Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
The seventh film in the long-running series, 1966’s Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster might not have featured the king of the monsters had fate unfolded differently. Initially conceived as Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong vs. Ebirah, the project was to pit the giant ape against a mammoth lobster (or shrimp, depending on who you ask) but Rankin/Bass, the holders of the rights to the Kong character, vetoed it. Not one to let a perfectly decent idea for a kaiju film go to waste, Toho simply switched it from a Kong movie to a Godzilla one, and it shows.
Forgoing city-smashing destruction for island adventure, Sea Monster’s South Seas setting recalls the original King Kong’s Skull Island more than it does any of the Japanese metropolises’ terrorized in previous Godzilla films. Additionally, several plot elements, like Godzilla being awakened by lightning or having an uncharacteristically soft spot for a female character, are obvious holdovers from when the character was meant to be Kong. The main story, however, is pure Toho tokusatsu, seeing a group of friends marooned on a remote isle controlled by a terrorist group called the Red Bamboo try to escape by - how else - awakening Godzilla to fight both the group and their guardian Ebirah.
With an entertaining narrative and likable characters that viewers feel invested in, the movie has the distinction of being one of the rare Godzilla films where the human drama truly is as fun to watch as the monster fights. Fan favorite Kumi Mizuno sizzles as Infant Island native Daiyo, while Akihiko Hirata (best remembered as the original Godzilla’s Dr. Serizawa) intimidates as the Fearless Leader-esque Red Bamboo commander. The stand-out performance, however, has to be Akira Takarada (Godzilla’s Hideo Ogata) as Yoshimura, the bank robber who finds himself with the rotten luck of having to be a hero for a change. Add in dialogue that balances the script’s suspense with playful humor and you’ve got one of the best human stories of Godzilla’s Showa era.
Taking advantage of the tropical setting, director Jun Fukuda captures some surprisingly beautiful imagery over the course of the film, with a couple establishing shots of the sun alternately setting and rising over the ocean coming to mind. The naturalistic island atmosphere also contrasts nicely with the vibe of the Red Bamboo base, the buzzing control panels and brightly-colored pipes of which call to mind the Starship Enterprise as much as they do a James Bond villain’s lair. Acting as a bridge between these elements is the score of Masaru Sato, whose use of jazzy percussion, expressive brass, and even reverb-laden guitar is equal parts surf rock and Bond film theme.
None of the above, however, would work if the monster scenes didn’t. In typical Godzilla fashion, the Big G doesn’t show up until the last third or so, but boy does he make the wait worth it! Fending off the jets of the Red Bamboo and getting in a surprise bout with a giant condor (actually a reworked Rodan model from the previous year’s Invasion of Astro-Monster), it’s safe to say that Godzilla gets in plenty of action outside of his clash with the titular sea monster. Ebirah is a relatively down-to-earth opponent for the king of the monsters, at least compared to the aliens, robots, or combinations thereof that Godzilla would increasingly encounter after this film. One appreciates the physicality of the two monsters’ fights even more after considering this, particularly at the end where Godzilla gets his hands dirty and defeats Ebirah, not by frying him with his atomic breath, but ripping his claws off. It’s a spectacularly savage end for a Godzilla enemy, and one that few would top as the Showa series marched on.
A breath of fresh sea air from the beam battles and alien invasions of later films, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster is a light-hearted but action-packed movie that should remind Godzilla fans why they fell in love with the series and hopefully make for entertaining viewing for those unfamiliar with it.
Reviewed by Reggie Peralta