Tag Kaiju

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Monsters of mass destruction

Godzilla and the other giant monsters of Earth are being held on Monster Island, a virtual prison which allows them to live in peace but will not permit them to escape its boundary. But then suddenly the monsters start appearing all over the world, wreaking havoc on major cities from Beijing to New York. It turns out that aliens called the Kilaaks have taken control of Monster Island and are using the Earth’s monsters to destroy the planet.

 

Like Universal did when they ran out of ideas for their famous horror monsters back in the 40s, Toho studios turned to pitting their famous giant monsters against each other in order to bypass the creative drought that the long-standing series had suffered. With Godzilla having already destroyed Japan back in 1954, how many times could the giant lizard repeat the same trick without it getting repetitive? The answer was once because in the sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, the big G was pitted against Anguirus. From then on, Godzilla found himself competing against a slew of giant monsters from Mothra to Rodan and even King Kong. After a few lacklustre efforts, Godzilla’s popularity was on the decline and so Destroy All Monsters was dreamt up as an all-guns blazing swansong to end the series on a high. Ironically, the film made Godzilla more popular than ever before and it still ranks up there amongst many fans favourite Godzilla film.

I must admit that I’m one of those fans. Destroy All Monsters is not just the pinnacle of the daft 60s and 70s Godzilla films where the monster became Earth’s saviour but it’s also an entertaining sci-fi film which delivers a whole mix of light-hearted action, comedy and groovy special effects. But let’s cut right to the chase– there is one sole reason why this is one of the, if not the most, popular Godzilla films and that’s because of the massive roster of monsters that make an appearance of some kind here. Toho really pulled out all the stops for this one, assembling a gigantic cast of monsters from their vast catalogue of films. Not only do you get Godzilla, the monsters with their standalone films like Mothra and Rodan, and previous series baddie King Ghidorah, but you get appearances from Anguirus, Spiega, Minya, Gorosaurus, Varan, Baragon and Manda. Some have more to do than others: Anguirus and Gorosaurus play integral roles in the final battle whilst Baragon and Varan literally have blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos (due to how poorly-maintained the monsters suits both were). But the fact that they’re all here adds a uniqueness to the film that would not be replicated until Godzilla: Final Wars.

The vast array of monsters involved lends the film to all manner of destruction. Mothra attacks Beijing, Rodan does in Moscow, Godzilla takes on New York and they all converge on Tokyo for one of the series’ most impressive city-stomping scenes yet. Not one or two but four monsters unleash their rage upon Japan at the half-way point of the film. Director Ishirô Honda really puts on a spectacular show of destruction with the monsters first smashing Tokyo to pieces and then the army mustering whatever they can to try and stop them. This scene alone in Destroy All Monsters represents a high point for the Showa series of films (those made up until 1975) with its use of pyrotechnics and miniatures – the knowledge that had been employed in the previous Godzilla films all comes to fruition. All of the material is new and there’s no use of stock footage from earlier film, though ironically enough since the footage here was so good, it crops up again and again in future films.

These scenes of miniature city-mashing pale in comparison to the film’s finale, an all-out battle royale featuring the monsters fighting at the foot of Mount Fuji. Yes it’s just a bunch of guys in suits hitting each other but it’s the series’ most entertaining moment and something that the series really tried to emulate in later films to no avail. It’s a bit one-sided as the Earth monsters team up to fight King Ghidorah but the space monster holds his own. The editing during this scene is top drawer, there’s plenty of special effects flying around and the camera does a good job of capturing the mayhem and, as the news reporter covering the scene proclaims, the “monsters’ cries of horror and sudden death.” It’s a crazy fight which only takes up about six minutes of screen time but it’s the most memorable six minutes of the entire series.

You’ll be much more inclined to forgive the silly alien story when there is the promise of a massive monster mash at the end of the film but the plot about the Kilaaks trying to take over the Earth is one of the most charming of the series. Yes, the alien invasion plot had already been used in the previous film, Invasion of the Astro Monsters, and would go on to be a series’ stalwart over the coming years but this is the best incarnation of it. Its charming comic books antics pit long-time Godzilla actor Akira Kubo into the hot seat as an astronaut who leads his crew on the mission to put a stop to the Kilaaks’ plan. The aliens, whilst not displaying the greatest sense of fashion in the world, are slimy and cocky and it all adds up to a rousing sub-plot which enhances the monster action. The cast is filled with a whole array of regular Godzilla faces and they’re all great.

Series composer Akira Ifukube brings to life the film with one of his most famous scores. From the opening chords of the pumping title theme to the classic Rodan theme playing and more sinister musical numbers for the Kilaaks, Ifukube populates the film with some sterling music which accompanies the scenes brilliantly, enhancing the action with bombastic nature or underscoring the devious nature of the alien invaders. Say what you want about the nature of the Godzilla films but Ifukube’s work across the series is outstanding.

 

Destroy All Monsters represents the pinnacle of what the Godzilla films came to embody and has rarely been matched for its popularity since. Holding itself firmly on the right side of the camp border and delivering some of the series’ most memorable set pieces, for sheer spectacle alone this one has never been topped. It’s essential viewing for not only Godzilla lovers but fans of kaiju the world over.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Roasting Anything In Its Path!

A spotter plane pilot for a Japanese fishing fleet crash lands on a barren island where he witnesses two giant monsters fighting each other before falling into the ocean. He reports his findings to the Japanese government as soon as he is rescued and their worst fears are realised. Another giant monster, similar to the original Godzilla, is alive and well and there is also another giant monster. Without the oxygen destroyer weapon that killed the original Godzilla, the Japanese people must find another way to stop these rampaging monsters before they destroy Japan and each other.

 

Within six months of Godzilla smashing Tokyo to pieces in Godzilla, Toho had this sequel ready to go to ride on the success story that the original had turned out to be. Considering the special effects sequences involved in this one, that’s a staggering turnaround in such a short space of time. Like Son of Kong was to its predecessor, so too does Godzilla Raids Again suffer immensely from being too much of the same too soon.

The rushed production schedule is evident in the lack of a real story to the film. Yes, Godzilla films are hardly known for their intricate plots but this one literally just dumps a pair of giant monsters into Japan and has them fighting each other for a bit. At least the later Godzilla films introduced all manner of weird alien (who all looked Japanese anyway) races trying to conquer Earth as their human subplot to fill the human screen time. This has nothing of the sort and as a result, barely squeezes over the hour mark for running time. Given that there’s also some flashback footage from Godzilla, the whole thing smacks of being a quick cash-in.

Godzilla Raids Again introduces what would become the staple of the Godzilla film for many, many, many years to come – that of Godzilla fighting another giant monster. It’s perennial fan-favourite Anguirus who makes his debut here, giving him the distinction of being only the second kaiju to appear in the long-running Toho franchise. Anguirus would later go on to become one of Godzilla’s most faithful allies (and would regularly get his ass kicked by King Ghidorah or Mechagodzilla). Whilst later fight scenes between Godzilla and his giant monster opponents were more drawn out affairs, the fights, or I should say scraps, between the two monsters are pretty timid affairs. They claw and scratch at each other a lot, more primeval and animalistic than the later tag-team cheese fests, and the fight scenes are strangely filmed at a faster rate, giving the impression of a Benny Hill sketch. The monster suits also look a bit cheap and nasty, especially Anguirus. But the first fight scene between the monsters is a historic moment marking the first time that any two monsters did battle in a Japanese kaiju flick.

It’s clear that everything was done quickly and some of the effects look really dated, even in black and white. But I’ll give credit to the miniature makers as the city sets look fairly detailed and there’s plenty of buildings being smashed to bits. A common failing of later Godzilla film was that the monsters started fighting in the city but conveniently ended up in fields and hills where the studio set consisted of little more than a grass floor. Here, the monsters tussle with each other right in central Osaka, making sure that no buildings are left in their wake.

Bizarrely, the big fight between the two monsters, usually the epic finale of these films, comes at the halfway point in the film which means that for the rest of its running time, Godzilla Raids Again plays out like a poorer retread of the original with Godzilla getting back to finishing the job he started on Japan. Osaka is the target this time around, presumably because Tokyo was still in such a mess from before. That said, Godzilla than handily hops across to a couple of remote islands in order for the finale on top of a glacier.

Like the original Godzilla, Godzilla Raids Again was re-edited for American audiences and released under the strange moniker of Gigantis, the Fire Monster. Taking away Godzilla’s name took away the fact that this was a sequel. I don’t get the logic in that but hey, I’m not a producer. Either way, the film still serves little point in existing. There’s no new story to tell, the nuclear messages have been toned down and the monster fights are grossly underwhelming.

 

Make a sequel that’s virtually the same as the one before it with less money and told to do it in six months is no mean feat so it’s a good job at least something managed to click with Godzilla Raids Again and it stumbled upon the template for many Godzilla films to come. Few fans would regard this in their top five Godzilla films with the opposite being more likely. It’s the weakest of the first few films in the series by a long way.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gamera (1965)

Gamera (1965)

An unnamed jet carrying a nuclear bomb is shot down over the Arctic, exploding upon impact and melting the ice. In doing so, it releases the giant monster Gamera from an icy tomb and it proceeds to head straight for Japan to destroy it. A team of scientists and military personnel must find a way to stop it before it’s too late.

 

After Godzilla‘s monstrous success, It was only a matter of time before another Asian studio decided to try and ride the coat tails by producing their own giant monster movie. Toho had dominated the kaiju market with their array of giant monster movies conquering the cinemas including Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra. Not to be outdone, Daiei Studios gave the world Gamera. Bizarrely enough, Gamera found a fan base in Japan and become a hotly-contested rival to Godzilla’s crown. Gamera eventually went on to star in his own series of films both back in the 60s and early 70s and then in the more recent 90s and 00s. The recent revival gave Godzilla a big run for his money.

I’ve already mentioned Godzilla a few times already. You see, It’s hard not to make the comparisons between Gamera and Godzilla since Gamera only exists due to the other’s success. Both consequences of atomic radiation (though Gamera was awakened by it, not created by it), both reptilian monsters than can spew deadly breath, both head to Tokyo for a spot of city-smashing, both seem impervious to the army’s attempts to stop them and both are seemingly killed off only to re-emerge a few years later in the sequel. But whilst Toho aimed their franchise towards the adult market, Gamera is solely directed towards the kids.

Later in the series, Gamera would always become friends with a little human Japanese boy who would call on him for help whenever another monster arrived to take over. There are few signs of this infantile approach in Gamera but likewise there are no signs that this was geared towards a more mature audience. There are no pretensions about atomic testing here. Godzilla had been there, done that and was now Japan’s protector rather than his destroyer. Gamera has some thinly-veiled messages to fire off about the Cold War between America and Russia but they seem forcibly added to the film to give it some more gravitas.

Gamera is an interesting design but not in a positive sense. He’s not just a giant turtle but one with a jet-powered shell that can make him fly. He can retract his limbs just like an ordinary turtle but then blasts fire out of each hole, sending him rocketing through the sky like a UFO.  Not only does Gamera look daft but he acts daft too. He’s not the primal force of nature that Godzilla was but rather a dorkier monster with a goofy face. The scenes of him smashing up the miniature cities are average at best, made worse by the ridiculousness of the monster suit.

For budgetary reasons, Gamera was filmed in black and white and whilst this does cover over a lot of the obvious cracks in the special effects, it proves to be a feeble contrast when you look at other films released the same year. Over at Toho in 1965, Godzilla and Rodan were doing battle with King Ghidorah in glorious colour in Invasion of the Astro Monsters. Gamera’s quaint black and white approach pales in comparison and gives it a much older look – you’d quite happily buy into it being a mid 50s sci-fi film. The step-down in quality from the Godzilla films is amazing and whilst the crew who worked on Gamera weren’t as experienced at producing miniatures, the gulf in class is amazing. They don’t vary the scenes of destruction and it gets tiresome watching Gamera pummel the same buildings over and over again. On the plus side, Gamera might just well be the first kaiju film to show humans being incinerated by the giant monster.

The human characters don’t add anything to the story either. All they do is stand around in between monster attacks and discuss what they can to stop Gamera. It’s a good job that there are plenty of attacks because they’d run out of conversation pretty quickly otherwise. There’s a fair selection of stock characters on offer but you’ll never remember who half of them are by the time the film finishes. Their eventual solution to the Gamera problem, trapping him and launching him into space, must rank as one of the most idiotic ways of all time to dispatch a giant monster. Better off launching the film reel with him.

 

It is the only real Asian rival to Godzilla but unfortunately Gamera doesn’t even come close to beating Toho’s all-conquering radioactive monster. Gamera arrived at the monster party ten years too late and is out-gunned by his kaiju counterparts in every aspect.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla Vs Destroyah (1995)

Godzilla Vs Destroyah (1995)

It’s a Major Monster Meltdown!

Godzilla’s heart is on the verge of a nuclear meltdown and he is nearing death, which is worrying for the planet as the eventual radioactive fallout would create a huge firewall around the world, destroying all life. The G-Force, an anti-Godzilla task force set up to stop Godzilla, are tasked with finding a solution to this rapidly-approaching problem. Meanwhile, the remnants of the oxygen destroyer weapon used to kill the first Godzilla has somehow mutated into a horrid monster which threatens to destroy Japan. Can Godzilla stop the beast before meltdown?

 

After a successful resurrection in the late 80s and early 90s, Toho decided it was time to time to kill off Godzilla as they had ‘creatively run out of ideas’ for him. It’s a bit rich that they said that, having made twenty-one other films about a giant radioactive monster! Having just signed the rights across for the disastrous 90s American version too, Toho also felt that it would be impractical to have two competing franchises running at the same time so the time was right to retire their version (oh how they wish they had been in possession of a crystal ball!). I’m not revealing any spoilers here that I shouldn’t do because it was public knowledge that Godzilla would be killed off in Godzilla Vs Destroyah. Toho publicised the hell out of it for obvious cash reasons and made sure that, for once, a Godzilla film would have a definite ending.

Simply put, Godzilla Vs Destroyah is one of the finest Godzilla films ever made. Toho put everything they had into giving him an amazing send-off. Gone is the ludicrous camp that infested the 70s. Gone is the silly comic book vibe. Gone is the tag team wrestling. Gone are the alien invasion plots. Godzilla Vs Destroyah is the most dark, grim and downbeat film in the series. This is brutal, physical and no-holds barred monster movie making at its most lethal and disheartening. It is the culmination of years of trying to mesh modern day special effects with the old man-in-a-suit methods of monster making from Toho’s past. They’ve come a long, long way from the days of trying to spot the zipper on the rubber suit.

Godzilla Vs Destroyah was the biggest Godzilla production that Toho had produced and very penny of the budget goes up onto the screen in some form. The new Godzilla suit, brought to life with a fiery orange glow and blowing out smoke every few minutes, is a remarkable special effect which must have been hell for the stuntman inside. Godzilla looks more reptile-like than ever but the addition of the glowing orange skin really makes this version of the monster more human than ever before. We can almost feel the pain of the monster as he roars and breaths fire, slowly dying a horrible death. It’s a shame that they didn’t let loose the chains and have him completely run riot across Japan like never before and he conveniently serves the bulk of his rage for Destroyah.

Destroyah is one of Godzilla’s most physically imposing opponents ever envisioned. There are numerous stages to the monster’s development but it is the final incarnation which provides the ghastly Devil-like creature that Godzilla battles during the finale. It’s like something out a H.P. Lovecraft tale. Destroyah gets billed as Godzilla’s most fearsome rival and whilst the two monsters do battle, the result is never really in question. Godzilla doesn’t lose, ever…or does he in his final fight? Regardless of who wins, the two monsters smash the hell out of Tokyo in the amazing night time battle at the end of the film.

This final confrontation is one of Toho’s finest special effects extravaganzas. I thought the three way battle between Godzilla, Rodan and Mechagodzilla in 1993′s Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla was impressive yet this blows the socks of it by a mile. There is all manner of beam weaponry exchanged between the two monsters, with explosions, sparks and clouds of smoke going up every few minutes. The superbly detailed miniature cities take a pummelling here and the whole thing is captured with some fantastic shots. Shooting the fight at night really hammers home how much Toho had learnt about these type of scenes.

The main problem with Godzilla Vs Destroyah is the rather weird detour it takes quite early on during one of Destroyah’s early stages of development. This turns into some sort of pseudo-Aliens flick as a team of soldiers is picked off one-by-one by loads of mini-Destroyahs inside a warehouse. The human aspect of Godzilla films was never really embraced as anything except filler in between the monster fights and there are no exceptions here. Some of the faces from the previous films return for one last hurrah, including Megumi Odaka as Miki Saegusa, who sets a record of six consecutive appearances in Godzilla films. Toho were never ones to adhere to any sort of continuity with the Godzilla series so to see her back again is a bit of a shock. This is even more puzzling when you consider that Godzilla Vs Destroyah cherry picks what it wants to take from the previous couple of films including Godzilla Vs Space Godzilla but mainly refers back to (and includes footage from) the 1954 original.

Of course, what would a Godzilla film be without a classic soundtrack courtesy of Akira Ifukube. Not only was Godzilla bowing out but this was Ifukube’s swansong for the series and he saves some of his best until last. The fight music is riveting as always but it is the final piece during Godzilla’s meltdown which not only draws an end to Godzilla’s career but Ifukube’s as well. It’s a highly emotional pairing and if you’re a fan of Godzilla, I dare you to remain dry-eyed as we witness the colossal monster wither away before our eyes.

 

Godzilla Vs Destroyah was and still is the pinnacle of Toho’s Godzilla films. It’s an absolute must for any true Godzilla fan – action-packed, featuring the best special effects of the series and featuring an unforgettable finale. Whilst Toho would resurrect Godzilla only a few years later in Godzilla 2000, this, for me, is his ultimate swansong.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah (1991)

Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah (1991)

Travelers from the future arrive in present day Tokyo bringing news with them that that in the next century, Godzilla will return to Japan and destroy it once and for all. They have a solution though: to travel back in time and destroy the dinosaur that eventually mutates into Godzilla after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Earth people agree but they find out that it is a dastardly plan by the time travellers to unleash their new monster on Japan: King Ghidorah. Without Godzilla to save them, who will save Japan from this three-headed terror?

 

The feeble Return of Godzilla in 1984 and the disappointing Godzilla Vs Biollante in 1989 certainly revived interest in Godzilla after a nine year gap but the results had been somewhat underwhelming. Had Toho made a mistake in shelving Godzilla for so long before he was reborn in the 80s? Return of Godzilla was a poor man’s remake of the original with more cutting edge special effects and Godzilla Vs Biollate saw the giant lizard return to his old school roots by pairing off against another giant monster. But they were hardly classic entries in the series which had become more known for its city-stomping and monster tag team fights than any serious post-atomic messages. With Toho’s 50th anniversary approaching, they wanted to celebrate in style by giving Godzilla an old school opponent to fight. King Kong was primarily considered but the rights were too costly and so Toho decided to take a step into Godzilla’s past and resurrect one of his most famous and feared (and my favourite) opponents – King Ghidorah – in order to give their anniversary some major box office clout.

Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah is arguably where the second wave of Godzilla films really kicked off in earnest. Whilst it doesn’t totally eschew the more serious nature of the previous two films, it allowed some more of the camp and alien invader nonsense of the past to creep back in and soften the edges somewhat. What you get is one of the best instalments of the entire franchise, if you can make it past the first half an hour of complete and utter gibberish that is. The film is ambitious, I’ll credit it with that. Not just content with introducing some aliens with a blatantly-sinister agenda like the 60s and 70s had in abundance, the film borrows from The Terminator with a futuristic android who can run faster and is stronger than anyone as well as a confusing time travel story.

This is one really perplexing film where the film messes around with its own timeline so much that it gets out of control. It tries to be clever, toying with the story by jumping backwards and forwards in time with the old cause and effect routine but it’s not as smart as it thinks it is. Temporal paradoxes are not the strongest point of Godzilla films and if you even try to decipher the logistics behind most of what happens here (events here also effect the following sequels which make reference to this a fair bit) then you’ll be left scratching your head in confusion. The idea behind going back to reveal Godzilla’s origins is good but the execution is appalling as the film flits between 1904, 194 and 2204. At some points during the film, Godzilla is the hero and Ghidorah is the bad guy and then roles are reversed once the films shifts the time continuum. To be honest, once the fights begin, the head-scratching ends.

Forgetting the silly story and focusing on the stronger points of the Godzilla films, Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah eventually delivers giant monster battles all brought to life with then-modern special effects of the 90s. The miniature cities look convincing and there’s plenty of explosions and buildings crashing down as the monsters fight each other hand-to-hand and then later with their beam weapons. This is the first of the modern day Godzilla films to really go to town on the destruction and it all looks fantastic, giving you a tantalising taste of what was to come later in the decade.

King Ghidorah gets a sleek new update for the 20th century, having his majestic and awe-inspiring three-headed form retained in earnest. My only disappointment with this new version of the monster is that it lacks the classic roar that the old King Ghidorah had. This new roar sounds pretty feeble and couldn’t be any less intimidating if it tried. Godzilla retains more of the animalistic look that the previous two films had given him, a far cry from the cheesy perma-grinning superhero of the 60s, and he’s back to being really angry with Japan. It’s a suit made to look primal, aggressive and dinosaur-like and it succeeds in keeping the monster from becoming too human. In a funny way, when the monsters fight each other it’s almost like they remember their prior history – impossible since this takes place in a different timeline but you still get the sense of some deep personal issues between the two!

Sadly, the English language release of the film contains some of the worst dubbing I’ve ever heard – the travellers from the future, two of whom are American, are dubbed by some atrocious English-speaking people that I wouldn’t even call voice actors. Whoever was doing the hiring seems to have gone out of the way to find the two silliest voices to dub over. Thankfully a lot of their droning is drowned out by the quality score by returning composer Akira Ifukube, brought back to the series to give it some much-needed audio impact. He resurrects some of his classic old themes including the brilliant Monster Zero March.

 

With an ambitious, if convoluted, story, some excellent special effects and plenty of monster fighting, Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah is one of the most entertaining instalments of the series. But both Godzilla and King Ghidorah come a little too late in the film to hold it back from being one of the true classics.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Frankenstein Conquers the World (1966)

Frankenstein Conquers the World (1966)

He rolled the Seven Wonders of the World into one!

During World War II, the Germans steal the immortal heart of Frankenstein’s monster from a lab in Europe and take it to their Japanese allies. Here, the heart is caught in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and is exposed to radiation. The heart slowly mutates and grows into a full body which then escapes into the countryside. Years later, the now-grown feral boy is captured by scientists who want to study it. But the boy keeps growing until he is over 20ft tall. Escaping from captivity once more, the giant is blamed for the destruction of a mountain area near Mount Fuji. But in reality this is the work of a giant reptile named Barugon which has come out of the centre of the Earth. Frankenstein and Barugon cross paths and fight to the death.

 

Jeez that was a long-winded plot summary but I could have gone on for hours trying to explain Toho’s Frankenstein Conquers the World, one of their many standalone kaiju flicks which didn’t feature Godzilla or Mothra but instead, rather bizarrely, tries to draw influence from Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic novel Frankenstein. What follows is one of Toho’s most unique films, in every sense of the word. Who would have though a literature classic would find its way into the world of kaiju eiga?

Toho roped in long-term Godzilla main man Ishirô Honda for the directing duties but there was no way that even he would be able to get a grip on the subject matter. The plot is bonkers: the script has loads of ideas (using the original script from King Kong Vs Godzilla which had Godzilla fighting Frankenstein instead) but once Frankenstein has grown to full size, there’s literally nothing left for him to do except follow the kaiju formula by squaring off with another giant monster. These scripts don’t lead anywhere else except to a giant fight at the finale and this is no exception. So what you basically get is a lot of filler and padding out before the fight.

I guess Toho finally ran out of monster ideas for this one and simply had a grown man stomping around on the miniature set instead of designing a suit or even some half-decent make-up for the actor to wear. We know that the monsters in these kaiju films are just guys in suits anyway but the illusion is ruined at the sight of a normal guy doing the stomping. He’s given a flat top skull piece to wear, some really goofy buck-teeth and an overlarge, soiled nappy to wear. Hardly the stuff of nightmares! Frankenstein is little threat to Japan, let alone coming close to living up to the title of conquering the world.

What little money was left over (and I must be talking pennies here) was ‘invested’ into the Barugon suit. When I say invested, I mean that it was probably found in a bin somewhere. Barugon (not to be confused with the creature of the same name who did battle with Gamera) looks like something the pet dog of a five year might wear on Halloween. Definitely one of those “you can see the zipper” monsters. Barugon shows up for literally no other reason than to provide Frankenstein with something to do once he reaches ‘giant monster’ status. Given that he’s flesh and blood, a full-fledged assault by the usually-toothless Japanese military might have actually paid dividends for a change. But Frankenstein has to make do with Barugon to fight – Godzilla would have made for a more memorable opponent.

Come to mention it, apart from the giant monster side of the film, the Frankenstein elements work quite well. Whilst Mary Shelley’s work is uncredited, the source material is reasonably followed – this is a monster who is not naturally violent or aggressive but misunderstood and only reacts the way he does because of the way he has been treat. He only kills when he has to do and manages to get some sympathy and pity from the audience. Sadly, as I’ve already stated, the film gives the monster little to do and instead saddles the bulk of the screen time with the scientists who look after him but are not interesting enough to hold together the film. American actor Nick Adams was decent enough in Invasion of the Astro-Monsters but he can’t save this mess on his own, relegated to almost commentary-duty as he and the others watch the giant monsters fight it out. Admittedly, the fight between the two monsters isn’t the worst you’re ever going to see in one of these films but only for the pure camp value of seeing a man wearing a nappy fighting another man in a moth-balled lizard suit on a crumbling miniature set!

 

Toho’s script is an interesting failure where the best elements are those which have been inspired from the Gothic novel and the worst ones have been lifted from every other kaiju film out there. Frankenstein Conquers the World tries to work the two together in a very mis-matched way but which was somehow successful and popular enough to spawn a sequel.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gappa, The Triphibian Monster (1967)

Gappa, The Triphibian Monster (1967)

Even mightier than ‘King Kong’!

An expedition to a remote tropical island leads to the discovery of a baby reptile unlike anything seen before. Ignoring the protests of the natives, the expedition takes the monster to a zoo in Japan. This prompts the baby’s significantly-larger parents to go searching for their offspring leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

 

Japan’s oldest major movie studio, Nikkatsu, had decided to jump on board the ‘kaiju’ bandwagon of the 60s. This was an era in which Tokyo had been destroyed countless times by the likes of Godzilla, Gamera, Mothra and Rodan courtesy of the folks over at Toho and Daiei studios. Even London had received the wrath of Gorgo and Copenhagan had drawn the short straw with the laughable Reptilicus spewing its green goo all over the capital. Giant monster movies were all the rage, so why not get in on the act and potentially spawn a whole franchise of popular monster movies? Well the idea was good in theory but the execution is woeful. Gappa, The Triphibian Monster could well be one of the worst giant monster movies to ever come out of Japan and over forty years later, that still holds true.

Gappa, The Triphibian Monster (also known as Monster From a Prehistoric Planet, a title which makes no sense whatsoever as they’re not space monsters) is, to put it bluntly, a terrible entry in the kaiju cycle. It borrows heavily from Gorgo about a baby monster which is taken from its home and put on display only for its parents to come looking for it – well borrowing is a bit gentle, more like stealing. Unfortunately it also borrows Gorgo’s sluggish pace and even manages to slow that down. At the end of the day, it’s a film about giant monsters smashing cities which takes about three quarters of an hour to get them down to business. Even then, the action is quickly skirted over and is lacking in energy and passion. Kaiju films should never be this dull and insipid.

In the meantime, the film throws in a couple of human sub-plots to keep the monsters off-screen for as long as possible. There’s the obligatory scenes of the ‘cute’ baby monster, which is ugly as hell but it’s meant to be cuddly and stuff, in captivity and making the audience all gooey-eyed over it. Throw in one of the native kids who hitches a ride back to Japan (and who has, rather alarmingly in today’s politically correct world, been smothered in shoe polish to make him look ‘native’) and a greedy editor (of a magazine called Playmate – but alas it’s not the one featuring naked chicks) and you have enough padding to keep the Gappas off screen for as long as necessary. And believe me they’re off screen for a good deal of the running time. The lousy international dubbing doesn’t help matters either though I’m pretty sure that it’s the same voices as those behind the Destroy All Monsters dub and that added a goofy touch to the film. Unfortunately there’s no such added bonus with this one.

Let’s face it, the Gappa monsters sound good on paper – giant bird-like monsters that can fly (well they do have wings) and swim and they have Godzilla-like breath weapons. Once you see them on the screen, this positive image is completely thrown out the window with some of the worst monster suits ever designed. These are the type of suits that bring up the phrase “if you look carefully, you can see the zipper.” Not only do they look pitiful but the miniature cities upon which they unleash their wrath look exactly like miniature cities. When they start smashing the place up, they do like the men in suits that they are. Whilst not every Godzilla film managed to maintain this illusion, at least effort was made to portray the monster as real and not as a hokey special effect. Complaining about the special effects is a waste of time really. I wasn’t expecting much and it’s on par with the worst of the Godzilla and Gamera films as far as these go. It’s just that the effects are done without any hint of enthusiasm and the effects team look to be going through the motions at every opportunity.

 

Gappa, The Triphibian Monster is a clunker of a kaiju film, no better or worse than some of Toho and Daiei’s worst efforts, but a clunker nonetheless. The effects have become somewhat of a joke over the years, even appearing as stock footage monsters in a hilarious scene in BBC comedy show Red Dwarf where the characters mock the quality of the suits.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla – Mothra – King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

Who will be the last to survive!?

After his original path of destruction through Tokyo, the Japanese planned and prepared for Godzilla’s inevitable return. However when Godzilla does return, it seems that their efforts to stop him are still as futile. So an ancient religious cult awakens three guardian monsters to fight Godzilla in a battle to the death.

 

Shûsuke Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy in the 1990s literally blew Toho’s Godzilla series out of the water with its amazing special effects and high energy production, becoming the new benchmark for kaiju films and setting the bar high for future giant monster movies. But Shusuke Kaneko always wanted to make a Godzilla film so after the success of his Gamera trilogy, he was given the chance. Godzilla – Mothra – King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (or GMK for short since it is a long title!) thus became one of the most eagerly anticipated Godzilla films of all time.

Alas, he fails to do the same for Godzilla as he had done for the giant turtle with the in-built jetpacks. GMK is incredibly underwhelming. Given his track record and given the monsters on display, there’s no way that this twenty-fifth Godzilla film should be as so ordinary. Kaneko pushes the reset button yet again (a common failing with the Millenium series of films, always pretending that the only other Godzilla film to exist was the first one) to try and breathe some life into the series but what he ends up with is yet another overblown Godzilla film which promises a lot but doesn’t deliver.

GMK does manage to continue Kaneko’s depiction of the damage that such giant monsters would create, showing scenes where fleeing humans are killed by the monsters. Its little interactions like this which make the films a little more personal as rarely in the past have we ever seen anyone get harmed despite the amount of times Tokyo has come under attack. Special effects are top notch once again as each of the monsters is brought to life in spectacular fashion and, during the night time fight sequences, the monsters radiate with beam weapons and energy blasts.

Kaneko had wanted to resurrect Anguirus and Varan for this one but was overruled by the producers and forced to make do with the usual suspects in the shape of Mothra and King Ghidorah (though it is nice to see Baragon back). Whilst they are two of the most popular monsters, I’m sure that everyone was sick of seeing the same monsters fight Godzilla time and time again (Mothra, King Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla being the repeat offenders) and it would have been nice to see other monsters get a reboot.

Considering today’s budgets and special effects, you would have expected the monsters to get more screen time but they probably get less screen time here than they do in any of the previous films. It seems that the inclusions of King Ghidorah, Mothra and Baragon were there solely to get their asses kicked time and time again and to make Godzilla look good. Mothra is given the worst treatment, getting little more than a cameo in her larvae stage before getting her ass kicked later on in her full form. Baragon fairs a little better (no doubt because he hasn’t been over-exposed in previous films) and there’s a decent fight between him and Godzilla but the Big G never breaks sweat. King Ghidorah doesn’t really appear until the finale where – you guessed it – his job is to get destroyed by Godzilla.

I was expecting a huge showdown with all four monsters at the end instead of smaller fights scattered through the film where each individual monster is easily taken out. I never felt like Godzilla could lose. The fights are generally entertaining but they are constantly inter-cut with scenes of the human characters doing things that are of little interest.

It’s this problem which eats away at GMK – there isn’t a compelling story to hold everything together. The script plays around with mystical mumbo jumbo but little of it means anything, especially when giant monsters are smashing buildings. There is more of a focus on the human characters this time around as the film tries to re-centre itself as a film about humans having to cope with a giant monster invasion as opposed to giant monsters fighting each other with silly humans meddling around the sides.

 

GMK was a disappointment, although not a total dud. Shusuke Kaneko tries to recapture the Gamera trilogy magic for Godzilla but the story isn’t strong enough to hold it all together and the treatment that some of the individual monsters get is a bit shabby given their popularity. As it stands, his Gamera films still stand up as some of the best this kaiju genre has to offer and unfortunately Godzila has never really reached the same level…yet.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla Vs Megaguirus (2000)

Godzilla Vs Megaguirus (2000)

The Japanese have developed a huge weapon called the Dimension Tide which creates artificial black holes fired from a satellite in space. They plan to use it against Godzilla the next time he appears. After a test run of the weapon, a small boy finds an unusual egg near the site and takes it with him when he moves to the city. Dumping it in the sewers, the egg eventually grows in size and hatches into a big insect which in turn lays more eggs. Godzilla shows up and just when the Dimension Tide is about to be used against him, the insects swarm the machine and cause it to malfunction. Godzilla survives and the

 

Well it’s a long, drawn-out sequence of events which finally lead to Godzilla and another giant monster squaring off in the middle of the city in Toho’s twenty-fourth Godzilla film, Godzilla Vs Megaguirus. After the middling reboot that was Godzilla 2000, Toho needed to do something more dramatic with this entry. So they decided to chose an obscure third-rate monster from Rodan and balloon it up to gigantic size – yes, that’s called a weird decision. I’m not sure why Gigan or Megalon couldn’t have been rebooted for the modern era but Megaguirus will have to do.

Godzilla Vs Megaguirus is definitely a step up from it’s predecessor, delivering a tighter-knit and faster-paced story which will blatantly drag whilst the script builds ahead of steam for the final fight but will then deliver in spades. Only now, the studio had the finance and the capability to produce bigger and better effects and we get them in abundance. CGI slowly creeps into the series, with the smaller Meganula being rendered on computers. But the Godzilla suit looks bad ass as always, even if Megaguirus looks like another flying puppet in the same vein as Mothra and Battra, being able to fly without hardly flapping its wings and having tiny little legs which move every now and then. The use of modern day technology along with the tried-and-tested men-in-suits on miniature stages philosophy works reasonably well. Actually it works better than reasonably since the final fight takes place during the day, a rare thing indeed for this series which usually had its monsters battle at night to hide deficiencies in the effects.

In their haste to improve the visuals, the makers of the film seem to have recycled ideas from previous Godzilla films and spruced them up with new effects. An example of this is the fight between Godzilla and the smaller giant bugs, the Meganula, where they try and swarm all over him. It’s highly reminiscent of the scene from Godzilla Vs Destroyer where the monster battles the smaller version of Destroyer on a construction site.

Once again the script takes pseudo-scientific ideas to the extreme, offering up a variety of implausible solutions and impractical resolutions to Godzilla like the creation of a black hole weapon. Obviously we’ve got to stomach the fact that a giant monster, born from atomic radiation, is out to destroy Japan first before we believe anything else. But the incredible weapons that this series keeps coming up with just take the whole thing to new levels of ridiculousness.

Another annoying trait of Godzilla Vs Megaguirus is, like the other Millenium films, it cherry picks what it wants to reference from previous Godzilla films, pretty much disregarding everything and resetting the timeline back to scratch again. Showing a bit of continuity between films was the way to go forward and it’s no surprise that, in my opinion, the best all-round films of the entire series were the ones from Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah onwards which were all linked by various plot threads and recurring characters. There seemed to be logical progression with an overall story arc and it was nice to see.

One step forwards/backwards (depending on your view point) is that it returns somewhat to the cartoon-violence style escapades of the 70s as Godzilla delivers a body slam to Megaguirus and there are other attempts at monster humour during the battles. It’s groan-worthy but it’s certainly a highlight of their fight as the last couple of giant monsters that Godzilla has faced have all been rather serious affairs. Megaguirus is a decent opponent for Godzilla and the fight between the two monsters during the finale is solid and they get into a lot of close, physical combat. I always preferred to see my giant monsters physically duking it out with each other instead of standing at a distance and firing their beam weapons as was the case during many of these later Godzilla films. But on the flip side, Megaguirus lacks a real physical presence and doesn’t seem to pose any threat to Godzilla – you know the outcome of the fight from the opening minute. Godzilla’s best opponents like King Ghidorah and Destroyer took him to the limit.

 

Toho doesn’t seem to show the same faith or creativity in Godzilla as it once did and Godzilla Vs Megaguirus is proof of this. It’s basically a rehash of ideas from previous films with some better special effects. Decent but hardly the most memorable Godzilla film.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Rodan (1956)

Rodan (1956)

Most horrifying hell creature that ever menaced all mankind!

A mysterious spate of deaths down in a Japanese mining pit turn out to be the work of large monstrous grubs which are living in a huge underground cave. But what is worse is that the miners also discover a giant egg. With the cave disturbed, the egg hatches and a giant prehistoric monster is released, feeding off the grubs first before breaking free of the cave and heading to Toyko, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

 

With the phenomenal success of Godzilla and its sequel, Toho saw a licence to print money in the giant monster market and started designing new monsters to destroy their country with varying levels of success (Varan anyone?). Rodan was the first of these monsters to get its own film and what follows is one of Toho’s best monster films and arguably the second best solo outing for any monster behind Godzilla himself. It was the first kaiju film released without Godzilla and the first one it ever shot in colour.

Stripping away much of the nuclear messages that Godzilla carried, Rodan plays it more like the traditional monster movie. Well at least when you’ve finished watching, it does. You wouldn’t think that you’re watching a film about a giant monster for the first part. The scenes in the mine with the grubs are more akin to the cheesy 50s American atomic monster movies like Beginning of the End and The Giant Mantis. There is a reasonable amount of suspense and dread built up at the start and these scenes are surprisingly scary and effective. The grubs look creepy and a bit similar to the giant molluscs from The Monster That Challenged the World. In fact it’s almost a disappointment when they do discover the giant egg because you know that this portion of the film will be coming to an end. Rodan quickly shifts into kaiju mode and the change is sudden and a little jarring, going from a more horror-orientated outing to an all-out action fest within the space of ten minutes.

Rodan was the first of Toho’s many famous flying monsters and the monster suit is designed with this in mind. The scenes of the monster flying over and then landing in the middle of Tokyo are rendered with some great special effects. In the air, Rodan is a puppet but when he’s upright on land, he’s the more traditional guy-in-a-suit. I always thought Rodan looked like he needed a good feeding and the skinny and scrawny nature of the puppet in this one makes me smile with relish knowing he’s proven my point. It’s for this reason that Rodan seems to lack the genuine physical presence that Godzilla or his many alien opponents had in future films. Apart from flapping his wings and causing huge gusts of wind, Rodan is pretty useless.

However there is plenty of good old fashioned city-stomping as TWO Rodans attack Tokyo in what may be one of Toho’s best monster attack scenes. For the first time in colour, the extremely detailed miniature sets are brought to life and look surprisingly good, buckling under the gusts of wind from Rodan’s wings. Not only that, but the Japanese army is out in full force too, failing to stop the monsters with their array of tiny toy tanks and stock footage. Some of these scenes were that good that they were re-used time and time again in following Godzilla films – the scene with the soldier being blown in the wind was a common sight in a lot of the series. In comparison to the earlier night time black and white scenes of devastation in Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again, these scenes look apocalyptic and highly realistic.

To top it off, the ending is one of the most emotional in the entire Toho canon as legendary director Ishirô Honda gets us to empathise with the monsters as they are caught up in a volcanic eruption. One has the chance to flee the scene but decides to stay after the other one is killed. It’s a touching moment and one which is rare to see in a kaiju film, giving the monsters sentience and character like never before.

 

Rodan is one of Toho’s best films, featuring some of the most impressive monster action that they ever filmed and with some great special effects to bring it to vivid life. Dare I say it but at times Rodan is more exciting than Godzilla was! Rodan would prove to be so popular that the monster was brought back for a further three films in the original Godzilla run as well as sporadic appearances in the later years. Not bad for a spin-off.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆