Japanese Kaiju movies. For someone who loves asian culture so much, my serious lack of knowledge about this sub-genre is a little strange. Now, I actually love and adore the original ‘Gojira’, and I will get around to reviewing it someday. But that film led to lots of others, introducing new monsters and they have a dedicated following. But for some reason they never really called out to me. I think maybe it is because in England we never really got exposed to them in the same way as America did – dubbed versions of the films could be found on US TV easily in the 1960/70/80s, whereas here? I seriously can’t remember seeing a single one (maybe as part of some early early morning movie strand.. but as hard as it is to believe, late night TV is a fairly new innovation here. Well, 30 years new hahaha). However, two events led me to have a look see at the movie we are looking at today. First was me re-reading Warren Ellis’s fantastic “Planetary’ comic book series. It’s a clever pice, using a collection of superhero ‘archeologists’ to explore various aspects of geeky pop-culture. It doesn’t just look at comicbook/superhero archetypes, but also cultural touchstones such as 1940’s pulp fiction, Hong Kong Heroic Bloodshed films, and in one early issue, Japanese Monster movies. The characters visit “Island Zero’, and encounter the corpses of recognisable beasts such as Mothra, Rodan and the King of Monsters himself. Secondly, I was working my way through Elwood Jones’ MBDS podcast (remember I was a guest on there earlier this year) during a very long drive and synchronicity presented me his chat with Kaiju expert August Ragone. It’s a fascinating listen, helped by an enthusiastic and knowledgable guest. And made me think I had to sort out watching at least one more entry in the Godzilla series. So, whilst I will look at the original soon, what better place to dive in but to look at the fan-favourite ‘Destroy All Monsters’?
Set in the oh-so-far-in-the-future 1999, “Destroy All Monsters” starts by presenting us with a world were the Moon has started to be colonised, and all the giant monsters from the previous 9 films have been corralled to Monster Island (well the subtitles call it Monsterland, but I know the truth!). Things are shaken up when a bunch of mysterious aliens (who all appear to be beautiful Japanese women) take control of Godzilla and the others to wreak havoc in cities all over the world. They also take over the human inhabitants of Monster Island, including Kyoko (Yukiko Kobayashi), the girlfriend (or maybe sister.. the subtitles are little confusing) of the commander of the SY-3 spacecraft, Katsuo (Akira Kubo). Katsuo works with the Japanese government to get to the bottom of this, and protect the earth by defeating the impending Alien invasion. Which eventually leads to a fight between more monsters than you’ll have ever seen before!
Elephant in the room time? Yes, it’s a silly film that includes a lot of people dressed in rubber suits. However, it is still a huge amount of fun. It might not have the deeper social and scientific concerns that propelled the original film to national and international recognition, but it is a fairly solid and decently made science fiction story.
The rubber suits and miniature work are all fine, reminding me of the contemporaneous work of Gerry Anderson with “Thunderbirds”, “Captain Scarlet” and “Joe 90” (amongst others). In fact, I wonder if the success of Anderson’s various “Supermarionation” TV series explains why we didn’t get these films on our screens – with limited space on our screens, there was no point importing a foreign equivalent.
The acting is fairly ok, though I can’t say it is really of feature film standard. However, director Ishirô Honda shows no little skill in both the monster and human based parts of the film. In fact some of the non-suited up moments are quite memorable. Kyoko’s walk on the beach (with her high heels sinking into the wet sand) is laden with menace, and an interrogation of a mid-controlled human is full of a creepy tension.
But I guess what people are really here for is all the monsters. Now I am not qualified to recognise them all, but I am sure for the real fans this was a thrilling experience. Godzilla himself has the heft and presence to justify his ranking as the top guy, but once you let go and just start to enjoy the film, especially when Ghidorah shows up and the real action starts. I do wish Mothra had sprouted her wings, but on the whole as a newbie to these movies I was satisfied. Only two things really bothered me. When Anguirus (I think) holds onto Ghidorah by his teeth and is taken for a flying trip, the spell is broken and it is really obvious exactly what we are watching. But most annoying is Godzilla’s Son, Minilla, who I just took an instant dislike to (and provides irrelevant comic relief during the climactic moments). In fact, I remember the American Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon, and there was an equally annoying Godzooky. Maybe it tested well with some demographic.
Anyway. I had fun. I fully understand that maybe “Destroy All Monsters” isn’t the greatest Kaiju film of all time. But I also totally understand why it is so beloved by the fans. Look beyond the rubber suits and maybe somewhat hackneyed sci-fi plot, and I think you’ll find it to be an enjoyable romp.