Review: Films Set In Japan – Godzilla (2014)

Despite all the recent Godzilla features and movie location stuff on here I didn’t actually realise that this Gareth Edwards directed version was set in Japan (in part) until I saw it at the cinema the other day. I just assumed it was all set in the USA and though the second half of the film was in Hawaii, Nevada and San Francisco, the first hour or so was all set in Japan. As a movie locations geek it should be noted that the majority of this production was filmed in Vancouver, Canada.

Well, what do you know but it was the first half of this 123 minute movie which I preferred. A fair few people have complained of Godzilla getting very little air time but I don’t have a problem with that. In my opinion, the beast does not need to be seen immediately but its appearance is built up whilst delivering a terrifying off-screen presence with a foot here and a tail there!

This incarnation of the the giant lizard is told from a human perspective and Bryan Cranston’s character Joe Brody seemingly gets all the character-driven stuff from the moment we first see him in 1999 working as an engineer at the fictional Janjira nuclear plant in Japan. Having been tracking oncoming tremors, a fateful event occurs at the reactor on the morning of his birthday which see his wife (Juliette Binoche) killed and the city sealed off for all eternity.

Fifteen years on and Joe’s son Ford (Taylor-Johnson), who is now a US Navy Officer living in San Francisco with a wife and kid, has to fly to Japan to bail out his father who has been arrested for trespassing. Joe’s still overcome with grief and is a crackpot conspiracy theorist living in a tiny apartment where the wall is covered in news clippings, maps and charts. Joe manages to convince Ford to accompany him to their old home to retrieve some vital information he recorded and whilst in the quarantine zone they find that it’s not at all contaminated thereby enhancing Joe’s opinion that the government covered up the true cause of the disaster. However, after recovering the data, soldiers appear and detain them within the plant’s ruins.

It’s thereafter that all the monster stuff begins to happen with “MUTOs” (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) appearing on the scene which didn’t really catch my imagination but then again I’m not really a fan of kaiju (monster) movies. The rest of the film is carried out in the States with the US Navy task force getting involved which see’s the bad CIA guy (David Strathairn) from ‘The Bourne Ultimatum‘ (2007) yet again in charge and standing in front of a wall of screens and monitors giving out instructions. Like so many other actors in this film though he was under-utilised which was perhaps a little surprising given how his distinctive voice was used in the promotional trailers.

British director Gareth Edwards is obviously a man with a great knowledge of, and affection for the previous works of Godzilla (stuff that I have actually slagged off a fair bit on this site throughout the years!) and there are plenty of nods of affection to the original 1954 film without any of the horrors repeated from the almost universally panned 1998 Roland Emmerich film of the same name.

The awakening of the MUTOs leads to the stirring of the pre-historic predator known as “Gojira” as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) says before reverting to the English name for the rest of the film. I particularly liked the opening titles with the grainy archive footage showing missiles and atomic bombs being used in the Pacific Ocean and we get to see them again as it later emerges that the existence of the giant monster has been kept secret by the U.S. government since 1954. The re-appearance of Godzilla results in atsunami and with this film also touching on another sensitive subject by way of nuclear power, things could be slightly uneasy for some Japanese people. It is quite clear that this movie could never have been made in Japan as local directors might be uncomfortable turning such matter into a big budget production.

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Tokyo Fox Rating 6/10

Review: Films Set In Japan – Godzilla (1954)

With the latest incarnation of Godzilla getting nearer it seems a fitting time to go back 60 years and take a closer look at the original Japanese movie which launched the iconic monster onto our screens. Released nine years after the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the opportunity was seized to use this radioactive lizard from beneath Tokyo Bay to serve as a symbol for the horrors of nuclear holocaust.

Godzilla has come and gone in many guises but nothing can get close to beating this original black and white Toho Studios version which, as an English speaker, needs to be watched with subtitles for maximum impact of the Japanese perspective. There’s no messing about from the offset and it’s straight into the action with fear and panic hitting Japan as an “underwater volcanic eruption” happens in the sea causing some fishing boats to capsize near Odo Island.

A research team led by Dr Yamane head to this pacific island off the Izu Peninsula; a fictitious isle with the scenes actually filmed around Toba city at the entrance to Ise-Shima National Park on the Shima peninsula. On discovering huge radiation emitting reptilian footprints in the sand, rumours abound that it must be Godzilla to which a woman replies saying its just a legend. Little did she know how true her words would become as Godzilla morphed into a worldwide cultural icon.

The gigantic amphibious bipedal dinosaur lives in caverns under the sea and comes ashore to prey on humans when it can’t find fish in the sea and many young virgin girls were sacrificed to appease his hunger and keep him from coming ashore. However, hydrogen bomb tests disturbed its peace and so it looked for a safer place which happened to be Shinagawa and Ginza!!

Affected by the radiation, it managed to gain an unbelievable destructive power and strength as well as white-hot atomic breath; an archetype which followed in the form of many on-screen monsters both good and bad with perhaps the worst featuring in  Monster‘ (2008). Two Zillo Beast episodes in ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars‘ (S02E18/19) played homage to what the Japanese call ‘Gojira‘.

Dr Yamane senses that atomic testing is behind Godzilla’s emergence and he (and he only!) thinks that it should be isolated and studied. The eye-patch wearing Dr Serizawa and his oxygen destroyer are key to sending Godzilla back to the depths of the ocean. He  is arranged to be married to Emiko, but she is in love with some naval officer and it’s this love triangle which is pivotal in the monster plot.

I think I’ve been quite critical in the past about this film but on watching it again for this feature I have actually grown much fonder of it. It’s duration is an ideal length (90 minutes) and it’s quite a dramatic film with all the monster movie elements we now take for granted; a fire-breathing creature, stormy oceans, tanks and officers, mad scientists, frantic decision making, government officials, flames, fleeing citizens running for their lives and buildings being toppled. Of course, it was just three metre high miniature set pieces that were used to replicate the capital city whilst a man wearing a heavy rubber suit stomped all over them. Having most of Godzilla’s scenes at night probably helped make it a bit more convincing. I think, given the age of the film and its budget, the effects are pretty good and the sequence where Godzilla goes on the rampage in Tokyo is still superb both technically and artistically,with a genuine sense of dread. The residents run for their life, as they do throughout, which has parallels to the real life horror and devastation in Japan by way of atomic bombings, tsunami and earthquakes.

gojira-japanese-b2_style_c-1954 Unknown gojira-japanese-b2_style_e-1954

‘Godzilla’ rightfully deserves to be called a classic despite the ending which is perhaps one of the most blatant examples of not-quite finishing a movie and leaving it open to a sequel as Dr Yamane stands aboard a ship and says “I don’t think that was the only Godzilla. If they keep experimenting with deadly weapons….another Godzilla may appear…somewhere in the world!” The perfect way to set up the potential of another movie and what do you know but only half a year later there was another one by the name of ‘Godzilla Raids Again‘ (1955) and the series limped on for an incredible 26 more Toho-made films as well as four American productions including the forthcoming one directed by British filmmaker Gareth Edwards.

If you thought we were running out of films ‘set’ in Japan to review then using the original Godzilla film (a Japanese production of course but included in this series due to its huge impact on the Western world) opens up the possibility of extending it for another few years with reviews of the never-ending dross churned out in this franchise.

Beyond The Movies Rating 7/10

Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘The Bad News Bears Go To Japan’ (1978)

We all know that when the writers of a TV show or film franchise (and I use that term in the loosest sense regarding this movie!) run out of ideas they take the project overseas. Now, I’m not too sure how relevant that idea is to ’Bad News Bears…‘ as I haven’t seen the two prequels to this film but it would seem that there were never any ideas in the first place!

Having spectacularly failed to see a baseball game last month whilst in New York I thought I’d slip this DVD into the player to see if I could enjoy another baseball film as much as I liked ‘Mr Baseball‘ starring Tom Selleck. Yes, I do own this ‘Bad News Bears…‘ DVD as indeed do I for almost all of the films set in Japan reviewed on this site. Sad indeed given the average Tokyo Fox Rating of them!

“Caught in a clash of cultures and ready to wreak more havoc on Japan than Godzilla” is the blurb on the back of the DVD which is an overly-used tagline but given that this film is from 1978 it seems like they were years ahead of their time!

In terms of kids films it makes the ‘3 Ninja’s Kick Back‘ movie seem like an Academy Award winner! There’s no doubt that this film is terrible but every film has some good in it and this one is no exception. Its only 92 minutes in length which we should be thankful about! It features some very nice Japanese scenery at times where filmed at various temples and shrines as we see the older kid Kelly dating a child Japanese geisha girl. She doesn’t speak any English yet she seems to understand everything he says. Such a love story is laughable yet is the kind of the story I have heard about happening here! My favourite scene is the fictional advert for a baseball bat which sees one of the young boys use the equipment to take out Godzilla on a miniature Japanese-scenery set.

 

The storyline? It’s bear-ly worth the effort but basically it centres around some vague plot to do with Martin Lazar (Tony Curtis) thinking he can earn big bucks by sending the Bears to Japan for a highly publicized exhibition game against some little league baseball team who were upset that no U.S. team had visited recently. That’s about it really. There’s some very dull baseball scenes at the end of the film as well as some practice in the first part but overall its fairly lacking in baseball action and is instead padded out with some completely irrelevant scenes of karate, sumo and variety show action.

 

Tokyo Fox Rating 3/10