HCF REWIND NO.144. TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA AKA MEKAGOJIRA NO GYAKUSHU, MECHAGODZILLA’S COUNTER-ATTACK, THE TERROR OF GODZILLA, MONSTERS FROM AN UNKNOWN PLANET [Japan 1975]
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 84 min
FEATURED MONSTERS: GODZILLA, MECHAGODZILLA, KING CAESER, TITANOSAURUS
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The submarine Akatsuki searches for the wreck of Mechagodzilla at the bottom of the Okinawan Seas but is destroyed by a giant aquatic dinosaur called Titanosaurus. Interpol starts an investigation into the incident, not knowing that a Dr. Shizo Mafune is behind it. Twenty years ago, he claimed he had discovered Titanosaurus but was discredited, sacked and fell into hard times. Now, he is working for the aliens from the Third Planet of the Black Hole, both sharing the common goal of destroying humanity. Inspector Jiro Murakoshi and marine biologist Akira Ichinosi, aiding Interpol, fail to find Mafune, but do encounter Katsura, who is Mafune’s daughter. She controls Titanosaurus’s mind, but begins to have a change of heart when she becomes attracted to Ichinosi….
Terror Of Mechagodzilla is the best Godzilla film of the 70’s. It’s still very flawed, the return of Ishiro Honda and a bigger budget not quite compensating for a certain unevenness and absurd things in the script. The more serious tone, ‘adult’ and dark elements, and even a stronger emotional dimension to the non-monster subplot almost clash somewhat with some very haphazard plotting and more traditionally 70’s ingredients, but there’s no doubt it’s an interesting mix, closest perhaps to Invasion Of the Astro-Monster in its surprisingly sombre tone, more leisurely pace than the last few films, and story of a non-human female who develops human feelings, though it also rehashes the previous entry what with its aliens basing themselves under a mountain with a human scientist to help them, and similar scenes like a tied-up man freeing himself. Some parts of the story don’t fit in too well with a film about giant monsters, but there’s no doubt that Honda, in his last film as director [he would later aid his friend Akira Kurosawa on his last few pictures], tried his best to make what was intended as the last Godzilla film, at least for a while, worthy of the King Of The Monster’s name. It just seems like he was held back a bit by the prevailing minds at Toho that Godzilla be geared towards the kiddies, but parts of a more mature work do remain.
So it was felt that the series, which was in both a creative and commercial slump, could do with a rest. Toho held a story contest for this film, and student Yukiko Takayama, sadly the only case to this date of a female writing a Toho science-fiction film [despite their many strong and interesting female characters], was the winner, though her first draft was revised three times, then was altered by Honda somewhat during filming. Most of the changes were due to budgetary concerns, notably the removal of the two monsters called the Titans, which originally merged to create Titanosaurus, and the relocation of most of the final battle from Tokyo to the countryside, though the budget still allowed for more destruction [well, of the non-stock footage kind!] than any entry since Destroy All Monsters. Sadly it did poorer at the box office than any other Godzilla film to that date. It was released in the UK, minus a shot of Katsura’s [fake] breasts, in 1976 as Monsters From An Unknown Planet. This version was briefly released in the US in 1978 as The Terror Of Godzilla, and, with the addition of a prologue about the history of Godzilla, with footage from Monster Zero and Godzilla’s Revenge (itself using footage from Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla), soon after showed up on TV, but it was a heavily edited version that most US cinema-goers saw and was the only available version for decades. To get a ‘G’ rating, five minutes of violence and deaths were removed, making the final scenes incomprehensible as well as suggesting that Ichinosi and Katsura had a happy end.
It begins with footage from the two fights between Godzilla and Mechagodzilla in Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla, letting us know that this new film is going to be a direct sequel. However, problems soon assert themselves. If the aliens are supposed to be the same, is the commander, played by the same actor though in a more low-key and sinister manner, meant to be the same one we previously saw killed, or do these leaders just all look the same? And why do the aliens not only wear slightly different outfits with handle-bar helmets but, in a random moment, get revealed not as simians like before but just disfigured like The Mysterions? Masaaki Damon shows up briefly: is he playing the same character is before? Perhaps writer and director were at odds, with one wanting a sequel, the other preferring more of a stand-alone film? Such confusion is evident throughout the script- for a start, they’re searching for the wreckage of Mechagodzilla in the wrong bloody place. Still, the difference between Honda and the other directors like Jun Fukuda soon proves evident with the glorious entry of Titanosaurus, the creature first silhouetted amidst smoke and a flash of light, than shot from low down but much closer as his head belches bubbles and he roars in triumph, backlit by the sun. As decent as Fukuda and co. were, they didn’t have the love and respect for the monsters that Honda had, and it really makes a difference in their portrayal.
We are quickly told a load of information and then have to watch our two heroes discover it all for themselves in rather casual pacing, but the monster scenes when they come are some of the most impressive in ages. Titanosaurus’s first attack suffers from the monster appearing to change size, and leads to a bit where Godzilla actually seems to save two small boys Gamera-style, which is maybe taking the juvenile approach too far and certainly doesn’t belong in this particular entry. Then there’s a disappointing and brief face-off between Godzilla and Titanosaurus, but the later scene of the dinosaur and Mechagodzilla rampaging through Tokyo, Titanosaurus’s waving tail-fin causing buildings to crumble and the rubble rise into the air like Rodan, while Mechagodzilla, in a truly awesome bit, blows up streets with his finger missiles, really evokes the glory days of the 60’s. The big fight lapses into the usual silliness, with the monsters throwing each other absurd distances and Titanosaurus lifting Godzilla up mouth-to-mouth, but it’s still the best filmed battle in a while, Honda enhancing the action with well chosen close-ups. Godzilla really seems to be in trouble against the other two monsters here and has to rely on a huge supersonic wave generator similar to what was used in Invasion Of The Astro- Monster to help him win. There’s less monster brutality this time, but otherwise this is an oddly violent film for Honda, with characters bloodily shot, electrocuted, whipped, plus shots of Katsura’s insides when she is being turned into a cyborg.
Godzilla is almost the same but with a more snarling look, but Mechagodzilla now has a thinner body and is of a darker silver. The reluctant aggressor Titanosaurus is a stunning creation, with great effort made to realise a convincing dinosaur, be it its skin markings or its constant snorting. The stock footage is limited to a few shots of the military and a split-screen moment where Katsura says she doesn’t want Titanosaurus to become a destroyer like Ghidorah, Rodan and Manda, who we then see in action. The scenes outside Mafune’s run-down mansion, augmented by the screeching sounds of unseen birds, are quite creepily atmospheric, with a mute gardener who is a rather haunting presence throughout. The scientist Mafune, who is introduced with black and white stills, is a rather tragic figure, and unlike some writers I don’t consider Akihito Hirata’s performance to be over the top – the character has clearly gone mad – though again we have a major story problem here. We are told that Mafune was sacked 15 years ago for claiming the existence of a dinosaur, yet there had already been Godzilla, Rodan, and others. The subplot about his daughter Katsura is intriguing, but are we supposed to believe that when the aliens rebuild her as a cyborg after her accidental death, her father doesn’t cotton on to the fact that they are from another planet? The near-romance between her and Ichinosi has a genuine sense of tragedy though, and the climactic exchange and self-sacrifice of this rather downbeat story rather moving, its honesty just about getting through such lines as: “even though you’re a robot, I still love you. You’re not to blame, none of this is your fault”.
Katsura is played with an icy sexuality [a contrast to the more overt Miss Namikawa of Invasion Of The Astro-Monster] by the gorgeous Tomoko Ai. With dark and light sides constantly doing battle inside her, she’s a memorable character, and just about makes up for the blandness of Godzilla Vs Megalon’s Katsuhiko Sasaki and Katsumasa Uchida as the two male leads. Akira Ifikube returns to do the score and it’s a more low-key effort than normal. He brings back the Godzilla March from Godzilla to become Godzilla’s theme, and writes an evocative theme for Katsura which cleverly incorporated elements of both his Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla themes. A moody organ piece is well used in two scenes. It’s one of his lesser genre scores though. Terror Of Mechagodzilla has some very good things in it, and all in all is by no means a disgraceful way to end the first Godzilla series, but is held back by carelessness. The final scene sets a respectful and sombre mood as our surviving characters look out to the sea. The sun is setting, creating a lovely yellow and enhancing the atmosphere, and then we cut to Godzilla going off into the distance, only it’s a really shoddy-looking promotional costume that barely looks better than a blow-up toy. One can only laugh, and it’s a real shame.