Category Archives: Japanese
From the pen of Japan’s foremost master of the macabre, Edogawa Rampo, comes Blind Beast – a grotesque portrait about obsession, art and sensuality.
Waking up inside a dark warehouse studio whose walls are decorated with outsized women’s body parts, artist’s model Aki (Mako Midori) discovers she has been abducted by Michio (Eiji Funakoshi), a blind sculptor who desires to create the perfect female form. Defiant at first, Aki soon finds herself drawn into his warped sightless world in which touch is everything.
This 1969 arthouse erotic horror from director Yasuzo Masumura, adapted from Rampo’s 1931 novel Mojo: The Blind Beast, is a trippy, stylish, fetishistic affair, boasting lashings of dark humour, fantastical set design and way out performances from the two leads. It now gets a Blu-ray release from Arrow, alongside some entertaining extras. Check out the trailer and special contents below.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed Japanese mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Brand new audio commentary by Asian cinema scholar Earl Jackson
• Newly filmed introduction by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns
• Blind Beast: Masumura the Supersensualist, a brand new visual essay by Japanese literature and visual studies scholar Seth Jacobowitz
• Original Trailer
• Image Gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella
• Illustrated booklet featuring new writing by Virginie Sélavy (first pressing only).
Director Kim Jee-woon’s stylish and scary 2003 thriller, A Tale of Two Sisters, is one of the key films of the Korean New Wave. Now it’s getting a Blu-ray release from Arrow that comes with a host of extras that you should only view once you have watched the gripping chiller.
Inspired by the popular Korean folktale, Janghwa Hongryeon jeon, the twisted mystery centres on young Su-mi (Im Soo-jung), who returns home with her father (Kim Kap-soo) and her younger sister, Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young), after a stay in a mental facility. But the reason for her hospitalisation only becomes clear when she encounters the ghost of her dead mother, and engages in a battle of wills with her cold-hearted, self-medicating, stepmother (Yum Jung-ah).
Exquisitely photographed, with wonderful performances all around (especially the glacial Yum Jung-ah as the wicked step mum), A Tale of Two Sisters, is a slow burner but it’s never boring as every scene counts. It also deserves multiple viewings, so you can fully appreciate Jee-woon’s assured direction, visuals and storytelling.
Here’s what you also get…
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original DTS-HD MA 5.1 and uncompressed stereo audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Brand-new Audio commentary by Korean Cinema historian Pierce Conran & critic James Marsh
• Audio commentary by writer/director Kim Jee-woon, lighting cameraman Oh Seung-chul and cinematographer Lee Mo-gae
• Audio commentary by writer/director Kim Jee-woon and cast members Im Soo-jung and Moon Geun-young
• Always on the Move: The Dynamic Camera and Spaces of Master Stylist Kim Jee-woon, a brand-new visual essay by Korean Cinema historian Pierce Conran
• Spirits of the Peninsula: Folklore in Korean Cinema, a brand-new visual essay by cultural historian Shawn Morrisey
• Imaginary Beasts: Memory, Trauma & the Uncanny in A Tale of Two Sisters, a brand-new visual essay by genre historian and critic Kat Ellinger
• Behind the Scenes, an archival featurette shot during filming
– Outtakes, archival footage from the set
• Production Design, an archival featurette about the intricate look of the sets
• Music Score, an archival featurette
• CGI, an archival featurette
• Creating the Poster, an archival featurette about the iconic original poster
• Cast Interviews, archival interviews with Kim Kab-su (Father), Yeom Jung-a (Stepmother), Im Soo-jung (Su-mi), and Moon Geun-young (Su-yeon)
• Deleted scenes with director’s commentary
• Director’s analysis, an archival featurette in which Kim Jee-woon discusses the complexity and ambiguities contained within the film and why they were important to him.
• Director’s thoughts on horror, an archival featurette in which Kim Jee-woon discusses his feelings about the horror genre.
• Psychiatrist’s Perspective, an archival featurette exploring the psychological reality behind the story of the film
• Theatrical Trailer
• Stills galleries
• Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Sister Hyde
• Illustrated booklet featuring new writing by critics Stacie Ponder and Anya Stanley, plus a new translation of the original Korean folktale that inspired the film.
Godzilla: The Showa-era (1954-1975) | I’m roaring with excitement over Criterion’s beast of a Blu-ray box set
67-years-ago, Japan’s monster movie genre, kaiju-eiga, rose out of the sea in the guise of Godzilla. Over the following decades, Toho’s terrifying symbol of nuclear annihilation has transformed into a superhero in a series of films ranging from serious sci-fi to bubblegum pop. I’ve grown up with Godzilla and his many allies and adversaries, and count Mothra, Ghidora, Hedorah and Mechagodzilla among my favourites of the Shōwa-era (1957-1975).
With Godzilla vs Kong now streaming, I thought it would be the best time to share my thoughts about Criterion’s eight-disc box-set, which I have been watching whilst in lockdown. It features a bonanza of extra content as well as a monster-sized book featuring great artwork*** and new writing about each of the films. Let the roaring begin…
Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1954)
In June 1953, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms rampaged through New York where it unleashed a deadly prehistoric contagion before being burned alive in an inferno at Coney Island. Then, in October 1954, Japan faced another radioactive monster from the deep, Gojira.
This superior and deadly serious atomic age sci-fi is an all-time classic and looks better than ever in HD. The human story is a blunt yet purposeful metaphor for Japan’s post-war nuclear holocaust fears, and Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects and miniature sets are and still look fantastic. But what I love most about this Japanese original is Akira Ifukube’s powerful, yet melancholy score. The US version, featuring Raymond Burr, is also included.
Godzilla Raids Again (dir. Motoyoshi Oda, 1955)
Released in the US as Gigantis, the Fire Monster, this black and white sequel sees Godzilla going up against his first foe – an ankylosaurus called Anguirus. This time, Osaka’s ancient port city ends up in ruins after the two monsters do battle outside the historical caste. The human story involves a group of convicts whose escape plans go awry when the city’s subway is flooded (in one of the film’s best sequences). Meanwhile, two pilots (Hiroshi Koizumi and Minoru Chiaki) working for a tuna cannery company who end up the film’s unlikely heroes. Anguirus is no match for Godzilla, but the returning titan ends up buried in an avalanche of ice and rock.
King Kong vs Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, Thomas Montgomery, 1963)
After seven years in hibernation, Godzilla rampages once more – and this time in glorious colour. This Toho-Universal co-production (based on an original idea by Willis O’Brien) opens with one of the best sequences in the entire franchise – a giant octopus attacking an island village. Kong defeats the creature, then falls fast asleep after eating some irresistible berry juice. While resting, he’s transported to Japan by a pharmaceutical company who plan to put Kong on show. But with Godzilla on the warpath, it’s not before they engage in some rock-throwing and fire-breathing; with Tokyo once more facing destruction. The wrestling titans end up in an underwater battle after destroying Atami Castle, where the final battle score is 1:1.
Mothra vs Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1964)
In the second of 11 films and a 1990s trilogy featuring Toho’s second favourite kaiju character – another slimy entrepreneur plans to turn one of Mothra’s giant eggs into a sideshow attraction. At the same time, Godzilla emerges from his muddy to lay waste the city of Nagoya. A news reporter, a photographer and a professor then head to Infant Island to request the Shobijin (again played by The Peanuts, AKA twin sisters Emi and Yumi Itō) to send Mothra to defeat Godzilla. The duo clash, but Mothra is ultimately defeated. However, all is not lost when the egg hatches two larvae, which then spin a cocoon around Godzilla, and dump him in the sea.
I love this film, almost as much as 1961’s Mothra (check out the Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment). Yuji Koseki’s catchy Song of Mothra gets revamped by Akira Ifukube, whose The Sacred Springs, sung by The Peanuts, is the film’s standout track. In the US, American Internation Pictures released an edited version under the title Godzilla vs The Thing.
Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1964)
Released eight months after Mothra Vs. Godzilla, this monster mash-up sees the franchise getting a bit of an overhaul, with Godzilla now taking on the role of Earth’s protector. This time around, the menace is the titular lightning-emitting space monster who would go on to become Godzilla’s arch-enemy in the Showa series and beyond.
In a nod to Roman Holiday, which did big business in Japan, the story sees a princess of a remote nation (future Bond girl Akiko Wakabayashi) saved from being assassinated by an alien intelligence and used as a prophet of doom. Action star Yosuke Natsuki is the detective tasked with protecting her. While assassins try to kill her, Mothra brokers a deal with Godzilla and the irradiated Pteranodon, Rodan (one of my least favourite kaiju) to join forces to take Gihidorah down. The film’s highlight is Ghidorah’s fiery birth (overseen by an expedition wearing some fab colour-coordinated outfits), and check out the panto-worthy costumes worn by the princess’ royal courtiers.
Invasion of Astro-Monster (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1965)
In the series’ first space adventure, two astronauts – Nick Adams (a dead-ringer for Vladimir Putin) and Akira Takarada – investigate a mysterious new planet under attack from King Ghidorah (Monster Zero). The United Nations agrees to help, by lending them Godzilla and Rodan, but the evil controller of Planet X plans to invade the Earth using all three monsters under his control.
Esi Tsuburaya and his special effects team create some winning designs here (it’s all very Gerry Anderson), mostly the alien landscapes, futuristic weaponry and Planet’s X’s flying saucers (which I’d love to have as a model). And the aliens look cool in their body-hugging vinyl suits and wraparound sunglasses. The monster fight sequences are well-staged (although the wires are very noticeable on Rodan and Ghidorah). There are also some comic antics from Godzilla when he does his victory dance (inspired by Fujio Akatsuka’s manga Oso Matsu-kun, where the main character jumps up in a particular pose while shouting ‘Shie!’).
Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1966)
In this South Seas island-set James Bondian adventure, a new team took charge of the film’s direction, score and special effects and it’s quite the colourful confection all to the strains of some jazzy guitar riffs. The story follows young Ryota (Toru Watanabe) as he goes in search for his missing brother on a stolen yacht with two companions and a stowaway (Akira Takarada). After being attacked by the titular Ebirah (a giant lobster), during a storm, they get shipwrecked on an island where The Red Bamboo (a secret army) are building atomic weapons for a planned attack on Japan. Discovering this, the foursome and a young native girl try to help the island’s captive workforce (from Mothra’s Infant Island) to escape. At the same time, Godzilla gets a rude awakening beneath the island. The film’s standout scene is an aerial attack on Godzilla, while Mothra makes a welcome return.
Son of Godzilla (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1967)
This second island adventure from Toho starts off a tad slow but pays off with some great monsters and comic turns from the lead players. A team of scientists are working on a weather control system on Sollgel Island when a mishap results in a radioactive storm, causing the island’s oversized mantises to grow to gigantic size. Godzilla then comes to the rescue when they unearth an egg that hatches a baby Godzilla. As Godzilla teaches his adopted charge, Minilla (AKA Minya), how to use its atomic ray (cue lots of humourous interplay), the scientists, reporters, and island native girls find themselves under attack by a giant spider. But guess who comes to the rescue? I loved the mantises’ design (Kamacuras – AKA Gimantis) and the spider (Kumonga AKA Spiga) here, and the jazzy music is a plus. The only downside for me was Minilla – but little kids loved him.
Destroy All Monsters (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1968)
Toho planned to end the Godzilla series with this monster mash-up and, wanting to out with a bang, reuniting the original 1954 creative team. It’s 1999, and the world’s monsters are now all housed on Monsterland island under the United Nations Science Committee’s watchful eye. But when an alien race called the Kilaaks (who wear a nice line in silver lamé) use mind control on the monsters, all hell breaks loose. Rodan attacks Moscow, Mothra Beijing, Manda London, Baragon Paris and Godzilla New York (beginning with the UN HQ). After the UNSC retaliate by destroying the Kilaaks lunar outpost, the aliens call in King Ghidorah to protect their secret base at Mount Fuji. Godzilla, Minilla, Mothra, Rodan, Gorosaurus, Anguirus, and Kumonga join forces to take down the fire-breathing serpent. But the Kilaaks have a new surprise: a Fire Dragon.
This was the first Godzilla film I saw (aged seven), and it made me a life-long fan. The action set pieces are well-orchestrated, while the primary coloured sets, costumes and special effects (courtesy of a returning Tsuburaya) are terrific, especially the Moonlight SY-3 spaceship and the Kilaaks saucers. Best scenes are the attack on Tokyo, the battle at Mount Fuji, and the climactic showdown. A massive hit in both Japan and the US (where American International Pictures distributed it), its success meant Godzilla would live to fight another day.
All Monsters Attack (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1969)
OK! This one is a bit of a dud in my book, as it uses footage from the previous films wrapped around the story of a little boy who some kids in his Kawasaki neighbourhood are bullying. At the same time, Godzilla’s annoying son Minilla has similar issues with an ogre-like creature called Gabara. Director Honda, who retired after making this film, regarded it as one of his favourites, as it directly spoke to children (its target audience). It went out under the title, Godzilla’s Revenge, in the US, initially on the same bill as the ‘underrated’ British sci-fi Night of the Big Heat starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
Godzilla vs Hedorah (dir. Yoshimitsu Banno, 1971)
Yeah! One of my all-time favourites. Released internationally as Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, this 11th film in the series re-establishes Godzilla as an ecological hero as he comes up against a glowing red-eyed alien spawned from pollution. ‘Hedoro’ (which means polluted mud) is one of my favourite creature designs of the series, and quite similar to the one-eyed tentacle monsters in The Green Slime (1968). Although aimed at younger audiences, and again featuring a little boy at the centre of the action, this latest kaiju features some genuinely scary moments (all the better to highlight the very real problem of out of control pollution in Japan at the time). My fave is when a transformed flying Hedora’s toxic sludge and gas turns people into skeletons.
Set against a trippy hippie backdrop (the club scenes are ‘wild man!’, and check out the crazy paisley clobber and sealife masks!), it also features a kitschy catchy theme tune, Kaese! Taiyô wo (Return! The Sun), which was sung by Keiko Mari in the Japanese version and redone as Save The Earth, written and sung by Adryan Russ, on the US AIP edit (which is the version I first saw). Russ went on to score the Broadway hit Inside Out, and her music also features on TV shows Young Sheldon and WandaVision. It’s such a cool song; here are both versions to enjoy. It’s just a shame that the US edit isn’t included in this box set.
Godzilla vs Gigan (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1972)
Cockroach-like aliens, the Nebulans, take on human form and construct a theme park, World Children’s Land, to serve as their secret base. With their planet dying, they see a polluted Earth as the ideal place to colonise. To aid them in their plan to wipe out humanity, they electronically control two space monsters: King Ghidorah and a reptilian cyborg called Gigan. But a Manga artist stumbles on their plans and, with the help of his karate-kicking girlfriend and hippie sidekick; they alert the Japan Self Defense Forces. Meanwhile, planet protectors Godzilla and Anguirus ally to take down the space monsters and the aliens.
This 12th Godzilla film was a huge success, with returning director Jun Fukuda putting the franchise back on track after the disappointing box-office returns of Godzilla vs Hedora. Designed primarily as a marketing ploy for children’s toys, Gigan (who sports scythe-like claws, abdominal buzz-saw and pincer-like mandibles) is one of Godzilla’s most brutal adversaries, and also the first kaiju in the Toho series to make him bleed. Featuring lashings action and goofiness, and more bloodshed than any previous Godzilla film, this one also introduced a new trope to the series: monster tag teams facing off each other. It also marked Haruo Nakajima’s final performance as Godzilla, which he had played for 24 years.
Godzilla vs Megalon (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1973)
This film sees Godzilla turned into a fully-fledged monster-hero for kids, and with no female characters to speak of, it’s an entirely Boys’ Own adventure. The scenario sees Seatopia’s Emperor Antonio (The Green Slime’s Robert Dunham) retaliating against the surface dwellers nuclear testing by letting loose the underwater kingdom’s protector Megalon, a giant beetle with drillbit arms that spits napalm bombs and shoots death rays. He also calls on space monster Gigan (who looks way less sinister this time around due to the new suit) to join forces to create mass destruction.
Again, a little boy, Rokuro (Hiroyuki Kawase), is at the centre of the action along with his scientist brother Goro (Katsuhiko Sasaki) and his friend Hiroshi (Yutaka Hayashi). Meanwhile, Godzilla is shoved to the sidelines as the film-makers show off their equivalent to the many Ultraman heroes – Jet Jaguar, a flying super robot who gets his own theme tune (you can sing along with it below). Relying mostly on stock footage, it’s pretty unexciting on the SFX side, while the climactic tag-team looks like something out of a 1970s TV wrestling match. Oh, and look carefully during the big pyrotechnic scene as you can see the Godzilla suit catching fire.
Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1974)
This penultimate Showa-era kaiju finds Godzilla taking on his space titanium doppelganger. Created by the ape-like Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens, Mechagodzilla (with its head-spinning space beams and finger missiles) is one of my top fave Godzilla adversaries. The robotic menace proved a big hit when it made its debut and has continued to appear in films, comics and video games and is sure to garner a new generation of fans when it rises again in Godzilla vs Kong. Disguised as Godzilla, the giant robot attacks Tokyo but is soon confronted by the real Godzilla and forced to retreat to the alien’s crater base inside Mount Fuji. Much intrigue ensues involving an archaeologist, Interpol agents, and a mystical statue that awakens King Caesar – the ancient guardian of Okinawa’s royal Azumi family. Of course, Mechagodzilla is no match when King Caesar and Godzilla joins forces.
Terror of Mechagodzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1975)
It’s the end of an era and what better way than to bring back the mighty Mechagodzilla. Again those simian aliens return to finish what they started – the conquest of the Earth. This time around, they rebuild their greatest weapon with living human brain cells and use a young woman, Katsura (Tomoko Ai) – who has been turned into a cyborg by her mad scientist dad – to control its circuitry. Again, Interpol is trying to stop the aliens while Godzilla battles with Mechagodzilla MK2 and one of the campest kaiju monsters of the Showa-era Titanosaurus, a pink-frilled aquatic dinosaur who uses its swishing tail to wreak destruction.
I have a soft spot for this final entry because the excellent production design (especially the alien’s base) reminded me of the early James Bond films and Thunderbirds. And as for Goro Mutsumi’s blue-shades wearing alien leader Akihiko Hirata’s crazed scientist – they are worthy of being in an Austin Powers movie. Great to see Honda back on board and Akira Ifukube composing another excellent score.
• HD digital transfers of Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the 1956 US-release version of Godzilla; and the 1962 Japanese-release version of King Kong vs Godzilla (which is on disc 8)
• Audio commentaries from 2011 on Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters featuring film historian David Kalat
• International English-language dub tracks for Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs Megalon, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, and Terror of Mechagodzilla
• 1990 Directors Guild of Japan interview with director Ishiro Honda
• Featurettes on the creation of Godzilla’s special effects and unused effects sequences
• New interview with Alex Cox about his admiration for the Showa-era Godzilla films
• New and archival interviews with cast and crew members, including actors Bin Furuya, Tsugutoshi Komada, Haruo Nakajima, and Akira Takarada; composer Akira Ifukube; and effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai
• Interview with critic Tadao Sato from 2011
• Illustrated audio essay from 2011 about the real-life tragedy that inspired Godzilla
• New English subtitle translations
*** THE ILLUSTRATORS
Arthur Adams, Sophie Campbell, Becky Cloonan, Jorge Coelho, Geof Darrow, Simon Gane, Robert Goodin, Benjamin Marra, Monarobot, Takashi Okazaki, Angela Rizza, Yuko Shimizu, Bill Sienkiewicz, Katsuya Terada, Ronald Wimberly and Chris Wisnia
The Invisible Man Appears & The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly | A double-bill of Japanese sci-fi get the Arrow Blu-ray treatment
From Arrow Video come two fantastical Japanese riffs on HG Wells’ classic character on HD Blu-ray.
In 1949’s The Invisible Man Appears (Tômei ningen arawaru), Dr Nakazato (Chizuru Kitagawa) is on the verge of completing his invisibility serum, when he’s abducted by a masked gang, headed up by Nakazato’s lawyer, Kawabe (Shôsaku Sugiyama). At the same time, Nakazato’s assistant, Kurokawa (Kanji Koshiba), is duped into taking the serum, which will send him insane within three days. Believing there’s an antidote, Kurokawa agrees to steal a valuable diamond necklace – but he’s unaware that a trap is being set by the police to unmask Nakazato.
The Invisible Man Appears is regarded as the earliest example of Japanese sci-fi and boasts some excellent special effects from Eiji Tsuburaya, who would forever be associated with Toho’s Godzilla series. The film owes a huge debt to Universal’s successful series of ‘Invisible Man’ films, especially so the idea that the serum causes insanity (key themes in the first two Universal films in which Claude Rains and Vincent Price played the titular character).
Interestingly, the film came out the year after Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (in which Vincent Price had a cameo as the Invisible Man), while the sequel was released one year before The Fly (which propelled Price into becoming the Master of Menace).
The 1957 sequel, The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly (Tômei ningen to hae Kotoko) centres on Chief Inspector Wakabayashi (Yoshirô Kitahara) investigating some bizarre murders in which the only clue is a buzzing sound heard at the scene of the crime. With the help of a childhood pal working on an invisibility ray, Wakabayashi tracks down war criminal and former scientist, Kuroki (Fujio Harumoto), who is behind the attacks and out for revenge. Using a miniaturisation gas to escape, Kuroki becomes the terror of Tokyo as the Human Fly.
The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly is a crazy combination of sci-fi thrills and crime drama spills. While the first film pays homage to the popular American serials of the 1940s, the sequel takes its stylistic cues from gritty film noirs of the 1950s like Kiss Me Deadly (sex, murder, addiction all feature) and the comic book capers of TV’s The Adventures of Superman (just check out the cool retro-futuristic cosmic ray lab).
With its young, good-looking cast wearing chic dresses and sharp suits, the film is a time-capsule glimpse of a newly-Westernised Japan and a precursor to the modern yakuza films that would emerge at the end of the decade.
The Invisible Man Appears and The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly are out on Blu-ray from Arrow Video, and also available via the ARROW streaming platform.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Transparent Terrors: Kim Newman on the history of the ‘Invisible Man’ in cinema
• Theatrical trailer for The Invisible Man Appears
• Image galleries for both films
• New and original artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Collectors’ booklet featuring new writing by Keith Allison, Hayley Scanlon and Tom Vincent
The H-Man & Battle in Outer Space | A double-bill of 1950’s Japanese sci-fi from Ishirō Honda on Blu-ray
On Blu-ray for the first time in the UK comes Ishirō Honda’s 1950s sci-fi extravaganzas The H-Man and Battle in Outer Space, as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.
The H-Man (Bijo to Ekitai-ningen, 1958)
Tokyo police are baffled when a drug dealer and then his associate disappear, leaving just their clothes behind. A young scientist Dr Masada (Kenji Sahara) suspects that a radioactive liquid found on board a ghost ship is dissolving people into slimy, sentient blobs of destruction! The police are sceptical at first, but when one of their own is liquified by the H-Men, they soon realise the entire city could be wiped out.
Fusing gangster noir and body melting horror, The H-Man (or Bijo to Ekitai-ningen – which translates as Beauty and the Liquid People) is Japan’s answer to The Blob. It’s a colourful camp riot from beginning to end, with most of the action taking place in a kitsch nightclub – where the missing dealer’s girlfriend (Yuma Shirakawa) performs – before a fiery showdown in the sewers of Tokyo. Hugely entertaining, I’ll be revisiting this one very soon.
Battle in Outer Space (Uchū Daisensō, 1959)
A series of catastrophes sweep the globe, causing the world’s scientists to conclude that Earth is under attack by extraterrestrials, and every nation must now unite to defend itself in a battle in outer space!
Special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya and director Honda play out every youngster’s fantasy with this glorious love-letter to all things sci-fi. The designs of the spaceships, ray-runs, lunar surfaces are gorgeously retro; and the action scenes are bona fide Boy’s Own Adventure stuff. Makes for perfect viewing on a cold and rainy afternoon. Let the battle begin.
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:
- Includes both original Japanese and international English dubbed versions of each film on Blu-ray
- Original mono audio presentations
- English subtitles (for Japanese versions) and English SDH (for English versions)
- Stills galleries
- Booklet featuring some excellent essays by Christopher Stewardson and Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp
One of the most iconic Japanese kaiju, Mothra has appeared in several Toho features since its first appearance in Ishirō Honda’s 1961 monster fantasy adventure, which heads to Blu-ray in the UK for the first time, as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.
When the tiny twin Shobijin (singing duo The Peanuts AKA Yumi and Emi Ito) are abducted by a ruthless Rolisican capitalist, Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito), Mothra hatches from her egg on Infant Island and swims to Tokyo where she cocoons herself around the Tokyo Tower. Reaching adult form, Mothra then flies to Rolisica’s capital and causes widespread destruction in a bid to force Clark to release the Shobijin.
Featuring fantastic special effects from the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya, thrilling set-pieces orchestrated by director Honda and a terrifically catchy theme tune (sung by The Peanuts), Mothra is one of my all-time favourite Toho kaiju and one I have returned to time and again. But this new Blu-ray is a welcome sight as the gorgeous presentation here serves to highlight the film’s excellent production values; particularly so the elaborate sets and miniatures.
Although I would have loved to see the film’s entire soundtrack presented amongst the extras, the collector’s booklet featuring pieces from Japanese cinema experts such as Jasper Sharp make this Eureka release a must-have. It’s also the perfect companion piece to Criterion’s Showa-era Godzilla box-set – which I’m currently enjoying.
- Includes original Japanese (101min) and international English dubbed versions (90min), with original mono audio presentations (LPCM) and English subtitles (Japanese version) and English SDH (English version
- NEW interview with film critic Kim Newman on Mothra
- Two galleries featuring rare production stills, ephemera and concept art
- Teaser and theatrical trailers
- Collector’s booklet featuring essays by Christopher Stewardson and Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp; a new interview with production designer Scott Chambliss; an extract from Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski’s Ishirō Honda biography; and archival reviews and stills.
‘My main intention in the film was to explore the juxtaposition between man’s material nature and his spiritual nature, the realm of dream and aspiration’ (Masaki Kobayashi)
From Eureka Entertainment comes the 1965 supernatural compendium Kwaidan, directed by Masaki Kobayashi on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series, presented from a 2K digital restoration.
Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, Kwaidan features four tales adapted from Lafcadio Hearn’s classic ghost stories about mortals caught up in forces beyond their comprehension when the supernatural world intervenes in their lives.
In the etheral, doom-laden The Black Hair (a popular theme in Japanese ghost stories), a faithless samurai abandons his loving wife to seek advancement and, many years later, is reunited with her — but there’s a terrible twist in the tale. Originally released as a stand-alone film, The Woman of the Snow, features another classic tragic popular culture figure: the ice witch. Here a woodcutter’s broken promise to a vampire causes him terrible heartache.
Hoichi the Earless concerns an apprentice monk who is forced by spirits to recite the tale of a tragic sea battle between the between the Taira and Minamoto clans. And in the eerie and reflective, In a Cup of Tea, a writer relates the story of a Lord’s attendant who is visited by an apparition – but no one believes him.
Kwaidan, which literally means Weird Tales, is a meditative tribute to Japanese folklore. Photographed entirely on hand-painted sets (built inside an old aircraft hangar), Kobayashi’s highly-stylised film draws on classic Japanese illustrations for its visual ideas, while the atmospheric lighting and camerawork recall the hallucinatory worlds of Mario Bava and Powell and Pressburger.
This was one of the most expensive film’s to be made in Japan at the time and ended up bankrupting the studio. But regardless of the expense, Kobayashi has crafted a work of true beauty – a sumptuous symphony that you’ll quickly find yourself immersed in. It’s long and leisurely, but can easily be watched in four parts.
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from Criterion’s 2K digital restoration of the original 183-minute director’s cut
• Original monaural Japanese soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles
• Kim Newman on Kwaidan – the film critic and writer explores how the film become something of a template for subsequent Japanese ghost story films
• Shadowings [35 mins] – David Cairns and Fiona Watson look at the film’s background, and provide a critical reading of each of the stories focusing on their themes and Kobayashi’s handling of them
• Original Japanese teasers and trailer
• Collector’s book featuring reprints of Lafcadio Hearn’s original ghost stories; a survey of the life and career of Masaki Kobayashi by Linda Hoaglund; and a wide ranging interview with the film maker – the last he’d ever give.