Godzilla! One plaintive cry of fear, accompanied by the roar of the biggest baddest monster of the nuclear age, created a cinematic icon that has lasted for well over fifty years. Godzilla, and the associated kaiju movies that sprung up in its destructive wake, not only captured the cultural imagination of people worldwide in the 1950s, but carved out an incredibly vast new genre of science fiction movie that lasts well into the new millennium.
Welcome to Toho Kaiju Monogatari, a year-long weekly series that hopes to not only share the joy of these Godzilla movies, but all the kaiju movies that came out of Toho Studios from 1954 to 2004. Not just Godzilla, but Rodan, Mothra, Japanese King Kong, kaiju-Frankenstein, and dozens more! And you can play along with the adventure, following the full weekly schedule HERE, as we watch men in suits stomp miniatures of famous cities flat for not just our entertainment, but for the history of cinema itself!
Last week we covered the originator of them all, the original 1956 Godzilla and the 1956 American version Godzilla, King of the Monsters! Hopefully you read that, which offers some concept of just how big Godzilla suddenly was in the Japanese consciousness. It wasn’t just a hit, it was a breakout mega-hit on the level of Jaws or Star Wars. And with great success comes studio ideas about exploitability (that’s how that quote goes, right?), which leads us right into today’s city-stomping sequel…
With Godzilla tearing up the Japanese box office Toho Studios knew they had a hit. As you might expect even today, when you get a surprise hit the first thing you expect is that they turn it right around to make another one. And you wouldn’t be wrong. Fresh off of the first one, Toho ordered most of the production staff of Godzilla right back into production on a fast, cheap sequel, replacing already busy director Ishiro Honda with Motoyoshi Oda, who directed many films before and after but only has one international credit to his name: Godzilla Raids Again, a movie rushed through production to release only six months after the release of Godzilla, in the spring of 1955. That production schedule is boggling to modern sensibilities, where even easy romantic comedies can take that long or longer to make it all the way through production, but even knowing that shooting schedules of the time were much shorter, you’d be forgiven in thinking that Godzilla Raids Again is a cheapy also-ran rush that turned into a giant mess. Is that accurate? Well, yes and no.
Godzilla Raids Again is a frustrating movie, coming as it does on the heels of a genuine cinematic masterpiece, and basically managing to emulate a lot of that through sheer momentum. Many of the things that worked there also work here, and for many of the same reasons. But when it deviates, it does so in pretty terrible ways, and thus it ends up feeling very uneven, even compared to later movies that found their own path to creating compelling stories out of what would increasingly be stock components. As the first kaiju sequel, this one just feels … bland.
We start with a similar love triangle of sorts to the first film, with two men and a woman who form the central human drama. There are two pilots, Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi, who we’ll see a lot of in these movies) and Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki), who fly scouting missions over the ocean to spot tuna for a fishing company they both work for based out of Osaka. Both men are friends with the radio operator, Hidemi (Setsuko Wakayama), the boss’ daughter and a potential love interest for the two of them. Though in reality, it’s mostly just Tsukioka who expresses any sort of interest, so it’s not so much of a triangle as it is a weird angle without any sort of dramatic momentum.
As the film opens, Kobayashi’s plane is downed due to a malfunction, landing on the coast of a nearby island. When Tsukioka lands to pick him up, the two share a campfire meal only to be interrupted by an incredible roar. They look up, only to spot looming above them—Godzilla! Since a similar creature had flattened Tokyo only months before, both men recognize the monster, but neither are prepared for what they’re about to witness. Godzilla isn’t alone, but is instead locked in combat with a new giant creature, a four-legged spike-backed dinosaur, the two of them fighting so violently it threatens to tear down the nearby cliffs themselves until both monsters, in their fury, plunge into the ocean and disappear.
Both men fly back to report in, and the Japanese government quickly identifies the new monster (through an illustrated book of dinosaurs, no less!). It is Anguirus (or Angilus, depending on your translation), a derivative of the ankylosaur family of dinosaurs, made huge and awakened by the same nuclear testing that drove the original Godzilla and this new, identical creature out of whatever cave that time forgot. To verify the claim is Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura), a sober and defeated man after the events of the last film, now resigned to the realities of Godzilla’s destructive power. There’s just one problem: the Oxygen Destroyer died with the sacrifice of Dr. Serizawa in the first film, and nothing else that the Japanese army has will work against the beast. Unless they can find some sort of deterrent, wherever Godzilla makes landfall is entirely at the mercy of not only it, but this new threat. In one of the more chilling moments in the movie, he shows the government and our heroes footage of Godzilla’s Tokyo rampage, grainy silent film with only the sound of the running projector to underscore the devastation (and also to reuse a bunch of special effects, but it works so I’ll forgive it).
When Godzilla threatens to come ashore on Osaka, however, it’s a plan by Hidemi that the army finally uses to try to deter the beast. Dr. Yamane puts forth the suggestion that perhaps bright lights could attract the monster, with the (fairly ridiculous) reasoning that the lights enrage him because they remind him of the hydrogen bomb explosion that awoke him from his slumber. So all of Osaka is forced into a blackout, the city dark and huddled in wait for salvation. When Godzilla pops out of the water in the bay, the army sets off flares leading Godzilla back into the ocean, which seems to work until a prison break taking advantage of the blackout ends with a car chase that crashes a gasoline truck into an industrial complex, setting the whole thing ablaze and drawing Godzilla back to shore. In fact, it’s enough to draw out Anguirus, too, and the two monsters proceed to fight through the middle of Osaka, destroying a large part of the city and even famously toppling Osaka Castle before Godzilla gets Anguirus by the throat and then torches the monster with his atomic fire.
This is definitely the best part of the movie, and establishes a monster fight idea that will crop up in every Godzilla movie after this point. If having one monster is cool, then two is better, and watching two of them go at each other is obviously the best of all. And of all the bits of Godzilla Raids Again, this Osaka assault works. It’s mostly silent, a few ominous music tones underlying mostly sounds of crashing and the roars of each creature. It’s also incredibly violent, going animalistic with a lot of biting and scratching. When Godzilla finally gets Anguirus down, it’s with some freely flowing blood that’s jarring compared to the relatively gore-less rest of the genre. The suits move much better than they did in Godzilla, and the same special effects team does incredible work with the matting of live action elements put against miniatures. There’s a flood that happens in an underground tunnel that’s absolutely stunning, and as impressive as anything that the first movie could offer.
With Anguirus killed, however, all that’s left is the horror of Godzilla and the final attempt to wrap it up, and sadly here’s where the movie mostly falls flat. Most of the drama in this movie has little to do with people reacting to the damage of Godzilla, or even the ethical questions of what steps we would be willing to take to undo our own mistakes, whether an arms race is wise or just a quick road to destruction. Godzilla Raids Again instead takes this time to focus on the two pilots, and their getting roped into a plan to stop Godzilla, and how upset they are to be taken away from Hidemi. It’s fairly stock angst stuff, and it seems so disconnected to the actions happening that it almost completely fails to make any sort of impact. It doesn’t help that none of these characters have much in the way of personality, just being a trio of clean-faced Japanese 20-somethings to lead the movie. Godzilla films rarely feel like generic monster movies so much as they do in this movie outside of the Osaka attack. It’s just … boring.
The plan to get rid of Godzilla isn’t particularly impressive, either. Knowing that no human weapons can kill it, they instead lead it ashore near an icy mountain, where the air force (and our heroes) lead bombing runs to trigger an avalanch to bury Godzilla in ice, sealing him away until they can hopefully find a way to kill him. Godzilla, in his rage, swats planes out of the sky with both his hands and his atomic breath, leading to the deal of Kobayashi that triggers the landslide that finally buries him. All is finally calm, a sacrifice made, and the world waits for the eventuality of Godzilla’s return. It’s an interesting ending, because it’s the only time that the army is able to actually get rid of Godzilla without a superweapon or the intervention of another monster, the one sole triumph of human ingenuity against the obvious threat.
But all in all, this movie feels a lot like an also-ran. Much of the movie is confined to sets where the last movie shot many of its scenes on location. The special effects work is as good as ever, but when the humans are crouching behind fake rocks, no amount of monster-stomping is going to sell the drama. It feels rushed and generic, though, because it is. I think it’s telling that after this the movies don’t come out nearly as quickly, and we don’t see another reappearance of Godzilla for seven years. The movie was a critical and box office disappointment, and Toho instead focused mostly on making other original monster movies instead of sequels. And they turn out much better for it.
So remember how last week I said all those good things about Godzilla, King of the Monsters? Yeah, that was a one-time thing. Godzilla made quite a splash in the US, too, but when the producers decided to adapt the sequel they originally had planned to create an incredibly re-edited version that stripped all reference to Godzilla and to the Japanese origin out entirely. Titled The Volcano Monsters, this movie would reshoot all the non-monster footage with American actors, and use Toho’s special effects with some American-made reshoots with the costumes (imported from Japan, no less!) to create a much more obviously American product, with an entirely new script.
It would have been interesting, at least, to see where that idea would have led. But unfortunately, AB-PT Productions, which were funding this idea, closed in 1957. In 1958, the original producers of Godzilla, King of the Monsters picked up the rights again, and instead decided to just do a straight dub job to try to make some money off of the idea. And I do mean make money, as their plan was incredibly mercenary. In the two years since King of the Monsters, science fiction in the US had exploded into a B-movie genre of its own, and the money simply wasn’t there for the kind of care and attention that King of the Monsters received.
Godzilla Raids Again‘s US version takes a flawed but interesting film and drives it straight into the ground. First off, the fairly incredible score (by frequent Kurosawa collaborator Masaru Sato) was stripped out nearly entirely for stock music from multiple other US science fiction films, and the intro was entirely recut with stock footage showing nuclear testing and bad education film scenarios of atomic devastation. And all of it bolstered by a wildly inappropriate narration from the guy who dubbed Tsukioka, who talks constantly over what was originally a fairly quiet film, often explaining to the audience exactly what we’re seeing on screen at any moment. I can only imagine it was meant to be an homage to Burr’s work narrating King of the Monsters, but it’s absolutely terrible. It makes Ford’s sleepy, obvious narration in the theatrical cut of Blade Runner look like high art, and that’s saying something coming from a Final Cut devotee such as myself.
The rest of the movie doesn’t fare any better. A lot of the subplot love triangle is cut down, but it’s replaced with a ‘wonders of Japan’ set of stock footage that seems at times borderline racist with how it’s explained to the audience. By the late 50s Japanophilia was apparently a thing, and it’s as heavy-handed and ridiculous as you might expect.
Most baffling, the movie renames Godzilla, retaining the idea that they’d make this movie not-a-Godzilla film, calling him instead Gigantis, which is frankly stupid considering they didn’t even bother cutting out the part where Yamane shows footage of the first Godzilla movie (now with a ‘scientific recreation’ of the birth of life on Earth, cobbled together from educational films and with a dramatic soundtrack and voiceover). Nobody who cared about these types of movies was being fooled, and they couldn’t even manage to get the rename right, as regularly both monsters are referred to as Anguirus, and for some reason half the time Godzilla’s iconic roar is replaced with that of Anguirus’.
It’s baffling that this movie exists, and shocking how poorly done it is, as technically there are less changes than what happened in King of the Monsters but in reality it results in much more of what people think of when they think of ‘bad dub job’. Godzilla Raids Again is a terrible film in English, a nonsensical mess of bad translation, near-racist caricature, and total disregard for the integrity not only of the Japanese version, but of the work done on the American film. This might be worth watching if you want something to mock, but for the most part it serves as a bold reminder of just how terrible localization for movies can be if it falls into the wrong hands.