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  • There is no guarantee that holidays celebrated in the west will be celebrated at all in Japan, to say nothing about being celebrated in the same way that, say, Americans would feel familiar with. Christmas in Japan, for example, is considered a romantic holiday, and if someone asks if you have plans for Christmas in Japan, they are often more or less asking if you have a significant other. Valentine’s Day, meanwhile, is not just romantic—it is a day in which the ladies of the island nation are pressured by custom into giving the men in their lives chocolate, with lovers sometimes receiving handmade goodies, and bosses and male coworkers receiving more boring “obligation chocolate” (guys are expected to repay their female counterparts on White Day a month later). Even Easter is, if not entirely celebrated, at least… acknowledged, with stores being decked out in Easter themed posters and paraphernalia every year.

    And that brings us to Halloween—a holiday known and celebrated in its way in Japan, but not quite in the same way as in the USA. Japan does not so much have trick or treat night for kids (although some people do the custom, and the Yakuza have a tradition of offering kids snacks on Halloween—no joke), dressing up in elaborate costumes has increasingly become cool in Japan, with monsters, zombies, sexy nurses, and movie characters of all sorts swarming the trains and gathering for special events in places like Disneyland or flashy clubs on Halloween night. In other words, it is an official day of cosplay for adults as much as if not moreso than for children.

    The beautiful box-art with the Marui building behind!

    Thus perhaps it should come as little surprise that even Godzilla is getting in on the Halloween spirit with his Godzilla Halloween Print Cookie, which I did not discover until Halloween was already over with last year. Similar in style and flavor to the previous Godzilla Print Cookie which I wrote about before, these Halloween Print Cookies are somewhat more elaborate even that the Namja Town edition of the traditional version. Each print cookie (this time produced by Coms instead of Sawarabi STK) comes individually packaged in white plastic packaging with doily-esque designs adding an air of class and sophistication to the Godzilla-goings on. The prints on each of the cookies, too, are more visually impressive than the monochrome red or black prints from the Print Cookies available in 2016, with these Halloween scenes going full, vivid color, and with fairly impressive detail on all four varieties. Although the box itself is less flashy than the previous Print Cookie packaging (no pop-up cardboard monster here), each box comes with one clear sticker randomly inserted depicting one of the Halloween-themed kaiju designs that appear on the cookies—and in this case, the designs are really the point of attraction.

    There are four designs, each one featuring a different kaiju—Godzilla, Mothra in her imago form, King Ghidorah, and the 1970s Mechagodzilla. Each round cookie comes with its own cartoonishly rendered giant monster of destruction interacting in some cute way with one or more jack-o-lanterns, random orange stars and bats floating in the background. So thus we have a red-eyed burning Godzilla about ready to take a bite out of a cheerful pumpkin in a wizard hat, Mothra carrying her jack-o-lantern (back to Infant Island?), KG proudly protective of a triple pumpkin tower, and Mechagodzilla dashing with five little pumpkins in his arms—including one mecha-jack-o-lantern with glowing yellow eyes! Each image is rendered nicely on the cookies, but even better on the stickers and on the box art in which the colors really pop (and the background on the box gains a skyline that includes the Marui building—location of the Godzilla Store).

    Here we have a cheap cash-grab sticker, but I still love the art!

    As to the flavor of the cookies, they are good, with a strong vanilla taste and an especially crisp texture (more so even than the aforementioned Godzilla Print Cookies from 2016). There is only the one flavor, though—the images on the cookies, while they look nice, make no difference as to taste, but the relatively mild, sugar-cookie flavor is pleasant if unremarkable.

    Despite the relatively uninteresting flavor of the final cookies, of the three varieties of Godzilla Print Cookie that I have tried so far, these Halloween-themed ones are probably my favorite. I like the extra crunch, I like the adorable art, and, though the “random clear sticker” is obviously a transparent means of tricking kaiju fans with extra cash into buying multiple boxes of cookies, I like the fact that a sticker is included. It’s just really fun, and while these omiyage boxes are definitely unnecessary, that makes them no less enjoyable for the fans. Still, Halloween cookies for omiyage seems like an odd mix given that omiyage is usually bought by travelers for friends and family back home. Do a lot of people travel on Halloween?

    Godzilla with heartburn from eating too much Halloween candy.

    Mothra on a mission to deliver a pumpkin.

    Mechagodzilla has a mech-a-lantern.

    King Ghidorah made a Halloween version of a snowman.

    Kaiju Kuisine // November 4, 2018
  • The panel for “Godzilla: Secrets of the MonsterVerse” and the graphic novel Godzilla: Aftershock at LA Comic Con in Los Angeles, California on 10/27/2018. The video runs for a little over 40 minutes.

    *Notes: This footage was filmed on a Samsung Galaxy S9+. The gimbal used was doing some slight drifting out of frame so it had to be corrected during filming.

    ***Special thanks to Michal Shipman for his help in taking care of the audio sync issue!

    General // November 3, 2018
  • The staff of Toho Kingdom makes some Toho film recommendations for the Halloween season. This covers creepy, atmospheric and horror movies produced or released by Toho that are perfect for the month of October. Recommendations run the gamut, dating from the 1950’s all the way to films released a few years ago. If you are looking for even more horror productions from Japan, also be sure to check the Horror Movie Listing.

    Nicholas Driscoll

    Hi gang! For me, I do rather like a good horror flick or creepy movie, though I have to admit I have not seen a great many of the Japanese horror classics—I am still catching up! The following is just a list of some horror and monster flicks outside of the usual kaiju canon that I enjoyed and would like to recommend to Toho fans out looking to try out something new! Thus, with no further ado, here we go!

    1.      Invisible Man (1954)

    As a fan of old monster films, and as someone who enjoyed the Universal Invisible Man franchise much more than I anticipated when I visited them recently, I was looking forward to seeing what an Invisible Man film would be like in the hands of eventual Godzilla Raids Again (1955) director Motoyoshi Oda (who had that same year directed Ghost Man, an exploitative detective film with a villain boasting a mask of bandages much more akin to traditional depictions of the Invisible Man!). I found the answer to be—quite entertaining! While perhaps the plot may be a bit predictable, but boy howdy does it have a memorable opening scene of an invisible-man suicide, and I later found myself quickly growing attached to the central clown character Nanjo and his relationship with a little blind girl. The eventual reveal of the identity of the invisible man was, in my opinion, quite well-done. As for scares, well, this movie is light on them, but lots of fans of old monster films don’t really watch them to be scared anyway, and this is also a great way to get into the surprisingly robust “invisible man” genre of Japanese cinema, which also includes at least FOUR MORE films from rival Daiei films, including TWO which are (invisible) samurai films.

    2.      Haunted School (1995)

    Given the very low score my colleague Anthony Romero gave this film, it may be a surprise to see that I am here recommending the flick. And to be honest, I find the film to be a vigorously mixed bag. Nevertheless, as far as monster movies for younger viewers go, I found a lot to enjoy in this story of a bunch of kids who end up trapped in a ghost-infested old school. A lot of the ghost effects reminded me of Ghostbusters, including a sort of mascot-like furry guy who shows up multiple times to harass various victims, and I really enjoyed several scenes of major ghost mayhem in the school itself. For me, I also really got a big kick out of a huge cockroach-like beasty that menaces our heroes late in the story. While by no means a high quality movie, this one nevertheless really appealed to me, and for lovers of practical effects looking for mild thrills, I found it fun.

    Toho Film Recommendations for Halloween: Parasyte

    3.      Parasyte (2014) and Parasyte: Part 2 (2015)

    These gory sci-fi horror movies based on the influential Hitoshi Iwaaki manga and anime of the same name (and both of which I reviewed a few years ago) are in my opinion highly entertaining monster flicks with memorable and impressive effects and a likable lead performance by Shota Sometani. While the second film is arguably a pretty big step-down from the first, I found them both to be rather thoughtful, sometimes shocking, and very engaging monster-fests. The plot, in which alien worms from outer space attack earth by taking over the bodies of human beings and transforming them into flesh-munching monsters, shows a lot of influence from body-horror greats like The Thing (1982), and our hero—infected with an alien parasite in his hand, but not taken over entirely—has to struggle with his new identity, like in many half-monster stories such as Blade or Tokyo Ghoul. Gore hounds will appreciate the abundant flow of blood and gore, though the aforementioned infected hand (named Migi) looks pretty absurd in live action. Still, for creepy, slimy, monster-action thrills, this duology is a fine choice.

    4.      Vampire Doll (1970)

    Sometimes I just get in the mood for a decent vampire flick—after all, I have written two as-yet-unpublished vampire novels. So I was kind of excited to check out Toho’s take on the old bloodsucking mythos, and while Vampire Doll does not feature traditional nosferatu as such, the menacing Yuko and her seemingly supernatural powers fit the bill. The story is a little bit convoluted, dealing with missing people, hypnotism, unrequited love, and creepy butlers, but all the dark shenanigans build up into a movie overflowing with classic horror atmosphere, and the local haunted mansion where much of the film takes place gives an appropriately creepy backdrop to an already spine-tingling story. I greatly enjoyed this film, far more than either of its spiritual sequels, and heartily recommend it to lovers of gothic monster mayhem.

    Toho Film Recommendations for Halloween: Ring

    5.      Ring (1998) and The Ring (2002)

    Ringu is probably the most influential film on this list, and if you are at all interested in the genre of J-horror, this now-classic movie was basically the film that kicked off a worldwide phenomenon of creeping long-haired soaked ghost women stalking folks and scaring moviegoers. The first film honestly didn’t scare me very much, but the story itself is suitably weird and pretty enthralling. The story is about a cursed video tape that, once watched, triggers a mysterious phone call and a death sentence—after one week, SOMETHING will kill you. (Yes, that something is the aforementioned ghost woman, and her eventual emergence has become one of THE iconic horror sequences in movie history.) The mystery behind the cursed tape (and more specifically the ghostly Sadako) adds a great deal of interest and suspense to the movie, especially as the main character, Reiko… well, let’s just say she finds some very deep motivating factors to discovering the truth behind the video. For me, the American remake was even scarier than the original, despite a silly CG horse dashing about on a boat at one point in the film. While Ringu may be an overly obvious choice for a list like this, seriously, if you haven’t seen it and you are interested in Japanese horror films, this is a good place to start.

     

    Anthony Romero

    Time to kick off my list of recommendations, and like Nicholas I don’t really associate the kaiju movies with Halloween. I think it’s because I’m such a Godzilla fan that the movies appeal to me year around so to speak, and they usually don’t dwell to much on the horror element but rather city destruction… save perhaps Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971). Anyway, here is a list of five recommendations for Halloween.

    1.      Ring (1998)

    Well we have a repeat across the two lists here, and I’m starting with the movie that arguably defined the Japanese horror industry for decades. In addition, this is the only movie on this list that I would qualify as being truly scary. While I actually prefer the American remake, the original Ring had a stellar concept: a tape that doomed you after watching it. It was a simple premise, but introduced the deadly stakes early in the movie while it kept your interest through learning more about the mysterious elements surrounding the curse. The countdown aspect helped tremendously too, while the climax with Sadako is downright chilling. Like a lot of successful horror movies, this had a load of sequels and imitators after it, but none captured the same level of atmosphere and dread as the original Ring.

    2.      The “Bloodthirsty” Trilogy

    I’m going to cheat and recommend three in one stroke. This unconnected series of vampire films shifts from the more original Vampire Doll (1970), far and away the best of the three, to the stereotypical with Lake of Dracula (1971). All three deal with topics ripe for the Halloween season, though. From creepy, isolated mansions to your standard vampire fare. While quality might vary, I’ve found myself revisiting them all quite frequently. Faults aside, they have good special effects for the time, save the bat props that were also used in Space Amoeba (1970), and the latter two, while lacking in quality compared to the first, are vibrant with colorful sequences and good to okay pacing.

    House

    3.      House (1977)

    This psychedelic horror movie is slightly self-aware, crafting a bizarre movie that strikes just the right balance to offset the cruelty being played on the movie’s characters due to the tone it strikes. While it doesn’t always click with the viewer, the movie is well regarded for its experimental style. This results in some lacking special effects, as it feels like the movie was more focused on vision than realization. Regardless, the movie has stood the test of time because of these risks, as it comes across as a rather crazy horror movie that, at the minimum, features a number of creative deaths against the backdrop of a haunted house. For those looking for something darker and crueler, and with a stomach for strong gore, Sweet Home (1989) could be seen as in a similar vein.

    4.      H-Man (1958)

    When director Ishiro Honda took on the mutant and crime genre at the same time he struck gold, creating a movie that is both lively and creepy. The flashback attack on boat by the liquid people is down right chilling as well, even today, and do a good job at portraying the threat and keeping the stakes high throughout the rest of the movie. Also, the 1950’s club setting, while contemporary at the time, feels a bit more unique in retrospect now and helps the film stand out. As a side note to Honda, I was also going to include Matango (1963) on this list, my favorite horror film. However, I just never saw it as a Halloween film due to the tropical setting, even though the atmospheric night sequences fit right in with this time of year.
    One Missed Call

    5.      One Missed Call (2004)

    The early millennium was stuffed with “J-horror” pictures looking to capitalize on the success of Ring (1998). In fact, this took a fascinating turn where they eventually started to create movies with the hopes they would be picked up to be remade in the US… an odd turn, but enough of them were successful like Pulse (2001) and Dark Water (2002) that the Japanese industry doubled down on this strategy. One film to arise from this odd trend was One Missed Call, from Takashi Miike. The result is entertaining fluff, but enough to stand the test of time to make it recommended viewing. It’s got a creepy atmosphere at times, and doesn’t even try to hide that it’s swapping Ring’s VHS tape concept for a cellphone call… all the same, that death bringing ring tone is truly iconic after seeing the movie and this is one of the few horror movies of this period that I would be willing to watch again and again.

     

    Marcus Gwin

    Hey everyone! How’s it going? Well, since all the cool kids are doing it, here’s my list of Halloween recommendations! Unlike my peers however, I will include a few Kaiju flicks in mine, as there are a few that I find seasonally appropriate. Also given the nature of our site’s user base, I think mentioning these pieces would be appreciated. So without further ado, here’s my list in order of least recommended to most recommended

    House

    1.      House (1977)

    This will no doubt be sacrilegious to some, but I must confess that I don’t particularly care for this film. I found it lacking in substance, and the psychedelic aspect to more be a mask for poor filmmaking that didn’t particularly add anything to the film. Also, while I won’t be going into spoilers for any entries on this list, I will say that I found the ending too cliché, which knocks it down a few pegs for me. Nonetheless, I do think this film is worth a watch. It is simply dripping in memorable imagery, and it does feature a few sequences that are nothing short of bat… erm, “guano” crazy. The soundtrack isn’t half bad, and Godzilla fans familiar with “A Space Godzilla” will no doubt be interested to see what the would be filmmakers have also created. Also, this film does have a massive cult fanbase, so who knows. Maybe you’ll see something in it that I don’t.

    Frankenstein vs. Baragon

    2.      Frankenstein vs Baragon (1965)

    What’s Halloween without a Frankenstein movie? Even better, a Frankenstein KAIJU movie! Yep, Toho went all out for Mary Shelly’s classic tale of a man who plays god and faces the consequences, and took it to the next logical step of having the monster fight a giant dinosaur! While the premise may sound laughable, I actually really enjoy this film. It’s notable for several reasons, including the first appearance of Baragon, the second appearance of the Giant Octopus (sort of), and being the direct precursor to The War of the Gargantuas (1966). The film itself, while being squarely in the kaiju genre, does an excellent job staying true to its horror roots. Throughout the whole film, there’s this vaguely disturbing undertone… Particularly in regards to death and mutilation. There are some dead animals, questions of cutting off the monster’s limbs… and let’s just say Baragon wasn’t too friendly in his first romp. Frankenstein vs. Baragon is one ride that will have you on the edge of your seat to the end, and a definite must watch for any kaiju, OR Franky fans.

    3.      Varan (1958)

    When Nicholas initially suggested I make my own list of recommendations, I was hesitant, as I wasn’t sure if I could come up with five like he did… but then I remembered Varan. I will fully admit that Varan isn’t the best made kaiju movie ever, but it’s always been something of a favorite of mine. You see, while Varan may not have the best acting or highest budget, it has something that almost makes up for it, and makes it perfect for the Halloween season: Atmosphere. Everything about this movie feels so memorable to me, from the chilling statues of Baradagi, to the foreboding exploration of the jungle, to the mysterious natives. It all oozes an atmosphere that makes you feel the location, the setting, and the danger. All of it scored by Akira Ifukube at his finest. I don’t care whether you like the movie or not, I think this soundtrack belongs in the maestro’s top five greatest! Atmosphere is one of the most difficult things to describe in cinema, so you’ll forgive me if that’s a little vague. Suffice to say, I think Varan is a film that makes you FEEL what’s on screen which is where its true strength lies.

    4.      “Haunted School” Series aka Gakkou no Kaidan

    Alright… This one is a bit of a cheat. But if Nick can recommend the Western version of Ring and Anthony the The “Bloodthirsty” Trilogy, I’d like to mention the “Haunted School” series, although in particular the Gakkou no Kaidan anime, which is based on the same book series as the film. The series is best known for its strange English localization, which opted to turn the series into a raunchy adult comedy. Legend has it that since the series performed poorly in Japan, the English localization team were told to do whatever they thought would make the series sell better. Due to this, I often see anime critics call it a “bad anime saved by the dub” which I feel is a bit unfair. I genuinely like the how the series portrays the monsters, which are always depicted as very real threats (even in the dub). Furthermore, all of the monsters have excellent designs that, along with the appealing set pieces, let the show keep a great creepy feeling. And just to cover my basis… I’ll also recommend the first Toho film.

    5.      Sweet Home (1989)

    And here we have it. My all-time favorite horror movie, the criminally underrated Sweet Home! This film is probably best known for the video game tie in by Capcom, which was a massive influence on the Biohazard (or Resident Evil) franchise. What many people don’t realize however is that the film had a great influence on the iconic survival horror game as well! If you’re a huge fan of the original game like me, more than a few things might look familiar to you However, the film is great in its own right as well. We are given a tight plot, likable characters, appealing special effects, and great setting. Unfortunately, this film is pretty hard to come by. It has yet to receive any disc release, in any region and Japanese VHS tapes go for upwards of 300 dollars. Overall, Toho should just give a Blu-Ray or DVD release already! (Maybe Shout Factory could do something over here?) Regardless, if you see this one don’t hesitate! It’s a great film that is well worth your time.

    This article was first published on October 27th, 2018.

    General // October 31, 2018
  • While I have really enjoyed all the flashy and ridiculous Godzilla Valentine’s Day chocolates, from the memorable Godzilla Can that can double as a thumb spinner to the Chocolate Blocks which are kind of like kid’s puzzles, I was in some ways most curious about the Noshi Chocolate Godzilla Store Noshi (why does it have such a stupid name?) because it looks so unassuming. I just had to guess that this choco might be something extra special because, on the outside, it looks like it doesn’t have anything to do with Godzilla. Instead, it features a traditional noshi design on the outside, with no Godzilla art, no silver military camouflage, no footprints, no ludicrous brown ribbon. Just that noshi design. Well, okay, it has the Godzilla Store Tokyo logo and a silver Godzilla 2018 sticker on the back. Whoopee.

    A noshi, by the way, is a kind of origami design used as a sort of wrapping for gifts, though I think it has also become just the design for an envelope. The gifts are apparently for well-wishing, and the gifts can be stuff like fish. Luckily, the chocolate inside was NOT fish-flavored.

    Anyway, in my mind I was imagining something elaborate. A secret Godzilla design carved into the chocolate, like with the Godzilla Milk Chocolate Bar. Given that the manufacturer of the Noshi Chocolate Godzilla Store Noshi is none other than Sawarabi STK, the makers of the pretty decent Godzilla Print Cookie and the quite delicious Godzilla Gaufrette, how could I not have high expectations?

    And, oh, how those high expectations can so quickly be dashed to the ground. Inside the noshi wrapping is some cardboard wrapped around another silver wrapper—can’t fault them for not providing enough wrappers. (I can fault them for bulking up the candy bar’s apparent size with that random cardboard, though.) Then, my friends, inside the silver wrapping paper was…

    A big, generic-looking pink chocolate bar.

    Yeah, okay, so I was complaining a lot before about how the other chocolates were almost universally milk chocolate confections, right? (Okay, there were a few white chocolate masterpieces, such as the Godzilla Disks, and those dark chocolate tanks.) Still, I didn’t really want a STRAWBERRY flavored chocolate bar. What does that even mean? Apparently it doesn’t mean actual chocolate with strawberry filling.

    It means a pink candy bar. That tastes like really bad strawberry candy. And leaves an unpleasant aftertaste in your mouth.

    Look, I ate a few squares of that candy horror bar. It did not taste good. It did not make me think, Whoo, this is Godzilla! The strawberry flavor did not for me bring forth vivid pictures of giant monsters representing nuclear fears appearing in Tokyo and stomping buildings. Instead, that flavor brought forth vivid desires not to eat the rest of the pink bar!

    I saved this chocolate bar for the last! It was supposed to be something special! It’s a Godzilla Store EXCLUSIVE, man!

    And what’s more, apparently these Noshi Chocolate Godzilla Store Noshi thingees were a bit of a hit. I went to the Godzilla Store on another day, and I found that they were selling three flavors of noshi choco—the strawberry one that I already unfortunately bought, plus an apple flavored one and a blueberry flavored one. I wasn’t sure which one I had already bought because I hadn’t looked closely at the wrapping, so I didn’t buy the others (and I stupidly did not take a picture to share with this story either), but in retrospect, if the apple and blueberry bars taste anywhere as Not Good as this strawberry bar tastes, I dodged a Maser Blast by not buying those things.

    Okay, I am exaggerating a little bit, but I didn’t enjoy the Noshi Chocolate Godzilla Store Noshi—no, sir! Basically what we have here is a big pile of disappointment and an even bigger, “What does THIS have to do with giant monsters portrayed by dudes in costumes?!??!” Maybe the idea is that, like a monster costume, the outside looks cool, but on the inside is a boring pink thing that isn’t good to eat. Pass.

    Kaiju Kuisine // October 21, 2018
  • I have never really been a fan of overpriced chocolate. When I happen to visit a Godiva chocolate store (say, for one of their delicious chocolate shakes), the prices on their boxes of chocolate are positively terrifying—almost, but not quite, enough to kill my appetite. So it’s kind of ironic that I plunked down the huge chunk of change required to purchase the Godzilla Poster Collection chocolates—2700 yen?!!?? And, as with most (probably all) of the Valentine’s Day Godzilla chocolates, with the Poster Collection, you are mostly paying for the packaging… but in this case, gosh, the packaging is really flipping cool!

    The cool inside front cover!

    Once again provided by the fine folks at Hunter Confectionery, the box itself (on the outside) has the now-familiar “Godzilla Chocolate” ribbon and strange silvery military design, but this time the top of the box also features a huge footprint (I believe from the Shin Godzilla promo a few years back), and a list of 29 different years—the release years for the first 29 Godzilla films.

    The reason that the box features those release years is simple enough—inside, there are 30 square chocolates, and on those 30 chocolates are individual wrappers that feature the posters for all 30 Godzilla films released up to this point! (Why “2017” is not listed on the box is anyone’s guess—maybe it wouldn’t fit?). The posters often don’t fit very well on the wrappers, and thus the images for the posters wrap around the top and bottom of the chocolates… but once you unwrap the chocolates, the posters can be viewed more effectively, and the hungry chocolate muncher can also read the back of the wrapper, which features the sequential number of the film released, as well as its Japanese title. The unwrapped poster wrapper looks really spiffy, and I am tempted to stick some of them up around my apartment or office so I can happily squint at them all day. If I had a doll house or, say, Castle Grayskull or Krang’s Technodrome playset, these posters would look great plastered to the plastic walls while my action figures fought out their frustrations alongside.

    And… wow, look at that square… Godzilla chocolate.

    But what about the chocolates themselves? Well, again, we have some—rather high quality—milk chocolate here. This time the chocolate itself bears no Godzilla design at all, but rather a generic pattern running diagonally across the choco-squares that looks more like the impressions of tires than anything. I chowed down on two different Godzilla choco-squares—the original Godzilla (1954) square, and the Ebirah: Terror from the Deep (1966) square. Regardless of how you feel about the quality of those two movies (I happen to like Ebirah a lot), the quality of the chocolate is the same—pretty dang yummy. But still… when I pay beaucoup bucks (or should I say a yuge amount of yen?) on some chocolate, I kind of expect more than just… milk chocolate, no matter how good it is.

    But again, what you are paying for in this case is not so much the chocolate and much more the packaging—this time especially the wildly cool wrapping paper on the chocolates! The box is also spifferific, with the inside lid printed with a shimmery promotional still from the original Godzilla film. Still, you should only buy this admittedly impressive box of chocolates if you have a serious jonesing for mini-posters, because otherwise, honey, it just ain’t worth it.

    The most expensive—and the coolest—chocolate wrappers ever made!

    Flipping cool! The other side has the titles and sequential numbers!

    Kaiju Kuisine // October 19, 2018
  • Kevin Derendorf is a huge name in tokusatsu fandom and has been for some time now, with his fantastic blog news site Maser Patrol and deep knowledge of a vast array of kaiju productions including (but certainly not limited to) Godzilla and Toho, which he has also shared in podcasts and in convention talks and, most recently, in a new book, Kaiju for Hipsters, in addition to the aforementioned blog site. I was lucky enough that he agreed to an interview about his activities, which you can read below!

    ND: Hi Kevin, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview!

    KD: Thanks for having me! I gotta say, it’s a little intimidating to be the next interview following someone like Daiji Kazumine, so hopefully I’ll be interesting.

    ND: First of all, some standard fan-related questions that obviously just need to be asked: First Godzilla movie? Favorite Godzilla movie? Favorite Godzilla suit? Favorite monster outside of Godzilla?

    KD: Oh boy, that probably won’t help on the whole “being interesting” front, since all of those are pretty standard answers. I first discovered Godzilla as a wee third-grader, on, as I’ve since deduced through the magic of investigating old TV schedules, February 21, 1994, when TNT did one of their Godzilla-rama events…but the only movie on the roster I actually caught that day was Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975). There’s something magical about that picture, so I often call it my favorite, though, depending on capricious whimsy, I could also call my favorite Godzilla flick Son of Godzilla (1967), Destroy All Monsters (1968), Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) or Godzilla: Final Wars (I know, fight me). Oh, and if we’re allowed to count imaginary movies, I’d probably also say A Space Godzilla.

    For favorite suit, I’m going to be super boring and say the BioGodzi version. It’s a common answer, but as they say, it’s “handsome.” The DesGodzi and ShoshingekiGodzisuits are up there too, though.

    Would it likewise be pedestrian to say that King Ghidorah is my favorite monster? I mean, he is, but my number two is probably Rhiahn from the Marvel Godzilla series. Maybe I just have a thing for weird-looking yellow alien kaiju.

    ND: How and why did you start Maser Patrol, and what did you hope to accomplish with the website?

    KD: It was sort of a weird evolution. See, back in the ancient days of ten years ago, Facebook wasn’t really all that it is now, so I was part of a Google group to keep in touch with my high school and undergrad buddies. We’d shoot the breeze about a lot of stuff, but traded a ton of movie recommendations, which I started putting on a public blog (called “Per Diem Cinema”) as they became more and more elaborate.  Fast-forward to my last year in grad school, and I’m again separated from my nerdy social group by a long stay at a remote laboratory. The work I was doing required long stretches of down time (if you think waiting for water to boil is tedious, try waiting for melting zirconium), so I sort of reconceived the blogging thing as a news/reviews aggregate that could be a one-stop site for Japanese genre fiction, mostly to pass the idle periods.

    Back in those days, western fandoms for Japanese properties were even more siloed than they are now. Anime fans would play video games and read manga, but they wouldn’t watch tokusatsu. Kaiju fans wouldn’t watch henshin heroes and vice versa, and horror movie junkies seemed to also be out there doing their own unrelated thing. Nobody was reading light novels. These media are all interrelated, and I like them all, so I thought I’d like to expose the fandoms to each other a little through putting them together into a single place, and hopefully people can discover neat new properties through recommendations on the blog. I always find it fascinating to do a deep dive into some cultural cornerstone and see how it influences another one, but the scope of Maser Patrol resides in Japanese (and Japanese-inspired) science fiction/fantasy/horror territory, so we pretty much only venture out into stuff like chanbara, idol culture, or pro wrestling when it intersects with that core.

    So, long story short, the reason for the blog is that hopefully some Guyver and Fist of the North Star fan will come to the blog and discover Guyferd. And then, maybe if that happens enough, one day we can even get Guyferd released over here…

    ND: How did you start your kaiju-related podcasts? How long does it usually take to put those together, and what is the process like?

    KD: Remember how I worked long hours in a laboratory? I listen to a lot of podcasts. The thing is, often times, listening like that, you want to interject your own thoughts, so the natural progression is to do one yourself. The podcast format also gives a very different feel from a blog post, with repartee between multiple parties; whereas the articles on the site are a lecture, a podcast can be a discussion. I was blessed with a number of great friends from my college anime club who are passionate and knowledgeable about this stuff, and contribute to Maser Patrol behind the scenes at times, so this gives them a voice as well. There have been a rotating cycle of hosts, depending on the topic, but mostly my pals Josh and Andy, who have a real knack for this sort of thing (Josh was a radio DJ for a while).

    While kaiju are a home base for Maser Patrol, the podcasts, as you put it, are “kaiju-related” and not always “kaiju-centric”. For example, we’ve done episodes spotlighting the whole careers of the likes of Hideaki Anno, Gen Urobuchi, Rumiko Takahashi, Keita Amemiya, Mamoru Hosoda, and Nobuhiko Obayashi, and talked at length about Slayers, Garo, and more. But, there’s almost always some thread to tie it into kaiju, however tangential.

    The production process can be a bit on the rough side, since we usually pick a topic and talk about it to the point of exhaustion, so the first step is identifying a subject that we’re excited to talk about, and, usually, reviewing a bit about it. Then, for the recording itself, we’ve found that it works best if each person records their own audio and I’ll mix them together at the end, ensuring reasonable volume and the ability to remove some of the background noise, but that can also be pretty tedious. The longest episode was the one where Justin Mullis and I talked about HP Lovecraft in Japan for eight straight hours, and it probably spent twice that in editing. Audacity’s performance drops off a lot with more audio streams, so when five people are recording, it can get dicey to edit. For that reason, it’s a particular joy when Matt and Byrd let me drop by Kaiju Transmissions, since I don’t have to do anything but show up.

    ND: How did you come about hosting several panels at G-Fest, and what was the experience like? Any favorite moments?

    KD: The first convention panel I ever wound up hosting was a total accident. I was at an anime con and my friend was presenting, but he got a phone call partway through, handed me the mic, and said “be back in a few; tell them about Kimba the White Lion.” But, it was fun. I’ve seen plenty of subpar panels in my day that have me squirming in my seat (I recall one at an anime convention where the presenter proclaimed that that the original Godzilla has “at least two sequels”), and as they say: if you want something done right, you do it yourself. So, I started doing anime cons around St. Louis and Chicago, and even did a couple of university lectures.

    Kevin Derendorf Interview: Panel

    G-Fest is something of a whole other level, though. I’ve been attending that convention for two decades now, so it’s got a special place in my heart, and I’ve seen some amazing panels there over the years, panels that inspire one to be a higher caliber of fan. But, from running the blog for a few years and getting a lot of encouragement from my amazing girlfriend Amanda, eventually I decided that I might know enough about certain subjects that I could contribute to the public discourse in that venue. I pitched an idea to Martin Arlt, who gave me an early Friday slot the Kennedy Room, a tradition which has continued for three whole conventions now.I must have done something right, since in subsequent years I’ve gotten Sunday and Saturday slots as well.

    It’s a total rush talking to a room of Godzilla fans, and I’m always surprised by how many people actually show up to one of my talks. G-Fest is a place where there are always at least four concurrent interesting things to check out, and I certainly know there have been times when I know I would want to see someone else who’s presenting during my time slot. So, it really means a lot to hear back from folks after the panel, or even (in some cases) during it.

    To anyone reading this who thinks they have a great idea for a panel that they’d be good to talk to, I’d recommend giving  it a shot. Just remember to run through your presentation beforehand to make sure you’ll be okay for time, have a backup of your slides (because spontaneous updates *will* try to ruin your computer), and keep in mind the audience. G-Fest in particular can have some very little kids in attendance, so sometimes you should choose your wording carefully.

    ND: You recently published your first book. Would you like to tell us what it is and what makes your book unique and awesome?

    Kaiju for Hipsters: 101 "Alternative" Giant Monster MoviesKD: Ah, yes. You must be referring to Kaiju for Hipsters: 101 “Alternative” Giant Monster Movies, available now in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com! (The ebook is free if you buy it in print, btw.) The book is a compilation of reviews of kaiju movies, much like many others on the market. However, what makes it unique, and perhaps wholly inappropriate for discussion at Toho Kingdom, is that it omits the Godzilla series and extended Toho science fiction universe. It assumes that the reader is already sort of familiar with those, and is looking for some more off-the-beaten-path entries in the genre, hence the somewhat facetious title. I really did embrace the “hipster” aspect of the book, deliberately including some relatively obscure and obtuse titles with VHS-only releases and no subtitles available, and include two ratings for every film: a regular movie rating, and a “hipster cred” score, based more or less on the film being in some fashion difficult, artsy, hard-to-find, etc. So, I’m confident that this book covers some movies that you won’t find discussed in print elsewhere, but for the movies that have been discussed I try to elaborate on lesser-known aspects of them. For example, any kaiju fan worth their salt has seen Cloverfield, so I don’t talk about the plot of that movie as much as its twisted franchise development, marketing, and manga tie-in. I figure that way the book can work on a couple of levels, helping to deepen understanding of the movies people are already familiar with while simultaneously encouraging them to track down under-appreciated gems like War God (1976) or Star Virgin (1988).

    Also, I got to draw cartoon hipster monsters for the cover, which was a hoot.

    ND: How long did it take you to put together your book, and what was the process like?

    KD: Almost exactly one year. A number of folks (okay, maybe three) suggested that I write a book at G-Fest 2017, so the goal was to have something ready for the fest in 2018. It was quite fast, especially considering that I had to move across the country during the middle of the year. I’ve made a few minor updates since that initial release (more typographical than content edits), but by and large it was completed in about 11 months.

    As for the process, I started with the title idea, deciding on the target number of 101 because it sounded catchy. Next was making a list of movies, which evolved a lot as I was writing. Several films wound up getting lumped into the chapters for other related pictures, getting unnumbered “bonus talk” reviews, or show up in an appendix at the back. My criteria for film qualification are likely controversial:

    • A kaiju is, for our purposes, a giant creature of Japanese origins or with an aesthetic demonstrably invoking that of Eiji Tsuburaya.
    • A movie is a motion picture or serialized collection of motion pictures longer than 20 minutes (because I wanted to include Geharha: The Dark and Long Hair Monster) but watchable in a single sitting (the longest entry in the book is a TV miniseries totaling just over four hours).
    • A “kaiju movie” is a movie in which the monster is a key selling point. It doesn’t need to be in the movie for a significant amount of time or even crucial to the plot (see: Gorath or Atragon), but if it’s prominently featured on a poster, a trailer, or other publicity materials, then we count it.

    So, once the list was in place, I started watching the films, writing the chapters, and often tracking down rare entertainment that had up until then evaded even my sizable collection. Some of the movies had previously been written up on the blog, and if my opinions hadn’t changed much, that made them easy to transition to print. Since this is a print project, though, I did try to up the game research-wise, and looked up as much about each movie as I could find, about the filmmakers who produced them, and about the cultural landscape that they’re tied into. It can take one down some interesting rabbit holes at times.

    ND: What are some of the most interesting facts you dug up while putting together your book?

    KD: Well, for example, on the cultural context Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds got me interested in the Japanese cryptozoological scene in the 1970s, and it turns out there was a whole phenomenon of various lake and sea monster sightings at the time. You can see this idea of undiscovered modern dinosaurs reflected in cinema, from Born Free to The Last Dinosaur (1977) to Toho’s unmade Nessie movie, and suddenly Terror of Mechagodzilla makes a lot more sense because of it. As another example, a deep dive into the history of the petroleum company Idemitsuelucidates just how pervasive the product placement is in Ultraman Zearth; I find the little corporate Easter eggs sprinkled throughout those movies just makes them more amazing. A few of the filmmakers, such as Minoru Kawasaki and Hyung-rae Shim, also wound up having really interesting careers.

    But most of the neat factoids were linking entertainment together that one would not have necessarily expected, like how much the Taiwanese fantasy films were influenced by Japanese ninja cinema, or how huge the overlap was between the Daimajin and Zatoichi franchises. And don’t worry, G-fans: while the book is pointedly not about Godzilla, he just keeps popping up in the conversation. The aborted Japanese production of Gorgo raises questions about the manga The Last Godzilla. The dinosaurs in Kenya Boy naturally lead to mention of the theory that Wasuke Abe’s original Godzilla design was inspired by that movie’s source material. And of course, no discussion of Daigoro vs. Goliath (1972) is complete without a Godzilla vs. Redmoon breakdown. The list goes on…

    ND: What obscure kaiju films are your top recommendations?

    KD: As a top five sort of thing? Okay, here goes.

    • The Magic Serpent – for insane ninja action
    • Love & Peace – it’s charming, cute, and really funny
    • Tekkouki Mikazuki: the Prologue Night – this is a feature-length TV pilot, but it’s awesome, and has the scariest watermelon you can imagine
    • Luna Varga– a sword-&-sorcery anime with copious kaiju action and amusingly zany characters
    • Jellyfish Eyes –a kids’ movie mashup of Japanese popular culture that touches on legitimate social issues

    I go into a lot more details about each of these in their respective chapters, obviously.

    ND: What future projects do we have to look forward to from you?

    KD: For the time being, I’ll just get back into the regular blogging routine, hoping to get out some regular-sized articles and maybe even a podcast episode or two from Maser Patrol, rather than just guest hosting on other folks’ shows. But, having said that, there are a couple of other book ideas rattling around in my brain, so who knows what the future may bring?

    ND: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview!

    Thanks for having me! As you may have surmised, I’m always happy to talk about this stuff.

    Interviews // October 17, 2018
  • It was a few weeks ago from the time of this writing that I had the opportunity to see Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) in a theater; and at the risk of stating the obvious, it was an experience I am certain I’ll never forget. Of course, I had seen this remarkable motion picture several times before, enjoying it on Blu-ray and DVD in the comfort of my own home; but this was my first time seeing Kurosawa’s masterpiece the way it was meant (and frankly deserves) to be seen. So amazing was the experience that, when it was over, I was mighty tempted to rush on home and start drumming up a comprehensive review for the site. Though I ended up dropping that notion for fear of producing a hollow imitation of what greater minds have said. Seven Samurai is arguably one of the most carefully scrutinized films in the annals of 20th century art; like Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s been the subject of videos, essays, even full-length books—meticulously analyzed by people far more intuitive and knowledgeable than myself. (What could I possibly say about this film that hasn’t been said before?) As much as I enjoyed seeing one of my all-time favorite movies on the big screen, there won’t be a Seven Samurai review coming anytime in the foreseeable future.

    There was, however, a second idea for an article which came into my head recently—and this one I was determined to write from the start. As is common with such things, the screening I attended began with an introduction: our host for the evening stepped up to the front of the auditorium and rattled off, for our entertainment, some “fun facts” about the making of Seven Samurai and the extent of its legacy. Or, perhaps better put, he spewed an entirely predictable assortment of factoids which had no doubt been culled from the movie’s Trivia page on IMDb. By this point, I’d already learned a great deal about Akira Kurosawa (and from sources more prestigious and reliable than the Internet Movie Database), so I just sat back and waited for the lights to go down. But then, a certain “factoid” came up and nabbed my attention. Our host (who shall remain nameless) told a rather dubious story which I’d also heard before—because it’s become disturbingly widespread among fans of Japanese cinema. A story my younger self once took for granted. A story which has, for years, been reiterated on websites, on podcasts, and in discourse—despite the sheer lack of evidence to support it and the volumes of information indicative of the contrary.

    A story which claims, to use the words uttered that night: “Toho spent so much money making Seven Samurai and a little movie called Godzilla that the studio almost went bankrupt.”

    I remained civil, of course, and kept my mouth shut; there was no point in making a scene. But deep within the random archives that is my mind, gears were turning. It was time. Time to raise some important questions no one else seemed to be asking.

    A disclaimer before we continue. While I am about to describe in great detail the many things leery about this supposed “bankruptcy” story, I cannot, for the time being, definitively prove it a myth. Despite my best efforts to trace its origin, it’s never turned up in any book, magazine, interview, documentary, etc. in my recollection. On top of that, the websites recapitulating it consistently fail to offer citations; thus, I have no original source to track down and analyze.

    That said, there’s plenty of evidence—from plenty of resources—strongly suggesting it’s not true.

     

    Seven Samurai

    Figurative Figures and Actual Figures

    As mentioned before, the story goes that the makings of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla (1954) ate up so much money that they nearly put Toho out of business, and that the studio only survived because both pictures became hits at the box office. Right away, there are problems with that statement.

    Let’s begin with what’s accurate. It is absolutely, undeniably true that both Seven Samurai and Godzilla required budgets quite exorbitant for Japanese features of their day. And with context kept in mind, it’s not the least bit difficult to imagine why. Godzilla utilized a variety of then-untested special effects techniques, namely the process now known as “suitmation,” in which stunt actors donned thick, cumbersome monster costumes and were turned loose on intricately detailed miniature city sets. A production this lavish naturally demanded more funding than what was typically allotted to a Japanese movie. And while the screenplay of Seven Samurai (which included no special effects sequences) probably could’ve been filmed in a miserly manner by the average studio director, Kurosawa’s working methods and his insistence on capturing the exact image in his head ultimately prolonged the shoot to just under a year (filming of Godzilla, by contrast, finished in about three months). Time is money, as they say, and the studio was famously unhappy as Kurosawa continued sacrificing his already large budget at the altar of perfectionism.

    These were costly products to make. Of that there is no question. Both films also earned their keep, securing rankings on Kinema Jumpo’s list of the year’s most successful movies as well as attaining further profits in their (edited) overseas editions. Of that there is no question, either. So, where do the problems start showing up?

    First off, contrary to what has been reported in some venues, Godzilla was not the more expensive of the two pictures. All costs accounted for—including advertising and printing—disbursements on Honda’s monster movie came to roughly $275,000. Seven Samurai, by contrast, was the most expensive Japanese feature ever made up to that point, with an end budget hovering somewhere between $560,000-580,000 (blown up from an original allocation of $150,000-200,000). Secondly, even if these two movies had come close to sinking the studio, they wouldn’t have been alone in doing so. For there was a third “culprit”—another über-exorbitant Toho picture from 1954—whom repeaters of this urban legend seem curiously unaware of.

    Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954) was a gigantic production featuring hundreds of fully costumed actors and considerable location work. Director Hiroshi Inagaki was no rampant perfectionist—more a highly skilled journeyman—and he didn’t have hordes of special effects on which to deliver, but the mechanics of this picture nonetheless resulted in a higher-than-average budget. He furthermore was instructed to photograph it in color, resulting in lengthier filming and more expensive lab work. As assistant director Jun Fukuda recalled, “There were something like 210 warriors on horseback, and 800 samurai extras. […] Filming it in Eastman Color took longer to shoot than black and white […] it took six months to shoot the film.” Inagaki’s picture ended up with a rough budget of $500,000, not too far beneath that of Kurosawa’s movie. As claimed by the press at the time, it was “the second most expensive motion picture to be produced in Japan.”

    (Before we continue, sources for those who desire them: Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa and The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune.)

    So even if Godzilla had been a factor in some near-bankruptcy gamble, it would’ve played second—no, third—fiddle to two notably more expensive features made that same year. (So, why no ubiquitous cyberspace story about a duo of Toho-produced samurai movies threatening to derail the studio?) Now, switching back to the main topic at hand, all three movies required a great deal to get made; but did they pose any actual threat to the studio in the long run? The overwhelming lack of evidence would suggest no.

    Let us address that now.

     

    Oh Evidence! Where Art Thou?

    To reiterate from my disclaimer: I have yet to come across any reliable source even suggesting the rumor in question is true. In fact, in my experience, it’s been consistently absent in every serious study done on Japanese cinema of this time period.

    Consider, for instance, Donald Richie and Joseph L. Anderson’s The Japanese Film – Art and Industry, first published in 1959. Perhaps the single greatest study on cinema from the Land of the Rising Sun, Richie and Anderson’s book covers, among other things, all the major Japanese studios in existence at the time—detailing their origins, their histories, their personnel, their politics, their strengths, their shortcomings, even their respective close encounters with bankruptcy. Having said that, the authors address and articulate, at various points and with great detail, the many roadblocks Toho had endured up to that point (for instance: the postwar labor strikes of the 1940s, which set the studio back in more ways than one until producer Iwao Mori stepped in and put the company back on its “financial feet”). And yet, nowhere in the text, in any chapter, is there mention of the studio nearly foundering in 1954—for any reason at all, let alone because of the simultaneous shooting of Godzilla and Seven Samurai. Both films are (separately) covered and credited for the revolutions they spawned (the rise of the Japanese science fiction picture, then a recent thing, receives some page space), but never are they paired together as culprits of anything greater than that. Nor are the expenses incurred by Inagaki’s samurai movie blamed for any kind of short or long-term suffering within the studio.

    Absence of proof is of course not proof of absence, but this was a comprehensive study made just a few years after the supposed “bankruptcy debacle.” The fact that Richie and Anderson omitted such an event from their book—and that it remained omitted in updated editions; and that no other Japanese film historian, to my knowledge, has ever published a single word on it—could very well indicate it never happened at all, that the studio experienced no serious financial peril that year.

     

    Not So Dangerous Financial Danger

    In preparing for this article, I sought insight from film historian Stuart Galbraith IV, author of such books as Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! and The Toho Studios Story. When I asked for his opinion on whether Toho nearly collapsed shooting Godzilla and Seven Samurai, he told me:

    “I found no evidence of that at all, and there’s probably no truth to it, either. Seven Samurai did go over budget, but I’d doubt the final cost of the two films combined was even 7-8% of the total negative cost of the studio’s annual slate that year. So, no, it wouldn’t have bankrupted them, even if the films had flopped.”

    That, too, makes imminent sense in context. As expensive as these films were and as miffed as the Toho execs would’ve surely been had one or all of them flopped, the studio was holding up very well on a financial level and more than likely would’ve survived. At the time, the Japanese film industry was in full force, cranking out—literally—hundreds of films each year. While Toho’s bastard child Shin-Toho (formed during the unrest of the earlier mentioned labor strikes) was struggling along due to poor management and insufficient bookings, the parent company was thriving, spawning an average annual output of 60-100 pictures, with a total of 68 Toho-produced films released in 1954 (hence the 7-8% negative cost estimate Galbraith suggests above). Very few of these smaller pictures shot in 1954 would’ve had budgets even remotely comparable to that spent on Seven Samurai or even Godzilla; but with an overall quantity that huge produced in a single year, the combined costs would’ve greatly outdistanced the two films under discussion, and then some. On top of that, Toho, then as now, owned many of its own theaters, meaning they could keep a greater percentage of the profits.

    And profits there were. According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in 1958, the average Japanese citizen at the time attended up to twelve movies a year; and for Tokyo residents, the number metastasized to twenty. That, in turn, was reflected in the often claustrophobic packing of movie houses. As Richie and Anderson write in their book, contemporary theaters in Japan were typically jam-packed with audiences, to the point where every available inch of space was used to fit another body. “The aisles at the sides and down the middle are full of people. Some even sit on the edge of the stage while others stand outside the exit doors looking into the auditorium.” The movies were there, and so were the audiences.

    This is not to say, of course, that Japanese films made in the 1950s never flopped or that Seven Samurai and Godzilla were incapable of flopping; but the truth of the matter is that the industry and the studio were, by and large, in good shape. Had the two movies (and Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto–don’t forget about that one!) bombed, the studio likely could’ve afforded to go on due to the omnipresent audiences and the vast multitude of other pictures they were simultaneously cranking out and profiting from. (In short, it would’ve taken more than two or three flops to put the Toho of 1954 in any kind of dire straits.)

    That alone makes this Godzilla + Seven Samurai = Bankruptcy “factoid”—questionable and unlikely from the beginning—seem all the more dubious in the end.

    General // October 2, 2018
  • On June 24, 2018, I went to have a chat with Daiji Kazumine (real name: Kuniharu Terada), a manga artist who has been criminally overlooked by the kaiju fandom of the west. Who is Daiji Kazumine, you ask?

    What if I told you that Kazumine is one of the most prolific manga artists who have adapted tokusatsu programs into manga form? That indeed he was one of the original manga artists to adapt the first Ultraman television program into a manga, creating original stories with existing UltraKaiju and also original monsters. The original monsters he created include Yamaton (a battleship monster), Cyborg Dinosaur (the name says it all), Gorudaa (a winged monster worshipped as a god), Uetton (a sort of cross between a balloon, a dinosaur, and an octopus), and Shinkaijin, or “deep-sea-man”—and many of these UltraKaiju were popular enough that later were made into action figures! Furthermore, Kazumine-sensei did manga adaptations of Ultra Seven and Ultraman Leo and Spectreman, as well as Super Giant (AKA Starman in the States), MirrormanFiremanNational KidRainbow MaskGolden Bat, Denjin ZaborgerKaiketsu Raionmaru, and more. I even did a review of one of Kazumine-sensei’s manga a while back—the manga adaptation of Godzilla vs. Hedorah! And if your interest still hasn’t been piqued, Kazumine-sensei didn’t only adapt Godzilla and Ultraman—he also did manga adaptations of the old King Kong cartoon (which unfortunately have not been officially collected into tankoban form), and a second Godzilla manga (this time a story from his own imagination) in The Godzilla Comic collection from the early 1990s. That isn’t even counting his own original manga characters and creations, which run the gamut from more heroes such as the flying-motorcycle-riding Denjin Arrow (which had an anime pilot produced way back in the 60s) and Senkou Mack to baseball manga, samurai parodies, and insane pro wrestling stories (which were his personal favorite). This man is a massive legend in the world of tokusatsu manga and manga more broadly, and I was extremely honored to meet and talk with him on that quiet afternoon in June.

    Daiji Kazumine InterviewDaiji Kazumine with original art of Godzilla, Ultraman, and Spectreman.

    After some confusion trying to find Kazumine’s assistant at the train station (I had to run around quite a bit to find him—his name is Mr. Atsushi), we went to Kazumine’s actual house! As we were approaching, I told Mr. Sasaki I had been anxious about what to wear to the interview (since I had never interviewed a Japanese person in Japanese like this with no translator). Mr. Atsushi laughed, and then we were inside the house, being ushered to Kazumine’s work room, with Kazumine’s actual art table and bookshelves full of his manga. Mrs. Kazumine served us drinks, and Kazumine came in to talk with us shortly after.

    One of the first things he said when he came in the room was that he was going to wear a kimono for the interview, but that he had some trouble with the belt, and just decided to wear something else. So I guess I wasn’t the only one uncertain about what to wear that day!

    And really, once Kazumine came in with his massive smile, a lot of my nervousness was washed away. Mr. Atsushi had warned me that manga artists usually treat Kazumine with respect and use polite language, and since my “keigo” (or honorific Japanese) is not so great, I was concerned. However, Kazumine’s friendliness and candor really put me at ease, and we proceeded to have a long, fascinating conversation for the next several hours.

    Daiji Kazumine InterviewDaiji Kazumine and I, talking at length about his lengthy manga career!

    We started by talking about why Kazumine became a manga artist. Kazumine said that he had enjoyed manga as a child and started drawing manga on the sidewalk, his own original stories. Then one day when he was looking out of his window from the second floor he saw that some people had ridden their bikes over the drawings which he had worked so hard on, and the tracks of the wet tires had made a big “X” across his art! Kazumine thought, seeing this sign, that “Ah, maybe I really can’t make manga…”

    However, he ultimately ignored the apparent omen and continued drawing manga and art. For example, in elementary school he drew flip art in the margins of his textbooks because he didn’t have much paper. At the age of 18, when he told his father he wanted to become a manga artist, his father threatened to disown him. Kazumine’s siblings helped him out in significant ways after things went sour with his father, and he continued drawing manga. His older brother gave him food, his second oldest brother lent him a room, and his older sister gave him paper from her business of making fake paper flowers for shop fronts. Paper was expensive, so these donations were a huge help for the young Kazumine. His eventual master, the manga artist that he worked under, was a man named Tokihiko Oka, introduced to Kazumine through a customer of his sister’s.

    Daiji Kazumine InterviewHere is the master of tokusatsu manga himself, Daiji Kazumine, mid-interview.

    I was not familiar with Tokihiko Oka, and I was shown some of Oka’s old works, which looked (in my eyes anyway) really cool, with densely detailed drawings and a definite adventure/sci-fi/fantasy vibe. It was through Mr. Oka’s good graces that Mr. Kazumine would land his first big manga job, penning Nazo no Karakuri Yashiki, a sort of fantasy/samurai story the name of which roughly translates as “Mansion of Mysterious Devices.” The manga was first published in July 1956 in a special summer book from Shonen magazine.

    For Karakuri Yashiki, Kazumine said he had to fix his manga over and over again over a course of several months. It took over half a year from the point at which he had submitted the manga, with numerous revisions, before the publisher gave him the final okay. At that time he drew by himself, and he had trouble keeping up with deadlines at first because the drawings were so time-consuming! (Mansion of Mysterious Devices was republished recently with the Kazumine’s serial manga Tenryuu Nijitarou, another fantasy-style samurai manga wherein the protagonist lives in a hollowed out tree! Mr. Kazumine has also done several other samurai manga, including the humorous Kazumine original Dongara Ganbou, and Hakuba Douji, based on the television series of the same name.)

    It was also through Mr. Oka that Kazumine would meet perhaps his most famous assistant, Jirou Kuwata, the co-creator of 8-Man. Kuwata was famous for doing the Japanese Batman manga, and he drew some of the Ultra Seven manga series. When asked about Kuwata, Kazumine called him his “ani-deshi,” which means something like “older brother assistant” because Kuwata was actually older and more experienced in the manga field when he worked as Kazumine’s assistant. What’s more, Kazumine quickly said that Kuwata’s art was really excellent and superior to Kazumine’s own!

    Kazumine is perhaps most famous for his work on the original Ultraman series’ manga adaptation, and so of course I asked him some questions about that. First, I was curious about how he adapted manga from tokusatsu programs and films. Did he read the scripts and develop from there, or actually watch the shows first, or something else? He said that usually he read the scripts first and then did the manga based on the text of the scripts. But in the case of Ultraman, the show was broadcast first, so many of the readers would know the stories already when they picked up the manga volumes. Kazumine didn’t like that, so he made new stories. (Atsushi said that for kids like him, it was great because they were always wondering what was going to happen in the new stories.)

    Daiji Kazumine InterviewDaiji Kazumine at his art desk, drawing the hero of Dongara Ganbou for me!

    I asked Kazumine if Tsuburaya Productions gave him any rules for the original manga that he made, and Kazumine said that they gave him two rules: One, don’t change the depiction of Ultraman, and two, don’t change the depiction of the monsters. However, according to Kazumine, he did not follow these rules!

    For example, Kazumine said that he changed Ultraman in some fairly big ways. The original Ultraman design gave Ultraman longer “pants,” but Kazumine’s Ultraman had shorter “pants”. Kazumine said he wanted Ultraman’s legs to look long, like a foreigner’s legs. “Foreigner’s legs are long,” he said. “Foreigners are tall, and many Japanese look up to them—for real!” And so in order to show off Ultraman’s long legs, Kazumine made the pants shorter.

    Kazumine was also worried about the fact that Ultraman “had no face”—no facial expressions. “Ultraman couldn’t cry or yell or get happy,” Kazumine said. “He just had those yellow eyes.” So Kazumine gave Ultraman a mouth that moved so he could express emotion, and he also made Ultraman bleed! He said he was very thankful that Mr. Tsuburaya forgave him these transgressions, because it was a big help to him.

    I asked Kazumine if he preferred making stories based off of other writers’ stories, or his own. Kazumine replied that “It’s more fun to make my own stories and think about them. I can think about them freely, you know? Thinking about it now, that Gorudaa guy, the flapping guy, he was a monster that wasn’t made by Tsuburaya Pro, but I made him. He has wings, right, and he could flap his wings and create a big wind. It was a wind made by a kaiju so it was a strong wind. The wind was strong enough to make his opponent lose his balance.”

    It seemed like Kazumine really loved dreaming up original ideas for monsters and story concepts. He also told me about the creation of Yamaton, the battleship monster. With Yamaton, the design was fairly complicated, since the beast was both monster and ship, and the battleship was covered with many cannons and details which made the monster time-consuming to draw. When Kazumine’s assistants complained at the time, Kazumine simplified the design to make it easier to draw.

    Daiji Kazumine InterviewDaiji Kazumine with original King Kong art.

    Moving on to the manga adaptation of Godzilla vs. Hedorah, one of the things I was most interested in was about the changes to the story. The manga version includes many deviations from the movie version, and I was curious as to whether these deviations were included in the original script, or if they were “Kazumine originals.” When I asked Kazumine about the scene at the beginning with the melting man being escorted by a policeman, as well as the sequence in which the flesh of Godzilla’s hands are burned away by Hedorah’s sludge, Kazumine said with some excitement that he thought he had made those changes—he said he likes scenes where people melt and break apart, and said he especially appreciated scenes like that in the Terminator franchise.

    When it came to the scene in which the flesh is melted from Godzilla’s hands, Mr. Kazumine said that he thought that the acid-like aspect in Hedorah’s body melts flesh and so he included that scene, even though it was creepy. (At this point Mr. Sasaki chimed in to say that the manga seemed more real for having those scenes and was also more interesting than the movies, and I had to agree at least in the case of Hedorah. Kazumine said that it’s because it’s easier to achieve scenes like the ghastly ones we had been discussing when drawing pictures as opposed to making movies.

    When I asked him about the more overt ESP abilities of Ken featured in the manga version of Hedorah, Kazumine couldn’t remember clearly whether he had come up with those ideas or not.

    I was also curious as to how Kazumine went about creating the shortened version of Godzilla vs. Hedorah given that the manga version was far shorter than the original story. Kazumine gave the following answer:

    “The page count is decided, and you go through and you cut out everything except the interesting parts. You use that way when creating the manga. I look at the story, choose the parts that are most interesting or which I can imagine and which scenes I want to use, and that’s how we do it.”

    The other Godzilla manga that Kazumine created was an original story loosely translated “Godzilla again Battles to Defend the Earth” by “that Daiji Kazumine of Ultraman and space monkeyman Gori”. In this story, Godzilla fights against King Ghidorah and Gigan in the Antarctic. The 32-page comic, featured in the infamous compilation The Godzilla Comic originally published in 1990, was printed towards the back of the book. And apparently Kazumine started to work on a manga project alone, and other manga artists asked to join in.

    “Other manga artists asked to draw. Other manga artists wanted to draw, they were gathered together, then they were assigned their parts.”

    Daiji Kazumine InterviewFrom left to right: Mitsuru Miura (Kabocha Wine mangaka), Daiji Kazumine, the author, and Sasaki Atsushi (Kazumine’s assistant).

    The job of putting together The Godzilla Comic was apparently very difficult. It was difficult, according to Kazumine, because some stories didn’t have enough pages, while others did. Also, “it was kind of like the manga artists had a Godzilla competition to see who could make the most interesting Godzilla manga.” The results speak for themselves, as The Godzilla Comic and its sequel are some of the most gonzo Godzilla manga in existence!

    Turning back to the original Godzilla manga that Kazumine created specifically, I asked Kazumine why he chose King Ghidorah and Gigan. He responded by saying that he “liked the shape of King Ghidorah” and that “this monster was the coolest monster made by Tsuburaya Productions.”

    As to why Kazumine chose Antarctica as the setting, he said that “the mysteriousness of Antarctica feels similar to the mysterious worlds I made in my head, so I often use it as a setting in my manga.”

    Interestingly, in the course of our discussions, I also found out that Kazumine met Stan Lee back when they were both popular comic creators in the 1960s in in Beijing, China. When they met each other, Kazumine had been drawing nothing but Ultraman manga for some time, and so he was wearing an Ultraman necktie. If I understood Kazumine correctly, Stan Lee was wearing a Spider-Man tie! So the two of them took a picture together on the spot, and while they could not understand each other and they did not have a lot of time together, they both smiled really big.

    Perhaps most exciting of all for me was that Kazumine offered to sign one of the reprint volumes I had of his old manga. I chose Dongara Ganbou, a samurai humor comic with a silly but powerful hero and (of all things) a stretching horse. Instead of just writing his name, Kazumine drew a picture of the main character inside the front cover! I was very moved and recorded some of his work at the drawing board putting together the image and even adding color!

    Kazumine had a very long career making manga, so I asked him how the manga industry has changed. He said that when he was a kid, most manga was meant for elementary school kids. But as he got older, “gekiga” and manga for older audiences began to become popular, such as Golgo 13. Because Kazumine strictly made comics only for kids, his job prospects started to dry up and he didn’t have much work to do anymore after the age of 40. He said that he makes comics similar to Superman, and wouldn’t have been able to do the more “mature” and complicated lots starting to come out.

    Nevertheless, one of the most impressive stories Kazumine told me was about how he was continuing his work doing manga even at the age of 82. At his birthday party last year (2017), his assistants put together a surprise party. At the surprise party, several of his assistants and friends were telling him, “Do your best! Do your best!” And he wondered what he should be doing his best at. He decided that his friends meant for him to do his best drawing comic books, and so he decided to do a continuation of his original manga, Denjin Arrow. The previous run of the comic left on a kind of cliffhanger, and so Kazumine decided to continue the story over fifty real years later! (Luckily the Kazumines were kind enough to give me a copy of the new manga.)

    For me personally, meeting Daiji Kazumine was a great job and honor and I am so glad he took time out of his busy schedule to meet and chat about his comics career. We talked about many other topics, too, such as some of his original creations and where he got some of his ideas, but I wanted to mostly focus this article on the topics most pertinent to Toho Kingdom’s audience. Hopefully if I get a chance I can more properly have the interview transcribed in full at a later date. Thank you so much for reading!

    Special thanks to Mr. Atsushi and Chris Mirjahangir for helping put this interview together, and for my Japanese tutor Ayako for helping with the translation. All mistakes in the translation and otherwise are of course my responsibility.

    Daiji Kazumine Interview

    Interviews // September 30, 2018
  • Of the many stories which have been said about Akira Ifukube, one of the most widespread and admittedly endearing examples concerns the manner in which the composer supposedly rejected the opportunity to score 1984’s The Return of Godzilla. As the tale goes, Ifukube, after receiving Toho’s offer to write music for the aforementioned 30th anniversary reboot, expressed displeasure with some of the changes being made to the titular character, namely the decision to increase Godzilla’s height from 50 to 80 meters; and in refusing the assignment, he’s reported to have said: “I do not write music for 80-meter monsters.”

    A wonderful anecdote, one that’s been reiterated in numerous books, magazines, web articles, forums, etc. over the last thirty-some years—and one I seriously question in terms of its validity. Now, I personally love stories about artists turning down work via snark-laden comments (I’m rather fond of Noël Coward allegedly refusing the eponymous part in Dr. No with, “Dr. No? No! No! No!”), but this putative statement of Ifukube’s strikes me as little more than an urban legend, something fun to share in jest, but not to be taken serious. It’s been my stance for a long time now that if Ifukube uttered these words at all, he used them ironically; and my guts compel me to believe he never used them in the first place. I cannot claim expertise on Ifukube’s life and career, but I have read/watched a sizable number of post-1984 interviews featuring him—not one of which contain quibbles on his part with Godzilla’s stature here or in the later Heisei movies, in which Godzilla became even bigger. Also: having never come across the supposed quotation in any Japanese source, I’ve been inclined to believe its propagation occurred predominately here in the west. And considering it was believed for many decades on this side of the Pacific that Godzilla emerged victorious in the Japanese ending of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), my willingness to accept yet another unsubstantiated rumor regarding this franchise resides about three notches beneath the tier labeled “dubious.”

    And so, in the interest of research, I thought it would be fun to get to the bottom of this “I do not write music for 80-meter monsters!” yarn: pinpoint its origins, consult with people with more knowledge on the matter than I possess, and try and figure out what’s what.

    In carrying out my detective work, I first amassed every English language book, magazine, etc. in my collection that contains the infamous Akira Ifukube “quote,” going through each of them for reference. I also scoured the world wide web for additional clues. From there, it was a matter of locating mentions that came with citations and bibliographies, and searching through my archives for what I hoped would end up being the very first instance of this quote appearing in the English-speaking world. Following a session of backtracking citations, I arrived at Issue #7 of Ed Godziszewski’s magazine Japanese Giants.

    And now, I would also like to make clear something else: Godziszewski’s magazine may have been the first time this anecdote was shared stateside, but it was not the avenue through which the story in question came to be passed off as “the truth.” Please pay close attention to the exact verbiage in which this ostensible collection of words was initially reported. In detailing preproduction of the 1984 Godzilla movie, Godziszewski specified that Ifukube was offered the chance to score the film but turned it down and that (again, please read this verbatim) “upon learning that changes were being made to the Godzilla legend such as increasing Godzilla’s height from 50 to 80 meters, Ifukube was rumored to have said, ‘I do not write music for 80 meter monsters.’”

    Notice that key word. “…rumored to have said…”

    And it doesn’t end there. When I started planning this Urban Legends article, I reached out to Godziszewski for further details as to where he heard the story and what he’s gathered on it in the thirty-some years since. His response:

    “[The quote] was something that I had heard from a couple of friends in Japan during my visit there in January 1985, to see the new Godzilla film. This was well before I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Ifukube, so it was not something I got first-hand. When I used it, I qualified it as something he was rumored to have said. It was certainly an amusing way to explain his absence from this film. Not having met him at the time, I couldn’t say if he had a wry sense of humor and said this as a way to dismiss the endless badgering from Toho’s people who were asking him to work on Godzilla again. It seemed believable in that vein, but I never took that statement terribly seriously. By chance, during a recent trip to Japan, I happened to run into one of the people who I heard this from, and he told me that “it was just a joke.” Given the way this rumor has sort of morphed into something quoted as fact in some circles, I now regret that I used it at all in the article.”

    For even though Ed Godziszewski clarified the status of “I do not write music for 80-meter monsters!” as a rumor in Issue #7 of Japanese Giants, some of us who’ve passed it along in the decades since have forgotten to repeat his use of that wonderful word “rumored” (or at least utilize members of its kin, such as “alleged”). Alas, the subsequent circulation of this infamous quote merely exemplifies what sometimes happens in distributing the research of others, especially when the finding in question sounds so juicy: a rumor initially clarified as a rumor, eventually repeated and repeated and repeated until it began transmuting into a “fact.” A mistake on our part since the “fact” ended up being “just a joke.”

    As for Ifukube’s not taking part in the 1984 film: that, too, can be explained with postulations far more plausible than an upsurge in Godzilla’s height. To gain insight into what Ifukube was up to at the time of this film, I consulted Erik Homenick, webmaster of akiraifukube.org, who explicated with the following:

    “I supposed that the refusal comment attributed to Ifukube had to be false because, in the 1980s, he did not compose any film music at all—not for Godzilla, not for anything. Ifukube had retired from the world of film music and at the time was focused on his career as a professor of composition at the Tokyo College of Music. Even his concert output in the 1980s was comparatively meager; his overriding priorities were in education. Long story short, Akira Ifukube did not compose music for The Return of Godzilla not because of any objection to Godzilla’s size, but because he was funneling his energies elsewhere.”

    As history demonstrates, Akira Ifukube eventually returned to the franchise, scoring 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, a film in which the radioactive behemoth’s height was increased further still, to a whopping—and utterly ridiculous—100 meters. In his 1996 interview with Steve Ryfle, Ifukube cited familial persuasion and Toho’s use of his music in Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) as the factors behind his return. “I did not accept the assignment for Godzilla vs. Biollante, but after the film was released, my daughter pointed out they had used some of my music in the film. Also, they had made some of my music into a rock theme, and I did not like that! So, my daughter encouraged me to accept the next Godzilla movie so I would have some control over how my music was used.”

    When all’s said and done, the claim of Ifukube commenting “I do not write music for 80-meter monsters!” certainly makes for a humorous conversation piece, but it doesn’t appear to be true at all. And with that, another dubious story bites the dust.

    General // September 1, 2018
  • Hey Everyone!

    Normally whenever I do any filming for Toho Kingdom, I always have my handy audio recorder with me which I use as a backup. When I covered the Godzilla: King of the Monsters panel in Hall H at SDCC this year, I let it run during the trailer. I thought it might be cool to sync up the Hall H trailer reaction audio to the trailer so people can hear the crowd reaction-the guy next to me was really enjoying what he was seeing!

    I will point out that there’s an abundance of bass in parts of the trailer. That’s actually how it was in the hall and it was LOUD.

    I hope you enjoy this small, fun video which takes you into Hall H the moment the trailer made its debut!

    General // August 27, 2018