Return to Destroy All Monsters (review)

(originally titled Kaijû sôshingeki, aka All Monsters Attack! Monster Invasion, Operation Monsterland, and a half-dozen others)

"Here's a special news bulletin. Godzilla is now in New York City."

Director: Ishirô Honda
Writers: Ishirô Honda, Takeshi Kimura
Stars: Akira Kubo, a bunch of guys in rubber suits.

Originally conceived of by Ishirô Honda as a grand finale to his cycle of Japanese giant monster films, it proved quite successful, and became the bridge between the earlier, generally more serious kaiju features, and the later Godzilla-as-hero flicks and Gamera kiddie movies. Toho Studios set their all-star monster rally in the then-future year of 1999, when the daikaiju have been confined to a kind of Wildlife Preserve named "Monsterland."

The plot concerns the Kilaaks, a race of alien women who naturally wish to conquer earth. They plan to use King Ghidora, the Space Monster, and also the freed Terran kaiju, who briefly fall prey to the alien mind-control devices. Nearly all of the original 1950s and 1960s monsters appear: Godzilla, Mahilla (the Son of Godzilla, also called Minilla and Minya), Rodan, Mothra, Angilas, Barragon, Gorosaurus (a costume left over from King Kong Escapes), Manda, Kumonga, and Varan the Unbelievable (who only makes a cameo). Mothra is once again a larval caterpillar. Presumably, this is then a descendant of the original creature, who died in Godzilla vs Mothra, and was replaced by her larval offspring, one of whom last appeared (chronologically) as a fully-grown moth in Godzilla vs the Sea Monster. Despite the passage of more than twenty years, Minilla has not changed a bit; perhaps this is a different son, or perhaps radioactive Godzillasauri* mature very slowly (and if Godzilla is male, who the heck is this kid's mother? Gorgo?)

The Kilaaks release the beasts, and set them on the world's capitals. One of the thrills of this film is seeing the familiar rubber monsters ransack models of cities other than Tokyo. Eventually, the most famous Terran monsters and the humans band together against the extraterrestrials. In short, the plot recycles Monster Zero, but sets it in the future and adds more monsters and greater destruction.

It has human heroes too, but they are largely reduced to a sideshow. Cheesey Japanese movie veteran Akira Kubo is at his goofy heroic best as Captain Katsuo Yamabe of Rocket SY-3. His love interest, Kyoko (Yukiko Kobayashi) falls under mind control for a time, but proves open to rescue. Also appearing are several scientists who specialize in the study of megafauna. Andrew Hughes plays the token Caucasian, cast to give the film international appeal. Our chief villain is the Kilaak Queen (Kyôko Ai). One would think with mind-control devices and several large monsters on the Kilaak's side, humanity is doomed. Fortunately, our heroes learn to break the mind-control devices, and they discover that the Kilaaks require oven-level temperatures to survive. One wonder why they wanted to conquer a planet where they would die the moment they stepped outside.

As with most of Toho's giant monster pics, absurdities fill this film, including sportscaster-like play-by-play of the monsters' battles from on-site reporters. This is not great cinema; it even lacks the intention to be taken seriously which characterizes some of the early kaiju features. But if you want to see what once drew so many kids to these films on Saturday afternoon, Destroy All Monsters provides it in abundance. Model cities get destroyed. Spaceships whoosh by. Monsters stomp and roar. Structures burst into flame under the most dubious of circumstances. We are assured that, in the near future, space travel will be commonplace. And (unless you are watching the film in the original), the characters' mouths move hilariously out of synch with their words.

If you only see one kaiju film.... Well, to be honest, see the original Godzilla. But if you only watch two, then Destroy All Monsters should really be the second.

The movie has given its title to a website a rock band, and a videogame. The game appears far more popular than the film. The site, at http://www.destroy-all-monsters.com/ promises "Asian-American culture upside your head."

*Pseudo_Intellectual informs me that Godzilla is classified as an "Angurusaurus." He also argues that the monster is female. However, the movies refer to him as "he," and the talking Mahilla in Godzilla's Revenge (which is, I grant, a kid's dream) refers to the big guy as "my dad," so I'm still supporting the Godzilla/Gorgo hypothesis.

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