A previously unknown and unsuspected Japanese giant monster film has just come to light — one that resonates backwards right to the start of the daikaiju eiga tradition. What is it? You’ll have to read on to find out.
In the history of giant monster cinema, the Japanese take on it — called daikaiju [or kaiju] eiga — looms very large indeed. At its genesis, and occupying a sizeable part of its growth and continuity, lies Gojira, or Godzilla as the “King of Monsters” came to be known. The original Gojira was made by Ishirô Honda in 1954 and its phenomenal success led to a franchise that has not only produced 28 official films featuring the atomic giant (plus one made in America), but its central aesthetic morphed into a tradition of super-monster film metaphysics that appears throughout Japanese cinema and television, most notably in the many Ultraman TV shows and movies. Godzilla himself remains — along with King Kong — the most iconic of giant monsters worldwide. Everyone knows him.
But Gojira was inspired by two other films that preceded it. One was Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s 1933 giant ape film King Kong, which was re-released in 1954 and attracted big business both in the States and in Japan. Toho executive and eventual Gojira producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was keen to take advantage of the popularity of the Great Ape’s re-appearance, but it wasn’t until Eugène Lourié’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms hit it big at the US box-office in 1953 that Tanaka decided to take elements of that film and run with them. Then, once Honda was given the job of directing “The Giant Monster From 20,000 Miles Beneath the Sea” (working title), it quickly became Gojira and began to develop its own unique qualities.
But what is important for us here is the story that inspired The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms — at least partially. It was a short story called “The Fog Horn”, written by great science fiction fantasist Ray Bradbury and first published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1951. Wikipedia describes the intricate relationship between the film and the story thus:
The original title of the story was The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. It was published in The Saturday Evening Post. Meanwhile a film with similar theme of prehistoric sea monster was being shot under the shooting title of Monster from Beneath the Sea. Later producers, who wished to share Bradbury’s reputation and popularity, bought the rights to Bradbury’s story and changed the film’s title. Bradbury then changed the title of his story to The Fog Horn. The monster of the film was based on the illustration in The Saturday Evening Post.
Here is a synopsis:
Johnny has been working with McDunn at the old lighthouse for the past three months. The lighthouse is situated on a rock 2 miles out to sea, and Johnny is looking forward to “shore leave” the following day. That night, McDunn tells him about a huge sea creature that comes to the lighthouse every year to cry out at the fog horn [mistaking it for the cry of its own kind]… and tonight is that night! The two make their way to the top of the tower and watch as the monster ascends and begins its yearly ritual. Very fascinating indeed, but when McDunn turns off the fog horn the monster shows its true, primitive nature! (bestsciencefictionstories.com)
One less direct connection between the film and the story is the claim by Bradbury that the original idea was inspired by the ruins of a demolished roller coaster he saw on a Los Angeles-area beach, which suggested a dinosaur’s skeleton to him. The movie version ends in Coney Island amid the ruins of the roller coaster there. But the only real connection between the story and the film’s narrative is the rise of the monster from the sea and its coming ashore at a lighthouse, which it destroys. It’s a brief moment within the film, but a powerfully effective one.
The Fog Horn’s Fate
Until now, Bradbury’s important story — which indirectly led to Godzilla and all that followed for the giant monster genre — has never been accurately filmed, not as such. In the mid-2000s, to remedy this oversight, Japanese director Daisuke “Daice” Sato and his crew from the Replica Co. Ltd production studio took Bradbury’s story “The Fog Horn” as the basis of a short experimental film — a project completed in 2007. The film, however, has never been released. A trailer for it recently surfaced on YouTube and now, thanks to Kaiju Search-Robot Avery, there is a chance that it will emerge from its self-imposed obscurity.
The Fog Horn (Japan-2007; short [20 min.]; dir. Daisuke Sato)
Detailed cast and crew list:
- Cast: ‘Macdan’: Tomonobu Okano (Masked Rider Den-o, Yuuto Sakurai) / ‘Johnny’: Tetuya Inagawa
- Director/ script/ camera: Daisuke Sato
- Lighting: Tadashi Thagi
- Special Effects: Daisuke Sato/ Kaz Oiti
- Model Maker: Tomohiro Matumoto/ Daisuke Sato
- Studio: Replica Co. Ltd.
The film came about when Mr Sato and his crew were working on the costumes and the suitmation designs for Gojira: Fainaru uozu [trans. Godzilla: Final Wars] (2004; dir. Ryuhei Kitamura) and Gamera: Chiisaka yusha-tachi [aka Gamera the Brave; Gamera: Little Braves] (2006; dir. Ryuta Tazaki). “We made The Fog Horn as a demonstration of our technical skills,” Mr Sato commented. “It has not been released, not even in Japan. There is actually a problem with the copyright of the original, and so that is why we haven’t yet released it to the public. But if there is enough demand for it and a lot of people want to see it, then we’ll definitely release it. If we do, it will be as a DVD or online.” He added that he would definitely add English subtitles for international viewers.
The film’s fate now seems dependent on how much interest giant monster fans can demonstrate. Mr Sato says he will only release the film if there is a demand for it.
Making The Film
By shooting in black-and-white and giving it a slightly degraded look, Mr Sato intended that The Fog Horn would mimic the sort of unrestored appearance of an old ’50s monster film — as a respectful tribute to The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and its place in the daikaiju heritage. It is an aesthetic we’re all familiar with, and one that resonates strongly.
Daisuke Sato has had considerable experience in the genre, with credits that include Godzilla Final Wars (monster suit, see images 1 and 2 below)), Gamera the Brave (monster suit), Lion Maru G (props), Ultraman Mebius and Ultraman Brothers (Invader GUTS suit), Ultraman Max (Geronga suit, see image 3 below), Exexion (Europe suit, see image 4 below), Gransazer (props) and Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack! (props). Similarly, modelmakers Tomohiro Matumoto and Kaz Oiti have worked on Mirror Man Reflex (Hero suit and monster suit), Shinkaijû Raiga [aka Deep Sea Monster Raiga] (monster suit), Justirazer (Hero suit and mechanical work), Ultraman Mebius and Ultraman Brothers (Invader Knuckle) and Gohongers (monster suit).
Mr Sato states that he has always loved daikaiju eiga, coming to the realisation that he wanted to work on films at age 15. He attended and graduated from a school of art in Japan, and was 20 years old when he started on his first film. He came to work with Replica Co. Ltd., which is run by “the great Takashi Ogami”, in 2004.
After naming Eiji Tsuburaya, Shinji Higuchi (the Heisei Gamera trilogy; Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack; Casshern; The Princess Blade; the Evangelion re-build) and Tomoo Haraguchi (Sakuya: Slayer of Demons; Gamera: Guardian of the Universe; Gamera 2: Advent of Legion; Uzumaki) as major influences and idols, Mr Sato also confessed to a particular passion for Ray Bradbury’s work.
“I decided to film ‘The Fog Horn’ partly because of its connection with Gojira and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,” he said, “but the main reason is that it has been my favourite of Ray Bradbury’s writings for a long time. Ray Bradbury’s fiction is very poetic. ‘The Fog Horn’ impressed many Japanese people, and of course me, too, because of the enchantment he brings to it, evoking the tragic agonising of the monster and giving it a profound poetic quality.”
On the subject of whether he was working on any new films right now, director Sato was understandably reserved. “Ha! Sorry,” he said. “I can’t tell you about that.” On the possibility of working on further giant monster films, however, he was willing to admit: “I do have a plan to do another, but I think first I’ll direct a concept movie. That’s all I can say about it for now.”
Meanwhile, though Mr Sato’s “The Fog Horn” doesn’t contain traditional daikaiju eiga tropes, such as city destruction and monster-vs-monster wrestling matches, it does represent the first accurate rendition of a story that holds primary historical significance for the genre. As such, Undead Backbrain thinks it should be made available and hopes that our revelation of its existence will spur fans on to express their enthusiasm for it, too. We want to see in action the monster that Mr Sato refers to only as “the sea-monster”. From the trailer and the images the director kindly provided, it well may be that Daisuke Sato and his crew have captured in its 20-minute running time all the lyricism, poignancy and spectacle that lies at the heart of Bradbury’s original story.
So this is your big chance. Kaiju Search-Robot Avery’s enthusiasm has convinced Mr Sato to consider looking at ways of releasing the film. He will be watching to see how much interest exists in his little homage to the beginnings of daikaiju eiga. So if you want to see it, with English subtitles, leave a comment below and say so. Help save The Fog Horn from becoming a lost opportunity, like those Japanese King Kong films from the 1930s we know about but will never see.
- Source: Thanks to Daisuke Sato. Big Kudos to Avery Battles for not only discovering that The Fog Horn exists, but for getting in contact with Mr Sato and interviewing him.
Gallery (including more images of work by Replica Co. Ltd. as well as screenshots and behind-the-scenes for The Fog Horn):