Just in time for Christmas, the Cinefantastique Laserblast crew – that would be Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski – offer up their recommendations for DVDs and Blu-ray discs that would make perfect stocking stuffers for the horror, fantasy, and science fiction fan in your life. Suggestions range from the 1932 classic ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, now on Criterion Blu-ray disc, to the 1968 Japanese giant monster fest, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, out on Blu-ray from Media Blasters. As a special added bonus feature, this Laserblast podcast includes an interview with Steve Ryfle (author of JAPAN’S FAVORITE MON-STAR), who provided audio commentary for the DAM disc.
Merry Christmas, everyone! And truly, nothing says Christmas like Godzilla!
As part of our weekend tribute to the late special effects director Sadamasa Arikawa, here is the U.S. theatrical trailer for DESTROY ALL MONSTERS – the memorable Toho production in which Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and all of Earth’s other monsters team up for a non-stop destruction derby involving invading aliens trying to take over the Earth. The trailer does a good job of showing off the film’s unconvincng but colorfully entertaining effects, and it includes a blooper when the monster Gorosaurus is mis-identified as Baragon (a problem that exists in the film as well).
DESTROY ALL MONSTERS is probably the last well-regarded entry in the original Godzilla series. By this time, all serious threat of the monsters had disappeared; recognizing this, director Ishiro Honda (who had helmed the original GODIZLLA in 1954 and many of the subsequent sequels) opted for a fast-paced action-adventure roller-coaster thrill ride that was seldom scary but always entertaining. Co-scripting with Takeshi Kimura (RODAN), Honda used a slim, familiar story (aliens use monsters as weapons in a war against the Earth) to string together as many effects sequences as possible, creating a memorably colorful confection.
Basically, it’s MONSTER ZERO (a.k.a. INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER) all over again, except this time, instead of just Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, we also get Mothra, Anguirus, Gorosaurus, Manda, Kumonga (a.k.a. Spiga, the giant spider), Varan, Baragon and Minya, Godzilla’s son. DESTROY ALL MONSTERS lacks MONSTER ZERO’s slightly more adult storyline and the clever banter between Nick Adams and Akira Takarada, but it delivers much more monster action. True, some of the monsters make little more than cameo appearances, but the big stars get plenty of screen time, and second-stringers Anguirus, Gorosaurus, and Manda get a few moments to shine as well.
Before DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, the previous two films in the series, GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER and SON OF GODZILLA, had shifted gears, with director Jun Fukada and composer Masuro Sato replacing the Ishiro Honda and composer Akira Ifukube. The results were light-hearted and fun, offering a clear change of pace for the series.
DESTROY ALL MONSTERS sees a return to form, with the old director-composer team back in place, with Ifukube offering another example of his impressive monster movie music, by turns ominous, mysterious, and rousing – quite a contrast to Sato’s jazz-pop stylings (which were more suited to something like GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER, which stuck the monsters in the middle of what looked like a spy adventure).
Also notable is the absence of screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa, one of the chief architects of transforming Godzilla from villain to hero. It would be going too far to say that his absence signals a more serious approach in DESTROY ALL MONSTER, but the screenplay by Honda and Kimura definitely avoids the juvenile tone of SON OF GODZILLA.
Instead, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS is a true movie-movie. It takes itself seriously only in the sense that it does not adopt an attitude of campy condesension towards its monster-filled alien-invasion scenario. The events are presented in a straight-forward way that is an almost perfect realization of any ten-year-old boy’s dream of the most awesome movie adventure ever, loaded with heroic heroes piloting rocket ships to the moon and back while battling an evil race that has turned all of Earth’s monsters loose in one cataclysmic attack.
Honda directs DESTROY ALL MONSTERS with brisk efficiency, using the widescreen image to show off the sets and letting the actors have a ball. A free-for-all shoot out between astronauts and aliens has the heroes waving guns around not in manner designed to actualy hit a target but simply to look good on camera. In a way, this is the apex of ’60s cinema, back when movies like OUR MAN FLYNT were all about having a good time with gadgets and explosions, no matter how unlikely the storyline.
Fortunately, Honda offers more than just monsters and mayhem; there are even a few intriguing moments that border on the subtle. A long interrogation with a human taken over by aliens holds attention because the interrogation subject (Yoshio Tsuchiya) always seems on the verge of breaking his silence – but he never does. Outside on the beach, another human controlled by aliens – this one a woman – walks along a beach in high heels; the sight of those high-fashion stilettos sinking into the sand is almost surreal.
And in one of the most memorable sequences of any giant monster movie, this same alien-controlled woman walks, calm and unconcerned, amidst the panic that erupts when sirens announce an imminent attack on Tokyo. The stark contrast between the mad, rushing crowds and her serence face, indifferent to (or perhaps even eager for) the monsters’ arrival, is a wonderful sight to behold.
Special effects director Sadamasa Arikawa (working under the “supervision” of Japanese effects pioneer Eiji Tsuburaya) delivers several memorable sequences in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. The initial attacks on Moscow, Paris, and New York go by too fast, but theyleave you wanting more. The aforementioned attack on Tokyo is one of the great sequences of its type, featuring a coordinated assault by four monsters (Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and Manda), with some cleverly timed action (e.g., the serpentine Manda cracks a bridge in the foreground simultaneously with Godzilla’s blasting a building with his radioactive breath).
Of course, Arikawa’s effects are far from convincing, but that becomes part of the charm. By this time, Toho had given up almost any pretense of making you believe in their menagerie of monsters and had developed their own particular aesthetic, in which acrobatic flair and flashy pyrotechnics outweighed believability. Consequently, even if the vision of space travel, rockets, and lunar landscapes in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS looks quaint compared to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY – well, the unreality suits the storyline.
Keeping with this tradition, the final all-out assault of Earth’s monsters against the alien’s ace in the hole, King Ghidorah, is as entertaining a battle as ever put on screen, even though the wires show. The action deliberately defies physics, opting for a World Wrestling aesthetic in which monsters supposedly weighing thousands of tons effortlessly leap, jump, and fly with acrobatic flair; at one point, Gorosaurus even springs high off the ground to deliver a kick to Ghidorah’s back. Also as in wrestling, bodies are slammed, kicked, punched, and pummelled, with little if any real damage ever done – it’s all for show, not effectiveness. And Arikawa cannot resist the urge to anthropomorphize the monsters, as when Minya shields his eyes to avoid seeing King Ghidorah drop Anguirus to the ground (a shot deleted by AIP when the film played in U.S. theatres).
Despite all this, Ishiro Honda and Sadamasa Arikawa combine their talents to create one scene in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS that offers at least an echo of genuine suspense: when the heroes search for the aliens’ hidden lair on Earth, they are interrupted by Godzilla and Anguiras, acting as enormous guard dogs. Unlike many of Toho’s then-current films, which tended to shoot the monsters at eye level, undermining the sense of size, this sequence presents a good combination of camera angles, from the human perspective looking up and from the monster perspective looking down, including some effective composite shots that integrate humans with monsters in the same frame. For a brief moment, you almost remember what it was like to be frightened at the prospect of being crushed by something so huge that it would barely feel you under its toes.
In the end, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS is too slim in its storyline, too thin in its characterizations, to be considered a truly great film. It is not as impressive as the original GODZILLA, and it is not as hip as MONSTER ZERO. But for the ten-year-old living inside us all, it is entertainment of the most awesome sort.
DESTROY ALL MONSTERS introduced the concept of Monster Island (here called “Monster Land” in the English dubbing), an island where all of Earth’s monsters had been gathered and kept locked up for study. Future Godzilla films would use Monster Island as a lazy way to re-introduce the monster without having to worry too much about continuity.
DESTROY ALL MONSTERS features the return appearance of Anguirus, the very first monster to fight Godzilla, way back in 1955’s GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (a.k.a. GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER). Basically an oversized dinosaur (an ankylosaurus), Anguirus would go on to appear in GODZILLA VS. GIGAN and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA in the 1970s. On the basis of these few appearances, Anguirus inexplciably became a favorite among some fans, who eagerly awaited his return when the Godzilla franchise was revived in the 1990s. Anguirus finally reappeared in the “last” Godzilla film, GODZILLA: FINAL WARS, a virtual remake of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.
Directors Contrad Vernon and Rob Letterman cited DESTROY ALL MONSTERS as an influence on their 2009 animated film MONSTERS VS. ALIENS: “We watched it three or four times,” says Vernon, who was inspired by the plot involving mangy monsters freed from an island prison by galactic invaders. “We even have our villain, Gallaxhar, use the command, ‘Destroy all monsters.’”
INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) also bears structural similarities to DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. The filmmaking team of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin would go on to do the 1998 American version of GODZILLA.
Unlike most of the Toho giant monster movies, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS reached U.S. shores relatively unchanged, except for being dubbed into English. Ironically, Toho had created an English dub of the film to increase its export value, but the U.S. distributor, American International Pictures, commissioned a new dialogue track, featuring the likes of Hal Linden (television’s BARNEY MILLER).
The AIP dub rewrites some of the lines and provides better voice acting. This version was seen in theatres and on television in the U.S., but it has not been available since the defunct AIP’s distribution rights lapsed. Currently available prints are of the Toho “International” version.
The dub on the International version of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS features a literal English translation of the Japanese dialogue, which does not always sound natural; the problem is aggravated by the weak vocal performances.
In at least one case, the International version’s audio track is superior. In the AIP dub, there is a lame line when a reporter watching the climactic battle near Mt. Fuji holds up his microphone and says, “I’ll turn up the sound so you can hear the monsters dueling to the death.” The Toho dub offers instead a memorable moment of high-camp comedy: “It’s horrible, ladies and gentlemen – listen to the monsters and their cries of sudden death!” This perhaps intentional echo of the “Oh, the humanity!” account of the Hindenburg disaster is capable of bringing the house down with laughter, should you ever be lucky enough to see DESTORY ALL MONSTERS in a theatre crowded with kaiju fans.
During the early montage of monsters attacking different cities around the globe, the International version offers newscaster voices overs doing very bad accents (Russian, French, etc) – an effect carried over to some extent in the AIP dub. (The original Japanese audio track has the voice-overs speaking in their native languages.)
The above-mentioned montage contains one of the more memorable film flubs in the Godzilla series. France’s Arc de Triomphe was supposed to be toppled by the burrowing monster Baragon (introduced in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD), but problems with the suit necessitated that Gorosaurus get the job instead. The dialogue was never changed, so the monster is erroneously identified as Baragon – a mistake carried over in the written text of the U.S. theatrical trailer. DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (Kaiju Soshingeki [“Monster Invasion”], 1968). Directed by Ishiro Honda. Written by Ishiro Honda, Takeshi Kimura. Cast: Akira Kubo, Jun Tazaki, Yukiko Kobayashi, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kyoko ai, Andrew Hughes, Chotaro Togin, Yoshifumi Tajima, Kenji Sahara, Hisaya Ito, Yoshio Katsuda.
Portions of this review originally appeared in “Godzilla Invades L.A.” in the December 1996 issue of Cinefantastique (Volume 28, Issue 6).
For kaiju(i.e. Japanese Giant Monster movies) fans, this double-bill of two of the best non-Godzilla movies represents a must-have. Featuring both the original Japanese and the revised American versions, this double-disc DVD presents these kaiju classics with the respect they have never before received on U.S. shores.
While Rodan went on to become Godzilla’s sidekick in a number of the later monster team-up movies, the original RODAN is quite a respectable achievement in its own right. This is something of a transitional film, abandoning the somber black-and-white moodiness of Toho’s earlier monster movies but still retaining the serious science fiction tone. Although shot in color, this was the last Toho kaiju in the Academy 1.33 aspect ratio. Subsequent releases from THE MYSTERIANS on were shot in the widescreen scope ratio of 2.35, and from MOTHRA onward the movies would veer toward light-hearted fantasy. Unlike many of these later kaiju efforts, RODAN shows director Ishiro Honda still striving to build an atmosphere of unease, much like the original GODZILLA.
RODAN’s storyline features a slow build-up over the discovery of the mutilated bodies of some miners on the island of Kyushu. Brave miner Shigeru (Kenji Sahara) leads an investigation but winds up getting trapped in a cave-in. The miners have been killed by some giant insect-like larvae, but when a giant pterodactyl egg hatches, the real menace -Rodan – emerges and makes quite a breakfast of the killer larvae, while leaving the observant Shigeru in a state of shock. Unlike Godzilla, who knocked buildings over with his claws or burned them with his radioactive breath, Rodan spends most of his time in the sky, creating hurricane-force winds with his wings and wreaking major devastation with the shock waves as he passes overhead. Instead of old stand-by Tokyo, the city of Saseabo gets leveled by the onslaught as Rodan is joined by a female mate. The whole thing reaches an unusual climax with a suicide pact between the monsters who plunge themselves into a growing volcano for a memorably somber finish.
This disc represents the DVD Region 1 debut of the original Japanese version of the film, which is 10 minutes longer than the truncated American version with which American fans are familiar. In addition, the Japanese version comes with stronger and brighter colors. At the same time, the American version is interesting, especially as almost the entire dialgoue track was dubbed by Paul Frees (WAR OF THE WORLDS) and Keye Luke (GREMLINS), doing different characters with stock Asian accents, and with a very young George Takei (STAR TREK) giving the English dialogue for Japanese children.
Even more exciting is the first widescreen presentation of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS on domestic home video (previously released on a full screen laserdisc). I had originally caught up with the movie on the Million Dollar Movie as a kid, where it seemed to play every night for a week, and I enjoyed it so much that I re-watched it almost every time.
The film was created as a sequel to FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERED THE WORLD, which depicted a monster that could regenerate from a single body part, in this case resulting in two monsters. Both retain a flat-topped Frankenstein-type dome and headpiece, but American producer Henry G. Saperstein decided to rename the monsters “Gargantuas” and obscured the continuity.1In the Japanese version, after the revelation that there are two Frankensteins, the monsters are given the names to distinguish them: Sanda (brown one) and Gaira (evil green one, spelled “Gailah” in the English subtitles). The Japanese version is actually 4 minutes shorter than the American cut and has a darker picture quality.
WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS has an intriguing opening: in the midst of a rainstorm, a giant octopus attacks a Japanese freighter; helps seems to arrive when a Green Gargantua pries the octopus away, but instead of rescuing the sailors, the monster starts eating them. We are then introduced to Dr. Paul Stewart (a likeable but indifferent Russ Tamblyn, replacing Nick Adams who starred in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD) and his beautiful assistant Akemi (Kumi Mizuno, returning from FCW), who refuse to believe that the carnivorous beast could have been the baby Brown Gargantua (looking much like LAND OF THE LOST’s Chaka) they had nurtured until he ran away.2
It’s not long before the Green Gargantua emerges from Tokyo Bay and ambles across Haneda airport where he devours a female office worker. The American version adds a shot of the worker’s chewed clothing, but the Japanese version cuts poignantly to some flowers on the ground. Green Gargantua runs away when sunlight emerges from behind some clouds, returning at night to pick up a Caucasian lounge singer warbling the memorably awful song “The Words Get Stuck in My Throat” (sung in English in both versions), whom he drops when all the nightclub lights are turned on.
One distinction for GARGANTUAS is that, for once, the Japanese military prove somewhat effective. They bring out their giant Maser cannons and do some damage on Green Gargantua before he gets away to wrestle around the city with his better-natured brother, Sanda. Also notable: after this film and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, Toho decided to save money on miniature buildings by setting their monster rumbles in the countryside rather than in cities, rendering GARGANTUAS one of the last epics of destruction before Godzilla was revived in the ‘80s.
The print of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is bright and vibrant, though there are some rare instances of aliasing problems due to compression. The sound is good overall, though Gailah’s chirping noises can remind one of a French rooster and begin to grate on the nerves after a while. The Japanese soundtrack presents Akira Ifukubie’s complete score (with a great march like the one the composer wrote for DESTROY ALL MONSTERS); the American version replaces some of the original score with library music.
A great bonus feature is BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE, written and produced by GODZILLA experts Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle. Though it has some pacing problems, the documentary gives us behind-the-scenes stories concerning Eiji Tsuburaya (special effects supervisor) and art director Yasuyuki Inoue (miniature city designer and unsung hero of kaiju movies), as well as commentary and reminiscences from Haruo Nakajima, Kenpachiro Satsuma and Tsutomu “Tom” Kitagawa, who played Godzilla in the ‘50s-‘70s, ’80-‘90s, and GODZILLA 2000 on, each explaining and demonstrating their interpretation of the character as well as offering anecdotes about difficulties and near accidents, especially in Toho’s large water set. While similar features have been included on Japanese import DVDs (sans English subtitles), it is great to see a number of Japanese artists who worked on kaiju movies and hear their stories in a feature-length documentary.
This set is highly recommended to all lovers of kaiju eiga! RODAN/WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. Classic Media release through Genius Entertainment.
RODAN (Sora no Daikiaju Radon [“Rodan, Monster from the Sky”], 1956). Directed by Ishiro Honda. Written by Takeshi Kimura and Takeo Murata from a story by Ken Kuronuma; English dialogue by David Duncan. Cast: Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Akihiko Harata, Akio Kohori.
WAROF THE GARGANTUAS (Furankenshutain no Kaiju [“Frankenstein’s Monsters: Sanda versus Gaira“], 1966). Directed by Ishiro Honda. Written by Ishiro Honda and Takeshi Kimura, story by Reuben Bercovitch. Cast: Russ Tamblyn, Kumi Mizuno, Nobuo Nakamura, Kenji Sahara, Jun Tazaki.
The original trailer for WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (which unfortunately is not included in this set) was constructed from takes featuring the dialogue recorded on set, with the Japanese cast speaking their native language and imported American star Russ Tamblyn speaking in English. This reveals that the decision to rename the monsters for American consumption was not a last-minute change made while dubbing the American version – Tamblyn can be heard calling the monsters “Gargantuas” while his Japanese co-stars call them “Frankenstein.”
The existence of this flashback creates some continuity problems, because it does not comform precisely to what we saw in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, which featured a very human-looking monster, not the bigfoot-like creature seen here. The scene seems to exist for the benefit of the American version, which pretends to be a stand-alone film.
Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects director responsible for the classic Toho monster movies, is a figure of major importance in the history of Japanese fantasy films. Inspired by the stop-motion special effects of Willis O’Brien (e.g. 1933’s KING KONG), Tsuburaya yearned to create his own movie monster, and he finally got his chance when producer Tomoyuki Tanaka asked him to handle the special effects for GOJIRA (1954, released in the U.S. as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTER). The success of that film led to a literal tidle wave of sci-fi extravaganzas: RODAN, THE MYSTERIANS, MOTHRA, MATANGO. Although Tsuburaya’s work was in some ways less technically sophisticated than his idol O’Brien’s (working on smaller budgets, Tsuburaya had to utilize men in suits rather than animated puppets), the Japanese effects director nevertheless made his mark, establishing a recognizable style that was always entertaining if not completely convincing. In particular, the suit-mation approach allowed for the creation of larger miniatures, which could be spectacularly destroyed in slow-motion, yielding a level of on-screen mayhem impossible to achieve with the more expensive – and much slower – stop-motion process.
Tsuburaya’s life and career are the subject of Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters, which carries the lengthy subtitle Defending the Earth with Ultraman, Godzilla and Friends in the Golden Age of Japanese Science Fiction Film. This is an impressively extensive coffee table book, loaded with countless colorful photographs of monster mayhem and behind-the-scenes wizardry. Fans will find it a delight just to leaf through it, and even hardcore collectors are likely to find more on view here than ever met they eye before.
Author August Ragone does fine job of capturing the Tsuburaya story, from his early life and start in the film industry, through his work providing miniatures for Japanese battle movies during World War II, into the movie monsters that made him famous, and through the television productions (e.g., ULTRA-Q, ULTRA-7) that took once-frightening sci-fi monstrosities and turned them into kiddie fodder. The main narrative is occasionally interrupted by sidebar articles (some written by other experts in the field, such as Norman Englund and Ed Godziszewski), which provide different perspectives on Tsuburaya and his work.
Ragone delivers the information with all the enthusiasm of a devoted fan – an enthusiasm that (far from being annoying) sweeps the reader along like a boat in the rapids. Unfortunately, the book is thinly sourced and short on first-hand interviews; it frequently reads as if Ragone had simply read all the existing material on the subject, collated it, and summarized it. Consequently, you will not find the “you are there” perspective of, for example, Stuart Galbraith IV’s Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo.
Also, you will not learn much that is new about Tsuburaya’s movie magic. Ragone tends to wax understandably enthusiastic about “beautiful matte paintings” and “exquisitely detailed miniatures,” but there is little specific detail about how the special effects were achieved. When he does get descriptive, his prose can be confusing, as when he writes that the destruction of a bridge in RODAN “could only be shot once because of the precise timing required.” This seems to state the matter backwards: precise timing was required because the complicated action, filmed from multiple angles, needed to be captured in a single take.
Ragone never comes to grips with the gradual decline of Tsuburaya’s work; in fact, he barely even acknowledges it. As feature film budgets shrank, fewer miniatures were built and destroyed, and fewer composite shots were used to combine miniatures, monsters, and live-action. On top of this, Tsuburaya began to anthropomorphize his monsters, turning them into comical clowns instead of fearsome behemoths. (Think of the three-way monster conversation in GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER or Godzilla’s victory dance in MONSTER ZERO.) This kind of hijinx remains popular with fans, but it lowers the films down to a level of colorful camp that is notably inferior to the early black-and-white nightmare of GOJIRA.
What we are left with feels a bit like an authorized biography, with all the warts carefully air-brushed out. Nevertheless, the book remains enjoyably readable from start to finish. Fans of Japanese giant monsters will undoubtedly want to purchase it. The illustrations alone are worth the price, but once readers start to peruse the text, they will find themselves serenaded by a kindred spirit who captures the wild-eyed childish devotion born of many hours in front of the television set, watching wonderfully weird movies and television shows that ignorant unbelievers thoughtlessly dismiss. In adulthood, it is easy to forget that enthusiastic joy, but Ragone brings it back to life, like a bolt of lightening reviving a long-dormant Godzilla.