ゴジラの逆襲 / Gojira no gyakushū aka Godzilla's Counterattack and Gigantes, the Fire Monster
"This is still unconfirmed, but it seems Godzilla did it."
—Captain Obvious reports on monster-scale destruction
The second appearance of Gojira (1955) represents one of the Monster King’s finest moments, and one of the last times the filmmakers took him seriously. It also, strictly speaking, introduces Godzilla. Or rather, it introduces the monster who would stomp its way through the Shōwa era daikaiju films. But we'll get to that.
Motoyoshi Oda directed. Ishirō Honda, who helmed the original Gojira and many subsequent kaiju movies was busy with another project. Toho Studios had an international hit with the first film; they needed to move fast. The first film begins with a ship; Oda's movie starts with a seaplane.
A pair of pilots spotting schools of fish for a seafood company find themselves on a remote island, where they encounter a second Godzilla and another monster, later dubbed "Anguirus." They escape to warn civilization. Dr. Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura) from the first film identifies this development as one they feared. One bomb released Godzilla; the second released these new creatures. The Monster King we see hereafter (until the first reboot) is not the one, then, that laid waste to Tokyo in '54, but another of the same species.
The expected destruction and mayhem follow, with the attendant drama among affected people. This film balances these elements better than most of its successors would. We have romance, but it isn't overplayed, and it doesn't end perfectly. We also have humour, but it takes the form of witty banter and minor character foibles, rather than the goofball comic relief characters and silly monster moments typical of the genre once it started playing more to the kiddie crowd.
The film doesn't forget the nuclear strikes that inspired its predecessor-- how could it? We see echoes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the destroyed cities and the mushroom cloud that lingers after the explosion of a refinery. We're spared the burn victims of the unedited first film, however. Godzilla Raids Again has some new territory to explore.
Post-war Japan could not indulge in the kind of heroic films the Americans made to celebrate their victory. This movie, instead, channels their better wartime memories into the battle against great beasts. We see brave soldiers and supportive civilians bonding together, faithful women relaying messages, and a selfless kamikaze-like sacrifice that shows the way to defeat Godzilla.
We see other interesting developments. Along with our point-of-view characters and the military, we have a brief story concerning convicts who escape while being transported from the main attack site. Their story could have been an entire Cloverfieldesque movie. They do not survive long enough for that, though they do serve a larger plot point.
The final Godzilla movie to be shot in black and white, Godzilla Raids Again takes advantage of grayscale. The costumes and model work look better in in the limited palette, and the monsters, more realistic. These effects aren't without limitations, of course. Anguirus is, ostensibly, a giant quadruped. It's difficult to make a convincing rubber quadrupedal costume. The oft-used technique of filming the monster mayhem at a slower speed is inconsistent here. At the time, good slow-motion could only be achieved by filming in slow motion in the first place. According to Steve Ryfle's Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of the Big G (1998), an errant cameraman only filmed a third of the footage in this manner. Some of the battles appear in slightly slowed-down footage, suited to these large beasts. Other scenes play at regular speed, making the battling monsters look like old-time TV wrestlers in rubber dinosaur suits.
We also see some expected tropes. We're reminded of the death of Dr. Serizawa, whose oxygen destroyer eliminated the original Godzilla. Like all pop-culture scientists, he worked alone and kept no notes, so they cannot reuse that plot device. And while our heroes find a way to stop this new Godzilla, we get the first of many ambiguous endings that will permit future sequels.
The film received some re-editing before release in America and Britain, though fewer than its predecessor. Some theatres ran it as Gigantes, the Fire Monsters, to avoid confusion with the original Godzilla.
Godzilla Raids Again has dated, but it remains a superior film to many of the later daikaiju sequels, spin-offs, reboots, and reinventions.
Director: Motoyoshi Oda
Writers: Takeo Murata and Shigeaki Hidaka
Hiroshi Koizumi as Shoichi Tsukioka
Setsuko Wakayama as Hidemi Yamaji
Minoru Chiaki as Koji Kobayashi
Takashi Shimura as Dr. Kyohei Yamane
Masao Shimizu as Zoologist Dr. Tadokoro
Seijirô Onda as Captain Terasawa
Sônosuke Sawamura as Shingo Shibeki
Yoshio Tsuchiya as Tajima
Mayuri Mokushô as Radio Operator Yasuko Inouye
Minosuke Yamada as Chief of Civil Defense
Yukio Kasama as Kohei Yamaji
Ren Yamamoto as Commander of Landing Craft
Shin Ôtomo as Convict Leader
Senkichi Ômura as Escaped Convict
Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla
Katsumi Tezuka as Anguirus