IN ACADEMIC DEFENSE OF TOHO by David Rosler

Updated: Aug 23, 2019



CUTTING TO THE CHASE, MANY OF THOSE "STUPID OLD JAPANESE SCIENCE FICTION MOVIES" ARE NOT SO STUPID AFTER ALL. By way of initial example, in the images immediately below, the original title of that movie was "Mantago" and changed by American distributors to "Attack Of The Mushroom People". You can already see the beginning of the pattern that ruined these films for American audiences. While some later "folk hero Godzilla' movies are indeed occasionally undeniably genuinely ridiculous (while oddly lovable if you are open of mind and kind of heart) regardless of U.S. distributor handling, the truly good movies get lumped in with the terrible movies by virtue of terrible U.S. titles, bad re-writing and horrendously stupid dubbing. The sometimes surprising very good movies often take on an entirely adult aesthetic when watched in the original Japanese language with subtitles and not Paul Frees and other famous cartoon character voices doing the dubbing.


Mantango's no-nonsense message about the dangers of hallucinogens seem well-illustrated by the these extremely atmospheric shots from the film.

The originals explain their rabid popularity back in the day among adult audiences in Japan. The adult population in Japan is not stupid or unsophisticated; the problem is U.S. distributors did everything they could to turn these old films into kiddie shows because back then the business thinking was "monster are for kids". The Japanese version of Mantango is intensely atmospheric and is extremely well-respected for good reason- the unedited version would scare the sh*t out of the most steel-spined 12-year-old if shown with the original soundtrack. There is also a plainly unambiguous warning about the then-emerging dangers of hallucinogens on the Japanese society at the time, and its handled with some pretty unpleasant mature directness. IF YOU CAN GET THE ORIGINAL SUBTITLED VERSION - NO EASY TASK - DO IT.





Same with "H-Man". Stupid with cartoon voices. Alarming with the original soundtrack and several particularly graphic special effects shots cut out of the U.S. version.


H-Men from 1959 had plenty of sauce for the dads in a film very plainly not made for kids. But you would barely know it from the silly dubbing.

This is the wrong way to watch it. Click "Japanese version"! (automatic English subtitles appear)

H-Man is available in a 3-disc set from Columbia Pictures with Mothra and the amazingly well-produced Battle In Outer Space, act three of which was plainly ripped off with absolute abandon by George Lucas in "Star Wars" 8 years later. All three quite good with their original soundtracks and subtitles, as Columbia has offered them.




Battle In Outer Space has positively excellent production values and often genuinely amazing special effects for the time. In this person's opinion, the very best visual effects to come out of Japan from the 1950's until the 1990's. Plainly, they spared no expense on this one.

With "miniatures" consistently built on this scale - and bigger - it's no wonder Battle In Outer Space is often remarkably realistic even today.

Even "corny" old Mothra becomes an adult viewing experience, a poetic, mythical and mystical divine conjuring which was a huge hit with adults in Japan, reduced down to the level of a kiddie show in the U.S. version.



A typically elegant shot from the original Mothra which enchanted sophisticated adult Japanese audiences at the time, ruined for American audience with silly voices speaking tortured English to fit into the mouths of people enunciating a language bearing no resemblance to that spoken by Shakespeare and reduced down to theater of the absurd.

It's the bad narrative editing of the U.S. versions, stupid dubbing voices and the re-writing of the dialogue to fit into mouths speaking a different language, you see - pretty basic formula for disaster in a drama. A totally scorched earth approach to drama.


And speaking of scorched earth, any mention of serious Japanese science fiction ruined by America distributor meddling would not be complete without a significant mention of the one and only Godzilla, originally a somber and no-nonsense metaphor for the atomic bombs dropped on Japan and a movie made by the only country to experience the devastating effects of nuclear war. While the american version of Godzilla maintains some of the sincere seriousness as Raymond Burr, playing it straight and quiet, is inserted into scenes for American audiences, the re-writing attempts to follow the formula of the then-burgeoning re-awakened dinosaur movies. In the original film, while Godzilla is indeed a prehistoric beast, much less time is spend on his dramatically meaningless evolutionary heritage than the nuclear sword Godzilla is meant to represent. This is one of the most severe examples of bad dubbing because while burdened by the usual audio and dramatic infirmaries of this kind of approach, the particularly serious theme of the film suffers unconscionably from poor - and worse, stupid - dubbing.


Shots like this make it hard to miss the analogy to actual nuclear horrors. "Godzilla" (Japanese title "Gojira"), was a slightly bewildering runaway hit in Japan, quite possibly because it served as a catharsis of sorts; it likely allowed many of the Japanese people to re-live the effects of the bombings only 9 years later, but in the form of an abstraction that allowed them to deal with the horrors in a way which removed the emotional raw pain from the experience.


Extremely rare behind the scenes still from the original Godzilla.

Godzilla's first sighting is heralded with a blinding flash of burning light, an unmistakable reference to the atomic bombs the Japanese experienced less than a decade before.

In a hospital after a Godzilla attack, small children are checked for radiation. Pretty serious stuff indeed, considering the Japanese citizens were STILL being checked regularly for radiation when Godzilla first came out. This scene is not in the American version and perhaps just as well, when one ponders the ham-handed approach to the dubbing.

Also not in the American version. It would have been difficult to ruin this moment, even with poor dubbing. Another powerful moment never afforded American audiences who were given the bare-bones "monster on the loose" treatment.

In case anyone still needs convincing that that silly "Godzilla" movie was, in the Japanese version, a powerful abstraction of the horrors of nuclear war, here is a shot of actual nuclear devastation after the bomb in Hiroshima...

... and a special effects miniature shot of Tokyo after a Godzilla attack., a moment lost to American audiences by eliminating many of the direct references which hearken to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

You can't take any movie seriously when all the actors express themselves with absurdly stupid sentences spoken with voices that sound like they come from voice talent doing 1960's Saturday morning cartoon characters. That's not counting the fact that all the atmospheric ambient sound in the original motion picture audio soundtrack was eliminated with the voices for dubbing, so people move, walk, open and close doors, whatever, with no sound whatsoever. A total disaster for any kind of even semi-dramatic presentation. Today, the dubbing is better and more ambient sound is included, but political correctness now has the Japanese actors speaking with straight-arrow American accents, which is just as absurd as the character voices they used back in the day. One must wonder - it isn't that difficult - won't they ever get it right? In the meantime, these adult-style films of this genre, from the 1950's until the early 1960's, are amazingly different in their original, subtitled versions from what we all grew up watching. They become evermore readily available on DVD and Blu-ray as audiences as diverse as fantasy fans to appreciators of Kurosawa art-house films indulge in a surreal and exhilarating form of entertainment: Japanese science fiction movies that any adult can take seriously and with which they can become involved. These terrific motion pictures that packed Japanese cinemas in the day with adult audiences are a serious and often times significant experience not to be missed.