Cheesy movies are a special joy. Despite an earnest attempt to create compelling stories, filmmakers often miss the mark. Some movies turn out simply mediocre. Others become entertaining in spite of their flaws or authorial intent. And yet others thrive on a tone not easily marketed in Hollywood. They become cheesy. In Your Weekend Cheesy Movie, we’ll examine some of these films for what they get wrong — when they get it wrong — and what they did right in spite of the wishes of the studio or the director.
This week: Godzilla’s Revenge
We don’t really think of Godzilla movies as cheesy these days. To be sure, there was a time when kaiju movies were a staple of local television stations’ cheesy content. But at some point, those stations stopped airing movies altogether and Godzilla became the purview of the connoisseur. His status went up in the world as the original 1954 film became a legitimate classic and mid-1960s films like Godzilla vs. Monster Zero received better home video releases with high quality English language dubs or subtitles. The Heisei and Millennium series films of the late 1980s to the early 2000s also proved the character could still impress Japanese crowds with a turn back toward more serious monster movies — granted, it is difficult to call Godzilla: Final Wars a “serious” film.
The American Godzilla films also changed the perception of the monster and its milieu. The 1998 Matthew Broderick-starring Godzilla was something of a flop, but 2014’s Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards, was successful enough for Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment to plan a whole monster universe around Godzilla, King Kong, Mothra, Rodan and the rest. All of which points to Godzilla moving away from his roots on Channel 13 (Los Angeles’s “very independent” KCOP in the 1980s) and toward a sort of box office respectability.
Nonetheless, there was a time when his films were considered cheesy and none exemplifies this better than Godzilla’s Revenge, this weekend’s cheesy movie. And I’ll be honest up front, this might be the worst Godzilla movie ever made — yes, even worse than the 1998 Godzilla — but it still offers a look into Godzilla’s special brand of cheese as it was once perceived by kids all over the US.
The plot concerns Ichiro Miki (Tomonori Yazaki), a lonely boy growing up in a decaying industrial Japanese town. His father is an engine driver and his mother also works outside the home. Consequently, they often leave Ichiro in the care of their neighbor, a toymaker named Shinpei Inami (Eisei Amamoto), but he spends a lot of time alone dreaming about Godzilla and the other kaiju on Monster Island. It’s good he has a rich fantasy world to retreat to as life is unending series of disappointments. Besides his absentee parents, his walk to school everyday is marked by the taunts and occasional physical threats from a group of taller boys who dislike Ichiro for reasons. Their leader is a particular piece of work named Sanko Gabara (Junichi Ito).
After his most recent run-in with Gabara’s gang, Ichiro dreams about Monster Island, where he sees Godzilla fight three Kamacuras and the sea monster Ebirah. When another Kamacura comes after him, he is rescued by Minilla (pronounced as “Meanya” in the Godzilla’s Revenge dub), the son of Godzilla who also faces the threat of a Gabara; a kaiju with manic eyes and unruly red hair. But this dream is interrupted by Shinpei, who tells him they will be eating dinner together as Ichiro’s mother has to work late again. Despondent, Ichiro plays in a nearby abandoned factory, where he finds the wallet of a bank robber menacing the town. After he leaves to have dinner with Shinpei, the robber and his accomplice plan to kidnap Ichiro.
Ichiro falls asleep and reunites with Minilla in his dreams, but this time Godzilla forces his son to fight Gabara. It’s not an easy task the little monster, who can only blow smoke rings instead of his father’s atomic fire. The bank robbers arrive and kidnap Ichiro, but a subsequent dream sees him and Minilla thinking of a way to defeat Gabara. When he awakens from this last dream, he suddenly has the courage to fight the bank robbers. When the day is saved, Ichiro uses his new found confidence to fight the real Gabara and then bully a man painting a billboard by the railroad tracks.
Yeah, the film’s message kind of gets away from itself.
But if the plot sounds like a very pedestrian Japanese children’s film interspersed with footage from various Godzilla movies, that’s sort of the charm. Or, at least, that would be the charm if Godzilla’s Revenge wasn’t a haphazard, pieced together mess. Though directed by Godzilla movie mainstay Ishiro Honda — director of the original Godzilla — the movie was one of the first in the series to be made on the extreme cheap. As a consequence, it recycles footage from Ebirah: Horror of the Deep, Son of Godzilla, King Kong Escapes, and Destroy All Monsters. The monster footage shot for the film includes the moments when Minilla shrinks down to talk to Ichiro and all of Minilla’s fights with the Gabara monster, but thanks to the extensive use of the older material, the new scenes with Minilla feel like they are from another movie.
And it is no wonder. Godzilla’s Revenge — or Godzilla, Minilla, and Gabara: All Monsters Attack, as it was called in Japan — is a mere 69 minutes with most of that run time devoted to Ichiro’s latch-key existence, his run-ins with the Gabara gang, and his dealings with the bank robbers. To an American child watching this in the late 1980s or early 1990s, it feels like a bait-and-switch. The Monster Island material would be sweet relief except for one key problem: in Godzilla’s Revenge Minilla talks to Ichiro. In English.
Okay, it’s finally time to talk about the dubbing of Godzilla movies. The films made between 1955 and the mid-70s were imported to the States by distributors less interested in maintaining the tone of the films as they were presented in Japan. And while most of the color Godzilla films of the period contain a certain amount of cheese in their own right, these early dubs make the character far more cartoonish than they might otherwise be. They were meant to be cheap time-filler for local TV stations and drive-ins. Maintaining the fidelity of the original actor’s performance in the translation was a tertiary concern. And this is where Godzilla’s Revenge goes from being a cheaply made Godzilla movie to something truly laughable and extremely cheesy. Minilla is given a voice I can only call “dopey.” You almost expect him to say “duuaahhh” at the beginning of every line.
And while the dub can be commended for keeping the original Japanese names of the characters, its attempts to give characters Japanese accents would be a hate crime if it wasn’t so inconsistent. Ichiro, for instance, sometimes sounds like a woman putting on a baby voice, a stereotypical 1970s Japanese accent, and an early version of Hughie, Dewey or Louie from DuckTales depending on the scene. The overall effect makes it hard to empathize with Ichiro’s plight. Instead, the viewer is left understanding why kids pick fights with him and why his parents want nothing to do him. That voice grates. Other voices, while more neutral in accent and presentation, sound like the voice actors just want to get out of the recording booth and down to the bar.
But for a generation of kids watching these movies at home, Ichiro and the other voices were the sound of Godzilla movies. He informed the cheese factor of Godzilla movie marathons because local broadcasters always scheduled Godzilla’s Revenge during peak kid-watching hours. This movie was inescapable; just like Ichiro’s humdrum existence in a rusty factory town.
Beyond the dub, though, there’s something sort of ambitious in the film. While made with its small budget in mind, Honda and scenario writer Shinichi Sekizawa definitely wanted to highlight the emerging distance between hard-working parents and a generation of latch-key kids. Despite Sekizawa’s reputation as a writer of lighter kaiju flicks — and the borrowed scenes from more expensive Godzilla movies — the movie is trying to say something. That message gets lost, though, between the poor English dubbing and Ichiro’s decision to embrace being a brat at the end. Surely, it is meant to be a great punchline, but in Godzilla’s Revenge, it just compounds the cheese.
Godzilla’s Revenge is available for rent on Amazon Video and a handful of other online platforms.
- Riding Into Jotunheim With War Of The Realms Strikeforce: The Land Of Giants #1
- Boom! Studios Rolls Into BookExpo 2019 With R.L. Stine, Lev Grossman, And More