Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla (1974)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Hiroyasu Yamamura, Jun Fukuda, Masami Fukushima, Shinichi Sekizawa
Starring: Akihito Hirata, Kazuya Aoyama, Masaaki Daimon, Reiko Tajima
HCF REWIND NO.142. GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA AKA GOJIRA TAI MEKAGOJIRA, GODZILLA VS THE COSMIC MONSTER [Japan 1974]
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 84 min
FEATURED MONSTERS: GODZILLA, MECHAGODZILLA, KING CAESER, ANGILAS
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The monster Angilas witnesses an explosion on Mt. Fuji and goes to investigate. Meanwhile brothers Keisuke and Masahiko Shimizu are in Okinawa and watching an Azumi princess when she has a vision of a monster bringing destruction and faints. While exploring a nearby cave, Masahiko finds a shiny piece of metal while Keisuke uncovers a small statue of King Caeser [god of the Azumis] near some cave paintings which predict that when certain weather conditions occur, a monster will appear to bring destruction but will be stopped by two other monsters. The two visit Professor Miyajima who tells them that the bit of metal is made from space titanium, which is only found in space, the atmospheric conditions occur and Godzilla appears out of Mt. Fuji to first defeat his ally Angilas, then attack an oil refinery….until another Godzilla appears…..
Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla, which introduces the only 70’s Toho monster that would almost match the popularity of their earlier creations Mothra and King Ghidorah, is generally regarded as a step up from the last few series entries and the best of the 70’s films, though I would say only partially to the first point, while to the second point I would say that the film that immediately followed is better. It benefits from higher productions values, doesn’t pander to kids much and certainly delivers on action, but it feels far too much like a movie made by committee. It has the odd great idea, but these are mostly lost in a film that just rehashes earlier movies, and the generally serious approach doesn’t really work when the script is full of silliness. This entry may be better made than Godzilla Vs Megalon, Godzilla Vs Gigan and Godzilla Vs Hedorah, but it lacks much of their quirkiness. It’s still very good fun, of course, and it does show director Jun Fukuda, in his last Godzilla film, showing more of a personal style than usual.
Giant Monsters Converge on Okinawa! Showdown in Zanpamisaki was the original concept for what was the 20th anniversary film for the Godzilla franchise. Shinichi Sekisawa and Masami Fukushima wrote a story which was developed into a screenplay by Hiroyasu Yamaura and Jun Fukuda. The plot was basically what we have now, but Mothra was to be the Okinawan [which would have contradicted earlier Mothra adventures] god monster who lives in a cave and Garugu the robot creature controlled by aliens to conquer Earth. In the two successive drafts Mothra became King Barugan who became King Ceaser, while, in what was a moment of great innovation, Baragan became Mechagodzilla, a robot initially disguised as the King Of The Monsters. This was the first Godzilla film, in its original Japanese version, to finally give onscreen credit to the guys in the suits with the names of the respective monsters they played. Before, suitmation actors had received credit, but just as regular cast members. It did better than the last two but not by much, the series clearly still winding down. It was initially released, as with the previous two films, by Cinema Shares in the US. They called it Godzilla Vs The Bionic Monster, but Universal Studios, who had made The Six Million Dollar Man [about a bionic man] and The Bionic Woman, threatened to sue Cinema Shares over the word ‘bionic’, so it was quickly re-titled Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster. This version deleted the opening credits and removed around a minute of surprisingly strong violence, mostly fighting and killing involving the humans and aliens.
Now most Godzilla films have a bit of a build up to the monster action. In the early films, there would usually be at least half an hour before the monsters would appear, at least in detail, and any monster battles tended to be relegated to the final third. This started to change around the mid 60’s as Toho, wise to the increasing popularity of their films with children, started to have their monster stars appear earlier and with more frequency. Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla is an oddity though in that there is more monster action in the first third as there is in the final third. In fact, the very first scene features a monster, Angilas, wondering what a strange explosion on Mt. Fuji is all about. The early part is breathlessly paced; unlike Godzilla Vs Megalon, there is some proper exposition this time, but it is raced through at top speed, and there is as much going on with the monsters as the humans as Godzilla appears, having seemingly reverted to his nasty mode, to bloodily defeat Angilas, who obviously recognises him as not the real one because he attacks him on sight. Then he starts to destroy an oil refinery, and though this is the only proper destruction scene in the film, at least there is no stock footage this time. Then the real Godzilla appears, breaking out of a huge building [!], and burning off the other Godzilla’s skin to reveal him as a cyborg, but this fight is over very quickly, the real Godzilla seemingly no match for what is now his robot double.
The monsters are then inactive until the final twenty minutes, and, like in the Mothra films, we have a big build-up to the bringing to life of the Okinawan god King Caeser replete with a song, but once alive the silly-looking creature is pretty inept against Mechagodzilla [his battle technique is to run at him] and clearly needs Godzilla immediately. The monster fighting, which does includes a nice Sergio Leone homage, is less comical than that in the proceeding few films but rather unmemorable except for the large amount of monster blood, especially when Angilas gets his throat virtually torn out. All this monster action at the start and end sandwiches the usual humans vs alien stuff we’ve seen before. It partially rehashes Invasion Of The Astro-Monster, with a gimmick, this time a “powerful pipe” [yes, someone calls it that] that conveniently saves the day, and even more, Godzilla Vs Gigan. The aliens are again animals in disguise [this time apes because the Planet Of The Apes series was hugely popular in Japan], need the expertise of an earth scientist to help them, and don’t seem to own spaceships due to budgetary concerns, preferring to hide in their underground lair which resembles Dr No’s. The numerous fights [which are easily the best in the first Godzilla series] and shoot-outs are very brutal. At one point an alien is slowly garrotted, while twice you can see aliens shot in the face and blood spraying out, though oddly one time it’s red and the other time it’s grey. It’s easy to see why this was initially cut in the US, and why the UK used the same print.
The Godzilla Vs Megalon Godzilla suit is used but with a new head which has sharper teeth and a fiercer stare. It still looks crap. An even more rubbish suit meant only for promotion work is used for when Mechagodzilla is disguised as Godzilla, and that stupid water suit turns up again briefly, resulting in Godzilla appearing to change at times. King Ceaser, part-lion, part-dog, though based on actual “shisa”[Okinawan guardian statue], looks ridiculous with a ragged suit that looks like it has been to hell and back. Mechagodzilla though is awesome. He has amazing fighting ability such as being able to rotate his head so he can fire stuff at two opponents each side of him, and has an impressive array of weapons: finger missiles, chest and eye beams and a force field. He’s obviously modeled on Mechni-Kong and the Giant Robot from the Johnny Sokko’ TV series, but is striking nonetheless, though why the aliens take the trouble to build their killing machine to resemble Godzilla is beyond me. The plot is full of flaws, such as the prophecy [shades of Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster]. “When a black mountain appears above the clouds, a monster will arrive to destroy the world. But when the red moon sets and the sun rises in the west, two monsters will appear to save the people”. It seems that the aliens [who are from, apparently, the third planet of the Black Hole, Outer Space], waited for certain strange things to happen before commencing their attack. And they obviously didn’t bother to read the second part of the prophecy, did they? And, most glaring of all, why the hell did the Azumi priestess appear to see Ghidorah in her vision?
Fukuda, aided by his cinematographer Yuzuru Aizawa, does his best to put a personal stamp on this film by shooting much of the human [or human/alien] action in a hand-held, almost shakycam manner, which gives some of the film a rather modern look, though it doesn’t go over the top as in many newer pictures. The three main leads are adequate and no more, but Hiroshi Koizumi and Akihitto Hirata return in supporting roles and even Kenji Sahara makes a cameo appearance. Masaru Sato returned to score this picture and it’s perhaps his best job. While he still doesn’t give Godzilla a memorable theme, his title music is lovely and very evocative of light adventure, his music for the prophecy is effectively menacing, and his battle music really descriptive of fun, light-hearted-without-getting-stupid monster combat. Kumonga’s music from Son Of Godzilla sadly turns up near the end. There are interesting elements in Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla, such as Okinawan folklore, but the general state of 70’s Toho monster filmmaking means that the resulting film, which may have been terrific if it had been made in the 60’s, fails to rise above the ordinary. Which is enough for some Godzilla fans, and I do, on some level, enjoy all Godzilla pictures.