"There is so much writing in English on Japanese cinema that can't be accepted at face value — not because the writers are careless, but because the differences in culture and language are just too intricate. When I see August Ragone's name on a piece of writing, it gives me permission to place my faith in it completely. Among Japanese fantasy film historians, he's the best working in English." —Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

Saturday, April 6, 2013

2013 IS 1973: "ULTRAMAN TARO"
April 6, 1973 - April 5, 1974


Promotional poster for Panasonic's original DVD release from 2005.

ULTRAMAN TARO was not only the fourth sequel to the original ULTRAMAN (1966), but also was the third of three visual effects series produced in celebration of the 10th Anniversary of Tsuburaya Productions in 1973, and features the 6th member of what was to become the "Ultra Brothers." An elite membership of the Galactic Guard, the Ultra Brothers are each assigned different planets to watch over and protect throughout the cosmos — and our planet is no exception.

In this series, the Mother of Ultra creates Ultraman Taro, from the combined power of the Ultra Brothers and the lifeforce of Kotaro Higashi (Saburo Shinoda) — creating a hybrid being to defend the Earth against the strongest monsters ever seen. The most radical departure in the second wave of Ultra Series, starting with RETURN OF ULTRAMAN (1971), ULTRAMAN TARO was not only the most fantastical and outrageous in writing and execution (almost to the level of parody), but was also the most shockingly violent.

Underlining this were the outlandish monster designs and an off-kilter music score by Masanobu Higarashi (Silver Mask). TARO also flipped the Ultra Series on its ear with revealing the up-to-then-mysertious "Land of Light," their homeworld in the M78 Nebula, giving viewers a peek into a rather disappointing civilization (elevated in the manga by Mamoru Uchiyama). For all of it's eccentricities, TARO was the highest-rated series of the '70s, and remains one of the most popular characters in the "Ultra Family."

Thursday, April 4, 2013

2013 IS 1973: WHITE LION MASK『白獅子仮面』
April 4, 1973 - June 7, 1973

スカッと参上 白獅子仮面!

Riding in to save the day, it's not the Lone Ranger, that's for sure!

Set during the Kyoho Period of the Edo Era (1716-1735), the city of Edo (now Tokyo) is under the terror of Okami Kamen (Wolf Mask). Town Magistrate, Echisen Ooka, send his top man in the Kage Yoriki (Shadow Police), Hyoma Tsurugi (Kyotaka Mitsugi), to investigate. He unveils the evil pulling the strings of a Yokai army, Kaen Daimaoh (Infernal Devil), but is mortally wounded by the creature. Suddenly, another apparition appears, Shiro Jishi Kamen (White Lion Mask), who spares his life — and now Tsurugi must fight as the human form of this agent of righteousness to preserve justice!

Following on the hooves of P-Productions' THE VIGILANT LION MARU and Toei's TRANSFORMING NINJA ARASHI, WHITE LION MASK (Shiro Jishi Kamen) failed to find it's audience, running for a scant 13 episodes. For decades afterwards, the series all but disappeared from Japanese television and was never issued on Home Video (due to convoluted rights issues between various parties involved in the production). Then, in 2003, the rights were finally cleared and the short-lived series was finally issued on DVD, which is now, sadly, out of print.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

April 2, 1973 - September 24, 1973

ゾーンファイト・ パワー!

Eye-bleeding cover of a ZONE children's book (Shogakukan, 1973).

During the height of the Henshin Boom of the early 1970s, every network wanted their own superhero television series, and a number of studios were busy offering them proposals. One of the more conservative was Toho Co., Ltd., who had produced the popular RAINBOWMAN, THE WARRIOR OF PIETY the previous year, they also planned to capitalize on the phenomenon with the conception of GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973), which opened in cinemas on March 17th — featuring the very superheroic sidekick, Jet Jaguar.

Hot on it's heels, Toho and Mannensha Co. Ltd. unleashed ZONE, THE SHOOTING STAR MAN (shortened to ZONE FIGHTER for overseas sales) for the NTV (Nippon Television) network, with feature film monsters Godzilla, King Ghidorah, and Gigan appearing as guest stars (the Big G appears in five episodes). For 26 colorful and exciting episodes, Zone Fighter and his siblings sally forth against the vile alien forces of Garoga to protect their adopted home from destruction and bring peace to all mankind — with the help of Godzilla, of course!