Godzilla: Resurrection – My Own Personal Touch

Last post, I talked about using elements, both physical and conceptual, from the alternate cuts of Godzilla: Resurrection. While this approach greatly streamlined a film that was originally lopsided in its pacing and reinstated many fan-favorite changes made to the international and American cuts, I wanted to go deeper.

While Resurrection is, at its core, a hybrid cut, I quickly hit upon the idea during my analytical viewings of the film and its myriad versions of adding my own cuts and rearrangements, to bring the film closer to a subjective perfection that I always felt it deserved. In short, I wanted to add my own mark upon TROG by further cleaning up the editing, crafting a wholly different beast from other hybrid projects of this nature.

screenshot 8

The majority of my contributions to the editorial feel of Resurrection are undoubtedly cuts. Several scenes in both TROG and G85, while undeniably necessary and worthy of inclusion, could certainly have benefited from a tighter cut. These range the gamut from cutting a subpar line from Okumura when he storms out on Goro after the publication of the photos of he and his sister, to tightening the action pieces of the elevated train attack and the Super X shelling. Even two Pentagon scenes from the American cut received a trimming, one to remove a frankly-incredulous line regarding the Presidential hotline being “down for repairs,” and the other to remove an equally-incredulous line referencing the violation of a UN space treaty–something the US happily does in Resurrection anyway.

screenshot 9

Other changes to the editorial flow include the cutting of Goro’s early phone call to the mainland about the Yahata Maru (unnecessary to the plot), the rearrangement of several scenes of military preparedness for the arrival of Godzilla midway through the picture.

One small change that I am nonetheless proud of, having seen it in action, occurs after Hayashida muses on Godzilla’s relationship with mankind, and what he hopes to accomplish by sending the creature back into the earth through Mt. Mihara. In the original version, this scene immediately cuts to the American and Soviet ambassadors arriving in Tokyo–a clumsy cut in every sense of the word. With no clear demonstration of the passing of time, this rather loud transition from a nighttime monologue to blaring diplomatic music falls with a thud. I knew I had to do something about it.

My solution: insert two shots, one from earlier of the downtown district where Hayashida’s lab resides at night, and a piece of Tokyo stock footage in the daytime. Finding appropriate footage was not easy: the only stock video of Tokyo in the correct era of the 1980s I could find was in very low quality with a large time code burned into it, so I had to settle for modern-day footage and hope the anachronism went unnoticed. In the end, I think I accomplished what I set out to do with it: inserting a more recognizable passage of time that befits the political procedural feel of Hashimoto’s original film.

Another addition of mine, one I’m even more proud of, is more technical-related. In the original cut, the Soviets aren’t the only nation with nukes in space; one shot of an American nuclear missile satellite exists in the Japanese version, and this satellite is loaded for bear compared to its Russian counterpart.

As you can see, however, this shot is unfortunately plastered with another burned-in subtitle. Servanov’s EOST, which was immensely useful for helping me get rid of most of these, was no help here, as the only textless source of this shot came from an alternate take contained on the German DVD release. This take, apart from being in a lower resolution with blown-out contrast, also suffers from its starfield not moving in the first 5-10 frames or so. While it works for his cut in that the international version contained this alternate take, it wouldn’t do for mine.

Into After Effects I went, using the satellite element cut out of a still frame in Photoshop. From there, I added a custom starfield behind the sat, keyframed its motion, and then added a subtle gate weave to the sat itself to emulate the original shot. The result:

Not bad, eh? I think so.

One other change I feel like mentioning here is related to the audio mix. In both the original cut and G85, much of the scenes inside the lab building when Hayashida, Goro, and Naoko are trying to escape the rampage seemed a bit empty. If one watches the scene again, it’s easy to realize that this is because there is no ambient sound of Godzilla and the maser trucks–surely, a battle going on right outside the walls should be audible, especially if it’s shaking the building at times. So, I added in plenty of distant SFX to spruce up the scene. It really adds some tension, I think, and was one aspect my beta-viewers brought up often. I liked the effect so much, that I added some more later on when Tokyo braces for a nuclear explosion: the sound of nuclear attack sirens has now been layered into the film, from the first announcement after Godzilla falls unconscious all the way through to the explosion itself.

However, sometimes my own personal touch isn’t signified by what I add or cut, but what I leave in: several beta-viewers and others online have asked why I kept a crucial aspect of the Super X shelling the same as it was in the original cut, Godzilla uses his atomic ray after being attacked. G85 moved this to before the Super X opened fire, creating a more aggressive and territorial Godzilla that many fans seem to prefer. While that viewpoint has its merits, too many other instances of Godzilla’s hesitation to attack lead me to believe that Hashimoto’s and Nagahara’s intent was to portray Godzilla as more of a curious creature, one fascinated and perplexed by the modern world around him, enough to be more likely to barrel through it, taking hits like they were nothing, than to preemptively strike. It’s a portrayal that reminds me of Legendary’s take on the character, and one I decided in good faith to keep in.

After all, this is one of the major goals of the edit, to preserve the original intents and themes of the filmmakers. While G85 did a lot in streamlining a film saddled with pacing issues, it also wrecked its central message and replaced it with dismissive Americanized corporate entertainment. What I could use from G85 to improve the picture, I did, but this was never bound to be a straight hybrid. The Return of Godzilla deserves way more than that, I believe, and I hope I did it justice.

P.S. I actually just finished the timeline and made my first test render of the smaller MP4 version of the edit, so the final product is not too far off! I’ll be making adjustments based on little hiccups I saw on the test and then it will be time to start work on the subtitles.

Until then, stay tuned for more posts on this edit.

Advertisements

Godzilla: Resurrection – Using the Alternate Cuts

Let’s face it–if I, or anybody following this project with even the slightest enthusiasm, thought that the original Japanese cut of The Return of Godzilla were perfect in any way, this edit would not be necessary–or even exist. TROG is most certainly one of the best Godzilla films out there, a remarkable piece of critical Japanese art made at the height of the Cold War, but its flaws are readily apparent to even the biggest fans. Numerous shots run a little too long, breaking an ideal pace for its many scenes of tension and suspense; emphasis is placed on sub-par visual effects; several pieces of music are, shall we say, not up to scratch, whilst other sequences lose impact without any music or key sound effects.

85 screenshot 1.jpg

For these reasons, among others, perhaps explains why the alternate cuts of TROG, namely the International Cut prepared by Toho and the New World Pictures-produced Godzilla 1985 are so popular. For every mistake these versions make, they fix several present in the original cut. Perhaps this is also why a hybrid cut of these disparate visions of Godzilla’s first triumphant return is so attractive to fan editors; KingAsylus91 embarked on his own years before, as well as another fan on TohoKingdom. And now, here I am.

While preserving the original Japanese dialogue and Koji Hashimoto’s intent to portray a serious, question-raising kaiju film that was very much in the same spirit as Gojira (1954), Resurrection will also pull from the best changes made to these other versions. After all, it is, at its core, a hybrid cut.

85 screenshot 3.jpg

But which changes to retain? Which to disregard? Here was one of the biggest problems surrounding this fan edit, what to do about these versions. While the previous hybrid cuts were happy to try and meld the American scenes starring Burr into the Japanese version as is, creating a straight-forward mix of the two films, I decided to try something different.

Contrary to popular belief, the biggest changes (in quantity, at least) to G85 had to do with cuts and rearrangements made to existing TROG scenes, not to the added footage. Some of these changes were questionable, but others actually did much to improve both the pace and flow of the picture. It was these changes I decided to retain in at least some capacity.

But what are they? Below is a list, by no means comprehensive, of some of these changes:

  • Maki’s encounter with the Shockilas more closely resembles the G85 version, cut down to remove more laughable shots of the monster prop and to tighten the action of the scene.
  • An establishing shot of Tokyo from the air used later on in TROG has been moved to its earlier G85 position, setting up the return to the city after the sequence aboard the Yahata Maru more clearly.
  • The reveal of the Soviet Nuclear Attack Satellite has been moved to after Kasirin’s deactivation of the weapon, as in G85.
  • Many pieces of the Christopher Young score have been added back to their respective scenes, including Maki’s search of the Yahata Maru, the Soviet Sub sinking, the JSDF dock massing, and Okumura’s near-death under the helicopter.
  • G85 additions of Reijiro Koroku’s score have been reinstated, such as during the lure test and Maki and Naoko’s attempted escape from the lab building during the Super X battle.
  • Some new sound effects added into G85 have been reintroduced, such as the Shockilas cackle, some new Godzilla roars, and the famous “B-mix” Godzilla scream from both G85 and the International Cut.
  • Numerous little cuts, additions, and other alterations, ranging from some rearranging of the JSDF massing at the docks to trims of the life-size Godzilla foot.

But how were these alterations made to Resurrection? While many, most involving simple cuts or editing, were achieved by working directly with the Kraken blu-ray, the added Pentagon scenes and other pieces of alternate audio had to be culled from other sources, namely the G85 and EOST (International Cut) reconstructions by Red Menace and Servanov.

85 screenshot 4.jpg

Red Menace’s G85, while in 1080p resolution, presents the added American scenes in standard definition with added film grain to partially hide this fact. With no other source available, I have resorted to integrating the footage from this release and blending the two sources together with an application of grain to the rest of the picture. The same goes for Servanov’s EOST, which is presented at 720p; this source had to be used to substitute any scenes involving “foreign” (not Japanese) dialogue have been resourced with Servanov’s International Cut reconstruction to remove burned-in Japanese subtitles present on the Kraken print. In the final product, additional grain will be used to better hide the lower resolution. While this will add much noise to the film, my hope is that the film will achieve a certain worn, almost “grindhouse” patina, as though Resurrection has seen much love in the 1980s during its theatrical run but has not been able to benefit from an extensive restoration with digital noise reduction.

In the end, however, this is only half of the veritable cake mix of Resurrection. There are many other changes, much more esoteric and exclusive to my own tastes and rationales, that make up this ambitious fan edit. In my next post, I’ll talk a bit more about them.

Until then, ciao.

Fan Edit Review: Godzilla 1985 Theatrical Version Reconstruction

g85reconstruction

Original Film Directed by Koji Hashimoto, R.J. Kizer, Written by Shuichi Nagahara and Lisa Tomei
Fan Edit by Red Menace (a.k.a. OMGItsGodzilla)
Category: Reconstruction

In September of 2016, Godzilla fans in America received what they thought would be the best news they had had since the return of the Big G to theaters two years earlier: the last remaining Godzilla film without a North American release, The Return of Godzilla, finally hit the stores on blu-ray. Months before, however, these same fans learned of an unfortunate footnote to this release–it would not include the popular American recut, Godzilla 1985. To this day, the last official home video of 1985 was the Anchor Bay VHS tape, and to a dedicated Godzilla fan known as Red Menace, this just wouldn’t do.

I’m not going to go too deep into all of the differences between The Return of Godzilla and Godzilla 1985, but suffice to say, there are plenty. The last Godzilla film to be heavily recut with newly-added scenes (and the last to be released theatrically in the States until the Roland Emmerich film), 1985 acts as a sequel to the Americanized version of the first Godzilla film, King of the Monsters. That cut starred the great Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin, thrust into the action with some skillful shooting and editing, and the inclusion of a voiceover narration by the character.

G852

1985 sees Burr return to the role, but this time, he stays far away from the action in several scenes set within the Pentagon, depicting Martin as an adviser to a trio of helpless American military officers watching the kaiju rampage unfold. This makes Red Menace’s job a bit easier than, say, Harmy’s on the Star Wars Despecialized Editions, as this meant only a comparitive handful of shots were needed to be inserted as opposed to a vast number of visual effects integration.

Red Menace achieves this with a popular standard definition capture of 1985 from the premium cable channel MonstersHD in the early 2000s. This does mean the exclusive footage is of a lower resolution than the main Kraken blu-ray rip, but Red manages to smooth out the inconsistencies with overlay of a 35mm film grain element from HolyGrain. The end result does mean that the image is rather thick with noise, but it certainly helps sell the illusion of an older print newly scanned into HD, especially at normal viewing distance. Bitrate is high, approaching blu-ray quality at around 25mbps.

G851

In addition to these shots, Red Menace also had to recreate a fair share of subtitles, both for location cards and foreign dialogue. Using an Australian VHS rip, they were able to fashion and time nearly-identical subtitles to the theatrical release.

Audio is bit worse-for-wear, however: due to 1985 only ever seeing release with a mono track, the audio is rather tinny and limited. This isn’t a knock against the editor, who surely only had to work with what existed; this is a gripe against New World Pictures. On the reconstruction, the track is in dual mono/stereo configuration, and comes through loud and clear. It seems evident that it was sourced from the MonstersHD broadcast, however, as it contains several subtle differences to the actual theatrical cut (MonstersHD had aired a workprint version, not the released American cut). A bit unfortunate, as this reconstruction cannot be called entirely accurate, but these changes are very minor, and one or two have been fixed. From talking with the editor, I have learned that a future v2.0 is in the works that will address these issues.

G853

The first of Red Menace’s Godzilla reconstructions serves up a real treat for G-Fans the world over. Finally, a film, or at least a version of it, that was considered to be lost indefinitely to tangled rights issues and null mass demand is now readily available to view by anyone with an internet connection and a bit of space on their computer. It looks pretty damn good for a mix of SD and HD footage, and while the audio does leave one missing the Japanese cut’s 5.1 remix, this is as true to the original American release as it gets, barring that next-to-impossible official release.

HOW TO GET IT:

Simply follow @RedMenaceOfficial on Tumblr, you can find all of their projects there!

Godzilla 1985 is available in several flavors, in both the v1.0 reviewed here and his earlier v0.5 and v0.6 efforts using SD sources, if you’re into seeing a work-in-progress version. 1.0 is available in a lower-bitrate MP4 file for more compact size and a full-quality MKV file. They have also provided two bonus features that can be downloaded separately: a reconstruction of the utterly weird and out-of-place American theme song “I Was Afraid to Love You,” and the original theatrical trailer, restored of course.

Godzilla: Resurrection is now on The Movie Maestro

And thus marks the transfer of Godzilla: Resurrection to The Movie Maestro!

In recent months, I’ve decided on consolidating my professional and amateur projects away from each other, and that is why from now on, any and all material on my fan edits will be hosted here, on The Movie Maestro.

As I’ve stated in the main page for this project, Resurrection is intended to be my vision of a definitive cut of The Return of Godzilla, preserving the political procedural-crossed-with-disaster film that the original Japanese theatrical release was, while including a majority of the American Pentagon footage starring Raymond Burr as Steve Martin. Along the way, I’ll be experimenting with color and contrast grading to improve the rather soft appearance of the print available on US blu-ray, with a general tightening of several noteworthy scenes, and with more avant-garde sequences, like a new prologue montage that will precede the opening credits. Also of note is my decision to create a new stereo mix for the film, one that slightly expands the soundscape of the American scenes while smoothing the auditory transition between them and the 5.1 mix of the Kraken blu-ray.

In a way, my ambition might be a little higher than my reach on this one, as there are a number of more recent films I hope to tackle that, with the advantage of digital intermediates, do not need cross-picture matching work or significant audio remixing done to them, but this is also a learning experience for myself, and I hope it translates into my more original projects down the line.

Continue to check back for more updates as this project progresses!

REVIEW: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

godzillavskingghidorahreview

Directed by Kazuki Omori
Written by Kazuki Omori
Starring Kosuke Toyohara, Anne Nakagawa, Megumi Odaka, Katsuhiko Sasaki, Yoshio Tsuchiya

I always wonder what the Heisei series of Godzilla films would have been like had Godzilla vs. Biollante not been a box office disappointment. The seeds were all there for an interesting science fiction franchise: a return to big-budget productions, new monster characters, a strong emphasis on high sci-fi concepts with consistent narratives. Such a shame that Toho decided to play it safe and redo the Showa series for the 90s. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy these films, but I ponder what could have been.

When a mysterious UFO is seen flying over Tokyo, tensions mount as the craft lands–and the occupants reveal themselves to be time travelers from the 23rd Century. Their mission: to warn mankind that Godzilla will soon awaken and wreak havoc upon the Earth unless he is destroyed. Meanwhile, a double-threat emerges in the form of King Ghidorah, a massive, flying three-headed dragon. The suspense builds to terrifying levels as the time travelers’ sinister true objective in the present is gradually revealed, and Godzilla must wage a solo battle against those who would destroy our future.

For Godzilla’s third outing in the Heisei continuity, Toho brought back his old nemesis, King Ghidorah, but more importantly, decided to create a trilogy cycle by delving into the origin of the second Godzilla. While I could argue all day about the dramatic deficiency of this move, namely, the destruction of the mystery surrounding this Godzilla’s existence, the end result is a bit more complicated than that.

Image result for godzilla vs king ghidorah stills

Beginning with a UFO streaking across the skies of Tokyo, GvKG quickly sets up the Godzilla origin arc with the main players of Terasawa (Kasuke Toyohara), a non-fiction writer investigating the kaiju’s past, dinosaur expert Professor Mazaki (Katsuhiko Sasaki), and the psychic from GvB, Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka). Their investigation reveals the existence of a massive dinosaur, a survivor of the KT Extinction, on Lagos Island in 1944, saving a garrison of Japanese soldiers from an American landing party. This revelation collides with the UFO story when the craft’s occupants reveal themselves as humans from the 23rd Century, come to save Japan from the devastation Godzilla will soon bring.

While the story itself seems sound, what really fails in GvKG for me is, well, everything else. Omori’s screenwriting takes a turn for the worse in this film, with his first deficiency being in his time-travel logic. Early on, one of the ‘Futurians’ insists that an individual from one time cannot coexist with his past-self at the same time, but this assertion is clearly proven wrong at several points later on, and the consistency of time theory is way off (at one point, their actions cause already established events to happen, and at others they change events). While this isn’t too grievous of a gaffe, as time travel is a messy storytelling subject, Omori’s seeming glorification of Japanese nationalism and the Imperial Army certainly is.

Image result for godzilla vs king ghidorah stillsYes, I’m going to toss my hat into this little controversy. I do indeed recognize the argument of the old guard and Ishiro Honda that perhaps depicting the killing of American soldiers by the Godzillasaurus went a little too far, considering the context in which these men fighting for an imperialist power would go on to become the founders of the modern Japan, in the case of Shindo (Yoshio Tsuchiya). However, this is rooted in historical fact, and the theme of the country’s roots in the war have been done with relative respect even in American films such as The Wolverine and Letters from Iwo Jima. Additionally, Shindo’s arc isn’t even indicative of the typical conservative Japanese attitudes, as he ends up at the mercy of his ‘savior’ at the end, perishing in the nuclear fire of a destructive god that does not, in fact, take sides, effectively nullifying any nationalistic fervor Omori may have fostered. In short, Shindo may have thought the divine wind was at his back, but he found in his tragic fall that it never cared about him at all.

As for the visual side of things, it doesn’t fare much better. Much of the futuristic elements are hokey at best and laughable at worst, with the biggest offender being the M-11 android. With his soft, almost unintelligable voice and dopey still-face, he already obliterates the Terminator-like image I’m sure Omori wanted to convey, and that’s long before we get “the run.”

I’m sure the suitmation technique did not change at all since GvB, but the emphasis on daytime battles in this film limits the believability of the kaiju action, and doesn’t do the action scenes any favors while the special effects artists grapple with new problems introduced by the heavy new Ghidorah suits. What do I mean by that? Well, for starters, Ghidorah can’t even walk anymore. This unfortunate side effect of the new suit leads to the proliferation of the Heisei series’ beam battles, which are spectacular to a child on his first viewing but to my eyes, very boring. And while the great Akira Ifukube returns to score the film, his themes are simple rehashes of old pieces, most notably the use of the King Kong vs. Godzilla theme as Ghidorah’s. Great piece, just not every original to reuse it.

Image result for godzilla vs king ghidorah stills

I suppose I shouldn’t be too harsh on GvKG, as it did introduce Mecha-King Ghidorah and played with the idea of Godzilla being a more elemental being, a god of destruction to his Japanese homeland. I just wish there were a better way to do it than what Omori and Tanaka came up with. For the rest of the Heisei series, the emphasis would be on monster mashes with returning Showa characters and threats, and while even those tired concepts would prove to be interesting later on in the Millennium series, they just don’t have the same power here. Sorry fellow G-fans, but Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah started the 90s downfall that led straight to Emmerich’s odd one out, and that can’t be changed with a time-travelling mothership.

Maestro’s Picks – August 25, 2017

It’s Friday, and that means it’s time for Maestro’s Picks!

Because this is the glorious(?) return of my first on-going series, I’ve decided to go with two picks this time around. Also, because I just couldn’t pick one of them. This time, both are from the illustrious and bottomless world of Tumblr!

First, as you may or may not know, I am working on my first full-length fan edit, and a major factor in this finally happening is the excellent editor Red Menace, of RedMenaceOfficial on Tumblr. Specializing in HD reconstructions, Red Menace has delivered the kaiju goods on multiple occasions, bringing back to life such lost American versions of Godzilla films as Godzilla 1985, Destroy All Monsters, and Monster Zero, in addition to a fan edit series of Neon Genesis Evangelion. He is currently working on several projects including a hotly-anticipated Godzilla vs. The Thing reconstruction, and of course, makes tons of shitposts. Check him out!

Second is the interesting newcomer Alien Covenant: A Gothic Fiction in Space. My recent rewatch of Covenant has convinced me of its merits as a great science fiction and horror story, and this Tumblr came along at the right time to help form words to my exploding thoughts regarding Ridley Scott’s newest piece. Prerusing the table of contents post reveals an expansive attention to the details of Covenant, analyzing everything from character motivations to specific, indelible images that link Scott’s film with the greatest gothic fiction of the past, including, yes, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Give this one a serious read, even if you weren’t a fan of Covenant. You just might change your mind.

And now, here comes the second half of Maestro’s Picks: where I share one video and one image which I found myself drawn to this week: Presenting:

The new poster for Blade Runner 2049, opening October 17 of this year and starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, and Jared Leto:

Image result for blade runner 2049 poster

Medley Weaver‘s mashup trailer for Godzilla (1954), featuring the music and editing of the 2014 film’s famous trailer:

Well, that’s all for today! Stay true, believers!

New Fan Edit – Godzilla: Resurrection

The time has come, folks! Time for me to embark on my own fan edit!

For my first project, I’ll be tackling a fanmix of The Return of Godzilla and its Americanized recut, Godzilla 1985. While the original Japanese version of the film is still the definitive one, I’ve always held a soft spot in my heart for Raymond Burr’s scenes in 1985, and had always wondered what the final film would have been like had he been present in the Japanese cut.

This re-edit seeks to accomplish just that, while also streamlining the slower pacing of the original cut with suggestions from 1985 to combine the best of both worlds. The film will still be highly critical of both the United States and the Soviet Union, and will work to marginalize the more humorous aspects of the added Pentagon scenes. Finally, this cut will feature a brand new opening to the film, one that seeks to definitely tie the new Godzilla to the original beast in an eerie and unforgettable way.

To read more about the project, please visit my official page on it here, and keep your eyes peeled for a trailer on YouTube and Vimeo, coming soon. Until then, enjoy my custom poster!

Godzilla Resurrection - Coming Soon Poster

Godzilla: Resurrection will be available for viewing and download this fall.

REVIEW: Shin Godzilla (2016)

untitled-toho-godzilla-585811e7ae121.jpg

Directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi
Written by Hideaki Anno
Starring Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, Ren Osugi (get accent mark), Akira Emoto, Kengo Kora (accent), Mikako Ichikawa, Jun Kunimura, Pierre Taki

With the success of Legendary Pictures’ Americanized reboot of Godzilla, Toho back in Japan wanted to get back into the action. While still retaining the rights deal with Warner Brothers, allowing the Monsterverse to continue, Toho set about producing a new film to be directed by Hideaki Anno, the famous creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion. If you’re a fan, than you are probably assuming right now that Godzilla goes all metaphysical, right? Eh, not quite.

An unknown accident occurs in Tokyo Bay’s Aqua Line, flooding the underwater passageway as citizens scramble to evacuate. An emergency cabinet meeting is assembled, just in time to witness a giant creature surface from Tokyo Bay and make its way across land in the heart of the city. Growing in size and mutating with each unsuccessful attack against it, the creature seems unstoppable. Government official Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) is placed in charge of a special research team to investigate ways to kill or incapacitate the beast, now dubbed “Godzilla.”

More than several kaiju and tokusatsu films have tried to establish a realistic scenario for the appearance of a giant monster; the original Godzilla and the Heisei era films The Return of Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Biollante presented the effect of the titular kaiju upon various geopolitical aspects of the world, while “foreign” monster films like the British Gorgo and Korean The Host carried an air of authenticity and spectacle to their visions of creature carnage. Shin Godzilla can easily be added to this fraternity, but its approach to the material is substantially more plausible and researched. Why? Because Shin Godzilla can be referred to as “Politicians vs. Godzilla.”

Related image

The film begins with a brief mystery in the form of a deserted pleasure craft in Tokyo Bay before the water erupts in a large steam eruption, causing damage and flooding to the Tokyo Aqua Line highway. We as an audience are then treated to 13 minutes of dry bureaucracy. Yes, you read that right. As we are introduced to protagonist Rando Yaguchi, Deputy Cabinet Chief, we are also introduced to his world of relentless politics and red tape as Cabinet meeting after government committee after press conference seeks to establish just what is going on, and what to do about it. If this sounds incredibly boring, than I wouldn’t blame you, but I would rest easy–with the quick pace and sheer amount of subtitles you’ll be reading, I’m sure you won’t be too listless during your viewing.

Close viewing during this opening sequence will reward inquisitive viewers, however, as Anno’s intent quickly becomes apparent among every ignorant assumption and naive rush to judgment several government officials make, always rewarded with a simple, fast cut to a harsh reality check in the form of the giant monster now wading out of the bay and into metropolitan Tokyo. Again and again, even with the best of intentions, Japan’s flat-level democratic government, following the exact letter of the law, fails against the nuclear menace, resulting in one of the most salient and darkly humorous satires of government around today.

Image result for shin godzilla

But this is a Godzilla movie, you shout, and I soothe and calm with my analysis of the character, as this Godzilla is probably the most unique iteration on screen. First appearing quite alien to previous versions in the form of a bizarre, fish-eyed, bleeding-gilled monstrosity that can barely support its own week, it soon begins to mutate, revealing the most innovative addition to the Godzilla mythos: this Godzilla is highly adaptive, capable of mutating its body and DNA at will. Resulting in a changing creature that forms the most hideous Godzilla design yet, this film hits a home run in devising a new spin on the Big G.

Related image

Further building on the design is co-director and special effects artist Shinji Higuchi’s work in creating Godzilla, this time done almost completely with CG effects. A clear break from tokusatsu tradition, to be sure, but the end result is incredibly convincing, due to the effects team’s efforts to keep Godzilla as stiff and suit-like as possible, which ironically gave the design a lifelike quality that accurately conveyed size and power. Their finest work probably comes at the halfway point in the film when Godzilla is bombed by American B-2 bombers, enraging the beast and prompting his first use of his destructive atomic beam.

Most of these scenes are accompanied by an equally-unusual sound design, employing a mixture of classical Toho sound effects and Akira Ifukube music with new sounds and music cues. When I first saw the film in theaters during its short American run, I was unimpressed and even bothered by the use of the old sounds and music, feeling that their limited dynamics were out of place. Now I’m convinced it was the fault of the cinema’s speaker system, as the blu-ray’s uncommon 3.1 mix produces a deep fidelity and bass I do not recall encountering before. In short, Shin Godzilla should highly please fans of the classic films with regards to their ears.

Image result for shin godzilla rando

After the mounting destruction of the first half, Godzilla falls into a long hibernation, and Rando’s research team reforms to discover a way to defeat him before a UN coalition employs nuclear weapons to resolve the situation. After systematically deconstructing the helplessness of Japan’s democracy to handle the crisis, Anno’s film then abruptly turns about face, giving Rando and his nerds the reigns to save the day with democracy. They bend only the rules they cannot follow to the letter, and break none, showing that even below the layers upon layers of tape, the right men and women with the right combination of ambition, compassion, and courage can prevail and make this world a better one.

Now I know that sounds very different from what is expected from a serious Godzilla movie, but fret not–the final scene brings one final revelation, one I won’t reveal here. Let’s just say that Godzilla’s origins as Nature’s reaction to the ravages of the human race are preserved in full with this film, and while Shin Godzilla requires an open mind and a quick eye for subtitles, to the right viewer, it is a real gem of modern tokusatsu. With Shin Godzilla, Anno has shown what humans can be capable of when working together toward a noble goal…but nature is patient, and she never forgets our crimes.

REVIEW: Godzilla (1954)

godzila1954review

Directed by Ishirô Honda
Written by Takeo Murata and Ishirô Honda, Story by Shigeru Kayama
Starring Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami, Sachio Sakai

The Big One. Or rather, the Big G.

Godzilla, the first of many films starring the titular gargantuan reptile, ignited a tradition in the then-infant Japanese film industry, the tokusatsu, or special effects, film, and forced the island nation to come to grips with their unique and unfortunate history with humanity’s deadliest invention: the nuclear weapon. Godzilla still stands as a triumph above that final chapter of imperial shame, above much of tokusatsu that came after, and indeed, above most science fiction cinema in general.

Japan is thrown into a panic after several ships explode and are sunk, the results of neither natural phenomenon nor foreign action. An expedition to Odo Island, close to where several of the ships were lost, led by paleontologist Professor Kyôhei Yamane (Takashi Shimura), his daughter Emiko (Momoko Kôchi), and young navy frogman Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada), soon discover something more devastating than imagined in the form of a 164-foot-tall monster whom the natives call Gojira. Now, the monster begins a rampage that threatens to destroy not only Japan but the rest of the world as well.

I’m sure most of you know the story by now: several Japanese fishing vessels are lost at sea, while a giant creature living off the coast of Odo Island is discovered to be at fault. An ancient reptile awakened by nuclear weapons testing, it is dubbed Godzilla by the inquisitive Dr. Yamane before it begins walking ashore towards Tokyo, bringing a trail of fiery destruction with it. What some of you may not know is just how topical and in tune with the events of the time this film was, or how unfortunately relevant it remains today. Conceived by producer Tomoyuki Tanaka after another project fell through, Godzilla is still the apex of tokusatsu, equaled by none.

Image result for godzilla 1954 movie stills

Tanaka’s idea was born out of two of Japan’s biggest events of 1954. That year saw the official end of the American occupation and the return of complete control to the new republican government and the newly-established Self Defense Forces. Before Godzilla, all Japanese entertainment had to be approved by the occupation, which severely limited portrayals of Japanese military might and government stability. Watching the film proves that this was no longer the reality by the time of its release, with the valiant efforts of the SDF against the monster and the scenes of the Diet locked in fierce debate.

The other major event of 1954 was the Lucky Dragon incident, from which the film’s first act takes heavy inspiration. During the American Castle Bravo H-bomb test of that year, the fishing trawler Lucky Dragon No. 5 strayed too close to the fallout, resulting in the crew suffering radiation sickness and even one death. This sparked a chill in American-Japanese relations right after the occupation, and stunned a population who still harbored fresh memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Cue the opening scene of Godzilla, aboard the fishing vessel Eiko-maru:

Image result for godzilla 1954 fishing boat

In the midst of this fealty to the outside world, director Ishiro Honda presents some fairly traditional scenes of two lovers, Ogata and Emiko, trying to navigate their young relationship in the face of not only the fishing disasters, but Emiko’s father Yamane, and her fiancé Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, a reclusive, scarred war vet with a terrible secret locked in his lab. Their affair quickly spirals into the background of a bitter debate when Godzilla is revealed to the world at large: Honda’s film excels at navigating the moral and ethical grey areas of the existence of such a monster, whether in the salient Diet debate over whether to publish the truth of Godzilla’s threat or conceal it to preserve order and the economy, or in Yamane’s quiet torment over being the only person to want to save the creature, seeing only its potential to unlock the secrets of radioactivity, and its resistance to it.

Image result for godzilla 1954 yamane

In this subplot is where Honda and screenwriter Takeo Murata begin to truly play with the real-world consequences of the nuclear age. While the original storywriter Shigeru Kayama made Yamane a Phantom-of-the-Opera-esque cloaked figure, engaged in sabotage against the SDF to protect Godzilla, Takashi Shimura’s Yamane is much more contemplative and down-to-earth, desperately trying to salvage something noteworthy and meaningful to mankind out of its most foolish and terrible mistakes, manifest in the monster itself. Shimura becomes the easily the best performer in a strong collection of actors on screen, preserving a countenance of regret over the futility of his efforts.

Image result for godzilla 1954 serizawaSo too Akihiko Hirata as Serizawa, whose secret lab is revealed to house a new and terrible superweapon: the Oxygen Destroyer, a substance capable of liquefying any organic material in water, a sure way to kill Godzilla. But therein lies his dilemma: the Oxygen Destroyer is an easy contender for a new weapon of mass destruction in the ever-escalating Cold War, and he fears that his discovery will become another tool of the superpowers against innocent people unless he can find a better, more humane use for his compound. Like Yamane, Serizawa seems to be trying to salvage a workable future from mankind’s violent past and present, although his character arc is much more reminiscent of the real life J. Robert Oppenheimer, the remorseful creator of the atomic age.

Undoubtedly, however, the main event of Godzilla to most viewers would be Godzilla himself. Portrayed by a combination of puppets and a large, 200-lb rubber suit, Godzilla, in this original film at least, remains a wholly-convincing special effect. While the puppet shots have most certainly aged poorly and don’t fit with the rest of the footage, the cumbersome suit, worn valiantly through fainting spells and buckets of sweat by Haruo Nakajima, portrays a confused and tortured beast, staggering around a highly-detailed miniature Tokyo as if it is constantly in searing pain (the presence of keloid scars across its hide does much to bolster this observation). Honda’s stark black-and-white photography captures all of the nuances of Nakajima’s performance and Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects work, resulting in an image eerily reminiscent of wartime footage that would have been very hard to watch for those who had survived it. Combined with Akira Ifukube’s still-haunting score, the effect is palpable.

Image result for godzilla 1954 diet building

Godzilla would become a smashing success in Japan and several other markets in its original release in 1954, convincing a skeptical public that Japan was a new contender in big special effects pictures, while still telling a dark and emotional story at its core. For its wide American release, Transworld Pictures commissioned a re-edited version, starring Raymond Burr in reshoots as Steve Martin, a newspaperman on whom the altered story would center. While toning down its more anti-war and nuclear age arguments (most certainly due to American Cold War attitudes of the time), Godzilla, King of theImage result for godzilla raymond burr Monsters! is still a solid Americanization of the original film, indeed, probably the best of them. Burr’s Martin, acting as a narrator to smooth the gaps in the story caused by the editing, is a fascinating character in his own right, and unlike later dubs, much of the original characters’ dialogue remain intact, creating a respectful image of the actors and their heritage. Indeed, without this version of the film, Godzilla may not be as popular as he is today, owing to the fact that King of the Monsters! was much more widely distributed across the world.

Godzilla seems to be an acquired taste, even with viewers who claim to be fans. Still thought of by the general populace as “that green dinosaur who fights aliens,” Godzilla may surprise those folks with its chilling realism and somber tone–if they manage to survive a viewing. It isn’t for everyone, but it’s a film that I wish was, for in today’s world, it seems the threat of nuclear annihilation isn’t taken seriously anymore. I can’t count on my hands how many times in a week I hear co-workers or passersby dismiss the Middle East or North Korea with a simple ‘nuke-em’ statement, and I can’t help but wonder if the Earth decided to regurgitate a monster born from this ignorant view to wreak havoc upon their lives, would they regret what they so often think?

This is the message of Godzilla. Heed it well.

REVIEW: King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

kingkongvsgodzillareview

Directed by Ishiro Honda
Written by Shinichi Sekizawa
Starring Tadao Takashima, Kenji Sahara, Yu Fujiki, Ichiro Arishima, Jun Tazaki, Akihiko Hirata, Mie Hama

Odds are, if you and your friends had any love for giant monsters growing up, you’ve definitely had the big argument: who would win in a one-on-one fight, Kong or Godzilla? I know I did, and I always bet on the Big G. It wasn’t until I finally saw the actual fight on my newly-purchased VHS tape at age 10 that I realized it was a little more even-sided. And silly.

Mr. Tako (Ichiro Arishima), the producer of a low rated television show called “Mysteries of the World”, decides his show needs some spicing up. So he sends two of his staff, Osamu Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) and Kinsaburo Furue (Yu Fujiki), to Faro Island to bring back proof of a giant ape named King Kong. Meanwhile, a submarine collides with an iceberg releasing Godzilla, who was trapped there seven years earlier. When Sakurai and Furue arrive at Faro, they do battle with a giant octopus, and uncover the mighty Kong. While in route to Japan aboard a giant raft, Kong breaks free and swims toward Japan, toward an inevitable collision course with Godzilla.

King Kong vs Godzilla has a long gestational history. After the financial and critical failure of Son of Kong, visual effects pioneer Willis O’Brien spent the next two decades attempting to craft a suitable followup to the original Kong. In the 1950s, he began pitching a project entitled King Kong vs Frankenstein, in which the giant ape would battle a likewise gargantuan version of Frankenstein’s monster, constructed by the mad doctor’s grandson in San Francisco from animal parts. After fleshing out the script with producer John Beck and writer George Yates into King Kong vs Prometheus, he continued trying to sell the film, to no success. Beck, however, managed to secure a buyer in Toho Studios, the owners of Godzilla. Having long wanted to produce their own official Kong film after several unauthorized shorts in the 1930s, Toho leaped at the chance, replacing Prometheus with Godzilla, and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, how does the finished product hold up? Not too badly, as a matter of fact. Toho managed to take to heart some of the anti-colonialist themes of greed and avarice present in the orginal Kong and translate them well to what is essentially the third movie in the Showa-era Godzilla series. What is interesting is that director Honda, now famous for having helmed the immortal Gojira, decided to take the series in a lighter direction, radically redesigning Godzilla to appear less frightening, and toning down Kong’s personality to be less brutal and more comical. Corresponding characters of the Kong formula, such as Carl Denham’s Japanese counterpart Tako, and siblings Famiko and Sakurai, are played more for laughs.

Overtones of Godzilla’s nuclear menace, whilst not being completely jettisoned, are appropriately toned down, giving the film room to produce a fun atmosphere, focusing on a satirical look at consumerism and pop culture. At many places in the story, characters are seen to argue and chat over which monster is better, just like my friends and I did years later. Tako continuously schemes to use Kong in a giant advertising campaign to sell pharmaceuticals. Godzilla, despite being a nuclear terror roasting innocent people across the mainland, is said by Tako’s assistant to be getting a movie deal soon. On paper this sounds rather frustrating given the past outings of both monsters, but the film works very well with it. There wasn’t a moment that I didn’t feel amused watching it.

Now these days, with the over-proliferation of CGI and modern effects techniques, it is a bit harder to fairly critique films from KKvG‘s decade, especially those from an entirely different culture. Most American audiences would find the film to be one of the silliest and most patently fake things put to celluloid, but one must put themselves into the shoes of a moviegoer of then. Japanese “tokusatsu” films were typically produced on smaller budgets than American special effects films, and with a different set of talent. Eiji Tsuburaya’s effects philosophy was built around suit acting and miniature sets, and this he excelled at greatly. Looking through this perspective, it delivers the goods as promised: hundreds of model buildings and war machines are trampled underfoot by the beasts, who proceed onward towards a climactic clash that, while taking almost the entire film to set up, is worth the wait, as it clocks in as almost the longest kaiju battle of the Showa films. The feats accomplished by the suit actors eclipse any shortcomings of the ropey effects work, once you realize how heavy they were: around 400 pounds. Just remember that when you see Shoichi Hirose in the Kong suit throw Godzilla over his head with no wires.

The third member of the Godzilla tripod after Honda and Tsuburaya was undeniably composer Akira Ifukube, and he turns in another masterclass effort with KKvG. This film’s rendition of the Godzilla theme is one of my absolute favorites, and the “battle theme” is also noteworthy, being reused in 1991’s Godzilla vs King Ghidorah. The only weak link I find with the score is Kong’s theme; it’s just too slow and bland to really stick with you. In fact, at times it feels woefully out of place with the rest of the music.

After KKvG went on to become the highest-grossing Godzilla film in Japan and internationally, John Beck set about bringing it back to the United States with a recut version, which was common practice at a time when the market for foreign films wasn’t what it is today. Unfortunately, the American version is plagued with several problems. In reshuffling many of the scenes, Beck felt it necessary to include many subpar “news show” sequences featuring English-speaking actors into the story to clear up plot points missing from his version. These scenes are truly laughable in their delivery and setup; the UN newsroom always has the same story props and the anchor is always wearing the exact same outfit, as if it was all shot in one day. His guest, a supposed paleontologist, espouses plot hole-producing contradictions and shows off children’s dinosaur books as if they were scholarly texts, while regurgitating speeches as if they were theatrical trailer taglines. Ifukube’s score is also completely removed and replaced with stock music, much of it from Universal’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon. While there are a few places where it works undeniably better than the Kong theme, it feels like sheer blasphemy that the entire end battle is scored like a ’30s film.

I would recommend that anyone interested in seeing the original clash of the towering titans, especially before WB recreates it in 2020, do so by viewing the original Japanese version first. It is simply a better paced, acted, and scored film, and doesn’t force you to set through a newscast that combines the worst parts of CNN and old-school newsreels. Sadly, KKvG suffers the indignity of being the only Showa Godzilla film whose original cut is still unavailable in the US. There is a Region A Japanese blu-ray available to import, and of course, there are always other, less legal ways to get around this problem. Whichever way you do so, just remember to go easy on it as far as effects and acting go. This is a different breed of film from a different era, one that just so happens to be one of the more entertaining Godzilla films out there, and is not a bad Kong film either.