Memorable Title: The cheap cash-in that’s more than just a cheap cash-in
Just a lead in, when I was originally planning this series, I was just going to be going over the films I had managed to acquire, and the Showa series of Godzilla films was going to end up being incomplete. Thanks to Red Metal pointing me to where, when, and how I could buy the complete Showa series on the cheap, we get to have all the Godzilla movies here. So shout out to him for making this all possible.
The OG Godzilla film was a pretty big risk for Toho. Big, expensive, ambitious, in a largely unknown genre. And, as it turns out, with some of the other high expense movies they were making at the time, Toho was gambling with their very existence. Either those films turned a profit, or Toho was bankrupting itself out of existence. And, in the type of example that would be glorified in the average business textbook, their risk payed off. Godzilla was a big success. So was the Seven Samurai, for that matter, which was another film they had in production at the time, but we’re not going to talk about that right now. Godzilla made it big, baby!
And what do you do when you have a huge success? You do another business textbook thing, and you reinvest. You strike while the iron’s hot! You take all that goodwill and interest and you hit when it’s at its peak! What, the director of the original is already committed to other projects? Who cares?! We’ve got directors lined up out the door! And you want what kind of budget!? No, no, of course not, we just barely escaped bankruptcy! We made the original at a time that we needed to escape bankruptcy, that’s why it had the giant budget it did! Yes, there is a massive difference between the two situations. Don’t ask questions, just go make the movie.
And so they did. Starting pre-production just weeks after the release of the original Godzilla, Godzilla Raids Again is the traditional tag-along sequel, made to capitalize on the success of the original, capture its momentum, and share in its success, with speed of release being more important than quality. It brought back much of the creatives of the original Godzilla, with one notable exception. OG director Ishiro Honda was already wrist deep in his next project, leaving Motoyushi Oda to take the helm on this one. The rest of the crew was largely the same, with Tomoyuki Tanaka producing, Eiji Tsuburaya directing the special effects, and Haruo Nakajima taking the place of the big G inside the suit. And rapid-fire sequel though it is, it does bring in a development that would change the Godzilla franchise forever. So, you know how giant monsters are metal as hell, right? What if you had, get this, two of them! Blowing your mind right? And they hate each other! Kickass monster battles, man!
The movie ostensibly has its protagonist, but the way it rolls out, it really seems to have two dudes in the leading role. And the film opens with both of them in action. You have Planebro and a character I don’t even need to make up a memorable nickname for because the movie did it for me, Mr. Groom, doing their day jobs as aerial spotters for a fishing company in Osaka. After Godzilla struck Tokyo in the original movie, that city’s still pretty ruined, so Osaka has become the center of Japanese civilization. Mr. Groom’s seaplane suffers a major malfunction and he has to make an emergency landing near some island. Planebro rolls in for the rescue, and the two of them pal around on the island for a few minutes until SUDDENLY! There’s Godzilla! And some other giant monster! And they’re beating the hell out of each other! And then they fall into the ocean. Planebro and Mr. Groom wisely decide to get the hell out of there.
The two go back to Osaka and inform the government that, hey, maybe want to do something about the giant monsters in Japanese waters. The government has them look at a book about dinosaurs. They recognize the beast Godzilla was fighting as a giant ankylosaurus. Some old guy says that ankylosaurus is also called Anguirus (no it’s not) and therefore this monster is called Anguirus. The government brings in Dr. Dinosaur from the last movie for exactly one scene because that’s all they had the budget for. Dr. Dinosaur says that this is another member of the same species as the original Godzilla, because they can’t possibly be the same because the original is dead, even if the rest of the movie is going to treat them as if they’re the same thing anyways. Anyways, both this Godzilla and Anguirus were created the same was as the original; nuclear bomb tests in places where dinosaurs still exist apparently. Dr. Dinosaur then shows some clips of the coolest parts of the last movie, and says that no weapons will work on Godzilla and now they can’t even kill him the same way. As it turns out, Dr. Serizawa’s noble and dramatic sacrifice to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the world’s hands ended up screwing EVERYTHING up now, because the world is helpless. Dr. Dinosaur suggests that the original Godzilla got pissed off when there were lights in his face, maybe they could use that, then takes his check and leaves, never to return.
Planebro takes his girlfriend, his fishing company’s air traffic controller and com relay Air Control, out dancing. In a scene that was clearly from stock footage shot in the middle of WW2. Da Club has some poorly covered up swastikas in the background of some shots. Something happens off-screen, I don’t even remember, but it leads Godzilla to Osaka. The government has some advance notice this time, and begins immediately evacuating the districts surrounding Godzilla’s likely landing point and put the city into blackout conditions. Planebro takes Air Control home, then meets up with Mr. Groom and starts heading to where people from their company are hanging out to watch the Godzilla fireworks. Air Control’s not invited because no girls allowed or something. Godzilla appears in the Ocean just off Osaka, and the city hold its collective breath. The air force follows Dr. Dinosaur’s advice of using light to manipulate Godzilla, and drops some flares behind him, in the middle of the ocean. Mercifully, Godzilla begins following those, heading back to sea. The city is saved, and every gets to live without having everything they love destroyed by a giant monster battles. The move ends there.
Oh, no, wait, turns out that a jailbreak went on while some prisoners are being transported. The prisoners escape, the police are in pursuit, Planebro and Mr. Groom get involved somehow, and the prisoners end up crashing a gasoline truck into an oil refinery setting the whole thing ablaze. With Osaka now firelit, Godzilla’s attention is piqued, thus undoing the SDF’s good work. To make matters worse, the flares they were using to distract Godzilla ended up attracting Anguirus. And now both monsters are in Osaka. In they hate each other. This is the whole reason you bought your tickets, folks.
The giant monsters fight. And it’s a bit strange. So, the special effects department really refined their work on this one. In particular, the suits are less heavy than they used to be, so the actors within have more ability to, you know, do the sort of things that are hard when you’re just wearing an extra 200 pounds. Which is good, because with a monster battle, there’s a lot more focus on the monster’s movement than in the original. Godzilla’s head has a motor in it, now, so you’ve got a bit of movement in there even in the full body scenes, bringing it a bit more to life. On the flip side, one of the cameramen, rather than overcranking the camera as is usual for making the monsters seem more plodding and monstrous, undercranked it, making key scenes in that battle look unnaturally sped up and the kind of thing you’d see yakkety sax playing over. Makes it seem a bit ridiculous.
Anyways, they fight for a while, collapsing infrastructure and buildings around them. They do enough damage that even the observers decide to join the evacuees as well. It’s not like the outcome’s ever in doubt, though. Anguirus is a bit of a chump. He’s immune to Godzilla’s atomic breath, being spawned by radiation himself, but otherwise, doesn’t have much going for him other than rubbing Godzilla with his spikes. Godzilla gives him a big chomp to the neck, then the monster goes down. Godzilla celebrates his victory by burning everything in sight, because screw Osaka. This is the same Godzilla that later dances, does big dumb dropkicks, supports the environment, and is a hero to children. Just, ruining lives for no real reason right here. Then he buggers off.
Fishing company’s operations are pretty much ruined in Osaka, so they transfer Mr. Groom to their Hokkaido plant. Not Planebro or Air Control, though, because they’re stuff for them to do in the wreckage apparently. I can’t say I’ve been to Hokkaido through all those videogaems or japanimations out there, so I don’t know much about it, but apparently it’s cold and snowy. In any case, Planebro and Air Control just show up there anyways for the company party. Also, by the way, Planebro used to fly planes in the war, and all his old air force buddies are having a party there too. This history was never mentioned before but is now super relevant from this point forward. Then, yet another offscreen incident happens and Godzilla destroys one of the fishing company’s boats. Kind of puts a damper on the festivities.
Planebro joins the SDF Air Force in flying scouting missions trying to find Godzilla. Air Control takes the traditional movie girlfriend role of begging Planebro not to go be a cool dude and do awesome things. Planebro finds Godzilla hanging out on some icy island but is running out of fuel, so Mr. Groom suits up to keep an eye on him while also mentioning a love interest and accidentally leaving behind a book full of personal secrets so you know his fate is sealed. The island Godzilla’s in is bordered by mountains except for one landing, meaning there’s only one way in or out. As long as they keep Godzilla from using that path, they can keep him trapped there.
While the air force is getting ready, Godzilla starts to leave. Mr. Groom buzzes his plane right above Big G’s head to keep him distracted and stationary, while waiting for the planes that can actually do something about it to show up. Then planes come, and commence a bombing run on Godzilla. So, as is a common theme in these films, as Godzilla represents a concept much greater and much more powerful than traditional weaponry, the military has absolutely no effect. Then they run out of bombs and leave. Godzilla starts heading off again, so Mr. Groom starts buzzing his head again. This time, though Godzilla’s too fast for him, and swats him out of the sky. Mr. Groom’s plane crashes into the frozen mountainside, and triggers an avalanche on top of Godzilla. Planebro is inspired by his best friend’s death, and puts together a plane with the airforce to use missiles to trigger a larger avalanche on him. The navy shows up and sets a fire on the inlet to keep Godzilla in, and the air force sends missile after missile into the surrounding mountainsides, burying Godzilla completely in a rush of snow and ice. Back at the mainland, Air Control, already mourning Mr. Groom, opens up the book he left behind and finds out that she was the one he had feelings for, as pretty much everyone could have seen coming.
So, yeah. This movie’s a cheap cash in on the success of the original. You can tel as much from the guy they had directing it. Motoyoshi Oda was not the guy Toho went to when they needed something spectacular, when they were putting together a big budget and leaving a lot of room for artistic merit. Motoyoshi Oda was the guy they went to when they needed a movie done under-budget and on time to fill in the gaps in their release schedule. And that’s what this is intended as. The Godzilla film was as hot as his atomic breath, so they made this film while people were still hot for it to get as much money as possible. A reduced budget. Released a mere six months after the original. This was a film that was commercially successful, but not really set up to be a good movie.
And yet, it still has merit. Oda may have been more production-oriented than Honda, but that may not have been the only reason for his inclusion here. Oda studied under the same director as Honda, and served as Honda’s second unit director in an earlier film, which may have helped him bring a similar style to this movie. In much the same way the first Godzilla was made so much more deeper and more interesting for its allegories of the atomic bomb, you can see elements of the same thing here. However, whereas Honda directed the first movie inspired by his time in World War 2 and seeing the impact of the atomic bombings first hand, Oda spent the war as a civilian, and had to deal with those events much the same as the average citizen of Japan. As a result, whereas the original Godzilla delivered the impact of the atomic bombings in movie form, Godzilla Raids Again seems to be more inspired by Japan’s recovery and continued progress after the bombings. You see Dr. Dinosaur’s urgings for peaceful resolution being taken seriously this time. You see Osaka take the destruction of Godzilla and Anguirus’s fight and get to rebuilding the day afterwards. You see a company faced with the severe loss of its headquarters and prime resources just move on to greener pastures afterwards. You see Japan take its devastation and then just look to the next step. The theme is not presented as powerfully as the original, but it still carries meaning into the movie, and does add that extra layer to it.
Even then, you can tell this is more of a budget production. I’ve mentioned the most glaring points above. The weird use of stock footage obviously taken from back when Japan was proudly Axis. The really important plot developments that happen entirely off screen. The undercranked camera making the big marquee moment of the film look absolutely ridiculous, and no budget to go back and reshoot it. The film also seems a little confused as to what it wants to be, and seems to pull parts in from all over the place. It’s a horror film like the original, but doesn’t really sell it and the danger is actually well managed by the characters involved. The escaping prisoners veer into slapstick, sometimes. It tries to recapture a bit of the drama from the original’s love triangle, but again, doesn’t make much of an effort to sell it. This is a film with a lot of flaws that seem attributable to the need to get something together and out to theatres in a hurry.
Yet, even with that, it still manages to be worth a watch. It’s a cheap cash-in, sure, but it’s a cheap cash in with some interesting ideas that other films in the franchise would carry forward, albeit after the kaiju genre had some time to mature.