Appellate Judge James A. Stewart thinks all sequels should be renamed Gigantis, The Fire Monster. After all, it worked for Godzilla.
"That's Godzilla. Must be Godzilla."
It's the Attack of the Three-Named Giant Prehistoric Lizard as Godzilla Raids Again in this sequel to one of the best monster movies of all time. You'll find Japanese actors saying the name "Gojira" while the word "Godzilla" appears in the subtitles in the original version; in the American version, the monster is renamed "Gigantis," thanks to producer Paul Schreibman's aversion to sequels (as Steve Ryfle notes in the commentary). Toho Studios made this one right after Gojira, releasing it about six months later in Japan.
Godzilla Raids Again includes both the Japanese original and the re-edited American release, better known as Gigantis, The Fire Monster.
Facts of the Case
The Japanese Version: Gojira no gyakushû
"Hidemi, want to go dancing tonight?"
However, fellow pilot Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki, Throne of Blood) soon develops engine trouble and has to make an emergency landing. Tsukioka heads out to rescue his friend, finding the pilot stranded alone on a remote island. They're not quite alone, though. The two pilots soon see a familiar head popping above the mountains.
"That's Godzilla. Must be Godzilla."
Soon, one of Godzilla's buddies comes along for a violent battle and the two creatures tumble into the sea as the horrified pilots watch. When they return to base, the two pilots are given some mugshots by a group of scientists and they identify the new monster as the ankylosaur Anguirus, who has a rap sheet as long as your arm even though he's been out of circulation for thousands of years. The experts—who didn't actually see the battle themselves—contribute some wild speculation and a play-by-play on the battle they didn't see. Then they roll the footage from the original Gojira—gotta get that in—before planning their strategy. One more thing to mention: This monster appears to be a second Godzilla, since the Oxygen Destroyer claimed the life of the original prehistoric beast in Gojira.
The experts plot to lure Godzilla away from Osaka Bay with flares to fight him on remote turf. As their efforts begin, Godzilla is tracked along the coast through radio and TV reports in the severe hysteria style that today's stations have adopted to describe any trivial snow flurry. The experts' plan soon runs into the kind of unexpected trouble that those of us who aren't experts know enough to expect: a car chase involving escaped convicts sets off a refinery fire and the flares bring out Anguirus, who craves a rematch with Godzilla.
The American Version: Gigantis, The Fire Monster
This version opens with a hydrogen bomb blast and a rocket launching into space as a pompous narrator intones about the "mechanical monsters" man is creating: "Are there not darker and more sinister secrets on this planet Earth not yet answered?"
Abruptly, we switch to travelogue-style footage of the villages around Osaka, with travelogue-style narration by Tsukioka (here dubbed by Keye Luke from the Charlie Chan films). The voiceover helps cut down on dubbing and fills in details anytime the producer feels that an American audience might be confused. At times, you get the feeling the producer thinks Americans are simpletons. Still, considering what might have been done with more opportunities for dubbing, I'll take it.
This re-edited version passes on the familiar Godzilla march music, even though it's used in the Japanese version, and adds a couple of scenes of emergency preparations in the United States and newspaper scare headlines like "Gigantis Could Strike U.S." in an attempt to make the movie relevant for an audience here.
While the first sequel rarely reaches the poetic, graceful perfection of the original Gojira, the series at this point still conveys the horrors of war through the metaphoric enemy Godzilla. Thus, you see real fear in the expressions of Hidemi (Setsuko Wakayama) when she sees the fiery destruction of Osaka through her window and worries about her boyfriend as he pursues the beast. While the announcements about the monster's progress seem a little absurd today, the panic they create in a nightclub ballroom feels authentic. There's still a twinge of loss with the casualties here; when you're always aware that it's just a guy in a rubber suit smashing toy planes, as in the later sequels, that just doesn't happen. Instead of monster movie mashups, you get action sequences that remind you of a more conventional war picture.
Although the focus has started to shift toward the battles, with the plot and dialogue hinting of plans to mine goofy sequels (C'mon, did anybody really think Godzilla was dead at the end, even in 1955?), the second Gojira movie still finds ways to be thoughtful in the love story of Hidemi and Tsukioka. It also adds some comic relief, mostly from Kobayashi's awkwardness around women.
The re-edited American version suffers from an overdose of earnest good intentions. Its use of narration diminishes the effect of the romantic plot and war metaphors, and the scientific mumbo-jumbo gets even more mumbo-jumbled. The alterations are smaller than those made in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which inserted a new major character, but they ironically produce a more drastic change in tone than the addition of Raymond Burr's Steve Martin to the Gojira storyline.
The movie itself isn't in quite as good a condition as the first deluxe Gojira release; it has the expected spots and lines, along with grain in places. I thought the soundtrack on the Japanese version was good, at least considering the production's age. It's certainly better than the patchwork on the American version.
Steve Ryfle's commentary on the American version is the sort of sarcastic stuff you'd expect from MST3K, with remarks like: "Wherever this footage came from, it should have stayed there," as some obviously faked footage of prehistoric dinosaurs comes on screen. He's also full of information; my favorite gem is that no critics at the time even noticed that Gigantis was a Godzilla sequel, though many moviegoers did. Ryfle brings in guests to discuss specific aspects of the movie such as the suitmation actors or the musical score; he also plays a couple of vintage radio ads.
"The Art of Suit Acting" profiles the men who moved audiences as they moved rubber monster suits. Haruo Nakajima, who played the title role in the original Gojira and did suitmation acting until 1972, gets the most attention here. It's a fitting tribute to actors whose identities originally kept secret by Toho Studios. The poster slide show is a montage of movie posters set to music. It mixes images of the full posters with close-ups that show the detail of the artwork. And did I mention that the nice case looks like a hardcover book on your shelf?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Coming between the original Gojira and King Kong vs. Godzilla, this movie won't move you the way the original did and it isn't the same silly fun as the next one. It often seems like the Toho filmmakers weren't sure what to do next with their giant prehistoric creature when they were doing it in this film. Thus, it moves a bit slower than others in the series. Of course, the American version adds some unintentional laughs …
Today, the heavily reworked versions of the Japanese Gojira and its sequel wouldn't fly with savvy audiences. They wouldn't have to, since Toho is undoubtedly well aware of the global audience. Toho's special edition of Godzilla Raids Again is a look back to a time when American audiences didn't have a world of choices they could pop into their DVD players and distributors weren't yet sure how to handle unusual properties like Godzilla. It's not just a movie, it's a time capsule.
Although this isn't Godzilla's best movie, fans will be glad to see this early appearance in its original form, and amused to see it in its American form.
Gojira—a.k.a. Godzilla and Gigantis—is free to go so he can pursue a long, prosperous movie career. Gigantis's handlers may have had good intentions, but they're guilty of screwing up this franchise entry. The DVD package acquits itself nicely, filling in an interesting, if minor, part of Godzilla's history.
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• Poster montage
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