Book Review: ‘A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power’ by Paul Fischer

When I first heard the story about how the North Korean kaiju picture Pulgasari was made, I had to see if anyone had actually written a book on it. Well, someone did and I am really glad that I picked it up.

In fact, this is my favorite showbiz book since reading Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist. Like that book, it goes into the behind the scenes happenings of this picture but it also serves as a biography for the main players involved. Kim Jong-Il and his bizarreness makes for an entertaining read on par with the first time I read about the infamous and awesome Tommy Wiseau.

Hell, maybe James Franco should adapt this into a film too; he’s got experience with showbiz biopics and films that piss off North Korea. Truthfully, this story would make an amazing motion picture.

For those who don’t know the story. Kim Jong-Il ordered the kidnapping of the most famous film director in South Korea. He also kidnapped the director’s wife, even though they were separated, as she was one of South Korea’s premier actresses. The director and his wife were held in a North Korean prison for years until they finally caved and decided to help Kim Jong-Il make better propaganda pictures. This is how Pulgasari happened.

This book is well written and thorough and while it seems to take some liberties in fleshing out the character that is Kim Jong-Il, everything just works and this is a really fun read that I enjoyed.

I love kaiju movies and strange stories. I have also been fascinated with the enigmatic North Korea. A Kim Jong-Il Production hits on all those things and is quite fantastic.

Film Review: Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Also known as: Gojira no gyakushû, lit. Counterattack of Godzilla (Japan), Gigantis the Fire Monster (US – original title)
Release Date: April 24th, 1955 (Japan)
Directed by: Motoyoshi Oda
Written by: Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata, Shigeaki Hidaka
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Hiroshi Koizumi, Setsuko Wakayama, Minoru Chiaki, Takashi Shimura

Toho, 81 Minutes

Review:

Godzilla Raids Again was a quickly pushed out sequel to the original Gojira. And like its predecessor, the film was shot in black and white, making it the only film in the franchise, apart from the original, that wasn’t released in color.

In the United States, despite the success of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the American re-edit of Gojira, this film didn’t take the Godzilla name and was initially release as Gigantis the Fire Monster. In fact, English dubbed versions of the film still make reference to the monster being called “Gigantis”.

This film introduced the beloved kaiju Anguirus, who fought Godzilla in this picture but would go on to be a top ally for decades. And this is actually the film that gave birth to kaiju battles, as the previous Godzilla picture only featured the title monster.

Compared to the original, which was an exceptional motion picture, this is a very poor sequel to it. While it was successful, maybe Toho wasn’t keen on its quality, as Godzilla was shelved for seven years until he was brought back to battle King Kong in one of the best kaiju epics of all-time.

There are several reasons why this film is lacking compared to the two chapters that sandwich it.

To start, while tokusatsu master Eiji Tsuburaya did handle the special effects, some mistakes were made during the production. The frame rate of the camera was not set correctly and the big kaiju battles are fast paced to the point that the monsters move around at impossible speeds and it almost plays like a slapstick comedy segment every time that Godzilla and Anguirus tie-up. It just looks hokey and doesn’t match up with the action of any other Toho kaiju picture. Plus, it is missing audio effects and the battles just sort of happen to music, looking like a goofy spastic dance.

Another reason why the film suffers is that Godzilla mastermind Ishirō Honda was not behind the camera. Additionally, the script was written by people that weren’t mainstays in the franchise in the same way that Shinichi Sekizawa and Takeshi Kimura were.

The film is still enjoyable for Godzilla fans and it does have its positives.

Toho regulars Hiroshi Koizumi and Takashi Shimura star in the picture and give good performances.

Also, the overall visual look of the film is fairly solid. The scene where Godzilla comes to shore and the military fills the sky with flares looks really cool and holds up well. Also, the scene where Godzilla is walking through the snow covered valley, surrounded by icy mountains, is a beautiful sight where the contrast between the monster and his environment is enhanced by the black and white presentation.

In the long history of Godzilla films, this one is mostly forgettable other than the debut of Anguirus and the kaiju versus kaiju concept that would become the standard in just about every kaiju movie made after this one.

Book Review: ‘The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films’ by John LeMay

I am a big fan of John LeMay’s first two big books on kaiju film history, so when I found out about this one, I had to get a copy.

The subject of this installment also really peaked my interest, as I already knew a lot about existing kaiju pictures but this book was all about the lost films in the genre. It looks at films that were actually made but are now lost or destroyed, films that went into production but were never made, alternate versions of films that were scrapped, as well as some fan produced movies.

This is one of the best books I have ever read on the kaiju genre and it is certainly a must own for kaiju fans. It was just stacked with so much information on films that the vast majority of people have never heard about. It truly digs deep and fleshes out all these kaiju pictures that were lost or just not meant to be.

With a third book on the subject, John LeMay, in my opinion, has become the best English speaking writer on these types of films. I can’t imagine how much time was devoted to researching all the titles covered here. There are literally dozens of films discussed and analyzed with a few appendices added on at the end for dozens more where he wasn’t able to get enough info to write up anything larger than a blurb.

I have always been a big fan of “what ifs”, especially in regards to movies. This book is cool as hell and a lot of fun. LeMay deserves a ton of props for the work that went into this. I hope it pays off, in that this book lives on for years to come.

Video Game Review: Godzilla: Monster of Monsters (NES)

*written in 2014.

Back in the day, just about every kid in America had a Nintendo Entertainment System. Truthfully, I feel for those who didn’t. Reason being, at that time in history, the NES was Americana! Sure, it is a video game console imported from Japan but it was just as much a part of American culture as it was Japanese.

Like today, you can’t say Call of Duty isn’t American. Even though it is played on a Japanese console and part of a monstrous industry created in Japan. I guess Godzilla fits that mold to a degree, as well. A Japanese creation hat has transcended an industry and also become a part of American culture.

Well, putting video games and Godzilla together in 1989 gave us Godzilla: Monster of Monsters. It was released on the Nintendo in a time when I was at the height of both my video game playing and Godzilla worship. When the game dropped, I was at the store to buy a copy as soon as I had earned enough money to afford it.

Godzilla: Monster of Monsters certainly isn’t a game without flaws and in many ways, it is very repetitive. However, some of my fondest video game playing memories, from that era, where when I was fully engaged in this game. It was fun and in a time before fighting games were a normal thing, Godzilla introduced me to the style with its awesome one-on-one monster battles.

The monster battles were actually the big highlight of the game. There were literally dozens and dozens of levels, many of them just rehashes of themselves, which added to the repetitiveness of the game. The problem was that all one wanted to do was fight giant monsters and the levels became too abundant and too much of a roadblock to get to each epic kaiju battle. Honestly, that is my biggest complaint about the game.

The only other real complaint is that the mechanics of the monster battles are very primitive and tedious at times. In retrospect, it didn’t bother me back in 1989, as there wasn’t a lot to compare it to. It doesn’t play great today but at the time, it was awesome. The other issue with it, in regards to the battle mechanics, is that the fights tended to be super long, especially the further you went into the game, as the monsters become increasingly more powerful.

Today, despite the issues, I still find the game enjoyable and fire it up from time-to-time. And I should also make note of the graphics, which were pretty impressive for 1989 on an 8-bit console.

Ranking All the Kaiju of the Toho Godzilla Universe

The Godzilla universe spans seven decades, four different Japanese eras and two American remakes. In that long history, he has fought many deadly foes and had several awesome allies. However, the franchise expands beyond that as well, as some monsters that had their own films have crossed over into Godzilla movies, comics and video games. Toho has created a massive kaiju universe over the years and even if there are different eras and continuities, in some way, all these monsters exist in the same general realm.

So I feel the need to quantify these awesome giant beasts with a list. Because I like making lists and who the hell doesn’t like reading lists. Sure, our opinions may differ but that’s what the comments area is for. So feel free to list your favorites and discuss the results.

Also, I included the MUTOs from the American film for comparison’s sake.

How am I ranking these? Well, it is a combination of who is the most powerful, bad ass and the coolest. And of course, number one should not be a surprise.

1. Godzilla
2. Mothra Leo
3. Destoroyah
4. Monster X (Keizer Ghidorah)
5. Mecha-King Ghidorah
6. Biollante
7. Cretaceous King Ghidorah
8. Shin Godzilla
9. Fire Rodan
10. Gigan (Millennium)
11. King Ghidorah
12. Dagahra
13. Mechagodzilla (Showa)
14. Desghidorah
15. King Caesar
16. Mechagodzilla/Kiryu (Millennium)
17. King Kong
18. Mothra
19. Zone Fighter
20. Godzilla Junior
21. Gigan (Showa)
22. Rodan
23. Anguirus
24. Jet Jaguar
25. Mechani-Kong
26. Hedorah
27. Space Godzilla
28. Mechagodzilla (Heisei)
29. Gargantuan Sanda
30. Battra
31. Orga
32. Varan
33. Gargantuan Gaira
34. Megaguirus
35. MUTO (female)
36. Frankenstein
37. Megalon
38. Dogora
39. Gezora
40. Baragon
41. M.O.G.U.E.R.A. (Heisei)
42. Ebirah
43. Titanosaurus
44. MUTO (male)
45. Gabara
46. Moguera (Showa)
47. Manda
48. Kumonga
49. Ganimes
50. Gorosaurus
51. Kamoebas
52. Maguma
53. Kamacuras
54. Meganulon
55. Giant Octopus
56. Giant Sea Serpent
57. Minya
58. Giant Condor
59. Zilla

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.