Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Series Report Card: Godzilla (1967)

8. Son of Godzilla 
Kaiju-to no Kessen: Gojira no Musuko

Little kids have always loved Godzilla. Of course they do. He combines the perennial appeal of dinosaurs, monsters, and superheroes. In the latter half of the sixties, Godzilla’s image was getting progressively sillier, in order to appeal to those young viewers more. In 1967, Toho made the decision to take that connection even further. Godzilla was to become a father. Kids looked up to the King of the Monsters. And, now, a little kaiju would look up to him too. Deep down, “Son of Godzilla” isn’t any goofier then the preceding few films. On the surface, however, it sure seems that way.

The film’s protagonist is the latest in a series of young, hot-shot reporters. Goro doesn’t let anything get in the way of his story. Not even the combination of a rain storm, a strange signal jamming the radio, or Godzilla swiping at the plane is enough to deter him. Soon, he parachutes down onto mysterious Solgoll Island. There, a group of scientists have been experimenting with weather controlling devices. However, their work is regularly interrupted by the island’s native population of giant mantis. Those same mantis soon crack open a giant egg, containing a baby dinosaur of the giant variety. The little monster’s cries for help attract Godzilla’s attention. Throw in a giant spider, a beautiful native girl, some monster father/son bonding time, and it becomes very difficult to control the weather around here.

“Son of Godzilla” marks the sophomore effort from the series’ new creative team. The film has some superficial similarities to Jun Fukuda’s previous Godzilla film, “Godzilla Versus the Sea Monster.” Both stories remove the monsters from their traditional urban setting, placing them on largely unpopulated tropical islands. Both have heroes hiding in caves from the battling monsters. Both end with the humans waving a heart-felt goodbye to Godzilla. However, “Son of Godzilla” has a more balanced tone and a stronger screenplay. Director Fukuda, composer Masaru Sato, and special effects director Sadamasa Arikawa are obviously more confident in their abilities this time. The film feels more like a Godzilla movie then the previous, oddball entry.

This poster is very groovy.
The best thing about “Son of Godzilla” is its soft, friendly, likable tone. It’s the first in the series since “King Kong vs. Godzilla” to feature no human villains. Like-wise, not a single building is smashed. Though the scientists want to complete their experiments, there’s no deadline. The movie has intentionally low-stakes. Instead, it captures a laid-back tropical atmosphere. Goro trades jokes with the scientist about vegetables and laundry. Beautiful native girl Saeko walks around collecting fruit. The humans, for the most part, live in harmony with the giant monsters. Even several crew members being stricken with a fever seems harmless, the men healed by the island’s magical red waters. Eventually, the appearance of giant spider Kumonga raises the stakes. Yet for most of its run time, “Son of Godzilla” is a whimsical, light-hearted film.

By this point, it was standard for the human adventure to be tied in with the giant monster rumbles. “Son of Godzilla” is no different in that regard. Plot-wise, the psychic distress call the still in-egg Minilla sends out is what jams the radios, stranding the humans on the island. A botched attempt at weather manipulation makes the Kamacuras, the giant mantis breed, larger. Later, a more successful experiment winds up helping Godzilla’s climatic battle. However, the balance leans more towards the giant monsters. The film frequently cuts back between the humans doing something plot relevant to Godzilla and Minilla goofing around. I love the giant monster stuff as much as the next fan but I honestly wonder if the split-screenplay might be a problem. The film comes off as slightly out-of-focus, a little schizophrenic in its goals.

The film’s kid-friendly intentions are obvious in the design of its title character. Minilla, the Son of Godzilla, is widely despised by hardcore monster fans. He’s definitely one of the least attractive creatures. Minilla looks less like a baby Godzilla and more like the unholy spawn of Kermit the Frog and the Pillsbury Doughboy. His drooping eyes and buck-teeth make him look slightly stoned and a little inbreed. Only his off-green coloration and budding back-spines mark him as a relation to the mighty kaiju king. The monster is very vocal. Occasionally he attempts a high-pitched version of Godzilla’s trademark roar. Usually, he brays like a donkey, moans in a haunting manor, or makes a weird noise that sounds vaguely like “Papa!” He blows comical smoke rings. Minilla is not a creature that could ever actually live. Instead, he’s a cartoon character.

Minilla might be one of the uglier Showa monsters. But I can’t hate the little guy. The slapstick kaiju comedy proves hysterical. The filmmakers seem to recognize that fans might react negatively to such a coying character. Minilla is abused from the beginning, poked by the giant mantis. Upon meeting him for the first time, Godzilla accidentally conks the baby in the head with his tail. The Kamacuris later hit him with a rock and, at one point, Godzilla seems ready to abandon the monster in the snow.

Eventually, however, the King of the Monsters warms up to fatherhood. The interactions between Godzilla and his foster-son range between hilarious and adorable. One of this silly film’s sillier moments involves Saeko tossing coconuts into Minilla’s mouth. She is about to feed the baby monster again when Dad stomps over, scaring the humans off. Just like a child, Minilla falls to the ground, swinging his limbs and crying, throwing a kaiju-sized temper-tantrum. Godzilla’s (hilarious) response is to roll his eyes, scratch his head, and drag the kid off by his tail. Later, a napping Godzilla is awoken when Minilla starts jumping around his tail. Turns out, a giant radioactive dinosaur isn’t really cut out to be a dad. In a moment simultaneously humorous and slightly off-putting, Godzilla threatens to beat Minilla when he fails to breathe fire. The monster really does care for his brood though. He lets the hatched critter hitch a ride on his tail. In the film’s genuinely memorable finale, Godzilla cradles his crying off-spring as both dragons are buried in snow, slipping into hibernation. As a moment, it’s bizarrely poetic and sort of adorable.

Godzilla himself gets a softened redesign. The suit is a little chunkier, more rubbery in appearance. The monster gains a pill-like head, a flat snout, and round, goofy eyes. The combined effect winds up making Godzilla look a bit like Cookie Monster. Most disappointingly, the script nerfs Godzilla’s fighting prowess. At the start, he is suplexing Kamacuras like it ain’t no thing. The mantises are set ablaze, their burning limbs sent flying. However, the final fight with Kumonga is embarrassing for our reptilian hero. The spider’s webbing is weak against fire, and weaker then Mothra’s similar attack, but Godzilla still gets caught up in it. He foolishly leans down to the spider, getting stung in the eye. All of this is done so Minilla can come to an unlikely rescue, proving himself to his dad. It’s sort of a bummer that Godzilla’s character has to suffer just so his kid can appear useful.

Kumonga and Kamacuras, on paper, might read as uninspired designs. After all, giant spiders and giant praying mantises had been done before. However, I don’t mind Arikawa and Tsuburaya putting their own mark on such stock critters. Both big bugs are brought to life through elaborate marionettes. I like the spindly legs on the mantis, their clicking jaws, and big bulbous eyes. Deliberately recalling the last film, the mantises also bound boulders between their claws like baseballs. Kumonga proves more memorable then most giant spiders. The spider’s bumpy thorax and lavender eyes are nice visuals. He’s a persistent villain too. The spider hunts the humans down, sticking his big leg into their cave or trying to web them up. They’ve never proven hugely popular but Kumonga and Kamacuras (or Spiga and Gimantis, if you prefer the American dub) are logical additions to the Godzilla-verse menagerie.

Even if there’s a bit of a disconnect between the plausible human story and the ridiculous kaiju elements, “Son of Godzilla” has a very likable cast. Akira Kubo, previously of “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero,” “Matango,” “Gorath,” and Kurasawa’s “Throne of Blood,” is very likable as Goro. He’s just enough of a smart-ass to distinguish him from previous reporter character. His drive and the actor’s natural charisma make a good combination. The best part in the film falls to Beverly Maeda’s Saeko. Maeda imbues Saeko with a child-like wonder, playing with Minilla and marveling at what Tokyo must be like. She also has great romantic chemistry with Kubo, like when the two are arguing about stealing. Beverly is beautiful too, spending most of the film in thin, clinging dresses. She even makes the combo of a straw hat, Hawaiian t-shirt, and baggy pants work for me.

One of the strangest things about “Godzilla Versus the Sea Monster” was Masaru Sato’s surf-rock score. Sato’s contribution this time is more like what you’d expect. It still lacks Akira Ifukube’s iconic themes. The music is quite exaggerated at times. Minilla’s every action is also paired with a goofy, thudding series of notes. Godzilla is greeted with a more dignified rumbling horn motif. When the monsters aren’t around, Sato’s music relaxes into a strolling, vaguely Caribbean beat. It might not have the moxie of his last score but the music is more in line with what you’d expect from a Godzilla flick.

As supremely silly as “Son of Godzilla” is, even goofier films awaited the King of the Monsters. However, you have to enjoy these pictures on their own goals. “Son of Godzilla” is endearingly silly and has a good sense of humor about its own ridiculousness. Watch it through the eyes of a child and you might wind up having a real good time. [Grade: B]

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