Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Godzilla Raids Again" (1955)

Starring Hiroshi Koizumi, Setsuko Wakayama and Minoru Chiaki
Written by Shigeaka Hidaka and Takeo Murata
Directed by Motoyoshi Oda
Not Rated - Violence, peril
Running Time: 82 Minutes

Note: This is a review of the US version of the film, which features a number of differences from the original Japanese version, detailed here

 Two pilots, Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi) and Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki) are forced to make an emergency landing on a mysterious island near Osaka, Japan, after Kobayashi's plane suffers a malfunction. While resting themselves on the beach, they are witness to an incredible sight: a fight between two gigantic monsters.

The two pilots make their way back to civilization and tell the tale, and once again, Japan is gripped with fear over the kaiju menace. An archaeologist, Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura), explains that millions of years ago, fire creatures roamed the earth. They were of the Anguiris family, and now slumber only to be awoken by radioactive fallout.

Soon enough, though the government prepares as best it can, the creature they're calling "Gigantis" makes its way ashore in Osaka and proceeds to wreck up the place. Now Tsukioka and Kobayashi join a fleet of fighter pilots to concoct a desperate plan to destroy Gigantis and save Japan once more.

There's nothing worse than a rushed sequel. Except, perhaps, an American version that's been chopped up, re-edited and awkwardly dubbed over. While I'm sure there's something of value in the Japanese version, this American edit of "Godzilla Rides Again" is mostly a bore, lacking much of the charm and pathos of the original.

Let's start with the fact that Godzilla isn't even called Godzilla in this. He's called Gigantis. And his roar has been replaced by what sounds like a slightly modified cat's wail. Now, it was pretty obvious that Godzilla was destroyed at the end of the first film, but it really would have been better to just let this film ignore that and move on. Instead, it awkwardly tries to come up with some kind of explanation that involves a race of fire-breathing dinosaur monsters from the beginning of time that somehow today's scientists know about from what appears to be a children's book. And how exactly does this book know they can be awoken today by radioactive fallout?

Whatever. That's not even the worst of this film's problems. One of the biggest is that the english narration by the main character, Tsukioka, is just bad. I'm not sure I can fault the actor - he tries to mine some emotion out of the stilted, dry writing but it's tough. Most of the time, he's stuck actually just describing what's happening on screen. Yawn. It caused me to lose interest in this movie almost from the get-go, but I stuck through it.

The script tries to mine some tragedy from the death of Kobayashi late in the film, but since the character is portrayed as such a goof, it's hard to care. I gather that in the original film, things are rather different but I haven't seen it. This is one of the reasons why I try to avoid English dubs when possible, because there's so much that's lost when the original performance is brushed aside. I'd much rather read some text on the screen and hear how these actors actually sound.

The only time "Godzilla Raids Again" comes alive is during the action sequences, which show some of the same impressive model work as the original, though the impact isn't quite there. 'Gigantis'' attack on Osaka is fairly impressive, especially shots that involve crumbling buildings. Godzilla/Gigantis's movements are quicker and more agile this time around.

This film also features Godzilla's first fight with another monster. Why Anguiris suddenly shows up and fights Godzilla in the middle of Osaka is beyond me. Apparently the original Japanese version explains that these two are rivals, but in this American version, it just appears to be random violence between two large monsters. I don't know.

So aside from some of the impressive model work in the action sequences, there's really not much going on here of note. The film lacks the emotional impact of the first, and makes a lot of bizarre changes that come off as awkward and dull. If you're wanting to check out these old-school Godzilla flicks, several of which appear to be streaming online these days, you can probably do better than this bore.

See Also:
Godzilla (1954)