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Godzilla Raids Again (1959) | DVD Review

With it’s scratchy, cheap stock footage, bad dubbing, and ridiculously simple-brained narration, the U.S. version has more of an exploitation film feel to it, which makes if fun in a different way that the Japanese version

Just when you thought your DVD player was safe from giant atomic-charged monsters, Godzilla Raids Again! Initially released stateside as Gigantis the Fire Monster, GRA was the first of many Godzilla sequels to be produced over the past five decades by Japan’s legendary TOHO studio, the company that set the standard for giant monster vs. monster science fiction. Now this black and white moving magna makes its small screen debut, available for the first time on DVD.

The action starts off when Kobayashi, a pilot and scout for a major Japanese fishing company, experiences engine trouble and must make an emergency landing on a small Japanese island. Kobayashi’s buddy and fellow pilot/scout Tsukioka comes to his rescue, but luck soon runs out when the two men witness a battle between two leviathan monsters – Godzilla and Anguirus. Though Tsukioka and Kobayashi escape the island with their lives, the monsters soon take the battle from the island to the city of Osaka, leaving a wake of death and destruction in their path.

There are two versions of the film on the disc – the original Japanese version of the film, released in 1955, and the version that was released in the U.S. (under the title Gigantis the Fire Monster) in 1959. Though essentially a quickly produced follow up made to cash in on the blockbuster success of the original Godzilla — which sold 9 million tickets in Japan’s box office upon it’s initial release — (and really when you think about it, no different than what has happened with the present day Saw franchise), the Japanese version of Godzilla Raids Again is still a well above-average sci-fi film, meaning it has first class action and special effects work (for 1955), and a decent script that attempts to be more than a connect-the-dots between action sequences.

Both a monster movie and a disaster film, Godzilla Raids Again does what effective science fiction does, and roots itself in reality. The original Godzilla was an allegory for the atom bomb being dropped on Japan at the end of World War II, and Godzilla Raids Again continues this tradition. There are the obvious examples, such as a scientist theorizing hydrogen bomb testing awoke the leviathans. And then there are more subtle illustrations – the image of a distant city in flames bears a chilling resemblance to a mushroom cloud. This kind of image-associating is still a potent technique with filmmakers today: Spielberg did it by drawing a correlation between 9/11 and the alien invasion in War of the Worlds; U.S. military action against a giant mutant tadpole in Bong Joon-ho’s The Host echoes the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

And let’s not forget that GRA contains Godzilla’s first onscreen battle against another giant monster, and for that reason it is in some ways more influential that the original film, since every sequel that followed was built around the premise of Godzilla vs. (insert giant monster).

The U.S. distributors did a marvelous job butchering the film for its stateside theatrical run. Dubbing (including the insertion of some 1950s American slang), and the addition of a relentless voiceover filled with needless exposition, rub out much of the character shading and knock the script’s IQ down a few evolutions, as does the insertion of cheap, cheesy stock footage, most notably in a scene where a group of scientists, government officials, and military leaders (the usual disaster film line-up) are gathered to discuss the Godzilla/Gigantis predicament. A film reel is shown. In the U.S. version, the reel looks like a third grader’s video project on Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, followed by footage of Godzilla destroying Tokyo (taken from the original film), and supported by more needless voiceover. In the Japanese version, the film goes straight to the footage from the original Godzilla, and has no voiceover or music, only the sound of the film projector, which makes for a much more effective scene. This is only one of many examples of needless tampering by U.S. distributors that are on display in the film.

Aside from the two versions of the film, the disc also contains an audio commentary track with Steve Ryfle, author of Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of Godzilla. Basically a talking Godzilla encyclopedia, Ryfle puts the U.S. version of the film under the microscope, pointing out the diversions from the Japanese version of the film (including the misspelled names of the Japanese cast and crew in the opening credits), examining the film from a historical context, and giving the back story on how Godzilla Raids Again became Gigantis the Fire Monster. But the highlight of the special features is a 13 minute documentary titled “The Art of Suit Acting,” written and narrated by Ed Godziszewski, editor of Japanese Giants magazine. Though compiled out of nothing more than voiceover narration and still photos, this is one of the best featurettes I’ve seen on any DVD, full of fun behind the scenes facts, like, for example, the original Godzilla suit weighed 200 lbs., or the rivalry between suit actors Haruo Nakajima and Yasuhisa Tsutsumi, or the athleticism and skills required to perform the role (the better suit actors were adept martial artists).

The Japanese version is a far better piece of filmmaking than the hacked up U.S. version, but has flaws of its own. Certain scenes, particularly the scenes of humor, stick out like sore thumbs. And though it is a character driven story, the characters are, at times, pretty thin. Still, the film’s score, by Japanese master composer Masaru Sato, is phenomenal, and the monster action is pure eye-candy for fans of old-school effects work.

With it’s scratchy, cheap stock footage, bad dubbing, and ridiculously simple-brained narration, the U.S. version has more of an exploitation film feel to it, which makes if fun in a different way that the Japanese version. There is bad-bad and good-bad, and this definitely has more of the good-bad. And there is fun to be had by simply comparing the two versions of the film. This DVD is a gem for fans of monsters, film history, science fiction, B-movies, and modern anime.

Movie rating – 3.5

Disc Rating – 4

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