Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Destroy All Monsters


Crouching Eiga,
Hidden Dragging

Destroy All Monsters
aka Kaijû sôshingeki

Japan 1968 Directed by Ishirô Honda
Toho/Criterion Collection
Blu Ray Zone B

Well, the next up in my rewatch of The Showa Era Godzilla films, courtesy of Criterion’s lovely Blu Ray Book Edition, is Destroy All Monsters and... well it’s a bit of a curio. Especially since only one monster is actually destroyed in it.

Depending on which version of the film you are watching (Japanese or American), the film takes place in Earth’s far future... at the end of the century (Japanese) or 1999 (American). After being introduced to some of the characters on the moonbase we are straight into a title sequence that, for some reason, I have no recollection of in terms of visuals but... well... the opening title music is absolutely stunning and you can tell right away that Akira Ifukube was back on board. One of the biggest strengths of this film is its wonderful score and, even if the visuals and drama in this were terrible, it almost wouldn’t matter because I spent most of the film tapping my toes along to the music.

As it happens, it doesn’t have terrible visuals or drama. Like Honda’s previous films in the series, this one is strong on story and plot twists but, unlike his earlier works, this one gets straight to the monsters after the end credits. It seems that in our future, the monsters from various Toho films all live together on Monster Island... so Godzilla, Minilla, Baragon, Mothra, Rodan, Varan, Manda, Gorosaurus and Kumonga. Eagle eyed monster movie spotters will no doubt wonder why some of these creatures are still alive, having been killed off in earlier kaiju eiga but, I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for you on that one.

Anyway, tragedy strikes as the people in the control sections of Monster Island (referred to as Monsterland in this iteration) are gassed... along with all the monsters. What is going on? Then tragedy strikes as the ‘escaped’ monsters start attacking the rest of the world. Rodan attacks Moscow, Baragon (kinda) destroys Paris, Mothra sorts out Beijing, Manda is malevolent in London and Godzilla takes out New York. What’s going on?

Oh, wait. The monsters didn’t escape at all. Instead they, along with the human staff of the island, are under the control of the Kilaaks, a race of space aliens who want to take over our planet. It’s up to Captain Katsuo Yamabe (played by series regular Akira Kubo... who you might recognise from films like Mantango - Attack Of The Mushroom People and some of Kurosawa’s masterpieces) and his trusty moon rocket crew, with the aid of Dr. Yoshido (played by another Gojira and Kurosawa regular, Jun Tazaki) to help the military resist and get up to all kinds of shenanigans as each twist and turn of the plot is revealed.

Luckily, the humans finally defeat the aliens who have been calling the shots on the moon and then regain control of the various ‘Earth kaiju’ so they can lead a big, all out monster attack on the alien’s not so secret base under Mount Fuji. One complication is, as an eleventh hour surprise for everyone, the aliens summon space monster King Ghidora. There is much glee from the alien antagonists as they tell their human enemy, “Earth’s monsters are no match for him.” Which seems to be a bold claim and I can only assume the aliens haven’t watched the previous Godzilla films to feature King Ghidorah. The Big G has needed much less aid than he has in this one to try to take down his old, three headed foe and, predictably, the ‘big monster team’ fight ferociously and suffer no casualties as they defeat the behemoth. Little Minilla, Godzilla’s son, puts in a finishing touch by blowing one of his cute, trademark smoke rings over Ghidorah’s last, surviving head, which proves to be the surprising last straw that breaks Ghidorah’s defensive back. What’s more surprising though, for a film set in the Earth’s far future in the year 1999, is that little Minilla hasn’t grown to become a big Godzilla like his father already.

This film probably has both more monster and human VS alien action in it than the majority of Honda’s work in the Godzilla series but, in amongst all the set pieces, he still finds time to give us bright colours, nicely lit sets and some creative shot designs. There’s a scene where a doctor who has been taken over by the aliens is being interrogated by Katsuo and Dr. Yashida, in which a kind of decorative screen is placed between the three actors and the camera. The elabourate screen has three circles in a row going the whole width of the shot and from the top to the bottom of the screen. The back of the doctor’s head is large and more than fills the middle circle. However, with the perspective of the shot, the other two actor’s heads are perfectly framed in the centre of the two circles on either side of this character. Yeah... there’s some great stuff here.

This was supposed to be the last hurrah for the Godzilla films as the box office returns for the kaiju eiga were diminishing with every new entry... thus the idea to have a load of monsters in the one film (it would be many decades later before this many monsters in the series would be matched... or exceeded, in fact). However, this was a pretty entertaining movie and, I guess the audience thought so too at the time because, this one was a huge financial success for the company and kept them going with the Godzilla series for quite a few more films comprising the Showa era.

And I honestly don’t have much more to say on that. I think Destroy All Monsters is one of the most fun in the series of films and, despite the unintentional hilarity of many of the scenes (or possibly because of it), it’s certainly one I’d watch more enthusiastically than some of the others. Next up for the series, though, would be a very different kind of Godzilla movie indeed. I’ll let you know about it after I’ve watched it again soon.

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