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Posts Tagged ‘Yoshimitsu Banno’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published February 28th 2002:

Removing tongue from cheek, let’s turn our attention to something really worthy of close inspection, Yoshimitsu Banno’s 1971 film Godzilla vs The Smog Monster), the 11th outing for Japan’s biggest movie star.

My copy of this movie lists the theme as ‘monsters, pollution’ and no sane person could possibly quibble with such a description. (The director probably could, but as the word ‘sane’ seems quite inappropriate for him, this hardly makes any difference.) The story concerns the appearance of grotesque tadpole-like creatures in the polluted water surrounding Japan. Badly-dubbed marine biologist Dr Yano (Akira Yamanouchi) and his fantastically irritating son Ken (Hiroyuki Kawase) investigate and discover the creatures – which Ken names ‘Hedorah’ for no apparent reason – are composed of hydrocarbons and sulphur in a manner previously unknown to science. The Hedorahs live on pollution and give off corrosive clouds of sulphuric acid. As if this wasn’t bad enough, they also have the ability to amalgamate into a single giant super-Hedorah with shape-shifting powers. Of course, this is exactly what they do, and the giant Hedorah, clearly lacking imagination, sets off on the well-trodden path of attacking Japanese cities and destroying all in its path. Sure enough, Godzilla shows up looking for a fight.

Let’s cut to the chase. As you’ve probably guessed, Godzilla Vs Hedorah is a terrible, terrible film. It has virtually no plot, the performances are all dire and the special effects a long way sub-Gerry Anderson. And yet… it remains weirdly, hypnotically watchable. It’s bad, but it’s a hallucinatory, transcendental badness. On paper it sounds like just another monster B-movie but this doesn’t take into account Banno’s bizarre direction. This incorporates split-screen sequences, unexplained lapses into black and white, ‘educational’ slide-shows about astronomy, a couple of musical numbers (sadly untranslated in the UK video release), and strange, allegorical animations. It’s a sign of how trippy things get that the sudden appearance of a stuntman in a foam-rubber dinosaur costume feels like a welcome return to reality.

To be honest, Banno seems much more interested in Hedorah than his nominal star – the Smog Monster certainly gets a lot more screen-time. This is despite the awful Hedorah suits, most of which resemble a cross between a seaweed-wrapped Demis Roussos and a clump of raw sewage. For all of this though, there’s a palpable atmosphere of corruption and decay – due partly to incessant, repeated footage of sludge-filled rivers, smog-belching cooling towers and foaming oil-slicks, and partly to some unusually explicit horror (for a Godzilla movie, anyway). There’s a fairly high ‘ick’ factor here (particularly when Hedorah tries to smother the big lizard by crapping toxic waste all over him).

But it’s nice to see a Godzilla movie from the 1970s not concerned with alien invasions and monster tag-battles . It may not be subtle or clever but Godzilla Vs Hedorah is actually about something vaguely relevant to the real world (although the film conveniently fudges the fact that good monster Godzilla is a product of the same radioactive pollution as bad monster Hedorah). It’s a film with a conscience, a film with a message for the world, and with this in mind, can we really just dismiss it as mind-boggling trash?

Well, yes.

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