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8) SON OF GODZILLA (1967)

Japanese release title: The Battle Of Monster Island: Son Of Godzilla
U.S. release date: 1969, direct to TV by Walter Reade-Sterling Productions (Continental Pictures)
Japanese audience attendance: 2,480,000
Director: Jun Fukuda
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa and Kazue Shiba
Sfx: Eiji Tsuberaya and Sadamasa Arikawa
Musical score: Masaru Sato
U.S. version available on home video from Video Treasures, with a new version available from Star Maker Video.

Synopsis:

On a Pacific South Seas atoll called Solgell Island, a small group of scientists led by Dr. Kusami are conducting revolutionary experiments in meteorology, with the ultimate goal of learning how to alter the natural climate of any given environment so as to make normally uninhabitable areas livable. They are unexpectedly joined by a plucky journalist named Akira Kubo in search of a story. Although the group is shocked one evening when the base is approached by a man-sized praying mantis (which they repel with gunfire), the next day the experiments go on as planned. However, as the temperature alterations begin and silver iodide is sprayed into the atmosphere, strange energy emanations from somewhere on the island suddenly interfere with the process, causing the climate to rise uncontrollably until it reaches nearly 200 degrees F., and the island is deluged with a boiling hot rainfall.

After the temperature returns to normal, the group explores the jungle only to find out, to their horror, that three of the huge mantises have increased in height to over 30 meters long by the effects of the radioactive storm (they are referred to as Gimantises in the American version, and Kamacuras [pronounced 'ga-mack-a-ra'] in the Japanese version; alternatively spelled as "Kamakiras"). The trio of Kamacuras are drawn to a rocky mound where the strange wave-like interference seems to be emanating from. The giant insects dig up what appears to be a giant egg, which quickly hatches an infant version of Godzilla (called Minilla in Japan, he was referred to simply as “baby Godzilla” in the American version; he would be called "Tadzilla" in at least one American press article about the film - and nowhere else I'm aware of - and christened "Minya" in the American version of the 1969 G-film Godzilla's Revenge). As the Kamacuras prepare to eat the hapless creature, the energy emanations prove to have been an electromagnetic distress call from the baby, which brings Godzilla to the island. The three mantises attack the Kaiju King, but Godzilla easily defeats them, immolating two of them with his atomic breath in the process, and the third one wisely departs the area with all due haste. Godzilla then decides to take the young member of his species under his wing as a surrogate offspring.

The team soon meet a young woman living on the island named Reiko (Saeko in the Japanese version) who reveals that her late father was a scientist who studied conditions on the atoll 20 years earlier, and left a journal about his findings there. When most of the men in the group are beset by a mysterious fever, Reiko informs Dr. Kusami and Akira that the only cure is to be found in the reddish waters of a nearby lagoon. Upon going to the red lagoon, Akira and Reiko witness Godzilla training young Minilla in the use of his atomic breath, though most of the young mutant dino’s efforts result in nothing more than a near-harmless luminescent ring of energy.

Although the crew successfully retrieve the red water, they attract the attention of a gigantic spider called Kumonga (pronounced 'goo-monga'; he was called "Spiga" ['spee-gaa'] in the American and international versions of this film, as well as the American and international versions of the 1968 G-film Destroy All Monsters) who also dwells in the area, and the mega-arachnid entraps the group in a small cavern with his silky web. Narrowly escaping the spider’s clutches, they rush back to the base and attempt to use its facilities to both send out an S.O.S., and to utilize its climate control technology to artificially lower the island’s temperature to freezing, in the hope of immobilizing the giant creatures living there.

As the second experiment begins, Kumonga captures both the last Kamacuras and Minilla in his lethal web. The spider apparently kills the giant mantis with his retractable poisonous jaw spike, and not wishing to meet the same fate, Minilla cries out to his surrogate father for help. Godzilla quickly arrives and frees his adopted son, and the two mutant dinosaurs battle the super arachnid together.

Taking advantage of the distraction, Dr. Kusumi’s group manages to leave the island amidst the artificial snowstorm in a small life raft. Rendered increasingly lethargic by the sudden blustery temperatures and snowfall, Kumonga is finally defeated and set aflame by Godzilla and son. As the people catch sight of a rescue ship, they look back happily as Godzilla and Minilla temporarily go into hibernation while wrapped in a loving embrace.

Review/Comments:

For the second time in a row, Toho delivered a fairly low budget G-film set on a small tropical island, and which featured no city destruction scenes. And once again in the Philippines, the newspaper ads for the release of this film displayed bogus imagery by depicting all the monsters sparring in the middle of a city, battling the military and stomping buildings (these ads also featured King Kong in the mix, apparently because this version had a prologue sequence that contained stock footage of the last battle in King Kong vs. Godzilla, a cheap and rudely deceptive advertising ploy to get enhanced marquee value), even though at no point anywhere in the film did the monster stars ever appear in the middle of civilization, nor did the military ever appear anywhere in the course of the film (unless you count the military plane seen only during the brief prologue sequence; see below). Despite the smaller budget, Eiji Tsuberaya and Sadamasa Arikawa’s Kamacuras were nicely executed, although they were paltry foes for Godzilla. Kumonga, on the other hand, was not only realistically depicted (except for the fact that his silk comes from his jaws in a similar manner to Mothra in her larval stage, rather than his posterior, as a real spider’s would) but he was also a rather tough adversary for the King of the Monsters to overcome.

Although the script was simpler than that of past efforts, the weather experiments were realistically logical and the direction was once more handled competently by the talented Jun Fukuda. However, the two main kaiju stars of this film were not handled so well. Viewers were treated to the worst Godzilla costume ever depicted on screen, the infamous “Son-Godzi” suit, thus bringing much unintentional humor to the movie. Further, Minilla’s entry into the Godzilla mythos as Godzilla’s surrogate offspring was handled with far less competence than the version seen in the Heisei Godzilla film series, beginning in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2 (1993). The little mutated dinosaur was cutesy looking, often aptly described by G-fans as resembling a cross between a dinosaur and the Pillsbury Dough Boy, and obviously intended to offer both intentional comic relief in an otherwise serious story, and to draw in the younger crowds, an audience that the Showa Era G-film series was increasingly attempting to tap into as time passed. It succeeded in the latter, but at the expense of sending the ever-diminishing adult audience running for cover. As a result, the demographic age makeup of the series was beginning to slack off, as the small child audience began to take over from the larger adult audience of the previous films (the next movie in the series being a wondrous exception). Even Masaru Sato’s usually great composing talents fall by the wayside here, as his main theme for the movie is reminiscent of a kiddie film about cute little animals. The only bright point of the score is Sato’s theme music for the Kamacuras, which I think is way cool.

Hence, while a fairly good if not terribly exciting movie, the film falls below the standards previously set for a G-film, and this particular flick is often picked out by Godzilla-haters to criticize all G-films as juvenile trash. As expected, this film is given the thumbs up by children and women who like cute little Minilla, but garners a thumbs down vote from the adult male audience, who preferred a deadly serious Godzilla movie. The Kaiju King’s transformation from engine of destruction to doting father forever besmirched his image in the eyes of many of the non-fans, setting up a permanent attitude change for the worst regarding Godzilla, as well as for many of the fans concerning the rest of the Showa Series. In accordance with this serious negative attitude change in regards to the Big G's movies that began here, this was the first G-film that didn’t draw a sizable crowd to Japanese theaters.

As expected, like the last G-film, Continental didn’t see this entry in the series worthy of a big screen release, again selling the American version directly to television. The only difference between the two versions, other than the alteration in the script regarding the names of Godzilla's two kaiju adversaries (Gimantises and Spiga replacing Kamacuras and Kumonga, respectively), was that the American rendition was lacking the prologue sequence where Godzilla was seen being drawn towards Solgell Island to Minilla’s wave-lengthy “distress call” by a military plane. This prologue sequence has been restored (and dubbed) in the home video version recently released by Star Maker Video.

By the way, there’s one thing I would like to make expressly clear to non-die hard fans of Godzilla: Minilla has never, ever been referred to in any G-film as “Godzooky.” Whenever a non-G-fan watches a movie with Minilla appearing in it, they will very often assert, "That's Godzooky!" When a true blue G-fan like myself tells them otherwise, they will then strongly proclaim, "Wrong! He is so called Godzooky!" Then, once it's explained to them by the now irate G-fan after typically 30 minutes of arguing that the monster's name is actually Minilla (or even Minya, if one prefers) and not Godzooky, the non-G-fan will look at him/her incredulously, and ask, "Then where am I getting the name 'Godzooky' from? I know I remember that name from somewhere!" Now I will explain exactly what every G-fan has had to explain to every other non-G-fan in the course of numerous arguments regarding this: Where did the non-fans get the name "Godzooky" from?

Godzooky was a comical “nephew” of the Big G created by Hanna-Barbera for its animated Godzilla series, which aired on American television on Saturday mornings from 1978-81. Although obviously inspired by Minilla/Minya, Hanna-Barbera never possessed the rights to utilize Minilla, or any other Toho monster other than Godzilla, in the series. For his first two films in America, Minilla was simply referred to as “Godzilla’s son” or “baby Godzilla,” and once in the American press as “Tadzilla,” and finally under the name of 'Minya' in Godzilla’s Revenge (1969; and is thus an acceptable alternate name for Godzilla's surrogate son), and he has sometimes been referred to alternatively in Japan as 'Minira' or 'Milla'; but never as “Godzooky.”
Minilla and Godzooky are entirely separate entities, and should not be confused with each other!

You can find extensive info, as well as an episode guide, on the Hanna-Barbera animated Godzilla series, which features Godzooky, right here.

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