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For some time there has been some intriguing artwork kind of floating around the Internet portraying a golden, fully-robotic Mecha-Ghidorah that was originally published in a magazine in the early 1980s, a super robot which apparently fought Godzilla in some sort of officially licensed story. I have seen the picture passed around on forums and speculated about repeatedly without much in the form of direct knowledge pertaining to the contents of the article/short-story/whatever the heck it was, except some dismissive remark that the original article amounted to something akin to lousy fan-fiction from someone who may or may not have actually read the material.
So I was really curious when I saw that the article/story was being republished in the Godzilla All-Movie DVD Collector’s Box Vol. 41, which features the Toho Champion Festival cut of Invasion of Astro-Monster, originally shown in 1971 at the Champion Festivals at the time. I initially had not been planning to purchase this volume, but the fact that I could finally put the mystery of the golden Mecha-Ghidorah to rest was enough to tempt me into purchasing the box.
I bought the box, took it home, opened it, and dug out the pages—predictably enough printed on terrible paper. So now I know.
And… what is it? Well, it’s not exactly a story. Let’s start with the basics.
The Yuji Kaida painting of Mecha-Ghidorah in all his glory.
The article was originally published in the March 1981 issue of Terebi Magazine, and the reprint includes several pieces of art. The piece of artwork I most often saw attached on those forums—a beautiful painting featuring a grinning Godzilla busting the right head off of a rampaging Mecha-Ghidorah in the middle of a city while a Japanese couple in an action pose looks on in the corner—was done by Masami Watanabe, who is a frequent illustrator of tokusatsu. Just google the name and feast your eyes on a wide variety of really excellent artwork! I probably just don’t pay enough attention, but I think Watanabe deserves more acclaim in fandom circles. Anyway, on the next page is a full-page, full-body drawing by monster-art legend Yuji Kaida. The publication also includes an enormous two-page dissection illustration, showing the robot’s inner workings and an explanation of the robot’s various powers—and some information about the man who designed the monster, Kunio Okawara, who is famous for basically inventing the “mechanical design” job description in anime with his groundbreaking work on designing the Gundam mecha. There are a few other illustrations of the villains behind Mecha-Ghidorah’s design, though I did not see an attribution for those art pieces.
So now that we have seen the names behind the art, what is the STORY? Well, to be frank, there isn’t much of a story given—just kind of the bare-bones of a scenario suggested for the robot’s background and powers. The first two pages have text that says the following:
The terrible villain Mecha-Ghidorah has appeared. Mecha-Ghidorah goes on a rampage, and Godzilla faces off with him! Can Godzilla’s attack against Mecha-Ghidorah protect the world? Do your best, monster king Godzilla!
Godzilla tries with all of his strength to bite off the head of Mecha-Ghidorah, which is made from space metal.
Each of the three heads of Mecha-Ghidorah emits a different kind of light beam.
Mecha-Ghidorah was built modeled off of that monster King Ghidorah.
And that’s it so far as the battle between Godzilla and Mecha-Ghidorah is described, because the story is mostly left up to the imaginations of the readers. Nevertheless, there are some more specific details about the design of Mecha-Ghidorah and his various powers, and a full page about the secret of Mecha-Ghidorah’s birth… but no real narrative. Which doesn’t mean we don’t have some interesting background details to look into.
It probably makes more sense to reveal the secret of Mecha-Ghidorah’s birth first, because that plays into the robot’s various design features. The creators of this version of Mecha-Ghidorah are a group known as the Dark Mysterious Star Alliance, which has made the robot in order to destroy Godzilla and take over the world. The Dark Mysterious Star Alliance is made up of a whole slew of Toho villainy, including the X-Seijin, the Mysterians, the Natalians, the Kilaaks, the cockroach aliens, the ape aliens, and even the aliens from the planet Yomi of The War in Space (1977) fame. Mecha-Ghidorah was built on a planet that the Dark Mysterious Star Alliance controls, and an image of the construction process is also provided, with a short passage to the side about how giant robots based off of powerful kaiju are very tough just from looking at examples like Mechagodzilla and Mechani-Kong.
The Dark Mysterious Star Alliance hanging out at their evil lair of evilness.
And it’s true–this version of Mecha-Ghidorah is a real powerhouse. Like King Ghidorah, Mecha-Ghidorah sports three heads, and each of these heads houses a massive eye, each with a different color—red on the right, white in the middle, green on the left. Each of these eyes can emit a different kind of ray, with the red eye emitting a heat ray, the white eye emitting a freeze ray, and the green eye emitting the familiar gravity beam that the real King Ghidorah was known for. Interestingly, in the 1991 film, King Ghidorah was originally going to shoot three different rays, which can still be seen on the famous poster by Noriyoshi Ohrai, and also in early shots for the film that were actually completed and can be found on YouTube. The rays, or beams, are modeled after the beam weaponry that had been installed in Mechagodzilla and the Daimakan (the alien ship used by the Messiah 13 aliens from the planet Yomi from The War in Space).
Moving on to Mecha-Ghidorah’s tails, each tail is tipped with a drill fashioned after the Showa Mogera robot’s drill nose built by the Mysterians. The robot’s back features an enormous buzzsaw, based off of Gigan’s massive cutter. The robot’s main energy pack is housed in its crotch area, and anti-gravity plates are installed in the robot’s wings. Various other, smaller features are also pointed out on a sprawling double-page spread, including high efficiency antennae and mechanisms to make the feet move.
And that is about it as far as the magazine article is concerned. We never learn how the Dark Mysterious Star Alliance came together, or what happened when they attacked, or if Godzilla wins or loses. It all seems to be up in the air, and it isn’t really clear why this design was made, although it is possible that it was part of some kind of promotion to try to garner more interest in the Godzilla reboot projects that ultimately failed at the time (my colleague Patrick suggested this explanation to me). The Mecha-Ghidorah design must have been fairly popular with the Japanese fans at the time, because I was able to find pictures on Twitter of a scan from SF Puramo Magazine in which a model of the mech was included as an example of “super modelling,” which was apparently a monthly feature. The best I can understand is that the model was created from scratch (it’s a “full-scratch” model) by amateur (?) modeler Toshikazu Shishizawa, and was made to match the Bandai vinyl scale of 350/1. The Shishizawa model has an original design for the robot’s backside, however, replacing the Gigan buzzsaw with a pair of jets.
Still, to me, the fact that this version of Mecha-Ghidorah exists as this sort of nebulous “what-if?” design is puzzling—but other speculative designs have also appeared in magazines and been the basis of models as well, such as the Kongzilla design made by Matt Frank and also made into a really amazing sculpture, the “Metal Gear” Mechagodzilla, and others. I have seen images of a kind of souped-up Gigan that were also published in a magazine at one point, and there are other examples I am sure as well—the Internet is a treasure trove of confusing bits of artwork and mysteriousness. Nevertheless, as I have uncovered more about this particular Mecha-Ghidorah, I still wish there would have been some kind of short story attached rather than just a mostly empty scenario! Maybe some enterprising fan-fiction writer could take up the challenge and write one…
A pic of the Toshikazu Shishizawa miniature—pic taken from a tweet by Sutenosu.General // November 18, 2018
On my recent periodic trips to the Godzilla Store in Shinjuku, along with the copious amounts of chocolate that I purchased (gosh, I am sick of the stuff), I was also pleased to see there were other fattening foods to help me achieve Godzilla-size weight gain, including ramune-flavored candies, print cookies, the gaufrette cookies which I already reviewed, and today’s subject of review, the Godzilla Popcorn from the Jippu Corporation. This one doesn’t do any tricks except raise your blood sugar, but let’s dive right in.
The packaging itself consists of a clear plastic bag with a big packaging sticker on the front. The plastic bag is resealable, which is great because I didn’t want to eat the whole thing in one sitting. The packaging sticker features the usual Godzilla text, plus the now very familiar cartoon-style Godzilla and Mothra which we also have seen on a number of other kaiju food products, such as the Lotteria vs. Shin Godzilla campaign and the Godzilla vs. Evangelion Box. For what it’s worth, I think this is the largest version of the cartoon Godzilla I have seen, so us fanboys can get a clearer look at the lack of detail in the drawing. I really like that the sticker features a sort of triangular cut-out which both shows the choco popcorn inside and represents Godzilla’s atomic ray.
Strangely, the Godzilla that is shilling for all this snack food actually is much slimmer than the often much fatter Godzillas that appear in the movies.
This raises the all-important question: What does the chocolate popcorn actually represent? Given that it features within the triangle of fire, so to speak, does that mean it is supposed to look like charred rubble? Or could it possible represent the boulders that kaiju sometimes use to play volleyball? Given that the dark black resembles some versions of Godzilla’s flesh tone, could it be representative of chunks of G-cells?
I guess it doesn’t matter much—the more pressing question is, how does the popcorn taste? And it’s pretty good. Kind of a rich chocolate flavor, sweeter and richer than I expected. If you like chocolate-flavored popcorn, the Godzilla Popcorn is pretty decent, though the portions are not exactly voluminous. (Oddly, I cannot find anywhere on the package that expressly states the volume of munchies inside, but suffice it to say it’s less than your average movie bucket.)
Still, the Godzilla Popcorn only costs 300 yen, it tastes pretty good, and it has pleasing if somewhat unimaginative packaging. This isn’t like the fancy Godzilla chocolates, but it isn’t trying to be, and given that some of the chocolates aren’t that great (I’m looking at you, Noshi), and many of the other Godzilla-related snacks are kind of hit-and-miss, the popcorn is a more sensible and still tasty alternative.
Extreme close-up of Godzilla chocolaty popcorn goodness.Kaiju Kuisine // November 10, 2018
Living proof that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, comes a collection of films, done outside of Japan, which were heavily influenced by Toho produced, and distributed, movies. As expected, Akira Kurosawa‘s movies are easily the most influential films to have come out of Toho, or Japan for that matter, and their impact is reflected below. However, in more recent years, there has been a outreach to pay homage to other films to have gone through Toho by different directors. As a general note, GODZILLA (1998) and Godzilla (2014) are not listed in this section due to the more direct involvement with Toho and the utilization of Toho copyrighted characters.
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
John Sturges’ western picture about seven gunfighters who are hired to protect a Mexican village from their bandit oppressors. The film is the first, of many, to take their own swing at Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) while moving the story to a western setting, which would become a popular trend in adapting Kurosawa’s work. The film does credit its source material, though, listing: “This picture is based on the Japanese film Seven Samurai, Toho Company, Ltd.” The Magnificent Seven starred Yul Brynner in Takashi Shimura‘s role, and has Horst Buchholz playing a hybrid of Toshiro Mifune‘s role and Isao Kimura’s role. The film was followed up in 1966 with Return of the Magnificent Seven.
Influence: Seven Samurai (1954)
Star Wars (1977)
Without question, the most famous film which was inspired from a Toho movie. George Lucas’ Star Wars follows the basic principles of The Hidden Fortress (1958). The movie is told from the perspective of two droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO who are obviously playing out the roles of the two thieves in The Hidden Fortress, with the first twenty minutes of Star Wars being remarkably similar to the same scenes in Kurosawa’s 1958 film. Star Wars shares numerous similar plot points with its inspiration as well, including Obi-Wan (playing Mifune’s role, more or less) attempting to escort the princess to safety. Star Wars is a rather large deviation from the source material, though, with numerous twists and characters added in. The film was followed up in 1980 with The Empire Strikes Back.
Influence: The Hidden Fortress (1958)
Last Man Standing (1996)
This mid 1990’s offering by Walter Hill is a different take on Kurosawa’s masterpiece Yojimbo (1961). The Bruce Willis vehicle moves the story to a western setting with a mercenary getting caught between the conflict of local Italian and Irish gangs. This film is a little more faithful to the source, Dashiell Hammett’s The Red Harvest, than Kurosawa was, but still borrows more from Kurosawa’s movie than anything else. The film has Bruce Willis in Mifune’s role and Christopher Walken in Tatsuya Nakadai‘s role.
Influence: Yojimbo (1961)
The Ring (2002)
Gore Verbinski’s remake of the 1998 film Ring. Like its Japanese counterpart, The Ring focuses on a cursed tape which will kill those who watch it seven days later. The film is, more or less, a direct remake with several scenes added in to explain the origin of the film’s antagonist, Samara (instead of Sadako) in this version, adding a lot of back story that wasn’t in the 1998 offering. The film was followed up in 2005 by The Ring Two, which is directed by Hideo Nakata, the director behind the original 1998 film.
Influence: Ring (1998)
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
Quentin Tarantino’s largely different take on the 1973 film Lady Snowblood, which was released in a two volume series. It would be unfair to credit Lady Snowblood full heartily for Kill Bill, as the series is really a homage to so many different sources; however, it would not be unfair to credit the 1973 film as the prime inspiration. To put it bluntly, Kill Bill merges the role of Yuki Shurayuki and her mother into one, and adds one member to the roster of murderers. Kill Bill still keeps the chapter story approach, along with several shots (such as when the murders are peering down at the defeated Mother/Bride) and keeps the main title theme of Lady Snowblood (Flower of Carnage by Masaaki Hirao). The film was followed up in 2004 with Kill Bill: Volume 2.
Influence: Lady Snowblood (1973)
Shall We Dance? (2004)
A remake of the 1996 movie of the same name, Shall We Dance?. Produced by Miramax, the same company which had released the original Japanese production in the United States in 1997, the film took the overall story and made it a vehicle for stars Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon. Although with a similar plot, the new movie focuses more on the supporting cast than the original did.
Influence: Shall We Dance? (1996)
Dark Water (2005)
Staring Jennifer Connelly, the film is a reimagining of the original 2002 production Dark Water. The movie is one of the more faithful remakes of a Japanese production committed to a Toho film, although still adds and removes sequences that in turn separates it from the original.
Unlike other horror remakes, the movie keeps the grim ending of the original source with only minor changes.
Influence: Dark Water (2002)
Following the wave of Japanese horror remakes, this production adapts Pulse (2001) for the US market. Although with a similar plot, the movie is 30 minutes shorter than the original and takes a vastly different approach to the material wherein trying to elaborate on the strange occurrences rather than falling back on a sense of mystery that the 2001 feature did.
The film was followed up in 2008 by Pulse 2: Afterlife.
Influence: Pulse (2001)
One Missed Call (2008)
A remake of the 2003 film One Missed Call, which is faithful to the overall plot but adds new sequences and a totally different ending. This particular “influence” is an interesting scenario as the original 2003 movie was actually made with hopes that it would be remade in the United States, as there was a “remake me” fervor in the Japanese horror genre after The Ring‘s success. In the end, it took five years and the original production studio Kadokawa working with Warner Bros themselves to get the remake they wanted.
Influence: One Missed Call (2003)
The Magnificent Seven (2016)
A remake of a remake. The 2016 production took John Sturges’ original 1960 film, which transplanted Akira Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai (1954) in a western setting, and updates the premise with more choreographed action and a more racially diverse cast.
While the Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt vehicle owes more to Sturges’ film than Kurosawa’s, the 2016 production does right by crediting the writing talent behind the 1954 samurai epic.
Influence: Seven Samurai (1954)
Uncredited or Unauthorized Influences
Not all films are forthcoming with their influence, or sometimes even source material. Below are entries that are influenced by Toho films but are not officially credited. Some of these are up for debate, others, like A Fistful of Dollars where lawsuits are involved, are more clear despite the lack of source citing.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
The most famous incident of an uncredited influence. Sergio Leone’s first entry in his “Dollars Trilogy” is an Italian remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) starring Clint Eastwood in Toshiro Mifune‘s role. The film is set in the old west with the “Man With No Name”, the story’s mercenary protagonist, going up against two rival gangs, who he pits against each other. The film keeps the slightly humorist approach to the story, that was a trademark of Kurosawa’s film. Released just three years after the Mifune vehicle, the production caught the attention of Kurosawa who famously stated it was “a fine movie, but it was MY movie”. Toho intervened at this point with a lawsuit, and the filmmakers settled out of court.
The film was followed up in 1965 with For a Few Dollars More.
Influence: Yojimbo (1961)
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
Roger Corman, who will appear again on this list, set out to capitalize on the ongoing science fiction craze by crafting what was called “The Magnificent Seven in space”. While the movie, at least from the cast, cites influence from John Sturges’ 1960 production, Kurosawa’s original Seven Samurai (1954) is never given similar credit. The similarities to the 1960 Western are sometimes overt, especially with the casting of Robert Vaughn who appears in both.
In terms of plot, the story covers a young man attempting to search the galaxy for defenders to help him protect his planet from an invader called Sador the Malmori. Ultimately, a band of warriors is assembled, although much like the 1954 and 1960 productions they are met with heavy casualties and sacrifices in their quest.
Influence: Seven Samurai (1954)
The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984)
Produced in the 1980’s, this production attempts to adapt the story of Yojimbo (1961) in a sword and sorcery setting. Although drastically more outlandish than its inspiration, the remake lifts numerous segments wholesale from the original besides the fact that the basic plots are virtually identical.
While the film never fairly credits itself as a remake, star David Carradine freely admits it. In fact, in his book Spirit of Shaolin he recounts a conversation with executive producer Roger Corman. The incident involves Carradine countering a claim that it was “like” Yojimbo (1961) with a response that “it’s not like Yojimbo… it is Yojimbo.” Humorously, Corman diffused the conversation citing that Kurosawa’s film was influenced by Dashiel Hammet’s Red Harvest and this prevented Toho from suing other films like A Fistful of Dollars… seemingly unaware that Toho had actually sued those filmmakers.
Influence: Yojimbo (1961)
A Bug’s Life (1998)
The Disney/Pixar production’s influence from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai(1954) is almost something of an in-joke now, although no one on the production side has ever referenced the connection. The movie places ants in the role of the peasants, with a group of grasshoppers as the film’s bandit antagonists. This time around, a group of eight circus performers are hired to get rid of the colony of bandits.
The Seven Samurai (1954) influence on the film was picked up early, with release date reviews such as this one from the Chicago Tribune noting it. The in-joke part comes from director John Landis’ reaction to the film in respects to his own ¡Three Amigos! movie, bringing it up several times until he erupted in a 2011 interview: “They completely ripped it off! The first Pixar movie about the ants, A Bug’s Life, took the same plot.”. The irony being that the ¡Three Amigos! is a bit of a parody of The Magnificent Seven. Ultimately, A Bug’s Life owes more to the 1954 and 1960 films rather than Landis’ production, with the exception of the element of the circus performers not realizing the real danger they have signed up for.
Influence: Seven Samurai (1954)
This article was first published on August 19th, 2004.BY: Anthony RomeroGeneral // November 5, 2018
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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…
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.
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?
KD: 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.
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.BY: Patrick GalvanGeneral // October 2, 2018