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.
“Mifune: The Last Samurai” is a documentary on Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune that recently played at the IFC Center in New York. To fans of Japanese film, Mifune needs no introduction. He is easily the best Japanese film actor of all time and, to many of us, arguably the greatest film actor in history. He is best known, of course, for his starring roles in films by Akira Kurosawa (THE SEVEN SAMURAI, YOJIMBO), arguably the greatest Japanese director of all time, but he also made numerous films for other noted Japanese directors, including Hiroshi Inagaki (The SAMURAI trilogy), Masaki Kobayashi (SAMURAI REBELLION), Kihachi Okamoto (SAMURAI ASSASSIN), and Kinji Fukasaku (THE SHOGUN’S SAMURAI), among others. He also made films in Hollywood and Europe, including GRAND PRIX, HELL IN THE PACIFIC, RED SUN and MIDWAY. I’ve written about one of his films here, JAPAN’S LONGEST DAY. He’s got 182 acting credits on IMDB—both film and television–and they extend from 1947 to 1995, two years before he died.
SHIN GODZILLA (2016), co-directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi (who also supervised the special effects), is the first new Godzilla movie to be made by the Japanese since GODZILLA FINAL WARS in 2004 and was released to theaters in Japan in July 2016 and given a limited release in the U.S. in October. (In some listings the film is referred to by its English release title, GODZILLA RESURGENCE.) Coming two years after Hollywood’s most recent attempt to duplicate the success of Godzilla (see my piece of May 25, 2014), this film takes the Godzilla franchise in a completely new and different direction, setting it in the current political landscape of contemporary Tokyo and functioning as if Japan has never seen a giant monster before. How would the Japanese government and its bureaucrats and various ministries react to the appearance of an actual giant monster in Tokyo? What would it take to get the Prime Minister to make timely decisions and get the various departments to work together? This is not an atypical scene from the movie:
My last blog entry, covering ESCAPADE IN JAPAN, was designed to be something of a hint as to why I’d go a month without a new entry. This week I returned from four weeks in Japan, a trip I’d long been planning to take after my retirement in September 2015. I spent three weeks in Tokyo and one week in Osaka, from which I visited Kyoto and Nara. There were a number of film-related sightseeing trips during that time, although my blog entries on the trip won’t be limited to those. I have a steady stream of thoughts, impressions and photos to share and I’m finding that the effort to process and sort through everything is slow and painstaking. I packed a lot of activity into four weeks and took thousands of photos and it will take some time and numerous entries to chronicle the key events. But I wanted to start with a short account of one of the first things I did on the trip, something that was important for me to do and an early emotional high point of the trip.
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.
Sannin Musume is the name given to the informal starring trio of Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri and Izumi Yukimura, the three ranking pop singers in Japan in the 1950s, when they made movies together. They made a total of four and I’ve written about the second and third ones here, ROMANCE MUSUME (1956), on November 9, 2014, and ON WINGS OF LOVE (1957) on March 8, 2015. I’ve seen the fourth, HIBARI, CHIEMI, IZUMI SANNIN YOREBA (1964), but haven’t written about it here yet. The first was JANKEN MUSUME (1955), which I wrote about previously on my J-pop blog, but used lesser-quality screen grabs, so I decided it was high time to watch it again and cover it here. My emphasis in the earlier pieces was on the musical numbers and the films’ frequent uses of American pop songs of the era, sung in both English and Japanese.