Tag Kaiju

War of the Gargantuas (1966)

War of the Gargantuas (1966)

Can a Country Survive When Two Gargantuas Battle to Death?

After the sole survivor of an attack on a boat tells the authorities that the rest of the crew were killed by a giant, a scientist is brought in to investigate the matter and concludes that fragments of the Frankenstein monster that was previously thought destroyed have mutated again. Only this time the fragments have formed into two new monsters or ‘gargantuas’ as they become known to the Japanese and they begin to

 

Was Frankenstein Conquers the World better than I assumed? One of Toho’s strangest kaiju films saw the beating heart of Frankenstein’s monster subjected to radiation during the atomic attack on Hiroshima, eventually giving birth to a giant boy and then squaring off against another giant monster. It was a terrible film, one of Toho’s worst, but somehow it spawned a follow-up. Thankfully, one does not need to have subjected themselves to the ordeal of watching the other film before sitting down to watch War of the Gargantua (in fact the American version does away with any links whatsoever).

War of the Gargantuas was helmed by regular Toho director Ishirô Honda and he puts his experiences with Godzilla and chums to good use. The film kicks off with a bang as a giant octopus attacks a boat and then one of the gargantuas shows up and fights the octopus. After ten minutes, there has already been more action than Frankenstein Conquers the World and the promise of more yet to come. This film gives us frequent giant monster action yet for some reason, you won’t be overly excited. These two gargantuas battle and brawl across Japan in a number of fight sequences but because they’re almost identical monsters and just look like two stuntmen in make-up, they don’t exactly garner the same interest as a Godzilla, Rodan or Mothra would. They’re not the most visuall interesting creations that Toho have ever come up with but at least you get to see more of them, given the nature of the make-up rather than bulky monster costumes. Thankfully, the miniature sets that they fight on are some of the most realistic that Toho created at the time and the Japanese army even gets in a few good licks on one of the monsters for a change! You win some, you lose some, so your interest in these fights will hinge on your ability to suspend disbelief as much as possible. The green gargantua has a taste for human flesh too and isn’t afraid to snack on whoever he can get his hands on, adding a slightly sinister element to the film.

The flipside to all of this monster action is that there’s not much plot to string it all together. The story for the previous film was already bordering on madness and this one follows the same idea of how the monsters were both created. And then that’s just about it – two monsters are created, they don’t like each other and they fight. The human sub-plots, some pointless and padded in most Godzilla films, are almost side-lined to the point of non-existence here. It’s hard trying to develop some characters to link together everything that happens and there’s no real meat or subtext to anything that goes on. You can almost see the characters looking at their watches, waiting for their little scene to finish so you can get back to the monster action.

In an attempt to break into international markets, Toho hired minor American actors, usually those on the wane, to provide a recognisable face for Western audiences (a trick they’d done all the way back with Raymond Burr in the original Godzilla). Nick Adams worked well in both Invasion of the Astro-Monsters and Frankenstein Conquers the World, but Russ Tamblyn here looks and sounds terrible. Looking so interested and giving a stoic, phoned-in performance, he reminded me of Bill Murray’s weary actor character from Lost in Translation. Tamblyn is virtually playing the same character as Adams, only with about a quarter of the intensity, and seems to be detached from everything that is going on, though this makes sense when you find out that a lot of his scenes had to be shot as extra footage to beef up his role.

Bizarrely, War of the Gargantuas was featured in flashback footage in both Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and Godzilla: Final Wars, actually making this part of the canon. Of all of the monster films Toho made, why this one? Even more bizarre trivia comes in the knowledge that Brad Pitt cited this as the film that saw him pursue a career in acting and both Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo Del Toro acknowledge the influence this film had on them.

 

Thankfully they didn’t turn this horrid, loose-fitting series of films into a trilogy. With no real depth to any of the on-screen carnage, War of the Gargantuas doesn’t really come recommended for casual viewers, though die-hard kaiju fans will no doubt find some glee with all of the silly action.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla Vs Mothra (1992)

Godzilla Vs Mothra (1992)

A meteorite slams into the Earth, unleashing a string of natural disasters which causes a landslide on a remote tropical island revealing a mysterious giant egg. The egg contains the offspring of Mothra, the giant moth who has protected human civilisation for centuries. But the landslide has also awoken Battra, Mothra’s ancient rival and evil twin, and Godzilla himself. Soon the three monsters are on a collision course for each other, with humanity’s fate in the balance.

 

I don’t care what anyone says but the 90s Godzilla films were when the series was at its most entertaining. Between this, Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah, Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla and Godzilla Vs Destroyah, they have the best special effects (in relation to the technology available), the best fight scenes, the best music, the most bearable human sub-plots, the best balance between being serious and campy fun, and they had something of a continuity about them. Godzilla Vs Mothra was one of the earlier 90s efforts and clearly sets the stall up for how the rest of the Heisei series would play out over the next five years.

In bringing back King Ghidorah to the fold in the previous outing, Toho decided to bring back another of their most popular monsters for this one – Mothra was given the nod. In my review for Mothra Vs Godzilla, I stated that I was never a big fan of Mothra as the idea of a giant moth being humanity’s protector against a giant radioactive lizard was never really believable. I honestly have no idea how she became so popular, having her own standalone movie back in 1961 before she started mixing it up in the Godzilla franchise. Mothra does her best to convince me why she’s so popular in this film, arguably her best outing on the big screen. It has to be said that the puppet looks fantastic: clear blue eyes, colourful wings, and flying with an elegance and grace that few of the big monsters have. In my opinion, she’s Toho’s best work in as far as the monster designs go. The advances in technology and special effects since the 60s allow for the monster to have a lot more movement and become more dangerous with a variety of beam weapons to try to bring down Godzilla.

Rather than this just being a remake of Mothra Vs Godzilla, the makers of the film threw in the addition of Battra, Mothra’s evil twin, to mix things up with the battles. Like Mothra, Battra looks ridiculous in larva form but has a really awesome-looking adult form, with spikes and horns protruding from its jet-black body. Godzilla looks pretty much the same from the previous year and this is one of the best suits they used for the monster in my opinion. There are a few tussles between the monsters in the opening two thirds of the film but it’s the final third of the film where the action really hots up and there is an epic fight amidst the ruins of Tokyo at night time, giving the miniature set designers some real creative licence with what they construct. Lights and smokes are used to good effect and there is some sterling work with the special effects whenever the monsters fire off their beam weapons or other methods of destruction. Coupled with some good matte work and convincing rear projection, the fights really do showcase just how convincing men-in-suits can look when you make the effort. The idea to set the fight at night covers over many of the weaknesses of the format and the cinematographers have a field day with setting up some truly wonderful shots of the three monsters.

If there is a really annoying flaw with Godzilla Vs Mothra, it’s that the script is all over the place. I don’t think there are any surprises there given that these films are not exactly known for their endearing human sub-plots but the Mothra-orientated films always had a better structure to them than others, mainly down to the presence of the twin fairies and they being able to communicate with the monster. There is lots of exposition to set up the backstory between Mothra and Battra, but then most of this is contradicted whenever the film requires the monsters to go against their better instincts and do things out-of-character things. The writers make a simple concept about Mothra being good and Battra being evil and do things they didn’t need to do to try and throw in a few twists. Simplicity would have worked better here.

Akira Ifukube deserves another mention in another review for a Godzilla film – the man was a musical genius and creates some more fantastic tracks for this one. As well as the usual motifs for Godzilla and Mothra, he creates a menacing one for Battra as well as some impressive action-based stuff for the fight scenes. The series lost a key component to its success when he died.

 

Godzilla Vs Mothra has a nice magical feel to it, more so than any of the other Godzilla films, and despite it being child-friendly, it doesn’t pander to them too much, opting to maintain the adult integrity of the series. Whilst the human sub-plots are tiresome and there’s too much mythical babbling on, the monster scenes are frequent, fast and deliver some of the series best scraps. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better example of the genre than this one. I take back most of what I said about Mothra after this one!

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)

The Battle of the Century!

To protect Japan against another attack from Godzilla, the government creates a huge human-piloted robot, using a breakthrough technique of infusing DNA from the skeletal remains of the original Godzilla monster that attacked Japan in 1955 with high-tech machinery and electronics. Just as the robot is completed, Godzilla shows up once more. Is Mechagodzilla ready to fight or is it too early?

 

Godzilla – Mothra – King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack had proven to be Toho’s most ambitious project up until that point, even if the finale end product hadn’t lived up to expectations given the ‘star power’ of the monsters on show and the addition of Shusuke Kaneko in the director’s chair, who had given the Gamera series a ridiculously-good kick up the rear end to bring in kicking and screaming into the modern era. Hot on the heels of the success of GMK (for short), Toho wanted to keep the momentum going and so Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla came out a year later to add another sequel onto the Godzilla series. Not many franchises make it to number ten let alone twenty-six!

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla is a marked improvement on its predecessor but still fails to really capture the magic that the late 90s Godzilla films had sparkled so well with. For me, the Heisei series (the name given to the Godzilla films from 1985-1995) marked a high note for the series which has never been bettered since in terms of scope, special effects, action and general entertainment. They even get the human side of the narrative working well, given that this element has always been on the back burner and used mainly for exposition to link monster fights together. Here, the script leaves plenty of holes and virtually reduces Godzilla to a supporting player: this is Kiryu’s film (the name given to Mechagodzilla).

Liberties are taken with Godzilla’s history again as the script cherry picks what it likes from not only Godzilla films but other Toho monster movies as well. It seems that Japan suffers from constant attacks from Godzilla and other monsters including Mothra (using footage from Mothra) and, rather oddly, Gaira (War of the Gargantuas). In the post-Godzilla 2000 era, either the writers have previously ignored all of the other films except for the original or included whichever previous films they needed in order to explain some plot or backstory. This constant re-working of the series does harm it – think back to the continuity during the previous series of films from 1984-1998 and you’ll see how it can help a series with recurring characters, plots uses from previous films, etc. It also means that the opening half of the film has to re-establish the threat of Godzilla as if he’s starting over from scratch – we know who Godzilla is, let him just start wrecking stuff by keeping continuity.

One of my pet hates with the 00s Godzilla films is their constant re-use of older monsters. I’m all up for seeing older versions of some of the classic monsters but why is it always the same ones being re-worked? Why do Mothra and Mechagodzilla always have to get brought back? I want to see some older monsters like Megalon or Titanosaurus brought back and given kick ass 21st century suits, not watching the same type of action sequences as I have done in previous instalments where Godzilla fights the same monsters and has the same type of battle. It’s quite annoying but because they’re popular monsters, they’re obviously going to get brought back more often. Mechagodzilla may have made a decent opponent for Godzilla back in the 70s – I mean both suits weren’t exactly top of the range and the manoeuvrability in them was limited to say the least. So because the special effects couldn’t really couldn’t do much back then, Mechagodzilla always seemed like an equal opponent for Godzilla.

However, with the advances in technology and particularly in the CGI stakes, Mechagodzilla now seems ridiculously over-powered to be taking on what is essentially a flesh-and-blood monster. The robot is more agile and has a better arsenal of weapons so surely Mechagodzilla should be winning fairly easily? Well thanks to the story, Mechagodzilla is basically just another whipping boy robot created by dumb humans and featuring human flaws and faults such as power failures. If scientists and technicians can build a massive DNA-structured cyborg, then surely they can come up with a smaller, easier way to destroy Godzilla like the oxygen destroyer weapon or something?

I don’t like the look of the new Mechagodzilla at all – obviously inspired by the Zoids toy series, it looks more like it belongs on an episode of Power Rangers. The Godzilla suit looks decent again but there are too many scenes in the film where he’s just standing still, as if it were an empty suit propped up against the wall with lights shone onto it. If you’re going to make the most agile Godzilla suit of the series, at least put it to some good use. Thankfully, they do get something right in this regard as the fight at the end of the film lasts for a long time and it’s one of the best in the Millenium series. Coupled with some great miniature sets and brighter lighting effects to make the fights more realistic, the whole thing looks very sharp indeed. The CGI sticks out like a sore thumb and makes the men-in-suits moments look distinctly ordinary.

 

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla features some great monster action and some of the best special effects that the series has showcased up until this point, but the script needed more polish and focus to get the audience caring about what is happening. Despite all of the carnage, I don’t really care about either of the monsters fighting each other as they’re no real investment into either monster and everyone in Japan seems so laid back about Godzilla returning to destroy them.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Mothra Vs Godzilla (1964)

Mothra Vs Godzilla (1964)

Nothing Like This Ever On the Screen!

When a giant egg is washed up on the shores of Japan in the aftermath of a storm, a greedy businessman quickly declares ownership of it and plans to exploit the egg as a tourist attraction. However, the twin fairy sisters arrive, telling reporters that the egg was swept away from Infant island and it contains the larval offspring of Mothra. It must be returned or else, once the egg hatches, the babies will cause devastation in the search for food. Problems arise when Godzilla turns up and has his sights set on the egg. Mothra turns up to defend her egg and battle Godzilla.

 

After the successful response to King Kong Vs Godzilla, it was only a matter of time before the giant lizard squared off against another huge monster and Toho opted to go for Mothra from the 1962 film of the same name for his next foe. Doesn’t quite seem fair does it – lizard vs moth? But this idea became pretty much the go-to formula for the Godzilla films right until The Return of Godzilla all the way forward in 1984. No longer could you just have Godzilla smashing cities and going up against the Japanese army, there needed to be a big monster for him to face off against. It worked well against King Kong and it was popular, so Toho milked the formula for years…and years…and years. It became so much the norm that attempts to deviate from that formula were not as well-received.

Mothra Vs Godzilla (also known as Godzilla Vs The Thing) is a fairly bog-standard 60s Godzilla film where there is a lot of talking and human interaction, a few token scenes of Godzilla smashing Japan up, more token scenes of the military trying (and failing) to stop him, more talking as the humans try to devise a scientific way to beat him, before Godzilla and his opponent fight in the finale of the film. The human sequences in these films are either overly dull or extremely cringey and campy but are merely designed to pad out the time between monster sightings. At least the film tones down the silly slapstick humour that had crept in with the last one (largely due to King Kong but Godzilla wasn’t innocent) and makes Godzilla just a badass destruction machine – well as badass a destruction machine as the 1960s budget would allow him to be.

A giant lizard versus a giant moth may not sound like the greatest and to be frank, it’s not. I’ve never really liked Mothra as a giant monster as I always found the concept of a killer moth to be somewhat unbelievable, as opposed to a giant prehistoric Pteranodon (Rodan) or three-headed monster from space (King Ghidorah, very much modelled on the Hydra from Greek mythology). They are believable threats; a giant moth is not. Why doesn’t anyone think about building a giant light and switching it on at night to kill her? The other big issue with Godzilla fighting Mothra is that he always has to fight Mothra in both forms – the larva stage and the fully-grown flying stage. The fight with the flying version isn’t too bad because Mothra is quite nimble and can attack and move away. The fight with the grub versions, two little caterpillars, is ridiculous – Godzilla looks like he’s kicking around two brown turds. The miniature sets don’t help the larva to look realistic, but the effects work is really good on the whole – the Godzilla suit doesn’t look like it’s been hanging around in a closet with mini-Mothras chewing away at it for months on end. There are also some excellent wide shots of Godzilla marching down a sandy beach, really showing us the scope of Toho’s sets, before the little toy tanks roll up and start firing caps at him.

Mothra Vs Godzilla was the last of the Godzilla films to portray the monster as the enemy of Japan – from here onwards, Godzilla was to become the saviour of the country as, over the next decade, he would save Earth from all manner of intergalactic monstrosities from King Ghidorah to Gigan, before he was turned back into humanity’s worst nightmare for the 90s and 00s reboots. It’s also interesting to note that in these earlier films, Godzilla’s opponent was named first in the title (King Kong Vs Godzilla, Mothra Vs Godzilla) whereas in the later films, he was always given top billing.

One constant right up until the end of the 90s era was composer Akira Ifukube. Once again, he proves a masterclass in composing, with another excellent soundtrack. Even though the Godzilla films, particularly those in the 70s, were cheesy and campy, Ifukube’s scores were always top notch, driving the excitement and action as much as anything else in the film, and they deserved far, far better than some of the drivel he was assigned to. It just shows how much impact music can have on a film.

 

People say that Mothra Vs Godzilla is one of the best of the series and I’ve always found that hard to stomach, as I prefer my campier, sillier Godzilla films from the late 60s to early 70s as they feature way more monster action. But I can see where they’re coming from – it’s a decent entry, certain the best of the first handful of sequels, and features some effective effects work, all handled with a more serious tone than the majority of the films which followed.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆