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: Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Also known as: Kaijū Sōshingeki (Japan), All Monsters Attack (alternate), Monster Attack March (alternate), Operation Monsterland (UK alternate)
Release Date: August 1st, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Takeshi Kimura, Ishirō Honda
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Kubo, Jun Tazaki, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kenji Sahara

Toho, 88 Minutes

Review:

This was the Shōwa era Godzilla film that literally had it all. It was jam packed full of kaiju, had aliens and a ton of kaiju action and really good action sequences that didn’t even involve monsters. It isn’t the best Godzilla film of its era but it is probably the film that is the most fun. And when I am introducing friends to the Shōwa era and old school kaiju pictures, this is usually the one I pop on just for the non-stop action and overabundance of giant monsters.

Usually these sort of films get convoluted by trying to wedge in too much. Look at the modern Avengers movies versus the solo Marvel films. Destroy All Monsters throws a dozen kaiju at you but they all mostly get to shine without stepping on anyone’s toes or complicating the plot. Granted, a few were used minimally but that was due to their rubber suits being in bad condition due to age and the effects of previous films.

While the story here is decent for a kaiju picture, it really doesn’t matter. This is the Royal Rumble of Godzilla movies and all these fantastic creatures come together. Initially, they are controlled by evil aliens and attack different parts of the world. Godzilla even takes out the United Nations building in New York City. Eventually, the monsters are free from alien control, which brings in King Ghidorah because every sinister alien group seems to have a Batphone to King Ghidorah’s study in his stately manor.

The highlight of the film is when all the good monsters gang up on Ghidorah and just kick the living shit out of him. I love Ghidorah but the mud hole stomping finale is friggin’ glorious! Then the film is capped off by our Earth heroes in a cool ship fighting a phoenix. I mean, really? How cool is this movie?

Eiji Tsuburaya handled the special effects, Ishirō Honda returned as director and Akira Ifukube returned to score the film. Honda and Ifukube took a hiatus from the series, after being instrumental in giving it life and longevity. The reason for their return, is that this was initially planned to be the final picture for Godzilla. However, Toho didn’t even make it a year before they were working on All Monsters Attack a.k.a. Godzilla’s Revenge, a universally panned sequel but probably gets a worse rap than it deserves.

This film is set in the future, at least at the time of its release, so the chronology is a bit confusing after this movie but I’ve always seen this as the real final chapter and the Shōwa films that came out after this one as events that happened before this picture. So when King Ghidorah dies here, he really dies and his return later in the series in Godzilla vs. Gigan was set before Destroy All Monsters.

I love Destroy All Monsters. It is not my favorite Godzilla picture but it is exciting for old school kaiju fans.

Rating: 7.75/10

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.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Space Amoeba (1970)

Also known as: Gezora, Ganime, Kamēba: Kessen! Nankai no Daikaijū, lit. Gezora, Ganimes, and Kamoebas: Decisive Battle! Giant Monsters of the South Seas (Japan), Yog Monster From Space
Release Date: August 1st, 1970 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Ei Ogawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Kubo, Atsuko Takahashi, Yukiko Kobayashi, Kenji Sahara, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Yu Fujiki, Noritake Saito, Yûko Sugihara, Sachio Sakai

Toho, American International Pictures, 83 Minutes

space_amoebaReview:

When I reviewed The Mysterians, I mentioned that I had always wanted to see it because the film featured a kaiju that appeared in the first Godzilla game for the original Nintendo. Space Amoeba is another movie that also features a kaiju that was used in that game, despite it ever appearing in a Godzilla film, up to that point. That kaiju is the giant Kisslip cuttlefish Gezora.

Gezora makes a huge impact in this film and apparently, the creature was popular enough to find itself in a Godzilla game and later, a cameo in Godzilla: Final Wars. The movie also features two other kaiju: Ganime, a giant stone crab, and Kamoebas, a giant Matamata turtle.

Space Amoeba has a pretty cool story. A space probe is taken over by microscopic alien creatures. When the probe returns to Earth, the tiny aliens take over the body of a cuttlefish, growing it to monstrous proportions in an effort to take over the planet. But really, the cuttlefish Gezora just attacks villagers on a small South Pacific island. Once Gezora is defeated, the aliens create Ganime and then Kamoebas. They even take over one of the humans in the story. In the big finale, we end up with a big battle between the two kaiju, Ganime and Kamoebas, as they duke it out around an erupting volcano. It is a film with a lot of Tiki flare, similar to those Godzilla island movies, most notably Son of Godzilla and Ebirah, Horror of the Deep.

I really enjoyed the picture a lot. Although, the effects weren’t as stellar as the work of Eiji Tsuburaya, who collaborated with Ishirō Honda in earlier films. Honestly, some of the tentacle effects were actually pretty bad. A few times, when Gezora was grabbing a villager to snack on, his tentacles were animated like a cartoon. There are probably a million ways that these shots could have been done better.

Overall, the monsters weren’t fantastic, other than Gezora. Ganime felt like a rehash of Ebirah and Kamoebas seemed like Toho taking a jab at Daiei Film Co.’s Gamera. Their suits were pretty minimal in design. Granted, Gezora has a great look but they could’ve done a better job giving his big eyes some life and making his head, less balloon-like.

Regardless of the negatives, this is still a really exciting kaiju movie. The story was pretty fresh, which is impressive considering that this was towards the end of Japan’s first kaiju cultural explosion.

Space Amoeba is now one of my favorites in the genre. My experience was a very happy one, as it is always nice to find something new in something old. If I ever host a kaiju film festival, and I’ve thought about it, Space Amoeba will most assuredly be on the docket.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Matango (1963)

Also known as: Attack of the Mushroom People
Release Date: August 11th, 1963 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Takeshi Kimura
Music by: Sadao Bekku
Cast: Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Kenji Sahara, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Hiroshi Koizumi

Toho, 89 Minutes

matangoReview:

While researching kaiju films fairly extensively over the last few months, in an effort to find stuff I haven’t seen, I came across a non-kaiju Japanese monster movie. I had heard about Matango when I was a kid but just thought it was some mythical thing I would never be able to see. As I grew older, I forgot about it. Then while reading up on Ishirō Honda’s work, I was reminded of this film’s existence. I couldn’t find an affordable copy of it or a stream on any of my many paid services but I did find the film, a dubbed and subbed copy, on DailyMotion. For the record, I’d love to own this, if anyone wants to release it on BluRay in the United States.

Like Honda’s more famous Godzilla films, this movie is a Japanese monster bonanza. Although, I was kind of expecting a giant kaiju mushroom man to appear at some point. Regardless of that, the monsters were just friggin’ cool.

Some consider this to be Toho’s greatest horror film. It is hard to dispute that but I plan to watch as many as I can get my hands on.

The mushroom creatures are more like zombies in their early form. They walk slowly, they try to catch you – hunting you into a corner, as they try to rip through doors in an effort to make you one of them. Also, at one point, one of the humans rips a mushroom creature’s arm off, similar to an old school zombie movie. But being that this was released in 1963, it predates what would become the contemporary version of movie zombies – mostly established in 1968s Night of the Living Dead.

Matango also seems to borrow heavily from Gilligan’s Island. You have a ship that goes off course, leaving its passengers marooned on an island. There is a skipper, a first mate, a starlet and another girl who is smitten with the professor of the group. Oddly, this came out a year before Gilligan’s Island.

So this movie is like Gilligan versus the zombies yet it predates Gilligan and modern movie zombies. It must have been written by the Japanese equivalent to Nostradamus. In reality, the script was adapted from a short story in a Japanese sci-fi magazine, which itself was adapted from a short story in an English language sci-fi magazine.

Matango moves a bit slow but even so, it is pretty engaging throughout the entire picture. Once the proverbial shit hits the fan, it gets really trippy and insane. The payoff is well worth the wait and viewers will find themselves in an insane tropical Lewis Carroll-like nightmare.

The special effects are effective and the film is still quite unsettling. It is darker than what Toho usually puts out and it even has a twist ending, which differs between the Japanese and English language versions of the movie.

Matango is eerie and beautiful. It is also imaginative as hell. I really liked this film and I hope I continue to find more gems like this, as I delve deeper and deeper into Toho’s lesser known filmography.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Son of Godzilla (1967)

Also known as: Kaijū-tō no Kessen Gojira no Musuko, lit. Monster Island’s Decisive Battle: Son of Godzilla (Japan)
Release Date: December 16th, 1967 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa, Kazue Shiba
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Tadao Takashima, Akira Kubo, Bibari Maeda, Akihiko Hirata, Yu Sekida, Seiji Onaka, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 86 Minutes

son_of_godzillaReview:

Minya (or Minilla) is the son of Godzilla. Many fans hate Minya with intensity. I don’t hate him. I’m one of the weirdos that actually likes Minya. It probably has to do with the fact that I discovered him when I was at a really young age. So like the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, I accept him even though he is an extremely childish character made only to appeal to six year-olds. Besides, its not like he’s Jar Jar Binks or anything.

There have been other Godzilla “juniors” over the years. Minya, even if he does look like the lovechild of the Pillsbury Doughboy and a gum eraser, was the best of the Godzilla spawn. Sure, Junior from the Heisei Era was cool but only once he got full grown. His earlier appearances were some of the worst moments in the Godzilla franchise.

I’m not going to lie, Son of Godzilla is a cute movie. At this point, Toho knew its audience was young kids. So introducing a child for Godzilla wasn’t really a “jump the shark” moment but more of an acknowledgement that the franchise had left behind its horror roots and was embracing its bread and butter.

Son of Godzilla also came out during a string of Godzilla pictures that were set primarily on tropical islands or in vast expanses of wilderness. This was mainly because of budgetary reasons and this is also something many old school fans hate but I really like the Godzilla island movies.

First of all, the island films have a sort of vintage tiki vibe to them. They feel like a 60s beach party even if there is no beach party. Also, they come with a good adventure scenario for the human characters trapped on the island with giant monsters.  This is why I really like Son of Godzilla. Granted, I much prefer Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (also known as Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster).

In this movie, we see a team of scientists and a photo journalist partake in experiments that alter the weather and radiation levels on the island. This causes physical changes in some of the creatures that call the island home. There are three praying mantises that are already human size that then grow to giant proportions. There is also a giant tarantula named Spiga, who is the big enemy in this kaiju picture.

The giant praying mantises end up breaking open a giant egg. Inside the egg is Minya, Godzilla’s infant son. Godzilla quickly arrives to defend his baby from the jerk mantises. The remainder of the film shows Godzilla being a father to Minya and trying to turn him into a man that can fight his own battles. This all comes to a head with the big showdown between Spiga and the two Godzillas.

Ultimately, this is a really fun film. The human story is exciting and the tale between kaiju father and kaiju son is endearing. While Son of Godzilla lacks good villains, it makes up for it in seeing Godzilla become more human-like. While this aspect of Godzilla’s character in the later films is frowned upon by some, I always loved kid friendly Godzilla because I discovered him when I was a kid.

This film also has some really beautiful parts. The final few shots are marvelous and even though you know everyone will be okay, there is something truly sad about the finale. In those final moments, Godzilla displays his parental affection for his son, as they fall into hibernation.

Son of Godzilla isn’t even close to being the best in the franchise but it is still a really enjoyable movie.

Rating: 7/10