ATRAGON (1963)
Director: Inoshiro Honda
Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters

By 1963, Toho Company had firmly established itself as the world’s leader of science fiction epics with such classic monster-on-the-loose films as GOJIRA (GODZILLA) (1954), RODAN (1956), VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (1958), MOTHRA (1961) and KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962). In addition to the giant monster films, Toho executives experimented with other, more offbeat science fiction productions such as THE MYSTERIANS (1957), BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959), GORATH (1962), ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (1963), and this interesting genre fan favorite, ATRAGON. Originally released theatrically in the United States by American International Pictures in 1965, this DVD presentation marks the first official video release in North America and it serves as an excellent follow-up to the other recent Media Blasters DVD releases of Toho science fiction entries (THE MYSTERIANS; VARAN THE UNBELEIVABLE; ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE; DOGORA, THE SPACE MONSTER).

It seems the citizens of the MU Empire are fed up with the death and destruction that has plagued them for centuries. First, the sinking of their land (a la Atlantis) in ancient times and more recently, underground nuclear tests conducted by their on-the-surface neighbors (the United States, the Soviet Union, etc.). Deciding enough is enough, the Empress of Mu (Atsuko Kobayahshi) and her high priest (Eisei Amamoto…Dr. Who in KING KONG ESCAPES) launch and all out attack on the hapless citizens of the world. All the armies of the world prove powerless against this destructive force, so it is up to Captain Jinguchi (Jun Tazaki in an excellent performance) and his super-submarine Atragon to save the day. Jinguchi planned to build Atragon during the closing days of World War II as the ultimate weapon that would insure Japan’s victory. However, agents of the MU Empire attacked Jinguchi and his crew. They narrowly escaped and the sub was built 20 years later on a secret island where Jinguchi hopes to one day unveil his creation “for the glory of Japan.”

The bitter captain’s principles of using Atragon solely for the pride of Japan vs. concern for all nations of the world are put to a test when his daughter (Yoko Fujiyama) and her boyfriend (Tadeo Takashima) are kidnapped by the MU Empire and are about to be sacrificed to the giant MU god, Manda (yes…the same Manda who later appeared in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS and more recently, GODZILLA FINAL WARS). This all leads to a spectacular battle between Atragon and the leaders of the MU Empire.

ATRAGON has stood by many Toho fans as an excellent non-Godzilla entry for its great special effects (most notably the MU attack on Tokyo), a particular rousing score by Akira Ifukubie, and some generally good acting (at least in its original Japanese language) in a well-written and story driven film. Also, the cost-cutting practice of using special effects stock footage from previous films which plagued later Toho efforts is kept to a bare minimum here, as just a couple of minor shots from MOTHRA (1961) and THE MYSTERIANS (1957) are used.

This Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters presentation is another visual treat in keeping with their other Toho releases of 2004. It is presented anamorphically in its original Tohoscope (2.35:1) with a magnificently clear picture and vivid colors. The underwater scenes are much improved even from Toho’s own laserdisc version from the 1990s. These scenes were always impaired with a picture so dark that it was almost impossible to see Manda’s attack on Atragon. The Media Blasters DVD is apparently taken from the same source as Toho’s Japanese DVD. The audio is presented in Japanese (2.0 and 5.1) and English (2.0 and 5.1) with subtitles on the Japanese version. Extras include an audio commentary with special effects artist Koji Kajita and the original 1963 Japanese theatrical trailer. In addition, there is a trailer gallery of other Tokyo Shock titles.

One item of note, however, about the dubbed version as presented on this DVD: it is NOT the same dubbed track done in 1965 by AIP and Titra Sound Corporation in New York. In spite of what of what you may have read on various online fan sites, the English audio track is presented here is the “international version” done by Toho in Hong Kong. It was dubbed in the 1960s utilizing the same voices heard in MATANGO and DOGORA. In fact, actors like Jun Tazaki and Yoko Fujiyama were dubbed by the same voice artists for both DOGORA and ATRAGON.

With the exception of the lack of the AIP dub, Media Blasters’ DVD of ATRAGON is an otherwise excellent release of one of the best and least seen of the golden age of Toho classics. It is highly recommended for all serious genre fans. (Joe Cascio)