Following the success of Ishiro Honda's Gojira, Toho studios realized there was a strong potential market for domestically produced giant monster films in 1950's Japan. Thus, Godzilla Raids Again was born. The director's reins, a significantly smaller budget, and a very short shooting schedule, were handed to stalwart B-picture director Motoyoshi Oda.
The script would bring a new Godzilla to the world because the original monster was disintegrated by Dr. Serizawa's Oxygen Destroyer at the climax of Gojira. This plot device adequately fulfills Dr. Yamane's fears as spoken at the end of Gojira, namely that continued H-Bomb testing would awaken another Godzilla from the sea floor.
With that connection to the original, we're set for the king of all kaiju's second outing where The Big G rampages through Osaka and later ports in Hokkaido.
This time the action revolves around the commercial fishing industry as tuna spotter pilots Tsukuioka and Koboyashi are the first to discover Godzilla, and another giant monster with which he battles. This new monster, Angorous/Angillas (depending on who says it and where) is similar to the dinosaur Ankylosaurus. Angorus is also the first new monster created by Toho studios and would go on to appear in several Godzilla films as the years have passed, most recently in Godzilla: Final Wars. (Angorus is also the best monster to play in Godzilla Save the Earth for PS2).
Anyway, once Godzilla and this new monster are sighted the military calls on Dr. Yamane to describe how Tokyo dealt with Godzilla. Dr. Yamane though doesn't have good news. He informs the military without the Oxygen Destroyer (or Dr. Serizawa; who is dead), Osaka is as good as stomped flat. He does mention that Godzilla seems to have a strong violent reaction to bright light and thus, it may be possible to lead the monster away from the island nation.
Pretty much everything from here on end is what any casual viewer of kaiji eiga would expect, Godzilla and Angorus come ashore, stomp the shit out of themselves and everything around them, then are finally dealt with by the military until Toho frees up the budget for Kong Kong vs. Godzilla.
What separates this film significantly from the original Gojira is the much lighter tone of the overall plot, and the extreme two-d-iffication of the human characters. Wherein Gojira provided us with a very deep and meaningful love triangle between Dr. Serizawa, Emiko Yamane, and Ogata, we get no such depth here. Rather, there are two barely noticeable subplots, one where Koboyashi can't seem to find a girlfriend/wife and one where it's hinted that Tsukuioka and Koboyashi regret not remaining active members of the JDF Flying Corps.
Both of these miniscule subplots appear in the final third of the film which is hardly time enough for us to recognize their presences, let alone become emotionally involved with them.
One thing that Godzilla Raids Again does allow the viewer to latch on to is the military spirit as often described in transition to the business world. The pilots' first duty is to the fish cannery such that they stand beside their boss as Godzilla and Angorus stomp it flat. They both immediately head to the northern operations in Hokkaido once the Osaka plant is destroyed. This mirrors the movements and loyalties of Japanese servicemen during World War 2. This is further hammered home when Koboyashi arranges a dinner between he, Tsukuoka, and all of their former comrades from a combat flying unit. The film never specifies which one, or why both men decided to devote their lives to more civilian flying pursuits, but it hints at the notion that the most loyal soldier is the soldier who gives up his life.
But still, these are very minor subplots.
Godzilla Raids Again features music by Masaru Sato and special effects supervised by Eiji Tsubaraya. Masaru Sato's score for Godzilla Raids Again is severely missing the Godzilla march and other military music so definitively worked into the original. His compositions are nice, but nowhere near as memorable as the Ifukube's Gojira soundtrack. Masaru Sato may have been Akira Kurosawa's favorite composer, but he's not mine. Every one of his Godzilla scores have been very pale in comparison to the work Ifukube brought to the series.
The effects in Godzilla Raids Again, also handled as in Gojira, by Tsubaraya's effects shop, work hard to mimic the look and feel of the original. However, due to a camera operator error, several of the big monster fights are sped up rather than slowed down and the sequences sap all of the weight and power from the battles so that rather than looking like two behemoths in mortal combat, it looks more like two guys in monster suits wrestling in fast motion. According to the commentary track, Motoyoshi Oda thought the sped up sequences gave the monsters a more feral and ferocious appearance so they were incorporated into the film.
Several of the shots are masterpieces of period special effects though. Tsubaraya was the master of compositing mattes and it shows here. Several great scenes feature actors and extras in the foreground, to scale, as the monsters rip down buildings behind them.
The acting suffers some too as Godzilla Raids Again takes on second string talent for more of the important roles, and while Hiroshi Koizumi is serviceable he is no Akihiko Hirata. The only actor reprising his role from Gojira is Takashi Shimura in a cameo as Dr. Yamane.
That said, most everyone with a speaking part in this film went on to several roles in several different Toho monster epics.
The Americanized version of Godzilla Raids Again, know in the US as Gigantis the Fire Monster, was brought stateside by Paul Shriebman. He claimed responsibility for changing the monster name to Gigantis so that audiences wouldn't think they were going to see the sequel to Godzilla: King of the Monsters. This was probably a mistake on his part and the public largely ignored the film while critics savaged it.
Unlike Harry Saperstein, Shriebman didn't spend the cash to insert new American footage into the film to make it more palatable to American audiences. Rather, he tacked in about 15 minutes of stock footage of Japanese culture films, American propaganda movies, H-bomb footage, and other odds and ends, then sent it for dubbing. The Americanized version has no listed scribe, so it is unknown who wrote the new dialogue. Gigantis the Fire Monster is relentlessly narrated by Keye Luke and features additional voices by a very young George Takei. And when I say relentlessly narrated, I am not kidding. The original version of the film contains several poignant scenes where there is no dialogue or music, the Americanized on gloms several paragraphs of useless verbiage over them.
Still, I've always had a weird soft spot for this film because it was the only film to try and mirror the tone and look of the original Gojira even though it failed.
The DVD released by Classic Media, and available through their website www.godzillaondvd.com and features a stunningly good transfer of both films, fantastic commentary track by Steve Ryfle (and friend) that also gives the cool background history of an aborted American project named "The Volcano Monsters" that would have used footage from Godzilla Raids Again for the special effects sequences. The DVD is presented, as shot, in full frame and looks clear as crystal. The audio offers both the Americanized and original Japanese language version with commentary tracks for both films. There is also a stills gallery and a short featurette on the art of suit acting, and a slide show of stills from original movie posters.
Classic Media has really outdone themselves with this release. I did not think they would be able to compare any of their subsequent releases to the Gojira offering from this summer, but the care and detail they've bestowed here shows a love for the properties that cannot possibly be understated. To be blunt, these releases are a Region 1 Godzilla fan's dream come