Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Series Report Card: Godzilla (1972)

12. Godzilla vs. Gigan
Chikyu Kogeki Meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan / Godzilla on Monster Island

The previous film in the series, “Godzilla vs. Hedorah,” was controversial, especially among Toho staff. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, the sole remaining father of Godzilla after Ishiro Honda’s departure and Eiji Tsuburiya’s death, despised the film. So much so that, for the next Godzilla film, he ordered a return to tradition. Frequent director Jun Fukuda was brought back along with legendary composer Akira Ifukube. The script, meanwhile, played like a less ambitious “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero” or “Destroy All Monsters.” Once again, Godzilla was matched against alien invaders and the monsters they control. In his effort to return the series to the status quo, Tanaka and crew might have gone too far in the opposite direction. “Godzilla vs. Gigan” is the seventies Showa series at it’s most middle-of-the-road.

The film at least starts off promising. Gengo Kotaka is a manga artist, working on a giant monster comic, who can’t think up decent giant monsters. His feisty girlfriend insists he get a job at World Children’s Land, a new amusement park opening up. Despite the park’s centerpiece being a life-sized statue of Godzilla, the park owners claim they want to teach children about world peace. A world peace, the park’s manager ominously claims, he plans to achieve by destroying all the kaiju on Monster Island. Gengo’s new employers become increasingly sinister when a young girl flees the building, carrying a mysterious tape reel. The girl’s brother has been kidnapped by the park owners, forcing her to team up with Gengo, his girlfriend, and a long-haired hippy friend. The group conspire to rescue him, uncovering a darker conspiracy that involves aliens, giant monsters, and, of course, world domination. Could this be the end of Godzilla? I’ll give you one guess…

Even if the film is nowhere near as surreal as “Godzilla vs. Hedorah,” all of Jun Fukuda’s Godzilla movies have off-beat elements to them. One of the funniest things about “Gigan” is its hero, Gengo. As opposed to the cocky star reporters or astronauts that usually populate these films, Gengo is something of a neurotic mess. He’s a decent artist but the best monsters he can come up with are Shukra the Homework Monster and Mamagon the monster of stern mothers. He’s non-athletic, huffing and puffing up a flight of stairs. In contrast, his girlfriend Tomoko is strong-willed, bossy, and has a black belt in judo. It’s a small thing and the movie winds up underutilizing it but it’s something that distinguishes “Godzilla vs. Gigan” from the other films.

Distinguishing moments like that are desperately needed. “Godzilla vs. Gigan” recycles plot elements from previous films. The owners of World Children’s Land are, of course, aliens. Like all Godzilla aliens, they come from a planet with a silly name, this time a place called Space Hunter Nebula-M. Like the Killaks in “Destroy All Monsters,” their human appearances hide grotesque inner forms. The Nebulans are actually giant cockroaches, inheritors to an Earth-like planet that was ruined by pollution and nuclear war. Try as the film might to distance itself from “The Smog Monster,” both movies carry similar ecological messages. King Ghidorah is called upon again, controlled for the third time by alien invaders, to toss Godzilla around. For all the clichés it employs, “Godzilla vs. Gigan” might be the most typical kaiju film ever made.

The story isn’t all that’s recycled. “Godzilla vs. Gigan” makes heavy use of stock footage. It’s not as blatant as “Godzilla’s Revenge” yet is still impossible not to notice. King Ghidorah flies over the city, exploding buildings with his yellow lightening breath. Godzilla takes belly and face shots from the dragon, falling over a bridge. Anguirus is lifted into the air by the enemy, biting at his tail and necks, before being dropped to the ground. Tanks melt under extreme heat. You may notice all these moments are reused from “Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster,” “Destroy All Monsters,” and “King Kong vs. Godzilla.” The monsters’ appearances shift between scenes. The primary monster fight takes place at night while the fights from those other movies take place during the day. My biggest problem with stock footage is that it cheats the audience. We’re promised all new creature battles and are instead given reprocessed footage.

If only the movie’s uninspired script and heavy use of stock footage were its only problem. “Godzilla vs. Gigan” is one of the slower paced of the series. The monster action doesn’t begin in earnest until the forty minute mark, with Godzilla not entering the fray until fifty minutes. The identity of the aliens is presented as a mystery. Gengo and the long-haired Minoru investigate the Children’s Land owners, discovering that the people they claimed to be died in a mountain climbing accident a year ago. Machiko’s brother is kept locked up in Godzilla Tower, listening to the sinister boss talk about hidden messages on tape and their nefarious plans. It’s fairly obvious the villains aren’t human, especially with the teenage Fumio Sudo going on about nebuli and complex mathematics. Even a first time viewer is unlikely to be shocked by the revelations that the villains are actually giant space cockroaches. The worst part about this is that the Nebulans’ evil plot is never elaborated upon. It goes something like this: “1. Build children’s theme park 2. Murder Godzilla 3. ???? 4. Conquer Earth!” Even with a kooky, likable cast, the mystery scenes are slowly paced, causing the film to drag.

Shockingly, even the monster action is disappointing. The first nibble we get is when Anguirus wanders on-shore, greeted by tanks and laser canons. Scandalized, the kaiju turns tail and returns home. Gigan and Ghidorah’s rampage through the city features plenty of exploding buildings. Something about it feels uninspired though and turgidly paced. When the hero monsters finally roll in, their first tussle takes place among an oil field. Godzilla and King Ghidorah wind up wrestling amidst obscuring black smoke. Speaking of Ghidorah, he continues to be a disappointing presence. For such a powerful, imposing monster, he spends a lot of time standing around, listlessly shooting laser beams. Once again, he starts out strong, gets knocked around a few times, and then flees back into space. Godzilla himself looks worse for wear, the suit coming apart, loose rubber dangling from his armpit.

So what does work about “Godzilla vs. Gigan?” Gigan himself is a memorably odd creature. Unlike previous Toho kaiju, he has little basis in reality. He is, for lack of a better term, a giant Cyborg Space Chicken. With sickles for hands and feet, spikes down his head, and a working buzz saw in his torso, he is designed to wreck havoc. His beak is sharp and his eyes are covered by a red visor, making him look like a glam rock album cover. Even the fins on his back, which allow flight, contribute to the monster’s overall sharpness. Gigan is a weird critter and, even if the movie around him is mediocre, he’s become something of a fan favorite, getting a long overdue, bad ass make-over in “Final Wars.”

The stock footage-heavy kaiju rumble is disappointing, the direction frequently being flat. However, it occasionally delivers the goods. Surprisingly, you get to see Godzilla and friends bleed. As much as it sounds like David Bowie ripping off Jobriath, the gory Gamera films of the time were stomping into Godzilla’s territory. Thus Godzilla was given an extra-sharp opponent that slices open his shoulder, releasing a huge arch of blood. After he’s knocked down by the statue’s heat breathe, Gigan jabs a hole in Godzilla’s head, spraying more blood. Anguirus has the rather bad idea of ramming Gigan after he’s activated his buzz saw, which ends with the spiny dinosaur getting a sliced face.

The best moment during the final fight is actually a tiny one. King Ghidorah blows up a storm, knocking Godzilla back. Through the kicked-up dust, he walks toward the amusement park. Seeing the life-sized statue of himself, the King of the Monsters blinks in confusion. He gets his ass handed to him by Gigan and Ghidorah. Getting tossed into the imitation statue and bringing it down actually re-energizes Godzilla. If this movie wasn’t sold with the line “See Godzilla Bleed!,” it should have been sold as “Watch Godzilla fight in an amusement park!” Because who doesn’t love that? Kaiju movies of the time usually featured some hilarious, ridiculous stunt. “Godzilla vs. Gigan” features two. Anguirus tosses himself through the air, slamming into Ghidorah with his spiked back. Later, Godzilla flips his most powerful foe over his shoulder by all three of his necks. Of course, since the movie is kind of lazy, these great gags are repeated three times, draining them of fun.

Even if he never reached Yoshimitsu Banno levels of crazy, Jun Fukuda’s G-films had a kooky, wacky energy of their own. I enjoy the movie’s effeminate hero, especially when his black belt girlfriend winds up fighting off the evil aliens. He’s such a wimp that, when the hippy supporting character jabs a corncob into his back, he faints. However, Gengo’s skills wind up saving the day, when he fools the aliens with full-sized illustrations and sixty tons of dynamite. For all that goofiness, the most notorious moment in “Godzilla vs. Gigan” is when Godzilla and Anguirus actually… Talk. At least in the English dub, where Godzilla and Anguirus trade short, garbled dialogue on their way towards the mainland. In the original Japanese version, the two communicate via comic book thought balloons. Which is still silly but, considering the main character is a comic book artist, actually makes sense. It’s also worth noting that, previously, Monster Island only existed inside a little boy’s imagination. Now it’s a real location. Maybe this is an early version of “Destroy All Monsters’” Monsterland, before the feds figured out how to contain the kaiju? I’ve wondered into fan wank territory again, haven’t I?

Maybe the best thing about “Godzilla vs. Gigan,” aside from its titular villain and a few moments of inspired goofiness, is Ifukube’s score. Even if the music is mostly pieced together from previous scores, it’s still great to see Godzilla marching around to his theme music for the first time in a while. The movie even gains a pop theme song, Susumu Ishikawa’s “Godzilla March,” which is insanely catchy without being annoying.

“Godzilla vs. Gigan” might be my least favorite of the Showa era. There are other films of the time period that are cheaper or sillier. Yet even “Godzilla’s Revenge” is more consistently interesting then this tired, uninspired monster bash. Having said that, the film still has some value if only for its cool new kaiju and some enjoyably goofy moments. I mean, Godzilla talks. I’m not made of stone. [Grade: C]

1 comment:

DaiKamonohashi said...

My friend Josh Bugosh and I would appreciate you properly attributing our work if you're going to use it in you article. The watercolor painting is mine and the image of the cockroach on the comic pages is his. Thank you.

~ Jared P. Foust