Monday, April 21, 2014

The Litany of Godzilla: Showa Series Part One- Introducing Kaiju

Here's where the Kaiju fest starts!  Click here for the intro

An important note: I've seen whole books listing these movies who's main goal seems to be telling readers how terrible most of them are. While I may be engaging in some good natured ribbing, they are all, in their own way, awesome and fun!

(Godzilla,  King of Monsters)

An H-bomb test on Bikini Atoll mutates a dinosaur into the 50 meter tall living nuclear reactor Godzilla, who gets his name from some natives on Odo Island, also known for dancing in masks that look like caricatures of Richard Nixon.  He scares the boojeebers out of natives and visitors on Odo and creates many urban renewal jobs in Tokyo.  Doctor Serizawa creates a new horrible weapon, the oxygen destroyer.  He only tells Emiko, his betrothed, who loves another, [Ogata- Akira Takarada, who will be in a ridiculous amount of these]  about it.  She decides that his alka seltzer of doom is preferable to a giant radioactive behemoth destroying the entire country and rats him out to her new squeeze Ogata and her Dad, Doctor Yamane.  The eye patch sporting Doc [Ahikiko Hirata, who we'll see all over this series]  sets it off in the water (with an assist by Ogata as Doctor Yamane and Emiko watch) where it makes a lot of bubbles and disintegrates Godzilla, Doctor Serizawa, and its own secret (tragedy tragedy tragedy).  The film is released in the US two years later with added scenes of reporter Steve Martin (played by Raymond Burr) commenting dramatically.
[As much as I love Raymond Burr, and he did fantastic bringing gravitas to the story, the original has a lot more power to it, and works better as a horror film, with the gradual reveal of Godzilla.]

Godzilla’s Counterattack
 (aka Godzilla Raids Again, 
Gigantis, the Fire Monster) 

Tsuikioka and Kobayashi fly seaplanes interminably over the ocean looking for fish.  Instead they find that Godzilla inexplicably returned from both the dead and the depths, but it isn’t Godzilla, or maybe it is. It may even be female!  While this is ignored in later features it would make the egg and Minilla appearances make something resembling sense. It’s hard to tell with translations, copyright issues, and scenes removed in the American version.  Sadly, none of the flying over the ocean scenes are in the “removed” category. 
[Later edit- In the Japanese version it is clearly ANOTHER Godzilla, they do not discuss gender.]

Whoever the monster is meets up on an island with an awesomely ridiculous crawling, spiky armadilloish looking thing named Anguirus.  They beat the snot out of each other and head to the mainland.  Doctor Yamane comes over to help, as all the available scientist has to go by is the How and Why Book of Dinosaurs. Yamane proves less than helpful by confusing the names of the monsters while telling everyone they’re all basically screwed.  He backs up his point with a video that combines scenes from the first movie with the worst educational film about the evolution of life on earth ever seen outside of Kansas. 

The monsters are drawn out to sea by military planes shooting flares.  This plan is thwarted by the least successful prison break in history.  Several escapees are shot, and several more drive a stolen truck into an oil tank blowing themselves, it and the fish factory up.  The flames lure the monsters back, where they smash the shoreline, flooding a subway to drown the last remaining convicts. 

Eventually Godzilla/Gigantis/Fred/Whoever kills his later to be spiky best buddy and most of Osaka before leaving.  The fishing company moves to Hokkaido and everything is back to boring airborne fish searches until Godzilla is spotted again swimming to a frozen island while our pilots are partying with their Air Defense buddies.  Kobayashi in his propeller driven special somehow reaches Godzilla first and radios for the military to meet him. The Air Defense force comes in bearing stronger weapons than pontoons and fish sniffers, but their bombs don’t stop the monster.  Before the Big G can escape out to sea, Kobayashi Marus his plane into an icy mountain starting an avalanche which gives the military the idea to bury the beast in a giant snow cone.  Why he did this could have to do with honor, or that he was in love with his best friend’s girl (possibly? the picture was blurry), but more likely was due to the fear of having to sit through  more interminable flying over the ocean scenes.

The success of the first two outings paves the way for a veritable Kaiju parade from Toho in the time between Godzilla’s appearances.

The world is introduced to:

Giant pterodactyls inhabiting a world where everyone sounds like
Keye Luke, George Takei and Paul Frees 
(Radon aka Rodan 1956)

A giant pointy nosed robot
(Moguera in The Mysterians 1957)

A giant lizard…flying squirrel…pin cushion looking… unbelievable… thing
(Varan the Unbelievable 1958)

A giant moth obsessed with tiny singing twins. 
(Mosura aka Mothra 1961)

A giant cross between a dragon and Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent
(Manda in Atragon 1963)

All of these festive beasts returned to face or help (or both) our hero in one form or another as the decades pass.

While successful, none of these features kicked the genre into high gear until the first Godzilla Championship Match that was:
A: Not in black and white
B:  Not full of nearly interminable scenes of flying over an empty ocean looking for fish.

Godzilla being far more personable and emotional (clapping, mocking etc.) helped too.

King Kong vs. Godzilla  

Pacific Pharmaceuticals has found non habit forming narcotic berries on Faro Island. What they really need is good TV publicity though, causing them to investigate the “Giant Monster” the natives worship. Just about everyone scoffs at the idea it could exist.  This is most unusual, since when the submarine Seahawk is checking out an inexplicably hot iceberg, once the ship destroyed and one of the two stars of the film breaks out of his frozen prison, the whole world says,

“Hey! It’s Godzilla!”

Godzilla runs back toward Hokkaido, possibly looking for his little ears and fourth toe, which seem to have vanished since the last movie.  In the mean time, the Pharma boys arrive on Faro Island.  The natives they meet would likely be seen as exceedingly racist, if anyone could figure out what race they were supposed to be.  The Abbot and Costello like lead humans don’t help matters by giving cigarettes to all of them, even the kids.  King Kong saves the village from a giant octopus in a titanic battle against a rubber cephalopod, the likes of which would not be seen again until Ed Wood.  The big ape is definitely an American monster, with penchants for getting drunk, loud music, and girls in coconut bras. 

Don’t judge the Japanese too harshly for the depiction. The American added footage includes a paleontologist from New York (with another children’s dinosaur book) who at best is a complete idiot and at worst is dangerously insane.

Kong passes out while the coconut girls do a blend of the hula and the chicken dance, and is rafted unconsciously toward Japan as a company mascot.  The military actually displays some sense in one of these stories and tells the Gorilla Towing Company it would be a bad idea to bring a hundred and fifty foot monkey into a metropolitan area.  Sadly they don’t show that much sense, as they leave the Kong raft parked just off the coast, allowing him to come ashore when he wakes up, to “instinctively” chase Godzilla. (According to the loopy paleontologist)

The titans meet, and Kong, being a thinking animal, thinks it’s time to get the heck out of there once he’s set on fire.  The army tries to stop Godzilla from reaching Tokyo with fire, indicating they haven’t watched the first two films in this series.  Then they try electricity, but King Kong shows up and eats the power from the high tension wires.  Godzilla, not caring that this is probably left over from early versions of the script where one of them would have fought a giant Frankenstein monster, decides this is ridiculous and leaves.  The Giant Frankenstein concept would have to wait two years until it was used in Frankenstein Conquers the World, and its sequel Rise of the Gargantuans. [Later edit, in the Japanese version they explain this. Kong is not naturally powered by electricity. When he first hits the power lines it is remarked that a guy in Poland got hit by lighting and became a battery. OK, so they explain it badly, but it is better than the loopy paleontologist. ]

Being one of our boys in a foreign city, Kong picks up a girl, gets hammered and passes out to his favorite tunes while causing property damage. [Later edit- the Japanese version also has an earlier scene making one of the character's drum playing ability not appear completely out of left field.]  With no other options, the army decides to drop the inebriated ape on Godzilla hoping they’ll take each other out at Mount Fuji.  They use super strong wire, because one of the main characters conveniently invented it five minutes after the title card.  They also use a silly amount of helium balloons, because even though the Japanese army, navy and air force have unlimited equipment to throw at the Kaiju in these films, they only have ONE cargo helicopter.

A fantastic battle follows, complete with rock tossing, judo throws, sumo moves, face kicks, burials, and body slams.  Kong starts out playing hide and seek…or actually hide and get clobbered.  He also smashes his own head on the ground a couple of times. 

Thinking animal indeed. 

Godzilla’s fire is counteracted by Kong’s ability to absorb and transmit electricity, because the filmmakers are just as nuts as the New York Paleontologist.

The monsters crash through some buildings and fall into the sea causing earthquakes and flooding.  Then King Kong swims away.

Don’t believe the rumors, both the US and Japanese versions end the same way.

Kong fans say he won and left the Big G out cold under the water,
Godzilla fans say the he won and chased the Big Monkey away from his home turf.

I have seen the Japanese version to prove this. 
It is longer even without Dorko the American Scientist, because of some extra scenes, featuring beautiful Japanese settings and culture. It has more of an original soundtrack, because the Japanese wisely left in Ifukube's excellent score, instead of replacing it with music from The Creature from the Black Lagoon. 

I can’t tell you any details about the story, because I was so excited to find it in the listings of the “club” I joined to get the Hesiesi Series on tape before their official US release, I forgot to check if it had subtitles.  Considering how grainy the tapes ended up, and what kind of other video catalogs I had to hide from neighbors when the “club” sent them. I’m not sure I should have been that excited.

Click here to see the cast expand into the sky.

Click Here for the full Godzilla Index

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