As a long-time fan, I marvel at what an amazing selection of tokusatsu movies have become available to English speakers in recent years. A decade ago, I assumed that some titles would simply never be translated, but now we have official home video releases of previously-ignored gems like House (from Criterion), Mikadroid (from Discotek), and the Sukeban Deka movies (from Media Blasters). Fansubs have exploded in the digital age, providing translations to obscurer films such as Daigoro vs. Goliath, Demon of Mount Oe, Video Girl Ai, and The Invisible Man vs. the Fly; even banned movies like Ishiro Honda’s Snow Man can be found if you know where to look. While numerous TV series remain to see translation, there’s sort of an assumption that it’s all been done when it comes to movies. However….
There are several films that, as far as I know, have never seen English translation, official or fansubbed. As a result of a brainstorming with some potential fansubbers, here’s a roughly chronological list of some yet-to-be-translated titles that may pique the toku otaku’s interest, excluding those with no home video release in Japan (e.g. The iDol, Sea Jetter Kaito, God of Clay). I can’t vouch for the quality of movies that I don’t have translations for (most of these I have not even seen raw), but I can provide commentary as to why they might be interesting.
Asterisks (*) mark thematically similar movies that spring to mind, but don’t necessarily warrant their own numbered entries. Now, let’s get started!
Update: Fixing some dead trailer links, marking the titles now available!
1. Invisible Man
(透明人間, Toumei Ningen, 1954)
One of the only golden-age Toho science fiction films never to see subtitled release, Invisible Man is usually considered the second Toho effects movie, following immediately after Godzilla. Eiji Tsuburaya handled the invisibility effects, while director Motoyoshi Oda went on to direct Godzilla Raids Again the next year. The film is largely a crime caper (like the mutant trilogy to follow), with a hint of super-heroish elements, as the invisible protagonist (whose day job as a clown camouflages his condition) battles the gangsters impersonating him.
*This wasn’t Japan’s only loose adaptation of HG Wells’ story, however, as Daiei’s Invisible Man Appears (透明人間現わる, Toumei Ningen Awaru, 1949), is frequently considered the country’s first science fiction feature. Like the Toho film, the effects were done by Tsuburaya, and this movie has also not been translated. Its sequel Invisible Man vs. Human Fly is available fansubbed, however.
2. Whale God
(鯨神, Kujira Gami, 1962)
The film on this list which wins “most likely to get picked up by Criterion” is the Daiei feature Whale God, in that it’s a somber, black-and-white, Moby Dick-inspired tale of a group of whalers after a super whale. Fans of the original Godzilla should get a kick out of the Akira Ifukube score and the presence of Takashi Shimura, while scriptwriter Kaneto Shindo (Kuroneko, Onibaba) and director Tokuzo Tanaka (Demon of Mount Oe) should intrigue fans of Japanese historical fantasy.
3. Horror of the Wolf
(狼の紋章, Oukami no Monshou, 1973)
Horror of the Wolf (AKA Crest of the Wolf) is a werewolf movie based on the WolfGuy manga series by 8man/Genma Taisen’s Kazumasa Hirai. WolfGuy also got an anime OVA series in 1992, likewise untranslated, though the Yoshiaki Tabata manga remake of Wolf Guy is scanslated and the 1975 Toei Sonny Chiba movie WolfGuy – Enraged Lycanthrope, based on the spinoff novels, is available fansubbed. The 1973 movie, despite being a Toho flick from Jun Fukuda (War in Space, ESPY, and five Godzilla movies), never made the transition to English-speaking audiences. Granted, the movie was made during Toho’s cheapest, most exploitation-y period, so the combination of a campy werewolf costume, excessive violence, and pervasive nudity probably put off distributors, but to that end I ask: what’s not to love?
*For a more modern movie featuring werewolves and gratuitous nudity, I direct you to Red Sword (レッド・スウォード, 2012), starring Asami. Unfortunately, the movie itself isn’t as action-horror as its trailer implies, and is basically just a skin flick.
4. Visitor in the Eye
(瞳の中の訪問者, Hitomi no naka no houmonsha, 1977)
Arguably Osamu Tezuka’s most popular character in Japan, Black Jack has been garnering a positive reputation in the west at last thanks largely to Vertical’s release of the manga. Also becoming popular long after his due is director Nobuhiko Obayashi, with Criterion’s release of the psychedelic ghost movie House turning into a cult sensation. Imagine combining these long undiscovered icons of the 1970s: what if Obayashi were to direct a Black Jack movie?
Oh wait, that happened, and it was called Visitor in the Eye. As far as I know, this marks the first time BJ appeared outside of the manga (both animated and live-action), and while the makeup could look better, realism is seldom Obayashi’s intent. Anyway, Animesols might want to consider this when they get done releasing the TV series; aside from not being anime it’s right up their alley!
*There have actually been several live-action movies featuring Black Jack: 2011’s Young Black Jack has been fansubbed and 2000’s series of three TV movies had a bootleg DVD with English, Chinese, and Malay subs. However, the three 1996 Black Jack V-cinema releases (starring Daisuke Ryu as the doctor) have not, to the best of my knowledge, been translated by anyone.
5. Blood Type: Blue *Now Fansubbed!*
(ブルークリスマス, Blue Christmas, 1978)
It’s difficult even doing a search for Blood Type: Blue, as the title was used as an alarm in Evangelion, and even minutia from a popular series can easily eclipse what it’s referencing. Still, I’d think that with the sheer number of Eva fans out there, someone would get curious about the origin of the phrase; namely a 1978 alien invasion film from Toho. Also known as The Blue Stigma, it features aliens changing human blood color for select individuals, resulting in persecution and chaos. It’s my understanding that the feature can get a little melodramatic/misanthropic and goes on for over two hours, but again that sounds perfectly in line with what an Evangelion fan is looking for.
6.Ultraman Story *Now Fansubbed!*
Released in Japan during the long lull in between Show and Heisei Ultraman properties (and possibly as a reaction to Return of Godzilla), Ultraman Story tells about Ultraman Taro growing up and wanting to join the Ultra Brothers (a weird title, I know, since one of them is his uncle), making human characters pretty much absent from the film. While I’ve seen the movie subtitled in Greek and Spanish, I don’t think an English fansub exists (a problem for much of the older Ultraman properties).
*While we’re at it, how about The Six Ultra Brothers Vs. the Monster Army (ウルトラ6兄弟VS怪獣軍団, Urutora Roku Kyōdai tai Kaijū Gundan, 1979) the Thai co-production that screwed up international distribution of the whole Ultraman franchise? Granted, it was used as source footage for Space Warriors 2000, but as far as a straight-up translation, I don’t think one exists. I hear that the movie is quite bad, but it’d at least be good to see it to fully appreciate the waste of potential.
7. The 8-headed Dragon’s Counterattack
(八岐之大蛇の逆襲, Yamata no Orochi no Gyakushuu, 1985)
Before Gainax was a thing, the same people were a group of fans called Daicon Films, getting together to make amateur anime and tokusatsu flicks. The 8-headed Dragon’s Counterattack (AKA Orochi Strikes Back) is frequently considered a crowning achievement of their indie kaiju works, as the 72-minute movie about the mythical Orochi in modern time got a DVD release in Japan with some fanfare. Shinji Higuchi went on to deliver some of the best kaiju effects ever on the Heisei Gamera films, so it’s interesting to look at his humble beginnings here.
*On the subject of Daicon films, their Return of Ultraman (帰ってきたウルトラマン Kaettekita Urutoraman, 1983) comedy short starring Hideaki Anno as Ultraman actually got an official release through Tsuburaya, and their sentai parody Patriotic Squadron Dai-Nippon (愛国戦隊大日本 Aikoku Sentai Dai-Nippon, 1982) also hasn’t been fansubbed either.
8. The Red Crow and the Ghost Ship
(赤いカラスと幽霊船, Akai Karasu to Yuureisen, 1986)
There’s not a lot of information floating around about this made-for-TV feature that only got a VHS release in Japan, but consider the credits list: Hayao Miyazaki designed the characters and titular ship, Kazuya Konaka (Ultraman the Next) directed, Jim Henson worked on miniatures, and Lyle Conway (The Dark Crystal, Little Shop of Horrors) on animatronics. Oddly, I first heard about this movie from Keita Amemiya’s imdb page, though it seems like he wasn’t actually involved with the picture.
9. 19 Nineteen
(XIX 19ナインティーン, 1987)
This time-travel movie from the director of Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla shows up every once in a while on lists of Toho scifi flicks. Predictably, the name of the movie makes it quite difficult to search for online. It’s unrelated to the slice-of-life anime Nineteen 19, which also hasn’t been subtitled.
10. Star Virgin
A live-action movie in the “space bikini armor” genre that was big in 80’s anime (see: Maris the Chojo, Leda, Dream Hunter Rem), Star Virgin is a tie-in to a video game, directed by Mighty Lady creator Ichiro Omomo (come to think of it, I’ve never seen Mighty Lady subtitled). The main heroine is an alien tourist who winds up fighting a variety of extraterrestrial invaders, and looks like fun based on the half of the movie that’s surfaced online. Also, a Kenji Kawai soundtrack is hard to argue with.
11. Tokyo the Last War
(帝都大戦, Teito Taisen, 1989)
Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis is a challenging movie for those unfamiliar with Japanese mythology and early 20th century history, so it’s understandable that it didn’t do particularly great in its US release (though Doomed Megalopolis, the anime version by Rintaro, was somewhat successful for its horrific elements), but it’s pretty neat if you put in the time to understand the various historical cameos and context. While the original movie and the anime basically cover the same material, the second live-action film goes beyond that point, adapting parts of the Teito Monogatari novel series that have never been translated in any form (namely, World War 2). Granted, Takashige Ichise isn’t a director with as much cred as Akio Jissoji, but unless the dialogue-heavy movie is translated, it’s pretty difficult for an English speaker to form an opinion on it.
*While on the topic of Teito Monogatari-related stuff, the movie Tokyo Dragon (東京龍, 1997) was based on the Teito Monogatari sequel Sim-Feng Shui, and there was also a modern-setting direct-to-video side story in the form of Teito Monogatari Gaiden (帝都物語外伝, 1995). Neither have been translated into English.
12. Ultra Q the Movie: Legend of the Stars
(ウルトラQ ザ・ムービー星の伝説, Ultra Q the Movie: Hoshi no Densetsu, 1990)
Despite the high visibility of its spin-off Ultraman, stuff from Ultra Q does not get subtitled, as a rule. The original series took 47 years for any translation, while Ultra Q Dark Fantasy and Neo Ultra Q have limited Chinese-to-English-translated-by-babelfish graymarket DVDs, so it goes without saying that Akio Jissoji’s 1990 Ultra Q movie hasn’t been touched. Considering the important place that the series has in Japanese pop culture and the overall quality of the series in general, this film seems prime for some translation love. If nothing else, it’s the highest-profile kaiju movie that I can think of without any availability.
13. Reiko, The Psyche Resurrected
(超少女Reiko, Chou Shoujo Reiko, 1991)
This little ESPer movie from director Takao Okawara (Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2, Yamato Takeru, Godzilla vs. Destroyer, and Godzilla 2000) is featured fairly frequently in Toho movie monster books. It might have been passed for the localization process like the other early Heisei Toho outings, but unlike, say, Sayonara Jupiter or Mikadroid, it lacked the visual appeal to wind up fansubbed and eventually officially released. Still, the telekinetic battles look neat, and it’s always fun to see more of Toho’s scifi filmography.
14. Daiyogen: Fukatsu no Kyojin
While directed by TV toku alum Yoshihiko Kobayashi, this movie (okay, it’s really three episodes back-to-back) really feels like designer Keita Amemiya (Zeiram, Garo) was the true auteur here. Most of the action takes place with human leads, but a giant stone deity appears at the end (I’m sure the resemblance to Daimajin was not lost on the production). It’s a contemporary story, but is full of sorcery, eccentric costume designs, and action outside of the behemoth showing up at the end.
15. Samurai Kids
(水の旅人 -侍ＫＩＤＳ-, Mizu no Tabibito – Samurai Kids, 1993)
Samurai Kids is an Indian in the Cupboard-style adventure about a modern kid and his action-figure-sized samurai friend, from director Nobuhiko Obayashi. Oh yeah, Ishiro Honda has an acting role in the film as the grandfather.
16. Tokyo Babylon 1999
(東京 BABYLON 1999, 1993)
When xxxHolic was adapted into a live-action drama last year, many people erroneously reported that it was the first time one of Clamp’s manga had been done in live-action, when in fact a live-action version of Tokyo Babylon predated it by two decades. Considering that practically everything Clamp has ever breathed on has been translated officially, it comes as a bit of a shock that this film never even got fansubbed, especially given the popularity of the Tokyo Babylon follow-up X. The movie covers territory that the Tokyo Babylon anime never got to, five years after the end of the manga, so it’s an interesting curiosity as an alternative to X (which also took place in 1999) if nothing else.
*A couple other movies from director Joji Iida have caught my attention lately, including his body horror film The Unborn (キクロプス, Cyclops, 1987) and Night Head (ナイトヘッド, 1994), upon which the anime Night Head Genesis was based.
17. Juushin Thunder Liger: Fist of Thunder
(獣神サンダー・ライガー怒りの雷鳴, Juushin Thunder Liger Ikari no Raimei, 1995)
Considering that only one episode out of forty three has been fansubbed for the Jushin Liger anime (a superhero show from genius/madman Go Nagai), it comes as little surprise that there’s not a lot of demand for its live-action counterpart. The anime inspired a real-life pro wrestler, who inspired the toku film, which might also explain why the movie may have a hard time gathering interest. Still, though: look at those costumes by Steve Wang (of Guyver fame), they’re great!
*In line with Go Nagai’s wrestling superhero tokusatsu, there was also a never-translated movie called Beetle, the Horn King (兜王ビートル, Kabuto Ou Beetle, 2005) directed by Miroru Kawasaki of Calamari Wrestler fame.
18. Legend of Homo Aquarellius
This mermaid movie is from the director of Kappa, and much like that film, it boasts some fine creature effects but is otherwise pretty obscure. Maybe people got turned off by the man-on-fish romance?
*Speaking of fish people, HP Lovecraft’s Shadow over Innsmouth (インスマスを覆う影) was adapted into a live-action Japanese movie in 1992. It was directed by Chiaki Konaka, a writer who’s done a lot of anime work, and stars character actor Shiro Sano.
19. Lady Space Cop Justy
I really love the Zeiram series, so anything that reminds me of them will perk my interest. That’s why Juskiss got onto this list: it’s about a lady space cop in cool armor out to stop an alien parasite, and Keita Amemiya did the designs for the film. Granted, it’s categorized as an “erotic comedy” by the Tohokushinsha, so that may be where the similarities end.
20. School of Ghosts 3
(学校の怪談3, Gakkou no Kaidan 3, 1997)
To my knowledge, the only translated installments of the School of Ghosts series are the first and fourth theatrical films, the anime series (which was given the parody dub Ghost Stories), and two segments from the TV film School of Ghosts G which were later remade as Ju-On. Of the five theatrical features and seven TV dramas, I think the most intriguing is School of Ghosts 3, if only for the fact that it’s directed by Shusuke Kaneko. I suppose it goes without saying that this is about a group of kids spending the night at a haunted school, complete with a menagerie of weird-looking spirits.
21. Peking Man Who Are You?
(北京原人, Pekin Genjin, 1997)
This movie’s about (somewhat accidental) cloning ancient cavemen and mammoths, and the various social/ethical/political ramifications involved. Shinichi Wakasa worked on the effects for the flick (meaning it’s the only thing he’s worked on with no translations available), while Toei’s Hiroshi Budda (most of the Heisei Kamen Rider stuff) supervised.
22. Welcome to the Vampire Onsen
(吸血温泉へようこそKyuuketsu Onsen e Youkoso, 1997)
In the world of live-action films, Go Nagai is a mangaka best known for his superheroes and erotic comedies (and sometimes for X-Bomber), but he was also quite accomplished at writing horror comics. Several horror films are based on his ideas, but have never been translated; this one just happens to be one of the most recent and has the distinction of not having Nagai’s name right in the title. I haven’t seen it, so I’m not sure that it’s necessarily better or worse than any of Nagai’s other horror flicks, though.
*Go Nagai’s Kowai Zone: Kaiki (永井豪のこわいゾーン怪鬼, 1989) and its sequel Kowai Zone 2: Senki (永井豪のこわいゾーン2 戦鬼, 1990) look promising as well. Both films were co-directed by Nagai, though the second may be more interesting due to the involvement of Eisei Amamoto and Bang Ippongi as actors and Kenji Kawai on the music.
Nagai also had a series of two unrelated direct-to-video horror films in 1992, under the banner Go Nagai no Horror Gekijo(永井豪のホラー劇場). Their titles are Mannequin (マネキン) and Kirikagami (霧加神). I don’t know much about them either, aside from their potential appeal to Nagai completists.
23. A Giant Monster Appears in Tokyo
(大怪獣東京に現わる, Daikaijuu Tokyo ni Awaru, 1998)
A postmodern kaiju flick predating Cloverfield and Demeking, this Shochiku movie tells about a giant lizard monster attacking Tokyo… from the perspective of the people watching it on the news in Fukui. Yes, this is an early entry into the kaiju parody boom, featuring familiar actors (e.g. Tomorowo Higuchi and Hirotaro Honda from the Heisei Gamera trilogy) and screenwriter Masaru Nakamura (Dragonhead, Dororo, Sukuyaki Western Django). It’s always neat to see a familiar genre tackled from a different angle, but it’s understandable that most translators have avoided this for the lack of actual giant monster screen time.
24. Slave Beast
(奴隷獣, Doreijuu, 2000)
Described by the box as featuring “nonstop monster horror”, Doreijuu gets mentioned frequently when folks make lists of obscure Japanese giant monster flicks, yet I have yet to hear an actual firsthand account from someone who’s seen it. It was only released on VHS and isn’t even on amazon.jp, but I’ve gotta say, a 10 meter spider-lady makes quite the sight. The director, Shuichi Kunigome, had previously worked special effects on a lot of cool stuff (Lady Battle Cop, Cyclops, Jiban, Hakaider, Kamen Riders Black, ZO, and J), but I’ve gotta admit that I haven’t heard of any of the other stuff he’s directed himself (the title Ninja Vixens doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence).
*For more monstrous ladies, there’s also Woman Transformation (妖怪奇談, Yokai Kidan, 2006) and Tokyo Species (TOKYOスピーシーズ, 2012), the somewhat lower-budget and HR Giger-less Japanese version of the 1995 American flick Species. These flicks don’t exactly look amazing, but there’s far worse on the market.
25. Reiko the Zombie Shop
(ゾンビ屋れい子, Zombie-ya Reiko, 2004)
The nasty comic about a competitive schoolgirl necromancer sort of flopped when it hit in the US (it does take a very strong stomach), but in Japan, Reiko the Zombie Shop proved popular enough to get a set of three direct-to-video films. They feature Rina Akiyama (Kamen Rider Den-Oh’s Naomi) in the lead, which I suppose is more of a draw than “from the mangaka of Big Tits Zombie 3D” , though not necessarily more informative.
26. Mirrorman Reflex
Mirrorman Reflex was one of a handful of dark ‘n gritty retakes of classic Tsuburaya characters done in the mid-2000s, coming between Ultraman the Next and Ultraseven X. It’s understandable that there wasn’t a huge movement to subtitle the three-episode video series (later edited into a movie) in English, since the 1971 show Mirrorman never got translated and most people in the west only know the character from Ultraman Zero’s Mirror Knight. That said, the Tsuburaya productions from the time (that have been translated) have all knocked it out of the park production-wise, leaving only this, Bio Planet Woo, and the tail end of Ultra Q Dark Fantasy without subtitles. If nothing else, completists should be intrigued.
*Speaking of 2000’s remakes of 1970’s superheroes, P-Productions’ Silver Kamen was reimagined as Die Silbermaske (シルバー假面, Silver Kamen) in 2006. It was reimagined as a period piece in the 1920s, and the main character is now female and non-giant.
27. Eko Eko Azarak R-page and B-page
(エコエコアザラクR-page/ B-page, 2006)
Media Blasters released the first three Eko Eko Azarak theatrical films, and they were fairly entertaining. Oddly, though, instead of continuing on to the duology of R-Page and B-Page, the next (and final) theatrical outings, their next release in the series will be direct-to-video The First Episode of Misa Kuroi from 2011. There are other video outings left to be released or even fansubbed (e.g. much of the TV series and the anime), but these two films are the only theatrically-released part of the franchise to receive no translation treatment. In these movies, teenage exorcist Misa is on the case of the demon Ezekiel, responsible for several seemingly mysterious deaths, and she has to team up with a journalist to solve the mystery.
(大怪獣映画 G, Daikaijuu Eiga G, 2007)
We mentioned this one in the Post-2004 kaiju podcast, but in case you didn’t hear, it’s an indy flick directed by Kiyotaka Taguchi for Daicon. It’s alright for the initial monster rampage, but really takes off with the monster vs. robot battle at the end. It’s low budget, sure, but fun ideas (e.g. train car nunchucks and rocket punches) keep it entertaining, and it’d probably rank near the top of the list of neglected tokusatsu movies in need of subtitles. At least it’s better than Deep Sea Monster Raiga (in my book, anyway).
29. Eight Ranger Now on DVD!
This sentai-inspired flick (from the director of 20th Century Boys, Taitei no Ken, and 2LDK) stars the boy band Kanjani Eight, who did a series of spoofs/skits at their concerts. A sequel is already in production for release in summer 2014, so I’m sure it’s doing something right.
30. Some movies from 2013 All three now on DVD!
Rather than pick a single flick from last year, here’s a bunch. Since these haven’t been out for a super long time, it’s possible that subtitled copies may manifest any day now, and they may still be doing licensing/film festival circuits in English-speaking markets (I’ve heard that a subtitled version of Gatchaman has actually shown on international flights). Nevertheless, unlike certain titles (e.g. Sadako 3D2, Garo: Dragon of the Blue Cries) that get fansubbed within a couple days of their Japanese DVD release, these have not been, but are the most likely to be fansubbed or licensed before the previous films on this list.
- The Tiger Mask (タイガーマスク, 2013) based on the wrestling hero classic character and starring Kitaro’s Eiji Wentz
- Gatchaman (ガッチャマン) based on Tatsunoko’s most iconic superhero group and starring Shinkenger’s Tori Matsuzaka
- 009-1 (ゼロゼロクノイチ, Zero Zero Kunoichi) based on the Shotaro Ishinomori series, directed by Koichi Sakamoto
So, that’s a list! Please let me know if any of these films actually are available subtitled in English (i.e. if we goofed), and leave any suggestions for other neglected “raw” movies in the comments! I’m also considering making lists of some worthy-but-untranslated manga, anime, and TV shows, if there’s interest in those as well. Also, sorry if the title sounds like clickbait; the jump is just because this is really long.