Toho was squeezing the costs out of the daikaiju by the mid 1960s and with the departure of Ishiro Honda from the director’s slate (He’d return later with Godzilla’s Revenge and Terror of Mechagozilla) Toho turned to Jun Fukudo to helm the first of the cheapy Godzilla films.
The “Island” series within the Showa universe showcases the films that took virtually all the horror out of the Toho giant monster franchise that defined giant monster franchises. These films, Godzilla vs The Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla pitted Godzilla not against the armies of man, but against increasingly silly monster foes, third rate Bond villains, and plots so ridiculous they almost insult the long time fans of the series.
For all the bad shit said about the Island films there are always a few good things that give the films a particular charm. Whether it’s the great performance of Akihiko Hirata as the one-eyed menacing Bond Villain leader of the Red Bamboo, or Kenja Sahara’s insane para-jumping journalist, to guest appearances by Mothra, or even laughing at the ersatz Peanuts, the Island films while presenting crappy Godzilla films are generally okay monster pictures.
Take Godzilla vs The Sea Monster. Originally written to star none other than RKP Radio Pictures chief Monster in Charge, King Kong, but reverted to being a Godzilla film when the rights to the giant ape reverted to RKO before production could begin. If you can get past the Cookiemonsteriffic Godzilla suit the story isn’t all that bad. Some of the elements here would return in another Toho classic, King Kong Escapes (1967).
We being with a heist, jewels actually, where the thief Yoshimura (Akira Takarada) escapes to an unoccupied sailboat. He is joined not long after by two brothers (Daiyo and Ichino) searching for their lost older brother (he was a sailor). The three steal the sailboat so the thief can make his escape but they sail off into a typhoon and are washed ashore on an uncharted island.
The island, they learn, is under the control of a shady organization known as the Red Bamboo. They are manufacturing nuclear weapons to sell to other unnamed Asian countries (sort of like Dr. Hu’s organization selling Element X to some unknown Asian power in King Kong Escapes). The Red Bamboo led by Captain Yamato don’t want interlopers spreading knowledge of their doings to the rest of the world. Meanwhile Ichino and Daiyo learn that their brother is one of the prisoners of the Red Bamboo forced to make ground up Soma Berry juice to protect the Red Bamboo boat from being crushed by Ebirah the sea monster. Meanwhile, Nita (Hideao Sunazuka), a pretty native girl escapee from the Infant Island Soma Berry crushing factory joins Yoshimura and the others as they try to prevent Captain Yamato from creating his atomic bomb.
They are hunted by the Red Bamboo until the foursome stumbles on the sleeping form of Godzilla deep within an island cave. They awaken the radioactive Cookie Monster with a roll of copper wire and a convenient thunder storm (i.e. as if he were Kong who grew stronger when electrocuted).
Godzilla also takes a liking to Nita (just like Kong) and protects her from a giant vulture, possibly the worst monster ever filmed at Toho studios. When he turns his fury on the Red Bamboo it’s only a matter of time before the island will be evaporated in a nuclear explosion. It’s up to Yoshimura and the others to finalize the end of the terrorist organization and call to Mothra for a safe pickup of the Infant Island slaves.
It all sounds amazingly stupid, and most of it is. The Red Bamboo base consists of about four corrugated sheds with doors, and two rooms when the characters are present and of a sprawling miniature city when Godzilla is present.
The visuals offers nothing but cheapness as Godzilla easily moves through the mostly featureless terrain and against the anemic weapons of the Red Bamboo. Still, there is some charm here. I like this one more than Son of Godzilla if only for the extremely cool sea monster. Ebirah is a giant lobster and one of Elji Tsubaraya’s most inspired monsters. He doesn’t prove to be much of a match for the Big G but it’s still a cool suit. The others monsters don’t fair even half as well, the vulture looks like a taxidermy shop second, and the Mothra is so old and decrepit in this she appears without so much as a wing flap and doesn’t do a thing other than spirit the escapees to safety.
I don’t know where the story went wrong here but Fukuda, in all his ineptness, can’t find the right note. The material is much better suited to a low budget spy picture and not a kaiju, but the monster elements are almost an afterthought. Couple that with a worn and haggard Godzilla costume, one lame battle sequence, and a shitty score.
Still, it’s better than Son of Godzilla (all of the sets in Godzilla vs the Sea Monster would be reused in that film) and edges out the other of Fukuda’s craptacular kaiju pictures in that he hadn’t completely given over the idea that Godzilla was best suited to the slightly retarded Gamera audience.
Columbia Tri Star is REALLY treating these films with a level of respect never seen in any of the previous American releases. They offer this one like the others with the original Japanese Language Track, an English dub, unedited (as most of these were edited for US TV at one time or another), 16x9 anamorphic widescreen, and with a couple of trailers. Still, it sounds scanty, but for we Godzilla fans these are the Holy Grail of releases. The picture is beautiful and sharp with all the original vibrant colors restored, finally, from the washed out VHS releases we’ve had to suffer with.