got up this morning and marched off to the movie theater—I ended up walking because there were huge lines for the busses as the Japanese businessmen and women were off to work. I ended up walking almost an hour on what turned out to be a rather hot and sunny morning. I looked like I had taken a shower in my sweat when I bought my ticket at the counter. I was wearing a Godzilla and Gamera meet Men in Black shirt. The lady at the counter probably thought I was a really gross nerd.
Sitting through the trailers—something which I usually quite enjoy—was nerve-stretching torture, not least of all because one of the trailers was for some sex comedy about old people that treats us to a close-up of an old man’s wrinkly buttocks. When the second video reminding everyone to practice good manners in the theater was shown, I was about ready to scream—which would have broken those same rules.
Then finally the movie started. Boom. Boom. Boom. Classic sound effects. Classic roar. It was like I was watching the original 1954 movie all over again. I think my heart was booming along with the soundtrack. The movie doesn’t play around introducing characters and side plots, either. Immediately there is an investigation of mysterious happenings in Tokyo Bay. People have disappeared from a boat. Geysers of water are shooting out. A horrible mess is spreading out across the water.
Thus starts one of the most unique, surprising, and daring Godzilla films I have seen. The plot is focused squarely on the mysterious appearance of Godzilla and Japan’s reaction thereto from start to finish. The main characters usually are just hustling from one meeting to the next while Godzilla appears and starts smashing things up. Yet despite the fact that the plot sometimes seems like a marathon of meetings interspersed with destruction, for me at least, it wasn’t boring. Directors Shinji Higuchi and Hideaki Anno infuse the proceedings with welcome humor (the Japanese audience around me kind of snortled repeatedly around me) and dynamic, inventive cinematography that make the conversations crackle. Frankly, I couldn’t understand a lot of what was said—Anno and Higuchi keep the dialogue sprinting, with many characters monologuing about political tensions, anti-Godzilla strategies, and pseudo-scientific lunacy with fast cuts and faster lips barreling the story onward. I can’t speak to the quality of the dialogue really, but the tension and excitement is woven into the camerawork and editing with electric and eclectic timing that very frequently reminded me of the cinematic compositions of the Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion series, including sometimes puzzling usages of text overlaid on top of human drama, or scenes wherein the audience seems to be peering out from inside a computer monitor.
A big surprise for me was just how many characters were in the story. The first half or so of the film feels like a constant march of new characters, their names and positions scrawled across the bottom half of the screen in huge white kanji. Honestly, I couldn’t keep all the faces straight, and sometimes it felt like none of the characters had any real life—everything was meetings and strategy and politics, with no time for family or friends or hobbies or anything… and yet Anno has written in playful character moments (a stinky shirt from too much hard work, a bowl of mediocre ramen noodles for an official that leaves him disillusioned) that lend a surprising amount of humanity to what should be pretty staid action.
Which isn’t to say that the human action is great. Again, it felt like an unending stream of meetings and strategizing intercut with destruction, which sometimes left things a little hollow. There are also some so-so English-speaking “actors” (sigh), and some of the Japanese actors try to speak English with varying results (sometimes I couldn’t even understand what they were saying). Stilted English is kind of par for the course, but still disappointing.
As for the monster action, there are a lot of big surprises with Godzilla, but I don’t want to get into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say that this take on Godzilla is one of if not the most unique cinematic spin on the Big G yet and is bound to stir up a lot of controversy among the fans. When I first saw early pictures of the Godzilla design, I was pretty skeptical. I thought G looked like a cross between a zombie and the Colossal Titan plus Godzilla and lots of pointy teeth, but he has grown on me (like a tumor?). In the movie, there are some huge surprises, some of which are just plain crazy and should be experienced without spoilers. Personally I enjoyed the ride, though this is decidedly NOT your daddy’s Godzilla, and the anime influence is pretty obvious. The fact that a Godzilla movie can actually surprise me, too, after dozens of films is pretty exciting. Godzilla is powerful, intimidating, a massive threat. The action, when it comes, is inventive and often exciting and dramatic… and sometimes really disappointing, largely due to inconsistent special effects which sometimes look fantastic, and sometimes look gratingly fake. I was not really satisfied with the conclusion, either, which (in my opinion) doesn’t have the oomph needed to satisfy… although there is a bit of a twist right at the conclusion.
Music and sound effects are fantastic, with suitably epic new themes combined with glorious Akira Ifukube music. The classic Godzilla theme is played at a suitable juncture, as is one of Ifukube’s greatest military marches. All the music played over the credits is classic Ifukube as well. Many of the sound effects, including the sound of Godzilla stomping and many of the explosions, sounded to me like they came out of a classic Godzilla movie. The roar reminded me of the classic roars of the past as well, though fan tastes obviously differ.
Overall, Shin Godzilla is wild, daring, surprising, and fun, and there were multiple points where I was just stunned by some of the choices made in interpreting Godzilla for a new generation. I love it when risks are taken in regards to creating new kaiju films, and while I think some of the risks don’t fully pay off, nevertheless this is a memorable and sometimes breathtaking film, smudged and blunted sometimes by dodgy special effects and terrible English. If I can get a fuller picture of some of the story elements and perhaps watch the film a few more times, I hope I can write a full review. For now, I have to say, Shin Godzilla makes a fantastic first impression, at least for me.General // July 30, 2016
This year has brought a lot of change to the site, and that trend is continuing. I had planned to revamp the forums for a few weeks at this point, removing all of the old code and basically starting from scratch, although of course keeping the database intact (so all threads, users, and more was still there). It wasn’t an easy choice, there were a lot of modifications made to the code over 13 years and many I would not be able to reproduce myself.
However, it had been a frequent request and after some recent performance issues, I realized it was time to bite the bullet rather than keep it going. To update the forum required about 3 hours of downtime, which would be used to update the database for the forums (this doesn’t factor in the weekend prior I spent working on it in pre-production). While I originally figured this would just be a normal update, it kind of dawned on me that I had nothing planned for April Fools.
So I decided to merge the two. Throw together an April Fools’ Day 2016 prank that the forums were closing while using the downtime to update to the new forum architecture.Before getting into the prank, though, I would like to bid farewell to the old forums first. They had a lengthy run from 2003 to 2016, although the database was wiped during a site transition… the code on the forums itself remained.
In saying goodbye, I would like to take a look at the old forum styles, which I had quite an affection toward. These were one of many elements that we simply could not take with us toward the new forum architecture. As some know, I hate throwing things away when it comes to web properties, so below is a bit of an archive of what the old styles looked like, how many used them and my thoughts. I sadly don’t know the exact dates of when they came out, only that the last one was in 2010. Because of that, I will order them based on popularity as of March 29th, 2016. Images can be clicked to expand them.
Gotengo (Purple) ~ 1,371 users
This theme enjoyed a pretty healthy run as the default theme, which gives it a user base edge. Personally, though? This one was my favorite and the one I used. It shared the most with the original forum design, back before styles were introduced, but updated it for a slightly more modern take. The colors were a bit unique and your eyes gravitated to the orange, which was perfect since that’s where the board title or thread name would be found. The light purple was also the closest to the main site colors of the lot.
Mecha-King Ghidorah (Blue) ~ 626 users
The second most popular style, and with a devoted following. When the new boards were taken down, this was by far the most requested style to return. I do vividly recall struggling to design something around King Ghidorah, and ended up going for one on the mechanized form after realizing how perfectly he fit in the header area. The blue design was also pretty attractive, and I really don’t know why I gravitated toward multiple blue styles when the main site is more of a dark purple.
Godzilla Fire (Dark Black) ~ 510 users
In retrospect, it’s kind of surprising that the forums only had one true dark/black style. Consequently, it’s not too surprising to see this style rise through the ranks, being the only game in town. The inspiration for this style is actually based on the Kirin Fire (“Godzilla Coffee”). The ad campaign featured baseball player Hideki Matsui, who was nicknamed Godzilla and also appeared in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002), and Godzilla himself (circa the Kiryu era design). If you have never seen the commercial, take a watch here, you might be surprised how faithful the design for this style was for something so obscure.
Godzilla (Dark Blue) ~ 345 users
I was always shocked when this board, which used to be at the top, started to sink over the years. Even though my favorite was the Gotengo one, I tended to identify the board with this look the most. Because I was pretty pleased with the design, I also set it as the default board when someone wasn’t logged in. Visually, I loved the slow fade of the Heisei Godzilla head in the header. The radioactive icons haven’t aged that well, though, but otherwise an appealing design.
20th Century Boys (Classic) ~ 31 users
There was a small but vocal group that really wanted the original forum style to return, which was abandoned once more colorful styles were added. The group got their wish with a style that harked back to that 2003 design, even with the same Xilien UFO icons. The header image was retooled, though, and the theme based off a nostalgia angle harking to 20th Century Boys (2008). This was my least favorite style, but it did what it set out to do: replicate the original look.
Bloodthirsty (Black) ~ 30 users
God bless the 30 mavericks who choose this theme. I do recall this being the last of the themes I designed, and also being discouraged at the lack of use it got as it can be quite time consuming to create a style. A few switched it on for Halloween, but it never really got much use. The actual theme is based on the 1970’s vampire films in what is called the Bloodthirsty trilogy. The films are: Vampire Doll (1970), Lake of Dracula (1971) and Evil of Dracula (1974). I absolutely love Vampire Doll (1970), and the design had most in common with this film with both the house in the background and the title character with the blade. However, the roses were an element owed to Evil of Dracula (1974).
Pokémon (Orange) ~ 7 users
…And at the bottom of the heap we find the site’s only anime style, which was based on the Pokémon films. The actual Pokémon selection was based on the 3rd generation, Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire for the Game Boy Advance, which appeared in films such as Pokémon: Jirachi Wish Maker (2003). The actual design kind of reminded me of old school Macs. It was never really popular, although I do remember it for being Miles Imhoff’s style of choice for the forums.
April Fools’ Day 2016
So back to the topic at hand, as mentioned I did not plan an April Fools joke for this year. That’s not too shocking, as in years past I would lean on Miles or ask something to come from the K.W.C. crew to see if they could fill the void. However, felt that the K.W.C. angle was tried too recently, so racked my brain to come up with something as a gap filler.
The eventual resolution was to just say the forums were closing.
As previously mentioned, it was going to take a bit to update the database to the new architecture, and so the timing was right to take advantage of it. Now my normal mantra for April Fools jokes is that I want them to occur only within the period that falls on April Fools, I told some other members of the staff and they wanted to drum up a minor storm on the forums to sell the idea more. I gave it my okay, and one of the actions was Derzerb’s resignation, as seen below.
With that in place, I crafted a fairly long message to go up on the main site while the boards would be disabled, allowing for the database update to occur in the background. While there was no truth to the message in regards to the forums being closed, there was a degree of real reflection to it. Mostly that the forums are an area where the staff isn’t really given much kudos. However, as said in the message, it’s understandable as it’s user generated content, although it does hurt the ol’ motivation for it at times.
Anyway, for reference, below is the original message that was posted on the front of the site:
After a lot of thought, I have decided to close down the forums as sort of a “contingency plan”. This wasn’t an easy choice. The forums have been with us for a long time, since 2003. In many ways, it is part of what defines the website. However, it has been kind of a thankless component of the website as well, and you can’t really blame that mentality. By nature, it’s user generated content. When I updated the monster bios, Baragon’s in particular, I got a lot of praise for that. While I don’t seek praise, it does help drive my motivation around the website.
The forums have never really offered that. People expect it to work, and again I don’t blame others as I would have the same approach on other forums as well. However, the forums are old. It’s 13 years now and that’s 13 years of code. Code that has accumulated over time and with the departure of Miles Imhoff, it’s something that I’m not familiar enough with to “fix”. So the forums have lamented a bit. My free time is not what it once was and I will attest that nothing bums me out more than working a long day in the office only to check my phone afterwards to read emails calling me out for a lack of involvement in the forum or for current events there that I need to fix.
It’s hard. It’s draining. I don’t like to close things down, as the site’s blog section will show as that has become a catch all area for abandoned ideas in the past, but the forums are something that I have decided it’s finally time to close this chapter of the site’s history. A recent exodus there as well made this choice somewhat easier too.
I do deeply want to thank everyone who has participated there over the years and the admins and moderators who have helped as well. It’s all been much appreciated. I’m still deciding what to do with them, leaning toward archiving it all and linking toward it in the blog section, but right now I have just disabled it.General // April 5, 2016
Every year Toho is involved in numerous films, not to mention a large archive they have created during the “Golden Age” of Japanese cinema. This presents quite a catalog to review, and initially we at the Toho Kingdom opened our doors to user submitted reviews to help fill some of the void. That policy shifted with age, though, and it has been years since Toho Kingdom has accepted submissions from movie reviews. This blog will explain the policy change and also feature an archive of older user submitted reviews.
History of Movie Review Submissions
As some might know, at one time user submitted reviews were a big part of Toho Kingdom. It’s a process that actually led to the hiring of Miles Imhoff, who cut his teeth first on these reviews. Without realizing it, the user submitted reviews turned out to be a good way to vet talent.
Unfortunately, after years of use, this aspect started to get long in the tooth. The work involved was time consuming: editing reviews and asking for changes if it wasn’t deemed up to standard. This was especially true after a user was discovered plagiarizing reviews from other sources. This added a whole new layer where all submitted work needed to be checked against this.
Despite the labor involved, the real nail in the coffin was just a change in where I wanted the site to go. If you wanted a quick user review, IMDB has you covered. I wanted the reviews on Toho Kingdom to have a different pedigree. For readers to start to understand how a reviewer works and build a relationship with them. For example, maybe someone is closer in view point to Patrick Galvan’s analysis of films versus my own. Basically, I see value in starting to identify with the reviewer and for this to add a layer of importance to the review. …either that or the reader just might enjoy the humor that Nicholas Driscoll infuses in his work. To that point, the site has some really great reviewers right now as well, with Nicholas, Alexander Smith and, of course, Patrick. It’s a lineup where you have some great analysis of both popular and obscure material. It’s what I envisioned the reviews should be and with that strong backbone I no longer saw the need for the user reviews.
Archived Toho Kingdom Movie Review Submissions
This decision was made years ago, but just yesterday the user submitted reviews were finally removed from the review section. That said, I’m a fan of keeping everything. So even though we no longer accept submitted movie reviews, I’m not deleting any of the old ones. If you want to read any of them, that were submitted between 2005 and 2011, feel free to scroll below for a trip down memory lane:
Published Movie Reviewer Score10-23-2011 Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster [Continental]Destroyer4.009-24-2011 Godzilla: Final WarsDestroyer4.509-01-2011 Destroy All Monsters [International]Destroyer3.509-01-2011 Invasion of Astro-Monster [Maron Films]Destroyer4.008-21-2011 AkiraEvan Brehany4.006-27-2011 OnmyojiEvan Brehany4.002-07-2011 Godzilla vs. GiganKing Caesar2.512-27-2010 Godzilla vs. MothraGodzillawolf3.512-16-2010 Ebirah, Horror of the DeepPaul Sell4.010-26-2010 Godzilla vs. DestoroyahGodzillawolf4.509-19-2010 Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzillaGodzillawolf3.0 05-06-2010 Bye-Bye Jupiter (Sayonara Jupiter) DaikaijuSokogeki! 4.004-14-2010 Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah [Tristar]Godzillawolf3.502-14-2010 Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.Godzillawolf4.511-04-2009 Godzilla Against MechagodzillaGodzillawolf4.010-22-2009 Terror of MechagodzillaEthan Reed3.510-22-2009 Godzilla, Mothra, & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out AttackGodzillawolf4.508-13-2009 Godzilla vs. BiollanteGodzillawolf4.007-23-2009 Godzilla vs. MechagodzillaAdam Striker4.007-22-2009 Ghidorah, the Three-Headed MonsterEthan Reed3.011-29-2008 One Missed Call 2Pat Atwell3.007-03-2008 One Missed CallPat Atwell4.012-21-2007 Terror of MechagodzillaAnguirusGuy3.0 10-24-2006 Pulse (Kairo) Hank Xavier 4.5 09-18-2006 Rebirth of Mothra Donny Winter 3.5 08-28-2006 The Spiral (Rasen) Hank Xavier 2.0 08-25-2006 Ikiru Chaos 5.0 08-22-2006 Godzilla (Godzilla, King of the Monsters) Cow 4.0 08-10-2006 The Return of Godzilla (Godzilla 1985) Hank Xavier 4.5 08-09-2006 Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla Chaos 1.5 07-28-2006 Godzilla vs. Megalon Hank Xavier 2.5 07-16-2006 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II Hank Xavier 3.5 05-27-2006 Ring (Ringu) Hank Xavier 4.0 05-22-2006 Ikiru Athean 4.5 04-03-2006 Godzilla vs. Megaguirus Tim85 2.5 03-24-2006 Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack Tim85 4.5 03-17-2006 Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (Godzilla X Mechagodzilla) Tim85 3.5 03-04-2006 Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. Tim85 3.5 02-25-2006 Godzilla: Final Wars Tim85 3.0 02-18-2006 Gamera: Guardian of the Universe Tim85 4.5 02-11-2006 Rodan [DCA] Tim85 4.0 02-02-2006 Spirited Away DaikaijuSokogeki! 5.0 09-13-2005 Son of Godzilla Spinzilla 3.5 06-06-2005 Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (Gamera vs. Legion) THE GODZILLA 5.0 05-11-2005 Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris THE GODZILLA 5.0 05-07-2005 Godzilla Raids Again [Warner Bros.] THE GODZILLA 3.0 04-25-2005 Godzilla (Godzilla, King of the Monsters) gvsgdude89 4.5General // February 23, 2016
17 years… that feels like a millennia in “web years”. It’s also how old the site is turning this year. The year was 1999. It was an interesting time in the fandom. Websites on Godzilla were a dime a dozen, many using the same pictures over and over again. The same low-quality roars were also cycled everywhere. It was an age of spinning gifs and website counters. The time period was also a year after GODZILLA (1998) came out and just as Godzilla 2000: Millennium(1999) was almost on our doorstep. So the “GINO” hate was strong, and the interest in a relaunch in Godzilla high.
It was during this era that Toho Kingdom was born, created by a high school freshman version of myself. I could never picture myself today embarking for the first time on this journey, but my younger self was outgoing (and certainly with ample free time). While the site was maintained solely by myself for three years, it started to expand to a team of people. A project this big, this vast needed a team.
That team materialized, was shaped and evolved over a decade.
Now while present day me has been a manager for some years now, college-aged me was new to this whole concept. I was fortunate to be surrounded by a stellar team. Still, at the end of the day, I was a poor boss who never adequately praised efforts.
Today, I promote based on contributions. This led to Miles Imhoff being our vice president for many years and Chris Mirjahangir as our current executive director. Those types of promotions will continue and the site will also continue to single out at least someone each year to praise, as I have done in the past with Miles and did in 2015 for Tyler Trieschock.
Those are today’s practices, though, and nothing even remotely similar existed for much of the site’s long history. So today I want to make some amends. This is a longtime Toho Kingdom staff appreciation session to honor those who deserved it but might not have gotten proper kudos. This is both current staff and past staff members. I’m keeping this to just staff who joined before 2008 as well. So you won’t find, for example, Joshua Sudomerski or Patrick Galvan on this list even though they are examples of two rock stars who I admire and feel grateful to have on our team. I’m also skipping past our upper management. I could write essays on the contributions of Miles or Chris, but this piece is aimed toward those who likely never got their deserved praise.
So, without further ado:
(in order of start date)
James was one of the very first staff members the site ever had. Unlike many of the staff, James did not have one particular area of expertise. His contributions were diverse and widespread. From bios, to translating, to scanning images, to K.W.C. matches and even Video Games… James contributed a bit of everything.
While it’s easy to take for granted some aspects of the site, it was really early on that sections like the Video Games materialized. They have always been overly obsessive, dripping with detail that you just won’t find anywhere else on these games. That decision for this detail oriented approach was a collaboration between myself and James that let the section blossom.
At the time, James was very much a vice president-level role in his contributions to the site. He really helped to form a wealth of content in the early years that we started.
Thomas gets the honor of being our longest running staff member. Having joined back in 2003, this year will mark his 13th on the site staff.
While Thomas has contributed in several areas, his exemplary work was always due to his incredible writing talents. One doesn’t read the K.W.C. match Bagan vs. Everyone from beginning to end without realizing this is something special. Something epic and different.
Over the years I have come to depend on Thomas for turning in really memorable work. His skills as a writer are remarkable. One of the highest praises I can give is that Thomas never repeats himself. While you come to depend on a well written piece from him, you never feel like any of his work is repeating the same beats. He is a dynamic writer whose work is never short of compelling.
Next year will be Nicholas’ 10th on the site staff. Articulate and very well spoken, nothing less can be said other than Nicholas’ work is truly unique. How else could one describe the painstakingly researched, fascinatingly in-depth Many Loves of Godzilla article? While his movie reviews turn heads, from newer to older releases, the most praise I tend to hear and concur with is for his book reviews.
Now for most, book collecting is a rather obscure hobby for the fandom. Toy collectors? Countless. Movie collectors? Numerous. Comic collectors? A fair share. Soundtrack collectors? A passionate but small group. Book collectors? Now we have gone to a real small niche of the community. Regardless, Nicholas has taken a small sector of the fandom and made it interesting for all.
I’m not sure how many other children of the 1980’s might be reading this, but Nicholas’ open letter to Ian Thorne in his Godzillareview left me with a flood of emotions. I’m grateful that I’m not alone in my love of Nicholas’ book reviews either, as nothing made me happier then when we recently hired Marcus Gwin who shared similar feelings for Nicholas’ work.
Christian was the site’s second hire of 2007, a banner year for new employees.
I have known Christian for many, many years at this stage. At one time, Christian, myself, Thomas, “Z2K”, “Kedzuel” and Matt Frank (of Godzilla: Rulers of Earth fame now) would frequent MSN back in the day. So when Christian joined the site it was a natural fit.
While Christian had been envisioned to simply contribute to the K.W.C. section, he instead laid the foundation for a total rehaul to that portion of the site. The banners and the diverse pool of writers were something done directly under his leadership over that section. This required an incredible amount of work to coordinate and finalize, setting in place a structure that would not only add banners to new matches but also all previous ones as well.
While Thomas had already started to contribute to this section, it was Christian who transformed what was once an archaic portion of the site, using static images of the monsters, into something lively; something that has become a flagship portion of the site. Christian worked to create an intital network of writers and created the forums’ K.W.C. section to help best shape these efforts. Without this work, it’s likely the K.W.C. would have lamented as a hidden subsection, like the D20 area did at one point, rather than one of the pinnacles of the site as it is today.General // February 5, 2016
2003… This was the year the website underwent a major redesign. The new design introduced the now trademark purple hue and also had a, for the time, modern aesthetic. That layout included a banner area up top and a navigation menu to the left. A look that was fairly popular on major sites of the time.
It replaced an archaic design that was technically the second iteration of the site. That design lasted from, I want to say, 2000 to 2002. The look included a splash image of Godzilla followed by a layout that was heavy on frames. Yes frames, that web design element that was all the rage in the 1990’s and has since been deemed “obsolete” by some random Wikipedia editor, although I don’t argue with their verdict. It included a website counter as well, and really all it needed was spinning gifs and a guest book to be a website that would have made Strong Bad proud.
The 2003 Design
The web moved fast then, arguably faster than it does today, and designs evolved quickly. By the time the third design rolled out, it replaced something that was already looking ancient by web standards. The look of the 2003 website proved popular, far more popular than I had anticipated. While I was never proud of the previous designs, this one, seen below, had me very pleased with the final product.
While elements of the design continued to evolve, like I humorously amazed my younger self by learning rudimentary CSS and replacing the images in the navigation area with text, the general look and feel stayed static.
I wish I knew the exact date the design rolled out. According to the Wayback Machine, the layout was already present by January 30th of 2003. Since this is January 19th of 2016, I will assume that was an almost 13 year run for the design. You can chalk that up to either being impressive or lazy on my part, or both (impressively lazy?).
Eventually a desire started to burn to replace it, a desire for redesigning Toho Kingdom. I was admittedly stubborn at first. It wasn’t until I had to start giving personal contacts a disclaimer, that the site was designed quite a while ago, that it was impossible to ignore that the layout was long in the tooth. I became resigned to this fact for most of the current decade. This especially became hard when it got to the point where I designed web elements for a living, having worked in product marketing for some years… yet owning a website that looked out of touch.
A change was needed. I knew I wanted something different, but only had rough concepts.
Redesigning Toho Kingdom
In early 2015, I finally told myself it was time to design a new site. Even if I didn’t have all the skills needed to execute it everything I wanted, the only way it would ever get off the ground is by taking that first leap.
The official new look was finished and mocked up on February 6th, 2015. It included three separate designs based on the resolution viewing it. This included a 1662+ pixel resolution design, 1661-1340 pixel resolution design and a below 1340 pixel resolution design. While I had not intended for the site to be mobile friendly, something for another day, I did plan for this to be *more* mobile friendly than the previous design.
The 1662+ pixel resolution design is seen below.
It required a culling of a few sections, but not content. Anything removed in the design, like the box office or posters, would just be found in the movie bios instead. It also offered a built-in search feature, aiming to make using the gigantic site (11,949 pages and counting) easier for those looking to find that one piece of content.
Developing the New Design
At the time, I was in discussions with someone for whom it sounded like I could work with on the project to see it realized. This would have been someone outside of the site staff brought on to work on the project. I was excited, although in retrospect was asking too much of someone without realizing it.
Uncharacteristically optimistic, I felt the launch of the new design was around the corner. I was so confident, in fact, that I designed an ad around it. In 2015, I was approached by ACE (All Comics Evaluated) to be paid for an article on Godzilla comics. A late part of the agreement included that an ad for Toho Kingdom could be included. With the magazine that I was to be featured in hitting new stands in May of that year, it seemed like the timing was right for an early teasing of the new site.
Below is the ad I designed for this.
The ad never appeared in the final magazine, I assume because of a mishap with the ad copy deadline. I did not press the matters, though, as it was becoming apparent that the new site was nowhere near completion. I had over estimated the other person’s interest. so callously assuming they were on board for the long haul. Ignoring the burden this would have placed on them.
…and so the design lamented. Sitting on a hard drive while updates as normal continued on Toho Kingdom. In the back of my head I knew that someday this would become reality, although when I was not sure. I started to prepare things like it would be coming, removing the box office section and making other needed changes.
While I approached a few others with the proposal to work on this design with me, no one took me up on the offer. It was a lot to ask.
Finally I decided that if this was going to be done, then I needed to hire someone to work on a contract basis for this project. With a budget in mind, I began an interview process and eventually found my candidate. They did much of the leg work going from the designs, although feedback, testing and QA were my contributions at the early juncture.
Eventually we had a finished product and testing began on January 17th, 2016. There were problems… but nothing unexpected. The site is quite old and realizes a lot of different designs. The Monster Bios are totally different from DVD reviews, for example. Many clashes were created, and I was working as the lead with the person I hired as back up to offer advice. It was a collaborative environment that I was thankful for. Even if the process lasted a good 10 hours, the goal was realized.
So after years, I’m happy with the design again. There is a lot more work to be done… but I’m happy and glad that finally others are able to see the work that had been nothing more than concepts for so long.General // January 19, 2016
Toho choose a poster to unveil their new look for Godzilla, in the upcoming film Godzilla Resurgence or known as “シン・ゴジラ” aka Shin Godzilla in Japan. The internet, as it often does, has erupted into opinions on Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi‘s new look for the creature.
Being hardcore Godzilla fans, the staff of Toho Kingdom weighs in as well with our own reactions to the look of Godzilla 2016. Our thoughts are presented in order of seniority on the site, although the founder’s is included at the end as a summary. Staff weighs in solely on what is available, which in this case is a shoulder-up view of the new Godzilla as shown on the poster.
In Rotten Tomatoes fashion, the thoughts are consolidated into a Positive, Mixed or Negative reaction based on an interpretation by the owner.
The new Shin-Godzilla design is terrifying. It’s like seeing a lifelong friend damaged by a traumatic experience. That defeated look in their eye confirms they will never be the same. Which is ironic, considering the meaning of Shin-Godzilla translates to True Godzilla. This new design tells us exactly what direction the filmmakers are taking. Throughout the decades, Godzilla has changed with the times. Godzilla has played the part of the majestic hero, the mighty protector, the insidious villain, etc. But what is Godzilla really? What does the King of the Monsters truly represent?
What truly makes Godzilla an iconic character is how he represents so many fundamental messages at once. But at the core of Godzilla’s character, he is and always will be a metaphor of humankind’s hubris. Before nuclear weapons, humankind never posed a threat to all life on Earth. After the inception of nuclear weapons, humankind now has the ability to transform the planet into a lifeless, radioactive husk. Godzilla’s presentation in the original 1954 classic was meant as a warning to humanity, to inspire us to curb our destructive ambitions and desires. And that is what I think makes this new Godzilla so terrifying. It not only looks like we ignored the message, but we are now destined (or damned) to bear witness to what Godzilla truly is. My fear is Godzilla, at his core, has no meaning, no purpose. Godzilla is not here to maintain balance, or help humanity discover its place in the world. When I look into his eyes, I don’t see the Godzilla we once knew. I don’t see the dark side of humanity made manifest; I don’t see the personification of nature’s retribution.
When I look into Shin-Godzilla’s eyes, I don’t see a damaged victim. I see an uncaring, cancerous god staring right back at me.
And I’m totally digging it!
I believe both the strength and the weakness of the new Godzilla design, based on what little we have seen of it, is that the beast evokes a kind of speechless and wild horror. It creates this effect by focusing the design on mutation and the grotesque. One can see this in perhaps the most controversial aspect of the new design—the uncomfortably tiny staring eye. That eye appears all outside of proportion to the rest of the grossly bloated and misshapen head, as if, through the mutation process, the eye did not grow at the same rate as the tumorous flesh about the skull. Even the new Godzilla appears to be surprised at the form he has found himself in—or perhaps in this new form Godzilla has no eyelids, perhaps they were scorched off in the heat of the radiation so that now he has no choice but to stare in wild rage. It’s really too early to say, but the initial image is evocative and hideous.
That hideousness, that sense of mutated deformity extends to just about everything we see in this new design. His mouth, too, appears to have been torn and twisted in the radioactive fires—any cheek or lip tissue scorched away, and the teeth (which perhaps normally would have stood in regulated rows for effective clutching and crushing power) are now more like spines or spikes, emerging at random angles, growing in abundance like thorns piercing his maw. In this picture, too, his nose looks somewhat indistinct, emerging from irregular, lumpy, scarred skin that hearkens back to the design of the original Godzilla and its keloid-inspired texture. The ears, meanwhile, seem to have been swallowed up in bulging, tortured flesh. Even the back plates appear to have received some mutation. Usually, in previous incarnations, the spines were largely maple-leaf designed, with the protuberances poking out along the edges, but more or less “flat.” That is to say, the bony spines of the back plates only jutted out along one plane like a throwing star or a leaf. Here, the spines appear to be poking out more unevenly in several directions like a spiked mace.
What gives me pause about this design is that, while the monster looks ferocious and horrific, the design does not lend itself to personality. With no lips, Godzilla can’t even snarl—his expression is fixed into that one mutated gawping expression. The first American Godzilla had a similar problem—she had no lips, either. Just enormous teeth that jutted out. She could not snarl or convey much emotion with her face, but at least she had large eyes that could show her sorrow and rage. The new Godzilla’s eyes look largely emotionless in this picture, although the looming eyebrow may be used to show more emotion. Perhaps it sounds strange to complain about a rigid face design given that Godzilla through the years has often had very little in the way of facial expressions, but the best Godzilla designs (in my opinion) show personality in the suit designs. I love the King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) suit for its kind of playful demeanor, or the stern and powerful look of the Heisei Godzilla design. To me, just based off of the first picture, this Godzilla looks less like a main character as it does kind of a soulless background beast that shows up to scare everyone, but doesn’t have the stage presence to carry the show. It’s way too early to say, really, and I admire the commitment to trying something new and horrifying. I just hope the “Shin Godzilla” also is just… interesting.
The new Godzilla from Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi’s upcoming Godzilla: Resurgence (2016), to me immediately evokes the original classic 1954 design. The dead eyes are evocative of the iconic image of Shodai-Goji, and also evoke his design from The Return of Godzilla (1984), particularly the famous Cybot Godzilla. The jaw is nice and wide and almost hinged. The ridge up his back also evokes several Showa designs including the iconic Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) reptilian look and I also like how pronounced the trademark charcoal grey skin tone is. The charred skin design evokes Bio-Goji, as well as Powered Red King from Ultraman Powered, and seems to be bringing back the “burn victim” inherent in the original’s design. Although in my humble opinion, the eyes need to be a tad bigger and more emphasized, but overall very nightmarish and fitting for Higuchi and Anno’s vision of revisiting the roots of the franchise. Can’t wait to see it in action.
Overall I’m very positive about the new design and enthusiastic that Higuchi and his team will bring it to life in the best way possible!
As far as first impressions are concerned, I’m mixed. On the one hand, I do like that Anno and Higuchi are harking back to the cold, fearsome design of the original 1954 Godzilla—particularly with the nice touch of the eye gazing down, probably upon hapless victims. And based on what little we can see of them in this poster, Godzilla will be brandishing those classic maple leaf spines once more. And I’m curious to see in what manner these spines will glow when the King’s preparing to unleash his atomic breath! I also like the thorn-like teeth. On the negative side of things, though, I must admit I’m not especially enthusiastic about the shape of the head. The backwards sloping brow, the blocky knob at the base of the skull, the way the snout transitions into the forehead—I just don’t feel the sheer sense of menace the filmmakers are aiming for. Also: not really a fan of the way Godzilla’s throat seems to fuse into the center of his mandible. Perhaps this is one of those designs that will grow on me with age. Perhaps it will look much better in the context of a full-body shot.
But here’s a hypothetical worst-case scenario: a film like Son of Godzilla (1967) or Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II (1993), where I don’t care for Godzilla’s physical appearance but still find plenty to like about his character and the movie around him.
When I look to the near future and think of Godzilla 2016, I hold child like anticipation of one of my favorite franchises returning, but still plenty of skepticism due to the previous entry in 2004. These thoughts however altered slightly as the new poster for the film was revealed.
The original Gojira is not one of my favorite films, but I recognize its importance to the franchise, and with this note I feel slightly disappointed by the design of “Shin Godzilla.” From what I can see the monster is well detailed, focuses on the burns and mutations that came with its creation, and is far more… creepier in execution. Horror is definitely the route I see this Godzilla following, and I will hold final judgement on its execution until the film’s release but at the moment I am not thoroughly impressed.
My hope is this film is something akin to GMK, which also held a Godzilla that was not as pleasing to the eyes as others, but was executed extremely well though only time will tell on the final result. In the meantime, I will try to avoid making direct eye contact with the newest interpretation of everyone’s favorite lizard.
When the poster for Godzilla Resurgence/Shin Gojira was released, I was very excited. I shared the same picture on my personal Facebook page at least three times. Nonetheless, when I took a good look at what I was presented I had slightly mixed feelings.
The first thing that grabbed me was that maw. I LOVE the teeth design, but I didn’t really care for how far back into the head the jawline receded. I also thought the eyes were too far forward in his head. It just didn’t look badass. I showed it to my friends the same evening, and they loved it… and I have to say I actually agree with them now.
Looking back at Godzilla (1954)’s design, there’s one thing that makes it very different from almost every other suit. It was hand made, and is therefor very unsymmetrical. And on a black and white screen set at night, it looks very realistic, and even terrifying… well, maybe not to us, as we watch it on DVD, but it’s easy to imagine why everyone in the movie is screaming.
What this suit does is capture that same realism that the 1954 suit had… and mixes it with imagery that is actually terrifying to look at. The sharp teeth, the uneven skin texture, the scarecrow like grin… it’s creepy. Imagine looking 389 feet into the air, and seeing that weirdly human eye staring directly at YOU. That would be horrific.
Looking at every Godzilla design from 1999, to 2014, they’re all badasses. Emphasizing Godzilla’s strength, endurance, and sheer power levels. Even in Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), where we the how cruel Godzilla actually can be, it still looks like the design is meant to be super cool. This Godzilla doesn’t have to be badass. This movie is Japan vs. Godzilla, and he knows he can win. This Godzilla simply wants to be cruel, not cool.
My first reaction to the design was negative. Not overwhelmingly so, but to the point where I didn’t care much for it. I was a bit shocked as well compared to my expectations. Toho had been on a Heisei series splurge of late. They recently created a moving statue of the Godzilla from Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992) on the top of the Toho Cinemas Shinjuku theater. Meanwhile, the King of the Monsters in the Playstation 3 and Playstation 4 game Godzilla was also dedicated to this era. Going further back, we also have the toy line S.H. MonsterArts, which started with a 1990’s slant, and all the Heisei series films were also the first to hit Blu-ray in Japan over the other eras.
Heck, the first image surrounding the film, seen to the right, had a very Heisei vibe to it. So I was bracing for something that evoked that look, a fan favorite and mine as well. What we got was something totally unlike any Godzilla seen to date. As others here have touched on in this article, the look is horrific. The King of the Monsters never struck me as scary. His opponents, in particular Hedorah, terrified me as a kid, but Godzilla himself never caused that reaction.
Given that, it’s easy to see why they did not evoke a look similar to the 1990’s series run. That Godzilla looked bad ass, but scary is not a reaction anyone would have to it.
All that said… as things often do, my feelings toward it warmed as I looked at it more. While there are elements I still don’t like, in particular the incredibly small eye, I am more open to it. I have the luxury of reading the other staff’s thoughts before giving my own, and must say Nicholas Driscoll summed up the mutated angle way more succinctly than I could have hoped to.
While reactions here are mixed, none are negative and some quite positive. The unusual look is certainly getting people talking as well, which is helpful for any film versus a sentiment of indifference. So I would be willing to say Toho did right by the design even if most fans aren’t ecstatic toward it. If the company follows through on giving us a film suited for the look, the entry will certainly stand out in the franchise. At the very least it will prove a large counterpoint to the more heroic Godzilla seen in Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla(2014), which may or may not have been intentional on Toho’s part.
Thoughts of your own on the design? Weigh in yourself in the comments section for your reactions to the look of Godzilla 2016.General // December 15, 2015
This is a lofty goal of compiling 34 of the top Toho soundtracks. Why 34? Because I’m feeling random. The rankings aren’t based on a particular CD or LP release, but rather the entire music that surrounds the film. To make the list I actually made a top 65 and then removed 31 of them to prevent any soundtracks from slipping in that might not be worthy.
Soundtracks are ranked based on their enjoyment as a standalone experience. Music, especially soundtracks when you start to build an association with the final product, can be hard to rate. Musical scores tend to mean different things for different people, especially when nostalgia seeps in. That said, even a bad film can have an incredible score, and this list does host movies that are so-so where the composers poured their soul into the soundtrack to earn it a rightful spot here.
The list includes soundtracks from Toho produced films, Toho owned movies, films based on Toho’s characters and also Japanese productions that Toho released. Basically the normal suspects of contents included on the site.
This 1973 entry in the Zatoichi series, the last to go through Toho, is a tour de force from maestro Akira Ifukube.
The soundtrack is surprisingly soothing, giving Ifukube a chance to hone in on a softer approach to his cues. The score still boasts a bit of the composer’s bombastic tendencies, though, such as with “Shinbei’s Final Moment”. Its strength, however, is found in those more peaceful melodies. Chief among them are the oddly beautiful themes centered around Zatoichi and Omiyo.
It’s a wonderful body of work and, sadly, often overlooked when discussions of the composer’s best material is brought up.
#32 Haunted School 3
Composer Kow Otani turns in one of his better performances for this 1997 children’s horror film.
The movie has a wide variety of themes to its claim, ranging from the uplifting and energetic “To Love Shakashaka” to the chorus powered and more serious “Main Title”.
The score is consistent in quality, and shows a nice mix of orchestration with only a little bit of synth work, unlike some of the composer’s later material which became very synth heavy. All the same, it does feature the composer’s trademark “whale-like sound” that was also heard in scores like Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999) and Pyrokinesis (2000).
You are going to see quite a few live action kaiju films on this list. Part of that is I believe the subject matter lends itself well to action motifs, which hold up well to stand alone experiences.
On that note, what better way to start off than with a controversial pick through David Arnold’s score for GODZILLA. Soundtracks are often judged unfairly based on their subject matter. Given the infamy of the first American Godzilla film, it’s not hard to imagine many fans who have turned their nose up at the score.
Thankfully, due to being finally released in commercial form in 2007 and a couple times there after as well, Arnold’s soundtrack is finally getting some of the positive recognition it deserves and missed out on back in the 1990’s. Simply put, while some themes match the more carefree tone of the production, others are great action pieces that stand wonderfully on their own. “Godzilla vs the Submarine” is one such example, and a stellar battle theme that really ramps up the energy.
Like above, this soundtrack tends to get unfairly overlooked. This is likely because the film isn’t known as a popular entry among fans, despite doing phenomenal business at the box office.
While the Godzilla theme certainly sounded better in both the film that proceeded and followed it, the musical work for Mothra set a new standard. “The Birth of Adult Mothra” is a great soothing interpretation of Mothra’s song, while the chorus led “Ending” is fantastic.
Thankfully the score is not a simple retread of Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), with Battra getting a very fearsome and commanding theme that does great to contrast with both Godzilla’s and Mothra’s in the movie.
Composer Joe Hisaishi, who will appear a number of times on this list, does a fantastic job with this score to the conflicting 2010 movie Villain.
Piano dominated, the soundtrack is both beautiful while evoking a sense of unease, matching well with the story that focuses on a murderer and the devotion received from his new girlfriend despite this. “Faith” and “Twilight” are wonderful themes, some of the better piano work I have heard on a soundtrack. Meanwhile, other themes like “Uneasiness” and “To Hate” bring an almost horror vibe to the proceedings.
As it is, the only real downfall of the score is that it’s a little on the short side, leaving the listener wanting more.
Michiru Oshima‘s final score in the Godzilla franchise, and this time utilizing the New Japan Philharmonic in Tokyo.
For this score, Oshima continues to show a wide range of theme diversity in her material. For example, the stellar “Main Title” theme is a wonderful cue that makes a solid impact as it’s not utilized again for the course of the film.
Mothra is also given a new theme for the movie, which is both soothing with a sense of regality behind it, fitting the character like a glove. Ultimately, though, the show stopper of the score is the great battle music, heard in tracks like “Tokyo Tower Collapses”.
Composer Masaru Sato hit a career high with this 1974 entry in the Godzilla franchise, and Sato’s last in the series. While the composer had a lot of high pedigree films among his resume, including many Akira Kurosawa movies, the 20th anniversary Godzilla film really allowed the composer to tap into his best talent: his love for big band music.
The soundtrack offers a surprising level of variety, although given the mix of both mythical and the robotic in the story perhaps this shouldn’t be so shocking. Still, the composer really brings the house down for themes like “Godzilla vs. Anguirus”, bringing a sense of energy and uniqueness that’s hard to top.
#23 The Gransazers
When selecting the composer for the 2003 show The Gransazers, the first entry in what would be a three year run for the “Star God” franchise, Naruto regular Yasuharu Takanashi was selected.
Takanashi ended up being an inspired choice, infusing the material with a delicious sense of contemporary style. His love for guitars really helped the production mask the smaller orchestrations, giving a great sense of energy to the TV show. Tracks like “The Gransazers Theme” are the variety that you can listen to over and over again.
The program also featured some solid songs from U-Ya Asaoka and Abe Asami, opening and closing out the show.
The highly memorable finale to director Shusuke Kaneko‘s Gamera series. Composed by Kow Otani, the score loses some of the more uplifting music heard earlier in the franchise in favor a darker approach which matches the subject matter.
The end result is a more serious and foreboding body of work. This is best symbolized in the motif for Iris, seen in tracks like “The Birth”, which walk a fine line between soothing with a slight sense of dread.
Due to the darker subject matter, the infrequent use of the heroic Gamera theme, heard in themes like ” Kyoto in Flames”, does wonders to contrast and makes Gamera feel even more alone in the film.
Akira Ifukube was on a roll in the 1960’s. As the kaiju craze in Japan hit a fever pitch, so did Ifukube’s ability to masterfully craft themes that encompassed both the action and also sense of might of the giant monsters.
The 1964 score to Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is one of thosee moments of the composer at his finest. The battle royale picture features a host of excellent action pieces. While the Godzilla theme was toned down from its amazing use in Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), it’s made up for by an incredible Rodan theme, which is adapted from the earlier theme created for Varan.
The show stopper here, though, is the music surrounding the title character: King Ghidorah. The “Main Title” is excellent as is “The Fury of the Gravity Beam” which encompass such a sense of power that is generally hard to capture in music.
In perhaps a controversial view point, I give credit to the best representation of a theme rather than its origins. For Akira Ifukube, who continued to evolve his themes over his career, that can create a hurdle for early scores.
Battle in Outer Space is a bit of an anomaly. While a lot of the themes got featured in off screen use, like his Symphonic Fantasia, they missed out on getting heavily reworked in other films. There’s a lot of amazing themes here too, like the wonderful “Starry Sky” or “The Magnificence of the Base”, that stand up pretty well to his later work. The fact that Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) utilized this score so heavily when picking stock music is also a pretty good testament to its staying power.
Who can forget that first time they heard the ‘new’ Godzilla theme. While previously utilized in both the original Godzilla (1954) and King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), it was this 1964 entry that really pioneered the lasting interpretation of it.
The soundtrack itself is an interesting mix of action pieces and soothing melodies, which lines up well with the differing nature of its title characters. Despite not being the original composer for the Mothra character, Akira Ifukube‘s work on themes like the beautiful “Sacred Springs” have forever been associated with the kaiju now. The action pieces offer a lot of enjoyment from this score as well. There are great themes for “Godzilla vs. the Tank Corps” and “Electrical Discharge Strike” which add a lot of energy to Godzilla’s conflicts with the military.
As alluded to, I firmly believe that the best of Akira Ifukube‘s work is toward the end of his career. Either due to a refinement of his skills, or more likely just being able to take a moment to breath rather than having to quickly move from one score to the next as he did during the Showa era, the composer’s later day scores are his most enjoyable.
This 1991 score, the first from Ifukube after coming out of self retirement, is a great return to form for the composer. It suffers a little from being largely based on his past themes, but succeeds in often adapting those pieces into more engaging cues thanks to a combination of stereo versus mono and larger orchestration.
While the score as a whole is pretty solid, the stand out work is the fast paced theme for the MOTHER ship, “UFO in Flight”, and the improved themes for Godzilla and King Ghidorah, the latter of which had some of the battle music from King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) woven in to extend it.
#16 Spirited Away
While the soundtrack is consistently strong from start to finish, it’s best done when it’s trying to be soothing. The main title, ” One Summer’s Day…”, is one such example playing to Hisaishi’s strength with piano composition. In fact, the piano work is really what elevates the material from a good soundtrack to a great one. The star player in that sense is the wonderful “The Sixth Station” theme, which really transports the listener to that unknowing feeling that the main character is experiencing while perfectly capturing a slightly morbid sense of the passing of time.
Composed by Koichi Sugiyama, best known at this time and today for his work on the Dragon Questvideo games, the soundtrack took a different approach to the character from his peers leading up to the 1989 film. The end result is a great mix of action, soothing pieces and even some exotic motifs such as those for “The Saradia Republic”.
What elevates the soundtrack, though, is some infusion of Akira Ifukube‘s music into the material. In particular, the themes created for Ostinato were added in. The end result nicely ramps up the sense of action in the film. The editing for the pieces is also creative, in particular the main title theme which is a wonderful mixture of Sugiyama’s Cell theme with Ifukube’s Godzilla theme.
I feel it should be noted that the score has its critics. In particular those who loathe “Bio Wars” with a fiery passion. If you are one those, you can take comfort in the fact that the film is my favorite of all time and bias might have been at play here.
#14 Spring Snow
The soundtrack for Spring Snow is one of those rare examples of a score that gets better with each listen. I feel it’s a great representation of why soundtracks are so enjoyable, as the lack of vocals lend to the material a surprising amount of staying power without feeling overwhelmed by the repetition of it all.
In this case, it’s hard for me to think of a more soothing body of work than composer Taro Iwashiro’s Spring Snow. It’s regal and majestic, creating a score that you just want to get lost in. I typically listen to music while I go to sleep, and generally mix things up frequently. Spring Snow must have broken some sort of record, though, for being locked in my CD player for 10 months straight. The full orchestrations lend themselves so effortlessly to a desire for dreams.
Scored by Steve Jablonsky, best known for his work on Michael Bay’s Transformers series, comes a earnest soundtrack for the 2004 animated film Steamboy.
The end result shows a good deal of range, offering a few whimsical themes to go with its steampunk settings. A lot of score does pack a sense of energy too, which helps on the stand alone side. Other tracks like “Ray’s Theme” sound much more majestic, and the closest this soundtrack gets toward the approach Jablonsky utilized on Transformers. All said and done, though, the movie’s best asset on the musical side is actually a track called “The Chase”, which is a very rousing action piece.
#12 Porco Rosso
Feel in the mode for a light-hearted adventure?
Joe Hisaishi has you covered with this almost whimsical score for the 1992 production of a human turned pig and his high flying escapades after World War I. The soundtrack is fun, striking a light tone from the composer. One can only assume that Hisaishi had a bit of fun with this score, as the feeling is contagious from the listener.
It does break the care-free course of the soundtrack for a couple of themes, though. One of them is “Crazy / Flight”, which is actually because it was originally created for another 1992 release that same year. The theme is wonderful, though, and makes for a perfect addition to the soundtrack.
‘Dat main title…
While this 1993 score does feature repetition, the Godzilla theme, the Rodan theme, the Baby Godzilla theme and the new Mechagodzilla theme are all incredible. The energy that three of those themes pack in each note is powerful, while the Baby Godzilla theme is a soothing melody that works well to counter balance the other material.
While Akira Ifukube is still going back to the well of his past scores for inspiration, the end results are far more diverse from their source material than the earlier 1990’s work. The blood pumping main title for example is a totally re-energized version of the Operation “One Million Volts” theme from King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) and the Mechani-Kong theme from King Kong Escapes (1967). In fact, it’s quite impressive that the composer was able to take a previously “good to okay” theme and transform it into one of the best of his career.
When Toho rebooted the Godzilla franchise to its 1954 roots, they hired a new composer to craft a score that stood out from its peers. The result was not only a career high for Reijiro Koroku, but an incredibly unique soundtrack for the Godzilla series as it gave the 1984 production a Gothic overtone.
The soundtrack kicks off from the first theme, swelling for the Main Title before kicking up the underlining dread. While the soundtrack does include a few well done marches, like the Super-X theme and “The Search for the Enemy Begins”, it’s ultimately the more sinister music in the film that has endeared fans to the score for decades. It’s touching send off for the character in “Godzilla Falls into Mt. Mihara” also made for a good finale, as audiences would bid farewell to the King of the Monsters until his triumphant return five years later.
Super Atragon the movie? Not so hot. Super Atragon the soundtrack? Phenomenal.
This is one of those key instances where Masamichi Amano was able to craft a soundtrack which immensely surpassed the quality of the film it was attached to. While there are some nice soothing melodies, it’s the marches and action pieces that draw the most attention. Stuff like “Launch of the Water Dragon” and “Ra vs. Liberty” are great themes, and the latter is especially impressive as it’s a 6 minute piece that keeps a diverse approach through out.
The score is one of those instances where the actual orchestration happened outside of the Japan. For this production, the Poland National Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra was utilized. The robust orchestra adds a lot to the material, giving it a gravitas that far exceeds what one would expect from an OVA (direct to video animated film).
Akira Ifukube‘s final score, and the maestro goes out with a bang.
Offering way more variety than a normal soundtrack by Ifukube, the score hits a range of emotions. The composer is on point here as well, with even short themes like “Fear of the Oxygen Destroyer” being a show stopper.
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah borrows from past scores, as the composer had been for years, but really breaths new life into the material. The “End Title” feels like a perfect send off for the composer, being a rousing theme that adapts several past cues. Meanwhile, tracks like “Requiem” are simply perfection, to the point it’s hard not to think of a better death theme for the King of the Monsters or not to feel the swelling emotion behind the track.
That about sums up my first experience with the score for Princess Mononoke when I saw the film in theaters. Joe Hisaishi is a wonderfully diverse composer. Warm, playful and lighthearted can be used to sum up several scores in his long resume.
This 1997 score feels like a more adult-facing extension of his work, encompassing a sense of majesty in its opening title and at other times having action based themes with an underlining sense of dread. The soundtrack fires on all cylinders as well, boasting a range of unique themes while tying the material together with one reoccurring cue motif heard in the main title to make the score feel like it flows together.
↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → B A
Putting Godzilla vs. Gigan on a top soundtrack list is like entering a cheat code in a video game. Outside of a ho-hum final song, the score is all stock music of Akira Ifukube‘s earlier work. It feels like a compilation, grabbing music from 11 different productions ranging from 1959 to 1970 and slapping them into a new soundtrack.
…and the end result is incredible. One of the weaknesses of a lot of early Ifukube work is the lack of variety within the score. Due to the tight production schedules, many themes were used over and over again in soundtracks. By culling from 11 different scores, the monotony is removed. Themes from Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965), Destroy All Monsters (1968) and more benefit greatly from this. The themes are edited well too, with “Vicious Attack of the Space Monsters” being one example where it transitions into the “Fury of the Gravity Beams” at just the right moment to give it a boost of energy.
Joe Hisaishi‘s finest hour. The 2004 production boasts a playful and light hearted score at times. Others, it’s a soothing, waltz-like approach to the subject matter.
“Wandering Sophie”, a four minute long track, is a clear highlight from the score, evoking a range of emotions while maintaining a sense of continuity through the theme. The soundtrack is enjoyable from start to finish, and shows a nice range to the material that boasts a wealth of standout cues.
As a side note, this soundtrack also boasts the best image album (scoring round based on storyboards) of Hisaishi’s career. While the image album is very similar to the themes found in the final product, they are much more realized at this stage that other image albums and work as a nice extension to the movie’s soundtrack.
I have an odd relationship with Prophecies of Nostradamus. I first saw the US version, The Last Days of Planet Earth, as a kid and hated it. I considered it one of Toho’s worst. That view has certainly changed over the years, and now hold it up as one of Toho’s most memorable productions.
While my view of the film changed, my view of the soundtrack did not. Even from first viewing I fell for composer Isao Tomita‘s synthesized, experimental soundtrack. The haunting “Main Title”, a perfect melding of synth work with a full orchestra, is just one of those things you never forget. While Tomita’s career has both hits and misses, this 1974 soundtrack is indisputably a highlight and one of the most enjoyable and different scores to come from Toho.
Ranking at the top spot, Michiru Oshima pulls out all the breaks for the 2002 Godzilla film. Performed by the Moscow International Symphonic Orchestra, the score really comes alive, sounding more robust and matching the epic scale of the battles on the big screen.
While Godzilla’s and Kiryu’s themes are used frequently, the score is varied in its hits, branching out with fantastic themes like “Running Wild”, “Intense Fighting” and the beautifully done “Ominous Memories” that plays while footage of Mothra and Gaira is seen.
The score is a treat from start to finish, and a highlight of the Godzilla franchise.General // November 23, 2015
I started introducing myself to the films of Akira Kurosawa in middle school, when I happened upon a chance to see his much-acclaimed 1950 motion picture Rashomon: a film which is credited alongside Teinosuke Kinugasa’s excellent Gate of Hell (1953) for creating western interest in Japanese cinema. In the years before this prefatory screening, I’d read a good deal about the film’s director, namely his reputation as one of the major film artists of the 20th century; so personal expectations for my first Kurosawa film were extremely high. And, as you can imagine—or maybe even relate—I was absolutely delighted when those soaring expectations of mine were quickly met and surpassed by eighty-eight minutes of crisp, poetic storytelling. I promptly labeled the film a masterpiece (a statement I stand by to this day) and kept my eyes open for other pictures by this remarkably gifted director.
Between that first screening of Rashomon and a little over a month ago, I jumped at every opportunity to see a Kurosawa film, and now I can happily proclaim that I have seen—and own—all thirty of his feature-length productions. To address the rhetorical question, I most certainly agree with the prevailing opinion that this Japanese filmmaker was one of the towering geniuses of his profession; so many of his films, such as Seven Samurai (1954) and High and Low (1963), not only capture and maintain my interest but leave me flooded with that wonderful and uplifting sensation that only the experience of seeing a truly great film can provide. Now, was every Kurosawa film on the level of a groundbreaking masterpiece? No. Did the man direct any duds in his time? A few, yes. But I would argue the vast majority of Kurosawa’s films ranged between very good and excellent, with heavy emphasis on the latter. The man was a genuine visionary, and I have no shame in calling him one of my favorite directors.
And since his entire career is so fresh in my mind at the moment, I feel now would be as good enough a time as any to do an analytical retrospective. In the course of this article, I’ll be articulating the style and subject matter of Kurosawa’s films and hopefully provide some insight as to why they have meant so much to me over the years.
The Visual Virtuoso
In starting off this essay, I would like to draw some attention to an interesting—even revealing—bit of trivia about the director under discussion: before he entered the film making industry, Kurosawa trained to be a painter. Why do I make mention of this, and what relevance does it have to the man’s eventual long-term career?
First: due to the nature of the mediums, it is practically impossible to discuss either a filmmaker or a painter without drawing at least some level of attention to their visual style. Films may make use of other mediums such as music and of course a good screenplay is a must-have, but predominately, a director is defined by what he does with his camera.
Second: Kurosawa’s method of composing shots vividly reflects his background as a painter; his shots are very much like paintings given mobile life. (And, in a sense, they are: when story boarding, Kurosawa preferred to create full-fledged paintings as opposed to sketches.) When studying a Kurosawa shot, one can see a deep interest in maintaining visual interest within multiple dimensions: the foreground, the background, the physical features of the set, and so on.
Hundreds of shots could be offered as examples, but let’s just consider a handful of images photographed at different points in the man’s career.
This still shot, taken from the opening of Kagemusha (1980), could pass for a painting. There is very little in terms of physical action: three seemingly identical men are seated; two of them are scrutinizing the other; the third man, swelling with aggravation, refuses to meet their gaze; the man in the center is situated on a podium and beneath an emblem, indicating his status. Also note the symbolism. The man in the middle is a warlord and has three shadows, so to speak: his own, projected on the wall, and the two lookalikes around him. Even with the absence of dialogue, there is enough visual information in this shot to give the audience an idea of what is happening, the subtext is rich, and the vibrant use of color makes it simply enamoring to look at.
In this shot, from the underrated The Quiet Duel, produced by Daiei in 1949, we see the director utilizing movement in both the foreground and the background for heightened tension. The surgeon and his assistants are busily moving in the background as they attempt to save the life of a wounded soldier; and in the foreground, there is a ceaseless downpour of rain which not only keeps the frame lively but also adds to the somber nature of the scene. The environment (remember what I said earlier about Kurosawa employing interest in various dimensions of a single composition?) adds to the emotions the characters are going through.
Here’s another instance—this one from that great masterpiece Seven Samurai (1954)—where Kurosawa invigorates a shot in which not much physical activity seems to be occurring. Notice the dirt visibly stirred up by the wind. But like the warlord’s shadow in the Kagemusha shot from earlier, the plumes of dirt are not merely something interesting to look at; it fits thematically with what is happening in the story. The characters are mourning for the death of one of the eponymous samurai, who lost his life not to a sword, not to an arrow, not to a spear—not to any kind of weapon samurai are accustomed to dealing with—but to a musket. A firearm. A new breed of weapon gradually replacing the old. Like the plumes of dirt blowing across the hill, the samurai and his ways have been swept away by the proverbial winds of time.
Kurosawa possessed an instinct for creating great images, but if I were to salute another, perhaps more domineering reason why I adore his style, it would be this: he invites me into the creative process of visual storytelling. In making this point, I would like to go back to the beginning. The literal beginning: the very first shot in his debut, Sanshiro Sugata (1943). As the film opens, the camera is pointed into the heavens, a few rooftops just barely visible toward the bottom of the composition; the camera starts tracking forward, tilting down as it goes, those buildings rising higher into view, and suddenly we’re in the midst of a small 19th century community. A short while later, the camera turns left into an alleyway. Up ahead is a cluster of chattering women. Then, at the sound of an off-screen voice, the women turn toward us. (The shot ends with the camera still in motion.) But the fourth wall has not been broken; for at that moment, Kurosawa cuts to a reverse angle, revealing that the long opening shot was, in fact, the point of view of our wandering protagonist. (To cement this impression, Kurosawa begins the second shot with the character taking a few final steps forward.) It’s the very beginning of the film, and already the director has invited the viewer into sharing his creative process.
Kurosawa edited his own films, and sometimes a sequence can be identified as his by its editing style. His habit of shooting with multiple cameras allowed him to capture every essential detail and action—no matter the size or placement within the set—in numerous shots and strip them together in a stimulating manner. In keeping the sense of relation from one composition to the next, Kurosawa would oftentimes cut on a physical action. So if a character starts running in one shot, the cut occurs mid-stride and we see the movement finish at the beginning of the next shot. (Cutting on motion may be the only major visual technique Kurosawa shared with Yasujiro Ozu.)
Kurosawa is frequently credited with popularizing the “wipe” transition, which he utilized constantly in his black-and-white career and, for reasons unknown to me, seemed to abandon by the time he started shooting in color. Much could be theorized (and undoubtedly has been) about why Kurosawa used the wipe so much, but one thing is for certain: the effect does kept the pace going while simultaneously moving from scene to scene in a unique manner. Though he often used it to shift between scenes and settings, Kurosawa would sometimes use the wipe to divide up individual sequences and the result could be even humorous. (A scene in Ikiru (1952), where a group of women unsuccessfully try to appeal to a slew of bureaucrats—the wipe serving as transition from one unenthusiastic or mawkish face to the next—springs to mind.)
When it comes to dramatic moments, a good many directors like to have their camera zoom or track in upon a subject; and indeed, Kurosawa was no stranger to this himself—he made especially good use of forward motion in the musical climax of his second postwar film One Wonderful Sunday (1947) where the camera dashed in upon actress Chieko Nakakita in correlation to Franz Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.
However, even though he made use of this more familiar method, Kurosawa generally preferred to heighten a dramatic moment not with physical camera movement—but rather, movement enacted by editing. This was accomplished with axial cuts: stationary shots divided by jump cuts with each edit placing the camera closer to the subject. In Sanshiro Sugata (1943), our hero kills an opponent in a match, and Kurosawa uses the axial cut to emphasize the reaction of a woman in the audience (the defeated man’s daughter). The shock of seeing her father slain and the thirst for revenge swelling in her eyes remains the same for her but feels more and more impactful for the audience each time the camera cuts a few meters forward. While a tracking shot would’ve been efficient, Kurosawa’s axial cuts convey all feelings needed and present the scene in a distinctive way. This sequence can be seen to the right.
Another technique in editing is deciding when to let a scene or a significant part of a scene run on in a single shot. Sometimes Kurosawa’s one-shots moved around: forming different kinds of compositions, finding new angles to explore without making any actual cuts in the film. But in other instances, the camera would remain completely stationary for long, long stretches of time.
Compare these two frames from the 1944 film The Most Beautiful and Ikiru (1952). In terms of composition and subject matter, they are very much alike: the camera is completely stationary and situated extremely close to a single character, and both shots focus upon a sad and lonely person struggling to hold back their tears in the wake of a devastating realization. The two shots are also similar in that they continue for a long time and allow the emotional power to resonate from the performance. (An irony: in both films, the character who receives this long unbroken close-up is named Watanabe.)
Connecting Images to Themes and Emotions
When analyzing those previously cited shots from Kagemusha (1980) and Seven Samurai (1954), I found myself inevitably describing examples of Kurosawa’s visual symbolism: compositions that are fun to look at and fun to think about in terms of what they mean. Here are a few more examples. After the final battle in Seven Samurai, that sword-decorated burial mound from earlier is joined by three others; and, just like before, wind lashes at the terrain, stirring dirt into the air as a symbol for the changing times. The screenplay provides some to-the-point dialogue (one of the surviving ronin proclaims that the villagers are the true victors and the samurai, even those left alive, have suffered defeat) and lets the emotion and the theme resonate from the images.
In a scene from No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), a young salary man moonlighting as a political activist enunciates a long speech about the dangers of leading a double life; as he goes into his monologue, he gradually steps out of the shot and positions himself so that his shadow (a symbol for his double life) is blatantly cast on the wall.
Two films later in Kurosawa’s career. One of the most frequently visited images in Drunken Angel (1948) is that of a pollutant-infested sump in a postwar suburb. The sump has real-life relevance, but artistically, Kurosawa is using it to represent the physical and moral decline of the individual (or many individuals). At one point, a tubercular yakuza (Toshiro Mifune—his first role in a Kurosawa film) stands next to the swamp-like water, fully aware that if he continues to embellish in his current lifestyle (drinking, smoking, visiting the brothels—side-effects of his involvement in organized crime), he will only push himself into an early grave. As he contemplates his own mortality, he holds a flower: a symbol for a chance at a new life. A little later, in one of the most saddening scenes in the film, the yakuza tosses the flower—and what it represents—into the sump. Kurosawa had once before used a flower for symbolizing rebirth, except in the case of Sanshiro Sugata (1943), the character made a wiser choice. A reckless judo student, chastised for using his strength and training as a means of bullying people, throws himself into a pond and remains there until nightfall. The moment of him discovering his humility occurs when he watches a lotus flower bloom in the glow of the full moon. The student, calling for his instructor, scrambles out of the water—a new man.
And while we’re on visual metaphors, we might as well address Kurosawa’s frequent use of weather and elements of the set for heightening an emotion. Here are just a few.And how about this scene from Ikiru (1952)? Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), a bureaucrat dying of gastric cancer, and Toyo Odagiri (Miki Odagiri), a lower-class woman employed in a toy factory, are seated on a balcony opposite some upper-class twenty-somethings; the latter are preparing a birthday party for a friend who has not yet arrived. Note the differences in attire—part of what distinguishes class—between Toyo and the people on the other side. (Their being situated on opposite balconies further emphasizes their different places in society.) This is fascinating and relevant material, but it’s not the primary drama of the scene. The mortally ill Watanabe is desperate to live—to accomplish something meaningful and enduring before his early demise. He’s been captivated by Toyo’s vigorous love for life and wants to learn to be like her—to live like her—if only once. Toyo shows him a toy rabbit she made at her job; Watanabe becomes filled with inspiration; he takes the small toy in his hands and hustles off. Then comes the scene’s highlight and some of the most emotional material I’ve ever seen, from any director. Watanabe starts rushing down the stairs just as the upper-class kids rush to the balcony edge and start singing, “Happy birthday to you!” Kurosawa holds his camera in place long enough for Watanabe, gleaming with ambition, to step out of frame and the song’s true dedicatee (the just-arriving friend) to enter view and run up the stairs. Of course, the plot’s excuse is that the kids are singing for their friend, but we the audience know that, metaphorically, the song represents Watanabe’s rebirth—his chance at a new life. After nearly an hour and a half of watching our protagonist moping over his oncoming death and lack of past accomplishment, seeing the same man suddenly inspired is truly uplifting. But Kurosawa hasn’t forgotten about Toyo. He returns to a shot with the young lower-class woman in the foreground and the celebrating kids in the background: reminding us of their separate social statuses one more time before the fade to black. Brilliantly emotional material, rich with symbolism, handled with flawless execution.
Sanshiro Sugata (1943): The final duel takes place in a windstorm. It’s visually striking, but the director’s underlying intent is to represent the confusion and turmoil our characters are going through via the environment.
Seven Samurai (1954): The final battle sequence takes place in a torrential downpour. In scenes previous, several characters have already perished; others have lost friends and family members; the relationship between a father and his daughter has been shattered; and everyone realizes they too just might meet their end in the oncoming fight. The climax of this revolutionary epic is not a giddy, feel-good action extravaganza; it’s rather sad, and Kurosawa’s use of the rain makes it all the more sorrowful.
Rashomon (1950): Much of this moody story, in which characters recall the death of a man and the possible rape of his wife, takes place in a rainstorm. But when the optimistic ending arrives, the clouds (literally) clear, and the sun shines once more.
Awareness of Society and the Human Condition
I could go on and on about visual symbolism, but now I’d like to examine yet another one of Kurosawa’s admirable qualities as an artist: his humanism.
Let’s begin with his cynical outlook on violence. Kurosawa directed a good many violent films in his career, but only on occasion would he present bloodshed in a way that was glorious or giddy. The duel presented at end of Rashomon (1950) features its contestants frantically waving their swords around—mostly in an effort to keep their opponent at bay—fearing death and injury at every second. (This finale is a total opposite of the more honorable depiction of the fight—in which both parties fought bravely and vigorously to the end—presented earlier, from the point of view of its boastful survivor.) The Hidden Fortress (1958), one of the most delightfully entertaining adventure movies I’ve ever seen, functions mostly as a fun—and funny—saga but it also manages to tackle consequences of war such as poverty, not to mention it presents the bondage between respectable leaders and their subjects. And in pictures such as Stray Dog (1949) and High and Low (1963), crime leaves a lingering impact on individual characters and later filters out to affect entire societies.
Of course, there were instances where Kurosawa presented bloodshed in a manner that was light and even comical, best exemplified by Yojimbo (1961), in which Toshiro Mifune‘s laconic ronin spends most of the movie slicing up villains without remorse, sometimes murmuring an ironic joke in the wake of a kill. None of the ronin’s opponents are made out to be sympathetic, and the film does little in the way of exposing the consequences of violence. It’s riveting and entertaining, but it doesn’t send the audience out mulling over real life. This lightweight outlook didn’t last too terribly long, though; not even for Mifune’s character. In the sequel, Sanjuro(1962), the ronin comes to lament his ways and becomes overwhelmed with anger whenever he is forced to draw his sword on another man.
The director’s pessimistic outlook on violence points to a question he asked throughout his career: Why must human beings continually kill each other and bring about their own demise year after year, generation after generation? And the older Kurosawa became—the more he asked this question—the more layers he brought to it in his art. Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985) feature third-act battle sequences in which charging men armed with swords and spears are cut down in hordes by musket fire. No hand-to-hand combat. New breeds of technology have become the preferred tool of war. Of course, both Kagemusha and Ran are period pieces, but the use of firearms in the context of their stories can be read as a reflection of man’s ongoing persistence in finding even more efficient means of killing each other—something everyone in the world was keenly aware of in the last months of World War II. (How fitting that a Japanese director chose to comment on this.)
In the early chapters of his career, Kurosawa would oftentimes end a sad and tragic story with a glimmer of hope. In Drunken Angel (1948), the tubercular yakuza’s pride ultimately brings about his own undoing; but at the end of the movie, the dead man’s doctor is treating a younger tuberculosis patient (who is showing great signs of recovery) to ice cream in postwar Tokyo. In 1950’s Rashomon, an abandoned baby is discovered inside a temple, and an impoverished woodcutter (who is guilty of not reporting his having witnessed a killing to the authorities as well as taking the dead man’s dagger for profit) offers to adopt the abandoned child. Lesser-known postwar Kurosawa films presented similar attitudes. No Regrets for Our Youth (1946): the middle-class heroine has lost her husband but continues to stand for his cause and helps out her in-laws on their farm. One Wonderful Sunday (1947): a young married couple end up broke but still hold out hope for future success. The Quiet Duel (1949): a doctor sick with syphilis has forced himself to give up his fiancée but refuses to stop serving those in need. In all of these films, the director is willing to hold out hope that, in spite of all that has transpired, good things might be waiting for humankind in the future. (Bear in mind: this era in Kurosawa’s career took place when Japan was still reeling from the aftermath of World War II, when disparity was amok and optimism would’ve been much-needed. Even though Kurosawa originally intended a darker ending for The Quiet Duel, the film’s bittersweet but still fairly positive resolution is another example of the director ending his story with a wish for the best out of humanity.)
Kurosawa didn’t remain so optimistic, though. His three Shakespearian films—Throne of Blood (1957), an adaptation of Macbeth; The Bad Sleep Well (1960), inspired by Hamlet; and Ran (1985), based in part on King Lear—all end on a downbeat and depressing note. No one comes out of these stories satisfied, except sometimes the villains, and the films’ protagonists, such as they are, meet undignified ends. Ran is perhaps the defining example. The majority of the characters in this 2 hour 42 minute samurai epic have dark shades to them, but there are two youthful characters (a blinded heir to a kingdom and his devotedly religious sister) clearly representing glimmers of humanity in a dark and sinister world. And, unexpectedly, at the end, the sister is beheaded and her sibling left to stand on a precipice. Had this film been made in the late 40s or early 50s, I feel Kurosawa might have permitted these two characters at least a hopeful ending. I don’t claim to know why he chose to sacrifice them as well, but if I were to venture a guess, it would be that Kurosawa, whose life was filled with plenty of hardships (including a suicide attempt), came to the belief that to truly resonate a message of man’s dark side was to tell a story in which no one, not even the innocent, comes out with a happy ending. The only character to achieve any real success is Lade Kaede (Mieko Harada). At the end of the film, this cold and calculating femme fatale dies comforted in the knowledge that the castle of the man who murdered her family will be soon burned to the ground.
Kurosawa wasn’t ignorant to the problems of society as a whole, either. Consider the ending of Ikiru (1952). Watanabe has succumbed to his cancer after spurring a movement to convert a cesspool into a playground for children (and thus achieving something important in his life). But credit for Watanabe’s accomplishment has been taken by a deputy mayor, and despite a (drunken) vow to follow their dead section chief’s example, his subordinates return to the same monotonous, anti-accomplishment work they’d been performing beforehand; even the most passionate of the group is too overwhelmed to do anything about it. Ikiru is an uplifting story, but at the same time, it’s not a total fairy tale with eyes closed to the imperfections of society. Another example: the 1963 masterpiece High and Low. In that film, a wealthy businessman is forced to give up his fortune to save the life of another man’s child; for his personal sacrifice, he is subsequently supported with open arms by the general public; but just when things seem to get better—when the kidnapper is taken into custody—we are reminded that if it wasn’t for social separation—and poverty—the kidnapper might’ve never become who he is, and none of these tragedies would’ve occurred. In that extraordinary film, which is one of the best film-noirs I’ve ever seen, Kurosawa showed us both sides of the coin.
Despite being a Japanese filmmaker, Kurosawa only explicitly dealt with the atom bomb on a handful of occasions: namely I Live in Fear (1955), Dreams (1990), and Rhapsody in August (1991). The first dealt with the paranoia of the nuclear arms race; the second created a horrific fantasy of what might happen if man continues to mess around with nuclear technology; the third examined how different generations reflected on the bombing of Hiroshima decades later. All three are appreciative in the sense that they don’t take mindless jabs at Japan’s wartime opponents.
In fact, ignoring the atrocious Sanshiro Sugata: Part II (1945), which contained a ‘highlight’ (meaning it merely stood out) of a judo student defeating a brutish American boxer in a match, Kurosawa generally refused to take swipes at the western world. Sometimes he would be critical of western advances (such as the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union—the patriarch in I Live in Fear is driven to anxiety-induced madness over the possibility of nuclear war erupting and the devastation eventually reaching Japan) but rarely would he paint foreigners with broad strokes. And obviously he bore the western world few grudges: he spent over a year making Dersu Uzala (1975) in and for Russia; he directed Richard Gere in Rhapsody in August (1991); and he cast Martin Scorsese in the role of Vincent Van Gogh for Dreams (1990).
Also, consider the political restraint of his second film, The Most Beautiful (1944). This picture, a propaganda piece he was coerced to make by the studio after funding for a fighter pilot story fell through, tells the tale of workers in a war factory. Wartime propaganda, by its nature, presents an opportunity for mocking or dehumanizing another nation. But, save for a single scene of the characters giving a morning pledge (in which they vow to do their part in helping destroy America and Great Britain), the propaganda focuses on boosting morale, not pointing fingers at the enemy. In a key scene, the heroine played by Yoko Yaguchi (whom Kurosawa married in real life) returns to work after-hours in search of a faulty rifle lens. But as the character clarifies, her concern—the reason why she insists on slaving away through all hours of the night—is not over the possibility that Japan’s kill count might go down a few notches; she’s distressed that, due to her mistake, one of her own countrymen might lose his life in combat. There’s a nice touch of humanism here. (And to answer an oncoming question: yes, I’m one of precious few individuals on this planet who defends The Most Beautiful as a decent little movie.)
And in No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), Kurosawa spends 110 minutes articulating and criticizing Japan’s political mentality leading into World War II. In particular, he’s looking down on the Japanese government’s former habit of silencing anyone who spoke out against the wartime effort. The characters aren’t afraid of the western world; they’re opposing the condemnation of academic freedom. In the course of this film, not once is Hiroshima and Nagasaki mentioned or shown. For the director is not discussing what other countries did to Japan during the war; he’s pointing out something Japan did to itself. And, unique for Kurosawa, it is a female protagonist who reflects on this poignant, overlooked subject.
Women in Kurosawa Films
While we’re on the subject of women in Kurosawa films, I would like to address a topic in which I must strongly—and vigorously—disagree with a popular critical consensus. The consensus being that Kurosawa was indifferent and borderline-misogynistic when it came to women in his films. Granted: the stories he told were predominately male-driven sagas. (Masters and apprentices was a favorite topic of his.) And there were some truly unsympathetic female characters in his films such as the wife in Rashomon (1950) and, for that matter, all three of Isuzu Yamada’s collaborations with Kurosawa. But I would still argue that, in total, Kurosawa gave women more attention and empathy than some critics like to admit. The earlier mentioned No Regrets for Our Youth (1946) stars Setsuko Hara, one of the greatest actresses in the history of Japanese cinema, as a young middle-class woman caught between two suitors and their opposing political viewpoints: the one who stands for freedom of speech and the one who conforms to the system in favor of personal security. By using a love triangle—with a strong female character at the center—Kurosawa could represent Japan’s divided pre-war attitude and ultimately, via the heroine’s decision, stand for the ideology he personally supported. A woman embodies the theme of the story, and the film is, in my sincere opinion, the first truly special motion picture Kurosawa made.
For the second and unfortunately final time Hara acted under Kurosawa’s direction, the renowned actress was cast completely against type. In The Idiot(1951), Hara, who is well-known to this day for playing charming characters and who was absolutely adorable in No Regrets for Our Youth, took on the role of a misanthropic and hateful mistress. A person who, in the course of her life, had been handed from man to man, traded like a piece of furniture, who never had a real friend, who grew up believing the world to be a dark and unforgiving place devoid of human kindness. Dressed entirely in black and rarely showing off that heart-warming smile of hers, Hara is almost unrecognizable in this film and looks rather sinister. But the character is not evil incarnate. Rather, she’s a product of her environment. (Like Lady Kaede inRan, she didn’t ask to be turned into what she is.) We hear tremendous detail of her disdain and distrust for the world and the people in it. And yet, Hara’s character is not incapable of showing her human side. Look at the film’s ‘birthday party’ scene. Having finally met someone who doesn’t hold her past against her, who regards her as a lovely individual tarnished by a cruel world, the character breaks down in tears, crying out her thankfulness for finally being accepted. Hara’s character may be bizarre, but she’s still sympathetic from a certain point of view.
Other instances of appealing female characters in Kurosawa films: the wife in One Wonderful Sunday (1947) exhibits optimism while her husband prefers to sulk around; Lady Sué in Ran (1985) presents faith and purity in a dark and sinister world; the fiancée in The Quiet Duel (1949) is forced to give up the love of her life in favor of what her family—and society, again—demands of her; the female clinic workers come to accept and protect a prostitute-turned-nurse in Red Beard (1965)—the way said nurse bonds with and looks after a young doctor at the clinic; the village girl in Seven Samurai (1954) who falls in love with one of the hired protectors but cannot be with him due to class separation.
Again, I consent that Kurosawa’s movies were predominately male-driven and that he didn’t regularly sympathize with women to the same degree or in the same way as Mikio Naruse, Yasujiro Ozu, or Kenji Mizoguchi. Still, I cannot help but regard the criticisms of him marginalizing and mistreating female characters in his films as exaggerated and truly undeserving. There’s more humanism here, I feel, than some people take note of.
Career as a Personal Saga
As he reached the later years of his life, Kurosawa started gravitating toward elderly characters, especially ones coming to terms with their own mortality. The eponymous trapper in Dersu Uzala (1975) temporarily flees the wilderness and lives with his civilized friend when his health starts deteriorating. Ran (1985) is, among other things, the portrait of an old man acknowledging the faults of his past; he’s not initially aware of it, but death is creeping toward him.
And in the finale of Kurosawa’s swan song, Madadayo (1993), a retired professor passes out from exhaustion while attending a social gathering dedicated to him. He is rushed home and put to bed, his wife and former students sitting nervously outdoor his bedroom door. (A doctor informs them he is not at death’s door just yet; but the professor is, without question, in the twilight years of his life.) Kurosawa’s camera finds itself inside the old man’s room as he sleeps and then we dissolve to a fantasy: the professor as a child, playing with other children in a hayfield. The child becomes aware of a deep crimson light fanning across the field, stands up, and turns to face it. Then, in one of the most heart-rending pieces of filmmaking I’ve ever seen, Kurosawa’s camera proceeds to wander across the sky, which becomes a fantastic painting (illustrated by the director himself). All of this happens in the mind of the sleeping professor. The character, like the storyteller, may be nearing the end of his time, but he’s not prepared to quit. I personally do not consider Madadayo to be one of Kurosawa’s absolute best pictures, but I cannot think of a more perfect way for the director to end not only this story but his career in motion pictures as well. For his career is not merely a group of stories meant to pass the time; they are the saga of an artist exploring his own ideas and feelings, showing how they changed from youth to old age.
And so, Akira Kurosawa was a great many things: a superb craftsman, a poetic storyteller, and a humanist wishing for the best out of mankind. Plus, he was a man who knew how to channel all of these elements into a fine work of art. Having watched all thirty of his motion pictures in chronological order and then sitting down to write this essay, I am more keenly aware of this than ever before.
A fun note for the readership: my first draft for this essay was about a thousand words shorter than the one you are reading now; as I went over that shorter version, I found myself simply dissatisfied, eager to cover more points, to expand on ideas, to further communicate my love and appreciation for these many, many films.
Just writing about Kurosawa’s films makes me think—about the films, about what went into making the films, about society, about life, about Kurosawa himself. Much more than an elegant impresario, Akira Kurosawa was one of the true masters of the cinema; and he left an enduring legacy for us to experience, re-experience, scrutinize, and discuss. It took quite some time for me to track down and see all of his films, but in hindsight, it was well worth the effort.
In wrapping up this retrospective, I suppose a personal top ten is in order.
1. Seven Samurai (1954)
2. Rashomon (1950)
3. High and Low (1963)
4. Yojimbo (1961)
5. Ran (1985)
6. Kagemusha (1980)
7. Stray Dog (1949)
8. The Quiet Duel (1949)
9. The Idiot (1951)
10. No Regrets for Our Youth (1946)General // September 10, 2015
A little more than a year has passed since Gareth Edwards’ long-anticipated Godzilla (2014) arrived in multiplexes and was greeted with healthy box office receipts, a favorable reaction from Toho, and a generally positive response from the audience—not to mention a stream of laurels bestowed upon the film by the Godzilla fan community. Since then, there’s been a good deal of talk regarding how fans interpret the film and, even more so, what they expect—and hope—to see in the next entry in the series from Legendary Pictures. In spite of the favorable notices, there were some common criticisms even amongst the enthusiasts: the eponymous monster’s surprising lack of screen time; the sudden replacement of Bryan Cranston as the film’s primary protagonist and emotional core; the frequent cutting away at the start of what appeared to be a big action sequence; and a few other minor gripes that didn’t seem to totally wreck anyone’s enjoyment of the film.
As for my perspective in this Godzilla 2014: a year retrospective well… my feelings for the picture have changed somewhat since last year, but I still stand by my assertion that it’s an overall satisfying film experience which makes up for its lack of interesting human characters with a trio of personality-packed monsters who never flag in interest whenever they appear on-screen. Although I would have preferred Godzilla himself to have more of an impact on the narrative (especially in the first act), every single second devoted to his presence is just awe-inspiring. His opponents, the MUTOs, with their menacing appearances and apparent allegory for nuclear disarmament (they consume nuclear warheads) are a welcome addition to the franchise as far as I am concerned. And the final battle between the three of them was genuinely thrilling. Edwards and his team succeeded in regard to the monsters.
Still, there are some things in the film which I felt should have been done much better; and, ironically enough, one of my biggest criticisms ties directly into what I would like to see in the sequel. It concerns the last few minutes of the picture.
Godzilla (2014) features a double climax with the three monsters combating in San Francisco while a small team of soldiers attempts to locate a nuclear warhead (which was captured by the MUTOs after initially being used to bait them) and remove it from the city limits before it detonates. Godzilla eventually defeats the MUTOs; the warhead is loaded onto a boat and propelled out to sea. The warhead goes off in the distance. The next morning, Godzilla suddenly awakens from an exhaustion-induced slumber and starts lumbering toward the coast. People cheer and smile at him as he goes. Having achieved victory, the monster bellows into the heavens, plunges into the sea, and returns to his underwater domain. Roll credits.
What bothers me the most about this ending is the way it clumsily abandons the film’s most opportune moment to make an anti-nuke statement. Especially since, up to that point, the picture had been wagging its finger at the mushroom cloud. True, Godzilla (2014) isn’t trying to communicate its message on the same level—or in the same way—as the original Godzilla (1954) by Ishiro Honda, but it is clearly taking note of a theme common to the series: when faced with a major crisis, man turns to nuclear weapons, and it often backfires, solving nothing and making the situation worse. And again, the movie makes an admirable attempt to do this most of the way through. It’s because of manmade atomic energy that the monsters awaken; without it, the Mutos would’ve remained in hibernation, and Godzilla would’ve lingered in the deep sea. That’s good. And the movie hints that it will use that nuclear warhead in San Francisco as a means of making the grand statement. (We’ve been warned of the consequences, and soon we shall see them.) But it really doesn’t. In the wake of the explosion, we don’t see any aftermath. No radiation poisoning. No fallout. The bomb went off without, apparently, doing anything bad. For all the build-up and the chatter about its devastating power (as well as a scene hinting that San Francisco could become the next Hiroshima), the payoff is little more than a white light on the horizon which our hero can shut his eyes to. Granted, Edwards does make up for it a bit by showing the results of the monster battle: civilians being pulled out of rubble; families trying to find each other. And it could be argued that the destruction is an allegory for man’s reckless use of the bomb. Still, the movie gave itself a chance to cement its message in a way that was viscerally effective, and it elected not to.
It’s also a lapse in terms of the MUTOs. Had the film shown more in terms of the nuclear consequence, it would have made their allegory for disarmament—and their tragedy in that they were, in a sense, doing the world some good by wiping out man’s atomic arsenal—even more meaningful. But alas, the movie doesn’t take advantage of this opportunity either.
As an example of how such a climax could have been better-handled, let’s examine another film in the franchise: Koji Hashimoto‘s The Return of Godzilla from 1984. Both films feature a sequence involving an atomic weapon threatening to destroy an entire city and the military making an effort to stop it in time. In Hashimoto’s film, a nuclear missile is accidentally launched toward Tokyo. (Godzilla, meanwhile, has been knocked into submission by the Super-X’s cadmium shells.) Similar to what happens in the Edwards film, the military succeeds in stopping the missile in time: another missile is fired to meet it in the atmosphere. Also similar to the 2014 film: the explosion is far enough away that it causes no direct physical damage whatsoever to the city.
But the similarities end there. When the warhead goes off in The Return of Godzilla, we see actual consequences: the explosion disrupts communication; the fallout causes the Super-X to temporarily malfunction; and, most important of all, the radiation produces a nuclear thunderstorm which revives the fallen Godzilla. History has repeated itself. Godzilla has once more been awakened by an atomic explosion. One disaster has led to another. The Return of Godzilla presented itself with an opportunity to make a statement, and it took full advantage of it.
So how could the Gareth Edwards film have followed this example? Perhaps the best and meaningful thing to do would’ve been to show fallout descending upon San Francisco and showing us what it will do to the populace. Radiation poisoning, homes which must now be abandoned due to contamination, etc. The movie didn’t even necessarily need to go into tremendous depth with this, merely remind us that, due to our reckless use of the atomic bomb, things will not be improving for the citizens of San Francisco. It would also function better in the story in regards to Godzilla’s sudden awakening; instead of the monster just sleeping off his exhaustion, why not have the radiation replenish his strength? Or some other way of connecting him to what just happened? (And, on a side note, I would also have axed that cheesy sequence of the people in the stadium cheering in favor of a more ambiguous reaction with everyone not being sure what to make of this giant animal. The Godzilla in this film is, after all, classified an anti-hero, not a superhero. So directly connecting the explosion to this giant monster still running loose in the world would have added even more to the story and the characterization.)
So now how does all of this tie into what I would like to see explored in the sequel? Edwards and his team could easily make up for their missed opportunity in the 2014 film by detailing what the nuclear explosion did to San Francisco. This could consist of anything from the irradiated effect on marine life (maybe, calling back to the Lucky Dragon No. 5 incident that inspired Honda’s original movie, the fish market is boycotted due to the fallout at sea) to the discovery that fallout had, unbeknown to us, descended over San Francisco during the night; that our characters underestimated the true range and power of their own creation; maybe civilians or some of our primary characters have become sick with radiation poisoning. These are just a few suggestions; there’s still a chance for the filmmakers to redeem themselves for this allegorical lapse, and I hope they take advantage of it next time. And if they don’t, hopefully there’ll be more of an attempt to follow through on the nuclear theme—or whatever theme they’ll be exploring next—when Godzilla 2 arrives in 2018.General // August 17, 2015