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DIRECTOR: Yoshimitsu Banno RELEASE DATE: July 24, 1971 RATING: PG
CAST: Akira Yamauchi, Hiroyuki Kawase, et al.
// review by Jeff

Godzilla encounters his worst enemy yet: polluted air!

Ah, Godzilla, you're such a wicked icon of heroics. The dinosaur preserved in modern society by atomic radiation (I think) has not always been a saviour to humanity. Back in the 1950s when he was first introduced to the world, he was depicted as a menace upon society, destroying everything in his path with only the notion of total destruction in his peanut brain. But over time, his image has changed substantially from the world's tallest enemy to the world's tallest hero, defender of the people against all the other annoying monsters that seem to show up on a regular basis. (Of course, he later ended up becoming a terror to humanity again around the mid-1980s... including in that funky 1998 Americanized Godzilla film... what a waste!) But Godzilla movies, particularly those from the 1970s that were dubbed for American audiences, are known somewhat for their... um... mediocrity. And on that lovely note, I give you a review of "Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster", also known as "Godzilla vs. Hedorah", or "Gojira tai Hedorâ" in Japanese.

Mankind's excessive tendency to pollute the planet is finally coming back to bite them in the rear end! The monster Hedorah has come from outer space and landed on Earth, feeding on sludge in the oceans and smog in the industrial regions of varied cities (as seen in the film, only in Japan, and it seems that Hedorah is only going around areas near the town where the main characters reside). So Hedorah, gorging itself with yucky pollutants, starts to become larger and larger, and begins taking on other forms to accommodate for its location, whether it be swimming in water, walking on land, or flying through the air! Hedorah is also spraying noxious fumes as it flies overhead, corroding everything in its path and killing people exposed to the gas (or at least making them very ill). Nobody seems to know how to handle it (some people pass the time by dancing to rock music at a bonfire in protest of the pollution caused by man); not even Godzilla can kill this foreign creature. All seems to be lost when Dr. Yano, the great (and now bed-ridden scientist due to an encounter with Hedorah) suggests preparing giant electrodes to dry out the smog monster and defeat it. Unfortunately, the damn thing fails, but Godzilla gets the electrodes functioning with the help of his mighty atomic breath, and Hedorah dries up. Of course, it still tries to escape by flying away, but Godzilla gets the last laugh after he does the same and finishes Hedorah off. The last shot of the film depicts Godzilla walking back to Monster Island as the sun rises.

The premise is indeed ridiculous, but it certainly matches the slightly goofy atmosphere of the film. Even though I have a "digitally remastered" edition of this movie on DVD, the video quality is surprisingly poor. Many scenes are far too scratchy; it's as if I'm watching the original version on a video reel... that's been attacked by people who like scratching film with rusty coins. I suppose all the whispy scratches just add to the campiness of this movie though. But that's not all that seems to be awry here. Primarily, the dubbing is just downright awful, particularly by whoever voices Ken Yano, the little boy in the film. When he's yelling out "Papaaaaaaaaa!" (even though his father is exploring underwater and likely can't hear him being a loud ass), you just want to pull out your trusty earplugs and drown out the nasty wailing. The script's translation is also dull and does not even closely resemble something a normal person would say. The movie's vocalized theme song, "Save The Earth", also feels horribly translated, although it's mildly catchy, particularly when it's sung by a woman in a slinky fish suit. However, this may work slightly in the film's favor, as bad voiceovers and a translation worthy of toilet paper status might mask even poorer acting and script-writing in its native Japanese language. Yet the characters still seem a little lifeless and do not react as one normally would to the horrific events of Hedorah's doing. A prime example is when Hedorah is coming close to Ken Yano (the little know-it-all boy, who far too frequently says "Listen to what I say!"), and actually leaps right over him. Ken doesn't even react with the slightest bit of fear. Instead, he just holds his knife in the air and slices the smog monster a bit (although not much happens as a result). Be afraid, Ken! Be very afraid! He also doesn't show any happiness or sadness or any emotion at all while riding a rollercoaster. Come on! It's a rollercoaster! You should be screaming or smiling (at least until you go upside-down, in which case you would then spew out your internal organs through your mouth).

And then there's some really odd moments in the film that be absolutely mind-boggling to anyone who is taking drugs or is extremely sleep-deprived. First and foremost is the seemingly random scene of the hippie dance club with weird red blobs flicking around on big screens in the background, just like a trippy 1970s music video. This has nothing to do with the matter at hand, except we get to see one supporting character sing that awful tune "Save The Earth" and another supporting character look depressed and drink while everyone else at the club dances up a frenzy. There are also several cartoon sequences that appear at random to show off just what the smog monster is up to, usually swallowing industrial waste (or just really big factories) and then smiling. The cartoons are unusually integrated in the film, and we could live without those.

But seriously, that song is really bad. Here are the lyrics, just to help back up my claim:

Animals, God's animals
Don't go away, don't go
Flowers, my flowers
Don't go away, don't go

The sea has cobalt, it's full of mercury
Too many fumes in our oxygen
All the smog now is choking you and me
Good Lord, where is it gonna end?

Got to get it back, someday
Got to get it back, and soon now
For tomorrow maybe you and me

We're moving, we're moving, moving to the Moon now
It's up to us to make a choice
We know what it's worth to save the Earth
Come raise your voice

Save the Earth! (Save the Earth...)
Save the Earth! (Save the Earth...)
See the evil problem around us
Save the Earth! (Save the Earth...)
Save the Earth! (Save the Earth...)
And the Solution: Stop pollution!
Save the Earth! (Save the Earth...)

Nothing beats a song that mentions cobalt. Now if only there was a reference to boron...

Perhaps the greatest source of wackiness, aside from Ken Yano's inane knowledge base, are the monsters themselves! Hedorah is a creepy-looking fellow; just think of a giant wad of swimming sludge with bright red eyes that can morph into a flying saucer or a walking lizard creature. Yeah, it's that weird. Hedorah is one ugly son-of-a-bishoujo. Hedorah, like Godzilla, still does not really look authentic -- more like a guy in a rubber suit, which is probably accurate. He also has some interesting powers: he can fire lasers from his eyes, and fire sludge balls from pretty much any other orifice on his body. He's a very irritating creature, especially when he goes around poisoning people. Sadly, Ken Yano does not suffer from any toxins.

Equally nutty is the often confused-looking Godzilla in all his glory. He's scaly, he's heavy, and he's... cross-eyed? Yes, that's right, folks. Godzilla, hero to humanity, needs corrective eye surgery. Perhaps Hedorah's laser can help. But perhaps the most intriguing feature of all Godzilla movies occurs right here in this film. Godzilla, apparently, can fly. Yes, with the propulsion assistance of his atomic breath, Godzilla can apparently fly through the air (faster than Hedorah can). This movie marks the only use of this ability of flight, but it makes you wonder why Godzilla walks from Monster Island to Japan instead of just going by flight (and maybe serving a kosher meal in the process). Perhaps the director/writer of this film was the only one bold enough to try having Godzilla do a little air-dashing. (It is rumoured that Godzilla only flies to add some levity to an otherwise dark film.) Director Banno was later told by the producer that he had ruined the series, and could never direct or write for another Godzilla film ever again. There goes the formerly in-progress sequel, "Godzilla vs. Hedorah 2." Seriously. But Banno will direct "Godzilla 3D To The Max", due out in 2009...

The two monsters battle each other on a few separate occasions in this film, but each battle scene is very slow. It's as if the ground is comprised not of dirt, but of some sort of over-sticky caramel alloy, causing the characters to move slowly (and react slowly, for some reason). I find the scenes to be TOO slow at times, causing me to yawn or prepare a cheese platter while I wait for the monsters to figure out what they're going to do next. But when they're not brawling, Hedorah seems to do nothing but cause destruction, and lots of it. He sludges up all sorts of windows, and sets industrial zones ablaze, resulting in hefty fires and even heftier damage costs. I guess insurance doesn't cover "Acts of Smog Monster". Still, it's always nice to see things explode, isn't it?

"Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster" is perhaps one of the few Godzilla movies (if not the only one) that actually tries to deliver a strong moral message to its audience: stop polluting... or a space alien will come and conjoin with the goo! Yes! Beware! However, in spite of all the negatives that I've put forth, I still do not have to think twice before putting the DVD in and watching this movie again. It's one of those "it's so bad, it's amazingly awesome" types of movies. Even if my score says that the movie is skunky, my love of corny films says that you should seek it out anyway and enjoy its Japan-tastic bounty!

P.S. I used the Japanese cover for my review simply because the U.S. version is more difficult to find, AND because... well, look at it! It's awesome!


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