Friday, August 11, 2017

Shin Godzilla (2016)

Even though I did a quick review previously, I wanted to sit down and put together a few more in-depth thoughts on this film. So, here goes...

After taking a break from making Godzilla movies, and even participating in the 2014 American production, Toho Studios handed the reigns of this new film to a director best known for his work in anime. And it was definitely the right choice since he's created a fantastic film and a fantastically terrifying version of Godzilla.

When a creature appears in Tokyo Bay, a governmental response must be formulated, coordinated, announced to the public, and then carried out. But Godzilla evolves quickly, and the Japanese government's slow response to what they learn about the creature and how to apply that knowledge to some strategy form the conflict of the story. Slow government vs. fast-moving destruction/tragedy. While the tone of this film calls back to the serious message of the '54 film, this time, Godzilla's destruction is an analogy for the Fukushima Reactor Meltdown.

Including radiation spikes.

There really isn't a "human story" to the movie as there is traditionally with Godzilla movies. Sure, there are human characters, but their personal drama isn't the center of the story. We see them struggle against bureaucracy and bristle against one another, but that's just the backdrop. Their job in this film is to put a human face on all the machinations going on behind what we ephemerally classify as "government."

This might seem like it would be boring. It is not.

This is in stark contrast to previous Godzilla films where a human character would say, "Let's send the X-2 to destroy it!" and immediately the film cuts to the next scene of the spaceship, or whatever, launching. Instead, we get the tension of knowing the disaster is getting worse while meetings are held to decide the course of action and, later, while a small group pours through data trying to figure out a way to destroy, or at least fight, Godzilla.

"Just bomb the crap out of it! Oh wait."

It's an entertaining and intense film. The destruction and repercussions of Godzilla's rampage is not an afterthought. There are real people with real lives in its path. So even without a "human story" built in, there's still a lot of humanity in the movie.

Highly recommended for Godzilla fans and anyone who enjoys a metaphor in their movies.

Friday, July 21, 2017

H-Man (1958)

Another film in the Icons of Sci-Fi Toho Collection, H-Man is directed by Ishiro Honda (the man behind The Mysterians, Battle in Outer Space, and Mothra, among many others).


There are no giant monsters to be found here, so don't expect a large H-Man to run around stomping on miniature models of Tokyo. Instead, this film is a strange mix of police procedural and atomic monster movie. But mostly a police procedural.

In other words, there are lots of interrogations.

The story hinges on a drug dealer who goes missing during an exchange. His body literally vanishes, leaving his clothes behind. The police suspect his girlfriend knows where he might be, and the rival drug dealers believe the same thing. Meanwhile, a scientist gets caught up with the police when he approaches the girlfriend, wanting to speak with her about what she may know about the circumstances of her missing boyfriend. The scientist believes that the drug dealer was attacked and dissolved by an atomic creature.


This is a rather lame cops and robbers story, but the addition of the atomic creatures (the H-Man from the title) add a twist. The police stubbornly don't believe there's some being in Tokyo that can completely liquefy a human, and the lounge-singer girlfriend of the drug dealer must team up with the scientist to unravel the mystery, all while under the gun of the rival gang boss.

There's no big shootout in the film. And only one chase sequence (which has got to be the least intense one in the history of cinema).

So, the action is sub-par for a police film (despite trying to pull a Third Man in the final act). No, the intriguing part of this movie is the green, atomic H-Man.

With some thrilling special effects that are actually quite gross (especially for the time), the H-Man dissolves his prey as they cry out for help and futilely attempt to shoot it.

Interestingly, this DVD collection includes both the Japanese and the American versions of the film. The changes made in translating a Japanese film about nuclear weapons (released so close to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) have interested me for a long time, and comparing the two versions revealed a couple of key changes.

First, there are a couple scenes that were altered or removed from the American version, probably due to their graphic nature.

American Version (including the cut away from the dancer's death)
Japanese Version

More significantly, the Japanese film opens with a shot of a ship at sea. That ship, it's revealed, was accidentally contaminated by a nuclear test and its sailors were turned into the H-Men. They return to haunt Tokyo because some latent part of their brain pushed them to go back home. The key word here being "victim."

On the other hand, the American version of the film states that the H-Men were "produced" by the nuclear test, not created from human victims. This change side-steps the idea of people as casualties of atomic tests and bombings.

While there's no commentary track for this one (unlike Battle in Outer Space), this rarely seen movie looks great and includes both the American and Japanese versions. Anyone who loves old science fiction films will find a lot to enjoy here.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Battle in Outer Space (1959)

In a lot of ways, this is a kaiju film without the giant, rubber-suited monster. It's directed by the same guy who made The Mysterians, and the same special effects guy (Eiji Tsuburaya) worked on both. What works here is that there's a lot of the same, enjoyable special effects stuff on display with a story that sticks to its simple, straightforward charm while taking the action off of the Earth's surface.

True to its name, there is a great battle in outer space in the final act of the film. But to get to that point, the story begins with a space station under attack from aliens.

The world gets together and decides to send two teams into outer space to confront the aliens on their moon base/waystation. First though, the aliens show that they can mind control humans. Not on a mass scale, apparently, but one at a time. At first, they use this special power to get an Iranian ambassador to sabotage the special ray-gun that the scientists have invented to combat the aliens. When that plan doesn't work out so well, the aliens brainwash a member of the outer space team being sent to the moon to attack them.

Apparently, the mind control ray will also steer the car.

The rest of the film plays out with a variety of fantastic special effects. From retro spacesuits and laser rays to model buildings being destroyed by the aliens, there's a lot to appreciate here.

I highly recommend the "Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection" DVD set. The optional audio commentary on this film by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski really offers some fantastic insight to fans of kaiju films and Japanese Sci-Fi.

Amazon link