SciFi Japan


    An Appreciation for an Unappreciated Film Author: Aaron Cooper Special Thanks to Bob Johnson and Jim Ballard Contents:

    Certain films get very little respect, and not always for the correct reasons. Some of us at SciFi Japan decided to take a fresh approach at lesser appreciated films and at least argue the merits of why they deserve another glance. Why is a film like SON OF GODZILLA so reviled by fans? Perhaps it is the introduction of an offspring for the monster, or how that offspring is portrayed? Or the wildly different Godzilla design used for the suit in this film? Perhaps the South Seas Island backdrop is disappointing for those wanting more urban destruction? Maybe it’s a foggy nostalgia mixing Saturday night creature features with Saturday morning cartoons? It seems many people don’t understand the difference between Minya and Godzooky! Though SON OF GODZILLA may appear to be a silly little film that ‘jumps the shark’ so to speak, as we delve deeper into the film and watch carefully, it can be argued that it actually is a contender for being one of the strongest films with good longevity even after some 40 years. SON OF GODZILLA (Kaiju Toh no Kessen: Gojira no Musuko) is a 1967 live action film from Toho Studios directed by Jun Fukuda with special effects by Sadamasa Arikawa overseen by Eiji Tsuburaya. Many Americans saw the film for the first time as it was released to television by the Walter Reade Organization in 1969. The premise is that on Sollgel Island is a crew of United Nations scientists experimenting with the weather in the hopes of controlling crops and producing enough food for an ever-increasing planetary populace. Godzilla is drawn to the island because of a mysterious signal. A nosy reporter and a long-lost island girl are drawn into the plot as the experiment goes awry and radiation causes giant mantises and a spider to become a nuisance. It also causes the hatching of an egg with an obvious descendant of the Godzilla species line. Godzilla arrives to protect his ‘son’ and teach him the ways of a monster, while the scientists attempt to conclude their experiment and get off the island. As with any Godzilla film, a monster slugfest is guaranteed as Godzilla faces up to the island’s other gigantic inhabitants! Eventually, Godzilla must decide whether to adopt the foundling monster as his own or leave the island the way he came.

    While definitely a simpler film plot-wise than previous outings, one reason why SON OF GODZILLA is a great film is that it features an extremely strong cast of characters played by top-notch Toho Studios talent. From the subdued but determined professor played by Tadao Takashima to Akira Kubo’s outspoken reporter to Yoshio Tsuchiya’s gun-toting, jungle fever-induced “get me off this island” scrub, the actors keep this movie fun and moving along in between the monster footage. It’s played serious when it needs to and the humor is injected at the right moments. You laugh with the film, not at the film. This aspect is more noticeable if watching the film in its original Japanese language with subtitles versus the dubbed track, though it should be noted that the dubbing is respectful of the original script and is inflected properly unlike many of the later dub jobs seen in the franchise. The dubbing that many saw on the original television run was done by Titra Studios. Recently, that dub appeared on the Colours satellite channel and I was amazed at how well it held up, even against a scratchy, grainy full-screen print. The dub that appears on Sony’s DVD is the so-called ‘international’ dub by William Ross of Frontier Enterprises and it too does an excellent job conveying the proper feelings. The available subtitled and dubbed tracks for the film are strong and tell the story as needed for your viewing experience.

    Regarding the monsters appearing in the film, when the weather experiment goes wrong we are introduced to all sorts of mutated insects in the form of the Kamakiras (aka Gimantis), which resemble giant mantises, and eventually the Kumonga (or Spiega, depending on version), a giant spider. Though the creature designs themselves are not as noteworthy as King Ghidorah or Mothra, it is the technical achievements displayed with these creatures that should be appreciated. Unlike some of the Toho monsters, these were based on real animals and had to act a certain way to be believable. An insane amount of string puppet work is used to bring these monsters to life, more so than any other Toho kaiju film of the era. There is so much puppetry work in fact that Sadamasa Arikawa is on record as stating this is the film he’s most proud of technically. On top of that, SON OF GODZILLA also features some excellent miniature designs for the U.N. weather experiment station and some lush background paintings used to bring the film to life. Island pictures were big during this time period and Toho wanted to cash in on those by moving Godzilla to lush locals. Yes, it’s a different backdrop than the urban destruction many viewers are used to, but in this case it adds to the distinct charm and flair of the film and again, this is especially appreciated if one is watching the un-edited widescreen version of the film. If you never have, I implore you to seek out Sony’s DVD of the film or catch it on the big screen if it comes around the film festival or fan convention circuit. If you can’t and all you have is a grainy TV print, the technical achievements of this film can and should still be appreciated.

    When we first see the Kamakiras, we also get introduced to Minya (or Minilla), the so-called Son of Godzilla. The infant puppet used at first is quite the oddity and a bit laughable admittedly, but the ‘toddler’ version used later in the film is far superior. Either one does the job though, as essentially Minya is there just long enough to get bullied by the giant insects until his ‘Dad ’arrives on scene. The Godzilla design used in this film is one of the most reviled in the franchise, and though the more amphibious look and use of eyelids is jolting at first, careful observation shows how necessary it is to maintain a new feel and outlook to Godzilla. He’s evolved from “force of nature atomic allegory” to “strange creature in a strange land” to actually finding a “kindred spirit”. The expressions, especially the eyes, denote feelings when they need to. Contrast if you will to the re-introduction of a Godzilla offspring in 1993’s GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA. In that, the Godzilla design is more animalistic (as is the offspring) but by the time the film is done the viewer can’t tell if Godzilla is wanting the offspring, telling it to get lost, or perhaps looking at him as an appetizer! Yet in SON OF GODZILLA, we know exactly when Godzilla is annoyed, sleeping, ready for battle, or ready to teach Minya a lesson in monster behavior. In the end, there’s no doubt that Godzilla has empathy, even a relationship with his newfound kin, as he embraces Minya during the snowfall preparing for hibernation.

    From a storytelling and script aspect, SON OF GODZILLA is no more fantastical than films such as GODZILLA VS. THE THING or MONSTER ZERO, films highly exalted by fans (and all sharing the same screenwriter). It moves at a brisk pace (between 84 and 86 minutes depending on version) and doesn’t suffer from the ‘needs editing’ feel that other Godzilla films have (specifically the Heisei series of the 1990’s). It’s screenplay by Shinichi Sekizawa features familiar concepts of the franchise that expand the character, not drastically alter it, unlike the previous film, GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER in which Godzilla was inserted into a sort of King Kong role due to a last minute script re-write. The role of the big guy in SON OF GODZILLA feels like a proper evolution. Even if one doesn’t agree with the fatherly direction the filmmakers take him in, at least it’s a natural direction to take the character. One final note about viewing SON OF GODZILLA is that much of it is dependant on your life experience at the time of watching it. When this movie was brand-new, it was going toe-to-toe with the Gamera franchise, a self-proclaimed ‘friend of all children’ so the context of why it was developed that way makes sense. As a child seeing this on TV, one can relate to the giant monsters picking on the little guy (a concept revisited in the later GODZILLA’S REVENGE) and the wonderment of discovery and learning as you grow. As a teenager, it may seem one will outgrow the film, but upon entering adulthood and beyond, the technical achievements of the film suddenly become more apparent and watching again is a fruitful experience. It is a ‘cute’ film, but there’s also nothing wrong with that if you’re looking to get your significant other interested in watching Godzilla films. SON OF GODZILLA never disappoints as a ‘date’ movie! Finally, as a father myself now, SON OF GODZILLA is the perfect film to share with younger children. It’s a great family film and brings full circle generations of Godzilla fans. Give SON OF GODZILLA a new viewing with some of these thoughts and see for yourself! _________________________________________________________________________________________________________


    Author: John DeSentis

    Being the second Jun Fukuda Godzilla film in a row, and also the second "island" Godzilla film in a row, SON OF GODZILLA would also be the second consecutive score by Masaru Sato. Sato`s approach to scoring his first Godzilla film, 1955`s GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (Gojira no Gyakushu), was one of a straight forward nature. The monsters were accompanied by monstrous music, the military had its obligatory march, and the characters had their dramatic movements. By the time he scored GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (Gojira, Ebirah, Mosura: Nankai no Daiketto aka; Ebirah Horror of the Deep), it was only natural that his approach to scoring Godzilla movies change along with the tone that the series had taken, but it wasn`t simply that. Sato had also by 1966 come to be the composer that he would always be remembered for. Just over a decade of scoring pictures for Akira Kurosawa after the untimely death of Fumio Hayasaka had brought maturity and experience to the composer. As stylistically different from Akira Ifukube as director Fukuda was from Ishiro Honda, Sato`s score for the 1966 film set against a tropical island setting seemed right at home with the fast paced, action oriented story. So when faced with the task of scoring another Godzilla movie set to a tropical motif the very next year, one`s initial reaction might be of trepidation. An inexperienced composer might be inclined to repeat himself. Thankfully, Sato manages to write a score which duplicates none of the material from the former film. Not only is his score for SON OF GODZILLA fresh and original, it is far and above his work for GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER. One of the problems with Sato`s themes in the previous movie is that they really aren`t that evocative of the giant monsters. Both Godzilla and Ebirah`s themes, as cool as they are to listen to, contain strains of surf-style guitar riffs. Not exactly something one would expect to express two kaiju however many matches of volley-boulder they partake in. Here, the tropical setting is expressed beautifully from the opening credits onward. The exotic theme for Saeko (Reiko in the American version) can easily suggest a beautiful native woman living in what could be a lost paradise while cues for the silver iodide experiments present an air of mystery. Godzilla`s theme is completely re-written from the previous film and is dominated by extreme low end contrabassoon and piano with a snare and ride cymbal beat to drive it along. It is first heard as he makes his grand entrance on the beach and storms in to confront the hungry Kamakiras. It is heard again several times up to and into the final battle. This theme would be reused in the fourth of Sato`s Godzilla scores, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (Gojira tai Mekagojira, 1974), as the music for the battle between King Shisa (King Caesar) and Mechagodzilla. Minya is represented with a playful theme that features strings and woodwinds carrying a breezy melody over a low end ostinato (a repeating figure or musical idea) for bassoon and low strings while being peppered with glockenspiel and xylophone. This theme is first heard over the opening credits. It is perfectly suited to the playful and curious character of the young Godzilla.

    There have probably been very few themes which could represent a menacing, giant insect such as the deadly Kamakiras (Gimantis) as well as this one. The opening of the theme is a percussive ostinato that hits the nail right on the head that the creatures are huge, hungry, and are on the march. Add some eerie strings and woodwinds before the menacing trombones come in with a staccato march and you have the complete package that would signify a giant insect. Kumonga (Spiega) has a theme which speaks to the deadliness of its webs. Masaru Sato has always said that he chooses specific instruments to define a characteristic or situation. Here, the timbre of the strings as well as the repeating, descending phrase in which they are written speak to the endless strands of deadly webbing that Kumonga uses to trap it`s pray. You can just hear the desperation of trying to escape such a situation in the music. Interestingly, many years later Danny Elfman would call upon the strings and write them in a similar repeating, descending fashion to signify the web aspect of the title character in SPIDER-MAN (2002). A crescendo of muted trumpets later joined by low end orchestra rounds out the Kumonga theme.

    The ending theme for the movie when the characters are escaping and Godzilla and son go into hibernation is probably one of Sato`s finest pieces of work for his Godzilla series contributions. The piece starts out with a tender flute melody which plays to the sadness of Minya being overpowered by the weather and slowly matures as Godzilla turns to go back. The music continues as such until a sudden surge when the rescue sub surfaces to pick up the characters. Here the music takes a more hopeful tone before finally resting into a movement which speaks to resolution and good feelings as Akira Kubo`s character explains that the monsters will simply hibernate until warmer conditions return. As a whole, the soundtrack makes for a very pleasant and complete listening experience on its own and serves the movie in every way, shape, and form that a good score should do.

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