Titans of Toho: An Unauthorized Guide to the Godzilla Series and the Rest of Toho's Giant Monster Film Library
 Brian Matthew Clutter
Language: English Release: 2014
Publisher: Self-published / Amazon Digital Services (Kindle)
Pages: 442
Genre: Non-fiction ISBN: B00KCXCTQ8

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Nicholas Driscoll

Some time ago, I reviewed an ebook called There Goes Tokyo! by Michael E. Grant, which was a humble humorous collection of reviews covering most of the Showa Toho kaiju films. That book, while worthy of a chuckle and a few grins, nevertheless perplexed me due to the fact that funny movie reviews are available in great abundance all across the Internet for free, and often with much more sophistication and editorial scruples than could be found in Grant's three-buck collection. Most of the criticisms I had for Grant's work can be leveled at the more recent Titans of Toho: An Unauthorized Guide to the Godzilla Series and the Rest of Toho's Giant Monster Film Library, another independently-published title on Kindle by Brian Matthew Clutter—except that Clutter's book is more ambitious… and even less professional, unfortunately. Still, the book is not without its charms.

Titans of Toho is a collection of movie reviews, but this time the author does not limit himself to Showa films—and even of the Showa films, Clutter covers more films than Grant did, writing reviews of Atragon (1963), The Mysterians (1957), Varan (1958), Space Amoeba (1970), and Latitude Zero (1969), which were not included in There Goes Tokyo! Clutter also includes many Heisei kaiju films, including all of the Godzilla films (including BOTH American Godzillas—he caught a sneak peek of the 2014 film and includes brief impressions), as well as the Mothra films. Curiously, Clutter doesn't review Yamato Takeru (1994), however, nor the Heisei Gamera trilogy, which were technically distributed by Toho. Perhaps most perplexing, Clutter doesn't review Gunhed (1989), which had a giant robot and was adapted from a script that was originally going to be a Godzilla movie. Nevertheless, Clutter's book has an impressive breadth—but are the reviews any good?

All of the reviews include a brief introduction, which might give some basic background details about the production, as well as (for some reason) an explanation of how Clutter first saw that particular film (usually as a child), and they each end with brief, often vague critiques and a letter grade. However, the King Caesar's share of the book consists of sarcastic, lengthy plot summaries pockmarked with an abundance of editorial oversights—though the mistakes scattered throughout the book are rarely of the hilarious variety found in, say, Giant Monster Movies (wherein Gamera destroys a "damn") and even occasionally in the first edition of Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men ("eye-pooping"). Still, there are a couple gems (1). But what of the intentional humor? Basically, Clutter takes pleasure in pointing out absurdities in the plots of the films, often highlighting the hilarity with "Okay, then" (which appears six times in the book) or "Well, then" (three times), or even "Well, okay, then" (only once). Everything is written in a very laid-back, informal style, with droll humor (the Oxygen Destroyer is compared to Alka-Seltzer) or just kind of bland, jokey commentary (from the review of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974): "Well, that's a nice prophecy if I've ever heard one."). Sometimes the quips are clever, often they are just dumb. And really, that's about it. If you expected gobs of background information about each movie, or historical context, or inside stories about the cast and crew, or anything much more than exhaustive, fairly accurate, snarky plot summaries, you're mostly out of luck. Clutter does include links and recommendations for further reading in the back, though, including a shout-out for Toho Kingdom, which I thought was nice. (If you do read this review, Mr. Clutter, please understand that I mean you no ill-will whatsoever.)

I should probably mention the cover image of the book quick as well. The first cover for the book was the old Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) poster with Godzilla and Megalon facing off on the Twin Towers. Given that this book was completely unauthorized, though, it is unsurprising that Clutter had to switch the cover recently, and now it sports a much more amateurish shot of a classic Godzilla action figure and sans-serif text. Interestingly, though, on my iPad, the new cover appears on the menu, but when I open the actual book, the older cover remains.

Okay, then. To be honest, at first I hated Titans of Toho, and seriously considered abandoning the book and writing up a review based on a quick reading of the first fifty or so pages. However, to be equally honest, eventually Clutter's writing grew on me, despite its problems. Unlike Grant, Clutter never dips into racy humor, and he doesn't totally rag on any of my favorite monsters. Further, the downright, often predictable silliness of his jokes just kind of became a mild salve to my monster-loving brain, which was helpful to distract me this past summer when I was tasked with helping my brother move across the United States. Look, this book is no high art, and it has a lot of kaiju-sized flaws. Nevertheless, by the end, much to my own surprise, I had actually warmed up to the prose. In a way, reading this book is like hanging out with a monster-loving buddy for a long afternoon. This buddy is not some expert, nor is he particularly eloquent, and he may make a lot of goofs while trying to entertain you—but it's still nice just to trade jokes and share a mutual affection for Japanese sci-fi craziness.

1. From his review of Godzilla: Final Wars (2004): "Ozaki is told the mummified remains of a monster have been found, and he is being dispatched to act as a bodyguard for a UN scientist studying the creature. Fortunately, it happens to be a beautiful woman scientist, Dr. Miyuki Otonashi." Given the unclear referent of "it" here, it sounds like the creature is a beautiful woman scientist.

One more example, from Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999), describing a military attack on Godzilla: "The tanks begin their barrage, Katagiri looking smugly on, complete with cool guy sunglasses. The tanks only annoy him and cause him to charge forward." The tanks annoy Katagiri and cause him to charge forward? I would LOVE to see that!