Tag Archives: Akihiko Hirata

The Great Monster Varan (1958, Honda Ishirô)

The only thing more tedious and lethargic than the first half of Varan is the second half of Varan. The first half has a motley crew of lepidopterologists awakening a giant monster. The second half has these lepidopterologists consulting with the military to destroy said monster.

Not sure why the military thinks a bunch of butterfly scientists will have good ideas about how to kill a giant monster. Eventually Hirata Akihiko shows up with the solution. Hirata killed the original Godzilla, which is only appropriate in Varan, since the monster has the exact same roar as Godzilla. Varan is done on the cheap. The real cheap.

The film has its share of behind-the-scenes drama. It was originally for television–a coproduction between Toho and an American company, but then the American company went bankrupt. So the two-part TV movie became a single eighty-six minute feature, in “TohoPanScope,” which had them cropping the television framing. I suppose that cropping is why a lot of director Honda’s shots are so bad. Even still, it doesn’t explain away the bad acting or godawful pace.

Or the lousy giant monster suit, which always seems in danger of coming apart onscreen.

There are numerous… well, they’re not exactly plot holes but narrative skips. Like when there’s a forest fire all of a sudden, or how–in the second half–the military attacks have nothing to do with what the Secretary of Defense orders. It makes sense as the Secretary of Defense (Yamada Minosuke) is utterly out of his depth. Yamada’s acting is bad, the script is bad, but even so, when he listens intently to the ideas of chief lepidopterologist Senda Koreya, there’s no plausible reason for Yamada to be listening to Senda. Senda’s writing is probably better, but his performance is so much worse. It’s a risible performance amid some decidedly unimpressive ones. Senda comes up with the solution at the last minute for saving the day, which is another of the film’s narrative skips. He all of a sudden remembers something–which the film doesn’t actually show, but should’ve–as the deus ex.

The first half makes Nomura Kôzô the hero for a while. He’s the intrepid lepidopterologist who dares to return to the giant monster’s territory after it kills two of his colleagues. He brings along Sonoda Ayumi; she’s a reporter and sister of one of the dead lepidopterologists. Varan has so little character establishing, her job is never important. There’s some stuff with newspapers reporting the monster, but it’s before she even shows up.

Bad editing from Taira Kazuji, piddly photography from Koizumi Hajime–though, really, who knows how Varan is really supposed to look (Toho apparently destroyed the original aspect ratio version of the film). But what remains isn’t adequately, much less impressively, photographed. The constant use of stock footage makes the experience even worse.

Ifukube Akira’s score is bad. Though he revised some of the music for later Toho kaiju movies to far better effect. Taira doesn’t really cut with the music in mind. Or sound. Maybe it’s because there are supposed to be commercial breaks. Seeing Varan cut into with commercials might help the overall viewing experience.

It’s an awful film. Especially when it refuses to end; the second half just goes on and on and on. There’s one single good miniature effects shot–and one good composite shot–but otherwise all the effects are bad. I suppose some of the matte backgrounds at the beginning are good. They aren’t godawful at least.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Sekizawa Shin’ichi, based on a story by Kuronuma Ken; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Taira Kazuji; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Shimizu Kiyoshi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nomura Kôzô (Kenji), Sonoda Ayumi (Yuriko), Senda Koreya (Dr. Sugimoto), Matsuo Fumindo (Horiguchi), Hirata Akihiko (Dr. Fujimora), Murakami Fuyuki (Dr. Majima), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Katsumoto), Yamada Minosuke (Secretary of Defense), and Sera Akira (High Priest).


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Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975, Honda Ishirô)

Terror of Mechagodzilla is an uncomplimentary mix of a sixties Godzilla movie with the production values of a seventies Godzilla movie. It’s got a lame monster with cool powers and a cool monsters with lame powers. The Mechagodzilla fight scene is mind-numbing. He shoots rockets at Godzilla. Explosions incur. Director Honda has all these resources–an obviously ambitious pyrotechnic unit, huge sound stages–and nothing to do with them. Honda initially tries a more realistic approach with the film, but then just forgets about it.

Because even if it weren’t giant monsters, Terror is still silly–very silly for the mid-seventies with its small cast and brand characters. Hirata Akihiko (the good mad scientist from the original Godzilla) plays a bad mad scientist here. Under a lot of make-up. It’d be something if it were a good performance, but it’s not. Hirata is working for evil aliens–who have very dumb helmets and very silly costumes and the supreme commander whips misbehaving subordinates. Terror is what happens when you should be camp and you don’t. Honda wants to be taken seriously and refuses to understand it isn’t possible.

Anyway, Hirata has a cyborg daughter. One of the scientists working for Interpol–Terror’s Interpol is a multi-national giant monster hunting organization–loves her. But the aliens have installed Mechagodzilla’s controller chip inside her cybernetic circuitry. Ai Tomoko, as the cyborg girl, isn’t good but she does better than she should. As her beau, Sasaki Katsuhiko is lame. He’s simultaneously supposed to be a goof and a stud. He comes off as neither.

Ifukube Akira’s music is good. Even though there are some bad decisions with the music, it is good. It just doesn’t always fit the tone of what Honda’s actually got going on, versus what Honda wants to have going on. Terror fundamentally misunderstands how its genre now works.

There are some nice miniature cityscapes though. Honda’s fight scenes in them aren’t great, but Tomioka Sokei photographs them well. Terror’s got its pluses. They just don’t come close to overcoming its minuses.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Takayama Yukiko; director of photography, Tomioka Sokei; edited by Kuroiwa Yoshitami; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Honda Yoshifumi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Sasaki Katsuhiko (Ichinose Akira), Ai Tomoko (Mafune Katsura), Hirata Akihiko (Dr. Mafune), Uchida Katsumasa (Interpol Agent Murakoshi), Nakamaru Tadao (Interpol Chief Tagawa), Roppongi Shin (Wakayama Yûichi), Agawa Yasuko (Yamamoto Yuri) and Mutsumi Gorô (Alien Leader Mugal).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | GODZILLA, PART ONE: SHOWA.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974, Fukuda Jun)

I want to be more enthusiastic about Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. It has a number of good moments, often involving giant monsters, which is impressive. Godzilla facing off against a mechanical Godzilla (not to mention a flesh-covered cyborg–nothing dead will go), it’s a great visual. Director Fukuda milks it and he milks it well. The film sails into the third act, but the finish is more a stalling out than an ending. It’s too bad, because so much of the film’s a success.

The human stuff–two brothers who get involved with an alien plot to destroy the planet and the giant dog monster protector of Okinawa, complete with love interests and mentors–is solid. Everyone works at their part, even when they have nothing to do. Daimon Masaaki spends the entire fight scene acting with his eyebrows. None of his emoting matches what his character is watching, but it doesn’t matter. The dedication is endearing.

So it’s even more frustrating where Mechagodzilla finally breaks down is in resolving all that human stuff. The final fight is a pyrotechnic marvel–the whole film’s a pyrotechnic marvel–but the light show is a poor substitute for an ending to the film. Fukuda doesn’t have a finish.

Lots of good work from the crew, particularly Ikeda Michiko’s editing. He does these snappy montages and creates a far amount of tension in a short amount of time, just with the actors’ expressions. Satô Masaru’s music is necessary for those montages to work. The score keeps a certain pace to the film.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is a well-produced, well-acted Godzilla movie. But it’s too slight on story, too slight on characters. Fukuda doesn’t balance the human story and the monster battle and it sinks the film just when it needs to be excelling.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Fukuda Jun; screenplay by Fukuda and Yamamura Hiroyasu, based on a story by Fukushima Masami and Sekizawa Shin’ichi; director of photography, Aizawa Yuzuru; edited by Ikeda Michiko; music by Satô Masaru; production designer, Satsuya Kazuo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Daimon Masaaki (Shimizu Keisuke), Aoyama Kazuya (Shimizu Masahiko), Tajima Reiko (Kanagusuku Saeko), Hirata Akihiko (Professor Miyajima), Matsushita Hiromi (Miyajima Ikuko), Koizumi Hiroshi (Professor Wagura), Imafuku Masao (High Priest Tengan), Lin Beru-Bera (Princess Nami), Kishida Shin (Interpol Agent Nanbara) and Mutsumi Gorô (Alien Supreme Leader Kuronuma).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | GODZILLA, PART ONE: SHOWA.

Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966, Fukuda Jun)

I’m having a difficult time writing about Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster because, even though the movie isn’t good, I wish I liked it more. I wish I enjoyed it more. As a cultural artifact, Sea Monster is definitely interesting. Most of the film has to do with these four not so bright dudes–even Takarada Akira as the older one–stumbling into a James Bond movie where the villainous organization is out to rule the world. Or something. And they keep a giant sea monster.

Director Fukuda doesn’t do a terrible job overall. He does a lot better with some sequences than others; he’s humorless, which is one of Sea Monster’s biggest problems, but he is serious about the film itself. Given the Godzilla suit and the limited set for the guy in the Godzilla suit to energetically walk around, Fukuda’s seriousness sometimes seems out of place.

None of the film’s giant monster sequences are particularly memorable (the sea monster looks like a giant lobster and is much more effective when just menacing passing ships with a single claw) but they’re distinct sequences in the film. With Satô Masaru’s groovy music, they’re usually silly. Until they become serious (as evidenced by the change in music). Once the seriousness hits, Sea Monster turns into a really effective suspense thriller. It just happens to have Godzilla and a bunch of scantily clad South Seas islanders running around.

And the four dudes.

Maybe if the acting were better–leading man Takarada is particularly weak, though it’s not like he has a role to play. Sekizawa Shin’ichi’s script is just plain lame. It’s distinctive, but lame. None of the other actors make much impression. Except Hirata Akihiko (he and Takarada were the leads in the original Godzilla) and not in a good way.

As that historical cultural artifact, Sea Monster is nearly worth seeing. Just as a movie? I don’t know. The last quarter or so is tightly edited, wonderfully paced. Fujii Ryôhei ratchets the tension. Fukuda’s far better with secret agent action thrills than giant monsters. Satô’s score, whether groovy or somber, is excellent.

Sea Monster’s a try and a fail and Fukuda doesn’t seem to be aware he was trying.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Fukuda Jun; written by Sekizawa Shin’ichi; director of photography, Yamada Kazuo; edited by Fujii Ryôhei; music by Satô Masaru; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Takarada Akira (Yoshimura), Watanabe Tôru (Ryôta), Ibuki Tôru (Yata), Tôgin Chôtarô (Ichino), Sunazuka Hideo (Nita), Mizuno Kumi (Daiyo), Hirata Akihiko (Red Bamboo Captain Ryuui), Tazaki Jun (Red Bamboo Commander) and Pair Bambi (Mothra’s Little Beauties).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | GODZILLA, PART ONE: SHOWA.