Saturday, March 29, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #13: GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973)

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’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

(Note: Official poster right there.)

LUCA:

Just as I was getting tired of alien invaders, Toho does me a solid and switches it up for GODZILLA VS. MEGALON. Alien invaders? No no my friend, UNDERSEA INVADERS! The kingdom of Seatopia (yes, really) has had it with the surface dwellers' nuclear testing, and with good reason! A third of their people have died because of Earth's foolishness. This really pisses off the hairy-chested king of Seatopia. What's a Japanese-dubbed white guy with a bad fish-tat on his arm to do? Well, you'd send a beetlemonster with drill hands for less than that! Megalon is our movie's main villain, and he is definitely of the new school of monster design. Increasingly, Godzilla is starting to look out of place in his own movies -- especially since he has no back-up from one of his old pals. He's "just" a ridgeback dinosaur with atomic breath, going up against beetles that puke pomeGRENADES, have drills for hands, and cyclops-visored chickens. Now, I say G has no OLD friends for back-up, but he has one heck of a new one! JETTOJAGAAAAA aka Jet Jaguar, the series' first giant robot!

JJ is the creation of Sempai who lives with his little brother/nii-chan Roku in some sort of little boys' paradise. There's all sorts of cool shit in their house, and Roku rides around on a kid-sized motorcycle called BABY RIDER. Pandering to kids at maximum capacity, captain! The Seatopians want to steal Jet Jaguar so he can guide their monster Megalon around because... he is pretty dumb, I guess? And he looks it, too! Hopping around the Japanese countryside like a big derp -- get it together, Megalon!

Speaking of big derps, big G is REALLY into it this time! He's waving and posing and posturing and generally just having a good time. His big team-up brawl with Jet Jaguar against Megalon and an inexplicably summoned Gigan has all the swagger and braggadocio of a WWE Summer Slam, with Godzilla cockily pointing at his adversaries and JJ holdin' 'em down for his bro to pound on. Oh, that dropkick... yeah, Godzilla's dropkick is about as amazing as you'd imagine from those words. Travis, were you ready to rumble?

TRAVIS:

I was, Luca, cuz this was quite an enjoyable romp! Its biggest strength is that it hits the ground running from the opening scene and doesn’t let up the momentum. Right off the start the seas dissipate to uncover Seatopia, then we’re right into a burglary fight and car chase! The action never seems to stop! The biggest laugh from me occurred during the second car chase when the vehicles (and a motorcycle!) crawl down some outdoor stairways, then down a hillside, finally sliding down the side of a canyon. It reminded me of the never ending mountainside fall Andy Samberg takes in HOT ROD! We’ve discussed before the fun, light touches director Jun Fukuda brings to his Godzilla flicks, but let’s take note of how colorful they are too. Since the youth feature prominently in his films, bright fashion is always highlighted in their clothes and surroundings. Dig that swanky looking house the inventor lives in, man! Fukuda’s ‘Zilla movies could actually be good watching companions with the 60s Batman show.

And what a colorful robot Jet Jaguar is! Even though Godzilla is in the title, it’s pretty clear that this is a showcase for the shiny, new fighter. It’s almost like we’re watching a TV-movie/pilot for The Jet Jaguar Show (Guest Starring Godzilla and Gigan). Disregarding the brief Monster Island bit in the beginning, G doesn’t even show up until forty-eight minutes in! That’s because MEGALON was indeed originally planned as a vehicle for JJ. Toho ran a contest among elementary school children in 1972 to come up with new mighty monsters, and a drawing of a robot named Red Arone was the winning entry that eventually morphed into Jet Jaguar. Examining his design, JJ certainly has the look of a kid creation that just copied whatever the kid happened to be into (a few tweaks here and there and you basically have Ultraman). He’s got that android-like charm (I enjoyed his stilted yet animated arm signals), but Toho probably foresaw that he didn’t have the presence needed for a standalone movie and squeezed in Godzilla and Gigan for box office insurance. Though MEGALON would be JJ’s lone appearance, the studio must’ve seen the potential in monster/mecha pairings considering a certain Robo-zilla would be introduced in the next film…

The way the series blends in the real world and mythology is fascinating, and similar to how GHIDORAH explored the concept of ancient aliens, MEGALON uses the idea of underwater cities that were swallowed up years ago by the shifting of continents. I doubt anyone dealt with gigantic drillbugs during Pangaea days, yet bringing in a somewhat fact-based premise for flashy fantasy (the Easter Island statue heads are really intergalactic antennas!) is a nice touch. Though MEGALON is hardly the WWII metaphor GOJIRA was, it’s also interesting that the lesson of the movie is still to stop nuclear testing worldwide lest we anger nature (via radioactive dinosaurs or big beetles or whatever). The ghosts of the past continue to echo. Did I harsh your high, Luca?

LUCA:

An environmental message delivered by a man dressed like the King of Seatopia couldn't harsh anyone's high, Travis. It could only BROADEN HORIZONS... I think a lot of little boys' horizons were expanded thanks to GvM, actually, as this movie presents us with our first nudity of the series! Granted, it's only on posters in the back of a truck cabin, but these two Playmates are quite prominently displayed in the truck scenes. Even more hilariously, there's a continuity gaffe where later in the movie the two posters are replaced by different ones. So at some point they took the nude posters in the cabin of their truck used in a children's movie OFF between takes, started shooting another scene in the truck later, someone realized "Hey... didn't we have nudie posters here on our last take?" and they just couldn't find the originals so they quickly put up a couple new ones. That's friggin AMAZING.

I totally felt like this was a backdoor pilot for JETTOJAGAAAA (the Japanese pronunciation is just too funny, and always said with such GUSTO!). But that's okay since hey, 13 movies in, you expect some variation at this point. JJ is a funny, colorful character with killa movez so I don't really mind. Oh man, that terrifying rictus grin though! Who thought THAT was a good idea? I was also very partial to JJ's features growing from "collision detectors" so that he wouldn't walk into furniture to "blowing himself up to kaiju size" so he could stall the monsters while Godzilla was on his way. Take heed, Whedon, this is how useful the Vision should be in Avengers 2! And, you know, for being a guest star in a movie originally intended for someone else, I really think Godzilla comes out looking great in this. Tons of little character moments, a great team-up with JJ, and just some straight up being face to Gigan and Megalon's sniggering and giggling heels (aka wrestlin' good guy to wrestlin' bad guys). Travis, would you say that this is the essence of the Showa era? As I understand it, it doesn't get much purer than this!

TRAVIS:

I think why the Showa era resonates so well with G fans is how free-wheeling and carefree it is. Though the series certainly chased after box office trends to stay relevant, this meant we saw the King of the Monsters through the tropes of sci-fi, horror, action, comedy, teen, and kiddie films. It was a nice period of experimentation. It’ll be interesting to see how you view the upcoming Heisei and Millennium eras, Luca, since those films are pretty rigid with their tone and continuity (a reaction from producer Tomoyuki Tanaka and co. who felt that Godzilla went too astray into Looney Tunes land). Though the final Showa entries (the two MECHAGODZILLA movies) would have their wacky moments, MEGALON feels like the last, true hurrah of Goofzilla’s WRASSLING MONSTAS spirit, so savor it while you can! JET JAAGAHHHH! JET JAAAGAAAHHHHH!

Coming up next… t-t-two Godzillas?! And one’s a robot?! I guess Toho did finally run out of ideas, ‘cuz GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA also sounds like an idea a child would dream up. Prepare for a PACIFIC RIM-job!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #12: GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972)

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’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

TRAVIS:

Years before MEN IN BLACK, GODZILLA VS. GIGAN already gave us the heads up that cockroaches were actually intergalactic parasites bent on annihilation. Coming from a dead planet similar to our world (think Earth-2) that succumbed to pollution, they’ve arrived on our world to bring peace as only movie aliens know how: destructive totalitarianism. They don’t seem too concerned about concealment however. They operate under the guise of constructing the new high profile theme park World Children’s Land, and they speak pretty openly (and sinisterly) about their plans for achieving peace. They also have taken human form by inhabiting the re-animated bodies of the recently deceased, which might especially rise suspicion from people. Maybe they figure once they call for Gigan and King Ghidorah that it’s not a big bother to hide since cities are gonna be razed to the ground anyway. Don’t worry though, folks! A young, starving manga artist, two girls who can stand up to any tough guy, and a hippie are here to save us! Go, young generation, go!

The monster scenes are quite nice yet severely hobbled. Toho goes the cheap route again, filling in the new scenes with action beats from GHIDORAH, INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER, and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. What makes it stand out even more is that all the battle scenes take place at night, while the spliced-in footage is clearly in daytime. C’mon, Toho! You couldn’t have at least dimmed that stuff a little bit for continuity sake? The new fight footage shot for GIGAN is good and fun, yet one can’t help but notice the rough state some of the costumes are in. Godzilla’s skin is supposed to look irritated due to radiation, but pieces of rubber seem to be dangling off his hide. Close ups of Anguirus’s beat up face also reveal that they probably should’ve stuck with medium shots. And don’t forget the gore! In possibly an attempt to ape the rival Gamera movies (where kaiju routinely hacked off limbs and oozed out body goo), both G and Angy are lacerated by Gigan’s torso-mounted buzz saw and gush out brilliantly red eruptions of blood from their wounds! Gigan doesn’t fuck around.

Let’s talk about the alien warrior from Nebula-M for a minute! In our review of ALL MONSTERS ATTACK, I wrote how the influence of over the top monster TV shows would influence the design of new characters in the Godzilla franchise, and Gigan might be the most stacked-up, silliest looking one. He resembles a chicken but is overloaded like a Power Rangers villain with his cycloptic red visor, blade hooks for hands and feet, his set of three wings on his back, and that aforementioned chest buzz saw. It’s like a kaiju drawn by Rob Liefeld. Is Gigan really Toho’s own Cable? I actually love his ridiculous appearance, and I also enjoy how much of an asshole he is. He’ll mercilessly beat G and Angy on the head with his hooks and taunt them with his screeching laugh. My favorite bit has to be when he tosses G into the Godzilla tower then turns to Ghidorah all “Aw bro, did you see how far I threw him? Fuckin’ riot!” Did Gigan endear himself to you, Luca?

LUCA:

The Liefeld kaiju! What a perfect way to describe Gigan! My favorite moment of his was whenever he kicked things when they were down with his big one-toed foot. "Take that, tanker that's already on fire! Take that, Godzilla who's already writhing on the floor in pain after being hit by space lasers from Godzilla Tower!" What an asshole! And of course he really fucks up G and Angy with his buzz saw belly. Gigan is like an asshole redneck wearing all denim with a bare chest, gold chain and 90s sneakers but who is actually quite adept at kicking ass so despite his ridiculous countenance he's still a force to be reckoned with. I mean come on, chicken with a Cyclops visor... King Ghidorah, a golden three-headed dragon, comes across as the model of style and restraint compared to Gigan! He's like the dignified Bolo Yeung and Gigan is, I dunno, Triple H.

Maaannnn, another alien invasion with kaiju. Just STAHP, Tomoyuki Tanaka! Yoshimitsu Banno's crazy Hedorah shit was the right way to go, man! Look, I appreciate your good will towards me by allowing funny shit like Godzilla and Anguirus talking to each other (speech balloons and all!), someone dramatically revealing themselves to the camera in a swiveling office chair and three guys chuckling at how stupid a dead teenager was, but PLEASE can we stop with the aliens? We've done aliens four times in twelve movies already, and three of those have involved completely different races trying to take over the Earth with kaiju. I'll concede that, actually going with in-movie continuity, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS hasn't happened yet. But it has to the viewer! Our eyeballs have processed DESTROY ALL MONSTERS already! And a few select parts of it twice even like Godzilla's neckstomping of Ghidorah and Anguirus' Wild Ride that were cheerfully transposed into this film. C'monnnn man!

Godzilla's surly asshole persona is upheld in this movie since all he does is boss poor Anguirus around. Sorry I snapped your neck and burned you to ashes last time we met brah but I really need you to check out this annoying high-toned kaiju frequency sound here. Oh, and be quick about it! I had called Angy the George Michael Bluth of monsters on Facebook earlier, but maybe it's more correct to say that he's the eager-to-please Hank/Dean Venture to Big G's Rusty. Some more (intentional?) pop culture references I spotted, appeared in the use of the bodies of the deceased as vessels by the aliens like in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE but seeing as it was only 1972, I don't think it may have had its reputation yet. You say MEN IN BLACK, but I actually thought of TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE's final reveal that Kim Jong-Il was actually an alien cockroach. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are Godzilla fans! Is GIGAN more to your liking than HEDORAH, Travis? Still a fun enough time, but definitely a step down for me!

TRAVIS:

In our last installment, I wrote that the traditional kaiju smash ups are easier for me to digest than the peculiar (but very enjoyable!) HEDORAH, yet as far as GIGAN goes, it’s pretty middle of the road for me. The monster stuff is plentiful and fun but the overuse of recycled footage dulls the excitement. Director Jun Fukuda again shines the spotlight on the youth of today as our heroes like he did in EBIRAH, yet the characters aren’t that engaging. You’d think that a manga artist as a protagonist in a Godzilla film might yield interesting developments. However, aside from thinking up ideas such as a homework monster and a nagging mom/sea creature, he’s not that distinguishable from any other bland lead. I’d rank GIGAN around the “okay” scale alongside ASTRO-MONSTER.

What helps the movie along for me is seeing Godzilla and Anguirus pair up. Though many fans will assign Mothra or Rodan as G’s de facto sidekick, I always thought Angy was the true brother in arms. PARDON ME AS I WRITE SLIGHTLY ROMANTIC ABOUT JAPANESE MONSTERS. I can see your POV, Luca, on viewing G as the selfish taskmaster to Angy akin to Michael Bluth being a controlling asshole to son George Michael (ironic since George Michael would engage in kaiju-like battle himself via jetpack in the ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT episode “Mr. F”). For me, I view them as two old buddies who’ve seen it all (they were the very first two monsters in the series after all) and are still willing to fight with a world-weary attitude. More like Riggs and Murtaugh then? Maybe G’s too old for this shit and sends hothead Angy since he’s always hot for action. Oh, and a word about the differences between the Japanese and US cuts of GIGAN… one of the oddest moments has to be when the two of them talk to each other in comic book dialogue balloons. When GIGAN was Americanized, those scenes remain, yet the balloons are excised and replaced with warped, scratched voice overs for G and Angy. Yes, folks, after seeing the King of the Monsters fly in HEDORAH, he can now talk in GIGAN. We might assume that it’s a side effect from those cassette discs the villainous cockroaches use, but whatever, it’s funny to watch.

Sorry to say, Luca, but you’re gonna have to get VERY used to alien invaders from this point on. It’s simply an easy origin point for introducing new kaiju. You might enjoy the bizarre, intergalactic ways new foes are created in the Heisei era, but I’ll leave those as surprises. We’re only three movies away from the end of the goofy Showa era, so has any other fatigue set in yet?

LUCA:

Aw man! Oh well, I signed on for this shit as a rational adult and that's how I'm gonna end it. To be completely fair, the aliens have always gotten more interesting with every new race that was introduced. I mean, body snatchin' Eggers is definitely more out there than "dudes in sunglasses". Gigan is an interesting looking and (most importantly) NEW monster, which gives GvG the edge over ASTRO MONSTER in my book. You'd think that some fatigue might have set in with the human characters, but as you point out with this installment's mangaka protagonist Gen, they keep it fairly varied. I'll tell you though, I'm glad we're done with concerned men in suits and lab coats for protagonists! There's probably a blog (or at least an amusing Tweet) to be written about how horror/sci-fi movies from a certain era could be termed the "Concerned White Men Puffing Pipes" genre.

Another positive to me is the series' first instance of an ass-kicking female character (besides Mothra). Now don't get me wrong, I don't think women should fight in order to be ass-kicking characters, but if you look at it historically, portraying fighting women is a line that was pretty edgy to cross at the time. Now, the Godzilla series had certainly had its spunky, driven female characters up to this point but GODZILLA VS GIGAN was the first one that portrayed a physically dominant woman. Granted, it's a bit of a joke reveal, as our protagonist had called her a nag before, but the important thing is that she never gets "put in her place" after that. She's revealed to be an asskicker, and that's what she is until the end of the movie. The men hide behind her and comically point to the advancing Eggers so that she may take care of them. Meanwhile, our male protag draws a big SPLASH PAGE of the heroes which they pull up in a doorway so the villains are distracted by it. A hilarious detail is that they didn't color the big drawing so the aliens were SO IMPRESSED by Gen's amazing linework that they just assumed light fluctuations on this planet worked that way. A woman using brute force and a man using pretty drawing skills -- I like this positive inversion of traditional gender roles! Keep going, Toho!

Join us next time as Godzilla battles another new guy in GODZILLA VS. MEGALON! That kinda sounds like a shark monster to me, which is definitely something we haven't seen yet. JAWSOME!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #11: GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971)

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’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

LUCA:

What a weird and angry film GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH is! Musical interludes aren't new to Toho's monster series (especially in films featuring Mothra), but animated segments certainly are, not to mention essay recitations! The latter is supplied by our lil' human protagonist Ken-chan; like Ichiro in the last movie, Ken-Chan's a big Godzilla fanboy. Unlike Ichiro, he has a good relationship with his dad, a marine biologist who has been studying strange new tadpole-like life forms in Fuji Bay. He finds they are related to a new monster that had been attacking oil tankers, which lil' Ken dubs Hedorah (sorta like Sludge-o). Hedorah is definitely a new sort of monster, with his many shapes and sizes, powers and weapons. He's like a big ole JRPG boss fight!

Another feature Hedorah shares with a JRPG villain: massive damaggggge! The film constantly has news anchors tell us how many people died in last night's monster fight and I definitely think we're in six figures by the end! Godzilla picking up Hedorah by the tail is kaiju fitin’ fun times... until the gunk that flies off the smog monster flies into a gambling den and chokes a couple of innocent bystanders the fuck to death! Holy shit! Making Hedorah, a space bacteria growing ever larger as he feeds off pollution, the first bad kaiju in ages to exact such an explicit death toll is a clear message: this may not have been the first youth-oriented Godzilla movie, but it sure as hell is the first counter-culture one. Lest anyone think it's all grim seriousness and molten innocents, there's also some laughs to be had. When we see our first human desintegration (into a SKELETON!), lil' Ken simply goes "Ouch!" and runs into the opposite direction. There's yet another AMAZING lulz-moment that I'd love to give you the honor to describe, Travis. Why don't you blast off with it?

TRAVIS:

Godzilla was born of the death and destruction of the atomic bomb, but he could also play boulder volleyball and do victory dances! Now, basic physics wouldn't allow him to pull off such gravity defying moments, but such is the fun of the Showa era. At the climax of HEDORAH for instance, his imposing figure and weight don't stop him from chasing after Hedorah via propelling himself backwards in the air by firing off his radioactive breath! Yep, everybody, the King of the Monsters now flies. What makes it so much sillier is the triumphant fanfare music that accompanies this glorious scene, like it's all "Go, Godzilla, go! Take flight against enemy pollution! Hooray!" No wonder Ken-chan professes his fandom for both big G and Superman.

What makes flying Godzilla even more confusing to watch is how it contrasts with the wildly wavering tone of the movie. This might be the strangest mish-mash of genres in the series! The surprisingly gruesome deaths brought by Hedorah sets this film as eco-horror, yet kiddie silliness abounds with protagonist Ken-chan and his almost psychic connection to Godzilla. Just how does he seem to sense where G's location is? The cartoon interludes also recall animation from old children's educational programming. I wouldn't be surprised if Toho took some inspiration from Sesame Street. Splash in a buncha psychedelic stuff for the disenfranchised youth of today (why was there a hallucinogenic scene of fish-faced clubbers?), and you'll get one big platypus of a kaiju movie. Gotta admit though, that "Save the Earth" song is kinda catchy!

Director Yoshimitsu Banno was actually so proud of this picture that he had plans for a sequel where big G and Hedorah would face off in Africa. Unfortunately for him, longtime producerzilla Tomoyuki Tanaka (who was hospitalized during production) was deeply outraged with the finished product, going so far as telling Banno that he "ruined Godzilla". Funny to think that after all the bizarre aliens, goofy wrestling moves, and even Minilla that HEDORAH would break G's back, yet it's not hard to understand Tanaka's bewilderment with it. However, this brings up an interesting point about the Godzilla films. If something did ruin them, by what standards of entertainment are we evaluating them against? When they're at their best, are we enjoying them as genuine pieces of legitimate media, or is it simply the most fun cheesey goodness that a silly genre can provide? Is a kaiju state of mind required? What are your thoughts, Luca?

LUCA:

Haaahahahaha I'd forgotten about the motherfucking FEAR & LOATHING style sudden transition into FISHHEAD CLUBBERS! Who was this damned movie for...? I almost want to say that kaiju movies are like porn, since they are all about getting very specific physical acts on screen. But the big difference is, of course, that Godzilla movies are aimed at kids -- and kids listen. Before they get savvy(/entitled?) enough to fast forward to the good bits, they'll watch a movie that is "for them" through to the end, happy to be watching a movie specifically made "for them". Do you remember the first movie you didn't like? I think it was BATMAN & ROBIN on a first TV airing when I was about 13/14. I couldn't quite put my finger on why I didn't like it, but I do remember finding it weird that this "thing for me" (aka Batman) was somehow not pleasing me. Of course, nowadays, I'll gladly watch B&R with some friends and equally friendly substances, but you know what I mean.

I think that, like with any movie, kaiju movies can be judged simply by what they bring to the table. Eleven movies in, we've seen that this varies wildly from film to film. Ironically, I think I've been hardest on the original GOJIRA, since that one has its bar set highest with its actual attempts at tension and scariness with a build-up it (in my opinion) partially flubs. You don't see me shitting on GvH for flubbing Godzilla's intro even though he literally just appears out of nowhere, accompanied by a kid's essay recitation. By this time, Godzilla appearing was just a matter of making him look cool/making the intro different enough from previous entries as the audience knew what Godzilla looked like and, well, he'd become the hero of the series. When you're aware of the movies you're watching being cranked out at a speed of one a year (and sometimes even more!), the highest bar you can really set for them is the level at which they pander. Are they breezy, fun times? Is there cool/weird/funny stuff in them? Any idiosyncracies the directors manage to squeeze in are a bonus. On that front, GvH is a real treasure trove. I don't think ANY director so far (besides perhaps Ishiro Honda with the original) has managed to put as much of themselves in a Godzilla movie as Banno did with GvH.

How does one screw up a kaiju movie? Repetition. If I look back to the ones I haven't really liked, it's been those that didn't bring anything new to the table: RODAN, MOTHRA VS GODZILLA, ASTRO MONSTER (despite being the first entry with aliens), ... In constrast, the oft-maligned ALL MONSTERS ATTACK/GODZILLA'S REVENGE/ICHIRO'S NAPTIME ADVENTURE wasn't a dud for me, simply by virtue of it being so fucking different from anything that came before (despite most of its monster stuff being recycled). I think Tanaka's bewilderment was understandable since Banno delivered a weird, angry, even slightly political movie. Monster movies are supposed to reach the lowest common denominator, and any political messages such a movie delivers might prevent that. Yeah, KKvG and MvG both had vague "let's be nicer to nature" morals, but nothing as outright critical of Japan's increasingly industrialized society as GvH. Shit, I think we've hit a new fave of mine, Travis! Where does this one rank for you?

TRAVIS:

I’ll be honest, Luca, if I had to grab a ‘zilla flick off the shelf on a lazy afternoon, I’m not sure I’d gravitate immediately to HEDORAH. The strange mix of genres definitely makes for compelling viewing, yet for me it’s a little too jarring. Maybe I’m becoming too soft in my kaiju watching age, but I have better times with straight forward stomp’em ups like DESTROY ALL MONSTERS and GHIDORAH. Not saying it’s a bad movie though! An interesting one! While I wouldn’t necessarily digest it on my own time, I certainly would not hesitate plugging in HEDORAH for a Godzilla marathon with a buncha buddies. A shot of psychedelic sludge to clear up the kiddie sweetness! Also, gotta say it again, DAT SAVE DA EARTH SONG.

Luca, I know you enjoyed director Jun Fukuda’s tropical entries (EBIRAH and SON OF GODZILLA), so I’m interested in hearing your thoughts when he takes on a more conventional Godzilla tale. There are no groovy beaches in sight this time! Space becomes Fukuda’s latest frontier as bug aliens use our beloved theme parks to herald a cybernetic bird warrior, and Godzilla and Anguirus… talk?! What other madness awaits us in GODZILLA VS. GIGAN?

 

KAAAISENNN KAAAAISENNN KAAAAISENNNNN

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #10: ALL MONSTERS ATTACK (1969)

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:

In Japan it's titled ALL MONSTERS ATTACK, and in America it was changed to GODZILLA'S REVENGE, yet neither name aptly describes one of the oddest entries in the series. This one's for the kids, folks, as we focus on our first child protagonist of the franchise – Ichiro. As I imagine a lot of kaiju fans can relate to, lil' Ichiro has monsters on the brain and can't help but daydream of traveling to Monster Island. Also probably familiar to Godzilla nerds is how the young boy is constantly picked on by other kids. Though it's pandering, I just don't feel the cynical manipulation in the plot mechanics to make the kiddie-fication seem overbearing. I credit this to director Ishiro Honda, who always had a specific interest in human drama and tried to incorporate it as best he could in his monster mashes. In ALL MONSTERS ATTACK, he not only spotlights bullying, but also home environments with job-busy absent parents. The moment when Ichiro's mother cries over her absence in her's son life is a nice touch that only Honda would include in a G picture.

What makes this such a weird film (as well as a turkey in the eyes of many G fans) is the kaiju content, or lack thereof. Ichiro naps around like a narcoleptic and constantly transports himself to Monster Island in his dreams. So not only is all of the monster stuff occurring exclusively in Slumberland, but most of the fight scenes are recycled footage from SON OF GODZILLA and EBIRAH, HORROR OF THE DEEP, re-using the clashes with Kumonga, Kamacarus, and Ebirah. The only new footage shot for ATTACK is a redux of the father/son fire breathing scene from SON and the battles with new creature Gabara. Oh, and Ichiro becomes best friends with Minilla (who can shrink to human size and talk apparently) too. In the original Japanese soundtrack, Minilla is voiced by a female actress for some reason, while in the American dub, he's given a dopey male voice to match his pudgy body. Either way, they're interesting takes on what his inner monologue would sound like.

I know you're a soundtrack fan, Luca, so let me point out a fun musical difference between the Japanese and US cuts. ALL MONSTERS ATTACK features a pop go-go song called "March of the Monsters" that's your typical Asian superhero cheer theme ("Marching of Mr. Monsters with style/Destroy everything/Go! Go! Godzilla fires radioactivity"). When United Productions of America picked it up for distribution, they replaced every instance of it in the film with the jazzy track "Crime Fiction" by Ervin Jereb. I actually like both songs, and each one colors the movie with a different vibe. "March of the Monsters" distinguishes ATTACK as an up-and-at'em adventure for kids, while "Crime Fiction" gives GODZILLA'S REVENGE a retro, Grindhouse-like feel when watching it in present day. No matter what music was playing, Luca, could you handle this much Minilla cuteness?

 

Don’t play this with your speakers turned up too loud.
Awwwwright

LUCA:

God, what the...? Who the hell were the Americans marketing these movies to! I like that groovy tune, but this is such a movie aimed at the smallest of children, I can't really imagine what good it would do to supplant a bunch of happy singing kids with that sexy swing music! In any case, I think this series has its hooks in me quite thoroughly, as there is no other way to explain my relative enjoyment of this movie. It is by all accounts a pandering, cheap, lazily made exploitation quickie meant to separate hard-working (to the point of tears, as this movie proves!) Japanese parents from their yen! But... I couldn't help but still be sort of... entertained? It helps that the little boy playing Ichiro is such a lil' charmer, and his relationship with Jappetto (hort hort) is really sweet. Plus, and I guess this is me showing age: it's a friggin' 69 minute movie. I mean, that's the least I've come to expect from low-brow exploitation entertainment. Do your thing and get out! ALL MONSTERS ATTACK/GODZILLA'S REVENGE is pretty good about that.

Something that struck me was in what a friggin' post-apocalyptic WASTELAND Ichiro lives. My biggest exposure to fictional representations of the Japanese middle-class to that point had been Miyazaki, so it was quite a shock to see cute little kids holding hands in a BLADE RUNNER-esque industrial hellhole instead of the picturesque Tama Hills. As you say, the mom crying at the other end of the phone is such a poignant little thing that doesn't really get acknowledged again later that it's not hard to think of humanist Honda trying to smuggle in some social commentary in what by that point surely had become an assembly line paycheck gig. But even if that (very appreciated) note of humanity wasn't there, I'd still sorta like this movie for just being so damned different! TEN movies in and I still don't know what the hell this series has in store for me, movie to movie. That's amazing!

In fact, I'd argue that it's not so much the (mostly recyled) kaiju content that sticks out here, it's the two crooks. A kid using his kaiju fantasies to overcome his fears and actually grow as a person would be a perfectly fine bit of magical realism. This reminds me, I friggin loved how it's the kid that bends to the parents at the end. "I understand you gotta work so much, mom. It's for our own good!" Five'll get you ten that in an American movie it would have been the "workaholic" parent admitting to the kid they were wrong. Ichiro's parents aren't workaholics, they actually just gotta make ends meet. And therein lies the rub for me; either make it a full-on kiddie pander fantasy in which Ichiro's bravery nets him some reward money and his parents can ease back on the overtime, or make the conflict smaller and more personal. He just kinda gets a pat on the back for catching the crooks, making their addition to the story a pretty artificial and perfunctory hurdle for Ichiro to overcome. I've just talked for three paragraphs without even really touching on the monster stuff. Travis, I'll get to it in my next response, but how did you feel about this movie? I could very easily imagine this being a real stinker as a teenager!

TRAVIS:

I gotta say that this was an entertaining romp for me too. For all the justified reasons to criticize it, it's such a peculiar film that it's certainly interesting to watch. The kid stuff doesn't feel too cutesy, and I think there's adorable charm when Ichiro and Minilla interact. There's also a meta reading you could apply to this movie. It's never quite clear or acknowledged outright that we're in the Godzilla universe, just that Ichiro is a big fan. Because of the ambiguity and that none of the monster scenes occur in "real life", one might assume that we're watching our own reality where kaiju only exist in fiction. This might explain why the fight scenes are from stock footage in that Ichiro is merely remembering movies he's seen. With that frame of viewing, we could be watching not so much a children's film but instead a portrayal of what it's like to be a lonely, nerdy Godzilla fan. Now, I don't know if Honda intended this reading, but it's a different way of examining ATTACK without merely dismissing it as garbage or fluff.

Aside from the humanist touches added by Honda, his filmmaking expands in ways we haven't seen in the series. The industrial, polluted setting you pointed out, Luca, is a look of Japanese life not yet glimpsed at. While most of the movies take place in the present, we don't usually spend time in the urban, daily life of the middle class. Even the "March of the Monsters" song has a few lyrics about the hazardous smog bellowing from the factories. Was this foreshadowing of the events in GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH? There's also some flashy techniques Honda uses, like the psychedelic plane trip to Monster Island and the dizzying, blackout transition when Ichiro first wakes up. My favorite one is when Ichiro runs away from Gabara in slo-mo with flashes of the taunting monster superimposed.

Speaking of Gabara, what a strange creature. His yellow eyes and red hair remind me of fellow bully Scott Farkus from A CHRISTMAS STORY. And what an asshole too. If you felt bad for little Minilla getting attacked by bugs in SON, you might be absolutely distraught when Gabara electrocutes then punches him in the face! Even though he's supposed to be a figment of Ichiro's imagination, his odd design (bright green, pebble-like skin, random horn on his head) would represent a change in how later Godzilla monsters would look. The biggest rival of kaiju movies were kaiju TV shows that constantly introduced new monsters with vibrant colors and all sorts of spikes, weapons, and whatnot sticking out like a Swiss Army knife. It's not hard to see the G films taking this cue and beefing up new enemies such as Gigan and Mechagodzilla to seem more menacing. No more of this slumbering, prehistoric animal stuff for origins now! The end of the Showa era is not too far away, Luca, so what else can you say about this weird little detour?

LUCA:

Strangely enough, I found Gabara punching Minilla in the stomach and electrocuting him pretty funny! Gabara and Minilla just seemed like two kids duking it out, whereas Minilla's peril at the hands of the Kamacuri (?) actually seemed like a baby animal threatened by predators. I mean, they were really going all out on making Gabara the BULLY MONSTER to the point that his roar actually sounded like mocking laughter. Gabara is kaiju Nelson Muntz! Minilla's roar, meanwhile, was... the braying of a mule? His voice had a sort of muffled quality to it that made it sound like it was coming from the inside of the suit instead of being ADR'd. Which it was, since it's a woman's voice and the suit actor is not a woman! I actually also found it interesting that you could never tell whether or not this was in the Godzilla universe. The choice to go for a muffled voice for Minilla, to me, adds credence to the idea of this being set in the "real" world -- as if Ichiro is vaguely aware that kaiju are people in suits, so talking to one would mean its voice would be muffled. This is all fan conjecture, of course, since you'd need confirmation from the writers/director on that, and I'm sure they'd give you a look like all "the fuck you talkin bout get a life"

I'm really enjoying the historical context I'm getting from you with each movie, Travis. I probably wouldn't have noticed how different a monster Gabara is from the mere giant spiders/mantises/lobsters that preceded him if you hadn't pointed it out. Knowing this shift in monster design came from a need to compete in ever-crazier kaiju TV shows is doubly interesting. A decade and a half into its lifespan, the Godzilla series (like James Bond) was now a trend follower rather than a trend setter. Hey, it took 'em longer than Bond, who was doing "blaxploitation Bond" a mere ten years in.

If my high levels of amusement with Nelson Monster Gabara are any indication, the upcoming movies will really kick my enjoyment of this series into overdrive. I'm not exactly tired of the 1950s style giant mutated animals, but I think this is a pretty good point to start bringing in a different type of threat. Bring on the Power Rangers villains!