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12/17/05:
DVD Review ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS
Ass-Kicking, Eye-Gouging, Bone-Breaking Female Super Cop on R1 DVD!
Author: August Ragone
Source: Discotek Media


Discotek's dynamic DVD jacket for their release of ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS. Art by Wes Benscoter ©1974 Toei Company Ltd. Courtesy Discotek Media.
Based on the classic manga by Toru Shinohara, who also created the delirious FEMALE CONVICT 701: SCORPION (Joshu 701 Sasori) series, the story revolves around a special police agent (SUKEBAN GUERRILLA's Miki Sugimoto), who is arrested for the execution of a serial rapist, who turns out to be an important foreign diplomat. But when the daughter of Japan's next Prime Minister (YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE's Tetsuro Tamba) is kidnapped, the police are ordered to retrieve her and eliminate the culprits (lead by KAMEN RIDER V3's Eiji Go). They release the incarcerated policewoman - now codenamed: "Zero", who is offered a pardon as long as she does their dirty work for them, and returns the daughter alive. When the situation gets out of hand, and threatens his future, the dirty politico orders everyone dead - including Zero and his daughter. Then, as the corrupt cop (BLACKMAIL IS MY LIFE's Hideo Murota) stalks them, all hell breaks loose in a psychotic cavalcade of blood and fury, as Zero resolves to follow her mission objective through at all costs.

Those who are fans of '70s Japanese Cult Cinema, in the vein of Shigeo Osawa's THE STREET FIGHTER (Gekitotsu! Satsujin-Ken, 1974), Toshiya Fujita's LADY SNOWBLOOD (Shura Yukihime, 1973), and the television series SUKEBAN DEKA (1984-86), should not hesitate to pick up this violent, stylish and outlandish Toei action film directed by Yukio Noda. But, if you're one of those people who squirm at the violence in films like Quentin Tarratino's KILL BILL Volume 1 (2003) or Bo Arne Vibenius' THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (1974), step away from the DVD display - but, if you've relished any of the above-mentioned titles, ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS (Zeroka-no Onna Akai Wappa, 1974) is a must-see slice of exploitation carnage for you!

Japanese poster art for the original theatrical release of ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS. ©1974 Toei Company Ltd. Courtesy Discotek Media.
While there have been seven direct-to-video follow-ups to ZERO WOMAN produced since 1995 (available in North America from both Media Blasters and Central Park Media), they are mostly heavy-handed pretenders to Noda's film, and lack the original's wild style and blood-soaked execution. The "Zero Women" to follow in Miki Sugimoto's footsteps have failed to fit her patent-leather boots quite the same way - let alone hold a gleaming switchblade to her. If you thought that KILL BILL was a banquet of brutality, ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS is a feeding frenzy. But beware, this film is not recommended for viewers under the age of 18 - with its extreme violence and sexual situations. Those who are sensitive and politically correct should stay far way - you will be offended more often than not.

Discotek's audio and video presentation is about equal to similar Toei titles recently issued by Adness America/Ventura Distribution (although Ventura's titles seem to have less speckling and grain). The subtitles are fine for the most part (translating the Japanese "Sori" as "President", instead of "Prime Minister"), and all of the cast and credits are translated (although there are some incorrect translations for names - which is not uncommon). Some lines of subtitled dialogue ran to the very end of my monitor - which could have been a result of the anamorphic presentation, but is still a bit careless. Hopefully Discotek will remedy this problem on future releases.

There are 25 chapter stops, which is generous for a movie that only runs 88 minutes. The trailers for the feature are incredibly grainy and appear closer to 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which is a bit squeezed. While the trailer for the live-action LUPIN III feature is in its original Tohoscope 2.35:1 aspect ratio and looks great, considering the age of the source materials.

I feel that more effort could have been put into the menus, which are absolutely uninspired - something that Ventura does much better (I really like Ventura's "sock-it-to-me" screen transitions), considering using the non-animated menu style. Different music cues (and the theme song) play over these.

Miki Sugimoto takes out the trash - literally - in ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS. ©1974 Toei Company Ltd. Courtesy Discotek Media.
This release sports a beautiful jacket painted by Wes Benscoter and comes with a thick paperboard slipcase. The jacket for this slipcase has the same main painting of Sugimoto Miki, but with different images inset in her red trench coat (a nice touch) - also different photos on the back from the slipcase. The downside is the "Collectible Booklet" which is nothing more than a standard four-page color insert, containing a couple of fuzzy (but not embarrassingly poor) reproductions of the original Japanese posters, and very basic notes about the film.

While not up to the (admittedly high) standards of Home Vision Entertainment releases, such as Kinji Fukasaku's STREET MOBSTER (Gendai Yakuza Hitokiri Yota, 1972) or GRAVEYARD OF HONOR (Jingi-no Hakaba, 1975), Discotek's release of ZERO WOMAN is a damned good freshman effort. Hopefully, they will improve on any minor blemishes one may nitpick with this release. Again, while ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS is hardly a "family friendly" film, Discotek also is releasing such early Miyazaki classics as ANIMAL TREASURE ISLAND (Dobutsu Tarakajima, 1971), so there's something for everyone! Keep 'em coming, Discotek!

 
12/06/05:
MEDIA BLASTERS RELEASE SCHEDULE 2005-2006
Tons of Titles Coming to R1 DVD from the 'Tokyo Shock' Label
Author: Keith Aiken & August Ragone
Source: Media Blasters


Another first look; this time for Tokyo Shock's SPACE AMOEBA cover art. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 1970 Toho Co., Ltd.
Media Blasters has announced their DVD release schedule for the remainder of 2005 through spring, 2006. The following titles will be available under the company's Tokyo Shock imprint:

November 15, 2005: KI REI: TERROR OF BEAUTY (Kirei?, 2004)
KI REI (meaning "Beautiful") is the latest horror movie from writer/director Katsuya Matsumura, the man responsible for the infamous ALL NIGHT LONG video series (1992-2003). Dr. Yoko Noguchi (played by RETURNER's Yukiko Okamoto), a beautiful and successful plastic surgeon, is visited at her clinic by a young woman named Yoshie. Yoshie wants her face altered to look like Yoko's, and she pleads with the doctor to perform the surgery. Yoko finally concedes when she is offered an extremely high cash payment. The operation is a success, but the disturbed Yoshie continues to come back and demands more procedures. The young woman's obsessive search for beauty draws the doctor into a never-ending world of insecurity, horror, and pain. 85 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles, SRP $29.95.

November 29, 2005: ZATOICHI TV SERIES VOL. 1 (Zatoichi Monogatari)
A threat is uttered, a blade is drawn, a flash of cold steel and then... A dozen attackers lay dead, dispatched by the lightning sword of one blind man: Zatoichi. A humble masseur and gambler, Zatoichi wanders from town to town plying his trade and rolling the dice. With a kind heart and lethal sword skills, he is a protector of the innocent and the ruin of wicked men.

ZATOICHI VOL. 1 contains the first five episodes of Shintaro Katsu's classic television series. Photo courtesy Media Blasters. ©1974 Katsu Productions.
Introduced in 1962, Zatoichi was featured in 26 films starring Japanese film legend Shintaro Katsu, and resurrected in 2003 update from Takeshi "Beat" Kitano. Katsu brought the character to the small screen in 1974, and 100 episodes of Zatoichi aired over four seasons through 1979. Media Blasters now brings the first season, entitled THE TALE OF ZATOICHI, to DVD for the first time. The episodes (each approximately 50 minutes long) are being released in order, with the first 2-disc set containing Episodes 1-5 in their original full screen format with Japanese mono audio presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital, with removable English subtitles. Future volumes will each feature four episodes, with the entire 26 episode first season on DVD by the middle of 2006. If sales are strong, Media Blasters will follow up with DVDs of seasons 2-4.

Episode 1: A CHALLENGE OF CHANCE (Director: Kazuo Mori, Original Airdate: 10/03/1974) - Zatoichi joins forces with a new friend to protect a beautiful mining heiress; but a cruel yakuza boss has designs on her body as well as her business.

Episode 2: THE FLOWER THAT BLOOMED WITH THE LULLABY (Director: Yoshiyuki Kuroda, Original Airdate: 10/10/1974) - Everyone thinks little Taro is an orphan; when it's learned his father is a wealthy silk merchant, Zatoichi must protect him from a scheming couple and a deadly yakuza gang.

Episode 3: A MEMORIAL DAY AND THE BELL OF LIFE (Director: Shintaro Katsu, Original Airdate: 10/17/1974) - On the anniversary of his mother's death, Zatoichi vows not to use his sword. Can he keep his oath? Co-starring Kinya Kitaoji.

THE MAN BEHIND THE SCISSORS comes to home video in the US on the same week it is released in Japan. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. ©2004 Hasami Otoko Production Committee.
Episode 4: THE KANNON STATUE THAT WAS TIED (Director: Kenji Misumi, Original Airdate: 10/24/1974) - Zatoichi confronts a Machiavellian Shogunate official and reunites a mother and child with the help of a con man and his trusty cane sword. Co-starring Kamatari Fujiwara.

Episode 5: THE HEARTLESS MAN, TOUCHED BY COMPASSION (Original Airdate: 10/31/1974) - A masterless samurai works as a hired killer to help his blind sister. Will friend Zatoichi be next on his hit list? Co-starring Toshio Kurosawa.

ZATOICHI TV SERIES, VOL. 1 is a two-disc set with a running time of 250 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles. SRP $29.95.

November 29, 2005: THE MAN BEHIND THE SCISSORS (Hasami Otoko, 2004)
Directed by Toshiharu Ikeda (EVIL DEAD TRAP), THE MAN BEHIND THE SCISSORS is a quirky a perplexing police thriller centered on a pair of killers who ritualistically murder schoolgirls with scissors. The psychotic Yasunaga (played by Etsushi Toyokawa, THE GREAT YOKAI WAR and the upcoming SUBMERSION OF JAPAN) and his sidekick Chinatsu (Kumiko Aso from ZEBRAMAN, CASSHERN) find themselves being questioned as witnesses to a murder when their next planned victim is executed by a copycat killer. Also starring Hiroshi Abe (TRICK, GODZILLA 2000) and television actor Koji Higuchi. 124 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles, English dub, SRP $29.95. Official Japanese site

A first look at Media Blasters' cover art for ATRAGON. Photo courtesy Media Blasters. ©1963 Toho Co., Ltd.
December 13, 2005: ATRAGON (Kaitei Gunkan, 1963)
Thousands of years ago, the continent of Mu sank beneath the ocean during a violent earthquake. Some of the inhabitants survived, and the Mu Empire developed into an aggressive undersea kingdom with strange and powerful weapons. Almost 20 years after the close of World War II, Mu attacks Japan as the first step in their plan to conquer the surface world. But, the only thing standing in their way is the rumored colossal flying super submarine, named Atragon (aka the Goten), built by missing Imperial Navy Captain Jinguji. Can the elusive Jinguji be found in time to aid mankind, and even so, can the might of the Atragon be able to defeat the Mu Empire, and their serpent god Manda?

Released in Japan as UNDERSEA WARSHIP, Toho renamed the film - and the submarine - ATORAGON for international markets. American International Pictures picked up the film for the US and shortened the title to ATRAGON for their theatrical release in 1964/1965. The crew responsible for producing ATRAGON were made up of many of the people behind the Godzilla series: Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, Director Ishiro Honda, Visual Effects Director Eiji Tsuburaya, Scenarist Shinichi Sekizawa and Music Composer Akira Ifukube. The cast features such familiar faces as Jun Tazaki (GORATH, GODZILLA VS. THE THING, MONSTER ZERO, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS), Tadao Takashima (KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, SON OF GODZILLA), Akihiko Hirata (GODZILLA, THE MYSTERIANS, SAYONARA JUPITER), Yu Fujiki (KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS. THE THING), Hideyo Amamoto (WHAT'S UP TIGER LILY?, GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER, GMK) and Hiroshi Koizumi (GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, MOTHRA, MATANGO, GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS). The Asian dragon-styled kaiju, Manda, would next be seen in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) and GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004) - and the Goten would return in both GODZILLA FINAL WARS and SUPER STAR FLEET SAZER X: FIGHT! WARRIORS OF THE STARS (2005).

The three Eko Eko Azarak DVDs will be collected in a box set. ©1995-1998 Shinichi Koga/Gaga Communications/Tsuburaya Eizo.
The Tokyo Shock DVD will be the first-ever home video release of the incredibly popular ATRAGON in North America. The 96-minute film will be uncut, presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with the original Japanese audio track in 5.1 and 2.0, the English-language track from AIP's original US release (2.0), with removable English subtitles. The disc contains most of the features from Toho Video's R2 disc, including a full-length audio commentary with Honda's assistant director Koji Kajita, the original Japanese theatrical trailer for ATRAGON, and a photo gallery. There will also be trailers for other Media Blasters releases: SPACE AMOEBA, DOGORA, KI REI and SISTERS. SRP $19.95.

ATRAGON UPDATE: The ATRAGON DVD has been postponed. Delays in receiving original English language materials have pushed back the disc, but the final audio mix is now being worked on by Gramercy Post. Media Blasters is sorry for the delay, but they're confident fans will be very pleased with the finished result. ATRAGON is now tentatively rescheduled for a mid-January release.

December 27, 2005: KEKKO KAMEN SURPRISE!! (2004)
No one has seen her face, but everyone has seen her body! The fourth installment in the newest live-action series based on the naked super heroine created by Go Nagai (DEVILMAN, MAZINGER Z) takes a strange turn... it's "Kekko Kamen the Musical". When the long-suffering Mayumi (Aki Hoshino) attends the Mangriffon Music Academy, she once again subjected to the usual classroom tortures. Its up to Kekko Kamen to save the day and dole out some rock n' roll justice. Directed by Takafumi Nagamine (KEKKO KAMEN, KEKKO KAMEN RETURNS) and starring Misaki Mori (FLOWER AND SNAKE) as Kaori Wakatsuki/Kekko Kamen. 90 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles, SRP $29.95.

The Tokyo Shock line also features several films from Thailand, including the supernatural thriller ART OF THE DEVIL. Photo courtesy Media Blasters. ©2004 Five Star Production Co., Ltd.
December 27, 2005- EKO EKO AZARAK: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION
A 3 disc set of DVD previously released by Media Blasters, this collection features all the violent film adventures of high school student/white witch Misa Kuroi - based on the popular 1970s manga, "Eko Eko Azarak": WIZARD OF DARKNESS (Eko Eko Azaraku, 1995), the prequel BIRTH OF THE WIZARD (Eko Eko Azaraku II, 1996) and MISA THE DARK ANGEL (Eko Eko Azaraku III, 1998). Extras include "The Making of EKO EKO AZARAK", an art gallery, film premiere footage, interviews with director Shimako Sato and actress Kimika Yoshino, and original theatrical trailers. Full running time 270 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles, English dub, SRP $19.95.

December 27, 2005: ART OF THE DEVIL (Khon Len Khong, 2004)
ART OF THE DEVIL is a Thai horror film focusing on the investigation into the sensational murder of a millionaire's family. After police fail to uncover the evidence needed to charge the millionaire's mistress, a young crime reporter discovers how the woman committed the murders... she used the dark art of witchcraft! 96 minutes, in Thai with English subtitles, SRP $19.95

January 17, 2006: SPACE AMOEBA (Gezora - Ganime - Kameba: Kessen! Nankai-no Daikaiju)
Helio 7, an unmanned rocket probe aimed at Jupiter, is hijacked by a malevolent and non-corporeal intergalactic intelligence and is redirected back to Earth. News photographer Taro Kudo (Akira Kubo, THRONE OF BLOOD, MATANGO, SON OF GODZILLA) spots the probe as it lands near Selgio, a South Pacific island being developed into a tourist attraction. Kudo travels to Selgio with publicist Ayako Hoshino (Atsuko Takahashi, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS), scientist Kyoichi Miya (Yoshio Tsuchiya, RED BEARD, MONSTER ZERO, GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH), and industrial spy Makoto Obata (Kenji Sahara, RODAN and KING KONG VS. GODZILLA). Not long after their arrival, they are attacked by a gigantic cuttlefish, which the islanders worship as "Gezora". They soon discover that the disembodied invaders have infected the cells of tropical sea and land animals, transforming the beasts into massive killer kaiju. Kudo and the others must find a way to stop the aliens and survive attacks from the giant jungle turtle Kamoebas (aka Kameba) and a pair of crab monsters called Ganime.

The updated cover art for BAIAN THE ASSASSIN. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. ©1973 Shochiku/ABC.
Known in Japan as GEZORA - GANIME - KAMEBA: DECISIVE BATTLE! GIANT MONSTERS OF THE SOUTH SEAS, this was the last non-Godzilla monster movie made by Toho during the first cycle of fantasy films (1954-1975), directed by the legendary Ishiro Honda (GODZILLA, RODAN, MOTHRA), with visual effects by Sadamasa Arikawa (SON OF GODZILLA, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS) and music by Akira Ifukube (THE MYSTERIANS, CHUSHINGURA, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA). Toho marketed the movie internationally as SPACE AMOEBA, and it was originally released theatrically in the United States by AIP as YOG: MONSTER FROM SPACE.

The DVD of SPACE AMOEBA will include a 2.35.1 transfer of the uncut film, the original Japanese audio track in 5.1 and 2.0, the 2.0 original English-language track from AIP's US theatrical release, with removable English subtitles. Extras include a featurette entitled "Meet the Marine Animals Behind the Monsters!", a photo gallery, the Japanese theatrical trailer, and previews for all of Media Blasters' Toho titles: ATRAGON, DOGORA, MATANGO, THE MYSTERIANS and VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE. SRP $19.95

January 17, 2006: BAIAN THE ASSASSIN VOL. 1 (Hissatsu Shikakenin, 1973)
This release is the first of four DVD volumes collecting the initial and phenomenally popular and long-running "Hissatsu" television and movie series. The original series being released features the exploits of Dr. Baian (Ken Ogata, THE PILLOW BOOK, MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS), an acupuncturist whose skills can both cure and kill. While he is the epitome of a good man and physician, he also accepts money to assassinate the gluttonous and cruel, in order to care for the poor and sick, which cannot afford medical treatment. Set in the streets, bars, and brothels of the Edo period (1603-1867), the show has been praised for its authentic depiction of that time. Also starring So Yamamura (TORA! TORA! TORA!, GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH) and Ken Watanabe (LAST SAMURAI, BATMAN BEGINS, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA). In Japanese with English subtitles, SRP $29.95.

ZATOICHI VOL. 2 includes two episodes directed by star Shintaro Katsu. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. ©1974 Katsu Productions.
January 31, 2006: ZATOICHI TV SERIES, VOL 2 (Zatoichi Monogatari). Four more episodes of the renowned series, in their original 1.33.1 aspect ratio: 6: POURING RAIN (Director: Tokuzo Tanaka, Original Airdate: 11/07/1974). 7: A BIRD LANDS ON ICHI (Director: Tokuzo Tanaka, Original Airdate: 11/14/1974). 8: AN UNFORGETTABLE FLOWER (Director: Shintaro Katsu, Original Airdate: 11/21/1974). 9: THE TWO ZATOICHIS (Director: Shintaro Katsu, Original Airdate: 11/28/1974). 2 disc set, 200 minutes, in Japanese mono with English subtitles, SRP $29.95.

January 31, 2006: GARUDA (Paksa Wayu, 2004)
Written and directed by Monthon Arayangkoon, GARUDA is a Thai giant monster movie. During a subway tunnel excavation under Bangkok, a group of workers discover a rock so solid that even their most powerful and expensive drill cannot break through. Closer examination of the rock reveals strange animal fossils that are unlike any known dinosaur remains. The government calls in a young French/Thai archaeologist named Leena Pierre (Sara Legge) and her American assistant Tim (Dan Fraser) to investigate the site with a special forces team led by Colonel Tan Toschai (Sornram Theppitak). The group's intrusion awakens Garuda, a mythical beast from Thai folklore that resembles a 15 foot tall humanoid with the head and wings of an eagle. Garuda goes on a rampage through Bangkok, and Leena, Tim and Toschai must find a way to contain the mythical beast. 112 minutes, in Thai with English subtitles, SRP $19.95

The legendary monster GARUDA returns to menace modern-day Bangkok. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 2004 Media Suits, Inc.
February 14, 2006: GOYOKIN (1969)
GOYOKIN ("The Gold Shipment") is a highly regarded Chambara epic that was recently shown as part of Samurai film festivals in New York and San Francisco. A retainer named Magobei (Tatsuya Nakadai) returns to face the clan he abandoned when he learns that they intend to instigate another massacre. Protecting the sole survivor of that slaughter, a woman called "Taken by the Gods" Oriha, Magobei endures great physical punishment as he works towards a final confrontation with his brother-in-law, the clan's leader. The climatic nighttime battle, set on a snow-covered beach, is one of cinema's epic sword duels. Co-starring Tetsuro Tamba (KWAIDAN, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, SUBMERSION OF JAPAN). Directed by the celebrated Hideo Gosha (THREE OUTLAW SAMURAI, HUNTER IN THE DARK, TENCHU).

February 14, 2006: SCORPION: BEAST STABLE (Joshu Sasori Kemono-Beya, 1973)
The third film in Toei's FEMALE PRISONER: SCORPION series opens with Scorpion's escape from prison. Hiding out in a brothel with a friendly prostitute, Scorpion (Mieko Kaji, LADY SNOWBLOOD) tries to keep her true identity a secret, but the brothel's madam recognizes her as the ex-girlfriend of a vice officer who killed the madam's lover, a member of the yakuza. The madam calls in the yakuza, and Scorpion is soon tortured and framed for a crime she did not commit. SCORPION-BEAST STABLE features the theme song that was immortalized in Quentin Tarantino's KILL BILL VOL. 1. Directed by Shunya Ito (PRIDE).

Media Blasters DVD cover art for the violent revenge thriller THE NEIGHBOR NO. 13. Photo courtesy Media Blasters. ©2004 Media Suits, Inc.
February 28, 2006: SUKEBAN DEKA: THE MOVIE (1987)
Based on the hit television series SUKEBAN DEKA II: LEGEND OF THE GIRL IN THE IRON MASK (which was adapted from Shinji Wada's popular manga of the same title), this Toei movie features a band of undercover "delinquent girl detectives" who use unconventional weapons, such as metal yo-yos, against subversive elements who wish to overthrow the Japanese government. This time, suspicion falls on an island Juvenile Detention Facility, whose enrollment is being secretly trained as a mindless army by its ruthless headmaster (played by Masato Ibu, EMPIRE OF THE SUN, GODZILLA FINAL WARS, LORELEI: THE WITCH OF THE PACIFIC). Directed by Hideo Tanaka.

February 28, 2006: DIECOVERY (2003)
Five years after a girl was murdered in Thailand, an unsuspecting newlywed couple honeymoons at her burial location. They soon discover an evil presence and must try to escape from a ghostly nightmare.

March 14, 2006: THE NEIGHBOR NO. 13 (Rinjin 13-Go, 2004)
Adapted from the best-selling manga by Santa Inoue, this film is a twisted revenge drama by first-time director Yasuo Inoue (no relation). A kind and gentle young man named Juso Murasaki (Shun Oguri) has been so traumatized by years of school bullying that he develops a second, violent personality called the Neighbor No. 13 (Shido Nakamura). 13 decides it's time for some payback on schoolyard bully Tohru Akai (Hirofumi Arai) and turns his attention towards the man's innocent wife (Yumi Yoshimura of the J-pop group Puffy Ami-Yumi) and son. Filmmaker Takashi Miike has a brief cameo.

Also coming on March 14th is ZATOICHI TV SERIES VOL. 3, featuring episodes 10-13 of THE TALE OF ZATOICHI. On March 28th, Media Blasters will release BAIAN THE ASSASSIN VOL. 2 and Right Beyond's TAXI TONIGHT.

 
11/17/05:
DVD PREVIEW: SONY'S GODZILLA: FINAL WARS
The 50th Anniversary Godzilla Film is Released on Region 1 DVD and UMD
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


Textless cover art for Sony's GODZILLA: FINAL WARS DVD. Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Ent. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
On December 13, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings the latest Godzilla movie to home video in North America. GODZILLA FINAL WARS (Gojira Fainaru Uozo) will be available on DVD for a suggested retail price of $24.96 and on Universal Media Disc (UMD) at $28.95.

Years of war and nuclear tests have awakened a number of giant monsters from hibernation. To combat this threat, mankind stops its infighting and forms the Earth-Defense Force, an international military organization using mutant super soldiers. Through a combination of skill and luck, the EDF is able to trap the most dangerous monster of all, Godzilla, deep in the ice of Antarctica. Decades later, the hard-fought peace is disrupted when aliens from Planet X unleash an army of monsters in attacks on cities around the world. The EDF leaps into action, but soon find themselves overwhelmed. Realizing that Xilians are unaware of Godzilla, a small band of survivors take the last remaining EDF battleship, the flying submarine Gotengo (also known as the Atragon), on a desperate journey to awaken the King of the Monsters and unleash him against the aliens' kaiju army.

After half a century of Godzilla films (and a growing feeling in Japan that the formula had grown stale), Toho decided to celebrate the monster's anniversary with one final blowout and then give him an extended vacation. In the hopes of drawing a wider audience, the studio brass chose 35 year-old director Ryuhei Kitamura, known for kinetic action films like the cult hit VERSUS, to helm the picture. Working with executive producer Shogo Tomiyama and writers Wataru Mimura (GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA II, GODZILLA VS. MEGAGUIRUS) and Isao Kiriyama (ALIVE, AZUMI), Kitamura crafted an "everything but the kitchen sink" tale combining elements of many of Toho's most popular classic monster movies, Hong Kong martial arts, and American blockbusters to create GODZILLA FINAL WARS.

The new GODZILLA: FINAL WARS logo. Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Ent. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
A longer production time and the highest budget in the series' history allowed Kitamura's crew to film on location in New York, Paris, Shanghai, Sydney, and Tokyo. The director also brought in musician Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer) to compose the film's soundtrack, and title designer Kyle Cooper (SEVEN, SPIDER-MAN) to create the opening credit sequence. The cast features series veterans Akira Takarada (GODZILLA, MONSTER ZERO), Kumi Mizuno (MATANGO, GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER), and Kenji Sahara (RODAN, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA) supporting lead actors Masahiro Matsuoka (drummer in the J-pop band TOKIO) and Rei Kikukawa... however the standout performances come from mixed martial arts champion Don "the Predator" Frye as the Gotengo Captain Douglas Gordon, and Kazuki Kitamura (KILL BILL VOL. 1, SAMURAI COMMANDO: MISSION 1549) as the scenery-chewing leader of the Xilians. As for the real stars of GODZILLA FINAL WARS; the film features a stunning fifteen giant monsters. In addition to Godzilla, the lineup includes Rodan, Mothra, Gigan, Angilas, Minya, Manda, King Caesar, Ebirah, Kamakiras, Kumonga, a cameo by Hedorah, the American Godzilla (rechristened Zilla), a new version of King Ghidorah called Kaiser Ghidorah, and the new mysterious alien called Monster X.

Following an exclusive world premiere screening at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on November 29, GODZILLA FINAL WARS was released in Japan on December 4, 2004. The film failed to connect with Godzilla fans or the general public and was a box office disappointment. Earlier this year, Sony began negotiations for North American television and home video rights, while Toho held theatrical screenings of the film at a handful of festivals around the US and Canada. Reaction to GODZILLA FINAL WARS in America has been much more varied than its home country, with some fans decrying the film's many flaws while others praise the fast pace and over the top action.

The three DVD menu designs for the GODZILLA: FINAL WARS. Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Ent. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
After acquiring the film, Sony added a colon to the title (making it GODZILLA: FINAL WARS) and began promotions for the DVD. Advertising in trade magazines announced that the FINAL WARS DVD would include more extra features than any previous Sony Godzilla disc; a behind the scenes featurette, TV spots, and the original Japanese teaser trailer. For the first time, the studio even offered a 50 and 25 second radio commercial script for retailers:

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Presents What May Be the Greatest Episode of the Legendary Godzilla Series, GODZILLA: FINAL WARS, Now Available on DVD and for PSP at [blank].

Godzilla Celebrates His 50th Birthday as a Dozen of the World's Most Ferocious Monsters Crash the Party, Turning the Entire Globe into a Mega-Destructive Monster Bash. Even the Newly-Formed Earth Defense Force has a Surprise for Godzilla. They Intend to Finish Him Off Once and for All.

The Monsters Attack Not Only Tokyo, They Also Annihilate New York, Paris, Shanghai, and Other Great Cities. But then, a Mysterious Alien Force Appears with a Plan to Save the Earth... or so It Seems.

GODZILLA: FINAL WARS is the Best and Final Godzilla Movie Yet.

Run for your Life to See It. Now on DVD and for PSP! Own It Today! From Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Inc.

Rating: PG-13


The (admittedly slight) extra attention from Sony has had some Godzilla fans hoping for a truly great release, but the GODZILLA: FINAL WARS DVD is a mixed bag that will please some fans and strongly disappoint others.

A closer look at DVD back cover. Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Ent. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
One good thing is easily the most important aspect of a DVD: the movie looks and sounds absolutely fantastic. GODZILLA: FINAL WARS is mastered in high definition and presented in 2:40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture is sharp and clear, with beautiful colors and MUCH less grain than was visible in theatrical prints. The print used was supplied by Toho's international division and is complete and uncut; the only difference from the Japanese version is that the extensive end credits that play are now in English. One downside is that the white font used for the credits is often bleached out against the deleted and extended scenes playing in the background.

The DVD features the original Japanese audio and an English dub track prepared by Toho, both in 5.1 Dolby Digital. The English version is the standard Toho international dub and features many of the familiar Hong Kong voice actors from previous Toho releases. Some of the voices fit well, while others (like those use for Mothra's priestesses, the Shobijin) are incredibly bad. All in all, the dub works well for a film as loopy as FINAL WARS. One nice touch is that all the English dialogue heard in the Japanese release has not been touched; Don Frye, Darren Schnase (the Gangster Pimp), Mick Preston (the NY Cop), and the other English-speaking actors all sound exactly as before. The only exceptions are a couple of lines spoken by the Japanese actors which were redone to match with their dubbed voices.

Both GODZILLA: FINAL WARS and the 1998 American remake of GODZILLA will be released on UMD Video. Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Ent. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
GODZILLA: FINAL WARS is subtitled in both English and French. I am happy to report that the English subs are not the dread "dubtitles"; they are vastly different from the dubbed English dialogue and appear to me to be identical to the subtitles used for Toho's theatrical print.

The film is broken down into 28 chapters. It appears that someone was having fun with the chapter titles, which include names like "Kaiju Apocalypse" and "The Baddest Man Alive" (for Gordon's fist fight with the Xilians). Sony also shows a great sense of humor and a surprising lack of ego by giving the chapter in which their American Godzilla gets trounced by the original the title "Pretender to the Throne".

There's a strange inconsistency in the naming of some of the film's characters, by both Toho and Sony. The name of the alien invaders is spelled "Xilian" in the film and Japanese publicity materials, and "Xilien" is Sony's press sheets. The dubbing and subtitles use the name "Anguirus" while the English-speaking characters in the film use the monster's original name, "Angilas". The Son of Godzilla has no less than three names on the Sony disc; the Chapter Menu use the American name "Minya", the subtitles use "Minilla" (a direct translation of the Japanese name Minira, as in "Mini Gojira"), and Toho's English dub calls him Milla (pronounced "Mee-lah").

The DVD insert advertises the UMD Video of GODZILLA: FINAL WARS. Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Ent. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
One major disappointment is that, despite advertising claims, there are no theatrical trailers or TV spots for GODZILLA: FINAL WARS. The only previews included on this disc are the usual assortment of previews for other Sony titles. The selection includes the computer animated feature FINAL FANTASY VII: ADVENT CHILDREN, a lightly altered version of the "Godzilla Compilation Trailer" for Sony's recent DVDs (made up of scenes from TOKYO SOS), Katsuhiro Otomo's STEAMBOY, a documentary on off-road racing called DUST TO GLORY, the speedboat racing drama MADISON (who knew there was a crossover market between Godzilla and racing?), and Neil Gaiman's fantasy MIRRORMASK. For convenience sake, the Sony Previews are accessible from the Main Menu, the Special Features Menu, and the Previews Menu... so no one will have any problems finding the MADISON trailer.

Gigan, Godzilla, and Mothra in a promotional piece for the new DVD. Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Ent. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
There's only one extra feature on the DVD; thankfully it's a pretty good one. The "Godzilla B-Roll to Film" featurette is 17:53 minutes of behind the scenes footage focusing on the special effects crew shooting some of the kaiju scenes. While Kitamura and the main cast are nowhere to be found, there are brief shots of special effects director Eiichi Asada standing with Godzilla suit actor/monster choreographer Tsutomu Kitagawa (in his yellow Bruce Lee jumpsuit) as the latter preps for his role. Most of the running time for the featurette is devoted to the filming of Godzilla's fight with King Caesar (Motokuni Nakagawa), Kumonga, and being double-teamed by Gigan (Kazuhiro Yoshida) and Monster X (Nakagawa again). The video provides some nice close-up shots of the monster suits, revealing much more detail than can be seen in the movie, and there's also a fun scene of Kitagawa and Nakagawa yelling back and forth as Godzilla and Monster X beat the heck out of each other. The featurette compares some of the set footage to the finished scenes in the film, so anyone who has not already seen GODZILLA: FINAL WARS is advised to hold off on watching the B-Roll since it gives away the endings of several battles.

While the American GODZILLA: FINAL WARS DVD pales next to the bounty of extras on Toho's own Region 2 DVD boxed set, it does include English subtitles and dubs unavailable on the Japanese release, and the film itself is presented as beautifully as one could hope for. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will also release FINAL WARS and the studio's own version of GODZILLA (1998) on UMD for the PlayStation Portable (PSP) system. Both films have no extra features, though GODZILLA comes with English and French audio and English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai subtitles.

 
11/08/05:
ENTER, KAMEN RIDER V3!
JN Productions Unleashes More Classic Japanese Superhero to US DVD
Source: JN Productions and Generation Kikaida.


The dynamic DVD packaging for the KAMEN RIDER V3 complete series box set © 2005 JN Productions/Ishimori Productions/Toei
KAMEN RIDER V3 has finally arrived! Building on its successful DVD release of the 1972 Superhero series KIKAIDA, Honolulu-based production house, JN Productions, on November 1st, announced the upcoming release of a lavish DVD box set featuring one of the most popular and enduring franchises in the Japanese superhero pantheon. The KAMEN RIDER V3 Complete Series box set will be available starting Friday, November 18th exclusively at the Shirokiya department store in Hawaii and through the "Generation Kikaida" Online Store.

The 6-disc collector's edition KAMEN RIDER V3 box set features all 52 English-subtitled episodes, with digitally remastered video and audio, and an array of special features sure to amaze fans and non-fans, alike. JNP and Shirokiya are selling the V3 box set at a special introductory price of $169 (the regular retail price will be $199), including free domestic shipping, plus special gifts. The KAMEN RIDER V3 set is being produced in limited quantities, so those interested should order their copies without delay.

Each of the first five discs in the KAMEN RIDER V3 DVD box set contains nine episodes and behind-the-scenes episode factoids, meticulously researched by August Ragone, a San Francisco-based authority on Japanese Cult Cinema and Television. Ragone also contributed all of the textual materials for the set, including two in-depth background essays, and also supervised the English subtitle scripts. "For more than six months, all I did was eat, breath and sleep KAMEN RIDER V3 - but still, I can't wait to see the finished product!" exclaimed Ragone.

Erwin Baracao and Robby Gaskell's fantastic menu design tops their work on KIKAIDA © 2005 JN Productions/Ishimori Productions/Toei
The sixth disc contains seven episodes and includes the following bonus special features: an exclusive interview with star Hiroshi Miyauchi (SISTER STREETFIGHTER, THE WAR IN SPACE); a V3 trivia quiz; six karaoke music videos; character profiles (complete with sound effects) providing thumbnail introductions to 71 of V3 heroes and villains; cast and character information; and more factoids - all written by Ragone.

As was the case with KIKAIDA, JNP aimed to please both hardcore live-action superhero enthusiasts and a more mainstream audience. The opening billboard on each disc - each featuring a different Kikaida- or Kamen Rider V3-related character racing across the JNP logo - is a playful nod to dedicated Tokusatsu fans by Robby Gaskell, JNP senior DVD producer. Gaskell spent countless hours restoring the picture quality and color of the original program, and his menus and animated intros go the extra mile.

"This is definitely our best work to date," said Gaskell. "I feel it's the perfect balance of artistic interpretation and homage to the original [V3] series." And if most KAMEN RIDER V3 fans aren't interested in the minutia of technical DVD authoring challenges, they'll appreciate the end result - the complete, fully-subtitled V3 series, a host of fun special features, and eye-catching, easy-to-use disc menu design.

"On the surface [the DVD is] bonkers with lightning bolt graphics, karaoke music videos and character sound effects, but when you dig into it, there is an abundance of information to satisfy the 'super-otaku' ['geek'] in everyone," Gaskell said. The user interface on each disc is a delight with vibrant scenes from each episode. The Japanese-to-English translation - by veteran JNP translators Karen Corpuz, Ruby Nagao and Roy Mashima (and edited by Ragone) - is spot on and includes an "expletives-deleted" option for younger viewers.

Kamen Rider V3 battles the minions of Destron for the liberty of humanity! © 2005 JN Productions/Ishimori Productions/Toei
Originally airing in Japan from 1973-1974, KAMEN RIDER V3 was the second installment of Tokyo-based Toei Company's hit Kamen Rider live-action superhero franchise, which started in 1971. The eternal Kamen Rider series, along with the never-ending Ultraman saga, are the two most enduring series ever produced for Japanese television, with both titles continuing even today, with new series and movies each year.

KAMEN RIDER V3 tells the story of a young Japanese university student and motorcross phenom Kazami Shiro (Hiroshi Miyauchi), who vows to avenge the brutal murder of his family by taking on the sinister Destron organization. After suffering a near-fatal injury at the hands of the ruthless syndicate, Shiro is revived as the mighty cyborg, Kamen Rider V3. Drawing on the power of his Double Typhoon henshin ("transformation") belt, Kamen Rider V3 battles a myriad of mutant monsters dispatched by Destron.

Although Toei produced both the KIKAIDA and KAMEN RIDER series the monsters in KAMEN RIDER V3 are more sinister and grotesque than the colorful, comical and clunky KIKAIDA adversaries. Similarly, V3's pyrotechnics are more explosive, and the stunts more exciting with series star Miyauchi performing all of his own stunts. Both heroes were the brainchild of the late, great Japanese manga artist, Ishimori Shotaro (CYBORG 009). Shirokiya and the official Generation Kikaida Online Store are now taking pre-orders for the KAMEN RIDER V3 box set - don't be left out of this special introductory offer! For more information, call 808-845-8567 or go to the official Generation Kikaida website.

 
11/04/05:
DVD REVIEW: YOU KNOW THE NAME OF KING KONG
Classic Media Brings the Rankin/Bass KING KONG Cartoon Show to DVD
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Classic Media, Inc.


DVD Volume 1 of KING KONG: THE ANIMATED SERIES collects 5 episodes of the classic show that inspired both GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER and KING KONG ESCAPES. (c)1966, renewed 1994 by Classic Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of Classic Media.
On November 15, the first two volumes of Classic Media's DVD release of KING KONG: THE ANIMATED SERIES will hit store shelves. These discs feature ten episodes of the long-unseen cartoon THE KING KONG SHOW that was adapted into two live-action monster movies from Toho.

THE KING KONG SHOW was created by Rankin/Bass Productions, a company founded in 1960 by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. Originally named Videocraft International, Rankin/Bass is best known for some of the most popular holiday specials in television history, starting with RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964) and including FROSTY THE SNOWMAN (1969), SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN (1970), and THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS (1974). In 1966, the company received permission from RKO General, Inc. to use the name and likeness of King Kong for an animated series and new live-action film. Working with writers Lew Lewis, Bernard Cowan, and Ron Levy, Rankin and Bass crafted the concept for THE KING KONG SHOW; renowned scientist Professor Bond brings his children Susan and Bobby along on an extended exploration of Mondo (sometimes referred to as Skull Island), a tropical island that is home to a variety of dinosaurs, prehistoric animals, and a mysterious beast called Kong. After King Kong saves Bobby from a Tyrannosaurus Rex the two become best friends, and the giant ape joins the Bond family and Captain Englehorn (based on the character from the 1933 KING KONG) for adventures on Mondo Island and all across the globe. In addition to the occasional dinosaur attack, the group must deal with natural disasters, monsters, the military, alien invaders, and recurring villain Dr. Who, a deranged genius whose creations include the robotic Kong doppelganger, Mechani-Kong.

THE KING KONG SHOW premiered with an hour-long primetime pilot episode on the ABC network on Tuesday, September 6, 1966. The show moved into its regular Saturday morning timeslot on September 10 and was shown on ABC thru August 31, 1969; then syndicated to stations across America for more than a decade. Twenty four half-hour episodes were produced, each containing two King Kong tales (which run about 7 minutes) and one story of Tom of T.H.U.M.B. - a silly spoof of spy movies featuring a janitor and his assistant who are accidentally shrunken to 4 inches and join the top secret organization T.H.U.M.B. (Tiny Humans Underground Militaristic Bureau) to battle the nefarious agents of M.A.D. (Maladjusted, Antisocial, and Darn mean). The KONG pilot was later split into two shows (entitled "A Friend in Need" and "The Key to the City"), making for a complete series of 26 episodes.

The main cast of THE KING KONG SHOW; Bobby Bond, his father Professor Bond, sister Susan, and the 8th Wonder of the World. (c)1966, renewed 1994 by Classic Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of Classic Media.
The voice cast for the series included several regular Rankin/Bass performers. Professor Bond was voiced by Carl Banas, a popular commercial announcer from Canada who also played "Charlie-in-the-Box" in RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER as well as the Scorpion and other villains in the first SPIDER-MAN cartoon series (1967). Bobby was played by Billie Mae Richards, most famous as the voice of Rudolph the reindeer in many of the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. Richards also played Billy Connor (the son of the Lizard) on the SPIDER-MAN show; provided the voice of Toschio in the initial US release of GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE (Daikaiju Gamera, 1966), and redid all of Linda Miller's lines as the character "Susan" in the American version of KING KONG ESCAPES (Kingu Kongu-no Gyakushu, 1967). The voice of Susan Bond was supplied by Susan Conway, the star of Rankin/Bass' RETURN TO OZ (1964) and host of the 1970 television series DROP IN. Additional voices were done by John Drainie, a documentary narrator who appeared in TV shows like MAGGIE MUGGINS (1955) and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (1956), Alf Scopp, and Paul Soles. Oddly enough, Paul Frees (a Rankin/Bass veteran who also dubbed movies like RODAN) did not work on the show, though he would later provide the English dub voice for Dr. Who in KING KONG ESCAPES.

THE KING KONG SHOW has the distinction of being the first animated show created in Japan for broadcast in the United States. While scripts, designs, and voice acting were all done in the US by Rankin/Bass, the episodes were drawn overseas by Toei Animation (then known as Toei Doga). Many of the Japanese staff who worked on KONG were also responsible for some of the most famous anime of the 1960s and 70s. The animators included Sakei Kitamasa, Osamu Kobayashi (THE TALE OF GENJI), Norio Fukumoto (DEVILMAN, GREAT MAZINGER VS. GETTER ROBO), Tsutomu Shibayama (GHOST QTARO, DORAEMON), Midori Kusube, Takao Kasai, Yasuo Maeda (NIGHT ON THE GALACTIC RAILROAD, WHITE WOLF), and Yasuji Mori (ALAKAZAM THE GREAT, LITTLE PRINCE AND THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON). Toei also put production money into THE KING KONG SHOW in exchange for Japanese distribution rights. In Japan, the King Kong and Tom of T.H.U.M.B. segments were split into two separate shows, KING OF THE WORLD: THE KING KONG SHOW (Sekai-no Osha Kingu Kongu Taikai) and 1/7th TOM THUMB (0001/7 Oyayubi Tomu).

Compared to modern anime, or even other classic shows like SPEED RACER, the animation in THE KING KONG SHOW is rather crude... but the show definitely has a charm of its own. This is due in large part to appealing character designs from Rod Willis (RETURN TO OZ) and MAD magazine legend Jack Davis (MAD MONSTER PARTY?, 1967). The stories, while simplistic, are a clever mix of humor and adventure. The voice actors generally play things in a straightforward manner, but there are a few hammy characters (mostly villains) who often go over-the-top and imitate horror stars like Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre. THE KING KONG SHOW also includes some rather violent action. Kong's battle with the Tyrannosaur in the pilot episode is surprisingly brutal for a kids' show, and a nice reminder that the series was made long before the days of bland, safe children's programming. Topping off the show is some wonderful sounds effects (the jungle noises are a hoot) and great music by Maury Laws and Jules Bass, particularly "The King Kong Theme" that both explains the series' premise and is a very catchy tune. After watching an episode or two of THE KING KONG SHOW, there's a high probability the theme song will be stuck in the viewer's head for hours.

While THE KING KONG SHOW was in production, Rankin/Bass approached Toho Studios (who had previously made the hit KING KONG VS. GODZILLA) about co-producing a live-action theatrical film based on the show. Toho executive producer Tomoyuki Tanaka assigned screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa (MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS. THE THING, GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER) to the project. Sekizawa's script, "King Kong vs. Ebirah: Operation Robinson Crusoe", was rejected by Arthur Rankin because he felt it did not capture the feel of the animated show, so the story was quickly reworked and filmed as the seventh movie in the Godzilla series, GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (Gojira, Ebira, Mosura: Nankai-no Daiketto, 1966).

In 1967, Toho and Rankin/Bass co-produced KING KONG ESCAPES, a live-action film based on THE KING KONG SHOW. (c)1967 Toho Co., Ltd.
Toho's second attempt, written by Takeshi Kimura (under the pen name "Kaoru Mabuchi"), hit the mark. The new screenplay featured concepts, characters, and situations introduced in THE KING KONG SHOW such as Mondo Island, Dr Who (who kidnaps King Kong after knocking the ape unconscious with gas bombs), an arctic hideout, Mechani-Kong, and even a lead female character named Susan. Arthur Rankin supervised the Americanization of the film, which was released in the US in 1968 under the title KING KONG ESCAPES.

Following their work with Kong, Rankin/Bass would produce several popular films and shows. Some of the company's more famous releases include the movie MAD MONSTER PARTY?, the animated versions of J.R.R. Tolkien's THE HOBBIT (1977) and THE RETURN OF THE KING (1980), the television series THE JACKSON FIVE (1971), THUNDERCATS (1985), and SILVERHAWKS (1986), the feature film THE LAST UNICORN (1982), and three TV movies with Tsuburaya Productions-- THE LAST DINOSAUR (Kyokutei Tankensen Pora-Bora, 1977), THE BERMUDA DEPTHS (Bamyuda-no Nazo, 1978) and THE IVORY APE (1980). Production wound down in the mid-1980s, though Rankin and Bass still occasionally re-team for new projects (most recently the 2001 FOX special SANTA BABY!).

In 1998, Classic Media acquired the rights to all Rankin/Bass television programming from 1960-1974 and began releasing the classic holiday specials on DVD. Now, on the eve of Warner Bros.' DVD release of the original KING KONG and Peter Jackson's much-anticipated theatrical remake, Classic Media is releasing the first ten episodes of THE KING KONG SHOW on DVD as KING KONG: THE ANIMATED SERIES. The discs are being distributed to retailers by Sony Wonder, a division of Sony BMG Music Entertainment in New York.

Both volumes of KING KONG: THE ANIMATED SERIES have an approximate running time of 108 minutes and a suggested retail price of $12.98 (early plans to release a 4-disc set of episodes has been dropped for now). While the DVDs are basically "bare bones" releases, this was to be expected as materials from THE KING KONG SHOW are extremely rare. The lack of materials has led to years of confusion over something as simple as how many episodes were produced; even excellent reference sources like the authorized book ENCHANTED WORLD OF RANKIN/BASS (published in 1997) do not include an episode guide for the series.

The DVD covers apparently use new art done in the style of the show but, for some reason, Kong is brown here instead of the blue-grey coloring seen in the actual episodes. The main menus for each disc feature the cover art as well as audio of the entire theme song. There are 'Scene Access' menus (with stills from the series) that allows viewers to play all episodes or selected cartoon shorts. The pilot episode is included on the second 'Scene Access' menu; viewers are advised to start with these shows before moving on to the other episodes.

Classic Media has done a wonderful job on the most important feature on these DVDs... the show itself. Barring a few scratches, THE KING KONG SHOW episodes look absolutely fantastic, with a sharp, clear image. The show always had a rather muted palette, but the episodes that use brighter colors (such as the pilot) really pop on the screen. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital and sounds great. With one or two exceptions, the episodes are presented complete and unaltered with full open and closing titles, commercial bumpers, and previews for the next show.

If sales of these two discs are strong enough, Classic Media plans to release the remainder of the series (including episodes with the fan-favorite Mechani-Kong) in 2006. I truly hope that comes to pass because THE KING KONG SHOW will bring back fond nostalgic memories for older viewers and is also a fun, entertaining series that should definitely appeal to any fan of Kong and classic Toho fantasy films. Classic Media's DVDs are also well timed; Universal Home Video will release KING KONG ESCAPES on DVD on November 29, so fans will finally have an opportunity to see both the movie and the cartoon show that inspired it.

KING KONG: THE ANIMATED SERIES Volume 1 and 2 are highly recommended.

Kong and the Bond family explore a volcano in the first episode of KING KONG. (c)1966, renewed 1994 by Classic Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of Classic Media.
KING KONG: THE ANIMATED SERIES VOLUME 1

EPISODE 1
King Kong:
"Under the Volcano" - While exploring a long dormant volcano on a neighboring island, the Bond family is captured by the inhabitants of an underground kingdom. Kong races to the rescue, but the villains have prepared a trap for him as well.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "For the Last Time, Feller...I'm not Bait!" - When a boat containing plans for a top secret weapon sinks at sea, Tom and Swinging Jack use their mini-sub to recover the plans before they fall into the hands of M.A.D.
King Kong: "The Treasure Trap" - Bobby discovers an ancient sunken ship. As he explores the wreck, an earthquake strikes Mondo Island and traps Bobby underwater.

EPISODE 2
King Kong:
"The Horror of Mondo Island" - When Phantasium is discovered, a greedy mining corporation arrives on Mondo Island to dig up the rare metal. Bobby uses a war-painted Kong to send the miners packing before they destroy the island's ecosystem.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Hey, that was a Close One World!" - Tom and Jack go underground to deactivate a M.A.D. doomsday weapon.
King Kong: "Dr. Who" - The evil scientist kidnaps King Kong. This short features many elements that would later appear in KING KONG ESCAPES, including a main villain who knocks out Kong with gas bombs then carries him from Mondo Island with helicopters.

EPISODE 3
King Kong:
"Rocket Island" - Dr. Who disrupts the launch of the Gemini Capsule in order to blackmail the US for 10 million dollars.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "I was a 9 1/2 oz. Weakling Till One Day..." - M.A.D. agents capture Tom and Jack and put them in a miniaturized city so that the pair will think they've grown gigantic and go mad.
King Kong: "The African Bees" - A giant swarm of aggressive bees descend on Mondo Island, and King Kong uses his brains to protect Professor Bond and a moronic Texas millionaire.

EPISODE 4
King Kong:
"The Hunter" - A safari hunter named Ulrich Von Kramer uses Bobby as bait to trap the biggest game of all, King Kong. This story features some hilarious monologues from the egotistical Von Kramer and a battle between Kong and a Triceratops.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "I was a Starling for the USA!" - Tom and Swinging Jack infiltrate a flock of birds to learn which ones have become agents of M.A.D.
King Kong: "The Space Men" - A pair of weird aliens land on Mondo Island to get animal specimens (including Bobby and Captain Englehorn) before they conquer Earth.

PILOT EPISODE, PART 1
"A Friend in Need" - Professor Bond brings his children Susan and Bobby with him on an exploration of Mondo Island. Bobby discovers a valley full of prehistoric beasts and is almost eaten by a Tyrannosaurus before being rescued by King Kong. The small boy and the giant ape become fast friends, and Professor Bond and Captain Englehorn decide to take Kong to the US for study. This episode sets up the series and features several dinosaurs, the aforementioned Kong/Rex fight, a tidal wave, and an ocean battle between Kong and a giant octopus called the Kraken.

DVD cover for KING KONG: THE ANIMATED SERIES Volume 2. (c)1966, renewed 1994 by Classic Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of Classic Media.
KING KONG: THE ANIMATED SERIES VOLUME 2

EPISODE 5
King Kong:
"The Jinx of the Sphinx" - Kong and the Bond family travel to Egypt to investigate reports of a monster sphinx destroying ships on the Suez Canal. The sphinx turns out to be the first robotic creation of Dr. Who.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Cool Nerves and... Steady Hands" - M.A.D. agents fill the municipal swimming pool with nitroglycerine, and only Tom and Jack can get close enough to use a can of "nitro neutralizer" before the city is blown to smithereens.
King Kong: "The Greeneyed Monster" - Kong gets jealous when Bobby looks after Capt. Englehorn's pet dog. This episode includes a giant vulture-like bird wearing a hat (!?) that tries to eat the pup.

EPISODE 6
King Kong:
"The Top of the World" - Dr. Who establishes a base at the North Pole and begins to melt the arctic ice with his atomic invention, the Meltifier. As Alaska begins to flood, the Bond family arrives to save the world with the help of King Kong.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "All Guys from Outer Space are Creeps" - Tom and Jack are tied to a firecracker and launched into space to befriend a two-headed beatnik alien from Saturn before he can join forces with M.A.D.
King Kong: "The Golden Temple" - Bobby and Professor Bond discover a sunken Etruscan temple off the coast of Mondo Island but, when the professor tries to explore further he is sucked into an underwater whirlpool.

EPISODE 7
King Kong:
"The Electric Circle" - An evil scientist decides to turn Mondo Island into a nuclear missile base for his country, so he kidnaps Bobby as bait to lure Kong into an electric trap. This episode features a very aggressive Triceratops (Professor Bond states that this dinosaur is the "most vicious animal in the world" and "He doesn't kill for food, he kills for pleasure") and a villain who sounds like Peter Lorre.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Mechanical Granma" - To learn why the bad guys are so "maladjusted, antisocial, and darn mean", Tom and Jack infiltrate M.A.D. with a robot "Trojan Horse" built in the shape of a kindly grandmother.
King Kong: "Mirror of Destruction" - On a remote island near San Francisco (?!), a scientist has constructed a giant heat cannon (similar in appearance to Toho's Markalites). Dr. Who takes the inventor hostage, then lures the Bond family to the island in order to use the mirrored weapon to kill King Kong.

EPISODE 8
King Kong:
"Tiger Tiger" - Two perfectly preserved sabretooth tigers are found frozen at the North Pole. When Professor Bond thaws them out, the giant cats revive and attack an Eskimo village.
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "The Day We Almost had It" - Only Tom can disarm a M.A.D. time bomb before the city is blown to smithereens... but Tom has amnesia after repeated hits to the head.
King Kong: "The Vise of Dr. Who" - Dr. Who lures the Bond family and Capt. Englehorn to a fake children's home and traps them in a metal room with freezing and burning walls that slide inward like a giant trash compactor. Can Kong save them?

PILOT EPISODE, PART TWO
"The Key to the City" - Picking up from Part One on the first DVD; a storm at sea washes King Kong to New York City. Kong climbs the Empire State Building, and the Bond family must stop an overzealous military from attacking the giant ape.

HENSHIN! ONLINE EXTRA: THE KING KONG SHOW EPISODE LIST

Classic Media has provided an episode list for the entire series so that H!O readers can see exactly how many shows were produced, and what will hopefully be coming to DVD in 2006:

Back cover for the second volume of KING KONG: THE ANIMATED SERIES. (c)1966, renewed 1994 by Classic Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of Classic Media.
EPISODE 9
King Kong:
"King Kong's House"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Tom Makes History"
King Kong: "MechaniKong"

EPISODE 10
King Kong:
"The Giant Sloths"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Tom Scores Again"
King Kong: "The Legend of Loch Ness"

EPISODE 11
King Kong:
"Dr. Bone"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Blow, Jack, Blow!"
King Kong: "No Man's Snowman"

EPISODE 12
King Kong:
"The Desert Pirates"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Tom and the TV Pirates"
King Kong: "Command Performance"

EPISODE 13
King Kong:
"The Sea Surrounds Us"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "The Girl from M.A.D."
King Kong: "Show Biz"

EPISODE 14
King Kong:
"The Wizard of Overlord"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Just One of those Nights"
King Kong: "Perilous Porpoise"

EPISODE 15
King Kong:
"The Trojan Horse"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Runt of 1,000 Faces"
King Kong: "The Man from K.O.N.G."

EPISODE 16
King Kong:
"Caribbean Cruise"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Hello, Dollies!"
King Kong: "Diver's Dilemma"

EPISODE 17
King Kong:
"The Great Sun Spots"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Pardner"
King Kong: "Kong is Missing"

EPISODE 18
King Kong:
"In the Land of the Giant Trees"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Beans is Beans"
King Kong: "Captain Kong"

EPISODE 19
King Kong:
"Statue of Liberty Play"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "What Goes Up..."
King Kong: "Pandora's Box"

EPISODE 20
King Kong:
"The Thousand Year Knockout"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Our Man, the Monster"
King Kong: "Desert City"

EPISODE 21
King Kong:
"Eagle Squadron"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Never Trust a Clam"
King Kong: "The Kong of Stone"

EPISODE 22
King Kong:
"Murderer's Maze"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Drop that Ocean, Feller"
King Kong: "The Great Gold Strike"

EPISODE 23
King Kong:
"It Wasn't There Again Today"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "Plug that Leak"
King Kong: "The Mad Whale"

EPISODE 24
King Kong:
"The King Kong Diamond"
Tom of T.H.U.M.B.: "The Scooby"
King Kong: "Anchors Away"


 
Looking for older Henshin!Online Articles?
10/26/05:
NEW FEATURE ADDED TO HENSHIN! ONLINE

Over the past few years, the Henshin! Online crew and friends have organized or assisted on several film festivals in the United States. The list of events includes the American Cinematheque’s GODZILLA 50th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION and JAPANESE GIANT MONSTERS FESTIVAL; Bay Area Film Events' GODZILLAFEST, DYNAMATION CELEBRATION, ULTRAMANIA and HALLOWEEN TERRORAMA; and the Hollywood Theatre’s 50 YEARS OF GODZILLA. The majority of these festivals have been connected to Godzilla and Japanese fantasy films, but we'’realso working on a number of non-tokusatsu themed events and screenings… the remainder of 2005 includes a classic creature feature festival, the theatrical premiere of a new horror movie, and a 3-day Hollywood fest devoted to a certain 8th Wonder of the World.

We're kicking off the new HENSHIN! HAPPENINGS with news on August Ragone's SHOCK IT TO ME! REVENGE OF CREATURE FEATURES, which is coming to San Francisco this month.

To learn more about this great event, please use the link at the top of the Henshin! Online homepage or simply click here.

 
10/26/05:
TOHO PROMOTES NEW FILMS AT AFM 2005
Source: Toho Co., Ltd.

Representatives from Toho will attend the American Film Market in Santa Monica, CA this November.
Toho returns to the American Film Market in Santa Monica, CA (November 2-9) to present several of their latest films to international buyers. Representing the company are Toho Managing Director Satoru Terada, General Manager Shozo Watanabe, and Sales Managers Masaki Fujiwara and Kenji Sato. The big change from years past is that there will be no new Godzilla movie on the AFM 2005 schedule, but Toho does have a wide variety of Japanese titles to promote, including the following films:

A HEARTFUL OF LOVE © 2005 Tokyo Broadcasting System, Inc./Toho Co., Ltd./Mainich Broadcasting System, Inc./Tokyo Asahi Shimbun Service Anchor Federation/Chubu-Nippon Broadcasting Co., Ltd./Shogakukan Inc./WOWOW Inc./Nippon Shuppan Hanbai Inc./Geneon Entertainment Inc./Levie Plus Co., Ltd./SDP Inc./ Twins Japan/IMJ Entertainment Corp.
A HEARTFUL OF LOVE
What in your past would you do differently if you could? We all have our regrets, but what if you found yourself back in the moment you most regret... A HEARTFUL OF LOVE portrays a group of characters that return to such moments and find the chance to alter the past. Hiroshi, a 30-year-old businessman, has traveled back in time 20 years. He encounters Kazumi, a young woman whose memory he has always cherished, though he knows she was gravely ill...

A HEARTFUL OF LOVE will be shown 5:00 pm on Thursday, November 3rd at the AMC Santa Monica, 1310 3rd Street Promenade.

SPRING SNOW © 2005 Toho Co., Ltd./Fuji Television Network, Inc./Hori Production/SDP/ Hakuhodo DY media partners Inc.
SPRING SNOW
In the early 1900s aristocracy, a young duke Kiyoaki, and a noblewoman Satoko, have known each other as good friends since they were little children. As they grow up, Satoko gradually realizes that her adoration of the young duke has turned to love. But Kiyoaki does not understand his own mind and he always treats her coldly. However, when Satoko has accepted marriage to another man (for political reasons to save her family), he realizes he loves her, but it seems too late... Based on a novel by Yukio Mishima, Japan's representative novelist whose works are widely known throughout the world.

TOUCH © 2005 Toho Co., Ltd./Shogakukan Inc./Oriental Light & Magic Inc./Nippon Television Network Corporation
TOUCH
Tatsuya and Kazuya, twin brothers, have a mutual girl friend, Minami, who has been their playmate since they were babies. After they enter the same high school, Minami harbors a dream: For her school to participate in the national high school baseball championship tournament at Koshien Stadium. In order to make her dream come true, Kazuya joins his high school baseball team as an ace pitcher. But on the morning of the day of the final qualifying game, Kazuya is involved in a traffic accident and dies... Based on the classic manga, which was also a popular anime series in the 1980s.

TRAIN MAN © 2005 Toho Co., Ltd./Fuji Television Network, Inc./SDP/Hakuhodo DY media partners Inc.
TRAIN MAN
Timid and withdrawn though he is, a young computer engineer, who is tastelessly clothed, saves a pretty young lady from a wild middle-aged molester on the train. It is love at first sight for him, and when he receives a thank you message from her, she also sends a set of Hermes teacups. Although he was shy about asking her for a date because he never had a girlfriend, he manages to build up the courage to call her. While on the phone with her, however, he asks his friends on the Internet for advice: "Where to take her for lunch?"

SHINING BOY AND LITTLE RANDY © 2005 Fuji Television Network, Inc./Toho Co, Ltd./SDP
SHINING BOY AND LITTLE RANDY
Based on the true story of a young boy named Tetsumu who set out against all odds to make the world a better place for elephants. The story begins with Tetsumu as an introverted, sensitive youth who must endure bullying at school and the souring relationship with his parents who operate an animal talent agency, until the arrival of a pair of elephants named "Mickey" and "Randy", who bring him the affection and spiritual bonding he has long sought in human beings. In fact, Tetsumu quickly realizes he is blessed with a natural ability to communicate with the elephants, which prompts him to depart for the jungles near Chiang Mai in Thailand to become Japan's first elephant trainer...

 
10/03/05:
SADAMASA ARIKAWA 1926-2005
Toho and Tsuburaya Pro Special Visual Effects Director Passes Away
Author: Richard Pusateri with Keith Aiken
Special Thanks to Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle


Sadamasa Arikawa directed the special visual effects for Toho films like DESTROY ALL MONSTERS as well as Tsuburaya Pro's early ULTRAMAN shows.
Fans of Japanese science fiction movies have lost another giant of the genre. Special effects director and cinematographer Sadamasa Arikawa passed away September 22, 2005 at age 80 in Izu, Japan.

While some fans may not associate Mr. Arikawa's name with the achievements of Toho's famed special effects unit, a revealing photograph on the set of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (Kaiju Soshingeki, 1968) significantly places him next to Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya and Tomoyuki Tanaka. That photograph reflects the stature that Mr. Arikawa had attained as the Director of Special Effects on that film. (He was sometimes billed as "Teisho Arikawa".)

Born in Tokyo in June 1926, Mr. Arikawa graduated from Nippon University's Engineering Department with a degree in machinery. He then joined the Japanese Navy's air corps and flew several anti-submarine patrols over the Pacific Ocean. Following WWII, he was hired by Toho in August 1945 and worked in the studio's sound department. During this time, Mr. Arikawa became interested in special effects of motion pictures and in 1948, he introduced himself to Mr. Tsuburaya. That meeting eventually led to Mr. Arikawa leaving Toho to take a job at Tsuburaya Special Effects Laboratory. In 1950, Eiji Tsuburaya returned to Toho and brought along many of the staff members of his effects house, including Mr. Arikawa.

Mr. Arikawa began working on the special effects unit as a camera operator on the Honda/Tsuburaya WWII drama EAGLE OF THE PACIFIC (Taiheiyo-no Washi, 1953), which was followed by the original GODZILLA (Gojira) in 1954. He continued as Mr. Tsuburaya's lead camera operator for most of the Godzilla movies and other classic sci-fi, war and disaster films of the 1960s, occasionally billed as the Director of Special Effects Photography.

Arikawa planning a scene with Kamakiras for SON OF GODZILLA. © 1967 Toho Co., Ltd.
Mr. Arikawa worked with Mr. Tsuburaya for so many years on Godzilla movies, RODAN (Sora-no Daikaiju Radon, 1956), THE MYSTERIANS (Chikyu Boeigun, 1957), MOTHRA (Mosura, 1961), ATRAGON (Kaitei Gunkan, 1963), FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (Furankenshutain tai Chite Kaiju Baragon, 1965), WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (Furankenshutain-no Kaiju: Sanda tai Gaira, 1966), he eventually gained the reputation as "The Old Man's" most trusted cinematographer. He received his first opportunity to work as Director of Special Effects on the film SCARLET SKY (Kurenai-no Sora, 1962), and also directed the effects for episodes Tsuburaya Productions' classic television series ULTRA Q (Urutora Q, 1966), ULTRAMAN (Urutoraman, 1966) ULTRA SEVEN (Urutora Sebun, 1967), and MIGHTY JACK (Maitei Jyakku, 1968). With Mr. Tsuburaya's time divided between Toho films like WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS and his TV projects, Mr. Arikawa had actually assumed the duties of directing much of the special effects on the Godzilla series starting with GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER (Gojira, Ebira, Mosura: Nankai-no Daiketto, 1966), for which he was billed as prominently as Assistant Special Effects Director.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Tsuburaya's health began to decline. Mr. Arikawa had been doing the "heavy lifting" of directing the special effects for some time and now he earned the credit on the screen. For SON OF GODZILLA (Kaijuto-no Kessen: Gojira-no Musuko, 1967) and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, Mr. Arikawa was credited as the Director of Special Effects with Mr. Tsuburaya billed as Supervisor of Special Effects. Following Mr. Tsuburaya's death on January 25, 1970, Mr. Arikawa directed the effects for YOG: MONSTER FROM SPACE (Gezora-Ganime-Kameba: Kessen! Nankai-no Daikaiju, 1970), then left Toho when the studio shut down their special effects department. Mr. Arikawa went freelance, working for various companies, including Kokusai Hoei. But also worked on several of Toho's superhero television shows such as RAINBOWMAN: WARRIOR OF PIETY (Ai-no Senshi Reinboman, 1972-73) on which he served as Visual Effects Director. During the 1970s, he also worked on several overseas films, including the Hong Kong giant monster movie MIGHTY PEKING MAN (Xing-Xing Wang, 1977). Mr. Arikawa was Producer of the Toho Eizo/ Kokusai Hoei television series MONKEY MAGIC 2 (Saiyuki II, 1979) and co-directed the Taiwanese fantasy film THE PHOENIX (1979).

Sadamasa Arikawa poses with Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya, Tomoyuki Tanaka, and the kaiju cast of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. © 1968 Toho Co., Ltd.
Mr. Arikawa gave American fans the opportunity to meet him in person at G- FEST 2000, in the Roosevelt hotel in Hollywood. During guest appearances at the Egyptian Theatre, he easily conveyed the atmosphere of the special effects teamwork and revealed a few special techniques. Mr. Arikawa attended many of the screenings at the Egyptian, and enjoyed the overwhelming audience response to the subtitled version of GODZILLA. The following day, the American fans, mostly familiar with the faded, pan & scan television version of SON OF GODZILLA, reacted with great enthusiasm to a gorgeous widescreen English dubbed print. Following the film, a beaming Mr. Arikawa thanked attendees for showing as much love for his "little movie" as they had for the original GODZILLA.

He was an exceptionally entertaining speaker who genuinely enjoyed speaking about his life's work and, during autograph sessions, he cheerfully took time to engage each fan personally. Probably everyone who met Mr. Arikawa that weekend in Hollywood cherishes the memory of an expert technician and skillful artisan who had a sincerely benevolent nature.

 
09/27/05:
THE LATEST FROM MEDIA BLASTERS
The Popular DVD Label Releases Several New Japanese Genre Films
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Media Blasters


DVD cover art for ONE MISSED CALL, just one of the many new releases from Media Blasters. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 2004 Kadokawa Ent., Inc.
Over the past year, Media Blasters’ Tokyo Shock imprint has released high-quality DVDs of such Toho classics as MATANGO, VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE, and DOGORA. The sole disappointment for most fans was the cancellation of the scheduled October 11 release of SPACE AMOEBA. Known in Japan as GEZORA, GANIME, KAMEBA: DECISIVE BATTLE! GIANT MONSTERS OF THE SOUTH SEAS (Gezora-Ganime-Kameba: Kessen! Nankai-no Daikaiju) and released theatrically in the United States as YOG: MONSTER FROM SPACE, SPACE AMOEBA came out on R2 DVD this past June 24. Media Blasters’ agreement with Toho prevents a US release within six months of that date, so the US DVD of SPACE AMOEBA has been pushed back to early 2006. In the meantime, fans can still look forward to several recent and upcoming Japanese genre DVDs, including three films from prolific director Takashi Miike (AUDITION, ZEBRAMAN, SPOOK WARFARE).

September 13- ONE MISSED CALL (Chakushin Ari, 2004)
A group of teenagers start receiving ‘missed call’ messages on their cell phones. When played back the teens hear terrifying voice messages of their own agonizing deaths, with onscreen text giving the exact date and time of their imminent murders. After the first murders occur, the media soon gets hold of the story, and a young woman (Kou Shibasaki) receives her own ‘missed call’.

Takashi Miike’s supernatural thriller has already spawned a sequel, ONE MISSED CALL 2, released in January on February 5, 2005. Media Blasters’ 2-Disc set presents the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with the original Japanese audio track in both 5.1 and 2.0 digital surround sound, a 2.0 English dub, and removable English subtitles. Extras on Disc 1 include the original theatrical trailer and previews for several Tokyo Shock titles. Disc 2 has "The Making of ONE MISSED CALL" documentary, an exclusive interview with Miike, interviews with the cast and crew, TV spots, and more.

The post-apocalyptic DRAGONHEAD features stunning visual effects. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 2003 Minetaro Mochizuki/Kodansha/Eiga Dragonhead Seisaku Iinnkai
September 27- DRAGONHEAD (Doragon Hetsudo, 2003)
Based on the manga by Minetaro Mochizuki (serialized in WEEKLY YOUNG MAGAZINE from September 1994 to December 1999), DRAGONHEAD is an apocalyptic mystery involving students returning home from a school trip aboard a bullet train. A massive earthquake hits while the train is passing thru a tunnel, causing a landslide that derails the train and kills most of the passengers. The only survivors are three classmates; Teru Aoki (Japanese Academy Award nominee Satoshi Tsumanuki, WATERBOYS), Ako Seto (Sayaka Matsuda), and Nobuo Takahashi. As they wait in vain to be rescued, the claustrophobic Nobuo begins to crack under the pressure. Teru and Ako finally manage to escape to the surface only to discover that Tokyo has been destroyed. The two students struggle to survive in the ruined landscape, meet a crazed deserter from the Tokyo Self Defense Forces, and try to uncover the mystery of "Dragonhead"... the source of total devastation.

With an enormous budget (by Japanese standards) of approximately $13 million US, DRAGONHEAD features amazing visual effects and scenes filmed on location in the Middle Eastern country of Uzbekistan. Director Joji Iida (ANOTHER HEAVEN, the first RING sequel RASEN) had his crew construct enormous sets and use 80 tons of ash to simulate the remains of Tokyo. Toho released DRAGONHEAD to Japanese theaters in August of 2003.

The new DVD features the 122 minute-long film, presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with the original Japanese audio track (both 5.1 and 2.0) and a 2.0 English dub. Extras include theatrical trailers and TV spots, the half hour documentary "The Making of DRAGONHEAD", a 5 minute "Shooting Diary in Uzbekistan" featurette, and previews for other Media Blasters titles.

IZO combines the talents of Takashi Miike and Takeshi Kitano. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 2004 Excellent Film Co.
October 11- IZO (Izo: Kaosu Mataha Fujori-no Kilin, 2004)
Takashi Miike and acclaimed actor/director "Beat" Takeshi Kitano (FIREWORKS, BATTLE ROYALE) had initially planned to work together on the 2003 ZATOICHI remake, but circumstances eventually led to Kitano making the film on his own. The two filmmakers finally teamed for a new project; a period piece samurai movie with a twist.

Okada Izo was a warrior from a lower-class family in Midwest Japan. His reputation as a talented swordsman spread across the land, and he was soon recruited as a soldier for a powerful samurai. Under the samurai's guidance, Izo killed so many people that he earned the nickname "Izo the Slaughterer". Eventually Izo was captured by his enemies and crucified. Denied entry to both Heaven and Hell, Izo’s restless soul now travels beyond time and space to unleash deception, despair, and murderous rage on all who cross his path.

In addition to Kitano, the cast includes Cisato Amate, Ryuhei Matsuda (GOHATTO, BLUE SPRING, 9 SOULS), Kenichi Endo (VISITOR Q, DEAD OR ALIVE 2), Yoshio Harada (ONIBI, 9 SOULS) rocker Yuya Uchida (DEADLY OUTLAW REKKA), Kirin Kiki (PISTOL OPERA), Susumu Terajima (who has appeared in many Kitano and Miike projects), Mitsuhiro Oikawa (CITY OF LOST SOULS), plus two K-1 fighters, including American superstar Bob "The Beast" Sapp (DEVILMAN). The screenplay is by Shigenori Takechi, who has written for such Miike films as AGITATOR and DEADLY OUTLAW REKKA.

Media Blasters’ IZO is a 2-Disc set. Disc 1 features the movie (running time: 128 minutes) in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, with the original Japanese audio, removable English subtitles, and an English dub track; plus IZO theatrical trailers, and trailers for Tokyo Shock’s SPACE AMOEBA, NIGHTMARE, SISTERS, and KEKKO KAMEN RETURNS. Disc 2 includes "The Making of IZO", "The Secrets of IZO", footage from the Japanese premiere, the FANGORIA international trailer, and a collection of trailers for Miike’s DEADLY OUTLAW REKKA, VISITOR Q, ICHI THE KILLER, ONE MISSED CALL, THE NEGOTIATOR, and FUDOH.

Media Blasters has two volumes of the horror anthology series TALES OF TERROR FROM TOKYO. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 2004/05 TBS
TALES OF TERROR FROM TOKYO VOLUMES 1 and 2 (Suiyo Puremia: Sekai Saikyo J-Hora SP Nihon-no Kowai Yoru, 2004)
Just because the gates to the spirit world are usually kept shut does not mean that they cannot suddenly open, that the dead cannot reach out for your throat, that its denizens cannot prowl in abandoned office buildings, or haunt high school video projects. The dark realm is with you, and within you, its emotions calling to yours in shades of horror, of fear, of terror. Writers Kihara Hirokatsu and Nakayama Ichiro have collected these Tales of Terror from accounts told to them as true all over Japan.

To date, the Tokyo Broadcasting Services has shown four television movies featuring supposedly "true stories of the unexplained". The films are made up a several short stories (each running approximately 5-10 minutes), with individual segments directed by Takashi Shimizu (JU-ON, THE GRUDGE), Norio Tsuruta (RING 0: BIRTHDAY, THE LOVER), Yoshihiro Nakamuru (writer of Shusuke Kaneko’s musical WHEN YOU SING OF LOVE), Masayuki Ochiai (PARASITE EVE, INFECTION), and Koji Shiraishi (THE UNCANNY). Media Blasters released the first 90 minute-long film, TALES OF TERROR FROM TOKYO: VOLUME ONE, on August 30 with TALES OF TERROR FROM TOKYO AND ALL OVER JAPAN: VOLUME TWO scheduled for October 11.

Takashi Miike has directed in a wide variety of genres, including the hostage thriller THE NEGOTIATOR. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 2003 Pony Canyon/WOWOW
October 25- THE NEGOTIATOR (Koshonin, 2003)
After a wave of hostage situations, the Japanese Police Headquarters established the "Negotiator System" to deal with the growing problem. Two negotiators, Shuhei Ishida and Maiko Tono, become successful partners until rumors of an affair break up the team and Maiko is demoted to a filing clerk position. When Ishida’s wife and child are taken hostage he fears his emotions will endanger his family, so he asks Maiko to work with him one last time.

This TV movie (running time: 107 minutes) is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with 5.1 and 2.0 Japanese audio and English subtitles. Extras include a commentary track by director Takashi Miike, "The Making of THE NEGOTIATOR", the original trailer, and Tokyo Shock trailers for ONE MISSED CALL, TALES OF TERROR FROM TOKYO: VOLUME ONE, TALES OF TERROR FROM TOKYO: VOLUME TWO, and KEKKO KAMEN RETURNS.

December 13- ATRAGON (Kaitei Gunkan, 1963)
Thousands of years ago, the continent of Mu sank beneath the ocean during a violent earthquake. Some of the inhabitants survived, and the Mu Empire developed into an aggressive undersea kingdom with unique and powerful weapons. In modern day, Mu attacks Japan as the first step in their plan to conquer the surface world. The only thing standing in their way is Atragon (aka the Gohten), a colossal flying supersub built by missing WWII Captain Jinguji. Will Jinguji be found in time to help mankind, and will the Atragon be able to defeat the Mu Empire and their serpent god Manda?

Media Blasters’ ATRAGON DVD will reportedly contain the extras from Toho’s 2003 R2 disc. © 1963 Toho Co., Ltd
Released in Japan as UNDERSEA WARSHIP, Toho renamed the film- and the submarine- ATORAGON for international markets. American International Pictures picked up the film for the US and shortened the title to ATRAGON for their 1965 theatrical release. The crew responsible for ATRAGON was made up of many of the people behind the Godzilla series; producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, director Ishiro Honda, special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, writer Shinichi Sekizawa, and composer Akira Ifukube. The cast features such familiar faces as Jun Tazaki (GORATH, GODZILLA VS THE THING, MONSTER ZERO, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS), Tadao Takashima (KING KONG VS GODZILLA, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, SON OF GODZILLA), Akihiko Hirata (GODZILLA, H-MAN, GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER),Yu Fujiki (KING KONG VS GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS THE THING), Hideo Amamoto (WHAT’S UP TIGER LILY, GODZILLA’S REVENGE, GMK), and Hiroshi Koizumi (GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, MOTHRA, MATANGO, GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS). The kaiju Manda would next be seen in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, and both Manda and the Gohten would return in last year’s GODZILLA FINAL WARS.

The upcoming DVD will be the first-ever home video release of ATRAGON in the US. While final specifications haven’t been locked down, Media Blasters has revealed their DVD will include most of the extras from Toho’s R2 disc, with the possible exception of the 75 minute-long edited version of the film created for the 1968 "Toho Champion Festival" theatrical re-release. Look for a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of the uncut movie (running time: 96 minutes), both the Japanese audio track in 5.1 and 2.0, a 2.0 English dub, the original theatrical trailer, an audio commentary with Honda’s assistant director Koji Kajita, and trailers for other Media Blasters movies.

 
09/21/05:
GODZILLA IN THE UK
BFI Brings the Original, Uncut GODZILLA— and THE MYSTERIANS— to British Cinemas
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: British Film Institute


The King of the Monsters devastates Tokyo in the original GODZILLA, coming to UK theaters next month! Photo courtesy of the British Film Institute. © 1954 Toho Co., Ltd
This October, the British Film Institute will give the original, uncut Japanese version of Toho Co., Ltd's GODZILLA (Gojira) its first-ever UK theatrical release. Originally released in Japan on November 3, 1954, GODZILLA was a massive hit, selling over 9,691,000 tickets and grossed nearly $2,250,000 during its initial theatrical run. At a time when the average Japanese movie was made at a budget of approximately $75,000 US, Toho gambled nearly $250,000 on GODZILLA and earned back more than 8 times its production costs. Initially dismissed by film critics, the movie's reputation has grown tremendously over the decades and is now regarded by prestigious publications like KINEMA JUNPO as one of the greatest films in Japanese history.

Following the successful US run of their big budget period film SAMURAI: THE LEGEND OF MUSASHI (Musashi Miyamaoto, 1954), Toho opened a small office in Los Angeles to promote and sell more of their films in America and abroad. GODZILLA was one of the first titles Toho publicized in the US, and an English subtitled print was shown in the Little Tokyo section of downtown LA in mid-1955. Shortly thereafter, US theatrical and television rights to the film were purchased by film distributor Edmund Goldman. Goldman quickly sold his rights to Harold Ross and Richard Kay of Jewell Enterprises, who in turn partnered with Joseph Levine of Embassy Pictures to form a new company called Trans World Releasing Corp that would 'Americanize' and distribute GODZILLA. B-movie director Terry Morse was hired to write and film new scenes with actor Raymond Burr (REAR WINDOW, PERRY MASON) playing an American reporter in Tokyo who witnesses Godzilla's rampage. Nearly 40 minutes of footage from the original GODZILLA was removed; what remained was dubbed into English by James Hong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) and Sammee Tong (BACHELOR FATHER) and edited with Morse's footage. Released on April 4, 1956 as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, the Americanized version did amazing business for a low-budget, independently distributed movie, grossing more than $2,000,000 at the box office.

Dr Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) looks down on the fallen Ogata (Akira Takarada) and Emiko (Momoko Koichi) in this stylized early publicity shot. Photo courtesy of the British Film Institute. © 1954 Toho Co., Ltd
After the US theatrical run, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS was distributed around the world, playing in such countries as Mexico, Italy, France, Argentina, Cuba, Belgium, Sweden, and Britain. On the other hand, the original Japanese GODZILLA has been rarely shown outside of Asian markets. Nearly three decades after it was first shown in Los Angeles, GODZILLA resurfaced in 1982 as part of the "Summer in Japan" film festival in New York and was later shown at a few screenings in Chicago and Los Angeles. Most American fans had their first opportunity to see the film on the big screen last year, when Rialto Pictures celebrated Godzilla's 50th anniversary with a nationwide US theatrical release of the uncut Toho version. GODZILLA was a box office success for Rialto, and the film received long-overdue praise from film critics across the country.

In England, moviegoers have had far fewer opportunities to see the Godzilla films as only a handful of titles have been released theatrically and on home video in the UK. One of the few bright spots was BBC Two's "Monster Night" in 1998, which featured Godzilla movies and a new documentary about the King of the Monsters. In 1999, British television's Film Four also ran several Godzilla films, including a broadcast of the Japanese version of GODZILLA on their program "Psychomondo". Unfortunately, the subtitles used contained some incredibly mangled and inaccurate credits that listed actors "Akira Murata" (actually Akira Takarada), "Momoko Kawaguchi" (Momoko Koichi), Takeo Murata (the film's screenwriter), and "Shiro Honda" (director Ishiro Honda), with producer Tomoyuki Tanaka credited as the film's director.

Now, continuing the monster's 50th birthday celebration and coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the first atomic bomb, the original Japanese version of GODZILLA is finally receiving a UK theatrical release, courtesy of the British Film Institute. Established in 1933, BFI has long provided a wide range of services for film historians and fans, including the National Film Theatre, England's largest screen at the London IMAX Cinema, the National Library, the National Film and Television Archive, the London Film Festival, the London Gay and Lesbian Film festival, theatrical releases thru BFI Distribution, BFI DVD and Video, the popular film magazine SIGHT & SOUND, and award-winning film publications and research services.

Professor Yamane (Takashi Shimura) explains the origins of Godzilla to Japanese officials at the Diet. Photo courtesy of the British Film Institute. © 1954 Toho Co., Ltd
BFI Distribution is handling the theatrical release of GODZILLA, which will be shown at independent cinemas in the UK. On October 14 the film will open at the following venues:
- Curzon Soho Cinema
- Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London
- Screen on the Green Cinema in Islington
- Clapham Picture House in London
- Cineworld in Bexleyheath

After the opening run, GODZILLA will play at the City Screen Greenwich in London, the Brixton Ritzy in South London, the Riverside Studios in West London, and the Watershed Cinema in Bristol, with more venues added in the coming months. BFI DVD and Video will also bring GODZILLA to DVD (region 2, PAL format) in January, 2006. Check back with Henshin! Online for details on BFI's DVD supplemental features.

BFI Distribution will also be screening a new print of the 1957 Toho science fiction classic THE MYSTERIANS (Chikyu Boeigun) at the Institute of Contemporary Arts beginning October 21. Produced by the same creative team behind GODZILLA, THE MYSTERIANS features alien invaders and the giant robot Mogera (later seen in 1994's GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA).

GODZILLA has been given a PG Rating by the British Board of Film Classification. BFI's release features new English subtitles by John Minchinton, a veteran translator with more than 50 years experience subtitling films for cinemas and television. The UK theatrical poster was designed and painted by illustrator and fashion designer Phil Ashcroft. Since graduating from St Martins College of Art and Design in 1994, Ashcroft has been a highly sought-after artist; his client list includes Amnesty International, the Royal Mail, EMPIRE magazine, Levi's, and the New York Times, and his work has been exhibited in London, Hong Kong, Brussels, Osaka, Los Angeles, and Tokyo.

A first look at BFI's GODZILLA theatrical poster, designed by popular illustrator Phil Ashcroft. Artwork courtesy of the British Film Institute. © 1954 Toho Co., Ltd
The British Film Institute has distributed publicity materials to promote GODZILLA, including a press pack featuring interviews with lead actor Akira Takarada and Godzilla performer Haruo Nakajima. These interviews were conducted by Steve Ryfle (author of JAPAN'S FAVORITE MON-STAR, FANGORIA) and Oki Miyano (Henshin! Online, the American Cinematheque's "Godzilla 50th Anniversary Film Festival") and originally published in JAPANESE GIANTS #10. The upcoming release has been covered by EMPIRE, Channel Four News, and the BBC. On August 30, "BBC Breakfast News" reporter David Sillito hosted a report that featured clips from the film, a look at Godzilla toys at the famous store Forbidden Planet, and comments from David Sin of the British Film Institute. Sin discussed the quality and importance of the original GODZILLA and his hopes that critics and audiences will give the movie a reappraisal (as was the case in the US with Rialto's theatrical release). The entire 2:51 minute-long report can be seen in Real Player on the BBC News website.

For further information and updates on future screenings, please visit the British Film Institute's GODZILLA page.

 
09/21/05:
GARO: THE FANGED WOLF
New Series from the Director of MIKAZUKI
Author: August Ragone
Source: Newtype The Live, Bandai, Additional Information by Daisuke Ishizuka and Keith Aiken


Garo is all his gold-plated glory is ready to change the face of Japanese superheroes. © 2005 Kieta Amemiya/GARO Production Committee
Debuting on Japan's Tokyo TV network this fall is a new "Hyper Midnight Action Drama" from director Keita Amemiya (ZEIRAM, MIKAZUKI), GARO: THE FANGED WOLF (Garo Kiba Okami). Aimed at young adults and with an emphasis on horror, GARO promises to be far more dark and violent than current fare marketed for children.

For centuries, the Makai Knights have protected mankind from the Evil Beast Horror (Maju Horror). The latest member of the Makai bloodline is Koga Saejima, a mysterious young man who lives in an ancient castle and battles the evil with his holy sword, the Garo Blade. By tearing into the fabric of space, Saejima is able to become the ultimate incarnation of the Makai, the Golden Knight Garo (Ogon Kishi Garo). The transformation will only last for 99.9 seconds, and as the time limit draws near the Garo armor will begin to change.

Soon, creatures of evil will suffer the bitter taste of the Garo Blade, on TV Tokyo! © 2005 Kieta Amemiya/GARO Production Committee
Amemiya conceived the original story and is the Supervising Writer and Director for GARO: THE FANGED WOLF, with teleplays written by Kengo Kaji (MISA THE DARK ANGEL, UZUMAKI) and Yuji Kobayashi (THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II, Amemiya's MOON OVER TAO: MAKARAGA), with Kaji and Makoto Yokoyama (POWER RANGERS: LIGHTSPEED RESCUE, POWER RANGERS: TIME FORCE) directing. Known primarily as a fight choreographer, starting with the POWER RANGERS, Yokoyama (who recently worked on SHIBUYA 15 and the upcoming film KAMEN RIDER: THE FIRST) is also serving as the action choreographer for the series.

23 year-old Hiroshi Konishi stars as Koga Saejima. The supporting cast includes Mika Hijii (one of the stars of director Azuma Morisaki's acclaimed 2004 film THE CHICKEN IS BAREFOOT [Niwatori-wa Hadashi-da]), Rei Fujii, and Amemiya regular Yukijiro Hotaru (the Zeiram films, MIKAZUKI, the Gamera trilogy, GMK). Actor and prop/toy collector Masaki Kyomoto (CUTIE HONEY) will also make a special guest appearance.

Garo himself is reminiscent of a refined Toei Sentai Villain, like Loki from HUNDRED BEAST TASK FORCE: GAORANGER (2001-2002) - except plated in high-polished gold armor. The golden savior brandishes a sword called the Makai Blade that can transform into the powerful Garo Blade. Much as the original Kamen Rider appeared to television audiences in the early 1970s, Garo's design is the antithesis of what we think of in terms of a "superhero". In a genre where all of the parameters seem to be firmly set, and like Amemiya's MIKAZUKI, viewers can expect something new and unique with GARO.

GARO: THE FANGED WOLF has been approved for 26 episodes and will premiere on Friday, October 7th at 1:30am on the TV Tokyo network.

 
08/30/05:
NEW DVD LABEL TO RELEASE ASIAN GENRE CLASSICS TO AMERICA
Discotek Media Presents an Eclectic Mix of Asian Science Fiction, Cult, and Anime Titles
Author: Keith Aiken and August Ragone
Source: Discotek Media
Special Thanks to Ian Friedman


Cover art for Discotek Media's first DVD release, ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS. Photo courtesy of Discotek Media © 1974 Toei Co., Ltd
After a decades-long drought, Japanese fantasy film fans in America are finally seeing a bounty of titles released on DVD from companies ranging from prestige outfits like Criterion and Home Vision Entertainment to major studios like Disney and Sony, to the consistently top-quality releases from smaller labels like Media Blasters, Artsmajic, and Ventura. Now, a new company named Discotek Media has announced it will be releasing an incredible selection of Asian genre movies, many previously unavailable in the US, and all produced with the highest possible standards.

In 2004, a group of retailers in Orlando, FL who were selling Asian cinema and anime videos decided the time had come to start their own DVD label, Discotek Media. Over the past year, they have licensed several titles from Toho and Toei and made a distribution deal with Ryko Distribution, with the first release coming this October. The discs will initially be available through online retailers like Amazon.com, Deep Discount DVD, and DVD Planet; and plans are underway to have Discotek Media titles in all the major retail electronic store chains.

The following list covers Discotek's planned release schedule for the next twelve months. Street dates for the first four titles are firm; all others are tentative and subject to change.

ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS (Zeroka-no Onna Akai Wappa, 1974)
Directed by Yukio Noda (YAKUZA COP: THE ASSASSIN), this is the first - and most notorious - entry in the long-running Zero Woman series. Starring Miki Sugimoto, Tetsuro Tamba, Ichiro Araki, Eiji Go, and Hideo Murota, this Toei cult classic will be available in the US for the first time in any format, completely uncut and unedited. The violent police officer Agent Zero is stripped of her badge and sent to prison after she brutally kills a rapist. When a rich politician's daughter is kidnapped, Agent Zero is released from prison to rescue the girl and deal with the criminals however she sees fit.

Telecined from a new print, the first Discotek disc corrects print damage that was present when ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS was released on DVD in France and the Netherlands. The film is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen and features the original Japanese language with optional English subtitles (including newly done translations for the credits and onscreen text) and the theatrical trailer. In addition, the initial release of ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS will be a limited edition of 10,000 that comes packaged in a slipcase, an inner casing with alternate cover art, and a collectible booklet that will not be available with future pressings. Street Date: October 25, 2005 SRP: $29.95

ANIMAL TREASURE ISLAND (Dobutsu Takarajima, 1971)
Inspired by the classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, ANIMAL TREASURE ISLAND was directed by Hiroshi Ikeda (special effects director for THE X FROM OUTER SPACE), and features the legendary Hayao Miyazaki (director of MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO and SPIRITED AWAY) as a story consultant and key animator. This "all ages" animated film was regularly shown on US television but has never been released to home video. For the first time, it will be available in its original aspect ratio (presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen), with both Japanese and English audio, and a theatrical teaser and trailer. Street Date: November 15, 2005 SRP: $29.95

Some of Hayao Miyazaki's early works, such as ANIMAL TREASURE ISLAND, will be coming to Region 1 DVD. Photo courtesy of Discotek Media © 1971 Toei Animation Co., Ltd
TARO: THE DRAGON BOY (Tatsu-no Ko Taro, 1979)
A beautiful Toei animated film, based on a classic of Japanese folklore and directed by Kiriro Urayama. Previously released to television and home video in the 1980s, this is the first letterboxed release (2.35:1 anamorphic) in the US - and the first time the film is available on DVD anywhere. Includes the original Japanese language with English subtitles and the English language version that was written and directed by Peter Fernandez (English dubbing supervisor for SPEED RACER and ULTRAMAN). Street Date: January 24, 2006

LUPIN THE THIRD: STRANGE PSYCHOKINETIC STRATEGY (Rupan Sansei: Nenrikichan Sakusen, 1974)
Also known as LUPIN III: OPERATION PSYCHOKINESIS, this is the first feature film based on Monkey Punch's long-running and popular manga "Lupin III" (published in English by TokyoPop), working from his original film treatment. The live action caper was directed by Takashi Tsuboshima and stars Yuki Meguro (SHOGUN, LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI), and the DVD will be of the same standard as Toho Video's Japanese release from last year - anamorphic letterbox and in Japanese with English subtitles. Street Date: February 21, 2006.

SEXY SOCCER (2003)
Not a Japanese film, this is a Category III Hong Kong sex comedy made to ride the popularity of Stephen Chow's SHAOLIN SOCCER. As the title implies, this film follows the comedic and erotic adventures of a soccer team of beautiful women. In Cantonese with newly translated English subtitles. Street Date: March 28, 2006.

THE WAR IN SPACE (Wakusei Daisenso, 1977)
Directed by Jun Fukuda (SON OF GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA) with special effects by Teruyoshi Nakano (GODZILLA VS HEDORAH- GODZILLA 1985), this Toho sci fi classic combines elements from BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE and ATRAGON, and even throws in a horned Wookiee-like alien called the "Space Beastman". Featuring many familiar classic Toho cast members and a special guest appearance by action star Hiroshi Miyauchi (KAMEN RIDER V3). The first-ever US DVD release of THE WAR IN SPACE will include the original Japanese audio, English subtitles, and the English dub. Street Date: April 25, 2006.

Future releases will include Toho's scifi adventures THE WAR IN SPACE and BYE BYE JUPITER. © 1977 Toho Co., Ltd


PUSS 'N BOOTS (Nagagutsu O Haita Neko aka "The Wonderful World of Puss ‘N Boots", 1969)
This Toei anime feature is based on the Grimm's fairy tale, directed by Kimio Yabuki, and features the early work of Hayao Miyazaki (NAUSICAA, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE). The English language version was directed by Fred Ladd (GIGANTOR). The title character of "Pero" became the signature mascot of Toei Animation Co., Ltd. Street Date: May 3, 2006

BURST CITY (Bakuretsu Toshi, 1982)
Director Sogo Ishii's (GOJOE, ELECTRIC DRAGON 80,000 V) bleak and anarchistic look at a future dystopian Japan; where punk rock gangs wage war in clans and battle with the state police for survival of the fittest. Once you see BURST CITY, you'll never forget it. Discotek's highly-anticipated release of Toei's cult classic is remastered and enhanced for anamorphic televisions, and will also be available in a special box set similar to ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS (tentative). Street Date: June 27, 2006.

ROBOKILL BENEATH DISCOCLUB LAYLA (Mikadoroido aka "Mikadroid, 1991)
Produced by Tsuburaya Eizo and released by Toho's V-Cinema label, ROBOKILL BENEATH DISCOCLUB LAYLA was written and directed by Tomoo Haraguchi (SAKUYA: SLAYER OF DEMONS, KIBAKICHI) with special effects by Shinji Higuchi (the 1990s Gamera trilogy, LORELEI: THE WITCH OF THE PACIFIC). In a forgotten underground factory, an experimental robot soldier intended to fight in the last days of World War 2 is activated and goes on a bloody rampage in modern Tokyo. The cast includes Sandayu Dokumamushi ("Arashi" in ULTRAMAN, "Little Man" Machan ("Minilla" in the Showa Godzilla series), and horror film director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (PULSE) in a supporting note. [I hope that they change the title back to the original MIKADROID, rather than this made-up-by-Asian-Cult-Cinema title - Editor] Street Date: July, 2006

BYE BYE JUPITER (Sayonara Jiyupeta, 1983)
While BYE BYE JUPITER has several similarities to the US book and movie 2010, the film is based on the novel by Sakyu Komatsu (SUBMERSION OF JAPAN), which was published years before the sequel to 2001. Directed by Koji Hashimoto (GODZILLA 1985) with effects from Koichi Kawakita (the Heisei Godzilla series), this odd Toho film has too much going on for its own good - a dolphin-loving cult lead by a guitar playing hippie, laser fights, a love scene in zero gravity, and a mystery near Jupiter - but the production design and visual effects are top notch. More than twenty years after its Japanese release, BYE BYE JUPITER comes to the US with the original Japanese audio, English subtitles, and an English dub. Street Date: August, 2006

LUPIN THE THIRD: LEGEND OF THE GOLD BABYLON (Rupan Sansei: Babiron-no Ogun Densetsu, 1985)
A bizarre entry in the LUPIN III series, released for the first time on DVD in the US. A Polish Mafia boss and a cadre of female cops pursue Lupin III as he seeks a treasure hidden in ancient Babylon. Discotek's release of this Toho anime will be fully letterboxed, 16:9 enhanced, and contain both Japanese and English Audio, with removable English subtitles. Directed by the legendary Seijun Suzuki (BRANDED TO KILL, TOKYO DRIFTER). Street Date: Late 2006

LUPIN THE THIRD: FUMA CONSPIRACY (Rupan Sansei: Fuma Ichizoku-no Inbo, 1987)
During the wedding of Lupin III's partner in crime, the ronin Ishikawa Goemon, a band of ninja disrupt the proceedings to steal a precious family heirloom. All hell breaks loose as Lupin & Co. race to rescue Goemon's bride and retrieve the stolen treasure. One of the best LUPIN III films, this Toho anime title was previously released by AnimEigo, as RUPAN III: THE FUMA CONSPIRACY. Discotek is reissuing this film with the proper "Lupin the Third" moniker and all-new English subtitles and English dub. Street Date: Late 2006

Discotek Media has just launched their own website which features the trailers for ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS and LUPIN THE THIRD: STRANGE PSYCHOKINETIC STRATEGY. Henshin! Online will also have news and reviews of Discotek's releases, so check back here for further updates in the near future.

 
08/30/05:
Actors Honored in the Japanese Hall of Fame
"A Salute to the Stars" Gala Comes to San Francisco
Author: David Chapple
Source: Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Northern California with assistance of Susan Haramoto and Megumi Komiya


The JCCCNC hosts a tribute to five Japanese-American entertainers in September. © 2005 JCCCNC
On Saturday, September 17, 2005 five prominent Japanese-American entertainers will be honored in a gala event sponsored by the Japanese Cultural Community Center of Northern California called "Japanese Hall of Fame's A Salute to the Stars."

Of the five honorees, one is especially well known to American fans of Japanese monster films. George Takei was the man of many voices for his first acting job as a voice actor on the 1957 American version of RODAN (Sora-no Daikaiju Radon, 1956), followed by the second Godzilla film GIGANTIS: THE FIRE MONSTER (Gojira-no Gyakushu, 1955) and the Toho horror film THE H-MAN (Bijo-to Ekitai Ningen, 1958). Although the general public identifies him as Mr. Sulu in STAR TREK, Mr. Takei is also a great patron and advocate of Japanese-American history and culture, having held two terms as chairman of the board for the Japanese-American National Museum, he now serves as its trustee.

In addition, he was one of the driving forces behind the Arts in Transit program that gave each Metro station in Los Angeles its own distinctive look. Mr. Takei considers these two of his most major accomplishments, and was honored for his efforts in Japan-United States relations with the Order of The Rising Sun by Japanese Emperor Akihito at the Imperial palace in Tokyo, in 2004.

Another accomplishment that fills him with pride is that he has been able to reach a worldwide audience through a popular medium. Asked why he thought is important to have Asian-American entertainers in mainstream media, he responded by saying, "There is a rich and important story to be told in the Japanese-American experience that is an integral part of the American story. We are a part of the diversity that makes American society so unique."

A second nominee agrees. When Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, best known to many as Mr. Miyagi in the KARATE KID films (and Arnold in the long-running series HAPPY DAYS), was asked the same question, he responded, "Japanese- Americans, Chinese-Americans, Filipino-Americans, Korean-Americans, all Asian Americans have been part of the fabric of this country's society history for at least a century or more. Bottom line: we are all Americans despite our racial heritage."

James Shigeta, the third inductee in this year's ceremony was the first Asian- American to play a romantic lead in Hollywood films. He is best known for his starring role in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical FLOWER DRUM SONG (1961). Mr. Shigeta has also appeared in the films THE YAKUZA (1975), MIDWAY (1976), DIE HARD (1988) and BROTHER (2000) and television series such as THE OUTER LIMITS (1963 & 1964), PERRY MASON (1965), HAWAII FIVE-O (1968), KUNG FU (1974 & 1975), THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO (1976), BABYLON 5 (1994) and BEVERLY HILLS 90210 (1994). In addition, he starred in a February 1959 episode of the classic DINAH SHORE CHEVY SHOW that introduced American audiences to Japanese entertainment and performers. Mr Shigeta appeared in several skits alongside Oscar winner Shirley MacLaine, Louis Jordan, and acclaimed dancer Sanae Ito (wife of MOTHRA star Jerry Ito).

Honoree George Takei got his start as an English dubbing actor for Toho kaiju films.
The fourth Asian-American being honored is veteran actor Mako, whose real name is Makoto Iwamatsu. His first important film role was as Po_Han, Steve McQueen's assistant machinist in the film THE SAND PEBBLES (1966), for which he was nominated for an Academy award. He continues to act, making appearances in such films as SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET (1997), PEARL HARBOR (2001), BULLETPROOF MONK (2003) and the upcoming MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. He also has appeared in the Japanese films THE BIRD PEOPLE IN CHINA (Chugoku-no Chojin, 1998) and OWL'S CASTLE (Fukuro-no Shiro, 1999), and lent his talents as the voice of the evil "Aku" in SAMURAI JACK (2001).

The fifth honoree is Broadway actress and singer Pat Suzuki, who is best known for playing the lead in "Flower Drum Song" in the 1950s, which has the honored distinction of being the first Broadway musical ever produced about, and starring, Asian-Americans. She was also the first Japanese-American to record on a national label. Her song "I Enjoy being a Girl" was a major hit with American audiences. She appeared on THE FRANK SINATRA SHOW in 1958 and also was a guest on TOAST OF THE TOWN (1959) and THE JACK PAAR VARIETY SHOW (1960).

In addition, the event will include a tribute to Japanese American entertainers who have since passed including Jack Soo (BARNEY MILLER), Yuki Shimoda (AUNTIE MAME), Nobu McCarthy (PACIFIC HEIGHTS), and Sessue Hayakawa (THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI). By honoring these outstanding entertainers, the JAHOF intends to recognize not only their excellence in their chosen career, but also the important role they played in bringing pride to the Japanese American community.

"A Salute to the Stars" will be held at the famous Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco California and will include a VIP buffet reception and auction for Gold ticket members who will be able to meet and greet the honorees and guests in attendance. The gala, which begins at 5:00 pm will also include performances by many contemporary actors in theatre and film.

Ticket sales begin this month. Individual show ticket prices are $50.00 Reserved Seating, $150.00 Premier Ticket, and $250.00 Gold Ticket. All proceeds from the event will be used for funding of the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Northern California facility and community programs that serve thousands of ethnically diverse individuals every year.

The Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Northern California, is a non- profit center created over thirty years ago by the Japanese-American community of San Francisco, and hopes it will continue to be an everlasting foundation of Japanese-American ancestry, cultural heritage, histories, and traditions. For more information, please contact the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Northern California at (415) 567-5505 or check out their official event webpage.

(They also host other cool events like Godzilla film festivals!)

 
08/25/05:
ULTRAMANIA COMES TO SAN FRANCISCO THIS WEEK
Film Festival Features the Men Who Made Ultraman
Author: August Ragone
Source: Bay Area Film Events


Rock out with the Ultra Brothers this weekend, and get a chance to win an Ibanez Ultraman Guitar! © 2005 Tsuburaya Productions
This weekend, San Francisco's movie palace, The Castro Theatre, will be host to "Ultramania", a two-day event celebrating Japan's greatest silver and red superhero - Ultraman. Bay Area Film Events, who were involved in presenting the ultimate "Godzillafest" at the Castro Theatre last November, are producing this event in conjunction with Tsuburaya Productions and local sponsors. This event is built around the Northern California premiere of the latest feature film adventure, ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT (2004), this Friday, August 26th and Saturday, August 27th.

Joining the premiere will be two of the artists involved in the creation of the more recent Ultraman movies and television series- all the way from Japan, and attending the event for both days- Shinichi Wakasa and Hiroshi Maruyama. Both men will be signing autographs and appearing live on-stage for interviews at "Ultramania".

Mr. Wakasa has been one of Japan's premiere monster-makers for over 20 years, working on ULTRAMAN 80 (Urutoraman 80, 1980-1981), the Ultraman spin-off series ANDRO MELOS (Andoromerosu, 1983), ULTRAMAN TIGA (Urutoraman Teiga, 1996-1997), ULTRAMAN COSMOS (Urutoraman Kosumosu, 2001-2002), and the theatrical feature ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET (Urutoraman Kosumosu 2: Buru Puranetto, 2002). He has also contributed his considerable talents to most of Toho's Kaiju Eiga films since 1993, including GODZILLA 2000 (Gojira Ni-sen Mireniamu, 1999), GODZILLA VS. MEGAGUIRUS (Gojira X Gojira X Megaguirus: G Shometsu Sakusen, 2000), GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (Gojira X Mekagojira, 2002), GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS (Gojira X Mosura X Mekagojira: Tokyo SOS, 2003) and GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004).

Mr. Maruyama has been a principal monster designer for the Heisei Ultraman series - ULTRAMAN TIGA through the current series, ULTRAMAN MAX (Urutoraman Makusu, 2005). In addition to producing updated versions of the monsters originally created by Tohl Narita for the original ULTRA Q (Urutora Kyu, 1966), ULTRAMAN (Urutoraman, 1966- 1967) and ULTRA SEVEN (Urutora Sebun, 1967-1968), he is responsible for a cavalcade of creatures that have become popular in their own right.

The latest Tsuburaya series, ULTRAMAN MAX, will have it's US premiere at "Ultramania"! © 2005 Tsuburaya Productions
The film program features English-subtitled screenings of ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT (Friday, 8:10 pm & Saturday, 8:20 pm), the US premiere of ULTRAMAN MAX Episode 1 (Friday, 7:00 pm), "Special Surprise Tsuburaya Classics" (Friday, 10:15 pm, Saturday, 2:25, 7:30 pm & 10:15 pm), the theatrical parody ULTRAMAN ZEARTH (Saturday, 1:00 pm - English dubbed), the movie ULTRAMAN TIGA: FINAL ODYSSEY (Saturday, 3:15 pm) and a live, on-stage "Ultraman Stunt Show" (Saturday, 7:00 pm).

There will also be a Vendors' Area, free issues of Dark Horse's ULTRAMAN TIGA comic, and special prize give-aways, including a contest for a brand-new, limited edition, Ultraman Guitar (courtesy of Ibanez Iceman Guitars) running this week on Bay Area radio station KRFC 99.7 FM! This special guitar is currently on display at Amoeba Music, 855 Haight St, San Francisco, 94117 - 415-831-1200. On Saturday night, KFRC morning radio personality Cammy Blackstone will be on hand at the Castro Theatre to present the winner with the Ultraman Guitar. For more information, schedules and ticket prices, please visit the "Ultramania" page at the Bay Area Film Events website or the Castro Theatre homepage.

 
08/09/05:
SAN FRANCISCO ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL
Ten Days of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror & Melodrama
Author: August Ragone
Source: San Francisco Asian Film Festival


Kiyoshi Kurosawa's PULSE, one of the many great films screening at the San Francisco Asian Film Festival 2005. © Magnolia Pictures
Well, it's that time of year again in Fogtown ­ time for the 9 th Annual San Francisco Asian Film Festival, August 11 th through August 21 st, this time at both The 4Star Movie Theatre at 2200 Clement Street at 23rd Ave. and The Presidio Theatre at 2340 Chestnut Street.

This year, as always, there are lots of great films from Japan, Hong Kong, Mainland China, Taiwan and Korea ­ but we here at Henshin! Online are especially interested in the films from Japan, and the line up is pretty good for those of you still watching DVDs of old Godzilla and Takeshi Miike films. So, turn off your TV, give your DVD player a rest, and march down to the San Francisco Asian Film Festival and watch some films the way they were meant to be seen ­ on the big screen.

The Japanese line-up includes:

Makoto Shinkai's A PLACED PROMISE IN OUR EARLY DAYS (08/14 ­ 12:30 @ The 4-Star Theater)

Shinya Tsukamoto's A SNAKE OF JUNE (08/16 ­ 9:50 & 08/18 ­ 9:30 @ The 4-Star Theater)

Yukisada Isao's CRYING OUT LOVE IN THE CENTER OF THE WORLD (08/13 ­ 2:45 @ The 4-Star Theater & 08/20 ­ 12:15 @ The Presidio Theater)

Tetsuya Nakashima's KAMIKAZE GIRLS (08/14 ­ 9:30 & 08/16 ­ 5:30 @ The 4-Star Theater)

Katsuhiko Fuji's LADY CHATTERLEY IN TOKYO (08/16 ­ 12:30 @ The 4-Star Theater) ­ Adults Only!

Takeshi Shimizu's MAREBITO (08/18 ­ 7:30 @ The 4-Star Theater)

Yasuo Inoue's NEIGHBOR NO. 13 (08/12 ­ 9:30 @ The 4-Star Theater)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's PULSE (08/15 ­ 6:00 @ The 4-Star Theater & 08/20 ­ 9:50 at The Presidio Theater)

Shinya Tsukamoto's latest VITAL (08/13 ­ 10:00 & 08/17 ­ 9:45 @ The 4-Star Theater)

For more information on these and the other great films in this year's line-up, please go to the official website for synopses, dates, times and venues.

You can also go to the official website for more information on purchasing tickets, or just use these methods:

By Phone: (415) 666-3488 daily after 1pm to 10pm.

By Mail: Send to 4 Star Movie Theatres 2200 Clement St. San Francisco, Ca. 94121. Go to the official website for more detailed information.

In Person: 4 Star Movie Theatre, 2200 Clement St., daily 1pm to 10pm. Box Office: (415) 666-3488. Presidio Theatre, 2340 Chestnut St., daily 1pm to 10pm. By fax: (415) 386-3718.

Festival Tickets also sold at Super 7 located at 1630 Post St. located in the heart of San Francisco's Japantown (415) 407-4700.

See you there, and have a great time at the movies!
07/13/05:
GODZILLA 3D TO THE MAX
Director Yoshimitsu Banno Plans IMAX Rematch for Godzilla and Hedorah
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Advanced Audiovisual Productions, Inc., Godzilla3D.com
Special thanks to Oki Miyano


IMAX moviegoers may soon be seeing Godzilla battling a new version of Hedorah on the BIG screen. © 1971 Toho Co., Ltd.
SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains a story synopsis for a proposed new Godzilla feature.

In 1971, Toho released one of the more bizarre films in the Godzilla series, GODZILLA VS HEDORAH (Gojira tai Hedorah, aka "Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster"). Director Yoshimitsu Banno focused on concerns about environmental pollution by depicting Godzilla's battle with Hedorah, a sludge-like alien that emerged from the dirty waters of Sagami Bay. Thirty-four years later the director is hard at work prepping a new Godzilla project that will revisit those themes. Entitled GODZILLA 3D TO THE MAX, the planned short feature will combine the talents of Toho Studios with cutting-edge Hollywood CG and 3-D effects, all on display on the eight- story tall IMAX movie screen.

Banno has long dreamed of making a new Godzilla film. In January of 2000, he established Advanced Audiovisual Productions, Inc. to produce 70mm Large Format films and animation, and also manufacture and sell equipment for IMAX and other giant screen theaters. With Toho taking a break from kaiju films in the wake of GODZILLA FINAL WARS, the director was able to secure permission to use the characters of Godzilla and Hedorah, and is currently meeting with investors in the United States to secure financing for the project. Advanced Audiovisual Productions has prepared English language materials explaining the concept, characters, story, and marketing potential for GODZILLA 3D TO THE MAX which provide much more information about the film than has been previously revealed.

The AAP materials describe Banno's intentions for both Godzilla and the new version of Hedorah, which is named Deathla (not 'Desera' or 'Deathorah' as has been erroneously reported elsewhere). While recent Godzilla films have depicted the monster as antagonistic towards mankind, GODZILLA 3D TO THE MAX returns Godzilla to his heroic "Save the Earth" persona of the 1970s. One of the director's top objectives for the film is that Godzilla appeal to young people and demonstrate the importance of adopting a more "Earth Friendly" way of living. In addition to a personality change, the King of the Monsters will also display a talent long unseen... that's right, Godzilla flies again!

Why swim when you can fly? © 1971 Toho Co., Ltd.
The evil monster Deathla comes from the depths of space to devour the chlorophyll in Earth's rainforests and destroy all life on the planet. Designed by acclaimed concept artist Syd Mead (BLADE RUNNER, TRON, ALIENS), Deathla is a shape-shifting sluglike monster with red-purple skin and vertical eyes. As with the original Hedorah, the new version has multiple forms. As "Locust-Deathla" the creature splits into a large swarm of insects that use their sharp fangs to quickly devastate crops and forests. The kaiju can also reassemble into its ultimate form, "Monster-Deathla", a huge humanoid beast with a skeletal head. Deathla's weapons include poisonous sludge, constricting tendrils, paralyzing fluids, and a crimson energy beam.

The story for GODZILLA 3D TO THE MAX begins at dawn, as a flaming meteor from the Deathla Star crashes into the Sargasso Sea. The meteor releases a swarm of Locust-Deathlas which rises into the sky like a tornado.

On the border of Brazil and Argentina is Iguassu (Guarana for "Big Water") Falls, one of the largest waterfalls on Earth. On nights of the full moon, the Falls create a rainbow effect known as the "Spray of Iguassu". Mischa, a televison reporter doing a story on the night rainbow, has traveled to Iguassu with her younger brother Jim. The two are still recovering from the loss of their father, a firefighter who was killed during the September 11 attacks in New York, with Jim having a particularly rough time. He constantly carries around a harmonica left to him by his dad, and his only friend is a German Shepard called Little Beard.

Iguassu Falls is the stunning site for the first war of the monsters.
Mischa and Jim encounter the Locust-Deathlas in the rainforest. The alien swarm tears thru the jungle devouring all plant life it its path and accidentally uncover the hibernating body of Godzilla. As the King of the Monsters rises from the jungle floor with a roar of anger, the Locust-Deathlas transform into Monster-Deathla. After a brief battle, Deathla reverts to the swarm and flies north, with Godzilla and the kids in pursuit.

A freak summer snowfall heralds the arrival of the monsters to New York City. Monster-Deathla grows larger and larger as it absorbs garbage at a city dump. The alien buries Godzilla in sludge at the Central Park reservoir, then oozes down Broadway in the direction of the 9/11 Monument. Revived by the prayers of children, Godzilla blocks Monster-Deathla's path then leaps into the air. Godzilla attacks with the "Ultra Spin Tail Punch", slicing Deathla into pieces with a series of tail strikes. The victorious monster then flies back to its jungle home.

Godzilla arrives at Iguassu as the full moon rises over the waterfall. As Godzilla disappears into the Falls, the beast's tail strikes the rushing water and causes a huge spray that casts a rainbow over Jim and Mischa... in glorious 3-Dimensions.

Godzilla's aerial attacks were effective against Hedorah. Will they also work on Deathla? © 1971 Toho Co., Ltd.
GODZILLA 3D TO THE MAX is planned as a 40 minute feature with a budget of $9 million (US). Banno believes Godzilla is the perfect character for large format theaters, and much of the film will be shown from Jim's point of view or thru Mischa's camera in order to create an effect of massive creatures towering over the audience. The movie will be produced by "The Godzilla 3D To The Max Production Committee", a partnership between Advanced Audiovisual Productions, Inc. and Whitecat Productions.

The crew for the film features a mix of personnel from Japan and America, many of which have a long history with large format and 3-D films. In addition to directing the film, Yoshimitsu Banno is also the lead writer and general producer. Banno's longtime assistant Kenji Okuhira is associate producer. The co-producers are Roger Holden (president of Whitecat Productions and 21st Century Sound and Vision, Inc) and Brian Rogers (T2 3D: BATTLE ACROSS TIME). Acting as co-director is Keith Melton (CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: JOURNEY OF MAN). Godzilla series veteran Eiichi Asada (GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS, GODZILLA FINAL WARS) returns to direct the special effects, while Peter Anderson (CAPTAIN EO, T2 3D, SHREK 2 4D) is the director of photography and supervisor of visual effects.

Filming is tentatively scheduled for December, with post-production taking place between March and May of 2006, and the finished film ready for exhibition in June of next year. Toho will handle theatrical distribution in Japan, while Advanced Audiovisual Productions will handle worldwide sales. At this time there are 234 IMAX theaters in the world; including 136 in North America and 16 in Japan, and numbers have been steadily growing, particularly in China and India. In recent years, American studios have prepared special IMAX versions of hit films like FANTASIA 2000, HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, and BATMAN BEGINS. There is also three major large format film festivals held annually.

To tap into this market and expand Godzilla's audience around the world, AAP and Toho are also discussing a wide variety of TV specials, DVDs, CDs, toys, books, and other merchandising featuring Godzilla, Deathla, and GODZILLA 3D TO THE MAX. If everything goes according to plans, Godzilla may soon literally be bigger than ever before.

 
07/11/05:
GATCHAMAN FLIES AGAIN!
This Time, Unclipped and Unedited from ADV Films
Author: August Ragone
Source: ADV Films


Exciting jacket art by Alex Ross for Volume 1. Each ADV release will feature six episodes of the original series. Gatchaman © 1972 Tatsunoko Productions. Packaging Design © 2005 A.D. Vision Inc.
Like the immortal characters of STAR WARS and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, they became icons of late 1970s American pop culture. They were the first Japanese animation superheroes to plant the seeds that spawned a fandom, starting with those enraptured American kids, which barely remembers its own roots today. "They are sometimes five, sometimes one; the white shadow that moves unseen. They are called the Science Ninja Team!"

Created and produced by Tatsunoko Productions, SCIENCE NINJA TEAM GATCHAMAN (Kagaku Ninja-tai Gatchaman) premiered October 1, 1972 on Tokyo's Fuji Television network. Running 105 episodes, GATCHAMAN became an Anime classic in Japan, and was seen around the world in the late 1970s and 1980s. In the United States, the series was "re-formatted" for Children's television standards of the time by Sandy Frank Productions, and premiered in September of 1978 as BATTLE OF THE PLANETS. A few years later, the series was adapted again, for Turner Broadcasting Service, without the added footage, as G-FORCE: GUARDIANS OF SPACE. But no matter what title or state of truncation it was seen in, the original vision of GATCHAMAN, with their bird-motif costumes, left a lasting impression on children here and abroad.

In the near future, humanity is threatened by the technologically superior terrorist organization called "Galactor", who plot to rule the world (what else is new?). Galactor's only rival is the International Science Organization, a division of the United Nations, and its science director Dr. Nambu. While the ISO wants to use its knowledge to develop "green" energy sources, such as the Earth's molten mantle, Galactor wishes to use such resources to subjugate humanity.

The unknown and unseen overlord of Galactor is the mysterious "Leader X", who has secretly manipulated mankind into wars and global disasters throughout history. Slowly waiting for his chance to strike, he builds a secret society that spreads across the globe. In order to operate freely among humanity, Leader X creates a "son", by combining a pair of fraternal twins into a singular being - a brilliant master of disguise known as Berg Katse.

The "Gatchaman Collection 1" box set includes Volumes 1 and 2, plus a bonus disc of extra features ­ all wrapped in a stunning Alex Ross illustration of the series' heroes and villains. © 1972 Tatsunoko Productions. Packaging Design © 2005 A.D. Vision Inc.
With cells throughout the world, Galactor uses its superior technology to create colossal mechanical monsters and massive war machines to create worldwide panic and snatch precious resources unopposed. Or are they? Dr. Nambu has covertly, even to the ISO, trained a five-member team of tech-savvy Ninja to search and destroy Galactor's secret headquarters. It starts out as a war of nerves, but before long, the fate of the very Earth itself is at stake.

Tatsuo Yoshida, the founder of Tatsunoko Productions, began his career in the manga industry in the fall of 1954, and in 1957 called for his brothers, Toyoharu (later assuming the pen name "Ippei Kuri") and Kenji (who handled the business end), to join him in Tokyo. In October of 1962, they established Tatsunoko Productions, but after Tatsuo saw the premiere episode of ASTRO-BOY (1963-1966), things changed. They quickly shifted the company's interest towards television animation (or "TV Manga", as it was known then) and by 1964, after hiring animators from other studios, Tatsunoko Productions was ready for full animation production. Their first series were SPACE ACE (1966-1967) and SPEED RACER (1967-1968), which became instant hits in Japan and remain classics to this day.

After a string of successful series, Tatsuo and his brothers decided to develop a tribute to the American superhero comic books given to them by G.I.s during the Occupation of Japan. For the look and feel of GATCHAMAN, Tatsuo and Ippei streamlined their favorite aspects of these comic books, and even modeling the main characters on popular actors of the 1960s for a touch of reality. Of course, since the Adam West BATMAN series was a tremendous hit in Japan in the late 1960s, there would be a dash of the masked detective to the mix (cowls, capes, utility belts, weapons and boomerangs).

Ken the Eagle stands ready to protect Mankind. Impressive Alex Ross jacket art for Volume 2. Gatchaman © 1972 Tatsunoko Productions. Packaging Design © 2005 A.D. Vision Inc.
At first, Tatsuo and his staff envisioned a multi-national team of teenage ninja, much like his earlier comic-turned-television series NINJA SQUAD: MOONLIGHT (a live-action production which ran 130 episodes from 1964 to 1966). He also wanted to equip his new team with advanced scientific tech, and be patterned after the characters in Nikkatsu Studio's action films. This Interpol-like team would be called the "International Children Squad", but unlike MOONLIGHT, the emphasis would be on a science fiction premise.

The series went through several changes in format and title during pre-production, including "The Secret Seven," until the team was slimmed down to five and dubbed "Birdman." This is when the series adopted the bird-style motif, birds symbolizing peace to the Japanese, and truly became closer to the look of American comic book superheroes. But just before the series starting airing on Japanese television, a much catchier moniker was coined by Kanshi Matsuyama, an executive at Yomiko Advertising Agency, who derived the name from "Gatcha", an onomatopoeia for the sound of metal clanging together.

At first, GATCHAMAN reflected the popular currents of Japanese children's television, with its format emulating not only hit live action Daikaiju and Henshin Hero shows (like ULTRAMAN ACE and KAMEN RIDER), but the writers also worked in influences from the popular American series MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. Even though there were Anime superhero team shows before it, such as RAINBOW TASK FORCE: ROBIN (1966-1967), SKYERS 5 (1967) and CYBORG 009 (1967-1968), GATCHAMAN was the influential force that set the parameters for the team-based Anime and Tokusatsu series that followed, especially in the Sentai and Combination Robot sub-genres.

The archetype of the Gatchaman team consisted of the Hero (Ken Washio), the Loner (Joe Asakura), the Muscle (Ryu Nakanishi), the Kid (Jinpei), and the Girl (Jun) - and the need for co-operation to invoke their ultimate weapon; a device that was repeated in such series as SECRET TASK FORCE: GORANGER (1975-1977) and SUPER MAGNETIC ROBO: COMBATTLER V (1976-1977). But, that was not the only impact of GATCHAMAN on its contemporaries. GATCHAMAN established a sophisticated look in its design and hardware. Led by Mitsuki Nakamura (SPACE ACE, SPEED RACER, CASSHERN), the series' stellar art direction rendered popular contemporaries, such as MAZINGER Z (1972-1974), as quaint. GATCHAMAN simply outstripped its competition in visual dynamics and polish.

The God Phoenix and Ken the Eagle are everready to defeat Galactor! Original advertising art © 1972 Tatsunoko Productions.
Internationally renown and respected artists, in and out of the realm of Anime, Kunio Okawara (GUNDAM, VOTOMS, XABUNGLE, ZAMBOT 3) and Yoshitaka Amano (VAMPIRE HUNTER D, MOSPEADA, ANGEL'S EGG, FINAL FANTASY X), started their careers at Tatsunoko Productions. While Yoshida and Kuri lead the way, Okawara and Amano were also largely responsible for the visual signatures of GATCHAMAN and series that followed in its wake, making Tatsunoko Productions famous the world over. But, it all started with GATCHAMAN.

GATCHAMAN also was the first Anime series to have a "Science Fiction Consultant", Rei Osumi, so that the series' writers (such as former Nikkatsu Studios scenarist Satoshi Suyama) could keep their teleplays within the realm of possible future, and not veer off into wild fantasy. Tatsunoko Productions originally planed the series to end with 52 episodes, but Fuji Television had other plans, and ordered another year's worth of GATCHAMAN. Quickly, the writers were ordered to amend the climax, transforming it into a major turning point for the main characters and the series itself. This upheaval was guided by the skillful hand of Hisayuki Toriumi, who served as the series' Supervising Director. Together with Animation Director Sadao Miyamoto (who designed and animated the opening credit sequence), the final year of GATCHAMAN saw an unprecedented maturity and realism in its teleplays as the series began garnering middle school, high school and adult viewers.

For the first time in an animated series, there was the aftermath of war and death - remorse, guilt, angst, and other dramatic conceits brushed over by previous action/superhero titles. They even touched on the losses Galactor suffers, setting the stage for great series to follow, such as Academy's legendary SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO television and movie series. In the years that followed, Tatsunoko Productions created other superhero series, such as NEO-DROID CASSHERN (1973-1974) and HURRICANE POLYMER (1974-1975), but none of them achieved the impact and success of GATCHAMAN. The series spawned a feature film released in 1978 and two follow-up series - GATCHAMAN II (1978-1979) and GATCHAMAN FIGHTER (1979-1980) - but few outside Japan saw the real, unabridged GATCHAMAN. Until now...

After an aborted attempt several years ago by Rhino Home Video to issue BATTLE OF THE PLANETS (with the corresponding uncut and English-subtitled Japanese episodes), Texas-based Anime import giant ADV Films in early 2005, secured the rights to all 105 episodes of GATCHAMAN in all of its unedited splendor. ADV scored a major coup by securing life-long Gatchamaniac, and comic book colossus, Alex Ross (KINGDOM COME) to create the package art for the domestic DVD release.

ADV's current plan is for bi-monthly releases of two volumes, each containing six episodes apiece (in English 5.1 or Japanese 2.0 with English subtitles), audio commentary with the English ADR director and new voice actors, textless closing title sequence, Gatchaman Karaoke (one episode without the voice track) and previews. This could be considered a bare-bones release, but it's the fact that these are the uncut original episodes and digitally remastered, that is important.

The single volumes are retailing for $14.98 MSRP. Each pair of volumes will be also packaged in a box set, including a bonus materials disc, adorned with a spectacular Ross painting of the Gatchaman team in action. The box set retails for $34.98 MSRP.

The extras on the bonus disc, included in the first box set, are actually pretty cool - but there is room for improvement and expansion. Personally, I would like to see essays by experts like Jason Hofius (who produced the mini-documentary) and James Long (the most knowledgeable person on the subject of Tatsunoko and the Gatchaman saga that I've ever met) on the production of the series, profiles on key personnel, story development, and other insightful information.

Science Ninja Team, Gather! Gatchaman © 1972 Tatsunoko Productions.
01. Ken the Eagle Profile (a biography of the leader of the Gatchaman team) - there was a problem with this feature, which had a button for "Next" page, but there was no second page. There didn't seem to be any material missing in the bio, but it made me wonder...

02. Character Sketches: Ken - model sheets for Ken, his plane and his boomerang. Pretty basic, but serves its purpose for those who don't own Gatchaman books in their personal libraries.

03. Episode Sketches - model sheets for the first four Galactor Mecha. More material should have been included here, covering all of the Mecha in Episodes 1-12, as it is available.

04. Ken the Eagle Audition Footage - this was mostly a montage of embarrassing clips of potential voice actors trying way too hard. I found it painful to sit though, but some viewers may laugh their pants off. Did they really sign releases for this? Wow.

05. Interview with Leraldo Anazulda (Ken) - a charismatic and good interview subject, and the best of the batch up for the part, based on the Auditions feature. But still, to my ear, the new English actors seem to be hamming it up a bit too much.

06. Interview with Charles Campbell (ADR Director) - this was not a very interesting interview; the impression here is that he seemed unfocused and to have very little insight with the material he is now directing. In his defense, his audio commentaries on the episodes are much better.

07. And We Were Watching - a very brief listing of American television shows airing at the time GATCHAMAN premiered in Japan. A comparative essay would have been more compelling in selling the quality of GATCHAMAN in contrast to such technical and dramatic clunkers as THE AMAZING CHAN AND THE CHAN CLAN.

08. Alternate Ending Credit Sequence - alternate version of the "Defeat Galactor!" song used for episodes 23-27 when the opening and ending songs were switched. These are the materials that DVDs were created for, and really make this disc essential for the die-hard fan.

09. Unused Ending Credits with Sponsor Message - according to James Long of the Tatsunoko USA Fan Club, these were actually used several times during the original broadcast, announcing sponsor giveaways.

10. Gatchaman ModelLock Commercial - original television commercial for the God Phoenix windup-motor model kit from Tatsunoko's own toy company. This is extremely cool... hopefully, there are more commercials like it, which will be included in future volumes.

11. The Origins of Tatsunoko Productions: A Mini Documentary - basic, but well done primer on the Yoshida Brothers, the founding of Tatsunoko Productions and the pre-production of GATCHAMAN. Nicely set to the color storyboards for the first episode. Hopefully, future Mini-Documentaries, if any, will include actual photos of the Yoshida Brothers, the Studio, the production staff, and behind-the-scenes shots.

But what's really important are the episodes themselves. The new masters seem to be of the same quality as Columbia Video's R2 Japanese release from 2000 (COBC-90201-90227), and they are stunning - considering the film quality and the condition of 30-years-old negatives. The first few episodes of the series were originally printed somewhat dark (which is hard to correct without extensive work with the original negatives) but that problem seems to be a thing of the past by the end of the second volume. The crisp and strong Japanese audio is excellent, considering its mono nature and there is no hiss or distortion apparent. The English subtitles are very good and clear, as usual with ADV product.

As much as I tried, I couldn't sit through the new English-dubbed track for long, since I cringe at new attempts in dubbing "Old Skool" shows. It seems the voice actors aren't approaching the material with the same conviction the original Japanese voice actors did - and while this isn't Shakespeare, they can't seem to get past the fact that they are dubbing a "cartoon". Even though BATTLE OF THE PLANETS was a terrible adaptation of GATCHAMAN, perhaps I was secretly longing to hear the voices of Casey Kasem (THE GLORY STOMPERS), Ronnie Shell (GOMER PYLE USMC), Janet Waldo (JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS), Alan Dinehart (THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN) and Alan Young (MR. ED), who have crept into our collective consciousness as the English voices of the Gatchaman team. Or more truthfully, perhaps, I just didn't want to cringe any more.

But, don't let that stop you from revisiting this absolute classic, universally recognized for being ahead of its time, with revolutionary animation and color design, art direction and shocking story arcs. You can always just watch the series in Japanese with English subtitles, as provided by ADV. Ranked as one of the top ten Anime series of all time (The World of TV Anime, Asahi Sonorama), GATCHAMAN is required viewing for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the genre. Unless you have seen the original, uncut and unedited GATCHAMAN, you can't start talking about Anime. This series is a major and seminal cornerstone of the genre and its influence cannot be dismissed.

For the first-time viewer, the initial dozen or so episodes may seem formulaic and routine and you might say, "What's the big deal?" But I urge you to let the series grow on you, and by the time the middle of the series comes around (where everything is turned on its head, and nothing is as it appears), you'll thank me. Those willing to have patience will be rewarded with experiencing the groundbreaking final story arc of the second year (starting with the powerhouse of Episodes 51-54), which was unlike anything that came before it, and still manages to pack a powerful emotional punch after all of these years.

Those who already know the drill, will relish each and every volume released by ADV Films in celebration of a twenty five year-old dream that has finally come true - the domestic release of the entire 105 uncut and unedited episodes of SCIENCE NINJA TEAM: GATCHAMAN, delivered to their very doorsteps. ADV has done justice to this classic series, that should be not only on every Anime fan's shelf, but in any self-respecting superhero or Godzilla fan's collection. BATTLE OF THE PLANETS is dead. Long live GATCHAMAN!

 
07/07/05:
I Left My Beta Capsule in San Francisco
Ultraman Film Festival Comes to the Castro Theatre
Author: August Ragone
Source: Bay Area Film Events


Ultraman is coming to town! © 2004 Ultraman: The Next Production Consortium/Tsuburaya Productions.
Bay Area Film Events, the local movie group who produced San Francisco's ultimate "Godzillafest", are at it again with a two-day tribute to Japan's red and silver superhero from the stars, Ultraman. The event is framed around the Northern California premiere of Tsuburaya Productions' latest superhero adventure, ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT, on Friday, August 26th & Saturday, August 27th at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.

ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT (2004) is a "sort of" updated take on the first episode of the original Ultraman series, but with a decidedly dark twist. A fighter pilot for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces pursues a spherical UFO, which collides into his plane. The pilot (Tetsuya Bessho), miraculously survives the incident, but has no memory of his close encounter, but he begins to have strange and powerful visions. Meanwhile, a second UFO encounter out at sea transforms its encountered into a violent mutant, which goes on a rampage of carnage. When both men mutate into their ultimate forms, they meet in a duel to the death, with the fate of humanity in the balance. The film was directed by Kazuya Konaka (THE DIMENSION TRAVELLERS) from a screenplay by Kei'ichi Hasegawa (THE BIG O) with stunning visual effects directed by Yuichi Kikuchi (GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA) and CGI flying effects by Ichiro Sakano (MACROSS: DO YOU REMEMBER LOVE?). The film will be presented in Japanese with English subtitles.

This refreshing and decidedly adult incarnation of the legend will be combined with an exciting line up of television episodes and feature films, divided into three separate must-see shows. Saturday night's program will also feature an exciting Ultraman show, live on the stage of the Castro Theatre, featuring actual attraction costumes direct from Tsuburaya Productions in Tokyo. See Ultraman battle monsters, aliens and a special surprise creature ­ Jiras, perhaps?

Ultraman the Next prepares for battle at the Castro Theatre! © 2004 Ultraman: The Next Production Consortium/Tsuburaya Productions.
Starting off the screen presentations at 7:00 pm on Friday, August 26th will be the U.S. Premiere of Episode 1 of the latest series ULTRAMAN MAXX (which debuted in Japan on July 2nd). The first two episodes were directed by Shusuke Kaneko (GAMERA 2, GMK, AZUMI 2), and features Susumu Kurobe, who played Hayata, with his co-star Hiroko Sakurai, who played Fuji, in the original ULTRAMAN. ULTRAMAN MAXX is reportedly a throwback to the series of the 1960s and 1970s, and will feature the return of many of the classic Ultra Monsters. In Japanese with English subtitles.

The Northern California Premiere of ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT will screen next at 7:40 pm, and will be followed at 9:30 pm by the first of three "Special Surprise Tsuburaya Classics", featuring special episodes "from the vaults of Tsuburaya Productions". You'll have to attend to find out which show and which episode will be screened (in Japanese with English subtitles).

Saturday, August 27th will kick off at 1:00 pm with the wacky and offbeat parody ULTRAMAN ZEARTH (1995). The world's supply of gold vanishes without a trace and MYDO (Mysterious Yonder Defense Organization) is dispatched to investigate. The culprit is an evil alien (hammed up by the host of IRON CHEF, Takeshi Kaga), who converts the precious metal into energy. The only thing standing in his way is the OCD-suffering MYDO Trainee, Katsuto Asahi, who transforms into the Detective Monk-ish Ultraman Zearth. Can Ultraman Zearth overcome his phobias in order to save the Earth? Direction and Special Effects were helmed by television commercial director Shinya Nakajima from a Screenplay by Shukei Nakasaka (ST. JOHN'S WORT). English dubbed.

Facing his most deadly adversary, Ultraman Tiga goes on his final odyssey. © 2000 Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey Production Consortium/Tsuburaya Productions.
This is followed at 2:00 pm by the outstanding feature film ULTRAMAN TIGA: FINAL ODYSSEY (2000) is set two years after the conclusion of the ULTRAMAN TIGA television series (available in the US on DVD from Funimation). An archeological dig on a South Pacific island uncovers a lost civilization and awakens a triumvirate of evil beings from Ultraman Tiga's mysterious and forbidden past. Will Ultraman Tiga be able to defeat this ultimate evil, or will the dark side seduce him? Director and Special Effects: Hirochika Muraishi (THE JUSTIRIZERS). Screenplay: Kei'ichi Hasegawa (GIANT MONSTERS ALL OUT ATTACK). In Japanese with English subtitles.

ULTRAMAN TIGA: FINAL ODYSSEY will be followed at 3:40 pm by the second installment of "Special Surprise Tsuburaya Classics", featuring another special episode "from the vaults of Tsuburaya Productions". You'll have to attend to find out which show and which episode will be screened (in Japanese with English subtitles).

Ultraman Zearth prepares to fire his Spaci-Shula Ray to save humanity! © 1995 Ultraman Zearth Production Consortium/Tsuburaya Productions
The final show on Saturday, August 27th will start at 7:00 pm with the "Ultraman Stunt Show (Live on Stage!): With the Castro Theatre audience in peril, threatened by one of Ultraman's greatest foes, can Ultraman appear in time to save us all? Or will the festival end right here? (Those in attendance will have the chance to win our amazing grand prize!)"

After the conclusion of the stage antics will be the second episode of the brand new ULTRAMAN MAXX series at 7:30 pm, directed by Shusuke Kaneko. In Japanese with English subtitles. Followed by the final screening of ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT at 8:00 pm (in Japanese with English subtitles) with the event concluding with third and final installment of "Special Surprise Tsuburaya Classics", starting at 9:40 pm, featuring another special episode "from the vaults of Tsuburaya Productions". You'll have to attend to find out which show and which episode will be screened (in Japanese with English subtitles).

There will also be merchandise for sale at the Castro Theatre, as well as some incredible giveaways, including a brand new Ultraman Guitar, courtesy of Ibanez Guitars. This is one of less than ten manufactured, and is being touted as an "instant collectors' item." In addition to the great line up, Bay Area Film Events also promises "more surprises and special guests to be announced" ­ at this rate, this will surely be the ultimate Ultraman show of the year and absolutely not to be missed.

For more information about the Ultraman show at the Castro Theatre, please go to the Bay Area Film Events website. Advance tickets to all screenings are available through Ticketweb.

 
07/07/05:
"JAPANESE GIANT MONSTERS FESTIVAL" ULTRAMAN PRIZE WINNERS ANNOUNCED
More Opportunities for Ultraman Fans to Win in Montreal and San Francisco!
Source: Tsuburaya Productions


A large statue of Ultraman Great was on display in the Egyptian Theatre courtyard. Photo courtesy of Brad Warner. © 1990 Tsuburaya Productions
The creators of Ultraman, Tsuburaya Productions, are celebrating the North American theatrical screenings of their latest film with some incredible prize qiveaways. These items will be awarded to contest winners at the handful of ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT showings in the United States and Canada.

The top prize is an extremely limited edition Ibanez Iceman guitar featuring the face and logo of Ultraman The Next. There will be less than 10 of these Ultraman guitars manufactured and, with standard model Ibanez Iceman guitars retailing for $500 or more, it's easy to see how valuable this item will be among Ultraman and guitar collectors. The guitars will not be made available for sale anywhere in the world and can only be won by ticket buyers for ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT.

Second Prize is a 15" tall vinyl figure of the monster Kittyfire from Tsuburaya's television series MIRROR MAN. Produced by Super 7, this toy is from a limited edition of only 500 pieces. The Kittyfire figure will also be available for purchase this month at Comic Con International in San Diego.

Attendees of the ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT screenings will have a chance to win one of the rare Ultraman Ibanez Iceman guitars. Photo courtesy of Brad Warner. © 2005 ULTRAMAN Movie Production Consortium
The first contest took place during the US premiere of ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT, at the American Cinematheque's "Japanese Giant Monsters Festival" at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood on June 25. Winners were announced this past Saturday, July 2 at the encore screening at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, CA. Tsuburaya Productions and the American Cinematheque have asked Henshin! Online to also post the names of the prize winners here...

1st PRIZE WINNER - ULTRAMAN THE NEXT IBANEZ ICEMAN GUITAR:
Kevin McWethy of Santa Monica

2nd PRIZE WINNERS - SUPER 7 KITTYFIRE FIGURE:
Julianne Buescher; Egyptian Theatre
Brandon Wilson of Pacific Palisades; Aero Theatre

Jennifer Galamba poses with her friend and bandmate, Brynn McWethy. Brynn won the limited edition Ultraman guitar at the American Cinematheque's "Japanese Giant Monsters Festival". © 2005 Tsuburaya Productions
3rd PRIZE WINNERS - ULTRAMAN CALENDARS:
Charlie Cohen
Ethan Cohen
Mark Fischer
Michael Goodrich
Alicia Lum-Denchasy
Hugo Mendez

1st prize winner Kevin McWethy has given the guitar to his daughter Brynn McWethy, an aspiring guitarist and bass player. The 16 year- old is also a Godzilla and Ultraman fan who talked her father into attending the ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT premiere. Brynn will bring the guitar with her to Rock and Roll Camp in Massachusetts this summer.

Ultraman fans will had more chances to win this summer. Additional prize giveaways for the Ultraman Ibanez Iceman guitars and the Kittyfire vinyl figures will take place at upcoming screenings of ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT. Next up will be the popular FanTasia in Montreal, Canada where the new Ultraman film will be shown on July 23. Then Bay Area Film Events presents "Ultramania", a two-day Ultraman festival at the Catro Theatre in San Francisco, CA, August 26-27.

American Ultraman fans should not miss these opportunities to see ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT on the big screen and win some amazing collector's items!

 
07/07/05:
AUGUST IS "THE RING" MONTH
DreamWorks Home Entertainment Releases Five RING Films on DVD
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: DreamWorks, DVD Answers
Special Thanks to BHImpact


The complete Japanese RING theatrical series will be collected in the RINGU: ANTHOLOGY OF TERROR set. Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Home Entertainment. ©2005 DreamWorks Pictures
April 23, 2005 will be a big day for RING fans as DreamWorks Home Entertainment releases the Japanese sequel RINGU 2, two versions of the studio's own THE RING TWO, and a collection of the four Japanese RINGU films. With the US version of THE RING and the Korean remake THE RING VIRUS already available on DVD, this latest batch of titles will finally allow American fans the opportunity to see all the RING theatrical movies.

First up is the "Rated Edition" of THE RING TWO, the 109 minute, PG-13 cut which was distributed to box office success but mixed reviews this past March. The DVD's audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo surround. Early reports indicate this disc will be available in fullscreen only, and the suggested retail price is $29.99.

Customers will find a much better bargain with THE RING TWO "Unrated Edition". This extended cut of the film will be presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen and comes with several extra features. There will be two featurettes; "The Power of Symbols" (covering how the filmmakers used symbolism to create a sense of terror for the audience) and "Fear on Film: Special Effects", deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, and more. Also included will be the excellent short film RINGS, which sets up the opening sequence of THE RING TWO. RINGS was previously released as part THE RING 2-DISC COLLECTOR'S SET and was reviewed here on Henshin! Online on 3/29/05. Presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo surround with English, French, and Spanish subtitles, the "Unrated Edition" also retails for $29.99.

Six years before tackling the American sequel, director Hideo Nakata has directed the Japanese sequel RING 2. DreamWorks is finally bringing the 1999 film to the US as RINGU 2. The 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD features the original Japanese audio track in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo surround with English, French, and Spanish subtitles. It should come as no surprise that the SRP is $29.99.

By all accounts, the real gem of this wave of DVDs will mostly likely be the RINGU: ANTHOLOGY OF TERROR collection. This 4 disc set contains all the Japanese theatrical films in the original RING series; Nakata's smash hit RINGU (1998), the immediate sequel RASEN (aka "The Spiral", 1998) that was written and directed by Joji Iida (ANOTHER HEAVEN, DRAGON HEAD), Nakata's own sequel RINGU 2 (1999), and Norio Tsuruta's prequel RING 0: BIRTHDAY (2000). No word on extra features, if any, but each film will be presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with the original Japanese audio track in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo surround, and English, French, and Spanish subtitles. The list price for RINGU: ANTHOLOGY OF TERROR is $55.99.

 
06/15/05:
FILM NOTES FOR THE "JAPANESE GIANT MONSTERS FESTIVAL" IN LOS ANGELES
Two Theaters, 20 Films and Shorts, More than a Week of Godzilla, Ultraman, King Kong, and other Kaiju!
Author: Keith Aiken, with assistance from August Ragone
Source: American Cinematheque Publicity Materials


The Egyptian and Aero Theatres are hosting an incredible selection of kaiju films in Los Angeles this month. Photo Credit: Ed Godziszewski
For more than half a century, audiences around the world have been thrilled and amused by kaiju -- Japan's monster stars of the theater and television screen. The huge international success of the original GODZILLA (Gojira, 1954) spawned a neverending wave of beasts and aliens of all shapes and sizes. Last year, the American Cinematheque celebrated the King of the Monsters' longevity with "The Godzilla 50th Anniversary Tribute", a Toho-themed festival featuring 14 films and shorts (including the U.S. premiere of GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS) at the Egyptian Theatre. The event was a big hit, so they're doing it again this year... and this time the festivities have expanded to include more classic and rare films, additional screenings at the newly-renovated Aero Theatre, and special events for two of the most talked about genre films in recent memory -- the US premiere of ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT, and a multi-day theatrical run for GODZILLA FINAL WARS!

ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT will be part of an entire day of Ultraman programming, including rare episodes, short features, a live stage show, plus exclusive collectibles and prizes. The Egyptian's entire 4th of July holiday weekend is devoted to an exclusive theatrical engagement of GODZILLA FINAL WARS... six screenings over three days. At the same time, the Aero will screen a handful of kaiju favorites, including some of the top films from last year's festival as well as some new titles. Don't miss this opportunity to see some of the newest and best Japanese giant monster movies on the big screen with state-of-the-art projection and sound!

GODZILLA FINAL WARS will be shown six times over the 4th of July holiday weekend. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
EGYPTIAN THEATRE, HOLLYWOOD, CA
FRIDAY, JUNE 24, 2005
7:30 PM -- Double Feature -- plus a Bonus TV Short!
SPECTREMAN (Supekutoraman, 1971) Banished from their homeworld, the simian spacemen Dr Gori and Karis set their sights on earth, using the planet's pollution to create a legion of monsters to destroy mankind. Gori's activities draw the attention of the mysterious Overlords from Nebula 71, who send their cyber-hero Spectreman to save the day.

In the early 1970s, environmental pollution had reached epidemic proportions in Japan and inspired genre efforts like GODZILLA VS HEDORAH, GAMERA VS ZIGRA, and P Productions' television series SPECTREMAN. While produced on a miniscule budget, the series was an entertaining mix of action, comedy, social commentary, and some of the weirdest monsters ever to grace a TV screen. (25 min, English Dub)

The festivities kick off with a classic Mechagodzilla double feature. © 1974 Toho Co., Ltd.
GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA (Gojira tai Mekagojira, 1974) Directed by Jun Fukuda, Special Effects by Teruyoshi Nakano. Starring Masaaki Daimon, Kazuya Aoyama, Akihiko Hirata, Hiroshi Koizumi, Shin Kishida, and Goro Mutsu. Alien invaders attack the earth with Mechagodzilla, a cyborg monster based upon the original Godzilla. After the robotic doppelganger defeats Angilas and the real Godzilla, an architect, a reporter, and an INTERPOL agent race against time to reawaken the legendary guardian monster King Caesar. But, even if they succeed, will Caesar be strong enough to defeat the mechanical monster?

Godzilla's 20th Anniversary movie introduced one of the King of the Monster's greatest foes... the silver robot Mechagodzilla. Inspired by Mechani-Kong from KING KONG ESCAPES, Mechagodzilla quickly became one of Toho's most popular creations; returning to bedevil Godzilla four more times (most recently in 2003's GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS). King Caesar was based on the shisa, the legendary lion-dog guardians of Okinawa. One of the few mammalian kaiju in the Godzilla series, Caesar's fast-moving fighting style was taken to new heights when the monster returned thirty years later in GODZILLA FINAL WARS. Director Jun Fukuda handles his final Godzilla movie in a more serious and fast pace then his previous two entries, GODZILLA VS GIGAN and GODZILLA VS MEGALON. The film also sports more violence, both human and monster, than is usually the case in the Godzilla serious... blood spurts from wounds in a fashion reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah. The vast array of weapons in Mechagodzilla's arsenal gave Teruyoshi Nakano the chance to fill the screen with a myriad of colorful rays and explosions, and the fx director makes the most of the opportunity. (Toho, 80 min, English Dub)

Godzilla struggles against the twin threat of Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla in TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA, the final film in the original Godzilla series. © 1975 Toho Co., Ltd.
TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (Mekagojira-no Gyakushu, 1975) Directed by Ishiro Honda, Special Effects by Teruyoshi Nakano. Starring Katsuhiko Sasaki, Tomoko Ai, Akihiko Hirata, Katsumasa Uchida, Goro Mutsu, and Kenji Sahara. The finale of the original cycle of Godzilla films is a direct sequel to GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA. The Aliens from the Third Planet of the Black Hole salvage and repair Mechagodzilla and partner it with Titanosaurus, an aquatic dinosaur controlled by a disgraced scientist. Only Godzilla stands between the two monsters and the conquest of earth.

After several years working in television, original Godzilla director Ishiro Honda returned to the series, as did acclaimed composer Akira Ifukube. Working from a screenplay by Yukiko Takayama (the sole female screenwriter of the Godzilla series), Honda crafted a dark and somber tale centered on Katsura (Tomoko Ai), the beautiful daughter of the deranged Dr. Mafune (Akihiko Hirata). After being injured in a lab accident, Katsura is kept alive by mechanical parts created by the aliens, who then use her as a control unit for both Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla. Keeping with tone of the story, Nakano's visual effects are much less colorful than in the previous film. While they vary widely in quality, the effects are quite good considering the limited budget-particularly in the design and execution of Titanosaurus, whose dinosaurian appearance was a welcome return to classic form after the recent number of more outlandish kaiju like Gigan, Hedorah, and Megalon.

For more than twenty years, the only version of TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA available on U.S. television and video has been a horribly edited, pan & scan print that completely muddles the story, confusing viewers about the fates of several key characters. The print playing during the "Japanese Giant Monsters Festival" is the rarely seen uncut English language version of the film. (Toho, 83 min, English Dub)

Tsuburaya Pro presents a celebration of Ultraman; featuring movies, shorts, a live stage show, and an amazing prize giveaway! © 1966 Tsuburaya Productions
SATURDAY, JUNE 25
5:00 PM
ULTRAMAN AND MORE: RARITIES FROM TSUBURAYA PRODUCTIONS! -In 1963, Toho's renowned special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya (the genius behind such hits as GODZILLA, RODAN, and MOTHRA) established his own special effects shop, Tsuburaya Productions. Initially created to supply visual effects to Toho and other Japanese studios, Tsuburaya Pro was soon making its own original productions. The first of these was the classic television series ULTRA Q, a massive hit which led into the even more successful ULTRAMAN. ULTRAMAN launched a franchise that is still going strong to this day - the latest series, ULTRAMAN MAXX, premieres in Japan in July-and inspired a legion of similar shows like SPECTREMAN, ZONE FIGHTER, and Tsuburaya's own MIRROR MAN and FIREMAN. The original ULTRAMAN was also quickly snapped up by United Artists, who syndicated the English dubbed version to America for nearly two decades.

2005 marks the 40th Anniversary of the first Ultra show. In celebration, Tsuburaya Productions presents, for the first time ever in the US, two hours of Ultraman-related short features and programs on the big screen. The schedule includes:

1. & 2. Two rare Ultraman related episodes from the Tsuburaya vaults.

3. MIRRORMAN (Miraaman, 1971) Starring Noboyuki Ishida and Junya Usami. When alien invaders strike, newspaper photographer Kotaro Kagami switches places with his mirror dimension alter-ego, Mirror Man, to defend the earth. Early episodes of this show were directed by the legendary Ishiro Honda. (Tsuburaya Productions, 25 min, Japanese with English subtitles)

4. FIREMAN (Fuaiyaman, 1973) Starring Naoya Makoto, Goro Mutsu, and Shin Kishida. Scientific Attack Force officer Daisuke Misaki uses the Fire Stick to transform into a being powered by the Earth's molten core. Tsuburaya Productions started off their 10th Anniversary celebration with this series, which featured two of the stars of GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA. (Tsuburaya Productions, 25 min, Japanese with English subtitles)

Hero shows like FIREMAN and MIRRORMAN will be shown for the first time in America. © 1973 Tsuburaya Productions
5. EIJI TSUBURAYA DOCUMENTARY Learn about the special effects genius who created Godzilla, Ultraman, and so many classic films and shows. (Tsuburaya Productions, 15 min, Japanese with English subtitles)

8:00 PM -- US Premiere of the Newest Ultraman Film -- plus a Live Performance and an Incredible Prize Giveaway! LIVE ULTRAMAN STAGE SHOW- For decades, Japanese audiences has been entertained by stage performances by stuntmen in authentic Ultraman costumes... now American fans will have a chance to see one of these shows.

US Premiere! ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT (Urutoraman, 2004) Directed by Kazuya Konaka, Special Effects by Yuichi Kikuchi. Starring Tetsuya Bessho, Ken Osumi, and Kyoko Toyami. A UFO crashes into the Pacific Ocean, destroying a Japanese naval vessel. A week later, a Japan Self Defense Forces pilot named Maki (Tetsuya Bessho from GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH) has a strange encounter with another UFO. As his jet nears the mysterious object, Maki blacks out and the two collide. Incredibly, he survives unhurt but with no memory of the crash. Maki is taken into custody by the JSDF, and officials explain that the only survivor of the first UFO incident has mutated into an ever-growing reptilian monster code-named "The One". The beast has escaped from a containment facility, so the government takes no chances with Maki, who has designated "The Next". When The One attacks the JSDF base, Maki undergoes a startling mutation. Instead of becoming a second reptilian beast, he is transformed in a silver giant with insect-like eyes and a glowing red V-shaped mark on his chest. Is this new being friend or foe?

The Ultraman event culminates with the US premiere of the new ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT. © 2005 ULTRAMAN Movie Production Consortium
After a trilogy of juvenile oriented films starring ULTRAMAN COSMOS (2001-2003), Tsuburaya Pro decided to take a grittier, more mature look at Ultraman. Aided by the cooperation of the Japanese Self Defense Forces -- who gave unprecedented support to the production -- and an array of quality miniature, suit, and CGI visuals by effects director Yuichi Kikuchi (GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA), ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT is a fresh take on the character, bringing him out of the world of fantasy and into the real world. The film provides a great starting point for newcomers unfamiliar with the franchise, and should particularly appeal to fans of GAMERA 3 and GMK. (Tsuburaya Productions, 97 min, Japanese with English subtitles)

NOTE: Tsuburaya Productions has arraigned a very special contest for attendees of the ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT screening. Ticket holders will have a chance to win 1 (one) limited edition Ultraman guitar from Ibanez Iceman Guitars. Ibanez guitars normally list for $500, and there will be less than 20 Ultraman guitars manufactured, making this an instant -- and valuable -- collector's item.

SUNDAY, JUNE 26
3:30 PM
FILM MINGLER American Cinematheque members who purchase tickets to tonight's program are invited to attend this free reception. Mix and mingle with fellow members, enjoy some soda, and dessert and chat about Japanese Giant Monsters with Keith Aiken (Henshin! Online, GODZILLA: THE SERIES), Steve Ryfle (Japan's Favorite Mon-Star), Oki Miyano (Henshin! Online, Japanese Giants), and Brad Warner of Tsuburaya Productions (ULTRAMAN).

An early look at the design for the limited edition Ibanez Ultraman guitar which will be given to one lucky ticket buyer! Photo Courtesy of Tsuburaya Productions. © 2005 Tsuburaya Productions
5:00 PM -- Double Feature -- plus a Bonus TV Short!
SPECTREMAN Another thrilling, monster-packed episode precedes the two Toho films. (1971, 25 min, English Dub).

KING KONG ESCAPES (Kingu Kongu-no Gyakushu, 1967) Directed by Ishiro Honda, Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. Starring Rhodes Reason, Akira Takarada, Linda Miller, Mie Hama, and Hideo Amamato. The criminal mastermind Dr Who is hired by a villainous nation looking for the Element X needed to build their nuclear arsenal. Who constructs the massive Mechani-Kong to mine the rare mineral, but radiation from Element X shorts out the robot. After the real Kong is discovered on Mondo Island by a UN research team led by Carl Nelson, Dr Who kidnaps Kong and Nelson's team. Will the evil scientist force the strongest creature on earth to dig up Element X, or will King Kong escape?

King Kong battles Mechani-Kong in KING KONG ESCAPES. © 1967 Toho Co., Ltd.
Toho's second Kong feature had it's origins in the American animated series KING KONG, which premiered on the ABC television network on September 10, 1966. Based on the classic film, the cartoon show was created by Rankin/Bass Productions, the studio behind such classic holiday specials as SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN, and RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER. The show followed the adventures of Professor Bond and his children Susan and Bobby, who meet and befriend the legendary giant ape on tropical Mondo Island. Over the course of 26 episodes, King Kong and the Bond family encountered a variety of threats--dinosaurs, aliens, monsters, and men -- including the recurring villains Dr Who and his robot Mechani-Kong.

Producers Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass approached Toho Studios, who had made the hit KING KONG VS GODZILLA, about making a live-action film of the show. Toho executive producer Tomoyuki Tanaka assigned screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa (MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS THE THING, GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER) to write the screenplay. After Rankin rejected the proposed "King Kong vs Ebirah: Operation Robinson Crusoe" because it did not contain enough elements from the KING KONG series, Tanaka brought in writer Takeshi Kimura (RODAN, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS). Working under the pen name "Kaoru Mabuchi", Kimura's KING KONG ESCAPES featured the cartoon show's Mondo Island, Dr Who, Mechani-Kong, and even a lead female character named Susan. One popular addition to the story was the giant dinosaur Gorosaurus who battles Kong on Mondo Island, then returned the following year for the Godzilla classic DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. The film was released in the U.S. by Universal, who is providing a rare original I.B. Technicolor print for this screening. (Universal, 96 min, English Dub)

Megalon, Gigan, Godzilla, and Jet Jaguar in the lighthearted GODZILLA VS MEGALON. © 1973 Toho Co., Ltd.
GODZILLA VS MEGALON (Gojira tai Megaro, 1973) Directed by Jun Fukuda, Special Effects by Teruyoshi Nakano. Katsuhiko Sasaki, Hiroyuki Kawase, Yutaka Hayashi, and Robert Dunham. Following the devastation of the homeland by undersea nuclear tests, the oceanic kingdom of Seatopia declares war on the surface world. Seatopian spies steal the robot Jet Jaguar from his inventor Goro Ibuki and use it to guide their guardian monster Megalon to Japan's cities. When Goro regains control of Jet Jaguar he orders it fly to Monster Island and retrieve Godzilla while the Seatopians call in the cyborg monster Gigan. The stage is set for a massive tag-team battle for the fate of the earth!

Released as part of Toho's "Champion Festival" series -- children's films packaged with cartoons and short features -- GODZILLA VS MEGALON has long held a mixed reputation. Many Godzilla fans loathe the silly plot, obvious low budget, and extensive use of stock footage while others look past those flaws and enjoy it as the fun kids' movie that it is. MEGALON is a long way from the scope and grandeur of the early Toho classics, but it is very entertaining in its own way. Child actor Hiroyuki Kawase had previously starred in GODZILLA VS HEDORAH and Akira Kurosawa's DODES'KADEN, but the real star of the picture is the grinning, size changing robot Jet Jaguar. The character (originally named Red Arone) was the winning entry in a Toho-sponsored contest for elementary school students, and was briefly considered for a spin-off television series. While Godzilla and Gigan had both appeared onscreen the year before, the monster suits were too damaged to reuse so new costumes were constructed for each, as was the case with Godzilla's titular opponent (which was based on the Rhinoceros Beetle).

U.S. distributor Cinema Shares gave GODZILLA VS MEGALON a well-publicized theatrical release in 1976, followed by a prime-time television premiere on NBC (hosted by the late John Belushi in a Godzilla suit). After Cinema Shares folded, cropped and faded prints of the film were released on video by a plethora of p.d. labels and even lampooned on Comedy Central's cult classic MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 before Toho reacquired the U.S. rights and made quality widescreen prints available again for television and theaters. (Toho, 80 min, English Dub)

Toho's acclaimed MATANGO finally comes to the big screen! © 1963 Toho Co., Ltd.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 29
7:30 PM -- Double Feature
New 35mm Print! MATANGO: ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (Matango, 1963) Directed by Ishiro Honda, Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. Starring Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kenji Sahara, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Miki Yashiro, and Hideo Amamoto. A wealthy businessman brings a group of friends -- a famous singer, a writer, a professor and his student/girlfriend, plus a skipper and first mate -- to take a pleasure cruise on his new yacht, but the boat is damaged a storm and washes up on an uncharted island. Exploring the deserted island, the group finds a long-abandoned ship that is covered in a strange fungus, which the ship's journal describes as a dangerous type of mushroom called Matango. As their food supply runs out the group members begin to turn on one another and give into their desires... including their hunger for the mysterious fungi.

Based on the short story "The Voice in the Night" by William Hope Hodgson, MATANGO ranks as one of Toho's best horror tales and a personal favorite of stars Hiroshi Koizumi and Akira Kubo. The movie's strength comes not from quick jolts or graphic violence, but in the psychological breakdown of the various characters and the slowly growing temptation that Matango represents. MATANGO was picked up for U.S. distribution by AIP, who released the film directly to television in 1965 under the exploitative -- and derided -- title ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE. Forty years later, this screening marks the U.S. theatrical debut of the Toho classic. (Media Blasters, 89 min, English Dub)

A missing theatrical print bumped THE H-MAN from last year's festival, but the Liquid People are back on the schedule! © 1958 Toho Co., Ltd.
THE H-MAN (Bijo to Ekitai Ningen, 1958) Directed by Ishiro Honda, Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. Starring Yumi Shirakawa, Kenji Sahara, and Akihiko Hirata. After her gangster boyfriend mysteriously disappears, a beautiful nightclub singer draws the attention of police, mobsters, a young scientist, and the Liquid People -- strange, radioactive creatures dwelling in Tokyo's sewer system.

Director Ishiro Honda, working from a screenplay by Takeshi Kimura (RODAN, THE HUMAN VAPOR, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS), creates a more adult (by 1950s standards) film than the usual Toho monster movie. A great combination of the popular sci-fi, horror and crime genres, THE H-MAN features a bit of everything sure to please moviegoers -- monsters, cops, gangsters, the stars of RODAN, a haunted ship, and musical numbers -- topped off by an amazing score by composer Masaru Sato (Akira Kurosawa's HIGH AND LOW and YOKIMBO). (Columbia, 79 minutes, English Dub)

FRIDAY, JULY 1- SUNDAY, JULY 3
Exclusive Los Angeles Theatrical Engagement! Six Screenings!
Friday, July 1- 7:00 PM and 9:30 PM
Saturday, July 2- 6:00 PM and 8:45 PM
Sunday, July 3- 4:00 PM and 6:45 PM
GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004) Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, Special Effects by Eiichi Asada. Starring Masahito Matsuoka, Rei Kikukawa, Don Frye, Maki Mizuno, Kazuki Kitamura, Kane Kosugi, Kumi Mizuno, Kenji Sahara, Masami Nagasawa, Chihiro Otsuka, Shigeru Izumiya, Masakatsu Funaki, Masatou Ibu, Jun Kunimura, and Akira Takarada. After half a century of Godzilla films, Toho decided the time had come to give the monster an extended vacation... but he would be sent off with a bang. To craft a Godzilla film unlike any seen before, executive producer Shogo Tomiyama recruited 35 year-old director Ryuhei Kitamura, who was known for his kinetic action films and had drawn international attention for his cult hit VERSUS. Working with writers Wataru Mimura and Isao Kiriyama, Tomiyama and Kitamura crafted an "everything but the kitchen sink" tale combining elements of many of Toho's most popular classic monster movies, Hong Kong martial arts, and American blockbusters to create GODZILLA FINAL WARS.

Kamakiras is just one of fifteen giant monsters appearing in GODZILLA FINAL WARS. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
Years of war and nuclear tests have awakened a number of giant monsters from hibernation. To combat this threat, mankind stops their infighting and forms the Earth-Defense Force, an international military organization using mutant super soldier. Through a combination of skill and luck, the EDF is able to trap Godzilla, the most dangerous monster of all, deep in the ice of Antarctica. Decades later, the hard-fought peace is disrupted when aliens from Planet X unleash an army of monsters in attacks on cities around the world. The EDF leaps into action, but soon find themselves overwhelmed. Realizing that Xilians are unaware of Godzilla, a small band of survivors take the last remaining EDF battleship, the flying submarine Gotengo, on a desperate journey to awaken the King of the Monsters and unleash him against the kaiju army.

A longer production time and the highest budget in the series' history allowed Kitamura's crew to film on location in New York, Paris, Shanghai, Sydney, and Tokyo. The director also brought in musician Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer) to compose the film's soundtrack, and title designer Kyle Cooper (SEVEN, SPIDER-MAN) to create the opening credit sequence. The cast features series veterans Akira Takarada, Kumi Mizuno, and Kenji Sahara supporting lead actors Masahito Matsuoka and Rei Kikukawa... however the standout performances come from mixed martial arts champion Don "the Predator" Frye as the Gotengo Captain Douglas Gordon, and Kazuki Kitamura as the scenery-chewing leader of the Xilians. As for the real stars of GODZILLA FINAL WARS; the film features a stunning fifteen giant monsters. In addition to Godzilla, the lineup includes Rodan, Mothra, Gigan, Angilas, Minya, Manda, King Caesar, Ebirah, Kamakiras, Kumonga, a cameo by Hedorah, the American Godzilla (rechristened Zilla), a new version of King Ghidorah called Keizer Ghidorah, and the new mysterious alien called Monster X. GODZILLA FINAL WARS had its world premiere at an invitation-only event in Hollywood on November 29, 2004. (Toho, 124 minutes, Japanese and English with English subtitles)

AERO THEATRE, SANTA MONICA, CA
A gorgeous subtitled print of GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER opens the Aero Theatre's kaiju programming. © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
FRIDAY, JULY 1
7:30 PM -- Double Feature
New 35 mm. Print! EBIRAH: HORROR OF THE DEEP (Gojira, Ebirah, Mosura: Nankai-no Daiketto, aka GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER, 1966) Directed by Jun Fukuda, Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, Starring Akira Takarada, Kumi Mizuno, Toru Watanabe, and Akihiko Hirata. A bank robber and several young men wash ashore on tropical Letchi Island and find the secret base of a terrorist organization called the Red Bamboo that uses natives kidnapped from Mothra's island home as slave labor. With Mothra in hibernation on Infant Island and the giant crustacean Ebirah prowling the nearby ocean depths, escape seems impossible -- until the castaways discover Godzilla asleep in one of Letchi's caves.

Originally written as OPERATION ROBINSON CRUSOE: KING KONG VS EBIRAH, a live-action adaptation of the 1966 Rankin-Bass KING KONG cartoon show, the story was reworked and Godzilla became a last-minute substitute for the famous ape. As with INVASION OF THE ASTRO-MONSTERS, the human cast (led by INVASION co-stars Akira Takarada and Kumi Mizuno) carry the story, and once again deliver an entertaining adventure that would have been enjoyable even without the presence of giant monsters. EBIRAH: HORROR OF THE DEEP was released directly to television in the US as the English dubbed GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER, so this is a rare opportunity to see the original Japanese version on the big screen. (Columbia, 83 minutes, Japanese with English subtitles)

International relations take a turn for the worse in KING KONG VS GODZILLA. © 1962 Toho Co., Ltd.
New 35 mm. Print! KING KONG VS GODZILLA (Kingu Kongu tai Gojira, 1962/63) Directed by Ishiro Honda, Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, Starring Tadao Takashima, Kenji Sahara, Ichiro Arashima, Mie Hama, and Yu Fujiki. In 1960, legendary stop-motion artist Willis O'Brien approached producer John Beck about doing a sequel to the original KING KONG entitled "King Kong vs Frankenstein". Beck promptly removed O'Brien from the project and pitched the idea to studios in the US and Italy before approaching Toho Studios in Japan. Recognizing that a battle with the Eighth Wonder of the World would be the perfect comeback vehicle for Godzilla, Toho replaced Kong's opponent with their own King of the Monsters. Released as part of Toho's 30th Anniversary Celebration, KING KONG VS GODZILLA was a massive hit, selling more than 11 million tickets in Japan and establishing Godzilla as a franchise character. Honda and screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa crafted a light-hearted satiric romp that poked fun at the commercialism running rampant in the wake of television. The cast includes an eclectic mix of genre stars, comedy actors and Toho starlets -- including actress Mie Hama, who holds the unique honor of playing love interests for both King Kong and James Bond (she costarred with Sean Connery in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE).

Before selling US rights to Universal-International, Beck jettisoned most of the comedy, characterization, and Akira Ifukube's incredible score in favor of newly-shot scenes featuring Michael Keith, James Yagi, and Harry Halcombe explaining the onscreen events and music lifted from CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Despite constant rumors to the contrary, one thing not changed for the US release was the film's ending -- it is the same as in the Japanese version. (Universal, 91 minutes, English Dub)

In GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS, the King of the Monsters takes on old foes Mothra and Mechagodzilla. © 2003 Toho Co., Ltd.
SATURDAY, JULY 2
6:30 PM
GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS (Gojira X Mosura X Mekagojira: Tokyo SOS, 2003) Directed by Masaaki Tezuka, Special Effects by Eiichi Asada, Starring Noboru Kaneko, Miho Yoshioka, Katsuya Inozuka, and Hiroshi Koizumi. Professor Shinichi Chujo is visited by some old friends; Mothra's twin priestesses, the Shobijin. They pair announce that Mechagodzilla is an affront to nature and the remains of the 1954 Godzilla must be returned to the sea. If this is done Mothra will protect Japan from Godzilla; if not, she will become an enemy of mankind. The Japanese government is reluctant to put their trust in a creature that attacked them 40 years ago -- but before a decision can be reached, Godzilla returns to take matters into his own hands.

A direct sequel to both MOTHRA (1961) and GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (2002), GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS brings an action-packed conclusion to the "Kiryu Saga". Godzilla is animalistic and violent in this film as it attacks naval forces and battles Mechagodzilla, Mothra, and twin Mothra larvae-- the giant turtle Kamoebas (from the 1970 Toho film YOG: MONSTER FROM SPACE) also makes a brief appearance as an early victim of the monster. After more than four decades, actor Hiroshi Koizumi reprises his role of Professor Chujo from in the original MOTHRA, while Yumiko Shaku has a cameo as Akane from GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA. (Toho, 91 minutes, Japanese with English subtitles)

Godzilla and Minya do some father and son bonding in a new subtitled theatrical print of SON OF GODZILLA. © 1967 Toho Co., Ltd.
9:00 PM
ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT (Urutoraman, 2004) Directed by Kazuya Konaka, Special Effects by Yuichi Kikuchi. Starring Tetsuya Bessho, Ken Osumi, and Kyoko Toyami. See the Egyptian's film notes for details. (Tsuburaya Productions, 97 min, Japanese with English subtitles)

SUNDAY, JULY 3
5:00 PM
New 35 mm. Print --LA Premiere! SON OF GODZILLA (Kaijuto-no Kessen Gojira-no Mosuko, 1967) Directed by Jun Fukuda, Special Effects by Sadamasa Arikawa. Starring Tadeo Takashima, Akira Kubo, Beverly Maeda, Akihiko Hirata, Yoshio Tsuchiya, and Kenji Sahara. An accident during a UN science experiment on Solgell Island unleashes a massive radioactive storm that mutates praying mantises in giant monsters called Kamakiras (Gimantis in English). Three hungry Kamakiras uncover a long-buried Godzilla egg and attempt to get at the baby inside, but the infant's cries for help bring Godzilla to the rescue.

The idea for SON OF GODZILLA came from producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who wanted to take the series in a new direction. The film was the second of two consecutive "Godzilla jungle island adventures" by director Jun Fukuda. Detractors often complain about the cutesy title character Minya (known as Minira in Japan) and the rather poor design of the Godzilla suit, but SON OF GODZILLA is an entertaining popcorn flick with a solid story, a strong cast, and quality visual effects by Sadamasa Arikawa under the supervision of Eiji Tsuburaya. The matte paintings and optical photography by Hiroshi Mukoyama, Sadao Iizuka, and Yoshiyuki Tokumasa look absolutely gorgeous on the big screen, and are matched by the incredible wire-operated marionettes manipulated by Fumio Nakadai's team. The massive spider Kumonga (also known as Spiga) was the most complicated marionette the Toho staff had attempted up to that time. The beautiful cinematography by Akira Kurosawa's regular camera Kazuo Yamada was filmed primarily on location in Guam. Rounding out the production is a marvelous score by Akira Kurosawa's regular composer Masaru Sato (GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER, GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA, YOJIMBO). (Sony, 86 min, Japanese with English subtitles)

Ticket prices to the Egyptian and Aero Theatres are $9.00 general, $8.00 students and seniors, and $6.00 for American Cinematheque members. Double features are two films for one ticket. Tickets can be purchased at the theater box offices, and by fax (Egyptian only) at 323-467-0163. Complete ordering instructions are available on the Egyptian Theatre website.

 
06/08/05:
DOGORA and YOG Coming to R1 DVD!
More Toho Terrors from Media Blasters
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Media Blasters



More Toho monsters on DVD! Media Blasters will release YOG: MONSTER FROM SPACE under the international title SPACE AMOEBA. © 1970 Toho Co., Ltd.
Media Blasters has provided new information on their upcoming Toho DVDs. Additional specs for DOGORA have finally been revealed, and the big news concerns the film itself. While their earlier DVDs like THE MYSTERIANS and VARAN have used materials previously created for Toho's R2 DVDs, Media Blasters' DOGORA will be a brand new transfer that the company has described as "stunning" and "far superior" to the earlier releases. At press time, Toho Video has yet to announce an official release date for its own R2 DVD of DOGORA.

The film will be presented in 2.35:1, 16x9 anamorphic widescreen, a vast improvement over the pan and scan television version (entitled DAGORA THE SPACE MONSTER) distributed by AIP-TV in 1965. Both the original Japanese audio (with English subtitles) and Toho's English dub (previously used for the AIP-TV release) will be available in mono and a new 5.1 mix.

Extra Features include the original Japanese theatrical trailer and a photo gallery consisting of publicity and production photos. There will also be conceptual art for planned sequences that were never filmed. A commentary track is also expected, but just who will be involved has not been announced at this time.

Street Date: 07/12/05
SRP: $19.95
Language: Japanese mono, 2.0 and 5.1
Subtitles: English
Running Time: 83 min
Aspect Ratio & Format: 2.35:1 16x9 Anamorphic Color

Cast: Yosuke Natsuki, Yoko Fujiyama, Hiroshi Koizumi, Nobuo Nakamura, Robert Dunham, Akiko Wakabayashi, Seizaburo Kawazu, Jun Tazaki, Susumu Fujita, Hideyo Amamoto and Yoshibumi Tajima

Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
Director: Ishirô Honda
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music: Akira Ifukube
Cinematography: Hajime Koizumi

Special Features:
Brand New Transfer of Feature Film
Original Japanese Theatrical Trailer
Photo and Art Gallery

After months of speculation, Media Blasters has also confirmed that they have acquired the 1970 Toho film SPACE AMOEBA. Known in Japan as GEZORA, GANIME, KAMEBA: DECISIVE BATTLE! GIANT MONSTERS OF THE SOUTH SEAS (Gezora-Ganime-Kameba: Kessen! Nankai-no Daikaiju), the movie was released in the United States by AIP as YOG: MONSTER FROM SPACE.

SPACE AMOEBA was the last non-Godzilla kaiju film produced by Toho during the Showa era. It was directed by the legendary Ishiro Honda, with special effects by Sadamasa Arikawa and music by Akira Ifukube. The cast includes a trio of popular genre actors: Akira Kubo (MATANGO, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS), Yoshio Tsuchiya (THE HUMAN VAPOR, MONSTER ZERO), and Kenji Sahara (RODAN, GODZILLA VS. THE THING). As for the monster stars, the giant turtle Kameba returned as a victim of Godzilla in 2003's GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS while a brief stock footage shot of Gezora was part of an early montage in GODZILLA FINAL WARS.

Media Blasters' SPACE AMOEBA DVD is scheduled for October 11th. Meanwhile, Toho Video's own R2 DVD release hits shops in Japan this month.

UPDATE: Media Blasters' agreement with Toho prevents a US release within six months of that date, so the US DVD of SPACE AMOEBA has been pushed back to January 17, 2006.

 
06/02/05:
GAMERA RETURNS
The "Friend of All Children" will be back on the big screen in 2006
Author: Keith Aiken and Daisuke Ishizuka
Additional Japanese material translated by Oki Miyano
Source: Sports Nippon, various
Special Thanks to August Ragone and Aaron Smith


The fire-breathing giant turtle Gamera hopes to fill the kaiju void left by Godzilla's retirement. © 1967 Daiei
Six years after GAMERA: REVENGE OF IRIS (Gamera 3: Iriusu Kakusei, 1999) ended the acclaimed Heisei Gamera trilogy, Kadokawa Pictures has announced that the monster will soon return to Japanese theaters. Tentatively entitled GAMERA: THE LITTLE BRAVES (Chiisaki Yusha-tachi, Gamera), the new film begins shooting late this month for a planned spring 2006 release.

The news comes on the 40th anniversary of the original GIANT MONSTER GAMERA (Daikaiju Gamera, 1965). Directed by the late Noriaki Yuasa for the Daiei Motion Picture Company, GAMERA was a box office smash that spawned six sequels between 1966 and 1971. By the third film in the series, GAMERA VS. GYAOS (Daikaiju Kuchusen: Gamera tai Gyaosu, 1967), the movies directly targeted kid audiences by featuring children in lead roles, bizarre and colorful stories, and cartoonish violence unlike anything seen in Toho's Godzilla films. At its peak, this successful formula made Gamera a strong contender for Godzilla's crown as "King of the Monsters". Unfortunately gross studio mismanagement drove Daiei into bankruptcy in 1971. The Tokuma Shoten Publishing Company purchased the studio in 1974 and began limited production of new films, including the stock footage fest GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER (Uchu Kaiju Gamera, 1980). The monster star returned in earnest on his 30th anniversary with GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (Gamera: Daikaiju Kuchu Kessen, 1995). The combination of director Shusuke Kaneko (GMK), effects director Shinji Higuchi (LORELEI: THE WITCH OF THE PACIFIC), writer Kazunori Ito (GHOST IN THE SHELL), and composer Kow Otani (GMK) resulted in an intelligent and creative story that was widely hailed as one the best kaiju films in decades. The team returned, and raised the bar even more, with GAMERA: ATTACK OF LEGION (Gamera 2: Region Shurai, 1996) and the aforementioned GAMERA: REVENGE OF IRIS.

The star of the new Gamera film, 11 year-old Ryo Tomioka.
In July 2002, following the passing Tokuma's president, Yasunari Tokuma, Daiei was sold to the massive Kadokawa Publishing Company. In November of that year, chairman Maihiko Kadokawa launched the Kadokawa-Daiei Motion Picture Company, combining Kadokawa Pictures and Daiei (the name was later simplified to Kadokawa Pictures). At that time the chairman also announced that Kadokawa-Daiei had approached Toho about co-producing GODZILLA VS. GAMERA (see the 11/14/02 report here on H!O for details). After Toho rejected the offer Kadokawa moved ahead with a slew of new projects including Masaaki Tezuka's (GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA, GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS) G.I SAMURAI: 1549 (Sengoku Jietai 1549), a remake of an earlier Kadokawa Picture from the 1980s, and an updated version of SPOOK WARFARE (Yokai Daisenso) from director Takashi Miike (AUDITION, ZEBRAMAN). Now comes official word that a new solo Gamera film is in the works.

Early word suggests that GAMERA: LITTLE BRAVES will not be direct sequel to the previous film but will instead launch a new series of movies by taking the flying turtle back to his "Friend of All Children" roots. Producer Yoichi Arashige (the international hit SHALL WE DANCE? and Takashi Miike's ONE MISSED CALL) remarked that the film will cross monster action with the relationship between a father and son. Directing the film is Toei veteran Ryuta Tazaki, who has helmed episodes of MASKED RIDER BLACK (Kamen Raida Burakku, 1987), MASKED RIDER BLACK-RX (Kamen Raida Burakku RX, 1988), MASKED RIDER AGITO (Kamen Raida Agito, 2001), MASKED RIDER RYUKI (Kamen Rider Ryuki, 2002), MASKED RIDER 555 (Kamen Raida Faiz, 2003), PRETTY GUARDIAN: SAILOR MOON (Bishojo Senshi Serra Muun, 2003), as well as several recent well-regarded Masked Rider theatrical films. In 1999, Tazaki came to the United States to direct episodes of POWER RANGERS: LOST GALAXY and POWER RANGERS: LIGHTSPEEED RESCUE.

Popular child star Kaho plays one of the leads in GAMERA: LITTLE BRAVES. This photo is from her recent television series CELL PHONE DETECTIVE. © 2004
The story by screenwriter Yukari Tatsui (the TV drama VIRGIN ROAD, 1997) opens with Gamera saving a young boy during a battle with a flock of Gyaos. Thirty years later, the son of that boy discovers an egg which hatches a new Gamera. The two become fast friends and the little monster grows quickly. The young Gamera is soon spinning through the air and belching fireballs... but is he up to the challenge posed by a new, threatening monster?

As with the classic Gamera films of the 1960s, the lead roles in GAMERA: LITTLE BRAVES will be played by children. 11 year-old television actor Ryo Tomioka plays the boy who befriends the baby monster. Also starring is 13 year-old Kaho, a cast member of the popular 2004 TV series CELL PHONE DETECTIVE (Keitai Deka). Playing the children's fathers are Kanji Tsuda and Susumu Terashima. The two have worked together before, most notably in Takeshi "Beat" Kitano's FIREWORKS (Hana-bi, 1997) and DOLLS (2002). Tsuda's credits also include the massive hit BAYSIDE SHAKEDOWN (Odoru Daisosasen, 1998), MASKED RIDER RYUKI, JU-ON (2003), and ZATOICHI (2003), while Susumu Terashima appeared in ICHI THE KILLER (Koroshiya 1, 2001) and CASSHERN (2004).

While Kaneko, Higuchi, Ito, and Otani are busy with their own projects and will not be involved with the new film, at least one veteran from the Heisei movies is returning for GAMERA: LITTLE BRAVES. Issue 244 of FANGORIA reports that monster suit maker Tomoo Haraguchi has signed on to make the new Gamera suits. In the early 1980s Haraguchi established the company Monsters Inc., with Godzilla suit maker Shinichi Wakasa, and in recent years he has directed the features SAKUYA: SLAYER OF DEMONS (Sakuya Yokaiden, 2000) and KIBAKICHI (Kibakichi Bakko Yokaiden, 2004). The latter film will be released in the US this month from MTI Home Video.

 
05/30/05:
HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE COMES TO AMERICAN THEATERS
Walt Disney Studios to release both Japanese and English language versions of the new Miyazaki film
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Buena Vista Pictures, various
Special Thanks to August Ragone and Richard Pusateri


The US Theatrical Poster for HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. Photo courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures. ©2004 Buena Vista Pictures Distribution and Nibariki. GNDDT.
On June 10, the Walt Disney Studios will release Studio Ghibli's 2004 hit HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (Hauru-no Ogoku Shiro) to theaters in 60 cities around the United States, including New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco. One week later, the theatrical schedule will be expanded to additional markets across the country.

Based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE is the latest film from Hayao Miyazaki, the Academy Award-winning director of such animated classics as NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, PORCO ROSSO, and SPIRITED AWAY. It is the story of Sophie Hatter, an average teenager working in a hat shop. A bookworm bored by her bland life, Sophie finds her world thrown into turmoil when she is literally swept off her feet by a handsome-but- mysterious wizard named Howl (who is rumored to eat the souls of young girls) and is subsequently turned into a 90-year old woman by the vain and conniving Wicked Witch of the Waste. Embarking on an incredible odyssey to lift the curse, she finds refuge in Howl's magical moving castle where she becomes acquainted with Howl's apprentice Markl and a hot-headed fire demon named Calcifer. Sophie's love and support comes to have a major impact on Howl, who has also been cursed by the Witch, and the wizard rejects orders from the palace to become a pawn of war and instead risks his life to help bring peace to the kingdom.

HOWL'S was originally intended to be the Ghibli premiere of longtime Toei animation director Mamoru Hosoda (DIGIMON), by Hosoda left the project after his story proposal was rejected by Hayao Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki. Miyazaki then stepped in to write the screenplay and direct the film, as well as recruiting such long-time associates as animation director Katsuya Kondou (KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE) and composer Joe Hisaishi (NAUSICAÄ to SPIRITED AWAY). Miyazaki also hired a voice cast made up of film and television performers plus several returning Studio Ghibli voice actors. The lead character Sophie was played by Chieko Baisho, a star of the long-running TORA-SAN film series. Baisho also performs the main theme "The Promise of the World" (Sekai-no Yakusoku). Television actor Takuya Kimura voices Howl. Rounding out the cast was Akihiro Miwa (BLACK LIZARD, PRINCESS MONONOKE) as the Witch of the Waste, Tatsuya Gashuin (SHARK SKIN MAN AND PEACH HIP GIRL, SPIRITED AWAY) as Calcifer, Haruko Kato (KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, PISTOL OPERA) as Madame Suliman, and Ryunosuke Kamiki (SPIRITED AWAY, BAYSIDE SHAKEDOWN 2, Takashi Miike's upcoming remake of YOKAI DAISENSO) as Markl.

Fans in New York and San Francisco have a chance to win free tickets to advance screenings of the newest Studio Ghibli film! ©2004 Buena Vista Pictures Distribution and Nibariki. GNDDT.
Released in Japan by Toho Pictures on November 20, 2004, the film was another in a long line of critical and commercial successes for Miyazaki. HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE recently played to great acclaim at the 2004 Venice Film Festival, and has become one of the biggest blockbusters of all time in Japan, having already earned more than $200 million at the international box office.

In recent years, Walt Disney Studios has been bringing the Studio Ghibli films to America via limited theatrical runs and/or high quality DVDs. The task of producing an English language version of HOWL'S fell to directors Pete Docter (MONSTERS INC.) of Pixar Studios and Disney's Rick Dempsey (who had previously worked on PORCO ROSSO). The pair divided the role of Sophie between two actresses, with Emily Mortimer (THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS, ELIZABETH) playing the teenager while two-time Oscar nominee Jean Simmons (THE ROBE, GUYS AND DOLLS) portrayed the older Sophie. Leading man Christian Bale (REIGN OF FIRE, BATMAN BEGINS) is Howl. Oscar nominee and Humphrey Bogart's main squeeze Lauren Bacall (THE BIG SLEEP, KEY LARGO) is the Witch of the Waste, comedic actor Billy Crystal (WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, CITY SLICKERS) is Calcifer, Gwyneth Paltrow's mother Blythe Danner (1776, MEET THE PARENTS) is Madame Suliman, young actor Josh Hutcherson (the upcoming ZATHURA) is Markl, and Jena Malone (CONTACT, DONNIE DARKO) is Lettie.

In anticipation of the upcoming theatrical release, a handful of preview screenings of HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE have been scheduled for early June. ABC television affiliate KGO-TV Channel 7 and Walt Disney are hosting a ticket giveaway to an advance screening in San Francisco, CA. The contest is open only to Bay Area residents, and full details on the screening time, venue, and how to enter are available on the KGO website.

Disney is also sponsoring a ticket giveaway with the Village Voice in New York City. The screening will take place at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema on Tuesday, June 7 at 7:30 pm. Check the Village Voice site for further information.

Advertisement for the Hollywood theatrical run at the Disney-owned El Capitan Theatre, which includes an exclusive Miyazaki art exhibit . ©2004 Buena Vista Pictures Distribution and Nibariki. GNDDT.
The American Cinematheque (the folks behind next month's "Japanese Giant Monsters Festival" at the Egyptian Theatre) and Walt Disney Studios are hosting a special Los Angeles premiere of HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE on June 9 at 7:00 pm at Disney's El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, CA. The Special Ticket Price for Cinematheque Members of $19 VIP, $10.50 adults and $7.50 students/seniors for this event. Tickets are available at the El Capitan box office, by calling 1-800- DISNEY6, or online. From June 10-23, the El Capitan Theatre will be showing both the English language and Japanese with English subtitles (Thursday and Sunday evenings only) versions of the film. The theater will also have an exclusive display of Hayao Miyazaki's artwork.

The Japanese version will also be shown on June 10 at the Seattle International Film Festival. Check the festival website for additional details.

Also be sure to look at Disney's official movie website, which features information, photos, downloads, and the theatrical trailer from HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE.

 
05/24/05:
MIYAZAKI'S FLIGHTS OF FANTASY
Anime Film Festivals at UC Berkeley & New York MOMA
Source: Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive & Museum of Modern Art


The Pacific Film Archives will be showing Miyazaki's latest hit, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. © 2004 Nibariki, TGNDDDT.
THE ART OF ANIME: STUDIO GHIBLI
THURSDAY JUNE 2nd 2005 - THURSDAY JUNE 30th 2005


From the Pacific Film Archive's Press Release: "Founded in 1984 by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, Japan's Studio Ghibli has won wide recognition as one of the world's foremost animation studios, balancing stunning artistry and soaring imagination with concern for real-world social and environmental issues. For this retrospective, we are delighted to present a range of classic and recent works, from the studio's first production, NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND, to special screenings of Miyazaki's latest, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. If you first encountered Miyazaki's brilliant vision in his Academy Award winner SPIRITED AWAY, this is an opportunity to discover his earlier films, as well as the distinctive work of his colleague Takahata. And even if you already treasure Studio Ghibli's films on video or DVD, you won't want to miss this chance to appreciate their beauty as it was meant to be seen: on the big screen."

Films to be screened (all screenings are 35mm prints in Japanese with English subtitles): NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984), CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986), MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988), GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (1988), ONLY YESTERDAY (1991), PORCO ROSSO (1992), POM POKO (1994), PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997), KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE (1998), MY NEIGHBORS THE YAMADAS (1999), SPIRITED AWAY (2001), THE CAT RETURNS (2002) and HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (2004).

Haru is visited by the Cat King in THE CAT RETURNS ©2002 Nekonote-Do · TGNDHMT Photo courtesy of and © Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Inc.
For directions, details, screening times, film synopsis and tickets, go to the Pacific Film Archive's webpage

Meanwhile, the tribute at New York's Museum of Modern Art, HAYAO MIYAZAKI AND ISAO TAKAHATA: MASTERS OF ANIMATION (June 3rd­30th 2005) will feature the same roster of films, including two rare treats:

The amazing LITTLE NORSE PRINCE VALIANT (1968), originally released to the US as THE LITTLE NORSE PRINCE. Directed by Isao Takahata with Key Animation and Character Design by Hayao Miyazaki. "Based on an Ainu oral epic and a puppet play by Kazuo Fukazawa, this film is set in northern Europe and centers on a boy who unites with villagers to fight against an invasion by the devil Grunwald." In Japanese, English subtitles. 82 min.

Nausicaä greets Lord Yupa in NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND. © 1992 Nibariki/Tokuma Shoten/Hakuhodo Photo courtesy of and © Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Inc.
HEIDI: GIRL OF THE ALPS (Arupusu-no Shojo Haiji, 1974). Directed by Isao Takahata with Key Animation and Character Design by Hayao Miyazaki. "In this made-for-TV series based on the original story by Johanna Spyri, young Heidi is sent to live with her grandfather in his alpine cabin. The first Takahata-Miyazaki collaboration with creative direction over every aspect of production, the project demonstrates the remarkable working methods that came to define the future Studio Ghibli." Two episodes, 60 min.

For directions, details, screening times, film synopsis and tickets, go to MOMA's website.

For fans in between the coasts who might feel left out, rejoice: Disney's has issued an announcement that both MY NEIGHBORS THE YAMADAS and POM POKO will be released on DVD in North America this coming August 15th.

 
05/15/05:
TOHO STARTS AMERICAN THEATRICAL SCREENINGS OF GODZILLA FINAL WARS
Godzilla's 50th Anniversary Film to be shown at festivals in the United States and Canada
Author: Keith Aiken and August Ragone
Source: Toho Pictures
Special thanks to Bruce Fletcher and Clark West



Find out which theaters will be the first to show GODZILLA FINAL WARS! Photo courtesy of Toho Pictures. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
In response to numerous requests, Toho's Los Angeles office has booked director Ryuhei Kitamura's GODZILLA FINAL WARS into a handful of film festivals in North America. The first few venues have been announced and screenings will now begin this month, ahead of the previously announced three-day theatrical run scheduled at the Egyptian Theatre in July 1st-3rd.

As of now, the first screening will be at the Seattle International Film Festival, which runs from May 19th-June 12 in Seattle, WA. The Neptune Theatre (located at 1330 N.E. 45th St. in Seattle's U District) will show GODZILLA FINAL WARS on Friday, May 27th at midnight leading into Saturday, and on Saturday, May 28th at 3:30 pm. Ticket prices are $7.00 for the midnight movie and $10.00 for the matinee. Advanced tickets are available at the Seattle International Film Festival's main box office (Pacific Place, Sixth and Pine, 2nd Level), the SIFF Ticket Outlet (Broadway Performance Hall, 1625 Broadway), by phone at (206) 324-9996, or online at the festival website.

FINAL WARS will also be part of the latest San Francisco Indie Fest event, the "(Yet) Another Hole in the Head Fest: 8 Nights of Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy" festival running from June 2nd-9th. The Godzilla movie is just one of several great Japanese films scheduled for the Roxie Cinema (located in the heart of San Francisco's Mission District, at 3117 16th Street between Valencia and Guerrero). The lineup includes:

Tomoo Haraguchi's KIBAKICHI (2004) June 4th at 2:30 pm, and June 6th at 7:15 pm

Kazuyoshi Kumakiri's BANQUET OF THE BEASTS (Kichiku Daienkai, 1997) June 4th at 11:30

GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004) June 5th at 7:15 pm

Minoru Kawasakl's THE CALAMARI WRESTLER (2004) June 8th at 7:15 pm

Takashi Miike's AUDITION (1999) June 9th at 9:30 pm

Ticket prices and additional information will soon be available on the festival website.

Next, GODZILLA FINAL WARS will be just one of twenty three films shown at Subway Cinema’s fourth annual New York Asian Film Festival. The festival runs from June 17th-30th at the Anthology Film Archives in the East Village and ImaginAsian Theater on the Upper East Side. Check the official website for additional information.

Another recent addition is at the popular FanTasia International Film Festival, which takes place July 7th-24th in Montreal, Canada, where GODZILLA FINAL WARS will be shown on July 16th . Check the official website for details in the coming weeks.

More screenings are being discussed, so check back to Henshin! Online for further information as it becomes available.

 
UPDATED 5/10/05!  Henshin! Happenings
GODZILLA FINAL WARS THREE DAY THEATRICAL RUN IN HOLLYWOOD!
Godzilla's 50th Anniversary film, MATANGO, KING KONG ESCAPES, and the US premiere of ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT will be part of more than a week of Japanese monster movies at the Egyptian and Aero Theatres. Check the updated article for recent programming additions and the screening times for GODZILLA FINAL WARS!

 
05/09/05:
DVD REVIEW: VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE
Prepare to be "Knocked for a Ghoul" by Media Blasters' Latest Release!
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Media Blasters
Special thanks to August Ragone, Ed Godziszewski, and Clay Holden


The original VARAN finally lands on US shores. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 1958 Toho Co., Ltd.
NOTE: The following review is based on an advance production disc and may not be an exact representation of the final release version.

Media Blasters continues their run of high-quality Toho DVDs when VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE arrives on store shelves today. After 47 years, this video marks the first time the original version of VARAN will be commercially available in the United States... long overdue for a movie initiated as a solely American release.

VARAN's unique origins were a result of the stateside box office success of GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (Gojira) in 1956, and RODAN (Sora-no Daikaiju Radon) in 1957, as well as the high ratings generated by the first television broadcasts of the classic horror movies of the 1930s and ‘40s. The American public clearly had an appetite for monster movies, so in 1958 an enterprising television production company (backed by the ABC network) approached Toho; not about distributing one of the studios' films, but to make a brand-new monster movie specifically for the US market. Toho quickly agreed, and reassembled the team responsible for their most popular genre pictures -- producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, director Ishiro Honda, special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, and composer Akira Ifukube -- to craft the new film, GIANT MONSTER VARAN (Daikaiju Baran).

In both Japan and the US, GIANT MONSTER VARAN is generally considered a lesser entry in Toho's long line of fantasy films. Starting with MADAME WHITESNAKE (Byaku Fujin-no Yoren) in 1956, the studio had produced their special effects films in color, while widescreen TohoScope began with THE MYSTERIANS (Chikyu Boeigun) in 1957. But since this new film was intended for American television, the producers decided to shoot in the standard Academy aspect ratio and in black and white.

A rare color behind-the-scenes photo taken on the Haneda Airport set. © 1958 Toho Co., Ltd.
Knowing in advance that the movie would be re-edited and dubbed into English, Tomoyuki Tanaka assigned RODAN author Takeshi "Ken" Kuronuma to write a simple, more stock "monster on the loose" story than was the case for their previous kaiju films. Kuronuma's treatment formed the basis for the screenplay by Shinichi Sekizawa. VARAN was Sekizawa's Toho debut... he had previously directed Shintoho's FEARSOME ATTACK OF THE FLYING SAUCERS (Soratobu Enban Kyofu-no Shingeki, 1956); created/co-wrote the Nihon Denpa Eiga (Japan Radio Pictures) television mini-series AGON: THE ATOMIC DRAGON (Agon, 1964) and quickly became Toho's most prolific genre writer. A partial list of his credits include such favorites as MOTHRA (Mosura, 1961), KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (Kingu Kongu tai Gojira, 1962), ATRAGON (Kaitei Gunkan, 1963), GODZILLA VS. THE THING (Mosura tai Gojira, 1964), DOGORA (Uchu Daikaiju Dogora, 1964), GHIDRAH: THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (San Daikaiju Chikyu Saidai-no Kessen, 1964) and MONSTER ZERO (Kaiju Daisenso, 1965). While Sekizawa's screenplay for GIANT MONSTER VARAN lacks the symbolism and inventiveness of his latter scripts and contains all the clichés already established in the kaiju genre by the late 1950s, it does manage to provide a few interesting spins on the material.

Following the tradition established in KING KONG and GODZILLA, the monster is a creature that is worshipped by villagers in a remote area in Tohoku -- the "Tibet of Japan". Called "Baradagi the Mountain God" (Baradagi-no sanjin), the creature is later identified as a species of dinosaur named "Baran-no podda" (from the Latin "Varanus podder", meaning "Father of Dragons") which is quickly shortened to "Varan". Unlike any known type of dinosaur, Varan walks as both a biped and quadruped (with suit performer Haruo Nakajima's "knee walking" mostly obscured by clever camera angles and foreground objects), swims in both fresh and salt water, takes to the air by means of flying squirrel-like membranes, and has an elastic hide that makes it impervious to attack. In an effective, if unexplained, touch, Varan's presence is often accompanied by strong winds that create an eerie atmosphere, almost as if the monster actually is a godlike being.

The village high priest (Akira Sera) warns outsiders to stay out of Baradagi's domain. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 1958 Toho Co., Ltd.
GIANT MONSTER VARAN boasts more monster footage than is usually the case for a Toho film. Varan appears onscreen early and often, and Eiji Tsuburaya's effects work is very good, particularly during Varan's rampage through a village early in the film. The only serious flaw is the extensive use of stock footage from GODZILLA (including and obvious shot of Godzilla's tail standing in for Varan's), a result of the lower budget allocated for the film.

The soundtrack by Akira Ifukube is a masterpiece, easily one of the composer's best. Ifukube had spent his childhood in Hokkaido, where he became familiar with the music of the Ainu, Japan's native people, and he used those influences to great effect for the religious and village themes in VARAN. The score also features an early version of the main theme for GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER, as well as music that bears an odd similarity to John Williams' famous JAWS theme.

Headlining the cast was a trio of Toho second-stringers. Lead character Dr. Kenji Uozaki was the only starring role for Kozo Nomura, a bit actor who appeared in several of Honda's genre films as well as Akira Kurosawa's MADADAYO (1993). Ayumi Sonoda, who had appeared in THE H-MAN (Bijo-to Ekitai Ningen, 1958) as the doomed cabaret dancer, played newspaper reporter Yuriko Shinjo. Fumito Matsuo, an actor who had cameo roles in THE THREE TREASURES (Nippon Tanjo, 1959) and THE SECRET OF THE TELEGIAN (Denso Ningen, 1960) performed the role of comic-relief photographer Motohiko Horiguchi. By far the most recognizable actors were those in the supporting roles.

Koreya Senda, who appeared in dozens of films (including GATE OF HELL, EAGLE OF THE PACIFIC, THE H-MAN, BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE, BUDDHA and TORA! TORA! TORA!), played the patriarchal scientist Dr. Sugimoto. Senda established a popular acting company, and was the uncle of MOTHRA villain Jerry Ito. Akira Sera, whose credits include IKIRU (1952), HALF HUMAN (Jujin Yuki-Otoko, 1955), THE H-MAN, and the TV mini-series SHOGUN (1980), was the village high priest. Yoshio Tsuchiya (THE HUMAN VAPOR, MONSTER ZERO, GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH) and Yoshibumi Tajima (KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS. THE THING, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS) played military officers, while Akihiko Hirata (GODZILLA, RODAN, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER, TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA) appears midway into the film as Dr. Fujimura, a scientist who has invented a "super explosive" that may be the only weapon that can stop Varan.

The stars of VARAN; (l to r) Ayumi Sonoda, Fumito Matsuo, and Kozo Nomura. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 1958 Toho Co., Ltd.
Two changes occurred during production that had a major effect on the film. For unknown reasons the American side pulled out of the project, and Toho decided to release the movie in Japanese theaters. The remainder of the film was shot in widescreen while the existing footage was cropped to match. The end result, billed as "Toho PanScope", is a mixed bag; some of the scenes are beautifully shot while others are clearly marred by the altered framing.

GIANT MONSTER VARAN premiered in Japanese cinemas on October 14, 1958. Not long afterwards, Toho began marketing the film internationally as VARAN, and the studio's English promotional material contained the odd tagline: "The World is Amazed by Godzilla and Rodan, but will be Knocked for a Ghoul by Varan". The movie was eventually sold to Dallas Productions/Cory Films, who jettisoned nearly all of the Japanese footage except for the special effects sequences and replaced them with a new, and boring, story from director Jerry Baerwitz that starred B-movie actor Myron Healey (THE UNEARTHLY, THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN). The Americanized version, entitled VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE, was distributed by Crown International Pictures in 1962. Oddly, despite the picture's title, the monster is never called by name in the film... the American actors refer to it as "Obake", a shortened and colloquial version of "bakemono", a generic Japanese term for any monster or supernatural creature.

Varan returned in a "blink or you'll miss it" cameo in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (Kaiju Soshingeki, 1968). In 2001, Toho executives vetoed director Shusuke Kaneko's plans to use Varan in GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (Gojira Mosura Kingu Ghidora Daikaiju Sokogeki), but a brief stock footage shot of the monster was used in the opening moments of Ryuhei Kitamura's GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004).

Uozaki (Kozo Nomura) rescues Yuriko (Ayumi Sonoda) in this Toho publicity shot. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 1958 Toho Co., Ltd.
THE DVD
While Media Blasters is releasing their DVD with the title VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE, it is not the butchered American version of the film, but instead the original, uncut Japanese GIANT MONSTER VARAN. The main menu features a close up of Varan's face, and is accompanied by Ifukube's opening theme. In a nice touch, the menu icon is a butterfly... it is the discovery of a rare species of butterfly that starts off the story. The film runs 87 minutes and is in Japanese with English subtitles... unlike with their recent MYSTERIANS and MATANGO discs, Media Blasters did not include an English dubbed audio track for VARAN. The DVD's audio options consist of Japanese 5.1, Japanese 2.0, and Japanese mono. The English subtitles are, for the most part, accurate and do a very good job of conveying the details of the story. The film is presented in 2.35:1, 16x9 anamorphic widescreen and looks absolutely stunning. The picture is incredibly sharp, with strong blacks... it's hard to imagine VARAN looking any better than it does here. There are sixteen chapters, plus an added minute of credits at the end of the film for the Toho staff and Media Blasters' DVD production crew.

Dr Sugimoto (Koreya Senda) confers with officers Kusama (Akio Kusama) and Katsumoto (Yoshio Tsuchiya). Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 1958 Toho Co., Ltd.
The DVD contains a wealth of extras, starting with the "Television Broadcast Version" of the movie. Details about this cut are sketchy, but the commentary track reveals that this was the unfinished international export version that was recently remastered for Toho's R2 DVD of GIANT MONSTER VARAN. The film has been edited down to two 27-minute "episodes"; each with complete opening credits. The first part condenses the first half-hour of the feature -- including Varan's rampage in the village -- down to barely three minutes of highlights and narration. The television version has six chapters and Japanese 2.0 audio.

There is a pair of trailers for GIANT MONSTER VARAN, including the rarely seen original 2:56 minute promo, which was not included on Toho's "Kaiju Graffiti" trailer collection or any of the VHS or Laser Disc releases of the film. The second trailer is the Toho-produced textless promo that has also been available on other recent Media Blasters DVDs.

Also on the disc is an entertaining and informative 29-minute documentary showing how the Varan suit was built. Host Yasuo Kurashiki and monster maker Fuyuki Shinada (GMK, the Godzilla '54 head sculpt included with Toho "Godzilla Final Box" DVD set) are taken through the process by veteran sculptor/creature designer Keizo Murase. Joining Toho in the late 1950s, Murase built monsters for the studio into the 1990s, and his long resume of creations include Mothra, Varan, Matango, Daiei's Gamera, the Heisei King Ghidorah and Mothra, Shaw Brothers' Mighty Peking Man and many more. In a 2004 interview on H!O, Millennium Godzilla series monster maker Shinichi Wakasa referred to Murase as one of the "Godfather Masters" of the craft. In the documentary, Shinada acts like the proverbial "kid in a candy store" as Murase explains how the texture of Varan's skin was decided upon, how the monster's trademark spines were created, and so many other details. The smile never leaves Shinada's face, even when accidentally cuts himself while carving one of Varan's spines.

Uozaki, Yuriko, and Horiguchi ignore all warning signs, with disastrous results. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 1958 Toho Co., Ltd.
Murase also takes part in a feature-length commentary track. The commentary is a wealth of information; Murase discusses the making of VARAN (the first film he worked on from start to finish) and many other films from the Golden Age of Toho. He shares anecdotes about visual effects master Eiji Tsuburaya, monster suit-makers Teizo Toshimitsu and the Yagi Brothers, visual effects art director Yasuyuki Inoue, and eating horsemeat purchased by Haruo Nakajima. He also speaks about the production of THE H-MAN, MAGIC MONKEY SUN (Songoku, 1959), THE THREE TREASURES, TEMPEST OVER THE PACIFIC (Taiheiyo-no Arashi, 1960), MOTHRA, GORATH (Yosei Gorasu, 1962) and DOGORA (Uchu Daikaiju Dogora, 1964).

While there are a few errors in the subtitles, with some names and titles mistranslated, the Media Blasters' team should still be highly commended for the incredible work they've done so far to bring this material to American fans.

Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock's DVD of VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE retails for $19.95 and is worth every penny.

 
04/13/05:
KIKAIDA Rides Again on San Francisco Television!
Double Chopped Up with "Live" Appearances
Author: August Ragone
Kikaida fans rejoice! © 2001 Toei/Ishimori Pro.


If you are a fan of Japanese Superheroes (who isn't?), and live in Northern California, you are in luck! After more than three years of wowing fans across Hawaii once again, the 1972 Toei teleseries, JINZONINGEN KIKAIDA, makes its triumphant return to San Francisco Bay Area airwaves! Jiro's back and KTSF 26 has him!

Originally shown as "Kikaider: The Android of Justice", the colorful superhero series made its Mainland debut in December of 1975 on San Francisco's "Fuji Television". Broadcast over the now defunct UHF station KEMO-TV 20, the show never caught on as it did in Hawaii, but local kids of all ethnicities loved KIKAIDA all the same. Every Sunday night at 8:00 pm children tuned in to watch the subtitled series, but our relationship was cut short due to complaints by "concerned" parents over the show's fantasy violence (even though each episode was prefaced with a disclaimer urging kids not to copy the fight scenes). Were these parents unable to change the channel, or force their kids to watch "The Wonderful World of Disney" which was in the same timeslot?

Eventually, the show was pulled (ironically replaced by an even more violent anime series, BRAVE RAIDEEN), and the broadcasters announced that the series would be back after a Summer break... it has been one seriously long Summer which has lasted almost three decades! But thanks to JN Productions Inc. (a Honolulu-based company who brought the series back to Hawaii in 2001) and heavy lobbying by a couple of obsessed Bay Area Kikaidamaniacs (who shall remain nameless), KIKAIDA has been picked up by Asian-American broadcasting powerhouse, KTSF.

Locally owned and operated by Lincoln Broadcasting Company, KTSF has continued to be a leader in quality programming from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan since 1976. Reaching more than 2,750,000 Northern California households in 10 Bay Area counties, KTSF is available over-the-air on Channel 26 and over cable Channel 8 on Comcast Cable throughout the market. The national satellite services DirecTV and Dish Network also carry KTSF, so those interested in watching KIKAIDA should check their Dish directories to see if they have KTSF available in your area.

KTSF will broadcast KIKAIDA, fully subtitled in English, every Saturday night at Midnight, beginning this Saturday, April 16th. For the first time on the Mainland, all 43 episodes of the series will be aired, including the final story arc featuring Kikaida's powerful arch nemesis, Hakaida -- one of the most memorable villains in Tokusatsu history (some sources even claiming that Hakaida inspired Darth Vader!). Several local retailers, such as Super 7 Store and Japan Video & Media Inc., are already stocking up on official merchandise from "Generation Kikaida", and other Nor Cal shops are being urged to get on the bandwagon.

To commemorate the return of KIKAIDA, KTSF's STIR TV, an Asian-American pop culture show aired on Saturdays at 6:30 pm PST (rebroadcast on Tuesdays at 5:00 pm PST), will feature an interview with lead actor Ban Daisuke, who plays "Jiro". STIR TV is also broadcast on the International Channel, and in several markets across the US, including Hawaii, Los Angeles and NYC. Check out STIR TV's website for stations and times in your area.

But wait, there's more! Leaping from the cathode tube and into the real world, Kikaida himself will be appearing -- "in person" -- at the Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco's picturesque Japantown, April 16th/17th & 23rd/24th. Come and visit the booths for KTSF (1:00 pm-1:30 pm) and Japan Video & Media Inc. (11:00 am-12:00 pm) on the 16th, 17th & the 23rd... Just look for a red and blue android!

Go! Go! Go!!

For more information on KIKAIDA go to our "All About Kikaida" page!

 
04/11/05:
GODZILLA FINAL WARS INTERVIEWS: RYUHEI KITAMURA...TIMES TWO
The Director of the 50th Anniversary Film Discusses His Work in a Pair of Interviews from the Hollywood Premiere
Interviews and Photos by Ira Cord Rubnitz and Biff L. Peterson
Introduction by: Keith Aiken
Additional Photos Courtesy of Kyle Cooper and Toho Pictures


GODZILLA FINAL WARS director Ryuhei Kitamura at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, 11/28/04. Photo Credit: Ira Cord Rubnitz
For most of Godzilla's 50 year history Toho has relied on primarily in-house crews to create each new adventure of the King of the Monsters. From the legendary Ishiro Honda to GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS' Masaaki Tezuka, the majority of Godzilla directors have been fulltime employees of the studio who have an understanding of the ‘Toho style' of movie making. On rare occasions, Toho has turned to outside, independent filmmakers in an attempt to shake things up, and breathe new life into the franchise. Godzilla Executive Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka handpicked writer/director Kazuki Omori of Watanabe Productions to jumpstart the Heisei series with GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE (Gojira vs Beorante, 1989) and GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH (Gojira vs Kingughidora, 1991). More than a decade later, the acclaimed Shusuke Kaneko co-wrote and directed the most successful of the Millennium Godzilla films; GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (Gojira, Mosura, Kingughidora: Daikaiju Soshingeki, 2001). With interest and theater attendance for the Godzilla series waning in Japan, Toho President and Executive Producer Shogo Tomiyama decided to once again try to bring something fresh to the character by turning to the popular 35 year-old maverick independent director Ryuhei Kitamura.

Born May 30, 1969 in Osaka, Kitamura is a self-proclaimed ‘movie junkie'. As a youth he would regularly skip school to spend his days in theaters watching one film after another, and at age 17 he dropped out and moved to Australia to study directing. He entered the Film Department at the School of Visual Arts in Sydney. In an interview with Midnight Eye, Kitamura explained, "I just walked up to the principal and said 'I'm from Japan and I want to be a filmmaker, so let me in'. He thought I was a funny guy so he let me in and I studied there for two years."

Godzilla is staggered by a hit from Rodan. Showing speed and power in the style of the 1970s Toho classics was one of the director's goals for the new film. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
His graduation project, the short film EXIT, featured several elements that would soon become Kitamura trademarks: zombies, knife fights, and physical combat in a forest. Shot and edited in three days, EXIT won Best Direction and the Kodak Award, and convinced Kitamura that he could make it as a film director. After returning to Japan, he made his second amateur film, DOWN TO HELL (1996). Kitamura scraped together $3,000, one video camera, and a six man crew to make the movie about "zombies, knife fights, and physical combat in a forest" in 10 days. DOWN TO HELL went on to win the grand prize at the Indies Movie Festival, but was unsuccessful in catching the eye of producers. Kitamura became friends with acclaimed actor Atsuro Watabe (INUGAMI, ZEBRAMAN), so the two teamed up to make the independent theatrical feature HEAT AFTER DARK (1997).

Originally planned as RETURN TO HELL: DOWN TO HELL 2, Kitamura's VERSUS (2000) would be his breakthrough film. By this time, he had been working with his much of his crew for several years and everyone gave their all to make VERSUS much more than originally envisioned. Among the key crew members was Kitamura's film school classmate Ryuichi Takatsu, who directed THE MAKING OF VERSUS documentary, and lead actor Tak Sakaguchi. Both men would play major roles in the making of GODZILLA FINAL WARS.

With the international success of VERSUS, Kitamura was given the opportunity to direct several projects including the science fiction thriller ALIVE (2002), "The Messenger" segment of JAM FILMS (2002), the supernatural tales SKYHIGH (2003, released on DVD this month from Media Blasters) and ARAGAMI (2003), and the cut scenes for the video game METAL GEAR SOLID: THE TWIN SNAKES. VERSUS also resulted in him getting his first big-budget assignment, Toho's AZUMI (2003). Producer Mata Yamamoto had seen VERSUS at the Yubari Fantastic Film Festival and decided the young director was the right man to helm the film. Following AZUMI, Kitamura planned to move to Hollywood, but he was approached by Shogo Tomiyama with an offer to take the director's chair for the 50th Anniversary Godzilla film. Kitamura was a huge fan of the character, particularly the 1970s films like GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA (Gojira tai Mekagojira, 1974), so he put his travel plans on hold.

King Caesar starred in Kitamura's favorite Godzilla movie, the original GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
On March 2, 2004 Toho formally announced that Ryuhei Kitamura would be directing GODZILLA FINAL WARS. The upstart filmmaker was given a much higher budget and more creative freedom than was accorded any previous Godzilla director. His first move was to bring aboard the principal staff of his production company Napalm Films to insure that GFW was truly a "Ryuhei Kitamura Film." These include screenwriter Isao Kiriyama, cinematographer Takumi Furuya, 2nd Unit Director Ryuichi Takatsu, and action choreographer Tak Sakaguchi. Toho also decided to break with tradition by premiering a Godzilla film outside of Japan. On November 28, Kitamura, Tomiyama, and many of the cast and crew of GODZILLA FINAL WARS flew to Los Angeles, CA to attend the world premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

One day before the premiere, Ryuhei Kitamura took part in a handful of brief interviews at the Renaissance Hotel. Among the reporters covering the event was Henshin! Online correspondent Biff L. Peterson and independent journalist Ira Cord Rubnitz. Both men spoke with Ryuhei Kitamura, and both interviews are now presented for your reading pleasure.
A glimpse at Ryuhei Kitamura's onscreen credit at the beginning of GODZILLA FINAL WARS. Photo courtesy of GFW title sequence designer Kyle Cooper. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
INTERVIEW 1: Ira Cord Rubnitz
Ira Cord Rubnitz is a successful Recording Engineer/Mixer/Sound Designer who has worked for Sony Computer Entertainment America and Sony Megatrax Music (alongside such names as Chick Corea, James Brown, Smokey Robinson, Ambrosia, and the Japanese progressive band Prism). He occasionally writes news and reviews covering the film industry and is a lifelong Godzilla fan, so Ira was on hand to cover the premiere event for the British science fiction movie magazine DREAMWATCH and the LA-based newspaper ENTERTAINMENT TODAY. While excerpts from this discussion have appeared in print the full text was not published, so Ira has kindly offered to share the complete interview for the first time with readers of Henshin! Online...

IRA CORD RUBNITZ: Was FINAL WARS influenced by DESTROY ALL MONSTERS?

RYUHEI KITAMURA: No, my favorite Godzilla movie was GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA. I think in that time, Godzilla had more power and speed, stronger than what he's been recently.

I don't like recent Godzilla movies-- not saying which one-- but Godzilla has lost its power. So, the first thing I do for the producer, when he asked me to direct the 50th Anniversary film, is tell him that Godzilla is too weak! He has to be absolutely strong and that's what I'm gonna do! [My] Godzilla has a taste like back in the 70s, maybe in MONSTER ZERO, that I was influenced most by but updated to 2004.

Godzilla takes on all comers. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
RUBNITZ: Why is this movie the "last" Godzilla film? What if it does well or Godzilla gets nominated for an Oscar?

KITAMURA: [laughs] Oh, it's going to happen! It's not Oscar time at the movies, but... they made so many movies in 50 years that the producers decided Godzilla needs a vacation. I did everything I could, more than the limit. I did everything extreme on FINAL WARS but in 10 years, of course, he'll be back.

RUBNITZ: Most people I speak to say that the original GODZILLA film, design, and roar were by far the best. It was re-released here in the US this year to amazing reviews. How will FINAL WARS compare, and what do you think of the original GODZILLA?

KITAMURA: You can't compare FINAL WARS to the first film. That's something special and I do respect it. This one is completely different. You can't compete with the original film.

RUBNITZ: In addition to a metaphor of nuclear disaster, savior of Japan, or a metaphor of America...what does "Godzilla" mean to you???

KITAMURA: For me, it's something unknown, huge, giant, and very brutal. He's a metaphor of nuclear disaster, of course, but something more than that!

Kitamura with the GODZILLA FINAL WARS crew at the Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony. From left to right: Shogo Tomiyama, Don Frye, special effects director Eiichi Asada, Rei Kikukawa, and Masahiro Matsuoka. Photo Credit: Biff L Peterson © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
RUBNITZ: Why is Godzilla so important now in the time of Bush on the verge of nuclear war, trying to get countries like Iran and North Korea to not have nukes?

KITAMURA: I put that message in FINAL WARS, it's a fighting movie. Everybody fights [monsters vs. monsters, monsters vs. humans, and humans vs. aliens], but in the end, you will get my message!

RUBNITZ: Everyone knows the great sound of Godzilla was done by Akira Ifukube using the contra-bass and tape manipulation, but everyone wants to know how Rodan was done!!!

KITAMURA: [laughs] There was a huge stack of sound effects of monsters and they've been doing updating, but I don't know--it's a secret! I asked them to stick to the original versions, so they are doing it, and using Pro Tools.

RUBNITZ: What was the choice of monsters in FINAL WARS based on--why not Space Godzilla or Destoroyah...?

KITAMURA: Myself and the producer and writers put all the monsters on a table and we decided which were the right ones. "Is this the right one? No, now this one is gone." [laughs] Not my personal choice...

RUBNITZ: Keith Emerson is a brilliant musician, but why was he chosen over Akira Ifukube?

KITAMURA: Mmmm...well, FINAL WARS is a rock n' roll monster movie and I needed to bring all the rock spirit into it, so I couldn't think of anyone else who has more rock spirit than Keith Emerson. He's already 60, so I wrote him a letter saying "Instead of playing piano, bring back your rock spirit." He did a great job--he's a genius.

Kitamura discusses a scene with legendary actor Akira Takarada at Toho Studios in Tokyo. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
RUBNITZ: Was it an orchestra based or synth/orch score?

KITAMURA: He's not using an orchestra. It sounds more like Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

RUBNITZ: It seems that every Godzilla film after the original is basically a battle with other monsters--- with Godzilla's design resembling Cookie Monster from SESAME STREET! Do you feel this gets redundant, and how do you think Godzilla, if resurrected, would be improved plotwise?

KITAMURA: Hmm... you'll have to ask me that question in 10 years. I just don't like to continue doing the same things. There needs to be another challenge, so that's why the studio and producers decided to give Godzilla a vacation. They've done everything in the past 50 years, so with FINAL WARS, its extreme and more than the limit. I can't think of any other way to do Godzilla. Everybody needs time to think about giving him a new life. Until then, I think its better not to do it anymore.

RUBNITZ: How was Godzilla redesigned for speed, and what makes FINAL WARS so modern compared to the sluggish movement in other films?

Godzilla walks the red carpet. Note the CO2 hose that allows suit actor Motokuni Nakagawa to blast the press with "radioactive breath". Photo Credit: Ira Cord Rubnitz © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
KITAMURA: On the first meeting, I told my staff, "This time, Godzilla fights!" He REALLY fights, like the ultimate fighting championship! Knee kicks and punching--that kind of fighting...real fighting. The suit actors and the guy who makes the Godzilla suit [Shinichi Wakasa] told me that it's impossible--he's too heavy. You can walk, but you can't run. You can't punch or grab. But, I made a storyboard of what kind of fighting I wanted to do, and I showed it to them. They got so excited about the idea and they decided "we'll figure it out". I kept telling the suit designer not to make it too slim. It's easier if it looks more like a man ‘cause it's light, but it doesn't look like the King of Monsters. It moves fast, but it's still heavy weight. That's what I wanted to do and they did a great job.

RUBNITZ: Will people think of FINAL WARS as a big budget goodbye and a film that's fun like a videogame, or is there an underlying message symbolic of the chaos, choice of countries, and interstellar treachery?

KITAMURA: The Godzilla videogame is a lot of fun, but FINAL WARS is a big 50th [anniversary] festival for Godzilla, and nothing personal - in each city we win! [laughs]

RUBNITZ: Who influenced you as directors - i.e. Lucas and Spielberg were influenced by Ray Harryhausen, and Peter Jackson loved KING KONG...

KITAMURA: Lots of influences, like George Miller, James Cameron, Sam Raimi and Peter Weir. There are so many great directors around. I'm just a movie junkie, so I go to a movie every day. On DVD, I watch my favorite movies so many times. I'm not interested in copying the directors, so I try my best to create my own style.

RUBNITZ: Could Bush, by not signing the Kyoto Treaty on Global Warming, cause environmental chaos as bad as or worse than the kaiju?

KITAMURA: Yes, of course! Kaiju are fantasy things [laughs]. Only in the world of Godzilla movies it's a lot of fun to destroy the towns and buildings, but not in the real world, you know.

Kitamura feels that some politicians can be far more destructive than Godzilla. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
RUBNITZ: Do you believe in the supernatural/mystical or is that just your choice of films?

KITAMURA: Yes, I do! I believe in ghosts. I haven't seen them...I think I saw a UFO ten years ago in Alaska. I don't know what it was, but I saw some mysterious lights. It's better to believe in something like that than to be realistic and deny everything.

RUBNITZ: Are you relocating to LA or staying in Japan to make films?

KITAMURA: Yes, next year [2005]. I have nothing I want to do in Japan after FINAL WARS.

RUBNITZ: Who would you like Godzilla to fight: the new Peter Jackson King Kong, George Bush, Dave Chappelle as Blackzilla, or Mecha Bin Laden?

KITAMURA: [laughs] Seriously, of course, King Kong. The last one, you know [KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, 1962]...that one was a masterpiece. I really love Peter Jackson's work, so I really want to see these monsters fight. I don't think I'm gonna lose, but... [laughs] I'll let him eat George Bush at the beginning! [laughs]

RUBNITZ: What would kill you faster: blowfish improperly prepared...or the American Godzilla?

KITAMURA: [laughs] You'll see in my movie what happens to him! Tomorrow night at the premiere, all the audience is gonna shout! My Godzilla is gonna beat up him!

RUBNITZ: Ano Gojira-no douruiga mata sekai-no dokokani arawarete kurukamoshirenai!!! [This is part of the final line spoken by Dr Yamane in the original GODZILLA. It means "Perhaps, one day, another Godzilla will appear somewhere in the world."]

KITAMURA: Yes, he will!
INTERVIEW 2: Biff L Peterson
Biff L Peterson is a man of many talents; author, reporter, musician, actor, and chef. On behalf of Henshin! Online, he spoke with Ryuhei Kitamura about GODZILLA FINAL WARS...

Ryuhei Kitamura at the Toho press junket at the Renaissance Hotel, one day before the GODZILLA FINAL WARS premiere. Photo Credit: Biff L. Peterson © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
HENSHIN! ONLINE: What makes FINAL WARS different from previous Godzillas?

RYUHEI KITAMURA: This movie is fast, but not as fast as a Hollywood movie. The fighting is faster than what it used to be. My favorite Godzilla movies are from back in the seventies, like GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA. Back then, Godzilla had more speed and power. That's my favorite period. But nobody can say which Godzilla is the "right" one. Everyone has a different opinion, all over the world. But my personal taste is the seventies Godzilla. He was stronger. So when the producer asked me to direct the next film, I told him, "Godzilla is too weak in the recent films."

H!O: The seventies Godzilla movies sometimes appeared to have been influenced by Peckinpah and the cinematic violence of that time. For instance, the blood spurting out of Godzilla's neck, that kind of thing. Where do you get your influences, as far as movie violence is concerned?

KITAMURA: I don't know. I have a lot of influence from Sam Raimi, John Woo, George Miller. I am influenced by lots of great directors, like James Cameron, but I try to create my own style every time I make a movie. But this time, the producer asked me, 'don't put too much blood.' They'd seen my previous movies, like VERSUS and AZUMI, so I understood. I didn't want to make it too violent, but it is a very violent movie. This Godzilla is very brutal.

H!O: Do you view Godzilla as an animal, a symbol of nuclear holocaust, or something else?

Zilla was "only an animal", lacking the symbolic qualities that helped make Godzilla such an enduring character. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
KITAMURA: Well, it is a symbol. It is not an animal. That's what the Hollywood Godzilla is--only an animal. But this Godzilla is something unknown, huge, giant. You can't say exactly what it is. That's why people love Godzilla, I think. In my movie, it is a symbol of nuclear war, but also something more than that.

H!O: Was it important to you that Godzilla be scary?

KITAMURA: Yes, but this is not a movie like the first one. In the first film, Godzilla was very terrifying, but the Godzilla series has changed its style over the past 50 years. In my Godzilla movie, I wanted to have human beings fighting against the monsters, not tanks or airplanes or helicopters, just humans. Five soldiers fight against Ebirah, which is a big shrimp monster. That was something I had never seen before, in any of the previous Godzilla movies. In my world of Godzilla, people don't run away, they fight back against the monsters. That's something new, you know? In the past Godzilla movies, the people were just terrified and the army fought back against Godzilla. But in my world of Godzilla, monsters exist everywhere, so you have the Earth Defense Force fighting monsters everyday, somewhere on Earth.

In FINAL WARS, the human heroes directly engage giant monsters like Ebirah in battle. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: Did you want to direct a Godzilla movie for a long time?

KITAMURA: Yes. I used to watch Godzilla movies as a kid. When I was 15 or 16, I went to the theater where they showed five old Godzilla movies in one night. I used to go there every weekend and watch lots of Godzilla movies. But I never imagined I would be the director of a Godzilla movie, so I was very surprised when the producer asked me.

H!O: Why do you think they asked you? Your style is so different.

KITAMURA: [Laughs] I don't know. You have to ask Tomiyama-san. It was sort of a mystery to me. But when you look at this movie, you will understand. It fits my style, somehow.

H!O: Tell us about the development of the story.

KITAMURA: There were lots of ideas, I guess. I first met with the producer last May, right after Toho released AZUMI. Toho liked AZUMI very much, so they introduced me to the producer, and he said they were asking everybody to come up with ideas for the 50th anniversary Godzilla movie. So I wrote a story, which was more like a CON AIR type of movie, with convicts fighting against Godzilla. It was interesting, but everybody ignored that story [laughs]. So right after AZUMI, I started shooting SKYHIGH, so I was busy for about four months, and I think meanwhile the producer gathered lots and lots of different ideas and stories. And after SKYHIGH, I met Tomiyama-san again, and by then he had made up his mind that this was going to be last Godzilla movie for a while. He wanted to do kind of like a 'greatest hits' album, he wanted to include every element from the series. He gave me the synopsis that the screenwriter [Wataru Mimura] had written, and it was basically the same storyline as the film.

H!O: How much input did you have in the script?

Kitamura saw Gotengo Captain Douglas Gordon (played by Don Frye) as a "VERSUS kind of character". © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
KITAMURA: A lot, especially in the characters. They're very offbeat characters in this movie, just like my previous movie, VERSUS. The captain onboard the ship is a VERSUS kind of character. So we had been working on the script for about four months--me, the screenwriter and the producer--but then we felt we needed someone new, so I brought in my writer, Isao Kiriyama, who had written AZUMI and ALIVE. The four of us wrote about 15 or 20 drafts. It was very hard. The original story had lots of monsters coming out, all over the world. But you know, we had to make a two-hour movie. You can't make a three-hour Godzilla movie! [laughs] It was so messy at the beginning.

H!O: Was it already decided that there would be a dozen monsters in the film?

KITAMURA: No, in the original story, there were only eight monsters. The title was something like RETURN OF THE XILIANS: EIGHT MONSTERS ATTACK. But the producer told me, 'We want to make this movie big--lots of monsters all over the world!' So, I said, 'Why just eight monsters? We need more--what is the record?' [There were 11 kaiju in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS] So we got action figures of all the Toho monsters and put them on a table, and discussed which ones we should put in the movie.

H!O: Were there any monsters you could not include, that you wish you could have?

KITAMURA: No. My favorites are Gigan and King Caesar, and they're both in the movie.

Gigan was a longtime favorite of Kitamura's, so he was happy the monster was brought back for FINAL WARS. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: So, this film really does reflect your personal taste.

KITAMURA: To be honest, I don't like the recent Godzilla movies. I haven't seen one in a theater for a long time, more than 10 years, but sometimes I see them on TV, and I just didn't like them. I had to be honest, so I spoke very directly to the producer and said, 'I think you've been going the wrong way.' The recent Godzilla movies are only for the very maniac Godzilla fans and for children, not for an ordinary audience, and I think there's something wrong with that. Godzilla is a big thing--it's for everybody, not only for the Godzilla fans or for children. They had been making the movies that way for a long time. And also, I couldn't see the director's style in the recent Godzilla movies. So, I told the producer, 'I know there are some rules when you make a Godzilla movie, but it has to be my movie. I have to put my style into it.' And he let me do it, more than 100 percent.

The producers approved of Kitamura's style of action, such as the motorcycle battle between Masahiro Matsuoka and Kane Kosugi. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: Did you feel any extra pressure, knowing you were taking the helm of a franchise film?

KITAMURA: No. I was just happy about it.

H!O: Did anyone give you any resistance when you tried to apply your style of action to the story?

KITAMURA: No, everyone was very cooperative.

H!O: So, you had final cut?

KITAMURA: Yes.

The stars and director at the world premiere of GODZILLA FINAL WARS in Hollywood. Photo Courtesy of Toho Pictures. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: Music is such an important part of the Godzilla formula. Why did you choose Keith Emerson as your composer?

KITAMURA: I didn't like the music in the recent Godzilla movies. It was too slow, and it didn't have a rock feeling. From the films and from the music I couldn't feel a rock kind of power and energy and speed--that's what I felt was missing from the recent Godzilla movies. My concept was to go back to the seventies and eighties. Back in those days, film music was much more fun. Nowadays, it's all computerized music, and I don't like it. I prefer analog music, and analog special effects over using too much CGI.

But I think movie music from the eighties had more power, so it was my concept to go back to the eighties and seventies. And when I thought about that concept, and when we were looking for a composer, I needed something that no one could imagine. No one had ever thought of Keith Emerson to compose Godzilla music, but I was a big fan of his for more than 25 years, back to Emerson, Lake and Palmer. So I decided he was the one. He was on tour and very busy, but he did a great job. He didn't compose all the music for the movie, but he did an excellent job [Nobuhiko Morino and Daisuke Yano also worked on the soundtrack.].

[After Emerson agreed to do the score], I wrote him a letter. 'Dear Keith, you've forgotten about rock music recently. You're just playing piano. But please bring back your rock spirit.' And he did a great job.

H!O: The special effects for GODZILLA FINAL WARS were directed by Eiichi Asada. How did you ensure that the effects scenes reflected the style of film you wanted to do?

KITAMURA: [Asada and I] had been talking ever since when we wrote the script. He had seen my movies and he understands. He's an excellent guy. He was an assistant effects director back in the seventies, when they made GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, my favorite film. He knows everything about special effects, everything about monster movies and Godzilla movies. I trusted him 100 percent, and we worked so closely together. He had seen all my movies and he understood my taste. I gave him all the storyboards--my team had storyboarded all the monster fighting sequences. He looked at them and discussed with his crew, and he would come back and give me some new ideas. I'm very satisfied with the job he did.

 
04/11/05:
GODZILLA FINAL WARS INTERVIEW: JOE SIXPACK
Ryuhei Kitamura's Pal JOE FENECH Cheers on Xilians and Gets Crushed by Kumonga in GFW
Author: Keith Aiken
Behind the Scenes Photos Courtesy of Joe Fenech
Special Thanks to Mick Preston and James Ballard



Joe Fenech shares some quality time with one of his GODZILLA FINAL WARS co-stars. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
While interviewing GODZILLA FINAL WARS actors Darren Schnase and Mick Preston [see the 02/24/05 H!O article] I asked if either had photos from their scenes in Sydney or Tokyo. Mick soon sent me several unpublished behind the scenes pics he had been given by Joe Fenech, an old friend of director Ryuhei Kitamura' who had also appeared in the movie. Mick thought I would like to speak with Joe and set up an introduction.

While Joe's screen time in FINAL WARS is on par with Hedorah's, his involvement in the film was greater than one might suspect. He was the man in the trailer in Arizona who gets crushed by Kumonga, in the crowd cheering for the Xilians early in the film and present at shoots in both Australia and Japan. He also worked on the screenplay a bit. As was the case with Mick and Darren, Joe Fenech is an outgoing guy who had some interesting, informative, and funny stories to tell about the production of GODZILLA FINAL WARS. I think Henshin! Online readers will enjoy these accounts from one of the many unsung people behind the latest Godzilla movie.

HENSHIN! ONLINE: Please tell me a bit about your background.

JOE FENECH: My heritage is Greek Maltese and I was born in Australia 35 years ago. I have always lived and worked in Sydney Australia. I've been working in the television industry since 1990; most of that time has been for SBS TV [Special Broadcasting Service] as a camera operator and floor manager.

H!O: How did you first meet Ryuhei Kitamura?

2nd Unit Director Ryuichi Takatsu, Director Ryuhei Kitamura, and Joe Fenech on Parker St in Sydney, Australia on the first day of filming, 5/30/04. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
FENECH: I studied film and television at the School of Visual Arts in 1988, and that's where I first met Ryuhei and [GODZILLA FINAL WARS 2nd Unit Director Ryuichi] Takatsu. Ryuhei was very focused and passionate from the beginning. I learned a lot from him, especially that you have to be possessed by what you love and you have to just live and breathe it. That concept was new to me. I remember visiting his flat one day. There was a projector set up and the place was just covered in storyboards. Ryuhei was so into his work that he hadn't slept. The passion for filmmaking just pours out of him; it's incredible.

Back in college, we had a lot of fun making short films and getting into trouble. Sometimes people would call the police because they thought we were causing trouble in the streets; they neglected to see that there was a camera and sound crew beside us!

H!O: In college Ryuhei made some award-winning films like EXIT. Were you involved in any of them?

FENECH: The only thing I got to do on EXIT (the name was taken from a U2 song) was some post-production sound since we were all working on our own projects at the time. I did get to work on his "Grim Reaper" drug commercial and a few other projects; I starred in something he shot at his flat one day but that film now seems to be "missing in action". When I visited his house in Japan he still had many of the films that we made. He'd put them onto DVD so we sat there watching them on a big screen and laughing our heads off.

H!O: Did you work on any of Ryuhei's other professional movies before GODZILLA FINAL WARS?

"I ain't no actor!!" Joe in a scene from GODZILLA FINAL WARS. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
FENECH: I only worked on his short films in college, then he went back to Japan and I got into television. He's come back to Sydney a few times to visit. And every now and then I'd get a tape in the mail -- a copy of his latest film at that time.

H!O: So, I assume you first learned about FINAL WARS from Ryuhei?

FENECH: Yeah. One day I got an email from him telling me that he would be directing "the last" Godzilla film. I nearly fell off my chair! I was smiling for days because I had really wanted him to make it as a director. He is a special guy with great vision and he deserves success.

H!O: Were you a Godzilla fan before this?

FENECH: I had only seen the original GODZILLA and maybe snippets of some of the others while flicking through channels. The first time I saw the movie it was the Raymond Burr version GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, but I recently got my hands on the original subtitled Japanese film.

H!O: So you didn't know any of the Toho monsters from their earlier films? For example, the monster you share your scenes with -- the giant spider Kumonga?

Joe hadn't heard of most of the Toho monsters, including Kumonga of SON OF GODZILLA and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS fame. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
FENECH: No, not really. I was pretty unfamiliar with most of the monsters.

H!O: How did you end up acting in the movie?

FENECH: Soon after Ryuhei had first emailed me about FINAL WARS he came to Sydney with a film crew who were making a documentary about his life. They interviewed some of his friends, went back to his primary school, old house, the School of Visual Arts, and Broken Hill, I think. Ryuhei lived in Sydney for a while when he was a child.

It was during this visit that Ryuhei told me that he had written a scene for me in GODZILLA FINAL WARS. Now let me tell ya folks, I ain't no actor! I told him it would be better to employ someone who knows what they are doing, but he insisted it was a short scene of some rock n' roll trailer trash in Arizona and I would be fine... he seemed to think I could play a slob in a trailer really well.

"[Ryuhei Kitamura] seemed to think I could play a slob in a trailer really well." © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: Since Kitamura wrote the scene for you, I assume you didn't have to audition for the part.

FENECH: Nope, no audition or nothing -- yikes!

H!O: Since your character is in only one short scene, did Kitamura bother to give him a name? What was he called in the script?

FENECH: My character didn't have a name. It was just called ‘Arizona Trailer Scene' in the script.

H!O: That sequence reminded me of the 1955 American horror movie TARANTULA, where a giant spider goes on a rampage in Arizona.

FENECH: I don't know if my scene was inspired by TARANTULA. Ryuhei didn't say anything about that.

H!O: Where was the Kumonga scene filmed?

FENECH: The scene was supposed to be shot somewhere in Sydney, but they never found a location that really resembled Arizona. So poor me, I had to fly out to Japan to do my scene at Toho Studios. That entire flight I was hoping my performance would be worth the price of the plane ticket.

Tokyo doubles for the Arizona desert as the Toho crew works outside the trailer used for Joe's encounter with Kumonga, 9/02/04. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
We got to the studio at midday, just as the crew was wrapping a scene. Next in were Darren Schnase and Mick Preston; they had to do some wirework for their scene where they were getting blown away by Rodan. Those poor guys were new to this kind of stunt work and it took a long time for them to get it down, but they did a fantastic job and they should be proud. So, by then it was 2 a.m. Takatsu showed me the storyboards and we talked over the scene and developed the character a bit before we shot it.

H!O: When I interviewed Mick Preston, he said you were in the movie in a couple of different places; as an extra in the scenes where the American Godzilla destroys Sydney, and then you got stomped by Kumonga in the trailer, and there was one or two others.

FENECH: I was not in any of the American Godzilla scenes, but I was involved in two other scenes. I haven't seen the completed film so I don't know if they made the final cut.

H!O: I'm surprised you haven't seen the movie yet — you should tell Ryuhei it's time to mail you a copy of his latest film. Would you describe filming your scenes in the movie?

Class Reunion: The crowd cheering on the Xilians included many of Kitamura's college friends. From left to right; Davis Yagapour, Joe, Loredana Voicu, Steve Fargie, Ryuhei Kitamura, and Ryuichi Takatsu. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
FENECH: On the very first day of shooting for GODZILLA FINAL WARS, Ryuhei asked me to invite some old college friends from the School of Visual Arts where we all studied to come along and "watch" the shoot at 11 a.m. So I went down there with my girlfriend Loredana Voicu (who didn't go to college with us), Steve Fargie, and Davis Yagapour. We were sitting in a cafe watching them when Lori's mobile phone rang at exactly 11 a.m. It was Ryuhei, and he said, "Where are you? You're in the next scene." We all went "Wha?" So we walked out into the street and the Assistant Director was calling for the "Friends... where are the friends? Are you the friends?" I just shrunk in embarrassment; "Yes, we are the friends." The AD pushes past all these freezing-cold actors who had been there since 5 a.m. and plants us all right in front of the camera for the "X is best" scene. I felt so bad for the "real" actors.

H!O: When was the first day of shooting?

FENECH: That was May 30, 2004. They were there from about 5 a.m. with one crew, and continued into the next morning with another crew at different location [Kent St in downtown Sydney] doing the New York cop scene with Mick and Darren. During the day, they were filming several different scenes on Parker Street in Sydney -- running crowds, cars exploding, the two punks in the sports car, and the crowd chanting "X is best!"

Ryuhei told me to disguise myself because I was also in the trailer/spider scene. I did get a little overenthusiastic in this scene and Ryuhei called out, "Joe, too much", so I don't know if I made it into that part of the movie or not.

H!O: Besides the "X is best" shots, most of the filming that day was for scenes with Zilla, the American Godzilla, am I right?

Joe Fenech and Ryuhei Kitamura on Parker St. Joe holds a Trendmasters Godzilla figure that was used for framing shots in GODZILLA FINAL WARS. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
FENECH: The running crowd scenes were shot before I got to Parker Street, so I am not totally sure if everything was used for the American Godzilla attack. They did use a model of the American Godzilla to frame some of the scenes they were shooting, and that allowed for the monster to be inserted later.

H!O: Many people who never watch the Toho films saw the U.S. GODZILLA because it was the "big summer blockbuster" of 1998. Did you see that movie?

FENECH: I did see the American GODZILLA, and I was very unimpressed with it. It was an insult to the genre.

H!O: When did you film the scenes at Toho?

FENECH: The trailer scene was shot on the 2nd of September, 2004. They told me they had a lot of trouble finding an American-looking trailer in Japan and making it look like it was in the Arizona desert. It was very hot and cramped in the trailer once we got into it with a full crew and lights. I had to get my Steve Earle t-shirt in the shot, and the name of my band is on my cap. They told me I was gonna shoot my scene at 2 p.m. but all the wirework with Mick and Darren took a long time to shoot, so we began filming my scene at 1 a.m. and didn't finish until about 6 a.m.

The interior of the trailer used for Joe's scene in GODZILLA FINAL WARS. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: Mick said you had some difficulty with your scenes because you had to balance on a box.

FENECH: Oh, yeah. Basically this is what we shot... I don't know if it all made it in the film: I'm watching TV and see that Paris was destroyed by a giant praying mantis [Kamakiras]. I'm eating pizza and drinking beer. A small spider crawls across my pizza. I throw it to the ground and stomp on it and then - kabooshka! - Kumonga destroys the trailer. [The scene in the finished film has been edited down to a quick reaction shot and one line of dialogue.]

Well, firstly I'm a reasonably tall guy and the crew decided they wanted a low angle shot of me stomping on the spider so they put me on a small wooden box. That meant that my head was touching the ceiling of the trailer and I was supposed to balance on one foot on this small wooden box with the other leg raised, say my line, then stomp the spider. Well, we did numerous takes due to balance problems, etc. I hope they got what they wanted. Before my last shot, the crew looked concerned and said they would use someone else for the close up of my hand holding a slice of pizza as the spider crawls across it. I said I was fine with doing that shot, but they said the spider was actually poisonous and they insisted I not do it. So, there you go...my first stunt double!

Kabooshka! Kumonga makes short work of Joe's trailer. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: Did Ryuichi Takatsu direct this scene?

FENECH: Takatsu did direct the trailer scene. Ryuhei was in another studio across the lot directing the lead actor in a spaceship scene. He would pop in occasionally to see how we were doing.

H!O: Did you enjoy working with an old college friend?

FENECH: It was like deja vu. It was all very exciting; I was gushing with pride that my mates were making a major motion picture of such a grand scale. There was no difference in Takatsu's style or attitude. He was the same guy I first met in 1988.

H!O: What was it like working with the Toho crew?

Joe with his old classmate Ryuichi Takatsu at Toho Studios in Japan. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
FENECH: The filming involved some very long hours, but I found working with a Japanese crew to be extremely relaxed... they're just so quiet, fast, and efficient. We make much more fuss making crappy TV shows here in Sydney than they did making a film. When you think about it, it took from the 30th of May, 2004 to shoot and edit GODZILLA FINAL WARS and get it on Japanese cinema screens by the 4th of December, 2004. That's absolutely incredible! Can you imagine trying that that in America or Australia? No way!

H!O: What was it like shooting at Toho Studios?

FENECH: It was great. I even got my own dressing room -- which was hysterical to me -- while Mick and Darren, the "real actors", had to share one. I enjoyed constantly rubbing that in, but I got bored pretty fast being by myself so I went and hung out with those guys.

H!O: Did you know Mick and Darren before making this movie?

A framed photo of Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya working on the original GODZILLA adorned the wall of the actors' dressing room. © 1954/2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
FENECH: I first met Mick and Darren on the 1st of September, 2004. A hired car turned up at my house to take me to the airport and these two guys were in the back seat. I started giggling then about the star treatment I was getting and didn't stop giggling until I got back home.

They were great, enthusiastic guys and really encouraged me along the way. Darren went home after his shoot and then relocated to the states, but I still occasionally see Mick.

H!O: Did you get to see any of the other scenes from GODZILLA FINAL WARS being filmed while you were at Toho?

FENECH: The only other scene I saw was the lead actor, Masahiro Matsuoka, in the spaceship doing some lines. I did get a mini tour of Toho and it was incredible. All of the history in that place; Akira Kurosawa... the studio Ryuhei was shooting in was the same studio they shot SEVEN SAMURAI in. The props were amazing. And just think of all the Godzilla films that were made there...

H!O: Did you spend much time in Japan?

The benefits of being a movie star! GODZILLA FINAL WARS actresses Yumi Kikuchi (l) and Kanae Uotani take Joe sightseeing in the Asakusa District of Tokyo.
FENECH: I spent 5 days there, and I did things like visit museums and temples and restaurants and music stores. I was shown around by a few of the actresses in FINAL WARS -- that was really hard work! I was with Yumi Kikuchi and Kanae Uotani. Yumi seemed to have had a big role in the film -- she's been in other films made by Ryuhei -- I don't know what Kanae's role was [Kanae Uotani played one of the Xilians. She has also appeared in Ryuhei Kitamura's ARAGAMI, SKYHIGH, and "The Messenger" segment of JAM FILMS]. They both graciously showed me around Tokyo for a few days. We went up to Tokyo Tower one evening just as an electrical storm hit and freaked everyone out. That was during the period where Japan suffered through a series of typhoons.

H!O: Since you went to film school with Kitamura, were you involved with the production beyond the acting and extra work?

FENECH: I also did some script editing on the FINAL WARS screenplay that Ryuhei may or may not have used.

H!O: You worked on the screenplay?

FENECH: After I left the School of Visual Arts I wanted to be a writer and script editor, so when Ryuhei first told me about GODZILLA FINAL WARS I said I would help him in any way I could. I suggested either editing the script or music - please note I never mentioned acting! When Ryuhei got back to Japan he sent me a copy of the FINAL WARS script and I spent a week polishing up the lines and grammar but, as I've said, I haven't seen the film so I don't know if he used any of my script changes.

Joe Fenech helped polish the GODZILLA FINAL WARS script. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: Now that everything is done and the film has played in Japan, are you looking forward to seeing GODZILLA FINAL WARS?

FENECH: I am, but I know I can't act for shit so I dread seeing my scene.

H!O: So, what's next for you?

FENECH: Well, I'm back at my boring TV job. There's only so much live television you can do before it screws with your head; the hours are crap, the politics are crap, and the pay ain't worth the effect it has on your social life.

I have a little band called 'The Torchsong Country Soul Band' and I wish to dominate the world real soon with songs of love, hope, and faith. All we need are more band members, a record deal, and pinch of luck.

H!O: What kind of music do you play? What is your role in the band?

FENECH: I'm the sole songwriter for The Torchsong Country Soul Band. We mostly do country and folk ballads with some 60's soul (all original). We do lots of three-part harmonies, but our main singer is an Irish girl by the name of Maree Byrne who has been with us for a year. She has the voice of angel and really takes the songs to heaven. The other band member is Edmond Kairouz, an unbelievable guitarist/multi-instrumentalist and singer. I've been working with him for probably seven years. We all really love making music and dream of making an album.

Joe's trailer goes SKYHIGH. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: People have been enjoying Godzilla movies for half a century, and now you've become a part of the series. How does it feel knowing that people will be watching GODZILLA FINAL WARS again and again for decades or more?

FENECH: It feels great that people will be watching this film for years to come because that means it will stand as a work of art created by my friend. It makes me proud that I was involved in a small way. I hope audiences around the world get a great kick out of this cool film. Rock on!!!

 
04/06/05:
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: Thirty Years of Galactic Adventure!
Interview with Voyager Entertainment's Tim Eldred
Author: Bob Johnson


The heroes and the arch nemesis from STAR BLAZERS. © 2005 Voyager Entertainment, All Rights Reserved
Go into any video or chain store and you will find rows of DVDs featuring a wide variety of the latest Japanese animation. Turn on the television and you will see most of the cartoons either originate from Japan or are heavily influenced by the Japanese "anime" style. Comic book stores have shelves lined with manga, comic books from Japan.

There was a time though when Japanese animation was hard to come by and the fandom surrounding it was a fringe cult of crazy fans watching ninth generation videotapes of giant robots and space adventures in a language few could speak or understand.

The 1960s had come and gone with pioneering series such as ASTRO-BOY (Tetsuwan Atomu), GIGANTOR (Tetsujin Niju'hachi-go), KIMBA THE WHITE LION (Janguru Taitei) and SPEED RACER (Maha Go Go Go). As the 1970s came around, a second wave of shows started to appear. BATTLE OF THE PLANETS (Kagaku Ninjatai Gachaman), FORCE FIVE (a potpourri of Toei Animation Super Robot titles) and a series that would have a big impact on science fiction and animation in both Japan and the United States. That series was STAR BLAZERS, known in Japan as SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (Uchu Senkan Yamato).

Whereas most animated series catered to an audience with a short, if not non-existent, attention span, STAR BLAZERS was structured as a series-long story with interesting characters interwoven throughout the episodic account of their quest to the planet Iscandar.

After three series, four theatrical films and two TV movies, YAMATO as it is known in Japan, left a lasting mark on the structure and style of Japanese animation. As YAMATO reaches its thirtieth anniversary and STAR BLAZERS approaches twenty-five years, Voyager Entertainment has been releasing the series and the movies on DVD in the United States and is now chronicling the entire saga in a 2-hour DVD documentary.

Henshin! Online caught up with the man who developed all of the bonus features and helped with the authoring of the Voyager STAR BLAZERS DVD library, he also put together the not yet released documentary,"The Making of an Anime Legend". Tim Eldred has consented to give Henshin! Online readers a sneak peek into the documentary and what went into bringing STAR BLAZERS to DVD.

DVD jacket for Voyager's upcoming documentary. © 2005 Voyager Entertainment, All Rights Reserved
Henshin! Online: Let's start with you. Can you tell us a bit about your background and how a profession in the comics field finally led you to Voyager and the STAR BLAZERS series?

TIM ELDRED: That's an easy one. Comics, movies, and animation made me want to work on comics, movies, and animation. STAR WARS was a big life-changer, of course, but anime was already working its magic on me before 1977. TV shows like SPEED RACER and BATTLE OF THE PLANETS hit me like tsunamis, and I didn't even know where they came from until much later. Also, do you remember the Shogun Warriors? They were a line of toys that consisted almost entirely of anime giant robots that had been renamed for the US market. I loved those things. And when I got to see STAR BLAZERS for the first time in 1980, that was it. Hooked for life.

By the early 90s, I had carved out a career for myself in comic books, and I was a staff member at the now-defunct Malibu Comics in Southern California. I had drawn comics for them based on LENSMAN [Renzuman], ROBOTECH [comprised of three Tatsunoko Productions series] and CAPTAIN HARLOCK [Uchu Kaizoku Kaputen Harokku] and I constantly advocated for them to and more anime licenses. When they got a letter from Voyager Entertainment offering STAR BLAZERS, I strongly campaigned for them to obtain it. When they turned it down, I teamed up with a couple of my comic book buddies, John Ott and Bruce Lewis. Together, we could do everything it took to create a comic book and get it into the marketplace, so we approached Voyager with the proposal that they publish a STAR BLAZERS comic on their own with us as the packager. Voyager went for it, and we formed a tiny little 3-man company called Studio Go. This relationship lasted for about three years and created a foundation for the work I'm doing for Voyager now, their DVDs and their website, www.Starblazers.com. So it was quite a serendipitous little adventure.

H!O: SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO was one of, if not the, most influential anime series to come out of Japan. It seems that many of the trends that started in anime in the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s were started by the Yamato series and features.

ELDRED: Definitely. It was the first real anime saga, with a story that flowed back and forth between TV and movies, and a huge fan following that inspired a massive line of products that enlarged the experience. Naturally, this created a highly successful precedent for other programs to follow. MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM [Kido Senshi Gandamu] was the next one to hit this level. There were other shows that set other trends, but most of what we see now can be traced directly back to YAMATO. I tend to compare it with STAR TREK; it had pretty much the same effect on Japanese pop culture.

H!O: When I look at the STAR TREK movies, I see definite STAR BLAZERS/YAMATO influences. Cadets on a training mission in STAR TREK 2, "stealing" the Enterprise IN STAR TREK IV, rebelling to go off on a mission important only to the crews and others in STAR TREK III. So maybe it went full-circle. Do you think American sci-fi felt the influence of YAMATO?

ELDRED: To a degree, yes, but I don't think the influence was significant until the mid to late 1980s. Remember, before that time anime wasn't very easy to get. You had to know people and tap into underground fan networks and, most importantly, you had to be willing to sit through multi-generational VHS dubs with no subtitles. Knowing what I do now about TV and movie production, it's hard for me to imagine anyone of influence having the time or patience to go through all that. So many of the earlier similarities you mention were probably coincidental, except for the ones we know about (Michael Okuda, et al).

Today, of course, everything has changed. Anime is cool, hip, and mainstream. You can see the influences everywhere. I'll bet the curve went up right after the import companies went into business.

H!O: How did you go about putting together the extras for the DVDs?

The ancient battleship Yamato awaits its galactic resurrection! © 2005 Voyager Entertainment, All Rights Reserved
ELDRED: Since very little material remained from the production of STAR BLAZERS, I had to rely on my collection of YAMATO memorabilia, which I had been accumulating since roughly the time STAR BLAZERS first appeared. I got a lot of text articles translated and did a lot of digging through books to do research and compile artwork. Voyager's agreement with Yoshinobu Nishizaki provided complete access to everything, so it was a dream come true. But with such a gigantic library of stuff to choose from, the real trick was deciding what should go onto each disc and how to design menus and such. I hadn't done anything like this before Voyager hired me, so it gave me quite an education.

I also got to do this for one of my other anime favorites, ARMORED TROOPER VOTOMS [Sokokishi Botomusu]. I got to design and package all those DVDs as well. Talk about a charmed life!

H!O: Have you considered doing a book that would include all the materials and information you unearthed to include things that didn't make it to the DVDs?

ELDRED: Each of the STAR BLAZERS and YAMATO DVD box sets contains an insert booklet that fulfills that very purpose. Other stuff found a home on the website, www.Starblazers.com. But we all felt that the documentary was the best way to deliver the goods to a mass audience.

H!O: Was it difficult rounding up the old voice actors? They seem like they are still pretty enthusiastic about their work on the series.

ELDRED: It wasn't difficult at all; Amy Howard Wilson (the voice of Nova) did the footwork on her own, tracking down Ken Meseroll [Derek Wildstar], Eddie Allen [Desslok], and Tom Tweedy [Mark Venture]. Amy's story is pretty fascinating in itself; she had no idea STAR BLAZERS fandom even existed until the late 90's when her niece found something on the internet. Amy got in touch with some online fans, established her creds, and now she's one of us! (In fact, she upped the ante by actually MARRYING one of us!). She made it her personal mission to track down her former co-stars and share the love, and that's what made the interviews possible.

I think what made STAR BLAZERS special to them was that they were all very young at the time, and this was one of their first professional acting gigs. Eddie Allen in particular wishes he could play more unusual roles like Desslok. It was fun for him to do and still gets a real kick out of being recognized for that part.

H!O: Mr. Nishizaki, the producer of the series is involved with Voyager isn't he? Was he much help in gathering materials from the original series and movies or did you have to hunt for those yourself?

ELDRED: As I said, his help came in the form of a blanket permission to use anything we could get our hands on, so long as it came out of his original production company. I was really lucky to have started my collection when I did, because a lot of that stuff simply can't be found anymore. As it turns out, the scrounging skills I developed over the years are still serving me well; I've made some incredibly lucky finds during the time I've been working on the DVDs. Sometimes a totally unexpected vintage treasure would fall into my lap precisely when I needed it. So I have to think that this whole enterprise is blessed.

Derek Wildstar (Susumu Kodai), directs the Star Force into action! © 2005 Voyager Entertainment, All Rights Reserved
H!O: What condition was the original series in? Did you do any extra restoration or mastering of the episodes when they went to DVD as opposed to the versions that were on the VHS prerecords?

ELDRED: Voyager had the whole first series re-mastered when they released it on VHS, so those prints were good enough to export directly over to DVD. They weren't quite as lucky with the second series (THE COMET EMPIRE), since most of the master materials were lost before Voyager ever took possession of the license. The thing to remember, though, is that the STAR BLAZERS production process was pretty low-tech to begin with. I'm not privy to all the details, but examining the prints tells me that they must have been transferred a couple of times while they made their way through dubbing and editing. What eventually ended up on TV was a big step below what we consider to be DVD quality today, and without all the original elements to work with, there's a limit to what can be restored.

H!O: What exactly was done, if anything, to YAMATO II for the DVD release?

ELDRED: If you're talking about the episodes themselves, nothing was done to enhance them for DVD; we used the same masters from the VHS release.

H!O: How were YAMATO I and II preserved? Were they on film or video? What formats?

ELDRED: They must have been transferred to film at some point during the production of STAR BLAZERS, because there's a lot of grain in the picture that you don't see in the original Japanese versions. If I knew more about interpositives and telecine, I might be able to make a better guess, but the masters that Voyager eventually received were all on 1-inch videotape. They were later transferred to digital videotape to prevent degradation.

H!O: I know YAMATO III was taken from original Japanese prints for the DVDs. What brought that about? Was there ever a consideration of including the original Japanese voice tracks?

ELDRED: As Voyager produced more and more DVDs and I got to learn more about the process, it occurred to me that I had everything I needed at my fingertips to engineer a remastering of series 3. Specifically, I had all the episodes on laserdisc, and the authoring studio could combine them with the English-language voice tracks. Series 3 really cried out for this treatment, since the production company that converted it into STAR BLAZERS had downgraded all of their masters from 35mm to 16. I don't know why this was necessary, but it had the effect of blurring the picture and making it pretty unpleasant to watch.

I suggested that the original language track be kept and subtitled, but there were two obstacles standing in the way. First, Voyager only has licensing rights of STAR BLAZERS and the YAMATO movies. They're currently unable to release the YAMATO TV shows in their original format (or you can bet your life they would have by now). Second, the English-language voice track had been sped up just enough to prevent a one-to-one match with the overall timing of the Japanese episodes. The result of this was that we had to trim a few frames here and there to keep everything in sync. But I made sure nothing vital was lost. If you listen very closely, however, you'll hear some artifacts of the original voice track in a few places. Let's just say I took the opportunity to repair some translation problems and leave it at that.

H!O: You are now working on a DVD-documentary on the whole phenomena of YAMATO and STAR BLAZERS. How did this come about?

ELDRED: It was a direct result of all the work on the DVDs and the STAR BLAZERS website. I reached a point where I could write a comprehensive history of the YAMATO saga, complete with direct quotes from key staff members. After some deliberation, I decided a video documentary was the best format for such a presentation, and Voyager agreed. From there it was a matter of boiling everything down into a script and finding the best images to match the words.

H!O: What kind of research did you have to do for the documentary? Did you have a lot of help from Japan and the US on it?

SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: The movie that started it all 30 years ago! © Toei/Academy
ELDRED: Most of it came through many years of "archaeology," figuring some things out on my own and relying on translators for the rest. I really can't say enough about my translators. I've been an anime fan since at least 1980, so I know I should have taken Japanese lessons by now, but I have to admit failure on that ledger. I wasn't able to contact anyone in Japan for help, but I did have the good fortune to personally interview Noboru Ishiguro (animation director) a few years ago for the STAR BLAZERS comic book. That was especially fortuitous because he told me things that I've never seen in print, and all the best anecdotes from that session ended up in the documentary.

It was regrettable that I didn't have the resources to get any on-camera interviews, but I invented a workaround that I hope everyone will accept. I'll just have to wait and see.

H!O: Are we in for any "rare" treats in the documentary?

ELDRED: Plenty; lots of really early development artwork, from before the series was even called Yamato, plus a fair amount of footage that was cut from STAR BLAZERS. I tried to plug as much of this in as I could. I incorporated all the YAMATO movie trailers, and I also had access to a Japanese documentary called THE QUICKENING. It was released on YAMATO's 20th anniversary, and it was loaded with great stuff. There will be some bonus extras, too, including the original pilot film that sold the first series, and all the original opening and closing TV titles.

H!O: Wasn't there a British dub of the first YAMATO movie released in the UK? Is that covered? I think it was mentioned in an old issue of Starburst Magazine?

ELDRED: Good memory! It was called SPACE CRUISER [YAMATO] and though it was released in Europe, it wasn't actually a British dub. It was, in fact, dubbed by American "actors" (I use the term loosely) and then presumably subtitled for non-English speaking countries. It is covered in the documentary, and a few scenes are included for comparison with STAR BLAZERS. The difference is like night and day.

H!O: What kind of involvement did Leiji Matsumoto have in it? I know he and Mr. Nishizaki have had their differences in the past. Is he included in the documentary?

ELDRED: Again, since I didn't have the resources to track down anyone in Japan, I had to proceed without the direct involvement of Mr. Matsumoto. But he has had plenty to say about YAMATO over the years, and I used as many of his quotes as I could. In the end, this may have been a better way to approach the project, since everyone's memory softens over time. You won't get to hear him say anything on camera, but you will get to hear what he said back when the information was fresh and clear.

H!O: Who else were you able to quote? Did you talk to the Star Blazers crew also? Editors, dubbers, etc?

ELDRED: In all, about a dozen original staff members are represented in the program, from writing to music, design, storyboard, and animation. No one from the STAR BLAZERS production crew has surfaced other than Kit Carter, who did the casting. We interviewed her in one of the STAR BLAZERS comic books several years ago, but I read that she has since passed away.

H!O: How is the documentary structured? I know Yamato was on in Japan and up to YAMATO II when STAR BLAZERS came out here, then continued after STAR BLAZERS ended, then STAR BLAZERS picked up again with YAMATO III. Did you go chronologically or cover Japan and the US in separate sections?

ELDRED: The entire program is chronological, with each production coming up as it happened, including STAR BLAZERS. I also researched the volume of anime that was on TV and in theatres during that ten-year span, and indexed those figures from one year to the next. It's pretty amazing to see how the entire industry was expanding from that perspective.

Another amazing thing comes to light when you see how much work Nishizaki's studio did in a given year. 1979 was a particular watershed, with the conclusion of YAMATO 2 on TV, the start-to-finish production of THE NEW VOYAGE [Uchu Senkan Yamato Aratanaru Tabidachi], a completely separate TV series called SPACE CARRIER BLUE NOAH [Uchu Kubo Burunoa], and the startup of work on STAR BLAZERS. Nishizaki probably didn't sleep much that year.

First issue of Tim Eldred's Star Blazers Comic book. © 2005 Voyager Entertainment, All Rights Reserved
H!O: Did you get into the original Manga version at all? I have some reprints and they are very visual. Typical Matsumoto style.

ELDRED: Some of his pages are included in a segment where he talks about working on the TV series and the manga simultaneously. There are some interesting differences between the two versions, which I wrote about at length in an article for the website. Every article I've ever written for the site is archived and can be accessed at all times.

H!O: Amazingly, STAR BLAZERS is celebrating its 25th anniversary this April (2005). Why do you think interest in the series has lasted this long?

ELDRED: My own theory is that it's one of those timeless classics that is always going to have an appeal, regardless of how dated it might look. The stories have such emotional power and honesty that they transcend any technical limitations. I also figured out a while back that there's a mythic element to it all that rises above the sort of raw commercialism that typifies a lot of anime these days. It has to do with the mythological motif of fallen heroes rising from under the Earth to lead defeated peoples into a better world. You can find that story in Celtic and Native American myths, and it certainly describes the state of Japan after World War II. Things like that strike a deep chord and tend to last for a very long time.

H!O: Does Voyager have any other plans now that the series and movies are all out on DVD? Any chance of a return to TV? Does Voyager have access to any other product?

ELDRED: The documentary should be released in April to commemorate STAR BLAZERS‘ 25th anniversary, and this summer we'll be launching a new project on the website. The working title is " STAR BLAZERS REBIRTH," and it will bring the characters back in a very unique way. We'd like to invite everyone to keep watching the website for updates on this one, because it is fairly unprecedented.

As for returning to TV, I think someone will have to devise a "classic anime" programming block before STAR BLAZERS can find a comfortable niche again. Voyager doesn't currently have access to any other anime program.

The evil Desslok, leader of the Gamilons! © 2005 Voyager Entertainment, All Rights Reserved
H!O: Back when STAR BLAZERS was on, anime was pretty much a cult thing here in the US. Now it is a booming business with huge anime sections in video stores and discount chains. How do you think STAR BLAZERS /YAMATO holds up after all these years against the newer, and now mainstream, anime?

ELDRED: Let's be completely up-front about it and say that since most American fans don't yet have a grasp of anime history, it's tough for any of the older programs to stand out among the newer, flashier descendants. There's nothing particularly wrong with that; that's how it is in Japan as well. But everyone who gets into anime seems to eventually care enough about it to explore its roots, and that's why it's important for the older shows to remain available. Voyager is committed to keeping STAR BLAZERS and YAMATO around, and I'm confident that anyone who takes the time to look at it will be won over. The audience can only get bigger.

H!O: The YAMATO movies in particular got more and more advanced in the animation techniques as they went along. Aside from the technical limitations of the animation, how do you think YAMATO stacks up against the new anime from Japan?

ELDRED: There's a lot of great anime coming out these days; the golden age spanned the 70s and 80s, and we may in fact now be in a silver age. Leiji Matsumoto is still active, and one of his recent TV series, THE GALAXY RAILWAYS [Ginga Tetsudo Monogatari], is very evocative of YAMATO. The last 6 episodes pack exactly the same punch that I remember from the first time I saw the COMET EMPIRE climax.

There are other shows that borrow bits and pieces from the YAMATO menu, but so far I haven't seen anyone improve on the formula. It's become such an icon that I think it's sort of untouchable now. Something to aspire to rather than borrow from.

H!O: What movies/series do you think have the same impact today as YAMATO had in its day?

ELDRED: GUNDAM is still in there swinging. GUNDAM SEED [Kido Senshi Gandamu Shiddo] and its follow-up, GUNDAM SEED DESTINY [Kido Senshi Gandamu Shiddo Desuteini], seem to have penetrated Japanese pop culture to YAMATO levels, with a gazillion products and promotional events. That's how the impact should be measured; by what happens outside of the shows themselves. MACROSS [Chojiku Yosai Makurosu] is another contender, but its latest incarnation, MACROSS ZERO [Makurosu Zero], didn't have much of a life beyond the animation itself.

EVANGELION [Shin Seiki Ebanzerion] and COWBOY BEBOP [Kauboi Beboppu] were big, but they sort of got buried in the flood of shows that followed in their footsteps. FULL METAL ALCHEMIST [Hagane-no Renkinjutsushi] might be a player, but it will have to stand the test of time first. It's hard to see the true depth of any impact until you've got a context of years to put it in. There's so much more anime these days that only something truly exceptional will demand attention for a significant length of time.

H!O: What do you see as the future for STAR BLAZERS or YAMATO? New productions? New adventures?

ELDRED: Last year, the original series hit its 30th anniversary in Japan, and any time those big numbers roll around, there's almost always a revival attempt. Nishizaki and Matsumoto went their separate ways long ago, but when YAMATO reached its 20th anniversary, they both got involved in revival projects of one kind or another. None of them had the impact of the original, but I don't know if that was ever even possible. The latest thing is Matsumoto's direct-to-video series called DAI YAMATO, which brings the ship back with a lot of modifications and a completely new crew. It's still in production in Japan, so I think it will be a while before anyone is able to import it.

Personally, I'd love to revive the STAR BLAZERS comic book series, since we had a lot more we wanted to do with it, and with the explosion of manga in mainstream bookstores, there might be a new outlet for this.

H!O: Would Voyager want to be involved in a CGI or live-action version of the series?

ELDRED: I'm sure they would. There was a live-action feature film in the works with Disney about 10 years ago, but the more they tinkered with it the farther it got away from STAR BLAZERS. They were even going to change the Yamato into the Arizona. At that point, why bother calling it STAR BLAZERS any more? You might as well turn it into something else. The simple fact is that any live-action version would have to involve a lot of people who make it their job to put their own personal creative stamp on something, whether it needs it or not. That's just how Hollywood works. So be careful what you wish for!

H!O: What projects do you personally have planned for the future?

ELDRED: Thanks for asking! I've been working in TV animation for quite a while now, and you can find my name on shows like the CGI HEAVY GEAR and SPIDER-MAN series, WB's XIAOLIN SHOWDOWN, and occasional episodes of other programs like JACKIE CHAN or DRAGON TALES. But on the more personal side, a graphic novel that I've been working on for about 13 years is finally going to get published! It's a sci-fi comedy called "Grease Monkey," and Tor Books will probably have it in stores by the end of the year. It's a real labor of love, and I hope to turn it into a big deal that can cross over into other media. With YAMATO for inspiration, I'm filled with hope and courage!

For more information on the YAMATO Documentary DVD, please go to the STAR BLAZERS website.

Henshin! Online will have a full review of the documentary very soon. Until then, we're off to outer space!

 
UPDATED!  04/14/05: UPDATED! 05/10/05
JAPANESE GIANT MONSTERS FESTIVAL IN HOLLYWOOD!!
The American Cinematheque presents a week of Toho classics, the US PREMIERE of ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT and 3 DAYS of GODZILLA FINAL WARS in Hollywood!
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Dennis Bartok and the American Cinematheque



The Egyptian Theatre will host six screenings of GODZILLA FINAL WARS. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
Last month, Henshin! Online broke the news that the American Cinematheque was planning a follow up to their successful "Godzilla 50th Anniversary Film Festival" at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, CA. The 2004 show featured thirteen films over five days and included the US premiere of GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS. In order to equal, or perhaps better, that achievement the 2005 festival includes two US premieres -- GODZILLA FINAL WARS and ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT -- and more than a week of kaiju movies on the big screen at two great theaters.

The "Japanese Giant Monsters Festival" will begin at the Egyptian Theatre (6712 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood CA 90028) and run from Friday, June 24 to Wednesday, June 29, 2005. On the Egyptian's schedule are the first US theatrical screening of the Toho classic MATANGO, the first theatrical screening in decades for KING KONG ESCAPES, three Showa Godzilla films, rare short features and programs, and a live stage show, all of which leads into a major event over the Fourth of July weekend -- an exclusive, three-day theatrical run of GODZILLA FINAL WARS!

Last year's premiere of GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS completely sold out and many fans had to be turned away. The American Cinematheque is well aware that many fans have been clamoring for GODZILLA FINAL WARS, so they want to assure that anyone who comes to the festival will have a chance to see the film on the big screen. In order to meet demand, FINAL WARS will be shown six times at the Egyptian Theatre from July 1 to July 3. Not only will fans have an opportunity to attend the first public screening in the US for the movie; they'll be able to see GODZILLA FINAL WARS to their heart's content.

GODZILLA VS MEGALON and a Showa MECHAGODZILLA double feature are coming back to the big screen. © 1973 Toho Co., Ltd.
Anyone looking for a little more variety in their kaiju diet over the holiday weekend need look no further than nearby Santa Monica (about 25 minutes by car from Hollywood), where the "Japanese Giant Monsters Festival, Part Two" will be taking place at the newly-renovated Aero Theatre (1328 Montana Ave, Santa Monica CA) from July 1 to July 3. The Aero's schedule features a mix of some of the movies that will be screened earlier in the week at the Egyptian, films from last year's festival, and the Los Angeles premiere of the subtitled SON OF GODZILLA.

THE JAPANESE GIANT MONSTERS FESTIVAL -- EGYPTIAN THEATRE, HOLLYWOOD, CA

FRIDAY, JUNE 24, 2005- 7:30 PM
Double Feature plus an added Short Film!
SPECTREMAN (Supekutoraman, 1971) A rare screening of an episode from the classic series. English dubbed version (25 min)
And
GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA (Gojira tai Mekagojira, 1974) Directed by Jun Fukuda, Special Effects by Teruyoshi Nakano. English dubbed version (Toho, 80 min)
And
TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (Mekagojira-no Gyakushu, 1975) Directed by Ishiro Honda, Special Effects by Teruyoshi Nakano. English dubbed version. Recent screenings of this film have used a faded and damaged print, so the Egyptian will use the highest quality English dubbed or subtitled print available. (Toho, 83 min)

SATURDAY, JUNE 25- 5:00 PM
The festival includes several early Toho genre classics like THE H-MAN and MATANGO. © 1958 Toho Co., Ltd.
ULTRAMAN AND MORE: RARITIES FROM TSUBURAYA PRODUCTIONS!
- For the first time ever in the US, Tsuburaya Productions presents a collection of Ultraman short features and programs on the big screen, plus English subtitled episodes of MIRROR MAN (1971) and FIREMAN (1973).

8:00 PM - US Premiere of the Newest Ultraman Film-plus a Live Performance!
LIVE ULTRAMAN STAGE SHOW
- For decades, Japanese audiences has been entertained by stage performances by stuntmen in authentic Ultraman costumes... now American fans will have a chance to see one of these shows.
And
ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT (Urutoraman, 2004) Directed by Kazuya Konaka, Special Effects by Yuichi Kikuchi. Japanese with English subtitles (Tsuburaya Productions, 97 min) US PREMIERE!

SUNDAY, JUNE 26- 5:00 PM
Double Feature plus an added Short Film!
SPECTREMAN (Supekutoraman, 1971) Another English dubbed episode! (25 min)
And
KING KONG ESCAPES (Kingu Kongu-no Gyakushu, 1967) Directed by Ishiro Honda, Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. English Dub (Universal, 96 min) I.B. Technicolor Print!
GODZILLA VS MEGALON (Gojira tai Megaro, 1973) Directed by Jun Fukuda, Special Effects by Teruyoshi Nakano. English Dub (Toho, 80 min)


WEDNESDAY, JUNE 29- 7:30 PM
Double Feature
MATANGO: ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (Matango, 1963) Directed by Ishiro Honda, Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. English Dub (Media Blasters, 89 min) US Theatrical Premiere-- New 35mm Print!
And
THE H-MAN (Bijo-to Ekitai Ningen, 1958) Directed by Ishiro Honda, Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. English Dub (Sony, 79 min)

FRIDAY, JULY 1- SUNDAY, JULY 3
Exclusive Los Angeles Theatrical Engagement! Six Screenings!
Friday, July 1- 7:00 PM and 9:30 PM
Saturday, July 2- 6:00 PM and 8:45 PM
Sunday, July 3- 4:00 PM and 6:45 PM
GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004) Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, Special Effects by Eiichi Asada. Japanese and English with English subtitles (Toho, 124 minutes) US PREMIERE!

Manda battles the Gotengo above an undersea volcano in GODZILLA FINAL WARS, just one of many titles playing during a week of Japanese monster movies in Hollywood. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
THE JAPANESE GIANT MONSTERS FESTIVAL, PART TWO -- AERO THEATRE, SANTA MONICA, CA

FRIDAY, JULY 1- 7:30 PM
Double Feature EBIRAH: HORROR OF THE DEEP (Gojira, Ebirah, Mosura: Nankai-no Daiketto, aka GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER, 1966) Directed by Jun Fukuda, Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, Japanese with English subtitles (Sony, 83 minutes) New 35 mm. Print!
And
KING KONG VS GODZILLA (Kingu Kongu tai Gojira, 1962) Directed by Ishiro Honda, Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. English Dub (Universal, 91 minutes) New 35 mm. Print!

SATURDAY, JULY 2- 6:30 PM
GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS
(Gojira X Mosura X Mekagojira: Tokyo SOS, 2003) Directed by Masaaki Tezuka, Special Effects by Eiichi Asada. Japanese with English subtitles (Toho, 91 minutes)

9:00 PM
ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT
(Urutoraman, 2004) Directed by Kazuya Konaka, Special Effects by Yuichi Kikuchi. Japanese with English subtitles (Tsuburaya Productions, 97 min)

SUNDAY, JULY 3- 5:00 PM
SON OF GODZILLA
(Kaijuto-no Kessen Gojira-no Mosuko, 1967) Directed by Jun Fukuda, Special Effects by Sadamasa Arikawa. Japanese with English subtitles (Sony, 86 min) New 35 mm. Print-LA Premiere!

Ticket prices to the Egyptian and Aero Theatres are $9.00 general, $8.00 students and seniors, and $6.00 for American Cinematheque members. Double features are two films for one ticket. Tickets can be purchased at the theater box offices, and by fax (Egyptian only) at 323-467-0163. Complete ordering instructions are available on the Egyptian Theatre website.

Additional details about the "Japanese Giant Monsters Festival" will be announced on Henshin! Online as soon as they become available... so check back for updates!

 
04/02/05:
DVD FIRST LOOK: Media Blasters' VARAN and DOGORA
Two Toho Kaiju Classics Get the Deluxe Treatment!
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Media Blasters



The DVD cover art for VARAN THE UNBELIVABLE. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 1958 Toho Co., Ltd.
Toho movie fans in America have long dreamed of top quality DVDs of their favorite films. While there have been several excellent R2 titles in Japan, the discs are expensive and lack any English language features. On the US front, Sony Pictures has been releasing gorgeous transfers of Toho films in both Japanese and English, but extras have been generally non-existent. The worst offenders have been genre labels like ADV Films whose transfers have been consistently sub-par and, adding insult to injury, also feature "joke" extras that mock the very films their customers are paying for.

Thankfully, someone finally got it right. Last month Media Blasters delighted tokusatsu fans with excellent DVDs of two early Toho classics; THE MYSTERIANS (1957) and MATANGO: ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (1963). Released on Media Blasters' "Tokyo Shock" label both DVDs featured uncut, widescreen, dual-language versions of the films plus trailers, commentaries, interviews, production art, and more - everything fans have been asking for. The two titles easily rank among the best Toho DVDs ever released in the US, and fans are doubly fortunate - two additional Toho/Media Blasters discs are on the horizon. The 1958 monster movie VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (Daikaiju Baran, "The Monster Varan") will hit store shelves on May 10, followed by DOGORA (Uchu Daikaiju Dogora, aka DAGORA THE SPACE MONSTER, 1964) on July 15. Now, the good folks at Media Blasters have generously provided Henshin! Online with an exclusive first look at these two DVDs.

VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE
VARAN first came to America in 1962, when Crown International Pictures gutted the picture and released it stateside as VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE. The US version jettisoned nearly all of the Japanese footage except for the special effects sequences (and even those were trimmed) and replaced them with a new-and boring-- story starring actors Myron Healy and Tsuruko Kobayashi. The end result bore little resemblance to Toho's original version and is for all intents and purposes a different film. While the Media Blasters DVD is entitled VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE, it will be the original Japanese movie and not the edited US release. Healy and Co. have been sent packing, but the new disc will still feature two versions of VARAN; the Toho theatrical release and a shorter "Japanese TV Cut".

Despite earlier rumors, there will be no English dub track on the DVD. Toho's original English audio was unavailable and Media Blasters chose not to make a new dub (as they did for THE MYSTERIANS). The DVD's audio options consist of Japanese 5.1, Japanese 2.0, and Japanese mono, with English subtitles.

Toho's international sales poster for VARAN showcased the monster's flying ability. Scenes of Varan in flight that were cut from the 1962 US release will be shown on the Media Blasters DVD. © 1958 Toho Co., Ltd.
Extras include both a commentary track and interview with Keizo Murase. Murase is a veteran sculptor and monster maker who helped design a menagerie of creatures including Mothra, Varan, Matango, Gamera, several of the monsters in the Heisei Godzilla series, and China's Mighty Peking Man.

Catalog Number: TSDVD-0511
Preorder Cutoff: 4/05/05
Street Date: 5/10/05
SRP: $19.95
Language: Japanese mono, 2.0 and 5.1, Japanese commentary
Subtitles: English
Running Time: 87 min
Aspect Ratio & Format: 2.35:1 16x9 Anamorphic
Black and White

Cast: Kozo Nomura, Ayumi Sonoda, Fumito Matsuo, Koreya Senda, Akihiko Hirata, Fuyuki Murakami, Akira Sera, Akio Kusama, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Yoshibumi Tajima, and Haruo Nakajima as "Varan"

Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
Director: Ishirô Honda
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa
Original Story: Takeshi "Ken" Kuronuma
Music: Akira Ifukube
Cinematography: Hajime Koizumi

Special Features:
Full-length Theatrical Version (87 min)
TV Version in Japanese 2.0 (54 min)
Interview with Creature Designer Keizo Murase (29 min)
Audio Commentary by Keizo Murase
Two Japanese Trailers

DVD cover art for DOGORA. This is a preliminary design and may change before the July release date. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 1964 Toho Co., Ltd.
DOGORA
In 1965, American International Pictures brought DOGORA to the US. Retitled DAGORA THE SPACE MONSTER, the movie bypassed a theatrical run and went straight to television in a horribly cropped "pan and scan" version. The upcoming DVD will be the first time the widescreen version of the film has been released in the US.

Since the DVD is still several months away a complete list of contents are not yet available. Media Blasters has revealed that they are working with the VOOM satellite channel "Monsters HD" on materials for DOGORA, and while details are sketchy at this time, there will be a bounty of extra features. As with the other recent Media Blasters DVDs, DOGORA will include the Japanese audio track in a variety of formats with English subtitles, plus Toho's international English dubbing. This same dub was used for AIP-TV's release, so older fans should experience a welcome sense of nostalgia when watching the movie.

The following is a partial list of specs for the DOGORA DVD. H!O will flesh out the information once everything has been confirmed.

Street Date: 7/15/05
SRP: $19.95
Language: Japanese/English
Subtitles: English
Running Time: 83 min
Aspect Ratio & Format: 2.35:1 16x9 Anamorphic
Color

Cast: Yosuke Natsuki, Robert Dunham, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yoko Fujiyama, Jun Tazaki, Yoshibumi Tajima, Hideyo Amamoto, and Akiko Wakabayashi

Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
Director: Ishirô Honda
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music: Akira Ifukube
Cinematography: Hajime Koizumi
Special Features: TBA

 
03/29/05:
ULTRAMAN IS BACK!
The new movie ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT comes to selected theaters in North America
Source: Tsuburaya Productions Press Release
Special Thanks to Brad Warner


All across the nation, millions of kids thrilled to the adventures of Ultraman, the 140-foot tall red and silver superhero, on TV throughout late 1960s until the early 1980s. Ultraman virtually vanished from the American airwaves after that, but all over Asia the show continued going strong. Next year will mark Ultraman's 40th anniversary with new productions almost every year during those four decades. Now Ultraman makes his triumphant return to America in ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT, the all-new special effects packed action adventure science fiction thriller from Tsuburaya Productions. This Ultra-fun feature returns to the roots of the Ultraman legend with a completely new take on the hero.

American fans will finally have a chance to see Ultraman on the big screen! Photo Courtesy of Tsuburaya Productions. © 2005 ULTRAMAN Movie Production Consortium
The film was selected for the Munich Film Festival in Germany and will have its US premiere at the American Cinematheque's "Giant Monster Festival" at the prestigious Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard on June 25. ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT will also be shown at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, CA on June 26, and at the popular FanTasia Film Festival, which runs from July 7-24 in Montreal, Canada. On August 26-27 it will play at San Francisco's historic Castro Theatre as part of a special "Ultraman Event" from Bay Area Film Events, the organizers of last year's successful "Godzillafest". Each of the North American showings will also feature several added attractions, including screenings of Ultraman shows and shorts, special guests, live performances, and incredible prize give-aways.

Tsuburaya Productions Presents ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT
Starring Tetsuya Bessho as Maki/Ultraman
Kenya Osumi as Udo/The One
Kyoko Toyama as Sara

Directed by Kazuya Konaka
Produced by Kiyoshi Suzuki
Screenplay by Keiichi Hasegawa
Director of Photography: Shinichi Ooka
Special Effects by Yuichi Kikuchi
Music Supervior: Tak Matsumoto (B'z)
Running Time: 97 minutes
©2004 ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT Production Consortium

SYNOPSIS
ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT is the story of Maki, a pilot with the Japan Self Defense Forces, who has decided to give up his love for flying high powered jets in order to devote more time to his young son who is hospitalized with a threatening illness.

But just as he is about to turn in his uniform for the last time a strange UFO is sighted on a direct course for Tokyo. Maki's orders are to identify the object or destroy it. As his jet nears the UFO, Maki blacks out and the two collide. Incredibly, Maki survives unhurt but with no memory of the crash.

An early stage of "The One", the evolving villain of ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT. © 2005 ULTRAMAN Movie Production Consortium
Maki learns that a week earlier another soldier experienced the very same thing. But after the crash the other's body began mutating into a huge and terrifically powerful monster. The monster is now on the loose in the countryside. The first beast has been code named "The One." Maki has been code named "The Next."

The reptilian alien beast towers nearly ten meters (30 feet) tall. Its massive snake-like tail can be used as a whip of incredible force and its sinister fangs are capable of tearing a human being to shreds. As predicted, the monster heads straight for the underground area in which Maki has been confined.

The door bursts open. Maki steps out and faces the gigantic monster. The monster turns with an almost gleeful expression on its hideous face. It will soon make a meal out of this pathetic creature.

But just then something begins to happen. Within seconds Maki too has completely transformed into a bizarre creature, as gigantic as the monster he faces. But this new creature is very different from the reptilian beast. It has a human shape, though its face looks like some insect-eyed alien. On its chest is a glowing red V-shaped mark. The creatures face each other, ready for battle.

Will Maki prevail or will the reptilian monster destroy him? And even if Maki does win, can he retain his humanity and avoid ending up becoming a dangerous monster just like the reptilian creature?

Ultraman returns in the new ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT, which will have a handful of theatrical screenings in North America. Photo Courtesy of Tsuburaya Productions. © 2005 ULTRAMAN Movie Production Consortium
ULTRAMAN
Ultraman is a mysterious gigantic being from deep space, his origins unidentified, his intentions unknown, his powers seemingly unlimited. Unlike most American superheroes, Ultraman stands a towering 40 meters (140 feet) tall and does battle with massive monsters often even bigger than he is! Yet Ultraman has one fatal flaw. He can exist in Earth's atmosphere for only three minutes at a time. In order to survive for long periods on Earth he must borrow the body of a human host and exist in a strange symbiosis of man and alien.

What is Ultraman? Where does he come from? What is his true identity? What is his purpose here on Earth?

Ultraman was created in 1966 by Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects director of the classic Godzilla films of the 1950's and 60's. Ultraman became an unprecedented hit on Japanese television spawning fourteen sequel TV series and a string of hit theatrical features over the course of its four decade history. Ultraman has been seen all over the world and remains one of the top selling hero characters throughout Asia.

The Ultraman Land theme park attracts customers from around the world and Ultraman restaurants have opened both in Japan and in Hong Kong. Ultraman is a licensing bonanza with hundreds of character goods available from toys and action figures for the kids all the way to grown-up items like automobile accessories and gold club covers.

Unlike the more juvenile oriented films that came before, ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT takes a grittier, more realistic look at Ultraman, bringing him out of the world of fantasy and into our own world.

 
03/29/05:
THE RING 2-DISC COLLECTOR'S SET
Extra Features Include a New RING Short Film
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: DreamWorks Home Entertainment


The DVD cover art for THE RING merges with the design for RINGS, which will blend into the eventual THE RING TWO cover. Photo Courtesy of DreamWorks Home Entertainment. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
Despite mixed reviews and word of mouth, DreamWorks Pictures' THE RING TWO debuted in the top spot at the US box office for the weekend of March 18. Ticket buyers across the country spent nearly $36 million to see film, more than double the opening weekend take of THE RING back in 2002. After becoming a massive success in Japan and across Asia, the Ring series has clearly also caught on in America as fans flocked to the sequel to the remake of the J-Horror hit. Those fans may be unaware that not one, but two new Ring films were released in March of 2005...and the better film is not in theaters.

With surprisingly little fanfare, DreamWorks Home Entertainment released THE RING 2-DISC COLLECTOR'S SET on March 8. Priced at $26.99 (but sold by some retailers for as low as $14.99), the DVD collection couples a re-issue of the first movie with a new disc of supplemental material devoted to both US films and even a tiny bit from the Japanese version. The extras include cast and crew interviews, featurettes, theatrical and video trailers, a free movie ticket, and the brand-new short film RINGS.

Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) makes a big mistake in THE RING. Photo Courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures. © 2002 DreamWorks Pictures
THE RING is identical to the previous DVD release from 2003. The film is in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English 2.0 Dolby Surround, English DTS Digital Surround, a 5.1 French audio track, and English, Spanish, and French subtitles. While there are no commentary tracks accompanying the feature, there are a couple of nice extras. The first is "Don't Watch This" (billed as a "never-before-seen short film created by Gore Verbinski"), a 15 minute-collection of extended footage and cut scenes that were compiled by the director specifically for the DVD. The outtakes include several transitional sequences, more of Rachel Keller's (Naomi Watts) investigation into the cursed video tape, a photo montage of Katie's (Amber Tamblyn) weekend with friends in Cabin 12, another death, more of Noah Clay's (Martin Henderson) discovery of Samara Morgan's (Daveigh Chase) curse, and what appears to be an alternate final scene for the film that was set inside a video store.

The disc also has a selection of DreamWorks trailers under the header "Look Here". There is a video promo for 'Ringu', the US release of the Japanese RING, plus CATCH ME IF YOU CAN and 8 MILE.

Samara Morgan (Daveigh Chase) undergoes a series of clinical tests to discover the source of her terrible power. Photo Courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures. © 2002 DreamWorks Pictures
The second DVD, which is described on the cover art as "Rings: The Circle of Fear is Growing" and has the onscreen title "The Ring: Full Circle", comes packaged in a clamshell case with side clasps (?!) and contains the majority of the extra features. There is an eight minute "Cast and Crew Interviews" featurette that was shot during the production of THE RING but not publicly shown until now. Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Gore Verbinski, David Dorfman ("Aidan Keller"), Brian Cox ("Richard Morgan"), and producer Walter F. Parkes discuss the first film in a series of brief but never-before-seen interviews. The interviews are the usual positive studio publicity material, but it's nice to hear Watts speaking onscreen with her natural Australian accent and to see Dorfman, whose character is always so serious and melancholy, smiling and behaving like the child he is.

The second featurette is "The Origin of Terror", a four minute-long segment about urban legends and their connection to the mythos of THE RING. The discussion includes comments from Parkes, Verbinski, Watts, producer Laurie MacDonald, urban legends expert Jim Evans, and UCLA Folklore and Mythology Professor Patrick Polk. Strangely no mention is made of Japanese urban legends or the inspiration for author Koji Suzuki's original Ring novels and stories.

The main menu for the bonus features DVD. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
Other extras include the theatrical trailer for THE RING and the advance trailer for THE RING TWO, and "The Cursed Videos" that shows Samara's tapes from THE RING and THE RING TWO, plus Sadako's bizarre video from the original Japanese RING in their entirety. One very nice bonus is a free movie ticket to see THE RING TWO in theaters. The pass expires on April 3, 2005, so anyone wanting to see the movie for free should act soon.

By far the main attraction in the Collector's Set is RINGS, the short film that bridges the events between THE RING and THE RING TWO. Director/co-writer Jonathan Liebesman (who previously helmed the dismal 2003 horror movie DARKNESS FALLS) and co-writer Ehren Kruger (SCREAM 3, both DreamWorks Ring films) have crafted a surprisingly effective and creepy story that is exclusive to this collection. While RINGS' running time is less than 17 minutes, it is far superior to THE RING TWO and alone is well worth the cost of the DVD collection.

Jake Pierce (Ryan Merriman) desperately tries to find someone to watch a certain video in the new short film RINGS. Photo Courtesy of DreamWorks Home Entertainment. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
In the film, the discovery of a real urban legend has led to an underground cult following for Samara's curse across America. As in THE RING, anyone who watches the tape begins to experience visions, hallucinations, and strange thoughts (the horses, the well, and so on) that grow increasingly more intense until the viewer dies at the end of the seventh day. Some people see this as a view of the world beyond ---perhaps heaven, or hell, or something unimagined--- and have formed groups called "Rings" that treat this as the latest thrill or "in thing" to do. Members watch the tape, record their experiences in writing and on video, and when they can't handle it any more they make a copy and pass it along to a willing recipient who then repeats the cycle. Ring members challenge and support each other to see who can hold out the longest and make it the most days before giving in and copying the video tape.

Oregon high school student Jake Pierce (played by Ryan Merriman from HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION and the SciFi Channel mini-series TAKEN), learns of a Ring group at nearby Portland State University and asks to join. Accepted into the group by leader Eddie (Justin Allen), Jake watches a copy of the tape made by the beautiful Vanessa (Alex Breckenridge, BIG FAT LIAR, THE JACKET). Eddie instructs Jake to record everything he sees and feels for as long as he can, then make a copy of the tape for fellow group member Timmy (Josh Wise) to watch and lift the burden.

The back cover art for the RINGS DVD lists the contents of the disc. Photo Courtesy of DreamWorks Home Entertainment. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
Jake is initially entranced by what happens to him. He is able to see-- and videotape-- things that no one else around him is aware of and records his findings in a journal and on a secret, members-only website. All of the familiar elements appear to him; the ladder, spiral patterns, the fly, etc, but within a few days things start to go very wrong. After watching some terrifying camcorder footage on the Rings website Jake begins to realize just what he has gotten himself into. An unpleasant encounter with the centipede follows, and then Samara (Kelly Stables) herself comes calling. Jake panics and rushes to give Timmy the tape, but his obvious terror so freaks out Timmy that he refuses to watch the video. With only one day left, Jake has to scramble to find someone to pass the curse onto.

Will it be a member of the Ring group, or some unsuspecting potential victim like Jake's high school classmate Emily (Emily VanCamp of the WB series EVERWOOD)...? The conclusion sets up the opening sequence of THE RING TWO.

RINGS succeeds as a new take on the Ring mythos that also expands on the premise that the curse does not end but spreads ever outward. The film sets ups several interesting ideas that, if handled as well as they are here, would have made a much more creative and interesting theatrical film than THE RING TWO proved to be. While shot in an odd mix of a documentary made with MTV-style quick cuts, the visual style compliments rather than distracts from the story. Ring fans should be pleased by what RINGS has to offer, and the short film is highly recommended.

In addition, there is a clever promotional tie-in for THE RING 2-DISC COLLECTOR'S SET; a "real" version of the website featured in RINGS. Designed to seem as if the events in the films actually happened, the official site SHE IS HERE features photos, artwork, videos, and journal entries from Ring survivors and victims. A lot of effort has been put into making the site seem authentic, so show it to any gullible friends and pass on the terror.

 
03/19/05:
US PREMIERES for GODZILLA FINAL WARS and ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT!!
Both Films-And More!-on the Big Screen at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood!
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Dennis Bartok and the American Cinematheque



GODZILLA FINAL WARS returns to Hollywood for the US Premiere. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
Last June, the American Cinematheque hosted "The Godzilla 50th Anniversary Film Festival" at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, CA. The first Toho-authorized Godzilla event ever held in the United States, the festival featured 14 films and shorts (including the US premiere of GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS) and guests who had never attended any American conventions or festivals. The event was so successful that everyone involved is doing it again this year... and this time the festival will feature more long-unseen rarities like MATANGO and KING KONG ESCAPES, popular kaiju classics like GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA, and the US premieres of two of the most talked about tokusatsu films in recent memory - ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT and GODZILLA FINAL WARS!

GODZILLA FINAL WARS had its world premiere at an invitation-only event at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood last November. ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT was first screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival and has not played in any American theaters. Now both films will be available to the general public for the first time in the United States.

The American Cinematheque's "Giant Monster Festival" will run from Friday, June 24 through Wednesday June 29, 2005. Because the schedule is still being worked out, exact screen times are not yet available - but festival organizers have confirmed that the following movies will be shown:

GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004) Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, Special Effects by Eiichi Asada. For Godzilla's 50th Anniversary, Toho decided to (temporarily) go out with a bang by crafting a global story with mutant soldiers, aliens, the flying submarine Gotengo, and 15 giant monsters. Featuring Rodan, Angilas, Ghidorah, Mothra, Minya, Gigan, Manda, Kumonga, Kamakiras, King Caesar, Ebirah, and a cameo by Hedorah - plus the American Godzilla and Godzilla's newest nemesis, Monster X. (Toho, Japanese and English with English subtitles) US PREMIERE!

The highly-anticipated ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT will be shown for the first time in North America this June! © 2005 ULTRAMAN Movie Production Consortium
ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT (Urutoraman, 2004) Directed by Kazuya Konaka, Special Effects by Yuichi Kikuchi. For nearly forty years, the giant alien Ultraman has defended the world from an endless variety of monsters. After recent "kid friendly" versions of Japan's greatest hero like Ultraman Cosmos, the newest incarnation takes a darker, more serious tone as Ultraman battles the horrific alien beast called "the One". Fans of GAMERA 3 and GMK should enjoy this self-contained story that requires no knowledge of the extended Ultraman mythos. Starring Tetsuya Bessho (GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH) with stunning visual effects by Yuichi Kikuchi (GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA). (Tsuburaya Productions, Japanese with English subtitles) US PREMIERE!

THE H-MAN (Bijo-to Ekitai Ningen, 1958) Directed by Ishiro Honda, Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. After her gangster boyfriend mysteriously disappears, a beautiful nightclub singer draws the attention of police, mobsters, a young scientist, and the Liquid People - strange, radioactive creatures dwelling in Tokyo's sewer system. Technical problems prevented this Toho classic from being shown last year, so its been added to this year's schedule. (Sony, English Dub)

MATANGO: ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (Matango, 1963) Directed by Ishiro Honda, Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. A group is shipwrecked on a deserted island covered in a strange fungus called "Matango". Released directly to television in 1965 by AIP-TV, this highly-regarded Toho horror film will finally have a US theatrical screening courtesy of a brand-new 35mm print from Media Blasters. (Media Blasters, English Dub) US Theatrical Premiere-- New 35mm Print!

The classic KING KONG ESCAPES will be screened for the first time in decades. © 1967 Toho Co., Ltd
KING KONG ESCAPES (Kingu Kongu-no Gyakushu, 1967) Directed by Ishiro Honda, Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. The "Eighth Wonder of the World" battles the evil Dr Who and the giant robot Mechani-Kong in the colorful adventure based on the Rankin/Bass cartoon series. For last year's festival Universal struck a new 35mm print of KING KONG VS GODZILLA; this year they follow up with Toho's second King Kong movie. (Universal, English Dub) New 35mm Print!

GODZILLA VS MEGALON (Gojira tai Megaro, 1973) Directed by Jun Fukuda, Special Effects by Teruyoshi Nakano. Godzilla and his robot sidekick Jet Jaguar battle Gigan and Megalon in this silly and fun film featuring Robert Dunham (MOTHRA, DOGORA, THE GREEN SLIME) as the toga-wearing King of Seatopia. (Toho, English Dub)

GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA (Gojira tai Mekagojira, 1974) Directed by Jun Fukuda, Special Effects by Teruyoshi Nakano. Godzilla's mechanical doppelganger is introduced in this pyrotechnic tour-de-force. Mechagodzilla would become one of Godzilla's most popular foes, returning four more times to challenge the King of the Monsters. (Toho, English Dub)

TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (Mekagojira-no Gyakushu, 1975) Directed by Ishiro Honda, Special Effects by Teruyoshi Nakano. The final film in the original Godzilla series is a direct and somber sequel to GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA. Alien invaders attempt to conquer the world with Mechagodzilla and the sea monster Titanosaurus, and only Godzilla stands in their way. Recent screenings of this film have used a faded and damaged print; the Egyptian screening will feature the highest quality print available. (Toho)

In addition to this amazing lineup, Saturday, June 25 will be a special "Ultraman Day" featuring an entire day of Ultraman episodes, movies, and more.

Last year's GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS premiere sold out and many fans had to be turned away. Luckily, the American Cinematheque recently renovated the classic Aero Theatre in Santa Monica and some of these films will be shown at both the Egyptian and the Aero. If you're a kaiju fan (and you know you are) and you want to be the first to see GODZILLA FINAL WARS and ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT on the big screen, the Egyptian Theatre is the ONLY place to be this June... unless you're going to the Aero. Don't miss out!

Further details, including ticket prices, guests, and the final schedule for the "Giant Monster Festival" will be available on Henshin! Online in the near future, so check back here for updates!

 
03/18/05:
FULL CIRCLE: THE RING TWO
Japanese RING director Hideo Nakata returns for the sequel to the remake of his horror hit
Review by Keith Aiken
Production info: DreamWorks Presskit
Photos by Gemma LaMana, Courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures
Special Thanks to Norman England and Ringworld


The preview screening pass for THE RING TWO. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
Nearly three years after the Japanese horror phenomenon RING first came to America the latest incarnation, THE RING TWO, opens nationwide on March 18, 2005.

The saga began in 1991 with the best-selling novel "Ring" by author Koji Suzuki. Kadokawa Publishing followed up Suzuki's "Spiral" in 1995, "Loop" in 1998, and "The Birthday" in 1999. Not long after the publication of the first book, producer Taka Ichise (JU-ON, CURE, DARK WATER) acquired the rights from Suzuki. The project then went thru development hell as Ichise commissioned one script after another, none of which met his approval. While Ichise struggled to find a quality screenplay, he temporarily relinguished the rights to Kadokawa, who produced the 1995 TV movie RING. Directed by Osamu Takigawa, the TV movie was a ratings smash and further inspired Ichise to bring the story to the big screen. The producer hit upon the novel idea of making two Ring films concurrently and releasing them both to theaters at the same time. RING was directed by Hideo Nakata from a screenplay by Hiroshi Takahashi, while the sequel THE SPIRAL (Rasen) was written and directed by Joji Iida. Premiering on January 31, 1998, RING became a box office smash that truly launched the J-Horror boom in Japan that is still going strong to this day. THE SPIRAL also did well at the box office but proved unpopular with fans and critics. It was subsequently removed from Ring continuity with the release of Nakata's own sequel RING 2 in 1999.

Since then, there has been an unending wave of Ring projects. The original TV movie was released in an uncut version on video as RING: THE COMPLETE EDITION (Ring: Kanzenban), Fuji TV ran the 12 part mini-series RING: THE FINAL CHAPTER (Ring: Saishu-sho) and its 13 episode sequel SPIRAL: THE SERIES (Rasen The Series) in 1999, there was the Korean remake THE RING VIRUS (1999), Norio Tsuruta's hit theatrical prequel RING 0: BIRTHDAY (2000) several manga titles, and eventually a US remake from DreamWorks Pictures, THE RING (2002).

Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) begins to realize the terrible truth that she has not escaped the evil Samara. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
Taka Ichise oversaw the deal for the US remake but was not directly involved with the production. That fell to the husband-and-wife team of Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, the co-heads of DreamWorks Pictures whose credits include MEN IN BLACK, MINORITY REPORT, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, GLADIATOR, THE MASK OF ZORRO, COLLATERAL, and the upcoming THE LEGEND OF ZORRO and THE ISLAND. Parkes and MacDonald picked director Gore Verbinski (MOUSE HUNT, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (ARLINGTON ROAD, SCREAM 3, and the upcoming THE BROTHERS GRIMM and JOHN CARTER: WARLORD OF MARS) to craft a version of the tale that would appeal to American audiences. Kruger combined elements from all three Japanese theatrical films into a story set in the Pacific Northwest. The cast included Naomi Watts (MULHOLLAND DRIVE, 21 GRAMS, I HEART HUCKABEE'S, and Peter Jackson's upcoming KING KONG remake), David Dorfman (PANIC, BOUNCE, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE), and Daveigh Chase (LILO AND STITCH, SPIRITED AWAY) as the American counterpart to the original's ghostly nemesis Sadako Yamamura, Samara Morgan.

THE RING screenwriter Ehren Kruger returned for THE RING TWO. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
Opening on October 18, 2002, THE RING was a box-office hit in America and across the world. The original Japanese version was released on home video in US (under the absurd reverse translation ‘RINGU'), and plans were quickly made for a sequel. Walter F. Parkes explained, "In recent years, horror has become the domain of slasher movies, but there was a time when horror was really mainstream in Hollywood, when some of the best directors, writers and actors contributed to the genre through movies like THE EXCORCIST, THE OMEN, and ROSEMARY'S BABY. Our intention with THE RING was to try to elevate the genre again. Okay, so fade out-the movie is a bigger hit than even we expected it to be, which gave us the opportunity to continue the myth...to tell the next story. Our main goal with the sequel was to give it the legitimacy that the first movie had."

For the sequel, THE RING TWO, the producers set out to reassemble the main talent behind the first film's success. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger was brought back, as were Naomi Watts, and David Dorfman. Watts acknowledges, "A sequel is a scary thing to enter into because of the comparisons to the first one, which did so well and really resonated within the genre. We want it to deliver and give the audience what they're looking for, but you don't want to repeat the same story. The upside is that you get to carry on with a role that you loved playing the first time around and explore the evolution of the character."

However, Daveigh Chase did not reprise her role as Samara for THE RING TWO, but still ended up with an onscreen credit. In May 2004, Chase announced that she would not return because Samara was barely in the film and "she doesn't even show her face." Stepping into the part was Kelly Stables, a young actress who had been Chase's stunt double in THE RING. Though Stables did play Samara in many of the key scenes, the producers worked out a deal that allowed them to footage and outtakes of Daveigh Chase from the film and trailers of THE RING in exchange for giving Chase credit for the role.

Director Hideo Nakata goes over a scene with star Naomi Watts. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
Another key personnel change involved the film's director. THE RING director Gore Verbinski was unavailable to helm the sequel but made his own recommendation for the THE RING TWO... original RING director Hideo Nakata. "It was a little bit of kismet," said Laurie MacDonald. "He suggested Hideo. We all thought it was a great idea, but Hideo was attached to another movie and was also unavailable." With both RING and his 2002 movie DARK WATER (Honogurai Mizu-no Soko Kara) picked up for US remakes, Nakata had decided to try his hand at making his own movies in America and signed on to direct the mystery TRUE BELIEVERS for MGM. Parkes and MacDonald instead turned to longtime commercial director Noam Muro. "We initially went with an extremely talented first-time director, but things ultimately did not work out. Then Hideo's other movie did not come together and he suddenly became available, so I believe it was meant to be somehow."

Nakata had been impressed by Ehren Kruger's script, and that helped convinced him to return to franchise. "When I first read the draft of THE RING TWO, I thought it was very interesting and also very different from my RING 2. I thought it was powerful and intriguing and would allow me to explore a story that was different from the originals and from the first THE RING movie." The addition of Hideo Nakata brought a renewed sense of promise to the production. Parkes noted, "This was the man who literally created the mythology we are trying to explore." Naomi Watts was particularly thrilled: "I had seen RING as well as his film DARK WATER so I had a huge amount of faith in him already. He understands the visual side of storytelling and knows about pacing; he knows how and when to reveal things and when it's better to take your time revealing them. When Hideo came onto the project, it made perfect sense... like it came full circle."

Rachel finds herself trapped in the well where Samara met her terrible end. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
Ehren Kruger added, "What's interesting about this movie and THE RING is a lot of our inspirations came from Hideo's inventions in the Japanese films. Now here he is bringing new inventions to a phenomenon he created several years ago. Hideo definitely brought a lot of his own lore and mythology to the supernatural aspects of the story that, in several cases, we hadn't considered. It was a tremendous advantage to work with a director who innately understood the material from having spent so many years thinking about the same themes and issues."

THE RING TWO picks up six months after the events of the first DreamWorks film. Hoping to start fresh and escape the haunting memories of the ring, reporter Rachel Keller and her son Aidan have left their home in Seattle and moved to the small coastal community of Astoria, Oregon. However, Rachel's resolve quickly turns to dread when she learns that a local teen has died in eerily familiar way. Rachel quickly realizes that Samara has tracked them down to continue her endless cycle of terror and death.

"The challenge of any sequel is to find the reason for being...to find a story with its own merits as an interesting tale," said Kruger. "It was a challenge to find an organic way to continue the story of Rachel Keller and her son Aidan and to find a reason for Samara to seek them out and wreak havoc in their lives one more time."

Hideo Nakata explained, "THE RING ends with Rachel making a copy of the videotape to keep her son safe. But that means that she has spread Samara's curse out in the world." Naomi Watts comments, "Rachel's obviously changed on every level, living with this secret and this enormous guilt. What has she done? How much destruction has she caused? So she's become a very isolated person and also incredibly protective."

Actor Simon Baker and producer Walter F. Parkes on the set of THE RING TWO. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
"In fact, she is overprotective when we first see her with Aidan in this film," adds Parkes. "She knows she is responsible for the evil thing she let out there, and the movie starts with it coming back to her in a terrible way. This time, as opposed to running away from it or pushing it onto someone else, she has to face the horror of Samara head-on herself."

Apart from Aidan, the only person with whom Rachel shares any connection is her boss, Max Rourke, the owner of The Daily Astorian paper. Played by Australian actor Simon Baker (THE GUARDIAN, the upcoming LAND OF THE DEAD), Max knows nothing of her background, but becomes increasingly curious and concerned as Rachel's behavior becomes more suspicious. "Max and Rachel are both outsiders in the sense of this quiet, little town, even though my character was born there, moved away and came back," Baker reveals. "He's interested in why she's even there and why she is so secretive and closed off, so he pushes to find out more about her. When she finally starts to reveal what's going on, Max can't believe what she's telling him."

Evelyn (Sissy Spacek) may be the only one who holds the key to destroying the evil Samara and ending her cycle of terror and death. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
Max's concern peaks when Aidan begins to exhibit mysterious symptoms that cause the doctors at Astoria Hospital to cast suspicion onto Rachel. Elizabeth Perkins (BIG, 28 DAYS, THE FLINTSTONES) appears as Dr. Emma Temple, the staff psychiatrist who is deeply troubled when Aidan is brought in with a dangerous and seemingly inexplicable case of extreme hypothermia. As Aidan's situation worsens, Rachel knows she has only one chance to keep her son out of Samara's clutches. "Samara has gotten a lot smarter in finding a way back into Rachel's life and has upped the ante," says Watts. "Strange things are happening to her son and it becomes all too clear that Samara is not finished with them. From that moment, the objective is to discover where Samara came from and why she is out to cause so much evil and chaos. It's apparent that Rachel needs to uncover every bit of information to get to the root of the problem... of where it all started."

Rachel's journey leads her to a psychiatric hospital where she meets a mysterious woman named Evelyn who holds the secret of Samara's origin. "When we were developing the script, we knew Evelyn was going to be a key character," says MacDonald. "It's only one scene in the movie, but it's an incredibly important one-all the elements of the story come together in that one scene." Renowned actress Sissy Spacek (BADLANDS, COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER, JFK) took on the part, marking her first appearance in a horror film since her title role of Brian De Palma's 1973 screen version of CARRIE. Parkes recalls, "When Sissy's name came up, everyone in the room said, ‘Do you think it's possible?,' because she is not only an Oscar-winning actress, but she also brings the classic connection to CARRIE."

The main cast also includes Emily VanCamp (EVERWOOD), Ryan Merriman (TAKEN, HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION), and Gary Cole (FATAL VISION, OFFICE SPACE, A SIMPLE PLAN, DODGEBALL) as real estate agent Martin Savide. In one of the film's lighter moments, Savide tries to hide the Morgan Ranch's history from Rachel, not knowing that she is all too aware of its gruesome past.

Aidan (David Dorfman) shares a potentially lethal connection to Samara in THE RING TWO. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
The behind-the-scenes creative team included director of photography Gabriel Beristain (BLADE II), production designer Jim Bissell (ET THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, JUMANJI), costume designer Wendy Chuck (ABOUT SCHMIDT), editor Michael N. Knue (SPAWN), Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer (THE LION KING, GLADIATOR, THE RING, BATMAN BEGINS), and composers Henning Lohner and Martin Tillman. The effects teams were headed by special effects coordinator Pete Chesney (MEN IN BLACK, THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?), visual effects supervisor Betsy Paterson (SCOOBY DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED), and six time Oscar-winning special makeup effects artist Rick Baker (AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, MEN IN BLACK, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, PLANET OF THE APES).

Baker had created the look of Samara, as well as her victims' grotesque, distorted death faces in the first THE RING. For THE RING TWO he and his team were charged with transforming the attractive Kelly Stables into the specter of a young girl who bore the scars of a terrible death and afterlife in a dark, dank well. Stables had to endure at least five hours of makeup every day, beginning with her body being literally spray-painted in a ghostly white pallor. The makeup team then airbrushed the blue veins that show through her translucent skin. Because the actress is in her 20s, special appliances were created for her face to make her look more childlike, even though her face was usually concealed under her long, dark hair. Rick Baker notes, "I thought the scariest stuff of Samara in the first movie was when you just see that hair and don't know what's underneath. You can never make anything scarier than your own imagination."

Kelly Stables as the evil Samara, a role credited to original Samara actress Daveigh Chase in the new film. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
Hideo Nakata relates, "Rick and I discussed at length how much we should show Samara's face and we both reached the conclusion that probably less is more. He liked that I only showed one eye of Samara in RING, so Rick and his team were more focused on the look of her whole body-the way her hair covers her face, and the detail of her arms and legs. It's very elaborate work, and they had to fix Samara's makeup for almost every take."

For Samara's body, Baker did a lot of forensic research about what happens to the skin of a body immersed in water for a long time. "You know when you take a long bath and your hands get all puckered-it gets much worse over time," Baker explains. "We wanted that look." To achieve that look, hundreds of individual appliances had to be created for each section of Stables' hands, arms, legs and feet. There were so many separate pieces, Baker says, "it was hard to tell what was what and where it went, so we had them laid out on little maps so we knew the order to put them on." In addition, every appliance had to be duplicated many times over because each one was used only once and then thrown away.

Samara's most notable feature, her long black hair, was a wig of real human hair. Kelly Stables also had to wear white prescription contact lenses to make her look blinded, which had the effect of making it difficult for her to see. Baker says, "She was a trooper. She was always in good spirits throughout the whole demanding process."

Another stuntwoman also played Samara for several key scenes where she walks with an unnatural spider-like movement. Nakata reveals, "Samara's movements become more and more weird, so there was a discussion of how to achieve it-maybe even CGI-but I felt it wouldn't work in the scene." Instead the director decided to use Bonnie Morgan, a professional stuntwoman and contortionist who had performed in MINORITY REPORT and MEN IN BLACK II. Morgan was able to twist her limbs to create the bizarre effect Nakata was looking for.

Rachel Keller tries desperately to escape from the well. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
Principal photography on THE RING TWO began with three weeks of filming in Los Angeles, including the newsroom of the former Los Angeles Herald Examiner building in downtown (doubling for the offices of The Daily Astorian), St. Luke's Hospital in Pasadena; the Mary Andrews Clark Residence (a circa-1912 courtyard apartment complex located in the Mid-Wilshire district which became a women's shelter) and the Terminal Annex building. The production then moved to the picturesque town of Astoria, which was built on a peninsula on the Oregon coast.

Explaining water's significance to the film, Hideo Nakata offers, "I'm from Japan, which is an island country surrounded by water. Through natural disasters, water itself can be a symbol of death, so we have a natural fear of water that influences me. And, of course, in this movie, water becomes a sign of Samara's evil spirit, because she had been kept at the bottom of a well for a long, long time." Ehren Kruger observes, "As a symbol, water is a life source, but it is also an environment in which we can't naturally live, so it's the perfect elemental metaphor for both life and death."

THE RING TWO includes several references to previous Ring films. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
The water theme was also very influential in creating the film's color scheme. Production designer Jim Bissell states, "Water is very important to the film, and as a result, most of the colors are cool blues and greens. The gray overcast sky, which we see quite a lot in the Pacific Northwest, influenced the tone, too. It has a very monochromatic look, and in some ways it's a bit claustrophobic, which made it the perfect setting for our horror film. I'll elaborate by saying that things are scarier if you don't telegraph the fact that you're about to see something scary. You can take an atmosphere that appears perfectly natural, almost welcoming, and just shift the light level a little bit and it suddenly turns into something very foreboding." The final days of filming on THE RING TWO took place back in Los Angeles where dry and wet sets of the well where Samara met her terrible fate had been built on soundstages at Universal Studios and LA Center Studios."There's something very spooky about being there, even though you know it's not real," Naomi Watts admits. "It was a great set."

At the center of the mystery of THE RING TWO is Samara herself, whom Ehren Kruger regards as "the avenging angel-or rather demon-of all abandoned children. In many respects, her behavior, cruel and destructive as it is, is entirely understandable from the perspective of a wronged child. Despite her monstrous appearance, she is a tragic figure." Hideo Nakata agrees. "We can feel fear, but we can also feel sympathy-these are key elements in Japanese ghost stories, and because THE RING was originally a Japanese novel, we do have that kind of duality."

After so many retellings of the same basic tale its good to finally see a new story added to the Ring mythos. As was the case with the first DreamWorks movie, Kruger has clearly done his research as THE RING TWO features several references to previous Ring films and directly deals with an idea hinted at in some of the Japanese movies-Samara/Sadako's desire to be reborn. The videotape curse is abandoned early in the film to concentrate on Samara's attempt to break into the natural world and find the loving mother figure she was denied in life. But THE RING TWO's greatest strength is also it's big weakness... the new story is not nearly as creepy or interesting as the original tale. Kruger and Nakata provide a few good shocks and set up some truly horrifying concepts-including the possible need to murder a child for the greater good-- but they fail to push the matter anywhere near the breaking point that would have created the tension a good horror film should have. Because the subject was treated with kid gloves the audience at a preview screening in LA this past week seemed more annoyed than terrified, with some in attendance even openly mocking the events unfolding onscreen.

Suspecting the worst, Rachel questions Emily (Emily VanCamp) about the terrible death she was witness to. © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures
The acting is generally good. Naomi Watts is an excellent actress and gives another quality performance. She truly seems haunted by the experiences she went thru in the first film. The story gives David Dorfman the opportunity to show a much greater range than was the case with THE RING and he does a fine job. Sissy Spacek's character is rather one note-basically the standard movie "mental patient with an important secret to tell" - but Spacek is talented enough to bring more to the role than expected. Both she and Naomi Watts show a real connection in their few briefs scenes together.

There are several surprisingly good CGI animals created by Betsy Paterson and her crew at the effects house Rhythm and Hues. Rick Baker's makeup effects are, as usual, excellent, though Samara does look much too old in some scenes.

THE RING TWO is an entertaining film, and general audiences will probably have a good time with it. Unfortunately it's not as effective as the first DreamWorks film and has only a pale shadow of the tension and horror that made Nakata's original RING an international hit that spawned a new wave of Japanese cinema.

 
03/16/05:
CASSHERN
Not your typical feel-good superhero action flick
Author: Brian Keaney


The advance theatrical poster for CASSHERN. © 2004 Casshern Partners/Shochiku
After watching the wildly stylistic CASSHERN on video for the first time recently (all the DVDs were rented out), I must say that I regret having passed it by at the theaters last year. My familiarity with the original 1973 anime series from Tatsunoko Productions was limited, and although the ads that ran on TV and in the theaters were somewhat interesting, they were not quite enough to coax the 1800 yen out of my wallet for a ticket. Too bad, as my 25" television could barely contain all of the explosive action and expansive, baroque vistas presented in this film.

There is so much detail packed into every scene that I found myself literally leaning towards the screen, trying to take in the elaborate visual symphony presented by first-time feature film director Kazuaki Kiriya. Well known as a music video director in Japan, Kiriya also co-penned the intense, complex, dark, and often moving story that drives CASSHERN.

In a highly stylized alternate reality combining influences from Jules Verne, ancient Rome, and 1940s Europe and New York, the Eurasian Federation is established after 50 years of war. Those 50 years of biological, chemical, and nuclear conflict had opened a Pandora's Box of war and pollution-induced maladies, so severe that the very existence of the human race is threatened. A brilliant geneticist, Dr. Azuma (Akira Terao, AKIRA KUROSAWA'S DREAMS), is diligently at work developing "neo-cell" technology; living cells that can transform into any type of specialized tissue (such as any body part or organ), can rejuvenate injured or diseased people, and can even resurrect the dead.

The birth of the Neo-Sapiens. Photo Courtesy of Go Fish Pictures. © 2004 Casshern Partners/Shochiku
Dr. Azuma, with suspiciously generous assistance from the military, is in the process of developing this human spare parts technology, when a strange mechanical lightning bolt (for lack of a better description) appears from the sky -- crashing through the roof of the lab, and into the soupy pool of human body parts. A swarm of recombinated "Neo-Sapiens" emerges from the stimulated neo-cell soup, and is summarily killed by Federation troops, save but a handful who escape.

Prior to this, Dr. Azuma's son Tetsuya (Yusuke Iseya, AFTER LIFE) had rebelliously gone off to fight the war in "Area 7" against his father's wishes; and was killed during an act of compassion. His spirit returns home to say farewell to his mother, Midori (Kanako Higuchi, LETTER FROM THE MOUNTAIN), and fiancé, Luna (Kumiko Aso, RED SHADOW), and it is while he is there that the Neo-Sapiens are born. During the chaos, and over his own casket, he comes face to face with his future antagonist, Buraiking Boss (Toshiaki Karasawa, WELCOME BACK, MR McDONALD), who will become the Neo-Sapien leader.

Tetsuya (Yusuke Iseya), the tragic hero who becomes Casshern. © 2004 Casshern Partners/Shochiku
This is also when Dr. Azuma and Luna learn of Tetsuya's death, which, coupled with the apparent kidnapping of his wife and the violent killing of the Neo-Sapiens, causes Dr. Azuma to take matters into his own hands. He drags Tetsuya's body from the casket and immerses it into the neo-cell pool; all with Tetsuya's spirit looking on. In a flash of light and mysterious rune-like symbols, Tetsuya finds himself back in his body, reincarnated.

Due to his weakened and unstable state, Tetsuya is placed into a stasis tank (a la Luke in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) clad in a special suit created by Dr. Azuma's armor-building associate, Dr. Kozuki (who also happens to be Luna's father; it's complicated!) to assist in his rejuvenation. This is the armored Casshern suit (a name Tetsuya will not take until much later), which along with the neo-cell technology will give him near-invulnerability to go along with his super-strength and speed. It also keeps his hyper-developed muscles from exploding, explains Dr. Kozuki (Fumiyo Kohinata, AUDITION).

Casshern enters the fray. Photo Courtesy of Go Fish Pictures. © 2004 Casshern Partners/Shochiku
Buraiking Boss, along with a handful of Neo-Sapiens, escapes the massacre at the hands of the Federation troopers, and with Midori in tow, heads off into the wilderness. At the moment of darkest despair, in a frozen wasteland, a huge castle suddenly appears before them. There the Neo-sapiens discover a vast mechanical army, some cool clothes of their own, and the determination to exterminate the humans. Buraiking Boss shows compassion for Midori, however, who had herself shown compassion for life previously. He tucks her into a huge bed the shape of a giant robotic swan, a reference to "Swanny" in the original anime.

The Neo-Sapiens get a good start on their extermination plan, sending waves of robot soldiers into the human cities to wreak destruction, and to kidnap top scientists to assist in the creation of the new Neo-Sapien world. It is during one of these scientist hunts that Tetsuya is accidentally released from his stasis tank, and we get a taste of his new powers as he thwarts the efforts of Buraiking Boss' henchpeople, Akubon (Hiroyuki Miyasako, BOYS BE AMBITIOUS) and Sagure (Mayumi Sada). In the wreckage, we see lingering images of a helmet that strongly resembles the one worn by Casshern in the original anime series, but unfortunately it never gets worn in this film.

Casshern faces off with a legion of Neo-Sapien robots. © 2004 Casshern Partners/Shochiku
Escaping with Luna, Tetsuya then comes face to face with the robot army, and here the most visually impressive sequence of the film begins. Only four minutes long, Tetsuya's battle with the robot army is easily one of the most incredible action scenes ever presented on screen, complete with intense passion, driving music, and amazing visuals that are so over the top you don't even stop to consider the impossible physics of it. It's just that cool. That incredible battle ends with Tetsuya being swatted aside by super Neo-Sapien Buraiking Boss, who then continues on his mission of extermination.

The power of Casshern! Photo Courtesy of Go Fish Pictures. © 2004 Casshern Partners/Shochiku
Tetsuya and Luna themselves then head off into the wilderness were Luna suddenly falls ill with the contamination. Luckily, a kindly gas mask-wearing doctor (the late Tatsuya Mihashi, HIGH AND LOW) leads them to a nearby settlement, which Tetsuya recognizes as Area 7, the place where he had fought and died earlier. Here we get another reference to the original Casshern, when Tetsuya meets a floppy-eared Doberman named Friender or "Flender" in the subtitles. (Friender was Casshern's super cyberhound sidekick in the original anime.)

At the settlement, the kindly doctor tells Tetsuya of the guardian spirit called Casshern that once watched over his people, but has since forsaken them. Suddenly, the settlement is attacked by Federation troopers under the orders of new leader Kamijo (there had been a sudden coup-de-tat; I told you this was complicated), and at the same time Buraiking Boss' henchmen Barashin (Jun Kaname, MASKED RIDER AGITO) and Akubon also arrive. While the defeated troopers retreat with a captured Luna and Akubon (those two have a complicated "relationship," too), Tetsuya faces off with Barashin; and it is during this decisive sword battle that he takes the name Casshern, from the local guardian spirit.

Barashin (Jun Kaname) prepares for battle. © 2004 Casshern Partners/Shochiku
After several more twists of fate and more mechanical lightning, the Neo-Sapiens brings Casshern and Luna to Buraiking Boss' castle, which then comes under siege by the Federation. An epic battle ensues between the Neo-Sapiens' mechanical army and the Federation troops, in a sequence very reminiscent in content and style of the climactic final battle in STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES. An original touch is the inclusion of one of the largest bipedal robots in recent memory. Fans of giant robots will not be disappointed.

Buraiking Boss (Toshiaki Karasawa), leader of the Neo-Sapiens. © 2004 Casshern Partners/Shochiku
Casshern again faces Buraiking Boss, joins the battle outside, confronts his father, and after much verbal extrapolation and revelation about the Neo-Sapiens, "original humans," the war, love, family, life, and existence itself, the film ends in a complex STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE-meets-2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY-style implosion of ideas (and more mechanical lightning) -- that all leads to this final quote from Tetsuya: "Hope... is our legacy."

Or so said the English subtitles. What he actually said in Japanese was "Hope... is the child of Luna and I." I suppose "legacy" does sound more dramatic, as the last 20 minutes of this film strives enthusiastically to be. Incidentally, the ending (as far as I understood it) does not appear to leave a whole lot of room for a sequel.

If that seemed like a long synopsis, well, the film itself runs two hours and twenty-one minutes! I just gave you the short version.

The phrases "visually stunning" and "emotionally draining" pretty much sum up how I feel about this film. Visually, it avoids being "Matrixy" while at the same time breaking new ground in the anime-to-live-action film genre. As in the recent SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, director Kiriya makes extensive use of green screen photography, and a large percentage of backgrounds are completely CG (supervised by Haruhiko Shono with visual effects by Toshiyuki Kimura). As mentioned above, the anime-style action, storyboarded and planned by Shinji Higuchi (THE PRINCESS BLADE), is refreshingly amazing.

The Eastern Federation celebrates their triumph over the European forces after 50 years of war, but their victory proves to be a hollow one. Photo Courtesy of Go Fish Pictures. © 2004 Casshern Partners/Shochiku
Emotionally, the sad story is intensely anti-war, and sharp parallels are clearly drawn to World War II, the Nazis, and the Holocaust, both in the story and in the overall production design by Yuji Hayashida (ALIVE). Some may find this message a bit oppressive, as it is emphatically delivered in non-stop fashion throughout the film. Just as depressing is the whole "existence is pain" philosophy prevalent (and explicitly explained) in the film, tempered by that final quote from Tetsuya ("Hope...is our legacy").

So, it is definitely not your typical feel-good superhero action flick (but what is, these days?). CASSHERN is a dark and depressing film of great complexity, studded with visual beauty and innovative action. I watched it four times so far, and came away from each viewing with a slightly different impression, particularly concerning the final scenes. Watching it the last time with English subtitles was enlightening, as even with a university degree in Japanese language and twelve years of residence in Japan under my belt, it still wasn't easy following the complex story in Japanese!

CASSHERN... not your typical feel-good superhero flick! © 2004 Casshern Partners/Shochiku
Personally, I would have liked a lot more of the Casshern vs. the Robots-style action we see at the film's midpoint, but perhaps due to budget constraints (or Kiriya's vision) that's all we get. The climatic battle scenes should satisfy the special effects nuts out there, but again, they left me wanting to see more. But that's what a good film is supposed to do, right?

There are two fundamental differences between this film and the original anime, created by the late Tatsuo Yoshida (GATCHAMAN). The first is that in the anime, Buraiking Boss is an android created by Professor Azuma, brought to "life" by a bolt of real lightning (not mechanical!), and is for the most part an evil character. He organizes a race of robots to destroy mankind. In the film, the greedy humans are "evil," and Buraiking Boss and the Neo-Sapiens are more victims than anything else.

Tetsuya and Luna in happier times. © 2004 Casshern Partners/Shochiku
The second difference is that Tetsuya chooses to become Casshern. In fact, he begs his father to transfer his consciousness into the invulnerable Casshern body, in order to save the human race from Buraiking Boss and his robot army. The tragedy lies in him sacrificing his human form to save humanity. In the film, he is unwillingly thrust into that role. Interestingly, the famous Goro Naya (Captain Okita in SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO), the narrator for the original anime, lends his voice for opening moments of Kiriya's remake.

After watching CASSHERN on video, I was so impressed with the film that I picked up the R2 3-disc DVD set, "CASSHERN: Ultimate Edition" (Shochiku Home Video, 4700 yen), when I returned the video. The two extra discs include a video diary-style "making of" documentary, which is a simple narration-free video record of the production, along with cast and staff profiles and interviews, unused scenes, and TV ads. The viewer really gets a good idea of what a typical Japanese film crew eats during a production!

CASSHERN will be coming to the US courtesy of Dreamworks. © 2004 Casshern Partners/Shochiku
We also get tons of production art, including all the various printed materials used in the film. This includes labels, instrument dial faces, leaflets, newspapers, billboards, flags... you name it - all in a mixture of Japanese and Cyrillic. The film itself is in Japanese, with a choice of Japanese, English, or no subtitles. The additional material is all in Japanese, with no English subtitles. Aside from the interviews, non-Japanese speakers should be able to enjoy the extra features just as they are.

Final verdict on the film: Definitely worth watching, even if you are unfamiliar with the character. Four-and-a-half out of five stars. Again, I regret that I did not see it in the theaters... CASSHERN has already been picked up for limited theatrical release in the US by Dreamworks' Go Fish Pictures so, if you have a chance to do so, GO!

For additional info and photos visit the official Japanese CASSHERN website.

 
03/11/05:
"CUTIE HONEY" AND "HANA & ALICE" TICKET WINNERS ANNOUNCED!!
Source: Taro Goto, NAATA

CUTIE HONEY (Eriko Sato) congratulates the winners of H!O's ticket contest. © 2004 Cutie Honey Production Committee/Go Nagai & Dynamic Planning
The winners for the CUTIE HONEY screening at the Castro Theatre on 9:15 PM Sunday, March 13th are:
- JAMES KNOPF
- AKEMI OKAMOTO
- SEAN PIVERGER


The winner of the tickets to see HANA & ALICE at 9:15 PM Wednesday, March 16 at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres is:
- BRIAN DARR

The HANA & ALICE winning passes are available now at the AMC Kabuki 8's Will Call. CUTIE HONEY winners should note that the Castro Theatre's Will Call does not open until 45 minutes before the first screening of the day, so the tickets will be available after 6:15 PM today, Friday, March 11th. The tickets are held under the winners' names so just show your ID to claim your prize.

Henshin! Online would like to thank Exhibition and Festival Assistant Director Taro Goto for making this ticket giveaway possible, and offer congratulations to the winners. Enjoy the show!

 
03/08/05:
WIN TICKETS TO SEE "CUTIE HONEY" IN SAN FRANCISCO!
SF International Asian-American Film Festival & H!O Ticket Give Away
Source: Taro Goto, NAATA


The Japanese theatrical poster for CUTIE HONEY. © 2004 Cutie Honey Production Committee/Go Nagai & Dynamic Planning
From March 10th-20th, 2005, the National Asian American Telecommunications Association will be showing over 130 films and videos at the San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival. This year's event will be held in San Francisco, Berkeley, and San Jose, CA.

Among the films being shown is director Hideaki Anno's (NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: DEATH AND REBIRTH) live-action adaptation of Go Nagai's infamous manga/anime classic CUTIE HONEY (Kutei Hanii). Released by Warner Brothers Japan in July of 2004, CUTIE HONEY stars fashion model Eriko Sato (aka "Sato Eri") as the title character, with Mikako Ichikawa and Jun Murakami in supporting roles. The movie reportedly set a record for "cosplay" (costume role playing) in a Japanese film as Sato has more than thirty different costume changes that include "Honey Kisaragi", "Cutie Honey", a policewoman, a waitress, an office worker, and a motorbike racer called "Hurricane Honey".

The San Francisco premiere of CUTIE HONEY will take place at the Pacific Film Archive Theater in Berkeley, CA on March 12th, and the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, on March 13th. The film will be shown in a new 35mm print, in the original Japanese language with English subtitles. Gilles Poitras, author of "The Anime Companion" (Stone Bridge) will introduce the film. For additional details visit the CUTIE HONEY page on the festival's official site.

Also screening at the festival is HANA & ALICE (Hana to Arisu), a coming-of-age tale from acclaimed writer/director Shunji Iwai (ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU). Starring Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi, the film be shown in Japanese with English subtitles at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres in Japantown on March 14th and 16th.

The AMC Kabuki 8 will also be hosting the North American premiere of Junji Sakamoto's OUT OF THIS WORLD (Konoyo-no Sotoe: Kurabu Shinchugun) on March 13th and 16th. Set during the American Occupation after WWII, OUT OF THIS WORLD tells the story of five young jazz musicians working at an Enlisted Men's Club in Tokyo. The film is in both English and Japanese (with English subtitles). Director Junji Sakamoto and lead actor Shea Whigham will attend, while renowned translator and subtitler Linda Hoaglund (Hayao Miyazaki films) will be on hand for the March 16th screening.

You could win tickets to see HANA & ALICE, the latest film from renowned director Shunji Awai. © 2004 Rockwell Eyes · H&A Project
Henshin! Online readers who will be in the California Bay Area now have an opportunity to see some of these films for FREE! Exhibition and Festival Assistant Director Taro Goto has offered THREE (3) pairs of tickets to the 9:15 PM Sunday, March 13th screening of CUTIE HONEY at the Castro Theatre, and ONE (1) pair of tickets to HANA & ALICE on 9:15 PM Wednesday, March 16 at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres.

GIVEAWAY RULES

Prize:
A. There are four prizes in total. Three prizes consisting of two passes to CUTIE HONEY and one prize consisting of two passes to HANA & ALICE; one for the winner, and one pass for a guest, for a total of two passes per winning entry.

B. In the event that a winner chooses not to (or cannot) accept a prize, he or she forfeits all claim to that prize. Henshin! Online then has the right, at its discretion, to award that prize to a contest runner-up.

C. Prizes are non-transferable. No substitution of prizes allowed.

D. These passes are for admission to the screenings only. The SF International Asian American Film Festival is providing complimentary admission with the condition that no other benefits are implied. Winners understand and acknowledge that they are responsible for all other expenses including transportation, food, lodging and any other expenses incurred by attending the screening. Furthermore, winners and their guests understand and acknowledge the SF International Asian American Film Festival and Henshin! Online are in no way liable for any injuries or other losses incurred by accepting the passes.

Duration of contest:
The contest runs from 03/08/2005 until 12 AM Thursday morning March, 10th (PST).

Lucky H!O readers have a chance to attend the San Francisco premiere of CUTIE HONEY for free! Read the article for details on how to win tickets. © 2004 Cutie Honey Production Committee/Go Nagai & Dynamic Planning
Conditions of entry:
A. This contest is open to all persons age 18+up. Only online submissions will be accepted. LIMIT ONE ENTRY PER PERSON. Duplicate entries will be void.
B. All contestants understand and acknowledge, as a condition of entry, that the SF International Asian American Film Festival and Henshin! Online have the right to publicize winners' names, likeness or all matters incidental herein.

How to enter:
CUTIE HONEY: The first three entrants whom correctly answer our "Cutie Honey Quiz", will be announced as the winners. First-come, first-served, only.

HANA & ALICE: The first entrant whom correctly answers our "Hana & Alice Quiz", will be announced as the winner. Tickets will be awarded first-come, first-serve.

Send answers to: movietix@henshinonline.com -- please specify which movie you would like to win tickets for in the header of your e-mail message.

Determination of winners:
A. The first correct answers, on a first-come, first-serve basis.
B. Winners will be announced Friday March 11th on Henshin! Online.
C. Henshin! Online is not responsible for typographical, electronic or other errors in Internet operation affecting the offering, outcome, administration of the contest or the announcement of prizes. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.
D. The decision of Henshin! Online is final. Entrants agree to be bound by these Official Rules and by the decisions of the Henshin! Online judges, which are final and binding in all respects.

Winners can pick up tickets for CUTIE HONEY at the Castro Theatre's Will Call starting at 11:15 AM on Friday, March 11th. For HANA & ALICE, the winning passes will be at the AMC Kabuki 8's Will Call from 11:00 AM on Friday, March 11th.

Cutie Honey Quiz:
Q: What year did the original CUTIE HONEY anime first appear on Japanese television?

Hana & Alice Quiz:
Q. What was title of the first film by director Shuji Iwai?

 
03/06/05:
DVD PREVIEW: MATANGO and THE MYSTERIANS
Media Blasters Releases Two Toho Classics in March
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Media Blasters


The DVD cover art for THE MYSTERIANS. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 1957 Toho Co., Ltd.
Late last year, the New York-based company Media Blasters announced they had acquired a handful of Toho science fiction classics and would be releasing them on DVD under the "Tokyo Shock" label. The four films were all directed by Ishiro Honda with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya; THE MYSTERIANS (Chikyu Boeigun, 1957), VARAN (Daikaiju Baran, aka VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE, 1958), MATANGO: ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (Matango, 1963), and DOGORA (Uchu Daikaiju Dogora, aka DAGORA THE SPACE MONSTER, 1964). None of these titles have ever been released on DVD in America.

Both MATANGO and THE MYSTERIANS go on sale in March with VARAN following on May 10, and DOGORA on July 15. The four DVDs will feature a wealth of extras; some previously available on Toho's R2 DVDs, some new to the US discs. In addition to the original Japanese audio track with English subtitles, MATANGO features Toho's international English dubbing (the same as AIP-TV's US release in 1965) and THE MYSTERIANS has a new English dub created by Bang Zoom Productions and a new Spanish dub by Arventel. Media Blasters has provided full DVD specs for the first two Toho titles. Look for reviews and additional details here on Henshin! Online in the coming weeks.



The DVD cover art for MATANGO. Photo courtesy of Media Blasters. © 1963 Toho Co., Ltd.
MATANGO: ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (1963)
Street Date: 3/15/05
SRP: $19.95
Language: Japanese mono, 5.1/2.0 English Dub, mono Spanish Dub, Japanese commentary
Subtitles: English
Running Time: 90 min
Aspect Ratio & Format: 2.35:1 16x9 Anamorphic

Cast: Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kenji Sahara, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Miki Yashiro

Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
Director: Ishirô Honda
Visual Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya
Original Story: William Hope Hodgson ("The Voice in the Night")
Adaptation: Shinichiro Hoshi & Masami Fukushima
Screenplay: Takeshi Kimura
Original Music: Sadao Bekku
Cinematographer: Hajime Koizumi
Film Editor: Reiko Kaneko
Production Design: Juichi Ikuno
Conceptual Art: Shigeru Komatsuzaki
Production Manager: Tadashi Koike
Second Unit Director: Koji Kajita
Art Department: Shigeru Komatsuzaki

Selling Points:
Directed by Ishirô Honda
Cinematography by: Hajime Koizumi (KING KONG ESCAPES, GODZILLA VS MONSTER ZERO)
Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, responsible for the revolutionary monster classics: GODZILLA, GHIDORAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, DOGORA, THE SPACE MONSTER, AND VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE!

Starring Akira Kubo (GODZILLA VS MONSTER ZERO, SON OF GODZILLA) and the beautiful Kumi Mizuno (GODZILLA VS MONSTER ZERO)

Special Features:
Commentary by lead actor AKIRA KUBO
Interview with Assistant SFX director TERUYOSHI NAKANO
Text from MATANGO author MASAMI FUKUSHIMA
Original Trailer
Trailers for DOGORA, VARAN, THE MYSTERIANS, and GAPPA THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTER

Yoshio Tsuchiya wanders into a garden of nightmares. © 1963 Toho Co., Ltd.
Synopsis:
After a yacht is damaged in a storm and stranded on a deserted island the passengers; a psychologist, his girlfriend, a wealthy businessman, a famous singer, a writer, a sailor and his skipper take refuge in a fungus-covered boat. While using the MUSHROOMS for sustenance they find the ship's journal describing the mushrooms to be poisonous, however some members of the shipwrecked party continue to ingest the mysterious fungi, transforming them into hideous fungal monsters. One of the strangest and most horrific TOHO productions to date.

THE MYSTERIANS (1957)
Street Date: 3/22/05 (delayed from 1/25/2005)
SRP: $19.95
Language: Japanese mono and 5.1, 5.1 English Dub, mono Spanish Dub, Japanese commentary
Subtitles: English
Running Time: 88 min
Aspect Ratio & Format: 2.35:1 16x9 Anamorphic


Cast: Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Akihiko Hirata, Momoko Kochi, Takeshi Shimura
Director: Ishirô Honda

Headline: Witness mankind's most treacherous battle for survival! From behind the moon they came...To invade the earth...Abduct its women...Level its cities!

The Mysterians' robot Mogera tears thru the Japanese countryside. In 1994, Toho created an updated version of the mechanical monster for GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA. © 1957 Toho Co., Ltd.
Selling Points:
Directed by Ishirô Honda,
Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya
Music by Akira Ifukube

Special Features:
NEW 5.1 Eng Dub
Original mono and new 5.1 Japanese mix
NEW mono Spanish Dub

Commentary with Koichi Kawakita (Special Effects Director of GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH and GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH) and Shinji Higuchi (Special Effects Director of GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE)
Photo Gallery and Storyboards
Original Trailer
Trailers for ONE MISSED CALL, MATANGO: ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE, DOGORA, VARAN, and GAPPA THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTER

Synopsis:
After a Japanese town is totally destroyed the military arrive to investigate. They encounter a giant robot that is decimating everything in its path. A dome appears out of the ground and a group of scientists are invited to meet the alien Mysterians from the planet Mysteroid. The Mysterians have come in peace - all they ask humanity for is three-square kilometers of land and the right to interbreed with Earth women to repopulate their species. Outraged at such a suggestion, humanity declares war on the Mysterians.

"...Entertaining blend of giant flying robots, ray guns, UFOs and bubble-helmeted aliens abducting human women". The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review.

 
03/06/05:
KING OF THE MONKEYS
Interview with THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN Director Ho Meng-Hua
Author: Steve Ryfle
Interview: Craig Hale Allen


The Japanese Special Edition DVD of THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN includes a 1999 interview with director Ho Meng-Hua. H!O is pleased to provide the complete text to English speaking fans! © 1977 Shaw Brothers.
Editor's Note: Author Steve Ryfle (Japan's Favorite Mon-Star) recently offered to Henshin! Online this article about the Hong Kong giant monster movie THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN. While it is not a Japanese film or co-production, THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN features many similarities with the kaiju releases from Toho and Daiei, including special effects by the technicians behind many of the Godzilla movies, and was also recently released as a "Special Collector's Edition" DVD set in Japan. For these reasons, and more, we believe kaiju fans will enjoy this look at one of the rare genre pictures from HK...

Hong Kong cinema is not known for gigantic monsters, but in 1977 the Shaw Brothers studio, world famous for unleashing the first wave of kung-fu movies to international audiences in the early 1970's, produced Hong Kong's one and only true giant-monster epic, THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN [Chinese title: Xing-xing Wang, KING OF THE MONKEYS]. Produced to capitalize on the international hype surrounding Dino DeLaurentiis' KING KONG remake, the film was released to the U.S. in 1980 by World Northal Corp under the title GOLIATHON and quickly faded into obscurity. In April 1999, Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures and Cowboy Booking International resurrected this long-lost camp classic and released it across the U.S., to favorable critical reaction if not great commercial success. In 2004, Celestial Pictures released a newly remastered version of THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN to DVD in Hong Kong and Japan [as Peking Genjin-no Gyakushu, THE PEKING MAN STRIKES AGAIN]. The Japanese release is a special double-DVD set with many new supplemental materials, including a booklet that includes the following interview with the film's director, Ho Meng-Hua.

THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN is an unusual re-working of the archetypal man-woman-ape love triangle established by KING KONG in 1933. It was also the best giant-ape movie -no joke- since Merian C. Cooper's original classic. Not that there's much competition: SON OF KONG, the 1976 KING KONG remake and its sequel KING KONG LIVES, the Japanese-made KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and KING KONG ESCAPES, the British-made KONGA and the Korean-made A*P*E all lacked the pathos of the original KONG; and both versions of MIGHTY JOE YOUNG are basically children's films that eschew the Kong-style tragic ending.

Poster design from the original Hong Kong release. © 1977 Shaw Brothers.
The 10-story-tall creature who tears up Hong Kong in THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN isn't really an ape, but a legendary creature (based on fossils which were found in China in the early 1900s) that vaguely resembles Bigfoot. The monster awakens from an eons-long sleep in the 1960's, bursts out of a snowy mountainside in the Himalayas, terrorizes villagers, and then retreats into the jungles of India. The action begins a decade later, when a Hong Kong promoter organizes an expedition to capture the beast. The film stars Danny Lee (the Shaw Brothers' INFRA-MAN, John Woo's 1989 classic THE KILLER, and the 1998 Mark Wahlberg vehicle THE BIG HIT), as Johnny Feng, a young Indiana Jones type, and Swedish beauty Evelyne Kraft as the ape's stepchild: the beautiful, Caucasian, loincloth-wearing Samantha. When the girl is snake-bitten (in the crotch area, what luck!) Johnny sucks out the poison and they fall in love. Given the choice of living with a voluptuous, nearly nude blonde among the animals in a lush natural paradise, or ruining everything by taking her and the big ape back to civilization, Johnny of course chooses the latter. In the film's climax, the monster goes berserk in Hong Kong city, incurring the wrath of the military. Fleeing the onslaught, Mighty Peking Man climbs to the top of the Connaught Centre (which was, in 1977, Hong Kong's tallest skyscraper). The army fills the building's cooling system with gasoline, and the top floors of the structure are exploded. Mighty Peking Man, consumed in a ball of fire, falls to his death.

Although its story and FX work are inferior by today's standards, THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN is brilliant combination of the man-versus-nature tragedy of KING KONG, the frenzied action of 1970's HK kung-fu movies, the jungle adventures of the Tarzan films, and the all-out destructive rampage of the Godzilla movies. In fact, most of the special effects were filmed by freelance crews from Japan, including such Toho veterans as effects director Sadamasa Arikawa (SON OF GODZILLA, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, YOG: MONSTER FROM SPACE), assistant effects director Koichi Kawakita (the Heisei Godzilla series), and monster suit maker Keizo Murase (VARAN, MOTHRA, MATANGO, the Heisei Godzilla series, and Daiei's GAMERA). The film is full of unusual and entertaining surprises, such as the monster's final rampage through the metropolis, which is filmed from a variety of impressive angles showing the extensive miniature construction. There is also a great deal of unintended humor that will be appreciated by modern audiences, such as the romantic montages set to outdated 1970's HK pop music themes, showing Danny and Samantha romping through the jungle in slow-motion and frolicking with a variety of wild animals. Although many viewers today will enjoy the film mostly for the postmodern kitsch factor (obvious miniatures, the actor's eyes peering through the sockets of the monster costume, wild animals that appear drugged to keep them docile, the bombastic music score) this film is a forgotten gem containing more action and spectacle that most any modern movie, a relic from an era when technical virtuosity was less important than sheer entertainment, and it remains Hong Kong's lone entry into the giant-monster genre.

Ho Meng-Hua was one of the Shaw Brothers' most active directors during the studio's heyday of the 1960's and 70's. Ho was born and grew up near Shanghai, and attended Shanghai Drama Institute. Before the Communists took over China in 1949, he emigrated to Hong Kong; he was in his early 20's and had no filmmaking experience, but somehow he got a job as a cinematographer. He joined Shaw Brothers in 1960 and eventually ascended to the director's chair, helming melodramas, sword-play adventures and other genres. Other than THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN, Ho's most famous film is probably THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976), the story of a man who uses a flying hat box to decapitate his enemies. Since the Shaw studios ceased movie production in the 1980's and switched to producing TV soap operas instead, Ho has basically been retired.

The following interview was conducted in Hong Kong in 1999 by Craig Allen, an American teacher and film enthusiast living abroad. Mr. Allen describes his first meeting with Mr. Ho this way: "Once I received the interview assignment, I got in touch with Mr. Ho to make an appointment to meet. He was very nice on the phone, but took a couple moments to figure out that I wasn't calling from the U.S., that I instead was actually in Hong Kong. We discussed a couple of possible times to meet. His wife obviously is his appointment secretary, because whenever he would make a suggestion of a time to meet, I could hear her calling from the other room, reminding him of this or that prior commitment. So it took a couple of suggestions on his part before he could come up with a time that he was free.

"We arranged to meet three or four days later at the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR subway Station at the Hang Seng Bank at 3:30 p.m. It's a classic Hong Kong meeting place. Whenever I walk past, there are always a number of people loitering around, obviously waiting to rendezvous with someone else. Amusingly, he was a little concerned that we would not recognize each other. Though a lot of white guys pass through the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station, there couldn't be that many waiting in front of the Hang Seng Bank. I told him to look for blond guy with a beard. I was to look for a white-haired man with a cane.

"Just to be ready for anything, I dressed a little bit nicely - no tie or anything, smart casual, I'd say - and I went to Tsim Sha Tsui a bit early to scope out places we could go. I wasn't sure if he'd have a place in mind, so I wanted to be ready. I settled on the coffee shop at the famous Peninsula Hotel. It's a fairly quiet place, which would make it easy for us to talk; not too expensive, but a bit on the swanky side, which might appeal to an auteur of Master Ho's caliber; and he could order a pot of Chinese tea, and I could order coffee. Perfect. Then I went to wait for him in the MTR station.

The legendary title character; Utam THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN. © 1977 Shaw Brothers.
"Before long I was greeted by a slim, white-haired elderly Chinese gentleman with a cane and a very friendly smile. We exchanged pleasantries for a moment. I then asked if he had a place in mind that he'd like to go to. Yes, he said, there was a place nearby where he often meets his retired buddies that would be good. I was thrilled. He was going to take me to some quaint old Chinese restaurant where retired men hang up their bird cages while they smoke and talk. There are places like this all over Hong Kong, and though there's nothing stopping me from going in, it's not nearly the same as having a native take you, right? This was so cool. We climbed the stairs out of the MTR station to the crowded street, crossed the road, walked into the narrow entrance of a nearby building and climbed a flight of stairs ... and walked into a freakin' Kentucky Fried Chicken place! I was so disappointed. We found a cozy little table with red plastic chairs bolted to the floor. I treated him to a carton of ice-cold fresh milk, and I had a large Diet Coke."

Q: You shot a lot of the film in India, right?

HO: Yes. We went to India four times ... to Bombay, Bangalore...

Q: Why did you shoot it in India?

HO: Well you see, we used a Swedish actress...

Swedish beauty Evelyne Kraft stars as Ah Wei, aka "Samantha the Jungle Girl". © 1977 Shaw Brothers.
Q: Evelyne Kraft...

HO: Yeah, that's right, from Sweden. In the story there were a bunch of scenes where she had to act closely with a tiger... cuddle it, kiss it, that sort of thing. We didn't have the capability to do that sort of thing in Hong Kong, but Warner Bros. told us to check out this circus in India. So we went to Bombay and then drove for a whole day and finally that night made it to some small place and found the circus. We went to a performance, and sure enough, there was a tiger in the show. It could perform all sorts of tricks.

Q: It was a trained tiger.

HO: Yeah, it could do all kinds of things. It would allow people to hug and cuddle it. It let the trainer do that sort of thing in the act. So, we contracted to use this tiger in the film. The trainer said that he could train it to work with our actress. He said it would be no problem.

We went back to Hong Kong to pack up our equipment. There were more than 30 of us on the crew. We all went back to India. It was some place not far from Bombay called Mysore. And then the trainer came with the tiger. But the trainer didn't understand how you shoot movies. He set up a big cage for the tiger to act in. I told him that wouldn't work. We couldn't shoot the scenes inside a cage! So, the trainer had to take down the cage. But you see, we were all a bit scared of the tiger. The trainer told us not to worry, he said the tiger was really friendly. As soon as the cage was down, though, the tiger got really docile. So, the trainer had to hit him to sort of stir him up. The tiger roared really loud... then we were really scared! [laughs]

The Peking Man exacts his revenge on the greedy promoter Lu Tien . © 1977 Shaw Brothers.
So we came up with an idea. We set up the cage again, and put the camera inside. But it turns out that the tiger had never performed outside of the cage or outside of the circus environment. When he wasn't in the circus tent he refused to perform. There was nothing we could do. We wasted a lot of money on that tiger.

Later, Shaw Bros. found a specially trained tiger that performed in Indian movies. They said he would do what we needed for the film. We went to see him, and sure enough this tiger would work, so we hired him. The tiger was trained by an Indian man in the movie industry. He and 10 of his brothers and sons did this sort of work. For several days Evelyne and the rest of us worked with this tiger and the trainers.

Early in the morning, on the day we were going to start shooting, the trainers opened the tiger's mouth and filed down his teeth... the tiger cried when they did this. Then they took his paws and filed off the tips of his claws... oh, he cried terribly. Evelyne also cried. When she heard the tiger in pain, she couldn't help crying. She was real kind-hearted toward that tiger.

In the movie, the tiger you see was really two tigers: the close-up shots of the fierce tiger growling are of the first tiger from the circus. The shots with Evelyne where she's playing with the tiger, those were shot with the second, specially trained movie tiger. We edited it so you can't tell there's two different tigers.

We had to go to India four times to shoot everything we needed. That was more than it should've been. The studio originally had told me to shoot this as fast as possible. While I was shooting my parts, there was a group of Japanese filmmakers shooting the special effect shots. But calling in the Japanese for the effects shots didn't work out so well...they worked so slowly. They would shoot some film, not like it, throw it away, and shoot it again.

My boss [producer Runme Shaw] wanted to get the film out before the film KING KONG [the 1976 remake, directed by John Guellermin] came out.

INFRA-MAN star Danny Lee (Li Hsiu-Hsien) plays Chen Cheng-Feng, aka "Johnny Feng" . © 1977 Shaw Brothers.
Q: So your film was modeled on KING KONG?

HO: No. It was our own initiative, our own creation. We had almost finished MIGHTY PEKING MAN before KING KONG, but delays kept us from releasing it before KING KONG.

Q: Really? You shot MIGHTY PEKING MAN before KING KONG?

HO: KING KONG had been released in America, but it hadn't come to Hong Kong yet.

Q: So you were trying to release MIGHTY PEKING MAN before KING KONG was shown in Hong Kong.

HO: That's right. We wanted to release it in Asia before KING KONG was released here. That's what the studio wanted to do. Except the Japanese special effects team was too slow... and not reasonable. We had signed a three-month contract with the Japanese. After three months they would leave. They brought in about 15 people, and after three months they said they had to leave. So we had to go to Tokyo and find another FX crew. [This must have been when the Japanese crew's work visas expired. They would have needed to return to Japan to renew them.]

Q: So, there were two Japanese crews?

HO: No, there were three! That second crew was also too slow. So we hired a third crew to do the effects. It took such a long time. We were shooting for a year and a half!

Q: Originally how long did you think it would take?

HO: At most six, seven months to have it all wrapped up... half a year. We took a year and a half...that's way too long.

The special effects crew at work. The staff included many of the men behind Toho's classic kaiju films. © 1977 Shaw Brothers.
Q: Other than the trained tiger, why did you shoot in India?

HO: Just for the tiger.

Q: No other reason?

HO: No other reason. Warner Bros. encouraged us to shoot it there. My boss [producer Runme Shaw] had a good friend with Warner Bros. So we arranged to do it there from the start.

Q: What is it like to shoot a film in India?

HO: It was really easy. That's because they shoot so many films there. At the time it was the busiest film industry in the world. I won't watch Indian films though. They're all two or three hours long. I won't watch them. [laughs]

In Japan it was a huge production...lots and lots of people...I couldn't control things. In India we just hired two extra cameramen and a couple of assistants. All together, we had four cameramen...two from India and we brought a couple from Hong Kong.

Production art of Utam's rampage in Hong Kong. © 1977 Shaw Brothers.
Q: How many people did you have from Hong Kong?

HO: We had about 30 people from Hong Kong.

Q: I'm told that the Hong Kong crew did not like India.

HO: No, they didn't like being in India. The food...they couldn't eat it. They were always hungry. [laughs]

Q: How long were you in India?

HO: We were in India two and half, three months. Our producer was real good. He's real famous now, named Cai Lan. He does a TV show where he travels around Asia trying out the different foods in each place and talking about it. He's really into food. So, every day when we'd eat, we'd watch how the Indians would eat. They used their hands. We had trouble doing that. [laughs] For lunch we'd just eat some buns or whatever we could.

So he [Cai Lan] had an idea. One night we found a Chinese restaurant in the town, and we went there to eat. "Hey," he said, "here's a guy who can cook Chinese food." So he went to the cook and offered him some money to cook for us. There was a kitchen in the hotel we were staying at. And since there were 30 of us, we took up a whole floor. And we got the cook to come to our hotel every night to cook for us there. And the food there - the curry, it was so oily. Really upset our stomachs. [laughs] Whatever it was, curry or something else, it had lots of oil in it.

Two or three months passed, we finally wrapped up in India. We were really happy. On the way back to Hong Kong we had to stay overnight in Singapore. Some of the crew had already gone home - there were about 20 of us there. That night we all went to a Chinese restaurant for supper. The manager said he couldn't believe we could eat so much... no matter how much he served us, we'd finish it all up! [laughs]

Q: Before MIGHTY PEKING MAN, there had never been a movie of this kind made in Hong Kong.

HO: No. This was the first.

Q: Afterwards?

HO: None after it, either. Nowadays there are a lot of special effects in Hong Kong films. It's much easier now with computers. With computers you can do just about any kind of special effect. But back then we didn't have that capability.

Of course, when we were making MIGHTY PEKING MAN we knew we couldn't out-do Hollywood with our production. Hollywood certainly is the best in that regard. So in making our film we emphasized a human's feelings for a beast - the emotional attachment between a human and an animal. We spent a lot of time depicting that aspect of the story. We spent a lot of time showing Samantha's love of the beast. A film critic from Singapore said that in showing that emotion between the woman and the beast, our movie was more effective than KING KONG. [laughs] He said that.

THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN attempts to answer the question, "What if Ann Darrow had loved King Kong?" © 1977 Shaw Brothers.
Q: Other than MIGHTY PEKING MAN, most of your films are martial arts films?

HO: No. For a while that's all I did. I did a lot of films with Zheng Pei-pei. She was real famous - a young girl. She worked really hard, did really dangerous stunts. I'd say she should use a safety harness for a particular shot, but she'd refuse.

After that, though I did all kinds of films - love stories, fantasies, action films, all kinds. I directed a film based on a witchcraft legend from Singapore and Malaysia. People there really believe in this. I don't know what you'd call it in English ... it's jiang tou [Note: this literally means "head drop" in English]. It's a kind of martial arts from Singapore and Southeast Asia. So when we made that kind of film, it sold really well in Singapore. I did about 3 or 4 of those films.

Q: How did you feel when Shaw Bros. told you to film a King Kong movie?

HO: I thought it would be difficult. But I like challenges. When we started to waste so much time on the film, Runme Shaw told me not to worry about the money. In the end, we spent twice the original budget on this movie.

Q: How much? I hear it was around HK $5 million.

HO: It was more than HK $7 million, actually. In 1977, that was a lot of money for a Hong Kong film. Every week I had to have a report on how much money was spent. But the boss said not to worry. He just wanted a good film to come out of it.

Q: So, when it was finished, how did he feel?

HO: Very satisfied.

THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN climbs Connaught Centre. © 1977 Shaw Brothers.
Q: How did you know how to make a special effects film? Had you ever worked on any special effects films before MIGHTY PEKING MAN?

HO: Well, actually I had made four or five effects films at Shaw Bros. Of course not with the same advanced techniques as they had in Japan. We just did the effects ourselves. You might know the famous Chinese legend Journey to the West [a famous mythological story about the Monkey King and three compatriots with various magical powers on a journey to find some Buddhist sutras]. We spent a year making a film based on that story. All of the Monkey's magic and all the other effects we did ourselves. Back in the 1950s and '60s, we just figured out how to do such effects on our own. So, I knew a few camera tricks. Like, blue screen tricks, you know, where you shoot the actor in front of a blue screen. Well, we could do that sort of effect. However, then [when shooting Journey to the West] we only had black and white processing in Hong Kong. So, for color film we had to send it to Japan for processing. I'd have to go to Japan sometimes to supervise. It was a lot of trouble. However, when it was finished the movie did well commercially in Asia. So, the boss wanted more films like that. After three or four films, I had learned a few tricks.

Everyday, the actor who played the Monkey King, he had to wear his monkey costume - oh, he hated it! After doing a few of these movies I told the boss it was enough. So we started making other kinds of movies. [Shaw Brothers' Monkey King series included THE MONKEY GOES WEST (1966), PRINCESS IRON FAN (1966), CAVE OF THE SILKEN WEB (1967), THE LAND OF MANY PERFUMES (1968), and THE FANTASTIC MAGIC BABY (1975).]

Q: Who wrote the story for MIGHTY PEKING MAN?

HO: We had a team of writers to come up with stories. The idea was to have a story about a giant ape, but that the ape would be real kind-hearted. And there would be a girl, and the two would be friends. But I can't really remember how we came up with the story.

Q: Was there any influence of Chinese myths on the story?

HO: No. It was a totally new story. Of course when KING KONG came to Hong Kong, I went to see it the very first day, to compare. [laughs] Of course there are similarities.

Q: In the English version of MIGHTY PEKING MAN Evelyne Kraft calls the ape "Woo Tan" or something like that. What does that mean? [Note: the Peking Man is referred to as ‘Utam']

HO: Woo Tan? I don't remember that. I've forgotten the movie, it's been so long since I've seen it. I've made more than 80 films. Most of them were made before video tape. And none of them have been shown on TV. Rumne Shaw didn't sell them to TV stations. So, I haven't had any way of getting videos of the films. Well, actually, a friend of mine found some videos of my films in Thailand, and bought copies for me, so I have about 8 or 9 of my films on video.

The crew monkeys around with the head puppet that was used for close-up reaction shots of the Peking Man. © 1977 Shaw Brothers.
Q: Was this the first film that Evelyne Kraft made for Shaw Bros.?

HO: Yes, the first one. She was discovered by Runme Shaw's son in Sweden. She was really open-minded, and a real hard worker. You know that scene when she goes swimming by the waterfall? Where she goes swimming with the man. I didn't tell her to take off her clothes. She just did that on her own. Just stripped naked, just like that. Wah! She was really uninhibited! [laughs] You know European girls are like that, real relaxed and open about that sort of thing.

Before we started shooting, we needed to make her costumes, so we took her to the wardrobe department for measurements. She was standing there in front of the tailor, and took off all her clothes. The tailor was really embarrassed. [laughs]

Q: In the movie she didn't wear very much. Back then, what did people in Hong Kong think about this?

HO: Oh, they thought it was very revealing! Hong Kong was very conservative back then. Whenever we were shooting in Central [the main business district of Hong Kong, where Connaught Centre, the skyscraper that Mighty Peking Man climbs, was located], and she would come out wearing that skimpy costume, wah! The people on the street would get all excited.

Q: She's a European. Did that make it even more exciting?

HO: Yes. We were shooting at Connaught Centre for about five nights. Even though it was at night, a lot people would come to watch. And seeing a girl wearing that right there in Central, it was really something. [laugh] She didn't think a thing of it. It was quite natural for her.

Evelyne Kraft's attire - and lack of it - shocked the MIGHTY PEKING MAN crew and the HK public. © 1977 Shaw Brothers.
Q: How did you communicate with her?

HO: We had a translator. She could speak really good English. At night she'd watch English TV. The translator spoke English.

Q: Giving her direction was easy?

HO: It wasn't difficult. She'd understand pretty quickly what I wanted.

Q: I hear that MIGHTY PEKING MAN didn't do so well in Hong Kong.

HO: That's right.

Q: But it did well outside Hong Kong.

HO: Yes. It did well in Singapore and Southeast Asia. I think that's because KING KONG came out first. That's the explanation for Hong Kong, at least. In Singapore, they were also able to appreciate the feelings between man and beast. But in Hong Kong, everyone had already seen KING KONG.

Q: So, overall, how do you feel about MIGHTY PEKING MAN?

HO: There had never been such a film made in Hong Kong before. This was the first. The boss was very happy with it.

Q: How about you? How do you feel about it?

HO: It wasn't too bad. When I see one of my movies, I see all kinds of things that could have been better. I don't always like to see my films for that reason. There's always something I regret.

Q: When did you learn that MIGHTY PEKING MAN was going to be re-released in the U.S.?

HO: About a month ago. I never expected this. I made the film so many years ago, I never expected that more people would see it. I never would have guessed that anyone would be interested in it. You know, films from back then aren't anything like the films of today.

Ho Meng-Hua was interviewed for the 1999 US re-release of THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN from Rolling Thunder/Cowboy Booking. © 1977 Shaw Brothers.
Q: Why did you retire?

HO: I had a contract with the studio. I had to make the movies they said to. But I got weary of making films. Why? Well, one day I went to see a Hong Kong film. I knew all the actors and the director. It was a real popular film - lots of people had seen it, so I went to see it too. All the kids in the theater, they were laughing and laughing, but I never laughed once during the movie. I couldn't understand what was so funny. When I got home after the movie, I realized that I had been left behind. I didn't get it. The audience really liked the silliness of the movie. A guy gets hit on the head and ha, ha, ha, everyone laughs. I still had three unfinished films on my contract. They never got finished. I just couldn't get into it. What everyone seemed to think was interesting, I didn't think was interesting at all. What everyone thought was funny, I didn't think was funny.

That was 1990, or 1989. I called Runme Shaw's assistant and told her that I couldn't make any more films. She said, "What you mean? You have a contract. You have to make more films." I had always been contracted to make four films a year.

Q: Four? That's a lot.

HO: Yes it is, but I never could do it. One film, say, a kung fu film, it might take a year and a half to complete. So I couldn't make four every year. However, the boss had always been satisfied. All of my films had made pretty good money.

Production meeting going for THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN. © 1977 Shaw Brothers.
So, I told them that I wanted to retire. Later, the studio had a film, made by someone else, I don't remember what it was called. It wasn't very good, it wasn't going to make any money. The studio asked if I could re-edit it. But I said "I don't understand films these days." But I said I'd try. I did some re-editing, and wanted to shoot a few new scenes for the film. The big problem was, the film had been sitting in the vault for five years. The leading actors were still around, but some of the other actors were gone. But a small problem was the fashions had changed - it was a modern-day film - and we couldn't find women's clothes to fit the rest of the film! [laughs] What problems!

We finished the film, and the studio thought it was OK, but it wasn't long enough. It was only 6,000 feet. Normally a film in Hong Kong should be around 8,000 feet, or even better, 9,000. They stuck some other stuff at the beginning of that movie to make it longer. Anyway, the accountants said I had made the studio a lot of money, so they released me from the contract.

NOTE: Monster movie fans who would like to see THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN have many options to choose from. The English dubbed version (with theatrical trailer) is available on Region 1 DVD from Miramax Home Entertainment. Last year, Celestial Pictures released the film in a variety of formats: an All-Region VCD with English subtitles; a R3 DVD with Mandarin audio, removable English, traditional Chinese, Malaysian, and Indonesian subtitles, plus cast biographies, photo and poster galleries, and trailer; and a Japanese R2 2-disc set loaded with extras.

 
02/24/05:
GODZILLA FINAL WARS INTERVIEWS: THE NEW YORK COP AND THE GANGSTER PIMP
Actors MICK PRESTON and DARREN SCHNASE discuss their encounter with Rodan in GFW
Author: Keith Aiken
Special thanks to Joe Fenech, Aaron Smith, and James Ballard for photo assistance



Mick Preston (l) and Darren Schnase with Toho monster maker Shinichi Wakasa at the GFW Premiere After Party in Hollywood, 11/29/04. Photo Credit: Oki Miyano
New York City on cold, wet night: A police officer (Mick Preston) oversees the towing of an illegally parked car when he is confronted by the vehicle's owner; a gangster pimp (Darren Schnase). The two argue and things escalate to the point that they pull guns on each other. A bum sitting on a discarded couch watches the standoff until something in the sky catches his attention...

What begins as a scene out of any number of action movies takes a sudden turn with the arrival of Rodan, the Flying Monster to NYC... signaling the start of a worldwide assault by more than a half-dozen Toho kaiju in GODZILLA FINAL WARS. For Godzilla's 50th anniversary film, executive producer Shogo Tomiyama and director Ryuhei Kitamura aimed for a larger scale, more global type of story than had long been seen in the Godzilla series. In addition to shooting in multiple international locations-New York, Paris, Shanghai, Sydney-- FINAL WARS also features several gaijin (foreigner) performers, including K-1 fighting star Don Frye in the lead role of Gotengo Captain Douglas Gordon, and actors Darren Schnase and Mick Preston in key supporting parts in the New York sequence.

GODZILLA FINAL WARS provided a major comeback for the popular kaiju Rodan after more than a decade offscreen. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
With the rare exception of American stars like Nick Adams (FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, MONSTER ZERO), Russ Tamblyn (WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS; see the 01/06/05 interview on H!O), Joseph Cotton and Caesar Romero (LATITUDE ZERO), most of the foreigners in Toho's fantasy films are not actors, but were culled from a mix of businessmen, lawyers, agents, models, teachers, and athletes who simply looked the part and could speak a few lines in English. Darren Schnase and Mick Preston differed from the norm in that both are professional actors with extensive credits in theater, commercials, and television. Schnase's credits include stage productions of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (2000) and KISS ME KATE (2001), plus the Australian TV dramas LIFE SUPPORT(2002) and ALL SAINTS (2003); Preston had a recurring role in the long-running soap opera GUIDING LIGHT, performed with Tony Randall on LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, acted in several award-winning independent films including the Sundance/Project Greenlight finalist ACCOMPLICE, LITTLE XMAS, THE APARTMENT, THE ROMANTIC COMEDY WITH AN EDGE, and THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, and appeared with his legendary teacher Uta Hagen and actresses Amanda Peet and Marlo Thomas in the film ACTING WITH UTA HAGEN (2001). Both auditioned multiple times for their roles in GODZILLA FINAL WARS and were finally selected from a group of more than two hundred hopefuls.

I had the chance to meet and talk at length with both actors at the VIP After Party following the world premiere of FINAL WARS in Hollywood. They were full of great stories about what it was like to be gaijin actors in a Godzilla film--their auditions, the filming in Sydney and Tokyo, working with Ryuhei Kitamura and the other crew members-and they kindly agreed to be interviewed and to discuss their experiences with Henshin! Online. In early 2005, Mick Preston answered questions via e-mail from Sydney, while Darren Schnase was interviewed in person in Los Angeles, CA on January 24.

Mick Preston as the 'Police Officer'. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
HENSHIN! ONLINE: Thank you for taking the time to talk about your work in GODZILLA FINAL WARS. Let's start with a little personal history; would you tell me a bit about your backgrounds?

MICK PRESTON: I was born in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and then moved to Melbourne, Australia at the age of one. After that I moved to the US where I lived for eleven years; I lived for nine of those years in New York and Los Angeles for two. Currently I'm living in Sydney, Australia. After I finished high school I drifted from job to job; I think I had about 197 different types of careers. I did everything from living in a house with 4 intellectually disabled men to playing a schizophrenic character for doctors to assess in a hospital (like that episode of SEINFELD where Kramer does the same thing). I also went to college and got myself a teaching degree. And at some point I fell in love with traveling. I've been to about 37 countries and 6 continents so far -- Morocco, Brazil, Moscow, Croatia -- Southeast Asia a lot.

After I'd been fired from my 197th job, I met a girl who told me she was an actress. I hadn't really known many actors before. The college where I did my teaching degree (Rusden College in Melbourne) had a drama department-- Rachel Griffiths [HILLARY AND JACKIE, BLOW] studied there. I remember always running into these actors and disliking them intensely because they were always singing and hugging each other and full of smiles. I was usually unhappy and a bit shy, so I thought that if that's what it takes to be an actor then there's no way I could do it. But when I met this girl she wasn't like that at all. She was quite intense. She told me about this teacher in New York named Uta Hagen and showed me her book 'Respect for Acting'. So I decided to try career number 198 and move to New York. I told my folks I'd see how I liked it over there and if I didn't like it then I'd be back in 6 weeks. 11 years later I finally made it home! Within 9 days of arriving there I'd been cast in a play and a short film. And as soon as I stepped onto a stage I just fell in love with it.

I did end up studying with Uta. She was one of those great teachers from the same era as Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Stanford Meisner, and so on. She's influenced many American and foreign actors of this and previous generations. Matthew Broderick, who starred in the American GODZILLA, trained with her. I studied with her for several years. It was an amazing experience. She also asked me to be one of only a few of her students to appear in her film ACTING WITH UTA HAGEN. I had several other terrific teachers in New York too, such as Austin Pendleton and Carol Rosenfield. Carol became like a mentor to me. She was also a brilliant teacher because she was so attuned to the actor, their instrument, and to the world around her. I'm still in frequent contact with her.

Darren Schnase as the 'Gangster'. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
DARREN SCHNASE: I was actually born in Philadelphia--home of the Super Bowl contenders, the Eagles-- so I've got dual citizenships. My father was in Viet Nam and had R&R in Sydney and met my mother there. Things were going well; he proposed to her, she said yes, he came back to America and she followed soon after. They got married over here and she was here for about three years. I was born in 1971. Things didn't work out as sometimes happens in this day and age. After a custody battle she eventually got custody of me and we went back to Australia when I was two and a half years old. We went straight to my grandparents' place in Brisbane and I was there until I was 21 and went traveling around the world.

I came to LA for about 10 months, working at a youth hostel here; then I went to Aspen for a year and a half... did a bit of snowboarding there, pretty much all the time. After that I thought it was time I went to Europe. I spent 5 months on the Greek islands, just bartending and having a good time, then spent two months traveling on a Eurorail pass. I tried to find work in Austria, at Kitzburg-- the ski resorts there. It's a lot different over here... particularly if you don't speak German or you don't have an EU passport it's very difficult to find work in Austria. Money was getting a bit short so I thought I needed to find work soon. So I headed over to England for 6 months and bartended in Rochester, Essex. By the end of that it was 3 and half years since I'd left and I was starting to get a little bit homesick and missing my friends... I was 27 by that stage. So I thought I'd go back to Australia and started getting serious about my acting.

I did a course in Brisbane, got an agent, and did quite a few plays and commercials. Then I auditioned for a drama school in Australia called NIDA that's based in Sydney-Cate Blanchett and Mel Gibson are former students there. I finished up there at the end of 2001, and worked quite a bit again in theater, independent film, commercials... then I got the Godzilla film. By that stage I was three years out of school, and I thought I'd gone as far as I could go in Australia with my look, my ethnicity. I'd also planned to go back to the States, y'know-particularly for actors, you can't beat New York or LA. So here I am... I came over about 4 months ago.

A tense situation on the streets of New York City. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: That would have been right after you finished working on FINAL WARS...

SCHNASE: Pretty much, yeah. I got back from Tokyo and I started arranging for the movers to pack up my house, giving my landlord notice, closing off the phone bill, all that sort of stuff. I've gone full circle... I started off in Brisbane, moved to Sydney, then overseas, then back to Brisbane, Sydney, then here again.

H!O: New Guinea, Australia, England, Morocco, America, Brazil, Austria, Greece.. that's quite an international background the two of you have.

PRESTON: If they ever do a Godzilla trivia quiz, a good question might be 'Who was the only New Guinean actor ever to be in a Godzilla film?'! [laughs]

SCHNASE: If work suddenly arises in Canada or in Europe-they're doing a lot of filming in Romania, Prague-or even back home I'll definitely go back and work if it's a decent enough role.

H!O: How did you first learn about GODZILLA FINAL WARS?

SCHNASE: Funny enough, I was in Melbourne visiting a friend of mine for the weekend. Monday morning comes around and my agent rings me up and says, "Darren we've got an audition for you this afternoon," and I was like, "Sorry, but I'm in Melbourne." I asked what it was for and he said, "It's the new Godzilla film." So I called the airlines to see if I could reschedule my flight and come back that afternoon. So I paid a $15 'cancellation and change of flight' fee and got back there that same day.

PRESTON: I'd only been in Sydney a short time when I got a tip that Toho was looking for an actor to play a New York character in the film. So I called up in my best 'Brooklynese' and asked to audition.

The original GODZILLA FINAL WARS storyboard of the gangster and the cop, and the final shot with Schnase and Preston. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: Where were the auditions held?

PRESTON: I auditioned at Fox Studios in Sydney.

SCHNASE: I wasn't there with Mick, I never auditioned with him. My auditions took place at a hotel near Darling Harbour; Toho hired out one of the suites there.

H!O: Do you know if there was much competition for the parts?

PRESTON: I think they saw more than 150 actors.

SCHNASE: I was only there for two days but they were auditioning all week, so I'm guessing it was more than 60+ easily. They weren't specifically saying, "We want an African-American guy for this role"... it was very much a cattle call.

H!O: What was the auditioning process like for FINAL WARS?

SCHNASE: I don't think Ryuhei Kitamura was there at that time... I think he came along for the callbacks. There was about three or four of the crew there, and I was deposited in a waiting room with about 15 guys, just for that particular day. And we just went in there and they were chucking us all up amongst different scenes. I was doing the police officer in the gangster scene; there were two brothers breaking into a car and the police officer was coming over and busting them when Rodan comes down the main drag in New York. We all just chucked the roles around, y'know--I played the police officer, then I played the gangster, then one of the brothers-and we all just played around with it. About a week later I got a callback, and that's when Ryuhei was there. It was pretty much the same thing again but with a little more improv... try it this time with a little more intensity, a bit more playing around. When we were done they said I should hear from them by the end of the next week.

After about three weeks I thought, "Oh well, I didn't get it." They never let you know when you didn't get it so you just assume you didn't get it until you hear otherwise. And then about three, three and half weeks later I got a call from my agent saying, "Look mate, you got the role."
The standoff between the cop and the gangster is interrupted by Rodan, the Flying Monster. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.

PRESTON: I had a second audition a week after the first. It was at a hotel in the city.

The auditions were based largely on improvisation. There was a script, but we had the freedom to go off the page. At the callbacks I auditioned with probably seven or eight other actors and was there for a long time. Ryuhei Kitamura would call us in in groups of two or three and give us different scenarios to perform. He also had us play different characters... at one point I even did a scene as Darren's character, the black pimp! I was a little disappointed I didn't get that part actually. I think I would have made a great black pimp! [laughs].

It was a funny audition. Someone (an Australian...I won't say who!) told me that for the New York role they were looking for a cross between Freddie Prinze Jr. and Clint Eastwood because this was to be a quirky type of film. They told me that I should probably add some quirky behavior because I was probably too normal looking and so was a real longshot to get the part. I remember thinking "...Okay, I know who Clint Eastwood is, but Freddie Prinze Jr... isn't he the lead singer of 'Queen'?" It wasn't till I got home that I realized that they meant the guy who's in all those teen movies. Anyway, so I added a few ticks, some drooling... [laughs]

Working with director Ryuhei Kitamura, Schnase and Preston revised their lines from the original GODZILLA FINAL WARS script. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
SCHNASE: They didn't know exactly what they wanted until they saw it, y'know... it wasn't like they specifically wanted you for the gangster role. They just played around and whoever they thought suited that character best, that would put them into that role.

H!O: There have been justified complaints from some black actors in Hollywood that all they get offered are the criminal parts. Did it bother you at all being cast in a Japanese Godzilla movie, and your role was that of a gangster pimp?

SCHNASE: You know what? That's pretty much all I was ever cast for in Australia; gangsters, thugs, pimps, tough guys, the black guy with the chip on his shoulder. I was lucky enough to get on the Australian version of ER called ALL SAINTS, and I got cast as a pilot-with a cocaine problem...

H!O: [laughs]

SCHNASE: Nonetheless, he was a pilot [laughs]. And that was only because I knew the producer of the show. I did one of her workshops and she really liked my work and gave me the opportunity to audition for ALL SAINTS. But everything else... most of the stuff was bouncer, gangster, etc so I kind of expected it. And it was a trip to Japan, y'know, and I was getting paid for it - I wasn't going to say 'No' to that.

H!O: Did your characters have any names? What were they called in the script?

Mick and Darren show their uniforms at Toho Studios, 9/02/04. On the dressing room wall is a production photo from the original GODZILLA. Photo Credit: Joe Fenech © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
SCHNASE: It just said 'Gangster'... 'Police Officer' and 'Gangster'. That's all it was. I don't think there was enough to my character to give him a background about where he grew up and why he hates the NYPD. [laughs]

H!O: Was your copy of the GODZILLA FINAL WARS script completely in English?

PRESTON: No, not completely. Our scenes were in English and below it was the Japanese translation.

Actually, there's a funny story about that. I was sitting at a café with my brother the night before the first audition, reading the scene, when it suddenly occurred to me that maybe there had been some kind of mistake in the transmission and that perhaps I was going to have to read those lines written in Japanese at the audition and they had just forgotten to translate them for me. So in a moment of panic I jumped up and told my brother that I was going to have to go off and find someone who could speak Japanese; I needed someone to translate because it had gotten too late to call anyone and my audition was first thing in the morning. So I went everywhere looking for someone who could speak the language. Finally, someone in a Japanese restaurant told me that the lines were the same, but just repeated in Japanese!

H!O: Were either of you Godzilla fans before you worked on this film?

PRESTON: I'd seen several Godzilla films before, mainly as a kid, and really enjoyed them. I wouldn't say I was a die-hard fan, though-I certainly haven't seen all 28! I don't even know if all the Godzilla films are available in Australia or what the fan base is like here [a handful of Godzilla films have recently been released on quality DVD in Australia by Eastern Eye]. Some people have actually asked me "When can we see that Spider-Man movie you were in? Or was it King Kong?" They did play the first GODZILLA though recently at the Sydney Film Festival.

SCHNASE: Obviously I knew of Godzilla, but I was not a devoted fan...no. I'd seen a couple of films a long time ago, but the main one I saw recently was the American production. People kept asking me about GODZILLA FINAL WARS: "Will this one have the man in the suit?" but I had no idea what they were going to do with this; it wasn't explained what was going to happen. All of my friends were saying "I hope it really stays with the traditional look" because that's the authentic one-everyone was saying they hated the American version.

A wind generator looms in the foreground as Darren discusses a shot with Ryuichi Takatsu and the crew. Photo Credit: Joe Fenech © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: [laughs] The American film was not a hit with Godzilla fans.

PRESTON: I saw that film when I was living in New York, so I thought it was hysterical-- that scene in FINAL WARS where the Japanese Godzilla crushes the American one.

SCHNASE: I thought it was great when the villain said "I knew that tuna eating lizard was good for nothing." It was great! [laughs]

H!O: The audience at the premiere sure loved it. That line brought the house down.

SCHNASE: Oh yeah, they were rooting for that to happen the whole time. You see the American Godzilla in there with all the other monsters and you just know there's going to be a little comedy bit in there with him.

H!O: Your scenes featured Rodan attacking New York City. Were you familiar with that monster from any of his previous films?

SCHNASE: No, I wasn't. I'd heard of Mothra and one or two of the other characters; the mechanical Godzilla-Mechagodzilla-and movies like KING KONG VS GODZILLA, but I wasn't familiar with Rodan at all. They just explained that he was a sort of big prehistoric bird.

PRESTON: Neither was I. Basically the way we shot that scene was that we had to turn around and look at a spot several hundred meters in the air and imagine there was this one hundred meter high monster.

The last thing the cop and the gangster ever see... © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: When and where were your scenes filmed?

PRESTON: We shot in Sydney at the end of May or beginning of June, I think, and then in Japan in September. The Sydney portion of the film was shot on location in the city, while the Japanese portion was filmed entirely at Toho Studios in Tokyo.

SCHNASE: We filmed in Sydney right in the middle of winter and it was freezing... it was absolutely freezing. That big fur coat that I had on in the movie, sometimes I still had to put on another jacket over top because it was really, really cold. It must have been 15 or 16 degrees celsius. It was really cold.

H!O: So June is the coldest time of year in Australia?

SCHNASE: Yeah, that's our winter. Winter goes from about the middle of May to August. I mean the days are pretty warm, but the nights are cool and that one was one of the coldest.

We filmed about seven-eight hours, from about 10 at night to 4 or 5 in the morning. We filmed on, I think, it was Kent St [between Market and Druitt Streets] in downtown Sydney. They closed off one of the streets, about a block or so, and made it all New York-esque, y'know.

The Sydney location shoot, 5/30/04. Photo by Godzilla fan Keito Mishita. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: How was the Sydney street redressed so it would pass for New York?

SCHNASE: Just by putting up a USA Today newspaper stand, a telephone booth somewhere, a couple of street signs... the car and, obviously, the tow truck were American with the placement of the steering wheel, all that sort of stuff. They also put up frames alongside buildings to create more of a New York feel. New York's got that classic sort of "boulevard of broken dreams" feeling... the streets are all wet and there's smoke coming up out of the grates; they had all that happening. The street was saturated the whole time we were shooting and there was smoke billowing up here and there. That was pretty much it. It was a small street. They pretty much filmed from one basic angle where you could see right down the street.

H!O: And they used background plates for the reverse angle...

SCHNASE: Yeah.

H!O: Do you know if there were any concerns about GODZILLA FINAL WARS including scenes of the destruction of New York in the post-9/11 era?

PRESTON: Well I can't answer that question for sure but I think that the whole nature of this film--that it is a little quirky--would probably allay any of those concerns. You don't get to see all the footage that we shot in our scenes but, for example, in the Mexican standoff--at the point where I have a gun sticking in my face-- I'm still chewing on a donut and drinking my coffee. So it's not naturalistic, really, in any areas of the film.

SCHNASE: I wasn't concerned, no, because of the way Ryuhei was directing the scenes. Mick and I were sitting there thinking, "Okay, this is a serious scene... it's a face-off," but Ryuhei kept saying, "No, no. It's gotta be sort of slapstick." Like, I had my gun out and Mick was taking bits off his donut and putting them on the end of my gun, and I was going, "My character wouldn't put up with that." I knew from that it was going to be a little bit of a slapstick, Three Stooges 'nyuck-nyuck-nyuck' type of thing. So, no... it didn't really come across to me that people would be taken aback by the scene, not at all. And it wasn't as if this was solely New York... it was global. New York just happened to be one of the cities.

H!O: I would imagine New York or Los Angeles would be the obvious choices for the monster scenes, and New York clearly has a more impressive skyline.
Rodan devastates NYC - a potentially sensitive subject post-9/11. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.

SCHNASE: Yeah, exactly. So it wasn't like, "Let's kill New York and leave everything else alone."

PRESTON: Right, the destruction involved other cities as well - Sydney, Paris, Shanghai, Tokyo.

H!O: Early reports on Monster Zero News and Ain't It Cool claimed that your scenes originally contained a lot of profanity... was that the case?

PRESTON: Yes, there was a lot of profanity. Basically Ryuhei wanted to expand upon what he'd written so we got together on set and worked out some changes. We had a lot of freedom with our physical actions and the dialogue, hence a lot of the swearing just came out of improvising the scenario. You know, New York... a feud between a NY cop and a black pimp...a Mexican standoff...that sort of thing. At the time no one seemed concerned with the language.

SCHNASE: Mick and I got into makeup, and we had our scripts so we were rehearsing while we were getting our makeup done and I said, "Does this sound weird to you?" And Mick said, "Yeah, it's not real." It was really polite, like, "Don't point your gun at me. Put my car down/No, I'm going to give you a ticket." and all this sort of crap. I'm a gangster, I've got this magnum sitting on my hip, and all I'm saying is, "Don't do that, put my car down."
The scenes, as originally filmed, included a lot of swearing. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.

H!O: [laughs] The pleasant gangster!

SCHNASE: [laughs] Noooo, that doesn't make sense. The great thing about Ryuhei was that he was so open to suggestions. When he was showing us the blocking for our scene, we said to him, "It just doesn't sound authentic...it really doesn't. It doesn't mesh at all. Mick's lived over there for like 10 years, I've spent a bit of time in America." So he asked us what we were thinking, and we said, "Maybe if you put in a 'f*ck you' or something along those lines," and he "Okay, let's try it." So we rewrote a couple lines, cut a few things out, put a word in there, cut another there, so it started sounding pretty authentic, y'know?

Then we played around with the scene a couple times and, as an actor, it felt right, it felt good. It felt like it brought tension to the scene until that little comic bit comes along.

H!O: Obviously none of that made it into the final film, so when was the dialogue cleaned up?
The actors improvised more authentic "street" dialogue, but Toho wanted something more "kid friendly" for GODZILLA FINAL WARS. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.

PRESTON: When we got to Tokyo we were told our footage would have to be relooped to get rid of the swearing so that the film could get a rating that meant kids could see it. That was difficult. We'd been doing stunt work all day, some pretty physical stuff, and we'd been shooting since the morning. By this time it was about 2 a.m. We headed over to the sound studio and Ryuhei played our footage for us. He told me that he wanted me to replace all my swearing with different words. I can't remember what he asked me to say. Anyway when they played back the footage I was a little in shock seeing how much I'd sworn and how much dubbing I had to do. Dubbing can be a difficult process at the best of times but I really struggled with this.

SCHNASE: It was a long day... we were there for about 15 hours on the set. And we were looking to get back to our hotel about 1:30-2 in the morning, and Ryuhei was like, "Oh before you leave we'd better go over to the sound studio. We gotta redub the whole scene." It's basically a 'PG' film, and like every second word was a swear word, was a curse.

So we're sitting there and it was torture. You just know it's not gonna mesh... all of a sudden it's "Forget you" instead of "F*ck you". You look at the mouth movements and it just doesn't work at all. I think Mick got the brunt of it; mine wasn't too bad because in a lot of my scene I've turned to look at the bum so you don't see my face. But everything Mick says is full-on in front of the camera so you can't miss a beat of it [laughs].

PRESTON: Somebody was passing by while we were filming in Sydney and they described what they saw and heard on one of the Godzilla fansites. Their description was extremely accurate, so if anybody wants to know what we were really saying they should read that report. [The set report and transcript of the original dialogue are available on Monster Zero]

H!O: At the premiere After Party it was clear that the two of you are great friends. What was it like working together on the film?

PRESTON: It was an amazing time. Darren was excellent to work with. He was completely open to any suggestions. For example, when Ryuhei, Darren, and I were talking about how to rework the 'standoff' scene it became a real collaboration. And when it came time to actually shoot it I felt we worked really well together. Even though the confrontation was largely improvised we still had to agree on certain key dialogue and choreographed movement so I think that we were quite in sync with each other. That's not always easy to do, particularly under the pressure of time and so on. It was obvious that Darren is a terrific and well trained actor. And he's also a really good and positive person.

Mick being cool. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
SCHNASE: Mick was cool, Mick was good. We have two very different energies; I'm more full of energy and Mick's more laid back. And it even comes across in his character, I think... even though he raises his voice and pulls his gun, Mick's always got that demeanor that he's in control. He calmly says, "I'm the fastest shooter in New York," and I'm all hyper with "Yeah, bring it on...I'll shoot you, I'll shoot you!" I think we both compliment each other really well. Mick was great to work with. He was also really helpful after the shoot. He lived in LA for a couple of years after New York so I would sit down and pick his brain about the best way to approach agents and managers and what are good places to go as far as doing workshops and whatnot. So, we became pretty good mates, yeah. He's a good bloke.

H!O: Did you know each other before FINAL WARS?

SCHNASE: The first time I saw Mick was when we had our wardrobe fitting. I didn't know him at all, but we had mutual friends. I did an independent film about 2 and a half months before I got the Godzilla gig, and the guy I was acting with in that film.. he actually told Mick about the audition for FINAL WARS. They were looking for a New York cop and Mick spent several years in New York, so his friend was like, "You should go for that, you'd be perfect for it...you've got the New York accent and everything." So its funny, we didn't know each other but we had a mutual friend...small world.

H!O: How about the other actor... the one who played a wino in the New York sequence?

SCHNASE: His name was Michael. He was a native of New York; he told us about the bad things that happened on the streets. He'd been in Australia for like 10, 12 years and was in the acting industry. I think he was an acting agent or a casting agent over there and had done a bit of acting. He was a great help. I had a voice tape in my Dictaphone and he would just talk so I could listen to his accent and work on it.

He kept on saying, "See if you guys can get me over to Tokyo." He really wanted to go, and it was just our two characters that were needed there. He kept going, "Hook me up. I wanna go to Tokyo! Put in a good word for me, put in a good word for me." He was a nice guy. We only met that one night. We were finishing our wardrobe fitting when he came in to do his, so we only met him there very briefly. We spent 8 hours with him that night, talking in bits and pieces... what would be authentic as far as a gangster would go since he'd known a few bad people back in New York. He gave a few hints and tips. He was very helpful, a very polite guy.
Mick and Darren with Ryuhei Kitamura at Toho Studios, 9/02/04. Photo Credit: Joe Fenech © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.

H!O: Did Ryuhei Kitamura direct your scenes or were they handled by one of the assistant directors?

PRESTON: Ryuhei directed the filming in Sydney. He was great to work with... a terrific director. He seemed very calm, was very open to suggestions. He gave us the freedom to invent things on the set. I remember shooting my scenes with Darren and thinking, "This is going totally in the opposite direction to what I'd envisioned." I'd seen my character as being very tough, very intense throughout, but Ryuhei gave the role more of an arc. At the beginning the character became more casual, eating a donut, drinking coffee, and so on...but by the end they were in each other's faces. I thought that was great direction.

H!O: Were you familiar with his work before you got the roles in GODZILLA FINAL WARS?

PRESTON: I wasn't, but I have a friend who is a big fan of Ryuhei's and Japanese film. We actually went to see [Kitamura's 2003 film] AZUMI together later on and he told me that he thought it was the second best samurai film he'd ever seen. He also told me that VERSUS had been made on a bet and that it had been shot and edited within six days!

SCHNASE: No, I wasn't familiar with his work at all. I used to watch some anime films and old school films like SEVEN SAMURAI, but I wasn't very aware of the Japanese movie world. I know that they set the foundation for a lot of classic Hollywood films... MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, and so on. Now I'd really like to get hold of a bunch of these things he's done, y'know.

H!O: Can you tell me a little about the crews you worked with?

PRESTON: The crews were also wonderful...very kind and friendly with a strong work ethic. Ryuhei told me that his record for continuous shooting was 48 hours straight! I think the thing that struck me about the Japanese crews overall was that they were very approachable and also very humble. When Darren and I were introduced to the FINAL WARS crew at Toho Studios in Tokyo the crew applauded. Everyone, from Ryuhei to the interpreters to even the executive producer of Toho, Mr Tomiyama, was exceptionally kind to us.

SCHNASE: They were great... really very polite, very friendly. Obviously, there's that subtle language barrier but we had the interpreters running back and forth so there's was no lack of communication at all. The Japanese crew was just real polite, genuine people. I hate rudeness, and they were the furthest thing from that. If you were in line for refreshments or whatever and they were ahead of you they would insist-not just suggest-that you go first. They did things like that all the time, y'know.
A big 'thumbs' up' from 2nd Unit Director Ryuichi Takatsu and Mick Preston. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.

H!O: Did Toho use a large crew for the Sydney shoot?

SCHNASE: Yeah, there were quite a few people there. There were the two interpreters, and the Japanese crew was maybe 16-20 crew members, maybe a couple more than that. There were the directors of photography, all the guys running down the street with the hoses rewetting the streets, all that sort of stuff. The makeup staff was all Australian. So there were about 20 people there; I remember it was Ryuhei's birthday that night [May 30]... they'd hired out this foyer area across the road where we all had dinner, and they snuck in a cake for him and we all started singing 'Happy Birthday'.

H!O: What was it like shooting at Toho Studios?

PRESTON: In Japan we did the blue screen work with the international director, Ryuichi Takatsu. Again, he was fantastic to work with. We were on the same soundstage Akira Kurosawa used for SEVEN SAMURAI. That was where we shot all the stunt work; the part where Rodan blows us away. We were suspended on wires and trapezes and had to simulate flying through the air in front of a blue screen. The New York City backdrop was added later.

I remember that at one point Takatsu was explaining my second shot in the aerial sequences. He started demonstrating that he wanted me to be doing triple somersaults with a half back lift or something...all while screaming and keeping my face up for the camera! I remember smiling and saying "Sure, no problem", while inwardly screaming "Help! Get me out of here!" You see, I'm one of the least coordinated people on the planet.

H!O: [laughs]

Mick Preston confers with the stunt coordinator before filming his scenes at Toho Studios. In the background is the trailer used during the Kumonga sequence in Arizona. Photo Credit: Joe Fenech © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
PRESTON: Anyway they strapped me up in harnesses and hoisted me up in the air while the stunt coordinator went through the choreography. I actually felt quite free that day and sort of just flung myself into it but at the moment where I was supposed to suspend myself in mid-air and look back at Rodan and scream I just couldn't stop somersaulting. After this happened a couple of times Takatsu came up to me and said, "Wait here". And I literally mean 'wait here' because I was suspended about 15 feet up in the air! So they had this big conference and came back 5 minutes later and said "Okay, just wave your arms about and scream a lot and that's it." At that moment I felt about as big as Ed Burns must have in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN when he realized that every shot he blew probably cost more than the entire budget of his first film, THE BROTHERS McMULLEN. I expected Taka to come up to me at any minute and say, "You'll never work in this town again!" But he didn't. He really was a terrific guy.

SCHNASE: Ryuhei was working on one of the spacecraft scenes when we were there, so our stunts were directed by Takatsu-- we called him 'Taka'. He was lovely to work with. There had been a mechanical problem with one of the cameras and they had to get a replacement part, so while we were waiting I asked if he wanted me to do anything differently for the next take. He would shake his head and say, "Good! Good!" He made it clear that it was a technical problem and he was happy with the performances. "You good, good. One more time, please." He must have said, "One more time" about 6 or 7 times. [laughs] It was adorable... he's such a great guy. I felt like, y'know, he's the director, he's in charge, but I was the one calling the shots. He was so humble, "One more, please," that I felt like I couldn't say, "Naaah."

I told him, "You need to come over to Hollywood," and he said, "When Ryuhei goes to America, I will be #1 in Japan." [laughs] I thought he had the right idea; was on the right track. He was a real joy to work with.

Mick tests out the support cables. Photo Credit: Joe Fenech © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: Did you work with much of the same crew as before?

SCHNASE: When we worked in Tokyo there were still a lot of the same faces in the crew plus a few other ones that hadn't been in Sydney.

H!O: Some of the visual effects technicians...

SCHNASE: Yeah, there were all the visual effects guys and the stunt coordinator. He did all the cable work for us, set up the wirework... it was amazing. I had this heavy coat on in this huge, tin studio in the middle of summer and it was boiling hot over there.

H!O: [laughs] So you went from freezing in Sydney to boiling in Tokyo?

SCHNASE: Yeah, and I had this huge coat on, so after every take they'd rush a chair in and one of the techies would be there with a little paper fan. He would keep fanning me down and when one arm got tired he would just switch to the other one. Someone would be rushing over with cold green tea or offering biscuits or tea or whatever... and I didn't know how to handle it 'cause I'm just not used to that sort of pampering. No matter how big my career gets I don't think that's ever something I could really get used to.
Mick Preston rehearses a flip. Photo Credit: Joe Fenech © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
It's nice to be pampered but you just feel like, "It's all right, I can do that for myself." And you had to be careful because if you worded things the wrong way they thought they'd offended you in some way. So you had to go, "Thank you, that's great... but you don't have to do that." If you just told them to stop they would be like, "Oh, sorry, sorry," as if they'd done something wrong when they hadn't. I wanted to say "You should relax... you're working harder than I am, trust me." I got there about midday and that guy's been there since 7 a.m. working on another set. Those guys were doing like 20+ hours, it was ridiculous. They were the true heroes of the film.

H!O: I'm sure the crew members will be pleased to hear that.

SCHNASE: I hope so. It was a really good experience because of them.

H!O: Did you see much of Kitamura while you were in Japan?

SCHNASE: Yeah, he came in towards the end of our shoot just to say 'hi' to us, shake our hands, tell what was going on in the next studio, and how things were going. He also came into the sound studio to do the looping.

He came over with this guy, Joe Fenech... you only see him for a split-second in FINAL WARS. The guy was in the trailer watching the TV when it goes all fuzzy, then the giant spider [Kumonga] just crushes the trailer. That guy was actually Ryuhei's mate from Australia.

PRESTON: Joe's not an actor; he works as a floor manager at SBS television station in Sydney. He and Ryuhei went to film school together [at the School of Visual Arts].

Mick, Ryuhei Kitamura, Darren, and supporting actor Joe Fenech at Toho Studios. Photo Credit: Joe Fenech © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
SCHNASE: He wasn't even meant to be in GODZILLA FINAL WARS, but Ryuhei flew him over. Mick and I were both in the budget; it was part of our contract that we were going to fly to Japan, get put up in a hotel... but I think Ryuhei flew his friend in out of his own pocket just to get him in the film. He has a little scene, just an American in the middle of Arizona watching his TV.

H!O: So Toho filmed the scene where Kumonga attacks Joe Fenech in the trailer on the same day that you were there doing the Rodan scenes?

SCHNASE: Yeah, that was right where we were filming ours. They had the trailer all set up and ready to roll right next to us. They filmed us first against the blue screen, and then they filmed the trailer sequence after we were finished. I felt sorry for Joe because he hung around the whole time we were there, just waiting... and then, when we left, he started filming his stuff. He was there until about 5 o'clock in the morning; he had about a twenty hour day, too.

PRESTON: I remember his shoot because we all went to the set that day together--at around midday-and Joe didn't start shooting his scenes till around 2 a.m. If you remember from the film he was shot in a very tight close up. The difficulty he said was that, because the logistics of filmmaking being what they are, he had to balance on a small wooden box while saying his lines (in a Texan accent), drinking a beer, and avoiding being crushed by the spider. He said he had a very hard time staying balanced on that box!

H!O: All that for a brief moment of screentime.

SCHNASE: Yeah, exactly.

PRESTON: He's actually in the movie in a couple of different places. He's an extra in the scenes where the American Godzilla destroys Sydney. And then he's the guy that gets crushed by Kumonga in the trailer park scenes.

In order to simulate the effects of Rodan's sonic boom, Darren is suspended on cables and rushed towards the camera. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: Did you spend much time in Japan?

SCHNASE: I enjoyed hanging out with Mick in Tokyo. He stayed on for another two or three days but I pretty much left the next day. I couldn't really afford it because I was putting all my funds into coming here and, as you know, Tokyo is a very expensive city. Toho paid for our accommodations for two nights, everything after that we had to pay for ourselves. We spent a day going to all the temples and that sort of stuff; walking around thru the city of Shibuya. It was great. I'll go back there at some stage.

PRESTON: I stayed on for a week after the FINAL WARS shoot. I've always been really interested in Asian culture and philosophy so I jumped at the chance to spend some more time there.

H!O: What did you think of the movie when you got to see the completed final cut?

PRESTON: I loved it. All that mass destruction, I thought it was so way out there. I think that Ryuhei will really do well in the US; his sensibility and film making style is incredibly creative. I've only seen two of his films so far, GODZILLA FINAL WARS and AZUMI... he's got a bit of that Tarantino style going on. For example, in the midst of all that samurai carnage in AZUMI there appears a very androgynous-looking master samurai dressed all in white who carries a rose between his teeth and who has this insane giggle. Likewise in FINAL WARS, the central bad guy [Kazuki Kitamura] is just a little off kilter! He's a sort of fearless filmmaker, I guess.

SCHNASE: I thought it was great. Like I said, I haven't had much experience with Godzilla films and FINAL WARS certainly wasn't in the American style, which is what I'm used to. I'm not afraid to admit it, I love America action films and I wasn't really familiar with the Japanese style of Godzilla films. Just watching the movie, I was really impressed by the Japanese performers, particularly the bad guy. He was great... I thought he was brilliant. He had that whole 'bad guy aura' without having to growl and speak with a real deep voice to prove he's tough. Every now and then he would just lose it [laughs]... it was really, really good. All of the actors were good. Not being picky, y'know, but the American hero was not an actor...

H!O: Don Frye? He's a wrestler.

SCHNASE: Yeah, he's a wrestler, but he was perfect for what the character required. That deep voice and delivery, [imitates Don Frye's deep, gravelly voice] "Time to wake up the monster." I see that he's doing another Japanese movie about a wrestling family. He's one of the main characters in that. I read about that on the Tokyo Monsters website.

H!O: Are you happy with how your roles came out in the finished film? Was there anything missing that you wish had been kept in the movie?

The shot in the finished film shows the gangster being swept away by a massive explosion caused by Rodan. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
SCHNASE: I think I was kind of expecting a bit more out of the 'getting swept away by Rodan' scene. All you see is the hats going, then our feet up off the ground, the whole screen was fire, then there was a closeup of me and 'blip'-that's it. I was hoping there would be a bit more recognition in there... that you can clearly see its Mick and me getting blown up in the air.

PRESTON: When I was in Tokyo doing looping I saw a rough cut and at that stage I was fairly pleased. There was a lot of interesting stuff happening when we were shooting. For example, at one point I was throwing pieces of donut at the pimp, putting pieces of the donut on the end of his gun, and Ryuhei even suggested I refer to him as Wesley Snipes! [laughs] It's funny because when we were shooting I remember thinking that this is something you'd find in a Tarantino movie-that bizarre, but very real type of behavior. I should have watched AZUMI before I shot FINAL WARS because that is also way out there!

Anyway, when I saw the final product I was a little disappointed that a lot of this had been cut. I sort of had a feeling that might happen because I thought it might have been too difficult to dub over all the swearing. Literally, every second word was a profanity.

SCHNASE: They cut a little bit from the loop we did in Tokyo, just because it was bad enough as it was and it just wasn't going to make any sense at all. There wasn't much cut out of the scene... for all intent and purpose most of it was there. I wasn't really disappointed; there were only 8 to 10 lines in the whole thing, anyway. I was just more surprised at how it came out with the lip-synching being way off.

It was pretty interesting to see it up on the big screen at the Chinese Theatre. Mick actually had to go to the bathroom, and he'd been gone like 20 seconds when I heard the sound of the car being jacked up. I said, "Oh, this is our scene!" So I'm sitting down there watching it and I'm thinking "Here we go, here we go!" and suddenly it's all this poor lip-synching. I thought no one in the theater would recognize me so it's alright. [laughs] Mick had been watching from the back and he was just wide-eyed. That was quite funny, it was all good. Not that there was anything we could use for our show reels, still...

H!O: What did you think of the comedic scene where Rodan blows the hats off your heads... complete with 'cartoon' sound effects?

PRESTON: The 'hats blowing off' shot really surprised me. I remember doing that part in Sydney with wind generators. They had fishing wire attached to the hats, and they were yanked off by crewmembers that were standing offscreen on ladders. I think it worked well.

SCHNASE: I wasn't expecting it; it kind of took me by surprise. When I saw it I knew there would be some kind of comedic thing, but when they did that 'nudge nudge-yank!' that kind of actually made the whole lip-synching thing easier for me to accept. It became a sort of unintentional tribute to the English dubbing in all those Asian films from years ago, the ones with all the poor lip-synching. It was a bit of a slapstick thing so it made it easier to bear as opposed to a strict drama or action film where you suddenly have this oddly dubbed scene. Otherwise, you might as well not even have it in there.

Mick discusses a shot with the stunt coordinator, the interpreter, 2nd unit director Ryuichi Takatsu, and the prop manager. Photo Credit: Joe Fenech © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: Did you always plan on attending the GODZILLA FINAL WARS world premiere in Hollywood, or was it more of a last-minute decision?

SCHNASE: I had already planned to come over to America even before I knew we were going to have the premiere here. We found out in Tokyo that they were going to have the premiere in LA and I was thinking, "Oh, I'm gonna be there then; awesome!" and Mick said, "You know what? Shit, I'm gonna come out for it as well... that'll be really good."

PRESTON: Yeah, I had always planned to be there.

SCHNASE: It just worked out great and it was all just a coincidence.

H!O: Talk about perfect timing!

SCHNASE: Yeah it was... perfect timing, it was absolutely perfect. Mick flew over for it on his own dime and was here for about half a week. It was fun to catch up with each other and mingle with everyone.

H!O: What did you think of the premiere screening at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and the events surrounding it?

PRESTON: I loved it. The thing about the premiere that was so great was that there was obviously a large number of Godzilla fanatics at the screening. Every time one of the monsters would appear the audience would freak out. I also really enjoyed the film, as well as finally meeting some of the other actors and behind the scenes people. And the Godzilla star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame kind of topped it all off.

Mick prepares to film his scenes in front of the blue screen at Toho Studios. Photo Credit: Joe Fenech © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: Did you attend the Hollywood Star ceremony?

SCHNASE: No, I didn't, no. They told me that was going on but I didn't know when that was happening. I was more concerned with getting to the premiere, seeing the movie, and hanging out with Mick while he was here...we had a good time that night. Having a few drinks, and chatting, and catching up with everyone. We didn't know if Taka was going to make it to Hollywood for the premiere because of budget concerns, but he did make it over and it was great to see him again.

H!O: It looked like the two of you were having a ball at the FINAL WARS After Party.

SCHNASE: Oh yeah. They weren't going to let us into that private party, and we were like, "We're in the movie!" We could see inside but we were standing there thinking, "We were in the movie too!" [laughs]

H!O: [laughs] I know what you mean... there was a VIP party inside the VIP party! I was so glad that my friends and I got invited in.

SCHNASE: We had to wait until Ryuhei's assistant came by and we asked her to just tell the doorman to let us in-the guy was only doing his job, y'know. So we went in there and had a couple drinks, met Don Frye and his wife and his wrestling buddy and all the rest. What was the name of the guy you introduced us to, the one who made the Godzilla costume?

H!O: Shinichi Wakasa.

SCHNASE: He was great! We got a great photo of the three of us. [see the first photo with this article]

H!O: His assistant Kakusei Fujiwara actually made Rodan. There were so many monsters to make for FINAL WARS that Wakasa had a whole team of suitmakers, and Kakusei sculpted and built Rodan under Shinichi's supervision. I think they built a suit and a flying model, and of course there was a CG version.

Technicians prep the Rodan flying model. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
SCHNASE: Right, right. And who was the guy that played Godzilla?

H!O: That was Tsutomu Kitagawa. His friends call him 'Tom'.

SCHNASE: I remember that I'd had a bit to drink, and I couldn't stop hugging that guy [laughs]. You were saying, "This is Mr Kitagawa," and I was all, "Oh, nice to meet you." Then you told us he was actually Godzilla and I said, "You were Godzilla?! Come here.." and I gave him this big bear hug. [laughs]. Really, they were all great.

H!O: So, what's next for the two of you?

PRESTON: Currently, I can be seen in THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY with Peter Bogdanovich [director of THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and an actor on THE SOPRANOS]. It's played at about 5 festivals worldwide so far--Switzerland, Germany, Italy, the US--and won a couple of awards, including 'Best Feature Film at the LI International Film Festival (New York) and the Swiss American Film Festival 'Audience Award for Best Feature Film' (Quad Cinema, New York). It's the story of a New York actor who is searching for work but just can't seem to get a job while his life is falling apart around him.

I've also got a few projects lined up here in Sydney. Two are with filmmaker Dalibor Backovic, who's last film, ENTOMBED, did very well in the FanTasia Film Festival in Montreal. The first of these is a sci-fi flick called PROJECT EVE REDUX, in which I play an astronaut who is the first person to travel trough hyperspace, but with disastrous consequences. The second is KING OF THE NEW WORLD, a drama about a corporate giant who runs the world from his office. The third of these movies is with the filmmaker Stefanos Stefanidis, whose last feature, ZTS- STATE OF ENTROPY, did well at several overseas festivals. In his next venture, I KILL, THEREFORE I AM, I play a soldier who is wounded during battle in Iraq desert and becomes separated from his platoon. While lost in the desert, he gradually degenerates both mentally and physically and starts to resemble the enemy.

And I'm writing as well. I've written a feature called NICK AND SAMMY. It's about a man who is hired to guide a group of mentally retarded men through life only to realize that he's the one who is being guided. It's a cross between STRICTLY BALLROOM and THE BOYS NEXT DOOR. And I've just come up with an idea for another film that will combine elements of Zen Buddhism and the samurai. I hope to start working on it soon with my writing partner in New York.

Officer Mick Preston... ready for action in front of the blue screen at Toho Studios. Photo Credit: Joe Fenech © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
SCHNASE: I've got a couple of independent films coming up-three, actually-two from Backstage West and one from LA casting. One of them is a short film by the American Film Institute called WHAT IF TOMORROW NEVER COMES? where I play a mafia boss. One I'm particularly interested in doing is being a lion on this kids' show called A BEAUTIFUL WORLD. I guess its sort of in the same realm as PLAYSCHOOL and SESAME STREET; you've got kids on the show. I went down to Eagle Rock yesterday to get all the prosthetics done because its got a big mask, a big mane...they did it up yesterday and it looks fantastic. They're doing some green screen because there's a bit of animation in there as well.

It's a really good show, its teaching kids that they have the choice to make a right decision.. something as simple as "should a kid do his homework so he's prepared for the next day's schooling or should he go out and play football for a while?" It's not making the choice for them, but it's letting kids make the right choice and letting them know the difference between a good decision and a not-so-good one... teaching them to be responsible and have good self esteem and not let things upset them. We're having our first read thru next weekend so I'm really looking forward to it. Filming should take place at the end of February.

Darren Schnase
H!O: Would this be an ongoing series?

SCHNASE: They're doing three episodes initially, so they can pitch it to a bunch of stations... ABC's one of them, Nickelodeon, Disney.

And the other one is a full-length feature called PATHEOS. It's a futuristic film set in "a galaxy far, far away." It has all these different worlds and the only weapons they use are types of biological warfare. They'll send a virus to attack other planets, who create anti-viruses to counterattack. It's a real STAR WARS-esque type of film. They've already started doing some the animation and it's amazing, it's really professional. I don't know where they found the artists to do that, but they're obviously put some money into this film. For an independent film, it looks really professional.

I'm playing Commander Burton. He's the leader of a space station that explodes and he and his flight crew are in this sort of space shuttle with no supplies, no food or water, and they're millions of miles away from Earth. It's fantastic... I'm really, really happy with it.

H!O: How does it feel to be a part of the long-running Godzilla series, knowing that people will be watching this movie again and again for decades to come (at least)?

SCHNASE: It feels brilliant. Whenever you do something on celluloid you partly hope and partly assume it will become a part of the archives for all of history, but you just know something like this will stand the test of time. Godzilla's not just some 'fly by night' character; he's an established international icon that has proven himself for fifty years... he's as big, or maybe even bigger, than King Kong. Seeing GODZILLA FINAL WARS in a theater just blew me away and I hope that the fans feel the same way. I also hope that they feel that Mick and my tiny part in Godzilla's history does the character justice.

PRESTON: It feels fantastic. This is the 50th anniversary and supposedly the final Godzilla film. It's also the first time a Japanese film has had its world premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. I watched the first one recently, the one with Raymond Burr... that's fifty years of history right there. It was a real honor to be a part of that, particularly as foreign actors brought to Japan for a Godzilla film. My mother is also really happy. My brother played a soldier in the film THE GREAT RAID... he's not an actor, but was actually a soldier at the time. She keeps saying, "Move over Baldwin Brothers!"

Is this the end for the cop and the gangster pimp? © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
By the way, although it appeared in GODZILLA FINAL WARS that the New York cop and the gangster pimp were killed by being blown hundreds of meters in the air by Rodan, they may not have actually died. Thus, if they ever do a sequel I think the cop and the pimp should reprise their roles and continue their long-running battle!

NOTE: Mick Preston can be contacted directly at mickpreston1@hotmail.com or through Nebula Management, Los Angeles [rplant@nebulamanagement.com or Mark Byrne Management, Sydney [markbyrne@markbyrne.com.au

Darren Schase may be contacted at darrenschnase@hotmail.com

 

02/24/05:
THE YEAR OF THE ROBO
Author: Peter Tatara
Source: Press Release


Homemade hero JOHNNY ROBO. © 2005 Experimental Amateur Hero Productions
Despite a lengthy history in Japan, tokusatsu is rarely taken seriously in the United States. The man on the street's knowledge doesn't extend beyond "Power Rangers", and if you try to strike up a conversation comparing and contrasting "Kamen Rider Ryuki" and "Kamen Rider Agito" on the bus, the most salient point you'll encounter might be a punch in the face.

While American cinema and television are embracing the style and look of Japanese Animation, almost no one has given as much as a glance at anime's spandex-clad brother.

Thailand has produced a big-budget toku-inspired film, "Garuda"; but there's an absence of any similar projects in the US. Looking into this vacuum, though, one can find a few independent pioneers like "Homemade Hero", "Alien vs. Hero", and, from France, "French Five".

Experimental Amateur Hero Productions is another group like the above, but their huge ego paired with a devastating lack of confidence sets them apart. My name is Peter Tatara, Experimental Amateur Hero Production's Producer. I'm a senior in Ithaca College in New York. I'm also the President of Ithaca College's Anime Society.

I used to make movies in high school. Together with friends, we'd turn in videotaped Spanish and Journalism projects. We made a news report on hostilities with Minbar, a zombie flick more horrifying than anything Romero's ever conjured, a three-part epic starring a time-traveling Fidel Castro, and a half-hour survey of World War II that was -- shall we say -- an adaptation. We made cooking shows, too.

After high school, I made more movies during my first year in college. I turned in three black-and-white shorts about atom bombs and unrequited love. Then, I changed majors.

The summer before the start of my last year, I spoke with one of my high school friends. He won a popcorn maker for his entry into a local drinking establishment's movie contest. I was proud and a little bit jealous. College had drained the fun out of making movies. I wanted to do something for the joy of it. In five minutes -- really five seconds -- with my friend, we created "Johnny Robo".

Shortly after my final fall semester began, I started recruiting a team. Because I was President of the Japanese Animation club, I could darn near make it mandatory.

My dream was something called "Johnny Robo"; a fun, simple mini-series paying tribute to and parodying everything from "Kamen Rider" to Pro Wrestling to Buster Keaton. It was an eclectic idea that quickly caught on and, five months later, it's on DVD. I'll spare you the hard drive hiccups and just say it was a success.

What is "Johnny Robo"? It is the story of a normal boy living a normal life. He was getting good grades. He even got himself a girlfriend. He didn't want to go beyond a simple, suburban destiny. But, one day, Baron X appeared. A monster from the dark dimension of Batlantis, Baron X had plans to spread his evil over the Earth, and Johnny -- transformed via his experimental Roboizer into Johnny Robo -- is all that stands between Baron X and victory.

Armed with his "Robo Kick" and "Robo Beam", Johnny Robo hacks and slashes his way through Baron X's army of Monsteroid minions to free the future from Batlantian control. Wherever there's a demon stealing a "Wet Floor" sign, Johnny Robo will be there. Wherever there's a gremlin picking his nose, Johnny Robo will be there. Wherever there's a devil forgetting to leave a tip, Johnny Robo will be there.

In the end, "Johnny Robo" is a cracked-up vaudevillian potpourri that looks like it was made by some college kids who should have been studying instead of playing with a camera and, well, it was.

I wanted to do something my last year in college; something that would be different, fun and challenging. "Johnny Robo" is all of that. Where to next? It's pretty obvious. We've already started shooting "Johnny Robo II".

If you'd like to learn more on "Johnny Robo", visit our official site at JohnnyRobo.cjb.net. There's a great deal of information up there along with the first episode. We're selling the series on DVD for $10. If that's too rich for your blood, there will be a BitTorrent release in the next few months.

Take a look. Experimental Amateur Hero Productions is made up of fans and we made "Johnny Robo" for fans. We'd love to hear what you think.

Johnny Robo! Go!

 

02/17/05:
KIKAIDA STAR BAN DAISUKE COMES TO SAN FRANCISCO!
Bite-sized News from the Eastern horizon!

Legendary Japanese action star Ban Daisuke will be making several special appearances in San Francisco this upcoming weekend to promote the return of his hit 1972 superhero series, KIKAIDA, to Bay Area airwaves this April on KTSF Channel 26.

Mr. Ban, who played the lead hero "Jiro", will attend an autograph session at Japan Video & Media Inc., located in the Japantown Mall at 1737 Post Street on Saturday, February 19th from 11:00 am to Noon. This will be followed appearances at WonderCon at the Moscone Center, where he will be signing autographs and taking pictures with the fans at the Super 7 booth from 2:00 pm on Saturday February 19th and Sunday, February 20th. Sunday will also see a special panel discussion, "The Return of Kikaida", from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm. Then, on Monday, February 21st, there will be a special meet-and-greet with Mr. Ban at the Super 7 Store, 1630 Post Street in Japantown, starting at 6:30 pm. Kikaida, the super-powered android himself, will also make special appearances at many of these events.

For complete details, see the 2/07/05 report here on H!O.

 

02/17/05:
GODZILLA FINAL WARS INTERVIEW: SHOGO TOMIYAMA
The Executive Producer of the Godzilla Series Talks About the King of the Monsters' "Last" Adventure
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Interview by Keith Aiken and Biff L. Peterson
Special thanks to Shozo Watanabe, Wakako Miyakuni, and Yukiko Nakajima


Executive Producer Shogo Tomiyama at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood, prior to the world premiere of GODZILLA FINAL WARS.
Godzilla may be the King of the Monsters, but even he has a boss... and that boss is Shogo Tomiyama. As both President of Toho Pictures, Inc and Executive Producer of the Godzilla franchise, Tomiyama is responsible for the development and production of each new film in the series.

Born in Tokyo in 1952, Shogo Tomiyama first worked with the Toho kaiju in 1973. While attending University, he took a part time job in Toho's Special Effects Art Department and assisted legendary Production Designer Yasuyuki Inoue's team on ZONE: THE HUMAN METEOR (Ryusei Ningen Zonn, aka "Zone Fighter"), a super-hero television series featuring guest appearances by Godzilla, Gigan, and King Ghidorah. He followed that with the big-budget film SUBMERSION OF JAPAN (Nippon Chinbotsu, 1973), a major hit that spawned a wave of similar "disaster movies" in Japan. Two years later he became a full-time employee of Toho, working in the Advertising Department. In 1983, he moved into project development in the Toho Motion Picture Planning Department, and in 1986 he produced his first film, WOMEN IN LOVE (Koisuru Onna'tachi).

Tomiyama's path intersected Godzilla's for the second time in 1989, when he was chosen as associate producer on GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE (Gojira vs Beorante) by executive producer (and Godzilla co-creator) Tomoyuki Tanaka. Tanaka's failing health forced him to take a less active role in the films following BIOLLANTE, so Tomiyama stepped up to the producer's role to oversee the day-to-day filming for all of the remaining Heisei Godzilla movies; GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH (Gojira vs Kingughidora, 1991), GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH (Gojira vs Mosura, 1992), GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II (Gojira vs Mekagojira, 1993), GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA (Gojira vs Supeesu Gojira, 1994), and GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH (Gojira vs Desutoria, 1995), plus the 1994 fantasy film OROCHI, THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON (Yamato Takeru).

While the Godzilla series took a 4-year break to allow for the production and release of the American GODZILLA (1998) from Sony Pictures, Tomiyama turned his attention to REBIRTH OF MOTHRA (Mosura, 1996), THE ABDUCTION (Yukai, 1997), REBIRTH OF MOTHRA II (Mosura 2: Kaitei-no Daikessen, 1997), and REBIRTH OF MOTHRA 3 (Mosura 3: Kingughidora Raishu, 1998). Toho revived Godzilla in 1999, and Tomiyama was named executive producer of the new Millennium series; GODZILLA 2000 (Gojira Ni-sen Mireniamu), GODZILLA VS MEGAGUIRUS (Gojira X Megaguirus: G Shometsu Sakusen, 2000), GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (Gojira-Mosura-Kingughidora: Daikaiju Soshingeki), GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (Gojira X Mekagojira, 2002), GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS (Gojira X Mosura X Mekagojira: Tokyo SOS, 2003), and GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004). In 2004, Shogo Tomiyama was promoted to President of Toho Pictures.

Shogo Tomiyama Gives a Speech at the Godzilla's Induction Ceremony for the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo Credit: Bob Johnson
I met Mr Tomiyama for the first time on November 28, 2004, one day before the world premiere of GODZILLA FINAL WARS. Toho had set up a temporary headquarters at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood, CA. and Toho LA General Manager Shozo Watanabe, Sales Manager Tetsushi Sudo, and event publicists Wakako Miyakuni and Carolyn Kamii were coordinating last-minute preparations for the Hollywood Star Ceremony, the GFW Premiere, and the After Party with the newly-arrived crew from Japan. At the same time, both Shogo Tomiyama and FINAL WARS director Ryuhei Kitamura were taking time out for press interviews. Despite the crunch, everyone seemed to be in great spirits and looking forward to the next 36 hours of Godzilla events. Mr Watanabe introduced me to Mr Tomiyama and, even though nothing had been scheduled, Mr Tomiyama kindly offered to sit down for a brief, impromptu chat about GODZILLA FINAL WARS. While Mr Tomiyma speaks English he preferred to give some of the longer answers in Japanese, so this interview was translated in part by Ms. Yukiko Nakajima.

HENSHIN! ONLINE: How is GODZILLA FINAL WARS different from previous Godzilla movies?

SHOGO TOMIYAMA: There have been 27 Godzilla movies made in Japan. This is the twelfth one I have produced, and the 28th overall. It is the 50th anniversary movie, and it's the last one...so in that respect it is different from all the others.

Mr Kitamura, the director, is young and talented and full of innovative ideas. GODZILLA FINAL WARS is going to stand for 10 or 15 years; nothing will be able to top it - that is the feeling we have. The 50th anniversary, Mr Kitamura's direction, and the fact that this film takes place in locations all over the world...those three elements make this film different. And it has an all-star cast with many monsters and established actors from Japan.

H!O: You also brought in composer Keith Emerson, Kyle Cooper, American bands...

TOMIYAMA: Yes. Sum41...

H!O: ...and wrestler Don Frye. There's obviously more of an international cast and crew for FINAL WARS than is usually the case with the Godzilla films. How did that come about?

TOMIYAMA: First of all, the film takes place everywhere - it's a global story-so it made sense to use a global staff. Mr Kitamura wanted to use Keith Emerson and Kyle Cooper; it sort of started from there.

H!O: Why did you pick Ryuhei Kitamura to direct the latest film?

TOMIYAMA: The way he portrays all the various characters is brilliant, and different from other directors. I was also very impressed by the way he handles action scenes in his movies... it's very unique and I thought that would work well for Godzilla.

H!O: Judging from the trailer for FINAL WARS - as well as his work in SKY HIGH and AZUMI - I imagine Mr Kitamura delivered a very different style of Godzilla movie. Was your intent to shake things up a bit for the 50th anniversary?

Director Ryuhei Kitamura, Godzilla, and Shogo Tomiyama at a GFW press conference in Tokyo, 12/8/04. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
TOMIYAMA: Yes, exactly... and I feel that Mr Kitamura accomplished that goal. He comes from a younger generation of filmmakers who don't have an inferiority complex in regards to American movies. They have their own ideas. So, after seeing his other works, such as AZUMI, we decided to use him as the next director. Toho had worked with Mr Kitamura on AZUMI and it was a good working relationship. The film was a big success so that was a major reason, too.

H!O: Were there any concerns in hiring an outside director to helm such a big project? [Nearly all the directors of the Godzilla series from Ishiro Honda to Masaaki Tezuka were full-time employees of Toho Studios. The exceptions are Kazuki Omori, who was brought in from Watanabe Productions to write and direct GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE, and Shusuke Kaneko and Ryuhei Kitamura, who are both independent filmmakers that have directed movies for a number of different studios.] I know that you had a similar situation with Mr Kaneko for GMK, but FINAL WARS is the anniversary movie and has a much higher budget... did you feel a lot of pressure?

TOMIYAMA: Whenever you make a movie there is always some risk and concerns, but there was nothing more than that this time. I wasn't particularly worried because I knew Mr Kitamura loved Godzilla.

H!O: Did you feel it was best to use someone who was a real Godzilla fan on such an important film?

TOMIYAMA: Yes. He was a Godzilla fan as a child, then graduated from that to a fan of movies in general, then became a professional filmmaker. I knew that whatever he did in FINAL WARS, he would do it with a strong passion for Godzilla.

H!O: Were you concerned that he might make Godzilla too violent?

TOMIYAMA: Not really, because in our discussions with Mr Kitamura we said that, if he was interested in making a Godzilla movie, he would have to make it within the "world of Godzilla", and he told us he was very interested and he was willing to make the film within that world.

H!O: How were the monsters selected for the film? With so many vintage Toho monsters returning, FINAL WARS also seems like a tribute to the Godzilla movies of the sixties and seventies.

TOMIYAMA: It all started with the idea that story needed to have lots of monsters in it, and we chose the monsters according to what was most appropriate for that story. I got together with Mr. Kitamura, special effects director Mr. Asada, and [screenwriter] Mr. Mimura, and we talked about which monsters should be in the movie. We also discussed which monsters should be recreated. Everybody had a different opinion. Tomorrow you will see the results of our brainstorming [laughs]. After you've seen it, I'd like to know if your favorite monsters were included in the film or not.

Several classic Toho monsters return to the big screen in GODZILLA FINAL WARS, including the popular villain Gigan. Photo courtesy of Toho Pictures. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: From everything I've heard, fans are really excited that monsters like Angilas, Rodan, and Gigan are returning after several years. Even [monster suit and prop maker] Mr Wakasa, he told me he was very happy that Minya was brought back. [For more from Shinichi Wakasa, see his 11/07/04 interview on H!O ]

TOMIYAMA: Mr Wakasa said Minya is the best! [laughs]

H!O: Were there financial limitations on how many monsters could be included?

TOMIYAMA: We knew that the fewer monsters there are, the lower the cost... but we decided that we should have the monsters we like and not be concerned about the budget too much. So, if some of the classic monsters were not included, it just means they didn't fit storywise.

H!O: Whose idea was it to include the American Godzilla?

TOMIYAMA: [laughs]

H!O: You've probably been asked that question a lot during this press junket...

TOMIYAMA: It's been a very popular topic today.

Mr Kitamura asked me if it was possible for us to use the American Godzilla in FINAL WARS, so I checked our contract with Sony Pictures and found out we could use it. [Toho fully owns the character and likeness of the American Godzilla while Sony retains all materials (digital, props, suits, animatronics, etc) used to make the monster for the 1998 US movie] Since this was the 50th anniversary film, I thought "Why not include the American Godzilla?" There is some special meaning to having him in this film-but mostly, we just wanted to show which Godzilla is stronger.

The return of the American Godzilla (now called 'Zilla') was a popular topic during the FINAL WARS press interviews. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: A few months back Shinichi Wakasa visited America, and we went to Tatopoulos Studios. Mr Wakasa told Patrick Tatopoulos [designer of the American Godzilla] that the American Godzilla would be in the new movie, and Patrick was very happy to hear that. He was thrilled and proud that his Godzilla was now part of Toho's Godzilla history.

TOMIYAMA: Patrick Tatopoulos said that? I'm glad to hear it.

H!O: Yes. He was hoping to attend the premiere but he's shooting a film in Vancouver this week.

TOMIYAMA: I'm sorry that he won't be able to make it.

H!O: This being the 50th anniversary film, is there any connection to the original GODZILLA and its anti-nuclear message?

TOMIYAMA: Godzilla movies are entertainment, not political movies...but there is some social message. There is a reason for Godzilla to be vindictive.

Godzilla is a product of human technology and, because of that, Godzilla seeks revenge against mankind. I was concerned about showing the destruction of cities where people live, but Godzilla is not destroying just to destroy. He has a reason to do what he's doing.

"There is a reason that...Godzilla seeks revenge against mankind." © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: Having produced twelve Godzilla movies you must feel a tremendous responsibility to protect Godzilla's image.

TOMIYAMA: I feel responsible because the first GODZILLA was created by three people; producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, director Ishiro Honda, and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya. They created Godzilla's image, and my responsibility is to maintain that image and to use it in ways that are appropriate for the modern era.

H!O: What was the most difficult aspect of the production?

TOMIYAMA: As far as movie-making goes it was no more difficult than any other Godzilla film. As far as my job is concerned, there is a sort of 'Godzilla group' at Toho that has been together for a long time, and Mr Kitamura was sort of an outsider. We had differing points of view, but I wanted to make sure the opinions of both sides were included. I wanted to take all the good ideas and make them work together, so that was the hardest part of my job this time. Before we started shooting we prepared thoroughly, exchanged opinions, and solved our differences so things went very smoothly.

H!O: One stylistic change is that the monster battles are much faster paced this time out. Was that Mr Kitamura's decision or something you had planned from the start?

TOMIYAMA: That was the director's idea. Mr Kitamura wanted faster, more physical monster action. He brought that idea to me so I would know what to expect once FINAL WARS started shooting. His concept was to have faster movements while retaining the heaviness and hugeness of Godzilla... Mr Kitamura wanted to keep that. We discussed this with the suitmakers and the special effects crew; they agreed with this idea and figured out how to make it work onscreen.

H!O: The style and energy of the fights seems to be a hit with American fans. The GODZILLA FINAL WARS theatrical trailer was shown repeatedly last week during Godzillafest in San Francisco, and the audience was very enthusiastic about what they saw. There was a lot of cheering... a lot of applause when Godzilla swats the American Godzilla...

Godzilla and Shogo Tomiyama at the Walk of Fame Ceremony. Photo Credit: Richard Pusateri © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
TOMIYAMA: [laughs] That's wonderful.

H!O: Are you hoping or planning for GODZILLA FINAL WARS to be released around the world?

TOMIYAMA: Toho's International Department is working towards that goal. Our first hope is for American distribution, followed by other foreign markets. We would definitely like to show GODZILLA FINAL WARS at those cities that are seen in the film-Paris, Shanghai, Sydney, and so on...

H!O: Michael Schlesinger at Sony is really rooting for this film and is hoping to give it some type of theatrical release in the US. American audiences are growing more comfortable with subtitles thanks to hit films like CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. Sometimes a dubbed version doesn't accurately describe the story, so hopefully FINAL WARS will play in America in its original form.

TOMIYAMA: That is what I'm hoping for. If possible, I'd like to see GODZILLA FINAL WARS play in 3000 theaters across America.

H!O: Wow... that would be a bigger release than GODZILLA 2000 had here.

TOMIYAMA: Yes [laughs]. Please help us to achieve that goal.

H!O: We'll do our best.

TOMIYAMA: Thank you.

"Godzilla will be back." © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: When Toho first announced GODZILLA FINAL WARS, you were quoted as saying this would be the last movie in the series for a decade or so. But most of the international press has tagged this as the last Godzilla movie, period. How final is FINAL WARS?

TOMIYAMA: There will be another Godzilla movie, but it may come from the next generation and be completely new... something beyond the current age. Mr Kitamura is only 35 now, but he grew up watching Godzilla and dreamed of making such a film. Maybe there is someone out there who is just a child now who will grow up and create the next Godzilla. Or maybe it will be an international production with an American director, a Japanese producer, and a Chinese actor.

Godzilla will be back. He is an eternal character.

H!O: Thank you so much for your time. I'm really looking forward to seeing the movie tomorrow.

TOMIYAMA: Thank you.

 
02/17/05:
GODZILLA--HOLLYWOOD STAR
A First-Hand Account of the Hollywood Walk of Fame Ceremony
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Toho Pictures


Godzilla's Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo courtesy of Toho Pictures.
Several months ago, Toho Pictures sent an application to Hollywood Chamber of Commerce request for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The application read:

NOMINEE: Godzilla

QUALIFICATIONS OF NOMINEE: Since its first emergence from the Pacific Ocean in 1954, GODZILLA, the undisputed king of movie monsters, has thrilled audiences around the world and has become one of the most recognizable icons in popular culture. Beloved by people of all ages, GODZILLA has starred in 28 motion pictures including the 1998 blockbuster film produced in Hollywood. In addition to the motion pictures, GODZILLA's fame extends to a wide variety of entertainment industries, and numerous merchandise such as video games, books, stationery and clothing are sold in more than 70 countries around the world. The year 2004 commemorates the 50th anniversary of GODZILLA's screen debut.

Even the police were having a fun time at the Godzilla festivities. Photo Credit: Bob Johnson. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
CONTRIBUTION TO THE COMMUNITY: In Japan, GODZILLA is often involved in charitable activities such as visiting orphanages and other institutes to cheer up the children. Recently, GODZILLA was licensed gratis for use in American Cancer Society's publication entitled "Angels & Monsters: A Child's Eye View of Cancer", and also it appeared in National Fatherhood Initiative's television commercial to promote the importance of the father-child relationship.

FILMOGRAPHY: [a list of all the films from GODZILLA (1954) to GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS (2003), including the American GODZILLA (1998)]

AWARDS:
  • 1985 Japan Academy Award - Special Effects [for GODZILLA (1984)]
  • 1992 Japan Academy Award - Special Effects [GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH]
  • 1993 Tokyo Sports Movie Awards - Best Leading Actor [GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH]
  • 1993 Best Grossing Films Award - Golden Award and Money-Making Star Award [GODZILLA AND MOTHRA]
  • 1995 Best Grossing Films Award - Silver Award [GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA]
  • 1996 Best Grossing Films Award - Golden Award [GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH]
  • 1996 Japan Academy Award - Special Effects [GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH]
  • 1996 MTV Movie Awards - Lifetime Achievement
  • 2002 Best Grossing Films Award - Silver Award [GMK]
The next generation of Godzilla fans came to root on their hero. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
The Chamber of Commerce approved the request and, at a press conference in Tokyo on October 20, 2004, Toho President and Godzilla Executive Producer Shogo Tomiyama announced that Godzilla would be inducted into the Walk of Fame on the day of the world premiere of GODZILLA FINAL WARS; November 29, 2004. It was also revealed that Godzilla's star had been assigned to one of the prime locations of the Walk; 6925 Hollywood Blvd, in front of the Grauman's Chinese Theatre box office.

After 50 years and 28 movies, many fans thought Godzilla was long overdue for this accolade. But of the more than two thousand stars on the Walk of Fame, only a handful are of fictional characters, and most of those are children's icons like Bugs Bunny, Big Bird, and Donald Duck. Godzilla is the first cinematic monster to receive this honor, beating out such notables as Dracula, Frankenstein, and even his old rival King Kong (maybe that will change when Peter Jackson's remake is released in 2006) - though another co-star, Raymond Burr, has had a star for years.

A few days prior to Toho press conference, I had been contacted by Carolyn Kamii, the publicist handling - along with Wakako Miyakuni - the Hollywood events surrounding the GODZILLA FINAL WARS premiere. She told me that Toho's Los Angeles office had asked that I assist with promoting the celebrations, both on Henshin! Online and in the LA area, and I quickly accepted their offer. Toho requested that H!O run articles about the film and also host a contest giving away tickets to the premiere. At the same time, several of the Henshin! Online crew (including Bob Johnson, August Ragone, and Aaron Cooper) were in the midst of organizing "Godzillafest", a week-long Toho film festival in San Francisco. Godzillafest was occuring the week before the premiere and would be running the FINAL WARS theatrical trailer throughout the festival, so I suggested to Carolyn that it be included in the promotional campaign. She agreed and contacted Bob and August to set up an additional ticket giveaway for festival attendees. [On a side note, a contractual obligation with lead actor Masahiro Matsuoka prevented Toho from running the GODZILLA FINAL WARS trailer on their official movie website. Because of that, Godzillafest became the only place American fans could see the full-length trailer prior to the movie's premiere. A shorter teaser trailer was also shown at the "50 Years of Godzilla" in Portland OR, a film festival organized by H!O webmaster Kyle Yount.]

GODZILLA FINAL WARS star Masahiro Matsuoka. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
A month later, Godzillafest arrived to great success (excellent movies, big crowds, and happy guests from Japan) and, after a brief stop in Sacramento to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family, David Chapple and I returned to Los Angeles with a new friend - Godzilla suit actor Tsutomu "Tom" Kitagawa. A few days later we were joined by most of the rest of the H!O/Godzillafest gang: Bob, August, Aaron, Kyle and his son T'Igor, Kevin DeAntonio and his girlfriend Lisa, Barrie Evans, and my girlfriend Joy O'Brien. On the night before the premiere we attended the Hollywood Christmas Parade, then met up with several other good friends in town for GODZILLA FINAL WARS (including artist Bob Eggleton and JIMMY NEUTRON director John Davis) and some of the Toho crew newly arrived from Japan (including monster maker Shinichi Wakasa, and Monster X/Keizer Ghidorah/King Caesar suit actor Motokuni "Moto" Nakagawa) for a long night of dining, drinking, bowling, and drinking.

Godzilla's induction ceremony for the Hollywood Walk of Fame was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Monday, November 29. After two hectic weeks and one very late night, it was very difficult getting going that morning, but somehow Dave, Joy, and I managed to get to Hollywood Boulevard with time to spare. A large crowd had come out to see Godzilla get his star. More than 100 international press outlets were on hand to cover the ceremony, and fans had come in from all over the country-- Illinois, Ohio, Arizona, Oregon, Texas, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Alabama, and New Jersey. Some of the fans were rewarded for their attendance; Toho staffers signed autographs, gave away GODZILLA FINAL WARS hats, and even handed out a few passes to that evening's premiere!

The international press corps covering the star ceremony. In the center foreground is Wakako Miyakuni.
The television show JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE taped directly across the street from Grauman's Chinese Theatre, so comedian Jake Byrd showed up to talk with the Godzilla fans about his true passion - pop star/plastic surgery victim/accused child molester Michael Jackson. The segment, which aired on ABC a few days later, featured Byrd clowning around with two of the Henshin! Online crew; Kyle Yount and writer/translator Oki Miyano.

Barricades had been set up between the audience and the stage. With the assembled press also in the way, most fans did not have a good view of the proceedings. Toho had invited David and I to stand in a special VIP section so I left Joy with the H!O gang (nothing beats an understanding girlfriend!) and headed over to the stage. I spotted Godzilla fan Dave Filoni in the Chinese Theatre courtyard wearing his incredible homemade Mechagodzilla costume. Mechagodzilla drew a lot of attention, and Filoni was a popular subject for photographers.

Mechagodzilla: Ladies' Man.
Dave and I were escorted to the VIP section where we met up with several familiar faces - my H!O cohort Richard Pusateri, John Davis and his wife, Armand Vaquer, Mike Schlesinger of Sony Pictures, and Steve Ryfle (author of JAPAN'S FAVORITE MON-STAR who was covering the event for FANGORIA). Carolyn, Wakako, and Toho LA General Manager Shozo Watanabe were rushing about, taking care of last-minute preparations. The star was surrounded by a red carpet and covered by plaque bearing the 'Hollywood Walk of Fame' logo. Shogo Tomiyama, Director Ryuhei Kitamura, Special Effects Director Eiichi Asada, and lead actors Masahiro Matsuoka, Rei Kikukawa, and Don Frye assembled behind the stage. I also spotted Moto and Shinichi Wakasa near the Chinese Theatre's box office and figured Tom was inside getting into the Godzilla attraction suit.

As the ceremony began, Oki Miyano handed me his video camera and I began to record the event. The Master of Ceremonies for the event was Johnny Grant, the Honorary Mayor of Hollywood. Grant is a two-time Emmy winner with an impressive history in the entertainment industry that stretches back decades; he was one of the early pioneers of television, co-hosted the first national telethon in America with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra, was executive producer of the Hollywood Centennial Celebration, and takes part in the "hands in cement" ceremonies in the courtyard of the Chinese Theatre. He is also Chairman of the Walk of Fame Selection Committee, and therefore had a role in Godzilla receiving the star.

Shogo Tomiyama, Don Frye, Ryuhei Kitamura, Eiichi Asada, Rei Kikukawa, and Masahiro Matsuoka watch the Walk of Fame ceremony. Photo Credit: Richard Pusateri.
While Johnny Grant was clearly not a "hard-core" Godzilla fan by any stretch of the imagination, he seemed to enjoy himself tremendously at the ceremony. This event was supposed to be a fun celebration, and Grant's demeanor just added to that feeling; he was constantly cracking jokes (but never condescending to Godzilla or the fans) and quickly improvising ways to entertain the crowd. Things did get off to a serious start as Johnny Grant took to the stage and approached the podium. Turning to the audience he announced, "Today we honor... Godzilla!" and the crowd broke into cheers and applause.

Hollywood's Honorary Mayor Johnny Grant was the Master of Ceremonies.
The first speaker was the President of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, Leron Gubler. Gubler gave a brief introduction: "There are some great Japanese stars who are honored in the Walk of Fame. They include Sessue Hayakawa [THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI], George Takei [STAR TREK, dubbing actor on GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER and RODAN], Mako [CONAN THE BARBARIAN, PEARL HARBOR], and Pat Morita [HAPPY DAYS, THE KARATE KID, MULAN]. But I think I can say without equivocation that today's addition is, without question, the biggest Japanese star to ever be honored in the Walk of Fame. Congratulations to Godzilla on receiving the 2,271st Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame."

Grant returned to the podium to read a brief history of Godzilla that had been written by Armand Vaquer. Realizing that he was addressing a crowd of Godzilla fans, he explained that this part of the ceremony was a formality done for archival purposes.."I got a feeling you all know more than I do." The audience proved that point by quickly correcting Grant's pronunciation of 'Mothra'. "You have it your way and I'll have it mine," he said good-naturedly. "And if I do another one you can correct me too." For the next 5 minutes or so the fans crowd applauded Grant's efforts as he struggled thru monster names like 'Hedorah' and 'Destoroyah'. The speech ended with a mention of the premiere of GODZILLA FINAL WARS. "How many of you are gonna be there?" Grant asked, and he was answered with a chorus of cheers and raised hands. Unaware that the premiere was an invitation-only event, he followed up with, "How many of you are gonna buy tickets to go in?" The response was a dropping of hands and some laughter. "A bunch of cheapskates out there today," Grant joked.

Godzilla emerges from the Chinese Theatre box office. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
With the preliminaries out of the way, it was now time for the main event to begin. Johnny Grant announced, "So ladies and gentlemen, it's time to unveil a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Please welcome our honored guest...GODZILLA!" As the crowd broke into applause, Akira Ifukube's classic Godzilla theme began to play over the loudspeakers, and Godzilla/Tsutomu Kitagawa emerged from the Chinese Theatre's box office and fired a blast of his famous radioactive breath... or a CO2 spray.

Godzilla vs the international press. Photo Courtesy of Toho Pictures. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
Godzilla roars mixed with the Ifukube music as Godzilla advanced menacingly on the press who were kneeling in front of the star placement. From the podium Grant yelled instructions to the King of the Monsters: "Get the photographers! Get the photographers!" Godzilla blasted the assembled press then reared up and posed for photos. "Godzilla's a ham, too. He loves getting his picture taken," Grant quipped. Then Godzilla turned towards the stage and, guided by Moto, climbed the stairs to the podium. Johnny Grant reacted in mock fear, exclaiming, "He's loose...he's wild...and I'm gettin' the hell out of here."

Most of the crowd got their first good look at Godzilla as he took to the stage, and they erupted with cheers and applause. Tom clearly loved all the adulation as he played to the crowd, raising his arms and striking a bodybuilder pose. Turning to Johnny Grant, the two shook hands then stood facing each other. Not missing a beat, Grant offered his hand and he and Godzilla did an impromptu dance to the Ifukube music that brought laughter from the audience. Grant led Godzilla next to the podium then told the audience, "Be sure to get the Police Gazette... that's where this picture [of us dancing] will be."

"May I have this dance?" © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
Johnny Grant then introduced the next guest speaker. "This gentleman has reunited our honoree with many of his previous costars from the Godzilla set of films. You will see at least ten of the monsters that Godzilla has done battle with in tonight's premiere of GODZILLA FINAL WARS. Please welcome the producer of the movie, Shogo Tomiyama." Tomiyama received a big round of applause as he took the stage, highlighted by shouts of "SHOGO! SHOGO!" from the group of fans called the Goon Squad. The producer acknowledged the crowd with a smile and a wave before turning towards the microphone. From meeting and speaking with Mr Tomiyama the day before, I knew that he spoke English - quite well, actually - but preferred to conduct lengthy talks in Japanese. But for his speech here he did not use a translator, but instead addressed the audience directly.

Godzilla (Tsutomu Kitagawa) and Johnny Grant do a little jig. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
With Godzilla standing at his side, Shogo Tomiyama said, "Thank you, Mr Grant and Mr Gubler, for the wonderful introduction. Godzilla should thank you for this historical and monumental star but, unfortunately, he cannot speak English as I can," -the crowd laughed- "So, I'm going to speak on his behalf."

"We are really excited that the Japanese-born Godzilla is honored in America. He should be feeling like a Japanese kid allowed to play Major League Baseball. I thank the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, especially Mr Johnny Grant and Mr Leron Gubler, for giving him the star. I also like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Michael Antonovich for the Resolution of 'Godzilla Month', Mr William Hurtz for his troubles to realize the star and premiere tonight, the American Cinematheque [who hosted the 'Godzilla 50th Anniversary Celebration' at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood], Film Forum [the 'It Came From Toho' film festival in NYC], Castro Theatre [the site of 'Godzillafest'], and the Hollywood Theatre ['50 Years of Godzilla'] for holding 50th Anniversary Godzilla retrospectives, Mr JD Lees, Mr Armand Vaquer, Mr Richard Pusateri, Mr Keith Aiken, Mr Steve Ryfle, and all the Godzilla fans in North America for their enthusiastic support for Godzilla. Without them, Godzilla and I would not be here."

At this point you could have knocked me over with a feather, and I guess most of the others named felt the same way. I had worked on both the American Cinematheque festival and Godzillafest with several good friends, and friends of mine were also responsible for the New York and Portland events, so having those efforts acknowledged by Toho was very gratifying... but being publicly thanked by name by the President of Toho Pictures at a celebration of Godzilla was something I would never have expected in a million years, and something I'll never forget.

Executive Producer Shogo Tomiyama addresses the crowd. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
Tomiyama continued, "Godzilla was created in 1954 by producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, director Ishiro Honda, and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya." At the mention of Honda and Tsuburaya's names, the audience broke into cheers. Godzilla raised his arms and gave a two fisted salute, making the crowd laugh and bringing a smile to Tomiyama's face. "Since then, Godzilla has been loved by people around the world as a representative of Japanese cinema. Especially here in the States, many people love Godzilla, and I have heard that many directors grew up watching his movies. I think one of the biggest charms of Godzilla is that you feel empathy with him when you watch his films. Godzilla was born as a result of H-Bomb explosions. Godzilla destroyed cities but, at the same time, he denies destruction by mankind as you can understand from his genesis."

"This year's GODZILLA FINAL WARS is the last Godzilla film," at this point Tomiyama had to pause as the crowd erupted with boos and sounds of disappointment. Godzilla turned to the audience and quieted the complaints with "calm down, it's okay" hand gestures. "But, so long as Godzilla fascinates people like you, I believe he will be resurrected by new generations of filmmakers in the future." The crowd reaction turned 180 degrees at they broke into thunderous applause. Godzilla pumped fist into the air. Shogo Tomiyama finished with,"Thank you, thank you very much."

Shogo Tomiyama. Photo Credit: Bob Johnson.
Johnny Grant returned to the podium with a large red folder in his hands. "Well, I'm here to announce that somehow there will be more Godzilla films," he said, then pointed a thumb at Godzilla. "We'll ban him from leaving Hollywood."

Holding up the red folder, Grant announced, "I have a resolution here from the County of Los Angeles. This was inspired by Mike Antonovich, a big Godzilla fan, and it says what we have already repeated here this morning, and I'll read just the last paragraph." While only part of the resolution was read at the ceremony, here is the complete text of the Proclamation by the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Godzilla:

"Whereas, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, has reached a milestone in cinematic history. It was on November 3, 1954 GODZILLA first burst upon theater screens to the Japanese public as an allegory of the hydrogen bomb and its effects upon mankind; and

Oki Miyano with kids wearing the GODZILLA FINAL WARS hats. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
Whereas, Godzilla has become an international cultural icon venerated by an enormous fan base, not only in Japan, but also in the United States and around the world; and

Whereas, fifty years since his debut, and with 28 motion pictures to his credit spanning five decades, a feat unprecedented in movie history; Godzilla is being honored with his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on November 29, 2004; and

Whereas, GODZILLA FINAL WARS, is to be the first Japanese-made Godzilla motion picture to have the honor of having its worldwide premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood; and

Whereas, Godzilla has been a bridge between American and Japanese science-fiction fans and has promoted goodwill and friendship between our two countries through the medium of motion pictures:

"I thought you were taller." Photo Credit: Bob Johnson. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved, that the Board of Supervisors of the County of Los Angeles hereby salutes and commends Toho Co., Ltd. in achieving the milestone in motion picture history of the 50th Anniversary of Godzilla, King of the Monsters, and proclaims the month of November 2004 to be 50th Anniversary of Godzilla Month."


"How about that?" Grant asked. The crowd cheered and Tsutomu Kitagawa pantomimed another pleased reaction from Godzilla. "We have two members of the City Council representing Hollywood. The guy who actually has the boulevard is not here today...that's Eric Garcetti...but one of Hollywood's most enthusiastic supporters is our other councilman, that is Tom Labonge. So, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome council member Tom Labonge."

Tom Labonge tempts Godzilla with pumpkin bread baked by nuns. Photo Credit: Bob Johnson. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
Tom Labonge spoke and acted with the slick demeanor of a seasoned politician. As Johnny Grant moved towards the steps, Labonge called out, "Don't go away yet, Johnny. Before we do this for Godzilla, give Johnny Grant a hand for that great parade last night!" The audience applauded. "And Johnny, thank you for that great position [in the parade] you gave me and my family 'cause we followed Godzilla. It was so exciting to see the reaction." He then turned to Godzilla, who was a head shorter than the councilman, and said "It's so nice to see Godzilla here, but I thought you were just a little taller." There were some scattered laughs for an old joke.

"But I remember from my youth on 'The Million Dollar Movie' on Channel 9 every night we saw GODZILLA with that famous scene with Raymond Burr on the second floor of that building in Tokyo. What a wonderful, wonderful actor Godzilla is, and I'm just pleased on behalf of the City Council and the Mayor of Los Angeles to present you this commendation and resolution for all you're about and the great message that you bring. Let's hear it for Godzilla!" There was loud applause from the fans, and a 'thumbs up' from Godzilla. Tom Labonge then held up a wrapped package and said, "And also, it wouldn't be a program if you didn't get a loaf of pumpkin bread. This is made by nuns up at Hollywood, it's from the Monastery of the Angels, and if you blow on it you'll be like a little microwave and you can have it for breakfast." As Labonge spoke, Godzilla slowly and hungrily reached out for the bread (I wonder if Tsutomu had breakfast that day?) "You're an angel in the City of Angels, Godzilla. Thank you."

Johnny Grant and Godzilla prepare to unveil the star. Photo Courtesy of Toho Pictures. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
Johnny Grant returned to the microphone and patted his belly. "If that pumpkin bread is not on Godzilla's diet, leave it to me," he said. "You see I eat everything." He then turned to Godzilla and asked, "Are you ready to go down there and unveil the star? Give me a little nod". Tom Kitagawa apparently didn't hear the question because Godzilla gave no response. "Yeah, okay," Grant deadpanned then exclaimed, "As the Mayor of Hollywood, I do hereby declare this Godzilla Day in Hollywood!" to more cheers from the audience. He then said to Godzilla, "Now we're going to go down there and unveil the star." Akira Ifukube's music started up again, and suddenly Grant and Godzilla faced off like pair of boxers. But, before a fight could break out, Shinichi Wakasa and Moto came up onstage and escorted Godzilla down to the sidewalk, where he joined Tom Labonge and Leron Gubler.

Shogo Tomiyama, Masahiro Matsuoka, Ryuhei Kitamura, Godzilla, Rei Kikukawa, and Eiichi Asada pose for the international press. Photo Courtesy of Toho Pictures. © 2004 Toho Co., Ltd.
Grant and Godzilla were both handed opposite ends of a rope attached to the plate covering the star, and Johnny announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, we proudly welcome to the Hollywood Walk of Fame...Godzilla!" Pulling the rope, the pair unveiled the star to another thunderous wave cheers and applause and the clicking of photographers' cameras. Someone in the crowd yelled "We love you Godzilla!" as Godzilla was handed a plaque commemorating the event.

The extended H!O family after the Walk of Fame ceremony. (Starting from the back row, left to right:) Barrie Evans, Cleve Hall, Kyle Yount, David Chapple, Aaron Cooper, Oki Miyano, Richard Pusateri, Bob Johnson, August Ragone, Keith Aiken, Tsutomu Kitagawa, and Brad Warner. Photo Credit: Jen Weigert
Tom Labonge directed the photo shoots, and made sure that all the assembled press got the pics they were after. After several photos were taken of Tsutomu Kitagawa holding the plaque, Labonge invited Shogo Tomiyama to step forward. Tomiyama also brought in Ryuhei Kitamura, Masahiro Matsuoka, Rei Kikukawa, and Eiichi Asada, and the group posed for photos for the next 5 minutes or so. That concluded the ceremony, and Godzilla was led back to the theater box office.

As things wound down, I congratulated Carolyn and the Toho staff on a job well done. I also talked with several reporters; at one point Wakako, Dave, and I answered questions for a writer from Reuters News Service, and I was interviewed by a writer friend from STARLOG magazine. We met up with the rest of our group, and someone pointed out this was the first time the entire staff of Henshin! Online had been together in the same place, so we decided to record the event with a group photo on the steps of the Hollywood and Highland complex. As everyone found their places, someone ran up and sat down in front of the group - a beaming Tsutomu Kitagawa! We were happy to have Godzilla himself become an honorary member of H!O and also invited monster Cleve Hall (who had made the Godzilla and Ghidorah suits for PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE and contributed to Godzillafest) and Brad Warner of Tsuburaya Productions to join us. It was a great moment, and the world premiere of GODZILLA FINAL WARS was only a few hours away...

 
02/07/05:
KIKAIDA IS BACK!
70s Superhero Returns to San Francisco!
Author: August Ragone
Source: Generation Kikaida


Legendary Japanese action star, BAN DAISUKE. © 2004 Ban Daisuke.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Legendary Japanese action star, BAN DAISUKE, will attend WonderCon at the Moscone Center, February 19 and 20, to promote the return of his hit 1972 superhero series, KIKAIDA, to Bay Area airwaves this April on KTSF Channel 26.

Riding astride his sidecar superbike, Jiro, a young man clad in blue denim with a guitar slung across his back, swings his arms and transforms into a red and blue combat android known as "Kikaida." The yin-yang patterned android, with exposed circuitry flashing under his glass-domed head, smashes through hordes of monstrous automatons created by the mad Professor Gill, in order to save Mitsuko and Masaru, the children of the scientist who created him, Dr. Komyoji. But, like all legendary heroes, Kikaida has a flaw: an incomplete "Conscience Circuit," which keeps him from being the "perfect android" -- a flaw that Professor Gill can exploit...

While KIKAIDA wasn't allowed the budget to realize the full ambitions of its producers, the series still captivated audiences with action, spirit and kinetic energy. KIKAIDA also had something more important: a plot full of heart and soul, well-defined characters whom you cared about, engaging subplots, and an amazing jazz-influenced score.

Created by the late comic book author, Shotaro Ishimori (Cyborg 009), the English-subtitled cult sci-fi adventure became a phenomenon in Hawaii when broadcast there in 1974, spawning an article in Time magazine. Soon afterwards, KIKAIDA was aired on Japanese-language stations in San Francisco and Los Angeles. While it did not achieve the same impact on the Mainland, the series still managed to garner a legion of fans who remember KIKAIDA fondly to this day.

Stand Back; Japan's favorite Android hero is coming to Wondercon! © 2001 Toei/Ishimori Pro.
In 2001, Honolulu-based JN Productions brought the series back to Hawaii under the promotional umbrella "Generation Kikaida". The return of KIKAIDA was a resounding success, attaining an 8% ratings share in its Sunday Evening timeslot on KIKU-TV. JN Productions subsequently has released the entire 43-episode series on DVD under its own label, selling 10,000 units per volume.

At WonderCon, Mr. Ban, who played the lead hero "Jiro", will be signing autographs and taking pictures with the fans at the Super 7 booth from 2:00 pm on Saturday February 19th and Sunday, February 20th. Kikaida, the super-powered android himself, will also make special appearances at WonderCon.

Kikaida, everready to battle Professor Gill's Dark Destructoids! © 2001 Toei/Ishimori Pro.
WonderCon will also host a special Kikaida panel discussion, "The Return of Kikaida," on Sunday, February 20th from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm, moderated by August Ragone of Henshin! Online, with special guest Joanne Ninomiya, president of JN Productions. This will include an interview with Mr. Ban, who will also take questions from the audience.

Mr. Ban will also be making two special appearances in San Francisco during and after WonderCon: First, there will be an autograph session at Japan Video & Media Inc., located in the Japantown Mall at 1737 Post Street on Saturday, February 19th from 11:00 am to Noon. Kikaida will also be in attendance for photo ops. Then, on Monday, February 21st, there will be a special meet-and-greet with Mr. Ban at the Super 7 Store, 1630 Post Street in Japantown, starting at 6:30 pm. Mr. Ban's WonderCon and San Francisco appearances are co-presented by August Ragone of Henshin! Online, Super 7, and Generation Kikaida.

For more information about return of the KIKAIDA series to San Francisco airwaves, stay tuned to Henshin! Online for all the latest news!

 

02/07/05:
DVD REVIEWS: GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER and GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II
Sony Hits-and Misses-with Two Toho Classics in February
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Special Thanks to August Ragone (from the Godzillafest program book)


Sony's textless art for the GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER DVD. Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Ent. © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
For fifty years and through nearly thirty films he's destroyed Tokyo, saved Tokyo, battled a menagerie of oversized monsters and space aliens and earned a place as a worldwide pop-culture icon. He's Godzilla, King of the Monsters... Two New-to-DVD Godzilla Flicks Extend the 50th Year of the Giant Radioactive Lizard into 2005! --Sony Press Release

As previously covered here on Henshin! Online, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment celebrated Godzilla's 50th Anniversary by releasing eight Godzilla films, old and new, to DVD in 2004. Now they kick off the new year with two more; the classic GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER (1966) and the highly-anticipated GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II (1993). As with all of the recent Sony Godzilla DVDs, both movies come with the original Japanese audio as well as an English dubbed track. This is the first time either film has been officially available on DVD in the US, and both titles go on sale February 8, 2005 at a suggested retail price of $24.96 each.

GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER
GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER was the second Godzilla film that was initiated in America as a feature starring a different sort of monster king; the "Eighth Wonder of the World", King Kong. On Saturday, September 10, 1966, the ABC television network premiered the animated series KING KONG. Created by Rankin/Bass Productions (the studio behind such classic holiday specials as SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN, FROSTY THE SNOWMAN, and RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER) the show followed the adventures of Professor Bond and his children Susan and Bobby, who meet and befriend the legendary giant ape on tropical Mondo Island. Over the course of 26 episodes (24 of which featured 2 short Kong adventures apiece), King Kong and the Bond family encountered a variety of threats--dinosaurs, aliens, monsters, and men. The most important villain was Dr Who, an evil scientist who built the robotic Kong doppelganger, Mechani-Kong.

GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER was originally planned as a live-action adaptation of the animated series KING KONG. © 1966 Rankin/Bass Productions.
Producers Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass had hopes to break into live-action projects, and saw a feature film based on the KING KONG show as the perfect vehicle to do just that. While the series was being animated by Toei Doga (the animation division of Toei Studios; later responsible for DEVILMAN), Rankin/Bass instead approached Toho Studios, who had made the hit KING KONG VS GODZILLA in 1962, about a possible co-production. In the mid-1960s there was a trendy interest in Japan for Hawaii and the South Seas, reflected in Japanese pop songs and movies, and Toho executive producer Tomoyuki Tanaka thought this could be exploited by a kaiju film incorporating those elements. He assigned Shinichi Sekizawa to the project, and the veteran screenwriter (MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS THE THING, GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER) quickly penned a treatment in which King Kong battles Mothra and the giant octopus Daidako. By the time Sekizawa submitted the first draft script, Daidako had been replaced by Ebirah, a giant crustacean whose name was derived from ‘ebi', the Japanese word for shrimp.

Arthur Rankin rejected Sekizawa's "King Kong vs Ebirah: Operation Robinson Crusoe", feeling that it did not contain enough elements from the KING KONG series. Negotiations continued and Toho offered further treatments to Rankin/Bass, eventually resulting in the 1967 film KING KONG ESCAPES (Kingu Kongu-no Gyakushu). Written by Takeshi Kimura (under the pen name "Kaoru Mabuchi"), ESCAPES featured the cartoon show's Mondo Island, Dr Who, Mechani-Kong, and even a lead female character named Susan.

Following MONSTER ZERO (Kaiju Daisenso, 1965), Tanaka felt the Godzilla series needed a fresh direction and that it was time to go after the teenage market with the same formula that had made Toho's YOUNG GUY film series so popular. He ordered "Operation Robinson Crusoe" into production, with a slightly revised screenplay substituting Godzilla for King Kong, as GODZILLA, EBIRAH, MOTHRA: BIG DUEL IN THE SOUTHS SEAS (Gojira, Ebira, Mosura: Nankai-no Daiketto).

Ebirah, Godzilla, and Mothra battle in out in this famous publicity shot. © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
During this same period, there was a major change in the Special Effects Department at Toho. In 1965, respected special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya began pulling people and resources over to his own effects studio, Tsuburaya Productions, to create the classic television series ULTRA Q (Urutora Q) and it's 1966 follow-up ULTRAMAN (Urutoraman). Production designer Akira Watanabe, the man responsible for the look of King Ghidorah, left to form his own company, Japan Special Effects, Inc. With Tsuburaya's time divided between WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS and ULTRAMAN, cinematographer Sadamasa Arikawa was chosen to oversee the daily filming of the visual effects for BIG DUEL IN THE SOUTH SEAS, with Tsuburaya acting as special effects supervisor. Longtime Godzilla series director Ishiro Honda was also busy working on WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (Furankenshutain-no Kaiju: Sanda tai Gaira), so Tanaka handed the next Godzilla film over to popular action film director Jun Fukuda, who previously helmed the scifi thriller SECRET OF THE TELEGIAN (Denso Ningen, 1960) and the hit action-comedy 100 SHOT, 100 KILLED (Hyappatsu Hyakuchu, 1965).

Fukuda approached this film as just pure, simple entertainment; a fast-paced story that weaves together the popular youth formula with James Bond-style adventure. There's a hotheaded thief with a heart of gold, a sinister organization called the Red Bamboo that is bent on world domination through nuclear proliferation, a band of young people swept up into the action, musical numbers, and-of course-giant monsters. Unfortunately, Fukuda had to combine all these disparate elements on a lower budget than was accorded earlier Godzilla films like MONSTER ZERO. Years later, Fukuda told interviewer David Milner, "All I can remember is that making the movie was like pouring two cups of water into one. I had to cut one sequence after another."

One area where Fukuda got exactly what he wanted was in the choice of music composer. The electric guitar/jazz-based soundtrack was created by Masaru Sato, who had previously scored the second Godzilla movie, GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (Gojira-no Gyakushu, aka GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER, 1955), and all of Akira Kurosawa's films from RECORD OF A LIVING BEING (Kimono-no Kiroku, 1955) to RED BEARD (Akahige, 1965). Following BIG DUEL, Sato went on to compose the soundtracks for Jun Fukuda's SON OF GODZILLA (Kaijuto-no Kessen:Gojira-no Mosuko, 1967) and GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA (Gojira tai Mekagojira, 1974) despite objections from Tomoyuki Tanaka. The director said, "I had Masaru Sato score my films so they would have a different touch from Honda's. It was a bit lighter than Ifukube's music, and I needed that touch to speed the tempo of the drama."

The beautiful actress Kumi Mizuno returned to the Godzilla series as the Infant Island native girl named Dayo. © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
The cast is made up primarily made up by several youthful actors. Toru Watanabe stars as Ryota, who is looking for his "missing at sea" older brother Yata. The brother was played by Toru Ibuki (a supporting actor in GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER, MONSTER ZERO, and 100 SHOT, 100 KILLED), while Chotaro Togin played Ichino and Hideo Tsunazuka (TATTOOED SWORDSMAN) was the comedic Niita. The popular leading man Akira Takarada (GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS THE THING, GODZILLA FINAL WARS) clearly relishes his role as the "good guy safecracker" Yoshimura. Takarada is joined by his MONSTER ZERO co-star Kumi Mizuno, a last-minute marquee value replacement for 19 year-old starlet Noriko Takahashi (the dancing girl in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, 1965), who was originally cast in the role of the Infant Island native girl Dayo. Another major change involved Mothra's tiny twin priestesses, the Shobijin - twins Emi and Yumi Ito (known as "The Peanuts") decided not to reprise the roles, so the singing duo "Pair Bambi" stepped in as the little beauties. Rounding out the cast are three of Toho's top genre veterans in villainous roles; Akihito Hirata (GODZILLA, THE MYSTERIANS, KING KONG VS GODZILLA, SON OF GODZILLA, TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA) as Red Bamboo Captain Dragonpatch, Hideyo Amamoto (MATANGO, KING KONG ESCAPES, GODZILLA'S REVENGE, GMK) as the ship's captain, and Jun Tazaki (GORATH, ATRAGON, GODZILLA VS THE THING, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS) as the outpost commander.

"Pair Bambi" replaced singers Emi and Yumi Ito as the Shobijin in GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER. © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
GODZILLA, EBIRAH, MOTHRA: BIG DUEL IN THE SOUTHS SEAS was released in Japan on December 16, 1966. Watching the film, it is readily apparent that little was revised in the story once the central monster was changed from King Kong to Godzilla. Godzilla exhibits a number of Kong-like mannerisms in the picture; his attention directed at a beautiful woman, his battle with the Giant Condor (Daikondoru) and a squadron of jet fighters, his boulder throwing antics, etc. During the fights with Ebirah, the Sea Monster drags his opponent underwater... while this would be an effective strategy against a land animal like Kong, it is rather useless attack on the aquatic Godzilla. These mannerisms further ‘humanized' Godzilla-a process Tanaka and Tsuburaya had pushed in GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER and MONSTER ZERO-and helped create audience empathy for the monster.

In a gesture lost on most American audiences, Godzilla rubs the side of his nose in an imitation of YOUNG GUY star Yuzo Kayama. Prior to BIG DUEL IN THE SOUTHS SEAS, Jun Fukuda had directed two films in that series, YOUNG GUY IN JAPAN (1962) and YOUNG GUY IN HAWAII (1963), and would later direct another pair. The in-joke was also a further indication that Toho was marketing the Godzilla series towards the teen crowd; the film initially released on a double-bill with THIS IS YOUTH!, a story about a soccer team that starred Yosuke Natsuki (DOGORA THE SPACE MONSTER, GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER, GODZILLA 1985).

Godzilla imitates Yuzo Kayama, star of Toho's popular YOUNG GUY movie series. © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
Following the Japanese theatrical release, Toho hired the Tokyo-based sound studio Frontier Enterprises (founded by actor/producer William Ross) to dub the film into English for international sales under the title EBIRAH: HORROR OF THE DEEP. With native English speaking actors in short supply, Ross used foreign non-actors--mostly businessmen, students, and lawyers-- to create the English audio for the Toho films. The end result was adequent, but unexceptional; the performances in EBIRAH: HORROR OF THE DEEP vary wildly in quality, with the voice chosen for the character Niita being particularly grating on the ears. The film was dubbed a second time when the Walter Reade Organization, Inc. purchased the US rights and retitled the movie GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER. Titra Sound Corporation in New York, who had previously created the dubbing for GODZILLA VS THE THING, handled the new English dub under the supervision of Peter Fernandez (SPEED RACER). Fernandez also performed Ryota's voice, while actor Hal Linden (BARNEY MILLER, THE DREW CARREY SHOW) played Yoshimura, and Larry Robinson (a voice actor on GODZILLA VS THE THING and SPACE GIANTS) was Niita. The Titra dubbing was far superior to the Toho International/Frontier Enterprises version, despite the fact it never calls either Ebirah or the Red Bamboo by name.

GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER became the first film in the series to bypass a theatrical run in America and was syndicated directly to television in 1968. The US version was edited by approximately 5 minutes of early footage, including the opening credits and a sequence featuring Ryota going to the authorities and the press for help in finding his brother, and shots of Ebirah from the midpoint of the movie are shuffled to the beginning to appear as an attack on Yatta's boat. Compared to these minor changes, the most severe cut was a result of formatting the Tohoscope image for television. Nearly half the image was lost in the pan and scan process so, when coupled with worn, faded 16mm prints, the GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER seen by Americans over decades of television broadcasts was little more than a pale shadow of the original GODZILLA, EBIRAH, MOTHRA: BIG DUEL IN THE SOUTHS SEAS.

Sadamasa Arikawa's special effects crew films Ebirah's claw rising from the ocean depths. © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
The film finally had an American theatrical screening when the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood played the Toho International version, EBIRAH: HORROR OF THE DEEP, on August 4, 2001. The Egyptian followed this with the US premiere of Sony Repertory's brand-new English subtitled print of the original Japanese version (which bore yet another onscreen title-GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND EBIRAH: HORROR OF THE DEEP) on June 26, 2004 as part of their "Godzilla 50th Anniversary Tribute". Additional film festivals gave audiences in California and New York the opportunity to finally see GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER the way it was meant to be seen, and now the rest of the country will have that chance thanks to the new Sony DVD.

THE DVD: Despite the classic American title, Sony's DVD does not feature the old Walter Reade Organization release, but Toho's international version with a new ‘GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER' title card. With the exception of new TriStar and Toho logos, the title card, and the lack of a ‘The End' credit, this version is identical to the EBIRAH: HORROR OF THE DEEP print shown at the Egyptian Theatre and available on PAL VHS in England.

The back cover to Sony's GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER DVD. Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Ent. © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
The movie is presented in 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen that preserve Toho's original theatrical aspect ratio. As was the case with Sony's SON OF GODZILLA DVD, the Tohoscope cinematography and vivid colors look absolutely stunning. This film is also uncut, so the opening sequences (and Go-Go music heard during Godzilla's battle with the jet fighters) that were trimmed from the 1968 US release are now available form the first time in America.

Another benefit of using the uncut version of GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER is that Sony was once again able to include both the English-dubbed and original Japanese audio tracks, with the Japanese track in Dolby Digital Stereo. The English subtitles are a close, but not exact match for the English dubbing. The movie has been given 12 chapters stops.

There are no real extra features to speak of. The DVD comes with menus featuring photos from the movie, there's an insert promoting Sony's other Godzilla DVDs, and the usual assortment of similarly themed previews; Toho's Japanese teaser trailer for GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS, the lengthy "Godzilla Compilation Trailer" for Sony's recent and upcoming Godzilla DVDs made up of scenes from TOKYO SOS, Neil Gaiman's (SANDMAN) fantasy film MIRROR MASK, ANACONDAS: THE HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID, and a trailer for Sony's upcoming theatrical release of STEAMBOY, the latest anime film from AKIRA director Katsuhiro Otomo.

Despite the lack of extras, most fans will be more than pleased with the high quality of the film itself. Sony's GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER is highly recommended for anyone looking for an excellent presentation of a fun and underrated classic from the ‘Golden Age' of Toho.

More textless DVD cover art; this time for the long-awaited GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II disc. Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Ent. © 1993 Toho Co., Ltd.
GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II
Late 1992 was a major turning point in Godzilla's History. In October of that year, Toho signed a deal with Sony Pictures to make a big-budget Godzilla film in the US. Two months later GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH (Gojira vs Mosura), opened in Japanese theaters and became the year's top domestic release at the box office. With a planned summer 1994 release for the American film, Toho decided to put their own series on hiatus, but not until they celebrated Godzilla's 40th Anniversary with a the King of the Monsters' 20th motion picture.

Japanese audiences responded enthusiastically to the return of Godzilla's most popular opponents in the previous two films, GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH (Gojira vs Kingughidora, 1991) and GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH, so Tomoyuki Tanaka looked into the possibility of bringing back Godzilla's most famous foe-King Kong (providing an unintended link between these latest DVDs from Sony). The rights to the big ape were unavailable so, after briefly considering using the robot Mechani-Kong, Toho decided to use Mechagodzilla, Godzilla's mechanical double who had previously appeared in GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA (Gojira tai Mekagojira, aka GODZILLA VS THE COSMIC MONSTER, 1974) and TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (Mekagojira-no Gyakushu, 1975). The film was given additional marketing strength with the inclusion of the fan favorite Rodan, while a new version of Baby Godzilla was added to the mix in order to bring in the female audience that was so crucial to GODZILLA AND MOTHRA's success the year before.

The cute Baby Godzilla (played by Hurrican Ryo) was added to appeal to female movie ticket buyers. © 1993 Toho Co., Ltd.
The 1993 version of GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA (Gojira vs Mekagojira) featured the return of GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH director Takao Okawara, a former assistant director on GODZILLA 1985 (Gojira, 1984). With one Godzilla film under his belt, Okawara seems much more assured here, delivering a much stronger and tighter film than before. He would become the main director of Toho's effects films in the 1990s, his other credits include OROCHI THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON (Yamato Takeru, 1994), GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH (Gojira vs Desutoroia, 1995), and GODZILLA 2000 (Gojira Ni-sen Mireniamu, 1999). He is definitely aided by first-time screenwriter Wataru Mimura, whose script was much more focused than those by writer/director Kazuki Omori. GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA had none of the extraneous subplots muddling the focus of the three previous films. Mimura became another contributor that Toho would turn to again and again; he also wrote screenplays for GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH, GODZILLA VS MEGAGUIRUS (Gojira X Megaguirus: G Shometsu Sakusen, 2000), GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (Gojira X Mekagojira, 2002), and GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004).

The cast is made up of the usual assortment of newcomers supported by veteran actors in smaller roles. Masahiro Takashima (OROCHI THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON, GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH) is likable as the lead character, Kazuma Aoki, the bumbling inventor of the battleship Garuda and draftee to the Mechagodzilla command crew. Ryoko Sano plays Azusa Sano, a scientist who becomes a surrogate mother to Baby Godzilla. Megumi Odaka (GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE to GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH) returns as psychic Miki Saegusa. Leo Mengetti is extremely wooden as Mechagodzilla's creator, Dr Asimov. The popular Kenji Sahara (RODAN, THE H-MAN, GODZILLA VS THE THING, ULTRA Q, GODZILLA FINAL WARS) plays G-Force Chief Takayuki Segawa. Akira Nakao (GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA, GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS, GODZILLA FINAL WARS) makes his first appearance in the Godzilla series as Commander Aso. Both the actor and the character would return in GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA and GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH. Masahiro's father Tadao Takashima (see the 9/24/03 article on H!O ) has a cameo role as Hosono, head of the Psychic Institute where he is joined b staff members Keiko Imamura and Sayaka Osawa (the Cosmos in GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH and GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA).

Rodan's battle with Godzilla was one of the highlights of the Heisei Godzilla series. © 1993 Toho Co., Ltd.
The visual effects, directed by Koichi Kawakita (GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE to GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH), are a mixed bag. After complaints about an over-reliance on "beam battles" in previous films, Kawakita attempted to include more physical battles in GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA, with the opening fight between Godzilla and Rodan ranking among the best of the Heisei series. On the other hand, the new Rodan does not compare to the original, 1956 incarnation. While nicely sculpted by Kakusei Fujiwara (of Shinichi Wakasa's studio Monsters Inc), the Rodan marionette moves stiffly onscreen and is used in an almost lazy fashion. The original Rodan would zoom over cities, causing massive damage with sonic booms; the 1993 version flies casually over Chiba City while buildings below explode for no discernable reason. Both Godzilla and Mechagodzilla fare much better. The Godzilla suit (worn once again by stuntman Kenpachiro Satsuma) maintains the basic "Heisei look" established by Kawakita in GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE, and the new Mechagodzilla features a smooth silver finished. While it lacks the angular, evil visual impression of the original Mechagodzilla the new design fits with the story's concept of a battle machine created by the United Nations. When news leaked out that GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA would include a baby Godzilla, fans were worried. They were not alone; director Takao Okawara did not care for the idea, but Tomoyuki Tanaka insisted on it. In a 1994 he said, "Toho wanted to bring Minya back but I didn't, so I redesigned him." Based on the Godzillasaurus in GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH, Okawara's Baby Godzilla comes across better than was expected. The following year, Koichi Kawakita would take a shot at creating Baby's second stage, resulting in the Little Godzilla design loathed by many Godzilla fans.

The film's soundtrack by maestro Akira Ifukube is absolutely stunning. Believing this to be Godzilla's final film, Ifukube composed a beautiful and fitting score that went on to win the Japanese Academy Award. On December 1, 1993 Toho Video released SOUND COLLECTION: GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA RECORDING LIVE, a 43 minute long documentary showing Ifukube at work.

Early reports that Godzilla would die in GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II helped fuel ticket sales. © 1993 Toho Co., Ltd.
Released to theaters on December 11, 1993, GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA was another hit for Toho. Early publicity hinted that Godzilla would die at the film's end. Okawara said, "I feel that what makes GODZILLA so powerful is the fact that Godzilla is killed at the end of the film. Because of this, I wanted to kill Godzilla in GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA, but Toho would not permit it." Even so, the rumors helped ticket sales so Toho agreed to give Okawara the opportunity to finish off the King of the Monsters two years later in GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH.

To avoid confusion with the original 1974 GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA, Toho renamed the 1993 version GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II for the international market, and the film was dubbed into English at Omni Productions in Hong Kong. Compared to the glory days of Titra Sound, the dubbing in GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II is mediocre... one interesting error in the dubbing was the use of the Japanese name ‘Radon' for the giant pterodactyl instead of Toho's official English name of ‘Rodan'. Sony Pictures purchased the North American rights to GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II-along with four other Heisei films and the "Rebirth of Mothra" series-and began to release them in conjunction with their movie GODZILLA in 1998. GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II had its US premiere on the cable service DirecTV on December 1, 1998 and was released on VHS the following year. Much to the disappointment of Godzilla fans, Sony greatly simplified the opening credits and completely removed the end titles for each of the Heisei movies, even though full English versions from Toho were available. GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH and GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH were released on a ‘double feature' DVD in November 1998, and another disc with GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA and GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH followed in 2000. GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II became the "odd man out", and fans have been anticipating the film's release on DVD for several years.

Mechagodzilla finally arrives on DVD... was it worth the wait? © 1993 Toho Co., Ltd.
THE DVD: Sadly the word the best describes Sony's GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II DVD is ‘disappointing'. While the film is in widescreen and does include the original Japanese audio, it is the same, edited version previously released on VHS and runs about 2 minutes shorter than Toho's theatrical version. The loss of the end credits is particularly damaging as it features a lengthy sequence of Godzilla and Baby swimming out to sea, accompanied by Akira Ifukube' s stunning music.

Over the past year, Sony Pictures Television distributed new, uncut Toho international versions of many of the Heisei Godzilla movies to television, while Sony Repertory began to make new, English-subtitled 35mm theatrical prints of such Toho films as GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH. That Sony's Home Video department would use the old, cut version of GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II for the DVD release is inexplicable and inexcusable.

The presentation of the film is also lacking. The movie itself is in 1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with strong and sharp image and colors. The original Japanese audio is strangely muffled in spots and is sometimes much weaker than the English dub track. The dreaded "dubtitles" rear their ugly head again; the subtitles are an exact match (except ‘Radon' is corrected to ‘Rodan') for the English audio and don't come close to conveying the details of the Japanese dialogue.

Mechagodzilla strikes... out. © 1993 Toho Co., Ltd.
There are no extras. The DVD comes with 12 chapters, illustrated menus, an insert promoting Sony's other Godzilla DVDs, and the exact same assortment of previews found on the GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER disc. With the abundance of extra material available for this film-including several deleted scenes-it's a shame that nothing was included here... even a recent German DVD of GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II from Marketing-Film paired the TriStar version of the film with the Akira Ifukube SOUND COLLECTION documentary. After so many quality releases over the past year, it's disappointing to see Sony fumble so badly with GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II.

With the US rights to most of the remaining Godzilla films held by other companies, these are most likely the last Godzilla DVDs from Sony Pictures for the foreseeable future. Here's hoping they take what worked best and apply it to DVDs of some of their non-Godzilla Toho classics like THE H-MAN and MOTHRA.

For additional images from the GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER and GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II DVDs, please see the 12/14/04 report here on Henshin! Online.

 
01/13/05:
Ultraman Takes off In Another New Direction.
ULTRAMAN (2005) Review
Author: Bob Johnson


Theatrical poster for Ultraman. © 2005 ULTRAMAN Movie Production Consortium
A shadowy creature moves through the dark halls of a research facility, security guards in pursuit. His silhouetted form crosses a sign that reads, "Bio Hazard - Caution!" Guards open fire, but their bullets have no effect.

The beast turns down another hallway to see a beautiful woman in a lab coat. In her hands is a weapon, loaded with a lethal poison. She fires at the hideous monster, hitting it in the shoulder. The large form turns towards her and stares straight into her eyes, saliva dripping from its razor-sharp teeth. As the woman looks on in shock, the creature's shoulder starts to pulse and forms itself into a human face. A slight expression of recognition shows on the woman's face as the monster turns and crashes through a wall, into the night air where it runs to the end of a tall cliff and leaps into the churning ocean below.

Is this a new horror film? A sequel to ALIEN? A science fiction shocker crafted in the US? The intro to a new video game? No, it is the opening to the newest feature from Tsuburaya Productions, simply titled ULTRAMAN. As with Toho's Godzilla, Ultraman is a long-running franchise that is seeking a new direction to garner more of an audience. However, unlike GODZILLA FINAL WARS, which targets the youth market and lacks a meaningful story or sense of cinematic direction, ULTRAMAN is a serious, adult film that makes no excuses for superhero and monster action. It is a new and serious approach to a character that has been an icon on Japanese TV and in films for close to 40 years. The film had its premier at the Tokyo International Film Festival in Japan (TIFF) and is currently being marketed to world-wide distributors as ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT.

Tetsuya Bessho as Shunichi Maki. © 2005 ULTRAMAN Movie Production Consortium
Shunichi Maki (Tetsuya Bessho) is a fighter pilot at the Air Self Defense Forces' Hiyakuri Base. All his life he has wanted to fly fighter jets. As a child, he saw a jet overhead and dreamed of being a "silver meteor", streaking through the heavens. However, that dream is now winding down. The 35-year-old Maki has a wife and a 5-year-old son, who suffers from a congenital blood disease which, threatens to take his life before he can reach his 7th birthday. He tells his friend and fellow pilot, Kurashima, that he must quit the Self-Defense Force so he can spend more time with his family at this time of crisis.

Their discussion is interrupted by an alert. They scramble their F15 Eagles and take off to investigate a strange object sited in the night sky. In the midst of the search, Maki's jet crashes into a large, red, glowing sphere. He finds himself inside the sphere, careening through a sea of light. The last image he sees is an enormous incandescent figure. He later appears back on the ground, at the entrance of a diner. He enters and asks to use the phone as his body, in a tattered uniform, falls to the floor.

He awakens in a hospital with his wife, Yoko and their son, Tsugumu. The doctors tell him he is in perfect health, no injuries, although his jet was found crumpled in a heap in the nearby mountains.

Ultraman strikes a familiar pose. © 2005 ULTRAMAN Movie Production Consortium
A month later, Maki is involved in his new job, training students to fly Cessna aircraft. One student he takes up with him pulls a gun and with a helicopter escort, orders him to fly the plane to Cape Ryu, which hides the base of the international BCST, an anti-bioterrorism organization. The "student", Sara Mizuhara (Kyoko Toyama), is the same woman who confronted the creature earlier.

Once there, Maki is told of a ship captain that encountered a glowing, blue sphere under the ocean. His ship was destroyed, his crew killed, but he survived. Similar to what happened to Maki in the sky. However, Udo, the ship's captain, has mutated into a creature, code-named "The One", that absorbs animals to take on their characteristics and abilities as needed. They believe the same fate awaits Maki. He tells them he is human and sarcastically asks what his code name would be. Sara responds "The Next, maybe" and locks him up in a re-enforced cell.

Maki forms rudimentary psychic abilities that allow him to see things as or before they happen. This connects him mentally to Udo (Kenya Osumi), who follows his brain waves back to the base. He returns, intent on killing Maki, who he has seen as someone who will become a threat to him.

The advance poster for Tsuburaya's newest entry into the Ultraman series. © 2005 ULTRAMAN Movie Production Consortium
As guards attack The One, he suddenly mutates again, growing to a height of fifteen feet. With the guards in retreat, Udo corners Sara, moving in for the kill. An eruption of light precedes Maki's prison door exploding open as Maki appears. Udo turns his attention towards Maki, chasing him and finally slamming him against a wall with his tail. Maki's body begins to glow and he painfully transforms into a silver giant, equal in height with The One. Udo's tail whips towards Sara, but is stopped as Maki crouches over her, taking the brunt of the attack. The two fight to a draw as Udo escapes.

Maki changes back into his human form. Sara determines that unlike Udo, Maki retains his human conscience when he mutates. She asks him to use his powers to kill The One. However, Maki has a vision and sees his son, collapsing in a schoolyard. Stealing a jeep, he escapes to be with his son.

Doctors at the hospital determine that Tsugumu's fainting was due to psychological fatigue and not the disease in his blood. Maki comforts him as Tsugumu tells his father that he will get better and that his father should go to "do his job".

Maki leaves again, to return to Sara and confront The One, setting up the final, climactic battle of giants amongst the streets and in the skies of Japan!

The One gets ready to rumble. © 2005 ULTRAMAN Movie Production Consortium
Veteran Ultra-movie director Kazuya Konaka, addressing the crowd at the Tokyo International Film Festival, stated that, "This is my fourth ULTRAMAN and I aimed to amuse not only children, but also adults and couples." Tetsuya Bessho, who plays Maki added, "I belong to the generation of Ultraman. I have perceived what justice is from Ultraman. It was an honor to be able to act in this film."

This demonstrates some of the deep-rooted feelings many Japanese have for the character of Ultraman and with this film, Tsuburaya presents a movie that is aimed at all ages and not just the children that make up a large percentage of the current audience.

The core story of a father, trying to be with his son, but being pulled away by other responsibilities is one that hits home with almost every father today. Though Maki is doing everything he can to change his life and spend more time with his family, his destiny of being Ultraman and the forces that oppose him and also the ones who want to use him, pull him away and cause conflicting emotions to build up inside him. He must find time for his son, but he is also the Earth's only hope against a creature that could destroy the planet. This is a new dynamic and one that has never been explored in an Ultraman story.

Ultraman's Initial form. © 2005 ULTRAMAN Movie Production Consortium
The script for ULTRAMAN was penned by Keiichi Hasegawa. No stranger to the Ultra universe, Hasegawa worked on episodes of the ULTRAMAN TIGA television series and the movie ULTRAMAN GAIA: BATTLE IN HYPERSPACE. He also co-wrote GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK and episodes of the new animated ASTROBOY.

Ultraman himself still stays within the framework of his predecessors, but is also handled with a new, fresh approach. Maki's original transformation into the semi-giant hero begins as a painful mutation, rather than the flashy transformations of the past. Starting out as a 15' figure with simple, almost primitive detailing, it is not until the final battle when he changes into an Ultraman-size hero, towering against the city's buildings. The progression may also be interpreted as an explanation of the original Ultraman's change in design from the Type A to Type B to Type C suits in the 1966 ULTRAMAN series.

Although referred to as "Ultraman The Next" in publicity materials, he is never called Ultraman in the movie until reporters dub him as such at the end of the film. The only reference to The Next is when he asks Sara what he would be called since Udo was "The One" and she replies, "The Next, maybe".

Ultraman readies for battle. © 2005 ULTRAMAN Movie Production Consortium
During the final battle, as he avoids the monster's requisite oral ray, Ultraman realizes that he can fly and what a flight it is! As Ultraman soars into the sky, we get a camera angle looking down on the rooftops of tall skyscrapers as Ultraman flies around them, avoiding the ray and finally turns to fly directly at the camera. This is by far the most impressive flying effect in any of the Ultraman films or TV series.

To pursue Ultraman, The One absorbs nearby crows and sprouts crow-like wings leading to an exciting aerial battle. It is during the battle that we are actually provided with an explanation of why Ultraman, or this Ultraman anyway, has a warning light. It is because the union between Ultraman and his human host is not quite perfect, causing this weakness of limited power. The warning light itself is actually the large red crest on Ultraman's chest, definitely the biggest warning light in Ultra-history.

Ultraman in an ariel battle with The One. © 2005 ULTRAMAN Movie Production Consortium
The One is a multi-stage creature as he absorbs different animals to take on their abilities as needed for battle or killing. The more he absorbs the larger and more powerful he gets. In a nod to Ultraman's origins, the creature's second stage, as he confronts Ultraman for the first time bares a slight resemblance to the monster Bemler, seen in the first episode of the original ULTRAMAN (1966). Later mutations get more and more detailed as the final form, complete with huge wings, is a very impressive design.

The impressive visual effects, both CGI and traditional, that are used to bring the action to life are helmed by Yuichi Kikuchi, who also handled the visual effects for Toho's GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (2002). As Kikuchi has mentioned, "There was a lot of involvement of CGI and main live action and I gave care to match them." And match them he does. For the most part, the CGI and live action are blended seamlessly as Ultraman and The One do battle in and above actual city scenes mixed with traditional miniatures.

This film, unlike other Japanese effects movies, does not use model jets or other vehicles. All are either actual live versions or CGI recreations. The flying scenes are also CGI and look great. Some of these are the most realistic CGI effects to date in a Japanese film. They are definitely a big step over the CGI effects used in its competitor, GODZILLA FINAL WARS.

The cast, led by Bessho is well chosen and add to the believability of the characters in the story. Rather than rely on recent J-Pop stars, the casting of Bessho as an older, more grounded hero was an excellent choice and a move that reinforces the more mature themes and audiences this film aspires to. Bessho's previous genre roles were in the films SOLAR CRISIS (1990) and GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992). Kenya Osumi, who plays Udo, Maki's antagonist in the film, is delightfully evil. He seemed to relish the role as he told the TIFF audience, "I also grew up with Ultraman. When I got the offer [for this film] I first thought I would be Ultraman, but to my relief, I played his enemy!"

Kyoko Toyama, who plays the heroine, Sara Mizuhara, has a wider range of emotions to play in comparison to her Ultra-heroine predecessors, as the fiancé of someone she must now kill. She must find it within herself to overcome her past emotions and find a way to destroy what was once her future husband. As an actress, Toyama found in tough playing in a special effects film, saying, "It was a challenge for me to act in special effects (blue back shooting for CGI composition) and at the base of the Self-Defense Forces. Each scene is memorable for me."

Audiences seeing this film will come away with the same feeling, that each scene is memorable. ULTRAMAN is a film that takes the character in a new and exciting direction and Tsuburaya's dedication to keeping the image of Ultraman in the dreams of young and old alike, puts the character in good standing for the new millennium. Many companies try to do this, but few succeed. With this film, we may have one of those rare successes!

Visit the official ULTRAMAN movie website at for additional photos, information, downloadable screen savers, and a look at the theatrical trailers and TV commercials. Tell them Henshin! Online sent you!

 

01/06/05:
HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM HENSHIN! ONLINE!!
The extended H!O family at the GODZILLA FINAL WARS world premiere. (Starting from the back row, left to right:) Barrie Evans, Cleve Hall, Kyle Yount, David Chapple, Aaron Cooper, Oki Miyano, Richard Pusateri, Bob Johnson, August Ragone, Keith Aiken, Tsutomu Kitagawa, and Brad Warner. Photo Credit: Joy O'Brien
2004 was an unprecedented year for tokusatsu fans in America; possibly the best many could have ever hoped for. Nearly every month there was some sort of festival, screening, or release... the theatrical release of GODZILLA: THE UNCUT JAPANESE ORIGINAL; a slew of DVDs for Godzilla, ULTAMAN TIGA, KIKAIDA, RETURNER, and Takashi Miike; academic presentations and exhibits in NYC, Kansas, Portland, and San Francisco; Atari's new GODZILLA: SAVE THE EARTH GAME; the ULTRAMAN TIGA comic series; KAMEN RIDER V3's return to Hawaii and KIKADA star Ban Daisuke's visit to CA; and new issues of the classic magazines ORIENTAL CINEMA and JAPANESE GIANTS.

Godzilla's 50th Anniversary was the big story of the year. In celebration of that milestone, Toho authorized official Godzilla events for the first time in the US. The American Cinematheque's "Godzilla Anniversary Tribute" started things off with the first theatrical screening of GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA and the official US premiere of GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS; the Film Forum's "They Came from Toho" brought two weeks of kaiju movies to New York; the Hollywood Theatre's "50 Years of Godzilla" premiered Atari's GODZILLA: SAVE THE EARTH game on the big screen; and Bay Area Film Events "Godzillafest" celebrated the King of the Monsters' birth month with 20 Toho films and the largest guest list of the year. Dozens of movies were screened at these events... the list includes such favorites as GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER, RODAN, THE H-MAN, KING KONG VS GODZILLA, GHIDRAH, MONSTER ZERO, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, DAM, GODZILLA VS MEGALON, TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA, GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH, GMK, and Tsuburaya Productions' original ULTRAMAN, plus brand-new subtitled prints of MOTHRA, EBIRAH, SON OF GODZILLA, and GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH from Sony. In addition, these festivals brought many of the people who made these great films: Yasuyuki Inoue, Jerry Ito, Ed Keane, Tsutomu Kitagawa, Hiroshi Koizumi, Akira Kubo, Akinori Takagi, George Takei, Russ Tamblyn, and Masaaki Tezuka among them. The year finished off with bang as Godzilla received a star on the Hollywood walk of Fame and Toho hosted the world premiere of GODZILLA FINAL WARS in Hollywood... the first time a Godzilla film had ever premiered outside of Japan.

The staff and friends of Henshin! Online were lucky to be a part of many of these events so, in addition to the usual news, reviews, and updates in 2005, we will also be presenting inside accounts of the best of 2004. Check back to H!O in the coming weeks for behind-the-scenes reports, exclusive interviews with the filmmakers, new and previously unseen photos, never before revealed facts on movies old and new, and much, much more that you won't see anywhere else.

The best is yet to come!

01/06/05:
RUSS TAMBLYN INTERVIEW: NAKED NUNS & GIANT FRANKENSTEIN MONSTERS
The American Star Finally Breaks His Silence on the Toho Classic WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS!
Author: Keith Aiken
Interview by Keith Aiken and Loren Portillo
Additional information and notes by August Ragone
Special Thanks to Bob Johnson and Ed Godziszewski



WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS star Russ Tamblyn at Godzillafest. Photo Credit: Bob Johnson
In 1956, Toho's GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS (Gojira, 1954) became the first Japanese movie to see a wide theatrical release in the United States. GODZILLA's success led to more of the studio's fantasy films being picked up for American distribution in the 1950s; GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER (Gojira-no Gyakushu, 1955), RODAN (Sora-no Daikaiju Radon, 1956), THE MYSTERIANS (Chikyu Boeigun, 1957), THE H-MAN (Bijo to Ekitai Ningen, 1958), and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (Uchu Daisenso, 1959) among them. By the early 1960s, American filmmakers were also involved in making some of the Toho movies; Columbia Pictures co-produced MOTHRA (Mosura, 1961), producer John Beck pitched the concept that became KING KONG VS GODZILLA (Kingu Kong tai Gojira, 1962), and several films were made with Henry G. Saperstein.

Saperstein was the owner of United Productions of America, a small production company in Los Angeles [for more information on Saperstein and UPA, see the biography and interview posted 7/14/04 on Henshin! Online]. Looking for more science fiction/monster programming for theaters and television, he approached Toho about financing or co-producing some of their films. Toho was agreeable, and Saperstein invested in (and made filming suggestions for) the classic GODZILLA VS THE THING (Mosura tai Gojira, a.k.a. GODZILLA VS MOTHRA, 1964) which was quickly sold to American International Pictures. The following year Saperstein and Toho began work on a handful of productions in which Saperstein put up a portion of the budgets, consulted on scripts, and provided name American actors for lead roles. The end result was three of the best-loved kaiju films from Toho's "Golden Age"--FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (Furankenshutain tai Chitei Kaiju Baragon, 1965), MONSTER ZERO (Kaiju Daisenso, a.k.a. INVASION OF THE ASTRO-MONSTERS, 1965), and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (Furankenshutain-no Kaiju: Sanda tai Gaira, 1966).

WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS was produced as a direct sequel to FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (the Japanese title translates to FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTERS: SANDA VS GAIRA) but that connection was obscured by Saperstein when the film was released to English language markets. He claimed this was done because the monsters Sanda and Gaira did not look enough like the Giant Frankenstein from the previous film, but other factors may have also had a hand. The first draft screenplay featured the same trio of characters from FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD; "James Bowen" (Nick Adams), "Sueko Togami" (Kumi Mizuno), and "Yuzo Kawaji" (Tadao Takashima), but personal matters--including a nasty and public divorce from wife Carol Nugent - prevented Adams from taking part in the film so the characters' names were changed and the parts recast. Mizuno was the sole holdover as "Akemi Togawa", while Kenji Sahara (RODAN, ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE, GODZILLA VS THE THING) stepped in for Takashima as "Yuzo Mamiya", and Adams was replaced by Russ Tamblyn in the role of "Dr. Paul Stewart".

Kenji Sahara, Russ Tamblyn, and Kumi Mizuno in WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
A popular Hollywood actor whose career covers a wide range of stage, television, and film --from A-list, Oscar winning productions to film classics to B-movies to low budget exploitation fare, Russ Tamblyn was born in Los Angeles on December 30, 1934. He comes from a family of entertainers; his father was character actor Eddie Tamblyn (THE MAIN EVENT), his brother Larry was the drummer in the 1960s band The Standells, and his daughter Amber is currently the star of the popular CBS television series JOAN OF ARCADIA. As a child actor (sometimes billed as "Rusty Tamblyn"), he made his stage debut in the 1945 production STONE JUNGLE and appeared in his first film, THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR, in 1948. Director Cecille B. DeMille's SAMSON AND DELILAH and the cult classic crime drama GUN CRAZY both followed in 1949. In 1950 Tamblyn worked alongside Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor in the original FATHER OF THE BRIDE and returned for the sequel FATHER'S LITTLE DIVIDEND (1951). A champion gymnast and acrobat at Hollywood High School, he put those skills to good use in a number of musicals such as HIT THE DECK and the hit SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (both 1954). He had his first starring role in THE YOUNG GUNS (1956), and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in PEYTON PLACE (1957).

Tamblyn next starred in HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL! (1958), a B-movie that has become one of his most popular films, then performed the title role in TOM THUMB (1958). He played Riff, leader of the Jets, in director Robert Wise's acclaimed musical WEST SIDE STORY (1961) and was part of the all-star cast (including Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Stewart, and John Wayne) in John Ford's Cinerama western HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962). That same year he starred in George Pal's THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM. Tamblyn re-teamed with Robert Wise for the horror classic THE HAUNTING in 1963. Following THE LONG SHIPS with Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier in 1964, he stepped away from full-time acting to focus on his interests in the arts.

For the next two and a half decades he occasionally came out of semi-retirement to travel or work with friends like Dennis Hopper (in THE LAST MOVIE, 1971) and Dean Stockwell (WIN, PLACE OR STEAL, 1975). Tamblyn also appeared in numerous smaller independent productions, including SATAN'S SADISTS (1969) and DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN (1971) for exploitation filmmaker Al Adamson. In 1990, he made a comeback as the bizarre psychiatrist "Dr Lawrence Jacoby" in David Lynch's cult hit television series TWIN PEAKS (1990-1991). He has also made guest appearances on such shows as FAME, QUANTUM LEAP (working again with Dean Stockwell), BABYLON 5, NASH BRIDGES, and GENERAL HOSPITAL (as "Dr. Jacoby"). In recent years, Tamblyn has focused on managing the acting career of his daughter Amber, and has a semi-recurring role as "God" on her show JOAN OF ARCADIA. In 2003 and 2004 he traveled with Neil Young's GREENDALE tour, performing as "Captain John Green" as well as choreographing and directing the production numbers.

A classic publicity shot from WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
Russ Tamblyn has been interviewed innumerable times over his long career, but WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS was one of the few projects he has never publicly discussed. A Japanese giant monster movie was not a prestige job for an established actor who had worked on major studio productions with some the top names in Hollywood. He was unimpressed by GARGANTUAS' script or the manner in which his scenes were filmed, and saw the film as little more than a paycheck and a travel opportunity. While he loved Japan, Tamblyn rarely socialized with the cast and crew and came across as distant to co-star Kumi Mizuno and "a royal pain in the ass" to Henry Saperstein [see Stuart Galbraith IV's book MONSTERS ARE ATTACKING TOKYO! for details]. He never saw the completed movie but expected it would never see the light of day in America... and that almost proved to be the case.

After a falling out with AIP in 1966, Saperstein had great difficulty finding another theatrical distributor for WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS and MONSTER ZERO. According to the September 1970 issue of VARIETY, the two films "...sat on the shelf at [UPA] because [distributors] figured they had no potential". It wasn't until 1970 that Saperstein struck a deal with tiny Maron Films and the pair was finally shown on a double bill in the US. Maron's handling of the movies was so spotty that Tamblyn was unaware WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS had been released until he stumbled across it in the early 1970s on the LA television station KTLA 5. The station aired the film every night for a week on their "Movie Theater" show, but Tamblyn had no interest in watching it.

It took decades for his negative opinion of the film to gradually soften. Things began to change during the filming of HUMAN HIGHWAY in 1982; Tamblyn was shocked to discover that a movie he thought was junk had become a cult favorite in the US. While that didn't cause an instant appreciation for WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, he was pleased that the movie had exceeded his expectations. As the years passed, fans continued to ask him about the movie and he began to feel a reappraisal of the film was in order.

The opportunity to do just that finally came with Bay Area Film Events' Godzillafest in November 2004. Thanks to a rare 35mm print loaned by Jim Cironella, the film festival hosted the first Toho-authorized screening of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS in decades. BAFE producer/ Henshin! Online co-founder Bob Johnson made the most of a great opportunity by contacting Russ Tamblyn and inviting him to attend. Tamblyn accepted, and he and his wife Bonnie flew to San Francisco to see WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS and speak publicly about the film for the first time ever.

I met with the Tamblyns early on the day of the screening and found them to be incredibly outgoing and friendly people. Russ said that he was looking forward to finally seeing the movie and meeting with the fans, but hoped the Godzillafest audience would not be too bothered by the negative opinions he had held about the film for so long. No matter what, he wanted to be honest about how he had felt at the time and not try to be "retroactively p.c." just to look good now. Over lunch, we chatted about WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, Russ' film career and travels, and their daughter Amber (of whom both he and Bonnie are extremely proud). While time was short and nothing had been planned, Russ also agreed to do a brief talk "on the record" before the movie. It took almost 40 years, but Henshin! Online and Godzillafest are proud to present the first interview with Russ Tamblyn covering WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS!

The following interview was conducted at the Miyako Hotel in San Francisco on November 18, 2004...

HENSHIN! ONLINE: How did you end up doing WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS?

RUSS TAMBLYN: Well, I was living in California near Malibu, a place called Topanga. I had actually dropped out of show business and was just doing fine art, as opposed to performing arts. I've always said that in the performing arts you try to do whatever you can to make the audience's head spin and in fine art you try to do whatever you can to make your own head spin. Anyway, that's another story...

H!O: Okay. [laughs]

TAMBLYN: So, I'm living in Topanga and I got a call with an offer to do this movie in Japan. The reason I told you that first part was that I was into fine art and wasn't really interested in doing movies at that time... I was kind of retired from it. But, they offered me a bunch of money and I thought, "Hey, it's a trip to Japan."

I read the script and thought it was awful so I thought nobody here will ever see it, I can make a bunch of money, go to Japan and have a great time, y'know. So that's why I did it.

H!O: I guess those are pretty good reasons.

TAMBLYN: I thought so. I was also shooting my own movies at the time -8mm films- just little art films. I thought this would be a good opportunity to shoot some film in Japan, and that's what I did. As a matter of fact, I made two movies while I was making WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS there.

H!O: Did you make these films while on location?

TAMBLYN: They were both shot in Tokyo, actually. One was filmed around the city, and then another was shot in a little theater.

One night I was walking around the city and I was shooting lights and things that caught my eye and I saw this burlesque theater and thought "Ooh, that would be a wild thing to go in and shoot a Japanese burlesque show." So I went in and, almost immediately, the first act that came on was this sort of striptease with two nuns. These two nuns came out and did a striptease and it blew me away so badly that I thought, "Oh, my god." There it was, live on stage, and I was just stunned. I thought that I would love to film that... that would be so cool. But I didn't that first time, so I waited thru the whole show and kept my camera ready in case something else came on that was interesting, but nothing else did. Finally it came around again to these two nuns so I filmed them.

I made this movie, it's called NUNSENSE. Between shots of these two nuns coming out and stripping I added some footage I shot in the looping room. The looping room is where you dub your voice over what's playing onscreen. They call it 'looping' because there used to be an actual loop of film that they would just run over and over, but that isn't how it's done anymore. I shot in there while I was actually doing a looping session for WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. I took my camera in there with me and was shooting the screen - every time this one section came on I was shooting that. So when I cut my film together I used this one part of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS where a guy was falling into the water, then I would go back to the nuns, then to the guy in the water, then back to the nuns, and that was it. I got a nice film out of it.

Russ and his wife Bonnie meet with fans at Godzillafest. Photo Credit: Bob Johnson
H!O: What about the other movie?

TAMBLYN: I shot the other film in the streets of Tokyo with just a lot of action, a lot of people. I went into a dance club and shot in there... there was all kinds of action in it.

I just showed it last month at the Getty Art Museum, and I think some of these films will be coming up here soon to Berkeley. They'll be shown at some art museum in Berkeley. [This may be the Pacific Film Archives at UC Berkeley.]

H!O: Will these films be shown again in the Los Angeles area or elsewhere?

TAMBLYN: I think so, but I'm not quite sure when. The Getty is going to show one of the Japanese films and a couple of the others I did. They're short, y'know. I think they're going to show two or three movies, including an animated film. I put the camera up on a tripod, did a collage - that was fun.

H!O: You mentioned earlier that you thought the script for WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS was terrible. In the 1960s, Toho did a handful of fantasy films with American leads and they would create English shooting scripts. I've seen a few of the scripts and they're clearly not written by someone who spoke English fluently... they're packed with awkward phrasing that the American actors would need to rework. Was that the case with WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS?

TAMBLYN: Yeah... it was so bad, it was so bad. So I changed a lot of the lines and made up a lot of the lines in it. I play this character named Dr. Stewart. When the movie starts off I'm in an office with my assistant and she said, "Ooh, did you read in the paper?" ...I guess we raised this little gorilla, these two or something, and they got away... [pauses] I can't quite remember the story. Quite frankly, I've never seen the movie.

H!O: You've really never seen this film from start to finish?

TAMBLYN: I've never watched it, not even with all the times it was on TV. I just turned my shoulder to it. I remember that it was always going on television. One time it was on every night for a week.

H!O: Well, you'll see it tonight at Godzillafest.

TAMBLYN: It will be a first for me tonight, and now I'll be seeing it in a theater, y'know. At least with a television you can change the channel; I won't be able to do anything. [shrugs] But my daughter China, her husband Elton, and my grandson Dylan are coming...so I'm really here for him. He'll love it. I'll like it too - this will be a lot of fun, I think. We'll have a great time.

H!O: I think so, too. So, what was the line you changed?

TAMBLYN: In the beginning of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS there was this newspaper article and my assistant said, "Did you see in the newspaper here that some college kids on campus said they saw this giant monster running around the football field?" or something, and I said, "Ahhh, they were probably on acid." It made sense to me at the time; this was in the ‘60s and that was something that someone on acid could possibly have seen.

And I changed another line. There are two monsters, the Gargantuas, and the bad one lives in the ocean. So there's a scene where they saw him going into the ocean so I said, "He probably fell in love with a whale."

H!O: [laughs]

"Maybe he fell in love with a whale!", but Gaira certainly did not care for Daidako. © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
TAMBLYN: So I made up a bunch of lines like that. But what happened, oddly enough...and I've never had this happen before and I've often wondered if Saperstein didn't do this on purpose...he said, "I'm so sorry to have to tell you this, but we lost the soundtrack to WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. We have no soundtrack." So he had me go into a dubbing room and I had to loop the dub to the screen. I had to dub my whole part for the entire movie. I had the original script, but I'd changed it so much I couldn't remember what I was talking about half the time. [laughs]

H!O: I imagine that meant a lot of lip reading and trying to remember what you had said during filming.

TAMBLYN: Yeah. They had to run the scenes over and over. It was really a pain getting thru it.

H!O: So you knew Nick Adams? He was in a couple of Toho films right before you did WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS.

TAMBLYN: Oh, yeah. Nick and I were very good friends... very close. We lived together for a couple of weeks. He stayed at my beach house and we used to hang out together; Nick and Dennis Hopper and Natalie Wood. We all used to eat, party, and play around.

Henshin! Online's Richard Pusateri chats with Russ Tamblyn. Photo Credit: Bob Johnson
H!O: Nick is also famous for changing his lines and playing around with the dialogue in the Toho movies.

TAMBLYN: Nick did that?

H!O: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: Oh, good. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who was crazy enough to do that. [laughs]

H!O: Nick did these lines in MONSTER ZERO that sounded like Jimmy Cagney riffs.

TAMBLYN: He was a great impressionist... he did a lot of imitations.

As a matter of fact, in the movie GIANT James Dean died before the movie was completed so they had Nick redo some of his lines. At the end of GIANT there's the scene where James Dean comes in drunk and he sounded all [slurred, unintelligible speech] and nobody could understand a word that he was saying. Nick was under contract at Warner Bros. so they asked Nick if he would come in and do the voice because they wanted to hear Dean's lines more clearly. The next time you see the movie you'll recognize it. You'll hear it and go, "Oh yeah, that is Nick... that's Nick's voice."

H!O: Did your friendship with Nick have anything to do with you both working on back-to-back Toho films?

TAMBLYN: I don't know, but I don't think so. I think that was more of a coincidence than anything.

H!O: Since Nick was a friend of yours, you may know something about this...but I'll understand if you don't want to discuss it. For decades there have been rumors that he had an affair with Japanese actress Kumi Mizuno. She worked with him on the Toho films and was your co-star in WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. Did he ever say anything to you about that?

Kumi Mizuno; a good motivation to go hiking. © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
TAMBLYN: [shocked expression] Why, that son of gun! I never heard that... how the hell did he get there and me not?

H!O: [laughs] I don't know.

TAMBLYN: I don't understand. [jokingly shakes head] So, it was that same girl?

H!O: Yeah, Kumi Mizuno. She was in all three films he did in Japan.

TAMBLYN: God... I couldn't even talk to her. I mean, she didn't speak English. He must have learned some Japanese. [laughs]

H!O: Since you couldn't speak Japanese, how did you do your scenes for WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS? Did you have much interaction with the cast and crew?

TAMBLYN: No one spoke English except this one interpreter [Heihachiro "Henry" Okawa] and he translated between the director and me. I didn't know what they were talking about and they didn't know what I was talking about, except this one interpreter who spoke English.

H!O: So, were the rehearsals set up just so you could figure out your cues?

TAMBLYN: That's about it. I would do it by sound, y'know, I would wait for them to finish talking. [laughs] Boy, what a way to work.

When I first got over to Japan for WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS I thought maybe they'd do some great special effects. Then I met with the Toho people and they said, "Come on, we're shooting some of the Gargantua scenes now." So, I went to the soundstage for a look and there's this set with all these miniature city buildings and things and these two guys in suits. And they're wrestling each other and falling down, just falling all over the place. And I said to myself, "Oh my god, am I in trouble." [laughs]

Those two guys; the Green Gargantua Gaira (Haruo Nakajima) and the Brown Gargantua Sanda (Hiroshi Sekita). © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: Do you remember much about the location shooting?

TAMBLYN: I loved it, really loved being in Japan. I only remember Tokyo clearly... it was mostly shot around where the studio is, but we went and stayed in a couple of other places. There was a little village somewhere, I don't remember where it was but it was absolutely beautiful. We stayed there for a few days and that was just wonderful. It looked like a little fantasy park, y'know. We shot a forest scene there.

H!O: Was that the scenes near the lake with Gaira, the Green Gargantua?

TAMBLYN: Yeah, it was just beautiful there. I wish I could remember where that was.

H!O: I may be able to find that out for you. I'll check with some friends and see if they know where those scenes were filmed.

TAMBLYN: Oh, I'd love to know, I'd really love to know now. I just remember Tokyo and shooting some scenes on Mt Fuji. I remember we hiked up... we just kept hiking and hiking. We were shooting something up there.

[Russ Tamblyn filmed on location at Gotenba (near Mt. Fuji) and on the Miura Peninsula.]

This forest lake area was one of Tamblyn's favorite shooting locations in Japan. © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: I know our time here is getting short so I'd like to talk briefly about your daughter Amber. She's doing very well with her acting career these days. You must be very proud.

TAMBLYN: I am... she's doing great.

H!O: The first time I can recall seeing her was in THE RING, which was a remake of the Japanese film. I thought it was interesting that the father starred in a Japanese fantasy film and the daughter starred in a remake of a Japanese fantasy film.

TAMBLYN: That's right! I'd never thought of that. The connection I've always made is that the show she's doing now, JOAN OF ARCADIA, is shot at Sony Studios which used to belong to MGM. Her trailer, oddly enough, is right across from - it's now the studio wardrobe department - it used to be the rehearsal hall where the musical people like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, myself... we not only rehearsed but we also had dressing rooms there. So my dressing room used to be right across from where her dressing room is now. And the set where she shoots JOAN OF ARCADIA is where we shot the barn dance for SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS. It's pretty wild... every time we go there I keep thinking of the MGM days.

I have this picture of Amber; we went back for the 75th anniversary of CBS. All these old stars were there... Art Linkletter, Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore - all these people from all those series were all there at this dinner. And afterwards they got everybody up on stage to take a photograph, and Amber was up there, too. Right in the center was Lassie... I didn't realize that LASSIE was on CBS. I have and old picture at home of MGM's THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, it's a picture of all of the MGM stars and I'm in there. And right in the center is Lassie.

H!O: [laughs] That dog sure lived a long time.

TAMBLYN: They have copies. One dies, you just get another. [laughs]

Russ' daughter Amber (l, with Rachel Bella) played the first victim in the US remake of THE RING. Photo courtesy of DreamWorks. © 2002 DreamWorks LLC.
H!O: Anything else you'd like to say about WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS?

TAMBLYN: Just that I never saw the movie and never really cared for it for years. I thought they would never even bring it to the United States and show it here. I had no idea that would happen, but they did and it was on TV every night. They ran it every night. Unfortunately, I signed the contract in Japan so I didn't even get any residuals for it. That was very disappointing.

I never really appreciated the film until I did a movie much later on. Around 1980, I guess, I did a film with Neil Young, the rock n' roll guy. Neil and I are old friends; he used to live next door to me in Topanga. We decided to make this film called HUMAN HIGHWAY along with Dean Stockwell. The three of us wrote it. Dennis Hopper was in it, this actress, Sally Kirkland - she was nominated for an Academy Award for a movie called ANNA - there was a bunch of people in it.

H!O: Sally's done a lot of work. I've seen her in movies like BRUCE ALMIGHTY and JFK.

TAMBLYN: Right. And there was this rock n' roll group, Devo - I don't know if you could call them rock. When I first met them, their lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh came up to me and said, "Oh my god, you did one of my favorite movies of all time." So I'm waiting for him to say WEST SIDE STORY, SEVEN BRIDES, or THE HAUNTING or whatever, and he said, "WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS." I thought he was putting me on, that he was kidding me. But he went on about the movie, and not only that, he said, "Listen to this,"... he had gone into a theater with a tape recorder and taped that silly song in the movie that's called...

EVERYONE IN UNISON: "The Words Get Stuck in My Throat" [the actual title is "Feel in My Heart"]

TAMBLYN: Imagine writing a line like that: [sings] "The Words Get Stuck in My Throat"... ugh! And he just thought it was the greatest song. In fact, he wanted Devo to record it, y'know. They were seriously considering it, but they couldn't get the rights to the song.

H!O: I heard they would play the song in concert.

TAMBLYN: They probably did.

And the singer was Kipp Hamilton. She was a girlfriend of the producer. Now that I remember... everybody was getting laid but me! [laughs]

The cast takes a break during the filming of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. © 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.
H!O: [laughs] Tonight's screening of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS will be the first time the film has played a theater in years.

TAMBLYN: I didn't even know that it was shown in theaters until Mark told me. It did play in the US?

H!O: Yeah, on a double-bill with Nick Adams' film MONSTER ZERO, but I don't think it played in all the major markets. Most fans have never seen WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS on the big screen, so there will be a lot of people at the Castro Theatre tonight for it and you should expect a very big response to the film. Just look at it as a different kind of classic... it's not SEVEN BRIDES or THE HAUNTING, but WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS has a very strong following. It's also very highly thought of among Japanese genre films.

TAMBLYN: A definite cult following, right. I've done films like that before, that I thought were awful at the time. Back in the ‘50s I did a movie called PEYTON PLACE, got nominated for an Academy Award for it. It was a big movie, the movie got something like twelve Academy Award nominations. And when I finished making PEYTON PLACE in England and came back to the States, I was under contract to MGM and they said, "We want you to do this movie called HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL." I read it and was like "Oh my god, this is a really bad, bad movie." It was this Albert Zugsmith [producer of SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE and CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER] movie with Mamie Van Doren, Charlie Chaplin Jr., Ray Anthony...

H!O: An "all-star cast".

TAMBLYN: [laughs] Exactly. I tried to get out of it and couldn't because I was under contract. So I did this movie, and it was another of those films I thought was going to be just awful.

Years later, PEYTON LACE is completely forgotten. Most people who recognize the name say, "'PEYTON PLACE' is that with Mia Farrow?" and I say, "That was the television series. I was in the movie with Lana Turner." People don't even know about the movie anymore. But there are all these film festivals now, and HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL has become this big cult midnight movie classic. You never know.

I think WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is the same thing. I think my head was just warped and I didn't understand what was really good.

Russ signs the WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS laserdisc. Photo Credit: Bob Johnson
H!O: And now here you are at a festival celebrating 50 years of Godzilla films.

TAMBLYN: It's amazing!

H!O: Godzilla and the Toho fantasy films have an international following that's been going steady for decades, and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is a part of that. I'm sure these movies will continue to entertain people for a long time to come, so I'm glad you can now enjoy being a part of that.

TAMBLYN: It's great. I wish it'd had such a good effect on me back then as it did for you and so many other people like Mark Mothersbaugh, y'know. I could've enjoyed it for years and years instead of thinking, "Yech, that movie's a piece of crap."

H!O: Hopefully you'll enjoy it tonight and have a better impression of the movie in the years to come.

TAMBLYN: Oh, I will... I mean, I'm over those negative days now. Plus it will be great seeing myself looking 40 years younger. [laughs] That really makes me feel old... I'm going to be 70 this year.

H!O: And seeing all those places onscreen should bring back a lot of memories from when you made WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS.

TAMBLYN: Not just the locations - the people were so wonderful, too. I was touring with Neil Young this past year and one of our tours was in Japan. That was my first time back there since WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, and it brought back a lot of memories from shooting the movie. It was fabulous.

Russ Tamblyn at his autograph table during Godzillafest. Photo Credit: Bob Johnson
H!O: And that's a wrap!

TAMBLYN: So that's it, right?

H!O: That's it. We really appreciate this.

Following the screening, I spoke again with the Tamblyns to get their opinions of the movie. They both liked WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS and really enjoyed seeing it with such a large and enthusiastic audience. As expected, their grandson Dylan loved it. The only complaint Russ had concerned his own performance... he thought his acting was terrible and looked like he had just "phoned it in". Bonnie playfully and gently teased him about that while Russ signed autographs for the Godzillafest attendees.

NOTE: Fans who would like to write Russ Tamblyn or purchase autographed photos from one of his many films can contact him at the following address:

ATTN: Russ Tamblyn
c/o Autostar
2633 Lincoln Blvd, #612
Santa Monica, CA 90405



 

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