Dogora (1964)

Class: Staff
Author: Miles Imhoff
Score: (2.5/5)
January 14, 2006 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Well, it's certainly different. Dogora is an unusual entry in the kaiju genre, mainly because so little emphasis is actually placed on the title monster in comparison to the human drama. In fact, Dogora almost seems out of place at times, simply tacked on so the film can capitalize as a monster movie. Nevertheless, the human interest is far from boring and the soundtrack is another success for Akira Ifukube. Perhaps it isn't the most lavish sci-fi film, but it certainly isn't worth missing.

As an amorphous alien lifeform annihilated a television satellite above Japan, a similar creature on Earth suddenly thwarted the efforts of a local branch of the International Diamond Robbery Ring. The diamonds they sought vanished, and similar unexplained events continued to occur across the globe. The gangsters thought they were in luck however, for they caught word of a shipment of raw diamonds in Yokohama. The professional thieves took advantage of this ripe opportunity and attempted a heist on an armored car; unfortunately for them, they were fooled and escaped with nothing but candy...

Meanwhile, Inspector Kommei's investigation of these strange events led him to the crystallographer Dr. Munakata. In the process of tracking down the solo “jewel thief” Mark Jackson, the police came to learn of the mysterious events of the armored car heist. A nearby coal truck had begun to lift off the ground by some unknown force and disappear into the atmosphere. The creature from outer space was deemed to be the culprit, an alien beast that drew its energy from carbon. Dr. Munakata, confident in a remarkable scientific discovery, left for the coalmines near northern Kyushu, where it was proposed that the strange being would make its next appearance. Mark Jackson, whose motives were still unclear, also took leave for Kyushu, as the realization was finally made that the candy recovered at the heist was likely his doing. It was probable that he had, in truth, absconded with the true gems. Hamako, one of the gangsters responsible for the failed heist, prepared to double-cross her commrades and retrieve the diamonds for herself.

As Dr. Munakata arrived at Dogora's next likely target, unidentified objects began to show on radar. A swarm of wasps was attacking Dogora in retaliation for the disturbance of their hives in the mines, and as they attacked, solid crystal sections of the monster began to fall to the Earth below. Over Dokaiwan Bay, as night fell, evacuation orders were put into effect as the jellyfish-like monster began to descend from the sky. The self-defense force fired, to no avail. The monster continued to absorb carbon-based materials wherever they could be located, and the abomination even destroyed the Wakato Bridge in the process. The military continued to unleash their artillery at the alien creature, and succeeded in momentarily silencing their foe. Unfortunately, the creature was only undergoing mitosis, and the horror remained...

Noting the crystallizing effects of the wasp venom on Dogora, mass production was soon ordered for the creation of a similar toxin. The gangsters, still desperate for a successful heist, tracked Mark Jackson and Inspector Kommei and almost immediately jumped to the conclusion that Mark had hidden the real diamonds in a safe-deposit box. Hamako left to retrieve the stash, but instead fled solo with the stolen goods. The thieves left Jackson and Kommei tied and doomed to death-by-dynamite, but the two men joined forces and only barely managed to escape.

Meanwhile, Dogora attacked once again, but this time, powerful artificial wasp venom quickly ate away at the creature. The robbers and the police clashed at the beach, and in the heat of a vicious gunfight, the gang was completely wiped out by a falling crystal boulder, once a section of Dogora's extra-terrestrial flesh. The wasp venom finally took full effect, and Dogora was no more...

It was soon discovered that the diamonds Hamako had retrieved from the safe-deposit box were, in fact, synthetic; and Mark had always been on the side of law enforcement. As this truth came to light, Dr. Munakata and his secretary left for the UN to discuss the peaceful potential of the Dogora incident with the world. With the thieves out of the picture and the monster defeated, peace returned to Japan and the whole of Planet Earth.

The writing, while a bit rough around the edges, is still interesting when it pans out. The addition of dialogue suggesting Dogora could potentially move on to digesting humans was an interesting touch, and brought the monster out of the realm of an economic nuissance to an actual danger. Despite this fact, Dogora's nature was never made out to be all that intimidating. Luckily, the movie made up for this flaw in other ways. The use of humor is actually rather amusing, but there is nothing really laugh-out-loud funny. Kommei's numerous blunders, the proclivity of characters to fall for the same shoes-under-the-curtain mistake, and the mildly amusing antics Haruya Kato's character (Sabu) do make for a lighter atmosphere. Even still, suspense is actually managed to a surprising extent. The scene with Kommei and Mark attempting to escape from their predicament in the hotel room does tighten the nerves a tad. Although, anything having to do with the dynamite leads to eye-roll moments. In the final scenes, the question remains: if the dynamite continued to explode only mere moments after impact, what made Kommei think he could successfully throw the explosives back to their source in time (and why was he so successful)? Let's just ignore that however, and return to the hotel scene, which does deserve some applause for acting.

Speaking of which, the actors all do a satisfactory job moving the plot along, considering what little they're given. Robert Dunham fits pretty well into his slightly comical role, and his fluent Japanese greatly helps his performance. In fact, of all the American actors in Toho films, he deserves thumbs up for actually giving a good performance. Yosuke Natsuki is given yet another deadpan lead role, so it isn't too much of a stretch from the norm. Nobuo Nakamura, as the elderly scientist, manages to forge in his role a level of curiosity and dignity not too far removed from Takashi Shimura's performance in Godzilla (1954). Akiko Wakabayashi crafts a sly, seductive, and sinister nature in her performance, adding an excellent antagonistic flare. Hiroshi Koizumi, Yoko Fujiyama, and others such as Hideyo Amamoto are, unfortunately, given little to work with in comparison to the other main actors. It would have been interesting to see them used a little more frequently, or at least it would have been nice to see their respective characters given just a little more development...

On that note, characterization isn't a great strong suit for this film. For example, we know little to nothing about Masayo Kirino except her growing affection for Kommei. Inspector Kommei isn't graced with a great deal of development either. Simply, he's the protagonist... a very flat protagonist. Although, one could say he's a little dynamic, as he is duped less and less as the film progresses. So, in a way, he matures as the plot unfolds (but not too much). Dr. Munakata is a little rounder, in a literary sense, than his fellow characters. He seems to have a Professor Yamane approach to Dogora, believing the monster is a wonder to be studied. Although, deviating from Yamane's approach, he seems not at all repentant about the destruction of this remarkable discovery. As far as the character of Mark Jackson is concerned… well, the movie just doesn't seem to know how to characterize him. This is, of course, intentional. His true purposes are supposed to be a mystery until the very end. Hamako is given a little more motive than her fellow characters, but only to the point where it becomes apparent that she's in it for “number one”. Other than that, there really aren't any other characters with very many discernable traits, or an impressive impact on the plot for that matter.

While perhaps the movie doesn't deserve a huge credit for effects, it is nice to say that the shots are, for what they are, solid and well crafted. The Dogora prop is shot at just the right camera speed, and given just the right movements to give the illusion of an enormous, organic cell hovering above Kitakyushu. Combined with mists and matte effects, the process, though simple in execution, is acceptably realistic. The scenes of coal flying into the atmosphere are also rather well done; however, when large, physical objects are supposed to be lifting into the atmosphere, that is a completely different story. These scenes just scream “strings!” The destruction of the Watako Bridge is a nice illusion, although the rotoscoped Dogora tentacle seems a little unrealistic. Probably the most embarassing shot in the film is that of the robbers' demise. The matting on said scene, where crystallized chunks of Dogora fall on the beach, is just cartoonish. For the most part, and for what few effects shots there were, the filmmakers did manage to pull off some acceptable visuals.

As far as the music is concerned, this movie does do well for itself. Maestro Ifukube brings his style of monster-movie-meets-space-epic to yet another film, and this score is somewhat similar to his work one year later in Invasion of the Astro-Monster (1965). However, this soundtrack as a whole is relatively unmemorable, and there is one theme that plays during the venom-mass-production scene that is actually somewhat grating on the nerves. For the most part, it is still Ifukube's endearing style, which has become almost synonymous with the kaiju movies from this era.

Well, there you have it. There isn't anything that really stands out about this movie. Dogora is a pretty interesting monster in the Toho roster, impervious to most weapons but doomed to die a very strange and inglorious death. The actors tend to do a satisfactory job. The special effects are fairly solid for the era and the music is a plus. In the end, it isn't too entertaining, but well worth seeing at least once.