Tokusatsu Tuesdays is a regular feature relating to Japanese special effects entertainments and their associated whatsits, and a bridge, so to speak, between ExploderButton.com and its sister site, Eiga · Bouei.
Just a short write-up for all of you this Tuesday. The artwork shared below comes courtesy of a trade ad Toho placed in the September 14th 1966 issue of the industry publication Motion Picture Herald, in which it serves as the back cover image (which is great, as it means I didn’t have to dismember the entire mag just to get a decent picture of it). The sharp two-tone design is a variation on the key poster image Toho produced to advertise the film to international buyers, and which served as the basis for the final theatrical poster art in territories like France and Spain.
The film itself should need little introduction. 1966’s 「フランケンシュタインの怪獣 サンダ対ガイラ」War of the Gargantuas, the kind-of sort-of sequel to the prior year’s 「フランケンシュタイン対地底怪獣バラゴン」Frankenstein Conquers the World, received significant distribution both in theaters and on television worldwide and remains one of the best-known and beloved of Toho’s special effects productions. Toho have a fine all-region Blu-ray available, albeit in Japanese only, and an inexpensive domestic DVD is available which features both the Japanese and American versions.
Toho’s international key art speaks well for the film’s charms – two monsters locked in a duel to the death, the military amassed against them and the fate of a city in the balance. The film’s opening attraction – a malevolent giant octopus – even makes an appearance. Perhaps my favorite thing about the piece, however, is how also-ran guest star Kipp Hamilton finagles a third-place credit, right behind genuine stars Russ Tamblyn and Kumi MIZUNO. Hamilton appears briefly to regale audiences with War of the Gargantuas‘ enduring anti-classic lounge tune “The Words Get Stuck in my Throat“, before running afoul of a not-so-jolly green giant. The lamentable number is shared, below the ad, in its DEVOlved version.
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.
Aliens in orange leisure suits plot world conquest from a theme park, and it’s up to a comic artist and his friends (with an assist from Japan’s preeminent monster star) to stop them in Godzilla vs. Gigan, the twelfth entry in Toho Co.’s iconic monster franchise. A conceptual return to form after the previous year’s bizarre and experimental Godzilla vs. Hedorah, Gigan recalls the multi-monster throw-downs that had defined the series in the middle sixties, if only superficially so. From the ostentatious title (best when spoken with multiple exclamation points) and ad slicks to the music (something of a greatest hits of Ifukube library tracks) to the monster roster itself (including frequent series villain and kaiju-for-hire King Ghidorah) the film is calculated to evoke Godzilla’s recent (and more profitable) past, but beneath all that affected pomp lies one of the monster’s shabbiest outings. With dwindling attendance figures driving the series to the lower depths of under-production Gigan was left to build an ambitious tokusatsu epic from slim pickings indeed – in retrospect it’s a wonder that any of it works at all.
Penned by longtime series scribe Shinichi Sekizawa (Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster) from a story by Takeshi Kimura (The H-Man), Godzilla vs. Gigan offers an amusing pop-art twist on the rote alien invasion archetype that had dominated Toho’s special effects productions from 1957’s The Mysterians onward. Kimura’s involvement assures at least a touch of substantive meandering by way of the invader’s backstory (their world was driven to ruin by the unchecked industrial ambitions of its dominant life forms, leaving lesser creatures to seek a more hospitable world), but the desperate man-sized cockroaches of Nebula Space Hunter M are mostly a silly bunch. After assuming human identities and amassing a hip collection of belligerently colorful formal wear, the M-aliens begin their quest for world domination (or as they refer to it, “perfect peace”) in a truly unusual fashion – by building a monster-themed amusement park with a monumental Godzilla Tower as its main attraction. The plan from there is simple: Destroy Tokyo with a pair of computer-controlled space monsters in a bid to lure Godzilla from his digs on Monster Island to the M-aliens’ fun-land base of operations, then destroy the King of the Monsters with the space lasers mounted in the head of his own (presumably unlicensed1) likeness. What could possibly go wrong?
Giving the M-aliens a run for their money in the silliness department are the human cast – a down-on-his-luck comic artist named Gengo (non-star Hiroshi Ishikawa in his next-to-last film appearance), his martial artist girlfriend Tomoko (Bohachi Bushido‘s Yuriko Hishimi), and a pair of hippies hunting for a kidnapped electronics expert (career supporting player Kunio Murai, Nobunaga Concerto). Using balloons, exploding cartoon murals, an affinity for yellow fruits and vegetables, and some considerable narrative gymnastics to their great advantage, Gengo and his cohorts become just the sort of oddball anti-invasion force the ill-fated M-aliens deserve. For his part underrated director Jun Fukuda (Secret of the Telegian) keeps the human action moving at a brisk enough clip, assuring that there are usually enough parts in motion at any given point in the proceedings to keep it all from feeling dull. The pop art-inflected production design doesn’t hurt either. Veteran art director Yoshifumi Honda (Throne of Blood) uses hefty doses of color to keep the palpable cheapness of it all from becoming too obvious or distracting, and generally with good results – the following year’s Godzilla vs. Megalon would have him following the same basic ethos, and with like success.
With the exception of the aforementioned ecological angle and some Invasion of Astro-Monster-derived commentary on the perils of technology (the computer-fixated M-aliens are ultimately destroyed their inflexible reliance on them) Godzilla vs. Gigan is played mostly for kicks, and provided the series with what was up to that point its least complicated perspective on Godzilla as hero. Though Yoshimitsu Banno had presented the character in stark heroic terms the year before he had done so within the context of a film with far more substantive ambitions (so had Ishiro Honda for that matter, in 1969’s All Monsters Attack). Gigan‘s approach is utterly simplistic by contrast, reducing the whole concept to its essence of Good Monsters against Bad Monsters, for better or worse, a trend that would continue through 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Still, rarely has Godzilla felt more dissociated from his past than he does here, rising to thwart an alien invasion out of heroic necessity and speaking to his buddy Anguirus via stylized speech bubbles. This Godzilla is pure kid’s stuff, theme song and all.
That’s not to suggest that this is an inherently bad thing, but Gigan‘s climactic kaiju brawl is just too protracted and sluggish to rate with the better among the ’70s films. With too little money and too little time on their side accomplished SPFX director Teruyoshi Nakano (Submersion of Japan) and his associates did their best by the considerable number of effects cuts Gigan demanded of them, but the quality of the work is inconsistent to say the least and is hampered further by an over-reliance on footage culled from prior series outings. An early appearance by Anguirus in Sagami Bay is limited to a few fresh takes on a tiny and unconvincing effects stage, a new process shot of troops running back and forth, and a heap of alienated military assault footage from War of the Gargantuas, Destroy All Monsters and so on. The final four-way monster brawl doesn’t fare much better, and feels at least a reel too long for its torpid pacing and frequent stock footage interruptions (minutes worth of material from Ghidrah the Three Headed Monster, Invasion of Astro-Monster and so on). King Ghidorah must have proven too difficult to operate effectively under the constraints of the production and spends the majority of the fight watching quietly from the sidelines while Godzilla falls increasingly to pieces. The latter suit appears for its fourth (and final, blessedly) time in as many films here, and looks all the worse for wear after its demanding turn in 1971’s Godzilla vs. Hedorah.
If there’s a special effects highlight to be gleaned from Godzilla vs. Gigan it’s Gigan itself, a truly bizarre kaiju creation and one of my favorite among Toho’s menagerie. Nakano and company manage to afford the beast a few minutes of old-school city-stomping action, and despite the modest size of the effects stages it all plays quite well. Late SPFX photographer Motoyoshi Tomioka2 (King Kong Escapes) keeps shots tight for the most part, making good use of a sparse few blocks of miniatures before pulling back to watch it all burn. The sequence is still set back by its dependence on recycled footage (in this film it’s positively unavoidable), but the original material stands as a fine slice of budget-conscious tokusatsu action all the same.
I have a lot of fond memories of watching Godzilla vs. Gigan as a child, back when it was still running in syndication under its Cinema Shares Int. theatrical title of Godzilla on Monster Island, and even if the film holds up rather poorly these days a certain fondness for it remains. The human drama is goofy fun, the aliens bizarrely fashionable, and Gigan is still one hell of a thing. This is yet another of those films that I like a good deal more than I probably should, and despite any earlier bellyaching I find myself revisiting it more often than I care to admit. I’m not sure that really qualifies as a recommendation or not, but in the case of Godzilla vs. Gigan it’s as much as you’ll get from me.
Screengrabs are taken from Toho’s own blu-ray release of Godzilla vs. Gigan, which was issued in July of last year. The disc presents a strong Mpeg-4 AVC encode of a relatively soft 2.35:1-framed HD master, but plays fine for my tastes in motion (I find the excessive noisiness of the Kraken blu-ray rather distracting in playback, and as with Ebirah – Horror of the Deep, tend to prefer the color timing and framing of the Toho release over the domestic alternative). The speech bubbles absent in domestic DVD and Blu-ray editions are of course present and accounted for here, and the original titles are a revelation by contrast to their bland English counterparts. How did such an underwhelming film come by such a groovy opening titles sequence? Audio is presented in monophonic 2.0 LPCM (16 bit), and is decent if unremarkable – the original mix sounds fairly flat, and I suspect this is as good a presentation of it as can be reasonably expected. The 5.1 remix produced for the film’s first Japanese DVD issue is also on board (revamped in DTS-HD MA), and adds a bit of punch to the music tracks as well as a wealth of phasing issues in the sound effects (noticeable on most of the 5.1 remasters I’ve heard from the company). Optional Japanese subtitles are included for the feature, but the all region compatible disc offers nothing in the way of English language support.
As with many of Toho’s blu-ray discs, supplements are unexpectedly weighty (though again, not English friendly), with all of the most noteworthy bits being exclusive to this release. Masaaki Tezuka x Yuriko Hishimi: Special Talk is a substantial and enthusiastic interview featurette between the director and Gigan‘s most prominent star, and runs for 40 minutes in HD. The Man who Made Godzilla Tower: Nobuyuki Yasumaru runs roughly 20 minutes in HD, and covers not only the effects sculptor’s contributions to Toho productions (like his work on Gorosaurus and the various late-Showa Godzilla suits, as well as the eponymous Godzilla Tower) but his non-film art pieces as well. Neat! The rest of the video extras are less substantial, but nice to have all the same – you get a theatrical dispatch (HD, same transfer as on the Kraken disc, for which this dispatch is the only extra), a karaoke presentation of the film’s infectious “Godzilla March”, as well as an HD reproduction of the original theatrical program. The final on-disc supplement is an audio commentary with effects artist and director Shinji Higuchi (Gamera: Guardian of the Universe) moderated by playwright and television writer Kenji Konuta (Ultraman Dyna), which is thoughtfully carried over from Toho’s earlier DVD. Packaging is typical for the company’s tokusatsu blu-rays, and includes an attractive slip case, as well as a 60th Anniversary promotional obi (not pictured), a sticker, and a print advertisement for the rest of Toho’s 60th anniversary blu-ray releases. I love the way these packages look on the shelf, and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t figure somehow into the whys of why I keep buying them.
Godzilla vs. Gigan is available from Amazon.co.jp and the other usual import outlets, though in a rare turn (I had some trade-in credit) I actually picked up my copy from a third party seller (JAPANWORLD, who were lovely to work with) at Amazon.com. I recommend shopping around if interested, as the prices for these releases can vary quite a lot from shop to shop or from seller to seller. The domestic Blu-ray release remains available as well for those so inclined, and is darned cheap besides.
2 The IMDB credits him as Sokei Tomioka for whatever reason, while Allcinema.net suggests Motohiro Tomioka. The reading in this article was confirmed from the commentary tracks for Godzilla Raids Again and Terror of Mechagodzilla, in which he participated before his passing in 2011.
Note: This collection is effectively obsolete, at least for customers in English-speaking territories. The Criterion Collection have released the complete series on Blu-ray in both the United States and United Kingdom, and those interested in seeing the films in HD are encouraged to seek out that superior set instead.
While I intend to (eventually) get around to each of the films in this collection in individual reviews, it’s disc-only coverage for today, kids, as there’s a good bit to talk about. Animeigo caught a fair bit of well-earned flack for their initial Blu-ray release of the Lone Wolf and Cub saga from 2012, a dual-disc offering marred by an over-zealous approach to image processing that largely undermined the benefits of releasing in the Blu-ray format to begin with. Whatever its troubles, the Animeigo Lone Wolf and Cub collection is now soundly out of print, and fetching ludicrous prices from third party sellers ($235 and up at Amazon as of this writing). Those looking for better may finally have an option, however. It’s certainly cheaper at the very least.
Alive GmbH subsidiary Rapid Eye Movies have seen fit to grant the Lone Wolf and Cub series a second chance on high-definition video, by way of a 3-disc offering of all six films which was issued in Germany in December of last year. Alive / REM’s Lone Wolf and Cub collection is soundly locked to Region B and offers no English language options to speak of, but has the benefit of being damned affordable – I paid a little less than $30, shipping included, or around $5 per film. It’s also a handsome little release, decked out with an attractive slipcase and packed with a 15-page booklet of notes (by Tom Mes, in German translation) and still images. In a nifty move, the pesky FSK 18 rating sticker was attached to the outer shrinkwrap as opposed to the slipcase – no reversible sleeve necessary.
Nice shelf presence and acute affordability are both winning features to be sure, you say, but how does it stack up to the Animeigo release? While the images below will reveal a certain elephant in the room, to be discussed very shortly, they also soundly answer that question. The first capture below represents perhaps the most egregious example of Animeigo’s image processing that I could find, courtesy of Ian Jane’s review, and the shot which follows is its frame-accurate counterpart from the German Blu-ray collection:
Alive / REM have sourced from the same masters made available to Animeigo for their release with one important difference – they have wisely opted not to assail them with noise reduction filters. The result is an image that is understandably grittier, but also crisper and more detailed. Unfortunately that added clarity has revealed a rather glaring fault as well, the elephant of which I spoke earlier.
Upscale may be something of a dirty word, but that’s precisely what the “HD” materials for Lone Wolf and Cub films 3 through 5 are. Baby Cart to Hades, Baby Cart in Peril, and Baby Cart in the Land of Demons are all 1080p blow-ups from previous standard definition masters (the same Eureka! used for their UK DVD release if I’m not mistaken, albeit sans PAL speed-up), and fare about as well as you’d expect for the trouble. While Alive / REM’s set advertises itself as having been newly remastered in HD, at best this is only half accurate.
Baby Cart to Hades
Baby Cart in Peril
Baby Cart in the Land of the Demons
Visuals improve, if not so dramatically as might have been hoped, for the other films in the series – Sword of Vengeance, Baby Cart at the River Styx, and White Heaven in Hell are all represented by native HD masters, and while this leaves me pondering why the rest of the pictures could not also have been transferred in HD, I’ll definitely take it. Quality reminds of the Hi-Vision masters Toho had prepared for the ’60s and ’70s Godzilla films (perhaps a little worse, as these can be quite noisy in places), and while detail is not exceptional the transfers play relatively well overall. As with the upscale materials, the grit and noise inherent in these native HD masters goes blessedly unperturbed in the German edition, which opts to present the imperfect materials as-is instead of introducing a whole crop of other issues through excessive manipulation. Again, I’ll take it.
Sword of Vengeance
Baby Cart at the River Styx
White Heaven in Hell
Technical specifications are quite modest for all 6 films, here distributed two-each across a trio of single layer BD25. The Mpeg-4 AVC encodes only run an average of 15.0 Mbps, but seem good enough for the modest video masters provided (upscale and HD alike – some artifacts are present, but I found them unobtrusive in playback). Audio for the six features is presented in lossless 16-bit / 48 kHz LPCM 2.0 Japanese monophonic (the packaging incorrectly lists DTS-HD MA encoding), with optional (via remote) German subtitles for those so inclined. Supplements are limited to hard-subbed original trailers for the full Lone Wolf and Cub series (I think these may be native HD, but an overall softness and the state of the film sources involved makes it difficult to tell – shots are included below) and a handful of other Alive / REM releases, and are duplicated on each of the three discs.
And that’s about it, I think. Alive / REM’s Lone Wolf and Cub Blu-ray collection is certainly not without issue, but it offers enough of an improvement over the disappointing Animeigo collection that I may just give it a pass. It’s cheap, it looks good on the shelf, and it offers the best presentation of this indelible exploitation franchise presently available (for shame!). One can always hope for improvements, and I’ll be amazed if Lone Wolf and Cub doesn’t eventually get the HD treatment it justly deserves, but for now this works well enough for my needs. The Lone Wolf and Cub collection is readily available through Amazon Germany and the other usual outlets.
An unlikely series of events land a bank robber, two go-go dancing yacht enthusiasts, and one determined, naive youth on an isolated South Seas island crawling with comic book baddies and giant monsters in this silly seventh entry in the Godzilla series. Though initially pitched as a return adventure for King Kong, still under license to Toho at the time (after 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla – he would re-appear in the more lavish King Kong Escapes the following year), Ebirah – Horror of the Deep instead became a vehicle for the company’s own star monster, and effectively finalized Godzilla’s transition from living nuclear nightmare to dependable tokusatsu hero in the process.
It’s perhaps best not to dwell too much on Ebirah‘s narrative details – regular series scribe Shinichi Sekizawa (Invasion of Astro-Monster) and director Jun Fukuda (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla) certainly did’t, but that’s not really a bad thing. The film’s oddball band of good-humored heroes are propelled into action setups early, often, and with a good deal of tasty pulp contrivance to spare. After a perfect confluence of inclement weather and ill-wanted kaiju intervention leaves them stranded on unfamiliar shores Ebirah‘s considerable heroic cast finds itself in trouble yet again, fleeing the island’s resident bad-guys – the insidious Red Bamboo organization, who are dabbling in human trafficking, slave labor, and gargantuan prawn husbandry on their way to nuclear domination of… well, something. Good-guy thief Akira Takarada gives the Bamboo plenty of his own brand of trouble, stealing into its island base with his mad lock-picking skills and making asses of them with their own munitions stores, but not without some unfortunate consequences. One among the heroes is captured and put to work manufacturing the chemical the Bamboo use to keep their guard-monster Ebirah from biting the hand that feeds, while another is whisked by errant spy balloon to nearby Infant Island (which the Bamboo have been using as their personal slave emporium).
With their numbers dwindling and the Bamboo hot on their heels Takarada and friends make a strangely fortuitous discovery. Deep within their secret cave hideaway sleeps Godzilla, a slumbering giant Ebirah‘s heroes hope to wake for their own benefit. Elsewhere the ever-oppressed yet ever-positive natives of Infant Island pay endless musical homage to their massive insect god Mothra, trusting that she will rise to aid them when they are most in need. With two monsters against them and another’s allegiance hanging by the slenderest of manufactured threads the odds are soon stacking up against the once mighty Red Bamboo, but their fit of in-the-crosshairs desperation may well spell doom for everyone…
As much substance as there had been to the Godzilla series in its fledgling days, where it served as a reflection both of Japan’s wartime experience and of the anxieties born of a newly nuclearized world, by 1966 it had devolved into pop cinema pure and simple. While Ebirah – Horror of the Deep pays some lip service to the no-nukes messaging of the past (a character briefly ponders the future of nuclear proliferation, just before the owari rolls) it is far more concerned with its own goofy fantasy thrills than making any kind of meaningful statement. Despite its obviously diminished production values and similarly diminished narrative ambitions (the island-based action is scaled down significantly from the prior year’s Invasion of Astro-Monster, which sent Godzilla and Rodan into space and had them thwarting an alien invasion back at home) Ebirah succeeds well enough as escapist entertainment, adeptly shuffling us from one colorful action setup to the next before attentions wane or the palpable cheapness of it all has a chance to set in.
And cheap it can certainly appear. Godzilla himself, a retrofitted suit from the previous year’s Invasion of Astro-Monster, has obviously seen better days, and Haruo Nakajima’s nose and brows make occasional guest appearances from the openings in his well-worn neck. The newly-crafted Ebirah fairs well enough for what it is, a big bug in the same vein as the later Kamakiras and Kumonga, but monster-god Mothra is short-changed early and often, appearing as an unconvincing matte painting for much of the picture and falling victim to some truly dreadful process photography later on. The tokusatsu action isn’t particularly inspired either. Godzilla’s conflict with the Red Bamboo amounts to a duel with the organization’s excessively wobbly air force and a protracted assault on their base of operations – a nondescript patch of dirt studded with some of the series’ least convincing miniatures. It’s a pitiable sight at times. Once at the cutting edge of its particular brand of effects magic the Godzilla series was now simply doing the best it could in the midst of falling attendance and diminishing budgets, and with Toho’s pre-eminent effects personality Eiji Tsuburaya increasingly busy with his television productions (Ultra Q premiered that same year) it was left to his long-time assistant Sadamasa Arikawa (The Mighty Peking Man) to somehow make it all work.
In the case of Ebirah – Horror of the Deep tone is the great equalizer, and most of Arikawa’s setups are wisely played for kicks (with a hefty assist from Masaru Sato’s raucous, surf rock inflected score). Case in point are Godzilla’s pair of battles with big-shrimp Ebirah, the first of which is punctuated by an impromptu boulder volleyball match with a bit of fun collateral destruction as its end result. The aforementioned air force battle plays better in context than its meager effects would suggest, scored as it is with rock and roll dance music to which Godzilla busts the occasional move (shades of The Great Monster Yongary). Still, amid all the goofy fun even Ebirah manages some indelible series moments. Godzilla’s first appearance, bursting from the side of a mountain as a storm rages, has legitimate visual impact, and his stylish lightning-fueled awakening would be repeated for 1984’s big franchise reboot Return of Godzilla.
I watched Ebirah – Horror of the Deep a lot as a kid, either on tape (one of the first I ever owned) or in its innumerable television airings as Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, and while its more ragged aspects may have become more obvious it remains a good heap of fun. You get Akira Takarada as a charismatic burglar, Kumi Mizuno as a comely Infant Islander, a trio of Toho heavies as the evil Red Bamboo (Akihiko Hirata, Jun Tazaki, and Eisei Amamoto at their sinister cartoon best), as well as explosions, dubious Bond-esque secret labs, a deadline atomic plot device, and a trio of giant monsters in varying degrees of conflict with both the human cast and each other. This is monster cinema reconfigured as pure primary-colored pop escapism, and it’s pretty good stuff.
The screenshots in this article are sourced from the Japanese Blu-ray of Ebirah – Horror of the Deep, which was released by Toho Visual Entertainment in August of this year to commemorate Godzilla’s 60th birthday. While some will consider the transfer inferior to the domestic Blu-ray (in terms of detail it certainly is, though I prefer Toho’s color saturation and framing in this case), the Japanese release makes good by offering a heap of supplements and an alternate cut of the film besides (the shorter Champion Festival version). I’m reticent to recommend, with Toho tinkering with 4k technology and all, but those interested can find the disc through Amazon.co.jp, Cdjapan.co.jp, and the other usual outlets. The American edition is also still available, and at dirt-cheap prices.
While the oft-lamented Godzilla’s Revenge may come close, it’s difficult to imagine another film in the series’ initial run that has been more regularly criticized, derided, and generally disliked than 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again. Produced swiftly in the wake of the 1954 original’s considerable success (it was playing cinemas just six months later), Godzilla Raids Again bucks the first film’s overt politicizing and potent allusion to Japan’s recent wartime experience and plays instead as a straight entertainment. I suspect that this is, in large part, why the film has become such a source of discontent. Sans the allegory of the first and made in a time before the studio’s unique fantasy tradition had become established, Godzilla Raids Again‘s overall competence as monster entertainment has been utterly overshadowed by the greater Toho daikaiju canon. With the following year’s Rodan jump-starting a golden age of tokusatsu production in color, Godzilla Raids Again‘s comparatively modest and apolitical black-and-white thrills just can’t compete.
More’s the pity, as judged by its own merits Godzilla Raids Again isn’t a bad little film at all. With Tokyo still in ruin following the first Godzilla’s appearance the 1955 film shifts its attentions to the heavily industrialized Osaka, and to the every-men therein. Studio scribes Takeo Murata (Rodan) and Shigeaki Hidaka (soon to be a director at Toei, where he would devise the grim The Final War) center the action around the workings of an Osaka tuna fishery, and on tuna spotters Tsukioka (relative newcomer Hiroshi Koizumi, Mothra) and Kobayashi (established star Minoru Chiaki, The Seven Samurai) in particular. When engine trouble strands Kobayashi on a remote deserted island Tsukioka comes to the rescue, but the pilots’ relief is cut short by the appearance on the island of two horrible monsters; a second Godzilla locked in ferocious combat with a new threat, the gigantic ankylosaur Angilas.
When the beasts’ battle plunges them into the depths of the sea the two pilots escape and make their way to the mainland, where they report the event to shocked authorities. When Godzilla is spotted, his course leading him dangerously close to Osaka, defensive plans are swiftly put into effect. A blackout is instituted city-wide while Self-Defense forces roll into position around Osaka Bay. Meanwhile JASDF aircraft drop flares in the direction of open sea, hoping that the light (reminiscent of the flash of the H-bomb, which forced the beast from his deep-sea niche) will lure Godzilla from populated areas. Just as the plan seems poised to work disaster strikes. A blaze erupts in a nearby fuel refinery, and Godzilla once more sets his sights on Osaka. Events take a still more dreadful turn when the pursuing Angilas also appears, intent on resuming its battle with Godzilla…
Resident Toho program picture director Motoyoshi Oda keeps Godzilla Raids Again‘s rather sparse drama (dominated by a spare romance between Koizumi’s pilot and fishery radio operator Setsuko Wakayama, Battle of Roses) moving at a decent pace, and the picture’s special effects highlight – the razing of Osaka by Godzilla and Angilas – arrives less than half an hour after the monsters’ first appear. In the interim the film builds a potent sense of doom-and-gloom, with Koizumi and Wakayama pondering their future as squads JASDF jets patrol the suddenly militarized Osaka (writer Hidaka would utilize this juxtaposition of human drama and heightened military activity to even better effect for 1960’s The Final War). Masaru Sato’s occasionally brilliant score packs the final disquieting punch, punctuating Godzilla’s initial appearance in Osaka Bay with a rumbling blend of cymbals, gong, and harp.
With the landfall of Godzilla and Angilas the special effects, directed again by Eiji Tsuburaya with photographic direction by Sadamasa Arikawa (The Mighty Peking Man), take center stage. The miniatures of Osaka are as intricate and detailed as any devised by Tsuburaya and company, and Arikawa adds depth to some of the wider shots with in-camera mattes of clouded skies. Process photography is more frequent and more ambitious than in the first film, allowing the monsters to duel behind live action of of fleeing civilians or location shots of certain landmarks (a precursor to the monster travelogues that crop up so frequently in the ’90s films), though the lack of a proper optical printer among Toho’s assets lends the shots a rather unstable quality. Military efforts against the two monsters are managed largely through trick photography as well, with footage of exploding ordnance and inbound rockets composited over shots of Godzilla and Angilas brawling (this method would be refined for the following year’s Rodan).
Then, of course, there are the monsters themselves. The second Godzilla suit improved heavily upon the first with regards to mobility, if not necessarily in its aesthetics. The spiky quadruped Angilas makes for an interesting visual counterpoint to the film’s slender, bipedal Godzilla, and their combat choreography is more consistently direct and physical than what would be seen in most of the later series entries. The swift progression of the battle, from Osaka Bay and the city’s industrial districts to iconic Osaka Castle, ups the pace of destruction considerably – Godzilla and Angilas absolutely steamroll the miniature Osaka on their way to a climactic final showdown by the city’s most famous landmark. Augmenting all this is one of Godzilla Raids Again‘s more maligned aspects – a wealth of footage of hand-operated Godzilla and Angilas puppets, which Tsuburaya and company utilize whenever close-ups of the monsters are called for. The puppets themselves are of love-’em or hate-’em stuff (love ’em!), and the overall effectiveness of the technique will depend purely on your willingness to look beyond the transparency of the method and buy into the action portrayed (and there is a lot of it). For his part Tsuburaya seems to have been quite enamored with the process, and puppets of his various giant critters made frequent appearances through 1964’s Ghidrah the Three Headed Monster.
While Godzilla Raids Again is to be commended for getting to the action early, the film missteps a bit in running its monster conflict concept through to its logical conclusion (spoiler: Godzilla wins) with three full reels yet to play. After the siege of Osaka it is left to the human drama to keep pace until Godzilla inevitably re-emerges and is ultimately dealt with, and while there’s nothing objectively wrong with Murata and Hidaka’s low-key distractions here one would be forgiven for finding them less melodramatic than might have been hoped for in such a case. While his home fishery picks up the pieces and limps back to operation spotter Kobayashi takes a job with a Hokkaido operation, where he finds personal fulfillment and perhaps even a first love (he keeps coy through to the bitter end). Quaint, but not exactly thrilling. It can’t last, however, and when word arrives that Godzilla has resurfaced, sinking one of the Hokkaido fishery’s ships in the process, Tsukioka and Kobayashi join the Self-Defense Forces’ search for the beast and eventually track him to an isolated and icebound island. There the stage is set for a final confrontation in which modern military might and no small sum of human sacrifice will be pit against one giant monster’s nigh-irrevocable might.
The finale of Godzilla Raids Again is practically a celebration of Japan’s nationalist spirit, and quite the change of pace from the elegiac underwater conclusion of the first film. Tsukioka joins ranks with friends from the time of the Imperial Navy, now with the JASDF, and flies bravely into battle against a seemingly insurmountable foe while Kobayashi’s self-sacrificial actions (scored with a brassy tragic-heroic sting from Sato) evoke the suicide pilots of a decade prior. The sensibility is doubtless comparable to that of the many war films produced by Toho around the same time, and geared to play at the same audience sympathies. It’s a good, if transparent, trick – nationalism as escapism has always been bankable (put a Transformer(c)(r)(tm)(etc) in front of an American flag and watch the millions roll in). Nationalism or no I find the sequence itself quite exciting, and there’s a delicious sort of justice to the JASDF’s plan to dispense with Godzilla – burying him, a monster born of atomic fire, under a mountain of ice. The montage here can be overpowering in its repetition (rockets firing, explosions, a torrent of falling ice, repeat), as though Godzilla is to be defeated through sheer force of editing alone. Tsuburaya’s effects direction is typically excellent, as is Arikawa’s effects photography (the mattes that expand the icy island sets are lovely), and production of the sequence doubtless proved informative for the pair, who would engineer a very similar setup (with regards to its effects at least) for the finale of Rodan the following year.
Lesser than the first and well overshadowed by what was to come, Godzilla Raids Again has the dubious honor of being “the second one” in what would improbably become one of cinema’s most indomitable franchises. Indeed, it’s doubtful anyone at Toho would have or could have seen Godzilla’s potential as a series player at the time of Godzilla Raids Again‘s production, though King Kong vs. Godzilla‘s monumental box office take would convince them otherwise soon enough. Still, as second ones go Godzilla Raids Again isn’t half bad. The effects can still thrill even if the drama barely simmers, and though the novelty of the daikaiju throw-down has been worn down to its atoms through decades of reiteration Godzilla’s first monster battle remains good mean fun. Besides, I dig those groovy puppets.
Nearly four and a half years since their last round of tokusatsu blu-rays made it to market, Toho Visual Entertainment are finally back in the game. Godzilla Raids Again was just one of the sixteen new Godzilla blu-rays to see release last month as part of the company’s celebration of the monster’s 60th anniversary, and a title long awaited by… well, me at least. (…And plenty of others, I’m sure – I don’t pretend to be the only one out there who enjoys Godzilla Raids Again. It just feels that way sometimes.)
Aesthetically Godzilla Raids Again is in keeping with Toho Visual’s past genre Blu-ray releases, and arrives with an attractive slipcase that duplicates the blu-ray sleeve art. The first edition pressing also comes with a 60th anniversary obi wrap advertising both that celebration and the Japanese release of this year’s Godzilla. The disc itself is an all-region compatible dual layer BD50. The main menu boots immediately after the Toho Visual Entertainment bumper and rights notices (both skippable), and while it looks precisely in keeping with the menus on the company’s past discs the functions have been subtly improved upon. Aside from being smoother in action the menu also loads more swiftly than in the past, with no dedicated “loading” screen intruding, and the gruesome and useless two-option selection screens which preceded the main menus on past Toho Visual releases have blessedly been done away with.
Godzilla Raids Again was released on July 16 of this year and retails for ￥4,700 (plus tax, where applicable). Those interested in the film should note that Splendid Film in Germany have also released a Blu-ray of this title, and while it is bereft of extras (the German version of the film included on the earlier DVD edition is absent) and very likely region B locked, it also carries a significantly lower price tag (around EUR 10.00 at Amazon.de).
For better or worse Godzilla Raids Again is sourced from the same Hi-Vision restoration that first premiered on Japanese television in 2008, and while I’m pleased overall with the results they are certainly far from perfect. Like many of Toho’s high definition transfers Godzilla Raids Again is fairly soft, and while textures and detail (particularly in the monster designs) show up well they aren’t as clearly defined as they perhaps could or should be. The overall softness of the image prevents the texture of the film itself from ever really showing through as well, though I suspect no overzealous application of smoothing or noise reduction filters. I think this transfer was likely soft from the outset, and zooming in reveals noise lurking in the darker portions of the image (quite minor and unobtrusive in practice, but it is there).
One wonders at the state of the perforations on the surviving elements for Godzilla Raids Again, as the only stable and consistent aspect of the high definition master is how consistently unstable it is. While a handful of opticals fare the worst, with added judder baked right in, there is considerable motion to the frame elsewhere as well. How much of this could have been fixed digitally and how much at the frame edges would be compromised in the process is beyond me. Otherwise Godzilla Raids Again can appear a touch foggy (a result of the elements used, dupes well removed from the presumably non-extant OCN, as SD masters have had this issue as well), and contrast is quite flat throughout. Minor damage in the form of speckles and light scratches is present throughout, along with a few instances of heavier damage, and there is some overall instability in the elements that lends the image a sort of blotchiness in playback.
It may sound as though I’m giving Godzilla Raids Again a tough shake, but given the preservation status of so many classic Japanese films of this period (most of which now exist only in degraded 35mm elements) it is always best to keep expectations soundly in check. I don’t think Godzilla Raids Again looks bad at all in practice, but it is quite rough overall and certainly not up to any sort of digital restoration standard. A more robust 2K or 4K attempt could result in better, and likely considerably so (see my comments in the extras section), but the likelihood of this is who-knows-what. Until then, the new Blu-ray offers a decent if not especially spectacular presentation of the film that improves upon the SD iterations of the past, even if only in a limited fashion. Technical specifications are robust, with even this brief feature (82 minutes) creeping into dual layer territory. Godzilla Raids Again is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.34:1 by way of an Mpeg-4 AVC encode at a sky-high average bitrate of 38.3 Mbps. The transfer undoubtedly has its issues, but encoding deficiencies are not among them.
Godzilla Raids Again has never sounded particularly fresh in its various home video iterations, and the Blu-ray continues that trend with an honest presentation of meddlesome elements. The film’s original Japanese track is presented in 2 channel monophonic LPCM (16 bit, 48 kHz) and can sound quite strong in patches and quite weak in others. Whether due to limitations in the original recording or deterioration of the source elements or both, Godzilla Raids Again has some distortion at the high end (notable during some of Sato’s cues) as well as a bit of persistent background hiss and crackle. Dialogue generally comes through clearly enough, and the monster roars can sound unexpectedly robust in places (particularly Godzilla’s). None of this is really a change from how the film has sounded in the past, but I can’t complain. As is their norm, Toho Visual offer no English audio options and no English subtitles, though a set of optional Japanese SDH subtitles are accessible if needed.
With no artificial surround bumps up for consideration (I imagine they’d be pretty lousy given the elements at hand anyway), Godzilla Raids Again‘s second listening option is instead an isolated track of Masaru Sato’s alternately inspired and mundane score for the film. While the sources here still have some limitations (some background hiss here and there, the occasional pop) the overall sound is very nice indeed in 2 channel monophonic DTS-HD MA (16 bit, 48 kHz, 1.7 Mbps). Sato’s more generic cues come through nice and clear, but the stand-out tracks are his more experimental ones – like the mix of modulated cymbals, gong, and harp, so bizarre as to be nearly alienated from their instruments of origin, and the meandering of breathy strings and low reeds that heralds Godzilla’s arrival in Osaka Bay. At its worst, as during Koizumi and Wakayama’s romantic chit-chats or Kobayashi’s sacrificial end, the score here is bland and overstated, but in its best moments Sato crafts beautifully, almost profoundly understated material the likes of which the Godzilla series, with its overtones of horror on the wane, would never hear again. It’s a fascinating if occasionally underwhelming score, and it was wonderful to be able to revisit it in this way, lossless and in context with the scenes for which it was composed.
Toho Visual have offered up an unexpected wealth of material on their latest Godzilla blu-rays, providing a wide array of new stuff to consider instead of just rehashing the content of their older DVDs. Godzilla Raids Again is no exception, and while it loses the vast still galleries present on Toho’s R2 DVD it also gains a lot of valuable content all its own.
First up is an item as aggravating as it is interesting – a dispatch trailer (HD, Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, 1:18) hitherto unseen, featuring both finished dramatic shots and previously unseen B-roll effects footage, including a few alternate takes from those seen in the film and a few shots utterly unrepresented in the finished product. The original audio appears to have been lost in so far as this brief dispatch is concerned, and as such Toho have (rather carelessly) tracked in sound effects, dialogue, and music from the finished film. This is avoided easily enough with the mute button if one so chooses, and is no big deal. The point of frustration is the transfer which, though un-restored and littered with damage and image instabilities, still manages to look a good deal better than the feature presentation does. Godzilla Raids Again was never going to be a tack-sharp production on the order of those seen today, and to expect such would be unrealistic to the point of absurdity, but the trailer (obviously sourced from a newer scan than the film itself) still improves quite drastically with regards to clarity and finer detail, and the fine patina of grain finally shines through. I doubt the surviving elements for the feature could ever look quite this good, further removed as they are from the OCN, but oh what could have been if this quality of scan had been done of them! Toho Visual present the trailer at the proper Academy ratio of 1.37:1 with a robust Mpeg-4 AVC video encode at a high average bitrate of 35.8 Mbps. Screenshots below.
Next up is Movie Theater Broadcast SP (standard play) Record: Godzilla Raids Again / Godzilla (HD, Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, 6 minutes), which presents a pair of rare dramatic advertisements (one each for the 1954 and 1955 films respectively) sourced, as you would expect, from studio-issued SP records. These make for a neat listen, particularly the more heavily dramatized (and far rougher sounding) 1954 advertisement. Video accompaniment includes still shots of the records from which the audio was sourced with informative notations in Japanese.
Snapshot View: Special Technique of Godzilla Raids Again (HD, Dolby Digital sound, 12 minutes) is as close as the new Toho Visual Blu-ray comes to emulating the comprehensive image galleries of the original Toho DVD, and features a good deal of behind-the-scenes still photos (with Japanese subtitle notation) showing the design and eventual construction of Angilas and Godzilla in their myriad forms, as well as the construction and summary demolition of the miniature sets of Osaka (including the stunningly realized build of Osaka Castle) by the rampaging monsters, a few publicity shots of the cast visiting the effects and of the monsters horsing around on the Toho lot, and some documentation of the on-location shooting. The stills are all gorgeously re-scanned in HD, even if they are less numerous than on the past DVD, and make for a great watch.
Next up is Godzilla’s Creation! Yoshio Suzuki (HD, Dolby Digital sound, 20 minutes), a lengthy new discussion about Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again with the one-time Toho bit actor and regular director of Tsuburaya effects television (including Ultraseven, Ultraman Ace, and non-Tsuburaya projects like The Super Robot Red Baron). Rounding out the new material on disc is an HD image gallery of the original theater brochure for the film, which prominently features a good deal of illustrated key art that might have made its way into newspapers around the time of release. A feature audio commentary (Dolby Digital encoded) with late effects cinematographer Sadamasa Arikawa and his assistant Tomioka Motoyoshi rounds out the Blu-ray’s supplemental content, and is the only item (the aforementioned isolated score excepted) to have been ported from the earlier R2 DVD.
Toho have a 4k restoration of the original Godzilla that’s been playing cinemas recently, and one sincerely hopes that the rest of the series eventually gets that kind of attention – or at the very least fresh 2K scans, restored or no. Godzilla Raids Again could certainly use another pass, but if this is the best it ever gets I think I may just live. Despite the issues enumerated in the Video section above the film plays well enough, and Toho certainly haven’t skimped on the supplements. Fans with more than a passing interest in the picture (and the expendable income to blow on Japanese imports) are encouraged to indulge, but to keep their expectations for the feature presentation firmly in check. Otherwise the lower priced and bare-bones German Blu-ray may be the way to go.
Man, has it been a long time since I last fired up my laserdisc player. It’s a gorgeous old Pioneer unit (a CLD-V2800 for anyone curious) with a remote control roughly the size and shape of a brick, and still runs like a champ. As someone who’s become increasingly content to stream the majority of his entertainment, buying discs only in those increasingly rare must-own situations, I don’t use this thing nearly as much as I’d like. In spite of and perhaps because of how antithetical the format is to modern viewing expectations (what, I have to physically work to watch the other half of a movie?), I still love laserdiscs. There’s a certain visceral thrill to holding one of those hefty silver platters in your hands, or hearing a player purr quietly into action. For all their obvious advantages and superiority, modern formats will just never compare.
Presented here today is the second oldest disc I own (Paramount’s 1982 issue of DeMille’s Samson & Delilah beats it by a stretch), a release almost exactly two years my younger. This edition of King Kong vs. Godzilla dates back nearly thirty years, premiering in October of 1986 at the bargain price of just under $100 (¥9500). Toho are using a very similar cover design for their upcoming blu-ray, which is due in less than a month. I certainly can’t blame them – the jacket design here is pretty sweet.
Outside of the cover I must confess that there isn’t a whole lot of reason to actually own this release these days. Toho re-issued the film on laserdisc in a superior restored version just five years later, rendering this edition largely obsolete in the process. The one significant catch is that this 1986 release presents the film with its original alternate monophonic track (as it would have been heard in cinemas that either didn’t get or couldn’t play the 4-track stereo mix). This track has been absent from video releases for decades now, an issue Toho finally seem to be remedying with the upcoming blu-ray. It’s slated to include the 4.0 stereo mix and 5.1 surround remix, as well as the monophonic track for the first time since this LD.
The only other point of interest is the state of the re-instated footage here. A 16mm ‘Scope dupe (from which rental prints were struck) has long been the only extant source for the original 97 minute cut of King Kong vs. Godzilla, but I never realized what lousy shape that source was in until I saw the footage here in its raw, un-restored state. It makes one appreciate all the more the efforts Toho took to restore the footage a few years later, even if those efforts fall far short of modern expectations. As in subsequent editions the majority of the footage is sourced from the 35mm elements for the shorter Champion Festival cut of the film. The differences in quality between the two are staggering even on this old disc.
And that’s it really – a cool cover, and a decent film presentation in so far as 30-year-old home video is concerned. This isn’t a must-have by any means, but it’ll have a home on my shelf for a long time to come.
While Ifukube-philes may disagree, I think OSHIMA Michiru may well be the greatest thing to happen to the Godzilla franchise in decades, and that her work is tied to three of the best of the series’ wildly uneven Millennial run is all the better. TEZUKA Masaaki’s 2002 outing Godzilla X Mechagodzilla (and it’s closely tied 2003 sequel) is the best the series has been since the end of the ’80s in so far as I’m concerned, a groovy blend of pulp and gravitas bolstered by excellent practical effects work and the aforementioned Oshima, whose ace score ties it all together with style to spare. Her Godzilla theme (wisely carried over from 2000’s Godzilla X Megaguirus) is sensational stuff, BIG and deliciously menacing, and provides a rare sense of continuity within the largely disparate Millennium series. As for the rest, you’ll just have to listen.
Shared here is a suite of tracks from Oshima’s Godzilla X Mechagodzilla, roughly 10 minutes worth in total – see the Youtube page for a track listing. Godzilla X Mechagodzilla was released both individually and as part of Box 6 of the 50th anniversary Godzilla Perfect Collection, and while neither issue is cheap both can still be had through some retailers and third-parties.
The technical specs across all three discs are pretty much identical. Each film gets a single layer BD25 and only the original theatrical trailer (with optional subtitles) as an extra. The packaging is quite misleading in this respect, using the word “Extras” on the back of each instead of specifically listing what’s on the discs. You get the film plus trailer – that’s it. Transfers for each are at the appropriate ‘Scope ratio, and each film receives a serviceable if middling Mpeg-4 AVC encode at an average bitrate of 23.5 Mbps. While I’d have preferred more robust encodes (none of these discs is close to hitting capacity) I didn’t notice any obvious instances of artifacting.
As for the transfers themselves, this is a bit of a surprise. I was expecting Toho’s own HD masters (a la Media Blaster’s Destroy All Monsters and Godzilla vs. Megalon), with the original Japanese titles and supers in place, but what Kraken Releasing were provided look to be exactly the same materials from which Sony minted their DVDs all those years back. Titles are in English (film-sourced for The Smog Monster, and video-generated for Gigan and The Sea Monster), and as with the earlier DVDs some of the English supers for The Smog Monster as well as the Japanese dialog bubbles in Gigan are absent. Otherwise the screenshots give a good idea of what to expect. The Sea Monster looks the best, with a relatively smooth appearance and subtle grain, and excellent color, contrast, and detail. The Smog Monster and especially Gigan can appear a bit harsher in their textures (akin to the Universal Kong blu-rays I just covered), but still improve quite drastically over past editions with regards to clarity and detail. These all look very good in playback, and perhaps better than many were expecting.
Audio options are identical across all three titles – original Japanese and (International) English dub, each robustly encoded in 2.0 monophonic DTS-HD MA. I’ve only listened to The Smog Monster and The Sea Monster in any extensive way, but those tracks sounded very good. As is typically the case, the scores for these films improve the most from the move to a less compressed format. Optional English subtitles translate both the spoken Japanese dialogue and the incidental Japanese text that crops up from time to time (with the text bubbles also missing, the monster dialog in Godzilla vs. Gigan is not subtitled). Those concerned about the prospect of dubtitles should know that some of the lines certainly match up, but that many do not, and some scenes play very differently between the dubs and the subtitles (a good example is when the Nebula M alien monologues about his planet in Godzilla vs. Gigan) – this is the case on all three films. Each disc is locked to Region A, as confirmed with my Region B secondary deck, so importers in Europe and elsewhere should take note.
For the low price point Kraken Releasing is asking ($14.98 SRP, with most retailers selling them for less) these are an easy recommendation, even if they’re far from the definitive editions fans crave. They look good, they sound good, and I imagine most will be pleased.
Screenshots were made by my usual method – they were captured as uncompressed .png in Totem Movie Player and compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 93%. No filtering has been applied.
Note: This article is concerned with the Blu-ray editions of King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes as opposed to the films themselves. While no coverage of the films currently exists at ExB, old articles about each can be had at Wtf-Film. You’ll find them here and here respectively.
Well this is a bit of a surprise. After so many years without decent home video representation who would ever have thought we’d be sitting around discussing new blu-ray editions of the two Universal-released Toho-produced Kong pictures? The fact that this pair has made the leap to HD home video in the US is obviously just an advantageous move on Universal’s part, what with Godzilla ’14 little more than a month away, but I can’t be bothered with cynicism at a time like this. The American cuts of King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes are two long-time favorites, and I’m just happy to have them in HD regardless of the circumstances. Let me have my fun.
John Beck’s heavily Westernized cut of King Kong vs. Godzilla receives a modest and bare-bones blu-ray debut, with only a pop-up menu available for navigation and language selection options (the film starts immediately after the requisite company logos and anti-piracy statements). Though only single layered the 1080p transfer receives a technically sound encode, Mpeg-4 AVC at an average bitrate of 32.3 Mbps, and while it has its problems it remains a huge improvement over Universal’s nearly decade-old DVD.
Working with the same master, but with some extra attention paid to color timing, Universal’s blu-ray of King Kong vs. Godzilla tends toward a darker overall appearance in comparison to the older DVD. While some may find it pesky I barely noticed myself. The additional color balancing work was unmistakable, however, and is much appreciated. Though there are subtle improvements throughout I found it most noticeable during Kong and Godzilla’s first meeting, a scene which has always looked rather sickly and hazy in past editions – the colors here finally ring true. Detail takes a huge step forward, allowing better appreciation of both the intricate miniature setups and of the suit work (one of the series’ best Godzilla designs, and that ratty love-it-or-hate-it Kong). Beyond the possibility of some minor edge enhancement there looks to have been little if any untoward digital manipulation of the image (sometimes a little neglect is a good thing), but it just wouldn’t be Universal if all was well. Despite looking pretty good in other respects and presenting with only minor print flaws, King Kong vs. Godzilla is an exceedingly noisy transfer at times. I didn’t find it especially troubling in motion, obvious as it can be in spots, but those viewing on larger screens may find it a more damning issue.
DVD (upscaled, top) vs Blu-ray (bottom):
Audio comes in one flavor only – 2.0 monophonic DTS-HD MA English. Where compressed tracks served to obfuscate certain issues with the film’s original mix this track lays it all bare. Certain among the stock music cues (notably the one that accompanies the main titles) can sound very flat, while others (as from Heinz Roemheld’s The Monster That Challenged the World) can sound quite vibrant. The clumsiness of some of the new sound effects editing is now readily apparent as well. That said, this is precisely what the English mix for King Kong vs. Godzilla should sound like, so I’ve no complaints. Optional subtitles are available in two varieties – English SDH and French. Otherwise there’s literally nothing else on the disc to discuss. King Kong vs. Godzilla was released April 1st, is all region compatible (it plays just fine in my region B secondary deck), and has an SRP of $19.98.
King Kong Escapes follows in much the same vein, and presents the film on a bare-bones BD25 with only a pop-up menu for navigation (again, the film begins immediately after the logos / warnings). The encode is once again Mpeg-4 AVC, though this time at a fractionally lower average bitrate of 32.2 Mbps. For whatever reason King Kong Escapes shows a bit more in the way of artifacting than does the earlier film.
There was less wrong with King Kong Escapes on DVD to begin with, so many of the blu-ray’s improvements are quite subtle – like truer colors (particularly flesh tones) and tighter contrast. Detail improves mightily in most respects, and it’s easier than ever to admire the intricacy of the film’s effects work (there’s a lot of it in this film to enjoy). Texture still isn’t quite settled, with at least as much noise here as grain, but the issue isn’t as pronounced as on King Kong vs. Godzilla. Overall the image looks fairly good, particularly in motion, though the framing is worth mentioning – King Kong Escapes looks to be cropped more tightly here than on the older DVD, leading to some loss of image information at the edges of the 2.35:1 frame.
DVD (upsacled, top) vs Blu-ray (bottom). Note the framing:
Audio is again English only in monophonic DTS-HD MA 2.0, but I have no complaints. The original score goes mostly unmolested in the dubbed version (less a few cuts during the final reel), which is great – it’s among the very best of Ifukube’s tokusatsu work, and it packs some decent punch in this track. The rest sounds just fine, including the slightly alienated post-dubbed dialogue. I can never get enough of Paul Frees in any capacity, and his Dr. Hu/Who is a killer (when the madman is exasperated at the end of the show, Frees dubs him as though he’s been up drinking all night). Optional subtitles are once again available in English SDH and French, and that’s it for this bare-bones disc. King Kong Escapes was released on April 1st, is all region compatible, and has an SRP of $19.98.
I’d say “good enough” is the operative phrase for each of these releases, and the benefits of the blu-ray iterations versus the older DVDs are more than enough to make up for their other limitations. These get an easy recommendation for fans, particularly if you can find them going for cheap.
More screenshots. These were taken as uncompressed .png in Totem Movie Player with no filters applied, and compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 93%.