Godzilla In Retro
A look back at “Godzilla vs. Megalon” and “Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster.”
Stephen Mark Rainey
Originally Published in JAPANESE GIANTS Issue # 4 September 1977
In this review, I shall focus on the two latest Godzilla films released in the United States. GODZILLA VS. THE BIONIC MONSTER (GOJIRA TAI MEKAGOJIRA, 1975) is the better of the two, but is not much of an improvement over GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (GOJIRA TAI MEGARO, 1973). Both films are released by Cinema Shares International, with publicity material available from Donald L. Velde, Inc.
GODZILLA VS. MEGALON is first and foremost a kiddie film, with little to suggest otherwise. It’s funny that Velde’s prerelease material came out with an “R” rating on it; if that had not been changed, there might have been a fatal reduction of the studio’s target audience. The film did relatively well at the box office—ironic, since it is by far the worst film in the Godzilla series. The monsters in the movie are Godzilla, Megalon, Gigan (from GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, 1972), and a cyborg called Jet Jaguar, who makes a one-shot appearance. The opening scene features a few stock shots of Rodan and Angilas from DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.
In this outing, Godzilla resembles nothing so much as a muppet, with an almost lanky body; big, plastic-looking bug-eyes; and a head much too large in proportion to the body. It’s arguably the worst suit of the series (the SON OF GODZILLA suit being the other contender) and is dismally inferior to the previous design (used in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER, and GODZILLA VS. GIGAN). Worst of all, Godzilla (as well as the rest of the monsters) bounces around clumsily instead of lumbering convincingly, as if he’s lost all coordination; one actually wonders if the man inside the suit (Shinji Takagi) might have been getting into the saké stash between takes. Even though the Megalon suit is interestingly designed, the monster (played by Hideto Odachi) moves even more clumsily, and in a scene where he is shown hopping around like a giant, two-legged insect, almost falls flat on his back. He also flies, but on absolutely motionless wings—so unlike Rodan in MONSTER ZERO, for example. Gigan (Kengo Nakayama), also well conceived but poorly executed, hops, bounces, dances, and leaps, and, like the rest of the creatures, resorts to idiotic tag-team wrestling tactics. He never uses any sort of death ray, although he supposedly has the ability to produce one. Oddly, Jet Jaguar (Tsugutoshi Komada), the giant robot, comes across somewhat better than the “living” monsters; his movements seem more natural—considering he is supposedly automated, though in one ridiculous scene, Megalon flies in a circle around him at high speed, which makes him so “dizzy” that he stumbles. Funny.
The special effects in the film are almost nil, with most of the effects being stock footage from GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (these look promising), GHIDRAH—THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER, GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, and various others with effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. At times, the stock footage is quite noticeable because of the change in the film grain. Other times, the scene shows things it shouldn’t, such as Gigan, rather Megalon, swatting down airplanes. In the scene of maser cannons obliterating a forest, Megalon supposedly dives behind the trees for cover—but that’s not Megalon, it’s Gaila, the green gargantua from WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. Megalon is shown blasting Tokyo with his ray, but often, there is more than one ray on the screen (scenes from GHIDRAH, the disparity made more obvious by the fact that Megalon’s ray is reddish and King Ghidorah’s are yellow). However, a few good, original effects shots find their way into the film, such as a beautifully photographed scene of Godzilla and Jet Jaguar surrounded by a wall of fire. In a fine scene of Megalon destroying a dam and a bridge, high-speed photography lends the appearance of awesome size. These shots are the most realistic in the film; almost worth the price of admission.
The dubbing, ever the bugaboo of Japanese monster movies, is rotten to the core, especially the voice of the little kid, Roku-san (Hiroyuki Kawase); fingernails on a chalkboard, a choir singing off-key, and the screeching of tires on asphalt are all infinitely more agreeable. And the High Priest (Robert Dunham) of Seatopia! When he calls Megalon up from the depths, he spouts stuff like “Megalon! Wake up! Come on, Megalon!” as if it were time for breakfast. When Professor Ibuki (Katsuhiko Sasaki) and Roku-san find a button pulled from the coat of a Seatopian spy, the prof brilliantly observes that “it looks kind of red!” Such quips make one break out laughing and thus miss the even more hilarious absurdities to come.
Composer Riichiro Minabe contributes the worst Godzilla score ever, bringing back his blaring “Godzilla Theme” from GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER. Other pieces sound like obnoxious parade music and detract from the action, rather than highlight it. One gracing piece, though, is the Japanese song (“Punch! Punch! Punch!”) at the finale, surprisingly left intact for American release.
The title GODZILLA VS. THE BIONIC MONSTER gives one bad premonitions from the start. The literal translation of its original title, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, sounds far more intriguing; thankfully, MechaGodzilla is not referred to as “the Bionic Monster” anywhere in the movie. BIONIC MONSTER opens, as did MEGALON, with one blast of music and the title, with nary a credit to be seen. The Godzilla suit, disappointingly, is the same one used in MEGALON, though with a slightly improved facial design. At least Godzilla (now played by Isao Zushi) bounces a bit less than in the previous farce, and, from some camera angles, actually appears menacing. However, a second suit (used in a few miscellaneous scenes) looks more like a lumpy papier-mâché mockup than anything that ought to have made it to the screen. Fortunately, MechaGodzilla himself (played by Ise Mori) is built to impress, the suit convincingly appearing to be constructed of metal. The other monsters in the movie, Angilas and King Seesar (both played by Momoru Kosumi, since they never appear together), are minor characters, yet a huge portion of the plot concerns the mysterious process of waking King Seesar. Despite his ferocious-looking design, King Seesar looks very rubbery and hops around almost as dopily as Megalon. His part in the final battle is so small that one can only wonder why the aliens made such a fuss about trying to get rid of him. And sadly, Angilas has never looked so phony, crawling around all-too-obviously on his hands and knees, lacking even high-speed photography to increase the illusion of size.
The aliens’ ape-like make-up looks mighty ugly, but the transformation from man to monkey, accomplished by processing still images, ruins any illusion of realism. Strangely, the script never reveals just who these aliens are; only that they come from some “third planet” that is being destroyed by a black hole.
Fortunately, Teruyoshi Nakano’s special effects rise a notch above those in MEGALON (most notably because stock footage is almost nonexistent) and feature many nice model shots, such as the cave in which King Seesar is sleeping. One of the movie’s best moments is an early scene of MechaGodzilla, disguised as the “real” Godzilla, destroying a building, bringing to mind the fearsome daikaiju of old. Also, the oil refinery where the two Godzillas do battle appears expansive and highly detailed. Unfortunately, while MechaGodzilla is destroying the plant, Godzilla suddenly appears out of nowhere by popping out from beneath a building—deus ex machina rearing its ugly head.
There is a lot of blood in this movie. When MechaGodzilla breaks Angilas’s jaw, out globs a mess of fake-looking blood. When MechaGodzilla unleashes his (apparently inexhaustible) hand missiles, geysers of blood spew from Godzilla’s wounds, suspiciously resembling the stuff in Sam Peckinpah’s latest western as performed by Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Happily, Masaru Sato composed the score this time, and it’s far superior to Minabe’s MEGALON soundtrack, featuring distinctive orchestrations reminiscent of SON OF GODZILLA. Now if Toho could get Ifukube back, they would have a winner. (Who knows, though? Supposedly, Ifukube has been approached about scoring the remake of GODZILLA.) The downside of the soundtrack is that BIONIC MONSTER’s dubbing job is as bad as or worse than MEGALON’s. At least profanity is kept to a minimum, unlike in MEGALON, which contained enough to almost justify its original, erroneous R-rating!
Again happily, veteran actors Akihiko Hirata (GODZILLA—KING OF THE MONSTERS, RODAN, THE MYSTERIANS, ATRAGON, et. al.) and Hiroshi Koizumi (GIGANTIS—THE FIRE MONSTER, MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS. THE THING, ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE, et. al.) star in BIONIC MONSTER, bringing back some of the flavor of the better 60s movies; in MEGALON, the few parts were played by relatively unknown actors. Perhaps the biggest plus of all for BIONIC MONSTER is the absence of any little kids, another major plague of the Japanese monster film. On the other hand, for male viewers, the movie’s biggest draw might be its two leading ladies, played by Reiko Tajima and Hiromi Matsushita. Say no more!
Interestingly, the Okinawan princess (Beru-Beru Lin [a.k.a. Barbara Lynn]), who has a dream of a monster attacking civilization, sees King Ghidorah, though only in a still shot. Contrary to what FAMOUS MONSTERS says, this is King Ghidorah’s only appearance in the film.
One absurdity in BIONIC MONSTER, almost equaling Godzilla’s flying in GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER, is that he is turned into an electromagnet by a bolt of lighting. In KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and GODZILLA VS. THE THING, Godzilla had a distinct aversion to electricity. Yet now it has become a reviving force, as it was to Kong in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. This contrivance allows Godzilla to attract electrical towers and, finally, MechaGodzilla himself, and thus rip off his head. This head-twisting scene, by the way, is very nice indeed, but the preceding events are so dismaying that they tend to overshadow the better effects.
All in all, GODZILLA VS. MEGALON and GODZILLA VS. THE BIONIC MONSTER come across primarily as kiddie films, despite the fact that the latter undeniably has many of the makings of a respectable entry in the Godzilla series. Both are way below Toho’s usual standards and may really hurt the American public’s attitude toward Japanese films in general. NBC’s recent showing of the drastically butchered MEGALON (hosted by John Belushi in a silly Godzilla suit) certainly won’t help matters. Let’s hope the new GODZILLA will rectify the problem and let the public see Japanese film making at its best.
Original article © 1977 Stephen Mark Rainey/Japanese Giants.
Revised article © 2004 Stephen Mark Rainey/Visagraph Films International.
Original drawings © 1977 Stephen Mark Rainey.