GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN or Rumors of Godzilla's Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN or Rumors of Godzilla's Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated

Gordon Hopkins looks back at Godzilla's first sequel, 1955s Godzilla Raids Again.
Regular readers of Warped Factor may be aware that I recently completed a series about the origins of Godzilla. Upon handing in the final entry, I had this brief exchange with my editor:
Editor: This is a great series, Gordo.
Me: Don't call me Gordo.
Editor: So when do I get the next one?
Me: There isn't a next one. I'm finished.
Editor: I mean for the next movie.
Me: Next movie?
Editor: Sure. You can't stop with the first one. You gotta do all the Godzilla movies.
Me: What? There's, like, a hundred Godzillas. I don't have time for that.
Editor: I've told you a million times, don't exaggerate. There's just 32 Toho movies.
Me: But...
Editor: Plus the Hollywood films.
Me: But...
Editor: Plus all the animated series.
Me: But...
Editor: Plus all the cameos in other...
Me: Forget it. I'm not doing it.
Editor: Oh, come on. You know you want to.
Me: No.
Editor: Pleeeeeaaaaaazzzzzze!!!
Me: Fine! Whatever. I'll do it. Just stop whining.
Editor: Yay!
So anyway, that's how I agreed to do a retrospective of the entire Godzilla franchise. Considering how many Godzilla movies there have been so far, well, let's just call it job security.

Many years after the fact, Gojira (the Japanese name for Godzilla) director Ishiro Honda said in an interview,
“Believe it or not, we had no plans for a sequel. Naively hoped the end of Godzilla was going to coincide with the end of nuclear testing.”
Well, the great director was mistaken on both accounts. The original was such a huge success in Japan that they started work on a sequel even before the Americanized version, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, would make the titular monster a megastar in America and Europe. The first sequel would hit the screens in Japan on April 22, 1955, less than six monster after Gojira was released.

It is hard to imagine such speed in our modern world when Hollywood moves at a glacial pace. Nevertheless, in those days, striking while the iron was hot was an important strategy. You never knew when those fickle audiences might lose interest.
The sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, does show evidence of it's rushed production. There was never a chance this would not be the case. Despite the brilliant job he did on the original, Ishiro Honda was not given the directorial job of bringing the first sequel to life. That plum assignment instead went to Motoyoshi Oda, which tells you everything you need to know about Toho Studio's intentions for this picture. Oda was a competent journeyman director, not the auteur that Honda was. Oda at the helm meant the film would come in on time, without any artsy-fartsy stuff to get in the way.

This was strictly a for-the-buck (or yen) operation.

I acknowledge it is a little unfair to dismiss Oda's contribution in this manner. While he may not be held in the same esteem by critics as Honda, it is important to remember he produced a hugely successful film out of distinctly questionable material. Indeed, Oda's film set into motion a franchise of unparalleled durability.

Most important of all, Oda established a formula that would be used in over thirty follow-up films. He gave the King of the Monsters another monster to do battle with.
So lets get down to hard nails and brass tacks. The ending of the first Godzilla flick left filmmakers with a bit of a conundrum. I don't want to get too spoilery, so lets just say, at the end of that movie, Godzilla was, well, vanquished. Yeah, lets go with that word: vanquished. He was vanquished in rather a permanent way. So how to bring him back? It was suggested in Gojira (but left out of Godzilla: King of the Monsters), that there may be other Godzillas out there, waiting to be awoken my man's foolish tinkering with atomic weaponry. Well, sure enough, that is exactly what happens. The Godzilla of Godzilla Raids Again is another Godzilla. We can assume the Godzilla of all subsequent Godzilla movies is the same Godzilla as Godzilla Raids Again.

Like the first film, it opens with a focus on that most traditionally Japanese of industries: fishing. Kobayashi, pilot for what seems to me to be a pretty high tech fishing operation, is forced to ditch his plane in the ocean and finds refuge on a small island. His good friend and fellow pilot, Tsukioka, locates and rescues his comrade. Before the two men can flee the island, the men are terrified by two behemoths locked into mortal combat.

One is, of course Godzilla. The second is a very different sort of monster, later identified as an ankylosaurus and dubbed Anguiras.

Now, like many a young nerdboy, I was obsessed with dinosaurs to an unhealthy degree as a kid. While this ankylosaurus bears a passing resemblance to the ones in the books from my school library I greedily devoured, I think we can assume it was mutated by radiation like Godzilla.

Anguiras suffers a bit in comparison to his opponent. The head, in particular, has a distinctly puppet-like quality. Nevertheless, I have to give filmmakers props for giving Godzilla a sparring partner that is physically very different. Anguiras is a four-legged beastie, unlike the bipedal Godzilla. Most of Godzilla's later opponents would also be bipedal.

The two pilots return to the mainland and warn the authorities about the threat posed by these two giant monsters. In a nice change of pace from most monster movies, the authorities take the warning at face value and don't immediately dismiss the men as a couple of drunken idiots. While lacking the emotional gravitas of the earlier Godzilla, the movie is still a very serious affair. There was none of the silliness that would plague the later movies and give Godzilla's reputation a far greater beating than Anguiras ever could.
Tokyo is spared this time around. It is Osaka that gets the trashing and smashing. The original Godzilla movie is notable for showing the aftermath of skyscrapers collapsing. Audiences were not just treated to the thrills of a monsters destroying a city but also the horrifying results, with stretchers of dead and bandaged victims lining the hallways of makeshift hospital wards. Like most of the current crop of superhero flicks, Godzilla Raids Again, eschews such reality and the audience can assume Osaka was evacuated before the big brawl, keeping casualties to a minimum.

Or not. You can interpret either way.

Another departure from the first Godzilla is which human characters make up the focus of the film. Gojira focused heavily on the professionals, like scientists and the military, who had the best shot of defeating the monsters. In Godzilla Raids Again, the focus is almost exclusively on the “Regular Joes” who work for the fishery. It was certainly a daring decision. Whether or not it was successful depends on your point of view and, in large part, on whether you saw the Japanese or American version.
The American Version: Godzilla Raids Again did not come under the drastic revision that Godzilla: King of the Monsters did. The film made it to the West largely intact. Still, there were some changes, few for the better.

The most obvious difference is that, in the 'Merican version, Godzilla wasn't galled Godzilla. Instead, the lead monster and the title of the movie became Gigantis, the Fire Monster. If you've seen this flick recently, you probably saw it under the correct title, Godzilla Raids Again. You may even have noticed the title card doesn't match the rest of the opening credits and has a more recent, digital feel. That is because Toho has since declared the preferred title to be the only acceptable title. Since the start of the videotape age, all editions must carry that title. A lot of Godzilla movies were released under multiple titles and Toho has attempted to establish a consistency. For example, the later Monster Zero (1956) is now only available under its preferred title of Invasion of the Astro-Monster.

The American distributor added some totally unnecessary stock footage of atomic bomb tests and rocket launches, narrated in by radio actor Marvin Miller's deep baritone. (Irrelevant trivia: Miller's voice would grace the English language version of another foreign-made science fiction film, the animated Fantastic Planet, and even get to work with some more dinosaurs in the Saturday morning Sid and Marty Krofft saga, Land of the Lost, voicing the Zarn.)

Another change is in the music. The original score by Masoru Sato is replaced by stock music from a bunch of old science fiction and horror b-movies.

Of course, the thing that for many years made Godzilla a punchline was the poor English dubbing. This movie is where the problem really starts. To be fair, dubbing a Japanese language film into English is a difficult affair. I suspect a lot of people don't realize how difficult it is. Just the translating alone is complicated. Japanese and English are very different languages. It is not just a matter of word substitution. For example, Japanese has no auxiliary verbs. Articles do not exist in Japanese. Relative pronouns do not exist in Japanese. Personal and possessive pronouns are used very differently than in English. (Or so I am told. I don't speak Japanese myself. I can barely handle English.)

Then there is the problem of somehow making the words match the movement of the actor's mouths. That is probably the explanation for some of the goofier bits of dialogue in the film, like, “Ah, banana oil!”

Because of the underlying differences in the structure of sentences between English and Japanese, if you've ever run a bit of Japanese text through a Google Translation, you know the result is often ridiculously inane. Had this movie been produced a few decades later, I might have assumed that is how the script was created, because ridiculously inane accurately describes much of the script for the American version of Godzilla Raids Again. The translation was badly mangled in places. Dialogue that works in the Japanese version sounds both hopelessly melodramatic and incredibly silly at the same time, a need trick if you can manage it.

Despite these technical problems, the result of the American distributor being cheap, in a hurry, or probably both, most of the flaws are forgivable. There is one problem, however, that cannot be overlooked.

The dubbing was done by several highly professional actors who would later come to prominence in American popular culture. Tsukioka is voiced by Key Luke, already known as Charlie Chan's Number One son in what is perhaps the only series of movies that comes close to Godzilla in sheer numbers. He later became know for Kung Fu on TV and Gremlins in the movies. He imbues Tsukioka with that likable, “Regular Joe” quality. He also provides the film with lots (and lots and lots and lots) of unnecessary narration.

Another familiar voice is that of George Takei, alias Mr. Sulu of Star Trek. He provides the voices of several different minor characters. He does an admirable job of differentiating those voices but, to modern ears, we can all here that recognizable, “Oh My!”

Unfortunately, Kobayashi, easily the most tragic character in the movie, does not fare so well. Remember, this is not the silly, dancing, brawling Godzilla of Godzilla versus Megalon. This is a straight, serious production. That is why I cannot understand why Kobayashi was given such a cartoonish voice.

When I say cartoonish, that is not hyperbole. I mean he quite literally sounds like a cartoon. Specifically, he sounds like Yogi Bear doing an embarrassingly bad faux-Japanese accent. Well, there is certainly good reason Kobayashi sounds like Yogi Bear. It is because he IS Yogi Bear. I mean that quite literally. Kobayashi was voiced by none other than the legendary Daws Butler, who would later be hired by the Hannah-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon factory to be smarter than the average bear.

It is an unfortunate lapse that undercuts a noble character and really hurts an otherwise an intelligently handled monster movie.
The Denouement: In these retrospectives, I intend to relegate spoilers to near the end, making them easier to avoid for those who haven't seen the movie yet. Given the sheer number of Godzilla films, I think its a safe bet you haven't seen all of them, no matter how fanatical a fan you may be.

As in the first movie, Godzilla Raids Again ends with a suicide. Kobayashi crashes his plane into the side of a frozen island, triggering an avalanche that buries Godzilla alive in ice. While the first Godzilla's demise was pretty unambiguous, this new Godzilla's fate makes the possibility of a return clear to the audience, if not the cast, who seem convinced they had seen the last of the rampaging giant.

The Odds: With the latest movie having Godzilla taking on his old nemesis, King Kong, we can wonder what monster will Godzilla do battle with next. So what are the odds the Big G and Anguiras will have a rematch? After all, this was Godzilla's very first opponent. Well, Anguiras has shown up in a few subsequent films, but only in a minor role. I don't think he has the presence or the popularity to follow King Kong. I'm laying odds at 20 to 1 against.

Place your bets.

Gordon Hopkins is an award winning reporter and columnist for The Fairbury Journal-News, a 130-year-old newspaper in Jefferson County, Nebraska (He hasn't been working there that entire time.) He has also written a couple of crime novels (“Fraudsters” and the best-selling “Broken”) and edited a few non-fiction books.

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