Japan Society New York Uncovers Underappreciated Sci-Fi with Beyond Godzilla: Alternative Futures & Fantasies in Japanese Cinema

This is a quick-post for a special event (I’ve been busy eating at tonkatsu restaurants and losing time to procrastination…).

Japan Society New York have a special line-up of science-fiction films of the B-movie variety from March 24th until April 8th, 2017. The whole programme has been up for a while and tickets are on sale. A quick look shows that the films on offer run the whole gamut from humanoid aliens to kaiju and irradiated menaces and the effects are so visually amusing that just sitting in the cinema looks like an absolutely glorious prospect in terms of fun. Check out this trailer:

Here’s what the programmers have to say:

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.

All joking aside, this was put together by Mark Schilling and it features a Nobuhiko Obayashi classic. In other words, he has good taste. I’ve read his reviews for many years and I have had the pleasure of meeting him quite recently at the Osaka Asian Film Festival, so I trust his judgement. Even then, each film looks like a good night out. The whole point is to shine a light on neglected sci-fi films and this line-up does do that. There are big names here beyond Ishiro Honda like Nobuhiko Obayashi and since these films stretch across the decades, it will be interesting to see the evolution of special effects which come courtesy of the legendary special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya.

To find out why each film was selected, he will give a 60 minute lecture which is free to attend with the purchase of a ticket to any film in the series but you will have to be quick because seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Here are more details about them from the site itself. You can click on the titles to find out more:

The H-Man   The HMen Film Poster

美女と液体人間 Bijo to Ekitai Ningen

Running Time: 79 mins.

Director:  Ishiro Honda

Writer: Takeshi Kimura (Screenplay), Hideo Unagami (Origina Story)

Starring: Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Akihiko Hirata, Eitaro Ozawa, Naomi Shiraishi,

IMDB

This one is by the director of Godzilla, Ishiro Honda, and the festival site describes it as a classic that “blends sci-fi, horror and noir to spooky and thrilling effect.” The trailer has that classic b-movie vibe where overacting and dodgy effects are paired up with blaring music. I love it. There will be an introduction by Mark Schilling, series curator a post-screening Opening Night Sci-Fi Party with food, drinks and live music by Twisty BonBon! Guests are encouraged to show up dressed in a futuristic fashion.

Synopsis: Tokyo police are investigating a series of strange disappearances where only the slime-covered clothes of a person are left. One such person is a gangster whose wife works at a nightclub. They stake it out, hoping for clues but the police get their breakthrough from a young scientistwho claims that H-Bomb tests in the Pacific have created radioactive creatures he calls “H-Men” and he also claims that they dissolve people into ooze. Is he a crackpot or is there something to it?

Latitude Zero   Latitude Zero Film Poster

緯度0大作戦 Ido Zero Daisakusen

Running Time: 89 mins.

Director: Ishiro Honda

Writer: Shinichi Sekizawa, Ted Sherdeman, Warren Lewis, (Screenplay),

Starring: Joseph Cotton, Cesar Romero, Akira Takarada, Masumi Okada, Tetsu Nakamura, Mari Nakayama,

IMDB

This one from Ishiro Honda has it all: a Thunderbirds style base and set of vehicles, guys dressed up as giant rats and an assortment of other creatures and Joseph Cotton looking and sounding pretty louche in those costumes as he and a bunch of pretty people from the Hollywood and Japanese film industries united (before the Americans split from the production) to make what the website describes as a “genre mash-up of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Lost Horizon and The Island of Dr. Moreau.” “Everything in Latitude Zero is real.” Except when it isn’t. Mark Schilling will introduce this one.

Synopsis: A journalist and a group of scientists exploring the deep sea get into difficulties but they are saved by a giant submarine captained by a 200 year old man who takes him to an underwater paradise city named Latitude Zero. It is where the best and brightest of humanity live and develop new technology for the benefit of mankind. Unfortunately, they face a threat from a 200 year old scientist who sends his monsters and minions to abduct a scientist with an incredible formula that protects people from radiation...

School in the Crosshairs   School in the Crosshairs Film Poster

ねらわれた学園 Nerawareta Gakuen

Running Time: 90 mins.

Director:  Nobuhiko Obayashi

Writer: Akiko Hamura(Screenplay), Taku Mayumura (Original Novel)   School in the Crosshairs

Starring: Hiroko Yakushimaru, Ryoichi Takayanagi, Miyoko Akaza, Fumi Dan, Hajime Hana, Koichi Miura, Chiharu Kuri,

IMDB

Nobuhiko Obayashi is famous for being the director of the wonderful musical girl’s horror film House (1975) and a lot of other projects. Despite being advanced in years, he’s still making films but it’s either House or this one that he is most well-known for. The festival site says this is an early idol film and it does star the once super-popular Hiroko Yakushimaru who was the original star of two classics: Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (1981) and Detective Story (1983). It has plenty of action which “is more mind-bendingly fantastic than soberly scientific, featuring delightfully bizarre effects designed by Obayashi himself.”

I’ll admit that I haven’t watched this one and the last time I wrote about anything remotely connected to it was the anime adaptation in 2012.

Synopsis: Yuka Mitamura (Hiroko Yakushimaru) is a shy middle school student who has a secret: she has psychic powers. When a new student named Michiru is transferred to her class, she discovers that he has similar powers only he uses them to dominates the school, first by controlling the student council and then by controlling the students. Yuka will have to team up with friends to save her school and expose her own powers!

Invisible Man   Invisible Man 1949 Film Poster

透明人間 Toumei Ningen

Running Time: 70 mins.

Director:  Motoyoshi Oda

Writer: Shigeaki Hidaka, Kei Beppu (Screenplay),

Starring: Seizaburo Kawazu, Miki Sanjo, Minoru Takada, Kamatari Fujiwara Fuyuki Murakami, Sonosuke Sawamura,

IMDB

One of the many films inspired by the H.G. Wells 1897 sci-fi novella The Invisible Man takes a while to get going but once it does (specifically when the titular Invisible Man invades someone’s home!), it’s a nerve-wracking ride. It has proven popular with many adaptations. This one has Godzilla’s special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya’s work on screen. There was another Invisible Man movie released in the same year in Japan by Daiei studio and you can read all about it over at Windows on Worlds, an ace site that has lots of reviews of Asian films.

No trailer.

Synopsis: A young reporter investigating a series of crimes involving “invisible men” gets a lead when a car strikes a man who is invisible. That lead is a suicide note dedicated another invisible man named Takemitsu Nanjo, a war veteran who paints his face as part of his job as a clown. Nanjo is forced to remove the make-up and show his true face (boom, boom, sorry) in order to save his neighbour, a little blind girl whose mother is in with local gangsters wrapped in bandages...

The Secret of the Telegian   Densou Ningen Film Poster

電送人間 Densou Ningen

Running Time: 85 mins.

Director:  Jun Fukuda

Writer: Shinichi Sekizawa (Screenplay),

Starring: Koji Tsuruta, Yumi Shirakawa, Seizaburo Kawazu, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Tadao Nakamaru, Sachio Sakai,

IMDB

The trailer for this one looks so good. This film is described as “a fast-paced thriller with a sci-fi twist: A scientist uses teleportation to take revenge on old enemies.” It features the direction of Jun Fukuda, the writing of Shinichi Sekizawa and the special effects of Eiji Tsuburaya, all of whom worked on the Godzilla franchise.

Synopsis: When a series of ex-soldiers wind up dead, detectives discover that it is the work of a mad scientist called the “Telegian.” What is the reason behind these killings? Who is the person conducting them? How does the Telegian manage to get to his victims so easily?All of these questions will be answered in this thriller.

Blue Christmas   Blue Christmas Film Poster

ブルークリスマス  Buru- Kurisumasu

Running Time: 133 mins.

Director: Kihachi Okamoto

Writer: So Kuramoto (Screenplay),

Starring: Hiroshi Katsuno, Keiko Takeshita, Kunie Tanaka, Tatsuya Nakadai, Eiji Okada, Kaoru Yachigusa, Kunie Tanaka, Naoko Otani, Harumi Arai,

IMDB

Kihachi Okamoto is famous for his chanbara films like Sword of Doom (1966), Kill (1968), and Samurai Assassin (1965) but he also made Blue Christmas which, according to the site, “offers a serious critique of social discrimination and government oppression,” through a story of people given blue blood after witnessing a UFO. It wasa box office disappointment at the time of its release, [but] it has since acquired cult cachet in Japan, while still dividing critics and fans.”

Synopsis: A wave of UFOs appear around the globe and people who witness them find their blood has transformed into a strange shade of blue. These people soon come under attack from the rest of humanity who react with fear and panic at this strange phenomena…

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris   Gamera III Film Poster

ガメラ3 邪神<イリス>覚醒 Gamera 3, Irisu Kakusei

Running Time: 108 mins.

Director: Shusuke Kaneko

Writer: Kazunori Ito, Shusuke Kaneko (Screenplay),

Starring: Shinobu Nakayama, Ai Maeda, Ayako Fujitani, Yukijiro Hotaru, Aki Maeda, Kei Horie, Nozomi Ando,

IMDB

Shusuke Kaneko has been brought up on this site before with a screening of his film Summer Holiday Everyday (1994) and Jellyfish (2013) but he is more famous for his giant monsters, starting in 1995 when he rebooted the Gamera tokusatsu series with a new trilogy starring the flying giant turtle. Mark Schilling has programmed the third film, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, which is described as the best because it “mixes ancient folktales about monsters asleep in mountains with modern fears about scientific horrors” and “the monster-versus-monster battles created by effects supervisor Shinji Higuchi (Shin Godzilla) intended to frighten and awe, not amuse with campy antics.”

Synopsis from Wikipedia: Ayana Hirasaka (Ai Maeda) was left in emotional turmoil after her parents died during a fight Gamera had taken part in. She feels nothing but hate for the giant turtle and this hate is fed upon by a parasitic creature known as Iris who forms a psychic bond with Ayana in order to raise more monsters and attack Gamera.

That’s it for the line-up of films. It looks good. Here are the details on ticket prices:

Tickets:

$13/$10 seniors & students/$9 Japan Society members

EXCEPT screening of The H-Man + Opening Night Party:

$16/$13 seniors & students/$12 Japan Society members

Special Offer: Buy tickets to at least 3 different films in the same transaction and receive $2 off each ticket.

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2 thoughts on “Japan Society New York Uncovers Underappreciated Sci-Fi with Beyond Godzilla: Alternative Futures & Fantasies in Japanese Cinema

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