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Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster - Review

(a.k.a. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep)

A Review by Mike Bogue

2½ Stars - Pretty Good

Japanese release: December 17, 1966

American release: 1968 (may have had limited theatrical release by Continental/Walter Reade, Jr. as Ebirah, Horror of the Deep; was released to American TV in 1968 as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster)

Direction: Jun Fukuda

Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa

Music: Masaru Sato

Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya, Teisho Arikawa

Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka

Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster Poster. There may not be any hula girls in this South Seas Godzilla adventure, but with Kumi Mizuno as a lovely Infant Island native, who needs ‘em?

Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster marks the point at which the Godzilla series took a decided left turn.  Gone were the miniature cityscapes, the massing of the Japanese military, the generals and other Japanese authorities, the threat to Japan if not the whole world.  Gone too were director Ishiro Honda and maestro Akira Ifubuke.  Indeed, Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster is almost as big a departure from Monster Zero, the series’ previous entry, as the New Beatles were from the Old Fab Four.

This time, the story and the topography become relatively small scale.  Ryota (Toru Watanabe), a young man whose fisherman brother Yata (Toru Ibuki) has been missing for some time, insists that his brother is sill alive.  He enlists two of his friends, and the three of them encounter bank robber Yoshimura (Akira Takarada) aboard a sailboat.  The next morning, the four men find themselves far adrift at sea, and we learn that Ryota deliberately stole the boat to look for his brother.

The crew encounters a storm and a giant shrimp/lobster monster (Ebirah) that destroys their boat.  They all wash ashore, however, and quickly encounter Daiyo (Kumi Mizuno), a lovely Infant Island native who tells them that the evil Red Bamboo (presumably code for Red Chinese) have been kidnapping Infant Islanders and forcing them into slave labor to make the yellow liquid that fends off Ebirah.

The five protagonists sneak into the Red Bamboo’s island base and discover that the villains are developing heavy water for their nuclear program.  Once found out by the Red Bamboo, Ryota inadvertently escapes when a weather balloon lifts him high into the heavens; one of his friends (played for “comedy” relief) is captured; and Yoshimura, Daiyo, and another of Ryota’s friends escape.  Ryota eventually lands on Infant Island (no unbelievable coincidences here) and is reunited with his brother Yata, both of whom set sail for the Red Bamboo’s atoll.

Meanwhile, using a discarded Infant Islander’s sword, the film’s other heroes succeed in awakening Godzilla (conveniently snoozing in a nearby hill) when lightning strikes the sword and shocks The Big G to consciousness.

Wasting no time, Godzilla lumbers from the hillside and promptly takes on island guardian Ebirah.  After a brief but well-filmed battle that includes a regrettable round of monster vollyboulder, Ebirah retreats.  Soon, Godzilla tackles and defeats a giant condor (another Red Bamboo mascot?) as well as the Red Bamboo air force.

Meanwhile, Ryota and Yata have arrived on the island, and all the heroes rush to the Red Bamboo base.  Godzilla does too, and quickly makes a shambles of the place.  The craven Red Bamboo leaders attempt to flee the island via getaway ship, but the yellow liquid they normally use to ward off Ebirah fails to work (at the urging of Ryota’s captured friend, the natives substituted phony yellow juice for the real thing).  Consequently, Ebirah trashes the would-be escape vessel.

But back in the demolished base, a Red Bamboo scientist has pressed a button that will soon cause the island to explode in a nuclear blast.  Godzilla battles Ebirah again, this time ripping off the crustacean’s formidable claws, causing Ebirah to retreat in lobsterian embarrassment.

Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster Lobby Card.

Meanwhile, Mothra finally awakens from her monsterly slumber and flies towards the Red Bamboo island.  There, she briefly tussles with Godzilla before rescuing both the natives and the heroes.  Once aloft, everyone yells for Godzilla to get off the island pronto.  The Big G finally splashes into the sea before a spectacular explosion (one looking more volcanic than nuclear) obliterates the Red Bamboo atoll.

Whew! Got all that?  Yes, the plot of Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster is more “people heavy” than the previous two Big G entries.  At this time (the mid-sixties), spy movies were all the vogue, and you can clearly see their influence on the film’s story – the Red Bamboo organization, their evil over-the-top leaders (one with an eye patch yet), their secret base, the heroes’ clandestine skullduggery, etc.  Still, the fate of the world isn’t really at stake here – just the destiny of our five Japanese heroes, Daiyo, and her fellow Infant Islanders.

Another obvious difference between this Godzilla opus and the series’ previous movies is that Godzilla doesn’t even show up until the movie is more or less half over.  Up to that point, the film is a near-monsterless adventure in the South Seas, though one can’t take the proceedings too seriously.  For example, the villains prove to be notoriously bad shots with their machine guns, though of course their faulty aim is traditional for No Good Bad Guys (after all, check out the storm troopers’ marksmanship in Star Wars).

The Red Bamboo minions also seem pretty inept – they easily let the heroes escape from the base.  Of course, it helps when one of the heroes accidentally discovers a cluster of smoke bombs, one of which doesn’t seem to cloud things up much when the heroes are skulking about, yet another unleashes near impenetrable fog when the good guys blunder into the villains and need to make a quick getaway.

In addition, the movie’s atmosphere seems more akin to Gilligan’s Island than to James Bond, given that the plentiful coincidences are often more incredible than the notion of a skyscraping radioactive monster with atomic halitosis.  For example, how fortuitous that the stolen sailboat happens to drift into the waters off the Red Bamboo island.  What a wonder that one of the Infant Islanders happens to have left his sword lying around so the heroes can use it to wake up Godzilla.  But perhaps the most jaw-dropping (and I mean chin plummeting through the basement) coincidence occurs when Ryota becomes entangled by a weather balloon that not only allows him to escape from the Red Bamboo, but even more amazingly, just “happens” to float over Infant Island where it obediently deposits him!  (This, of course, is followed by a quick reunion with his lost brother Yuta.)  I mean, come on, gang.

Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster Still.

But don’t think that this means I don’t like this movie.  I do.  But if Godzilla didn’t show up when he does, I doubt I would have ever watched it again.  For despite the somewhat lessened budget, Godzilla’s monster battles soar with the best of them – despite the silly episode of volleyboulder.  The Big G’s two battles with Ebirah offer some nice fight moves, especially those that take place underwater; Godzilla’s muffled roar heightens the illusion that the two kaiju titans are locked in combat under the sea.

Godzilla’s battle with the totally unexplained giant condor is also engaging, even if the condor isn’t up to the articulation standards of Rodan.  Also, Mothra’s brief sparring with Godzilla proves enjoyable, especially when Mothra decks the King of the Monsters with a well-placed wing slam.

It’s also fun watching Godzilla employ his tail, breath, and talons to trounce the Red Bamboo air force.  But the faux rock’n’roll music played during this sequence in the Japanese version reeks, both wildly inappropriate and tinny to the point of making the Bay City Rollers sound substantial in comparison.  (Sorry “Saturday Night” fans.)  The original English-dubbed version released to TV in 1968 wisely omitted this music -- unfortunately, the International Version now available on Sony TriStar DVD doesn’t.

As for the film’s other monsters, Ebirah comes off well, especially when you consider it is a man in a suit most of the time; of course, the waterline hides this pretty well.  Ebirah’s claws are well-manipulated, and when Godzilla flips the colossal kaiju, the illusion of a real giant crustacean is well-maintained.

In addition, Mothra gets a few nice scenes as well.  The best is when the gargantuan insect lands on the Red Bamboo Island while tiny Infant Island natives rush towards the huge guardian monster.  An interesting slow-mo effect is also used just before Mothra lands.

At times, Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster’s Mothra is quite lively -- and at other times, nearly lifeless.  It appears that the film may have used two Mothra marionettes:  one clearly the highly-articulated Mothra of Godzilla vs. The Thing, the other perhaps another marionette made for that film.  Or maybe they are both the same Mothra puppet.  Whatever the case, this would be the last time the adult Mothra would appear in the Showa series.  (Sniff, sniff.)

Also, the Peanuts of Mothra, Godzilla vs. The Thing, and Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster don’t appear in this Big G entry.  Instead they are replaced by Pair Bambi, who do an okay job as Mothra’s twin fairies.  Still, for my yen, this new duo lacks and pizzazz and charm of Emi and Yumi Ito.  Maybe the Peanuts’ asking price was more than Toho was willing to pay?

Unfortunately, one area in which the lower budget definitely makes itself known is in the meager miniature outlay of the Red Bamboo base.  These miniatures are both poorly detailed and badly lit.  When Godzilla trashes the place, it looks like he is demolishing an overlit set decorated with unfinished models.

Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster Still.

Still, the island miniatures are appealing.  And the film’s frequent matte shots generally pass muster; a few of them even impress.  The South Seas venue did offer a nice change of pace from The Big G’s previous films.  Still, it did signal leaner times ahead for Big G budgets.

But Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster works well as a self-contained Godzilla epic.  After all, it doesn’t necessarily have ties to The Big G’s other sixties movies (for example, why is Godzilla hibernating in a hill?) -- though on the other hand, it could be happening in the same kaiju universe (the protagonists seem to be well-acquainted with Infant Island and Mothra).

In its pristine DVD widescreen version currently offered by Columbia TriStar, the film is a joy to behold, and fans can choose between English dubbing and a Japanese language track with English subtitles.

Besides all that, there’s always gorgeous Kumi Mizuno to appreciate.  Right, guys?  (Female viewers please avert your eyes to Akira Takarada.)

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