Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, made in 1966, starts off borrowing a note from the original Godzilla, with the disappearance of a fishing boat. The laid-back attitude here is in stark contrast to the original, with people trying to push through to get news of their lost loved ones. Here, is serves as the impetus to try a crazy scheme to join a dance marathon to win a sailboat. This is typical of Godzilla's new direction, and certainly of his new director Jun Fukuda. Fukuda, who had been Honda's assistant director on Rodan, would direct some of the franchise's worst films, Godzilla vs Megalon and Godzilla vs Gigan. He would also write and direct the film that began Godzilla's recovery, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla.
Remember when I talked about the dances in Frankenstein vs Baragon? Early in the film, we have a character who is in a dance marathon, looking to win a sail boat. The script disposes with the usual scientists and reporters as main characters, replacing them with a failed dance marathoner of no determines occupation, a thief, and an Infant Islander.
The Red Bamboo, our antagonists, are an unlikely organization. They've got their own uniforms, a shitload of guys to throw around, jet planes, a nuclear reactor, and this isn't even their main base. The fat guy who sits on the not-throne comments about getting orders from headquarters. These guys have to be as wealthy as Bond's SPECTRE. And they're dumb. Kidnapping the people of Infant Island which is known to have a vengeful giant monster god? Incredibly dumb. Building a base on the island where Godzilla is sleeping? Colossally dumb.
This touches on Ebirah, Horror of the Deep's theme of monster control. Ebirah is kept away from the Red Bamboo ships by use of a yellow chemical, derived from bananas, called X-13. All boats that do not pump the X-13 overboard are attacked by the world's largest lobster. This is a contrast to Mothra, who voluntarily guards the inhabitants of Infant Island. Since Red Bamboo are entirely human, and have no mystical connection to Ebirah, they don't have the technology to fully control it. Which leads to their downfall.
The Peanuts do not return as the Shobijin this time around. The are replaced by "Pair Bambi" another set of musical Japanese twins. It seems that Mothra is asleep, and won't be wakened by the prayers of her subjects at the beginning of the film. Or perhaps she is no longer amused by the old man in the astonishing feather hat, who is absent from this film.
Masaru Soto replaces Akira Ifukube as the composer, and I find his musical invention jarring. There's a jaunty, modern aspect to every piece, whether it's attempting to be stealthy tension, or waiting for lightning to strike Godzilla. I find it undermines the feel of the film, even though Fukuda's direction trends towards a lighter, action-adventure film. The combat music often sounds like 50's beach music. Modern, I suppose, but it dates itself rather quickly, unlike the classical work of Ifukube.
Godzilla is at his most human and emotive, and it doesn't serve him well here. It comes across as goofy. And damn if he doesn't look like Cookie Monster from the side.
The Giant Condor that shows up is very strange, and about as well put together as the Giant Claw. It flies in to disturb Godzilla's nap for no apparent reason other than to give Godzilla something to fight. It could be an homage to King Kong, similar to the pterodactyl that tries to snatch Fay Wray. But it's not done nearly as well. It's two saving graces are that the sequence is short, and that it never shows up again.
The first encounter between Godzilla and Ebirah features some more of that rock throwing. This time, the rock is volleyed back and forth between the two giant monsters through the use of some creative animation. David Kalat sees this as an indicator of the original intent to use King Kong in the Godzilla part. I have to disagree. Rock kicking and throwing has been with the franchise since King Kong vs Godzilla, and showed up in Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster.
Kalat sees the lightning strike as stengthening Godzilla, as it did with Kong in King Kong vs Godzilla, but I can't say I see evidence of that. The lightning strikes waken the sleeping Godzilla, but I don't see anything, even in dialog, to indicate that it makes him stronger. In fact, when he encounters the hundred thousand volt electrical wires that surround the Red Bamboo base, he staggers back for a moment. He finds a rock to destroy the tower with, and with that, he's free to rampage across the base.
The Ebirah suit looks pretty good, a gigantic shrimp, with nobby armored plates and a pair of vicious claws. Unfortunately, the brightly-colored unsubtle direction does it no service, and good design and suit acting drown in a rising tide of uninteresting direction.
Kalat is very positive about the role of Dayo, the native girl who escapes the Red Bamboo. I am not to happy. She shows toughness when she is introduced, but then quickly becomes a silent partner in the business, following the men. She has to be rescued from Godzilla, she often stumbles as she runs.
In the end, Godzilla tears Ebirah's claws off. Returning to the island, he tries to pick a fight with Mothra, but she will have none of it. As Mothra bears the escaped slave labor off the island, our heroes consider that Godzilla has done them no harm, so they shout at him to get off the island before the nuclear powerplant goes critical. And he does, leaping into the sea just before detonation.
Overall, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep is on the downward slide of the Showa Godzilla franchise. Jun Fukuda lacks Ishiro Honda's deftness. The script is uninteresting, more about the wacky adventures of the humans than their interactions with the monsters. The suitimation combats are pretty good, aside from the Giant Condor. This is not one of the classic Godzilla films, and really doesn't add much to the franchise.
Next up, Gamera and the amazing technolcolor rainbow!