Japanese release title: Godzilla’s Counterattack
International release title (?): The Return of Godzilla
U.S. release date: May 21, 1959, by Warner Brothers as Gigantus, The Fire Monster
Japanese audience attendance: 8,340,000
Director: Motoyoshi Oda
Screenplay: Takeo Murata and Shigeaki Hidaka
Sfx: Eiji Tsuberaya
Musical score: Masaru Sato
U.S. version formerly available on home video from Video Treasures.
When a young Japanese pilot named Kobayashi is forced to land his damaged plane on the remote Iwato Island in the South Seas, he and his best friend Tsukioka, who arrived to rescue him, both witness a battle between an inexplicably resurrected Godzilla and a new, quadrupedal monster called Anguirus, who appears to be a mutated Anklyosaurus. Returning to Osaka in Tsukioka’s plane, the two men report the incident, and Dr. Yamane (the paleontologist who studied Godzilla in the first film) verifies the possibility of such creatures continuing to exist.
Godzilla and Anguirus soon arrive in Osaka, and continue their titanic battle there, destroying most of the city in the process, and easily fending off attacks by the Japanese military. The battle ends when Godzilla stuns Anguirus by knocking the beast through Osaka Castle, after which he literally rips his adversary’s throat out with his teeth, and then sets the creature’s body aflame with his atomic breath. The triumphant Godzilla promptly returns to the sea.
After Osaka’s difficult but joyous recovery is recounted, Kobayashi and Tsukioka join the search for Godzilla and locate the kaiju on a frozen island in the Antarctic regions. At the cost of his own life, Kobayashi manages to start a huge avalanche, which a squad of military planes contribute to, burying Godzilla completely, and apparently ending the atomic leviathan’s life once more.
The huge international success of the first G-film prompted a jubilant Toho to immediately push a follow-up film into production. The second movie, the last to be shot in black and white, luckily retained the deadly serious tone and allegorical musings of the first film, this time presenting a metaphorical retelling of the bombing of Nagasaki, and focusing on the recovery of the human victims after a citywide devastation, rather than focusing on their suffering, as the previous film did. Both Godzilla and Anguirus were depicted as destructive menaces to humankind, and the movie was geared towards an adult audience. This film also began the precedent of having Godzilla battling another dai kaiju, which would be the premise of almost every other G-film to date. However, despite having two monsters instead of one, and sometimes being considered one of the best Godzilla movies in the Showa Series, the film was both technically and directorially inferior to the first one.
Tsuberaya’s sfx were uncharacteristically below par, and Motoyoshi Oda, who directed his only G-film here, was much less competent at doing so than Ishiro Honda. The film was much closer in style to an American sci-fi B-movie than its predecessor, which stood leagues above one. Masaru Sato, the maestro second most identified with G-films after Akira Ifukube, made a satisfying debut here, coming up with a great score. After this movie, whose box office showings were less than the previous G-film, Toho seemingly decided to lay Godzilla to rest for good, a decision not reversed for seven years. This G-film has long been considered the “lost” Godzilla movie, since for unknown reasons it has very rarely been shown on U.S. television. In fact, I never actually saw the movie myself until it was played once, and only once, on the Movie Channel in 1985 (it was played again in subsequent years, of course, but very sparingly). Many G-fans only knew of this movie’s existence by reading monster fan magazines such as Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland [Ackerman is no longer editor of the current version of this magazine published by Dynacom]. To this day, the film is still not shown on television much, although it did play on the Disney Channel from time to time when that station was still a premium channel (an admittedly odd place for it to be presented, especially considering its overall tone).
When released in America in 1959, Warner Bros. proved far less adept at Americanizing a G-film than AIP, and they mucked up the movie horribly. Abandoning previous plans to replace all the non-kaiju footage with new, American footage featuring all American actors, and a complete alteration of the story (which was originally intended to be released in the U.S. as “The Volcano Monsters”), Warner Bros. instead dubbed the original footage terribly, a move which made the whole movie unintentionally hilarious (for more info on what the original premise of the Americanized version of this film was intended to be like, see below). Not only was the dubbing extremely putrid, but the Japanese script was altered almost beyond recognition. As a result, the dialogue often appeared non-sensical. Further, most of Sato’s great score was replaced by corny American sci-fi library music, and idiotic new sfx scenes and awful dinosaur movie stock footage were added to the scene of Dr. Yamane’s speech to depict the birth of the dinosaurs, and American war propaganda footage was needlessly inserted in the film at various points. Worse, Godzilla and Anguirus’s origins were retold to imply that the “fire monsters” were the result of natural evolution, rather than nuclear mutations (anything to get America’s horrible atomic bomb tests off the hook in the eyes of the American audience). Godzilla’s distinctive roar was even dubbed over in many scenes by Anguirus’s equally distinctive cry! Perhaps the most insulting thing about Warner Bros.’s humiliating release of this film was the changing (in the dubbing, as well as the title) of Godzilla’s name to “Gigantus” (Anguirus’s name was phonetically translated in the film as “Angurus”).
It's interesting to note here that during a single short scene during Godzilla's arrival in the Arctic towards the end of the film, right after the kaiju was spotted by the pursuing fighter jets, Tsuberaya utilized a brief bit of stop motion animation to depict the Atomic Titan onscreen. This was obvious to the viewer and not very well done, and since this was the one and only time that Tsuberaya ever attempted this, and it was never done in a G-film again (save for a lengthy bit of ultimately unused footage in Godzilla vs. Biollante ), it can be inferred that this tiny bit of screen time allotted to the famous American technique mastered by Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen to bring dai kaiju to life onscreen was utilized by Tsuberaya and his crew for experimental purposes only. It was probably used for this one brief scene only due to the fact that the technique was extremely expensive and time-consuming to produce adequately, and Tsuberaya wasn't an expert at this process as was O'Brien and his protege' Harryhausen. However, it's quite likely that Tsuberaya was nevertheless intrigued by the technique and wanted to try his hand at it on Toho's budget, even if only for what amounted to one single snippit of film footage (it probably only ended up in the finished film at all due to the extreme amount of yen and time that Toho and Tsuberaya put into it, respectively).
As mentioned above, Warner Bros. was initially planning to release this movie as a strict American creation, and a completely new script was written that was to incorporate only the kaiju footage from the original, leaving out nearly all of the non-kaiju scenes and exposition featuring Toho's Japanese cast. Also, a small amount of additional footage featuring the monsters was to be filmed by Warner Bros., and accordingly, the film company actually had Toho create and ship two new kaiju suits to them for that purpose. The script for "The Volcano Monsters" dealt with the discovery, by American scientists, of the inert bodies of two dinosaurs, a Tyrannosaurus rex (who was described as female in the script, and was to be depicted in the film by the Godzilla footage) and an Anklyosaurus (who was to be depicted by the footage of Anguirus) within the body of a volcano. The two dinosaurs, in suspended animation, were shipped to New York City to be put on display, only to have the two of them awakened from their ages-long slumber when they were conveniently struck by lightening (the same thing that happened in the late 50's American schlock-fest Dinosaurus!), after which the two prehistoric creatures battled each other in the middle of NYC, which would obviously end with the 'Tyrannosaurus' defeating the 'anklyosaurus.' The script was to have the two monsters battle in Chinatown, so that the Oriental architecture, crowds, and writing on various signs in the original film would be logical, inasmuch as Warner Bros. was hoping that American audiences of the time couldn't tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese paraphernalia and linguistic characters that adorned the many signs throughout the city. All of the scenes with Godzilla utilizing his atomic breath were to be excised from this version of the movie, of course. Upon her defeat of the 'anklyosaurs,' the 'Tyranosaurs' then headed for the Arctic, apparently with the intention of spawning (an odd place for a warm weather creature to go in order to lay her eggs), only to be intercepted and, of course (fully incorporating the footage from the original film), buried under an avalanche of snow courtesy of American fighter planes.
However, for largely unknown reasons, Warner Bros. abandoned the project for "The Volcano Monsters," despite having paid for the creation of a new script and the two new kaiju suits from Toho, and simply chose to take a risk and dub the original Japanese film into English, and add a few scenes of extra footage (see above).
Warner Bros. was originally going to release the film by its current video title of Godzilla Raids Again, but they appear to have come to the incorrect conclusion that AIP held the exclusive American copyright to the name “Godzilla.” As a result, they changed the Kaiju King's name to "Gigantus" in both the U.S. release title of the film, and in the American script, in an attempt to fool the American audience into thinking that this movie was about an entirely different monster. Since the original Godzilla, King of the Monsters was released in America a mere three years previous, and was almost as successful here as it was in its native Japan, the American audience was hardly fooled, and the dropping of the name "Godzilla" from the film's kaiju star, in addition to the company's inept dubbing and silly added scenes, only ended up resulting in greatly reduced profits for Warner Bros., thus causing "Gigantus, the Fire Monster" to be a box office failure for them in the U.S. (and this wouldn't be the last time that an American film company would play such a "trick" on American viewers).
Fortunately, due to the box office failure of this particular venture, Warner Bros. would never again release a G-film in the U.S.
Although the correct title of the film was restored on the movie’s home video release, the rest of the movie is unfortunately the same, including Godzilla being referred to as “Gigantus” within the movie itself, if not the newly inserted title card. I strongly suggest that all G-fans avoid buying or taping the god-awful American version, and instead purchase the far superior English sub-titled Japanese version from Video Daikaiju instead.
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