Varan (1958)

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Varan
The Japanese poster for Varan
Alternate titles
Flagicon Japan.png Giant Monster Varan (1958)
Flagicon United States.png Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
See alternate titles
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Producer(s) Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written by Ken Kuronuma, Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by Akira Ifukube
Distributor TohoJP
Crown International PicturesUS
Rating Not Rated
Running time 87 minutesJP
(1 hour, 27 minutes)
70 minutesUS
(1 hour, 10 minutes)
Aspect ratio 2.00:1JP,[1]
2.35:1US[2]
Rate this film!
3.84
(49 votes)

The demon Varan rampages across the land, seas, and air! The definitive fantasy monster movie! (陸海空を暴れ廻る魔のバラン!空想怪獣映画の決定版!)
„ 

— Japanese tagline

A giant monster greater than Godzilla or Rodan! Exercising its power over the whole of Japan! (ゴジラ ラドンより物凄い大怪獣!日本全土に猛威振う!)
„ 

— Japanese tagline

The world is amazed by Godzilla and Rodan, but will be knocked for a ghoul by Varan.
„ 

— International tagline

When modern navy scientists defy the unknown mysteries of the past, perpetuated by centuries of native belief, then nature strikes in all its vengeance in Varan the Unbelievable! For generations, the legend was passed on. They said Varan was there, deep in the still waters. They said, "Let Varan sleep!," but the navy commander would not heed their warning. He moved forward, ever searching, ever going deeper and deeper, until it was too late! Varan rose from the depths slowly, unrelentingly, to wreak its vengeance on the civilization that wanted to know too much. Tumultuous! Terrifying! So awesome it will shock you to the core! Varan the Unbelievable!
„ 

— Trailer for Varan the Unbelievable

Varan (大怪獣バラン,   Daikaijū Baran, lit. Giant Monster Varan) is a 1958 tokusatsu kaiju film produced by Toho, and the company's last black-and-white kaiju film. It was released to Japanese theaters on October 14, 1958.

Plot

Professor Sugimoto, a biologist, sends two scholars to Iwaya Village in the Tohoku region of Japan to investigate the appearance of a butterfly normally native to Siberia. The expedition ends in tragedy when the two men are killed under unexplained circumstances. The superstitious natives blame the mountain god Baradagi, an angle played up in the press. Yuriko Shinjo, a reporter and sister of one of the deceased students, intends to solve this new mystery and sets off for Iwaya Village with Horiguchi, a cowardly photographer, and Kenji Uozaki, one of Professor Sugimoto's pupils.

While hiking to the village, the trio meets Gen, a native boy, who brings the group to the site of a ritual meant to appease the wrath of Baradagi. A frightening noise sends the villagers into a panic and Chibi, Gen's dog, chases after the source of the bellowing sound. Despite pleas from the priest, Kenji leads Yuriko, Horiguchi, and a group of natives into Baradagi's forest to rescue the boy. Gen, his mother, and Chibi are reunited at the edge of the foggy lake. The reunion is short-lived, however, as a monstrous creature, identified as Baradagi by the natives, rises from the water and advances on the mountain village. The natives can only watch helplessly as the monster demolishes the small town before returning to the lake.

Professor Sugimoto deduces the creature is a Varanopode, a reptile family that had lived 185 million years ago, and gives it the name Varan. The Defense Agency dispatches troops to the lake to counter the threat. Chemical explosives are effective in luring Varan from the bottom of the lake but enrage the monster. Varan easily survives the artillery assault and the Defense Forces order a retreat, during which Yuriko is separated from her colleagues. Kenji manages to rescue her, and to evade the advancing monster the two take shelter in a nearby cave. Varan pursues them, finally distracted by the JSDF's flares long enough for the duo to get to safety. The monster climbs the mountain. It spreads its limbs, displaying a thin membrane that allows it to glide away.

Varan is next spotted in the Uraga Channel, heading southwest towards Tokyo. The combined forces of the Navy and Air Force set up a defense line to stop the monster at sea. Bombs, missiles, and depth charges all prove ineffective on the prehistoric monster. Scientists infer that Varan's tough exterior is responsible for its apparent immunity to conventional weaponry. It seems nothing will work against the creature until Dr. Fujimura reveals that has invented an explosive designed to demolish rocks from the inside out. The Defense Agency gets to work adapting it as a weapon while simultaneously evacuating the coastal regions of Tokyo in preparation for a full-out assault on Varan at Haneda Airport.

Varan surfaces and is met with a fierce barrage of artillery. Meanwhile, the JSDF rigs a truck carrying a payload of Dr. Fujimura's explosive to collide with the monster once it reaches the shore. Kenji drives the truck into position and escapes in the nick of time, but the explosive does no damage to the creature's hardened shell. A backup plan is devised to make Varan swallow the explosive attached to a flare, but the JSDF has to stall until the new device can be equipped on a helicopter. This second attempt proves successful: the charge detonates inside the monster's body, resulting in massive injuries to the creature. Mortally wounded, Varan crawls out to sea as a second charge detonates, killing the ancient menace.

Staff

Main article: Varan (film)/Credits.

Staff role on the left, staff member's name on the right.

Varan the Unbelievable

Staff role on the left, staff member's name on the right.

  • Producer/Director   Jerry A. Baerwitz
  • Screenplay   Sid Harris
  • Photography   Jack Marquette
  • Special effects   Howard A. Anderson Co.
  • Supervising film editor   Jack Ruggiero
  • Assistant editor   Ralph Cushman
  • Music editor   Peter Zinner
  • Sound recording   Vic Appel
  • Wardrobe   Robert O'Dell
  • Makeup   Robert Cowan
  • Assistant director   Leonard Kunody[3]

Cast

Actor's name on the left, character played on the right.

  • Kozo Nomura   as   Kenji Uozaki
  • Ayumi Sonoda   as   Yuriko Shinjo
  • Fumito Matsuo   as   Horiguchi
  • Koreya Senda   as   Doctor Sugimoto
  • Akio Kusama   as   Military Officer Kusama
  • Yoshio Tsuchiya   as   Military Officer Katsumoto
  • Akihiko Hirata   as   Dr. Fujimura
  • Minosuke Yamada   as   Secretary of Defense
  • Fuyuki Murakami   as   Dr. Majima
  • Takashi Ito   as   Ken
  • Fumiko Honma   as   Ken's Mother
  • Akira Sera   as   Village Priest
  • Hisaya Ito   as   Ichiro Shinjo
  • Nadao Kirino   as   Yutaka Wada
  • Akira Yamada   as   Issaku
  • Yoshikazu Kawamata   as   Jiro
  • Yasuhiro Kasanobu   as   Sankichi
  • Yoshibumi Tajima   as   Uranami Captain
  • Shoichi Hirose   as   Fisherman
  • Toshitsugu Suzuki   as   Fisherman
  • Haruo Nakajima, Katsumi Tezuka   as   Varan

Varan the Unbelievable

Actor's name on the left, character played on the right.

  • Myron Healey   as   Cmdr. James Bradley, U.S.N.
  • Tsuruko Kobayashi   as   Anna Bradley
  • Clifford Kawada   as   Captain Kishi
  • Derick Shimatsu   as   Matsu[3]

Appearances

Monsters

Weapons, Vehicles, and Races

Gallery

Main article: Varan (film)/Gallery.

Soundtrack

Main article: Varan (Soundtrack).

Alternate Titles

  • Giant Monster Varan (Literal Japanese title)
  • Monster of the East: Giant Monster Varan (東洋の怪物 大怪獣バラン,   Tōyō no Kaibutsu Daikaijū Baran, Original television version title)[4]
  • Varan the Unbelievable (United States)
  • Varan el Increíble (Mexico)
  • Varan: The Monster from Prehistory (Varan – Das Monster aus der Urzeit; Germany)

Theatrical Releases

Production

Toho originally prepared Varan as a three-part television film with American cooperation, following the success of Rodan in the United States. Ken Kuronuma wrote the story, following a request by producer Tomoyuki Tanaka "to come up with something, anything" to fulfill the Americans' desire for another monster movie.[5] Shinichi Sekizawa, who would become one of Toho's go-to science fiction writers, handled the script, his first in the genre. Special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya conceived of Varan as a Godzilla-kappa hybrid, with designer Akira Watanabe adding the patagium of a gliding lizard.[6] Because it would be a television production, Toho decided to forego shooting in color (as with Rodan) and Tohoscope (The Mysterians). Principal photography lasted 28 days, a significantly shorter span than most Toho films at the time.[5]

After the American production company, believed to be the short-lived AB-PT Productions, backed out during filming, Toho decided to restructure the project as a theatrical release. New footage was shot and all Academy ratio footage that was already in the can was modified as "Toho Pan Scope,"[2] a process similar to SuperScope in which 1.37:1 footage is cropped during editing to 2:1 and reformatted for anamorphic projection. Akira Ifukube also recorded a brand new score for the theatrical version of the film.[7] Director Ishiro Honda was disappointed with the finished product, citing the difficulty of modifying the story and aspect ratio to Toho's new demands.[5] An incomplete reconstruction of the original television version was included as a special feature with Toho's DVD release of the film and was later ported to the Region 1 release from Tokyo Shock.

U.S. Release

American lobby card for Varan the Unbelievable.

The American version of Varan, titled Varan the Unbelievable, was distributed theatrically in the United States by Crown International Pictures on a double bill with First Spaceship on Venus, beginning on December 7, 1962.[3] This version was a co-production of Dallas Productions and Cory Productions with Jerry A. Baerwitz producing and directing a script by Sid Harris.[3] Production of Varan the Unbelievable began under the title Odoroku on October 17, 1960, according to a report in the same day's issue of Daily Variety.[8] Baerwitz's film is radically different from the Toho version, perhaps out of necessity: the sound design of all Japanese footage utilized in the American release (totaling some 30 minutes) is either completely jettisoned and rebuilt or left completely intact, suggesting that the production companies might have had only the completed Japanese version from which to work.[9]

Harris constructed an entirely new story with new characters that still manages to follow the basic narrative of the Japanese version.[3] The bulk of the new material is about chemical desalination tests carried out by Commander James Bradley, U.S.N. (played by Myron Healey), on the fictional Japanese island of Kunishiro Shima. These tests ultimately disturb the monster—called "Obake" in dialogue—until it's subdued in the city of Onita (Tokyo in Toho's version). While Bradley and his wife (Tsuruko Kobayashi) become the focus of Harris's screenplay, the Japanese protagonists are still present in archive footage, albeit as "Paul and Shidori Iso," college friends of Anna Bradley. Notably, "Obake" is never seen flying in the U.S. release, although new special effects footage of the monster's claw was shot to replace a similar scene in the Japanese version.[9] Akira Ifukube's score is mostly deleted, with music editor Peter Zinner tracking in library cues such as portions of Albert Glasser's scores for Teenage Caveman and The Amazing Colossal Man.[3] Zinner later performed the same task on John Beck's Americanization of King Kong vs. Godzilla.[9]

New footage for the American release was filmed in the Totalscope process with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.[2]

After its theatrical release, Varan the Unbelievable could be seen on television through the 1980s.[3] Two video releases from VCI (Video Communications, Inc.) followed in the 1980s and in 1994, the latter being the final official release of the American edition. A 2005 DVD release through Media Blasters featured Toho's original Japanese version.[9]

An English version of Varan, possibly different from the Crown International release and produced by Toho,[2] was advertised as available for export in the 1962 Toho Films Catalog.[10]

Reception

Film critics in both Japan and the United States dismissed Varan and Varan the Unbelievable. A critic for Tokyo Weekly felt Varan offered "nothing new," while Variety called Varan the Unbelievable "hackneyed, uninspired carbon copy, serviceable only as a supporting filler."[5][3]

"Even among Americans fond of Japanese monster films," wrote Bill Warren in his book Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, "the name Varan the Unbelievable carries little weight."[3] G-Fan reader polls have consistently ranked it in the lower echelon of Toho kaiju films, never giving it an average score higher than 6.1 out of 10. Elements singled out for praise are typically the Varan suit and Akira Ifukube's score.

Video Releases

Tokyo Shock DVD (2005)

  • Region: 1
  • Discs: 1
  • Audio: Japanese (2.0 Mono, 3.0 Stereo, 5.1 Surround)
  • Special Features: Audio commentary by Varan suit maker Keizo Murase, lecture from Keizo Murase for High School Molding Seminar (29 minutes), reconstruction of the film's original TV version (54 minutes)
  • Notes: Out of print. A 2007 release packages it with Matango and The Mysterians.

Synergy Entertainment DVD (2011)

  • Region: N/A
  • Discs: 1
  • Audio: English
  • Special Features: None
  • Notes: Made-to-order DVD-R.

Reel Vault DVD (2015)

  • Region: N/A
  • Discs: 1
  • Audio: English
  • Special Features: None
  • Notes: DVD-R.

Though Varan is not available on Blu-ray, an HD version can be rented or purchased on the Japanese versions of Amazon Video and iTunes.

Videos

Trailers

Japanese Varan trailer
American Varan the Unbelievable trailer

Other

Ken Films Super 8 digest version of
Varan the Unbelievable

Trivia

  • Varan was screened simultaneously with the Toho film I am Three People (僕は三人前,   Boku wa Sanninmae).
  • Varan was the first Toho kaiju film to rely on stock footage from previous films to heavily pad out special effects sequences. Much of the final JASDF assault at Haneda Airport is lifted from Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again. Stock footage of Godzilla from the 1954 film is used here to represent Varan's feet and tail smashing into buildings.
  • The people of Iwaya Village seem to be based on 1950s stereotypes of Burakumin people. The initial Toho Video release of Varan on VHS was edited to remove any potentially offensive content (including a line about the village being in "the Tibet of Japan"), although subsequent home video releases have restored the film to its complete length.[9][11]

References

This is a list of references for Varan (film). These citations are used to identify the reliable sources on which this article is based. These references appear inside articles in the form of superscript numbers, which look like this: [1]

  1. Classic Horror Film Board: "Varan: a 2:1 SuperScope movie all along?"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Galbraith IV, Stuart. The Toho Studios Story: A History and Complete Filmography. The Scarecrow Press, Inc.. p. 149. 2008. ISBN: 9781461673743.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, Volume II: 1958-1962. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. pp. 708, 710, 771. 1986. ISBN: 978-0-8995-0170-3.
  4. Toho Special Effects Movie Complete Works. Village Books. p. 34. 28 September 2012. ISBN: 9784864910132.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Ryfle, Steve & Godziszewski, Ed. Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film. Wesleyan University Press. p. 148-150. 2017. ISBN: 9780818570871.
  6. Ragone, August. Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters (Hardcover). Chronicle Books. p. 55. 2007. ISBN: 978-0-8118-6078-9.
  7. CD: Great Monster Varan
  8. Classic Horror Film Board: "VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (1962)"
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 The History Vortex: "Toho in American: Varan"
  10. Toho Films 1962-39 Tsuburaya.jpg
  11. LD, DVD and Blu-ray Gallery: "東洋の神秘" 大怪獣バラン

Comments

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Lamango

one month ago
Score 1
"A giant monster greater than Godzilla or Rodan! Exercising its power over the whole of Japan" Oh lol.
avatar

Triceradon the 8th

3 months ago
Score 1
one of my favrote kaiju films
avatar

Varan The Unbelievable

26 months ago
Score 1
)
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MosuFan2004

25 months ago
Score 1
wut
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