DVD Review of Godzilla’s Revenge
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 3/14/11
I’ve seen thousands of films. Not as many as most remunerated film critics, but quite a bit more than your average filmgoer. And in all those films, across genres, decades, screenwriters, nationalities, directors, there are only two films that I can think of that truly get inside how a child reacts and thinks. Note, I am not claiming films that well portrayed childhood, such as a modern family classic like My Dog Skip, amongst that lot. Although, it is itself an arguably great film, that film, for all its virtues, was told in a rather conventional manner. No, the two films that best penetrate a child’s mind are actually both B science fiction films, and both are sequels. The first is Robert Wise’s 1944 debut directorial effort, the black and white The Curse Of The Cat People, and the second is 1969’s mere 69 minute long color film, Godzilla’s Revenge (aka All Monsters Attack, Oru Kaiju Dai Shingeki- admittedly all bad titles). Both films were made on shoe string budgets, employed narrative arcs vastly different than their predecessor films, but both really got in to the logical nub and center of a child’s POV on the world. It’s no surprise that both films are usually dismissed by fans of the original films in the series. Yet, The Curse Of The Cat People is a better film than Cat People and Godzilla’s Revenge is clearly the best film in the whole Godzilla series, save for the first film, Godzilla, King Of The Monsters (and its Japanese source film, Gojira), and, in reality, given the actual narrative inventiveness of this film, good arguments can be made that it is the best film in the series, and possibly the best film of director Ishiro Honda’s career.
Naturally, the idiocracy in today’s critical field routinely slams this film as the worst in the series, and even those few people who defend it offer only tepid defenses, such as this one (note the smarmy title):
Important to remember most of all about this movie is that it is a kid’s movie, therefore it teaches us some important lessons. First of all, if real life sucks, don’t deal with it, escape to a fantasy land that is much better. Second, violence, not talking, is the answer to everything. Got a bully in your life? Grow a pair and beat him up. Out for a walk in the jungle when you come across a giant spider? Beat it up. Taking a nap on a cliff when planes fly by? Destroy ‘em. Out for a swim when a giant prawn swims near? Beat it up. Kidnapped by evil-doers with at least one weapon that could easily be used to kill you? Beat them up; after all, you’re seven years old and you have an active imagination, that’s the best weapon of all! This is a children’s movie that parents of today would cower in FEAR of if it were unleashed on their children. As the Oprah-ization of the world becomes more and more complete, people are taught to cry about their issues and combat bullies with words and tattling. A movie that teaches to FIGHT would be considered exactly the WRONG message to send to young children. I don’t know about you, but if I were a bully, a swift kick in the junk would stop me in my tracks a lot faster than a, “Please stop, let’s be friends.” Kids today have no respect for authority, and go on shooting sprees when they get mad; kids who grew up watching this movie respect their elders (at the end of the movie Ichiro takes full responsibility for a couple of ‘out of line’ things he does), and would get in fights and then be friends afterward when they got mad. Godzilla knows how to raise kids a hell of a lot better than Dr. Phil. He also teaches us that strength of arms is the best way to get respect. AWESOME!
Which actually is the last of a series of points defending the film. Yet, the critic then turns around, and in the next paragraph types:
Chest-beating and liberal whiner bashing aside, this movie isn’t good. It’s fairly entertaining and I personally love it to death. If at all possible, I’d recommend watching this Godzilla movie before ever watching Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster or Son of Godzilla, you may find it more enjoyable. In fact, I’d strongly recommend first sitting down to watch Godzilla vs. Megalon and then this film (trust me, there is no such thing as continuity in the Godzilla series from the years 1965 through 1975) and see how this stacks up. As much as I recommend seeing this movie, owning it in the Godzilla Collection Boxset and laying off of it as the whipping boy of the Godzilla Universe (please, save that for a movie that deserves it much more, like the 1992 Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla, or Godzilla vs. Megaguirus), I can’t give it an excellent rating, I’d be lying to you that way. Oh yeah, although I refer to it as Godzilla's Revenge (due to growing up with that being the only title I knew), I have yet to see a point at which Godzilla gets much REVENGE...
One might wonder why the film is said to suck after so many good points are pointed up; and that’s the point. This critic, as many others, merely echoes the fanboy mantra, and does not basically understand that 1) technically speaking, the film is well made (in both its new filmed sections and the stock footage reused from earlier films- perhaps the best instance of reused, and repurposed, footage from other films in cinema history) and 2) given that the whole thing is from a child’s POV only heightens the film’s daring. Now, let me repeat that: I am not trying to argue for a lower standard: ‘Oh, this is a child’s film, give it some slack.’ No, I am saying the child’s POV taken is not a mitigating factor, but an ENHANCING one! And this stems from both the terrific screenplay (proof that excellence can be cobbled together from stock footage and good directing) by Shinichi Sekizawa, and Honda’s excellent direction- especially in the scenes involving children. Even better is the film’s musical scoring, by Kunio Miyauchi - in the American version. The Japanese version is much more bizarre and less apt. Equally so, the dubbed American version far better captures the vocal intonations of children (few of the original Japanese child actors could emote well) and makes most of the adult characters a bit more buffoonish, which works as a stylization that emphasizes the child-like take on things. But, the biggest improvement, soundwise, in the American version, comes with the voice used for Godzilla’s son, Minya. In the original Japanese it’s an almost robotic sounding feminine voice, whereas in the American version it’s a far more friendly and goofy male voice, and one that actually displays a range of emotion, unlike the original Japanese version. One might think because I grew up with the dubbed version that I prefer it for that reason. No, it’s just that the Japanese vocalizations all seem oddly flat and unemotive, whereas, if the film is but a memory of a child, the Americanized voices are all individuated, thereby memorable, thus giving a reason why some rather banal moments of the film are recalled. Also, the very physical reactions of the Minya character are not effeminate, but goofy, thus the goofier American voice meshes far better with the physicality of Minya than the shrill, effeminate Japanese voice.
Here a brief plot rundown: set over the course of about a 24 hour diegetic reality, the film opens on Ichiro (Tomonori Yazaki), an only child of a train engineer father (Kenji Sahara) and a beauty shop mother. He is an early elementary schooler- lonely, smaller than normal, and effeminate, but gifted with a great imagination, as he is a latchkey kid (a now outdated term) in a big industrial Japanese city (never specified) whose factories seem pulled straight out of Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Red Desert. He is also the best of the stereotypical monster film Japanese kids- with his requisite baseball cap and super-short shorts. In most monster films, these kids are annoying for their affection for the destructive monsters who kill their friends and family, but in this film, Ichiro is more important than the monsters. He is smarter and more decisive; he is not an accoutrement but a necessity of the film. He walks home with a slightly larger girl friend, Sachiko, through an industrial wasteland and across highways that are bridged to allow kids to cross. He has many daydreams about the famed Toho kaiju (or monsters), because they are an escape from his constantly being bullied by a larger boy named Gabara, and his posse of hangers-on. The film never definitely specifies this, but it is easy to assume from the reactions of the adults to his mention of the monsters, that this is a simulacrum of the ‘real world,’ not the Toho kaijuverse; meaning that Godzilla (and friends) is understood in this film, by all involved, as a ‘movie’ monster, not a real world entity to fear. Thus, all of Ichiro’s flights of fancy come not from having lived through a Godzilla stomping of his city, but from having experienced Godzilla at the movies. Hence, the later stock footage of earlier Godzilla releases make perfect sense, since, in dream, Ichiro is merely recapitulating the very scenes from films that he, as I and countless millions of other Godzilla fans of the era, has witnessed and internalized. A 6 or 7 year old child, like him, would do little else. This is another reason why Ichiro transcends all other Japanese monster kids, for he controls the monsters of this film, and is not merely enamored of them.
But, there are real world dangers that face Ichiro. Aside from the bully Gabara, there are a pair of dimwitted bank robbers (Sachio Sakai and Kazuo Suzuki) that he will contend with (in a version of Home Alone over two decades before the far lesser American film opened) and, naturally, defeat, and then there is the greatest danger- one very subtly implied, but never stated (hence no other critics have ever picked up on its prescience), and that is the presence of a manipulative older neighbor, a toymaker named Mr. Inami (Hideyo ‘Eisei’ Amamoto), who may very well be a pedophile (note the overaffections of his looks and lingering gestures toward the young boy). This is not my PC overreaction, but a clear-eyed look at a reality that faced almost all latchkey kids at some point, and, given the year of its release, could only be implied, not overtly shown nor stated. There was always a recurring subtext of possible pedophilia in many Japanese monster films- a young boy and an overly-protective grandfatherly figure- but no film gives off those creepy vibes like this one. It’s nothing in the script, per se, just the way certain scenes play out. The old man’s affections for Ichiro are simply too much. The old man is also just too concerned about the boy, and always there, at inappropriate moments. Intentional or not, it contributes to the empathy most viewers feel for Ichiro, especially when confronted by tormenting peers. At several points the old toymaker solicits Ichiro to spend more time with him, and Ichiro always instinctively pulls away (just as most pedophilia victims do), with an odd mix of natural hyperactivity and almost preternatural recognition that something is not quite right with the old man, nor his staying too long with him. Having watched this film literally dozens of times over the years, across all formats, I’m amazed at how, on each watching, I pick up on some small nuance in the relationship between Ichiro and Inami that I never noticed earlier. This is great screenwriting and acting resulting from great direction. Other attempts at pedophilia onscreen come off as clunky, in comparison. That Honda does it so subtly, and ends the film with the bully and criminals vanquished, whereas the old man is still free to plot and scheme to corrupt Ichiro is both realistic and brilliant, ending the film on a gloomy note; albeit it a very good one that is reinforced by another trope Ichiro is shown to have- budding sociopathy.
To escape his real world bully, Ichiro several times dreams of Monster Island, and arrives there via a psychedelic trip (this was 1969 after all). Nowadays Ichiro would be diagnosed with some faux psychiatric disorder and thoroughly medicated, but in the late 1960s Ichiro is just a likable little wimp. On the island, he sees Godzilla battle several classic Toho monsters, and we view several others, as well (via stock inserts). Initially, he is chased by a giant preying mantis, and falls down a deep hole. This is not only classic dream symbolism, and a primal childhood (if not human) fear, but given how he falls down the hole (being chased by a monster and merely ‘wafting’ to the bottom) it’s a perfect representation of a child’s POV. He tries to climb out but is hopelessly stuck. Then a rope is lowered and he is pulled to the surface by a talking Minya, Godzilla’s son; an odd little dinosaurlet with sleepy eyes, who can weakly blow smoke rings, yet is not strong enough to consistently breathe fire. They bond and commiserate about bullies. Despite having Godzilla as a father, Minya has a bully, too. His monstrous bully is called Gabara, as well. This Gabara is a tailless, warty creature with greenish skin, and a feline face, with an odd tuft of hair, and an ability to generate electrical shock waves in his body and transfer them by touch. Gabara looks more like a Muppet than a ‘real’ Godzilla foe, and, again, this seems apt, since Gabara’s lone appearance on film is in this cinematic dream, as a transference of Ichiro’s nemesis. The monster’s bizarre look is what a young boy might come up with, and this ‘oddity is another clue that the film is a dream by a child. Gabara is not really that threatening, unless you are Ichiro’s age, and, as with the imperfect monsters in films like Jason And The Argonauts or Babes In Toyland, the monster’s very imperfection and lack of naturality actually enhances its essential childish dream fearfulness.
Significantly, Ichiro is awakened by the old toymaker- as a bridge between dream dangers and real world ones. After running away from his Gabara, Ichiro explores an abandoned factory, where he scavenges junk to use for his own science experiments. The look and must of this factory set had to reflect real world counterparts because, at the same time, in America, my young friends and I were playing in very similar circumstances, save there would be more discarded drug and gun paraphernalia lying about. When Ichiro leaves, we see the bank robbers emerge, and plan to follow him because Ichiro has found and taken one of their wallets. Ichiro naps in his apartment, dreaming of being with Minya, on Monster Island, and then we see Godzilla fighting off other monsters and jet airplanes that strafe him. Why the jets would attack him make no sense, but this is essential dream logic. The bank robbers wake and kidnap Ichiro to use as a hostage in their escape from the city.
While hostage, Ichiro (who also seems to suffer from narcolepsy) nods off and again dreams of Minya, whom he helps to defeat Gabara. Gabara strikes back, and the Godzilla steps in to defeat Gabara (in some of the hokiest and most anthropoid like moments in the film series, but in ways that a child does dream of- yes, I remember such dreams!). When he wakes, Ichiro easily outwits the two dumb robbers, who are captured by the police. Ichiro becomes a local hero of the press, and the next morning, on his way to school, he thanks Minya for helping him. The press wonders who Minya is (thereby emphasizing that Godzilla and company are only ‘movie monsters’ that adults do not know of) and the toymaker explains. Earlier, his mother had fretted over not being there for Ichiro, but he pooh-poohed it. On his way to school, with Sachiko, Ichiro is again ambushed by his Gabara. He strikes first, defeats Gabara, and then goes out of his way to taunt a sign painter into falling, thus gaining the respect of Gabara and his gang. As Ichiro runs away, chased by the painter, he asks his dad, driving by on a train, to intercede, and meets up with Sachiko, Gabara, and the gang. Ichiro is now the top dog, and the depressing fact is that he’s likely not learned any lesson of substance, save that might makes right, thus dooming him to possible continued juvenile delinquency. This ending is not PC, and it is very realistic; there is no moralizing. In short, it’s a perfect ending to a film that, for not being trippy, pro-civil rights, anti-colonialist, about the generation gap, pro-drug use, or anti-Vietnam War, perfectly captures the 1960s zeitgeist as well as any other film I’ve seen. Pollution, crime, poverty, and industrial waste (see the scene where Ichiro spies Gabara and his gang fishing in a filthy river) are far more essential to the 1960s than any of the other topics named, for these things gripped many times more people than the aforementioned did.
The DVD, the Toho Master Collection from Classic Media, has both versions of the film, and as noted, the American version is better, for a number of reasons. It has the original Japanese theatrical trailer, a biography on Honda’s life and career, an image and poster gallery, as well as an audio commentary by Richard Pusateri- a Godzilla magazine writer, not Ed Godzsiszewski (as wrongly noted in several online DVD reviews) nor Steve Ryfle, the two Godzilla experts the DVD series usually features. Godzsiszewski, however, does narrate the Honda biography. Pusateri’s commentary is not as good as those offered on other Classic Media Godzilla titles. He simply lacks the range and depth of knowledge about Godzilla, specifically, and film, generally, that Ryfle and Godziszewski have. His comments seem scripted, off the rack, and there is a general lack of passion about this terrific little film that would seem to be requisite for a commentarian to hold. His most interesting comment is when he talks about the many actors in the film, and their prior appearances in Godzilla films, then notes that the actor playing Ichiro’s father, Kenji Sahara, has appeared in more Godzilla films than any other actor. Also, the mention of some cinematic ‘tricks’ that Honda borrowed from his good friend, director Akira Kurosawa (at the time, Toho Dtudios’ grand master), reveals that Honda was a director of some talent, and not, as often derided in America, Japan’s answer to Ed Wood. The film’s cinematography, by Sokei Tomioka, is best seen in the Japanese version (one of the few areas the American film’s cropping actually worsens, not improves), but, this is mainly in some of the more psychedelic scenes. Otherwise, the film’s framing and special effects are off the rack (as would be expected of a film heavily reusing stock footage). The exception to this is the climactic fight scene between Ichiro and Gabara, which is a series of freeze-frames with small action shots. Again, while this may seem willy-nilly, the fact is that when young boys fight, and especially when they recall fights, this is EXACTLY how the memories are recalled.
Earlier I mentioned that most fans and critics universally scorn this film as the worst of all Godzilla films, but there are a few better critics out there, and this review is one of the saner and better ones:
Godzilla’s tenth movie is unarguably the most unusual of all the Godzilla films. Revolving around a lonely boy and his fantasies about Monster Island and stuffed with stock footage from previous films, Godzilla's Revenge is generally scorned by most kaiju enthusiasts as the worst entry in the series, deserving nothing more than complete dismissal.
However, if Godzilla's Revenge is taken as an entity in itself and viewed outside of the continuity with the previous films, then it is possible to view it as a highly enjoyable film. What makes Godzilla's Revenge one of the best and most unique films in the series is that it is totally unlike any previous Godzilla film, bringing the question of Godzilla's existence to the very heart of the story. It is never made clear if Godzilla's Revenge is about a boy who fantasizes about monsters which live on Monster Island in his own world, or a boy who fantasizes about movie monsters which exist in our world. This change in the basic structure of the story brings about a pleasant and much needed switch in the series, just as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster did in 1966.
Godzilla's Revenge would also be the last film in the series to take an abstract look at the Godzilla character and relate it to what Honda viewed as a most important subject; the nature of the relationships between fathers and their sons. Unknown to most fans, the film is the story of the father/son relationship, as viewed and dealt with through the eyes of a child. It was this aspect of the story that Honda hoped to convey and he photographed the film beautifully, conveying the cold stark environment of Kawasaki as the worst possible place to raise a family and expressing the strains that a two income family can have on a small child. Honda continually portrays the distance between Ichiro (Tomonori Yazaki ) and his father (Kenji Sahara) by never filming the two in the same shot together; in the only instance where they are photographed within the same frame, they are always kept apart by the distance between Ichiro's father sitting high above in the engineer's cab and Ichiro standing on the roadway. In fact, the two sequences between Ichiro and his father last only two minutes within the whole film. To emphasize this point, Honda, a director known for using close ups in his films, photographs the characters from extreme distances, further adding to the cold feel of the film. Adding to this, Honda had re-filmed the fire-breathing teaching scene from Son of Godzilla (1967), as he must have felt that in the original version Godzilla had acted too leniently towards Minya. This may have reflected Honda's own feeling toward the relationship between himself and his own father.
The points about the father and son relationship is a good one, and one that has always seemed oddly unnoted, even as other good but minor aspects of the film were commented on, such as, later in this review, when the critics mention a supposed alternate ending to the film, sans the comic/delinquency ending, and with Ichiro’s mom’s sadness that she will no be able to keep her promise to her son to not work late again. These are all true points but amazingly missed by most of the critical community. In one of my True Life memoirs, I wrote of this movie, and its deeper meaning, so let me simply quote from myself:
Violence becomes Ichiro’s paradigm for conflict resolution- in Godzilla’s world it is highly effective. I am not going to screed on the rightness nor wrongness of this for that is not the point; violence is effective when total- ask Native Americans. The problem for Ichiro is not a diminution of his soul- but the limiting effect Godzilla’s fictive success has on his ‘real life’ ability to see other ways to resolve conflicts. This will haunt Ichiro long after film’s end….While the dynamics of the bully-victim relationship have never been depicted better in any film (even serious films), Ichiro has not really triumphed. He has defeated moronic criminals & stood up to tormentors, but neither were what really ailed his existence- they were symptoms, not causes, of his woe. The bullies picked on Ichiro not simply because he was small- some of the ‘lesser’ bullies were no bigger than him, but because Ichiro was withdrawn, thoughtful, creative, with meager social skills. The cause of this his de facto abandonment by his parents- his father working long hours as a train engineer, his mom late hours as a beautician. Without their approval & guidance Ichiro clomb into a shell. The possibility he was sexually abused by the elderly neighbor would only heighten the child’s incipient inward fantasy life, making him more susceptible to bullies who need to find easy quarry in children eager & imaginatively able to withdraw to a better place.
Why is Ichiro a ‘latch-key kid’ in the 1st place? 1 look at the nabe & city where he resides gives you a clue- a prototypical 1960s industrial wasteland riddled with factories, pollution, broken machinery, traffic jams, & deserted buildings. This excess led to the ecological movements of the 1970s- you can almost smell the smog from the city as it comes off the screen. The counter-zeitgeist of those years had odd little commercials featuring a cartoon character that rivaled Smoky Bear in ecological circles- Woodsy Owl. A few years later the Godzy series tackled this in Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster. Minya & the dreams/fantasies are escapes from working class poverty, an indictment of it by their very existence. Yet, the film does this quite subversively- on the surface an oft-told tale of a boy’s acceptance by peers, underneath it shows the deleterious effects of peer pressure. Although his parents work long hours they have little to show for it. The lonely boy needs a friend, so invents 1- Minya, gleaned from watching Godzilla’s Son (thus the stock footage of his dream)- which explains why he can talk. All ‘invisible friends’ talk to their creators. It’s also why Ichiro’s ‘asylum’ is the lush, tropical Monster Island.
When Ichiro is hailed as a hero for his thwarting the bank robbers, & accepted into the gang his triumphs are, at best, Pyrrhic. Nothing has fundamentally changed in his life. He still lives in a small, shitty apartment in a crime-ridden area a tv broadcast in the film charitably calls a ‘semi-industrial neighborhood’. His parents vow to be there for him, but viewers know they will not- not for lack of care, but for the reality of their circumstances. Ichiro’s ability to ‘stand up’ to delinquent bullies allows him peer approval to become a budding delinquent bully, as well- 1 more despotic than Gabera ever was. Tormenting the hapless painter the bullies had earlier in the film means Ichiro has merely jumped a social fence stuck in the middle of the same problem of urban childhood loneliness, degradation, &- for lack of a better term- ‘desoulment’. He will doubtlessly conform to the bullying code (evidenced by his harassment of the painter, & acceptance as ‘1 of the gang’) since he did not ‘rise above’ his problem through intellect, merely steamrollered it (reinforcing to the lesser gang members theirs was the better way; Ichiro merely the better fighter & leader than Gabera). Ichiro learns success can be attained by retreating from problems with self-delusion or eliminating problems by force. The film’s seeming happy ending, with his guilt-ridden dad covering for his son’s delinquency (thereby making a connection with his son?), portends later, greater travails in Ichiro’s life. This is not a criticism, just acknowledgement of a reality the film may not have been aware of. Delusion can never bring true joy, & Ichiro is on a path many a disillusioned (or delusioned?) young male has trod.
The film is also a warning against the influence of pop culture for it’s Ichiro’s misplaced imago of Godzilla as a de facto father figure, who can only resolve things in id-like rages, which leads to his Pyrrhic victories, & most likely doomed post-film existence in a world where pedophiles, criminals, & bullies seem the only figures of triumph & masculinity.
Overall, Godzilla’s Revenge is a very good film, regardless of being viewed as a children’s film or not. It is also a better film than its Japanese source (albeit worse presented in the format under review), although that has some interesting moments lost in the American redub. One interesting difference comes about 41 minutes into both versions, where Ichiro and Minya watch Godzilla battle fighter jets. In the American version Minya’s comment consists of him telling Ichiro the jets are scary and they should hide, but in the Japanese version Minya’s comment is more telling, in that he laments that the jets are signs that humans are again coming to invade the island; implying that it is humans who are the real monsters of the film, not the giant kaiju. This is a rather obvious statement of what the film shows, on one level. But, the fact that it is uttered by the juvenile Minya makes the tie between him and Ichiro even more profound; and lifts the idea of human beings as cause of their own personal problems to a higher level: that of humans as cause of the world’s ills, not the solution. Also, the fact that the ‘attack’ by the jets comes out of nowhere, with no warning, makes the implicit criticism of humans as bringers of ‘evil’ even sharper, because it is not just evil they bring, but reasonless evil. Perhaps the most key element is at film’s end, where the toymaker is talking to reporters, after Ichiro has left them behind for school. In the American version, the old man explains that Minya is just a monster, or invisible friend, to Ichiro, whereas in the original, the toymaker uses the odd phrase that Minya is a god for children. While this may not seem important, the idea that the Minya, and all the monsters (by extension), is a god puts the film on a different level, in the original Japanese. Perhaps there is a rudimentary critique of religious beliefs in the original that the American version loses? If so, though, it’s a minor loss, for the primary conflicts of loneliness, child-parent relationships, the dangers of bullies and pedophiles, are well done. Plus, since Godzilla is seemingly acknowledged by the adults in the film as a fiction, the boy’s knowledge of him must only come from watching the films, making this film the first Postmodern monster film- apt given its release year, in the dawn of the PoMo craze. The use of stock footage in his dreams makes perfect sense since this would be what Ichiro’s knowledge of the fictive Godzilla is based on. Minya serves as the classic ‘invisible friend’ many children conjure to battle loneliness, thus it’s worth noting Minya can speak to Ichiro only when he is at his smallest boy-like size- not when a normal-sized monster. The Postmodernism in this film actually works because it flows naturally out of the ‘reality’ of a child, not some narrative construction that is shoe-horned in to the film. On top of that, Godzilla’s Revenge, as mentioned, may also be the best film made in or about the 1960s that is not explicitly about many of the revolutions and movements of the era: civil rights, anti-colonialism, women’s rights, Vietnam, the Cold War, homosexual rights, women’s rights, etc. And this is important because, despite the millions of people worldwide affected by those movements, many times more people were not affected by them in the least, and were stuck in the dead end lives Ichiro and his family, friends, and neighbors were in. The poverty, dreariness, pollution, desire to escape, was central to these millions of people, and almost never touched upon in film. This film touches upon them, and does so very well and realistically, since, as we see, despite his sudden fame (soon to be fleeting) for helping to capture the bank robbers, nothing essentially changes in Ichiro’s life. His parents will still work long hours and leave him to his own devices, and that means his anti-social behavior will flower, and possibly make him easy prey for the old toymaker’s advances.
Not only does the film work on these adult levels, but, and again to emphasize, it’s even more well crafted when seen as a children’s film (and I instinctively got this the very first time I saw the film, when it was released stateside, in late 1971). It’s recapitulation of techniques that effect a child’s POV let it cranny into a child’s mind to almost become one’s own memory; that’s how ingeniously constructed it is. Compare this to other children’s fare, from the 1950s Kukla, Fran And Ollie sort of television shows to the 1980s era of Saturday morning cartoons (The Smurfs) as de facto toy infomercials, and it’s clear that the same level of affection does not exist for those entities because they did not core into the young person’s mind by replicating the way childhood memories work. But, this effect is also heightened by the very realism of the depicted ‘real world’ Ichiro inhabits: the neighborhoods, the factories, the polluted rivers, the working class people who struggle to hang on, which all contrasts to the mostly studio shots and cardboard miniatures of Tokyo that dominate other Godzilla films.
Let me end by restating (and my multiple repetitions are only due to the decades of critical neglect and purposeful damnation heaped upon the film- possibly the most wrongly critically abused film in history) that Godzilla’s Revenge works well for many factors, but the most important one is likely the performance of Tomonori Yazaki, as Ichiro. Not only is he the quintessential Japanese monster movie kid, but Yazaki is easily the best and most likable child actor to have appeared in any kaiju film. The viewer empathizes, sympathizes, likes, and sometimes dislikes, the character because of the really superior performance Honda elicited from him. Along with the other abundant good qualities the film employs and embodies it’s really a shame that so many ignorant fans and critics have derided this film. I don’t believe it’s a flat out inarguably great film, but within the genre of children’s films, and in the subgenre of Japanese monster films, such definitive claims can be made, and good arguments can be made for greatness (thereby making it, by definition, a near-great film). Yes, the film has a special appeal to me, for my age, its themes, setting, and characters, but this does not disallow me from a clear-eyed and objective view of the film as possibly the best (if not the best) film in the entire Godzilla canon. If you have never seen this film before, and even if you’ve never watched a Godzilla film before, this is a film to watch, especially if you have children under the age of ten. You may not love it, but your kids likely will. And you will not be able to deny that it does many things exceedingly well, and far better than many other films that are overpraised. With that acknowledged, all the rest will take care of itself.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on The Spinning Image website.]
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