Friday, March 3, 2017
GODZILLA'S REVENGE (1969)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*
This is a review of the usual American version of ALL MONSTERS ATTACK. I understand that there may be a video version more in line with the original Japanese release, but this is the one where Godzilla's son talks like Barney Rubble.
I've heard that some fans have a liking for REVENGE, finding it a winsome look at the life of a young Japanese kid, dealing with school bullies and a lack of supervision from his working parents.From the first time I caught the film on TV, I saw what the film-- directed by the same man who initiated the franchise, as well as some outstanding follow-ups in the series-- was shooting for, and the good intentions behind the film do keep it from being the worst film in the series. I might have even forgiven the film its glaring re-use of scenes from other Godzilla flicks of contemporary vintage, mainly SON OF GODZILLA and GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER-- if director Ishiro Honda and scripter Shinich Serizawa had come close to capturing the world of a child fascinated with monsters. Not that long ago, I championed Bert Gordon's THE BOY AND THE PIRATES because it provided a valid look into a child's world, even if the film was something less than perfect. Unfortunately, every idea in REVENGE is predictable in its delivery, and had I seen it as a kid, I think I would have considered it somewhat condescending.
To be sure, I can admit these days that there were economic justifications for making a Godzilla movie aimed at kids. According to Steve Ryfle's book JAPAN'S FAVORITE MON-STAR, in late 1960s Japan television's imitation of the big-screen kaiju ega had eroded much of the audience for Godzilla films. At one point Toho Studios considered putting an end to the Godzilla series with their big monster-mash epic DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, but roughly a year later, ALL MONSTERS ATTACK appeared, cutting costs through the use of stock footage and attempting to appeal to the more uncritical kids.
The essential idea of REVENGE is that for kids like young Ichiro, Godzilla represents a masculine image of adult power, while Godzilla's less prepossessing son Minilla is the image of what kids are like in the real world. In fact, though Ichiro knows all his monsters by heart, Minilla is his favorite. However, when Ichiro sleeps, he apparently dreams himself onto Monster Island, where he befriends Minilla, the only monster in the story who can speak human language, as well as being able to vary his size, sometimes standing about half as tall as his dad and other times able to descend to Ichiro's size. Ichiro learns that Minilla's life is no bouquet of posies, for the diminutive critter is persecuted by a bully-monster named Gabara, whose name, wonder of wonders, just happens to be the same as that of Ichiro's real-world bully. Further, Minilla's dad isn't altogether sympathetic to the young monster's problems, as Godzilla encourages his spawn to fight his own battles. (This message is somewhat muddled by a scene in which Godzilla does fight Gabara in protection of Minilla, but this may have been included just to satisfy an audience that couldn't get enough Godzilla-battles.)
Having had my own experiences with school-bullies, I certainly can't deny that *some* of the appeal of fantasies-- be they monsters, superheroes, or whatever-- is that they portray a world where the good guy, or even the relatively good monster, always wins. That said, I think the main reason I don't like GODZILLA'S REVENGE is because it's too reductive.
My first exposure to Japanese monster-films was seeing advertisements for KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, though sadly I didn't get to see that one on the big screen. I did, however, get my share of kaiju-thrills from big-screen showings of 1960s epics such as THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, MONSTER ZERO, and, happily, the well-loved DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. But the appeal of these films for me didn't really hinge so much on the defeat of the assorted villains, be they aliens, other monsters, or even bad humans. The appeal for me was closer to that which Immanuel Kant called "sublimity," the pleasure one takes in beholding vessels of great force in action. I've talked about this concept exhaustively on my ARCHETYPAL ARCHIVE, and won't further discuss it here, except to provide one essay-link that related to "sublimity and science fiction."
Still, I could have entertained even a reductive account of monster-pleasures if there had been any imagination to it; any attempt to capture the feeling of "life as it is lived." But Ichiro's story-arc is just as escapist at bottom as anything in the outright fantasy-films, and not without certain contradictions about its ideas of boyhood and manhood.
In conclusion, I've seen some reviews that claim that REVENGE exists in a world that isn't necessarily coterminous with Godzilla's other outings, and it's true that no adult in Ichiro's real world actually displays belief in monsters. Still, the story isn't as overt as, say, Lewis Carroll's ALICE books in terms of relegating all the fantastic content to dreams. Honda's film seems to want to have it both ways, giving the audience the elbow-room they need to associate REVENGE with all the other giant-monster movies-- and so I designate the film as being just as "marvelous" in its phenomenality as the others.