Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #2: GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955)/GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER (1959)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ tumblr Rocket Number 09, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!



LUCA:  

I had quite a bit of fun with GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, the first ever Godzilla sequel! Far lighter in tone than GOJIRA, it retains the focus on the human characters Ishiro Honda (now replaced by Motoyoshi Oda) brought, and even improves upon it a bit. Sure, the characters are still pretty much stock, but the movie lays out all the information it needs to convey about them in a clear, linear fashion, something the original, for all its strengths, failed to do. There’s nothing as sweet in the original as Kobayashi asking Hidemi what gifts she’d like for her wedding. Scientifically, GRA screws the pooch even more hardcore than GOJIRA! Cannery scouts Tsukioka and Kobayashi come upon two kaiju duking it out on an island, and report to authorities. One of them is a new Gojira, while the other is an ankylosaurus… also known as the monster Anguirus! I don’t know if paleontologists give their finds cool wrestling names dawg, but okay! The ankylosaurus was between 50 and 100 feet tall and lived between 60 and 70 million years ago (as opposed to 2 million year old Gojira last movie). It was a vicious carnivore who had a deep-seated hatred of war-like species! Oh no, Anguiruses and Gojiras are natural enemies! Their brawls will lay waste to this fair nation! I liked that “carnivorous” and “war-like” weren’t the same thing. Earth-G had one weird ass prehistory, lemme tell ya!

Japan was SUPER prepared this time, however. I guess nobody wants another Gojira on their hands, and the military is shown as being pretty adept at luring G away with light bombs, since Professor Yamane (Takashi Shimura, reprising his role from the original in a small cameo) theorized that it was the “glare of the hydrogen bomb” that so disturbs slumbering Gojiras. I knew I wasn’t watching a movie as glum as GOJIRA when this plan to lure G back to the sea seemed to be working smoothly, until some CARTOON CROOKS decided to orchestrate a Keystone Kops style prison break and were chased through the empty streets of Osaka until one gang of assholes crashed into a fuel depository, and the fire’s lights lured G back to the city. STRICT MORALIST JAPAN also takes great pleasure in showing you the deaths of all the remaining escaped crooks as Godzilla and Anguirus destroy the (totally evacuated) city around them. Death has gone from tragedy to entertainment in a single movie!

The amount of LAUGHTER in this movie is a marked contrast from the first one too. After Godzilla is driven off for the first time, Tsukioka, Kobayashi, Hidemi and their friends go out to dinner to celebrate the opening of a new cannery (since the last one was trampled). They’re not even sad about being ruined! They just glomp on to this new and exciting direction life has given them! I found this all very entertaining and wasn’t bored one bit in the, say, 10 kaijuless minutes this resulted in. I even quite liked the barbs Tsukioka and Kobayashi exchanged! (“Apologies? From an INCOMPETENT MAN? HAHAHAHA” “You BASTARD HAHAHAHA”) How did this “versus”-less Godzilla movie hold up for you, Travis?

TRAVIS:  

This holds up really well!  RAIDS AGAIN is certainly a different type of beast (a hurr hurr) from Gojira, but I don’t think departing from the sad, somber tone of the first film was a bad decision.  We’ve now entered monster mash territory, and within the first ten minutes we see Godzilla and Anguirus duking it out!  What a rollicking adventure!  This movie pretty much sets the template for the rest of the franchise, and we’ll soon see how KING KONG VS. GODZILLA perfects the formula.

As you said, Luca, the characters make this a fun affair.  The acting in GOJIRA is great, but people like Serizawa and Emiko seem like downers to be around.  Tsukioka and Kobayashi seem like guys you’d grab a beer and hang out with!  Perhaps this peppy attitude was a reflection of the Japanese spirit at the time.  The ghosts of nuclear warfare still linger (the distant shot of the mushroom cloud-like smoke rising from Osaka is a great, haunting visual), but the tuna cannery marches on!  It’s an interesting (probably unintentional) contrast that a prevailing fishing business is our setting considering that the radiation scare of the Lucky Dragon 5 incident inspired the original GOJIRA.

I wanna talk about Anguirus!  He’s the first kaiju to rumble with Godzilla, and he’s also been my favorite of the monster sidekicks.  His spikes and bite are his only weapons, but he’s a tough little scrapper in these battles.  I love the little guy!  The fights are impressive too.  We’ll see more sumo and wrestling influences in later films, but RAIDS AGAIN features some nice, animalistic aggression that doesn’t occur often in the Showa era of films (1954-1975).  The way Godzilla and Anguirus toss and turn almost remind me of wild cats or reptiles.  Poor Angy is even killed by having his neck bitten into!  The monster matches are so good that they end up being the scenes least tampered with in the botched American version.  Luca, did you like seeing your first true kaiju-on-kajiu action, and did you also see the messed-up, edit-crazy US cut known as GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER?



LUCA:  

A special session of congress has been convened to ascertain just how many people have a VO in GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER! Maaaannn, they really didn’t trust audiences for a single second back then, huh? “Okay we’ve already dubbed these Japanese guys into English, but I have a feeling real red-blooded Americans won’t listen to anything an Oriental says for longer than five seconds! Better have voice overs explain everything! EVERYTHING!” It starts out with Tsukioka explaining what he’s doing up in his plane, but soon I was completely lost as to which disembodied voice was telling me where in the what now? It doesn’t help that, whenever they’re not just recounting the action that I am actually watching on screen, they’re just talking nonsense! The age of mechanical monsters… does man dare set foot on other worlds… (no mechanical monsters or other worlds are actually featured)??? The voice-over also tells us that dinosaurs are fire elementals??? I pretty much lost it when we cut to stock footage of Congress in a SPECIAL SESSION to decide what to do if THU JAPS couldn’t contain their monster-mess! (Spoiler: they can.) It’s like this story isn’t legitimized until we show that, hey, America is TOTES worried about Godzilla too! Uhhh I mean Gigantis. Or do I mean Anguirus? I swear they use Gigantis and Anguirus interchangeably in the briefing session with Professor Yamane!

Anguirus! What a lil’ scrapper! Yeah, this was my first kaiju-on-kaiju fight and I was definitely entertained. I didn’t know that about the sped-up footage, Travis! Makes sense, cuz the fights did have a certain ferocity to them men in suits may not have been completely able to provide. I felt a bit sorry for the guy playing (quadruped) Anguirus since in some shots it’s obvious he’s on his hands and knees, and a guy on hands and knees getting his ass whooped by a guy that’s standing up whilst both wear restrictive full-body suits makes me think I shouldn’t be watching other people’s home videos. Maybe it was those occasional glimpses of the guy on his knees but I somehow felt like Anguirus was a bit of a tutorial kaiju fight (SPOILER: Anguirus is defeated with around 30-35 minutes of movie left to go END SPOILER), and the focus was still on humans dealing with Godzilla. I didn’t mind that at all, since I liked all the humans. Poor Anguirus, he was just trying to get rid of a war-like fellow irradiated dinosaur!

Well, Travis, I certainly didn’t expect the series’ tone to veer away from seriousness so quickly. Is the tone set for a while now, or does the tone vary wildly from film to film? The next one is KING KONG VS GODZILLA, truly an epic showdown between two cinematic icons. Coupled with the fact that you say they perfected the kaiju-fight form for that one, I’m stoked for it! And tell me, do you not feel at least a little bit sorry for poor ol’ Anguirus?



TRAVIS:  

I feel bad for Anguirus’ defeat, but don’t count him out! Heck, I’d say he put up a pretty good fight until Godzilla went for the neck. As we’ll see in later films, he has no problems scrappin’ it with monsters way more powerful than him. It’s part of his charm and one of the reasons why Angy is one of my favorite kaiju. Whenever I find time to bust out the old Godzilla fighting game for Nintendo GameCube, I’m always playing as my spiky ol’ friend.

As far as the tone of the franchise, this would be the last movie for a while that would invoke WWII-like imagery. From here till the end of the Showa era in 1975, we’re in fun creature stomping times, but even as we go feature to feature, we’ll see the franchise attempt to chase the changing tastes of audiences. Kids will become a primary target for the movies, and the popularity of Gamera (kaiju headliner from rival studio Daiei and self proclaimed friend to all children) will drive Godzilla to pander even more to youngsters. We’ll also see the films try to take cues (sometimes bizarrely) from box office successes like James Bond and PLANET OF THE APES. For now though, it’s time for the big guy to make his bright Technicolor debut in the greatest monster legend smash-up of all time: KING KONG VS. GODZILLA! Stay tuned!

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