The Godzilla 28 Movie challenge: Number 15 - Terror Of Mechagodzilla (1975)

The 15th Godzilla film sees several welcome returns to the franchise. The most obvious being Mechagodzilla. The most nostalgic being actor Akihiko Hirata. And the most significant being director Ishiro Honda. Because of commercial issues (particularly with Kaiju films) this would be the last Godzilla film for nearly a decade.

It’s been some time since a Godzilla film followed on from a previous film, but ‘Terror…’ does just that and continuity fans will notice that it’s not just the plot that follows on. Both films contain darker, more serious moments with a slightly bonkers plot. This film is the product of a local competition held by Toho – the last time someone won a Toho competition we got Jet Jaguar, thankfully the prize is much greater this time and the winner got to write the actual screenplay giving us the first female script writer for Godzilla. Perhaps it's a combination of Yukiko Takayama’s script and Honda’s gift for telling a human story which results in a more engaging film with a lead female character.

After watching the Godzilla films in order, there is an obvious drop in quality during from the late 1960s. I wrote about the end of the ‘golden age’ of Japanese cinema back in my comments about All Monsters Attack as television started to overtake the cinema for family entertainment and cater more for younger audiences. The cinema offered glorious colour pictures but by the mid ‘70s colour TVs were becoming commonplace in the household. The change in viewership affected all film production companies, not just Toho. It was Toho people who bizarelly catalysed the end of its own Kaiju film popularity by being involved in Tsuburaya Productions whose UltraQ/Ultraman series was immensely popular and could rival films in terms of production quality and spectacle. Though being so involved in television probably helped the company to keep going when others fell when the Japanese cinema industry started to collapse. The fact that Terror Of Mechagodzilla was a bit of a flop at the cinema is more a reflection on the film industry as a whole (particularly the Kaiju genre) rather than the film itself.

This film is certainly less childish than the previous few films and Honda has had a tendency to treat Godzilla with an almost patriarchal respect. I mentioned three welcome returns in my opening paragraph but I also have to mention Akira Ifukube whose score is a joy to the ears after the dodgy and generic ‘70s sounding soundtracks of the previous films (particularly Godzilla vs Hedorah!) With Ifukube, Honda and Hirata we actually have three big names from the very first Gojira movie and a noticeable increase in quality.

The last film saw Godzilla destroy his metal counterpart. So popular was the evil titan that in this film a submarine has been sent into the depths to find the wreckage of the beast. Sadly though, the sub doesn’t fare very well in a world of sea-dwelling Kaiju and is exploded by a giant creature called Titanosaurus, a name which sounds scarier than the beast it represents. Experts are concerned at why a gentle dinosaur (and it must be gentle because they find a book which states this very fact) would attack a submarine. The actual existence of Titanosaurus or the possibility of more like him aren’t ever raised as issues.

A fairly confused plot with superfluous events is cobbled together to tell how aliens plan on using both Titanosaurus and a repaired Mechagodzilla to defeat Godzilla and take over Tokyo before moving onto world domination. They do this with the help of a stereotypical mad scientist (crazy hair and moustache!) who conveniently hates humankind after it/we mocked his previous work. He also happens to have a cyborg daughter.

He, together with his cyborg daughter, can control both Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla similar to how we’ve seen in previous Godzilla films. Mechagdzilla Vs Godzilla had three different Kaiju and a plot which relied heavily on superstition, Terror of Mechagodzilla also has three Kaiju and a similar story but it holds together better even if it is still a little silly at times. There are fewer dumb moments and a more convincing human story provides more narrative structure to what would otherwise be a series of brawls. Time is spent working on the human characters to bring them to life, it’s quite some time before we see any major monster action. But let’s look at the monsters in those brawls now…

Godzilla adopted a cute look back in Godzilla Vs. Megalon, was “un-cuted” for the last film and by now seems to have transformed even further. The suit looks similar to the last one but the face seems more reptile-like. It’s certainly more intimidating, the head looks smaller and the eyebrows are formed into more of a frown. You can tell that there’s a different Godzilla head used for some close ups, it looks different somehow and I suspect it’s a hand puppet similar to what was used in the very early films. The eyes look like painted rubber rather than the eyes in the actual suit.

This isn’t really a Godzilla film though, it’s a Mechagodzilla film – and he continues to look incredible, Toho really have created a truly epic Daikaiju suit here which looks mechanical and moves in a generally convincing robotic way. Presumably this is the same suit from the previous film, but with a few tweaks. This time there is no disguised Mechagodzilla, he is metallic throughout the film.

The new Kaiju on the block isn’t quite as epic looking. Titanosaurus is a grand sounding name but the reality is less exciting than the name suggests. Dinosaur fans will be disappointed to see that the Titanosaurus in this film is nothing like actual an Titanosaur, which are sauropods – the ones with the huge necks and the long tails (think Brachiosaurus from Jurassic Park). Instead of a huge and bulky beast, Titanosaurus looks more like a giant sea-horse! He does look very aquatic with those fanned ears which are almost gill-like.

The quality of Titanosaurus doesn’t seem to match that of Mechagodzilla, the head almost looks like a papier-mache model with an obviously hinged mouth which operates quite robotically. It’s certainly not the worse monster design (Megalon, ahem) but appearing in the same film as Mechagodzilla serves to highlight the flaws.

The body is quite thin which does work well with the slender head, The tail has a fan which can open and close, this is used during the battles to create a strong gust of wind to topple foes and create destruction. The tail almost looks like a claw with a membrane as you can see here.

Kudos to the suit actor though, as we’ve seen in previous films – the suit ends up on fire several time!

Titanosaurus really reminded me of another Kaiju, especially his roar, and it was only when I flicked through my Blu-Ray collection that I realised that there seems to be some parallels with the British based Kaiju Gorgo. The roar is very similar, a pachydermoid rasping sound like a trumpeting elephant. For those not familiar with Gorgo, it’s an early ‘60s giant monster film with the main monster stomp located in London. So instead of Tokyo tower being toppled by Godzilla, you get Big Ben being demolished by Gorgo. It’s actually a good Kaiju film and as a Brit it’s fantastic to see it all happening in familiar location. And it’s not just the sound which is similar, both creatures are bipedal reptiles (not that original I know) with gill-like webbed ears. I like to think there’s an inspiration loop going on with Toho’s Godzilla inspiring Gorgo, who then went on to inspire Toho’s Titanosaurus! For the record, here’s Gorgo:

You don’t really take Titanosaurus seriously anyway, the alien masterminds even explain that they expect Godzilla to defeat him and are only using him to exhaust the Big G before a showdown with Mechagodzilla. The fighting is pretty good in this film and there's plenty of hand to hand combat with grapples and clawing.

But some daft moments make it a bit cartoon-like. I liked it when Titanosaurus grabs hold of Godzilla’s snout, much like Mechagodzilla did to Anguilas in the previous film, but the big T lacks the power to do anything brutal to the big G. There’s a scene where Godzilla is sent flying after receiving the puniest of kicks from Titanosaurus which just looks dumb. In another instance of insane gravity defiance, he bites Godzilla’s face and manages to lift him off the ground purely by his teeth and swing Godzilla around in a scene which starts off as a brutal looking move but descends into pantomime violence.

It also has to be said that Titanosaurus manages to produce a hell of a lot of force from his tail fan, the amount of destruction resulting from a little swish is a little too far-fetched.

But the final battle is epic. Mechagodzilla lets rip against a reinvigorated Godzilla. The metal monster stands and deploys every weapon he has – lasers, beams, missiles – everything flies from his body and Godzilla is left to run through the explosions like a soldier scrambling over no-mans’ land, desperately trying to get close to Mechagodzilla.

It’s easy for Kaiju battles to feel a bit repetitive but the way this is filmed and seeing Godzilla having to really dodge through missiles and take hits to his body before finally reaching his foe makes the scene feel like one of the most original battle scenes for a long time in the film series.

Mechagodzilla is dealt a series of rapidfire punches as Godzilla takes out his frustration on the robot titan. Just in case you weren’t’ convinced that Godzilla is the King Of The Monsters, he rips Mechagodzilla’s head from his body – and continues to fight him. This is a fantastic battle and doesn’t rely on any stupid new powers devised out of thin air.

There are some stand out moments in the film, there’s a scene where you see Mechagodzilla and Titanosaurus in the background and they look huge, very imposing!

Another great scene involves Mechagodzilla standing on a street before blowing it up. The models aren’t quite as great as some in the past (less detail which is obvious when they blow up) but it still looks incredible and demonstrates destruction on a large scale.

There’s a great sequence too where Godzilla and Titanosaurus fight. Usually in such scenes the camera remains pretty static in order to capture the set in the best angle. But this time the camera pans along as the two enemies punch and ram heads while walking through a row of houses.

Honda’s use of worm's eye view, aerial shots and moving through the carnage add an element of engagement with the film. This doesn’t look like a series of relatively small sets being kicked over by dudes in rubber suits, it feels EPIC! This feels like a true cinematic experience and that had been sadly lacking for some time in the Godzilla movies other than the odd moment of brilliance. Honda knows that to really engage with what is happening in screen he has to take you there, not just visually but emotionally. He has children running away from a giant monster attack just as Godzilla appears and saves them from getting trodden underfoot. Whether this is intentional or not (on Godzilla’s part), it’s moments like this and a similar scene where Godzilla rescues a helicopter where Godzilla is truly seen as a hero figure.

The visual effects in the film are a definite upgrade from the 'cheaper' looking Godzilla films in the '70s. Vehicles look realistic (though Toho have tended to have great looking vehicles, even they had to resort to stock footage) and the sets are detailed with cities dotted with vehicles and fine detail rather than just looking like a toy village. The alien's HQ is full of flashing lights and there's a bit of a 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe with the corridors!

The human characters aren’t just there to move the story along, they are given back stories and time is taken to develop their relationships. Hirata’s Doctor Mofuri has become a recluse who despises humankind after his work was ridiculed and his own experiments killed his daughter. This could be a melodramatic role but because the character has a defined history, he has gravitas and you are convinced of his motives. He’s not a two-dimensional character at all, his actions are the result of his life’s work being dismissed by his peers and driven by his love for his cyborg daughter. It's always great to have a Godzilla legend back and this is the second film in a row to feature the brains behind the destruction of Gojira in the original 1954 picture.

His daughter is pivotal to the film, at last a female character who isn’t just eye candy or a screamer! Althrough she does have scary eyes when she engages in a spot of kaiju control.

Again, the characterisation is handled brillianty and quite tenderly. I also love her clockwork innards – very retro! There’s also a flash of boob in this film which over-zealous sponsors have cut from most distributions of the title despite them being fake robot boobs! It’s the story of Katsura’s emotional awakening which injects poignancy into the film. As a cyborg she is designed to feel only revenge, but a romance starts to mellow her and in a Disney-esque turn – love manages to conquer all. The ending is far from ‘Disney’ though and the bittersweet final moments hammer home the fact that this is not a kiddies' film.


Cult Kingdom rating:  4 / 5 

In terms of commercial success this was the biggest Godzilla flop, it would be nearly a decade before Toho decided to have another go and reboot the film franchise. It’s a shame that the Godzilla film series ended just as the quality improved with this title. But it was too little too late for Kaiju movies in general. Rival studio Daiei had folded a couple of years previous and along with it their Gamera Kaiju series (a cheapo Gamera film consisting mainly of stock footage reminiscent of All Monsters Attack would be attempted in 1980 but it wouldn’t be until the 1990s that Gamera properly returned). This was really was the end of an era, the Godzilla films from 1954 to 1975 are referred to as the Showa era (this isn’t specific to Godzilla, it’s a term associated with Emperor Hirohito). The Showa era saw the introduction of Godzilla, the most famous Kaiju ever created. Very quickly the films went from horror features to light hearted action movies. Eventually they would become more geared towards children and be regarded as low budget creature features rather than serious pieces of cinema.

Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla had so many narrative flaws that it felt like a bit of a mess, this continues directly from that film and inherits many of those problems. Terror of Mechagodzilla film suffers from much of the same issues as the previous film – it feels like a mature movie trying to break through the surface of a film series which has become too juvenile. I’ve commented before that Ishiro Honda seems to have a great fondness for the subject matter and doesn’t allow his films to become dumb, but some of the story and moments in the action let him down. However Honda mitigates a lot of the issues by focusing on creative filming and developing the main characters on screen to really breathe life into a film franchise which had been feeling increasingly tired. The output is a title which has more depth and visual style, it may be silly at times but the overall result is a satisfying watch that feels more like a ‘proper’ Godzilla film, especially given the incredible Ifukube score.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! This is the film i always rented from the library growing up, and i still do!