A strange alien entity hitchhikes a ride to Earth on a probe being sent to Jupiter. The capsule crash lands in the Pacific Ocean near a remote tropical island where the natives still worship mythical monsters. Fusing with the local wildlife, the alien attacks their village as a giant, walking octopus, and that’s only the start…
Produced over a decade and a half after the triumphant entry onto the world stage of ‘Godzilla, King of the Monsters’ (1954), the close of the 1960s effectively marked the end of the golden age of Japan’s Toho Studios. The Big G was now a kid-friendly defender of the Earth, SFX maestro Eiji Tsuburaya had gone to the big watertank in the sky, and actors would no longer be placed under contract with the organisation. It’s a strange, muted echo of the disintegration of the studio system in Hollywood in the early 1950s. There were also major budgetary problems with this project, with location filming downgraded — twice! – from the studio’s original intention of shooting the film on the island of Guam.
There’s also a second hand feel to much of the story here. Photojournalist Akira Kubo witnesses the space probe hit the silk from the window of a commercial airliner but the authorities don’t believe him. After all, the craft was lost six months earlier. He finds unlikely allies in pretty reporter Atsuko Takahashi and brilliant scientist Dr. Mida (Yoshiro Tsuchiya) who consistently works out exactly what’s happening throughout the film, without the benefit of any evidence whatsoever. The trio make for the island crash site, joined by dubious businessman Kenji Sahara, who is involved somehow in a murky deal to turn the island paradise into a hotel resort. Luckily, this entirely pointless subplot vanishes as soon as the giant space octopus takes a stroll on the beach.
So what about the monster action then? Well, Octo is a superb creation. He walks on his tentacles, screeches like some kind of a bird, and waves his suckers around like a drunk at closing time on a Saturday night. His eyes are mostly glazed too, but, apparently that was down to expiring light bulbs and no money to replace them. But it’s tiring being Octo, so our not-so cuddly ET transforms itself into a huge crab instead, perhaps referencing one of Godzilla’s lesser known opponents, Ebirah, The Sea Monster. After that, it does a somewhat bizarre turn as a prehistoric dinosaur (identified somewhat inaccurately as a Stegosaur) and then finishes proceedings in human form. Bringing the last two monsters back from the dead to fight each other doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, but then I guess the world domination strategy of a mysterious alien entity is far too complex for mere hoomans to understand. It probably looked good in the trailer anyway. Oh, and then the island’s obligatory volcano erupts a bit at a rather convenient moment.
Director lshirõ Honda was the man who brought us the first Godzilla, and many of the iconic lizard’s encounters with Mothra, King Ghidorah and Rodan. He also delivered serveral other ’Kaiju’ and science fiction films for the good folks at Toho, such as ‘Varan,’The Unbelievable’ (1962) and the very interesting ‘Matango, Fungus of Terror’ (1963). But this was his penultimate film, and the ‘giant monster’ formula was wearing a little thin after so many years in play. Still, the action moves at a good pace for the most part, although we do stop for two of the islanders to get married right in the middle of the film!
Honda returned for one last hurrah with ‘Terror of Mechagodzilla’ (1975), but that ended up with the worst box office returns of any of The Big G’s outings in his entire 60 year history, so Honda and Toho gave it up and brought the first cycle of ’Kaiju’ films to an end.
One of the most entertaining aspects for a modern audience of this entry centres on the role of heroine Takahashi. She has only two functions in the film; to act scared and cry out, and to repeat the scientist’s previous comments as a question, so he can then repeat himself again with extra emphasis. ln an inspired creative decision, the producers of the US release decided to have her dubbed by a woman with an Australian accent! This is, of course, absolutely hilarious, but her inflections noticeably diminish after the first half hour or so of the film. Obviously, someone had a word in the recording studio, but didn’t bother getting her to re-dub the earlier scenes! Pure genius.
A minor monster mash this may be, but it’s still essential for aficionados of the genre.