After Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, Toho decided to task Jun Fukuda and his crew with making another Godzilla movie set in the South Pacific. This one would capitalize on the trendy location in a different way. The idea was to set most of the movie on a mysterious island crawling with monsters that would only increase in ferocity as the movie went along. That wouldn’t be the biggest change this movie presented however. Its most remarkable feature is a new character that served as a strange addition to Godzilla’s mythos – the King of Monsters’ son.
Son of Godzilla was as unpleasant a task for Jun Fukuda as every other Godzilla film. The idea to introduce Godzilla’s son was, supposedly, not borne of any particular plan other than a vague desire for novelty. “We wanted to take a new approach. So, we gave Godzilla a child. We thought that it would be a little strange if Godzilla had a daughter, so we instead gave him a son. We focused on the relationship between Godzilla and his son throughout Son of Godzilla.” The rest of the team went to work on a film with this central concept.
The island and resident villains in the film have a distinctly 50s science-fiction feel. The island has a secret scientific base set up and is surrounded by giant bugs, specifically a couple of giant preying mantises. After a radiation related mishap the colossal insects grow, reaching monstrous new heights. These mantises were another Sayusuki Inoue design and, much like Ebirah, were pretty much a literal representation of a real-world creature. Jun Fukuda’s Godzilla period seemed, at least initially, committed to avoiding new kaiju. It’s a strange combination; something doesn’t quite feel right about Godzilla fighting a real creature. There’s a disparity between the actual and mythical fighting.
Even if the mantises seem like a slightly simplistic design decision, they were significantly more complex to execute than a simple suit. Sadamasa Arikawa had to organize groups of twenty people to coordinate the complex prop bugs. There were three wires to each leg, and thirty in total. Each operator had an assigned number to make giving orders easier. There was a similarly complicated giant spider prop that makes its appearance towards the film’s climax. The spider sprayed webs, made by spraying warmed rubber glue from a nozzle. It only shot a short distance and could only be used for close-up shots. Sadamasa Arikawa also put a special amount of effort into the film’s numerous composite shots. He made a conscious effort to communicate a sense of scale, trying to relate the human characters’ size to the kaiju.
One of the film’s stranger details actually revolved around the new Godzilla suit. As always this film required a new Godzilla suit. The MusukoGoji is an unusual looking suit. It has big doughy eyes and a short snout. The idea was to make him look more like his son, named Minilla. The other concern was the scale between Minilla and Godzilla. This meant the MusukoGoji suit had to have a long neck to give it extra height. The crafters also decided to make the whole suit just bigger, which had a rather startling side effect. The suit was too big for Haruo Nakajima to wear, and for the first time he didn’t portray Godzilla. Instead the job was given to Hiroshi Sekita who played Sanda in War of the Gargantuas. It’s a strange absence in a movie perhaps more focused than ever on characterizing Godzilla (Nakajima did don a past suit for the water work). Although, as strange as the MusukoGoji was, it didn’t hold a candle to the Minilla suit and puppet. Minilla grows in size part way through the movie, so there was a puppet for the early scenes and a suit for the latter ones. The first puppet looks…very young. In fact the extremely humanoid shape when combined with the reptilian skin makes the puppet look a little like a spoiled fetus. At the best it exists right on the edge between unsettling and cute. The actual suit fares a bit better. It just had to fit a child and, while the chosen design was still cartoony, its toddler-like characteristics help solve some of the problems of the first puppet. Its effectiveness depends on your tolerance for manipulatively cute characters in a Godzilla movie.
The plot does follow a delightful science-fiction concept. The scientific exploration on the film’s island is actually completely unrelated to the unique flora and fauna. The team is working on a weather controlling system, which proves to be a helpful device before the movie’s through. It also leads to a surprisingly grim image of Godzilla and his son freezing to death right before the credits roll. Of course there’s a line of dialogue establishing the two will merely hibernate, but the shot still looks for all the world like Godzilla surrounded by snow clutching his soon to die son.
The snow is a ploy to defeat the giant spider, because at this point the giant preying mantises have been more or less defeated. The giant spider is awoken, perhaps ironically, by the sympathetic monster Minilla. The preceding plot is mainly built around accidentally irradiating the island’s critters and revealing and hatching Minilla’s eggs. There is a rather rote love interest that takes the form of the island’s lone female inhabitant.
It’s another movie in Godzilla’s filmography that feels a little lacking. With the geniuses and consummate craftsman Toho had prior to this wave gone, the films feel a little empty. You can see the experimentation onscreen, there’s a palpable attempt at honing in how to differentiate this new period while keeping the character of Godzilla compelling and the franchise strong. The movies needed to find their footing in a post Eiji Tsuburaya, post Ishir? Honda world. Jun Fukuda was hardly an inept replacement, but he wasn’t in love with the series the way Toho’s past creatives were.