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Director: Ishiro Honda
Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock

In 1965, Toho Company Ltd. and United Productions of America (UPA) set a precedent in the Japanese film industry by importing an American actor to appear in one of Toho’s monster epics. The actor in question was Nick Adams and the film was FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. Prior to this film, the usual practice was for American producers to buy an already made Japanese film and shoot additional scenes in Hollywood with American actors and splice the footage together (a la GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE, GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE and KING KONG VS. GODZILLA). Mr. Adams returned to Japan for two more Toho films (MONSTER ZERO and THE KILLING BOTTLE) and after a few more films in which American actors flew to Japan for a “work/vacation” (Russ Tamblyn in WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS and Rhodes Reason in KING KONG ESCAPES), Toho assembled the largest American cast (including Joseph Cotten, Cesar Romero, Patricia Medina, Richard Jaeckel and Linda Haynes) to date for one of its science fiction films. Of course the film is the little seen and oft-requested 1969 thriller, LATITUDE ZERO. Now as part of their excellent line of Toho films, Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock has released it to DVD in a beautiful presentation which should satisfy even the most demanding die hard fan.

An expedition consisting of Dr. Ken Tashiro (Akira Takarada), Dr. Jules Masson (Masumi Okada), and newspaperman Perry Lawton (Richard Jaeckel) are in a diving bell exploring volcanic activity in the central Pacific. After an undersea earthquake damages the bell, the three men are taken to a strange undersea utopia headed by Captain Craig Mackenzie (Joseph Cotten). Captain Mackenzie was believed to have died many years earlier, but does not seem to have aged at all since his disappearance. He later founded this land of peace, beauty, and tranquility at the zero degree latitude in the Pacific. Other members of Mackenzie’s perfect world include the lovely Dr. Anne Barton (Linda Haynes), and Dr. Sugata (Akihiko Hirata) as well as other scientists who have willingly left society to join Mackenzie’s beautiful utopia. Mackenzie has developed special ways to stop the aging process and cure all known diseases so his people may live in perfect harmony.

Threatening Mackenzie’s peaceful existence is the mad Dr. Mallic (Cesar Romero) and his assistant, Lucretia (Patricia Medina). Holed up in a futuristic cave, Mallic kidnaps a world famous scientist, Dr. Okada (Tetsu Nakamura) and his daughter, Tsuruko (Mari Nakayama) in an effort to force the doctor to reveal scientific secrets. It is up to Captain Mackenzie to rescue the pair and the rest of the film deals with the various monsters Mallic throws at the rescue party (including giant rats, flying monkeys, and a flying lion with the brain of a human).

The behind-the-scenes drama of the making of LATITUDE ZERO was every bit as chaotic as some of the events which unfold on screen. According to Patricia Medina (as told to Stuart Galbraith IV in his book, Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo!!!), money was a big issue as the three stars (Ms. Medina, her husband Joseph Cotten and Cesar Romero) arrived in Tokyo only to discover there was no money for expenses or salary. Apparently, the American producers had failed to come through with their end of the budget and Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was desperately trying to raise the funds to keep the project going. Eventually, he persuaded his three skeptical stars to make the film and he promised he would pay them in six months. According to Ms. Medina, he was as good as his word and they were paid six months to the day after finishing the film.

The film itself is incredibly juvenile even for 1960s standards and has not really improved in 2007. Cesar Romero in particular hams it up as Dr. Mallic with none of the humor he showed as “The Joker” in the classic “Batman” series. Linda Haynes is really just around to look beautiful while Joseph Cotten is about as far away from CITIZEN KANE, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS and SHADOW OF A DOUBT as one can get. This was Richard Jaeckel’s second Japanese/American co-production following 1967’s THE GREEN SLIME. The Japanese actors speak their lines entirely in English and while Akira Takarada and Masumi Okada do fairly well, Akihiko Hirata is barely understandable in his role.

One of the casualties of the money problems was a slash in the special effects budget. Some of Eiji Tsuburaya’s effects do suffer and look as though they were rushed. The costumes of the giant rats and the flying lion are particularly weak. The batmen costumes are not too bad, though. On the whole, the miniature work is good (the submarines, etc.) although there are no scenes of city destruction as was so common in the Godzilla films. Another reason for the uneven effects was also due to Eiji Tsuburaya’s failing health. LATITUDE ZERO was one of the last films of his long and illustrious career. His name was officially attached to GODZILLA’S REVENGE (shot later in 1969) although he really did not work on the major special effects scenes as that film relied heavily on stock footage from GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER, SON OF GODZILLA, and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS). Mr. Tsuburaya died in January 1970.

One of the film’s major assets is the excellent set design by Takeo Kita. The sets are done in a flashy 1960s psychedelic style. In addition, the costume designs are also very out-of-this-world (most especially the female costumes of Linda Haynes and Mari Nakayama which are incredibly sexy). Also, Akira Ifukubie contributes another great musical score which uses an eerie harpsichord for some scenes as well as his epic style marches in other scenes.

Media Blasters presentation is excellent in keeping with their other Toho releases. This two disc special edition features the American version of the film on disc one. Special features include a stills section with teaser trailers as well as a Japanese trailer. The Japanese version features a 23 minute interview featurette with Seiji Tani, Teruyoshi Nakano (assistant directors) and effects men Koichi Kawakita and Motoyoshi Tomoika, as well as a section of deleted special effects scenes. The video presentation is excellent on the American version, but the Japanese version has a bit of edge with a bit of a sharper picture. Both are presented anamorphic in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios. The American version runs 105 minutes and the Japanese version runs 89 minutes. The audio is excellent on both versions in your choice of mono or Dolby Digital 5.1.

Overall, Media Blasters has done a great job in re-introducing this bizarre and generally goofy and absurd film after a 30 year hiatus from television syndication due to rights issues. Genre fans will definitely like to have this collector’s edition on their shelves. (Joe Cascio)