Terror of Mechagodzilla

Origintal Title: Mekagojira no Gyakushu Alt.: The Terror of Godzilla
Year: 1975   Company: Toho Co. Ltd.   Runtime: 83′   Director: Ishiro Honda
Writer: Yukiko Takayama   Cinematography: Mototaka Tomioka   Music: Akira Ifukube
SPFX Director: Teruyoshi Nakano   Cast: Tomoko Ai, Katsuhiko Sasaki, Akihiko Hirata,
Katsumasa Uchida, Goro Mutsumi, Toru Ibuki, Kenji Sahara , Kotaro Tomita, Ikio Sawamura
Godzilla: Toru Kawai   Mechagodzilla: Kazunari Mori   Titanosaurus: Katsumi Nimiamoto
Order this film on DVD (Japanese and English versions) from Amazon.com

It’s 1974… Toho Co., LTD’s famed Godzilla series is dying a slow unnatural death. The 20th anniversary came and went and the celebratory film, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, was a bigger success than usual at the box office. But the audiences just weren’t flocking to the cinemas to watch monsters when they can watch them for free thanks to Tsuburaya’s seemingly endless lineup of superhero shows. Desperate for some new blood and ideas to infuse into the series, Toho held a contest to come up with the story of the next entry of the Godzilla series, already slated to be a follow-up to MECHAGODZILLA. This is what won:

It’s some time after the fierce, jazz-driven, spaghetti western and Sonny Chiba-inspired showdown between Godzilla and Mechagodzilla and Interpol has sent out an exploratory submarine to find the remains of Mechagodzilla off the Bonin Islands (you’re not supposed to remember that Godzilla destroyed Mechagodzilla on Okinawa. Shhh!). Their detectors can find nothing of the metal beast (but not for the obvious reason) and suddenly they are beset by an underwater cyclone. Attempting to surface, they are attacked by the sea dinosaur Titanosaurus (Nimiamoto) who promptly makes short work of the sub.

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Terror of Mechagodzilla Trailer Show

Thanks are due to Wtf-Film friend of and sometimes contributor Ted Johnson for providing coverage of this, the last of the Showa-era Godzilla series, especially since I don’t really care for the film myself.  Those pesky Black Hole Aliens are back, and this time they have a disgruntled Earth scientist and his pet dinosaur to help them!

In America the property was handled by Bob Conn Enterprises, who renamed it The Terror of Godzilla and trimmed it of several minutes of footage.  U.P.A. Productions of America would retain television rights and release a mostly complete version to television under the title Terror of Mechagodzilla, complete with a lengthy prologue that blandly detailed the history of Godzilla.

In Germany distributors seem, as ever, to have been confused as to how to advertise their new acquisition, and the two villainous monsters were referred to as Konga and King Kong in their advertising materials:

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

a.k.a. Gojira tai Mekagojira / Godzilla vs. The Cosmic Monster / Godzilla vs. The Bionic Monster
company: Toho Co. Ltd
year: 1974
runtime: 84′
director: Jun Fukuda
cast: Masaki Daimon, Kazuya Aoyama,
Goro Mutsumi, Shin Kishida,
Akihiko Hirata, Hiroshi Koizumi
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Today would have been the 86th birthday of director Jun Fukuda – a man who began his career as an assistant director at Toho Studios in 1949, where he would continue to work until 1977′s WAKUSAI DAISENSO [THE WAR IN SPACE]. Having proved his fantasy film muster with the excellent sci-fi / revenge shocker DENSO NINGEN, he would go on to direct all but two of the non-Honda directed entries in the original Godzilla series [all of which are favorites of this reviewer]. Fukuda died in early December of 2000, and while he produced films in any number of genres [from war to crime to to comedy] he is most fondly remembered for the numerous science fiction and fantasy efforts he helmed from 1966′s GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER onward.

It is in celebration of his life and career that I cover what is, inarguably*, the coolest entry in the entire Godzilla series. It’s been a personal favorite in the Wtf-Film household for years now, receiving airtime on an almost monthly basis on any of a number of formats.

“A monster will set fire to the city and trample on the people who try to run away!”

Few are around to take it seriously when a descendant of the ancient and royal Azumi family has a vision of monster-induced death, destruction, and mayhem – but construction chief Keisuke Shimizu [Daimon] and his brother Masahiko [Aoyama] are spooked. Adding to the mystery is a prophecy painted on the wall of a cave uncovered at Keisuke’s job site that foretells of ominous events leading to the rising of the monstrous protector of the Azumi’s, King Sesaa. Archaeologist Saeko [Tajima] and Keisuke’s uncle Professor Wagura [Koizumi] work to translate the prophecy, centering their research around a small statue of King Sesaa. Soon those ominous events appear to be happening, as a mountainous black cloud appears in the sky and earthquakes rattle the Japanese countryside. To make matters worse, thugs begin attacking Professor Wagura and company, attempting to steal the statue of King Sesaa for motivations that are unclear, while a mysterious cigarette smoking man [Shin Kishida] tails them for equally mysterious reasons.

“Space titanium? You mean it comes from outer space?”

Investigating his own pet mystery is Masahiko, who discovers an odd piece of metal while hunting around Okinawa’s Gyokusen cave. He takes his find to Professor Miyajima [Hirata], who identifies the strange find as nothing less than Space Titanium [after shooting lasers at it and other science stuff]. The mysteries of both Professor Wagura and Professor Miyajima are temporarily forgotten when Godzilla erupts from the side of a volcano and goes on a rampage through the countryside.

But something just doesn’t feel right about this Godzilla – aside from having a funky roar and discolored radioactive fire breath, he viciously attacks Angilas [a monster he allied with in 1968's DESTROY ALL MONSTERS and 1971's GODZILLA VS. GIGAN]. The confusion grows even deeper when, as the strange Godzilla attacks an oil refiner, a second Godzilla appears! As the two do battle, chunks of skin begin flying off of the first Godzilla, revealing glittering Space Titanium beneath – it turns out that the rampaging monster isn’t Godzilla at all, but an alien war machine called Mechagodzilla. The machine proves as formidable a foe to the real Godzilla as he does to Mechagodzilla, and the duo’s battle ends with both being effectively K.O.’d.

“I’m sure that Mechagodzilla is being remotely controlled by space men – the space metal is the evidence.”

The evil space people in control of Mechagodzilla waste no time in revealing themselves when Professor Miyajima and company begin poking their noses around their Gyokusen cave hideout – in fact, their cigar-smoking and martini-drinking leader Kuronuma [Mutsumi] wishes to hire Miyajima to fix Mechagodzilla. The offer turns out to be too good to be true – if he assists the aliens from the third planet of the black hole [how specifically ambiguous!] then they won’t murder his family and friends – and Miyajima accepts. With Mechagodzilla nearing combat readiness and Godzilla down for the count, Professor Wagura and his crew race against time to unlock the secret to awakening King Sesaa and save the world from being conquered by fantastically hip aliens!

GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA quite simply rocks – there are no two ways about it. Fukuda manages to transpose the unbridled fun and camp sensibilities of his previous two 1970′s Godzilla entries [GIGAN and MEGALON] to a higher tier production, resulting in a film with all the positive qualities of the previous two and none of the disappointing aspects of either. From the all-star cast [featuring regular Akihiko Hirata as well as Hiroshi Koizumi, returning to the series after a decade-long absence] to the pounding score by the exceptional Masaru Sato [a favorite of directors Akira Kurosawa and Kihachi Okamoto] and the explosive effects direction of Teruyoshi ‘I burned down a sound stage while making PROPHECIES OF NOSTRADAMUS’ Nakano, this is a fantastically fun film.

Following in the lengthy tradition of Toho Studios’ alien invaders and besting nearly all of their predecessors are those from the third planet of the black hole – a race of leisurely green ape-men disguised as human beings and dressed in shiny silver suits. Their totally-hip leader Kuronuma is easily the most relaxed alien invader in the history of cinema – contentedly smoking a cigar and taking sips from his favorite unearthly cocktail while going about the business of conquering a planet. Finding the idea of a standard invasion not nearly convoluted enough for their tastes, the black hole aliens decide to put all of their eggs in one basket with a high risk, high gain go-for-broke plan to destroy civilization with a hugely complex mechanized version of Godzilla, whom they promptly disguise as the real Godzilla in order to keep their destructive plans a secret. Though they may not compare entirely favorably with past invaders in terms of intellectual fortitude, these guys definitely get points for style.

And Mechagodzilla, himself, is certainly the most bad-ass opponent Godzilla [or any movie monster, for that matter] has ever come up against. Future iterations of the beast all pale in comparison to the original – a fearsome-looking metallic titan armed quite literally from his head to his feet. The black hole aliens obviously spared no expense in the construction of their ultimate fighting machine, giving it lasers that fire from both its eyes and stomach, rocket-launching fingers, toes, knee-caps, and mouth, a force field, and the ability to fly – they even emboss each of its arms with the letters ‘MG’, lest anyone forget who he is!

But the good guys aren’t taking the fight for bad-assness lying down – leading the charge is INTERPOL agent Nanbara [the awesome Shin Kishida]. One could not be faulted for thinking that the man had been born with a pair of cool spy sunglasses and a cigarette between his fingers – a throwback to 60′s Euro-spydom, Nanbara carries with him a gun, a spool of string for detonating car bombs from afar, and a ring that doubles as a skeleton key and seems invariably prepared for every ludicrous situation that comes his way. Other human good-guys really can’t compare, though Professor Miyajima [Hirata] tries – not only is he intelligent enough to reconstruct Mechagodzilla’s brain after it gets fried in a fight, he’s also constructed a two-part tobacco pipe capable of disrupting electromagnetic waves and making things explode [which, expectedly, figures prominently in the conclusion of the film].

King Sesaa is another in the pantheon of Toho universe monster-gods and, like Mothra, requires the performance of a lengthy pop musical number before he’s of any use to anyone. His design is based closely on the lion-dog statues found in Okinawa [commonly known as 'shisa', with 'sesaa' being the Okinawan pronunciation]. Though he looks a bit mangy at times, he more than makes up for whatever he lacks in aesthetic prowess through brute strength and determination – not to mention the neat trick of sucking enemy lasers into his eyes and firing them back again. Godzilla is relatively uninteresting by comparison, though he does acquire another in a short list of odd-ball talents [ranking up there with his flying in GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER and the running-tail-slide from GODZILLA VS. MEGALON] here, finding himself capable of turning into an electro-magnet after being subjected to a lightning storm. His entrance is hysterically bizarre – he simply pops up from inside a warehouse when the story demands it.

GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA was produced in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the King of the Monsters and had a higher budget and lengthier production schedule than the films that had immediately preceded it. As such, the effects work on display here is of a higher caliber than that found in MEGALON or GIGAN and is, thankfully, not marred by the constant insertion of stock footage. Effects director Nakano manages some impressive sequences, including the oil refinery battle and the full-on assault of Mechagodzilla against Godzilla and King Sesaa. Fukuda’s direction is fine, if not phenomenal – one can see the influence of the work of Kinji Fukasaku on his style in the many hand-held shots as well as the fountains of blood that spew forth when aliens are shot or Godzilla is wounded. Editing is improved over that of the overly-long GODZILLA VS. GIGAN and is handled by Michiko Ikeda, who had previously worked on GODZILLA VS. MEGALON and the under-seen Toho disaster epic SUBMERSION OF JAPAN.

I first saw this under the US theatrical release title of GODZILLA VS. THE COSMIC MONSTER by virtue of a horrible VHS release from Goodtimes Home Video [Fukuda's frequent hand-held photography doesn't lend itself well to a pan-and-scanned frame] and caught it later through New World Video’s uncut VHS and airings of a widescreen print on the Sci-Fi Channel. Sony has since released a reasonable bare-bones DVD of a new international print from Toho – though several night-time scenes don’t appear to have been timed correctly and the subtitles are occasionally erroneous, this disc is the best way to legitimately see the film in America for the moment and, given the extreme discounts at which it is currently being sold, is recommended. The film itself is and always will be a much beloved personal favorite – highly recommended.

* It’s not necessarily that an argument against the coolness of this film can’t be made – it’s just that I would whole heartedly refuse to acknowledge it should such an argument ever be mounted. Wtf-Film is fully aware that whether or not something is cool is entirely subjective, but contends that any opinions to the contrary with regard to GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA are simply wrong.

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