Thursday, November 28, 2013

That's One Hell of a Turkey: Giant Space Monster Guilala

Part of the reason I am writing My Year of Monsters is to watch the development of the visual language of kaiju film. Not just for its own sake, but as a microcosm of film in general, to see what elements are retained from film to film, what works, and what is discarded. I am not enough of a scholar of Japenese history to meaningfully comment on the social changes happening in Japan, or even America, as these films were procuced, to give an informed opinion about their sociocultural significance. But in learning the language of the film, we can draw conclusions about what makes a good kaiju film, and what makes one worth watching.

Good? Bad? I'm the guy with the trangular head.

Released in the US as The X From Outer Space, Giant Space Monster Guilala (1967) is the only giant monster film from Japanese film studio Shochiku. It starts off with a lounge-act song over the initial credits. Which is a heck of a thing, especially as the film exhorts the listener to embrace the twinkling future. Given that this is a giant monster film, I cannot help but think that this is somewhat at odds with the embrace of future technology, since many kaiju films are about humanity being punished for scientific transgressions.

For the first time since the 1965 Gamera, this is a rampage movie. As with virtually every other franchise, thism, the first film, has the monster alone against the military and the team of scientists. Guilala does return, in 2009, with Monster X Strikes Back.

Bunch. of. Pros.

The film follows the Fuji Aeronautical Flight Center, the sort of agency that cropped up with regularity in space-race era films. Our first experience is watching four white jumpsuited figures carry enriched nuclear fuel and put it in the back of a station wagon. If that's not space-age professionalism, I don't know what is. This space agency is launching missions to Mars, and anticipating the Galactic Ghoul of the 90's, has long a number of missions previously. Of course, the lost missions were all manned, and the spaceship they're sending, AAB Gamma the agency's first nuclear ship, is unarmed. What could possibly go wrong?

A Japanese Nuclear Wessel

The anticipated problem, UFO interferance, happens, and the ship has to divert to the lunar base because Dr. Shioda has gotten ill from the UFO's approach. And who has to tend his fevered brow and brng him a drink? Why Lisa, the blonde, and the only woman on the crew. Huh. Blonde Lisa is also involved in a love traigle with the Sano, captain of AAB Gamma, who thinks he likes her, but really belongs with Michiko. Despite this early, dismissive treatment, the character of Lisa has a lot of agency, and that's a welcome relief from most kaiju films, which shove the female characters into stereotypical and passive roles. In fact, she is the discoverer of just about all the research that defeats Guilala will come from her. But she starts out as a Space Stewartess.

Lisa. Biologist, space stewartess.

The Lunar colony AAB Gamma aborts to has been established so long that the inhaitants smoke, raise apples, and even have a hot tub and hot showers. This allows Lisa and her rival Mickiko share a tame but titillating shower scene.

You just know they're NAKED behind those impenetrable screens.

Once AAB Gamma gets back underway to Mars, it's buzzed by a UFO, and then discovers that the engine has developed some lumps, as if it had gotten glowing Space Herpes. It's collected and kept in a vacuum, and brought back to Earth. There, it melts the container, and then goes through the floor, in a discovery that's uncomfortably like a section of Ridley Scott's Alien.

Don't touch the edges!

In an interesting twist on the usual gigantic footprint trope that has been used from King Kong to Pacific Rim, Guilala's initial spoor it a tiny track etched into the floor of the lab, giving no indication of the size it will eventually achieve. The gigantic footprint is later discovered, giving the characters the link between the huge monster and what escaped from their lab. Guilala is often referred to as giant poultry, and that's no accident. When viewing the small footprint, it is compared to a three-toed chicken footprint.

Tiny chicken foot print.

Huge chicken foot print.

Guilala's initial appearance is very similar to Godzilla's, appearing over the top of a hill to give it scale. This is forty-five minutes into the film, perhaps the longest we've had to wait to see a titular monster in a kaiju film. Guilala's dorsal fin glows, like Godzilla's. Instead of doing so when it's about to breathe atomic fire, Guilala's is sort of an indicator as to its energy level. But it only shows up once, is discussed later, and does not impact the story at all. Like the two deely boppers on its head, the glowing shell seems to be there for visual interest. Guilala's roar seems to be a hoarse guy shouting RAAAAAR, possibly into a coffee can.

Don't touch the edges!

Guilala's initial breakout takes place on Mt. Hakone, which is a bit of an odd place for a space agency, unless it's been deliberately located on the Izu Penninsula. Still, it's quite close to all monster's favorite stoming ground, Tokyo. Scenes of people fleeing while Guilala marches on Tokyo are brief. The film isn't interested in showing us the human cost of the monster's rampage.

There goes Tokyo.

The military is, of course, completely ineffective. Guilala stomps on tanks, blows fireballs at them, and swats Starfighters out of the sky, even though they shouldn't get close enough to let it reach them. Two smash straight into Guilala's head.

Guilala horks up a fireball.

Shochiku is not above stealing a few bits from their favorite kaiju films. The military deploys their own version of the heat ray/maser shown in War of the Gargantuas and several subsequent Toho productions.

Only these are a bit smaller.

But there are some innovations, which is why it's always interesting to watch a new studio attempt a man in a rubber suit film. As it later echoed in Pacific Rim, Guilala picks up an oil tanker and throws it.

Hey del Toro! You'll like this one!

Of course, the monster must have a weakness, and Guilala's is the ore that encased it while in space. This is recreated as the jaw-breaking Guilalanium, which of course proves to be the giant monster's downfall. Like Gamera, Guilala is after energy. Once it has got enough, it turns into a huge, red ball and floats off. Because just having fire breath and some sort of glowing energy shield isn't enough.

Must deploy new and unexpected power!

Ultimately, the monster's hunger for energy is its downfall. It is lured away from the Fuji Aeronautical Flight Center by a pair of guys pulling a reactor core on a jeep. This gives everyone time to load their air squadrons with the Guilalanium. As they pelt it with missiles, the monster begins to foam, as if they were hitting it with cream pies. In a spectacular bit of poor editing, as Guilala is layered in foam we cut back to a pair of suits. “No effect yet,” one tells the other. Guilala, coated in shaving foam at this point, lets out a last fireball, destroying one more plane, then shrinks under a blanket of foam until it's once again a small oval.

So falls the biggest Thanksgiving turkey ever.

The tiny remnant is placed in a rocket and sent into space. And everything is all better.

Giant Space Monster Guilala is a faltering first step by a studio that had never made a monster film before. It can't decide what it wants to be, a space adventure or a monster movie, and is unsatisfying in either. But it's fascinating for it's craziness. Loading the nuclear fuel into the back of a station wagon? Guilala's unexplained and unnecessary ability to turn into a ball of energy? AAB Gamma's plot-consuming back and forth of to the Moon, and then getting rescued. Which would be fine in a space movie. That's why people go to see a space movie. But as the lead-in to Sometimes I feel like this film was two different pitch scrips that were inexpertly stitched together to form one science fiction movie that was true to neither premise.

The glowing... thing parts which don't seem to do anything!

Guilala's rampage is pretty good, and it steps back to Toho's older films, with the planes flying close enough to be swatted down. And there is a bit more interaction with the scenery, specifically when it throws an oil tanker into the cityscape. Unfortunately, they keep cutting away from it, to pursue the story of the humans looking for a way to defeat it. Longer blocks of both, I think, would have kept my attention better.

I hope you have enjoyed your monstrous helping of Thanksgiving turkey. Next, another Japanese studio, Nikkatsu, tries their hand at the genre.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Unlikely vs the More Unlikely: Gamera vs Gyaos

Gamera vs Gyaos is the footprint on which future Gamera films will be based. A child actor as the main character, ridiculous action, and a goofy opponent. Gyaos is, like Godzilla and Gamera himself, an ancient creature awakened into the modern time. Most later Gamera films will involve some sort of alien invader.

Introducing GYAOS!

The effects are better than previous enttries from Daiei. After some stock footage of volcanoes, the viewer is presented with a lovely Mt. Fuji eruption in miniature, complete with lava flow. Daiei has been honing their miniature craft, and their experience is showing.

Better than the volcano you built in school, guaranteed.

The film owes a moderate amount to Godzilla vs Mothra. First off, the instigator of the human plot is a greedy corporation, this one determinted to drive their road through a village, any cost. We are clearly meant to sympathize with the villagers, although after the initial protest, we find out that they are only resisting to get more money out of the Road Corporation. The Road Corporation laborers are hapless comedy figures who bear the brunt of the villager's displeasure as well as are also meant to be sympathetic. They have no effect on the plot, their time finished when the monsters appear on-screen, and given only a perfonctory closure at the end of the film.

As a team of scientists investigate Gamera's hoped-for death after he throws himself in Mt Fuji, an action echoed when Godzilla gets dropped into Mt. Mihara in The Return of Godzilla, their helicopter is sliced in half by a mysterious ground-based yellow beam. When a group of Starfighters attack, they are also neatly sliced up.


When a group of reporters are taking pictures of Gyaos rampaging through Nagoya, Gyaos's beam slices the car neatly between the diver's and passeneger's side. Except for the engine and the chassis. If you look at the right half of the car, you can see the support strut used instead of the wheel. This particular effect, and that particular bobble, is something that we'll see in another film, also released in 1967.

I got the engine in the divorce.

And introducing the Timmy. Eiichi is the name of our precocious and annoying little protagonist, and he does very little to endear himself to the adult viewer. Our first real encounter with him involves a reporter, a slingshot and a stone. The very close camera angles do the kid no favors, we hear his name a lot. He is subsequently involved in just about everything the adults do. From the military plannng session to attack Gyaos to suggesting the plan that ultimately works. There are worse examples of the supercompetent preadolescent character coming in both monster franchises.

Half of what's wrong with the Gamera franchise in a single picture.

While Gamera films are made explicitly for kids, they do include a lot more bloodletting than the more genteel Godzilla films. Our first glimpse of Gyaos comes when he eats an annoying reporter. When Gamera first arrives on the scene, Gyaos shoots his ultra-sharp beam, and makes Gamera bleed copious amounts of green blood. Gamera replies with his flaming breath, and the initial encounter is a stalemate.

How about a little fire, Scarecrow!

Gyaos is typical of the opponents in the Gamera films. The suit looks cheaper than Godzilla's opponents. Interestingly, it has a pair of weaknesses. One, because of its twin throats, it cannot turn its head. Also, its flesh shrinks from, ultraviolet light. Both of these are ultimately irrelevant, since Gamera dumps its enemy into a volcano. Like Rodan, Gyaos can cause hurricane-force winds with its mighty wings, which is how it defeats the Japanese self-defence forces. After doing so, it takea s flying tour of Nagoya, destroying Nagoya Castle (last seen in Godzila vs Mothra) in the process.

And there goes the castle... again.

In a second, bloody confrontation (Gyaos's blood is purple), Gamera tears off two of his enemy's toes, which are discovered floating in the bay and hauled to a lab for analysis. Luckily, Gyaos doesn't possess the recuperative powers of Reptilicus. It regenerates the toes, but the toes do not create another Gyaos. After some experimentation, it is determined that Gyaos's flesh shrinks when exposed to ultraviolet light. Like the creature's inability to turn its head, this is not part of Gamera's solution, but it serves to give the humans something to do while Gamera is under the sea, healing his cuts.

Really, just another reason not to swim in Ise Bay.

The humans' crazy-ass solution is to get Gyaos, a flying creature, onto a turntable to disorient it. To lure it, scientists will have to create an articifial blood that will lure Gyaos to the spot. Which they do, quite quickly. This is the same wacky logic that led us to multi-ton turtle into space in Gamera. Of course, this fails. The military revs the turntable too high, like the commander melting the relays in Godzilla vs Mothra, and the motor shorts out allowing Gyaos to escape. Poisoning the bait, I have to assume, was too technically complex.

Gyaos is totally not drunk. Now if this turntable would just stop moving...

The next awesome plan, suggested by Eiichi, is to set a forest fire, since Gyaos doesn't like fire, and Gamera loves it. Of course, it works, and the two gigantic monsters have their final showdown in a somewhat less impressive forest fire than Frankenstein and Barugon got. Oh, and Gyaos has some sort of fire-extinguishing mist that it sprays from it's abdomen. Gamera is able to stop Gyaos's most dangerous weapon, the sonic beam, by throwing a rock into its mouth. After that he gets a grip on Gyaos's neck, and hauls him into a volcano. Vulnerability to ultraviolet radiation? Unhelpful. Discovery that Gyaos can't turn his head? Also unhelpful. And then it's a kids' chorus singing Gamera's praises as we see the giant turtle's greatest hits behind the credits.

And now for some prehistoric monster on prehistoric monster action.

Gamera just unable to hold my interest. Yeah, it's a giant monster, but the human stories are so astonishingly goofy. The concentration on the kid, the uselessness of all adults, fact that Eiichi is the only person who can make a worthwhile contribution to the defense of Japan, all make me roll my eyes. Yes, I understand that it was a terrible time in writing and film history. The dead-end plots that point out Gyaos' vulnerabilities and then do nothing with them. Showing us Gyaos's weird powers (it can emit flame-retardant?) and then not using them for anything significant. All of these disappoint me, because Checkov's Gun is a wonderful thing when it is handled properly. But that requires effort on the part of the writer. Godzilla films of the era aren't much better. I really didn't like Son of Godzilla. There's no subtlety, no subtext to these films. They are being churned out on a schedule, which means that if a good idea can't be had, a mediocre one will do, and a bad one will get used if a mediocre one isn't available.

Wait, he can do WHAT?

Next week, the biggest Thanksgiving Turkey to ever grace the screen!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In Gamera's Footsteps: Son of Godzilla

In Kaiju-fancying circles, 1966 and 1967 are referred to as the year of monther explosion. And with good reason. Six monster films were released in 1967, four from Japan, including two from companies that had never released a monster film previously, and two from Korea. While the quality of the results was mixed, to say the least, the Japanese movie-goer was spoiled for choice.

With Godzilla films on the wane, (sales plumetted nearly a million tickets between Ghidorah the Three-Dead Monster and Ebirah, Horror of the Deep) Toho decided to court the very same audience that the Gamera franchise was aimed toward: children. And what better way to target kids than to give Godzilla a son of his own? Ultimately, the strategy didn't work. If Toho thought the previous drop, a million ticket decline in two films was bad, Son of Godzilla sold a million less tickets than Ebirah.

In what could not possibly happen in an American film, we have a group of scientists conducting a secret experiment in order to better the world. Their aim is to make dry lands habitable, and at the same time realize that the technology could be abused by irresponsible or evil people. This is very different from the American view of scientists, whoch begins on a platform of mistrust. Even films or TV series that ostensibly favor brilliant scientists, such as Euraka, often show sceince as an inconsistent ally at best, and a barely-understood menace at worst. The Godzilla franchise, and Japan in general, has a more ambivalent view towards science and scientists. Even though the initial experiment goes rather awry, the island scientists continue their work.

So we're working on Monster Island... anything strange on the scopes?

The monster work is fairly unique. Eiji Tsubaraya only 'oversaw' the effects in Son of Godzilla, with Sadamasa Arikawa doing the daily work of putting the monsters on screen. And the results, overall, are good. The island mantises, Kamacuras, are large, menacing marionettes, an interesting change from the usual guy in a suit monsters. Kumonga, a giant spider, is also a marionette, and looks excellent.

We need a can of RAID the size of the Empire State Building!

Don't look a gift spider in the mouth.

The same cannot be said for Godzilla Junior, Minilla.


The creation of a junior Godzilla is problematic at best. Although this film brought in much less than the previous film, and the more adult-oriented extravaganza Destroy All Monsters at least didn't lose ground, Toho continued their disastrous course of making Godzilla films that were more and more aimed toward children. The same continued to be true into the Milenneum series. The adult-oriented Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack grossed close to twenty million dollars, doubling the take from Godzilla vs Megaguirus, and bringing in four million more than the the next film, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla. But Toho refuses to see the film as anything more the kids fare, to the detriment of the films, and to their own financial loss.

Minilla is an amalgamation of everything cute that the writer and director could think of. It coos like a baby, wags its tail like a dog, chases its parent's tail like a cat, has tantrums when it doesn't get its way. Minilla is everything that adults think kids want, and the result is overpoweringly saccarine in a film franchise that began as a metaphor for nuclear testing.


Godzilla doesn't look quite right, either. To make him look less threatening, he's got large eyes and a narrow head. The head of Haruo Nakajima looks like a goiter in Godzilla's throat.

Man, this erupting from the water thing is starting to hurt my back.

Several of Jun Fukuda's favorite tropes return here. As with Ebirah, this island has a competent, wild jungle woman as a love interest. She has some control over Minilla, as the Red Bamboo had over Ebirah. Monster-control would be more fully developed in Ishiro Honda's Destroy all Monsters. Once again, a gigantic monster is buried on an island, although this time, it's Kumonga, rather than Godzilla.

We'll have the sexy, wild woman feed fruit to Godzilla's son.  YEAH, GENIUS!

And the monster action, when there is action, is pretty good. Godzilla lays the atomic smackdown on the Kamacuras and the Kumonga. However, there are long period in which he interacts with Minilla, acting as a father figure. How did the gigantic avatar of destruction come to be a father standing over his son?

Nuclear metaphor or stern dad.

Son of Godzilla is close to the worst of the Godzilla franchise. The human action is inane, the monster action, although there is a lot of it, is generally ruined by Minilla mugging, cowering, and making "adorable" noises. Next week, Gamera hits just about the same note.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day, Remembrance Day, Armistace Day

11/11/18, the guns fell silent, leaving a generation dead, crippled, stunned.

We need to remember the consequences of our actions, care for who have been hurt in our service. To all of you who served, I salute you. Until there is no more war, we should be mindful of those who gave, and not just those who gave everything.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Godzilla on Another Continent: Gogola

I have come to a unique point in My Year of Monsters: a giant monster movie I haven't seen. In fact, nobody has seen it for at least twenty years. Gogola is listed as a lost film, and those few Virtually everything I know about Gogola comes from a single blog entry, from Pedro the Ape Bomb. AT the same time, there seems to be enough surrounding evidence to say that {edro didn't make it up. We have some newspaper ads, and it is mantioned in many Bollywood film lists, although sometimes they don't agree whether the film was released in 1965 or 1966. On-line searches are difficult to do because gogola is also the trade name of a company that makes golas, Indian frozen desserts. Google will include a lot of Nickolai Gogol search results in a Gogola search.

Cineplot, which is rather difficult to navigate, has a picture of the booklet.

The Cover booklet from Gogola, as provided by Cineplot

Pedro the Ape gives us the only photo of the suit, from an English-language ad. Who could possibly resist the allure of "Thrills, Suspense, and What-Not"?

Gogola, and what-not

As with many people who are aware of this film, I would love to see the combination of Hindi film-making and a completely novel studio working in suitimation. The suit certainly looks interesting, the teeth jagging out of the mouth in a very fierce fashion. There have been other, brief suitmation sequences in Bollywood films of the preiod. For example, the 1962 King Kong (which has nothing to do with a giant ape, and instead refers to a wrestler hero), in which our hero Jungu goes up against the Smoke Monster.

I would love to watch a Godzilla pastiche by these guys. But sadly, the film appears to be lost. Hopefully it will emerge again some day, as so many lost films have. Because I want to watch a Bollywood Godzilla. Until then, I can only console myself with the soundtrack, which is ridiculously easy to find, and dream of what the film might be like. Perhaps in the post Pacific Rim cinescape, we will get a modern Bollywood Kaiju film. Wouldn't that be something to look forward to?

Next week, back to Godzilla. And this time, he's following in Gamera's footsteps.