Discussing GODZILLA VS MEGALON
Steve Ryfle and Stuart Galbraith IV Detail their Efforts on the New Media Blasters DVD and Blu-ray
Author: Keith Aiken
A SciFi JAPAN EXCLUSIVE
After decades of low quality, unauthorized videos, Toho’s GODZILLA VS MEGALON (ゴジラ対メガロ, Gojira tai Megaro, 1973) will finally receive an official, licensed release on home video in North America this November 29th from Media Blasters. While Media Blasters has yet to reveal all of the details for their upcoming DVD and Blu-ray, MEGALON will feature the original Japanese version with 2.0 and 5.1 audio, the uncut English dub (never commercially available before in the US), plus extras such as a feature length audio commentary by film historians Steve Ryfle and Stuart Galbraith IV.
Both are familiar names to Japanese movie fans. Steve Ryfle authored the book Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star (1998) and contributed to the press kit for Rialto Pictures’ 50th anniversary release of the original GODZILLA. In 2005 he provided the audio commentary for the British Film Institute’s UK DVD of GODZILLA, and the following year supervised extra features for Classic Media’s Godzilla DVD collection. He also co-wrote and produced the original documentary BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE: The Art of Japanese Special Effects (included with Classic Media’s DVD set of RODAN and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS) and did commentaries for Sony’s 2009 DVD set ICONS OF SCI-FI: TOHO COLLECTION. Working with the family of the late director Ishiro Honda, Steve and Ed Godziszewski launched an English language version of the Ishiro Honda Official Site and are now researching a book about the filmmaker’s life and work.
Stuart is the author of several books, including Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! (1998), The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune (2002), The Toho Studios Story: A History and Complete Filmography (2008), and Japanese Cinema (2009). He has also provided DVD audio commentaries and liner note essays for such titles as 20th Century Fox’s TORA! TORA! TORA!, Criterion’s three-disc SEVEN SAMURAI DVD, BCI Eclipse’s THE QUIET DUEL, Classic Media’s Godzilla film INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER and AnimEigo’s TORA-SAN COLLECTOR’S SET.
Both Stuart and Steve were recently interviewed about their work on the GODZILLA VS MEGALON discs…
SciFi Japan: How did you get the assignment to work on the audio commentary and extra features for GODZILLA VS MEGALON?
Steve Ryfle: After Media Blasters announced it would release this film and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS on DVD and Blu-Ray, Ed Godziszewski and myself contacted the company and asked if we could submit a proposal to produce extras. Initially our only interest was in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS because we felt we had enough material for a commentary and Ed had enough ancillary material (images, trailers, etc.) in his collection to create a nice package of extras.
However, around that time I had a phone conversation with Stuart and he expressed interest in recording a commentary for MEGALON, and we talked about the unique place this film occupies in the history of the genre. And in addition to discussing the historical background to the film, we felt there was an opportunity to contact some of the people involved in the film— both in Japan and in the U.S.— who had never really been interviewed about MEGALON before. Neither one of us was really interested in going down the MST3K road and ridiculing the film. We wanted to discuss the film seriously, warts and all, and give it a fair treatment.
Stuart Galbraith IV: Steve and Media Blasters were focusing their energies, rightly so, on DESTROY ALL MONSTERS much more so than this title, but then Steve and I got to talking and, as I recall, I kind of made the case for MEGALON. It’s a pretty terrible movie, easily the worst all-around of the original 1954-75 series, and yet that was precisely what made it interesting. What happened? Why is it so bad? What were they thinking? We acknowledge its awfulness at the beginning, but quickly get past that and explore the hows and whys, which are actually quite fascinating, as is the movie’s unanticipated critical and commercial success in America.
Although I’m sure David Kalat will do a fine job with GODZILLA (1954), I was a little disappointed when everyone else at Criterion opted to refuse any input at all from people like Steve, Ed Godziszewski, and myself. On the other hand, Steve and Ed had already been there and done that— twice, in fact, doing a fantastic job both times— so while MEGALON hardly has that level of prestige, in some ways researching and deconstructing it turned out to be more interesting for us anyway. Personally, I’d rather explore a movie that hasn’t already been done to death.
SciFi Japan: While early Toho FX films like the original GODZILLA have been extensively researched and written about, both in Japan and the United States, there is comparatively little in-depth material on the movies produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Was it difficult tracking down information about the production of GODZILLA VS MEGALON?
Stuart: That’s true, it was “virgin territory” much more than I would have expected. In Japan, the period is discussed in the general sense— the lack of time and money, the overuse of stock footage, etc.— but film-specific? No, not much. I also think that past researchers, myself included, in not wanting to offend interview subjects, didn’t press too hard for specifics on movies like MEGALON. It was clear people like director Jun Fukuda and FX director Teruyoshi Nakano were embarrassed by them and would just as soon talk about something else.
Steve: Not much information was available from Japanese-language books and other publications. As you know there are a ton of Japanese books covering the Toho FX films and many of them are great sources of information, but there is almost nothing of substance about this film to be found. For instance, there is a mammoth hardcover book published in the early 1980s, which fans often refer to as the “Gold book,” which includes a chapter on GODZILLA VS. MEGALON but there’s not much to it— a plot synopsis, a vague reference to the Cannikin nuclear test in the Aleutian Islands in 1971 as the inspiration for the explosion in the film’s opening, and a few other background details.
Most everything we discuss about the film and its circumstances was learned through our own research, including the interviews we conducted (past and present), archival research, and some web research of course. I don’t speak or read Japanese, so I worked with Akemi Tosto, a translator and colleague who has assisted me on many projects list this, for help with some of the print and web material, and Stuart worked with Jenise Treuting. Both translators were of great help.
SciFi Japan: The film had a rather interesting genesis that you discuss during the commentary…
Steve: Without revealing too much here, the genesis was a monster design contest for kids that was held sometime in 1972, and the winning entry was a monster called Red Arone, designed by a Japanese elementary school student. The winner was announced on a television show for kids. Red Arone eventually morphed into Jet Jaguar. The film appears to have been rushed into production after a protracted development period during which Toho had trouble settling on a storyline, so if it appears to have been made up on the fly, that’s not far from the reality of it.
SciFi Japan: Steve lives near Los Angeles while Stuart is in Kyoto so, from a technical standpoint, how did the commentary come together? Did you each work separately and later edit the tracks together, or were you able to record both speakers at the same time?
Stuart: I’ve produced commentaries in the past where the interviewees were recorded weeks apart and everything was edited together later— THE HUSTLER, for instance. That’s good for some things. On the James Bond DVDs and Blu-rays, for instance, so many people are included it’s better to let everyone get their chance to talk, rather than try and corral ’em all in one room. In this case though, both Steve and I felt a real back-and-forth conversation about the film was important, and there was no way to make it work unless it was recorded live.
Thanks to digital recording technology, it was relatively easy for Steve to sync up two discrete tracks, one in L.A., the other here in Kyoto. Simultaneously, we were on Skype, so although we couldn’t see one another, otherwise it was almost like we were in the same room at the same time, even though we were really 5,700 miles apart. It was surprisingly simple to do, so much so it makes me wonder why no one ever thought of doing it this way before.
Steve: It was recorded live; the two of us were linked up via Skype and we recorded together. The exception is the Mel Maron segment, which we recorded in advance and edited into the track in an appropriate spot.
Also, unlike other commentaries I’ve worked on, this one was not entirely pre-scripted. In order to bring a little spontaneity to the proceedings, each of us decided in advance what topics we’d be ready to speak about but we prepared our notes separately and didn’t show them to one another. We wanted to surprise each other, to the extent possible.
SciFi Japan: Fans often like to hear production details provided by the filmmakers, and during this commentary you feature quotes from a number of people who worked on MEGALON. Were these quotes taken from Japanese sources or did you personally interview members of the cast and crew?
Stuart: Relatively little was derived from Japanese books and that sort of thing, though we did cull information from myriad sources. Steve and I each conducted new interviews. For instance, I contacted Teruyoshi Nakano, actors Katsuhiko Sasaki, Yutaka Hayashi and Wolf Otsuki, cinematographer Yuzuru Aizawa, and composer Riichiro Manabe, while Steve got in touch with Mel Maron and Ted Thomas. Plus we went back and looked at our own, earlier interviews with people who’ve since passed away, like director Fukuda and actor Robert Dunham.
Steve: I believe most all the quotes and other details are taken from our own interviews, both those conducted in the past and those specially conducted during the research for this commentary. Some information was derived from Katsuhiko Sasaki’s audio commentary on the Japanese DVD of this film, but not much. The one person we would have liked to interview, probably most of all, was Hiroyuki Kawase, the child actor who played Rokuro. We asked everybody we contacted if they knew his whereabouts, but struck out at every turn.
SciFi Japan: Director Jun Fukuda died in 2000 and actor Robert Dunham passed away in 2001, but you had interviewed both of them back in the 1990s, is that correct?
Stuart: That’s right, I met Mr. Fukuda in early 1996, and did an extensive telephone interview with Robert Dunham around that time as well, for my book Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo!
Steve: And I had interviewed Robert Dunham back in 1993 or ’94, and in fact he was the first person associated with this genre that I ever interviewed.
SciFi Japan: Was there any specific information they provided that you were able to incorporate into the commentary?
Stuart: From the old interviews, not much more than was already there, but from the new interviews, certainly. They make a number of surprising statements about the film that I won’t reveal here— fans of the film will have to listen to the commentary track to find out!
Steve: We actually did incorporate some information based on our previous interviews with Dunham, Nakano, and Fukuda as well. For instance, Dunham told me a story— which was published in my book, so I’m not giving anything away here— about wearing his toga and tiara costume on the Toho Studios lot during the shooting of the Seatopia scenes. He remembered having to each lunch in the commissary with the costume on, and other actors staring at him.
SciFi Japan: GODZILLA VS MEGALON had a surprising degree of exposure in America with a very successful theatrical release followed by a primetime premiere on network television. For a portion of the audio commentary you brought in Mel Maron, the former head of the movie’s US distributor, Cinema Shares. How did that interview come about, and did you enjoy doing the commentary with Mr Maron?
Steve: The idea to interview Mel Maron first occurred to me about two years ago when my friend Chris Poggiali, who runs the excellent blog Temple of Schlock, interviewed Mel about his pioneering days as a distributor of kung fu action films to television. When we got the greenlight to work on GODZILLA VS. MEGALON, I got in touch with Mel and he agreed to help. Mel was great, and his recollections help fill in a lot of gaps in the history of this film, as well as the history of the distribution of Godzilla films in the U.S. during the 1970s, because he distributed not only this film but also MONSTER ZERO, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND, and GODZILLA VS. THE COSMIC MONSTER.
SciFi Japan: Aside from the commentary, you also have a lengthy interview with voice actor Ted Thomas, who worked on the English dub of GODZILLA VS MEGALON and countless other movies. How did the interview come about, and why did you decide to make it a separate feature rather than part of the main audio commentary?
Steve: I had long wondered who possessed that rather unmistakable voice. In the past couple of years, Ted Thomas’ contributions as a dubbing actor have become more well known. When we got the gig to work on this disc, Thomas and Mel Maron were two people who immediately came to mind as potential guests on the commentary. Thomas has a blog, and his email address is posted there so it was very easy to contact him; when I first wrote to him, he responded within about 3 minutes! I called him on the phone about an hour later and he was so friendly and helpful; he agreed immediately to take part, though he didn’t remember working on GODZILLA VS. MEGALON at all— though that’s not surprising as he dubbed more films than he can remember.
I arranged to have Ted go to a recording studio in Hong Kong, where I interviewed him by telephone. (His session and mine were recorded simultaneously and later edited together, and in fact this was the inspiration for how I would later record the commentary with Stuart and myself). Ted’s interview was intended to be part of the commentary track but it was a long interview (the unedited version was over an hour) and in truth we really didn’t talk specifically about GODZILLA VS. MEGALON much at all. I felt that cutting it down to 10 minutes or less would not do Ted justice so I asked Media Blasters if it could be instead packaged as a stand-alone feature, and they agreed. It was done as an audio featurette with a slideshow, plus a few clips of footage from several films dubbed by Ted included for good measure. Ted gave us some nice photographs from his career, so it’s nice to put a face to that classic voice.
SciFi Japan: So, watching the film again, what are your thoughts?
Stuart: It’s a movie fully deserving of all of the scorn it receives, but it also has a certain goofy charm, and while it was the least popular of the original Godzilla movies, if not for MEGALON the series might have ground to a halt then and there and there might not have been new Godzilla movies in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and beyond. It exemplifies everything that was going wrong in the Japanese film industry at the time, so in its way it’s quite a fascinating little movie. Plus I think American viewers who’ve seen only public domain tapes and bootlegs will be very surprised by the Blu-ray edition especially.
For more information on Media Blasters’ Godzilla releases, please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- GODZILLA VS MEGALON Region 1 DVD/Blu-ray Rumors False
- Media Blasters Discusses DVD and Blu-ray Plans for DESTROY ALL MONSTERS and GODZILLA VS MEGALON
- Monster News Bites for June 21st
- DESTROY ALL MONSTERS Blu-ray and DVD Extras Announced!
- DESTROY ALL MONSTERS Blu-ray, DVD and CD Update
- Media Blasters DESTROY ALL MONSTERS Blu-ray, DVD and CD News