Rodan/War of the Gargantuas

5.0 out of 5 stars At long last Gargantuas

This is a good time to be a fan of Japanese kaiju flicks. For years we suffered through badly edited and badly dubbed releases just to get a glimpse of our favorite monsters. But now there is Classic Media, putting out the best releases of some of the most obscure kaiju films, and doing them with a respect and quality I never imagined possible. It is a dream come true!

This two DVD set contains two of the most sought-after films, 1956’s “Rodan” (“Sora no daikaiju Radon” or “Giant Monster of the Sky Radon”) and 1966’s “War of the Gargantuas” (“Frankenstein no Kaiju: Sanda tai Gaira” or “Frankenstein’s Monster: Sanda vs. Gaira). Both have had previous US releases, but with considerable edits and we are seeing the full films here for the first time. As with other Classic Media titles in the Godzilla series, both versions of the films are included, the original Japanese release and the US dubbed and edited version. It is nice to have both, but it doesn’t take a genius to know which one you should be watching! Interesting bonus documentaries are also included, making this set an absolute must have.

“Rodan” was the first kaiju flick filmed in color, and the mutated pteranodons still look great. Although a single Rodan would soon crossover into the Godzilla series with Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster, here there are actually two of the beasties to torment Japan, a male and a female. Because they can fly, “Rodan” is quite quick paced and action-packed compared to many kaiju flicks, as the two monsters zoom around doing battle with jet airplanes and destroying bridges. No slow motion stomping here. Without giving away any spoilers, the ending of “Rodan” is a tear-jerker, a hard task for a film featuring men in giant rubber suits.

“War of the Gargantuas” is a real treasure, and I am so happy to finally have a nice copy on DVD. A sequel to the 1966 Frankenstein Conquers the World, (but not to the planned but never produced “Godzilla vs. Frankenstein”. Sigh…), the story has the mutated cells of the Frankenstein monster spawning two giant hairy beasts, Sanda (mountain monster) and Gaira (outside monster). Because the both monsters are human-like, the suitimation really shines here, and the two beasts are able to get really down and dirty in their battle. In fact, their fight was the basis for the battle between The Bride and Elle Driver in Kill Bill. It is knock-down drag out.

If you like giant monster flicks, you are going to want this DVD. It is that simple.

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All Monsters Attack (aka Godzilla’s Revenge)

all monster

4.0 out of 5 stars My pal Godzilla

You are probably not going to find a lot of fans who would choose “All Monsters Attack” as their favorite Godzilla flick. The complaints against it are many: Over-use of stock footage, a bizarre plotline involving Godzilla and the other monsters only existing in some sort of dream realm, an overly kid-friendly approach, problems of scale involving the humans and the monsters, etc.

And all of that is true. This isn’t your standard Godzilla. This is your “after school special” Godzilla, complete with a helpful message for the youth of Japan about how to stand up to bullies and a kid-sized Minira who can speak English and be your monster pal. Director Honda Ishiro, a name that should be familiar to any G-fan, was interested in using his creations for more than just entertainment, and wanted to help kids who were being bullied, a serious social problem that still affects Japan today. “All Monsters Attack” is a unique offering in the Godzilla series, and that alone makes it worth seeing. And yes, it is cheesy, but its still fun.

The story begins with Ichiro, a poor latchkey kid who suffers from bullying at school. His only escape is in his imagination, where he finds himself on Monster Island, bonding with Godzilla’s son Minira, who is being bullied by the monster Gabara. Minira tries to stand up to the bully, and helpful papa monster takes a tough love approach, refusing to step in and save the little guy but insisting that he stand up for himself. Ichiro learns that it is important to defend himself against bullies, so when he finds himself kidnapped by gangsters he has the confidence he needs to take action, then dish a little out to the kids that bully him as well.

Classic Media has put together a top-notch package for this underappreciated flick, with both the original Japanese version as well as the dubbed US release. Aside from the language, there isn’t much difference between the two versions so you can take your pick. Additional extras are a biography of creator and director Honda Ishiro, which is fascinating. I had no idea Honda was an Assistant Director on so many Kurosawa Akira flicks like Stray Dog and Kagemusha.

Anyone with little kids couldn’t go wrong with bringing home “All Monsters Attack”. It’s a great introduction to the Godzilla series and just might make some future G-fans. As for me, I guess I still have some kid inside, because watching this was just like a time warp back to Sunday mornings and Monster Theater. Good times indeed.

7″ Godzilla 2004 Mecha Godzilla Action Figure

mecha

5.0 out of 5 stars Machine Dragon!

MechaGodzilla is my favorite of Godzilla’s many nemeses. The star of no less than five Godzilla films, more than any other monster, there is just something cool about this cyborg anti-Godzilla.

This figure is based on the Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla film in the Millennium series, the one constructed over the skeleton of the original Godzilla. The description lists this figure as being from Final Wars, which is incorrect as MechaGodzilla did not appear in that flick.

It isn’t the full deal, and lacks the shoulder cannons that he sported in the film, but other than that the detail is great and with moving arms and head the figure is more than just a plastic statue, and able to make some cool poses with it. It’s study, and could stand up to play pretty well. For me, it is just sitting on my desk at work, but it could easily be a child’s toy as well.

In Godzilla’s Footsteps: Japanese Pop Culture Icons on the Global Stage

godzilla

 

4.0 out of 5 stars A complicated monster

At first glance, an academic study of Godzilla seems at least foolish and at most pretentious. Not everything merits this level of scrutiny, and sometimes a giant monster is just a giant monster. How much can be said about a guy stomping around in a rubber suit anyways? But I was intrigued by the concept. The film holds an important place in both cinematic history as well as Japanese culture, and was probably the first cultural export of Japan.

Make no mistake, this is an academic book, in the same lines as the Japanese monster study Civilization and Monsters: Spirits of Modernity in Meiji Japan, and is probably going to bore to tears any casual G-fan looking for a fun book. Originally presented at the 2004 international conference of the same name, “In Godzilla’s Footsteps: Pop Culture Icons on the Global Stage” collects together thirteen essays from a variety of experts, such as Dr. Mark Anderson, professor of Asian languages and literature at the University of Minnesota and Theodore Bestor, professor of anthropology and Japanese studies at Harvard University.

Each essay focuses on a different aspect of the Godzilla phenomenon, as a piece of film history, as an aspect of modernity, as an aspect of religion. The majority of the focus is on the original 1954 film Gojira, although some of the essays also deal with Mothra and the perceived “menace of the South Seas”, and one essay highlights the Ohashi Yasuhiko play “Gojira” which used the king of monsters in a satire dealing with modern Japan’s lust for status and material wealth.

Some of the most interesting bits for me showed Godzilla as a transitional film, standing between the jungle adventure-themed movies such as King Kong and the next era of Atomic fantasy such as Them!. A creature of both folklore and science, of both the past and the future, Godzilla is a both a bridge and a gateway. One essay linked the rise of the monster with the rising popularity of professional wrestling in Japan, and showed how the two entertainment genres shaped each other. The density of the articles meant that my attention had to be focused, but there was always something new to learn.

A few articles were less successful, and some veered away from Godzilla altogether. The final three articles focused more on Japanese “pop culture” figures such as “Hello Kitty!” and fandom in Hawaii and Russia. While the articles were valid, I personally felt they did not belong in this book, and wish they had been replaced by something more appropriately themed.

I really enjoyed “In Godzilla’s Footsteps”, but I realize it will not be a book for everyone. I personally don’t mind slogging through academic language from time to time, and found a lot here to be fascinated by. Any serious student of Japanese film should probably have this one in their library.

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