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 market.
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 her.
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 Dogora, 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,