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: 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: Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)

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

Toho, 87 Minutes

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: War of the Gargantuas (1966)

Also known as: Frankenstein’s Monsters: Sanda vs. Gaira (Japan)
Release Date: July 31st, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Ishirō Honda, Takeshi Kimura
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Russ Tamblyn, Kumi Mizuno, Kenji Sahara, Kipp Hamilton

Toho, UPA, Benedict Motion Picture Corp., 88 Minutes (Japan), 92 Minutes (USA)

war_of_the_gargantuasReview:

War of the Gargantuas is one of the best kaiju films that I have ever seen. It may be my favorite outside the realm of the Godzilla mythos. Hell, being that it is made by Toho, it could actually be in the Godzilla mythos. In fact, I’m surprised a gargantuan didn’t cross over into a Godzilla film. Then again, this is a sequel to Toho’s 1965 film Frankenstein Conquers the World, which saw a Frankenstein-like creature take on the kaiju Baragon, who would go on to be featured in a few Godzilla films.

In Japan, the film was called Frankenstein’s Monsters: Sanda vs. Gaira. So essentially, we have two Frankenstein’s monsters grown to gigantic proportions smashing each other and the poor cities that happen to be in their way. While they didn’t completely look like monsters created by Mary Shelley’s mad scientist, they did share some slight visual similarities. Although they were more reminiscent of burn victim Wookiees than anything else.

As a kid, I was a Godzilla snob when it came to my kaiju love and didn’t care as much about lesser franchises and non-Godzilla films. I was young, so sue me. However, the first time I saw War of the Gargantuas, late night on TBS in the 80s, my Godzilla bias washed away and I was thunderstruck with admiration for something different in the kaiju arena. Thus began my larger appreciation and exploration deeper into the genre. Without this film, I may have stuck with just Godzilla and have grown up and grown bored of these films. War of the Gargantuas expanded my palate and introduced me to variety. Maybe I am being overly nostalgic and sentimental, but without this film, I could’ve lived a life giving other great daikaiju eiga masterpieces the snub.

From a film standpoint, War of the Gargantuas has the look and vibe of your regular 1960s Toho monster movie. It doesn’t differ much in style, other than giving us two really bizarre kaiju that have a look so unique they can’t be confused with any other creatures other than each other and even then, they’re different colors and one is larger.

What sets this film apart and makes it special, is what I already alluded to. It’s the fact that it serves up something different in an era where Godzilla films were being cranked out like new Disney heartthrobs and Godzilla clones were in abundance. War of the Gargantuas isn’t a perfect film but it’s fun as hell and a step above standard mid-60s kaiju fare.

Rating: 9/10