Film Review: Wrath of Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Daimajin gyakushû (original Japanese title), Daimajin Strikes Again, Majin Strikes Again, The Return of Giant Majin, Return of Majin (US alternative titles)
Release Date: December 21st, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kazuo Mori
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Hideki Ninomiya, Shinji Hori, Masahide Iizuka, Muneyuki Nagatomo, Junichiro Yamashita, Toru Abe, Takashi Nakamura, Hiroshi Nawa, Tanie Kitabayashi

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 87 Minutes

Review:

This is the third and final Daimajin film. These movies were all shot and released in the same year. Sadly, this great concept didn’t continue on like other kaiju and tokusatsu franchises but maybe that’s for the best as every Daimajin film has real quality.

From memory, this was my least favorite. However, seeing them all again after so long, I have to say that this one slightly edges out the other two. I think that the first one had the better story and the second one had the better finale. However, this one seems to be the most balanced, as its story rivals the first film, its action rivals the second while both of those things are really, really good.

This installment in the series is also carried by a group of child actors. This can often times be disastrous or just lack in quality but these kids were great and loveable.

I also really liked the three samurai that were trying to capture the runaway kids. They had good chemistry and they played off of the kids really well.

The story primarily follows these kids on a great journey across a region of feudal Japan. It draws allusions to The Fellowship of the Ring in that way, as they have to reach their objective over a long distance while being pursued by a great, deadly force.

In the end, we get to see the giant stone demon come back to life and crush vile tyrants. This is always the highlight of these films and it is used to great effect, here, even if some of the shots appeared to be reused from the previous films. This was pretty common in Japanese kaiju pictures, though, but at least it isn’t a technique that was as bastardized as it would become in the Gamera movies.

I love the hell out of this series. But what I love even more is that they don’t lose steam and that the series goes out on a bang.

That being said, I’m fine that there are only three of these and the short-lived franchise quit while it was ahead.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

Film Review: Return of Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Daimajin ikaru (original title), The Return of Giant Majin (US TV title), Majin (Spain)
Release Date: August 13th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Shiho Fujimura, Taro Marui, Takashi Kanda

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 79 Minutes

Review:

Return of Daimajin was the second of three Daimajin movies, which were all filmed at the same time and were all released in Japan in the same year: 1966.

All the films have a very similar premise in that they see a giant, stone protector arrive to smash the hell out of tyrannical warlords who try to exploit the weak and the poor.

These are also period pieces and have the feel of a jidaigeki picture until the big demon monster shows up and essentially transforms these into kaiju movies in their third act.

Overall, I found this film’s story to be a bit weaker than the first picture but that was offset by the big finale, which I liked a lot more in this installment. I think a lot of that has to do with Daimajin literally parting the water like the Red Sea in the Bible and slowly walking towards the village full of tyrants, building tension and horror.

Also, the evil tyrant’s death was simply awesome.

I also thought that the special effects felt a bit more refined and perfected. The miniature work was solid and it holds up over fifty years later.

The action also played better and it was just cool seeing the big demon crush these scumbags while tearing down their town.

While at face value, this movie might just come across as “more of the same”, it’s the subtle differences that make it work. I guess it’s kind of like Friday the 13th movies where they follow a predictable formula in the same type of setting but if you’re a fan of the films, you don’t care and each one just has something special and unique within it.

Most people probably won’t dig these movies and that’s fine. However, for kaiju cinema fans that haven’t experienced any of these, you really should check them out.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

Film Review: Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Majin (France, US), Majin the Monster of Terror, The Devil Got Angry, Majin the Hideous Idol, Majin the Stone Samurai, The Vengeance of the Monster (US alternative titles)
Release Date: April 17th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Miwa Takada, Yoshihiko Aoyama, Jun Fujimaki, Ryutaro Gomi

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 84 Minutes

Review:

The Daimajin trilogy is mostly forgotten today. Many fans of kaiju and tokusatsu flicks haven’t even seen or heard of the movie. There are several kaiju film friends I’ve met online over the years that were actually introduced to these movies by yours truly. However, I didn’t know about them either until I came across some photos of the movie’s monster online in the late ’00s.

I bought the American Blu-ray set when it came out around 2012 or so and since then, I’ve developed a really deep appreciation for these movies due to their uniqueness and coolness.

They’re not traditional kaiju movies and I guess you could even debate whether or not they even fit the kaiju genre, as they play more like a jidaigeki with heavy fantasy elements. Plus, the monster is just a giant stone statue that occasionally comes to life to crush tyrants and their minions.

My brain categorizes it as a kaiju flick, though, as ever since seeing this, I’ve always thought about how this film’s big stone demon would fare against Godzilla, Gamera and other well-known giant monsters if he were scaled up to a similar size.

The story here is simple and it’s pretty much the same for all three movies despite the smaller details. A tyrant in feudal Japan does bad shit and draws the ire of this angry god, who feasts on the sounds of the crunching bones of a tyrannical army.

Daimajin doesn’t say anything but his presence is greatly feared as he is simply a force of nature in the form of a stone man, cleansing the Japanese countryside of scumbags. He’s unrelenting and will not stop until small corrupt empires are flattened and crushed.

The story that leads up to the monster coming to life in this movie is pretty good. It filled in the blanks nicely and made you have an emotional connection to the people being victimized by the evil bastards that deserved their fate.

I love this movie, the film series and the monster. This is one of the coolest kaiju film series of all-time and frankly, it deserves a lot more recognition than it gets. These are much better movies than what’s typical in the kaiju genre.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)

Also known as: Last Godzilla (India)
Release Date: December 9th, 1995 (Japan)
Directed by: Takao Okawara
Written by: Kazuki Omori
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Takuro Tatsumi, Yōko Ishino, Yasufumi Hayashi, Sayaka Osawa, Megumi Odaka, Masahiro Takashima, Momoko Kochi, Akira Nakao, Shigeru Kamiyama, Saburo Shinoda

Toho Co. Ltd., 103 Minutes

Review:

“There’s only one solution. We must kill him, the way we killed the first Godzilla.” – Kenichi Yamane

Well, this is the big finale to the Heisei era of the Toho Godzilla franchise.

Looking at the full series, I like that it had a pretty tight, cohesive narrative and cared about its own canon. The Millennium series would get all wibbly, wobbly and weird but the Heisei era is the best period of Godzilla films, if you want to actually feel like you’re watching a series where each film builds off of the ones before it.

Sure, the Showa era did this too but it was really lax on being strict with the details and kind of just relied on throwing more and more monsters together over actual storytelling and trying to work towards making a bigger arc for the title character and some of the other reoccurring characters.

That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy the Heisei films on their own, you certainly can, but it feels more rewarding when watching them in order and seeing how things develop from The Return of Godzilla to this film, eleven years later.

It also features Burning Godzilla, one of the coolest forms the famous monster has ever taken, as he glows from the nuclear fire from within because he exists as a living time bomb on the verge of bringing nuclear meltdown to anything and everything around him.

Being that Godzilla has to face Destoroyah, hands down one of his toughest foes, the timing for his added nuclear power couldn’t have been better. Still, his fight in this would be one of the most brutal he’s ever faced but it just adds to the epic-ness of the whole encounter and frankly, this was one of the best finales in the entire franchise.

In a lot of ways, this is the perfect ending to the Heisei series, as well as a great send off for what was established in the original 1954 movie, which also exists in this canon, as 1984’s The Return of Godzilla was a reboot that started as an alternate version of a second film, as opposed to being a reboot of the original.

This film’s biggest nod to the ’54 film is in how it brings back that film’s superweapon, The Oxygen Destroyer. And it is the use of that weapon that created this film’s new monster.

All in all, this is just a solid ’90s era Godzilla flick and it’s one of the better ones in the entire franchise.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Godzilla films of the Heisei era.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)

Also known as: Godzilla vs. Super-Mechagodzilla (alternative English title)
Release Date: December 11th, 1993 (Japan)
Directed by: Takao Okawara
Written by: Wataru Mimura
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Masahiro Takashima, Ryoko Sano, Megumi Odaka, Yusuke Kawazu, Daijiro Harada, Kenji Sahara

Toho Co. Ltd., 108 Minutes

Review:

“The year is 1992 A.D… In order to try to counter the threat posed to the planet’s survival by Godzilla, Japan’s Counter-G Bureau recruited the most brilliant scientific brains in the world to build a fighting machine. The first machine was called Garuda, but its fighting capabilities were limited. A far more powerful machine was required. They salvaged a robot from the future, Mecha-King Ghidorah, in order to study its advanced technology. Its components were used to build a weapon to fight Godzilla. They called it Mechagodzilla.” – Narrator

I never disliked the Heisei era of Godzilla, although it’s never really hit the mark for me like the Showa stuff has. Although, revisiting these movies has been a fun experience and I think that their legacy has grown on me more over the years, as this film and the ones before it, were really exciting and really took this often times hokey franchise and made them edgier and darker without sacrificing the soul of the series.

These movies still feel like Godzilla movies in the best way but they feel a bit more grown up in how they don’t present the title character as a friendly monster looking out for Japan. They tap more into the sentiment of the original 1954 picture and keep him as a threat, even though he isn’t as bad as some of the more dangerous and deadly Heisei era kaiju.

In this tale, we see the Japanese government use the future tech left over from the defeated Mecha-King Ghidorah to create their own super powered, heavily armored defense kaiju: Mechagodzilla. I liked this approach to this era’s creation of the iconic monster and that it was cooler than just having Mechagodzilla being the superweapon of a hostile alien race. I also like that Kenji Sahara, a Toho legend, got to be in the cockpit of the mecha-kaiju.

This chapter in the Heisei universe also gives us its version of Rodan. I really love Rodan in this and not just because he’s one of my favorite monsters but because they make him so much more badass and dangerous. It also adds in an extra element, as this isn’t simply a Godzilla versus Mechahgodzilla film. It has more layers than that and the monsters and their own stories are well-balanced and come together wonderfully.

That being said, I actually got mad at how brutal Rodan’s defeat was. But it was effective in showing how powerful and dangerous that this version of Mechagodzilla is before the final showdown. And from the Mechagodzilla vs. Rodan fight to the Mechagodzilla vs. Godzilla finale, the last half hour or so of this movie was superb and featured some of the best kaiju footage of the entire film series.

We also get the introduction of Godzilla Junior, here, which thankfully, wasn’t a modernization of the Minya character. Instead, this monster was human-sized and had the general look of Godzilla, as opposed to resembling the Pillsbury Doughboy after a bad kitchen fire. Godzilla Junior would go on to be more important to the film series, as it rolled out its final two movies after this one.

All in all, this is a pretty awesome Godzilla flick with everything you’d probably want from one. Great action, decent acting, great effects for its time and it still has that Toho magic.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Godzilla films from the Heisei era.

Film Review: Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth (1992)

Also known as: Godzilla vs. Mothra (alternative title)
Release Date: December 12th, 1992 (Japan)
Directed by: Takao Okawara
Written by: Kazuki Ōmori
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Tetsuya Bessho, Satomi Kobayashi, Takehiro Murata, Megumi Odaka, Akiji Kobayashi, Akira Takarada

Toho Co. Ltd., 102 Minutes

Review:

“There isn’t a job that is too tough for me, except, the one time I was married to a real stubborn woman.” – Takuya Fujita

I kind of forgot how much I enjoy this entry into the Heisei era of Godzilla.

It’s a pretty solid picture, all around, minus some cheesiness. But that cheesiness is mostly from the human actors, as the kaiju interactions and battles are some top notch stuff.

Also, since I hadn’t seen this one in quite awhile, I forgot that it’s actually Godzilla versus both monsters in the end.

While this is the first time that Godzilla and Mothra meet in the Heisei era, it is the first time that Battra has ever appeared. For those who might not know, Battra is essentially the Yang to Mothra’s Yin. He’s a darker and, at face value, an evil looking version of Mothra. The two monsters do battle throughout the film but by the end, Battra and Mothra decide that it would be better to combine their efforts to fight Godzilla, who in this continuity, is still a real threat and not the friendly, kid loving monster he became later in the Shōwa era pictures.

The rubber suits and animatronics in this chapter are amazing. While I find the previous film, Godzilla vs. Biollante, to be more impressive overall, this looks like a pristine and well crafted production, top to bottom. It’s certainly one of the best kaiju films of its era from a technical standpoint.

This also has one of my favorite final battles because the location looks unique, the monsters look great and the action itself is well choreographed.

If you’ve ever wanted to see a giant, neon Ferris wheel dropped on Godzilla, than this is the movie for you.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Heisei era Godzilla films, as well as Mothra vs. Godzilla from 1964.

Film Review: Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)

Also known as: Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, Monster Zero (alternative US titles), Battle of the Astros, Invasion of Planet X, The Great Monster War (alternative Yugoslavian titles)
Release Date: December 19th, 1965 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Takarada, Nick Adams, Kumi Mizuno, Akira Kubo, Jun Tazaki, Keiko Sawai, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Yoshifumi Tajima

Toho Co. Ltd., 93 Minutes, 74 Minutes (re-issue)

Review:

“[about the victory over King Ghidorah, while Godzilla is outside dancing] A happy moment.” – Controller of Planet X

This is the last Godzilla film of the Shōwa era that I had left to review. While I didn’t watch the movies in order, I did save one of my favorites for last. But honestly, I like all these movies and don’t think there is a bad one in the bunch. Nope, not even All Monsters Attack a.k.a. Godzilla’s Revenge.

What I liked about this film is that it is a true follow up to its predecessor Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and also features the same lineup of monsters, minus Mothra. This also introduces the Xiliens from Planet X, who were (and still are) the best alien villains in Godzilla lore. In fact, they should’ve been regular antagonists throughout the Shōwa pictures but Toho decided to introduce new hostile aliens with almost every movie after this one. Although, I did like the ape and the cockroach aliens, somewhat. But leaving the Xiliens behind, after this film, was a mistake.

Anyway, the plot in this one is interesting, as it sees the Xiliens bring two Earth astronauts to their planet in an effort to get them to agree to let them borrow Godzilla and Rodan due to King Ghidorah being a major nuisance. It’s all a trap, however, as the aliens take control of Godzilla and Rodan and force them, along with Ghidorah, to attack Earth, leaving it defenseless. I guess King Kong, Mothra and Anguirus were taking naps on Monster Island.

Despite its hokiness, I really like the set designs and costumes in this chapter. Everything just looks really unique and seeing just one frame of this film lets avid Godzilla fans know which movie it is. Especially, in regards to any scenes involving Planet X or its people.

The special effects are great and consistent with the other films where Eiji Tsuburaya handled them.

All in all, this is just another really fun chapter in the franchise during its greatest run.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Shōwa era Godzilla movies.

 

Film Review: Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Also known as: Mosura tai Gojira (original Japanese title), Godzilla Against Mothra (Japanese English title), Panik in Tokyo (Germany), Godzilla Fights the Giant Moth (Worldwide English title)
Release Date: April 29th, 1964 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Takarada, Yuriko Hoshi, The Peanuts, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yu Fujiki, Kenji Sahara, Jun Tazaki, Yoshifumi Tajima

Toho Co. Ltd., 89 Minutes

Review:

“I’m not as afraid of Godzilla as I am of the editor… he’s meaner.” – Reporter Jiro Nakamura

While not my favorite Godzilla movie of the Shōwa era, this one still holds a pretty special place in my heart, as it pits Godzilla against Mothra for the first time. Granted, they’d become solid allies after this movie, as Godzilla would evolve into a hero and Earth’s protector once King Ghidorah shows up in the picture following this one.

This is still a fun film that merges the two monsters into the same franchise, this being Godzilla’s fourth movie and Mothra’s second after 1961’s simply titled Mothra.

The story sees one of Mothra’s eggs get taken from Infant Island, the kaiju’s tropical Tiki-esque home, and put on display in Japan. Godzilla shows up, the egg hatches and we get some great kaiju action. In fact, the battles and the effects are some of my favorite in the series, so hats off, once again, to effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya.

And while I’m mentioning Tsuburaya, his miniatures in this are some of the best he’s done. The vehicles looked and performed superbly.

The film also stars some of Toho’s regular actors from the tokusatsu genre, which I always consider a good thing despite familiar faces appearing multiple times throughout the franchise as different characters. In this one, we get Kenji Sahara, who I always enjoy, and Hiroshi Koizumi.

Mothra vs. Godzilla has a simple story but it works. This is a kaiju movie from the best kaiju studio from the best era in the kaiju genre. It brings together two of the most popular characters in film history and it is pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be while slightly exceeding those expectations.

This doesn’t have much of anything wrong with it and its just enjoyable through and through: a true tokusatsu classic.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Shōwa era Godzilla movies.

Book Review: Famous Monsters – Ack-ives, Vol. 1: Godzilla

I recently picked up and read the Famous Monsters – Ack-ives on Hammer Horror. While reviewing it, I noticed that it was the second volume in Famous Monsters new Ack-Ives magazine specials. So when I looked it up and saw that the first one was focused on all things Godzilla, I had to track down a copy of it.

Like the Hammer one, this is basically full of a book’s worth of material in a large, colorful, photo heavy magazine format.

There is a lot here and I really enjoy these releases by Famous Monsters and I hope they keep doing more.

Essentially, these are collected archives of past articles focused on the specific subject. I think that this one was released to tie in and help promote the recent American Godzilla sequel.

Ultimately, this magazine was a treasure trove of Famous Monsters’ best articles on the top kaiju franchise in the world.

For fans of kaiju movies, especially those featuring the King of Monsters, this is definitely worth picking up and adding to your collection.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other classic horror magazines.

Film Review: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

Also known as: Chikyû saidai no kessen, lit. Three Giant Monsters: The Greatest Battle on Earth (Japan), Monster of Monsters: Ghidorah (Worldwide English title), Godzilla vs. Ghidorah (Finland), Frankensteins Monster im Kampf gegen Ghidorah (Germany)
Release Date: December 20th, 1964 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Yosuke Natsuki, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yuriko Hoshi, Akiko Wakabayashi, The Peanuts, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata, Kenji Sahara, Susumu Kurobe, Haruo Nakajima, Shoichi Hirose

Toho Co. Ltd., 92 Minutes

Review:

“Yes, it is possible for someone to be saved from an exploding aircraft. If we understand the curvature of space, we know that the continuum surrounding any spherical body such as our world is composed of different dimensions. The force of the explosion created a gap between these dimensions, and fortunately for her, she fell into it.” – Alien Expert

I’ve put off reviewing this film in the Godzilla franchise for awhile. The main reason, is that I wanted to save it for the week that the new American Godzilla movie was coming out, as that one features the same four monsters featured in this film. So if the new American film is remaking anything, it is closest to remaking this film.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster isn’t just one of my favorite Godzilla movies, it is one of my favorite monster movies… ever.

King Ghidorah is, hands down, one of the coolest and most iconic monsters ever created. While he might not be as popular as Godzilla or Mothra, he is most definitely the best villain in Godzilla lore and the true king of Toho’s baddies. He’s also much better than any of the evil kaiju creatures from any other Japanese series whether it be GameraUltraman or anything else. Personally, Gigan is my favorite but I can’t deny the greatness and dominance of Ghidorah.

What’s also really interesting about this film is that it is where Godzilla really becomes a good guy and a protector of Japan and Earth from worse monsters. He teams up with Mothra, after the two of them fought in Godzilla Vs. The Thing and he also encounters Rodan for the first time, which starts off as a big fight but eventually ends with the two of them becoming strong allies.

Ghidorah has three heads, so I guess it makes sense needing three good monsters to fight him. Also, it sort of helps to build up the mystique of the new villain. For the first time ever, Godzilla alone can’t take on another monster. Granted, Godzilla, over time, would evolve to be far more powerful than the standard Ghidorah.

The story of this one is also interesting in that it introduces a monster threat from outer space, as well as bringing in alien races and a new sort of dynamic to the Godzilla franchise, which changes all the movies going forward.

Additionally, this movie was helmed by the A-team of Toho tokusatsu: director Ishirō Honda, writer Shinichi Sekizawa, special effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya and composer Akira Ifukube. It also features the top Toho actors, the real core of the studio’s talent at the time: Hiroshi Koizumi, Kenji Sahara, Takashi Shimura, Akiko Wakabayashi and Akihiko Hirata.

While I like the original Godzilla and King Kong Vs. Godzilla more than this, this chapter in the franchise is almost a perfect storm where everything just sort of went right. It ups the ante in new ways, is a hell of a lot of fun and it’s the one film that really sells you on how menacing and dangerous King Ghidorah is.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Shōwa era Godzilla movies.