Godzilla: Showa Classics Volume 1 (1954 - 1968)
By: Mr Intolerance on May 6, 2010  | 
DVD
Madman | Region 4, PAL | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | Japanese DD 2.0 | 519 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Directors: Ishirô Honda, Jun Fukuda
Starring: Godzilla!
Country: Japan
External Links
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Godzilla is, like Dracula, Frankenstein or the Creature from the Black Lagoon, a household horror name. You don't even need to have seen any of the films to have an understanding of who any of those bad boys are. You think Dracula, you think Bela Lugosi's iconic performance (or Christopher Lee's, or Gary Oldman's, depending on your vintage), with Frankenstein's monster, it's Boris Karloff's dead-eyed, flat-topped, bolts-in-the-neck portrayal, the Creature speaks for itself. You know vaguely what the story entails, how to defeat the thing, and maybe some of the cliches of the franchise. But when we talk about Godzilla, the portrayal is a little different depending on which era of the big green guy's films we're discussing – is he the evil enemy of Japan, an ambiguous force whose loyalties lie in a place only he knows, or friend to children and protector of Japan?

That all said, what we do know is that he's a great big radioactive Tyrannosaur who can breathe fire and loves to rise from the depths and do the Tokyo Stomp. We also know that he's a dude in a monster suit who beats seven shades of shit out of other dudes in increasingly bizarre monster suits (Hedorah the Smog Monster, anyone?), in movies with increasingly odd storylines (Godzilla Vs Megalon springs pretty readily to mind) and woefully poor acting and dialogue. Toy cars, tanks and planes and cardboard, plastic and balsa buildings there are a-plenty being snotted into the next world, while egg-head scientists and hard-nosed military types concoct ever-more Byzantine ways to drive the loveable big lug back into the ocean, while little Japanese kids idolise him and turn him into a folk hero.

Kaiju films (giant monster films, to you) in Japan follow a pretty standard formula. That's not a bad thing, by the way – they kinda become comfort movies; you know what you're getting and you walk away satisfied more often than not – McDonalds for the eyes, basically. Some bad stuff happens, we find that a giant monster of some type is responsible, endless scenes of expository dialogue ensue in laboratories and military headquarters, the monster (or sometimes, gloriously, multiple monsters) turns up to a major Japanese city and does some Old Testament-style smiting, a cockamamie plan is put into effect, and our kaiju mate skulks off defeated to warm up for his/her/its almost inevitable sequel. Seen it before? Of course you have, but Showa's 1954 masterpiece Gojira started it all.

Those magnificent bastards at Eastern Eye have provided a true service to humanity – they've released three (count 'em!) box sets of Godzilla films – 17 films, all-in-all, from both the Showa (1954-1975) and Heisei (1984-1995) eras of Godzilla. Where's their Nobel Prize, is my only question. This first Showa set spans 1954-1968, and while one or two of 'em might have you scratching your head and wondering why you've just watched them, there's enough goodness present to make you want to bunk down on the sofa, make a great big bowl of popcorn and just be won over by the charms of some films that are quite simply just great fun.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

This is it – the grand-daddy of all kaiju films. Japan is the only nation to have been nuked twice in war – matter of fact, they're the only nation to have been deliberately nuked as an act of hostility at all. That happened only nine years before Gojira (the original Japanese name for our favourite radioactive rubber-suited reptile) was made, and when the country's consciousness was still trying to deal with this obviously traumatic and emotionally-scarring event, and the subsequent westernisation of the nation, and its loss of identity. Believe it or not, this humble monster movie is a serious attempt to rationalise the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and debate the morality of the use of nuclear weapons. To make sense of the blind destruction, the disaster and the truly frightening power of modern science so that absolutely anyone could understand it goes beyond the bailiwick of most "guy-in-a-rubber-suit" flicks, but here it's carried out with aplomb. And best of all, it's played dead straight, with none of the campy humour and slapstick of the later Showa era Godzilla films.

The plot-line is still the same one we recognise from so many giant monster films before – it's the blue-print, really, for the next 50 odd years of them (and follows the plan I laid out four paragraphs ago to a tee), but the resonance of World War 2 and its apocalyptic end for the Japanese people gives Gojira a seriousness and a strength that you wouldn't expect from such a movie, on face value. Godzilla provides a physicality for the force of destruction – people are scared of monsters, on a base level, and Godzilla's force and apparent invulnerability make him one scary (not to mention grumpy) dude indeed – the director is telling you to be scared of brute force wielded so arbitrarily. At the same time, we're given a scientist character who possesses the power to blow Godzilla to kingdom come (a gizmo called the "oxygen destroyer"), but who will not, given the immorality of using a weapon whose side effects cannot be known, and which would be equally lethal to those who use it, give permission for its use. If I have to draw you a diagram to show you the links between that mindset and what, presumably, the Japanese (and anyone with even the vaguest left-leaning/peacenik sensibilities – like Oppenheimer and Einstein, two fellas directly responsible for the development of the Bomb) would have been thinking, then you probably had a brain tumour for breakfast. This is not subtle stuff, and makes its point VERY effectively. The end does not justify the means, is the story you're getting here, and it lacerates the American decision to use its atomic arsenal so savagely, that when the film was dubbed into English and had Raymond Burr inserted into it in ready-made cut-scenes to give US audiences a character to identify with, a lot of the condemnatory expository dialogue about the immorality of using such a weapon was left on the cutting room floor. In the US version what we basically get is: there's a giant monster causing a ruckus, this boffin has a kick-ass weapon, let's just annihilate the damn thing and who cares what happens afterwards. Kind of misses the point, to put it mildly. Watch the Japanese version and revel in the goodness of how the film was meant to be seen. - both are presented here for your edification. You will not be disappointed.

Oh, and I would defy any true fan to not feel a bit of a shiver of wonderfulness when our boy makes his first appearance on-screen, complete with his metallic screeching roar and Akira Ifukube's truly amazing and monumentally epic score – it truly rocks!

Mothra Vs Godzilla

Mothra's a bit of an anomaly in the kaiju world. Basically you could see this enomormous caterpillar (later moth, obviously) as a kind of kaiju eco-warrior. From the word go she was cast as a protector of the Earth, which sets her apart (as well as her gender – few kaiju are female; Biollante in the later Heisei films is the only other one which springs to mind), but she does tend to follow one kaiju trend: she doesn't begin at maximum power and must develop as the story continues (kinda like the aforementioned Biollante, or Destoroyah or Godzilla Junior). That's not to say that Mothra's larval formal doesn't wreak havoc – believe me, it's more than capable of doing so.

A giant egg has been found off the coast of Japan, and a greedy businessman (the real villains of so many Godzilla films) wants to make a profit off of it, putting it into his theme-park. Now Mothra's crew , the tiny Cosmos, try to beg for the egg to be returned to Infant Island, but the businessmen can only see profit – a giant egg and micro-wenches seem to spell money... The Cosmos tell us that if the larva is born, and not on Infant Island, that things may get very hairy indeed. The special effects are a little primitive here, as the size of the Cosmos varies wildly – at one point they're small enough to hide behind an ashtray, at others it appears that they're barely smaller than an armchair, at others it would seem the actors are addressing Barbie dolls in fancy dress. Nevertheless, one thing is very certain: if you fuck with the Cosmos, then Mothra will turn up to save them, and she will not be a happy camper – forget all the Captain Planet, force for peace and harmony crap, she will go totally apeshit. She's not best pleased at the moment anyway – y'see, the egg is Mothra's, and she'd like it back.

Anyway, Godzilla turns up as we head towards the inevitable kaiju beat 'em up, and wreaks some awesome havoc, stumbling around like a drunk, oddly enough, and levelling a city, before Mothra turns up to protect her egg from the big green guy (our heroes' visit to Infant Island to convince Mothra to help is a memorable moment – and while the anti-nuclear moralising of the original film is still present, it doesn't seem as serious in intent as before, seeming more of a plot device than anything else). I can't say that this film really had any surprises, but it was entertaining enough, although the goofball humour and campy characterisation that defines the later Showa films really starts to begin here. That said, you're watching a giant monster flick which pits two of the best and most iconic kaiju against one another, and you really aren't here for the human characters, are you?

Godzilla: Invasion of the Astro-monster

Some kaiju are built to last. The Astro-monster of the title is one of the most enduring of them all – the three-headed, two-tailed space dragon King Ghidorah, probably most deserving of the title of Godzilla's arch-nemesis. These two have gone toe-to-toe more times than any other kaiju across the Showa, Heisei and now the Millennium Godzilla flicks. Sure, Gigan, Anguirus, Mecha-Godzilla and Mothra have turned up a few times each, but King Ghidorah (eventually Mecha-King Ghidorah, after a memorable encounter when Godzilla serves him up his arse on a plate) is the bad-guy kaiju you love to hate, and one of the few real threats to Godzilla's title as King of the Monsters. If that reads like the premise to a WWF title-fight, it's because that's what it pretty much is. This is an early appearance by King Ghidorah in the Godzilla canon, and one of his best.

A mysterious planet has just been discovered past Jupiter (Planet X – it's never been seen before because it's "too dark" to be seen by traditional telescopes. Ahem.), and a rocket has been launched to investigate. Glen and Fuji, our intrepid astronauts, find that the barren planet with a critical water shortage is not as devoid of life as they initially thought. Nobody lives on the surface anymore because King Ghidorah considers this little patch of the galaxy to be his own turf and he likes to fly about blazing away with his lightning breath – even when there are no real targets to blaze away at. The aliens on Planet X need to know how humans repel King Ghidorah as their own attempts to do so have been rubbish. But can we trust them? After all, treacherous and untrustworthy aliens are a staple of the Godzilla franchise – their plan? They need Godzilla and Rodan to help drive that pesky dragon away. If we help the aliens, they will give us the cure for cancer, and of course there's the added bonus that two monsters who cause a lot of collateral damage will become someone else's problem – seems like a win-win situation, right? Wrong.

Godzilla and Rodan are neatly parcelled up and delivered to Planet X through the Xians superior technology, and it starts to become apparent that humanity has been played like a cheap harpsichord. Through acting honourably (read: naievely), we've made ourselves look like chumps. We've also left Rodan and Godzilla on a less than hospitable planet...and wait a minute – we, as the audience, actually care what happens to them! How times change – we've become fond of these crazy critters, and stranding them seems wrong. Plus we've only seen them give King Ghidorah one drubbing, and a brief one at that – what's going on here?

I'll tell you what's going on – the Xians have double-crossed us and want the Earth for a colony. Now who normally saves us in these kind of situations? Oh yeah! Let's rustle up Godzilla and...bugger. Worse news – King Ghidorah has turned up in the US, and the Americans are thinking of using their nuclear arsenal against him ("If they feel it will work against the enemy, they won't hesitate to use them" - and that despite the fact that the effects will be felt across the world, as is pointed out by one of our heroes – sound familiar?). Things are looking grim, amidst the hokey dialogue (some making some very close reference to Humphrey Bogart's in Casablanca), the outrageous alien outfits and the wobbly sets. The aliens are not only controlling King Ghidorah with magnetic waves, but Godzilla and Rodan, too – and if we don't capitulate, they're going to use these kaiju as weapons to destroy everyone on Earth. The ending can only be a giant monster rumble and a deus ex machina away!

This is definitely one of the best of the Showa Godzilla films, and after the original, the best in this box set – a great, fun film. It has all the hallmarks of what gave the franchise such longevity and endeared it to fans across the world: aliens, giant monsters fighting, complete carnage and chaos and flying saucers – what more do you need?

Godzilla Vs Ebirah: Horror From the Deep

This one was coming at me from behind the 8-Ball from the word go. Ebirah, Godzilla's nemesis in this film is a giant lobster (or is it meant to be a prawn? I've been to the Big Prawn at Ballina, and it wasn't that impressive) and that really doesn't really seem too threatening to me – I just see it laying in a bed of mornaise sauce. To me, it'd be like being menaced by Dr Zoidberg from Futurama. Still, keep an open mind...

A Godzilla film that starts at a dance marathon isn't boding too well either, and that grating campy goofball humour is present right from the outset, so the monster mayhem needs to get going soon if the director wants my attention. So some schmucks from the dance contest steal a boat, along with a thief who's on the lam after a bank heist, and head off to potentially rescue one of the schmucks' brothers, who's lost at sea. Ebirah waves a bit of his claw around during a storm and the boat's roundly fucked. The boys, stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere and trying to be rescued, happen across a secret military base – as you do. Turns out that the military are up to no good (surprise, surprise), and that they're controlling Ebirah – for what purpose we don't know, but it seems to require the kidnapping of many female slaves from Infant Island, home of Mothra – and we know how much Mothra hates injustice, and the abuse of her people. A multi-monster smackdown is in your immediate future... and when Godzilla is found to be sleeping in the bowels of the island, that becomes a certainty.

And once our boy wakes (wakened with a lightning bolt, just like Jason), it's violence and beat 'em ups for all, with the giant lobster being more of a threat than you would initially think. Not one of the more greatly feted Godzilla films, Godzilla Vs Ebirah: Horror From the Deep delivers the kind of goods you'd expect from a film of this kind (it certainly has all of the cliches wrapped up pat), and actually delivers them well, despite the main villain being some kind of atomic lobster...

Son of Godzilla

This film sucks doodles. Simple as that. The Godzilla franchise tried at times to tailor itself to be kid-friendly, and what better way to do that than by introducing a child monster – someone the kids could identify with? The revoltingly "cute" Minilla (Godzilla's useless son) is that character. Personally, my thought is that if I wanted to see my favourite monster movie franchise given a Hello Kitty makeover, I'd watch a Gamera film.

An annoying reporter invites himself to a secret scientific research facility on Sollgel Island, which is having difficulties with a giant mantis and mysterious electrical interference the assorted experts can't find the source of. Experiments in weather control go somewhat awry, and it appears that the scientists aren't alone on the island as they originally thought.

With the fallout from the experiments the oversized mantis' have become enormous (they're now called Kamacuras) and unearth an egg which contains Minilla. The bugs unwisely try to have the bub for breakfast, but Godzilla turns up to suplex them back to the Stone Age. This one display of filial concern over with, Minilla proves himself rapidly to be the most irritating and useless kaiju who ever existed. At least when Heisei re-jigged the franchise, Godzilla Junior looked like Godzilla, acted like Godzilla and didn't parade about flaunting his baby fat, crawling on all fours and waiting for his dad to save him. Well, he didn't in Godzilla Vs Destoroyah, anyway.

Godzilla isn't exactly the most supportive of fathers, and hilarity is meant to ensue whenever he takes his son in hand. It's tiresome, to put it mildly. Anyway, all those Godzilla family hi-jinks aside (watching him teach his son how to breathe fire is one of those "why am I watching this" kind of moments), a mysterious fever strikes the scientists, roughly about the same time they all hear the name "Kumonga" (fans of kaiju eiga probably know what's coming up soon). Their cure accomplished, the folks on the island suddenly have a giant spider to contend with, as well as a number of Kamacuras, Godzilla and his retarded son. It's all go on this island!

The scientists are trapped in a cave, Kumonga having blocked the entrance with a web, and while engaged in a fight with Minzilla, he's slowly destroying the last refuge our egg-heads have. Not exactly one of the most effective kaiju out there, but he certainly does the job...kinda. I mean he's no King Ghidorah, for example. The scientists try to use their weather control technology to slow down the kaiju, but will it work? Will Godzilla open up a can of whup-ass on Kumonga for messing with his boy? Will anyone even give a shit considering this is one of the more feeble kaiju films out there? Watch and learn, kids. Watch and learn.

Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters

Hang on a second – how many kaiju are in this film? Godzilla, Rodan, Anguirus, Mothra, Gorosaurus, Minilla (the fucking little creep), Manda, Baragon (and his stupid floppy ears), Kumonga, Varan and King Ghidorah! And an alien Fire-Dragon (of sorts)?! Woo-hoo! 12 fuckin' monsters?! Bring on the giant monster steel cage match!

As a kid, this kaiju smack-down fest was my favourite of all of the Godzilla flicks. As an adult I still really enjoy it for all of it's absurdity and silliness, but I can also realise that as a kaiju film, this really represents the point when the wheels really started to fall off the genre, and where the Showa franchise started hurling increasingly bizarre "kitchen sink" films at their audience with equally increasingly gay abandon. The basic plot is pretty simple, and as I intimated before, pretty silly. The year is 1999, and all known Earth-bound monsters have been confined to Monster Island, kept there by security devices unique to each of their weaknesses. But some pesky alien secret agent types from Kiraku (supposedly a planet located between Mars and Jupiter) have developed a remote control for the kaiju, unleashing them upon a whole bunch of major cities across the globe in an attempt to create chaos and pave the way for a take over of the Earth. It's the whole blackmail thing: surrender, or we let the monsters perform carnage under our direction.

The goofball humour has really set in as an intrinsic feature by this stage of the series, and the idea of Godzilla as protector of Japan and champion of children has also come to the fore. It's twenty-plus years before we'll see him again as the bad-arse green bastard with the Christmas-tree of Doom back-spines wreaking havoc just for the wonderful sake of it on the Land of the Rising Sun. But at the same time, can I just say, we get to see all manner of great monster rumbles right here – and let's face facts, that's what we're here for. We want the big monster fights, and we are not left disappointed. Oh no, not in the tiniest way – this is awesome; awesome to the max.

One thing I must say about Eastern Eye's releases of these films that annoys me – often there'll be some kanji on-screen untranslated through the subs, and while I'm not fluent in it, I know enough of that script to know that what isn't given to us in English is actually integral to understanding the story, even if it's only in a minor way. Irritating, nevertheless....
Video
This really is where these box sets shine. The picture quality on each film is superb. Simple as that. These films have been lovingly restored to a point where you really have to take your hat off to the crew who did them. You might get the odd moment when the picture looks a little washed out, but they're as grain-free, artefact-free and blemish-free as you could hope for, given the age of the films, especially the first one, being some 55 years old. They're not 100% perfect, but dude, they look pretty fucking good, let me tell you that right now. I was impressed. Plus, they're all presented anamorphically (with the exception of the original Godzilla, which is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio) for your viewing pleasure, and in their OAR – unlike some previous releases of the same titles. Nice.
Audio
For God's sake, don't listen to the dubs! We've been lucky enough to get Japanese language versions of these with subtitles – these are the versions you should be watching. And with 5.1 sound and the mayhem coming at you from all sides – oh yes...
Extra Features
Surprisingly, there are very few at all. Each film has as an Extras package the original trailer, and maybe a couple of text pages of trivia from the production of the film in question, and some trailers for some other Eastern Eye or Madman films. What I do like about Eatern Eye though, is that they give you reversible covers, so that you can proudly display your Godzilla collections without having that fucking god-awful OFLC consumer advice sticker ruining the artwork. Nevertheless, I'm a little disappointed that there were absolutely no documentaries of any kind included here – a retrospective on the (at this point) 28 film strong Godzilla franchise would have been great. Oh well, c'est la vie.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
I won't lie to you. I'm a big fan of the Godzilla films (I'm pretending the 1998 US version never happened), so it's a little difficult for me to remain unbiased. However, looking at this box set as objectively as possible, I can tell you that there are some winners and some stinkers. Eastern Eye have tried to put together a Godzilla box set that isn't so much a complete "here are the first six films in order"; they've given you a pretty darned good taste of the early years of the franchise nevertheless. These movies are all entertaining to a certain extent, but probably, unless you're a Godzilla tragic like me, a little difficult to watch one after the other, as they'll possibly start blending in together in your memory, but remastered within an inch of their lives to look and sound as good as they possibly could. You really should have this in your collection.

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