Saturday Monster Matinee:„ÄĆ„āī„āł„É©„ÉĽ„Éü„Éč„É©„ÉĽ„ā¨„Éź„É© „ā™„Éľ„ÉęśÄ™Áć£Ś§ßťÄ≤śíÉ„ÄćAll Monsters Attack

G007_AMAMy memories of Godzilla’s tenth screen adventure are fonder than usual. It aired on television constantly as I was growing up, being one of the U.P.A. Productions of America properties that TNT broadcast on a regular basis, and thanks to a grandmother sympathetic to my monster obsession it was also one of the first of the series’ films¬†I ever owned.

All Monsters Attack¬†(or Godzilla’s Revenge¬†for those partial¬†to the series’¬†Stateside titles) is easily the most compact of all the monster’s outings, focusing not on prehistoric behemoths laying waste to modern civilization but on a child who, in his day-dreaming, visits Monster Island as a means of coping with the problems in his everyday¬†life. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that sounds a little strange (it is),¬†but it also makes the film one of the most narratively intriguing of the lot. All Monsters Attack¬†takes place in a Japan unlike any other in Godzilla history then or since; one in which the monster and his brethren are all¬†entirely fictional.

More drama than fantasy, All Monsters Attack follows young Ichiro Miki, a latchkey kid growing up in one of the outlying industrial districts of Tokyo. His surroundings are oppressive, a suburban wastelend of cramped apartments, smoke stacks and defunct industrial parks in which he is bullied on a daily basis by neighborhood brat Gabara and his band of pint-sized thugs. With few friends and parents who are rarely at home Ichiro has become shy and introverted, seeking escape from the real world through his extravagant daydreams.

And what should a young boy in late-’60s Japan dream about but monsters, which were to be found everywhere¬†in the popular culture of¬†the time. Ichiro dreams about all of his favorites: Gorosaurus, Manda, Angilas, Godzilla, and even little Minya, with whom Ichiro develops a close friendship. Ichiro even dreams up a monster equivalent of the neighborhood bully, an enormous Gabara who relishes in pushing little Minya around. Through the trials and achievements of his imaginary monster friend Ichiro gains confidence and learns to stand up for himself, life lessons that prove indispensable for¬†him when people far worse than his own Gabara come knocking.

Given the prevalence of fantastic concepts in¬†tokusatsu pictures made before and since its easy to understand why the low key¬†All Monsters Attack¬†isn’t very popular compared to its brethren – though it features monsters, it only tangentially¬†qualifies as a monster film. The lonely life of little Ichiro may not make for the most thrilling of entertainment (especially not for anyone¬†expecting a raucous kaiju smackdown), but his quest for self confidence can still be quite rewarding for viewers in the proper frame of mind. It certainly struck a chord with my friends and I when we were younger – we watched this film a lot. I still find it easy to empathize with Ichiro’s¬†situation, not to mention his interests, some twenty-five¬†years later, and count myself lucky in that I’ve never had a Gabara of my own.

Screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa took an unusual step in focusing on a typical working-class Japanese family instead of the usual scientists, detectives, astronauts, or reporters here –¬†All Monsters Attack¬†is perhaps the only example of this in the series. Sekizawa and director Ishiro Honda craft¬†some truly poignant moments, particularly for¬†Attack‘s¬†conclusion (the only time Ichiro and his mother are seen together has genuine¬†emotional impact), and make what might¬†have been a drab and depressing look at contemporary Japan into something positive and uplifting. There’s a remarkable humanity to¬†All Monsters Attack, and I’d rank its dramatic direction among Honda’s best.

With the respectfully credited Eiji Tsuburaya in ailing health (he would pass away just a month after the film’s premiere) Ishiro Honda was tasked with directing¬†the special effects of¬†All Monsters Attack himself,¬†with Teruyoshi Nakano, soon-to-be chief of the Toho special effects department,¬†serving as assistant director. Honda’s sole¬†turn in that capacity was a fortuitous¬†one for a film that so frequently blurred the line between drama and fantasy, with Ichiro spending a good deal of his time wandering Monster Island with a size-shifting Minya. It’s a testament to Honda and Nakano that their freshly produced material never looks so threadbare as the budget must have demanded. Sure the sound stages are smaller and the monster action more contained than in prior outings, but the modest, colorful setups suit the film just fine. It’s tough not to root¬†for Godzilla and Minya in their father-and-son fight against the warty green Gabara, a sequence that nicely parallels Ichiro’s confrontations with real-life bad guys later on.

Though the quality of the new effects material is generally high there’s really not much of it, and the budgetary limitations¬†of the production left Honda and Nakano to rely on library footage to an extent the series would never see again.¬†All Monsters Attack lifts whole scenes from Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla as well as a few brief snippets from Destroy All Monsters and King Kong Escapes. For its part the production¬†uses the footage fairly¬†well, cleverly incorporating new material and altering some of the older with mattes (some that work, some that don’t), though¬†it’s impossible not to notice the shifting locations and Godzilla’s frequent change of face. The saving grace is that the footage is still so much fun and well cut besides, and bolstered as it is by a lively¬†score from Kunio Miyauchi (The Human Vapor,¬†Ultra Q). The success of All Monsters Attacks‘ plundering of the Toho vaults¬†is perhaps best judged against the comparable Daiei cost-cutter Gamera vs. Viras, a similarly brief children’s fantasy whose pacing is frequently stopped cold by the appearance of repurposed footage.

Revisiting Godzilla’s mountain of screen exploits¬†isn’t always as pleasant an experience as one would hope, and it’s a bit depressing when an entertainment¬†you held dear as a child fails to hold up to the more scrutinous perspective of adulthood.¬†All the better then that¬†All Monsters Attack still plays so well. Those of you looking to introduce your youngsters to the King of the Monsters need look no further, as¬†the only series¬†film made exclusively for children still makes for great family-friendly entertainment nearly five¬†decades after the fact. I certainly know where I’ll be starting when that time arrives.


 

Screenshots were gleaned from the Toho Visual Entertainment Blu-ray of All Monsters Attack, which was released in July of last year in conjunction with Toho’s celebration of Godzilla’s 60th anniversary. The 2.35:1-framed image is softer and brighter than some may prefer, and suffers from some notable telecine wobble as well, but is relatively clean and plays well enough¬†for my tastes.¬†Technical specs are very strong, owing to Toho’s dedication to dual-layered releases, and the 69 minute¬†film receives a robust Mpeg-4 AVC video encode at a¬†sky-high¬†average bitrate of 38.4 Mbps. Audio is Japanese only, with no English subtitle or dub support, and offered in either the original monophonic mix (2-channel 16-bit LPCM) or 2004 5.1 surround remix (DTS-HD MA).¬†The former sounds very good to these ears (better than most of these Godzilla discs do in fact), with a healthier degree of punch than one typically associates with aged monophonic mixes. Kunio Miyauchi’s score comes across especially well.¬†By contrast,¬†the center-heavy surround mix sounds quite processed and dense, and I found it more distracting than engrossing for the most part. Optional Japanese SDH subtitles are offered in support of the feature.

For such a minor entry in the franchise, supplements are¬†certainly¬†plentiful enough. Newly produced is Production Department vs. Photography Department: Toho Special Effects Daishingeki!, a lengthy discussion with¬†All Monsters Attack‘s assistant effects director Teruyoshi Nakano and assistant effects photographer Takao Tsurumi¬†that covers their¬†work dating as far back as 1959’s¬†Battle in Outer Space. The featurette runs roughly 26 minutes in HD.¬†Special Effects Film & Music: Kunio Miyauchi Interview is a new packaging of an archival interview (previously unreleased to the best of my knowledge) with the late composer, noted for his contributions to¬†Japanese SPFX¬†film and television, and runs 13 minutes in upscale HD. Less substantial but still plenty of fun is a recording of the original All Monsters Attack¬†promotional sonosheet / flexi disc¬†(1:58, HD), followed by a digital reproduction of the film’s appropriately brief theatrical program¬†(HD) and a short history of Toho’s Champion Festival revival of its classic special effects films (text only). Rounding out the video supplements is the original theatrical trailer (2:29, HD), while an audio commentary with¬†All Monsters Attack‘s late assistant director Koji Hashimoto (moderated by screenwriter Kenji Konuta) is thoughtfully carried over from the older DVD to round out the on-disc content.

I’ve found it difficult to level too much criticism at Toho Visual Entertainment’s Blu-ray releases in the past, but¬†All Monsters Attack is an effort with which I am more satisfied than most.¬†There’s a lot of value to be had in the modest selection of supplements (more is not always better, and Toho have generally chosen their additional material well), and the HD presentation serves the film quite well even if it does leave room for improvement. I dig it.¬†All Monsters Attack¬†can be purchased¬†now through Amazon.co.jp and the other usual retailers, though my copy came by way of a third party seller (Japanworld) at Amazon.com. Classic Media’s domestic DVD remains¬†available as well for those less inclined towards exorbitant import prices.

„ÄĆ„āī„āł„É©„Äć Godzilla (1954)

With the new¬†Godzilla due in theaters in but a few days time the Film Society of Minneapolis –¬†St. Paul, in conjunction with Rialto Pictures, have returned the 1954 original to its rightful place on the big screen.¬†„ÄĆ„āī„āł„É©„Äć Godzilla can be seen at the St. Anthony Main Theatre from May 9th through May 15th. Click here for details.


Unleashed upon the Japanese public¬†to massive popular success in late fall of 1954, Godzilla¬†was one of those rare perfect storms of cinema, a picture so tremendous in its impact that it ushered in not only a distinct new genre of Japanese film, but a bona fide pop culture revolution as well. It also struck¬†a chord with a post-war Japan fresh from years of occupation¬†and only just¬†allowed to openly discuss the full sum of its wartime experiences. Godzilla‚Äės considerable box office take all but ensured the long run of increasingly silly (albeit much beloved) sequels that followed, and anyone¬†familiar with those alone might be forgiven for expecting the same here, but the father of them all is a¬†somber¬†and¬†often¬†downright cerebral affair, and possessed of a raw power not seen in the genre since. More than just another monster movie, much more,¬†Godzilla is also a spectacular public exorcism of the lingering specters of World War II, the grim¬†expression of a nation‚Äôs struggle to come to terms with its history as both a perpetrator and a victim of incalculable wartime devastation.

The story begins with a series of dreadful shipping accidents off the coast of Japan, an investigation into which leads reporters and government officials to remote Odo Island, a sparsely populated speck of land near to where the accidents occurred. There they find no answers beyond the superstitious ramblings of one of the island‚Äôs elders, who is convinced that the mythical Godzilla ‚Äď a mysterious sea beast the Odo Islanders once sated with human sacrifice ‚Äď is responsible for the maritime troubles. No one believes a word of it until some thing comes ashore one storm-torn evening, leveling several of the island‚Äôs residences and leaving a set of impossibly huge footprints in its wake.

A scientific expedition headed by noted zoologist Dr. Yamane (the great Takashi Shimura) is swiftly mounted to survey the destruction and investigate its cause. Once the scientists are on the island they make a series of surprising discoveries. The footprints left behind are intensely radioactive, and the area around them dangerously contaminated. What‚Äôs more, they‚Äôre littered with ancient sediments and the remnants of primitive life long thought extinct, suggesting a destructive force from¬†straight out of prehistory. It isn‚Äôt long before more conclusive evidence arrives in the form of a mountainous Jurassic-age monster¬†–¬†the Godzilla of Odo Island legend – with its¬†sights set on Japan‚Äôs thriving metropolitan heart.

Co-written by director Ishiro Honda and Takeo Murata (Rodan) from an original story by Shigeru Kayama (which he also novelized), the basics of Godzilla‚Äės narrative development are pretty traditional, writ large, with the origins for the monster having been freely adapted from elements of the classic King Kong (an island, a legend, talk of human sacrifice) and the contemporary The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (about a prehistoric monster roused from its icy slumbers by an atomic test in the Arctic). Indeed, the idea of a dinosaur wreaking havoc on modern civilization was nothing new to cinema at the time, having been seen previously in the silent The Lost World, Max Fleischer‚Äôs Superman short The Arctic Giant, as well as in Godzilla‚Äės most direct inspiration, the aforementioned Beast. The difference, as ever, is in the details.

Under the creative auspices of Honda, Kayama, Murata, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, effects director Eiji Tsuburaya and even composer Akira Ifukube1, Godzilla‚Äės eponymous monster grew to become one of the most singularly loaded metaphors in film¬†history. Through references both overt and subliminal to such events as the irradiation of the fishing vessel Daigo Fukuryu Maru by the Castle Bravo H-bomb test, the fall of radioactive rain resulting from Soviet atomic tests, the firebombing of Tokyo and the A-bombing of Nagasaki, Godzilla becomes a fearsome and direct manifestation both of the horrors of World War II and the new and frightening realities of the Atomic Age. The monster‚Äôs steady, methodical destruction of modern Tokyo is a sequence unlike anything before it. Godzilla advances with the unrelenting force of an atomic blast, sending whole blocks crumbling into smoldering rubble and engulfing the city‚Äôs skyline in a curtain of nuclear flame. Dialogue clarifies whatever doubts may be lingering as to the rampage‚Äôs symbolic significance – ‚ÄúGodzilla‚Äôs no different from the H-bomb still hanging over Japan‚Äôs head‚Ķ‚Äú

In Godzilla‚Äôs wake millions lie dead or dying, both of physical injuries and radioactive contamination, while countless traumatized survivors wonder what terrors are yet to come. The imagery here ‚Äď endless corridors filled with the wounded and an entire city reduced to wasteland ‚Äď is potent, and evocative not only of the haunting aftermaths of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but of the wartime razing of Tokyo as well. Even Godzilla himself is granted a history of victimization, with Dr. Yamane insinuating that, much like Japan‚Äôs A-bomb survivors, the creature is traumatized by its recent brush with American nuclear might. ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt shine searchlights on Godzilla!‚ÄĚ he gravely begs of a military officer, fearful that they might remind of the blinding flash that tore him from his deep sea niche and send the monster into a deeper rage. Of course Godzilla is not just a victim, but an aggressor as well, and the vision of a dragon rising from the Pacific alludes strongly to the ugly flip side of Japan‚Äôs wartime misfortune ‚Äď the fact that through their own militant nationalism and the brutal campaign of conquest that resulted from it, they had brought that misfortune upon themselves.

To that end the central dramatic conflict of the film might be viewed as an allusion to the position of the Allied forces during the war. Godzilla, awakened by the H-bomb and impervious to all modern munitions, seems unstoppable, but a brilliant young scientist ‚Äď Dr. Serizawa (a convincing young Akihiko Hirata) ‚Äď may have found an answer. The problem? His discovery has such immense destructive potential that any use of it, however good the cause, could prove catastrophic. It‚Äôs a narrative development that dramatically echoes the creation and eventual use of the Atom bomb in the final days of World War II, and which¬†implies a clear¬†understanding by Honda and his colleagues¬†of the position of the Allied forces at the time. With a marauding force like the Imperial Japanese military dangerously at large, do you set aside your most powerful weapon for fear of the horrific consequences of its use or do you use it in spite of them? What the Allies decided is history, and their decision is paralleled by that of Dr. Serizawa.¬†The result is that Godzilla is stopped, though at a tremendous cost. Another elemental force, as horrifying as the H-bomb, has been¬†set loose upon¬†the world, and the film concludes with a grave Dr. Yamane wondering what other Godzillas might be unleashed as a result.

In terms of drama Godzilla has certainly aged in the decades since it was made, and a forgettable love triangle between Toho’s brightest young stars (top-billed Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi and Akihiko Hirata) will be of minimal interest to modern viewers, but the complex substance of the thing remains, its power undiminished in the 60 years since it was made. A waking nightmare of both the past and future and the unlikely birthplace of a pop culture icon, Godzilla is perhaps the best of its ilk ever made, and still stands as the ultimate, indelible atomic monster experience.

1 Some of Ifukube‚Äôs cues for the film, both the elegiac pieces set to Godzilla‚Äôs aftermath and demise and the descending motif that accompanies the earlier ship disasters, are highly evocative (and in the latter case a direct adaptation) of his past work on Kaneto Shindo‚Äôs Children of Hiroshima (a somber, thoughtful film about the human toll of the Hiroshima bombing), an allusion that only further cements Godzilla‚Äės connection to World War II and the burgeoning Atomic Age.



This article originally appeared on the now-defunct Wtf-Film in January of 2012 (in conjunction with the Criterion Collection issue of the film on home video), and has been significantly edited and revised for its publication here.

Mothra vs. Godzilla „ÄĆ„ÉĘ„āĻ„É© ŚĮĺ „āī„āł„É©„Äć2010 Toho Blu-ray

posterJP_1In the wake of a powerful typhoon a gigantic egg is found drifting off the coast of Japan. Seen as a bad omen by some, the egg is soon taken over by an enterprising young billionaire and his sidekick, a greedy talent agent, who intend to make it the centerpiece of their new amusement park. There‚Äôs just one catch ‚Äď the owner of the egg is none other than the god-monster Mothra, and she wants it back!

Enter reporter Sakai (Takarada) who, along with photographer girlfriend Junko (Hoshi) and the helpful Professor Miura (Koizumi), takes up the cause of Mothra and her envoy, a pair of twin foot-tall princesses (the Ito sisters). Before anything can be done about the egg another disaster strikes. Buried in the muck left behind by the typhoon is Godzilla, who emerges from his temporary prison to lay siege to the Japanese countryside. Sakai and his friends must travel to the nuke-blasted Infant Island, home of Mothra and her peaceful followers, in hopes of convincing the only good monster in the neighborhood to help save Japan and its people from the unstoppable onslaught of Godzilla.

After the lukewarm reception of their dull, black and white production of¬†Godzilla Raids Again, Toho Company went on a brief hiatus from new Godzilla adventures and instead focused on a variety of other¬†tokusatsu¬†concepts, some involving monsters and some not. By the time they revisited their budding franchise in 1962 Toho had become a special effects powerhouse, their product now easily discernible from their contemporaries‚Äô by its dazzling color and ‚ÄėScope production values. What‚Äôs more, the company now had a whole host of monsters at their disposal ‚Äď not just Godzilla and Angilas, but Rodan, Varan and, most popular of all, Mothra.

Mothra’s self-titled 1961 debut had been a smash for Toho Company, earning millions more than even the original Godzilla and soundly trouncing its first sequel at the box office. The company’s 1962 blockbuster King Kong vs. Godzilla had pitted the Toho creation against a popular, but expensive, foreigner. When the time came for Godzilla’s fourth film outing Toho wisely chose to put him up against an in-house creature, one that had already proven successful in a solo production all its own. Mothra’s debut as a franchise player would lead to a decades-long relationship with the King of the Monsters in which the pair would co-star in no fewer than nine films.

The juxtaposition of the two monsters here remains a potent one nearly fifty years out, thanks in large part to the starkly contrasting ideas they represent. Godzilla would make the unlikely transition to hero later the same year, but is still deadly serious stuff in Mothra vs. Godzilla. The towering embodiment of the horrors unleashed by the nuclear age, the beast here possesses a palpable menace not seen since the first film. At one point he takes on the unexpected but thematically appropriate role of executioner, dispensing cosmic justice when the billionaire Torahata (Kenji Sahara) commits mortal sin to defend his fortune from a man he wronged.

Mothra exists as a rejection of Godzilla‚Äôs nuclear threat, as hope for life in a world now capable of destroying itself multiple times over. A creature of beauty hailing from an island decimated by nuclear testing, Mothra is the antithesis of the typical atomic monster ‚Äď a representative of life and rebirth as opposed to the harbinger of death and destruction. Director Ishiro Honda and screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa utilize Mothra not only as an indictment of¬†unchecked nuclear proliferation but as a symbol of resilience during a cold war. She would return as a monster mediator in the same year‚Äôs¬†Ghidrah: the Three Headed Monster, effectively chastising world leaders (represented by Godzilla and Rodan) for being unable to resolve their differences for the sake of the greater good.

Effects director Eiji Tsuburaya and his team (a handful of talented genre artisans including Teruyoshi Nakano, Akira Watanabe and Sadamasa Arikawa) craft the most engrossing scenes of monster combat of their age for¬†Mothra vs. Godzilla, scenes bolstered by clever scripting on the part of Shinichi Sekizawa and the keen emotional awareness of director Ishiro Honda. The first confrontation between the eponymous creatures is a literal fight to the death, with an aged adult Mothra battling to protect her unborn offspring to her dying breath. Her legacy ‚Äď giant twin caterpillars ‚Äď is the world‚Äôs only chance of survival, a younger generation to take on the problems of the old. The final battle is expertly timed on all the production fronts. The baby Mothras earn audience sympathies as the weak against the strong while the plight of a class of grade school students caught in the crossfire ratchets up the suspense.

As should be expected for Toho Company tokusatsu efforts of the time, the special effects production here is second to none. Tsuburarya and company’s puppetry skills had improved considerably since 1961′s Mothra, where the mock-up of the adult monster was just too stiff to be believable. Here the adult Mothra is granted a superior range of motion, from its bobbling head to its six anxiously twitching legs, creating an illusion of life far more convincing than even the 1992 re-imagining Godzilla vs. Mothra could muster. In contrast with the bumbling Godzilla, who destroys more here by accident than on purpose (tripping into Nagoya Castle, getting his tail stuck in Nagoya Tower), Mothra appears elegant, intelligent, and more than worthy as an adversary.

Godzilla himself gets one of my favorite of his series overhauls, his number of toes reduced from four to three on each foot and his face given a solemn expression that some have compared (not unfairly) to that of Droopy the Dog. His brief rampage through Nagoya is by no means as epic as his first tour through Tokyo a decade prior, but the monster is granted impressive scale thanks to the clever optical photography of Yukio Manoda and Yoshiyuki Tokumasa. Much of Godzilla’s screen time is devoted to the foiling of military’s plans to control him, including one operation in which the beast is covered in metal nets and electrocuted (a nod to 20 Million Years to Earth, perhaps? Рit would be far from the first time a Harryhausen effects vehicle had informed a Toho production). Another in which Godzilla is bombarded from the air looks to have been legitimately dangerous, as one of the fiery explosions sets the head of the suit ablaze.

Just as responsible for the epic feel of the special effects as the technicians behind them is Akira Ifukube, who composed one of the finest film scores of his career for¬†Mothra vs. Godzilla¬†‚Äď his third series outing. The now famous Godzilla theme, a modification of that composed for the earlier¬†King Kong vs. Godzilla, has all the bombast we associate with its later variations, but also a soulful and dirge-like quality that lends it a decidedly ominous edge. Mothra is accompanied by themes both¬†exhilarating¬†and tragic, a combination that suits her place in the film perfectly. Best of all are the vocal pieces composed for the Ito twins (better known as the pop musical act The Peanuts), lyrical and haunting melodies superior even to those composed by Yuji Koseki for 1961‚Ä≤s¬†Mothra.

There really aren‚Äôt enough positive things I can say about¬†Mothra vs. Godzilla, the only film in the franchise that I feel has ever improved upon the original. The cast list alone is enough to set a golden-age¬†tokusatsu¬†fan‚Äôs mouth to watering ‚Äď Akira Takarada (Godzilla,¬†The Last War), Yuriko Hoshi (Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster), Hiroshi Koizumi (Dogora the Space Monster,¬†Godzilla Raids Again), Kenji Sahara (Rodan,¬†King Kong vs. Godzilla), Jun Tazaki (War of the Gargantuas), Yoshifumi Tajima (Godzilla‚Äôs Revenge) and on and on. This is Japanese monster cinema at the very peak of its potential, and a deserved classic of the genre.


I’ve little to complain about with Toho Visual Entertainment’s Blu-ray of Mothra vs. Godzilla¬†from March of 2010 – it’s not perfect, not by a long shot, but its presentation of the film is well in advance of anything that’s come before.

Toho’s restoration staff put significant work into¬†Mothra vs. Godzilla¬†in advance of its HD home video debut, particularly with regards to the color timing (contrast was flatter and there was a distinct red push to the transfer when it first premiered on HD television), and while the results aren’t so stellar as, say, Shochiku Co.’s ace restoration of¬†Harakiri¬†it still makes for an impressive presentation. For me it’s all about the color here – with strong contrast and healthy saturation,¬†Mothra vs. Godzilla‘s¬†tremendous color production design shines here as it never has before on home video. One wishes that detail and textures could have been brought out a bit more, and a fresh scan on better equipment might have culled more from even the vintage ‘Scope photography, but the image here still has plenty of pop in motion. Grain is evident, more so than in the Blu-ray¬†Atragon, but is not overpowering, and use of DVNR, if any, looks to have been kept to a minimum.

It’s worth noting that this is also the cleanest I’ve ever seen Mothra vs. Godzilla¬†look. Not every speck and scratch has been scrubbed from the proceedings – some very minor damage remains – but a lot of restorative work has obviously been performed, particularly where the frequent optical effects are concerned.¬†Mothra vs. Godzilla is presented in 1080p at its native ‘Scope ratio of 2.35:1, and backed by a strong Mpeg-4 AVC video encode at an average bitrate of 31.3 Mbps. There are no English audio or subtitling options, but the primary Japanese audio (in 16-bit LPCM 2.0 monophonic) sounds very, very good. The 2003 5.1 surround remix is also included, in Dolby TrueHD, and a set of optional Japanese subtitles are provided.

Supplements are stacked, but sadly do not include any material for the film’s American release (those keen on the Frontier Missile sequence will want to keep their domestic copies handy, as there’s nary a sign of it here). An audio commentary (Japanese only, of course) with actor Kenji Sahara, originally produced for the Toho DVD if I’m not mistaken, accompanies the main feature. Video supplements include a Japanese trailer newly transferred in HD, an 8mm short adaptation from the original Mothra (Mothra Attacks Tokyo!¬†/¬†„ÉĘ„āĻ„É© „āĘ„āŅ„ÉÉ„āĮ śĚĪšļ¨!) in decent SD quality, a narrated picture-book of the same presented in HD, a new half-hour featurette that provides an overview of the monster king’s various looks from 1954 to the present (Godzilla: World of Modelling /¬†„āī„āł„É© ťÄ†Śěč„ĀģšłĖÁēĆ, HD), a still gallery of behind-the-scenes photos (HD), and a video gallery of concept sketches for Godzilla’s battles with the film’s three Mothras. Also provided is the shortened 1980 re-release version of Mothra vs. Godzilla, which runs 73 minutes in upscaled HD with Dolby Digital audio. The special features are Japanese only, of course. The disc itself appears to be all-region compatible, and plays just fine in both my Region-A locked Playstation 3 and my Rebion-B secondary deck.

So it’s not English-friendly and the video transfer may not be up to everyone’s expectations (it’s lovely to these eyes in motion, and if the film never looks better on home video I’ll be perfectly pleased), but this is still a substantial package from Toho Visual Entertainment, complete with the strangely glittery slip-sleeve and ace main menu design that marks the rest of their Tokusatsu Blu-ray series. Fans won’t find better, and those undeterred by the language barrier and price (retail is¬†¬•5,985 tax included, or a little over $60) are encouraged to indulge.

Mothra vs. Godzilla is available now from Amazon Japan and other online retailers. Unlike many of the other Amazon sites I receive no kickbacks from Amazon JP for promoting them – I do, however, use the site for all of my current video imports from the country, and highly recommend them.

Atragon (Kaitei Gunkan / śĶ∑ŚļēŤĽćŤČ¶) 2010 Toho Blu-ray

Earth sees itself invaded from within in this eccentric 1963 science fiction thriller from Toho Co., produced at the height of the studio’s turn-of-the-decade genre domination. Kaitei Gunkan, better known to domestic viewers as¬†Atragon,¬†follows the doomed imperialist exploits of the sunken civilization of Mu, who use their ill-explained scientific superiority (they still party like it’s a few thousand years B.C.) to quake cities to rubble and bring our shipping lanes to a grinding halt. All that stands between the Muans and utter conquest is ex-Imperial Navy Commander Jinguji (Jun Tazaki in his greatest genre role) and his fantastical weapon of super-science, the Goten – a gigantic all-purpose submersible warship with a drill for a prow and the ability to fly. There’s just one problem: Jinguji, a reclusive relic of the War, is still fighting for the glory of his fallen Japanese Empire, and intends to utilize the Goten only towards those destructive ends.

It falls upon ex-Admiral Kusumi and Jinguji’s daughter (left in Kusumi’s care since the war’s conclusion), along with an unlikely bunch of tag-alongs (including bumbling magazine photographers Tadao Takashima and Yu Fujiki), to convince Commander Jinguji otherwise, and with the Muans laying so much of the globe to waste the stakes couldn’t be higher…

Though ultimately just another variation on Toho’s past alien invasion efforts, Jinguji’s struggle to reconcile his fervent nationalism with Japan’s new position in a greater global society lends Kaitei Gunkan¬†a great substantive heart. The Muans play the surrogate of Japan’s recent imperial history, from their thirst for conquest right down to their penchant for suicide attacks, and the film plays up the antiquated nature of their world view through the antiquity of their civilization. Though technologically superior the Muans are bound to mankind’s farthest past, and the foundation of their undersea empire is built upon blocks of ancient megalithic stone. When Jinguji finally sees the error of his ways his epic onslaught against the Mu empire doubles as a battle against his own war-mongering ideology. In the end Mu’s ambitions of conquest only serve to hasten their destruction and, as with the imperial Japanese before them, the Muans find the mettle of their militarist resolve tested in an unforgiving crucible of atomic fire.

There’s just enough substance underpinning Kaitei Gunkan‘s¬†colorful fantasy thrills to keep it¬†interesting half a century after the fact, but there’s little denying that this is¬†more pulp than politics. Though adapted (freely) by Shinichi Sekizawa from Shunro Oshikawa’s turn-of-the-century novel of the same name (ironically a celebration of Japanese nationalism and the nation’s then-current imperial agenda) there are plenty of elements here not to be found in the original work – like the Muans, who take the place of the novel’s Russians. Sort of. Indeed, I suspect Fox’s ludicrous 1961 production¬†Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea¬†had as much an influence on¬†Kaitei Gunkan as Oshikawa’s novel. That film also¬†follows a rebellious sort who saves the world from the brink of disaster with his own super submarine,¬†and some of its effects highlights certainly feel familiar. Key among them is a scene in which one submarine pursues another, only to have one suffer explosive decompression from diving beyond its specifications. Here the setup is amplified with a grimly effective visual highlight – a view of the pursuing submarine’s hull as it crumples and contorts just before exploding.

Another¬†Voyage influence may be found in the brief appearance of¬†Kaitei Gunkan‘s requisite monster, the gargantuan serpentine god of the Mu empire, Manda. As the Goten makes its advance on Mu’s deep sea base of operations Manda attacks, constricting about the ship’s hull in a vain effort to stop it. Commander Jinguji doesn’t skip a beat, however. With the flip of a switch the hull of the Goten electrifies, setting Manda fleeing and giving the ship a prime opportunity to attack. With regards to its action the scene plays much as it does in¬†Voyage, albeit with a more memorable opponent than that film’s generic octopus. The scene in¬†Voyage of course owes itself directly to the epic squid confrontation from Disney’s¬†20,000 Leagues Under the Sea –¬†it would seem that in the wake of the Fleischer film electrified hulls became standard issue for cinematic super-subs.

As for Kaitei Gunkan‘s namesake, the undersea warship Goten absolutely steals the show. The sleek, colorful mega-machine looked cool enough to me as a kid even as it sat in dry dock doing nothing at all – you can imagine my enthusiasm ¬†when it took not just to the sea, but to the¬†air, retracting its conning tower and rocketing through the sky at supersonic speeds! It certainly doesn’t hurt that it was backed by one of composer Akira Ifukube’s finest martial themes. Those pesky Muans never had a chance.

Kaitei Gunkan made its way to Blu-ray courtesy of Toho Visual Entertainment in March of 2010 as part of the studio’s as yet final wave of high-definition releases from their extensive tokusatsu library. The company has received no end of flack, some informed, much not, with regard to their high definition restorations over the years, and unfortunately¬†Kaitei Gunkan isn’t likely to sway any of the detractors in their favor. While the release has its strengths the quality of the feature itself is rather a mixed bag, and with a pretty good DVD edition available domestically for less than $20 the near-$65 (¬•5,700 pre-tax) the Blu-ray commands will undoubtedly take precedent over its modest improvements for many.

There’s nothing at all wrong with the disc’s technical specs, making them as good a place as any to start.¬†Kaitei Gunkan is presented in full 1080p at its original TohoScope ratio of 2.35:1, and is allowed to drift comfortably into dual-layer territory by way of a robust Mpeg-4 AVC encode at an average bitrate of 32.0 Mbps. Audio sounds excellent in two flavors, original monophonic in lossless 16-bit LPCM and the 2003 5.1 surround remix in Dolby TrueHD. There are no English audio or subtitle options, but the disc comes with two optional Japanese subtitle tracks, one for the full feature and another just for a brief English-language scene. Kaitei Gunkan appears to be all region compatible, and while it would play in domestic hardware problem-free regardless (Japan and the USA share the same Blu-ray region code) it also functions just fine in my Region B secondary Blu-ray deck.

Now, for the transfer itself.¬†Kaitei Gunkan now sports more natural color and contrast than in its previous DVD edition (viewers here may still need to adjust their television settings for the contrast to meet domestic expectations), and opens up quite a bit to the left, right, and top of the frame, revealing substantial amounts of information lost in the DVD. See the comparison below for a good example of all of this – DVD (upscaled to 1920×1080 resolution for ease of comparison) appears first, followed by the Blu-ray.

DVDBus BlurayBus

That said, all is still not right with the color all of the time. While the substantial yellow push of the DVD has been effectively remedied, highlights still don’t look¬†quite right, and occasionally betray a slight reddish or pinkish hue. Given the more natural tone of the color in general this didn’t really bother me, but your mileage may vary.

More problematic for many will be the new transfer’s level of detail. The old anamorphic shooting process limits fine detail from the get-go, and additionally Kaitei Gunkan¬†appears to have been transferred from elements at least a couple of steps removed from the OCN (not surprising – the original elements for many films from this period in Japanese cinema are long gone due to the low priority placed on preservation at the time). Still,¬†one can’t help but think that more could have been done with the materials to squeeze out a touch more detail.¬†Kaitei Gunkan appears rather soft overall, and while the tightness of available detail does improve (see the brims of the civil defense helmets or the rivets on the bus in the capture above) there’s very little in the way of¬†additional detail or texture beyond that which was already evident in the DVD edition. I was also expecting a touch more in the way of film texture – aside from a few dupe shots here and there the grain here is quite subdued. I’m not sure how much of this is post-processing and how much is just a product of the original transfer or even the film elements themselves, but at least the tell-tale plasticine ugliness of DVNR is nowhere to be found.

Kaitei Gunkan is relatively clean, if not so much so as other Toho Blu-rays I’ve seen, but aside from some occasional dirt and speckling throughout and a few scratches and a bit of static grunge baked into the film’s opticals there’s very little in the way of damage to complain about. The biggest improvement over the DVD edition may be in the motion, which is crisper and smoother here at 24p than on the smudgier progressive DVD. Even with limited detail and only modest improvements elsewhere, at least¬†Kaitei Gunkan now plays like film.

Toho’s tokusatsu Blu-rays command a significantly higher price point than many of their contemporaries (Kadokawa’s Gamera series Blu-rays street for around $10 less), but they also provide something many of their peers do not – gobs of supplemental goodies. Chief among¬†Kaitei Gunkan‘s extras is a complete secondary cut of the film, the 75 minute version screened with¬†Destroy All Monsters in 1968 – this version is presented in upscaled 1080i (and advertised as such, for those wondering), and is Mpeg-4 AVC encoded at an average bitrate of 19.6 Mbps with monophonic Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Newly produced for the Blu-ray is “Kaitei Gunkan” Study Guide, a substantial 33 minute HD¬†featurette whose two subdued hosts guide viewers through a mountain of memorabilia pertaining to the film, from pre-production sketches and storyboards to behind-the-scenes photos, props, toys, and even other ships inspired by the Goten (including the outer space variation from Toho’s War in Space and the classic-style Goten seen in¬†Godzilla: Final Wars). A brief reel of unused and alternate effects takes (SD, 4 minutes) and a theatrical trailer in native HD round out the video supplements, while an audio commentary with chief assistant director Koji Kajita is carried over from the 2003 DVD to round out the special features. The disc comes in a standard Blu-ray case with an attractive outer slip cover.

While Toho’s Blu-ray of¬†Kaitei Gunkan gave me an undeniably superior presentation in direct comparison to the DVD, it also fell plenty short of expectations. Had it a healthier range of detail, and had a bit more effort been put into color correcting the transfer, this might have been a necessary addition to any fan’s tokusatsu Blu-ray library (as some of the company’s other discs certainly are). As such this disc offers a modest feature upgrade at best, with some legitimate supplemental heft helping to sweeten the deal. I’m not displeased with the purchase – I doubt I’ll ever have cause to buy the film again – but those interested in picking it up would do well to know what they’re getting into, and check their expectations accordingly.

More DVD / Blu-ray comparison shots. DVD shots (upscaled to 1080×1920 for ease of comparison) appear first, followed by Blu-ray.¬†