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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Monster Island Musings From Author, Beverly Gray

My Thoughts on Japanese Movies, With Monsters and Without

By Beverly Gray

My passion for Japanese filmmaking began when I discovered the work of the great director, Akira Kurosawa, whose career began in earnest just after the end of World War II. His first significant effort, a charming but threadbare production that shows the impact of post-war scarcity, was The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail. This 1945 jidaigeki (“costume drama”) followed an Edo-era general and his troops who disguised themselves as monks to outwit an enemy border patrol. One of the leading players was Takashi Shimura, a dignified and soulful actor (1905-1982) who racked up over 200 motion picture credits. Shimura was featured by Kurosawa in more than twenty films: he played the Woodcutter in Rashomon (1950) and the central role of a dying bureaucrat in Ikiru (1952), earning himself a BAFTA nomination as Best Actor in a Foreign Film.

Takashi Shimura with Ishiro Honda while shooting (clockwise) GODZILLA (1954), THE MYSTERIANS (1957) and FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON (1965); photos: ishirohonda[.]com.

In 1954 Shimura rode into pop culture history as the leader of The Seven Samurai. That very same year, he was the wise scientist Yamane in the original Godzilla. To make his monster-movie credentials complete, he appeared in several more atomic monster and sci fi films including GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955), THE MYSTERIANS (1957), MOTHRA (1961), GORATH (1962), GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964), and FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON (1965). No one can say that Shimura’s career lacked diversity.

My former boss, Roger Corman, had little to do with Japanese monster movies. But—as I detail in my updated biography, Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires,Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers—he pounced on a Japanese special-effects flick, 1973’s The Submersion of Japan, and edited it into something Americans would watch. Part of the transformation involved a new name, which was tested in one of Roger’s infamous polls of high school students. The polling results were hardly a surprise. As Allan Arkush, then a film editor and now a successful TV director, told me, “Are you going to go see Tidal Wave or The Submersion of Japan? It’s not a contest.”


Beverly Gray served as Roger Corman’s story editor at both New World Pictures and Concorde-New Horizons, collaborating on 170 low-budget features. She is also a journalist and teaches screenwriting workshops through UCLA Extension. Her first book, Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Biography of the Godfather of Indie Filmmaking (2000) was an LA Times bestseller. Her other published works include Ron Howard: From Mayberry to the Moon...and Beyond, and two expanded versions of her Corman bio, which has been tastefully retitled Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires,Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers. The latest edition, bringing Roger into the present day, is now available as both an ebook and a paperback. You can converse with Beverly online at Beverly In Movieland. This is the site of her twice-weekly blog, Beverly in Movieland, which covers movies, moviemaking, and growing up Hollywood-adjacent.

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