Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Godzilla is back and Anguiras has got him in this underappreciated, action filled sequel to the original Gojira. Toho conceived, filmed and released the follow-up in just six months, and although the haste shows in the script the film's effects are the equal of the first film. And Godzilla has his first screen battle with another titanic monster.
Americans didn't catch up to the film for four years, when an editorially mangled version appeared on a cheap Warners double bill under the title Gigantis, The Fire Monster. Classic Media's presentation gives us both versions of Gojira no gyakushű for a high-class and thoughtfully authoritative monster show.
Along with Mothra vs. Godzilla, Godzilla Raids Again has for several months only been available online at the Classic Media Godzilla On DVD Store. Now it is in general distribution.
Fishing fleet spotter pilots Shoichi and K˘ji (Hiroshi Koizumi and Minoru Chiaki) are stranded on an icy island and witness a battle between a new Godzilla and another colossal beast, Anguiras (aka Anzilla). The monsters eventually threaten Osaka, attracted by a fire started by a trio of escaped convicts. With the city and its fish cannery leveled, Shoichi and K˘ji relocate to Hokkaido and join in the military assault on Godzilla, on another icy island.
The human plot of Gojira no gyakushű is a series of forgettable scenes about two pilots and their girlfriends, material so poorly organized that it's difficult to remember at all. Respected scientist Takashi Shimura is in for just one scene, to stare forlornly at the idea that another Gojira is on the prowl. But Eiji Tsuburaya's design and execution of the monster battles is quite exciting. Godzilla and the spiny backed Anguiras smash and wrestle through excellent miniature sets of Osaka that include the waterfront, a cityscape and an impressively detailed medieval castle. Filming at normal and sped-up frame rates produces some wonderfully dynamic battle scenes with excellent optical superimposures. Overall, this 1955 sequel must have been an exciting crowd-pleaser for the Japanese market, even if it has none of the thematic or dramatic depth of the sober original.
Much more interesting is the story of how the bowdlerized American version came about, all of which is detailed in the disc's excellent commentary by Steve Ryfle. Although the Raymond Burr Godzilla King of the Monsters! movie was a smash success, Hollywood either didn't take Godzilla as a sure money maker, or shrewd lawyers held up the American version while maneuvering for a better deal. Toho eventually sold the rights to the short-lived AB-PT company, for a planned heavily re-shot American version to be called The Volcano Monsters. When that deal fell apart, a producer became attached to the project and altered the original with tighter editing and the addition of library music and stock footage. Godzilla was renamed Gigantis for undetermined reasons. It wasn't that other American companies owned the Godzilla name, because Toho retained that.
Gigantis, the Fire Monster appeared on a 1959 Warners' double bill with the quickie pickup Teenagers from Outer Space and is said to have had little impact on the box office. Savant saw it brand new at the age of seven and loved it ... on a big screen the monsters looked tremendous. Daily Variety's review demonstrated the dismissive attitude they reserved for Japanese imports, citing the terrible dubbing and deducing that the actors were terrible too. Gigantis the Fire Monster's silly English track gave them plenty of targets for derision, including the hero's use of the phrase "banana oil."
Ryfle's commentary explains that the American producer hired three dubbing talents to re-voice all the males in the film. Paul Frees did a lot of incidental dialogue while familiar actor Keye Luke voiced an almost uninterrupted narration using a similar "quaint" Japanese stage intonation that had been heard in Rodan three years before. Luke probably wondered what the producers wanted until he read the narration in the "Little House of Uncle Thomas" pidgin-speak from the musical The King and I. Helping out with extra voices was young George Takei, of later Science Fiction acting fame. The music track dropped a lot of Masaru Sat˘'s original cues -- his title theme is particularly good -- and replaced them with over-utilized tracks from Paul Sawtell & Bert Shefter, namely the title theme from Kronos as re-recorded for It! The Terror from Beyond Space. Sat˘'s music behind the battle scenes remained intact in the Gigantis re-cut, possibly because it was expedient to keep the complicated original audio mix rather than re-effect everything. Ryfle explains that additional monster roars were thrown in at random ... Gigantis gives out with Anguiras' signature bellow, etc.
Godzilla Raids Again was apparently made at a time when Toho wasn't big on the idea of sequels and certainly not ready to initiate a Gojira franchise. They would spread out into more elaborate Sci-Fi epics for a few years before returning to giant monsters with a more juvenile spirit. This film is Godzilla's second and last outing in B&W, in Toho's earlier, darker style.
Classic Media's DVD of Godzilla Raids Again maintains the high standard set by their earlier Gojira disc: A fine-quality transfer with classy extras in an attractive and distinctive case, this time a slim version of a book-like card 'n' plastic folder with embossed artwork and a silver 'master collection' seal. The transfer of the Japanese version is a little grayed-out at times, but has little damage and is a good indication of the film's theatrical appearance. We wonder why the cover text touts CinemaScope, when the movies are of course in glorious Tohoscope.
Menus give us a choice of the Japanese or American versions. The American version is of course Gigantis, the Fire Monster but with the main title card replaced with a video 'Godzilla Raids Again' title -- Toho apparently wants to bury the Gigantis name now that the rights have reverted to them. I don't believe that the movie was ever known as Godzilla Raids Again until video came along. (Wrong! Bill Warren tells me that 1955 prints in Japanese-American neighborhood theaters sported the Godzilla Raids Again title.) I have a VHS from about 1990 that reads 'Raids Again' on the box but carries the 'Gigantis' main title on the film itself. This print has no Warner logo up front but does have a Warner identifier card at the tail.
The American version contains the excellent Steve Ryfle commentary; much of what I've written above comes directly from it. Ryfle's delivery is smooth and he strikes a good attitude about the campy redubbed version while remaining serious and respectful of the original. It would be inappropriate not to be amused by some of the silly aspects of the American version. Some of the stock footage in the 'dawn of time' montage looks to be lifted from the montages in Robot Monster and one angle of a rocket leaving a smoky trail in space might be from the rare German film that was re-edited to make the The Space Explorers TV series. The American producer may have concocted the pitiful 'dinosaur in dry ice' shots on his own, they look so cheap -- one dino head might be a melted toothbrush. Or is it a prehistoric version of the mutant baby in David Lynch's Eraserhead?
The extra on the Japanese version is Ed Godziszewski's detailed, illustrated featurette on the Art of Suit Acting, that shows the limp rubber monster costumes for most of the classic Toho creatures from Big G to Varan the Unbelievable. Godziszewski contributes to Ryfle's commentary, as do Stuart Galbraith IV and Bob Burns. A poster montage has plenty of colorful artwork but no reproductions of the Warner's version, with its crudely drawn "fire monsters" that resemble Aztec woodcuts.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Godzilla Raids Again rates:
Movie: Very Good
Supplements: Commentary by Steve Ryfle, docu The Art of Suit Acting
Packaging: Folding card and plastic holder
Reviewed: November 8, 2006 / March 28, 2007
DVD Savant Text ę Copyright 2006 Glenn Erickson
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