Top 10 Godzilla Films

29 06 2016

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It should come as no surprise that my favourite film series is of course Godzilla. I don’t know how many times I must have mentioned it to people I know, people passing by, or the number of posts I have written on the subject on this very blog that you are reading now (speaking of which, did you know this is my 500th post?). Yes, I love Godzilla movies! Ever since I was a young boy to right now and probably beyond, I have had a craving fascination for a film series starring a Giant Nuclear Irradiated Japanese Monster. While there are a lot of really great movies out there not including/starring Godzilla, it should come as no surprise that my Top 10 absolute favourite films are all Godzilla films. But which ones though? You see back in 2014, after the release of the 2014 Godzilla film, I thought I would finally work it out. What do I mean by that, well, you see the thing is that for many years I had always said which ones were likely and which ones would be high up but I never actually had a defined list of which were my top 10 favourites, just an idea. So with the 2014 film out of the way and to sort of celebrate I thought I would work it out.

Godzilla 2016

To zone in and find for definite which ones are my favourite and then order them was always going to be trivial. How I actually did it was like this:

  1. I ordered the films in order of when they were released starting from the original 1954 film, to the 2014 film.
  2. I then picked out the ones I thought were terrible (and there are 3 I can think of) and deleted them off the sheet.
  3. Even after cycling through some bad ones, I still had near 25 to choose from, so I just worked through them from there, picking out ones I did not feel strongly for until I get to a more definitive list (between 15 and 20) to then think more carefully about.
  4. As the process continued, some of the remaining films became obvious as to being ones I absolutely loved, so I then began to order those ones around a little.
  5. From there it became a process of difficult elimination as I analysed the films in my head and said to myself; “Is that one better than that one?”
  6. In the end it came down to 12 films and a difficult choice to get to specifically 10, so I worked hard and finally whittled it down to just 10 films.
  7. I then repeated step 5 to put the surviving 10 in order from 10 to 1.

Making this list was actually rather fun and interesting experience, and one I look forward to doing again in the future, but to which series I do not know (probably Studio Ghibli once I get more head on into it). There is a little bit of an issue with the choosing process, and that is I have not actually seen Invasion of Astro-Monster or Son of Godzilla. Invasion of Astro-Monster is on my shelf, and just haven’t got round to watching it yet, whilst I do remember seeing something of Son of Godzilla from when I was about 4 years old, but as I cannot currently get a copy of it, I am pretty much stuck. If anything, the only other one I have not seen is Godzilla Resurgence…..which has not been released yet. As this list goes though, there are still plenty of surprises…possibly. Some surprises for me as some films I was sure of being on here are not, and some surprises for you my wonderful readers as to where some films have been placed, however, being the Godzilla fan that I am, I will not have put it in that position unless I thought that it deserves to not only be on this list, but also in that position. Anyway, introduction’s over, I hope you enjoy this post as much as I have enjoyed working it all out. So sit back, relax (not unless you are like me and have to lean in on a computer to read something), and find out what my Top 10 Favourite Godzilla films are.

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (Toho Co. Ltd. - 1974)

10. Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla – An Ancient prophecy begins to come to fruition when a dark cloud in the shape of Mount Fuji appears in the sky. The prophecy states that a Giant Monster will come along to destroy the land. Things take a confusing turn however when the Monster that appears turns out to be Godzilla. Things take an even bigger twist when another monster, who also looks a lot like Godzilla appears also. With everyone by this point really confused, the first one decides to shed its skin and reveals itself to be a cybernetic clone.

Mechagodzilla

The 1970’s were not a great time for the Godzilla series. From the start of the decade the series was already beginning to slump with the mediocre release of Godzilla vs Hedorah. Things then got even worse as the two films that followed were mostly made up of Stock Footage and very little were actually filmed. This landslide from Great films to terrible films appeared to be unending, until veteran director Jun Fukuda returned. Having previously done three Godzilla films in the past, and being one of the most important directors in the series, it came down to him to turn Godzilla’s fortune’s around; which he did spectacularly. Out with the stock footage; back in with actual film making. This film in the series was also made up with a lot of firsts: While Godzilla and Anguirus make an appearance in the film, both King Caesar and the now legendary MechaGodzilla both made their debut in this film. The film manages to cram a lot of human story and character elements into it also, with the characters having to help the Monsters as best they can; because otherwise, the green-skinned ape aliens would win. With a very jazzy soundtrack from Masaru Sato and also showing how fun a night time chase around a ferry cruise could be, Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla remains one of the series most stand out and thoroughly enjoyable entries into the series.

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (Toho Co. Ltd. - 2002)

9. Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla – In 1954, the monster simply called Godzilla attacked Japan and left Tokyo in ruins. Over the next 40+ years; several more Giant Monsters including Gaira, Mothra and a monster that looks a lot like Godzilla attack the nation. Having had enough, the country of Japan launches a new weapons program to build a machine specifically designed to defend themselves from these attacks. The machine code-named Kiryu is built on the fossilized skeleton of the original Godzilla. When Godzilla suddenly reappears, Kiryu is sent into action. After hardly any battle, Godzilla leaves, but Kiryu runs amok in Tokyo, but why?

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Since the release of Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, MechaGodzilla has been redeployed in a film sense on several occasions. But the 2 times between this and the original did not fare so well and did not impact all that greatly. By the Millennium, and with the new series in full swing, Toho brought MechaGodzilla back, and created one of the Millennium Series most stand out films. In comparison to the above mentioned film, this one is not crammed full of characters, with instead only 3 really appearing as leads; but in this instance they are worked on in a great deal. The story and setting produce an initially terrifying but also heart-warming story telling of the connection between man and machine while also creating an initial yet terrifying plot twist, with not Godzilla necessarily running amok, but the weapon. Still providing the best in monster mash-ups, and up to date special effects as well as terrific pieces by Michiru Oshima for an unforgettable main movie theme, Against is an absolutely superb film and is easily Mechagodzilla’s best film appearance to date (not unless Legendary have plans).

Godzilla (Legendary

8. Godzilla 2014 – In 1954; something is discovered by the American navy; this thing is quickly covered up and supposedly destroyed. Nearly 50 years later, a nuclear power plant is destroyed supposedly in an earthquake. Sometime later, the husband of a scientist who died in the power plant goes mad trying to prove it wasn’t an accident, and he was right, as inside the power plant is a Giant Monster which escapes it’s confines and goes on the rampage.

Godzilla Beach

In 2010, Legendary Pictures announced it was going to make a brand new American Godzilla film, even though in the end we had to wait 4 years for it to be released. I went to see it on opening night, and absolutely loved it. It was near perfect, Godzilla himself was perfect, and the new MUTO’s were amazing creatures, all combined into a very human story (that seemed strangely similar to Gamera: Guardian of the Universe) supported by a terrific selection of cast, special effects and heart pounding music (composed by Alexandre Desplat), all brought together by Director Gareth Edwards. I enjoyed it so much that I went to see it another two times at the cinema. But for me, the real proof of the pudding came the Saturday after it was released. I had the night off, and really wanted to watch a Godzilla film for some reason, so I watched Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster, one of my favourite Showa films and one I have always enjoyed. But right there and then, I was struggling to enjoy it as much as I used to…..I wonder why?

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (Toho Co., Ltd. - 1966)

7. Ebirah: Horror of the Deep – A young man who is looking for his brother lost at sea, finds a couple of people at a dance contest who take him to see some boats. They go aboard one, and the following morning the young man steals it, which ironically has already been stolen. After several days at sea, they get caught in a storm and the boat is destroyed by a giant claw. They all wash up on shore and discover that the giant claw belongs to a giant Lobster called Ebirah. Yet more nightmares are to be realised however as the island is the base for a terrorist group called the Red Bamboo, and the island boasts yet another secret.

Ebirah

With the Godzilla film series now in full swing, directing duties were handed over to hot up and coming director Jun Fukuda. Most of his previous work involved comedy and mystery, but in all fairness, Ebirah wasn’t any normal Godzilla film. It was originally intended to be made as a King Kong film, but Toho decided to make it a Godzilla film instead; such is why Godzilla does not smash-up a city, as well as show off several un-Godzilla like traits including attacking Mothra after supposedly now being friends. Any who; as a young boy, this one stood out for me a lot as for quite a while it was the only Godzilla film I had VHS access to, until the collection grew. As time has passed and other films have come that I prefer to it, this remains one of the films I have enjoyed the most. It’s not just a connection to my youth, but also a film that I have come to love with a great deal of memory and passion with many scenes, quotes and a heart thrilling caper like soundtrack being many a highlight. It’s place on this list always a guarantee; more than any other Godzilla film, it’s possibly the most enduring and one that I have conceivably the most memories of just watching it over and over again, even remembering specific times and days of watching it.

The Return of Godzilla (Toho Co. Ltd. - 1984)

6. The Return of Godzilla – In 1984, it’s been 30 years since Godzilla attacked Japan, but has not been since. His presence has still cast a shadow over the nation even as it progresses into a modern high-tech future. Out at sea, a fishing boat is discovered where only one member of its crew survived. He talks about seeing a Monster and as time passes, more incidents get reported, and it’s all revealed to be true, that Godzilla has indeed returned.

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After nearly a decade since Godzilla’s last movie appearance (Terror of Mechagodzilla), Toho finally decided to bring the monster back during the ever-growing tensions of the cold war. It was perfect, with the monster having lost his terrifying persona over 20 years of film making, they brought him back to his terrifying self in a movie that ignored all events of the films in between this and the original. This was also only the second time in the series that Godzilla attacked a city and did not fight another monster. Yes, while we all love a good fight, Toho showcased how terrifying, realistic and enjoyable a Godzilla film could be when he is not surrounded by other Monsters. This film would go on to kick-start the best era of Godzilla movies to date: the Heisei series; and while Godzilla the hero would come out to play a couple more times, the producers worked really hard to maintain Godzilla’s terrifying position and persona throughout. More than any film, this one ensured Godzilla’s long lasting cinema presence, one that is still being seen to this day.

Destroy All Monsters (Toho Co. Ltd. - 1968)

5. Destroy All Monsters – The year is 1999 (hypothetically), and all the monsters of the world have been collected and made to live together on an island decidedly called Monster Land. All of a sudden communications with the control station nearby is lost, and the supposedly ‘contained’ monsters all start attacking the Major Cities of the world, all except Tokyo?

Mothra, Gorosaurus, Rodan, Kumonga, Anguirus, King Ghidorah, Varan, Godzilla, Manda, Baragon, Minilla

What was originally intended to be the final Godzilla film, and as such was given a much bigger budget, remains one of the most popular in the series. Having just done some research, I have discovered that this is one of only a few Japanese Godzilla films to have a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, for about 11 years, this was my favourite film. What sets this film apart from others is its large cast of Monsters. Loads of Monsters appear in this film, some remaining real favourites and some of the most endearing monsters in the series. Plenty of city destruction takes place, with others than Tokyo being hit for once, all the while setting the early instigations into an alien conspiracy. Expect some of the most memorable pieces of music, and some of the best military vs monster scenes to date as Godzilla leads the charge of the Monsters (which includes but is not limited to: Gorosaurus, Rodan, Varan, Manda and Baragon).

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (Toho Co. Ltd. - 1991)

4. Godzilla vs King Ghidorah – In 1992, over the sky of Tokyo, a UFO is spotted. It is eventually tracked, where it turns out not to be aliens, but people from the future. These people go on to talk about the future non-existence of Japan as a nation and that the country is to be finally destroyed by Godzilla. They send a team back in time to an island battlefield in World War Two, where the Dinosaur that would become Godzilla first appears; sending it to the bearing sea, preventing it from evolving into Godzilla. Returning to the present day, rumours of a new monster begin to circulate.

MOTHER

This film easily remains one of the most beloved films in the series by fans. After struggling to get Godzilla going with the release of Godzilla vs Biollante, it was decided that for their next film that Godzilla would fight his arch-nemesis for the first time in nearly 20 years: the three-headed golden dragon; King Ghidorah. This new film in essence is based on the popularity of the time travelling element in the recently released Back to the Future films while also combining it with a story that focusses on how Godzilla became Godzilla. Its story; while basic does achieve quite a bit, with the implication that with Godzilla removed from history, King Ghidorah takes his place and is under the control of people with vengeance on their mind, only for their plans to eventually backfire. Godzilla vs King Ghidorah in the process creates some terrific scenes of city destruction, as well as not one but two incredibly well fought battles as Godzilla goes one on one with his Greatest Nemesis, in a battle that leaves one monster horribly scarred for life.

Godzilla (Toho Co., Ltd. - 1954)

3. Godzilla 1954 – Out at sea, several fishing boats are mysteriously destroyed. On a nearby island, the village is destroyed a few days later. A team is dispatched to investigate, and make a chilling discovery, one that will bring repercussions for the country of Japan for decades to come.

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1954 was a big year for Japanese cinema, especially more so for Toho. A few months earlier they released the Akira Kurosawa masterpiece Seven Samurai, but on set; apparently everyone was talking about something called Gojira. After trying to produce a film in Jakarta which ultimately fell through, Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka took two pieces of inspiration: the Lucky Dragon 5 fishing boat incident and the Ray Harryhausen film; The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and in the process created Japan’s first movie Monster. Taking into account the destruction dealt upon Japan at the end of World War 2 by not one, but two Nuclear Bombs, Tanaka created a creature born of the forces of Nuclear Power and Nature’s answer to humanities destructive attitude and set this new monster loose in Japan’s Capital. Backed up with a terrifying soundtrack by composer Akira Ifukube, and the latest in Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, all under the direction of Ishirō Honda; I believe they say: “The rest is History!”

Godzilla vs Mothra (Toho Co. Ltd. - 1992)

2. Godzilla vs Mothra – Out in space, a meteor strikes earth, and a Typhoon ensues revealing a giant egg. A team is dispatched to investigate the island where they find the egg and are told a harrowing tale of how an ancient battle was fought between Earth’s guardian Mothra, and another monster similar in design called Battra, who might have reawakened.

Battra

For over 11 years or so, Destroy all Monsters was my favourite film, until by chance I was able to get a copy of this film, and within one showing I knew this was my new favourite film. What is basically a film telling something of a lesson of the importance of keeping earth clean, and what is renowned as being rather rushed, is also a fantastically enjoyable film. It is rife with elements of tension; lots of city based destruction, and so far the only film in the series to contain one of the series best creations, the creature known as Battra. Containing some great acting, a fully thriving in-depth story and some amazing Monster Powers to create a full on power play of a Monster Battle climax, Godzilla vs Mothra in sense recreates the story of Mothra vs Godzilla, but ultra-charges it into the early to mid-nineties, and in the process creates one of the series best films to date.

Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (Toho Co. Ltd. - 2001)

1. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack – Across Japan, several incidents take place, in each one a Monster being spotted. It has been nearly 50 years since Godzilla attacked and has not been seen since, and his print on Japan’s history is slowly being forgotten. Meanwhile a young Science Fiction TV Presenter goes on the trail of an ancient legend concerning the reawakening of several monsters, monsters determined to make sure Japan does not forget its history, but more importantly, make sure Japan is defended from the return of the King of the Monsters.

Baragon (2001)

During Christmas 2007 (I think it was 2007), I received a couple of Godzilla DVD’s from my parents. One of them was this, with the other being Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. I was certain that Tokyo S.O.S. was going to be the better of the two, boy was I wrong. I had no real clue as to what this film was going to be like, but boy did I enjoy it. Directed by the man behind the Gamera Heisei Trilogy: Shusuke Kaneko and including a mystical based soundtrack from Kow Otani, Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack is a very different film to its predecessors. What we have here is less a modernistic take on Godzilla, but more one that relies on the myths and legends of Japan’s history and combining it with the terror that Godzilla should stand for; and that’s what we get. We get three Monsters teaming up to take on Godzilla which includes Baragon, while Godzilla himself shows off his real power. He has bare white eyes, and can create an atom bomb like explosion from the power of his atomic breath. The monsters are relatively smaller than before, but their power isn’t by far. Its story of a Mystical history is addictive, its cast is effective, its soundtrack is enchanting, its effects are magical and its ending is terrifying. I watched this film many a time before I finally realised that this was my favourite film, and my favourite film it remains. To me at least (how long this will last is yet to be seen, but for now), of this I am certain; this is the best of the best, My Favourite Godzilla Film.

GENEPOOL

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King Of The Monsters – Godzilla 1954 (Gojira)

3 11 2014

Godzilla (Toho Co., Ltd. - 1954)

60 years ago, a Japanese film producer created his own Movie Monster. The idea came as the national occupation of the American Military after World War 2 ended and there were no longer any limitations on what filmmakers could produce. The country, still reeling from the devastation that had been brought upon their country in the form of the only two nuclear bombs to be dropped on a civilian population, were still paranoid to the side effects of radiation, nine years after the explosion, not to mention the incident involving the fishing vessel Daigo Fukuryū Maru (Lucky Dragon 5) and the national scare that followed. Gaining influence from this the producer created a creature which was not like anything seen before, as this creature was both powered and enraged by the destructive capabilities of the nuclear age. The creature and the film it appeared in were called Gojira, later Americanised to Godzilla. 60 years and more than 25 sequels later, the creature known the world over simply as Godzilla is still as iconic, inspiring and influential as his first appearance back in 1954 and to this day is loved by millions of fans all over the world, including me. 60 Years on and the original Godzilla film is still regarded as a true classic of Cinema.

Godzilla 1954

Released in 1954 by Japanese Movie Studio Toho and Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka and Directed by Ishirō Honda with Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya and a soundtrack composed by Akira Ifukube, Godzilla (also known as Gojira) is the film that introduced the gigantic, fire breathing, nuclear mutant reptile type dinosaur to the world. Godzilla himself is all of those things said beforehand but also a statement of the destructive power of the atomic age and the repercussions brought on by nuclear weapons. With the initial idea coming from the mind of Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka and a story from Director Ishirō Honda and writers Shigeru Kayama and Takeo Murata, the story involved the Discovery of such a creature, and then it’s arrival on the Japanese Mainland.

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The film begins with a fishing vessel out at sea, where the onboard fishermen notice a white-hot flash before the ship explodes. The incident is reported another vessel is sent to investigate, but is met with the same fate. Three survivors are picked up by another vessel where a survivor mentions seeing a monster. That ship is then lost too. On Odo Island, an old fisherman (Kuninori Kôdô) and a young man called Shinkichi (Toyoaki Suzuki) spot a raft coming into the bay. On the raft, a man called Masaji (Ren Yamamoto) is rescued. The following morning on the island, the fishermen were unsuccessful in their haul and the old fisherman says it is because of Godzilla. Everyone dismisses it as a legend but he says it is still true. A reporter called Hagiwara (Sachio Sakai) comes to the island to investigate, but when he asks Masaji, he has trouble believing his story of a monster. That night the villagers hold an ancient ceremony to try and soothe Godzilla’s anger. Later that night, a storm comes to the island. As they sleep, Shinkichi hears a crashing sound, runs out of the house but as Masaji tries to follow on he sees something that terrifies him and the house is brought down on him and his mother.

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Survivors of the disaster say what they saw trying to say that it was not the storm that caused the destruction and that it was a monster which did it. Palaeontologist Dr. Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura) suggests that an investigation on the island should be conducted. Along with him are his daughter Emiko (Momoko Kōchi) and her boyfriend, salvage ship captain Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada) along with several other members of authority and scientists including colleague Dr. Tanabe (Fuyuki Murakami). When they reach the island they discover that some of the village wells water are radioactive, but not all of them. The village alarm bell is rang and loud beats are heard as the villagers shout Godzilla. As they race to the top of the hill to see what it is, a giant dinosaur like head appears over the fill with dragon like spines running down its back. The villagers try to run with Emiko in harm’s way, before Ogata rescues her. The creature then disappears as the villagers spot its tracks in the sand below.

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Dr. Yamane returns to Tokyo to report his findings. He says that the creature they saw was in fact a dinosaur which has survived in the ocean depths for about two million years before being awoken by recent H-Bomb testing in the pacific. He gives evidence to his theories showing a trilobite which was found in the creature’s foot print and that the sand found on the trilobite was radiated with Strontium 90. At the inquiry, people are undecided if they evidence should be made public, with some saying yes because it’s true, and others saying no, because it will harm international relations. In the end it is made public, and Dr. Yamane is asked to help find a way to kill the creature, but he wants the creature to be kept alive and studied. Ogata and Emiko talk about wanting to get married instead of Emiko marrying her current fiancé. Hagiwara asks Emiko is she can get an interview with her fiancé, and she says yes, just so she can talk to him herself. Hagiwara talks to the man, a young scientist with an eye patch over one eye called Dr. Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata). He is however very secret about his work and when asked about Godzilla he tries to avoid the question. Hagiwara leaves and Serizawa shows Emiko his work, trusting that she won’t tell anyone about it. They go into his laboratory and look at a fish tank. Something happens inside it which horrifies Emiko.

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That night, Godzilla arrives and attacks Tokyo. The attack is very brief but he destroys a railway under is weight with ease. The next day the military set up a defensive line with a giant electric fence in the form of electrical pylons charged up to 50,000 volts. At home Emiko and Ogata still struggle to tell Emiko’s dad about their relationship.  Godzilla attacks once again and breaks through the electric barricade with ease by melting the pylons with his atomic breath. The defense line is no match for the invading monster as tanks and guns don’t seem to have any effect on him. Godzilla then goes on a rampage setting fire to buildings and toppling others with sheer strength. The military and emergency services are told to try and control the fire, but it seems that nothing can be done for the might of the monster. Godzilla continues his attack with absolutely nothing able to stop him destroying everything in his path. Godzilla eventually leaves the bay unscathed despite an attempt to kill him by the Japanese air force.

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The next day Tokyo is in ruins. While at a shelter with some of the survivors, Emiko breaks her promise and tells Ogata what happened at Serizawa’s lab. Serizawa has discovered a lethal energy within oxygen with it and created his own weapon which he calls the Oxygen Destroyer. His demonstration of the device is what scared Emiko as it killed the fish in the tank. Convinced that the device can be used to kill Godzilla, Ogata and Emiko go to see Serizawa, who tries to hide and get rid of the evidence. He says that he didn’t want to discover the energy and that if it was used once, it will be used again and again, just like nuclear weapons and that if it does get used he will kill himself to prevent it being used again. A song is then broadcast across the nation, a song of a group of school girls praying for hope. Serizawa sees this and agrees to use the weapon on Godzilla, but only once and burns his notes. A fleet of ships travel into Tokyo bay and locate Godzilla underwater. Serizawa says that he needs to go underwater to use the device despite not being a diver. Ogata lets him providing that he goes with him. When they get underwater they spot Godzilla. Ogata heads back to the surface while Serizawa activates the device. The device begins to choke Godzilla who dies within a couple of minutes of the device’s activation. Serizawa tells Emiko and Ogata to be happy before he disconnects his breathing apparatus, killing himself. Dr. Yamane reflects on the possibility of another Godzilla appearing one day if the world keeps on using nuclear weapons, while Emiko breaks down at the knowledge of Serizawa’s death. The navy salutes the courage and death of Serizawa.

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Godzilla is a tale of many stories but for the most part on the human side it is a story of four people and their relation to what is happening in the moment. Ogata’s personality, while still being young is very mature and while what is going on is frightening, he is able to keep a level head in the moment. His love and care for Emiko is well noted and it is only in that respect really that he is an action man, saving her from Godzilla for instance. He also takes the moral high ground given what he finds out about Serizawa and doesn’t want the oxygen destroyer for himself, but to use it against the monster, and even when facing odds against Emiko’s father, he still takes the high ground for civilization. Ogata’s character is a bizarre mix as he appears to be a character without flaws, but despite this though his role is rather enjoyable.

Akira Takarada

Dr. Yamane however is the science character of the film. Many of these monster films usually require such a character to explain the monsters existence. For a character though, he makes science both look morally flawed and a little bit selfish. While understandable that a man of science wants to study such an amazing creature, his total lack of understanding and acknowledgement the damage such a creature can cause is noticeable and even when he comes into confrontation with Ogata he will not budge. While he does have a level of sympathy on part with the audience in his earlier moments, such as his explanation on the existence of Godzilla and his time on the island as an excited scientist, his spiral into a basic state of sadness and desperation at the desire for Godzilla to remain alive, puts him more on the side of an antagonist in the midway to later parts in the film. While a level of sorrow is displayed on his part, to the point of view of the audience he no longer has that energy like he did in the early stages and you almost fall out with him, and even when the end comes his almost selfish want for a Godzilla remains present and his own sorrow is probably only partial for that of the death of his friend, and more for the death of the monster.

Takashi Shimura and Momoko Kōchi

Emiko plays the part of the film’s narrator as almost all key film moments revolve and include her in some manner of form, and is introduced very early on for this point. Her part of the fiancé to a man she doesn’t really want to marry, her caring relationship with for her father and the relationship she wants with Ogata. It’s her friendship to Serizawa though that her character becomes strongest in the film. His trust for her, the horror she sees in the fish tank, the need to keep it quiet but the burden of its knowledge, the devastation to herself of revealing the secret and by this she knows that she has killed him, knowing he will commit suicide and it is only from his death that she can be with Ogata, and the blessing Serizawa gives for both of them at the end almost ruins her. She is the emotional anchor for the film and the character that connects the audience to the events on-screen, her look of questioning when she finds out about the sinking at the beginning and the questions that grow from that. It’s a natural reaction, one which the audience need in order for them to be brought in and get involved in the film’s earliest moments. Whilst her character is mostly played on the part of expression than speaking, she is enjoyable from start to finish and is one of the film’s main outstanding (human) points.

Akihiko Hirata and Momoko Kochi

The character of Serizawa though is different to the others as he himself, much like Godzilla has a major point and story to him, one of excitement and regret. His desire to study oxygen leads him to a terrible discovery, but as a scientist he can’t but help take a look and it’s only from this actual doing motion that he comes to regret his actions. It is from this point that he becomes secretive, so that no one can do the same thing again and make sure no one knows about his discovery. But it is in turn the human need for accompaniment and need for personal help that he tells the only person he can trust. Thus he reveals his actions to Emiko and through this shows his great regret. He is in many a sense a true scientist as he thinks more about discovery to help mankind and not destroy, but knowing himself the actions of what war and destruction brings due to the loss of his eye, he knows that if a piece of science has potential to be a weapon and is revealed it will be used again and again. It does become obvious in a sense that he does kill himself, mainly because he says he will, but also because he is a damaged man and can’t see any way to end his personal pain; but due to how likeable a character he is, you don’t want him to and there is a real emotional attachment to him taking his own life and you do feel that sorrow. On top of that, Serizawa also adds a little twist to the film’s plot. The film is one of very few films that works in tandem with its trailer. Serizawa shows Emiko his invention, but initially the audience does not see it, and the trailer teases this point also, but you wonder if his scientific study and discovery are him actually creating Godzilla. Its like; he’s Dr. Frankenstein creating his own Monster, but by accident or not, we don’t currently know. It’s only until Emiko reveals to Ogata what Serizawa showed her that everything clears up, but for a moment you wonder. You question if Godzilla is this mutated dinosaur at all, or if he was actually created in a lab. But it’s only really the case when you look deeply into this possible plot twist, that you think about it; something that the film and trailer do well together. It’s from the portrayal of Serizawa by Akihiko Hirata and how well the film is put together that achieves this effect, and it’s an effect well done.

Akihiko Hirata

While these four are the film’s main human characters, they are not alone in this area; however some of these don’t have much of a presence. The character of Hagiwara for example is a brilliant journalist as he is both sceptical and pushy, but as for a part, not much else is really shown about him for him to be a character of great interest, but when he is on-screen he is played rather well. The role of Shinkichi though doesn’t have much weight as he is more of a friend to Ogata and while he does show a lot of sorrow to the death of his brother and mother, a scene which is a definite highlight in the early stages of the film and does show a lot of depth, for the rest of the film, his part seems to have forgotten about this and does not carry the weight of it and for the rest of the film he is more like a whisper than a key player; the part of his brother Masaji however is terrific. He gets very little air time but it’s the moment on the island when he runs out after his brother and sees something terrifying. The shock and terror registered on his face makes a connection with the audience as to state that there is something else going on, and that this is no ordinary storm. It’s this use of the power of suggestion that grips the audience. Other characters of note include the woman on the train who also appears on the pleasure vessel, the woman and the man arguing at the science debate as to what to do about Godzilla, as well as the session chair. The fishing girl dismissing Godzilla as just a legend and the homeless mother and her kids coming to terms with the situation.

Shinkichi with Ogata, Emiko and Dr. Yamane

But to me, the best out of all these other characters is the village elder played by Kuninori Kôdô. What is in essence a similar role to the part he played in Seven Samurai a few months previously, his part though is not that of the village elder but more an old-fashioned villager who remains to believe in the myths and legends of the area, including Godzilla. He is passionate about such things and can feel when something is not right, and even when he is shot down by the fisher girls about such a legend, he remains passionate about it shooting down nay sayers and almost passing off a threat by stating that the village may have to sacrifice one of them. This strong rage really stands out and it shows in his acting and presence, even more so when his character is centred in shot a brilliant scene. While later on he does calm down to discuss the village ceremony, his passion for the legend still holds out and is able to give a real insight into the ceremony.

Kuninori Kodo

All of these characters though are minute, literally in comparison to the film’s title character. Godzilla at first glance appears to be just a giant dinosaur with the ability to breathe fire. He is a lot more than that though. He is the testament to the destruction and power of nuclear weaponry and technology. His initial start in this film is that of a sighting or a rumour as he is the cause of the destruction of the ships, but you don’t see him doing it. The only evidence to begin with of the existence of the creature in the film is the sound of his roar in the credits, but you don’t know what that is yet. As the story unfolds you get more of an identity of who he is from people mentioning the existence and legend of a monster. The first real sighting of the creature is not for about 10 minutes or so when he is just in shot destroying a house, but it’s still just a glimpse. By this moment you get a feeling of something big and nasty on its way, you just as yet don’t know what. His first proper full appearance on Odo Island finally attaches a physical being to the stories and evidence so far presented and now you know what Godzilla is you begin to wonder what he is capable of. Now that his identity is confirmed he becomes a more virtual part (rather than a rumour or a belief) of the film and begins to play out his part and what he stands for. For the rest of the film he is this approaching destruction, his power has already been proven, but now he is coming to do a whole lot more to a civilian population.

G19

Godzilla in essence and character is a representation of the destruction caused to Japan at the end of the second world war with the detonation of the nuclear bomb on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but instead of the giant mushroom cloud, he is nature’s answer. He is powered and mutated by nuclear power and presents the raw power of nature at its angriest. He is not just a creature; he is a sort of spirit as well as a metaphor for the nuclear age but in physical form. His walk through downtown Tokyo as well as the destruction he causes is the representation of the power of nuclear weapons along with his Atomic Deathray which is the unstoppable fire. His presence and look works both ways as his flesh has been burned and damaged from the testing of nuclear weapons, but also the sheer sight and power of such a creature, a creature that (as far as we know) does not exist, but can be seen here and now, right in front of you, and it terrifies you. He is the result of careless actions on the part of humanity and is a testament of mankind bringing such destruction upon themselves and as a result he has come to do to them what they have done to the world. He is at both heart and sight a Monster, but he is also a signature of a country whose recent history has gone through so much hardship and destruction and forcing them to go through that again.

G8

As for his actual look and appearance. The choice of black and white for the film’s format works perfectly. It presents the Monster as a shadow in the night and a terror that could be accidently not noticed if you are unlucky. His look as that of an upright dinosaur is brilliant and the spines down his back give the idea of a dragon and add more personality into the creature’s look. The Deathray is a great bonus to the character. The sheer presence and sight of the creature is enough to get the attention of the audience and give them something to remember just by its own merit, the addition of the Atomic Breath though gives the creature something more, something that gives his already majestic and terrifying appearance more power. His strength is also represented beautifully with modern weapons having absolutely no effect on him, at all. He can’t be stopped, something that becomes more abundantly clear in moments such as where he walks through the electric barrier fence, when the attacking planes and tanks have absolutely no effect on him and the moment where he bites into the Tokyo tower, all of them terrific scenes. The use of the name as a whole makes Godzilla automatically grander than other monsters as giving him a name, gives him personality and character. He is not a thing, he is not just a creature, there is something more and now you have a name to connect to him. His look, power and abilities are all his and next time you see him, you automatically know what he is capable of.

The film’s special effects are terrific and when combined with what kind of effects can be produced today is still thoroughly enjoyable. While the production team, particularly Eiji Tsuburaya wanted to achieve the effects with stop-motion animation, they were unable to do so and so had to of course use a suit (worn by Haruo Nakajima). But the upside to this is that in comparison to stop motion animation, the effects have a more fluid and believable basis of movement and when used in comparison with miniatures give a real sense to the size and power of Godzilla as well as the level of detail on show. Even the little flicks and strokes of the tail and hands are a beauty to behold. It actually looks like a monster moving instead of a lot of jittery movement. The miniatures are wonderfully produced and brought to life with simple methods. Even in the close up shots of planes and tanks bring a degree of life into them. Other little touches of superb special effects include the death and disappearance of the fish in the tank and Godzilla at the end as well as the demonstration of the Oxygen Destroyer. The underwater scenes at the end are terrifically shot and give a real presence to the viewer of actually being there. For the most part there is this genuine feeling that the staff at Toho were genuinely looking forward to destroying Tokyo. For a film produced 60 years ago this level of detail is still enjoyable to this day and shows real craftsmanship.

G10

The music and sound part of the film is a real highlight. The film makes a lot of use of music that is more on the dark and sorrow side and hardly if at all has pieces that are happier or upbeat. Scenes such as the science party on the island, after the destruction and at the very end not to mention the song delivered by the schoolgirls have a real impact to help deliver the films emotional points. In a similar vein, the underwater piece has a similar style but is more along the lines of discovery with the emotional coming in when Serizawa dies. The films darker pieces are used more for the part of sensing and seeing the destruction that is being caused. It’s mainly used in a later scene of Godzilla trashing down town Tokyo and an earlier scene where he crushes the railway. With the use of heavy beats that shock the audience to attention while still keeping the dark tone, the themes used in these scenes are not being used to show anything tasteful, more horrific and scary and dark and terrifying while also encasing an element of wonder and amazement, but not in a nice way at all, but in the heaviest, scariest way possible.

The attack on Odo Island as well as Godzilla’s early moments of attack to his full on rampage through Tokyo still hold a dark impression on the scene through the music, but it’s quicker in tone giving more a sense of tension and drama than horror and gives the audience a break from the emotional side and allows a little bit of action here and there, plus the music works well with the storm. The ceremony scene and the ritual music in the ceremony is a nice little scene too. The main theme though is the best. It does not carry any emotion, or dark themes allowing it to be more upbeat. The piece is very classical and can be seen that way. It is a far more traditional piece of music using traditional methods and instruments but in itself holds a level of action and gets the listener interested and the included use of the Monster Roars from Godzilla during the opening credits adds a level of mystery and questioning as you the viewer want to find out what is making that noise. Well, it doesn’t sound like an instrument does it? Sounds more like an animal. It works during the film too for when the jets come to attack Godzilla; it feels more like a relief, as if a rescue has come to save you from the disaster that has just unfolded and it is used again earlier on as well when the army gets ready to defend itself from the coming Monster. Overall it’s a piece that works well and has continued to work since (even if the level, sound and composure has changed variously over 60 years), now recognised in association with Godzilla himself as his main theme.

Sound effects are not just kept for Music though. Godzilla himself needed a roar, and a roar was produced thanks to the film’s composer Akira Ifukube. The effect of the roar was made with the use of a double bass (contrabass) and the strings being pulled by wax-coated latex gloves and then slowed down. The distinctive roar was produced at a time when the production team experimented with animal noises but couldn’t get the sound right. This bizarre approach to producing such a sound though worked and has remained Godzilla’s roar since. The roar itself is a very powerful sound and gives an extra level of detail to the personality of the creature. This sound does not waver during the film and every sound Godzilla makes with his mouth has a connection with it, from growls and screams, to just announcing his presence and shouting at pitiful humans this in turn gives Godzilla his own distinctive voice and one that is enjoyable to listen to (even if it comes from a destructive creature who could crush the building currently separating you from him).

G9

Godzilla produces something for everyone. It has moments of drama, action, tension, love, tragedy and not to mention a whole lot of destruction. While the film at its basis is a film about a Giant monster, there is a lot in the human side of the film to produce a human side story to what is going on as well as little sub plots which have no involvement of the title monster. The Film is a story and a metaphor as to the results and consequences of nuclear destruction with moments where characters talk about their recent lives before the discovery of the monster as well as connotations with events from nine years previously. But while the film mentions those points, you need to remember what the film is really about, it’s about survival, survival from unknown threats only just discovered and the lengths people are willing to go to, to survive such things but don’t take the time to think about what will happen afterwards when greed and power takes over. This comes in the form of a Giant Monster, which is then killed by a weapon which was discovered accidently and then the scientist who kills himself knowing he couldn’t live with himself after using it. Alongside this it is also a very sad and emotional film. While the film begins with a question and leads to discovery, it ends with tragic consequences. While the end result of the menace being killed, it is achieved through a sad and tragic loss of a man sacrificing himself in order to get rid of the creature, but also himself. It’s not a happy note, it’s a very sorrowful note; and this is one of the film’s greatest power’s. Not just the power’s of Godzilla and nature, but also the power of Human Emotion. All together, Godzilla is an Absolutely, and Terrifyingly, Fantastic film which while may not be your cup of tea, is definitely worth watching. It is enjoyable from start to finish, minute for minute with great music, sound, special effects, characters, story and one big lizard, what’s not to like about that? 60 years on it is still one terrific film and more importantly it heralded in a new cinematic icon called GODZILLA.

GENEPOOL (Unfortunately, while I was originally able to find an original trailer of Godzilla 1954, that has since been taken off YouTube; however, I feel that the above trailer that uses shots of the original film in a 2014 trailer style is a worthy replacement until an original 1954 trailer becomes available).





The Railway Company – A History of TOHO (200th Post)

24 06 2012

It is the Biggest, The Greatest and Most Legendary film production company in the history of Japan. If I was to say the word TOHO to some bloke in the street, they may have no idea what I am talking about, but if I say TOHO to a fan of Japanese Cinema they would instantly recognise the name. It is the studio where some of the world’s greatest films were made and to me my favourite films in the world. It is where films like Seven Samurai were made and is the home of Godzilla. And to think it all started with a Railway.

Laying Tracks

It may appear hard to believe but the history of TOHO started as a railway company. In 1907 businessman Ichizō Kobayashi founded the Mino-o Arima Electric Railway Company in Osaka. It was a struggling company but its fortunes turned around when Kobayashi combined the railway with Show Business. He built residential areas in the less populated areas and an amusement park as well as a hardware store at the terminus. In the 1930’s he founded the Takarazuka Company, an all-female opera troupe; this followed with a lot of fame for the company and as a result of this an entertainment city sprang up around it with attractions including a zoo, a circus and restaurants. From this major success Kobayashi made a fortune from his railway company.

Kobayashi would later become president of Tokyo Gasu Denki and in 1940 was put in charge of Minister of Commerce and Industry. He would later join the Taisei Yokusankai group. After World War 2 he was appointed the cabinet minister of the Shidehara cabinet. He was also appointed the president of the War Damage Rehabilitation Institute but was soon kicked out due to his previous political career. Ichizō Kobayashi died in 1957.

Today the railway company is still going under the name Hankyu Hanshin Holdings, Inc. and owns the original Hankyu Railway and Hanshin Electric Railway Co., Ltd. Hankyu Hanshin Holdings is not just centered around railway lines but also has businesses in retail, real estate and of course entertainment. They are also part of the Hankyu Hanshin Toho Group which centers around Hankyu Hanshin Holdings, Inc., H2O Retailing and Toho Group (despite the fact that they are the owners of the other two companies, it’s a bit technical).

From Rail To Film

Ichizō Kobayashi had hopes of building an entertainment empire and started buying theatres in the Tokyo area. It was part of a grand vision of a chain of cinema and movie houses nationwide. In 1937 he bought two film companies to produce films for his cinemas. These two companies were JO and PCL (Photo Chemical Laboratory), from these he founded the Toho Motion Picture Distribution Company to distribute the two company’s films and some American movies. Two years later he bought another two small companies and cemented all operations into one company, Toho Motion Picture Company. The name of the company Toho is actually an abbreviation of “Tokyo-Takarazuka”, the ho in Toho comes from Takara which can also be announced “ho”.

It was during the late 30’s and 40’s that Toho gained its initial success. During the war-time periods Toho became the foremost company producing War Propaganda films. Using miniatures and pyro techniques, the expensive productions were the initial foundations of the special effects department. The nationalist movement in Japan caused people to flock to the movies to see the elaborate war movies. Toho gained a huge early success from these films.

However when World War 2 finished things hit rock bottom. With the occupation of Japan there was a real issue on what film makers could and could not make. Many film directors and producers were forced to leave Toho and along with a recession and a new labor movement which in turn caused several strikes at Toho, Toho was nearly bankrupt and almost folded. It was not until the Korean War started that things began to turn around. Japan entered a time of prosperity with the country producing procurements for the United States. In 1952 when the occupation ended, a former producer for Toho who was kicked out for producing Propaganda Films came back, Iwao Mori and set his sights on making the company profitable again.

The Revolution

The 1950’s were a golden age for Japanese Cinema, during this time the country was making 500 films a year. That was more than what America (300) and Britain (100) were producing at the time. Everyday thousands of people would commute to Toho Studios who had become the Largest Film Company in Japan.

“In 1954, fuelled by a postwar economic boom, Japanese movie studios were entering a period of unprecedented productivity. The Toho Motion Picture Company, which had already established itself as an innovator in the film industry, was engaged in box office battles with its rivals’ (Shochiku, Nikkatsu, Shin-Toho, Toei and Daiei studios) as it attempted to solidify itself as Japan’s biggest and most ambitious moviemaker”.

– Steve Ryfle; The Unauthorized Biography of “The Big G”.

It was in 1954 when the companies name would become a legend from not one but two films in the same year.

1948 saw the breakthrough for Akira Kurosawa in his film Drunken Angel which was also the first of 16 collaborations with Toshiro Mifune. From this film Akira Kurosawa would continue to produce several films which would become famous worldwide. It was particularly the case in 1950 with the release of Rashomon which revealed the work of Kurosawa to the world as well as Japanese Cinema winning a Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival.

In 1952 after returning to Toho (after working with Daiei on films like Rashomon), Kurosawa took his writing team to a secluded residence for 45 days to write the script for his new film. The film was one and a half years late when it was released due to shoot problems, Kurosawa’s health and finance issues making it the most expensive film made to date when it was finally released. The film took a whole year to shoot and was shot on location. There was also some buzz going round on set about another film being produced by Toho. On April 26, 1954 the film was released under the name Seven Samurai. The film very soon made back the money that was spent on it, and that is not all. Today, Seven Samurai is regarded as one of the greatest films in cinema history (not just Japan but the whole World). It inspired a remake in The Magnificent Seven. It has been rated in several top films lists:

  • “Ranked #1 in Empire magazines “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema” in 2010”
  • 96% Audience Rating on Rotten Tomatoes
  • 100% Rating on Rotten Tomatoes
  • “voted number one in an audience poll conducted by MovieMail in 2000”
  • “the highest reviewed movie at Rotten Tomatoes with the highest number of votes that is listed as an action movie on the site”
  • “Cited as the greatest Japanese film ever; at number 12, it is the highest-ranked Japanese and Asian film on the Internet Movie Database‘s “Top 250 movies” list. It ranked, for the first time, at number 3 in the 1982 Sight & Sound Critics’ Top Ten Poll, appeared on the Sight & Sound Directors’ Top Ten Poll in 1992 (ranked number 10), and tied for the highest-ranked Japanese and Asian film in 2002 (ranked number 9). It is ranked number 2 on Rotten Tomatoes‘ top 100 foreign films, and number 1 on their top 100 action/adventure films. It was also voted the “Best Japanese Film ever” in a 1979 Kinema Junpo critics’ poll”
  • “It is now regarded by some commentators as the greatest Japanese film ever made, and in 1979, a poll of Japanese film critics also voted it the best Japanese film ever made”

With the success of Seven Samurai Toho were about to make another Big Splash, a splash which would not only become famous with cinema but would also an icon for a whole country, how many films do you know of that has done that?

I was an actor in a film by Akira Kurosawa – “The Seven Samurai”. It was a very long job; it took a whole year to shoot. But while were working on it, we kept hearing strange rumours. On set we would hear people talking about something called Godzilla. We kept hearing this name…..and none of us had any idea what it was. But nobody would tell us”.

– Yoshio Tsuchiya; Godzilla King Of The Monsters BBC Documentary (1998).

In early 1954 Toho was to produce a film called In The Shadow Of Honor. However things fell apart when the Jakarta Government prevented Toho from filming there. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had to come up with a new film idea and fast. During this period in Japan there was a tragedy at sea involving a Fishing Boat called the Lucky Dragon 5. The ship was in an area where the H-Bomb was tested and even though it was many miles away the effects of the bomb spread to the ship and all the fish on board became contaminated and several of the crew died a few months later. It was while Tanaka was on board an airplane and reading about the incident that he also thought about the incredibly popular Sci-Fi film The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms which was released one year earlier. From these 2 ideas Tanaka had an idea for a film. Toho head Iwao Mori backed the project and a group of men (Ishirō Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya and Akira Ifukube with story by Shigeru Kiyama) worked on the idea and together created a film called Gojira. The name was later Americanised to Godzilla and it has stayed that way since.

The story premise behind the film is the idea that a Giant Monster has been awoken by nuclear testing and goes on the rampage, destroying Tokyo in the process. One way of describing the film is the idea of Godzilla being a force of nature as if Mother Nature is saying that she has had enough of man destroying the world and has put her foot down, and the destruction in this instance is Nuclear Weapons and as a result of this Nature releases a Giant Unstoppable Monster.

The film was a huge success in Japan and would also become a big success around the world. The film became the first of a whole series of 29 films and also sparked the Kaiju (Monster Movie) Genre in Japan which spawned many more films from Toho including Mothra, Atragon, The Mysterians, Space Amoeba and Rodan with some monsters from these films appearing in the Godzilla series. Monster Movies would become one of the studios Major output over the 1960’s and include a fight between Godzilla and King Kong.

Trouble was on the horizon though for Toho as one of its rival studios would become its biggest competition. In the 1960’s Daiei saw the potential of the Godzilla series and created their own Giant Monster, Gamera. The effects for Gamera were not as good and appeared to be more silly than Toho’s Monsters but they did put children in their film which was something Toho usually did not and so Daiei achieved that audience and even though it was not a worthy foe in terms of effects Gamera did become a cinema icon for Japanese Cinema, meaning Godzilla was not the only big guy at the Movie BBQ.

The Grim 70’s

The 70’s was not a great period for Toho. Their popular Monster Movies went into a decline during the period despite Godzilla staying strong for 5 years. Fewer people were working at the company and fewer films were made. Several reasons were behind this decline, two of the biggest were the rise of Monsters on Television which was created by Eiji Tsuburaya who was one of the founders of the Japanese Monster Movie. Tsuburaya set up his own production company for television and produced a series of shows which involved people fighting giant monsters. The idea worked brilliantly and eventually turned into Ultraman which is still going strong in Japan to this day. More and more people in the movie industry started to either leave or go to television. Toho managed to turn things around for themselves by training or “farming” crews to work in television and several other non-film use including conventions and expos. This side of the business became very profitable as a result.

One other reason for the decline came down to one use of special effects; Stock Footage. The effect was to use footage from previous films and put them into a film making the film a lot cheaper as a whole. It was used originally in Godzilla’s Revenge in the late 60’s but the result was more like a clip show than a film with only a few new scenes added. This quality improved but not greatly. During the 70’s Godzilla films (Gigan and Megalon) the shots were used primarily for scenes involving the military. These shots were actually very good but when you are using monster, not so good. If you look closely in Godzilla vs Megalon there is a clip where Megalon is attacked by fighters, but the close-ups of his hand swatting them is actually Gigan’s hooks and not Megalon’s drills. It was not until Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla was released that Toho stopped doing it and instead released a film which is widely seen as a classic by fans. Stock Footage was used once in the following film but only for plot use so it was not so bad.

One of the more grim parts of the 70’s came to Akira Kurosawa. In 1970 his rather odd film (I have only seen a clip of it) Dodes’ka-den was released.  It focuses on the lives of people who happen to live on a rubbish dump. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film but the film was actually a financial failure and Kurosawa was finding it hard to finance his films despite the success of some of the films he previously made.

Its critical failure sent Kurosawa into a deep depression, and in 1971 he attempted suicide. Despite having slashed himself over 30 times with a razor, Kurosawa survived his suicide attempt; however, he would not return to filmmaking for five years, releasing Dersu Uzala in 1975”.

– Wikipedia

The Revival

The 80’s and 90’s was a great period for Toho. It was a real struggle but they managed to get themselves back on their feet. Since 1975 Toho had tried to bring Godzilla back but to the screen. There were several ideas including a 3D film but eventually Godzilla 1985 (The Return Of Godzilla) was released and it used a new story idea to recreate the series. The idea was to forget the previous films except the original. So in other words Godzilla had not been seen for 30 years. The move worked and during this new period several of the best films in the series were produced including the 1985 film, Godzilla vs King Ghidorah and Godzilla vs Mothra 2.

During the 1980 period Akira Kurosawa made his last Epic, RAN. The film was set once again in feudal Japan much like most of his well-known Samurai Films. The plot was based on several things including King Lear and was a co-production between Japanese and French film studios. While being his last Epic Kurosawa would direct 3 more films and help out on many others until his death in 1998.

In 1990, he accepted the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. Posthumously, he was named “Asian of the Century” in the “Arts, Literature, and Culture” category by AsianWeek magazine and CNN, cited as “one of the [five] people who contributed most to the betterment of Asia in the past 100 years“.

– Wikipedia

“I am proud of nothing I have done other than with him”

Toshiro Mifune

Trouble was on the horizon however in the shape of an old foe. In 1971 Daiei went into Bankruptcy but were bought out by Shoten in 1974. During the 1990’s they started to remake Gamera Films. This time they employed Shusuke Kaneko to direct the films. The films had better production values and even starred Steven Seagal’s Daughter. The films had better special effects than before. The Gamera films could at long last truly rival the Godzilla series. Three Gamera films were made in total, each one being an excellent example of Japanese Independent Monster Movies. The third one in particular is highly regarded as one of the greatest Monster Movies of all time. Many believe it is the best Kaiju film since the original Godzilla. One interesting point about this series is that the films were actually distributed by TOHO.

Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris (1999 - Daiei Film)

The end of the 90’s was a great time for Toho. In 1996 they made headlines worldwide that they were going to kill Godzilla. The move was planned not to be permanent though as an American film was being produced and they felt that the new century should have a new Godzilla. While the 1998 American film did very well at the box office it did not sit well with fans of the series, or Toho. After the film was released Toho started to make plans to bring back the monster in 1999.

One monster from the Godzilla series got their own series; Mothra had three films to herself with no sign of Godzilla but with the sighting of a new monster in Desghidorah and several varieties of King Ghidorah. Mothra started her career as her own film and now she had her own film again.

As the century drew to a close Toho gained the Japanese Distribution rights to the Pokémon film series and have distributed the films since.

The Millennium

One month before the Millennium Toho brought Godzilla back in Godzilla 2000. The new series had a good start but fell a bit with the release of Godzilla vs Megaguiras. This time the major driving force behind the series was producer Shogo Tomiyama who would later become President of Toho. A new story premise was brought in with the idea that once again the previous films except the original did not happen, this was the case of all the films except Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. which was a direct sequel to Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla; however the films did have continuity from other Kaiju films. New guys were working on the series and after Megaguiras Toho released two highly successful films with Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (My Favourite film) which was directed by Shusuke Kaneko and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (Directed by Megaguiras Director Masaaki Tezuka). The series finished with Godzilla: Final Wars which celebrated 50 years of the King of the Monsters.

No Japanese director would ever dare to say “no” to Godzilla films. I can make any Hollywood-style film but only a few can make Godzilla films, plus this is the 50th anniversary of Godzilla. I think this is the greatest challenge of my life to make this Godzilla film”.

Ryuhei Kitamura interview

Since 2004 Godzilla has been on a break with a possible return in 2014 for the 60th anniversary as well as the recent announcement of Legendary Pictures doing a reboot of the American Series.

Daiei made another Gamera film in the period however they were bought by Kadokawa Pictures in 2002 and Gamera while still being a lot better quality than the original series returned to its more childlike routes and focused mainly on Children Actors.

Today and Tomorrow

Toho has produced fewer films these days than its glorious period when it first started and during the 50’s and 60’s. Toho is now more than just a film studio. The original studio had shrunk in size as some parts were sold off in real estate and moved into a new office in 2005. While Films is still their main output, they now also have work in real estate and real estate management. Toho is still one of the major parts of that old railway line but works more independently and is the largest shareholder of Fuji Television.

While the company is in a more quieter state than its older days, history has shown that they won’t stay quiet forever. Hopefully in a few years their Big Monster will resurface and cause havoc once again. After all Tokyo has a new building for him to smash. Godzilla is not only the icon for the company and Japanese Cinema, he is an icon for Japan and you can’t keep him calm for long. Samurai Epics Films like the films of Akira Kurosawa have also begun to make a sort of comeback with critically acclaimed 13 Assassins which was both produced and distributed by Toho.

With a new era of film comes a new era of film makers and Toho still holds its ground as the greatest Film Company in the history of Japan with aspiring film makers flocking towards Toho to have their films produced and while it may be quieter than it used to be, Toho’s painstaking and dedicated style to making films still goes strong to this day. And let us not forget that all this came to be when a young business man decided to combine a Railway with Show Business.

GENEPOOL





Lucky Dragon 5

24 08 2011

For many years after the Japanese surrender in World War 2 the United States of America Tested Nuclear Weapons in the pacific in an area known as the Marshall Islands. In total the Americans tested 67 Nuclear Weapons. On March 1 1954 the Americans set off the Largest Nuclear Explosion to date – code named Castle Bravo (the Hydrogen Bomb). The explosion would be the first in a chain reaction of events that would change the world.

When the explosion occurred there was a Fishing Vessel called the Daigo Fukuryū Maru or Lucky Dragon 5 which was outside the exclusion zone. The crew saw a bright light and then a few hours later a snow storm fell on them. A few hours later some of the crew became sick and then a few days later some of their faces turned strangely dark. The ship’s captain did not understand what was going on so returned the ship to port in Yaizu. When the ship arrived in Yaizu many of the crew members were suffering from symptoms related to Radiation Poisoning. On September 23 1954 (six months later) Aikichi Kuboyama died of Leukemia. According to newspaper reports his last words were “Please make sure that I am the last victim of the Nuclear Bomb”. Five other crew members later died from diseases that were believed to be bomb related. The incident gripped Japan when it was discovered that the cargo (tuna) the ship was carrying was also infected and was on the market.

At first the Americans tried to cover up the incident, they later admitted that the ash (snow) was from the Bomb but claimed that the boat was on a spying mission. The Americans then sent the widow a check for 2.5 million yen ($2500) as a “token of sympathy” in an attempt to put the matter to rest. Many years later the USA admitted that the operation was the most powerful Nuclear bomb ever detonated and caused the single worst fallout incident in the H-Bomb atmospheric testing program. The incident caused many citizens of Japan and Thousands of scientists around the world to call for a halt to Nuclear Weapons testing. The Nuclear powers of the world agreed to the limitations of Nuclear testing with the common goal of “an end to the contamination of man’s environment by radioactive substances”.

Even though the incident brought an end to Nuclear Testing the incident did something else as well. In Japan the incident caused great fear for the Japanese people, it was still a time when nobody knew much about Nuclear Power and was a topic of great concern. Film director Tomoyuki Tanaka used the incident as inspiration for a film. The film was about a giant monster that was woken up by Nuclear Testing and would go on to trample Tokyo. The film was called Godzilla and it became a huge hit in Japan.

The fishing vessel is now on display in Tokyo at the Tokyo Metropolitan Daigo Fukuryū Maru Exhibition Hall.

GENEPOOL

Sources:

The Lucky Dragon Incident by Lauren White

Godzilla: King of the Monsters – BBC Documentary

Wikipedia

Japan’s Favourite Mon-Star The Unauthorized Biography of “The Big G” by Steve Ryfle








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