Films about Yamagata
  • The Man Who Shot Godzilla: Honda Ishiro Retrospective
  • The Natco Hour
  • Yamagata Household Cinema—A Look at Prewar Yamagata
  • Yamagata Venusography 2: Shinjuku, Tokyo
  • The Future of Yamagata and Film
  • The Man Who Shot Godzilla:
    Honda Ishiro Retrospective

    -What Lies Beyond Godzilla?

    No one would deny that Godzilla is one of the most famous Japanese films. Why do people still talk about it today? I’m sure some would say it’s because of the wonderful special effects or the terrifying monster design. But in my opinion, the true reason Godzilla is valued is that those SFX techniques are supported by a storyline that portrays real human beings. The director Honda is the one who achieved this.

    Honda was born in the village of Asahi in Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture in 1911, and was raised there until the third grade of elementary school. How might that experience have influenced and been reflected in his film style? By concentrating on his non-SFX films, this retrospective aims to re-evaluate just what Honda wished to achieve in his “human dramas.” We hope that audiences will appreciate the song of praise to humanity that reverberates beyond the roar of monsters.

    (Saito Kenta)

    -Nissan Geographical Outline, v.1: Ise Shima National Park

    (“Nihon sangyo chiri taikei daiippen: Kokuritsu koen Ise Shima”)

    1949 / Japanese / B&W / Video (Original: 35mm) / 20 min

    Director, Script: Honda Ishiro
    Photography: Kawamura Kiyoei, Ushiyama Kunikazu
    Sound: Konuma Wataru Music: Hara Rokuro
    Lighting: Ito Kazuo Narrator: Tokugawa Musei
    Production Company: Toho (Culture Films Department)
    Source: Nichiei Archives

    Honda’s first film as a director, an educational documentary. An excellent film that carefully introduces the natural features and history of Ise Shima, a tourist region in central Japan, including the transformation of Ise Shrine before and after the war, the cultivation of pearls, and the lives of the female pearl divers of the region. The underwater scenes of those pearl divers were the first true examples of underwater photography in Japan. This valuable film puts us in mind of Honda’s later work in the way that it uses magical images while creating an authentic portrait of people’s lives.

    - Man of Aran

    USA / 1934 / English / B&W / 35mm / 76 min

    Director: Robert Flaherty
    Script: Robert Flaherty, Frances Flaherty, John Goldman
    Photography: Robert Flaherty, David Flaherty, John Taylor
    Editing: John Goldman
    Sound: H. Hand Music: John Greenwood
    Cast: Colman “Tiger” King, Maggie Dirrane, Michael Dillane, Pat Mullin
    Producer: Michael Balcon
    Production Companies: Gainsborough Pictures for Gaumont-British Corp.
    Source: The Yamagata Documentary Film Library

    Directed by Robert Flaherty, sometimes called the “father of the documentary.” A gem of a film set in the Aran Islands, off the coast of Ireland, it portrays the relationship between man and nature. Honda Ishiro was deeply impressed by this film: it is said to have provided the inspiration for his Ise Shima National Park. We can recognize the roots of Honda’s films as we experience once again the visual beauty of Flaherty’s images.

    - Night School

    (“Yakan Chugaku”)

    1956 / Japanese / B&W / Video (Original: 35mm) / 44 min

    Director: Honda Ishiro
    Script: Mizuki Yoko Original Story: Yonei Kinnosuke
    Photography: Maeda Minoru Art Director: Kato Masatoshi
    Sound: Fujiyoshi Masao, Inoue Toshihiko Music: Kato Mitsuo
    Lighting: Ito Kazuo Planning: Watanabe Shunpei, Uchiyama Norinao
    Cast: Yoshioka Okinari, Ando Takeshi, Takahashi Teiji, Kobayashi Keiju, Kogure Michiyo, Boya Saburo, Miki Norihei
    Production, Source: Nihon University College of Art

    Honda’s adaptation of Mail Desk, a novel written under the pseudonym Yonei Kinnosuke by Seta Teiji, known for his translations of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Various dramas unfold around an exchange of letters left in the desk shared by Senta, who goes to middle school at night, and Ryohei, who attends the same school during the day. The film was produced by the Nihon University College of Art, and so features guest appearances by famous alumni of that college such as Uno Jukichi and Kobayashi Keiju.

    - Song for a Bride

    (“Hanayome sanjuso”)

    1958 / Japanese / B&W / 35mm / 87 min

    Director: Honda Ishiro
    Script: Wakao Tokuhei
    Photography: Koizumi Hajime Art Director: Kita Tatsuo
    Sound: Hosaka Arimasa Music: Sato Masaru
    Lighting: Kishida Kuichiro
    Cast: Yanagiya Kingoro, Kusabue Mitsuko, Negishi Akemi, Dan Reiko, Kiyokawa Nijiko, Sahara Kenji, Tsuchiya Yoshio
    Production Company, Source: Toho

    A comedy about a man with three daughters who has been persuaded to run for office in the local government. Despite the slapstick flavor of this masterpiece, we can still feel Honda Ishiro‘s love for ordinary people. The film stars rakugo performer Yanagiya Kingoro, who was highly popular at the time. Koizumi Hiroshi, seen to good effect in other Honda films such as Mothra, also appears. The film debut of Wakabayashi Akiko, who later appeared in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice.


    - Seniors, Juniors, Co-Workers

    (“Uwayaku shitayaku godoyaku”)

    1959 / Japanese / B&W / 35mm / 89 min

    Director: Honda Ishiro
    Script: Sawamura Tsutomu
    Based on the essay by: Yamato Yuzo
    Photography: Koizumi Hajime Art Director: Muraki Yoshiro
    Sound: Fujinawa Shoichi Music: Hirose Kenjiro
    Lighting: Inohara Ichiro
    Cast: Kato Daisuke, Kubo Akira, Kubo Ken, Mizuno Kumi, Kusabue Mitsuko, Segi Shunichi, Kuji Asami, Sakamoto Kyu
    Production Company, Source: Toho

    A salaryman (businessman) film based on an essay by management consultant Yamato Yuzo. Along with Song for a Bride, this masterpiece has never been released on video or DVD. Shuhei is a widower and a serious businessman. A plan to get him remarried gets mixed up with a romance involving a college chum of Shuhei’s ambitious nephew, causing all kinds of complications. The screen is filled with the youthful talent of Kusabue Mitsuko, Mizuno Kumi, and other actresses who went on to become household names.

    - The War of the Gargantuas

    (“Furankenshutain no kaiju: Sanda tai Gaira”)

    1966 / Japanese / Color / 35mm / 88 min

    Director: Honda Ishiro
    Script: Mabuchi Kaoru, Honda Ishiro
    Special Effects Director: Tsuburaya Eiji
    Photography: Koizumi Hajime Editing: Fujii Ryohei Art Director: Kita Takeo
    Sound: Tone Norio Music: Ifukube Akira Lighting: Takashima Toshio
    Cast: Sekida Yu, Nakajima Haruo, Mizuno Kumi, Sahara Kenji, Russ Tamblyn
    Production Company, Source: Toho

    A unique work, even by the standards of Honda’s many special effects films. Sanda and Gailah are sibling monsters, born from Frankenstein’s surviving cells. The two monsters are raised apart but ineluctable fate forces them into a battle to the death. . . . This film influenced many later films in the genre by giving the monsters a clear human dimension. The monsters were designed by Narita Toru, who was born in Aomori Prefecture. Gailah was performed in costume by Nakajima Haruo, born in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture. A monster film born of the talents of northeastern Japan.