Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Budding Kaiju Artist Presents: Gomaera!

Here's Andy's latest (and best) monster offering, the two-horned behemoth Gomaera. Please note the armor-plated scales, the air defense forces, and the poor tree that Gomaera mercilessly snapped in two!

Monday, September 28, 2009

G-FAN Magazine # 71 "Final Wars Frenzy"

In Issue # 71 of G-FAN, the focus is set squarely on Toho's provocative 50th anniversary "send-off," Godzilla: Final Wars. There is something intensely intriguing about the varied reactions to GFW and its premiere at the Grauman Chinese Theater. Reviews of the film range from the enthusiastic to the deeply disappointed (even offended) with the majority expressing qualified enjoyment of the controversial film.
(For what it's worth, my personal reaction to GFW has mellowed with time--to me, it's still a postmodern mess (with plenty of exciting "moments" that don't add up to a unified whole) and as such, my son and I usually watch it in "clip show" fashion, with a concentration on Godzilla vs. Zillah, the Kumonga web-whip scene, and the King Seesar "soccer match" sequence. You know, the "good parts.")
Armand Vaquer was kept quite busy with this issue. Not only did he ably recap the Hollwood events surrounding Godzilla's 50th anniversary and the GFW premiere (seriously, in how many cool G-events can one man particpate?), but he also teamed with Brett Homenick to summarize all of 2004's anniversary observances AND co-wrote, with J.D. Lees, "The End of Godzilla," an insightful history of the Millenium Godzilla series. The duo cogently traces the unfortunate trends that contributed to the Millenium movies' sad decline at the Japanese box office.
Michael Bogue wonders if kaiju conversations were a positive part of Godzilla's development in "Monster Talk: The Best or Just a Bust?"
Stephen Mark Rainey gives a thorough and favorable review of Tokyo Shock's DVD release of "The Mysterians."
A goodly portion of Teruyoshi Nakano's G-FEST XI interview is included, and it is the epitome of a great question-and-answer session; Mr. Nakano's answers are candid, humorous, and often genuinely surprising.
There is yet more enjoyable content in Issue 71, such as the 50th Anniversary Godzilla Soundtrack Perfect Collection Box # 1 by Richard Pusateri, Tom Tvrdik's third installment of his ornament series, eye-popping art artwork by Joylon Yates and Jeff Rebner, and Steve Agin's delightful toy parade.
Issue 71 is a fine example of how flexible a publication G-FAN can be. No less than thirty pages are devoted to GFW and its Hollywood premiere--and this momentous--perhaps once-in-a-lifetime--occasion deserved all the super-sized coverage it received.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Toybox Treasure: Translucent Godzilla

I've become pretty partial to these see-through Bandai figures--I just like the looks of them! This figure, a representation of the 1954 suit design, came home with us after G-FEST 16.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Five Fantastic Features of Godzilla (1954)

Fifty-five years have passed since Godzilla first lumbered ashore to obliterate Tokyo. In honor of that milestone (and the film's current Blu-ray release) here are five things I love about the original Japanese version of Godzilla.

5. The Context. Godzilla immediately transcended the already popular "monster-on-the-loose" genre because of its source--Japan. The story, which was at least partially inspired by The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, is given unusual gravity because it is played out in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the Lucky Dragon fishing boat incident, in which fisherman were exposed to high levels of radiation due to nuclear testing. Godzilla is what it is because of the setting--coming from any other culture on earth, it wouldn't have meant the same thing.

4. Consequences. Godzilla is unique in that it dwells upon the victims of the monster's attack, and does not shy away from depicting the suffering of those who survived. When Emiko cradles the wailing little girl in her arms in the disaster shelter, her heart breaks, and the viewer's does too. This sensitive approach to portraying human pain in the wake of destruction would never be precisely duplicated in another Godzilla film, and many wouldn't even try.

3. The Special Effects. This risks a "Duh!" from the reader, but they can hardly be omitted. The effects work in Godzilla creates a haunting netherworld that is both realistic and dreamlike. The fact that Godzilla is presented in black and white may enhance the perception that one is viewing something "historical," yet clearly outside of any normal experience. Godzilla's ponderous weight, sometimes conveyed through slow motion film speed, adds to the sense of impending doom, as he laboriously lays waste to the city. Some of the most memorable scenes for me are Godzilla's march through the trainyard and his peaceful respite at the bottom of the bay moments before the Oxygen Destroyer is released. I've also always loved the matte painting of Godzilla's footprints (and tail trail) on the beach of Odo Island.

2. The Music. Akira Ifukube's score is almost another character in Godzilla. It evokes emotion, often functions as a sound effect in itself, and even drives the action. After all, it is Dr. Serizawa's interaction with the hymnlike "Oh Peace, Oh Light Return" that finally convinces him to take action as only he can. Ifukube's contribution to the Godzilla mythos in incalculable. Maybe one could say (or already has) that if Eiji Tsuburaya gave Godzilla a body, Ifukube gave him a soul.

1. Akhiko Hirata's Performance as Dr. Serizawa. Hirata courageously rides the edge in his portrayal of the tortured Serizawa, yet never veers off into "mad scientist" caricature. The scene where he dispassionately burns his research notes is surprisingly moving, and beautifully anticipates the sacrifice he makes in keeping the Oxygen Destroyer a secret. Such acting is the norm in Godzilla and is perhaps an overlooked element in its enduring power.

As with any list, there were omissions (it was very hard not to type the name Takashi Shimura--ah, there, I did it) that probably deserve inclusion. As the saying goes, when you say "yes" to one thing, you're saying "no" to another. With that in mind, consider this a brief and incomplete salute to the greatest monster movie ever made: Godzilla!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

G-FAN #89 Is On The Way

On his blog, Brett Homenick reports that G-FAN #89 is heading to a mailbox near you...for more info click on this link:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Toybox Treasure: Aurora/Polar Lights Rodan

I've been hanging onto a Polar Lights Rodan model kit for a while, waiting for the day when Andy would be ready to have fun with it. That day arrived not long ago, when the male members of the household were left to their own devices.

One nice thing about this kit is that it simply snaps together. Glue and paint can (and will) be added later. It was a blast to go step by step through the directions--beginning with putting the tongue in Rodan's mouth! We both got a kick out of assembling the crushed cityscape, too, right down to the miniature car and streetlight. For a few moments, we became Toho set builders, crafting a scene for our boss, Mr. Tsuburaya--Friday night fun at its finest.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Godzilla in the Cleveland Plain Dealer

In last Sunday's Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio's major newspaper), Godzilla was mentioned in the Sunday Arts "Pop Ten" List. Julie E. Washington, Plain Dealer reporter, had this to say about Godzilla's release on Blu-ray:


In 1954, a black-and-white movie about a misunderstood mutant with radioactive breath created a genre, the Japanese monster movie. Classic Media releases the original and uncut version of "Gojira" ("Godzilla") for the first time on Blu-ray on Tuesday. The digitally remastered film includes featurettes and commentary. Japanese with subtitles, $29. 93.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Official Godzilla Compendium by J.D. Lees and Marc Cerasini

If The Official Godzilla Compendium had been published a quarter century ago (a non sequitur, of course, as the entire Heisei series didn't exist yet, but just go with me on this) I am quite sure that I would have memorized every last page, diagram and factoid. Instead, it came out in 1998--well past my brain-as-sponge stage--yet my enthusiasm for the subject matter is undiminished. J.D. Lees and Marc Cerasini reward the enthusiasm of G-Fans with the Compendium, a dream document for Godzilla buffs of any age.
Lees sets the table with a characteristically amiable introduction, in which he drills down to the core of our fascination with Godzilla, suggesting that the monster "has come to represent a successful struggle against overwhelming odds, the triumph of good over evil, and an escape from the world of the mundane..."
Then it's on to the movies. Each G-film is summarized and commented upon in a way that is both affectionate and informative. Diehard fans will appreciate the detailed sidebar information which lists release dates, cast, and credits for Japanese and American versions of each film. The commentaries "accentuate the positive" in each film, an approach that is refreshing and appropriate, especially if the Compendium is to serve as an introduction to the world of Godzilla. The authors are well aware that one fan's classic is another fan's turkey--so they elucidate the varied charms of each entry and leave polarizing opinion to other, more specific forums.

The full color pages at the center of the Compendium are a real treat, beginning with the original movie posters, which are exciting and kinetic, with multiple energy rays criss-crossing each other and just about every character from the movie--man or monster--patched into the composition. A fine Arthur Adams illustration compares the height of selected creatures to one another and the U.S. Capitol building. Dark Horse Comics and Random House books are featured, as are stills from the Heisei films.

The Monster Mania section is a compilation of topical articles that range from studied Godzilla analysis (Wardrobe! The Many Suits of Godzilla) to behind-the-scenes reportage (Inside Godzilla and Godzilla's Spare Parts) to hardcore paleontology (A Dinosaur Paleontologist's View of Godzilla) to light-hearted kaiju psychology (Godzilla as a Parenting Tool).
The final section is the self-explanatory Profiles of the Monsters, which is, to my knowledge, the most extensive English-language illustrated survey of Japanese monsters ever assembled. All relevant statistics are presented, including height, weight, powers, movie appearances, and (my favorite category) fight record! If you have ever wondered "Now, what's the difference between Minya, Baby Godzilla, Little Godzilla and Godzilla Junior?" (and, come on--who hasn't?) this section will give you the clarity you need.

The Official Godzilla Compendium is a pitch-perfect celebration of Godzilla's career, as it stood eleven years ago. One can only hope that an updated version might appear in the future, covering the Millenium series with the same eye for accuracy and congenial spirit found here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Toho in Time

The September 7th issue of Time magazine makes brief reference to the release of the "Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection." It is the featured DVD on the regular "Short List: Time's Picks for the Week" page.
Here's the text:
"From Ishiro Honda, the director who spawned Godzilla, come three parables of the early atomic age: The H-Man (oozy killers), Battle in Outer Space (a death-ray light show) and the immortal Mothra (yep, a giant moth). Catastrophe has rarely been so much fun."
"Short List" is compiled by Richard Corliss, Amy Lennard Goehner and Josh Tyrangiel.
Special thanks to my dad for bringing this to my attention!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Now Playing: Battle in Outer Space

1959's Battle in Outer Space sprints out of the gate with an awesomely realized outer space ambush, establishing that this film intends to be a special effects extravaganza. The opening credits roll to a booming Ifukube march (one of my favorites, which would be recycled for use in Godzilla vs. Gigan), and that is followed immediately by an atmospheric scene in which a flying saucer levitates a bridge, casuing a trian to plummet to the chasm below. What a start!

Inevitably, the pace slows as we meet the principal characters and they decide on an approach to warding off the extraterrestrial attack. However, the aliens from Natal are already a presence on earth, as demonstrated by the mind control of Dr. Ahmed, and the abduction and control of astronaut Iwomura (in an entertaining bit of acting by Yoshio Tsuchiya).

Soon, two Earth rockets are ready to launch, and the effects shots never really let up from that point. The pre-launch scenes are excellent in detail and composition, as are the shots of the rockets leaving Earth behind. The saucers and space torpedoes look fantastic throughout, glowing and pulsing eeriliy from within. The sound effects round out the presentation, with "classic" Toho sound signatures for saucers, laser beams, and general alien weirdness.

There are a few elements of Battle that are lackluster, and unfortunately they are fairly significant. The first shortcoming is the appearance of the Natal aliens. For most of the movie, they are unseen, hiding in their saucers or their moon base. When we finally do see these marauding invaders in a moon cavern, they look like...well, they look like children wearing stormtrooper helmets. Which is worse--a faceless, impersonal enemy, or one that looks like a trick-or-treater? Battle doesn't make you choose--it has both! The Natal aliens are a far cry from the colorful, manipulative Mysterians, and as a result, there's really no one to root against.

Secondly, the whole moon set piece seems to drag on too long, because the attack on the Natal moon base lacks any real dramatic tension. The earthlings land on the moon, travel in their rovers, and hike to a strategic vantage point, all so that they can stand at a distance and fire their heat ray weapon until a big puff of smoke rolls out of the Natal base. When someone volunteers to sneak into the base (Oh boy! Let's go!) he's told by the lead scientist, "It's out of the question" (Awwww!) Too bad.

In fairness, there is a memorable scene on the moon. When the mind-controlled Iwomura blows up one of the earth rockets, there is a genuine sense of peril, as in "how are they going to get back home--especially if Iwomura gets to Rocket #2?" Iwomura's repentant sacrifice on the moon is somewhat stirring, but it also robs us of Yoshio Tsuchiya for Act III of the movie, which is a shame. He is easily the most compelling cast member, and really makes the most of his screen time. Though he doesn't even recieve top billing, it seems to me that this is Tsuchiya's movie--he emerges as the star of Battle.

Well, the human star, anyway--the true star is the special effects department. Their work is mind-boggling at times. The standout scene occurs when the mothership saucer unleashes its vacuum ray on the city below. That image has come to define Battle among fans, and rightly so: forty years later, it is still astounding viewing.

Battle in Outer Space falls short of being a perfect sci-fi classic--the underwhelming cast (who admittedly are not given much to do), by-the-numbers alien invasion plot and a few too many visible wires keep it from reaching its potential--but it still sports some ingenious visuals, an intense performance from Yoshio Tsuchiya, and it gives full expression to director Ishiro Honda's vision of international cooperation in the face of a common enemy.

Eighteen years before Star Wars stormed the silver screen, Battle in Outer Space conjured up dreamlike scenes of space dogfights, laser battles, and interstellar travel. It may not be the reason to pick up the "Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection," but fans of the Toho team responsible for Godzilla will be glad this diverting, ambitious film is included.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Beta Capsule Reviews: GMK & Gamera

September 5th was the first time since G-Fest 16 (see photo on left) that Andy and I watched Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack (I love the elegance of the Japanese title: Daikaiju Sokogeki). Once again I was struck by the overall look of the film, and was confirmed in my opinion that GMK stars the most fearsome Godzilla of them all. I like the cast and the way the father/daughter relationship at the center of the story is portrayed. The build-up to and execution of the fight between Baragon and Godzilla is expertly done. To me, GMK totally succeeds as an "alternative universe" Godzilla story. In that regard it reminds me of the Superman comics that told stories that "may or may not ever happen."

1995's Gamera: Guardian of the Universe just might be the best kaiju movie of the 1990's. That is no disrespect to the Godzilla movies of the same era--it's just that Gamera is loaded with stuff that makes me pump a fist in excitement. Director Shusuke Kaneko re-imagined Gamera's origins, as he would later do with the monsters of GMK, but no matter; the main attraction is the occasionally endearingly clunky, more often brilliant effects work. Included in this briskly paced tale are "tips of the cap" to the original Gamera's flying style (as a whirling turtle-shell saucer) and the "dinosaur scat" scene from Jurassic Park. The best part about Gamera: Guardian of the Universe is that it marries new school special effects with the ebullient spirit of old school kaiju eiga. When this film was released, it was a genuine surprise to many, and fourteen years later it is still a joyride.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Toybox Treasure: Shogun Warriors Godzilla

What really needs to be said about the Shogun Warriors Godzilla? It is the quintessential 7o's American Godzilla toy, of course. The cool thing about this S.W. Godzilla is that I got it at about the same age that Andy is now. I am proud to report that Godzilla's spring-loaded hand still fires an impressive shot. (The flame-breath lever...that's another story.) The best part is, well, look at the picture, and insert a thousand words about the shared loves of fathers and sons.

Friday, September 11, 2009

G-FAN Magazine # 53 "When Buildings Really Fell"

Issue 53 was published in the immediate wake of 9/11/01. As such, it reflects the shock and sadness of that terrifying day. And it also wrestles with a vaild question, given the context: After 9/11, how can entertainment featuring urban destruction (i.e. kaiju eiga) ever be considered enjoyable again?

I recall dealing with that very issue in the time following 9/11. I had purchased a copy of Godzilla 2000, and at some point after the tragedy I began watching it. However, there was a scene where a UFO causes a building to collapse in "pancake" fashion, and I had to turn it off. It was just too close to what I had actually witnessed on televison. I was profoundly sad for the victims and their families. And in an infinitely less significant way, I was sad that a child-like enjoyment of cinematic fantasy seemed to have been robbed of me. It felt like a new world in which a Godzilla film was no longer appropriate.

Issue 53 acknowledges those mixed feelings in a thoughtful article by Mike Bogue ("Terrorism and Godzilla's Future"), a balanced editorial by J.D. Lees, and honest fan reaction in the G-Mail section. Wisely, no easy answers to the post-9/11 Godzilla conundrum are suggested. J.D. Lees makes a case for an enduring appreciation of Godzilla's noble qualities, while maintaining a sensitive, respectful tone towards those whose fandom was in flux.

One would think, then, that this issue would be freighted with such baggage as to make it unreadable, but that is hardly the case. Instead, the articles themselves reveal what the fan intuitively knows: kaiju fandom is about wonder and imagination, not nihilistic destruction. Beginning with awe-inspiring recaps of three Japanese exhibitions (Eiji Tsuburaya, Gamera, and Ultraman, respectively), Issue 53 is a creative response to creative filmic events. It offers illuminating in-depth interviews with the men responsible for Marvel Comics' GODZILLA series, artist Herb Trimpe and writer Doug Moench. A Giant Robo epsiode guide begins, covering the first thirteen episodes. Shinichi Wakasa, the man responsible for the Millenium Godzilla suit design, is interviewed at satisying length about his career in monster making. Skip Peel's fan fiction winningly covers an Xian/Kilaak war. Mike Bogue reminisces about the days when hunting for Godzilla movies in the pre-video age made the viewing of G-fims more of an "event." J.D. Lees puts the spotlight on other great fanzines such as Mad Scientist and Calling Monster Island. Armand Vaquer closes out the issue with a voyage into what looked like a kaiju paradise: Showcase Collectibles in Atlanta, Georgia. And there is still more in the way of reviews, opinion, fan artwork, and the sharing of memories and experiences involving giant monster movies. Without really intending to be, Issue 53 is a bold response to the creeping anxiety that pervaded our culture at the time of its publication. It somewhat defiantly implied that there were still things worth our enjoyment--and that we will continue to create and imagine even in the face of evil.
Am I overstating things a bit? Maybe. All I know is that eight years later, the United States has mercifully been spared another 9/11, G-FAN still arrives in the mail four times a year, and my son and I are probably going to watch a Godzilla movie tonight. You can judge for yourself how important each of those things are. As for me--I'm pretty thankful for each one.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Honest Scrap Award

Erick from Akron sent me the "Honest Scrap" award recently, which I sincerely appreciate. It's great to know that people are reading and enjoying the blog. When you receive the "Honest Scrap" award, you are encouraged to do two things: (1) list ten blogs you enjoy and (2) list ten things about yourself. So here goes:

Blogs I Enjoy

Perry Library's Children's Literature Blog

Armand Vaquer's Blog

August Ragone's Blog

Go Go Godzilla Blog

Giant Monster Blog

Terry Pluto Blog

Rev. Matt Harrison's blog

Rev. Lincoln Winter's blog

Tolkien blog


10 Things about Me

1. I have a wonderful wife and a six-year-old son. They're my "pride and joy."

2. My high school (Valley Lutheran High School, Saginaw MI) golf team won the first regional championship in school history.

3. During my late college years, I was part of a rap group that recorded two self-produced albums and did shows in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

4. While studying to become a pastor, I worked at a Disney Store in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The best perk was getting free passes to Disneyland.

5. I have hiked "The Narrows" gorge at Zion National Park in Utah. Incredible.

6. I've seen many of my favorite musicians in concert, such as Buddy Guy, Wynton Marsalis, Frank Marino and B.B King.

7. My dad took me to see Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster, Godzilla vs. Megalon, and Godzilla on Monster Island during their first (and in some cases only) theatrical runs.

8. My family and I attended our first G-Fest this past summer and got to meet Kenji Sahara (Rodan, Ultra Q, King Kong vs. Godzilla, The Mysterians, and many more) and see kaiju eiga in the Pickwick Theater. J.D. Lees, the publisher of G-FAN, was nice enough to have his picture taken with us.

9. For the past two years, I've played the part of "The Herald" in our church community's "Boar's Head Festival." Check it out at

10. In sincerely appreciate your interest in Monsterland Ohio--it is fun for me to push my writing in another direction and share my enthusiasm for the imaginative world of Japanese special effects films!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Godzilla at the Geauga County Fair

Here at Monsterland Ohio we pride ourselves on keeping an eye out for kaiju in everyday life, but even we were surprised to run across Godzilla at the county fair!

Even though we don't live in Geauga County, we've been attending their fair for about nine years. Since Andy came along, our favorite display is found in the Fine Arts building, where along with tons of cool Lego creations and action figure collections, there are paintings, drawings, photography, woodworking, and sculpting.
We had just walked in and started to look
around when Andy pointed to a glass-enclosed case with a look of great excitement crossing his face. Sure enough, there was a
originally designed Godzilla looking back at us! The figure stood about seven inches tall, and appeared to be modeled after the suit used in Terror of Mechagodzilla. The texture of the "skin" looked just right. Not only were we thrilled to have spotted the Big G at our humble local fair, but as we drew closer we saw that he had earned first place in the ceramics division! Congratulations to Moises R. Carrasco of Hudson, Ohio for his prize-winning entry--and here's hoping that many more G-Fans will be able to enjoy his work. It certainly made our evening at the fair extra memorable!

Monday, September 7, 2009

G-FAN Magazine #23 "G is for Gamera"

Issue 23 hearkens back to an exciting time for kaiju fans; GINO (Godzilla In Name Only) had yet to be released, and Western fans were receiving word that Gamera 2 met or exceeded expectations raised by Guardian of the Universe. For that latter reason, Gamera dominates this issue--Ed Godziszewski, Norman England, Hikari Takeda, and Kyle Smith each offer their reactions to Gamera vs. Legion, and the consensus is that the film is incredible.

Skip Peel's "A Conversation with Zigra" is imaginative, humorous fan fiction of the highest order. Frank Parr's pen and ink drawings are striking, especially the centerspread "Gamera Battle Royal." "The Other Side of Toho" by John Rocco Roberto is an overview of Toho's non-G sci-fi and fantasy films (many of which are now widely available). Stan Hyde writes an insider's guide to "Building Godzilla in Resin and Vinyl" that could almost persuade the modeling newbie to take the leap. J.D. Lees reviews the Random House wave of books that preceded the TriStar movie, and G-CON 96 is reviewed in pictures.
I especially enjoyed the variety of opinions expressed in the eleven-page G-Mail section (interspersed with outstanding fan artwork) and the "old school" toy and collectible advertisements. It is very interesting to compare them with what is being offered thirteen years later.
Issue 23 hits all of the spots one expects G-FAN to hit. It also makes one long for the sense of anticipation related to an imminent theatrical kaiju eiga release. It comes through in the Gamera 2 articles--that "I can't wait to see that movie" sensation--so here's hoping that some slumbering daikaiju will soon awake to rampage across the silver screen once again!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Toybox Treasure: Fire Mothra

In honor of the "Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection" release, I present to you Bandai's 2004 "Fire Mothra" from Godzilla: Final Wars. She cuts an impressive figure soaring protectively over our G-collection. Fire Mothra was summoned telepathically from the Clawmark Toys booth at G-Fest 16.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Now Playing: Mothra

Strange as it is to admit, the "Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection" has given me my first exposure to Mothra. It was worth the thirty-some-odd-year wait. I do not think I am overstating it when I say that Mothra is a masterpiece. A unique convergence of talent and imagination, Mothra must be included in the discussion of the greatest kaiju movies ever.

The story is at once simple and thematically rich; an unscrupulous Carl Denham-type kidnaps twin fairy-sized girls from a mysterious island. In response to their telepathic cries, Mothra comes to Japan to rescue them. This rescue mission will involve mass destruction, but unlike Godzilla (and almost any other kaiju) Mothra's motivation is noble. That Mothra is to be taken as a type of savior is made fairly explicit by the repeated use of Christian imagery. That is not to say that Mothra was ever intended as Christian allegory--although Mothra does die (as a larva in a cocoon) and rise again (as a kaiju moth) in order to save the "Little Beauties." At the very least, Mothra is invested with salvific qualities, resulting in a film that, while employing them, also transcends standard "monster-on-the-loose" conventions.

Enhancing the thought-provoking plot is an excellent cast. The list of players reads like a Toho kaiju eiga "Who's Who," with Akhiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, and Kenji Sahara in small supporting roles. However, the featured roles are occupied by actors not necessarily typical to monster films, giving the human story of Mothra a noticable vitality.

Jerry Ito's performance as villain Clark Nelson is dynamic, and apparently against type--he was a beloved, multifaceted, successful entertainer. Frankie Sakai comes close to stealing the show as comedic (and heroic) reporter "Snapping Turtle" ("Bulldog" in the American dub) Fukuda, and has an unforced, respectful chemistry with his photographer partner, played by Kyoko Kagawa. Hiroshi Koizumi is convincing as the morally upright linguist Dr. Chujo. And then there's Emi and Yumi Ito, who lend the "Little Beauties" a sincere, otherworldy quality that makes it easy to accept the fantastic nature of their characters.

Speaking of the "Shobijin," one cannot deny that among the many other things that it is, Mothra is also a musical. The decision to have Mothra scored by Yuji Koseki and not Akira Ifukube was wise; the deliverer queen of Infant Island required lighter, more graceful musical accompaniment than the awesome dissonant thunder Ifukube created for Godzilla. The "Mothra Song" is still a showstopper 48 years later, not to mention that, as it invokes the assistance of a gigantic, sentient moth, is wholly unlike any song ever featured in a major motion picture.

Then there are the visual effects. While a few scenes strain "suspension of disbelief" to the breaking point, the vast majority of effects are quite believable, and, more significantly, some are indistinguishable as "special effects." With the exception of two brief moments during their abduction, the Little Beauties blend seamlessly into their surroundings. The number, variety, and scope of the miniature sets are astounding. Most crucially, Mothra is distressing in larval form and majestic in flight; a creature of both vengeance and grace.

Don't wait as long as I did to see Mothra. It is entertainment on a grand scale, filled with an unapologetic sense of wonder. Bold and colorful; at turns thoughtful, awe-inspiring and humorous, Mothra re-imagined what a monster movie could be.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Calling Monster Island Magazine #6

This issue of CMI came along with Mad Scientist #8 in the eBay auction I won. I had no idea what kind of fanzine it would be, save for the great artwork I had glimpsed in G-FAN and Mad Scientist. I can happily report that Calling Monster Island is a treat, carving out its own unique niche in monster fandom. Ted Seko and Mark Jiro Okui are responsible for all the content, art and articles. The style is informal yet informative, with a focus on individual remembrance of sci-fi, horror, and fantasy media.
The graphic article "A Toy Store Story" is an excellent example. In it, Ted Seko artistically takes us back to great toy stores of his youth, "even though," he writes, "they're just memories."
Seko's "1975" centerspread is a wonderful idea elegantly rendered. In a pen and ink style that almost looks like woodcut, Seko integrates Mazinger, Mechagodzilla, Rollerball, Linda Carter as Wonder Woman, The Six Million Dollar Man, Go Ranger and Deathlok into a sci-fi stew that was being served all at once in 1975.
Mark Jiro Okui's "What Scared Me As A Kid" will bring a knowing smile to any "monster kid's" face, and his memories of meeting Robert Quarry (Count Yorga) and Forrest J Ackerman (Famous Monsters of Filmland) are detailed and entertaining.
Okui writes of Forrest J Ackerman, "He has taken something he loves and kept his sense of wonder alive for himself and others." The same could be said for the authors and illustrators of Calling Monster Island. Warm and personal in tone, CMI is like spending time with a good friend.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Toybox Treasures: Straight from Japan

Yesterday was an exciting mail day: the postman brought not one but two packages from Japan! (Thanks again, eBay!) The first, that you see above, is a gashapon (capsule toy) Mechagodzilla
that stands a whopping 1.5" tall, but is so detailed that he has the "MG" on his shoulder! His arms swivel so you can position him to fire finger missles at other tiny opponents.
Below you see "wounded wing" Rodan (see the crack?), a Bandai reissue of the classic Bullmark design. I knew about the damage ahead of time, but could not pass up the opportunity to own one of these beauties. (The price was really right.) The figure was carefully wrapped in a Japanese newspaper, which held a fascination of its own. Included with the figure was a nice note from the seller, which said, "As a Japanese, I truly appreciate you are interested in Japanese Kaiju items. Thank you again very much!" To which my son said, "Wow! We have Japanese friends now!" That's a nice thought to have...and is part of the fun of being a fan.