The Legacy Of Cobweb Castle – Throne Of Blood

31 12 2014

Throne Of Blood (Toho Co., Ltd. - 1957)

I’ll admit it; I don’t like the works of Shakespeare. I was spoon fed them at school a lot with plays such as Macbeth, Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. On one occasion we had to dress up as a certain character from A Midsummer Nights Dream (either Puck or Bottom for boys) and act out one of their scenes. I chose bottom and had donkey ears attached to my glasses at the time. I remember watching a film version of Twelfth Night (which I enjoyed to a point) and couldn’t find reason in what certain characters say; like a woman pretending to be a man and saying something like “If I were a woman, I’d marry you”; or another case of a bloke agreeing to marry someone he’s only just met after washing ashore on the island. In recent history, particularly at University I did some of Romeo and Juliet. Once in Foundation, and more recently in second year when we looked up different adaptations of the story; including the Baz Luhrmann Film (which on occasion has inspired me) and an excellent Dire Straits song. So while I do have the odd moment where I like the adaptations of Shakespeare, I just don’t like the original works. So I can be glad then that Throne of Blood is an adaptation.

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Released in 1957 and Directed by Akira Kurosawa, Throne of Blood is an adaptation of Macbeth. Now this is not the first time that I have watched one of Kurosawa’s adaptations of a Shakespeare play. Back in late 2012 I watched (and reviewed) the rather brilliant film RAN which is based on King Lear. Since watching Seven Samurai in 2012 I have been collecting films by Kurosawa every now and again. One of the films I most wanted to see was Throne of Blood. So last week, while everyone else was out watching the 97th Lord of the Rings film, I decided to use the opportunity to watch Throne of Blood.

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A chorus of singers sing about Cobweb Castle, a fort that once in a now desolate land; all that now remains is a stone plinth used as a memorial. Fog covers the land and the Castle appears. Lord Tsuzuki (Takamaru Sasaki) rules there and his outer forts come under siege from a traitor. His armies fight back however. In Cobweb forest, Commanders Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki (Minoru Chiaki) are on their way to see Tsuzuki. While in the forest however they hear loud shouting before encountering a spirit (Chieko Naniwa) in a little hut. The spirit tells Washizu that today he will become head of North Mansion, and then head of Cobweb Castle. Miki meanwhile, today will become head of Fort One (Washizu’s former post), and that his son will eventually become head of Cobweb Castle. Initially they don’t believe her and on their way to the castle they stop for a break. When reaching the castle they are rewarded like the spirit told them they would be. With Washizu now in charge at North Mansion, he looks forward to a life of peace and is currently happy with his due. His wife Lady Asaji (Isuzu Yamada) meanwhile likes what the spirit has said and begins to manipulate Washizu. When Tsuzuki visits North Mansion, Asaji drugs the guards protecting Tsuzuki while he sleeps, and Washizu murders him. Upon returning in shock at what he has done, Asaji places the spear in one of the guard’s hands and calls Murder. Washizu then kills the guard.

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Tsuzuki’s son; Kunimaru (Hiroshi Tachikawa) meanwhile believes that Washizu murdered his father and along with Noriyasu (Takashi Shimura), a loyal commander to Tsuzuki try to warn Miki about Washizu. Miki however does not believe Washizu would do such a thing. Washizu is made Lord of Cobweb Castle plans to allow Miki’s son Yoshiteru (Akira Kubo) to become the next lord at Cobweb Castle, but Asaji is now Pregnant, meaning Washizu will need to eliminate Miki. At a banquet, Washizu gets drunk and begins to have hallucinations when he sees Miki’s ghost. He begins to shout and act out and unknowing reveals his betrayal. Asaji tries to pick up the pieces asking for the guests to leave. A guard then arrives with Miki’s head but says his son escaped. Asaji miscarried her baby, and a distraught Washizu heads into the forest to find the spirit again. The spirit tells him that he will not lose a battle until Cobweb Castle moves. Thinking such a thing is impossible, Washizu is confident that he is invincible.

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Noriyasu’s men begin to approach Cobweb Castle. Washizu spirits the men on by telling him what the spirit told him. They all believe him and share his confidence. During the night, the men at the castle begin hearing strange noises, and then a whole flock of birds suddenly fly into the castle. Everyone thinks it’s a bad omen. Washizu though checks on his wife who has gone catatonic and tries to wash off non-existent blood off her hands.  Washizu then hears soldiers running around and sees his soldiers fleeing from their posts. They say that the forest is moving. Washizu goes to have a look and sees to his horror that the forest is indeed moving. The army of Noriyasu is using the branches as cover. Washizu’s men then turn on him, and begin to shoot their arrows at him. He tries as hard as he can to dodge them, but to no luck and eventually gets shot through the neck and dies. The scene then changes back to the desolate landscape and back to the memorial.

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While it may have been an idea, to look and see how this film compares to Macbeth, I didn’t do any look back/research before writing this. From what I know however, I can see similarities to Macbeth. Washizu is Macbeth, the forest moving and the character of Lady Asaji is Lady Macbeth while Miki is Banquo, (however it was my dad who pointed that out to me). The spirit in the forest is the strange women from Macbeth and the story is basically the same as Macbeth rising to power. The film though as when I look at it, not as in looking for similarities, but as its own standing, is quite interesting.

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The film tells a story of a man, a great soldier and a loyal commander, who is driven to insanity through the manipulation driven by his wife and later the desire to keep hold of his kingdom. The decent of this man continues as those trustworthy around him begin to split from him which eventually leads to his demise. The part of this character is played brilliantly by the great Toshiro Mifune. This is not the first time I have seen Mifune in action, and since watching Seven Samurai have seen him as my Favourite actor. He is easily the best person for the role of Washizu as his commanding and domineering presence on-screen is well done. But he can also get mad and in Throne of Blood though we see how a person descends into madness. First through regret of actions, through to desire, lust and then insanity. To begin with he is a very respectful man, he is the epitome of a protagonist, but by the end he is very much the Antagonist, and while the story to continues to revolve around him as the central character, he is now the villain and gets what’s coming to him.

Toshiro Mifune

In the same league we have the character of Lady Asaji who from the moment you see her, you can tell she is not very nice. Much like Lady Kaede in RAN, she is a schemer. She has begun plans to make sure the spirits visions come true and begins the manipulation required to get Washizu to do what she wants. She wants these things for him as much as her, but likes the idea of being in control and wants her family to remain on the throne. From early on, she is a key figure and remains so until just before and a little bit after she miscarried. From the onset though, you have no sympathy for her.

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In an opposite fashion though there is commander Miki. He is a very likeable person and appears to be a true friend to Washizu and remains loyal to him until the end. While he does not understand the visions of the spirit, he just goes along with it until they become real. Miki from start to finish is a character you do care about as he has a very nice on-screen presence and is in no way ruthless, but it does become predictable what’s going to become of him.

Toshiro Mifune and Minoru Chiaki

I do feel like it is rather surprising though that Takashi Shimura does not get more of a prominent role. In the past particularly if you take films like in Ikiru, Rashomon and Seven Samurai, Shimura has had more prominent leading roles, but while he gets a good amount of screen time, I think it’s rather surprising that he doesn’t get more. While he is noticed at the beginning at the council, and then rides in at the end to bring down Washizu, it just feels like for most of it that he simply disappears. Other characters in the film such as Yoshiteru and Kunimaru don’t really have much of a part to talk about though, for the most part it’s not down to them to save the day, and it rests more on the shoulders of Noriyasu to save the day. On occasion there are other cast members of note, such as the lamp bearers and the guards that stand out, but really it feels like something of a let down from some of the supporting characters in terms of the story anyway. I do like the character of the Spirit. It’s quite an uncomfortable character when she is on-screen, but that’s probably what was meant to be. When she is laughing and cackling in the forest and you can hear that, it’s almost disturbing and scary. But when she is on her own in the hut spinning the wheel you think for a moment that she might be someone else, but then discover more. Alongside that you also have Lord Tsuzuki who for his brief time on-screen is very enjoyable, particularly at his counsel during the first few moments of the film.

Chieko Naniwa

The film has a terrific setting. Filmed on the slopes of Mount Fuji, the desolate landscape allowed the use of fog which is used to great extent as it allows moments of lost and confusion while also giving moments of reveal too. When Washizu and Miki first see the castle and it is slowly revealed in the background while they talk as well as when they are lost in the fog is a great scene. The first moments too allow a reveal of the shrine/memorial to the castle and are used to the effect of showing what remains as well as the chaos caused from the events, even if they haven’t happened yet; add to that the scene of the forest moving shows a real sense of mystic energy as it makes the tree look like they are actual beings and not just men using them. Other uses of weather such as rain and thunderstorms are put to good use when used in Cobweb Forest when people are running around and when the Spirit laughs in the early moments of the film. The area of North Mansion as well as the mansion itself is actually very beautiful and shows an element of peace just in its look. Effects aren’t just limited to weather though. The ending scene with Washizu being shot at with Arrows; the arrows are real. Mifune wanted the use of real arrows (choreographed) to be shot at him to give a real sense of terror in his actions. Now while I am as of yet unsure about the one through his neck, the effect works brilliantly and is one the film’s best moments.

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When it comes to the film’s soundtrack, it’s hard to say much about it as I don’t remember many scenes where it is used. The singing at the beginning is apparent, as too is the arrival of Tsuzuki at North Mansion, but the film for me anyway appears to use mostly sounds and not much in the way of actual music. The films theme though is pretty good. While it may not be as grand in its element with other Masaru Sato pieces, particularly later ones like Yojimbo and The Hidden Fortress. The theme however has the mystery/mystic element about it before it eventually feeds into the singing but while it is certainly different, and that is the best way to describe it, it’s also very enjoyable from start to finish, even if you only here the first few seconds.

The film does struggle when it comes to pacing though. The early moment of singing, through to the Lord’s counsel of the attacks and then to the scenes from the forest to the attaining of North Mansion are very enjoyable and stand out as moments I really enjoyed. However I think the story of the film begins to get stagnant from then on. There was a long pause from when Washizu and Miki first meet the spirit, and then things really do slowdown from North Mansion onwards. The film picks up at moments though, with scenes like the horse ride chase, and scenes leading up to the banquet. But then they begin to stagnate again with points of me wondering how long the film had left (or that may have been me getting a little tired) and only picking up again as the film drew closer to finishing. For most of the film, there are some really good points and the pacing remains equal, but some scenes have long pauses and gaps where almost nothing happens for a while and this sets it off. While those moments may want to show elements of peace in the chaos, when they’re too long, you begin to notice it.

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Throne of Blood does have its issues, from certain moments of lack of cast and pacing, but throughout I did enjoy it. While I don’t think it stands out from other Akira Kurosawa productions such as Seven Samurai, Hidden Fortress or RAN, I did enjoy this, even if it is based on a piece of work by Shakespeare. It features another great performance from the terrific Toshiro Mifune as well Minoru Chiaki. While it is in fact an adaptation of a play several hundreds of years old, I think it also stands out on its own two feet as something which can be enjoyed by itself (the adaptation point does allow for some clarification if it gets a little confusing). With scenes of action intermixed with scenes of drama and great weather effects; Throne of Blood is definitely worth a watch and while it may appeal more to people who prefer drama over action, there is still something for everyone, even if the title is somewhat off-putting.

GENEPOOL

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King Of The Monsters – Godzilla 1954 (Gojira)

3 11 2014

Godzilla (Toho Co., Ltd. - 1954)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Akira Takarada

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

Takashi Shimura and Momoko Kōchi

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

Akihiko Hirata and Momoko Kochi

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

Akihiko Hirata

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

Shinkichi with Ogata, Emiko and Dr. Yamane

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

Kuninori Kodo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





They Were Trying To Kill It (Part 1) – Godzilla 2014

25 06 2014

Godzilla 2014 Poster

Back in 2010 when I was researching the Godzilla franchise on Wikipedia, I found a piece of very interesting information. Back in 2004 I remembered that it was announced that there would be no more Godzilla films after the release of Godzilla: Final Wars for a period of 10 years, just to give it a break and renew interest. It is hard though to keep an icon down. In 2008 I remembered reading about an upcoming film to be released in 2009 which was to be a 3D movie for IMAX cinemas starring the title monster and called Godzilla 3D to the Max. This idea though did not get off the ground. Also in 2008, for the film Always Zoku Sanchōme no Yūhi (Always Sunset on Third Street 2) Godzilla himself makes a brief, but terrific appearance very early on. Then comes 2010. It was announced that Legendary Pictures, the studio behind Inception and The Dark Knight were interested in attaining the American movie rights to Godzilla in the hope of doing a complete reboot of a series that was initially planned around about 1995/1996 that sadly did not really work out by all counts. Well, Legendary were successful and during the time between then and May 2014 had been hard at work with director Gareth Edwards (and several writers including David S. Goyer, Frank Darabont, David Callaham and Max Borenstein) wanting to produce an Americanised Godzilla film which was by all counts faithful to the iconic Giant Force of Nature that has entertained and inspired millions including myself all over the world for nearly 60 years. Well, I can say that they have achieved this in such a way that it is not only a proper Godzilla film, but also one of the best.

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The film begins with an opening montage showing reports made by sailors over the centuries of encountering colossal sea monsters. The video then moves to 1954 showing footage of what appears to be giant spines on the surface of the water, like the dorsal fin of a shark. The footage continues to show this but no details as to what it is before concluding with a nuclear bomb detonation. The scene then moves to 1999 where Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his assistant Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins) investigate a pit at a mine in the Philippines, discovering a giant skeleton and a couple of pods. In Janjira, Japan meanwhile, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a nuclear physicist is examining a set of tremors at a nuclear power plant. Suddenly there is a reactor breach and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) who was in the bowels of the plant is unable to escape and the whole plant collapses. 15 years later, Joe’s son Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), an EOD technician returns home after 14 months away to his son Sam (Carson Bolde) and wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen). He then gets a call from Japan saying that his father has been arrested again for breaching the quarantine zone.

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Ford heads for Japan where his father has become almost a complete crackpot after what happened and Ford tells him to come home. Joe though persuades Ford to help him go back to their old house to retrieve his discs. After this they spot the site of the old plant which appears to be being rebuilt. They are then arrested and taken there. Joe tries to tell the authorities there about who he is and what he thinks is happening, which gains the attention of Serizawa and Graham. Something at the plant then begins to stir and Serizawa orders they kill it, but instead it wakes up. A giant bat like creature which causes a lot of havoc before taking off killing Joe in the process. The military, overseen on the USS Saratoga commanded by Rear Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn) takes over the operation to track the creature and Ford is briefed by Serizawa that the creature that attacked the plant is called a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) which is an ancient creature that feeds on nuclear energy. The creature in turn is hunted by a much larger and ancient alpha-predator discovered by a deep-sea exploration in 1954 after the first Nuclear Submarine woke it up. The discovery of this creature led to multiple cover-ups as several nuclear weapon tests in the 1950’s were in fact an attempt at killing it. Serizawa heads up the division known as Monarch whose job it is to track the MUTO’s and possibly this other creature who is named by Serizawa as GODZILLA. Ford tells the team that his father mentioned something about the creature at the plant talking to something. Ford goes to Hawaii to catch a plane back home to San Francisco.

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News of a Nuclear Submarine disappearing is reported and a team of marines investigates in an Hawaiian Jungle where they find the Submarine being fed on by the creature. The military sends in fighters but are disabled by an EMP blast from the creature. Reports then come in of a second creature approaching the Island. Serizawa stands on the deck of the carrier and sees three dorsal spines running through the water. On the island, Ford looks after a boy split up from his parents when the lights go out. On the island, the sea regresses as a giant figure makes land. The power returns to the train, but the line is attacked by the MUTO. All of a sudden, the Giant figure appears on the scene in full view; a Giant lizard like creature that lets out a resplendent roar and attacks the MUTO. In San Francisco, Elle sees the footage of this battle live.  The following day Ford returns the boy to his parents at the city is in ruins. He manages to hook up with an army battalion while near Las Vegas, the other MUTO pod from the Philippines, has fed on Nuclear Waste and has escaped. It is determined that his one is a Female which cannot fly and the other a Male. Out at sea, a navy convoy holds a perimeter around the dorsal spines of the creature now confirmed as Godzilla.

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A plan is put into place to lure the three creatures together and destroy them despite Serizawa’s objections. Two nuclear missiles are put on board a train which Ford joins, but when inspecting a bridge, the train is attacked and destroyed. The following morning Ford is rescued along with one remaining missile. In San Francisco the city is evacuated with Elle staying behind to help. On the bridge, a convoy of busses witness the arrival of Godzilla from the ocean as the Male MUTO steals the remaining warhead before taking it to the now arrived Female who uses it to make a nest. Elle manages to get into a secure bunker as Godzilla arrives to fight the creatures. Ford joins in a battalion to retrieve the warhead and flies into San Francisco via halo jump witnessing the creature’s titanic battle as he lands. The Battalion run to the nest where they manage to get the nuclear weapon. Ford stays behind briefly to destroy the nest. Godzilla is struggling to take on both MUTO’s but the distraction of the nests destruction gives him enough time to power up, and let out a furious blast of his Atomic Death Ray. Ford and his team return the warhead to a boat but are attacked by the female. The male is killed by Godzilla but a building collapses on him. Ford manages to get the boat into open water but is corned by the female, who, in turn is attacked and killed by Godzilla. Godzilla then seemingly dies upon collapsing in victory. Ford is rescued as the bomb detonates out at sea. Elle is rescued and she, Ford and their son reunite. People scramble on the corpse of Godzilla, which then snorts as it wakes up. Branded as King of the Monsters, Godzilla simply departs and swims out of sight under the calm, still water.

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Godzilla is a heart stopping intense film but also a tense thriller with moments of human hardship and questions about the use of nuclear weapons and man’s desire to control the earth any means necessary, particularly nature itself, but more on that later. For now let’s look at the cast. The cast is a mix of a great bunch of characters and actors. Bryan Cranston who from the trailers looks like the lead bloke plays a professional scientist who while knowing his job and believes he is doing the right thing and probably is does face the fierce competition of nay-sayers, but in between that he does show a more human caring side to him, and this is what makes him stay in Japan to work out what is going on at his former job, even if it makes him forget what made him stay there in the first place which strains his relationship with his son. While he may be later on be made to look like a crackpot mad scientist, he does still show his caring side and is now way a joke to those around him or to the screen. It is obvious though that he does have a strained relationship with his son Ford due to the accident and surprising that his attitude to the situation doesn’t help to inspire Ford along all that much and is a shame that their relationship couldn’t be explored further, however it is a good showing of how much family means to someone and how that guilt can quickly ruin someone, particularly if they see it as their fault. Juliette Binoche’s character meanwhile is more of a real parental figure to Ford and has more of an easy-going understanding of everything around her and tries to get the best out of Cranston’s character and tries to make him think more rationally and in many respects is the pivot as to why Cranston is still there.

Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche

Ken Watanabe as a scientist is a lot like Dr Yamane (played by Takashi Shimura) in the original film as he has an understanding of such creatures as there are in this film but wants to be able to preserve for the benefit of science yet he is able to distinguish when they are a threat or not. He is a man with a dark past as represented by his pocket watch and finds himself mystified by Godzilla and almost finds himself able to rely on such a creature when he feels that he follows after the Mutos. This mystery about himself allows him to play such a role and while his name in the film is that of the scientist in the 1954 film (played by Akihiko Hirata); Ken Watanabe is playing his part brilliantly and is rather enjoyable, but maybe it should have been more the case that his character should have been called Yamane rather than Serizawa. Sally Hawkins who plays his assistant, shown more so with her calling him Sensei, shares a lot of on-screen time with Watanabe but not enough (more in the sequel perhaps?) I think as the relationship between the two works well and I do feel like she should have more scenes, but for those that she does have, are really enjoyable and brings that needed human side of the scientist when discussing the discovery of the creatures but also in dealing with them and does have a very remorseful side about her.

Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins

Carson Bolde plays a very good part and almost has his own backstory in comparison to those around him and while for the most part he is himself quiet he does show a level of emotion during those scenes. I mean for the part of a child they could have just used any old stand in, but Carson shows a level of acting that if nurtured correctly, could lead to more big roles. Richard T Jones is also quite good as Stenz’s second in command and is as rational as his superior by also not underestimating the situation.

Carson Bolde and Richard T Jones

I do find myself really liking the David Strathairn character; Admiral William Stenz (a name which does make me think of Nimitz). What I like about him is that he is not a cowboy, he is in charge of this entire operation after the Janjira incident, and he follows the creatures, even surrounding Godzilla but acts rationally by not attacking. This shows that he is a rational man that also does not underestimate the situation and is in no way gun hoe about the situation and decides to make a plan before actually attacking anything at all. It shows an easier going thinking to a serious idea and like a detective would prefer to know all the facts before doing anything else. He is also understanding of other people’s ideas and history particularly when Serizawa shows him the watch his dad in Hiroshima when the bomb dropped, but instead of laying into Serizawa for not wanting to use the bomb, he takes a more firm and understanding approach showing the world has moved on and there are better understandings of how and when such a weapon is used if at all.

The on-screen relationship between Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen is well done and actually looks like a realistic relationship between the two instead of just a generic one for the sake of it. The need to return to Elle does play on ford’s mind throughout and is his main journey in this film, not to attack the monsters but to return to the one he loves feeding on a primal instinct of love which helps make his character realistic to everything he does throughout making him both believable and creates a connection for the audience, but I can’t help but notice that in the city scenes, when he Collapses, so does Godzilla. This could be a sense of trying to imply what he is going through, Godzilla is too and so that struggle is both shared by Humanity and Nature. So while the film on this part is stating that nature cannot be controlled, there is a human connection to it instead and they are both in and are the same thing, however, why didn’t try to swim away? I do think though that there could have been more drama on his part particularly when his father dies and the scientists say they are sorry. As an audience member it is easier to see but mostly thanks to hindsight that if the authorities did tell Joe what was going on, his death could have been averted and if anyone deserved to know what really happened at the plant 15 years previously, it was the families of those who lost people. So I am surprised that Ford did not lay into them for that, because that’s what your primal urge would want to do, instead he just listens to them quietly instead of trying to get some form of restitution from what’s happened so far. Elizabeth Olsen is one of the best characters in this film by far. Like how Ford wants to get back to her, she is trying to stay in the city for the benefit of waiting for him but also trying to get in contact with him. I really do think there could have been generally more of Olsen throughout this film (which allows room for her in the sequel) those moments that you do see her are some of the best on the human side of the film. While everyone else is looking at the situation from afar for the most part, she is the one who is really experiencing them and allows for all bases in such a film to coexist as well as given an insight to the situation and pay a s ort of homage to those scenes in the Japanese series of people running from the danger. But because those scenes are focused on somebody, it means the audience can connect with someone who is there and feel what the situation is like.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen

Godzilla is beautifully produced and shot. Scenes involving running with humans and general drama scenes for one, but scenes including the halo jump as well as the human interactions with the monsters in the final act are beautifully done and represent very well what it is like being in that kind of situation. Even Janjira looks amazing. The overgrown deserted city which just happens to be there giving the impression of a city like Chernobyl is now and this is accomplished more brilliantly seeing as it doesn’t actually exist. The naval and military scenes show great uses of research as to how certain things would be done in a real life situation and in moments where the real thing could be used rather than a CGI model, like the ships, tanks and planes, they are used brilliantly. The film does actually work well as a thriller on its own when there is no monster in the scene. Take the bridge scene for example when the birds crash into the bus windows. This is almost like a true horror scene as you get the shock of your life only to discover its birds. During the monster scenes themselves great work has gone into close-up shots with the humans including the train bridge scenes and even in the final act. Along with that you have other scenes which plant ideas into your head of signs of the monsters, but don’t see them, and give an idea of how big they are and also what they are very much capable of. But it really comes down to how the monster scenes are done in tandem with the humans.  From the scenes on board with the aircraft carrier with Godzilla’s spines are protruding from the water, to the Hawaii airport when the water comes in around the man’s feet signifying the arrival of something big. It is down to the reactions of people seeing these things that are the true essence of how well such shots are done. Also I like the sense of scale that is shown. When Godzilla is first seen, you don’t see him in full, and even when you see him walking on land for the first time, the shots are restrained to eye level to show the true height and size of the creature and so you may only see arms and feet, and leave the reveal shots for later on when they are needed. Shots such as these and others help to show the human and audiences place in such a situation and allows the remain of a sense of awe altogether.

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The film’s soundtrack (produced by Alexandre Desplat) is amazing, and that is the quick way of describing it. The film’s score has elements of mystery, particularly in the Japanese scenes which while having a sense of suspense when the plant is crumbling, but also when Ford and Joe go to investigate. When you get past the opening introduction you have moments of awe from the scene in the Philippines to that of Ford and Joe entering the quarantine zone.  That piece in part is one of the best pieces in the film with moments of big drums signifying something big and catastrophic but not yet sure what and also give a more traditional Asian feel to the music. Other pieces earlier on have moments of a big reveal such as the film going to Janjira followed by a soundtrack that shows the early tension of escaping the power plant. Other pieces later on such as the reveal of the atomic breath, Godzilla’s victory and departure (and his own main theme) have connotations to old American monster movies and give that sense of awe as you gaze and what is happening. Godzilla’s victory piece does have a corny feel about it and feels more attributed to a character like King Kong, but works in the short-term and his departure also which I think helps to correct this, his victory piece though goes into a more sombre bit which relates to the cost and sacrifice endured to achieve victory. The monsters themselves do share quite a bit of the soundtrack too including the MUTO reveals and the moment Godzilla arrives at the Golden Gate Bridge. But sneaked in there is a small little horror piece which is used to great effect in scenes where the soldiers are approaching something, and it can be seen, but not clearly and is more like the calm before the storm, but gets you ready for it.

For me, the best thing about the soundtrack is Godzilla’s theme. While the soundtrack does not carry any themes produced by Akira Ifukube, they have taken great care in producing a soundtrack which works for the title character. You have that mystery there to begin with, just to begin with. Then hallway through, there is this grand scale of notes which reveal some form of terror which builds up inside you. It’s like your eyes have seen something that betrays you and now you’re by the foot of a great terror.

It’s like something relentless is coming to get you, you manage to spot it and your eyes can’t get away from it because it’s just unbelievable and you can’t run, you just can’t. Like a great abomination, like a werewolf or Frankenstein’s Monster, it’s running, rampaging towards you and then you trip trying to run. And it’s got you. Your Heart Stops. What next is up to him?

GENEPOOL (Click Here for Part 2).





Akira Kurosawa’s Masterpiece – Seven Samurai

7 07 2012

It is one of cinemas all-time Greats. It is rated as one of the Greatest films in the history of cinema by Reviewers and Audiences and that is not just a statement, here is the proof:

  • “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”
  • “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

I myself have known about this film for many years but it was usually only in passing, I did not know what the film was about at all. Then when I heard about it more and more I decided that I wanted to see it. It has been many years since that time but at long last I have seen it. The film came at in interesting point for Japanese Cinema. It had only been a couple of years since the occupation of Japan by American forces had finished and as such restrictions on what films Japan could do had been lifted. Film Company TOHO were very successful during WW2 making propaganda films but when Japan lost they could not do that anymore. In 1954 TOHO would once again make a name for themselves with the release of not 1 but 2 films which would become legends in their own rights. The first one was Seven Samurai; the second was the original Godzilla.

The film’s director Akira Kurosawa was already an internationally acclaimed director after his 1950 film Rashomon. In 1952 he took his writing team to a 45 day secluded residence to write Seven Samurai, the plot was really simple, production was difficult. The film spent 3 months in pre-production and 1 month in rehearsals. The films rising production costs were a continuous issue with TOHO wanting Kurosawa to shoot the film at the studios while Kurosawa was adamant to shoot the film on location. The film took a year to shoot with the mixed issues of costing’s, production and the director’s health. The film opened half a year after it was supposed to be released, but as soon as the film was released all these issues did not matter thanks to the films instant success. The film was later remade in 1960 in America with a western style, the film in question was called  The Magnificent Seven.

Akira Kurosawa

The film is set 400 years ago (from 1954 at least) when a group of bandits who ransacked a village earlier in the year have decided to return to it when the village harvests its barley. When one villager hears this he tells the other villagers. The villagers are greatly upset at this and consider many ideas of what to do including suicide. They go and speak to the village patriarch Gisaku (Kokuten Kodo) who tells the villagers to get Samurai. The village is poor and unable to afford warriors but Gisaku has the idea of paying them with rice because they will eventually have to eat. A group of villagers go to the town but are initially unsuccessful until they see a Samurai who kills a thief who kidnapped a child. They follow him into the town but he too is followed by a younger warrior and a warrior acting very strangely. The Samurai Kambei (Takashi Shimura) is a ronin (master less) and initially unsure of the idea and states that he can’t do it by himself. He eventually agrees when he realises that the villagers are sacrificing their rice for the Samurai.

Kambei and his new young warrior Katsushirō (Isao Kimura) start looking for Samurai and test them by hitting them on the head. They eventually recruit Gorōbei (Yoshio Inaba) who is a skilled archer and acts as the second in command, Shichirōji (Daisuke Katô) who is a former lieutenant for Kambei, Heihachi (Minoru Chiaki) who is a less skilled fighter but keeps their spirits up and Kyūzō (Seiji Miyaguchi) who declined originally and only really cares about perfecting his skill but later changes his mind. Kambei tries to get rid of Katsushirō for being too young but his mind changes after the other Samurai talk to him. The night before they set out, a group of men from the town say they have seen an incredible fighter who also got drunk. This fighter turns out to be the strange acting Samurai from earlier, he shows the others his nobility papers but it becomes obvious that he has stolen them. As the Samurai leave for the village the drunken Samurai follows them. He is later inducted into the group and is given the name (Toshiro Mifune) Kikuchiyo.

The Samurai train the villagers with Bamboo spears and look through the village to figure out the best way to defend it. Kikuchiyo finds a large amount of Samurai equipment which was taken from a killed Samurai. Six of the Samurai don’t like this but Kikuchiyo tells the other six that the farmers have hard lives and the Samurai class makes life hard for them, it is here that Kikuchiyo early life as a farmer is revealed, as a result of his words the other six turn their anger into shame. Katsushirō begins to fall in love with a girl called Shino (Keiko Tsushima) who has had her hair cut to make her look like a boy so the Samurai will be fooled. Heihachi creates a banner for the Samurai to help raise their spirits which includes the symbol for Farmer, six dots and a triangle (the triangle is for Kikuchiyo).

The harvest of the barley begins and 3 bandit’s scouts are discovered. The bandit’s camp is reveled and 3 of the Samurai go to it. Many bandits are killed but Heihachi is killed to. The Samurai feel a bit down until they remember his banner which rallies their spirits. The bandits arrive to attack the village but are originally overwhelmed by the defenses and several die. Kambei leaves an opening to tempt the bandits into it; several more bandits are killed in this way. Kikuchiyo heads outside the village and manages to grab on of the bandits guns, however a couple more Samurai are killed. The night before the final battle it is revealed that Katsushirō has had relations with Shino and her father is enraged by this. On the day of the final battle the remaining bandits are let into the town to be slaughtered. However Kikuchiyo gets mortally wounded when he is shot by the bandit leader; however he keeps going long enough to kill him before he dies. With the bandits killed the Samurai have saved the village from the bandits. However, when the villagers plant their new crop, Kambei notes that it is a loss for them; the villagers still have their village while the Samurai have lost a few friends and gained nothing as well as the fact that the Samurai are merely just Hired Guns and don’t come from the village. The last shot of the film observes the burials of the 4 fallen Samurai.

While the story does look quite long it is a long film but it does not get boring for one second. Overall the film is over 3 hours long (207 minutes if you are lucky enough to have seen the entire thing although I like most people have only seen the 190 minute version – anyway the full length is longer than all 3 Lord of the Pants films, Hopefully one day I will be able to see the full 207 minute version) which is a long time to watch a film however it is worth every minute and every penny (and possibly some more pennies). The films length is also the key to its story as if it was any shorter the story would have been hard to tell in such a short space of time, this would also mean that the film would not have been as Amazing as it was. All the sitting down, numb bum is all worth it by then end.

The film’s effects are all nicely put together. While audiences today are spoilt rotten by 3D and CGI this film uses good old stunts. When the swords are used not much stabbing appears to take place but you need to remember that the swords being used are the sharpest swords in the history of the world and so if you were to simply get cut by one, it does not matter if it was just a cut because it is more than likely that you are already dead. The films set is also well made and benefits from being on location as a studio would not have the same effect. Some people today may not like the fact that it is in Black and White and not Colour, however you don’t even notice the Black and White presentation because you become so engrossed in the film you don’t even notice (STOP RELYING ON CGI, 3D, HD AND COLOUR – THESE THINGS DON’T MAKE A FILM GOOD IN ANY WAY AT ALL). The film’s soundtrack (Produced by Fumio Hayasaka) is a nice blend of traditional styles in Japan with old-fashioned instruments from the period, with particular mention going to the Big Drums. The films main theme is has a nice heroic essence about it and uses traditional instruments to make it a real part of the film, it is a piece you will want to hear over and over again.

The cast chosen for the film is a nice mix of actors who do an excellent job of looking and acting like the characters in the story. Takashi Shimura is well-chosen as the lead Samurai; the way he portrays his character is with a level head and as such is an important part for the leader of the group. Also the way he manages to plan how they will defend the village and his caring nature to the younger Samurai in the group (Shimura would also star in the Original Godzilla film seven months later along with Kokuten Kodo). Kyūzō’s (Seiji Miyaguchi) character is another excellent portrayal as a master swordsman who also appears to have a level head and when he is fighting appears to be in the moment and not straying his head mind thinking about what has past or is to come. Keep special notice of both Gorobei (Yoshio Inaba) and HeiHachi, these 2 are like the jokers of the group and their scenes are very good, but keep special watch for when they smile, they both have really happy smiles.

For me Toshirō Mifune’s character Kikuchiyo is my favourite character. While Kikuchiyo starts off a bit odd and strange it is this that draws your attention to him and then as the film progresses you start to warm to him more and more as his caring side for the villagers and for the other Samurai starts to reveal itself. So it is hard at the end when he gets killed because you want him to survive the whole course of the film but when he does get killed by the chief bandit you can still see his heart as a warrior when he fights dying long enough for him to kill the bandit chief. To me he is like the muscle of the group, while the others have their own skill in battle; Kikuchiyo is a Ferocious Wildman in combat. Kikuchiyo is one of the reasons why the film should not be dubbed. While it may be hard to constantly have to read the dialogue, dubbing can’t bring out the passion. When Kikuchiyo talks about the farmers being murderers but have been forced to do it by the Samurai, he shows the angry passion and in a way talks sense. The farmers have killed Samurai which is not noble but the Samurai burn their villages, steal crops and rape women, the farmers are not just going to let them do this, they have to defend themselves somehow and so while it may not be noble it is self-defense, and when Kikuchiyo explains this in an Angry Rage, he makes the six other Samurai see sense. But while he does have this side to him, he has another more caring side. In the early stages of the Samurai training the villagers, Kikuchiyo strikes a friendship with a farmer called Yohei (Bokuzen Hidari). As the film progresses there are several comic scenes with Yohei and Kikuchiyo and a couple of scenes with Yohei’s horse, Kikuchiyo also helps the farmers out when they harvest their rice. Kikuchiyo cares about the farmers and in some way the other Samurai despite being seen as a somewhat joke by them earlier in the film. When Heihachi dies there is some sadness at the loss of the one who keeps their spirits up but Kikuchiyo remembers his banner and thrusts it onto one of the houses for the Samurai and the villagers to look at and raise their spirits in battle. While Kikuchiyo is rather odd, he is by far the merriest of the group and in some way one of the most caring and so while he is this fierce warrior he is a Good person, a Great Friend and a Fantastic Warrior.

All of these things are brought together in a brilliant story by the fantastic directing of Akira Kurosawa. Perhaps this is why Seven Samurai is regarded as his masterpiece. Seven Samurai while coming out in 1954 is the best film I have seen this year. In the space of about 3 months I have seen 3 incredible films and all of them are in my top 3 favourite (Non-Godzilla) films with Seven Samurai taking the top spot. While I could talk about this some more I don’t want to spoil it for you and me. Seven Samurai is an EXCELLEANT Film that does not get boring, it is everything you would want in a film and more, so if the recommendations at the top of the post are not big enough for you to watch it, a recommendation from me definitely is, so no excuse, GO AND WATCH IT, SERIOUSLY, STOP STALLING AND WATCH IT, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, SO WHAT IF IT’S LONGER THAN LORD OF THE RUBBISH, SO WHAT IF IT’S IN BLACK AND WHITE, WATCH IT, IT IS ONLY £12 FROM HMV, JUST LOOK IN THE WORLD CINEMA SELECTION OF HMV AND IT WILL BE THERE AND IF IT’S NOT JUST GO TO THE DESK AND DEMAND A FREE COPY FROM THEM FOR INCONVENIENCING YOU, STOP STALLING AND BUY IT AND WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU, WATCH IT, IT’S ONLY £8.38 ON AMAZON, £14.99 IF YOU BUY THE AKIRA KUROSAWA SAMURAI COLLECTION WHICH INCLUDES OTHER GREAT AKIRA KUROSAWA FILMS, YOU CAN WATCH THE FULL 207 MINUTE VERSION IF YOU BUY THE CRITERION COLLECTION BOX SET, IT’S £9.29 WITH FREE DELIVERY WITH PLAY.COM, WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS, YOU COULD HAVE ORDERED IT ON AMAZON BY NOW, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Places Where you can buy Seven Samurai on DVD:

So, choose one of the above DVD retailers and BUY IT, WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS, ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS CLICK ONE OF THE ABOVE WEBSITES, BUY IT, BUY IT, BUY IT NOW.

GENEPOOL








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