Space Amoeba (1970)

Space Amoeba (1970) movie poster

director  Ishirō Honda
viewed: 11/19/2017

Space Amoeba! Space Amoeba! Space Amoeba!

Okay, so the Space Amoeba aren’t really the true focus of this movie. Heck, they don’t even make it to the movie poster. That’s because they are animated fuzzy clouds that take over a satellite and come to Earth and take over some critters, make them huge, and plan to take over the planet.

This is kaiju right off the sushi menu, with a giant cuttlefish, a crab-cum-prawn, and most wonderfully, though all too short on screentime, a fancy snapping turtle with an extendo-neck.

It’s from director Ishirō Honda, so you know it’s legit. It’s actually a lot more fun and entertaining than some more well-known kaijus of the time.

Interestingly, the plot revolves around a plan to put up a big luxury resort on a heretofore unspoiled paradise. Is it social commentary that the amoebae from space want to take over Earth? Despoil our world from us? Lessons learned?

“Thanks to their superstitions we can fish where we want to!”

Pulgasari (1985)

Pulgasari (1985) movie poster

directors Shin Sang-ok, Chong Gon Jo
viewed: 09/08/2017

Pulgasari, the only North Korean film probably most people have seen, is a fascinating artifact. The whole story of the production (via abduction/kidnapping of the director) is a worthy story itself. That it was produced by Kim Jong-Il while not yet the leader of North Korea, a passion project due to his love of Godzilla movies.

And yet, it’s propaganda. Though maybe not successful propaganda.

Pulgasari the monster is a take on the legendary creature “Bulgasari” who gobbles up iron (and the likeness maybe ends there). Here the creature is created or summoned when a poor village is robbed of all of their resources by the brutal government, taking all of their metal including cooking utensils and farm equipment. The blacksmith forms a figurine out of rice which comes to life when blood is spilled on it. Pulgasari is born and runs around cute as the dickens until he eats up all metal in sight and grows and grows.

No matter the many plans of the evil governor or his hired armies, Pulgasari manages to break free and wreak the vengeance for which he was created. The starving people and oppressive government maybe are meant to represent something other than the standing North Korean government and its people but it’s hard not to make the comparison. Pulgasari fights for the people.

But interestingly, in the end, Pulgasari himself becomes a liability. He still eats and eats and eats up all of the metallic resources, dooming to grateful people to further privations and starvation. He has to be convinced to disincorporate.

The messages do push self-sacrifice, but I’m not sure how much it pushes an appreciation of the state. Everyone has to be willing to give all of oneself to bring about change.

Pulgasari himself is pretty cool. Designed by the Japanese crew that made that era of Godzilla movies, he’s a nifty guy, who changes in looks as he changes in size. His changes in size don’t always hew consistently in proportion.

Quite an interesting entity.

The Super Inframan (1975)

The Super Inframan (1975) movie poster

director Hua Shan
viewed: 07/23/2017

I wish I’d seen The Super Inframan when I was a kid. I would have loved the heck out of it.

I grew up on  Shōwa period Godzilla, loved The Space Giants and Ultraman and even sort of enjoyed Spectreman (it seemed cheaper than the others).

Super Inframan is wall-to-wall, non-stop action and monsters and fighting and hilarity.

It’s purely sublime.

All hail, Princess Dragon Mom!

Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) movie poster

director Jun Fukuda
viewed: 06/09/2017

I have vivid memories of Godzilla vs. Megalon from 1976. I was 6 or 7 when it came to town and I totally remember the excitement of going to see a Godzilla movie in the theater. I loved monsters and Godzilla was my favorite. I also recall being somewhat disappointed with the movie. I always thought that Megalon was pretty cool, but it seemed like forever waiting for Godzilla. I think I liked Gigan and Jet Jaguar, more or less. Probably before Star Wars, this was my biggest movie thrill.

Over the years, the kids and I have worked our way through the Shōwa period Godzilla movies, but at that point I couldn’t get my hands on Megalon. The kids both fell asleep though this one.

It’s super-silly, even by super-silly standards. That a lost Atlantis-like world called Seatopia is disturbed by underground nuclear testing and sends Megalon and eventually Gigan to attack the surface-dwellers. They put a lot of focus on a robot developer, his pal, and kid brother, roping them into the hijinks. There is a lot of really bizarre stuff in here like the dolphin paddle boat thing the kid rides (which looks pretty cool despite also looking totally non-functional).

But really the weirdest leaps in logic are related to would-be kaiju king Jet Jaguar, who was apparently designed by a kid in a contest and originally planned to be the star of the thing. First, he develops his own will and cognizance, to only a mild surprise of his creator. Then, he magically wills himself from human-size to Godzilla size, which is explained as something he just decided to do.

Really, you should just embrace the whole thing and not really question it.

The fight sequences are indeed reminiscent of professional wrestling, more than most kaiju flicks I can think of. And, you know, as dumb as it is, it’s still moderately entertaining.

The Mighty Peking Man (1977)

The Mighty Peking Man (1977) movie poster

director Ho Meng-hua
viewed: 12/04/2016

The Hong Kong King Kong knock-off The Mighty Peking Man is a mesmerizing one-off, a kaiju wildly camp, unintentionally comic, and oddly endearing.

There is a lot to love here, with the lovely Evelyne Kraft (RIP) as a jungle girl raised by her giant ape named Utam.  Kraft’s animal skin bikini clinging miraculously to her left breast throughout is well worth mentioning.  This blonde Tarzan of the Himalayas frolics with a good number of potentially dangerous creatures including a leopard and a tiger.  She gets bitten on the inner thigh by a venomous snake, which our hero Johnny (Danny Lee) must suck out rather suggestively.  Then there is that scene where Utam watches Johnny and Samantha as she is known making love and wanders away rather chagrined.

My favorite, though, is any time Utam has to shout or scream.  The rubber of his mask and his teeth pop weirdly, hilariously.

I don’t know what else to say but it’s so terrible yet so appealing and entertaining.  Star scoring escapes me.

I do have to throw in one last thing.  This amazing poster for an alternate title of Goliathon which is just sublime, though seems to get Utam all wrong.

Goliathon movie poster (alternate to The Mighty Peking Man)

Mothra (1961)

Mothra (1961) movie poster

director Ishirō Honda
viewed: 07/31/2016

As a kid, Mothra used to bug me.  I think it’s because Godzilla was my favorite monster and he wound up being the bad guy against Mothra.  Godzilla was awesome.  Mothra was a giant moth.

Watching Mothra for the first time in many, many years, there’s a lot to like.  Almost garishly colorful, Mothra is very much lifted from King Kong (1933), featuring an isolated island whose primitive denizen worship some kind of monster.  But in Mothra, humans don’t steal the monster to exploit, rather they kidnap the miniature singing fairies (The Peanuts, Yumi, and Emi Itou).  The monster is the hero, hatching from a giant egg as a larva, swimming across the sea to New Kirk City, hatching into giant moth and rescuing its little ladies.

Ishirō Honda made Godzilla (1954) and Rodan (1956) and tons of kaiju movies, and really, this is a pretty good one.  It’s kind of an interesting twist that the monster is the good guy (or female) moth from the get-go, and all that destruction is vengeance deserved.  It’s also quite a critique that it’s the Rolisican (read American) guys that are the real baddies.

I’ve gotten over my Mothra prejudice.  But Godzilla is still #1 kaiju.

The Giant Behemoth (1959)

The Giant Behemoth (1959) movie poster

directors Eugène Lourié, Douglas Hickox
viewed: 02/13/2016

Director Eugène Lourié had an interesting career.  He made three of what are retroactively considered kaiju films, two of which were stop-moiton, the last of which was a guy in a suit monster:  The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), The Giant Behemoth, and  Gorgo (1961).  He also made the obscure but interesting The Colossus of New York (1958).  He also worked as art director on a multitude of films and television, notably Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight (1952) as well as Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963) and The Naked Kiss (1964).  Co-director Douglas Hickox would go on to make Theatre of Blood (1973) and Zulu Dawn (1979).

The Giant Behemoth (a.k.a., Behemoth, the Sea Monster) is a stop-motion creature feature, a weak step-child of Gojira (1954), also a dinosaur resurrected by nuclear radiation tests who breathes some atomic fire.  In The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Lourié worked with Ray Harryhausen.  Here, attempting to employ Willis O’Brien, he wound up with O’Brien’s assistant Pete Peterson, working with a much scrimpier-seeming budget.

The creature is first seeing vaguely through binoculars, and then appears in shots that don’t seem animated.  It’s not til the film’s final third that the stop-motion creature gets going and the fun kicks in and London gets trashed.

Of all of the 1950’s stop-motion creature features, this might be one of the cheapest, but it has its points.  Of course, I’m a total pushover for such things.

Return of Daimajin (1966)

Return of Daimajin (1966) movie poster

director Kenji Misumi
viewed: 09/07/2015

 

Lucky for fans, the Return of Daimajin hit theaters four months after the first one.  Interestingly, as kindred as the Return is to the original Daimajin (1966), it’s actually also kind of totally unrelated.

Like in the first film, the giant statue of the god comes to life to wreak vengeance on cruel bad guys, but this statue was located on a mountain on an island in a lake.  And the vengeance he seeks is against an invading kingdom who has come to steal the wealth of the two lakeside kingdoms.  These kingdoms worship their giant stone warrior god very ardently.

Really, that is one aspect of these films.  There is a very strong current of religiosity, prayer, and ultimately deliverance by the divine ruthless giant.  I suppose that in other kaiju films where the monsters are good and people are calling to them to save them from whatever catastrophe (usually another kaiju), you could make the case that they are also sort of praying and worshiping the giant supernatural beings.  But here it’s very clear.  This is religion.

These bad guys, I don’t know if they could have learned from what had happened in the original Daimajin only months earlier.  Same statue, different location.  These villains don’t just mutilate the statue, they blow the whole thing up, launching his head into the depths of the lake.  It’s oddly evocative of events that would happen years later to the Buddhas of Bamayan, blowing up the giant statuary image of a religious figure (it would have been cool perhaps if those two Buddhas came to life and took vengeance on their destroyers).

Of course, by now we kind of know that in the last reel, Daimajin won’t let us down.  Even if all the good guys are tied to sticks and about to be burned alive (also vaguely referential of Jesus).  In fact, the cool effects and fine film-making are even cooler here.  Daimajin parts the waters as he comes to ground to smash the bad guys and save the good.  These movies have a really cool aesthetic and design.

I’m only bummed I had to order the third and final film from Netflix because for some unknown reason, the third installment was not on Amazon Prime with the other two.  Go figure.

Daimajin (1966)

Daimajin (1966) movie poster

director Kimiyoshi Yasuda
viewed: 09/06/2015

Daimajin, where have you been all my life?

I grew up loving Godzilla and with a general love for Japanese kaiju films (while having no idea of the term “kaiju”).  Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s information was a lot more obscure.  I’ve said it before and I’ll saying it again: I love the internet and Wikipedia.  Knowing is a billion times better than living in the dark.

Still, Daimajin.  I can’t say for sure that I never saw images of Daimajin or its two sequels, but I can say that I really didn’t know virtually anything about them.  Finding the first two films on Amazon Prime, I feel enlightened.

Unlike most kaiju films, Daimajin is set in the Edo period, the world of samurai, peasants, feudal strife.  The film opens with a coup d’etat that unseats the kind ruling family, forcing the survivors to run into hiding.  While the new regime metes out endless punishments, the devout and humble pray to their giant stone god, Daimajin.  The villains even go so far as to attempt to mutilate the giant statue.  But this is not only a vengeful god, but one who actually comes to life and stomps down the evil ones.

He’s kind of a giant Golem (1920), if you will, though classically Japanese.

Really, it takes most of the duration of the film before Daimajin awakens and wreaks havoc, apparently a consistent theme in all three films.  The films were all shot and released in short succession in 1966.

The thing is, the film is very well-produced.  It looks beautiful and the special effects are very nice, not as campy as when Godzilla gets on a rampage.  And I just really liked the damn movie.

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Destroy All Monsters (1968) movie poster

director Ishirō Honda
viewed: 12/28/2014

My childhood favorite Godzilla movie.  The title itself is just plain awesome.  But the real reason that this movie was a childhood favorite was because it featured “all of the monsters” (more my perception at the time).

It’s not just Godzilla versus so-and-so but it’s got Rodan, Mothra, Anguirus, King Ghidorah, Varan, Baragon, Minilla, Manda, Gorosaurus, and Kumonga!!!

Okay, half of those you’re probably not going to know who they are or where they came from.  Part of what’s cool and funny about the movie is how all of the characters recognize them like movie stars: “Look! It’s Manda!”  (This Manda appeared in Atragon “Undersea Warship” (1963) — I didn’t know.  I’m taking Wikipedia’s word for it.)

I had actually seen this about 10 years ago while on hiatus from the film diary, so I hadn’t written about it at the time.  So, I’d kind of learned that this wasn’t really the “best” Godzilla movie of all time (though it still gets credit for concept and title).

All of the monsters are living on “Monsterland” or “Monster Island” depending on the translation.  That’s when an alien race appears and takes control of the monsters’ minds and has them attack spots around the globe.  Eventually, they besiege Japan, of course.  When the humans take control of the monsters, the aliens bring in space monster Ghidorah and at the end, we get an all out monster battle.  But it takes a while to get there.

I think the best Godzilla movies are typically the ones with Ghidorah (Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) or Monster Zero (1965) or the ones with MechaGodzilla (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) or Terror of MechaGodzilla (1975)), but this one still deserves some kudos.

It had been a while since the kids and I had watched a real Godzilla movie.  Oddly enough, Destroy All Monsters and Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) were the two of the original Godzillas that I couldn’t get my hands on via Netflix back in the time we originally were watching them.  Now, those two are on Fandor.  And interestingly enough, Christmas weekend, Roberto Rodriguez’s El Rey television network was having a kaiju-fest, featuring a lot of Godzilla movies, but these two were not on the list.

Go figure.