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Life Meets Godzilla

6 Sep

Life Magazine recently published a special issue devoted to Godzilla, which I found in the magazine rack at my local Walgreen’s. After thumbing through it, I decided to purchase it despite the excessive price of $14.99, since it seemed to be a rare instance of a high-profile mainstream American media outlet covering a Japanese pop culture phenomenon. Granted, it was timed to promote the recent Warner Bros. release of the latest Hollywood Godzilla movie, GODZILLA VS. KONG, but there were enough pictures of the original Japanese Godzilla in the magazine to pique my interest. (Last I checked, Life Magazine and Warner Bros. were both part of the same corporate empire, although that may have changed recently.)

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Gamera, Hercules, Ninjas and Giant Robots: American International Television, 1964-1970

12 Mar

Screenshot_2021-02-26 Watch Voyage Into Space Prime Video(19)

I recently watched VOYAGE INTO SPACE (1970) on Amazon Prime, a feature compilation of episodes of “Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot,” an English-dubbed live-action Japanese series that aired in syndication on American TV beginning in 1969. This compilation was never released to theaters but was sold to TV stations as a movie by American International Television, the TV distribution arm of American International Pictures (AIP), which ruled the drive-ins and grindhouses of the 1960s with all manner of low-budget genre and exploitation films.

I had seen VOYAGE INTO SPACE on television around 40 years ago and seeing the AI-TV logo again triggered a memory of quite a few other Japanese films I’d seen from that era that bypassed theaters completely and went straight to TV. Foremost among these were five Japanese movies featuring Gamera, the giant turtle, that had been retitled for American television, all of which I’d seen on TV back then, usually on Channel 7’s 4:30 Movie (WABC), with four of them completely omitting “Gamera” from the titles: WAR OF THE MONSTERS (GAMERA VS. BARUGON, 1966), RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS (GAMERA VS. GYAOS, 1967), DESTROY ALL PLANETS (GAMERA VS. VIRAS, 1968), ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS (GAMERA VS. GUIRON, 1969), GAMERA VS. MONSTER X (GAMERA VS. JIGER, 1970).

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Ray Harryhausen Centennial

29 Jun

Monday, June 29, 2020, marks the centennial of special effects genius Ray Harryhausen. I was lucky to have seen many of his films as a child when they were new and then share them as a grown-up with my daughter and nephews. I did a tribute to him on May 11, 2013, on the occasion of his death at the age of 92 and am reposting it here as a centennial tribute. Consult the original piece here for the comments that were added then.

Ray Harryhausen died on Tuesday, May 7 at the age of 92. He had a good run, starting out by animating stop-motion models of dinosaurs, inspired by KING KONG (1933), for short color 16mm movies made in his parents’ garage while he was a teenager in the 1930s and ending with the Greek mythological epic CLASH OF THE TITANS in 1981. In between, he did the “technical effects” as billed on his first feature, or “special visual effects” as they were usually billed, for some of my all-time favorite movies. I was lucky to have seen many of his movies on the big screen when they were first released, starting with THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), which my father took us to see on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1959, when I was five. Even though I’d seen Disney features in theaters before then, as well as a memorable double bill of THE ROBE and DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, I believe it was SINBAD that first triggered a love of the motion picture art form, particularly the more fantastic genres. The Cyclops was a truly formidable monster and done in such a vivid and exciting manner that there was something consistently compelling about him and the way he reacts to having his domain invaded by these pesky humans. I don’t know that I’ve seen another movie monster quite like him, not even in Harryhausen’s other films.

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VHS Memories: Discovering Anime in the Early ’90s

16 Jul

I had been following Japanese animation off and on from 1964, when I first saw “Astro Boy” and “Gigantor” on TV as a child, to the early 1980s when I saw the anime features PHOENIX 2772 and GALAXY EXPRESS 999 on the big screen, but it didn’t really take a permanent hold on my consciousness until the release of AKIRA in theaters in the U.S. in 1990 led to a trickle of Japanese animated features being shown at film festivals and repertory theaters.

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Power Rangers at 25: A Look Back

26 Jan

I was meaning to do a piece on the 25th anniversary of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, but I got sidetracked around the time of the anniversary (last August) and then worried how I could tackle such a broad subject in a single entry. I’m glad I waited because I recently came across a long-buried file containing press coverage of the Power Rangers from 1993-95, when the franchise got its heaviest media exposure. I’ve scanned some of these articles (from TV Guide and other sources) and pasted them below. Also, I got to see the very last episode of the current and 25th season, “Power Rangers Super Ninja Steel,” which aired on the Nickelodeon cable channel on December 1, 2018.

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Godzilla, Zatoichi and the Monkey King: The Best Foreign Genre Films of 1968

30 Dec

I’ve already written about my Hollywood favorites from 1968 in an earlier piece, so I wanted to focus on my favorite foreign genre films from 1968 before the 50th anniversary year was over, a group that has, in my opinion, held up much better critically over the years than their Hollywood counterparts. A lot was happening on the genre front back then, especially in Japan, Hong Kong, Italy and England. In Japan, there were numerous samurai, yakuza, giant monster and blind swordsman movies. Hong Kong’s Shaw Bros. studio gave us a host of swordplay mini-epics, several starring that swordswoman extraordinaire, Cheng Pei-Pei, as well as musicals, crime films and melodramas. Italy was turning out western after western, with all three major Sergios–Leone, Sollima and Corbucci–shining that year. England’s Hammer studio gave us exemplary horror films and France gave us BARBARELLA and THE BRIDE WORE BLACK.

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Science Fiction Art of the 1950s: Comics, Film, TV

10 Dec

I came across two DC compilations on my comic book shelf, “The Greatest 1950s Stories Ever Told” and “Mystery in Space,” and started reading them and was pleasantly surprised at how good the artwork is in most of the stories, especially those from the 1950s and especially the science fiction stories. I decided to compare them to the sci-fi comics from EC’s line of 1950s titles, Weird Science and Weird Fantasy. And then I was intrigued enough to dig out my DVD copies of various 1950s color science fiction films and, where possible, get screen grabs to share as individual frames of science fiction art. I also remembered the “Tomorrowland” segments shown on the Disneyland TV show in the 1950s and their imaginative scenes of future explorations of the moon and Mars. And then I came across a book in my files, Fantastic Science Fiction Art 1926-1954, edited by Lester Del Rey, which reprints covers of science fiction magazines. What a treasure trove.

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The Films of 1968, Part 1: What We Were Seeing 50 Years Ago

21 Aug

In 1968, Hollywood was undergoing quite a turbulent period. The studios continued to turn out lightweight studio entertainment as if it were 1938, while also contending with audience demand for greater frankness, more mature subject matter and fewer restrictions on language, nudity and violence. Foreign films and independent films were gaining greater critical and audience acceptance. The Motion Picture Association of America, long the guardian of the Production Code, with which films had to comply in order to get an MPAA seal of approval, first introduced a tag, “Suggested for Mature Audiences,” in late 1967 and then, when they realized that wasn’t enough, installed a full-blown ratings system for films in October 1968: G for General Audiences, M for Mature subject matter, R for Restricted, and X for adults only. So you had films like Robert Aldrich’s X-rated THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE, about a lesbian romance, and Christian Marquand’s  CANDY, about a young girl’s sexual awakening (invariably involving slumming over-forty Hollywood stars like Richard Burton, Marlon Brando, James Coburn and Walter Matthau), alongside sugary assembly line fare like Elvis Presley songfests; family comedies starring Doris Day, Jerry Lewis and Don Knotts, adaptations of Broadway musicals like FINIAN’S RAINBOW, FUNNY GIRL, and OLIVER!; and live-action Disney family features, five of them released in 1968: BLACKBEARD’S GHOST, THE ONE AND ONLY, GENUINE, ORIGINAL FAMILY BAND, NEVER A DULL MOMENT, THE HORSE IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT, and THE LOVE BUG. Continue reading

Kamen Rider Movies: A 47-Year Old Superhero Franchise Continues to Thrive

25 Mar

Kamen Rider (or Masked Rider) premiered on Japanese television on April 3, 1971. It was the brainchild of Shotaro Ishinomori, author of the wildly successful manga series, Cyborg 009, which had already been adapted into two animated features and one animated series for television. Kamen Rider preceded by four years the premiere of Goranger, the first sentai series and another long-running franchise, also created by Ishinomori. All of these series were produced by Toei Pictures. When I visited the Toei Kyoto Studio Park in 2016, I saw a gallery devoted to Kamen Rider:

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James Bond in Japan: 50th Anniversary of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE

13 Jun

50 years ago today, on June 13, 1967, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), the fifth of the James Bond films starring Sean Connery, was released in the U.S. It’s one of my favorite films and I’ve seen it over 30 times, probably more than any other film in my lifetime, and that includes WEST SIDE STORY (1961), THE WILD BUNCH (1969), KING KONG (1933), CASABLANCA (1943) and the second Bond film, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), all of which I’ve seen close to or more than 30 times. Back then I had to wait to see YOLT until it came to a neighborhood theater in the Bronx in September of that year, but it would be the first Bond film I’d see during its initial release (I’d seen the others in reissues) and I was psyched for it from the beginning of its ad campaign. I remember visiting Times Square sometime that spring and seeing the massive billboard for the film adorning the full block of Broadway from 45th to 46th Streets atop the marquees of the Astor and Victoria theaters. The billboard had three distinct images from the film, all featuring Bond in unlikely poses, but promising action, sex and spectacle. Here’s a shot of that billboard:

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