a.k.a. Chikyu Kogeki Meirei – Gojira Tai Gaigan / Godzilla on Monster Island / War of the Monsters
company: Toho Co. Ltd
director: Jun Fukuda
cast: Hiroshi Ishikawa, Yuriko Hishimi,
Minoru Takeshima, Tomoko Umeda
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The early half of the 1970’s was something of a magical time for Toho’s Godzilla series. Long since distanced from the post-war anxieties that provided the original’s germinal inspiration, the film cycle had evolved into a strange sort of abstract kiddy fair. Populated with the likes of tiara-toting toga-donning antagonists, smog-huffing space-beasts, and more groovy youth-oriented plot lines than ever before, Godzilla’s outings for these few brief but prolific years were a different beast all together than the more socially-conservative efforts that had come before.
The film in question today should be one of the more recognizable to those of you who grew up during the death of local UHF stations, which periodically ran it on double bills with other monster epics (I remember seeing it several times in conjunction with one of my other favorite guilty pleasures, GODZILLA VS MEGALON). Broadcast at less than peak hours to entertain whatever odd types were awake from 2 in the morning onwards, these sorts of films proved a magnet for me during my most formative years. In fact, it was a late-night double-bill with the aforementioned MEGALON – recorded on an ancient VCR by my ever-understanding and most accommodating mother – that first introduced me to the inimitable GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND.
Though more recently re-introduced to the states in its uncut International form under the title of GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, these pan-and-scanned and slightly edited broadcasts of the US theatrical version of it are how I most fondly remember seeing the film.
The story this go around centers around out-of-work comic book writer Gengo and his martial artist sidekick Tomoko. The critical world has been less than kind to Gengo’s creations – Shukra, the monster of homework, and Momagon, the monster of strict mothers. When the charitable organization behind the newly-constructed Children’s Land theme park [complete with a massive Godzilla Tower, around which much of the film’s action takes place] proves interested in his childish concepts, Gengo jumps at the chance. The company loves monsters, it seems, but their interest goes too far when head-man Kubota admits that the organization intends to destroy Monster Island.
It isn’t long before Gengo is caught up in a conspiracy involving a missing computer engineer, his sister, her corn-toting hippy friend, and “tapes of peace”. This all leads to one inevitable conclusion – giant super-intelligent cockroaches pretending to be dead people while donning orange leisure suits intend to conquer the earth for themselves! There’s an extremely brief montage intended to give the film a bit of thematic weight, showing the aliens’ home-world destroyed by nuclear weaponry, pollution, and stock footage, but it isn’t long before that message is completely overridden by Ultraman-esque monster antics.
No self-respecting alien race enters the Toho universe without at least a couple of monster tag-alongs, and the super-intelligent leisure-suit cockroach people from the Space Hunter Nebula M are no exception. Joining them on earth-conquest patrol are old standby Ghidrah [in his final Showa appearance] and the truly original Gigan. The two lay waste to Tokyo through a stock-footage attack only rivaled in fiscal restraint by the following year’s GODZILLA VS. MEGALON. Godzilla is never far off, however, and he promptly makes the oceanic trek from the imperiled Monster Island to Tokyo proper with his good friend Angilas in tow. What ensues is a four-way monster mash-up that should satisfy the monster-loving child in anyone.
Originally intended as a considerably more grandiose effort [check out this article at Toho Kingdom for the details of that failed project] GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND ended up being one of the most poverty-stricken of all Godzilla productions, and it shows. Stock footage accounts for a goodly amount of the various kaiju-centric segments, with hefty amounts of material taken from GHIDRAH: THE THREE HEADED MONSTER and the like. The soundtrack contains virtually no original compositions and is instead comprised almost entirely of cues from previous Akira Ifukube scores [BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, BIRTH OF JAPAN, and others].
It’s a testament to the creative team of director Jun Fukuda, writer Shinichi Sekizawa, and special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano, et al, that a film made up of roughly 90% new material remains as enjoyable as it does. The stylish and fast-paced direction of Fukuda as well as Sekizawa’s story of a comic book author helping to save the world from charitable alien cockroaches and their army of space monsters keeps the film interesting and Nakano’s explosive – if impoverished [the chief Godzilla suit used for the film is quite literally falling to bits by the end of this, its fourth outing] – effects work involves audiences in the action enough that they almost forget the stock soundtrack blaring in the background.
This one tends to find itself at the bottom of the heap, with the likes of ALL MONSTERS ATTACK and GODZILLA VS. MEGALON, when it comes time to discuss Godzilla favorites with fans. Admittedly, it’s not a terribly good film by any typical definition of the word and the proceedings are more or less substantively bankrupt, the days of Ishiro Honda’s arguments for pacifism and cooperation having disappeared with the 60’s. It also features more than a few unintentionally hysterical moments – hippy Shosaku munching on a remarkably phallic piece of corn, for instance. The lack of proper pacing to the tag-team monster action, judiciously peppered [or possibly drowned] with stock shots, certainly does the film no favors either.
All critical judgments aside, however, the film still retains an enormous amount of charm for me – I can still remember the hours of anxious waiting through a first grade school day the morning after the film had first recorded for me*. Not the best by any stretch of the imagination but still more amusing than most, GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND is a colorful and extremely entertaining entry in the bloated Godzilla oeuvre that rightfully receives the praises of this reviewer. Recommended.
* The night the tape was recorded for me I had a dream that I still remember today – it involved myself (donning the most stylish of adventurer gear) being trapped in a tall and rickety wooden tower as the intended sacrifice to an enormous green dragon beast that bore less resemblance to Godzilla than to the titular character from PETE’S DRAGON (1977). Amusingly enough, the dream came complete with a title card announcing it as GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND – even more amusing given that the tape, itself, had been started late and, thusly, was missing the title card.