Saturday, May 10, 2014

60 Years of Godzilla - Godzilla vs. Gigan

Godzilla thwarts the Earth Destruction Directive.

After director/co-writer Yoshimitsu Banno had delivered what Godzilla series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka considered to be a potentially brand-tarnishing disappointment with the dark, strange, experimental Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, Tanaka was determined to get the series back on track with a more traditional installment.

At first, the idea was to do something along the lines of Destroy All Monsters, a large scale monster mash. What was certain was that the next movie would see the return of the villainous monster King Ghidorah, with consideration given to even calling the movie The Return of King Ghidorah or King Ghidorah's Great Counterattack. Although Ghidorah seemed to have been defeated once and for all in Destroy All Monsters, this movie would get around that fact by being set in the present day of 1972, while the events of DAM occurred in 1999.

Another possible title was Godzilla vs. the Space Monsters: Earth Defense Directive. A story was developed that would see Godzilla and Anguirus facing off against three otherworldy monsters - Gigan, Megalon, and King Ghidorah - who attack Earth under the control of a megalomaniacal alien called Miko. Earth's mightiest monsters would wage a heroic battle against our invaders, but ultimately the aliens would be thwarted when an ancient sword-wielding statue called Majin Tuol (similar to Daiei Studios' Daimajin character) comes to life to help fight them off. As development and rewrites went on, there was also a flying monster called Mogu involved rather than Megalon, and Godzilla was aided in the fight by Rodan and Varan the Invincible instead of Anguirus and Majin Tuol.

At the same time all of this was going on, special effects studio Tsuburaya Productions, which had been founded by the late effects artist Eiji Tsuburaya, discussed the possibility with Toho of the studio allowing them to feature Godzilla in one of their movies to celebrate their tenth anniversary. Tsuburaya Productions' Godzilla vs. Redmoon would have used the Goji suit created for 1967's Son of Godzilla (while Toho was still using the suit originally made for Destroy All Monsters in 1968) to pit Goji against monsters Redmoon and Erabus, who attack Okinawa after their offspring Hafun is captured by a showman who wants to use the monster for his own monetary gain. Unfortunately, Hafun dies in captivity, Redmoon and Erabus retaliate with a rampage, and Godzilla has to save the day. For whatever reason, Godzilla vs. Redmoon was never filmed.

The early ideas for the follow-up to Godzilla vs. Smog Monster turned out to be too large scale and ambitious for the budget that would be available to the production, so it was gradually whittled down to a story that wouldn't require the construction of as many new monster suits as would've been necessary for The Return of King Ghidorah or Godzilla vs. the Space Monsters.

The lower budgeted alternative, with a screenplay by veteran Godzilla writers Takeshi Kimura and Shinichi Sekizawa, is what director Jun Fukuda (returning from Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla) brought to the screen as Godzilla vs. Gigan.

Godzilla appears right up front, he's the first thing we see in the movie. He was once again portrayed in this film by Haruo Nakajima, the man who had been playing Godzilla since the very first film, Gojira in 1954. After eighteen years in the role, Nakajima made Gigan his Goji swan song.

Godzilla blasts the title onto the screen with his atomic breath, and following the title sequence we find one element that had influenced Yoshimitsu Banno in the making of Smog Monster was also carried over into Gigan: the rising popularity of manga in Japan. While manga had inspired Banno to insert animated sequences into his movie, in this one our lead character is a struggling comic book artist named Gengo Kotaka.

Gengo goes from company to company, trying to find someone who'll pay him to draw his stories featuring monsters inspired by the things that trouble young minds the most - Shukura, the monster of homework, and Mamagon, the monster of too strict mothers. Mamagon also bears some resemblance to Gengo's ambitious, tough, determined girlfriend Tomoko, who is the true driving force behind his quest for employment. His job search eventually leads him to the construction committee behind the upcoming World's Children's Land monster-based theme park, whose base of operations is a 150 foot tall tower designed to look like Godzilla. When the theme park opens, Godzilla Tower will be home to a monster museum.

Gengo has an uneasy feeling during his dealings with Kubota, the head of World's Children's Land, and the company's shockingly young chairman Fumio, who spends his free time calculating the orbit of Nebula Space Hunter-M. The men hire him to design monsters for the park, which they intend to fill with models of monsters... and once the park is set up, they plan to destroy Monster Island (first established in the futuristic Destroy All Monsters) and all of the real monsters that live on it. Not only do these men want to bring peace and happiness to children with their theme park, they also want to somehow bring about total world peace.

The artist is right to question his new employers, as he discovers when he gets caught up with Machiko and Shosaku, a pair who have been deemed by the company to be "enemies of peace". They're actually trying to get to the bottom of the disappearance of Machiko's brother, who worked for World's Children's Land and has been missing for three days. In snooping around the company buildings, they have managed to procure an audio tape that when played only emits strange noises that mean nothing to humans ears.

Kubota and Fumio refer to this tape as an Action Signal Tape, and the signal is strong enough to reach Monster Island, where the sound agitates Godzilla and Anguirus... The audience is then privy to an exchange of dialogue between the two monsters. Depending on which version of the film you're watching, this exchange is presented either through comic book style word balloons or through actually hearing the monsters speak in croaky voices that have been manipulated to make it sound like they've been run through some sort of translation machine for our benefit. I'm not really fond of moments where creatures actually interact verbally.

Godzilla sends Anguirus to check out what's happening on the Japanese mainland, but the country's defense forces are not receptive to his arrival and force the monster to retreat into the ocean. Anguirus will be back... and when he comes back, he brings Godzilla with him.

Gengo aids Machiko and Shosaku in their investigation, which unearths some very weird secrets. Like the fact that Kubota and Fumio are dead men. They were a teacher and student who were killed a mountain climbing accident, they've been dead over a year, and in his natural life Fumio certainly wasn't intelligent enough to run a company or do complicated calculations. Alien creatures are using the bodies of the dead as "uniforms"... and they are indeed keeping Machiko's brother Takashi Shima as their prisoner in Godzilla Tower, for reasons that are never quite clear.

Realizing that the trio are finding out too much about them, World's Children's Land employees confront them with guns that were not manufactured on Earth. That's when Tomoko finally gets involved with the situation, arriving just in time to save her boyfriend and his pals with her karate skills... but too late to stop the aliens from retrieving the Action Signal Tape.

Their story of what's going on at World's Children's Land is too outlandish for authorities to believe, and they're too busy preparing for the imminent arrival of Godzilla and Anguirus anyway, so our heroes have to continue dealing with the issue on their own. Tomoko's karate skills again come in handy during a raid on Godzilla Tower to rescue Shima, but the raid still ends with Gengo and Tomoko ending up in the aliens' custody alongside Shima.

The aliens play two Action Signal Tapes simultaneously, blasting the noise out into space, where it reaches two glowing objects. One object flashes and transforms into King Ghidorah, the other explodes to release Gigan from within.

The new monster Gigan is a cybernetically enhanced creature with hooks for hands and a buzzsaw in its torso. Inside the suit is the same man who played the smog monster Hedorah in the previous film, Kenpachiro Satsuma. Satsuma would go on to play Godzilla throughout the '80s and '90s.

King Ghidorah and Gigan fly to Earth and begin circling Godzilla Tower. While they wait to send the monsters out to do their bidding, Kubota and Fumio reveal their true origins and identities - they come from a planet within Nebula Space Hunter-M that was very similar to Earth, with the same sort of living conditions until the dominant species on the planet destroyed it with pollution. (Stock footage of pollution from Godzilla vs. Smog Monster is used to show the damage that was done to their planet.) Beneath their corpse uniforms, Kubota and Fumio are of a species that can survive under the worst possible conditions. They took control of their planet after the other species died out, but were unable to salvage it. The planet was too far gone, dying. The aliens have come to take over Earth because it still has some life in it.

What sort of creatures are these aliens? When the lights are turned off, their bodies cast the shadows of giant cockroaches.

Gengo, Tomoko, and Shima are informed that their bodies, like the corpses of Kubota and Fumio, will be used as uniforms when some of their cockroach alien friends arrive.

That exposition out of the way, the aliens from Nebula Space Hunter-M set King Ghidorah and Gigan loose on Tokyo. The two monsters begin causing as much destruction as possible while military forces do their best to fight the monsters off. Man-made weapons have little effect on the monsters, the only hope lies in Godzilla and Anguirus, who finally arrive to confront them in a lengthy climactic battle. Here it is, Godzilla (and Anguirus) vs. the Space Monsters.

One cool touch during the battle is the fact that the monsters draw blood from each other, something which doesn't happen all that often in these movies. Specifically, Gigan bloodies his opponents up with the use of his metallic appendages.

The unfortunate part of the monster scenes in this movie is when the lower budget that caused the script to be written down from loftier ideas shows through with the use of stock footage from Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Invasion of Astro-Monster, Destroy All Monsters, and possibly even The War of the Gargantuas. Padding things out with stock footage is always disappointing, but if the moments from other movies aren't fresh in your mind and you're not watching for things to point out as stock shots, the footage here is cut together well to make an exciting, action-packed sequence of its own.

The score is another thing that was cobbled together from other sources, being made up of re-used Akira Ifukube tracks and library music from Toho's other kaiju/tokusatsu movies.

The presence of Godzilla is all part of the aliens' plan to wipe out Earth's monsters, and Goji has a great moment when he first spots Godzilla Tower and has to figure out just what he's looking at... Right before the tower starts blasting lazer beams that are meant to kill him, and look like they might be able to do just that.

It's just too bad for the aliens that the monster fight has distracted them from what their prisoners and their cohorts are up to...

Godzilla vs. Gigan has never been one of my favorite movies in the series, I think it's rather mediocre taken on its own merits and when compared to other Godzilla movies it doesn't rank very highly at all. An attempt was made to return to former glory with the "Godzilla must defend Earth from monsters controlled by evil aliens" plot, but this one just feels like it's lacking something, maybe just because we've seen this same plot done before, more than once, and done better.

The newly shot monster battle footage is absolutely awesome, the movie does improve greatly once King Ghidorah and Gigan hit Tokyo, but the long build-up to that happening can feel like a bit of a slog, despite the quirkiness of the characters.

The tough-talking, karate-using Tomoko is a great, fun character, it's a shame she didn't have even more to do throughout the movie.

I like the design of the monster Gigan a lot, and feel that more could have been done with him in better movies. It's just his bad luck that his only appearances have been in entries that aren't very highly regarded. Whenever Toho gets back to producing Godzilla movies, maybe Gigan will someday get his chance to really shine. And not just because his metal is well polished.

In the final moments, King Ghidorah and Gigan beat a retreat, and Godzilla and Anguirus start swimming back toward Monster Island, chalking up another success in their job as protectors of Japan, their former assaults on the country long behind them. The human characters show their appreciation by waving and yelling "Goodbye" to the monsters, and Godzilla stops to acknowledge them with a look and a roar. And with that image, Haruo Nakajima's tenure as the King of the Monsters comes to its end.

Thank you, Nakajima-san, for all the incredible moments you brought to our screens.


  1. I wish they could have gone with the original plan. Daimajin has always been a favorite of mine so a Majin-type monster would have been cool.

    1. I need to catch up on the Daimajin movies, I only saw the first one and that was several years ago.

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment!

      - Cody