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: Rodan (1956)

Also known as: Sora no Daikaijū Radon, lit. Radon, Giant Monster of the Sky (Japan)
Release Date: December 26th, 1956 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Ken Kuronuma, Takeshi Kimura, Takeo Murata
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 82 Minutes

Review:

Rodan was a very pivotal movie in the long history of Toho’s cinematic legacy.

While Rodan, the monster, isn’t as famous as Godzilla or Mothra, he is one of the good guys and an ally to both of those kaiju against the evil monsters that started showing up later.

Rodan’s film though, is one of the best kaiju pictures ever made and it opened the door and set the stage for what was to come from Toho in the future.

To start, Rodan was the first kaiju film to be filmed and released in color. It wasn’t Toho’s first color movie though, as that honor goes to the previous year’s The Legend of the White Serpent (a.k.a. Madame White Snake). While that film was within the tokusatsu genre, it did not feature a kaiju monster. Also, it was co-produced with the Shaw Brothers out of Hong Kong. So in actuality, Rodan is the first color film Toho produced by themselves.

There are also a few interesting facts about the film’s American release. For starters, it was the first Japanese motion picture to get a wide release on the West Coast, which did wonders for its success in the States. Also, it had the biggest TV advertising campaign, up to that time, for New York’s massive NBC affiliate WRCA-TV. The marketing campaign featured a contest to challenge kids to quickly draw Rodan, while an outline of the character appeared on television sets.

As a film, Rodan is quite spectacular. Being the first color kaiju picture, it has a real grittiness to it. While the picture quality isn’t as pristine as the Toho films after it, it has a realism to it, visually. In fact, it kind of has the visual tone of a spaghetti western.

Additionally, Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects work, especially the miniatures come off as more authentic looking, as the bit of graininess hides the imperfections better than the clearer Toho films after this.

The effects of the flying Rodan were well executed, even though there was some trouble on the set and one of the stuntmen in the Rodan suit had a major accident. Luckily he wasn’t hurt and the film turned out fine.

The jet fighter sequences were all well shot and well executed. The big battle between the jets and Rodan was impressive for a 1956 movie, not to mention something from Japan that lacked the budget of an American picture.

The only other monsters in this film were some subterranean bugs that were the size of an adult hippopotamus. The bugs were picking off miners underground and started to make their way to the surface but once Rodan showed up, he treated them like gas station sushi. Sayonara, bugs!

Rodan is capped off by one of the most depressing endings in kaiju film history. While the speech is great and the message clear, it is sad seeing the fate of the film’s creatures. Knowing that Rodan would be a protector of Earth and an ally to Godzilla and Mothra against much larger threats, also changes the perspective of the ending quite a bit.

Rodan was the first kaiju movie I ever saw that didn’t feature Godzilla. It was given to me for free from this girl I was crushing on at my local video store circa 1987 or so. I think she liked me but I was eight years-old and she was a teenager. But if Padme can get the hots for toddler Anakin, why can’t video store girl get the hots for my little kaiju-loving self? She got fired a few weeks later for stealing.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Mysterians (1957)

Also known as: Chikyū Bōeigun, lit. Earth Defense Force (Japan)
Release Date: December 28th, 1957 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Takeshi Kimura, Jojiro Okami
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, RKO Radio Pictures, 89 Minutes

mysteriansReview:

I have wanted to see The Mysterians ever since I discovered the giant robot Moguera in the first Godzilla video game on the original Nintendo. The character didn’t appear in a Godzilla film until the 90s and it was a much different version of the giant robot but it has always been closely associated with the Godzilla mythos.

The Mysterians isn’t all about a giant kaiju-like robot, however. The film is about an alien invasion and Earth having to kick some outer space ass.

It all starts with a series of natural disasters in Japan. The military and the scientists are on top of it, trying to figure out what is happening. Also, a mysterious asteroid is discovered. It is theorized that it was part of a planet that was once between Mars and Jupiter. Then, while our characters are investigating an earthquake, Moguera the giant robot appears and starts trashing everything. He destroys tanks and other military vehicles with his eye blasts. Mayhem ensures. The aliens appear, the government does government stuff, next thing you know – Earth is at war.

Coming out in 1957, The Mysterians was very early in Toho’s long history of kaiju and sci-fi films. It came out just three years after the original Godzilla movie, where it was wedged between the fantastic film Rodan and the severely underwhelming Varan. At this point, Toho hadn’t really started crossing monsters over into each other’s pictures. Had The Mysterians came a few years later, Godzilla, Mothra or Rodan may have helped defend Earth against Moguera and its Mysterian masters.

The film is very unique and like Gojira (the original Godzilla film) it was a trendsetter for Toho studios. It wasn’t simply a kaiju movie, it was a huge science fiction bonanza. It was also the first film they did in color in a widescreen format.

The success of the film, being sci-fi heavy, lead Toho to experiment with those elements in later pictures. The tone and style of The Mysterians isn’t all that different than where the Godzilla movies went once King Ghidorah showed up in the fifth picture. From that point on, there was always a strong alien presence in the Godzilla franchise. Toho even started using anti-kaiju weapons that were similar to those first featured in The Mysterians. Also, Toho ended up making several non-kaiju sci-fi movies. There is even a quasi-sequel to The Mysterians – 1959s Battle In Outer Space.

I ended up loving this film. Maybe I went into it with a strong bias, due to knowing how important it was to Toho and the evolution of kaiju films in general. Regardless, it is still a strong picture and apart from Gojira, the most exciting Toho movie of the 1950s.

The actors were familiar faces from Toho’s other big movies and they were just as good as they always are. The action was some of the best of the era. The production even boasted real tanks in some scenes. The special effects look great for 1957, being that this is the first time Toho had really gone all out, in full color.

Overall, The Mysterians is a strong motion picture that went on to influence the film industry for decades, if not permanently. It is well acted, well executed and a visual delight. I’d almost like to see Toho do a real update of this picture, similar to what they just did with Shin Godzilla.

Rating: 9/10