Film Review: Shin Godzilla (2016)

Also known as: Shin Gojira (Japan), Godzilla: Resurgence (alternate)
Release Date: July 25th, 2016 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi
Written by: Hideaki Anno
Music by: Shirō Sagisu
Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara

Toho, Cine Bazar, Funimation, 120 Minutes

Review:

“What is that glow?” – Rando Yaguchi

I saw Shin Godzilla in the theater last October but I didn’t review it then because I was taking a long (and much needed) break from writing. I figured that I would tackle it, once the Blu-ray version came out and I could relive the experience. Plus, I was curious as to how the dubbing would come out.

This was one of the most anticipated Blu-ray releases of all-time for me. In fact, I don’t actually buy hard copies of movies anymore unless it is something exceptional or I want to add the latest chapter of a series I have been collecting to my film library. I own a DVD or Blu-ray of just about every Godzilla movie, so I had to buy Shin Godzilla.

The film is slightly less effective and impactful on a smaller screen and for a second viewing. However, it is, without a shadow of the doubt, one of the greatest kaiju pictures ever produced.

Shin Godzilla is truly the first film to recapture the magic of the original 1954 Gojira. Other series reboots and American remakes have tried but none of them really hit the mark like this film. Shin Godzilla really brings back the horror element to the series. As much as I liked the 2014 American Godzilla, it didn’t bring with it a true sense of dread and terror and the title monster was a good guy. Here, we have Godzilla like he was originally intended, a gigantic force of nature that will destroy absolutely everything in his path without question.

To be completely honest, I have always been more of a fan of Godzilla as a hero and protector. I have also been a fan of kaiju movies having kaiju on kaiju action. However, the roots of the franchise are steeped in Godzilla being a destroyer and being so menacing that there was no need for a monster for him to battle. He was originally a living, breathing, rampaging force of nature that wouldn’t stop unless he was defeated by man.

Shin Godzilla is a departure from the hokier tone of the vast majority of Godzilla pictures. It focuses on human politicians and scientists as they are caught off guard by the appearance of this giant monster. They have to act fast and try to figure out the best way to stop the beast in a race against time, as the Americans are threatening to level the monster (and Tokyo) with a nuke. Japan obviously doesn’t want to experience another bomb being dropped on their soil, so they must come together and find a way to stop Godzilla.

This is the best acted Godzilla film that there has ever been. It is also the greatest, as far as scope and cinematography. While Ishirō Honda’s Gojira was a visual marvel for its time, Shin Godzilla is a pristine and super realistic approach to what Honda’s original established from a stylistic standpoint. While the original still looks beautiful, this newest incarnation of the series isn’t limited in scope and it gives a much more wide open and vast presentation. You truly understand the scale of Godzilla, compared to his surroundings. Plus, Tokyo is much larger than it was in 1954 and this film needed to showcase that while making the kaiju significantly larger, as well.

While purists weren’t initially happy with Godzilla being a creation of computer graphics over a rubber suit and more practical effects, I don’t think that anyone can argue against the change after seeing the picture. That is, unless some of these fans wanted something more akin to the sequels. Frankly, we’ve had sequels and rubber suits for over sixty years and it was time for the Godzilla franchise to catch up to the technology available. This certainly wouldn’t have had the same dramatic and realistic effect had we gotten another actor in a rubber suit. Besides, kaiju filmmaking of this style still exists. Just watch any modern Ultraman show if you need to see rubber suit kaiju. Godzilla and Toho are the godfathers of the genre and they really needed to take the monster into the future for the franchise to have new legs and live on for another sixty years.

I think it is hard to knock the special effects in this film, anyway. Toho did a magnificent job in making something that looks this good in a day and age where ILM and Weta have completely changed the game. Sure, Shin Godzilla‘s effects aren’t as good as the latest Star Wars films but for a smaller studio working out of Japan, this is a top notch movie, through and through. It actually turned out much better than I thought it would, as my biggest concern about making the monster digitally was the limitations Toho would face compared to bigger budget American blockbusters. Toho absolutely nailed it though. Besides, the same fanboys bitching about a digital Godzilla where the same ones praising the digital kaiju in Pacific Rim just a few years ago.

The only negative I can come up with, and it’s not even really that big of a negative, is that this film doesn’t play as good on a small screen. But then, what kaiju movies do? You want to see large monsters as big as possible. Also, on the second viewing, it isn’t as interesting simply because so much focus is on the humans in the story trying to solve the problem. I already know the answers and it makes some of these scenes just feel really drawn out the second time around. Granted, I try to look at a film from the perspective of how it effected me as a first time viewer and I can’t really say a bad thing about it in that regard. The first time I saw this, I was captivated and pinned to my seat at full attention, as the politicians and scientists tried to stop a seemingly unstoppable menace.

Shin Godzilla was a much needed reinvention and it will be interesting to see where Toho goes from here, as the bizarre twist ending opens up all sorts of questions and avenues that can be explored. I do hope that we do get to see Toho’s modern reinvention of some of the other classic monsters as well but as good as this film was with just Godzilla, it really isn’t necessary. But maybe King Ghidorah will show up and Godzilla might eventually return to being the protector Earth needs.

No matter what happens going forward, we will always have this movie, which is better than anything I could have anticipated.

Film Review: Daigoro vs. Goliath (1972)

Also known as: Kaijū Daifunsen–Daigorō tai Goriasu, lit. The Monsters’ Desperate Battle–Daigoro vs. Goliath (Japan)
Release Date: December 17th, 1972 (Japan)
Directed by: Toshihiro Iijima
Written by: Kitao Chitaba
Music by: Toru Fuyuki
Cast: Hiroshi Inuzuka, Shinsuke Minami, Hachiro Misumi

Tsuburaya Productions, Toho, 84 Minutes

Review:

To celebrate the studio’s tenth anniversary, Tsuburaya Productions put together something special. They also didn’t channel their mega-sized Ultraman franchise or Kaiju Booska, instead they gave us something new and original.

Daigoro vs. Goliath is a very kid friendly kaiju motion picture. It is lighthearted and cute but it is still satisfying for any true fan of the genre. It also has a pretty interesting story and one that is rather original.

The hero kaiju, Daigoro, is raised in captivity due to the guilt people feel over killing his mother years prior. Basically, Daigoro’s mother went on a rampage while she was trying to protect her infant child. The Japanese military defeated her, leaving the infant kaiju helpless. Diagoro survives by donations from the people who feel that it is their duty to take care of him. However, as he keeps growing larger, caring for him is no longer financially viable. The government devises a drug that will control his size. All the while, a meteor strikes Earth, bringing with it, the evil kaiju Goliath. As things tend to go with these pictures, the two giant monsters engage in fisticuffs a few times.

When it comes to special effects, Daigoro vs. Goliath is a mixed bag.

While I like the overall look of the monsters, the suits seem to be cheaper than what was used even in the Ultraman franchise, at the time. Being that this is a big motion picture to commemorate Tsuburaya’s first ten years as a studio, I feel like they could have done a better job constructing the monster costumes. They feel like they are just thrown together or leftover Ultraman kaiju suits that were quickly retrofitted. They fold in on themselves whenever the actors inside move and they just look sort of floppy and chintzy.

However, there are still some fantastic visual effects employed throughout the movie. Most notably, there is some great matte work and composite images. The scenes where Daigoro is in the foreground with tiny people just behind him, whether he is walking across the sand or sleeping on it, look incredible for the era and for something that obviously had a limited budget.

Additionally, a lot of the props came off well even if they were made to be deliberately hokey or just used as comedic devices.

Daigoro vs. Goliath, is happy, lively and amusing. It is entertaining for those who love Tsuburaya’s work, especially in their heyday. While the film isn’t a special effects extravaganza, everything else sort of makes up for it. There are fun characters and the premise is endearing. This isn’t a kaiju classic but it is bizarre enough and unique enough to stick out in a sea of Godzilla clones.

 

TV Review: Ultraseven X (2007)

Original Run: October 5th, 2007 – December 21st, 2007 (Japan)
Created by: Tsuburaya Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Cast: Eriku Yoza, Saki Kagami, Tomohito Wakizaki, Anri Ban

Tsuburaya Productions, 12 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Ultraseven X was a bizarre Ultra television series, even for Ultra standards. It was also pretty dark compared to the two series before it, Ultraman Mebius and Ultraman Max. It wasn’t as dark as Ultraman Nexus, however.

Additionally, it is a really short series, at only twelve episodes. Plus, it just looks and feels cheap. While it is creatively ambitious and has a fresh concept that differentiates it from all the other series, it was lackluster and underwhelming.

The Ultraman franchise was riding high after Mebius and Max, if you ask me, and this took the wind out of the sails.

It is depressing to look at and full of crappy sets and special effects, taking a huge step down from what audiences were used to, at this point.

The only real positive is that this utilizes the Ultraseven character, one of the all-time fan favorites. However, it doesn’t bring back the original actor Kohji Moritsugu, except for a cameo in the last episode. Instead, Ultraseven revives a young man named Jin and uses him as his host.

The unfortunate reality of Ultraseven X is that it just doesn’t feel like a true Ultraman show. I know that some people liked the departure and the fresh take but it isn’t my cup of tea. I feel the same way about this show as I felt about Nexus. It is just too dark and too outside of the cozy box that is Ultraman.

Sometimes you can be too ambitious and this is a case of that. Not to say that risks shouldn’t be taken and that the format shouldn’t be experimented with. They experimented with Ultraman Ginga, after this series, and that paid off.

Book Review: ‘Godzilla FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the King of the Monsters’ by Brian Solomon

I have read a lot of books about the Godzilla franchise and kaiju in general over the years. Godzilla FAQ is, by far, one of the best books I have ever picked up on the subject.

If you have read extensively on the Godzilla films, as I have, this is a good refresher on a lot of the information that has been available elsewhere for awhile. But this isn’t just a rehash of older books. Godzilla FAQ digs deeper than most books and it is well organized in chapters specific to different elements within the production and history of the franchise.

It gives good bios on some of the producers and actors, unlike any other publication I have come across. It talks a great deal about those involved in the franchise from the American side of the Pacific Ocean too.

The book also extensively covers each of the 30-plus films, the monsters within those films and just about anything you could think of and then it throws in some stuff you wouldn’t have thought of. The book is exhaustive and awesome.

It also benefits from a lot of photos, which is rare in a book about Toho’s films, as they are notorious for going after those who violate their copyrights. I’m assuming the publisher did the right thing and got Toho’s permission, otherwise, this might not last on shelves very long.

The best thing about this book, is that it just came out and is as current as a printed book can be. It covers the 2014 American remake, the 2016 Shin Godzilla film and even mentions this year’s Kong: Skull Island as well as the other upcoming American films in the works.

I’d say that this is a “must own” for avid kaiju and tokusatsu fans or just fans of Godzilla, the true king of monsters.

Film Review: Pulgasari (1985)

Also known as: Bulgasari (alternate English title), Purugasari: Densetsu no daikaiju (Japan), Zombi 34: The Communist Bull-Monster (Pakistan)
Release Date: 1985 (North Korea)
Directed by: Shin Sang-ok, Chong Gon Jo
Written by: Kim Se Ryun
Music by: So Jong Gon
Cast: Chang Son Hui, Ham Gi Sop, Jong-uk Ri, Gwon Ri, Gyong-ae Yu

Korean Film Studio, 95 Minutes

Review:

A lot of people might not know this but North Korea has made some movies. They’ve made several in fact. Although, they don’t typically make it out of the country, let alone to the United States. Pulgasari might be the North Korean film with the most interesting story behind it though.

Famous South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and his wife, actress Choi Eun-hee, were kidnapped in Hong Kong by North Korean officials and brought into the country to make propaganda films for Kim Jong-il, who would later become that country’s infamous dictator.

Refusing, the couple were sent to a North Korean prison until finally caving and agreeing to make the films. They made seven movies together while in captivity. Also, Sang-ok and Eun-hee were separated in their relationship at the time of their abduction but their life in captivity reunited them romantically.

Kim Jong-il, having been a fan of Toho’s Godzilla film series, wanted to make North Korea’s kaiju epic. Thus, Pulgasari was born.

Strangely, considering the relationship between North Korea and Japan, Toho actually helped with the production in regards to special effects and bringing in some of its suit actors. The full grown Pulgasari was played by Kenpachirô Satsuma, who had played Godzilla during the Heisei era of films, as well as some of Godzilla’s foes in the Shōwa period. For the small, infantile Pulgasari, the part was given to Little Man Machan, who played Godzilla’s son Minya during the Shōwa era.

Despite its bizarre and incredible origins, as well as being produced by a country that the rest of the world views as overrun by poverty and depression, Pulgasari is fairly impressive. It is not a good movie, but all things considered, the final product is fairly decent. A lot of that credit should go to the work by Toho’s staff and the direction of Shin Sang-ok.

Pulgasari, the monster, is actually quite cool. He is some sort of reptilian bull that walks around on two legs like most kaiju. While the scenes of him being small are hokey and mostly annoying, once he becomes a giant beast, the tone shifts and the movie actually improves quite a lot.

The adult Pulgasari suit is not up to the level of the Heisei era Godzilla monsters but it would certainly fair well in the Shōwa period films. The small Pulgasari almost looks like a modified Minya suit from the late 60s and very well could be.

The action is much better than one would expect. Some of the big battles are well executed but I have to give credit to Toho’s people and Sang-ok, once again. When Pulgasari starts tearing things up though, it’s entertaining and the film is unique visually, as the focus of the kaiju’s destruction is castles in Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty. The film has a more historical flare than seeing a kaiju smash a modern city. In fact, this film has a lot more in common with Daiei’s Daimajin film series than Toho’s Godzilla pictures.

While Pulgasari is not even close to the quality of the Heisei era kaiju films of its time, it tries really hard and mostly succeeds in spite of its limitations. It is a strange movie but its backstory is even stranger. In fact, that’s a story that should be told on celluloid one day.

Film Review: The Return of Godzilla (1984)

Also known as: Gojira (original Japanese title), Godzilla 1984 (alternate title), Godzilla 1985 (US version), Godzilla: The Legend is Reborn (UK video title)
Release Date: December 15th, 1984 (Japan)
Directed by: Koji Hashimoto, R.J. Kizer (American scenes)
Written by: Shuichi Nagahara
Based on: The Resurrection of Godzilla by Tomoyuki Tanaka
Music by: Reijiro Koroku
Cast: Kenju Kobayashi, Ken Tankaka, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Shin Takuma, Yosuke Natsuki

Toho, New World Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“A living nuclear weapon destined to walk the Earth forever. Indestructible. A victim of the modern nuclear age.” – Dr. Hayashida

In 1984, after Godzilla had been put to rest for nine years, Toho decided to resurrect the famous beast. Ignoring the lighter tone of the Shōwa era Godzilla sequels, this one directly follows the original 1954 film and cancels out the sequels before it. It was made in an effort to reboot the franchise and thus, launched the Heisei era of Godzilla movies.

In the same vein as the original Godzilla, this film has a heavily edited American version. And also like that film, the American version of this Godzilla featured actor Raymond Burr, reprising his role as Steve Martin from the original feature.

Like every kaiju film that has an American re-edit of its content, the Japanese version is far superior and that is the one I watch most of the time. I really only check back in on the American remake out of respect for Burr and his involvement in making Godzilla a household name in the United States. Without Burr, there is a strong possibility that I wouldn’t have met my favorite monster.

The American version featured a few narrative changes. Mainly, the edits made it more confusing. One of the notable changes however, is that it really paints the Soviets as enemies. Also, it was littered with Dr. Pepper logos in an obvious and over the top attempt at promoting the soft drink that featured Godzilla in some of its advertisements.

The film starts with a Japanese vessel being attacked by Godzilla, who was disturbed a few weeks earlier by a volcanic eruption. A large island near the boat appears to move and suddenly, it is revealed that it is no island but that it is in fact, the resurrected Godzilla.

The monster attacks and destroys a Soviet submarine and this brings in the Soviets and the Americans who insist on using a nuclear missile to destroy the giant beast. Japan refuses to allow nukes to be used on their soil again and we get to see a real world view of how Japan often times felt like a helpless and powerless country during the Cold War.

Godzilla starts to appear in Japan in an effort to feed off of nuclear energy. Japan then unveils its secret flying battle fortress the Super-X. Japan does a good job of getting the best of Godzilla and eventually, lures him into a volcano where he is assumed dead. Of course, he returned five years later to fight Biolante.

The Return of Godzilla is a return to Godzilla as a villain and a real threat to the world. Toho didn’t channel the lovable kaiju that became a protector of Japan. They went back to the series’ roots and turned out a solid film.

While The Return of Godzilla didn’t feature a big kaiju battle, it wasn’t necessary. The Super-X battle fortress made for a good opponent and helped keep this film on course with what the filmmakers intended. Another monster would have complicated the formula and it would have been difficult to paint Godzilla as a destroyer.

The tone of the film is perfect. It’s dark and it’s haunting. While Godzilla is dwarfed by some of the Tokyo skyscrapers, the scale works wonders. It has a magical and surreal feel to it and from a special effects standpoint, holds up in the same vein as a lot of the 80s action films from the United States. Sure, Godzilla is still a man in a rubber suit but Toho created a larger scale robot for more detailed shots. Besides, Godzilla doesn’t feel right when it isn’t a guy in a rubber suit.

The score by Reijiro Koroku is a departure from the more famous Akira Ifukube scores of the Shōwa era films but it is really good and it has a dark and intense vibe to it. I feel like the music from this film isn’t as beloved and appreciated as the Shōwa era themes but it is effective. The opening titles get you pretty pumped for this new version of Godzilla and it greatly accents the vibe of the new Heisei era.

The Return of Godzilla might not be every fan’s cup of tea but it was a step up in production value and effects. It opened the door that allowed Godzilla to continue to rampage for another decade before taking a second break for a few years.

The film failed to attract an audience in the States and was the last Japanese Godzilla film to be released in US theaters for quite some time. Regardless, once the Heisei era films became available to American audiences, the response was mostly positive.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)

Also known as: Gojira Tai Mekagojira (Japan), Godzilla vs. The Bionic Monster (US alternate title), Godzilla vs. The Cosmic Monster (another US alternate title)
Release Date: March 21st, 1974 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Hiroyasu Yamamura, Jun Fukuda, Shinichi Sekizawa, Masami Fukushima
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Masaaki Daimon, Kazuya Aoyama, Akihiko Hirata, Hiroshi Koizumi, Kenji Sahara

Toho, 84 Minutes

Review:

“When the red moon sets, and the sun rises in the West, two monsters will appear to save the people.” – Saeko Kaneshiro

In 1974, the Godzilla franchise had really run its course. Well, at least as far as audiences were concerned. Frankly, I’d take one of these movies every year and be happy about it. And yes, I mean the ones where the monsters are men in rubber suits because this is still the superior way to create kaiju action.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla came out just a year after Godzilla vs. Megalon but it is a huge step above that film and sort of got the ship back on course. While I don’t have an issue with the Megalon flick, many people did as it was very kiddie and lacked in the budget department. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla had a larger budget, however, and it feels like a more grandiose movie overall.

This was the second to last of the Shōwa era Godzilla films but it was also the first part in a great duology that also included the final picture, Terror of Mechagodzilla.

While this chapter in the film series introduces audiences to the friggin’ awesome Mechagodzilla, it also was the debut of one of the coolest Toho kaiju of all-time, King Caesar. Unfortunately, Caesar would not appear in a ton of films like Mechagodzilla (and his many incarnations). Regardless, Caesar has a great introduction in this movie and he brings a much quicker and more athletic style to the Toho kaiju universe. While most monsters are slow hulking brawlers, King Caesar is like a rabid jackal on crack. Bouncing around and jumping onto his opponents.

The film also features one of Godzilla’s best allies in Anguirus. Even though I’ve seen this picture more than a dozen times, the scene where Mechagodzilla (posing as Godzilla) rips Anguirus’ jaw apart with his bare hands until blood spews out, still gets me every time. Anguirus is a fan favorite and seeing him brutally squashed is still a sad sight to see but it sets up just how vicious and strong Mechagodzilla is. Without the help of King Caesar, Godzilla would have had a much tougher time besting his robotic doppelgänger.

Coming as late as this did in the original run of films, it’s surprising that it is as good as it is but this is definitely one of the best Godzilla films of all-time. The monsters are all great, the plot isn’t fantastic but it is engaging and the Okinawa setting and culture added a new dimension to the series. Did I mention how cool King Caesar is? Did I mention how cool Mechagodzilla is?

The story deals with an alien invasion, which was a typical threat in these films. The aliens this time were the Simians (also known as Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens) and as their name implies, they were apes and a very obvious ripoff of The Planet of the Apes franchise, which was hugely popular, at the time. Unlike most alien races in the Godzilla mythos, the Simians would return later in Terror of Mechagodzilla. The Simians controlled Mechagodzilla in an attempt to get Godzilla out of their way in an effort to conquer Earth.

This picture features some Toho regulars: Akihiko Hirata, Kenji Sahara and Hiroshi Koizumi. All three of them have been in several Toho movies, especially in the Godzilla film series.

Jun Fukuda, the second best kaiju director after Ishirō Honda returned to direct this film and he is just on a different level, as far as framing shots and staging some great action and creating a rich atmosphere. One scene in particular that really stands out is when you see Godzilla marching up and over some hills. It is a fantastic shot and one of the best in the entire film series.

Additionally, the night battle where the true Godzilla confronts his disguised doppelgänger, as the ground is in flames around them, is spectacular. It is one of my favorite sequences that Fukuda has ever directed.

The music in this chapter was handled by Masaru Sato. It is pretty unique and adds an interesting tone to the film. Sato’s score carries the spirit of the early Godzilla themes composed by Akira Ifukube but it has its own identity and gives this film a nice boost.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, at this point in the franchise’s long history, shouldn’t have been as good as it was. It was a perfect storm comprised of several elements that just came together and worked incredibly well. Looking back, this should have reinvigorated the series but unfortunately, there would only be one more movie before Earth’s favorite kaiju would be shelved for almost a decade.