Thursday, February 20, 2014

Stupid? Or Advanced? Godzilla vs Gigan

Godzilla vs Hedorah was considered an artistic failure by Toho, even though it sold a quarter of a million more tickets. To re-establish the status quo, Toho brought Jun Fukuda in again. Fukuda's Gigan was much less expensive than Hedorah.

Godzilla vs Gigan acknowledges the rise of manga sequential art. If there's two things Americans know about Japan, it's Godzilla and manga. The main character is a struggling artist, the first scenes are of him trying to sell a concept to an editor. It's an interesting way to create metafiction; Gengo is creating monsters as symbols, something that the Godzilla films no longer do. The editor he's trying to sell to tells him that kids are too sophisticated for something as simple as a monster made of homework. Although metaphorical on one level, it's too superficial, too one-dimensional. The original Godzilla film works not just as a monster film, but as a film that allows the viewer to dig multiple interpretations out of it, should they try. Something as simple as a monster based on the fear of homework is unlayered, understood the first time around. That said, it sounds suspiciously like a Pokemon.

So looks like a Pokemon

Of course, the aliens buy Gondo's one-dimensional monsters. They don't have the media savvy humans do. And of course the aliens are intent on taking over the Earth. They're from something called the M-Space Hunter Nebula, which seems like a long and ominous name for a celestial object. For all that this film is a rejection of Hedorah, it has a similar theme, and even pinches some footage from it. The M-Space Hunter Nebula Aliens (hereafter referred to as The Roaches because it's easier to type) have come from another planet that got polluted, and as a result, they're looking for another home. Like Earth. But the Roaches were not the species that polluted M-Space Hunter Nebula Planet. The humanoids all died, leaving the roach-like creatures to inherit the planet, and then go seeking a better one.

A terrifying roach's shadow.

Another change in this film is the character of Tomoko Tomoe. She's pretty, and although in a subordinate role to Gondo, who hired her, a martial artist and an 'assistant' who keeps Gondo focussed. Despite being the muscle of the party, she's the one who screams and nearly faints when the Roachs' true form is revealed. And while she takes out bad guys in two scenes, she doesn't actually do much else. Like so many other women in Godzilla films, she fades into the background. But I'm grateful she at least got to beat up some bad guys.

Tomoko kicks some ass.

Echoing a lot of the turmoil of the seventies, Gengo gets mixed up with a strange pair, Michiko and her weird hippy buddy Shosa. They're convinced that World Children's Land is something evil. They look like the desperately sincere college students cum fashion victims who latch onto causes. So the two of them team up with Gendo and Tomoko, forming a serviceable Scooby Gang.

Your terrible clothing should keep monsters away.

Gigan is also famous for having Godzilla and Anguirus talk to each other. Monsters have talked with each other before. In Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, the shobijin translate a conversation between Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra. They're clearly using language. Here, each monster is provided with a cartoon-like speech bubble. In the American, version, each monster has a distorted voice. It's awful. But again, this ties in with the manga theme.

Really, he's telling Anguirus to get stuffed

The use of stock footage in this film is much more competent than in the Gamera films or in previous Godzilla films. Instead of inserting entire sequences, Fukuda uses snippets, which allows him to draw from several films, and hide the fact that he's using it. Although there is a sequence taken from Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster that is carefully edited around Mothra, and Rodan.

This is not a good film for Ghodorah. I like Ghidorah. At his best, he's a wild dragon hammering away at everything in sight, chaos and destruction incarnate. In this, he is surprisingly immobile. The Ghidorah suit has some sort of beard or whiskers, and this serves mainly to show the attentive audience member when stock footage is being used.

Maybe it's some sort of space fungus.

Gigan is the first really weird monster to show up from Toho. Godzilla, Anguirus, even Ghidorah are all of a whole; gigantic creatures. Gigan seems to be a melding of technology and creature. It has large metal hooks instead of hands, and a buzzsaw in its belly. We are shown it using its belly-saw to cut into a building, but it's a giant monster. Why not just knowck the damn building down? Like many monsters, Gigan doesn't have an origin. Perhaps it was constructed or modified by the Roaches? Whatever, it's the first monster that really looks designed.


Godzilla spends a lot, and I mean a lot of time swimming. He is coming from Monster Island, and the film occasionally vuts from the destruction of Tokyo to Godzilla and Anguirus swimming. It's a bit of a waste, but i remember it being worse in Godzilla vs Megalon. The fight scenes are shot in such a way that they include more explosions than actual monster action. How the fight is actually going is a bit of a mystery, since the cinematography is so murky. This is a common way to shoot around actors who don't look good in fights.

The Godzilla tower is the center of the action, but only in the last half an hour is it revealed that it has lasers in its mouth. This feels like the beginning of the idea, or perhaps a branch off the idea, that leads to Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, in which Godzilla is confronted with a duplicate of itself.

I have laser breath, too!

The fight is primarily between Gigan, Godzilla, the Godzilla tower, and Aguirus. Ghidorah stands in the background, playibng goalie, perhaps. But the Godzilla Tower does a great job of keeping Godzilla down until the Scooby Gang, with the help of the military, blow the tower up. Even after that, he's pretty passive. Gigan picks him up and begins smashing him in the head with those hook arms of his. Godzilla doesn't get a second wind until his double, the Godzilla Tower, is destroyed.

Godzilla having his ass kicked by a building. Ironic as all hell.

In order to save money, the Godzilla suit is the same one that was used in Destroy All Monsters, All Monsters Attack, and Godzilla vs Hedorah. At the end of this film, bits are literally flying off the suit as the actor moves around in it.

I have laser breath, too!

Anguirus cements his reputation of Showa Godzilla's best buddy. They stand against Gigan, Ghidorah, and the Godzilla tower, much as he did in Destroy All Monsters. His new trick (never repeated outside of this film) is to fling himself backwards, smashing his opponent with his spiky back. It's not a convincing attack, but at least it gives the monster something more than just claws and bite to attack with.

So a buddy-monster film

The two evil monsters fly off, the Roaches are dead. All in all, it's a happy ending for the film. There's some interesting ideas underlying Godzilla vs Gigan, but the execution just doesn't keep my attention. The majority of the human action is dull, and the monster fight murky. It's not the best film, but the budget being what it was, this is understandable. But not all that re-watchable.

Next up, Tsuburaya celebrates ten years. And it's kind of weird.

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