Direction: Ishiro Honda
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music: Akira Ifubuke
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
Get up and boogie!
Yes, this is the infamous Big G entry in which Godzilla dances a victory jig after
he and Rodan route the evil King Ghidorah on Planet X.
But why stop with Godzilla? Hey, imagine the whole menagerie of kaiju in Destroy
All Monsters joining in a jumping shie chorus line!
Yo, Gorosaurus! Yo, Angilas! Yo, Minya! Yo, Mothra! Mothra? Well, okay,
I guess a big worm might have a bit of trouble mastering the move. But
wouldn’t it have been GREAT watching all these once mighty monsters reduced to
kaiju court jesters???
And just in case you’re wondering, yes, my tongue is implanted so far in my cheek
that I’ll probably have to employ a forceps to remove it.
Of course, Monster Zero is a lot more than the jumping shie, and thank
goodness for that. A sequel to the previous year’s successful Ghidrah, The
Three-Headed Monster, Monster Zero represents Toho’s comic book universe
at its most wide-eyed and diverting.
The story is fairly straight-forward but revealing: The discovery of Planet
X prompts World Space Authority to send an earth spaceship to the barren
planet. There, astronauts Glenn (Nick Adams) and Fuji (Akira Takarada) discover
subterranean aliens sporting wrap-around sun glasses and toe-curling footware;
the Controller of Planet X (Yoshio Tsuchiya) asks for the “loan” of Godzilla
and Rodan to defeat their Monster Zero, a.k.a. King Ghidorah, which is supposedly
ravaging their planet.
Earth complies, and Planet X saucers ferry the two earth monsters to Planet X, where
Godzilla and Rodan quickly send the triple-domed Ghidorah packing. But when
the earth protagonists return to earth, they discover that the “miracle drug”
the Xians promised is bogus – instead, the dastardly double-crossers announce
that they want to rule earth as their colony! Furthermore, if we don’t comply,
It turns out the Xians were in control of King Ghidorah all along -- the
duplicitous nogoodniks -- and having also gained control over Godzilla and Rodan,
they order the three monsters to raze Japan, where of course all alien
invasions of earth begin (at least in Toho movies).
Ingenious earth science shatters the Xians’ control
over the trio of kaiju, and an intrepid inventor’s blaring “Ladyguard” noise is
broadcast throughout Japan, disrupting both the Xians and their so-called
“invincible computers.” However, rather than surrender, the aliens blow
themselves up Real Good.
Meanwhile, Godzilla and Rodan attack King Ghidorah,
and after a brief skirmish, the three monsters tumble over a cliff and crash into
the sea. Only King Ghidorah arises from the churning wake, but one of the
protagonists assures his girl friend that Godzilla and Rodan can’t be killed
because “They’re too tough.”
This was the first Godzilla film to mix the Toho
subgenres of alien invasion and kaiju eiga, and it serves up this
mélange admirably. The aliens themselves, pale and oddly costumed, are pure
pulp magazine bad guys. This is cybernetic iniquity, of course, as the Xians
are controlled by computers and are forbidden by law to reveal emotion.
However, the Controller of Planet X, the Xian head honcho, seems to be above
this law, as we hear him laugh wickedly early in the film; he can hardly
contain his glee over successfully tricking the naïve earthlings. Their stupid
minds – Stupid! Stupid!
Nick Adams turns in a lively performance as Astronaut
Glenn, though at times his thesping scales melodramatic heights almost as lofty
as King Ghidorah. Adams gives his all to pulpy lines such as “Double crossin’
finks!” and “You stinkin’ rats!”
The lovely Kumi Mizuno fares well as the Xian spy Miss
Namikawa. Falling in love with Glenn of course violates Planet X law against
showing human emotions, and she pays the price in true space opera fashion.
Mizuno and Adams share a warm on-screen chemistry, despite the language
difference, and it’s too bad they didn’t get to star in a kaiju eiga
epic in which the two wed. (They also played together as co-scientists in Frankenstein
Conquers The World.)
Kaiju-wise, Monster Zero supplies plenty of the
Right Stuff. Though brief, Godzilla and Rodan’s two battles against King
Ghidorah prove fun and fast-paced. Of course, Godzilla does indulge in some
fancy boxing moves on earth, if not to mention his flying tackle of the
triple-headed space dragon on Planet X (though I actually thought this was an
interesting tactic). Then there’s Godzilla’s “Mexican hat dance” (as one of my
friends calls it).
I know I seem to be harping on the few seconds of
screen time given over to the jumping shie, but it only takes a few seconds to
throw a movie’s tone out of kilter. As others have noted, Godzilla’s victory
jig may be amusing in and of itself, but it doesn’t fit within the reality
level the movie has established. Director Ishiro Honda objected to the shie,
as did cameraman Teisho Arikawa and even Haruo Nakajima, the man inside the
Godzilla suit. Eiji Tsuburaya championed the kaiju dancing, however, and while
his intentions were certainly benign – he noted “it will make the children
happy” – the results were dismal.
As for the monsters themselves, King Ghidorah
appears as imposing as in his debut film. Rodan’s costume here is a marked
improvement over the awkward suit used in Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster.
On the other hand, Godzilla’s costume looks baggier than before, and after Monster
Zero, the Showa series would never again see Godzilla suits of the
caliber of those used in King Kong vs. Godzilla, Godzilla vs. The
Thing, and Ghidrah itself.
Probably the best scenes in Monster Zero are
those of Godzilla and Rodan (and later Ghidorah) routing the Japanese
countryside and cityside. Many matte shots are skillfully employed in which we
see Godzilla composited in the background while Japanese citizens flee midst
real life settings in the foreground. The highlight of this sequence is the
spectacle of Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah obliterating much of the city.
However, stock footage from Mothra and (especially) Rodan is used
extensively, albeit effectively. Still, the film’s original destruction
effects are good, especially those involving King Ghidorah.
Even the non-monster special effects are generally
handled well, and are certainly above-average for the period. Of particular
note are the scenes involving the Xian flying saucers. They impressively and
ominously arise from Lake Myojin, pillars of white vapor billowing in their wake like
vaporous ghosts. Later, when one of the saucers breaks formation and lands on
the shore, the matte effects are flawless. And finally, the sequence in which
the Xian saucers find Godzilla and Rodan, encase them in egg-shaped force
fields, and whisk them through space is a fine piece of craftsmanship.
Towards the end, the saucers lose credibility as they
wobble and omit smoke, revealing themselves clearly to be miniatures. And
their battle against earth, in hindsight, seems a bit undernourished, given
that we never see more than three Xian saucers at one time, and that the only
things the Xians seem to be attacking are the military vehicle convoys.
Too bad a space battle on the scale of that in Battle
in Outer Space couldn’t have been going on above earth while the monsters
continued to menace Japan below. But you can’t really blame the filmmakers for
lacking the funds or time to achieve greater spectacle. As is, Monster Zero
is a solid kaiju eiga entry with enough interest invested in both human
and monster plots to keep the average giant monster fan satisfied.