Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Media Blasters' latest classic Toho Science Fiction monsterfest is a film that showed up in
the U.S. only on television in a dubbed form. This disc restores it to its full length, Tohoscope
proportions and original language. It's a strange genre hybrid concept near the end of Toho's
'straight' science fiction offerings; after this there would be few exceptions from the more
juvenile Godzilla series. What the film has going for it is a weird monster that floats down
from the skies to loot the world of a vital national resource - Space Monster Dogora is a
Kronos of the commodities
Inspector Kommei (Yosuke Natsuke) has his hands full with diamond thefts. While
the local Tokyo scene is dominated by a sharp gang of safecrackers, an American thief known as
Mark Jackson (Robert Dunham, billed as Dan Yuma) also seems to be on the prowl. Diamonds over
the world are being stolen all by outrageous means, with safes melted open using
energies nobody has seen before. Kommei contacts Dr. Munakata (Nobuo Nakamura) and his attractive
secretary Masayo (Yoko Fujiyama), who have another theory connecting the impossible diamond heists
with strange phenomena at diamond mines and coal fields everywhere: A monster from space that
feeds on carbon in any form.
Toho never really gave up on giant monsters; soon after Dogora they
started making co-productions with lesser American producers, turning out oddball movies like
War of the Gargantuas that were meant to clean up in Yankee
theaters. The best Dogora could hope for was a pickup by American-International, where those
jolly packagers Arkoff and Nicholson ground out flat TV prints for
quick syndication sell-off. Toho hoped to finally break the U.S. market in a profitable way, but
AIP simply used their product as 16mm TV filler, the same way they generated lame-excuse 'movies'
by throwing a few dollars at Larry Buchanan to do backyard remakes of old AIP hits.
Dogora begins with some beautiful space footage (their technique as well as their film stock
seem to have improved by 1964) but is more in line with the action-crime-fantasy monster films that
started with The H-Man back in 1958. Most of the running time is taken up with cops chasing
diamond thieves and diamond thieves chasing a rather silly American agent who's pretending to
be a crook. None of the characterizations have any depth: A familiar old scientist
with a beautiful assistant, her serious brother, and an ambitious detective who falls in love with
The American agent calls himself a 'Diamond G-Man' and is played by Anglo actor Robert
Dunham, who by 1964 had appeared in scores of these pictures, whenever a gaijin face was
needed. As I've learned from Stuart Galbraith IV's books on the subject, Dunham was one of several
non-Japanese who spoke the language and kept busy with acting roles, only to be discouraged when
their sizeable credits got them nowhere upon returning to Hollywood. If Dunham showed an agent
it's no wonder he didn't get work; Diamond G-Man Mark Jackson bops around like a jerk tourist with
incongruously cheerful expressions. Perhaps director Honda felt that a silly hat gave him an
appropriately jaunty Yankee look, but he comes off like an incompetent fool. Maybe it's
revenge for Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
The action in Dogora made almost no sense at all when Savant
first saw it (again, by courtesy of Stuart Galbraith) several years ago on a Japanese laserdisc with
no English subtitles. The monster first appears as an intriguing space amoeba. It is then shown to
have levitating powers, floating a sleeping man down a Tokyo avenue and lifting an entire safecracking
gang off their feet before burning its way into a diamond vault. A rain of
stones that pummels a city initially made no sense at all. Next, the monster of the posters and
(rather foolish-looking) paste-up photos appears, a giant space jellyfish that emerges from fantastic
colored clouds to suck up huge quantities of coal with its anti-gravity powers. Then the monster
is seen in the form of giant hanging crystals, which aren't very impressive. They turn into another
rain of falling boulders (multi-colored, this time) for the finale.
Media Blasters' English subs finally clarify what's going on - the first rain of stones are the
result of a mass attack on Dogora by many hives of wasps disturbed by the monster's search for coal
in an old mineshaft. Dr. Munakata realizes the connection and begins the artificial synthesis of vast
quantities of wasp venom as a final weapon against the floating menace ... after, of course, the
Japanese Army has wasted several thousand ineffectual cannon shells and rockets. This disc puts away
the conjecture of many (including the old versions of the Psychotronic Guide, if I remember)
that theorized that all of Japan mobilized to manually harvest millions of gallons of wasp venom.
Instructions: "How to milk a wasp."
Eiji Tsuburaya comes up with a gallery of great effects, the best of which is the expressive and
often realistic attack by the gigantic space jellyfish monster. There are the usual lame shots but
many have a rich dark feel, with the monster hovering in wispy red and purple clouds to hungrily
whip up tornadoes of coal. Some
obvious but imaginative cel animation is used to show the monster's green tendrils grasping a large
suspension bridge, which would look much better if a matte didn't pop off half way through
a close-up shot and spoil the effect.
All of this is accompanied by a signature Toho monster sound effect that resembles the electronic
cue identifying the Id Monster in Forbidden Planet. These mass destruction scenes have
almost no 'character,' just the strange spectacle of a giant disaster
in progress. Although the lack of a monster with a personality is probably what kept the movie
out of American theaters, Dogora is a truly unique menace.
There's precious little philosophizing about the space monster's origin. The professor alludes
to the fact that Dogora might be attracted to Japan 'because of a higher level of radioactivity in
the sky above it,' whatever that means. Dogora is never identified as more than a 'mutated space
cell.' That's the worst kind, I've been assured. The professor does predict that after
the monster consumes all the pure carbon on Earth, diamonds and coal, it might start in on
things that are only part-carbon, like people. Remember the alien in
Star Trek, The Motion Picture
who called Earthlings 'carbon units?' The only possibility Savant can guess is that a Toho writer
looking in the newspapers for inspiration was struck by the perpetual Japanese shortage of
raw materials for its industries.
Dogora has a less than wonderful ending, with a predictable cops'n robbers chase on a
beach interrupted by the 'dead' monster falling to earth in a hail of inert stones. Several
faces in the gang of thieves are familiar from the Woody Allen lampoon movie
What's Up Tiger Lily?. The most
notable cast member is 'bad girl' Akiko Wakabayashi, famous as 007's perky helper-bedmate in
You Only Live Twice. Here she's
barely given time to tease the 'Diamond G-Man' and be treacherous before getting her just desserts.
It's probably safe to presume that on American TV 'Dogora' became 'Dagora' because AIP
thought people would be expecting a movie about a Lassie or Rover from outer space. This amusing
Toho oddity has been a mystery ever since it stopped circulating on televison, and Media Blasters'
new DVD should find its fair share of curious buyers.
Media Blasters' DVD of Dogora looks even better than their earlier Toho releases, possibly
because of the improved film stock of 1964. The enhanced 'scope image has very little grain; the
rich palate of colors gives the show more saturated colors. The only bad shots are a few of Toho's
stubbornly ugly blue screen matte effects. The clear audio allows us to hear one of Akira Ifukube's
more interesting scores - lots of menacing, weird tonal effects.
There is an English language track, but Savant recommends going to the setup menu and selecting the
Japanese original and English subs ... on my player the disc defaults to the English.
The only extras are some trailers and a gallery of original stills. The paste-ups showing Dogora
menacing a city look like the kind of thing Savant drew constantly when he was eight or nine years
old -- lots of guns and explosions. A last note ... the disc cover illustration doesn't really
resemble the monster in the movie, which is not transparent.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Supplements: trailers, still gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 25, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2005 Glenn Erickson
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