ゴジラ・エビラ・モスラ / 南海の大決闘 / (Gojira, Ebirâ, Mosura: Nankai no daiketto)
Ebirah, Horror of the Deep
The Japanese daikaiju films began in earnest. Godzilla (1954) works, even in the American edit; the original Japanese version is downright chilling, with the big lizard's role as metaphor for the nuclear age horrifically obvious. The effects, too, are noticeably better than what we would see for some years. Director Ishirô Honda continued the serious approach in Rodan (1956), a deftly-paced horror movie that tries to be about something. The effects don't hold up, but the movie takes its fantasy seriously. The more fantastic Mothra (1961) loses some viewers with its truly bizarre premise, but it remains a sincere film with themes of Japanese identity and spiritual fulfillment, and it expresses more than a little anger towards the combatants of the Cold War.
The films proved very popular with children and, as the Shōwa era of Japanese kaiju moved into the 1960s, they became considerably less serious. The series transformed into a Japanese version of tv wrestling with guys in rubber monster suits duking it out in arenas filled with miniature trees and model buildings. Kids became monster fans; teens and nerds watched for cheap laughs.
And so, 1966 sees Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, more popularly known in North America as Godzilla versus the Sea Monster, an entry in which the various established giant monsters and the human protagonists take precedence over the titular giant crustacean. As a bonus, we get echoes of two other then-popular franchises, James Bond and the Beach Party movies.
Originally, it was supposed to star King Kong.
Toho Studios had acquired the rights to use the American ape, and a version of him appeared in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), and would reappear in King Kong Escapes (1967). For some reason, the studio dropped the primate and inserted Godzilla. He acts a little Kong-like in some scenes, however, showing great affection for the female lead and playing a game of ping pong against Ebirah with a giant boulder, before remembering he can blast him with his radioactive fire-breath. The fire-breath causes the water around Ebirah to boil; I immediately hoped for a scene where Godzilla starts looking for melted butter. The plot, overall, suggests the script went through many revisions-- or else none at all.
Consider the sheer craziness of this tale: a group of young Japanese men leave a surf-music dance marathon and steal a boat. One of the guys, Ryôta, lost a brother to an accident we know was caused by a mysterious sea monster, and Ryota believes he's still alive, somewhere in the Pacific. The boat they take has already been commandeered by a thief escaping the law, and so the lot of them end up on the ocean, where the weather starts getting rough and the tiny ship is tossed. They find themselves on a deserted island guarded by a jumbo shrimp-monster and inhabited by a SMERSH/SPECTRE-type organization, known as the "Red Bamboo." The organization kidnaps natives from another nearby island and uses them as forced labor making, among other things, the jumbo shrimp-monster repellent that permits them access to their secret base.
That's actually a clever plan, if both evil and ridiculous. The Red Bambooists can get to their island unmolested; anyone who discovers their base will get taken down by Ebirah. Less clever is the source of their forced labor: Infant Island, the mysterious land protected by Mothra. Given Mothra's track record for going Old Testament on anyone who holds her people captive, one would think they'd have grabbed their slaves from a different island. Unfortunately, the great beast is in a sleep cycle, and the awakening ritual, with its attendant faux-tribal dancing and an all-new Mothra theme song, takes time. The singing, of course, is by the Shobijin, the twin psychic faeries who attend to Mothra. We also learn, during that ritual that, coincidentally, Ryôta's brother washed ashore safely on Infant Island.
Meanwhile, back on the Red Bamboo island, Ryôta and his posse rescue a beautiful Infant Island woman. The intrepid bunch next discover a large cave where a certain other monster sleeps. Maybe, they think, they can wake the Big G up and set him after the spy/terrorist group.
I don't need to tell you where all of this is going, do I?
The movie features passable acting, and more than a few youthful shenanigans by the pin-up boy castaways and their scantily-clad female companion. If a Japanese boy band played 1960s spies in a world where giant monsters dwell, it would look something like this movie. While the humans take precedence in the plot, we still have a fair bit of giant monster action. Ebirah, alas, isn't much of a match for the Big G, who also gets an unexplained giant condor to fight as well. At this point, Toho seems to have temporarily abandoned their past, torturous backstories for their giant monsters. They're just there.
If the actors look good, Godzilla is in rough shape. The costume's face looks more comical than most incarnations, and his body has grown broad and vaguely turtle-like, due, apparently, to the need to have the actor wear a wet suit and breathing tanks in certain scenes.
I suppose the level of enjoyment one gets from this film depends on one's age and reasons for watching. Young kids might still like it on the level of a cartoon, assuming any young kids have an interest in older kaiju films. Fans of bad movies will get more than a few laughs; it's no surprise to learn Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed on it. Fans seeking the more serious offerings of the kaiju genre, or people who only know the more recent releases, may simply find the film too silly to enjoy.
Director: Jun Fukuda
Writer: Shin'ichi Sekizawa
Special effects directors: Eiji Tsuburaya, Sadamasa Arikawa
Akira Takarada as Yoshimura
Tôru Watanabe as Ryôta Kane
Kumi Mizuno as Daiyo
Chôtarô Tôgin as Ichino
Hideo Sunazuka as Nita
Tôru Ibuki as Yata Kane
Akihiko Hirata as Captain Yamoto
Jun Tazaki as Red Bamboo Commander
Yuko and Yoko Okada as Shobijin
Ikio Sawamura as Elderly Slave
Hideyo Amamoto as Red Bamboo Naval Officer
Hisaya Itô as Red Bamboo Scientist #1
Tadashi Okabe asRed Bamboo Scientist #2
Noriko Honma as Spiritualist
Chieko Nakakita as Mrs. Kane
Haruo Nakajima as Gojira
Yû Sekita as Ebirah
1. Emi and Yumi Itô played the Shobijin for the last time in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964). Subsequent appearances would employ a range of young actresses.