Monday, March 17, 2014

60 Years of Godzilla - Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster

When you can't get Batman, get a giant lobster.

Released in the U.S. as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, Toho Studios' seventh installment in their Godzilla series is also known as Ebirah, Horror of the Deep; Godzilla, Ebirah, Mothra: Big Duel in the South Seas; Big Duel in the North Sea; and even, in West Germany, Frankenstein and the Sea Monster. But if screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa's original intention had made it to the screen, we'd know the seventh Godzilla movie by a title that was something like Godzilla vs. Batman, or vice versa.

Looking to replicate the international success of King Kong vs. Godzilla, Sekizawa proposed crossing Japan's greatest monster over with one of America's most popular comic book superheroes. He wrote up a treatment for the idea, which he submitted to Toho in November of 1965, which was just two months before the William Dozier-produced Batman television series starring Adam West was set to premiere and nine months before the release of Batman: The Movie, so Sekizawa was likely aware of the impending Batmania.

Sekizawa's story found a villain using hi-tech devices to control both the weather and Godzilla, using them to achieve some sort of nefarious goal. Batman, Robin, and Batgirl would spring into action to put a stop this, and though it would seem that they'd be no match for Godzilla, they do have extensive gadgetry to use and battle vehicles like the Batmobile to fight the monster from.

The project was never developed beyond that treatment, but there was mutual interest in a crossover - in 1968, the year the Batman show ended after 120 episodes, William Dozier considered making a movie called Batman Meets Godzilla, which would start off with Commissioner Gordon and his daughter Barbara Gordon (alter ego of Batgirl) leaving Gotham City on a vacation to Tokyo. Godzilla would show up to ruin their good times, and Batman and Robin would have to travel to Japan to set things right. Again, a treatment was written, but the project never went beyond that. It's not clear if Toho ever approached Dozier with Sekizawa's idea or if Dozier ever contacted Toho about his crossover concept.

Like Frankenstein vs. Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Batman/Batman Meets Godzilla is just another "What if?" project of the '60s. Potential greatness that never was.

When they decided not to pursue the Batman idea, Toho had Sekizawa write Godzilla into a screenplay that they had originally hired him to write for a King Kong movie that was meant to be a co-production between Toho and the American Rankin/Bass Productions. Kong was entirely written out of the script titled Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong vs. Ebirah, and replaced with Goji. The Toho-Rankin/Bass Kong project did come to fruition the following year with a completely different story and was released under the title King Kong Escapes.

Up to this point, every film in the Godzilla series aside from Godzilla Raids Again had been directed by Ishirô Honda, but another director took over this time - Jun Fukuda, who would go on to direct several more movies in the series. At Fukuda's request, Honda's usual composer Akira Ifukube was replaced by Masaru Satô, who had previously composed the music for Raids Again.

Special effects creator Eiji Tsuburaya also took a slight step back on this one, still working on the film but acting as supervisor to Sadamasa Arikawa.

As the film begins, it has been two months since twenty-seven people from Japan were lost while sailing in the South Seas, among them a young man named Yata. Wreckage of the boat has been recovered, but no bodies, and a psychic repeatedly assures Yata's mother that he is not in the land of the dead. Yata's brother Ryota travels from their small village into the city in an attempt to get the authorities to perform a more thorough search for survivors of the shipwreck, but he meets only rejection from the police and the media.

Ryota finds that there's a marathon dance competition going on for which the grand prize is a sailboat, which he could use to go out and look for his brother himself.  When he arrives at the dance he finds that he's too late to enter the competition, the endurance-testing dance is already in its third day. However, he does make quick friends with the dance's latest drop-outs, a couple of young men named Ichino and Nita, who agree to drive him down to the beach to check out the boats there.

The three youths make illegal entry onto a yacht worthy of sailing across the Pacific, and find that its rifle-toting owner Yoshimura is on board... But rather than Yoshimura chasing the guys off, he says they can stay for the night and they all have a little sleepover. It's quite strange.

When Ichino, Nita, and Yoshimura awaken in the morning, they find that the boat has left the beach and is already sailing far out at sea; they are at the whim of Ryota as he searches for his missing brother. A radio report they listen to also reveals that Yoshimura is not who he claimed to be - the yacht they're on belongs to an American who was indeed planning to use it to sail across the Pacific. Yoshimura is actually a thief, on the run after stealing four million yen from the Far East Trading Company.

After night falls, the yacht runs into a violent storm, and as it nears a small island, it's attacked and destroyed by a massive lobster, the monster known as Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. The four make it to the island with their lives, but Yoshimura did lose his ill-gotten yen in the wreck.

The group now find themselves on Devil's Island, which at first appears to be uninhabited... Then they see a ship making its way to the island, spraying out a yellow liquid called X-13 as it approaches to ward off Ebirah. The ship docks at a large, hi-tech facility that would've fit right in on Crab Key in the James Bond movie Dr. No, which is patrolled by numerous armed guards.

This facility belongs to the militaristic terrorist organization Red Bamboo, and the Red Bamboo Commander observes on a monitor from the safety of his office as a trade is conducted between the base guards, led by his right hand man Captain Yamoto, who wears an eyepatch emblazoned with the image of a dragon over his left eye, and the crew of the ship. More barrels of X-13 are delivered to the ship, and in return the ship makes a delivery of human beings. Natives of Infant Island, home to Mothra, who have been captured and brought to Devil's Island to work as slaves, churning fruits into the X-13 liquid while Red Bamboo goes about their own nefarious plans.

Some of the natives attempt to escape, but those who aren't mowed down by machine guns learn the importance of X-13 when in the waters around the island... They attempt to get away in a rowboat, but are quickly killed by Ebirah. This unsuccessful escape does provide enough confusion to allow for a successful one, as a woman from Infant Island named Daiyo manages to get away from the Red Bamboo base, running off into the wilderness... where she joins the group of Ryoto, Ichino, Nita, and Yoshimura.

Seeking shelter in a cave as the Red Bamboo guards scour the island for the missing slave girl, the group finds that they're sharing their shelter with Godzilla, who seems to be in a state of hibernation.

Director Fukuda was experienced in action/adventure movies and comedies prior to this, and his familiarity with those genres shows through in scenes involving the Red Bamboo guards and moments like when our heroes appear to be jumping off a cliff to escape the villains; it's shot in such a way that it looks like they'll be falling a long distance into the water... and then we're shown that they only jumped a few feet down onto a lower ledge.

Comedic sensibilities are also on display when the group, putting to use Yoshimura's lock picking and safe cracking skills, infiltrate the Red Bamboo base to find out just what exactly is going on on this island. What they discover is very disturbing - Red Bamboo has a nuclear reactor and has set up this facility to produce hard water... these terrorists are making nuclear bombs.

An alarm goes off and only Ichino, Yoshimura, and Daiyo are able to make it away from the base. Nita is captured and forced to join the slaves producing X-13, while Ryoto gets caught in the mooring rope of the guards' search balloon, getting hauled off into the sky. This turn of events would seem to be the worst case scenario, but it actually turns out in everyone's favor.

Soon after being put into slavery, Nita comes up with a plan that his fellow slaves quickly put into effect - they mix up a phony batch of X-13, grinding the plant's leaves into the liquid rather than the plant itself. This fake X-13 ensures the doom of the Red Bamboo ship and its crew when they sail around Devil's Island and try to use it to keep Ebirah away... But it's kind of insulting to the natives of Infant Island that they needed a city kid to come up with this idea to save them. I'm sure the filmmakers got letters from Infant Islanders after this one came out.

Speaking of, Ryoto is meanwhile somehow able to gain control of the search balloon and navigate it to a landing on Infant Island, where the natives and the twin one-foot-tall Shobijin fairies have been praying and dancing their hearts out trying to get Mothra (in her full moth form) to awaken and fly to Devil's Island to rescue her people.

The Shobijin had originally been played by twin sister musical duo The Peanuts, but their last appearance as the characters had been in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Here, they're played by a different sister musical duo, Yuko and Yoko Okada of Pair Bambi.

On Infant Island, Ryoto is reunited with his brother Yata, who has been stranded on the island since his ship wrecked two months earlier. Together, the brothers head back to Devil's Island to save the Infant Island natives... and are eventually followed by Mothra, who finally wakes up.

Meanwhile, to distract the Red Bamboo guards from their systematic search of the caves on Devil's Island, which would surely lead to their discovery sooner or later, Ichino, Yoshimura, and Daiyo decide to awaken Godzilla. They craft a lightning rod out of an Infant Islander's sword and a long wire from Daiyo's necklace, and when a storm hits the island, lightning strikes the sword, travels down the wire, and shocks Godzilla awake.

Some say that Godzilla being awakened by lightning is a remnant of this script having originally been written to star King Kong, since King Kong vs. Godzilla established that Kong feeds on and gains strength from electricity, but it still works... Godzilla may not get stronger from electricity, but the annoyance of getting electrocuted should certainly be enough to wake him up.

Although Godzilla is first seen 32 minutes inot the movie, he's not woken up and put into action until the 49 minute point. Godzilla is played by Haruo Nakajima for the seventh film in a row here, and Nakajima is wearing the same suit he wore in Invasion of Astro-Monster, the head was just modified. Although this was the last time this suit would be the primary Godzilla costume, it would be used further as a stunt suit over the next four films.

Godzilla's first order of business is to head down to the water and engage in a fight with Ebirah, and while their confrontation starts out in a rather goofy manner, with the two knocking rocks back and forth at each other, much like Godzilla and Rodan did before they joined forces near the end of Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, there are a couple moments of accidental destruction during the rock tossing that shows how dangerous these monsters can be even when they're not directly trying to be, and the match does soon become more physical.

Ebirah isn't the only giant monster Godzilla has to contend with in this film, at another point he's also randomly attacked by a giant condor. It's a pest, but he makes quick work of it.

When Mothra arrives to rescue her people, Godzilla tries to pick a fight with her, even though he had made friends with her in her larval form at the end of Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster... But their fight doesn't go too far.

With Godzilla loose on their base of operations, Red Bamboo proves to be such a powerful organization that they even have their own air force. With a jaunty '60s pop tune playing on the soundtrack, Red Bamboo fighter jets swarm in on Godzilla. Viewers familiar with this franchise will know that there's nothing these jets can do that will really bother our star monster, it just gives us another action sequence to watch.

During their time on the island together, Godzilla happens across Daiyo. As he advances on her, she seems to be doomed, cornered. She cowers, fearing for her life. But as King Kong would, Godzilla seems to have a soft spot for the girl. He just sits and stares at her... and slowly falls asleep. Goji is very sleepy in this movie.

Godzilla does eventually make his way over to the Red Bamboo base, and the terrorists try to keep him at bay with an electric fence they've constructed, which has a current of at least 100,000 volts running through it. 50,000 volts didn't do anything to stop Godzilla in the '54 original, nor did 300,000 in the Godzilla, King of the Monsters! cut. A million volts did deter him in King Kong vs. Godzilla, and thirty million volts caused him a lot of pain in Mothra vs. Godzilla. Here, the 100,000 volts of so that the fence zaps into his shins annoys him a great deal, but he smartly finds a way to cut off the current and march on into the base, setting off the destruction-filled climax.

The climax features plenty of damage and explosions, but it is on a much smaller scale than we're used to seeing in a Godzilla movie, and this installment in the series is kind of jarring to come across when watching your way through the series. The movies had been getting bigger and bigger, their scope expanding into outer space, and then there's this one, which is set on a small island. Godzilla doesn't head off to the Japanese mainland like he would normally do, he just hangs out on Devil's Island, where he has no city to crash through, just a small terrorist base. Red Bamboo may have a lot of firepower at their disposal, but they don't amount to the Japanese military and smashing their base isn't like smashing Tokyo.

Despite the location and smaller story, the filmmakers did make a strong effort to keep the movie interesting and satisfying, throwing all those combatants at Godzilla once he finally gets out of his cave bed.

Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster is widely regarded as one of the weakest entries in the series, but it's not a bad movie, it's just not the type of Godzilla adventure that viewers had become accustomed to.

Interestingly, given that it's such an out-of-the-ordinary entry, at least up to this point, Sea Monster was also one of the first Godzilla movies I owned, along with King Kong vs. Godzilla. It's not one of the most exciting Godzilla films, but I find it entertaining in its own little way.


  1. I would really paid a lot more money if the Big G fought Batman. Not that I hate this entry but Godzilla didn't act like "Godzilla" a lot on this entry. (I mean, c'mon. It's a giant shrimp,G! Fry it and get it over with...)

  2. I think in Germany, King Kong Escapes is released sn King Kong Frankenstein's Sohn.