Last Updated on Friday, 21 October 2011 17:38 Written by Stephen Mark Rainey Friday, 21 October 2011 16:43
(Original article appeared in Japanese Giants #4, 1977; revised 2004.)
In this review, I shall carry on a bit about the two latest Godzilla movies released in the United States: Godzilla vs. Megalon (Gojira tai Megaro, 1973) and Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster (Gojira tai Mekagojira, 1975). The latter film is the better of the two, but is at best a slight improvement over the former. Both have been released here theatrically by Cinema Shares International.
Godzilla vs. Megalon is first and foremost a kiddie film, though perhaps not as overtly as Toho’s made-for-kids Godzilla’s Revenge (1970). It’s rather funny that promoter Donald L. Velde’s publicity material for Megalon came out with an “R” rating on it, which—had it not been changed to its rightful “G” rating—might have fatally reduced the studio’s target audience. The film fared relatively well at the box office, a fact I find ironic, since it is by far the worst film in the Godzilla series (yes, I said so). The monsters appearing in the movie are Godzilla, Megalon, Gigan (from Godzilla vs. Gigan, 1972), and a cyborg called Jet Jaguar, which makes a one-shot appearance. The opening scene features a few stock shots of Rodan and Angilas from Destroy All Monsters (1968).
In this outing, Godzilla resembles less a monster than a muppet, with a lanky body; oversized, plastic-looking bug eyes; and a head much too large in proportion to the body. It’s arguably the worst suit of the series (the Son of Godzilla  suit being the other contender) and is dismally inferior to the previous design used in Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971), and Godzilla vs. Gigan. Worst of all, Godzilla (as well as the other monsters in the movie) does a lot of hopping, bouncing, and lurching rather than fearsome lumbering; one might even be prompted to wonder if the man inside the suit (Shinji Takagi) had slipped off the set between takes to hit the saké bottle. In concept, the Megalon design is fascinating, appearing part insect, part reptile. However, the monster (played by Hideto Odachi) moves even more awkwardly than Godzilla, and in one scene, where he is shown hopping around like a monstrous, two-legged grasshopper, comes mighty close to falling flat on his back. Megalon also flies, but on motionless wings—so unlike Rodan in Monster Zero (1965) or Mothra in the original Mothra (1961). Gigan (played by Kengo Nakayama), is also well conceived but poorly executed, mostly hopping, bouncing, dancing, leaping, and—like the rest of the creatures—resorting to idiotic tag-team wrestling tactics. At no time does he ever use any sort of death ray, although he supposedly has the ability to produce one. Oddly, Jet Jaguar (Tsugutoshi Komada), the giant robot, at least occasionally comes off a bit better than the “living” monsters, as his movements seem more natural—considering he is supposedly automated—though in one ridiculous scene, Megalon flies around him at high speed, which makes him so “dizzy” that he stumbles. Funny.
Due largely to the film’s miniscule budget, new special effects are few and far between, the bulk of the monster scenes being stock footage from Destroy All Monsters; Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964); Godzilla vs. Gigan (these look promising); Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966); War of the Gargantuas (1966); and various others boasting effects work by Eiji Tsuburaya. At times, the old footage is quite noticeable because of the change in the film grain. Other times, the shot shows things it shouldn’t, such as Gigan, rather Megalon, swatting down a bunch of airplanes. In the scene of maser cannons obliterating a forest, “Megalon” dives behind the trees for cover—but that’s not Megalon, it’s Gaira, the green gargantua from War of the Gargantuas. Megalon is shown blasting Tokyo with his ray, but often, there is more than one ray on the screen (scenes from Ghidrah—the disparity made more obvious by the fact that Megalon’s ray is red and King Ghidorah’s are yellow). However, a few impressive original effects shots do find their way into the film. During the climactic battle, there’s a beautifully photographed sequence of Godzilla and Jet Jaguar encircled by raging flames. In the film’s best scene, Megalon destroys a dam and a bridge, shot using low camera angles, natural daylight, and high-speed cinematography, the end result suggesting an honest-to-god monster of awesome size wreaking havoc.
The dubbing—ever the bugaboo of Japanese monster movies—conforms to most westerners’ expectations, as it is rotten to the core, particularly the voice of the little kid, Roku-san (Hiroyuki Kawase); fingernails on a chalkboard, a choir singing off-key, and the screeching of tires on asphalt are all infinitely more agreeable. And the High Priest of Seatopia (Robert Dunham)! When he calls Megalon up from the depths, he spouts stuff like “Megalon! Wake up! Come on, Megalon!” as if it’s time for breakfast. When Professor Ibuki (Katsuhiko Sasaki) and Roku-san find a button pulled from the coat of a Seatopian spy, the prof observes that “it looks kind of red.” Staggering brilliance.
Composer Riichiro Minabe contributes the worst Godzilla score ever, bringing back his blaring “Godzilla Theme” from Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster. Other pieces sound like obnoxious holiday parade music and do more to detract from the action than highlight it. One interesting little ditty, though, is the Japanese song (“Punch! Punch! Punch!”) at the finale, surprisingly left intact for our domestic release.
The title Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster gives one bad vibes from the start. The literal translation of its original title, Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, sounds far more intriguing (thankfully, MechaGodzilla is not referred to as “the Bionic Monster” anywhere in the movie). Bionic Monster opens, as did Megalon, with one blast of music and the title, with nary a credit to be seen. The Godzilla suit, disappointingly, is the same one used in Megalon, though with a slightly improved facial design. At least Godzilla (now played by Isao Zushi) bounces a bit less than in the previous farce, and, from some camera angles, actually appears menacing. However, a second suit (used in a few miscellaneous scenes) looks more like a blind child’s papier-mâché sculpture than anything that ought to have ever made it to the screen. Fortunately, MechaGodzilla itself (played by Ise Mori) is built to impress, with the suit convincingly appearing to be constructed of metal. The other monsters in the movie, Angilas and King Seesar (both played by Momoru Kosumi, since they never appear together), are minor characters, yet a huge portion of the plot concerns the mysterious process of waking King Seesar. Despite the ferocious-looking suit design (based on an actual Okinawan lion god), King Seesar is more drunken ballerina than beast, for he hops and bops around almost as dopily as Megalon. His part in the final battle is so small that one can only wonder why the aliens made such a fuss about trying to get rid of him. And sadly, poor Angilas has never looked so phony, crawling around on his hands and knees, lacking even high-speed photography to generate the illusion of size.
The aliens’ Planet of the Apes-inspired make-up looks mighty ugly, but the transformation from man to monkey, accomplished by optically processing still images, ruins any illusion of realism. Strangely, the script never reveals just who these aliens are; only that they come from some "third planet" that is being destroyed by a black hole.
Fortunately, Teruyoshi Nakano’s special effects rise a notch above those in Megalon—most notably because stock footage is almost nonexistent—and feature many nice model shots, such as the cave in which King Seesar is sleeping. One of the movie’s best moments is an early scene of MechaGodzilla, disguised as the “real” Godzilla, destroying a building, bringing to mind the fearsome daikaiju of old. Also, the oil refinery where the two Godzillas do battle appears expansive and highly detailed. Unfortunately, while MechaGodzilla is destroying the plant, Godzilla suddenly appears out of nowhere by popping out from beneath a building—deus ex machina rearing its ugly head.
There is a lot of blood in this movie. When MechaGodzilla breaks Angilas’s jaw, out globs a mess of fake-looking blood. When MechaGodzilla unleashes his (apparently inexhaustible) hand missiles, geysers of blood spew from Godzilla’s wounds, suspiciously resembling the stuff in Sam Peckinpah’s latest western (as performed by Monty Python’s Flying Circus).
Happily, veteran composer Masaru Sato (Gigantis, the Fire Monster ; Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster; Son of Godzilla ; et. al.) provides the musical score this time, and it's far superior to Minabe’s Megalon racket, featuring some distinctive, energetic compositions, particularly the main theme. Now if Toho could get Godzilla series mainstay Akira Ifukube back, they would have a winner. (Who knows, though? Supposedly, Ifukube has been approached about scoring the announced remake of Godzilla.) The downside of the soundtrack is that Bionic Monster’s dubbing job is as bad as or worse than Megalon’s. At least profanity is kept to a minimum, unlike in Megalon, which contains enough vulgar language to almost justify its original, erroneous R rating!
Again happily, veteran actors Akihiko Hirata (Godzilla, King of the Monsters ; Rodan ; The Mysterians ; Atragon ; et. al.) and Hiroshi Koizumi (Gigantis, the Fire Monster; Mothra; Godzilla vs. the Thing ; Matango ; et. al.) star in Bionic Monster, bringing back some of the flavor of the better movies from the prior decades; in Megalon, the few parts were played by relatively unknown actors. Perhaps the biggest plus of all for Bionic Monster is the absence of any little kids, another major plague of the Japanese monster film. On the other hand, for male viewers, the movie’s biggest draw might be its two leading ladies, played by Reiko Tajima and Hiromi Matsushita. Say no more!
Interestingly, the Okinawan princess (Beru-Beru Lin [a.k.a. Barbara Lynn]), who has a dream of a monster attacking civilization, sees King Ghidorah, though only in a still shot. Contrary to the (clearly erroneous) information published in Famous Monsters of Filmland, this is King Ghidorah’s only appearance in the film.
One absurdity in Bionic Monster, almost rivaling Godzilla’s flying in Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, is that he is turned into an electromagnet by a bolt of lightning. In King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) and Godzilla vs. the Thing, Godzilla suffered a distinct aversion to electricity. Yet now it has become a reviving force, as it was for Kong in King Kong vs. Godzilla. This contrivance allows Godzilla to magnetically attract electrical towers and, finally, MechaGodzilla itself, and thus rip off its head. The head-twisting sequence, I might mention, is pretty damn cool, but the preceding events are so dismaying that they leave a bitter taste even during the better scenes.
All in all, Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster are juvenile, inferior entries in the Godzilla series, despite the fact that the latter film undeniably has many of the makings of a respectable daikaiju picture. Both fall far short of Toho’s customary standards and may really hurt the American public’s attitude toward Japanese films in general. NBC’s recent showing of the drastically butchered Megalon (hosted by John Belushi in a silly Godzilla suit) certainly won’t help matters. Let’s hope the remake of Godzilla, reportedly in the works from Toho, will rectify the problem and let the public see Japanese monster–moviemaking at its best.