The Lost Reviews – Mini Metro

17 10 2016

mini-metro (Dinosaur Polo Club - 2015)

One of the most recognized maps in the world (or at least the UK) has to be the London Tube Map. The London Tube Map is a nice simple looking map which makes travelling through the London Underground much easier than it would be if the map was anything like an OS (Ordinance Survey) Map. With it’s easy to follow curvature/straight lines, use of circles to show terminals and of course the use of easy to identify colours, the Tube map is so simple yet very effective and in turn assists millions of consumers every day; but have you ever wondered to yourself: ‘How do they do it?” Well, that question I cannot answer, but if you have ever considered having a go at doing your own map in a similar style but did not know how or even where to start; well now there is an easy way to give it a go.

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Developed by Dinosaur Polo Club; Mini Metro is a strategy/puzzle/simulation game where you are given the task of connecting stations on a map. It’s very simple; to begin with you get given a choice of cities to choose from. All you do is simply choose one and as soon as the map loads you are given three stations taking the forms of shapes which in turn you need to connect. Connecting stations is also very simple as all you have to do is hold and drag on a station and a coloured line will appear which you then connect to another station. Once your line has been laid down, a small little train carriage will appear and will set to work ferrying customers to their nearest desired station. Customers take the form of little shapes, and where they want to go is defined by what shape they are. Triangle customers want to go to triangle stations, square customers to square stations and circle customers to circle stations. As the game continues more stations will randomly appear in which you will need to connect to, other shaped stations will appear meaning more defined customers to transport, and also the map will generally get bigger with lines getting busier. You can of course ease congestion by adding more trains, incorporating several carriages to trains, adding more lines as well as adding terminals and bridges/tunnels to spots that you think require them. So, much like the real world, it gets busy.

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Mini Metro is pretty easy to pick up and play, it features an easy control system where you simply use the mouse to drag lines to stations, connect them and then drag features like extra lines and trains to the stations. It’s also pretty easy to simply get going. It features an easy tutorial where it teaches all this to you, before then letting you just to get on with it. To begin with you get a few basic maps including London and Paris, and as you begin to progress through the game you get to unlock other cities too including Cairo, Osaka, Melbourne, Sao Paulo and New York City all of which feature their own tasks and challenges while also providing you with unique perspectives and features, such as in the Cairo map where the trains can only hold 4 shapes per carriage (not 6), or like the Osaka map where it gives you access to the high speed Shinkansen Bullet Train.

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There are three basic modes to choose from:

  • In Normal Mode, you are given a city and need to work hard to make sure that all customers are satisfied and can reach their destinations without getting the station overcrowded. If they do get overcrowded, circles will begin to appear around the station, if it gets completely filled, the customers have had enough and the game ends. You receive extra features after every Sunday.
  • In Endless Mode, you are given a map, but the game does not end if the station gets overcrowded. Instead it just continues until the city has grown as big as it can get. Extra features are provided not every Sunday or every week, instead they are given when you reach a proficiency milestone, the key to Endless mode being that it’s not about how many customers you can service before it gets overcrowded, but how efficient the service you provide is.
  • In Extreme Mode, you are given a city as usual and much like Normal, need to prevent the stations getting overcrowded, however; where as in the two above modes you can re-arrange already made lines to accommodate new stations with ease, or move trains from one line to another if the need arises; in Extreme Mode, once the line has been placed it cannot be moved, nor can the trains be relocated, you just have to live with your decisions and hope for the best.

All these modes provide you with a score at the end of the game, to which you can then see how well you have done compared with the rest of the world, as well as compare graphs to see how well you did overall. There is also the option of the Daily Challenge from the opening menu, where a random challenge is made and posted every day, where players can try their mettle at several different random maps (but only once a day) and then compare them once again with the rest of the world, you know; if…you really want to.

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Mini Metro is a nice and simple game to play, and one where you don’t need to worry about sound neither. The game does not come with a soundtrack per-say except for the sound of the camera feature when it takes a picture of the map, just in case you want a keepsake. Although the lack of sound is pretty peaceful, meaning you can listen or watch something else in the meantime and use the game as an over the top screen saver, some sound could be a nice little feature. I was not thinking of a soundtrack exactly, maybe more the sound of angry commuters waiting around for their train; with the noise getting louder the longer they wait.

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The game is nicely well designed and each difficulty level has been made with some precision providing different forms of gameplay as it goes on. It’s not like it gets really difficult or makes things harder, it’s more that it makes things more of a challenge but rewards you with a unique gaming experience each time. I just think though that there could be more spacing and randomness every time you receive an item; more spacing as to what you can choose from, or more randomness rather than expected. I also think that while the difficulty is not too bad, there could be more challenging points in the core gameplay. While there are rarer shapes for rarer customers, I just think that like a normal tube map, some shapes, every now and then could appear who want to go to a specific place on the map. There are so many common shapes; it could bring an additional level of challenge to the map if one circle customer wanted to go to a desired circle location, not just the nearest.

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Issues aside: I really like Mini Metro. Yes, there is some allowance for sounds, plus an addition of more challenging core gameplay could provide a little more taste, but even without, this game is still packed with an ideal level of flavour. It’s a game that does not take itself too seriously. It’s not like Rollercoaster Tycoon or Sid Meier’s Railroads, games that require you to negotiate obstacles and pay through the nose to fix them. Here you do not need to worry about money, or much in the way of obstacles except for the odd river, all you need to worry about is providing the best service possible. It’s nice, simple, easy to play, and aesthetically pleasing to the eye with its nice simple design. It’s sort of like a Miniature Railway; it adds a nice new eye level of fun to something that most of us take for granted every day, and is genuinely; just a nice fun thing to do.

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GENEPOOL

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The Giant Lizard And The Giant Plant – Godzilla vs Biollante

25 05 2016

Godzilla vs Biollante (Toho Co. Ltd. - 1989)

How much of a Gardener are you? Ok, weird question I know. I myself am not much of a gardener, I don’t know much about growing plants, last year I tried growing one in my room but due to the lack of an instruction booklet, I wasn’t very good. Not to mention my failures in the past trying to grow and look after Bonsai Trees. I am just generally bad at it; but how about you, what are you like? As I probably do not know who you are; you may have to just tell me in the comments, but if you are a talented gardener there are some kinds of plants you may want to avoid growing. Obviously there is such a thing as a Triffid; in which case you may want to give that one a miss. Though growing a Triffid is probably not all that a bad idea compared to growing a Biollante. Not there is anything bad in that either if you are talented enough to grow a Biollante; it’s just probably not a very good idea.

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Released in 1989 by Toho, directed by Kazuki Omori and produced by Shogo Tomiyama; Godzilla vs Biollante is the 17th film in the Godzilla series and the second film in the Heisei series following directly on from The Return of Godzilla released in 1984.  This time around Godzilla returns to attack the good friendly people of Japan once again, this time however having his own body caught up in a large scientific conspiracy which ultimately leads onto the creation of a brand new and terrifying monster known as Biollante. This film is something of a one-off departure in the series as it refrains from the tried and tested but simple formula of Giant Monsters just fighting each other, and goes in to explore man’s desire to create and prolong life and what the consequences of such actions can be.

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Tokyo is in ruins in the wake of Godzilla’s attack in 1984. The city is near completely destroyed as crews commence the clean-up operation. On the site, a piece of Godzilla’s skin is discovered and stolen by a group of soldiers, who in turn are killed by an assassin known only as SSS9 (Brien Uhl). The assassin takes the skin sample to the Republic of Saradia, to deliver them to the institute of Science and Technology, whom the President wants to try and turn the country’s vast desert into greenery and end the Republic’s dependence on foreign imports. Dr. Genshiro Shiragami (Kôji Takahashi) and his daughter Erika (Yasuko Sawaguchi) are enlisted to work on the project, but the labs are bombed, and Erika is killed in the resulting explosion. 5 Years pass by; and the Volcano known as Mount Mihara begins to spew lava but not yet erupt. Young Psychic Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka) and head of the ESP Institute Asuka Okochi (Yoshiko Tanaka) work with young children who all one night have a dream of Godzilla returning. Lieutenant Goro Gondo (Tôru Minegishi) and Scientist Kazuhito Kirishima (Kunihiko Mitamura) head up a project to turn some Godzilla cells into Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria, or ‘ANEB’; in the hope of having a weapon to fight Godzilla with should he return. Gondo and Kazuhito try to get Dr. Shiragami’s help who has since returned to Japan. He agrees only if he could have access to some of the Godzilla Cells before they begin work. One night, Shiragami merges cells of a rose with Erika’s DNA in it, with the Godzilla Cells. With other bio companies and the Republic of Saradia still wanting access to the cells, the bio company known as Bio-Major send two agents to Japan to steal them back, while SSS9 follows them. The three agents break into Shiragami’s lab and get into a fire fight, until suddenly, a giant vine attacks them, killing one of them before the other 2 agents flee the scene. Gondo and Kazuhito arrive to find out what happened and question Shiragami’s work there.

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At Lake Ashinoko across from the Lab, a Giant plant emerges which Shiragami calls Biollante. He explains that the creature is made up from the Godzilla Cells, a Rose, and Erika’s Soul. Gondo and Kazuhito meanwhile receive word from the government that Bio Terrorists have placed explosives at the top of Mount Mihara, and will detonate them, thus releasing Godzilla unless the Godzilla cells are turned over to them. Kazuhito and Gondo head to the meeting point, but both them and the Bio-Major agents are interrupted by SSS9 who shoots the Bio Major agent and steals the Cells. Gondo and Kazuhito try to flick the switch to disarm the explosives, but the timer runs out, and Godzilla is freed. The army is called out, and the newly built Super-X2 is deployed to attack Godzilla directed by Major Sho Kuroki (Masanobu Takashima), but the attack is mostly a failure. Godzilla instinctively heads for Biollante, sensing something like him, and he quickly dispatches the creature. The military set up a plan to counter Godzilla, but accidently set up in a location opposite to where Godzilla decided to go. On his approach to Tsuruga, Miki; using her psychic powers gets up and close to him, successfully diverting him to Osaka instead. Another plan is launched to attack Godzilla with the ANEB. Gondo and his men deploy themselves inside Osaka’s Business district, while Major Sho leads the Super X2 in another confrontation. The attack is something of a success with some ANEB even getting inside Godzilla’s mouth, but Gondo is killed in the attack.

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Several hours pass by but Godzilla appears to be unaffected from the attack. Acknowledging that Godzilla might be a cold-blooded creature, Kazuhito decides that they should try to increase Godzilla’s temperature. Another attack plan is put in place to raise Godzilla’s body heat by using the M6000 T.C. System, a weaponised open air microwave like weapon. The plan doesn’t really appear to work, however suddenly; Biollante returns in a new form much larger than Godzilla and attacks him once again. After a prolonged battle, Godzilla is able to use his Deathray on Biollante once more, but then exhausted falls on the floor near the ocean. Biollante disintegrates and spores fly into space. Shiragami, watching the scene and having seen an image of Erika in the spores is shot dead by SSS9. Kazuhito chases after him, and after a small fight, SSS9 dies after stepping onto one of the microwave emitters from the M6000 T.C. System. Theorizing that everything is now OK, and that the ANEB has worked, Godzilla awakens, the sea water having cooled his body temperature down and then returns to the ocean.

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Godzilla vs Biollante does standout more than most Godzilla films when it comes to its narrative output as it tries to be different by sending more of a message out than simply putting monsters in a city sized wrestling ring. It’s a pity that such writing craftsman ship was sort of abandoned after Biollante because this films narrative makes the foundations for a classic piece of science fiction; in a literal form at least. The film begins with a reminder of what happened in the previous film and immediately turns to show the remaining devastation. It acts like not just a reminder but a tie-in and a clever opening as it uses this setting to begin what becomes one of the key plots; that of the Godzilla cells. This use of the opening though, allows the film to work and act as more of a direct sequel than just an ordinary singular sequel or spin-off. To this end we get a film that creates and carries on the themes and ideas it creates. It makes me think of the aftermath of the 911 attacks and the memorials built to remember what happened. In this case though (and about 12 years before the 911 attacks) we see how buildings destroyed and even imprinted by Godzilla are kept and turned into their own memorials. These scenes are very brief, but the idea and attention to detail in a fictional setting (especially after 911) is impressive and incredibly believable to say the least. This though acts as more of an introductory narrative to get the film started and set up the past for audience members. The real narrative begins during the post opening title credits as it starts the process of describing the benefits of the Godzilla Cells and then it evolves from there as to what they can do and how valuable they are.

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

Another narrative that is explored briefly is that of detecting Godzilla’s return and the departments involved. From here we get two viewpoints. One of the ESP institute, and that of a small department run by Gondo. These two pretty much work in tandem from the word go. This leads to a couple of funny scenes, well one scene and an idea. The scene takes place when the psychic children have a dream, and when asked to draw what was in the dream, it’s sort of a laugh out loud moment when they all hold up pictures prominently featuring an image of Godzilla in them. The build up to the scene is the suggestion that something has gone wrong, but the delivery is excellent, especially when the pictures reveal what the issue is, and the idea that all the children draw the same thing. The other scene (well, more like an idea) is that of a government department run by Gondo whose sole responsibility is the handling and planning of affairs including the preparation of defences in case Godzilla returns. For some (or at least me), it would be something of a dream job, but for Gondo however, it is more of a burden (or maybe even some form of punishment), as given the department’s sole purpose relies on Godzilla actually being around; it’s more boring than exciting as Godzilla is currently buried in a volcano, nor is a current threat. A further narrative asset on to this comes in the form of the Godzilla Warning system which helps drive the plot forward to Godzilla’s eventual rampage. The idea though of such a department’s existence is rather clever and fun and one am surprised that doesn’t come up more often. It’s sort of like: imagine a country like the UK, or USA, or Russia, China, or any other country’s ministry of defence having a small office run by no more than 2 or 3 blokes whose sole responsibility it is to watch and plan for attacks from Giant Monsters, despite the grand highly likely possibility that it will never happen……….but then it does.

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These strong starting points help to deliver early on a very in-depth idea based plot; but where you find strengths, you are bound to find weaknesses. As the plot develops, there is constant mention of the country of Saradia. This works in tandem with the conspiracy and secret agent story about a terrorist Bio group who are the ones in the end who release Godzilla. That scene in the end is pretty fun and suggests more of an imagination from them in comparison to others in film. I mean what’s more creative than threatening a country with a Giant Monster? But the ever-increasing mentions of Saradia, plus the mingling with its agents (who sound more Greek than Middle Eastern if that was supposed to be the idea) is just silly. It does not really provide anything or benefit the film except for a minor piece of backstory. In the end, it simply provides a reason for the SSS9 agent to keep running around; who is somewhat of a good thing, I think. The thing is, this story gets a little tangled up within itself, and always finds a way to divert itself. It’s supposed to be about the ethics of biology and science, and how rare/valuable biological material can be used to great effect when used properly, but also how dangerous it can be when used wrongly, and the consequences of such actions. The main one being (or at least should be) Biollante. The Problem Biollante has is that despite being in the title, she is seen very little of. It’s similar to the argument ‘suggesting’ the lack of Godzilla in the 2014 film (although I disagree). In this case however I find the issue is that despite being on even terms with Godzilla in the film’s title; Biollante is not shown that often to really warrant her name in the title. In fairness though, her appearance is early on enough to really include her, but after a few short-lived scenes and a fight with Godzilla, she disappears for nearly an hour. From that point on it becomes more of a film about a nation’s attempts to defend itself from a fire breathing atomic tyrant. I’m not saying that is a bad thing necessarily. In fact given the lack of such content in comparison to other films in the series; this is a real standout: but it’s not what it’s supposed to be about! Eventually Biollante does return, but only engages Godzilla for less than 10 minutes, before disappearing and showing a rose in space; but what does this even mean? It’s pretty similar to both Godzilla vs Destoroyah and Godzilla vs Megaguirus in that both films, despite once again featuring in the title; both monsters are pretty much side-lined for an entirely different and possibly irrelevant plot and just become mentions: although this is not so much the case for Destoroyah as he has much greater part than the instances involving Biollante and Megaguirus. In the case of Biollante it feels more like there could have been more for and of her (in this film).

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A point I feel brings us on quite nicely to talking about the film’s cast. Now I will attempt to do this bit quickly as I have still a lot more to talk about (not to mention a 100 metre tall lizard). The cast of characters is quite a nice build of memorable characters whether they be tertiary, secondary or primary, with all of them playing an interesting but still memorable parts, but of course you have some who are not as big as others. These are not necessarily bad or good, more like they have more a part compared to others, when you want them to have more of a part than others. Biollante does mark something of a start in the series for some tertiary characters who would become a mainstay for the series for many years to come, such as one Japanese Military official played by Koichi Ueda. These kinds of parts are usually tertiary, and even if portraying different characters in later films, they begin to get really recognisable due to the amount of times they are cast in small or even larger parts. Some of these occasions they can become rather annoying, but once in a while, they can do something better, sometimes perfectly. There are also other instances as well of characters from other films, mainly later in the series that turn up, and you instantly recognise them, as them. In this case we have one of the Super X2 pilots (Kosuke Toyohara) who would later appear in the lead human role in the film following on from this one (Godzilla vs King Ghidorah). Alongside him in the Super X2 role (sort of off the point topic I know), there is another character (Kyôka Suzuki), this time not a pilot, but featured well in the dynamic of the two roles being shown. Ok, they’re not shown in great depth compared to all the other characters, but they’re still memorable to the point they deserve a mention. There is also the case of a cameo appearance from Demon Kakka in a small role, but I had not heard of him until I had watched this film a few times, noticed him in a 10 second scene, and then looked him up. It’s a nice representation on modern culture of the time, but also a nice funny moment, especially given his appearance and what he says just after Godzilla is released. Now onto the primary cast. Kazuhito does have the sort of lead human role, but I find him rather bland and boring. Alright it’s not a great shout out to a strong cast, but I just have no feeling toward him or his character, and just feel like he is just in the way. On a similar case you have a character like Major Sho. He is presented like a sort of rogue or cool military commander, I just feel it doesn’t work. He has his moments and becomes something of a secondary hero saving Katsuhiro’s life at the end, plus his moments directing a counterattack are ok, plus the other moments where he is in more a professional capacity but still military, they are ok. I just don’t think he really delivers anything to benefit the film, he is less in the way than Katsuhiro, but I don’t get him.

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Next to them you then get leader characters, leaders and more mature characters like Gondo and Shiragami. Shiragami for instance plays something of a tragic version of Doctor Frankenstein. He creates a monster, but for a tragic reason, which then just causes more problems. It’s the sort of situation that is understandable, but goes against ethics. The character that loses someone, wants to bring them back and put things right, but does not have the skills. Is then given an opportunity but the end result is not what he really wanted, and chaos lets loose. He then becomes something of a standing assistant for the rest of the film, which is something of a shame, but he delivers it really strong, and in the end becomes the tragic sacrifice presenting something, presenting an idea. Maybe as to say as it started with him, it had to end with him, or that he succeeds in keeping his daughters soul, spirit alive, but he dies to accomplish it. I don’t really know, I am just guessing here, but something along those lines maybe. Despite his tragedy though, he is a nice enjoyable character and less of a scientific character that you usually get in monster films. Not of someone to explain what is going on, but maybe more like Serizawa from the 1954 film, someone who creates, does something else, but that something is questionable. On an opposite but equally enjoyable side we have someone like Gondo. Now I have already said a lot so I’ll (try to) keep it brief. He is a more witty character than a serious one in comparison to someone like Shiragami. He is in charge of a division of which he is the sole employee, he finds a way out and gets involved in a more important task with Katsuhiro and becomes a very respected and well thought about character. This level of development plus his level of character and on-screen time make his death more of a powerful one. It’s not just some character dying; it’s one you’ve come to care about. When he does die though, he goes in a great scene going near head to head with Godzilla, not many people can say they have done that.

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Asuka meanwhile who plays the female love interest to him is far more interesting and has real scene dynamic with all characters involved plus delivers power; providing reason to being in the scene. She is more of a leader than a supporter, and the film’s strongest form of human reasoning, even if she spends the third act as more of a questioner than an answerer. Her scenes with Miki (speaking of which) are a bonus. This is the first time Miki is seen in the film series, a character who would become the only mainstay of the Heisei series from this point on, and one of the longest running characters in the whole film series to date. This time around though, we finally get an introduction. Ok, I say finally, that is mostly due to how long it took fort me to see this film, due to release issues, but that time has passed so let’s move on. Now, she has reason and purpose rather than being someone included with no backstory until discovered, now she has been introduced. Miki this time is a very young girl, still touching teenage-hood, but her strength is already on show. She is mostly an informer to the situation and mostly works on a co-dynamic role assisting Asuka. There is actually more of Miki I feel in this film than others. Not in number of appearances, but more in who she is and what she can do. She plays more of an interesting part than being a background assist. It just feels like this was a film designed more for her character her role, and the others just included her, and it feels like something of a shame now, because it works.

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Right, I think that’s enough people talk, let’s talk MONSTERS! This film is one of those even rarer occurrences in recent films to feature new stuff, and in this case, we have a New Monster. Biollante (Masashi Takegumi) is very different to other Monsters, not saying that all monsters are the same. I meant more as in while all the others have something of a clean crisp look; Biollante is more of an abomination. Yes she is a plant, and begins looking like a giant rose with giant leaves and vines. Then transforms into something very large, even larger than Godzilla. Something with a huge crocodile like mouth and lots of sharp teeth (although those same teeth can be seen to appear in rose form, with is also very scary but still grotesque). Biollante is a scary creature, but her sweet cries, almost wisp sounds produce something else, suggesting something trapped inside the body of a monster. Suggesting possibly that Erika does live inside, but is crying for what has become of her, that she is no longer who she was. Biollante as a design is fantastic, and the concepts regarding her appearance and abilities including details such as spores, or the bodily moving mass despite the lack of Legs really produces a sight to behold. Here we have a creature that is more than a match for Godzilla, but not necessarily one you can use all the time. Biollante could make a return, but would require a well thought out plot like this to happen. For now at least, we have an incredible new monster on show, presented in a horrifyingly near realistic interpretation that will continue to scare and spook all those who want to give it a go, until we see her again.

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Which brings us nicely round to Godzilla. Yet another appearance for Godzilla (Kenpachirô Satsuma), but as that is who the films are about I suppose we can allow it. Godzilla is back in a similar role to those he had when he left in the 1970’s. Remembering of course that the previous film was more about him on the loose than fighting another monster, here he is back to fight monsters. This time though he is once again a (please excuse my language) ‘Badass Villain’. He is no longer out to save the world, but as the frightening force of nature who symbolises the destructive might of Nuclear Weapons on the world who made them, and as mother nature’s Punisher come to, well, punish. Yes, he is back and not happy. Setting up his role in the previous film and mentioning the previous film’s events, Godzilla of course starts off more as an idea, a non-existent threat, one who is there; but is not coming. This idea builds until his release from volcanic imprisonment. From there it is back to the city crushing, fire breathing leviathan we have all come to love so much. He maybe a baddy but we do love him in our own quirky way (right?). This time around though he has other quirky little bits we have not seen him do before, like get up close and personal with some characters, even to sneaking up on people like Gondo. Before he would never do something like that, just ignore it, but now, he is doing new scary things. His appearance has some issues I think, from an angle and to the sides he looks pretty good, like he used too, but now even more terrifying, but from the front, it sort of reminds me of King Kong vs Godzilla, where a direct front view looks rather flat, and like an entirely different monster. Apart from that though, it’s him. I don’t exactly know what to say other than to point out cool new traits in him that stands out more from what there are normally about him; I mentioned his look too, but other than that it’s the Godzilla we all love (again?).

Godzilla (Heisei)

Visually Striking! That is how I can best use to describe how this film is presented. The film contains a lot of visually striking moments, more than any other of the series films to date. Such scenes range from important narrative to just general background shots. Mount Mihara for instance features a lot early on in the film as that is where Godzilla is currently residing. Most of this coverage though is in the form of volcanic activity, but one sweet moment lies early on when Asuka and Kazuhito are talking in the foreground, and the active volcano of Mt. Mihara can be seen in the distance, a ring of red at the top, and the sound of the activity in the distance. I like that shot. But it’s not all reserved for Mount Mihara however.

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Other shots of spectacular note include the beautiful business centre of Osaka just before it gets pulverized, the area outside and inside Tower 2, the platform Miki stands on as well as when Godzilla is within reach, Godzilla’s lifeless carcass near the road, Godzilla sneaking up on Gondo, the many showcasing’s of digital battlefield mapping, the stormy weather near the film’s conclusion, the final battle seen on the hill-side, the military manoeuvres, the ruined remains of Tokyo after Godzilla’s rampage from the previous film and not forgetting of course, Godzilla’s glorious return from the Volcano he was put into, walking out in his own time to preserve the majesty of his reappearance. You see, I can talk about Special Effects, describing the uses of miniature sets and suits, but as we have already come to know these things, how am I supposed to rehash these every time and retain interest. On this occasion you see however, that it’s not the effects that stand out most here, but the visually striking shots of the world that becomes the battleground here, and those remain with me most than most things about this film. It is such a well-used piece of filmmaking, and those kinds of things should not be wasted by the audience, nor be forgotten in an analytic review.

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It’s not just the imagery that’s memorable either, as the soundtrack can say one or two things about that. Composed this time round by Koichi Sugiyama with his one and only entry into the Godzilla series; where he produces something that could be thought of as a black sheep to the soundtrack collection. Sugiyama produces a soundtrack that is a mix of the wonderful to the bizarre, the strange to the ridiculous, and the unique to the downright silly but overall has this relatively light feel to them. There is hardly a dark or heavy tune in there with the one main exception being the opening credits which is more of the original Dark Godzilla theme combined early on with this sort of repeating drum snare or even rasp that just captures your attention even before you see the head of the film’s lead Antagonist.

There is a feel of super hero type stuff in this soundtrack with those feelings coming out at times such as when the Super X2 comes out to play or when the countdown to Godzilla’s return comes to light. This piece in certain however also contains something of a possible trademark to his work on this film as it sort of diverts, changing feel and tune in a different direction. Yes this moment does sound a bit silly and a bit caper-y, but does ramp up the tension (although when it does change note it sounds very similar to the soundtrack for Airplane). Yes the soundtrack does have its silly points such as the Saradia theme tune, but generally, most of the soundtrack is rather fun and light and enjoyable to its overall core. Two pieces though that really stand out more than most are two points where the music is different, not just generally, but completely in comparison to the rest of the soundtrack. The first of these is the Bio Wars tune of which there are 2 versions. This I feel is like the filmmakers trying to include a sort of ultra-new wave Bond theme at a time when the Bond series was on Hiatus. It feels really sort of future spy like, I don’t know how best to describe that other than “listen to the guitar.” It’s a nice fun piece which adds a level of mystery and conspiracy, especially to scenes when including SSS9 in the middle and end.

The other occasion though has nothing to do with the composer. Much like the inclusion of a popular figure like Demon Kakka earlier on, the film tries to add a piece of popular music briefly. It adds a level of confusion as to what is going on, as it is used during one of the moments when you see through Godzilla’s eyes like you do in Jaws when he comes to the surface. It cuts in and plays. It’s different and rather fun, before getting cut off completely to feature a local rock concert being put on hold because of Godzilla being close by. It’s a nice fun little tune from Yuki Saito called Into A Dream. It’s similar I find to the inclusion of Claude Francois‘s Stop Au Nom De L’amour in X-Men: Days of Future Past as it enriches the film that little bit more in atmosphere, if only very briefly.

Godzilla vs Biollante is a very different film to the rest of the films in a series that is currently 30 strong (31 in July). It’s different in its presentation. It has great narratives relatively unexplored to this point and since. It features visually striking shots of what an Amazing country Japan is (one of which I still want and need to visit). It incorporates interesting characters, not forgetting terrific performances from both Godzilla and a brand new monster. It hosts a soundtrack that is relatively light, but also spectacularly fun to listen to. It is a very different film indeed; one made with such careful attention and craftsmanship and in the end produces one of the series most stand out and enjoyable films. While it may not be the strongest, most standout or best film in the series (depending on who you ask); what this film does provide is just a stellar excellence and an exceptional experience.

GENEPOOL





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








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