The Shochiku Film Company:
Founded by the brothers Takejirō Ōtani (大谷竹次郎) and Matsujirō Shirai (白井松次郎), The Shochiku Film Company began back in 1895 as a Kabuki production company, and currently has about 1200 employees a a revenue stream of around 8.8 Billion Yen. In doing my research for this article, I found that the story of Shochiku Film Co. could be worthy of its own movie. They are the oldest film production company in Japan, and they are credited with creating the shomin-geki genre, which depicts the lives and stories of the lower middle urban class in Japanese society. In the 30’s, Shochiku even showed the first ever sound film, or ‘talkie,’ made in Japan.
During WWII, Shochiku produced propaganda films to support the war. For their efforts, co-founder Otani and the company president Shiro Kido were tried for committing class A war crimes by the allied occupation. Since then, Shochiku has overcome a lot of adversity, ranging from financial troubles, the emergence of television, to criticisms from Japan’s New Wave of film makers. There also seemed to be a lot of ruthless competition for the control of Japan’s prestigious film industry that almost sank Shochiku. Despite all of their hardships, by 2002 the company would help produce The Twilight Samurai, a film that was nominated by the Academy for Best Foreign Film, and boasts a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. Shochiku has remained a relevant and integral component to Japan’s modern film scene.
Recently, The Criterion Collection honored Shochiku by including them in the Eclipse series. Titled, When Horror Came to Shochiku, Criterion selected the only four films that chronicle Shochiku’s foray into the horror genre: The X from Outer Space, Goke Body Snatcher from Hell, The Living Skeleton, and Genocide.
The X from Outer Space (1967) by Kazui Nihonmatsu:
This film follows a team of scientists who try to make it to Mars but find their ship infected by glowing goo balls. Upon their return to Earth, the goo ball specimen they brought back grew into a very large chicken lizard. The Kaiju, named Guilala, then proceeds to smash up the cities of Japan. He doesn’t even look all that pissed off, he just goes after buildings for the sake of being a dick.
(The pinnacle of film making indeed!)
Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968) by Hajime Sato:
When a strange light brings down a commercial flight over the mountains, the survivors of the crash have to contend with a sentient silver ooze that splits open foreheads and takes over bodies. The alien’s sinister plan is to eventually body snatch the entire world and bring about the demise of humanity. Do the crash survivors and the hero and have what it takes to prevail? Probably not.
The Living Skeleton (1968) by Hiroshi Matsuno:
Possibly the best movie in the series; this black and white feast for the eyes follows a women who seeks revenge for her sister’s murder by pirates on a cruise ship carrying a load of gold. She is assisted by her sister’s ghost in an unholy quest for vengeance. The main lesson here is that pissed off Japanese ghosts should always have access to large vats of deadly acid.
Genocide (1968) by Kazui Nihonmatsu:
When a B-52 carrying an American nuclear bomb goes missing, it’s up to a crack group of investigators to find the nuke before the evil communists do. However, there is a more wicked plot at hand as the island’s swarm of deadly insects seem more and more responsible for bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Looking toward the future:
While they were all very fun to watch, the Living Skeleton was the most visually stunning and had all of the attributes of an instant classic. It is a shame that these films didn’t get the attention they deserved, however it is very clear that these films have influenced some of the more recent popular Japanese horror films. Whatever the reason may be, it’s unfortunate that Shochiku gave up on horror after after getting their toes wet in a pool of blood. It would have been awesome to see where they went next. Perhaps, after some exposure from The Criterion Collection, they might reconsider exploring the world of horror once more.
Born and raised in San Diego California, I grew up loving the action horror and sci-fi genres. The first R rated film I saw was Predator back when I was 8 years old. Aliens blew me away as a youngster and I made a M41-A pulse rifle out of paper towel rolls and rubber bands. I ran around for hours avoiding face huggers and blasting xenomorphs in my back yard and I am bringing that big imagination to Nevermore Horror.