The Art of Japanese Monsters
 Sean Linkenback
Language: English Release: 2014
Publisher: Signature Book Printing (self-published)
Pages: 208
Genre: Non-fiction ISBN: 9780991459919

Preview: Order
Page 84 - Page 156 - Page 169 - Page 177 - Page 199 - Back Cover
Nicholas Driscoll

I am not much of a collector of Godzilla or kaiju goods, so I haven’t followed the work of Sean Linkenback, who is something of an authority in the world of Japanese monster collecting in the West. In 1998 he released An Unauthorized Guide to Godzilla Collectibles, which apparently has become something of a collectible in itself, as the title is out of print and the copies for sale tend to go for over a hundred smackers. In 2014, Linkenback released another book on kaiju collecting, this time with a more focused theme—Japanese monster film advertisements from around the world. The Art of Japanese Monsters is a fascinating book filled with rare and delightful images of great monster art from around the world—though the currently available version is cut down from previous editions, and still has some room for improvement.

What Linkenback has assembled here is impressive in scope. Linkenback has put together a massive collection of poster images in various sizes, with examples from Japan, America, Europe, Asia, South America, and even India and Pakistan. The softcover edition covers all of the Japanese Godzilla films, all the Gamera films except Gamera the Brave from 2006, all the Daimajin films, the Mothra films, Nikkatsu’s 1967 Monster from a Prehistoric Planet, Shochiku’s 1967 The X from Outer Space, Toei’s 1956 Warning from Space and most of the notable Toho science fiction films, even including The Secret of the Telegian (1960), which has never had a proper release on home video in America. Still, Linkenback neglects several fairly prominent fantasy films, including the Yokai Monsters trilogy and remake, as well as Toho’s The War in Space (1977), ESPY (1974), and Yamato Takeru (1994), among others. Interestingly, on the copyrights page, a number of movies are listed which are not featured in the book, including The War in Space (1977), The Last Dinosaur (1977), 1966's Magic Serpent, Daigoro vs. Goliath (1972), 1977's Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds and 2008's Monster X Strikes Back, Attack the G8 Summit (Warning from Space, while featured in the book, is strangely absent from the copyrights list). I am guessing that some of these other films were probably featured in previous versions of the book—the hardcover version had an additional twenty-four pages, and the leatherbound deluxe edition actually had forty more pages than the current release. Sean Linkenback actually wrote to me after reading an earlier version of this review to clarify why there were several versions of the book published. The leatherbound version was indeed intended to be a collector's item, but the hardcover was not intended to be rare according to Linkenback. He thought that the earlier printing of the book would be sufficient to meet demands, but when the book sold out and price-gougers started selling the hardback for beaucoup bucks, Linkenback was apparently frustrated and decided to print a new, abridged version of the book. He didn't simply reprint the hardcover because of promises he had made to supporters who had helped him put together the book in the first place, apparently. I certainly appreciate Linkenback going to the trouble of publishing a new version of the book, though I still can't help but wish I could have read the hardcover version. It's my own fault for not jumping on the book when it first came out.

At any rate, even in the current version, Linkenback lays out the book with some care for poster noobs. He includes an introduction which tells his story and explains the usage of the book and a number of terms, such as “chihoban” (Japanese posters distributed to non-Toho theaters, often in more rural areas of Japan). All the posters throughout the book include identifiers of country of origin, size, and style—though the style identifiers can sometimes be somewhat confusing. For example, I am not sure what the difference is between “tatekan” posters and “speed posters” in Japan, as they appear to be the same shape if not the same size. Each movie featured in the book also has a little box with release information, such as when that particular movie was released in different parts of the world. Often these brief summaries are pretty fascinating—I had no idea, for example, that Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) was not released in Europe! However, at other times, the text in the movie summary box can be quite puzzling—such as when Linkenback notes that the Italian poster for Destroy All Monsters (1968) was based off of an image from a U.S. comic book, but he never identifies the comic, nor even includes the Italian poster discussed. Perhaps it was included in a previous edition?

Still, the vast array of posters offer many pleasures for the kaiju enthusiast. For me personally, I loved the Polish posters (which are often bizarre and fascinating—I have used Polish posters in my English classes to teach college students about the expectations of different audiences around the world) and the Thai posters are often gorgeous paintings. The wide variety of art styles is captivating, from anime-style art to photo shoots, tintings, paintings, and more abstract work. It’s fun, too, to see the many posters from around the world that deliberately misrepresented the movies, often adding monsters that didn’t make appearances, or (in the case of one poster for Destroy All Monsters [1968], selling the movie as a straight sci-fi flick with no mention of the army of kaiju featured). Old school posters also often have delicious taglines (“He rolled THE SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD into ONE!” from the US poster for Frankenstein vs. Baragon [1965])  or puzzling mistakes—such as how the Italian poster for Atragon (1963) identifies the director as “James Honda.” Other posters are simply amusing for other reasons; one American poster for H-Man (1958) states “SEE a strip-teaser completely stripped of flesh,” and then goes on to warn that the movie is “Not Suitable for Children”—which should be entirely obvious from the description! (For those who have not seen the H-Man, the violence isn’t nearly as lurid and gruesome as that description suggests.) There are many such delights in the book. I was also amused that the Italian, Spain, and German posters gave top billing to Michael Keith and Harry Holcombe in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). I love Dr. Johnson and his dinosaur book, but that dude does NOT deserve top billing! Along these same lines, for some reason, the German poster for Dogora (1964) includes “Wolf Hunter” and “Isabel Keyt” top-billed in the cast—but who are they? Were they even in the film? Maybe added to the German version?

The answer is unclear—and that is one of the weaknesses of the book. Linkenback devotes very little space to explaining much, and the captions for the posters don’t even translate titles, let alone taglines. Sometimes, this makes the posters confusing—such as a poster for a rerelease of Mothra (1961) that also features Burning Glory: Shigeo Nagashima, Uniform Number 3 (1974) and Latitude Zero (1969) --which will not be obvious for those who can't read Japanese, or just aren't familiar with some of the films in the poster (like myself--Anthony Romero identified the baseball movie for me). Presumably all three films were part of one of Toho’s Champion Festivals, but Linkenback doesn’t explain. I would have liked to have seen more about the artists who painted or designed the posters, but Linkenback rarely mentions them, with the exception of some brief notes on Reynold Brown, Leiji Matsumoto, and a bit more attention to Noriyoshi Ohrai—the latter because he was in charge of creating the striking Heisei-era poster paintings. Inevitably, too, many of the poster images are very small, and it isn’t always clear why Linkenback chose to emphasize some posters over others. I would have liked to have seen a larger image of one of the Battle in Outer Space (1959) posters, for example—the poster is set up similar to a game board and has many captions commenting on the photographs, but the poster image in the book is so small that the text is impossible to read, and some of the images are hard to make out.

Some may argue, actually, that The Art of Japanese Monsters is a book that is unnecessary in the age of the Internet, where many of the posters, lobby cards and more can be found on the Internet with some searching. Also, images found on the Internet can be resized, with none of the problems of the space limitations found in a book. Some of this critique is justified, although Linkenback’s book organizes everything much more nicely than a Google Image Search—and perusing his book means avoiding the doldrums of scrolling through 500 images of Tristar’s GODZILLA (1998) poster or stumbling on baffling kaiju porn or otherwise wading through pages of poorly-tagged pics from the vastness of the web. It's very unlikely that all of the content in his book can be found on the Internet anyway, even for the most patient image-searcher.

Ultimately, Sean Linkenback’s book is great fun for any kaiju fan with a particular interest in the monster artistry, not just in Japan, not just in America, but from everywhere in the world. Even the cover is great fun with some great tokusatsu film references, and the art itself (by Alex Wald, who also did the cover for Steve Ryfle’s Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star) isn’t too shabby. While Linkenback’s book lacks some features I would have loved to see, I can always hope for a new edition down the line. If you want a copy of the book, though, do not hesitate to make an order—even the softcover book only had 2000 copies made, and once they are gone, the price gougers will be out in force.