Lest you think quickie, cash-in sequels are something new, I have three words for you: Son of Kong. But if that only draws a blank look I can always hit you upside the head with this: the quickie, cash-in sequel producer Tomoyuki Tanaka churned out in the wake of Godzilla‘s 1954 box office success…without the original Godzilla‘s director or (with two notable exceptions) its cast.
Can you see the problem with that already? Ishiro Honda just had to go off and make Half Human. Half Human, for those unfamiliar, is a Yeti movie…’nough said. Whatever drove that monumentally bad decision on Honda’s part allowed director Motoyoshi Oda to win the big chair back in Godzilla land. Five months later he turned in a finished film…that almost sunk the franchise in its infancy. Why? Because – in spite of inspiring the “Godzilla vs.” formula that would go on to power the series for the next fifty-odd years – it’s just not very good. It came out wrong.
We open flying the friendly skies with Shoichi Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi), who will be Our Working Class Hero for the remainder of the film. Tsukioda’s a flying pair of eyes for a small, family-owned fishing company, cruising low in the hope of spotting unwary schools. Pretty cool job when you think about it, made that much sweeter for Tsukioka by the fact he’s apparently doing the boss’ daughter, Hidemi (Setsuko Wakayama). Hidemi may be just a lowly radio operator but we just know she’s taking full advantage of the fact her dad owns everything. The first time we meet her she’s flirting with Tsukioka on company time, and over company airwaves, while he’s flying a plane. Nepotism, they name is Hidemi. No better time to flirt with your beloved than when he’s cruising low and slow over a vast expanse of inky black ocean, am I right ladies? What could possibly go wrong?
Someone could crash, for one thing. Like Kubayashi (Minoru Chiaki), Tsukioka’s friend. Were he better developed he might be described as the film’s Odious Comic Relief, but this film and “character development” go together like vegans and Jimmie Dean sausage. Kubayashi’s another pilot for the same company as Our Hero and, just as we figure this out, Kubayashi’s engine stalls. He’s forced to land on a desolate islet in the middle of nowhere, causing Tsukioka to swing back and pick him up. Both are stunned to find their temporary crash pad is host to a giant monster battle in progress…and one of the combatants is Godzilla!
Interestingly, upon sighting the monsters, both pilots run away from their sea planes toward the hundred-foot-tall, struggling reptiles. Even at this point Godzilla had his share of loyal-to-the-point-of-sheer-madness fanboys. I know Our Heroes are supposed to be seeking out shelter from the “rockslide” these monsters trigger…but that doesn’t help since the “rockslide” looks like two grips standing on ladders just out of frame, pelting Our Heroic Pilots with sawdust, fake snow and Styrofoam rocks.
Returning to the mainland, Our Heroes inform the world of the daikaiju‘s continued existence. This leads to another meeting scene…and as anyone who’s watched American kaiju films knows, such scenes can become very tedious very quickly. This is one such, the first real Tedious Meeting Scene in the original (Showa) Godzilla series. In the first film such scenes felt like necessary additions to the overall story, with some deft critiques of then-modern Japanese democracy thrown in for good measure and realistic plot-spice.
Here, we see Our Heroes pick the monsters out of some paleontology books and a pack of dinosaur photographs. One of them’s Godzilla, obviously. The other’s identified either as an “Angilosaurus” or “Angilas” for short…and, depending on your dub/sub, “Anguirus”…and a whole mess of others…it’s complicated, okay? Whatever you call him, he was “one of the stronger dinosaurs that lived in the prehistoric era.”
In these early kaiju films paleontology books serve the same purpose as those mug shot collections the police keep on their shelves. One of the assembled Scientists does his damnedest to make the Meeting even more Tedious by quoting from a text at length, going so far as to cite his source (like a good scientist). “Angilas,” according to “Poland’s wild animal specialist,” Professor Plateli Hondon, “is about 150 to 200 feet tall and it is also a carnivore. This behavior is typical for a creature this large.” Bullshit it is, but whatever. “However, Angilas is one of the few creatures that had a thorough hatred for war-like predators.” Wait up…you just said Angilas was a carnivore. Now you’re saying it hates predators? Oh, I’m sorry, I meant “war-like predators,” whatever that means. What, was Angilas the self-hating Jew of the Jurassic Period? Fine, make him a Woody Allen protagonist. See if I care. Our Scientist concludes, “The two must have fought since the beginning and now its come back from Godzilla’s past.” That doesn’t sound like a line of dialogue from a respectable leader in his field; it sounds more like one of the tagline for this movie’s forest of posters.
The original Godzilla‘s Professor Yamane (still played by Takashi Shimura – holdover #1) is also attending this meeting and, not be outdone in the Bullshit Science Department, lays the smack down on everyone in room. He admits that, so far as anti-Godzilla plans are concerned, they’ve got nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Dick. Especially with the secrets of the Oxygen Destroyer permanently beyond reach. Incidentally, Professor Yamane’s doing well for a guy who watched his surrogate son-in-law commit suicide less than a year before. Makes me wonder how Ogata and Emiko are holding up. Somehow I doubt their relationship survived Dr. Serazawa’s death, especially with the way he twisted the knife by telling them to “be happy together.” He might as well have just been honest and shouted, “You’ll see my face every time you fuck, you backstabbing bastards! I could be vaporizing fish in my lab right now, but no-oh! You two just had to demand I use my creation to kill Godzilla! Well, congratulations, love birds. See you in your nightmares.”
Wait a minute…Godzilla’s very-obviously alive. So Serazawa’s noble sacrifice just got flushed down this film’s toilet. Unless there was another mutant dinosaur out there…of exactly the same species…which reacted to atomic bomb tests in exactly the same way. (Though, to be fair, this Godzilla’s a hell of a lot slimmer.)
Sorry to go off on a tangent but, at this point, not to be outdone in the Tedium Department either, Professor Yamane stops the film dead to show the whole room clips from Godzilla’s previous rampage. That means pieces of the last film. And that means stock footage. Angry rant in 5…4…3…2…Angry Rant: Now.
What we have here is the worst kind of wasted opportunity and the worst kind of dirt-cheap film making, all wrapped up nicely in one Tedious Meeting Scene. Here we have a rare (for this series of Godzilla movies, anyway) moment of continuity: tangible evidence that we’re peaking into an alternate universe (presumably) shocked to its core by the events depicted so honestly in the last film. Think about it: Tokyo’s gone, baby, gone. We never figure out how much time’s past since Steve Martin signed off…but how long do you think it’s been? Yamane’s still alive and he looks exactly the same. No one should need a mute montage to remember the threat Godzilla poses. This was the perfect opportunity to explore the social, political and cultural implications of a giant monster obliterating a modern, major metropolis…but Godzilla Raids Again had neither the time nor the budget for silly little things like that. Or all that riots and massive civil unrest news of Godzilla’s return should cause. Where are the politicians trying to cover Godzilla up in order to avoid all that? Where are the mass evacuations of coastal cities? Osaka’s evacuated eventually…after Godzilla shows up in the harbor…but that’s kinda like locking the door after the barn’s already on fire…and about to be shelled by the fifth cavalry. Other than that…we get nothing. Except this goddamned Tedious Meeting Scene.
And stock footage. Get used to that.
But Dr. Yamane has a theory: Godzilla’s a nocturnal marine reptile, so he must hate light, right? The Bomb blast woke him up and now he attacks any brightly lit thing he sees…especially cities at night. So black out the cities and use planes to drop giant flashbang grenades in the direction you want Godzilla to go. Bang! Instant city-saving.
Cut to a shot of Our Hero and Miss Nepotism looking out over Osaka, wondering if it’ll be all right. Ha! That’s all the character development we’ll get for the next twenty minutes. Time for the main characters take an extended break from the film to make way for more footage of planes, ships, jets, military people running through offices…and that damned evacuation (finally). It’s yet another example of the kind of films Michael Bay wants to make when he grows the fuck up (which he will never do)…but at least we’re out of that meeting room.
Godzilla’s rise in Osaka Bay leads to an inferior re-staging of that scene from the first film where his head appears above water, causing military men to go apeshit. The Big G comes ashore and, wonder of wonders, the Anti-Godzilla Flashbang Plan seems to work out pretty well. Too bad the series would forget all about it between now and the next film. Along with that whole “Godzilla’s nocturnal” thing. But who needs continuity, right? It just gets in the way of monster ‘rasslin.
So the series takes one of its strangest twists here, cutting to the back of a paddy wagon. Three prisoners successfully escape after liberating a guard’s gun, pulling a Grand Theft Auto on a nearby gasoline truck, and leading the police on an absurdly low-speed chase through one of Osaka’s finer dockside industrial areas. (Or, as I like to call it, employing the Alderney Industrial Park Method.) Eventually, like in all good GTA runs, the criminals crash their car into a refinery. Unlike in Grand Theft Auto, the scenery in Osaka proves destructible and the resulting explosion starts a massive fire. Our Criminals escape unharmed…somehow…but the fire proves massive enough for Godzilla to see just by casually glancing over his shoulder.
Angilas joins the festivities at this point, setting up the twenty minute monster fight that consumes the entire middle-third of Godzilla Raids Again. So how much is a twenty minute monster fight worth to you? What if I told you its one of the lamest fights in the Showa Godzilla series? It’s also one of the best because it’s one of the most brutal, chaotic and animalistic – not the choreographed sumo wrestling we’d see in later movies…or the Dragonball Z deathray battles that dominate the Heisei and Millennium series. But there’s a reason fight choreography would become a staple: without it, as here, the battle becomes a confused montage of monster slap-fights with no internal narrative, no rising action, and a climax that comes out of nowhere. It’s as if Godzilla eventually tries of dueling with his occasionally-quadrupedal foe, says “fuck it,” and kills Angilas in the equivalent of two good bites to the brain stem (and a little dash of cremation for good measure).
So Godzilla wins, the criminals who unwittingly called him down on Osaka die (drowned in a subway tunnel flooded by the monster’s fighting – nothing symbolic about that, eh wot?) and we get an inferior remake of another shot from the last film: that pan across the decimated remains of a city the morning after Godzilla’s visited. All together now: “There’s got to be a morning ahf-ter/if we can hold on to the night…”
Making things even worse, someone (I don’t know if it was our director, or suitmation director Eiji Tsuburaya, or some random cameraman) decided to shoot the monster footage at normal speed. Shooting Godzilla with a camera running extra fast, as they did in the last movie, allowed the Big G to take on the ponderous, weighty plod needed to convince audiences (by which I mean me) that he really was a five hundred thousand ton reptile once they slowed the footage back down in post production. Except, in order to get the slowed-down monster footage to look “right,” suitmation actors Haruo Nakajima (Godzilla, reprising his role from the first film) and Katsumi Tezuka (Angilas) have to do everything double time. As a result, instead of looking like a vicious brawl between two prehistoric animals, most of this fight looks like a shoving match between two spastic actors trapped in costumes they can barely see out of, much less wrestle around in.
That’s not even mentioning the ugly, animatronic rod and hand puppets used for close-up shots. The first film had the same problem, but they didn’t get in the way because…well, Godzilla actually told a decent story, and told it well. I harp on this fight, not just because its the only thing anyone will ever appreciate about Godzilla Raids Again, but also because it’s pretty much all this film has to offer…apart from The Adventures of Hero Pilot, Miss Nepotism and their Dumbass Friend who Eventually Saves the World.
You might remember them from the first half of the film, though Tsukioka and Papa Nepotism did appear throughout the fight, inaugurating yet another trend that would last out the series: main characters watching the monster battle from Minimum Safe Distance. The fight destroyed Papa Nepotism’s Fish Factory and we catch up to our protagonists as they pick through the burnt-out wreckage (no need to worry about radioactive contamination, I guess). Will this film finally spend some time developing its characters by showcasing their varied reactions to these (literally) earth-shaking events?
Well…kinda…sorta. But not really. I don’t fault any of the actors: they’re trapped in silly sitcom roles that have fuck all to do with the giant monster movie going on around them. Tsukioka loves Hidemi (duh) but Godzilla’s screwed their wedding plans with a big, spiky dildo. Kubayashi is the obligatory dumbass friend, here to do the obligatory dumbass friend thing and give Our Lovers shit for settling down and being all heteronormative. Except it turns out Kubayashi’s only putting on airs since there’s some lady’s portrait in his Little Black Book and…zzZZzzzz…whoa, what? You still here? It’s not over? Gah!
All the elements that would go on to define Godzilla‘s movies are present here. But the mix is off. It came out wrong, I said. You’re supposed to introduce your characters, develop them somewhat, and then drop a giant monster into their lives. Godzilla Raids Again hadn’t figured that out just yet, so a twenty minute monster fight separates the characters from their development. By this point in the movie, I’m basking in the monster ‘rasslin’ afterglow and I can’t find it in myself to really care about these people. It’s like a Godzilla-and-slice-of-life-comedy sandwich: two great tastes that do not go well together.
Too bad, too, because once the film remembered its characters they become instrumental to the story’s conclusion…just like the Yamanes, Ogata, and Dr. Serazawa. But since this is a decidedly blue collar bunch (as opposed to the scientists and military men of the prequel) seeing them suddenly leading the charge against Godzilla feels forced. I get that our pilots are both war veterans (try to find a pilot in the 1950s who wasn’t), so at least their actions are consistent, but that doesn’t make their shoehorning any less obvious, or make the fact that suddenly everyone defers to them any more believable. Kubayashi’s noble sacrifice near the end (which gives everyone – by which I mean Tsukioka – an idea of how to put Godzilla down without recourse to Super Science) feels like a pale imitation of the prequel’s dramatic conclusion, with none of the emotional impact it needs to end the film properly, since we’re still figuring out who the hell Kubayashi is by the time it’s too late.
Godzilla Raids Again tried to tell a daikaiju story from the ground up and failed spectacularly thanks to a rushed schedule, dodgy effects, poor scripting and pedestrian direction. If you’re snarky enough to riff the film back to the stone age, it can be fun. It is literally the prototypical Godzilla film and that fact alone should make it a serious candidate for study. But it’s so poorly constructed I can only recommend it for completists and budding fans who want to be completists someday.
Thankfully, audiences recognized the vast, myriad defects of this. So Toho Co. Ltd. shoved the King of the Monsters in a drawer and spent the next seven years experimenting with the genre, finally hitting upon a working production model in 1962. It was so successful, in fact, it made everyone forget about this farcical, failed experiment and became the most popular Godzilla movie of all time. So much the better.