After the exemplary success of Godzilla it was a no-brainer for Toho to release a sequel. The fairly final conclusion of Ishiro Honda’s inaugural kaiju film didn’t matter; there was money to be made. Toho set out to reassemble a fair portion of the original team, including Eija Tsuburaya. Toho did need a new director however. They decided to hire Motoyoshi Oda, who was a second-unit director on The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya, an early and important film in Eija Tsuburaya’s career as a special effects whiz. Lucky for them Dr. Yamane’s speech in Godzilla: “If they continue to experiment with such weapons, there may one day appear another Godzilla in the world,” worked retroactively as set up for a sequel.
Thus was born Godzilla Raids Again.
For Eija Tsuburaya this sequel, made for less money and over a shorter period of time, allowed for experimentation and refinement of the first film’s groundbreaking special effects. He was even promoted for the film, officially naming him director of special effects. This didn’t precipitate any particular change in his duties so much as it granted him the credit he was already due. The resulting film may at first seem minor, a slapdash sequel that actually set back the whole Godzilla franchise, but the significance in relation to other daikaiju films is incredibly important. Godzilla might have established the visual elements, the special effects, and the general concepts but the refinements brought to Godzilla Raids Again were paramount to the genre. Together the two films make a daikaiju blueprint that would be used and reused again and again in future kaiju films.
Godzilla might be the first kaiju film, but Godzilla Raids Again is the first movie with two daikaiju, and the first where two kaiju fight.
This presented Eija Tsuburaya with several new challenges. For one thing the old Godzilla suit was no longer applicable. That sort of two-hundred pound monstrosity was never going to be mobile and flexible enough for a fight scene. Haruo Nakajima had to base his movements off an elephant in the first film; for the second that kind of lumbering slow walk just wasn’t going to work. The new suit was made from liquid latex and other more flexible synthetic materials. This allowed the whole thing to be lighter and more expressive. The first suit, now known as the ShodaiGoji, was slightly altered in the lighter iteration. The version in Godzilla Raids Again is known as the GyakushuGoji. The new materials lend the beast a slightly sleeker frame, heightened by an altered head. The GyakushuGoji has less cartoony eyes, eyes that now could be rotated. The head is also slightly more textured and bumpy, with more prominent teeth. This lends the second attempt at the Godzilla suit a more predatory look. A few key characteristics are unique to these two films: the four toes, fangs, rough underbelly, pointed tail, and staggered maple-leaf dorsal fins.
For the design of Godzilla’s first ever foe the creative team turned again to prehistoric animals, focusing in on drawings of ankylosauruses. This creature, a reptilian quadruped with a spiny carapace, would make for a threatening opponent. The design exaggerates the actual creature, multiplying the spikes to almost porcupine like proportions. The fact that this kaiju was four legged, and required the actor to walk around on all fours, helped differentiate the silhouettes of the two monsters, a key factor in good creature design. Anguirus is also a standout for other reasons. He’s basically an actual dinosaur, even more so than Godzilla himself. He has no special abilities. No atomic breath or super powers. He’s just a big animal, an uncommon choice in kaiju films.
The plot of the movie is simplistic at best, building on the finale of the first film. Continued radioactive tests awaken a second Godzilla (meaning in this iteration “Godzilla” is both a proper-noun and a species, confusingly). They also awaken a dinosaur named Angilus by the film. Later Toho projects would adopt the American spelling, Anguirus, even going so far as to copyright the character under the Americanized spelling. These two creatures actually wander into frame fighting, spotted by two pilots stuck on an island. The plot of the film focuses on these two pilots and the factory jobs they end up with part way through. It lacks a lot of the pathos and opera of the first film, instead skewing a little lighter and more character-focused. The unending challenge of kaiju films is the effective combination of character based drama and daikaiju action, a trend that can be traced all the way back to this film. The characters are frequently merely adjacent to the plot, in the same room, or aware of it. A lot of time is spent on the rather uninteresting romances carried out by the two pilots.
However Eija Tsuburaya’s phenomenal action scenes, and the effect they’ve had on the DNA of the genre, make the movie more than worthwhile. This movie has some of the most iconic Godzilla shots in the history of the character, and some incredible fight scenes between the two kaiju. Fight scenes that still stand out in the kaiju cannon.
As Godzilla strides towards populated urban centres, the military starts talking plans. Dr. Yamane, played by Takashi Shimura (a character actor who’s worked with Kurosawa twenty-one times), returns to consult with the military. It’s a nice piece of continuity seeing a notable character from the first film return in this way. Dr. Yamane bears grim news for the military. They only managed to defeat Godzilla in the first film thanks to the Oxygen Destroyer, but because the bomb they used was the only one in existence, and all the science behind it was destroyed, they are effectively weaponless against Godzilla. The atomic dinosaur does, however, appear to be attracted to light. By blacking out the city he’s heading for and using “Light Bombs” to lure him away the army hopes to at least keep civilian casualties and structural damage to a minimum.
This leads to the high point of the whole film, a scene that blends the characters with the kaiju action surprisingly well, before eventually leading to the first real kaiju on kaiju fight in history.
The government black out works fairly well at first. Godzilla strides across the shadowy shore as planes soar overhead, dropping their loads, which are essentially flares. The image of Godzilla surrounded by black light and lit by rutilant flares is a dramatic and iconic one. It’s no coincidence this is the shot eventually homaged by Gareth Edwards in 2014’s Godzilla. It’s just a beautiful visual, and part of a great scene. The blackout provides the seedier elements in the area a unique opportunity. Criminals in a prison transfer take this chance to escape, running in panic down the street and eventually stealing a gas truck. The police pursue, and just as the scene starts to feel too long and disconnected the police pull over a car to aid in the pursuit – a car driven by our two pseudo-protagonists. They take off after the crooks, chasing them into a factory. The crooks’ truck jumps and careens into pat of the factory, sparking a massive explosion and fire. This violent light draws Godzilla’s attention, ruining the army’s plan.
As Godzilla heads back towards Osaka, Anguirus crawls out of the ocean and attacks. This scene really lets Eija Tsuburaya go all out. This initial take on a kaiju fight is fascinatingly influential and fascinatingly different from the plethora of future imitators. The flexible suits more readily accommodate this new approach to the suitmation. The two grapple, head-but, and bite one another. The look is somewhere between animals and wrestlers. This basic approach to the look of the suitmation would prove integral to the genre going forward, being refined and altered in future ventures. Eija Tsuburaya also seems to be speeding up moments, a technique not often used since. It actually never looks as silly as it might seem on paper; instead it lends the fight an unexpected ferocity. The whole scene achieves this wonderful perfervid tone. The sped up tussling is intercut with wonderful details of destruction as the two colossal daikaiju tear through the surrounding cityscape. Insert shots of their tails and feet crushing buildings by accident perfectly establish the amount of damage these creatures are doing. These miniatures are impressive, Eija Tsuburaya’s work, even with such a limited budget, is engaging. The rubber suits and models gain a whole life under his instruction. Despite the low budget and dated effects, it still feels like Osaka is crumbling.
Collateral damage becomes an important aspect of this scene as the battling behemoths demolish the plant our protagonists work at. The two monsters head towards an Osaka icon – the Osaka Castle. This almost man-sized miniature had to be rebuilt after the first attempt at shooting the scene. The timing of the destruction was off, and so reshoots were needed. However this took two weeks and a sizeable portion of the budget. The effect Eija Tsuburaya gets across in the final scene is wonderful – the way two dinosaurs slide into the castle as it crumbles beneath their weight is amazing. The sense of mass and power is elegantly conveyed. The two continue to leap and fight until Godzilla finally gets the jump on his opponent. He hurls Anguirus into a moat near the Castle and sets his immobile body on fire. Anguirus’ corpse smoulders as Godzilla strides back into the ocean, ending the first ever kaiju fight.
The rest of the movie sidles towards one of the weirdest finales in kaiju history. In Godzilla Raids Again it takes nothing but planes and clever military tactics to take down the fierce Godzilla. No other kaiju, no specially made devices, no elaborate mad-science plans, just jets and ice. Essentially the army traps Godzilla on an icy island and starts a carefully pre-planned assault. They goal is simple – trap Godzilla under an avalanche of disturbed ice. This effect, much like the destruction of Osaka Castle, was highly problematic for Eija Tsuburaya’s crew, and for Haruo Nakajima. As Nakajima himself put it, “I had to stand in the middle of the set while a huge amount of crushed ice came tumbling down on me.” The weight of the ice, coupled with the weight of the GyakushuGoji suit, broke the platform Nakajima and a cable operator were situated on. Luckily neither of them was seriously injured.
Godzilla Raids Again came out in 1955 and initially did rather well in theatres. The film made a lot of money in Japan, however the critical and public reception was generally poor. The hasty nature of the project left audiences unsatisfied, so much so that the studio held off on making another sequel till 1962. Part of this may have been due to the much delayed American release of the film. The American version of the first film came out in 1956, just a year after the rights for distribution were bought, and just two years after the first movie came out. The same group bought the rights for Godzilla Raids Again in 1955, however the American release, a notorious hack job, didn’t come out until 1959. This version imitated the American version of Rodan, but wildly unsuccessfully. It contains an insane level of narration, almost every scene and moment as expositional narration, and most of it was horribly scripted. This version also incorporates a gamut of stock footage, including World War Two images with dots hastily drawn over any visible swastikas. There was also a chunk of poorly recycled dinosaur footage from other films. This Americanization went a long way towards spoiling the overseas image of these movies. That being said they still made money Stateside, surely helping instigate Godzilla’s return in 1962.
The King of Monsters’ hiatus didn’t slow down Eija Tsuburaya or the kaiju genre. These two movies had proved to Toho, and their competition, that movies starring daikaiju were moneymakers. These two back-to-back releases incited the start of a massive wave of kaiju films.