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

Also known as: Gojira tai Mosura tai Mekagojira: Tôkyô S.O.S. (original Japanese title), Godzilla, Mothra, Mechagodzilla: Battle for Tokyo (US complete title)
Release Date: November 3rd, 2003 (Tokyo International Film Festival)
Directed by: Masaaki Tezuka
Written by: Masaaki Tezuka, Masahiro Yokotani
Music by: Michiru Oshima
Cast: Noboru Kaneko, Miho Yoshioka, Mitsuki Koga, Masami Nagasawa, Chihiro Otsuka, Kou Takasugi, Hiroshi Koizumi, Akira Nakao

Toho Co. Ltd., 91 Minutes

Review:

This is actually the last Godzilla film I had left to review. Sadly, it kind of sucks that I saved this one for last because it’s from the Millennium era and is kind of drab.

I think the big reason for this one not being that enjoyable is that it’s the umpteenth time we’ve seen Mothra and it’s about the sixth time we’ve had a version of Mechagodzilla.

Also, this picks up where the previous film left off but it’s more of the same and done about half as well.

I watched it just to complete my mission of reviewing every Godzilla film ever made. That mission is accomplished and I can rest now.

Honestly, though, this just reinforced my opinion on the Millennium era being the worst series of Japanese Godzilla movies.

It has the worst the effects, the worst soundtracks and plots that feel like they should’ve been thrown in the shredder.

This was hard to sit through and it just made me wish that I had closed out this kaiju-sized task by saving something from the Shōwa era for the grand finale.

I guess this era does have its fans but there are also people that think jenkem is a good time.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Godzilla films of the Millennium era.

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.

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 Raids Again (1955)

Also known as: Gojira no gyakushû, lit. Counterattack of Godzilla (Japan), Gigantis the Fire Monster (US – original title)
Release Date: April 24th, 1955 (Japan)
Directed by: Motoyoshi Oda
Written by: Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata, Shigeaki Hidaka
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Hiroshi Koizumi, Setsuko Wakayama, Minoru Chiaki, Takashi Shimura

Toho, 81 Minutes

Review:

Godzilla Raids Again was a quickly pushed out sequel to the original Gojira. And like its predecessor, the film was shot in black and white, making it the only film in the franchise, apart from the original, that wasn’t released in color.

In the United States, despite the success of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the American re-edit of Gojira, this film didn’t take the Godzilla name and was initially release as Gigantis the Fire Monster. In fact, English dubbed versions of the film still make reference to the monster being called “Gigantis”.

This film introduced the beloved kaiju Anguirus, who fought Godzilla in this picture but would go on to be a top ally for decades. And this is actually the film that gave birth to kaiju battles, as the previous Godzilla picture only featured the title monster.

Compared to the original, which was an exceptional motion picture, this is a very poor sequel to it. While it was successful, maybe Toho wasn’t keen on its quality, as Godzilla was shelved for seven years until he was brought back to battle King Kong in one of the best kaiju epics of all-time.

There are several reasons why this film is lacking compared to the two chapters that sandwich it.

To start, while tokusatsu master Eiji Tsuburaya did handle the special effects, some mistakes were made during the production. The frame rate of the camera was not set correctly and the big kaiju battles are fast paced to the point that the monsters move around at impossible speeds and it almost plays like a slapstick comedy segment every time that Godzilla and Anguirus tie-up. It just looks hokey and doesn’t match up with the action of any other Toho kaiju picture. Plus, it is missing audio effects and the battles just sort of happen to music, looking like a goofy spastic dance.

Another reason why the film suffers is that Godzilla mastermind Ishirō Honda was not behind the camera. Additionally, the script was written by people that weren’t mainstays in the franchise in the same way that Shinichi Sekizawa and Takeshi Kimura were.

The film is still enjoyable for Godzilla fans and it does have its positives.

Toho regulars Hiroshi Koizumi and Takashi Shimura star in the picture and give good performances.

Also, the overall visual look of the film is fairly solid. The scene where Godzilla comes to shore and the military fills the sky with flares looks really cool and holds up well. Also, the scene where Godzilla is walking through the snow covered valley, surrounded by icy mountains, is a beautiful sight where the contrast between the monster and his environment is enhanced by the black and white presentation.

In the long history of Godzilla films, this one is mostly forgettable other than the debut of Anguirus and the kaiju versus kaiju concept that would become the standard in just about every kaiju movie made after this one.

Rating: 6/10

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.

Rating: 7/10

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.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Dogora (1964)

Also known as: Uchū Daikaijū Dogora, lit. Giant Space Monster Dogora (Japan), Dogora, the Space Monster
Release Date: August 11th, 1964 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Jojiro Okami, Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast:  Yosuke Natsuki, Yōko Fujiyama, Hiroshi Koizumi, Nobuo Nakamura, Robert Dunham, Akiko Wakabayashi, Jun Tazaki, Susumu Fujita, Seizaburô Kawazu, Eisei Amamoto

Toho, 83 Minutes

dogoraReview:

Dogora is a fairly unique kaiju movie. It is actually more of a crime film that has really weird alien occurrences throughout.

The giant creature of this film is a humongous alien jelly fish. It reaches down from the heavens like a spectre from space and tears apart the structures on Earth below.

The aliens also come in the form of these floating blue blobs that are in search of diamonds. This crosses over with the big crime element of the film, where diamond thief gangsters find themselves in the clutches of this alien force.

The special effects in this film are top notch, especially since it is a Toho picture and it didn’t utilize the talents of Eiji Tsuburaya. He was probably in the process of creating his studio Tsuburaya Productions and the Ultraman franchise, at this point.

Like many of the great Toho kaiju flicks, this one is directed by kaiju maestro Ishirō Honda. It also features a stunning score from Honda’s favorite musical collaborator Akira Ifukube.

Toho regular, the beautiful Akiko Wakabayashi is featured in this as the female gangster and lookout. While I absolutely loved her in Ghidorah, the Three Headed MonsterKing Kong vs. Godzilla and the Bond film You Only Live Twice, this is my favorite role of hers. It was cool seeing her as a character with a real edge. She was also incredibly alluring.

Dogora is a really fun film. It is one of those lesser-known Toho productions that I never got to see until recently. While I like the lesser-known Space Amoeba and The Mysterians more, this picture fits in well with those.

The monster effects were cool, the atmosphere of the film was fantastic and the cast and crew did a great job in creating a fresh scenario for a kaiju movie.

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