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.

Film Review: Battle In Outer Space (1959)

Also known as: Uchū Daisensō (Japan)
Release Date: December 26th, 1959 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa, Jotaro Okami
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Ryo Ikebe, Kyoko Anzai, Minoru Takada, Koreya Senda, Leonard Stanford, Harold Conway

Toho, 93 Minutes

Review:

Battle In Outer Space was part of a trio of films unofficially referred to as the “Toho Outer Space Trilogy”. The other two films are 1957’s The Mysterians and 1962’s Gorath. All three films featured Toho’s triple threat of director Ishirō Honda, special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya and musical maestro Akira Ifukube. This is the only film of the three that does not feature a kaiju of some sort. The Mysterians featured the giant alien robot Moguera, who would go on to become a part of the Godzilla mythos, while Gorath featured the giant walrus kaiju named Maguma.

Battle In Outer Space, while lacking the presence of a kaiju, doesn’t really need one. Besides, in those other two films, the giant creatures were used pretty sparingly and weren’t focal points. This film is no different, as the story and sci-fi action alone, carry this picture.

Frankly, I wish Toho would have made more of these types of films. They are visually alluring and magnificent works of moving art. Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects and his miniature work are absolutely top notch in this, more so than most of his other films. They are enhanced by gorgeous cinematography, vivid lighting and the great directing skill of Ishirō Honda. Honestly, this is further ahead from a special effects standpoint than where most American films were at the time, which says a lot about the skill and ingenuity of Tsuburaya and Honda.

In this film, we start with a bunch of strange phenomena happening across the globe. In Japan, a railroad bridge is levitated, causing a train wreck. In the Panama Canal, an ocean liner is lifted and destroyed by a waterspout. In Venice, severe flooding destroys parts of the city. There is also the destruction of a space station. A United Nations meeting is held, where the best minds in the world theorize on the cause of these events. Eventually, other strange things begin to happen and it is discovered that aliens are attacking Earth in an effort to make it easier to invade. Discovering that the aliens are on the Moon, the UN sends two rocket ships there for reconnaissance.

This is one of Toho’s most imaginative films and the execution is phenomenal. While it may come off as cheesy and hokey to modern audiences, it is a pretty pristine piece of work for 1959. And while it played in the United States on a double bill with the American film 12 to the Moon, this was the superior picture. In fact, 12 to the Moon was lampooned on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1994.

Battle In Outer Space is a true space opera epic and ahead of its time, in spite of its limitations.

Film Review: Time of the Apes (1987)

Release Date: 1987 (US)
Directed by: Kiyo Sumi Fukazawa, Atsuo Okunaka
Written by: Sakyo Komatsu, Kouji Tonaka, Aritsune Toyota, Keiichi Abe
Music by: Toshiaki Tsushima
Cast: Reiko Tokunaga, Hiroko Saito, Masaaki Kaji

King Features Entertainment, Celebrity Home Video, Tsuburaya Productions, King Features Entertainment, 95 Minutes

Review:

Like some of the other strange Japanese films that made it onto Mystery Science Theater 3000, in its early days, Time of the Apes is actually a feature length version of a few episodes of a Japanese tokusatsu television program. It was also created by Tsuburaya Productions like other Japanese MST3K fare. In this film’s case, it is comprised of a few episodes of the 1974 show Saru no Gundan (Army of the Apes).

Also like most of the other American released feature length versions of Japanese tokusatsu properties, the finished product that we got, pales in comparison to the quality of the original content.

What kills these types of releases in the States is atrocious dubbing and clunky editing. The original series, albeit a ripoff of Planet of the Apes, was pretty interesting and engaging. This version, not so much.

It isn’t completely horrible and it is still watchable and enjoyable but compared to episodes I’ve seen with actual Japanese dialogue, the whole tone is ruined. Granted, without releases like this in the 1980s, I might not have developed a love for Japanese tokusatsu outside of Godzilla pictures.

Time of the Apes showcases the first few episodes of Saru no Gundan and also the last few. The show ran for 26 episodes, so the narrative in this version is choppy and disorienting. It features the setup and the conclusion but lacks the true meat of the series.

For its time, its place and the limitations of its production, the effects are still better than decent. It isn’t as captivating as Tsuburaya’s Ultraman franchise but it fits well within their other one-off series, such as Mighty Jack and Star Wolf (a.k.a. Fugitive Alien).

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.