Finished re-watching this. The best Fukuda film, easily. The characters are better defined then in EBIRAH and Sato's music manages to finally strike a balance between the tropical flavor and the monster movie side of it, with EBIRAH's music swaying a little to far on the side of being a tropical adventure film.
If you asked a much younger me, back when I only had six Godzilla films on VHS, what my favorite human character was, I'd either say Dr. Serizawa (eye patches are cool!) or Goro Maki. "Jumping out of a plane because I smelt a story" is probably the most ridiculous motivation Sekizawa ever cooked up, but Akira Kubo totally sells it. Whether he's playing a grizzled moral anchor in MATANGO or a dopey inventor in MONSTER ZERO, Kubo is always plays his parts with such sincerity and here is no different. He doesn't get enough appreciation, IMO.
Playing the exotic Riko (Saeko?) is Bibari Maeda, who is more or less doing the same part as Kumi Mizuno from EBIRAH, but she lacks the intensity that Mizuno was able to bring to her "Jungle Girl" part and is the weaker of the two, coming off as much to soft IMO, even though her character is given considerably more back story. Riko is probably derived from the "Jungle Girl" archetype, ala "Sheena, Queen of the Jungle". Featuring a vast knowledge of Solgell Island, swift on her feet, deadly with her knife (which sports a leopard print sheath at that!), and is able to communicate with the local fauna (able to call Minya with her strange hand call) her background is very Tarzan-esque and It'd be interesting to hear about how popular "Jungle Adventure" fiction was in Japan at the time.
Dr. Kusumi is played by Tadao Takashima, which is an interesting casting choice. On paper, the character seems tailor made for Tohos token grumpy old man actor Jun Tazaki, or even Akihiko Hirata, who plays instead Dr. Kusumi's level-headed assistant. Takashima's previous Toho fantasy film roles had been almost exclusively as comedy relief (or the vaguely villainous Dr. Kawaji in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD), but this is some really fresh casting and he plays the role of the stern and motivated Dr. Kusumi well.
Special Effects wise, this is some really great work. Lots of really well done matte shots through-out, the brightly colored Solgell Island HQ and weather control towers are all well constructed and interesting to look at. The scenes of the monsters interacting with the human characters are really well composed and exciting sequences.
Monster wise, the Kamacuras are great looking props and despite being basically the same, all three props are given a distinct look, featuring different shaped claws and heads; an appreciated extra little detail. The Godzilla suit looks good everywhere but the head. It's got a lot of bulk, almost Kingoji levels of chunkiness and some nicely shaped dorsal spines but the face is pudgy and stiff, coming off as less expressive then the previously used suit. Minya is effective in looking like a young Godzilla-like creature and his antics are genuinely humorous, but some elements of the head (like the really high eye ridges) look strange.
Kumonga is awesome. Really friggin' awesome. Despite being a basic creature like Ebirah, it has its own unseen mini-mythology like Ghidorah did. The journal of Riko's father mentions Kumonga numerous times and the cave Riko lives in has remains of old webbing around the entrance (a little creepy foreshadowing). Kumonga also inhabits its own part of the island, a shadowy domain with geysers of steam, that it sleeps under until its awakened. Really cool stuff.
The theme of parental roles and the passing on of knowledge runs through out the film; Dr. Kusumi is a patriarchal figure to his team of scientists who look up to him for guidance. He's fiercely determined and dedicated to his goals and seemingly oblivious to the effects his dedication has on his team. Only when he pauses to look over his "family", stricken with fever does he decide to cancel the experiment, only trying for a second time when he sees it as a means to save his team and allow them to escape. Riko's knowledge of the island saves the scientists on a couple of occasions, even her dead father is able to help protect them with information left in his journal. Of course there is the passing on of knowledge between Godzilla and Minya, with Godzilla also accepting his role as a parental figure in the end.
This film is awesome. One of my favorites and the whole Minya thing earns this film way to much flak; it's a shame the finer points of it get over-looked.
“I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.” - Ray Bradbury