Gorath. Most present day fans of Japanese fantastic films will, upon reading that title, immediately think of Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) and the hologram-star threat by the insidious Xiliens. For the savvy fans, however, the kaiju culturati if you will, we know that that Gorath was only a reference to Ishiro Honda’s 1962 space epic, Gorath, or, in the original Japanese, Yousei Gorasu (妖星ゴラス note). Gorath is the third and final in a series of space epics all directed by Honda, based off of stories written by Jojiro Okami, who would also go on to write the story for Dogora (1964). The first two films, The Mysterians (1957) and Battle in Outer Space (1959), are both probably remembered more fondly in the States than Gorath, as they have both been rereleased on DVD over here, whereas Gorath only has a couple VHS prints to its name, which relied on Brenco's cinematic edit (apparently further edited down for television). I relied on this video for my review, which astonished me with its overall incompetence in presenting what was already a story with issues.
In the sci-fi world of Gorath, a star (dubbed “Gorath” for no particular reason) is discovered zooming into our solar system, and, much to the alarm of collective humanity, set on a crash course for Earth. Scientists scramble to find a way to avert disaster while an immature astronaut named Tatsuma chases a hot woman, mostly unsuccessfully. As Gorath gets closer, the scientists hatch a last-ditch, nigh-insane plan to save the world—but will it work? And, will stupid Tatsuma get some action?
After writing my last movie review, on Battle in Outer Space (1959), I felt a bit bad about the vicious lashing I gave it. I wanted to give Gorath more grace, but honestly, the Brenco release was considerably worse than Battle in Outer Space. Like with Okami’s other stories, characterization is dull, thin, and more uneven than a broken seesaw, despite Takeshi Kimura’s experienced hand adapting the screenplay. Like with Okami’s previous story undergirding Battle in Outer Space (1959), Gorath has no real central character to speak of, and the characters and relationships that emerge over time seem tossed in haphazardly with no real care or focus.
At the beginning, we have a spaceship flying out to investigate Gorath headed by Captain Sonoda. Sonoda is played by Jun Tazaki, who is better known as “that mustachioed general who is always fighting Godzilla and losing” in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), released that same year. I was excited to see Tazaki as a main character, and he possesses a commanding presence on screen, but he doesn’t survive even half the film; his ship flies too close to Gorath and is sucked in by its powerful gravitational force.
Replacing Sonoda, the character who then gets the most attention is an immature space pilot named Tatsuma (Akira Kubo), who comes across as a rebellious, senseless ninny. He and his equally goofy fellow astronauts-in-training (I guess they just let anyone into the program) chortle their way into yoinking a helicopter for a quick, pointless joyride, and then Tatsuma goes to see the hot babe of his dreams, Takiko (played by the hot babe of many monster fans’ dreams, Kumi Mizuno). After all, Takiko's boyfriend recently died (in the aforementioned tragic space crash), so it’s the perfect kairotic moment to hit on her! Tatsuma shows his great maturity of character and instantly causes all of us in the audience to love him dearly when, after Takiko rebuffs him, he takes the framed picture of her deceased boyfriend and kindly whips it out the window.
Okay, sarcasm deactivated. What were the writers thinking? Tatsuma is practically the main character, and his relationship with Takiko is the most fleshed out in the entire movie—which ain’t saying much, Bub. Are we supposed to hate Tatsuma? Or are we supposed to sympathize when, later, he loses his memory from staring at Gorath too much? (I guess Gorath sucks memories, too.) Takiko apparently forgives the buffoon after his amnesia strikes, and even calls him “darling” in the English dub, but the resolution of their relationship is never explicitly tied up. Thus, I can only hope that Takiko came to her senses and went to find a more suitable mate elsewhere. (A great way to dump the jerk would be for Takiko to find any pictures Tatsuma has of HER lying around, and defenestrating THEM!)
Outside of Tatsuma and Takiko, the rest of the main “characters” are largely encompassed by their job descriptions—the scientist is a scientist and he works hard to save the world, and etc. A delightful scene early on shows a jovial taxi driver who discredits the threat of Gorath, and simply figures that everything will be hunky dory in the end. The scene is amusing, and reveals a particular (and real) habit of humanity to ignore threats they don't understand and just go on living. But the driver is on scene for mere seconds, and then we're back to long scenes of interminable meetings followed by dragging scenes of building construction.
Performances are not so bad in the movie, but with so little of substance to work with, even the best actors in the world could not save this picture. (Come to think of it, Takashi Shimura is in this film, albeit briefly, and he WAS once lauded as the “best actor in the world” by the New York Times.) As mentioned previously, Jun Tazaki made a strong impression on me before burning up in the fires of Gorath. Akira Kubo's take on Tatsuma, I would say, is not so bad—with his boyish face, he certainly looks the part of a childish rogue, although his way of portraying an amnesiac seems to ape Kenji Sahara's from Rodan (1956), minus the freshness. Kumi Mizuno as Takiko lends her physical vivaciousness to the role, and she seems to invest in the character, but there’s just nothing there to work with. Basically, she is in the movie to look sexy in the bubble bath. Curiously enough, Japanese rarely take bubble baths. It is a huge faux pas in Japanese culture to get soap in the bathtub; when I have visited friends in Japan, they tend to remind me of this, and one of my fellow Americans once got in trouble for soaping up in a Japanese tub. Thus, the Mizuno soap bath would seem to be influenced by American or perhaps European films, and would have seemed exotic and strange for a Japanese audience.
The greatest joy of watching Gorath for me was simply in spotting all the familiar Toho regulars, and most of them make appearances. Akira Kubo, Takashi Shimura, Jun Tazaki, and Kumi Mizuno have already been mentioned, but Kenji Sahara also appears, as does Akihiko Hirata, and even Dr. Who himself, Hideyo Amamoto. Of course, for all these actors, I could not hear their real voices. Unfortunately, I had to rely on the dub.
Having watched the film with my friend Sam, who is a voice chaser (someone who actively tries to identify voice actors), I had great fun listening to him yell out “It’s Paul Frees!” over and over again. And if the Wikipedia article is correct, only four voice actors performed all the parts in the film… so Paul Frees was at least a quarter of the cast! Sam also noted that whoever did the dub wasn't paying attention to the parts, as Kenji Sahara is voiced by two different actors, depending on the scene. I thought the dub was actually relatively decent, especially compared to some of the later Godzilla films, but the lack of funding is painfully obvious, and detrimental to the overall presentation of the film.
The other aspect of the audio, of course, is the music, this time provided by Kan Ishii instead of Akira Ifukube, who usually provides the soundtracks for Honda's science fiction movies. Ifukube has the advantage of great skill and memorable music, and the disadvantage of recycling his themes to the point that, to me, many of his soundtracks sound almost the same. Kan Ishii, though, failed to make any deep impact on me. Ishii has included here a variety of instrumental songs, but I simply cannot remember them; the only mental note I took was when Sam said that a particular song felt like stock music that they added to the U.S. version.
But if they added anything to the U.S. version, they took away much more. Although sites like our own Toho Kingdom and others state that the original Japanese version was 89 minutes long and the American version 83, the version on my VHS was merely 77 minutes long, and the editing is some of the worst I have seen since Legend of the Dinosaurs. Due to the fact that I haven’t seen the original, I don't know how much was Honda's fault, and how much was Brenco's, but repeatedly cuts between scenes were abrupt, and at least once even made the dialogue choppy. The most bizarre case of editing schizophrenia has to do with the notorious Maguma sequence, however. Now, everything I have read states that Maguma was edited out of the American version of Gorath. Strictly speaking, that isn’t true. Maguma was just mostly edited out.
Let me give you a little description of how this plays out. In the American version at least, we are shown the base at the South Pole where the world has assembled to try to save everyone. Suddenly there is an earthquake, and we see Maguma’s flipper come smashing into one of the buildings. Then we have an extended sequence in which the military has a shoot out with… something. Again and again we see a flying VTOL shoot a laser, and then we cut to see the rocky landscape shaking in the earthquake, then back to the VTOL shooting, or the pilots yelling "fire." We get the impression that the ship is trying to calm down the earth by shooting lasers at it. Finally the mission succeeds, and the camera pans over a relatively peaceful landscape and shows… a giant dead walrus. Now, Maguma might not have been needed in the film, might have even seemed a bit silly shoehorned in towards the climax, but taking Maguma out, at least in this fashion, only makes the movie ten-fold sillier. And again, as with many decisions made in the production/editing of this movie, I just had to sit back and wonder what they were thinking.
Nevertheless, even without Maguma, there are memorable scenes of special effects magic in the film, thanks to Eiji Tsuburaya in his prime. While the spaceships may look a bit generic now, I'm sure they were much more impressive at the time, and Gorath itself is about as menacing as a star can be, with its pulsing light and dark crimson exterior as it flies directly towards the camera. Some of the scenes of construction at the South Pole come across as cheesy now, but I always maintain that these practical effects have significant charm for fans like me. I just love seeing how the sets are put together with physical bits and pieces.
Tsuburaya saves the best for last, though, with incredible scenes of massive floods rushing through entire cities. The detailed cities look beautiful, and the crushing waves smashing through them make a powerful, even disturbing scene, especially now after the horrible tsunamis that thrashed Japan in 2011. When I saw the news scenes of the mud and waves in the Touhoku area shortly after the tsunami, I couldn’t watch. It was too painful. Tsuburaya’s destruction sequence similarly made my heart skip, and I can't imagine how painful it might be for Japanese who lived through that experience to watch Gorath now.
That said, overall, Gorath is not very memorable. The story is too disjointed, the characters' lives too unimportant, the editing atrocious, the music instantly forgettable. And yet, as I look back on the film now, the themes of the world working together, of sacrifice and loss and achievement against all odds, are somehow touching, even if the movie comes across as naïve and ridiculous. There is a reason most folks have forgotten this movie, and especially the American version. But for the curious, for the especially forgiving sci-fi lover, Gorath still has some light to shine, and perhaps a little hope to share in a world that so often is imperturbably lost in conflict and dismay.
The title is interesting. I could not find the first word in a dictionary, although I did find several homonyms, such as 妖精, which means “elf” or “fairy,” which makes me wonder if there was some kind of play on words going on here, especially as the word meaning “elf” starts with the same kanji (妖) as the movie title. “Yousei” from the title means “calamitous,” “mysterious,” or even “attractive.” The second kanji in the title (星) simply means “star.”