Godzilla Raids Again (Motoyoshi Oda, 1955), Gigantis, the Fire Monster (Motoyoshi Oda, 1959) (American version)
After the success of the original 1954 Gojira (that’s “Godzilla” to you, Westerner – even if it took two years to cross the ocean and get into US theaters, allowing that unforgettable two-tone roar to penetrate the cinematic zeitgeist forever, with the additions of Raymond Burr’s stoic intrepid foreign news correspondent Steve Martin and the loudly proclaimed WWF-like American mantle of “King of the Monsters!”), Toho studios wisely saw a cash cow in the making, cranking out an immediate sequel, bringing us not only a second exact replica Godzilla (at least that’s what he is as explicitly stated as being in the practical-minded American cut, which might be a bit coincidental – sort of like the second, third and then a baby shark all grown up that keep attacking the seriously water-challenged Brody family in the “Jaws” franchise — though not as clear in the Japanese cut, which is more than a bit odd, considering to believe it’s the same fire-breathing monster, you’d have to accept he somehow grew back his flesh after being cooked to the bone by the super Oxygen Destroyer at the end of the first film) but also introducing the highly enjoyable, long-continuing tradition of the kaiju monster mash-up, with a second creature – the first of many to come – arisen this time along with Godzilla; namely, the horn-shelled, half-rhino/half-alligator faced, four-legged Anguirus (or Anguilla, as, for whatever reason, both versions give him two names that the characters randomly switch back and forth calling him by) – though ‘four legged’ is a bit questionable, as, no matter how much they try and hide it, those bent-at-the-knees back appendages look suspiciously like a standard two-legged human weighted down in a rubber suit and doing his best four legged kaiju impression.
And while the city-destroying kaiju fights are one of the best parts of the film (especially with the slightly sped-up monster kerfuffle shots mixed up with the slow-motion ones, usually of Anguilla getting tossed around by Godzilla) — with the two monsters beginning another long-cherished tradition (at least for self-confessed monster nerds like moi) of completely annihilating at least one major temple in the middle of their wrestling derby – in fact, since I was already so deeply versed in these films having watched so many of them growing up, the moment they slyly revealed the large temple just in the distance of the building-destroying monsters, with it getting closer and closer with each tumble, I felt that warm thrill of nostalgic excitement knowing it was coming — this sequel, alas, suffers substantially in comparison to the original (and the overly-gabby English language cut, in which they inexplicably released it with the title of Gigantis, the Fire Monster suffering even worse in comparison to the inferior, though still worthy English language first Godzilla film).
Gone, along with original director Ishirō Honda, is the sense of the film as an elegy to the almost unimaginable horrors of war rained down on Japanese populations just a mere decade before (certainly unimaginable to Western audiences, never having experienced atomic bombs obliterating their cities and their children, or carpet bombs burning to death a hundred thousand citizens in a single night). Missing is the profound cautionary view of the folly of man pursuing greater and greater super-weapons, leading to (literal) monsters of pure destruction. Godzilla Raids Again, and its director Oda, clearly have none of that ambition. Perhaps it’s why this is an overlooked Godzilla film, at least here in the Western world (in fact, I don’t remember it ever playing on television, while the plethora of other Godzilla films, along with the Mothra, Gamera and the rest — were practically on a non-stop loop, on one channel or another). It’s ultimately an unsatisfying oddity… trying to re-capture some of the serious intent of the first film, but having nowhere near the dramatic depth or artistry to achieve anything close to it. Also, after this one, the kaiju films went full color, which might also partially explain why they rarely return to this one.
While not often, Godzilla Raids Again does occasionally speak to the underlying anxiety of the original, with the quiet power of the now dual monsters’ destruction of the city (as well as the resonant glimpses of the aftermath, including the burning city of Osaka)… and there’s the brief return of legendary Kurosawa actor Takashi Shimura as passionate paleontologist – and now resident Godzilla expert — Dr Yamane, who immediately brings a quiet nobility to the proceedings (with the projected footage he shows to the gathered government council of the original Godzilla attack, with images from the first movie powerfully presented with no sound well presented and yet, unaccountably, oddly – and unintentionally hilariously – almost entirely replaced in the English language cut with a sort of unnecessary rudimentary lecture on the ‘origin of Dinosaurs’, with footage of grade-school level puppet-like dinosaurs rising from the muck mixed with short clips from other American prehistoric monster movies, and not always good ones), it’s just nowhere near as effective (though there is some resonance to the slow-motion extended death of Anguilla at the hands – or more accurately – razor sharp teeth – of Godzilla… pointing out again, the best parts are in the multiple monster duals… you gotta hand it to these kaiju moviemakers… they do manage, despite the odds, to create real empathy out of what are essentially stunt guys stumbling about in rubber giant monster suits).
The romantic sub-plots of the movie involving our two main pilots, Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi) and his slightly stumbling second-rate comedy relief buddy Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki) — the guys who first stumble upon the two kaiju, already fiercely mid-combat, on an inhospitable remote island they have crash landed on – both working for the same mainland fishing companies, flying about locating schools of fish for the boats — flirting with the communications girls back in the office, is entirely juvenile in nature, good for perhaps the occasional eye-rolling reaction (with our man-child pilots eternally confused by those wily women, stating things to each other like ‘Trying to please a woman is like swimming the ocean’) but pretty uninteresting.
There is an extended noir/crime film-style scene with prisoners pulling off an escape from a transport truck that comes out of nowhere which, while indicative of the somewhat unfocused quality to the sequel, is also surprisingly effective, ultimately ending on a really cool miniature set-piece, with the prisoner getaway truck ramming out-of-control into an oil refinery that causes a huge explosion (capturing, naturally, our big monster’s attention and leading him right to the city and some major destruction, as well as that final fight with Anguilla).
The English version with that ridiculous “Gigantis” title is simply overwhelmed with near wall-to-wall entirely unnecessary voiceover by the tale’s ostensible hero (given a Japanese accent, no less, when he’s supposed to be speaking Japanese), a character who is one of those seemingly ubiquitous presences who finds himself not only the one to find Godzilla while out on his flying fishing expedition, but also for some reason granted a front seat by the police chasing the prison escapees, there to see them crash headlong into the oil refinery, as well as ends up manning one of the fighter pilots that ultimately helps trap Godzilla by bombing the nearby ice-strewn mountains to freeze him in a giant ice-cube laden avalanche (which always leads me to question – how come these fighter pilots never actually seem to try and actually hit Godzilla with their missiles, but only the ground around him? I mean, you think they’d at least try!).