LATITUDE ZERO, directed by Ishiro Honda, is an unusual film in Toho Pictures’ filmography of sci-fi monster films. It features four Hollywood stars among the main cast members and one American newcomer in a significant role. It has a Jules Verne-style science fiction setting located underwater far from Japan. There is no central monster to be fought, just a series of smaller, lesser monsters, all rather unformidable and all in the employ of a mad scientist who can’t quite make the best use of them. Production-wise, the film’s most unique feature is the decision to shoot the entire film in English with synchronized sound, which meant all the Japanese actors with speaking parts had to be competent enough in English to make themselves understood. There may have been some post-dubbing to correct a rough patch here and there, but what you’re hearing on the English soundtrack are the actors’ actual voices, mostly recorded live on the set.
Nick Adams was the first American star to go to Japan to appear in Japanese films that would get significant distribution in the U.S. He made three films there and I wrote about his first, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965), here on July 8, 2013. His second was GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1965), as the film is widely known today, although its original U.S. title was MONSTER ZERO and its official English title, as decreed by Toho Pictures, was INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER. (The original Japanese title, KAIJU DAISENSO, is translated as THE GREAT MONSTER WAR. KAIJU DAISENSO remains the best-sounding and most dramatic title.) Americans had appeared in two earlier Godzilla films, but only in scenes added to the re-edited versions shown in the U.S., most notably GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956), in which scenes of Raymond Burr, as American reporter Steve Martin, were newly written and shot for the American release version two years after its original release in Japan under the title, GOJIRA (1954). The other one was KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1963), in which a few scenes with American character actors were added to the U.S. release version. Adams was a co-star of MONSTER ZERO right from the start, in both its Japanese-language and English-dubbed versions. Adams’ third film in Japan, THE KILLING BOTTLE (1967), is a detective film that was never released in the U.S. although it was, according to IMDB, dubbed into English.
On November 9, 2014, I wrote about ROMANCE MUSUME (1956), the second in a series of movie musicals starring the group, “Sannin Musume,” consisting of the three top pop stars in Japan of that era, Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri and Izumi Yukimura. The third film was OHATARI SANSHOKU MUSUME (aka ON WINGS OF LOVE, 1957) and was the last film they made as “Sannin Musume” before going their separate ways (although sometimes two of them would appear together in films). They reunited in 1964, as adults, for HIBARI CHIEMI IZUMI SANNIN YOREBA, which I haven’t written about yet here. The third film, which I’ll refer to as ON WINGS OF LOVE, the English title given on IMDB, is notable for being the first film made in Tohoscope, the first Japanese widescreen process to be used in Japan (by Toho Pictures, naturally). I first heard about this film in a reference in Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s autobiographical manga, A Drifting Life, as depicted in this frame, the caption of which confuses Toho with rival studio Toei:
When I started attending Japanese film festivals in Manhattan back in the 1970s, there were loads of samurai films and films by major directors like Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and Ozu. The handful of color Japanese films from the 1950s shown back then were chiefly the few done by Mizoguchi and Ozu; the SAMURAI trilogy (1954-56) and other samurai films directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starring Toshiro Mifune; and a few sci-fi films directed by Ishiro Honda, including RODAN and THE MYSTERIANS (although I first saw both of these on TV). Also shown back then was Teinosuke Kinugasa’s GATE OF HELL (1953), which I was led to believe at the time was the very first Japanese color feature (and an Academy Award winner for Best Costume Design and recipient of an Honorary Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film released in the U.S. in 1954).