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Greetings from Nagoya, Japan! This industrial city emerged from the Second World War a drab and gray place with little of the charm of the new Tokyo. Still, it is not without its attractions. For instance, Nagoya castle is a national treasure dating back to the warring fiefs period of Japan; it is the legendary birthplace of Oda Nobunaga, the first of the 16th century warlords who tried to unify Japan. It's all very picturesque what with the brilliant fall colors accenting everything.

But you didn't tune in to read about my travels. You tuned in to hear about my encounters with giant sea monsters. Dear readers, I shall not disappoint.

“Giant sea monsters?” you ask. Yes, the use of the plural was deliberate. The Japanese film industry has determined that, if one sea monster is thrilling, then two will be twice as much so (or more). And thus, we have a movie about the recently-deceased Gojira and his intense rivalry with the Ankylosaurus, Anguirus.



The film's title translates as “Gojira's counter-attack,” and I am not certain whether or not it will reach American shores, though it came out three years ago (1955). It is a decidedly inferior film to the first one, though Shimura Takashi does gamely reprise his role as Dr. Yamane (if you're wondering where you have seen Shimura-san before, he was the lead samurai in the now-classic The Seven Samurai).

The city that enjoys urban renewal this time around is Japan's #2 metropolis, Osaka. There is a good deal of interminable fighting between Gojira and Anguirus with the attendant collateral damage. Gojira is ultimately the victor, biting the neck of the Ankylosaur and tossing him onto picturesque Osaka castle, or at least an unconvincing model thereof. It is determined that Gojira cannot be stopped with conventional weapons, and they have lost the formula to the anti-oxygen concoction that (seemed to have) killed Gojira last time.

Gojira is thus not killed but simply stopped when the air force leads it away to the side of a frozen mountain, which is then blasted by missiles causing an avalanche that buries the giant dinosaur. I remember this scene most distinctly from the movie as I had doubts it would ever end. Perhaps they simply cut the same footage of a model plane doing spins around Gojira and spliced several copies into a ten-minute sequence. That was the impression I was left with.

Were I an optimist, I would say that the film marked the death knell for Japanese monster movies given the sharp decline in quality from the original. More have come and are coming out, however, including the turgid Rodan and the not-terrible Mysterians. And so a genre is born.

I think the most significant difference between the movies is the attitude toward the atomic bomb. In both movies, it is H-bomb testing in the Pacific that awakens the beasts and mutates them to their improbable sizes and gives them their incredible powers. In the first movie, significant parallels were drawn between the destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused by American bombers and the devastation of Tokyo at the hands of Gojira--in essence, another atomic event. Gojira was a cautionary tale: should we believe ourselves masters of these monstrous forces, we shall become victims of the monster. A bit heavy-handed, but certainly legitimate, especially given the national source.

By this second movie, the moralizing is virtually absent. Instead, the atomic bomb is merely a vehicle for creating giant monsters that knock down model cities and eat miniature trains. The TOEI monster franchise has clearly shifted its demographic target. It is now a series for children, the ones for whom World War II is a now-distant memory.

That said, I am but a human; my inner child did delight in watching two actors in rubber suits locked in mortal overcranked combat amidst a miniature cardboard city. If that's all you want from a movie, by all means, find this film when it is translated into your language and enjoy. Just don't expect anything as well-made or thoughtful as the original.

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Greetings from the Orient! More specifically, hello from the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, Japan.



It is hard to believe that, just thirteen years ago, the ward that is now Shinjuku had been virtually destroyed by American bombs. Shinjuku today is a bustling commercial and transport hub with a giant train station and every imaginable kind of shop.



These days, if the movies coming out of Japan are any indication, Tokyo's biggest threat comes not from the skies, but from the sea. In 1954, Japan began what appears will be a long-running series of motion pictures featuring a giant dinosaur from the deep ravaging the countryside of this archipelago. The Japanese call him (her?) Gojira, which is a punning combination of Gorilla and Kujira, the Japanese word for whale. This name is meant to convey Gojira's immense size.



You may not have heard of Gojira, but you certainly know its renamed alter-ego--in 1956, a largely similar cut of the film was released in the United States, dubbed in English, and with linking scenes featuring Raymond Burr. In this version, the monster was named Godzilla, and it looks like it will keep this name when the sequels come to America.

The phrase “Japanese product” generally connotes a cheaply made, mass-produced good. When I watched this film back in '54, this is what I expected. I was pleasantly surprised. The premise is simple: Godzilla is a several-hundred foot tall Tyrannosaurus Rex that can shoot fire from its mouth. He comes out of the sea, attacks Tokyo, is repelled at first by an enormous, hastily erected electric fence, but he quickly recovers and demolishes the city. He is repelled at last through the use of a pseudo-scientific substance that strips an area of all of its oxygen thus removing the flesh of all creatures within the affected zone.



That does sound awfully silly at first blush. What redeems the film is its style. It is shot in a very effective moody style, almost film-noir. The characters are nicely developed, especially Hirata Akihiko, who plays the erratic, noble scientist who develops the anti-oxygen substance; the famous Shimura Takashi, playing the elder scientist, Dr. Yamane Kyouhei; and the lovely Kochi Momoko, who plays Dr. Yamane's daughter, Emiko. Takarada Akira, who plays the movie's protagonist, Hideto, is handsome enough, but he failed to impress as strongly.

What's particularly affecting, and this was highly controversial with the Japanese public, are the scenes of widespread destruction. Japan's war wounds, self-inflicted though they ultimately may have been, are but half healed. The burnt wastelands shown in the film can't help but evoke landscapes that were widespread a short decade ago. For many, it was gratuitous and exploitative. I'm sure many moviegoers walked out.

On the other hand, the movie scratches the same itch as knocking over sand castles. Let's face it--most people have an inner child that likes seeing things go boom, and Gojira/Godzilla does this very satisfyingly. Moreover, it manages to do so while maintaining high production values, good acting (at least in the original Japanese), and even some decent moralizing. If you get a chance to see the original film with subtitles, I recommend it. It is a more serious film, I think.

As for the sequels... well...

Stay tuned for the next article!

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