Friday, May 31, 2019

Godzilla Chronicles: Son of Godzilla

It's time once again, for another installment of the Godzilla Chronicles! Last time around, I talked about what was very possibly the first Godzilla film I ever saw, and one of my top personal favorites: Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, also known as Ebirah, Horror of the Deep! That film was directed by one Jun Fukuda, and he would go on to direct the following installment in the series, and the subject of today's article, Son of Godzilla. He would later have a second stretch as the main Godzilla director in the 70s, for three future movies.

This mid-60s period represented a slight change in the "Godzilla Team" at Toho Studios. The creator of Godzilla and "Suitmation" in general, and Toho's top special effects man, Eiji Tsuburaya, had started his own company, Tsuburaya Productions, who made "Tokusatsu" or special effects shows for television, aimed at younger audiences. Their first creations were a trilogy of shows with the "Ultra" heading, starting with Ultra Q in 1965, and being followed by the more famous Ultraman and Ultra 7 in 1966 and 1967. The basis of these shows, was largely similar to the sci-fi and monster fare that he had worked on for Toho for years, dealing with strange occurrences and giant monster battles. Ultraman would of course go on to become a long-running franchise of its own, long after Tsuburaya's death. Meanwhile, while he still supervised the special effects for Sea Monster and Son, Tsuburaya was stepping away from being THE special effects guy at Toho, leaving it to younger men who he had trained.

Godzilla looks much more bad ass in this art than he does in the film.

For his part, frequent Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube didn't do the scores for Sea Monster or Son either. He did, however, continue working with Godzilla godfather, director Ishiro Honda, on the 1966 and '67 films War of the Gargantuas, and King Kong Escapes. Ishiro Honda himself during these years was taking a break from the series, though clearly he didn't stop making monster movies. Gargantuas was a follow-up to the bizarre but great Frankenstein Conquers the World (aka Frankenstein vs. Baragon), from 1965. And Escapes of course, saw Toho once again making use of the American King Kong license, this time in his own independent film, which itself was a loose spin-off of the Rankin-Bass produced cartoon The King Kong Show. Escapes featured on similarity with Son specifically, that I'll get into a bit later. Honda and Ifukube would both return to the series in 1968, in what at the time was somewhat intended to be the final bow for the Godzilla franchise, Destroy All Monsters.

Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla share many similarities, which I doubt are fully coincidence. For one thing, they both feature smaller scale stories, which take place on islands, moving away from the more epic, world-saving nature of Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster and Invasion of the Astro Monster (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero). The tone and style of the films was also distinctly different from Honda's films, having a somewhat lighter, more "fun" atmosphere to them. Part of this was due to lighter, more contemporary "60s" sounding scores, by composer Masaru Sato. It was also partly the subject matter of the stories, moving away from monsters invading Japan or alien attempts at conquest. Sea Monster was clearly inspired by James Bond in tone, dealing with a secret terrorist organization. Meanwhile, Son of Godzilla dealt with something as simple as a scientific weather experiment, which I'll elaborate on momentarily.

Derp Sr.

Derp Jr.

But first, the proverbial elephant in the room, needs to be addressed. In my opinion, Son of Godzilla features the worst Godzilla suit in original Showa series, and arguably the entire franchise, by far. Mainly on account of how absolutely silly and, to be non-Politically Correct for a moment, "half-retarded", they made poor Godzilla's face look in this. Tsuburaya Productions had co-opted the previous Godzilla suit, my personal favorite, used in Monster Zero and Sea Monster, and repurposed it as a new monster for Ultraman. And whoever designed the face of this new suit, thankfully only used for this one film, should have been slapped. Subsequently, the design, especially the face, for King Kong in his own '67 film Escapes, looked equally "Derpy", with goofy eyes and a dumb-as-fuck, snaggle-toothed mouth. Something was going on in 1967 at Toho Studios, and I'm not sure I want to know what.

The titular "Son" of Godzilla, who would later be referred to both as Minya and Minilla (depending on versions of the movies), also happens to look extraordinarily goofy, and also "half-retarded". But that is a bit more acceptable, considering he's supposed to be a "cute", goofy, clumsy child-monster, who is also the film's comedy relief. In general, in the mid-60s, Toho was moving the Godzilla series away from its scary "monster smashes everything" roots, and more towards a "monster smashes some things, but means well" tone. Godzilla was making the transition from force of nature sent to remind arrogant humans who's boss, to more of a "heroic" character who defended the Earth from threats other than mankind. But for the love of God, why did they design his face in this to look SO stupid? Mind you, I don't HATE it. But it still doesn't look good, at all. And I WOULD have told you it was possibly the worst look for Godzilla ever, that is, before 2016's "Shin Godzilla" came out. THAT thing, which I refuse to call "Godzilla", is the worst/dumbest looking thing Toho has ever created. So "Musuko-Goji"? You're off the hook, bro.

You can't make an omelet...

So back to the actual film itself. Son of Godzilla, previously stated, features a fairly small-scale plot, centering around a team of scientists who are carrying out top-secret, but hardly sinister experiments on a remote island. The island, called Solgell Island, is the chosen location of the Japanese government, to carry out weather-manipulating experiments, in the hopes of improving agriculture for a growing world population. These experiments were going alright, until the day that a stereotypically nosy ass and "do anything for a story" reporter comes to the island. If you ask me, getting that big "scoop" is certainly not worth having yourself transported all the way to some remote island, just to snoop around a team of scientists. But that reporter would learn a thing or two, as not long after his arrival, the creatures that you see pictured above, gigantic praying mantises called "Kamacuras" show up, and start wreaking havoc with the camp.

Not only that, but they also manage to unearth a giant egg (though not quite Mothra giant), which they immediately start attacking, trying to make themselves the world's largest omelet. And thus enter Godzilla, who I suppose has some kind of mystical Sixth Sense about his kid being in trouble, because he hauls ass out of nowhere, swimming to the island just in time to save the "so ugly he's cute" Baby G from certain doom. Now, Godzilla fighting giant bugs, especially ones that are significantly smaller than him, isn't exactly threatening, nor does it make for terribly long fight scenes. That is something else that Sea Monster and Son have in common, aside from tone and taking place on islands: the fact that Godzilla faces, shall we say, a lesser caliber of opponent. But at least with Sea Monster, the titular creature, Ebirah the giant lobster is huge, about as big as the Big G himself, and in those fights, Ebirah arguably had the advantage of being a natural sea creature. Seeing Godzilla trash big mantises with little trouble is funny, but also sad. But as the audience will soon learn, this film isn't really about Godzilla and him fighting things.

Teaching the boy how to breath thermonuclear radiation.

A dad's work is never really done.

The actual meat and potatoes, so to speak, of Son of Godzilla, as I myself would learn when first watching it as a teenage rental, is all in the title of the film. It's centered around the alleged "son" of Godzilla, and the relationship between him and pops. Godzilla, at least at first, is full of what is generally referred to as "tough love", and even smacks the kid around a little, trying to teach him the hard way how to be a proper rompin', stompin', rampaging giant monster. The little guy has trouble from the outset, living up to Big G's legend. For one thing, he can't breath radioactive flaming breath worth a single shit, instead puffing out embarrassing "smoke rings". It turns out that little Minilla can't roar worth a damn as well, instead emitting what can best be described as goofy ass "donkey noises". He also, all in all, just isn't that tough, as it turns out even infant Godzillas are kinda weak. Godzilla eventually manages to get the kid, who also doesn't like fighting, to pops' dismay, to confront the bully mantises that were gonna fry him for dinner, and he does manage to turn the tables on them. With some help from dad, of course.

One thing of note to mention, is the very nature of Minilla himself. Where did he come from? Is he truly a baby Godzilla? Is he actually related to Godzilla, much less his actual son? None of this is ever really addressed, here or elsewhere. But it is generally accepted by most fans that yes, Baby G is in fact Big G's kid. Which of course lends itself to more questions, such as where is Mama G then? One possible answer I came up with for this, years ago, is the idea that most of these super-gigantic monsters, are so big and so terrible, that perhaps they simply don't reproduce much. And I thought, what if many of them, even Godzilla, similar to Mothra, are technically "Asexual" in the sense that they simple lay an egg when it's time, by themselves. In that way, Godzilla "gives birth" to the next Godzilla, eventually. An extention of this private theory of mine, led to the idea that the Godzilla we see in the rest of the Showa films, past the first where the original Godzilla dies, must be the "Son" of that Godzilla. And thus maybe Minilla is the "Son" of THAT Godzilla. Which led to the more disconnected private fancy, that maybe the Godzilla featured in the Hesei era films, is actually Minilla grown up (with a radically different disposition no less). And thus maybe "Godzilla Jr." that shows up in the Hesei series, grows up to be the Godzilla featured in the totally-disconnected 2000s "Millennium" movies.  The idea doesn't quite work, of course, but it's still a neat idea.

Cue hawt island jungle girl.

Much like Sea Monster, Son also features a cute but tough island girl, though this time around the "island girl" is actually a Japanese girl named Saeko, whose scientist father had died on Solgell Island years before the research team showed up. At first hiding from the team, and nosy reporter Goro, she eventually reveals herself to them after trying to steal their clothes, and later still, she helps them by letting them stay in her cave after Godzilla careless steps all over their camp. Ultimately, she even winds up saving their lives, as the entire science team conveniently falls victim to a tropical illness, one which she knows the cure for. Unfortunately for everyone involved, even the Godzillas, in procuring said cure, she and Goro also accidentally wake up the island's true secret terror.

Spiders are scary, even to giant monsters!

While the Kamacuras are certainly a minor threat, at least to Godzilla Jr., they are not the true villain of the movie. As it turns out in the final act, the TRUE threat of Solgell Island, is ginormous, scary ass spider called Kumonga. It seems ol' Kumi had been sleeping, hidden under dirt and rock, for who knows how long. When the human kids woke his ass up, he was both grumpy, and hungry, so he wanted some human snacks. The girl, Saeko, who had formed a bond with Little G, feeding him fruit and such, managed to call to him when they were in trouble, and so he and his dad came stomping in. It was then that Kumonga realized he had a much bigger dinner available, and went to work.

Unlike the mantises, a giant spider actually proved to be a problem for Godzilla. It spews webbing, very similar to larva Mothra's cocoon silk, which has the same basic effect on Godzilla (and son). Being very stick, it somewhat immobilizes him, giving Kumonga the advantage. But of course, SPOILERS, in the end, with a bit of his son's help no less, the Big G manages to trash the spider, and all is well. Or is it?

Baby it's cold outside.

Major SPOILERS here, but in the end, the science team's experiments are too much of a success, creating an extreme winter on the island, which the team themselves must escape from. As for Godzilla and Son, they just kinda huddle up, and prepare to go into hibernation, I guess, turning into a lovely winter yard ornament. If I had been able to see this movie as a kid, this ending would have been, to me, extremely sad, and would have left me unsatisfied with the movie as a whole. Because as a kid, I took everything in movies at face value. Hell, 9 year old me took a film like Plan 9 From Outer Space dead serious.

Speaking of which, as I mentioned earlier in the article,  I didn't get to see this movie until my teens. I'm pretty sure that it was one of a handful of Showa Era G-films that didn't play on TNT's MonsterVision, or wasn't available on VHS at the local Wal-Mart, that I later rented in my teens. Others of this nature would include Destroy All Monsters and Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster. As for Son of Godzilla, I'm sure when I first saw it, given my disposition in my teens especially, while I didn't HATE it, I probably wasn't terribly impressed. To be honest, this is one of the weaker Showa films. Godzilla's look is uncharacteristically goofball, the plot is arguably thin (by kaiju film standards), and the enemy monsters, while cool looking, aren't very threatening.This is a movie, while I wouldn't have loved the ending, that I wish I had seen as a kid instead.

In fact I wish I had been able to see ALL of the Showa Era Toho monster movies as a kid (probably not Matango), because not only was that 9-13 year old era my most fanatical when it came to Godzilla. But in general, kids are just more open and experience everything fuller, bigger, more raw if you will. I know that was certainly the case for me. There are a shit-ton of older movies, even 80s and early 90s movies I missed out on as a kid, that I wish I had been able to see when I was more innocent, less beaten by the world and jaded, etc. Son of Godzilla is one of those, because I know I would have overall gotten more out of it, and enjoyed it more as a child. As it is, as an adult, I have come to have a greater appreciation for the film, and do enjoy it now, for what it is.

While it's hardly my favorite classic Godzilla movie, and it wouldn't be on my Top 5, or perhaps even Top 10 recommendations of Showa Kaiju films to watch, I'd still recommend it. It's easily one of the "cheesiest" of the bunch, a term I don't really like to use when referring to old movies with older special effects (and typically low budgets). But it's a fun, oddly heartwarming movie in it's own weird way. So if you're ever in the mood for some "corny" fun one evening, give it a spin!


Seeing how this is now the ninth entry in my Godzilla Chronicles sub-series, and seeing as how the new American production "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" just released in theaters, I thought I'd take the time to lay out the previous articles in chronological order thus far, for your reading enjoyment:

1. The Beginning

2. Gojira (aka Godzilla: King of the Monsters)

3. Godzilla Raids Again

4. King Kong vs. Godzilla

5. Mothra vs. Godzilla

6. Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster

7. Invasion of the Astro Monster (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero)

8. Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster