Saturday, June 30, 2018

Tohope And Change - Terror Of Mechagodzilla!

Ishiro Honda and his collaborators Eji Tsubaraya and Akira Kukube worked to create most of the wonderful kaiju movies of the Showa period. Other directors had stepped in from time to time and other technical men had taken over for Tsubaraya after his death in early 70's. (Godzilla Vs. Hedorah was very different and very good for instance.) Honda himself had walked away for a break. But he stepped up one final time to officially bring the first era of Godzilla to a close with the movie The Terror of Mechagodzilla. It's not the greatest Godzilla movie by any means, but it's a wonderful upgrade from its immediate predecessor Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla which had presented the Earth again under threat from aliens who use monsters to gain advantage and are defeated by Godzilla and his monster allies. But the film is just a vehicle for monster fights despite some wonderful views of Japanese mythic lore. In the next part of the story directed by Honda we get to see what the early movie might have been and we bid farewell to Godzilla with some real panache. The movie didn't make much money, in fact it's listed as the least in that sense of all the many Godzilla flicks, but it's still a humdinger for all of that.

The key to the story is that we once again begin to care about well-drawn characters who must make extreme sacrifices to save the world. Once again Honda gives us a story which tugs at our heartstrings even as the monsters are roaming the landscape tearing up everything in sight and beyond. In the days of the Six Million Dollar Man, we meet a cyborg girl who has been rebuilt by her father, a mad scientist driven to extremes by the death of his wife and his own hand in the death of his daughter. Aliens give her back to him but with changes which allow her to connect to an enormous monster named Titanosaurus. Later she gains control over Mechagodzilla itself. Through all of this though she slowly falls in love with our hero and for him and the sake of the world she ends the threat. It's a tragedy pure and simple and just so happens to have some monsters plodding around to boot.

And that wraps my coverage of the Showa period of the Godzilla movies. This was as indicated, the final one. The series went into hibernation until 1984 when it was dusted off and the original story was rebooted with a slightly bigger and substantially meaner Godzilla. The myriad monsters introduced over the years were forgotten (for the moment) and it was a new age for Godzilla. Ironically it occurs to me, Superman was undergoing something rather similar during the decade, a complete makeover that removed the old continuity leaving room for new growth.

But during the Showa period the man behind the monster was Ishiro Honda who directed most of the big lizard's cinematic appearances. Honda's utopian vision of a world in which mankind could work in harmony to fend of threats such as giant monsters or deadly aliens spoke to a hope that the better nature of man could be stoked. Sadly we live in times were are lesser angels are called upon much more often, so it was nice to revisit the fictional world of Honda who had a more generous and uplifting notion of what people could do at their best. His world view is missed.

No more to come -- at least for a while.

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