If you’re a new or young fan looking for character and plot information about kaiju eiga with an emphasis on Godzilla films, this is not the first book you’ll want to read. However, if you’ve already seen plenty of films in the fantasy genre, especially those by Japanese film makers of the ‘50s through ‘80s, and if you’re interested in personal remembrances and opinions of actors, directors, and others who worked in the industry, then you will hit pay dirt with MONSTERS ARE ATTACKING TOKYO!. More than half the book is comprised of interviews either conducted directly by the author in person or by telephone, or information and excerpts from an extensive list of essays, articles, books, and periodicals.
The author used various translators for the interviews with non-English speaking Japanese . Nevertheless, it’s clear he is well informed about the culture and Japanese cinema in particular. Rather than transcribing the interviews in full, Galbraith has sliced them up into tidbits interspersed with one another, so it almost seems as if the interviewees are having a conversation. Many of the interviews are fascinating and some are real eye-openers. While the author is not hesitant about expressing his own opinions throughout the book, occasionally he just sits back and lets you draw your own conclusions. For example, at one point in the interview with forgettable actor Rhodes Reason (King Kong Escapes, 1967), Reason refers to legendary director Ishiro Honda as “a hack.” (Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!) Several other interviews, primarily with American actors, are sprinkled with similar blunt and sometimes offensive comments. The interviews with Japanese actors and film makers are, not surprisingly, more polite and generally complimentary of one another’s work. It’s a very polite society.
There are some terrific black and white pictures scattered throughout the book, but I find it annoying that in many cases the author does not bother to name the individuals (or kaiju) in the photos. Why clearly label and describe some photos, while leaving others for the reader to guess at? Just because the author knows who or what they are doesn’t mean everyone else does. Also, the editors have made fairly frequent use of the technique of running an often indistinct light gray on gray photo as background for text. It distracts from the text and makes it somewhat difficult to read, while really adding nothing aesthetic to the book’s format.
The author jumps around a bit from topic to topic and the sections don’t seem to follow any logical sequence. That said, he is definitely writing about a subject he knows and loves and it’s clear he has researched his subjects thoroughly. Some material has become outdated since1998, as for example the remark that Latitude Zero (1969) “is not available here or in Japan, and rarely turns up on television.” Fortunately that is no longer true, since I ordered my own copy of the film not long ago from Video Daikaiju.
There are two sections with brief biographical sketches of actors, directors, and other film makers. The first, entitled “Witnesses,” lists the individuals the author interviewed for the book. The other, called “Who’s Who,” includes a number of others who played an important part in the genre, but were not available for interview. Several of these died prior to the book’s publication, and many more have died since 1998, so the tributes are a very nice touch. Toward the end of the book is a “Filmography” in which the author gives a quick sketch of various genre films and rates them on a scale from one star (poor) to four stars (excellent). Many of the films listed were unfamiliar to me, as were quite a few references to films in the interviews. The author anticipates this will be true for many readers, since early on in the book he comments, “The reader will note that a great deal of space in this book, especially in the interview section, has been devoted to Japanese movies and film makers outside of the SF/fantasy realm.” He goes on to explain this is a deliberate attempt to expose the reader to a broader range of Japanese films. His purpose in doing so is that the reader may appreciate more fully the milieu in which the genre films were made and the ease with which the actors, directors, and technicians “freely moved from Rashoman to Rodan, from Woman in the Dunes to monster space chickens.”
Mr. Galbraith has actually been paid to be a film critic and I have not, so the fact that he and I don’t see eye to eye on some of the films is perhaps subject to discussion. However, I cannot find it in my heart to give a three star rating, as he did, to Son of Godzilla (1967), and I apologize to all who love that film. I’d give it two stars at best. On the other hand, Mr. G gave only two stars to 1995's Godzilla vs. Destroyer (I prefer the spelling Destoroyah), and said some very uncomplimentary things about that film, including calling it “...a weary, noisy, souless little picture...and thunderously dull .” Harrumph! Since Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is one of my favorite G-films, I’d easily give it four stars. We also disagree about the keiju Titanosaurus (Terror of Mechgodzilla, 1975). Mr. Galbraith refers to her as “unmemorable”, whereas I think she is beautiful and tragic. I think of Titanosaurus as a she because this kaiju is described in the film as a “gentle dinosaur,” who becomes destructive only when controlled by a human/cyborg female: ergo to me she is a she. But isn’t that part of the fun of being a fan of kaiju eiga? We all have our faves and our dislikes and are entitled to our opinions.
I buy books about Japanese genre films because I like to learn about them, and this book was indeed a learning experience. Despite my divergence of opinion with the author in a few instances, I enjoyed his book, and I expect it’s one that I will re-read and refer to often in the future.
Bottom line: Good book. Worth the money.
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