Last year, we put out an article discussing (okay, wildly speculating about) over 30 potentially interesting tokusatsu films that were (as far as we know) unavailable with any sort of English translation, either on official home video or fansub. Since then, it’s been one of the ‘blog’s most popular posts, but with the passage of time, it’s gradually growing out of date:
- Megabeast Empire and Hi no Tori fansubbed Ultraman Story
- Tiger Mask hit Malay DVD with English subs
- There was a subtitled broadcast of Eight Ranger on TV in the Philippines (actually, that was before the article, oops)
- Gatchaman and Night Head hit HK bootlegs
- 009-1: The End of the Beginning was licensed by Media Blasters. It also popped up on DVD in the UK and Australia.
And so, the translators wept, for they had no more worlds left to conquer.
Just kidding. There’re still plenty of intriguing Japanese special effects flicks out there that could use a dose of internationalization! To that end, we present: 15 more potentially-interesting, as-of-yet-unavailable-with-subtitles tokusatsu movies! This is more or less an addendum to the previous article, so the same format and caveats apply. Enjoy!
- The Rainbow Man
(虹男, Niji Otoko, 1949)
Not to be confused with the 1973 superhero series Warrior of Love Rainbowman, this kaijin-themed mystery thriller (with effects by a pre-Godzilla Eiji Tsuburaya) was one of Daiei’s early genre outings, before even Toumei Ningen Awaru. The movie’s gimmick was rainbow-colored inserts during the murder sequences of the black-and-white film, which admittedly may seems quaint by modern standards. It also sounds light on fantastic content (just a smidge of mad science), but apparently the title fiend was memorable enough to get a figurine produced by Iwakura as recently as 2005. Plus, y’know, since the movie has arguable bragging rights as the country’s first science fiction movie, it’d be good to have translated for academic purposes as well.
*While we’re on the topic of potentially confusing Daiei titles, there’s also The Spider Man (蜘蛛男, Kumo Otoko, 1958), based on one of the Kogoro Akechi mystery novels by Ranpo Edogawa. Not much of a major monster in this one (just some big-nose prosthetic), but a few of the production stills look very invocative of Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in terms of design.
- Claws of Iron
(鉄の爪, Tetsu no Tsume, 1951)
Another pre-Godzilla monster movie, Claws of Iron draws heavily on the Universal Monsters of the 1930s and 1940s, particularly The Wolf Man and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It does sort of put a few twists on the familiar territory of those entries, though: our split-personality villain is transformed by drinking alcohol, not a special potion, and the source of condition is being bitten by a gorilla! (So… a weregorilla, I guess?) I feel like this could go along well with other old-school, Universal/RKO-inspired kaijin horror flicks like The H-Man, Lady Vampire, and Black Cat Manor, though it really stands out for coming so relatively early in the Japanese monster movie landscape.
*Speaking of gorillas and creature features in the Hollywood mold, the 1955 pseudo-Tarzan flick Brooba (ブルーバ) features a man-in-suit gorilla-on-the-loose that’d fit right in with any of the western jungle flicks.
- The Akado Suzunosuke series
The name Akado Suzunosuke is probably most associated with its 1972 anime adaptation, a TV show on which soon-to-be-famous Isao Takahata, Osamu Dezaki, and Hayao Miyazaki cut their teeth. However, long before that, it was a seven-installment film series at Daiei, a movie franchise featuring a hero battling enemy monsters well in advance of their Gamera and Yokai cycles. Being a set of kid-friendly samurai adventures, I can understand why the franchise was too Japanese for the wave of dubbed movies brought to the US in the 1960s/70s (e.g. Prince of Space or Star Man), and too zany for the serious arthouse audience as well, but, frankly, it’s a shame that a movie series about a samurai hero fighting monsters is virtually unknown in the English tokusatsu community.
- Crazy Adventure
(大冒険, Daibouken, 1965)
I’ve heard that Crazy Adventure actually got a US theatrical release under the title Don’t Call Me a Con Man, and it makes occasional rounds in midnight movie/cult festivals. However, I have not been able to track down a copy, and it’s certainly never had a translated home video release, so I think it qualifies for this list. Starring Crazy Cats’ Hitoshi Ueki, Crazy Adventure is a screwball comedy involving secret Nazis (Hitler included!) living undercover in modern Japan. Eiji Tsuburaya did special effects work, and it shows up from time to time in Japanese guides to Toho’s SF lexicon, so the completist in me can’t help but be intrigued.
- Pink Lady’s Big Motion Picture
(ピンク・レディーの活動大写真, Pink Lady no Katsudoh Dai Shashin, 1978)
Also diving deep into the pool of obscure Toho special effects pictures, we come to Pink Lady’s Big Motion Picture. Pink Lady, as some Americans may remember from their short-lived variety show Pink Lady & Jeff, was a J-pop duo of some renown in the 70s, warranting their own film to showcase their act. So what’s this movie about? Technically, it’s about the band deciding what their movie should be about: the core narrative is an anthology of speculations about the premise of a potential Pink Lady cinema vehicle (how meta). Segments include a family drama, a western, and a monster movie (naturally), and like any good musician vanity project, the plots are structured so as to maximize opportunities for Pink Lady to insert their chart-topper hits (How can we work in the song “Invisible Man”? Have the duo turn invisible! But when can they sing “UFO”? Well, throw a spaceship into the movie as well!). While not a particularly well-remembered flick (usually omitted from Toho’s official tokusatsu movie lists), it’s a fun enough diversion by director Tom Kotani (The Last Dinosaur) with a special guest segment from none other than House‘s Nobuhiko Obayashi.
- Earth Defense Girl Iko-Chan
(地球防衛少女イコちゃん, Chikyuu Bouei Shoujo Iko-chan, 1987)
Minoru Kawasaki’s breakout hit, the Iko-chan direct-to-video franchise spawned manga, computer games, a TV drama, an eventual theatrical film, and some disturbing ero-guro fan art (be careful with image search, folks!). While Kawasaki’s comedies frequently leave something to be desired, it’s worth noting that this series did get some real talent involved, including Ultraman director Akio Jissoji, Tohru Narita (who did miniature work all the way back to the original Godzilla), and Big O creator Chiaki Konaka. I guess a lot of people want to see schoolgirls defend the planet from aliens, after all.
- Rex: A Dinosaur’s Story
(ＲＥＸ 恐竜物語, Rex Kyoryu Monogatari, 1993)
1993 was the year of dinosaurs in children’s entertainment: Jurassic Park, Zyuranger, Dinosaurs, Barney & Friends, and of course, the Prehysteria series, which featured modern children raising baby sauropods as pets. I guess Kadokawa got the same idea about the same time, because Rex: A Dinosaur’s Story materialized with a convergent premise. I haven’t seen the movie itself, but I will say that the stills of the baby T-Rex dressed as Santa Claus and posing with a little girl are absolutely adorable. Plus, it got a manga adaptation by CLAMP!
8. The Monster Commando series
(モンスター コマンド, 1995)
There were three half-hour movies in this series of direct-to-VHS releases, each starring a different pro-wrestler as a monster-battling armored heroine: Cutie Suzuki in Monster Commando Y, Mayumi Ozaki in Monster Commando M, and Hikari Fukuoka in Monster Commando H. I haven’t had the chance to view the films yet, but they appear to follow in the Zeiram mold of “hardass lady in armor fights various monsters” so it goes without saying that they look intriguing.
*A similar project from 1995 is the How To Kill Zombies (ハウ・トゥ・キル・ゾンビーズ) series, likewise 3 half-hour chapters with tough ladies in the lead. Being one of the entries on this list that I’ve actually seen, I can comment that the OV has pretty decent gore effects, decent martial arts, and plenty of casual fanservice. There’s certainly worse zombie titles on the translated DVD market.
- The Cat-Eyed Boy
(猫目小僧, Neko-me Kozo, 2006)
This adaptation of Kazuo Umezz’s classic children’s horror manga is one of director Noboru Iguchi’s earlier non-AV outings, from about the same time that he first appeared on the international cult movie radar with Sukeban Boy. It wasn’t Iguchi’s first Umezz adaptation: he’d previously directed an episode of Kazuo Umezz’s Horror Theater (available stateside), which is rather different from his signature style established shortly thereafter with the Tokyo Shock original Machine Girl. Since The Cat-Eyed Boy comes between, it may prove to be a missing link in Iguchi’s film evolution… but even just as a straight adaptation of Umezz’s comics, there’s plenty to be intrigued with. In a weird development, this is one case where the manga (not the anime) has become a minor cult hit in the US, though I’m not sure if that enthusiasm would translate to interest in the movie version as well. (Then again, maybe English-native Umezz fans vowed to stop watching movies after the Hollywood adaptation of Drifting School.)
- Cursed Songs: CHI-MANAKO
(哀憑歌 CHI-MANAKO, Aihyouka Chi Manako, 2008)
Whenever there’s a trilogy to which only two parts are available, it’s only natural to wonder about the third. Switchblade Pictures released the second and third installments of Yuichi Kanemaru’s Cursed Songs trilogy of horror flicks (Nu-Meri and Gun-Kyu), so it’s curious that the first (and from what I can tell most popular) wasn’t included as well. Not new enough, maybe? Too expensive? I guess we could just ask Section 23 about it, but isn’t it more fun to speculate?
- Jellyfish Eyes
(めめめのくらげ, Mememe no Kurage, 2013)
This movie, the directorial debut of artist Takashi Murakami, seems like a shoo-in for subtitled home video release: it premiered to much acclaim, toured cinemas in the US a little over a year ago, it even got a music video from Pharrell Williams. The little-kid-and-monster-friends motif has great appeal, as we can see in imports ranging from Gamera to Totoro, not to mention a plethora of American children’s movies. I hear more requests for information on Jellyfish Eyes than any other Japanese film, and I unfortunately have to respond with “Well, if you can do without subtitles, it IS out on DVD in Japan…”
- Gothic Lolita Battle Bear
(ヌイグルマーZ, Nuigulumar Z, 2013)
Noboru Iguchi’s new superheroine flick (based on the book by Kenji Ohtsuki) got a decent bit of hype among English-language cult movie and anime circles when it hit, but hasn’t seen an English version yet so far as I know. Stars Shoko “Shokotan” Nakagawa and Rina Takeda might go a little ways towards the commercial appeal of the picture in the west, but it’s ultimately down to how much weight the phrase “From the Director of Machine Girl” still carries. Or maybe pink teddy bears aren’t considered badass enough?
- Blue Demon
(青鬼, Ao Oni, 2014)
It’s incredible that a free amateur computer game for RPG Maker can gather a strong enough following to warrant a theatrical film, but Japanese media can be funny like that sometimes (e.g. the multiple Train Man projects adapted from a popular thread on 2chan). As a Japanese horror franchise, I can appreciate the title monsters in this eschewing the popular, traditional (and relatively easy) onryo design (which has been ubiquitous since JuOn) in favor of unique, original creations… in short, they’re some of the most iconic fiends to grace J-horror in quite a while.
- Earth Defense Widow
(地球防衛未亡人, Chikyuu Bouei Miboujin, 2014)
Western reactions to this kaiju-themed sex comedy have been pretty negative, and I can certainly admit that Minoru Kawasaki’s filmography can be a mixed bag, but you also have to admit that in general comedies don’t translate as well if you can’t tell what the characters are saying. Definitely a part of the cheap parody wave of kaiju eiga, but kaiju eiga none the less, plus a monster designed by Kia Asamiya, with a handful of cameos from name actors in the genre… I’d buy it, and would probably buy vinyl figurines of the associated kaiju as well.
*Speaking of Kawasaki’s kaiju output, there was also that Den-Ace video featuring Guilala. I haven’t seen it myself, but it certainly seems like something hardcore fans might be interested in.
(女子ーズ, Joshi-zu, 2014)
Jossy’s seemed like an obvious choice for tokusatsu fan-subbers: an all-female sentai parody from Yuichi Fukuda, who directed meme-spawning comedy hits like Hentai Kamen: Forbidden Super Hero, Blue Blazes, and The Hero Yoshihiko. The designs were done by Kazuhiko Shimamoto, who also did a one shot manga for the characters, plus a crossover between them and his own Hero Company manga.
So what gives? Looking through the film, it does seem awfully dialogue-heavy, which can certainly be an onerous deterrent for even skilled translators, and it’s possible that while Jiro Sato going on a long-winded rant was pretty funny in Yoshihiko, by this point the joke had begun to wear thin (humor is definitely subjective, especially across cultural lines). It’s also not quite as audacious as Fukuda’s other projects that have become big hits internationally (well, in the blogosphere, at least), but like many things, the simple lack of access might be the limiting factor to it really taking off.
Bonus: In the Hero
I’m not sure if a movie about tokusatsu qualifies as a tokusatsu movie, but this drama about rival suit actors (played by Kamen Rider Fourze‘s Sota Fukishi and Casshern‘s Toshiakai Karasawa) certainly seems like apt subject matter!
That’s a wrap, for now. As with last time, please feel free to point out any cool stuff that we missed, be it either titles that were left off the list, or subtitled releases of the ones that are on it! And of course, if you’ve seen any of these and want to share your opinions, we’re always curious.
Since it was quickly pointed out that there are fansubs out for Blue Demon, I thought I’d throw another title (well, three) onto this article, connected by similar a similar premise: getting behind the scenes of Ultraman. First is the 1989 TV movie, and bear in mind that I’m guessing a little on this translation, The Men Who Made Ultraman: Moonship in the Forest of Stars (ウルトラマンをつくった男たち 星の林に月の舟, Urutoraman o Tsukutta Otoko-tachi Hoshi no Hayashi ni Tsuki no Fune), which is a drama about the making of episodes 44 and 45 of the original Ultraman, based on Akio Jissoji’s autobiography. The idea must have had some support, since in 1993 there materialized two other films: Ultraseven that I Love (私が愛したウルトラセブン, Watashi ga Aishita Urutorasebun), about Ultraseven scribe Shinichi Ichikawa, and The Man Who Wanted to Be Ultraman (ウルトラマンになりたかった男, Urutoraman ni Naritakatta Otoko), about a suit actor getting a theme park gig.