8.24.2014

Monster Island Daydreams – The Art of Kiska Zilla

You've never met an artist like the appropriately monikered Kiska Zilla. That's because Ms. Kiska is like some crazy figment of the still somewhat immature (male) imagination. A haunting phantasm returned from some ancient, afternoon daydream. You know. The kind of chick that even the above average type guy couldn't begin to imagine actually exists. So he sends his mind off pacing into the sometimes-visited confines of the Make-A-Dreamgirl® workshop to make her up himself. And while standing before the dry erase board at M-A-D, said above average guy's mind marks out an outline that gradually becomes fleshed out into a slim, hoodie wearin' honey with tattoo-inked arms. A very odd sort of woman who treasures comic books and who adores Japanese daikaiju flicks. One who intricately doodles rifle-carrying Care Bears and crazed scientists in her "sketchbook of doom". And who can bomb the crap outta' warehouse walls with gorgeous graffiti. A creature as seemingly fictitious to our existence as a #@$%ing unicorn. An artist like the distressingly real Kiska Zilla. A talent too monstrously cool to be true.








8.22.2014

[Book Review] Schoolgirl Milky Crisis is a lot more serious than it looks

Don't be fooled by the nonsensical-looking title or by the sugary sweet image of a sailor suit-clad schoolgirl wearing a moo-cow headdress and a... mechanized udder. Johnathan Clement's Schoolgirl Milky Crisis (2009) is actually serious business. Or as serious as a 400-page collection of writings on the multimillion dollar businesses of Japanese animation, manga, and giant monster flicks can be. So from the pastel-colored front cover to the pastel-colored back cover, Clements fills the pages of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis with informative glimpses into the overlapping realms of Asian popular entertainment that most fans from the West will only get to dream about. From the pampered life of an anime voice actress to the anime industry-crushing ambitions of a film studio owner from China, to the surprising censorship-related reasons why "tentacles" became so prevalent in anime erotica, to several thought-provoking conversations with some of today's best-known makers of animation in Japan, Clements covers three continent's worth of fascinating territory. The writing is well-informed, engaging and immensely educational. But that should probably be expected from the very same author that gave fandom the Anime Encyclopedia, right? Highly recommended.

8.15.2014

The Toho Master Collection DVDs show masterful attention to detail

TOHO MASTER COLLECTION

In 2006 and 2008, to the delight of legions of daikaiju movie fans, Toho and Classic Media unleashed on the worldwide marketplace the TOHO MASTER COLLECTION DVD series. This impressively produced DVD collection offered fans of the genre nine classic Showa-era giant monster films including both the original Japanese language version with English subtitles and the classic American English dubbed version. And each release was issued in resplendent storybook-style digipak cases with transparent disc trays within and handsome typographic and photographic elements throughout.

GOJIRA / GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS

The first release in the TOHO MASTER COLLECTION was GOJIRA (1954), the film that started the worldwide love affair with the daikaiju flicks of Japan. This edition, as well as the soon-to-be-discussed final release in this series, was a 2-disc set that served as one of two incredibly impressive bookends to the other releases in the series. The DVD on the left side of this set boasted the original Japanese language version of the film, and the second disc featured the 1956 English language release, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS.

The next six releases in the series featured single-disc presentations of the films GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1956), MOTHRA VS GODZILLA (1964), GHIDORAH: THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964), INVASION OF THE ASTRO MONSTER (1965), ALL MONSTERS ATTACK (1969) and TERROR of MECHAGODZILLA (1975), the very last of these being the final film produced before the Godzilla series was retired for nearly a decade. These single disc releases also offered the original Japanese language version with subtitles, and the vintage American English dubs.

TOHO MASTER COLLECTION

In contrast to the first and final editions, both of which were double-sized releases with black varnish storybook covers that accommodated double disc presentations, the middle releases were packaged in slimmer silver foil digipaks. In the center of each cover, situated beneath the titles in similarly stylized fonts, were full-color trading card-sized inset images of the original Japanese movie posters. Layered down the left side of the inset image in the aforementioned font was Gojira's Americanized name. Added to this very dynamic presentation, each cover was affixed with a three-dimensional holographic seal that featured the encircled head of Godzilla, the Toho Studios logo in a smaller circle, and the "Toho Master Collection" header in the outermost circle.

Included as a final flourish that epitomizes the masterful attention to detail usually paid by the Japanese, each release also included a removable card stock obi (literally "sash"), situated at the very bottom of the digipak. These were similar to the traditional obi that are used by the publishing industries of Japan to hold together the pages of manga, magazines and hardbacks on bookshelves and magazine racks. And though the cultural significance of this particular accent may have been lost on most purchasers of this DVD series, it still added another nice visual element to an already distinctive-looking package.

RODAN & WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS
The final release that served as the climatic bookend to this excellent series was the surprising double disc double feature of RODAN (1956) and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966). Like the six previous releases, the cover of this DVD set featured the original Japanese movie posters of both films with the double-billed titles of both emblazoned across the top. But unlike all the other DVDs in the series, this release did not feature the handsome holographic seal.

Interested late-comers to the TOHO MASTER COLLECTION DVD series should be aware that the series has recently been re-issued--in order take advantage of the heightened interest in the giant monster genre inspired by the 2014 Godzilla film. Instead of the very detailed packaging discussed here, the discs have been issued in normal Amaray "keep cases". If you only care about the films and not so much about presentation, these re-issues are economically priced to sell wherever daikaiju movies are carried. But if you want to have at least one DVD set in your movie library that is worthy of the longest-running film series in history, tracking down copies of the discs in the digipak packaging is a must.

8.09.2014

Gamera Gashapon Figures by Konami*

Since his 1965 film debut, Japan's giant flying turtle Gamera has been a monster movie fan favorite second only in popularity to Godzilla. In the US during the 1970s, Gamera flicks often provided Saturday matinee "creature feature" fare for kids across the country. In recognition of 40-plus years of such monster mashing mayhem, Konami Toys has made kawaii (cute) 3" versions of Gamera and four of his best known bad guys. Choose between Gamera, Guiron, Viras, Zigra and Gyaos. Get 'em from fine vinyl vendors like destructiontoys.com!












*Originally published in Kung Fu Grip! #1 (2004)

8.08.2014

Gamera Legacy Collection – For the serious giant monster movie collector

This review is from: Gamera Legacy Collection (DVD)
A few weeks prior to its April 29th street date, I was browsing around on Amazon and learned that the release of this new Gamera box set was right around the proverbial corner. I was excited by this news and pleased to see that Mill Creek was responsible for this set. Those folks have given hardcore Japanese giant robot show fans like myself excellent collections of old tokusatsu (special effects) programs like SUPER ROBOT RED BARON, IRON KING, and best of all, ULTRAMAN.

Having first seen them as rentals, for many years I had wanted to have in my library the post-Showa Era Gamera films that were made between 1995 and 1999. Prior to their inclusion in this GAMERA LEGACY COLLECTION, those films had been previously released in a super affordable GAMERA TRILOGY blu-ray box set, also produced by Mill Creek. I, however, don't own a blu-ray player, and I wasn't ready to scoot out to get one just so that I could finally have the aforementioned films.

As it often does, though, the heavenly virtue that is patience paid off and I now have all three of the 1990s Gamera films in DVD format. But I also have a whole lot more, and all for a really great price. In addition to those films, Mill Creek's GAMERA LEGACY COLLECTION gives me all eight of the Showa era Gamera films made between 1965 and 1980. As a kid growing up in Chicago in the 1970s, I had only seen four of those.

When they were released roughly a decade ago, I bought the Alpha Video releases of GAMERA THE INVINCIBLE, ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS, DESTROY ALL PLANETS and WAR OF THE MONSTERS, which completed my small collection of the four versions I once saw on TV as a kid. And, since I already owned those, I was very pleased to learn that Mill Creek was releasing all of the Gamera films in the original Japanese with subtitles -- since the pangs of youthful nostalgia had already been satiated by the Alpha Video releases.

Also, I think I'm becoming something of a purist when it comes to foreign films. This first only applied to American remakes of foreign titles, but it lends itself now to old movies that I first saw as dubs. Thus, the DVD issues that I find myself liking most are those that, like some of the recent Godzilla issues, feature two discs that provide the original Japanese and also English dub of a film. This way, whether I'm feeling snooty or nostalgic, I have a version that will feed either need.

I'm also quite aware, too, that the visual masters for the American English dubs aren't always available for licensing. Taking into consideration that maybe not all of the eleven films included in this collection have even been dubbed into English, I applaud Mill Creek for just releasing them in their unadulterated form; I've always wanted to see all of the Gamera films and now I have them in their pure form for a price that I would have happily paid just for three of them.

Yes, Mill Creek has done it again, daikaiju fans, by releasing yet another great collection that will please the hardcore fans of Gamera who also happen to be...literate. The picture quality on the earlier gems in this collection is the very best I've ever seen, considering now what is very noticeably lost in the DVD transfers of the old Americanized versions. It's almost like seeing these movies for the first time. The sound quality and the subtitles are also top-notch, contrary to any reviews here that may whine otherwise.

Another nice job, Mill Creek. Keep up the good work!

Read the fine print

At the time that the review that precedes this posting was written to be shared on Amazon, there were a handful of critics -- probably true blue impulse buyers -- whose 3, 2, and 1-star ratings were dragging down the overall product rating on a DVD release that I thought deserved much better.

The main gripe of the negative-leaning critics -- who apparently also had to be among to the very first in line to buy the DVD collection when it came out in April -- was that the films featured were all in the original Japanese language with English subtitles. And most Americans, as we all know, really have this thing when it comes to watching foreign language films with subtitles. "I don't want to read a movie", is the now-seemingly mandatory mantra of this crowd.

But their dislike of reading subtitles must also extend to simple product descriptions as well. Had any of those savvy spenders spent a measly 30 seconds reading the information provided by Amazon on the product page, they could have made an informed decision, instead of buying first and then negatively critiquing later a product that didn't live up to their own ill-informed expectations.

When I was a boy, one of my favorite cautionary punchlines was the one that warns us to read the fine print. But as an adult, all too often I find myself wishing that people would read the not-so-fine print too. 

8.07.2014

The Harimaya Bridge – the fine art of storytelling

Even without knowing in advance that filmmaker Aaron Woolfolk was heavily inspired by the legendary director Akira Kurosawa, something about his debut feature THE HARIMAYA BRIDGE called to mind films by Kurosawa like DREAMS and RHAPSODY IN AUGUST. It's nothing on the surface of the movie that can be quickly interpreted or discerned. It's something much more subtle and nuanced that comes through in the very natural pacing of the story and the sensitive development of its characters. It also seems to come through in the deep level of attention that Woolfolk, like his cinematic inspiration, pays to the sumptuous rural settings chosen for this film that reflect the Japan of old through modern eyes -- as opposed to the country's more often seen urban environs. All this, however, isn't meant to say that THE HARIMAYA BRIDGE, Woolfolk's first feature, is a flawless masterpiece. It isn't. But it is a very masterful directorial debut that is often as visually stunning as it is emotionally stirring. With a fantastic cast that includes Ben Guillory, Saki Takaoka, Misa Shimizu and Danny Glover (also the film's producer), THE HARIMAYA BRIDGE is a densely layered portrait of the extended human family that touches on a complex variety of themes, including romantic and familial love, bigotry, loss, sorrow, discovery, tradition, and the unexpected bridges that can lead us to redemption and forgiveness. I highly and enthusiastically recommend this film. SP