I’ll begin by saying I really liked this book-- really, really liked it. I liked it so much it took me much longer to read it than I would have expected. That’s because the contents enticed me into re-watching several of Honda’s films I already owned, and I’m currently awaiting delivery of several more I ordered after reading what Brothers wrote about them.
Brothers’ approach to his extensive critique of legendary Japanese film director Ishiro Honda’s work in the realm of fantasy/monster movies is somewhat different than a number of books on genre films I’ve read. The first section of the book is background material: reflections on Honda’s ideas and methods; his relationships with colleagues; his childhood, young adulthood, and early career; his war experiences; his courtship and marriage to his lifelong wife, Kimi; and a brief overview of his films prior to 1954's Gojira, the movie which ultimately became his greatest legacy. This section continues with glimpses of the remaining movies and television work of Honda’s prolific career (82 feature-length films) and ends with his brief illness and passing in 1993 at the age of 81. The biographical information in Section One is fascinating. Chock-full of quotes from Honda’s family and colleagues and the director himself, it paints a vivid portrait of the gentle, soft spoken man who crafted his films with care and genuine love for the medium.
Most of the remainder of the book deals with Honda’s fantasy/monster films in great detail. Brothers eschews providing complete plot synopses, instead focusing on thorough cast and crew information, the progress of each film’s production, the role played by music, and the critical and audience response to each film. I don’t know if Brothers is a musician, but I suspect he may be, as he explains the musical treatments in considerable detail, extremely interesting to anyone with even a passing interest in music.
The entire second section is devoted to two Honda films: Gojira [released in America as Godzilla, King of the Monsters--CN] and Abominable Snowman [released in America as Half-Human: The Story of the Abominable Snowman--CN]. Anyone reading this review is undoubtedly familiar with the first film, but may not be knowledgeable about the second one, which Brothers calls “an unforgettable triumph which should be seen by the worldwide audience it so richly deserves.” Toho has not released Abominable Snowman to video because of the film’s depiction of natives, which is currently seen as disrespectful to what Brothers refers to as “all aboriginal peoples living in Japan.” Therefore, it’s unlikely that most of us will be able to view the film, unless Toho relents at some future date. One can only hope, along with Brothers, that Toho will “come to its collective and corporate senses” by releasing the film to video so Honda’s many fans can enjoy it.
Sections Three, Four and Five cover Honda’s genre films from 1956's Radon, The Monster From the Sky (which many are more familiar with as Rodan) to1970's Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Decisive Battle: Giant Monsters of the South Seas (a.k.a., Yog, Monster from Space). Giving only snippets of plot, Brothers emphasizes the creative aspects of each film, such as screen writing, editing, cinematography, acting, and, of course, direction. According to Brothers, Honda’s directing methods were low key, as he preferred to allow the other professionals on his films to do their jobs without his interference. This hands-off directing style produced mixed results, depending on the level of talent and commitment to excellence of the various professionals involved. Brothers also describes Honda’s increasing dissatisfaction with Toho’s changing treatment of monster films from thrilling films with a message to (sometimes lame) entertainment for small children.
The final section deals with Honda’s last genre film, MechaGodzilla’s Counterattack (a.k.a., Terror of MechaGodzilla), which was made in 1975. After a voluntary four-year absence from films, Honda was asked by producer Tomoyuki Tanaka to return to head up the sequel to the popular Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla. The new film, MechaGodzilla’s Counterattack (currently known in America as Terror of MechGodzilla), saw Honda working with a new crew of editor, cinematographer, and scriptwriter. There was one familiar face, however; that of composer Akira Ifukube, rejoining Honda for their final film together. Brothers tells us Honda did his best to overcome a “juvenile and predictable script,” but the mediocre film lost money for Toho. Brothers concludes the book with a well deserved tribute to Honda.
I began this review by saying how much I liked this book. That is true! Nevertheless, this is a review, and as such ought to include the bad with the good. There really is no truly “bad” to speak of. Brothers has written an excellent, highly readable book about a figure he obviously views with great respect and affection. However, the book could easily have been better. Let me explain. According to the book’s back cover, Brothers is “an actor, author, playwright, and poet...(who) has written numerous articles on the director’s films for over 30 years...” Still, he couldn’t find a mainstream publisher to publish the book–or didn’t try. AuthorHouse is a self-publishing company, which means they will publish, promote, etc., your book for a fee. In and of itself that is not necessarily a bad thing. Where the “bad” comes in is in the editing. According to their website, at AuthorHouse self-published equals self-edited. This book suffers a good deal from lack of a professional publishing house editor. I imagine Brothers asked others to read and review the manuscript. I certainly would if I were getting ready to publish a 282-page book. However, it wasn’t sufficient to keep out multiple errors of grammar and spelling, some of which are comical. For example, in discussing Yog, Monster from Space, he mentions “a woman screaming upon seeing a prostate native...” Brothers knows the correct word, since a couple of pages later it appears properly spelled as prostrate. On a number of occasions we read of a monster as “he” and “it” in the same sentence–just not good form. Another passage refers to “white-color professionals” when of course he means “white-collar professionals.” These are picky details, I realize, but I think it’s a shame that a book which is otherwise so well written didn’t benefit from professional editorial expertise.
There is only one “fact” in the book that I question. I read an interview with Kenji Sahara in G-FAN in which he states that for his role as Senzo in Matango [initially released in America as Attack of the Mushroom People--CN] he went to a dentist and had an otherwise healthy front tooth pulled to give him a more “sinister” appearance. Brothers writes of Sahara “voluntarily removing a false tooth to embellish his part.” Regardless of who is right, it’s a small point.
This is a good book. Buy it, enjoy it, and forget about the little errors, including “Naruo Nakijima”–ouch!
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