Icons of Sci Fi: Toho Collection

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51xqpFcUtZL__SS500_.jpgLike many a kid in the 60s & 70s, I grew up watching on television dubbed and edited versions of the various Japanese "kaiju eiga" films produced by Toho Studios.  I loved watching the various giant monster movies such as Godzilla (1954/56), Rodan (1956), Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster (1965) , Frankenstein Conquers the World (1966), and War of the Gargantuas (1966/70), among others. 

Often set in Toyko or surrounding areas, these films were then notable for the spectacle of watching actors in monster suits smash up buildings when not fighting each other.  But watching the films today on DVD, with restored color, sound, original Japanese soundtrack and proper widescreen width, I've found that I missed a lot of detail and originality that had been lost in the blown-up, edited UHF showings (with incessant commercials) I viewed in the past.  And oh, those great rousing musical scores!

I won't get into a whole history and critical reappraisment of these films right now, but I do want to point out that three Toho productions (one of which is probably instantly recognizable by its title) from 1958-61 were recently released for the first time on DVD by Sony PicturesIcons of Sci Fi: Toho Collection features the DVD debuts of 1958's The H-Man, 1959's Battle in Outer Space and, the one everybody will remember, 1961's Mothra. All three, directed by Godzilla's Ishiro Honda, are presented in widescreen format and in both their original Japanese (with some different scenes and music scores) and the edited and dubbed English-language versions.  Battle and Mothra also offer audio comentary tracks by Japanese film buffs (and kaiju eiga fans)  Ed Godziszeaski and Steve Ryfle, who provide historical and technical background knowledge in an entertaining way. 

The H-Man (with Toho regulars Kenji Sahara and Akihiko Hirata) is a suspenseful little thriller that combines the police procedural (detectives investigating a seedy night club connected to drug dealers) and horror/science fiction genres (irradiated victims of a H-bomb blast have turned into gaseous, blob-like "H-Men" creatures who devour people, including various regulars at the aforementioned night club, leaving only their clothes behind).  Sort of a forerunner to The X-Files TV series, with some great creepy moments, The H-Man (obviously, there are several H-Men creatures seen in the film), goofy plot and all,is a lot of fun.

Battle in Outer Space (starring Ryo Ikebe), set in the "near future" (1965!), starts off with a bang as mysterious aliens destroy a manned space station orbiting Earth, then follow up with various scientifically-created disasters like floods and earthquakes and all-out aerial attacks on our planet's cities.  Scientists for the United Nations deduce that the aliens are operating from a hidden base on the Moon and send two spaceships to put down the enemy, unaware that one of their crew is now under the aliens' control.  Despite the amazingly simple plot, Battle contains several great space and aerial warfare scenes (which, from the looks of things, may have influenced Star Wars creator George Lucas a great deal) and is very exciting.  Be sure to check out the Japanese version on the disc.  While Sony erred with the English subtitles (they used the ones for the English dubbed version, though it's not too noticeable), they nevertheless scored a bullseye by allowing fans to finally hear the unedited, original exciting musical score (which was mostly replaced by stock music cues by the American distributor, Columbia Pictures) by veteran Toho composer Akira Ifukube  (who also did the scores for the other two films in this collection)!

Mothra (with Frankie Sakai) finds the title character/creature flying to Toyko (and later, "New Kirk City", a thinly disguised USA) to rescue two tiny,elf-like native twins, "the Peanuts", from an (vaguely American-looking) opportunist business magnate (Jerry Ito).  Mothra creates a lot of damage in her wake before the twins are finally returned to their (and Mothra's) native island.  A delightful, exciting action/adventure fantasy with some welcome satirical humor and great special effects (no longer limited by "scan & pan" TV editing), Mothra is still enjoyable after all these years!

You can reserve a copy of Icons of Sci Fi: Toho Collection online here from the library.    

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This page contains a single entry by Ed published on September 17, 2009 1:14 PM.

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