Since the original Japanese poster for Gorath (1962) features a giant walrus monster, I expected it to appear at some point in the movie. However, unless I slipped into a coma while watching it recently on Comet TV, I never saw it. I mention this with the risk of loss of any credibility whatsoever, because it’s not at all necessary and is only a distraction from what is really a disaster film, not a kaiju film.
In the far future year of 1979, a rocket from Japan’s space fleet, the Hawk, investigates unusual atmospheric conditions and discovers a magnetic disturbance to which they assign the code name, “Gorath.” 37 days later (because in 1979, we’re able to travel from Earth to Saturn in only 37 days), the Hawk visually identifies a fiery ball hurtling on a collision course toward Earth.
At first, they believe it’s 6,000 times the size of Earth, but soon learn their measurements were wrong… It’s half the size of Earth, but 6,000 times the weight! In either case, destruction of Earth darkly looms ahead. It takes the scientists of all nations working together (so, Gorath is also a fantasy) to design two plans to save the world, neither of which is cheap or easy.
Plan A is to destroy Gorath. That sounds perfectly simple, right? Yes, but if that worked, we might not have much of a movie. The problem is that Gorath is growing, feeding on everything it encounters, including inhaling the rings of Saturn. The expedition of another rocket, the Eagle, to stop Gorath ends in a bleak conclusion, “I’m afraid there’s no way to stop it. All we can do is warn Earth.”
Plan B is to move Earth out of Gorath’s path by installing “engines” at the South Pole. If you’re a fan of Space: 1999, the sheer ridiculousness of the plan shouldn’t alarm you. If you’re not, don’t let it alarm you. Don’t give it a second thought so you can enjoy the wonderful wackiness of the movie. Besides, Gorath does attempt to show the natural disasters that might occur if our planet was removed from its orbit.
That’s where the giant walrus monster is supposed to appear, emerging from beneath the South Pole as disaster strikes. It’s an additional threat not needed; I mean, who cares about the annoyance of one monster when either a giant ball of fire is hurtling toward Earth, or Earth is hurtling toward a giant ball of fire, our sun? In fact, I would never have known it existed in the edited version, and I didn’t miss it.
Good characters can make or break a disaster movie, and we have one here that isn’t really either, but leans toward good, or at least sympathetic. Tatsuma Kanai (Akira Kubo) is an eager young cadet astronaut physically affected by his adventure in space on the Eagle. He’s a favorite of the ladies and his condition when he returns to Earth is a subplot you actually care about being resolved.
Otherwise, it’s all about the spectacle, and with a Toho film, you can expect some spectacle. The miniature work is sublime and the special effects impressive. Gorath itself is a visual marvel. You wonder how, in 1962, Toho was able to flawlessly and realistically depict rockets and planets and earthquakes and tsunamis. Many other studios have been unable to do the same, even to this day.
Gorath is a lot of fun, giant walrus monsters or not. You’d expect no less from director Ishiro Honda, who so masterfully manages a story that he believed was too unrealistic. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka supposedly argued that he shouldn’t be concerned about such “details.” He told him that realism wouldn’t make for a good movie. I’ve got to agree with the producer on this one.
Written by Takeshi Kimura
Story by Jojiro Okami
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Starring Ryo Ikebe, Yumi Shirakawa, Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno
Released March 21, 1962 (Japan) RT 88 min.
Home Video Comet TV
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