The majority of us are still under the influence of films watched in our youth. As a teenager, I went nuts each time there was an opportunity to view a new Godzilla adventure on TV. This love for stories about big cranky monsters never disappeared and I take delight in observing that it was because of this series that I met the ravishing Kumi Mizuno. Kumi Mizuno? Of course! Who could forget her astonishing eyes? She contributed to some of the most unforgettable movies of Japanese sci-fi of the ’60s, so her inclusion here cannot be surprising.
She was born January 1st, 1936 (or is it 1937?), under the name Maya Igarashi, in Nigata, Japan. She enrolled and eventually graduated from an acting school and began a professional career in film in 1957 in Crazy Society. The next year (and now officially known as Kumi Mizuno), she took part in a promotional campaign for Toho Studios with two other young actresses, resulting in a trio named “The Three Beauties”. It seems that the word “mi” means “beauty” in Japanese and that the girls had each these letters in their names (the other two being Misa Uehara and Mina Mitsu). Only Kumi will have a significant career, however.
Acclaimed director Ishiro Honda would take Kumi under his wing, resulting in her participation in his series of movies with angry monsters. For now, she worked with him for the first time in 1959 for Seniors, Juniors, Co-Workers, having nothing in common with invaders from space or dangerous walking mushrooms. The same year, Kumi is in maybe the biggest movie of the year in her country, Birth of Japan, with a three-hour running time, at the side of illustrious Toshiro Mifune. The title accurately describes the subject, with Mifune battling a dragon. Kumi would sometimes work with another young actor, Akira Kubo, who would also take part in the Godzilla series.
In 1962, Kumi began her sci-fi career with a role in Gorath, under the direction of Honda (who would later reveal that she was his favorite actress to work with). Faithful to the disaster movie genre, we can witness a giant meteor in a destructive path toward the Earth. The film title is, incidentally, the name of this fast-flying planet. Again in 1962, a Japanese classic came to the screens, another version of the timeless story about the 47 Ronins, where Kumi has a small role. This production clocks at 207 minutes, so beware.
1963 promised to be another busy and important year, with the arrival of Attack of the Mushroom People, one of my all-time favorite title. Kumi is the star, with Akira Kubo, in a script that reunited only seven characters. They’re all castaways on a strange island, with some of them being eventually cursed to be transformed into human mushroom creatures. If all this reads as the pinnacle of absurdity, please note that the film nevertheless succeeds in creating an ominous mood of unease… and it’s one of the few horror pictures that can be responsible for many Gilligan’s Island jokes. But for once, Honda wouldn’t deal with giant radioactive monsters.
Soon after, Kumi reunited with Toshiro Mifune for The Lost World of Sinbad, which has nothing to do with the occidental series of Sinbad films. Here, we have another resourceful hero who’s battling against a conquering bully. Kumi plays Miwa, chief of the rebels. After, came International Secret Police: Key of Keys, a spy movie which will eventually be dubbed by Woody Allen as What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, now being translated as a parody, concerning itself with the disappearance of an egg-salad recipe. This humorous version opened in American screens in 1966.
Then came Frankenstein Conquers the World and the word “indescribable” is not strong enough to do justice to such an out-of-this-world script. Notably, it reunites the heart of the Frankenstein Monster directly from a secret nazi laboratory, which is exposed to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima! This heart would later evolve into an entire human being, later seen as a wild teenager with a flat head similar to Karloff’s as the Monster! Taking care of him, we meet doctors James Bowen and Sueko Togami. Soon bored, the boy will cut off his own hand with his teeth to escape the lab. Still ugly, he would further mutate into a giant being, clothed in furs and seen battling a dinosaur and a gigantic octopus. American actor Nick Adams is aboard this amazing production and he’s pretty good under the circumstances, well-matched with Kumi. Many were eager to report a romance between the two, during filming, a rumor that is still denied by Kumi to this very day.
War of the Gargantuas would be the sequel, with our mutant boy sporting a more simian look, with his sectioned hand having grown into a twin brother! Another clueless American actor, this time agile Russ Tamblyn, was the star, being on his way to a career in low-budget weirdness and a soon-to-come meeting with director Al Adamson, well-known for a lack of any artistic skill. Still, War of the Gargantuas is not to be missed.
But the burning question that I can read in your minds is: where the hell is Godzilla in all this? He’s in Monster Zero, with valiant Rodan and villainous Ghidrah. Again in Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster. Kumi is on board for these two productions and became immortal because of them. In the first, she’s reunited with Nick Adams and plays an alien who has a key role in a plan to conquer Earth, after kidnapping our world’s most courageous defenders, Godzilla and Rodan. Kumi sports an attractive space suit and delicious page boy haircut. In the second, she is a native of a South Seas island, as Godzilla is kicking the crap out of Ebirah, a big ugly critter.
In 1967, Kumi is in The Killing Bottle, a light spy film where various gangs want control of a lethal “mousse” to create a deadly weapon (?). She can be seen next in 1974 for Love Is in the Green Valley in a maternal role and in 1988, voicing a character in a television children’s program, which I suspect was more relaxing than dealing with ape-like mutant brothers from a nazi lab. Finally, it’s still on TV that we can see Kumi in 1998 for the movie Tsukisoibito no uta. Kumi Mizuno was close to win a supporting role in the recent Godzilla 2000, but it didn’t materialize. She resumed duty, however, in 2002 for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, to the joy of all her worldwide fans, in the role of the prime minister, which she played again in the final Godzilla picture, Godzilla: Final Wars. Nevertheless, her collaboration in the series makes her one of the most recognizable feminine figure in all of the monster’s adventures. Her contribution for Monster Zero will always be movie history. As pictured in a photograph somewhere in this text, don’t Kumi and the Big G make a charming couple?
1953 Adolescence 1957 Crazy Society; The Spell of the Hidden Gold 1958 Herringbone Clouds; Young Daughters 1959 Seniors, Juniors, Co-Workers; The Birth of Japan; Shacho taiheiki; Whistling in Kotan; One Day I… 1960 The Gambling Samurai; Westward Desperado 1961 Challenge to Live; Wanton Journey; Blood on the Sea; Big Shots Die at Dawn; Ankokugai no dankon 1962 Gorath; The Crimson Sky; Operation Enemy Fort; 47 Ronin; Till Tomorrow Comes; Fangs of the Underworld 1963 Attack of the Mushroom People; The Lost World of Sinbad; Warring Clans; Interpol Code 8; Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: shirei dai hachigo; Operation Sewer Rats 1964 Whirlwind; What’s Up, Tiger Lily? 1965 Frankenstein Conquers the World; Monster Zero; White Rose of Hong Kong 1966 Godzilla vs the Sea Monster; Zenigata Heiji; War of the Gargantuas 1967 The Killing Bottle 1974 Love Is in the Green Valley 1987 Yogisha 1988 Kaito Ruby 1989 Bakayaro! 2: Shiawase ni naritai 2002 Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla 2003 The Man Who Wipes Mirrors 2004 Godzilla: Final Wars 2007 Fumiko no umi