Released only six months after Gojira proved itself a monster hit, Gojira No Gyakushu (from here on referred to as Godzilla Raids Again) was the second film in the long running monster movie series and the last to be shot in black and white. Motoyoshi Odo's film isn't as dark as Ishiro Honda's original masterpiece, but it's an entertaining and enjoyable monster mash in spite of its obvious flaws.
When the film begins a pair of pilots are flying around Osaka looking for schools of fish from the air so that they can help guide their company's fishing vessels to more lucrative waters. One of the pilots, Kobayashi, has to land when his engine conks out on him and he finds himself on a small island somewhere of the shores of Japan. His partner, Tsukioka, soon shows up to rescue him but before the two men split the scene they witness a battle between the monster they believe to be Godzilla and a strange behemoth with spikes all over the back of his torso. The men make it back to the mainland and report what they've seen but the battle is a draw, the two monstrous combatants heading back into the murky depths from which they came. Dr. Yamane, who played a pivotal role in the first film, shows up and tells our two intrepid fly boys that it cannot be the same Godzilla who tore Tokyo a new one a few months back, but an entirely new monster... and that they can expect to only see more of them as time goes on.
While the humans are figure out what's going on here, Godzilla and the other monster, Anguiras, get together for a rematch. Osaka gets trashed and Godzilla puts Anguiras in his place, but unfortunately for the good people of Japan once he's done that he goes on another one of his trademark rampages causing the military to have to rush into action against the giant monster once again to save Japan from mass destruction.
Godzilla had some interesting human drama mixed in with the monster story, but Godzilla Raids Again sadly falls quite short in this department. While it's all well and good the two pilots have girlfriends and that they're all worried about what the monsters will do to their fair city, it's pretty pedestrian stuff and it doesn't bring much of anything to the story except for a longer running time. Where this film excels, is in the monster department. Throwing a second creature into the mix in the form of Anguiras was a nice touch, as it quite literally doubled our monsters and doubled our fun. Godzilla now had someone close to his equal to square off against on top of his usual stomping and city destroying antics and on this level the film works quite well. It gives the Toho effects team ample opportunity to strut their stuff (you'll note some minor variations in the Godzilla suit used in this film when comparing it to the first one – this one looks a little better!) and as a result this rumble heavy picture turns out to be a lot of fun. It comes at the coast of the human element, but when you get as much enjoyment out of it as you do here; it's forgivable, even if it doesn't have the lasting impact that the film that came before it did. None of it is particularly deep, but it's an enjoyable, if light, creature-feature that entertains with ease.
NOTE: Many North American viewers will remember this one under its alternate title of Gigantis, The Fire Monster. For whatever reason, the film was given a new title when it was shown on screens in this continent, a strange decision considering the success of the original Godzilla movie. This DVD from Classic Media/Sony Home Entertainment contains both version of the film. The original Japanese version runs eighty-one minutes in length while the American dubbed version runs seventy-nine minutes in length. Although the American version is the familiar Gigantis, The Fire Monster cut of the film, it does feature a Godzilla Raids Again title card which was apparently done at Toho's insistence. The differences between the two versions, aside from the dubbing, include some changes to the musical score and sound effects, the omission of some minor character development scenes and the inclusion of some odd stock footage inserts. The first Tokyo attack scene is a little different between the two versions as well.
Both versions of the movie are presented on this disc in their original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio. While there are some fluctuations in the contrast on the black and white image, for the most part the transfers are solid. Print damage is to be expected and so it won't surprise anyone to see it creep into the picture but it isn't overpowering, nor is the constant mild grain. Black levels are fairly solid though they do waver just slightly at times. Edge enhancement is there but it won't leap out at you, and thankfully there are no compression artifacts to complain about. The Japanese version of the movie looks noticeably brighter in certain scenes than the American version for some reason, but aside from that there aren't any major differences in quality between the two cuts of the movie presented on this disc.
The American and Japanese cuts are presented here as they should be in Dolby Digital Mono, and optional English language subtitles have been provided for the Japanese cut. Both tracks are fine with only a little bit of hiss present that isn't really distracting and quite frankly, unless you're listening for it, you're not likely to notice it in the first place.
The best of the supplements on this release is a commentary track from Steve Ryfle that plays over top of the American cut of the movie. Here we learn about the various differences between the two versions, how producers at one point intended to re-shoot some American footage and re-cut the film like they did with the original Raymond Burr version of Godzilla and more. He explains why the American film was re-titled and why Godzilla was given the name of Gigantis and he talks about the voice actors and the production history of the film. Overall it's a really nice mix of legitimate information but its delivery is light enough that it matches the fun tone of the film.
The Japanese cut of the film features a documentary by Ed Godziszewski entitled Rubber Suit Acting which discusses the unsung heroes of the Godzilla movies, the actors who got inside those rubber suits and trashed miniature sets! There's a lot of great biographical information in here as well as some excellent pictures that were taken during the production of a few of the different Japanese monster movies that the featurette touches on.
Rounding out the extra features is a nice still gallery, some animated menus and chapter stops. The disc is housed inside a hard cardboard book-style case that presents the DVD quite elegantly and which is similar in style to the other Sony/Classic Media Godzilla releases as of late.
Although it's a lesser entry in the series, Godzilla Raids Again still has enough monster mashing mayhem and fun rubber suit action to make it worth a look for fans of the genre. The re-mastered DVD from Sony/Classic Media isn't perfect in terms of audio and video but it's certainly a step up from what fans have had prior and the commentary and featurette earn this release a solid recommendation.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.