After the worldwide success of GOJIRA (1954) in its native Japan and its American adaptation in 1956 (as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS!), Toho Company Ltd. Executive Tomoyuki Tanaka began producing other similarly themed science fiction epics like 1956’s RODAN, 1957’s THE MYSTERIANS, and VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE in 1958. Perhaps inspired by the success of Hammer’s THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT in 1955 and QUATERMASS 2 in 1957, Tanaka jumped on the bandwagon with a similar idea of a radioactive blob menacing Tokyo in THE H-MAN in 1958. The following year, Toho produced a space opera similar in style to their THE MYSTERIANS with BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE. Finally in 1961, the company returned to its tried and true formula of a giant monster menacing Japan with the release of MOTHRA. Finally, after years of waiting and watching horrible pan and scan prints on television, SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT has re-mastered (in the proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio), restored, and released to DVD on three discs these three classics which illustrate the creative heyday of the magicians of Toho Company Ltd: director Inoshiro Honda and special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya.
Disc One—THE H-MAN (1958)
Mysterious deaths have been occurring in Tokyo. It seems that people have been literally dissolved by some strange radioactive substance which has oozed out of the sewer system in the form of a green blob. When a college professor (Kenji Sahara) discovers that the blob originated on a hapless ship that sailed into an atomic test area, he is at first met with ridicule by the Tokyo police. However, when the authorities begin investigating crimes involving the local Yazuka (Japanese organized crime), they realize that they are indeed up against a radioactive blob which is growing larger as it eats more and more people. The professor and the police chief (Akihikko Hirata) combine forces and attempt to destroy this menace before it spreads throughout Japan.
The cast of THE H-MAN features Toho A-list talent including Kenji Sahara and Yumi Shirakawa (who both headlined RODAN and THE MYSTERIANS). Miss Shirakawa is particularly good as Chitako, the strong-willed gangster moll with a heart of gold who tries to help the scientists. Akihikko Hirata is also sturdy as the police chief as are all the other familiar Toho faces like Yoshifumi Tajima, Eitaro Ozawa and Koreya Senda.
Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects are a tour de force as people are melted right on camera using plastic dummies which had the air let out of them while the cameras rolled at high speed. When projected at regular speed, the effect is remarkable. The blob itself oozes menacingly on walls and floors, and although there are no giant monsters per se, there are some clever miniatures such as the eerie “ghost ship” where the blob is first born, as well as miniatures of the Tokyo sewer system used in the fiery finale.
Director Honda handles the subplot of the Japanese criminal underworld in a very interesting fashion and makes great use of the seedy world of Tokyo nightclubs. This is accompanied by Masaru Sato’s excellent musical score which is eerie in appropriate scenes, but also features some good jazz numbers for the nightclub scenes. The beautiful Miss Shirakawa also has a couple of catchy nightclub numbers and it appears that she was mouthing the lyrics in English.
Sony Pictures has gone through a painstaking job (with the help of Toho experts Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski) to present THE H-MAN in the best possible version. The disc contains a 2.35:1 anamorphic English version with the Columbia logo and English dialogue track featuring everyone’s favorite voice artist Paul Frees doing a variety of parts. The video is truly beautiful with a sharp picture, excellent color, and lots of nice detail. The sound is also crisp and clear. The same description also holds true for the Japanese version. The English subtitles are apparently direct translations of the Japanese dialogue and (as was common for all Toho sci-fi films released in the United States) some very minor scenes were trimmed for the U.S. release (in 1959 on a double bill with Columbia’s British import THE WOMAN EATER). The Japanese version is also in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen for 16x9 televisions.
Disc Two—BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959)
In 1957, Toho Company Ltd., produced THE MYSTERIANS, an epic space opera in the WAR OF THE WORLDS/EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS tradition. In 1959, Toho produced this similar film (although it is definitely NOT a direct sequel to THE MYSTERIANS).
In the “future” year of 1965, mysterious disasters sweep across the globe. A huge water spout destroys Venice, while the Panama Canal is dried up reducing ships to rubble, and a bridge in Japan is mysteriously raised into thin air causing a commuter train to fall into the ravine below. After the destruction of a space station orbiting the earth, scientists conclude that hostile aliens have declared war on Earth. The aliens from the planet Natal have established a base on the moon and an international team of scientists go to the moon and badly damage the Natalians. This gives the scientists time to return to Earth and prepare for the final battle with the Natalian mother ship in the last act.
Out of the three films released as part of the collection, BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE is probably the weakest as far as story and character development is concerned. Although it is loaded with Eiji Tsuburaya’s trick photography (especially the attack on Tokyo by the Natalian mother ship in the last act which is a hoot!!!!), characters in this film are strictly one dimensional. At least in THE MYSTERIANS, the screenwriters explored the tormented feelings of Ryochi Shirashi (Akihikko Hirata) who was torn between scientific knowledge the Mysterians offered and loyalty to his race. Yoshio Tsuchiya’s character is possessed by the Natalians in BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE, but it really serves as a forced plot device to keep the story moving with no real emotional payoff.
Sony Pictures has done another excellent job with BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE as far as video/audio presentation is concerned. However, the only flaw concerns the Japanese version which looks beautiful visually, but the subtitles are simply the same subtitles used on the English version for the hearing impaired. They represent the English version, but are NOT a direct translation of the Japanese dialogue and what the characters were actually saying. Otherwise, the video (for BOTH the English and Japanese versions) is in 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement for 16x9 televisions. The audio on both versions is crisp and clear although the English dubbing (credited to Bellucci Enterprises who also dubbed GHIDORAH THE THREE HEADED MONSTER in 1965) is ludicrous in the extreme thus giving the Japanese science fiction films that bad rap they unjustly received. Listen to the Japanese audio to hear the Japanese actors deliver their lines more believably. The other extra is a fine and informative audio commentary on both versions by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski. These two gentleman are the foremost Godzilla experts and their comments on BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE and MOTHRA (THE H-MAN does not have an audio commentary because there was only budget enough to do comments for two of the three films) are on the same excellent level they produced for Classic Media’s Godzilla DVDs from a couple of years ago.
Disc Three—MOTHRA (1961)
After creating three giant monsters (GODZILLA, RODAN, and VARAN), Tomoyuki Tanaka decided to return to that proven formula by creating a brand new giant; MOTHRA. However, this monster (if one can even call it that), proves to be as loving and gentle as it could also be destructive.
During a colossal hurricane, a Japanese ship wanders into a radioactive area near Infant Island (Beru Island in the English dubbed version). When the survivors are finally rescued, they relate a tale about natives living on the island and these natives have somehow escaped radiation poisoning. An expedition led by Dr. Hirata (Ken Uehara), Professor Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi) and villainous Clark Nelson (Jerry Itoh) return to the island. Accompanying them is stowaway reporter Sinchan Makuda (Franky Sakai). While exploring the island, Chujo discovers two “fully grown women a foot high.” Reporter Makuda dubs the women “Shobijin” or “little beauties.” Of course, Nelson’s avarice gets the better of him and on a secret return visit to the island, kidnaps the tiny women and exploits them in his show at a Tokyo theater.
Eventually, the giant “god” of Infant Island is revealed as a huge larva which swims directly to Tokyo to rescue the girls. While laying waste the city, Mothra spins a cocoon around the Tokyo Tower and emerges as a beautiful, but destructive moth which flies to Nelson’s country of Rolisica in a last ditch effort to rescue the kidnapped twins.
MOTHRA was one of Toho’s big pictures of 1961, and is loaded with A-list talent such as Ken Uehara as Dr. Hirata as well as comedian Franky Sakai who brings a light hearted touch as the reporter Makuda. Mr. Sakai was an extremely talented actor who could do great comedy as well as drama as evidenced by his heart-breaking portrayal of a husband and father unable to protect his loved ones from a nuclear World War III in Shue Matsubayahsi’s THE LAST WAR (1961). Other familiar Toho players include Akihikko Hirata, Kenji Sahara, Kyoko Kagawa, and Takashi Shimura (Dr. Yamane from the original GOJIRA).
Perhaps the most memorable characters from MOTHRA are of course “The Peanuts.” A twin sister singing act consisting of beautiful Yumi Ito and Emi Ito, they manage to steal nearly every scene with their beautiful singing of the memorable “Song of Mothra.” The twins became so well known in Japan and internationally for their association with MOTHRA that they reprised their roles in both GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (U.S. title GODZILLA VS. THE THING) in 1964 and GHIDORAH THE THREE HEADED MONSTER in 1965. They do not however appear in 1966’s GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER and sources differ as to why. Some contend the Ito sisters commanded too high a fee by 1966 and GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER had a much lower budget than the earlier films. Some have said that the Ito sisters were just simply too busy with other commitments as they were at the height of their popularity. At any rate, The Bambi Pair played “The Shobijin” in GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER and the Ito sisters retired in 1975.
The English version of MOTHRA was released by Columbia Pictures in the summer of 1962. On its first run engagements, it was double billed with Columbia’s THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT, but was also reissued in some markets with William Castle’s ZOTZ! (which is coming to DVD from Sony in October 2009!!!). The English dubbing was also provided for MOTHRA by none other than Titra Sound Studios in New York City. As any genre fan would know, Titra Studios provided some of the best and most memorable voices for a variety of Japanese and other foreign productions (mostly released in the United States by American International Pictures) such as GODZILLA VS. THE THING, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, the AIP version of Toho’s DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, the AIP version of GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER, and several of AIP-TV’s Gamera films. The company also provided the English voices for the cult classic cartoon series, SPEED RACER and Peter Fernandez who voiced Speed can be heard as one of the characters in MOTHRA. The English version of MOTHRA was directed by Titra’s Lee Kressel who also directed the American version of Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY (1961).
Sony’s presentation of MOTHRA is again first rate. The Japanese version runs about ten minutes longer than the English version. Both versions are in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement for 16x9 television sets. The subtitles for the Japanese version appear to be a direct translation of the Japanese dialogue. The audio on both is excellent. There is the aforementioned audio commentary with Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski. This audio commentary is especially informative as to the script development from the original treatment to what was finally put on the screen as well as the political symbolism of having a country called “Rolisica” in the film stand in for America and Russia (both bitter Cold War rivals at the time the film was shot).
Overall, Sony has done an excellent job with this installment of THE ICONS OF… series. As already mentioned, their next foray into a genre collection will be this October with their release of the William Castle collection with three first timers on DVD as part of the set (THE OLD DARK HOUSE, a Hammer/Castle co-production, 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS, and ZOTZ!!!). Keep them coming Sony!!!! (Joe Cascio)
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