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My Year with Godzilla
#61
Week 10: 'Invasion of Astro-Monster' [1965]
Is Godzilla in it? Yes.
Sub or Dub? Sub

Round Two: Godzilla, Rodan and King Ghidorah! In Space!!

As conspiracy theorists everywhere already know, Planet X is discovered skulking on the dark side of Jupiter. A Japanese-American team of astronauts is sent to investigate, uncovering not only an advanced humanoid culture but also the latest hang-out of King Ghidorah, named 'Monster Zero' by the mathematically-inclined locals. The skinny-shades-wearing aliens offer a cure for cancer in exchange for Godzilla & Rodan, the only two beings in the galaxy known to be able to defeat 'Monster Zero'. Seems reasonable. But can the mono-chromatically-attired space accountants really be trusted?

'Invasion of Astro-Monster' (aka 'Godzilla vs Monster Zero' aka 'The Giant Monster War') is really a sci-fi film with some monsters thrown in. The space age model work is reminiscent of Gerry Anderson's 'Thunderbirds' - a plus in my book - and King Ghidorah is even more fantastic in both design and movement than previously seen. The story is still silly, but a notch lower than Ghidorah's first film. Nick Adams is the first non-Japanese lead I've been introduced to so far, and it was curious to hear him dubbed into Japanese in the version I watched. He played a 007 type, only shorter. Godzilla continues his decline with a ridiculous victory jig at one point, and Rodan has so little to do, I'm sure I saw some shots from previous Rodan outings.

As I watch more of these films, I'm struck by a few things. One is that kaiju universes are smaller even than Star Wars. Every main character is either someone's sibling or partner. Another is that giant monsters are drawn to bridges. They can't see one without wanting to fall on top of it.

I'm a sucker for cheesy sci films, so I was largely entertained on that level, but the kaiju element was underwhelming for me.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
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#62
BONUS: 'Daimajin Strikes Again' [1966]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Last film in Daiei Film's trilogy featuring their other giant threat.
Sub or Dub? Sub

After having a brief vacation on an island in 'Return of Daimajin', here the giant stone statue is once again ensconced among the mountains, separating the obligatory warring factions. The evil faction have kidnapped loggers from the not-evil faction to work alongside sulphur pits to turn into gunpowder to become even more evil and powerful and invade more not-evil factions. The approaching winter and realisation that they would have to traverse the sacred mountain range prevents the not-evil villagers from launching a rescue party for their lost loggers. However, such adult notions do not deter a group of small boys, who head off 'Stand by me'-style on an adventure to free their fathers and brothers.

This film is slightly different from the previous Daimajin efforts in that the focus is squarely on the young kids and the japes and wheezes they get into as they cross the mountain. It's fine, and takes an unexpected turn as their perils increase, but I found myself easily distracted and nodding off towards the end. Damiajin gets probably the most screen time in this film, though again his presence is only felt right at the climax. The production values are still high - there is greater location work, and the opening effects of earthquakes and other Daimajin destruction are excellent. Kudos to Daiei for not just making 'Daimajin 3.0' this time, but I'm still not a Daimajin fan, alas.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
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#63
BONUS: 'Daimajin Kanon' [TV] [2010]
Is Godzilla in it? Not that I saw. Godzilla connection: Reimaging of the Daimajin legend, Daiei's other giant threat
Sub or Dub? Sub

'Daimajin Kanon' ran for 26 episodes; I managed to sit through 2. Granted, I'm probably not the right demographic for this show, but I had no idea what was going on. Here's what I - sort of - picked up:

A young girl, recently transplanted from a small village to Tokyo, is the keeper of a lilting magical song. She shacks up with a wannabe musician who takes the song and turns it into a big rock hit. They break up and she mopes around all the time she was on-screen during the two episodes I saw. Meanwhile, a team of some kind of superheroes are looking for her. One can transform into a Power Ranger type, another into some weird eyeless dog and a third girl whose superpower appears to be her ample cleavage. She may have done other stuff, but I didn't notice. Anyway, there's also a tiny Silly-Putty-coloured sprite or something with a helmet head that talks gibberish and lives in the aforementioned ample cleavage. Nice gig if you can get it.

On the bad side is a Ringu-type wraith that possesses the girl's ex-boyfriend. He spits up a pale half-human-half-toad creature (stuff of nightmares) which fights the good guys. There's also a ramen noodle shop that looks like will become everybody's favourite hang-out. And then there's Daimajin.

In the tradition of the Daimajin films, the giant stone statue appears hardly at all. He does get to fight a giant wraith in a flashback sequence in episode 2, but otherwise he's dormant, back at the village, no doubt waiting for the girl to come back and sing the magical song - maybe in episode 26, if you can last that long. By the way, there are a lot of songs in this show, and the version I saw had karaoke lyrics in Kanji, Romaji and English as they played. 

I don't know whether I could suffer the other 24 episodes. From what I saw, it was like 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' meets 'Dawson's Creek'. Still, it must have had quite a following: check out the array of 'Daimajin Kanon' T-shirts you can buy:

'I watch Daimajin Kanon because my girlfriend makes me' is my favourite.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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#64
That show actually seems really cool.
Mega Man is best game. 
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#65
Film #10 - Invasion of Astro-Monster

This was fun. Goofy and weird, I admit, but at least it was uniquely different than the other goofy weird Godzilla movies that came before it.

3/5
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#66
Week 11: 'Dogora' [1964]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Dogora guest-starred opposite Godzilla in TV's 'Godzilla Island' from 1997.
Sub or Dub? Sub

A couple of 'what if?' moments must have occurred during the genesis of this film. "What if a gang attempting a massive diamond heist are continually thwarted by a giant space jellyfish?" "What if we make a kaiju movie but don't show the kaiju all that much?"

'Dogora' is... interesting. In many ways, it fits right into the usual kaiju experience - there's another brother-sister combo, another bridge is destroyed, another learned scientist providing the answer to the monster problem and working with the military... And yet, it's as if all involved really just wanted to make a diamond heist caper and reluctantly added a kaiju sub-plot to placate the studio.

Dogora the Space Monster is another product of radiation and for much of the film the effects it has on our world are the only proof we see that it actually exists. Dogora is no man-sized rubber suit; it is a combination of puppetry, animation and light effects, and is rather shy, based on its screen time. (It makes Daimajin look like an attention whore.) Dogora is a carbon-guzzler, meaning ostensibly coal and diamonds, but also allows humans and other supposedly carbon-based entities to float. (A floating truck is actually well done, reminiscent in some ways of a later famous scene from 'E.T.')

But enough of Dogora, as that's not what the film is about. It's about the diamond thieves, and the police trying to catch them, and an American in Japan (Robert Dunham) who is caught in the middle. It's about double crosses and red herrings and misdirection. It's actually entertaining, unless like me you were expecting, you know, a film about a space monster. I kept thinking that something was going to happen to bring the space monster element more to the forefront. I kept being wrong.

Robert Dunham speaks fluent (I assume) Japanese throughout, which is great and distracting at the same time. Akiko Wakabayashi is great and distractingly beautiful as always, and there are a couple of familiar Toho faces (Yosuke Natsuki and Hiroshi Koizumi). There are also some nice flourishes not usually noticeable in these films - some POV shots and scenes shot from high angles - showing that care went into making this film, even if the budget didn't really stretch to having an actual kaiju.

Despite its shortcomings, 'Dogora' is entertaining for an hour and a half, probably more so if you keep your kaiju expectations in check.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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#67
BONUS: 'Agon' [1964]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Nippon TV's answer to Godzilla
Sub or Dub? Sub

Toho Studios originally prevented this 4 part miniseries from being shown on TV in 1964, claiming it too closely resembled their own creation Godzilla. It's not hard to see why. Agon is another prehistoric two-legged hybrid - complete with fire breath and 3 rows of plates running down its back - that is awakened at sea due to radiation. A reporter, a cop, a scientist and his comely female assistant join forces to curtail Agon's destructive tendencies.

'Agon' was shot in black-and-white and is sometimes difficult to watch. POV shots from moving vehicles are so shaky I was feeling nauseous. Dramatic moments are highlighted by rapid close-ups. There are some cuts so quick I couldn't make out what I had just seen. Also making it difficult to watch is the terrible Agon suit, or puppet in close-ups. I don't expect a TV series to have the same budget as a theatrical release, but Agon's rampage is far from convincing.

The reporter is clearly modeled on Frankie Sakai's character in 'Mothra', even having a similar nickname. The first two episodes introduce the characters, the threat and how to deal with it. The final two start a new story with the same characters, adding a suitcase MacGuffin. The suitcase's contents are wanted by Bad Guys, but ends up at the bottom of a lake, inconveniently located too close to a sleeping Agon. For most of the episodes, Agon wanders around with a rowing boat in his mouth, being bothered by clearly toy helicopters. It does not look good. Not to give too much of the plot away, but Agon manages to set himself on fire whilst stoned. That sounds more interesting than it actually is, in case it piqued your interest to give 'Agon' a whirl. This is decidedly Godzilla-lite, only necessary viewing for completists like myself.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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#68
BONUS: 'Mammoth Kong vs. Gekko Kamen' [1958]
Is Godzilla in it? No. Godzilla connection: Features 'Mammoth Kong', a not-too-subtle rip-off of King Kong, a later Godzilla foe.
Sub or Dub? Sub

Gekko Kamen (the 'Moonlight Mask') was apparently a big thing in Japan in the late 1950s. He is credited as being Japanese TV's first superhero, and Mammoth Kong as being the first daikaiju to appear on TV. From the four episodes I watched, he seems to be a Zorro-like character, a masked do-gooder who turns up in the nick of time and is beloved by the masses. He even has his own song that (I think) he sings to sometimes signal his arrival, the lyrics of which are well-known by the populace. The only superpower that I witnessed was his ability to jump really high. As superpowers go, it's pretty low on the totem pole, but still.

The 'Mammoth Kong' storyline ran for 11 episodes, but I only managed to find the first 4 on DVD. (If anyone can track down any more, please let me know.) For a half-hour kids show, it's fairly dialogue-heavy and action-light. Gekko Kamen turns up sporadically, and I don't think it's a spoiler to suggest that his secret alter ego is probably the Chief Detective Iwai who, Clark Kent-style, is never around when Gekko Kamen turns up. However, the fact that the Moonlight Mask's mystery is never blatantly revealed is charming.

Detective Iwai has a half-wit sidekick, for reasons that these episodes didn't explain, who is obviously based on Jerry Lewis. Kids probably loved him; I hated him. The villains are much more interesting, even labeling themselves evil, complete with black KKK robes and hoods emblazoned with an X. Their plan is to assassinate prominent politicians and other VIPs to bring Japan to its knees. Their method, however, is bizarrely convoluted.

Mammoth Kong - a 15 meter tall Yeti with tusks and a horn in the middle of his forehead - is found either in Alaska or the South Pole (both were mentioned) and is being transported back to Japan, presumably to entertain the kids who are already in love with it before it even arrives. (A good portion of the first episode is spent with kids discussing how to save it from being killed when it makes port.) However, a typhoon causes the ship to crash, and Mammoth Kong is washed ashore, dead. Enter the evil X villains, who snatch the body, bring it back to life Frankenstein-style and seemingly implant something in its brain so that they can control it remotely. They now embark on their plan to use Kong to kill the aforementioned VIPs. Why they don't just shoot them is not made clear, especially as most of the time they are right there with their victims, brandishing guns. Of course, that wouldn't be so much fun to watch, as the Kong effects, while not good as such, are entertaining.

Mammoth Kong is a man in a suit, and the people he interacts with are marionettes. It doesn't look anywhere near realistic, but it is as cute as hell. At one point, Gekko Kamen rides a motorcycle through Kong's legs on a very obvious toy track. I defy anyone not to enjoy a scene like that.

The fourth episode had the most Mammoth Kong vs. Gekko Kamen action and ended on a cliffhanger. Does the Moonlight Mask defeat Kong? I suspect so, but I would love to see how. Apparently there was also an animated series in 1972 which had a Mammoth Kong storyline too, but I failed to track that down either. (Again, I'm open to suggestions as to where to find it.) I can see me becoming a big Gekko Kamen fan after this introduction.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
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#69
Film #11 - Dogora

I'd totally be ok with Hollywood remaking this as a crossover film, Ocean's 11 style.

2.5/5
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#70
(03-18-2019, 05:31 PM)Neglify Wrote: I'd totally be ok with Hollywood remaking this as a crossover film, Ocean's 11 style.

Brilliant!
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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