Sunday, 25 July 2021

All Monsters Attack

Godzilla Home Alone

All Monsters Attack
aka Gojira-Minira-Gabara:
Oru kaijû daishingeki
aka Godzilla's Revenge

Japan 1969 Directed by Ishirô Honda
Toho/Criterion Collection Blu Ray Zone B time for me to re-watch and review what is a singularly unique film in pretty much all of the various Godzilla eras. After the success of the previous film in the series, Destroy All Monsters (which I reviewed here and which is, confusingly, known by the title All Monsters Attack in some territories... possibly the same ones where this film has a title change to one of many, such as Godzilla’s Revenge), Toho decided to carry on the series of Godzilla films after all (the previous was intended to be the last, initially). However, the mostly diminishing returns of many of the previous films in the cycle made them look at what their imitators making the Gamera films were doing right and so, this one was tailored to be a Godzilla film targeted at younger children... ready for release into cinemas at Christmas.

The film has a strong child protagonist who pretty much carries the film on his own and, in fact, the many scenes with various monsters on Monster Island all take place in the imagination of the lead protagonist, who often dreams, Walter Mitty-like, about his friends Minilla, Godzilla and various other monsters. Which is why, in this one, cute little Minilla even has a load of scenes with dialogue as he talks to the boy, Ichiro, played by Tomonori Yazaki. Being as the monsters don’t actually appear in the real world at all in this movie, outside of collaborating with Ichiro in his dreams, pretty much anything is permissable and I guess having Godzilla’s son loafing around and talking Japanese is a good example of this.

Okay, so the plot of this is... schoolboy Ichiro is ‘picked on’ often by the school bully and he’s a latchkey kid, not seeing much of his parents as they tend to work all hours while relying on a friend, a toymaker neighbour, to provide him with food when they’re gone. Thrown into the mix are two robbers who have just stolen 50 million yen and are hiding out in the area. Ichiro’s mind wanderings, where he watches Minilla and Godzilla battle various monsters in what are mostly re-tracked footage from previous Godzilla films, help him to become confident enough to tackle his bullies and, during the second part of the film, evade recapture after he has been taken as a hostage by the two robbers, when he inadvertently stumbles into their hiding place. In fact, pretty much the whole last quarter of an hour of the film is Ichiro laying in wait in an abandoned building, foiling these two criminal buffoons in what has to be an early precursor and possibly even an influence on the Home Alone movies.

The film starts off as it means to go on, with a fun song in what would be a completely out of place score in most Godzilla movies, playing through the credits. Composer Kunio Miyauchi only did little more than ten movie and TV show scores, such as work on Ultraman... this was his only score for the Godzilla series. The opening song, sung by a child chorus against, at first, footage of fighting monsters... is pretty 'out there' for the series so far (more groovy songs were coming). This is followed by an opening which, like the rest of the film, shows how well Honda could shoot movies with some truly interesting shot designs. The opening here follows Ichiro and his friend as they walk home from school through a city where the grime and pollution of the urban environment really hits home. As if to highlight one of the underlying social messages of the film, the song then starts up again and tells us that “smog and exhaust are the real monsters”. This message of the evils of pollution would, of course, be much more overtly explored in the next film in the series (which also happens to be my favourite, if memory serves).

The other two messages the film wants to impart seem almost a little contradictory. On the one hand it criticises the adult world and the parents who leave their young to fend for themselves while they go to work but, on the other hand, the scenes where Godzilla is strict with his son to stand up and fight for himself and his enthusiasm to train Minilla to make a stand, kind of emphasises, to some degree, the exact opposite.

This move is not very well liked, it seems, by fans of The Big G and, while it’s not great, I do have a soft spot for it, not just because is has some beautiful cinematography but because it tries to break the mould and do something different. Honda makes some interesting aesthetic choices which I’ve not seen him try before, such as lots of sequences which are filmed in slow motion or various static images used as a montage to make an almost comic book like sequence in places. Indeed, the abruptness of the effects and edits and the psychedelic segues into the dream sequences, where even the laws of gravity are not as harsh as in the real world, give the film a kind of 1970s anime kind of feel. It’s a long way from his usual style so... that’s pretty interesting, isn’t it?

This playful style may be at odds when, say, one of the robbers pulls a flick knife and wants to stab the kid but for the most part it gets away with it. There’s one sequence during a monster fight where the composer does a kind of ‘homage riff’ on Akira Ifukube’s main Godzilla character theme (not the march) but, mostly the music is light hearted and much like you would expect, in fact, for a children’s movie.

So that’s me done with All Monsters Attack. This is not the disaster that a lot of Godzilla watchers tend to make out and actually has a lot of interesting things in it, if you can handle the slightly more childish tone. Definitely one you’d need to take a look at if you want a well rounded look at the different styles of Gojira movies over the years... this one’s very unusual.

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