Film Review: Kaiju Bunraku (2017)

Release Date: March, 2017 (Glasgow Short Film Festival)
Directed by: Lucas Leyva, Jillian Mayer
Written by: Lucas Leyva

Borscht, 13 Minutes

Review:

A short film made in America about two cool things from Japanese culture coming together? Count me in!

This short was a great homage to the art of bunraku, which are Japanese puppets usually used on the stage to act out historical dramas. It’s also a good homage to old school kaiju films, especially those put out by Toho, as this actually features Mothra and includes the sound effects of Godzilla’s iconic roar.

The story is about a husband and wife in the era of feudal Japan. They are trying to reach shelter, as a kaiju attack is happening near their village. The big finale sees the husband come face to face with the larva form of Mothra.

There’s not much else to say about it, as it is really short. I almost would have liked to have seen this concept in a broader sense but it was probably a difficult endeavor in trying to create the 13 minutes that we got here.

I did enjoy it nonetheless. The puppetry was well done, the puppets, especially the Mothra one, were beautiful and the story was interesting.

All in all, this was a great concept but this film feels more like an experiment and a light exploration of that experiment. I’d like to see the filmmakers do something bigger with the idea because I think it deserves further exploration.

But if you like kaiju, bunraku or just Japanese culture in general, this is a cool way to spend 13 minutes.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the kaiju film that inspired it, 1964’s Mothra vs. Godzilla, as well as the short films of Niki Lindroth von Bahr.

Film Review: Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Also known as: Kaijū Sōshingeki (Japan), All Monsters Attack (alternate), Monster Attack March (alternate), Operation Monsterland (UK alternate)
Release Date: August 1st, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Takeshi Kimura, Ishirō Honda
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Kubo, Jun Tazaki, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kenji Sahara

Toho, 88 Minutes

Review:

This was the Shōwa era Godzilla film that literally had it all. It was jam packed full of kaiju, had aliens and a ton of kaiju action and really good action sequences that didn’t even involve monsters. It isn’t the best Godzilla film of its era but it is probably the film that is the most fun. And when I am introducing friends to the Shōwa era and old school kaiju pictures, this is usually the one I pop on just for the non-stop action and overabundance of giant monsters.

Usually these sort of films get convoluted by trying to wedge in too much. Look at the modern Avengers movies versus the solo Marvel films. Destroy All Monsters throws a dozen kaiju at you but they all mostly get to shine without stepping on anyone’s toes or complicating the plot. Granted, a few were used minimally but that was due to their rubber suits being in bad condition due to age and the effects of previous films.

While the story here is decent for a kaiju picture, it really doesn’t matter. This is the Royal Rumble of Godzilla movies and all these fantastic creatures come together. Initially, they are controlled by evil aliens and attack different parts of the world. Godzilla even takes out the United Nations building in New York City. Eventually, the monsters are free from alien control, which brings in King Ghidorah because every sinister alien group seems to have a Batphone to King Ghidorah’s study in his stately manor.

The highlight of the film is when all the good monsters gang up on Ghidorah and just kick the living shit out of him. I love Ghidorah but the mud hole stomping finale is friggin’ glorious! Then the film is capped off by our Earth heroes in a cool ship fighting a phoenix. I mean, really? How cool is this movie?

Eiji Tsuburaya handled the special effects, Ishirō Honda returned as director and Akira Ifukube returned to score the film. Honda and Ifukube took a hiatus from the series, after being instrumental in giving it life and longevity. The reason for their return, is that this was initially planned to be the final picture for Godzilla. However, Toho didn’t even make it a year before they were working on All Monsters Attack a.k.a. Godzilla’s Revenge, a universally panned sequel but probably gets a worse rap than it deserves.

This film is set in the future, at least at the time of its release, so the chronology is a bit confusing after this movie but I’ve always seen this as the real final chapter and the Shōwa films that came out after this one as events that happened before this picture. So when King Ghidorah dies here, he really dies and his return later in the series in Godzilla vs. Gigan was set before Destroy All Monsters.

I love Destroy All Monsters. It is not my favorite Godzilla picture but it is exciting for old school kaiju fans.

Ranking All the Kaiju of the Toho Godzilla Universe

The Godzilla universe spans seven decades, four different Japanese eras and two American remakes. In that long history, he has fought many deadly foes and had several awesome allies. However, the franchise expands beyond that as well, as some monsters that had their own films have crossed over into Godzilla movies, comics and video games. Toho has created a massive kaiju universe over the years and even if there are different eras and continuities, in some way, all these monsters exist in the same general realm.

So I feel the need to quantify these awesome giant beasts with a list. Because I like making lists and who the hell doesn’t like reading lists. Sure, our opinions may differ but that’s what the comments area is for. So feel free to list your favorites and discuss the results.

Also, I included the MUTOs from the American film for comparison’s sake.

How am I ranking these? Well, it is a combination of who is the most powerful, bad ass and the coolest. And of course, number one should not be a surprise.

1. Godzilla
2. Mothra Leo
3. Destoroyah
4. Monster X (Keizer Ghidorah)
5. Mecha-King Ghidorah
6. Biollante
7. Cretaceous King Ghidorah
8. Shin Godzilla
9. Fire Rodan
10. Gigan (Millennium)
11. King Ghidorah
12. Dagahra
13. Mechagodzilla (Showa)
14. Desghidorah
15. King Caesar
16. Mechagodzilla/Kiryu (Millennium)
17. King Kong
18. Mothra
19. Zone Fighter
20. Godzilla Junior
21. Gigan (Showa)
22. Rodan
23. Anguirus
24. Jet Jaguar
25. Mechani-Kong
26. Hedorah
27. Space Godzilla
28. Mechagodzilla (Heisei)
29. Gargantuan Sanda
30. Battra
31. Orga
32. Varan
33. Gargantuan Gaira
34. Megaguirus
35. MUTO (female)
36. Frankenstein
37. Megalon
38. Dogora
39. Gezora
40. Baragon
41. M.O.G.U.E.R.A. (Heisei)
42. Ebirah
43. Titanosaurus
44. MUTO (male)
45. Gabara
46. Moguera (Showa)
47. Manda
48. Kumonga
49. Ganimes
50. Gorosaurus
51. Kamoebas
52. Maguma
53. Kamacuras
54. Meganulon
55. Giant Octopus
56. Giant Sea Serpent
57. Minya
58. Giant Condor
59. Zilla

Film Review: Mothra (1961)

Also known as: Mosura (Japan)
Release Date: June 30th, 1961 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Based on: a story in Asahi Shimbun by Shinichiro Nakamura, Takehiko Fukunaga, Yoshie Hotta
Music by: Yuji Koseki
Cast: Frankie Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi, Kyoko Kagawa, The Peanuts, Ken Uehara, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 101 Minutes

Review:

Mothra is the most famous Toho kaiju after Godzilla. Even though he started out in this film, his very own movie, it was probably a nobrainer to bring him into the larger Godzilla mythos. But before all that, there was Mothra and frankly, it was great revisiting this monster in his debut solo flick.

In a change of pace, Mothra’s introduction is due to people messing with his island. He doesn’t come to Japan because he’s just some rampaging beast. A bunch of jerks stole the Shobijin, who are two miniature female twins from Infant Island. Mothra crashes Japan to find the Shobijin and to return them to their home.

The special effects are amazingly handled by Eiji Tsuburaya. The miniatures were great and the heat ray trucks were a prototype for the maser weapon trucks that would be used throughout Godzilla films forever after this movie.

Mothra, as a creature, was the most beautiful and ornate kaiju of his day. Tsuburaya pulled off the creature effects superbly and the art department did a fine job in decorating the monster.

It is more fun to see Mothra rough it up with other monsters but even though he is the only creature in this film, it still plays well. It is similar to Rodan in that it didn’t need to rely on other kaiju to be a success and to leave a mark on the genre.

To this day, Mothra is still incredibly popular. A version of the creature also had its own trilogy in the late 1990s, after popping up in that era’s Godzilla movies.

Mothra will probably just always be around. In fact, Mothra’s first American incarnation is coming in Legendary Pictures’ upcoming Godzilla 2.

As for Mothra, the movie, if you are a kaiju fan, this is a must-see.

Film Review: Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)

Also known as: Gojira, Ebira, Mosura Nankai no Daikettō (Japan), Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster (US)
Release Date: December 17th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Akira Takarada, Kumi Mizuno, Chotaro Togin, Hideo Sunazuka, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 87 Minutes

Review:

Like Son of Godzilla, which came out one year after this, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep is a Godzilla island movie. Due to budgetary reasons, Toho did a string of Godzilla and other kaiju pictures on islands or in other wilderness expanses. While primarily filmed indoors like other kaiju flicks, these movies didn’t require sets made up of miniature metropolitan areas. Typically, the movies used a lot of water and just rocks, mounds of dirt and fake shrubbery. Some people disliked Toho cheapening out, I actually love these movies for providing the genre with a nice change of pace, environmentally speaking. There was just something cool and primal about seeing kaiju duke it out in nature.

This was originally written as a King Kong film but Rankin-Bass, the studio who owned the rights at the time in the U.S., rejected it. Unfortunately, this deprived fans of seeing King Kong tangle with Mothra. Toho altered the script to feature Godzilla and the rest is history.

In this, the seventh of the Godzilla movies, we see a group of men get shipwrecked after a storm and tangling with a giant crustacean creature. On the island, they meet a girl who has escaped from being enslaved like some of her other people. The island is controlled by an evil military terrorist group called the Red Bamboo. While hiding out from the evil men, out heroes discover Godzilla hibernating in a cave. Our heroes end up waking up the King of Monsters in an effort to crush the Red Bamboo and to help defeat Ebirah, the giant crustacean that won’t let anyone leave the island. Mothra also shows up to help rescue the enslaved people who came from Infant Island, where Mothra is worshipped as a deity.

Godzilla doesn’t really do anything until after the halfway point in the film. It doesn’t matter though, as the human story regarding our heroes and their run-ins with the Red Bamboo is entertaining enough. Godzilla showing up later is just a really cool bonus. Ebirah is also a cool monster, even if he isn’t as bizarre or as iconic as some of the other Toho kaiju baddies.

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep is a really fun movie. That isn’t hard to achieve, being that Godzilla is in this thing, but it is fun with or without the legendary monster. It would have been cool to learn more about the Red Bamboo or to have them show up in a later movie but this was a one-off for them, as most sinister groups in Toho films aren’t around for more than one picture. It seems like a missed opportunity though. Instead of several villainous groups, Toho could have had a consistent evil organization like Spectre or Hydra or Cobra.

I love this film. Something about it just resonates with me. I like the island Godzilla movies a lot. Maybe it is because I grew up in a coastal tropical area or because of my love for all things Tiki or South Pacific.

Film Review: Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Also known as: Gojira: Fainaru Wōzu (Japan)
Release Date: November 29th, 2004 (World Premiere)
Directed by: Ryuhei Kitamura
Written by: Isao Kiriyama, Wataru Mimura
Music by: Keith Emerson, Nobuhiko Morino, Daisuke Yano
Cast: Masahiro Matsuoka, Rei Kikukawa, Don Frye, Maki Mizuno, Kazuki Kitamura, Kane Kosugi, Jun Kunimura, Akira Takarada, Tsutomu Kitagawa

Toho, 125 Minutes

godzillafinalwarsReview:

Godzilla: Final Wars, which came out in 2004, was the last of the Godzilla films to come out of Japan (until 2016’s Shin Gojira). Additionally, it was made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Godzilla. In doing so, the filmmakers at Toho decided to throw just about every monster they have ever created into this one movie. That being said, the word “epic” is a vast understatement to what this film was. Although, just so we’re clear, epic isn’t a synonym for “good”.

This film was at times glorious and at times hard to look at. The plot was recycled Godzilla shtick: alien race comes to Earth, alien race tricks people, alien race brainwashes monsters, alien race turns monsters against us, alien race makes monsters attack world capitals, Godzilla shows up, bigger mayhem ensues. Now I’m not knocking the formula because frankly, I don’t care that much about what the story is, as long as big monsters get to tear the crap out of each other for my enjoyment.

That being said, never has there been more kaiju violence in one place than in this film. Once Godzilla is reintroduced to us after his exile, he goes ape shit and runs through every monster like he’s playing Mortal Kombat III. Every second of Godzilla bad assery, I loved. It completely rectified any flaw that this film had and it went on for what seemed like forever. It was like a kaiju Royal Rumble match and Godzilla was that big unstoppable hero who drew number 30 – only to show up late to the party fresh and ready to crack every skull.

So what was wrong with the film? Well, in some instances, monsters were dudes in traditional rubber suits. In other instances, monsters were 100 percent CGI. The mixture of CGI vs. rubber monsters was odd and it just didn’t click. I’ve always been a fan of practical effects, although CGI doesn’t entirely irritate me. However, to mix the two so blatantly and so poorly kind of magnifies the flaws in both. Where effects should blend in and look real, having two differing styles together on the screen, at the same time, makes both styles look worse. I get that this was probably a cost-cutting measure due to the immensity and scope of this film but c’mon, the Godzilla franchise has made billions in fifty years. They could’ve fattened the budget a bit more or just cut out half of the unnecessary human versus alien special effects segments, which wouldn’t be horribly missed.

Speaking of which, the human parts of the film just felt like a really bad Underworld rip-off, which is itself a really bad Matrix rip-off. I liked how they structured the general plot but most of it was over-the-top and kind of tedious to watch. The only real highlight was the American general who looked like a thicker Tom Selleck with a generic American tough guy voice. He was certainly a caricature of what Japanese people see from a blockbuster bad ass American military leader but it worked. He was also played by MMA legend and pro-wrestling bad ass, Don Frye.

This isn’t what I’d call a good film or even close to being the best in the Godzilla mythos but it was supremely enjoyable and a bit of a gem in regards to the non-stop kaiju violence. In the end, I was more than satisfied.

Besides, if you love Godzilla, you aren’t going to let a few flaws ruin the movie.