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Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection

Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection
1959-61 (2009) - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Released on DVD on August 18th, 2009


Yeah yeah, I know... the disc says Icons of Sci-Fi, not Icons of Horror. But this is Toho, home of Godzilla! Around these parts, sci-fi tends to mean giant monsters, hostile alien invaders and weird, irradiated mutants, usually resulting in the complete or partial destruction of Tokyo. What could be more horrific than that? Let's jump right into Sony's 3-disc set of classics from the great Ishiro Honda.


The H-Man

A drug deal goes seriously wrong when one of the criminals vanishes into thin air, leaving behind only his clothes. At first, the police treat it as some sort of bizarre nudist missing person case but scientist Kenji Sahara has another theory. A crew of sailors encountered some atomic radiation out at sea, whereupon they dissolved into a gooey pool of stick'um. The ghost ship has entered Tokyo harbor and Sahara reasons that the blob... sorry, wrong movie... I mean, The H-Man has found its way into the sewers and is steadily wreaking havoc across the city. The H-Man is dark, cool fun with good effects work, interesting characters and even some sexy torch songs. Film Rating: B

Battle in Outer Space

Earth's space station (which resembles a giant roulette wheel) is destroyed in the opening salvo of a completely unprovoked attack from planet Natal. The aliens establish a base on the moon while they muster their forces, leaving the people of Earth to come together in an effort to destroy them. This is the most straightforward sci-fi picture here with some genuinely impressive outer space model work and battle scenes. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't entirely make a whole lot of sense. The Natalians are masters of the empty threat and the Earth team isn't that much more pro-active. Still, it's a fun adventure and it's interesting to see how director Honda makes this a truly international effort even at the height of the Cold War, with representatives from Japan, America, China, Russia and even Iran. Film Rating: C+

Mothra

One of Toho's most beloved kaiju makes her screen debut in this 1961 classic. A crew of shipwrecked sailors returns from heavily irradiated Infant Island showing no symptoms of radiation poisoning whatsoever. Curious to find out why, a team is sent to the island where they encounter the "small beauties" (played by the singing duo The Peanuts, Emi and Yumi Ito), tiny twin women with sunny dispositions who sing and speak in unison. Nelson, the amoral team leader from "Rolisica", kidnaps the small beauties to feature them, Kong-like, in a big vaudeville show. Bad move since the fairies have a psychic connection to Mothra! She comes after them as a giant caterpillar, then spins a cocoon around the remains of Tokyo Tower to emerge as the colorful flying insect monster we all know and love before heading off to destroy New Kirk City. I'm a sucker for kaiju eiga (giant monster movies) anyway but Mothra is one of the most giddily entertaining of the entire series. Mothra herself is a sympathetic, almost lovable monster and the small beauties are simply delightful. The movie features some of effects master Eiji Tsuburaya's most impressive work, especially the aerial shots of Mothra in her caterpillar form. Great fun. Film Rating: B+

Sony's three-disc set restores all of the films to their original TohoScope glory and the results are extremely impressive. Each disc includes both the Japanese and American versions of the films, a consideration that has become almost commonplace but is still a wonderful gift for those of us who can remember when you didn't have a choice in the matter. The extras aren't copious but are extremely well done. Authors Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski contribute lively, informative commentaries to Battle in Outer Space and Mothra. These guys know their stuff. The tracks are well-organized, engaging, witty and loaded with valuable context and information. All commentaries should be this good and I only wish they'd done one for The H-Man as well. My only other complaint about the set is the packaging and it's minor. All three discs are stacked like pancakes around a single center spindle, making it a bit awkward to get to a specific disc. But it saves space and resources, so I can't complain too much.

Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection is a top-notch collection showing off the diversity of Ishiro Honda's work for the legendary studio. If you love monsters, aliens and mutants (and really, who doesn't?), you need to get you one of these.

Film Ratings: See Above
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B-


Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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