Sum Up | Godzilla, Part One: Showa

Since 1954, Japan’s Toho Company Limited has made over thirty Godzilla films. There are three distinct eras of Toho Godzilla movies–the Showa, the Hensei, and the Millennium. Most of the films, at least during Showa era, got dubbed theatrical releases in the United States. If they didn’t get theatrical releases, they aired on television. What started as an intense, metaphorical rumination on the atom bomb–a giant radioactive lizard monster attacks Japan, brought to life by American nuclear testing–would become rubber monsters wrestling on sets of miniaturized Japanese countrysides. The fifteen Showa Godzilla films frequently had the same directors, screenwriters, technical crew, and cast members (always as different characters, with one exception). They had a single producer–Tanaka Tomoyuki–who came up with the idea for Godzilla while on a plane ride over the Bikini Atoll, where the Americans had recently tested A-bombs (and irradiated nearby Japanese fishers), imagining what could be lurking beneath the ocean’s surface.

Fear in the face of the unknown: Kōchi and Takarada in GODZILLA.

The result was Godzilla, released in November 1954. Directed by Honda Ishirō, the film recounts the discovery of a giant monster and its eventual attack on Tokyo, causing mass destruction and civilian casualties. Takarada Akira plays the lead, a salvage captain who just happens to know government scientist Shimura Takashi (through his romance with Shimura’s daughter, Kōchi Momoko). Hirata Akihiko is the young scientist who holds the secret to destroying the monster and saving Japan, but he’s also jealous of Takarada’s romance with lifelong crush Kōchi.

Akihiko Hirata, Momoko Kōchi, and Akira Takarada star in GODZILLA (Gojira), directed by Ishirô Honda for Toho Company Ltd.
Godzilla (1954). ★★★. 2014 review

Honda is able to increase the scale for the giant monster sequences while never losing track of the characters’ emotional realities. Kōchi and Takarada ground Godzilla, which is important given Hirata’s a little too histrionic as the third leg of their love triangle. Honda and the crew keep a deliberate narrative distance as the film recounts terror and tragedy. Outstanding production values–especially Tamai Masao’s photography and Ifukube Akira’s score.

GODZILLA: destroying a passenger train.

The film was a massive hit with audiences but not so much with critics, who found its imagery and content exploitative. It’d take thirty years or so, but eventually Japanese film critics did positively reevaluate Godzilla.

Godzilla, King of Monsters! (1956). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2013 review
About a year and a half months after the film’s Japanese release, Jewell Enterprises adapted it for American audiences, with dubbed dialogue and new footage featuring Raymond Burr as the lead, an American reporter. That version, Godzilla, King of Monsters!, released in April 1956, helped establish the Godzilla franchise worldwide. A subtitled version of the Japanese original would be shown on the American film festival circuit in the early eighties, but with no home video release. For fifty years, Godzilla, King of Monsters! was the only version of the film readily available to English-speaking audiences.

Koizumi and Chiaki are not intrepid explorers of the unknown in GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN.

In May 1955, just five and a half months after Godzilla’s late fall 1954 release, Toho unleashed Godzilla Raids Again. The original film wasn’t made with a sequel in mind, but the film’s popularity rushed one into production. In the cast, only Shimura Takashi returns, playing the same character (the only time a character would repeat between films). This time his scientist has less to explain–the new creature is just another Godzilla animal. And this Godzilla brings along an adversary–Anguirus. Koizumi Hiroshi and Chiaki Minoru play the fish-sighting pilots who happen across the giant monsters and get involved in some of the government’s response. Oda Motoyoshi directs.

A scene from GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, directed by Oda Motoyoshi for Toho Company Ltd.
Godzilla Raids Again (1955). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2016 review

Despite an eager lead performance from Koizumi and a strong introduction to the “new” Godzilla and Anguirus, Raids Again is a constant disappointment. The rest of the cast is middling at best, with Oda having little interest in directing the actors (or much else). The script is utterly lacking, the editing falls apart, as does the cinematography.

At least the special effects are solid.

GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN: The first kaiju rumble, Anguirus vs. Godzilla.

The film was nearly as popular as the original Godzilla; it was Japan’s tenth highest grossing film of 1955. Initially, the American producers who bought the film rights had hoped to just reuse the monster footage while shooting a new, English language film around it. It was going to be called The Volcano Monsters; they were even going to shoot new giant monster footage with the original kaiju suits. That plan didn’t work out.

A scene from GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER, directed by Oda Motoyoshi and Hugo Grimaldi for Warner Bros.
Gigantis, The Fire Monster (1959). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2014 review

Instead, the eventual dubbed version, Gigantis the Fire Monster (Godzilla’s new name so as not to confuse American viewers who thought the monster died) came out in 1959–distributed by Warner Bros.–and then disappeared for almost thirty years. The American version’s producers weren’t interested in selling TV rights. Gigantis didn’t get any home video release until eighties, when the rights reverted to Toho.

Following Godzilla Raids Again’s 1955 release, Toho took a break from Godzilla films. At least in original films (Raids Again had completed its Japanese theatrical release before the American Godzilla even came out). During that time, Toho made other kaiju movies like Rodan, Varan, and Mothra. The studio also produced a number of sci-fi films with giant monsters (or giant robots) playing a part. It wasn’t until after Godzilla returned, Toho began working to unify many of their monsters into a “kaiju universe.”

KING KONG VS. GODZILLA: Mad men monster hunters Fujiki, Arishima, Takashima.

The third Godzilla movie, 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, arrived seven years after Godzilla’s last appearance. It is the first in the series to be in color (it’s also Kong’s first color appearance) and widescreen Tohoscope. Honda Ishirō is back directing, with Sekizawa Shin’ichi scripting. The plot involves opportunistic TV producers, Takashima Tadao and Fujiki Yū, who want to exploit the monsters for advertising potential. In addition to Godzilla and Kong’s clashes, there’s also a giant octopus Kong has to fight. Hama Mie is the eventual female object of Kong’s (brief) attention. Back from the first Godzilla is Hirata Akihiko, again playing a scientist (this time one without much plot consequence).

A scene from KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, directed by Honda Ishirô for Toho Company Ltd.
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2007 review

King Kong vs. Godzilla declaws its monsters. There’s destruction but no casualties. Sekizawa’s script tries for humor–giving Hirata some good moments, but director Honda misses all the comedy beats. He also can’t compose for the wide Tohoscope aspect ratio, (presumably unintentionally) framing his shots for the eventual pan-and-scan version. The acting’s very uneven; while Takashima’s not good in the lead, Sahara Kenji’s solid as Hama’s boyfriend. And Arishima Ichirō, doing a Groucho Marx impression as Takashima’s boss, is all right.

Overall, King Kong vs. Godzilla is a giant-sized disappointment.

KONG KONG VS. GODZILLA.

Contemporary Japanese moviegoers, however, embraced King Kong vs. Godzilla; the film was the biggest hit of 1962 and remained one of the ten most attended films in Japanese film history until 2008. It’s still in the top fifteen. The American version of the film–released in April 1963 by Universal Pictures–added dubbing, of course, but also stock footage from another Toho film, library music from a variety of sources, and altogether new footage; it’s a very different picture.

Kong vs. Godzilla’s outstanding success convinced Toho to turn Godzilla into a franchise. After a couple failed starts–including a Kong sequel and one where Godzilla would fight a giant Frankenstein monster–the studio settled on Mothra vs. Godzilla. Mothra–a giant moth charged with protecting a Japanese island populated with doll-sized natives–was one of the kaiju Toho created during Godzilla’s post-Raids Again hibernation. Mothra has the distinction of being one of the few kaiju with a definite gender; she was a she. Godzilla, for instance, had none. Anyway. Her solo movie had a 1961 release in Japan (and a 1962 one in the United States).

MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA: Koizumi, Hoshi, and Takarada.

Mothra vs. Godzilla came out in April 1964, almost two years after Kong. Director Honda and screenwriter Sekizawa return from Kong vs. Godzilla (they had also done Mothra). Mothra vs. Godzilla is a sequel to both films. A giant Mothra egg washes up on shore; Takarada Akira (the lead from the first Godzilla) and Hoshi Yuriko play reporters covering the story. Then it turns out Godzilla has also been washed ashore, which inevitably leads to a kaiju battle. Sahara Kenji’s back from Kong as the human villain and Koizumi Hiroshi (from Raids Again) is Takarada’s scientist sidekick.

A scene from MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (Mosura tai Gojira), directed by Honda Ishirô for Toho Company Ltd.
Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). ★. 2015 review

Mothra vs. Godzilla has some good special effects, some fine narrative twists, and a great final battle. Unfortunately, Takarada and Hoshi have zero chemistry. Sahara and his fellow villain, Fujiki Yû (also back from Kong), do bring some energy, however. Once again, one of the big problems is Honda; he relies on bad composite shots when trying to give Godzilla scale. He also doesn’t do anything to help his cast’s performances. It’s too bad; the movie always seems like it’s just about to get better.

Lizard meets moth: MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA.

Mothra vs. Godzilla was just under half the hit King Kong vs. Godzilla had been, but still very successful for Toho (who successfully rushed a sequel into production for a December release that same year). American International Pictures distributed the American version–entitled Godzilla vs. The Thing–which featured new footage the studio shot for the international market. It also utilized the Toho produced English dub, which the studio had started doing with King Kong vs. Godzilla (although that dubbing wasn’t used).

One last scientist: Shimura in GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER.

The December 1964 Godzilla movie–the only calendar year with two releases in the entire franchise–is Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, released in December. Honda and Sekizawa are back from Mothra to direct and write, respectively; some of that film’s principal cast returns as well. Hoshi Yuriko is again the female lead, Koizumi Hiroshi is again a scientist. The lead is Natsuki Yōsuke, a cop assigned to protect princess Wakabayashi Akiko. In his final Godzilla, Shimura Takashi returns as a scientist–not the one he played in Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again, however. Hirata Akihiko shows up again too.

Ghidorah, the Three-headed Monster is about a monster from outer space arriving to destroy Earth; Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan (returning from a 1956 solo outing) team up to save the day.

A scene from GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER, directed by Honda Ishirô for Toho Company Ltd.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2008 review

Ghidorah has similar problems to Mothra. Natsuki is a weak lead, but it’s not like he gets any help from Honda, who’s not good at the action scenes or the interior scenes or directing his cast. Hoshi’s good but underutilized. The best ideas in Sekizawa’s script–like Wakabayashi as doomsayer–don’t get developed. Almost half the movie is dedicated to the giant monsters wrestling each other, which doesn’t end up solving any of the narrative’s problems. Still, it’d probably have worked out better with more monster time.

Kaiju rumble: GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER vs. Rodan and Godzilla.

Ghidorah was a hit, but six months after Mothra only seventy-five percent of that movie’s audience showed up for the sequel. The film had nine minutes lopped off for its dubbed, American release, which came out in the States almost a year later, courtesy Continental Distributing.

To the stars! Takarada and Adams in INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER.

Almost a exactly a year later–one day short–Toho released 1965’s Invasion of Astro-Monster. It was a co-production with American producer Henry G. Saperstein, who wanted more aliens and an American actor for his investment, so Nick Adams has one of the lead roles. Otherwise, Astro-Monster brought back the standard sixties Godzilla creative team of director Honda and writer Sekizawa. Takarada Akira is again the hero, with Mizuno Kumi the villainous female lead. The film is set in the future, with Takarada and Adams astronauts exploring a newly discovered planet. Its inhabitants say they need Godzilla and Rodan to protect them from Ghidorah… but then it turns out the aliens aren’t friendly and have designs on Earth.

A scene from INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER, directed by Honda Ishirô for Toho Company Ltd.
Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2011 review

Despite good direction from Honda, who does well with the space stuff, the script’s a stinker. Plus the acting’s wanting. Takarada and Adams are both bad, Tsuchiya Yoshio’s awful as the villain. The monsters aren’t in it enough. Once again they don’t even show up until halfway through; this time Godzilla, pretty much completely transitioned into being a heroic monster at this point in the series, does a little boxing and some dancing. Sadly neither can save the film.

ASTRO-MONSTER: Rodan, Godzilla, and Ghidorah in an otherworldly kaiju battle.

Astro-Monster was popular with Japanese audiences (though not as popular as the previous entry). Co-producer Saperstein had his own English dub done, eschewing the Toho-produced one. While the Godzilla franchise had been trendy enough in the U.S. for Ghidorah to get a big American marketing campaign, it took Saperstein four years (his version, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero was completed in 1966) to find a distributor–Maron Films finally released it theatrically in 1970.

Takarada and his charges listen to Mizuno in EBIRAH.

For the next Godzilla, Toho would change up the creative formula a little, bringing in Fukuda Jun to direct December 1966’s Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. Sekizawa Shin’ichi writes, with lead Takarada Akira back again. This time he’s a bank robber stowing away with some teenagers who stumble upon a terrorist organization (one of the leaders played by Hirata Akihiko no less) who’ve enslaved the people of Mothra’s home island… and then moved them to a different island. Also on the island is Godzilla. In the sea around the island is another monster–the titular Ebirah. Mizuno Kumi is also returns, making Ebirah the only Godzilla movie with consecutive male and female lead actors.

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2015 review

In terms of direction, Fukuda doesn’t bring much new to the giant monsters. Bad monster suits and cramped landscape sets don’t help. But Fukuda doesn’t do too bad with the James Bond-esque half of the film, with Takarada and his teen compatriots taking on Hirata’s flying terrorist squadron. It’d also help if the acting were better; Takarada (in his last Godzilla movie for twenty-six years) and Hirata both disappoint. The script’s also weak. Some great editing and music though.

EBIRAH: Godzilla’s in the mood for lobster.

Ebirah lost almost twenty percent of the previous film’s theatrical attendees; still a hit but it’d be the last Godzilla film before the series sunk to a lower attendance plateau. Continental Distributing bought the American distribution rights and released it straight to television in 1968 under the title, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster. They used the Toho created English dub.

Kubo discusses the SON OF GODZILLA with the scientists, including Takashima and Hirata.

Fukuda returned to direct the next Godzilla, December 1967’s Son of Godzilla, with screenwriter Sekizawa also back (and getting his first ever co-writer–Shiba Kazue). Kubo Akira plays the lead, a reporter who ends up a cook for a group of scientists studying the weather on “Monster Island” (where Godzilla and the other monsters live). Lots of familiar Godzilla faces for the scientists–including series mainstay Hirata Akihiko, Tsuchiya Yoshio (Astro-Monster’s villain), Takashima Tadao (King Kong vs. Godzilla’s lead), and perennial supporting player Sahara Kenji. Beverly Maeda plays the female lead, an island native who goes from saving Kubo at every turn to being second-fiddle.

The film introduces some new kaiju, the adorable Minilla (the Son of Godzilla) and the giant insects who terrorize him when big daddy (or mommy) Godzilla isn’t around.

A scene from SON OF GODZILLA (Kaijū-tō no Kessen Gojira no Musuko), directed by Fukuda Jun for Toho Company Ltd.
Son of Godzilla (1967). ★. 2015 review

Despite Fukuda’s directorial ineptness and a herky-jerky pace, Son of Godzilla is something of a success. Kubo’s a good lead, even though Maeda should’ve had that role in the narrative. Maeda’s more appealing than good. The monster stuff is a success–Godzilla and son prove constantly endearing and the giant mantises and spider are great villains. Plus an enthusiastic, wild score from Satô Masaru. Fukuda doesn’t (always) mess up the good stuff–he does mean well–and the end is downright fantastic.

Papa (Mama?) Godzilla defends SON from danger.

Contemporary Japanese moviegoer attendance had another sharp drop on Son of Godzilla. Toho had hoped to appeal to couples–girls would like the baby Godzilla, wouldn’t they–but if the film did get some date night viewings, they weren’t enough to curb declining interest. Continental Distributing again released the English dubbed version straight to TV, airing first in 1969 (with a couple minutes cut).

Kobayashi and Kubo must DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.

Toho had noticed the decreasing theatrical attendance and planned the next Godzilla to be the last. While most of the sixties films had two or three monsters alongside Godzilla, the next film, August 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, would have ten monsters in addition to Godzilla. Destroy brought back all the recent monsters–Minilla, King Ghidorah, Mothra, Rodan–as well Anguirus (after thirteen years away) and some kaiju from not-Godzilla-related Toho productions. To direct the intended finale, Toho brought in Honda Ishirō.

Destroy All Monsters is set thirty years in the future, when all the monsters have been successfully rounded up and confined to the single, “Monster Island.” Unfortunately, a race of female aliens show up and mind control all the monsters, loosing them on the capital cities of Earth. The humans–led by spaceship commander Kubo Akira (back from Son of Godzilla)–have to contend with the rampaging monsters on Earth and the aliens’ base on the Moon.

A scene from DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, directed by Honda Ishirô for Toho Company Ltd.
Destroy All Monsters (1968). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2011 review

The film proves a somewhat inglorious return to the series for Honda. He has some good filmmaking moments, but never any good content. The monsters play far less a part than Kubo and his crew trying to stop alien queen Ai Kyoko. The acting’s fine (not female lead Kobayashi Yukiko, but everyone else). And the Ifukube Akira music is great. Pluses aside, Destroy All Monsters is a tedious ninety minutes.

DESTROY ALL MONSTER: Not even forty percent of all the monsters.

Despite all the monsters and a bigger budget, Destroy All Monsters attracted less than one percent more moviegoers than the previous year’s Son of Godzilla. The American version of the film did not utilize the Toho-produced international dub; American International Pictures, who released Destroy All Monsters in the United States in 1969, contracted Titan Productions for an English dub.

Yazaki and pal Minilla observe ALL MONSTERS ATTACK.

The less than one percent boost was enough to convince Toho to keep Godzilla going, albeit with some adjustment. For 1969’s Godzilla entry, Toho targeted their dedicated juvenile audience with All Monsters Attack. Most of the monster action in All Monsters Attack is stock footage from other Godzilla movies. The film is about bullied latchkey kid Yazaki Tomonori overcoming hardships thanks to his love of Godzilla and the imaginary friendship of Minilla (who appears alongside Yazaki, shrunk down to kid-size) and becoming more popular with the schoolkids, as well as foiling bank robbers. While the subject matter is nothing like any previous Godzilla movies, the script’s from regular writer Sekizawa Shin’ichi, directed by Honda Ishirō and series (supporting) regular Sahara Kenji plays Yazaki’s dad.

A scene from GODZILLA'S REVENGE, directed by Honda Ishirô for Toho Company Ltd.
All Monsters Attack (1969). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2016 review

All Monsters Attack has some potential, thanks to director Honda, but Sekizawa’s script is way too flat. Yazaki is bad. And then when Minilla shows up, the movie veers into some weird territory about manliness as Minilla has a female voice (because of course the monster talks to Yazaki). Toho does a fine job at making a commercial for its own properties, but Monsters is aimed at kids who are already invested; it doesn’t encourage new interest.

All the monsters ATTACK.

Attendance for All Monsters Attack dropped forty percent from Destroy All Monsters, which Toho bean counters presumably realized said more about All Monsters Attack than Destroy All Monsters; it has the inglorious distinction of being the first Godzilla film to sell under two million tickets. In 1971, Maron Films distributed the dubbed version in the United States as Godzilla’s Revenge, a title just as unrelated to the content as All Monsters Attack.

HEDORAH: Yamauchi shows Kawase and Yoshida Yoshio science.

It would be a year and a half before the next Godzilla film. Toho released Godzilla vs. Hedorah in July 1971. Hedorah brought a new director to the franchise–Banno Yoshimitsu. Hedorah is about a microscopic alien life-form melding with Earth’s pollution and becoming a giant monster. Seven year-old Kawase Hiroyuki plays a scientist’s son who has visions of Godzilla defending Earth from Hedorah. Yamauchi Akira and Kimura Toshie play his parents.

A scene from GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH, directed by Banno Yoshimitsu for Toho Company Ltd.
Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971). ★★½. 2016 review

Godzilla vs. Hedorah is the first serious Godzilla movie since the first one, with Banno making an admonitory statement about the dangers of pollution. Just in a Godzilla movie. More, Banno is ambitious in Hedorah‘s narrative presentation; he wants the film interpreted very specifically. Even with the tough subject matter–and graphic, from Yamauchi’s opening disfiguring to Hedorah flinging toxic poop at Godzilla–Banno’s enthusiastic. The Hedorah suit is bad, but the special effects are otherwise quite good. It’s a fine film.

HEDORAH: Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster.

While not a huge hit on release, Hedorah did arrest the decline in franchise attendance. Hedorah even saw an eighteen percent increase in moviegoers. It also either enraged producer Tanaka (who either was or was not hospitalized during production) so much he fired Banno and banned him from Godzilla movies. Or it didn’t. Banno denied rumors of the conflict (as well as his rumored sequel plans for Hedorah). However, Banno never came back for another Godzilla and co-writer Kimura Takeshi did take a pseudonym on the script. The American version, Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, came out in 1972, with American International Pictures once again hiring Titan Productions to do an English dub.

GIGAN: Ishikawa Hiroshi can see the park is open.

Given the troubled (or not troubled) Hedorah production, Toho returned to a more regular form with the next Godzilla movie, 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan. Fukuda Jun, the only series director besides Honda Ishirō to direct more than one entry, returned. Sekizawa Shin’ichi was back on script. The monster costars are a mix of old and new–Ghidorah and Anguirus regulars, Gigan new. The story once again involves evil aliens, who this time take over a theme park and plot the annihilation of the human race. Luckily, Godzilla and eclectic hodgepodge of humans (including a mangaka… and a hippie) save the day. None of Gigan‘s principals appear in any other Godzilla films; a franchise singularity.

A scene from GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, directed by Fukuda Jun for Toho Company Ltd.
Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972). ★. 1972 review

Godzilla vs. Gigan is a silly, strange, wonderful bit of giant monster movie. The human story isn’t important, the monsters battling it out is important. The film’s achievements are in the choreography and execution of these kaiju battles on the sound stage, filming them, cutting them together. Gigan makes heavy use of old footage, which doesn’t help the film, but it mostly works out. The human stuff is fine too, just not the point.

GODZILLA VS. GIGAN and each bring a plus one.

Toho bringing back an experienced Godzilla crew resulted in a whopping two and a half percent increase in moviegoers. In the United States, Cinema Shares released Gigan as Godzilla on Monster Island in 1977, utilizing the Toho English dub–with some slight cuts to get a G rating.

MEGALON: Kawase on his goofy boat.

Fukuda would return for the next film, Godzilla vs. Megalon, released just over a year later in March 1973. The underwater kingdom of Seatopia looses giant monster, Megalon, to wreck havoc on the surface world. It’s up to Godzilla and super-robot Jet Jaguar (who originally was going to solo a movie) to save the Earth. Sasaki Katsuhiko plays Jet Jaguar’s inventor, with Kawase Hiroyuki (back from Hedorah) as his little brother. Notably Megalon has no female characters (outside some dancers in Seatopia) and an American, Robert Dunham, playing the villain.

A scene from GODZILLA VS. MEGALON, directed by Fukuda Jun for Toho Company Ltd.
Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973). ★. 2016 review

Once again, Fukuda delivers a successful giant monster movie. The three humans–there’s apparently no one else in Japan at this point except them–are appealing. Technically, Megalon is solid too. Fukuda and his crew do good work on both giant monster battles and the human stuff, which works out to be an espionage thriller. The film does well casting Godzilla as a tough guy. A good guy, but a tough good guy. It’s important since Jet Jaguar is a wimp. Megalon’s a lot of well-executed fun.

The GODZILLA VS. MEGALON kaiju take a break from fighting for a group shot.

The film was a new series low as far as attendance, the first time a Godzilla movie dipped below a million moviegoers; attendance dropped fifty-five percent from Gigan. In 1976, Cinema Shares released the Toho-produced English dub version of the film in the United States, cutting out a few minutes to secure a G-rating. It would go on to get a prime time showing in the United States on NBC, cut down to a fit a one hour time slot. John Belushi, dressed in a Godzilla suit, hosted its 1977 broadcast.

Hirata is back in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA.

The next Godzilla, March 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, would be Fukuda Jun’s last. The film opens with lead Daimon Masaaki–back from Megalon–discovering an Okinawan prophecy about two monsters stopping a third from destroying the world. Soon after, Godzilla emerges and starts wrecking havoc. Turns out bad Godzilla is actually a robot–Mechagodzilla–creation of the evil, apelike aliens from the Third Planet of the Black Hole. The real Godzilla arrives to save the day, aided by King Caesar, an Okinawan mythological creature. Mutsumi Goro plays the leader of the aliens. The film would also be the first seventies Godzilla to have some of the series’ most familiar faces back–Sahara Kenji, Koizumi Hiroshi, and Hirata Akihiko all have parts.

A scene from GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, directed by Fukuda Jun for Toho Company Ltd.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2016 review

The film is nearly a success. Fukuda does well throughout, only for the finale to completely fall apart. Even with the well-executed giant monster stuff, Fukuda (as director and screenwriter) doesn’t have the human story to accompany it. Enthusiastic performances, inventive editing–Fukuda and editor Ikeda Michiko do wonders with expressions–Mechagodzilla just can’t overcome the disastrous third act. It’s a big disappointment after Fukuda’s two (successful) previous entries.

MECHAGODZILLA: Godzilla meets his robotic match? Plus Anguirus.

Contemporary audiences were ready to give Godzilla another chance. While attendance didn’t to back to the higher levels, or even meet Gigan’s numbers, it did significantly bounce back–thirty-five percent more theatergoers than showed up for Megalon. The American release came again from Cinema Shares, who again had to cut out a few minutes from the Toho-produced English dub to secure the G rating. Cinema Shares initially retitled the film Godzilla vs. The Bionic Monster, but Universal Television threatened to sue (“bionic” was their word for the “The Bionic Woman” television show); so Bionic Monster became Cosmic Monster.

The TERROR of Hirata’s old age makeup.

The following March, both Godzilla and Mechagodzilla returned in Terror of Mechagodzilla. Also back are Hirata Akihiko, Mutsumi Goro, and Sahara Kenji. Sahara has another bit part, while Mutsumi plays the exact same part–alien leader–but a different character. Hirata is also a different character; this time a mad scientist who keeps an evil pet dinosaur–Titanosaurus–and helps the aliens rebuild Mechagodzilla to destroy mankind. Sasaki Katsuhiko plays the lead; he’s investigating Titanosaurus and falling in love with Hirata’s daughter, Ai Tomoko. She’s a cyborg occasionally controlled by the evil aliens. Godzilla manages to figure into the story too. Honda Ishirō directs.

A scene from TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA, directed by Honda Ishirô for Toho Company Ltd.
Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2016 review

Terror of Mechagodzilla is mostly bad. Honda doesn’t direct the giant monster stuff well. The monster battles are unimpressive. So is the human story. Hirata is bad. Sasaki is bad. Ai is better than she ought to be, given the material. There’s a lot of absurdly silly content done straight-faced because Honda has no self-awareness and even less of a sense of humor. If Terror were camp, it might be glorious. Instead, it flops; albeit with some solid technical efforts (none of them Honda’s).

TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA: Three’s a crowd.

Not only did Terror of Mechagodzilla lose all the attendance gains of the first Mechagodzilla, it lost a little bit more to be the lowest attended Godzilla movie to that point (and, as of 2018, ever). Unlike the previous three films, Cinema Shares did not release Terror in the United States. Instead Henry G. Saperstein acquired the distribution rights for the Toho-produced English dub. Saperstein then sold the theatrical rights to Bob Conn Enterprises, which released the film as The Terror of Godzilla three years after its Japanese release, in March 1978. The film needed severe editing to get a G-rating. After that theatrical release, Saperstein prepared a television version, reversing most of the film’s cuts and inserting a prologue introducing Godzilla (made up with stock footage from the other Godzilla films). That television version kept the title Terror of Mechagodzilla.

While Toho never officially gave up on Godzilla, Terror of Mechagodzilla would be the last in the Showa series of Godzilla films. Twenty-one years after they started the series, director Honda and actor Hirata participated in its impromptu conclusion. Of the fifteen Showa films, Honda directed eight. Hirata appeared in seven. Both Takarada Akira and Koizumi Hiroshi starred in four. Always supporting player Sahara Kenji was in nine. Most of the crew did multiple films–Sekizawa Shin’ichi wrote eight films and contributed stories for two more. The series, which started with the one kaiju–Godzilla–introduced another fifteen monsters (as well as providing other Toho kaiju film appearances after their solo entries). The series sold over sixty-seven million movie tickets in those first twenty-one years, with some of the films still Japanese box office record holders.

In the years after the last Showa film, Godzilla stayed in the public consciousness on both sides of the Pacific. The last four Showa films didn’t start releasing in the United States until 1976, a year after the series’s de facto conclusion; it was 1978 before Terror of Mechagodzilla finally got a release.

But even before that release, Godzilla movies would start appearing on home video in Japan, the United States, and the rest of the world. First on Betamax, then on VHS; LaserDisc would soon follow, then DVD and Blu-ray a couple decades later. While Toho released the entire series on a variety of home video formats–Beta, VHS, LaserDisc, DVD, Blu-ray–none of their releases have ever had English subtitles. In fact, Toho went out of their way to block subtitled releases of the Godzilla films for the franchise’s first fifty years (which lead to a pervasive bootleg market throughout the 1990s at American comic book conventions).

Starting in 2005, Toho finally began allowing English subtitles to accompany original Japanese audio. Classic Media, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and Media Blasters (through their Tokyo Shock label) released DVDs featuring both versions of the films, the original Japanese and the dubbed Americanized ones. Some of the original DVDs have gone out of print, with rereleases coming from Kraken Releasing and the Criterion Collection. Criterion is even preparing for a major release of the Showa Godzilla films on DVD and Blu-ray; they currently offer a number of the films streaming.

The single film without an original Japanese language release? 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla. Even with DVD and Blu-ray releases, the English dubbed version is the only one available to non-Japanese speaking audiences.

Over twenty-one years and fifteen movies, Godzilla went from being a force of malevolent destruction to the planet Earth’s guardian. The monster had a kid, had a clone, made friends, fought aliens; Godzilla created an entire genre–the Japanese giant monster movie–the kaiju movie. When Godzilla walked into the Sea of Japan at the end of Terror of Mechagodzilla (as the monster had at the end of many of the movies–if not most of them), it was the start of an unexpected–and temporary–retirement. And Godzilla would return from that retirement a very different monster.

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