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.
Back on June 1, 2014, I wrote about “The Poetry of Kaiju,” as found in the 1964 kaiju (Japanese monster) film, GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (aka GODZILLA VS. THE THING), with its stunning images of Mothra eggs and the otherworldly twin fairies who guard them.
This past month I opted to watch three additional films about Mothra, the giant caterpillar-turned-butterfly, and its fairy guardians, in search of similar poetic imagery.
At the end of my previous entry, a critique of GODZILLA (2014), I offered a teaser of this one, with five images from the first classic Godzilla movie I went back to after seeing the new one. After taking a number of screen grabs, I thought I’d make an entire entry composed of scenes from the film to show how poetic imagery infused the entire film (and other Japanese kaiju–giant monster–films) in a way that seems alien to the creators of the remake. By happy coincidence, I’ve been reading a book of academic essays called In Godzilla’s Footsteps: Japanese Pop Culture Icons on the Global Stage (Palgrave Macmillan 2006), edited by William M. Tsutsui and Michiko Ito, and it happens to contain an essay called, “Mothra’s Gigantic Egg: Consuming the South Pacific in 1960s Japan,” by Yoshikuni Igarashi. The essay looks at the first two Mothra films, MOTHRA (1961) and GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1964, aka GODZILLA VS. THE THING, as it was called in its U.S. release in 1964), and discusses Japan’s relationship to the South Pacific, where Mothra originates, in its history and popular culture and how the South represents an “innocent past” and a “mirror of Japan’s desire to escape the effect of its economic success—consumerism.” Igarashi goes on to discuss GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA and how Godzilla “represents a threat to Japan’s postwar prosperity” while Mothra has become “an emblem of Japan’s consumerism.”
Following are images from the film interspersed with excerpts from the text of Igarashi’s essay:
Today, July 8, is the 160th anniversary of Commodore Matthew Perry’s arrival in Japan to begin the process of “opening up” the island nation to trade with the West, thus beginning a process that eventually, after some serious tears in the relationship, gave us giant monster movies, anime, and J-pop, among other things. On the occasion of this anniversary, I’ve decided to focus on a landmark film which marked the first significant cinematic collaboration between the U.S. and Japan, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965). While it wasn’t the first co-production between the two countries (I believe that would be TOKYO FILE 212, from 1951), nor is it the first Japanese movie to import an American star (more on that below), it was the first such film to make a real dent on the international market.