Godzilla Raids Again ★★

Part 2 of There Goes Tokyo! Go Go ゴジラ

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I wasn't expecting brilliance, but this was still a pretty big let-down after the original Godzilla. A sloppily (and, presumably, hastily) put-together affair, this film peaks at the halfway point, where the climactic battle between Godzilla and Anguirus (Godzilla's first kaiju nemesis) occurs. From there the film meanders for a bit before returning to life for a rather uninspired finale.

The battle itself is a mixed bag. Already the cheesiness of the later, sillier Godzilla films is evident; the film is sped up for much of the fight, and Godzilla, at one point, strikes a ridiculous "hi-yah!" stance. Yet the moody cinematography and the somber music both feel more like the first film than what's to come.

I was surprised to see Takashi Shimura reprise his role as Dr. Yamane from the first film, though he does very little beyond reiterate what happened in the previous film (Shimura looks very tired here, and one wonders if he was already regretting taking this "paycheck" gig). His presence is the only tie to the first film (beyond an overly long sequence of clips from that film, played in bizarre silence), though the absence of any of the other characters is justified by moving the action from Tokyo to Osaka.

As for our new characters, they're monumentally uninteresting. Perhaps that's how it should be; Godzilla films are metaphors about human folly writ large, and maybe the concerns of individual humans should seem petty by comparison. But Shimura displayed real pathos as Yamane in the first film, concerned both with Godzilla's fate as a unique creature, and almost pathetically desperate to learn Godzilla's secret of survival (a particularly poignant wish in a film made just nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and just two years following U.S. withdrawal from its occupation of Japan). And while the romantic triangle subplot of the first film didn't exactly break the mold, even for '54, it was relatable and gave some sense of personal stakes. Here, though, it's more challenging to give a damn about the human characters. Possibly the quality of the subtitle translation is to blame; this wasn't exactly a Criterion release. But I suspect the script itself is mostly to blame. The two pilots who initially discover this new Godzilla manage to find themselves at the center of everything else that follows, in a series of increasingly unlikely events. By the end the film's not even attempting to justify the presence of these civilian pilots in a military operation. And one character's plot is so poorly handled that when his (inexplicable) demise eventually came, I was a little relieved.

I know perhaps I'm being overly harsh, especially comparing it with a masterpiece like the first Godzilla. Maybe by the time I get to Godzilla 2000 I'll be looking back with fondness towards Godzilla Raids Again. For now, though, it's a film with a few entertaining sequences (Godzilla tossing Anguirus through Osaka Castle is a pretty great moment, and a far-off shot of Osaka burning is hauntingly beautiful), but not enough basic competency in the scriptwriting to call it a real movie.