Thursday 10 March 2005

Curtis LeMay’s Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun

Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the first American firebombing attack on Japan. On the evening of March 9, 1945, 325 B-29 bombers took off from their bases in the Marianas, the first planes arriving over Tokyo just after midnight on March 10 where, over a three hour period, they dropped 1,665 tons of incendiary bombs. According to the most authoritative book on the firebombing campaign, Kenneth P. Werrell’s Blankets of Fire:

The bombing and fire destroyed almost 16 square miles, over 10,000 acres of Tokyo, which was approximately 8 percent of the urban area, and included one-quarter of the buildings in the city… One million people were left homeless and left the city. Casualty figures are inexact, as might be expected in such a mammoth event, ranging from about 80,000 to more than 100,000 killed. Surely the Tokyo fire raid is one of the deadliest air raids of all time, surpassing Hamburg, Dresden, and Nagasaki, and on the scale of Hiroshima, and is certainly one of the most destructive.

In the three years I’ve been weblogging, I’ve written many posts that deal with or mention the Tokyo fire raid:

The reasons for my interest in (some might say, obsession with) the night of March 9-10, 1945 are varied and complex. The simplest explanation might be that the firebombing of Japan—which continued for over five months (from March 9 to August 15, 1945)—is, compared to the atomic bomb attacks, little known outside Japan. Yet nearly half the built-up areas of sixty-four cities were totally destroyed while (according to the estimates of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey) 330,000 people were killed, 476,000 injured, 2.5 million buildings destroyed, and 8.5 million people made homeless.

Earlier in the week, knowing that I did not wish to let this anniversary go unacknowledged yet wondering what else I could possibly write about, I did a Google search on tokyo + firebombing. Amongst the results was a page at which reproduced a Japan Times article by Satō Hiroaki which begins with the astonishing revelation that:

On Dec. 7, 1964, the Japanese government conferred the First Order of Merit with the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun upon Gen. Curtis LeMay — yes, the same general who, less than 20 years earlier, had incinerated “well over half a million Japanese civilians, perhaps nearly a million.”

General Curtis LeMayAlthough Satō-san exaggerates the number of civilian fatalities caused by the firebombing, he is correct about the medal. I thought I was well-informed about General LeMay’s career—before, during, and after World War II. When I first read about this award I was, to put it mildly, flabbergasted. But a list of LeMay’s decorations includes “The First Class of the Order of the Rising Sun (Presented Dec. 7 1964).” (I’ve linked to a cached copy of the page since, when I wrote this entry, the Wright-Paterson Air Force Base website appears to be offline.) I note in passing the irony in LeMay’s award being conferred on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This history of the Thunderchief fighter squadrons (F-105D and F-105F) based the Yokota Air Base in Japan includes a reference to LeMay’s award:

When the 36th TFS returned to Yokota in December 1964, it participated in a huge ceremony: on 07 December the Japanese Government presented retiring USAF Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay with Japan’s “First Order of the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun.” In the flyover that followed the ceremony, 8th TFW Thunderchiefs formed the letters “C E L” in the General’s honor.

There is, therefore, little doubt that General LeMay received the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, First Class, which—although not the highest Japanese decoration—is an exceptionally prestigious award.

The official Japanese award system was introduced during the Meiji period in 1875. According to the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan:

Besides the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum (Daikun’i Kikkashō) as the highest degree of honor for men, the The Order of the Rising Sun (Kyokujitsushō) also for men, the Order of the Precious Crown (Hōkanshō) for women, and the Order of the Sacred Treasure (Zuihōshō) for both men and women were also established.

Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, First ClassThe Order of the Rising Sun is awarded for services to Japan, both military and civilian, by citizens or foreigners. The highest grade is the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, Paulownia Flowers (勲一等旭日桐花大綬章). The second-highest grade—the one LeMay received—is the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, First Class (勲一等旭日大綬章). Then there are seven lower grades of the Order of the Rising Sun (Two through Eight).

How is it, then, that General Curtis LeMay—who conceived, planned, and prosecuted the firebombing campaign against Japan that resulted in the deaths of at least 330,00 Japanese civilians and the wounding of another 470,000—received one of the highest official awards that can be bestowed by the Japanese government? The same General LeMay who, when asked about the morality of the firebombing campaign, replied:

“Killing Japanese didn’t bother me very much at that time… I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal…. Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you’re not a good soldier.”

Although the analogy is not quite exact, it is almost as though Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku—the Japanese naval commander who conceived and led the attack on Pearl Harbor—had not been killed in the South Pacific in April 1943 when his aircraft was shot down by US fighters acting on the basis of decrypted Japanese radio reports, but instead had survived the war, managed to evade being convicted and executed as a war criminal, and twenty years later, been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Lyndon Johnson.

A Google Japan search on the English text string LeMay + “Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun” yielded two results, one of which is a weblog post by “komada” titled ルメイはなぜ開戦記念日に叙勲されたか (Why did LeMay receive a decoration on the anniversary of the outbreak of the War?). Although I could make some sense of the Japanese, it is written in the circuitous style common to Japanese academic discourse. I printed out the weblog entry and took it to my Japanese/English exchange lesson last night. Keiko, my exchange partner, read through it and said: “Mawarikudoi desu ne…

Mawarikudoi (回りくどい) means “roundabout, circumlocutory, indirect,” as in:

「回りくどい言い方はしないで。」 (Mawarikudoi iikata wa shinaide.) “Don’t beat around the bush.”

Keiko explained that in this weblog post Komada-san:

  • notes the dearth of information about LeMay’s medal on Japanese government sites;
  • points out that the medal is not mentioned in profiles of LeMay, even though awards from smaller countries are listed (this, as we’ve seen, is not correct);
  • explains the process by which potential award recipients are selected and vetted (recommended by the Foreign Minister then supported or opposed by government bureaucrats with the final decision made by the Prime Minister);
  • remarks on the lack of any publically-stated reasons for LeMay’s receiving such an award from the Japanese government;
  • notes that athough LeMay’s award was opposed by the Socialist Party, it was strongly supported by Genda Minoru, who had been the naval officer Admiral Yamamoto chose to draft the details of the plan for the attack on Pearl Harbor;
  • mounts a complex argument suggesting that LeMay’s award was given in return for an award given to Genda by the United States government, probably in recognition for Genda’s involvement in the purchase of 180 F-104 fighter aircraft;
  • adds that Genda, who had joined the Air Self Defence Force after the war, was involved in the Lockheed scandal in 1976 (he was convicted of accepting bribes to influence the purchase of Lockheed aircraft for the Self Defence Force).

Keiko then pointed out the word tsuzuku (to be continued) at the end of the post and, sure enough, when I got home I discovered that Komada-san had written another two entries following the one I’ve summarized plus a preceding entry titled Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki.

At this point, then, the mystery of why General Curtis LeMay received the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, First Class, remains unsolved. Today I received an email from Keiko asking whether I’d found Komada-san’s other entries and suggesting that we continue to examine the Japanese sources. She added:

When I read about the person who you are interested in today, I was amazed about the fact that Japanese government awarded him the highest honor and he received the medal. Besides such surprise, I couldn’t believe he actually came to Japan to receive the medal. He stood on the land that he bombed until thousands had lost their lives. I wonder what he was thinking when he was walking on Japanese soil then? Did he feel proud?

A Google Japan search for 勲一等旭日大綬章 + ルメイ (LeMay + “Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, First Class” — Japanese government sites only) yields but a single result: the transcript of a National Diet (parliament) session in which the former Japanese ambassador to the United States, Saitō Kunihiko, is being questioned about LeMay’s award.

However, a Google Japan search for 勲一等旭日大綬章 + ルメイ (LeMay + “Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, First Class”) yields 3,360 results—many of which are Japanese weblog entries. The Japanese weblogging community is on the case. It’ll be fascinating to see where this leads.

In the meantime, I’ve made a note to ask Keiko next week how one says “fact check your ass” in Japanese.

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Sunday 20 March 2005

Before the Revolution

Every time I read about how the blogging “revolution” will “change the world,” I think of Talleyrand. More exactly, I think of the remark by Talleyrand that Bernardo Bertolucci used as the epigraph to his 1964 film Before the Revolution (Prima della rivoluzione):

He who has not lived in the years before the revolution cannot know what the sweetness of living is.

According to The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Talleyrand’s remark was recorded by François Guizot, in his Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de mon temps (1858):

M. Talleyrand me disait un jour: “Qui n’a pas vécu dans les années voisines de 1789 ne sait pas ce que c’est que le plaisir de vivre.”
(Monsieur Talleyrand said to me one day: “He who has not lived during the years around 1789 can not know what is meant by the pleasure of life.”)

That Talleyrand’s observation and Bertolucci’s version of it can be interpreted quite differently is, of course, what interests me most.

In the aristocratic system into which Talleyrand was born, it was common for the eldest son in a family to enter the military (and to inherit the property and titles) while the second son made a career in the clergy. However, Talleyrand’s impaired physical mobility (due to a malformed foot, which some attribute to Marfan syndrome) meant that in his case the custom was reversed: his younger brother was named heir while Talleyrand—although a notorious unbeliever—was ordained a priest in 1779 at the age of 25.

The biographical entry at elaborates:

…the club foot was to loom large in Talleyrand’s life. His parents obviously felt that the disability made him unfit to carry on the family lineage, and stripped him of his birth right and inheritance at an early age. He lost the right to pass on the family wealth to any children he might have, as well as most of his inheritance. While he was still technically part of the nobility, Talleyrand was essentially without any class or standing from birth.

Talleyrand’s ordination did little to put a damper on his libido. A son was born of his affair with Countess Adelaide de Flahaut in 1785, and was named for his father…

In 1788, Talleyrand was appointed Bishop of Autun by King Louis XVI (with some reluctance), following a petition by his dying father (the same father that had disinherited him thirty years ago). Talleyrand did not linger long in his diocese ; after three weeks, he departed, having been elected deputy of the clergy (the First Estate) to the Estates General.

In addition to the clergy (the First Estate), the Estates General included representatives of the nobility (Second Estate) and the commoners (Third Estate). The First Estate was divided into “upper” and “lower” clergy: the former being a kind of clerical nobility drawn largely from the aristocratic families of the Second Estate; the latter having more in common with the commoners of the Third Estate.

In the context of a discussion about the “blogging revolution” it’s fascinating (or ironic) that, as Mick Underwood explains, “within the model of a pluralist liberal democracy, the mass media are often seen as fulfilling the vitally important rôle of fourth estate, the guardians of democracy, defenders of the public interest. The term fourth estate is frequently attributed to the nineteenth century historian Carlyle, though he himself seems to have attributed it to Edmund Burke.”

Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact,…. Printing, which comes necessarily out of Writing, I say often, is equivalent to Democracy: invent Writing, Democracy is inevitable…… Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures: the requisite thing is that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite.

The ongoing argument about weblogging and journalism revolves, at the most basic level, around a struggle for power, as webloggers—not content to form a Fifth Estate—seek to wrest control of the Fourth Estate from the current incumbents.

But I digress…

Tallyrand supported the revolutionary cause and was excommunicated by Pope Pius VI for proposing the Civil Constitution of the Clergy that nationalized the Church.

It’s worth noting that despite his status in the Church, Talleyrand had been exposed to revolutionary philosophy during his term at St. Sulpice (and presumably later on as well). He is reported to have celebrated mass on the Champs de Mars in 1790 to commemorate the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. Thus it is perhaps not entirely surprising that he was appointed to the constitutional committee of the National Assembly in 1789, and became a signatory of the constitution that the committee presented to the King. However, one must also keep in mind that Talleyrand had earlier urged the King to dissolve the assembly, and only joined when he felt that the democratic movement was becoming unstoppable. (

As Talleyrand himself explained, “The art of statesmanship is to foresee the inevitable and to expedite its occurrence.”

During The Terror, while he was in Britain attempting to avert war, a warrant was issued for his arrest. Talleyrand escaped to the United States, returned to France in 1796, and became Foreign Minister in the Directory (the group of five who held executive power in France).

It was in this position that he met Napoleon Bonaparte, and in him recognized the man who would put an end to the many vicissitudes of revolutionary France. Sensing the way the wind was blowing (something at which Talleyrand was exceptionally skilled) he resigned his post with the directory, and began working to prepare the foundation for the coup that would bring Napoleon to power. (

Although Tallyrand resumed his post as Foreign Minister after Napoleon seized power as First Consul, he had little to do since Napoleon preferred to control foreign affairs. The 60 million francs that Talleyrand received for his services provided adequate compensation.

In early 1804, Talleyrand’s involvement in the kidnapping and execution of the Duke of Enghien led to his most famous quip: “That was worse than a crime; it was a mistake.”

Later the same year Napoleon appointed him Grand Chamberlain; in 1807 he resigned as Foreign Minister; in 1808 he betrayed Napoleon by engineering an alliance between Austria and Russia and was then dismissed as Chamberlain when Napoleon, describing Talleyrand as “a piece of shit in a silk stocking”, suspected him of involvement in an assassination plot.

Just as surprisingly, in 1814 Napoleon empowered Talleyrand to negotiate on his behalf with the allied European powers, even as he was criticizing Talleyrand for his private politics. By this time, Talleyrand seems to have once again smelled change on the wind, and hastened to reconcile himself with the vestiges of the Bourbon dynasty, becoming advisor to the future Louis XVIII. (

The assessment of Talleyrand is generous given that his style of diplomacy (which Henry Kissinger emulated) has fallen out of fashion:

The prototype of the witty, cynical diplomat, Talleyrand has been either exalted as the savior of Europe in 1815 or damned as an opportunist or even a traitor. His corruption was undeniable, and his pliability enabled him to hold power under the ancien régime, the Revolution, Napoleon, the Restoration, and the July Monarchy. Yet Talleyrand was a good European, and his policy was aimed consistently—and often courageously—at the peace and stability of Europe as a whole.

Ever since I first saw Before the Revolution in the late sixties, I’ve thought that Talleyrand’s remark about the revolutionary period (or rather Bertolucci’s use of it) was masked by ambiguity—an ambiguity that, I now realize, sprung from my focusing on Talleyrand’s aristocratic background rather than on his diplomatic career.

Having only ever seen the (subtitled) English translation of the Italian translation of Talleyrand’s remark, I wrongly assumed that he was looking back nostalgically at the life he enjoyed in the years before the revolution. Now, knowing a little more about his life—most particularly, his passion for politics and influence—and (despite my shaky grasp of French) having seen the French version of his comment, it seems clear that Talleyrand was celebrating the years immediately before and after 1789 (“dans les années voisines de 1789”), the heady days when the absolute monarchy was overthrown and the influence of the Catholic Church diminished, when everything seemed possible, and—most importantly—when Talleyrand was at the center of events.

This interpretation must be played against Bertolucci’s, which I always took as meaning that life only becomes sweet after the revolution—a belief that accords with both the Marxist sympathies of Fabrizio, the protagonist of the film, and those of Bertolucci himself (he joined the Italian Communist party in 1969, leaving ten years later). I was wrong about that too.

Louis Menand, in a long New Yorker essay that combines a review of Bertolucci’s most recent film, The Dreamers, with a survey of his earlier work, discusses Before the Revolution (the film and its title) at length. About the title, Menand writes:

By 1968, student radicals were citing [Bertolucci’s film] as explanation and inspiration, and the phrase “before the revolution” appeared in accounts of the events of May in the French press.

The words are taken from a remark of Talleyrand’s: “He who did not live in the years before the revolution cannot understand what the sweetness of living is.” Bertolucci insisted that he meant the title ironically, that life “before the revolution” is agony; he has his protagonist mutter, despairingly, “It’s always ‘before the revolution’ if you’re like me.” But with movies you believe the camera—what the camera loves cannot be all bad—and the camera tells us that although Talleyrand was undoubtedly on the wrong side, he was not wrong. “At first my story was a modern ‘Charterhouse,’” Bertolucci explained in an interview in the Cahiers in 1965, “but then it gradually developed into ‘Sentimental Education.’” Fabrizio is not a revolutionary; he is playing at being a revolutionary, because that is what young people in the postwar middle class do. His kind of revolution is just a chapter in the bourgeois family romance (thus the incest: it violates the norms of the nuclear family). If “Before the Revolution” is a prophecy of the rebellion of May ’68, in which students from the Sorbonne marched in solidarity with workers from the Renault auto plants, it is also a prophecy of its failure.

If Bertolucci “meant the title ironically,” then it’s clear that he interpreted Talleyrand’s remark as I originally did: that Talleyrand was a reactionary who yearned for the good old days before the revolution destroyed the aristocratic way of life. In 1965, when Bertolucci offered his explanation, it was still possible for the idea of revolution to inspire hope: the Chinese Cultural Revolution would begin in the same year and continue until October 1968, when Mao’s rival, Liu Shao-chi, was expelled from the Party (and the “revolution” had to be brought back under control). Ironically, during the same period that Jean-Luc Godard was making films extolling the virtue of the Red Guards, Chen Kiage (who would eventually direct films such as Farewell My Concubine and The Emperor and the Assassin), had joined the Red Guards in attacking his own father.

But events in Soviet Russia, China, North Korea, Cambodia, and elsewhere confirm that life “after the revolution” is agony too—and not just for the displaced ruling class—since one dictatorial regime has simply been replaced by another. As Samora Machel observed, “The revolution eats its children.”

Menand suggests that “although Talleyrand was undoubtedly on the wrong side, he was not wrong.” I assume Menand means that Talleyrand was on the “wrong” side in the sense that, although he played a crucial role in dismantling the monarchy and the Church, his primary concern was to ensure the stable transfer of power whilst staying close to the center of power himself—he had little interest in changing how power was exercised.

Talleyrand was right in that he understood that each revolution contains within itself the seeds of its own eventual destruction, whilst being sufficiently adroit to ensure for himself both a successful career and a long life. By the time Talleyrand died in 1838, at the age of 84, he had accumulated a 30,000 acre property, a 10,000 volume private library, a hotel in Paris, and a huge personal fortune.

My intuition says that the blogging revolution will turn out in much the same way: rather than supplanting mainstream media, weblogs will become an integral part of the Fourth Estate. The ongoing argument that bloggers be recognized as “citizen journalists” and the rush to put advertising on weblogs are only the first signs. Jim Kloss at Whole Wheat Radio put my own thoughts into words in a post titled Tsunami (Thought for the Day):

It feels like the web has 3 tiers now:

  1. Commercial/Corporate sites where the entire motivation is traditional advertising.
  2. Everyday people who are now including traditional ads with their content.
  3. Everyday people who create content with no traditional ads.

#2 is the tsunami. I’m running to higher ground so fast I don’t have time to look back and see how high the water is on the beach. Occasionally I look to the side and see others running too…

I’ve unsubscribed from 98% of the feeds I was following. I’m no longer even attempting to keep up with webgeist. I’ve become super selective. I am choosing ignorance; to bury my head in the sand. No more scanning of or bloglines searches to see the direction things are going. I don’t like the vast majority of what the web stands for anymore, with a few glaring exceptions—the same ones that have been on the radar screen all along.

I want to continue making ‘content’ but I want to do it in a vacuum. I don’t want to debate, I don’t want to justify, I don’t want to predict, I don’t want to answer the critics.

Nor do I. This morning, following a link from Phil Ringnalda’s Three Days Worth post, I found and installed the Hide AdSense script for GreaseMonkey. That’s made browsing a little more tolerable. All the same, I can hardly bear to watch as the Talleyrands corrupt something that was, for a while, magical. I’m tempted to say this, though:

Those who did not blog in the years before the revolution cannot know what the sweetness of blogging was.

Postage stamp with a portrait of Talleyrand

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Tuesday 29 March 2005

Matango: Attack Of The Mushroom People

Matango posterBrowsing through the Recent Releases in the International / Avant Garde > Asian Languages > Japanese Language category at DVD Empire yesterday I noticed an unfamiliar title. Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People. How could I resist clicking on the link?

Then, as I read the synopsis, my heart skipped a beat and my mind raced back nearly fifty years:

After a yacht is damaged in a storm and stranded on a deserted island, the passengers: a psychologist, his girlfriend, a wealthy businessman, a famous singer, a writer, a sailor and his skipper take refuge in a fungus covered boat. While using the mushrooms for sustenance, they find the ship’s journal describing the mushrooms to be poisonous, however some members of the shipwrecked party continue to ingest the mysterious fungi transforming them into hideous fungal monsters.

One of the strangest and most horrific TOHO productions to date.

I’ve never forgotten seeing this movie on TV at a friend’s place when I was nine or ten years old. Although television was introduced into Australia in September 1956, my family didn’t get a television set until I was well into my teens. But a neighbor, Gordon Charles, worked for the Australian subsidiary of the British Radio Rentals company so his family owned the first TV set in our street. Since I was close friends with his two young sons (Duncan and Humphrey), I would often stay over on weekends to watch TV until late into the night.

One Saturday night we watched a movie about a group of people who are shipwrecked near a mysterious island. Any attempts to investigate the island are repulsed by the dense foliage so they make camp on a tiny beach. While exploring the perimeter of the island in the yacht’s dinghy, they discover an abandoned freighter in which all the mirrors have been smashed. They soon run out of food and resort to eating the fungus that covers much of the island’s vegetation…

No, that’s not correct. The yacht wasn’t shipwrecked, it was moored near the island although the skipper and his girlfriend found that they couldn’t penetrate the dense foliage. One night they hear the sound of a dinghy bumping against their hull but, when the skipper goes on deck with a lamp to investigate, a voice pleads with him not to shine the light in that direction.

Wait, that’s not quite it. Now I’m uncertain as to whether the guy on the yacht had a girlfriend or whether he was sailing alone. But I’m sure that the man in the dinghy agrees to tell the yachtsman how he had come to be marooned on the island. He and his wife were passengers on a freighter that ran aground near the island. When they were out of food, the ship’s crew went scavenging but all they could find was a kind of fungus covering all the vegetation. At first the fungus appeared to be quite nourishing but, after a while, everyone who’d eaten it became covered with a kind of fungal growth. The man in the dinghy was the sole survivor, his beautiful wife gradually being covered with fungus before perishing, along with the rest of the crew.

The yacht’s skipper gives him some food and he starts to row away. But the skipper can’t resist the impulse to shine the lamp towards the dinghy and its glare reveals an elderly man, covered completely in fungus. The End.

While the credits were rolling, Mr Charles crept in behind us and shrieked “Fungus!” Three young boys jumped out of their skins.

Although it took me a couple of attempts to remember the actual story (and even now I’m not confident I’ve remembered the narrative correctly), I do recall many details with great clarity: the yacht glistening white in the darkness, the tiny beach surrounded with dense vegetation, the beautiful young wife, the swinging lantern, the final shot of the fungal man in the dinghy, even the cramped fifties living room where we watched the program, and—most clearly of all—the feeling of terror when Mr Charles cried out “Fungus!” Yet I don’t remember any mushroom people. Nor do I recall that the actors were Japanese. In fact, we couldn’t have watched Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People that night because Matango wasn’t made until 1963—by Honda Ishirō (本多猪四郎), the director of the first Godzilla movie in 1954 (and many other monster movies, including some of the best Godzilla sequels). And by then my father had finally succumbed and bought us a television.

Matango DVD caseAs Jasper Sharp’s highly favorable Midnight Eye review reveals, Honda made Matango (マタンゴ) “in a brief break between two of his more characteristic monster movies, King Kong vs. Godzilla (Kingukongu tai Gojira, 1962) and Godzilla vs. Mothra (Mosura tai Gojira, 1964)”.

Never released theatrically in the US but dubbed and sold to TV by American International Television in 1965, Matango, or Attack of the Mushroom People to give it its alternative title, is one of those films that is better known for its title than the actual film itself.

Sharp’s analysis of the film’s subtext is fascinating, whether one has seen Matango or not. He argues persuasively that its supposedly humble B-movie exterior masks a sophisticated critique of Japan’s rapid post-war economic growth, human estrangement from nature, and the hallucinatory appeal of the drug culture.

But, even if I missed it, plenty of people saw and loved the dubbed version of Matango on TV, if the user reviews are any guide:

‘Matango,’ like ‘Carnival of Souls,’ is one of those movies that people accidently stumbled across when they should have been sleeping, and remembered forever after. It would insidiously etch itself on your tired brain. And, if you were lucky, maybe it gave you some pretty f***ed up dreams whenever you finally got to sleep. I actually first found this in the middle of the afternoon at the babysitter’s house. It was still too much.

Wow! Was I glad when I discovered “The Attack of the Mushroom People”, as I always remembered it, was coming to DVD! I remember seeing this on tv years ago, and never forgot how damn creepy it left me feeling.

It’s here. One of my favorite movies - and most eagerly-awaited DVDs - ever. And EVERY single bad scenario I could think of for its DVD release has been stamped out soundly by Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters. Because THIS is exactly what I wanted from a DVD of “Matango” (Attack of the Mushroom People). My dream came true, and it’s sitting in my hands.

One reviewer, Nick Tropiano, asks: “Was this the Inspiration for Gilligan’s Island?”

…and that’s a serious question. It predated the premier of Gillian’s Island by several years. There’s a millionaire who owns a yacht that looks like the Minnow. On board is a professor, the captain, a goofy (though somewhat sinster in the film) first mate, a pretty but shy country girl named Okiko, and a singer/movie star. There are seven castaways in all. “Lovey” is replaced by another male character, a writer named Roy. The boat crashes into an island where they are castaways… Course on Gilligan’s Island they didn’t all turn into mutated mushrooms monsters. Rent or buy the DVD (one of my favorite films in Japanese cinema, finally getting its due…) and you tell me if Gilligan’s Island isn’t a complete rip-off of this film.

If I was Toho I would have sued Sherwood Schwartz for copyright infringement.

(Just as Kurosawa Akira, who—realizing that Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars was “nearly a scene-to-scene, shot-by-shot remake” of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo—sued Leone and won 15% of the profits from Leone’s film.)

Of course, I couldn’t resist adding both Matango and Honda’s The Mysterians (地球防衛軍, Chikyū Bōeigun, 1957) to my current DVD Empire order. Now I can’t wait until both DVDs are sitting in my hands.

Still, the question remains: What Fungus Island film did I see on that Saturday night all those years ago? And should its producer have sued Tōhō and Honda Ishirō for copyright infringement?

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