Friday, March 28, 2014

60 Years of Godzilla - Son of Godzilla

Congratulate the proud papa on the hatching of his offspring!

For its first several installments, the scope of the films in the Godzilla series had been expanding with each successive entry, growing from the horrific story of a giant monster laying siege to Tokyo in 1954's Gojira to the monster mash space adventure of 1965's Invasion of Astro-Monster. The island-based action of 1966's Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster abruptly pulled back the reins, and that film had the smallest scope of any movie in the franchise so far.

The next year's Son of Godzilla follows suit, again telling a very small story that has its action set on a largely uninhabited island.

Sea Monster director Jun Fukuda returned to direct Son of Godzilla, with longtime franchise contributor screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa (King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Invasion of Astro-Monster, Sea Monster) again providing the screenplay, this time with assistance from a writer named Kazue Shiba.

As on Sea Monster, the special effects were headed up by Sadamasa Arikawa, with series effects mastermind Eiji Tsuburaya in the role of supervisor. For this film, Arikawa redesigned the Godzilla suit, which would be worn in the film by Seiji Onaka and Yû Sekida in addition to regular Goji performer Haruo Nakajima.

The series had been getting increasingly child-friendly as it went along, and the fact that Son of Godzilla is particularly aimed at the children in the audience shows through in the redesign of the Goji suit for this entry, as the King of the Monsters has been given a very cartoony look this time around.

This nice and cuddly looking version of Godzilla appears onscreen just one minute into the movie, when a plane flying on a course past the supposed-to-be-uninhabited Sollgel Island has a near-miss with the monster as he rises from the sea. Concurrent to Godzilla's apparent reawakening, the crew of the plane are dealing with a strange mechanical issue - the aircraft's radio seems to be somehow getting disrupted by brainwaves. Luckily, this interference passes before the situation gets too bad.

The plane flies on toward its own destination while Godzilla wades through the ocean toward the source of the radio-disrupting brain waves: Sollgel Island.

Godzilla won't appear onscreen again until 31 minutes into the movie. In the meantime, we're introduced to a group of characters who have recently taken up residence on Sollgel.

Like Shinichi Sekizawa's proposal for a Batman vs. Godzilla movie, the plot of Son of Godzilla involves a scientific creation that can manipulate weather. But rather than being in the hands of a criminal madman, as it would have been in the Batman crossover, here the weather machine has been developed by well-meaning scientist Professor Kusumi with the intention of using it to solve the problem of world hunger by turning areas like the Siberian tundras, the African deserts, and the South American jungles into viable farmland. He has gathered a team of men on Sollgel to experiment with the machine in secret, to make sure that it won't fall into the hands of any criminal madmen.

As the day approaches when the research team intends to test the weather machine by freezing the swelteringly hot island, they begin experiencing strange disruptions in their equipment like the flight crew did.

They're also inconvenienced by the arrival, via parachute, of freelance reporter Goro Maki, who has somehow found out about their presence on Sollgel Island and is looking to write a story about whatever they have going on. Goro's presence is only considered an annoyance briefly, however - then the team realizes they can put him to work as their janitor/cook.

The research team and Goro are the only human beings on Sollgel Island (as far they know), but the island is home to a huge breed of mantis that Goro ends up naming the Kamacuras or Gimantis, depending on whether you're watching the Japanese or English version. There's no explanation as to why there are these man-sized insects on the island, but clearly they're not a protected species, because the experiment isn't being halted for them.

More likely to cause a delay is the discovery Goro makes while searching the jungle for dinner ingredients one day - he and the research team are sharing Sollgel with a young native woman. But when he tells the others about seeing the woman, they don't trust the word of the interloping reporter enough to give it much thought. Maybe he was hallucinating.

Goro doesn't push the issue, instead going off into the jungle himself to try to help the native girl on the day of the weather machine experiment. The experiment is conducted as planned whether Goro is back in the safety of the base or not. "He'll come back shivering." Goro gives up on finding the island girl again and returns to the base before things can get too uncomfortable for him, although the movie doesn't bother to show him getting back to the base. He just happens to be there safe and sound in the aftermath of what follows.

A freezing balloon filled with refrigeration gas that's negative 115C (-175F) degrees is launched and detonated over the island. Silver iodide is then released into the air. The temperature on the island is successfully lowered from 34C (93.2F) to 25C (77F) and a radioactive balloon is meant to warm the island back up when the experiment has been completed... but the team didn't count on that strange equipment disruption occurring again at the worst possible moment. The team loses contact with the radioactive balloon, it detonates too early, and thus warms the island up too much.

The temperature on Sollgel Island rises to 70C (158F), and the heat is followed by severe thunderstorms with torrential downpours of hot rain. The team dares not venture out of the base until four days later, when things finally cool down to 37C (98.6F). When they do go outside, they find that the heat and radiation have caused the already giant Kamacuras to grow even larger... As the men watch, the huge mantises also find a large egg in the weather-ravaged ground and start battering it with their spiked forelegs.

Eventually, the mantises bust the egg open and from within emerges the titular character. There is no Bride of Godzilla, but somehow he now has a son, a son that you can choose to call either Minira or Minilla (as in Mini-Gojira or Mini-Godzilla) or even Minya. Although this little guy looks nothing like his father when he hatches, the onlooking characters immediately recognize him as a "baby Godzilla". They also realize that the disruptive emissions that have been plaguing the area of Sollgel Island have been coming from this creature - the brainwaves were telepathic cries the incubating Minira was sending out to his dad.

Minira is at first portrayed by a puppet, but soon grows large enough for suitmation to be employed, and wearing the costume of the goofy-cute monster was diminutive actor and former professional wrestler Little Man Machan.

As soon as Minira comes out of his shell, the mantises set upon the giant baby with the intention of making his life a short one. The son of Godzilla appears to be doomed... Until his pops shows up on the scene. Godzilla comes ashore thirty minutes after his first appearance in the movie and senselessly busts the research team's base to pieces while making his way across the island to save the little tyke. The mantises are pests but they're no match for big G, who makes quick work of them, smashing them around and lighting them on fire with his atomic breath.

Once the mantis threat has been dealt with (for now), Godzilla and Minira go off into the wilderness together for some father/son bonding time. I hate to say it, but from the glimpses we're given of Godzilla's parenting style during the second half of the film, it appears that Goji is an abusive douche of a dad. What Godzilla mostly seems to want to do, like in the previous movie, is sleep, and when his kid annoys him into reluctantly getting up, he forces Minira to practice his roars and atomic breath-blasting by threatening to slap the hell out of him if he doesn't.

Minira has some trouble getting a good atomic blast to come from his mouth, what comes of most of his attempts are atomic rings.

While that's going on with the monsters, the humans on the island have to contend with more trouble from the pesky mantises and dealing with the damages caused by Godzilla and the radioactive storm. The storm messed up their radio so they can't call for help until it's fixed, and they also have to decide whether or not their weather machine project is salvageable.

Contact is finally made with the elusive native girl, who resides in an underground cave... which the research team moves into with her since Godzilla wrecked their place. The girl is Saeko Matsumiya, who has lived on Sollgel Island her entire life, raised there by her archaeologist father. (Her mother died in childbirth.) Her father died seven years before, leaving Saeko on the island all by herself.

Saeko has soon become a love interest of sorts for Goro, and her familiarity with the island comes in handy when most of the research team are stricken by a debilitating illness, one which can only be cured by drinking of the warm, red water from a pond near where Godzilla and Minira have set up camp. To reach this area of the island, you must first pass through The Valley of Kumonga... and just in time for the climactic sequence of the film, too much activity in said valley raises the terrifying Kumonga (also known as Spiga in the English version) from its slumber.

Kumonga / Spiga is an evil spider that's larger than even the mutated mantises and proceeds to provide a whole new brand of danger for the humans on Sollgel Island before picking a fight with Godzilla and his young son. As the monsters battle to the death, the humans are finally able to attempt their escape from the island... while giving the weather experiment one more try...

Son of Godzilla is undoubtedly the smallest film in the series yet, with a small cast of characters and a simple desert island setting. This is neither a horrific monster movie nor an awe-inspiring spectacle; as others have pointed out when discussing it, it is very much a typical B-movie sort of monster flick, along the lines of something like Attack of the Crab Monsters.

With that said, it doesn't mean that I don't find Son of Godzilla entertaining in its own right. B monster movies can be a whole lot of fun. I like Attack of the Crab Monsters! I don't have any problem with a Godzilla movie being that sort of movie, even if it is less exciting and impressive than some of what has come before.

The tone of the film is very lighthearted for the most part, at times it almost feels like a sitcom. Godzilla on Gilligan's Island. The jaunty score by Masaru Satô goes along with that feeling.

With the addition of baby Minira, it's clear that this entry was a direct appeal to the kid audience, and when it was a kid it totally worked for me. Minira is adorable, and he captured my heart when I was a little guy myself.

My appreciation for Son of Godzilla is enhanced by nostalgia - I have a happy childhood memory that involves watching the movie with my father and both of us being amused by the scene in which Godzilla is trying to teach his son to be a proper roaring, atomic energy-blasting monster. My father being a smoker at a time, he was able to recreate Minira's atomic rings with his cigarette smoke, which I found to be quite impressive and fun.

Son of Godzilla isn't a entry in the series that I would recommend to just any casual fan who's looking to watch a Godzilla movie, I think in general a person's enjoyment of the film might be impeded if they're not a child or don't have a childhood connection to the movie... But I'm sure there are those out there who could take it for what it is and still enjoy it anyway. It's not an exemplary Godzilla movie, but it's not a bad movie.

The small scale, lower budgeted double feature of Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla are not often highly regarded among fans, but luckily for the longevity of the series Toho would shift gears again for the next Godzilla adventure, putting a larger budget toward what would be the most epic monster mash in the franchise to date.

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