Wednesday, November 18, 2009


One of the goals I set for myself with this blog was to watch and comment on all the Godzilla movies in chronological order. This is a somewhat more modest goal than, say, landing a man on the moon but this blog is a one man job that I'm just doing for laughs. Even though I have no idea how far I'll get before I get bored I should at least grind through a few films. What can it hurt?

Besides, the first one up is a goody. I speak, of course, of the original Godzilla film. Or Gojira. Or Godzilla 54. Or whatever the heck you want to call it. Just so we're clear, it's the first film starring Godzilla. Wow, this blog is going to be a painful experience if this is how all my posts are going to read.

Anyway, I'm here to talk about the film, not it's name. Part melodrama about the collateral damages of war, part bald-faced rip-off of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Godzilla is a surprisingly serious rubber monster movie. Considering how ridiculous the genre is it's only natural that it became goofy once this sort of story caught on. Godzilla, however, is often as grim and thudding as Akira Ifukube's score.

That's not to say that the movie isn't insane. Far from it, really. Even discounting the whole giant monster thing the movie often lets bizarre events unfold on-screen without comment. For instance, at an early point in the film an old man is seen decrying the loss of traditions that once guaranteed good fishing conditions and prosperity for the village he lived in. At first it seems that he could be there as a mouth-piece designed to bemoan the modernization and Westernization of Japan at that point in time. A moment later, however, he starts to sound a bit too thrilled about remembering the good old days of virgin sacrifices so in the end he comes across as one more bit of kooky local color. Then again, this guy is living in a world where television sets turn themselves on automatically when something interesting is being broadcast. In that kind of world who can judge what is too much?

One certainly can't judge Dr. Serizawa [Akihiko Hirata], the tragic hero of the film and major movie egghead. Scientists are an almost inescapable part of monster movies but Serizawa is in a league of his own. Not only does this man of learning win a fist fight at one point but he lives in such a crazy mad scientist lair that people don't even take off their shoes when they go inside. Serizawa should be an inspiration to us all. I know somebody who was excited because she refurbished her basement by moving in a couch and putting down some carpeting. Serizawa managed to create a device more dangerous than an atomic bomb in his basement lab. Now that's a productive hobby!

Yes, Godzilla's rampages continue to thrill and the highly strung but unflappably polite humans continue to amuse. But what struck me most during my most recent re-viewing was how little I know of the film. Sure, I've heard the rhetoric about how Godzilla is a serious critique of the atomic age, Japan's place in the world, blah, blah, blah, and so on. But what was the actual reception of the film like? What was the popular and critical reaction when it was released and where does the film stand today? Although the film does try to present some sort of message the same can be said for many other movies. Was Godzilla viewed as a message movie the same way Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow is seen as a subtle, level-headed discussion on global warming or the way that the beefcake burlesque of The Ten Commandments is viewed as a pious rendition of Biblical events? Seriously, did anyone buy what Godzilla was selling now or then? Even the fact that it was a success at the box office doesn't tell me anything since there's no shortage of successful movies that aren't any good. Feel free to add the name of your least favorite popular movie here.

I have read any Japanese academic work on Godzilla and I can almost say the same for pieces published in English. I've read articles by Professor William Tsutsui but that's only a single viewpoint. Considering the longevity and cultural impact of Godzilla there has to be more criticism out there. It seems that I'm off on a scavenger hunt for more information about the oeuvre of Godzilla and where he stands in the worlds of movie criticism and academia. Even after all these years the King of the Monsters continues to fascinate me.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ultrabox of Ultraman

There are times when I can't pass up a bargain. When something gets too cheap I'll be tempted to buy it even if it's something that may not fully interest me. This problem most recently struck me when I came across a DVD box of the entire first season of Ultraman for $10.99 USD. I can't even say I'm a fan of Ultraman but it was sixteen hours worth of Ultraman for a bit over ten bucks. How could I say no to that?

Having established that I have no willpower what am I supposed to do with 960 minutes worth of Ultraman? That's a butt-load of Ultraman to sit through. Since I'm now the proud(?) owner of thirty-something episodes of Ultraman I figured I should watch a few so I could not only get the gist of the show but so I could have something to post here.

I should look up who was responsible for this show [geez, I just started this blog and I'm already getting lazy with these reviews] but it's obviously from the fine folks at Toho's monster section since it has that mid-sixties Godzilla vibe going on. While the monsters are the main draw you can tell the creators are putting their hearts into the creations of the models. The camera lovingly lingers over tiny buildings or miniature vehicles that have fireworks and flares spitting out the back to simulate jet propulsion. I get the feeling the people making Ultraman would have been perfectly happy to let the show be nothing more than thirty minutes of little rocket planes spinning around on wires.

Even the regular cast come across more like pieces of the set than characters in their own right. The heroes of the show are supposed to be part of some sort of world-wide scientific anti-monster squad, or something like that. The narrator tried to explain what their job was at one point but it the exposition got a little out of control. Whatever it is they do, their main duty seems to be to run around in these adorably dorky matching orange jump suits that come accessorized with neckties. If an episode I watched is to be believed they even sleep together in bunk beds in a dormitory side-room of their super-science headquarters. Nobody tunes into a giant monster show for the humans but in the few episodes I've seen I've found this team to be oddly endearing in how they simultaneously act like adults and children living in a club house.

Speaking of children, I should say that I find most of the humans endearing with the exception of the kid that shows up. Yes, Ultraman is another one of those shows that features some boy in short pants and a cap who seemingly has unlimited access to government buildings. What is with this character type? Did Japanese children actually identify with these snot nosed brats back in the day? The only thought that comes to mind when I see him show up on the screen is that I hope he wanders a bit too close to the death ray the monster of the week is spitting out.

Since I brought up the monsters I should get to what it is that people would tune into Ultraman for in the first place: what is the monster going to do in this episode and when is Ultraman going to show up and beat it to death? Perhaps it is due to the brevity of a thirty minute television format but Ultraman is brutally direct when it comes to dealing with opponents. In one episode I think he committed genocide on an entire race of aliens because one of their representatives got on his nerves. In another episode Ultraman took to pounding on this monster in such a lopsided battle that I began to feel sorry for the poor creature. After bashing it so badly that pieces were literally falling off the monster's body, Ultraman went for an hysterical level of overkill and blasted the beast to pieces with a laser built into his forearm. The people watching the fight seemed thrilled by the outcome even though I'm not certain if the huge pile of smoldering monster chunks was really that much of an improvement. When Ultraman starts doing his thing it's violent, loopy and totally lacking in any sort of socially redeeming values. Yeah, it's awesome.

So while I don't know if I need this DVD set or this much Ultraman in my life I'm nevertheless glad it's there. In the complicated world we live in there are times when we all wish that problems could be solved thanks to the help of a giant guy with a robotic fish face.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Today is the first blog of the rest of your life

Hey ho, what do you know, I have a blog! Since Geocities went and died on me I realized I needed to have a new place on the world wide web to pointlessly pontificate. To that end I decided it was high time to get into the whole blog thing. But what am I going to post here? At this point I'm really not certain. But at least I have staked out my territory so I can use it at some future date.

Will this be a bold new venture in aimless ramblings? Will this blog fall victim to neglect and disuse? Will I forget my password? Only time will tell.