on 26 September 2007
Oh yes, now yer talkin'. The plot for this film is just fantastic. It starts in the castle of Baron Frankenstein (although he's not referred to as Frankenstein in the film - this is the name given to the monster.. but I digress..). It's 1945 and the Baron has just given life to a reanimated heart. Then in burst the Nazis and whisk it away. It's taken by submarine to Japan to be tested on, in the hope of finding a way to help mankind. Unfortunately, just minutes after the heart's arrived, the atom bomb is dropped on the city.
Cut to 1964, and a couple of doctors notice a strange boy playing in the streets. After much to-ing and frowing it turns out that Frankenstein's heart had the ability to generate body parts (!) Stick with me. And the result is this little boy. Unfortunately he doesn't stay little for long. Soon he's growing at a phenominal rate.
Queue appearance of Baragon, a monster who burrows under ground, and has a taste for eating cattle and humans. Frankenstein has a run in with some media hungry reporters - escapes - and is then accused of eating said cattle and humans.
Eventually Frankenstein and Baragon meet with inevitable monster movie consequences.
This film was directed by Ishiro Honda (the creator behind all the early Godzilla films) so the movie certainly has the overall feel of a Godzilla film. However what makes this different from the Godzilla films is the fantastically crazy story, which actually helps support the build up to the monster punch up - as opposed to being a bit of a time filler between monster action.
If you love Toho Godzilla movies then this should be on your Christmas list.
This DVD is so much more than the previous review might lead you to believe, the plot summary is spot on and needs no elaboration but there are so many extras included.
WARNING CONTAINS SPOILERS...
What you get here are 3 separate versions of the movie on 2 discs.
Disc 1 contains 2 versions of the movie; both are in Japanese with English subtitles.
The International version runs for 93 minutes and is the longest of the three versions and has a different ending to the other 2 which sees Frankenstein defeating Baragon by throwing him off a cliff then getting attacked by a giant octopus. It also has a very interesting commentary by Sadamasa Arikawa, the movies director of photographic special effects, who gives an insight into the making of the movie and throws up lots of nuggets of trivia. Director Ishiro Honda took the movies seriously and if you can suspend disbelief when you see the toy tanks rolling into action and the blatant use of toy models of people to emphasise Frankenstein's size they are definitely entertaining. In fact scale was an issue throughout the movie as Arikawa admits.
The shorter Theatrical version (90 minutes) has Frankenstein and Baragon falling to their doom when the earth gives way beneath them, which oddly Arikawa appears to have forgotten about judging from his commentary.
Disc 2 has the American release which is the version I was more familiar with which is very similar to the Theatrical version but has a running time of only 84 minutes and is dubbed into English.
The second disc also contains missing and deleted scenes including the attack of the octopus and some funny footage of toy tanks getting stuck. It also has a great photo gallery that includes international movie lobby cards, stills, comics, toys and photographs of all sorts of promotional material.
This is a superb collection that Toho and monster movie fans will enjoy.
It would be great to get a similar package DVD of Ishiro Honda's sequel (of sorts) War of the Gargantuas, that would certainly go near the top of my Christmas wish list.
At one point intended as a match with Godzilla a la King Kong Vs. Godzilla (which itself had originally started life as King Kong Vs. Frankenstein), Frankenstein Conquers the World aka Frankenstein Vs Baragon isn't very good - well, barely good at all to be honest - but it earns extra points for pure dementia even by kaiju movie standards. At the end of WW2 the Germans send Frankenstein's living heart by submarine to Japan for Taskashi Shimura (a long way from Kurosawa films here) to experiment on regenerating tissue to produce bulletproof soldiers. Unfortunately it arrives at the Hiroshima Army Hospital just in time for 6th August 1945... Fast-forward to 1965, and a local waif has grown into a bit of a monster, eating local pet dogs and rabbits before coming under the care of imported American star Nick Adams (billed in the Japanese trailer as embodying `the charm of Hollywood') as a compassionate American doctor. Considering Adams' idea of taking care of him involves hitting him over the head with a chair that may not be such a good idea, especially since he doesn't seem that phased by fellow doctor Tadao Takashima's plan to cut his arm off to see if it'll grow back (it's the only way to find out for sure if he's Frankenstein, or Furankenshutain as he's called here). Luckily for all concerned one of Frankie's hands falls off. Less luckily for all concerned, it's during his escape. Even less luckily, his escape coincides with an underground monster, Baragon, deciding it's about time for some above-ground rampaging...
All of which makes it sound a lot more fun than it actually is. Unfortunately after a busy opening reel or two it settles down to an awful lot of "How can you lose something that big?" low-carnage searching for the supposedly Caucasian ("He's definitely Caucasian" characters constantly reassure the audience) but obviously Japanese teen with a plastered on Cro-Magnon forehead before an excess of protein makes the constantly growing boy too big for his boots. En route we get some truly terrible special effects of toy police cars and toy tanks that show just how state of the art the Godzilla films were at the time: where the big lizard may have been getting kickbacks from the big toy companies to feature their product, Frankie must have got its toy tanks and police cars from the local dollar store (or is that Yen store?). Where a Godzilla film will at least have a few shots of REAL tanks interspersed with the toys, even innocuous shots of police cars driving down the street are obvious and very cheap models in Frankenstein - though compared to the toy horse or the wild boar played by a hamster in a fur coat in one sequence they're state of the art. Yes, you did read that last bit right: the film features an entirely gratuitous overhead shot of a hamster in a fur coat (and I bet it'd rather go naked than wear fur). In a couple of shots it's another toy animal, but for the running away shot they went that extra mile. I can just imagine the scene at Toho:
Ishiro Honda: "We can't find a wild boar to run away through the trees. What can we do?"
Eij Tsuburaya: "I know, we'll use a hamster instead."
Ishiro Honda: "Great idea. And if we put it in a fur coat, no-one will ever tell the difference!"
It all ends up in a protracted and none-too-interesting bout of Greco-Roman wrestling between Furankenshutain and the unfortunately laughably cute-looking Baragon, although the longer international version has an extended and very surreal ending where, rather than falling victim to an earthquake, Frankie drowns fighting a giant octopus that conveniently appeared on dry land in the middle of a forest fire, as octopi are prone to do. Amazingly it even got a sequel, War of the Gargantuas, but this is definitely one of Toho's lesser efforts even for the most undemanding of viewers. Still, almost full marks to Tokyo Shock's comprehensive Region 1 DVD, which includes the original Japanese version with audio commentary by Sadamasa Arikawa, the calamari-friendly extended international version and Toho's shorter US cut as well as some deleted scenes and the Japanese trailer.
on 24 May 2009
This is a great monster action movie. Yes, it is silly but if you love Toho monster movies, and lets face it who doesn't, this is an enjoyable movie. And you don't get two versions of the movie you get three! Baragon is a cool monster, which I have the Bandai figure to. Nick Adams makes a great hero. There is a lot to enjoy here. Well done Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters. More Toho movies please!