tgt-godzilla

Godzilla’s box office success was an immense surprise considering its production history, so it only followed that the creators would make a sequel ASAP.  The result is Godzilla Raids Again, a movie whose reputation in the Godzilla fandom can be summed up as “meh.”  It’s sort of the Iron Man 2 of Godzilla movies – deeply flawed and full of pacing problems, people tend to write it off because it’s not as impressive as the film that came before it or the sequels that came afterward.  Yet, like Iron Man 2, it’s an essential stepping stone.  Godzilla Raids Again is an experimental movie, one that takes a lot of risks it didn’t have to take, and even though only a few of them paid off, the ones that did set the groundwork for better movies to come.  This movie isn’t just a sequel, but a prototype for a continuing story – one that explores the possibility of telling more than just a one off monster on the loose feature like all the stand alone giant monster flicks from the USA.  Without Godzilla Raids Again, we arguably wouldn’t have the kaju genre.

I feel it’s important to point out that Godzilla Raids Again doesn’t set out to be exactly like its predecessor.  A lot of horror movie sequels essentially reuse the plot of their first movie with only slight alterations.  You’ll get the same story beats, similar victim characters (though rarely the same ones), and in general it will feel like the sequel is following the first movie’s script like some sort of formula or recipe.  While Godzilla Raids Again is similar to its predecessor in the loose sense that it is a story about a monster named Godzilla who goes on a rampage, it makes a concentrated effort to tell as different a story as possible.

In fact, the movie’s opening credits already show a shift in tone between this movie and the last.  Our text is displayed on a light gray background instead of black, with jaunty, adventurous music instead of the thundering boom of Godzilla’s footsteps.  While the mix of shrieks and roars that play during the credits do call to mind the wails that played in Godzilla, they’re nowhere near as mournful or haunting.  While this movie will be filled with monsters, it won’t be quite as grim – it is figuratively and, in the credits, literally lighter.

We also get to our main characters quicker this time around, in that they are immediately introduced after the credits are over.  Kobayashi and Tsukioka are two pilots who work for a fishing company as surveyors – i.e. they spot schools of fish and report on their locations.  They also happen to be romantically entangled with two of the women who work the company’s radio line – in fact, Kobayashi is engaged to one of them.  Most importantly, though, these are normal people with very mundane jobs, something that is a rarity in a giant monster movie.  It’s so rare, in fact, that decades later the American movie Cloverfield would be praised for bucking tradition by starring normal people instead of military generals, scientists, investigative reporters, and other people with flashy jobs.  It’s funny to me that Godzilla Raids Again, a movie that’s so often written off as a shameless cash grab, actually beat Cloverfield to that innovation by fifty years.

The trouble starts when Kobayashi is forced to crash land on a desert island and has to be saved by Tsukioka.  It’s a dramatic turn, but one not an unrealistic one.  The same can’t be said for what they find on that island.  Remember that Godzilla (1954) took its good sweet time before revealing the monster.  Godzilla Raids Again rejects that approach almost immediately.  Some would argue this lessens the horror, and I’d probably even agree, but since this movie presumes everyone saw the first movie, what would be the point of using a slow burn again?  Godzilla’s character has already been established, and a slow build would be pointless unless they were trying to completely change how he works.

Besides, it’s not like the reveal in Godzilla Raids Again isn’t dynamic in its own right.  Tsukioka happily reunites with Kobayashi, glad that this dramatic and dangerous turn in their lives is over so painlessly, only to hear an all too familiar roar.  We cut to a shot staring up from their perspective and see (a second) Godzilla looming on the plateaus above them (a shot that calls back to the mountain top reveal of Godzilla in the first movie).

NOTE FOR NEWCOMERS TO THE SERIES: the movie makes it clear that this Godzilla is not the one from the first movie, but rather another member of its species.

Instead of ending there, though, we get to see Godzilla emerge in full and, what’s more, we see him fighting a whole new monster: Anguirus, a burly tank of a monster covered in spikes, horns, and fangs.  Their fight is violent and animalistic, and is more than a little reminiscent of the T.rex fight in the original 1933 King Kong.  In particular, the way Godzilla and Anguirus continually circle one another, snapping and swiping before lunging and charging into the fray, is quite similar to Willis O’Brien’s famous monster fight choreography.  Both monsters get a decent brawl in before they tumble off their mountainous island and into the sea, leaving Kobayashi and Tsukioka to tell the tale.

We then get to the required pseudo-science paleontology bit, which, for those of us who are anal about these sorts of things, is significantly less inaccurate than the first time around: Godzilla and Anguirus are said to live between 150 and 70 million years ago, rather than the infamous 2 million years ago in the first film.  Hardcore paleontology fans will still be annoyed by what follows, however, as the movie’s exposition claims that Anguirus has multiple brains throughout his body that allow him to have quicker reactions, a disproven hypothesis that quite a few dino-nerds find very grating.  It’s interesting, though, since this bit of exposition will go from an interesting tidbit to a crucial plot point in a much later Godzilla film.

The dinosaur exposition gives way to more general plot exposition, and, in the first of several sly nods to the concept of continuity in the Toho Showa Kaiju Movie Expanded Universe, Dr. Yamane briefly returns to recap the first movie and explain why nothing can kill Godzilla.  He shows us footage Godzilla’s rampage (taken from the first movie, obviously). Eerily, the footage is utterly silent, lacking the roars, screams, etc. that it had in the original movie.  It gives this recap moment a ghostly feel, and is honestly somewhat uncomfortable to watch – the movie is almost reminding us of how dark this story could get, even as Godzilla Raids Again ultimately paints itself as a slightly lighter tale.

 

Yamane’s cameo and recap of the Godzilla situation is important for a few reasons, one of which is the fact that it keeps the stakes raised from the first movie.  Monsters can lose their sense of menace in sequels, often because their first movie generally reveals how to kill them.  However, Godzilla Raids Again uses Dr. Yamane to remind us that Godzilla cannot be defeated like he was in the last movie, since both Dr. Serizawa and his oxygen destroyer are gone.  This has the dual effect of raising the stakes and developing the first movie’s theme.  Both Dr. Serizawa and Dr. Yamane articulated an important truth about the Godzilla series: that the idea of destroying Godzilla is inherently flawed, since it only adds to the cycle of violence that makes monsters like Godzilla in the first place, thus ensuring that more Godzillas (or monsters/disasters like them) will pop up.  Dr. Yamane gets to articulate it once more here, summing it up in a very simple statement:

“I must say killing Godzilla is hopeless.”

When pressed, Yamane presents a solution, albeit one he isn’t particularly satisfied with.  He says they must find the monsters’ location, do their best to predict where they will land, and evacuate that area immediately.  Dr. Yamane goes on to note that, “[Godzilla] does have a mysterious instinct towards lights – we can drop flares to lead Godzilla further ashore.”  Notably, Dr. Yamane’s solution focuses on using what we understand about Godzilla to keep him separate from human civilization – a plan that requires humanity to learn about its “enemy” and coexist with it.  More notably still, this plan almost works, and the government even agrees to put it into action.  We then get a montage of scenes of Japan trying to figure out where Godzilla is, complete with a map using a crude dinosaur shape as its Godzilla marker.  It’s a great detail and I love it.

The montage of people preparing to face Godzilla frequently cuts to scenes of Kobayashi and Tsukioka, showing how these two common men nonetheless work to help protect Japan from Godzilla.  It eventually settles into a scene of the two men and their two girlfriends partying in the city set to serene music; an incredibly pleasant scene for a monster movie to have, and all the more important for it.  The short scene of our characters dancing establishes the life they have outside of this conflict, which in turn shows what they have to lose. Notably, this is something the first movie didn’t do for its heroes, which is a shame because it really helps establish the stakes in this story.  We are all the more horrified when the dance is interrupted by an evacuation order as Godzilla approaches the city because we’ve seen what these people have to lose.

I should note that this all happens incredibly fast compared to the first movie.  In Godzilla, we’d just be discovering the monster on Odo Island at this point, but now we’re in the movie’s big rampage scene.  This is both a good thing – lots of great action goes on in this scene, and as many Godzilla fans will tell you, it’s generally preferable to keep the monster action going throughout the whole movie – and a bad thing, as the pacing gets a bit weird from here on out.  We’ve got a scene that should be closing out the second act of the movie that’s instead starting the second act, and as a result the story gets a bit choppy from here to the end.  It even hampers our monster star a bit: Godzilla’s emergence from the sea isn’t quite as dramatic or ominous as it was in the original movie, lacking the buildup and suspense required to make it ominous.  It does give us a unique visual, though, as the military lights up the sky with flares as soon as his great big head pops up out of the water.  The reptile looks at the flares in curious wonder, a moment that once again shows Toho’s dedication to making their monsters more than just a force of conflict.  Godzilla is an animal driven by motives and desires, and, in this case, one that can stop to appreciate some lovely fireworks.

The movie shows us a mass evacuation of Osaka as Godzilla chases the pretty lights, and while it is certainly a tense scene, it’s not quite as apocalyptic as the panicked fleeing shown in the first movie.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though, as this movie has already established that humanity has learned a bit from the first film’s events, and as such have a reason to be slightly more successful at saving themselves.  There’s another reason this scene’s contrast with the original movie is intriguing: here is where Godzilla feels less like a “metaphor for the atom bomb” and more like a force of nature, a big storm that people have to avoid.  It also reinforces his nature as an animal driven by instincts and motives, as he chases the lights with a grunt and a few playful swipes of his claws.  Most notably of all, though, is that Dr. Yamane’s plan is working: Godzilla is actually lured away from Osaka by the lights.

Or at least he is until our next scene.  As it turns out, the prison is being evacuated as well, and a crafty group of prisoners uses Godzilla’s arrival to stage an escape from the paddy wagon that’s carrying them out of town.  They incapacitate their guards and hijack a car, only to draw the attention of several more police cars in the process.  This high speed chase through a mostly deserted city ends disastrously when the prisoners crash into a factory, creating a huge explosion and several, which in turn draws Godzilla’s attention away from the flares and on to Osaka itself.  This is admittedly a weird little subplot, but it reinforces the series’ theme: Godzilla’s wrath is always brought on by humans acting selfishly without considering the consequences of their actions.

Godzilla comes to shore to check out the fire, and the military immediately opens fire upon him.  It basically gives this second Godzilla the cliff notes version of the first Godzilla’s slowly developing antagonistic relationship with mankind – it’s not subtle or nuanced an interaction as we got in the first movie, but it gets the new Godzilla up to speed without the audience having to retread an old plotline, so ultimately it’s a good call on the film makers’ part.

Anguirus lands during the bombardment, resulting in a three way battle that’s honestly pretty impressive for a movie this old: two monsters duking it out in a figurative sea of explosions and gunfire.  It’s a pretty violent fight too, as Godzilla and Anguirus use every tool at their disposal in an effort to rip each other apart.  The movie also makes sure to show our human main characters witnessing the fight from relative safety, grounding the monstrous spectacle with a human element.  Eventually the military calls a retreat as Godzilla’s fire breath adds to the flames caused by the prisoners while failing to do more than slightly stun Anguirus – a clear indicator that both kaiju are made of sterner stuff than normal animals.

Eventually their fight spreads to the less burnt part of the city, where the two monsters continue to beat the holy shit out of each other.  As monster fights go, it’s neither one of the best nor the worst – the choreography would get better in sequels to come, but there’s a lot of interesting experimentation with  different film techniques to make the battle more frenetic and vicious.  There’s a brutality on display that we wouldn’t get again in the Showa movies for a while.  Not coincidentally, we get to see some of the surviving escaped prisoners get caught in the conflict as it continues to escalate in viciousness.  Every route they take to avoid the monsters is eventually cut off by the battle, ending when they enter the subway just seconds before Godzilla and Anguirus’s fight causes it to flood.

The battle reaches its climax over Osaka castle, with the two monsters completely obliterating the structure in their desperate attempt to kill each other.  Godzilla repeatedly gnaws on Anguirus’s neck, first biting his throat before later chewing on his spine.  It takes multiple bites to bring the spiky monster down, and Anguirus gives almost as good as he gets in the throat chomping department.  In fact, watching this fight makes me realize how weird it is that Anguirus has a reputation for being a pushover in this series. There are few fights in the Godzilla series that are this long, violent, and hard fought. Godzilla takes a full goddamn minute of gnawing on Anguirus’s neck to incapacitate him, and even then the fight doesn’t end until Godzilla utterly immolates both Anguirus and the surrounding terrain.  This becomes all the more impressive if the Anguirus that shows up later in the series is the same one shown here, because that means he survived this brutal beatdown.  Anguirus isn’t a pushover – he’s the pin cushion that takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

His foe defeated, Godzilla returns to the sea, leaving the people of Osaka to rebuild.  We are shown the ruins of Osaka in the next scene but, grim as it is, it’s not quite as horrific as the sight of Tokyo in the first movie – mainly because there are almost no human victims here, as most of the citizens were evacuated before the trouble starts.  Lives were saved by the evacuation effort – Yamane’s plan of understanding worked better than the plans of destruction from the first film, even if it didn’t work completely.  The lighter tone of this movie still serves the theme of the first, as Godzilla Raids Again continues to show how things can become better if humanity learns from its mistakes.

Kobayashi and Tsukioka volunteer to help scout for Godzilla since the fish factory isn’t going to be operational for a while.  There’s lots of laughter between them, their boss, and their girlfriends in this scene despite the tragic state of affairs, and Kobayashi jokes with his fiancé about how their wedding being postponed because of Godzilla.  It’s a light moment that seeps with dramatic irony because… well, because this isn’t going to stay happy for long.

After a montage of our heroes scouting for Godzilla, we see a reunion between them and some friends they thought they lost in the rampage.  It’s one of many scenes in the movie that shows people coming together in the face of adversity, and, bizarrely, scenes like this aren’t in the first film.  Godzilla Raids Again shows people playing to their better natures, focusing on their desire to come together and protect each other rather than destroy their enemies.  It’s an important contribution to the series’ theme: people work best when they are caring and compassionate, and life is better when we work to save others than destroy.  Sadly, the tragedy of the outside world finally intrudes upon them as a one of the surveyors tracking Godzilla sinks.  Our pilots are forced back into action to find the monster.

Before they depart, we get some more scenes developing Kobayashi’s relationship with his bride, including some cute talk about what presents she might like, and… look you know where this is going, right?  We can all see where this is heading, and it’s not a happy place.

Eventually Kobayashi and Tsukioka find Godzilla has landed on an iceberg.  They call in the military, who rush into action and start bombing Godzilla.  It has no effect, so Kobayashi makes a daring move by flying straight into the mountain to cause an avalanche to bury Godzilla.  He dies in the process, but it inspires the military to do the same with missiles.  They manage to partially bury Godzilla, but another expedition has to be mounted to finish the job.  Tsukioka himself pilots a jet to help with the effort, risking his life to make sure Kobayashi’s sacrifice isn’t in vain.  As climaxes go, it’s a little drawn out – Kobayashi’s sacrifice was the big moment, and having this much stuff happen after it diminishes the effect it should have.

On the plus side, the drawn out nature of this fight shows that our new Godzilla is just as tough as the original, as he doesn’t go down without a long, hard fight.  The avalanche takes a lot of work and sacrifice to start – more than a few jets end up following in Kobayashi’s footsteps, i.e. crashing into the mountain.  More still are brought down by Godzilla’s furious swipes and thermonuclear breath, and Tsukioka himself barely escapes death on more than a few occasions.  Despite what they learned, humanity still loses a lot in the effort to stop Godzilla – and as future sequels will show, this solution was ultimately temporary.

Godzilla Raids Again is an uneven, strangely paced movie, and one that is understandably overshadowed by both its predecessor and its immediate successors in the series.  That doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer though.  This sequel takes a lot of risks, dumping several elements of the original film’s “formula” in favor of trying new things.  While it results in a movie with awkward pacing, a lot of those new things worked – the addition of a second monster, atypical monster movie heroes, and the unique climax of burying Godzilla in ice are all ways this movie shook up the typical 50’s giant monster movie formula, and innovations like that would help the Godzilla series maintain longevity.  More importantly, however, it managed to take the message and themes of the original movie and expand on them.  While later sequels will take this even further with marvelous results, we have to thank Godzilla Raids Again for taking the first step in that direction – without it, Godzilla would just be one monster in a sea of formulaic creature features.