Despite some highly questionable packaging (three discs on a spindle), this collection is a must for serious fans of the cycle of the monster and science fiction films released by Japan’s Toho in the fifties and sixties — and optional for everyone else. It’s certainly nice to see finally see these in widescreen and the original Japanese. (Slightly shorter English versions are also included for those who want to set the movies on “extra-campy.”)
All three films included in this set were directed by Ishirô Honda, the creator of the often disrespected Japanese monster genre, starting with 1954’s “Godzilla,” who also happened to be best friends with Toho’s resident cinema god, Akira Kurosawa. 1961’s “Mothra” is the only actual monster tale in the set and a favorite of aficionados. It’s a genre-blending variation on “King Kong” in which a giant caterpillar (later a multicolored moth) becomes highly problematic for Japan and a fictional stand-in for the U.S when its two incredibly small fairy protectors, “tiny beauties” played by singing duo the Peanuts, are held captive and forced to perform on stage by a greedy not-American explorer/impresario (Jerry Ito). Honda was tiring of straight-up antinuclear grimness and his addition of comedy and some enchanting musical numbers makes for added fun. 1958’s “The H-Man” is another stylish and mostly entertaining genre-combo, in which police investigate a series of purported yakuza murders that are actually the doing of a creepy atomic slime. Early SFX geeks may adore “Battle in Outer Space” — and that certainly includes authors Steve Rylie and Ed Godziszewski who recorded two commentaries for this set. As for the rest of us, this forerunner of “Independence Day” is rather leaden and easily the least entertaining offering of the three.