"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

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?