Monday, May 23, 2016

Godzilla Chronicles: Godzilla Raids Again

It's time once again for me to continue my "Godzilla Chronicles", and since it seemed that I ironically did the second one in May again last year without really thinking about it, this time I'll do so again. These won't always be just once a year, that's just the way it's worked out so far. Previously, I introduced people to my love of Godzilla, and my own childhood memories of the big monster. Then I started at the beginning of the franchise, with the original 1954 classic Gojira. So following that line of progression, for the time being at least, I suppose that is how this little series will go. Bearing that in mind, let's delve into one of the more forgotten/overlooked of the entire series, the first direct sequel to that original classic, Godzilla Raids Again.

One of cinema's first major "monster battles".

Similar to what Hollywood did with the original King Kong, it being such a huge hit that they ordered a sequel that was finished and released in under a year (that being Son of Kong), Toho went the same route. The original Godzilla hit was such a surprise success (one of the most successful and critically acclaimed Japanese films of all time), that they ordered a sequel to go into production almost immediately. Unlike the second Kong film, however, it did not reprise the same director or cast.

The original (and most prolific/famous) director, Ishiro Honda, was busy on several other film projects, including the controversial Half Human, so was presumably unavailable to craft a sequel to his own hit. It was directed instead by lesser known Toho director Motoyoshi Oda. Special effects guru Eiji Tsuburaya did, however, work on this sequel, being the "kaiju master" that he was, though in some ways it was one of his lesser works (undoubtedly due in part to time constraints).

The two stars of the film, Godzilla and Anguirus.

This film had one major obvious first to it's credit, that being that it was the first to see Godzilla fight another monster, let alone feature another monster. This would be the last time that a Toho monster film would feature a monster battle until the 60s, though they did follow it up with three side films focusing on/introducing other monsters, namely Rodan, Giant Monster Varan, and Mothra. Even their first attempt at a 50s sci-fi alien invasion film, The Mysterians, featured a giant robot monster called Moguera. But it was this film that introduced what is actually my second favorite monster from the entire series, so technically my second favorite daikaiju of all time, Anguirus.

Anguirus as he would appear in full color glory in later films.

The basic setup of the film, also known in Japan as Counterattack of Godzilla, is pretty simple. Best friends Koji and Shoichi work for a fishing company as scouting pilots, meaning they fly around and scout for schools of tuna, etc. Koji's plane goes down and he's forced to land on some rocky islands, with Shoichi eventually finding him. As they are preparing to leave, they suddenly see two giant monsters fighting, eventually falling together into the ocean. One of those monsters happens to look suspiciously like the original Godzilla who had previously terrorized Japan. And that's basically it. They inform the government, some science guys spew some crap about what types of "dinosaurs" they thought these monsters were, the monsters eventually make their way to Japan (of course), and start fighting in Osaka, fucking shit up along the way, per usual.

For reference, I put "dinosaurs" in quotes, because as I explained in past articles, even as a kid I never liked to think of Godzilla or any of his contemporaries as dinosaurs, even though I was obsessed with dinos as a kid. To me, then and now, Godzilla and the other monsters are better thought of as forces of nature, akin to ancient Japanese Shinto gods. The word "Daikaiju" itself means "Great Strange Beast", more or less, and that's what they are, powerful giants of a forgotten ancient era, awoken in modern times by man's ignorant abuse of the planet. So in some ways you could consider them, Godzilla especially, to be vengeful spirits of the Earth, trying to balance things out again because man has gotten too big for his britches. I suppose "giant ancient monsters" could be considered dinosaurs, yes, but I don't think of them that way.

Believe in the great Godzilla.

In FACT, in my own personal mythology that I developed as I grew up with these films, these ancient god-like monsters are actually the only ones of their kind, or in a way, a-sexual, hence the reason that a creature like Mothra, for example, is a solitary being who lays (typically) one egg per lifetime. She eventually dies, and gives way to (typically) one replacement child monster, the new Mothra. I like to think of Godzilla the same way, that "he" is a solitary creature, who at some point probably has an egg that produces a "Godzilla Jr.", or in the Showa case a silly baby thing called Minilla. I suppose you could say that in a way it would make sense that such giant, somewhat immortal monsters would be asexual, and only produce one offspring, because they're too big for the planet to sustain a bunch of them.

And in that sense, I suppose that also helps conveniently explain why after they killed the FIRST Godzilla with the terrible "Oxygen Destroyer" in the first film, that there is now suddenly another Godzilla rampaging around. You could just say that OG (Original Godzilla), had a "son" kicking around already, so it's actually the "son" then that is the big star of the rest of the Showa Era series. Continuing on that note, I personally like to think that the Godzilla from the Hesei Era films (80s and 90s), is Minilla all grown up, and that subsequently, "Godzilla Jr." from those movies grows up to be the Godzilla of the Millennium films. That's my mythology anyway.

The original VHS cover I owned a kid.

Above is the artwork to the VHS tape I got as a kid. One of the first three or four Godzilla films I remember seeing, and certainly owning, it was not one of my favorites, per say, but I still loved it. A bit of an oddity however, is the fact that while the cover of the tape clearly says "Godzilla Raids Again", the proper US title of the film, the MOVIE on the tape, as I remember it, says "Gigantis, the Fire Monster" in the opening, which of course confused the hell out of me. Like "Who the fuck is Gigantis?" Long story short, when Warner Bros. released the US version of this film, they did a major hack-job on it, and tried to pass off Godzilla as whole new monster, a "Volcano Monster" called Gigantis. That didn't go over very well with audiences, and certainly wasn't smart from a business point of view, as the original Godzilla had been a decent hit in the states too. So Hollywood subsequently used Godzilla's name in all future US releases. But Video Treasures, the company that put that tape out, obviously were lazy and just used the "Gigantis" cut, maybe hoping no one would notice. It still has cool art though.

Such a great idea, to take a hit and NOT follow it up.

Another interesting side note about the film, the US dubbing was the first official acting credit, to my knowledge, of one George Takei, who would later go on to earn fame as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek. He would only do voice over work for one other Toho film, Rodan, but it's still neat that he did them. I would actually imagine that it might have been in part because of that blunder on Warner Bros. part, trying to rename the film and monster, that might have kept Godzilla out of theaters for several years, until 1962 in fact. I think the second film in general, even in Japan, kind of underwhelmed and under-performed, but it is still a classic, and worth seeing for anyone who loves the genre.

Ice, Ice, Baby.....

The film builds to a crescendo, as the two monsters fight again in Osaka, causing major damage. Godzilla eventually manages to defeat poor Anguirus, which then leaves him to fight those nasty humans. They somehow contrive the plot that he'd be vulnerable to cold, so they lure him into some arctic waters, and bomb the poor fellow, burying him under the most convincing pile of ice you've ever seen. Which will eventually perfectly form into a natural looking glacier, which he may or may not bust out of at a future date, in a future film. You'll have to wait for the next installment, maybe, to find out!

All in all, Godzilla Raids Again in a way kind of deserves it's obscurity, not because it's a BAD film, but just because it is somewhat unremarkable. I would suggest that it's certainly better than SOME later G-films, namely a couple in the 70s, and some of the Hesei/Millennium ones. It tells a simple story, and I find it enjoyable. I liked it as a kid, because there's a monster fight dude, even though I was still grr-ing over the fact that they BEAT Godzilla again. Three of his films that I first owned, he "lost" in, and it pissed me off, because even though he was trampling shit, he was my hero, and I wanted him to win, dammit! Even though I didn't want people to die in those movies, the way I thought of it, even as a child, was that mankind was messing up big-time, and Godzilla had come round to put us back in check. And while it would surely be terrifying, and some horrible stuff would happen, if a REAL giant monster like that were to appear, I can't say that I wouldn't also be really excited. Just because they would exist, and that would, in it's own terrible way, be awesome.

So make sure to give Raids a chance if you have the time, and I'll be back again with another Chronicle for you, soon enough.

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