Attack of the Molecular Men

The Japanese film poster for THE H-MAN (1958).

The atom bomb and its devastating after effects have served as the basis for some of the science fiction genre’s most popular and successful films and it’s no surprise that many of them hail from Japan where Gojira (1954, U.S. title: Godzilla) became the first in a long line of radioactive monsters bent on stomping Tokyo. Whether intended as metaphorical retribution for the A-bomb destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 or cautionary tales about the dangers of nuclear power, these sci-fi fantasies became Toho’s studios’ most profitable exports during the late fifties and early sixties and eventually spawned subgenres of their own, one of which was the “mutant” series. The masterminds behind Gojira and most of the Toho sci-fi releases were director Ishiro Honda and special effects technician Eiji Tsuburaya and their first effort in the “mutant” series – Bijo to Ekitainingen (1958) – still stands as one of their most unusual and distinctive films.

Continue reading

The Kaiju Eiga Man

Special Effects creator Eiji Tsuburaya with the caterpillar version of the creature that became MOTHRA (1961), a Japanese monster fantasy cult favorite.

When the subject of Japanese film comes up, you might assume that Akira Kurosawa is that nation’s most famous filmmaker in terms of international recognition and critical acclaim. Yet, a 2014 book by August Ragone (published by Chronicle Books), makes a good case for another filmmaker from Japan whose worldwide popularity, especially among sci-fi/fantasy fans, is probably greater than Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Kon Ichikawa combined.  His name is Eiji Tsuburaya. What? The name doesn’t ring a bell? Maybe you’ve heard of Godzilla (1954) or Mothra (1961) or Destroy All Monsters (1968) or Rodan (1956) or countless other sci-fi/fantasy films from Toho Studios that featured Tsuburaya’s special effects? 

Continue reading

The Japanese Sinbad

Most moviegoers know Toshiro Mifune from his long and fruitful association with director Akira Kurosawa, most prominently Rashomon and The Seven Samurai, and a handful of major works from other directors in the Japanese cinema such as Kenji Mizoguchi’s The Life of Oharu (1952) and Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy. But beyond his many period samurai roles and his more contemporary dramas and noirs (Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, The Bad Sleep Well), Mifune was much more than an international art house darling and award winning actor. He was a popular star and a product of the Japanese studio system just as Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy were creations of the Hollywood studio system. Like those two screen icons, Mifune also had his share of genre programmers and lowbrow general audience entertainments but The Lost World of Sinbad aka Samurai Pirate aka (1963) is one of his more enjoyable and eccentric efforts.   Continue reading