Thursday, February 27, 2014

Kids stuff: Daigoro vs Goliath

Eiji Tsuburaya, effects wizard responsible for Godzilla, founded his own studio, Tsuburaya Productions, in 1963. Although a loyal company man who continued working for Toho, his studio produced some of the most influential television in the history of Japan: Ultra Q, then Ultraman, which spawned dozens fo imitations and a series of shows that continues today. The influence of Ultraman and similar shows had on Japanese monster films is enormous. Among other elements, the easy availability of monster-fighting television shows probably had a cooling effect on monster movie income after the mid sixties.

Daigoro vs Goliath was made to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Tsuburaya Productions. Eiji was already dead, but his company was thriving. It's a kids' film, filled with the things adult movie producers think kids love: Wacky sound effects, broad humor, goofy-looking tame monsters.

Daigoro. Goofy. About as endearing as Minilla.

We start with an inventor uncle who is creating a flying motorcycle (visually similar to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). He claims he will be doing it for Daigoro. This turns out to be a pudgy, tame monster who lives on an otherwise abandoned beach. Daigoro needs a lot of food, and his budget is pretty slim. We can easily see the metaphor, since this was a time in which Toho was cutting the budgets of their monster films. Daigoro clearly understands Japanese, and sometimes gets his feelings hurt. More than Godzilla, this is a monster children can see themselves in. But only when they are children.

I bet his accent is better thsn Dck van Dyke's.

Flashback to Daigoro's mother, stomping a city flat in the moare traditional fashion. She was awakened by the crash of a nuclear submarine. Unlike most kaiju, she is femaly, and even looks so, with her long flowing hair. Even as she was killed, she gave birth to Diagoro, who has never known anything but the nurture of humans.


Monster films have a set of expectations, one of them is a distance energy weapon, and another is that two or more giant monsters will fight. So half-way through Daigoro vs Goliath, Goliath shows up. He immediately finds Daigoro, and the two fight. It's clear that Daigoro, soft and pudgy as he is, it no match for the blue, horned Great Stellar Monster (Goliath).

The Great Stellar Monster. Terrifying.

After the first fight, Doigoro doesn't feel so good.

Diagoro does some Rocky-style training, while the Great Stellar Monster is wrecking stuff. The camera takes a few minutes to show us a montage of how beautiful the earth is, which is why we shouldn't use nukes. Daigoro, like Minella, has to learn to use his fire. Which he eventually does. Daigoro is no longer helpless.


Hijinks ensue, and the final confrontation is nevitable. Our Daigoro gets kicked around by the Great Stellar Monster until he unleashes his firey breath on his enemy's horn. After which the authorities strap the great Stellar Monster to a rocket and send back to space. And all the humans have a happy endng. No not that sort of happy ending.

Take that to your obvious, Accassible Focus!

And farewell to the Great Stellar Monster.

Daigoro is different from Gamera, in that he is not a 'friend to all children.' Although hs is as inoffensive a monster who would not voluntarily hurt humans, he is also supported by children. Kids contribute money to feed him, and cheer him on (from a safe distance), in the same way the audience does. This is also shows up in Gamera the Brave, although the estimation of the audience is one of greater sophistication. It's certainly a more palatable way to have children in a film. Brief shots of groups of kids shouting encouragement are a lot less annoying than one or two kids attempting to direct Gamera's fighting. Outside of that, it's an inconsequential kids' film that doesn't push any boundries. And no surprise. Kaiju film in the theater were in steep decline, and even Godzilla was going to go on hiatus three years later.

Next up, the most definite evidence that Ultraman was influencing Godzilla films; Jet Jaguar (and Godzilla) vs Megalon.

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.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Gamera Dies! Gamera vs Zigra

1971 was the swan song for the Gamera series. Increasing competition from Ultra-style television shows and smaller budgets meant that Gamera vs Zigra was the seventh and last Gamera film until 1980's Gamera: The Super Monster.

As with other films before, Gamera vs Zigra combines the science fiction, and a touch of nationalistic pride. (As with Yongarry, Invasion of Astro-Monster, and Destroy All Monsters, the desire for a national space program is strong. Japan has built a moon base. But in the first two minutes of the film, some nonhuman space jerks in the most outlandish UFO yet come along and blow it up. Gear up for another set of space invaders.

Japan's Moon base

Some of the action centers on Sea World, which is given plenty of screen time. I’m unsure if the original film can’t tell the difference between dolphins and orcas, or if it’s the translation, although I suspect it’s the original film.

Like Godzilla vs Hedorah, there is a social message on the evil of polluters, as the camera impresses on the viewer the friendliness and intelligence of sea lions and killer whales, rather than shown the terrible fate of fish in a tank. Science always creates pollution, we are told,and this is followed up when Zigra claims that he's from a scientifically advanced civilization the polluted its own planet. Zigra also has the shirt to dictate that if they leave the planet to the humans, we’ll cover the sea in sludge. But considering the later-revealed nature of Zigra, this isn't so strange in hindsight.

Killing the environment, Bob?

When two marine biologists and their underage stowaways are hit by the UFO's beam, we learn that it’s not destructive, but rather a transport beam. So we get to see the interior of the UFO. And it’s a pretty strange. Panels with moving, glowing lights are de rigeur at this point, and the quite attractive lady wearing a tight costume isn’t unexpected. The giant head of some sort of shark beast that’s covered in spiderwebs is definitely different. And it gets weirder. Apparently, it’s the commander of the ship. When the kids cleverly escape, the shark head starts giving the Zigran orders.

Sharkhead and Celestial Body 105

The pretty lady is eager to show the primitive hu-mans her advanced science. So she creates an earthquake of unimaginable power–magnitude 13, in downtown Tokyo. The scenes of destruction are reminiscent of those from Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again, with askew lamp posts, rubble, and smoke. We are only shown these scenes briefly, and through the viewfinder of the Zigran ship, so it doesn’t have the same effect it did in the 1954 films. But it’s a more serious moment in a film that is overall silly. Like the destruction of the moon base, this is undermined by the fact that it's never mentioned again.

WOAH! That's a lot of destruction!

Zigra plans on keeping humans as livestock, the same way that humans get fish from the sea. Again another dark moment, especially as it's underscored by footage of fish lined up on docks, ready to be shipped to market. Of course, if Zigra ate all the humans, a lot of species would bounce back, and there would be a greater variety of things to eat. But that might be too long-term of me. That the giant shark head explains this to the pretty lady on the bridge, letting us know that she is not Zigran after all, but a human super-hypnotized to do Zigra's will.

Oh sht, they know too much!

After Zigra threatens the world, the UN decides to attack, and we get some very pretty footage of real F104s taking off and flying in formation. But they’re no match for a single UFO with multicolored popcorn on its roof. Gamera must confront it underwater. It's well worth noting that both Gamera's leg jets as well as his fiery breath work perfectly well underwater. How that works, I don't know.

Calling this a loss for the UN

When the flame touches the UFO, it explodes, leaving Zigra, sort of a gigantic goblin shark, free. Now, Zigra has top fins rather like the UFO, so I'm not sure if it was imprisoned in the UFO, or if the fins were a stylistic parallel to make sure the two were identified. This feels like a repetition of Gamera vs Viras, substituting a shark for Viras' squid.

Underwater flame

Like the Smog Monster, Zigra changes from its initial appearance. When first released from the UFO, Zigra is small, less than a fifth the size of Gamera. After a little swimming around, it grows massively, easily matching Gamera for size. Gamera hauls it to the land, where it learns to walk upright. Once we are comfortably in man in suit taking on man in suit, the battle begins. Zigra hits Gamera with its beam weapon, and the gigantic turtle falls into the ocean, where the light in its eyes go out. That's right, Gamera dies.

the Death of Gamera

At the same time, the woman from the Zigra ship is looking to kill the two kids who escaped from the space ship. In order not to arouse suspision, she takes the clothes of the first person she meets. Which happens to be a bikini. And the camera makes sure you're quite aware that Eiko Yanami is quite lovely.

Did you even notice the car in that picture?

Left to their own devices, the humans figure out how to break the Zigran hypnotism, and as it turns out Celestial Body 105, the woman who first met the humans on the Zigran ship, is Chikako Sugawara, a geologist from the moon base whose destruction we never hear anything about. How she was able to hypnotize people so instantly with her red eye flashes? We dunno. An alteration to her brain waves, I guess.

Zigra in its preferred environment

Fortunately, a thunderstorm rolls up and brings Gamera back to life. And just as humanity is getting really depressed about begoming fish food, Gamera confronts the Zigra. Who is asleep at the bottom of the sea. asleep. Does Gamera take the initiative and attack the giant shark as it snores? Of course not! It steals a bathysphere! Because that's not something it'll be able to do when Zigra is dead, or something.

the Death of Gamera

Zigra is a pretty interesting monster, very sharklike, and unapologetically evil. I mean, really evil. It tells people it's going to keep them like farm animals and eat them. It's got a couple of ray weapons, neither of which is really well explained. Zigra also has very sharp fins, and cuts Gamera with them. In fact, it's the first enemy to penetrate Gamera's lower shell. Like Viras, Gamera neutralizes Zigra by throwing a rock on its nose. Gamera then plays its own theme on Zigra's sharp spines. As the kids shout encouragement, it roasts the shark with its fire breath. Then it's all over but the anti-pollution message.

And roasted outer-space shark

And that's it for Gamera's initial run. There's another Gamera film after nine years, Gamera, the Super Monster, but that's got its own problems. Gamera hasn't been my favorite film series. The rapid descent into kids' fare really crippled the series for me, making it difficult to appreciate. Watching them in such rapid sequence also reinforces the repetitive and formulaic nature of the narrative. Gamera encounters the bad monster, makes a wounded retreat, then returns with a successful counterattack. Gamera is not my favorite monster mostly because it does not take itself or its narrative seriously. Until Shûsuke Kaneko and Kazunori Itô get their hands on the franchise, the Gamera films are meant to be one-off films that don't require much thought. Something that doesn't stand up to analysis because the creators weren't creating something deep. They were creating something for right now.

Next week, Godzilla battles his first cyborg.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Avant Garde or Just Crap? Godzilla vs Hedorah

Few Godzilla films divide the fanbase as much as Godzilla vs Hedorah. Toho had taken 1970 without producing a Godzilla film, and decided to bring the Big Guy back in 1971. The budget was tiny, and director Yoshimitsu Banno had just thirty days to complete his film. Banno was a rising star in Toho's fold; he'd been assistant director to Kurasawa on such projects as Throne of Blood and The Bad Sleep Well. A film he'd directed for Japan's 1970 World Expo (as seen in Gamera vs Jiger), The Birth of the Japanese Islands, was immensely successful. So Banno seemed the logical choice to carry one of Toho's flagship franchises. But it wasn't a happy assignment.

The film itself is very much a product of 70's style. With hallucinations, protests, a lot of electric bass in its soundtrack, an open-air acid rock concert, this film very accurately reflects the chaotic early seventies. In addition to making it feel dated, I have to say that I really hate the 70's post-hippie culture. The styles were ugly and clashed; plaid and patterns do not make a good ensemble. The club scenes may be accurate, but they're also hideous.

I'd drink if I was wearing that tie with that shirt.

The seventies were also a time of increased environmental consciousness. Banno had read Silent Spring before writing Godzilla vs Hedorah, and decided that a monster made of pollution would make an excellent social statement. This effectively merges the social messages from two previous films; the caution against nuclear pollution from the original Godzilla, as well as the caution against commercial greed from Mothra vs Godzilla. Viewed from that perspective, this fits in well with some of Godzilla's classics.

I'd drink if I was wearing that tie with that shirt.

After the song that introduces the film, we have a sequence in which a young boy, Ken, plays with his Godzilla figure. Therefore, this world is on in which Godzilla has some sort of fanbase. But we learn that Ken likes Superman, also. Other toys include a Ghidorah, Ultraman, and possibly a Guilala. There's a bit of a shock when we discover that the cheery birdsong we've been hearing is from a plastic bird.

I wonder if that weird Ichiro wants to come over and play?

Ken seems to have a connection to Godzilla, although it's quite questionable whether this is true or really in the kid's head. So he doesn't so much resemble the majority of the annoying kids from the Gamera franchise, but more the Toshio from the original Gamera. And he's just not as annoying, partially because the film doesn't focus a lot on him, but also because the film is so grim.

Ken's father Toru is a scientist, some sort of ocean biologist, who keeps a tank of fish. Those of us who remember what happened to the fish in the original Godzilla look on this tank as a sort of Chekov's gun. When will those fish be reduced to skeletons? Banno uses those fish as a metaphor several times. Japan, after all, is an island, and fishing is incredibly important to the diet of the Japanese. When there are no more fish because the ocean is toxic, what are they going to eat? Further, as the young kids dance around in their disco, we get a hallucination that they all have fish heads. And the fish are dying. This may be heavy-handed 'we're all connected' metaphor, it's at least understandable. Drectly after the hallucination ends, Hedorah's slime enters the club.

Hello, happy fish!

It sucks to be a fish in this film.

Scientist-Dad is brought a strange monstrous tadpole, which is how the family gets directly involved in the monster action. While looking for the monster Toru is coated with acidic slime on the left side of his head. Hedorah is not like other monsters. His very presence is toxic. This is one of the tropes picked up by Pacific Rim. Kind of wish I hadn't gone looking for that monster, now.

Hedorah is like many other kaiju, coming from the sea, but his provenance deserves a bit of discussion. Where Godzilla comes from the sea like a hurricane, Hedorah does so because the sea is polluted. Strange chemicals have combined to make him, and when Godzilla punches him, he gets burned. So the usual wrestling and boxing aren't going to be options in this fight. Further, he is the first example of the monster that changes form. First he is a giant tadbpole, then a walking, drippy humanoid, and finally a flying whatever.

Hedorah take a hit of Ol' factory Smog.

Unlike many monsters, Hedora's sound design is excellent. It has a large number of moods, expressed through sound. It's got a weird humming purr when it's happy, such as when it's taking a hit from a factory smokestack. There's also the strange trill it uses for a roar. It even laughs.

Godzilla vs Hedorah is the first Godzilla film with a body count. The newscasters, a staple of the franchise, talk abot the number of people dead and wounded in the wake of the first monster fight. And in a surprisingly graphic death scene after Hedorah flies over a group of people. They begin to melt away, reduced to skeletons by the time Ken arrives.

Kid's film or what?

Every action by the humans stews in the camera's dissaproval. Hedorah is the first monster that mankind has not merely pissed of, but actually created. Godzilla must fight Hedorah because humanity can't remove its head from its collective ass long enough to get anything done. News reports are inaccurate to the point of fatality. Dozens of television screens contain screaming faces, turning their speech into a jumble of voices that eventually becomes a meaningless jumble of colors. A million-person jam for the environment attracts only a few hundred people, who dance and do nothing else. The dancers throw torches at Hedorah, only to be cut down by its acid mudballs. The military, useless for anything but show in the Godzilla franchise, can't even get electricity to it's killing weapon, requiring Godzilla to use his atomic breath to power is. This is a deeply misanthropic film. No human comes out unscathed or looking competent. However, this feeds in to Godzilla's continued development as a hero, since he is the only thing that can stand against Hedorah. In fact, Godzilla is first shown against the rising sun, the symbol of Japan.

Godzilla resurgent.

The film is notable for being the first in which Kenpachiro Satsuma wears a monster suit. Satsuma would become the Godzilla suit actor for the Heisei series, from 1985 to 1996. Few Godzilla films have made the suit seem small by comparison, but Hedorah's massive and bulky suit does exactly that. Eye-damage is a recurring theme. Dr. Yano's eye is patched over with his bandage, Godzilla takes a acid sludge-ball to the eye, and he returns the favor by putting out one of Hedorah's great red eyes.

Hedorah, exctending his thinking brain.


The climax is unusual, in that Hedorah's defeat comes from Godzilla's atomic ray and the giant man-made electrodes. Hedorah is dehydrated into quiesence, after which Godzilla pulls a pair of orbs from the creature. Organs? Eggs? We'll never know. But those get reduced to dirt, as well. Godzilla doesn't seem affected by the power of the dehydrator.

Or are they his balls?

Hedorah isn't quite done yet. It tramsforms into its flying form and attempts to escape. And in what is one of the most infamous moments in Godzilla history, Godzilla uses his atomic breath as a jet, and flies, following him. If anything is a camp moment in this film, it's this moment.


Godzilla then dries Hedorah until it's textured like an arid stream bed, and pulls the creature apart. There's some perfunctory stuff showing us Ken isn't dead, and then we're done.

For all we know, they're his testicles

Whatever other criticism can be levelled at the film, and many can be, Banno created the film without reusing footage from other films. It's all original, and there's a large amount of monster action.


This was the last time Yoshimitsu Banno would work for Toho. Godzilla producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was in the hospital for the entire shoot, and lost his shit at seeing the completed film. Banno was banned from Godzilla, and film-making generally. His one further contribution was writer and assistant director for the 1974 The Prophecies of Nostrodamus. After that, his next involvement with Toho would be producing Godzilla 2014. It should be noted that Godzilla vs Hedorah sold a quarter of a million more tickets than Honda's All Monsters Attack. So the film wasn't a flop.

The film does not convey as easily as it wants to. It is certainly memorable, but the metaphors are strange and often convoluted. Many people are puzzled by the fish heads that appear on the dancers, for example. Drawing the line between that and the death of the fish in the bay is not easy, unless you've done a bit of research. Once I understood it better, I enjoyed the film more. But having to do work in order to understand a film is not something most people enjoy.

One of the many positive effects of the 2014 Godzilla resurgence is that Kraken Media have decided to release Godzilla vs Gigan, Godzilla vs Hedorah, and Ebirah, Horror of the Deep on DVD and Blu-Ray. I can't wait to pick mine up.