Masao Shimizu

Godzilla Raids Again (1955, Oda Motoyoshi)

Godzilla Raids Again has all the elements it needs to be a quirky success. It has a low budget and rushed schedule, resulting in a hodgepodge of awkwardly effective sequences amid otherwise inept ones. The script, from Murta Takeo and Hidaka Shigeaki, mixes inert melodrama with giant monsters. But then the script keeps getting distracted–there’s a “should be wacky” subplot with escaped prisoners–except never because it’s interested, certainly never because director Oda’s interested, but because there needs to be filler.

There’s some great filmmaking in the filler. Most of Taira Kazuji’s editing is terrible, but in the first half of the film when they’re desperately trying to pad, it’s amazing. There’s this sequence from the first film–in the story, not just a flashback–they actually paused Raids Again to play back the highlights from the previous film. The way the newsreel works in the narrative, the way it plays without any sound from newsreel or the audience, it’s creepy and it’s really good.

Other good moments include a cobbled together nightclub scene and the film’s opening discovery of the new Godzilla (and his nemesis monster).

Unfortunately, the cast gives fairly weak performances. There’s nothing anyone could do with the script, but they don’t even try. Except lead Koizumi Hiroshi, who always looks like he’s eagerly awaiting some acting direction; he never gets any from Oda.

Endô Seiichi’s photography is all over the place. Until the last third, it’s usually pretty good. In that last third, however, it goes to pot.

Also going to pot in the last third is the script. The editing gets worse–Taira gets a big responsibility with the final sequence and it doesn’t go well. Oda doesn’t have any actual drama, the script doesn’t have any drama; Taira’s editing needs to create the tension, the suspense. It does neither.

Everyone just seems bored with the film–except the effects team, there are some good effects shots and some great miniatures.

In the end, Raids Again disappoints. Again and again.



Directed by Oda Motoyoshi; screenplay by Murata Takeo and Hidaka Shigeaki, based on a story by Kayama Shigeru; director of photography, Endô Seiichi; edited by Taira Kazuji; music by Satô Masaru; production designers, Abe Teruaki and Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Koizumi Hiroshi (Tsukioka Shoichi), Wakayama Setsuko (Yamaji Hidemi), Chiaki Minoru (Kobayashi Kôji), Shimizu Masao (Dr. Tadokoro), Onda Seijirô (Captain Terasawa), Sawamura Sônosuke (Shibeki), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Tajima), Mokushô Mayuri (Inouye), Kasama Yukio (Yamaji) and Shimura Takashi (Yamane).

Drunken Angel (1948, Kurosawa Akira)

Drunken Angel never hides its sentimentality. The film’s protagonist, an alcoholic doctor working in a slum (Shimura Takashi in a glorious performance), is well aware of his sentimentality. He resents it–Shimura has these great yelling and throwing scenes–but it’s what keeps him going. It also allows director Kurosawa to have intensely sentimental sequences without affecting the tone of the film–sometimes it’s in Hayasaka Fumio’s score, sometimes it’s just how Kurosawa and Kôno Akikazu cut a sequence.

The film’s story has Shimura getting a new patient–Mifune Toshirô’s erratic (similarly hard-drinking) Yakuza neighborhood boss. The two fight, often physically, but form a bond–Mifune’s all subtlety, Shimura’s all noise. When their volumes reverse is when Kurosawa and co-writer Uekusa Keinosuke get in some fantastic character work. Of course, the actors are essential to it. Both of them become clearer and clearer as the film progresses. Even though Drunken Angel has an epical arc to it, it’s very much a character study.

It’s also a setting study–Shimura’s practice is on the edge of a garbage swamp in the slum, Mifune’s favorite night club is just blocks away. In a relatively short run time (under 100 minutes), Kurosawa and Uekusa introduce a large supporting cast, establishing them usually in a few seconds, usually without much dialogue.

As the epical arc goes along its track, the film moves over to Mifune, sort of reintroducing him (without Shimura’s judgment). It’s beautifully executed, as is everything else in the film.



Directed by Kurosawa Akira; written by Uekusa Keinosuke and Kurosawa; director of photography, Itô Takeo; edited by Kôno Akikazu; music by Hayasaka Fumio; production designer, Matsuyama Takashi; produced by Motoki Sôjirô; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Shimura Takashi (Sanada), Mifune Toshirô (Matsunaga), Yamamoto Reizaburô (Okada), Kogure Michiyo (Nanae), Nakakita Chieko (Miyo), Shindô Eitarô (Takahama), Sengoku Noriko (Gin), Kasagi Shizuko (Singer), Shimizu Masao (Oyabun) and Kuga Yoshiko (Schoolgirl).

Gigantis, The Fire Monster (1959, Oda Motoyoshi and Hugo Grimaldi)

There’s something rather amusing about Gigantis, The Fire Monster and not just its idiocy. It’s the American version of the second Godsilla picture and it has some amazingly bad pseudo-science–the monsters are “fire monsters,” which may or may not have been dinosaurs. They lived on Earth before the planet cooled and like it hot. They breathe fire and so on, though only Gigantis (the renamed Godzilla) does so here. The other monster doesn’t get the chance.

Unfortunately, there’s no credit for who wrote the American dialogue. It’s confusing, dumb, entertaining. There’s sadly no credit for Keye Luke either, who narrates the whole picture as one of the main characters.

The source film, Godzilla Raids Again, has a lot of problems of its own and some of them do carry over to Gigantis. First and foremost are the bad fight scenes. Japanese version director Oda Motoyoshi speeds up the action artificially; he speeds up the film. The fight scenes, with the lame inserted music–and screams from people in fires–are a real problem.

But somehow Luke isn’t a problem. Oh, the narration is stupid and all, but Luke does an excellent job delivering it. When his narration disappears for the film’s second half, he’s sorely missed. There are whole subplots in the narration and, better yet, the cast occasionally interacts with how the narration is playing out. Not often enough, but occasionally.

There’s still no reason to see this film, skip this one. Narration alone doesn’t carry it.



Directed by Oda Motoyoshi and Hugo Grimaldi; screenplay by Murata Takeo and Hidaka Shigeaki, based on a novel by Kayama Shigeru; director of photography, Endo Seiichi; edited by Taira Kazuji and Grimaldi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki and Paul Schreibman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Koizumi Hiroshi (Tsukioka), Wakayama Setsuko (Hidemi), Chiaki Minoru (Kobayashi), Shimura Takashi (Dr. Yamane), Shimizu Masao (Dr. Tadokoro), Onda Seijirô (Commander), Sawamura Sonosuke (Shibeki), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Tajima), Mokushô Mayuri (Radio Operator), Kasama Yukio (Father) and Oikawa Takeo (Police Chief).

Sansho the Bailiff (1954, Mizoguchi Kenji)

Sansho the Bailiff is one of cinema’s most depressing pieces. I don’t think, after about twenty minutes into the film, there’s a single positive moment. Good things happen–occasionally–but they only lead to bad things (or the revelation of bad things).

The film opens with an epigraph, establishing the time period and some basics. It also implies Sansho is a folk tale and it does follow many of the traditions of (Western) fairy tale. The family of a royal–I’m paraphrasing and summarizing and Westernizing to fit that fairy tale comparison–are forced into slavery, only to have the son escape, rise to the proper position and return to save his family. Thanks to Walt Disney, there’s always room for a little fact-free hopefulness and it helps with Sansho. There are long periods of time without anything positive going on where the fairy tale comparison can keep one’s spirits afloat.

There are other downbeat films, ones even more relentlessly so. Where Sansho is different is in the setting. It’s the most affecting film about slavery I’ve ever seen. But the lack of any positive forces at work–one character even talks about the cruelness of the world and can only offer a monk’s solitude as a suggestion for reprieve–makes the viewing experience singularly rending.

I didn’t know anything about Sansho going in–I thought it was a samurai movie, actually, and Sansho would be the main character (I wondered why he came so late in the opening titles)–which might have amplified the experience for me. Mizoguchi fills the film with beautiful shots, with Miyagawa Kazuo’s outdoor cinematography some of the most exquisite I’ve ever seen, but they’re usually in contrast to the story. Only at the beginning, as the characters walk through a field of tall flowers, does Mizoguchi really let any physical beauty influence the characters. The rest of the film, no one really has any time to appreciate it. In lesser hands, it’d be cynical, but Mizoguchi instead creates an invisible barrier. By the time–following a long introduction sequence at the slave manor–he returns to beautiful scenery, he’s got the viewer so despondent, it’s going to take a lot more than some pretty trees to get him or her vivified.

Technically speaking, the film’s perfect. Mizoguchi fills his frame–and Miyagawa maintains such precise focus–the film feels like it has to be widescreen (it isn’t). The exterior shots don’t just cause this sensation, it’s also the interiors. The way characters talk to each other, move around each other, it’s as though they’re subject to Mizoguchi’s barriers as well. All of them–good and bad–are blissfully ignorant in some way or another. Even the titular Sansho, as villainous as he is, is rendered somewhat absurd as he cows to (much younger) superior.

The acting is all excellent, with Kagawa Kyôko the standout. Hanayagi Yoshiaki, the eventual lead (the son), has some problems starting out, but he eventually comes around–or it’s just the natural progression of the character.

It’s an awkward film to recommend–I imagine seeing it in a theater, with its bleakness julienning the communal film-going experience is a rare experience–but it really is a singular motion picture. I’ve just been writing about it for five hundred or so words and I can’t quite believe I was able to verbalize any part of my response to the film.



Directed by Mizoguchi Kenji; screenplay by Yahiro Fuji and Yoda Yoshikata, based on the story by Mori Ogai; director of photography, Miyagawa Kazuo; edited by Miyata Mitsuzô; music by Hayasaka Fumio, Mochizuki Tamekichi and Odera Kanahichi; production designers, Ito Kisaku and Nakajima Shozaburo; produced by Nagata Masaichi; released by Kadokawa Herald Pictures.

Starring Tanaka Kinuyo (Tamaki), Hanayagi Yoshiaki (Zushiô), Kagawa Kyôko (Anju), Shindô Eitarô (Sanshô), Kôno Akitake (Taro), Shimizu Masao (Masauji Taira), Mitsuda Ken (Prime Minister Fujiwara), Okuni Kazukimi (Norimura), Kosono Yôko (Kohagi), Tachibana Noriko (Namiji), Sugai Ichirô (Minister of Justice), Omi Teruko (Nakagimi), Kato Masahiko (Young Zushiô) and Enami Keiko (Young Anju).

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