Beyond Godzilla: Alternative Futures and Fantasies in Japanese Cinema
Friday, March 24 through Saturday, April 8
Japan Society – 333 E. 47th Street (between First and Second Avenues)
Admission per film: $13/$10 seniors and students/$9 Japan Society members
Screening of The H-Man + Opening Party: $16/$13 seniors and students/$12 members
This spring’s Globus Film Series at Japan Society goes Beyond Godzilla and dives into other films that dot the Japanese science fiction cinema landscape. While Godzilla undoubtedly ranks among Japanese cinema’s most well known and beloved exports, the series of films in which he stars is only one of the many remarkable entries within the rich and varied universe of Japanese tokusatsu (“special effects”) films.
This seven-film series, a modified version of the program organized for the 2016 Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, by film critic and writer Mark Schilling, goes beyond Toho’s superstar monster to introduce a selection of titles that display the wide-ranging imagination of the Japanese sci-fi/fantasy genre, including innovative B-movies, kaiju eiga (“monster movies”) and non-Godzilla classics involving director Ishiro Honda and effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya.
Schedule of Films:
The H-Man – Friday, March 24 at 7:00 p.m.
Introduction by Mark Schilling, series curator.
Followed by the Opening Night Sci-Fi Party with food, drinks, and live music by Twisty BonBon
Based on a scenario by Toho actor Hideo Unagami, this Ishiro Honda classic blends sci-fi, horror, and noir to spooky and thrilling effect. The H-Man of the title is a creature formed of radioactive goo that is driven to liquefy humans – and can only be vanquished by electrifying or incinerating it to vapor. The film’s science may be dodgy but the tense climatic chase through underground sewers, with H-Men lurking about, is a Honda career highlight.
Latitude Zero – Saturday, March 25 at 7:00 p.m.
Introduction by Mark Schilling, series curator
Starring Joseph Cotten, Cesar Romero and Richard Jaeckel—then Hollywood actors well known to Japanese fans—Latitude Zero was Toho’s attempt to make an “international” film, though the studio had to downsize the budget when its U.S. production partner bailed. Nonetheless this genre mash-up of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Lost Horizon and The Island of Dr. Moreau has its charms, from its sleek giant submarines to an undersea Shangri-la, ruled by Cotten’s urbane, benevolent sub captain, that still looks inviting.
School in the Crosshairs – Friday, March 31 at 7:00 p.m.
This early “idol” movie by genre master Nobuhiko Obayashi (House) features Hiroko Yakushimaru, then the heartthrob of millions of Japanese fans, as a spunky teen defending her high school from infiltration and domination by fascistic aliens. The action is more mind-bendingly fantastic than soberly scientific, featuring delightfully bizarre effects designed by Obayashi himself.
Invisible Man – Saturday, April 1 at 4:30 p.m.
One of the many films inspired by the 1897 H.G. Wells sci-fi novella The Invisible Man (including a 1949 film by the Daiei studio), Toho’s Invisible Man was released less than two months after Godzilla with Eiji Tsuburaya handling effects for both films. For the former, Tsuburya used optical compositing to enhance the illusion of invisibility, such as a motor scooter ridden by the invisible hero that seems to move on its own. Meanwhile, the ending recalls the famous farewell-in-a-fireball climax of Raoul Walsh’s White Heat.
The Secret of the Telegian – Saturday, April 1 at 7:00 p.m.
Directed by Jun Fukuda and scripted by Shinichi Sekizawa, who were later to work together on Godzilla series entries, The Secret of the Telegian is a fast-paced thriller with a sci-fi twist: A scientist uses teleportation – and the services of a former military man – to revenge himself on other ex-soldiers who tried to kill him during the war. Once again Eiji Tsuburaya supplies the effects, including a teleportation device that sparks and crackles in a spookily vivid electric blue.
Blue Christmas – Saturday, April 8 at 4:00 p.m.
Best known for his samurai and war films, Kihachi Okamoto (Sword of Doom) made Blue Christmas from So Kuramoto’s original script as a rare sci-fi for adults. Despite a sensationalistic premise – contact with mysterious UFOs creates a new “race” of humans with blue blood – the film offers a serious critique of social discrimination and government oppression. A box office disappointment at the time of its release, it has since acquired cult cachet in Japan, while still dividing critics and fans.
Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris – Saturday, April 8 at 7:00 p.m.
Starting in 1995 with Gamera, the Guardian of the Universe, Shusuke Kaneko rebooted the Gamera tokusatsu series with a new trilogy starring the title flying giant turtle. The third film, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, which mixes ancient folktales about monsters asleep in mountains with modern fears about scientific horrors, is the best of the lot – one big reason being the monster-versus-monster battles created by effects supervisor Shinji Higuchi (Shin Godzilla) intended to frighten and awe, not amuse with campy antics.
There will also be a Series Curator Lecture with Mark Schilling on Saturday, March 25 at 5:00 p.m.
For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit Japan Society’s website.