Godzilla Raids Again... Free At Last!

Having gone to the new Pirates flick twice in four days over Memorial Day weekend (and this is not intended as any sort of criticism of the film itself), I came to a realization. Jen's passion for pirate flicks (which existed far before the Depp trilogy) is all-encompassing, and rather than skip what seems to be a rote attempt at seafaring action, she will watch it like the swashbuckling-mad buccaneer zombie that she is. It's Automatic Watching instead of Writing. Despite a couple days at work where her equally Disney-faithful co-workers complained about what was wrong with the new Pirates, she maintained a passion to see it again on Monday, and the night after Friday's inaugural viewing, she was sitting on our couch, rocking her feet against the coffee table, bouncing up and down to the music playing only in her head, and anything I said was drowned out by the movie's sword-clanging finale that she maintained was still crashing behind her eyes.

One could think, "Your girl is crazy!", and sure, we all are to a certain degree. The girl is pirate-mad. I like pirate flicks, too (I am huge Flynn fan and The Crimson Pirate with Burt Lancaster is one of my personal favorites from childhood), but I don't have this reflexive mode where I immediately have to click on or go to every film featuring a scraggly sea-robber in a dirty bandanna. When I first knew her, and for several years after, I actually felt Jen acted this way about mysteries (if it's Marple or Poirot, we apparently have to watch it) or BBC comedies, but there are limits even to these. I would offer that her pirate love has a limit; she often says that it is the romantic, fictionalized pirate that she adores, and not the real-life criminal type that exists to a certain degree even today. But since these are rarely featured in films or televised fiction, I will grant her the rights to this genre addiction, if only to proffer up mine in comparison.

There are those who would believe, and would use this site for proof, that horror and science fiction would be my equal to Jen's pirate fixation. This is wrong, for both horror and science fiction (like my assumption of Jen's view of the mystery genre) cast far too wide a net to be realistic as points of absolute fixation. There is much in both genres that I have no interest in seeing, even if, by the curse of my own movie rules, I will see any movie once. However, it is in sub-genres where we find my own personal downfall. It is in a strange mix of both horror and science fiction (and some would say "comedy", as well, though this is usually unintentional), and it is the Giant Monster Movie. Not just daikaiju eiga flicks (Japanese giant monster movies), but even Them! or The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (I should say, "Especially, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms"). It is no surprise that all of this stems from my extant Kong love, and also, due to my ancient history with that giant ape, movie dinosaurs of all sizes have been sucked into the mix. If you want to see a guy, in a roughly comparable scenario to Jen's need to attend every Disney Pirate release instantly, that has no defense against the eventual Jurassic Park 4, then look my way.

Lately, a lot of kaiju flicks have been showing up at my doorstep, and I am sure Jen believes I am tossing my money away like so many used tissues after a Jenna Haze marathon. I might be, but I cannot help it. Classic Media, over the course of the last six months, has been releasing a series of rather comprehensive DVDs featuring several Shōwa era Godzilla films to which they have obtained the rights. Sadly, the entire run of Godzilla films won't be released in Classic Media's format and casing (the rights for the remaining films are too far flung to other uncaring companies to allow this to happen), but I will take what I can. The initial release, Gojira, popped up last year; two more were made available by the end of the year (though not on Amazon, in an odd situation, until months later), and two more are on the horizon next week. (There will also be a couple other daikaiju eiga DVDs released later on, including the original Rodan and the awesomely weird War of the Gargantuas). The films are released under the banner "The Toho Collection", and this doubles the shame that the entire series can't be put together for this package. Purist fanboys complained about some artifacting and the other usual stuff that the homeward bound have time to complain about, but what I loved about the first disc was the fact I could finally see the Japanese version of a film that I already loved in its bastardized American form. It was a profound revelation, and I doubt I will ever watch the American version again. Godzilla had finally come home to me, and when it did, it was in his truest form.

Another disc; another Godzilla; another slapped-together American release that I grew up watching, never knowing what I was missing. Godzilla Raids Again, the second DVD from the Classic Media collection, followed the original film by a year or two in Japan, but by several years in the States. Through some very odd reasoning, the U.S. producers felt it important to disguise the identity of their giant creature, and the film was released as Gigantis the Fire Monster, confusing millions of youngsters for years in the process. They also cut out about half of the Japanese version, and poured rather haphazardly on its remains what seems to be several reels of random stock footage and bad animation (in the film shown to the scientists). The film made little sense to me as a youth, but then, monster movies, especially giant monster movies, aren't generally known for their depth of plot or characterizations. It's usually all about the monster action, whether stomping a city, devouring fishermen, or battling a similarly large monster. Who cares what the human are up to, unless they are a hot Japanese chick, or if the humans are being squashed or eaten? This film features Godz -- er -- Gigantis battling an ankylosaur-like creature called Anguirus. (Unfortunately, Anguirus is a quadraped, and this requires the stuntman in the suit to muck about in a rather silly fashion, displaying the limits of a biped masquerading as a quad.)

I will not go into the differences between the two versions of the film -- that is what watching the superb DVD is for -- but I will remark that, although once again the Japanese version definitely trumps the American one, in this case, as it is with many sequels, we are struck with the Law of Diminished Returns. Godzilla Raids Again is only half as good as its remarkable predecessor, but it is still fun nonetheless, and the fact we are discussing pure fun implies that it is without the emotional and political impact of the first film. If this seems like faint praise, it is -- Gojira is a film to be discussed; Godzilla Raids Again is merely there to be enjoyed as a simple monster movie, which in fact, is the way of most daikaiju eiga, even the ones that attempt to be something more, from this point on.

And yet, I had the urge to see it over again, and also, to own a personal copy. So much of my video collection has consisted of cheapjack video knockoffs, such as the Goodtimes VHS I owned of this movie (and, even then, only of the American version), that it made the DVD purchase a literal no-brainer. To be able to see such a film in its uncut form and in its language of origin, and without all of that b.s. that short-minded Hollywood producers brought to its U.S. release, is probably the purest pleasure one can derive from such a venture. I look forward to the future run of Classic Media Godzillas for exactly the same thrill -- seeing old favorites with new eyes, even if those eyes are seeing something it should have been given a chance to see properly in the first place.

Gojira no gyakushû [Godzilla Raids Again]
Dir.: Motoyoshi Oda // Toho, Japanese, 1955 [DVD]
Cinema 4 Rating: 5

Gigantis, the Fire Monster (American version of Gojira no gyakushû)
Cinema 4 Rating: 3

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