The unexpected success of the original Gojira film led Toho to find a quick and cheap way to cash in on the popularity. And within six months, they released the second Godzilla film: Godzilla Raids Again (aka Godzilla’s Counterattack). Since most of the previous film’s crew were already working on other projects, new composers, directors, actors, and most of a new special effects team had to be brought in. And a new Godzilla suit (lighter, and more maneuverable) was made. Despite the rush to get it into the theatres. GRA was not the production disaster it might have been.
First, a personal note. I can’t recall ever seeing this film until the past two decades. It didn’t get released in the USA until 1959, and even then under the bizarre name, Gigantis the Fire Monster. Around that time, I was watching these movies either on TV at home, or from the front seat of a car when my father drove the family to the Penetang drive-in, near where we had a cottage. Gigantis is certainly the sort of fare they would have shown there, but I simply don’t recall ever seeing it. Even later, when we moved, and I spent Saturday afternoons in the early ’60s watching other B-films in a local theatre, I don’t recall seeing it. However, I do recall seeing in the past the second kaiju featured in the film — Anguirus — but where and when I first saw him, I can’t remember.
So how do you resurrect a dead Godzilla? The previous (original, 1954) film killed him off quite effectively (that nasty oxygen destroyer…). Well, do you remember Prof. Yamane’s final words in the first film? If not, he said,
If nuclear testing continues then someday, somewhere in the world, another Godzilla may appear.
And, lo and behold, we have a second Godzilla show up. Not right away, of course. And not with the same stirring soundtrack from the first film (the music this time written by Masuro Sato). The music is competent, but not as inspiring to my ears.
The movie opens with a pilot (Kobayashi) directing a fishing ship to a school of bonita in the ocean. And some light, flirtatious chitchat between the pilot and the female radio operator back at the base. There’s more of a lighter, romantic feel about the characters in this film, as if humanizing the story would make G seem more evil.
Around 0:04:30, the pilot runs into trouble and his plane’s engine dies. He radios for rescue and heads his crippled plane to a nearby island where he lands. A second plane comes to his rescue., piloted by his friend Tsukioka.. incongruously we see Kobayashi, the stranded pilot, in a bay surrounded by a rock wall waving his handkerchief at the rescuer, then in the open, far from any rocks… the editing’s a bit sloppy.
The rescue plane (a pontoon plane) lands and the pilots share a few jokes about women radio operators until… suddenly, at 0:08:56… a noise! And a nose! A giant reptile appears over the rocks… oh, no: Godzilla Mark II. The monster is identified as Godzilla at 0:09:19. That’s sooner than G appeared in the first film. Then G is seen to be fighting with another monster; the spiky ankylosaurus we’ll learn is called Anguirus. Both fall off a cliff into the ocean in mid-grapple (how the pilots could see any of this, given their location deep within a rock canyon, is unexplained).
Cut to Osaka City police headquarters at 0:10:40 where the now-returned pilots are paging through pictures and books showing dinosaurs trying to identify what they saw. How’d they get there? And why a police station? How many police stations have dinosaur identification kits? Not told. But it’s a chance to re-introduce the paleontologist, Dr. Yamane, from the first film, who seems to be hanging around a police station 485 kms from his last-known location.
At 0:11;29 a second scientist (apparently they all hang around police stations…) makes the statement “The hydrogen bomb test awakened Godzilla,” which is in contrast to the original film’s suggestion the tests created Big G. And the tests “roused” an ankylosaurus, too, from somewhere between 70 and 150 million years ago, which we learn, is when Godzilla lived. So not a Jurassic dinosaur: a Cretaceous one.
And then… Anguirus is said to be “from 150 to 200 feet in height…” Which is tall for a quadruped, given the 50m (164 ft) height of Godzilla. The new kaiju is described as also “exclusively carnivorous and extremely violent… extremely nimble… extremely aggressive and hostile towards other species.” And my inner paleontologist screams, “No! Ankylosaurs were slow, armoured, lumbering herbivores!” But it went unheeded…
And there we are again, in a committee meeting talking about what to do, rather than doing something. All they lacked was PowerPoint slides to make it sleepier.
Okay, the takeaway is that there is no plan (0:13:32) to deal with Godzilla. The committee watches Yamane’s home movies from the original film to remind everyone (audience included) of the devastation G wrought on Tokyo. Silent, grainy, and several minutes long. At 0:16:47 we learn this is a new Godzilla, not the old one come back to life (that would have made G uncomfortably equal to Jesus). Yamane says at 0:16:55 they’re more of a threat than nuclear weapons. That’s an important change: from Gojira as the allegory for the A-bomb (or the bomb manifest) to the kaiju being more dangerous than nuclear weapons. Nature has won the arms race.
At 0:17:30 Yamane says “Godzilla is acutely sensitive to light… It sends him into a rage.” Okay… G showed up mostly at night in the original, but not always. He was on the island of the fishermen in daylight without raging. And in this film, he was seen battling Big A in daylight (just blamed on A’s sneaky attack from behind). Not what I’d call “acutely sensitive.” G’s sensitivity “brings back memories of the hydrogen bomb test.” But if he was dormant during the test how could he… oh, stop being picayune; sit back, relax, and watch the damned film.
Skip to the obligatory romantic couple talking about impending doom. There’s more of the lovey-dovey in the sequel. Overhead, jet fighters head out to sea. But G is nowhere to be seen until about 0:20:22 when a pilot spots a “Godzilla-like subject” on radar. A frigate heads off in pursuit. Stock footage of military craft is shown. And… nothing. Talking heads, radio announcements. The fishing company bosses whine that G will be “a terrible blow to production.” Ah, capitalism: always focused on what matters: profits.
Okay, I understand: the Japanese diet is far more fish-and-seafood-oriented than mine, and the disruption of food sources would be a major upset to both local and national economies. but listening to the executives complain about the loss of business is like hearing Galen Weston whinging about not being paid enough.
Switch to the night shots of Osaka and the myriad of neon lights. Notice the blackface character in the sign at 0:22:40? I didn’t the first time I watched it. This is, of course, 1955, but still… At 0:22:50 we’re in a nightclub where dancers sway to the band’s sounds (interestingly, they have a helluva lot of strings onstage, but no horns, saxes, or clarinets in the band…). It’s a William-Powell-Myrna-Loy moment between the lovers, sans Astra. But then we hear an official announcement (why nightclubs have speakers wired to official broadcasts is never explained)… Godzilla has headed ashore for Osaka. Panic. Blackout.
Tanks and artillery (models of them, that is) roll out at 0:25:38. Haven’t they learned G is unfazed by such feeble efforts? Officials line a balcony at 0:26:10 to watch and point. Similar hubris was seen in the first film. At 0:26:27 Big G’s head appears in the bay. Shouting, Pointing. Binoculars lifted. G approaches. Planes drop flares; light-sensitive G is distracted and heads towards them. Meanwhile, people flee.
Seems familiar? So far, it’s pretty much the same as Gojira, just in another city. There’s a quick cut to the romantic bit, then back to Godzilla, who has by now been fooled into following the flares into deeper water.
Bizarre segue… at 0:31.:03, a prison van is seen driving along a deserted highway. Inside, prisoners are seen planning to overpower the guards and escape. Which they do in a way not unlike a Carry-On-Gang movie skit. There’s a search, a chase scene, shots fired, and a fuel truck the criminals stole crashes and bursts into flames in a refinery. At 0:35:00 the refinery is burning. All that light… and at 0:35:26, G notices and turns.
The military fire everything at the approaching G, who continues unfazed. But the kerfuffle attracts Big A, who at 0:37:26 wades ashore to see what the fun is all about. A then tackles G and the fight is on while the military continues to fire shells and rockets at the pair. It’s the wrestling match of the century. Flames spread, people flee, and explosions rock the dock area. The two kaiju roar and wrestle like crazy sumos, flattening the city as they fight. Pretty impressive, those scale models of Osaka, by the way.
(Note the speeded-up camera shots around 0:41:00 and a few times later… the result of a cameraman’s mistake; they were supposed to be slowed down)
Remember that trio of escaped criminals? Well, they weren’t killed in the fuel-truck explosion after all, and return around 0:42:00 in some semi-comic role like the Three Stooges when confronted with the battling monsters and the crumbling buildings They run into a subway to hide, but it floods at 0:43:40 and, it seems, they drown. Loads o’ laughs.
At 0:43:55, we’re back at HQ where an official gives the order to evacuate Osaka Castle, a beautiful, medieval structure lovingly and accurately re-created by the modellers. And it gets destroyed in spectacular fashion by the kaiju. I imagine the set designers and creators watched with tears in their eyes. All that hard work gone, all those hours spent in detailled construction come to this; two guys in rubber suits smashing it all.
But all good things must end. G bites A on the neck at 0:46:02 and, after some agonized moments, A collapses into the water, dead. G lights up his corpse with that atomic breath. The rest of the model set burns, too. Like Tokyo before it, much of Osaka is smoldering ruins.
The “battle of the century” is over, says a TV announcer over shots of the devastation, won by “the bastard spawn of the hydrogen bomb.” G heads out to sea, his appetite for destruction apparently sated. The fishing company execs survey the damage, pointing out where their cannery stood (those wacky capitalists, always concerned about their own profit centres). “We’ll get back on our feet,” says the owner (president?) of the company, in true Ayn Rand fashion. The execs tour the damage and those first two pilots arrive to tell the execs G has disappeared. Some lovey-dovey conversation goes on between the romantic couple. Then the action moves to the northern (and snowy) island of Hokkaido about 1,600 kms away.
There’s a reason for the shift of location, which we learn only later. But before we can see G again, there has to be more romance (and some serious sake drinking). The first pilot (the one stranded earlier) guides more fishing boats to a school of cod, and there’s more radio banter between the couple and him. There’s an interlude with the couple’s friends. It’s all so very normal, especially the drinking scenes (where the groom-to-be is teased about being “henpecked” when he refuses more booze). How very 1950s.
While all this Ozzie-and-Harriet stuff is going on (for far too long), G is out there somewhere. The party is interrupted by news that G has sunk another fishing boat. One pilot (the groom) bravely sets out into the storm in his prop plane to look for survivors. At 01:02:52 he spots Godzilla in the water. Running low on fuel, he has to return, but his buddy (the first pilot encountered) flies out to take over.
G is spotted waddling onto land on some unidentified, icebound island. The air force loads its weapons and the jets fly off. The theme music builds. G continues to waddle inland into a narrow, rocky canyon on the mountainous island. The pilot (the one who had been stranded) buzzes him just before the jets arrive firing missiles and dropping bombs. Ineffectively, of course. G is unharmed.
Now for the denouement: the first pilot realizes the others need to hit the snow to cause an avalanche and bury the kaiju. He flies his plane at G but G blasts him with his atomic breath, and sets the plane alight. Kobayashi flies right into the snow on the mountains, starting an avalanche (apparently a suicide). The jet pilots get the message, and drop their bombs at the mountainsides, following his example. Then they fire missiles. Suddenly we’re back at the HQ for an airforce briefing where the groom pilot asks if he can fly a mission too (shades of Luke Skywalker).
G, meanwhile, is pushing his way out of the snow and ice from the minor avalanches as the jets arrive again with the groom. Their missiles create the final avalanche to bury Big G, albeit with some casualties to G’s atomic breath. (There are two shots of Tsukioka in his jet plane clearly devoid of missiles as he approaches for his final run, yet the next shot has it fully armed… did I mention the bad editing?)
By 01:19:50 G is buried up to his neck in ice and snow. Use the force, Luke… the groom pilot fires his last shots… boom! G is gone! Buried forever in the ice and snow of this god-forsaken island.
Well, okay, not really, although G would not return to the Toho lot until 1962. Overall, it wasn’t a bad film, mostly it was slow to develop. But without the original, it would have been weak. It did set the precedent of G versus other kaiju.
The American, dubbed edition (first called Gigantis the Fire Monster, released in 1959, although later released under Godzilla Raids Again although the dub still refers to the kaiju as Gigantis) was, unlike the American edit of Gojira, a mess of codswallop, bad edits, bad dubbing, and imperialist claptrap (not to mention unrelated scenes cut from the original and from other, American films from the ’50s…).
It has a narrator (allegedly Tsukioka the groom and eventual Luke-Skywalker hero) whose chatter runs over the movie like a schoolteacher, with Ayn-Randian lines like “hard work makes for happiness” (0:02:36). It was as if the distributors felt American audiences would not be able to follow the basic plot of the original and had to mansplain everything. Plus there’s the voice of Yogi Bear for Kobayashi (Daws Butler, the man dubbing the stranded pilot, was also the voice of Yogi in the later cartoons and you can tell).
The American edition was included in the Toho Master Collection vol. 1 with the Japanese original, but not in the Criterion collection, which provides the original only. This US version replaced the G roar with what sounds like a dolphin in heat, and used a mediocre replacement soundtrack. Except for serious Godzilla aficionados, this version is best avoided. The second scientist in it refers to Anguirus as “Anguirasaurus… murderers,… who killed everything in their way… these creatures may come alive after years of hibernation due to radioactive fallout… and can wipe out the human race…” I wept; this is simply awful.
Watching the destruction of her city, the narrator says the bride-to-be utters a prayer asking “what had [her people] done to earn such a dreadful punishment?” Argh: American pseudo-Christian, nationalist piffle. And the narrator says “Hokkaido was several hundred miles to the north…” but it’s more than one thousand… and don’t get me started on that bizarre scene of the United Nations meeting over the “world emergency” of Gigantis/Godzilla’s return… who could “strike anywhere, even the United States…” And then the newspaper with the headline “America Offers help… to assist Japan in attempt to run down Gigantis…” something not in the original. At the end the narrator says he and his bride look up at the moon in happiness… when the shot is clearly of the setting sun…
I won’t go into more detail about the American edition, suffice to say the distributors took a passable, if slow, sequel and turned it into 80 minutes of bizarrely edited, poorly dubbed, and oleaginously narrated crap. (The worst might have been the supposed and risible explanation of the origins of Godzilla and Anguirus from 0:13:15 to 0:15:100). Godzilla aficionados will have a copy, but the rest of my readers should avoid this version (it’s “banana oil” as the groom says…).
What is important is that the movie in both forms fed the public’s (on both sides of the Pacific) desire for more Godzilla. But despite a good reception, Toho would not make a third film in the franchise for another seven years. Stay tuned for Godzilla vs. King Kong, Toho’s most successful film in the franchise.