By the spring of 1955, GOJIRA (GODZILLA) had become the number one box office attraction throughout Japan after its November 1954 release and an icon of pop culture was born…at least in its native country. GOJIRA had not yet made the voyage overseas to the American market in its adulterated form as GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. That would happen in 1956. In the time between GOJIRA’S Japanese release and its American debut, Toho Company Ltd. produced the first of what would eventually be fourteen sequels in the original series of films (1954-1975). The thinking of Toho executive Tomoyuki Tanaka was that if one monster was exciting enough for the public, then two would double the profits. Thus, genre fan favorite, Angirus, was created to present the great Godzilla with his first of many monster opponents. Now, as part of their Godzilla DVD series, Classic Media has released this oft-overlooked film in both its original Japanese version and the 1959 Warner Bros. released Americanized version, GIGANTIS: THE FIRE MONSTER.
Two pilots Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki) and Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi…soon to be a Toho monster movie regular) working for a fish cannery based in Osaka are making their rounds in Northern Japan looking for schools of fish when Kobayashi’s airplane develops engine trouble. He is forced to land on a tiny isle off the coast and after Tsukioka arrives to save him, both men witness a titanic battle between what resembles the same monster that attacked Tokyo several months earlier and a strange new creature with porcupine-like spikes on its back. This first fight is a draw as both behemoths tumble into the sea while both pilots manage to escape back to Osaka to report to the proper authorities what they have just seen.
Dr. Kyohe Yamane (Takashi Shimura, reprising his role from the original GOJIRA) makes it plain that the Godzilla the pilots saw is NOT the same monster that destroyed Tokyo a few months earlier. In keeping with his dire warning at the end of the first film (a least in the Japanese version), Dr. Yamane said the world could expect to see other monsters if nuclear testing did not stop.
The rest of the film turns out to be what would become standard formula in Japanese monster films…the monsters meet again in Osaka and after a vigorous battle, Godzilla roasts Angirus with his atomic breath. The military and scientists later combine to devise ways to rid the world of Godzilla, but with the death of Dr. Daisuke Serizawa in the first film and the destruction of his “Oxygen Destroyer” formula, they must invent another way. Eventually, Godzilla is cornered in an icy area of the northern Pacific and buried under the ice…forever?
One of the biggest problems with GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN is the fact that it was rushed into production in order to cash in on the original film’s popularity and several miscalculations by the Toho brass resulted. For one thing, it seems that Ishiro Honda’s contribution to the first film’s success was grossly underestimated by Tomoyuki Tanaka in his effort to rush this one out. Honda was at work on another film and Motoyoshi Oda displays none of the unique documentary-like style and finesse of Honda. Also, the script seems haphazardly written with none of the careful pacing, menace, and character development that made the first film so special. The battle between Angirus and Godzilla, which SHOULD have been the film’s epic climax, occurs half way through the film. This was corrected in later films (like KING KONG VS.GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS. THE THING, KING KONG ESCAPES, etc.) where the final battles were paced to occur in the last reel thus adding a suspenseful build-up. In addition, the first film’s sense of urgency is lacking here as everything (including the monsters’ invasion) is treated rather matter-of-factly. Perhaps the most badly missed item in GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN is an absence of an Akira Ifukubie musical score. Gone are the thundering marches, ominous monster themes and somber dirges of the first film. In the Japanese version of GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, there is a serviceable (but in no way remarkable) score by Masaru Sato, while the American version utilizes a library musical score from such films as KRONOS (by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter). Mr. Sato’s later scores for GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER in 1966 and SON OF GODZILLA in 1967 were much better in expressing his particular style.
The actors in GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN are OK, but bland. Soon-to-be-Toho-monster movie-regular Hiroshi Koizumi plays Tsukioka, but he’s rather dull. Koizumi would later appear in MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS. THE THING, GHIDRAH, and GODZILLA vs. MECHAGODZILLA (1974). Minoru Chiaki as Kobayashi is meant as a likeable comic character who heroically sacrifices his life for his fellow pilots, but in the American version, he is dubbed by an actor using a goofy Warner Bros. cartoon-like voice. Finally, Takashi Shimura returns (albeit briefly) as Dr. Yamane from the first film, but he his totally wasted (and seems bored out of his mind) here as a consultant. In fact, he is seen on camera playing with his pen while government officials ponder what to do with the monsters.
The American release of GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN was held off until 1959. Paul Schriebman and Edmund Goldman (two of the men responsible for Americanizing the original GODZILLA) bought the rights to the sequel and in an extremely odd move, re-christened it GIGANTIS: THE FIRE MONSTER. As the story goes, Schriebman did not want the sequel to be confused with the first film so they re-titled it. This seems strange since the original GODZILLA was such a hit, why would they not want it known that it was a sequel? At any rate, the film was sold to Warner Bros. and was released as part of a double bill with TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE.
Originally, GIGANTIS: THE FIRE MONSTER was going to be released in a highly Americanized form (a la GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS) entitled THE VOLCANO MONSTERS. This edition was to be co-written by noted science fiction writer Ib Melchior (REPTILICUS, THE ANGRY RED PLANET) and would have been produced by AB-PT Films (who also made Bert I. Gordon’s THE BEGINNING OF THE END). This new version would have featured American actors in Hollywood-shot scenes spliced into the already existing Japanese special effects with some additional special effects sequences scheduled to be shot as well. In fact, Toho even shipped the Godzilla and Angirus costumes to Hollywood (1950s make-up artist and monster suit actor Bob Burns goes into this on the audio commentary) to shoot the additional scenes. Eventually, AB-PT folded and THE VOLCANO MONSTERS was never made, but remains an interesting “what if.”
Classic Media’s DVD presentation is a one disc (dual layered) DVD featuring both the original Japanese language version and the 1959 American release (with the title GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN restored at Toho’s request). The Japanese version features a decent full frame picture, however, as many people noticed with the original GOJIRA, Toho’s negatives were not well taken care of and, in addition to being on inferior film stock, the resulting image has a great deal of scratches and blemishes of a film its age. One significant improvement over Toho’s own laserdisc version is that the night battle scenes are actually visible. On the laserdisc, the image was so dark a viewer could not tell that the monsters were fighting (other than hearing their growls on the soundtrack). However, on this DVD, some of the brighter images (daylight scenes, the Arctic scenes) are a little too bright. In addition, there is a strange jarring movement in the action which only lasts for about two minutes, but it is noticeable. The mono sound on the Japanese version is good with well translated yellow titles. This version runs the complete 81 minutes.
The American version is also properly full frame and carries a fairly good image with none of the excessive brightness that is noticeable in the Japanese version although the picture on the Japanese version is slightly sharper. Since the American print was made from Toho’s original negative, the aforementioned scratches and blemishes are also present in this version and the night battle sequences are somewhat darker than on the Japanese version. The soundtrack is clear with such familiar voices as Marvin Miller, Paul Frees, George Takei, and Keye Luke dubbing a variety of roles. This version runs 79 minutes and features a terrific audio commentary by Godzilla expert, Steve Ryfle joined throughout by fellow Godzilla fan and expert, Ed Godziszewski and monster suit actor and make-up artist, Bob Burns. Their comments are informative and engaging, although the audio commentaries for GOJIRA and GODZILLA were a little stronger.
The extras on this disc include a great 15 minute documentary called “The Art of Suit Acting” (by Ed Godziszewski) which is an informative history of all the actors who have donned Japanese monster suits over the genre’s 50-plus years. The documentary features rare behind-the-scenes photos of Eiji Tsuburaya directing the actors in various films (like WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS) and gives good biographical information on all the suit actors. Another extra is a slide show (with the Japanese version’s theme music playing in the background) of the various posters and advertising. The packaging of this DVD is in a thin, hard-cover DVD case with a photo of the Japanese poster on the cover and liner notes on the back.
Overall, Classic Media has done a fairly good job in its presentation of GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN. While the film has its flaws, it is a fine and respectful follow-up to the recent DVD release of GOJIRA and no serious GODZILLA fan would not want to have this in his/her collection. (Joe Cascio)
EDITOR’S NOTE: The retail release of two highly anticipated Godzilla films – GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN and MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA – has been rescheduled from November 7th, 2006 to the spring of 2007. This new release date will allow for the opportunity to give the titles a larger retail release with increased marketing support. Both films are currently available exclusively at www.godzillaondvd.com.