Directed by Jun Fukuda
Distributed by Kraken Releasing/Section 23 Films
Another year, another Godzilla picture back on the big screen. Toho had been steadily churning out Godzilla adventures at a rate of one per year since 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla. This time around, though, the series had lost two of its core players. Director Ishiro Honda bowed out, handing directorial duties over to Jun Fukuda, who would go on to helm five films total in the series. Special effects supervisor Eiji Tsuburaya had other commitments that largely kept him off the set for this entry, leaving his duties up to Sadamasa Arikawa. Those changes aren’t the major reason why Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster (1966) – or Ebirah, Horror of the Deep if you prefer – is viewed as the first (arguably) weaker film in the Showa series. Nope, the reason it’s such a quizzical Godzilla film is because he was never supposed to be the star. The script was originally meant for King Kong – and was to be titled Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong vs. Ebirah – which would explain the more curious elements present in this picture.
The real question here should be why Toho didn’t just order some rewrites so the film at least paid respect to Godzilla’s legacy up to that point, though anyone familiar with Toho’s business practices shouldn’t be too surprised. We get all the familiar trappings of a Kong picture – island setting, natives, prehistoric opponents, female objects of affection, lightning rejuvenation. Oddities aside, the greatest strength of Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster isn’t the eponymous star’s presence; it’s the eclectic cast and their perilous journey to find a sibling lost at sea. Their island excursion plays out like Japanese James Bond, complete with a hidden enemy base, alluring native women, espionage, and a big, bold, brassy score. Complaints about Godzilla’s many sequels lacking a strong human element aren’t entirely unfounded, but this is one entry where the human characters are just as engaging as the Big Guy himself.
When Ryota’s (Toru Watanabe) brother goes missing off the coast of some remote island hundreds of miles from mainland Japan, he does the sensible thing by breaking into a cat burglar’s yacht with his friends, knocking the guy out, and sailing off in hopes of finding his lost sibling. They run aground on Devil’s Island and come across a militant group, Red Bamboo, which has taken over the place. Natives from nearby Infant Island (home of Mothra) are used for slave labor to produce a yellow fluid that keeps Ebirah, a giant sea shrimp (not a crab or lobster), at bay. Naturally, Ryota’s brother, Yata Toru Ibuki), is there toiling away, so he and the boys break him loose. Red Bamboo sends a squadron of their troops after the men, who quickly surmise the best way to combat the troops is to wake up Godzilla, who they found nestled peacefully inside a cave. How did he even get in there? They rig up some wires to a sword, wait for a (convenient) lightning storm and soon a jolt of juice wakes the Big G from his slumber. Godzilla, likely with sleep still in his eyes, jumps right into battle with Ebirah, playing a game of volleyball using a massive rock. Maybe he was too tired for anything but stationary action? Eventually he hops into the sea and dukes it out, but Ebirah scuttles away and escapes.
Godzilla then just kind of hangs around, looking bored until he notices Dayo (Kumi Mizuno) and becomes smitten. His newfound love is interrupted when possibly his greatest cinematic foe shows up to tango: a giant condor. A giant condor he makes short work of in about a minute and change. Red Bamboo tries sending in some fighter jets, all of which meet the same fate as big bird. Sensing they’re about to lose their island stronghold, Red Bamboo’s leaders initiate a self-destruct sequence and hit the high seas… before being literally hit by a recharged Ebirah. The supersized shrimp is ready for another go-round with Godzilla, something it quickly regrets when G rips off his claws and kicks his ass down to the depths. Meanwhile, Ryota and the group manage to escape the island thanks to a surprise visit from Mothra, but the island is about to blow and everyone is worried Godzilla won’t get away in time. So, naturally, the men call out to Godzilla and warn him to leave the island. They’re warning Godzilla. About an explosion. And he heeds it. Wasn’t he, you know, born in fire and all that? Shouldn’t matter. Maybe he just wanted to be polite and follow their advice. He is our friend now, after all.
If there’s a weak aspect here, it’s the fact that Godzilla doesn’t show up until there are around 33 minutes left in the film. Prior to that, the only time we see him is when the guys stumble upon him sleeping in a tight cave. Luckily, the hour we spend Godzilla-less is a campy, kitschy romp through the jungle with a gang of colorful characters. Fukuda’s direction shows a heavy influence from James Bond films, but it never feels like a poor derivative. It’s fun and full of energy. Fukuda also wisely ties in this film with themes prevalent in the 1954 original, Gojira, by reintroducing talk of nuclear weapons. Red Bamboo uses their island hideaway as a facility for making nukes, and while the commentary on nuclear weapons isn’t heavy-handed it’s nice to have it included as a plot element. Everyone is aware Godzilla’s origin was nuclear, but few films in the series have directly addressed the impact producing those weapons can have on the planet.
The Godzilla suit used here, dubbed NankaiGoji, is reportedly the exact same one used for Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965). I say “reportedly” because the mouth looks like it’s hanging open nearly the entire film, as though some damage had occurred to it and no one bothered to fix it. Toho was never much for taking excellent care of these suits anyway. Eventually, the NankaiGoji would be used as the water stunt suit for the next three sequels. If you’ve ever wondered why Godzilla’s look seems to change during the course of a film, it’s because older suits were used when G had to get his feet wet.
Toho didn’t want to risk ruining their hero suits. Ebirah doesn’t get much love despite being one of Godzilla’s earliest kaiju adversaries. I guess a giant shrimp isn’t quite as compelling as a three-headed dragon or a huge colorful moth. The fights between Godzilla and Ebirah are more humorous than threatening, especially since there are no cities or civilians to smash and crush, and Fukuda seems to be having fun making a game out of two behemoths clashing. One cool aspect to their battlers is that this is the first film since the original to show Godzilla underwater, and the first to show him fighting down there. Godzilla takes a while to hit the scene, but once he does it’s more or less 30 uninterrupted minutes of mayhem, all of which culminates in a final fight with Ebirah where Godzilla rips off both its claws and taunts Ebirah by snapping them open and closed. Again, right out of Kong’s playbook but it’s hilarious to see Godzilla be such a jerk.
Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Kraken Releasing/Section 23 Films, sporting a detailed, colorful picture fans are going to love. If you’ve been a longtime Godzilla fan, chances are you watched this a hundred times on VHS before upgrading to Sony’s DVD edition that was released nearly a decade ago. That transfer looked good, this one looks great. The 2.35:1 1080p image is awash with details, presenting a clearer picture than ever before. Colors are enhanced tremendously, with rich saturation and lots of primaries that pop off the screen. Nearly all of the film takes place during the day, allowing strong lighting to reveal minutiae in facial closeups and clothing textures. There’s even a minimal (but appreciable) level of depth to the image, though wide shots do look noticeably flat. The print used was kept in great shape, with only some minor flecks and dirt specks occurring intermittently. Grain is surprisingly fine, covering the film with a light layer but never even approaching moderate levels. It doesn’t appear any DNR was applied to achieve this, either. A handful of shots look a little soft, but these are minor quibbles. As someone who has watched this movie incessantly since childhood, I can confidently say everyone – non-fans included – will be pleased with how good it looks.
Audio comes in the form of both Japanese and English DTS-HD MA mono tracks. The edge goes to the Japanese track, which sounds a bit fuller and features the actual actors emoting and reading their dialogue. The dub track may provide a bit of nostalgia for some, but it’s inferior as compared to the original source. Dialogue is clear enough to be heard, though you’ll be reading most of it anyway. The real star here is Masaru Satoh’s score, which is replete with surf-y intonations and a handful of distinct leitmotifs. During the film’s opening dance contest, he employs a catchy little guitar riff that sounds like it was ripped straight from Batman’s theme. Ebirah has a Dick Dale-style theme, and Godzilla has a five-note motif that is brooding and ominous. Satoh’s work is very reminiscent of John Barry, with many bold, brass-heavy sections. It’s an incredible piece of work that supremely improves the picture but can also stand on its own with ease. English subtitles are included, but for some reason the English 1 default option doesn’t work. Hit the subtitle button on your remote and get to English 2, which does work.
The only included extra here is the film’s Japanese trailer, which is AWESOME. Wanna see Godzilla and his watery foe talk to each other? Of course you do, so watch this.
4 out of 5
1/2 out of 5