Mention Toho to anybody who has ever seen a movie and one thing universally comes to mind: Godzilla. Everybody’s favorite monster run amuck was the brainchild of Japan’s Toho Studios and has made them somewhat of an icon in the industry. It’s appropriate, then, for Toho to be featured in any series called Icons of Science Fiction. However, don’t look for the big lizard with radioactive breath in this 3 disc, 3 film collection from the legendary studio. Instead you’ll find two lesser known titles and one of Godzilla’s eventual playmates. These two films go back to the late 1950’s when Toho was still a fledging operation and Godzilla had not yet reached the cult status he was shortly to achieve.
The films in the collection are:
This film has been known by several names over the years. The original name was Bijo to Ekitari Ningen. It has also been called Beautiful Women and the Hydrogen Man. It’s no surprise that Japanese cinema would offer plenty of warning sounds about the use of radioactive weapons. The country to date is the only nation to have experienced a nuclear attack, and the horror experienced firsthand was quite prevalent in their films. Toho was no exception. Even Godzilla himself was the result of a nuclear blast.
In this film a nuclear blast infects a ship that passes through its deadly radiation. The radiation leaves behind a deadly ooze that liquefies anyone that comes in contact with it. The blob-like victims help to spread the infection until a team of commandos with flamethrowers destroy the ooze and the unfortunate victims. The film plays against a gangster noir element that appears to really be the focus of the film.
Battle In Outer Space (1959)
Again the film is known by a few titles. The original Japanese title was Uchu Daisenso. It is also known as The World Of Space. The year is 1965, and the Earth is experiencing a series of catastrophic events. New York is in flames. Venice is flooded. When some kind of missile destroys the Golden Gate Bridge, the worst is feared: attack from aliens. A space station in orbit is destroyed. A pair of Earth ships participate in the titular battle. What you get is a ton of stuff blowing up and some massive destruction both on Earth and in space as well as on the Moon. There’s a good collection of American actors on the English version. For the time the f/x are nothing short of spectacular. Of course, by today’s standards they will appear rather primitive and more than a little cheesy.
Without a doubt this is the most popular of the three films. It takes place in the Godzilla universe. Mothra is a giant moth who is summoned by two young sisters who act as the creature’s protector. Mothra would reappear in quite a few films and also paired up with other monsters from Godzilla’s world, including a couple with that King Of Monsters himself. Again there’s those H Bomb tests, this time on Mothra’s island home. When a giant egg is taken from the island, a giant caterpillar emerges. This is one of Mothra’s babies, and she decides to show displeasure on the various buildings and landmarks of Tokyo.
Mothra has become one of the more beloved of the Godzilla world monsters. It’s the only female creature of the bunch and has always been a good guy. It’s also the only creature to be a puppet instead of the traditional man or men in a zippered rubber suit. Mothra films have continued into recent years and have been remade already this last decade.
The films each come in both their American and Japanese versions. I’m not just talking about a language selection. These films were cut differently and sometimes featured alternate cast members as the films were shot in two versions to cover both markets. You get both complete market versions of each film. The Japanese version still offers English subtitles, so you can still follow the original versions of the films. I won’t say these subtitles are always logical or as accurate as they should be, but they work fine enough for you to follow the films. I’m quite impressed that Sony delivered both versions here.
Each film is presented in what I presume to be their original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The films are quite old, so you can’t expect pristine prints here. The films are in color, and the color is nothing short of remarkable, all things considered. You’re going to be impressed with how faithful the colors appear. Mothra looks pretty darn stunning, revealing wonderful color detail. Of course, there are scratches and more than a few elements like dirt, but none of these films have ever looked better. There’s no comparison to the old television prints here. Sony paid some attention to the details here. It’s a fine addition to the film connoisseur’s collection.
The Dolby Digital Stereo tracks aren’t going to show off your system, in fact there’s nothing impressive about them at all except for the fact that they are relatively clean and you can hear the dialog and eerie music cues just fine. There is some distortion, particularly in the high frequency ranges. We’re lucky to have them at all, so I can live with this presentation just fine.
Two of the films contain informative Audio Commentary tracks by film historians that provide mostly things of academic interest. Worth a look if you have a deep desire to learn about these kinds of details. It’s pretty dry otherwise.
I’m sorry to report that the three discs are on a single spindle. Not the same respect and care Sony showed in the mastering process. The two divisions really need to communicate better. This set deserved a better package.
I can’t get enough of this classic stuff. It’s been years since I’ve seen these classics, and it’s likely I’ve never seen them in this complete form. Most of our experiences with these films date back to matinee television shows which tend to cut the films and not offer the best print available. This is a must, and a modest price for any serious film buff or science fiction fan. With the exception of Mothra, these are obscure titles that you might even be encountering for the first time. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did. “I hearby declare this meeting adjourned.”