Saturday, April 19, 2014

GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955): 30 Days of Godzilla


aka: Gigantis, the Fire Monster

You can't keep the King of the Monsters down. A mere year after he destroyed Tokyo, Godzilla returns, and for the first time he's not the only monster in town.

In 1955, Godzilla returned to Japanese movie screens, and monster movies would never be the same. For the first time in Japanese monster cinema, Godzilla fights his first kaiju adversary: the four-legged and fearsome Anguirus! It would set a precedent that would shape the rest of the series for decades to come.

Although Godzilla's return came quickly on the heels of Gojira in Japan, his big comeback would go unheralded in the USA until 1959 when Warner Bros. released Godzilla Raids Again heavily edited and without a reference to Godzilla anywhere in the film or its marketing material. For his second American outing, Godzilla was known as GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER.

The road from Godzilla to Gigantis is a strange one. When faced with the opportunity to use footage from Godzilla Raids Again, Henry Rybnick and Edward Barrison of AB-T productions decided to cut out everything except for the special effects monster sequences. The plan was to then insert these sequences into a new film called The Volcano Monsters, which would be shot in America with an entirely new story written by Ib Melchior (writer of the Danish giant-monster movie Reptilicus). Production went far enough ahead that Toho actually sent the Godzilla and Anguirus suits to America to be used in new special effects shots. However, the production on The Volcano Monsters fell through when AB-T Productions went bust. Instead, producers Paul Schreibman, Edmund Goldman and Newton P. Jacobs acquired Godzilla Raids Again and released it as Gigantis, The Fire Monster through Warner Bros. in a Americanized edit with sloppy redubbing that removed all reference to the creatures' original names and origins. This American edit also mixed up the monsters' trademark roars and produced nonsensical English dialogue to conform with the mouth-movements of the Japanese actors.

So why did Godzilla become Gigantis, exactly? One long-held rumour is that Warner Bros. assumed it couldn't get the rights to the name "Godzilla." However, the explanation that most offer today is far more reasonable: the producers did not want audiences to confuse this Godzilla sequel with Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Sounds silly at first, I know. Imagine for a moment a modern sequel going to such great pains to disavow all connection to its popular predecessor. That would be like Michael Bay following up Transformers with a movie called Giant Robo-Car Attack! But in the late 1950s, when films were often re-released and re-titled, and many casual movie goers would go to the cinema without prior exposure to the movies they were about to see, I guess it's not so far fetched to imagine people might confuse Godzilla with its sequel. Still, Gigantis is a stupid name. It sounds like a parasitic infection of the testicles.

Even though Godzilla Raids Again is noticeably better than Gigantis, the original Japanese version is a disappointing follow up to the original Gojira. In contrast to the exciting and surprisingly fast-paced monster depicted in the battle between Godzilla and Anguirus, the story of Godzilla Raids Again lacks the urgency and poignancy of Gojira. At the same time, it essentially rips off the same exact plot structure. Most noticeably, Ishiro Honda did not come back to direct Godzilla Raids Again. Godzilla Raids Again was directed by Toho workhorse Motoyoshi Oda. Thankfully Eiji Tsuburaya was still on hand to create the special effects, which are by no long shot the standout reason to watch Godzilla Raids Again.

The story sees a second member of the Godzilla species rise from the depths of the ocean and descend upon Japan, awoken by the same nuclear testing that raised the original beast in Gojira. This time, the creature attacks Osaka and is followed by Anguirus, an irradiated quadruped with a back plate full of spikes. The creatures are originally spotted battling on an island by two pilots named Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi) and Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki) who are out tracking tuna fish schools for a canning company in Osaka. The same canning company is completely destroyed when Godzilla and Anguirus converge on Osaka.

The sequence that follows forever changes the course of Japanese monster movies. No longer will it be enough to have one monster; instead, the standard climax of virtually every Godzilla movie becomes the monster battle. Hulking, giant prehistoric beasts empowered by radiation lay waste to a city as they savagely beat and tear at each other, throwing one another into blocks of urban sprawl and historic landmarks. In the case of Godzilla Raids Again, it's the historic Osaka Castle that is reduced to rubble during the climax of the epic fight. Although Toho would experiment with stand-alone kaiju films such as Mothra and Rodan, for all films in the wake of Godzilla Raids Again, the gold standard would become the Monster Battle Climax. In fact, after 1955 Godzilla has battled at least one giant monster in each of his films, save for Godzilla 1985 and the American Godzilla in 1998.

Godzilla wins the battle, defeating Anguirus with a savage bite to the neck and a heavy dose of atomic fire breath. With Godzilla still on the loose, Tsukioka and Kobayahsi join up with a military effort to locate the monster. After several attempts to destroy Godzilla using bombs, Kobayashi loses his life when his plane is struck down by Godzilla's atomic blast. With bombs proving useless and the fact that Dr. Serizawa took the plans for the Oxygen Destroyer to his grave at the end of Gojira, Tsukioka concocts a plan to bury Godzilla under an avalanche of ice on a small frozen island. After trapping Godzilla on the island, Tsukioka, firing his own missiles, succeeds in fully encasing Godzilla within a mountain of ice where he is presumed dead, and the world can rest easy....for now.


Godzilla will remain on ice until tomorrow when he takes on the only monster who could ever challenge his claim to the title as King of the Monsters. I'm talking about the the fight to end all fights. I'm talking about the East meets West kaiju contest of the century. 

For the first time in widescreen and glorious Eastman colour, tomorrow we examine KING KONG vs. GODZILLA as 30 Days of Godzilla continues.

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