Sunday, 26 April 2020

Godzilla Raids Again

Fisherman’s Foe

Godzilla Raids Again
aka Gojira no gyakushû
aka Gigantis The Fire Monster
Japan 1955 Directed by Motoyoshi Oda
Toho/Criterion Collection Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Very minor spoilers not worth worrying about.

Okay, so on to the second main feature of the new Godzilla - The Showa Era Blu Ray box set from Criterion (more like ‘book’ set, actually) and a film which used to be one of my favourites from the series, Godzilla Raids Again. Now, I’ve seen this a few times in the past, just not recently and, I have to say, this is so not the film I remember. There’s stuff in here I didn’t recall at all and I remembered my favourite of the two main ‘pilot’ protagonists, played by Minoru Chiaki, surviving at the end and somehow saving the day. Instead, the last quarter of an hour or so plays without him because he dies before the film’s final resolution. I just don’t remember this at all.

Chiaki, of course, will be remembered by fans of the great director Akira Kurosawa as he’s in a lot of his films (such as Seven Samurai, Rashomon, The Hidden Fortress and much more) and, here, he plays comic relief to the other romantic lead played by Hiroshi Koizumi, who was in a lot of Japanese keiju eiga including some more Godzilla movies... just not playing the same character in any of them. Here, the two play pilots for a fishing company and they go out in their small seaplanes to spot schools of fish out at sea and then lead their big fishing vessels to those locations. Of course, it isn’t that long into the story before they spot something much bigger than fish, when Chiaki’s character has to go down on an island and wait to be rescued by Hiroshi. When the two are on the island, they come across Godzilla having a fight with this movie’s first guest monster, an ankylosaurus named Anguirus.

Anguirus would, of course, later star in a number of Godzilla films over various era franchises, including the recent American films (during the corona virus era, it’s uncertain now if the new Godzilla/Kong film will actually be released this year or not but, if it is, he’s scheduled to appear in this one too). This film marks not only his first appearance on film but it also makes this the first film in which Godzilla has to fight another monster. A tradition which would continue in, not quite all but certainly most other Godzilla films which came after it.

This film starts off really strongly with a series of establishing shots setting up the character of the main romantic lead... a long shot of the shadow of the seaplane on the water before cutting to a shot of the plane in the air (which I believe, like most shots of this ilk in the movie, is a model shot), followed by a studio shot looking in through the window of the cockpit where the live action inside the plane takes place. It’s nicely done, as is the second and final fight between Godzilla and Anguirus around about halfway through the movie... which amounts to a 'building obliterating' wrestling match where Godzilla kills Anguirus by biting into his neck in a dead spit of Christopher Lee doing much the same thing in the Hammer Dracula movies.

However, even though this is more 'story based' in terms of human characters, there really isn’t enough monster action in the movie and also, compared to the first movie, the special effects seem to look really ropy throughout... especially on the bits of film where they’re trying to fuse live action with inserts of the bigger effects in the same shot. In fact, this film was rush released and hit Japanese cinemas six months after the phenomenal success of the first film... so I’m guessing the deadlines were a hindrance here. Everything looks a bit cheap and underdone. The wires can clearly be seen on a lot of the fighter planes (especially on this new Blu Ray edition... the format is not kind to old special effects in general anyway) and there’s even a shot where a plane pulls up and does a kind of loop the loop but... the clouds in the sky loop with it, indicating that the camera operator is just twisting the camera around to get the effect. Hmm.

The rushed schedule and the lack of major monster action might also explain, perhaps, the one scene in this movie where a character from the first film returns. Kurosawa alumnus Takashi Shimura (one of my all time favourite actors) reappears in what amounts to a cameo scene as Dr. Yamane, the paleontologist geezah from Godzilla. Although, it’s almost an embarrassing cameo because it seems to be there only to serve two functions...

The first being to remind the audience that Godzilla actually died at the end of the last film, due to Dr. Serizawa’s Oxygen Detroyer and that, as Yamane had prophesised at the close of the last movie, there are probably other Godzillas around somewhere (and I really don’t like Godzilla being used as a plural like that but, what can you do?). So yeah, people often forget that this is a second Godzilla who went on to shoulder the rest of the Showa era and not the original.

Secondly, the good doctor brings a silent cine camera film of Godzilla causing destruction in Tokyo to remind the audience where this story is set and show the authorities just what they’re up against. This amounts to an extended sequence of compiled ‘highlights’ from the first movie which are left to play out in silence for a few minutes. I got quite a bit outraged that the ‘footage’ actually included a shot inside a train hurtling towards ‘destruction by The Big G’ because, of course, they couldn’t possibly have that shot in a POV movie surviving this. I suspect this whole extended sequence is merely in here because the producers probably recognised that they didn’t have enough monster action in the movie and needed to get a little extra spectacle in there somehow.

Just in case you forgot, Godzilla is still very much the villain in this at this point in the cycle. Indeed, one of the characters refers to him as “The bastard spawn of the hydrogen bomb.” The shift from destroyer of Japan to defender would not come until a few more films down the line.

Masaru Satô’s score is fine but there’s not much of it. Of course, it doesn’t gel musically at all with Ikira Ifukube’s majestic scores for Gojira but Satô did do some great scores for the series, kind of alternating on an almost film to film basis with Ifikube for a while. However, like I said, there’s not a heck of a lot of it and it’s even more sparsely spotted than the first film. Which is a shame because there are some sequences in this which could really benefit from some kind of musical lift, for sure.

This film as it’s presented here also shows up a bit of a disappointment with this new Criterion set. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a truly astonishing set and we are incredibly lucky to have it but it would have been really nice to also get the terrible, bastardised Gigantis The Fire Monster, dubbed American version as an extra... with voices by the likes of George (Mr. Sulu) Takei and Keye (Number One Son) Luke. After all, they included the American version of the first film on the previous disc.

Either way, if you’re a fan of Godzilla then Godzilla Raids Again is certainly a necessary entry in the series because it bridges the eight year gap between this film, the last in the series to be in black and white and in a standard, non-widescreen aspect ratio... and all that comes after, in that Godzilla himself is more or less where they left him at the end of this movie. So, you know, an inferior but invaluable film in the history of the series.

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