There was another big number coming down Toho’s pipe shortly after they’d celebrated their anniversary. Their next kaiju film would be the twentieth they had directed, something worthy of celebration. However the celebration was to be a slightly bittersweet one. The rise of television’s popularity, increased budgetary requirements, and lessening financial success prompted Tomoyuki Tanaka to bring the Godzilla franchise to a close. Tomoyuki, who had his hand in producing every Toho monster movie, and many Toho movies from 1945 on, says it was a pertinent time to end the series. He envisioned a massive celebratory final film with an increased budget and massive menagerie. Takeshi Kimura would write it, Ishirō Honda would direct, and Eiji Tsuburaya would supervise the special effects with Sadamasa Arikawa directing (the only wrinkle in an otherwise verbatim reuniting of the original team). The idea was to collect every monster that had appeared in a Godzilla film and gather them together for an epic final film. In the end the series would only undergo a brief abeyance before the true final film of the first wave of the Showa era, however for many fans it would be this film that would actually serve as the first iteration of Godzilla’s send-off.
The film’s plot had to be designed in order to allow for all the intended monsters to appear. The decided upon mechanism was simple – space aliens. Actually that’s a bit of an oversimplification; this film would introduce one of the franchise’s more popular concepts, Monster Island. The concept was that the Japanese government had effectively trapped all the rampaging kaiju on one island. The island in the film is surrounded by a series of defences that adapt to combat whatever kaiju tries to break free. The image of all these monsters imprisoned in one location is so iconic it couldn’t help but strike audiences.
The film was known as The Charge of the Monsters in Japan, but is perhaps better known by its American title, Destroy All Monsters.
The movie’s start is thunderous. It jumps from rocket launches to moon bases to Monster Island in a short period of time, getting a mass of kaiju on the screen with almost unprecedented speed. It doesn’t take long for the film to show us sequences of Rodan fishing for dolphins and kaiju testing the defences. And it doesn’t take long after that for the kaiju to engineer their grand escape. Communications with the island stop, and before long the monsters are attacking various world capitals and iconic structures, starting with the now-tunnelling Gorosauraus in Paris.
The movie has eleven monsters in total, a massive quantity when compared to past films. There was a new Godzilla suit, the SoshingekiGoji. The SoshingekiGoji is one of the best Godzilla suits yet. It manages to be sleek and streamlined without becoming overly humanoid. This combined with a more menacing head than the last few versions lends this particular version of the King of Monsters an animalistic look missing from some of the past films. Minilla reappears in this film. The suit is the same from The Son of Godzilla. There’s a new version of the Anguirus suit in this movie, one that recaptures the look of Godzilla’s earliest nemesis and refines it nicely. The suit was better made, and makes Anguirus a little more heroic looking. Gorosaurus returns, identical to his appearance in King Kong Escapes. There is a new Rodan suit, with a more downturned beak, more prominent crest and wider wings. The puppet Mothra larva is reused throughout the film as well. Shockingly the film draws on Manda, the sea serpent from Atragon, and actually creates a new version of the monster. Manda’s brief original appearance in the submarine heavy film was more inspired by mythical dragons, while in Destroy All Monsters the kaiju is recast as a more snake-like beast. Kumo, the giant spider puppet from Son of Godzilla appears in the film, striking a nice contrast with the Mothra larva. The film features the Baragon suit from Frankenstein vs. Baragon. The suit had to be repainted, and was a darker colour. The head was also so worn that it was remade and slightly altered, making Baragon look a little friendlier. The relatively minor Varan features in the film too, looking pretty similar to his titular appearance. And finally the film brought the wonderful and still undamaged Ghidorah costume back from its past appearances to serve as a villainous foil to the super team of kaiju.
Ghidorah isn’t the film’s chief villain however; instead he’s another pawn of the malevolent alien force orchestrating the events. An ever-smiling human-looking woman from space is found by the scientists on the moon. She’s the representative of a race called the Kilaaks. She can mind-control humans, and reveals that her people have taken control of the kaiju and freed them. They demand that the humans surrender, lest they be destroyed by their previously imprisoned monsters. Gorosuarus attacks Paris, Godzilla terrorizes New York City, Rodan assaults Moscow, Mothra descends upon Beijing, and Manda slithers through London. All of this is designed to distract the world while the Kilaaks set up a hidden fort by Mt. Fuji. They get confident and direct the horde of daikaiju towards Tokyo. The film’s protagonists realize where on the moon the aliens are hiding the mind-control device, and set off to destroy it.
This leads to a vicious gunfight, an unusual action scene for a kaiju movie. The scene sees the protagonists firing upon the aliens while being surrounded by yellow smoke and wearing gas masks. It’s a striking scene. They manage to wrest control back from the aliens and use it to command the kaiju to defend earth. The aliens begin to panic, their plan having essentially been foiled. In a last-ditch effort they call upon their secret weapon, a weapon potentially capable of defeating all the kaiju. They bring the ever-menacing Space Ghidorah to earth and set him against the kaiju.
What follows is a massive eleven kaiju brawl set against the backdrop of Mt. Fuji. It’s a colossal fight, even by the standards of Toho’s best efforts. The quantity of kaiju is well utilized, leading to entertaining moments where King Ghidorah is being attacked on all sides in a variety of interesting ways. Godzilla grabs the dragon’s neck while Gorosaurus kangaroo-kicks the monster’s back. Minilla shoots his smoke rings around Ghidorah’s neck like he’s playing horseshoes. Mothra and Kumo both spray Ghidorah with their web attacks. Anguirus gets picked up and tossed around, Rodan takes to the air… It’s a massive sprawling rumble that stands out as one of the series’ best.
After driving Ghidorah away the aliens attack with their flying saucer, which is taken down by the film’s human protagonists. With the Kilaaks defeated the monsters are returned to their island and the film ends.
While the Gamera series was doing alright the same financial challenges that led Godzilla’s franchise to come to a close had been troubling Daiei too.
Gamera vs. Viras (known in Japan as Destroy All Planets) introduces its different tone right off the bat as Gamera gets a theme song. Sung by Boy Scouts no less. It’s camp and child-friendliness worn as a badge. The theme song transitions to Gamera flying through space when a spaceship shows up. The spaceship is, in typical science-fiction fashion, looking for a planet that resembles theirs, and earth is perfect, as it tends to be. The spaceships are generally spherical yellow objects with black annulations. The aliens inside are simply portrayed through a disembodied voice. The ship freaks out when it sees Gamera, perceiving him as a threat, which turns out to be accurate as the turtle easily defeats the ships.
This movie has Kôjirô Hongô reappear. He was the protagonist in Gamera vs. Barugon and Gamera vs. Gyaos. First he was a pilot turned Indiana Jones style adventurer, then he was a construction worker. Now he’s a Scout Leader. He’s introduced along with the film’s protagonists – two young Boy Scouts, one in a different uniform, apparently on loan from the States. They’re pranksters off committing hijinks while they’re meant to be on the beach with the other Boy Scouts. They creep through a research station and reverse the controls on a submarine as a prank.
It’s about this time where the camp starts increasing. The American boy is swiftly introduced as an expert with a lasso. In truth this child was included at the insistence of the American International Television’s representatives. As Noriaki Yuasa recalls:
AIP’s representative had seen all of the Gamera films, and said that he didn’t think much of the performances of the Americans in GAMERA. He also said that if we wanted to have success distributing Gamera movies in foreign markets, we should put American boys in them. So, a member of the International Division went to the American military bases in Japan and interviewed some of the children of the soldiers. I then conducted final interviews, and made a selection.
Turns out the Boy Scouts are getting rides in the submarine, but the driver gets kind of freaked out by the reversed controls and cancels the trip. The two tricksters demand they be given a try. The kids drive the submarine while the film ominously reveals the spaceship watches from space.
This allows the first real use of recycled footage in a kaiju movie to start. The low budget for the Gamera movies meant that they would routinely shoehorn in excuses to use clips from past movies to pad the runtime and insert some more action. In this case the reason is that the aliens are watching video explaining Gamera’s history on earth. It’s a thinly veiled excuse to reuse ten minutes of past footage and start a dangerous kaiju trend.
The children pilot the submarine underwater when Gamera shows up. They race him and do tricks where they like pilot the sub under his legs and stuff. This movie is where Gamera really starts to get cartoony and aimed at kids, despite the series always favouring a slightly more graphic combat style than Eiji Tsuburaya’s films. In fact Tsuburaya was decidedly opposed to the less child friendly, bloody combat in the Gamera films. In this film Gamera has pretty much transitioned from a danger to a child-loving hero. He looks pleased and friendly, like a puppy, when he races the kids.
Yuasa had thought purposefully about this dichotomy:
Before production on Destroy All Planets got underway, I and the other members of the production staff decided to make the Gamera films children’s movies. That’s why we started focusing on the relationship between Gamera and children.
I did not want to portray the monsters anthropomorphically, and showing bloodshed was one way of avoiding that. I knew that it was shocking at times, but it helped make the monsters seem like animals instead of people.
One day, I ran into a girl in a park who had a message for me from Mr. Tsuburaya. He said that I shouldn’t show bloodshed in the Gamera films. I didn’t respond because I had not received the message directly from Mr. Tsuburaya.
So they’re hanging out and getting chummy when the spaceship launches its Super Catch Ray. It’s a circle of translucent fabric used as a forcefield special effect. Gamera suffers through the pain of the ray to let the kids out. They go back to the surface and no one believes what they just saw. The spaceship is visible in no time, forever proving the kids right. Gamera pops out of the water towards the ship, which has formulated a plan. They fire the Super Catch Ray again, this time at the Boy Scouts. The ship slurps them up and holds them hostage, leveraging agreeable behaviour from Gamera.
The aliens get Gamera to approach the ship and then stick him with a mind control thing. Now a fully fledged kaiju trope.
They command Gamera to attack Japan. Then we see ten minutes of Gamera attacking Japan. However the film recycles footage yet again, using black and white footage from the first Gamera film rather than spending any more money on original special effects. Unfortunately that means the film only actually musters one hour of original footage, and the entire rest of its runtime is cribbed from past films.
We then see the kids attempting to escape their prison in the spaceship. The ship is being run by these completely human looking aliens with occasionally glowing yellow eyes. Turns out the spaceship is powered by telepathy. The kids keep trying to find ways to dupe the telepathic controls into helping them escape, or giving them tools to help their escape. However the computer system is smarter than them. They stumble across this caged tentacle monster and consider freeing it then they decide against it.
The kids lie in wait for one of the humanoid aliens to walk by. The American kid uses his lasso to grab one of the alien’s arms. It shoots off, exposing bone and blood in an unusually visceral bit of gore that stands out in the kid-friendly kaiju film. The flying severed arm pushes the kid aside and reattaches to the alien’s stump. It’s so over the top and campy it actually ends up being endearing.
The kids get strapped to a wall for their efforts, at which point one of their friends on earth contacts them using their wrist communicators. So they get a motivational speech from a relative through a wristwatch and manage to use the lasso to escape their restraints. After a lot of sabotage and the kids running around the ship the kaiju portion of the film returns.
So the spaceship crashes and the aliens emerge and the tentacle monster, revealed to be named Viras and the actual boss of the ship, pops out. Like a lot of Gamera’s early foes Viras has never reappeared outside of clips and a brief cameo in an episode of the children’s show Franklin. Viras is basically a teuthidous alien trying to disguise his bipedal nature, however the costume manages this better than most past attempts. He has two prominent foot tentacles and a handful of other tentacles hanging off his body. The tentacles at the top of his beaked torso/head are shorter and assemble into a sharp spike. It’s not an unusual monster design, but it is unlike any other past kaiju. He decapitates the human-looking aliens, little tentacle monsters pop out, apparently having been controlling the human forms, then Viras absorbs them to grow in size.
Then where the budget went becomes apparent.
The tentacle attacks look good, the aerial stuff is invigorating, the underwater stuff is better than average. It’s legitimately cool, and shockingly exciting coming on the heels of the rest of this movie. Gamera gets brutally injured, again differentiating this film from most kaiju efforts. Gamera flies Viras into the upper atmosphere, lets him freeze, then drops him back down ending the fight and the movie.
The movie did well enough to incrementally increase the budget on the next few films. The child centric style of the Gamera films had started putting the series’ profits above those of the competition’s.
Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters
Bringing Godzilla Down to Size