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Posts Tagged ‘Yukiko Kobayashi’

It occurs to me that I talk very casually about all of Toho’s output of kaiju pictures under the blanket headline of ‘Godzilla movies’, as though they all compose one big, rambling, colourful, utterly preposterous and incoherent narrative about the big feller. Latterly, I suppose this is true, as the makers of these films have engaged in much more attentive continuity management, and – for the most part – the focus has well and truly been on Godzilla himself.

But it was not ever thus. It seems to me that, back in the 60s, Toho’s output of monster movies wasn’t a million miles away from how Marvel manage their stable of superhero properties, albeit in an embryonic and semi-conscious sort of way. By this I mean they were nearly constantly making movies introducing new monster characters, the more successful of which would get sequels and appear in crossovers with each other. So, in addition to Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan were both launched in their own self-titled films, then crossed over into films with Godzilla (starting with Mothra Vs Godzilla and Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster respectively). If you were a very particular type of pedant you could argue that Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster or Invasion of the Astro-Monsters aren’t strictly-speaking Godzilla movies any more than The Avengers is solely an Iron Man movie: he may arguably be the biggest star involved, but there’s a whole universe going on here with other big-name inhabitants.

It’s a thought, anyway. If you are inclined to think in terms of this Toho Universe, then you’ll probably agree its most grandiose appearance – its Avengers moment, if you will – is almost certainly 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, directed by Ishiro Honda, the originator and grand master of the entire kaiju genre.

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Destroy All Monsters is set in the distant far-off space year of 1999, when there is a permanent manned base on the moon, and all employees of the United Nations are required to wear eye-catching custard-yellow uniforms. Perhaps most striking of all, all the world’s giant monsters have been confined to one island in the Pacific (it has, understandably, been re-christened Monster Island).

Monster Island is, of course, one of the great silly ideas in the history of bonkers genre movies, but it’s such a winning one that one almost overlooks the enormous questions the script of the movie dodges. As this and nearly every other Toho monster movie makes clear, the combined forces of the world have the most phenomenal difficulty persuading a rampaging kaiju simply to change its path – so how on Earth have they got them all to Monster Island? A really big trail of breadcrumbs?

Hey ho. A helpful, avuncular voice-over runs through how Monster Island and its research centre operate, and we are introduced to a few paper-thin human characters – the usual mixture of military types and boffins. Clean-cut leading man this time around is Katsu (Akira Kubo, a bit of a Toho regular), who flies the moon rocket, while his girlfriend Kyoko (Yukiko Kobayashi) works on the island. All is going very nicely, except for the odd lunar UFO sighting, until there is a sudden gas attack and everyone passes out (even the monsters – the bad guys in this movie really must have bought their knock-out gas in bulk).

Not long after, Toho’s cast of monsters start getting down to what they do best, as Rodan inexplicably turns up in Moscow and starts trashing the place, Manda does the same in London, Mothra appears in Beijing, and… well, one of the monsters rocks up in Paris and tears down the Arc de Triomphe. The script says it’s Baragon, but he must have phoned in sick that day, because it’s clearly Gorosaurus doing the tearing down. Admittedly, this is not the kind of blooper likely to make it into The World’s Greatest Movie Mistakes 3.

What little credibility the film has managed to retain – and we’re still only in the first act – bids a cheery adieu as the UN orders the crew of the moon rocket to fly back to Earth and investigate what’s happened to Monster Island. Yes, because the closest possible qualified personnel are all on the Moon. Katsu and his lads duly touch down and are greeted by Kyoko and some of the other island personnel, who are behaving in the traditional I’ve-been-brainwashed-by-aliens manner.

In a startling twist, this is because they have been brainwashed by aliens. Said aliens are the Kilaaks, who apparently emanate from somewhere in the asteroid belt, are made of metal, and behave and dress like extremely polite, rather modest synchronised swimmers. Giant monsters devastating cities notwithstanding, this is probably the best-mannered alien invasion in history, but Katsu and his men are not won over and manage to escape from the Kilaaks.

What follows is fairly standard alien invasion B-movie fare, garishly realised, somewhat informed by more terrestrial action flicks (let us not forget that James Bond had visited Japan only the previous year), and liberally sprinkled with giant monster action sequences. To be honest, there aren’t as many of these as I would’ve liked to see – Katsu flying around in his rocket and boffins earnestly discussing the ridiculous plot do get a little tedious fairly quickly – but they’re executed exuberantly and, for the period, well.

The first of the movie’s two stand-out sequences comes when the Kilaaks finally get around to attacking Tokyo – and when they do, they send in the big names of Toho’s monster stable, as Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan all put in a showing. Accompanying them is Manda, who is a rare example of a Toho monster not realised through suitamation: instead Manda appears to be a length of hosepipe with teeth glued to one end. Nevertheless this quartet have a jolly time bringing down the property prices in central Tokyo, assisted, it must be said, by a not-especially-well-aimed missile bombardment by the JSDF.

But the bit you’re really waiting for, and indeed possibly Toho’s finest hour and greatest moment of glorious mania, comes in the climax, as the various Earth monsters (now freed from Kilaak control) combine their efforts to attack the alien HQ near Mount Fuji. The ensuing battle is commented upon by a TV reporter rather as if it were a football match (‘Listen to the monsters and their cries of horror and sudden death!’).

The Kilaaks, needless to say, have brought in a ringer and recruited Godzilla’s arch-enemy King Ghidorah to defend them. Their wallets must have been fairly empty when the monster transfer window opened, as he is the only monster on their team. As a result, this is not the joyous free-for-all one might have hoped for, with numerous monsters on both sides, but towards its end more closely resembles a mugging, with Godzilla, Gorosaurus and Anguillas ganging up on Ghidorah and beating him to a pulp. Nevertheless, it’s a win for the home team, but I would have thought the coaching staff would have words to say to a few of the Earth monsters come the final whistle.

Here’s how I would have marked the home team:

Godzilla – a solid performance from a monster who is, after all, the biggest name on the team. Still clearly some way (another 23 years and 9 more sequels) from being able to tackle Ghidorah unassisted, which is clearly causing bitterness: stamping on an opponent’s neck once they’re down and out is the sort of thing that could be considered as bringing kaiju fights into disrepute. Score: 8/10.

Minya (aka Baby Godzilla) – only really here for experience, and possibly as the team mascot. Only has a pop at Ghidorah once he’s been battered almost into submission by the senior monsters – still, this is more than some of the others manage. 5/10.

Anguillas – a gutsy display by a veteran monster clearly hoping to get back into the big time. Possibly trying too hard (that thing with hanging onto one of Ghidorah’s necks with his jaws while he flies off is a bit over-ambitious). 7/10.

Rodan – not very impressive given he’s one of the senior monsters on the team: just stands there flapping his wings and flying out of the way when Ghidorah tries to zap him. Poor show, Rodan. 4/10.

Mothra – Mothra really doesn’t get a chance to show what he or she can do in Destroy All Monsters. He (or she) is stuck in his (or her) larval form for the entire movie, and there’s no sign of the Shobijin fairies either. Mothra comes across as a bit stupid and ineffectual as a result. Just sprays silk at Ghidorah from a distance. A huge disappointment from arguably the second-biggest name on the team. 3/10.

Kumonga – all right, so Kumonga’s a fairly obscure kaiju and a bit different from most of the rest of the team (being a giant spider and a puppet and all), so possibly a bit stand-offish as a result. And, to be fair, spraying silk from a distance is the only thing Mothra does, too. But still a poor show, Kumonga. 4/10 (higher mark than Mothra due to expectations being lower).

Gorosaurus – now here’s a monster hungry for the big time. Gorosaurus is about as bush-league as kaiju get (this is his first start in a movie with Godzilla), but puts in a tremendous work-rate and shows no fear in tackling Ghidorah up close. A major contributor to the Earth monster victory. Respect due. 9/10.

Manda – very poor, Manda. Turns up at the beginning but makes no real contribution to the match at all. Being made out of a hosepipe only excuses so much. 0/10.

Baragon – another virtual no-show from Baragon after the Parisian debacle at the beginning of the film. Barely visible, carried by the rest of the team. 0/10.

Yes, I’m giving marks out of ten to movie monsters, but Destroy All Monsters really demands this sort of response. It is a colossally silly film and utterly impossible to take seriously – and yet, no matter how preposterous the plot gets, the story remains engaging and fun. It’s quite impressive that the original run of movies featuring Godzilla rumbled on for another six outings after this one, because it really sums up everything memorable and distinctive about them. Not a very good film, but still – somehow – a great one.

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