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-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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