[7 May 2004]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
(The song “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors plays in the background. Images of Godzilla fill the screen.)
Narrator: He was the biggest thing to stumble across the Pacific since the plastic ashtray. His name inspired fear in the hearts of citizens and city planners worldwide. He was Pokemon and the Power Rangers before such pre-fab fads were emptying the wallets of every Mom and Dad. This Toho titan, with the help of Middle America’s most beloved television legal eagle (Insert Shot of Perry Mason looking stern and severe.) became the favorite nuclear mutation of an entire generation.
He spoke to a demographic sick of Eisenhower’s politics and Bill Haley’s decadent swagger. (Insert shots of dancing sock hoppers.) These rowdy radicals were ready for a change. They were eager to embrace a new teen dream. They needed a 400-foot tall, fire-breathing lizard from an isolated and insular island nation to teach them something new about life, love, and laughter, again. Like an oversized version of Kyu Sakamoto’s hit song “Sukiyaki”, Godzilla answered the Kyoto clamor and became a superstar in the process…
(Ominous rock song “Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult plays. The final image of Godzilla is held. It then turns into a terrifying negative image of the beast.)
Narrator (cont.): But it wasn’t all champagne showers and wild weekends at the Chicken Ranch for the oversized Asian superstar. A storm cloud was forming around him, a deep dark cumulus/cirrus type that sort of looked like . . . a fluffy bunny. But a very angry bunny. Waiting in the shadows like a spoiled piece of sushi was an entity with only evil on its mind. While all major movie stars have their irate fans and obsessed stalkers, (Rapid images of Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Bea Arthur.) Godzilla had a very special adversary: a jilted suitor who wanted nothing more than to spread his movie mania all across the world . . .
(Clips from classic Godzilla films are shown while a muzak version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” plays.)
Narrator (cont): It is this man’s story we are here to focus on tonight; one man’s dream of wining and dining a giant lizard, in hopes that he could get the beast to hop on to his gravy train and make both of them millionaires. But when the jaded jade giant wouldn’t return his calls (Shot of a monster claw smashing a telephone receiver into its base, over and over again.) a seed of hatred began to germinate in this international business tycoon that would grow into a blossom of bile so strong it could sideline a sumo.
Indeed, for Sandy Frank, seller of syndicated television worldwide and producer of Anglicized installments of Japan’s favorite creature features, the snubbing by Godzilla would turn this once outgoing man darkly inward, and haunt him to this very day.
(A fleeting image of a man dressed in a dark jacket and heavy sunglasses fills the screen. There is some shaky, hand-held commotion as the person jumps into a limo.)
Narrator (cont): Today, we expose what is perhaps the most heated and heady feud in the entire history of giant mutated monster movies. The principles have not spoken since that one fateful day when Toho Entertainment, Japan’s biggest creature feature studio, refused to reply to a simple business plan. All Sandy Frank wanted to do was bring Godzilla to the rest of the world; to share the suave savage brute with film fans everywhere. But thanks to the cold shoulder treatment and a lack of communication, a bubbling vat of bad blood has developed between these industry giants. Since then, a molten madness has hung over them both like a velvet drape of doom. Godzilla’s greatness is a given, but the destiny of his mortal enemy, Sandy Frank, could have been quite different had the right amphibious creature been his ticket to the big time. We’ll explore this, and much more, on this special episode of Sandy Frank: Behind the Monster . . .
(Montage of images, mostly of people like Ozzy Osbourne, Def Leppard, and Brittany Spears pass by as the angular credits roll.)
Narrator (cont): Not much is known about Sanderson “Sandy” Frank prior to the early ‘50s. Some say he spent time in a Tibetan monastery, studying the ways of tranquility and shame. Others remember a certain “S. Frank” as one of the original Ink Spots. Wherever he came from, by 1954 Frank was addicted to Asian culture, especially Japanese monster movies.
We caught up with one-time associate and faded film star, Gamera, near his East Los Angeles boarding house. The former amphibious action hero is now penniless, having lost all his money through bad investments and a self-financed flop Broadway musical about his life, “Sunday in the Shell with Gamera”.
Gamera (dressed in a ripped mechanics shirt and a bad toupee): All I know about Sandy Frank is that he wanted Toho films. Maybe to get Godzilla or something? I’m not sure. Some business deal. But things went sour. Hey! How the heck should I know? All I know is that he wanted those Japanese monster movies. He wanted them bad. Thought he could sell them worldwide. And I guess, now, looking back on it, if he couldn’t have the G-man, he’d settle for anything he could get his mitts on. Including yours truly.
Narrator: Friend of Gamera and co-star in his failed stage production, Mothra, agrees . . .
Mothra (from a distance): EEEK! BREEEK! EEEK! EEK! BREEK! EEK!
Narrator: Truer words have never been spoken. (Shots of Gamera in his prime.) Over the next few decades, Frank would bankroll an all out assault on Godzilla’s reign as king of the monsters by featuring his newly discovered flying turtle in dozens of cheaply made, poorly edited and dubbed children’s matinee movies. None of them every reached the Godzilla level of hype or critical acclaim.
(Cut to shot of Gaos from his days as a co-star with Gamera. The song “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks plays. Cut to shot of Gaos today he’s fat, bald and wears a shawl over his now tattered wings.)
Gaos: Yeah, I felt bad for the kid. I mean, monstering is a tough racket. You gotta have huevos the size of divin’ bells to even get a break. And that Frank, man, did that guy WORK, the poor schmoe. Eighteen-hour days. Noodle cart openings. Ringing the opening bell at the Nikkei at the beginning of every Boy’s Festival. A slave driver, an absolute slave driver.
(Shot of Gamera standing on the street corner. He is holding up a sign “Will Spin Around in the Air for Food”.)
Gamera: Look at things from my perspective, will ya? I was this oversized house pet without much of a future. Cram school was right out and the middle management position I was training for fell through. I looked up to Godzilla, you know, like everyone else. I mean he was kind of a hero to guys like me. So when this fast talking guy shows up with an army of lawyers and a deal for a dozen movies, I mean, my head literally rammed back into my shell. You understand me? I literally crawled inside myself. I couldn’t believe my luck.”
Narrator: But what poor Gamera failed to understand was that he was merely a pawn in Frank’s master plan to destroy Godzilla once and for all. His attempts to woo the biggest star in man-in-suit-movies failed. So if he couldn’t have the biggest, greenest actor in the world, then he would take some salmonella-ridden reject from the Tokyo ghettos. Obviously, quality control was not as important to Frank as getting the product out into the marketplace as rapidly as possible.
Gamera: We were all over the map from the beginning. Scripts were literally being re-written as I was being fitted for leg rockets. One day I’d come in, I was an evil amphibian with destruction on the brain. Very alpha male. Next thing I know, I’m out of makeup and I’m talking to brats and generally being nice to people. Gamera befriends a kid. Gamera helps a little girl. Gamera dances go-go. Yeesh!
Narrator: In a rare interview for Behind the Monster, Godzilla himself agreed to sit down and discuss the rivalry between himself and Gamera. He refused to speak on camera to Behind the Monster about Sandy Frank, now would he address that comment he made back in 1979 about enjoying same-species sex. Flanked by a battalion of lawyers, personal handlers, and album producers, the Toho terror spoke openly about the turtle that would be “king”.
Godzilla (very aloof): The films were never very good. No subtlety at all. Gamera beats up a giant boll weevil. Gamera fights a flounder. How sad. All I will say is that we understood how the poor chap was being used by Frank and the fools over at Daiei. I personally thought, “what a sad bugger”. Little did I know that some of this fastidiousness would rub off into my movies. I told them, “Godzilla is an icon! Godzilla is a star! Godzilla is not a friend of children!”. But my protestations fell on deaf ears.
Narrator: When pressed about Frank and his attempts to undermine his career, Godzilla became irritated. Attempts to calm him down were futile.
(Images of destroyed buildings and skyscrapers on fire.)
Narrator (cont): One thing you have to say about Godzilla: even after 50 plus years in the business (cut to shots of ambulances rushing and massive rubble and debris) the monster’s still got it.
(Cut to shot of the elusive “Sandy Frank” figure, dark coat and glasses. He is walking in a park flanked by two brutish men)
Narrator (cont): No matter how successful Gamera became. No matter how many sequels were made or baby turtles purchased, the partnership between the two was doomed. (Shot of someone dropping turtle in the toilet and flushing) With Godzilla still raking in the respect at the box office, Gamera became a forgotten amphibian in Frank’s mind. And it wasn’t just the beasts that felt the wrath of an irate and disillusioned Sandy Frank. Many pre-pubescent Japanese boys learned that their given Asian names just wouldn’t cut it. They weren’t Frank’s idea of acceptable Western market nomenclature.
(A shot of a little kid in very short pants and a dorky ball cap is shown. Jim Croce’s song “I Got a Name” plays in the background.)
Gamera: The odd thing was, he decided to call them all Kenny. KENNY! Of all the names one could come up with . . . Kenny. Never understood that one. Never understood how I could fly being so non-aerodynamically inclined, but hey, who am I to judge? But Kenny. Yeesh! And I thought Guiron was a dumb name.
Narrator (cont): The “Kennys”, as they came to be known, suffered terribly at the hands of a hostile Frank.
Kenny #1: (Wearing big sunglasses and a graying goatee.) I told the man, “Look, my name is NOT Kenny. It’s Kenichi!” Big difference, right? Well, not to Frank san. He said, “Kid, your name is Kenny and you’re gonna like it. Got it?’ Well, what could I do? I mean, he was the boss. He was signing the checks. I was like, eight. I heard he had the Yakuza in his pocket, but I wasn’t really scared . . . wait. You can cut that last part out, right? Right? Oh crap! Crap!
Narrator: Other “Kennys” tell a similar story.
Kenny #2: (Outfitted in a straight jacket.): He took another approach with me. I mean, I was innocent and really unsure of my identity. My parents had named me Condo, but I wasn’t secure with it. So one day, SSSSSSandy takes me over to his office. He sits me down in a chair and starts talking to me. And he keeps calling me “Kenny”. Well, I correct him. And he just smiles. I say my name is Condo. He just keeps smiling. Finally, I get up to leave and he hisses in a voice I’ll never forget “The name is Kenny. UNDERSTAND?!” I got the message, all right.
Kenny #6: Frank (bleeped) me up calling me that (bleeping) name (bleeping) Kenny. KENNY! I did CRACK because I was called Kenny. I sold my body on the STREET to forget that (bleeping) name. Kenny . . . why not Sandy huh? Why not (bleeping) Sandy? Huh? Frank? Why not either of your (bleeping) names? No it had to be (bleep) (bleeping) son of a (bleep) Kenny.
Narrator: Many of the other “Kennys” could not be reached for comment. Some openly refused to broach the subject of their name change at the hands of Frank.
(We see a shots of an abandoned apartment. The place is a disaster with broken bottles, beer cans, and other debris strewn about. The camera closes in on a piece of paper sitting on a filthy tabletop. Creepy theremin music plays.)
Narrator (cont): While preparing this report, we learned that “Kenny # 4”, Ichi Tadaka, had suddenly disappeared, leaving behind a mysterious and disturbing note . . .
(Shot of note. It is scrawled in blood red ink and reads: “Kenny is gone.”)
Narrator (Cont.): As the years passed by and the viability of the Gamera franchise dwindled, friends say Frank turned to his syndication empire for satisfaction. Indeed, with the game show programs he fostered and the independent projects he greenlit, he was more successful than ever. But the entire Gamera/ Godzilla/ Kenny part of his life gnawed at Frank’s psyche. He became reclusive, living a hermit-like existence in a palatial estate in California, with vacation homes in Florida, Tokyo, the French Caribbean and Tahiti. Friends say the only recent bright spot in Frank’s fractured life was the 1998 release of the American version of Godzilla.
Woman (In silhouette): Oh yeah, he was ex-static when that turkey bombed. He was all like, “Roz” wait, I mean, Jennie, got it? My name is Jennie. Anyway, he says “Rrr Jennie, I’m so happy. That bird laid a big, fat egg”. And I said something like “Yeah” and he said, “Teach those Toho rats to mess with me”. And I said, “Yeah, I mean, why is that Sand?” And he gave me this grin like he just killed a cat or something. He just sat there, grinnin’.
(Shots of Godzilla are mixed with images of Mothra, Gamera, the Kennys and Gaos. The song “Discovering Japan” by Graham Parker plays in the background.)
Narrator: It is now the 50th Anniversary of Godzilla’s foray into the film world, an experiment in oversized creature exposition that is as popular today as it was those many decades ago. (Shot of Godzilla getting up from his interview chair in anger.) Still, time has not healed all the wounds this aging action star feels. Sure, the flying star cuts, the freeze ray burns, the spike head gashes, and the shooting head spear puncture wounds have scarred over and are barely visible, now. But deep inside this dinosaur demagogue is one pain that just won’t go away.
Gamera: Oh, he suffers. I know he suffers. He may still be a big star, gets his own doublewide trailer and stuff like that. But Godzilla? Oh yeah, he cries. You don’t see it on the outside. He’s not like that. But he is balling like a little baby…here (points to chest) on the inside. On the inside it’s Niagara Falls…
Narrator: And what about Sandy Frank? Does he cry? Does he weep for the turtle he washed down the drain like so much stale wasabi? Is there an empty place in his heart for the “Kennys” who’ve lived with the shame of being deprived of their real name? Or is that enemy flame still burning? Is it possible that the loss of Godzilla, the global superstar who went on to become one of the most respected movie entities in the history of Japanese cinema, still eats away at his soul? Who knows?
Gamera (to the camera): Hey Sandy! Call me. I’m in the book. But they’re turning off my phone on Tuesday so make sure to call, like, before then! Okay?
(Image of a phone. Silence. Hold for several seconds. Slowly “All Tomorrow’s Parties” by the Velvet Underground comes up and plays over shots of the downtrodden Gamera standing on a street corner. Cut to Godzilla and his posse getting into their limousines and driving away.)
The following was a parody. Sandy Frank was never an overbearing bully who threatened fictional monsters or browbeat children into changing their name. He was and remains a successful seller of syndicated television around the world; his most popular shows being Name That Tune and Face The Music. He was instrumental in importing several dozen Kaiju eiga films from Japan during the ‘60s-‘80s and selling them to markets all over the world. In later years, he would branch off into foreign cartoons and action series. He even tried to buy some of Toho studios films (home of Godzilla), but apparently was never successful. Although several websites claim his ownership of Godzilla titles, no proof of such can be found. And for dubbing purposes, he did mandate that all the male children be called “Kenny”. The reasons for this fixation are unknown. Some mysteries are better left unexplored.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/6gibron/