Friday, May 25, 2012

Godzilla versus The Seamonster

I wanted to get a post written today, but it's been one of those days where I can't really make my brain work.  I tried to think of various things I've been meaning to write, and most of them would require more cognition than I can muster.  So Godzilla versus the Sea Monster it is.

I've been wanting to watch this for a while, not really sure why.  Haven't been able to locate my tape.  And it is on tape.  One of the three Godzilla movies I have on prerecorded VHS instead of recorded off of television and full of commercials.  (I think my family did most of our Godzilla viewing via rental when I was young.)

This is not the first time that I've had the urge to watch the movie only to realize that the tape is missing.

First off, there are two versions.  The tape (what I had) is a specifically American edition where the DVD is what's known as the international version and was created by Toho themselves.  The American version is somewhat shorter and has changed the order of some scenes.  It's also generally considered to have better dubbing.  The international version keeps the scenes intact and in their intended order.

I have, for the first time, seen a bit of the international version.  Specifically the beginning of it.  I'm not sure how much of this is that most of my viewing of the American version was as a child, but I found that the international version was a lot easier to follow.  It's not that I found the American version difficult to follow, it's just that I drew some wrong conclusions about it.  (I was filling in the blanks, incorrectly no less, without realizing that's what I was doing.)

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to write about.  What I wanted to write about was how a variety of different stories intertwine in it.  Spoilers abound.  Seriously, if you don't like spoilers buy, rent or borrow the movie now and then come back or something.  Because I'll be spoiling everything.

The first story you meet is that of Yata, the lost fisherman.  His mother goes to a medium who tells her that her son isn't dead because she's scoured the land of the dead and he simply isn't there.  We then switch to Yata's brother Ryota and exactly what he's doing depends on which version you're watching but that's not the point so footnote*.  Ryota will be completely devoted to locating his lost brother at all costs.  That's one story.

Ryota will meet two people who were trying to win a boat in a dance contest, Nita and Ichino.  They're going to get thrown into the middle of things they don't understand as a result of the seemingly simple decision to cheer up a random stranger by taking him to look at boats.

All that they know is that he really wants a boat, so they decide to take him to look at boats.  Not feeling particularly constrained by things like laws and property rights, they take him right onto a boat and have a look around.  There they meet Yoshimura, who claims to be the owner, holds them at gunpoint, threatens to call the police on them, and then ... lets them stay the night.

Yoshimura is a thief.  He singlehandedly stole over 4,000,000 yen (more than 50,000 US dollars which, adjusting for inflation, is apparently about a third of a million in today's money.)  He's hiding out on the boat for the night.  So in addition to the guy looking for his lost brother we've now picked up the robber who is going to become increasingly heroic as the movie goes on.

Ryota steals the ship in the middle of the night, with the other three still on it, considering it a gift of the gods. He's the only one who knows how to run the ship.  And thus the other three have to let him take it where he will.  The international version makes it a lot more explicit that the other three do not appreciate being kidnapped.  The American version, with a few cuts here and there, manages to make it seem like they're more willing to go along for the ride.

Ryota is taking them to the South Seas.  Specifically the two island area, a wonderful vacation spot known for its frequent thunder storms and giant monsters.  Upwind we have what I'm going to call Lobster Island, guarded by a giant lobster and home to an evil paramilitary organization, a giant condor, and even the sleeping Godzilla.  (Who looks an awful lot like cookie monster for this movie.)  Downwind we have Infant Island, home to Mothra, two tiny singing twins, and a population of natives who can easily be kidnapped and put to work by the evil people on the upwind Lobster Island.

A thunder storm and giant lobster will leave our four intrepid adventurers stranded on Lobster Island, the money will be lost with the ship.

We'll soon meet our remaining stories.  First, our adventurers will find an impressively shiny metal sword, which will be our first hint of the natives.  Soon after, they'll catch sight of the evil people's ship and, by looking to see where it makes port, the evil people's base.

The Red Bamboo (their name isn't given in the American version) are a group of evil slave drivers who are making materials for nuclear weapons for an unspecified headquarters elsewhere.  So now we have the story of a bunch of James Bond villains.

Finally, we have the natives being rounded up from their neighboring island and used as slave labor.

I suppose we could add to that some territorial disputes on the part of giant monsters.

The ship that the four saw coming in was carrying a shipment of slaves, some other slaves decided to use the distraction as a way to escape by making a break for a small boat already positioned.  (Don't ask me how they got he boat there, I have no idea.)  A combination of a machine gun emplacement, guards with guns, and a giant lobster make the escape go very badly.

One of the newly arrived slaves makes use of the attempted escape to make her own escape, her name is Dayo, she has a very shiny metal knife†††, and she quickly bumps into the four.  All five of them are soon on the run and end up taking refuge in a Godzilla containing cave.  Godzilla is napping.

A thunderstorm breaks a hole in the top of the cave, Dayo prays to Mothra, it is revealed that Yata is on Infant Island, a plan is made to sneak into the James Bond Villain Base, and then they finally notice that Godzilla is in the cave.

At this point, I think, we have all the major perspectives.  For Ryota this is the story of how he found his brother.  For Nita and Ichino this is the story of, "I'm not even supposed to be here today."  Though I suppose their arc could be learning to fight by using their brains, which I haven't quite gotten to.  For Yoshimura its how he went from not very personable thief to hero who plans to try for an honest living.  (Don't do it, you're cooler as a thief.  Go Leverage.)  For the Red Bamboo it's the story of how their carefully laid plans for, I'm going to say, world domination were foiled by those meddling kids.  For Dayo it's the story of how her people were freed from slavery.  It's also about having faith in one's god, I suppose.  For Godzilla it's about being awakened from a nap to find unfriendly individuals (James Bond Villains, giant lobsters) have moved into his territory.

The movie didn't need so many plots.  Multiple Godzilla movies got by on nothing more than Godzilla in territorial disputes, similarly multiple movies exist where the plot revolves solely around an evil organization trying to get their hands on nuclear weapons.  Basically any one of the things listed above could have carried a whole movie.  It interests me that they were all thrown into the same one.  (And then, apparently, not thought enough since we also have a giant condor thrown in for no apparent reason.)

The focus is so much on the various human stories that Godzilla doesn't wake up until more than half way through the movie and when he does it is as a result of conscious human agency.  But I've gone through the movie chronologically so far, so I'll keep on doing so and get to that when I get to that.

Yoshimura was the one who recognized that a Mothra worshiper would have come from Infant Island, Yoshimura is the one who suggests that they investigate the base, Yoshimura is the one with the skills that will get them inside, basically Yoshumura is a really capable character.  I felt like pointing that out.

Yoshimura suggests that they investigate the base, this will... not necessarially turn out to be the best idea but given that the stated alternative was to do nothing I'll give him points for trying.  Ryoka is immediately in because to get to Yata he needs to get off Lobster Island and he doesn't see a way to do that by sitting in a cave.  Dayo is likewise in because she wants to help her people.  Nita and Ichino don't want to leave, but then they notice Godzilla is in the cave, thus they all go together.

They make a fake bush to hide behind.  Note to self: When I am Evil Overlord my guards will know the position of every bush.  If Great Birnam wood should come to high Dunsinane hill I want them to notice the instant the first bush moves.  If they should hear something and turn the spotlight on a plant that wasn't there yesterday, at the very least there should be investigation, possibly they should just open fire.

There is some discussion about their chances given that they're only weapon is a sword (apparently the one making that claim forgot Dayo has a knife) but Yoshimura says they're going to fight using their brains.

After making a noise Dayo releases a bird which causes the guards to stop being suspicious.  This is, possibly, the single most intentionally useful thing Dayo will do in the entire movie, so it needs to be highlighted.

Yoshimura lockpicks them into the facility, first they find a room with smoke bombs and steal a few, they eventually find a nuclear reactor and conclude that the factory is for making nuclear materials to be used in bombs.  They're caught *smoke bomb* they escape (but are still inside the base), they're noticed being suspicious, they're attacked, Ryota becomes tangled in a balloon and is carried away, Nita tries to come with him but his rope is broken and he's captured.  Ichino, Dayo and Yoshimura escape.  They end up back at the cave while the Red Bamboo carry out a more thorough search of the island, meaning it's only a matter of time before they're discovered.

Ryota drifts downwind to Infant Island, where he's reunited with his brother.  (Who seems surprisingly ignorant of what's going on for someone who has spent months with the natives who speak Japanese just fine and have been spending the vast majority of their time praying that Mothra will wake up and solve the situation.)  Nita is thrown to work with the captured natives where he learns that they're forced to make the mix of special herbs and spices needed to keep the lobster at bay.

The three who remain free think things over, and in the process notice that Godzilla is very definitely alive.  Ichino suggests that they wake Godzilla.  Yoshimura responds in a fully logical way.  He thinks such an idea is nuts.  My temptation to paraphrase him as, "Waking a sleeping giant isn't a goal to be achived," leads into all kinds of thoughts about the symbolic meaning of Godzilla, which I'm just going to throw into a footnote**.  Ichino argues that with Godzilla involved the Red Bamboo won't be looking for them, that Godzilla will not in fact destroy the world, and that Yoshimura said they should use their brains.

So they use the sword as a lightning rod and wire, which Dayo stole from the Red Bamboo base to use as a necklace, to rig it up as a lightning powered Godzilla waking machine.

Nita, also trying to follow Yoshimura's advice to use their brains, comes up with the idea of making fake giant lobster repellent so that the evil people will get eaten.  The natives apparently like this idea.  Unlike Nita they also know how to implement it.

Yata and Ryota head back Lobster Island, having been supplied with giant lobster repellent by the natives of Infant island.  Just as they're arriving a storm finally comes.  The storm washes away their lobster repellent, but it also wakes Godzilla who fights the giant lobster giving Yata and Ryota the distraction necessary to escape.

The Red Bamboo get hit by the fallout of the dragon-lobster fight.  They call in reinforcements.

The next morning Yata and Ryota meet up with the free three, and then Yata immediately runs off intent on rescuing all of the captive natives right now.  As the others try to convince him that, at the very least, they should wait until dark, guards come, a chase ensues, and the Dayo ends up trapped right in front of an attentive Godzilla.  (This is almost certainly a King Kong scene as Godzilla is not known for his interest in individual people.)

I giant Condor attacks.  It is roasted.  The Red Bamboo's entire air force comes.  They meet a similar fate.  Dayo escapes during the confrontation.  Godzilla decides to destroy the base.

While that's going on Yata and Yoshimura run into the base.  Yata intent on saving everyone, Yoshimura following Yata.  Once they get to the base Yoshimura ends up giving directions, and when they get to the people it is Yoshimura who is actually able to contribute to a rescue: he picks one last lock.

The island has a nuclear self destruct mechanism, which is activated.  Two hour timer.  The soldiers run away, but the lobster repellent is fake, so they get eaten.  Godzilla fights the lobster, in the end removing its claws.

The natives build a basket, Mothra finally wakes up and makes the flight from Infant Island to Lobster Island, Godzilla seems unhappy with the moth's presence, the moth knocks Godzilla over, picks up the people (in the basket) and flies away.  The people feel sorry for Godzilla, try to tell him to run.  He doesn't listen (doesn't speak human) but does end up jumping off the island shortly before it goes boom anyway and survives the ordeal.

Yoshimura plans to start over, no longer a criminal.

The end.


If I were making this movie I'd have Godzilla have a different look.  Cookie monster is not a good look for him.  He needs a longer snout.  Also I wouldn't have him sit in front of Dayo the way he does.  If the scene is really necessary, I'd have him curl up on the ground or something.  Think of how a dragon goes to sleep.

Parts of the plot really don't make a lot of sense.  If the natives know that they're making necessary giant lobster repellent, then how did the ones who tried to escape in the beginning possibly think that they had a chance of getting away?  (And where did the boat come from anyway?)  Also, are we really supposed to believe that they never considered making a bad batch of lobster repellent?

Nita's advice to make bad fluid would make more sense if something had changed and he were informing them of that.  They should have considered doing it before, and they should have come to a simple conclusion: if they made a bad batch the soldiers sill on the island would retaliate.  Nita's advice would make more sense if he knew when Mothra was coming back, or at least knew that they'd be able to escape before the fluid was put to use.

Either Ryota's kidnapping of everyone needs to be given more weight, or an explanation needs to be given for why it should have less.  As is Ryota seems like a complete bastard, but the narrative doesn't treat him that way.  Even having him at some point realize, "I wanted to save my brother at any cost, but maybe when I reached the point of kidnapping I should have realized, 'at any cost' isn't a good standard," and then apologize to the others for what he's put them through would be a major improvement.

Ryota's plan hasn't succeeded yet.  He and the others are on their way to Infant Island.  The same Island his brother, Yata, has been stranded on for the past couple months.  He hasn't rescued his brother so much as joined him.  Now maybe the newly awakened Mothra can give them a lift somewhere, but that's in no way made clear in the movie.

For that matter the Red Bamboo are still out there, down an airforce and a base, but their headquarters, as well as wherever they launched the planes from if different, is still out there.  Which is to say that the movie doesn't quite end.  It more leaves an opening for a sequel or some such.

Nita does mountain climbing.  Ichino wants to be a scientist but failed first year courses.  Beyond that I know nothing about these two characters, who aren't even supposed to be here.

One thing that I'd definitely consider doing with those two, which would make Ryota a bit less of a bastard, is to have them actually be his friends and have them be in the contest because they're on board with Ryota's plan to go looking for his brother.  Then what he does to them seems less like completely out of the blue abduction and more like starting the expedition earlier than they expected (and, you know, stealing a boat with the alleged owner still on it.)

Mothra kind of seems like a crappy god.  She's sleeping for the whole movie until the very end when she comes to the rescue.  Which, on the one hand, make her kind of like Odin in Thor, on the other hand Mothra has historically had some much better reasons to not show up than that.  Like not being hatched yet or being in a cocoon.  I think it would work better if the natives spent the whole movie praying to either of those things instead of an adult mothra ready to fly at a moment's notice who seemed instead more content to either:
a) Nap. Or
b) Watch the praying people do their prayer dance.

If Mothra is sitting there thinking, "Yeah, I suppose I could save our people, but first you all have to dance.  Do you hear me, you will DANCE!" it doesn't seem to reflect well on her.

There was probably other stuff, but I'm really tired at this point.


* In the international version Ryota first tries to get an authority figure of some kind to send out a search boat, no luck, and then ends up in a newsroom where he happens to see an ad for an endurance dance contest: last one standing gets a boat.  Which he rushes down to.

In the American version we find out that Ryota has a plan, and immediately cut to the dance contest.  This left me unclear who was who and drawing all the wrong conclusions about what was going on.  Though it looks like if I'd paid more attention to later scenes I would have been able to figure out, but bad first impressions tend to stick with you.

I should probably make a post just about that phenomena, because right now if I want to point to what I've said about it before I have to link to my introductionish thing to Deus Ex and tell you to look at the tangent.

Anyway, the impression I had was that Ryota knew the two people he meets, and one of them winning the contest for the purpose of getting a boat to search for his brother was the plan.  In fact he doesn't know either of them and they don't know why he wants a boat.

** It was only after I thought of that phrase that it occurred to me that, given the historical context of that phrase, perhaps attributing it to someone Japanese isn't a thing to be done lightly.  Then I remembered that the theory goes that, in the earlier movies at least, Godzilla represented the United States (and Ghidorah China, seriously this is a thing) which means that waking Godzilla really would be equivalent to waking the US.  Thus the phrase seems appropriate.

That places the conversation into an interesting context:
Ichino: "Why not wake Godzilla?"
Yoshimura: "Wake Godzilla?  You must be kidding."
Ichino: "No, I think we ought to try."
Ichino: "If Godzilla's awakened, they won't look for us."
Yoshimura: "Wake that monster?"
Ichino: "Why not?  They're secretly building nuclear weapons on this Island.  They're liable to destroy the world, aren't they?"
Yoshimura: "And Godzilla would do that."
Ichino: "No, he wouldn't, I know that."
Yoshimura: "I'm against your idea.  If we awaken Godzilla it'll come after us, the same as it will after all the others on the island."

The Red Bamboo organization is thought to symbolize China, which preformed its first nuclear test a couple of years before the movie was released.  In which case the symbolism seems to be:

"We can't stop China on our own, perhaps we should get the Americans involved."
"The Americans?  You must be kidding.  They're as likely to destroy the world as the Chinese are and they'll come after us along with the rest of Asia."

On the other hand early Godzilla symbolism gave way to later Godzilla symbolism and there's a question of whether or not Godzilla is really symbolizing the US here.  The article that puts forward the idea sees this as the first instance of Godzilla symbolizing something other than the US and it is certainly the case that originally King Kong (a Polynesian thought to symbolize Pacific natural resources that can be tapped by the Japanese) was originally meant to be in Godzilla's place in this movie.

However the interpretations in the article are not beyond dispute, I originally found it by bumping into something disagreeing with its interpretation of Frankenstein.  And in this case I think that the article's interpretation is a bit shaky.  The interpretation would have us believe that Godzilla shifted from symbolizing the US in the movie before this, to symbolizing Japan/the Pacific islands in this one and the one after, then back to symbolizing the US in the one after that, then back to symbolizing Japan/the Pacific islands in the one after.

I don't think that works for a number of reasons.  Chief amoung them being that if Godzilla is Japan then why is Yoshimura afraid Godzilla will destroy the world?  That seems much more like how you'd see a foreign empire.

Also Godzilla's portrayal here fits into a larger pattern that started with ones where Godzilla was thought to symbolize the US.  Godzilla's redemption begins with the introduction of Ghidorah.  Godzilla is still damaging Japan, Godzilla is also more concerned with fighting against his current foe Rodan (thought to represent the USSR***) than face the problem of China==Ghidorah. He and Rodan have both had some problems with humanity==Japan before†.  But Godzilla is eventually talked into it (well, shamed into it, infant Mothra takes on Ghidorah alone) and helps out.

Next movie Godzilla and Rodan are recruited to fight Ghidorah IN SPACE!  But it was all a trap and they're put under mind control and until such time as they're freed from it end up working alongside Ghidorah.  Godzilla isn't precisely on the side of good, he's more looking out for his own interests after he got duped.  Still not the good guy, but no longer the bad guy.  A powerful force that will bite the hand that mind controlled it if the mind control is broken.

So when we come to this movie, where Godzilla is still regarded with suspicion, and still not precisely good (he's not trying to help people, it just works out that way) it seems more like a progression in the existing direction than a shift to brave new symbolism.  Especially given the fact that he's assumed by Yoshimura to be just as likely to destroy the world as China.  Then again, Yoshimura might think that of the Japanese.  He doesn't exactly seem to have much respect for the establishment.

*** This is the one I have the most trouble with.  Rodan is the USSR why?  Godzilla, being a thing that attacked the Japanese at sea before bringing nuclear destruction to a major city had strong connections with the US from the beginning, but Rodan started off as nature unleashed.  The miners dug too deep

† Godzilla had all of his flesh melted off, or more likely that happened to a close relative with the same name††, then Godzilla was encased in ice, then Godzilla was beat up by a monkey working for the humans, then Godzilla was encased in sticky stuff by a couple of giant moth larvae working for the humans.  Rodan was trapped in volcano the humans set off with his lover.  It was believed that they both died but this movie says that, no, Rodan lived.  Still means that his girlfriend was burned to death by lava.

On the metaphorical side, I think we're meant to be thinking about whose side Japan was on in World War II.

†† "No, that was not Godzilla, that was Godzilla. There are 10 of us, all of family Godzilla, each one named Godzilla. Slight differences in how you pronounce. Godzilla, Godzilla, Godzilla.. You are seeing now?"

††† I thought that I mentioned this, but apparently not.  On the one hand, the knife lets us know that maybe that sword did come from a native, which will later be confirmed.  On the other hand, when I think Polynesian islands, I don't really think about that kind of metal working.  I don't think that's a failing on my part, I'm pretty sure I don't think about it because they don't do it there.

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