Film Review: Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

Also known as: Gojira tai Kingu Gidora (original Japanese title)
Release Date: December 14th, 1991 (Japan)
Directed by: Kazuki Ōmori
Written by: Kazuki Ōmori
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kōsuke Toyohara, Anna Nakagawa, Megumi Odaka, Katsuhiko Sasaki, Akiji Kobayashi, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Robert Scott Field

Toho, 103 Minutes, 88 Minutes (Chinese cut)

Review:

“You say that you feel Godzilla?” – Kenichiro Terasawa, “Yes whenever I close my eyes, I see him as clearly as if he was walking right in front of me.” – Miki Saegusa

While I wanted to revisit Godzilla Vs. Biollante before revisiting this picture, that movie is a hard one to track down nowadays. This is the direct sequel to it and the third film in the Heisei era of Godzilla movies. I’ll have to circle back to it though when I can find it streaming or if it is ever re-released on Blu-ray in the States.

This film sort of re-imagines the iconic kaiju monster and top Godzilla villain King Ghidorah. In this version, he is a monster created by evil humans from the future, as opposed to just being an alien that showed up one day and was later controlled by an evil alien race. In this, he evolved from three cute little creatures called Dorats. While most fans of the series hate the Dorats for being cute little monsters, I always kind of liked them, even if I’m not a fan of the way in which Ghidorah comes to be in this era of the Godzilla franchise.

The plot is about how these future Earthlings go back in time in an effort to stop Godzilla from ever existing but they are actually trying to get Godzilla out of the way for King Ghidorah. Once Ghidorah is established, he can destroy Japan and prevent it from becoming its future empire. There’s a lot of over the top “Japan is the greatest” propaganda in the movie but I loved it since just about every American action film wants to paint the United States as the savior of the universe.

The film gives us one of the coolest kaiju monster variants of all-time when the big final battle brings in Mecha-King Ghidorah. This plot point would also lead to a future sequel, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, which would come out just after the next film in the series, Godzilla vs. Mothra.

It is interesting to see how much gore is in this movie. There are several shots of kaiju getting assaulted in really violent ways. There are kaiju chunks blown off, kaiju blood and just a lot of brutality that wasn’t really seen in the original Shōwa era.

The film also has incredibly hokey effects. While that can and should be expected in any Japanese Godzilla movie that came out before 2016, some of the effects here are pretty good and some aren’t. There’s a large inconsistency with the quality of effects from scene to scene and from this and other Godzilla films from around the same time. While I’m okay with bad effects in these sort of pictures, the inconsistencies make them more noticeable.

Speaking of hokiness, the evil android character and everything about him and how his character worked on screen was terrible. The scene of him running like the Flash was cringe worthy and the fact that he is a future android with a head full of CDs was baffling. The Japanese are at the forefront of technology and CDs weren’t really something that they should envision to be inside of an android from 200-plus years into the future.

The time travel element was a big part of the story, as was the UFO that the Futurians arrived to present Earth in. The filmmakers sort of hammed it up and put what is assumed to be Steven Spielberg’s father in a scene, as well as a display in the time traveling ship that looks an awful like the one in the DeLorean of the Back to the Future movies. I did enjoy these little Easter eggs though.

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah really takes some time before it gets going and it isn’t the best of its era but it is still packed of with some solid kaiju action, once Godzilla and King Ghidorah show up in the same place. I also liked the added mecha element to the film, which was a throwback to those ’70s films featuring Mechagodzilla and in some regard, that late ’60s King Kong picture with Mechani-Kong.

This is a fun and interesting picture within the Godzilla franchise. Far from perfect but also far from being a throwaway chapter.

 

Film Review: Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

Also known as: Mekagojira no Gyakushū, lit. Counterattack of Mechagodzilla (Japan)
Release Date: March 15th, 1975 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Yukiko Takayama
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Katsuhiko Sasaki, Tomoko Ai, Akihiko Hirata, Katsumasa Uchida, Goro Mutsumi, Tadao Nakamaru, Toru Kawai, Kenji Sahara

Toho, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Wait till I really let Titanosaurus loose!” – Dr. Shinji Mafune

Well, this was the big sendoff for Godzilla in his Shōwa era of films, which stretch over fifteen movies from 1954’s Gojira to this 1975 conclusion that reunited original director Ishirō Honda and original music maestro Akira Ifukube.

Despite the talent working on this final chapter, it is fairly lackluster. I think the main reason is that it was a rehash of the Mechagodzilla story from the previous year’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Also, instead of featuring the awesome King Caesar, we are introduced to a new kaiju: Titanosaurus. Unfortunately, despite a new power, Titanosaurus was pretty lame. In fact, his power isn’t really that original as it is just wind gusts, which we got as far back as 1956’s Rodan. Rodan used his supersonic speed to create destructive wind gusts where Titanosaurus used his fan shaped tail. I know that Titanosaurus has his fans out there but I’m not one of them.

While I love Mechagodzilla, there just wasn’t much to separate this film from the previous one and everything that was actually different was a step down. Still, it is a Godzilla film from his best era and it is a fun time.

I think the problem with this movie, is that although Ishirō Honda is the superior Godzilla director, the ’70s Godzilla films really belonged to Jun Fukuda. He created the vibe that worked in the ’70s, as the character of Godzilla became more kid friendly and kind of goofy. Honda’s style wasn’t really effective when trying to make a direct sequel to Fukuda’s Mechagodzilla film. Godzilla was very different in 1975 than it was when Honda directed his near masterpiece Gojira in 1954.

Also, I need to point out something strange with my latest viewing of this movie. While it is rated G and categorized in places as a “family film”, this movie has boobies in it. Granted, they are fake cyborg boobies but they are nude breasties, nonetheless. Strangely, these ’70s boobies never existed in any version of the film that I have seen before. While I own this, I most recently watched it on the Starz app. So if you are using that and are showing these “G rated” Godzilla movies to some young ones, be forewarned that you might get a mammary surprise. But, as far as I know, this is the only Godzilla film with cyborg titties in it or any titties for that matter.

Titties aside, I do like this film even if it is in the lower rung of Shōwa era films. The main reason, is that I don’t dislike any Shōwa era film. Something about this heroic kaiju makes me smile, especially in the classic era of rubber suits, miniature sets and a sort of hokey magic that ties it all together. While many fans don’t like ’70s Godzilla, I always have, as it was the decade I felt more connected to when I discovered these movies as a kid in the ’80s.

Terror of Mechagodzilla isn’t a place that I would start, if introducing this great and massive film franchise to new generations, but it still works in spite of its flaws. Granted, most people probably won’t embrace this with the enthusiasm that I have but most people paid to see Transformers 5.

Film Review: Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Also known as: Kaijū Sōshingeki (Japan), All Monsters Attack (alternate), Monster Attack March (alternate), Operation Monsterland (UK alternate)
Release Date: August 1st, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Takeshi Kimura, Ishirō Honda
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Kubo, Jun Tazaki, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kenji Sahara

Toho, 88 Minutes

Review:

This was the Shōwa era Godzilla film that literally had it all. It was jam packed full of kaiju, had aliens and a ton of kaiju action and really good action sequences that didn’t even involve monsters. It isn’t the best Godzilla film of its era but it is probably the film that is the most fun. And when I am introducing friends to the Shōwa era and old school kaiju pictures, this is usually the one I pop on just for the non-stop action and overabundance of giant monsters.

Usually these sort of films get convoluted by trying to wedge in too much. Look at the modern Avengers movies versus the solo Marvel films. Destroy All Monsters throws a dozen kaiju at you but they all mostly get to shine without stepping on anyone’s toes or complicating the plot. Granted, a few were used minimally but that was due to their rubber suits being in bad condition due to age and the effects of previous films.

While the story here is decent for a kaiju picture, it really doesn’t matter. This is the Royal Rumble of Godzilla movies and all these fantastic creatures come together. Initially, they are controlled by evil aliens and attack different parts of the world. Godzilla even takes out the United Nations building in New York City. Eventually, the monsters are free from alien control, which brings in King Ghidorah because every sinister alien group seems to have a Batphone to King Ghidorah’s study in his stately manor.

The highlight of the film is when all the good monsters gang up on Ghidorah and just kick the living shit out of him. I love Ghidorah but the mud hole stomping finale is friggin’ glorious! Then the film is capped off by our Earth heroes in a cool ship fighting a phoenix. I mean, really? How cool is this movie?

Eiji Tsuburaya handled the special effects, Ishirō Honda returned as director and Akira Ifukube returned to score the film. Honda and Ifukube took a hiatus from the series, after being instrumental in giving it life and longevity. The reason for their return, is that this was initially planned to be the final picture for Godzilla. However, Toho didn’t even make it a year before they were working on All Monsters Attack a.k.a. Godzilla’s Revenge, a universally panned sequel but probably gets a worse rap than it deserves.

This film is set in the future, at least at the time of its release, so the chronology is a bit confusing after this movie but I’ve always seen this as the real final chapter and the Shōwa films that came out after this one as events that happened before this picture. So when King Ghidorah dies here, he really dies and his return later in the series in Godzilla vs. Gigan was set before Destroy All Monsters.

I love Destroy All Monsters. It is not my favorite Godzilla picture but it is exciting for old school kaiju fans.

Film Review: The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

Release Date: April 12th, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Minoru Inuzuka
Based on: The Tale of Zatoichi by Kan Shimozawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Masayo Banri, Ryuzo Shimada, Hajime Mitamura, Shigeru Amachi

Daiei Motion Picture Company, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Then why don’t you live a decent life?” – Tane, “It’s like being stuck in a bog; it’s not easy to pull yourself out once you’ve fallen in.” – Zatoichi

The Zatoichi films are movies I have heard about for a really long time thanks to having friends that are big fans of jidaigeki pictures. Unfortunately, I have never seen any of them until now. It is a pretty big injustice that I have to rectify and absolve myself of. But since I have the Criterion Channel, I now have access to twenty-five of these pictures. So why not start with the first?

This film introduces audiences to the character of Zatoichi, a blind masseur and master swordsman. He is hired by a yakuza boss named Sukegoro, who thinks that his skills will come in handy due to an oncoming war with a rival gang led by Shigezo. Shigezo responds by hiring a legendary ronin, Miki Hirate.

The film shows that Zatoichi is very humble and because of this and his low social stature, he is often times underestimated by the men around him. Zatoichi also shows that he uses his handicap to his advantage, as he turns the tables on those trying to take advantage of his blindness.

It is revealed that Zatoichi’s rival Hirate is ill with tuberculosis. This makes Hirate eager to fight Zatoichi because he feels that death at the hands of a great warrior is a better fate than dying of his illness. All the while, Hirate and Zatoichi develop a strong bond and friendship, leading up to their confrontation.

The film’s story plays out really well and it is actually quite stellar and builds up to something great, as you reach the climax. This is of course enhanced by the talent of the main actors and the quality of the film from a technical standpoint.

For 1962, this is one of the best Daiei films I have seen, up to this point. Hell, it is one of the best Daiei films, period. It is also cool seeing that Daiei had this jidaigeki franchise alongside their more famous kaiju pictures, just as their rival studio Toho had Kurosawa’s jidaigeki epics alongside their Godzilla franchise.

I’m not sure how well the quality maintains over the course of this long film series but it was off to a good start with this picture. I can assume it will go the route of James Bond or Godzilla, where quality tends to taper off but you still get an occasional high point, here and there.

Film Review: Battle In Outer Space (1959)

Also known as: Uchū Daisensō (Japan)
Release Date: December 26th, 1959 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa, Jotaro Okami
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Ryo Ikebe, Kyoko Anzai, Minoru Takada, Koreya Senda, Leonard Stanford, Harold Conway

Toho, 93 Minutes

Review:

Battle In Outer Space was part of a trio of films unofficially referred to as the “Toho Outer Space Trilogy”. The other two films are 1957’s The Mysterians and 1962’s Gorath. All three films featured Toho’s triple threat of director Ishirō Honda, special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya and musical maestro Akira Ifukube. This is the only film of the three that does not feature a kaiju of some sort. The Mysterians featured the giant alien robot Moguera, who would go on to become a part of the Godzilla mythos, while Gorath featured the giant walrus kaiju named Maguma.

Battle In Outer Space, while lacking the presence of a kaiju, doesn’t really need one. Besides, in those other two films, the giant creatures were used pretty sparingly and weren’t focal points. This film is no different, as the story and sci-fi action alone, carry this picture.

Frankly, I wish Toho would have made more of these types of films. They are visually alluring and magnificent works of moving art. Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects and his miniature work are absolutely top notch in this, more so than most of his other films. They are enhanced by gorgeous cinematography, vivid lighting and the great directing skill of Ishirō Honda. Honestly, this is further ahead from a special effects standpoint than where most American films were at the time, which says a lot about the skill and ingenuity of Tsuburaya and Honda.

In this film, we start with a bunch of strange phenomena happening across the globe. In Japan, a railroad bridge is levitated, causing a train wreck. In the Panama Canal, an ocean liner is lifted and destroyed by a waterspout. In Venice, severe flooding destroys parts of the city. There is also the destruction of a space station. A United Nations meeting is held, where the best minds in the world theorize on the cause of these events. Eventually, other strange things begin to happen and it is discovered that aliens are attacking Earth in an effort to make it easier to invade. Discovering that the aliens are on the Moon, the UN sends two rocket ships there for reconnaissance.

This is one of Toho’s most imaginative films and the execution is phenomenal. While it may come off as cheesy and hokey to modern audiences, it is a pretty pristine piece of work for 1959. And while it played in the United States on a double bill with the American film 12 to the Moon, this was the superior picture. In fact, 12 to the Moon was lampooned on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1994.

Battle In Outer Space is a true space opera epic and ahead of its time, in spite of its limitations.

Film Review: Varan the Unbelievable (1958)

Also known as: Daikaijū Baran, lit. Giant Monster Varan (Japan)
Release Date: October 14th, 1958 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Ken Kuronuma
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kozo Nomura, Ayumi Sonoda, Fumio Matsuo, Koreya Senda, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 87 Minutes

Review:

Varan the Unbelievable was a kaiju film that I was never a big fan of. It was a total drudge to get through. However, I had only seen the English language version, which is vastly different than its original Japanese counterpart.

The American version is a short 68 minutes or so but it is edited into a completely different film and lacks the suspense and the terror that makes the Japanese version infinitely superior. The American version was also bogged down by a love story between an American soldier and a Japanese girl that felt forced and superficial.

The Japanese version, which is the one I just watched and for the first time, was an absolute delight. Finally, I got to see the monster Varan in the way that his creators intended. He was menacing, looked terrifying with his dagger like spikes and he felt like a real credible threat.

The film was made by the Toho dream team of Ishirō Honda (the director), Eiji Tsuburaya (the special effects maestro) and Akira Ifukube (the greatest kaiju film composer of all-time). While these three worked together quite often over a decade or so, one could always rest assured that when the three were a part of the creative process, as a unit, you were certainly going to get a quality kaiju epic.

Unlike most of the earlier Toho kaiju pictures, this one doesn’t recycle a lot of the acting talent. The only notable cast member in relation to their work with Toho is Koreya Senda, who played Dr. Sugimoto. He also worked in the other Toho pictures The H-Man and Battle In Outer Space, neither of which were kaiju movies but fit the general tokusatsu genre.

The film plays out similarly to the original Godzilla picture. A monster appears, gets hellapissed and decides to take his anger out on humans. The majority of the story is Varan fighting the military, as the heroes try to find a way to get rid of the giant beast.

There are some fantastic looking scenes. The one that shows Varan taking shelter underwater as the military drops depth charges is marvelous. Also, the scene where the military is dropping poison into the lake is beautifully shot and vivid, even in black and white.

The miniature work is good for a black and white picture, as it hides some of the imperfections but ultimately, Tsuburaya’s work wasn’t as good as it would become once Toho switched to making all these films in color.

Varan is an evil looking creature and he can take flight similar to a flying squirrel. Additionally, he would also go on to live in the Godzilla mythos as he appeared years later in Destroy All Monsters and the Nintendo video game Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, where he was the boss of one of the stages and continued to appear throughout the game.

Varan isn’t as popular as Godzilla, Mothra or Rodan but he is similar in that he got a solo debut film. While he didn’t appear as sporadically as the other three kaiju, that may have been a missed opportunity for Toho. A straight up Varan versus Godzilla showdown would have been interesting to see.

If you can get a hold of the Japanese version of the film, you definitely should check it out. If all you can find is the awful American version, put it back on the shelf. The easiest way to tell the difference is the running time, as the American version has twenty minutes chopped off.

Film Review: Rodan (1956)

Also known as: Sora no Daikaijū Radon, lit. Radon, Giant Monster of the Sky (Japan)
Release Date: December 26th, 1956 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Ken Kuronuma, Takeshi Kimura, Takeo Murata
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 82 Minutes

Review:

Rodan was a very pivotal movie in the long history of Toho’s cinematic legacy.

While Rodan, the monster, isn’t as famous as Godzilla or Mothra, he is one of the good guys and an ally to both of those kaiju against the evil monsters that started showing up later.

Rodan’s film though, is one of the best kaiju pictures ever made and it opened the door and set the stage for what was to come from Toho in the future.

To start, Rodan was the first kaiju film to be filmed and released in color. It wasn’t Toho’s first color movie though, as that honor goes to the previous year’s The Legend of the White Serpent (a.k.a. Madame White Snake). While that film was within the tokusatsu genre, it did not feature a kaiju monster. Also, it was co-produced with the Shaw Brothers out of Hong Kong. So in actuality, Rodan is the first color film Toho produced by themselves.

There are also a few interesting facts about the film’s American release. For starters, it was the first Japanese motion picture to get a wide release on the West Coast, which did wonders for its success in the States. Also, it had the biggest TV advertising campaign, up to that time, for New York’s massive NBC affiliate WRCA-TV. The marketing campaign featured a contest to challenge kids to quickly draw Rodan, while an outline of the character appeared on television sets.

As a film, Rodan is quite spectacular. Being the first color kaiju picture, it has a real grittiness to it. While the picture quality isn’t as pristine as the Toho films after it, it has a realism to it, visually. In fact, it kind of has the visual tone of a spaghetti western.

Additionally, Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects work, especially the miniatures come off as more authentic looking, as the bit of graininess hides the imperfections better than the clearer Toho films after this.

The effects of the flying Rodan were well executed, even though there was some trouble on the set and one of the stuntmen in the Rodan suit had a major accident. Luckily he wasn’t hurt and the film turned out fine.

The jet fighter sequences were all well shot and well executed. The big battle between the jets and Rodan was impressive for a 1956 movie, not to mention something from Japan that lacked the budget of an American picture.

The only other monsters in this film were some subterranean bugs that were the size of an adult hippopotamus. The bugs were picking off miners underground and started to make their way to the surface but once Rodan showed up, he treated them like gas station sushi. Sayonara, bugs!

Rodan is capped off by one of the most depressing endings in kaiju film history. While the speech is great and the message clear, it is sad seeing the fate of the film’s creatures. Knowing that Rodan would be a protector of Earth and an ally to Godzilla and Mothra against much larger threats, also changes the perspective of the ending quite a bit.

Rodan was the first kaiju movie I ever saw that didn’t feature Godzilla. It was given to me for free from this girl I was crushing on at my local video store circa 1987 or so. I think she liked me but I was eight years-old and she was a teenager. But if Padme can get the hots for toddler Anakin, why can’t video store girl get the hots for my little kaiju-loving self? She got fired a few weeks later for stealing.