Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

At the end of the original Godzilla, Dr. Yamane warned that if man continued meddling with nature and engaging in destructive wars, perhaps another Godzilla would arise.  And, indeed, he was right.  The following year, in 1955, Toho cranked out a sequel to the original Godzilla, introducing a concept to the series that would forever become a mainstay: the "monster vs. monster" trope.  This film would also see a new director in Motoyoshi Oda, and would be his only directorial Godzilla outing.

The film opens only a few months after the death of Godzilla at the hands of the Oxygen Destroyer, with two pilots named Shoichi Tsukioka and Koji Kobayashi, hunting for schools of fish for a tuna cannery company in Osaka.  Both were prior war pilots, but now they spend their days flying over the sea, looking for schools of fish just beneath the surface, and radioing back to the company headquarters about their findings.  As they fly, Kobayashi's airplane malfunctions, and he is forced to land near Iwato Island, an uninhabited strip of rocks formed by volcanic eruptions.  Tsukioka is informed, and flies out to look for his downed friend, eventually finding him safe, with only a wrist sprain. While talking on the rocky strip of islands, the two men hear some strange sounds, growing ever louder, and find two enormous monsters locked in brutal, mortal combat. Tsukioka immediately recognizes one of the monsters to be Godzilla, while the other one is a four-legged beast, as of yet unidentified.  The two monsters fight until they fall off a cliff, and into the ocean's depths.  As an interesting aside, while many Godzilla movies often show the monsters moving in somewhat slow motion in order to convey their immense mass and weight, Godzilla Raids Again often depicts the monsters moving (and fighting) at normal speed in order to convey their full brutality.  This originally happened because of a mistake on a part of the cameraman, but it was ultimately deemed an appropriate choice for the film.  

Tsukioka and Kobayashi report the monster sighting to the authorities in Osaka, where the second monster is dubbed Anguirus, due to its similarities with the dinosaur ankylosaurus - both are four-legged and have plated armor on their backs, though there are significant differences.  This creature is covered with spikes along its back, and equipped with huge fangs and serrated teeth.  Professor Yamane, who experienced Godzilla's attack as a main character in the previous film, is also present at the meeting.  He confirms that the monster seen by the two pilots is undoubtedly a second member of the same species as Godzilla, and that it and Anguirus were probably brought back to life by the same hydrogen bomb tests that awoke the first Godzilla - as evidenced by both of their large sizes, likely being mutations.  

Upon concluding that this is a second Godzilla, along with a potentially equally dangerous second monster, Yamane states that there is no way to kill Godzilla.  Dr. Serizawa, the inventor of the Oxygen Destroyer that had destroyed the first Godzilla, had died and burned the formula in the previous film. Yamane, though, comes up with a theory that could help defend the nation.  He suggests that the military might be able to use flares on the monsters to attract them away from the shore.  Yamane believes that Godzilla becomes angry when he sees bright lights, because the hydrogen bomb's bright explosion had awakened and mutated him.  There isn't much time to deliberate over this before Godzilla arrives on the shore of Osaka.  A blackout of all city lights is enforced within Osaka, and jets are sent to drop flares from above in order to lead Godzilla away from the shore. Godzilla sees the flares, and, as Yamane predicted, follows them safely out to sea.

Meanwhile, a prison truck is transporting dangerous criminals to another part of the country. All of the criminals, using body language, convey to each other that the cover of darkness caused by the city's blackout provides a great opportunity to escape from prison. The prisoners beat up the two policemen guarding them inside the truck, and escape. A few of them find a gasoline truck, and use it to drive off, but the truck crashes into an industrial building and starts a massive fire. The fire, much brighter than the planes' flares, attracts Godzilla's attention, and he begins heading back toward the shore of Osaka. A few minutes later, Anguirus swims to shore as well, and upon seeing Godzilla, attacks him. The two creatures fight an intense battle, while destroying several buildings, including the tuna cannery that Tsukioka and Kobayashi work for.  In the course of the battle, the criminals are drowned in the subway when it is flooded by the thrashing of the two monsters.  During the wholesale destruction, Godzilla finally bites Anguirus' neck, and throws him upside down into a moat near Osaka Castle. Godzilla then fires his atomic ray at Anguirus, burning him to death in the ruins of the famed castle.  Osaka is left smoldering in flames as Godzilla disappears.  In the aftermath, Tsukioka and Kobayashi are transferred to a Hokkaido plant, further north, and during a company party they are all notified that Godzilla destroyed one of the company fishing boats. The military and Tsukioka begin a massive search for Godzilla, eventually finding him swimming to the shore of a small, icy island.  

Several attacks are attempted on the monster, but all are futile.  The two cannery pilots join the fight, and as Godzilla is making his way to shore, Kobayashi's plane is hit by Godilla's atomic blast.  The plane crashes on an icy mountainside, killing Kobayashi.  Tsukioka is devastated but realizes that the military can shoot missiles at the mountain, and bury Godzilla in an avalanche, thereby freezing him to death. The jets fire their missiles, and bury Godzilla in snow and ice up to his waist.  The jets return to base to reload, and Tsukioka is authorized to fly in his own jet. The jets return to the icy island, only to find that Godzilla is digging his way out of the previous avalanche. They fire a fresh round of missiles at the mountain, triggering a new avalanche, and burying Godzilla up to his neck.  As Godzilla thrashes in the snow and ice, Tsukioka fires his own missiles, burying Godzilla completely, thereby finishing the job. The men then return home and receive the homage of a grateful nation.  

The final scenes are ironic in hindsight, as they all take comfort in Kobayashi's death by saying that he helped lead to the defeat of this second Godzilla.  The irony is that Godzilla does indeed rise again in later films, along with dozens of other monsters.  The sacrifice was in vain, and not only was it in vain, but their entire attack may have been in vain as well.  After all, when they find Godzilla, he is just roaming around in the icy north.  He's completely minding his own business, nowhere near any civilized areas.   Why chase after him at all?  In the greater context of the series I think that's interesting.  But when looking at the film on its own there are plenty of other interesting things to note as well.

If Godzilla is a film about the bombing of Hiroshima, then Godzilla Raids Again, is perhaps somewhat analogous to the bombing of Nagasaki.  Although technically inferior compared to the first film, as this time Honda was not in the director's seat, the second film in the Godzilla series explores the reaction of the Japanese public both during and after the time of war.  Japan is once again at war with Godzilla, only unlike the first film, this time the film follows more closely the effects the threat that Godzilla (representing war and strife) has on the personal lives of the main characters.  

The first half of the film represents Japan's war preparations, and how the threat of war impacted the lives of the Japanese people.  However, unlike the first film, where the bombing of Hiroshima is represented by Godzilla's attack on Tokyo at the end of the film, the bombing of Nagasaki is represented by the battle between Godzilla and Anguirus in Osaka, about halfway into the film.  And now the characters are left to pick up the pieces again.  In fact, the focus of this film is much more on the aftermath of the "bombing," so much so that Godzilla is not even shown being driven out or leaving Osaka after killing Anguirus.  Instead, we see characters simply watching the burning ruins of the city from the window of their family's faraway country house.  The dead silence of the land and the night contrast eerily with the unearthly light hovering over the besieged city.  The focus is on their principles and work ethic to pull together and start rebuilding, instead of focusing on the dead and dying.  The "war is over," and it is time to rebuild.  We are shown scenes of wholesale wreckage, but we also see workers toiling to clean out and rebuild Osaka where the characters all work for their living.  This is just as it was when the Japanese accomplished the most speedy and thorough economic recovery of the century following World War II.  These scenes are especially moving, and add a sense of realism to the story.  The film also conveys the sense that life goes on, as Kobayashi and the rest of the canning company are relocated to the company's Hokkaido branch to continue work.  Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, is pictured as a winter wonderland, with the workers enjoying themselves and the threat of war long since gone.  It almost feels like watching a Japanese Christmas movie at times.  Then disaster strikes; Godzilla destroys the fishing fleet, and the threat of war again looms over Japan, just as the Cold War followed World War II, and just as the specter of worldwide nuclear destruction has haunted the world ever since the wake of destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And it is in this new world - a world that cannot be devoid of Godzilla and his monster gang ever again - that the majority of Godzilla's films take place.  A world that has already opened up the can of worms that is nuclear power, weapons of mass destruction, industrialization, genetics, you name it.  If it's a dark part of man's own advancement, Godzilla has probably made a film about it.  And it only gets wilder from here on out.

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