Tag Kaiju

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.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Son of Godzilla (1967)

Son of Godzilla (1967)

Japan’s Greatest Foe Delivers an Heir!

Radiation experiments on an island create giant preying mantis and humongous spiders to come to life. The scientists there also discover a giant egg, which hatches and is revealed to be the son of Godzilla. With lots of nasty monsters lying in wait, it’s up to Godzilla to protect his son.

 

Most critics signal the juvenile low budget antics of Godzilla in the 70s as his lowest ebb. The likes of Godzilla Vs Megalon were cheap, full of stock footage and suffered from an overriding sense of camp and live action cartoonery. But in my opinion, he was never at his more obvious least when he had to play the role of dad in both Son of Godzilla and Godzilla’s Revenge, the two films which are the nadir of the Godzilla series in my eyes.

In an attempt to make the Godzilla series more appealing to younger viewers, Toho introduced the world to Minya (or Minilla depending on which film you see him in), the annoying son of Godzilla. Thus was born one of the worst outings ever for the big monster as instead of destroying Tokyo with anti-atomic sentiments or saving the Earth from alien invaders, Godzilla now had to play the protective parent and keep his son from being harmed by other monsters. This is not a serious entry in the slightest and the camp and jokey nature of the film is actually embraced by everyone in it.

Godzilla is more of a cartoon character in this one instead of the ferocious beast he once was. The fights between Godzilla and Kamakiras (the giant preying mantis) and Kumonga (the giant spider) are comical and it’s like watching the Three Stooges eye-poke and knuckle shove each other in monster suits. Though Kamakiras outnumbers Godzilla three to one, they’re no match for the Big G and he smashes them to pieces before squaring up against Kumonga in the finale. Surprisingly, the introduction of these new monsters means that no stock footage is re-used from earlier films and all of the action (and there is a fair amount, signalling that the budgets were still decent at this time) is newly shot, although the footage of these new monsters would be re-used in following films. This at least gives the film a fresher film even if director Jun Fukuda keeps Son of Godzilla looking a little too much like his earlier Ebirah, Horror of the Deep at times with the jungle and island setting.

Despite the ludicrous sight of Godzilla and his son embracing at the end, it’s still quite an emotional scene and one of the only times in the entire series that I can recall Godzilla showing some true sign of emotion. It does get a little too ‘cute’ and sentimental for its own good, notably in the earlier scene where Godzilla tries to teach his son how to blow the radioactive breath and Minya just blows out smoke rings.

Like the majority of the Godzilla series, it takes some time before the big monster shows up and without any city-stomping antics it means that the human characters and the story have more time to fill up. The plot is simple padding, keeping things ticking over until Godzilla finally turns up and never really threatening to do anything except keep the film going from A to B. Without Godzilla smashing Japan to pieces again or aliens trying to take over the world, the plot is actually one of the more original in the entire series and there is no strict formula for it to follow. The cast is made up of a batch of actors who had appeared in numerous Godzilla films over their career, including Akihiko Hirata, Kenji Sahara and my particular favourite, Akira Kubo. Energetic to the end, though suffering from bad dubbing, the characters are entertaining enough if the plot never threatens to do anything serious with itself.

 

You’ll be hard-pressed to take anything from Son of Godzilla except a strong hatred of the title character. Minya would pop up as a main character again in Godzilla’s worst outing, Godzilla’s Revenge, and then be re-imagined for the later 90s films. His debut here is not the worst of the series though if it hadn’t been for the fact that it doesn’t follow the usual Godzilla formula and structure, it would have been a close run thing.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Earth: Out-numbered, Out-monstered, Out-done.

Earth is a transformed place. Whilst the planet is constantly under threat from giant monsters, some humans are discovered to have mutant abilities and are part of the international ‘M-Group’ task force designated with stopping the monsters. When a UFO arrives and seemingly removes the monsters in the interests of peace, the planet looks to have a bright future. That is until it’s revealed the aliens are simply ‘farming’ the population of Earth for food. They take the monsters under their control and order them to destroy the planet when humans resist. However there is one monster they can’t control. One monster that mankind has tried for decades to kill with no luck. Now Earth’s only hope lies with Godzilla!

 

Godzilla: Final Wars was the fiftieth anniversary production for Godzilla and was heralded as the last Godzilla film to be made for a long while – the big monster was going to go into semi-retirement in order to give the series a much-needed break (though they have retired Godzilla twice before so I take this with a pinch of salt). In an attempt to give the fans what they’ve been dying for and send Godzilla off on a high, Toho decided to rehash one of the most popular of the Godzilla films – Destroy All Monsters – for the modern era. A classic monster mash-up from the 60s, it was famous for featuring pretty much all of Toho’s iconic screen monsters in one go.

Bringing in director Ryuhei Kitamura (of Versus fame, one of the craziest Japanese films I’ve seen for a long time) was a sign that fresh blood was being pumped in to the franchise in order to give the old ideas some new bite. The return of the ‘aliens taking over the world’ plot was a great throwback to the films of old as this was the staple diet of all the late 60s and 70s Godzilla films. So with a talented director at the helm, a serious old school vibe and with modern advances in technology and special effects to bring the monsters, cities and destruction to life like never before, this surely has to be a winner, right? Well yes and no.

For a start, Toho finally heeded someone’s advice and decided to resurrect not just one or two of the same old monsters they always bring back (Mothra and Mechagodzilla have been in more Godzilla films than any other monsters), but they decided to bring back pretty much their entire back catalogue. Yes Mothra is back again but that is forgiven as Anguirus, Rodan, Manda, Kumonga, Kamacuras, Hedorah, Ebirah, King Caesar and Gigan are all brought to life once again. I’m especially glad to see Gigan back as I always loved him in the old films and he was one of Godzilla’s nastier opponents. There are also a couple of surprise monsters in the film, namely the return of Godzilla’s most famous nemesis (I won’t spoil it but fans know who I mean) and the inclusion of none other than the American version of Godzilla, from the dreadful 1998 film. Yes the ridiculous salmon-eating critter from Roland Emmerich’s stinker is here as ‘Zilla’ and needless to say, he gets what’s coming to him in a big way.

Visually, the film blows the socks out of nine out of ten Hollywood summer blockbusters. The monsters are all superbly realised, with their city-stomping antics being brought to vivid life like never before. Most of the new suits look great especially Gigan’s kick-ass new makeover. But here is the first major issue I have. You see so little of some of the monsters that it’s pretty pointless them being included in the film. Ebirah isn’t in for long, Hedorah makes a cameo (I heard the scene with him was cut) and some of the others don’t fair much better when it comes to screen time. Godzilla is pretty much unstoppable here and he finishes off most of the monsters in record time. He’s no match for them at all. Just a quick blast of his radioactive breath or a quick whip of his tail and the other monsters are finished. We know that Godzilla is ‘King of the Monsters’ but does he really have to destroy everyone else so easily as it lessens the reputations of the likes of Rodan and Anguirus to see them treat so shabbily.

Godzilla: Final Wars also relies too much on in-jokes and referencing previous kaiju films, with things like the look of the aliens being modelled on those from Invasion of the Astro-Monsters. Not content with simply rehashing old kaiju plots and scenes, Kitamura also blatantly borrows scenes and ideas from The Matrix, Independence Day and X-Men to name a few. When the monsters aren’t fighting (which is for a good portion of the film it has to be said), the film relies on old plots with new twists to keep the story moving. I’m not overly hot on the story here as it’s just an excuse for plenty of Matrix-esque action set pieces with aliens wearing shades and leather jackets like Neo clones and an over-reliance on fancy, pointless special effects. However, the actions of the human and alien characters have a massive bearing on the monsters’ actions so you can’t just write this off. As we all know, having a couple of actors standing talking meaningless jargon to pad a few minutes is a lot more cost-effective than having two guys in expensive rubber suits trashing miniatures that have taken ages to build!

 

I have to say I was slightly disappointed because I was expecting a hell of a lot more monster mayhem akin to Destroy All Monsters. Those in it purely for the fighting will have to endure lengthy periods of unhealthy Hollywood plagiarism with the human sub-plots. Godzilla: Final Wars is still arguably the best Godzilla flick since Godzilla Vs Destroyer in 1995 and even the appearance of Minilla, Godzilla’s son, does little to detract from the kick ass approach to the film. It is style over substance all of the way but when a kaiju film has as much style as this, who cares?

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2002)

Two is company but three is a very big crowd!

One year after the fight between Godzilla and Mechagodzilla, the Japanese Defence Force is rebuilding the cyborg in case Godzilla returns. But the tiny little twin fairies who speak for Mothra warn them that Mechagodzilla should be laid to rest in the ocean because it was built using bones from the original Godzilla and it needs to rest in peace. If the authorities will lay Mechagodzilla to rest, Mothra would step in and act as Japan’s defence against Godzilla. But if not, she will declare war on humanity. Their concern is evident when Godzilla does show up again to destroy Japan. Mothra joins forces with Mechagodzilla in an attempt to rid Japan of this menace once and for all.

 

Perhaps more so than the majority of other genre, kaiju eiga films (that’s monster movies for those who don’t speak Japanese) are bound by the sorts of things that its specific target audience expects from any entry. The Godzilla series, the Gamera films and the miscellaneous other giant monsters that have had big screen outings can do all they like with the plot and characters but when it comes down to it, the fans of this type of film want to see giant monsters smashing up cities and then smashing up each other. That’s the bottom line. The latest batch of Godzilla films, dubbed the Millenium series and beginning with Godzilla 2000, have been relatively hit and miss when it comes to this aspect. Whilst the advances in technology are clear to see in the special effects, the new series is lacking something that made the 1990s Godzilla films some of the most entertaining of the entire series and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is definitely the prime example.

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is one of the first Godzilla films for a while to directly follow on from its predecessor without re-writing history which is a nice starting point as each new film usually picks and mixes whatever it likes from the previous films and most often pretend that every other film except for the original Godzilla doesn’t exist. Things are different this time around as it not only directly follows on from Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla but, in a nice nod to the original Mothra as well, Hiroshi Koizumi returns to play the same character he did back in 1961. The story is thread-bare though and is just an amalgamation of previous Toho outings involving all of the featured monsters. When the monsters aren’t fighting (which they don’t for the first half), the film is too bogged down with muddled characters and flimsy padding. It’s the same problems that faced the old 60s and 70s films but at least the camp and cheese values of the likes of Godzilla Vs Megalon and Invasion of the Astro-Monsters kept the human side of things entertaining, if only for the wrong reasons. Here none of the characters get enough screen time to make an impression and you’ll be sat watching the clock and waiting for the big fight anyway.

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. was the most visually impressive entry to date (though bettered with the following Godzilla films) and the monsters do battle in an hour-long fight which takes up the bulk of the running time. CGI is kept to a minimum and at the end of the day the monsters are still guys in suits smashing up miniature cities on a sound stage but the mixture of old and new technology really brings these monsters to life as they fight each other in a battered city. Godzilla looks as bad ass as ever, Mechagodzilla’s new design looks like it was lifted from one of these Manga comics and Mothra is easily the most beautiful, elegant and fragile monster Toho ever created. Their mixed array of beam and laser weapons look superb, if relied on a little too much, and the miniature sets look as good as they have ever done. When a monster falls into a building here, it looks like it’s collapsing for real.

My major gripe with Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is that Toho has once again delved into the past and wheeled out the same line-up of monsters for Godzilla to do battle with: Mothra and Mechagodzilla. Whilst I can acknowledge the fact that the more popular monsters will get more cinematic appearances, it also means that the films themselves become too alike. You know that Mechagodzilla is going to break down during a fight and have technical problems. You know that Mothra will at some stage be represented in the form of the twin caterpillars before hatching into the beautiful butterfly. No matter how many physical makeovers both monsters get (and a whole new arsenal of weapons in Mechagodzilla’s case), they are the same characters and bring nothing new to the table. Toho has such a great catalogue of monsters from the past that any one of them could be given a bad ass new makeover for this new series (I’m looking at you Gigan)

 

Technically superb, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is the best looking Godzilla film to date (at time of writing) and it’s clear that a lot of time and effort has been put into bringing this series up-to-date with the technology available. It’s a shame that Toho keeps regurgitating old stories and old monsters instead of giving us something fresh that we haven’t seen before. Stop playing it safe and take a chance.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gamera Vs Barugon (1966)

Gamera Vs Barugon (1966)

An expedition to retrieve a huge opal goes wrong when it is revealed that the opal is in fact the egg of a giant monster called Barugon. This beastly brute has a deadly tongue and a rainbow beam and begins to destroy Japan. Only Gamera, the giant turtle with flame breath and rockets in his shell can save the day.

 

Gamera has always been seen as a poor man’s Godzilla (at least during the original series of Gamera films, not the more recent 1990s versions which kicked ass) and you can see why. With the same sort of ideas as the Godzilla series but clearly with one half of the budget and talent behind the camera, the Daiei studio made these films look like knock-off versions made by kids. As with the Godzilla series, heck any monster series, there’s only so many monster versus human plots you can do before people get tired of it. Universal started the trend in the 30s when they began pairing off Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman to try and revive interest once their individual series began to wane. Toho did it with Godzilla. So Daiei took the same route and gave Gamera an opponent to fight instead of just having him smash up Tokyo.

Gamera Vs Barugon is a pretty feeble effort to say that it’s only Gamera’s second cinematic outing and they looked to have run out of creative ideas already. Barugon looks pathetic – like a lizard/dog hybrid. He crawls on all fours and therefore doesn’t physically interact with Gamera as a two-legged opponent would during the fight scenes. His tongue-weapon is so terrible that it has to be seen to be believed. How can the studio get away with this as a special effect? Despite sharing the name with one of the monsters that inhabit the Godzilla films, this Barugon is a totally different monster – except it isn’t. The name wasn’t copyrighted so Daiei seem to have created exactly the same monster to trick people into thinking it is.

Back in the good old days of low budget films, the cheap monsters were usually kept off the screen as long as they could be because they look rubbish. Yet Barugon is on screen a lot. In fact I think he has more screen time in this one than he did in the entire Godzilla series. As for Gamera, we see very little of him and therefore hardly any giant monster battles ensue. The idea of a jet-propelled flying turtle with flame breath doesn’t lend itself to credibility but Gamera lives up to the ridiculousness of it. The battles that do commence are short and quite uninspiring. The level of fighting in these Daiei films compared to their Toho rivals is extremely disappointing. At least the Toho monsters with Godzilla and co. got down and dirty monster of the time. These monsters look like they’d disintegrate if they made contact with each other.

In fact the best fights in this film are between the human actors. There are two decent fight scenes and although they are ruined by some truly woeful dubbing, they are still the highlight of the film (pretty sad considering the film is about giant monsters fighting each other). As always the human sub-plot is equally uninteresting. This time we are given a moral story about getting greedy….blah blah. If the studio had cut out some of the unnecessary characters they could have spent more money on the monsters. But alas this did not happen and as a result we are left with a very poor kaiju film.

The Gamera films also lacked a decent music score. Akira Ifukube scored most of the Godzilla films before his death and he created some awesome signature music for Godzilla and some of the other monsters. The fight music was always rousing and Ifukube’s talent always seemed to be wasted doing these films when he could have been scoring serious films. Here the music is lacklustre and doesn’t add to the ambiance at all. It’s not exciting and its blandness adds to the dull, uninspiring affair that the rest of the film tries to maintain.

 

Gamera Vs Barugon is a lot worse than some of Godzilla’s lesser attempts and he saw some pretty dark days. With this only being the second instalment in the series, it was obvious things were about to get worse! Avoid unless you are a total Gamera nutcase.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Varan the Unbelievable (1962)

Varan the Unbelievable (1962)

From a World Below, It Came to Terrorize – To Destroy – To Revenge!

In an attempt to find a more economic means of purifying salt water, a joint US-Japanese military unit is set up on an isolated Japanese island where they find the perfect salt lake to test their experiments. However a giant monster lurks at the bottom and their experiments wake the creature, which goes on a destructive rampage.

 

After the enormous popularity and success of Godzilla in 1954, Toho decided to strike whilst the iron was hot and crank out a number of similarly-themed ‘giant monsters run amok’ movies. Godzilla received a second outing with a sequel, Rodan and Mothra both flew onto the scene and Varan was unearthed. For some reason (apart from the fact that this film isn’t very good), Varan never really hit it off like the others did. Rodan and Mothra both became staple enemies, and later friends, of Godzilla and made countless crossover appearances throughout the years. But Varan was never seen again, save for a token throwaway cameo in Destroy All Monsters in 1968. But the suit was in such poor condition by then that it was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment.

The version that I was originally reviewing here was the US version which was released four years later than the Japanese one, features a different director who presumably filmed the Americanised scenes, an entirely new musical score and a whole new cast of American actors. Much as what happened with the Raymond Burr bits added to Godzilla, the American version shows signs of being a totally different film to the original vision of Ishiro Honda who helmed the Japanese version. But having seen the Japanese one since my original review, I have to say that although the Americanisation is shoddy, it hardly makes much difference to the overall product. All they did was take a poor film and make it worse. Characters with pivotal roles in the Japanese version have been completely removed from the film and the new American actors given more screen time to ramble on and pad out proceedings. The scenes with Myron Healy seem totally out of place with what is going on as they hardly talk about Varan (the monster is never mentioned by name at all), dragging down the film’s pace dramatically. Despite the fact that new footage was shot for the US release, it still manages to clock in at seventeen minutes shorter! The Japanese version avoids most of these pitfalls but it still doesn’t hide the fact that film is low on budget, low on ideas and low on final product.

The decision to replace Akira Ifukube’s original score has to be the worst decision made though. Whilst the Godzilla series has received its far share of critics over the years for its scripts and production values, it was Ifukube’s outstanding scores which always deserved to be in films of far better quality. Critically acclaimed, Ifukube’s work was rightfully recognised as superb even if the films they were apart of were not up to the mark. He produced another great score here but it was sadly replaced.

You hardly see Varan throughout the film but when you eventually get to see him, he looks like a giant squirrel. In fact he flies in the Japanese version – so a giant flying squirrel. Rightly so, the American version cuts out this scene and keeps him grounded as the effects work in the original cut is so appalling that you can see wires and all sorts hanging down. Varan doesn’t get to do a lot of city-stomping either. After Godzilla and Rodan have laid waste to Tokyo, Varan has to contend with knocking over some small towns in poorly-filmed sequences. Not least there is the fact that Rodan was shot in colour two years earlier – the cost-cutting decision to go back to black-and-white further underlying Toho’s original desire to make this film as low maintenance as possible.

 

As it turns out, Varan the Unbelievable is a horrid mess no matter which version you get your hands on. The Japanese version is slightly better than the ridiculous Americanised version but both copies of the film would prove why Varan has disappeared from kaiju lore without so much as a whimper. Considering how some of the more popular Toho monsters have never received their own film, the decision to give Varan his own vehicle is mind-boggling.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gamera Vs Viras (1968)

Gamera Vs Viras (1968)

Gamera falls under the influence of aliens using a mind control device and they order him to destroy Earth. Two young boys manage to stop the aliens and Gamera then has to fight the aliens’ leader, Viras, a giant squid.

 

Gamera, the poor relation to Godzilla (the dominant statesman of kaiju films) sees his prospects slump to a new low in Gamera Vs Viras. Released in America as Destroy All Planets, the film was no doubt re-titled to cash in on Godzilla’s highly memorable Destroy All Monsters. Calling this whatever else it wants makes no difference because Gamera Vs Viras is disappointing. It’s worse than disappointing though, it’s appalling. The Gamera series was always aimed more at the younger demographic, featuring a couple of Japanese school kids in the lead roles and being the ones to help Gamera save the Earth. As a result the films come off more juvenile and cartoony than they should and certainly dafter than the majority of Godzilla films. But I guess with this being aimed towards kids, the goofier the better, right?

The other Gamera films never had much of a budget in the first place but this entry seems to have no budget at all. Instead of using new footage to show some of the things that the plot has Gamera do, they’ve simply cut bits out of the previous films and used the stock footage. This leads to all manner of terrible continuity issues as one moment Gamera destroys a dam in glorious Technicolour and then a moment later he’s smashing up Tokyo in black and white footage. Not least there’s the problem of the minor changes to the suits in between Gamera films. And no one is supposed to notice? It’s only kids watching remember – surely they won’t fall for the oldest trick in the book to keep costs down?

The ‘aliens trying to conquer Earth’ theme is the staple diet of a kaiju film – this time they dress like surgeons and wear berets. Their ship is a couple of painted-over plastic bottle tops stuck together. Their control systems look like kaleidoscopes. And of course, they’re all Japanese-looking aliens. But again, no one is supposed to notice. It’s for kids! They are pampered by overly cutesy dialogue, the fact that the lead school kids are boy scouts and one of the most awfully ear-splitting songs ever made, the ‘fight song’ that the kids sing.

Gamera looks quite cheap again and his opponent, Viras, looks awful. The giant squid doesn’t have much movement despite the numerous tentacles. The fight scene at the end between him and Gamera isn’t bad but with limited movement from both parties, the action mainly consists of static dummies being thrown through the air. They fight on land and underwater and it’s the sort of daft entertainment that one should be getting from the Gamera films, not kids in tight shorts fending off Japanese aliens in surgeon outfits. The main problem is that Viras just doesn’t get enough screen time. Yes the suit looks awful but like all special effects, their initial effect wears off over time as the audience becomes accustomed to it. If we’d have seen a lot more of the monster, we wouldn’t have been too bothered about seeing the zipper because we’d be too focused on the monsters duking it out.

 

Gamera Vs Viras is a mess of a monster flick. Too much stock footage. Too many silly goings on. And not enough monster action. I think even the kids that this is aimed at would see right through the empty shell of this sorry kaiju.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆