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Not a great film in either version, but a surprisingly satisfying DVD
on 11 May 2012
The first of many sequels, 1955's Godzilla Raids Again is a typical example of the low-budget quickie sequels that used to be knocked out with more of an eye on getting into the theatres as quickly and cheaply as possible rather than on quality. Kurosawa favorite and star of the original Takashi Shimura only turns up for a single scene in this drawn-out number that introduces the monster mash theme of subsequent films with a giant terrapin but gets bogged down forever treading water with bland characters and a surprising lack of any urgency to the proceedings. The destruction quota is pretty low: this time it's Osaka's turn in an impressive setpiece at the film's halfway point that offers a striking shot of the city burning in the distance that summons up memories of mushroom clouds before adjourning to an island and an interminable series of bombing runs that allow special effects man Eiji Tsuburaya's aviation obsession to run riot. The special effects themselves are considerably worse and its all very dull and drawn out. This did set path for future films by giving Godzilla a rival monster (Anguirus) to battle, though he's disposed of at the halfway point, and it's worth noting that this second Godzilla is the creature that would appear in all the subsequent films in the original Showa series (the original Godzilla being reduced to a skeleton in the first film), but it's primarily of historical interest. Unfortunately this was bad enough to send Gojira into hibernation until the early Sixties where he'd have to work his way up through the ranks again as a supporting player to other monsters.
The much-altered version released in the US as Gigantis The Fire Monster probably didn't help matters either. Rather than crudely editing an American star into the film a la Raymond Burr in the original Gojira, it was originally planned to simply use the monster footage and build an entirely new American movie to be called Volcano Monsters around them, even importing the Godzilla and Anguirus suits to shoot additional carnage only for the project to fall through. Instead the film was eventually dubbed into English by Keye Luke, who provides the almost constant running commentary and at one point utters the immortal line "Banana oil!", George Takei, Paul Frees and several others (including, from the sound of it, Yogi Bear), padded out with stock footage from newsreels and old educational films, rescored with cues from Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter's scores for Kronos and The Deerslayer and belatedly released in a flop double-bill with Teenagers From Outer Space in 1959. Along with major changes to the Japanese version's dialogue and characters, even Godzilla found himself renamed Gigantis. Unfortunately Toho have done a little fiddling around of their own on Classic Media's generally excellent recent Region 1 DVD, removing the US title for a clumsily grafted on video graphic.
Including both Japanese and American versions of the film, extras on the disc aren't plentiful but are very good, including an excellent audio commentary on the American version and an informative stills-led featurette on the suit actors in the series (the original and most prolific Gojira performer, Haruo Nakajima, had actually played one of the bandits in Seven Samurai!). Not a great film in either version, but a surprisingly satisfying DVD.