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HONDA, INOSHIRO
(1911–1993). Japanese director.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Directed: Godzilla, King of the Monsters (and co-wrote with Takeo Murata; added American scenes directed by Terry Morse) (1955); Half Human (added American scenes directed by Kenneth G. Crane) (1955); Rodan (1956); The H-Man (1958); Varan the Unbelievable (1958); Attack of the Mushroom People [Matango, Fungus of Terror] (with Eiji Tsuburaya) (1959); The Mysterians (1959); Battle in Outer Space [The World of Space] (1959); The Human Vapor (1960); Gorath (1962); Mothra (1962); King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963); Dagora, the Space Monster (1963); Atragon (1964); Godzilla vs. the Thing [Godzilla vs. Mothra] (1964); Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1965); War of the Gargantuas (and co-wrote with Kaoru Mabuchi) (1965); Monster Zero (1966); Frankenstein Conquers the World (1966); King Kong Escapes (1968); Destroy All Monsters (and co-wrote with Mabuchi) (1969); Godzilla's Revenge (1969); Latitude Zero (1969); Yog-Monster from Space [The Space Amoeba] (1971); Terror of Mechagodzilla (1978).
 
Once, browsing through a book on Japanese cinema, I found that the index did not include the name of Inoshiro Honda. Of course; in a study of the subtle and complex tradition of Japanese films, one can hardly waste time on a man whose primary focus was filming scenes of men in ludicrous monster suits lumbering through scale models of Tokyo intercut with footage of bad actors reacting in horror and running. Yet this is the strange situation: virtually all of the masterpieces of Japanese cinema have been viewed by only a handful of Westerners, but Honda's monsters have attracted a worldwide audience and have spawned a vast subsidiary empire of toys, cartoons, and comic books. Clearly, the films of Inoshiro Honda must be examined as phenomena, if not as works of art.

Honda stands in the tradition of Georges MELIES, who believed that if you gave an audience fantastic spectacles and effects, it didn't matter if everything else—plot, characters, theme—was missing. Méliès's decline into obscurity seems to prove he was wrong; but time and again, years after his demise, filmmakers have been able to draw people into theaters by showing them marvels. Science fiction film critics are discomfited by this: they say things like "Science fiction film isn't, and shouldn't be, a genre of special effects," and they prove they mean it by going on to say things like "This is a boring and stupid film, even though it has good special effects." Yet they will also, without any sense of contradiction, offer judgments like "This film's thoughtful script and good acting are undermined by its shoddy special effects," revealing that they retain some childlike desire to see wonders on the screen and a feeling of betrayal when the proffered wonders are visibly inadequate. Of course, there is a false dichotomy here—there is no reason why films cannot have both good special effects and other virtues—yet if there is a choice to be made, most film producers, and most audiences, will opt for good special effects.

In the case of Honda, especially his later career, the films are both shoddy and have shoddy special effects; yet there remains an undeniable mythic power in watching enormous creatures reduce all human accomplishments and dreams to rubble. I often watched his films while growing up, and more recently have been watching them with my son as he grows up. Showing some rudimentary taste, he became at a young age especially fond of Mothra, surely Honda's most bizarre and evocative creation: a giant caterpillar, worshipped by a lost tribe of primitive islanders and inexplicably devoted to six-inch-tall singing twin women, who transforms, when the need arises, into a gigantic moth; then, if she falls in battle (as occurs on Godzilla vs. the Thing), she gives birth to new caterpillars to carry on the struggle. Here was a truly hallucinogenic vision, suggesting a plethora of mythological, sexual, and psychological undertones, even if their execution is less than polished. More recently, my son became obsessed with Godzilla films, endeavoring to collect all of them on video and happily memorizing the names and attributes of every giant creature in the Godzilla universe.

If one grows out of childlike fascination with such monsters, and is disinclined to explore their deeper meanings, there remains the reaction of laughter, which I do not regard as ignoble or inappropriate. I recall a college friend telling the charming story of how she and her rather distant father were somehow drawn closer together when they stayed up one night to giggle through Attack of the Mushroom People; in my case, it was Dagora, the Space Monster that reduced me to unstoppable, hysterical laughter, with its idiotic story line having something to do with jewel thieves who get mixed up with a flying, diamond-eating monster. I cannot shake the feeling that Edward D. WOOD, Jr. would be greatly upset if he could see people laughing at his films; but Honda wouldn't mind at all. His goal is simply to entertain, and he does not worry about how he entertains.

In a way, it is unfortunate that this sort of film—something to fascinate kids and amuse their parents—became Honda's specialty; for there are signs of grander ambitions in his earlier films. Thus, both The Mysterians and Gorath attempt to be serious treatments of the themes, respectively, of alien invasion and cosmic catastrophe, and Attack of the Mushroom People might be seen, by a charitable critic willing to overlook its manifest flaws, as an interesting reaction to Don SIEGEL's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, exploring people's simultaneous fear of and desire for a loss of personal identity. But the public wanted giant monsters, and aided by his partner in special effects, Eiji TSUBURAYA, that is what Honda gave them, with increasing inattentiveness to the quality of their films. After Godzilla vs. the Thing, his last halfway decent movie, he seemed to surrender to total inanity. While he cannot be held responsible for the films with his monsters that were directed by others, the most insufferable of which being Jun Fukuda's Son of Godzilla (1967), his own later films are not much better, like the "All-star" monster movie Destroy All Monsters, where a plethora of colorful monsters (mostly in reused footage from previous films) hardly compensates for the absence of a compelling, or even coherent, narrative. But even the worst of these films may offer oddly evocative moments, like the scene near the end of Terror of Mechagodzilla where Godzilla resolutely advances through an explosion-ravaged landscape to confront his robotic enemy, a creature once cast as a symbol of technology's destructive powers now cast as a representative of nature opposing that technology (though later close-ups of monsters applying wrestling holds to each other completely destroy the atmosphere).

And few filmmakers can claim the lasting impact of Honda: as he drifted into retirement, his colleagues continued to make increasingly dire Godzilla movies before an extended pause that ended with a new cycle of more expensive, and better, films: Godzilla vs. Biollante (Kazuki Omori 1989), in particular, stands out as a strange, haunting addition to the canon, with an overlay of feminine sensibilities reminiscent of the Mothra films. Then, after Hollywood spectacularly stumbled in its attempt to create a new, improved Godzilla, his old studio produced a new Godzilla movie in the classic tradition.

However, to finally defend Honda as a filmmaker, one must turn to the original film that introduced his greatest creation, Godzilla, King of the Monsters—a film that does not provoke laughter as it enacts its scenario of mass destruction with a grim inexorability that American predecessors like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (Eugene LOURIE 1953) cannot match. While I resist the temptation to see the movie solely as a parable about the evils of nuclear weapons—as it more generally comments on the fragility of humanity's hold on the world and the ever-present possibility of sudden and irreversible tragedy—it is still a film obviously and effectively informed and deepened by the experience of a nation that, unlike the United States, actually experienced grand urban catastrophe. The chance to see Honda's original version, unmarred by the awkward and superfluous footage of Raymond BURR added for American audiences, just might inspire some critics to discuss his work in their books on Japanese cinema.

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