Project G-Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

Alternative Title: The one that was made on drugs, probably

Ask Godzilla fans what they think about Godzilla vs. Hedorah and you’ll get reactions ranging from “eh, it’s OK” to “OMG this is the worst!”  One thing they’ll all agree on though, is that this film is balls to the wall, pants on head, writers with cocaine and a dartboard WEIRD.  This movie runs like a fever dream.  Full of things that you never expected, never thought you’d see, and after you saw them, you’ll wonder why the hell they showed it to you in the first place.  

So this one follows up on Son of Godzilla, being a low budget, quick turnaround, child-oriented take on Godzilla, which is frankly where the series is going for the next while, so buckle in.  Had a new director, Yoshimitsu Banno for this one.  He got fired from the series after this.  Longtime series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka absolutely hated this film.  But Banno did come back to help out with the 2014 American Godzilla.  So… that I guess.  Anyways, this wasn’t a film that was set up to succeed, and then had some really weird and questionable decisions upon release, was reviewed horribly upon release, and had significant ramifications for that.

But, at the same time, there are some interesting things it does.  It’s limited budget was used with purpose, Hedorah is legitimately threatening, and it has some neat parallels to some of the better Godzilla films, so it has some layers to it.

Also, Banno started this film with an ENVIRONMENTAL message in mind, inspired by seeing heavy pollution in the rivers and smog in cities.  So there is an absolutely heavy ENVIRONMENTAL moral to this story.  That being that the ENVIRONMENT IS GOOD and POLLUTION IS BAD.  It will hit you over and over again with all the grace of a jackhammer.  So, keep that in mind as you’re reading this.  To be fair, this was made at a point where ENVIRONMENTAL conditions in Japan were absolutely horrible, and it got better in the years following this film, so maybe it was super called for and Godzilla vs. Hedorah is exactly what Japan needed to make a comeback.  But in any case, there are few morals that will be slammed into your brain harder than this.  It will crash and splatter everywhere.  Kind of messy, in all.  If there’s ever a point while you’re reading this that you’re thinking something other than how absolutely terrible it is that there’s POLLUTION in the ENVIRONMENT, you need to adjust your expectations and start over again.  It doesn’t matter that nothing else in the film makes sense.  ENVIRONMENT!!!

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Project G-All Monsters Attack (1969)

Alternative Title: The bad one.  The really bad one.

So if you talk to anyone who knows Godzilla films, they’ll generally have their opinions.  They’ll have their unadulterated favorites.  They’ll have their guilty pleasures.  They’ll have their personal bombs.  Those lists won’t always line up.  There’s a lot of room for opinion variation on Godzilla.  And that’s really a beautiful thing.  Everyone gets their own journeys through these films, unique to them.  Except for All Monsters Attack.  Everyone, absolutely every single Godzilla fan, hates this film.  And not in a love to hate kind of way.  Not in a ‘it’s a pain, but watch it once to get it out of the way’ kind of way.  Everyone straight up just recommends you skip this one.  I told people I was writing up all the Godzilla films.  Everyone who knows Godzilla assumed I was just going to skip this one.  

So that’s how you know you’re in for a good time, right?

So lets rewind a bit.  Destroy All Monsters was the Godzilla team blowing everything they had on it.  All the monsters, all together.  The biggest, baddest conflicts they could come up with, serving as a massive denouement to their kaiju saga.  The story was resolved, and they gave Godzilla the sweetest send-off they could, before Toho kicked in its plan for shelving the movies for a while and launching the Godzilla Multinational Cartoon Universe.  Interest in Godzilla movies were waning, and it was drawing less and less money over time, so that decision makes sense.  Give the series new life in a different format.  But, said cartoon didn’t come out.  The companies Toho was going to be co-producing it with didn’t end up going through.  Meanwhile, longtime Godzilla producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was looking at the competition, particularly the Gamera series of films, who were making bank by producing incredibly cheap kaiju films and marketing them directly to children.  And he was like, you know what, we can do that too.

So he called up a screenwriter, and asked him to slap something together on the back of a napkin.  Then he called up Ishiro Honda, longtime Godzilla director, and told him to start digging through people’s couches, because whatever change he found there was going to be this movie’s budget.

And that’s how this magic was born.  A film where its questionable whether or not all the previous Godzilla movies actually happened and Godzilla et al are real in this universe, or they’re just movies in this world too.  A film where children dealing with typical kid stuff is the primary conflict.  A film where, although Eiji Tsuburaya is credited with the special effects out of respect, his health was too poor for him to work so all special effects had to be handled by his protege and by Honda on a shoestring budget, with rather poor results.  A film that makes extensive reuse of the footage from the previous handful of films rather than shooting anything new.  A film that centers on Minilla.

It’s not for nothing that this film is so hated.

Ehhhhhhhh, let’s do this.

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Project G-Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Alternative Title: The grand finale that wasn’t really the grand finale. OR The one that did the Avengers thing before it was cool.

So, it’s 1967 or whenever this film was being made.  The Godzilla movies were once a big deal, but ticket sales had been sunsetting, and it wasn’t the solid moneymaker it once was.  Toho decided that maybe it was time for a change.  Let’s give the Godzilla film series one big finale, then let’s move it from movies to a cartoon show.  The kids love the cartoons, right?  Except it’ll be anime.  Because we’re Japanese.  That’s what we’ll do!  So they got all the people most responsible for making the Godzilla franchise what it was together, told them to give it a big send off.

Then all these guys, director Ishiro Honda, special effects producer Eiji Tsuburaya (supervising, his protege actually handled the work here, but still), composer Akira Ifukube, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, they were all sitting together, thinking, “You know?  This will be the last Godzilla film.  And even if, by some crazy, insane miracle that nobody can even dream of, something so infinitisemally possible it’s not even worth talking about, it’s not, it’ll still be the last time we’re all working together.  We need to send if off in some great way.  But how do we take this big, dumb series, and give it a finale that will make a proper impact?”

They found an answer.  And that answer is to make it biggest and the dumbest.  And not just of Godzilla.  This is the Avengers of Godzilla films.  The culmination of the kaijuverse.  Godzilla already absorbed monsters from other films, but this one is the king of it.  We don’t just get Godzilla and his rogue’s gallery here. This film is importing Kaiju from a whole bunch of movies in Toho’s shared universe. This is the crisis crossover, the end of this entire universe of stories.

And obviously, it worked.  It wasn’t the highest reviewed at the time, but it resonated really well with the general audience, and brought in enough dough that Tojo shelved their plans to shelve the series, and had them doing a whole bunch of follow up films.  Moreover, time has been far kinder to the film, and it ranks in the list of top Godzilla movies today.  

It’s also a pretty significant turning point for the film.  As previously stated, this is the last time a lot of the key creative minds in the Godzilla franchise all worked on one of its movies together.  This is also, thanks to the big time jump, the final chronological story of the Showa era.  So the handful of movies coming after this all took place beforehand.  Meaning this is the one that gets to have the final say on what this segment of the Godzilla canon is to be.  

So, what’s the Aether take on it?  How does it hold up?  Aether loves big dumb things, but is this the right kind of big and the right kind of dumb?

Let’s explore.

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Project G-Son of Godzilla (1967)

Alternate Title: Ok, I guess Godzilla’s a dad now?

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I don’t care about this movie.  You can’t make me care about this movie.  I can barely bring myself to write this post.

That’s how you know this post is going to be a good one, right?

So this movie is another Jun Fukuda joint, the same director behind the previous film that wasn’t quite up to what we’ve come to expect from Godzilla and didn’t make a whole heck of a lot of sense but was still kind of ok.  As I believe I previously mentioned Fukuda wasn’t a big fan of his own Godzilla output in retrospect, although I would say he’s probably being a bit too harsh on himself, overall.  He did make a few that are really good for those like me who love the extra dumb ridiculous stuff.

That probably doesn’t sound like it’s a compliment, but I’m intending it as such.

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Where was I?  Oh yeah, I was crapping all over this movie.  So whereas Ishiro Honda would direct Godzilla films to be about big dumb monster action but also had this hidden theme of social commentary layered underneath it, and underneath that would have a sense of vague sense of “you know, this is all good fun but this would also be crazy horrible to live through”.  Three layers there.  It’s like a cake where the top layer is crazy fun but the middle layer has encyclopedia pages in it that make you think of how horrible society as a whole is, and the bottom layer has a picture of your abs crying in it so you regret the whole thing.  That analogy got away from me a bit, I think.  But yeah, Honda’s movies were more dumb fun that made you think a bit about it.  Jun Fukuda cut out the thinking part.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it didn’t.  It didn’t here.

Son of Godzilla is notable for introducing Minilla, the hideously ugly Godzilla baby whose existence proves there is no such thing as a kind and loving god in the Godzilla universe.  Even as far as child-relating young versions of Godzilla, Minilla somehow manages to be even less cool than Godzooky, and at the modern day, we’ve gotten exposed to Godzilla Jr. who is both way cuter than Minilla could ever be and could mop the floor with him without even getting short of breath.

Minilla

Look at him.  Doesn’t that make your soul shrivel up a little?

Anyways, lets get on with the recap.

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Project G-Ebirah, Horror of the Deep

More Memorable Title: The One Where Godzilla is Really King Kong

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Ebirah, Horror of the Deep is kind of an oddball entry in the Godzilla canon.  To start with, it wasn’t really set up for success.  It was originally going to be a King Kong/Mothra crossover that also ties in with a 60’s Japanese cartoon based on King Kong.  However, with Toho and the cartoon producers not coming to terms on what they wanted this film to be, they bailed on the project, taking the rights to King Kong with them, at the end of pre-production.  Toho apparently still wanted to move forward with the project but not spend any extra time or money on it, so they just crossed out all instances of “King Kong” in the script and wrote in “Godzilla” with a green crayon, pulled an old Godzilla costume out of storage, and called it a day.  Moreover, this film had like nothing for budget, so they had to scrounge the warehouse for all their special effects.  And rather than being in the hands of Ishiro Honda, who had directed most of the previous Godzilla films, this movie would be helmed by Jun Fukuda, who would go on to produce a number of probably the goofiest Godzilla movies in the Showa era, and was never really satisfied with his work on this franchise.  So, yeah.  From the sounds of it, production was kind of a mess.  All they had to go off was a hope and a dream, really.  Let’s see how they did with it!

The opening of the movie runs about as fast as its possible to go.  They waste zero time establishing things here, they want to get to the bulk of the plot as quickly as possible.  So, there’s this total dweeb whose brother was in a shipwreck and lost at sea.  Everyone thinks the brother is dead, but his mom goes to a psychic who says he’s still alive.  So this dweeb goes to the police who are all like “Oh, a psychic says he’s alive?!  We’ll totally send out all our resources for a massive manhunt right away because psychics are totally 100% accurate!”  And then they do that and the movie’s over.

Oh, no, wait, they just toss him on his butt out the door.  So the dweeb goes to the newspaper, who’s like “we’re a newspaper, what the heck are we supposed to do?”  But then he sees a flyer for a marathon dance contests where the person who dances the longest wins a yacht.  So he goes there and asks if he can enter and they’re like “We’ve already been doing this for three days, are you crazy?” So then he talks to these two guys who just lost the contest, rather than anyone who might actually have a yacht, and tells them he wants a yacht, so they just drive this random schmuck they just met down to the wharf, where they go into some random yacht, and start throwing a party.  But then it turns out that the yacht is occupied, and its apparent owner, Mr. Safecracker, holds them up with a rifle before telling them for some unknown reason that they could crash there that night but they had to leave in the morning.  But the dweeb just goes ahead and steals the boat.

In the morning, they find out that the rifle Mr. Safecracker has was just a toy, and that judging by an alert going out over the radio, the yacht wasn’t actually owned by Mr. Safecracker at all, and Mr. Safecracker is, in fact, is a Safecracker.  In spite of the fact that nobody wants to go along with the dweeb, they don’t do anything about him taking them off to who knows where.  And then one day there’s a big old storm and a giant claw comes out of the water and crushes their boat.

There.  That’s the establishing events.  It might have taken me longer to write that than it took the film to go through everything.  It was really rapid fire.

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Project G: Invasion of the Astro-Monster (1965)

Better Title: The one where Godzilla dances

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By this point in the franchise history, Godzilla was getting to be pretty big in America.  His movies were pulled from Japan theater, edited badly, then dubbed badly, and the American audiences were like ‘yessssssssssss’.  So one American production company decided that maybe they should try and get in on the ground floor of all that.  So they rolled up to Toho, started getting involved in some monster movies, then when it came time for another showing of Big G to pop up, they were like “Yo, here’s a giant bag of cash.”  And the rest was history.

With United Productions of America bankrolling half the cost of this film, they were wanting to make sure it’d do well with their target audience, so this is a bit more Americanized than most of the other Godzilla films are.  Godzilla usually has a rather slow build, with a lot of mystery and people just kind of chilling before it’s finally revealed that all the weird stuff happening is really because of the monster whose name is in the title and also Godzilla is there too and they’re going to fight!  Instead, here, the action starts right away.  There’s a decent amount of human action and romance, there, and there’s even a western lead character for the first time in the series.  And, probably a bunch of other subtle changes, too.  I’m not really a film guy.  I can’t really say much about the cultural differences in media there.  Maybe Red Metal can, he’s the movie dude.

In any case, this is Godzilla with an extra dose of AMERICA! In there.  Let’s see how that goes.

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Project G-Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster (1964)

Alternate Title: The one where Godzilla gets lasered in the dick.

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The Godzillaverse has a revolving cast of monsters in it, but there are a bunch that show up with consistency.  You get four of the main ones appearing all together for the first time this film, with the monster who’s widely considered Godzilla’s greatest rival getting the big introduction.  Heck, he’s even supplanted Godzilla in the title here!  So you know he’s got to be a big deal!

So with the introduction of King Ghidorah and with bringing Rodan in to the Godzilla canon, this movie establishes a couple of set pieces and the way things work that other films in the series will continue on with.  This is also the most pulp sci-fiish of the Godzilla films we’ve seen yet, also establishing a new trend for the series.

And, it’s also where the movie wades knee deep into the goofiness the old Godzilla films where known for.  Which, it’s been moving in this direction.  This isn’t out of nowhere.  King Kong vs. Godzilla had a lot of parody and cartoonish moments.  But this takes it a step further.  Some parts here are just downright slapstick.  And there’s no going back from that.  Kids were making up a big share of the movie market in Japan at this time, and apparently, they don’t go for big, deep, metaphorical critiques on the nature of war like adults do.  Go figure.

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The film centers around a brother-sister duo.  Media Girl is part of the production team behind one of those History Channel shows about aliens and weird conspiracy theories that my own sister spends too much energy on.  Detective Bland is, well, a bland detective.  The princess of the Ruffle Kingdom is coming to Japan for some reason or other, and Detective Bland is assigned to be her security.  Also, it’s January, but there’s a freak heat wave going on so it’s like 80 degrees out.  This never actually matters, but hey, global warming is bad, okay?

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Unfortunately for the Princess, her uncle wants her dead for political reasons.  These guys are the worst dressed.  Absolutely the worst.  Look at that picture up there.  Imagine a whole country of them.  So they put a bomb on her plane as it’s heading towards Japan.  Princess is watching a meteor shower from the plane, when she starts hearing a voice telling her to get out.  So she apparently bails from a plane in flight, just as it blows up.  Did she make it out in time?  Who knows?!  I do, because I watched the movie.

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Project G-Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Alternate Title: The start of the shared universe

So, you know how the Marvel Cinematic Universe is kind of a thing?  Notable in that all the stories impact each other, and the characters intersect much in the same way they do in comics?  Toho’s announced that, starting whenever they start making these movies in sequence again, they’re wanting to use a similar model for Godzilla films.  Which is a little strange to me.  Because they totally did that already.  40-some years before the Marvel films started having Agent Coulson hanging around.

So, there was a big gap in between the second and third Godzilla films.  Of like seven years or so.  But Toho wasn’t done with giant monsters in that meanwhile.  In fact, they made a whole bunch of kaiju films after Godzilla gave that genre a jump start.  And King Kong vs. Godzilla, being the most successful film in the Godzilla franchise, it made a buck or two.  And Mr. Toho, he thought to himself, “I sure like having dollars.  Maybe I should make another movie so I can get another dollar.”  But how do you follow up on a clash of two of cinema’s greatest titans, crossing over from disparate universes?  Well, you just do it again.  Except you go back into one of the worlds you already own, so you don’t have to pay those crazy huge King Kong licensing fees.  And wouldn’t you know it, you just had a really successful and well-received movie just a few years before.  Maybe you could cross that over with your marquee guy.

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And that’s how we ended up with Mothra vs. Godzilla, a sequel to both 1961’s Mothra and 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla.  And in so doing, Tojo tied all their Kaiju films of the era together into one continuous universe.  You start seeing monsters cross over in each others films, Godzilla himself gets a few recurring enemies that started in other movies, and you’ll even get a few films centered not on individual monsters but the people living within them, such as Destroy All Monsters, which we’ll be getting to in a few of these posts.

This is also regarded as one of the best movies of the Showa era, thus proving this was a concept with some real mileage.  So no wonder they’d get some mileage out of it.

Note that this is not Godzilla vs. Mothra.  That is a very different movie.  Yes, the Godzilla franchise sucks at titles.  Kind of an easy way of remembering it is that this move was made when Godzilla was undisputedly the bad guy.  So Mothra, the heroine, gets top billing.  As opposed to Godzilla vs Mothra, which was made when Godzilla was only sometimes the bad guy, so you could still cheer for him.  So he gets top billing then.  See, simple.

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Project G-King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

More memorable title: The Godzilla movie with bloody King Kong in it! OR The one with all the Japanese people in brownface.

So, let’s go back in time a bit.  1962.  Godzilla had one good movie, and one film that was kind of there, and largely wasn’t really a known property.  He hadn’t been seen in theaters for years.  King Kong, though, King Kong was the big time.  Household name.  Was already a classic movie monster.  And the writer behind King Kong had a new project he was wanting to move forward with.  The original plan was to do a King Kong vs. Frankenstein film, but the cost for that was prohibitive, so the producer on the project reached out to Toho, who had been having success with the giant monster movies, Godzilla and otherwise.  Toho was celebrating its 30th anniversary with a whole bunch of high profile films, and wanted to give Godzilla a comeback, so they slipped Godzilla in there, brought back the team behind the original, and the rest is history.

Well, sort of.  The original Godzilla movie had started an America cinematic tradition of buying up the writes to Japanese movies on the cheap, filling them with large helpings of cheese, and bringing them over with a rather lackluster localization job, kind of creating a perception that Japanese movies were cheap tawdry affair because that’s how American artistes greased them up.  The producers behind this film didn’t want that, and so they took it a bit more seriously, but kind of in the wrong way.  Godzilla vs. King Kong itself is a decidedly more silly movie than the previous two affairs.  It stars King Kong, at the time a much more prominent figure, in the primary role, and seems to be designed more as a good, entertaining popcorn muncher than as the thoughtful horror pieces of the past.  Ishiro Honda still wrapped in his usual work of making the monster movies more meaningful by having the film be a satire on the Japanese TV comedy scene of the time.  That apparently wasn’t going to fly with the American version, and the producer there cut a lot of the satire scenes out, replacing them with transition scenes of some boring as stale milk schmucks in a newsroom talking about all the cool action that just happened, and interspersing it really weirdly into the film.  It ruins the film’s momentum in a really weird way to have all these kickass scenes with Godzilla destroying stuff IN COLOR for the first time, then to interrupt them in the middle with Mr. Whitebread saying something like “Our news satellite tells us that Godzilla has just destroyed a train, and is now heading for Tokyo.”  It’s galling.  And guess which version of the movie seems to be the only surviving copy.  Even the Criterion Collection… uhhh… collection, with as much work as the company did in making things as true to the originals as possible, still only manages the US recut.  They do foreshadow plenty of things and explain some plot stuff that otherwise would come out of nowhere, so it’s not like they’re without merit, these scenes are just really boring.  And some of the explanations in the US version don’t exactly match up with the overall canon of the series.  So as we go through the synopsis, imagine that that’s repeatedly going on.

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Anyways, do you remember the end of the previous film?  Japanese military crushed Godzilla in an avalanche on an island covered in ice.  Except screw you, it wasn’t an island, it was an iceberg, and now it’s in the arctic.  A US military submarine is up there for some reason doing something and also has a bunch of civilians on board for reasons that are never really explained.  It looks like there’s an iceberg there that’s glowing with intense radiation.   As the military does in most films in which they’re not the protagonists, they proceeded to cock everything up and somehow accidentally rammed the iceberg.  This releases the beast, who does what all the giant monsters do and goes to destroy something Japanese.  Meanwhile, you run into the offices of what is ostensibly a pharmaceutical company but throughout the movie they’re only ever concerned about their TV show so who even knows.  Their show sucks and they want to make it not suck so the company president, who looks like he’d be named Nigel if he was born in any other country, decides to go get a giant monster to do something for his show because nothing could possibly go wrong with that idea.

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Project G-Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

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.

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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.

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