HCF REWIND NO.129. GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER, EBIRAH HORROR OF THE DEEP, GOJIRA EBIRAH MOSURA: NANKAI NO DAIKETTO, GODZILLA EBIRAH MOTHRA: BIG DUEL IN THE NORTH SEA [Japan 1966]
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 87 min/ 82 min
FEATURED MONSTERS: GODZILLA, EBIRAH, MOTHRA, GIANT CONDOR [UNNAMED]
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A fisherman named Yata is missing and his younger brother Ryota decides to search for him, but when the authorities refuse to help him he tries to enter a dance contest to win a boat to go search for Yata. Too late by a few days, he meets up with two contestants who have already been eliminated named Nita and Ichino. They board the same boat that a bank robber called Yoshimura is hiding out on, and the following morning Ryota has set sail to search for his brother. A few weeks into their trip they are caught in a storm which sinks the boat and see a giant claw emerge from the water. The next morning they wake up on Letchi Island, which they soon find serves as the base for a group of international terrorists called the Red Bamboo……
Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster has a very different feel from the last few Godzilla films. Instead of having Japan being threatened by city-stomping monsters while scientists, reporters and the military try to save the day, we have a much smaller-scale affair, an adventure story where some youths and one crook are shipwrecked on an island and encounter all sorts of peril. Even more than Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster and Invasion Of Astro-Monster, Godzilla really plays a supporting role and you could remove him from the story, or certainly the first three quarters of it, with minimal alterations to the script. It really is a fun movie though, making up for its comparative lack of spectacle with non-stop action, with the human protagonists seeming to spend most of the time being chased all over the island, and it has considerable charm. Though as a younger Godzilla fan I wasn’t too keen on this episode and disliked the change from Ishiro Honda’s epic spectacles, I now feel that Toho were right to try something slightly different, a fresh approach.
This film actually began life as a King Kong-starrer. In 1966 Toho struck a deal with the US animation company Rankin-Bass Productions to make a tie-in film with their cartoon series King Kong Adventures. Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong Vs Ebirah was the title of Shinichi Sekizawa’s script, but Rankin-Bass didn’t like it, so Kong was substituted for Godzilla with little alteration. Toho felt that Honda could do with a break from Godzilla [though they still had him making monster movies], and Honda was disliking the direction the studio was going in with the character [he thought the monsters should always be taken seriously], so Jun Fukuda, a director of all kinds of films including one science-fiction film The Secret Of The Telegian, was brought in to direct a film that, due to diminishing box office returns, had a much lower budget than Honda’s had. He was not really a fan of Godzilla, and on completion had to cut or shorten many scenes to bring the running time down, though information about what was cut seems impossible to find. A reasonable box office success in Japan though again a little less so than the previous entry, Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster was the first Toho film that the studio created their own English-dubbed version for. The results were usually far more faithful to the original scripts but not as good quality as many of the American dubs. This version, called Ebirah, Horror Of The Deep, was released theatrically in the UK, but the US saw the Walter Reade Organisation’s differently dubbed, and very slightly altered version, though not on cinema screens, as for some reason it was released straight to TV.
This film really doesn’t waste much time, taking all of fifteen minutes to get to Letchi island and give us our first glimpse of Ebirah, albeit just a huge claw. The teenagers, though only minimally characterised, are likeable and even the crook character, though initially somewhat intimidating, becomes someone you like [and he doesn’t even get his comeuppance]. In a nice variation on situations seen in previous films, his expertise in sneaking around and breaking into places becomes just what they need in dealing with the Red Bamboo. Now this lot, maybe inspired by the Chinese and certainly scarily believable, are a band of terrorists who have a big nuclear arsenal. Their base, inside and outside, looks like something a Bond villain, albeit one with limited funds, would live in. Ebirah is the giant crustacean, a cross between a crab and a shrimp, who guards the island, and the film soon nicely links things with Mothra too, keeping some continuity with previous events. The Red Bamboo employ natives to make a yellow juice [writer Sekizawa really loved his strange liquids] to keep Ebirah at bay, but these people are actually from Infant Island, so we start to get the usual dancing and singing for Mothra to wake up, and as usual she takes bloody ages to do so, while again her abode is different from before, much more ‘outdoors’. The Shobijin look slightly different too because they are not played by the Peanuts but twins called the Alilenas. One may wonder why the silly Red Bamboo decided to enslave the one people who have a monster god who tends to help them out when needed.
Godzilla is first glimpsed buried underground, and how he got there when we last saw him fall into the sea is anybody’s guess. After that it really is ages before he finally awakes from his slumber, but the film keeps hurling action at us until our heroes decide to wake him up using a sword as a lightning rod. Of course this sounds more appropriate for King Kong, and it really seem like they changed very little of the script; there’s even a bit where Godzilla seems to take a fancy to Kumi Mizuno [who could blame him?] and seems to keep her as his prisoner for a few minute, not doing anything to her, but not letting anyone else near her either. Despite this, and the Invasion Of Astro-Monster suit looking very tattered, I generally like the portrayal of Godzilla in this film. He’s neither good nor bad. He has his comical moments, such as scratching his nose, but is usually very intimidating too. He ends up destroying the Red Bamboo and Ebirah, but more because they are in his way than anything else. The two fights with Ebirah are mostly comical but great fun, the action often having to go underwater because otherwise Ebirah isn’t really any match for his opponent, and Godzilla also gets to destroy some planes, kill a large condor and even briefly battle Mothra again, back in moth form, though she looks like she’s seen better days too. At least Ebirah is well conceived and executed, and we even see him eat people too.
By this time Eiji Tsuburaya , though credited as ‘special effects director’, was heavily involved with his TV company Tsuburaya Productions, so it was actually his first assistant director Teisho Arikawa and effects photographer Terutoshi Nakano who oversaw all the special effects. The limited budget didn’t allow for intricate and expensive composite shots, and neither he nor Fukuda are much interested in photographing the monsters from low angles, but occasionally some creative angles do emphasise their size; there’s even a POV shot from Godzilla looking down at someone. The Red Bamboo base didn’t need the elaborate detail of the usual city sets, but it does the job and Godzilla seems to enjoy destroying it. As for Fukuda’s direction, it appears that he tried his best to emulate Honda’s style. His mise en scene is very similar, and the only noticeable differences are less use of close-ups and the occasional use of a hand-held camera, sometimes giving the film a more ‘rough and ready’, even modern, feel, but one that seems appropriate for the story.
Akira Takarada seems to relish playing the robber, and it’s great to see Jun Tazaki as a villainous leader for a change, though Kumi Mizuno’s role, her last in a Toho monster movie, as the native girl Daiyo, is not too strong and the teenage actors are okay rather than good. One of the things that most contributes to the different feel of this film is Masaro Sato’s score. If you recall, he scored Godzilla Raids Again, but really came into his own with his music for Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster. Lighter than Ifukube’s and more contemporary sounding, it goes very well with the film and really works once you get used to the change. His main title, later a song for the Shobijin, is catchy and evokes the exotic setting, the electric guitar theme for Ebirah both grooby and menacing, and a simple three-note motif economically describs Godzilla. An early dance number sounds just like Nelson Riddle’s TV Batman theme. Though not quite in the top league of Godzilla pictures, Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster may be one of the most sheerly likeable, being perfectly harmless escapism to while away an hour and a half.
As I said earlier, this never had a US cinema release, but it did get a UK release with the title on the poster opposite. This was uncut with Toho’s original English dub. Many older Godzilla fans in the US were disappointed that the DVDs of some of the films didn’t contain the American cuts that they grew up with. Such is the case with Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster. The R1 DVD has the Toho English dub heard in the UK, which as with the ones to follow, is quite poor but follows the script very closely, but the original US version, as was often the case, had a much better dub from Titra Studios, though one wonders why they bothered when it went straight to TV. Five minutes were cut, but some of that was due to the removal of the opening titles. Elsewhere a few minor scenes and one piece of music were removed, and the Red Bamboo went unnamed. They only really bad thing they did was attempt to show Yata’s boat being destroyed in the opening scene with footage obviously taken from a later scene. This would be the last Godzilla film to receive alterations worth mentioning in a separate paragraph for some time; most successive changes would just be due to censorship.