ISSUE 01 / JULY 2013

“BEASTS VS. BOTS”

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Welcome To BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH.
Devin Faraci Badass Digest Editor in Chief
@devincf
Read more at badassdigest.com

Birth. Movies. Death. These are the three most monumental aspects of any life, which is why we’ve chosen to name this publication after them. Welcome to the first (collector’s!) issue of BIRTH. MOVIES. DEATH., the new magazine from the Alamo Drafthouse. Every month BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH. will be brimming with articles from the Drafthouse programmers and the writers at BadassDigest.com. Each month’s content revolves around our national programming, which is inspired by our absolute devotion to the best and the most fun movies of all time. We’re proud to have our big debut be all about big monsters in celebration of Guillermo Del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM. Del Toro’s long-awaited blockbuster has humanity building enormous mechs to battle back an invading force of giant monsters. BIRTH. MOVIES. DEATH. welcomes those monsters with an interview with del Toro himself about the film and its inspirations, articles about the real life origins of Godzilla, North Korea’s bizarre entry in the kaiju genre, a lost King Kong knock-off that might have been Japan’s first giant monster movie and more. Zip up your rubber monster suit and get ready for a month of city crushing, earth shattering big screen kaiju action at the Alamo Drafthouse. 6

CONTENTS
Welcome To BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH.

Screening In July At Your Alamo Drafthouse

Terms And Conditions Of Your Insurance Policy With Toho Insurance Company, Ltd.

Lucky Dragon 5: The Terrifying Truth That Inspired GODZILLA One Of Cinema’s Last Wizards Is Gone: Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013
Rampage And Melee: An Overview Of Kaiju Games
KING KONG APPEARS IN EDO: Hoax Or The First Kaiju Movie? On Mechs & Monsters: The Guillermo del Toro Interview

On Optimus Prime And Movies Made By Marketing Committees

GODZILLA: King Of All Comic Book Monsters PULGASARI: The Time North Korea Kidnapped A Filmmaker To Make A Kaiju Movie
The Mysterious Origins of VOLTRON

A Eulogy For Bambi, Sweetest Of All Woodland Creatures
Editor-in-Chief Devin Faraci Managing Editor Meredith Borders Associate Publisher Henri Mazza Art Director/Graphic Designer Joseph A. Ziemba Copy Editor George Bragdon Contributing Writers Jordan Hoffman, Alex Riviello, Evan Saathoff, Robert Saucedo, Tommy Swenson
All content © 2013 Alamo Drafthouse | drafthouse.com | badassdigest.com

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Screening In July At Your Alamo Drafthouse
Inspired by our enthusiasm for the upcoming release of PACIFIC RIM, the Alamo Drafthouse programming team is presenting a month of screenings on the theme of “Beasts Vs. Bots.” For tickets, showtimes, formats, and a full list of titles, visit drafthouse.com.

EVANGELION creator Hideaki Anno was attempting to turn the foundational genre of his medium, the giant mecha robot story, inside out. Grounding the drama in the interior lives of flawed and tragic characters, and exploring the real world ramifications of pop sci-fi concepts, Anno defied expectations of failure and produced a masterpiece as formally ambitious and accidentally influential as WATCHMEN was for comics, reinventing what was possible to achieve in a weekly animated series. It was an ultimate mic drop move. Anno could have retreated from that particular spotlight as Moore did, distancing himself from his early work and leaving it to pedantic fans to argue and obsess over. Instead, he picked the mic back up and decided to remake the whole thing from scratch. Taking as his source the 26-episode TV series and two subsequent feature films, which piled even more mysteries and hallucinatory, apocalyptic imagery onto the show’s already cosmically complex storyline, the yet-to-becompleted 4-film cycle of the EVANGELION REBUILD movies is part retelling and part maybe-timeloop-sequelwho-knows, all vibrantly rendered in gorgeous, new, bigbudget animation. The first film is a very faithful scene-forscene adaptation of the first six episodes of the original series, but the second film begins to deviate dramatically from the source. Deepening characters, themes and plot, Anno takes the original story in striking new directions, redefining it past the point of recognition and injecting a vitality that takes the whole project a million miles away from any sort of George Lucas-style OCD tinkering. By the time we get to EVANGELION 3.0, we’re 20 years into the future beyond the cataclysmic end of the original series and all bets are off. The incredible, epic-scale battles between “robots” and “monsters” remain, as do the agents of NERV who are investigating and collaborating with what may be an apocalyptic conspiracy, traveling from the remains of the polar ice-caps floating in blood-red seas, to the moon itself, to unravel the story’s mysteries. Expanding on the original series’ subversion of the classic anime story of a boy and his giant robot into a polemic on the psychological damage caused by self-imposed isolation, the REBUILD films deliver beautifully nightmarish moments of body-horror transformation played out on a galactically ambitious scale in which the characters are forced to retreat into the depths of their own subconscious to face terrors and monstrosities that dwarf any simple end-of-the-world scenario. Almost 20 years on, EVANGELION is still pushing boundaries as some of the best anime around. (Tommy Swenson)

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Evangelion: 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone Dir. Masayuki/Kazuya Tsurumaki/Hideaki Anno, 2007, PG-13, 98 min A teenage kid is brought to Tokyo-3 by his estranged, emotionally abusive father and recruited to pilot a giant, symbiotic “Evangelion” robot for a paramilitary super-science organization named NERV in a war against enormous, divine, alien invaders called Angels who are prophesied to bring about the “Third Impact” and end all life on Earth. Maybe. I think. And that’s all before things start to get weird. When the original NEON GENESIS EVANGELION television show premiered in 1995, it revolutionized the anime industry by deconstructing familiar tropes and archetypes and forging a new direction for psychologically rich and thematically complex animation. Much like Alan Moore did with his seminal superhero comic WATCHMEN in the ‘80s,
BIRTH. MOVIES.DEATH. / JULY 2013

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(in the form of the superweapon Oxygen Destroyer), it also works as a wonderfully suspenseful horror movie, slowly building up to Godzilla’s first rampage. GODZILLA is a movie with punch, where every civilian death is felt and the monster’s aggression is out of control. GODZILLA’s cultural impact is, of course, still felt to this very day. It launched an entire genre of men-in-suits monster movies, but that was totally an accident. The original plan for GODZILLA was to have it be model animation, like KING KONG, but it was realized nobody in Japan had the skills required and that it would take a whopping seven years to finish the movie. So the legendary Japanese FX man Eiji Tsuburaya put an actor in a rubber suit and thus was born the Kaiju movie! That process, known as suitmation, is now considered a Japanese craft art. Don’t walk into GODZILLA expecting a cheesy romp. This is a real movie, with real stakes and a surprisingly bittersweet ending. There’s a reason Godzilla is King of the Monsters. (Devin Faraci)

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GODZILLA Dir. Ishirô Honda, 1954, NR, 96 min GODZILLA may have become best known for participating in silly, cheap monster mashes, but the original 1954 movie -- known as GOJIRA in Japan -- is a cinema classic for a damn good reason. This movie doesn’t just have giant monster action, it’s also a sobering and honestly scary warning about the danger of nuclear weapons... made by people who know the truth all too well. Ishiro Honda’s movie came out just nine years after Fat Man and Little Boy leveled Nagasaki and Hiroshima and after Tokyo had been largely destroyed by Allied firebombing. The scenes of destruction caused by the deep-sea nuclear terrorbeast must have been not only thrilling to Japanese audiences -- everybody loves watching monsters kick over buildings -but also troubling. While future films would be more or less superhero action larks, the original GODZILLA includes sequences where scientists test orphaned children for radiation contamination and the gravely wounded line hospital hallways, imagery all too familiar to the Japanese population. But GODZILLA isn’t a downer! While the movie wrestles with the threat of nuclear weapons and the morality of technology

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future” due to total annihilation by Godzilla, teleportation, ESP, androids, little baby dragon dudes, evil white people and, of course, King Ghidorah and the half-mutant, halfrobot MECHA-KING GHIDORAH!!! The fantastically convoluted plot involves an elaborate timetravel scheme to delete Godzilla out of history but double and triple-crosses spin the whole thing into complete headscratcher territory. The real reason to watch any Godzilla movie, though, is for the unfettered eradication of human civilization by colossal monstrosities - and GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH delivers ultimate destruction. The masterfully designed monster suits and impressively detailed miniature cities hold up as incredible examples of the value of practical effects, delivering a tactile pleasure that CGI carnage never will. The original composer for the series, Akira Ifukube, returns with his first Godzilla score in almost two decades and it undeniably elevates the whole thing to even greater heights. There are few pleasures in life more pure than seeing the great roaring, radioactive lizard monster pummel a mutated dragon creature through the Japanese tax center to the sounds of an Ifukube score. Godzilla will never die. (Tommy Swenson)

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GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORA Dir. Kazuki Ohmori, 1991, NR, 100 min In the 1980s Toho Studios decided to reboot their indomitable Godzilla series by ignoring all fourteen previous, increasingly insane sequels and making a direct follow-up to the irradiated original. No other rubber monsters to pal around with at first, just a new nuke-scorched Godzilla suit bringing complete devastation to miniature Japan. Forging a convoluted new continuity, these Heisei-era films dramatically increased the size of the monsters and returned Godzilla to his rightful role as a terrifying, world-ending abomination. But then in the first follow-up of this new series they made him fight a giant rosebush and nobody went to see it. The only solution was to bring back the most evil, awesome Godzilla opponent of all time - King Ghidorah, the vicious, flying, three-headed, lightning-breathing dragon from outer space. GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH is the pinnacle of the second era of Godzilla filmmaking. Watch this movie and lose your mind witnessing the secret origins of the original Godzilla, plenty of deep sea adventure, WWII soldiers fighting dinosaurs, UFO sightings, time traveling Futurians from the 23rd century warning Japan about their “gloomy

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consumption until the fragile nerves of their prepubescent brains can no longer properly distinguish between fantasy, reality, Saturday morning cartoons and an intruding nightmarish hell dimension. Because even though this is indisputably a family film, it’s also the most violent and horrific Godzilla movie ever to be accidentally shown to living people. The Smog Monster doesn’t just knock over buildings and crash through bridges. It sucks the flesh from people’s bodies and leaves them as smoldering piles of bones. It also kills a cat. Punctuated by bizarrely self-aware animated interludes that comment on the action, this is a film that has no qualms about pausing for a science lesson about galaxies and nebulas. It’s got the first appearance of hippies in a Godzilla movie and an inspirational/borderline-unbearable theme song called “Save the Earth” that plays constantly throughout. There’s a scene in a nightclub where a guy drops acid and watches as everyone’s heads become fish. Godzilla’s entrance is scored and photographed like a Technicolor Hollywood musical. He fights the Smog Monster by waving his arms and dancing around. When that’s not enough he flies about, squatting backward and shooting atomic breath to propel himself. Since when can Godzilla fly? Since now. This is just that kind of movie. The kind of movie where when a kid sees Godzilla from a rollercoaster, the action stops for a freeze frame zoom on the monster’s blurry silhouette like some amateur Bigfoot footage. The kind of movie where we watch a building slowly crumble in complete silence. The kind of movie that nobly drives home the indelible message: don’t pollute . . . or else, THIS! Amidst the insanity, GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER even takes time for a scene -- in which a little boy stands on the shore, waiting for his lost father who has been attacked by Hedorah -- that is so poetic and visually expressive that it can stand next to any great arthouse cinema of the 20th century. If you can open your mind wide enough to receptively view this movie, its multi-layered presentation of giant monsters, drug experimentation, eco-politics, astronomy lessons, exploding rock n roll, Jungian imagery, youth culture protests, parenthetical cartoon breaks and avant-garde psychedelia will give you a lasting gratification that’s very hard earned by any other means. (Tommy Swenson)

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GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER Dir. Yoshimitsu Banno, 1971, PG, 87 min What’s this? Just your average, everyday, run of the mill combination of horror, children’s movie, ‘70s psychedelic exploitation and Godzilla. Wait, what? GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER is hands down the weirdest goddamn giant monster movie ever made by a margin wider than that floating trash island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. More insane even than GODZILLA’S REVENGE, where all the monster action takes place inside the mind of a little kid. This time Godzilla is like a superhero and savior of the planet and he has to do battle with literally a giant pile of garbage. Hedorah the Smog Monster is the most original, unique and incomprehensible kaiju ever featured in one of these things. Like some industrialized blend of the Blob, a melting Cthulhu and Oscar the Grouch, the sentientpollution-thing Hedorah grows and multiplies and slimes his toxic sludge all over Japan. This is a movie targeted to kids. Little kids. Little kids who are plagued by epileptic fits exacerbated by unchecked sugar

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Filled with heart, humor and chills, THE HOST is like a Korean JURASSIC PARK. Ranked on Quentin Tarantino’s list of top 20 movies since 1992 (when he first started directing), this movie is, as Manohla Dargis of the NEW YORK TIMES calls it “a loopy, feverishly imaginative genre hybrid about the demons that haunt us from without and within.” If you missed South Korea’s highest grossing movie of all time when it was micro-released in the States in 2007, I can’t recommend seeing it enough...preferably with a loved one. (Greg MacLennan)

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THE HOST Dir. Joon-ho Bong, 2006, R, 119 min You are what it eats. THE HOST is blockbuster plotting and political commentary wrapped up in a good, old-fashioned gigantic monster movie. An American military pathologist commands a reluctant Korean assistant to dump hundreds of gallons of formaldehyde into the Han River...AND NOTHING HAPPENS. That is until a few years pass and sightings of a strange amphibious creature in the waterways begin to be reported. All hell eventually breaks loose, and the monster is on the attack. But this movie isn’t just a movie about monsters -- it’s about family. Park Hee-Bong is a 60-year-old snack bar owner who operates his business along the Han River with his incompetent, grumbly sons and archery medalist daughter. Awestruck and afraid, the family soon leaps into Avengers mode when the monster kidnaps Park Hee-Bong’s granddaughter.

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IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA Dir. Robert Gordon, 1955, NR, 79 min

IT CRUSHES! KILLS! DESTROYS!

The “Creature Features” of the ‘50s featured a mess of similar, uninspired product. Some are still a lot of fun to go back and revisit. Some are actually really great. And some are IT. The recently departed special effects god Ray Harryhausen (CLASH OF THE TITANS) used his craft to make sure IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA did not just flounder away into the abyss of forgettable ‘50s horror. The budget was low and the story was contrived, but it’s the execution, especially from Harryhausen, that sets IT apart. Harryhausen’s stop motion animation births a genuinely terrifying giant octopus that tries to take down no less than the Golden Gate Bridge. Harryhausen may have made more technically impressive achievements with CLASH, THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, but it’s the combination of his expertise housed in an unabashed B-movie premise that makes this film work in original and entertaining ways. Don’t miss IT!! (R.J. LaForce)

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KING KONG Dir. Merian C. Cooper/Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933, NR, 104 min When the “AMAZING” KONG was unleashed onto moviegoers 80 years ago, there was truly no cinematic event that matched its grand scale and unbridled imagination. It houses dozens of dinosaurs, a giant spider, a giant crab and the infamous gorilla. And the effects that make them come to life are sincere, practical and timeless. What sets KONG apart and helps it achieve its all-time classic status, though, is a simple story wrought with complicated themes. You both fear and care for the big guy in an emotional tug-of-war, all the while having your mouth agape because of the amazing visuals. And let’s not forget the performance of Fay Wray, the hypnotic beauty that steals our hearts and allows Kong’s to flourish. Most people know the story of Kong, but to experience this David O. Selznick production on the big screen is a truly special occasion. Over the years technology in movies has gotten more advanced, but few moments will inspire the awe that so many frames in KONG do. Over the years the term has been loosely issued to so many films, but the original KING KONG is an undeniable masterpiece. (R.J. LaForce)

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Maria, under the city, where he is exposed to the horrors of life below his privileged world. Maria prophesis of a great mediator who will come and bring the two classes together, but when Freder’s father learns of this he aims to destroy Maria and any uprising that may occur. When METROPOLIS was originally released in 1927, people didn’t understand it. German expressionistic science fiction wasn’t exactly a hot genre at the time, and the film’s long runtime and forced censors caused a hack-and-slash cut that left the world without Fritz Lang’s true vision. It wasn’t until 1984 that music producer Giorgio Moroder pieced together what was once thought to be a lost film. The Moroder version was tinted throughout, featured additional special effects, subtitles instead of intertitles, and a pop soundtrack featuring well-known singers including Freddie Mercury and Pat Benatar. This was the definitive version for close to 20 years . . . and it was AWESOME. Lang’s Art Deco dystopian world sizzled and popped while a raging soundtrack blew you away. If silent films cause you any hesitation, this version takes away all your excuses and provides the perfect gateway into an incredible classic film. But then in 2005, an original and complete cut of METROPOLIS was discovered in Argentina and contained more than 25 minutes of unseen, unfound footage, preserving Lang’s original vision. Full restoration was completed in 2010, and, while the Moroder version is a phenomenal and fun ‘80s watch, this version features Lang’s true vision and the original 1927 score re-recorded by the Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra of Berlin in glorious surround sound. Whether you’re a cinephile completist or casual movie fan, you owe it to yourself to witness the true cinematic power of METROPOLIS. (Greg MacLennan)

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METROPOLIS Dir. Fritz Lang, 1927, NR, 145 min It’s 2026 and wealthy industrialists rule the vast city of Metropolis while the lower class toils away in the underground to keep the city’s power running. The Master of Metropolis’s son, Freder, follows the beautiful underground-dweller,

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host of surprises: vampiric man-eating plant life, indigenous peoples still going about life and somehow unaffected by radiation poisoning, and two very small women -- The Twins who are the guardians of the sacred egg. When the expedition leader Clark Nelson discovers that the Twins are not only curiously miniature, but also have a talent for singing, he sees great big dollar signs in his eyes. He kidnaps them and decides to exhibit them around the world. Scumbags will be scumbags, so Nelson makes headlines with his newsworthy act, but little does he know that the Twins’ sweet, serene and catchy melody -- you will not be able to get it out of your head for years to come -- is actually a telepathic distress call to Mothra. The sacred egg hatches and Mothra (in larval form) is pissed. So pissed that she swims across an entire ocean to rescue her guardian protectors and loyal followers. The rest is an all-out attack on the city and its people. Mothra is on a rescue mission and nothing of this earth can stop her from accomplishing her goal. MOTHRA is the first film in what is still today the only daikaiju spin-off franchise in cinema history, due mostly to the extreme popularity of Mothra with Japanese females. Follow-ups include: MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964), the later Heisei-era GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992), and REBIRTH OF MOTHRA I (1996), REBIRTH OF MOTHRA II (1997), and REBIRTH OF MOTHRA III (1998). All hail Mothra! (Sam Prime)

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MOTHRA Dir. Ishirô Honda, 1961, NR, 101 min Based on a serialized novel titled THE LUMINOUS FAIRIES AND MOTHRA by Shinichiro Nakamura, Takehiko Fukunaga and Yoshie Hotta, 1961’s MOTHRA introduces an altogether different breed of Showa-era daikaiju into the radiation-riddled tokusatsu universe of rubber monsters. Where Godzilla is the rampaging reptile crowned “King of the Monsters,” by contrast Mothra is both female, a deity and a giant moth. She also does not needlessly stomp around bustling cities unless she has a reason: namely, to protect her loyal followers. As compared to other Toho daikaiju, Mothra might seem tame or even peaceful, but do not be fooled by the elegant exterior -- when backed into a corner or pushed to her limit, this lepidopteran proves truly lethal! MOTHRA begins with a scientific expedition to Infant Island, the location of a recent H-bomb testing site. Men in protective suits invade the irradiated island, only to find a

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Terms And Conditions Of Your Insurance Policy With Toho Insurance Company, Ltd.
Evan Saathoff Badass Digest News Editor

@sam_strange
Read more at badassdigest.com

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Toho Insurance Company, LTD. thanks you for your patronage. According to our records you have elected to enroll in our Gargantua Coverage Plan. This is the most comprehensive package we offer. You have made a smart decision. We arrive now at the final preliminary step. To initiate your Kaiju protection, you need only sign and date the bottom of this document, thus ensuring you have read and understand our terms and conditions. Upon execution of this last task, you and your loved one(s) can rest peacefully knowing you are in the hand(s) of people who care. This legal agreement between you and Toho Insurance Company, LTD. states in no uncertain terms the specific scope and limitations of your Gargantua Full Coverage Insurance Care Plan. What follows are the legal terms and conditions for this plan: A.  This plan will cover only death, injury and destruction professionally determined to have been caused by Kaiju. Toho Insurance Company, LTD. defines Kaiju as: Gigantic monsters of varying origin not normally found in the natural world, typically either reptilian or insectoid in shape. This definition does NOT include the following: Yokai Monsters, villains of the elite force known as Power Rangers, Pokemon, mechs and/or tragic apes. B.  In the event of a documented and proven Kaiju attack, Toho Insurance Company, LTD. agrees to pay you, the party signed below, a premium recovery cost in Yen calculated according to the market value of said item(s). In the case of physical injury, a medical estimate performed by a doctor underToho Insurance Company, LTD.’s employ will determine recovery cost based on standard medical prices. Toho Insurance Company, LTD. acknowledges only the healing properties of Eastern medical practices and will not pay recovery costs for Western medical treatment. If the signee can prove death occurred as the result of a Kaiju attack, Toho Insurance Company, LTD. will pay out a flat rate of 100,000,000 Yen for each deceased individual protected under the plan to any survivors protected by the plan. If there are no survivors protected by the plan, there will be no payment made by Toho Insurance Company, LTD. Cause of death must be specified by a Toho Company, LTD. coroner. Bite marks, radioactive burns, severed limbs and footprint-stamped torsos do not automatically indicate death by Kaiju. All cases will be investigated. C. This policy does NOT cover injury, loss of life, or damage to property caused by “Friendly Fire,” most commonly defined as offensive aggressive action taken against rampaging Kaiju. This includes standard gun fire, artillery, laser blasts and any damage done by either air support or tanks.

This also includes any offensive aggressive action which happens to utilize, via remote, mental or pilot control, another Kaiju, either living or robotic. Furthermore, any damage inflicted by the Kaiju known as Mothra is considered Friendly Fire. The same goes for Gamera. D.  Damage, injury, or death done by Kaiju that have fallen onto structures as a result of offensive aggressive action also counts as “Friendly Fire” and therefore will not be covered by your policy. E.  Damage to property or health must come as a result of deliberate action on the Kaiju’s part. Fires, tidal waves and wind damage incurred in the wake of Kaiju movement will not be covered. F.  Some Kaiju have been known to spontaneously give birth to baby versions of themselves. Any household who feeds, coddles, offers shelter or in any way cares for these infant Kaiju automatically forfeits all coverage without refund. Our definition of “Baby Kaiju” also includes Kaiju still in a larva/caterpillar state. G.  We are responsible only for Kaiju-related damages and health issues incurred in Japan. For protection against Chinese, Korean, American or any other non-Japanese Kaiju, you will need a separate Toho Insurance Company LTD. policy. All are available on our website. H.  For purely economic purposes, we do not consider Godzilla a Kaiju. The terms and conditions stated above describe the full extent and limitations of your Gargantua insurance policy. For this, you agree to pay Toho Insurance Company, LTD. a total of 5,000,000 Yen per year, split into bi-annual payments of 2,500,000 Yen each. Your deductible for any claims will also be 2,500,000 Yen. If you pay for one half of the year, but default on payment for the second half, Toho Insurance Company, LTD. will send a company Kaiju to kill you and/or destroy your properly. To emphasize the punitive intention of this action, the Kaiju employed will be Gabara. If you find the terms and conditions of your policy unfavorable or unfair, we urge you to leave Japan as soon as you possibly can. 6

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Lucky Dragon 5: The Terrifying Truth That Inspired GODZILLA
Tommy Swenson Alamo Drafthouse Programmer
@80s_lightning

Read more at badassdigest.com

A small Japanese fishing boat floats quietly at sea. The fishermen are making music, playing games and sleeping on deck. Suddenly, their tranquil moment is shattered by the sound of an explosion. The fishermen all rush to the railings, looking out across turbulent waters. Piercing white blindness overtakes everything, and their screams are silenced by an unseen, all-consuming force. That’s the opening scene of Ishiro Honda’s GODZILLA, but to Japanese audiences of the time, it was an instantly recognizable tribute to a very recent tragedy. On March 1, 1954, the crew members of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru (or Lucky Dragon 5), a 140-ton fishing boat out of Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, were exposed to fallout from the test explosion of a U.S. hydrogen bomb detonated at Bikini Atoll. The Lucky Dragon tragedy galvanized an emerging movement against nuclear weapons in Japan, spearheaded primarily by housewives in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward; the illfated boat emerged as an enduring symbol of protest against the proliferation of weapons capable of eradicating all life from the surface of the planet. Under the command of an inexperienced 22-year-old captain named Hisakichi Tsutsui, the Lucky Dragon left port on Jan. 22, 1954 with an underpowered engine capable only of 5 knots, and was beset by mechanical malfunction almost immediately. Less than three weeks into its voyage, as it was rounding the southern tip of Midway Island, nearly half of the ship’s 330 fishing lines were caught on coral reefs and lost. Unwilling to return home in failure, Tsutsui chose instead to head south to the Marshall Islands, in hope of finding a plentiful haul of bigeye tuna. No member of the crew was aware that the Japanese Maritime Safety Agency had been alerted by the U.S. government of planned nuclear tests, and that an exclusion zone had been established around Bikini Atoll extending eastward to longitude 166 16.
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By the end of February, the Lucky Dragon’s supplies were exhausted and fuel was nearly depleted. Noting their longitude at 166 18 (still safely, though obliviously, outside the exclusion zone), the crew planned for one final day of fishing on March 1 before returning home to port. At 6:45 am on “the Day the Sun Rose in the West,” a blast of light cut through the morning darkness. Crewman Matakichi Oishi described seeing the detonation: “A yellow flash poured through the porthole. Wondering what had happened, I jumped up from the bunk near the door, ran out on deck and was astonished. Bridge, sky and sea burst into view, painted in flaming sunset colors.” He was witnessing Castle Bravo, the first ever test of a dryfuel thermonuclear device. And, oh man, did it go completely wrong. The bomb’s engineers at the Los Alamos Laboratory miscalculated, and instead of the bomb blast delivering a planned yield of six megatons, it yielded an unimaginable FIFTEEN megatons! It was the biggest explosion ever caused by human beings, and over a thousand times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Lucky Dragon 5 survived the initial blast, but soon, a mysterious cloud of white “death ash” began to softly rain down on the ship. Later tests determined it was atomized coral, the ghostly remains of the habitat they were there to fish. Oishi recalled:“The top of the cloud spread over us…. Two hours passed….White particles were falling on us, just like sleet. The white particles penetrated mercilessly – eyes, nose, ears, mouth. We had no sense that it was dangerous.” For six hours after, they patiently hauled in their fishing lines before weighing anchor. That evening, the crew members began to feel nauseous, exhibiting early symptoms of radiation poisoning. By the

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time they reached Yaizu on March 14, they were covered in burns, bleeding from their gums and barely able to open their eyes. The 23 crew members were quarantined outside the city, and all their clothing and belongings were buried. Meanwhile, the fish they brought back with them were somehow accidentally unloaded and taken to markets across Tokyo. The government soon began a frantic search to recover the entirety of the catch, but by the time it was concluded, at least two full tuna had been sold and likely consumed. In the aftermath of the Castle Bravo test, the Ministry of Health and Welfare concluded that 856 Japanese vessels were exposed to radiation from the detonation. The Japanese fishing industry was crippled. Prices plunged, and between March and December of 1954 alone, over 75 tons of tuna were destroyed after being found unsafe to consume. And America’s response? The Atomic Energy Commission accused the Lucky Dragon of being a spy vessel, sent to discover military secrets. They denied any negative effects from the test, claiming “there [was] negligible hazard, if any, in the consumption of fish caught in the Pacific Ocean outside the immediate test area subsequent to tests.” At the very same time, however, America instituted much tighter regulations on all imported fish. The Lucky Dragon’s chief radio operator, Aikichi Kuboyama, died in September of 1954 at age 40, the first Japanese victim of a hydrogen bomb. The US government eventually gave a meager two million dollars to the Japanese government as

compensation for unspecific damages resulting from the Castle Bravo test. A diplomatically positioned ex-gratia statement made it clear that America was assuming no responsibility and that the payment was merely intended as a sympathetic gesture. The whole incident caused a tremendous amount of unrest in Japan. A large number of outraged Japanese citizens identified closely with the crew of the Lucky Dragon 5, and over 400,000 people attended Kuboyama’s funeral. Following this incident, the anti-nuclear movement quickly became a powerful voice in Japan. And then in November, GODZILLA was released. Beyond the opening scenes, which encapsulate the tragedy of the Lucky Dragon 5, director Ishiro Honda’s film grapples with the consequences of nuclear weapons with more direct intentionality, gravity and integrity than any film we would see for the next thirty years. Having been drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army, Honda spent the last six months of the war as a prisoner in China. In 1946 he was repatriated through Hiroshima, witnessing firsthand the aftermath of the nuclear attack. Those traumatic sights left a lasting impression which would be filtered throughout his entire body of work. He deliberately staged Godzilla’s destruction of Tokyo as a slow-motion, personified version of a rolling nuclear attack like those perpetrated against Japan. Watching GODZILLA today, the weighty moral quagmires that form the backbone of the narrative still feel urgent and unresolved. The film continues to resonate in part simply

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due to the masterful artistry and applied craft of Honda, special effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya and composer Akira Ifukube. The insane originality of their vision still pops with a vibrancy lacking from contemporary CGI-ridden blockbuster still-births. But I think primarily the film still stands out -- even from its 27 increasingly fun and outlandish sequels -- because it struggles so earnestly with large-scale questions of guilt and responsibility. In GODZILLA, a film that boldly accepts our reality as one in which human beings can willfully tear apart and destroy the fundamental particles of the universe, a scientist character played by Akihiko Hirata has created an Oxygen Destroyer that can disintegrate oxygen atoms. After Godzilla is awoken from his underwater sleep by a nuclear detonation, it becomes clear that the Oxygen Destroyer is likely the only weapon that can get rid of him. The scientist agonizes over the decision to use his new invention, terrified by the possibility that, once introduced to the world, such a weapon could never truly be contained. Ultimately, he resolves to use it, but not before burning the records of his life’s work to prevent others from abusing such destructive knowledge. After Godzilla’s defeat, he sacrifices himself, ensuring that the secrets of the Oxygen Destroyer would die with him. In later Godzilla movies, humans are often forced to manipulate one giant monster into helping defeat another, more immediately dangerous one. But in the end, they’re still always stuck with a giant goddamn monster to deal with. The abundance of crazy creatures in the Godzilla franchise reflects the paranoid politics of mutually assured destruction during the Cold War. Godzilla himself represents the potential for the complete destruction of everything, and the unfathomable consequences of fucking around with forces powerful enough to destroy all life on Earth. The movie still resonates because that omnipresent threat of annihilation hasn’t gone away. After the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011, the Lucky Dragon 5 embarked on a symbolic new voyage, acting as a vivid reminder of the almost incomprehensible dangers of “peaceful” nuclear technology. If that threat of total extinction doesn’t ring with the same urgency that it did during the Cold War, it’s partly because we’ve just become accustomed to it, grown up with it as a simple fact of modern life. Over time, we’ve come to accept the idea that we’re irreparably ruining this planet, an idea that decades ago had already found expression in 27 incredible movies starring a guy in a rubber monster suit. Humans won’t be here forever. Maybe we don’t really belong here at all anymore. Maybe ours is a world intended for giant monsters instead. 6

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One Of Cinema’s Last Wizards Is Gone: Ray Harryhausen 1920-2013
Devin Faraci Badass Digest Editor in Chief
@devincf
Read more at badassdigest.com

I met Ray Harryhausen once. I interviewed him briefly backstage at a comic book convention and I found him to be personable and nice and very sharp for a man in his 80s. Talking to him was amazing, but the real thrill for me came at the beginning and the end of the interview, when I shook his hand. That hand had been responsible for some of the greatest creatures and fantastical moments I have ever experienced in the movies. Harryhausen’s career began where so many of modern movies’ biggest dreams did: KING KONG. He saw that film dozens of times and was inspired to follow in the footsteps of the great stop motion pioneer Willis O’Brien. O’Brien himself gave young Harryhausen some advice after seeing the aspiring filmmaker’s home movies. Harryhausen ended up working with O’Brien as an assistant animator on MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, a film that won O’Brien an Oscar. In many ways Harryhausen wasn’t that different from the fans of today who hope to follow in the footsteps of their heroes. He hung out in LA with like-minded nerds, joining the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society at the urging of his fellow fan, Ray Bradbury. Those two became great friends with the head of the Society, the original fan, Forrest J. Ackerman. Imagine hanging out with those three in Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown LA, talking about Flash Gordon and pulp sci-fi stories. That trio would go on to change the entire face of science fiction and, along the way, American culture itself. Harryhausen’s great feat was the way he seamlessly integrated his stop motion creatures with live action. He avoided expensive optical printers, which also had the bonus of reducing image degradation that was common in special effects work at the time. What Harryhausen sought was a perfect meeting of the live action and stop motion, which would in turn give the animation a more realistic feel. His first solo film was THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS,

which saw him working with Bradbury (the producers of the film learned that Bradbury’s short story THE FOG HORN had a sequence very similar to one they wanted in their movie, so they bought the rights to keep him from suing). That film was a major success, and Harryhausen’s career took off. He was involved heavily in every step of pre-production, essentially directing the pictures himself. It was common knowledge in Hollywood that the director on a Harryhausen film was only there to help facilitate the animator’s vision. Harryhausen’s body of work is astonishing. THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD -- those are just his masterpieces from the ‘50s.The 1960s saw unbelievable, imagination-soaked movies like MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. and VALLEY OF GWANGI. As Hollywood changed around him Harryhausen’s output slowed in the ‘70s, and he made the brilliant GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER before unleashing perhaps his greatest -- and final -- work, the original CLASH OF THE TITANS. What Ray Harryhausen did was simply magic. He brought inanimate objects to life on screen, and he gave them character and personality that often dwarfed the so-so actors who were up against them. It is no hyperbole to say that the mind (and hands) of Harryhausen shaped the geek revolution that has swept pop culture in the last few decades. The creatures and scenarios he created are the embodiment of our dreams projected on screen. Harryhausen’s work is the definition of wonder, a perfect encapsulation of the awe and joy we get from the movies. He was one of the last real wizards, and our world is a little less magical now. 6

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Rampage And Melee: An Overview of Kaiju Games
ALEX RIVIELLO Badass Digest Games Editor

@alexriviello
Read more at badassdigest.com

Overgrown monsters and robots smashing the hell out of each other amidst skyscrapers! Frenzied beasts with no care or concept of collateral damage! Yes, Kaiju seems such an obvious theme for games, seeing how it appeals to the destructive toddler that lives in all of us. So obvious, in fact, that there are hardly any games that utilize it, and even less that do it well. You would think that there would be a billion Kaiju games out there -- but you’d be wrong. Wrong like the 1998 GODZILLA. Just have no reason to exist. It’s a mystery why so few games are devoted to such clearly perfect material but that’s not to say that there aren’t some classics in the genre. Many are easily available today and deserve spots in your gaming library.

So let’s go through them by rewinding time to 1986, a year of chaos in America. President Reagan was selling guns to Iran, the Challenger exploded shortly after launch, OUT OF AFRICA won best picture at the Oscars and monsters were stomping our arcades. RAMPAGE Bailey Midway’s arcade classic started it all. It’s pretty direct and to the point -- you choose one of three giant monsters and have to smash every single building in a city to ashes before moving onto the next city to do the same. It’s a coop game so you work together with your fellow monsters for ultimate destruction but a few fists inevitably land on your compatriots, and there are never enough people to eat to boost your health. This game sucked up many a quarter in its day... Most gamers grew to know and love this through its NES version but if they did they were missing the three-player aspect, and Ralph, the giant timber wolf. A few sequels were released decades later but they couldn’t improve on the basic model. Find yourself a bar or arcade that has it and enjoy what’s still one of the finest Kaiju games. KING OF THE MONSTERS In 1991 SNK’s GODZILLA knock-off was the first to do the most obvious thing with the genre, and use it for a wrestling game. Sure, there’s the usual city and innocent bystanders to stomp on and smash through, but your whole goal is to whittle your opponent’s health down and then pin him for three seconds. You know, like monsters do in the wild.

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Beautiful colorful graphics and simple button-mashing controls made for an arcade hit that spawned an inferior sequel right away. A perfect port of the original was one of the reasons the $650 Neo Geo was so tempting, provided you had another $200 for the cartridge too, of course. Now your best bet to play it is the NEOGEO X Gold system, which comes packed with it and 19 other games for about the same price as the original cart. WAR OF MONSTERS This did, though. Just months after Godzilla had his way with the Gamecube, WAR OF THE MONSTERS descended upon the PS2. Aliens have crash-landed on Earth, spilling radioactive goo all about the land. This causes gigantism in all sorts of animals and formerly inanimate objects, which grow several stories tall and commence pounding on each other, because Kaiju.

‘90s Godzilla and the streamlined 2000 model. (Unsurprisingly the American Godzilla doesn’t rear his ugly head. He would have been the perfect dummy to practice your moves on in a training mode!) The single player campaign is lousy but the four-player is nearly unmatched, especially on the Gamecube, where it was bested perhaps only by another game with Melee in its title. But then again, it was on the Gamecube, which meant it could never reach the audience it needed to. An Xbox adaptation did so mediocrely that a planned PS2 port was canned, and its sequels haven’t been able to recapture the magic. It’s a shame this never got a follow-up, but it’s available as a Playstation Classic on the Playstation Network, so it lives on in our hearts and flattened cities. MONSTERPOCALYPSE Developers had been slacking with Kaiju video games, but there turned out to be other options out there for gamers, such as with this amazing miniatures game. After all, why simply play chess when you can pit monster army vs. monster army? Monsterpocalypse started out as a collectible game in which you first chose a boss monster from every type of Kaiju you can think of -- giant dinosaurs, apes, aliens, robots, and even Lovecraftian beasts that lumber around flinging around enemies with their tentacles. Once you select the head of your army (and its clear plastic Ultra form) you can pick and choose ground troops from the corresponding faction, and then of course the various buildings that you’ll soon be destroying, from apartment buildings to nuclear power plants.

It has everything you could ever want in a one-on-one fighting game -- lots of fun characters (a giant electric eye! A four-armed lava golem!), lots of super moves and, of course, a fully destructible city with lots of unsuspecting motorists to toss around. The game has much more of an American atomic monster movie feel than the other games -- the selection screen is a drive-in theater -- which makes it stand out from the Japanese style of other games. GODZILLA: DESTROY ALL MONSTERS MELEE From 1991, a dearth of good games. It wasn’t until 2002 that the next great Kaiju game came out, and part of it was thanks to Nintendo. Those four controller ports on the Gamecube enabled developers to equip games with four-player matches as defining features, such as with this, which is still the best Godzilla game of all time. It features a nice selection of eleven classic Toho monstersOrga, Destroroyah, King Ghidorah, Gigan, Megalon, Rodan, even multiple versions of Godzilla, including the

It gets real fun when you start unleashing all the power moves to conduct maximum damage, like suplexes that let you smash your foes into buildings that then explode, or a running charge that can smash a creature through anything in its path, including its own units. Sadly, after an exciting announcement of a Tim Burton adaptation (hey, we can always hope he comes back to us one day, can’t we?) the game seems to have shriveled up and died. Privateer Press hasn’t had news on the series in two years but Monsterpocalypse is well worth hunting down, especially the two-player Battle Boxes which give you and a friend everything you need for a Kaiju throwdown. EARTH DEFENSE FORCE: INSECT ARMAGEDDON This sequel to EARTH DEFENSE FORCE 2017 (available for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC) improved on the original in nearly every way. But whereas all the other games in this article let you play as giant monsters, this one lets you play as a little, stinking human. What’s the fun in that? Fortunately you’ve got a ridiculous amount of firepower and thousands upon thousands of

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foes to aim it at. You’re one of the last line of defense against otherworldly invaders, most of which are ants. If you’re laughing at the idea of an ant invasion, think THEM! -- these ants are twenty feet long and come burrowing up from nests in the ground with malicious intent. Then there are the swarms of giant spiders, hornets and praying mantes, as well as the giant mechs and flying saucers. Sometimes you’ll get all of these at once, and you’ll never face just a few enemies at once, either. The game is always throwing dozens of enemies your way, overwhelming you with sheer numbers of giant, mutated animals. It’s the kind of pure arcade shooter that just isn’t made anymore. Note that although INSECT ARMAGEDDON is the latest and greatest in the series, there’s a new one (EARTH DEFENSE FORCE 2025) on the way this very month. KING OF TOKYO Richard Garfield (of MAGIC THE GATHERING fame) recently dipped his toes into the world of Kaiju with this 2011 dice game. Two to six players choose monsters and commence rolling, Yahtzee-style, trying to get results that let you attack your foes, or store energy to buy powers. You compete to attain the titular title, as only one monster can take over Tokyo at once and you automatically become the biggest target when you do. There’s a lot of pushing your luck with the dice as you try to get victory points, and knowing when to retreat is key. Half the fun though is the great art of these cardboard monsters, as well as the expansions, the first of which features a giant koala bear. Don’t be scared by the designer’s pedigree, as this is probably the lightest game of them all. Anyone can pick it up and play a match in a half hour or less, making it perfect for whenever you need that quick Kaiju fix. 6

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KING KONG APPEARS IN EDO: Hoax Or The First Kaiju Movie?
Devin Faraci Badass Digest Editor in Chief
@devincf
Read more at badassdigest.com

Godzilla is the accepted King of the Monsters, but he wasn’t the first on the scene. One of the great forefathers of all things Kaiju is King Kong, the misunderstood, lovestruck ape from Skull Island who wowed audiences in 1933 (meaning this year is his 80th anniversary!). Did King Kong make a visit to the Land of the Rising Sun long before Godzilla ever rose from the sea? There are rumors of a film called KING KONG APPEARS IN EDO, which was released in Japan in 1938. Every print of the movie is today lost as a result of WWII bombings (not an unusual thing -- most Japanese film from before WWII is considered lost), but researchers have found an ad for the film from a 1938 magazine called KINEMA JUNPO. There’s also an eyewitness report; Fuminori Ohashi, the almost totally anonymous Japanese special effects genius who created the first Godzilla suit (and who went on to consult on the creation of Disneyland and who helped develop the masks for the original PLANET OF THE APES), talked in an interview with SciFiJapan.com about making the ape suit for KING KONG APPEARS IN EDO: “The first model making to be counted as “special art

direction” in Japanese cinema was a giant gorilla which I did for the movie KING KONG APPEARS IN EDO [Edo Ni Arawareta King Kong, 1938] fifty years ago. It was also the first movie to feature certain kinds of special effects.” What is KING KONG APPEARS IN EDO? Beats me. The title indicates it’s a movie about a giant ape showing up in Japan during its medieval period -- samurai versus King Kong! But then there’s one image from the movie that appears legit (or at least isn’t a definite hoax), and it shows a giant ape climbing buildings that are definitely not medieval Japanese but rather influenced by German expressionism. If the movie exists it’s damn weird. There are plenty of people who believe the whole thing is a hoax. Some claim that there was no record of the movie prior to 2005, but noted Japanese film expert August Ragone claims to have found references to the movie in a 1978 pressbook. The fact that Ohashi went on the record about it surely has to mean something as well. If KING KONG APPEARS IN EDO is a real film, it’s a milestone. It’s Japan’s first giant monster movie. King Kong, it turns out, is actually the original Kaiju. 6

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On Mechs & Monsters: The Guillermo del Toro Interview
Devin Faraci Badass Digest Editor in Chief
@devincf
Read more at badassdigest.com

Guillermo del Toro and giant monsters are a match made in heaven. This month that match finally makes its way to the big screen as his long-awaited kaiju vs. mechs movie, PACIFIC RIM, explodes into theaters. It’s his biggest movie, his most expensive film, but in some ways it’s his most personal -- del Toro grew up immersed in and obsessed with both giant monsters and giant robots. He still has the sketches he made as a child, designing a giant robot that would be not just his friend but also his home. That love for big monsters and big mechs saturates every frame of the film. It’s a movie whose final dedication -- to monster masters Ray Harryhausen and Ishirō Honda -- is almost redundant because their spirit lives on throughout. If there was any doubt that del Toro -- who has already brought us a litany of classic modern monsters ranging from The Faun in PAN’S LABYRINTH to every denizen of the spectacular Troll Market in HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY -- was following in their footsteps, PACIFIC RIM puts that to rest. Del Toro was putting the finishing touches on the film when he graciously took time out of schedule to talk with BIRTH. MOVIES.DEATH. about his love of kaiju and robots, and it didn’t take long for the whole thing to turn into a big geekout. Q:  People don’t tend to realize this, but GODZILLA is a really serious movie. A:  The version I saw as a kid was the Raymond Burr version, which was not tonally cohesive and a bit of a mess, but it has one of the greatest monsters of all time. When you see the original cut, the Japanese version, it’s a really somber movie. It’s very bleak and one of the most existential kaiju movies. It’s a very dark coping mechanism, almost, with the fact that around a decade before [the movie] the bombs

had dropped, and how world-altering that had been for an entire country. That coping mechanism is articulated in a way that is deeply personal and cannot be appreciated all over the way it was appreciated in Japanese culture. It was a game changer. Kaiju became part of the cultural landscape in a way that yunkai had been in medieval Japan. Q: The Japanese didn’t invent giant monsters. We had KING KONG, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, all of which came before GODZILLA. But GODZILLA changed so much for them, and kaiju became very much its own genre. Why do you think Japan responded to the giant monster thing? A:  KING KONG sets off a lot of the rules that will find their way into a lot of kaiju movies. You’re going to have a landmark building in a city getting attacked by kaiju, or at least used in the marketing materials. You’re going to have an element of almost primal mythology associated with that creature, so that it becomes elemental. But precisely because of the trauma of the atomic explosions less than a decade before is where it became rooted in more than myth. They were rooting it in the psyche of a country in a way that is incredibly moving and human and deep. I think KING KONG had a beautiful sort of adventure feel -- you can trace the roots of KING KONG to adventure pulp, adventure novels, the fascination that America has with the exotic wilds of Africa and large primates that begins in the 1890s and continues well into the birth of cinema -- but all of that has an exoticism to it. There’s no healing of a trauma, there’s no deep connection to the healing of a psyche of a country -- where GODZILLA and the kaiju do have that. Q: Where in your psyche do your kaiju come from?

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A:  It’s coming from such a primal place for me as a guy who grew up with them. The kaiju I was trying to build was trying to reproduce the feeling you had as a kid watching things that big, clashing on the screen. When you’re a kid watching WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, it’s like watching two mountains go at it. Or a cyclone versus a hurricane. It’s a primal spectacle. It’s coming from awe for me, and a place of love. Q:  Travis Beacham, the screenwriter of PACIFIC RIM, has said he almost feels pedantic because sometimes he wants to correct people that the movie does not have robots, it has human-piloted mechs. There’s a difference between those two things, isn’t there? A:  I’m not semantically that fixated because ultimately whatever people want to call them...but the reality is that they’re the largest mechanical suits to do violence in the world. A robot can have a personality, like Robbie or Iron Giant or Maria, because they have the autonomy of thought. They process situations, they make decisions, they offer solutions. Jaegers don’t. Their personality is that of the pilots and the country that made them. Jaegers per se don’t have that personality. Q:  When we talk about PACIFIC RIM we go right to the kaiju movies, but maybe the giant mech films are lessrepresented. What are the mech movies you looked at

or that influenced you over the years? A:  To me the preparation for PACIFIC RIM was my entire childhood watching these movies. I’m old enough -I’m 48 -- so when I was a kid the big rage on TV was GIGANTOR, TETSUJIN 28. TETSUJIN 28 was a huge influence on me. As a kid your biggest fantasy is to have a giant robot of your own that you can control. I grew up on Japanese shows -- Osamu Tezuka’s ASTRO BOY, Eiji Tsuburaya’s ULTRAMAN and ULTRA Q, I grew up with a series almost no one has seen in America called CAPTAIN ULTRA -- and the things I admire about Japanese animation and the Japanese science fiction is that the battles were really hardcore. The mecha and the kaiju did get sorely damaged. They got sliced in half, they were almost surgically split, the mechs lost an arm, lost a leg. That was a very visceral experience to me. I had the preparation and then I rewatched those movies as a young adult and as a teenager, but I made the serious decision to not revisit them for PACIFIC RIM. Let’s operate from a place that has a real and intimate knowledge of these things but not imitate them -- let’s just go at it. Q:  You’ve become known as maybe the biggest defender of monsters in cinema. Do you feel like you’re turning your back on the monsters by making them the bad guys this time around? A:  I think when you’re a genuine kaiju fan it doesn’t matter

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what side they’re on. These movies operate almost like a wrestling match, and you get the good kaiju and the bad kaiju and the kaijin, like in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, fighting Baragon. When Baragon fights the Frankenstein Creature you can root for the good guy, but you love -- LOVE -Baragon. You are absolutely rooting for the bad kaiju all the time. You may be rooting for a good wrestler,

but he’s usually less interesting than the bad wrestler. My love of monsters -- I’ve done my share of trying to approach them from a different moral point of view, so I don’t have anything to prove there. I’ll go back to that one day. But the kaiju, it’s not that they’re good or bad, they’re hard-wired to just destroy things. It’s like when you watch a force of nature or a scorpion you’re not thinking ‘This

Images © 2013 Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

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scorpion is good or bad,’ he’s going to sting you because that’s just how scorpions are. Q:  Tornadoes are just tornadoes. They’re not picking and choosing what to destroy. A:  There is no moral moment of decision for a tornado. The tornado doesn’t think, ‘Hmmm, I’ll go for the gas station rather than the orphanage.’ There is no moral superstructure that you can impose on a kaiju. One of the things about loving monsters, whether they be the creations of Ray Harryhausen or of Jack Pierce at Universal, it doesn’t matter if the monsters are good or bad in the movie. The most famous monsters Harryhausen ever made were the heavies, and you love them even more. Q: This magazine is really geared towards hardcore film fans. Is there a kaiju film you love that you wish more people had seen? A:  It’s not a kaiju film, but there’s a very interesting movie that Ishirō Honda did that was based on William Hope Hodgson story called “The Voice In The Night.” The film is called MATANGO, and I think in America it was called MATANGO THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE. Hodgson’s story was influenced by Lovecraft, and I really recommend people seek it out because it is an incredibly weird clash of Lovecraftian lore with one of the greatest Japanese fantasy filmmakers of all time. PACIFIC RIM is dedicated to Ray Harryhausen and Honda. It’s very respectfully dedicated to them because they’re the masters. Q: What is it about Harryhausen’s monsters that made them so great? Was there something you can identify or can it be explained? A:  The reason I dedicated the movie to Honda and Harryhausen is because I think both of them have something in common, which is you can see they love their creations. They’re high on their own supply, which is something I completely share. I can make a spooky creature like The Pale Man, but you can always tell when someone who designed the monster knows and loves monsters, and when somebody grew up with that imagination. You can see that through the eyes of what they were creating, because it was so precious to them. That’s what it is -- the monsters were precious. 6

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Flying Turtle Power: The GAMERA Trilogy!
Evan Saathoff Badass Digest News Editor
@sam_strange
Read more at badassdigest.com

Thanks to a cooler than usual name, his memorably baffling character design, tons of cable television repeats and a handful of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 episodes, Gamera remains one of the very few Kaiju to gain his own prominence outside of the Godzilla franchise. Of course, that still leaves plenty of people out there who have never heard of him. So just to catch everyone up: Gamera is not a giant lizard or an oversized insect but rather a massive turtle. For added menace, he has upward pointing tusks. For added lulz, he flies by spinning like a top. Gamera’s first film run, designated the “Showa” series, consists of seven increasingly kid-friendly films and one clip show (more or less). Like a lot of Kaiju films, the Showa Gamera series showcases a certain goofy charm that negates its significant shortcomings. The films are easy to make fun of but also kind of special. If you’re already predisposed to Kaiju movies, it’s hard not to get excited about something like Gamera’s foe, Guiron, a kind of shark Kaiju whose entire head is one giant sword (and who, by the way, appears to have a modern counterpart in PACIFIC RIM’s Knifehead). The last real film of the Showa series came with 1971’s GAMERA VS. ZIGRA. But in 1995, Gamera was revived with a great trio of films known as the Heisei Trilogy. First came GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, followed the next year by GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF LEGION, and concluding with 1999’s GAMERA 3: AWAKENING OF IRYS (sometimes referred to as REVENGE OF IRIS). All three films were directed by Shusuke Kaneko, who would go on to direct two DEATH NOTE films as well as 2001’s GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK. Being a Kaiju fan means sitting through a lot of poorly made,

often ponderous and always cost-effective human scenes when all you really came for is the giant monster fighting action. Each Kaiju film must navigate a tricky ratio of human to monster screen time. If the monster stuff is really special, you can afford more scenes spent among boring humans. If the monster fights are lame, you’d better at least have a lot of them. The magical combo rests at about half and half, especially if the filmmakers found a way to make the human stuff interesting. The best I’ve ever seen in this regard is WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, which manages to be entertaining no matter what kind of scene you’re watching. The films in Gamera’s Hensai Trilogy devote way too much time to human storylines, but it’s worth it for a few reasons. For one, each film really tries to go deep into Gamera mythology, and while slow going, much of it is pretty interesting. For instance, the third film opens with the surprise discovery of an underwater graveyard filled with the skeletons of previous Gameras. This bit is indicative of the bigger ideas at play here. The Gamera graveyard never really pays off the way you want it to, but it’s a jaw-dropping Kaiju moment regardless, the likes of which no Godzilla film has yet approached. This more serious tone does occasionally stumble, but even this is part of the fun. When an onlooker names the second film’s villain Legion by starkly quoting biblical verse, it’s hard not to guffaw a bit. The same goes for the way the film’s credits isolate the second Katakana character in Gamera’s name, which kind of looks like a drunken letter “T,” so that it briefly resembles a martyr’s cross before the rest of his name shows up. It’s also easier to pay attention to all the human scenes because this is a real trilogy, not just three separate films unified by style and decade. Not only do all three entries have the same director, but they all star Yukijiro Hotaru, Shinobu Nakayama

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and Ayako Fujitani (Steven Seagal’s daughter!) in roles that grow in importance from one film to the next (or diminish, in Yukijiro Hotaru’s case). You could sit down and watch GAMERA 3: AWAKENING OF IRYS without knowing anything about the previous two, but it would barely make any sense, and you’d be missing out on a medium amount of world building. But the main reason the human scenes are worth sitting through is the same reason all Kaiju human scenes are worth sitting through: It’s just the price you must pay to get to the fights. And Gamera’s fights are absurdly great. One very important detail that sets Gamera films apart from Godzilla films is their dedication to Kaiju gore. This is true of both the Showa and Heisei Gamera series. The guy bleeds a lot. To give you an idea of how awesome these films can get, in AWAKENING OF IRYS, Gamera at one point finds himself unable to defend himself because his hand has been pinned to a wall. So he just rips it off and finishes the fight with one hand figuratively tied behind his back. Godzilla never did anything like that. These movies get down and dirty, and that more than any other reason is why you should watch them. If Godzilla is the ubiquitous standard-bearing Harry Potter of Kaiju and Mothra is the saccharine but stiff Hermione Granger, then Gamera must be Kaiju’s Ron Weasley, the poor, redheaded kid with a filthy mouth and ratty clothes who knows how to take a beating. Over-the-top violence and crazy origins help elevate Gamera’s villains beyond just regular old Kaiju, which is kind of what they look like. In GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, Gamera fights the Gyaos, who look like little more than Rodan ripoffs. But while the Gyaos are physically unimaginative villains, their unexpected meanness demands they be taken seriously. Gamera spends the next film fighting Legion, a bunch of crab Kaiju. You want to roll your eyes

at them, but when hundreds cover Gamera like a bunch of army ants, the imagery is kind of sickening and awesome. As the film goes on, all the little alien crabs combine into one main foe whom Gamera blows up (after ripping off one of her horns). The third film gives this Gamera trilogy its greatest Kaiju villain in Irys, a kind of a bi-pedal dragon Kaiju with fluid-sucking tentacles and lots of sharp spikes all over. On top of all the tough fighting, Gamera also has to contend with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. These knuckleheads go back and forth on whether or not Gamera is friend or foe. As a result, the trilogy features several instances where Gamera needs to go chase some villainous Kaiju but can’t because the JSDF is shooting him down with missiles. This has the odd but extremely pleasing effect of turning Gamera into not just a genuine hero but a harried one as well. Impeded by the very people he’s trying to defend, Gamera puts off an almost John McClane level of exasperation, all without changing his facial expression. It’s great. The 1990s were impressive years for Kaiju films. Filmmakers had generations of practical special effect techniques to use and improve upon. Kaiju effects were subtly enriched by rather than dependent on CGI. You can tell the difference just by comparing Gamera movies. The first series is limited but fun. The Heisei Trilogy looks just right. And the only millennial effort thus far, 2006’s GAMERA THE BRAVE looks like a goofy, weightless cartoon. Continuity is nothing new to Kaiju, but if you’re looking for a fun, narratively concentrated trilogy of films to marathon in one afternoon, you can’t do much better than the Heisei Gamera Trilogy. The three films offer great looking, surprisingly violent Kaiju action, a weirdly relatable hero and an overall story arc that manages to be more epic in scope than you might expect. 6

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On Optimus Prime And Movies Made By Marketing Committees That Are Still Crazy Awesome
HENRI MAZZA Associate Publisher
@henrimazza

Read more at badassdigest.com

It’s the beginning of July, and the biggest season for movies in the year. This summer, Hollywood has already given us another Iron Man movie, a new Superman, and, soon, big ass robots fighting huge effing monsters. Pretty much everything on screen this month will have at least one explosion, and all of these movies have been carefully developed by studio suits utilizing market research and test audience focus groups, with the ultimate goal being to make a big spectacle that can be understood and enjoyed by a wide enough audience so it can clean up at the box office all over the world. And so of course this is also the season when there are dozens of articles bemoaning the state of cinema today. Earlier this summer, Steven Soderbergh launched the first big attack on the studio system of the season when he gave an address at the San Francisco International Film Festival and drew a line in the sand between “cinema” and “movies”: “The simplest way that I can describe it is that a movie is something you see, and cinema is something that’s made . . . Cinema is a specificity of vision. It’s an approach in which everything matters. It’s the polar opposite of generic or arbitrary and the result is as unique as a signature or a fingerprint. It isn’t made by a committee, and it isn’t made by a company, and it isn’t made by the audience. It means that if this filmmaker didn’t do it, it either wouldn’t exist at

all, or it wouldn’t exist in anything like this form.” Next there was a big piece in the NEW YORK TIMES about Worldwide Motion Picture Group and how the studios are hiring them to use statistical analysis of screenplays to determine if a movie is likely to be a box office hit before they even give it the final green light. Here’s one of my favorite bits from that: “Bowling scenes tend to pop up in films that fizzle, Mr. Bruzzese, 39, continued. Therefore it is statistically unwise to include one in your script.” Screenwriters of course complained that this kind of pseudoscience is removing the art from writing, and one of our own writers, the amazing Film Crit Hulk, totally eviscerated that article and the company they were profiling with an incredibly thoughtful analysis of how the storytelling process should work. And all of those critiques are true. And making movies for the widest possible audience of course means that there’s the potential for a certain amount of dumbing down of the stories that are being told. But who cares? Because sometimes you aren’t in the mood for “cinema,” and sometimes movies made for the crassest reasons, movies made by a committee, and movies made to appeal to the lowest common denominator possible, can become touchstones for a generation.

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After all, in his State of Cinema speech even Soderberg admitted that a lot of the films he would classify as “cinema” are unwatchable pieces of crap. His point was that as long as those unwatchable pieces of crap are true to one author’s vision than at least we have something artistic, and there’s a voice that’s worth listening to. But I would disagree. I don’t want to listen to every voice that shouts in the wind just because it has a unique vision of lunacy. And the flip side of that Soderbergh coin is true as well, because while there are several big budget Hollywood movies filled with explosions that are unwatchable collections of boring set piece after boring set piece, punctuated with unemotional scenes of terrible comic relief, there are also tons of examples of movies that were made to suit the calculations of the most unscrupulous bean counters who were just trying to make a buck that still became the defining moments in the cinematic lives of the audience they were made for. Case in point? The original TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE (the animated version from 1986) and the Death of Optimus Prime. See, in the early ‘80s Hasbro acquired the rights to a bunch of Japanese toys that were both robots and vehicles. By following a set of instructions you could “transform” them from one to the other, and that was pretty cool. But it also wasn’t enough to suck you into an entire world or make you buy toy after toy after toy, so Hasbro borrowed a page out

of the playbook Mattel had written a few years earlier with their Masters of the Universe line of toys and they decided to pay to produce an animated TV show that would take these shells and turn them into characters. Optimus Prime was a semi-truck who led the Autobots, a group of car/robots who wanted to successfully blend in with human society so they could go back to their home world one day and live in peace, or something like that. Megatron was a robot who somehow turned into a tiny gun and led the Decepticons, a bunch of bad guys who wanted to shoot different colored lasers than the Autobots at whatever they could. Every afternoon on TV they had adventures, they fought each other, they introduced new characters, and they made kids around the world want to buy more toys. After two years of that cartoon on the small screen, Hasbro helped produce a full length feature film, TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE, which promised an epic space battle for the future of Cybertron, the Transformers’ home world. This movie introduced us to a lot of new characters, and could have been a great way of selling more toys while still being a very standard kids adventure movie (albeit one with a great soundtrack). But in the middle of the movie, just after a fist-bumping rendition of “The Touch” by Stan Bush, Optimus Prime and Megatron meet up for a battle, and (27-year-old spoiler alert) Optimus Prime dies. “Ha ha ha!” the kids laughed

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to themselves. “This is a great trick he’s playing. Good job, Optimus. Now wake up and kick his butt!” But Optimus Prime doesn’t wake up. Optimus Prime stays dead. And so kids in the theater start crying. Not sobbing, like we all do at the beginning of UP, but slowly, with tears running down their cheeks and a little quiver in their bottom lip. For many, this was the first father figure they’d ever had to face losing. Years later, in college, while sipping beers at a local tavern and dealing with the loss of an actual friend, or parent, or grandparent, some of those now-grown kids could be overheard saying, “The first death that really affected me in my life was Optimus Prime. Then later my dog died, too.” Does that sound ridiculous to you? Then GROW A HEART!!! OPTIMUS PRIME WAS A HERO!! Sorry. It still gets to me sometimes. So here I am, 27 years later, still thinking about a cartoon character who fell down and didn’t get back up again (at least not until 1988, when he was resurrected with the “powermaster” technology). But what motivated screenwriter Ron Friedman to give us this pivotal moment in cinema history? The greed of the suits at Hasbro, of course. Because Optimus Prime was popular, but maybe he was too popular. Maybe if you loved Optimus Prime and you had an Optimus Prime toy and a Bumblebee toy and maybe a couple of Decepticons for them to fight then you didn’t NEED to add a Hot Rod to your collection. But if Hot Rod became the leader? Well, you want to play with the leader of the Autobots, don’t ya kid? There was no noble desire to express anything about the human condition and how fragile our lives are as we cling to this spinning sphere that’s hurtling through space. But that lesson was learned anyway, because OPTIMUS, NOOOO! So there’s no doubt that for children of a certain generation TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE is both a fantastic piece of entertainment and a seminal moment in our lives. But according to the Soderberghs of the world, that isn’t enough to make it “cinema.” And that kind of argument is an old one, but one that still bothers me. I think if a movie, or a TV show, or a book or play or song

speaks to you, and teaches you, and changes your perspective of the world and lets you grow as a person, then that movie is Good. Even if it’s made by a bunch of assholes sitting around a table in a boardroom, munching on cigars and looking for more money to afford fuel for their private jets to take them to Cuba so they can restock their supply of illegal smokes. It doesn’t matter, and trying to differentiate between two different stories and determining which one is “art” is a foolish endeavor. Ultimately, nothing can be art because of how it is created. Until it enters the mind of someone in the audience, a story or a painting or a song or a movie is just a series of words, or colors, or a melody, or images flashing on a screen. But when something that we create out of nothing, based solely on the power of our minds, enters the mind of someone else in the audience? That’s where the connections are made, and that’s when at the very least that creation has the opportunity to become art. So yes, OF COURSE let’s seek out the brave independents, and let’s support the next Shane Carruth who is even now toiling in his garage making the surprise hit of Sundance 2017. Let’s embrace the cinematic outliers and join Film Societies and respect the Masters of Cinema and cherish every opportunity we have to enjoy the classics on a big screen in a darkened theater filled with other true film fans. But let’s not make all of that mean that we’re afraid to open our hearts and minds to the next superhero movie that’s filled with explosions that are designed with the express purpose of selling tickets overseas. And just because we’re smart enough to know when something is “paying homage” by ripping off Kurosawa doesn’t mean we have to stop ourselves from enjoying THE WOLVERINE, or classify the pleasure we get from it as “guilty.” This summer, let’s bury the hatchet and let all Film Fans and Cinephiles and Movie Lovers come together and just enjoy it all. Because who knows? If you have a couple of beers in your system you might even get into the right frame of mind to find the art in GROWN UPS 2. After all, maybe this is the one where they kill Adam Sandler. 6

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GODZILLA: King Of All Comic Book Monsters
Robert Saucedo Alamo Drafthouse Programming Director, Houston
@robsaucedo2500

Read more at badassdigest.com

The Marvel Universe is home to many a strange creature. With names like Grogg, Goom, Grattu and, yes, Fing Fang Foom, giant creatures have long found a home in the same comic book world that Spider-Man, the X-Men and The Avengers call home. It’s only natural, then, that Godzilla, Toho’s King of Monsters, would come to call the Marvel Universe home too. 1977 saw Godzilla in the height of his popularity. The giant radioactive lizard that had been born into this world as a terrifying piece of post-World War II, anti-American propaganda was now a full-fledged superhero. He wrestled across yearly movies -- fighting all manner of evil aliens, undersea civilizations and fellow mutant menaces. He befriended the young (appearing in an anti-bullying PSA) and even had time to father a son! There were toys (many, many toys), Christmas-themed singles and, thanks to Marvel Comics, a monthly series that saw the monster journey through space and time in search of adventure. Godzilla was no stranger to comic books -- he had long found a home in black-and-white manga released in Japan and frequently tied to his regular output of films. Godzilla’s first American comic book appearance was a four-page freebie given to audiences at screenings of GODZILLA VS. MEGALON in 1976. The following year, Marvel Comics licensed the character for what would be a 24-issue series written by Doug Moench (the co-creator of characters such as Moon Knight and DC Comics’ Bane) and illustrated by Herb Trimpe (longtime Hulk illustrator and the first artist to draw Wolverine in a comic book). Marvel licensed Godzilla but did not pony up for the lizard’s film friends or foes -- leaving Moench with the freedom (or burden, as the case may be) to create

new adventures and enemies for Godzilla to combat over the course of the series. In “The Coming,” the first issue of GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, the lizard’s primary pursuer is established to be none other than S.H.E.I.L.D, Marvel’s go-to organization when it comes to keeping world peace and/or capturing rampaging radioactive lizards. Dum Dum Dugan, Nick Fury’s right-hand man, is personally charged with ridding America of the creature and teams with a group of Japanese scientists to capture the behemoth after he begins his North American tour following an appearance in Alaska. From Alaska to Seattle to San Francisco, Dugan and his team track Godzilla. Along the way, Godzilla takes in the sights and even has a chance to interact with local heroes -- including a rumble with San Fran superhero team The Champions, a ‘70s alliance that included Iceman, Angel, Ghost Rider, Black Widow and more. In order to give the monster opponents that offered a fair

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fight, Moench invented a fleet of new monsters (including Yetrigar – the biggest bigfoot of them all!) for Godzilla to rumble with. He and Trimpe also invented the mechanizedmonster fighter Red Ronin. The character, a by-product of Stark Technology and enemy to monsters everywhere, is a giant samurai-inspired robot that has, even after Marvel’s Godzilla license expired, continued to pop up in the Marvel Universe -- even recently given the alter-ego of a teenage girl. Halfway through the series, Moench began to find his groove and decided to send Godzilla on even stranger adventures -ejecting the lizard from Earth and sending him to the moon to settle a longstanding feud between two warring alien races and to the west to rumble with cattle-rustlers and cowboys. Godzilla was even shrunk down to the size of a rat thanks to the use of Pym Particles, a material invented by Hank Pym (aka Ant-Man) that can change the size of anything it comes in contact with. Once shrunk, Godzilla began a multi-issue arc that saw the monster slowly begin to grow back to full-size. Captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Fantastic Four before he had retained his full size, Godzilla was sent back in time to the age of dinosaurs -- Marvel’s top scientists surely not considering what possible ramifications could come from the exposure of a radioactive monster to the prehistoric timeline. Obviously Reed Richards wasn’t a Ray Bradbury fan. As it turns out, Godzilla’s radiation does futz with the time travel technology and instead of being sent to the past, he is sent to the Jack Kirby-created alternate dimension Dinosaur World, home of cross-species BFFs Devil Dinosaur, a giant red T-Rex, and Moon-Boy, a monkey boy with a heart of gold. Once the Fantastic Four realized their mistake, they plucked Godzilla from Dinosaur World and plopped him back in the middle of New York City. Now at his full-grown size, it was finally time for the King of Monsters to battle Marvel’s premier superhero team -- The Avengers. The last two issues of Marvel’s series featured Godzilla in an all-out-rumble with The Avengers and the Fantastic Four and featured appearances from S.H.I.E.L.D., The Daily Bugle (including a showdown between J. Jonah Jameson and Godzilla) and even one final last-minute cameo from Spider-Man. In the end, all it took was a stern talking to by a young boy to send Godzilla on his way -- disappearing into the ocean and out of the Marvel Universe forever. Or was it forever? Despite the fact that Marvel’s license with Toho for Godzilla had ended, Marvel was not willing to let go of the King of Monsters that easily. In 1985, Doctor Demonicus, a monster-loving mad scientist that had first appeared in an early issue of GODZILLA, KING OF MONSTERS, made his return in an issue of IRON MAN.

He even brought along an old friend. In order to skate international copyright laws, Godzilla was never referred to as Godzilla and was given a makeover courtesy of Demonicus. Now with a few horns on his head, a fin along his back and webbed hands, the new and improved “Godzilla” was free to rampage across the Marvel Universe again -- without Marvel needing to cut a check to Toho. This new version of Godzilla only appeared a few times -- including once in an issue of The Thing’s solo series in which the monster was, presumably by accident, referred to directly by name. A few years ago, in the first issue of MIGHTY AVENGERS, a spin-off series featuring a team of government-sanctioned Avengers, New York City was attacked by a horde of monsters controlled by the Mole Man, an underground-dwelling, monster-loving villain. Among the monsters was Godzilla -- without the amphibious adjustments Demonicus had made to his body. This cameo was most likely not an official appearance by the monster -instead just a clever gag from artist Frank Cho. Marvel found a lot of success in the ‘70s with licensing characters -- including series set in the Marvel Universe that featured toy properties Rom the Space Knight and the Micronauts. Unfortunately, the use of these characters in the Marvel Universe means that many stories from Marvel Comics are no longer able to be reprinted -- with collections of comics from the ‘70s often skipping over issues that feature characters to which Marvel no longer has a license. Even Shang-Chi, a Marvel mainstay and current Avenger, has almost no reprint collections available due to the fact that Shang-Chi’s father was established to be Fu Manchu and Marvel no longer has the rights to use the character. Thankfully, Marvel worked out a deal with Toho last decade and released a black-and-white collection under their Essentials series that collects the full 24-issue run. ESSENTIAL GODZILLA is easily available and highly recommended for both fans of Kaiju and Marvel superheroes. If anything, the collection is worth a purchase alone for the multi-issue arc in which a shrunken Godzilla fights rats, sharks and New York muggers. You just can’t put a price on that kind of entertainment. 6

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PULGASARI: The Time North Korea Kidnapped A Filmmaker To Make A Kaiju Movie
Devin Faraci Badass Digest Editor in Chief
@devincf

Read more at badassdigest.com

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However else history remembers North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il -- that he was a madman, that he was a despot, that he brought his nation to its knees and starved his own people to death -- let’s not forget that he was also a huge fan of the movies. He had a massive collection of films -- 15,000 or more -- and was on the record as a big fan of James Bond films, as well as a lover of the RAMBO and FRIDAY THE 13TH franchises. Even before he became the president of North Korea, he saw that cinema was the way to escalate the image of his nation in the eyes of the world. Over the years Kim Jong-Il worked on dozens of films, and he even wrote a book on the subject, called ON THE ART OF CINEMA. But perhaps his greatest cinematic moment came PULGASARI, a Kaiju movie made in 1985. That the dictator of North Korea should ‘executive produce’ a monster movie that was a thinly veiled critique of capitalism is one thing, that he should kidnap a South Korean filmmaker to get it done is something else altogether. Kim recognized that North Korea didn’t offer the proper talent pool to make great films, so he arranged to get himself a filmmaker. In 1978 Choi Eun-hui, a South Korean movie star, disappeared in Hong Kong. Her husband, Shin Sangok -- a famous director known as “The Prince of Korean Cinema” -- came to Hong Kong in an attempt to find her. It wasn’t long before Shin ended up with a burlap sack over his head, was knocked out by some kind of gas, and woke up on a ship, wrapped in plastic. He had been kidnapped by North Korean agents. That Kim Jong-Il always did know how to make things cinematic. The two South Koreans were taken to Pyongyang to make movies for The People. Shin’s initial living situation was okay, but then he tried to escape and ended up in jail, living on cornmeal and grass -making him better fed than most North Koreans. After five years Kim Jong-Il brought him out and in 1983 Sang-ok began making movies for Korea. This was also when he was finally reunited with his wife, a moment that the dictator commemorated with a huge party and an apology. Shin would later say that the North Korean film crews were fine, and made up of good people. ‘Just 200 or so were evil, and they were in charge,’ he told the Guardian in 2003. Shin was given a budget of $3 million a year, and he eventually turned out seven films for Kim. Among other landmarks, Shin’s movies depicted the first onscreen kiss in any North Korean film. His hosts were friendly enough, but the director was forced to claim that he was in North Korea willingly and that he had defected. But Shin had a plan . . . (more on that later). Kim Jong-Il liked GODZILLA movies. A lot. So one of the films that he had Shin make was a riff on Japan’s Kaiju cinema; PULGASARI is the tale of a small doll that magically

comes to life when it touches blood. The doll grows into a giant, metal-eating monster who first helps the local peasants overthrow their feudal lord but whose demand for metal overwhelms the farming communities, who must feed the beast their tools to satisfy it. The monster that helped them turns on them, and must be destroyed -- a story of capitalism (with its endless demand for resources) run amok. PULGASARI is terrible, but it’s notable for featuring man-insuit effects by Teruyoshi Nakano, the special effects director of the GODZILLA movies since the ‘70s (he had been working on the films since the ‘60s). Nakano was convinced that he would be allowed to return to Japan, and so he brought with him his team of Toho technicians, including Kenpachiro Satsuma, who had played Godzilla in numerous films. Satsuma played Pulgasari, and supposedly (according to Wikipedia and a shady looking North Korean website) preferred PULGASARI to the American GODZILLA. Then again, who wouldn’t? PULGASARI played very briefly outside of North Korea, becoming something of a cult classic and a truly hard film to find (at one time). Shin and his wife managed to escape Kim Jong-Il’s clutches while in Vienna for a film festival. The two raced to the American embassy (in an actual car chase) where they applied for asylum. While the official North Korean party line was that Shin and his wife had defected, the South Koreans had made secret recordings of Kim Jong-Il that proved otherwise -- and that had him talking about how flawed North Korea’s form of socialism was, and how the nation was at the kindergarten level of technology. Lots of bad, bad stuff about his own country, basically. Shin moved to America, where he worked under the name Simon Sheen. He directed 3 NINJAS KNUCKLE UP and produced a couple more 3 NINJAS films, which is surely not all that different from working in North Korea. Most amazingly Shin worked on a movie that was essentially a remake of PULGASARI; he was actually very proud of his Kaiju film. The American version is called THE LEGEND OF GALGAMETH, which sees a prince teaming up with a metal-eating dragon to save his kingdom. Eventually Shin moved back to South Korea and made some more movies. He was working on a Genghis Khan musical (really) when he died in 2006; Shin was posthumously awarded the Gold Crown Cultural Medal, the highest award an artist can get in South Korea. I don’t know how North Korea marked his passing. 6

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The Mysterious Origins of VOLTRON
JORDAN HOFFMAN Badass Digest Contributor

@jhoffman6
Read more at badassdigest.com

Hold on to your blazing sword, because rooting out the origins of VOLTRON is steeped in myths as confusing as the mighty robot itself. Imagine a world without cable, where cartoons of every stripe are not available at all times. After school, you watch what’s on channel 5 or you watch nothing. More importantly, imagine a world without Google, where quick keystrokes can’t explain why your toy Voltron is labelled “Voltron III” when you don’t remember “Voltron I” or “Voltron II.” VOLTRON has a lock on the psyches of people exactly my age (like the members of the Wu-Tang Clan, I suppose) and I’m now convinced part of its hold was that we intuitively knew we were only getting part of the story. The Japanese import, a syndication mish-mosh of other shows stripped of its violence and loaded with fig leaf repurposed footage, was part-serialized story, part-robeast of the week, part-kiddie show cuteness. The dialogue and voice acting is atrocious, but the explosive animation remains quite striking by any measure. The story of VOLTRON (later known as “Voltron III,” just hang with me) is about five peace keeping space rangers from Earth who reawaken the legendary Voltron to protect the besieged planet of Arus from Evil King Zarkon of Planet Doom. Zarkon, with the witch Haggar at his side, has an army of vicious robeasts led (at first) by his doofus lieutenant Yorak, then later his lovesick son Lotor. Zarkon kinda has a blue fish face and the robeasts, obviously a portmanteau of robot and beast, all tend to look more like beasts than robots (I suspect the “robo” is in there so American kids wouldn’t see the weekly slaying of sentient beings.) The robeasts are shuttled around in coffins called “beastcrafts” and that’s the greatest thing ever.
BIRTH. MOVIES.DEATH. / JULY 2013

The five space rangers follow an almost one-to-one parallel with a show that helped prime the pump for VOLTRON: BATTLE OF THE PLANETS. BATTLE OF THE PLANETS, quickly nick-named G-FORCE (and later re-cut and distributed that way) was an American cash-grab after STAR WARS. It took a popular Japanese cartoon (SCIENCE NINJA TEAM GATCHAMAN) that was set in space, chopped it up, added an R2-D2-ish character (that would be the lovable 7-Zark-7 from Center Neptune) and fed it to kids crazy early in the morning. I distinctly recall watching this show at 6 am when the rest of the home slumbered. BATTLE OF THE PLANETS had an earnest, charismatic leader, a laid-back second-in-command, a Princess in pink, a shrimpy kid and a fat guy. When they got in their colorcoded special vehicles they would join together to form a super-vehicle, the Phoenix. VOLTRON had an earnest, charismatic leader, a laid-back second-in-command, a Princess in pink, a shrimpy kid and a fat guy. When they got in their color-coded special vehicles they would join together to form a giant robot called Voltron. But there were two other key differences. The first was that the pre-robot vehicles weren’t just rugged tanks or jets -- they were mechanical lions. When American distributers wanted to adapt the Japanese show for kids they requested “the one with the lions” from Toei Animation. They actually wanted a different robot lion show (MIRAI ROBO DALTANIOUS) but ended up with BEAST KING GOLION. It was one of the greatest misunderstandings in animation history.

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GOLION is big, colorful and gorgeous and there’s something innately awesome about five robot lions joining to become a behemoth with growling metal jaws for fists and feet. The origin didn’t matter too much because the American adaptors weren’t planning on telling the same story anyway. For starters, they’d have to cut out a lot of the blood, guts and death. Which leads us to the second big difference between VOLTRON and other shows we were used to: Sven. I remember many school bus rides arguing about who the heck Sven was. He was part of the original team, some swore. Some claimed he wasn’t even real. Again, you gotta remember how we first saw these shows. They weren’t shown in order -- odd, because there is something of a narrative. (Indeed, it takes FOUR WHOLE EPISODES of VOLTRON before they actually form the robot.) The first blue lion, before the Princess took the seat, was this nice enough fella named Sven. (Note to Toei Animation: not many dudes named Sven have such dark eyes and hair, but we’ll let it pass.) Sven, about whom I spent a lot of time arguing (because I saw an episode with him, I swear!) was a horrible, horrible character. Despite Peter Cullen’s intro, the voice

acting is poor all over VOLTRON. Lennie Weinrib voices Hunk (the fat guy in the yellow lion) as the world’s worst Fred Flintstone impression. Michael Bell’s Sven sounds like an 8-year-old who won’t stop mimicking the Swedish Chef until you threaten to send him to his room. When the team’s cross-chatter is pumping themselves up to “really give it to” a threatening robeast, Sven just blurts out “Give Him!!!!” It’s absurd. (To be fair, I must salute Jack Angel’s voicing duties of Commander Yorak. He sinks his teeth deep into wonderfully absurd lines like “Stupid robot lions, do you think you can defeat the great Yorak, commander of all the evil robot forces of the Galaxy?!? Fooooools!!!” with all the relish such poetry deserves.) Anyway, the point is that after a few episodes you didn’t have to deal with Sven too much. He was attacked by Haggar’s blue cat with electric eyes (!) and fell down injured. Hovering over him, team leader Keith says “there is a doctor on Planet Ebb” and then Sven disappears like Poochie going to his home planet.

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In the Japanese version Sven dies. In the American version, Sven comes back to much hoopla far later in the series. That wasn’t actually Sven. That was Sven’s twin brother, but the American distributers brushed that all aside. Turns out the Japanese version had a hell of a lot more violence (and slave abuse and piles of dead bodies), which is why each episode ends with the robeast getting killed in almost the exact same way. Recycled footage took care of that, and when there was too much of a hole to fill in they could always cut back to Earth’s home base known as Galaxy Garrison. Here’s the thing about Galaxy Garrison. This footage, mostly comprised of men sitting around a giant table saying “how will we help the Voltron Force?,” is actually taken from another show entirely. The Galaxy Garrison sequences were lifted from ARMORED FLEET DAIRUGGER XV, and after VOLTRON ran out of material from the original GOLION show, the American producers just decided to switch over to footage from this show entirely. This is where the mysterious “Vehicle Voltron” comes from, which, if you bought the toys was bafflingly called “Voltron I.” Imagine coming home from school one day, and, after winning the fight with your sister to watch the show you want (take THAT stupid LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE) your five favorite space explorers and their lions are gone. In their place are FIFTEEN space explorers divided into three groups – the Air, Land and Sea Teams – and when the whole group comes together they form a different robot. Of course, this new version still had a shrimpy kid, a fat guy, a Princess-surrogate and a leader who looked and sounded just like Keith (or Jason from BATTLE OF THE PLANETS) but it was impossible to know everyone and all we wanted was our old characters back. Plus, all fifteen of the vehicles could fly, but Land could also ride over rugged terrain and Sea could go underwater. Air could just. . . stay in the air. How is that cool? And that’s the one the leader is in? No thank you! (To be fair, the Sea Team had this blue guy with a weird voice who kinda sounded like. . . oh my God. . .Michael Bell? Kirik the blue Sea Team dude was Sven! Aghhhhh if I could go back in time and tell the kids on the bus this!!!!) This second iteration scored poorly, so new episodes with the Lion team were commissioned. To make sense of the continuity it was explained, in a crossover later released as a 45 minute VHS called FLEET OF DOOM, that the Lions were from the “Far Universe” and the Vehicles were from the “Near Universe.” This may lead you to ask “what about the ‘Middle Universe?’” And here lies the greatest VOLTRON mystery of all. There was a kid on the bus who swore, swore, that he had a

cousin in Ohio that had “Voltron II” toys. And it was called “Gladiator Voltron.” Whereas Vehicle Voltron and Lion Voltron were comprised of fairly obvious components, this rumored, half-truth of a Voltron was, supposedly, a collection of three middle-sized robots that became a Giant Robot like we knew and loved. And if we just waited, the show would be starting any day now. The show never came, but the legend of “Voltron II” (like the stories of the mighty robot of Planet Arus itself ) had some validity. An adaptation of the Japanese show LIGHTSPEED ELECTROID ALBEGAS was planned but later dropped. And, eventually, VOLTRON slipped away from afternoon television. Or maybe I just grew up. (I’m sure I didn’t go do something outside, as my mother screamed at me to do, I can tell you that much.) So it wasn’t until I took a look back at these shows online that I realized just how obviously Japanese they were. Forgetting the hallmarks of what we now recognize as an anime style, there are noticeably non-Western moments all over the place. Whenever the Voltron Force encounters a tomb or a holy place, they clasp their hands and bow their heads as if in Shinto prayer. There are also these giant-eyed space mice running around interrupting the story, a fine example of “kawaii” -- the emphasis of cuteness in unexpected places in Japanese culture. I mean, there is a fierce robot versus monster battle in outer space and the show frequently cuts to shots of an adorable, pudgy pink mouse named Cheddar. There’s also a lot of bondage play with the Princess. In just the first few episodes she is tied to a chair by her surrogate father and later spanked by her (German?) nanny while the entire Voltron Team laughs. I don’t know that this is specifically Japanese, but I submit it as a compliment that anything sexually deviant has a way of having double impact when you know it comes from Japan. Due to the cuts and translations there’s plenty that comes across as strange while watching as an adult. Why does King Zarkon refer to our heroes as the Voltron Force before they actually present themselves as Voltron? He even has a line to Haggar (and her cat) ranting about the Votron Force, then mere seconds later seems shocked that the legendary Voltron may have returned. Furthermore, the nobles of Planet Arus can’t operate Voltron because they don’t know how, but as soon as our guys show up they say “we’ll do it” and then somehow they know how to drive these crazy robot lions. It makes no sense. And why is it that just by tunneling to the lions’ secret locations they’ll emerge in their uniform? (Though I guess you can say the same about the Bat-Poles.) In 2011 there was a surprisingly decent modern update of VOLTRON called VOLTRON FORCE. While I’m hardwired to dislike any show that uses the word “epic” (I

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much prefer the original and its lines like “fire the CryptoRay!” and “Our mission is simple -- to destroy everything on the planet!!”) I must confess that it is peppy, fun and fairly true to the original. Or, at least, the hodge-podge of BEAST KING GOLION and ARMORED FLEET DAIRUGGER XV and censorship cuts that eventually joined forces to become (cue Peter Cullen): Voltron! Defender of the Universe!

Oh, there was also a horribly rendered CG atrocity from 1998 called VOLTRON: THE THIRD DIMENSION that was so wretched I turned it off after three minutes. Woe be to the millennials who have nostalgia for this artless affair as opposed to the kaleidoscopic, tableaux-rich animation and hazily spliced stories of robot versus robeast from my misspent youth. 6

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A Eulogy For Bambi, Sweetest Of All Woodland Creatures
Evan Saathoff Badass Digest News Editor
@sam_strange

Read more at badassdigest.com

How long is a lifetime? Many of us may feel tempted to answer this question with an onslaught of figures and averages and socio-economic trends. But the truth is, no answer could ever possibly satisfy. A lifetime is simply the length of one’s life, as long as it needs to be. Some lifetimes are long. And some, as the reason for this gathering so painfully illustrates, are quite brief. But they are no less full. We are united this sorrowful day in mourning for Bambi, truly one of Heaven and Earth’s most innocent and loving creatures. Bambi lost his life, as so many of his fellow forest friends lost their lives, when he was stepped on and crushed by a roaming, 200-foot-tall beast known as Godzilla. Given his significant size, it is unlikely Godzilla meant to harm poor Bambi. In fact, Godzilla probably did not even know the damage he caused simply by taking that fateful step. Reports indicate the great monster stood upon Bambi’s corpse for some time, flexing his toes likely in comfortable repose, perhaps reflecting on a heightened state of bliss brought to him by the natural, majestic beauty of the forest into which he had accidentally wandered. Here was a place with no guns, no bombs, no strafing jets and no tanks. This was a lush, green paradise, free of all gigantic robots driven by humans or fellow monsters brainwashed and controlled by aliens.
BIRTH. MOVIES.DEATH. / JULY 2013

Such a calm and soothing environment was a fitting domicile for Bambi, who remained an endlessly loving creature, full of kindness and goodwill, even after life had robbed him of so much. Gone at last to his eternal reward, Bambi can now reunite with his wife Faline, who was stepped on by Ghidorah, his twin children, who were both eaten by Rodan, his pal Flower, who was blown off a cliff by the wind from Mothra’s wings, and yet another friend, Thumper, who was murdered by a weasel. Bambi left behind no will, nor did he ever discuss privately his wishes regarding disposal of his body. But knowing what we know about Bambi, we have opted to leave him where he lay, so that he may slowly decompose and become a larger part of the forest he loved so much. May all creatures, from the buzzards above to the maggots below, feast on sweeter meat tonight, perhaps the sweetest of all meats: Bambi Meat. As for the rest of us, I leave with only this warning: If you hear gigantic monster steps which appear to get closer with each report, please -- I implore you -- do not continue grazing peacefully as though nothing strange is afoot. Run away, or at the very least walk away. If you cannot be bothered to do even that, for the love of God, just look up and see what approaches. Had Bambi followed any of these steps, none of us would be here today, performing this lamentable task. 6

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