WARNING: THE FOLLOWING REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS!
JUMP DIRECTLY TO MY REVIEW FOR THIS FILM’S ALTERNATE AMERICAN CUT – GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER!
Spurred by the unexpected success of GOJIRA, as well as the growing international popularity of films featuring dinosaurs and “atom age” monsters, it was no surprise that Toho quickly began developing a followup film. While that would seem instantly problematic (considering that they killed off their star attraction at the climax of the original film), in less than five months after GOJIRA’s theatrical debut, GOJIRA NO GYAKUSHU (henceforth GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN) was completed and released to Japanese theaters!
GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN centers on two spotter pilots for Osaka’s Kaiyo Fishing company, namely Shoichi Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi, who would go on to portray various Professors in several other Godzilla adventures) and Koji Kobiyashi (samurai film regular, Minoru Chiaki). During one of his routine flights, Kobayashi’s engine stalls out forcing him to land near the desolate (and fictional) Iwato Island. After learning that his friend’s plane is down, Tsukioka flies to the rescue and discovers that, aside for a minor wrist injury, Kobayashi is perfectly fine. But our two working class heroes soon find that they are not alone.
The unsettling quiet of Iwato Island is broken when Godzilla and another creature begin to throw down on the cliffs above Tsukioka and Kobayashi. Both men watch in horror as the giant monsters have a brief wrestling match before falling into the ocean together. Having seen enough, the frightened pilots quickly return to Osaka and report what they witnessed to the authorities. This of course leads to a briefing with local military officials and scientists including a familiar face: Dr. Kyohei Yamane!
Kobayashi points out the new spiky-carapaced dinosaur in a book, which turns out to be a carnivorous species of Ankylosaurus called Anguirus. Boasting a multitude of brains in its body (which allows it to move quickly for its enormous size) and an overly aggressive nature, Anguirus is only the start of the bad news. When asked what they can possibly do to destroy this new Godzilla, Dr. Yamane tells them that current military hardware is useless and that the only weapon that would work, and the man that created it, are gone.
But it’s not all doom and gloom because Dr. Yamane theorizes that deploying flares may lead Godzilla away. His reasoning is that Godzilla, having witnessed the hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific, might be triggered to respond to bright lights or flames. (Godzilla has nuclear PTSD?!) With this knowledge in hand the Japanese Self-Defense Forces scour the surrounding waters with boats and planes and prepare to use flares should Godzilla pay Osaka a visit. Once night falls, Godzilla appears off the coast and begins wading in towards the shore.
The authorities spring into action: Citizens are evacuated, the city is put into a complete blackout, and jets begin dropping flares to lead Godzilla away. Amazingly the plan works and Godzilla begins heading back out to sea! But disaster strikes when a group of criminals escape from police custody. Taking advantage of the blackout, the crooks break out of a police transport and run off into the night. Some are captured, but one unlucky trio steals a fuel truck, leading to a (laughably slow) chase sequence.
While trying to evade the authorities, the convicts end up crashing the petrol vehicle, resulting in an explosion that causes a chain reaction, and leads to an enormous fire on the horizon that Godzilla finds far more appealing than the puny flares above. Godzilla comes ashore amid a fusillade from the JSDF’s ground units, shortly followed by Anguirus. Ignoring the bullets, shells, and rockets that are being lobbed at them, the two kaiju duke it out, lunging and biting at each other and destroying Osaka Castle in the process.
Which monster will be victorious and how will humanity deal with the victor? And how will the filmmakers manage to fill the remaining half-hour once Godzilla and Anguirus’ battle has ended?! The only way to know for sure is to watch GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN!
My motto is “I’ve never met a Godzilla movie I didn’t like,” and that is mostly true Vault Dwellers. But I must admit that GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (once a childhood favorite) ranks lower on my list than most installments in the seemingly unkillable Godzilla franchise. (For those of you who are curious it is near the bottom, just above GODZILLA’S REVENGE, GODZILLA X MEGAGUIRUS, and several others.) As I stated at the beginning of this review, Godzilla’s first sequel was shot, edited, and released in an incredibly short period of time. And it shows.
The script has some issues (there’s a halfhearted attempt at building a love triangle), the lead characters are a bit on the dull side (this film’s blue collar heroes are a nice change of pace, but they pale in comparison to the men of action who appear in later Godzilla installments), and the matte-work and special effects (in several instances) aren’t nearly as good as they were in GOJIRA, even though Eiji Tsuburaya and his team had a larger budget to work with. The film also has a really bizarre story structure, but I’ll comment further on that in a moment.
GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN featured a newly-designed Godzilla suit (the “Gyakushu Suit“) that was far lighter than the original and afforded better mobility for suitmation actor Haruo Nakajima. The profile of this suit looks great, but I think the head looks a bit strange whenever Godzilla is seen from the front. Additionally, for some reason I found myself distracted by the design of the dorsal plates on this particular G-suit. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something just seems a bit… off. As for the Anguirus suit used in this film I have zero complaints!
Anguirus (aka Angilas) is one of my all-time favorite Toho kaiju, and makes its debut here as the first non-human foe Godzilla has ever faced in a feature film. From its cool design (so many horns and spikes!) to its unique bark/roar, I love everything about this monster! But I think it is a huge injustice that they had Godzilla defeat Anguirus so early in the film! I get that the title character is likely going to triumph, but how can you create a brand new monster, plaster it all over the promotional material, and then KILL IT OFF HALFWAY INTO THE MOVIE?!
To this very day it still baffles me that they didn’t save the big kaiju fight for the final act. It’s the main attraction, and you’re supposed to build audience anticipation for it in the first two-thirds of the movie! It’s the most egregious sin this film commits! Even the odd decision to not slow down the movement of the film’s monsters doesn’t hold a candle to killing off a new character forty-eight minutes into a movie! And speaking of which….
To obtain that classic “lumbering monster look” that is the trademark of all kaiju flicks, the cameramen typically shoot at a higher speed to pull off the illusion that they are filming a giant creature. (It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book!) However during the filming of GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, a camera technician allegedly did the exact opposite, thus speeding up Godzilla and Anguirus’ movements. Tsuburaya actually liked how the footage looked and signed off on filming all of the monster scenes that way because he was apparently in an experimental (?) mood.
What also makes GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN unique is that it is one of the few Godzilla films that attempts to maintain some sort of continuity. The events of the original film are discussed and Dr. Yamane (the paleontologist and “Godzilla Rights Activist” from GOJIRA) makes an appearance. The film also (sort of) leads into the next installment. After Godzilla is buried under a man-made avalanche of ice at the climax of this film, the King of the Monsters bursts out of an iceberg seven years later in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA!
Overall, the scenes of destruction and the kaiju battles are done fairly well in this movie, but the human portion of the story could have handled so much better. Usually there’s a good amount of drama, romance, action, and/or intrigue in Toho’s kaiju films, but in GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, there’s not much happening with Godzilla’s human co-stars. Tsukioka and Hidemi (Setsuko Wakayama), his boss’ daughter, are engaged in a tepid romance, and late in the film it is revealed that Kobayashi is also (secretly) in love with her.
But that plot thread goes nowhere because Kobayashi sacrifices himself in the film’s final act! None of the characters really have an arc, and their actions ultimately don’t affect the outcome of the plot until the film is nearly over. Had Tsukioka and Kobayashi had a falling out over Hidemi, and went their separate ways before eventually making amends and attempting to aid in Godzilla’s defeat, there would at least be SOMETHING happening to keep viewers interested. But as it stands, the non-kaiju portion of this film boils down to “this is Godzilla’s world and these bland people just live in it.”
Because Ishiro Honda was busy with production on Toho’s HALF HUMAN, the task of directing GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN fell upon Motoyoshi Oda. An understudy of Kajiro Yamamoto (who mentored both Honda and Akira Kurosawa), Oda was likely hired because he was reliable and worked fast! Though he only had a few years of training, the fifteen years of filmmaking experience Oda gained prior to this Godzilla film endowed him with machine-like efficiency. The end result is a movie that is well-shot but lacking emotional depth – a definite side effect of Oda having to direct anywhere from three to seven movies in a single year for his Toho overlords!
Also noticeably missing from the team this time around was Akira Ifukube, who was likely too busy to create the new soundtrack. (In 1955 alone, Ifukube composed music for twenty-one films!) Instead, composer Masaru Sato stepped in to score Godzilla’s second outing, providing a rather simplistic soundtrack that fits the film, but lacks the oomph (and military marches) that made Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla-themes so darned memorable. Though Sato’s composition for GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN has grown on me in recent weeks, I still very much prefer his themes from EBIRAH: HORROR OF THE DEEP (aka GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER), SON OF GODZILLA, and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA.
GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN had a really tough act to follow, and the filmmakers at the time were exploring uncharted territory. Most studios were churning out one-off monster movies and creature features where humanity triumphed every time, so sequels and “shared universes” weren’t even a thing. (The exception of course being Universal with their classic monster movies, which had sequels and characters that all existed in the same fictional world!) So in many ways, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka and friends were ahead of the curve and opened the door to a much larger Godzilla universe teeming with gargantuan creatures!
Although GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN does have its share of problems, the fact that it’s a classic GODZILLA MOVIE means that I love it, warts and all! Besides, how can I truly dislike the film that introduced the world to Anguirus, and featured the first-ever scene of Godzilla knocking a jet out of the sky with his radioactive breath?! (Short answer: I can’t.) In my opinion, this film actually deserves more attention (and respect) and I feel that this often overlooked Godzilla sequel does enough right to earn itself a rating of:
GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN was Toho’s fourth highest grossing film in 1955, and also the tenth highest-grossing Japanese film overall that year (domestically). Needless to say, Godzilla was good for business and American distributors were starting to take notice. Producers Harry Rybnick, Edward Barison, Richard Kay, Paul Schreibman, and Edmund Goldman teamed with AB-PT Pictures to obtain the U.S. distribution rights for Toho’s new Godzilla sequel. But instead of just redubbing the movie, these gentlemen wanted to cannibalize the effects footage and create an all new film called THE VOLCANO MONSTERS.
With a planned release in 1957, Ib Melchior, screenwriter of such films as THE ANGRY RED PLANET, REPTILICUS, and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, was hired to write the VOLCANO MONSTERS script, which would revolve around a Tyrannosaurus Rex and an Ankylosaurus coming out of suspended animation and battling each other in San Francisco. To help move things along, and as a token of good faith, Toho sent the production company a pair of kaiju suits to utilize for shooting new footage. But it never came to pass.
AB-PT Pictures went under in ’57, the Godzilla and Anguirus suits went missing, and GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN would never make it to U.S. theaters until 1959, under a new title: GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER! After the initial plan to create THE VOLCANO MONSTERS failed, Paul Schreibman and Edmund Goldman decided to redub the film to try and sell it as an all new monster movie featuring never-before-seen creatures! While this plan likely wouldn’t fool Godzilla fans, it worked well enough to convince Warner Bros. to distribute GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER on a double bill with TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE!
Then on May 21, 1959, GIGANTIS – TOTALLY NOT GODZILLA: THE MOVIE came to U.S. theaters. While the film pretty much kept the storyline from GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, there were various changes made. A stock footage montage was added to the opening of the film (wait… was that a rocket from the old Flash Gordon serials?!) while a narrator drones on about humanity focusing too much on reaching the stars to notice that there are still secrets hidden on Earth, or some such nonsense.
There is also some stock footage added in during Dr. Yamane’s briefing from a variety of old sci-fi flicks (including a special appearance by UNKNOWN ISLAND‘s herd of clumsy Ceratosaurs!) before we get to footage from the original GOJIRA. And for all of you history buffs, keep an eye out for some World War II era stock footage inserted into the nightclub scene where Tsukioka and Hidemi go dancing. If you look closely, you can see several Nazi swastikas that they attempted to cover up in post-production with solid gray circles. (Once you notice them, you can never unsee them!)
But the biggest changes can all be traced to the film’s U.S. dub-track. Along with replacing chunks of Masaru Sato’s soundtrack with music from KRONOS and THE DEERSLAYER (1957), there were numerous other alterations made. Not only was Godzilla rechristened as “Gigantis,” but the King of the Monsters was also dubbed over with Anguirus’ roar throughout most of the movie! (What? WHY?!) Tsukioka (voiced by Keye Luke) perceives himself to be a coward in this version of the film, and only gets over it by avenging his pal Kobayashi after trapping Gigantis in its icy tomb. As for Kobayashi himself, his secret love for Hidemi was completely excised from the U.S. cut.
The dubbing in GIGANTIS is well-done, though there are occasional awkward (i.e. hilarious) bits of dialogue here and there. (e.g. “Ah, Banana Oil!“). And, as is typical of American monster flicks, this movie ends on a happy note with an added epilogue that celebrates the defeat of Gigantis by the triumphant hero, who also gets the girl. But is it superior to Toho’s original GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN? Heck no! Along with the issues already present in Motoyoshi Oda’s original film, GIGANTIS tacks on a TON of expository narration throughout.
Oh my God(zilla), the narration…. With the absence of a “Steve Martin” type of character (i.e. a white guy) to guide us Westerners through the story, the U.S. producers instead relied on a constant stream of monologuing by Tsukioka to keep viewers on track. This allows us to know what the lead characters are always thinking and feeling, especially during scenes with little to no dialogue. While I do understand why it was done, this marathon of constant narration definitely bogs the movie down and almost makes it seem longer (even though this cut of the film is actually three minutes shorter).
GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER actually succeeds in giving the character of Tsukioka an arc, but fails to improve upon anything else, thus making it the inferior version of this classic kaiju throwdown. GIGANTIS will forever be a curious footnote in Godzilla history, mainly due to its profoundly interesting backstory, but it doesn’t have much else to offer. While I may have enjoyed this U.S. cut when I was a young Godzilla fan (if only because it was the only version available), I’m not so keen on it these days. But since it’s still a Godzilla movie at its core, I’m going to pull my punches a bit and give GIGANTIS a rating of: