Author Archives: Alex Good

All Monsters Attack (1969)

*. All Monsters Attack (American title: Godzilla’s Revenge, which makes even less sense) is usually considered to be one of the worst films in the deep-bottomed Godzilla franchise. Richard Pusateri begins his DVD commentary by saying the only debate among fans is whether it’s the worst or only the second-worst.
*. That said, Pusateri does enter the important caveat that the people who come up with such rankings weren’t (and aren’t) the target audience. The hero Ichiro (Tomonori Yazaki), the first child actor to star in the franchise, better represents this demographic. This is an after-school movie with a message about standing up to bullies, aimed, in Pusateri’s estimation, at fourth-graders. So who am I to judge it?
*. Aside from being juvenile instead of just campy or weird, the other big knock against All Monsters Attack is its heavy usage of what is often referred to as stock footage but which is really monster material recycled from several previous Godzilla movies (which is not the same thing as stock footage). This even leads to Godzilla himself changing appearance because there were different suits used in the different movies being sampled.
*. I didn’t find this to be a big problem though. To be honest, I didn’t even notice the different Godzilla suits. What’s more, the premise of the film has it that Ichiro is only imagining the monsters anyway, so any lapses in continuity can be waved away as the operation of dream logic.
*. What didn’t I like about All Monsters Attack?
*. (1) Minilla, or the Son of Godzilla. This was his third appearance and he looks just as disgustingly cute as ever and has even learned to speak English (or Japanese). Technically he may not even be Godzilla’s son, as he was only sort of adopted in the first place and I’m not even that sure of his gender either. In the dubbed English version he has a dopey male voice, but in the Japanese he sounds female. I guess he must be male though as he’s clearly the Monster Island surrogate for Ichiro, learning the same lesson about standing up for himself that Ichiro has to learn in the real world.
*. (This may be a good place to add a quick aside on Godzilla’s gender as well, which is never directly specified in the series. Even in the 1998 Roland Emmerich film Godzilla laying eggs is said to be the result of asexual reproduction. In my notes on all these movies I’ve adopted the usual shorthand of referring to Godzilla as male.)

*. (2) Gabara. This is the new monster introduced, and a one-off for the franchise. Heaven knows what he’s supposed to be. Apparently the producers thought of him as a mutated toad, but I don’t know how that explains the punk hair or electrical discharge. I think he looks terrible, but he sounds even worse. Pusateri describes the noise he makes as being “like a small car that can’t start,” which is close but doesn’t quite do justice to how annoying it is. When he’s fighting Minilla, who sounds like an asthmatic squeaky toy or clown horn, the resulting cacophony is excruciating.
*. Speaking of the battle between Minilla and Gabara, isn’t this making Baby Godzilla fight a little outside his weight class? I mean, Godzilla himself has a tough time squaring off against Gabara, so how the hell is Minilla supposed to go toe-to-toe against him? Ichiro’s Gabara isn’t as high a mountain to climb.
*. (3) If you have the DVD with both the English and Japanese versions you have to listen to the “Monster March” song that plays over the opening credits. What better way to kick things off than to have someone screaming crazy shit? Here are the lyrics as rendered by the English subtitles: “Marching Mr. Monsters with the style, Destroy everything, Ghooo! Ghooo! Godzilla fires radioactivity, Mi Mi Minilla, Poo Poo Poo, Bang Crash, Bang Crash, They destroy everything, Sorry, sorry, but living is hard for us also.”
*. (4) The lesson about standing up to bullies ends on an odd note, with Ichiro attacking the innocent sign painter. Pusateri has a lot of fun with this, as he describes an Ichiro imbued with newfound power who “inexplicably begins a sociopathic crime wave.” But he does raise an important point, as Ichiro does seem to have become the new Gabara, looking “for a new nerdy kid to pick on.” It seems a troubling message, especially in a Japanese film where I thought there was more respect for authority figures and adults, at least at the time. Or perhaps this was Ishiro Honda’s message about what latchkey kids were turning into.
*. Pusateri concludes by considering All Monsters Attack as a tipping point in the franchise, toward films with “tired plots, lesser known actors, skimpier budgets, and increasing use of footage from earlier movies,” as the box office continued its decline from the peak of King Kong vs. Godzilla.
*. Seen that way, it’s easy to see it as one of the worst films in the franchise. My own take is that it’s not really a Godzilla movie at all, or if it is than it’s meta-Godzilla. The monsters are wholly imaginary, the product of Ichiro’s fandom. He has a toy Godzilla in his room, and one assumes he’s watching those older Godzilla movies and reading Godzilla comic books in his spare time.
*. As a children’s movie I think it’s pretty good. The different plots weave together well. The cast all work well. The bumbling gangsters add a Home Alone feel. I like the industrial setting of Kawasaki. It really is the monster stuff that drags it down. So, yes, a terrible Godzilla movie. But not bad otherwise.

The X from Outer Space (1967)

*. The X from Outer Space didn’t have a theatrical release in North America, going straight to TV. The first time I saw it was as part of Criterion’s Eclipse collection When Horror Came to Shochiku, where it’s packaged together with three other fantasy films: Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell, The Living Skeleton, and Genocide (the last of these being the only other directing credit for Kazui Nihonmatsu).
*. I mention this because I quite like the Shochiku collection. Three of the movies are well worth checking out. Alas, the one that I don’t think worth bothering with is The X from Outer Space.
*. If you’re just looking for kooky ’60s kaiju fun then it may satisfy. Of course there’s a giant monster played by a guy in a rubber suit. Its name is Guilala, and he (it?) can only be destroyed by a substance known as guilalanium. There are lots of cute little rocket ships, and even an alien flying omelet the role of which is never explained. There’s a lady astronaut (her spacesuit has red trim around the belt, setting it apart from the men’s), and when hearing a complaint about the food on the ship she gets to say “I’m a scientist, not a cook!”
*. And there’s more. There’s some business about the alien burning a hole through the floor that may have been an inspiration behind the acid-blood trail left by the xenomorph in Alien. There’s a wall-size map at mission control that they use to track Guilala’s movement by repositioning a big red cut-out of the monster. And there’s a bouncily incongruous score that plays along through the whole picture, no matter what’s happening on screen.
*. So sure, it’s fun. But I think even kids at the time must have realized that what they were getting was second-rate kaiju. The effects are sub-Toho, and the monster design isn’t very impressive. Guilala doesn’t have any of Godzilla’s personality, I think largely because he only has glowing red eyes with no pupils. And the rest of him just looks ridiculous, a bunch of parts that have been thrown together without any coherence.
*. What The X from Outer Space represents, at least for me, is a textbook case of how cynicism fails in the arts. This is the worst of the Shochiko horror films because the others are idiosyncratic, creative, inspired, bizarre, and original bordering on unique. Meanwhile, The X from Outer Space was always meant to be a rip off of Toho’s Godzilla and that’s just how it plays. As such it rates maybe a bit higher than some of the lesser known kaiju of the same period but is still scarcely worth watching even once.

Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)

*. Invasion of Astro-Monster is usually classified as the sixth film in the Godzilla canon, and we shouldn’t be too surprised that Godzilla’s name isn’t in the title, or the Japanese title The Giant Monster War (though it was shown on TV in the U.S. as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero). After all, Godzilla’s name hadn’t appeared in the previous film either (Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster). But what we may be surprised by is how secondary a role Godzilla, Rodan, and Ghidorah, have to play this time out.
*. Normally this would be the kiss of death for a Godzilla movie, since he is the star. I didn’t mind his absence from most of this film though, or even the fact that he doesn’t show up until we’re more than a half-hour in, when he’s turned into a bit of space luggage along with Rodan (appearing a bit like the Star Child in his embryonic bubble, three years before 2001).
*. I think there were two reasons this relegation of the big boys to the sidelines didn’t end up sinking the movie. First, by this point in the series I was getting a little tired of seeing monsters stomping on buildings and fighting among themselves. Some of the monster mash footage here was even recycled from earlier flicks.
*. Second, the human story this time is, for my money, the best of the series yet.

*. When I say the “best” I certainly don’t mean the most credible. The plot here is absolutely ridiculous. As Stuart Galbraith IV puts it, with some understatement, in his DVD commentary: “as enjoyable as the film is, it’s not exactly logical or dramatically sound.” If the Xiliens can already control Ghidorah (whom they call Monster Zero), and already have a team of agents established on Earth, why do they need to kidnap Godzilla and Rodan, and then bring them back to Earth? I mean, nothing else in the film makes sense either, but this is basically the whole movie we’re talking about here. And it doesn’t make a lick of sense.
*. But I prefer cheesy ’60s science-fiction to cheesy fantasy any day. Give me Planet X, wherever and whatever the hell it is (a satellite of Jupiter? part of the “Scorpion galaxy”?), over that magical island where Mothra and the faerie twins hail from.

*. How can you resist the Xiliens? They look like an ’80s New Wave band with their narrow sunglasses, shiny and far too-tight silver pants, pointy, curly-toed boots, and antennae sticking out of their heads. Not to mention the way they go crazy when they hear a particular sound, clutching their heads like the Knights of Ni hearing the word “it.” These may be my favourite spacemen ever.
*. So this is the first Godzilla movie where I actually found the human story more interesting than anything to do with the monsters. For their part, the guys in rubber suits do their thing. The one highlight, or lowlight if you’re a purist, is the victory jig Godzilla does after scaring off Ghidorah on Planet X. Apparently this was taken from a manga character who was popular at the time. I just thought it was natural exuberance.
*. Other than that, I was really feeling a bit sorry for Godzilla and Rodan getting swept up in this business. Dragged off to Planet X, abandoned, and then returned to Earth, all for no clear reason. It’s like they’ve been relegated to sideshow players now, which would be likely to make any star angry I think. When the Xilien radio signal is jammed I wondered why they didn’t keep going on their rampage. Clearly Godzilla was the hero now, but after this movie I think he was ripe for a heel turn.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

*. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster was released (in Japan) only some eight months after Mothra vs. Godzilla, which tells you something about how smoothly the assembly line was moving at Toho. Say what you will about them, these Godzilla movies (and their kaiju cousins) were still major productions, and they could be turned out now quickly, often being produced all at the same time and using the same cast and crew.
*. In his DVD commentary David Kalat makes a lot out of the comedy here but I find it more whimsical, even lunatic, than humorous. It’s not a funny movie, at least in the way King Kong vs. Godzilla went for laughs. But it is a weird movie. As things get started, Princess Selino Salno of Selgina is possessed by a spirit from the planet Venus (or Mars in the English-language version) and jumps out of a plane to avoid an assassination plot. It turns out she’s being used to warn us about the coming of a powerful monster named Ghidorah that Godzilla will have to team up with Rodan and one of the Mothra slugs to defeat.
*. This is bonkers, and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that The Peanuts are back as the faeries who can magically summon Mothra. As a bonus they can also translate monster language into English (or Japanese). Which leads to even more silliness.
*. Kalat attributes much of the weird spirit of the film to writer Shin’ichi Sekizawa, who also wrote Mothra vs. Godzilla and King Kong vs. Godzilla. It’s a quality that’s hard to describe. For starters, it’s obviously aimed at kids. The adult seriousness of Gojira is long gone and Godzilla and Rodan are now a couple of squabbling adolescents wrestling and throwing things at each other until mom (Mothra) comes along to whip them into line. As a kid I think I could relate.
*. Is it camp? Kalat talks about this quite a bit, mentioning the theory of how “the cancer of camp” gradually took over the franchise until the movies were too ridiculous to survive. But he disagrees with this, arguing instead that the world of genre filmmaking was being co-opted by the big studios, moving such films away from low-budgeted, assembly-line productions (Star Wars would be the spectacular culmination of this trend). Kantor, however, likes the “joyful silliness” of the Godzilla franchise and thinks it’s what makes these movies unique.
*. I see Kalat’s point, and admit that these movies do have a charm that it’s hard not to respond to even as a grown-up. With so many monsters on screen now the proceedings have a carnival-like quality, with lots of spectacle and chaos that you can’t begin to take seriously. Also charming are the old-school effects. Eiji Tsubaraya was unhappy with Ghidorah — played by a man in a suit and several puppeteers moving the heads and tails — but I don’t think he looks too awkward. No more so than Rodan anyway.
*. That said, I also reach a limit with these films. After a while they do all play the same, no matter how ridiculous the human plots. And nothing is really ever at stake, since this is a comic-book world where no one ever dies. Even Ghidorah flies away, to return, we can be sure, to fight another day. Judged against the rest of the franchise I think this is one of the more enjoyable and entertaining outings. The concept was still pretty fresh, and the template just settling into its final form. From here on out it was going to be more of the same. Which is just what people wanted.

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

*. The billing for this clash of the titans is surprising. Mothra’s name comes first? Understandable for a movie like King Kong vs. Godzilla, but who is Mothra to be taking top spot from the King of the Monsters?
*. Actually, Mothra was not an unknown quantity. She had already starred in her own feature, the 1961 movie Mothra, and would go on to appear in more than a dozen other films. But I don’t think she was ever as big in America as she was in Japan.
*. Indeed, when American International released the Americanized version of this movie it was titled Godzilla vs. the Thing. Not only has Godzilla regained top billing, but Mothra is left unnamed. This was reportedly done to generate curiosity as to who Godzilla’s foe would be. I think it might have been just as much because AIP realized how stupid a giant moth sounded, and how Mothra likely wouldn’t sell tickets. Mothra was also kept off the movie’s posters, perhaps for the same reason.

*. Even as a child I was never very fond of Mothra. Despite the fact that she’s the good monster in this battle of the beasts, I was always cheering for Godzilla. Especially when he was up against the pair of silk-spewing maggots that hatch from Mothra’s egg. I found their appearance disgusting, and their fighting technique low.
*. I also listened to a lot of heavy metal when I was a kid. On the album Metal on Metal by the band Anvil (1982) there was a song called “Mothra” that I can still sing along to. Anvil’s Mothra, however, is a less benevolent figure. Here’s a taste of the lyrics:

Comin’ to get you! You can’t escape
You’re gonna die, you wonder why?
Mighty wings beat out thunderous gusts of wind
Megatron eyes explode in the skies, it begins!
Talons like razors are shredding your bones to pieces
Is this a dream or is God telling you it’s over?
Mothra, Mothra, Mothra
Buildings are falling, black death is above you
You can’t run there’s nowhere to go
Rubble and stone block your path
You can’t escape from its wrath.

Great stuff. I’ve never forgotten the line “You’re still alive but your luck is running out!” Metal never dies.
*. On the commentary track by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski they begin by calling Mothra vs. Godzilla their personal favourite Godzilla film, saying that “there’s no doubt that the original Godzilla might be the best film but in many respects this film represents the high point in technique for many of the key players.” In his book on Godzilla, Japan’s Favorite Mon-star, Ryfle also says it stands “indisputably as the greatest of all the Godzilla sequels.” Which is both good and bad given how early it was and how many more of these movies were to come. Then again, my vote for the best Bond movie would be either From Russia With Love or Goldfinger, and they were the second and third entries in that franchise.

*. Mothra vs. Godzilla doesn’t do a lot that’s different than the earlier Godzilla movies (the tiny people being the main thing that’s new), but it does the same sort of things better. As you would expect given the amount of practice they’d been getting at Toho. There’s a new Godzilla suit for one thing, that made it easier for Haruo Nakajima to move around. The giant Mothra model was also an impressive technical achievement. Godziszewski even says that “perhaps no other Toho monster has been as realistically brought to life,” which is high praise. The miniatures are well done, the process shots mostly effective, and the editing in the action scenes first rate. As a kid I ate it up.
*. This is important because Toho was consciously going after kids now. Infant Island might even be a metaphor for television. Meanwhile, the broad comedy of King Kong vs. Godzilla is toned down quite a bit. There’s some funny stuff here but it isn’t comic in quite the same way. Instead we get the start of a drift into that peculiar loopiness that is so typical of a certain strain of Japanese cinema that was just taking off at the time and which would go on to get far weirder.

*. The clearest example of this comes with the twin faeries or small beauties. They’re played by a pop duo known as The Peanuts and their appearance here really signals the transformation of Godzilla into a franchise with its own unique mythology. In earlier movies the premise at least made a kind of surface sense. Godzilla and his ilk were dinosaurs awakened or released through nuclear testing, or perhaps inhabitants of a remote island. But who are the small beauties? There’s no plausible explanation for their existence, much less their telepathic powers and ability to magically disappear and then reappear in different places.
*. Part of the back story is actually kind of interesting. I like the huckster Kumayama and the corporate heel Torahata. They make a great villainous odd couple and I was hoping something more might have come of them. The amusement park theme was also kind of meta, since Mothra and Godzilla are both carnival attractions themselves. But unfortunately the two stooges are erased well before the end, and we end up with the usual monster mash. The army tries to stop Godzilla but, as always, comes up short. Then the slugs do their thing, which is at least something different if not that satisfying.
*. This is a nutty movie, but it is well done and it’s a lot of fun. It was never my favourite Godzilla movie as a kid, but I appreciate it more today. Alas, if this was the best Godzilla sequel ever that also means it marks a tipping point. And there was still a long way to go.

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

*. Expectations must have been high for this one. At least among kaiju fans. It was released to coincide with Toho’s 30th anniversary, and featured Hollywood’s most famous giant ape facing off against Japan’s most famous monster lizard. Both legends appearing for the first time in widescreen and colour.
*. Alas, while not the worst film in either franchise I think it may be the most disappointing. Not in terms of box office (it was the biggest hit in the series for Toho) but creatively.
*. I’m not talking about the turn toward humour, but that’s a point worth addressing. In the early Americanizations of the first two Godzilla movies (Godzilla, King of the Monsters and Gigantis the Fire Monster) one could feel a pull toward comedy not present in the Japanese originals. This was inadvertent, the result of having to crudely splice in stock footage or the effect of poor dubbing and translation. In King Kong vs. Godzilla, however, the brakes are off and even the Japanese version is going for laughs all the way. The studio had decided that children were the target audience so they wanted to lighten things up. The result was “a salaryman’s comedy with giant monsters,” in the words of Stuart Galbraith IV.
*. I don’t have a big problem with this. Let’s face it, the human storylines in these movies are usually a waste of time anyway, so if they wanted to go for laughs and play a lot of broad comedy in the background I say Why not? And the idea of targeting tabloid television news was, in 1962, pretty fresh (with a lot more of this appearing in the Japanese version than in the American cut).
*. No, where this movie falls down is precisely in the stuff that should be its bread and butter: giant monsters flattening buildings and going toe-to-toe.
*. The models, especially of trains and excavating equipment, look even more toy-like than usual. Kong’s costume is terrible, like someone wrapped in a mangy hide rug. And the fights are a joke. All the wrestling, chest-thumping and hand clapping are fine. Again, that was stuff they were throwing in for the kids and it works on that level. But there’s little interesting going on, mostly just Godzilla smashing Kong with his tail and Kong throwing boulders at Godzilla (though I did like Kong’s judo flip, and shoving a tree in Godzilla’s mouth). Furthermore, the monsters’ special powers don’t make much sense. Godzilla’s fiery breath works, until it doesn’t. Kong apparently develops a quick immunity. Then we’re told that Kong is made stronger by electricity. Why? I have no idea. But he chews on power lines and when struck by lightning he not only revives from the dead but gains a special shock-touch power.
*. The only good fight actually occurs in the early going, when Kong takes on a giant octopus. It’s all downhill from there.
*. Other parts of the movie are just laughable, but not in a good way. Kong being tranquilized and then transported by helium balloons to Mount Fuji, for example, and all the cutaways (in the U.S. version) to Japanese and American news desks, where we get play-by-play from anchors and scientists.
*. Even the ending is left a bit vague and anti-climactic. We’re told Kong is the victor, but it seems unlikely Godzilla has drowned. He’s an aquatic lizard, known for swimming long distances in the ocean, so we can be confident he’ll be back, and in a better movie (Mothra vs. Godzilla).
*. In a lot of ways this film marked a real change in direction for the franchise, and it is a kind of kitsch landmark, but it’s nowhere as much fun as you’d have a right to expect.

Gorgo (1961)

*. The posters blared: “Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen Before!” I’m not sure this was the right approach. Gorgo is a film that very much wanted to be seen as something like you’d seen before. Specifically, it was meant to be an homage to the nascent Godzilla franchise (by 1960 Toho had still only made two Godzilla movies: Gojira and Godzilla Raids Again).
*. The debt to Toho was so great that Gorgo was initially planned as a Japanese co-production, and was to be set in Japan. As it is, I think they did a nice job moving the action to an Irish fishing village and then London, with the explicit likening of Gorgo’s rampage to the Blitz being the proper Second World War analog to memories of the atom bomb in Gojira. It’s even worth noting that the world premiere for Gorgo was in Tokyo, six months before it opened elsewhere.
*. Another connecting link is director Eugène Lourié, who had done The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which was the inspiration for Gojira. Things really had come full circle.
*. So . . . yeah. This is your basic Godzilla clone. Or maybe not “basic,” since its production values are actually pretty good. There’s no comparing it to a piece of junk like Reptilicus (which came out the same year). But the story is identical. A giant prehistoric monster is awakened and rises out of the sea, only to be captured and turned into a circus attraction à la King Kong. This leads to one nice meta-monster mash bit where Gorgo smashes its own marquee.
*. Unfortunately for our entrepreneurial monster-catchers they have only bagged Minilla, and before long Mama Gorgo comes looking for her baby, leading to a finale that has her tearing apart London landmarks (Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus). The military are called and go through their predictably useless drill of firing cannons and rockets at the beast. Crowds run through the streets. A radio reporter provides play-by-play. There’s a cute kid looking on.
*. I’ll add here that it is the baby lizard that is called Gorgo in the movie. So the big monster isn’t really Gorgo but Gorgo’s Mother. I don’t know if that makes a difference, but I think it may be confusing.
*. In short, it’s quite a bit like everything you’ve seen before in this genre, but it’s not Godzilla. Gorgo doesn’t have the same personality as the Toho monster, which may be down to his inexpressive red eyes. (Guilala in Shochiku’s The X from Outer Space would suffer from the same disability. Eyes are supposed to have pupils. Didn’t the producers read comic books?). I also found his twitchy ears to be a bit distracting. And the model buildings aren’t as convincing as the Toho miniatures, looking like cardboard and coming apart like cardboard too. Finally, the stock footage of the navy is clumsily intercut. Lourié hated this stuff so much he apparently cut his own version of the film where he took it all out.
*. But for a non-Toho kaiju this is as good as it was going to get. You can see that as being the result of Westerners not putting a lot of effort into what was seen as a trash genre, or as credit to Toho for the quality of their work. Probably some of both. But in any event this was the last we were going to see of Gorgo (unless you followed his comic book, which ran for a few years in the early ’60s).
*. How can I not give the last words to the radio reporter, which even manage to outdo those of Raymond Burr in Godzilla, King of the Monsters!. Truly this was the golden age of broadcasting rhetoric: “We prayed for a miracle. Maybe our prayers have been answered. A great city, overwhelmed, exhausted, lies helpless under the immeasurable power and ferocity of this towering apparition from before the dawn of history. Yet, as disdaining the pygmies under her feet, she turns back! Turns with her young, leaving the prostrate city, leaving the haunts of man, and leaving man himself to ponder the proud boast that he alone is lord of all creation.”

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

*. I posted separate notes for Gojira and the American version, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! Godzilla Raids Again had an Americanized version as well, Gigantis the Fire Monster, but I’ll talk about both movies together here because there’s not as much to say.
*. It was a very quick turnaround for Toho to get this movie out, I think taking only six months from greenlighting it to having it in the can. As you might expect from that kind of schedule, they pretty much replayed Gojira (without, as Steve Ryfle points out, the same political or moral depth). The repetition even extends to a curious echo effect with the climax. What I mean is how, in both Gojira and Godzilla Raids Again, the action actually hits a peak midway through the film, which is when Godzilla destroys Tokyo in Gojira and Osaka here (an echo that may have been meant to recall Hiroshima and Nagasaki). The big confrontation at the end then plays out as a letdown. Burying Godzilla under an avalanche of ice is a little more impressive than having him disintegrated by the Oxygen Destroyer, but it isn’t nearly as fun as his wrestling match with Anguirus the ankylosaur.
*. On the commentary track Ed Godziszewski says that this is the only time in the franchise that Godzilla is actually beaten by humans without the use of any special technology. An observation which just underlines how useless the usual attempts by the army to take him out are. We’d see tanks rolling in and rocket launchers firing at Godzilla throughout many other films in the franchise, but the generals never appear to realize how pointless such efforts are. I guess if you’re a hammer then everything looks like a nail, and perhaps there’s a message about wasteful military spending being made too, but it does get silly after a while.
*. The back story isn’t very interesting, and even in the original Japanese (reading subtitles and not being confused by the awful dubbing) I found it hard to follow exactly what was going on. With the trio of escaped convicts stumbling around like the Three Stooges we can see the beginning of a comic turn that would become a lot more developed in the next film in the series, King Kong vs. Godzilla.
*. This is a movie that still wants to engage our feelings a bit, what with Kobayashi’s death accidentally (?) showing the way to defeat the monster. But this is another diminished echo from the first film with the death of Serizawa, and it doesn’t play nearly as strong.
*. Not a giant leap forward then, but a small step in the direction the franchise was going to take. In the monster brawl between Godzilla and Anguirus you get a foreshadowing of everything essential to the series that was to come. They just needed to add colour and some eccentric secondary players and they’d be set.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)

*. Outside of Japan this was the first Godzilla movie, though it came out after both Gojira and its Japanese sequel Godzilla Raids Again. So it might be the third Godzilla movie if you see it as a separate entry in the franchise.
*. I think we do have to look at it as a different movie and not just an English-language version of Gojira. In fact, in creating something sui generis they retained less than an hour of footage from Gojira and added a lot of extra footage that didn’t change the story at all but helped the movie find an American audience. What this mainly meant was having Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin duly observe the events of Gojira while much of the political message was cut.
*. Yes, Steve Martin. Which is a generic enough American name, but in such a movie as this it couldn’t help but make me think of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. The way Burr is introduced into Gojira here, with lots of edits and actors dressed like the original cast but only seen from behind addressing Burr (while not always looking directly at him), is similar to the role played by the other Steve Martin in the later movie.
*. There is a point to this comparison. In both movies I think the introduction of a new character into an old movie is done pretty well. I was even slightly impressed at how well it’s handled here. It’s certainly a much better Americanization than what they did to the sequel, Godzilla Raids Again. But it still seems ludicrous. And it’s even sillier here because Burr has no role whatsoever to serve in the plot. He is strictly an observer, smoking a pipe, or stroking his chin, or just sweating — a lot — while Gojira (the movie) plays out in front of him.
*. It must have been a difficult job playing against nothing — perhaps analogous to today’s stars acting against a green screen — but even so Burr underwhelms. Danny Peary: “His emoting is so nonexistent that at times it’s hard to believe he knows he’s making a horror film.” I think Burr claimed he only worked on the movie for a day but apparently it was three or four. However, while he leant the project some credibility I think all the cutaways, with Burr showing the same lack of expression and solemn delivery in every situation, are ridiculous. In Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid Steve Martin really acted a part, and the silliness was part of the joke.
*. J. Hoberman: “Burr is an insert — but then so is the monster. Sharing space with Godzilla is inconceivable — as opposed to King Kong, who was made to interact with humans and even fall in love.” I don’t think this is quite right. The monster isn’t an insert but the movie’s star and whole reason for being. But Burr does fit in, as the role of people in a Godzilla movie is primarily to provide reaction shots to what’s going on. They are effectively a surrogate audience. That’s even more the case here, as Burr, a reporter who is “a little rusty” in his Japanese, has to have all the important information translated and explained to him.
*. The new English dialogue is very bad, with the ironic feel of being a translation. Beginning with the opening voiceover: ” I was headed for an assignment in Cairo, when I stopped off in Tokyo for a social call, but it turned out to be a visit to the living hell of another world.”
*. The other point worth mentioning here is that the nuclear theme — the Monster as the Bomb — is mostly trimmed. Some have seen this as a way of playing to the American audience by not forcing them to consider the destruction of Hiroshima of Nagasaki. I think the cuts most definitely were a way of catering the American market, but not because of the politics. The simple fact was that Americans weren’t much interested in such matters. As distributor Richard Kay put it, “We weren’t interested in politics, believe me. We only wanted to make a movie we could sell.” And politics doesn’t sell, then or now. What sells are even bigger monsters, which may in turn help to explain the dramatic inflation of Godzilla’s reported size.
*. Gojira director Ishiro Honda found the question of its Americanization amusing, since his movie had been made in imitation of American monster movies like King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. In a way Godzilla was going home, just as Kurosawa’s Westerns would be remade by Leone.
*. In their DVD commentary Godzilla authorities Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski conclude by giving Godzilla, King of the Monsters! credit for bringing the monster to an American audience and thus putting Godzilla on the map, ensuring Toho would continue with the franchise. It seems likely however that Toho was going to keep making these movies regardless, since box office was good and there had already been one sequel. Still, despite its obvious inferiority to Gojira and overall silliness this is the movie that introduced Godzilla into the North American consciousness, and it’s a remarkable job of adaptation in its own right.

Gojira (1954)

*. Gojira is a movie with such a huge legacy, or long tail, that it’s hard to view today with innocent eyes. In 2015 Guinness World Records recognized Godzilla (to give the monster his American name) as the longest-running film franchise in history, and that only went up to the 2014 Gareth Edwards picture. Since then there have actually been six or seven more entries. I think the total runs to around 35 movies now, most of them produced by Japan’s Toho. More recently, however, the monster has also been picked up by Legendary Pictures for its MonsterVerse series.
*. But I want to go back to those innocent eyes I mentioned. I’ll admit I don’t have them anymore. I grew up watching these movies on television as a kid, where they were broadcast as weekend afternoon “creature features.” Today I can say I’ve seen the more recent Hollywood versions, and also read a fair bit about the films, though only a small percentage of the enormous amount that’s out there. So re-watching Gojira I have to carry all this baggage with me.
*. To put the question directly: Is Gojira, which is by any estimation a classic and among the most influential movies of its time, actually any good? Putting aside sixty-five years of Godzilla, is this a well-made movie?
*. When it was re-released in the U.S. in 2004 Roger Ebert put it this way: “Is there a reason to see the original Godzilla?” He thought there was, “not because of its artistic stature, but perhaps because of the feeling we can sense in its parable about the monstrous threats unleashed by the atomic age.” In conclusion: “This is a bad movie, but it has earned its place in history, and the enduring popularity of Godzilla and other monsters shows that it struck a chord.”
*. The idea of a giant monster being a product of the atomic age was not in itself something new. Gojira was directly inspired by The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which had just come out the year before. Indeed, the initial outline of the script for Gojira had the working title The Big Monster from 20,000 Miles Beneath the Sea (or something like that; I’ve heard different versions). The two main differences here were (1) the anti-war, anti-nuke message, very much informed both by Japan’s experience in the Second World War and ongoing nuclear testing in the region, and (2) the way the giant monster took the form of a man in a rubber suit stomping around model sets, a kind of practical special effects associated with the label Tokusatsu.
*. Of these two new developments the first, sadly, has less resonance today. The monster as metaphor for atomic bombs seems an artefact of the ’50s more than of our own time. While it’s heartfelt, it’s overplayed and doesn’t have the same sense of urgency as it did in the Cold War. I’m not saying that’s how it should play, but I think it’s how it does.

*. The “suitmation” stuff should have dated even more, and it has in one sense. Such effects struck many people as ridiculous even at the time, and in the age of CGI they seem even more so. The stop-motion of King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms plays better. (Stop-motion would have been prohibitively expensive for a production like Gojira.) That said, there’s also something timeless about these effects. I think this is because they tap into childhood play so much, and the destruction of model tanks and warplanes, toy cars, sand castles, and towns made out of Lego. While Gojira isn’t really a movie for kids, that was the direction the franchise would find itself taking, and I think it was inevitable.
*. Godzilla is, of course, the star. Does the rest of the movie hold our attention? I think slightly more than the filler we find in the average giant-monster movie. Things get started on a high note with two aural cues provided by Akira Ifukube: the martial march that would be later identified as Godzilla’s main theme and the peculiar industrial sound of his roar, like metal straining (but which was, in fact, instrumental).
*. As an aside, Ifukube apparently wrote the main theme in a week without having seen any part of the movie. I think it was probably something he’d had in his head for a while and been waiting to use.
*. From there things move along at a snappy pace, with director Ishiro Honda whipping the story forward at newsreel speed, complete with lots of quick wipes. I also like the way Godzilla is introduced gradually, from his earthquake footsteps and toxic roar, to the discovery of his giant footprints, his head (a puppet) appearing over the skyline, and finally his climactic assault on Tokyo.
*. Unfortunately, the movie stalls badly after this point. The three leads and their love triangle aren’t very interesting. The political message becomes heavy-handed. The dialogue, at least if the subtitles are at all accurate, is laughably hammy. The final underwater showdown between Serizawa, armed with his Oxygen Destroyer, and Godzilla is a big letdown after the destruction of Tokyo. It is also downbeat in a way that goes beyond being merely anti-Hollywood. It’s a solemn ending, what with Serizawa’s death and the warning about how nuclear testing will only beget more monsters. Were they thinking of all the sequels? I don’t think that was the point.
*. Still, I don’t think there’s any way to judge Gojira outside of its genre, or apart from its legacy. And even at the time it came out reviews were mixed. I think it is a great monster movie, and one I’ve gone back and watched several times over the years. It has some exceptional qualities, as well as lots of primitive charm. And while it’s a movie grounded in its time and place, it’s certainly more than just a historical or cultural curiosity.