This is another special edition entry of Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews. This time, it's a quartet of Godzilla themed tomes for those who love Kaiju Eiga films. Some of these books are difficult to obtain now, while some others are easy to come by. Two are highly recommended and two of them are for completists only.
First up is the best of the best...
JAPAN'S FAVORITE MON-STAR: THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF "THE BIG G"
By Steve Ryfle
Softcover; 376 pages; B/W
In 1998 Japanese monster movie expert Steve Ryfle unleashed his huge book on all things Godzilla. However, his massive monster manuscript almost didn't get released and even when it did come out, a court injunction from Toho kept it from reaching its full potential. The ever protective Japanese movie studio wouldn't allow Ryfle to use any images of Godzilla on the cover among other problems. The book was originally to have been published by Dell, but they got cold feet as Toho was seemingly suing companies left and right that they felt may be infringing on their properties. Frustrated by his experience writing this book, Ryfle has nonetheless written one of, if not the most exhaustive book on the subject up to the reviled American version of Godzilla from 1998.
There's close to a hundred pictures among the books 370+ pages, many of them behind the scenes pics, or personal photos of various screen personalities. There's relatively few photos of "The Big G" himself, but what this volume lacks in flashy pictures, it more than makes up for in background information. Ryfle has interviewed and spoken with so many Japanese science fiction movie performers and acrued mounds of information to make this book a worthy addition to any G fan's collection.
Ryfle is very critical at times, but there is no doubt he has a great admiration for this series of monster films. If there was any cause for criticism against the book, it would be that there hasn't been a revised updated edition to include the Millennium series of films. But considering the ordeal Ryfle went through to even get the book released at all, it's understandable that he wouldn't want to approach the subject again. The author even goes the extra mile by including Godzilla projects that never got made and other assorted minuate that serious fans will appreciate.
This volume gets the highest recommendation for those with a serious interest in what went into making these movies and everything in between. However, if you go into this one expecting a collage of lavish color photos, you will be sorely disappointed.
Then there's this excellent addition to the genre....
MONSTERS ARE ATTACKING TOKYO! THE INCREDIBLE WORLD OF JAPANESE FANTASY FILMS
By Stuart Galbraith IV
Softcover; 192 pages; B/W
Another Japanese film historian, Galbraith's book also came out in 1998 and makes a great coffee table companion to the above reviewed book. Galbraith has assembled various excerpts from a vast number of interviews he has made with many stars that worked in the Japanese movie industry. Both actors and actresses from America and Japan have selected anecdotes throughout the book about various movies they worked on. These bits and pieces are oftentimes very revealing and offer a candid look into what it was like to be an American working in Japanese cinema at the time.
The interviews are broken up into various chapters relating to a particular subject whether it be a film, or working with a director, or special effects artist. There's even a very nice section detailing Academy Award nominated actor, Nick Adams and how he came to be associated with Toho and the lives he touched while he was there. The controversy surrounding his death is also discussed. The controversy surrounding the making of LATITUDE ZERO (1969) also gets a chapter with accompanying excerpted interviews with cast and crew.
This wonderful book also contains background information on other Japanese monster movies as well as other Japanese Fantasy productions that have nothing to do with either Godzilla or Gamera. There's also a lot of great pics as well. While the book is a fascinating read, it finishes like an appetizer to an even bigger meal. It's a shame Galbraith (who has a massive book on Toho out now) hasn't returned to this subject to expand on it. There's nothing at all wrong with this selection, only that it's so well made and has so much for the serious fan, one wishes there was so much more once the last page is turned. Still, it's another highly recommended book if you can find it cheap.
Then we begin the downward slide....
THE OFFICIAL GODZILLA COMPENDIUM
By J.D. Lees & Marc Cerasini
Softcover; 145 pages; Color & B/W
Whereas Ryfle's book at the top of the page was a magnificent read rife with a mountain of information, this glossy and colorful addition to the genre is lacking a bit. Akin to a big budget Hollywood production, this book is all style over substance. Unbelievably this photo packed addition was backed by Toho themselves while the juggernaut of Ryfle's massive undertaking was released through an indy label and suffered from the famed Japanese studios indignities.
That's not to say that this book is worthless, or should be given a pass, but it is sorely lacking in information that the above two books deliver in spades. If you're looking for splashy pics, than this one's for you. There's also some interesting chapters and essays. Some of these leave the reader befuddled by their inclusion. Do we really need an essay titled Godzilla As A Parenting Tool?
While it's lavishly produced and imaginatively put together, it's not recommended for those seeking more than cool photos or plot synopsis'. It is a great introduction for those with a passing interest in the genre, or those who have a fascination with reacquainting themselves with the films that captured their imagination as a small child. It comes moderately recommended.
...And then I pulled this one out from under one of the giant lizards mighty footprints....
GODZILLA, KING OF THE MOVIE MONSTERS: AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO JAPANESE MONSTER MOVIES
By Robert Marrero
Softcover; 144 pages; B/W
This one from 1996 is definitely aimed at fans seeking lots and lots of pictures. There's information on the films themselves, but those seeking such things will be lost in a miasma of huge photos from various movies splashed on every page. The author seems to have much disdain for any Godzilla film prior to the 90's entries. It begs one to question if the author is all that much of a fan to begin with.
Unlike the Compendium reviewed above, none of the pics are in color. There's little here for the seasoned Japanese monster fan that won't be expanded upon in the above two volumes at the top of this post. The books sole reason for purchase mirror those of the above reviewed authorized Compendium, only its nowhere near as glossy or creative.
The book is written in a simplistic style and caters mainly to those who could care less about reading about the films as they would seeing enormous splashes of scenes from the films themselves. There's a minor section at the back that covers other Japanese fantasy motion pictures, but these, too, are lost amongst massive black and white pictures from their respective titles. Recommended only for those that want to read as little as possible preferring a visual means over the written word.