Film Review: Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

Also known as: Mekagojira no Gyakushū, lit. Counterattack of Mechagodzilla (Japan)
Release Date: March 15th, 1975 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Yukiko Takayama
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Katsuhiko Sasaki, Tomoko Ai, Akihiko Hirata, Katsumasa Uchida, Goro Mutsumi, Tadao Nakamaru, Toru Kawai, Kenji Sahara

Toho, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Wait till I really let Titanosaurus loose!” – Dr. Shinji Mafune

Well, this was the big sendoff for Godzilla in his Shōwa era of films, which stretch over fifteen movies from 1954’s Gojira to this 1975 conclusion that reunited original director Ishirō Honda and original music maestro Akira Ifukube.

Despite the talent working on this final chapter, it is fairly lackluster. I think the main reason is that it was a rehash of the Mechagodzilla story from the previous year’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Also, instead of featuring the awesome King Caesar, we are introduced to a new kaiju: Titanosaurus. Unfortunately, despite a new power, Titanosaurus was pretty lame. In fact, his power isn’t really that original as it is just wind gusts, which we got as far back as 1956’s Rodan. Rodan used his supersonic speed to create destructive wind gusts where Titanosaurus used his fan shaped tail. I know that Titanosaurus has his fans out there but I’m not one of them.

While I love Mechagodzilla, there just wasn’t much to separate this film from the previous one and everything that was actually different was a step down. Still, it is a Godzilla film from his best era and it is a fun time.

I think the problem with this movie, is that although Ishirō Honda is the superior Godzilla director, the ’70s Godzilla films really belonged to Jun Fukuda. He created the vibe that worked in the ’70s, as the character of Godzilla became more kid friendly and kind of goofy. Honda’s style wasn’t really effective when trying to make a direct sequel to Fukuda’s Mechagodzilla film. Godzilla was very different in 1975 than it was when Honda directed his near masterpiece Gojira in 1954.

Also, I need to point out something strange with my latest viewing of this movie. While it is rated G and categorized in places as a “family film”, this movie has boobies in it. Granted, they are fake cyborg boobies but they are nude breasties, nonetheless. Strangely, these ’70s boobies never existed in any version of the film that I have seen before. While I own this, I most recently watched it on the Starz app. So if you are using that and are showing these “G rated” Godzilla movies to some young ones, be forewarned that you might get a mammary surprise. But, as far as I know, this is the only Godzilla film with cyborg titties in it or any titties for that matter.

Titties aside, I do like this film even if it is in the lower rung of Shōwa era films. The main reason, is that I don’t dislike any Shōwa era film. Something about this heroic kaiju makes me smile, especially in the classic era of rubber suits, miniature sets and a sort of hokey magic that ties it all together. While many fans don’t like ’70s Godzilla, I always have, as it was the decade I felt more connected to when I discovered these movies as a kid in the ’80s.

Terror of Mechagodzilla isn’t a place that I would start, if introducing this great and massive film franchise to new generations, but it still works in spite of its flaws. Granted, most people probably won’t embrace this with the enthusiasm that I have but most people paid to see Transformers 5.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)

Also known as: Gojira Tai Mekagojira (Japan), Godzilla vs. The Bionic Monster (US alternate title), Godzilla vs. The Cosmic Monster (another US alternate title)
Release Date: March 21st, 1974 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Hiroyasu Yamamura, Jun Fukuda, Shinichi Sekizawa, Masami Fukushima
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Masaaki Daimon, Kazuya Aoyama, Akihiko Hirata, Hiroshi Koizumi, Kenji Sahara

Toho, 84 Minutes

Review:

“When the red moon sets, and the sun rises in the West, two monsters will appear to save the people.” – Saeko Kaneshiro

In 1974, the Godzilla franchise had really run its course. Well, at least as far as audiences were concerned. Frankly, I’d take one of these movies every year and be happy about it. And yes, I mean the ones where the monsters are men in rubber suits because this is still the superior way to create kaiju action.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla came out just a year after Godzilla vs. Megalon but it is a huge step above that film and sort of got the ship back on course. While I don’t have an issue with the Megalon flick, many people did as it was very kiddie and lacked in the budget department. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla had a larger budget, however, and it feels like a more grandiose movie overall.

This was the second to last of the Shōwa era Godzilla films but it was also the first part in a great duology that also included the final picture, Terror of Mechagodzilla.

While this chapter in the film series introduces audiences to the friggin’ awesome Mechagodzilla, it also was the debut of one of the coolest Toho kaiju of all-time, King Caesar. Unfortunately, Caesar would not appear in a ton of films like Mechagodzilla (and his many incarnations). Regardless, Caesar has a great introduction in this movie and he brings a much quicker and more athletic style to the Toho kaiju universe. While most monsters are slow hulking brawlers, King Caesar is like a rabid jackal on crack. Bouncing around and jumping onto his opponents.

The film also features one of Godzilla’s best allies in Anguirus. Even though I’ve seen this picture more than a dozen times, the scene where Mechagodzilla (posing as Godzilla) rips Anguirus’ jaw apart with his bare hands until blood spews out, still gets me every time. Anguirus is a fan favorite and seeing him brutally squashed is still a sad sight to see but it sets up just how vicious and strong Mechagodzilla is. Without the help of King Caesar, Godzilla would have had a much tougher time besting his robotic doppelgänger.

Coming as late as this did in the original run of films, it’s surprising that it is as good as it is but this is definitely one of the best Godzilla films of all-time. The monsters are all great, the plot isn’t fantastic but it is engaging and the Okinawa setting and culture added a new dimension to the series. Did I mention how cool King Caesar is? Did I mention how cool Mechagodzilla is?

The story deals with an alien invasion, which was a typical threat in these films. The aliens this time were the Simians (also known as Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens) and as their name implies, they were apes and a very obvious ripoff of The Planet of the Apes franchise, which was hugely popular, at the time. Unlike most alien races in the Godzilla mythos, the Simians would return later in Terror of Mechagodzilla. The Simians controlled Mechagodzilla in an attempt to get Godzilla out of their way in an effort to conquer Earth.

This picture features some Toho regulars: Akihiko Hirata, Kenji Sahara and Hiroshi Koizumi. All three of them have been in several Toho movies, especially in the Godzilla film series.

Jun Fukuda, the second best kaiju director after Ishirō Honda returned to direct this film and he is just on a different level, as far as framing shots and staging some great action and creating a rich atmosphere. One scene in particular that really stands out is when you see Godzilla marching up and over some hills. It is a fantastic shot and one of the best in the entire film series.

Additionally, the night battle where the true Godzilla confronts his disguised doppelgänger, as the ground is in flames around them, is spectacular. It is one of my favorite sequences that Fukuda has ever directed.

The music in this chapter was handled by Masaru Sato. It is pretty unique and adds an interesting tone to the film. Sato’s score carries the spirit of the early Godzilla themes composed by Akira Ifukube but it has its own identity and gives this film a nice boost.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, at this point in the franchise’s long history, shouldn’t have been as good as it was. It was a perfect storm comprised of several elements that just came together and worked incredibly well. Looking back, this should have reinvigorated the series but unfortunately, there would only be one more movie before Earth’s favorite kaiju would be shelved for almost a decade.

Film Review: Varan the Unbelievable (1958)

Also known as: Daikaijū Baran, lit. Giant Monster Varan (Japan)
Release Date: October 14th, 1958 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Ken Kuronuma
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kozo Nomura, Ayumi Sonoda, Fumio Matsuo, Koreya Senda, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 87 Minutes

Review:

Varan the Unbelievable was a kaiju film that I was never a big fan of. It was a total drudge to get through. However, I had only seen the English language version, which is vastly different than its original Japanese counterpart.

The American version is a short 68 minutes or so but it is edited into a completely different film and lacks the suspense and the terror that makes the Japanese version infinitely superior. The American version was also bogged down by a love story between an American soldier and a Japanese girl that felt forced and superficial.

The Japanese version, which is the one I just watched and for the first time, was an absolute delight. Finally, I got to see the monster Varan in the way that his creators intended. He was menacing, looked terrifying with his dagger like spikes and he felt like a real credible threat.

The film was made by the Toho dream team of Ishirō Honda (the director), Eiji Tsuburaya (the special effects maestro) and Akira Ifukube (the greatest kaiju film composer of all-time). While these three worked together quite often over a decade or so, one could always rest assured that when the three were a part of the creative process, as a unit, you were certainly going to get a quality kaiju epic.

Unlike most of the earlier Toho kaiju pictures, this one doesn’t recycle a lot of the acting talent. The only notable cast member in relation to their work with Toho is Koreya Senda, who played Dr. Sugimoto. He also worked in the other Toho pictures The H-Man and Battle In Outer Space, neither of which were kaiju movies but fit the general tokusatsu genre.

The film plays out similarly to the original Godzilla picture. A monster appears, gets hellapissed and decides to take his anger out on humans. The majority of the story is Varan fighting the military, as the heroes try to find a way to get rid of the giant beast.

There are some fantastic looking scenes. The one that shows Varan taking shelter underwater as the military drops depth charges is marvelous. Also, the scene where the military is dropping poison into the lake is beautifully shot and vivid, even in black and white.

The miniature work is good for a black and white picture, as it hides some of the imperfections but ultimately, Tsuburaya’s work wasn’t as good as it would become once Toho switched to making all these films in color.

Varan is an evil looking creature and he can take flight similar to a flying squirrel. Additionally, he would also go on to live in the Godzilla mythos as he appeared years later in Destroy All Monsters and the Nintendo video game Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, where he was the boss of one of the stages and continued to appear throughout the game.

Varan isn’t as popular as Godzilla, Mothra or Rodan but he is similar in that he got a solo debut film. While he didn’t appear as sporadically as the other three kaiju, that may have been a missed opportunity for Toho. A straight up Varan versus Godzilla showdown would have been interesting to see.

If you can get a hold of the Japanese version of the film, you definitely should check it out. If all you can find is the awful American version, put it back on the shelf. The easiest way to tell the difference is the running time, as the American version has twenty minutes chopped off.

Film Review: Gorath (1962)

Also known as: Yōsei Gorasu, lit. Rogue Star Gorath (Japan)
Release Date: March 21st, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Jojiro Okami, Takeshi Kimura
Music by: Kan Ishii
Cast: Ryo Ikebe, Yumi Shirakawa, Takashi Shimura, Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Ken Uehara, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 89 Minutes

Review:

“If we could come together and cooperate to overcome the danger that threatened us, can’t we take this opportunity to work together for all eternity?” – News Anchor

Gorath is an old school Toho sci-fi epic from 1962. I’m a huge fan of Toho but this is a film that has eluded me until now. I had heard of it and seen stills of its sole kaiju, the giant walrus Maguma, but it isn’t an easy film to track down. I ended up having to get a bootleg version of it on DVD with Japanese dialog and English subtitles. Luckily, it was in glorious HD and I was able to truly enjoy this picture for the first time.

While the movie does have a kaiju, he only appears for roughly six minutes towards the end of the film. He also just mostly roars and presents a sort of roadblock for the heroes trying to save Earth from a rogue star that is soon to collide with it.

The kaiju suit is passable but nothing really spectacular. Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects director, reused the Maguma suit for a kaiju named Todola in his Ultra Q television series (the show that started the Ultraman franchise that is still going strong today).

In general, Tsuburaya’s special effects are spectacular. His miniature work is great, the killer star Gorath looked pretty sinister and the the rocket ship sequences, while very dated now, look better than what was the norm for the time.

The highlight of the film for me is the opening fifteen minutes or so where we see the first rocketship confronting Gorath. It is a mission doomed for failure but the crew are able to get vital information back to Earth, giving the world’s leaders time to prepare for what could very well be the planet’s destruction.

The rocketship interiors are beautifully designed and have a certain quality that puts Gorath out in front of other Toho sci-fi extravaganzas. I wish there were more sequences that utilized the rocketship set.

Even though the highlight for me was the beginning, the rest of the film plays out really well. We get a lot of debate between the smartest men in the United Nations in a series of scenes that play out similarly to 2016’s Shin Godzilla, where politicians and scientists try to find ways to stop the threat destined to destroy their world.

The film also stars several of Toho’s regular actors: Yumi Shirakawa (Rodan, The MysteriansThe H-Man), Takashi Shimura (Gojira, Godzilla Raids Again, The Mysterians, Mothra, Ghidroah, the Three Headed Monster, Frankenstein Conquers the World), Akira Kubo (Matango, Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Space Amoeba), Kumi Mizuno (The Three Treasures, Matango, Invasion of Astro-Monster, Frankenstein Conquers the World, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, The War of the Gargantuas, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, Godzilla: Final Wars) and Ken Uehara (Mothra, Atragon).

Originally, there was no plan for a kaiju monster in this film but since Toho had more success with giant monsters in their movies, Maguma was added in at the last minute. Additionally, Maguma’s scenes were removed from the American version of the film and scenes with American actors were sprinkled in, similar to the US version of Gojira known in the States as Godzilla, King of the Monsters!

Gorath is a great special effects spectacle. It re-teamed Toho’s star director Ishirō Honda and special effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya and is one of their greatest films that isn’t associated with the Godzilla series that they kick started and worked on for years.

Finally seeing this picture, I was really impressed with it. In fact, it made me wish that Toho spent a lot more time making straight up sci-fi films. Of course, not at the expense of kaiju pictures but Toho just had great skill in creating science fiction. Gorath is exciting and just a really cool motion picture to look at and soak in.

Film Review: Rodan (1956)

Also known as: Sora no Daikaijū Radon, lit. Radon, Giant Monster of the Sky (Japan)
Release Date: December 26th, 1956 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Ken Kuronuma, Takeshi Kimura, Takeo Murata
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 82 Minutes

Review:

Rodan was a very pivotal movie in the long history of Toho’s cinematic legacy.

While Rodan, the monster, isn’t as famous as Godzilla or Mothra, he is one of the good guys and an ally to both of those kaiju against the evil monsters that started showing up later.

Rodan’s film though, is one of the best kaiju pictures ever made and it opened the door and set the stage for what was to come from Toho in the future.

To start, Rodan was the first kaiju film to be filmed and released in color. It wasn’t Toho’s first color movie though, as that honor goes to the previous year’s The Legend of the White Serpent (a.k.a. Madame White Snake). While that film was within the tokusatsu genre, it did not feature a kaiju monster. Also, it was co-produced with the Shaw Brothers out of Hong Kong. So in actuality, Rodan is the first color film Toho produced by themselves.

There are also a few interesting facts about the film’s American release. For starters, it was the first Japanese motion picture to get a wide release on the West Coast, which did wonders for its success in the States. Also, it had the biggest TV advertising campaign, up to that time, for New York’s massive NBC affiliate WRCA-TV. The marketing campaign featured a contest to challenge kids to quickly draw Rodan, while an outline of the character appeared on television sets.

As a film, Rodan is quite spectacular. Being the first color kaiju picture, it has a real grittiness to it. While the picture quality isn’t as pristine as the Toho films after it, it has a realism to it, visually. In fact, it kind of has the visual tone of a spaghetti western.

Additionally, Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects work, especially the miniatures come off as more authentic looking, as the bit of graininess hides the imperfections better than the clearer Toho films after this.

The effects of the flying Rodan were well executed, even though there was some trouble on the set and one of the stuntmen in the Rodan suit had a major accident. Luckily he wasn’t hurt and the film turned out fine.

The jet fighter sequences were all well shot and well executed. The big battle between the jets and Rodan was impressive for a 1956 movie, not to mention something from Japan that lacked the budget of an American picture.

The only other monsters in this film were some subterranean bugs that were the size of an adult hippopotamus. The bugs were picking off miners underground and started to make their way to the surface but once Rodan showed up, he treated them like gas station sushi. Sayonara, bugs!

Rodan is capped off by one of the most depressing endings in kaiju film history. While the speech is great and the message clear, it is sad seeing the fate of the film’s creatures. Knowing that Rodan would be a protector of Earth and an ally to Godzilla and Mothra against much larger threats, also changes the perspective of the ending quite a bit.

Rodan was the first kaiju movie I ever saw that didn’t feature Godzilla. It was given to me for free from this girl I was crushing on at my local video store circa 1987 or so. I think she liked me but I was eight years-old and she was a teenager. But if Padme can get the hots for toddler Anakin, why can’t video store girl get the hots for my little kaiju-loving self? She got fired a few weeks later for stealing.

Film Review: Mothra (1961)

Also known as: Mosura (Japan)
Release Date: June 30th, 1961 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Based on: a story in Asahi Shimbun by Shinichiro Nakamura, Takehiko Fukunaga, Yoshie Hotta
Music by: Yuji Koseki
Cast: Frankie Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi, Kyoko Kagawa, The Peanuts, Ken Uehara, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 101 Minutes

Review:

Mothra is the most famous Toho kaiju after Godzilla. Even though he started out in this film, his very own movie, it was probably a nobrainer to bring him into the larger Godzilla mythos. But before all that, there was Mothra and frankly, it was great revisiting this monster in his debut solo flick.

In a change of pace, Mothra’s introduction is due to people messing with his island. He doesn’t come to Japan because he’s just some rampaging beast. A bunch of jerks stole the Shobijin, who are two miniature female twins from Infant Island. Mothra crashes Japan to find the Shobijin and to return them to their home.

The special effects are amazingly handled by Eiji Tsuburaya. The miniatures were great and the heat ray trucks were a prototype for the maser weapon trucks that would be used throughout Godzilla films forever after this movie.

Mothra, as a creature, was the most beautiful and ornate kaiju of his day. Tsuburaya pulled off the creature effects superbly and the art department did a fine job in decorating the monster.

It is more fun to see Mothra rough it up with other monsters but even though he is the only creature in this film, it still plays well. It is similar to Rodan in that it didn’t need to rely on other kaiju to be a success and to leave a mark on the genre.

To this day, Mothra is still incredibly popular. A version of the creature also had its own trilogy in the late 1990s, after popping up in that era’s Godzilla movies.

Mothra will probably just always be around. In fact, Mothra’s first American incarnation is coming in Legendary Pictures’ upcoming Godzilla 2.

As for Mothra, the movie, if you are a kaiju fan, this is a must-see.

Film Review: Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)

Also known as: Gojira, Ebira, Mosura Nankai no Daikettō (Japan), Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster (US)
Release Date: December 17th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Akira Takarada, Kumi Mizuno, Chotaro Togin, Hideo Sunazuka, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 87 Minutes

Review:

Like Son of Godzilla, which came out one year after this, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep is a Godzilla island movie. Due to budgetary reasons, Toho did a string of Godzilla and other kaiju pictures on islands or in other wilderness expanses. While primarily filmed indoors like other kaiju flicks, these movies didn’t require sets made up of miniature metropolitan areas. Typically, the movies used a lot of water and just rocks, mounds of dirt and fake shrubbery. Some people disliked Toho cheapening out, I actually love these movies for providing the genre with a nice change of pace, environmentally speaking. There was just something cool and primal about seeing kaiju duke it out in nature.

This was originally written as a King Kong film but Rankin-Bass, the studio who owned the rights at the time in the U.S., rejected it. Unfortunately, this deprived fans of seeing King Kong tangle with Mothra. Toho altered the script to feature Godzilla and the rest is history.

In this, the seventh of the Godzilla movies, we see a group of men get shipwrecked after a storm and tangling with a giant crustacean creature. On the island, they meet a girl who has escaped from being enslaved like some of her other people. The island is controlled by an evil military terrorist group called the Red Bamboo. While hiding out from the evil men, out heroes discover Godzilla hibernating in a cave. Our heroes end up waking up the King of Monsters in an effort to crush the Red Bamboo and to help defeat Ebirah, the giant crustacean that won’t let anyone leave the island. Mothra also shows up to help rescue the enslaved people who came from Infant Island, where Mothra is worshipped as a deity.

Godzilla doesn’t really do anything until after the halfway point in the film. It doesn’t matter though, as the human story regarding our heroes and their run-ins with the Red Bamboo is entertaining enough. Godzilla showing up later is just a really cool bonus. Ebirah is also a cool monster, even if he isn’t as bizarre or as iconic as some of the other Toho kaiju baddies.

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep is a really fun movie. That isn’t hard to achieve, being that Godzilla is in this thing, but it is fun with or without the legendary monster. It would have been cool to learn more about the Red Bamboo or to have them show up in a later movie but this was a one-off for them, as most sinister groups in Toho films aren’t around for more than one picture. It seems like a missed opportunity though. Instead of several villainous groups, Toho could have had a consistent evil organization like Spectre or Hydra or Cobra.

I love this film. Something about it just resonates with me. I like the island Godzilla movies a lot. Maybe it is because I grew up in a coastal tropical area or because of my love for all things Tiki or South Pacific.