"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, November 19, 2014

"Godzilla 'Toho Champion Matsuri' Perfection"


Spectacular cover for "the" book on the Godzilla films of the '70s!

Finally, the release of a new photo-filled publication, spotlighting the Big G's heroic exploits from 1969-1975, will hit the shelves of Japanese booksellers on November 18th. After months of waiting, the juggernaut imprint, Kadokawa Publishing, has just released the cover and samples from this eagerly-awaited, 176-page tome on the oft glossed-over period of Godzilla's cinematic history.

Sample page of GODZILLA'S REVENGE (Oru Kaiju Daishingeki, 1969).

The "Toho Champion Matsuri" (or festival) were a series of kiddie matinee packages, comprising a feature film and short subjects (episodes of live action and animated teleseries), answering rival Toei's seasonal "Cartoon Festivals." The inaugural program featured Ishiro Honda's MARCH OF THE MONSTERS (released in the US as Godzilla's Revenge and All Monsters Attack) on December 10, 1969.

Sample page of GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (Gojira tai Gaigan, 1972).

The following Champion Festivals included digest versions of the 1960s Godzilla films, with one all-new production per year, geared squarely at children. The exception to this rule was Ishiro Honda's GIANT MONSTERS OF THE SOUTH SEAS (known in the US as Yog, Monster from Space and Space Amoeba), a tribute to the late Eiji Tsuburaya recalling Toho's glory days, released on August 1, 1970.

GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (Gojira tai Mekagojira, 1974).

The new series, depicting the Big G as a decidedly heroic defender of the Earth, began in earnest on July 24, 1971, with Yoshimitsu Banno's trippy GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (released in the US as Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster). The next original feature was Jun Fukuda's far more conventional GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (released in the US as Godzilla on Monster Island), on March 12, 1972.

Sections on each of the festivals including promotional materials.

Jun Fukuda's next creature feature, unleashed on March 17, 1973, solidified the Big G's mantle as a kaiju superhero in GODZILLA VS. MEGALO (released in the US as Godzilla vs. Megalon), teaming up in this outlandish, live action cartoon adventure, with an Ultraman-like automaton: Jet Jaguar (or should his name be romanized as "Jet Jaeger"?). Then, our hero faced his bionic double — from space!

Over seven interviews with cast members including Tomoko Ai.

Arguably one of the best rivals created during this period was the centerpiece of Toho's 20th Anniversary Big G actioner, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (released in the US as Godzilla vs. Bionic Monster and Godzilla vs. Cosmic Monster) on March 21, 1974. While a more straight-faced production than MEGALO, the space titanium terror would return for a rematch staged by Ishiro Honda.

Special interviews with staff personnel including Teruyoshi Nakano.

Honda's MECHAGODZILLA STRIKES BACK (released in the US as Terror of Godzilla and Terror of Mechagodzilla) on March 15, 1975 was a fitting swan song for the flagging series, stymied by stiff television competition, which was deluged in free kaiju programming. Even though Honda's film harkened back to the glory days of the 1960s, it was too little, too late. The Big G went on vacation.

Archival interviews with late staff personnel including Ishiro Honda.

By 1975, the Champion Festivals had gone from seasonal to annual programs which only showcased revivals of the classic films through 1978 (including one Disney line-up featuring Peter Pan in 1976 and a double feature of Latitude Zero and Mothra in 1977), ending with an uncut reissue of Honda's 1957 classic, THE EARTH DEFENSE FORCE (released in the US as The Mysterians) on March 18, 1978.

Detailed overviews of four unmade Champion Festival Godzilla films.

While there have been several in-depth, historical overviews of the Big G's cinematic history, most revere the early, and more favored, films of Honda and Tsuburaya, with cursory coverage of the '70s entries. Now, we've got an entire book devoted to them in minutia; a veritable, "Everything You Wanted to Know About the '70s Godzilla, But Were Afraid to Ask" (well, if you can read Japanese, that is)!

So, if you've seen or own Kadokawa's previous publications of "Heisei Godzilla Perfection" or "Heisei Gamera Perfection", you know how good this one is going to be (jammed with amazing photographs and measuring 11.3"x 8.3"). Fortunately, you don't need to live in Tokyo to get one — pre-order your own copy of "Godzilla 'Toho Champion Matsuri' Perfection" direct from Amazon Japan for only $36.08!

You'll thank me later. You're welcome.

Monday, November 10, 2014

King Records' Limited Edition Soundtrack LPs

伊福部昭生誕100年、ゴジラ誕生60周年記念企画 ! 

The retro jacket for King Records' GODZILLA Original Soundtrack!

For those who were excited by Death Waltz’s limited-edition vinyl LP for the Akira Ifukube original soundtrack for GODZILLA (1954), but lost out on getting a copy, you can now rejoice: Japanese label, King Records is gearing up to issue an analog release of their very own, along with the same for Ifukube’s KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962), as the “first complete limited-edition pressings” in Japan, on 180g vinyl LPs, just in time to celebrate both Ifukube’s centennial and the Big G’s 60th anniversary.

1960s Japanese movie poster vibe for KING KONG VS. GODZILLA!

For their first release, GODZILLA (KIJS-90015; 22 tracks, 37 minutes), King Records has gone back to the original 6mm master tapes, and striving for the best-ever sound quality, have employed the latest in mastering technology to match the warmth of the original masters as closely as possible. As for KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (KIJS-90016; 33 tracks, 50 minutes), the originals have been mixed down from the unprecedented 4-channel stereophonic masters to 2-channel stereo for the first time. The unique depth of the heavy bass has now been fully and faithfully reproduced for the first time (using the original 35mm film magnetic tapes as a guide).

The 6mm master tapes for GODZILLA with the original track listings!

Past and present CD releases, though forms of processing, including equalizing, frequencies, and other digital restrictions, could not fully represent the information native in the master tapes — therefore, the main impetus of the project was to replicate the original sound as closely as possible, in the name of posterity and for the heritage of Japanese film music. As for the jackets, it was decided to go with a retro-vintage design; GODZILLA sports art that mimics the 1954 theatrical program book, while KING KONG VS. GODZILLA apes the color and feel of the early-to-mid 1960s movie posters. Both LPs will street on December 24, 2014 for ¥3,600 Yen ($32.00 USD).

Please click the above-embedded links to order from Amazon Japan. It's unknown at press time whether there will be further LPs in this series, but if sales are strong, we could see MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA and GHIDRAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER. To quote Debbie Harry, dreamin' is free...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

King of Monsters Debuted on November 3, 1954

ゴジラ生誕60年のアニバーサリー !

You're not getting older, Big G — you're getting better!

Has it really been 60 years since Godzilla was loosened upon the world? I remember when the Big G turned 25 in 1979, and since I was born long after 1954, it felt like he had been around an eternity from my young perspective. There was no time before him from my frame of reference. I grew up with Godzilla and he was already eternal. Little did we know that when I was growing up, Godzilla’s time was nigh; the first cycle of films that started in 1954 would be winding down by 1975. How could Godzilla not continue? His popularity in the US was at an all-time high — we still hadn’t gotten any of the films following GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971) — he dominated local television, the pages of Famous Monsters and The Monster Times, and our thoughts.

As young Godzilla freaks, we drew pictures, created new monsters, and played with his toys (or made our own from dinosaurs figures) — even using the Aurora plastic model kit — but if you were lucky to live in Hawaii or California, you could buy what the kids in Japan had: 8” tall, soft vinyl “monster dolls” (we used to call them) with the iconic “Bullmark” logo branded on the bottom of their feet. As some of us got older, and remained fans, we organized, we started fan clubs, newsletters, fanzines, and hosted screenings. I was lucky to be retained as the “Godzilla/Japanese Film Expert” for our local horror host, Bob Wilkins, who had me talk about these films and television series on his shows, “Creature Features” and “Captain Cosmic,” thus pushing me in this direction.

The later films came, starting with GODZILLA VS. MEGALON in 1976 (our nation’s bicentennial), and his fans were legion, making the film a box office hit: There was no doubt that the Big G was the "King of the Monsters." Until the summer of 1977. STAR WARS exploded box office records around the world and Godzilla became an old hat, “So, 'last year.'” Even so, I — and others like me across North America — didn’t give up on our mon-star. Long before the Internet, we kept in contact through letters, fanzines, and phone calls. Still, even though Godzilla had been popular, he was looked down upon by many people — whether it was by those who still had a grudge against Japan or science fiction fans who saw the films as subpar — and so those of us who remained loyal, also had to be fiercely protective (not defensive) of the character and the films.

There were promises of revival movies that never materialized: “The Resurrection of Godzilla,” “Godzilla vs. the Devil,” and several US attempts, including a semi-remake, “Godzilla, King of the Monsters! 3D” (written by Fred Dekker and to be helmed by Steve Miner, which was more Gorgo than Godzilla). Finally, by the swelling nostalgic popularity at home, with record merchandise and home video sales, Toho announced an all-new Godzilla for 1984… It was a tenuous return, but one that would eventually spawn another thirteen films over the next two decades. In the 1990s, a new generation of US fans discovered the Big G and loved him. Old Timers discovered these new films, and new fanzines sprung up, as well as several conventions devoted to kaiju eiga.

This brave new fandom did not fade away, it has become stronger through cable and home video, the web, events and social networks. This has also grown to be embraced by those who just love monster movies and fantastic cinema — unscathed by the Roland Emmerich debacle — the reception to both editions of my book, “Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters” (Chronicle Books) has been phenomenal. New comic books, following in the footstomps those of the ‘70s and ‘90s, have taken off with a new, rabid following. And this summer's megabucks spectacle from Gareth Edwards won hearts and minds across the globe.

Everyone seems to have gone gaga for Godzilla. The Big G, kith and kin, have finally become “cool” (but we knew that already). After all, not only is Godzilla the first and greatest true kaiju ever to grace a motion picture screen, he is the one and true "King of the Monsters" — long live the king!

Dedicated to the memory of my childhood pal, Eric Worth