Years ago the Japanese military killed a giant monster rampaging across Tokyo but out of guilt chose to spare the life of her infant, Daigoro. Hapless zookeeper Saito is the man assigned to safeguard the accident-prone orange monster on its island habitat. But as Daigoro grows up his gargantuan appetite costs Japan a fortune in food. Proposed plans for a “Daigoro Tax” outrage the citizens of Japan who demand that this costly, oversized orphan be put to death. However, the nation’s children, marshalled by young Taro and his friends, campaign to save Daigoro’s life. Various clumsy grown-ups join the cause, including Taro’s uncle, an inept inventor whose mad machines almost never work properly, and bumptious oaf Kuma whose tactless attempts at rallying the crowd end in a violent brawl. Then suddenly another giant monster dubbed Goliath rises from the ocean depths, bent on laying waste to Japan. The kids and the grown-ups must find some way to help dippy Daigoro get his act together so he can save Japan.
Daigoro vs. Goliath, or to use its unabridged Japanese title: Great Desperate Battle: Daigoro vs. Goliath, holds the dubious distinction of being the only vintage Toho studios monster movie never released theatrically in the United States or Europe. Detractors claim anyone who watches a five minute clip will see the reason why. Filmed in pretty pastel colours, laden with sing-along musical numbers with lyrics that appear on-screen, strained slapstick, crazy contraptions and abundant juvenile whimsy, this is the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) of Japanese monster movies, albeit not up to their standard. The film was co-produced by Toho and Tsuburaya Productions, marking the tenth anniversary of the studio founded by legendary effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya, co-creator of Godzilla and the man behind Japan’s favourite silver-masked superhero, Ultraman.
Anyone who felt tax laws and tariffs were odd subject matter for an ostensible children's film like Star Wars - Episode One: The Phantom Menace (1999) may find themselves wondering whether avowed Japanese film fan George Lucas had a passing familiarity with this eccentric effort. For it does seem as if the filmmakers were positing Daigoro as some sort of allegorical stand-in for the imperilled Japanese economy as the plot finds the human heroes urging people to tighten their belts and make sacrifices for the greater good. At one point Kuma admonishes his wife for buying an expensive dress (“Remember, you are a carpenter’s wife!"). The austerity theme certainly hits home in these troubled times. Typical of Toho kaiju eiga of the time the film also includes a heavy-handed anti-pollution message reminiscent of Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971) and The Last Days of Planet Earth (1974) as the government debate whether to use nuclear weapons against Goliath and risk despoiling the environment.
The episodic story segues from one silly scheme after another with non-linear storytelling more akin to Jean-Luc Godard than Walt Disney and punctuated by surreal fantasies as when the anonymous inventor imagines he has magic shoes or Kuma hallucinates the bikini model on a giant billboard comes alive to offer him some sake. Toshihiro Ijima, a television stalwart who only recently returned to cinema, pulls off some eye-catching and inventive visuals even though the action rarely makes any sense. Teruyoshi Nakano handles the special effects which, while not as detailed as those featured in vintage Tsuburaya product, serve the jokey, juvenile antics well enough.
Daigoro is an odd-looking, pot-bellied orange hippopotamous like monster. British viewers of a certain age may notice a slight resemblance to the similarly surreal puppet character George from children’s TV show Rainbow. His opponent Goliath is equally uninspired: a Godzilla stand-in with a rhino horn that shoots death rays. According to rumour the film was originally intended as a Godzilla movie which would put it in line with the increasingly childish, though lovable series entries like Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973). At one point three hapless heroes ride on Goliath’s back, prefiguring a celebrated scene in the studio’s much later Godzilla x Megaguirus (2000). It is a leaden and deeply silly film, though not without its charms and frankly irresistible to die-hard fans of vintage Japanese fantasy films, no matter how childish. How many other monster movies end with one of the titular creatures taking a dump in a giant outdoor lavatory?