Book: The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films


The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films

English Book Title

The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films


John LeMay


Bicep Books





By: Nicholas Driscoll

Disclaimer: Author John LeMay came to me asking if I wanted to write an essay to contribute to The Lost Films, and while I ultimately declined, I did help him with very minor aspects of the book, such as introducing him to Tokusatsu Hiho magazine from which he summarizes the Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) side story. Nevertheless, my intention with this review is to give a thorough and honest review.

I have read stacks of books about Japanese monster movies, from those that make me want to clap to those that are total crap, and it is not a stretch to say that LeMay's third book in his Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies series, The Lost Films, is one of the most original and exciting available in the English language. This groundbreaking work is absolutely overflowing with surprising information that even the most dedicated of fans in the West should find new and sometimes almost unbelievable. Most non-fiction books about Japanese giant monster movies are collections of reviews (There Goes Tokyo! and Titans of Toho) or detailed overviews of the creation of the tokusatsu films (Japan's Favorite Mon-Star, The Godzilla Compendium, A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series), sometimes with biographical matter mixed with production details (Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters, Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men). Each of these books focuses almost entirely on the completed movies, though often with sidebars or individual chapters covering television shows or unmade concepts. What is fascinating about LeMay's The Lost Films is that it narrows its focus almost exclusively on those unmade films which barely get mentioned in most books on the subject matter—and then covers these unmade films in glorious detail. While more casual fans may find this book to be overly niche, more nerdy fans like me with a passion for the obscure will find The Lost Films to be an untapped treasure trove of behind-the-scenes surprises. What is more, LeMay's third book in the series is easily the longest yet, being over twice the length of the rather-short second volume. That said, there are still a number of issues with the book that I have, some which are pretty serious, but LeMay has delivered something special here and one of the most exciting kaiju books ever published in English.

First, a definition—what exactly does LeMay count as a "lost film"? LeMay has several definitions, and organizes his book around them, with different sections catering to different categories of "lostness". The first section of the book, for example, covers a series of movies with original stories that were never released, such as the infamous Bride of Godzilla and Mothra vs. Bagan, as well as many non-Toho films such as Gamera vs. Wyvern. LeMay names this section "Unproduced Scripts," which may be a bit of a misnomer given that it is not always clear if all the films had completed scripts, or just treatments. The second section of the book includes what LeMay calls "Proto-versions of Finished Films," or early drafts of what ultimately became finished movies—such as the famous early draft of GMK that included Anguirus and Varan instead of Mothra and Ghidorah. The third section will be more familiar to many fans, and includes information on "Banned, Unreleased & Lost Films," many of which have also been covered in detail in other English-language books. This section includes infamously banned films such as Half-Human (1955) and the Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974), as well as movies that were completely lost such as Wasei King Kong, along with the unfinished Giant Horde Beast Nezula and the controversial Thai film 6 Ultra Brothers vs. the Monster Army. Some of these films were completed and are still available through out-of-print editions, or via illegal download for the less scrupulous, so they are only kinda-sorta-maybe lost, and overall the section seems very weakly defined. It is a real hodgepodge of content, even including several fan films. At any rate, these three sections make up a little over half of the book—the rest is a series of nine appendices. These appendices come in a wide variety of flavors, such as short comments on numerous unproduced special effects films that for whatever reason did not warrant full entries (Appendices I and II), lengthy "synopses" (perhaps better termed summaries given how much detail is included) of various unmade scripts (Appendix III), an essay on independent and fan films from guest author Mark Jaramillo (Appendix IV), an essay on Gamera media by guest Ayame Chiba (Appendix V), an essay on various unmade giant monster films in the west by Stan Hyde (Appendix VI), another essay on fan films from Mark Jaramillo (Appendix VII), an essay by Ted Johnson about his experiences watching Prophecies of Nostradamus (Appendix VIII), and an interview with Don Glut about his unmade Ultraman script (Appendix IX). Phew!

Starting with the individual entries in the first three sections of the book, in general each entry usually has a draft date, author, character list, short synopsis, and commentary/background information, as well as a proposed or actual cast when available. Each entry differs wildly in scope and detail—for example, Jan De Bont's unmade Godzilla film has about fourteen pages dedicated to it, while Godzilla Reborn only merits about two pages, with most of the other entries rating somewhere in between, depending on the available information. (It is not surprising that De Bont's entry is so long given that so much of the history behind that lost film is available largely due to the incredible work of Keith Aiken on Sci-Fi Japan.) Whether short or long, though, these entries are stuffed with information culled from Japanese publications, American fanzines, websites, and more, and personally I loved reading them—I learned a lot, including quite a few new entries I hope to add to my lengthy and obnoxious article on Godzilla's love life! The comments on each of the entries frequently include details on how the scripts influenced other kaiju productions, tidbits about the writers involved, why the movies were canceled, and more—this book is not just speculation and review, but includes the factual fruit of many hours of research (albeit, as usual for many books written for a popular audience, LeMay does not cite his sources directly, including a bibliography in the back instead). For me, this kind of background detail is endlessly entertaining, and I love to try to imagine how the various unmade films and their unmade monstrous denizens may have looked had they reached completion.

Along with the full entries in each of the first three sections, there are numerous sidebars which cover related trivia such as a short story sequel to Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) from the original author, King Kong on Japanese television, and many more.

Moving on to the appendices, the first two are "short treatments for unmade films" and "alternate versions of existing films." Basically appendix one is the equivalent of section one, except with shorter entries, and appendix two is the equivalent of section two, again albeit with shorter entries. My understanding is that LeMay included these short entries in the back because he felt that he did not have enough information about them to feature them as main entries earlier in the book, though frankly the distinction seems unnecessary to me. Indeed, LeMay includes at least one unmade movie as a short sidebar instead of as an entry in the main first section of the book or as an entry in appendix one--Yoshio Aramaki's Godzilla: God's Angry Messenger (GGAM). GGAM was an unmade script idea, so it would seem to fit the requirements for the longer entries. The organization of the book is sometimes just confusing.

Further, in my opinion, separating the unmade scripts (section one) from the proto-versions (section two) was also not necessary because all of these scripts influenced each other in surprising ways (such as the giant flea in Bride of Godzilla eventually becoming the Shockirus in The Return of Godzilla, as well as appearing in other scripts). For me, it would have made more sense to combine both sections so that the history of the titles and how each script evolved and influenced the others would have been clearer and easier to follow. Another slight head-scratcher for me was that, while each entry unfailingly includes a synopsis of the unmade story in question, Appendix III includes longer synopses of many (though not all) of the "lost films" listed in the individual entries in the first half of the book. What's more, while reading the main entries in the beginning of the first half of the book, I did not realize that there were longer summaries of the lost films in the back of the book, or which entries had the longer synopses and which didn't. Each individual entry usually has detailed commentary on the history of the story—but this commentary also usually retells much of the synopsis again, so that with the synopsis, commentary, and end summaries, the book can get repetitive. Much more frustrating to me, though, was that the longer summaries in Appendix III are all written without paragraph breaks—and one summary can go on for up to seven pages long. With no paragraph breaks, it is pretty easy to lose your place, and for me personally, it made reading the summaries painful. I really appreciate the longer summaries, of course, but wonder if simply including the longer summaries with the individual entries (and including paragraph breaks, ding-dong it!!) would have been more effective.

The essays included in the end are a mixed bunch, but I enjoyed reading all of them! Mark Jaramillo's "Independent Features & Fan Films" is a short compilation of synopses and commentary on independent features and fan films often made by professionals in the industry, including Legendary Giant Beast Wolfman vs. Godzilla, Atragon 2, Gamera 4, and many others. For me, Wanigon vs. Gamaron sounded especially interesting, despite its origins as a bonus item meant to motivate the purchase of monster toys. Maybe it is my own shallowness showing through, but I was into toy-based cartoons as a kid, and you bet I would love to watch toy-based monster movies now as well. Inhumanoids movie anybody? I would be all over that!

Next, an essay in Appendix V by Ayame Chiba, “Guardian of Mixed Media: The Gameraverse,” includes quite a bit of interesting background material about the wider world of Gamera merch, but is stained by a controversy around the author. The actual essay focuses mostly on several Gamera video games and a supplementary DVD giving background details about the events that occurred between Gamera 2 and Gamera 3. For me, I was really surprised to find out that the “actor” who played Jack Morton in the fantastically cheesy cut scenes from Gamera 2000 was/is a relatively famous (in Japan) comedian, Patrick Harlan—google him and you will find he often appears on television, has published numerous books in Japan, and did voice work for other games and anime! However, as mentioned before, a controversy has arisen over the author, Ayame Chiba, with many in the fandom claiming she is not really who she says she is, even going so far as to claim that “Ayame Chiba” is a false name and that she is really an American man named Randy Schadel. Much could be said about this utterly bizarre controversy. For me personally, given that I asked Ayame Chiba for help in translating the title of Godzilla Sandwich Biyori and received feedback from her on my review, and given that several people in the kaiju fan community came to me with concerns about her, I felt I had to address the issue. I personally contacted Ayame Chiba about the controversy, and the resulting conversation, unfortunately, cast ever more doubt on Chiba’s identity. Honestly, the reason this review is so late is because I spent such a long time trying to communicate with Chiba. I don’t want to drag Chiba (or whoever he or she is) through the mud, but after that painful discussion I find it impossible to trust that she is who she says she is. Given that she likely is lying about her identity, the inclusion of an essay written by her is a mark against this book. (I would love to be proved wrong about Chiba, but at this point I don’t see that happening, unfortunately.)

The other essays include a piece from super-fan and tokusatsu journalist Stan Hyde about various unmade giant monster films in the west, with particular attention given to Willis O’Brien, such as his plan to make a film about warriors riding giant eagles fighting in World War II. Hyde’s essay is a warm tribute to the genius of O’Brien, but sometimes came across to me as being a bit unfocused.  Mark Jaramillo then provides another essay, this time about how he became involved in searching out tokusatsu fan films in Japan. Jaramillo’s second essay is written in a personal style, which is also true of G-Fan editor Ted Johnson’s essay on his love for Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974). Both of these essays felt a little out of place in the book to me, but they are still enjoyable to read. The last appendix includes an interview with Don F. Glut about his work writing the screenplay for Ultraman: Hero from the Stars. While the interview is interesting enough, Ultraman is not a big focus in the book, so it feels a bit strange to end the book with the interview—I wish there had been some kind of conclusion from LeMay to wrap things up.

I want to include a note on the cover illustration, which appears to take inspiration from the unmade Nezula film about giant rats. The cover by Jared Olive is made to look like a movie poster, with the title of the book written out in a garish font to ape the look of an old horror poster, and the authors and contributors written up to look like the cast and crew. The idea is clever, and Olive delivers on the concept, complete with a Caucasian screaming woman leaning out a window (I guess it is a poster for the Western version of a Japanese movie?). Overall, the cover comes across better than those for his previous two books, which featured some enjoyable monster designs, but the designs for which did not reproduce well in thumbnail size especially.

When evaluating any of LeMay’s books in the Big Book series, I should probably say something about LeMay’s methods for translating Japanese text. LeMay lists four different Japanese books in his bibliography, but the author has told me he cannot read Japanese—he relies on machine translation. Basically LeMay scans in pages from the Japanese sources, uses an OCR (original character recognition) app to rip the text from the scans, and then runs the text through Google Translate, after which he works out the gist from the sometimes awful translations. Now, Google Translate has gotten MUCH better over the years, but it is still prone to producing garbage sometimes, and writing a book with a heavy reliance on Google Translate endows the text with the unfortunate musk of doubt. While I was surprised and delighted by much of the information in the book, it’s hard for me to really trust the text and leaves me hesitant to go to The Lost Films as a primary text for research.

Nevertheless, I was really impressed with the love put into The Lost Films, and of the three tomes in the "Big Book" series, this one really astounds with the level of detail and the scope of content. While the book has some (sometimes serious) problems spelled out above, most egregiously with an over reliance on Google Translate, the sheer obscurity of many of the entries and the crazy stories and monsters and background details that appear really captured my imagination. While I hope for a more thoroughly researched edition in the future that doesn't rely on machine translation, for monster movie fans who can't wait until then, I recommend this book to those who want to discover something new about your favorite monsters—you may be very pleased with what you find.