The Hollywood Reporter says that Gareth Edwards (MONSTERS) is poised to sign with Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers to direct their version of the classic Toho giant monster GODZILLA.
Edwards’ MONSTERS , which the former Visual FX artist and documentary maker wrote and directed in the hopes of attracting bigger projects, featured glimpes of giant, tentacled alien monsters making life hazardous for two people trying escape a quarantined zone of infestation for the safety of the U.S.
The article says Gareth Edwards will work on the screenplay with a an as yet unhired writer, presumably based on the previous script by David Callaham (DOOM, THE EXPENDABLES).
MONSTERS brought Edwards three British Independent Film Awards.
The Hollywood Reporter says that Gareth Edwards (MONSTERS) is poised to sign with Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers to direct their version of the classic Toho giant monster GODZILLA.
The late Ishiro Honda has long been considered Japan’s premier fantasy film director, and certainly worthy of a book-length study, which is what author Peter H. Brothers’ Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda provides. Clearly, Brothers is well-read and well-informed on his subject.
Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda is divided into three major sections. In the first, Brooks provides comments and insights on the hallmarks of Honda’s approach to direction and storytelling. In the second, he provides a mini-biography of the director, filling in many background details on his life (such as his extended military service and his long apprenticeship as an assistant director) that I have not previously seen or read. He also makes clear why the preferred spelling of Honda’s first name is Ishiro, despite his early films being credited as Inoshiro.
The final, and longest section of the book, examines each of Honda’s fantasy films in detail. This section is divided into several subsections, charting the rise and fall of Honda’s film career. Brooks does take an unusual approach to titles: he addresses each film by a translation of the Japanese title rather than by the English release title or by the Japanese title rendered in the letters of the Western alphabet. Thus, ATRAGON is referred to as SUBMARINE WARSHIP. While Godzilla and Mothra are referred to by their English names, Rodan is consistently referred to by his Japanese name of Radon.
One strength of Brothers’ work is the emphasis placed on a Honda’s collaborators. He notes the differences between the approaches of his two major screenwriters, Takeshi Kimura (whose work tended to be downbeat and critical) and Shinichi Sekizawa (whose work was more child-like and hopeful). Brothers frequently cites the quality of Eiji Tsuburaya’s work, Honda’s main special effects expert. He carefully comments on the scores of Akira Ifukube, noting the orchestrations used for the various pieces. Additionally, he makes note of actors who make multiple appearances in Honda’s films.
On the downside, however, Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda contains no illustrations whatsoever. (Toho Studios, which produced most of Honda’s movies, are notoriously difficult about granting permission to reproduce stills, and there are no pictures of Honda himself, even personal ones). Brothers assumes the reader will already be familiar with each of these films and so doesn’t bother with summaries and other basic information. When commenting on Ifukube’s scores, Brothers seems to mention individual pieces by translations of soundtrack cue titles rather than referring directly back to the films themselves.
Additionally, there are some other difficulties. The copy-editing is poor, for example. There are a couple of references to “eye-pooping” effects rather than “eye-popping.” Brothers uses “mute” when he means “moot.” At one point the word “contretemps” is misspelled, and a few times letters or words are omitted, obscuring meaning.
Another problem that occasionally crops up is unsupported suppositions. For example, Brothers hints that Tsuburaya contemplated suicide if the original GODZILLA had not been a success, also that Honda was never “particularly interested in directing films that stressed creatures over characters” and that he “longed to return to the kind of sweet, sentimental pictures that he was fond of directing that stressed human values.” A quote or source citation would make these claims more convincing.
However, Brothers is certainly correct in his assertions that Honda didn’t make his monster movies with the intention of frightening people. Though the creatures in them are colorful characters of mass destruction, Honda does not create typical suspense or scare scenes, and largely eschew depicting gory demises, though his original GODZILLA gains great power from its depictions of the Japanese detailing with the aftermath of the irradiated lizard’s onslaught in ways that evoke memories of the post-Hiroshima survivors.
Additionally, Brothers correctly notes Honda’s repeated emphasis on the hopes for a United Nations-oriented peaceful solution, showing Japan joining a league of nations in combating alien or monster menaces or other major problems (such as GORATH’s potentially world-destroying planetoid). When the Godzilla series was revived in the ‘80s, the tendency then was to show a more militaristically aggressive Japan (Kimura’s scripts tended to be very critical of the Japanese military establishment).
One issue I wish that Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda had delved more into is the differences between the Japanese and American versions of the films. Brothers doesn’t mention how Honda’s ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN was turned into an abomination called HALF HUMAN for its American release (something nicely covered recently on the And You Call Yourself a Scientist website). For the most part, Brothers concentrates on the original Japanese versions, not even mentioning how classic Universal horror themes were added to the soundtrack of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA for its American version (though he does note that the American version of the film lets the Seahawk disaster sequence run without the interruption of scenes from the Pacific Pharmaceuticals bon voyage party, as in the Japanese version).
Though Brothers does at times have a tendency to lay on the superlatives, he doesn’t stint from criticizing what he perceives as Honda’s lackluster later fantasy productions. After box office receipts began falling off on Godzilla films in Japan, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka ordered the budgets slashed, and the Godzilla films became increasingly geared towards children. Under these restrictions, Honda fell far short of his previous proven abilities with such uninspiring fare as GODZILLA’S REVENGE and TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA.
Nevertheless, Honda made a total of 25 fantasy films, a sizeable and significant body of work worthy of the serious attention Brothers gives them. In addition to the Godzilla movies, these included his science fiction invasion trilogy THE MYSTERIANS, BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE, and GORATH; his science fiction efforts THE H-MAN and THE HUMAN VAPOUR, his submarine movies ATRAGON and LATITUDE ZERO, his Frankenstein duo FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, as well as launching MOTHRA and RODAN on their merry careers. There is also the fascinating morality tale that is MATANGO (aka ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE), with its evocation of the Seven Deadly Sins and the beautiful Kumi Mizuno actually becoming more alluring as she transforms into a fungus.
Despite some caveats, for the serious lover of kaiju movies, Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda is worthy of your time and attention. This kind of attention focusing on one of the most prolific directors of fantasy films is long overdue.
[NOTE: THE MYSTERIANS (1957) has been available on DVD for several years, but today sees it re-packaged with two other titles (VARAN and MATANGO) as part of the “Toho Triple Feature” box set. With that in mind, we offer this review of the original DVD.]
This attempt by Toho Studios to create an alien-invasion science-fiction adventure is only partially successful. The film lacks the grandeur of 1953’s lavish WAR OF THE WORLDS or even the moody tension of Ray Harryhausen’s low-budget 1954 effort EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS. Instead, we get a colorful, reasonably energetic thriller, with some sincere but slightly preachy speeches about the nations of the world learning to put aside its H-bomb arsenal and band together for the common good. (Made during the Cold War between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., the film’s message no doubt played with much more gravity at the time.) Read More
This fifth film in the Godzilla series (following MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA) is highly regarded among fans who first saw it on television as children, but anyone looking for an awesome monster movie had best look elsewhere. By this time, the franchise had given up all pretense of serious science-fiction, opting for comic antics: this is the film in which Godzilla abandons his role as a walking metaphor for nuclear destruction and morphs from villain to hero, teaming up with fellow Earth monsters Rodan and Mothra to defeat King Ghidorah, an extra-terrestrial menace that previously eradicated all life on Venus.
The convoluted plot has a Japanese policeman protecting the visiting Princess Salno (Wakabayashi), who is under threat of assassination. After her plane explodes over the ocean, the Princess somehow shows up alive, now believing herself to be a prophet from Venus; she warns of the advent of King Ghidorah, a space monster that destroyed her world millennia ago.
Coincidentally, Godzilla and Rodan reappear, and the twin fairies from Mothra’s Infant Island summon their god (now in caterpillar form, since the conclusion of MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA) to convince the two rampaging reptiles to fight the three-headed dragon. (This film includes the infamous scene of Mothra, Rodan, and Godzilla literally conversing in monster language.) Meanwhile, assassins attempt to kill the Princess, who neglects to take precautionary measures because she does not remember being the Princess. Fortunately, the monsters interrupt the assassination attempts (e.g., knocking down power lines when she is about to be electrocuted), and Princess Salno regains her memory just as the final assassin is killed in a landslide caused by the monster battle, which ends with Ghidorah flying away in defeat.
Even by the waning standards of Toho monster movies, GHIDORAH is weak. Its message about cooperation in the face of a common enemy is delivered on the level of a kiddie flick. The pacing is slow, padded out with repetetive and/or unnecessary scenes. Just when the action does seem to be building to a climax, the movie inserts frustrating fade-outs reminiscent of a made-for-television film (you expect a commercial break to cover up the fact that we’re transitioning away from action we want to see).
The idea seems to have been to cross-polinate two genres: science-fiction and international intrigue. The two mix about as well as oil and water, and the screenplay’s trick of having the monster action conveniently assist the humans wears thin pretty quickly. Part of the problem is the jarring tonal shifts between the live action and the special effects. Director Ishiro Honda shows a few touches of wit early on (especially when poking fun at the amateur astronomers awaiting the arrival of a UFO – which never shows up), but he mostly plays the human action straight. Special effects director Eija Tsuburaya, on the other hand, handles the monsters like comical Muppets, with antics barely one step removed from the Three Stooges.
To be fair, if one embraces the silliness, some of it is amusing. Rodan’s shift from laughter – when Godzilla is being doused by Mothra’s silk-spinning – to consternation – when the thread is turned on him – is a juvenile laugh riot. At times, GHIDORAH does work on its own terms, as when the titular menace blasts the relatively puny Mothra caterpillar and the humans cry out in alarm; for a brief moment, the action has actual impact, above and beyond a cheap laugh.
Even taking this into consideration, the special effects have noticably degraded in this film. There are fewer process shots to combine live-action with special effects, making the monster footage seem like puppet theatre cut into the movie. Citywide destruction is kept to a minimum, in favor of staging most of the battle in rural areas. Also, this is the first Godzilla film in which there is no military effort to defeat the monsters; the humans simply stand around and watch while the monsters battle it out.
The cast of human characters is pretty colorless. The only sparks fly at the very end when Princess Salno bids farewell to her policeman-protector: their eyes express the emotions they are not allowed to voice. Other than that, GHIDORAH is a tepid affair, okay for fanatics but requiring too huge a suspension of disbelief to be regarded as much more than a campy trifle.
If GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER deserves to be remembered, it is for introducing the magnificent monster that would go on to be Godzilla’s most popular foe, appearing in no less than six subsequent G-films. (Besides Godzilla, Mothra is the only Toho monster with more on-screen appearances.) Ghidorah is presented here as a scourge of the Solar System, an uncontrollable force of destruction capable of reducing entire worlds to burnt-out desolation. Unfortunately, this concept would be abandoned in most of the monster’s subsequent appearances, in which the three-headed dragon was reduced to the status of a super weapon, controlled by advanced civilizations seeking to overpower Earth. In this, his first on-screen appearance, Ghidorah makes an indelible impression as the interplanetary destroyer of worlds; too bad the film itself fails to live up to the concept.
The Toho Masters Collection DVD (ASIN: B000OCY7IU) features both the original Japanese cut of the movie, with optional subtitles, and the re-edited American version. The transfer and framing of both versions is satisfactory (unlike the same company’s MOTHRA VS GODZILLA DVD, in which the American version was badly cropped, cutting off the edges of the wide-screen photography). The color is good (better than the faded prints available for theatrical retrospective screenings), but it is not as clear and sharp as DVD releases of other Toho films from the same period.
Also on the disc are an original Japanese trailer, galleries of posters and photographs, a biography of Eiji Tsuburaya, and audio commentary by David Kalat (author of A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Films).
The trailer is of mild interest because it includes a few unfinished effects scenes, such as Godzilla reacting to the lightening blasts from King Ghidorah, which have not been added to the shot yet. There are also a couple of cuts clearly showing a hand-puppet version of Godzilla that does not match the full-size suite worn by the actor.
The galleries include only a handful of posters and photographs, but unlike most DVD galleries, these contain elaborate captions that identify the images and explain their significance.
The video biography of special effects supervisor Eiji Tsuburaya is, in essence, a slide-show: comprised of still photos and narration, it does a good job of hitting the high points in Tsuburaya’s life and career; even hardcore fans, already familiar with the details, will find it interesting.
The Japanese cut of the film is approximately ten minutes longer than the American version, but in this case (unlike most of Toho’s efforts) it is not clear that the original version is superior. The longer cut moves at a slower pace, and much of the footage missing from the American version adds little to the story. In the most egregious example, the twin fairies sing not once but twice to Mothra; the second scene is virtually identical, cut for cut, to the first. The American re-edit wisely deleted the unnecessary reprise.
The American version moves along more quickly, but the re-editing introduces problems of its own. The arrival of the meteor that brings Ghidorah to Earth is moved up to the opening sequence, and the monster emerges from the meteor (in a spectacular display of pyrotechnics) much earlier. This creates an absurd situation in which Princess Salno is prophesying the arrival of a creature that has already arrived, and yet it seems to be news to the people listening to her.
Another silly bit of rejiggering leaves what looks like a gaping hole in the effects: Godzilla wades ashore, hears the sounds of Rodan flying overhead, and looks up; unfortunately, the POV shot of the clouds overhead shows no sign of the giant pteranodon – just empty sky. The glaring absence suggests that the effects team forgot to add Rodan into the shot. This turns out not to be true: in the original Japanese continuity, Rodan is first heard, then seen emerging from the clouds; after being briefly visible, he disappears back into the clouds. In the American version, the shots of Rodan have been moved up to an earlier scene of Godzilla in the ocean, implying that the sea-going dinosaur notices the flying monster and follows him to land. Reshuffling the footage creates the odd continuity gap, leaving no visible reason for Rodan’s mysterious disappearance.
The re-dubbing has its good and bad points. For some reason, Princess Salno’s Venusian prophetess becomes a Martian in the English-language version. On the negative side, giving regional accents to characters in a rural area creates Japanese characters who sound as if they wandered in from the set of FARGO. On the positive side, sound effects from the monsters were added in the background of the final gun battle between the policeman and the assassin, creating a stronger connection with the climactic monster battle taking place just over the hill.
The audio commentary by David Kalat, which plays over the American version, is a bit disappointing. Although Kalat obviously knows his stuff, he seems too eager to retract statements he made in his book (about the preferability of subtitling to dubbing) while mounting a case for the superiority of the American re-edit, and he is equally eager to downplay the flaws in GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER, both in the original version and in the English-dubbing.
Fortunately, Kalat’s formidable analytical skills have not completely abandoned him, and when he gets off his pro-dubbing soap box he does have interesting observations to make. Most notably, GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER represents a considerable advance for female characters in the series, who take a more active role in solving the problem, instead of waiting around for the men to rescue them. Kalat also points out that Princess Salno is at her most assertive when she has abandoned her royal garb in favor of a male fisherman’s hat and coat. When her rescuers put her back into female clothing, her assertiveness begins to recede, until by the end of the film she is back in her former role.
The Toho Masters DVD of GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER does a good job of presenting this historically important (if over-rated) entry in the Godzilla series. For many American viewers, this is the first opportunity to see the original Japanese version of the film, which in and of itself makes the disc worth a rental. It is also nice to have the American dub preserved for comparison purposes. But neither the quality of the film, nor of the DVD bonus features, is enough to make this an essential part of a sci-fi fan’s collection. Owning this one is strictly for hardcore fanatics and completists.
When first released in the United States, the title of the film was spelled GHIDRAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER, making the monster’s name only two syllables instead of three. As David Kalat points out in his DVD audio commentary, the Japanese language is spelled in such a way that two consonant sounds cannot be contiguous; a correct rendering of the original Japanese spelling produces the revised title GHIDORAH. (Although the spelling and pronunciation may have varied slightly over the years, Ghidorah’s subsequent film appearances utilized a three-syllable version of the name.)
GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (a.k.a. San Daikaiju: Chikyu Saidai No Kessen [“Three Giant Monsters: Earth’s Greatest Battle”], 1964). Directed by Ishiro Honda. Written by Shinichi Sekizawa. Cast: Yosuke Natsuki, Huniko Hoshi, Hiroshi Koizumi, Akiko Wakabayashi, Emi Ito, Yumi Ito, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata, Hisaya Ito, Minoru Takada, Sensho Matsumoto.
This sequel to GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER is one of the best entries in the long-running series of Godzilla films from Japan’s Toho Studios. Although the serious tone of the original GODZILLA (a.k.a. GOJIRA, 1954) were long gone, INVASION OF ASTRO MONSTER (originally released in the U.S. as MONSTER ZERO) stands out as a colorful, fun, and exciting romp of a movie. The special effects are spectacular if not altogether convincing; the action is outrageous; the story is fast-paced. And best of all there is some genuinely charming character interaction, thanks in large part to the presence of American co-star Nick Adams, who has wonderful chemsistry with Japanese star Akira Takarada and generates firey romantic sparks with leading lady Kumi Mizuno. The plot has the inhabitants of the newly discovered Planet X requesting help from Earth: the loan of the monsters Godzilla and Rodan to defeat the interplanetar menace Ghidorah, known on Planet X as “Monster Zero.” The duplicitous X-ians then double-cross Earth, demanding that it submit to Planet X or else face the wrath of all three monstes, whom the X-ians control with radio waves. This leads to a frantic effort by Earth’s forces to destroy the X-ians control of the monsters and drive the invaders from our planet.
MONSTER ZERO is atypical for the Godzilla series in that the monsters play a subordinate role, with most of the screen time devoted to the human characters and their conflict with Planet X. Except for a couple of brief skirmishes, Godzilla, Rodan, and Ghidorah barely appear in the first half; the film saves them for the climactic battle at the end. This approach bears some fruit: with fewer scenes to work on, the special effects crew seems to do a better job, although, unfortunately, some stock footage is used (from RODAN and MOTHRA) to augment the miniature destruction scenes.
The film’s original Japanes title “Kaiju Daisenso” translates as “Giant Monster War.” “Invasion of Astro Monster” was the “International Release” title used when Toho sold the film overseas. In the U.S., the film was released to theatres in 1970 (on a double bill with WAR OF THE GARGAUNTUAS) as MONSTER ZERO. For later release on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD, the title was expanded in the box artwork to GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO.
The Toho Masters Collection box artwork uses the International release title “Invasion of Astro Monster,” but the English subtitles for the Japanese version of the film translate the title as “Invasion of the Astro-Monster” (an understandable discrepancy, as the Japanese language does not contian articles like “a,” “an,” and “the,” so translators must insert them at their own discretion). The English-language version of the film on the DVD retains the old U.S. title MONSTER ZERO.
MONSTER ZERO is one of the first Godzilla films to reach U.S. shores with only minor editorial alterations for U.S. release (besides the English-dubbing, of course). The opening credits substituted an eerie, ominous theme in place of the original’s rousing military march (a common element in scores by series stalwart Akira Ifukube). Some Japanese language writing and newspaper headlines were changed to English. And the Controller of Planet X is no longer heard speaking in his native tongue. Toho prepared an English-dubbed version of INVASION OF ASTRO MONSTER that retains these missing pieces, plus a brief shot featuring the original sound recorded on set, pre-dubbing, so that you hear Akira Takarada speaking in Japanese while Nick Adams responds in English
The Toho Masters Collection DVD (ASIN: B000OCY7IK) offers the original Japanese version of the film, with optional subtitles, under its international release title INVASION OF ASTRO MONSTER, plus The Americanized English-language version, known as MONSTER ZERO. Also included are:
- A Japanese trailer
- A small but impressive poster gallery and a still photograph gallery, both with informative captions
- A video biography (using still photos and narration) of Godzilla producer Tomoyuki Tanaka
- An audio commentary by Stuart Galbraith IV, author of Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo.
Like the other Toho Masters DVDs, this one comes in a shiny, hard DVD case with a colorful Japanese poster on the front and a nice black-and-white still photograph on the inside front cover.
The transfers for both version of the film offer a clear colorful widescreen image with good sound. In general the picture quality is comparable with the out-of-print Scimitar DVD from the 1990s.
There is a slight improvement in that the Toho Masters disc has a few more chapter stops, but as with the Scimitar DVD, the chapter stops do not do a much improved job of helping you jump to your favorite moments. For example, both DVDs have a chapter stop for the three-way battle on Planet X that begins with a boat arriving at an island on Earth, followed by an extensive dialogue scene, before finally shifting to outer space for the promised action.
The trailers offers a nice glimpse of what filming must have been like. Edited together before the film had been dubbed, the trailer includes live sound takes from the filming, with American star Nick Adams speaking English to his Japanese co-stars, who respond in their native language.
The image galleries are small but impressive. Unlike most DVD galleries, these feature informative captions that induce you to actually stop and look at each individual image, instead of thumbing through all of them without pause. The information for the posters is especially useful, because the film was released several times: in Japan, in American, then in Japan again (in an edited form as part of a series of kiddie matinees called the “Champtionship Festival”). It’s nice to have the different art work identified according to which campaign it supported.
The video biography of Tanaka is on par with biographies on other Toho Masters DVDs: it’s reasonably informative, provides some interesting background details, and hits the high marks in the producer’s career. Long-time fans may not learn much new, but they will find it interesting.
Unfortunately, Gailbraith’s audio commentary is a disappointment. Although thoroughly well-versed in the subject, he seems to have little to offer in terms of analysis; instead, he falls into the trap of filling the time by identifying each and every Toho stock player who walks on screen, then giving an extensive biography and filmography. This may be justified in the cases of Akira Takarada and Kumi Mizuno, who had long associations with the Godzilla franchise, but after awhile it wears thin.
We would have been more interested in hearing details of the differences between the two versions of the film: although MONSTER ZERO is one of the least re-edited Godzilla movies, the Japanese cut still runs over a minute longer than the American version.
Galbraith also derides the English-dubbing of the film. More often than not, the original Japanese versions of the Godzilla films are preferable, but in this case we should make some allowances for the fact that there is an English-speaking star in the lead. The English audio track is marred by some notable groaners (e.g., the hysterical, unidentified cry of “Look out the window!” when a flying saucer appears over the Earth space headquarters). More often than not, however, it works. It was certainly an eccentric choice to give the undercover aliens on Earth voices that sound like movie gangsters, but they do dress and act a lot like gangsters, so why not? Galbraith complains (as he did in Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo) the Yoshio Tsuchiya’s vocal performance as the Controller of Planet X is lost in translation, but the real strength of his performance lies in his gaggle of eccentric hand gestures; the only thing truly lost are the few moments when he spouts his (reportedly improvised) alien language.
Even if you already own the ouit-of-print Scimitar DVD (which was re-released by another company shortly after Scimitar went out of business), it may be worth you while to pick up the Toho Masters Collection Disc. The bonus features are much better, and it is nice to finally have an opportunity to see the original Japanese version of the film; even if the differences are only minor, fans will want to check them out.
KAIJU DAISENSEO (“Great Monster War”; a.k.a. Invasion of Astro Monster; Monster Zero, 1965). Directed by Ishiro Honda. Written by Shinichi Sekizawa. Cast: Nick Adams, Akira Takarada, Jun Tazaki, Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Keiko Sawai, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Takamura Sasaki. Genzo Tabu.