Thursday, April 24, 2014

GODZILLA vs. THE SEA MONSTER (1966): 30 Days of Godzilla



aka. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep
aka. Godzilla, Ebirah, Mothra: Big Duel in the South Seas

Even the King of the Monsters needs a vacation. Tired of the hustle and grind that comes with destroying major Japanese landmarks, Godzilla decides to catch some R&R on a secluded tropical island with an all-you-can-beat lobster buffet and plenty of cute island babes in bikinis. Oh, and there's international terrorism. And slavery. And Mothra? Yeah...that's Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster for you.

After watching Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, you wouldn't be faulted for feeling that it barely resembles a Godzilla movie at all. In keeping with the general softening of Godzilla as an icon as he stomps into the 1970s, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster also introduced several new behind the scenes players who would guide Godzilla away from horror and science fiction towards more kid-friendly action-adventure and fantasy plots. It cannot be understated: Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster marks yet another important creative shift in the franchise: a dedicated movement towards camp and a Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic.

At this resort, the lobster's so fresh you have to wrestle it out of the sea.
For the first time since Godzilla Raids Again (1955), Ishiro Honda does not return as director. Instead, Jun Fukuda was tapped to take over the director's chair. At Fukuda's request, iconic Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube was also left out of the project in favor of hiring Masaru Sato to provide the score. Finally, long-time special effects supervisor Eiji Tsuburaya would begin to hand over more of the special effects duties to Sadamasa Arikawa, who had been working on Godzilla films since 1954's Gojira. Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster truly marks a changing of the guard at Toho.

Godzilla veteran actor Akihiko Hirata appears minus an eye as the nefarious Captain Yamoto
Set on a tropical island with very few miniature sets to stomp, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster is a very different animal than its predecessor Invasion of Astro-Monster. Under Fukuda's stewardship, Godzilla's seventh outing has a hip and youthful Go-Go 60s look and feel, due in large part to Sato's jazzy contemporary score. The film's aesthetic evokes pineapples, Hawaiian shirts, hula-hoop beach parties, and ukuleles with a hint of tropical James Bond villainy (think Dr. No's volcano hideout). And for all that, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster is kind of neat. Too bad the human aspect of the story is more interesting than the monster stuff. That's always a bad sign.

The lovely Kumi Mizuno goes from alien in Invasion of Astro-Monster
 to innocent islander in Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster
Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster begins with a young man named Ryota (Tôru Watanabe) who steals a yacht to go out in search of a brother Yata (Tôru Ibuki) who's been lost at sea. Unbenkownst to Ryota and his friends, the yacht is also the hideout for a thief and safe-cracker played by Godzilla franchise regular Akira Takarada. They're forced to work together when their yacht is shipwrecked on an island by a violent storm and they discover the base of a terrorist organization (called The Red Bamboo in the English version) who is enslaving the people of Infant Island (aka. Mothra's home) to make heavy water for the production of nuclear bombs. Escape from the island is nearly impossible as a giant lobster monster called Ebirah lurks in the offshore depths. Our heroes also discover Godzilla is resting dormant within the tropical island's caves. With the help of a native girl from Infant Island named Daiyo (Kumi Mizuno), our heroes devise a plan to revive Godzilla with electricity so he can destroy Ebirah and the Red Bamboo. Of course, when things get a bit too dicey and the Red Bamboo's facilities go into nuclear self-destruct, Mothra is called in to transport the freed slaves to safety.

The monster battles take so long to happen that even Mothra sleeps through most of the movie.
If you like tropical action-adventure with a kid-friendly take on 007-inspired heroics, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster is pretty fun. Unlike most humans in Godzilla movies, the protagonists are refreshingly active and intrepid, executing some sincere heroics at times. However, if you're a fan of Godzilla as a character from Invasion of Astro-Monster and Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster, you might be left with a bad taste in your mouth. Something just isn't quite right about everyone's favorite King of the Monsters. He throws boulders instead of stomping. He's given life and power by electricity. He sits down cross-legged to sleep. He even seems to have a thing for Daiyo, and he seems to hate Mothra although they were last seen as allies. This is not the Godzilla we know. What's going on? Well, the whole thing makes more sense when you learn that Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster was never meant to be a Godzilla movie in the first place. It was originally written to star Toho's version of King Kong! Obviously, the change from Kong to Godzilla came late in the game because Godzilla's characterization carries many of Toho Kong's trademark characteristics (electricity powers, love of island girls, etc.). The end result is a Godzilla that's way off point, and it does a lot to sour my interest in this movie.

Even Godzilla "nose" his character's way off model.

If you thought it was hard to watch Godzilla get turned into a shabby stand-in for King Kong, you might want to take tomorrow off. When we return with 30 Days of Godzilla, we'll be forcing ourselves to sit through one of the worst Godzilla films to escape Japan. I'm talking, of course, about the ridiculous and endlessly ridiculed SON OF GODZILLA

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