"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, December 24, 2008


Godzilla Christmas Tree in Tokyo. Photo: Let's Enjoy Tokyo.

May you all have a wonderful Christmas Season full of family, friends, food, and lots of kaiju toys!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Complete 25-Episode Series DVD Box Set


Dynamic cover packaging by Erwin Baracao & Billy Ching of JNP.

The colorful and action-packed INAZUMAN (1973) was one of many live-action superhero series produced in the early 1970s, during an unprecedented boom of such programs on Japanese television, lead out of the gate by P-Productions' SPECTREMAN (1971-72), Tsuburaya Productions' RETURN OF ULTRAMAN (1971-72), and Toei's KAMEN RIDER (1971-73). Developed for television by the KAMEN RIDER team of creative producer Tohru Hirayama (JOHNNY SOKKO) and manga author Shotaro Ishimori (CYBORG 009), INAZUMAN featured the key elements of Toei's popular progenitor, but unlike KAMEN RIDER and KIKAIDA, the hero was nether a cyborg nor an android, but rather an metamorphosing mutant with psionic powers. From it's funk-based score by Michiaki "Chumei" Watanabe to its bizarre creatures and non-stop action, INAZUMAN is pure '70s superhero gold!

Bold back cover design for JNP's release of INAZUMAN.

Goro Watari (Daisuke Ban), a seemingly normal university student, saves two youngsters from the clutches of the Neo-Human Empire, a secret society of mutants who plot to subjugate the world with their Fantom Army. The children bring him to the headquarters of the Youth League, a group of pure-hearted young mutants with psionic powers, led by Captain Sarra (Hideo Murota). Goro is awakened to his own extrasensory abilities, allowing him to transform — first into a pupal form, Sanagiman, and then — into the mighty, Inazuman. Drawing from symbolic powers of moth, like the Greek god Pysche, Inazuman wields lightning bolts against his enemies, and with the aid of the amazing flying car with a mind of its own, Raijingo, he challenges the evil minions of Emperor Bamba to liberate mankind.

The fantastic jacket and disc art for INAZUMAN.

Starring Daisuke Ban of KIKAIDA fame, INAZUMAN follows a string of fantastic classic tokusatsu releases on R1 DVD, KIKAIDA (1972-73), KIKAIDA 01 (1973-74) and KAMEN RIDER V3 (1973-74), beautifully produced and released by Honolulu-based JN Productions. Packaged in a glossy four-disc box set, INAZUMAN is digitally remastered (and superior to Toei Video's R2 release), completely unedited and uncut, and fully subtitled in English for the first time. This electrifying set also includes interviews with actor Daisuke Ban and Japanese and Hawaiian fans, Inazuman Karaoke, and more — I provided Character Profiles and Series Factoids, which feature exhaustive details on the guest stars and other behind-the-scenes minutia. With cool animated menus, superior image quality, and wonderfully produced extras, INAZUMAN comes highly recommended.

During its original run, INAZUMAN was an extremely popular series, and remains one of the pillars of the Henshin Hero genre to this day. If that's so, one might ask, why are there only 25 episodes? When INAZUMAN was originally broadcast, the saga was told in two parts, totaling 48 episodes. This DVD release features the first 25-episode "chapter", which then dovetailed into an immediate — and much darker — sequel, INAZUMAN FLASH (1974), for an additional 23 episodes. I'm hoping that — fingers crossed — INAZUMAN FLASH will be scheduled as the next release on the roster from JN Productions & Generation Kikaida for 2009. Meanwhile, the INAZUMAN Complete Series Box Set is available through the Generation Kikaida website for $99.95 (plus $7.00 Shipping & Handling).

Region Code 1 • NTSC • 4:3 Original Aspect Ratio • Japanese with  English Subtitles • Dolby Digital • 10 hours 27 minutes • Unrated

Friday, December 5, 2008

November 24, 1916 - December 4, 2008

The man who coined the word "Sci-Fi" is gone (Houston, 1977).

The mysterious human wellspring known to throngs of Baby Boomers as 4SJ, 4E, Dr. Acula, and other nom de plumes, Forrest J Ackerman, the world's first and foremost fanboy, has left this Mortal Coil. But, he has bestowed upon us an amazing legacy. Not only was he the man who launched Ray Bradbury's career, he was the avatar of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and the father of Vampirella—but he was much, much more to legions of fans around the world. Not only mavens of Horror and Monster films, but to multitudes of Science Fiction fans as well.

We called him "Uncle​ Forry​." He was a tower​ing icon of fando​m,​ who attended the first-ever science fiction convention and wore the first-ever costume to that very same event in 1939. He was the ultimate fan and loved to share with others, unselfishly. As a kid of the 1970s, I knew him best as the face and voice of Famous Monsters, and consi​der mysel​f fortunate that he was forever​ patie​nt with this adolescent fanatic over the phone and at conventions, and allow​ing me to enter​ Ackermansion II for the first time in the mid-​1980s​ (where his massive collection of rare props and ephermia was housed).

Uncle Forry was like that wonde​rfull​y cool, but sligh​tly weird (in a good way​)​, relative​ that you didn'​t see very often​,​ but felt nothi​ng but warmt​h for. If there were more people like him, the world would be a better place. Now, "Mr. Sci-​Fi"​ is gone, but he will be great​ly misse​d.​ Thanks for keeping me out of (too much) trouble, making my youth brighter, and my adulthood more fun!

Farewell, Uncle Forry...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Monster of the Month

デストロン怪人 ハサミジャガー 「仮面ライダーV3」より

©Ishimori Productions/Toei Company

Height: 194 cm • Weight: 86 kg • Origin: Atacama Desert, Chile • Original Appearance: KAMEN RIDER V3 (1973-74) Episode 1 "Rider No.3: His Name is V3!" & Episode 2 "The Last Testament of the Double Riders" • Design: Shotaro Ishimori/Akira Takahashi • Fabricator: Ekisu Productions • Suit Actor: Sadao Kobayashi • Voice Actor: Ritsuo Sawa

Surviving the destruction of Gel-Shocker, the fiendish Great Leader reorganized his forces into more powerful Destron organization. Destron’s first "hybrid mutant," fused with mechanical weaponry, was Scissors Jaguar. His mission, under Destron’s “Operation: Tokyo Annihilation”, was to eliminate witnesses of Destron’s movements, including Junko Tama, and the Kazami Family, who gave her shelter. Scissors Jaguar’s second mission was to destroy the headquarters of the Rider Boy Scouts, and its chief, Tobei Tachibana. While the tables are turned when Kamen Rider V3 arrives on the scene, Scissors Jaguar is joined by Turtle Bazooka to fight all three Kamen Riders.

Arguably, the Destron Mutants designed and created for KAMEN RIDER V3 were the pinnacle of the Kamen Rider series of the 1970s, including Scissors Jaguar. The exceptional synergy in the teamwork on this series, from Ishimori's rough sketches, refined by Takahashi, and realized by Ekisu Productions (under the guiding hand of creative producer Tohru Hirayama), rank as some of the finest ever crafted for a tokusatsu series. While there were many well-executed mutants in the series that followed, none of them had the iconic charm and dynamic look of the Destron Mutants. And you know what? They’re just cool as hell, too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

November 11, 1943


As Ippei Hanagata in EMERGENCY COMMAND: 10-4/10-10 (1972)

Shunsuke Ikeda, born as Norio Ikeda, is best known to tokusastsu fans for starring as the android "Ichiro" in the superhero series KIKAIDA 01 (1973-74). His early interest in motion pictures was instilled by his father (respected swordfight choreographer, Tatsuo Ouchi), and after studying with the Bunka-za Theater, was accepted in Toei’s "New Faces" competition in 1961. In 1963, Ikeda made his credited debut as baseball player Shinohara in Kyoshi Saeki’s FASTBALL, and while other films followed, he was also cast in several television series, including ZERO FIGHTERS: BLACK CLOUD SQUADRON (1964).

While expanding his acting, Ikeda also continued with his higher education, and graduated from Hosei University’s Department of Economics in 1967. He also guest starred in the television series MR. DETECTIVE (1966-68), LONE WOLF (1967-68), OPERATION: MYSTERY (1968-69), MITO KOMON (1969- ), MY DAD IS A FRESHMAN (1969), SILVER MASK (1971-72), HEARTLESS LICENSE (1973-77), RUN, SECRET SAMURAI! (1973), ZATOCIHI (1974-79), FIGHT! DRAGON (1974), THE GORILLA 7 (1975), SECRET TASK FORCE: GORANGER (1975-77), PRO WRESTLING STAR: AZTEKAIZER (1976-77), VIGILANTE ZUBAT (1977) and STARWOLF (1978).

Ikeda also appeared as regular characters in three other notable tokusatsu roles: Monster Attack Team officer Takeshi Minami in RETURN OF ULTRAMAN (1971-72), Radio Investigation Team officer Ippei Hanagata in EMERGENCY COMMAND: 10-4/10-10 (1972), and Kensuke Mitsuya in CONDORMAN: SYMBOL OF JUSTICE (1975). Ikeda is currently a fashion model and commercial spokesman for Toshiba, and has appeared in several notable stage productions. His most recent screen appearance was a cameo reprising his role as Takeshi Minami in Kazuya Konaka’s theatrical feature ULTRAMAN MOEBIUS & THE ULTRA BROTHERS (2006).

Monday, November 10, 2008


Over the last two months, I've been slammed with getting my work completed for the upcoming INAZUMAN Complete Series DVD box set, as well as finalizing and running our horror film festival, SHOCK IT TO ME!, which caused me to fall behind on this blog, and especially the "Monster of the Month" feature. But, now that I have them out of the way, I can play catch up. And after a few weeks, I will settle each of these new entries into their proper dates to fill the delinquent gaps. So, stay tuned for more monsters!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Monster of the Month
Shocker Mutant: SHIOMANE KING

ショッカー怪人 シオマネキング 「仮面ライダー」より

©Ishimori Productions/Toei Company

Height: 187 cm • Weight: 86 kg • Origin: Mindanao, Philippines • Original Appearance: KAMEN RIDER (1971-73) Episode 72 "Bloodthirsty Mosquiras vs. Two Riders" & 73 "Double Riders: Defeat Shiomane King!" • Suit Actor: Isao Sato • Voice Actor: Ritsuo Sawa • Design: Shotaro Ishimori/Akira Takahashi • Fabricator: Ekisu Productions

Another Shocker cyborg mutant created to defeat the Kamen Riders at the Kii Peninsula during Operation: Key Hunt. This abomination of genetic engineering was spawned by splicing the genes of a Fiddler Crab with a human being, and augmented with cybernetic implants. Like all Shocker Mutants, he possesses the relative physical strength of his namesake, and is resilient to all conventional weapons. This amphibious creation can also spit a deadly and highly flammable foam from his mouth, while the mutant's left hand is a razor-sharp, electromagnetic claw.

Shiomane King ranks as one of the best (and coolest) designed Shocker Mutants featured in the final phase of the original KAMEN RIDER series, and because it took the combined strength of Kamen Riders One and Two to bring him down, has only added to the appeal of this monstrous crustacean. This marine mutant was later revived for a two-parter of KAMEN RIDER V3 (1973-74): Episode 27 "Zol, Death, Hell & Black Rise from The Grave" & Episode 28 "The Five Commandants' All-Out Attack!!".

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Monster of the Month
Drill Devil-Beast: DORILLING

ドリル魔獣ドリリング 「サンダーマスク」より

©Toyo Agency/Hiromi Productions

Height: 56 meters • Weight: 4,200 metric tonnes • Origin: Japan Alps • Original Appearance: THUNDER MASK (1972-73) Episode 9 “Bore Through the Earth!" • Design: Makiho Narita • Fabricator: Ekisu Productions

Bemking, the self-proclaimed "Ruler of the Universe," created this cybernetic colossus at his base on the surface of the Moon. Activated in the Japan Alps, Dorilling's mission is to bore massive tunnels to collapse major urban centers and plunge the human order into chaos. The monster's razor-sharp claws can smash solid rock, his drill trail can be weaponized, and his three 100,000 horse-power, head-mounted drills, can bore through five meters of solid steel in five seconds. These powerful drills can also be launched as guided missiles, which return to its housing after striking. Dorilling's deadly Nitroglycerine-spewing flame thrower, located in his mouth, can easily demolish buildings in a single strike.

Imagined by Makiho Narita, a former illustrator who worked for the "God of Manga," Osamu Tezuka, the artificially-engineered Devil-Beasts featured in THUNDER MASK are some of the weirdest and evocative creatures to ever grace Japanese television. Seriously. Produced during the peak of the "Henshin Boom" of the early 1970s, THUNDER MASK was among sixty superhero shows that aired between 1971 and 1979. This series has never been released on home video, and thus is virtually unknown outside of Japan because of the tangled web of ownership issues between the investors. It's a shame, because cool monsters like Dorilling, with his "Rocket Punch"-like drill missiles, must be seen to be believed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It's time for SHOCK IT TO ME!

One of the things that made Monster Kids happy, back in the day.

It's October. My favorite month of the year—the entire 31 days are Halloween, as far as I'm concerned. I guess you know that something is wrong with you when you become visibly excited when your local variety stores have busted out the Halloween decorations... I guess that I've loved Halloween all of my life. Back when I was a wee little monster, there was a much bigger deal made about Halloween But, it seemed to lose something into adulthood. Or was it just me?

When I was growing up, kids went to school in costumes and hundreds of us went Trick-or-Treating; there were horror films and monster movies on all of the local stations and movie theaters (even more than usual in those days), and boy, did I love monster movies. I still do. Monsters were anti-social malcontents that I could live through—because they could express themselves with careless abandon and blatant disregard for societal order—it's no wonder children naturally gravitate towards them—we loved them!

During October, I would put on my own Halloween Parties in our garage, decking it out with dummies adorned with monster masks. I was also very lucky that my mother allowed me to decorate the spare room in our flat with all of the monster stuff I owned—including my collection of Famous Monsters of Filmland and The Monster Times and Aurora model kits—which also doubled as my own private screening room, where I ran those Super 8mm digests of feature films, such as THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA, all year round.

By the late 1980s, our local horror hosts vanished from the airwaves; and by the 1990s, even local movie theaters stopped booking horror movie marathons at Halloween. I guess that I lost the Halloween Spirit during that decade, and moved on to other interests—becoming a music and events producer (and also concentrated on writing about Japanese Fantasy Films). But, the spectre of "Creature Features" was always creeping in the dark recesses of my mind.

After programming "Godzillafest" in 2004—a big 50th Anniversary celebration of Japanese Monsters—I knocked around the idea of staging an all-day classic horror movie marathon in San Francisco with fellow kook, Michael Monahan (aka "Doktor Goulfinger"). While there were others doing Halloween-themed events across the Bay (most notably, Will "The Thrill" Vaharo's "Thrillville" at the Parkway Theatre in Oakland), San Francisco had nothing.

Armed with our proposal, we approached another lifelong monster kid, Bill Longen, Events Producer at the Castro Theatre. A former film editor at KTVU-2, Bill (who worked on "Creature Features" and ran "Trailers on Tape"), thought that we were nuts—and thus the SHOCK IT TO ME! Classic Horror Film Festival was born. Now, running 8mm reels for the neighborhood kids, has mutated into screening 35mm prints for everyone who loves monster movies! Four years later, Halloween seems much blighter.

So, we hope that you'll join us for SHOCK IT TO ME! on October 17th and 18th... We'll be lurking for you!

Monday, September 1, 2008


被爆星人スペル星人 「ウルトラセブン」より

©Tsuburaya Productions

Height: 1.7-40 meters • Weight: 160 kilograms-1,500 metric tonnes • Origin: Planet S'pell • Original Appearance: ULTRA SEVEN (1967-68) Episode 12 “From Another World With Love" • Suit Actor: Seikichi Nakamura • Voice Actor: Isao Yasu • Design: Tohru Narita • Fabricator: Ryosaku Takayama

Exposed to intense radiation from an experimental "S'pellium Bomb," these mutated keloid beings sent an expedition to Earth to find a cure. The S'pell agents developed a device, disguised as a wrist watch, which absorbs the wearer's blood supply into concentrated crystals—and they soon discovered that the most pure blood was that of human children. When their plans were uncovered by the Ultra Garrison, one of the extraterrestrials transformed into a colossus that could emit a high-intensity heat ray from its eyes (powerful enough to kill 10,000 men), and fly at speeds up to Mach 20.

After it's initial broadcast, this episode was put on a self-imposed ban due to controversy arising from labeling this creature "Hibaku Seijin" (A-Bomb Survivor Alien)—from "Hibakusha", a term referring to the A-Bomb Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The term was coined by Shoji Otomo, a writer working feelance for Tsuburaya Productions and Akita Shoten publishing, first appearing in a 1968 pictorial in Bokura magazine. In 1970, a teenager stumbled across the term on a monster card that came in her younger brother's copy of Shogakukan's Grammar School: Second Year, and alerted her father, who was a member of the Tokyo Federation of A-Bomb Sufferers Organizations.

Even though the term "Hibaku Seijin" was changed to "Kyuketsu Seijin" (Vampire Alien), an article featured in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper turned public opinion against Tsuburaya Productions, and the episode and the alien were then banished from all subsequent publications, broadcasts and home video releases. Ironically, an English-dubbed version of the episode was broadcast in Hawaii in the mid-1970s on Honolulu's KHON-2, and was later aired on the Atlanta-based TNT cable network in 1997 (as "Crystallized Corpuscles"). In 2000, the rights to the TNT version reverted back to Tsuburaya Productions, and so it is doubtful that Alien S'pell will ever see the light of day again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Publicity photoshoot blue color design for King Ghidorah.


San Daikaiju Chikyu Saidai-no Kessen, Toho, 1964, 85 minutes
Director ISHIRO HONDA • Visual Effects Director EIJI TSUBURAYA

"Three Giant Monsters: The Greatest Battle on Earth" (the film's Japanese title) was planned to feature all three of their biggest monster stars, Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra, who would team up to fight a new, and extraterrestrial menace. With the aim to appeal to general audiences, the narrative takes on a fairy tale-style approach, and while it is far more light-hearted than MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA, it rather compliments the Honda-Tsuburaya film that preceded it into theaters, DOGORA: THE SPACE MONSTER (all released the same year), although it features one of the greatest monsters in all cinema.

Shinichi Sekizawa's screenplay is more fantasy-oriented, centering on an Eastern princess (a descendant of aliens) marked for assassination, and written to appeal to a broader audience than the previous films. Honda said to the late Guy Tucker, "When I make a monster film, I never think that it will be for children. I want to imagine and express a story [to a wide audience], but it's always children who are the most interested." While the other monsters are portrayed fairly de rigueur during the most of the film, they suddenly become anthropomorphic, "I don't think that monsters should be comical characters, the audience is more entertained when [the monsters] strike fear in the hearts of the [human] characters." But, despite this, Honda effortlessly sweeps the audience into the story, with assured and swift direction.

Then, there’s the star of the film. Perhaps the most inspired creature the studio ever conceived, King Ghidorah was the idea of scenarist Sekizawa, who only described the monster as having "three heads, two tails, and a metallic roar like a bell." Akira Watanabe, whose sketches combined the mythical Yamata-no-Orochi from Japanese legend and traditional Chinese Dragons, were faithfully brought to life by the prosthetic crew in Toho’s Visual Effects Department, designed the realization of King Ghidorah. According to legend, the triple threat was conceived to be a menacing crimson, while gold was favored by visual effects director, Eiji Tsuburaya. In color publicity photos after the suit was completed, he was painted blue, with red, gold, and blue-striped wings, but it was decided that blue would become problematic with Blue Screen matte process. There've been many conflicting stories concerning this, and no definitive answer, so far. Regardless, the interplanetary invader created such an impact on audiences, that it has since remained one of the most popular monsters ever created by Toho.

Yosuke Natsuki (b.1936), who had just come off of Honda's DOGORA, top-lines the cast as Detective Shindo. A former model, Natsuki, was preened as one of Toho’s new, young leads, and made a number of films in the 1960s. But, he wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan, either, and starred in numerous popular television series, such as G-MEN ’75 (1975-82). Almost twenty years after GHIDRAH, Natsuki returned to the kaiju eiga with Koji Hashimoto’s THE RETURN OF GODZILLA (1984) and more recently in Minoru Kawasaki’s MONSTER X STRIKES BACK: ATTACK THE G-8 SUMMIT (2008) - he also provided the voice of Commander DEUS in ULTRASEVEN X (2007). Still quite active, the veteran actor recently scored important roles in François Rotger’s THE PASSENGER (2005) and Shunichi Nagasaki’s BLACK BELT (2007).

The spunky, and very in-demand, Yuriko Hoshi (WARRING CLANS) stars as Shindo's sister, Naoko, an investigative reporter for a series called "Mysteries of the 20th Century." Ozu regular, Hiroshi Koizumi (DAUGHTERS, WIVES AND A MOTHER), once again plays the scientist, a geologist named "Professor Murai" (both actors seemingly carried over from their similar roles in MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA). The beautiful Akiko Wakabayashi (BANDITS ON THE WIND) plays the unifying character, "Princess Salno," who went on to appear in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967). Her only starring role was in Luigi Filippo D'Amico’s AKIKO (1961). Originally, the assassin "Malmess" was to be played by actor Yoshio Tsuchiya (FUNERAL PROCESSION OF ROSES), but was held up on the lagging production of Akira Kurosawa's RED BEARD, and was replaced by character actor Hisaya Ito (A WOMAN’S LIFE).

Many of Tsuburaya's visual effects for the picture are thrilling, such as the birth of King Ghidorah, its awesome destruction of Yokohama and Tokyo, and the first battle between Godzilla and Rodan. His work here is as good as seen in MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA - with fantastic long shots of Godzilla and Rodan engaged in mortal combat - until battle reaches the slopes of Mt. Fuji. Here, the scenes between Godzilla and Rodan become static and stagey, oddly juxtaposed with fantastic shots of King Ghidorah’s wonton rampage, until Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra unite to drive off the interloper. The difference is somewhat jarring from the first half of the film, but Tsuburaya believed that this humanizing of the monsters would win over audiences.

Honda said, "I was hesitant to let Mothra act as the mediator... I felt that the monsters... were far too humanized." While the increasing anthropomorphic behavior of the colossi in the last quarter of the film seems to lower the bar that was set with MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA - it still doesn’t lower the entertainment value as a whole. Carried along by Maestro Akira Ifukube's wonderful fairy tale score (including a memorable song from The Peanuts), the visual treats of Tsuburaya, and the magnificence of King Ghidorah, GHIDRAH: THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (the film's US title), is not only a memorable entry in the series, but also one of the most entertaining films of the kaiju eiga.

Executive Producer TOMOYUKI TANAKA Screenplay SHINICHI SEKIZAWA Production Design TAKEO KITA Cinematography HAJIME KOIZUMI Music AKIRA IFUKUBE Visual Effects Production Design AKIRA WATANABE Visual Effects Photography SADAMASA ARIKAWA [US Version] Additional Music and Sound Effects FILMSCORES INC. English Dialogue JOE BELLUCI Post-production Consultant RAY ANGUS

Starring YOSUKE NATSUKI (Detective Shindo) YURIKO HOSHI (Naoko Shindo) HIROSHI KOIZUMI (Professor Murai) AKIKO WAKABAYASHI (Princess Salno) HISAYA ITO (Malmess) AKIHIKO HIRATA (Chief Detective Okita) THE PEANUTS: EMI and YUMI ITO (The Little Beauties) and TAKASHI SHIMURA (Dr. Tsukamoto)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Thursday, August 7, 2008

「ゴジラ • エビラ • モスラ 南海の大決闘」 GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966)

Sadamasa Arikawa (center) directing Haruo Nakajima (as Godzilla) and Hiroshi Sekita (as Ebirah).

Gojira-Ebira-Mosura Nankai-no Daiketto, 1966, 87 minutes
Director JUN FUKUDA • Visual Effects SADAMASA ARIKAWA • Visual Effects Supervisor EIJI TSUBURAYA

In 1965, there was a big change in the Visual Effects Department at Toho, with contracts ending and Tsuburaya pulling people and resources over to his own effects company, Tsuburaya Productions. Since he was spending so much time at his own studio, Tsuburaya chose his cinematographer, Sadamasa Arikawa, to divide chores as Visual Effects supervisors. Since Honda and Tsuburaya were busy with international co-productions (such as THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS), Tanaka handed the next Godzilla project over to popular action film director Jun Fukuda, who previously helmed the sci-fi thriller SECRET OF THE TELEGIAN (1960) and the colorful action-comedy 100 SHOT/100 KILLED (1965).

America's Rankin/Bass Productions, famous for its puppet animated television specials produced in Japan (such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"), was shopping studios to take on a live-action feature film, based on their KING KONG cartoon series, produced by Toei Animation. The first screenplay, penned by Shinichi Sekizawa ("King Kong vs. Ebirah: Operation Robinson-Crusoe"), was rejected, but as negotiations continued, writers were put to work to submit further treatments which were offered to Rankin/Bass (eventually becoming KING KONG ESCAPES in 1967). While Toho was busy creating new monster films, such as THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, there were no Godzilla projects on the boards for 1966,

The general consensus was that the Godzilla series needed a fresh direction, the relatively new medium of television was also keeping people away from theaters, so Tanaka thought that it was time to go after the teenage market with the same very same formula that made films such as the YOUNG GUY (starring Yuzo Kayama) so popular. There was also a very trendy interest in the exotic tropics, Hawaii and the South Seas, reflected in Japanese pop songs and movies of the early-to-mid-1960s. Tanaka thought that this could be exploited with the rejected screenplay for "King Kong vs. Ebirah," which incorporated these elements perfectly. Tanaka ordered the project into production, substituting Godzilla for King Kong, in a slightly revised screenplay entitled "Godzilla-Ebirah-Mothra: Big Duel in the South Seas."

The cast was top-lined by leading man Akira Takarada, the biggest box-office draw at the studio, playing the is-he-isn't-he master thief, who adds a worldly presence to the mostly youth cast. As the beautiful escapee, 29 year-old Mizuno was a last-minute marquee-value replacement for 19 year-old Starlet Noriko Takahashi (the dancing girl in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD), who originally was cast in the part, but fell ill due to acute appendicitis during principal photography. The driving electric guitar and jazz-infused soundtrack was composed by Masaru Sato (YOJIMBO) scoring his second Godzilla film (the first was GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN in 1955) was quite a departure from Akira Ifukube’s bombastic marches. The lush photography was in the hands of Kazuo Yamada, who shot the majority of Hiroshi Inagaki’s memorable films, including CHUNSHINGURA (1962).

Fukuda approached this as pure escapism, with a fast-paced story that also weaves in Youth Movie elements with James Bondian histrionics — Takarada's hot-headed safecracker, a sinister organization bent on world domination through nuclear proliferation, and a band of teenagers swept up into the action, with whom the target audience could indentify. It is quite apparent that little was revised in the changing of the central monster from Kong to Godzilla, because of the odd Kong-like ticks adopted by Godzilla — his attention directed at a beautiful woman, his battles with a Giant Condor and a Jet Squadron, his boulder-throwing antics, and the rubbing of his nose (ala Kayama's character in the aforementioned YOUNG GUY series). The colorful film is an unusual, but highly enjoyable, adventure — despite its relatively lower budget — and is one of the most underrated of the 1960s entries.

(It's also the only Godzilla film to open with a Go-Go Contest!)

Executive Producer TOMOYUKI TANAKA Screenplay SHINICHI SEKIZAWA Production Design TAKEO KITA Cinematographer KAZUO YAMADA Film Editor RYOHEI FUJII Music MASARU SATO Visual Effects Production Design YOSHIYUKI INOUE Visual Effects Photography SOKEI TOMIOKA and YOICHI MANODA

AKIRA TAKARADA (Yoshimura) KUMI MIZUNO (Dayo) TORU WATANABE (Ryota) TORU IBUKI (Yatta) CHOTARO TOGIN (Ichino) HIDEO TSUNAZUKA (Niita) JUN TAZAKI (Outpost Commander) AKIHIKO HIRATA (Captain Dragonpatch) HISAYA ITO (Nuclear Physicist) HIDEYO AMAMOTO (Ship Captain) CHIEKO NAKAKITA (Kane, Ryota and Yatta's Mother) FUMIKO HONMA (Shinto Medium) IKIO SAWAMURA (Old Infant Islander) and THE BAMBI PAIR (The Little Beauties)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Monster of the Month
Doruge Demon: OKOZERUGE

深海魔人オコゼルゲ 「超人バロム・1」より

©Saito Productions/Toei

Height: 2.2 meters • Weight: 100 kilos • Origin: Japanese Coast • Original Appearance: SUPERHUMAN BAROM-1 (1972) Episode 1 “The Devil’s Envoy: Deepsea Amphibian Okozeruge" • Design: Norio Maezawa • Fabricator: Keizo Murase • Voice Actor: Eiji Maruyama

The first of Doruge’s “Agents of Evil,” created to corrupt and enslave mankind. When infected with the “Dorgue Bacillus,” crossed with the cells of a poisonous Okoze (or Scorpionfish), the hapless Takaichiro Suzaki is transformed into Okozeruge. The monstrous mutant is able to spit a highly toxic liquid from its mouth which kills on contact, as well as infrared eyes allowing it night vision up to 1 km. Physically stronger than any mortal, this Dorugeman's only weakness is — besides Barom-1 — natural sunlight.

SUPERHUMAN BAROM-1 featured some of the most off-the-wall mutant creatures ever, who have recently created waves among Japanese toy collectors around the world, through a line of retro-styled vinyl figures from Rainbow Zoukei Kikaku. While Okozeruge is one of the more bizarre concepts for — ostensibly — a children’s television series, it is typical of the creative latitude prevalent in Japanese productions at the time (although complaints were lodged by the Japan PTA). Outwardly garish, Okozeruge is also suitably nightmarish.

I wouldn’t want to run into him in a dark alley. Would you?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The San Diego Comic-Con International or Bust!

"Excuse me, Miss... is there booze on this crazy moon flight?"

This weekend, I will be attending the massive and monstrous Comic-Con International aka the San Diego Comic Con, to sign copies of EIJI TSUBURAYA: MASTER OF MONSTERS. This year's event is going to be the biggest in their history with the show sold out in advance for the first time, and record attendance estimated to be in excess of 150,000. So, to paraphrase Charlton Heston in PLANET OF THE APES, "This is a going to be a Madhouse!"

So, where will be you be able to find me in all of the chaos and madness? I will be at the Chronicle Books booth in the Exhibitors Hall (where, if you look from one side of the hall to the other, you can almost see the curvature of the Earth) from 3:30 pm on Saturday July 26th and from 2:00 pm on Sunday July 27th. If you don't already have a copy, we will be selling them throughout the show — if you already have a previously-purchased copy, don't fret, because I'll sign them, too (although that may devalue it). In the Comic-Con Exhibitors Hall, Chronicle Books can be found at Booth #1637.

So, we hope to see you there — stop by and say "hey"!

Friday, July 18, 2008



Tsuburaya takes a break to pose with a Godzilla costume and prop during the shooting of Seiji Maruyama's RETREAT FROM KISKA (1965).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

And Other Great Memories of G-FEST XV


Haruo Nakajima entertained us with stories during the private dinner.
Photo: Clawmark Toys

It’s kind of a blur right now. As I get ready to head out to the San Diego Comic Con, memories of G-Fest XV two weeks ago are still swimming in my head. I can’t tell you how much of a great time I had in Chicago — or rather Rosemont — I met some really cool folks, signed a lot of books (we sold out on Saturday morning, and Tom from Clawmark Toys had to buy out another dealer so we could have more to sign!). People were really receptive to my presentations, and it was great to be in on some other sessions, notably having the honor of interviewing Haruo Nakajima on stage — with Brett Homenick and Robert Scott Field — who was really amused by the slides we projected of him on set and in cameo roles. The closing panel celebrating the DESTROY ALL MONSTERS 40th Anniversary on Sunday afternoon was great fun, too — and even special effects wizard Greg Nicotero came to G-Fest as an attendee with his son (a rabid Godzilla fan)!

Danny Tokarz talks with the man they called... Godzilla!
Photo: Armand Vaquer

There were a lot of laughs in hanging out with some folks whom I’ve communicated with for years, but never got the chance to meet in person — above and beyond was Danny Tokarz, who is like my Siamese Twin separated at birth (or as Danny said, “You know, the BASKET CASE Siamese Twin”). Danny and his old buddy, Joey, treated me to some serious Chicago-style pizza (“Not that thick crust shit that the Chicago Tourism Board wants you to believe is Chicago Style!") and some serious baked clams, which were awesome — garlic never tasted so good. Needless to say, those guys killed me, and we were all in hysterics, with everyone constantly being ripped on by former UFC fighter Don Frye (star of GODZILLA FINAL WARS) — and he liked it being dished right back at him, too. Don had me in stitches during the long autograph sessions, and was extremely down-to-earth with no pretense — he ripped on himself, too — and hung out with fans all weekend, holding court in the hotel bar. Over the course of the weekend, all of the guests seemed to be having an awesome time, and so were we.

Danny and Brett share some laughs with Don "Fire Missiles!" Frye.
Photo: Brett Homenick

A fantastic and unexpected capper to the weekend was being invited by the unrivaled Tom and Diane Dougherty of Clawmark Toys to attend a private Sunday night dinner with Haruo Nakajima at a local stake house. In attendance was Mr. Nakajima’s charming daughter, Sonoe, Tom, Diane, Robert Scott Field, G-Fest organizer Brett Homenick, and Silent Charity Auction Winners Chris Eddings and Matt Harris (who were in visible awe at being in Mr. Nakajima’s presence). For three hours we ate, laughed, asked questions and listened to amazing stories, poor Robert was hardly able to eat his steak, as Mr. Nakajima really kept him on his toes (I helped a little, too). I also finally got to ask Mr. Nakajima: Which scene could he be spotted in Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI? And he related, in great detail, that it was the scene where Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) and Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi) ambush the three bandit scouts at the tree — Mr. Nakajima was the proverbial monkey in the middle, who is chased and cut down in the panning shot by Kyuzo. Needless to say, it was a great night, and special thanks go out to David Nunes for setting it up.

Signing books in the hotel lobby. Photo: Armand Vaquer

It’s funny; when you travel a long way, you expect to hook up with people and see the sights, or get in contact with local friends of friends, but there just aren't enough hours in the day. I was in the Chicago area for five (the first was mostly crashing out after checking into my room, then stumbling down to the bar and having drinks with Don, Mr. Nakajima and the gang), and it still wasn't enough time. Between my sessions at the event, pressing flesh and signing my books, I hardly left the hotel. I feel bad that I didn't get to meet — or even call — some Chicagoans I had promised to catch up with. I still had a great time in spite of that because of the hospitality of Danny, Joey and Brett (and many others at the show). It was also humbling and touching when kids stopped me to ask me questions, especially when they kept apologizing for taking up my time, to which I replied, “I came here to meet you. So please, ask away!” It all flew by so fast. But, there’s always next year, right? (I didn't even get into Chicago proper until the day after the convention ended, where I had the worst spaghetti, ever. But, that's another story.)

Karlos Borloff meets Godzilla! Photo: Armand Vaquer

A big surprise was getting to meet D.C. area horror host, Karlos Borloff of Monster Madhouse-fame — and he was thrilled to meet Mr. Nakajima (what Monster Kid wouldn't want to meet the man who was Godzilla?) — and I met lots of other great people all weekend. Far too many to mention (you know who you are!). I do have to stop and thank Jay Johnson for breaking the two year hiatus of the annual "Godzilla Blood Party" — that stuff'll kill ya! More thanks and shout outs must also go out to event producer J.D. Lees, his right-hand man Armand Vaquer, the diligent Brett Homenick, the omnipresent Robert Scott Field for the warm welcome, and anyone else I may have left out (including A.V. wizards Andy Steele and Jeff Horne — you, too, Butch! Did you get enough autographs from Mr.Nakajima?) I'm still kind of drained, but I hope that I will be invited back to G-Fest as a guest next year (although I’d still attend as a fan)!

Maybe we'll see you there next year, too?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

July 10, 1901-January 25, 1970


Tsuburaya at the official press junket for ULTRAMAN, 1966.

The “Father of Japanese Special Visual Effects” was born on July 10, 1901 as Eiichi Tsuburaya in the town of Sukagawa, Fukushima. As with his life, even his date of birth is steeped in legend — official sources have often listed that Eiji Tsuburaya was born on July 7th — a date of fortune in the celebration of Tanabata (meaning “Seven Evenings”), a Japanese star festival derived from the Obon (a celebration of ancestors). Tanabata is usually celebrated on July 7th or August 7th, to commemorate the meeting of Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair).

Tanabata originated from the Chinese Festival to Plead for Skills (Oi Xi), which came to Japan in the Heian Period (795-1192), and spread to the public during the Edo Period (1603-1867), where it was then combined with Obon traditions. From the Edo Period, girls wished for better sewing and craftsmanship skills, while boys wished for better calligraphy skills, by writing wishes on strips of tanzaku paper, which were hung on bamboo trees. This tradition is still practiced today in Japan.

Even if Eiji Tsuburaya was not born on July 7th, the myth of being born on the Tanabata certainly was apt, because Tsuburaya would become famous for his multiple artistic and practical skills, which he had in spades — and eventually, the name Tsuburaya would become world-renown with the production of GODZILLA (1954).

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bandai's Amazing RC-Operated Titan of Terror!


Bandai's amazing RC Mechagodzilla! Photo: CScout Japan

The iconic Mechagodzilla, the bionic double of the King of the Monsters, was created in 1974 for the 20th Anniversary Godzilla film, Jun Fukuda's GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and proved so popular, he was brought back the next year for Ishiro Honda's TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA. Since then, as a character, Mechagodzilla has endured in popularity for more than three decades, and has been re-envisioned in several more recent Toho films, such as GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (2002) and GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS (2003). Despite the updates, the first version of the character still captures the imagination of fans everywhere.

"Cross Attack Beam, fire!" Photo: GA Graphics

While the original version of the alien super robot has been rendered in various forms of vinyl, resin, diecast and injection mold plastic, kaiju fans and Japanese toy collectors, alike, thought that they saw the zenith figure of their favorite space titanium-alloy monster issued in spectacular — and ultimate — form as part of Bandai's best-selling "Soul of Chogokin" line a couple of years ago. Released in both 1974 and 1975 versions, this diecast figure was one of the many releases in the popular revival of their "Chogokin" brand (or "Super Alloy," a term coined from Go Nagai and Toei Animation's MAZINGER Z). No one could have imagined that it could get any better. Until now.

"Initiate, Defense Neo-Barrier!" Photo: GA Graphics

At the 2008 Tokyo Toy Show on June 21st and 22nd, produced by the Japan Toy Association, the largest toymaker in Japan, Bandai, previewed a prototype of their latest, and arguably, greatest idea. Ever. Bandai unveiled their upcoming 20" Radio Controlled 1974-type Mechagodzilla! This ultimate in robot toy decadence is radio operated via a remote control box, ala Gigantor, and promises full walking action (forward, reverse, right and left), flashing lights to simulate weapons firing (spinning hands for the Finger Missiles, opening chest plate for Cross Attack Beam, etc.) and defensive capabilities (spinning head to simulate Neo Barrier generation) — replete with corresponding sound effects.

"His power is in your hands!" Photo: GA Graphics

According to the Japanese website, GA Graphics, who were in attendance at the Tokyo Toy Show, the prototype "RC Mechagodzilla 1974" (tentative name) was on display in a glass case at the Bandai booth, and while it demonstrated several of its special features (including lights that flash to simulate missile firing and eyes that change from amber to blue), the walking function was not demoed for either the buyers or the public at the show. With this being a prototype, it is likely that Bandai is still busy working on getting this ultimate toy for big boys ready for its scheduled December release date.

Because of the declining birtrate in Japan, toy manufacturers have been refocusing their marketing squarely at adults with highly detailed items that were previously the realm of the so-called niche "Garage Kit" market, spawned by independent, Cottage Industry manufacturers. One recent example is Bandai's full-scale, and functional, Kamen Rider Henshin Belt, which surpassed all expectations in sales to this new — and growing — demographic.

While manufacturer's suggested retail price was not announced at the Tokyo Toy Show, those interested in picking this badass piece up will have to expect it to be in the triple digits — so start saving your pennies, now. This is truly a toy that is guaranteed to be worth its weight in Space Titanium.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sony Home Video issuing Toho classics to DVD

Should you shelve your Toho Video R2 DVDs or keep them? Read on.

To quote Dr. Immelman from THE MYSTERIANS, "Good news! Good news!" The intrepid Ian Freidman of the HK Film News DVD blog has scored another exclusive interview with Michael Schlesinger of Sony Home Pictures Entertainment, called Return of the Classics. And while they discuss a lot of exciting news about upcoming releases (please check out the site for the complete interview), there is some exciting official news regarding the Columbia-held titles, THE H-MAN (1958), BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959) and MOTHRA (1961). Here are some excerpts:

IF: "So what is the word on releases of dual US/Japanese versions of MOTHRA, THE H-MAN, and the BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE? The grey market has been filled with wide and subbed copies of the Japanese versions, but the English language version has only appeared on badly duped copies from 16MM, making them a desired inclusion."

MS: "The set is penciled in for ’09. It will contain those three plus REBIRTH OF MOTHRA 3 (1998), which somehow got overlooked for DVD. The intent is to have the uncut versions with Japanese tracks as well as the English dubs. MOTHRA and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE are done; THE H-MAN is proving to be a bit trickier, but it should be completed in time."

IF: "Many fans have hoped that the actual US versions (in terms of credits and US version has opposed to the dub being placed over the Japanese version) will be released; do you think this will be possible?"

MS: "Probably not, since it would require twice as many discs. Besides, why would anyone want the cut-up versions? You don’t see people buying ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and then saying, “Aw, crap, I wanted the version that was 90 minutes shorter and re-edited in chronological order by some studio hack.” That’s a rather extreme analogy, but you get my point."

IF: "The reason I ask about the US versions is that Classic Media, put both the US and Japanese versions on one disc, if that's not possible, will the US credit sequences be included perhaps as an extra."

MS: "I'm sure some method will be worked out. We certainly don't expect people to try and read Japanese credits!"

IF: "Since some of the US versions were sequenced different and had different music, how will the dubs sync up with the Japanese tracks (do you have separate music, sound effects, and dialog tracks?"

MS: "That is an issue, and one that's holding up THE H-MAN. Again, much of the Toho business might be better posed to Grover [Crisp Head of Sony’s Restoration]."

While this is really exciting news, and it's about time that these films received a DVD release in North America, I'm a bit hesitant about making "hybrid" versions of the films. If Sony's Godzilla releases are any indication, we are not going to get the original Japanese credit sequences. For example, the original Japanese credit sequence for THE H-MAN is far superior than the US version — and longer — with the credits over a montage of a derelict fishing trawler, ending on the ship's wheel, which eerily seems to be steering without a pilot...

Additionally, again going by their earlier Godzilla releases, we will also not see the original Japanese Toho Scope logos at the start of each film — which will be replaced by a modern English version of the logo. This would be akin to cutting out the Shaw Brothers logo and replacing it with one in CGI. No one complained that the Classic Media DVDs contained the Toho logos or the original Japanese credit sequences (although the did drop the pre-logo "Thanks to the Maritime Safety Agency" card from GODZILLA) — nor has anyone complained of such for any other Toho releases by Media Blasters, Animeigo, Criterion, etc.

Actually, we want to have the original Japanese versions. Complete and uncut. Including logos and credits. Personally, I don't understand the need for creating these hybrids (except for possible television airings). While it may be too early to call foul at this point, we've been waiting for a decent release of these films for so long, that perhaps we're being a a little too nitpicky. For now, we're just going to have to wait and see if this is the case, or it's all much to do about nothing.

In meantime, keep checking back when more news breaks on either this blog or HK Film News DVD. Ian says that he's working on a follow-up interview with the man in charge of these restorations.

Thanks go out to Ian Freidman and Brad Thompson for passing this along to me, and Michael Schlesinger for pushing these releases through — salute!

UPDATE 07/09/08: When the major differences in the U.S. and the Japanese versions were brought to his attention, Michael Schlesinger responded thusly: "After the interview was published, I was informed that THE H-MAN and MOTHRA were not merely shortened but had scenes rearranged and some alternate footage. So yes, it would be best if both versions were included on those two. I'll be bringing this up when the time comes."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Monster of the Month
GOMORA: The Ancient Monster

古代怪獣ゴモラ 「ウルトラマン」より

©1967 Tsuburaya Productions

Height: 40 meters • Weight: 20,000 tonnes • Origin: Johnson Islands, South Pacific • Original appearance: ULTRAMAN (1966-67) Episode 26 & 27 "The Monster Prince"

One of the mightiest creatures to ever live, Gomora possessed massive strength, and while generally docile, could be provoked into extreme, unstoppable rage. With powerful arms and claws, and enormous horns crowning its head, Gomora could burrow into the earth and traverse long distances underground at incredible speeds. Besides using its horns as defensive and offensive weapons (based on the dinosaur, Triceratops), Gomora could also wield his tremendous 40 meter-long tail to stun or kill his enemies. A true prince among monsters!

Gomora is not only my favorite of all the Ultra Monsters, but also one of my favorite Japanese monsters of all time (and I still treasure my Bullmark figure of him I bought as a kid). Gomora was the creation of screenwriter Tetsuo Kinjo, who conceived the creature, art director Tohru "Tohl" Narita, who realized him, sculptor Ryosaku Takayama, who built the monster suit, and suit actor Kunio Suzuki, who brought him to life. Gomora has remained popular for over 40 years and has returned several times, including the recent mini-series ULTRA GALAXY: GIANT MONSTER BATTLE.

Simply put, Gomora rules!

•Link Wikipedia: Gomora

Monday, June 30, 2008

Haruo "Mr. Godzilla" Nakajima Returns to G-Fest


"I'm not as afraid of Godzilla as I am the Editor; he's meaner."

This week I will be heading to Chicago as a guest of the only kaiju eiga (Japanese monster movie) convention in North America, G-Fest XV, taking place July 4th-7th, at the Crown Plaza O’Hare. I’ve only attended two of the previous events held in Southern California (for which I put together video programming and co-hosted several presentations), mostly because the event is ostensibly held in Chicago — and how does one choose between Chicago and Tokyo? Other times, I’ve been so caught up with things at home, I space on attending G-Fest (I do the same thing with Comic Con, too). But, things are different this year.

First off, my book on the father of Japanese Visual Effects was released this past November, and as the author, I am compelled to make the rounds to press flesh and forge my name on tomes — otherwise known as book signings. Secondly, the organizers of G-Fest XV have invited Haruo Nakajima, the actor-cum-stuntman who played a plethora of monsters for Eiji Tsuburaya and was the primary man in the Godzilla suit from the original GODZILLA (1954) through GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972). With Nakajima there, whom I haven’t seen in eight years, how could I not go?

And so, writer Brett Hommenick and I will have the great honor of conducting the on-stage interview with Mr. Nakajima at G-Fest XV on Saturday from 10:00 am-12:00 pm. We will cover his career from Godzilla to Ultraman, and ask for the behind-the-scenes stories on making these classics, including his near death experiences on the set. Mr. Nakajima will be attending the event all weekend, and this is going to be a special, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for fans, who haven’t already had the pleasure, to meet with the man they call Godzilla.

Other guests attending G-Fest XV include UFC fighter-cum-actor Don Frye who appeared as “Captain Gordon Douglas” in Ryuhei Kitamura’s awful GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004). Who knew that the German filmmaker Jörg Buttgereit, who made the notorious NEKROMANTIK (1987), was a Godzilla fan? Jörg, who has put together extras for Deutsch DVD releases of kaiju eiga (including interviews with folks such as Mr. Nakajima), will be at G-Fest XV to shoot footage and interviews for his new documentary, Monsterland! Returning to G-Fest XV will be noted writer Donald F. Glut and actor Robert Scott Field.

At G-Fest XV I will also be hosting two special presentations: The Genesis of Ultraman (Friday from 2:00pm-3:00pm) which will explore the origins of the classic 1966 series produced by Eiji Tsuburaya, how it was produced, and the cultural impact the series continues to have today, around the world, through continued rebroadcasts and spinoffs. On Saturday from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm, I have selected over 150 behind-the-scenes photos for Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters, which will take us through all the major fantasy films from GODZILLA to LATITUDE ZERO. If you are attending G-Fest XV, you won’t want to miss this show.

Over the weekend, I will also be participating on these philosophical panels about Japanese Monster Movies, which should prove to be a lot of fun: What is a Kaiju? on Friday from 3:00-4:00 pm, will try to search for what makes Japanese monsters Japanese, and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS 40th Anniversary on Sunday from 2:30-3:00 pm, celebrating one of the most beloved Godzilla films of the 1960s. Of course, there are other great presentations and events at G-Fest XV (and bad-ass lowbrow artist David Durrett will be there, too), but they don’t want me to spoil the fun for you!

Dammit, Jet Jaguar! I almost forgot about the book signing! Over the weekend, I will be scribbling rude comments into copies of my book, EIJI TSUBURAYA: MASTER OF MONSTERS at the Clawmark Toys booth in the Dealer’s Room. I will be signing from 6:00 pm-8:00 pm on Friday, 3:30 pm-5:30 pm on Saturday, and 10:00 am-12:00 pm on Sunday (all times approximate and subject to change, unless you buy me dinner). I hope to see you there!

For more information about G-Fest XV, please go to their official website at G-Fan.com.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

「美女と液体人間」THE H-MAN (1958)

Shirakawa's Beauty is threatened by Tsuburaya's Beast.


Bijo to Ekitai Ningen, Toho, 1958, 87 minutes
Director ISHIRO HONDA • Visual Effects Director EIJI TSUBURAYA

Often woefully mistaken for a rip-off of Irving S. Yeaworth Jr.’s THE BLOB (1958), "The Beauty and the Liquefied Man" (the film’s Japanese title) was in production long before the infamous creature feature ever hit American screens. According to official records, a former Shochiku Studios actor who was hired by Toho, under his new stage name, Hideo Unagami, submitted the story treatment that became THE H-MAN (the film’s U.S. title). His story caught the eye of producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, and was pushed through for development under the supervision of genre specialists, Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya — thus launching Toho's "Mutant Series," incorporating Honda's THE HUMAN VAPOR (1960) and MATANGO (1963).

As with the original GODZILLA (1954), the premise of THE H-MAN was based on the real-life "Lucky Dragon" incident, where a Japanese fishing trawler wandered into the waters of the H-Bomb test site at Bikini Atoll. The crew and their catch became radioactive, and death came to several of the crewmembers as a result of poisoning from radioactive fallout. In November 1957, Tanaka, Honda and Tsuburaya finalized the story with writer Takeshi Kimura, who penned the screenplays for RODAN (1956) and THE MYSTERIANS (1957). The pessimistic Kimura was put in charge of fleshing out Unagami’s treatment, and created a world where the law is only a thin veil that differentiates the police from organized crime.

This mixture of detective story and science fiction was not new to the Japanese; "Tantei Shosetsu Henkaku" (or Irregular Detective Fiction) took root in the 1920s with the rise in popularity of such pulp magazines such as Shinseinen (New Youth) and Kagaku Gaho (Science Pictorial), where this sub-genre originated. The first movies in this vein were Daiei Studio's THE RAINBOW MAN and ENTER THE INVISIBLE MAN (both 1949), the latter with inspired effects work created by Tsuburaya. While Toei made Rampo Edogawa’s juvenile stories, Boys Detective Gang, into a series of films between 1954-1958, THE H-MAN was far more adult; with its mixture of seedy nightclubs, lurid characters and drug smuggling — akin to similar "Anokokugai" (Underworld) pictures pouring out of post-war Japanese studios, such as Seijun Suzuki's UNDERWORLD BEAUTY (1958).

Honda paired Kenji Sahara and Yumi Shirakawa for the third, and last, time in THE H-MAN. Playing the young theoretical scientist, Sahara would continue to appear in many films for Honda, as well as star in Tsuburaya's classic television series ULTRA Q (1966). Shirakawa plays a Cabaret Chanteuse, and shortly thereafter was cast in such films as Yasujiro Ozu's EARLY AUTUMN (1961). She only made a handful of fantasy films after THE H-MAN, Jun Fukuda’s THE SECRET OF THE TELEGIAN (1960), Shuei Matsubayashi’s THE LAST WAR (1961) and Honda’s GORATH (1962), and then married Nikkatsu Studios star Hideaki Nitani (TOKYO DRIFTER). Cutting an imposing figure as the vile "Uchida," Makoto Sato was launched into a long career as heavies and heroes alike, despite his brutish features, and recently appeared in Takayoshi Watanabe’s DEAR HINAGON (2005).

Although there are no colossal beasts in THE H-MAN, Tsuburaya managed to conjure up some very special effects for this picture; especially eerie is the hydrogen ooze that dissolves the human victims — and when the shapeless mutants manifest into humanoid forms (most notably, during the flashback set aboard the "haunted" fishing trawler). Another remarkable visual effect is the death of Detective Sakata (Yoshifumi Tajima), when the liquefied creatures dissolve him in the cabaret. While these effects were considered somewhat shocking in 1958, even more shocking were the scantily-clad cabaret dancers, who were a little racier than allowed in mainstream American cinemas at the time. (While Columbia Pictures' trims for the U.S. release resulted in more than five minutes of footage hitting the cutting room floor, most was comprised of police exposition, the aforementioned saucy bits, and some of the shots in the sewers featuring Shirakawa in nothing more than a slip.)

To achieve the effect of the dissolving human beings, Tsuburaya had life-sized latex dummies of the actors made, and dressed them up as their flesh-and-blood counterparts. Shooting with high speed cameras, Tsuburaya’s crew literally let the air out of these dummies, and when combined with optical effects in post-production, they appear to be dissolved by the gelatinous monsters. Then, there’s the creeping ooze itself (cooked up from a special silicon compound), which was manipulated on special sets constructed to roll 60%, thus allowing the deadly miasma to threaten the cast. Tsuburaya also created some atmospheric miniature photography of the ghost ship for the title sequence and the creepy flashback, as well as the spooky lattice of sewers under Tokyo — transformed into a raging inferno, as they are engulfed in the conflagration created to incinerate the H-Men in the fiery climax.


Starring KENJI SAHARA (Dr. Masada) AKIHIKO HIRATA (Detective Tominaga) YUMI SHIRAKAWA (Chikako Arai) EITARO OZAWA (Chief Detective Miyashita) MAKOTO SATO (Uchida) YOSHIO TSUCHIYA (Detective Taguchi) YOSHIFUMI TAJIMA (Detective Sakata) TETSU NAKAMURA (Chen) NIDAO KIRINO (Shimazaki) AYUMI SONODA (Emi) NAOMI SHIRAISHI (Mineko) MACHIKO KITAGAWA (Hanae) TADAO NAKAMARU (Detective Seki) HISAYA ITO (Masaki) and KOREYA SENDA (Professor Maki)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Monday, June 2, 2008

"Eiji Tsuburaya" Conquers the World!


The Father of Japanese Visual Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya!

Alright, that might be overdoing it, but as an old friend of mine, Spencer Coppens, used to punctuate his hysterical nightclub managing accounts, "Who knew?" When I was researching and writing EIJI TSUBURAYA: MASTER OF MONSTERS, I knew that it would be immediately embraced by fans of Japanese Monster Movies, Asian Cinema and Classic Fantasy/Horror/Science Fiction Films, a voracious, but very niche, demographic. Even a year ago, I would have never imagined the volume of mainstream attention — and accolades — that the book has generated outside of the unfortunately labeled, "Fandom Ghetto," in the wake of its release.

Positive notices have been pouring in since last fall, from The Library Journal and Locus Online to Barnes & Noble and Time Magazine. (Time Magazine? Somebody pinch me!) Most of them unanimous in their praise for the book itself and it's mission — to bring Eiji Tsuburaya into the international spotlight. I was also taken aback that it was nominated for a coveted "Rondo Award," and all of the book signings (so far) have surprised not only me, but the managers of the venues as well. It's all about timing, and it has been extremely fortuitous — right now, people are interested in reading (and hearing) about Tsuburaya's films, as well as his life, achievements and innovations.

The door has finally been opened — and the reviews keep coming in. Chelsea Bauch, in the June 2008 issue of Boldtype ("The Monthly Review of Books Worth Reading"), has kindly written:

"Ragone's account is an insightful look at the innovation and technology behind one of the industry's pioneering craftsmen. Tsuburaya is still widely honored in Japan, but his international recognition is often eclipsed by his iconic creatures... And yet, as Ragone tells it, the story behind their construction is as engrossing as their infamous acts of destruction... MASTER OF MONSTERS is part biography, part coffee-table art book... balancing Ragone's absorbingly detailed account with stunning images of the man in action... Although the subject matter may seem esoteric, Tsuburaya's story is as much about the evolution of Japanese cinema as it is about one of its most pivotal practitioners."

That has been my mission — to shine a beacon onto Eiji Tsuburaya and let people be drawn to that light (no Mothra puns intended or implied). It didn't have to be me, but somebody had to do it. This is the first major step in a long journey and has been a culmination of years of dedication on my part. After decades of reading mostly snide, dismissive and condescending comments in English-language publications on Visual Effects and Science Fiction Films (some bordering on racist), with others being erroneous (because of the language barrier or lazy research), or passing him over altogether (some out of ignorance or distain), Eiji Tsuburaya can no longer be swept under the rug, and is now getting his due outside of the confines of his birthplace (where he is still widely respected and revered by filmmakers and fans, alike).

His was the first name that stuck to my pre-adolescent grey matter, when I read the TV Guide listing for the sadly-titled ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (1963), which ended with, "Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya." This was the start of my lifelong obsession to discover more about the reality outside of the narrative of the movies themselves — the people behind the cameras and how the films were made — and put them into context. After that initial epiphany (in a long succession of them), the next boot in my arse came from an article on Tsuburaya in #110 of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, featuring some amazing behind-the-scenes production stills (one of which I made sure got into the book). My fate was sealed.

But, this is not about me. It never has been; I'm merely the vessel — it's all about Eiji... and it's about damned time.

For a sample of more reviews, as well as announcements of upcoming book signings and film screenings, please visit the official MySpace page for Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters

Saturday, May 24, 2008

「空の大怪獣 ラドン」RODAN (1956)

The titular monster amidst the detailed miniature set of Fukuoka.

Sora-no Daikaiju Radon, Toho, 1956, 82 minutes
Director ISHIRO HONDA • Visual Effects Director EIJI TSUBURAYA

With the success of the first two Godzilla films under his belt, Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka looked to create a new style of monster movie to be shot in color, and solicited a treatment from mystery writer, Ken Kuronuma, who was the one of the translators for the Japanese edition of Amazing Stories magazine. Kuronuma based the core of his treatment on the unexplained, real-life "Mantell Case" of 1948, in which veteran WW2 pilot, Captain Thomas F. Mantell of the Kentucky Air National Guard, died when his aircraft crashed during the pursuit of an Unidentified Flying Object. Such a scene figures prominently in the completed film, and is cited as one of the most memorable in RODAN — one of Toho's finest genre films.

Set on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu (but mostly shot on location in western Japan), RODAN was Toho's first color kaiju eiga featuring a screenplay, written by Takeshi Kimura and Takeo Murata, which centers on two lovers whom are mirrored with the Rodan. While not appearing in Kuronuma's treatment, the murderous super-sized dragonfly larvae, or Meganuron, were inspired by gargantuan ants in Gordon Douglas' THEM! (1954), and became another memorable element of the film. Honda's direction is solid and dramatic, and much less documentarian than GODZILLA (1954), with truly creepy scenes in the dark and claustrophobic coal mine sets, and beautiful panoramic photography of the breathtaking countryside vistas. Heading up the 2nd Unit was Jun Fukuda (1923-2000), who was promoted to director in 1960 with THE SECRET OF THE TELEGIAN, and later became well-known for his stylish gangster movies and outrageous fantasy films.

Toho trumpeted that RODAN starred the "Hopes for 1957," newcomers Kenji Sahara (b.1932) and Yumi Shirakawa (b.1936), who would be paired in several pictures together after RODAN, including THE MYSTERIANS (1957). After placing second in a Toho talent contest in 1953, Sahara was a bit player until RODAN, and summarily became one of the busiest actors at the studio, appearing in over twenty science fiction films. Still active, Sahara recently appeared in the Tsuburaya Productions television series ULTRAMAN NEXUS (2004). Joining Toho in 1956, the beautiful Shirakawa appeared in several of Honda's pictures, and is still acting today. A favorite of Hiroshi Inagaki and Akira Kurosawa, the late Akihiko Hirata (1927-1984) played "Dr. Kashiwagi" and many memorable roles in Toho fantasy films, starting with "Dr. Serizawa" in GODZILLA. Even today, Hirata continues to be one of the most recognizable faces in the history of the genre.

Tsuburaya's elaborate and spectacular visual effects took up 60% of the film's entire production budget, and it's all up there on screen — from beautiful matte paintings to highly detailed miniature sets — and is still quite effective a half-century later. One of his outstanding sequences is the destruction of the Saikai Bridge, a scene that could only be shot once. A matter of precise timing, his wire operators had to pull the Rodan prop over the 1/20 scale bridge, while other crew members pulled another series of wires to collapse the bridge. Shot with several cameras in tandem (a Tsuburaya technique shared by Kurosawa), it all went off perfectly in one take. The finely detailed miniature of the Iwata-ya department store in Fukuoka City (changed to Sasebo City in the U.S. version) was built with real reinforced steel beams, in order to support the weight of monster actor Haruo Nakajima and the 150-pound Rodan costume. Scenes featuring animation of the flying Rodan being pursued by the fighter plane, or streaking through the skies, are still staggeringly realistic.

Because of the international success of GODZILLA in 1956, the U.S. rights for RODAN were immediately acquired by the King Brothers (Maurice, Frank and Herman), who are today best remembered for RODAN (as well as Eugene Lourie's kaiju eiga-styled GORGO, 1961). Starting with a complete work print, several shots excised in the Japanese version were utilized, while the H-Bomb tests seen at the top of the film came from newsreel footage. The English dialogue was written and directed by David Duncan (1913-1999), best known for THE TIME MACHINE (1960). Voice talent included the venerable Keye Luke (KUNG FU) as "Shigeru" and Paul Frees (THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD) as "Nishimura," while a young George Takei, who took RODAN as a summer job — his first acting gig — provided the voice for "Professor Kashiwagi" ("…and at least ten other characters — I lost count!" he recalled). Upon its release in the U.S. in July 1957, RODAN became the highest-grossing science fiction film of that year.

Despite the extensive re-editing of the film (approximately ten minutes shorter than the Japanese, and the removal of some of Ifukube's score), the U.S. version benefits from Duncan's surprisingly poetic narration, especially as the Rodans are consumed in the fiery climax: "Like moths in those rivers of fire, they seemed almost to welcome the agonies of death. The last of their kind, masters of the air and earth, the strongest, swiftest creatures that ever breathed… now, they sank against the earth like weary children. Each had refused to live without the other. And so, they were dying together… I realize now, that by the narrowest of margins, man had proved himself the stronger. But, will it always be so? May not other and more terrible monsters, even now, be stirring in the darkness? And when, at last, they spring upon us, can we be certain to beat them back a second time? That answer lies in the future. Our fears, for now, have gone up in flame and smoke."

Executive Producer TOMOYUKI TANAKA Original Story KEN KURONUMA Screenplay TAKESHI KIMURA and TAKEO MURATA Production Design TATSUO KITA Cinematography ISAMU ASHIDA Film Editor KOICHI IWASHITA Music AKIRA IFUKUBE Visual Effects Production Design AKIRA WATANABE Visual Effects Photography SADAMASA ARIKAWA [US Version] Producers THE KING BROTHERS Film Editor ROBERT EISEN English Dialogue and Director DAVID DUNCAN

Starring KENJI SAHARA (Shigeru Kamura) YUMI SHIRAKAWA (Kiyo) AKIHIKO HIRATA (Professor Kyuichiro Kashiwagi) AKIO KOBORI (Police Chief Nishimura) YOSHIFUMI TAJIMA (Iseki, Seibu News) MINOSUKE YAMADA (Constable Ozaki) RINSAKU OGATA (Goro) and HIDEO MIHARA (Japan Air Self-Defense Forces Commander)

Monday, May 19, 2008

John Phillip Law (1937-2008)

Actor John Philip Law made a strong impression on me as a kid — and little did I know it at the time that he was the very same actor in three memorable films of my youth. I wasn't even in grammar school at the time, but one of my older sisters, who swore me to silence, took me with her and he husband to see Roger Vadim's BARBARELLA (1968) at a drive-in. I didn't really understand anything in the film — but three images were burned into my little mind: The frightening Man-Eating Dolls, Anita Pallenberg as the Black Queen and John Philip Law as the Blind Angel. I doubt that these were healthy images for an impressionable child, but I'm still creeped out by dolls (I'm sure that these memories would make intriguing fodder for some Shrink out there.)

Several years later, I saw Mario Bava's delirious and colorful DANGER: DIABOLIK (1968) in a second-run theater on some double or triple feature, and again, the imagery was scorched into my psyche — Diabolik's sinister costume, Law's intense eyes, and Marisa Mell's incredible, stunning beauty. While I only saw the film once, and it was years before I saw it again (when DANGER: DIABOLIK was released by Paramount Home Video on VHS in the early 1990s), those images were very deeply ingrained.

Somewhere around that time, I rushed to see Gordon Hessler's THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) upon its first release, and while I had no idea that the star was the very same actor in both DANGER: DIABOLIK and BARBARELLA, the film made a strong impression on me (and still remains my favorite Ray Harryhausen production). Again, as typical with Harryhausen, there were numerous visual wonders in the film — such as the beguiling and murderous Kali — as well as the villainous Koura, played by Tom Baker (DOCTOR WHO), and the most special effect of all, you guessed it, the mesmerizing Caroline Munro (CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER).

By the time I was in High School, I knew John Philip Law as my favorite screen Sinbad, and connected his name to his other films, including BARBARELLA and DANGER: DIABOLIK; and now I am at a loss in expressing how much these films he appeared in fascinated and entertained me over the years. There were many fans who were fortunate to know Mr. Law and were privileged to interview him in recent years. While I was not one of them, I was — and still am — in awe of an actor who truly was larger than life and cooler than thou.

Sleep well, Mr. Law, you will not be forgotten.


Related stories:
Tim Lucas' Video Watchblog
The Telegraph obituary
The LA Times obituary

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Don't You Dare Miss This Event Tonight in Oakland!

Classic Bob Wilkins in the mid-1970s. Has it really been that long?

WATCH HORROR FILMS—KEEP AMERICA STRONG is the new feature-length documentary all about San Francisco's fondly remembered program CREATURE FEATURES (1971-1984) is having it's world premiere — TONIGHT ONLY — at the amazing Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, CA (right across the Bay from San Francisco). This premiere event is a benefit for the "Bob Wilkins Alzheimer's Fund" to help our much beloved Horror Host with the care he needs. This man was my hero as a kid, and if you remember the show, please try to make it out — but if you can't make it, you may send in donations directly to the fund via the official Bob Wilkins website.

See last month's related story "The CREATURE FEATURES Documentary!" for more details!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

フランケンシュタインの怪獣 サンダ対ガイラ

Tsuburaya directs Haruo Nakajima as Gaira, 1966.

Furankenshutain-no Kaiju Sanda tai Gaira (Toho, 1966), 88 minutes
Director ISHIRO HONDA • Director of Visual Effects EIJI TSUBURAYA

One of the most beloved of Toho's non-Godzilla kaiju eiga, THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (Japanese title "Frankenstein's Monsters: Sanda vs. Gaira") was produced as a direct sequel to FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965), but this connection was obscured in the US version by co-producer Henry G. Saperstein. His reasoning was that the characters did not look enough like the Giant Frankenstein from the previous film — the four-year gap between the release of FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD and THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS in the States, may be a better (and more logical) explanation.

The first draft of Mabuchi's screenplay featured the same trio of characters from the previous film, "James Bowen" (Nick Adams) "Sueko Togami" (Kumi Mizuno) and "Yuzo Kawaji" (Tadao Takashima), but for unknown reasons, Nick Adams was not available, and so the characters' names were changed and the parts recast, with Kumi Mizuno (MATANGO) being the holdover (as "Akemi Togawa"). Kenji Sahara, the star of RODAN (1956) and THE MYSTERIANS (1957) replaced Takashima (as "Yuzo Mamiya") and Adams was supplanted by Russ Tamblyn (THE HAUNTING) as "Paul Stewart." The rest of the cast is rounded out with the usual stable of character actors, including Jun Tazaki (ATRAGON), Yoshifumi Tajima (MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA), and Ren Yamamoto (GODZILLA).

Prominently featured in the film are the Self-Defense Forces' mobile Maser Cannons, one of the more evocative and iconic creations in the genre — a tradition that started with the Katusha Rocket Tanks in GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955), the Markalites in THE MYSTERIANS, and the Atomic Heat Ray Cannons in BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959) and MOTHRA (1961). The principal behind the weapon was a concentrated microwave beam, used to disrupt the cellular structure of its targets. Designed by Mutsumi Toyoshima (the unsung genius behind some of Toho's famous "mecha"), the Maser Cannons were built upon the A-Cycle Light Ray Cannons previously featured in MONSTER ZERO (1965). The Maser Cannons were also featured in GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972), GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973), and while offshoots and variants appeared in the Godzilla films of the 1990s, the originals were revived for GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (2002) and GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS (2003).

Another element that has made the film memorable was the Gargantuas themselves and the striking use of the monster suit actors' own eyes, emphasizing the physical performances of Haruo Nakajima (as Gaira, the Green Gargantua) and Hiroshi Sekita (as Sanda, the Brown Gargantua), and allowing for a realistic and unsettling effect. This element of realism is one of the contributing factors in the film's rabid cult following on both sides of the Pacific, coupled with Tsuburaya's highly detailed studio and outdoor miniature sets (roughly 1/10 scale) which achieve a greater illusion of reality — and the furious fight to the death between the monsters — making this one of Tsuburaya's best monster films. Unfortunately, Honda's original concepts concerning the Gargantuas' growth from another's cells (adding a threat of more such creatures), and the original ending, having the undersea volcano engulfing and destroying Tokyo in flaming magma (an ironic twist that Honda wanted to punctuate the ending with), were cut from the final script. Honda later stated that shooting these destruction scenes would have run the film well over budget.

There were a number of editorial changes made between the Japanese and American versions of the film that are worthy of spotlighting: Tamblyn was given more scenes for the US version, including those only featuring Japanese cast members in the original, emphasizing his central importance in the narrative (Tamblyn was also asked to loop his dialogue to remove any references to "Frankenstein"). S. Richard Krown replaced Ifukube's repetitious military march with more suspenseful stock library music cues (including cues cribbed from MONSTER ZERO), which actually help the scenes in question. And there are additional visual effects scenes, unused in the Japanese version, which were employed to great effect, and help to make the US version four minutes longer than the Japanese. Honda told the late Guy Tucker (in his 1996 book, "Age of the Gods"), "Actually, I find [the film] a little boring. I'm glad it's popular, but [I feel that it] doesn't really have much heart."

Executive Producer TOMOYUKI TANAKA and KENICHIRO TSUNODA Screenplay KAORU MABUCHI and ISHIRO HONDA Production Design TAKEO KITA Cinematography HAJIME KOIZUMI Film Editor RYOHEI FUJII Music AKIRA IFUKUBE Visual Effects Production Design YASUYUKI INOUE Monster Design TOHRU NARITA Visual Effects Photography SADAMASA ARIKAWA and SOKEI TOMIOKA [US Version]: Producers HENRY G. SAPERSTEIN and REUBEN BERCOVITCH Original Story RUBEN BERCOVITCH Dialogue Supervisor RILEY JACKSON Film Editor FREDERIC KNUDTSON Production Supervisor S. RICHARD KROWN

Starring RUSS TAMBLYN (Dr. Paul Stewart) KENJI SAHARA (Dr. Yuzo Mamiya) KUMI MIZUNO (Dr. Akemi Togawa) JUN TAZAKI (Colonel Hashimoto) NOBUO NAKAMURA (Professor Kita) YOSHIFUMI TAJIMA (Hirai, Maritime Safety Agency)) NIDAO KIRINO (Lieutenant Kazama) REN YAMAMOTO (Saburo Kameda) and KIP HAMILTON (Nightclub Singer)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

May 7, 1911 - February 28, 1993


Honda (left) with Tsuburaya on the set of GODZILLA in 1954.

Damn, I Really Love Monsters & Lowbrow Art!

"Bad Ass." Acrylic on canvas 16" x 20." © David Durrett

A few months back, I was "knocked for a ghoul" (to paraphrase Toho's English language brochure for VARAN), when I saw one of David Durrett's pieces based on Ishiro Honda's much beloved THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS on a message board. I was especially struck by David's use of texture, color and caricature, which felt as if they were painted in the 1960s during the height of the Kustom Kulture boom — when Ed "Big Daddy" Roth reigned supreme with his knight errant, Rat Fink. The so-called "Lowbrow" art flooded children's hearts with monstrous glee with exaggerated bug-eyed creatures emblazoned on t-shits, trading cards, stickers and model kits. It's a style and sensibility that's been often imitated, but rarely captured.

Then came David Durrett. Born April 1964 in New Orleans, Louisiana, David is the Vice President of Client Service for the Dalton Agency, a full service ad agency in Jacksonville, Florida. A Graduate of Jacksonville University, summa cum laude in Commercial Art, he said "Right after I got out of school, all the hands-on graphics techniques I had learned gave way to computerized approaches, which was great for the industry and for clients, but didn’t appeal to me as an artist." When asked about his influences, he quickly stated, "I’ve been a lifelong fan of Al Hirschfeld, Mort Drucker (who hasn’t), and Ronald Searle. Among current popular artists I really like are Gary Baseman, Tim Biskup, Amanda Visell, and David Horvath—I have many of their toys to prove it."

The Mad Monster Artist hard at work!

After seeing his amazing art, I had to ask why he had been "hiding" all of these years, "I’ve decided to get back into art for a number of reasons. Mainly, I’ve come to realize that my creative side is the part that’s really me, and it’s been dormant for too long. Also, the Lowbrow movement is perfect for artists with my personal history and sensibilities… suddenly, you can merge your art with the pop culture icons you’ve loved since childhood. I also am an avid toy collector, primarily of figures that render two-dimensional cartoon characters into three dimensions. That’s always fascinated me. With Lowbrow, and its offshoot Urban Vinyl, artists themselves are controlling how their characters are transformed into the third dimension, and I’m really into that."

When asked why he has started with the Gargantuas, David replied, "To so many of us, Japanese movie monsters are the stuff of our fondest Saturday morning memories, and Lowbrow gives us a chance to pay tribute as well as offer our own perspective on these characters that we view simultaneously with awe and amusement. (They’re also a lot of fun to render in acrylic.) I remember seeing THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS as one of the summer matinees my mother took me to at the old San Marco Theatre here in Jacksonville. GARGANTUAS was particularly memorable because what I knew as 'the Green one' was so frighteningly and excessively evil, and the fighting between the two was so relentless. Years later I got hold of a DVD and found that my 30-year-old memories were still spot-on."

"The Brown & the Green." Acrylic on canvas 24" x 30". © David Durrett

Asked to comment on "The Brown and the Green," he said, "The brother-against-brother theme suggested one of those tragic stories you read about families torn apart by the Civil War (in fact the script includes such a reference), and I just had to put them into a Matthew-Brady-style portrait complete with full regalia and weaponry. It was a lot of fun to research the uniforms and rifles, and to render such varied surfaces as leather, brass, wood, cloth, gunmetal, and, of course, fur. Following August Ragone’s very encouraging comment that the painting was 'bad ass,' I realized that Gaira perfectly epitomizes the term and was worthy of a follow-up portrait."

"Simultaneously, I have begun pieces with titles ranging from 'Candid Gamera' to 'Toho Presents The Mikado.' I plan to have at least six paintings completed by G-Fest, where I will be offering prints and posters (maybe 'Bad Ass' T-shirts?) as a member of Artists’ Alley. I’ve launched a simple website, daviddurrett.com, where I plan to both show and offer my work. In addition to paying tribute to existing characters, I’d like to develop some of my own, which is a natural progression of subject matter among Lowbrow artists."

Check out David's site at daviddurrett.com and visit him this July 4th-6th at G-Fest in Chicago — his dynamic work redefines the term "Bad Ass" for the Monster Kid in everyone. I'm sure that we'll be hearing a lot more from David and his wonderful Lowbrow creations in the near future — I just hope he remembers me when he's famous!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Whatever You Are...

Countess Bathory rises again from LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS (1970).

From Wikipedia: Walpurgisnacht is derived from Pagan spring customs. In the Norse tradition, Walpurgisnacht is considered the "Enclosure of the Fallen." It commemorates the time when Odin died to retrieve the knowledge of the runes, and the night is said to be a time of weakness in the boundary between the living and the dead. Bonfires were built to keep away the dead and chaotic spirits that were said to walk among the living then.

In Germany, Walpurgisnacht (or Hexennacht, meaning Witches' Night) is the night when allegedly the witches hold a large celebration on the Blocksberg and await the arrival of Spring. In some parts of northern coastal regions of Germany, the custom of lighting huge Beltane fires is still kept alive, to celebrate the coming of May, while most parts of Germany have a derived Christianized custom around Easter called "Easter fires".

Walpurgis (sw: Valborgsmässoafton or Valborg) is one of the main holidays during the year in Sweden, alongside Christmas and Midsummer holiday. One of the main traditions in Sweden is to light large bonfires, a custom which is most firmly established in Svealand, and which began in Uppland during the 18th century.

Today in Finland, Walpurgis Night (Vapunaatto, Valborgsmässoafton) is, along with New Year's Eve and Juhannus, the biggest carnival-style festivity that takes place in the streets of Finland's towns and cities. The celebration is typically centered on plentiful use of sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages.

In Estonia, Volbriöö is celebrated as one of the main reasons to party across the country. Influenced by German culture, the night originally stood for the gathering and meeting of witches. Nowadays some people still dress up as witches and wander the streets in a carnival-like mood. The following day (May 1) is known as Kaatripäev (Hangover Day, derived from the German word 'Kater' meaning 'Hangover').

Whatever April 30th means (or doesn't mean) to you, please have a safe and sane, Walpurgisnacht!

Monday, April 28, 2008

It's the Ultimate War of the Colossal Beasts!

何だ? 大魔神たけし対大怪獣ギララ!?

Coming to your galaxy this summer!

While the details surrounding Minoru Kawasaki’s upcoming MONSTER X STRIKES BACK: ATTACK THE G-8 SUMMIT (Girara-no Gyakushu Toyako Samitto-no Kiki Ippatsu), a spin off of the Shochiku Studio’s one-shot monster movie from 1967, THE X FROM OUTER SPACE (Uchu Daikaiju Girara), keep getting stranger and stranger — it’s also becoming bizarrely sublime in both the casting and the unveiling of a new colossal character to combat the giant space monster. But, is that any surprise coming from a Kawasaki film?

Actor/Singer Kazuki Kato.

Under the radar of most people outside of Japan are the starring roles, filled by two veteran tokusatsu television actors. 24 year-old actor-singer Kazuki Kato plays a photojournalist caught up in covering the onslaught of the monster Guilala. The popular Kato rose in fame playing Keigo Atobe in the stage presentations based on "The Prince of Tennis" manga and his television role as Daisuke Kazama/Kamen Rider Drake in KAMEN RIDER KABUTO (2006-07). He most recently played Shiro Kazami/Kamen Rider V3 in Ryuta Tasaki’s KAMEN RIDER: THE NEXT (2007).

Actress/Model Natsuki Kato.

His love interest in the film is a plucky news reporter played by 22-year old actress (and professed anime fan), Natsuki Kato, who first appeared in BURN! ROBOCON (1999-00) and was prominently featured in Kenta Fukasaku’s BATTLE ROYALE II: REQUIEM (2003). She can also been seen in Naoyuki Tomomatsu's STACY (2001) and Atsushi Muroga's GUN CRAZY 4: REQUIEM FOR A BODYGUARD (2002). Kato is also notable for playing the first official female Kamen Rider, Kamen Rider Femme, in Ryuta Tasaki’s KAMEN RIDER RYUKI: EPISODE FINAL (2002).

Recent photo of actor Susumu Kurobe.

Kawasaki has also sprinkled in a couple of old veterans, who are no strangers to fans around the world — Susumu Kurobe, who is best remembered as Hayata from the original ULTRAMAN series from 1966 has a prominent role as a military official (Kurobe also appeared in similar brief cameos in the recent series of Godzilla films). Kurobe also recently reprised his role as Hayata in the ULTRAMAN MOEBIUS television series and two feature film spin-offs, the latest of which, Takeshi Yagi's DECISIVE BATTLE! THE SUPER 8 ULTRA BROTHERS, opens in Japanese theaters this September. Mr. Kurobe has always been one of my heroes.

Recent photo of actor Yosuke Natsuki.

While his last role in a visual effects film was more than two decades ago, as Professor Hayashida in Koji Hashimoto’s RETURN OF GODZILLA (1984), Yosuke Natsuki has been cast in a featured role in the new film. Under contract with Toho in the late 1950s, Natsuki was a popular young actor whom appeared in everything from comedy programmers to dramatic war films, as well as action potboilers and period dramas, such as Kengo Furusawa’s SIEGE ON FORT BISMARCK (1963) and Hiroshi Inagaki’s CHUSHINGURA (1962). He also appeared in two classic monster movies directed by Ishiro Honda, GHIDRAH: THE THREE-HEADED and MONSTER and DOGORA: THE SPACE MONSTER (both 1964). Natsuki recently played Shibahara, the Karate Master in Shunichi Nagasaki's excellent BLACK BELT (Kuro-obi, 2007).

But wait! There’s more!

Japanese press sources have just announced that world-renown actor and director, “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, is appearing in the film as “Takemajin” (pronounced “tah-kay mah-gene”) — a guardian deity who grows to enormous proportions to take on the intergalactic interloper. Loosely based on the deity Fudomuyo-Oh, the new character first appears in the film as a 50 cm edifice (holding an umbrella in one hand and a fire extinguisher in the other). But, when things look their darkest, the statue comes to life as a 50-meter tall, 10,000-ton colossus. Kitano will actually don the suit of Takemajin.

Early design for Takemajin.

Director Kawasaki thought that this would be a perfect role for Kitano, who is no stranger to comedy or elaborate costuming, since he used to play the Ultraman-like character, “Take-chan Man,” on the old “Ultra Quiz” game show, as well as wrote and starred in the “Uchimura Seven” sketches, which were parodies of the old ULTRAMAN television series. Kitano is also known by Japanese audiences for his penchant for dressing up in wacky costumes on the most inconspicuous (or inappropriate) occasions.

Kitano's mug on the statue of Takemajin.

In the story, the mystery surrounding Takemajin — which is also a take-off of Daiei Studio’s beloved DAIMAJIN trilogy from the 1960s — is at the center of the drama, and the avenging deity will make his dramatic appearance at the climax of the film. Kawasaki teased, “This is the culmination of Takeshi-san’s professional career... and in the last scene, there will be a shock similar to [the final duel] in Akira Kurosawa’s SANJURO.”

Who will prevail? Takemajin or Guilala?

MONSTER X STRIKES BACK: ATTACK THE G-8 SUMMIT goes into nationwide release in Japan this July. Personally, I can’t wait to see this film — it’s either going to be glorious or a glorious mess!