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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

I Misplaced It At The Movies: The Peanuts....

....incorporating a slight, and somewhat idiosyncratic overview of the Kaiju Eiga film genre.

I have to admit that I am not a Trekkie.
And even when it comes to Star Wars, despite numerous conversations with Ray that would make Jay and Silent Bob's heads spin with geek overload, I have to admit merely a low-key admiration for the films.
No, when it comes to Sci-Fi, apart from a few classy Red Menace 1950s movies, my main passion, rather crude though it may be, is the heavily criticised and sniffily despised Kaiju Eiga series of films. That's the Japanese Giant Monster movies (you know...the Godzilla movies!!).
The Kaiju series of films have predominantly featured fan favourite Godzilla, but have thrown up many other atomic mutations such as Gamera, Rodan, Gappa, King Ghidora, Angurus; as well as a couple of unofficial performances from King Kong (in 'King Kong Vs Godzilla' and 'King Kong Escapes'), and (bizarrely) the Frankenstein Monster who appeared in 'Frankenstein Conquers The World'. The plot of this insane film (and trust me you will have to suspend a LOT of belief in this Blog!) has the heart of the Frankenstein Monster being transported to Japan only to be hit by the blast from the atomic bomb that fell on Hiroshima. A young boy, exposed to the now radioactive Frankenstein heart, grows into a Godzilla-sized version of the Frankenstein Monster, although it more resembles a giant Oddbod from 'Carry On Screaming'.

However, next only to Godzilla in popularity, is Mothra. This is quite strange as, apart from being one of the most beautiful Kaiju creations, Mothra is rather hampered by it's very clumsiness and non-frightening appearance. It seems though that Mothra's popularity is mostly due to the fact that in every Mothra movie there is an appearance by Mothra's tiny twin guardians, played by Japanese pop sensations The Peanuts.
The Peanuts are identical twin sisters Tsukiko and Hideyo Ito, who changed their names to Yumi and Emi when they embarked on their Pop career. Born in 1941, the twins broke onto the scene in 1958 performing variations of J-Pop from the time.
However, it would be their casting as Mothra's twin Guardians in the first Mothra movie that would seal their fame. There has always been some confusion as to what the Peanuts are called in the movies, due to both unreliable subtitles, or various dubbing by different studios. In some films they are called The Mothra Fairies, in others they are referred to simple as The Tiny Beauties, and in some film books and magazines they have been called The Alilenas, though this appears to be a complete mistake stemming from an early press kit that gave both twins names in the movies; one was Alilena and this appears to have somewhat confused an English speaking film journalist of the time.

Many people watch the Mothra films purely because they know The Peanuts will be appearing in them; often singing the famous and very catchy Mothra chant:

The Peanuts tend to act as both an embodiment of Mothra's soul or spirit, and often as the conscience of the human race, as time after time they try to persuade Mothra not to kill the humans, or vice-versa. Quite often they are kidnapped by evil humans who try to lure Mothra out so they can attack it.
Sometimes they are put on display as freaks like in the scene below which features an unintentionally funny and creepy scene in which two camp, middle-aged men grab two little boys and say, "I believe you know these fairies very well!"

Every Mothra film of the late 50s or early 60s featured The Peanuts, often performing a different song as well as the much loved chant. The chant proved so popular that an official single was released in the early 60s.

After their appearances in the Mothra movies, The Peanuts continued as Pop Stars in Japan, scoring many hits; their most popular being 'Furimukanaide (Gekichuukyoku) ' which translates as 'Misbehavin'(Don't Look Back)'. In 1964 they even appeared on the Ed Sullivan show performing 'Lover Come Back To Me'. They continued their Pop career throughout the 60s and early 70s before retiring in 1975.

The whole Kaiju Eiga series tends to polarise film critics, even those who deal specifically in Cult genre pictures. Danny Peary, in his excellent 'Cult Movies' series of books claims that Japanese Giant Monster Movies are the one genre he fails to see anything worthy in. While Michael Weldon of the 'Psychotronic Movie Guide', and Steven Puchalski of 'Slimetime' practically fall over themselves to heap praise upon the films.
Part of the reason the films have such a bad rep is that for many years they were only available in terrible cropped pan-and-scan versions, which reduced the Widescreen vistas considerably. They were also dubbed so badly that there are Dutch Porn films with more credible dialogue. Also, there's the fact that not all the movies were made by the same team. Any film directed by Ishiro Honda, with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, are uniformly excellent; once you veer away from this production team however, you are in murky waters. Godzilla's suit becomes progressively silly looking, until it reaches it's nadir in the early 1970s, where he looks like a badly designed hand-puppet of a frog!!
My own fascination for the Kaiju Eiga movies began in Primary School when I was taken to the cinema one Saturday afternoon for a double bill that comprised of sleazy Spaghetti Western 'Finger On The Trigger' (pretty violent and definitely NOT kiddie-fare), and 'King Kong Escapes'. I didn't really catch on that it was Japanese, but I absolutely loved it.
A few years later, in 1983, the Medved Brothers began a show on Channel 4 called 'The Worst Of Hollywood' which tied in with their books, 'The 50 Worst Movies Of All Time' and 'The Golden Turkey Awards'. In the series they showed 'Godzilla Vs The Smog Monster' aka 'Godzilla Vs Hedorah' which they claimed was one of the 50 worst movies of all time. Interesting, because Kaiju fans don't even consider it the worst Godzilla film of all time. That accolade goes to 'Godzilla's Revenge', a childish slop that joins together old footage with an excruciatingly twee story about bullying. I should point out that, while I used to admire the Medveds for daring to bring 'bad' movies to new audiences, a lot of their ideas of what constitutes a 'bad' movie are way off. For example, they list 'Grease' as the second worst film of all time after 'Plan 9 From Outer Space'! Not even 'Grease 2', but the original!! 'Godzilla Vs The Smog Monster', however, is a guilty pleasure, especially in nonsensical opening song 'Save The Earth' which features the clanging opening salvo, "We've got cobalt// It's full of mercury(, are you sure?)// Too many fumes in our oxygen", take it away.....

Okay, Pop Quiz Hotshots....what is the name of Godzilla's son? Now, if you've just shouted out Godzuki then go and stand in the corner with the Dunce's Cap on! Godzuki originates from the terrible, late 70s animated series, and was in fact Godzilla's nephew(?!?). Godzilla's son is actually called Minya and was blamed by many for juvenilisation of the Godzilla series. Indeed, his own movie 'Son Of Godzilla' is 95% tripe, but redeems itself in the final scene, contributing one of the most beautiful and poignant scenes in the whole series history. Having beaten the rather rubbish enemy monsters (giant mantises and an absurd looking giant crab), Godzilla and Minya usher the friendly humans away on their boat just as a huge blizzard engulfs the tiny island. Godzilla embraces his son to him as they are covered in the snow, the humans exclaiming that ''they'll sleep till the spring comes". As the end music plays we watch Godzilla and son disappear beneath the snow.....a genuinely beautiful image.
Below is the only footage I can find of this moment. You have to get past a rather annoying opening 28 second intro, and the image is poorly cropped and doesn't show the whole scene, but I felt I had to share it.

It's interesting to note that both Godzilla and Mothra are killed in both their debut movies but both live on at the end of every subsequent film. This means, then, that in every sequel (and there are MANY) Godzilla is actually the son of the original Godzilla, and therefore Minya is the GRANDSON of the original Godzilla.
Godzilla's one and only death, in the wonderful debut movie 'Gojira' is also incredibly poignant. The whole movie is actually pretty sombre, being a metaphor for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both of which occurred a mere 9 years previously. Godzilla is actually killed by the humans while he is asleep at peace in his own underwater lair, which comes across as both cowardly and immoral on behalf of the humans. The scientist who kills Godzilla then takes his own life, maybe we are to assume through his feelings of guilt, but it seems more likely as a result of the awkward love triangle that runs through the movie.

In 1992 'Godzilla Vs Mothra' was remade with all new, twin Mothra Fairies, this time called The Cosmos! They are played by Keiko Imamura and Sayaka Osawa and they even recorded an updated version of the Mothra theme tune and released it as a single.

I realise this whole Blog is a very slight and personal overview of the whole Kaiju Eiga phenomenon, but I just wanted to express my love of these movies, and to show that it's not all Ingmar Bergman round this way.

Next time: Ingmar Bergman.....

.......Versus The Smog Monster!


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