Akira Takarada

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. 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. the Sea Monster (1966, Fukuda Jun)

I’m having a difficult time writing about Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster because, even though the movie isn’t good, I wish I liked it more. I wish I enjoyed it more. As a cultural artifact, Sea Monster is definitely interesting. Most of the film has to do with these four not so bright dudes–even Takarada Akira as the older one–stumbling into a James Bond movie where the villainous organization is out to rule the world. Or something. And they keep a giant sea monster.

Director Fukuda doesn’t do a terrible job overall. He does a lot better with some sequences than others; he’s humorless, which is one of Sea Monster’s biggest problems, but he is serious about the film itself. Given the Godzilla suit and the limited set for the guy in the Godzilla suit to energetically walk around, Fukuda’s seriousness sometimes seems out of place.

None of the film’s giant monster sequences are particularly memorable (the sea monster looks like a giant lobster and is much more effective when just menacing passing ships with a single claw) but they’re distinct sequences in the film. With Satô Masaru’s groovy music, they’re usually silly. Until they become serious (as evidenced by the change in music). Once the seriousness hits, Sea Monster turns into a really effective suspense thriller. It just happens to have Godzilla and a bunch of scantily clad South Seas islanders running around.

And the four dudes.

Maybe if the acting were better–leading man Takarada is particularly weak, though it’s not like he has a role to play. Sekizawa Shin’ichi’s script is just plain lame. It’s distinctive, but lame. None of the other actors make much impression. Except Hirata Akihiko (he and Takarada were the leads in the original Godzilla) and not in a good way.

As that historical cultural artifact, Sea Monster is nearly worth seeing. Just as a movie? I don’t know. The last quarter or so is tightly edited, wonderfully paced. Fujii Ryôhei ratchets the tension. Fukuda’s far better with secret agent action thrills than giant monsters. Satô’s score, whether groovy or somber, is excellent.

Sea Monster’s a try and a fail and Fukuda doesn’t seem to be aware he was trying.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Fukuda Jun; written by Sekizawa Shin’ichi; director of photography, Yamada Kazuo; edited by Fujii Ryôhei; music by Satô Masaru; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Takarada Akira (Yoshimura), Watanabe Tôru (Ryôta), Ibuki Tôru (Yata), Tôgin Chôtarô (Ichino), Sunazuka Hideo (Nita), Mizuno Kumi (Daiyo), Hirata Akihiko (Red Bamboo Captain Ryuui), Tazaki Jun (Red Bamboo Commander) and Pair Bambi (Mothra’s Little Beauties).


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).


Godzilla, King of Monsters! (1956, Terry O. Morse and Honda Ishirô)

Morse didn’t just direct the added American scenes for Godzilla, King of Monsters! but also did the hatchet job editing it.

The concept–adding in footage of a reporter reporting on what would be an international news event–isn’t bad. But Morse (aided, undoubtedly, by Al C. Ward’s awful scripting) contrives a way to shoehorn Raymond Burr’s American reporter into all of the original Godzilla story. Even though Burr doesn’t have a single scene with Hirata Akihiko’s scientist, Monsters makes them old college chums and Burr inexplicably talks to Hirata’s stand-in on the phone.

I suppose Morse and Ward thought it was necessary to tie plots together, but at most it added two and a half minutes of runtime. Morse could have just recycled the “stairs to the hospital” shot a fourth time.

As for Burr, he’s not very good. The cheapness of his scenes–particularly the one where he’s in a helicopter but sitting in an office–probably hurt the performance. For example, when he’s actual in a torrential downpour, he’s convincing. However, Morse could have spent that money better making sure Burr had a real presence in the third act instead of standing in the background.

The voiceover cast is uniformly terrible, ruining the performances of the original actors. The other American cast is fifty-fifty–Frank Iwanaga is great as Burr’s sidekick (Monsters‘s should’ve been focused on them), but Mikel Conrad’s atrocious as his boss.

With the original version readily available, Monsters should be avoided.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Terry O. Morse and Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Murata Takeo, Honda and Al C. Ward, based on a story by Kayama Shigeru; directors of photography, Tamai Masao and Guy Roe; edited by Morse; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Chûko Satoru; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki, Edward B. Barison, Richard Kay and Harry Rybnick; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Raymond Burr (Steve Martin), Shimura Takashi (Dr. Yamane), Kôchi Momoko (Emiko), Hirata Akihiko (Dr. Serizawa), Takarada Akira (Ogata), Frank Iwanaga (Tomo Iwanaga), Sakai Sachio (Hagiwara), Murakami Fuyuki (Dr. Tabata), Yamamoto Ren (Seiji), Suzuki Toyoaki (Shinkichi), Okabe Tadashi (Dr. Tabata’s Assistant), Ogawa Toranosuke (President of Company) and Mikel Conrad (George Lawrence).



This post is part of the Sum Up | Godzilla, Part One: Showa.

Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965, Honda Ishirô)

So… Godzilla dances in Invasion of Astro-Monster. He also boxes a little. Unfortunately, the boxing part does little to liven up the last half, which is incredibly tiring. The dancing comes earlier—though not by much, but enough to “help.”

Godzilla doesn’t appear in the film until the middle mark. Instead, the film’s about astronauts Nick Adams and Takarada Akira discovering a civilization of aliens living on a previously undiscovered moon of Jupiter.

Adams and Takarada are both pretty bad, but Takarada is worse. Adams is visibly awful, but he’s trying. Takarada doesn’t try. Not even when he gets to be a scientist for a bit (being an astronauts means you’re qualified for anything).

There’s also the romance subplot. Takarada won’t let his sister marry her boyfriend. Sawai Keiko is fine as the sister, as is Kubo Akira as her boyfriend. He gets slightly better scenes than her; unfortunately, both of them finish the movie as Adams’s sidekicks.

The rest of the acting is lukewarm. Tazaki Jun is pretty good. Tsuchiya Yoshio is terrible as the villain, but it’s probably not his fault. I think his costume inspired Devo; it’s unbelievably silly looking.

But Honda’s direction (in Panavision) occasionally shows he’s fully capable of doing something amazing. His space shots in Astro-Monster, though brief, are phenomenally well composed. Even the later framing is also strong.

Ifukube Akira’s music is excellent; some of the miniature work is quite good.

But it’s an uphill battle—the script sinks the film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

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

Starring Nick Adams (Astronaut Glenn), Takarada Akira (Astronaut Fuji), Tazaki Jun (Dr. Sakurai), Kubo Akira (Teri Tetsuo), Mizuno Kumi (Miss Namikawa), Sawai Keiko (Fuji Haruno), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Controller of Planet X), Sasaki Takamaru (Chairman of Earth Committee), Shimizu Gen (Minister of Defense) and Tabu Kenzo (Commander from Planet X).


Godzilla: Final Wars (2004, Kitamura Ryuhei)

According to Toho, Final Wars is the Godzilla movie for at least ten years. They haven’t been doing to well at the box office. It’s also the 50th anniversary movie (it actually came out last year in Japan, only showing up now on DVD in the US). The film is definitely homage, but not the kind you’d think. Instead of being somber, like the original, or a serious attempt (like Shusuke Kaneko’s Giant Monster’s All-Out Attack–really, it’s a serious attempt), Final Wars is dedicated to the Godzilla movies most people saw on Saturday afternoon TV. It’s the goofy, wrestling Godzilla. There isn’t a serious moment in the whole movie–whether it’s Godzilla fighting his Hollywood incarnation or the American actor who apparently understands Japanese but can’t speak it, it’s all light.

I wasn’t expecting much, of course, but I did think there’d at least be some good Kitamura fight scenes. There are lots of fight scenes, but they’re short and there’s a lot of visible computer assistance. It’s Versus-lite. Kitamura can make a better movie and he has a good time with the straight (as straight as this movie gets with the evil aliens), but the giant monster scenes are sort of without imagination. I can’t tell if he even likes Godzilla movies.

Final Wars clocks in at two hours and two minutes, which probably makes it the longest Japanese Godzilla movie, but Godzilla doesn’t even show until after an hour into the film. The film’s a little bit a remake of Destroy All Monsters and it could have gone further–more Godzilla, less people. It didn’t even have to do it straight, it could still goof, just go further.

There aren’t very many good Godzilla movies–just one, probably (though there’s a slight chance the 1984 Godzilla is all right)–and Final Wars is one of the better ones. Its target audience is actually a lot bigger than any other recent Godzilla film, just because so many people did watch those Saturday afternoon movies….

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kitamura Ryuhei; screenplay by Kiriyama Isao and Kitamura, based on a story by Mimura Wataru and Tomiyama Shogo; director of photography, Furuya Takumi; music by Keith Emerson, Morino Nobuhiko and Yano Daisuke; produced by Tomiyama; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Matsuoka Masahiro (Ôzaki Shin’ichi), Kikukawa Rei (Otonashi Miyuki), Kitamura Kazuki (The Controller of Planet X), Don Frye (Douglas Gordon), Takarada Akira (Daigo Naotarô), Mizuno Maki (Otonashi Anna), Nagasawa Masami and Ôtsuka Chihiro (The Twin Fairies), Sahara Kenji (Jingûji Hachirô), Mizuno Kumi (Namikawa Akiko), Funaki Masakatsu (Kumasaka), Ibu Masatô (The Xilian General) and Takashima Masanobu (Major Kita).


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