The 1955 black and white Japanese film, Godzilla Raids Again (?????? or Gojira No Gyakushu; aka Godzilla’s Counterattack, or Gigantis, The Fire Monster) was, for many decades, the ‘lost’ Godzilla film. Growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I saw many Godzilla films, of the Showa Era, on television and some in theaters that ran children’s films; but I never saw Godzilla Raids Again until the early 1990s, when it was first released on VHS, in a truncated American version that was overdubbed with voiceover narration from noted Chinese actor Keye Luke (and additional work from Star Trek’s George Takei, aka Mr. Sulu). Other than the first Godzilla film, from a year earlier, this was the only film in the series that was filmed in black and white, and, oddly, it adds a realism and documentary nightmare like feel that all later films failed to capture.
Is it a great film? No. But neither is the first film, cinematically, although one can argue it’s great within its genre. There is no such argument to be made for this film. But the film is not as bad as it’s universally panned; even in the significantly worse American version of the film, and it’s clearly a cut above all other Godzilla films until 1969’s Godzilla’s Revenge, a film that is more on childhood trauma than giant monsters, and a classic that is also panned by most Godzilla fans. The tale is rather simple, with some minor differences in the Japanese and American versions (both included on the DVD set under review, from the Toho Master Collection). Two Japanese pilots, Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi) and Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki), for a cannery company in Osaka, are scouting the Pacific for schools of tuna. Kobayashi’s plane ditches on an island and Tsukioka attempts to rescue him. There they see two giant monsters battle: Godzilla, thought to be dead at the end of the first film (more on whether or not this is the first or a new Godzilla later), and Anguiras, an ankylosaurus (although the infamous ‘Toho science’ later displayed mangles all the known facts of that genus of dinosaurs: they are not carnivorous, nor 150-200 feet in size, etc.). After the monsters fall in to the ocean, the pilots are rescued. Having the Oxygen Destroyer machine from the first film destroyed by its creator, who killed himself, scientists quickly get gloomy, a soap opera on the lives of the pilots unfolds, and the two monsters soon end up battling in Osaka, thereby leveling it, in sped up action that, oddly (given what is now known of dinosaurs), is the most realistic fight footage in the series’ history. How the fight starts is a classic example of dramatic contrivance, as escaped convicts crash a gasoline truck they steel into an industrial complex, whose fires act as a signal beacon for Godzilla, who was being drawn away by signal flares from the Japanese military. After a lengthy battle scene, Godzilla seemingly kills Anguiras, and dumps his corpse into Osaka’s harbor, then heads out to sea. Naturally, he does not feast on the corpse, which begs the question of how such a massive beast gets its energy, but that’s not the sort of questions these films beg, The cannery is then rebuilt in northern Hokkaido island, whereupon Godzilla destroys a fishing boat. When Godzilla is spotted on an icy island, the Japanese military plan to bury him under ice by causing glacial avalanches. Kobayashi dies in a foolhardy manner, but Godzilla is buried, although how the Japanese can feel this is his end, after apparently surviving the Oxygen Destroyer is perplexing.
This then leads into the question of whether this is the Godzilla from the first film. I’d argue yes, although the scientists in the film believe it is not. Later films contradicted themselves, with some claiming the original Godzilla’s bones were used to construct the cartoonish Mechagodzilla of later films, wherein other films maintain that the Godzilla of their film is the one who trashed Tokyo in 1954. I’d argue that, at least in the Showa era films, all the Godzillas are one and the same, despite slight appearance changes in the costumes. If Godzilla can survive eons entombed before being awakened by nuclear testing, he can certainly survive an Oxygen Destroyer. Even seeing the bones is not enough as he may simply have regenerated. Anguiras seems to have, after near death or death in this film, so why not his presumed killer? Godzilla, and all the giant monsters, seem to be, in the kaiju genre, immortals- monster versions of the Greek Olympians.
The film was released in 1955, in Japan, but took four years to reach America, marketed as Gigantis, The Fire Monster in an absurdly Rube Goldbergian tale that is detailed on the fine film commentary for the American version of the DVD, by Steve Ryfle, the noted Godzilla expert, along with comments from several other Godzilla film participants, and fellow Godzilla expert Ed Godziszewski. But, after bombing in this country, the film disappeared for decades, never making the television rounds to become classics like most of the 1960s releases in the series. Among the changes to the American film, which is actually 2½ minutes shorter, at 79 to 81.5 minutes, are some added stock footage; Godzilla’s roar being made to sound like Anguirus’s (and the characters also confuse the two names, along with Gigantis being bandied about); some added soap operatic elements, and the replacement of a good musical score by Masaru Sato with stock music from other sci fi films.
The bonus features consist of an interesting little video on the Art Of Suit Acting, following the men who donned the monster suits throughout the Showa films, and is narrated by Ed Godziszewski. The Japanese version is subtitled in highly readable gold font. The commentary, as mentioned, is mainly Steve Ryfle, on the American version (poorly but classically dubbed), and while as informative as those on the first Godzilla film and the later Mothra Vs Godzilla, it’s not as good otherwise, with Ryfle taking some unneeded potshots at the film- especially director Motoyoshi Oda; mainly for not being as ‘humane’ as Ishirô Honda- director of most of the Godzilla series, including the original film, which is better, even in its inferior American version, to almost all the other sequels. It seems like Ryfle needed the leavening force of Godziszewski throughout, for in their other commentaries together, they play off each other when disagreeing, in a balanced fashion. Here, Ryfle is almost all venom and condescension for what is a monster movie better than almost all the other Godzilla films, as well as Mighty Joe Young, The Universal and Hammer monster films, and certainly better than almost all American creature features of the 1950s. One wonders if Godziszewski would have verbally bitchslapped Ryfle a bit back into reality. First, as mentioned, the black and white, sped up fight scenes, and some disturbing shots of Godzilla’s mien, make this amongst the most ‘realistic’ and scary of all the Godzilla films, a credit to special effects maven Eiji Tsuburaya and cinematographer Seiichi Endo. This Godzilla is a killer, literally, of Anguirus. Like the undervalued Babes In Toyland the very lack of polish in the effects and musical scoring add to the creepiness of the film, whereas, in later films, Godzilla is far more cartoonish. Ryfle also rips on the American version too much, and not with any great humor. He’s at his best as a historical commentator, not as a comedian, for his jokes fall flat; and make the MST3K formula seem genius by comparison. Yes, it’s definitely inferior to the Japanese version, but not any more so than all the other Americanized versions of the film, and Anguiras is definitely the best foe Godzilla ever faced, more so than Mothra, the Sea Monster, the Smog Monster, or Megalon, among other non-notable notables in the kaijuverse. Even King Kong, in King Kong Vs. Godzilla, was not as good because the costume sucked and that film needed a deus ex machina, while this one did not.
Overall, Godzilla Raids Again is a good monster film, and an oddly scary one, which also has more indelible nightmare images than any other Godzilla film in the series after the initial one. Could both versions have been better? Of course. The American one could have definitely cut Keye Luke’s narration by 75% with no loss to the tale, and even an enhancement of it. But even that film is a nice bridge to later Godzilla films, with an odd déjà vu feeling that it is to the original film what Son Of Kong was to the original King Kong, a quicky sequel made to capitalize on the first film’s success, is definitely inferior, but, compared to later sequels, far better than its critics claim. This is especially true for the Japanese version, scripted by Shigeaki Hidaka, Shigeru Kayama, and Takeo Murata. The DVD treatment given to these films is a pleasure, even if it does not include computer enhancements, because too often these films are considered punch lines for condescending critics who will rave on about infinitely inferior films from folks like George Lucas or Steven Spielberg. They are not punch lines; they are interesting reminders of a past, just like the atomic monster films from the same era were, save that these films often featured more pathos and humor. Great art? No. Great entertainment? Yes. Deal with it.