Criterion Release Trailer for Awesome Godzilla Collection Box Set

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The Criterion Collection, a boutique company which releases “important classic and contemporary” films to home video has just released the trailer for their forthcoming 1000th set:

Godzilla: The Showa Era Films, 1954 – 1975, will collect in one glorious-looking box, the first fifteen movies from Toho’s long-running kaiju eiga series:

Godzilla (1954), Godzilla Raids Again (1955), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963), Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966), Son of Godzilla (1967), Destroy All Monsters (1968), All Monsters Attack (1969), Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975).

The Criterion set is the first such collection released in the West, tracking Godzilla’s journey from the wrath of atomic power through to kooky world-saving hero, and also features Japanese and U.S. versions of both Godzilla and King Kong vs. Godzilla, audio commentaries, audio essays, new translations, new and archival interviews with the casts and crews and a deluxe hardcover book full of notes on the films and a slew of gorgeous new illustrations, along with much more.

If that trailer has your radioactive breath set to full blast, you’ll be pleased to know Criterion’s Godzilla box set will be released on October 29th.

Godzilla R.I.P. – Sayonara, Haruo Nakajima

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Haruo Nakajima (中島 春雄 Nakajima Haruo) the Japanese suitmation actor best known for portraying Godzilla from the original movie in 1954 through twelve consecuctive films until Godzilla vs Gigan in 1972, has passed away at the age of 88.

Alongside his physically demanding role as the King of the Monsters, he performed suitmation roles as monsters in an unprecedented number of kaiju eiga including Rodan (1956), Mogera in The Mysterians (1957), Varan the Unbelievable (1958), Mothra (1960), Matango (1963), Baragon in Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), Gaira in War of the Gargantuas (1966) and even the Eighth Wonder of the World himself, King Kong in King Kong Escapes (1967). He would also work with Godzilla special effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya in a number of the popular Ultraman TV series.

Nakajima’s impressive career began at the age of 33 in Sword for Hire (1952), before taking on roles in The Woman Who Touched the Legs (1952), Eagle of the Pacific (1953) and Farewell Rabaul (1954) – both for original Godzilla director Ishirō Honda, which led directly to his casting as the beloved monster – and then Seven Samurai for Akira Kurosawa in 1954.

After his retirement from film and television work in 1973, Nakajima would become a popular and much loved figure at many Godzilla conventions around the world.

In the short film The Man Who Was Godzilla, Nakajima said: “In the end the Godzilla I played remains on film forever. It remains in people’s memory, and for that I feel really grateful.”

Rest in peace, Godzilla.

Godzilla: King Of The Anime

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Care of Godzilla expert August Ragone’s always authoritative website, The Good, The Bad, and Godzilla, news comes that Toho Animation have just dropped the first teaser trailer for their forthcoming anime, Godzilla: Monster Planet (international title: Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters).

With a screenplay by Gen Urobuchi, writer of animated TV series including Peulla Magi Madoka Magica and Kamen Rider Gaim, and directed by Koubun Shizuno (Knights of Sidonia) and Hiroyuki Seshita (Ajin: The Demi-Human) the film, the first in a trilogy, will premiere in Japan in November, while Netflix have picked it up for international worldwide distribution.

Executive producer, Yoshihiro Furusawa, was reported in Variety as saying “I wasn’t familiar with Godzilla, and I made the film so even those who don’t know Godzilla can enjoy watching it.”

The story is set in the future world of 2048 and centres on a group of human beings who take revenge after being pushed from Earth by monsters such as Godzilla.

Here’s hoping for an animated Godzilla that will banish thoughts of Godzooky from the collective consciousness once and for all.

Rare Grooves – The Last Dinosaur

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Welcome to the first in an occasional series of articles where I’ll be looking at the songs that have graced some of my favourite films through the years. Of course, since this is OODH, it’s unlikely I’ll be tackling anything from Grease or The Little Mermaid (fabulous as the Ashman & Menken tunes were in the latter).

In 1977, Japan’s Tsuburaya Productions (creators of Ultraman) teamed up with Rankin/Bass in the U.S. (famous for animated specials such as Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Mad Monster Party) to co-produce an odd little gem, the Tokusatsu movie, The Last Dinosaur. Richard Boone and Joan Van Ark star as two Americans who travel to an Arthur Conan Doyle/Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired lost continent beyond the polar ice caps (accompanied by a Maasi warrior tracker and a scientest, played by Luther Rackley and Tetsu Nakamura), to find a lost geologist, played by Steven Keats.

Co-directed by Alexander Grasshoff and Shusei Kotani, billed as Tom Kotani, the finished production aired in the United States February 11, 1977 as a television movie on the ABC network and shortly afterwards was released in Japan as a theatrical feature.

The film comes roaring from the gate, all guns blazing, with its astonishing main attraction right from the outset. That’s not, as you might imagine, the snarling, drooling Tyrannosaurus Rex as featured prominently in the film’s posters and trailer, but rather the snarling, drooling, sexist, drink-sodden, wealthy big game hunter, Maston Thrust (…no, really). Hollywood legend Boone gives his all (and then some) as the aptly-named Thrust, starting out at ten and then dialling up the amp from there. Subtle and nuanced the performanced isn’t, but it sure is a thing of beauty!

Maury Laws was chosen to compose the film’s score (a job he did for many of the Rankin/Bass specials and series) while the title song, with lyrics by Jules Bass, was sung by Nancy Wilson, and arranged and conducted by Bernard Hoffer.

Bass, of course, was also one of the film’s producers, while Hoffer was later the composer of the theme song from beloved 1980s animated series, Thundercats.

Singer Nancy Wilson, also known as “The Girl With the Honey-Coated Voice”, was world-renowned for her career in blues, r & b and jazz. For The Last Dinosaur, her vocals show no condescension at the material and she gives a superb performance in this Bondian recording. The lyrics can hilariously – and quite rightly – be read as referring to both Maston Thrust AND the film’s killer T-Rex, an achievement never topped by John Barry or his lyricists for any of the James Bond title songs.

Sit back, pour yourself a shot of whisky and let your ears be seduced by the 70s elegance of The Last Dinosaur.

 

Go, go away, Power Rangers…

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In all honesty I was never a fan of Saban’s hugely popular Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show: too shrill, too forced. I’d be much more likely to watch an episode of Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, the 16th instalment of Toei’s Super Sentai franchise, from which the American show borrowed footage.

Conversely, I found the movie in 1995 kind of fun to watch with my brain parked firmly in neutral, but not fun enough to make me want to revisit the series.

I’m saying all this by way of admission that it was entirely possible I would not be the target audience for the brand new Power Rangers movie. Regardless, a full trailer has now been released and… well, I have no idea what the heck it is.

There’s your disparate group of good looking teens (“We’re all screw ups!” announces anonymous teen # 4 with all the intensity of a wet weekend in a UK seaside town that’s been closed-up for the winter), there’s a bunch of signposts suggesting they’ll find their way through their screw up-dom to become the heroes they were meant to be, there’s a bunch of rubbish-looking giant CGI thingies doing what they do and there’s a slightly more grimdark version of them all hanging out in their glittered up colour coordinated team outfits. .

Oh, and there’s the much loved Elizabeth Banks as villain, Rita Repulsa. Well, let’s hope she got some kicks out of this, at least. Or at least a new extension to her house.

Frankly, the tone of this trailer is all over the place, starting out with a dark-ish, tormented teen riff on Josh Trank’s Chronicle as they discover they have super powers and ending up with a wisecracking robot sidekick. Who knows what the hell the final film will feel like!?

Anyway, if you’re a fan, here’s your trailer and I hope it’s what you want. I think I’ll just hang on until the next Pacific Rim movie comes along.

Mighty Meiko – Arrow Video’s Female Prisoner Scorpion Collection

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The Japanese genre of Pinky Violence movies is stuffed to the padded bra full of sex, violence and bad girls, and towering over all of them is a quartet of films made (incredibly) between 1972 and 1973. The Female Prisoner Scorpion movies are delightfully lurid, containing lashings of not only the sleazy elements vital to enjoying Women In Prison movies (violence, torture, rape, shower scenes and lesbian sex) but also qualities that show the filmmakers attempting to create something far above the norm, as they are shot full of quite stunning, delirious imagery – particularly in my favourite of the series, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41.

What sets them even higher above the competition, however, is the presence of the star of the films, Meiko Kaji. Actress and singer Kaji has appeared in around 100 films since the early 1970s, including the Stray Cat Rock and the Wandering Ginza Butterfly series and the two Lady Snowblood films (as well as making an appearance in the second Outlaw Gangster VIP film). Her screen persona is that of the lone outlaw, and this is perhaps never more sharply defined than as Nami Matsushima, wronged in the first film, Female Prisoner # 701: Scorpion, by her crooked police detective boyfriend and sent to prison after she attempts to murder him when he allows several drug dealers to gang rape her (buckle up, these films definitely aren’t for the squeamish).

Matsushima is allocated the prisoner number 701 and must fight to exist in a brutal prison run by corrupt, lecherous and sadistic male guards, as well as contend with the attentions of her fellow inmates.

Alongside Kaji, the first three films stand out as a result of the beautiful and often surreal work from director Shunya Ito (the fourth, Grudge Stable, is directed by by Yasuharu Hasebe). Ito worked at the grindhouse and tokusatsu farm, Toei Company, for most of his career and won a Directors Guild of Japan New Directors Citation for Female Prisoner # 701: Scorpion.

Opening the first film with a lovely piece of barbed commentary, the warden of the prison is awarded a commendation for his work in rehabilitating prisoners just as the sirens wail, announcing an escape attempt by prisoner 701, who takes time to explain to her fellow escapee that she’s bleeding profusely as a result of her period before beating a tracker dog to death with a log. 701 is then herself beaten brutally with a rifle butt by the guard who foils her escape.

701 is placed into a grim solitary confinement as she begins to recall the events that led her to this point, and it’s here that Ito’s direction begins to truly shine, with an expressionistic, dreamlike sequence showing Nami’s seduction and abuse by her slimy boyfriend. With shots through glass floors, vivid, comic book lighting and the motif of red used from Nami’s deflowering to her attempted revenge, this may be exploitation, but it’s avant-garde exploitation as seen through the eyes of an artist that transcends to become the very best the genre can offer. Orange Is The New Black this ain’t!

It would be all too easy for Nami/701 to become an unlikeable victim, but both the story and Kaji combine to give us instead a character who endures with a glowering, righteous anger and rises above these terrible events to finally become “Sasori” (Scorpion), an appellation for vengeance and a symbol of female resistance in a world dominated by untrustworthy men (as well as equally untrustworthy women). Virtually silent, absolutely unbreakable and hell bent on exacting revenge, it’s impossible to tear your eyes from the screen whenever she appears and she brings a simmering star quality to this extreme but thoughtful and inventive saga.

The films that follow, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable and Female Prisoner Scorpion: # 701’s Grudge Song offer a wild cinematic experience. It’s little wonder Quentin Tarantino, that wonderful magpie of outré movies, would be a fan of them – enough so that he used Urami Bushi, the recurring theme song from the Female Prisoner series, sung by Meiko Kaji herself of course, for his film, Kill Bill Vol. 2.

Now Arrow Video, the most essential of home video companies (alongside Criterion) have released all four films in an exquisitely packaged and packed box set. As well as brand new 2K restorations of all four films in the series presented both on Blu-ray and DVD, the set contains a treasure trove of video interviews and essays (with the likes of Japanese cinema critics Jasper Sharp and Tom Mes) as well as appreciations by filmmakers including Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts) and Gareth Evans (The Raid). There are archival and new interviews with director Shunya Ito and assistant director Yutaka Kohira, a new interview with production designer Tadayuki Kuwana, theatrical trailers and more.

The 4000 copy limited edition (the films are likely to be released separately at a later date) also contains a beautiful hardback book on the series, with writing by Chuck Stephens, Chris D and Yoshiki Hayashi, as well as a reproduction double-sided fold out poster of two original theatrical posters. The whole package is illustrated by striking, newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan.

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I’ve been in love with these films since first seeing them almost a decade ago and I really cannot recommend them enough. Now Arrow have done a remarkable job, making any previous releases redundant and hopefully exposing them to a wider audience. If I were to nitpick (and I will) I would say it’s a shame Arrow didn’t include the two films in the less widely regarded New Female Prisoner Scorpion series, made in 1976 and 1977. While not as vital they do have their charms and it seems like a missed opportunity. Of course this is only the kind of first world problem likely to worry completists, and perhaps it’s simply an opportunity for another box set.

Meiko Kaji is a powerhouse in Japanese genre cinema and this set really is a fine tribute to one of her signature roles. You might say that prisoner 701 has finally gotten the justice she deserves.