The Mighty Mountain Will Punish the Bad

The Japanese film poster for Ginrei no hate aka SNOW TRAIL (1947).

Many people believe they are masters of their own fates but occasionally mother nature steps in to remind them that there are outside forces they cannot control such as a mountain wilderness or a blizzard or an avalanche. Such is the case in Snow Trail (Japanese title: Ginrei no hate, 1947), an engaging B-movie crime drama in which three bank robbers flee to the snow-covered slopes of Mount Hakuba, located in the northern alps of Nagano Prefecture. With the law in close pursuit, the trio soon find themselves in dire straits with no experience in mountain climbing or dealing with extreme weather conditions. Nature is simply indifference in such matters.  

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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.

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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? 

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