by Steve Habrat
Two years after the abysmal King Kong vs. Godzilla, director Ishiro Honda returned to the giant monster genre with yet another installment in Toho’s Godzilla franchise. Enter 1964’s Mothra vs. Godzilla, a massively entertaining and thoroughly satisfying monster fight that more than makes up for what Honda delivered in King Kong vs. Godzilla. Once again, the emphasis in Mothra vs. Godzilla is on the earth shaking action and the epic showdown, but Honda dares to let his this film be a bit more thoughtful than the last two Godzilla efforts. With this offering, Honda is attacking big business greed, but he does it in the most colorful and exciting way possible. Thankfully, Honda never forgets why we are watching Mothra vs. Godzilla and this time around, he really makes sparks fly. Unlike the odd-couple pairing of King Kong and Godzilla, this effort actually seems a bit more plausible, mostly because these two hideous titans are coming from the same monster family rather than two separate cinematic universes. No, these are abominations of the bomb, two radioactive gods who mean to dish out some serious hurt and not simply toss boulders at each other while doing the twist.
After a typhoon washes a giant egg onto a Japanese beach, the local citizens descend upon the beach to marvel at its exotic beauty. Among the admirers is news reporter Ichiro Sakai (played by Akira Takarada) and photographer Junko Nakanishi (played by Yuriko Hoshi), who are both determined to get some answers about the big blue wonder from Professor Miura (played by Hiroshi Koizumi), who has arrived to study the egg. It doesn’t take long for local businessman Kumayama (played by Yoshifumi Tajima), a bigwig at Happy Enterprises, to show up and declare that he has purchased the egg. Pretty soon, Kumayama meets with Happy Enterprises CEO Jiro Torahata (played by Kenji Sahara) to draw up plans to turn the egg into a tourist attraction. During the meeting, the two businessmen are visited by the Shobijin (played by The Peanuts), two pint sized twin girls who claim to be from Infant Island. The Shobijin explain that the egg belongs to their god, Mothra, and that they wish to take the egg back to their island. Kumayama and Torahata ignore the Shobijin’s pleas and try to capture them in an attempt to exploit the tiny girls. The Shobijin narrowly escape the attack and they soon bump into Sakai, Nakanishi, and Professor Miura, who agree to help the girls get their egg back. Meanwhile, it appears that the egg wasn’t the only thing washed to shore. To the horror of the locals, Godzilla has re-emerged and is on the rampage. As Godzilla nears the egg and threatens to destroy it, the aging Mothra arrives to protect her what belongs to her.
While it might have seemed like a good idea at the time to bring RKO’s King Kong and Toho’s Godzilla together, the film had a hard time making this viewer buy into the fact that those two giant beasts were mortal enemies. It’s easy to see why Honda and Toho thought it might be a good idea to have these legends meet up (Kong battled dinosaurs in his first solo outing), but the two behemoths were from drastically different cinematic universes that didn’t compliment each other in the slightest. Thankfully, Mothra vs. Godzilla more than makes up for that slapdash effort with solid special effects and a completely plausible union, even for a genre film such as this. The appeal of the Toho monster movies is their tacky special effects, but King Kong vs. Godzilla really pushed it to the limit. Anyone who calls themselves a fan of “kaiju” movies knows to expect some cheese but that effort delivered moldy cheese that had been left out in the hot sun for weeks. With Mothra vs. Godzilla, Honda smartly pulls his monsters out of Japanese cities and has their battle take place largely in the scenic countryside. Godzilla still attacks a military base and he can’t resist crushing a few small villages, but widespread destruction remains on the sidelines. It’s a nice change of pace for the series that has relied on the gimmick of the radioactive dinosaur trudging his way into a crowded metropolis and smashing everything to pebbles.
Another major slip-up in King Kong vs. Godzilla were the monsters themselves, which look like they were done up by a distracted ten year old boy. Kong’s face looked like a swirl of brown and red and the rest of costume looked like it was a crewmember’s old Halloween costume complete with cardboard claws. Here, we have nothing that comes remotely close to that eyesore. Mothra looks spectacular as she soars around Godzilla’s head and grabs at his tail, a ferocious lioness protecting her young cubs. Even the first glimpse we get of her here is pretty chilling, which is surprising because she had a hard time making an impression in her first solo outing. When Mothra’s slimy young come slithering out of their big blue egg, the clash really gets good as they splash their way towards Godzilla, who has stomped off to feast on a handful of terrified school children stuck on an island. They nip on his tail and strategically spit their silk spray on the roaring giant to freeze him in place. As far as Godzilla himself goes, the big guy hasn’t looked this menacing and nasty since we first saw him in his shadowy black and white debut. When he descends upon the scattering villagers, he is welcomed by menacing horns that could easily have influenced the legendary score of Jaws. He is a force to be reckoned with, one that is out to cause serious pain, which allows us to really root for Mothra to put this radioactive abomination in his place.
Just when you think that Mothra vs. Godzilla can’t get any better, Honda decides to neatly tuck a very human story inside all that gloves-off fury. The characters here are very similar to those found in Mothra, but there doesn’t seem to be a bumbling one is sight. Takarada and Hoshi have plenty of chemistry as our two warm and surprisingly heroic leads. They team up with Koizumi’s wise Professor Miura on an exotic detour to Infant Island, which allows Honda to reflect a bit more on the atomic testing. Tajima and Sahara are perfect as the cartoonish money-hungry businessmen, who see a disaster as a quick way to make a buck. Watching them mistreat the pitiful Shobijin really pierces your heart, especially when they try to capture the girls and put them on display. It appears that sometimes, greedy humans can be even more monstrous than any radioactive giant with fire breath. Overall, while it wouldn’t have taken much to really make up for King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla goes above and beyond to erase all the bad memories of that film from the viewer’s mind. It is well-paced, intelligent, action packed, vibrant, moody, ornate, and carefully crafted for maximum entertainment. This is perhaps the most satisfying Godzilla sequel.
Mothra vs. Godzilla is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
After passing on directing duties for the 1955 Godzilla follow-up Godzilla Raids Again, director Ishiro Honda was reunited with his radioactive beast on the 1962 monster-against-monster epic King Kong vs. Godzilla. With Honda returning to the director’s chair, you’d think that sparks would fly as these two legendary names squared off against each other, but that certainly isn’t the case with King Kong vs. Godzilla. The third entry into the Godzilla franchise was probably the worst of the Toho Studios bunch at that point, but the film went on to be a megahit anyway. In America, King Kong vs. Godzilla was picked up by monster movie juggernaut Universal Studios, who further drove the film into the ground with distracting commentary sequences, horrible dubbing, inane dialogue, and even reused the bone chilling score from The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The horror doesn’t stop there, folks, as King Kong vs. Godzilla ends up being a shoddy horror outing plagued by overacting and an outrageously awful portrayal of Kong, a monster who simultaneously scared us out of our wits and earned our sympathy in his 1933 debut King Kong.
King Kong vs. Godzilla begins with the chairman of Pacific Pharmaceuticals, Mr. Tako (played by Ichiro Arishima), trying to figure out how to market an exotic berry that was just discovered on Faro Island. Mr. Tako soon learns that Faro Island is the home of the legendary monster King Kong, a beast that he believes would make a great face for his new product. Mr. Tako sends two explorers, Osamu Sakurai (played by Tadao Takashima) and Kinsaburo Furue (played by Yu Fujiki), to track the giant ape down and capture it. Meanwhile, an American submarine studying bizarre oceanic conditions gets trapped in the same iceberg that the Japanese government buried Godzilla in several years earlier. Just as help arrives, Godzilla breaks free from the iceberg and stomps off. On Faro Island, Sakurai and Furue manage to make their way past the natives and an array of exotic creature and track down King Kong. The duo captures the beast and secures him on a raft for transport to Japan. Along the way, Kong manages to break loose and head off to find Godzilla, who turns out to be his ultimate rival.
A disjointed mess from the get-go, King Kong vs. Godzilla does away with the dark atmosphere of the first two films and reintroduces these two titans of terror in glorious color. The color certainly does give the film plenty of personality, but also reveals the tackiness of the special effects. There are moments when superimposed natives or soldiers actually glow blue as they dart around and scream at the feet of the rubber monsters. The once spectacular miniature sets are now cardboard metropolises with glaringly obvious remote-controlled plastic cars and shiny train sets. Honda was able to conceal some of the cheesier moments in Godzilla because he plunged everything into moody darkness, but here, everything is presented to the viewer in broad daylight, which reveals all the screws, tape, and glue. They make you long for the days when Japanese officials ordered a black out as the radioactive Godzilla lumbered through the builds and spat a jet of fire down on the terrified citizens in crisp black and white. The rural sets fare much better than the city sequences, but these moments are marred by the two worst performances from men in rubber suits that you may ever see.
First, let’s discuss Godzilla. As it turns out, Godzilla’s slightly redesigned costume here is the one that his diehard fans adore the most. While the changes are minor (Godzilla has three toes here rather than four, he is a bit bulkier, and the eyes appear to be a bit bigger), the costume looks relatively the same. He still looks fierce with those giant fins on his back that glow white when he gets ready to unleash his fiery stream. The problem is the person inside the suit, who just swings their arms around and does something resembling a dance when he confronts his ape nemesis. Kong’s costume is the real eyesore of the two beasts, mostly because it looks like a cheapie Halloween costume that the filmmakers picked up at a grocery store. The Kong mask looks like a misshapen blob that has been used for a painting palette and the costume itself looks like an early gorilla suit that was dug out of one of the crew member’s attic. It is also clear that when Kong pounds his chest, the actor is wearing fake hands to give the illusion of longer arms. It is like a sick joke when held up next to the original stop-motion Kong, who was a hell of a lot more menacing than anything we see here. Just when you think that Honda can’t desecrate the Kong character anymore, he then informs us that Kong uses lightning to strengthen him up. Um, what?!
As far as the showdowns go between the two beasts, nothing really stands out as being particularly entertaining or exciting. It is largely like the battle you saw in Godzilla Raids Again, just sillier, shorter and in color. The first time the two beasts actually stare each other down, Kong throws boulders at Godzilla and Godzilla swings his arms around like he is trying to fly away. Perhaps the neatest action sequence of the whole film is the scene in which Kong battles a giant squid on Faro Island. It has some slimy special effects and some icky sound work that will pucker your face. As far as our human characters go, no one does anything remarkable with their character. Arishima just looks dumbfounded behind giant glasses and Takashima and Fujiki are there simply to add unfunny comic relief to the playtime action. Mie Hama also drops by as Sakurai’s sister, Fumiko, who is here as a stand-in for the original King Kong’s Fay Wray. Overall, while it may have seemed like a good idea to try to bring together the two biggest names (literally) in horror, King Kong vs. Godzilla is an empty-headed clash of two titans who mix like oil and water. Honda never hits a stride and his Americanized vision is tarnished even further with unnecessary additions. Godzilla should have stayed frozen and Kong should have remained on Faro Island.
King Kong vs. Godzilla is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
A year after Toho’s thunderous Godzilla took the world by storm, the Japanese production company quickly got to work on a follow up film to capitalize on the success of the first film. Director Motoyoshi Oda’s 1955 sequel Godzilla Raids Again certainly isn’t interested in capturing the guilt and sorrow of a nation still reeling from the devastation of World War II and the detonation of the atomic bomb, but this “kaiju” film is one that is certainly determined to deliver a whole bunch of smashing and clashing. And deliver it does. Godzilla Raids Again is the first film in the Godzilla series to pit the legendary radioactive beast against another roaring adversary, something that would become wildly popular in Toho’s later work. While it is never as eerie as the first film and it doesn’t feature that sulking human soul, Godzilla Raids Again does succeed as a breathless action extravaganza, even if it does seem like Toho threw it together in a frenzied rush. The destruction doesn’t pack the authentic punch that it did the first time around, and the miniature destruction sequences seem drawn out to pad the runtime rather than send shivers down the spine of the drive-in audience, but boy, this sucker is a giddy rush. Let the battle begin!
Godzilla Raids Again introduces us to two pilots, Shoichi Tsukioka (played by Hiroshi Koizumi) and Koji Kobayashi (played by Minoru Chiaki), who are hunting schools of fish for a tuna cannery in Osaka. Kobayashi’s plane malfunctions, which forces him to make an emergency landing on Iwato Island, a jagged and uninhabited cluster of volcanic rocks. Tsukioka tracks down Kobayashi and finds him among the rocks, but the men make another horrific discovery. It turns out that the island is home to Godzilla, who is currently fighting with another bizarre creature. As the two creatures trade blows, they both fall into the water and disappear. Tsukioka and Kobayashi make their way back to Osaka and report what they saw to the authorities, who conclude the this new Godzilla is a second member of the same species brought back by the same hydrogen bomb tests that awoke the original Godzilla. As for the other monster, the authorities believe that it is Anguirus, a creature that has an intense rivalry with Godzilla. As the creatures bring their grudge closer to the shores of Osaka, the government orders a blackout of the city under the belief that the monsters hate light because it reminds them of the hydrogen bomb. Since neither of the monsters can be killed, the government uses flares to draw them away from the shore, but after a freak accident causes a fire, the two monsters bring their battle to the streets of Osaka.
Ishiro Honda’s original Godzilla was a film that was packed plenty of splintered spectacle to marvel at, but the film had a heavy human presence and a meditative sorrow that forced the radioactive destruction to play out in the background. Honda took his time to work up to these spellbinding moments and he forced us to really identify with the terrified Japanese citizens who were convinced that they brought this horror on themselves. Godzilla Raids Again doesn’t take that same subtle approach, as the film launches head first into destruction and never looks back. It is still implied that Godzilla is a walking A-bomb, but his pounding footsteps never remind us of bombs being dropped from above. The only true form of suspense that we get in Godzilla Raids Again is the sequence in which Godzilla wanders towards the Osaka coast as flares glide over his head. It truly is a magnificent moment that brought the original film to mind. Outside of this, Oda can’t wait to have his beasts engage in their urban clash and reduce buildings to ruble. While the extended battle is zany fun, the annihilation never really makes the hair on your arm stand up and it’s not even half convincing, as it is painfully obvious that these are just two actors swatting at each other in rubber suits.
While the black out brawl in Osaka is quite a bit of fun, Godzilla Raids Again looses that fun spirit during the extended final battle that finds a stationary Godzilla battling jets that zoom over his head. This is the moment where our two fine but forgettable heroes get to do their he-man thing and sock it to the rampaging abomination. The climax is thick with an icy and vaguely apocalyptic atmosphere that certainly does get you to pay attention, but after a while, it just gets repetitive as the same hills blow up, the same rocks keep tumbling down, the same planes keep getting knocked out of the sky, and the same soldiers keep yelling the same orders, all while Godzilla just stands there and does absolutely nothing to get out of the line of fire. Why isn’t he trying to get away? Why doesn’t he charge at his foes? And do they really think that their approach to defeating him will really work? The entire climax feels like the filmmakers weren’t exactly sure how to bring this monster mash to a close, especially since their main grudge match plotline gets clipped way too early.
As far as our two main performers go, Koizumi is your typical action hero who woos a pretty girl and goes toe-to-toe with the roaring beast. He is likable enough but nothing really stands out about him, which is a shame when you think back to the complex heroes that we had in the original Godzilla. Chiaki fares better as the lovesick Kobayashi, a pudgy goofball who seems to be always coming in second place with the ladies. Together, the two men have fine chemistry and we really buy their friendship, but the film clearly isn’t framing itself around them. The only returning cast member from the original film is Takashi Shimura as Dr. Kyohei Yamane, who shows up to identify Godzilla and show a montage of Godzilla laying waste to Tokyo. Overall, while Oda’s vision may not be as clever, haunting, and poetic as Honda’s 1954 original, Godzilla Raids Again still packs hints of the atomic metaphors that loomed over the apocalyptic original. This follow up may peak a bit too early and suffer from a monotonous final confrontation, but Godzilla Raids Again still stands as a satisfying slice of creature feature drive-in escapism.
Godzilla Raids Again is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
In 1954, Japanese director Ishiro Honda unleashed the grim and brooding radiation nightmare Godzilla on the world. Godzilla would go on to introduce audiences everywhere to Toho Studios, a Japanese production company that would become well known among horror and science fiction enthusiasts for their “Kaiju” (strange beast) films. While Godzilla is certainly the top monster in the long line of monster movies produced by Toho Studios, the second in command would most certainly be the 1961 effort Mothra, a splashier and sillier effort from Mr. Honda. Lacking the hypnotic appeal and haunting linger of Godzilla, Mothra is clearly the more upbeat monster movie. It has all the trademark elements of these Japanese “Kaiju” films that genre fans have come to know and love, but at times it seems to be a bit too silly, fantastic, and, dare I say, cuddly for its own good. While Mothra may not possess the thought and depth of Godzilla, the film still dares to show a few post-WWII scars under all the colorful action and adventure. There is still a shiver anytime the bomb or atomic radiation is mentioned, but it almost seems like the film is chuckling at itself, which is a pity because this monster movie could have mustered a roar just as mighty as Godzilla’s.
Mothra begins in the waters off of Infant Island, with a Japanese ship getting caught and running aground in a nasty typhoon. The ship’s crew gets stranded on Infant Island, which is presumably an uninhabited site for Rolisican atomic tests. A few days later, a rescue party finds several members of the ship’s crew alive and well on Infant Island. The crew is immediately taken to the nearest hospital for radiation sickness, but doctors are stunned to learn that the crew did not get sick due to juice that was provided to them by natives living on the island. The bizarre story is broken to the public by rotund reported Zenichiro “Bulldog” Fukuda (played by Frankie Sakai) and photographer Michi Hanamura (played by Kyoko Kagawa), both who obtained the story through posing as doctors. The Rolisican government soon responds by putting together a joint expedition to the island. Among the expedition is greedy entrepreneur Clark Nelson (played by Jerry Itou) and kindly linguist Shin’ichi Chujo (played by Hiroshi Koizumi). While exploring the island, the group stumbles across the shy natives and a pair of young women (played by The Peanuts) who are only twelve inches tall. The two girls plead with the group to halt the atomic testing on their island and to leave the natives in peace. The group agrees and quickly leaves, keeping their findings a secret from the public. However, Nelson secretly travels back to the island and abducts the two girls and forces them to perform a singing act in Tokyo. The horrified natives call upon their god, Mothra, to rise up and bring the girls back to their island.
Honda quickly sets Mothra apart from his deadly serious Godzilla through pop-art action and exotic adventure. There is a trip to a beautiful yet sadly mutated island with natives peaking between giant leaves and over twisting flowers as scientists in ominous HAZMAT suits parade around with machine guns. It almost feels like something out of King Kong, only done up in the most effervescent colors imaginable. There is also plenty of slapstick humor and wisecracks, especially from the instantly likable Zenichiro, who nervously giggles when he is backed up against a wall and manages to get tiny mice caught in his suit. Despite how lavish it all looks and how funny the jokes are, there is never a hint of the impending doom that loomed over the opening half of Godzilla. However, once the action of the second half kicks in to high gear, there are traces of Godzilla everywhere. Tension builds as a massive caterpillar inches its way towards Tokyo in an attempt to find the abducted girls. Japanese fighter jets swoop over and drop canisters of napalm down on the best, but it does no good. When it finally reaches Tokyo, it bashes and smashes through miniature buildings that certainly crumble realistically enough. Things take a cheeky turn when the caterpillar morphs into the iconic Mothra, who can whip up a wind storm just by furiously flapping her wings. You’ll certainly chuckle as toy cars get tossed around like, well, toy cars and fake builds tremble like… fake buildings. The longer it all goes on, the less it impresses.
In addition to the rocky action, the performances are never as gripping as what we saw in Godzilla. Sakai is charismatic and fun as the humorous hero Zenichiro, a nice change of pace over the square-jawed heroes that were battling giant bugs in America. The oafish Sakai doesn’t seem to be taking the picture too seriously, which is a shame, but he will certainly get you to chuckle at least once. Kagawa acts as the pretty-faced sidekick that follows Sakai around from one site of destruction to the next. Koizumi is passable but largely forgettable as the camera shy linguist who is basically the more handsome hero to Sakai’s Zenchiro. Itou is vile enough as the exploitative entrepreneur who leers over the tiny girls like a madman. It is interesting to see just how cowardly he is when Mothra comes calling. Rounding out the main cast in the twin-sister singing act The Peanuts, who are here as the tiny “Shobijin.” The Peanuts are tragic enough, but this is mostly due to their situation rather than their acting. While much of their performance consists of them huddling together and smiling at the camera, you will still find yourself hoping and praying that Mothra will come save them from Nelson’s clutches.
What really separates Mothra from the other monster movies is the fact that Mothra herself is more of an avenging angel rather than a snarling stand in for the atomic bomb. Even if she does look like one of your daughter’s stuffed toys, she is actually sort of neat in that respect. She isn’t a mindless abomination of atomic radiation and destruction, which really gives the film itself a bit more individuality. While it may lack the deeper meanings and the sorrowful meditation of Godzilla, Mothra is still a fairly resilient plea for peace and harmony. It may have been falling of deaf ears and drive-in eyes simply looking for the next destruction sequence, but at least it was giving it a try. Overall, while it has its lasting moments, Mothra begins to fall victim to a shaky third act set in a cardboard stand-in for New York City (here it is New Kirk City). There is too much interest in comic book fantasy and retina-shattering color blasts, which cause the film to feel more like a drawn-out cartoon rather than a serious minded work of art. It’s fun in small doses but maybe it should have taken itself a bit more seriously.
Mothra is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
In the land of Atomic Age beasts, aliens, monsters, and blobs, one name makes all these other radioactive creatures quiver in fear: Godzilla. Made in Japan in 1954 by Ishiro Honda, Godzilla (or Gojira, as it was called in Japan), is perhaps one of the most significant science fiction films released in the wake of World War II and the Hydrogen bomb. It is even more essential because the country that witnessed the horror and devastation of the atomic bomb first hand made and released Godzilla. Over the years, Godzilla became more of a campy character rather than one that is meant to scare the pants off the viewer. He would rise from his watery habitat and stomp into downtown Tokyo to do battle with a slew of attacking mutant monsters (and King Kong), all while poorly dubbed Japanese citizens would dart around the dueling monster’s feet. They were a far cry from the suspenseful original, where the low rumble of Godzilla’s footsteps had the viewer holding their breath and gripping the arm of the couch just a little bit tighter. When the suspense and the downright impressive action sequences don’t have your attention, you’ll be transfixed on the intelligence of the script, which finds a country still reeling from the mushroom cloud devastation they witnessed in 1945. There is a reason the Criterion Collection picked this monster movie up, folks.
Just off of Odo Island, a Japanese fishing boat is destroyed by a blinding flash of light that appears to emerge from the bottom of the sea. Another boat is sent to investigate, but it meets the same fate as the first boat. As more boats are destroyed, salvage ship captain Hideo Ogato (Played by Akira Takarada) is called in for duty by the coast guard. Meanwhile, the villagers of Odo Island have been cursed with poor fishing and they blame it on a mysterious sea monster known as “Godzilla.” In the evening, the villagers perform ancient ceremonies to keep the beast at bay. That very night, a violent storm destroys Ogo Island, but many villagers claim that there was something else in the storm. Archeologist Kyohei Yamane (Played by Takashi Shimura) travels to Ogo and discovers a giant radioactive footprint. He then travels to Tokyo and presents his findings. He reveals that H-bomb testing has disrupted Godzilla’s natural habitat, causing him to emerge from the bottom of the sea and come to land. As fear of Godzilla spreads and more sighting are reported, Dr. Yamane’s colleague, Daisuke Serizawa (Played by Akihiko Hirata), who is also arranged to be married to Dr. Yamane’s daughter, Emiko (Played by Momoko Kochi), has developed a secret weapon called the Oxygen Destroyer, a device that disintegrates oxygen atoms causing organisms to die of asphyxiation. As Godzilla’s attacks grow more and more devastating, Emiko and Ogato plead with the reluctant Serizawa to use the Oxygen Destroyer against the destructive beast.
Director Honda and screenwriter Takeo Murata transform Godzilla from a simple monster movie into a surprisingly intimate human drama. We genuinely care about the characters that Honda and Murata have come up with and we especially hang on the fragile love story at the core of the film. Emiko is engaged to Serizawa, but she wishes to break off the engagement and marry the brave salvage captain Ogato. Meanwhile, as this love triangle plays out with devastating results, Honda focuses his camera on Dr. Yamane and his exasperation with the military and media, who are hellbent on killing Godzilla rather than trying to capture and study him. He continuously drives the point home that this creature has been exposed to heavy levels of radiation and lived through it. He then warns that if the world (meaning America) continues to detonate these weapons of mass destruction, we are bound to face another Godzilla-like creature. The warnings against these experiments extend to Serizawa, who fears that his Oxygen Destroyer will draw the attention of the military and they will force him to further develop another weapon of mass destruction, something he swears he will never do. It’s these meditative conversations about H-bombs, destructive weapons, and violence that pulls Godzilla out of the B-movie realm and places it firmly on the A-list.
Then there is the monster of the hour: Godzilla. At times, Godzilla is obviously a man dressed in a heavily detailed rubber suit, but he signifies so much more. The first few glimpses we get of him are effective teases, leaving us wanting just a little bit more, but fearing the terrifying wrath that is sure to accompany those longer glimpses of the legendary monster. When he is finally revealed in all of his glory, we can’t help but be awestruck by how cool he looks, even if his movements are a little jerky. He breathes down smoke (which is meant to resemble fire but this is 1954, folks) on the Tokyo skyline and produces a sea of fire that brings to mind the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo. When he stomps through the buildings, he begins to resemble a living, breathing nuclear blast that is leveling everything in his path. Honda then pans over the twisted wreckage left in Godzilla’s wake, eerie images that call to mind the black and white photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Godzilla may be destructive, but he is also a sympathetic creature. He has been chased out of his home and he appears to be wandering aimlessly, simply looking for a new place to hide away from the world that wants to destroy him.
As if a weighty script, likable characters, impressive monster, and a human core weren’t enough to make Godzilla a must see, the action sequences will certainly convince you to seek it out. Sure, there are a few moments where it is blatantly obvious that rubber-suited Godzilla is stomping miniature buildings, but there are several pieces that have held up quite well over the years. Godzilla’s battle with several Japanese fighter jets will get the adrenaline pumping and his demolishing of a gigantic electric fence is a pretty nifty demonstration of his sublime power. You’re obviously not going to see destruction like you saw in Cloverfield, but you have to give Honda and his effects team credit for crafting some chilling smashing and crashing (wait for the sequence with Godzilla attacking a building loaded with press). The action sequences are made all the more effective due to the tension slowly built between each attack. Our dread really begins to get the best of us and Honda plays with this every chance he gets.
If you are one of those individuals who have written off Godzilla as a campy drive-in relic of the 1950s, you really should consider revisiting this moody monster mash. I’ll admit that even I had forgotten the power that this film wields over the years and I was very happy that I decided to both revisit and add the film to my horror/science fiction collection. If you have surround sound lining your living room, you’ll be giddy over how great Godzilla’s roar and thunderous footsteps sound. Overall, Godzilla is a haunting and influential epic that rewards the viewer with multiple viewings. It will shake your house down and bring you to your knees with one mighty roar.
Godzilla is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
If you find yourself being the type of person that can’t force yourself to sit down and watch a foreign art house film, you should really make an effort to start with and see Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 film Yojimbo (The Bodyguard). Yes, there are subtitles in the film, so you will have to do a small bit of reading, but Yojimbo, which was the film that influenced Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone’s groundbreaking spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars, is such an entertaining film that you will find yourself forgetting that there are subtitles on the screen. Devoid of any off-putting pretension, Kurosawa puts more emphasis on limb-severing action and hearty comedy that will appeal to both average movie viewers and the art house crowd. A highly influential film, Yojimbo has been widely considered to be a true classic that finds its own influence in western cinema, creating a slightly surreal Japanese western that is ripe with dazzling black and white cinematography, packed camera shots, and some truly breathtaking showdowns that will leave you gasping.
Yojimbo follows a wandering, masterless samurai (Played by Toshiro Mifune) who happens upon a 19th century town that is caught in the middle of a war between two rival gangs. After dropping in to the local tavern, the elderly owner, Gonji (Played by Eijiro Tono), gives the samurai all the information about the rival crime bosses, Seibei (Played by Seizaburo Kawazu) and Ushitora (Played by Kyu Sazanka). Gonji warns the samurai that he should leave the town before one of the gangs confront and kill him but seeing an opportunity to make a hefty chunk of change and a way to clean up the town, the samurai decides to stick around and devise a way to trick the gangs in to destroying each other. After infiltrating one of the gangs by displaying how skilled he is with a samurai sword, he sets his plan in motion but certain members of both gangs begin to suspect that he is not simply interested in aligning himself with one specific gang.
For the individuals out there who are fond of cinematography, the resplendent whites and the charcoal blacks from cinematographers Kazuo Miyagawa and Takao Saito are an absolute must-see and perhaps my favorite aspect of Yojimbo. The film, which was made in 1961, has such a sharp, luminous picture that I absolutely couldn’t believe my eyes. For any film fan, the picture here will certainly have you dying to go out and pick up the Bu-ray for maximum picture quality. Complimenting this masterful cinematography is hack-and-slash action that sends a severed arm flying here and buckets of flowing blood there. The best “ewww” moment comes when a mangy dog trots through the streets up to the samurai carrying a severed hand in his dingy mouth. It comes as such a shock to the viewer that it becomes a combination of funny and appalling. The fight scenes in Yojimbo suddenly explode across the screen—a technique that catches the viewer off guard at first and then is suddenly over just as quickly as it began. This is a method that Leone would apply in his slow building gunfights that would begin and end in a loud crack in each and every one of his sweaty westerns.
While Yojimbo is impressive with its camerawork and white-knuckle action, Kurosawa doesn’t ever forget to keep you laughing and rallying behind our masterless samurai, who consistently toys with each gang. Yojimbo is a highly comical film, especially when the two gangs decide to go head to head in the deserted streets. Each gang has members who brag about how fearless they are and how feared they should be. When our hero approaches one gang, three young gang members approach him and boast how dangerous they are. Our hero chuckles in their faces and calls them cute, enraging them enough to have them draw their swords and lunge at the cool, calm, and collected hero. In a flurry of gore, the dangerous criminals are reduced to blubbering babies crying for their mothers. Yojimbo plays with this constantly, offering the audience hot-headed tough guys who are quickly revealed to be cowards who run off to their stern and commanding mothers (I think the women in Yojimbo are scarier than the men are!). It is a gag that constantly grabs a few belly laughs, especially the scene where the two gangs charge each other in the streets and then retreat back to their lines only to charge again and then flee. While all the charging and fleeing is going on, Mifune represents the audience, sitting back and howling at all the cowardice that has been revealed.
Mifune is an actor who is in complete control of each and every scene, playing the levelheaded hero who never seems to break a sweat, almost like all of this is second nature to him. Mifune’s samurai, who tells one gang leader that his name is Sanjuro Kuwabatake, is clearly the inspiration for Clint Eastwood’s cigar chomping Man with No Name. Hell, at times, Sanjuro is seen chewing on what appears to be a cigar, further highlighting the impact. Another standout is Daisuke Kato as the vile Inokichi, Ushitora’s dim, overweight brother who adds a few more laughs to all the action scurrying about the town and speaking through bucked teeth. Tono’s Gonji is another lovable character as the elderly tavern owner who doesn’t want trouble and reluctantly aids Sanjuro in his quest to clean up the streets. Isuzu Yamada is a nasty piece of work as Orin, Seibei’s wife who hovers over her husband’s brothel and takes control when Seibei is too afraid to. Tatsuya Nakadai shows up as Unosuke, Ushitora’s youngest sibling who carries a pistol and nabs the film’s coolest battle with Sanjuro, who attacks the gunfighter with nothing but a sword and dagger.
While Yojimbo’s plot gets a little too thin at times, there is never a tedious moment to be found in Kurosawa’s western. There is something for everyone in Yojimbo, from the people who are looking for a love-reunited story all the way to those who just want to see a fearless hero cut his way through countless bad guys. Yojimbo has been caught in the shadow of Leone’s equally entertaining spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars but I think both films are equal in their eminence. As far as I’m concerned, both films are classics in their own right and their impact on cinema is quite clear. Overall, Yojimbo is a flawless action film that will keep the audience on its toes from beginning to end and one hell of a significant action hero. A must-see foreign classic with incredibly wide reach and appeal. How can you deny a film that contains the line “I’m not dying yet! There’s a bunch of guys I have to kill first!”
Yojimbo is available of Blu-ray and DVD.