The last two Godzilla movies saw Godzilla leave the dark side to become a good guy. His Jedi adventure continues in Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster (a.k.a "Ebirah, horror of the deep"), a film where we witness a dance marathon, slave labour, and Godzilla snoring. Instead of any cities being destroyed, this film takes place entirely on an island - a trend which would remain for some time. Although the island nature of the following films would cause much anger amongst fans, it's something which is weaved into the story here and actually works pretty well.
There's a change in crew. Director Ishiro Honda hands over to Jun Fukuda, and special effects supremo Eiji Tsuburaya relinquishes overall control, but still supervises. Perhaps the most obvious change (when watching the film) is the lack of Ifukube's music. Masaru Sato composes the score here - and gone are the heavy militaristic orchestral pieces, instead we have a jaunty, jazzy, pop-esque '60s soundtrack! After toying with a new light-hearted tone in the last couple of films, the transition seems firmly cemented in Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster.
The film wastes no time in setting up the voyage to the Sea Monster. An old psychic chants and prays for Yata, a man lost at sea - she and her family are sure he is alive. The authorities aren't convinced by a dotty old lady's belief that he is not dead, they refuse to go out looking. But thankfully there's an endurance dance competition in town, several days of non-stop dancing with the winner getting a brand new sailboat.
Unfortunately our hero (and Yata's brother) Ryota is 3 days too late for the dancing contest. His love of boats sees him and two locals deciding to look inside a particularly nice boat moored up at the local docks. A surreal moment follows where the apparent owner of the boat threatens to shoot the trespassers and then immediately (and for no apparent reason) decides to let them stay the night there. Within ten minutes of the film starting we have two locals, an infamous thief, and Ryota on their way to a monster inhabited island - it's best to just ignore the narrative flaws and acknowledge the efficiency of the story. It's not long before a clawed beast smashes the boat to bits.
Once shipwrecked on the island, the rest of the film continues from this location. We are introduced to a military-style organisation called Red Bamboo. There seems to be a decidedly James Bond influence on this picture. That may sound crazy but James Bond was huge in the 1960s and on this island we have a group of henchmen militia under the control of a power-crazed leader who happens to own a high-tech base which appears to be involved with the production of nuclear weapons. Red Bamboo are clearly a ruthless operation - they have captured natives from a neighbouring island to crush yellow fruit known to repel the sea monster Ebirah.
So let's look at Ebirah. It's an original design, considering there's a general trend towards reptilian/prehistoric creatures in these films so far (Rodan, Agilas, Godzilla, King Ghidorah). I remember Ebirah being a tad pathetic when I was a kid, but watching him now he doesn't seem that bad. He's essentially a giant lobster with a massive claw capable of grabbing and crushing anything within reach. His smaller claw can jab and spear things. He's well constructed and even has oceanic plant life growing on him, in close-up shots of his mouth we see fronds of seaweed and his exterior looks tough.
This and the following few Godzilla films are the ones I watched as a kid and I think of them fondly even if titles such as Son of Godzilla and Godzilla Vs Megalon aren't the best in the series! This was the second Godzilla film I ever saw and I've always remembered Godzilla being found in a cave. His heartbeat being felt through the rock, his spines starting to glow and his eye opening. The deep drum sound as his eyelid raises was one of the most exciting Godzilla moments for me, and it still made me grin nearly thirty years after!
This is the same Godzilla suit (though probably with some tweaks) from Invasion of Astro-Monster, but somehow it looks better here. Perhaps it's just because I've become used to it, but it seems to move better and the head doesn't look as wobbly on the neck. The long neck and large head make the head unable to move much but in this film there are more close-ups of Godzilla's face than ever before so you don't see too much of the neck. His teeth are neat but animalistic and his jaw moves in a realistic way.
His body is used well in the film, from his emerging through the rock after he wakes up, to wading in the water. We are seeing Godzilla do more 'stuff' rather than stomp around and destroy buildings. We see him get irritated and even see him being playful.
Godzilla had been given more humanlike features over the last couple of films and I've mentioned how the anthropomorphism of Godzilla helps to make him more likable and relatable - he's a hero now and the child-orientated movies keep adding more of that. IN this film we see him sleeping, not just hibernating in a cave, but actually sitting down and falling asleep, he even snores!
After defeating a giant bird he does a victory hand clap, when he sees the beautiful native girl Dayo he seems to study her and then scratches his nose. Godzilla seems genuinely friendly and actively identifying who is good and who is evil so that he can ally with the goodies and help save the day. Okay, he does fire some atomic breath at Mothra but after she beats him off (in a sense) he doesn't swipe at her or try to blast her out of the sky.
Mothra doesn't appear that much in the film but she looks resplendent, as always. Her movements are natural, eventually Godzilla films would struggle with winged creatures but for now her wings flap and she flies in a convincing fashion.
When we see her being prayed to, she looks fantastic in the shot against the singing native folk. There's no clumsy superimposing or obvious plate being used, it's a wonderful bit of visual effects crafting.
Godzilla does battle with Ebirah twice in this film. Both are short and I can understand that some may find them disappointing but I like the composition of the shot with Godzilla on the shore looking at Ebirah who is flashing his massive claw menacingly.
Rock ping pong has become a tradition now in Kaiju battles and we get the best one yet with Godzilla kicking and throwing rocks only to have them volleyed back by Ebirah. It's an amusing moment and shows how fun the films have become.
The fighting does eventually become hand to claw combat and sees both Kaiju going underwater to battle too. Ebirah seems a worthy opponent for Godzilla and causes him some pain.
Godzilla is our hero though and things turn a bit brutal when he starts ripping limbs from the giant lobster, he even taunts the poor crustacean by playing with the claw!
In terms of human cast, there are familiar faces here with Akira Takarada once again appearing in a Godzilla movie. He's probably my favourite familiar face in a Big G film. Well, maybe joint favourite! After all Akihiko Onoda not only stars, but he's back in an eye patch (just like Dr. Serizawa from the original Gojira!)
Jun Tazaki and Toho favourite Kumi Mizuno:
For a Kaiju film, this has less special effects than its predecessors. Island life makes for less city stomping and most of the action takes place on rocky terrain or water. There's still a lot of visual effect work involved though. A scene early on involves a ships mast breaking before crashing into the deck and the model work is blended well with live action. Scenes of the boat on stormy water are less convincing as the live action scenes have the men being tossed around, but the model has them as stiff figures who seem secured to the floor. The Red Bamboo base looks amazing though. I don't know whether some of this was filmed on location at a power plant or whether all the sets were built, but they look excellent and the vibrant colours bring them to life.
The models looks exactly like the full size thing and it makes the destruction of the base seem all the more dramatic as a result. As it gets trampled we even see water squirting from tanks, it feels like genuine carnage.
The aeroplanes look magnificent in this film. The fighter jets look like metallic aircraft, they add realism, especially when they deploy missiles. Godzilla even captures one inflight and destroys it in his hand - there's a lot of pyrotechnics going on!
The score in Godzilla Vs The Sea-Monster starts off well and almost hints at a Ifukube score, but it quickly becomes a series of funky and light-hearted sixties jazz numbers. This impacts on the drama of the film and emphasises that it's a kid-friendly film designed to be a bit of monster fun. The cast is very youthful too, there's a real effort made to appeal to younger viewers and although it's a shame that the gravitas Godzilla had has faded, you have to admit that it succeeds in achieving that youth appeal.
Toho are making Godzilla more likable and more heroic and the film ends with a moment of sympathy for Godzilla as he is left on an island which is about to blow up. The look he gives Mothra and the humans as they fly off is similar to in Astro-Monster when he is left behind on Planet X. Godzilla appears to reach out to them before seemingly understanding what they are telling him to do - jump into the ocean. After the 1954 movie, you never expected to see humans cheering the Big G on.
Cult Kingdom rating: 3.5 / 5
There's a drop in standards coming and this film is seen as the start of it. But this film manages to capture some good performances and monster moments to make it an entertaining watch. The initial set-up might be flimsy but there's enough quality narrative here to keep it together.