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.

TV Review: Ultraman Mebius: Side Story (2008-2009)

Original Run: 2008 – 2009
Created by: Tsuburaya Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Cast: Keiichi Nanba, Motomu Kiyokawa, Shunji Igarashi, Makoto Miyoshi, Masaki Nishina, Ai Saikawa, Daisuke Watanabe, Kenta Uchino, Misato Hirata, Minoru Tanaka, Takeshi Kusao, Hiroya Ishimaru, Seizō Katō, Hisao Egawa, Daisuke Gōri, Ryōichi Tanaka, Hideyuki Hori, Hideyuki Tanaka, Jirō Dan, Kohji Moritsugu, Susumu Kurobe

Tsuburaya Productions, 5 Episodes, 13-26 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

While these five episodes were originally released as three separate stories, for their American streaming release, they were bundled together as five 13 to 26 minute episodes under the name Ultraman Mebius: Side Stories.

The first episode was originally released as a 13 minute short called Ultraman Mebius: Hikari Saga, episodes two and three were a two-parter titled Ultraman Mebius: Armored Darkness, while the final two episodes were another two-parter, Ultraman Mebius: Ghost Reverse.

All three stories take place after the Ultraman Mebius television show and serve as the official conclusion to Mebius’ story, even though he’s appeared in other Ultraman films and shows since these were released. But in any event it’s the finale for the normal human characters that fans came to love in the Mebius show.

Overall, this was pretty cool to see, as it’s been a while since I watched Ultraman Mebius and this made me properly nostalgic for it. So I guess it really did its job in that regard. And frankly, I would have watched this just after I saw Mebius but it wasn’t available in the US until just recently.

This, like many Ultraman events, was full of multiple Ultramen and multiple villains, many of whom played a major part in the Mebius mythos over the show’s 50 episodes.

The special effects and tone are exactly what one should expect from an Ultraman special event of the time. It truly looked like an extension of the show and could honestly just be five episodes tacked on at the end and most people wouldn’t know the difference.

I thought that the effects were a wee bit better than the norm but this probably had a bigger budget per episode than the television show that had to be more frugal due to the scale of the production.

If you like Ultraman Mebius, I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t enjoy this, especially the Armored Darkness story.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the Ultraman Mebius show and other Ultraman movies and specials.

 

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.

Film Review: Godzilla (1954)

Also known as: Gojira (original Japanes title), Godzilla: King of Monsters! (US version)
Release Date: November 3rd, 1954 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata, Ishirō Honda
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Kenji Sahara, Raymond Burr (US version)

Toho, 96 Minutes (original), 80 Minutes (US version)

Review:

“I can’t believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its species… But if we continue conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again.” – Kyohei Yamane-hakase

There are two different versions of this film: the original Japanese version, which was released to theaters in 1954, as well as the English language American version from 1956 that featured new scenes starring Raymond Burr.

This is primarily a review of the original Japanese version of the film, as it is the superior version, in my opinion. Also, the American version loses some of the context and political themes within the picture.

Out of all the Godzilla movies ever made, there are now over thirty, this one is still the best of the lot. It’s just got such a dark and brooding nature that the tone is vastly different than the more kid friendly entries that would follow it. And I’m not saying that I don’t love kid friendly Godzilla, because that’s the Godzilla I fell in love with, but this is a film that had a deeper and more meaningful purpose than just counting kaiju sized piles of cash.

Godzilla makes a very bold statement, a statement that can still be felt today and it is still very relevant.

For those who might not know, Godzilla was created as a commentary on the horrors of nuclear bombs and their side effects. Coming out less than a decade after Japan was bombed by the United States to end World War II, the Japanese were certainly justified in making an artistic condemnation of nuclear technology. Plus, mass destruction was something that everyone in Japan had already lived through and it was still very fresh in their memories.

While the film gives us mass destruction in a different way, Godzilla, the monster, is unleashed on Japan due to the use of nuclear bombs and his rampage throughout the film is just as catastrophic. But at least with the monster in the movie, the Japanese people were able to find a way to defend themselves and bring the horror to an end on their own terms. That’s not to say that another Godzilla doesn’t show up later but within this movie, Japan perseveres, even if it comes at a great cost.

The special effects in this are dynamite, especially considering that this came out in 1954 and was made by a country that didn’t have the resources of a big budget American studio. Eiji Tsuburaya was the man behind the effects and his work here created a whole new genre, which would make his career, as he would go on to do many kaiju films for Toho, as well as creating his own studio, Tsuburaya Productions. Tsuburaya would later create the Ultraman franchise and other famous franchises beloved by the Japanese and fans of kaiju and tokusatsu films and television.

This was director Ishirō Honda’s big break and doing this film would pave the way for the rest of his career, as well. He ended up directing a ton of Godzilla movies, as well as other kaiju and tokusatsu pictures for Toho. In fact, he was pretty much the godfather of the two, overlapping genres.

Godzilla is a chilling film. The monster is truly a monster, which fans of the later films might be shocked by. It is this film that had the greatest impact on moviegoers upon its release, however, and it is why every single Godzilla reboot goes back to this well and presents the title character as a true harbinger of doom.

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

Film Review: Star Force: Fugitive Alien II (1987)

Release Date: 1987 (US home video)
Directed by: Minoru Kanaya, Kiyosumi Kuzakawa
Written by: Keiichi Abe, Bunzo Wakatsuki
Based on: Star Wolf by Tsuburaya Productions
Music by: Norio Maeda
Cast: Tatsuya Azuma, Jô Shishido, Miyuki Tanigawa

Tsuburaya Productions, Sandy Frank Enterprises, 75 Minutes

Review:

“It’s not going to be easy, getting into this place.” – Rocky

Like it’s predecessor, Fugitive Alien, this film was made by splicing together episodes of the Japanese tokusatsu television show Star Wolf. And also like its predecessor, this was f’n terrible. Luckily for us, this one was also featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

I think the consensus is that the first movie edit of this is the better of the two. I think this one has the edge though, simply because of the climax, which features a spaceship dogfight that is definitely a complete ripoff of the trench run scene from Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope. It is also a trench run that happens in daylight, which made it visually interesting.

That being said, I can’t realistically praise the special effects. They are exactly what you would expect from a ’70s tokusatsu show. And while Tsuburaya was really good at making miniatures, at the time, it can’t match the production value or the quality of something you’d see in a Hollywood blockbuster.

The dubbing in this is cheesy as hell, the narration is bad and I’m pretty sure that the story being told in this English translated abomination is nothing like the original story that was found in the episodes used for this film edit.

The Star Wolf show itself had several stylistic nods to the Ultraman shows that Tsuburaya is most famous for but it lacked one key thing: giant monsters to fight.

This isn’t worth anyone’s time really, unless you’re a glutton for punishment: Japanese style. But it does make for a good episode of MST3K.

And I guess I’ll just put the entire episode of MST3K below, as there isn’t a trailer for this anywhere.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: Other tokusatsu shows chopped up into feature length films: Fugitive AlienTime of the ApesMighty Jack and Super Robot Mach Baron.

Film Review: Fugitive Alien (1986)

Also known as: Starwolf and the Raiders (Germany)
Release Date: 1986 (US home video)
Directed by: Minoru Kanaya, Kiyosumi Kuzakawa
Written by: Keiichi Abe, Bunzo Wakatsuki, Yoshihisa Araki, Hiroyasu Yamamura, Hideoyoshi Nagasaki, Toyohiro Ando
Based on: Star Wolf by Tsuburaya Productions
Music by: Norio Maeda
Cast: Tatsuya Azuma, Jô Shishido, Miyuki Tanigawa

Tsuburaya Productions, Sandy Frank Enterprises, 102 Minutes

Review:

“What did I do to deserve this?” – Ken

That’s a good question, Ken. I mean, anytime a television show is cut up and edited into a movie, the results aren’t going to be very good.

This, along with a sequel that was also made, were taken from episodes of the 1978 Japanese tokusatsu television program Star Wolf. This was created by Tsuburaya Productions who were most famous for the Ultraman franchise and a slew of other kaiju and tokusatsu shows geared towards children.

I have seen the source material and it is okay for what it is but there are so many better tokusatsu shows that could have been introduced to American audiences. This certainly doesn’t hold up as well as Tsuburaya’s slew of Ultraman shows or things like Kamen Rider and Super Sentai.

Frankly, this is really hard to sit through and the quality of the print is damn near atrocious. I don’t know if a better print of this film has survived or if this has ever been restored but it probably wouldn’t help to make this any more enjoyable.

The only real way to enjoy Fugitive Alien is to watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of it. There are actually two MST3K versions, as this was featured on Comedy Central but was also riffed by Joel and the ‘Bots during the show’s original first season on local Minnesota television. I’d recommend watching the Comedy Central version, as it has a higher production value that might slightly offset this film’s poor appearance and dullness.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Other tokusatsu shows chopped up into feature length films: Star Force: Fugitive Alien IITime of the Apes, Mighty Jack and Super Robot Mach Baron.

Film Review: All Monsters Attack (1969)

Also known as: Gojira-Minira-Gabara: Oru kaijû daishingeki, lit. Godzilla’s Revenge (Japan)
Release Date: December 20th, 1969 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Kunio Miyauchi
Cast: Tomonori Yazaki, Kenji Sahara, Machiko Naka

Toho, 69 Minutes

Review:

All Monsters Attack a.k.a. Godzilla’s Revenge is a film that a lot of people hate. And I’m not talking just people… I’m talking about actual fans of Godzilla. I guess because the film is just some little boy’s fantasy and most of the action is comprised of stock footage from the battles that took place in earlier films. Whatever, I still like this picture and I’ll explain why.

First of all, it’s a f’n Godzilla movie in an era where the franchise was the most magical and fun. Secondly, it’s about a bullied kid trying to work out his problems for himself, even if he becomes a bit of a dick at the end. Thirdly, the film is the boy’s fantasy but what young fan of the “King of Monsters” didn’t fantasize about the monster? Fourthly, aren’t all the Godzilla films just someone else’s fantasy, anyway? Fifthly, maybe the stock footage used in the boy’s fantasies is really just his memories of the battles he’s already witnessed, as we the audience have?

But I guess people hate Godzilla’s son Minya too but I’ve never figured out why. Sure, he’s goofy and odd. He looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy sans hat and covered in sculptor’s clay. But to a person that experienced the Godzilla franchise as a kid, he sort of represented all of us because which kid din’t want to go into battle alongside Godzilla? And if he wasn’t bizarre enough to begin with, he actually shrinks down to human boy size and talks with the kid in this movie. In fact, they become quick chums, as both are trying to deal with their own bully.

This is also one of those Godzilla island movies, which are some of my favorite because I’ve always loved the style and culture of the Pacific Islands and the Tiki aesthetic overall. Sure, these films were done in this style for budgetary reasons, as crushing giant cities in every movie became really expensive, but the style of these pictures has always worked for me and made them more fantastical.

This is a silly movie but that’s okay. The Godzilla films weren’t all that serious after the first one, anyway. This is also a really short picture at a meager 70 minutes. But it packs in a lot of action, has the kid foil the plot of bank robbers and overcome his bully nemesis.

Now I can’t say that this is a great movie or even a very good one but I enjoy it almost because of its cheapness, its flaws and its oddness. I can see why people dismiss this film but I like feel good stories and I’ve watched all of these films so many times that the stock footage bits sort of just happen without it really pulling me out of the story. And with all of this happening within a little boy’s imagination, actually makes the stock footage material work.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other Godzilla island movies: Son of GodzillaEbirah, Horror of the Deep, etc.

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