GUALAGON: Japanese Monster, German-Style
Upcoming German Audio Drama is a Homage to Classic Japanese Kaiju Movies
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Sven Pyczak, Ralf Lorenz, The Gualagon Team
Offical Webste: Gualagon — Frankensteins Schreckengigant
Additional Material: Godzilla-Germany
Special Thanks to Avery Guerra
A SciFi JAPAN EXCLUSIVE
Japan 1966 – Gualagon threatens the world. A radio play about… a Japanese giant monster!
– tagline for GUALAGON- FRANKENSTEIN’S GIANT OF TERROR
For the past several years Japanese monster movies have been having a rather tough time. Films like GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (2004), GAMERA THE BRAVE (Chiisaki Yusha-tachi Gamera, 2006), and MONSTER X STRIKES BACK/ ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT! (Girara no Gyakushu / Samitto Kiki Ippatsu!) have failed to connect at the domestic box office, and the genre has been largely relegated to television and home video releases abroad. But, back in the 1950s and 60s, these pictures were enormously successful and routinely played in theaters all over the world.
In Germany, a group of fans who grew up watching the likes of Godzilla and Gamera have decided to honor those glory days of Japanese monsters with their own kaiju production; a German language audio drama entitled GUALAGON- FRANKENSTEIN’S GIANT OF TERROR (Gualagon- Frankenstein’s Schreckengigant).
In promotional materials for GUALAGON, the production group (known collectively as “the Gualagon Team”) explained that their idea was based on “the most beautiful films from the golden era of Japanese monster movies… It was during that time that most of the people involved in the project were introduced to the Godzilla movies. Those flicks usually played on Saturday or Sunday afternoons at the local cinemas in the kids matinee; and it was back then that we were first exposed to THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS [known in Germany as Frankenstein – Zweikampf der Giganten/ FRANKENSTEIN: DUEL OF THE GIANTS], the main source of inspiration for GUALAGON.”
“Therefore, the story takes place in the year 1966, when men were still men, women were still in the kitchen, monsters were still big and made from rubber, and the conquest of the galaxy by mankind was only a matter of time. An optimistic faith in progress and (from today’s viewpoint, antiquated) technology made this decade something special; everything really seemed to be possible at that time… including gigantic radioactive monsters from the sea.”
GUALAGON: The Story
In 1966, the freighter Asahi Maru struggles through a heavy storm just off the Japanese coast when something unfathomable happens and the ship is destroyed. The lone survivor insists that the shipwreck was caused by a huge kraken-like monster with fiery red eyes! As the crew of the Asahi Maru attempted to flee in lifeboats, the beast snatched the men up in its tentacles and devoured them.
Authorities wonder if the monster— called Gualagon— is an ancient beast from the dawn of time or a ghastly abomination spawned from atomic bomb testing. Looking for an answer, Professor Nicolas Tamblyn of the Serizawa Institute, a specialist in gigantism caused by radiation, examines the wreck of the Asahi Maru. He immediately recognizes that a tremendous danger threatens Japan.
The military quickly mobilizes in response to Tamblyn’s warning, and naval forces increase patrols along the coastline. The public anxiously waits to see if the military can put an end to this monstrous menace.
Meanwhile, reporters Keisuke Kusano and Isao Ogawa attempt to follow the trail of the monster and land a major story for their employer, Magazine of Fantastic Stories (Magazin für Phantastische Geschichten). They soon find themselves in mortal danger.
Panic breaks out when the monster comes ashore one night and attacks Osaka. Armored Divisions 11-19 and Squadrons 7-9 race to the defense, but their tanks, jet fighters, and missiles are powerless in the battle against Gualagon. The vibrant city of millions is reduced to ash and rubble by the marauding beast.
The people of Japan are in an uproar as the gigantic beast rises again and again from the sea, bringing death and destruction. Millions flee for their lives. As more ships and trains disappear, it soon becomes clear: Gualagon threatens the entire world!
Feverishly, Japan’s top scientists race to develop new super weapons that could halt the rampage of the giant horror of Frankenstein. Will the maser cannons destroy this spawn from hell?
This is the newest horror-shocker from Japan!
Destroying everything in its path!
Thrills like you’ve never heard before! Gualagon… the behemoth from the bottom of the sea!
Professor Nicolas Tamblyn (played by Rüdiger Schulzki)
Dr. Tamblyn is a specialist for radiation-induced gigantic growth working at the Serizawa Institute of Genetics. In his late 40s, he is a rather humorless, extremely serious person. Tamblyn came to Japan after World War II, married there, and became a Japanese citizen. He also works as an adviser to the government.
Keisuke Kusano (played by Rasmus Borowski)
Kusano is a reporter for Magazine of Fantastic Stories. In his mid-20s; he is sympathetic, intelligent, self-assured, and charming… which makes him very successful with women. Kusano is the best friend of Isao Ogawa and nephew of the well-known professor Nicolas Tamblyn.
Isao Ogawa (played by Monty Arnold)
Photographer for Magazine of Fantastic Stories. In his mid-20s, Ogawa is a nice guy, rather stocky, and incredibly good-natured. He has little luck with women but that has no effect on his sunny disposition. Ogawa sometimes comes across as a little bit naive, but he is anything but stupid. He is the best friend of Keisuke Kusano.
General Shimura (played by Konrad Halver)
Commander in Chief of the Japanese land and air self-defense troops. His strong figure is a marked contrast to his age (late 50s). Ambitious and demanding, he regards politicians and scientists as vain fools but does respect weapons inventors. He has a “shoot first, ask questions later” point of view and often ignores government orders. He considers his colleague Admiral Aoyama to be a soft lightweight.
Hiroshi Hirata (played by Peter Bieringer)
Assistant to Dr. Tamblyn. He comes across as sporty and dynamic but is actually a somewhat more brittle, serious type that until recently did not have much of a private life. Hirata is 37 years old and an orphan. He has a respectful friendship with Dr. Tamblyn, and recently became engaged to Tamblyn’s other assistant, Yumiko Ikeda.
Assistant to Dr. Tamblyn. She recently became engaged to Tamblyn’s other assistant, Hiroshi Hirata.
Editor in chief of Magazine of Fantastic Stories. In his early 30s, Amamaoto is very ambitious; the latest edition of the magazine means everything for him. He is demanding of the Fantastic Stories staff but is not unfair or unreasonable. He is convinced that his reporters live the high life at his expense. Deep in his heart he envies Keisuke Kusano’s dissolute lifestyle. Amamoto’s best friend is his pet tortoise.
The man who holds all government threads in his hand, the Prime Minister is in his mid-to-late 50s. In both voice and action, he is the kind of man who radiates maturity and dignity. He is very calm and quiet, but nonetheless captivating.
The Commander in Chief of the Japanese Naval Self-Defense troops, Aoyama is nearing his retirement. He is a rather pale, very quiet type who handles his loudmouth colleague General Shimura with an easy mockery.
Hayashi is a military scientist and a genius of weapons technology, in his late 40s but looks older. He is a somewhat cliché out-of-touch scientist.
The first mate of the freighter Asahi Maru.
The helmsman of the Asahi Maru. He dies in a naval hospital following his encounter with Gualagon.
Radio operator of the Asahi Maru.
A machinist on the Asahi Maru.
Another machinist on board the Asahi Maru.
Assistant officer to General Shimura.
A young woman from the fishing village.
Radio Announcer (played by Robert Kotulla)
The End (for now) of KONGULA and the Birth of GUALAGON
When news about GUALAGON- FRANKENSTEIN’S GIANT OF TERROR was first reported on English language websites there was much confusion about the exact nature of the project, with rumors suggesting everything from a film to a comic book series. On their website, the Gualagon Team cleared the air: “GUALAGON will be a radio play (although the term radio play is not quite appropriate since this will not be played on the radio; therefore we prefer the term ‘audio play’) and not a movie… Also there were reports that there will be a comic book, etc. for Gualagon. Neither a comic book nor other variations of the project are planned right now.”
It appears that some of the misunderstandings about GUALAGON stem from the project being produced by German independent filmmaker Ralf Lorenz. Lorenz is a longtime fan of science fiction movie makers such as Toho’s Godzilla series directors Ishiro Honda and Jun Fukuda, Bert I Gordon (THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, BEGINNING OF THE END, EMPIRE OF THE ANTS), Ib Melchior (THE ANGRY RED PLANET, REPTILICUS), and Antonio Margheriti (SPACEMEN, WILD WILD PLANET). In the mid-1990s he decided to make I WAS A TEENAGE KING KONG (Ich war ein jugendlicher King Kong), a lighthearted tribute to the monster movies he had loved as a child. Lorenz explained, “The film should become an eye-winking homage to the monster classics of the 50 and 60’s; especially the Japanese giant monster films.”
Lorenz eventually changed his film’s title to KONGULA- HORROR OF THE GIANT APE (Kongula – Affengigant des Grauens) and began to promote the project as the first giant monster movie to be made in Hamburg. In 2003, he shot and starred as the monster in a teaser trailer and a number of short film clips in the hopes of interesting investors and creative personnel into joining the project. But after numerous starts and stops, Lorenz was unable to get KONGULA off the ground. In October 2005 he put his plans for the movie on hold. Footage from KONGULA recently appeared in MONSTERLAND, a new feature length documentary by filmmaker and Godzilla fan Jörg Buttgereit (NECROMANTIK).
With KONGULA on the back shelf, Ralf Lorenz turned his focus on creating and producing an audio play based on Japanese monster movies. And this time he wanted to make sure that he would have a team behind him to ensure the completion of the project, starting with co-producer and head of public relations Sven Pyczak, Halver’s best friend and partner in the new audio play label “Triumph des Wahnsinns” (Triumph of Insanity). Pyczak recently told SciFi Japan that the goal of Triumph des Wahnsinns is “to couple unique and interesting stories with the best artists in the industry to create something that hopefully not only we, but also the fans, will appreciate.”
The name of the new creature (and title of the audio drama) was inspired by the bizarre 1967 Shochiku space monster movie THE X FROM OUTER SPACE, which was released in Germany as GUILA- FRANKENSTEIN’S DEVIL EGG (Guila – Frankensteins Teufelsei). “The name Gualagon is a homage to Guilala— one of my favorite kaiju,” Ralf Lorenz explained. “I love that oversized chicken from space— in fact the concept of this space monster is nearly as crazy as the idea of producing a Japanese monster film as an audio play. When I was thinking about a good name for our monster I toyed around with the name ‘Guila’ (they erased the second ‘la’ for the German movie poster) and soon ‘Guilagon’ emerged from the depths of my mind. A few days later I changed the ‘I’ from ‘Guila’ into an ‘A’ to make the name sound more unique.” [Note: Lorenz also wrote a retrospective of the Guilala films for the latest issue of the German monster magazine Pranke: Das Filmmagazin für Monsterfreaks.]
To direct GUALAGON, Lorenz and Pyczak selected one of the most influential people in the history of German audio dramas; director and actor Konrad Halver. From 1968-1972, Halver was one of the stars of Europa, the record label behind many of the most successful German dramas. He produced the first German radio play of Dracula and directed and starred in the popular WINNETOU series, which was based on the Native American adventure novels by best-selling author Karl May.
After leaving Europa, Halver continued the WINNETOU plays for the audio label PEG. He was named the most popular WINNETOU performer in a recent poll of Karl May fans, winning nearly 73% of votes. Halver also worked on the acclaimed children’s series MAXIFANT AND MINIFANT and the Hamburg-themed serial INSPECTOR DOBRANSKI. He currently runs Graceland Studios in Hamburg.
Sven Pyczak added, “We have Konrad Halver, living legend of German audio plays and an all around swell guy, whom we deeply love and respect. He will be doing the directing together with Marko Peter Bachmann, a new master director in his own right.”
“Also we feel very fortunate to have the broadly talented Matthias Lemcke aboard. He is not only responsible for the wonderful artwork on our webpage, but also for the overwhelming score he has composed for GUALAGON. There seems to be no end for his talents. Apart from that, he is a good guy to hang around with.”
Japanese Monsters Invade Germany
As previously noted, GUALAGON- FRANKENSTEIN’S GIANT OF TERROR is a tribute to classic Japanese monster movies. In Germany— as with most countries— the Japanese kaiju/science fiction boom kicked off with the release of Toho’s GODZILLA, which opened in theaters there in August 1956, barely four months after the film’s launch in America. GODZILLA was soon followed by GODZILLA RETURNS (Godzilla Kehrt Zuruck, a.k.a. GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN), THE FLYING MONSTERS FROM OSAKA (Die Fliegenden Monster von Osaka/RODAN), SPACE BEASTS (Weltraumbestien/THE MYSTERIANS) a.k.a. PHANTOM 7000, and THE HORROR SLINKS THROUGH TOKYO (Das Grauen schleicht durch Tokio/THE H-MAN).
These monster pictures proved popular with German audiences so distributors like Atrium Film and Constantin Film continued to import Toho productions including THE RETURN OF KING KONG (Die Rückkehr des King Kong/KING KONG VS GODZILLA), GODZILLA AND THE PREHISTORIC CATERPILLARS (Godzilla und die Urweltraupen/MOTHRA VS GODZILLA), X-3000 PHANTOMS VS GANGSTERS (X-3000 Fantome gegen Gangster/DOGORA THE SPACE MONSTER), and COMMAND FROM THE DARKNESS (Befehl aus dem Dunkel/MONSTER ZERO) as well as Daiei movies such as the misleadingly retitled GODZILLA, THE DRAGON FROM THE JUNGLE (Godzilla, der Drache aus dem Dschungel)— better known elsewhere as GAMERA VS BARUGON— and Nikkatsu’s GAPPA: INVASION OF THE FLYING BEASTS (Gappa – Invasion der fliegenden Bestien/GAPPA, THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTER). Even the Korean giant monster pic YONGGARY played in Germany, though the film was renamed GODZILLA’S DEATH PAW (Godzillas Todespranke) by distributor Cinerama.
On their official website, the creative team behind GUALAGON described the appeal of these films in their country: “Since the 1950s huge monsters from distant Japan have terrorized cinema screens. At first they were quite serious movie monsters in the tradition of King Kong but they later developed into bright and colorful, delightfully crazy ‘trash’ incarnations. But, whether they were played seriously or for laughs, the appearances of monstrous giants like Godzilla, Gamera, Guilala, Gappa and others always made for great fun. And the recent sold-out PRANKE Film Nights have also proven that the audiences of today still have just as much fun with these old films as we did as children at the Saturday afternoon matinees.”
“The fascination with this genre is somewhat confusing to the uninitiated; even the fans are divided in different groups. On the one hand, there are the serious advocates and ‘guardians of the faith’ in the dramatic values of these films… they insist that men raging around in rubber costumes across a miniature landscape is not inherently ridiculous, but can convey significant messages and philosophy. Then there are the ‘pure fun’ fans who consistently and completely believe that all of these movies are absolute nonsense of the most entertaining sort.”
“And then there are the people like us who know the films mainly from the cinemas of our youth. We are torn in half between nostalgic admiration and resounding laughter. We love the trash bombs like GUILALA as much as the serious GAMERA 3; we see the weaknesses in most of these movies and love them all the more for it. Did we ever really grow up…?”
Frankenstein’s Giant Hellspawn Demon Ape Horror Monsters
GUALAGON carries the subtitle of “FRANKENSTEIN’S GIANT OF TERROR” because, starting in the mid-1960s, many of the Japanese monster movies were released in Germany under the “Frankenstein” moniker.
Godzilla starred in the likes of FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTERS FROM THE SEA (Frankenstein und die Ungeheuer aus dem Meer/GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER), FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTERS HUNT GODZILLA’S SON (Frankensteins Monster Jagen Godzillas Sohn/SON OF GODZILLA), FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTERS FROM SPACE (Frankenstein und die Monster aus dem All/DESTROY ALL MONSTERS), FRANKENSTEIN’S FIGHT AGAINST THE DEVIL’S MONSTERS (Frankensteins Kampf gegen die Teufelsmonster/GODZILLA VS HEDORAH), and FRANKENSTEIN’S HELLSPAWN (Frankensteins Höllenbrut/GODZILLA VS GIGAN).
The Gamera films were released with titles such as GAMERA VS GAOS: FRANKENSTEIN’S FIGHT OF THE MONSTERS (Gamera gegen Gaos -Frankensteins Kampf der Ungeheuer/GAMERA VS GYAOS) and GAMERA VS JIGGAR: FRANKENSTEIN’S DEMON THREATENS THE WORLD (Gamera gegen Jiggar – Frankensteins Dämon bedroht die Welt/GAMERA VS JIGER).
And Toho’s KING KONG ESCAPES was called KING KONG- FRANKENSTEIN’S SON (King-Kong Frankensteins Sohn).
Many fans outside of Germany have long wondered what any of these films have to do with Frankenstein. The answer appears to be “nothing at all”.
According to the producers of GUALAGON, these bizarre and inaccurate titles can probably be explained by the extraordinary German box office success of Toho’s two official Frankenstein movies: FRANKENSTEIN, THE HORROR WITH AN APE FACE (Frankenstein – Der Schrecken mit dem Affengesicht, a.k.a. FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD) and FRANKENSTEIN: DUEL OF THE GIANTS (Frankenstein – Zweikampf der Giganten/THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS). Following those films, it became customary to associate the giant monster movies with Frankenstein because the publicity departments of Constantin Film and other distributors thought the pictures would sell better with that name in the title. In most cases the word “Frankenstein” was simply added during the dubbing process and was usually only mentioned once.
For GUALAGON, creator Ralf Lorenz explained, “I had the most trouble in finding a fitting ‘Frankensteinesque’ caption… but I think that ‘Frankenstein’s Schreckensgigant’ really captures the spirit of the crazy 60s/70s kaiju titles. For us German kaiju-fans who saw the movies in our local cinemas, these captions sound larger than life, which makes them hilarious at the same time.”
A “Film for the Ears”
In the United States the heyday of radio plays was the 1930s and 1940s, with such iconic and long-running programs as THE SHADOW (1930-1954), THE LONE RANGER (1933-1954), and THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1939-1947). Perhaps the most famous— or infamous— radio drama was Orson Welles’ 1938 adaptation of The War of the Worlds for MERCURY THEATRE ON THE AIR, which treated the material as a series of news bulletins and led to widespread panic that invaders from Mars had actually landed in New Jersey.
While the popularity of American radio dramas dwindled with the advent of television in the 1950s, it was at that time that the format took off in Germany. In those early days crime stories, westerns, and other low cost/public domain stories such as Grimm’s fairy tales were the main topics for German radio plays, but by the late 1960s science fiction stories like John Wyndham’s The Triffids were added in for good measure. Audio plays for children were also sold on vinyl records, and in the early 1970s sci-fi and tales of horror became especially popular with kids.
Unfortunately, the German boom in radio dramas ended in the 1980s. Sales and audience numbers plumetted so production, with very few exceptions, came to a grinding halt. This lull lasted until early 2000 when people again started to show interest in audio plays and audiobooks. This resurgence has convinced Ralf Lorenz and Sven Pyczak that the time had come to combine their fond childhood memories of Japanese monsters and radio dramas into GUALAGON – FRANKENSTEIN’S GIANT OF TERROR.
But GUALAGON will not be the first German-language radio play which honors Japanese giant monsters. In 2004, Jörg Buttgereit directed the WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk, aka West German Broadcasting) radio play FRANKENSTEIN IN HIROSHIMA. This radio drama was included as a bonus feature on Anolis Entertainment’s “Kaiju Classics” DVD of FRANKENSTEIN, THE HORROR WITH AN APE FACE.
According to the producers of GUALAGON, “The story of FRANKENSTEIN IN HIROSHIMA is best described as ‘FRANKENSTEIN, THE HORROR WITH AN APE FACE meets COMMAND FROM THE DARKNESS’. However, Jörg’s radio play differs in some points rather strongly from ours. On the one hand, early on he used audio clips from several original sequences in APE FACE, on the other the Japanese characters in the drama were played by real Japanese. Therefore, the acoustic impression is quite different from the good old dubbed versions. Also, the narrative technique strongly differs with GUALAGON because we are trying to create a ‘film for the ears’.”
While working on the script, Ralf Lorenz and Sven Pyczak strove to capture the feel of the Japanese monster movies of the 1960s as closely as possible, including the somewhat lighthearted tone of the dubbed versions of those films. They explained, “The director, radio play legend Konrad Halver, will bring to the Hamburg Graceland Studios an excellent, highly motivated cast on a hunt for the monster Gualagon. The sound of the monster’s tentacles, collapsing buildings, and the attacks of air and naval forces will cause your speakers to tremble! All of this will be accompanied by an orchestral soundtrack from the quill of Matthias Lemcke that follows closely in the footsteps of the legendary Godzilla composer, Akira Ifukube.”
Recording sessions for GUALAGON- FRANKENSTEIN’S GIANT OF TERROR were originally planned to take place at Graceland Studios in July and August of 2008, but various delays pushed the start date back to last November, then again to the summer of 2009. The production and the creative team were also hit by the unexpected passing of director Konrad Halver’s wife. “We have had a hard time keeping our chin up,” Sven Pyczak told SciFi Japan last October.
Despite the many hardships and heartbreaks, the Gualagon Team has continued to plug away at the project. The delays gave them additional time to revise the script (they reported that the story “got a thorough work over”) and create sound effects for the audio play. Matthias Lemcke has also completed GUALAGON’s musical score.
In addition, Konrad Halver directed a trailer for GUALAGON [see the top of this page] featuring the art and music of Matthias Lemcke and narration by Robert Kotulla. “[Robert] is a very talented actor and speaker who has a small but very important role as radio commentator in GUALAGON,” Sven Pyczak explained. “He has the rare talent in that he is able to sound exactly like the announcers from the 1960s trailers.” The trailer will soon be available for download from the official GUALAGON website, free of charge.
While a release date has not been set, the creative team reports that “We are well into production” and everything is going smoothly. The process of selecting the voice actors is nearly complete. The producers of GUALAGON have not revealed the entire cast because some contract negotiations are still ongoing, but did state “Our main characters, the mystery reporters Isao Ogawa and Keisuke Kusano, now have voices. Monty Arnold is Isao and Rasmus Borowski lends his voice for Keisuke.” In addition to Arnold and Borowski, actors Rüdiger Schulzki (playing Professor Nicolas Tamblyn) and Peter Bieringer (Hiroshi Hirata) join the previously announced Konrad Halver (General Shimura) and Robert Kotulla (as the radio announcer).
Responding to recent inquiries into the running time of GUALAGON- FRANKENSTEIN’S GIANT OF TERROR, Pyczak chuckled. “That´s a good one. To be honest, we can´t tell you anything about the running time yet because, until the final post production is done, we won’t know ourselves. We are aiming for up to 80 minutes since a TV program over here runs about 45 minutes, which would be much too short for the kind of story we want to tell. So yeah, it will be feature length.”
On the official website, the Gualagon Team discussed the possibilities of doing an English language version of GUALAGON: “Of course we would love to do all those things, but at the moment our tight budget will not permit us to do so… We are very fond of the kaiju genre. This project will cost us all of our meager savings, so we are especially grateful for all the support that fans have given our project so far and hopefully will continue to do so in the future.”
“However, we are considering to release the soundtrack separately, including an English booklet, if there is enough demand for it. So send us an e-mail at email@example.com and let us know what you think.”
In closing, Ralf Lorenz adds, “As to whether we will do more with the story/character, only one thing is certain: There will be a part 2 of GUALAGON!”
GUALAGON – FRANKENSTEIN’S GIANT OF TERROR
Production and direction: Konrad Halver, Marko Peter Bachmann (Graceland Studios, Hamburg)
Co-production: Sven Pyczak, Ralf Lorenz (Triumph des Wahnsinns)
Music: Matthias Lemcke
Idea and story: Ralf Lorenz
Technology: Marko Peter Bachmann (Multicore Productions Hamburg)
Visual concept and CGI art: Matthias Lemcke
Concept and art direction: Ralf Lorenz