Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda, by Peter H. Brothers, is a fascinating look at the career of a man who was not only one of the most important Japanese filmmakers of the 20th century, but also one of the most overlooked. While Akira Kurosawa justifiably gets accolades among film-scholars for such classics as Seven Samurai and Throne of Blood, it is the fantasy cinema of Ishiro Honda that has been beloved by moviegoers around the world for over fifty years. In films such as Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan, Honda introduced us to some of the most memorable movie-monsters of all time, capturing the imaginations of generations of audiences. Yet the man behind the movies has remained largely unsung.
Here at last is the story of that man. In his book, Peter H. Brothers introduces us to the passions, the fears, the hopes, and the regrets of Ishiro Honda, offering a rarely-seen glimpse into the director's formative years and the life experiences that would influence all of his work. The book's in-depth biography traces Honda's life from early childhood to his initial experiences with Toho Studios, follows him through his wartime experiences, and then examines closely his prolific career. Each chapter focuses on a different era, beginning with the creative triumphs of the fifties, following up with the commercial successes of the early sixties, and finally exploring the creative differences between Honda and Toho that brought his career to a bitter halt.
The subject is vast, and there are times when one wishes that the material could have been explored in more detail. But despite this, facts emerge that have seldom, if ever, come to light, and both casual readers and fans of Honda's work will find much of interest. Of particular interest are Honda's rarely-discussed non-fantasy films, especially Eagle of the Pacific and Farewell Rabaul, commercial and critical successes that paved the way for the blockbusters that were to come. Equally fascinating, though, is the detailed analysis of each of Honda's fantasy films. The author's deep respect for Honda's work is evident on every page, yet he remains admirably objective, not shying away from harsh criticism when the director's work was less-than-satisfactory, yet always managing to find something positive to say, showcasing highly-entertaining films that many critics and mainstream movie-goers have unfairly dismissed.
The book is not perfect. There are a number of misprints throughout the book, and these will hopefully be corrected in any future printing. However, the positive aspects easily outweigh any negatives. It is engaging, informative, and highly entertaining. For students of film theory looking to explore the impact that Japanese fantasy film