Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection is a DVD collection, featuring three of Toho Studios’ sci-fi classics, Mothra, Battle in Outer Space, and the noirish The H-Man
Toho, the most famous of all Japanese movie studios, first made its name in the West for the extraordinary masterworks of Akira Kurosawa. But they really struck box office gold with the wildly colorful kaiju eiga (monster movies) that began in 1954 with the original GODZILLA (Gojira), the creation of director Ishiro Honda and special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya. Now for the first time on DVD — and in their original Tohoscope aspect ratios — Sony Pictures presents three Honda classics that display the enormous breadth of the Toho magic during its glory years. The H-Man, Battle in Outer Space and Mothra are presented in both their Japanese and U.S. versions. So travel back to the days before CGI, when special effects were real and the results were spectacular!
Here’s a treat for fans of classic ’60s science fiction from Japan: a trio of genuinely entertaining adventure-fantasies from Toho, the company that unleashed Godzilla upon an unsuspecting world. The giant lizard is nowhere to be found in this set, but his director of choice, the underappreciated Ishiro Honda, is at the helm for each of the films included here, and thanks to the inclusion of the original Japanese version of each picture along with the American re-edit, fans can finally see his true vision for each project. 1962’s Mothra is perhaps the best known of the trio–the spectacular monster-god moth was a staple in Godzilla’s exploits for over four decades, and its origin story retains all the city-wrecking excitement of the best Toho monster rallies, but with a level of humor and depth that wasn’t always present in their subsequent efforts.
Battle for Outer Space
1960’s Battle in Outer Space and 1958’s The H-Man may be familiar only to the most devoted Toho fans, but they both offer their respective pleasures to newcomers; Battle is a charmingly naive and pulpy alien invasion story driven by the impressive miniature work of Toho’s resident special effects wizard, Eiji Tsuburaya, while H-Man is a moody thriller that addresses the lingering aftereffects of the atomic bombing of Japan through its chief villain, an irradiated gangster whose touch dissolves his victims.
Tonally, it’s a far cry from the other titles in the collection, but its noirish vibe, unsettling violence, and catchy score (by Masaru Sato) should make it a terrific discovery for those only familiar with Toho’s monster movies.The Toho Collection spreads its features over three discs, which have been packaged in an unfortunate and potentially damaging arrangement that stacks all three discs on a single spindle; thankfully, the extras make up for this decision (and the unappealing cover art). Toho historians and authors Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski, who have contributed informative and thoughtful commentaries to Classic Media’s spate of Toho/Godzilla DVDs, deliver the same for Battle and Mothra; their contributions here not only include recorded interviews with members of the film’s cast and crew, but their passion for the projects and Honda’s work do much to dispel the decades of dismissive criticism.
Unfortunately, no commentary is present for H-Man (in its stead are trailers for other Sony collections). The quality of the restoration to both the American and Japanese versions of the films is also exceptional. –Paul Gaita