The Entire World Is Waiting For The Power Of Steam – Steamboy

16 11 2016

Steamboy (Sunrise - 2004)

In 2013, animation Director and co-founder of Studio Ghibli; Hayao Miyazaki created a film which he announced was going to be the last before he retired. The film was called The Wind Rises, and it was a film that followed a young man who dreamt of designing the ultimate aircraft, and so the story took us on a history of his young life, career, romantic relation, and a retrospective history of his country, eventually leading the young man to his pivotal moment designing the aircraft of his dreams. There is one slight issue however with the company he works for, being the ones to foot the bills; the only option is to design it to the benefit of a company contract, and at that time in Japan’s history the only contract work for airplane manufacturers (or at least those shown in the film) is to build them for the sake of war. So while the young man does get to design his dream plane, he has to come to the eventual realization of what the plane’s purpose is to be. It is a very interesting idea for a story, looking at great inventors, the things they do; but also what they have to do in order for them to be allowed to build such things!

The Wind Rises (Studio Ghibli - 2013)

Released in 2004 by Toho, produced by Sunrise and Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo; Steamboy is a Steampunk animated action film set in the UK and follows the adventure of a young inventor who has to come to terms with the realities of the world of inventions and of course save the day from threats very close to home. Touted at the time of release as being the most expensive Japanese animated film of all time, Steamboy took 10 years to produce, and is only the second major animated release for Otomo following his milestone film Akira in 1988.

Akira (Toho 1988)

In 1863 in Russian Alaska, inventor Lloyd Steam (Patrick Stewart) and his son Eddie (Alfred Molina) have discovered a pure mineral water, which they believe they can turn into a powerful steam based energy source. During an experiment however, everything goes wrong with Eddie being engulfed in freezing gases, but leaves a strange spherical object being created. Three years later, in Manchester England, great-grandson of Lloyd: Ray Steam (Anna Paquin), a young inventing prodigy receives a strange parcel containing the spherical object plus some designs relating to it. Two men then show up called Alfred (Mark Bramhall) and Jason (David S. Lee) claiming to be from something called the Foundation and who want the ball. Ray refuses to give it to them, and is surprised to see the arrival of his grandfather. Ray makes a run for it, and is eventually chased by a strange steam automotive vehicle, making his escape on his own Monocycle. The chase leads them onto the railway tracks, with the automotive being pushed into a river, and Ray being rescued by Robert Stephenson (Oliver Cotton) and his assistant David (Robin Atkin Downes). Things don’t last long however, as while the train is en route to London, Ray is kidnapped by the Foundation thanks to their Zeppelin.

Ray finds himself in a dining hall, and being introduced to members of the O’Hara Foundation which includes Scarlett O’Hara (Kari Wahlgren), the spoiled granddaughter of the foundation’s chairman, and Archibald Simon (Rick Zieff), a company executive. Ray then meets his father Eddie whose head has been greatly altered by the accident, now with only a few strands of hair and a helmet covering one half of his head, as well as other metal components all along his body. Ray and Scarlett are taken on a tour of the facility dubbed The Steam Castle by Eddie who says he wants to use it to enlighten mankind’s vision of science. Ray is recruited by his father to help finish it off, but when asked to help in assisting to turn off a valve, Ray finds his Grandfather trying to sabotage the whole thing. He tells Ray that the purpose of the castle and the O’Hara’s foundation is to sell weapons to Britain’s enemies at the Great Exhibition the following day and shows Ray evidence of this. The two eventually reach the core of the castle, and pry away a steam ball, one of three used to power the castle, but they are then surrounded. Ray makes an escape but Lloyd is recaptured. Ray manages to run into Robert Stephenson telling him about his father and the steam castle, and hands him the Ball thinking Stephenson can be trusted, but discovers that Stephenson’s motives are near the same; to build an army for the purpose of keeping Britain Great.

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At the Great Exhibition, the O’Hara foundation shows off their weapons to generals from around the world, exhibiting their steam-powered soldiers, miniature aircraft and submersible men. At this moment, Stephenson launches an attack on the foundation using his steam battle tanks. With the exhibition now a war zone, Ray steals the ball back from David, and rigs it up to use it as a sort of jet pack. In the foundation’s control room, Eddie, straps himself into the machine and while under powered orders for the castle to launch. The building sheds its skin to show a great behemoth like structure, a big black floating castle, which then engulfs the city of London in a big freeze. The royal navy in vain try to shoot it down, while Stephenson attempts to pull it down with his trains. Ray manages to get on board the castle reuniting with his father and Scarlett, but is too late to stop Lloyd from shooting Eddie. With Eddie having disappeared into the machine, Ray and Scarlett assist Lloyd in getting the castle back over the Thames as the machine is too unstable and likely to explode. At the last-minute, Eddie having deflected the bullet with his metal body decides to lend a hand, revealing Lloyd’s original intention for the Steam Castle: to be used as a giant theme park. Ordered by his family to save Scarlett and leave, Ray makes his way back to the control room, straps on a jet pack and leaves the castle just as it explodes, sparing most of London in the process.

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Can a film justify its release if it does not have much of a plot? Steamboy is an interesting film; on the one side it’s very well researched, and is somewhat surprising to see a Japanese animated film set in 19th century England and feature locations such as Manchester and (‘of course’) London, as well as feature great moments of a country’s history such as the Great Exhibition and famous faces like Railway Engineer Robert Stephenson. I am not saying this can’t be done, I am just saying how well and detailed it all is but you would not exactly expect for a film from Japan to be set in this country during that period. Of course, this film does also have big outstanding and unbelievable moments, interesting characters and great themes; much like you would expect from the man who made Akira: or should you? That’s the point though of seeing it isn’t it, or at least most might think so, that because this man-made an iconic film from the 1980’s, one of cinema’s all-time great animated films, that is why we should see it; no other reason right? This film is of course heavily touted for being from Katsuhiro Otomo, the same director of Akira; but is that the reason why we should see this film, or should it be that it’s a happy coincidence, and that this film should really be its own thing. I think that is where this film sort of collapses. There are some good things about this film: It does feature big moments of disbelief, and it features themes and ideas as well as argues the differences between progress and greed as well as the blessings of science, but only a little bit really, as all that gets entrenched in delivering the Akira experience, with big moments, wonders of awe and nothing else really. It has it’s moments, moments of philosophy that intrigue that inspire, and the story develops this a little bit; but possibly under the belief that he had to deliver a 19th century version of Akira rather than explore these ideas and create something that was its own identity, Otomo just sort of skipped all that. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Akira, I would just rather watch Akira rather than something that is not a near carbon copy of it (Force Awakens).

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The film’s characters are a real odd bunch and (international released version) are played by some top-notch quality actors. Much like what was stated above, some characters are minor-ly developed and are actually going in the right direction but are lost in what is a rather convoluted and unused plot. The issue that this film has with its characters is that it’s hard at any one point to actually know who is good and who is bad. Ray Steam is obviously the hero of the story, but it’s just obvious if somewhat boring. The character is nicely set up and has reason to explore and discover as he is lost without his heritage and is in a world that he would rather be doing something else in, but other than that there is no real reason for him. He tries to be brave and do the right thing, he is just not a decent enough character to really get behind or enjoy. Someone like Scarlett is a lot more interesting. She actually develops over the film’s timeline, going from a toffee nosed brat to a proper hero and someone worth rooting for. Yes she starts off in a situation where she is horrid and someone you have no affection for, but as the film develops she becomes a good character, so why she couldn’t be the protagonist is beyond me. That is the thing though with this film, there are two solid female characters, Scarlett and Emma (Paula J. Newman), but Emma gets 3 minutes of fame and is never seen again, but she was interesting compared to Ray who is just useless. The issues with good guy bad guy just continue throughout. Yes, the henchmen are bad, but that is their point and Archibald Simon on the other hand is just a pleasant annoyance who can’t stop talking. Robert Stephenson is nicely done, but it’s sad that someone who should be a sort of helper, a guide or assistance in times of such peril turns out just to be as horrid and bad as the somewhat…..Supposed to be…..villains. His assistant David pretty much covers this role with ease, and it would have been more interesting if David per say was the villain out of the two and was something of a manipulator, and so Stephenson could then be the helper, with a villain by his side that needed defeating. Lloyd is of course a good guy but the story does the right thing of teasing his intentions and asking if he is bad or good, and then reveals his intentions correctly and stays that way, I just don’t think the mad professor look really does him any favours. Eddie meanwhile is of course the big bad villain and is voiced brilliantly, and much like Lloyd is teased into his role, but he just keeps changing his mind. His intentions and motives are there as to why he is who he is, but why would the villain suddenly change sides like that at the end. He should be a boss to fight, a hindrance to overcome, not someone who is like: “Oh well, let me give you a hand!”

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The voice acting works in some of the film’s favour, and boasts acting talent like Patrick Stewart, Anna Paquin and Alfred Molina, but it’s not fully utilised I feel. Scarlett is voiced nicely and actually sounds and feels real, compared to Anna Paquin whom does a good job in a male voice role, but in the form of the voice that most people believe how British people speak. Speaking as a British person, I do not speak like that, I have actually yet to meet someone who does. Both Alfred Molina and Patrick Stewart are British; and they don’t speak like that; and they’re in this film! It becomes near offensive the more it gets touted. Maybe instead of hiring people to create a generic voice that does not actually exist, maybe they should hire British actors to do the job, because then it would be a lot more realistic (and less offensive). When it comes to the voice overs in this film the only ones that really do anything I feel are those of Patrick Stewart and Alfred Molina. Patrick Stewart’s character is not seen much of to truly enjoy, but it’s still good when he is on-screen, although possibly a bit loopy and mad. Alfred Molina though I feel really carries this film. It’s a voice of reason and passion, and although the character struggles to really find his place in this film, the voice over does the character tremendous and enjoyable levels of entertainment and justice. It’s just a shame about everyone else really.

The film does have its recovery sections, it’s not all collapsing. The animation is nicely done and works well to really capture the beauty and spectacle of 19th century England, especially London. The fleet of vessels on the Thames, the beauty of the city’s iconic buildings and structures, to the animated engineering of its own infrastructure. Add to this the machines and contraptions of the story’s fictional contents like the steam-powered soldiers, the monocycle, and of course the mighty Steam Castle in all its forms and you have this well-made world which has added benefits. I do think the animation style and colouring loses a bit in comparison to the film’s contemporise like the recent works of Studio Ghibli for example, but when close up the details are superb. The film’s soundtrack Composed by Steve Jablonsky) is an additional benefit too as it creates mostly sounds and ambiance rather than pieces of music. The music does have its moments of grandeur like the launch of the steam castle or the chase within, to moments of peace too like Ray’s theme, Scarlett’s theme, and of course the music behind the blessings of science monologue. Now while not insinuated within the soundtrack itself, there is one piece of music though that does come out in relation to the film: That of its theme from the trailer: Full Force; the adventure and steam-driven music that creates and encapsulates moments of awe and wonder, but creates a level of seriousness and tension to shine out loudly.  Although the film does tout some of that wonderful adventure but still steam punk driven piece of music here or there, it’s this piece of music which shines out for the film’s soundtrack, even though it is really non-existent, but it’s iconic and memorable enough for you to remember it in conjunction with this film.

Generally it feels like something of a shame altogether, because I was expecting more. Steamboy has its likable moments and bits to enjoy, but the story is so convoluted and makes more room for big moments rather than a properly developed plot. It’s one of those occasions where the trailer delivers more than the film. Steamboy is something of a quick storyteller; it just dashes from one thing to another, not developing nor explaining, creating interesting moments but not diving into them sacrificing its potential in the process for something else, but no reveal as to what. It comes with great voice talent but does not really use it effectively, it has interesting characters in the wrong roles and it has spectacular ideas that are just ignored. On the plus side the animation is delightfully detailed, and has music that has its occasions which are used well. Yes it has its big moments which are nicely done and very creative, but a film like this should be more than that. It should not be living in the shadow of its legendary predecessor and working hard to live up to be like its bigger brother. It should be blossoming like a flower, being independent and making its own path, then and only then can it have a chance to be on an equal footing and be appreciated the same way, rather than just being a clone in a different setting.

GENEPOOL





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





“Hey There Gorgeous”

19 11 2014

Pendolino

In the three plus years I have been commuting from Lancaster, to Preston and back to Lancaster on the days that I have been into University (as well as the days that I have not needed to be in at University) I have had some interesting moments on the train. One time in in foundation year, I accidently boarded a train which did not stop at Lancaster train station, having to wait until I got to Oxenholme Lake District to change trains to one that was going back to Lancaster. Other times have included staying on trains that were heavily delayed and not moving, trains that were without managers or more worryingly; without drivers, trains that were going north but to the wrong destination and changing trains due to delayed trains which then begin moving without the station announcing that the train was no longer delayed; one time last week, I was on a delayed train, thinking I would stay where I am while the train waited for the train manager to arrive but decided not to inform the other passengers that other trains were available. All these though somehow don’t compare to a few weeks ago when I was boarding the train from Preston to Lancaster and the door digital Display read, “Hey There Gorgeous” on the bottom line.

Alstom Pendolino

I was at Preston station waiting for the train home; I have now cottoned on to the train time system for trains heading in my direction. It is pretty much pointless going to Preston train station for anytime on the hour or just after as most trains heading in my direction (four, six or seven at best, but a rare occurrence) don’t really arrive into Preston train station until about 20 to the hour (or 40 minutes past the hour), but then the first one is a train that by chance stops at Preston, but then goes to Glasgow Central Only, so any wonder why it stops at Preston in the intermediate time. Anyway I was waiting for the train, and a Pendolino heading for Lancaster was arriving at the train station. I checked the station board to see if it was heading for Lancaster, I then double checked the door digital display. While I was doing that I spotted a slogan that I looked back at to re-read, and it said “Hey There Gorgeous”.

Pendolino Door Display

I have not once been greeted or complimented by an actual train, so this was definitely a first. Unfortunately at the time I didn’t have my camera, so I did not take a photo of the train door, however it did actually say that. The bottom of the door display is usually blank; it doesn’t really say anything at all. On this occasion however, it actually had a phrase on it, one that was like a greeting. I have no idea how this happened or why it actually said that but I thought I would share my experience, because, well, it is kind of weird.

British Rail Class 390 Pendolino

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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