Japanese release title: Godzilla, Mothra, Ebirah: Big Duel In The South Seas
International release title: Ebirah, Horror Of The Deep
U.S. release date: 1968, direct to TV by Walter Reade-Sterling Productions (Continental Pictures)
Japanese audience attendance: 3,450,000
Director: Jun Fukuda
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa
Sfx: Eiji Tsuberaya w/ Sadamasa Arikawa
Musical score: Masaru Sato
U.S. version available on home video from Goodtimes Home Video.
A young man named Rota gathers two friends together and sails into the South Pacific in search of his brother Yata, who has gone missing after a similar trip. En route, they discovered Yashi, a fugitive of the law, on board, but since Rota refused to turn back, the good-natured young criminal joined the team, later proving to be an asset. During a severe storm, the small yacht is attacked and destroyed by a gigantic, bloodthirsty lobster, but all four men narrowly managed to cheat death and safely make it to the nearby atoll of Letchi Island. While there, Rota and his troupe discover that a dangerous and powerful Chinese paramilitary organization called the Red Bamboo has secretly built a base on the island, and are in the process of creating nuclear weapons. They also discover that a large group of the peaceful natives indigenous to nearby Infant Island were captured and forced into slave labor by the organization. As a few of the natives escape and attempt to leave Letchi Island in a small canoe, they are attacked and devoured by the giant lobster, who is referred to as Ebirah (only in the Japanese version), as the soldiers proudly look on and warn the other captives about attempting to flee.
However, during the melee, an enslaved girl named Daiyo also escapes, with the help of Rota and his group. Joining them, she explains that her fellow captives are forced to make a liquid extracted from a fruit on the island that repels Ebirah, allowing the soldiers to leave at will; anyone else who attempts to do so is attacked and killed by the vicious sea monster. As the group invade the base in an unsuccessful attempt to free the rest of the slaves, Yashi is captured and Rota ends up in a weather balloon and floats to Infant Island, where he discovers his brother is alive and well. Also, the Shobijin are leading the rest of the natives to chant in an attempt to awaken the adult Mothra from a resting coma, so that she can fly to Letchi Island and rescue the slaves trapped there. Since Mothra shows no sign of arousal, Rota and Yata return to Letchi Island alone to assist the rest of his crew.
As they rejoin the crew and again escape pursuit by the Red Bamboo soldiers, they discover that Godzilla is asleep in a cavern there. During a thunder storm that night, they decide to try to awaken Godzilla with a makeshift lightening rod in the hope that the monster will wreak havoc on the Red Bamboo's base. The electrical energy succeeds in awakening the huge kaiju, who immediately engages Ebirah in battle, and drives the monster crustacean away.
The next day, Godzilla is attacked by a giant condor ("daikondura," in Japanese), and after a brief battle, he promptly fries his feathered antagonist with a burst of his his atomic breath.
Then, as Rota and crew had hoped, he invades the Red Bamboo base. The soldiers attack him with their large array of military weaponry, including a squadron of fighter jets, but Godzilla makes short work of these paltry creations of humankind, and then attacks the base itself.
Seeing no choice but to flee the island, the entire Red Bamboo activates a nuclear self-destruct weapon planted on the atoll, and then board their ships. However, the captive Yashi had the other slaves make their lobster repellent only from the leaves of the fruit, thereby rendering it ineffective. Thus, the departing ships are attacked and destroyed by Ebirah, ending the threat of the Red Bamboo to the world. Godzilla then engages the giant arthropod in battle again, ripping off the creature’s pincers in the process. Injured and humbled, Ebirah flees once more.
Just then, Mothra arrives on the island, and after a brief scuffle with Godzilla (who presumably attacked her due to his memory of battling her in her previous adult form) she rescues both the Infant Islanders and Rota’s crew. Sensing danger, Godzilla himself departs the island just before it was destroyed by the time delayed nuclear detonation.
This film was a budgetary departure by Toho, the first of three attempts to cut costs by staging all of the monster action on remote tropical islands, well away from civilization (the other two Godzilla island films were Son of Godzilla and Godzilla's Revenge). Thus, the audience didn’t get the opportunity to see Godzilla destroy any miniature cityscapes this time around, with the exception of the Red Bamboo military base, as the latter facility and a few boats were the only miniatures that were constructed for this movie.
The poster ad for the film in the Philippines was obviously inclined towards hyperbole, as it depicted Godzilla and Ebirah battling in the middle of a city (Ebirah never actually left the sea in the film) and had a headline reading “See the armies of the world destroyed!” One must wonder how many theater-goers in that nation were disappointed when they finally saw the movie.
Part of the reason for the scaled down budget was the fact that in 1966, Eiji Tsuberaya formed his own sfx company, Tsuberaya Productions, which specialized in providing Japanese television with dai kaiju filled series. After a promising start with the memorable TV series Ultra Q, which was an X-Files predecessor featuring mostly dai kaiju oriented menaces and mysteries, a year later the company was to be responsible for the TV series Ultraman, which introduced the first version of Japan’s famous gigantic kaiju-fighting super-hero, and the latter show would eventually spin off into numerous different series featuring disparate incarnations of the giant monster-smashing super-hero, some of which were part of the 'Ultra-Family' existing in the same continuity, whereas other versions of Ultraman were relegated to various alternate realities [a terribly watered down and chopped up version of one of the recent Ultraman TV series from the 1990's, Ultraman Tiga, was picked up and aired on Saturday mornings by the FOX network for the 2003 spring season; a less than fondly remembered, very short-lived American version of Ultraman called Ultraman, The Ultimate Hero, was produced for American television during the late 90's, but received scant air time this side of the Pacific (not that many Ultra-fans were complaining once word of mouth concerning this series got around about this tepid entry into the franchise), and is notable only for the fact that it starred Japanese martial arts star Kane Kosugi in the title role, the latter being the son of semi-retired Japanese martial arts actor Sho Kosugi, who graced American screens during the ninja craze of the early 1980's with such fondly remembered flicks like Revenge of the Ninja and Pray For Death; Kane, then a young child, often appeared alongside his dad in his American films, which provided him the opportunity to strut his martial arts skills in surprisingly respectful portrayals for someone his age in American cinema] The original Ultraman series, and its very popular immediate successor, Ultraseven, provided the springboard for the mega-popular sentai film and television craze in Japan (a genre which revolves around super-heroes who specialize in battling monsters and aliens, and which often combines the giant monster and alien invasion motifs), and this genre would have its heyday in the 1970's, though it remains popular in the Land of the Rising Sun to this day. The responsibilities of heading this great new company (which still flourishes) took away from the time Tsuberaya could spend working on G-films for Toho, so he began sharing the work with his protégé and trusted assistant of many years, Sadamasa Arikawa.
Despite the low budget, this film marked Jun Fukuda’s directorial debut, and he is the director who is second only to Ishiro Honda as being most identified with the Showa Era G-series. He did an excellent job in the human direction, as did the acting skills of Toho veteran Tohru Watanabe as Rota. Also, the bikini clad Kumi Mizuno as the slave girl Daiyo was more than sufficient to keep the adult male audience appeased. Jun Fukuda wasn’t as intent as Honda in portraying heavy social commentary (which I personally prefer), instead giving us a light-hearted but suspenseful adventure story. However, many critics have called this film a weak entry in the series, due to both its noticeably modest budget and the fact that Godzilla doesn’t appear until the second half of the movie. Further, Ebirah, along with the daikondura, were hardly formidable adversaries for the Big G, both easily falling before Godzilla’s might. Mothra’s appearance was welcome, but much too brief to elicit much excitement.
Other complaints about this movie have pointed to the fact that Godzilla acts uncharacteristically docile towards the human protagonists in the film, particularly the woman Daiyo. The reason for this is rather surprising. This movie was originally not intended to be a G-film. Rather, it was to be the first of Toho’s planned series of King Kong movies, with a working title of “Robinson Crusoe Adventure: King Kong vs. Ebirah,” and not only was the screenplay for that film written, but the island set and all of the monster suits and props were constructed. However, last minute legal difficulties forced Toho to put the kibosh on utilizing Kong for the movie, since this project was to be a joint production between Toho and Rankin-Bass Productions, who then held the rights to Kong [remember Rankin and Bass? If not, shame on you...they were the fellows who brought us such memorable and fondly remembered projects as the 1960's claymation interpretation of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town, and many similar holiday oriented claymation specials, such as Rudolph's Shiny New Year and The Little Drummer Boy, along with equally memorable standard animated fare like Frosty the Snowman and the ambitious but flawed late 70's attempt at an animated version of the The Lord of the Rings over two decades before Peter Jackson finally did it right in live action with a lot of help from CGI; Rankin and Bass also gave us more offbeat claymation animated films like Mad Monster Party and others before the advent of CGI made the charming and fascinating claymation technique sadly obsolete...and of course, Rankin-Bass produced the semi-memorable animated King Kong TV series from the late 60's]. It turned out that Rankin and Bass were angered when they learned that Ishiro Honda would not be directing the film and that Eiji Tsuberaya (at first) wasn't slated to handle the sfx, but that Jun Fukuda and Sadamasa Arikawa were instead slated to helm the respective tasks. Rankin and Bass balked at Toho's administrative decision, and said in no uncertain terms that no Honda and Tsuberaya = no Kong. However, since Toho had already spent so much yen on this production in terms of having a screenplay and all of the suits, sets, and props constructed, they decided to proceed with the project after all, simply replacing the big ape with the big reptile in the storyline. Thus, the script remained virtually unchanged, the old “Daisenso-Godzi” suit was pulled out of mothballs, and a few scenes making use of the Big G’s atomic breath were added to the script. As it turned out, however, Eiji Tsuberaya ended up taking charge of the special effects after all, with his assistant Arikawa relegated to handling the special photography only.
The Kong suit, by the way, was ultimately used in the film King Kong Escapes a year later in conjunction with Rankin-Bass Productions (and they even tied the film in with Rankin-Bass's animated American King Kong TV series), after which Toho abandoned all plans for a King Kong solo movie series, due to the incessant legal hassles involved with producing films featuring a character that the company itself didn't own the rights to. The failure of this project to go ahead as originally planned was rather unfortunate IMO, as it would have been interesting to see Kong tussle with Mothra, as well as other kaiju in the Toho stable other than Godzilla in future movies, and though I believe that more than one of Toho's solo Kong films, had they been produced, would have been pure Jabootu fare [Jabootu being the sacred muse of bad films *waves to Ken Begg*], there would still likely have been some really intriguing entries into that series (outside of the one token Kong solo film that Toho ended up producing simply to make use of the Kong suit and to honor their short-lived deal with Rankin-Bass).
Hence, in lieu of the above, Godzilla’s Kong-like behavior in this film was to be expected, although he was depicted as being feared even by the movie's intrepid protagonists, since this flick was produced during Godzilla’s ambiguous period of film history.
Maestro Masaru Sato was back for this film, producing a memorable score, although the 1950’s style rock and roll number during Godzilla’s battle with the Red Bamboo reportedly left much to be desired, and was excised from the American version.
When Continental acquired the rights to release the film stateside, the powers-that-be in that company didn’t deem it worthy of a cinematic release, and sold the movie directly to television (they did the same thing with the following year's Godzilla island movie, Son of Godzilla).
Little of the film was altered, except in the first 15 minutes of the movie. However, the American version nevertheless suffered for not mentioning the name of Ebirah, the Red Bamboo, or Letchi Island in the mediocre dubbing.
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