Thursday, January 9, 2014

Imagine Monsters: All Monsters Attack

The irony of 1969's All Monsters Attack, renamed in the States as Godzilla's Revenge is that it's considered by many to be the worst Godzilla film made, yet it was directed by the revered Ishiro Honda. Immediately notable is the really annoying acid-rock style intro song. If nothing else indicates that recreational amphetamines had finally reached Japan, this song is it. Akira Ifukube did not contribute to this film, and his presence is sorely missed.

David Kalat is kinder to this film than I have been in previous viewings. He raises the excellent point that this is a kids' film which addresses, however inept this might appear to me in America nearly fifty years later, the plight of the latchkey kid, something that was a serious social concern in Japan when this film was made. Our child protagonist, Ichiro, wears the same shorts as do most kid protagonists of the era. The main difference is that Ichiro's parents aren't around because they work, which is made explicit with an early film encounter between Ichiro and his father, who tells his son that he has to work late, and that Ichiro should take care of the house until his mother comes home.

Ichiro is at odds with children his own age, they bully him, and he seems to have no resource to adults to protect him. The inventor who lives in Ichiro's building is more his speed. As an artist/scientist, Shinpei can relate to the imaginative Ichiro in a way that kids his age cannot. And Ichiro is polite to him. When his parents both cannot come home, Shinpei feeds Ichiro. But Ichiro won't touch the beef until he is assured his host can afford it. That's pretty polite.

Kids and computers? They'll never mix.

The film establishes itself in a busy, industrial landscape of rusting metal, brown smoke, rushing cars, and clouded, polluted skies. Honda's bleak urban landscape has a depressing start to a kids' film, but it emphasizes the richness of Ichiro's imaginative escape to the lush Monster Island.

As desolate an urban landscape as you please.

It's worth pointing out that the film's monster sequences are in Ichiro's imagination. He has a monster toy in his closet, and his initial flight to Monster Island is made with the assistance of a 'computer' with crayon-drawn dials. Once he is on the flgiht to Monster Island, he imagines the rest of the passengers away. This could also explain the repetition of monster fights from the previous films, Ichiro is replaying them in his mind. He begins to repeating the sequences he has seen, and then moves on to creating his own, with Godzilla taking on Gabara, the kaiju incarnation of Ichiro's bully, at the end of the film.

Ichiro, with his toy computer and monster.

And now, we get rid of the rest of the passengers.

Gabara is sort of a standard monster. He's got some red hair, bumpy skin, no tail, and a mocking cry that sounds like nasty laughter. He's perfect for what he is--a monster invented to personify bullies. He has no berath or distance weapon. He can send what are apparently surges of electricity through his hands, giving him a killer grip. This is true to his metaphor--you run from a bully.

Gabara, the bully monster.

Godzilla, as father-figure to Minilla, forces him to fight Gabara, despite the bully-kaiju being twice his mass. Seeing that Minilla is overmatched, Godzilla steps in, and finally, Gabra gets the thrashing that we have all been waiting for. And while this is what we as the audience want, Godzilla in a fight we haven't seen yet, it undermines the film's message (which comes home when Ichiro tricks some bank robbers) of self-reliance.

A Godzilla film with as little Godzilla as possible.

This was a film aimed at children, and as I have said before, Godzilla films that aim at children as the audience tend to fail. All Monsters Attack was the first Godzilla film to sell less than two million tickets. While this was not intended to compete with the extraviganza that was Destroy All Monsters, the drop off is notable. The next film in the series, Godzilla vs Hedorah, controversial and strange as it is, sold a quarter of a million more tickets.

When your buddy is a doughy monster with terrible teeth, you may want to reconsider your imagination.

Having learned from his imaginary monster friends, Ichiro turns the end of the film into Home Alone, defeating the thieves we have heard about. He then spends some time with his mother, who swears she will never spend a late night at her job again. Ichiro stands up to his bully, then goes on an explosive tear, dong what the bully's gang dared him to do earlier. Is this the freedom of someone who has been oppressed getting a little clean fun in, or the start of a psychotic little crime spree as the oppressed turns into the oppressor? Has Ichiro joined the bully's gang? Taken it over? The film is silent, ending before telling us the answer.

Bukakke accomplished. Ho ho ho.

The final shot is the kids, all together, still in the polluted industrial landscape. The smaller problem has been solved, but the society and conditions that created the problem still exist.

Well, there's a happy ending and no doubt!

All Monsters Attack is unsatisfactory for most Godzilla fans for two reasons. One, Godzilla isn't the focus of the story. It's really a story about Ichiro and how his imaginary friends, who could have been anyone, help him with his bully problem. And that probably would have been forgivable if the new Godzilla sequences had been longer, or more compelling. But the low budget is once again in evidence, and the fight is less than satisfying. I'm more forgiving of the film because I think I can see what the film was trying to say, but it's not a film I'm going to pull out for sheer enjoyment value.

Next week, Giant Turtle vs Knifehead.

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