Gorath (1962)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (3/5)
June 5th, 2004 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Ishiro Honda's last film in his "space opera trilogy," Gorath drops the previous alien invasion plot shared by both The Mysterians (1957) and Battle in Outer Space (1959) in favor of a collapsed star set on a collision course with Earth. The movie, like its two predecessors, is a slightly uneven effort by Honda featuring a slightly ludicrous (though interesting) story, decent pacing, a lack of character development, adequate acting, good special effects work and a second-rate soundtrack.

The film is set in 1982, and opens with the launch of the JX-1 craft into outer space. The ship, originally sent to collect data on Saturn, has its course diverted to investigate the mysterious star Gorath, which appears to be on a collision course with Earth. The JX-1 underestimates the star's mass, however, and is sucked into the star's gravitational field which drags the ship into Gorath, incinerating it. Japan is stunned by the discovery and, after some reluctance, sets up another JX class ship for a voyage to investigate Gorath. Keeping with the theme set by Honda's Battle in Outer Space (1959), the United Nations ban together to discover a solution to the problem, and decide that their only solutions are to either destroy Gorath or move the planet out of the way. After deciding on the latter, the movie takes its predictable ludicrous turn as the plan to move the Earth by constructing giant rockets in the South Pole is put into effect. It's safe to say that a sense of disbelief has to be accepted from here on out, as after fending off a giant walrus, Magma, the operation is a success and the Earth is barely moved out of the way in time. In spite of the rather off the wall ending, Honda manages to evoke some rather genuine moments amongst the space plot; like the scene where the taxi driver, portrayed by Ikio Sawamura, explains, unknowingly, to the people left in charge of preparing the Earth's defense against the collapsed star to stop talking about Gorath as it's all he hears and he's sure that other people will take care of it and save the Earth. It's science fiction, but infused with the humanity and humor that is a trademark of Honda's work in the 1960s.

Gorath's pacing is uneven at best, with parts of the film feeling rather rushed. The beginning is a good example of the rushed nature of the movie as Sonoda's daughter, Kiyo Sonoda, is getting undressed to take a swim in the lake just before being interrupted by her father's ship (JX-1 Hawk) taking off into orbit. Apparently, she wasn't aware of its departure that day, from a nearby launch site, as suddenly the radio turns itself on in Kiyo's car to inform her, and the audience, what is happening. It's some rather early exposition that feels like it might have been added in at the last minute in order to establish the father/daughter connection between Kiyo and her father. Most of the film, though, is well paced with the story moving along at a good rate. Some critics chastise the Maguma segments, though, accusing them of disrupting the pacing of the film; however, personally I feel that the beast adds some much needed tension before Gorath arrives. Regrettably Maguma is very short lived in the film, but at least the creature doesn't make the impending hell which Gorath will release on the Earth anticlimactic.

Unfortunately, Gorath falters when it comes to character development, as Honda tries to work with a large cast of characters but ends up having far too much on his plate for a 90 minute film. By the time the climax finally kicks in the audience won't really give a damn about what happens to the characters of the film as a series of disasters are unleashed on the Earth. Of the sizeable cast of characters the doctor Tazawa, portrayed by Ryo Ikebe, is the most developed. Tazawa's concern about no one else caring about the fate of the Earth, simply bracing for the inevitable, is a nice angle which actually meets a satisfying closure at the end of the film. The other lead, beyond the two poorly developed female antagonists, is the rash astronaut Tatsuo Kanai, portrayed by Akira Kubo, who ends up being rather uninteresting by the films closure. Kanai belongs to the high spirited crew of the JX-2, a carousing bunch that share a lot of qualities with the more comic characters found in Honda's upcoming King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), with everything from group huddles to leaping off and stealing a chopper to take for a ride. The crew as a whole isn't really developed, and obviously intended as background characters with Kanai in the lead spot to overcompensate for this. Regrettably, he is far from likeable while he tries to woe the recently single Kesuke Shinoda, Kumi Mizuno's character, whose previous boyfriend was a crewmember of the JX-1. Kanai shows his "sympathetic side" though when Shinoda doesn't except his gift and he takes a framed picture of her deceased boyfriend from her hands and tosses it out the window. If this scene was intended to make us resent Shinoda for staying dedicated to her dead boyfriend, it failed and actually makes the audience sympathetic toward her and rather resentful of Kanai. Resentful enough, in fact, that when Kanai later contracts amnesia, after staring directly into the flames of Gorath, the viewer doesn't even care. Furthermore, this subplot stretches on to the climax, and its resolution seems almost intrusive amongst the ensuing destruction.

The acting in the film is kind of a mixed bag, but is generally adequate. The standout performance actually belongs to Jun Tazaki, playing Sonoda (captain of the JX-1), when he gives his watery-eyed address to the crew of his ship informing them of their impending doom by the collapsed star. While Ryo Ikebe plays the bland doctor well here, displaying the actor's lack of range, but it fits the character here unlike his role in Battle in Outer Space (1959). Mizuno does a good job with the small role she is given here, injecting it with her usual energetic-ness, but she also gives a somber performance when needed that hints at the range she would later display in Matango (1963). As for Akira Kubo, well, he still needs some work at this point in perfecting his craft, although the character he was given for the film didn't help sell his performance either.

Special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya is arguably at the top of his game here, and does a much better job with the special effects work here than he would on his other entry that same year, King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). Some scenes, like when the ships and helicopters are converging on the South Pole to begin work on the rockets, are done very well here with a nice sense of scope. Granted, the Maguma suit in the film could have been better, but he doesn't get a whole lot of screen time anyway. The blue screen work, like when the JX-2 crew tends to the recovered capsule or when people are fleeing from Maguma, is especially good here. A lot better, in fact, than other later entries such as Son of Godzilla (1967). The climax, a "free-for-all" destruction marathon with tidal waves and earthquakes washing through Japan and the South Pole, is very well crafted for its time and, in fact, wouldn't be outdone in a Toho film for another 11 years by Teruyoshi Nakano's Submersion of Japan (1973).

         The music found in Gorath is kind of second-rate when compared to the riveting scores done by Akira Ifukube for both The Mysterians (1957) and Battle in Outer Space (1959). For Gorath's score a different composer, Kan Ishii, was attached to the project; unfortunately, none of the themes here are too memorable. The "We Are Space Pilots" song is a little irritating at first, although itactually runs for a rather brisk two minutes during the helicopter scene, but it will actually seem like it stretches on forever. However, it's kind of catchy, and can grow on one over time.

Overall, Gorath is an interesting endeavor by Honda, which would be one of the director's last films not to focus on kaiju. In fact, Maguma was added in by request of Tomoyuki Tanaka in an attempt to ensure a better box office haul for the film. The movie, however, only attracted modest attendance figures when compared with Honda's other film later that year: King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962).