Archive for Saturday, May 25, 2002


May 25, 2002


Yoshimitsu Banno is serious about film.

But not so serious that he isn't delighted to have directed one of the worst movies of all times.

Banno's 1972 sci-fi classic, "Godzilla Versus the Smog Monster," was voted one of the 50 all-time worst movies by a panel of film critics.

"Only one other Japanese film on the list," Banno said, pointing to the photocopied pages. "It was a cartoon ... about a monkey who takes over the world."

Banno was in Lawrence on Friday visiting with Lawrence screenwriter and business partner Ollie Hall.

Banno's only Godzilla movie was something of a detour in his career. He spent many years developing cutting-edge IMAX-style projects in Japan. Currently, he's pitching to American networks a 26-part animated series about a heartwarming action critter, "Mole Matzech."

But it was Banno's Godzilla movie that is probably best-known to American audiences. Despite its worst-ever ranking, it has its fans.

New York City film critic Keith Allison wrote this about it:

"So this is what happens when Godzilla writers drop acid and watch a bunch of Matt Helm films. I think I am in the minority in liking this film, which is easily the weirdest damn Godzilla film ever made, and also the hippest. It has more scenes of wild, sexy go-go dancing Japanese girls in white boots and psychedelic mini-skirts than any other Japanese monster movie."

In the film, Godzilla's evil foe was Hedorah, also known as the Smog Monster, an alien life form that fell to Earth billions of years ago and remained dormant until being revived by modern toxic sludge and refuse in industrial Japan. Between scenes in which it sucks smokestacks for nourishment, the mutating aquatic creature demonstrated to audiences that environmental destruction could have dangerous consequences. It was a particularly topical film in Japan when it was made.

"Pollution is no good," Banno said. "In the 1970s, because of the raising of Japan's economic power, it led to the problem of pollution."

Godzilla's adversary mutated into three states  flying Hedorah, stomping Hedorah and swimming Hedorah. The flying version spewed sulfuric acid mist in its wake. It also shot a toxic beam of energy from its right eye.

None of that sat well with Godzilla, the Earth's water-loving superhero defender.

Godzilla appeared overmatched until he unveiled a hidden power  atomic breath that enabled him to fly. He used it to good effect and lured Hedorah into a trap and delivered a lethal dose of electrical current.

"He dried up!" Banno said, punctuating each word with his fists.

Godzilla plucked two glowing orbs  life forces  from the monster's crusty husk and mashed them with his hands. The law-enforcing lizard then roared in anger at the builders of pollution-producing machines and walked back into the ocean.

Banno, a member of the Directors Guild of Japan, said the film's executive producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, had been in the hospital during filming of "Smog." He wasn't pleased when he saw Banno's work, especially the part about a flying Godzilla. The hero was supposed to fly only when tossed through the air by an enemy.

"He got angry looking at the film," Banno said.

Tanaka ordered that Banno never again direct a Godzilla movie. Tanaka crushed that part of Banno's career as completely as Godzilla squashed cars.

"Monster and director ... gone," Banno said.

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