Ishiro Honda returned to the Godzilla franchise for what is generally considered the most enjoyable entry in the Showa Series (1954 -1975), Destroy All Monsters (1968) so it's sort of baffling that the very next film in the series, made only a year later, would be such a 180º in storytelling. Godzilla's Revenge is a kid's film. It's so much of a kid's film that Godzilla's Revenge could give Gamera a run for the money on the tot entertainment scale.
But Godzilla's Revenge is not a happy romp with kids and monsters that fans of the Daiei franchise would recognize. Set in the slum backwaters of Japan 's industrial might, little, fat, target for bullies, latchkey kid Ichiro Miki, lives a dreary life in a small apartment. Dad (Kenji Sahara) is a train engineer and Mom (Machiko Naka) works in a restaurant, both are rarely home. Picked on by the other kids in his neighborhood led by relative giant bully Gabara, Ichiro's only real friend is the neighbor and toy maker Shinpei Inami (Eisei Amamoto).
But Ichiro doesn't bother telling Shinpei, or his parents (who appear later) about his problems, rather he "escapes" to Monster Island via the computer he's constructed and hidden in his bedroom. The computer is made out of found pieces of old radios, random wires, construction paper, and other junk. It's just the sort of thing a 5-7 year old with a good imagination would make if they lived in the shadow of a giant crumbling factory like Ichiro does.
On Monster Island , Ichiro is treated to several scenes of stock monster fighting from other Godzilla films, Godzilla vs. Kamakuras and Spiga from Son of Godzilla and, Godzilla vs Ebirah, some war planes, and a giant condor from Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, and some general monster footage from Destroy All Monsters. All of the stock footage is a result of the miniscule budget for this film and the fact that series special effects designer/monster maker Eiji Tsubaraya was dying and bedridden leaving the special effects work in the hands of director Ishiro Honda.
Ichiro falls into a hole on the Island and is rescued by Minya, Godzilla's son. Unlike his previous outings in Son of Godzilla and Destroy All Monsters, Minya talks in Godzilla's Revenge. And he's a mirror for Ichiro (naturally). Godzilla is away often fighting other monsters and leaves Minya on the island to deal with his own bully, named, Gabara. Minya is, unlike his father, timid and scared of the monsters that share his neighborhood.
When Ichiro awakens from his visit to Monster Island , alone, the news is blaring a story about a local bank robbery and the desperate search for two armed men. Ichiro views the news the same way any 5-7 year old would, he changes the channel, and goes outside to play in the abandoned factory.
The abandoned factory is also the temporary hide out of the two armed robbers and their ill gotten money. While searching for new parts for his computer Ichiro is captured and held by the men.
He alternates between the factory ruins and Monster Island for the remainder of the film and watches as Minya develops the strength and determination to finally put the beat down on Gabara. The lessons that Minya teaches via example are not lost on the pint-sized protagonist. Ichiro outsmarts the robbers and escapes just as the police arrive. The next day, when confronted by Gabara on the way to school, Ichiro abandons his timidity and stands up to Gabara.
The lesson of the film is that even if you are small, alone, and afraid, you have to stand up for yourself. It's a good message for a film so clearly targeted at really little kids. The story by Shinichi Sekizawa is very broad and very easy for developing minds to understand. It speaks also to the innate desire we all have to see the underdog prevail.
Is Godzilla's Revenge a good movie? Not really, the effects are almost all borrowed from other films, and the new sequences with Minya and Gabara look more like an episode of Ultraman than a Godzilla film. The Gabara costume is okay, but the Minya and Godzilla costumes in this film are atrocious.
That said, little kids won't care at all. The will embrace Minya and his timidity and recognize Godzilla as the world's most powerful giant monster. Parents will appreciate the message of the film even if they roll their eyes at the monster sequences.
I really love that Honda chose to set this film in the industrial squalor of late 1960's Japan . He consistently uses a wide shot of the city to establish location. And the city looks like a hell of gray concrete and smoke stacks: no trees, no flowers, no bushes, no nothing. Just old factories that power Japan 's growing economic might. This imagery allows Honda to chastise the adult audience for ostensibly abandoning their kids, and forcing their kids to abandon their childhood.
The few sequences we get where Ichiro interacts with his parents allows the characters to establish that there is quite a bit of love in the household, but that the parental absence is what leads to most of Ichiro's problems. When Dad speaks to his coworker about things at home, he stresses that the work schedule of he and Mom is impacting Ichiro and he's worried about that impact.
There's a lot to like in Godzilla's Revenge. It's fun film to watch with a little kid, and especially good to discuss with that same kid, once the film is over. It's currently the favorite of my kids here at McLargehuge Central.
The film only runs 70 minutes, which is just about perfect for the attention span of the intended audience.
Classic Media offers Godzilla's Revenge on DVD featuring the English dubbed track in either mono or 5.1 surround, chapter stops, and a "preview" of Godzilla Monster Melee for Game Cube.