SciFi Japan

    Covering the Toho Icons: An Interview with Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle

    Interview by: Richard Pusateri Sharp-eyed fans of Japanese monster and science fiction films may have noticed the decidedly non-Japanese names Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle repeatedly popping up in the credits of Toho DVDs, materials for theatrical screenings and releases, and various Godzilla-themed events over the past few years.

    Ed Godziszewski has been writing about Japanese FX productions for more than 30 years. Since 1977, he has been the editor and publisher of Japanese Giants, considered— along with Greg Shoemaker`s Japanese Fantasy Film Journal— among the best English language fanzines devoted to Japanese fantasy cinema. Issues of Japanese Giants can be purchased directly from the official website. Ed wrote the cover story (an overview of the Godzilla series) for the very first issue of Fangoria in 1979, and has contributed articles to Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, Retrovision, and G-Fan. G-Fan publisher Daikaiju Enterprises also released Ed`s acclaimed 1995 book The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Godzilla, which is now a much sought after collectible among Godzilla fans. In 1979, he became one of the first American fans invited to tour both Toho Studios and Tsuburaya Productions in Japan. In the years since then, Ed has visited Japan numerous times and has met and interviewed many tokusatsu filmmakers. A Japanese documentary crew from NHK returned the favor by interviewing him in his home for a 1998 television special about Godzilla. Ed also owns a collection of 16 and 35mm prints, including several Japanese titles which he has loaned out for theatrical screenings at events such as Godzilla 50th anniversary retrospectives in Hollywood, San Francisco, and New York. This upcoming Saturday, September 26, the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta will screen Ed`s original IB Technicolor print of Toho`s classic monster movie RODAN. Steve Ryfle is a film journalist who has written for major newspapers such as The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and San Francisco Chronicle. He is the also the author of Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star, a highly regarded Godzilla reference book that dispelled many of the oft-repeated but incorrect stories about the Toho film series. Steve`s byline can be found in issues of Japanese Giants, Cinescape, Fangoria, Retrovision, Shock Cinema, and Creative Screenwriting. He has been a guest speaker and presenter at Comic-Con, Anime Expo, G-Fest, and Wizard World Chicago, and has been invited to talk about Godzilla on TV and radio programs including NPR`s OFF-RAMP and Animal Planet`s ANIMAL ICONS: IT CAME FROM JAPAN.

    In 2004, Steve was an organizer and interviewer for the American Cinematheque’s “Godzilla 50th Anniversary Tribute” in Hollywood. That same year, Rialto Pictures used much of Steve`s material on the original GODZILLA in their press kit for the 50th anniversary US theatrical release of the film. Based on recommendations from Rialto boss Bruce Goldstein and the approval of Toho, the British Film Institute hired Steve and Ed to provide the audio commentary and featurettes for the UK DVD of GODZILLA. Ed also supplied stills and production art for BFI`s DVD of the Toho sci-fi film THE MYSTERIANS, and materials for Media Blasters` DVD of FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. In 2006, Classic Media chose Ed and Steve to create bonus features for their Godzilla DVD collection. The duo produced audio commentaries, text pieces, and featurettes for the award-winning two disc set of GOJIRA and GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, and worked in varying degrees on seven more Classic Media Godzilla DVDs. They also co-wrote and produced BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE: The Art of Japanese Special Effects, an original documentary about the creation and evolution of the Japanese FX film. BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE was included with Classic Media`s DVD set of RODAN and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. During the production of the documentary Ed and Steve befriended the family of the late director Ishiro Honda. In 2008, they were invited by Honda`s widow Kimi and son Ryuji to assist them in establishing an English language version of the Ishiro Honda Official Site. Their connection with Honda continued this year with the production of audio commentaries for Sony`s ICONS OF SCI-FI: TOHO COLLECTION, a DVD set featuring Honda`s classics MOTHRA, THE H-MAN, and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE. Following the release of ICONS OF SCI-FI: TOHO COLLECTION, Steve and Ed spoke with their old friend, Richard Pusateri— another Toho historian known for his writings in Cult Movies, G-Fan, and Japanese Giants, the audio commentary for Classic Media`s ALL MONSTERS ATTACK/GODZILLA`S REVENGE DVD, and coining the nickname GINO for TriStar`s GODZILLA remake— to discuss their work on the TOHO COLLECTION and other projects...

    Richard Pusateri: How many movies have you provided commentaries for as a team? Ed Godziszewski: All together, we have worked on seven... GOJIRA/GODZILLA for both the British Film Institute and Classic Media, GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS, GODZILLA VS. THE THING, GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, and now MOTHRA and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE. I should add that GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN was mainly Steve`s project to which I made a small contribution. We also worked together on all the Classic Media supplements and of course the documentary film BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE.

    Steve Ryfle: And we should mention that we worked with SciFi Japan’s own Keith Aiken on the audio commentary for the British Film Institute’s GODZILLA release. Richard Pusateri: What are the advantages of collaboration on these projects? Ed Godziszewski: As a practical matter, these things have always been done on a very short time schedule, so working as a team helps us to do twice as much work in the short time allowed. Doing this kind of thing solo would make the work load impossible to pull off to meet the schedule. Aside from time, there is a more basic advantage, at least for us. The expression that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts is very appropriate here. As far as gathering resources to use for commentaries, working as a team is a great asset since we can each bring something different to the table. I have a lot of reference materials such as books, stills, artwork, interviews, and so on, most of it in Japanese. Living in Los Angeles, Steve has access to a lot of great film research facilities, and he is adept at tracking people down and getting interviews and other materials. I wouldn`t have a clue how to do a lot of what Steve is able to accomplish.

    When it comes to Japanese science fiction films themselves, while I think Steve and I have very similar sensibilities and we share a great passion for this material, we each have our areas of special interest. In my case, I especially enjoy the technical aspects of making special effects. Steve is a professional writer and has great insight on the scripting and storytelling. He also is quite knowledgeable about music. No topic is either`s exclusive domain, but together we can amass more material to present than either of us would be able to do on our own. And by having two slightly different perspectives, we can inspire each other to find new ways to attack the material. But regardless of our special areas of interest, we both attempt to show an appreciation for the craftsmanship and the people involved, to get the general public to understand that these films were made by dedicated pros who put everything they had into creating the best possible product. We both want to counter the perception that these are just films made on the cheap with little care. And hopefully we can do this in an entertaining way at the same time. Doing these kinds of things together also just gives us that much more reason to stay in touch, despite the several thousand miles which separate us, and as a result we have become even better friends. I never think of it as work. It`s fun to work together and very rewarding at the same time. Sharing these kinds of experiences with someone is infinitely more satisfying than working alone. I wouldn`t want to do this any other way.

    Steve Ryfle: There isn’t much I can add to that, except to say that we have built up a great amount of respect and trust over the years and we don’t let our egos get in the way, so working together is very easy. It’s very much a partnership mentality when we collaborate. More than anything, I’d say both of us are people who like to get things done; we’re not big on talking up our projects or promoting ourselves on the Internet and all that. We both enjoy the challenge of creating these types of projects and the satisfaction of getting them done. It’s hard work, but it’s also extremely fun. We’re now at the point where we act as producers, both on the documentary film we did as well as the audio commentaries and other special features we’ve worked on in recent years, so we’re involved in all aspects of the production in addition to researching and writing and recording. Richard Pusateri: What are the disadvantages of collaboration? Ed Godziszewski: Of course living in separate cities tends to work against us, as it would be beneficial if we could sit down and brainstorm for extended periods. But there`s always the telephone and the great internet to help us stay on touch, so it`s not as bad as it might have been if we were trying to do this in years past. Also, you can`t do this kind of thing together if you have a big ego, but if you are ok with being a team player and you don`t look at any of the content as being proprietary to one person or the other, this method works quite well.

    Steve Ryfle: Because there are two people working together, we always come up with more material than we can use, but that’s actually a good problem to have. There really are no disadvantages to collaborating. Quite the opposite. Richard Pusateri: How long have you been preparing for this project? Steve Ryfle: We lobbied for the job for nearly two years. Through our friend Oki Miyano, I was able to meet with Michael Friend, who supervised the restoration project, in April 2007. (At the time, Oki was earning his Master’s Degree in film preservation and archiving at UCLA, and Michael Friend was one of his professors.) Eventually Michael introduced me to his boss, Grover Crisp, Sony’s VP of asset management and restoration, who in turn recommended us to the home video people. From there, we had to write and submit a detailed proposal, plus samples of our past DVD work, and so on. It was just like applying for any other job. Mind you, our proposal was for an entire slate of special features but ultimately Sony budgeted for two commentaries. As far as actually preparing to record the commentaries, that was done rather quickly. Ed Godziszewski: Nothing really came together until the last moment. It wasn`t until Sony said that they would like to proceed, maybe late in February or early March, that we were able to even think that we might get the job. So the preparation period was pretty short; a little more than a month. But since we had been hoping to get this job when the DVD set was announced, we already had a pretty good idea what we would do, what sources we could tap. But in terms of getting materials translated, that`s a limited resource that shouldn`t be used on something that may or may not happen. Our window was pretty narrow since Sony was preparing to finalize these releases by the time we got on board. If Steve hadn’t kept after Sony, it`s possible these films would have been released as is, without commentaries. Richard Pusateri: Can you tell us how you approach the task?

    Steve Ryfle: Beginning with the commentary that Ed, Keith and I recorded for the British Film Institute’s GODZILLA DVD, we learned that Toho contractually requires that the commentary be pre-scripted and submitted for review and approval. Caroline Millar, who produced the BFI disc, also extolled the virtues of scripting an audio commentary, and even though I originally disliked the idea, I must admit that now I would not consider recording an audio commentary without a script or at least some very, very detailed notes. Having a script keeps you honest; it forces you to write the material to fit the length of a particular scene or sequence. If you record off-the-cuff, unless you’re an extremely well-organized and rehearsed speaker you’re probably going to prattle on way too long, which means you’ll either have to re-record the material or “fix it in post” via editing, which costs more time and money. And even when the track is written out in advance, some editing is always necessary. Pre-scripting an audio commentary does have its drawbacks. Unless you’re a great speaker, which I am certainly not, it’s going to sound somewhat canned. We’ve taken some criticism for this, but I’ll accept the trade-off because the alternative is a potentially messy, disorganized commentary. I should add that Toho has red-lined content from our commentary scripts, but it’s been so minimal as to be insignificant. In one script, I’d written the word “Minya,” and they crossed it out and wrote “Minilla.” Ed and I have escaped mostly unscathed. However, I also supervised the production of four audio commentaries recorded by other people, including yourself, for the Classic Media discs in 2006. And although I do not want to get into details, a good amount of material was redacted from some of those commentaries for reasons that we disagreed with, but ultimately were contractually bound to comply with. Ed Godziszewski: Doing a commentary is a lot different than writing an article or book, or making a film. Those kinds of tasks really require that you construct a storyline or cohesive narrative which will carry you from start to finish. You need to tie everything together and strive for a conclusion. If possible, you like to have a narrative thread as well in a commentary, but to relate what you are talking about to what`s on the screen, you can`t always do that. You need to approach it as a series of individual segments, and accept that sometimes you will have abrupt changes in topic. The first step for us is to block each film out into short segments, so I will sit with a copy of the film and run it, breaking it down by scene and assigning the appropriate time code to each one. When I am finished, the film is divided into around 100 or so segments, and this is placed into a 3-column table. The final column starts out blank...that is where we will eventually slot our commentary.

    The next step is research. We`ll try to gather as many resources together as we can find: books, articles, videos, photos, interviews, anything we can think of. In the case of Japanese materials, it often takes some educated guesswork. I am far from proficient in Japanese, but I know just enough to at least find what looks to be promising sources. For MOTHRA, there was a lot available. MOTHRA had been extensively covered in Japanese books over time. We found the notes on a pre-story writing conference, the full original story, several drafts of the screenplay, interviews either in books or which we had previously conducted, essays, and so on. BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE was much more challenging since there was very little dedicated coverage on it. After finding all the Japanese sources, then comes the most time consuming part: getting it all translated. My wife always goes beyond the call of duty, spending endless (for her) hours going through everything with me. Sometimes promising sources turn up nothing useful, other times we find gold nuggets in obscure and unexpected places. Especially in this case, since we were up against a short deadline and with two films to do, she came through for us big time. We couldn`t have done nearly as good a job without her help. Steve had a number of interviews on tape that he had recorded with people involved in these films, so we had access to some interesting sound bites. And Steve is quite resourceful in tracking people down, so he was able to get personal anecdotes on people like Kyoko Anzai by locating family members.

    The MOTHRA audio commentary includes comments from an older interview with the late actor Jerry Ito. Photo courtesy of Steve Ryfle.

    Steve Ryfle: I really enjoy incorporating the voices of other people, living or dead, who worked on these films in our commentaries. I first tried this on our GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS track. At the time, I had just watched the DVD of CABIN IN THE SKY (1943), directed by Vicente Minnelli, and the audio commentary on that disc was by USC film professors Todd Boyd and Drew Casper, and they weaved in comments from a number of people involved in the film and their descendants. There were sound bites from Lena Horne, Fayard Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers, and Eddie Anderson`s widow and daughter. I thought it was a great and interesting format and I tried to do something similar. And we’ve continued to do that whenever it makes sense. In this case, on MOTHRA I used a couple of sound bites from old interviews with Jerry Ito and Hiroshi Koizumi. I would have used more of Jerry Ito’s interview, but the sound quality was so terrible that I just couldn’t (of course when I interviewed him, I had no idea that it might re-purposed years later on a DVD). Ed Godziszewski: Once we write out all the basic research, then we have to take that and distill it into something concise enough for the commentary. Not everything we use is research, per se. There are a lot of comments you can come up with just from having watched these films. These personal observations are every bit as important, and they also help to keep the track from devolving into a lecture. You have to do your best to also keep things somewhat entertaining and accessible for the listener. When all the anecdotes and episodes are written out, that is the time for trying to divide it all up and slot it into the template which was created at the beginning. Some things are obvious as to where they need to be placed. For us, the more that we can keep commentary in some way directly related to what is on screen, the better. Once this is done, you can isolate the problem spots: where you don`t have enough materials, or where you are overloaded and need to cut back. Based on that, we just have to figure out how to best edit the material, and sometimes this also requires us to go out and try to find something new to fill in an opening. It really is an organic process.

    The actual recording is something that we have been fortunate enough to do together. Recording separately just wouldn`t work as well. We feed off each other, and it sounds more natural if you are actually go back and forth with other. This requires me to make a trip out to Los Angeles each time, but it`s a fun time and I look forward to doing this. Once the recording is done, then Steve takes over and produces the final version by going through and editing and producing the final mix. That`s a big job which is easily overlooked, but for which he deserves a lot of credit. Richard Pusateri: At what point do you compile your individual materials into one script? Ed Godziszewski: Usually one of us will assume the responsibility for a particular film, so that person will take all of the comments that have been distilled from each one`s research and then fill in the template and generally control the script. As soon as materials come in, we start consolidating. To the extent that time allows, when something close to a first draft is done, we will switch off and try to offer pointers and polish up the other`s work, but we can`t always do that as much as we would like because of time. Richard Pusateri: Are your scripts very flexible? Do you plan to allow for an extemporaneous comments or improvisation?

    Ed Godziszewski: It`s true that you can`t escape the fact that you are reading from a script. You try your best to sound natural, but neither one of us is going to quit our day jobs to rely on voice work as a career. But the script helps you to keep focused and to use your time to maximum benefit. Without a set script it is easy to digress or get sidetracked, or even to just not be efficient in how you want to express something. All that wastes valuable time. Also, in the course of speaking about one thing, you can get diverted from your original course and wind up unintentionally skipping over important subjects. The script keeps us focused and is a good way to make sure that comments that need to be matched to certain scenes are made at the right moment. When we worked for the British Film Institute, they had us try to do a segment of the film completely off the cuff. It was a great illustration of what can happen. Sure, we sounded more conversational and did a few good things, but we also digressed easily and wound up not commenting on some important things. You get wrapped up in talking about one thing and before you know it, a scene you wanted to say something about came and went. It is really hard to control the pace and to be concise when it`s all ad-libbed. Richard Pusateri: Do you plan out in advance how much time you will discuss background material, that is commentary not directly related to what is on the screen while you are speaking? Ed Godziszewski: From the first moment, you accept that everything you talk about cannot match up to what is going on at any one time, and there are also things we want to talk about during the course of a commentary that will not really match up with the action. But you can`t plan that too far in advance. In the research phase, you identify certain things that you think are important to give to the audience, like biographical information or how the screenplay developed. But how much of it can be used in large part depends on how things play out when we start filling in the blank templates. That is the point where you see if there is a natural place for these pieces, and how much time can be spared for them.

    Steve Ryfle: There’s really no standard way of doing an audio commentary, and there is certainly no standard for what percentage of the track should be related to what’s happening on screen. Some commentaries are very screen-specific and others are not. Some commentaries are very academic, while others are fannish. Some focus on the technical aspects, some focus on the story. Some are by the principals involved in the making of the film, some are by people like us. There’s no set way of doing it, and so what we’ve tried to do on all of the projects we’ve worked on is to talk about the things that are most interesting to us. We’ll comment directly on scenes that warrant it, but all through the movie we’re trying to weave in production information, cast and crew biographies, technical info on the special effects, and so on. But to answer your question, no, we don’t think of it in terms of how much time will be spent commenting on the scenes and how much won’t. At least I don’t. It’s an organic process: we do our research, write our script, and then go through a couple of drafts until it flows well. Richard Pusateri: While editing the script, did you have to leave much material off due to time constraint? Ed Godziszewski: Steve doubles as the editor/producer of the commentaries, so he can answer this better. But like anything you are doing with a time limit, there`s always stuff that is reluctantly dropped. And both of these films, especially MOTHRA, were rich in material that we had to work with, so a lot of things had to be left behind. But this was a lot easier than when we worked on our documentary. You hear the expression that editing is like killing babies, you feel terrible every time you have to drop something you worked on. In a film, you can wind up cutting out four or five times as much material as you finish with.

    Steve Ryfle: The first cut of BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE was about twice as long as the finished film. But even though it was painful to cut it down, the final product is better for it. With the commentaries, we always record more stuff than we can fit. When you get into the studio, no matter how well you thought you had estimated the timing, it always runs long. Sometimes, in order to retain something that doesn’t really fit within the allotted time, I’ll sit there at the computer cutting out a word here, a sentence there, and I can usually make it work. Richard Pusateri: Was there any material you had or discovered but had to omit for other reasons? Ed Godziszewski: Of course there are lots of individual anecdotes that time just did not allow us to use. Steve had some good interview sound bites from various people which are all fascinating in their own way, but it`s hard to find a way to use some of them. Cameraman Sadamasa Arikawa told a really entertaining story about filming a scene that ultimately wasn`t used in BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE, but it took a long time to tell and there just wasn`t a good slot for it in the overall structure of the commentary. Time is limited, and you also have to consider maintaining the audience`s attention. You can have an interesting story, but if it takes five minutes to unfold, you are devoting more than five percent of your total track to it. Steve Ryfle: There was one thing that Sony’s lawyers asked me to delete from the BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE commentary. I had made a reference to one of Columbia Pictures’ classic titles and they asked me to delete that reference due to a litigation matter totally unrelated to our project. All studios have lawyers who review audio commentaries and other material of this type and delete anything that presents potential legal pitfalls.

    Richard Pusateri: Did you discover anything new during researching? Ed Godziszewski: There is seldom a time that you do research on these films where something new or amazing doesn`t turn up. I remember researching GODZILLA VS. THE THING, and as part of that I found a lot of background on the original MOTHRA which we were able to use this time. That was when I found where the word `Aelinas` came from. The Small Beauties of Infant Island were always referred to as Aelinas in Famous Monsters and other English publications, and also in Columbia`s pressbook. But it isn`t a word with any meaning, and it is never used in any film involving Mothra, so I never could grasp what this word was all about or who came up with it. It turned out that it came from the original story for MOTHRA. Even though the name never was used outside of the original story treatment, somehow it made its way from Toho to Columbia, and from there into general usage in English publications. Steve Ryfle: Through Stuart Galbraith’s help, we made contact with Ron Conway, the nephew of Harold S. Conway, and he gave us some interesting tidbits to help flesh out the information on Harold’s career. We also contacted Tadao Mihashi, the son of Kyoko Anzai and Tatsuya Mihashi, and he likewise has some very useful information about his mother’s career. Clifford Harrington, whom I’d met on a trip to Seattle a couple of years ago, gave us some information that led to an interview with Elise Richter, and she told a great little story about how she had to pad her skirt to make her butt look bigger in BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE. None of these were big, Earth-shaking revelations but they do help fill in some of the gaps in the history of the genre. Richard Pusateri: Did you learn how the story of BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE dropped any further references to THE MYSTERIANS besides characters’ names?

    Ed Godziszewski: Sure, some of the same people worked on both films, they are both stories of alien invasion, and there were some props like the flying saucers that were reused in BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE. Based on that, a lot of people infer that this is a sequel, but that wasn`t the case. While some characters have the same names, there is nothing at all in the story to indicate these are the same people. There is ample opportunity for them to make a connection. If the reality of this film was that there had been a previous invasion from space, you would think someone would actually mention it, try to use their previous experience to help here, talk about the defensive weapons they already developed, and so on. I can`t say if it was Okami or Sekizawa who decided to reuse some of the character names from THE MYSTERIANS, since we were not able to track down copies of his original stories. Steve Ryfle: I don’t think we can state definitively that BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE was never, ever intended to be a sequel because we don’t know for sure. The fact that the story was written by the same author, and that certain characters have the same names—even if some are played by different actors—certainly could indicate that Jyojiro Okami originally set out to write a sequel, but perhaps during the course of his writing a decision was made, either by Okami or somebody else, to do an entirely new movie instead. Again, this is only an educated guess, but I’d say it’s an entirely plausible explanation for the common names.

    Richard Pusateri: Did you see an accurate translation of the BIOS dialogue? Are we missing much with the "dubtitles?" Steve Ryfle: We were not involved in anything other than the commentaries, therefore we were not privy to details about the subtitling and so on. We were not given an opportunity to review the subtitle scripts before the discs went into production, if that`s what you`re asking. I was as surprised as anyone to find out that the BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE subtitles were done this way. The only English-subtitled version of BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE I`ve seen in the past was a "fansub" version, and I cannot attest to how accurate it was or wasn`t. But certainly "dubtitles" present some very serious problems because they are, as the moniker implies, based on the dubbing dialogue rather than the original Japanese dialogue. When a film is dubbed into English, word-for-word accuracy is not the chief concern. Writing a dubbing script is a lot like writing any other script; the dialogue must sound and flow like dialogue and sometimes there may be a need to alter or truncate or even delete lines from the Japanese dialogue in order to make it work. The aim of a dubbing script is to retain the general meaning of the scene and create dialogue that flows well. But you cannot simply transcribe the English dub and use that to subtitle the Japanese version, because it`s not necessarily an accurate or complete representation of the Japanese script.

    As to whether we`re missing much by not having an accurate translation of the Japanese dialogue of BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE, my personal opinion is no, we`re not. Some may disagree, but the story and dialogue in this movie are almost completely irrelevant. Ryo Ikebe`s performance pretty much says it all: he looks bored, and he has nothing to do, because the script is threadbare as far as the drama sequences are concerned. The movie is all about the special effects. Having said all that, we would much prefer to have actual subtitles instead of "dubtitles" for this film, or any film.

    Richard Pusateri: Of the three movies, is THE H-MAN the most unusual? The blend of genres, adult themes and esoteric Japanese touches (like the muddy shoe prints on the tatami mat) make it look least likely to have been intended for international release. Is there reason to think Toho was looking beyond the Japanese market for THE H-MAN? Ed Godziszewski: We knew we weren`t going to be doing H-MAN, so we didn`t get that deep into the background of this film. For one thing, there is a relative scarcity of info on this film in both Japanese and U.S. sources. I really do not think that Toho was giving much thought to overseas audiences with H-MAN, unlike BIOS which was clearly made with the overseas audience in mind. There is still a fair amount of Japanese life and culture on display in H-MAN. When they did BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE, they made sure not to show things like the inside of a Japanese home with tatami mats, which an overseas audience would not be able to identify with. Steve Ryfle: If you look at the history of Toho`s sci-fi and fantasy films, you can see that the studio`s awareness of international markets and its desire to enhance these films` overseas marketability increased rapidly. For example, early films like GODZILLA and RODAN and even THE H-MAN seem to have been made strictly for the Japanese audience, but by the late fifties and early sixties you can see the attempt to give BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE and MOTHRA and KING KONG VS. GODZILLA an international flavor. As early as the mid-fifties, Toho was already very actively marketing their films—not just their monster films, but all different kinds of films—for overseas distribution, and by the late fifties the studio had begun partnering with American producers on these projects. VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE was made in conjunction with an American production company, and the ending of MOTHRA was changed at the last minute, apparently after Columbia acquired the English-language rights.

    As for which film is the most unusual, I think most people would say MOTHRA is fairly ridiculous. Those of us who are converts, fans who are well versed in and accustomed to the mythology of this genre, we no longer stop to ponder whether a gigantic caterpillar or a gigantic moth is remotely logical, or if the tiny twin fairies who talk and sing in unison are bizarre. I love MOTHRA for its anything-goes, break-the-mold spirit and I do believe that this is the movie that helped Japanese sci-fi and fantasy cinema fully evolve into its own genre, rather than merely a Japanese facsimile of American sci-fi. Within the arc of this genre, THE H-MAN is something of an anomaly but I don’t think it’s nearly as outlandish as MOTHRA. Richard Pusateri: Did you learn how Columbia acquired this movie as their first Toho film of this set? Steve Ryfle: We do not know the exact details of the deals that Columbia made with Toho for these three films. After we became involved with the ICONS OF SCI FI: TOHO COLLECTION project, we requested permission to view the Columbia Pictures legal files for these titles, which may contain documents that would explain the terms of those deals and other matters. Unfortunately, these documents are housed in an archive on the east coast, an archive that—we were told—is literally located in the side of a mountain, and the cost to retrieve those documents was prohibitive. Our knowledge of Columbia`s acquisition of MOTHRA, for example, is based on other sources—Japanese texts and also information that actor Hiroshi Koizumi told me in an interview about 10 years ago, as well as an interview with the late Jerry Ito. Of course it was not unusual for Columbia to acquire and distribute films of this type back then; the studio had distributed a number of exploitation movies. Most all the studios were doing it: Warner Bros. distributed GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER, and RKO distributed THE MYSTERIANS, and so on. There also were exploitation films from Italy and Russia and Great Britain and elsewhere that were being picked up for distribution by the studios in those years.

    Richard Pusateri: Do you have any ideas about what you would have covered had you been able to do a commentary on THE H-MAN? Ed Godziszewski: You can see from the films which we already have done how we try to approach any film...a mixture of background info on the times in which the film was made, the backstory of how the film was developed, scripting discussion, SFX discussion, staff bios. The usual kind of stuff. But with relatively little resources for research, I think we may have had a hard a hard time doing as thorough a job on this film as we would have liked. We did some preliminary checking and couldn`t find anything that talked about early scripts, unused ideas, and so on, the kind of factual material that I think makes for a good commentary. And while the effects sequences are pretty good, they don`t cover a lot of screen time. I think this would have been a different kind of commentary for us as it would have had a higher proportion of observation and opinion than factual content. Steve Ryfle: I do think that THE H-MAN is prime material for an excellent audio commentary or essay. To my knowledge, no one has written a true close analysis of the film in English. First of all, it`s essentially a nuclear paranoia film in disguise, an inversion of the giant radiation monster motif, a la GOJIRA, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, and so on. Rather than a gigantic creature, in this case the monster is something tangibly human yet other-worldly. We don`t really know what the H-men are, and we`re not entirely sure what created them, which makes them all the more mysterious. They’re like nuclear ghosts.

    Off the top of my head, I’d say you would have to put it into context alongside other radiation-fear films, from the monster variety, such as GODZILLA and THEM! to dramatic works, both from Japan and the West. Kurosawa`s I LIVE IN FEAR, HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, ON THE BEACH, THE BEDFORD INCIDENT, DR. STRANGELOVE, and so on. You would also have to discuss world events of the day, and because THE H-MAN borrows elements from Japanese gangster films you would have to compare and contrast it with that genre. Honda was very versatile but he was not known for directing hard-boiled yakuza eiga. The role of the night club singer is an opportunity to discuss the treatment of women and eroticism in Honda`s films and, by extension, the entire genre. The movie has a great Masaru Sato score and good performances by some of Toho`s character players, as well as some fine if brief visual sequences. So there`s definitely a lot of interesting material to discuss, even if there are not many behind-the-scenes production details available. As Ed says, this would have been a bit of a departure for us, though. Our commentaries are really an extension of the type of material we`ve written, and they cover the same type of ground because these are the areas we`re most interested in. Of the two of us, I would say that I am more comfortable critiquing the films when warranted. But Ed and I basically see ourselves as advocates and historians of Japanese science fiction and fantasy cinema, rather than critics of it. We feel a responsibility to broaden understanding and appreciation of these movies and to dispel misinformation. So while we don`t shy away from criticism, that`s not our primary focus. When we`re writing about these films, or recording a commentary, or whatever it is, we have a broader agenda. We’re not preaching to the choir. We don’t believe our target audience for a commentary is limited to the die-hard, entrenched fans of Japanese science fiction, the people who’ve already memorized all the facts and trivia. That is a relatively small group of individuals, and while we do hope we can keep those folks entertained, what we really hope to do is help more casual fans and those with a general interest in these films to learn more about them. And the best way we can do that is to approach the films at face value. Even though more and more film scholars are doing serious work on these films, there still exists that pervasive attitude that the entire genre is “cheesy” and deserves nothing better than the MST3K treatment. We’re trying to provide a counterweight to that.

    Richard Pusateri: Did you have any urge to do a commentary on the Japanese versions or is everything you want to say on the English versions? Ed Godziszewski: As a general idea, I think the commentaries we produce can be used for either version. If there has been some kind of edit or additional/deleted scene for US release, we will often make mention of it in some way. The only exception to this thinking would be for GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS. It is virtually a different film, and as such we approached this film by making a separate and distinct commentary. I don`t think that the other films we have tackled really would demand that kind of treatment. Now that being said, I think we could have conceivably done a second commentary on MOTHRA without a lot of trouble just because there was such a wealth of information and so many things that could be said about this film. It really wouldn`t need to be version-specific. Steve Ryfle: Personally, I would prefer to comment on the original, uncut Japanese versions every time. That way, we`d have the ability to point out scenes that were cut out of the U.S. version, rather than having to describe something you can`t see. The deleted scene where Frankie Sakai makes the sign of the cross in MOTHRA is a good example. We referred to that scene and had to describe it; it would have been far most satisfying if you could see the scene in question, and we could tell you that "this was cut out of the U.S. version." But more importantly, the Japanese versions represent the true and original versions of the films; they`re what the filmmakers intended us to see, rather than the often inept meddling of the American distributors. Some of that meddling, these changes, are a constant distraction and they can dominate your attention, which takes the focus away from the film itself.

    An extreme example is GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN. I had difficulty with that commentary track, because when I tried to do it "straight," the film was so ridiculous that it just didn`t work. I re-cut the track and tried to have fun with it, pointing out the idiocy of the American version, with all its exposition-upon-exposition, while trying to remain respectful of the original. I`m not sure if I pulled it off, but that was the intent. Richard Pusateri: You mention critical responses; do you know how these movies did at the U.S. box office? Ed Godziszewski: We are able to see from historical records how these films did at the box office, but personally I don`t think grosses are as interesting (unless you are an accountant) than the critical response at the time these films were released. Box office numbers are hard to put in the proper perspective anyway... dollars need to be adjusted for inflation, attendance needs to be factored to account for the behavior of moviegoers from era to era, and so on. How do you do that fairly? Tickets sold is a better comparison than dollars, but even then, how do you compare films from the `50s and `60s, when there wasn`t so much competition for your attention and entertainment dollars as there is these days? And remember too, that these older films were always part of a double feature. How do you treat ticket sales in that case? Steve Ryfle: In addition to all that, box office numbers in those days were based upon film rental fees paid by theater owners, rather than on actual ticket sales, which presumably were higher. So comparing box office numbers from that period to those of today is problematic. Richard Pusateri: Was MOTHRA always released on the lower half of a bill? Steve Ryfle: Judging from the press clippings, it appears to have been the second feature in some of the markets where it was originally released. However it`s impossible to know whether it was top-billed in any markets without surveying the print ads and reviews from every place where the film played. As you know, in those days there was no such thing as a 3,000-screen, nationwide release. Films like this were released gradually, in different regions, and they were sometimes paired up with different features in different parts of the country.

    Richard Pusateri: Do you think Sony’s work on these movies influenced a similar restoration of the original GODZILLA for the upcoming Blu-ray release? Steve Ryfle: It should be noted that while Toho cooperated on the restoration of these three films, the project originated at Sony. They have an in-house asset management and preservation division that is slowly and methodically restoring and remastering all the titles in the studio`s catalog, and since these three titles are something of a package unto themselves, a decision was made to restore all three of them concurrently and release them as a set. As fans, we`re very lucky that Sony had the initiative, as well as the resources and expertise at its disposal to undertake a project like this. While I would love to see GOJIRA receive the same treatment, Classic Media is basically a children`s entertainment company. We`d all be delighted if they took similar initiative but perhaps it`s not realistic to expect that. It appears Classic Media may be re-using our audio commentary track (believe it or not, they have never officially told us whether they are or aren’t), but we were not involved in the upcoming GOJIRA Blu-ray and have no knowledge of what was or wasn`t done. My guess is that Classic Media is using an HD transfer that was created several years ago. Richard Pusateri: Is there any similar release for GORATH in sight? Ed Godziszewski: No release in sight yet. [MGM owns the U.S. rights to GORATH] Richard Pusateri: I presume Peter Fernandez did the MOTHRA dubbing for Columbia. Was this a typical Titra dub? Steve Ryfle: Yes, you can definitely hear Peter playing some of the minor characters in MOTHRA. You can also recognize some of the same voice actors who worked on the other Toho films that were dubbed at Titra in the 1960s. I`m not sure what you mean by a "typical" Titra dub, but this does seem to be comparable to their work on the other films of the era. The voice acting is lively and enjoyable, the scripting is good, and the actors use those mock Asian accents, which apparently were considered "authentic" back then.

    Richard Pusateri: Does your work and contributions to this set lead you to any future projects? Ed Godziszewski: At the same time we were doing this, we have also been working on a biography of Ishiro Honda, so there has been some degree of synergy here. There`s a lot cross- purposing of the research that has benefited both projects. The commentaries also add to our resume, and there`s no doubt that this gets taken into consideration for new opportunities, be they commentaries or other productions. Steve Ryfle: Our work on the British Film Institute`s GODZILLA DVD in 2006 opened a few doors for us. From there, we produced commentaries and special features for the Classic Media discs, and now this project. Personally, I have interest in films outside the Japanese sci-fi and fantasy genre and I`ve proposed an entirely unrelated project to Sony, and we`re discussing it now.

    I think the two of us would love to continue to work on added-value DVD content—we have ideas for other documentaries and things we`d like to do—but the truth is that the home entertainment market is in a serious state of flux and the budgets for this type of content have plummeted. It`s not as if you can make a living doing audio commentaries and the like; far from it. If the industry moves away from DVD and Blu-ray, we`re probably going to see things like commentaries and featurettes disappear, as there will be little incentive to produce them. We`d like to do more of this work, but there`s less and less of it going on. Richard Pusateri: Anything you would like to add? Steve Ryfle: I didn’t get a chance to do so on the DVD, but I’d like to dedicate my work on these discs to the memory of my mother, Patricia Ryfle, who died recently. She introduced me to monster movies when I was a wee lad, and she always supported my work. Needless to say, I could not have done any of this without her. Thanks, Mom.

    For more information on the ICONS OF SCI-FI: TOHO COLLECTION please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:

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