Saturday, February 22, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #8: SON OF GODZILLA (1967)

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!

TRAVIS:

Luca, it's a good thing you dug the tropical setting of GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER, because we're sticking around these crazy jungles and beaches in SON OF GODZILLA. Director Jun Fukuda and composer Masura Sato carry over here from SEA MONSTER, bringing along similar story beats from that movie too. Once again, a scientific base on a desert island contends with monsters and a sexy native girl as they continue their work. But don't worry, folks! The evil Red Bamboo is nowhere here to build nuclear weapons. Instead, a group of scientists toil under the hot sun conducting weather experiments. Why? Luckily, news reporter Goro literally drops in on the island out of nowhere to be our audience POV! Their hope is to gain the ability to change weather conditions in inhabitable areas so that they become livable environments for people as the threat of overpopulation looms. Not exactly the most logical plan, but hey, their hearts are in the right place. For science and the good of mankind!

Even though Godzilla made his first appearance on land on Oto Island in GOJIRA, he really hadn't gone ashore in the tropics much until SEA MONSTER. Though the series would keep him island bound a lot for the rest of the Showa era (easier to maintain and re-use jungle or dirt sets than constantly waste film budgets on building cities that'll only be smashed to bits), he seems natural and right at home on Solgell Island. If you're a world building fan, it's probably not off base to theorize that this is the same Monster Island later seen in ALL MONSTERS ATTACK and GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (not to be confused with Monsterland in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS but we'll get to that film next). Aside from the giant bugs, it doesn't seem like a bad place for the King of the Monsters to settle down and start a family.

And oh boy, let's get to big G's family. Along with big ol' spider Kumonga and a buncha mutant mantises known as Kamacuras, Solgell is also home to a large egg that hatches a special kind of kaiju... Minilla, son of Godzilla. Short, pudgy, and squeaky, the child of the King of the Monsters is definitely a point of contention for many fans. It'd be one thing for Godzilla to have an awesome, dinosaur-like mini me (as we'll get with Godzilla Junior in the Heisei era), but here was Lil' Komic Relief for Kids, blowing out smoke rings for everyone's amusement. Even Senior G's look is softened with a wider body and googly Muppety eyes to match his offspring. Luca, I'll hold on to my thoughts till later, but did Cutezilla win you over?

LUCA:

Oh man, did he! This was the first time since the original that I was close to feeling actual emotions! I understand that it's basically the most pandering you can get with a movie like this, but hey, it worked for me. There's something primal to seeing a newborn animal being threatened by adults of any species, and SON OF taps into that. You're absolutely right that the softening of the design and all-around kiddie-orientation of this movie was probably a crass commercial decision but... I can't lie, it worked! All those little things Godzilla and Minilla do, from Minilla skipping rope over slumbering G's tail to them practising fire-breathing at a lava lake, just charmed me more and more as the movie went on. I'd be heart-broken to find you don't like the little guy!

Fukuda actually does some new stuff in this one, or at least stuff I can't remember from EBIRAH. He takes his camera off its mount and goes up close, circling around characters human and kaiju alike, bringing a heretofore unseen dynamism to the proceedings. There's even a POV shot of Kumonga rising from the treeline, startling poor Minilla! Can't say Fukuda doesn't try new things! Hell, I'll give him this -- SON OF features one of the most badass shots in the series yet: two fleeing researchers cut off by the burning, ripped-off pincer of one of the Kamacuras bugs thrown by Godzilla. Hell yeah! And there's even a gorgeous, iconic shot of Godzilla and Minilla embracing as they slowly start hibernating and get covered in snow right before the credits. I like this Fukuda fellow! Likewise, Sato's light-hearted tunes still delight me, though he's a bit less funky than in EBIRAH here. I will say that I do quite like Minilla's upbeat whistling theme!

The humans... eh! I think I only remember upbeat reporter Maki Goro's name, and that's just cuz he reminded me so much of MOTHRA's "Bulldog"! It is now headcanon that Goro is Bulldog's cousin or something, I dunno. Don't be down on my headcanon for being so non-committal, that's just in keeping with Showa era Godzilla movies' style! Minilla's egg! Where did it come from? A relic from prehistory, like our own Godzilla, himself the second Godzilla to awaken after 1954's original monster? Is he actually Godzilla's son, or just a baby Godzilla he adopts? Where's Mrs. Godzilla? The answer is, of course, a resounding "I onno!" Now spill dem beanz, Travis! Why do you hate Minilla so much???

TRAVIS:

Honestly, Luca, just like you, for all he represents of a franchise grasping at straws, I have a soft spot for the little guy. There's an undeniable cute humanity to Minilla, and I give credit to suit actor Masao Fukazawa (who formerly had a little person wrestling career) for making him funny yet not too precious. I think what also makes the character easier to handle is that he's only made a handful of appearances in the entire series (three in the Showa era plus a stock footage cameo in GODZILLA VS. GIGAN and a significant supporting role in 2004's GODZILLA: FINAL WARS). It's not like the movies suddenly became The Fun Adventures of Godzilla and Minilla. As you said too, Luca, it's hard not to sympathize with the defenseless boy as Kamacuras and Kumonga keep beating the shit outta him. Even his own dad accidentally swipes him on the head with his lumbering tail right after he hatches!

So let's examine Godzilla the father for a moment. Almost every strict Japanese parent cliche is evident in how he treats his child. He never allows Minillia to play, forcing him to focus on his studies instead (fire breathing and kaiju smashing of course). Twice he "accidentally" leaves behind his kid, expecting a newborn to naturally catch up with his pace. He even raises his hand to Minilla for not properly firing out radioactive breath (which Minilla only succeeds in when Godzilla stomps on his little tail). Luca, I remember your fiance commented on Facebook that she kept wanting to take Lil'zilla into protective services, and it's frankly not hard to blame her! On the other hand though, the universe is now filled with Rodans and King Ghidorahs and even Varan the Unbelievables, so perhaps you need all that tough love to prepare for the tough world. As you mentioned before, the ending shot of father and son embracing in the snow is at nuclear levels of heartwarming.

Luca, all the way back in our review of GOJIRA, I asked you if the grim original film was a good gateway into the series. We are now eight entries deep in the franchise, and we've seen the series wildly waver in tone. I actually like this inconsistency because it doesn't allow the movies to become too staid. Plus, newcomers can choose different films to begin with, whether they prefer serious sci-fi or goofy fun. Also, Godzilla becomes a fluid character this way, so if you like him as a hero or an asshole, you have a varied selection to pick some favorites. Even though we're nowhere near the end, Luca, I consider you as a valid voice on kaiju matters at this point. I must ask again then: what might be a good starting point for novice Godzilla watchers, and how do you feel about the series so far?

LUCA:

Godzilla acting like a stereotypical Japanese parent is a great observation, Travis! Goro even mentions that Godzilla's acting like "a study nut", which concept he then explains to the island belle accompanying him (more Bond-referencing: shades of Honey Ryder with her, as she was the daughter of a scientist who died on the island studying the wildlife). See, kids! You can identify with Minilla on far more than the basic level of being little! I also never really stopped to consider that it pretty much had to be a little person inside the Minilla suit, which of course makes sense, but just goes to show you how immersive the suit actors are. They are Godzilla/Minilla/Rodan/whoever -- they're not just people in kaiju suits, and I say this as someone with no nostalgic connection!

Honestly, I think that the first three Godzilla movies may be a perfect "ease you into Godzillaworld" trilogy for starting viewers. GOJIRA for its iconicity, to make you understand how exactly Godzilla the cultural icon (not really the "character", as that would only emerge later) came to be. Why did Japan latch on to Godzilla so madly? How did Honda/Ifukube/Nakajima tap into something so desperate to get out in the popular culture at that place and that time? GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN is more light-hearted, but doesn't descend into Showa silliness right away. Rather, its lighter tone is derived from a can-do "we will rebuild!" attitude the characters all exude -- Godzilla and even Anguirus are still legitimate threats to world security here. KKvG has all the Technicolor wackiness of the 1966 BATMAN with, again, Godzilla still being the heavy. After that, I'd suggest jumping to GHIDORAH for the best kaiju royal rumble yet! Here's where I'd start adding the caveats: personally, I really enjoyed the Fukuda "Island Godzilla" movies, but I understand that their silly attitudes and jovial Godzilla aren't for everyone.

Ishiro Honda returns next time for a film that has one of the greatest titles of all time: DESTROY ALL MONSTERS! Can it live up to its legendary name? I'm not holding out too much hope, cuz I've found that Honda can swing wildly between "great" and "boring". I'll cut him some slack as he was pretty much producing one Godzilla movie a year at that point, so of course you're gonna toss in the towel on some of 'em. But a man can dream... about DESTROY(ing) ALL MONSTERS! Join us next time to do just that!

No comments:

Post a Comment