Toho Company Ltd.

Seven Samurai (1954, Kurosawa Akira)

Seven Samurai is about a farming village, under imminent threat of bandits raiding and stealing their crop–and possibly doing much worse–who decides to hire samurai to defend them. They send four men–Fujiwara Kamatari, Kosugi Yoshio, Tsuchiya Yoshio, and Hidari Bokuzen–to town to hire the samurai. They can’t pay them, but they can feed them. The villagers will subsist on millet, the samurai will get rice. Not a great deal and the men don’t have much luck to start.

However, they soon find Shimura Takashi, an older ronin, who’s able to convince others to take up the cause. There’s young Kimura Isao, who looks up to Shimura and the other samurai, but hasn’t got any real experience yet. Katō Daisuke plays an old war buddy of Shimura’s who happily joins up. Inaba Yoshio is the second-in-command, Chiaki Minoru’s the funny one, Miyaguchi Seiji’s the serious one. Then there’s Mifuno Toshiro as the wild one.

After an hour or so–the film runs just under three and a half–the Seven Samurai head to the village. The first hour has the village setup, then the four farmers quest in the city, then Shimura recruiting the other samurai. There’s an intermission halfway, but the period after the samurai get to the village and before the bandits return, which takes up some of the time after the intermission too, is it’s own phase in the film. Then there’s the battle. A little while before the battle, the villagers–who aren’t just providing room and board for the samurai, but are also being trained to fight alongside them against the bandits–wonder if the bandits have forgotten about them.

And it certainly does seem possible. Seven Samurai’s first few minutes promise this bloody showdown between the villagers and the bandits, which then becomes the samurai and the bandits, but then it’s really just a lot of character study. Sure, they’re all training for the impending battle, but it’s character study. Kurosawa and co-writers Hashimoto Shinobu and Oguni Hideo subtlely explore the villagers and the samurai, with Mifune and Kimura getting the most emphasis on the latter, Tsuchiya and Fujiwara getting the most emphasis on the former. Turns out even though the village decided to hire samurai, they didn’t really think about what it meant for samurai to be living among them. Their only previous experience with samurai being samurai attacking and pillaging villages.

Mifune’s character development throughout the second portion–he shows up in the beginning, then disappears until the night before they leave for the village (the first hour takes place over about a week)–plays off the other samurai. Even though Shimura and company think they’ve got Mifune figured out, they really don’t. And he’s able to transcend the class divisions built into their interactions with the villagers.

Meanwhile Kimura begins romancing Fujiwara’s daughter, Tsushima Keiko, and it becomes clear he doesn’t really understand what it means to be a samurai either. Not from the perspective of a villager, who’s always a potential victim in one way or another.

There’s a whole lot to Seven Samurai. Kurosawa and his co-writers don’t introduce a lot more in the last hour… wait, never mind. Yes, yes they do. Amid the multi-day battle sequence, they do introduce a lot more. Mifune has a whole other subplot, as Kurosawa reveals he’s actually juxtaposed against Kimura, which never seemed to be a thing but was a thing the whole time. Going back to their first scene together (with Shimura). Only they were subplot to the villagers pursuing Shimura at that point.

But I was really trying to get to the violence thing. In the first hour, whenever Kurosawa shows violence, it doesn’t have any sound. There are the sounds behind it, but the violence itself–the steel of the swords cutting into flesh–has none. It’s uncanny and directs the viewer’s attention. When it comes time, in the third part, for the battle… Kurosawa handles violence differently. His original approach to it, what he emphasizes, is baked into what he does later, but it’s evolved. Kurosawa’s constantly perturbing Seven Samurai’s style. Like his editing. At the beginning, there are some sharp cuts to bring the viewer back in time to sixteenth century. He doesn’t keep them going once he’s got the time period established; he just takes time and gives attention to getting it established.

Especially since he later calls back to those cuts in a seemingly unrelated sequence, which then informs a bunch of other things as far as character development and revelation.

There’s not a wasted frame in Seven Samurai. Kurosawa’s precise. The film never drags, never dawdles. The three and a half hours sail by. Even the subplot introductions–after the film shifts over to Shimura and the samurai–are seamless. The pacing is just another of its master-strokes.

Technically, Samurai’s singular. Kurosawa’s direction–which changes stylistically as the plot progresses–is otherworldly. The way he and cinematographer Nakai Asakazu are able to frame the action horizontally make Samurai feel like an Academy ratio Panavision picture for the first two hours. Nakai’s photography is fantastic. Ditto Hayasaka Fumio’s music and Matsuyama Takashi’s production design. It’s all breathtakingly faultless.

Then there are the performances. Shimura and Mifune get the flashiest roles. Mifune in a loud way, Shimura in a quiet. They’re fantastic. Kimura’s good; he’s sort of the viewer’s point of entry for the samurai, but also the villagers. Though Mifune turns out to have similar avenues of insight. Both Miyaguchi and Katō have some excellent moments. But the villagers. Tsuchiya and Fujiwara are awesome; they get the big arcs running throughout, just under the surface; constant. They’re heartbreaking in different ways.

Hidari eventually becomes a sidekick to Mifune, which gives some of the very necessary comic relief once things get intense. And Tsushima’s good as Kimura’s love interest. She, Shimura, Tsuchiya, and Miyaguchi have the most pensive parts. They have these amazing internal experiences only relayed through expression; Kurosawa’s editing, not to mention his composition, showcases their silent thoughtfulness.

Seven Samurai is a masterpiece. It’s nigh impossible to imagine a way it could be even minutely improved.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Kurosawa Akira; written by Kurosawa, Hashimoto Shinobu and Oguni Hideo; director of photography, Nakai Asakazu; music by Hayasaka Fumio; production designer, Matsuyama Takashi; produced by Motoki Sôjirô; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Shimura Takashi (Shimada), Kimura Isao (Katsushirō), Mifune Toshirō (Kikuchiyo), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Rikichi), Tsushima Keiko (Shino), Inaba Yoshio (Gorōbei), Miyaguchi Seiji (Kyūzō), Katō Daisuke (Shichirōji), Fujiwara Kamatari (Manzō), Chiaki Minoru (Heihachi), Hidari Bokuzen (Yohei), Kosugi Yoshio (Mosuke), and Kōdō Kokuten (Gisaku).


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).


Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017, Seshita Hiroyuki and Shizuno Kôbun)

The first half of Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is surprisingly good. The film sets the scene during the opening titles–giant monsters attack in 1999, followed later by unstoppable Godzilla, two different space aliens show up to help in exchange for residency on the planet. Godzilla kicks everybody’s butt, driving the last 4,000 people from Earth (including the aliens) into space.

The movie opens twenty years later. The refugees can’t find a habitable planet. There’s some drama establishing lead Miyano Mamoru as a soulful military captain who hates Godzilla. He was a kid when they evacuated Earth and Godzilla not only killed his parents, Godzilla also made him drop some family heirloom. This hot alien priest dude, voiced by Sakurai Takahiro, takes pity on Miyano (well, not exactly pity–Seshita and Shizuno’s best work as directors is the sexual tension between the two). With Sakurai’s help, Miyano anonymously publishes a plan to kill Godzilla. The leaders of the refugees read the plan and think, hey, why not try going back to Earth.

Thanks to lightspeed and whatnot, it’s hundreds of years later. Or is it more?

Everything is fine until they get back to Earth. When the movie becomes Miyano’s, it goes to pot. Seshita and Shizuno are fine with the space ship drama and so on, but they’re crap when it comes to action. They apply live action logic to Planet, which is animated (though Godzilla is CG-assisted to questionable result), and the action scenes are choppy and absent thrills. Possibly because the characters become more and more unbearable as the film continues.

A lot of the fault is Urobuchi Gen’s screenplay. The characters are, at best, thin. At worst, they’re grating like Miyano.

The battle stuff is also poorly written. The timeline on Planet of the Monsters is always questionable–unless all the soldiers are actually children. Otherwise the years don’t line up. And the soldiers are a problem anyway because they’re all using awesome mechanized war machines (one alien species is religious fundamentalists, the other are tech nerds). How did they learn how to use the machines? The tween soldiers. They grew up on the space ship.

One of the soldiers is Hanazawa Kana. She’s either Miyano’s sister or his cousin. They have the same grandfather. But they don’t seem to know each other well. Their family relationship takes a while to get revealed (and it’s still never clear). At first I was wondering if she was the love interest, in which case I was going to be mad because the forbidden elf alien priest love thing. Right, the religious aliens look like Lord of the Rings elves.

Later I didn’t care because I just wanted Planet of the Monsters to end. And for Miyano’s character to die so if I ever saw the sequels (it’s the first in a trilogy), I wouldn’t have to suffer through him again.

But then the movie kept getting worse. Turns out the only thing Sehsita and Shizuno are less impressed directing than action is Godzilla. Unless you really like Godzilla marketing campaigns because the big CG Godzilla is often nothing more than a static image in a familiar poster pose.

For a while, it seems like Hattori Takayuki’s music is going to hold up. It’s good on the space ship. It takes some hits on Earth, but Hattori at least keeps it interesting. While he never uses Godzilla themes, he does do the same type of mood for sequences. Then he just goes to pot too.

Planet of the Monsters isn’t quite a monstrosity (though it’d be more amusing if it were); however, it’s still quite bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Seshita Hiroyuki and Shizuno Kôbun; screenplay by Urobuchi Gen; music by Hattori Takayuki; production designers, Ferdinando Patulli and Tanaka Naoya; produced by Yoshizawa Takashi; released by Toho Visual Entertainment.

Starring Miyano Mamoru (Haruo), Sakurai Takahiro (Metphies), Hanazawa Kana (Yuko), Sugita Tomokazu (Martin), Suwabe Junichi (Mulu-Elu Galu-Gu), Miyake Kenta (Belu-be Rilu-Elu), and Ono Daisuke (Leland).


Tampopo (1985, Itami Jûzô)

Tampopo is a cinematic appreciation of Japanese food culture. Writer and director Itami also has some love of cinema things, but it’s all about the food. Even when it’s played for humor. Or for nurturing. Or for sex. Sexy foodstuffs abound in Tampopo.

But Tampopo is also this traditional narrative. It’s a Western’s narrative, but it’s a narrative. Truck drivers Yamazaki Tsutomu and Watanabe Ken intercede on the behalf of a woman’s honor (regarding her position as the owner-operator of a ramen shop). It’s Shane, okay? I didn’t realize it until the end but it’s Shane. You don’t think a lot about the narrative because it’s very reserved, sort of muted. The humor’s easier and less ambitions.

Miyamoto Nobuko is the woman. She’s also Tampopo. She’s a widow, with a kid, a suitor, the failing business, questionable ramen cooking talent. Yamazaki agrees to help her learn. He sets up assorted, eclectic instructors and occasionally bewildering, always entertaining lessons. And he falls for Miyamoto, but he’s just a traveling man. Or is he?

There’s no question about Miyamoto’s shop eventually being successful. It’s just how long it will take. The film starts not with the main cast but with Yakusho Kôji. He’s sitting down to watch a movie with his lady friend (Shinoi Setsuko). He likes movies and food. No talking during movies, as someone finds out. But eating during movies is fine. Just quietly.

Then Itami kicks off the main plot with some didactic structuring. But it turns out to just be a mold. He doesn’t keep it. He keeps the same kind of asides, just without the overlay. The asides (because sketches would require cameos and everything else seems to need quotation marks)–so, the asides. These asides have no narrative requirements. Itami can do whatever he wants. Or can get an actor to do involving an egg yolk. Tampopo is a lot. It’s also brilliantly edited by Suzuki Akira. Suzuki’s got to have showy cuts to match the content because Itami’s always matching intensity with content. There’s a tension between the two and it gives Tampopo its anticipatory energy.

That energy stays consistent throughout. Suzuki and Itami keep the same pace during the main plot scenes as they do the asides. It’s really cool.

Great photography from Tamura Masaki and music from Murai Kunihiko. The film never gets long, the asides stay fresh. The acting is great.

Yamazaki takes Miyamoto through the urban landscape–because even if it’s a Western, it’s still set in a big city–to find the instructors. There’s Katô Yoshi, a former ramen-master burnt out, and noodle-man Sakura Kinzô. Wanatabe is around a bit. And Yasuoaka Rikiya is the guy who’ll be there for Miyamoto when the open road calls to Yamazaki and he abandons her, the shop, and the kid.

The kid who’s uncredited?

Anyway. It all works. It’s delightful. Itami falls back on broader humor whenever he wants to hurry a scene, but it’s fine. They’re good laughs, they’re just at the expense of character development. Itami, Suzuki, Tamura, and Murai do phenomenal work. And the actors are good too, but none of them get to do phenomenal work because no character development. Not even for an Audie Murphy Western much less Shane. Spoof and homage have definite limits.

They also kill a little turtle onscreen. So. I’m not down with that. I don’t want to talk about it, but, no. Uh uh.

Still, it’s a rather good movie.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Itami Jûzô; director of photography, Tamura Masaki; edited by Suzuki Akira; music by Murai Kunihiko; produced by Hosogoe Seigo, Tamaoki Yasushi, and Itami; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Yamazaki Tsutomu (Gorô), Miyamoto Nobuko (Tampopo), Yakusho Kôji (Man in White Suit), Watanabe Ken (Gan), Yasuoka Rikiya (Pisuken), Sakura Kinzô (Shôhei), Katô Yoshi (Noodle-Making Master), Ôtaki Hideji (Rich Old Man), and Kuroda Fukumi (Man in White Suit’s Mistress).


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).


Shin Godzilla (2016, Higuchi Shinji and Anno Hideaki)

Shin Godzilla is the story of hard-working bureaucrats responding successfully to a national crisis. When the giant monsters invade, you can’t do better than the able public servants of Shin Godzilla.

And for most of the film, directors Higuchi and Anno pull it off. The first act of the film, with the introduction of the unlikely new Godzilla, races–Anno edits with Sato Atsuki and they don’t slow down until it’s time for a full stop. There’s a lot of humor to Shin Godzilla, but it’s entirely for the viewer. The characters don’t get a break or a laugh or even regular smiling. They stoically battle the apocalypse, whether it’s a giant monster or the U.S. government externally unwanted pressure on Japan.

Shin Godzilla avoids politics. Way too much. But it does have this steady mistrust of the United States. It’s too bad too, because the U.S. shows up in the second act with all sorts of Godzilla info and those information dumps are a mess. On one hand, Anno doesn’t want to take the kaiju thing too seriously. He knows he’s got disbelief suspended by this time, so why not rush through some really silly origin stuff. There’s a portents to Shin Godzilla, which the directors pull off (thanks to the actors, thanks to the editing), but Anno doesn’t have a sense of humor about it. After the almost goofy first act–which transitions masterfully into the second act through montage–it seems like Shin is going to be something special.

Except it never gets there. For two hours, the movie keeps promising something more in a few minutes, delivering an almost perfect moment here and there, but always dragging it out. The second act is lead Hasegawa Hiroki dragging the cast of hundreds through the clumsy introduction of new ideas, new mutations, new characters.

Shin Godzilla has a hundred speaking parts. Maybe. It has a lot. It’s this rapid fire political thriller thing, only instead of a nuclear war, they’re fighting this giant monster. Every once in a while, there’s a “Godzilla moment” with the giant monster and the film seems to be moving more towards something to do with Godzilla symbolically. Even self-referentially. Anno and Higuchi use some classic Godzilla music, but they don’t do much else referential. The locations, sure, but it’s supposed to be scary. Godzilla’s supposed to be dangerous.

And Godzilla does do some serious damage, which the film completely ignores in terms of human casualties. There’s maybe one tragic scene, early on, when it seems like Shin Godzilla still might go somewhere else–into the cellphone footage, into the lives of the displaced–but then it doesn’t.

Instead, the film introduces Ishihara Satomi. Ishihara is the half-Japanese, half-white American daughter of a U.S. senator who’s on her way up the ladder in Washington. She’s also a bit of a party girl, because she’s rich. Ishihara does okay with some of the part. She’s bad at the English deliveries, which immediately kills the cinema verite the directors try to keep going. She’s got too much character for the movie and nothing to do with it. If Ishihara were better, the character not be such a drag. But Ishihara’s just fine, not phenomenal. Again, she gets no help from the directors. Maybe one of them told her to play flirty with Hasegawa and the other said not to play flirty with him.

As for Hasegawa, he’s a great lead. His character is a young, bright, impetuous staffer who just wants to do good. He wants to be Justin Trudeau. Ishihara wants to be Hillary. Except to change political analogies, Ishihara’s character is more the Mandy Hampton part.

Everyone else is great because they aren’t in it too much. If the performance is broad, the actor is gone pretty soon. By the time they’re back, they’re now a familiar face and they’re welcome. It perpetuates. It’s a very well made film. Until the third act, at least. The sludge second act seems like it’s building, through monotony maybe, but definitely intensifying. Because it’s so well-made. Then it collapses and Shin Godzilla just gets heavier and heavier.

Anno, in the script, tries to keep it light. He tries to play up the characters as familiar to the audience, but the film’s lost its teeth. If you’re going to deus ex machina, put it in the right spot and don’t try to drag it out two weeks in the present action. Because the directors break Shin Godzilla. For a better part of its runtime, it could’ve gone somewhere. But Anno and Higuchi don’t want to take it anywhere.

Except as a politician positivity message.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Higuchi Shinji and Anno Hideaki; written by Anno; director of photography, Yamada Kosuke; edited by Anno and Sato Atsuki; music by Sagisu Shiro; produced by Satô Yoshihiro, Shibusawa Masaya, Ueda Taichi, and Wadakura Kazutoshi; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Hasegawa Hiroki (Yaguchi), Takenouchi Yutaka (Akasaka), Ishihara Satomi (Kayoko Ann Patterson), Ôsugi Ren (Prime Minister Okochi), Emoto Akira (Azuma), Kôra Kengo (Shimura, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary), Ichikawa Mikako (Ogashira, Deputy Director of Nature Conservation Bureau), Kunimura Jun (Zaizen, Integrated Chief of Staff), Pierre Taki (Saigo, Combat Leader), Shimada Kyûsaku (Katayama, Minister of Foreign Affairs), and Mitsuishi Ken (Kozuka, Governor of Tokyo).


Mothra 3: King Ghidorah Attacks (1998, Yoneda Okihiro)

Mothra 3: King Ghidorah Attacks is simultaneously accessible but also one for the Mothra fans, which is a bit of a weird thing to think about. The film presupposes there are going to be dedicated Mothra fans in the audience and gears a lot of references towards them–at the moment I was appreciating the imagination behind the prehistoric larval Mothra, I realized I was definitely in that dedicated audience. While concerning, there’s so much good stuff in Mothra 3, it’s so creative.

Director Yoneda (who skipped the previous entry, but directed the first) has a bunch of differing styles and technologies going on. There’s miniatures, there’s man in suit, there’s CG, there’s CG-aided composites (which aren’t good), but then there’s CG-aided composites where background action moves into foreground and there’s just something to it. It’s a mix of special effects technologies pushed beyond what they can do. In seeing what’s too far, you do get to see where it would’ve been just right, where Mothra 3’s budget could have met Yoneda’s imagination. He’s gloriously, if unrealistically, ambitious with the film.

Suetani Masumi has a relatively solid script this outing (he scripted all three of these nineties Mothra films). There’s this troubled kid–the actor hasn’t ever gotten credit in an English language version apparently–who teams up with Mothra’s fairies to save the world. Except the fairies have a bigger story. There’s troublemaker fairy (Hano Aki, who tries really hard with no return from her costars), well-meaning fairy (Tate Misato) and perfect combination fairy (Kobayashi Megumi). Given how much they have to do in the film, it would really have helped if Tate weren’t awful and Kobayashi were a little better. With Kobayashi, the script fails her too often. But Tate’s bad. Otherwise Yoneda is good with the actors. The family stuff–basically uncredited troubled kid’s moodiness is just dragging down an otherwise happy family, though mom Matsuda Miyuki is way too young to have three kids and way too with it to be married to bumbling Fred Flintstone-esque Ohnita Atsushi.

And then there’s Mothra. Amazing set of Mothra designs in this one, as the creature itself has a fairly solid story arc. The traditional Mothra Christian imagery gets more integrated into the actual plot. There’s the very intentional rapturing imagery–Ghidorah flies over Japan, sucking up the children. And now since Mothra’s the boy giant moth, there’s a whole Mothra as Jesus thing, with Ghidorah graphically beating him and tearing away his flesh. Or wings. It’s a vicious kids movie.

Awesome Mothra song rendition. Yoneda treats it like a special aside, a wink at the audience. The special effects aren’t great–Mothra 3’s composite effects are really bad–but the enthusiasm carries it. There’s a thoroughness and sincerity to the film. Mothra 3 is a mix of story ideas, special effects ideas, acting styles (or lack thereof), yet it all works out. Yoneda brings it all together.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Yoneda Okihio; written by Suetani Masumi; director of photography, Sekiguchi Yoshinori; edited by Ogawa Nobuo; music by Watanabe Toshiyuki; produced by Tomiyama Shogo; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Kobayashi Megumi (Moll), Tate Misato (Lora), Matsuda Miyuki (the mother), Ohnita Atsushi (the father) and Hano Aki (Belvera).


Mothra 2: The Undersea Battle (1997, Miyoshi Kunio)

Mothra 2: The Undersea Battle is incredibly disappointing. It should be glorious in its stupidity–Mothra at one point turns into a giant fish-moth. Or is it moth-fish? There’s an underwater city raised up. There’s a furry E.T. or Gizmo-type creature and it’s got magical piss. Mothra 2 should be entertaining at the very least and it’s not. It’s never entertaining. Not even on the rare occasion something competent is going on.

There are numerous problems, but director Miyoshi plays the biggest part in the film’s badness. He’s not good with actors, he’s not inventive with special effects, either he doesn’t pace action sequences well or he doesn’t know how to cut corners well. Mothra 2 is incredibly cheap. There’s one miniature city and it’s this pyramid thing from a lost city a la Atlantis. It’s real boring looking, even though it’s got to be enormous because Mothra and the evil kaiju fight on it.

Oh, the evil kaiju. It’s a really dumb looking flying thing with four legs. It’s a bad suit. It’s a very, very bad suit. Mothra’s nothing great this time out either, but at least there’s something going on with it effects-wise–the flapping of the wings alone give it some personality. The bad kaiju has none. It’s a terrible design and a dumb story.

The fairies are boring–their subplot with the evil third sister is way too underdeveloped, with Miyoshi instead doing these terrible chase sequences. Mothra 2 is full of lousy composite shots and even lousier CG backdrops. Most of the movie is the three obnoxious little kid leads running around the interior of the pyramid in a mix of sets and CG and it’s just poorly done. There’s no sense of scale, for the visuals or for the story. The giant monsters attack Japan and no one cares except these little kids. And the human villains are these two guys who know the little girl lead’s mom.

But nothing can prepare for the last reveal in the film, because Mothra 2 is all about the future. It’s a kid’s movie, it’s “environmentally conscious,” it’s really weird and it’s a bad weird.

Watanabe Toshiyuki’s awful music doesn’t help matters, though I am going to skip listing the bad performances. It’s not the actors’ faults, it’s this movie. Mothra 2 just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work at all.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Miyoshi Kunio; written by Suetani Masumi; director of photography, Sekiguchi Yoshinori; music by Watanabe Toshiyuki; produced by Kitayama Hiroaki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Kobayashi Megumi (Moll), Yamaguchi Sayaka (Lora), Hano Aki (Belvera), Mitsushima Hikari (Uranai), Otake Masaki (Kyohei), Maganao Shimada (Yoji), Okuno Atsushi (Kotani), Okayama Hajime (Nagase) and Nonami Maho (Princess Yuna).


Mothra (1996, Yoneda Okihiro)

Mothra has the arguably unlikely problem of having way too many good ideas at once. For over an hour, director Yoneda is able to keep all the balls in the air. Sure, things fall apart in the third act, but the pieces are still glorious and the first two acts are stupendous.

It’s a kids movie with giant monster fights. Suetani Masumi’s script acknowledges a handful of kaiju standards, but doesn’t try to fit them in. Even with a giant monster fight taking up the entire second half (or eighty-five percent of it), Yoneda and Suetani never get too far away from the kids. Yes, Mothra is the kids movie with the relatable kids having the adventure of their lives.

Only it starts–before the kaiju arrive in force–as this crazy kids movie where Fujisawa Maya gets evil powers and imprisons her mom and attacks her brother. Futami Kazuki plays the brother. He and Fujisawa are effective together, which is what Yoneda worries about more with the kids than good performances. He gets good performances out of their parents, especially mom Takahashi Hitomi. Nashimoto Kenjirô plays the dad. He’s a bit of a doof who works too much, which pisses off Takahashi. She’s got to worry about her family, worry about monsters, rescue her brainwashed husband. She’s got lots to do.

I’ve forgotten to mention the three sister fairies. Two good, one bad. It’s absurd and goofy and sort of wonderful. There are big action sequences with these doll-sized fairies flying around the family’s house having a laser battle. Yoneda is bold with these sequences. He’s not enthusiastic exactly, as he seems too aware of his budgetary constraints, but he’s definitely bold. These action scenes are good. They just have technical problems.

Then there’s Mothra, of course. She gets the hero role starting in the second act, doubling it up because there’s a larva version too. Yoneda goes for iconic with a lot of the Mothra shots, something Watanabe Toshiyuki’s score helps with a lot.

Mothra is a wild time with a weak third act. The narrative closes off far more naturally at the end of the second act, leaving the film scrambling to reestablish itself. It’s finish is rocky, but more successful than not.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Yoneda Okihio; written by Suetani Masumi; director of photography, Sekiguchi Yoshinori; edited by Ogawa Nobuo; music by Watanabe Toshiyuki; produced by Kitayama Hiroaki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Futami Kazuki (Taiki), Fujisawa Maya (Wakaba), Kobayashi Megumi (Moll), Yamaguchi Sayaka (Lora), Takahashi Hitomi (Mrs. Goto), Nashimoto Kenjirô (Mr. Goto), Tanaka Hiroko (Shiraishi) and Hano Aki (Belvera).


Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001, Kaneko Shûsuke)

While watching Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, I had a daydream. I day dreamt Craig Armstrong, composer of The Incredible Hulk score, had been brought in the redo the score of Attack for the U.S. home video market. He did not. Instead, Ôtani Kô actually did compose the score for the film I was watching, meaning director Kaneko okayed that music. Because the music is where Attack forecasts its eventual problems. The music goes from undistinguished but fine to godawful. Shorting after the music goes to godawful, the film starts its slide down from the not insignificant heights it had reached.

Kaneko’s approach to Godzilla, the monster, is to make him a villain again. Kaneko’s approach to a Godzilla movie is to make the viewer the victim. Kaneko makes every giant monster attack visceral. Introduce a couple disposable characters, identify with them as giant monsters threaten their lives. It’s occasionally successful and at least once pretty fun, but it’s a contrived approach. Kaneko’s not trying to tell the story, he’s trying to make the viewer like the movie. Two very different things.

Some of the problem is that story. It’s light. Godzilla is a soulless monster (with grey devil’s eyes), the other monsters are all Japanese folklore creatures who are coming back to save Japan from the invading monster. They just didn’t help at any other time. And there’s some historical and political things thrown in because Kaneko and the script want to appear edgy. But it’s not edgy. It’s silly. As Attack progresses, the film descends into narrative absurdity, even lower than when the film started with wisecracks about the crappy American Godzilla remake.

Attack should still be better. Kaneko does a fabulous job for the first half of the film. The first monster fight is outstanding. He just flops on the final one, when there’s multiple magical resurrections and so on. But that flop isn’t about pacing, which is bad, or about the effects, which are good, it’s about the narrative. The script goes slack at the end. The last twenty minutes are tedious and the coda is awful.

Better humans–and better human stories–would help. Niiyama Chiharu is an intrepid faux news reporter who decides to cover the giant monster story. No other reporters are covering it. Luckily her dad is the Navy admiral in charge of hunting Godzilla. Uzaki Ryûdô plays the dad. Neither of them are particularly good, neither of them are particularly bad. Niiyama gets annoying in the second half when she’s telling everyone to trust in the giant monsters.

So much potential, so much technical talent, such a bad second half. Kaneko figured out the beginning of a movie and then got lost he was done setting up.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kaneko Shûsuke; written by Hasegawa Keiichi, Yokotani Masahiro and Kaneko; diretor of photography, Kishimoto Masahiro; edited by Tomita Isao; music by Ôtani Kô; production designer, Miike Toshio; produced by Honma Hideyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Niiyama Chiharu (Tachibana Yuri), Uzaki Ryûdô (SDF Adm. Tachibana Taizô), Kobayashi Masahiro (Takeda Teruaki), Sano Shirô (Kadokura Haruki), Nishina Takashi (AD Maruo Aki), Minami Kaho (SDF Intelligence Capt. Emori Kumi), Ohwada Shin’ya (SDF Lt. Gen. Mikumo Katsumasa), Murai Kunio (SDF HQ Secretary Hinogaki Masato), Watanabe Hiroyuki (Hirose Yutaka) and Katsurayama Shingo (SDF Intelligence Maj. Kobayakawa Tokihiko).


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