Tokusatsu Tuesdays is a regular feature relating to Japanese special effects entertainments and their associated whatsits, and a bridge, so to speak, between ExploderButton.com and its sister site, Eiga · Bouei.
Just a short write-up for all of you this Tuesday. The artwork shared below comes courtesy of a trade ad Toho placed in the September 14th 1966 issue of the industry publication Motion Picture Herald, in which it serves as the back cover image (which is great, as it means I didn’t have to dismember the entire mag just to get a decent picture of it). The sharp two-tone design is a variation on the key poster image Toho produced to advertise the film to international buyers, and which served as the basis for the final theatrical poster art in territories like France and Spain.
The film itself should need little introduction. 1966’s 「フランケンシュタインの怪獣 サンダ対ガイラ」War of the Gargantuas, the kind-of sort-of sequel to the prior year’s 「フランケンシュタイン対地底怪獣バラゴン」Frankenstein Conquers the World, received significant distribution both in theaters and on television worldwide and remains one of the best-known and beloved of Toho’s special effects productions. Toho have a fine all-region Blu-ray available, albeit in Japanese only, and an inexpensive domestic DVD is available which features both the Japanese and American versions.
Toho’s international key art speaks well for the film’s charms – two monsters locked in a duel to the death, the military amassed against them and the fate of a city in the balance. The film’s opening attraction – a malevolent giant octopus – even makes an appearance. Perhaps my favorite thing about the piece, however, is how also-ran guest star Kipp Hamilton finagles a third-place credit, right behind genuine stars Russ Tamblyn and Kumi MIZUNO. Hamilton appears briefly to regale audiences with War of the Gargantuas‘ enduring anti-classic lounge tune “The Words Get Stuck in my Throat“, before running afoul of a not-so-jolly green giant. The lamentable number is shared, below the ad, in its DEVOlved version.
Tokusatsu Tuesdays is a regular feature relating to Japanese special effects entertainments and their associated whatsits, and a bridge, so to speak, between ExploderButton and its sister site, Eiga · Bouei.
Out of the string of grim and out-there sci-fi horrors Shochiku Company produced at the tail end of the 1960s, perhaps the grimmest and most out-there of them all was 1968’s 「昆虫大戦争」 Genocide.
A sort of precursor to the ecologically-minded nature-gone-wild horrors of the 1970s, Genocide finds a small island in the South Pacific serving as ground zero for clandestine biological warfare experiments, a wrong-man murder mystery, simmering Vietnam-era East-West tensions, and an apocalyptic revolt of the insect world as well. Drug-addled soldiers descend into trauma-fueled murder frenzies, fifth-columnist hotel managers letch, and scientists elucidate insidious insect intent from out of a groovy psychotropic haze, all while a lost H-bomb ticks ever more ominously away.
Needless to say, Genocide had an awful lot on its plate.
The production boasts plenty of talent with recent experience in Shochiku sci-fi – director Kazui NIHONMATSU, a long-time assistant director for the company best known for 1967’s one-of-a-kind kaiju goof-off The X From Outer Space, X‘s effects supervisor Keiji KAWAKAMI (The Thick-Walled Room), X and Goké Bodysnatcher From Hell photographer Shizuo HIRASE, as well as X-actor Keisuke SONOI (Affair of the Heart), Goké co-star Kathy Horan, and long-time scenarist and Goké scribe Susumu TAKAKU (The Blood Sword of the 99th Virgin). Chief among the returning staff however, for the sake of this article at least, is prolific composer Shunsuke KIKUCHI, who had been tasked with Goké‘s score just a few months prior.
Kikuchi’s work on Genocide is marked by his usual trademarks (staccato low-brass for action and extended muted brass for suspense and atmosphere, with ecstatic ascending motifs to punctuate the major plot beats), but it is also possessed of a nuance and subtlety not typically expected of the composer.
The latter is evident from the very beginning, with the main title’s more emphatic strains complemented by a Vertigo-esque layer of violins and flutes and the first tentative appeals towards Genocide‘s melancholic love theme. The theme reveals itself in full for Joji and Yukari (love theme), a restrained minute and 43 seconds whose judicious blend of high and mid-range strings perfectly evoke the fated nature of the two lovers – Joji, in over his head with a mysterious foreign mistress and jailed for murders he did not commit, and Yukari, faced with the prospect of raising their unborn child on her own.
As Yukari is to the greater film, Kikuchi’s bittersweet love theme is a glimmer of hope and humanity amidst Genocide‘s overwhelming gloominess, receiving plaintive reprises all the way through to the film’s doom-ridden finale. In Mankind’s Final Sunrise the theme emerges tentatively from a plume of nuclear destruction, a single violin with increasingly rich harmonized accompaniment, but its resolution is cut short by Ending‘s resounding and atonal piano din.
Cinema-Kan’s restored CD release of Genocide‘s score makes it easier to appreciate Kikuchi’s work than ever before. The film’s eccentric narrative seems to have compelled him towards more variety than his scores typically achieve, from the bright chords and jungle-trotting exoticism of Jungle Search to the insectine woodwinds and mounting tonal chaos of Revived Fear. Cinema-Kan went back to the original 6mm tape recordings to build this 42 minute release, which collects the film’s music in total for the first time ever, and with excellent sound to boot – Kikuchi’s laser brass is crisp and clear, free of the distortion I’ve become accustomed to hearing with it.
In addition to the requisite liner notes (in this case a heavily illustrated booklet complete with film credits, release notes, a listing of Genocide‘s past LP and CD releases, track-specific commentary, and a biographical section on the composer) Cinema-Kan offer a few on-disc surprises as well. The incidental music heard over the radio in the film is present in full, and what a weird mix it is. Lobby BGM is in the light chamber music style, while Radio Music 1 is pure glitzy pop, electric guitar and all. Radio Music 2 and 3 are different still, lurid and torchy numbers to compliment the seediness of the hotel bar they’re overheard in. Listeners get a couple of bonus tracks as well – a percussion-only alternate take for Jungle Search, and a recording of the isolated music from the film’s trailer.