My memories of Godzilla’s tenth screen adventure are fonder than usual. It aired on television constantly as I was growing up, being one of the U.P.A. Productions of America properties that TNT broadcast on a regular basis, and thanks to a grandmother sympathetic to my monster obsession it was also one of the first of the series’ films I ever owned.
All Monsters Attack (or Godzilla’s Revenge for those partial to the series’ Stateside titles) is easily the most compact of all the monster’s outings, focusing not on prehistoric behemoths laying waste to modern civilization but on a child who, in his day-dreaming, visits Monster Island as a means of coping with the problems in his everyday life. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that sounds a little strange (it is), but it also makes the film one of the most narratively intriguing of the lot. All Monsters Attack takes place in a Japan unlike any other in Godzilla history then or since; one in which the monster and his brethren are all entirely fictional.
More drama than fantasy, All Monsters Attack follows young Ichiro Miki, a latchkey kid growing up in one of the outlying industrial districts of Tokyo. His surroundings are oppressive, a suburban wastelend of cramped apartments, smoke stacks and defunct industrial parks in which he is bullied on a daily basis by neighborhood brat Gabara and his band of pint-sized thugs. With few friends and parents who are rarely at home Ichiro has become shy and introverted, seeking escape from the real world through his extravagant daydreams.
And what should a young boy in late-’60s Japan dream about but monsters, which were to be found everywhere in the popular culture of the time. Ichiro dreams about all of his favorites: Gorosaurus, Manda, Angilas, Godzilla, and even little Minya, with whom Ichiro develops a close friendship. Ichiro even dreams up a monster equivalent of the neighborhood bully, an enormous Gabara who relishes in pushing little Minya around. Through the trials and achievements of his imaginary monster friend Ichiro gains confidence and learns to stand up for himself, life lessons that prove indispensable for him when people far worse than his own Gabara come knocking.
Given the prevalence of fantastic concepts in tokusatsu pictures made before and since its easy to understand why the low key All Monsters Attack isn’t very popular compared to its brethren – though it features monsters, it only tangentially qualifies as a monster film. The lonely life of little Ichiro may not make for the most thrilling of entertainment (especially not for anyone expecting a raucous kaiju smackdown), but his quest for self confidence can still be quite rewarding for viewers in the proper frame of mind. It certainly struck a chord with my friends and I when we were younger – we watched this film a lot. I still find it easy to empathize with Ichiro’s situation, not to mention his interests, some twenty-five years later, and count myself lucky in that I’ve never had a Gabara of my own.
Screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa took an unusual step in focusing on a typical working-class Japanese family instead of the usual scientists, detectives, astronauts, or reporters here – All Monsters Attack is perhaps the only example of this in the series. Sekizawa and director Ishiro Honda craft some truly poignant moments, particularly for Attack‘s conclusion (the only time Ichiro and his mother are seen together has genuine emotional impact), and make what might have been a drab and depressing look at contemporary Japan into something positive and uplifting. There’s a remarkable humanity to All Monsters Attack, and I’d rank its dramatic direction among Honda’s best.
With the respectfully credited Eiji Tsuburaya in ailing health (he would pass away just a month after the film’s premiere) Ishiro Honda was tasked with directing the special effects of All Monsters Attack himself, with Teruyoshi Nakano, soon-to-be chief of the Toho special effects department, serving as assistant director. Honda’s sole turn in that capacity was a fortuitous one for a film that so frequently blurred the line between drama and fantasy, with Ichiro spending a good deal of his time wandering Monster Island with a size-shifting Minya. It’s a testament to Honda and Nakano that their freshly produced material never looks so threadbare as the budget must have demanded. Sure the sound stages are smaller and the monster action more contained than in prior outings, but the modest, colorful setups suit the film just fine. It’s tough not to root for Godzilla and Minya in their father-and-son fight against the warty green Gabara, a sequence that nicely parallels Ichiro’s confrontations with real-life bad guys later on.
Though the quality of the new effects material is generally high there’s really not much of it, and the budgetary limitations of the production left Honda and Nakano to rely on library footage to an extent the series would never see again. All Monsters Attack lifts whole scenes from Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla as well as a few brief snippets from Destroy All Monsters and King Kong Escapes. For its part the production uses the footage fairly well, cleverly incorporating new material and altering some of the older with mattes (some that work, some that don’t), though it’s impossible not to notice the shifting locations and Godzilla’s frequent change of face. The saving grace is that the footage is still so much fun and well cut besides, and bolstered as it is by a lively score from Kunio Miyauchi (The Human Vapor, Ultra Q). The success of All Monsters Attacks‘ plundering of the Toho vaults is perhaps best judged against the comparable Daiei cost-cutter Gamera vs. Viras, a similarly brief children’s fantasy whose pacing is frequently stopped cold by the appearance of repurposed footage.
Revisiting Godzilla’s mountain of screen exploits isn’t always as pleasant an experience as one would hope, and it’s a bit depressing when an entertainment you held dear as a child fails to hold up to the more scrutinous perspective of adulthood. All the better then that All Monsters Attack still plays so well. Those of you looking to introduce your youngsters to the King of the Monsters need look no further, as the only series film made exclusively for children still makes for great family-friendly entertainment nearly five decades after the fact. I certainly know where I’ll be starting when that time arrives.
Screenshots were gleaned from the Toho Visual Entertainment Blu-ray of All Monsters Attack, which was released in July of last year in conjunction with Toho’s celebration of Godzilla’s 60th anniversary. The 2.35:1-framed image is softer and brighter than some may prefer, and suffers from some notable telecine wobble as well, but is relatively clean and plays well enough for my tastes. Technical specs are very strong, owing to Toho’s dedication to dual-layered releases, and the 69 minute film receives a robust Mpeg-4 AVC video encode at a sky-high average bitrate of 38.4 Mbps. Audio is Japanese only, with no English subtitle or dub support, and offered in either the original monophonic mix (2-channel 16-bit LPCM) or 2004 5.1 surround remix (DTS-HD MA). The former sounds very good to these ears (better than most of these Godzilla discs do in fact), with a healthier degree of punch than one typically associates with aged monophonic mixes. Kunio Miyauchi’s score comes across especially well. By contrast, the center-heavy surround mix sounds quite processed and dense, and I found it more distracting than engrossing for the most part. Optional Japanese SDH subtitles are offered in support of the feature.
For such a minor entry in the franchise, supplements are certainly plentiful enough. Newly produced is Production Department vs. Photography Department: Toho Special Effects Daishingeki!, a lengthy discussion with All Monsters Attack‘s assistant effects director Teruyoshi Nakano and assistant effects photographer Takao Tsurumi that covers their work dating as far back as 1959’s Battle in Outer Space. The featurette runs roughly 26 minutes in HD. Special Effects Film & Music: Kunio Miyauchi Interview is a new packaging of an archival interview (previously unreleased to the best of my knowledge) with the late composer, noted for his contributions to Japanese SPFX film and television, and runs 13 minutes in upscale HD. Less substantial but still plenty of fun is a recording of the original All Monsters Attack promotional sonosheet / flexi disc (1:58, HD), followed by a digital reproduction of the film’s appropriately brief theatrical program (HD) and a short history of Toho’s Champion Festival revival of its classic special effects films (text only). Rounding out the video supplements is the original theatrical trailer (2:29, HD), while an audio commentary with All Monsters Attack‘s late assistant director Koji Hashimoto (moderated by screenwriter Kenji Konuta) is thoughtfully carried over from the older DVD to round out the on-disc content.
I’ve found it difficult to level too much criticism at Toho Visual Entertainment’s Blu-ray releases in the past, but All Monsters Attack is an effort with which I am more satisfied than most. There’s a lot of value to be had in the modest selection of supplements (more is not always better, and Toho have generally chosen their additional material well), and the HD presentation serves the film quite well even if it does leave room for improvement. I dig it. All Monsters Attack can be purchased now through Amazon.co.jp and the other usual retailers, though my copy came by way of a third party seller (Japanworld) at Amazon.com. Classic Media’s domestic DVD remains available as well for those less inclined towards exorbitant import prices.