Tag Archives: Tomoyuki Tanaka

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).


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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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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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Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973, Fukuda Jun)

Godzilla vs. Megalon is madness. There are two distinct portions of the film and both of them are crazy. Initially, these portions might more seem stupid than crazy, but they’re crazy. Director Fukuda gets to make an espionage thriller and a Godzilla movie where Godzilla communicates with the other monsters. He even shakes hands with the humans’ emissary, a wimpy giant robot named Jet Jaguar who Godzilla constantly has to save, which is awesome. And Godzilla is portrayed as the tough good guy. It’s nuts.

The setup is real simple. Kawase Hiroyuki is the adorable little brother of giant robot inventor Sasaki Katsuhiko. Sasaki doesn’t know the robot will grow, but the evil undersea espionage agents do so they kidnap Kawase and Saskai. Luckily, Sasaki’s best friend is a charismatic troubleshooter with a fast car and a cool leather jacket. Hayashi Yutaka takes the role seriously, which makes it all work. There are practically no other characters. Japan’s apparently empty at this point in Godzilla history.

Then come the monsters. Giant robot man, giant bug, giant other space bug, Godzilla. And a weird, friendly but still dangerous Godzilla. It’s a rush job, but the result is pleasant. Since Megalon asks the viewer to think about Godzilla as a relatable character, it’s important to have his visual “character” work. It’s not like the mask is particularly animated.

Excellent photography from Aizawa Yuzuru, excellent editing from Ikeda Michiko throughout, in both the action thriller and the giant monster sections. Some poorly inserted footage from previous Godzilla movies hurts the flow of the action sequences–which also have to deal with the problem of new monster Megalon, who looks real dumb–but Fukuda keeps it moving. He likes working with the scale of the giant monster battles. There’s some rather good miniature work in Megalon too.

Megalon is a lot of dumb fun. Thoughtfully constructed dumb fun.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fukuda Jun; screenplay by Fukuda, based on a story by Kimura Takeshi and Sekizawa Shin’ichi; director of photography, Aizawa Yuzuru; edited by Ikeda Michiko; music by Manabe Riichirô; production designer, Honda Yoshifumi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Sasaki Katsuhiko (Goro), Kawase Hiroyuki (Rokuro), Hayashi Yutaka (Jinkawa), Tomita Kôtarô (Lead Seatopian Agent), Ôtsuki Ulf (Seatopian Agent) and Robert Dunham (Emperor Antonio of Seatopia).


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