Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Series Report Card: Godzilla (1969)
10. Godzilla’s Revenge
Gojira - Minira - Gabara: Oru Kaiju Daishingeki / All Monsters Attack
“Godzilla’s Revenge” is widely considered the worse Godzilla movie ever made. The series had become sillier and more kid-friendly the further into the sixties it went. Yet even the previous benchmark for kaiju-related goofiness, “Son of Godzilla,” was only partially for little kids. All previous films in the series featured something for the grown-ups in the audience. “Godzilla’s Revenge’ dispels with all of that, focusing squarely on the young children watching at home. The movie’s overbearingly kiddy tone, silly storyline, and overuse of stock footage certainly makes it a prime candidate for Worst Godzilla Movie Ever. However, is it really that bad?
One of the problems I have with the film is that there’s no good title for it. The original Japanese title, and Toho’s chosen international title, is “All Monsters Attack.” This is a very misleading title, as it makes the film sound like a direct sequel to “Destroy All Monsters,” another kaiju battle royale. It’s not. Though it’s true that many monsters appear in the film, all appearances are via the magic of stock footage. The film’s English title, “Godzilla’s Revenge,” is only slightly less misleading. That title makes it sound like a direct sequel to the original movie, Godzilla wrecking bloody vengeance upon man for his defeat. It’s not that either. Godzilla does get revenge on somebody but it’s not for himself and it’s not against any previously known enemy. A more accurate name for the film should have been something like “Ichiro and Minilla’s Wacky Adventure!” or “Son of Godzilla Teaches Life Lessons!”
The story focuses on Ichiro, a kid about seven. Ichiro is a latchkey kid, both parents working most of the day. He doesn’t have many friends, aside from a little girl that doesn’t seem to like him very much and a toy inventor that lives next door. Worse yet, Ichiro is constantly bullied by a group of kids, led by a tiny asshole nicknamed Gabara. Ichiro is obsessed with monsters, maybe more-so then your average boy. When times get tough, he escapes into a fantasy world, traveling to the mythical Monster Island. There he meets Minilla, the Son of Godzilla, who is having problems with a bully of his own, an oni-like giant monster also named Gabara. The boy and monster bond, Minilla learning to stand up for himself from his own dad, Godzilla. The lessons Ichiro learn from the monsters come in handy when he is abducted by a group of bank robbers and has to fend for himself, Kevin McCallister-style.
March of the Monsters” plays. The song is sung by a shrieking woman, screaming various monsters’ names at a high-pitch. Such a grating opening is bound to send many viewers running. Like in the Gamera films that were starting to nudge into Godzilla’s territory, this movie is heavy on screaming kids running around in tiny shorts. Ichiro’s fantastical journey to Monster Island is shown with psychedelic colors and a trip on an empty, pilotless plane. When Ichiro meets up with Minilla, the two actually talk, the monster standing at the same size as the young boy. Adding to the ridiculousness is that Minilla can apparently change size, Ultraman-style, when confronted with Gabara. The funniest moment is when Minilla’s appears in a bubble to personally inspire Ichiro. All of this contradicts the previous Godzilla movies. Of course, that doesn’t matter, since the story takes place within a young boy’s imagination. I’m not even sure the film takes place in the same shared universe as the other Godzilla movies. Does a layer of meta detachment actually place the film in our world, where Godzilla is only a beloved pop culture icon and not a city stomping terror?
For all its kid-targeted absurdity, what I truly dislike about “Godzilla’s Revenge” is the sheer amount of stock footage. Upon arriving on Monster Island, Ichiro witnesses Godzilla’s battle with the giant mantises from “Son of Godzilla.” We later see most of Godzilla’s fight with the giant spider Kumongo from the same film. “Godzilla Versus the Sea Monster” is also generously mined. We revisit the first confrontation with Ebirah, the brief scuffle with the giant condor, and, most incongruously, Godzilla’s firefight with a fleet of jets. We even get a few brief cameos from Gorosaurus, Manda, and Anguilus, taken from “Destroy All Monsters” and “King Kong Escapes.” There is no unique monster battle footage until 39 minutes into this 69-minute long movie.
Another issue is that the sequences focused on Ichiro’s home life are long and have a maudlin pace. Tomonori Yazaki actually gives a good performance, never rising to the shrieking obnoxiousness seen in the Gamera movies of the same era. His relationship with Eisei Amamoto never comes off as creepy, mostly thanks to Amamoto’s likable performance. Yet these human-focused bits are paced on such a relaxed level that it robs the movie of any energy. Did we really need a long sequence of Ichiro snacking and watching boring television?
Yet there seems to be a weirdly personal aspect to the movie, no doubt coming from director Honda. We must remember that Honda was a contemporary and a close friend of Akira Kurasawa. Before monster movies took over his career, it’s easy to imagine Honda going on to a similar career of critically acclaimed, low-key dramas. The movie focuses on the urban decade of the city setting, the pollution spewing into the air, the abandoned buildings, and sludge-filled rivers. The story concludes on a surprisingly downbeat moment. Ichiro stands up against his own bully, emerging victorious. After winning, the young boy sets out on a petty rampage, tormenting a near-by sign painter. Is the cycle of cruelty starting over? Is the bullied youth destined to become a bully himself? Honda is clearly making some sort of statement about society. However, a goofy, oddball giant monster movie might have been the wrong forum to present such a statement.
Long stretches of “All Monsters Attack” are hard to take. Yet a patient giant monster enthusiast can find some lovably wacky action within. Minilla’s first fistfight with Gabara starts dramatically, the scene cutting in the middle of the action. Gabara has a superpower, naturally, able to spread paralyzing electric shocks from his hand. If you hate Minilla and want to see him beaten up, this movie might be for you. Gabara knocks the dwarf monster on his ass repeatedly, feeding him a knuckle sandwich a few times. Godzilla’s attempt to train Minilla continues to show the King of the Kaijus as a… Difficult father. When the little monster wants to run away from his bully, Godzilla knees him in the chest, forcing him to fight. Minilla emerges triumphant eventually, biting Gabara and spraying him with fire breath. The bully monster is truly defeated with Ichiro’s help. Gabara is shot through the air with a make-shift seesaw, a hilariously over-the-top moment. The bully’s attempt to fight Godzilla doesn’t go well for him, as he is punched, stomped on, and tossed over shoulder. Though its buried in a deeply juvenile movie, there is some worthwhile kaiju carnage on display here. It’s help that the excellent Godzilla suit from “Destroy All Monsters” is employed again. Gabara, looking like a scaly, wart-covered version of Bill the Cat, is a much less intimidating monster. His monster roar sounds like your tape deck just ate your Van Halen cassette.
Original Godzilla director Ishiro Honda returned for this one but composer Akira Ifukube didn’t. Instead, Kunio Miyauchi supplied the music. Like “Godzilla Versus the Sea Monster,” the film has a catchy, surf-rock influenced score. The jangly guitars and quick music certainly provides some energy to the movie, even the recycled bits. The American cut mostly maintains Miyauchi’s score but occasionally provides saccharine stock music or a groovy, psychedelic theme of its own.
I suspect “Godzilla’s Revenge’s” negative reputation is mostly owed to its American dub. The dubbing is absurd, the voices’ ridiculous and the dialogue frequently laughable. The worse offender is Minilla. The Japanese version gives the monster a soft, feminine voice that sounds young but isn’t annoying. The American cut dubs in a doofy sounding voice that is very reminiscent of Mortimer Snerd. While neither version is great, the original Japanese cut proves far more tolerable.