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!

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