Ah, Terror of Mechagodzilla.
It took me years to realize, but this is a
fairly competent film. I used to criticize
this film for not being on par with Ishiro
Honda's earlier efforts, seeing it as
an unfitting way to end his career. Indeed,
the crisis that the Japanese film industry
had suffered in the '70s leaves its claw marks
on the production. This doesn't quite harm
the movie however, as we'll soon see why.
The eminent Dr. Mafune (Akihiko
Hirata) was outlawed by the world of science
when he made public his discovery of a gigantic
sea monster, Titanosaurus. To make matters
worse, the doctor's daughter Katsura (Tomoko
Ai) was killed during an experiment that attempted
to control said monster. But the viciously
cunning Spacemen of the Third Planet managed
to pull her back from the dead as a cyborg.
Grateful for their intervention, both father
and daughter joined the aliens in their world
domination agenda; as they employed the combined
forces of Mechagodzilla and Titanosaurus,
eager to take revenge on humanity.
The first thing one might wonder,
is how this film compares to Godzilla
vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). This surely
is a tough call. The former movie was joy
for its campy atmosphere and energetic rhythm,
whereas Terror prefers to be a bleaker
affair, emphasizing on the progressing destruction
of a family and how this would ultimately
decide the outcome of the monster battle.
That is not to say the film is devoid of action,
though it's clear Godzilla
vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) set out
to be a more exciting film that this one.
Regardless, Terror of Mechagodzilla
ends up being the better film, since a serious
Godzilla movie is a luxury not many films
in the franchise have often enjoyed.
But what can be said about
the characters. For starters, our protagonist
Ichinose (Katsuhiko Sasaki) doesn't undergo
that much of a journey as a character; in
fact his actions barely affect the plot at
all. Case in point: most of the time he gets
captured by the aliens only to be saved by
his friend Murakoshi (Katsumasa Uchida), who
in turn does all the hard work (and investigation!)
for him. Katsura is the real star here, as
is usual for women in Honda's movies. Dr.
Mafune falls into the mad scientist stereotype,
sadly (complete with a ridiculous wig and
“mad scientist glasses“!). His
character does show subtlety when Katsura's
fate begins to be foreshadowed. As villains
however, the alien leaders (Goro Mutsumi and
Toru Ibuki) end up becoming overly cheesy,
distracting us from the otherwise serious
Acting holds up fairly well;
our two leads give credible performances (though
Ai's reactions to being shot or electrocuted
(this happens a lot in the movie) are quite
over the top). Hirata is as respectful as
usual, yet the nature of his character doesn't
allow him to break any grounds with his performance.
I would like to take a moment and discuss
Ikio Sawamura, one of Honda's regulars, which
for some reason is often overlooked. He is
perhaps better known for playing the fisherman
The Three-Headed Monster (1964).
Here he is Dr. Mafune's mute butler/spy, keeping
track of Katsura's movements. This was one
of Honda's most versatile actors, and it's
a shame how few people care to mention him.
But of course, this wouldn't
be a complete review if I didn't touch on
the film's central characters: the monsters.
It's no secret that Titanosaurus has collected
a number of fans over the years. His design
isn’t that original but is
more in tune with the monsters in Toho’s
early kaiju movies. The creature is easily
one of the most powerful monsters in Toho's
repertory too. While the strength of most
monsters in the Godzilla series that followed
could only be measured by which of them had
the shiniest beam, Titanosaurus is a natural
born fighter. Impressive in its tactics, relentless
in his brutality; this is a worthy opponent
for the King of the Monsters. An interesting
aspect that is brought up in the movie is
that Titanosaurus is in fact a peaceful creature
who only generates destruction while controlled
by external forces; this makes his demise
all the more sad.
Mechagodzilla, despite being
a robot, is given personality in his first
2 movies. This is even more explicit in this
film, where his brain is installed in Katsura's
body, thus linking her persona to the monster.
His weaponry is as impressive as in the previous
film, with the new addition being the "Revolving
missiles! Mechagodzilla's new weapon!"
that are fired at things with noteworthy results.
The only real problem with
this monstrous cast is Godzilla himself. It's
true his role as a pure protagonist is depicted
properly, but overall he doesn't experience
any significant changes in his arc. This is
hurt further by the fact this was the final
film in the Showa timeline. The last film
in this series to bring up a new aspect of
the character was Godzilla
vs. Hedorah (1971), a film that defined
Godzilla as a force of nature. Here in his
last film, the monster is drawn to the battles
and exits without giving us a hint that this
The tight production does wreck
havoc on some aspects of the film. There are
moments of awkward editing. The most aberrant
of these occurs when Murakoshi is chasing
Katsura and the butler; the 2 abruptly disappear
from one shot before it ends. When the aliens
first appear, instead of seeing them in costumes
and in their spaceship/base, they're just
wearing business suits while they discuss
their plans in a hotel room! This problem
luckily doesn't extend to the special effects
department. Here Nakano rejoices with fantastic
pyrotechnics and rotoscoping (Mechagodzilla's
ray looks really sharp). The monster suits
look sharp and detailed, though the matte
shots could have done with some extra work.
Ifukube's music is a solid work. Our 2
monster villains are given effectively moody
themes (though Titanosaurus' theme resembles
the main title for Rodan
(1956)). Godzilla's theme from the first film
returns, providing the epic tone Ifukube is
known for. But the cue that really stands
out for me would be Katsura's theme, for the
drama it creates. The "Even though you're
a cyborg, Katsura I still love you!"
scene definitely benefits a lot from the music.
It's sad that for years most
people have only seen the US theatrical cut,
which hacked up the film to remove brief instances
of violence and nudity that were seen as too
intense for children (despite the fact that
Jaws (1975) had pulled several kids
to the theater even when it was more violent
than any Godzilla film could hope to be...).
Luckily the film has been made available in
its uncut version and the elusive UPA cut
which featured an outlandish prologue scene
that attempted to explain Godzilla's history
through clips of Invasion
of Astro-Monster (1965) and All
Monsters Attack (1969). Overall,
Terror of Mechagodzilla deserves
credit, and shouldn't be as overlooked as
it often is among fans.