"There is so much writing in English on Japanese cinema that can't be accepted at face value — not because the writers are careless, but because the differences in culture and language are just too intricate. When I see August Ragone's name on a piece of writing, it gives me permission to place my faith in it completely. Among Japanese fantasy film historians, he's the best working in English." —Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

All-New Photobook On His Monstrous Career!

新発売!洋泉社の「怪獣秘蔵写真集 造形師 村瀬継蔵」

Cover for this must-own photobook on classic Japanese monsters!

One of the most prolific publishing houses of genre subjects in Japan today, Yonsensha, has formally announced the impending release of their third, monstrous "Treasured Photobook" related to great figures who worked during the golden age of Japanese visual effects films at Toho Studios. Previous volumes featured the living legend, monster suit actor Haruo "Mr. Godzilla" Nakajima, and the late visual effects director, Koichi Kawakita.

Now, while starting out as an upstart in the late 1950s, working in the fabrication department under visual effects wizard, Eiji Tsuburaya, Keizo Murase's legacy started as a part-timer at Toho, with his prolific career exceeding beyond his work for the great Tsuburaya, and which continues even today. As with the previous volumes, this is a photo-filled book, with page-after-page of photographs, but very minimal text (not counting a lengthy interview with the monster maker), most taken by Murase himself.

Here's the hyperbole from the book's obi (paper book band):

"King Kong and Godzilla Armatures, a Blue King Ghidorah, and the Inside Baragon's Head. Never-Before-Published Photographs Have Been Collected for This Wondrous Monster Photobook."

"An assistant fabricator at Toho who helped create Mothra, King Kong, King Ghidorah, Baragon, etc. Sculptor Keizo Murase eye-witnessed the very moment of many monsters were born. As a camera hobbyist during his youth, the tremendous amount of photographs Murase personally captured of the monster-making process are revealed for the very first time. A breakthrough discovery that turns the history of fabrication onto its head!!"

"Matango, Titanosaurus, Takora, Greenman. Gyaos, Viras, Daimajin. Booska, Belocron, Vaxim, Yongary to the Mighty Peking Man... They're all here in this shocking photo collection!!"

"Plus, Keizo Murase's life as a fabricator is documented in an exclusive 16,000-character interview!"

While that sums up no further need for details, this publication is likely to exceed the roughly 400 pages for the previous volumes on Nakajima and the late Kawakita, since the MSRP is just over ¥1,000 ($8.31) higher than the latter. Hitting Japanese bookshelves this September 9th, "Treasured Kaiju Photobook: Keizo Murase, Monster-Maker", was supervised by modern kaiju-builder, Shinichi Wakasa (Godzilla 2000), and famed collector and toy-maker, Yuji Nishimura (the founder of M-Ichigo).

It goes without saying that this is a must-own, even if you don't read Japanese, because based on the previous volumes, "Keizo Murase, Monster-Maker", should measure up to over 95% photos versus text — and will surely be the book hardcore fans will be talking about for years to come. I mean, aren't your curious why the original King Ghidorah was blue and not gold?

Click on the link below to pre-order:
Format: 8.2 x 5.9 inches
ISBN-10: 4800307562
ISBN-13: 978-4800307569
Release Date: September 9, 2015
MSRP: ¥5184 ($43.10 USD)

Special thanks to Shinichi Wakasa and Yasushi Shiroi for info, and a big shout-out to Takao Yoshiba for providing the cover image.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

And Did These Men Design Toho's New Big G?

Rumors are trickling out of Japan: Which of them will ring true?

Rumors are hinting details on Toho's next Godzilla and his design.

UPDATE: On December 7, 2014, I posted a breaking story concerning Toho's announcement on an all-new Japanese Godzilla film (title to be announced) to begin production the following summer, helmed by celebrated genre filmmakers Hideaki Anno (Evangelion) and Shinji Higuchi (Attack On Titan), with Anno turning in the final draft of his screenplay this past March. With pre-production starting sometime last year, and with a call for extras this September, the film should start rolling within the month. 

New Godzilla design rumored to be more classic than Legendary's.

Meanwhile, a connected source contacted “The Good, the Bad, and Godzilla” to share some information — which has yet to be officially released or verified — about the design of the Toho’s new Godzilla. Or rather, the men who may be responsible for the new design, which has yet to be unveiled; and the rumor is not only good — if it's true — it’s gigantic. In fact, it would be explosive:

Is this Godzilla's new designer? Famed illustrator Mahiro Maeda.

Word has it that celebrated animator and designer, Mahiro Maeda, has visualized the new Godzilla. Maeda’s long and distinguished career started by working with Anno in 1982 on SUPER DIMENSION FORTRESS MACROSS, followed in 1983 by the famous Daicon IV opening anime film, a mecha designer on ROBOT CARNIVAL (1987), then in 1988 with both Anno and Higuchi on HONEAMISE: THE ROYAL SPACE FORCE and GUNBUSTER: AIM FOR THE TOP, which forged the creation of Gainax.

Maeada's concept for Immortan Joe for a proposed anime series.

In 1992, Meada and Higuchi went on to form the design house, Gonzo, and has also worked with Quentin Tarantino, creating the animated sequence for KILL BILL (2004), and more recently as a designer for George Miller on MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015). He also has animator credits on several films directed by Hayao Miyazaki, NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984), LAPUTA, CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986), and PORCO ROSSO (1992).

Bandai's original promotional poster art for ULTRAMAN POWERED.

But, why is Maeda exciting for kaiju fans? In 1993, he re-imagined over a dozen of the classic Ultra Monsters, and executed the mecha design, for ULTRAMAN: THE ULTIMATE HERO (aka “Ultraman Great”), then went on to design the monsters for Shusuke Kaneko’s GAMERA trilogy (1995-1999). I don’t believe that there is anyone who will argue that Maeda’s re-imaging of Gamera, as he evolves through each film, was not brilliant and set the bar for future Japanese monster movies.

Visual Effects Museum event poster featuring the Giant God Warrior.

Among Maeda’s voluminous and impressive design credits are Angels 6 & 7 for Anno’s EVANGELION (1995), as well as ESCAFLOWNE (1996), TURN-A GUNDAM (1999), and SAMURAI CHAMPLOO (2004). But, if that’s not impressive enough, he also designed the titular creature for Anno and Higuchi’s short film, GIANT GOD WARRIOR APPEARS IN TOKYO (2013), which was brought to three-dimensional life by the incredible sculpting talents of Takayuki Takeya.

Has prolific sculpture Takayuki Takeya created the new maquette?

If you don’t know who Takayuki Takeya is, you’ve been sleeping under a rock since the 1980s — a powerhouse designer and sculpture, who’s work has influenced a generation, and can be seen in everything from toys and garage kits (Bandai’s Super Imaginative Chogokin line), the films and television (Kamen Rider Drive), anime series (Gilgamesh), and video games (Final Fantasy VII). He’s also visualized characters for the films of Keita Amemiya from FUTURE NINJA (1988), ZEIRAM (1991), and MIKAZUKI (2000).

Takeya's "Predator Riding A Horse" for Sideshow Collectables.

Well, if that doesn’t jog your memory, perhaps you might remember that statue of a Predator riding a mounted Xenomorph? Yeah, that’s Takayuki Takeya. If you’ve collected Devilman toys over the last two years, yeah, that’s Takayuki Takeya, again. Even if you’re not that deep into Japanese fantasy films, but you’re into STAR WARS, and his work looks familiar, that’s because he was also responsible for the Tamashii Nation’s “Samurai Star Wars” line. Impressed yet?

Takeya's "Samurai Star Wars" Darth Vader for Tamashii Nations.

Takeya’s fans number an impressive roster including writer Michael Moorcock (Elric of Melniboné), Simon Lee (Pacific Rim), Shiflett Brothers, and (reportedly), Nike’s CEO, Mark Parker. More recently, Takeya served as character designer for the nightmarish colossi in Shinji Higuchi’s two-feature film epic, ATTACK ON TITAN and ATTACK ON TITAN: END OF THE WORLD (2015). It’s no surprise to believe that Higuchi would hire Takeya to bring a new Godzilla design by Mahiro Maeda to life as a production maquette. But, is any of this true?

One of Takeya's colossal nightmares from ATTACK ON TITAN (2015)!

At least, this is the information coming out of our sources connected to the production. If all of this news pans out to be true, we could be in for something not only fresh and original, but also truly scary; which as imposing and impressive the recent Godzilla designs have been, they all lacked the fear that the original invoked. According to one of the people close to the production, who wanted to remain anonymous, “(This new) Godzilla is based on the original (1954 version), but is going to be… frightening.”

Shinobu Matsumura's fantastic Godzilla '54 Garage Kit for Kaiyodo.

Reading that quote, makes me recall an early concept for the Big G, anticipating the production of RETURN OF GODZILLA, illustrated by Hariken “Hurricane” Ryu in the pages of a 1984 issue of Kodansha’s TV Magazine, which was a cross between the ’54 and ’64 Godzilla, infused with an impressive demonic presence — foreshadowing GAMERA 3’s “Nightmare Gamera” — which we ultimately didn’t get.

This time, though, if what these sources have shared with us, we could see the definitive Godzilla many fans, such as myself, have been waiting decades for.

Cross your fingers (and toes) that this is happening and that official news is not long off! Stay tuned for more details as they develop...