Kenji Sahara

Godzilla’s Revenge (1969, Honda Ishirô)

I don’t know if I wish Godzilla’s Revenge were better or if I just liked it more. Because I wanted to like it more–I wanted it to be as wacky as the concept would allow. The concept–a little boy (Yazaki Tomonori) gets valuable life lessons involving working parents, bank robbers, bullies and even criminal mischief all thanks to his imagined playtime with the various Toho giant monsters–is ripe for wackiness.

But Godzilla’s Revenge never gets particularly wacky. It’s straight-faced in tone. It’s a movie made for kids. It’s didactic. Sekizawa Shin’ichi’s script is painfully lacking in enthusiasm. It’s not even a question of ambition–no one has any, except maybe some of the effects guys on the footage from previous films. Revenge recycles old Godzilla movie fight footage. It’s done pretty well, but it’s hard to know whether Revenge’s editor, Himi Masahisa, chopped it up a little or if it’s uncut from the first film. I’m not enough of a Godzilla aficionado to look up such details. One has to draw the line somewhere.

Because, for a while, Revenge kind of works. It’s weird and it’s obvious and it’s trying too hard, but there’s actual payoff in the giant monster fights. Director Honda paces it well. Then, as Yazaki eventually befriends (a female-voiced) Son of Godzilla, Revenge tries too hard to manipulate. There’s too much subtext to the wimpy giant monster having a female voice. There’s too much about Yazaki having to “man up.”

Now, it would help if Yazaki were any good. He’s not. He’s bad. He’s not even bad in amusing ways. He’s particularly bad during the scenes when he’s kidnapped–the physical action scenes–and there’s no way it shouldn’t be funny for him to be bad in those scenes. But it isn’t. It isn’t funny. Because there’s just something a little off about Revenge. It’s too “perfectly” targeted at its audience–it is for kids who already give a shit about Godzilla.

It just then goes ahead and tells them they are weirdos but should instead be weird bullies. The moral of the story is… if you’re going to have a youth gang, take over another youth gang, don’t start your own. And praise Minilla.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Sekizawa Shin’ichi; director of photography, Tomioka Sokei; edited by Himi Masahira; music by Miyauchi Kunio; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Yazaki Tomonori (Ichirô), Amamoto Hideyo (Inami Shinpei), Sakai Sachio (Bank Robber Senbayashi), Suzuki Kazuo (Bank Robber Okuda), Sahara Kenji (Ichiro’s father), Naka Machiko (Ichirô’s mother), Ishida Shigeki (The Landlord) and Uchiyama Midori (Minilla).


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).


Son of Godzilla (1967, Fukuda Jun)

Strangely enough, Son of Godzilla ends well. It’s a surprise because the film loses a lot of steam throughout. Whether it’s the human plot or the Godzilla plot, the scene inevitably fails because of director Fukuda. Unless it’s one of the multiple times writers Sekizawa Shin’ichi and Shiba Kazue completely fail. Son of Godzilla constantly starts and stops. There’s no unifying style.

Directing the actors, Fukuda often shows ambition. It’s just there’s no way for that ambition to be realized. While he can intuit how a scene should play, he can’t make the scene play. Fukuda is just a bad director–and, of course, Fujii Ryôhei’s tone-deaf editing doesn’t help anything.

The film has an appealing male lead, a too enthusiastic newspaper reporter (Kubo Akira) who ends up as short order cook for a group of scientists. They’re studying weather conditions on an island where Godzilla and other giant monsters coincidentally are hanging out. The film often plays the giant monsters for laughs. Not well, but still successfully. The interactions between Godzilla and his not quite as giant son, Minilla, are endearing and fun. If incompetently visualized.

Now for a few things deserving standout attention.

First, Beverly Maeda as an island “savage” who’s always saving Kubo. She’s this great character; then, all of a sudden, Kubo’s the boss. But nothing about the characters’ personalities change, just Maeda’s place in the film. Logically, she should still be the hero but she isn’t. It hurts the film a lot. Maeda’s performance isn’t quite good, but she’s definitely appealing. At least until she’s the damsel.

Second, the music. Satô Masaru does this crazy, campy, playful score for the film. For ten minute stretches, Satô’s score makes Son of Godzilla feel like an absurdist comedy. It seems like Fukuda gets that disconnect, but then he doesn’t properly utilize it, which again makes the filmmaking appear inept. It’s as though everything good about the film–except the acting–is accidentally okay.

Finally, the giant mantises who terrorize the humans (who are more interested in the weather than these giant monsters) and Minilla. While the special effects are problematic in the film, the mantises are great. As are the backdrop paintings. Fukuda can’t direct the jungle sets, however. They’re always stagy.

But then comes Son of Godzilla’s last sequence and it’s amazing. Fukuda doesn’t screw up the direction and Satô’s score changes tone and the humans finally say something interesting. The successful ending closes the film on its highest note.

1/4

CREDITS

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

Starring Kubo Akira (Goro), Beverly Maeda (Saeko), Hirata Akihiko (Fujisaki), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Furukawa), Sahara Kenji (Morio), Maruyama Ken’ichirô (Ozawa), Kuno Seishirô (Tashiro), Saijô Yasuhiko (Suzuki) and Takashima Tadao (Dr. Kusumi).


Destroy All Monsters (1968, Honda Ishirô)

Wow, it ends with Godzilla and Minya (Godzilla’s son for those unfamiliar–there’s no mama; I’m pretty sure Godzilla’s asexual) waving to the camera. How sweet.

Destroy All Monsters is barely a Godzilla movie, really. The monster only shows up at the beginning for the establishing of the ground situation–the narrator explains it is a near future and all the monsters live peacefully on one island–for a bit in the middle and then at the end for the big monster mash. The story itself doesn’t need an appearance.

It’s a sci-fi action thriller–Earth is under attack from space aliens and this crack UN team of guys races around doing stuff to save the world. It’s ripe for a remake–with the casual misogyny (all the evil aliens are female), maybe Neil LaBute could do it.

The effects are weak (it’s hard to believe it’s from the same year as 2001), but Honda’s occasionally ambitious with the effects work. It doesn’t look real, but it’s neat. Unfortunately, those moments are far and few. The film only runs eighty-some minutes but it drags often. There’s a lengthy sequence with the brainwashed humans in suits acting like it’s a shootout from a James Bond rip-off. And all the sets look like something out of “Star Trek” for the first twenty minutes or so.

The performances are generally fine, except ingenue Kobayashi Yukiko. She’s atrocious.

Ifukube Akira’s music is utterly fantastic.

Still, it’s a chore to get through.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

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

Starring Kubo Akira (SY-3 Captain Yamabe Katsuo), Tazaki Jun (Dr. Yoshido), Kobayashi Yukiko (Yamabe Kyoko), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Dr. Otani), Ai Kyôko (Kilaak Queen), Andrew Hughes (Dr. Stevenson), Tôgin Chôtarô (Ogata), Tajima Yoshifumi (General), Sahara Kenji (Commander Nishikawa) and Itô Hisaya (Major Tada).


Rodan (1956, Honda Ishirô)

The end of Rodan makes the monster’s death tragic—there are two Rodans (giant pterosaurs) and one commits suicide after its mate dies in volcano fumes. Even more tragic is the Japanese defense force hounded these big dumb birds until they intentionally attacked populated areas and those volcanic fumes? The defense force, advised by a rather not smart scientist (Toho regular Hirata Akihiko in a terrible performance), also caused that volcano eruption by firing rockets at it to cause a cave-in. They were warned by environmentalists and humanists, but why listen to them?

It’s unclear why the audience is supposed to be sympathetic towards the creatures at the end… maybe because their painful deaths make a girl cry.

The first half of the film doesn’t even have the Rodans (either of them). It’s about a mining village discovering these gigantic, man-eating caterpillars. That part of the film—led by Sahara Kenji and Shirakawa Yumi as possibly star-crossed lovers—works. Both actors make up for lack of ability with their appeal and it’s sort of interesting.

Then the giant monster—initially in unrelated sequences—shows up and Hirata and a variety of actors playing military men take over and Rodan plummets.

There are some good miniature effects and some bad ones. If Honda had shot the film in black and white, it probably would have been fantastic. The colors just don’t work with his composition here.

Excellent sound design.

Rodan starts inoffensively enough, then drags on and on.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Kimura Takeshi and Murata Takeo, based on a story by Kuronuma Ken; director of photography, Ashida Isamu; edited by Iwashita Kôichi; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Tatsuo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Sahara Kenji (Kawamura Shigeru), Shirakawa Yumi (Kiyo), Hirata Akihiko (Professor Kashiwagi Kyuichiro), Kobori Akio (Police Chief Nishimura), Yamada Minosuke (Colliery Chief Osaki) and Tajima Yoshifumi (Izeki).


Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994, Yamashita Kensho)

To say Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla has it all is an understatement. It has more than that. It has dirt bikes, black holes, a “Muppet Babies” version of Godzilla, a superwoman, walks on the beach at sunset, and, apparently, the first butt shot in a Godzilla movie. It’s a wacky mess, proving having no story is sometimes a good thing. The 1990s Godzilla series was so dependent on continuity, at one point during the film, I thought Joss Whedon wrote it. Space Godzilla has a bunch of little details, but the thing moves at such a fast pace, they’re not used for any reason other than storytelling brevity.

I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be a comedy. While the writer did go on to do other Godzilla movies, the director only did this one, which probably means Toho wasn’t happy with his performance. How could they be? He’s created a perfect Godzilla movie. It ends with a U.N. anti-Godzilla military guy opining, “Godzilla’s not that bad, is he?” After he’s just destroyed a city–of course, so has the Japanese anti-Godzilla military guy, in a giant robot (from these films, I’ve learned the Japanese solve all their problems with giant robots)–during a pointless fight with Space Godzilla. Maybe the lack of purpose–the film flip-flops between being about the telepathic control of Godzilla and the Space Godzilla’s origins in a black hole–is what makes Space Godzilla so good. It’s a bunch of scenes strung together, some of them really big–there’s some great matte shots in Space Godzilla, probably the most impressive in any Godzilla movie–all connected through the five main characters. Oh, I forgot–in my list up above–there’s a mad scientist too. Dirt bikes, black holes, and a mad scientist. Not much else offers you those three items.

There’s also the “Muppet Babies” Godzilla, which is cute and totally absurd. But really, it’s the cast. At one point, I got thinking about Yoshikawa Towako’s performance–when she’s standing around talking about mind-controlling Godzilla–she’s actually taking this absurd acting job seriously and making it all believable. All the other principals, Hashizume Jun, Yoneyama Zenkichi, and Odaka Megumi are good. Very likable, people you want to spend an hour and a half with. The best is Emoto Akira, playing a soldier obsessed with killing Godzilla. The film treats him as a goof-ball, running around on foot trying to catch the monster. It’s hilarious.

Technically, I already mentioned the sometimes great composites (usually when there’s no urban destruction involved). There’s also a really good score in Space Godzilla, something akin to a 1970s John Williams disaster score (except the two scenes I’m convinced are homage to From Here to Eternity). The most impressive thing about Space Godzilla, besides its approach to storytelling, is its sound design. The final fight scene has little weight, since no one’s really fighting for anything (the earlier fight, when Space Godzilla is trying to beat up Little Godzilla, is much more effective), but the sound design is amazing. Some great editing in the last fight scene too.

Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla is a big dumb mess and it appreciates and understands it’s a big dumb mess and does everything it can with that condition. It’s constantly delightful.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Yamashita Kensho; written by Kashiwabara Hiroshi; director of photography, Kishimoto Masahiro; music by Hattori Takayuki; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki and Tomiyama Shogo; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki), Hashizume Jun (Shinjo Koji), Yoneyama Zenkichi (Sato Kiyoshi), Emoto Akira (Major Yuki), Yoshikawa Towako (Dr. Gondo), Saitô Yôsuke (Dr. Okubo), Sahara Kenji (Minister Segawa), Nakao Akira (Commander Aso) and Ueda Kôichi (Deputy Commander Hyodo).


King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962, Honda Ishirô)

I thought movies about giant monsters fighting were supposed to be exciting, but apparently not. I haven’t seen King Kong vs. Godzilla in maybe fifteen years and now, this time, I watched the original Japanese version. Frighteningly, it’s only seven minutes longer, so I imagine the Americanized version is boring too. The main problem with the film is its stupidity. It’s supposed to be a comedy, except Honda Ishiro’s direction doesn’t take humor into account. Honda’s direction doesn’t take a lot of things into account–like coverage or shot continuity, but whatever. He visibly doesn’t know how to shoot for 2.35:1 here, filling the middle of the frame with action; the film is VHS safe twenty-five years before anyone else was worried about it.

To compensate, there’s a lot of stuff with the lame people in the story. A pharmaceutical company captures King Kong to be their corporate mascot and there’s all these people who run around–with high level military access apparently–and they’re mostly useless. The boss, who’s doing a Groucho Marx impression, is mildly amusing, but the lead is real broad. The romantic male lead (interested in the lead’s sister), played by Sahara Kenji is actually all right. So is Hirata Akihiko (who died in the original Godzilla, playing a different scientist). He’s actually the funniest, walking around, spouting off useless commentary. The scenes where people bet on the outcome of the fight are lame.

I couldn’t tell what was wrong with the movie until I realized no one got hurt. Both King Kong and Godzilla destroy trains, but there are no victims. They destroy houses, they stomp things… no one gets hurt. The tone isn’t light, it’s stupid.

Another technical problems involve the music–it’s terrible, especially when Honda fills the running time with montages of Godzilla trap preparation–and the sound design. The sound design’s just incompetent.

No movie called King Kong vs. Godzilla was going to be good, but there’s usually something amusing about Godzilla movies (from my cursory reading, it seems like the dubbed, Americanized version might be a cleaner cut). Honda’s repeated failures throughout really make the original Godzilla even more of an achievement (and shock).

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Sekizawa Shinichi; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Kaneko Reiko; music by Ifukube Akira; production designers, Abe Teruaki and Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Takashima Tadao (Osamu), Sahara Kenji (Kazuo), Fujiki Yu (Kinsaburo), Arishima Ichiro (Tako), Tazaki Jun (General Shinzo), Hirata Akihiko (Dr. Shigezawa), Hama Mie (Fumiko), Wakabayashi Akiko (Tamiye), Negishi Akemi (Dancing Girl) and Omura Senkichi (Konno).


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