Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda
 Peter H. Brothers
Language: English Release: 2009
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Pages: 282
Genre: Non-fiction ISBN: 9781449027711

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Back Cover
Nicholas Driscoll

I've been spoiled, I will admit it. After reading August Ragone's Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters, any new book released in America centering on one of the fathers of Godzilla has daikaiju sized sneakers to fill. Ragone's book was filled with drool-worthy photography and fine monster-movie reporting overflowing with surprising, informative detail, and now it's hard to expect anything less. Still, even without Ragone's masterpiece preceding it, G-Fan regular Peter H. Brothers' Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda would be disappointing.

Brothers spells out the contents of the book ably with his title. Although an initial chapter covers eminent Godzilla director Ishiro Honda's real life, the bulk of the book is split into chapters that each cover a particular fantasy/sci-fi film helmed by Honda. The most fascinating bits for me were probably the autobiographical nuggets at the beginning, wherein we learn of Honda's life growing up, his wartime experiences, even the reason his name was often misspelled as “Inoshiro” in movie credits. (Actually, upon further investigation, Brothers slightly bungles the explanation.*) I loved reading about Honda's life, how he grew up in a rural land, how he met his wife Kimi (inexplicably often referred to as “Mimi” in the text), even the tiny hints of information about Honda's non-fantasy work—the sort of data delicacies we Western fans are normally quite clueless to. Throughout the book there are snatches of that sort of wonder—translated bits from Japanese interviews and glimpses at interpersonal relationships and filming anecdotes. One hilarious incident has the creator of the Half Human (1955) yeti costume testing out its effectiveness on a hotel maid, with some surprising consequences! These are the highlights of the book.

And Brothers shows a great deal of love and dedication in detailing each individual fantasy film. One might argue he goes too far at times, but I appreciated his dissection of particular scenes, and his exploration of the themes in Honda's work. Before I hadn't really considered such hallmarks of Honda's style, such as his tendency to assemble the heroes of his movies at the end in a sort of “curtain call,” like in the conclusion of Rodan (1956), say. Nor had I noticed before his tendency to sort of promote U.S./Japan relations with little scenes suggesting such partnership in many of his films. For big fans who are already very familiar with the Toho fantasy films, Brothers' book can be rewarding, with certain caveats.

And the caveats are rather large. Brothers' book is perhaps best described as highly idiosyncratic, which shouldn't be surprising given that it was self-published. Perhaps his most bizarre choice is to rename all the Toho fantasy films he discusses with his own dubious translations, rather than rely on the most familiar titles known to American fans, or even on Toho's own official international titles. Thus, when Brothers talks about War in Space, he is not referring to 1977's The War in Space, but rather to 1959's Battle in Outer Space. His official full title is The Great War in Space, which doesn't keep him from referring to the movie as Space War on page 19. A similar problem crops up with Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), which he usually refers to as The War of the Monsters, but at least once randomly renames The Great Monster War. The biggest headache, however, might be how he deals with Destroy All Monsters (1968) and its immediate sequel. Brothers chooses to translate Destroy All Monsters' Japanese title as All Monsters Attack, which just happens to be Toho's official international title for the next movie, 1969's… All Monsters Attack. So what title does Brothers give to the 1969 film? He calls it Godzilla, Minya, Gabara: All Giant Monsters Attack. Even using his own odd translations, a simple method to ease confusion would have been to simply refer to the later film as Godzilla, Minya, Gabara whenever it is discussed, but Brothers insists on shortening the title to All Giant Monsters Attack instead. Even using the Romanized Japanese titles of the movies would have been less of a headache on the reader. Brothers also tends to use direct Romanization of the names of the Toho monsters, identifying Rodan as Radon, for example. But once again, he is inconsistent—if he wanted to be slavishly faithful to the Japanese names, Godzilla should be Gojira, Mothra should be Mosura, and even Ghidorah should be Gidora. The inconsistencies just grate on the reader and come across as amateurish.

The amateurishness runs throughout the text, however, even marring much of his discussions of the individual films. While I appreciated his zeal in describing the soundtracks, his descriptions are unnecessarily detailed to the point of tedium. Furthermore, instead of going over the basic premise of each movie in their individual chapters, Brothers bewilderingly jumps right into critiquing them, at times jumping around from scene to scene, trying to point out script inconsistencies without bothering to explain the plot first! Even fans who are familiar with the films in question will find his method jarring—I know I did. At times, Brothers can't even organize a paragraph well, and his writing comes across as incoherent. Unsurprisingly, the prose is infused with an abundance of mistakes, some of which are so awful as to rival the comedy of errors that is Robert Marrero's Giant Monster Movies. I laughed out loud when Brothers described the effects work in The Mysterians (1957) as “eye-pooping” (pg. 94), and just groaned inwardly when he used the same unbelievable expression to describe Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975). Perhaps most astoundingly, Mushroom Clouds doesn't even include an index in the back, which I expect in any reference book of this sort.

To be honest, despite the innumerable problems, I still enjoyed Mushroom Clouds. A great wealth of information can be found within, and for fans, it's an interesting read. For more discerning readers, for anyone without a ravenous interest in the topic matter, however, Mushroom Clouds' appalling flaws will have most slapping their foreheads (or their knees) and crying out, “Oh, Brothers!”

*Brothers explains Honda's name challenge thus: “Three brothers and a sister had preceded him, and since Ishiro had been born in the Chinese year of the boar, he was named “Ishiro;” the “I” coming from the Japanese word ino (“boar”) and shiro which designated him as the fourth son. Because his parents used only the letter I from the kanji letter character from the word ino, it led many people over the years to misspell Honda's first name as Inoshiro.” (pg. 27, 28)

Brothers' explanation isn't quite accurate for a number of reasons. Let's look at Honda's given name directly. In Japanese, it is written 猪四郎. The first character, 猪, can indeed be read as “wild boar,” but when it is read that way, it is pronounced inoshishi, not simply ino. When written in combination with other kanji, it can be read as i or ino, the latter of which is a specific reading for names. That's why his name is often miswritten as Inoshiro. For what it's worth, the second kanji, 四, means “four,” and the final kanji, 郎, means “son.” Thus, the reading is I-shi-rou, with an extended vowel sound on the end.