Last July, Ian Friedman posted on his blog an interview with Sony's Michael Schlesinger in which he announced that a Toho box set containing Mothra, H-Man and Battle In Outer Space would be released in 2009.
This was immediately picked up by Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters author and "living kaiju encyclopedia" August Ragone on his blog. As you can see from reading his blog, August was very enthusiastic over this set.
On several message boards, August posted information and suggestions which would prove to be useful to Sony in producing the final product such as coordinating running times, rearranged scenes, music changes, etc.
Schlesinger indicated that it was his intention to include several Japanese movie historians from all sectors of kaiju fandom. August expressed it this way on March 2 at the Classic Horror Film Board: "Commentaries are expensive to produce (and you have to walk the fine line of being informative while keeping it interesting and lively); but with that being said, I'd like to take a crack at it. Or at the very least, I would be happy to write extensive liner notes."
At that point, nothing was announced but several fans indicated their willingness to chip in on making this project a memorable one to Schesinger. I also offered materials on Tokyo Tower. He indicated that nothing was finalized but would look into incorporating submissions, etc. into the set.
But storm clouds soon started to make their appearance.
On March 12, at the CHFB forum, Stuart Galbraith posted, "Good news - these DVDs will indeed feature audio commentaries! More info to follow over the next few days, I'm sure, as it becomes official."
This prompted a terse response from Schlesinger, "Stuart, where did you learn this? I've not heard any word yet on extras." No public response was made by Galbraith. (Oh-oh!)
No news on the Toho set was forthcoming after this exchange at the CHFB except for this from Schlesinger on April 11: "Expect an announcement soon." (Hmmm.)
Then, over at the Monster Zero message board, this was posted by Ryan Clark on May 2: "I'm not sure if this was known at all yet, but Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski have recorded commentaries for Mothra and BIOS. Apparently other extras could be possible, but highly unlikely." This was apparently mentioned at a Godzilla event in Topeka, Kansas that week that they appeared at.
This message was responded to May 3 by Keith Aiken: "That was being kept hush-hush until everything was recorded, which just happened last week."
As I knew August was seeking a commentary spot on this set, I asked him if he knew of this and if it was true. He replied that he checked with Schlesinger and he was told that "someone" handling the set at Sony made the decision to have Ryfle and Godziszewski do the commentaries and that he (Schlesinger) "didn't know anything" about it. [Both had done several of the commentaries on the recent Classic Media Godzilla sets.]
I then sent Schlesinger my own query on this and he confirmed to me that he was not aware of the decision (he found out from "a second-hand source") until it was a "done deal." He reiterated that it was his intent to involve everyone. He expressed his frustration with Sony's Home Video department and said he had some tense discussions over their decisions.
I responded to him in this way, in part:
Unfortunately, fans can be pretty hard-headed and once wronged they don't easily forget. The experience with Classic Media left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths and it also caused the parting of several people who were close associates of many years. That's what happens when business intrudes in one's passions.
The thing is, this is not the first time that a situation such as this reared its ugly head and it involves the same clique and it involved the same sneaky, secretive deals. This was the same tactic employed in the Classic Media episode. Things were kept hidden until everything was "in the can."
The excuse then was, "August was too busy writing his book." August would have made time to participate, but he wasn't even given the chance to turn it down. As if that excuse had any kind of merit.
To give background to Schlesinger as to why there may be a problem, I also recounted that during the Classic Media episode that I received several messages from people who were angry over some of the people selected for commentaries (for varying reasons) over others and that they would boycott those releases. (This was mentioned on a message board back then, and someone connected with the Godzilla DVD project blew it out-of-proportion and claimed to Classic Media that a boycott was being organized at G-FEST, which wasn't true. These persons went so far as to spread more rumors that ultimately led to the sabotage of Robert Conte's session at G-FEST by Classic Media. It was claimed that Conte was going to use his session to badmouth Classic Media. A prominent kaiju historian ended up permanently banned from G-FEST for his role in the sabotage. All Classic Media had to do was to just ask Conte or J. D. Lees, but they didn't and relied on the rumors instead.) I didn't boycott the Classic Media releases as I bought several of them and stated such on numerous occasions (much to the annoyance of some who did boycott them).
I ended the message with the expressed hope that an accomodation could be made. (Perhaps August could still be tapped to do the liner notes.) To date, I have not received a response.
Besides August, there are several others who should be given a shot at doing a commentary such as Peter H. Brothers, Mike Bogue, J.D. Lees and others. I would not be interested to do one as I really don't feel I have the voice for it (but that's just me) and the others have far more knowledge than I do. As I've said, August Ragone is practically a "living encyclopedia" on Japanese science-fiction. His inclusion should've been a no-brainer! Plus, he authored the most-successful book on Japanese science-fiction to hit the bookstores!
Before things get out of hand in this, I am not advocating any boycott or anything else of the kind on this set. I am just reporting on what transpired here as may fans posted on the Internet in many message boards that they'd like to see August do a commentary in this set. They deserve to know why he isn't.
Why would something like this need to be kept "hush-hush"? We're not talking "national security" issues here. There could only be one reason: greed. As I pointed out to Schlesinger, "actions have consequences." Some people feel the need to "own" or "control" fandom and exclude those who may not be part of the "in-crowd." Very high-schoolish. I guess in the Era of Obama's "spread the wealth", "spreading the wealth" doesn't seem to apply to Godzilla fandom.
Contrast that to the way things are handled by G-FAN and G-FEST. When the Godzilla 2006 plaque dedication ceremony was being organized, Steve Ryfle, Guy Tucker and others, not normally associated with either G-FAN or G-FEST, were invited to participate. Richard Pusateri, who did a Classic Media Godzilla commentary, was asked to do a tribute to Akira Ifukube at the ceremony. August Ragone, who had not been involved in G-FAN or G-FEST since the near-debacle of G-FEST 2000, was welcomed to G-FEST XV last year and was one of the interviewers of Haruo Nakajima and gave his own presentation on Eiji Tsuburaya. He also penned an excellent tribute to Jerry Ito for G-FAN. It is always a better policy to be inclusive, not exclusionary. Everyone benefits.
How will this all eventually play out re: the Sony Toho set? That's anyone's guess. The patterns at play here should tell you something so it won't take much for a good, educated guess.
UPDATE: I received an email with this link to a message board (It Came From Planet X) thread on the subject.
UPDATE (5/11/09): The Rodan's Roost message board picked up on the story.