Tag Archives: Akira Ifukube

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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King Kong Escapes (1967, Honda Ishirô)

Despite lacking special effects and a phoned in score from Ifukube Akira (reusing his previous Godzilla themes to various effect), King Kong Escapes has quite a bit of charm to it. The film opens with Kong enthusiasts–really, they’re sitting around drawing pictures of him–Rhodes Reason and Takarada Akira. They’re U.N. submarine guys; U.N. submarines, patrolling the globe, is a thing in Escapes’s reality. Along with a female ship’s doctor, played by Linda Miller, who later in the film screams at the sight of blood. It’s like they forgot she was supposed to be a doctor.

Anyway, the film opens with them and isn’t particularly great. Those lacking effects are imaginative–they have a hovercraft–but there’s just something off about the trio. All the chemistry is between Takarada and Miller, which is great, only for some reason Miller’s always hugging Reason. It’s even established later on Takarada and Miller are a couple. So clearly Toho (and co-producers Rankin/Bass) didn’t think the world was ready for a Japanese guy and a white girl. Sorry, getting ahead once again.

Once the U.N. submarine is established, the action goes to the bad guys and the bad guys are awesome. One of the bad guys is evil scientist, Dr. Who (Amamoto Hideyo), who wears a cape and all of his henchmen have, if not capes, something approximately capes. It’s very, very weird and Amamoto plays it for all its worth. He’s working for beautiful foreign agent, Hama Mie–she’s not Japanese, not Chinese, but from some unidentified Asian nation with enough money to fund Amamoto building a giant King Kong robot. Mechani-Kong. They need a giant robot Kong for mining radioactive materials. The movie spends like fifteen minutes on it, the need for Kong (or Kong facsimiles) to mine. Hama plays it all straight, Amamoto chews through every bit of scenery he can. Somehow, it’s a magic combination. They’re both fantastic throughout the film.

When the action gets back to the U.N. submarine, it’s when they just happen to have to stop at Kong’s island. Escapes’s Kong suit conveys this sad and lonely giant ape. He’s got big, soulful, sad eyes and dejected body language. Some of that dejected body language is because the suit’s terrible, disproportionate and haphazardly detailed enough editor Fujii Ryôhei spends most of his time just trying to cover for the suit looking bad. Lots of questionable cuts, just because the head on the suit often doesn’t match the suit.

Once they’re on the island, director Honda does a bunch of homage to the 1933 King Kong, which is pretty cool. The effects are bad, seeing an adorable King Kong violently defend Miller against the Tyrannosaurus Rex stand-in is jarring, but the location shooting is excellent (and too short) and Honda’s homage is neat.

After the island, there’s a significant lull as Reason makes an address to the U.N. only to be sent right back to the island. Before they get there, Amamoto and his goons go to capture Kong in an amazing action sequence with helicopters and gas bombs and so on. The miniatures are okay, the suit is weak, Honda’s direction is phenomenal.

Eventually the bad guys capture the good guys–and Hama starts having a change of heart because Reason is so hot, but he doesn’t make the goo-goo eyes at her. While it is a bit of a plot hole, Kimura Takeshi’s script has a lot of nonsense going on. It does ruin the one chance to humanize Reason, who’s otherwise a stiff. Amamoto can’t even give his scenes with Reason much of a pulse.

Of course there’s a fight between the two Kongs–in Tokyo, on the Tokyo Tower, amid another Kong ’33 homage from Honda with Takarada as Bruce Cabot and Miller as Fay Wray. It’s all rather well-executed, regardless of the suits. The city and military miniatures are fine. In fact, the big fight scene could’ve easily gone on a bit longer. Escapes just needed a better budget. Honda was ready to do this one.

And Reason needs to go. Or at least be less of a stiff.

Takarada and Miller are both more appealing than good. Outside their chaste romance, they’re just around to make Reason seem important.

King Kong Escapes is goofy, the suits are silly, and Ifukube’s score disappoints (though the revised Godzilla 1954 music for Kong and Miller’s love theme is great). It’s still all right, thanks to Honda taking it so seriously. And Hama and Amamoto. Especially Hama and Amamoto.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Kimura Takeshi; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Fujii Ryôhei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Rhodes Reason (Commander Carl Nelson), Linda Miller (Lieutenant Susan Watson), Takarada Akira (Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura), Hama Mie (Madame Piranha), and Amamoto Hideyo (Dr. Who).


Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995, Okawara Takao)

Godzilla vs. Destoroyah does a lot. It mixes an Aliens rip-off into a Godzilla movie, then tries new things for the giant monster fight, all while finishing off the series. Destoroyah is meant to close off the franchise, giving director Okawara plenty of opportunities to tug at heart strings. Okawara’s attempts at homage and reference matter more for sincerity’s sake than success’s. There’s a lot going on in the film and it tries a lot of things. Not all of the spaghetti sticks.

Major missteps include all the ties to the 1954 Godzilla, including Kôchi Momoko’s pointlessly contrived cameo. None of the new characters this entry have much to do. Ever returning Odaka Megumi gets a good part. Tatsumi Takurô is weak as the scientist. There’s always a scientist. Tatsumi isn’t the worst scientist, but he’s pretty weak.

The human interest stuff this outing, besides all the references to the original, has very little to do with the film. This time, Godzilla is in danger of melting down. It’s a global disaster. Oddly enough, a monster created when the original Godzilla was destroyed is also attacking. And the little Godzilla is missing. There’s a lot going on.

The big monster fight is a bit of a bust. The miniature sets are fantastic, but the other monster is really dumb looking. It’s like a giant crab mixed with an Alien and a demon’s head. It’s really dumb looking, especially when it gets bigger than Godzilla. So it’s even more impressive how well Okawara does on the finish with the lame bad monster.

Destoroyah’s relatively successful.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Okawara Takao; written by Ohmori Kazuki; directors of photography, Kishimoto Masahiro and Sekiguchi Yoshinori; edited by Osada Chizuko; music by Ifukube Akira; produced by Tomiyama Shogo; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Tatsumi Takurô (Dr. Ijuin Kensaku), Ishino Yôko (Yamane Yukari), Hayashi Yasufumi (Yamane Kenichi), Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki), Osawa Sayaka (Ozawa Meru), Shinoda Saburô (Professor Fukazawa), Nakao Akira (Commander Aso), Takashima Masahiro (Major Kuroki) and Kôchi Momoko (Yamane Emiko).


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Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1993, Okawara Takao)

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is outrageous spectacle. The film has the perfect combination of story, director and special effects. The film allows its giant monsters limited personalities, feasible motivations. It even manages to raise questions of morality as this version’s Mechagodzilla is piloted by the anti-Godzilla task force. They’re blowing up just as much as the giant monsters, they’re torturing the monsters. It’s simultaneously heavy and not.

Director Okawara gets to that weightlessness through some disarming, yet empowering moves–it’s a serious movie, but it’s also not a serious movie so don’t dwell–you can acknowledge, but don’t dwell. The result is a Godzilla movie where the viewer has an intense investment in the fight scene. Okawara then proceeds to play with every expectation. He draws things out–those disarming yet empowering moves–showing the viewer what to expect.

The movie rewards the viewer for paying attention, for patience. It’s often delightful, with something for everyone–including an adorable “baby” Godzilla. Mimura Wataru’s script really pulls all these threads together into something cohesive and affecting. He gives the characters just enough depth the actors can imply even further layers. It doesn’t hurt Okawara excels at the saccharine flirtation between leads Takashima Masahiro and Sano Ryoko.

And Odaka Megumi finally does get something to do this Godzilla installment. She gets a significant personal subplot and everything. Odaka nails it, of course. She makes her unlikely character (telepathic Godzilla hunting consultant) the most human part of the film. She, just like the viewer, is jaded by Godzilla movies.

Excellent editing from Yoneda Miho, excellent photography from Sekiguchi Yoshinori. The effects in Mechagodzilla are outstanding. A lot of thought goes into everything, like how Okawara gradually prepares the viewer for miniature sequences. Mechagodzilla is a welcoming Godzilla movie. It’s enthusiastic about its genre and itself.

Nice score from Ifukube Akira. It’s just a nice, solid Godzilla movie.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Okawara Takao; written by Mimura Wataru; director of photography, Sekiguchi Yoshinori; edited by Yoneda Miho; music by Ifukube Akira; produced by Tomiyama Shogo; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Takashima Masahiro (Aoki Kazuma), Sano Ryoko (Gojo Azusa), Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki), Kawazu Yûsuke (Professor Omae), Harada Daijirô (Sasaki Takuya), Nakao Akira (Commander Aso) and Ueda Kôichi (General Hyodo).


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