Reviving the 'King of the Monsters'

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Ishirō Honda's 1954 film GODZILLA, which first introduced Japan's giant, city-destroying monster to movie audiences. 2014 also saw a new incarnation of the now world-famous creature, in the identically-titled American blockbuster directed by Gareth Edwards.

To help celebrate the anniversary, Japanese film lab and digital postproduction facility Tokyo Laboratory was tasked with two major projects, both of which involved scanning Godzilla films in 4K with the ARRISCAN. The first was a full digital restoration of the 1954 GODZILLA commissioned by Toho, the company that had originally produced and distributed the film. The second was a television documentary produced by Nihon Eiga Satellite Broadcasting, which runs the Japanese Movie Channel on DBS, looking back at all 28 of the official Toho Godzilla films. While both projects were scanned in 4K, the former did so to maximize image quality in movie theaters, and the latter did so as part of a 4K television broadcasting test.

Godzilla was originally conceived as a metaphor for nuclear weapons, though the monster might also be seen to symbolize the threat of natural disaster, or even the vengeful rage of nature, retaliating against mankind's destructive ways. In any case the allegory was sufficiently universal for the Godzilla franchise to win fans all over the world. It was therefore vital to ensure that the restoration of images from these internationally admired films was carried out using the best available tools and expertise.

"Tokyo Laboratory was in a unique position to handle this restoration work, and not just because we're a subsidiary of Toho," says Satoshi Kawamata, Deputy General Manager of the Image Media Department. "The Godzilla films have already been remastered and repurposed many times over the years, and staff members here have been involved in the processing and finishing of them all. They are familiar enough with the original images of the Godzilla series to instinctively determine the optimum quality for reproduction on a cinema screen or any kind of monitor."

We really appreciate the excellent image quality of the ARRISCAN and the way it accurately captures grain structure.

Unfortunately the original camera negative of the 1954 film has been lost, a fate sadly shared by many other historic Japanese films. All that remained for the restoration team to work with were two duplicate negatives and a master positive print. On the plus side, they had been preserved in good condition, as had film materials from the myriad sequels. In fact, the materials displayed only relatively minor deterioration and it was possible for them to be scanned quite stably using pin-registration and the Soft Archive Mode on the ARRISCAN.


"The challenge that received our most careful attention was to prepare the first GODZILLA for digital theater screenings in a way that reproduced the 'film-like' image experienced by audiences in 1954," explains Yoshinori Kato, Chief Engineer of the digital restoration process. "This is different to the approach we might take with a restoration for a traditional DVD package, which requires object profiles to be sharp and noise to be discreet, optimizing the image definition for home-use displays."

Kato continues, "We really appreciate the excellent image quality of the ARRISCAN and the way it accurately captures grain structure, which is an important characteristic and regarded as part of the artistic expression in a film image. This is especially true of black-and-white films such as the original GODZILLA, so we give real care and attention to the restoration of monochromatic film grains. ARRI has successfully ensured that the ARRISCAN does not express grain as unpleasant granular noise, which can often happen with other equipment."

Even though the final DCP of GODZILLA was screened in 2K, since most of the digital theaters in Japan only have 2K projectors, it was so film-like that many audiences believed they were watching a celluloid print, which Tokyo Laboratory took as indicative of the restoration's success. As well as the newly restored version, the ungraded 4K scan data has been kept for long-term preservation on LTO, for possible reuse in the future. 

The other project taken on by Tokyo Laboratory, a 30-minute television program covering all 28 Godzilla films, required a different approach. The goal here was to optimize the scanned images for large consumer 4K displays, which necessitated some testing. Once all the films had been previewed, an offline EDL specifying what footage to use was created and then converted into a cut list.

Ryosuke Miki, Chief Engineer of film scanning and recording, notes, "This series of films has been continuously produced through 60 years of evolving film technology. It was unusual for us to be scanning such a wide range of different film formats on one project, from Academy, to anamorphic, to spherical widescreen and back to anamorphic. Fortunately the ARRISCAN could easily handle the multiple variations of format and aspect ratio, as well as the many optical composite shots in these films. We discovered that by using the ARRISCAN, even decades-old films can achieve a level of sharpness that perfectly suits the emerging media of 4K broadcasting."

We discovered that by using the ARRISCAN, even decades-old films can achieve a level of sharpness that perfectly suits the emerging media of 4K broadcasting.

With the test broadcast of this 30-minute Godzilla retrospective proving a workflow for 4K transmission of restored historic films, and the fully restored 1954 GODZILLA screening at 60 theaters across Japan, the two projects have proved a resounding success. This is especially relevant because they are the first restorations in the country to have been carried out without any funding or input from the National Film Center.


"I think these two projects could become precursors for film archiving and restoration on a commercial basis in Japan," says Akio Watanabe, Director of the Visual Image Department at Tokyo Laboratory. "The only bottleneck in our restoration workflow was dust-busting, which was occasionally very time-consuming, but to address this we're looking at expanding the archive functions of our ARRISCAN with other accessories offered by ARRI, such as Built-In Stabilization, Wet Gates and the Sprocketless Transport. Tokyo Laboratory is in a position to build the first independent film restoration business in Japan, and the ARRISCAN will play an important role."