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Case Number 17135

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Icons Of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection

The H-Man
1958 // 78 Minutes // Not Rated
Battle In Outer Space
1959 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Mothra
1961 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Sony
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // August 28th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Brett Cullum thinks he's turning Japanese, he thinks he's turning Japanese, he really thinks so!

The Charge

A triple bill of monster moths, melting mutants, and mini aliens.

Opening Statement

Toho studios is known for two things in America—a big green lizard we call Godzilla and the artistic works of Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai). If you asked the common man on the street which one he prefers or is most familiar with, I would bet money on the giant stomper of Tokyo. The studio cranked out tons of lesser known science fiction B-movies which Columbia Pictures distributed to the Western world without much fanfare. Often these films would be allegories for "bad things" the United States had imported to postwar Japan, but fans Stateside never saw that angle too well. To most of us "white devils" these were simple romps about atomic nightmares with laughable yet striking special effects. I grew up on a steady diet of Toho productions thanks to Sunday afternoon creature features on television decades after they were made. Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection gathers together a triple bill of giant moths, alien invaders, and mysterious mutants to remind us of the glorious days when Japan cranked out cheesy science fiction for the world to marvel over.

Facts of the Case

Mothra
Filmed in 1961, this is the origin story of the "divine moth" who protects the Earth and the inhabitants of Infant Island. It is directed by genre king Ishiro Honda with special effects by legend Eiji Tsuburaya, the men who masterminded Godzilla. It starts with an unexpected expedition to a mysterious island previously used for radiation testing where a primitive culture is discovered. An entrepreneur tries to exploit the simple people, and the natives begin to hope their angry god rises to defend them. We are introduced to the "small beauties" (played by identical twin singers called the Peanuts) who are abducted by the evil capitalist who sees dollar signs. He starts a show in Tokyo featuring the tiny sprites singing, but little does he know that back on the island a giant egg has hatched and a larval caterpillar is making its way towards him. A cruise ship is destroyed, and the giant monster lives through a napalm attack. After destroying the Tokyo Tower, a cocoon is spun. Mothra emerges in full giant moth form, and our evil greedy showman is in all sorts of trouble even if he has fled to the mythical country of Rolisica (a thinly veiled version of America). It's all an elaborate allegory for the evils of Western influence on the economy of Japan, but most people see it as a simple monster fantasy where the creature is actually the one to root for rather than the humans. Mothra differs from Godzilla and Rodan in that she is actually on the right side of everything, and merely "ravishes the universe for love."

Battle in Outer Space
Filmed in 1959, and also an Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsubaraya collaboration, this film is a spiritual sequel to 1957's The Mysterians, although it certainly stands on its own easily without much direct connection. The story commences in 1965 with Etsuko Shiraishi and Dr. Adachi facing off with a new threat to Earth. This time the planet is attacked by the Natal. They are diminutive and aggressive beings who wield powerful antigravity weapons and mind-control devices. Much like Star Trek the story is a powerful fantasy where the world's nations come together to defeat a common enemy and explore space.

The H-Man
To complete this triple feature we have yet another Honda and Tsubaraya production which was completed in 1958. A narcotics deal goes sour, and the police lose track of the prime suspect when all they find are his clothes. They are stumped, and question his girlfriend. Then a young scientist shows up babbling on about "H-Men" who are byproducts of the hydrogen bomb. These monsters melt anybody they touch. Could the gangster been dissolved by mutants running around after "the bomb"? It's a cautionary tale about the lingering effects of the bomb on Japan, and also the rise of crime as Western influences come to their shores.

The Evidence

You could compare all three of these films to Western science fiction classics with Mothra becoming a feminized version of King Kong, Battle in Outer Space offering a Japanese take on War of the Worlds, and The H-Man reinterpreting The Blob. Most people will get this collection to acquire a new print and DVD of Mothra, a favorite in the Toho cannon of monster epics. It is the standout selection of the trio, having the most effective story and what Toho is famous for—the kaiju eiga ("monster movie") which most people associate with Japan. In addition this set offers two films that contrast the creature feature with more traditional science fiction. All of the trio are worth a look, and I found each to be fast paced and good natured fun. You've got a monster movie, an invasion space opera, and a noir influenced glowing gangster film.

Sony has done an excellent job with all three films for this DVD release. We get the original widescreen aspect ratios (Toho-vision!) as well as both the United States and Japanese versions. It's a Toho completist's dream come true! Previously we had only seen these films released on very poor VHS copies that only offered fullscreen Americanized cuts. There are still a lot of scratches and grain to be found, but that is part of the charm of these types of films. When the effects are done with matte paintings, models, and overlays you don't need a pristine digital transfer to ruin all the fun. We get both Japanese and English versions of all three films which means extra footage in some places. Mothra gets almost a full ten minutes added when you watch the original language version, H-Man gets seven extra, and Battle in Outer Space is the same length no matter which version you chose. You can either read subtitles or listen to the Western dub. Fans will really want to see both, because it changes the tone just a little depending on which one you watch. It doesn't look like this is done with branching at all, and each film is transferred twice on to the disc in its entirety.

Extras include commentary by two authors who have written books about Toho and Japanese monster movies, Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski. Apparently the two men are preparing to publish a biography of Japanese director Ishiro Honda as a joint effort. They talk over the English language print of Mothra, and both versions of Battle in Outer Space. The two men offer significant information on the productions, and even call other participants on the phone during the commentary to add color and authenticity. These are two of the best commentaries I have heard this year for DVD. H-Man only offers some previews as its sole supplement.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Oddly enough the worst thing about the set is the packaging. All three films are presented on single discs that are stacked on one spindle in a single disc case. Yep, the side that plays for one disc is resting on the label of another. It is amazing there are not massive issues with them scratching each other. Fans are up in arms about it, and it looks strange and cheap when you open the box. I've also heard rumblings that the subtitles on Battle in Outer Space sometimes don't work so well, coming on during the English dub or popping up when nobody is speaking. My advice is to check the discs carefully once you make a purchase, and keep that receipt handy in case you have any issues.

Closing Statement

Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection is one of the best film sets offered up this year. Unfortunately, it's housed in some of the worst packaging I've seen. Three DVDs stacked up on top of one another would seem to encourage scratches and other issues. Still, the content is worth the risk considering you get US and Japanese versions along with excellent commentaries. It's hard to resist a smile once the Peanuts start singing the Mothra song which brings the angry wrath of a butterfly moth on Tokyo. Toho Studios may have brought us classics from celebrated directors like Kurosawa, but they will probably be more fondly remembered for their contribution of cheesy B-grade science fiction and monster movies. There's an art on display, even if it is a creative use of toy trains and rubber suits.

The Verdict

Guilty of making me feel like I'm six years old again watching Creature Feature, but this time I see the whole picture and get a lecture to boot.

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Genres

• Classic
• Cult
• Foreign
• Science Fiction

Scales of Justice, The H-Man

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 0
Acting: 80
Story: 80
Judgment: 78

Perp Profile, The H-Man

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The H-Man

• None

Scales of Justice, Battle In Outer Space

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 90
Acting: 85
Story: 80
Judgment: 84

Perp Profile, Battle In Outer Space

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1959
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Battle In Outer Space

• Commentary

Scales of Justice, Mothra

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 90
Acting: 85
Story: 85
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile, Mothra

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Mothra

• Commentary








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