Here’s a lighter styled Toho Kaiju film concerning an undeveloped island in the So. Pacific. It’s one that borrows a bit from Japanese mythology using some common archetypes, the Squid or Cuttlefish, the Crab and the Turtle. It also grabs a little from the many Toho films that came before it and sloshes them around for a new tale.
When Japan’s Jupiter explorer crashes back to earth it brings back a space amoeba which takes over a Cuttlefish and causes Gigantism in the local creatures. A group of investigators which includes, a vacation resort developer, the comrade of a different missing developer, and a pro-photographer looking for the crashed Jupiter ship, land on the native island. The island natives warn that outsiders not paying homage to the Gods and using the island for their own gain will be responsible for the punishment.
The strangers enter the village and are immediately surrounded. They meet the tribal shaman, a friendly chap who greets them with, “Die! Friends of the devil!” Soon the giant cuttlefish attacks the village and kills (Mr. friendly) the Shaman. The village natives now want to help the strangers, offering them guns and gasoline. What a great place! They must’ve thought the intruders were Americans, lol. So, they figure out the amoeba uses radar waves to control the giant creatures. They block the signal and the creatures fight each other until a volcano erupts and swallows them in lava. Now they can open the resort and the natives can work for the man!
This film is nothing more than silly fun. Gezora, the cuttlefish/squid looking creature is an amusing muppet-ish thing to look at. The monsters smash some village huts and do some light battle. Yukiko Kobayashi runs around in native wear for some eye candy and there’s some hokey science explanations to amuse those with a sense of humor. I wouldn’t go out of your way to see this, but if you have nothing to watch on a lazy afternoon it could be entertaining. The music is kinda’ funky, 60’s, cool and the sunshine and flowery island scenery is a change from the gloomy world of Godzilla films. It almost seemed like they made this film just to send the crew and actors on a semi-vacation to a nice island habitat with sun-shining atmosphere.
A silly disjointed Toho Kaiju film probably only enjoyable to completists in the genre.
I give it 2.2 floppy fish cakes on the giant monster mash-up fish-food pate’ scale.
Directed by Ishiro Honda special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya Music Akira Ifukube
This is my favorite Toho Kaiju film that doesn’t feature Godzilla. It is the sequel to FCtW, but suddenly it seems Universal didn’t want Toho using the Frankenstein name in its US release. However, if you look at the monsters in this film, it’s clear they both resemble Frankenstein. Picking up from FCtW, the monsters flesh has undergone further mutation to the point where a very small piece can regenerate into a full organism. It’s several years from the death of the giant Frankenstein and Japan is faced with this new threat. The film begins with a fantastic sequence. A nighttime storm batters a fishing vessel. The boatswain is trying to steer the vessel through the rough waters. A large tentacle creeps up behind him and grabs him. Then another enters the room. In a wide shot we can see a giant octopus overtaking the ship looking for a midnight snack. Just when it looks like the man will be ripped apart, the tentacles make a quick retreat. Cautiously, he moves to the windows. Outside we see a giant beast battling with the octopus (one of my fave visuals of the film). But this green hairy water beast is not a savior. After dispatching the octopus he sinks the boat.
This is a rare Kaiju film that shows the monster eating humans in gory (for the time) fashion. At the airport the Green Gargantua (Gaira) picks up a woman, chews on her, then spits out her bloody clothes. Gaira begins invading the Japanese mainland looking for more food. I love the scale of the Gargantuas in this film. They are bigger than the original King Kong but not as big as Godzilla, allowing for some good detail in the minatures. The military attacks the beast and does some major damage until another monster show up to save him. The Brown Gargantua (Sanda) lives in the mountains and was raised by the scientists. When Sanda discovers his brother is eating humans he tries to stop him and a battle ensues. The battle escalates into the city where the two throw each other into buildings, smash through the infrastructure and bash each other with ships in the harbor. It is one amazing Kaiju battle, one of my favorites in giant monster filmdom. This was also the first appearance of the mazor cannon mounted on military vehicles. They’re put to dramatic use cutting through forest trees in the assault on the green Gargantua. It’s really a great film for fans of the genre supported by a great cast that includes Russ Tamblyn, Kumi Mizuno and Kenji Sahara. Akira Ifukube’s bombastic score is more prominent in this film with dramatic horn blasts and powerful melodies. You don’t have to see FCtW to understand and enjoy this film. If you have enthusiasm for giant monster films and haven’t seen this, I would recommend seeing it. It’s one of my top giant monster flicks of all time.
Fun facts: Guillermo del Toro has said in an interview that War of The Gargantuas is one of his favorite Kaiju films
Russ Tamblyn became famous for his starring role in the film version of West Side Story (1961)
Kumi Mizuno, who starred in War of the Gargantuas, also starred in Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966). She also returned for several millennium series Godzilla films (2000 – 2004).
Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965) Aka: Frankenstein vs. Baragon
Directed by Ishiro Honda special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya Music Akira Ifukube
FCtW begins with movement in time portrayed with wonderful visuals. 1945 Germany, over a snow covered mountainside, we see a German scientist in a unique piece of Toho Gothic. He’s experimenting with the Frankenstein Monster’s heart which continues to beat despite the destruction of the Monster’s body. The heart is then being transported in the Pacific Theater during WW II, a naval waterfront of battleships and submarines. Next it’s In Japan at that moment of the Atomic blast that ended WW II.
Several years later, scientists are working with a Frankenstein feral boy. He continues to grow to giant size and eventually breaks free from his cages. When destruction occurs in the nearby villages, they authorities want to blame Frankie, much to the dismay of scientist, Sueko, who helped raise him like a son. It turns out the destruction is being caused by another Kaiju, Baragon. The two eventually duke it out in an action packed battle as Frankie uses his speed and smarts to defeat the bigger Baragon. The battle and military assault causes an earthquake and Frankie sinks into the earth with a defeated Baragon lying at his feet.
The film stars Nick Adams who had been lending his talents to various science fiction films of the time. It also stars familiar Toho actors, Kumi Mizuno, Tadao Takashima Takashi Shimura, Kenji Sahara, and Yoshio Tsuchiya. There’s some good ol’ time rock n roll in this film especially in the dance hall that is destroyed by Baragon. Awesome dancing! Haruo Nakajima the famed costumed Godzilla actor plays Baragon, and Koji Furuhata plays Frankenstein.
Lets face it, if you were not indoctrinated into the world of Toho films as a kid then you will find faults with the film. The flat-head prosthetic doesn’t transition smoothly into the face, you can sometimes see the wires and mechanics of the effects, especially nowadays with HD TVs and big screens. Not to mention the horse that looks like a little puppet on a stick, but if you can overlook some of these small inconsistencies, you may be entertained by the simple story and visual dynamics.
The American release partner, Harry G. Saperstein, was impressed with the octopus battle in King Kong vs Godzilla and urged Honda to film a similar sequence for the Frankenstein film. It was shot but ultimately not used because Honda didn’t feel it fit the storyline. It was re-shot as the opening scene in War of the Gargantuas with Gaira doing battle in the ocean.
However, the Rare Flix/Tokyo Shock DVD has the complete octopus battle in the special features listed under International Extended Scenes. It starts with the full (longer) main battle with Baragon and goes right into the battle with the Octopus.
behind the scenes
unused octopus battle scene
unused octopus scene
awesome model kit diorama – don’t know who made it
My ‘Top 10’ are the films that are the least hokey and have a more serious tone…that is, as serious as you can get with plot elements like: mental telepathy with a giant monster, aliens destroying the world with a three-headed space dragon, and two mini-fairy princesses singing to a giant butterfly. So while I love some of the 1970 Godzilla films (Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, in particular), I can’t wholly recommend them to someone not fully indoctrinated to the world of Toho Kaiju; there are too many cringe-worthy scenes. If you didn’t grow up watching those 1970’s films, you probably wouldn’t appreciate them today. The films listed here are ones Icanrecommend, however, aside from the original film, you will have to be open to fantasy elements and a generous amount of suspension-of-disbelief.
Aside from the original which will always be 1st in my book – the rest are in no particular order, aside from chronological dates. I had to break this into 2 posts.
Top 10 Godzilla films
1 thru 5 – the early years
1) Gojira (1954) – Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka
Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya
Music by Akira Ifukube
This is obviously the most serious and grim film in the franchise, so much so, it seems like a different category altogether. It contains the science-fiction without the fantasy elements of its successors. Its allegory message about the destruction and devastation caused by the atomic bomb is both sad and frightening. It’s one of those films that you can watch today and still be affected by it. Most of us grew up with the American version starring Raymond Bur as the reporter relaying all the detail of the giant monster attacks. All of this footage was shot afterwards and while it was spliced in rather seamlessly, once you see the original Japanese version, the splicing becomes obvious. The original version (Gojira) focuses more on the love triangle of three characters (Emiko, Dr. Serizawa, and Hideto Ogata) and the new oxygen destroying weapon created by Dr. Serizawa. He decides this weapon should never have been created and takes his knowledge to his watery grave. In doing so, he also gives up his love of Emiko to his rival suitor, Hideto. The Godzilla roar sound effect was created by composer, Akira Ifukube. After many attempts at recording animal sounds by the effects team, Ifukube rubbed a string from a Contrabass with gloves soaked in pine tar.
2) King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Kong is found on a Pacific Island with Asian natives. There he fights a giant octopus and is taken to Japan for the usual financial gain of his captors. Godzilla escapes from an iceberg for his first appearance in a color film. The two meet up in Japan, smash some buildings then duke it out in a more rural area while being bombarded by rockets and bombs from the Japanese military. Toho actually experimented with shooting the entire film in stop-animation but decided it would be too costly. However there is a scene in the final edit that uses the animation footage during a battle on a hillside. There had been a rumor circulating for years that the Japanese version of this film had Godzilla win the battle in the end. But Ishiro Honda stated clearly in a later documentary that Godzilla was perceived as the ‘bad guy’ and felt Kong had to win. Both he and effects master, Eiji Tsuburaya entered filmmaking because of seeing King Kong (1933) and being awed by it. They wanted to let Kong win out of respect. This film is more hokey and silly than other films I reviewed here, but it is the only movie that will pit these two iconic monsters against each other. For that reason it had to be on my list. Interestingly, Toho wanted to film another King Kong vs. Godzilla in the 1990’s but had difficulty securing the rights to Kong.
3) Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster (1964)
This film is the first appearance of Ghidorah and the first time Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra shared the screen in the same film. Rodan had its own film previously (1956). Mothra had its own film, Mothra (1961) and earlier the same year appeared in Mothra vs. Godzilla (aka: Godzilla vs. The Thing – 1964). Princess Selina, in Japan for protection against assassins, sees a UFO during her flight to Tokyo and hears a voice that tells her, “Leave this plane, now.” She opens the emergency exit and jumps (at 30,000 feet). Seconds later the plane explodes. Meanwhile, a meteor crashes into a mountainside and hatches in flames revealing, Ghidorah. The princess returns in a trance, claims she is from another planet, and warns the people of Earth that Ghidorah will destroy Earth as it did her planet. Meanwhile the fairy twins call to Mothra to battle Ghidorah. Godzilla and Rodan are in their own battle with each other in some classic Kaiju brawling. Mothra attempts to convince Godzilla and Rodan to join the fight against Ghidorah. Eventually they do and send the three-headed, two-tailed monster packing. The English version changed the spelling to Ghidrah. There are a few minutes cut from the English version and it makes for some continuity errors in the edit. However, this is still a fan favorite from the early years of Kaiju films.
4) Destroy All Monsters (1969)
This was like the Superbowl of giant monster films. All giant Kaiju previously introduced in other Toho films share the screen in this mega-battle for earth. 1969 ain’t no ‘summer of love’ in Japan, its all out worldwide destruction. This was originally conceived as the final Godzilla franchise film. This was definitely the end of an era with the original Godzilla team splitting up after this film. Eiji Tsuburaya would go on to the Ultraman television series and Ishiro Honda would stop directing Godzilla films after the next film, Godzilla’s Revenge. He did return however several films later to direct The Terror of Mechagodzilla. This would also be the last film with Akira Ifukube composing music for some time. In this film, the giant monsters appear all over the world attacking famous landmarks in France, Russia, London, Beijing and New York (where Godzilla blows up the UN Building). They are being controlled, via metal implant device, by an alien race looking to take over Earth. Scientists discover the aliens are broadcasting control over the monsters from the moon and a battle ensues to knock out their communications. With no choice left, the aliens release Ghidorah to attack earth. However, the monsters join together to defeat Ghidorah for a final battle. (note: In the US trailer they mislabel one Kaiju as Baragon when it is in fact Gorosaurus)
5) The Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
The first 20 minutes of this film is a recap of Godzilla history, reusing footage from previous movies. And it’s not wholly accurate. Later in the film there’s also a recap of the previous film, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Most of the 1970’s films were shot with a much lower budget than the previous era, made evident by stock footage, reused clips and battles taking place in the less detailed country areas (what amounts to a few dirt hills). Also gone is the massive Ocean Pool set where Godzilla would make his dramatic entrances. The film introduces a new Kaiju, Titanosaurus, who is not as convincingly made as most previously constructed monsters. Its long neck is rubbery and reveals some of the shortcomings of suitmation. By this time, special effects leader, Eiji Tsuburaya, was producing Japan’s Television show, Ultraman, and special effects were taken over by his underling, Teruyoshi Nakano. However, even with all the budgetary constraints aside, there are some excellent Mechagodzilla attacks Japan scenes and a big countryside Kaiju rumble in the film. Godzilla is cut by Mecha-G’s laser-beams and spurts blood out of the side of his neck–a first for any Godzilla flick. An original Japanese version was never released but was edited because of too much blood and brief female nudity (non-sexual in nature). This would be the last Godzilla film directed by Ishiro Honda. ** I could easily swap this out with Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster (see honorable mentions) which was a better written and plotted film, but was slow moving in some aspects.
First check out the Photo Gallery below, then click the link to continue my Top 10 list
Creature Features revisited – Flying Saucers Attack
A look back at the golden age of sci-fi, the 1950‘s. Our subject today… Flying Saucers Attack!
Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956)
In this film, Ray Harryhausenapplies his stop motion animation to a non-living thing for the first time, Flying Saucers! The film has an almost documentary feel to the b&w scenes of Giant Saucers attacking Washington DC which adds to the appreciation of Harryhausen’s work. Military stock footage of firing weapons and a battleship encounter was used to maximize authenticity. Aliens shoot down several satellites for which scientist, Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) is investigating with his wife, Carol (Joan Taylor).A saucer lands at a science lab and is immediately fired upon by the military, escalating an inevitable battle. Flying Saucers appear in the skies over London, Paris, Moscow, and DC. In a coordinated attack the begin firing at the cities and people. However, Dr. Marvin has devised a weapon to penetrate their force-fields and fight against the invaders. The amazing scenes of saucers destroying the Capitolbuilding, and crashing into the Washington Monumentare classic 50’s Sci-fi images and were most likely frightening to folks at the time it was released. Ray does quite a bit of explaining about how he captured those scenes in the special features on the dvd and blu-ray. On a side note: Joan Tayloralso starred in 20 Million Miles to Earth.
War of The Worlds (1953)
Technically, these are not saucers but shaped more like manta-rays. This is often called George Pal’sadaptation of the H.G Wellsclassic for which he was the producer, but it was directed by Byron Haskin. Bryon Haskin had worked on special effects for The Outer Limits, so he was no slouch. It’s fair to say that it was the combination of both men that brought WOW to life. It was granted a big budget, enabling them to film in color during a time when most Sci-fi films were only b&w. It starred Gene Barryand Ann Robinsonas Dr. Forrester and Sylvia van Buren. Everyone knows the story, a meteorite shower drops a bunch of space stones all over the damn planet. In LA, where this film version is set, a guy pokes a meteor with a stick. It hatches a flying saucer thingamajig. The saucers spend some time in the valley gearing up for a war as the earthling scientists study them. Then they attack, destroying everything in their path. This is a wonderful version of the story and a great example of the Golden Age of Sci-Fi. However, with today’s Hi-def, digital dvd/blu-ray, super-clear technology, you can see the wires holding up the alien craft. I never saw any wires when I saw it as a kid – though I probably would have ignored it if I did. But, just to make sure, I asked some older individuals about it and they say, No, the wires were not visible when they saw the film in theaters nor when it was on TV in the early years. So, if you do see the film today with its ‘better than 20/20 vision’ resolution processes, just be aware that you will see the wires.
Trivia notes: 1) Gene Barry and Ann Robinson made a cameo at the end of the Spielberg version (2005) as the grandparents in Massachusetts. 2) In the 1953 version, when the first meteorite/war-crafts fall form the sky an image of Woody Woodpecker can be seen hiding in a tree, center screen. This is an homage to George Pal’s good friend, Walter Lantz, creator of Woody Woodpecker.
Battle in Outer Space (1959)
This is an Ishiro Hondafilm that portrays the UFO invasion with the type of destruction that only Toho Studios would be capable. The alien race has an anti-gravity weapon that is demonstrated by a train wreck caused by train tracks lifting off the ground, an ocean liner lifting out of the panama canal, and a flood in Italy. When the Japanese Space Station is destroyed, the ‘world community’ works together to battle the invaders. The battle escalates on the Moon and soon spills onto earth. Saucers come down to destroy buildings and launch meteor torpedoes at New York and San Francisco. The American rockets equipped with Japan’s ‘heat ray’ weapon launch to defend earth. A dogfight ensues in space that is something to see, considering the year it was made. It reminds me of Star Warsas UFOs and rockets battle. Laser beams and death rays crisscross the screen in some high action sequences. Though the film doesn’t share the same intimacy or character involvement that the other films in this post have, it is worth a look-see for fans of 1950’s sci-fi and TohoFilms. This film was a loosely based sequel to The Mysterians, although they never mention a previous UFO attack in this film.
Directed by Ishirō Honda Special FX by Eiji Tsuburaya and Tomoyuki Tanaka
This is the second Kaiju monster film by this famous team following their iconic achievement in Godzilla. This film never reached the success of many of their other films for good reason which I will explain later. An expedition to the Hida Mountains in Japan (which includes Mount Fuji), is hindered by a blizzard. When the group is separated, Gen and Kaji find shelter in a remote cabin. When the group reaches the cabin the next day, Gen is found dead and Kaji is missing. There are very large footprints found near the cabin and a few tufts of hair that the group is not familiar with. They eventually discover a tribe of people living in the mountains that speak of a deity which they praise, a 10 foot tall, Monster Snowman. While searching for their missing comrades they run across a zoologist with a team intent on capturing the beast. When the hunters track it to its cave, they discover a young Snowman. The zoologist captures the juvenile in order to lure the adult into his traps. The adult snowman is caught then escapes, killing all of the men on the team. The zoologist shoots the young snowman and the adult beast goes on a rampage, first killing the zoologist, then heading to the native village and destroying it. He captures a woman, Machiko, and drags her back to his cave. Does the snowman have intentions to replace his lost child by keeping the woman as a mate? It is not said, but it is suggestive in the context of other scenes in the film. The original expedition members are in pursuit. They chase the snowman further into the cave where he meets his inevitable demise.
The 1958 version that I have is the American version, which has John Carradine and Morris Ankrum as scientists. John Carradine completely narrates the entire film while sitting in a lab, which not only gets annoying, but is extremely inane and off message from what the film is really about. I was able to decipher more about the film by not listening to him and just watching the Japanese footage. The Japanese story of Half Human portrays the Snow Beast as an empathetic creature and shows the humans to be the real ’monsters’ in the world. This fact is driven home with the tragic scene of the young creature being killed and the emotional reaction of the adult. The narration washes right over this scene and immediately pounces on the beast for killing humans and its ‘monstrous’ behavior. In fact, I had to look up the names of the film’s characters because the American narration only refers to the actors as ‘the girl’ or ‘the boy.’ This is extremely lame and perhaps the worst translation/American-izing of a Toho film I have ever seen.
Unfortunately, the original 1955 Japanese version has been removed from circulation because of its depictions of the native people as deformed and violent due to inbreeding. Toho decided it was an injustice to portray the people of the mountains like that and to insinuate the real tribes that live there are anything like that.
It is hard enough to find this 1958 American version which is out of print, never mind the original Japanese version. I was lucky to track this down after some searching. It is not a great film because the American footage had cut the original into pieces and tried to tell a different story. However, if you can read between the lines, you can feel a good movie was in there, once. For a Toho fan like myself, it was a must have.