Film Review: Seven Samurai (1954)

Also known as: Shichinin no Samurai (Japan), The Magnificent Seven (US premiere title)
Release Date: April 26th, 1954 (Japan)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
Music by: Fumio Hayasaka
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, Isao Kimura, Daisuke Katō, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Inaba, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara, Kokuten Kōdō, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Eijirō Tōno, Jun Tatara, Atsushi Watanabe, Yoshio Kosugi, Bokuzen Hidari, Yukiko Shimazaki

Toho Co. Ltd., 207 Minutes, 160 Minutes (international), 202 Minutes (2002 re-release), 150 Minutes (original cut), 190 Minutes (1991 re-release), 207 Minutes (restored), 202 Minutes (DVD)

Review:

“What do you think of farmers? You think they’re saints? Hah! They’re foxy beasts! They say, “We’ve got no rice, we’ve no wheat. We’ve got nothing!” But they have! They have everything! Dig under the floors! Or search the barns! You’ll find plenty! Beans, salt, rice, sake! Look in the valleys, they’ve got hidden warehouses! They pose as saints but are full of lies! If they smell a battle, they hunt the defeated! They’re nothing but stingy, greedy, blubbering, foxy, and mean! God damn it all!” – Kikuchiyo

Akira Kurosawa is absolutely one of the greatest film directors to ever live. Hell, he could be the best but there are other elite talents in that discussion and taste is subjective.

But for a man that is such a master of his craft, it is hard to imagine that there is one film that stands above all the others. This is that film.

Seven Samurai is at or near the top of most legit film critics all-time best lists. It is cinematic perfection, a film of the highest artistic caliber. I can’t call it my favorite of all-time but it is definitely the king of Asian cinema and boasts a story so rich and beloved that it has gone on to inspire countless other movies, television shows, novels, comics and stage plays.

I know that I am really talking the film up but what I’m saying is not an oversell. From top to bottom, everything about Seven Samurai is top notch. So good, in fact, that it is hard to break it all down and review it.

The direction is superb, the acting is captivating and convincing, the narrative and the plot’s pacing are intriguing and perfect, this boasts incredible cinematography, lighting, shot framing and employs an understanding of mise en scène that allows this film to exist on a level that most other filmmakers will never be able to achieve.

Seven Samurai is truly a perfect storm. It is one of those films that I assume that everyone claiming to be a “film aficionado” has seen.

Sure, it is very long, which is something I tend to be annoyed by with many films but there isn’t a dull moment and every scene has genuine purpose.

But I also get that a three and a half hour, subtitled, black and white movie about samurai and farmers in 1500s Japan won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s also not as action packed as action fans would hope for but the combat situations are still quite compelling.

This is a drama more than it is an action or adventure story, however. But that is also why this stands shoulders above other films in the jidaigeki genre. Seven Samurai is about life, perseverance and heroism. It is a tale that most people are familiar with and should love.

If you’ve made it this far in life and have never seen the film but fancy yourself a real film fan, you need to correct that injustice. You owe it to yourself.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other films by Akira Kurosawa: The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Kagemusha, Throne of Blood, Ikiru, Rashomon, etc.

Film Review: Godzilla (1954)

Also known as: Gojira (original Japanes title), Godzilla: King of Monsters! (US version)
Release Date: November 3rd, 1954 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata, Ishirō Honda
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Kenji Sahara, Raymond Burr (US version)

Toho, 96 Minutes (original), 80 Minutes (US version)

Review:

“I can’t believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its species… But if we continue conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again.” – Kyohei Yamane-hakase

There are two different versions of this film: the original Japanese version, which was released to theaters in 1954, as well as the English language American version from 1956 that featured new scenes starring Raymond Burr.

This is primarily a review of the original Japanese version of the film, as it is the superior version, in my opinion. Also, the American version loses some of the context and political themes within the picture.

Out of all the Godzilla movies ever made, there are now over thirty, this one is still the best of the lot. It’s just got such a dark and brooding nature that the tone is vastly different than the more kid friendly entries that would follow it. And I’m not saying that I don’t love kid friendly Godzilla, because that’s the Godzilla I fell in love with, but this is a film that had a deeper and more meaningful purpose than just counting kaiju sized piles of cash.

Godzilla makes a very bold statement, a statement that can still be felt today and it is still very relevant.

For those who might not know, Godzilla was created as a commentary on the horrors of nuclear bombs and their side effects. Coming out less than a decade after Japan was bombed by the United States to end World War II, the Japanese were certainly justified in making an artistic condemnation of nuclear technology. Plus, mass destruction was something that everyone in Japan had already lived through and it was still very fresh in their memories.

While the film gives us mass destruction in a different way, Godzilla, the monster, is unleashed on Japan due to the use of nuclear bombs and his rampage throughout the film is just as catastrophic. But at least with the monster in the movie, the Japanese people were able to find a way to defend themselves and bring the horror to an end on their own terms. That’s not to say that another Godzilla doesn’t show up later but within this movie, Japan perseveres, even if it comes at a great cost.

The special effects in this are dynamite, especially considering that this came out in 1954 and was made by a country that didn’t have the resources of a big budget American studio. Eiji Tsuburaya was the man behind the effects and his work here created a whole new genre, which would make his career, as he would go on to do many kaiju films for Toho, as well as creating his own studio, Tsuburaya Productions. Tsuburaya would later create the Ultraman franchise and other famous franchises beloved by the Japanese and fans of kaiju and tokusatsu films and television.

This was director Ishirō Honda’s big break and doing this film would pave the way for the rest of his career, as well. He ended up directing a ton of Godzilla movies, as well as other kaiju and tokusatsu pictures for Toho. In fact, he was pretty much the godfather of the two, overlapping genres.

Godzilla is a chilling film. The monster is truly a monster, which fans of the later films might be shocked by. It is this film that had the greatest impact on moviegoers upon its release, however, and it is why every single Godzilla reboot goes back to this well and presents the title character as a true harbinger of doom.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other Shōwa era Godzilla movies.

Film Review: Godzilla: The Planet Eater (2018)

Also known as: Gojira: Hoshi Wo Kû Mono (original Japanese title), Godzilla Part 3: The Planet Eater (full title)
Release Date: November 3rd, 2018 (TIFF)
Directed by: Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by: Gen Urobuchi
Music by: Takayuki Hattori
Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Sugita, Yuki Kaji

Toho, 90 Minutes

Review:

Well, I wasn’t too keen on the first two chapters in the Godzilla anime trilogy but I watched those pictures, so I thought I should watch the finale in an effort to see if this brought all of the movies together in a meaningful way.

Sadly, this was pretty much as dull as the other two.

I still can’t get behind the animation and how it is a mish mash of traditional hand drawn animation and CGI. The mix of the two never works for me. I get why they do this but it just makes a project feel rushed and cheap. Sure, the CGI is of good quality but it is still cheaper than having skilled animators draw out every frame of the more ambitious action sequences.

Also, maybe they had to rush this because they thought people would lose interest if it took Toho ten years to put out a solid hand drawn trilogy. But with that being said, people can’t lose interest in something if the first release doesn’t generate any interest to begin with.

I’m not saying that these films don’t have their fans, they do. What I’m saying is that they could have had more and these films could have been something exceptional with the time and care put into them.

Now having seen the complete body of work, I don’t think I’m out of line in saying that this is just a superficial project used to capitalize off of an existing (and lucrative) IP that will just waste away on Netflix without much real fanfare. Other than having the distinction of being the first official Godzilla anime in history, this is pretty damn forgettable.

I’m a massive Godzilla fan. I love old school tokusatsu and kaiju franchises pretty immensely. But I don’t think that I’ll ever have the urge to revisit any of these ever again.

But I also can’t ignore the skill and craftsmanship that went into this, even if it wasn’t created in the way that I would have preferred.

Also, the villain monster was pretty cool and creative but that doesn’t carry the film.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The other parts of this trilogy, as well as Netflix’s Knights of Sedonia.

Film Review: Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018)

Also known as: Gojira: Kessen Kidō Zōshoku Toshi (original Japanese title), Godzilla Part 2: City on the Edge of Battle (full title)
Release Date: May 18th, 2018 (Japan)
Directed by: Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by: Gen Urobuchi
Music by: Takayuki Hattori
Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Sugita, Yuki Kaji, Junichi Suwabe

Toho, 100 Minutes

Review:

My review of the previous film in this trilogy had this paragraph:

Well, I’m going to be blunt: this was terrible. It’s slow, it’s boring, everyone in it is extremely unlikable and it has a giant plot hole large enough to suck Godzilla in.

Well, not much has changed with the second movie.

But I will start this by saying that this film is a wee bit better. I at least found it to be less boring, even though it was more drawn out than it needed to be. But I liked the talky science bits in this chapter better than the first. Also, the main character was less annoying than he was in the previous movie.

This film series is taking its cues from the Shin Godzilla mythos, as Godzilla continues to evolve and adapt to whatever they throw at him. Also, there are different creatures and things in the wilderness that are biological products of Godzilla and his weird and random evolutions. To be honest, even though this opens up a lot of interesting exploration and ideas it also seems like a cheap and poorly crafted trick to throw curveballs and to lazily write through situations. “Oh, we’ve got Godzilla now!” “No! He is evolving to combat and withstand X, Y and Z!!! Damn him!!!”

The heroes seem to have an advantage here in that the remains of Mechagodzilla from millennia ago have grown and evolved in its own way to what they lamely refer to as “Mechagodzilla City”. Sorry but “Mecha City” would’ve been fine, guys. I was annoyed throughout the movie whenever a character had to refer to the city with that mouthful of unnecessary syllables. But being that there is still one more movie in this series, it should go without saying that the city isn’t as advantageous as the heroes had hoped.

Anyway, the animation style is the same. I am starting to dislike it less or I’ve just grown used to the combination of hand drawn animation mixed with CGI animation. It still looks odd to me in places and I will always prefer hand drawn animation but it does seem a bit more refined here.

I’m a massive Godzilla fan, as regular readers of this website should already now. This anime film series just doesn’t cut the mustard for me. But if the third one also improves a wee bit, that one may be somewhat palatable.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The other parts of this trilogy, as well as Netflix’s Knights of Sedonia.

Film Review: You Only Live Twice (1967)

Release Date: June 12th, 1967 (London premiere)
Directed by: Lewis GIlbert
Written by: Roald Dahl, Harold Jack Bloom
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tamba, Mie Hama, Teru Shimada, Karin Dor, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Charles Gray, Donald Pleasence

Toho Co Ltd. (assisted on production in Japan), Eon Productions, United Artists, 117 Minutes

Review:

“I shall look forward personally to exterminating you, Mr. Bond.” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people consider this film the one where James Bond movies dipped in quality. I disagree with that, as I love this film and it is one of my favorites in the whole series.

I also connect to this chapter in the series pretty deeply on a nostalgic level, so I may have a bias towards it in that regard.

The thing is, this is where Bond and Blofeld come face to face. I am a huge fan of SPECTRE and their long story arc in the Connery and Lazenby films. I am also a huge fan of Donald Pleasence and he’s f’n great as Blofeld and is my favorite version of the character. This is also the version that would inspire Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.

Additionally, I love the Japan elements, especially the ninja army. The scene where the ninjas storm Blofeld’s volcano lair and are dropping from the ceiling with machine guns and swords still looks absolutely incredible. It’s one of my favorite sequences from any James Bond movie.

Being that I am a fan of kaiju movies, especially those put out by Toho Co. Ltd., I love that they were involved in the production of this picture and lent some of their acting talent to Eon. Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, the two Japanese Bond Girls in this film, have been in several Toho productions between Godzilla films and other sci-fi epics put out by Toho. Sadly, no cameo by Godzilla himself.

Another thing I love in this film is the big helicopter battle in the middle of the picture. For the 1960s, it was well shot, the special effects looked good and it was pretty exciting. It still plays well today.

Now the film does have some cheese and I think that’s what seems to be some people’s issue with it.

The whole sequence where Bond has to get a wig and prosthetics to look Japanese is laughably bad and so is the final result, as it just looks like Sean Connery with a bad haircut. I don’t really understand the point of the wig either, as most of the real Japanese men in the film have hairstyles closer to Connery’s natural look. This whole cringe fest is one of those things that would severely upset the overly sensitive audiences of today.

This is the last of the great Sean Connery James Bond films though. He would quit after this picture but come back later, two more times. One for Eon with the film Diamonds Are Forever and once more for another studio for Never Say Never Again, which isn’t an official Bond picture and is really just a shoddy remake of Thunderball.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.

Video Game Review: Godzilla (PlayStation 4)

I’m a massive kaiju fan, tokusatsu fan and Godzilla fan. I know it may sound silly to some but this game is the one that made me finally break down and buy a PlayStation 4. I also got it for Uncharted 4 but it’s this game that really made up my mind for me just because I wanted a great Godzilla fighting game with great graphics and mass environmental destruction.

Sadly, this doesn’t live up to the expectations I had for it but I did enjoy the hell out of this game, regardless. It has several flaws but even those didn’t distract me from the monster on monster combat for the first few weeks that I played this. But eventually, those flaws caught up to me and I wanted much more from this game.

If you are also a fan of the classic Godzilla universe, this will probably make you happy, for the most part. Luckily, this game is cheap as balls now because I wouldn’t recommend paying full price for this thing, as it runs its course pretty quickly.

You don’t start out with all the monsters being playable. You have to play the story mode multiple times to unlock every character and then you also have to play more to unlock points that can be used to enhance the abilities and stats of your monsters. This is fun for a little while but I doubt anyone will ever want to finish this arduous task because the game suffers heavily from repetitiveness.

It’s fun to play through this a few times but it is just the same thing over and over again.

Also, there really isn’t a good versus mode in this and the other modes kind of suck. The story mode is where it’s at but this is sadly, a one trick Minya.

There are some key monsters also missing from this game. I had hoped that there would be some DLCs that would add more monsters to the game but this was a commercial failure and nothing extra was developed.

Another negative, is that the environments are fun to destroy but you are confined to an area and can’t really roam too freely. Every stage has a border around it. It’d be much cooler if there was a massive map of Tokyo and you could actually walk from one side of the massive city to the other, confronting other kaiju along the way.

The game does do a good job of replicating the Shōwa era by using all the familiar music and giving you many levels that look like sets from those films. You can even knock down the Tokyo Tower on one stage. However, that nostalgia wears off the more you play the game.

It also doesn’t help that the monsters have a very limited move set and clunky controls that seem to work against you.

If you don’t give a shit about Godzilla, you should steer clear of this. If you do like the franchise, this is worth a buy if you can get it for like $10-$15.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Sadly, there aren’t a lot of kaiju games, at least in the US. But I bet this pairs well with the Japanese Ultraman games. If you have the ability to play imports, I’d suggest those.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)

Also known as: Chikyû kogeki meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan, lit. Earth Assault Order: Godzilla vs. Gigan (Japan), Extermination 2025 (France), Godzilla on Monster Island (US alternate title), Frankensteins Höllenbrut (Germany)
Release Date: March 12th, 1972 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Takeshi Kimura, Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube, Kunio Miyauchi
Cast: Hiroshi Ishikawa, Tomoko Umeda, Yuriko Hishimi, Minoru Takashima, Zan Fujita, Toshiaki Nishizawa, Kunio Murai

Toho, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Two monsters… One of them is Ghidorah. The other one is new. A completely new sound.” – Commander of Defense Forces

I’m just going to put it out there, this chapter in the Godzilla franchise is going to get a high rating from me. I know that it isn’t anywhere near the best that the franchise has to offer but it has always been a Godzilla film that I have loved and it features my two favorite Godzilla villains of all-time: the debuting Gigan and the always badass King Ghidorah.

Plus, this deals with an alien race of cockroach people that have a sinister plan that involves building a Godzilla branded theme park where their headquarters is actually a big building made to look like Godzilla himself. It’s crazy and bizarre and really encompasses all the things I love about ’70s Godzilla and Jun Fukuda’s run on the series.

On top of that, this teams Godzilla up with his oldest enemy, now ally, Anguirus.

This film is just incredibly bizarre but in a great way. Of course, you have to be a fan of kaiju movies and classic tokusatsu to truly embrace the madness but this really is a tokusatsu epic for its time. And ’70s Godzilla films almost feel like Ultraman episodes without Ultraman in them.

The weirdest thing about this picture is where Godzilla and Anguirus talk to each other. These bits work better in the original Japanese language version of the film. In the English dubbed version, which I grew up with, their voices are hilarious and it’s impossible not to laugh at it. It’s absurd but it’s enjoyably absurd and strangely enchanting.

I think I always connected to this chapter because the main character is a manga artist. When I was a kid, I was an aspiring comic book artist, so I always thought this part of the film was really cool. Plus, you get to see the inner workings of a manga company when this character makes his first appearance.

Another big plus about this film is that it has a ton of action. The big tag team battle royale seems to go on forever and it is actually a bloody affair, as Gigan literally has a buzzsaw for a stomach and the filmmakers had to emphasize the danger of that by cutting into the heroes.

Gigan is just a fantastic monster: one of the best kaiju ever created, hands down. He’s bizarre, deadly as hell and not a friggin’ pushover by any means. Granted, Gigan and King Ghidorah flee the scene like two little bitches at the end of the movie but the showdown between these beasts is incredible if you are a fan of classic kaiju battles.

I love this film. Always have. Always will. It’s not my favorite but it is the best from its decade.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Godzilla movies from the ’70s: Godzilla vs. MegalonGodzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Terror of Mechagodzilla and Godzilla vs. Hedorah.