Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster / Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster / Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla / Gojira tai Mekagojira (1974/1977) -***
The juvenilization of the Godzilla series, which began with The Son of Godzilla and then really hit its stride two years later with Godzilla’s Revenge, reached its peak (or nadir, depending on your perspective) with 1973’s Godzilla vs. Megalon. There was literally no further to go in that direction, so it was probably inevitable that the next entry in the series, Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster/Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla/Gojira tai Mekagojira, would be at least a little more adult in its sensibility. And considering how unbelievably cheap Godzilla vs. Megalon was, it was also probably inevitable that Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster would also have a somewhat higher budget. But despite all that, this is still an incredibly silly movie, with a totally nonsensical script, a really goofy secondary monster, and in the American version at least, some of the worst dubbing in the series’s history. It is a hoot and a holler, no doubt about it.
I’ll say this for Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster, though— it sure isn’t slow. Not a minute past the opening credits, the Shinto priestess (Barbara Lynn, from 2069 A.D.) whom we’d been watching dance at a temple someplace in Okinawa collapses on the ground, having visions of stock stills from an earlier Godzilla film, probably Destroy All Monsters. The old priest in charge of the temple (Masao Imafuku) rushes over to see what’s the matter with her, and she tells him that a huge monster is on its way, and that the destruction of the world will be at the top of that monster’s agenda when it gets here.
Meanwhile, an archeologist (I think— he might also be a mining foreman) named Gosuke Shimizu (Masaaki Daimon, who went on to Terror of Mechagodzilla and the “Ultraman 80” TV show) is dropping his spelunker brother, Masahiko (Kazuya Aoyama, of “Zone Fighter”), off at Jokusin Cave, where he means to go exploring. Masahiko finds something odd in the cave after only a few minutes inside: a small chip of metal unlike any he’s ever seen before. That’s nowhere near as weird as what confronts Gosuke when he drives on to the site of his archeological excavation (or mineshaft), though. Some of his workers have found something they call a cave, but which looks a hell of a lot more like an ancient tomb or religious sanctuary. The walls are covered in painted hieroglyphics, and in a small altar set into one wall is a little clay statue resembling a Chinese fu dog.
Word of the discovery spreads fast, and soon the excavation is mobbed with reporters. At the same time, some big-shot university on Hokkaido sends out a grad student named Saeko Kaneshiro (Reiko Tajima, a prolific cartoon voice actress who can be heard in the original Japanese versions of Arcadia of My Youth and Galaxy Express 999) to check the place out. Saeko believes the statue represents King Caesar (Wow! I didn’t know the Roman Empire reached as far east as Okinawa!), the monster mascot of Okinawa’s Azumi people, and that the hieroglyphics spell out some kind of prophecy concerning him. Her best guess is that the text reads: “When a black mountain appears above the clouds, and the red moon sets, then a monster shall awaken to destroy the world. But when the sun rises in the west, two monsters shall arise to defend the people.” Looks like we’re going to need some white coats over here to make sense of all this.
So Saeko and Gosuke fly over to Hokkaido to meet with her boss and his uncle, Professor Wagura (Hiroshi Koizumi, from Gigantis the Fire Monster and Attack of the Mushroom People). Two important things happen on the flight. First, Saeko and Gosuke have their first encounter with the Suspicious Sunglasses Guy (Shin Kishida, from Lake of Dracula and Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Carriage at the River Styx). This guy claims to be a freelance reporter, but with those sunglasses, he’s got to be lying. He knows about the excavation back on Okinawa, he knows about the priestess’s prophecy, and he knows about the statue of King Caesar too. Again, there’s no way this guy isn’t some sort of spy. The second big development happens outside the plane. Off the jet’s starboard wingtip is a curious cloud formation that bears more than a passing resemblance to a black mountain hovering above the clouds. Man, prophecies sure do move fast in the Orient; over here, we’d have at least a couple of months’ lag-time between the initial pronouncement and the opening round of supernatural manifestations!
As it happens, Masahiko is also on his way back to the mainland to see a Ph.D. He’s really curious about that flake of metal he found in the cave, and he wants his scientist buddy, Dr. Hideto Miyajima (Akihiko Hirata, from Rodan and Latitude Zero), to have a look at it. Miyajima scarcely needs to study it at all before he declares it to be a piece of “space titanium.” (“Space titanium?! You mean it came from outer space?!?!”— hooray for that...)
Okay, so all this stuff about ancient prophecies and space titanium and spies in sunglasses is pretty interesting and all (actually, no it isn’t...), but I, for one, am watching this movie for the kaiju. When do we get to the part with the kaiju? Right about now, as a matter of fact. As so often happens in these films, there’s a big-ass earthquake, and when it’s all over, Godzilla comes clawing his way out of one of the fissures. Did somebody say something about a monster destroying the world? Something funny’s going on, though. Not only is Godzilla supposed to be a good guy at this point in his career, his mannerisms are all completely wrong. His gait is strangely stiff, his vocalizations are totally unlike the reverberating roar we’re used to, and when he starts blowing up the handful of crappy buildings that were all this movie’s budget was good for, his atomic breath is orange instead of blue, and it makes a shimmering, raygun-like sound instead of the familiar flamethrower whoooooosssshhhh. And what’s more, Angiras, who’s apparently been Godzilla’s good buddy since they teamed up to fight Gigan and King Ghidorah two movies ago, digs his way out of the ground and attacks the Big G. The battle goes about as well for Angiras as it had the last time he fought Godzilla, way back in Gigantis the Fire Monster, but the 33,000-ton echidna does manage to get a few good hits in. And oddly enough, the tears Angiras inflicts in Godzilla’s hide reveal patches of glinting metal, rather than bleeding flesh. Well, I think you know what’s going on at this point, and to confirm those suspicions, the real Godzilla appears out of nowhere and blasts the imposter with the proper hue of atomic fire. That’s when the scene cuts to a control center in which several men in silver jumpsuits are watching the battle on some kind of TV monitor. Their leader (Goro Mitsumi, who dubbed Russ Tamblyn’s voice for the Japanese version of War of the Gargantuas), realizing the charade is over, pushes a button on his console, and the imposter Godzilla’s false skin burns away, revealing the robotic Mechagodzilla. The two monsters slug it out for a while, but this first clash ends inconclusively, with each combatant too battered to finish the other off. Commander Jumpsuit orders Mechagodzilla home, and the real King of the Monsters slinks off to lick his wounds. (For some reason, this involves standing on a mountaintop in the middle of a thunderstorm, and being hit by lightning a lot— hey, whatever works...)
So just who are the Jumpsuit Brigade, and what do they want? Why, they’re aliens from “the Third Planet of the Black Hole,” of course. And like all self-respecting aliens, they’re out to conquer the Earth. Not for any particular reason, mind you— it’s just the hip thing to do in their part of the galaxy, I guess. Because our planet happens to be overrun with kaiju, these aliens understandably felt they’d need one of their own in order to effect their conquest, and thus they have constructed a cyborg duplicate of Godzilla, the most powerful of Earth’s monsters. Hey, if you’re going to rip somebody off, at least rip off the best. Anyway, now that Mechagodzilla is damaged, the aliens’ leader decides the thing to do would be to kidnap a human scientist “who knows about space technology” and press him into service overseeing the repairs, in the hope that an Earthling could fine-tune the design for maximum effectiveness against the real Godzilla.
To that end, the aliens kidnap Dr. Miyajima when he comes to Jokusin Cave (the location of their secret base) with his daughter, Eiko (Hiromi Matsushita), and Masahiko Shimizu. The professor was hoping to find some more of that space titanium, you see. The aliens force Miyajima to work on their robot by threatening to torture Eiko and Masahiko, but help is on the way. Gosuke and Saeko are even now on a ship bound for Okinawa (you know, I’m pretty sure I’d be taking a plane if I were trying to stop the fulfillment of a prophecy about the end of the world, but that’s just me...), and they’re about to find out about the aliens, too. One of the alien agents tries to kill them and steal the statue of King Caesar, but is shot down in the act by the Suspicious Sunglasses Guy! (The aliens turn into gorillas when they die— never underestimate the influence of Planet of the Apes.) It turns out he’s an Interpol agent named Nanbara, and that his agency has been trying for months to figure out what the aliens were up to. Nanbara follows Gosuke to Jokusin Cave while Saeko takes the statue to the temple from the opening scene, and at last, the movie really gets rolling. While Nanbara and Gosuke spring Miyajima, Eiko, and Masahiko from the aliens’ lair, provoking the commander to launch Mechagodzilla for another sortie, Saeko learns that King Caesar is one of the monsters that are prophesied to rise up in the world’s defense, and that the statue holds the key to awakening him. When it is placed in a notch on the temple roof, its eyes will catch the light of a strange atmospheric anomaly that causes the rising sun to be reflected on the western horizon (“But when the sun rises in the west...”), triggering the monster’s release from his confinement in a nearby pile of rocks. Then all that’s needed to awaken King Caesar is for the priestess to sing an amazingly awful pop song about him.
King Caesar rises just in time to catch Mechagodzilla as it arrives in Okinawa. Now I don’t care if he is some kind of god or something, there’s just no way a fucking fu dog is going to stand a chance against Mechagodzilla. But remember, the prophecy calls for the intervention of two monsters, and no sooner has King Caesar started to lose in a big way than Godzilla comes along to bail him out. It’s still a close fight for a while (Mechagodzilla carries an incredible amount of firepower), but out of nowhere, Godzilla summons up the energy from all those lightning strikes he was absorbing the last time we saw him, and turns himself into an electromagnet! I shit you not! Mechagodzilla’s metallic body sticks intractably to that of its organic double, and Godzilla and King Caesar have a big old time smashing the giant robot to pieces.
I grant you, Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster is nowhere near as good as the Godzilla films made before Jun Fukuda replaced Ishiro Honda in the director’s chair, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the preceding four movies, and man, is it ever fun. This was Fukuda’s last contribution to the series, and is far and away his best. This looks to have been about the most expensive of the Fukuda Godzilla flicks, and it is mercifully free of the indiscriminately used stock footage that found its way into just about all the action sequences in Godzilla on Monster Island and Godzilla vs. Megalon. The higher budget is also reflected in the monster suits. Godzilla himself is still pretty sorry-looking, but this suit is at least an improvement over the last one, and King Caesar is heavily detailed, if not especially compelling in overall design. Mechagodzilla, on the other hand, is the coolest and best-realized kaiju the series has seen since the debut of King Ghidorah back in 1964.
As for the less tangible aspects of the production, the screenplay Fukuda co-wrote with Hiroyasu Yamamura gives him plenty of opportunities to indulge his love of 60’s spy-movie foolishness, but there’s enough monster action, goofball mysticism, and desperate sci-fi plot gimmickry to keep the movie from turning into a twelfth-rate James Bond clone the way Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster did. This is one of the few latter-day Godzilla movies where there’s enough going on in between the monster battles to keep me entertained. There’s the fact that the aliens are really gorillas underneath their false human faces, for starters. (Maybe not as daft as the cockroach aliens from Godzilla on Monster Island, but it’s hard to argue with a monkey suit.) And let’s not forget the astonishingly stupid way Gosuke and Nanbara free Miyajima and the others from the aliens’ grasp. Early in the film, Miyajima demonstrates how he’s modified his pipe (as in the kind you smoke with) into an unstoppable electronic countermeasures tool, capable of overloading and destroying any electronic device it comes into contact with. Why? Well, how the hell else would he and his friends be able to wreak havoc in the nerve center of an alien command post and escape, helping thereby to save the world from interstellar conquest?! That’s the kind of protection a man simply can’t afford to be without. You know— just in case he happened to get himself kidnapped by hostile alien space monkeys one day. It could happen!!!! And because all of the elements are thrown together in a completely haphazard, non-sequitur manner, watching Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster can give you a delirious sense that you’ve been placed in the hands of a particularly deranged hyperactive child. In the world of 70’s kaiju eiga, that’s definitely a good thing.