Akira Ifukube

The Great Monster Varan (1958, Honda Ishirô)

The only thing more tedious and lethargic than the first half of Varan is the second half of Varan. The first half has a motley crew of lepidopterologists awakening a giant monster. The second half has these lepidopterologists consulting with the military to destroy said monster.

Not sure why the military thinks a bunch of butterfly scientists will have good ideas about how to kill a giant monster. Eventually Hirata Akihiko shows up with the solution. Hirata killed the original Godzilla, which is only appropriate in Varan, since the monster has the exact same roar as Godzilla. Varan is done on the cheap. The real cheap.

The film has its share of behind-the-scenes drama. It was originally for television–a coproduction between Toho and an American company, but then the American company went bankrupt. So the two-part TV movie became a single eighty-six minute feature, in “TohoPanScope,” which had them cropping the television framing. I suppose that cropping is why a lot of director Honda’s shots are so bad. Even still, it doesn’t explain away the bad acting or godawful pace.

Or the lousy giant monster suit, which always seems in danger of coming apart onscreen.

There are numerous… well, they’re not exactly plot holes but narrative skips. Like when there’s a forest fire all of a sudden, or how–in the second half–the military attacks have nothing to do with what the Secretary of Defense orders. It makes sense as the Secretary of Defense (Yamada Minosuke) is utterly out of his depth. Yamada’s acting is bad, the script is bad, but even so, when he listens intently to the ideas of chief lepidopterologist Senda Koreya, there’s no plausible reason for Yamada to be listening to Senda. Senda’s writing is probably better, but his performance is so much worse. It’s a risible performance amid some decidedly unimpressive ones. Senda comes up with the solution at the last minute for saving the day, which is another of the film’s narrative skips. He all of a sudden remembers something–which the film doesn’t actually show, but should’ve–as the deus ex.

The first half makes Nomura Kôzô the hero for a while. He’s the intrepid lepidopterologist who dares to return to the giant monster’s territory after it kills two of his colleagues. He brings along Sonoda Ayumi; she’s a reporter and sister of one of the dead lepidopterologists. Varan has so little character establishing, her job is never important. There’s some stuff with newspapers reporting the monster, but it’s before she even shows up.

Bad editing from Taira Kazuji, piddly photography from Koizumi Hajime–though, really, who knows how Varan is really supposed to look (Toho apparently destroyed the original aspect ratio version of the film). But what remains isn’t adequately, much less impressively, photographed. The constant use of stock footage makes the experience even worse.

Ifukube Akira’s score is bad. Though he revised some of the music for later Toho kaiju movies to far better effect. Taira doesn’t really cut with the music in mind. Or sound. Maybe it’s because there are supposed to be commercial breaks. Seeing Varan cut into with commercials might help the overall viewing experience.

It’s an awful film. Especially when it refuses to end; the second half just goes on and on and on. There’s one single good miniature effects shot–and one good composite shot–but otherwise all the effects are bad. I suppose some of the matte backgrounds at the beginning are good. They aren’t godawful at least.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Sekizawa Shin’ichi, based on a story by Kuronuma Ken; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Taira Kazuji; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Shimizu Kiyoshi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nomura Kôzô (Kenji), Sonoda Ayumi (Yuriko), Senda Koreya (Dr. Sugimoto), Matsuo Fumindo (Horiguchi), Hirata Akihiko (Dr. Fujimora), Murakami Fuyuki (Dr. Majima), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Katsumoto), Yamada Minosuke (Secretary of Defense), and Sera Akira (High Priest).


King Kong Escapes (1967, Honda Ishirô)

Despite lacking special effects and a phoned in score from Ifukube Akira (reusing his previous Godzilla themes to various effect), King Kong Escapes has quite a bit of charm to it. The film opens with Kong enthusiasts–really, they’re sitting around drawing pictures of him–Rhodes Reason and Takarada Akira. They’re U.N. submarine guys; U.N. submarines, patrolling the globe, is a thing in Escapes’s reality. Along with a female ship’s doctor, played by Linda Miller, who later in the film screams at the sight of blood. It’s like they forgot she was supposed to be a doctor.

Anyway, the film opens with them and isn’t particularly great. Those lacking effects are imaginative–they have a hovercraft–but there’s just something off about the trio. All the chemistry is between Takarada and Miller, which is great, only for some reason Miller’s always hugging Reason. It’s even established later on Takarada and Miller are a couple. So clearly Toho (and co-producers Rankin/Bass) didn’t think the world was ready for a Japanese guy and a white girl. Sorry, getting ahead once again.

Once the U.N. submarine is established, the action goes to the bad guys and the bad guys are awesome. One of the bad guys is evil scientist, Dr. Who (Amamoto Hideyo), who wears a cape and all of his henchmen have, if not capes, something approximately capes. It’s very, very weird and Amamoto plays it for all its worth. He’s working for beautiful foreign agent, Hama Mie–she’s not Japanese, not Chinese, but from some unidentified Asian nation with enough money to fund Amamoto building a giant King Kong robot. Mechani-Kong. They need a giant robot Kong for mining radioactive materials. The movie spends like fifteen minutes on it, the need for Kong (or Kong facsimiles) to mine. Hama plays it all straight, Amamoto chews through every bit of scenery he can. Somehow, it’s a magic combination. They’re both fantastic throughout the film.

When the action gets back to the U.N. submarine, it’s when they just happen to have to stop at Kong’s island. Escapes’s Kong suit conveys this sad and lonely giant ape. He’s got big, soulful, sad eyes and dejected body language. Some of that dejected body language is because the suit’s terrible, disproportionate and haphazardly detailed enough editor Fujii Ryôhei spends most of his time just trying to cover for the suit looking bad. Lots of questionable cuts, just because the head on the suit often doesn’t match the suit.

Once they’re on the island, director Honda does a bunch of homage to the 1933 King Kong, which is pretty cool. The effects are bad, seeing an adorable King Kong violently defend Miller against the Tyrannosaurus Rex stand-in is jarring, but the location shooting is excellent (and too short) and Honda’s homage is neat.

After the island, there’s a significant lull as Reason makes an address to the U.N. only to be sent right back to the island. Before they get there, Amamoto and his goons go to capture Kong in an amazing action sequence with helicopters and gas bombs and so on. The miniatures are okay, the suit is weak, Honda’s direction is phenomenal.

Eventually the bad guys capture the good guys–and Hama starts having a change of heart because Reason is so hot, but he doesn’t make the goo-goo eyes at her. While it is a bit of a plot hole, Kimura Takeshi’s script has a lot of nonsense going on. It does ruin the one chance to humanize Reason, who’s otherwise a stiff. Amamoto can’t even give his scenes with Reason much of a pulse.

Of course there’s a fight between the two Kongs–in Tokyo, on the Tokyo Tower, amid another Kong ’33 homage from Honda with Takarada as Bruce Cabot and Miller as Fay Wray. It’s all rather well-executed, regardless of the suits. The city and military miniatures are fine. In fact, the big fight scene could’ve easily gone on a bit longer. Escapes just needed a better budget. Honda was ready to do this one.

And Reason needs to go. Or at least be less of a stiff.

Takarada and Miller are both more appealing than good. Outside their chaste romance, they’re just around to make Reason seem important.

King Kong Escapes is goofy, the suits are silly, and Ifukube’s score disappoints (though the revised Godzilla 1954 music for Kong and Miller’s love theme is great). It’s still all right, thanks to Honda taking it so seriously. And Hama and Amamoto. Especially Hama and Amamoto.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Kimura Takeshi; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Fujii Ryôhei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Rhodes Reason (Commander Carl Nelson), Linda Miller (Lieutenant Susan Watson), Takarada Akira (Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura), Hama Mie (Madame Piranha), and Amamoto Hideyo (Dr. Who).


Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995, Okawara Takao)

Godzilla vs. Destoroyah does a lot. It mixes an Aliens rip-off into a Godzilla movie, then tries new things for the giant monster fight, all while finishing off the series. Destoroyah is meant to close off the franchise, giving director Okawara plenty of opportunities to tug at heart strings. Okawara’s attempts at homage and reference matter more for sincerity’s sake than success’s. There’s a lot going on in the film and it tries a lot of things. Not all of the spaghetti sticks.

Major missteps include all the ties to the 1954 Godzilla, including Kôchi Momoko’s pointlessly contrived cameo. None of the new characters this entry have much to do. Ever returning Odaka Megumi gets a good part. Tatsumi Takurô is weak as the scientist. There’s always a scientist. Tatsumi isn’t the worst scientist, but he’s pretty weak.

The human interest stuff this outing, besides all the references to the original, has very little to do with the film. This time, Godzilla is in danger of melting down. It’s a global disaster. Oddly enough, a monster created when the original Godzilla was destroyed is also attacking. And the little Godzilla is missing. There’s a lot going on.

The big monster fight is a bit of a bust. The miniature sets are fantastic, but the other monster is really dumb looking. It’s like a giant crab mixed with an Alien and a demon’s head. It’s really dumb looking, especially when it gets bigger than Godzilla. So it’s even more impressive how well Okawara does on the finish with the lame bad monster.

Destoroyah’s relatively successful.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Okawara Takao; written by Ohmori Kazuki; directors of photography, Kishimoto Masahiro and Sekiguchi Yoshinori; edited by Osada Chizuko; music by Ifukube Akira; produced by Tomiyama Shogo; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Tatsumi Takurô (Dr. Ijuin Kensaku), Ishino Yôko (Yamane Yukari), Hayashi Yasufumi (Yamane Kenichi), Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki), Osawa Sayaka (Ozawa Meru), Shinoda Saburô (Professor Fukazawa), Nakao Akira (Commander Aso), Takashima Masahiro (Major Kuroki) and Kôchi Momoko (Yamane Emiko).


Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1993, Okawara Takao)

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is outrageous spectacle. The film has the perfect combination of story, director and special effects. The film allows its giant monsters limited personalities, feasible motivations. It even manages to raise questions of morality as this version’s Mechagodzilla is piloted by the anti-Godzilla task force. They’re blowing up just as much as the giant monsters, they’re torturing the monsters. It’s simultaneously heavy and not.

Director Okawara gets to that weightlessness through some disarming, yet empowering moves–it’s a serious movie, but it’s also not a serious movie so don’t dwell–you can acknowledge, but don’t dwell. The result is a Godzilla movie where the viewer has an intense investment in the fight scene. Okawara then proceeds to play with every expectation. He draws things out–those disarming yet empowering moves–showing the viewer what to expect.

The movie rewards the viewer for paying attention, for patience. It’s often delightful, with something for everyone–including an adorable “baby” Godzilla. Mimura Wataru’s script really pulls all these threads together into something cohesive and affecting. He gives the characters just enough depth the actors can imply even further layers. It doesn’t hurt Okawara excels at the saccharine flirtation between leads Takashima Masahiro and Sano Ryoko.

And Odaka Megumi finally does get something to do this Godzilla installment. She gets a significant personal subplot and everything. Odaka nails it, of course. She makes her unlikely character (telepathic Godzilla hunting consultant) the most human part of the film. She, just like the viewer, is jaded by Godzilla movies.

Excellent editing from Yoneda Miho, excellent photography from Sekiguchi Yoshinori. The effects in Mechagodzilla are outstanding. A lot of thought goes into everything, like how Okawara gradually prepares the viewer for miniature sequences. Mechagodzilla is a welcoming Godzilla movie. It’s enthusiastic about its genre and itself.

Nice score from Ifukube Akira. It’s just a nice, solid Godzilla movie.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Okawara Takao; written by Mimura Wataru; director of photography, Sekiguchi Yoshinori; edited by Yoneda Miho; music by Ifukube Akira; produced by Tomiyama Shogo; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Takashima Masahiro (Aoki Kazuma), Sano Ryoko (Gojo Azusa), Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki), Kawazu Yûsuke (Professor Omae), Harada Daijirô (Sasaki Takuya), Nakao Akira (Commander Aso) and Ueda Kôichi (General Hyodo).


Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992, Okawara Takao)

Godzilla vs. Mothra ain’t bad. It ain’t bad at all. While Ohmori Kazuki’s script leaves something to be desired in general, it doesn’t leave anything in specific to be desired. It doesn’t fail to do something. It sets forth its concept and fulfills it. I’m thinking mostly in terms of the human stories, which are contrived but genial enough to get through, as it’s director Okawara and the technical crew who desire the credit for the amazing giant monster battles.

Mothra already has something going for it just in how sincerely the film deals with the giant moth meant to protect the planet Earth from environmental dangers. It’s this gorgeous moth with very pretty theme music, how can you not like Mothra? Mothra is like the potpourri of Kaiju. Really, you don’t like pleasant smells? And Okawara and the effects team go all out on Mothra; she’s got flying battles with actual good matte work, she’s got multiple iconic shots. It’s a pilot for a Mothra spin-off. A really effective one.

The entire cast is strong. Even Bessho Tetsuya’s deadbeat dad Indiana Jones knock-off (he gets better once he’s out of the fedora and trying to make amends for kidnapping to pay alimony). Because Mothra’s actually from Yonezawa Shiori’s perspective. She’s Bessho’s daughter–Kobayashi Satomi, in a solid supporting lead performance, is the mother. It’s about the magic of Mothra getting Mom and Dad back together, but with strong enough special effects values for it not to seem condescending. Okawara doesn’t shortchange the human actors. They don’t have the best material, but he takes it seriously.

Except poor Odaka Megumi, of course, who’s just in the movie because it’s a Godzilla movie.

Great photography from Kishimoto Masahiro, especially with the effects work. Nice score from Ifukube Akira. Godzilla vs. Mothra is an entertaining, technically outstanding giant monster outing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Okawara Takao; written by Ohmori Kazuki; director of photography, Kishimoto Masahiro; music by Ifukube Akira; produced by Tomiyama Shogo; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Bessho Tetsuya (Fujita Takuya), Kobayashi Satomi (Tezuka Masako), Murata Takehiro (Andoh Kenji), Shinoda Saburô (Professor Fukazawa), Kobayashi Akiji (Tsuchiashi Yuzo), Takarada Akira (Minamino Jyoji), Ohtake Makoto (Tomokane Takeshi), Imamura Keiko (Cosmos #1), Osawa Sayaka (Cosmos #2) and Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki).


Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991, Ohmori Kazuki)

Not much goes right in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. Director Ohmori has a strange way of being boastful about really lame ideas and even worse technical executions. He spends a lot of time–and the film’s not short, it runs an hour and forty-three–trying to show off the film’s big ideas. It’s a bunch of time travel nonsense involving a bunch of white dorks from the 23rd century who travel back in time to tell the Japanese how it’s going to be.

Seriously, it really is about white people being so jealous of Japan’s success they don’t just travel back in time, they create a giant monster to destroy Japan. It’s a film made under the assumption children are dumb, which is different than the assumption children like dumb things. What’s so strange about it is how vested Ohmori gets into the time travel nonsense since it’s terribly handled, both in the script and his direction. It’s not like there are any gem moments in Ghidorah; the monster fight scene is technically marvelous but dramatically inert–Ohmori blows through any goodwill on the nerd Terminator (Robert Scott Field) who terrorizes the good guys.

There’s a slight subplot about ostensible protagonist Toyohara Kosuke figuring out the true origin of Godzilla and investigating it. The time travel thing then directly effects everyone already involved in that subplot, which makes things real contrived. It’s one of the worst time travel movies. There’s nothing smart about it, it’s mostly all profoundly idiotic. And Ohmori does it to delay Godzilla’s appearance in a movie called Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.

Is it worth it?

No, not at all. Technical competency aside, that third act is a fail. It’s not like Ohmori asks much from his cast but he even short-changes them with the finale. Anna Nakagawa does okay as the sympathetic future person, but it’s all on goodwill Ohmori never delivers. Okada Megumi has nothing to do. She doesn’t even get to spout exposition. Still, just standing around, she’s better than Sasaki Katsuhiko. He’s the scientist advising the good guys. He’s comically bad. It’s a bad part and Ohmori doesn’t direct his cast well, but Sasaki’s still a weak link.

Occasionally, Nakagawa or Toyohara will have a good delivery and the movie won’t be in the middle of dumb exposition and Ghidorah will be all right. For a while, it seems like the film will coast through. It can’t make it through that disastrous third act though.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Ohmori Kazuki; director of photography, Sekiguchi Yoshinori; edited by Ikeda Michiko; music by Ifukube Akira; produced by Tomiyama Shogo; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Toyohara Kosuke (Terasawa), Nakagawa Anna (Emmy), Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki), Sasaki Katsuhiko (Professor Mazaki), Robert Scott Field (Android M-11), Kobayashi Akiji (Tsuchiashi Yuzo), Nishioka Tokuma (Fujio), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Shindo), Chuck Wilson (Chuck Wilson), Richard Berger (Grenchiko) and Ueda Kôichi (Ikehata).


Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975, Honda Ishirô)

Terror of Mechagodzilla is an uncomplimentary mix of a sixties Godzilla movie with the production values of a seventies Godzilla movie. It’s got a lame monster with cool powers and a cool monsters with lame powers. The Mechagodzilla fight scene is mind-numbing. He shoots rockets at Godzilla. Explosions incur. Director Honda has all these resources–an obviously ambitious pyrotechnic unit, huge sound stages–and nothing to do with them. Honda initially tries a more realistic approach with the film, but then just forgets about it.

Because even if it weren’t giant monsters, Terror is still silly–very silly for the mid-seventies with its small cast and brand characters. Hirata Akihiko (the good mad scientist from the original Godzilla) plays a bad mad scientist here. Under a lot of make-up. It’d be something if it were a good performance, but it’s not. Hirata is working for evil aliens–who have very dumb helmets and very silly costumes and the supreme commander whips misbehaving subordinates. Terror is what happens when you should be camp and you don’t. Honda wants to be taken seriously and refuses to understand it isn’t possible.

Anyway, Hirata has a cyborg daughter. One of the scientists working for Interpol–Terror’s Interpol is a multi-national giant monster hunting organization–loves her. But the aliens have installed Mechagodzilla’s controller chip inside her cybernetic circuitry. Ai Tomoko, as the cyborg girl, isn’t good but she does better than she should. As her beau, Sasaki Katsuhiko is lame. He’s simultaneously supposed to be a goof and a stud. He comes off as neither.

Ifukube Akira’s music is good. Even though there are some bad decisions with the music, it is good. It just doesn’t always fit the tone of what Honda’s actually got going on, versus what Honda wants to have going on. Terror fundamentally misunderstands how its genre now works.

There are some nice miniature cityscapes though. Honda’s fight scenes in them aren’t great, but Tomioka Sokei photographs them well. Terror’s got its pluses. They just don’t come close to overcoming its minuses.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Takayama Yukiko; director of photography, Tomioka Sokei; edited by Kuroiwa Yoshitami; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Honda Yoshifumi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Sasaki Katsuhiko (Ichinose Akira), Ai Tomoko (Mafune Katsura), Hirata Akihiko (Dr. Mafune), Uchida Katsumasa (Interpol Agent Murakoshi), Nakamaru Tadao (Interpol Chief Tagawa), Roppongi Shin (Wakayama Yûichi), Agawa Yasuko (Yamamoto Yuri) and Mutsumi Gorô (Alien Leader Mugal).


Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972, Fukuda Jun)

Godzilla vs. Gigan is a little like a filmed ballet or play. It’s a performance of its Kaiju ballet. The Kaiju ballet has a stage–a surprisingly large soundstage with a miniature Tokyo or Mount Fuji landscape for serve as the ring in which the men in suits wrestle. The men in suits are not the stars of the Kaiju ballet, they’re more like the stars’ operators. A good Kaiju ballet has the right set, right suits, right men in suits, right direction, right photography. Those people, and many more, get together and the men in suits pretend they are giants. Then the right editor and the right composer have to come along and get it into the finished project. Appreciating a Kaiju ballet is appreciating how everything has to flow together.

And for Gigan, Toho cuts corners and reuses footage, which really hurts the flow and offends Hasegawa Kiyoshi’s fine cinematography. Lazy day for night filtering on the old footage doesn’t match Hasegawa’s nighttime lighting of the miniature set. It’s unfortunate, but editor Tamura Yoshio does a decent enough job incorporating the content of the scenes into the visual narrative and Gigan gets past it.

The rest of the film, involving intergalactic cockroaches (literally), an out of work cartoonist and his karate black belt lady friend (unclear if it’s romantic), two urban environmentalist revolutionaries (or something), is fine. It’s silly, but the cast is game and Honda Yoshifumi’s production design is a lot of fun.

The film even has an inexplicable, heavy-handed warning against being beholden to technology. Because the bad guys made a giant artificial Godzilla in their theme park. It’s very strange. And a lot of fun.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fukuda Jun; screenplay by Sekizawa Shin’ichi, based on a story by Kimura Takeshi; director of photography, Hasegawa Kiyoshi; edited by Tamura Yoshio; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Honda Yoshifumi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Ishikawa Hiroshi (Kotaka Gengo), Hishimi Yuriko (Tomoe Tomoko), Takashima Minoru (Takasugi Shosaku), Umeda Tomoko (Shima Machiko), Fujita Zan (Sudo Fumio), Murai Kunio (Shima Takashi) and Nishizawa Toshiaki (Kubota).


Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964, Honda Ishirô)

I’m not sure if Mothra vs. Godzilla should be much better, but it certainly should be somewhat better. There are constant problems with the film; little things, big things, but clearly fixable things. Like the composite shots. They’re terrible. Director Honda, seemingly overwhelmed with all the landscape sets, relies on occasional composite shots to give Godzilla scale. The shots should be okay, but the composite printing is awful.

Otherwise, the special effects are solid. There’s some great stop motion in parts too. But Honda has a rough time with some of the Godzilla sequences–in Mothra; Godzilla shows up rather late and (literally) stumbles around before establishing himself to be a big old jerk. There’s no Godzilla behavioral science in Sekizawa Shin’ichi’s script. Godzilla’s just a big dumb, mean animal who acts without motive. But he also manages to be a jerk about it.

In having such a weak script as far as characterizations, which isn’t helped by the charmless lead performances–not to mention Mothra being a sympathetic giant monster (complete with accessible, religious overtones)–the film makes the giant monsters way too interesting. It pays off with the final battle, however, which Honda, editor Fujii Ryôhei and composter Ifukube Akira do wonderful work on.

There are some reasonably competent storytelling twists and Mothra always seems like it should get a lot better any moment. Leads Takarada Akira and Hoshi Yuriko–he’s a reporter, she’s his photographer, there’s some funny business going on–ought to be great. But they have no chemistry at all. Takarada seems bored by the whole film; Hoshi’s got energy, but no one to act off. As the scientist, Koizumi Hiroshi’s in a daze. He has nothing to do.

There’s a subplot about evil amusement park developers, played by Fujiki Yû and Sahara Kenji. It’s a really dumb subplot, but the actors are relatively game. Honda doesn’t direct them well. He doesn’t direct any of the actors’ scenes well. He rushes through the shots, never relying on the actors for anything.

Really bad performances from Itô Emi and Itô Yumi, as Mothra’s talking Barbie dolls.

But Sekizawa’s script does have some imagination. It occasionally sparks with Honda’s own problematic direction and Mothra vs. Godzilla nearly works.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Sekizawa Shin’ichi; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Fuji Ryôhei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Takarada Akira (Ichiro), Hoshi Yuriko (Junko), Koizumi Hiroshi (Professor Miura), Fujiki Yû (Nakamura), Sahara Kenji (Torahata), Itô Emi (Shobijin), Itô Yumi (Shobijin), Tajima Yoshifumi (Kumayama) and Tazaki Jun (Murata).


Godzilla (1954, Honda Ishirô)

Godzilla is a peculiar picture. It’s intensely serious, with director Honda never letting the viewer get a moment’s relief. This approach is all throughout the film, which opens with a documentary feel. Honda and co-screenwriter Murata Takeo set up their main characters quickly and without a lot of fanfare–Takarada Akira and Kôchi Momoko’s first scene sets up their relationship before sending them away–she actually just disappears for a while, while he becomes a background player during the first act.

Their romance is the best character work in the film, with the possible exception of Suzuki Toyoaki’s grieving orphan. Takarada and Kôchi’s romance is never quite star-crossed but it’s always difficult. They’re both excellent. All of the film’s emotions play out through Kôchi; it’s like the film has greater need of her than to just have a difficult romance.

Honda moves Godzilla through a few phases–mystery, exploration, devastation–always ratcheting the tension a little tighter. The creature’s destruction of Tokyo is exhausting and relentless. The film implies subtext to those scenes–the creature discovering man’s world–but Honda doesn’t explore them. He presents them matter of fact, the documentary style returning.

The last act is where the film stumbles; Hirata Akihiko gives a histrionic performance. Some of it is the writing, most of it is Hirata. The film already has problems with Shimura Takashi, in a similarly poorly written role. There’s way too much strained symbolism in the finish.

The music, photography and editing are all exceptional.

The film is thoughtful, intricate and affecting.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Murata Takeo and Honda, based on a story by Kayama Shigeru; director of photography, Tamai Masao; edited by Taira Kazuji; music by Ifukube Akira; production designers, Chûko Satoru and Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Takarada Akira (Ogata), Kôchi Momoko (Emiko), Hirata Akihiko (Dr. Serizawa), Shimura Takashi (Dr. Yamane), Suzuki Toyoaki (Shinkichi), Murakami Fuyuki (Professor Tanabe) and Sakai Sachio (Newspaper Reporter Hagiwara).


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