The Godzilla Cineaste began as a hobby project ca. 2004. The cineaste himself was in high school at the time and was teaching himself HTML and CSS on the fly. The website's purpose was to serve as a repository for all the useless information the cineaste had collected about the Godzilla film series over a lifetime of being an avid fan. The project was in development for roughly 2 years under the title Godzilla Universes before being hosted under the title The Godzilla Database. Every individual page was hand-coded because the cineaste hadn't taught himself about web frameworks, databases or server-side processing yet. Although when he did his little brain promptly exploded and the website (which had been renamed The Godzilla Cineaste to match the domain name his dad purchased) was taken down pending a rewrite. The cineaste did not think much of this because the website was woefully incomplete when it was hosted anyway, but after 4 years of an "under construction" banner squatting on his landing page he began to feel pretty bad about it. Attempts were made to rewrite the page using Django and Rails but due to other demands on the cineaste's time (such as his real life grown up job and his then-girlfriend-now-spouse), these efforts never became fruitful.
Development of the current iteration of The Godzilla Cineaste began in earnest in 2016 using the Play framework with a Neo4j backend. This was later swapped out wholesale for the Phoenix framework with a PostgreSQL backend because relational databases rock and so does Elixir (and also partly to spite certain reactive manifesto fanatics the cineaste happened to be working with at the time). This is the version of the site that relaunched in the fall of 2016, and although it was not complete by any means (there's a ton of information to collect and format for display), it looked pretty and it didn't have any holes or broken links like the last version did, and that suited the cineaste just fine. In summer of 2018 the cineaste embarked on version 2.0 of the site, which mainly entailed under-the-hood changes to the code coupled with some modest cosmetic improvements (especially on the mobile version of the site), and was published about a year later in spring of 2019.
The cineaste works as a software developer and avid movie collector living in the greater Nashville area with his small (but growing) family.
My instinctive answer is, "I go for the films that interest me." If you're not satisfied by that answer, I'll try to lay down some guidelines that I've used in the past when obtaining/researching films.
For starters, this site has sprouted out of a childhood fascination in kaiju films, specifically the Godzilla series. This is reflected in the name "The Godzilla Cineaste." When initially designing this site, I started with just the films in the Godzilla series, and then expanded it to include all of Toho's classic sci-fi films, especially those made by Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya.
I was hesitant to branch out into other films until I watched the Death Note films for the first time. I picked them up on a whim because I was a fan of Shusuke Kaneko's Gamera films and I was curious to see how these films played out. Well, anyone who's seen Death Note can attest to how great is is, and it led me to pursue more films released "post-Godzilla."
If you've read Stuart Galbraith's fantastic book Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! you know that the author gathered interviews from a wide variety of actors and directors from both inside and outside the kaiju genre in order to paint a more complete picture of the Japanese filmscape and how kaiju films fit into it. You could say that I was struck with a similar purpose in expanding the site to include more movies of a wider variety.
To prevent the site's content from spiraling out of control, I've instituted a set of rules to determine if a film should be included for display here:
- Obviously, it must be Japanese. Specifically, produced by a Japanese film company or with a Japanese director and crew. Mamoru Oshii's Avalon qualifies because although it was filmed in Poland with a Polish cast, it was produced by a Japanese studio.
- Only feature length, theatrical releases. No made-for-TV movies. "Feature length" for a Japanese film, especially from the 60s and 70s, usually means about 90 minutes. The shortest films can be a little as 70 minutes.
- Typically only live-action films are considered. Apart from the sheer volume of Japanese animated works, there are other caveats of note (which I discuss elsewhere) that preempt me from covering animated films on this site. Exceptions are made for animated films by directors whose output is primarily live-action (Mamoru Oshii, Shinsuke Sato, etc.) and for the Studio Ghibli catalog.
- If a film does not fall strictly within the genre of sci-fi/fantasy, the meta-genre under which kaiju eiga lies, the film must have a logical connection to the genre, such as through the director. For example, Takashi Yamazaki is known for directing several sci-fi films (Returner, Space Battleship Yamato, the Parasyte films, etc.) and so it makes sense to include his other films such as the Always trilogy, Ballad, etc.
Admittedly, I often play fast and loose with that last rule. This is where, as I said before, I may deviate from these rules by pursuing films for no reason other than that they interest me. However, my tastes rarely fall outside of sci-fi/fantasy, so there is a generally homogeneous flavor to the film selection.
Firstly, the volume of animated works produced in Japan is such that I would never hope to provide even a rudimentary overview of that film format. Constraints on my time and budget prohibit me from even attempting this.
Secondly, feature length animated films in Japan are not always planned as such. The OVA format, a substantial direct-to-video release, can be recombined with other OVAs in a series to produce a feature length film. Individual episodes of a long running anime may also be strung together to produce a feature length film for theatrical or home video distribution or rerelease. (This is the case with certain live-action television series as well.) I've mentioned earlier my rule to restrict my film selection to theatrically released films, but the ambiguity of an anime film's origins makes categorization more complicated.
Thirdly, one of the chief reasons I'm more of a film buff than a TV/anime buff is I prefer the film format for delivering a story. I feel that when you go into a movie, everything you need to understand the plot should be provided to you in that format (unless the whole purpose of the film is to not be understood, which is sometimes the case). The trouble with anime films is that they more often than not require you to have invested in the original series run beforehand in order to know the setting and the characters. In this case the film is less a standalone affair and more an elongated TV episode with higher production values. For this reason, I can't cover anime films on my site without also covering the series from which it spawned, which brings me back to the whole time/money investment thing.
Certain live-action films have this difficulty as well. Toya Sato's Gokusen: The Movie is more or less the series capper for the TV series of the same name, and makes specific references to characters and events from the series, indicating that the audience ought to already be familiar with the series before watching the movie.
Firstly, because a "synopsis" by definition implies a "brief" and "general" description of a work. Aside from the bare essentials, no further detail is demanded.
Secondly, although I could write complete plot descriptions that account for every little detail in each film (which I have tried to do before now), it would be overloading all the normal readers (i.e., the ones that aren't nerds) with information that they couldn't appreciate without having already drunk deeply from the well of kaiju-dom.
Thirdly, although spoiler alerts apply for all synopses, by omitting extraneous details I leave room for prospective viewers to enjoy the experience of watching a new film without a verbatim play-by-play to direct their expectations (and by omitting certain key plot details, they can be surprised by the film as well).
No. But I can tell you where to look.
Obviously for any film with a North American release (Region 1 DVD or Region A Blu-Ray), Amazon is your number one bet. There are many studios and labels that have worked to bring Japanese films to the United States (see the acknowledgements section on this page), and most of their releases are still available on Amazon. Some have fallen out of print, so the prices are going up, but they're still easily identifiable and they're genuine.
For films which have not been released in North America, you're obviously going to have to dig deeper in the bowels of the internet to find anything. "Dumpster diving on eBay" is an effective tactic of mine, although you're never guaranteed a legitimate product; more often than not you'll either receive a bootleg sourced from an official Asian release (with region encoding removed and English subtitles added) or somebody's homemade POS ripped from a flash player on the internet. Unless you get the official Thai release of anything, in which case it's automatically guaranteed to be a POS. Just sayin'.
If you want to take your chances with eBay, do so at your own risk. I admit, there are some out-of-print films that you can only find in bootlegged form, and some films that haven't seen North American release are widely advertised and sold on eBay in more or less bootlegged form (something screwy about copyright on films that haven't been licensed in North America or something). However, if you are of upstanding moral fiber and want to invest in higher quality products there is always YesAsia.com. YesAsia sells legitimate Asian versions of popular movies straight from the source. The product pages will even tell you if a movie is available in a particular region, comes with or without subtitles in which languages, etc. They have a good selection of newer titles and they deal in US currency and PayPal. An important tip: don't feel like you have to get the Japanese version of anything. Those versions are typically very expensive and have no subtitles. If you have the option, go with the Hong Kong versions; they are more affordable and often come with English subtitles.
If you have a computer, DVD region encoding shouldn't be an issue for you. The VLC player will allow you to start up a DVD, menus and all, no matter what region it is. If you want to watch your Asian films on your TV, you may have to invest in a region-free DVD/Blu-Ray player. Blu-Ray encoding is tricker to get around, but if you go with the Hong Kong releases it shouldn't matter: North America and Hong Kong are in the same Blu-Ray region (Region A).
One final warning: not all subtitles are equal. It may take some bad experiences to recognize which sources or which Asian labels are any good at having correctly spelled, grammatically correct English subtitles, but that's part of the risk of buying a foreign product.
The cineaste would like to pay tribute to the pioneering Godzilla fan websites that provided him with vital useless information during his formative years.
- Gojira Stomp
- Tokyo Monsters (James Ballard, if you're reading this, I haven't forgiven you for that awful April Fools joke you guys played on us)
- Kaiju HQ (I miss the Monster Island Funnies...)
- Barry's Temple of Godzilla (This is still up and it looks exactly the same as it did 15 years ago)
- Toho Kingdom (The pinnacle of useless information)
- Stomp Tokyo (Some of the funniest and most accurate film reviews on the web)
- Godzilla Tower
- Rodan's Roost
- Monster Zero News (now SciFi Japan)
- Godzilla and Other Monster Music (Because the cineaste is also a rabid audiophile)
Other websites that were invaluable sources of useless and unuseless information while conducting research for this website include but are not limited to:
- The Japanese Movie Database
- Toho's Official Film Library
- Kadokawa's Official Film Library (including old Daiei films in its portfolio)
- Midnight Eye (Defunct, but their archives are still up)
- Vantage Point Interviews (especially for their interview with Linda Miller)
- Japanese Wikipedia (because I can be lazy in two languages)
- KaijuCast (especially their documentary Hail to the King)
It would be remiss of the cineaste at this point not to express thanks to the creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for exposing me from the earliest age to Godzilla and Gamera, albeit in a format the cineaste was too young to appreciate at the time. Keep circulating the tapes.
Although there are several books written about Japanese films and about Japanese science fiction films specifically, the cineaste benefitted greatly from two books in particular: The Official Godzilla Compendium by J.D. Lees and Marc Cerasini, and Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! by Stuart Galbraith IV.
The cineaste would like to call out a number of studios and media labels for their work in making the vast majority of my film catalog available in the United States:
- Columbia/TriStar/Sony Pictures (Heisei and Millennium Godzilla films)
- Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters (Classic Toho Sci-Fi, plus a bunch of edgy stuff)
- Classic Media (Certain Showa Godzilla films, especially their second go-round with terrific special features, now owned by DreamWorks)
- The Criterion Collection (The original Godzilla film, Kurosawa, the Samurai Trilogy, a few others...)
- Viz Pictures/New People (K-20, 20th Century Boys, Death Note, Gantz, although their output has kinda dried up...)
- Funimation (Goemon, Attack on Titan, and all the anime you can eat)
- ADV Films (Shusuke Kaneko's Gamera films, Pyrokinesis, Parasite Eve, they're now Section23 and they mostly deal with anime)
- Mill Creek Entertainment (All the Gamera films on Blu-Ray, plus the Daimajin films)
- Kraken Releasing (Some choice Godzilla films on Blu-Ray, but just the international versions, a subsidiary of Section23)
- Shout Factory (Had the first go at the Showa Gamera films before they were picked up by Mill Creek, had a brief window when they held the rights to both Gamera and MST3K so we got a great MST3K vs. Gamera box set)
- Arrow Films (Blu-Ray sets for One Missed Call, Ring, and Bloodthirsty Trilogy series, plus a giant Gamera box set that went out of print real fast...)
The cineaste is indebted to YesAsia for providing genuine, legitimate Japanese products (especially of recent releases) to North American consumers. Also eBay, but be careful: buying foreign films from eBay is something of a lottery.