Born in 1911, Honda was raised by a Buddhist father, Hokan Honda, who instilled in him a positive outlook in life. He was the youngest of four brothers, the three who took up Shinto studies while Honda was a scientist at heart. His love for movies was made when he saw a silent American western film, and wanted to make his own films. He was married to Kimi Honda (née Yamazaki), and they had two children, Takako and Ryuji Honda. He was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army in the 1930s and again during World War II, in which he was a foot soldier (putting his movie career on hold for a while). As a film director, for the majority of his early career, he directed propaganda films. Honda's ultimate life-changing experience was the aftermath of the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which haunted him forever afterward. Poor guy.
He is also one of the important key figures who created Godzilla when Toho wanted a generic giant monster movie akin to The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms that popularized the creation of atomic movie monsters. Honda decidedly went for the Genre Deconstruction of the Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever Nuclear Mutant monsters by portraying Godzilla in a for more realistic and tragic light. When Godzilla was being produced, Honda decided to turn the movie into what it is today, and it's popular amongst the Japanese and fans of the series. And thus, many of his films had a tragic consequence attached to them. Godzilla however originated from the fact that it was based on his haunted experience of the atomic bombings. After Godzilla, the majority of his Kaiju films tend to have a bittersweet ending, while others do have happier, less depressing endings.
Aside from Kaiju, Honda made other films in a variety of genres, which tend to be overlooked. He was long-time friends with Akira Kurosawa, and they directed movies together, such as Kagemusha, and Ran. Like Kurosawa, Honda's well-known actors in his films include Takashi Shimura (best known as Dr. Yamane in Godzilla), Akihiko Hirata, Kenji Sahara, and Akira Takarada.
If a film has something to do with radiation, or looks like a mutation of radiation, yeah, you'll know where this is going. Since Honda will pull this in his films.
Sadly, he passed away before he could direct Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, which would have been his first Heisei Godzilla film.
Ishirō Honda has worked on the following movies/television shows:
- Godzilla (1954)
- Half Human
- The Mysterians
- Varan, the Unbelievable
- Battle in Outer Space
- Frankenstein Conquers the World
- King Kong Escapes
- Latitude Zero
- Space Amoeba
- Return of Ultraman
- Zone Fighter
- Above the Influence: Honda was a Nice Guy in real life. Unfortunately, the Japanese Imperial Army saw him fit to run a "Comfort Station", something he didn't like.
- Anvilicious: No matter what film, he will drop this in-universe in his films.
- Author Appeal:
- Any of his films will have a giant monster with ending their life a complete tragedy. Mothra was the only film monster that didn't suffer from this.
- Honda was a keen hiker, and many of his films features scenes of characters walking across mountainous terrain.
- Author Tract: Honda pulls no punches against his stance against nuclear warfare, and war. It's the reason many of his films after Godzilla (1954) has both an anti-war and anti-nuclear messages in them.
- Born Lucky: A motar shell literally landed in front of him during World War II. And he took it with him in his work station.
- Break the Cutie: He was a very optimistic man despite having to fight one of the second biggest wars of the 20th century. As he went home after being released as a war prisoner, well... He saw Hiroshima. The man he once was did not survive. And even before, he had to be a manager of a "comfort station". It made him anything but comfortable.
- Bittersweet Ending: The majority of his films will end this way. It may have been the fact that his films were based on real-life events.
- Creator Backlash:
- Because of the Lighter and Softer direction the Godzilla series was going, he refused to direct The Return of Godzilla, when the films after it are Darker and Edgier.
- He also began to resent being pigeonholed as a monster movie director by the mid-1960s, as he no longer got to make the kind of romantic dramas he was also fond of, and better known for early in his career. After retiring, most of his positive words about his monster films were for his earlier ones, before he became burnt out on them.
- Genre Deconstruction: He took the basic Nuclear Mutant concept that was popularized in the 1950's, and tore it to shreds by portraying Godzilla a lot more realistically. His directional style and first-hand experience with the tragedies of World War II is the reason Godzilla wasn't even remotely a standard giant monster film, but a movie how war affects everyone, including Godzilla himself.
- Happily Married: To Kimi Yamazaki right until his death in 1993. He loved her so much, he was allowed to see her and their firstborn daughter, Takako, after she was born. Kimi would join her husband in November 3rd, 2018.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Most of his serious sci-fi movies feature at least one. The trend began with Dr. Serizawa in the original Godzilla and became less prevalent when the studio mandated more lighthearted pictures. He pulls this off with Katsura Mifune in Terror of Mechagodzilla, completing a full-circle he started in 1954.
- Inconsistent Spelling: When Honda's films are sent to America, his name is sometimes written as "Inoshiro" Honda because the first character in his name is more commonly read as "ino" or "inoshishi", meaning "wild boar".
- Nuclear Weapons Taboo: His famous one. He will pull a Space Whale Aesop for this reason. And not at Hideo Kojima levels of expositing them.
- Scenery Porn: The landscapes and waters of Japan are often a character in and of themselves in his movies, owing to his childhood in the mountains and his fascination with diving and underwater photography. The various destruction scenes often verge into Scenery Gorn.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Honda did not have an easy life during World War II, with two major impacts:
- He was a Buddhist that despised war, and had to make propaganda war films during World War II. Then he was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army, and became a P.O.W. Then it completely went downhill for him when he saw the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and that broke him for the rest of his life. Afterwards, he made Godzilla with its own shell-shocked veteran in the guise of Daisuke Serizawa, who was played by Akihiko Hirata.
- And secondly, the horrors that he experienced were of his own country, during his service, Ishiro Honda was manager of a "Comfort Station" which was little more than a brothel established for soldiers, watched as the Japanese movie industry became an enterprise that would make Joseph Goebbels proud and was left with nightmares for the rest of his life.
- Space Whale Aesop:
- Honda is the king of this trope. Godzilla (1954) involved nuclear weapons, Mothra involved not being a good idea to let your greed get in a way of disaster, etc. And despite the hate All Monsters Attack has received, it deals with how you, as a child, must handle the world by yourself even if your parents aren't around to help you.
- It should be noted that the reason he made Godzilla (1954) as it is was because he based it around his real-life trauma of Hiroshima's destruction by the Little Boy atom bomb. And so, he treats Godzilla the same way as a nuclear weapon, in which Godzilla was infamously personified for. Even when the movie was Americanized as Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (1956), the metaphor was not lost on the American critics.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Depending on the film, you have Godzilla (1954), Rodan, and The H-Man in one hand with cynicism, but Mothra, Destroy All Monsters, and Mothra vs. Godzilla on the ideal hand. Godzilla is very notoriously cynical for a reason.
- Tragic Monster: Pick one. One of his monsters will have a tragic ending. Godzilla is one by default.
- War Is Hell: A main reason why Godzilla was started as a horror-tragedy. He himself was horrified by World War II as he was a prisoner of war, and when he return home on his way to Tokyo, he had to travel through a desolate Hiroshima, and it haunted him for the rest of his life. His personal war time experience as well as his Shell-Shocked Veteran status is the reason why Godzilla started out this way.