"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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Original Godzilla: January 1, 1929

お誕生日おめでとう ゴジラさん、中島春雄!

Nakajima 1971 BW blog

Taking a break on the set of GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971) ©Toho

This is the first photo I ever saw of the man who played Godzilla, Haruo Nakajima, in an early '70s issue of Greg Shoemaker's seminal Japanese Fantasy Film Journal (which subsequently appeared in the pages of Randall D. Larson's Cinefan and Forrest J. Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland), and I consider it to be the definitive image of the man (thanks Greg!).

Mr. Nakajima turns a spry 81 today, and wants his fans to know that he is still going strong (check out my 2009 birthday notice for more information on Japan's dean of monster actors)! We cannot thank him enough for his myriad of kaiju roles which started in 1954 with the roar that was heard around the world in GODZILLA. Help us to wish Mr. Nakajima have one of the greatest years ever, by expressing your own personal greetings and sending them to Armand Vaquer, who will officially forward them to Godzilla himself!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Silver Screen Spookshow on December 26, 2009

Godzilla returns to Atlanta's Plaza Theater with a special Silver Scream Spook Show presentation of Ishiro Honda's DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) on Saturday, December 26th. The Silver Scream Spook Show is a 30-minute live stage presentation "filled with magic tricks, dancing girls, spectacle and frights!", followed by a classic horror movie in 35mm. Admission is $7.00 for the 1:00 pm Matinee (free for kids under 12) and $10 for the 10:00 pm show.

Plaza Theater
1049 Ponce De Leon Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia 30306

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bob Logan's Amazing "Ultraman" Studies

Episode 1, "Ultra Operation: No. 1". ©1966 Tsuburaya Productions

Episode 5, "Secret of the Milogandar". ©1966 Tsuburaya Productions

Episode 2, "Blast the Invaders". ©1966 Tsuburaya Productions

Back in August, I posted a fantastic Science Patrol recruiting poster created by illustrator and animator Bob Logan. Here, I've posted three of his "Ultraman Studies" taken from scenes in early episodes of the original ULTRAMAN. It goes without saying that Mr. Logan has a keen interest in the 1966 series, and these studies were executed in the style of Neo-'50s pop art; akin to the work of contemporary retro-pop purveyors, Shag and Tim Biskup.

But, who is Bob Logan? For those who don't know, the Annie-award nominee began his career cutting his teeth on The Simpsons in the early 1990s. Since then, has worked as a Story Artist on various animation productions for Walt Disney Studios and DreamWorks Animation, including Powerpuff Girls: The Movie (2002). He recently published his first book, Rocket Town (2008) from Tor Books. I certainly hope to see more of his Ultraman-inspired work in the future!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Where Gundam Meets The Hero From M78!

『劇場版 機動戦士ウルトラマン』!

"Visual Effects Fantasy: Ultraman". ©Tsuburaya Productions


The above faux Ultraman poster (the artist and execution date are unknown at this time), is a play on the original poster for the first MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: THE MOVIE feature from 1981. The original artwork was created by renown artist Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, who was the character designer on the 1979 television series. The mock poster features Science Patrol officer Hayata, Ultraman's alter-ego, subbing for Gundam pilot Amuro Ray, and puts the superhero from Nebula M78 in the place of the Mobile Suit RX-78. See the connection? Now, to paraphrase the opening theme song "Fly On! Gundam": Blazing higher, blazing higher, Ultraman!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

May All Your Turkeys Be Little(r) Ones!

火山怪鳥バードン 『ウルトラマンタロウ』より

Birdon from ULTRAMAN TARO (1973). ©Tsuburaya Productions

I wonder... How long would it take to cook a 33,000-ton, 200-foot tall carnivorous, volcanic turkey monster? How much stuffing would we need? How many people would it feed? What about the gravy? While we try to figure that out over here at Kaiju Productions HQ, I wish you all (whatever you are) a most wonderful Thanksgiving weekend filled with friends, family and plenty! Now, did anyone see where I left the Birdon Baster?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November 3, 1954


With Yukiko Kobayashi from DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) ©Toho

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October 27 & 28 • Clay Theater • San Francisco

After being out-priced (no pun intended) from our regular SHOCK IT TO ME! venue, we resigned ourselves to foregoing our annual October show this year, and instead turn our efforts to 2010. Then, about 14 days ago, I was contacted by a friend at Landmark Theaters, who asked if we could help them with a show for two night that they had available at the end of the month. Within seven days, we came up with an excellent night of prime Vincent Price:

The San Francisco-based classic horror film festival, SHOCK IT TO ME!, in conjunction with Landmark's Clay Theater, are presenting a very special two-night, "Vincent Price Double Feature" event, boasting a pair of true horror classics dug up deep from the vaults of American International Pictures (courtesy of MGM): THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and TOMB OF LIGEIA, as well as a cache of classic horror trailers and other spooky surprises.

Sidney Salkow’s THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964), features Vincent Price as the sole survivor of a world-wide biological disaster, which has rendered mankind a race of nocturnal, vampiric ghouls, whom he hunts by day – to drive stakes into their hearts – but must stave them off in a barricaded house by night, tormented by their unrelenting sieges.

Based on Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend”, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH was one of the inspirations for George Romero’s seminal Night Of The Living Dead (1968), and was revisited as the Charlton Heston vehicle, The Omega Man (1971), and then as I Am Legend (2007), starring Will Smith. But, neither of these over-bloated productions had the grit, the oppressive, doomed atmosphere or the pathos of the original Vincent Price film.

Roger Corman’s TOMB OF LIGEIA (1965) was the final, triumphant entry in a series of eight, ground and box office breaking films based on the works of famed American Gothic writer Edgar Allen Poe, all (save for one) starring Vincent Price. Beautiful color cinematography shot on location in Norfolk, England, highlight this tale of love and obsession beyond the grave, from a screenplay by Chinatown's Robert Towne.

Price plays Verden Fell, a man obsessed by the certainty that his dead wife has returned in the form of a black cat, seeking to possess his new bride-to-be—a dual-role played by Elizabeth Sheppard (originally cast as Emma Peel on The Avengers). Ultimately, Fell must face the spirit of Ligeia, and resist her hold on him or suffer his own horrible demise.

This double-feature presentation (both films screen on the same night with an intermission between the features) will be presented in shocking, new 35mm prints! Tickets for the show are a scream at only $10.50 (General) & $8.00 (Seniors/Child/Student), and are prices you can't shake a stake at these days for these two great thrillers, starring the "Merchant of Meance" himself, VINCENT PRICE! Showtime each night starts at 7:00 pm.

The Clay Theater is located at 2261 Fillmore Street in San Francisco. Call 415-346-1124 for more information.

JUST ADDED! In a special arrangement with the producers, copies of the brand-new NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD documentary, AUTOPSY OF THE DEAD, will be on sale in the Clay Theater lobby during our Vincent Price Double Feature Show! A few lucky attendees may also receive a free copy of the documentary as a special door prize! Attendees will also have a chance to grab a promotional poster for this undead documentary!

Watch the AUTOPSY OF THE DEAD trailer!

Purchase advance tickets: Landmark Tickets
Official event website:
Venue website:
Clay Theater
Landmark's event website:
Landmark After Dark

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bob Wilkins' "Creature Features" Returns!
Tuesday, October 13 • San Francisco


Go back in time! A complete 1973 Bob Wilkins "Creature Features" show with original show segments, TV commercials, guest interview with Forrest J. Ackerman, and feature film "Creature Walks Among Us" all on the big screen! The third film in the "Creature From The Black Lagoon" series finds the Gillman terrorizing San Francisco. The only safe place to be on Tuesday will be at the Balboa Theatre for this special "Creature Features" event. The first "complete" 1970's "Creature Features" screened in 30 years! Don't miss it this time as it will only be shown once and will never be released on DVD! Free movie posters for new horror films will be given away at the door! Hosted by former "Creature Features" host, author John Stanley!

See the Event Trailer on Youtube!
Click here for Advance Tickets!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

New Bargain-Priced Magazine & DVD series!


GODZILLA (1954) is the subject of the first issue. ©Toho/DeAgostini

A couple of years back, Tokyo-based imprint, DeAgostini, launched a successful series of magazines on Tatsunoko Productions' seminal anime series SCIENCE NINJA TEAM: GATCHAMAN (1972). All three GATCHMAN series are being released in 68 issues, and is currently in the 40s. What really made this a hit, was that each biweekly issue contained a DVD of the corresponding episodes, which were merely the same (and expensive) pressings released a few years earlier, at a substantially lower price. While this must've been harsh for those who bought the original DVD releases, those who held out can pick them up for much less, and get a cool magazine, too.

The premiere issue of GATCHAMAN. ©Tatsunoko/DeAgostini

Each issue of the DeAgostini's magazines are slickly produced, with great, eye-catching layouts, are stuffed with excellent images, and are simply must-haves for fans. Publishing scores of pop and culture series, they have also published similar DVD series with "The STAR TREK Best Episode Selection" (featuring NEXT GENERATION, DEEP SPACE NINE and VOYAGER), "The X FILES DVD Collection", "The STARGATE DVD Collection" and "The Toei Jidaigeki DVD Collection", among many others in their line-up. Now, DeAgostini is about to do the same for Toho's Visual Effects Catalogue.

Issue Two: MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964). ©Toho/DeAgostini

Launching on September 29th, the premiere issue of the "Toho Special Visual Effects Movie DVD Collection" will feature the original GODZILLA (1954). Each glossy, biweekly issue will focus on a particular film, jam-packed with photographs, with minimal text, and featuring sections on Production Backgrounds, Actor Biographies, Staff Profiles, Monster Guides, Weapons Encyclopedias, Advertising Museums, and a special column on each film by Visual Effects Director Koichi Kawakita. The DVDs also come in their own protective amaray cases, featuring the original Japanese movie posters emblazoned on their jackets.

Issue Three: GHIDRAH (1964). ©Toho/DeAgostini

Sounds good? It gets even better — the premiere issue will sell for the special introductory price of ¥990 ($10.65), with the succeeding issues retailing for only ¥1,990 ($21.40). This is an absolute steal compared to Toho Video's DVDs for the films, which retail for around ¥5,000 ($55.00) — and these are the same DVDs — plus, you get the fully-illustrated magazine to boot! DeAgostini has officially announced that there will be an astounding 55 issues of the "Toho Special Visual Effects Movie DVD Collection" in all, and that the subject of each issue will not be released in any particular chronological, or categorical, order.

Issue Four: ATRAGON (1963). ©Toho/DeAgostini

While the premiere issue will tally in at 22 pages, the following installments will feature 14 pages. The second issue, released on October 13th, is devoted to MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964). On October 27th, issue three will feature GHIDRAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964), with issue four spotlighting ATRAGON (1963) on November 10th. MOTHRA (1961) takes center stage in issue five on November 24th. Additionally, DeAgostini is offering special binders, which will hold 14 issues each, and will go on sale in October at the special introductory price of ¥690 ($7.60). Additional binders will retail for ¥1,290 ($14.22) each. The publisher is also offering special coupon-redeemable wooden DVD racks (in black lacquer) in each volume, starting with issue three.

Issue Five: MOTHRA (1961). ©Toho/DeAgostini

This is going to be a great series, and I've already reserved the premiere issue. Those who have held out on picking up the Toho Video DVDs because of their relatively high MSRPs (between $50-$60), and are also holding off on Toho's Blu-rays, will do well by getting their hands on DeAgostini's latest series — the magazines are worth the ¥1,290 without the DVDs. While you can't order them directly from DeAgostini outside of Japan, you can get them through Japanese booksellers in the U.S. And if you've got a region-free DVD player, what the hell are you waiting for?

UPDATE (09.16.09): Here's the official "Toho Visual Effects Collection DVD" Commercial now airing on Japanese television.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Aoshima's Diecast GFW Goten-go!!

新世紀合金 轟天号 ゴジラファイナルウォーズ版!

Retailers order form for the new GODZILLA FINAL WARS version.

Last October, Aoshima, under its "Miracle House" division, issued an amazing diecast replica of the Goten-go from Toho's ATRAGON (1963). As part of the "Shin Seiki Gokin" (or "New Century Alloy") line, this nearly 14" monster is not only predominantly diecast, unlike the line's previously issued Maser Cannons from THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966), but it also boasts some of the same special features seen in the original film.

For starters, all of the bow and aft stabilizers, as well as the conning tower, retract into the hull of the ship, by spring-loaded manual operation, and button release. You can simulate the airborne juggernaut streaking through the sky to challenge the Mu Empire, or drilling through the very earth itself to reach the very heart of the enemy's power center. No other version of the Atragon released commercially boasts these features.

But, here comes the pièce de résistance, powered by three AAA batteries, the iconic bow drill actually operates, in both forward and reverse — and the battering ram at the tip also undulates. But, wait! There's more... The aft engine nozzles as well as the bottom lifting jets glow, very brightly, via LED bulbs. "Blinding" might be a better word. This amazing toy for big boys also comes in two editions, "Normal" and "Weathered" (which is a limited edition) — the former comes with one Mu Power Console and two Goten Task Force Soldiers in full gear.

Without question, Aoshima's achievement is, the greatest mass-market product based on this famous movie warship ever issued — hands down. Of course, that's my opinion, and I absolutely love the almighty Atragon (known in Japan as the "Goten-go") and the original Honda-Tsuburaya film. So, I was hoping that Aoshima would come up with another great "Toho Mecha" as a follow-up... I'm still undecided on what to make of this follow-up, hitting Japanese hobby shop shelves next month:

Is this déjà vu? No, it's the Goten-go from the opening scenes of GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004). While they may look identically, superficially, to the non-fan, the revamped Goten-go features sharper, sweepback stabilizers, and a redesigned conning tower and deck guns. These are more blocky than the smoother, rounder tower and guns of Shigeru Komatsuzaki's original design — and I don't really care for this modern reworking.

As for the diecast itself, it has the same special features as the 1963 version issued by Aoshima last year, because it's virtually the same toy. The only differences are the aforementioned stabilizers, conning tower and guns. Everything else is the same, exact product. Now, if you're a completist (I gave that delusion up a long time ago), you're going to want to grab one of these puppies when it's released in September. As for me, it should come as no surprise that I will remain extremely content with the 1963 version.

And, contrary to that last statement, I will continue to look forward to newer. bigger and better versions of the original Atragon/Goten-go that will be released in the future. In the meantime, I still have that 32" vinyl kit from Paradise to build...

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Aoshima's original 1963 diecast ATRAGON is the one to get!

• Aoshima's official Shin Seiki Gokin Toho Mecha webpage.
• CollectionDX's review of Aoshima's original Atragon with video.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Designer Daikaiju from Yoshihito Sugahara

バンダイの大怪獣 Tシャツ!

Sugahara breaths new life into the original! ©1954 Toho Co., Ltd.

A dynamic design of the golden triple-threat! ©1964 Toho Co., Ltd.

The original flying terrapin of terror! ©1965 Kadokawa Pictures

Guilala from THE X FROM OUTER SPACE! ©1967 Shochiku

These amazing high-end t-shirts, designed and executed by noted artist Yoshihito Sugahara, have been commissioned by Bandai's apparel division, and are available online and through various brick-and-mortar outlets in Japan only. Sugahara has designed a number of shirt for Bandai; everything from Ultraman through Toei Heroes, and are pretty damned impressive. While they may be well-worth tracking down for the hardcore fan, be forewarned: they range in price from $30-$39 USD.

I'll be also be featuring more samples of Bandai and Sugahara's tokusatsu t-shirt designs in future posts — stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Godzilla & Eiji Tsuburaya Represented!


For that last two days, I have been immersed in the biggest gathering of its kind in the world: Comic Con International. Despite being sold out in advance for the first time in its history, the crowds have seemed tame on Thursday and Friday... It's the calm before the storm, as today, Saturday, promises to be a proverbial madhouse.

That's good and bad; I'm signing copies of my book today, Saturday, July 25th at the Chronicle Books booth (#1506), and hope that I don't get lost in the fan feeding frenzy in the Exhibitors Hall today... For those attending and interested, my signing will take place between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm -- come on down!

Tomorrow, Sunday, July 26th in Room 8, I will be hosting a tribute to the kaiju eiga of Eiji Tsuburaya, entitled "Eiji Tsuburaya & The Master of Monsters" (listed in the program guide simply as "Masters of Monsters"). Running from 1:30 pm - 2:30 pm, show features over 200 behind-the-scenes photographs and production designs from Tsuburaya's major monster movies, from GODZILLA (1954) through LATITUDE ZERO (1969).

So far, Comic Con has been another blast... details to follow after recovery... hope to see you here!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sneak peek at the all-new character!


From "Newtype: The Live", July 2009. © Kadokawa Publishing

A blow-up focusing on the face. ©Kadokawa Publishing

Even though I received my copy of the magazine about three weeks ago, I didn't have time to post these photos before leaving for G-Fest in Chicago. But still, after being home for a week, and working on other projects, I finally got around to it — so, here you go!

According to the article in the July 2009 issue of Newtype: The Live, this new Daimajin character will stand 20 meters tall (approximately 66 feet), which is significantly taller than the character featured in the original 1966 trilogy.

Click here for my previous blog entry: Giant Majin Strikes Again! about the upcoming television series, DAIMAJIN KANNON, currently shooting in Japan. The miniature effects are being shot in Studio No. 1 at Kadokawa Studios (formerly Daiei).

Kadokawa has announced that the series will premiere this October. Stay tuned for more updates in the coming months!

The 289-foot Great Kannon in Kita-no-Miyato Park, Hokkaido. Any resemblance is strictly coincidental.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Show to be rescheduled for 2010

Due to unforseeable scheduling conflicts this summer, the GODZILLA & THE MONSTERS OF MASS DESTRUCTION event slated for the Castro Theatre in San Francisco on August 21-23, has been postponed until further notice. When the event can be rescheduled, we will break the announcement here, and on our official website: shock-it-to-me.com. So, stay tuned!

We thank you for your interest and consideration, and we hope to see you in 2010!

Best Regards,
August Ragone

Post Script: In a message from Mr. Nakajima's daughter, she said that he is sad that he won't be seeing his American fans this summer; but they are waiting to reschedule the show, and he is looking forward to meeting everyone soon in San Francisco!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Toho Video Issues Special Edition DVD


Cover art based on original release poster. © Toho Video

On May 22, Toho Video will be releasing a deluxe, special edition DVD of a 1977 film produced by Tsuburaya Productions and Rankin-Bass for the ABC Television network: Tsugunobu "Tom" Kotani's THE LAST DINOSAUR. Originally the first in a proposed five-picture deal, which includes THE BERMUDA DEPTHS (1978), THE IVORY APE (1980) and THE BUSHIDO BLADE (1981). Rankin-Bass had previously produced KING KONG ESCAPES (1967) with Toho.

THE LAST DINOSAUR was written by William Overguard (Steve Roper) and combines elements from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, Edgar Rice Burroughs' At the Earth's Core and Universal International's 1957 science fiction film, THE LAND UNKNOWN. The wealthiest man in the world, industrialist Masten Thrust (Richard Boone), plans the greatest big game hunt of all time—tracking down a Tyrannosaurus Rex dwelling in a recently-discovered prehistoric pocket in deep in the Antarctic. Thrust's manned laser drill, Polar Borer, will get him there.

After its debut on ABC in February 1977, the film was released theatrically in Japan that October by Toho-Towa, and has only been issued once on VHS and LD in 1993. This completely remastered, anamorphic DVD release will contain the English and Japanese audio tracks, as well as an audio commentary track (in Japanese) with director Tsugunobu Kotani and Masumi Sekitani, the actress who played the cavewoman. The Japanese audio is from the original television broadcast (the original Japanese theatrical release was in English with Japanese subtitles). This release is also ten minutes longer than the 95-minute version shown originally on ABC-TV.

Also included in this DVD presentation is a special video message from actress Masumi Sekitani, a 13-minute interview with visual effects director Kazuo Sagawa, a production photo gallery (which includes storyboards, production designs, and behind-the-scenes photos), a 15-minute, behind-the-scenes production reel of the visual effects shoot (narrated by Kazuo Sagawa), and the original Japanese release trailer. Toho Video's MSRP is 4725 Yen (approximately $49.50 USD).

The first pressing of the DVD will contain a reproduction of the "special screening" ticket from the presentation at the Tokyo International Film Festival's "Natural TIFF" program last November. Additionally, customers will also find a coupon to order a pair of special, retro-style vinyl figures sculpted and created by the renowned M-1—one being the titular T-Rex and the other being the Polar Borer.

M-1's unpainted prototype T-Rex & Polar Borer vinyl figures.

In Tokyo this Saturday, a promotional late-night screening of three of Kotani's films at Theatre Shinjuku: THE LAST DINOSAUR (Kyokutei Tanken-sen Pora-bora), TOMORROW NEVER WAITS (Isoge! Wakamono, 1974) and LOVE IN A TEMPEST (Ai-no Arashi-no naka-de, 1978), will be preceded by an appearance and on-stage discussion with Kotani, called "The Secret of POLAR BORER." For those of you in the Tokyo Metropolitan area, or who will be there this weekend, click here for more details: cinemabox.com.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Or "Pardon Me, Your Tentacles Are In My Soup!"


Mystery! Colossal Frankenstein vs. Giant Devilfish! ©Toho Co., Ltd.

One of most oft-asked questions by fans of Japanese Fantasy Films fans on both sides of the Pacific is "What happened to that monster octopus that the giant Frankenstein was supposed to fight in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD?" For American fans, this question was originally raised due to and article (with accompanying photos) that appeared in "Famous Monsters of Filmland" #35 (later reprinted in #114 in 1975) as a sneak preview for the film's 1966 Stateside release by American International Pictures.

Readers of "Famous Monsters" discovered that the film was allegedly envisioned as "Frankenstein vs. the Giant Devilfish," according to Forry Ackerman's uncredited piece. Two stills accompanying the article featured this confrontation, but when we went to go see the film in theaters, no Giant Devilfish unspooled before our eyes. In fact, there were no fish of any kind in the picture at all (unless you count what was offered for lunch in the Toho's commissary).

So, while leaving the Grand Theater's triple feature in 1973 of ISLAND OF TERROR (1966), THE PROJECTED MAN (1967), and FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, I took a look at the display case again, and sure enough - as in "Famous Monsters" - there was a still of Frankenstein engaged in a water-struggle with a mammoth octopod! Did I miss something when I had to heed Nature's Call? Was I distracted by the other kids bouncing off the walls? Boy, was I a confused little monster kid, and was probably as confounded as Uncle Forry himself was.

Now the truth can be told! The "Devilfish" did indeed exist and it actually mixed it up with the hulking Frankenstein Giant. But first, let's take a step back to the evolution of the picture itself, known in Japan as FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON (1965).

The Toho Motion Picture Company having met critical success with the hybrid "Irregular Fiction" (read: Science Crime Drama)/"Mutant Film," Ishiro Honda's THE HUMAN VAPOR (1960) - planned a sequel in which the Vapor Man brings the body of his beloved Fujichiyo to a practicing descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein. The project was entitled, "Frankenstein vs. The Human Vapor", penned by Takeshi Kimura (MATANGO), never got past the screenplay stage. But, Frankenstein did not wait long, when producer John Beck presented Toho with Willis O'Brien's "King Kong vs. Frankenstein", although it was not meant to be. The concept was quickly eyed by Toho as a return vehicle for their own titan of terror, and responded with KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (but that's another story).

With the success of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962), Toho opined that another western monster to pit against theirs should be their next film, but the tremendous cost of licensing King Kong from RKO (more than the cost to produce the picture itself), and had them looking for less expensive options. Eventually, they came back to "Frankenstein", since Mary Shelly's book was in the public domain. But, how would Toho come to pit the towering Godzilla against Frankenstein's human-sized Prometheus?

"Frankenstein vs. Godzilla," scripted by Shinichi Sekizawa (MOTHRA) contained elements that would be employed in FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON, but ended with Godzilla being washed out to sea in a huge flood, while Frankenstein is consumed by the collapsing earth around him. With Sekizawa off to penning KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, the Frankenstein project ended up in the hands of Kimura. The president of United Productions of America, Henry G. Saperstein, after purchasing MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964) and successfully licensing it to American International Pictures as GODZILLA VS. THE THING, became interested in the Giant Frankenstein scenario. Saperstein tapped Reuben Bercovitch (HELL IN THE PACIFIC) and Jerry Sohl (THE TWILIGHT ZONE) to flesh out a synopsis that could be turned into a screenplay.

The cover story that confused the world! (Art by Vic Prezio)

The final screenplay for FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON concerned Nazi Germany handing over a trunk containing the immortal heart of the Frankenstein Monster to the Japanese in the last days of the war. Berlin was about to fall, and the Nazis didn't want such a precious scientific treasure to fall into Allied hands - perhaps wounded and dying soldiers could be cured by the secret of the Monster's Immortal Heart. But, sometime after the trunk arrived in Hiroshima, the city would meet the end of the war: The Atomic Bomb. The Immortal Heart, irradiated with all the horrific energy released by the destruction, began to mutate and grow a new body among the ruins of the vaporized city.

Soon, FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON went into preproduction with Saperstein supplying a name American star to the proceedings. Toho wanted David Jansen, due to his high-profile status in Japan from his hit teleseries THE FUGITIVE (and were also courting COMBAT star Vic Morrow). Unfortunately, Jansen backed out at the 11th Hour, and next in line was Oscar-nominee Nick Adams, who had a hit series on the air in Japan, THE REBEL (1959-61). Adams also seemed more youthful and cheerful than Jansen on screen and he was given the role of Dr. Bowen. The script would somewhat follow Sekizawa's in basic structure, but drawing from ideas by Bercovitch and Sohl, and replacing Godzilla with a new antagonist: the subterranean monster, Baragon. But what about the Giant Devilfish?

According to an interview with director Ishiro Honda in "Toho Monster Graffiti" (Kindai Eigasha, 1991), FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON "...was a co-production between Japan and America; if I remember correctly, it was with Benedict Productions [UPA's overseas production moniker]. You see, the money [budget] came from over there [laughter] ...so, there was an order from Benedict requesting us to add this octopus [to the last scene], and we complied - although we wondered about the logic that was involved, having this octopus popping out from the mountains [laughter]."

Kimura's screenplay: After defeating Baragon, with the raging fire swirling around him, Frankenstein begins to feel the ground beneath him heaving, as if it were alive. Suddenly Drs. Bowen, Togami and Kawaji notice than the giant is sinking into the ground, the massive battle having weakened the very earth itself. Slowly, Frankenstein disappears from sight; Dr. Bowen and party look on with subdued shock.

"Frankenstein is finally dead," sighs Togami.
Kawaji interjects, "He can't die. His heart will live forever."
Dr. Bowen adds, "He may be better off now; he couldn't live in this world."

The "Devilfish" was added to the script for the US version only (Honda would never allow such an outrageous occurrence in his cut): 

After defeating Baragon, and with the raging fire swirling around him, Frankenstein hauls the carcass to the end of a high precipice, and tosses the corpse into a ravine, where it is buried in an avalanche. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a giant octopus from the craggy rocks, to which Dr. Bowen exclaims "A Devilfish!"
The mammoth octopus attacks the Frankenstein giant. Finally, worn from his exhausting battle with Baragon, the giant is pulled into a lake by the creature, and still fighting, sinks beneath the waters, apparently to his death. Dr. Bowen and party look on in subdued shock.

"Frankenstein is finally dead," sighs Togami.
Kawaji interjects, "He can't die. His heart will live forever."
Dr. Bowen adds, "He may be better off now; he couldn't live in this world."

Honda prepared the sequence for the Japanese version, having veteran voice actor Goro Naya dub Adams' line "A Devilfish!" with "Daidako-da!" (It's a giant octopus!), and scoring it with Akira Ifukube's cue for the colossal cephalopod in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962). Ultimately and ironically, the footage did not end up in either the Japanese or US versions of the film - following Kimura's script to the letter. The only difference in the two versions are several sequences that were specifically shot for the US version that would make Frankenstein appear more aggressive than the Japanese version, which portrayed him as a complete victim of a world he did not make and becoming aggressive only to save people threatened by the hungry wrath of Baragon.

Then, so why did Saperstein want to add this damned octo-thing into an already action-crammed finale in the first place? According to Director Honda: "Well, abroad the octopus was apparently supposed to be something demonic [a devilfish]; besides, [Benedict Productions] said that the special effects shot by [Eiji] Tsuburaya - the aforementioned Giant Octopus scenes in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA - were so spectacular, that no matter what, please shoot a scene like that for our film." To paraphase United World News reporter Steven Martin, "Perhaps Saperstein had too much sake."

Both versions end with the defeat of Baragon. ©Toho Co., Ltd.

For many years both Japanese and American fans were under the impression that the other's version contained the "missing devilfish," and both were wrong. It was not until 1983 when this author was given a VHS copy of the sequence by renown kaiju artist, Yuji Kaida, who was attending the San Diego Comic-Con. Two years later, Toho Video restored the footage and incorporated it into the film for their VHS and Laserdisc releases. But now, the original ending was gone! Couldn't they have just added it to the end of the tape/disc as a supplemental? Well, eventually in 1993, Toho Video did just that on a disc which also contains Benedict's "aggressive" Frankenstein scenes (unfortunately in Pan & Scan), also as a supplemental. This footage is also available on the subsequent Toho Video and Media Blasters DVD releases.

Honda lamented, "We went all the way to America for discussions with the people at Benedict [UPA], and then back again at Toho. Eventually, we ended up doing that Giant Octopus for them twice." Yes, the Giant Devilfish finally made its appearance to the world during the opening scenes of THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (the very same marionette was also featured in an episode of Tsuburaya Productions' ULTRA Q, also in 1966). Guess what? Since the octo-limbed beast is seen being wrestled by Gaira - the Green Gargantua - who was an offshoot of the remains of the Frankenstein Giant... - see it coming? - it finally took place: "Frankenstein vs. the Giant Devilfish"!

And you though you were going to get away easy, didn't you?

(Updated and revised from a 1996 piece first featured in 2004 on my former website, Henshin! Online.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New Teleseries to Premiere in Japan this Fall


Returning to life this October... but will we recognize him?

Over the last two decades, there have been numerous revivals and re-inventions of popular Japanese characters and remakes of beloved film franchises. Numerous attempts have been made to resurrect the avenging stone deity, Daimajin, first stirred to life in Kimiyoshi Yasuda's unforgettable 1966 Daiei production of the same name (and quickly spawned a pair of also memorable and iconic sequels), but all have failed to see the light of day. Until now...

In 1991, there were rumblings in the pages of Kinema Junpo, Japan's most respected cinema magazine, that high on the international success of Steve Barron's TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (1990), Golden Harvest had entered a deal with Daiei to produce a new DAIMAJIN film, starring Kevin Costner, who had just swept the Oscars with DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990). After the award-winning accolades garnered by GAMERA: THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (1995), Daiei announced that they would like to revive the hideous stone idol. There was nothing.

When Daiei changed hands and was sold to the giant Kadokawa Publishing empire in 2002, they also had future plans for Gamera and Daimajin. In 2005, eclectic fringe director, Takashi Miike, scored a hit with a re-imagining of Daiei's 1968 film, THE GREAT YOKAI WAR, and was summarily attached to a DAIMAJIN remake. Unfortunately, after the miserable box office receipts from Ryuta Tasaki's GAMERA: THE BRAVE (2006), Miike's DAIMAJIN project was cancelled by Kadokawa Pictures. Again nothing.

Then, on April 1, 2009*, the new issue of Kadokawa Publishing's Newtype: The Live, made an exclusive announcement—Daimajin would return in a new television series produced by Kadokawa Pictures: DAIMAJIN KANNON. Shigenori Takatera, a fan who became an Assistant Producer at Toei in 1986, is slated to produce. Takatera started his career with KAMEN RIDER BLACK (1987-88), worked his way up as the Chief Producer on RACING TASK FORCE: CARRANGER (1996-97) through STAR BEAST TASK FORCE: GINGAMAN (1998-99), and he then moved over to KAMEN RIDER KUUGA (2000-01) and KAMEN RIDER HIBIKI (2005-06).

While the Newtype: The Live article was very coy at divulging details, it does state that DAIMAJIN KANNON will be contemporary, instead of the feudal period-setting of the feature films, and will be aimed squarely at adult viewers, most likely guaranteeing a late-night broadcast (a network has not been announced). The article features an "image sketch" by To-ru Watanabe (Master of Epic), of a young girl, most likely the titular "Kannon" (or "Goddess of Mercy"), an avatar for Daimajin—following the template of the first film. Kadokawa describes the production as a "VFX Fantasy" remake of the original film.

Stay tuned to this blog for more details as they develop on this long-awaited return of Daimajin!

*April 1, known in the west as "April Fool's Day" is not observed in Japan. Therefore, this story is not a "prank," neither from here nor the source.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Requiem For A Departed Tokyo Cinema


The final marquee on April 30, 2002.

You could call it progress or you could call it an atrocity, but time and money march on, and as a result, we have now lost a treasure for Tokyo movie fans. Early in 2002, an announcement was made that the historic, infamous and largely ignored Shinjuku Showakan theater was to be closed after fifty-one years of unbroken screenings.

The reason for the closure? The theater could no longer support its operating costs, so the controlling members of the family-run business decided to go into a more lucrative venture with the property. Pachinko Parlor, anyone? Seven Eleven? Time marches on, destroying valuable institutions like the Shinjuku Showakan in the process.

One of the last of the old-time postwar cinemas in metropolitan Tokyo, the Showakan originally opened in 1932 and featured screenings of foreign films from Europe and America (when Japan later allied itself with Germany, all foreign films were banned). During the closing days of World War 2, the theater was flattened, along with the entire city, in the incendiary waves of fire bombing raids by United States Army Air Force B-29s.

Miraculously, the Showakan was rebuilt during the American Occupation and reopened for business in 1951 (about twelve months before the seven-year occupation ended), and began exclusively screening Japanese-produced motion pictures; mostly period chambara (swordplay) and ninkyo eiga, films made about heroic and honorable Yakuza at the turn of the century.

The new Showakan featured two screens; the main screen in the street-level theater, which had a capacity of 451 (including balcony seats), and the Chika Gekijo or "Underground Theater" (literally, not figuratively) was built under the main theater and was accessible through a separate entrance on the side of the main building.

After the Occupation, the Showakan began screening more daring and racy films — later to evolve into the pink eiga (soft-core porno films) — in their Underground Theater. The smut continued for decades to come, becoming a tradition that hung to the end as well (no pun intended). For at least twenty years, three new triple-bills of these 60 to 70 minute films were screened weekly.

This was also true for the Showakan proper — three new film programs, each and every week. During the late 1960s and 1970s, when the Showakan started specializing in yakuza eiga, it was the yakuza themselves who kept the theater going by patronizing the screenings in droves. As a side-effect, things would get hairy when they demanded free entry or brawls would break out in the auditorium! So authentic was the yakuza atmosphere of the theater that Toei Studios shot scenes for their films inside the Showakan.

The lights come up after the climatic screening.

A wealth of Japanese cinema history on and off screen — a place that should have been made into a shrine, if not declared a national landmark — was about to come to an end. The closure of the Shinjuku Showakan was coming, ironically, 13 years after the death of its namesake, Hirohito: The Showa Emperor, who reigned from 1925 to 1989.

Upon hearing the news of the closure, I made sure to attended the last two weeks of screenings at the Shinjuku Showakan theater on my most recent trip to Tokyo. After all, it was my obligation. I had been attending screenings at the theater since the mid-1980s, when I first lived in Japan. At first I was not sure if I'd like Yakuza movies, the now-defunct Kokusai Theater in San Francisco's Japantown never screened them — sticking to mostly to chambara and jidaigeki (fedual period) films.

But, I was seduced into the Showakan by the inclusion of the Sonny Chiba vehicle GANGSTER COP (Yakuza Deka, directed by Yukio Noda) on the bill. I was ill-prepared for Sadao Nakajima's THE IDIOT, THE UNTAMED AND THE THUG (Bakamasa Horamasa Toppamasa, 1976) — starring Bunta Sugawara — which blew me away. I wasn't the same person who entered the Showakan — that damned theater changed me.

Fast forward to the April 23, 2002: When I arrived in Tokyo, I was both excited to be a witness to the end, yet almost too sad to actually go through with it. It was like visiting a terminal relative on their deathbed and arriving in time only to see them as they draw their last breath.

Well, I bucked up and went by the theater the second day I was in town just to look at it. To just stare at Showakan to ready myself and see what films were playing on the second-to-last triple-feature before the end. Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba, Junko Fuji and Bunta Sugawara — a great lineup of stars graced the marquee and posters — their stern faces stared back at me, daring me to enter. Tatsuichi Takamori's YAKUZA WOLF: I BRING YOU DEATH (Okami Yakuza Koroshi-wa Ore-ga Yaru, 1972) — interestingly, a more FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION film than Chiba's usual actioners — Kosaku Yamashita's RED PEONY: FEMALE GAMBLER (Hibotan Bakuto, 1968) — the first in a long-running series — and Kinji Fukasaku's first entry in the seminal (can we use that word too much?) BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY (Jingi-naki Tatakai, 1972) series. Taking a deep breath, I made up my mind to attend the following night — the screening before the next (and last) change.

The next evening, I stood outside the Showakan for a long time just watching, just drinking in what was soon to be gone. The gomoku ramen settling in my stomach made me feel relaxed. One, two, three cigarettes. The last screening was about to begin. I snuffed out my Lucky Strike and walked over to purchase a ticket. After handing my ticket for resident illustrator Happy Ujihashi to tear, I entered the auditorium like it was Midnight Mass at the Vatican.

Soon, the films began to unspool as if the Showakan's impending doom was not coming. As for attendance, it was three-quarters full (I didn't check the balcony), and featured the usual suspects: salarymen, oyaji (old guys), some winos and a smattering of young hipsters. Strange. Young people in Japan hate old Japanese films, don't they? Meanwhile, the old coot who sat nosily behind me during Chiba's big finale, soon began snoring — but, it wouldn't be the Showakan without it. It somehow felt... right.

The balcony filters out at curtain call.

At curtain call, I stood in the lobby for a couple of minutes just drinking it all in, savoring each sight and sound. The walls, the floors and the tiles of the Showakan. Outside of the theater, I gulped down a Pocari Sweat, and then lit up a Lucky Strike. One cigarette, followed by another — just soaking up the atmosphere and the glare of the bulbs of the condemned Showakan. Finally, I walked away, but kept looking back.

Taking the Yamanote Line back to my ryokan (Japanese Inn) I was somehow elated... But, soon I started to realize that tomorrow would herald the beginning of the end. Melancholy began growing inside me. I somehow had to prepare myself for the inevitable, so I avoided going to see any other films before the Showakan's closure, and satisfied myself by rummaging through Tokyo's movie memorabilia shops — dwelling deep in the nostalgia for Japan's postwar Golden Age of Motion Pictures. You can smell the musty movie posters, can't you?

The night of nights finally came. The Showakan closed Tuesday, April 30 — the final triple-bill was Teruo Ishii's ABASHIRI PRISON (Abarashi Banchigaichi, 1965), the first entry in the 18-film series starring Ken Takakura and Tetsuro Tamba, One of Norifumi Suzuki's early efforts, BROTHERHOOD CODE: OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE SAKAZUKI CUP (Kyodai Jingi Gyakuen-no Sakazuki, 1968; 7th entry in the 9-film series) starring Saburo Kitajima, Tomisaburo Wakayama and Bunta Sugawara — and Tai Kato's monumental BLOOD OF HONOR (Meiji Kyokyakuden Sandaime Shume, 1965) with Koji Tsuruta and Junko Fuji. All were beautiful prints, for their age, and the audience was enthusiastic — there were more hipsters of all ages, who seemed out-of-place among the salarymen and oyaji.

Hey, there was even another whitey there as well: The Unknown Clown. Well, at any rate, that's what I always called him — a wacky gaijin expat who can be seen riding his bike through Shinjuku in full clown regalia (apparently, he's been doing this at least since the 1980s, when I first spotted him)! He came to the last show dressed for the occasion replete with a feathered mane fanning out from a plastic Tiger Mask matsuri mask! Oh, he brought beers, too, and sat right in front of me. "Hey, pass the Asahi Dry, please! One sip for me and one for my Homey — the Showakan."

Eventually, Shusuke Kikuchi's ending cue for BLOOD OF HONOR came to a reverberating crescendo and Showakan's curtain came down — and the house lights went up — for a final time. The capacity crowd rose to its feet in a standing ovation. It was then, through the applauding capacity crowd, that I spotted another gaijin in attendance, John Robinson (aka DJ Gnosis), who couldn't believe that the Showakan was now slipping into history.

As we stood whispering in the darkened auditorium, brilliant camera flashes combined with stunned silence and streaming tears for several minutes. Conversation began as the staff ushered everyone into the lobby, where we were sent off with sincere volleys of honto domo arigato (thank you very much) and gymnastic-like repetitions of deep bows as we left the Showakan for the last time.

About forty or more attendees, stood outside in the funeral-like drizzle, as if we were waiting for a Buddhist Priest to arrive and give the Showakan it's last rites. After a few minutes, the staff came out and thanked everyone for our support and performed another deep bow. Camera flashes. More tears. The doors were then shut for the last time. Hold on, August, hold on...

The last moviegoers leave the Showakan in silence.

Gradually, the flashes died down, and the crowd slowly and quietly departed one-by-one, or in small groups. At the very end, several people stood around talking about Old Skool Japanese films or the Showakan. Soon, I was the only person standing and staring at the end of an era — another chapter of Japanese cinema history now closed. Forever. I am grateful that I was there, and thankful for all the years of entertainment the Showakan has provided die-hard Japanese Cinemaniacs like myself — we were truly lucky.

Now, it was all over.

There are still two theaters left in Tokyo that specialize in screening Old Skool Japanese films. But, it is ironic that the Showakan closes as the younger Japanese movie fans are just starting to check out their own cinema history. "Since the Showakan closing was announced, attendance had gone up. Lots of the hip and trendy started coming... Too little, too late," observed John Robinson.

There may be some hope for the future — during my visit, there were ongoing tributes to Masamura Yasuzo, Japanese silent films, and other Old Skool Japanese pictures going on during Golden Week. A theater in the Nakano Ward was doing a series tribute to Toei's ninkyo yakuza films, while the Toho Asakusa Theater was screening an All-Night tribute to the films of Ishiro Honda: DOGORA THE SPACE MONSTER (1964), FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON (1965), THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966), GORATH (1963) and KING KONG ESCAPES (1967). These were pretty cool events and helped to ease the pain in the wake of the Showakan.

Perhaps these hipsters who starting turning out for the Showakan's Swan Songs, are also patronizing the others theaters still holding on. Hopefully, they will bear the torch for the coming generations of film fans, so that these wonderful gems of Japan's Golden Age of Cinema will not go silently into the night.

But still, the Showakan is gone. I am grateful that I was there to help honor and send her off into history. Long live the Shinjuku Showakan!

The doors of the Shinjuku Showakan being locked forever.

Orignally written and published on my former website, Henshin! Online, in August of 2002. All photos by the author.