Monday, May 12, 2014

Godzilla Week - Kaiju Cuts: Ishiro Honda (1911-1993)

Godzilla's greatest director, Ishiro Honda worked with the legendary Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) early in his film career as an assistant director before taking on the responsibility of initiating Toho's now-famous giant monster films.  

Mr. Honda joined up with Toho before his service in World War II, in 1933, when Toho was still called Photo Chemical Lab (PCL).

There, Mr. Honda directed not only Godzilla (1954), but Rodan (1956), Mothra (1961), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Godzilla vs. The Thing (1964), Destroy All Monsters (1968) and Terror of Mecha-Godzilla (1975), his last entry in the saga.  In many ways, Honda is the most important of Godzilla's "parents."

One of Honda's most impressive non-Godzilla cinematic efforts is the haunting (and highly disturbing) Matango (1963), a film known in the United States as Attack of the Mushroom People.  

This film involves a group of people who are lost at sea and then find an island populated by fungus people. Through consumption of the island's mushrooms, the visitors on the island begin to transform too, losing their humanity. The movie is remarkably stark and uncompromising, and even today -- like the first Godzilla -- packs a punch.

In terms of directorial approach, Mr. Honda -- owing perhaps to his early film work in documentaries, --always brought a strong sense of reality to his efforts. His films often feature long, elaborate tracking shots which preserve a sense of space and geography (rather than fracturing it with cuts), and therefore heighten a sense of truth or reality.  

Mr. Honda passed away in 1993 and was eulogized at his funeral by Kurosawa, his frequent collaborator (Kagemusha [1980], Dreams [1990]). 


  1. It was ultimately revealed that Honda directed all the exterior shots in Kurosawa's later films, He never wanted to get a big co-director credit due to his respect of Kurosawa.

  2. A very different Toho Sci-Fi/Horror entry. "Matango" is dark and ugly. The characters are loaded with flaws and can never be counted on to do what you'd expect them to do. This offers up some fun in that there are arguments and situations that quickly escalate into life and death situations. And the weird part is, there's seldom a monster around that's stirring the problem pot.

    More often than not, the crew and guests of their shipwrecked yacht fight for food and control on a strange deserted island. The only real rule is 'Don't eat the mushrooms'. While the mushroom threat sort of reveals itself earlier in the movie, the rather creepy mushroom people don't take front and center until about an hour or more into the run time. And yes, the ending scenes do get sort of creepy.

    This doesn't fit the usual Toho creature feature template. It's odd and it's different and it's more of a tale of survival than a battle with beasts.


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