Following the affection I felt toward Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), as I’m sure you all heard on this month’s episode of The Classic Horrors Club Podcast, I was eager to watch its direct sequel, Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975.) While I don’t want to get into a point by point comparison of the two movies, I will say that I did not enjoy this one nearly as much. Overall, it seemed slower and longer, even though its running time is actually a minute shorter.
Terror of Mechagodzilla is the final entry into the original, or “Showa,” Godzilla series, number 15 if you’re counting. After the lovable nonsense of numbers 12 and 13, where Godzilla met Gigan and Megalon, number 14 was a step toward a more serious kaiju. Number 15 is another step, with a presentation that is physically darker. Even the shiny metal of Mechagodzilla, rebuilt after it was previously destroyed, seems dirty. In other words, it looks a lot like other movies made in the mid-70s that attempted a realistic depiction of the era.
On the other hand, this is in some ways a fitting end for the series. Ishiro Honda returned to direct for the first time since All Monsters Attack (1969) and Akira Ifukube returned for the first time since Destroy All Monsters (1968), bringing with him the original “Godzilla March” that hadn’t been used since the very first film, Gojira, in 1954. Their participation makes nice bookends, attempting to finish the series as it began, at least creatively.
For the first time, though, a Godzilla film was written by a woman. Yukiko Takayama’s screenplay for Terror of Mechagodzilla heavily features the female lead, Katsura Mafune (Tomoko Ai.) This character is the daughter of Dr. Shinzo Mafune (Akihiko Hirata), a biologist that holds a grudge against his country because they dismissed his research into mind control of animals, including the dinosaur he discovered, Titanosaurus.
Not only did the aliens returning from Black Hole Planet 3 finance his experiments when Japan wouldn’t, they also saved his daughter’s life. We learn how midway into the story: Katsura is a cyborg. So, the mad doctor feels like he owes them something when they introduce to him something with which to enact his revenge: the new and improved Mechagodzilla. As everyone remembers, including the characters, Godzilla defeated his bionic counterpart. Therefore, the aliens also want to use Shinzo’s mind control methods to create a Titanosaurus team-up.
As you can tell, Terror of Mechagodzilla contains a lot of story. I hate to criticize a movie for too much story, but when it steals time from giant monster action, I’m not above doing just that. Speaking of giant monster action, each film seems to add a little something new to the visual effects. In Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, it was a camera sweeping the distance between the monsters fighting. Here, it’s an angle from the ground looking up between the monsters fast-punching each other. It’s a great affect that adds surprising realism.
Terror of Mechagodzilla is a movie that contains firsts (female nudity, although it’s a prosthetic) and lasts, (Godzilla as hero, until 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars.) I’m not aware what drove Toho to put Godzilla on a nine-year hiatus, although this film was the least attended of the original series. It seems like it was just time for a break. The production is fine; I can find no major flaws. I simply didn’t enjoy it as much as several of the other films in the series. It’s not as much fun.
Written by Yukiko Takayama
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Starring Katsuhiko Sasaki, Tomoko Ai, Akihiko Hirara, Katsumasa Uchida, Goro Mutsumi, Tadao Nakamaru
RT 83 min.
Released March 15, 1975 (Japan), March 1977 (USA)
Home Video Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)