Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

Class: User
Author: AnguirusGuy
Score: (3/5)
December 21st, 2007 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Terror of Mechagodzilla will always have a special place in my heart as being the first Godzilla… indeed the first Kaiju film I’ve ever seen. It is a decently entertaining film, and it sets itself apart from the rest of the late Showa series by being incredibly dark. The prequel, Godzilla vs.  Mechagodzilla (1974), is drastically more violent than its predecessors, but in dark grit, at least, it doesn’t quite match up to ‘Terror.’ I didn’t want to safely review this film until I had watched the Japanese version, now that I finally have, I can make a few safe assessments.

Ishiro Honda is back to direct the final Godzilla film of his career, and it is somehow fitting the veteran giant creature filmmaker helmed the first and last King of Monsters outings of the Showa saga. The tone of the film seems to be a fitting setting for him to return as director. Despite this however, Mr. Honda’s direction of the film seems rather unmotivated and lackluster. Initially when I was told that the Japanese version was superior to the American version, (make no mistake, it is)…The first thing that came to mind is that American editing was responsible for a film full of what seemed to be strange, erratic and very unpolished scenes in what I assumed was a far more streamlined Honda-shot motion picture. Surprisingly enough, aside from the Americans creating a few abrupt ends to scenes by cutting out subsequent ones that are more violent and less PG, such as the Interpol agent being riddled with bullets, the children being stepped on, and of course, the infamous fake breasts scene… The film is for the most part intentionally shot and edited that way. It was a bit surprising considering the director behind it, and it makes the film seem a bit more unprofessional in comparison to his other works.

The story by Yukiko Takayama (the second female writer to write a Godzilla story and script), is indeed dark and moody. I’m utterly convinced that despite it’s cliché nature in the character department which includes a revenge-seeking mad doctor who was shunned by the scientific community (Akihiko Harata), a the meddling good guy who’s in love with said doctor’s daughter (Katsuhiko Sasaki), the daughter who is torn between loyalties (Tomoko Ai) , the robotic Interpol agents (Katsumasa Uchida, Tadao Nakamaru) and of course the overbearing, maniacal laugh having aliens (Goro Mutsumi, Toru Ibuki) this film could have been one of the best Godzilla films ever made.

Each person in the film has a role to play, and they do so to a bare minimum. None of the performances are over the top good. Everyone seems so uncaring and detached. I wasn’t riveted by a single performance in the film, resulting in little care for any of the characters. Even Ichinose and Katsura’s scene together before she commits suicide left me an emotional blank. The execution up to that point was that poor. I think the most convincing role of the film was the silent butler. The mediocre acting and human direction really fails to bring out the true genius, depth and drama of Takayama’s script, resulting in an on-screen story that is more depressing to have to sit through than the film ends up being.

However, one of the film’s strong points lies in the original composition of legendary Akira Ifukube. While the acting and direction may have been off, Ifukube’s score really works well for whatever part of the film a particular track is partnered with, making the dark and moody atmosphere all the more authentic.

However, one of the film’s strong points lies with the special effects and monster direction of Teruyoshi Nakano. He again takes charge of the effects of this film and does a stellar job. Other than the poorly done matte shots, Nakano excelled in his usage of awesome miniatures and pyrotechnics. What a terrible marvel to behold it was when Mechagodzilla decimated Tokyo. The roto-scoping feast in ‘Terror’ isn’t as well done as it was in Godzilla vs.  Mechagodzilla (1974), but it is exceptional nonetheless. Nakano also had the monsters shot very well for the most part, including exceptional wide panning shots of the monsters squaring off. The designs of the monsters were top notch as well. Godzilla’s design is relatively the same from his past two films body-wise. However, the Kaiju king seems to have gone through a slow transformation of the head from goofy and friendly in Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), to a more serious expression in Godzilla vs.  Mechagodzilla (1974) and in ‘Terror’ we finally see a serious, determined and even angry looking Godzilla that also adds to the tone of the film. Titanosaurus is a breath of fresh air as well. He gives the film it’s only sense of realism in that he is merely a gigantic dinosaur. The suit looks spectacular but it truly shines during his nighttime scenes and gives off a much more menacing aura. Being a fan of tooth and claw fighting, Titanosaurus’ lack of powers and beam weapons made for some awesome hand to hand confrontations with Godzilla that were very enjoyable. Funnily enough, Titanosaurus does most of the interesting dirty work in the film, and steals a considerable amount of spotlight from what is supposed to be the main antagonist, Mechagodzilla. Mechagodzilla’s worn look and more imposing finger arsenal gives him a far more menacing and powerful look than the previous film. Ironically, the cyborg seems to be the weak link in the trio showcased in the movie. We seem to build up nicely during the Tokyo destruction, but during the climactic battle we see nothing but Titanosaurus and Godzilla going at it while Mechagodzilla gets in a few shots. When did he turn into King Ghidorah from Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)? What happened to the domineering and insanely violent Mechagodzilla we saw destroy Anguirus, King Caesar and Godzilla in the previous film? Mechagodzilla was ramming his hand down throats up close as well as blasting things to bits from a distance, he was a scarily dominate war machine. In ’Terror’ he just stands around and fires a beam or two. Perfect robot monster my eye. Now some may argue that the whole idea is that unless his human controller dies, he will continue to fight. And that’d be a frightening thing if the whole premise of it wasn’t wasted during the final fight. It’d be a different story as far as that angle of the film is concerned if Mechagodzilla was beating the tar out of Godzilla half the time, and it would have been a far more dramatic approach both to Katsura’s death and to Godzilla’s win if that were case. Instead we get a very uninspired victory in the face of metallic poses and a few cheap shots. Whether Katsura were alive or dead, I’m not entirely sure how much trouble Godzilla would have really had beating his mechanical double. It didn’t come off as if it’d be much of a challenge in the film, thus burying another major plot point and established character depiction faster than the kaiju fandom buried GODZILLA (1998). While most monster involved scenes were fun to watch, some of the long or random shots of the monsters seemed unnecessary and damaged the flow of the film. An example of this is when Titanosaurus walks through Tokyo, head-a-bobbin’ for what seems like an eternity, just to stop wiggle a little bit and then open his tail.

Terror of Mechagodzilla was indeed and innovational film in a time of cheese and camp, as it tried to return to Godzilla‘s darker roots.  In the end, however, the film seems to come up considerably short of what it was trying to achieve in its plot mostly due to missteps in the execution of the acting, editing and direction. It’s not an atrocious Godzilla film, but it’s far too mediocre to call outstanding. I applaud what they were trying to do however and perhaps the biggest shame of all is getting through the film, even in its original version and realizing how much potential it had that wasn‘t realized.