[Additions by the editor added in brackets and initialed]
If you ask the average person what the worst Godzilla movie is, you're likely to get a blank look and the response: "I didn't even know that there was a good Godzilla movie." Or, more usually, "Get away from me, weirdo!"
If you ask a kaiju-fan, you'll probably get several different answers: The Tri-Star Godzilla; Godzilla's Revenge; Son of Godzilla; "GMK"; Godzilla vs. Biollante; etc. Near the top of most of the lists is Godzilla vs. Megalon.
Now personally, I don't think it's that bad. Or at least, not comparatively. There are any number of much loved G-films that have embarrassingly terrible moments. The truth is, if you're going to love the Big G, then you have to accept that Toho was playing with it a lot, doing all sorts of changes or experiments with it, and like any experimental venue, there's stuff that just doesn't work. There's invariably going to be "what the heck were they thinking?" moments.
Part of the problem was that Godzilla ended up as Toho's "Go-To Monster." Couldn't get King Kong for a movie? No problem, stick the Big G in and you've got Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster. Need to boost a TV show with a shot in the arm? Call the Big G!
The origins of Godzilla vs. Megalon are something like that. Apparently, the Big G wasn't even supposed to be in the movie at the start. Instead, it was going to be a Jet Jaguar-fest.
Now, the story is that Toho ran a contest for a new character, and some kid's sketch for a super-hero robot called Jet Jaguar won. So they started making a movie about Jet Jaguar. Unfortunately, as things went along, the big-wigs at Toho started to think that maybe this wasn't a great idea, maybe Jet Jaguar didn't quite have that Brad Pitt/George Clooneyesque charisma they were hoping for, and that they needed to bring a back up star to help carry the picture.... cue the Big G.
I'm a fairly cynical guy, and I have to wonder about this story. First of all, what studio exec in his right mind is going to green light an expensive picture and commit actors, camera, film, studio time, production resources, etc., to some dinky contest winner's sketch? I can get behind the notion of a contest. I can even get behind the notion of a publicity stunt. But to go to that length, to take the sort of legal, financial, and box office risks? I'm sceptical. Maybe the seventies were just a more innocent, naive time in show business, but I have to wonder.
The other thing that makes me sceptical about this story is Jet Jaguar's awkward resemblance to an entire genre of Japanese (and Hong Kong) monster-fighting super-heroes led by the various incarnations of Ultraman, but including Spectreman, Infra-Man, Prince of Space, and God knows who else [these kaiju-fighting super-heroes are collectively referred to as sentai--CN]. Several of them were explicitly in kaiju territory, and had very similar features in terms of proportions, helmets, superpowers, etc., to Jet Jaguar. I dunno; I think that perhaps Toho was less motivated by a contest, or a kid's entry in a contest, and more along the lines of experimenting with cashing in, something that they did on TV with their Zone Fighter, the Meteor Man series.
Of course, I could be wrong. One of the things that strikes me about Jet Jaguar is the relentless clunkiness of the concept. If you look at Ultraman, or even Spectreman, there's an elegance to the costumes, a certain economy of form and line. Jet Jaguar doesn't really have that; he's got a resemblance to it, i.e., the general shape, the helmet, some of the colours. But there's something off - that robot's immobile face has got the creepiest shark-faced grin to it. It's immediately off-putting and gets more unnerving the longer you stare at it. Instead of clean lines, Jet Jaguar is festooned with arm and leg padding which makes it look awkward and immobile. It almost resembles a child's concept of an Ultraman-type hero, with exaggerated features and limbs that aren't really part of the body, but have been painstakingly drawn onto a torso by an unsophisticated child artist.
So who knows, maybe they really did take the Jet Jaguar concept from a child's drawing in a contest, milking it for the meager publicity and promotional value, and trying to do their own version of Ultraman. Maybe they thought that this route would keep them out of legal trouble... uh uh.
The trouble is that Jet Jaguar sticks out like a sore thumb in the Toho Universe. He's too human or humanoid in a Toho kaiju universe that expends a great deal of time and energy into monstrous animalistic shapes. He doesn't move right; he has a palpable slow inertia that gives you a feeling of something massive and dangerous, an avalanche walking.
There's other downsides. The face and costume are far too immobile.
Insane as it may be to say this about rubber-suited monsters, they were generally far more expressive. Through the use of close-ups, minimal suitmation, and some skilled stuntmen, the Toho kaiju came alive. We could tell when Godzilla was mad, or happy, or on a rampage, or just cruising for chicks. Sometimes this reached silly heights, when Godzilla would do a victory dance or some kung fu moves, or he and his fellow kaiju would have a conversation. Nevertheless, it told us very well that these were, for all their immense size and mass, living animate beings.
In contrast, Jet Jaguar's face is an immobile, changeless mass, his costume stiff and allowing only limited casual body language. It makes him less appealing. There's no life, there's no character, but merely a contrived stiffness.
And Jet Jaguar cranked up the silliness big time. A super-robot? Okay. A super-robot that flies? Alllll right, why not? A super-robot that summons Godzilla through pantomime and charades? I dunno... A super robot that can magically change its size... ? Sod off!
Of course, Ultraman and Spectreman were well established, and they did this crap. So you can tell Toho is basically strip mining well-established conceptual ground. But here's the thing: Ultraman was an alien. Spectreman was an alien agent. That explained the wackiness - aliens were like pixies or elves… who knew what weird shit they can do? You just go with it, changing sizes, mutilating cattle, probing rednecks, why not? It's not a very good excuse, but it was one that the audience would at least accept.
The trouble with Jet Jaguar is that he's not an alien. He's got no excuse. The delicate suspension of disbelief is kicked in the nuts. There's no effort to even pretend to justify Jet Jaguar's actions or size changes... "He just does it, okay?" Here's part of your problem; a big part, in fact. The audience is very tolerant, the audience is willing to suspend disbelief, they don't need a very good reason; pull magical aliens out of your hat, they'll go with it. But you still need to give them a reason. You still need to, if not half way, meet them a little way. And Jet Jaguar didn't. He just did crazy things, and we were expected to go with it, because...
Well, just because. It's simply never justified in the movie, or in the context of the Toho film universe. Or apparently, not in the context of the Godzilla universe.
So it goes. Now, let me come back to that sometime later.
I actually like Megalon. I'm not sure if that's a popular opinion. But there's much to appreciate in Megalon. The thing with Megalon that makes him distinctive in the Tohoverse is that he's one of the most genuinely alien, genuinely disturbing characters in the Showa Toho Universe. A lot of other Toho creations are recognizably reptilian or mammalian, sometimes an insect boosted large - even King Ghidorah is simply a winged dragon with some extra heads added on.
But Megalon? Megalon is insectile, but not an insect. His face is alien - there are barely any recognizable features; giant featureless lambent eyes, a mouth that is sideways, the jaw/teeth on the outside, and then there's the antenna and that strange starfish horn. Megalon lacks hands or paws or claws, its forearms ending in insectile probes, which it spins as weapons or as digging tools. Its carapace covers its back. Megalon does not walk, it shambles forward. Megalon is one of the most Lovecraftian of Toho creations, a creature that could walk through the Cthulhu Universe and be right at home. In a sense, Megalon is a missed opportunity, because it could have been really disturbing, but by this time, the kaiju stuff was in a rut. Still, I've always liked the critter.
In a way, Megalon anticipates the future generations of kaiju in the Heisei and Millenium Era's increasingly strange and exotic monsters, creatures like Biollante or Megaguiras carrying the touch of the disturbing, and prone to long distance powers. Megalon's star horn blasts and mouth grenades anticipate the battle of the beams that would animate some of the Heisei films.
And it's got Gigan for a pal, and who doesn't love Gigan, the kaiju with the cool new wave shades? Gigan's a pretty strange character, dexterity-impaired like Megalon, but with enough normality in his elements that he's appealing rather than disturbing. Still, Gigan has sufficiently alien qualities that thematically he makes a terrific ally for either Megalon or King Ghidorah, the way that Anguirus does for Godzilla.
Let's face it, we could do a lot worse than sticking Gigan and Megalon in a movie.
Apart from that, I'd like to also point out the rather nuanced perspective of the movie - who are the villains? The Seatopians. Why do they want to get us? Because we're dropping nuclear weapons on their heads and destroying their civilization.
Do you know what this means? It means that in this movie we are the bad guys! There the Seatopians are, practicing their ceremonial dances or whatever... and that's important, the movie goes out of its way to show them being pretty benign at home. You never see zombies or Nazis engaged in Busby-Berkely style dance routines.
Even their name is benign: Seatopia - 'Sea-Utopia' - how could they be anything but nice? And we're dropping nukes on them! How are we not the bad guys here?
Obviously, they're overreacting. I would think a simple "hello, please cut it out," might be appropriate. If they can call the Nebulan aliens to borrow Gigan, I'm pretty sure they can place a call to the White House. Maybe they did that and it didn't work. Maybe they're not willing to do it because they're worried it will make them even more vulnerable. Maybe they think we're doing it to them deliberately and the time for talk is over. Or maybe they're stupid. Who knows?
But the thing is: They have a point! They're not the aggressors. They're the victims, and they're trying to defend themselves by striking back.
It's a peculiar subtext that always struck me as pretty intriguing. I mean, let's face it, mostly it was aliens, and mostly they were aliens being assholes. The Xians and the Kilaaks, they just wanted our stuff, they were jerks. The Nebulans had screwed their planet up and wanted to try again with ours. The Mysterians and the Simeons might not have been bad, but they needed new real estate. Some of them might have had a sympathetic reason, but in the end, they were always about dumping their problems on our doorstep and giving us a hard time.
This time, however, we were the problem. They didn't even want our real estate. They just wanted us to stop messing up theirs.
This was the first, and maybe the only, time where the adversaries had a good reason: "Cut it out! Stop nuking us, okay! We mean it!"
It's also one of the few Toho movies where the adversaries were not aliens from outer space, but infraworlders - a civilization under the sea or underground. I think the only other one was Mu in Atragon. That's a strange and intriguing change of pace. I find myself wondering if there was something driving it - maybe the then-popularity of Erik von Danniken's Chariots of the Gods?, or some fad of archaeological mysteries was big. Maybe it was simply that they'd chosen to make the villains sympathetic.
Then there's the odd subtext of the "male-pair bond." Back in the '70s, of course, no one in kids' movies was going to acknowledge gays, or even the notion of a gay couple. But you look at this pair, and their kid, and you realize it's a weird all-male family unit; effectively Kenny [i.e., Rokkuchan-CN] has two dads. There are almost no women in this movie, and no women in a significant role, which is an interesting counterpoint to Super Monster Gamera, where there are no men.
Of course, back when I was ten years old, none of that occurred to me. Now older, in a much more jaded era of sexual politics and gay rights, I watch this stuff, and the weird gender, underlying homoerotic themes seem to leap out at me. Was it there all the time and we were unconscious of it? Or was there a genuine subtext, perhaps so deeply buried that even the film makers weren't quite aware of it? There's a shocking thought - that there might have been homosexuals in the entertainment industry in the '70s! But who knows? It was just a more innocent time.
For all of these reasons I find myself liking Godzilla vs. Megalon a lot. Maybe I just saw it when I was young and impressionable, and we're always so much more forgiving. But I'd like to think that for all its flaws and shortcomings, it actually had some cool things going on in terms of text and subtext, conceptual design, and chocolaty-wholesome monster goodness.
Anyway, we're here to take another look at Jet Jaguar, and maybe offer some spin or interpretation that might make it a bit more interesting, or a bit more palatable.
Now, fair warning. I'm 99.999999% certain that this is all fanboy nerdstuff, and it absolutely, quanterainly was not part of any Toho thinking in any way, shape, or form. The reality is, they were just in a business, they were simply chugging out a product. They weren't building a universe or connecting their dots. They were just making movies.
We're the ones who connect the dots. Now, they didn't intend that we connect them up. But they left all these dots lying around, and they did make the occasional connections themselves.
So I think we're entitled to play with it.
Here are the two big problems with Jet Jaguar:
1) That is one creepy, nasty, serial-killer smile-looking robot.
2) That robot does a whole lot of things that are just not acceptable or possible for a plain ordinary Earth robot that two guys built in a garage.
Now, as to the second point - I recognize that arguing plausibility in a kaiju movie is like talking global warming or theory of evolution at a Republican convention. There's a certain cognitive dissonance.
But at the same time, I'm going to do it. What it comes down to is an artistic choice - the audiences' (in this case, mine, and hopefully your) willingness to suspend belief. For Godzilla vs. Megalon to work, we have to be expected to swallow a lot: That there's an undersea nation of Seatopians. That not only does a 150-foot atomic reptile exist and walk around handily, but that he's on our side. That aliens and bug-monsters plot against humanity.
Okay, we buy all that, in part because we've been bludgeoned into submission. There have been lots of movies which feature Godzilla, kaiju, aliens, and evil plots. It's not new to us, and we've gone along with it before.
But the notion of a robot that changes to kaiju size for the convenience of the plot? Too much. Particularly because within the apparent logic of the movie, there's no justification for it. When the robot's creators are going "WTF...?" within the movie itself, there's a problem. They should know what their robot can and cannot do; they built the thing, after all. If they're being taken by surprise, if they find it implausible or unexpected... well, what can the audience do?
If it was an alien robot, or exposed to outer space radiation, or some pseudo-malarkey like that... okay, we could go with it. But this is 'Earth-tech', and we are more intolerant of Earth tech; we know that it doesn't and can't do crazy morphing stuff. Even more, the trouble is that this is an Earth robot built by two ordinary Earth guys, and not brilliant super scientists, and not weird guys in underground labs [one could argue that Prof. Goro Ibuki, Jet Jaguar's primary creator, may be a "super-scientist," depending upon how one defines the term-CN]. Nope, built by the sort of perfectly ordinary gay couple that you'd expect to be able to fix your car or Blu-Ray player, but you're not expecting weird super-science out of them, particularly when they're not expecting it themselves.
And that's not the only surprise Jet Jaguar has for his creators and for the audience. The other is way, way too much free thinking autonomy and independence. At first, the robot behaves the way you think a robot should. It does what its masters, whether it be the gay couple or the Seatopians, program it to do.
But then, all of a sudden, Jet Jaguar's doing his own thing. I goes off and enlists Godzilla... and does it creatively, through pantomime and charades. This is pretty freewheeling for a robot. And its anomalous, too. Hell, human beings can't enlist Godzilla that way! Who programmed that into the robot? When and how?
From there on, Jet Jaguar, for all his blocky immobility, is not acting like a robot but making his own decisions, even deciding not to return to a subservient position. And once again, the creators, from what we see, seem pretty surprised by the conduct of their machine. But how can that be, given that they built it? It doesn't wash, it just seems counter-intuitive to the audience; it violates some subtle rules of movie logic, of expectations, and the suspension of disbelief goes "snap!"
Basically, there's nothing in the Showa Toho Universe to justify Jet Jaguar. If it was in Ultraman's universe, and it was an alien - sure thing! But the established and accepted rules are different there. Think of a Schwarzenegger action flick, and in the middle of the Schwarzenegger battle scene, a couple of elves from the Lord of the Rings trilogy comes through. Doesn't belong; violates the logic. We'll buy Schwarzenegger in True Lies, we'll buy Legolas in Lord of the Rings, but you have to keep the logic true.
Or do you?
Okay, here's the thing. I'm kind of a nerd. I like to look for the connections between movies, to build up these connections into relationships, something larger than the whole, as if these movies, as if things in these movies, are pieces of a puzzle that you can assemble into a larger picture, a more interesting picture.
As an example: King Ghidorah shows up from outer space in Ghidrah, the Three Headed Monster. But then, in the next G-film, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, we find out that Ghidorah is now the pawn of the Xian aliens, and their plan to conquer Earth. Cool. But is there something deeper? Was Ghidorah really the pawn of the Xians all along, and were the Xians really behind Ghidorah's attack in the first movie? Are they only now revealing themselves? [A single line in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero did indeed suggest this to be the case-CN]
Or, for example, Godzilla has two pollution-themed movies pretty much back to back, Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster and Godzilla vs. Gigan. In the latter, we find out that cockroach aliens who are the last survivors of a world devastated by toxic pollution are invading Earth. Was Hedorah, a.k.a. the pollutant-spewing 'Smog Monster,' their first attempt to conquer the Earth?
You see what I mean? Nerd stuff. Now, in my own defense, I'll say that Toho really was pulling this stuff overtly and deliberate. The two Mechagodzilla movies of the '70s both feature the "black hole aliens" called the Simeons, coming at us twice. In the second G-film, Godzilla Raids Again, he's buried in ice by a military strike after fighting Anguirus. In the third one, King Kong vs. Godzilla, he's breaking out of an iceberg to fight Kong. Rodan and Mothra guest star in several Godzilla movies. In fact, kaiju from King Kong Escapes (Gorosaurus) and Frankenstein Conquers the World (Baragon), as well as Atragon (Manda) and Varan the Unbelievable (Varan himself), also show up.
Godzilla vs. Megalon not only uses Gigan, but makes a direct reference to his relationship to the cockroach aliens (i.e., the Nebulans). Like it or not, for various reasons, Toho created its own nerd continuity of recycled costumes and characters, recurring plot and theme ideas, and internal references.
So really, I'm only taking what they give me and running a bit wild with it. I didn't start the game; Toho did. I'm only playing by their rules.
Remember when I said that Jet Jaguar's size-changing simply didn't fit in the established Toho movie universe? There was no other movie where that happened.
I was wrong. There is one other movie, and the thing is, if we link that movie up to Godzilla vs. Megalon, we get a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts; we get to draw some interesting conclusions; some guesses and insights; and we get to look at these movies in a completely new way.
Without further ado, I give you: Yog, Monster from Space!
All right, so here's what happens. There's this space probe, you see.
No, not that kind of probe, get your mind out of the gutter!
It's one of our probes. Some sort of deep space thingy. Anyway, it's passing by Jupiter, and a funky sort of blue sparkly glow, a colour in outer space invades it [Lovecraftian homage?-CN]. The probe turns around, and heads back to Earth. Or maybe that was the pre-programmed trajectory anyway. Who knows?
Fast forward a bit and some guy witnesses the probe crashing down to Earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean off of Selga Island. Well, he can't convince anyone of what he's seen, so he's all hot to get out there, and he gets a job with some expedition heading that way, where they encounter an evil real estate guy who intends to build a mall or something on the lush unspoiled wilderness. Place could use a mall, if you ask me. Or some condos. Or a four-star hotel.
Well, as it turns out, that's all sub-plot. The real plot comes when a gigantic, phallicly erect squid comes walking out of the water, and proceeds to squirt white juice all over everything.
Wait, that might be some other movie! But there is a giant phallicly erect squid, and it causes a lot of damage, squeezing native houses [and sometimes the natives themselves-CN], until finally they find a bunker whose contents they use to get it all hot, and then it has to get all wet to cool off. Wait! I'm not sure if this is the porno version.
Anyway, the deflated squid is replaced by a horrible case of crab-monster, because this movie has no sexual subtext at all. It too is destroyed by fire, because you know, crabs... they burn when you put them in a hole. Damn, I think I'm still watching the wrong version! [Attack of the Killer Innuendos, perhaps?-CN]
Anyway, it turns out that all this trouble is caused by the blue glowy thing that liquided itself into the space probe, caused it to return to Earth, and is sliding into Earthly creatures, making them swell up real big and erect [Is somebody in need of a tether to help pull them out of the gutter?-CN].
Anyway, a bunch of plot happens. A human gets possessed, and goes "Ha ha, I am evil! More evil! Less occupied with petty real estate evil, and more into cosmic deep evil... although you know, a shopping mall would look really good over there, and then we could open up some big box superstores..."
The creepy liquid colour from outer space, which is full of sparkly things, and is in no way evocative of semen, it turns out, can invade and possess multiple orifices - I mean, organs - at once. This results in the creepy real estate guy becoming a creepy cosmic evil real estate guy, accompanied by a couple of giant monsters. The crab again, and a really scabby looking turtle, which I think is supposed to represent the horrors of venereal disease [Is this an essay for The Godzilla Saga, or a thinly veiled high school health class service announcement?-CN].
Okay, look, I'm sorry. I'll cut it out right now. It was a little fun, but I acknowledge that it's gone overboard, and it's time to pull back [sorry, caught that one also, Den-CN]. So here it is: Gezora, the erect tentacled squid, in no way resembles a gigantic, stylized tentacled erection. There, the next time you look at a picture of Gezora, you won't think of that at all [Of course not-CN]. See? It's all good [Mm-hmmm-CN].
The very idea that the Japanese might kink things up with tentacled monsters, that's just ridiculous [I'm sure all anime fans… wouldn't agree-CN].
Anyway, the crab (Ganime) and the turtle (Kameabos) are on the attack, but then bats disrupt them, so they start to fight each other, and end up falling into a volcano. And then the guy who is possessed decides he doesn't want to sell real estate, and jumps into the volcano too.
Now, actually, I first saw Yog, Monster from Space [Japanese title: Space Amoeba] when I was a kid. It played at the drive-in, or the Saturday matinees; I think I was probably the target audience demographic, and I really enjoyed it. Looking back on it with a more adult (*ahem*) perspective, there's still much to like.
One thing is scale - the monsters here are generally smaller than Godzilla and co., sized down. They are gigantic enough to crush a native bungalow - say about forty or fifty feet [This editor would guess slightly larger than that, perhaps in the 70 foot size range-CN]. There's more of a feel of real interaction, probably on the level of the Gargantuas [editor's note: Gaila was 30 meters in height, and his brother Sanda was about five meters taller than that, which is roughly 100 and 115 feet respectively when converted into the English System of measurement--CN]. The smaller size brings an intimacy of scale. It's a lot less impersonal, more immediate, and the humans when they fight it bring on more of a contest. True, we don't have the Tokyo cityscape. But in some ways, a jungle village works just as well, and the setting of a tropical island, while cheap, is effective.
I've talked about the Lovecraftian aspect of Megalon. Here, Toho brings out Lovecraft in spades. The creative crew of this film may never have heard of Lovecraft, but they were tapping into a parallel vein of cosmic horror.
Take the entity "Yog" itself: What is it? It's a colour from outer space, one that falls to Earth and contaminates and mutates what it touches. Shades of H.P. himself, and one of his best known stories [I knew it! "The Colour Out of Space" was one of the scariest stories I ever read; it's been adapted to the cinema twice to date, first with Die, Monster, Die! (a.k.a., Monster of Terror, 1965) and The Curse (1987)-CN]. You could almost see the Lovecraft story being the genesis, the starting point, for the entire thing - some Japanese film producer reads the story and starts thinking about how it would be adapted as a kaiju tale.
The monsters are probably some of the most surreally horrific and alien products of the Toho studio. Gezora, the super-squid or cuttlefish, with its skirt of tentacles is a creature of primal disturbance. It's entirely alien in its body plan, which has no trace of humanoid, or even vertebrate proportions. It's all towering head, the eyes are in the wrong place, the tentacles curling about. It's not a perfect costume, it's a bit too fabricy-looking, the peculiar dimensions leave it sagging a little in some places, and I imagine the tentacles and proportions made it hard to operate. The flaws are probably why its use was limited in the movie. But it is striking, and far more effective than Gamera's squid monster, Viras.
Then there's Ganime the giant crab, a costume so effective they used it twice in the course of the movie. Like Gezora, it's one of the most inhuman costumes ever created. I suppose Mothra and some of the spiders and insects like Kumonga and Kamacuras are inhuman as well. But they were essentially puppets. There's an entirely different quality of motion and volition from a suit-monster. The suit monster gives you the feel of moving, rather than of being moved. While modeled on a rather prosaic crab, they went all out, giving it a profusion of limbs, bristles and body hairs, and a shambling gait. A lot of suitmation monsters look like men in monster suits. Ganime... looks monstrous, the human shape within is well hidden, and the outer shape is simply a cascade of alien features. In some ways, Ganime anticipates, and is creepier than, the Heisei Series' Destroyah, notwithstanding that Ganime's origins and inspirations are much clearer - the thing is, Ganime does not really have a face; there's no eyes with pupils and iris' that we recognize, no mouth, no teeth, no nostrils. What there is are eye stalks and antenna, and alien mouth mandibles.
Finally, there is Kamoebas, who is nominally the most mainstream of the Yog-Kaiju, being a simple giant rock turtle. But even the turtle seems unusually monstrous. There's very little of a man in a suit to it. It's body is all black planes and angles, monstrously shaped, rising to a peak as if it was really some barren rocky hill, some piece of geography become animate, with its maw simply a larger opening. It's barely recognizable. Again, they've made a real effort to obscure the man inside the suit and to create an outer being which rebels against our sense of proportions and shape, for what a man or animal can be.
Again, I come back to Lovecraft, and his cosmic horrors that were utterly alien to human experience. To the famous lines from the "Call of Cthulhu": "It lumbered slobberingly into sight... a mountain walked or stumbled..."
Even at his most terrifying, Godzilla has a face. Godzilla has eyes with pupils and iris [except for the "GMK" version, who had eyes but no visible pupils-CN], and nostrils, a mouth, and a snout. Godzilla has arms and legs, and at the end of those, hands and feet with claws. Godzilla is clearly a vertebrate, with an anatomy and body plan more or less like ours.
In Yog, Monster from Space there's a real effort to obscure that, to bring us creatures that are both immense and terrifying and alien to our sensibilities of what is right and normal. As adults, we get jaded. But I can remember being a 12-year-old boy, absolutely riveted by the terrifying entities on the screen. With an adult vantage point, I can look through that boy's eyes and see the assault on the normal, the intrusion of the alien, which gives it its power.
The other thing that makes Yog, Monster from Space especially effective is the underlying nature of the threat. Ultimately, almost all kaiju-films are about an external threat. A giant monster shows up, starts kicking ass, and it's about getting away or defeating it. Even when aliens are responsible, the aliens are an externality. The only time that's even played with is in Godzilla vs. Megalon, when the "aliens" are actually an "internality" - they're not out there, they're underneath us, underneath the sea, responding to our "invasion."
But Yog takes this much further. The real enemy is the colour from outer space. A protean glob of shimmering light that moves like a liquid. It's not only utterly alien, in a way that most movie aliens are not (most movie aliens have bodies, and look and move more or less like us), but it's able to divide itself in two or three, while remaining whole. It possesses things to do its bidding: animals, machines, people. It's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers done as kaiju, and it touches on some of that existential paranoia.
In most kaiju-films, you worry about being stepped on or incinerated. But here, there's the additional terror of it crawling all over you, of it entering your body through your mouth, your pores, your eyes, of it seeping through your skin, and then devouring you, possessing you. You might still be alive and animate, but trapped. If you are not its victim, then you can't know that the person next to you - whether your ally or your enemy - is their true self, or merely the alien using a human body as a vehicle.
And even if you defeat it physically, you can't defeat its essence. Destroy the monster it animates, and it simply comes back as another monster. Destroy that, it comes back as two more monsters. Destroy the monsters, it inhabits a man.
This gives more density to the story, and there is actually a story here - not just the straightforward tale of some big ass kaiju stomping everything in sight. Rather, at the heart of it, there's a mystery for the characters who are caught up in a series of astonishing, inexplicable events, and who slowly come to figure out what is going on. We in the audience get to see more of the big picture earlier, we watch the space probe being infiltrated by the colour from space. But in most ways, we're right there with the characters, confronted with a series of impossible and terrifying situations, coping, and putting the pieces together.
Now, having said all that, Yog, Monster from Space is far from a perfect movie. There's a lot of tosh in it, some poor shots, some poor acting, the alien colour turns out to have too much "evil realtor" in it, the solution is contrived, and in the end, the menace is resolved by dumping it into a volcano... which, given what we're presented with in the movie, may or may not actually work.
But you know what? Years ago, I noticed that someone who wanted to be offended could always find something to be offended about. That's around the time I stopped worrying about people like that. Someone looking for a reason to spit on Yog, Monster from Space can find it. But then, that applies to everything.
It's easy to ignore or overlook all the things that are interesting - i.e., the subtexts, the flirtation with paranoia, the Lovecraftian aspects, the fact that there is an actual story here - and dismiss it all. But it seems to me that if we're willing to meet it half way, and be open to what it is and what it's doing, then it can be a very worthwhile experience... even to a jaded adult like me.
Continuity in the Toho Universes is a dicey thing. I don't think that they really cared about it. Or more accurately, it wasn't a big deal in terms of production; it was just one of those things that made it fun.
At first, it's not there at all. Monster shows up, monster gets killed, end of story - there's no continuity coming out of that. That's the story of Godzilla, King of the Monsters; Rodan; Varan the Unbelievable; Mothra (sort of), etc.
But then Godzilla gets another movie, Godzilla Raids Again (or Gigantis the Fire Monster [Yick, do I ever hate being reminded of that horridly insulting American version of an otherwise cool entry in the G-saga by Warner Bros.!-CN]) and another monster to tussle with, and he gets buried in the ice. Along comes the third movie, King Kong vs. Godzilla, and he is introduced by breaking out of an iceberg.
Logically, it can't be the same iceberg. The locations are simply too far apart; you can't get there from here. But the thing is, no one had VCRs or YouTube at the time. They went with memory and no one was cross-referencing the details, so thematically and conceptually, it worked. Bury him in ice, break him out of ice.
At the end of the third movie, Godzilla is dumped in the ocean, and then he rises out of the Ocean in the 4th movie (Godzilla vs. Mothra). So that's where your overall series continuity begins to sneak in. It's not a big deal. The Toho writers and producers probably didn't spend a lot of time on it. But they do spend some time on it; they might only give it ten minutes worth of thought, but they do give it that ten minutes.
Now, in the fourth movie, we get the first true Toho crossover. Previously, Godzilla has fought Anguirus, but Anguirus was a 'made for G-monster', and King Kong is an American import that was never owned by Toho. Mothra is the first Toho property, and when Godzilla fights Mothra, not only is the big butterfly imported, but so are her whole life-cycle, her larva, those tiny minion twins, etc.
Now, there's a lot of discrepancies. Mothra's size from one movie to the next doesn't match up. Events from the Mothra movie may be inconsistent. But the movie-going audience doesn't have Google to run comparisons, and can't do side-by-side comparisons with their DVD player. Like or not, Godzilla vs. Mothra effectively merges Mothra and Godzilla's continuities or realities, and Mothra will go on to become a recurring player in the subsequent G-films.
And then Rodan gets incorporated. And suddenly, you've got a lot of giant monsters showing up, some of them made especially for the Godzilla series, like Gigan and King Ghidorah; some imported from other movies and used as background characters - e.g., Baragon, Varan, Manda - until you've effectively got a rather loose Kaijuverse, despite quite the number of discrepancies and holes.
Which leads to some interesting questions - are all the Toho kaiju in the same "verse"? I suppose King Kong is, having appeared with Godzilla and then "looking different and sized different" in his own movie (King Kong Escapes), and having a supporting character from his movie, Gorosaurus, showing up in the Godzilla sequence [and re-sized accordingly-CN].
But what about Baragon? Does it mean that if Baragon is in the Godzilla series in Destroy All Monsters, then doesn't that mean that Frankenstein and his Gargantua offspring are also part of the Godzilla universe?
Interesting questions, because in other respects, Kong and the Frankenstein family are kind of the black sheep of the Toho universe. They don't get mentioned a lot [Interestingly, Gaila was given significant mention via a stock footage cameo in the timeline of the Millennium Series timeline that encompassed the two G-films Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.--CN]. Or at all. So does the failure to mention them leave them out or in? I think that just because of the linkages, they have to be in [Fully agreed-CN].
I'm sure that the Toho guys weren't spending a lot of time thinking about this. But then again, they were thinking about it. They were not just recycling costumes and stock footage; they recycled the names as well.
So anyway, this takes us to Yog, which has no recycled suits or recycled names, and no overt connections to the rest of the Showa Toho Universe.
Despite all that, I'm going to argue that Yog is part of the Showa Toho Universe, and in fact Yog is the hidden factor which explains the events of Godzilla vs. Megalon, and the character of Jet Jaguar.
Jet Jaguar has a big problem. He's an Earth-built robot, constructed by a couple of relatively talented but not particularly remarkable guys - schmucks, basically [I'm not certain how much Prof. Goro Ibuki's um, partner--race car driver Hiroshi Jinkawa--had to do with the construction of the robot… but for all we know, he may have done things like handing Prof. Ibuki an appropriate tool when he needed it, or took a quick shopping trip for him to the 1970s Showa Tohoverse equivalent of Home Depot to pick up some needed parts, etc.-CN]. They are not bad guys, they're fun to hang around with, but it's not like they exhibit Lex Luthor or Tony Stark levels of intellect or resources [It would have been interesting to know more about the history and prior invention oeuvre of Prof. Ibuki-he may have been the Showa Tohoverse's answer to Reed Richards-CN]. They're just two guys working out of their garage, essentially. And Jet Jaguar does things that seem impossible for schmuck technology:
2) Jet Jaguar can change its size from human to kaiju-riffic. It's a "WTF!" moment for the creators, who certainly did not build that capacity in. It's completely beyond Earth science or technology. But the robot just goes ahead and does it.
2) Jet Jaguar can change its size from human to kaiju-riffic. It's a "WTF!" moment for the creators, who certainly did not build that capacity in. It's completely beyond Earth science or technology. But the robot just goes ahead and does it.
If it is not explained within Godzilla vs. Megalon, and if it's not plausible within the movie itself, then it seems that we have no choice but to step outside the movie, and go looking through the Toho canon for some viable explanation. Which brings us to Yog, Monster from Space, because of all the Toho kaiju-films, the events and abilities displayed in Yog seem to match up.
In particular, Yog, Monster from Space features what appear to be originally normal-sized animals, grown up and kaiju-fied.
Let's keep a firm grasp of our principles though. Is this correct? Let's go on to more salient parts of the film. Where do all these giant critters come from?
Now, maybe these were pre-existing giant squid-things, crab-things, and turtle-thingies. Like, maybe there's a population of giant monsters native to Selga Island, or hanging around in the water there, and the space probe just coincidentally fell among them. It strains credibility that a body-possessing alien would just happen to wind up someplace where there were four giant monsters available for possession [Unless one considers that this area of the Pacific Ocean may have been a hotbed for relict remnants of samples of aquatic megafauna created by Lemurian/Muan geneticists in the antediluvian past-CN].
Which I suppose would mean that if the space probe fell in New Zealand, Yog would have possessed sheep. I'm glad that they didn't make that movie.
But frankly, I have to doubt it. For one thing, the big subplot is that there are realtors running around all over the place planning a major commercial development on the island. I'm thinking that if there was an extant population of gigantic critters in the neighbourhood... they wouldn't want to do that. If there was even one... That's not real estate that you want to invest in. But two or three? Or if there was a population of the species? Or a population of three different species? I'm not sure that they could have just remained hidden in the face of all that attention. Especially not the land creatures, the crab and turtle. Even if all the big monsters were living in the sea, it's a pretty dicey proposition that they were going unnoticed. Not impossible; this is one of the Tohoverses, after all, but still to my thinking, pretty unlikely.
What seems more likely is that we've got bona fide size-changing going on. Yog is able to embiggen the critters it possesses, and it does this several times - as many as four times in a row - two of its critters are destroyed, but it pops up with two more [two different versions of Ganime appear in the film, the second replacing the first after it was destroyed-CN]. So either there's a lot of very strange wildlife out there that no one has noticed, or Yog is embiggening things up.
The other thing is that Yog controls the people and animals it possesses. It uses their bodies and abilities for its own purposes. This is demonstrated over and over again. Only when Yog's control slips, do the creatures act on their own, and that action is to fight each other. So, Yog's possession would deliver the autonomy and independent action that so puzzles the robot's creators. Jet Jaguar is literally under new management.
So maybe it was Yog, behind the scenes, that embiggened Jet Jaguar? And is responsible for Jet Jaguar's apparent independence and motivation? Maybe the robot is possessed by the space amoeba? Works for me.
But wait: In Yog, Monster from Space, Yog only possesses living things - a cuttlefish, two crabs, a turtle, and a human. Jet Jaguar is a machine. There's nothing to possess.
Ah, but if we watch the beginning of Yog's film, we see that the blue glowy stuff actually invades and possesses a space probe, the Helios 7. And it seems to control it, somewhat, directing it back to Earth. That's kind of debatable. It might have been that it was already programmed to come to return to Earth. In which case, the space amoeba was only along for the ride [the plot synopsis in the old press book for the American version of the film was adamant that Yog took control of the space probe's systems and deliberately redirected it back to Earth; such probes tend to wander out of the solar system and be lost forever after they serve their purpose, which is recording data of select planets and/or moons and electronically sending this info back to its controllers on Earth-CN].
But on the other hand, NASA, or whoever, seems to have lost track of it. When the probe crashes back to Earth, no one official seems to know where it is, or come looking for it. The only person who seeks out its location is a witness that no one believes. This suggests that the blue glowy shimmering thing was in fact messing about with the probe, at least enough to conceal its return [Yes-CN].
So it does appear that Yog can inhabit and manipulate non-living objects, such as machines. Well, why did Yog leave the space probe? Why did it bother with living creatures that could potentially resist it?
Well, what are you going to do with a space probe, except blink your control panel lights at people really hard? There's barely any moving parts - mainly a few directional thrusters which are dependent on fuel reserves, possibly some hinges for doors, and little motors for antenna. Not much to work with.
On the other hand, being able to possess a robot gives you a full range of motion. This is why Yog would abandon a space probe, but invade Jet Jaguar.
Okay, but wasn't Yog destroyed at the end of its movie? Well, that's what we're told. But then, this is a formless energy-thing which seems able to divide itself and inhabit multiple bodies simultaneously, survived the rigors of space, survived re-entry, survived one of its bodies being set on fire, and another of its bodies being blown to bits. Is a volcano really going to destroy it?
Besides which, we all know that for kaiju in the Godzilla canon, death is a hiccup: Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Varan, Baragon, Anguirus, Gorosaurus, Manda, Kamacuras, and Kumonga/Spiega have all (apparently) died, but subsequently gotten better.
But there's another objection: Isn't Yog a bad guy? Isn't Jet Jaguar a good guy? What gives?
Well, here goes. It's possible that Yog, in between having all its critters fall into a volcano and possessing Jet Jaguar, had a change of heart. Maybe it was the evil part that got destroyed, and the good part lived on. Or maybe after getting its incorporeal ass kicked through a whole movie, Yog spent some time re-thinking its moral position, and decided that if it couldn't beat us, it should join us.
Or maybe - and this is the explanation I prefer - Jet Jaguar is not a good guy at all. Maybe Jet Jaguar is just... self interested.
If we watch the movie, it seems that the Seatopians are a direct personal threat to Jet Jaguar. They make two separate attacks on the robot's creators, steal the robot, and use it as a tool in their plans. Whether Jet Jaguar/Yog cares about the human race at all, it's pretty clear that the Seatopians are its enemy. Something needs to be done about them.
Fighting Megalon is simply a matter of self-interest. And faced with Gigan and Megalon, Jet Jaguar needs allies, so enlisting Godzilla makes sense.
This actually works better. Jet Jaguar is one sinister-looking robot; that permanent grin is too much like the one sported by Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. The image of Jet Jaguar as not a hero, but more of a manipulative anti-hero, or "hero of convenience," is actually kind of engaging. For some reason, it makes it more interesting to think that battling the Seatopians' struggle for survival is an alien intelligence which we only think is on our side. That the force inhabiting Jet Jaguar may be indifferent to, or contemptuous of, humanity, or of our civilization. That it may have its own agenda in defeating the Seatopians. And that its agenda might have little to do with notions of justice as we understand the principles.
It sort of fits with the skewed moral perspective of the movie, where the official "bad guy" Seatopians' attack is actually a peaceful people fighting back against an unprovoked, albeit accidental, campaign of nuclear destruction.
The Zone Fighter, the Meteor Man television series was Toho's answer to Ultraman and similar sentai series that was all the rage at the time, which had come to be called Tokusatsu Henshin.
The Henshin format by this time was extremely well established. Action took place at normal size among the human and villain casts, but giant kaiju-style monsters would get thrown in for that family fun pack scale destruction. So the protagonist, and sometimes the villain, would scale up into super-sized entities for the climactic fight [Think Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, the heavily bastardized but once mega-popular American adaptation of the Japanese Henshin series, Go Rangers, which briefly led to a trend of some truly horrendous American bastardizations of Japanese Henshin series during the 1990s like Big Bad Beetleborgs--CN].
Okay, conceptually, it's ridiculous. But it did have the advantage of the best of both worlds. When everything was kaiju-sized, it was easy for humans to get lost, to vanish from site, and just leave big jerks bopping around.
That was an ongoing problem for Toho, and it's why there's actually some fans for the smaller kaiju, e.g., the Gargantuas and Yog-monsters, whose size allows for more credible interaction, by bringing the monster scale and human scale closer together. The Henshin format got around that problem by simply changing the size of the characters, scaling them up and down as the stories required.
Regardless, in terms of the Zone Fighter story - the Zone Family were refugees from a planet called Peaceland, hiding out on Earth. Too bad for them, and for us, but the evil race from the planet Garoga - which conquered the Peacelanders - are on their way here. Luckily, the Zone Fighter is ready to fight them, with the occasional help of Godzilla.
The Garogain, who are basically evil bastards, come in a variety of colours, and at least some of them are able to size up into kaiju-sized Terro-Beasts for the Zone Fighter to put a whupping on.
I note that Zone Fighter comes out at the same year as Godzilla vs. Megalon. It's tempting to try and fit the two together. After all, both feature size-changing sentai. But Jet Jaguar is an Earth robot, and both the Zone Fighter and Garogain are aliens. And truthfully, Jet Jaguar bears more resemblance to the Garogain than Zone Fighter, as his and their costumes share that clunkier look, and Jet Jaguar's smile seems closer to the Garogains' toothy grins, courtesy of those face masks they always wear.
Perhaps the same alien force that allowed both the Garogain and Zone Fighter to change size was disembodied and hijacked a space probe to Earth... [Methinks Den is definitely onto something here-CN].
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