© Warner Brothers

Though Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) is regarded as a classic in ways its sequel is not, many images in The Dark Knight Rises resonate a lot more strongly now. A city under lockdown as its infrastructure begins to fray. A coup d’etat seen on live television. Revolutionaries clashing in the city streets with police. In the last year-and-a-half, moments of the COVID-19 news cycle have felt like The Dark Knight Rises brought from the movie screen to real world. Director Christopher Nolan, whose film Tenet would be delayed by the pandemic, is not the auteurist genius his diehard…

As the twice-delayed Godzilla vs. Kong approaches its release date, now is a better time than ever to reminiscence about the Japanese monster film genre and the long history of its special effects style.

Special effects luminary Eiji Tsuburaya inspects a massive miniature of the legendary Yamato for the war film ATTACK SQUADRON (1963).

Tokusatsu is the Japanese art of special effects, meaning “special filming”. The luminary Eiji Tsuburaya (1901–1970) pioneered the process. He drew influence not only from Western pioneers like King Kong’s Willis O’Brien but from his culture’s native theater such as kabuki and bunraku. The process was perfected by Tsuburaya during World War II for use on propaganda films like Naval Bomber Squadron (1940), The War at…

© Toho Company, Ltd.

A pleasure boat, the Glory Maru, is found drifting offshore near Tokyo Bay by the Japan Coast Guard. Moments later, the Tokyo Aqua Line springs a leak and floods. Deputy Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) and his aide Shimura (Kengo Kora) are notified of the incident and disaster response begins. Yaguchi sees an internet video of the ongoing incident and is convinced that the flood is being caused by a living creature. He warns Prime Minister Okochi (Ren Osugi) and his aide Akasaka (Yutaka Takenouchi) but is scoffed at by the bureaucracy, dead set that it’s an underwater volcano…

© Kadokawa Pictures

This article contains candid discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic that may be difficult to read for those personally affected by it.

In December 1983, the British submarine Nereid arrives in a deserted Tokyo Bay. All life in the city has perished. The submarine’s captain, McCloud (Chuck Connors), sends out a drone to see if the pathogen that killed Tokyo’s inhabitants is active. He summons Japanese scientist Dr. Shuzo Yoshizumi (Masao Kusakari) to the bridge. Looking upon his decimated homeland, Yoshizumi sees the skeletal remains of an infant. He remembers his late girlfriend Noriko (Yumi Takigawa). She told him that she…

Spring 1972 Toho Champion Festival poster flyer. Some of the material shown alongside GODZILLA VS. GIGAN include an episode of RETURN OF ULTRAMAN, an episode of MIRRORMAN and several anime show episodes including MOCK OF THE OAK TREE and HUTCH THE HONEYBEE. © Toho Company, Ltd.

Destroy All Monsters (1968) had been intended to be the last Godzilla movie. Its box office was profitable enough that Toho decided to continue on with the series. This was albeit with reduced budgets and distributed in Toho’s kiddie matinee program called Champion Matsuri, inspired by rival Toei’s Manga Festival. Workaholic parents could drop their children off at the local Toho theater. Their kids could then be enraptured by tokusatsu TV episodes, anime shorts and usually a feature double bill.

The first of these productions was 1969’s All Monsters Attack, directed by Ishiro Honda. Eiji Tsuburaya was sickly and, unbeknownst…

Ad for an American TV airing of YONGARY, MONSTER FROM THE DEEP (1967).

The giant monster and tokusatsu (SFX film and television) boom didn’t just hit Japan. Its neighbors observed the success of such films both in their native Japan and abroad in their own countries. Many decided to try their hands at Japanese-style productions. Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, even the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea; all attempted monster movies of their own with varying levels of success. Often, they solicited the aid of Japanese technicians who were more than happy to lend their expertise. These productions tended to lack the polish of Japan’s films. …

© Toho Company, Ltd.

A former university professor named Kenji Murai (Akira Kubo) is committed to a mental institution. He tells his story to the hospital’s staff. He, along with six others, had set sail in a yacht for what was meant to be a short boating trip. Only he returned. Another of Godzilla director Ishiro Honda’s finest films, Matango is a hallucinogenic horror/sci-fi hybrid. It is perhaps Toho’s finest 1960s genre production. Akin to a childhood nightmare, it compares well with the contemporary works of Mario Bava or Terence Fisher in atmospheric dread.

© Toho Company, Ltd.

Mothra is one of Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya’s finest monster films alongside Godzilla. Produced in Toho’s heyday, it boasts a distinctive, fantastical tone. Mothra also features lavish, near Hollywood tier production values. Director Honda and the film’s writers delve into some interesting subtexts. These include environmentalism, indigenous issues and the dark side of Western capitalism. At the same time, Tsuburaya impresses with one stunning destruction sequence after another.

By 1960, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was eager to make another monster movie. Toho’s last such film had been the fairly disastrous Varan (1958), though a recreation of mythical beast Yamata no…

Toho international pressbook for GODZILLA (1954), © Toho Company, Ltd.

Haunting footfalls are heard against a black screen before an iconic roar cuts through the sound mix. Then driving music starts playing. We then cut to a shot of the sea from the deck of a salvage vessel. The crewmen pass the time by playing a harmonica and guitar on on deck. Suddenly, the ocean erupts in a blinding flash of light and the ship bursts into flames. This is the opening of Ishiro Honda’s classic 1954 Godzilla. Many film scholars have difficulty admitting this, but Seven Samurai is not the most famous Japanese movie. Godzilla is. As beloved as…

J.L. Carrozza

Jules L. Carrozza (1986-) is a film director, video editor, writer, graphic designer and general crazy person.

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