Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)

Class: User
Author: Paul Sell
Score: (4/5)
December 16th, 2010 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep is different from any other Godzilla film, but in a good and noteworthy way. Rather than effects and monster fights, this film is more laid back and focuses mostly on the characters and story, to create a Godzilla film that you won't soon forget. The film also has several elements that give it a re-watchability that is unlike any other film in the franchise, such as comedy and an atmospheric score. It may not be Destroy All Monsters (1968) or Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), but this film knows what it wants to be, and does not fail at providing solid entertainment.

A ship is destroyed in the South Seas, and the 23 crewmen onboard are presumed dead, including a fisherman named Yata. Two months later, Yata's brother, Ryota, believes Yata is still alive and tries everything to find him, even after the government has given up their search. Ryota begins searching on his own, but needs a boat to do so. He goes to a dance competition, where the prize is a luxury yacht, but is three days too late. Ryota meets up with two of the dancers, Ichino and Nita, and they drive down to the beach. They soon find the Yahlen, a yacht ready to sail across the pacific, and decide to board it. After examining it, they meet with Yoshimura, whom is later revealed to be a burglar, hiding on the boat. Yoshimura sees no harm in letting the three of them spend the night on the boat, so he lowers his toy rifle and goes back to sleep. However, when they all wake up in the morning, the Yahlen has been launched. Ryota tells the others that in the middle of the night, he set the yacht out and is now heading South, towards the last known location of his brother. Ichino, Nita and Yoshimura have no choice but to go along, as they don't know how to operate the boat.

Days later, they come across a large storm, and lose the mast and helm. Suddenly, a giant claw rises out of the ocean and destroys the Yahlen with one strike, just as the four of them abandon ship. They wake up the next morning on Devil's Island, and begin to search. What they find is the Red Bamboo, a secret terrorist organization. They also discover the organization is using Devil's Island as a heavy water plant. To make matters worse, an incoming boat unloads natives from Infant Island, and begins to use them as slaves. The Red Bamboo force the natives to make a yellow liquid, which allows ships to pass through the surrounding waters unharmed by the giant lobster guarding the island, Ebirah. When four natives try to escape, another native, Dayo, goes off in the opposite direction. She eventually runs into Ryota and the group, where they quickly befriend one another, just as the Red Bamboo catch up. They all climb to the top of the island to evade the terrorists, and eventually find a cave to hide in.

While in the cave, Dayo calls to Mothra, the protector of Infant Island. It doesn't work, as Mothra cannot hear her. Dayo reveals that Yata is on Infant Island, and Ryota wants to leave immediately. However, because of the Red Bamboo and Ebirah, there is no way off the island. Just as all hope seems lost, Nita finds something within the cave that could be their ticket off the island: a sleeping Godzilla. The group sets a plan in motion to save the captured people of Infant Island and reunite Ryota and Yata. To make sure that the Red Bamboo and Ebirah don't interfere, Yoshimura, Dayo and Ichino awaken Godzilla. As time runs out, options grow thin, and they soon realize that the only way to get everyone off the island is with the help of Mothra...

For the acting performances, there are a few solid ones, but others that just get the job done. The performance that sticks out is Akira Takarada as Yoshimura, who appears to be rough and always in charge, but loves doing his job, as he smiles throughout everything. When Yoshimura is introduced on the yacht, Takarada enjoys people finding him, because that's when he can work best. Another note worthy role is Kumi Mizuno as Dayo, the Infant Island native, which is greatly different from other roles that she has done, especially in the Godzilla series. While she looks beautiful in her island native attire, you can tell that she is trying her best to bring something to the performance. Before she meets with Ryota and the group for the first time, there is a certain ferocity in her eyes, much like a lion about to pounce. However, outside of Takarada and Mizuno, no other performances stick out above the others. That doesn't mean that they're bad or mediocre, but that they did what was needed to be done and stuck with it. This is best shown in Toru Watanabe's performance as Ryota. Toru keeps the same blank and vague expression throughout most of the film, because Ryota knows what he wants, and will not stop until he gets it. Ryota will not be satisfied until he finds Yata, so his performance makes sense, even if Toru offers little. Chotaro Togin and Hideo Sunazuka's performances as Ichino and Nita, respectively, are standard comic relief, and do a good job for what their characters were meant for, especially Sunazuka, whose face is always hilarious to look at. Toru Ibuki as Yata does what needs to be done, and seems like the kind of guy who would get stranded on far away island and put other people ahead of himself, even if it means not thinking things through.

The characters have some interesting aspects to them, which make these guys one of the main highlights of the film. Yoshimura is the brains behind the main characters, and being the one to get everyone to follow him. Even though he's a hardened criminal who robbed a bank of four million yen, Yoshimura becomes the character to root for as the film progresses. As previously mentioned, Ryota is bland, but his heart is in the right place, even if it means that he has to drag along three people to find his brother. One of the weirdest characters is Yata, who will rush into a dangerous situation without thinking ahead, which leads to a few hilarious situations, such as running right at Godzilla to save the Infant Island natives. Ichino and Nita provide some decent comedy, even if all the characters offer up some amusing lines or moments. They work off of one another, and seem to make each other better people. Dayo comes across as a bit dense, such as stopping to pick up some wire she likes while evading the Red Bamboo, but is willing to help out her people and friends. As for the villains, they don't really do all the much except chase the good guys and do evil things, like capture the Infant Island natives and make nuclear weapons. Every character has a different function for the story, and offers something to make the film whole, which is often rare in a daikaiju film.

Speaking of daikaiju, now would be a good time to mention how they're used throughout the film. Ebirah's design looks like how a giant lobster would appear, but doesn't always move like one, such as when he's throwing rocks at Godzilla or rushing towards Godzilla, above water, right before the final confrontation. The Mothra prop looks old and worn down, especially in the wings, but is used well throughout, appearing majestic and intelligent, such as how quickly she dispatches Godzilla. The Giant Condor is ridiculous to say the least, but moves and looks like an actual condor, so there isn't much to complain about. Finally, there's Godzilla, who feels like the same creature from the previous Godzilla film, Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965). Not only is this the same suit from that film, but is also in a stage where the filmmakers were trying to decide if he should be a city-destroying behemoth or a child-friendly superhero. Both of which come through during this film, such as when he destroys the Red Bamboo's base like it was just another city, as well as being attacked by their jets, but also protecting Dayo from the Giant Condor. The part of Godzilla was originally written for King Kong, but was changed to Godzilla when Toho thought it would be more profitable if it were it's own individual film instead. It really shows throughout the film that it was meant to be King Kong, such as watching over Dayo and behaving more like hero than a monster. Overall, the use of the monsters throughout the film is mixed, such as the realistic use of Ebirah and Mothra, but it seems like Godzilla can't make up his mind if he wants to protect the world or destroy it.

Masaru Sato's score is different from the traditional Godzilla score, yet is atmospheric and effective. Unlike most of Akira Ifukube's scores, which are typically the same amazing pieces of music used several times, the music in Ebirah, Horror of the Deep doesn't tend to repeat itself and feels fresh throughout the film. Music during the jungle scenes add to the overall feeling of the location, and while in the Red Bamboo base, the music is suspenseful and dramatic, which gives off a sense of urgency during the sequence. There is one hilarious bit, where Godzilla is being attacked by the Red Bamboo's jets, and the music sounds like something you would hear on a California beach in the late 60s, which always makes me laugh since I'd never except to hear that kind of music during that attack, or at all in a Godzilla film.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is something that becomes noticeable upon multiple viewings: a theme of rebellion. Almost every character in the film is rebelling towards some group, people or society. Ryota does not listen to what the government has to say about his brother, and ends up stealing a boat to prove that Yata is alive. Yoshimura is a burglar, rebelling against society's belief of a standard job and life. Dayo rebells against the Red Bamboo to escape, and even the Red Bamboo themselves are rebels against the world. This could be attributed to the cultural movement in Japan at the time, as by the late 60s, the counter culture began to rebel. This can be fascinating to watch and examine, because themes like this are seldom seen in daikaiju films.

However, there is one part of the film that is distracting, also upon multiple viewings, and that is how coincidental many of the actions and events throughout the film are. Such as how the Red Bamboo happen to be stealing natives from an island that has a giant moth as a protector, or that the Red Bamboo decided to put one of their bases on the same island where Godzilla is sleeping. Even Ryota and the group washing up on the same island as the Red Bamboo is a great coincidence. The biggest one of all is that when Ryota accidentally goes up with a “spy” balloon, it just so happens to take him directly to Infant Island, the exact place where he wanted to be. Most of these events fall under plot convenience, as without each of them, the story would fall apart, so while the coincidence of the events do raise questions, it's also forgivable.

The last thing worth mentioning is the use of comedy. Typically, there is little comedy in daikaiju films, and for good reason. It either takes away from the monster action, or fails miserably. Comedy works for Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, because the monsters are not the main focus of the film, its the human main characters, as it is with most Jun Fukuda Godzilla films. The characters in the film work off of each other so well, that simple reactions and expressions are hysterical. After Ryota reveals that he launched the boat in the middle of the night, he says that coming on this boat was essentially a gift from above. The others tell him to turn the boat around, and Ryota says that he cannot return such a gift. What sells that line is the blank and emotionless expression on Ryota's face as he delivers the line. A joke that is noticeable to Godzilla fans is the eye patch on the Red Bamboo captain, Yamoto, played by Akihiko Hirata, who also played Doctor Serizawa in Godzilla (1954), and wore an eye patch, but on the opposite eye of Yamoto. This leads to a great joke after Dayo escapes, and the Red Bamboo commander yells at Yamoto, asking him if he's going blind. The comedy doesn't always work, such as Yoshimura and Ichino joking about the other sounding like a politician, but at least it attempts to try comedy in a daikaiju film and succeeds several times in making some good jokes.

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep is an interesting ride from beginning to end. Unlike most Godzilla films made before this one, the characters and story are the main attraction, with the monsters taking a back seat. With strong performances from Akira Takarada and Kumi Mizuno, among others, it propels these characters to icons of the late 60s Godzilla films. While the monsters aren't amusing as the characters, Godzilla and Ebirah provide some decent fights. What gives the film its re-watchability is the theme of rebellion and how each character acts around rebellion. For Jun Fukuda's first Godzilla film, he creates one of the more memorable films of the franchise, and one of my personal favorites.