Wednesday, 27 May 2015

A Tribute To Ishirō Honda

"Monsters are born too tall, too strong, too heavy—that is their tragedy,"

Ishirō Honda (7 May 1911 - 28 February 1993) was a Japanese film director who is best known for his kaiju and tokusatsu films, including several of the Godzilla films. He also worked extensively in the documentary and war genres earlier in his career.

Honda was born in Asahi, Yamagata prefecture (part of the city of Tsuruoka), Japan. He was the youngest of five children and was born in the Chinese Year of the Boar to Yoshihiro and Miyo Honda. Honda’s given name was derived from "ino" (a shortening of the Japanese word for “boar”) and "shirô" ("fourth son").

Honda’s family was forced to make ends meet by selling talismans and harvesting rice, chestnuts, radishes, and silkworms for the manufacture of silk.

In 1933 Honda graduated from Nihon University College of Art (Nichidai)

Honda found postgraduate work in the Production Department of PhotoChemical Laboratories, a film development company linked to the Japanese film industry. Honda was employed by PCL as an assistant director. It took Honda eighteen years of working as an assistant director to finally achieve his dream of becoming a director in his own right. This was time he spent undertaking all kinds of work and roles behind the camera such as scouting locations, hauling around equipment, cutting film and writing scripts.

Honda was later drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army in China where he was stationed in both Nanking and Manchuria.

At the time of Honda’s army discharge in 1937, there was a merger of PCL and a number of independent film studios into the newly-founded Toho Motion Picture Company. 

It was at Toho where Honda assisted director Kajirô Yamamoto and befriended the legendary Akira Kurosawa. It was also at Toho that Honda met his future wife, script girl Kimi Yamazaki, to whom he would be married for more than fifty years.

Once again Honda served in the military as a platoon leader sergeant charged with hunting down Chinese insurgents. He then spent six months as a prisoner of war and was repatriated in 1946. It was at this time that he saw the devastation that the atom bomb had caused to the city of Hiroshima.

In 1949, Honda assisted Akira Kurosawa on Stray Dog, scouting locations and directing the second unit. In 1951 he directed his first theatrical directorial film titled, “The Blue Pearl.” Of significance to the subject matter of this blog, Honda's 1954 film, Gojira / Godzilla would have a profound and lasting impact on science fiction cinema.

Toho's production of Gojira was prompted and inspired by the stories that emerged concerning the after-effects of atomic radiation from the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, as well as the atomic testing at Bikini Atoll in 1954. The film was also inspired by the 1933 classic, King Kong which was re-released in 1952 as well as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in 1953.

Gojira would be the most expensive motion picture produced in Japan at that time, The film reflected aspects of Japan’s national and collective psyche by delving into issues of responsibility and guilt and calling into question Japan’s militaristic traditions.

Honda went on to direct many other science fiction films such King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962); Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964); Destroy All Monsters (1968); as well as tokusatsu films such as Rodan (1956), Mothra (1961) and The War of the Gargantuas (1966). His last feature film was Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975).

After retiring as a director, Honda worked with Kurosawa during the 1980s and '90s. as a directorial advisor, production coordinator and creative consultant on his last five films.

Ishirō Honda Filmography

A Story of a Co-Op (1949)
Ise Island (1950)
The Blue Pearl (1951)
The Skin of the South (1952)
The Man Who Came to Port (1952)
Adolescence Part II (1953)
Eagle of the Pacific (1953)
Farewell Rabaul (1954)
Godzilla (1954)
Love Makeup (1955)
Cry-Baby (1955)
Half Human (1955)
Night School (1956)
Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956)
People of Tokyo, Goodbye (1956)
Rodan (1956)
Young Tree (1956)
A Teapicker's Song of Goodbye (1957)
A Farewell to the Woman Called My Sister (1957)
A Rainbow Plays in My Heart (1957)
Be Happy, These Two Lovers (1957)
The Mysterians (1957)
Song for a Bride (1958)
The H-Man (1958)
Varan the Unbelievable (1958)
Battle in Outer Space (1959)
The Human Vapor (1960)
Mothra (1961)
Gorath (1962)
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Matango (1963)
Atragon (1963)
Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
Dogora, the Space Monster (1964)
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965)
Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
The War of the Gargantuas (1966)
King Kong Escapes (1967)
Destroy All Monsters (1968)
All Monsters Attack (1969)
Latitude Zero (1969)
Space Amoeba (1970)
Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

Nominations have included:
Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film
Japan Academy Prize for Picture of the Year

©Chris Christopoulos 2015

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Rodan (1956)

Monster fun with good drama, action and direction by Ishiro Honda

Directed by Ishirō Honda
Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written by Ken Kuronuma (original story), Takeshi Kimura, Takeo Murata
Music by Akira Ifukube
Cinematography: Isamu Ashida
Edited by Kôichi Iwashita, Robert S. Eisen
Production company: Toho
Distributed by Toho
Running time: 82 min.


Kenji Sahara as Shigeru Kawamura, colliery engineer
Yumi Shirakawa as Kiyo, Shigeru's lover
Akihiko Hirata as Professor Kyouichiro Kashiwagi (biology)
Akio Kobori as Police Chief Nishimura
Yasuko Nakata as Female Honeymooner
Minosuke Yamada as Colliery Chief Osaki
Yoshifumi Tajima as Izeki, reporter of Seibu Nippou
Kiyoharu Onaka as Male Honeymooner, Sunagawa's friend
Haruo Nakajima as Radon / Rodan
Shôichi Hirose as F-86F pilot
Ichirô Chiba as Chief of police station
Mike Daneen as American Soldier Typing
Tazue Ichimanji as Haru, Kiyo's neighbour
Saburo Iketani as News Reader
Saburô Kadowaki as Sunagawa's colleague
Tateo Kawasaki as Tsunesan, miner
Kanta Kisaragi as Suteyan, miner


Rodan, was released in Japan as Sora no Daikaijū Radon or "Radon, Giant Monster of the Sky." This 1956 Kaiju film was produced by Toho Studios and was the studio's first Kaiju movie filmed in colour. Rodan was one of a series of giant monster movies that gained popularity outside of Japan. In the United States, it was originally released as Rodan! The Flying Monster!

Spoilers Follow below!

The Sky Monster 

Visions appeared to me of a future of which I dare not think, 
Of a time when our world will quake from war’s jolt, 
When in far-off Cipango the rising sun begins to sink 
And is burned and blinded by an Eagle’s bolt; 
Humanity will huddle when it happens to hear
And feel the horror of Earth’s raged-filled roar; 
For then the only feeling will be that of fear 
As all run from oaths and obscenities that pour 
Out of cruel long deep wounds gouged by knives of greed  
In a headlong haste for more and more, 
Only to awaken the wing’d beast to ruin and feed………

[Said To Be From a vision of the 15th Century Italian Dominican friar, preacher and prophet, Girolamo Savonarola.]

Bill Bannerman: An uncanny prophetic vision of the events that took place in post-war Japan just 60 years ago by a excommunicated republican and religious reformer who was active in Renaissance Florence? Or is this, as many now suggest, just the product of a hoax perpetrated by a mischievous modern-day blogger? The fragment of the prophesy we do have is supposed to be a copy of a copy of a copy of the original. The jury is definitely out on this one…

Good evening, I’m your host, Bill Bannerman and welcome to tonight’s program, Probing The Past where we will be examining the 1956 incident referred to by many in Japan as, “Radon, Giant Monster of the Sky.” Of course we in the West know it by the name of “Rodan.

As you are aware, just two years prior to Rodan’s appearance, Japan reeled under the onslaught of another monster who we know as Godzilla. Just two short years later our story of Rodan began in the small mining village of Kitamatsu, on the outskirts of Kyushu.

Suddenly the air is rent by the wail of a siren signalling a shift change at a mine. Two miners, Goro and Yoshi, had been fighting that day-a day laden with an inexplicable dark cloud of tension. After they entered the mine to start their shift, the shaft of mine number 8 suddenly flooded. Head of mine security, Shigeru Kawamura went below to investigate and discovered Yoshi's lacerated body. He appeared to have been "almost hacked to pieces" and was quickly rushed to the hospital. The doctors were particularly concerned about his head wound.

The cause of Yoshi's death was found to have been a series of deep gashes inflicted by an abnormally sharp object. Of course suspicion began to fall on Goro, who was still unaccounted for.

Two local miners and a policeman, who were later stationed inside the mine, were attacked and killed by someone or something wielding a sharp object that virtually sliced them to pieces.

Shigeru Kawamura who is now in his eighties, takes up the story as part of an interview we conducted with him about his involvement in the incident.

“I remember that I was with Kiyo my then girlfriend and now my wife, when suddenly we were attacked by a horrible huge insect-like creature. Fortunately we both managed to escape, but two police officers who had been hunting the creature were killed and dragged off into the mine by it. Later I, together with the police, found the two officers and discovered that their wounds matched the wounds of the previously murdered men.

After this discovery, I along with a group of metro police and army personnel entered the mine to confront the insect creature and hopefully locate Goro, either alive or dead. As it turned out further down the mine we found the body of Goro who had been butchered and was lying on the floor of the mine. As we approached, the giant insect emerged and pursued us back up the mine shaft. I instinctively grabbed hold of a mine cart, and released it causing it to roll down the shaft and collide with the giant insect and hopefully crush it.

Our troubles were not yet over. As preparations were being made to remove Goro's body, several giant insects were found to be observing us. As the soldiers began firing at them with ‘with machine guns and other pieces,’ an earthquake occurred causing the cave tunnel to collapse, trapping me in the mine. After that I could not remember anything. I was later discovered wandering around and I had amnesia due to a blow to my head. I was not given much of a chance of recovery by the doctors at that time. But as you can see, I am still here after all this time!”

Bill Bannerman: The next day, during an investigation of the incident as described by Shigeru Kawamura, Professor of biology, Dr Kashiwagi identified the giant insect as a Meganulon.



A prehistoric giant species of dragonfly larvae from the Palaeozoic era which escaped extinction by burrowing.

It appears that these insects had been reanimated by the mining operations in Kitamatsu village. To make matters worse, an earthquake suddenly struck that very area, and rumours began to spread that Mt. Aso the nearby volcano was about to erupt.

Now let us recall that extract of questionable authenticity supposedly from Savonarola. During the Renaissance period we find the term “Cipango” used in the writings of such people as Marco Polo and Columbus. This was the name usually given to what we now know as Japan.


The line “our world will quake from war’s jolt” could be a reference to the Second World War which did in fact jolt our world! The “rising sun” reference could allude to the rise of Imperial Japan under the flag of the ‘Rising Sun.’


What of being “burned and blinded by an Eagle’s bolt?” Could the eagle represent the USA with the bolt being the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thereby leading to Japan’s surrender and defeat and bringing an end to the Second World War? 


All this occurred a mere decade prior to the events of 1956, but still was a prelude to these events and constituted a kind of national wound or scar that would take time to heal and could even run the risk of being reopened.

When we hear of “Earth’s rage-filled roar” we can’t help thinking of the earthquake and volcanic activity at the time and which Japan is susceptible to due to its location on the Ring of Fire, an area where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean.

Of course, there is more than a hint of human responsibility in all of this. Many have suggested that such activity as atomic bomb testing helped to unleash the monster, Godzilla in 1954. At the time of the events of 1956 we had a Japan that was beginning to forge a new national, political and economic identity for itself. The reference to “cruel long deep wounds gouged by knives of greed / In a headlong haste for more and more” could represent Japan’s post-war headlong drive for economic expansion with such activities as the type of mining that was undertaken playing a part.


So what of the last line of the ‘prophesy’: “Only to awaken the wing’d beast to ruin and feed?” Perhaps, as has been suggested, “we had dug too deeply……and awakened it to destroy us all."

Let’s see where the events of the 1956 “Rodan” incident take us…….. 

At about this time strange reports both in Japan and around the world concerning a strange UFO began to appear such as the following;

Seibu Nippou

Jet Destroyed By UFO! 

There are unconfirmed reports that an air base in Kyushu, received an alert from one of their jets. The pilot is reported to have observed an unidentified flying object performing incredible manoeuvres at supersonic speeds. 

The unnamed pilot was ordered to pursue the object at a distance, but as he did so, the object suddenly altered course and began flying straight towards the jet causing the jet’s destruction. 

A JSDF source has reportedly revealed that the only things that have been recovered are the pilot’s oxygen mask and his blood-stained helmet. 

By Izeki Shibaguchi

In addition to this, a BOAC flight was also reported to have been attacked by the UFO and destroyed leaving no survivors. Reports were also received of the UFO attacking various cities throughout Asia; including Beijing and Manilla. There were even rumours of a secret military weapon test and there was the case of the disappearance of a newly married couple in Japan together with several head of cattle around Mt. Aso.

When the authorities developed the film from the missing newly-weds' camera, they discovered a photograph of what appeared to be a gigantic wing. It appeared to resemble a drawing of a Pteranodon, an ancient reptile thought to be extinct millions of years earlier. The notion of a Pteranodon as being responsible for what happened to the newly-weds was soon dismissed as being implausible.


• “Pteranodon” consists of the Greek words for "wing" and "toothless" or "wing without tooth."

•They formed a genus of pterosaurs which included some of the largest known flying reptiles related to the dinosaurs.

•Pteranodons lived during the Late Cretaceous period and became extinct in the K-T extinction event.

• Pteranodons had a wingspread of up to about 25 feet (8 meters). 

The story is taken up once again by Shigeru Kawamura…..

“One day, in my hospital room, Kiyo showed me some eggs that her birds had lain. Suddenly one of the eggs hatched, and as it did so, a horrible memory flooded my brain of me being deep down within the mine. I had a memory of waking after the cave-in and finding to my horror that I was surrounded by hundreds of Meganulon and that there in the middle of the cave was what appeared to be a giant egg!

Suddenly, the egg hatched and out of it emerged an enormous, winged creature and with its sharp beak it bent over and began to eat the Meganulon which was now simply food this terrible creature. It took the shock of this horrible memory to help restore my full memory….”

Bill Bannerman: The link between the creature that Shigeru Kawamura saw and the Pteranodon seemed to now have been established. From a fragment of the egg recovered later by Shigeru and a group of police and scientists from the mine and the cave where the egg had been, it was determined the egg was massive and was some 200 million years old.

At a later briefing, details were given by Professor Kashiwagi as to the size and nature of a fully grown “Rodan.”

· Wingspan: 270 meters.
· Body weight: 100 tons.
· Danger posed to humans: Being eaten & fatalities caused by sonic boom, waves and windstorms created when the creature is in flight.
· Reason for its appearance: Possibly nuclear bomb testing which loosened the Earth and opened up cavities, crevices and caves. Radioactive rainwater may have seeped into the underground caverns and caused a mutation.

To see how the events reached their climactic end, we now turn to archived radio and television reports from Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai or Japan Broadcasting Corporation:

TV reporter Kinji Ugaki: “After Rodan emerged from the ground near Mt. Aso, it took to the air and headed for Kyushu, with a squadron of the JASDF in pursuit. The Japanese Air Force is valiantly attempting to intercept and engage the creature but Rodan seems to be able to out manoeuvre the jets. But wait…. 

(Vision of Rodan destroying a number of aircraft and then of jets hot on his tail as they appear to be succeeding in forcing the creature into the river.) 

“We are now in Fukuoka after Rodan managed to emerge from the river. The entire city has been laid to waste due to the creature’s wings generating sonic waves and windstorms as well as from the attacking JSDF jets.

(Vision and audio of deafening explosive sounds of destruction as building are being ripped apart) 

Wait! I have just received a report from a JSDF source that a second Rodan has been sighted heading towards the city. Here it comes above the city….”

(More vision and audio of the city being leveled and in flames with a final shot of the two Rodan flying away)

Second TV report showing a JSDF official outlining the plan to attack the Rodans: “We have managed to determine that the Rodans are located at their old nest at the base of Mt. Aso. We therefore plan to shell the volcano that will hopefully trigger an eruption that will trap the two monsters under the lava and rock. Since regretfully Kitamatsu will be completely destroyed in this attack, it will be necessary to force the town to evacuate.”

Radio reporter, Masamichi Hakamada: “The military has begun its attack. The plan appears to be working as the volcano begins to vomit the contents of Hell into the sky.

One of the Rodans is now emerging, but is being overcome by the burning noxious and suffocating fumes. It is losing its battle with the volcano’s deities as it descends into the flowing lava in which its vile life-force is forevermore extinguished. The second Rodan is now also descending and seems intent in sharing the fate of its mate as it too also is consumed in the inferno of the lava that has spewed forth from the bowels of the erupting volcano.”

Bill Bannerman: And what of the rest of the supposed Savonarola prophesy? Did it too disappear as did the two Rodan creatures? If it is authentic, did it also foretell humanity’s triumph over the monsters that plagued it all those decades ago? Or did it warn us of future monsters, perhaps of our own making that have yet to emerge and be faced with resolve? Let’s end with the words of Shigeru;

“At the time I realized that ‘by the narrowest of margins, man had proved himself the stronger. but will it always be so? May not other and more terrible monsters even now be stirring in the darkness? And when, at last, they spring upon us, can we be certain we can beat them back a second time?’”

Until next week’s episode of Probing The Past, this is Bill Bannerman wishing you all one step back into the past and two steps forward into the future……

Points Of Interest

Rodan was the first of the Toho "Dai Kaiju" series in colour.

For the film’s dubbing, the voices of Paul Frees, Marvin Miller, Keye Luke (main narration provided by the character of Shigeru) and a young George Takei (Mr. Sulu from Star Trek) were used.

Rodan was made without the benefit of today’s CGI. Instead miniatures, a guy in a rubber suit, imagination, drama and action and the genius of Eiji Tsuburaya sufficed to create the on-screen magic.

The film was originally titled, Radon but a British toy company had a doll on the market with that name. When the film went overseas Radon became Rodan simply by switching the vowels in the name.

It has been suggested that it was the film Them! that provided the inspiration for Radon

The way in which the film’s story is structured serves to maintain the audience’s interest throughout. At the start we are introduced to the peaceful atmosphere of the mining village which is then quickly replaced by its inhabitants turning against one another. This is followed by a battle with something monstrous and a mystery involving Shigeru’s disappearance and amnesia. The story quickly moves to threats not only to the mining village, but also to the whole world. The rest of the story is taken up with the giant monster attack.

Notice that the creature Rodan does not make a full appearance until the movie is nearly over. When it does appear, it is in a flurry and whirlwind of noise and destruction. The film ends on a highly emotional note when Kiyo tells Shigeru that she's staying with him because she loves him and he holds her and says he loves her too. Their exchange almost mirrors or parallels the death of both Rodans and demands our sympathy for the two monsters that have shown such devotion to each other. Take for instance the observation of Shigeru at the end of the film;

“…and when, still calling to each other, one of them fell at last into the mountain lava stream, the other still refused to save itself. the last of their kind, masters of the air and earth, the strongest, swiftest creatures that ever breathed -- now they sank against the earth like weary children. each had refused to live without the other and so were dying together.”

The film seems to serve as a commentary on Japan’s past history especially during the Second World War, and its effects on the present as well as on the future. It highlights the dangers associated with nuclear testing and man's interference in the delicate balance of nature.

The character Shigeru is played by 24-year old Kenji Sahara who acted in some 57 movies up to 2002, including a record twelve Godzilla series installments.

Kiyo is played by 20-year old Yumi Shirakawa who was cast by Director Ishiro Honda in several of his subsequent movies, including the role of Etsuko Shiraishi in 1957's The Mysterians and of Chikako Arai in 1959's The H-Man, both of which will be featured in this blog later.

In most Japanese monster movies, the main characters are usually professional types such as scientists, doctors, journalists, military men and politicians. In Rodan, however, the protagonists are generally coal miners and working class people who occupied the bottom rungs of Japanese society’s socio-economic ladder.

In the scene where the Japanese Army arrives at the cave there is a group of infantry armed with three tripod-mounted light machineguns. These machineguns are American-made belt-fed M1919A1 .30 calibre weapons.

At the Japanese Air Force airbase we can see on the tarmac a group of jet fighters which are American-built F-86F Sabres.

In the original Japanese version of the film, the Rodans are about destroy the city of Fukuoka. For the overseas US version, it was felt that the name "Fukuoka" might come out sounding like "Fuck-oka" to American audiences. It was therefore decided to change the site of the attack to the much safer sounding name of “Sasebo,” a port city on the western coast of Kyushu.

You may notice that on one of the buildings being destroyed there is a sign that reads "The Tsuburaya Company." This was an on-screen nod and reference to the film’s special effects supervisor, Eiji Tsuburaya.

During the shooting of a scene in which Rodan flies over a bridge, the pulley from which Haruo Nakajima was suspended broke causing him to fall from a height of twenty-five feet! Luckily, the wings together with the foot and a half depth of water absorbed much of the impact.

Rodan grossed an estimated $450,000 to $500,000 during its opening weekend at 79 theaters in the New York City metropolitan area.

Please note, Meganulon has never existed! It is fictional and began appearing with the film Rodan. It continued to appear and evolve in subsequent films.

©Chris Christopoulos 2015