Saturday, February 9, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 9 - Godzilla Raids Again

One year after Godzilla destroyed Tokyo in "Godzilla", he's back, raiding again, in "Godzilla Raids Again".  Only one year after the smash success of "Gojira", Toho quickly moved forward with their sequel.  They were in such a hurry to get "Godzilla 2" made that they overlooked the fact that Ishiro Honda, director of the original Godzilla, was busy directing a different Kaiju film, "Ju Jin Yuki Otoko" (Monster Snowman), though that film is better known in the West under the title, "Half Human"*.  Instead the directing job when to Motoyoshi Oda, a fellow of Honda's, but obviously a far less talented filmmaker who would never make a kaiju film again.  Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was back, and so was special effects master, Eiji Tsuburaya.  But composer Akira Ifukube was replaced by Masaru Sato, who created a far inferior score that lacked even the classic Godzilla theme.

Ultimately, it was seemingly predestined that "Godzilla Raids Again" (or "Godzilla's Counterattack" as its Japanese title reads), was destined to fall under the sequel curse.  Except for a single cameo from Takashi Shimura as Dr. Yamane, the original human cast was gone.  The principle creative talent behind "Godzilla" was missing, but Toho needed some kind of follow-up to capitalize on the blockbuster that was the kaiju genre.  Heck, even Godzilla's choice of target city, Osaka, feels inferior, its like if the aliens from "Independence Day", after blowing up New York, decided to attack Philadelphia next.  The grim disastrous tone of the original was not kept, instead Godzilla was merely a giant monster wrecking the city, not a living natural curse brought to the world because of the sin of the atomic age.  The human characters are mostly kitschy and entirely irrelevant, existing only to eat time, even by the second movie its obvious the real star has become the monsters.  Its a very confused movie, sitting on the crossroads between the serious horror of "Gojira" and the unembarrassed children's fair that the rest of Godzilla's Showa series was going to become.

There are some inspired ideas between "Godzilla Raids Again" though.  This is the first film where Godzilla fights with another monster, this one being the giant Ankylosaurus, Anguirus, one of the most popular giant monsters in the Toho line-up.  Anguirus as the series would go on would become Godzilla's best friend, teaming up him against a number of weird alien invasions, though Anguirus was usually the guy to get beaten up.  This time he's Godzilla's first enemy, and thus "Godzilla Raids Again" is notable as being the first Kaiju film marketed around the idea of a giant monster brawl.  Eventually those kinds of movies would be the main attraction of the entire Japanese giant monster industry.  Even with "Godzilla Raids Again"'s faults, which were obvious even in 1955 that Toho wouldn't make another Godzilla movie until the Sixties, its got that monster melee, which makes the whole thing feel worthwhile.

The human characters of "Godzilla Raid Again" are a group of workers for a tuna company in Osaka.  Our main leads are two seaplane pilots, whose job is to patrol the waters of the Pacific and find schools of fish for the fishermen.  This is about as exciting as it sounds.  Luckily for the movie, one pilots has to crash land, and he finds himself at the foot of cliffs.  When his buddy comes to rescue him, they notice that the island they're on is shaking, because up above Godzilla and Anguirus are fighting.  Motoyoshi Oda actually picked a great introduction to the monsters, using a low angle shot from the human's perspective, while the monsters fight up above.  You can only see the fighting through a slim crack in the mountain, letting us see the creatures, but not giving away the entire fight all at once.  That's for later.

Honestly, I don't see much point in describing the humans, but the actually do play a small plot role in this film, so I guess I'll have to tell who they are.  Tsukoika is a bland hero guy, he does bland hero stuff.  The real star is Kobayashi, played by Kurosawa veteran, Minoru Chiaki.  Kobayashi is actually a pretty well-written character, being a fat guy lonely for love, but also the most popular guy at the tuna company.  Sometimes he subtly flirts with one of the two women who work at the tuna company (I could never tell which because they were virtually indistinguishable), by asking her what a woman would want a present, but never telling her who he's interested in.  Spoiler:  Its her.  Double spoiler:  after he accidentally leaves a picture of her to his love interesting, thus accidentally revealing his interest, he gets tragically killed by deciding that he could beat Godzilla all alone in a seaplane.  As it turns out, no, he couldn't.  Still, I rather liked Kobayashi, and so far he's the best human in the Godzilla films.


Now the real point of the movie is obviously the Godzilla vs. Anguirus fight.  The excitement of two giant monsters battling overtakes whatever anti-nuclear message this series had, and furthermore completely overwhelms any horror aspect of these films.  Don't get me wrong, I love watching kaiju battles, that's the whole reason behind this countdown.  But there's still something appreciable that's been lost... for something better.  For whatever reason this fighting actually has its motion sped up, rather than slowed down as it usual for kaiju scenes.  In the first "Gojira", Haruo Nakajima, the actor inside the suit, had to move three times faster than life so that his movements could be slowed down in order to give the illusion of great mass.  By speeding the footage up, the monsters do look like wild animals tearing at each other, but they also don't look very big, and its very silly.  For some reason there's barely any music at all during the kaiju battle, I don't quite know what they were thinking there.

I had a smile on my face the entire time Godzilla and Anguirus were grappling through Osaka.  Its a very fast sequence, which unfortunately looks exactly like two guys in a suit fighting in a miniature set.  Still, one has to get caught up in the excitement of these creatures duking it out.  We have the classic sound effects work of Godzilla's iconic roar compared against Angiurus's own famous high-pitched moan.  They smash through buildings, Godzilla burns down the city, they crush a Japanese castle, its excellent.  This is that childhood mood that's incomparable, that only old kaiju films that create.    The idiotic rooting for your favorite creature as they battle.  Which side am I on?  Well, that's an easy one:  always stand with Godzilla.  There's a hierarchy for movie characters, Godzilla is on the top, everything and everybody else is below.  And yes, Godzilla wins, and that's awesome.

Back in something of a serious tone, "Godzilla Raids Again" did feature some small changes to the Godzilla suit.  After the first suit was so tight and suffocating as to be a torture device, the new suit had to be quicker and more agile so that Godzilla could fight his enemy.  Harua Nakajima worked directly with Eiji Tsuburaya in order to create a suit that could actually move.  Nakajima was basically the superstar of the kaiju costume, willing to put on any kind of weird suit and do anything in order to get the shot done.  And he choreographed his own action.  Nakajima's spirit can be seen in all of the old Showa films, right up until his retirement in the Seventies.  Playing Anguirus was Katsumi Tezuka, who was Nakajima's assistant on "Godzilla" after he found that he physically could not endure being inside the Godzilla suit.  The Anguirus suit seems to have been more to his liking, and Tezuka would go on playing Kaiju for a second.  Already the suit effects were becoming more sophisticated and more tolerable to their performers.

Unfortunately, "Godzilla Raids Again" actually features the climax of the Godzilla-Anguirus rivalry only after about forty-five minutes of screentime.  Godzilla finishes destroying Osaka City, and leaves.  The action then moves to Hokkaido, in the fish company's secondary branch, where Godzilla follows.  Another thirty minutes of movie has still yet to go.  The remainder of the movie can't help but feel tacked on, as the Japanese military needs to find a way to stop Godzilla.  Luckily Godzilla decides to walk into a mountain valley where they can blow up the mountain peaks and cover him with snow.  In this last sequence, we see what has to be the worst shot of Godzilla ever, as we get a bird's eye view of him from a seaplane.... but the Godzilla here is obviously a miniature prop that looks exactly like the Godzilla toy I had as a kid.  But I guess the rest of the movie is worth it because we also get to see Godzilla cover in ice cubes, looking embarrassed that he was defeated this way.

 "Nothing like it ever before."  Indeed.

The English release of "Godzilla Raids Again" originally was going to be a massively-different adaptation, with the entire Japanese plotline excised to make room for a new American film.  This was going to be called "The Volcano Monsters", and it moved along far enough that Toho even lent out their Godzilla and Anguirus suits to the American studio to film new giant monster scenes.  However, history had other ideas, and the studio behind "The Volcano Monsters" shut its doors in 1957, killing that project.  Instead the movie was simply dubbed over with American actors and released in 1959.  The producers, for whatever reason, decided to rename the movie "Gigantis: the Fire Monster" to try to trick audiences that this was an entirely new movie.  So all references to Godzilla are removed, calling both monsters "Anguirus", confusingly.

The dubbing, as you'd expect, is very cheesy.  Tsukoika narrates the movie, often explaining stuff that didn't need explaining in the first place.  They treat the audience like idiots.  For whatever reason, the English director decided that the main character needed a stereotypical Asian accent, while everybody else speaks normal English.  Kobayashi is turned into a bumbling buffoon.  Dr. Yamane's lone cameo is expanded from just filler where he shows the audience five excruciatingly boring minutes of silent "Gojira" footage into an insane explanation of the origins of giant monsters.  He explains that giant monsters are ancient creatures with "fire in their DNA", that existed before dinosaurs and other monsters.  This is accompanied by stock footage from half a dozen unrelated movies.  And confusingly, Yamane references the Oxygen Destroyer directly, even though this isn't supposed to be a Godzilla movie.  Ultimately though, the dubbing is so corny and wonderful, that I have to recommend the American version over the Japanese.  Even though the music is all stock footage, I think the cliched score in English release is better than Masaru Sato's minimalism.   With lines like "Banana oil!", the dubs are fantastic, you gotta love them.  Especially when the original movie wasn't all that exciting in the first place.

The English dub is also available for free on Hulu right now.

Godzilla would lay dormant for the next few years as Toho instead decided to create different giant monsters for their audiences.  "Godzilla Raids Again" was just one of a dozen kaiju movies from the 1950s, all of which I have to see.  It may not be the best Godzilla movie, but its far from the worst.  Trust me.

Next time on All-Out Giant Monster Attack!:  Since my "Half Human" bootleg has yet to arrive, instead we're going to watch a movie starring a 19th century French artist, "Rodan".


* "Ju Jin Yuki Otoko" is probably the most troublesome giant monster movie ever made, and the only one I know of to be voluntarily banned by its studio.  "Half Human" is basically a King Kong homage, but instead of the giant monster being a giant ape, its an Abominable Snowman, worshiped by the Ainu people of Japan.  Unfortunately the film, years later, was considered offensive to the Ainu, and so Toho locked the film in a vault, where it lies today, possibly sitting next to Disney's PC embarrassment, "Song of the South".  That makes the film extremely hard to find today - though I succeeded.  In the very bowels of the Internet there's a few Russian sites that have "Monster Snowman" in its entirety - though for how long is impossible to know - however, its in Japanese with Russian subtitles, making it doubly incomprehensible to me.  Torrents, sadly, were no help either, as there were torrents for the movie with subtitles, but no seeds.  GRRRRRR...

There was an English version of the movie released in 1959, which renamed it "Half Human", which remains today its better-known title.  That movie is kinda like the American version of "Godzilla" starring Raymond Burr, but with legendary B-movie actor, John Carrendine, as the new star.  This version, from what I've heard, was a far deeper gutting of the original Japanese, with a third of the original running time lost.  (And that's not even the worst American adaptation, wait until "Varan the Unbelievable".)  Due to Toho's legal stance, that version too is almost impossible to find.  And trust me, I've looked.  I've spent days trying to find a copy of either version, ultimately with no luck.  Luckily, however, I did manage to track down a subtitled bootleg DVD for ten dollars, which should arrive in two to three weeks, when then hopefully I can finally review "Half Human".



    1. Awww, thanks. Technically its the 200th post within the category of "Movie Review", the actual number is a bit different, but the love is appreciated.