REVIEW: Book Release: Mushroom Clouds And Mushroom Men

Book: Mushroom Clouds And Mushroom Men
Release date: 16th October 2009
Author: Peter H. Brothers
Publisher: AuthorHouse

If you know the name Ishiro Honda, you’ll have a fair idea on what to expect from this book. If you don’t know the name Ishiro Honda, you’ll almost certainly recognise his most famous gift to cinema. After all, Honda is the man who gave us one of the most iconic movie monsters of all time – Godzilla. Between 1954 and 1975, Honda directed several Godzilla features including the original Godzilla and the fantastic King Kong Versus Godzilla. He was also responsible for over twenty-five other sci-fi/fantasy films, making him not only the “Godfather of Creature Features” in Japan, but perhaps the most prolific director of sci-fi/fantasy movies of all time. So, while Godzilla may be the official “King of The Monsters”, perhaps the title could equally apply to Ishiro Honda.

Mushroom Clouds And Mushroom Men is a specific study of Ishiro Honda’s career in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. While this wasn’t the be all and end all of Honda’s work, it by far encapsulates the majority of his work, and certainly includes his most enduring contributions to cinema. This is the man who, aside from Godzilla, also brought to life monsters like Mothra and Rodan.

The book begins with a brief, but no less interesting biography of Honda himself, and what stands out most here is the sheer longevity of Honda’s career. This is a man who truly loved film and was involved in it from 1933, when he worked as assistant director on Just An Average Kid until his final interview at 81 years of age. A writer, contributor, assistant director, director, lecturer, working in TV and film, his output is simply awe inspiring.

Honda’s life is another book in itself. The bulk of this book is concerned with Honda’s cinematic output, and understandably so…

As mentioned, the biography is brief, but it is fascinating and illuminating. Honda’s military service is mentioned - several tours of duty – and it’s easy to see how these interruptions had an effect on his life and career. It also touches on his lifelong marriage to Mimi, and his relationships with (and standing among) his peers, from sometime collaborations with greats like Kurasawa to his long standing cinema partnerships with people like Tsuburaya, who designed the visual effects for many of Honda’s films. It is filled with interesting stories and throwaway tales - including one particularly poignant anecdote where, after his death, as a mark of respect and affection, his photo is used in the film Samurai Kids.

After the biography, the book changes gears and goes from being a diverting and interesting tale about the man himself to an encyclopaedic text book on his sci-fi/fantasy films. Each of his sci-fi/fantasy pictures is studied, dissected and discussed in a manner that manages to be both straightforward and informative. A full cast/credits list is provided for each film, before the ‘nitty gritty’ of discussing the film itself. These are more than just a brief synopsis, though. Recurring themes and motifs are pointed out and analysed. Key scenes are emphasised and discussed, and performances are highlighted. The importance of the special effects (as comical as they may seem to some today) is remembered, as well as things we may be tempted to take for granted – the score, the lighting, etc. Every aspect of the film is mentioned and investigated. This continues for the rest of the book. Each film is looked at in chronological order, given its own separate essay, and all are crafted with the same amount of care and attention.

Mushroom Clouds And Mushroom Men is, quite obviously, a labour of love. It is a mine of interesting information gleaned from a dazzling array of texts and sources. Brother’s has spent years writing and talking about Honda and his cinematic achievements, and it certainly shows in the authoritative and informative manner in which he presents each film here.

The text book style of presentation makes it easy to skip between those films that hold most interest and, as such, it makes an excellent reference book on the work of Honda. It is also very well suited to non linear or ‘short burst’ reading.

For those with a passing interest in the director and his work, Mushroom Clouds And Mushroom Men is an excellent introduction, listing films you may not be aware of, alongside old favourites. The downside of books like this, though, is that they can make excellent ‘bluffers guides’ - it’s important to remember that this is a book written by an expert in the field and not a book that will make you an expert! PD

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