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.

Shin Godzilla. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

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Warning: Here be spoilers.

When Toho announced in 2014 that we would be getting a new Godzilla film and it would be co-directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, with a screenplay by Anno and visual effects by Higuchi, it was a certainty that the men who collaborated on the anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, would be giving us a very different kind of Godzilla.

And so, jump forward to 2016, and that’s exactly what we have. Shin Godzilla, or Godzilla Resurgence as it’s also known, takes a markedly different approach which will either be seen by viewers as a refreshing stroke of genius or as a huge disappointment.

I fall squarely in the former opinion. The human viewpoint in this film is not on some forced love affair, or crazed scientist caught up in the events of a giant monster stomping through Tokyo, but rather it takes a long, hard look at the stuff we usually don’t see: the politicians, the military, the administration and the bureaucracy thrown into complete turmoil by the emergence of a creature in Tokyo bay that comes up onto land and works its way through the city relentlessly.

That this creature is only the first stage in the development leading to the newest form of Godzilla is just one of the new slants taken by Anno & Higuchi. It’s a strange looking beast, almost comical, which serves to keep viewers on loose footing as we’re then shown how much damage it creates on a very personal level.

And that’s another interesting wrinkle, there are no central lead characters (despite the lead billing of Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, and Satomi Ishihara (whose struggles with her English line readings unfortunately shine through all too clearly). Instead, we follow a bureaucratic hive mind of politicians and scientists as they struggle to figure out evacuation plans to minimise the public death toll.

When the final Godzilla emerges again to wreak havoc, the stakes get higher as the U.S. threatens to intervene with nuclear weapons, a course still found abominable by the Japanese, of course. The politicians become caught between a rock and a hard place as they must decide whether to bow to international pressure or strike forward with their own plan.

I found this approach completely refreshing and was absorbed quickly into proceedings. Drawing inspiration from (and heavily alluding to) the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami gave this film a resonating power that really sets it apart from and yet beautifully parallels Ishiro Honda’s nuclear parable in 1954’s original, Godzilla. Anno and Higuchi are highly critical of the bureaucracy that frequently mires Japanese officials into inaction, but they also express positivity and hope of Japan finding its way without international intervention (something I feel has been misread in some quarters as out and out nationalism). Having said this, I can see why this very talky approach will not appeal to all viewers – there are a lot of scenes in board rooms and meeting rooms. Your mileage may vary.

The action when it comes is spectacular. Seeing Godzilla attack the military with an entire bridge is something that filled me with complete joy, and despite one or two shaky FX shots, this is a hugely impressive film visually, with many breathtaking shots. I also loved Godzilla’s astonishingly brutal new radioactive breath, and the newest additions to his arsenal.

The design of this new Godzilla has also proven to be controversial among Godzilla fans (but then change of any kind is always controversial among Godzilla fans). His slow movements and little arms (and biiiig thighs) do take a little getting used to, but I warmed to both approaches by the end.

Without going into full spoiler mode, the final shot is also quite horrifying and chilling (something I’ve not felt in a Godzilla film since Honda’s original) and if a sequel moves ahead – highly likely since this is now the highest grossing live-action Japanese film of 2016 and the highest grossing Japanese-produced Godzilla film in the franchise – then it would prove an intriguing starting point for any new story.

One of the qualities I love best about the Godzilla franchise is its constant ability to reinvent itself – it’s done so many times before and with Godzilla being a worldwide brand thanks to the continued success of the Japanese films and international offshoots such as Gareth Edwards’ 2012 U.S. production – and what I enjoyed about Shin Godzilla is that the big, scaly beast has mutated into something different once again. Don’t like it? Don’t worry, there’ll be yet another type of Godzilla along in twenty or thirty years. Right now, I’m happy with this horrific new incarnation.

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.