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Director: Ishiro Honda
Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters

Up until 1965, most Japanese monster films were not official co-productions between Hollywood studios and Japan’s Toho Company Ltd. The usual practice was to buy ready made Japanese films and either add new scenes filmed with American actors in Hollywood (a la GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE, HALF-HUMAN and KING KONG VS. GODZILLA) or drastically re-edit or shorten the films for American consumption and simply dub them into English (a la RODAN, THE MYSTERIANS, GORATH, MOTHRA, BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE and GODZILLA VS. THE THING). In 1965, producer Henry G. Saperstein, creator of United Productions of America (UPA) (owners of such characters as Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing), actively went to Japan to set up his own co-productions with Toho. His plan was to put up half the budget (Toho would provide the other half), provide a recognizable American actor and later make a distribution deal with an American studio to release the films in the United States. The result was the first of several films Saperstein would produce in Japan (FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON) and the first of two films starring Academy Award nominated actor, Nick Adams (the other being 1965’s MONSTER ZERO, also produced by Saperstein). Now, after years and years of wishing and begging and hoping, Media Blasters has finally given this much loved and remembered kaiju classic a proper and definitive release…and believe this reviewer…you are in for the treat of your life!!!

During the closing days of World War II, the still-beating heart of the original Frankenstein’s monster is shipped to Hiroshima via submarine. Once at the clinic, the army scientist (Takashi Shimura) explains his theory that Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments in cell regeneration could be used to replace damaged cells or even restore limbs in the human body. The elderly scientist does not have time to put that theory to the test as the Enola Gay passes over Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945. After the blinding flash of light and flame engulfs the city and ends World War II, it is assumed the heart of Frankenstein is finally destroyed.

Fifteen years later in the rebuilt Hiroshima, American scientist Dr. James Bowen (Nick Adams) is dedicating his life to help those suffering from the lingering effects of radiation. Assisting him are Dr. Seuko Togami (the beautiful Kumi Mizuno) and Dr. Kenichiro Kawaji (Tadeo Takashima). As time passes, there are reports about a strange looking child who has allegedly been killing animals (dogs, rabbits, etc.) and eating them. Eventually, Drs. Bowen and Togami persuade the wild boy to come with them to their hospital where he proceeds to grow at an alarming rate necessitating the need to put him in a large cage. In addition to his growth rate, his facial features begin to resemble the Frankenstein’s monster. Is it possible that the heart has formed into this strange being as a result of being exposed to nuclear radiation or did the boy, orphaned by the nuclear blast, eat the heart of Frankenstein? The film does not make it clear, but it is implied that either scenario is possible. Eventually, Frankenstein (now over 60-feet tall) escapes from the lab and lives off the land in the Japanese Alps. In addition to the mayhem caused by him, mysterious earthquakes release a huge lizard, Baragon, who proceeds to go on its own rampage for which Frankenstein takes the blame. Before long, the two behemoths meet and with a spectacular Eiji Tsuburaya-directed special effects display, do battle.

The idea of a gigantic Frankenstein Monster was not unique to this film. In 1961, Willis H. O’Brien (creator of the 1933 KING KONG) developed an idea for a proposed film entitled KING KONG VS. FRANKENSTEIN. He shopped it around and eventually made a tentative deal with producer John Beck. However, O’Brien was bitterly disappointed when Beck sold the project to Toho and they reworked the concept which finally became KING KONG VS. GODZILLA in 1962. Some of O’Brien’s drawings survived and actually appeared in a June 1966 issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland (ironically the issue which features a cover story on FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD). These drawings depict a combination humanoid/ape-like creature doing battle with the famous ape.

FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON was filmed during the spring of 1965 and released in Japan to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing in August 1965. Its American release was handled by American International Pictures (AIP) in June 1966, where its title was changed to FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD and released on a drive-in double bill with TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD starring Mike Henry and Nancy Kovack. AIP had already released such Toho product as GODZILLA VS. THE THING (1964) and ATRAGON in 1965.

The cast of FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON is loaded with Toho’s top talent. Tadeo Takashima previously appeared in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and ATRAGON and was generally known in Japan as a fine comedian, although he plays this dramatic role here very well. He would later appear in 1967’s SON OF GODZILLA for director Jun Fukada. Takashima’s son would later appear in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993). Kumi Mizuno is absolutely beautiful as the monster’s (and Nick Adams’) love interest. She had already appeared in such genre films as GORATH (1962), ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (1963), and THE LOST WORLD OF SINBAD (1964). She also appeared in Saperstein’s co-production of KAGI NO KAGI (1964) which Woody Allen later re-dubbed into the hilarious WHAT’S UP, TIGER LILY? (1966). Yoshio Tsuchiya appears in a much less flashy role than his other Toho roles like THE MYSTERIANS (1957) and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1960). Toho regulars Jun Tazaki and Kenji Sahara also turn up in small roles.

The casting of Nick Adams was the first time a well-known American actor actually appeared as part of the Japanese production. He was already known in Hollywood having appeared in such classics like REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), MISTER ROBERTS (1955), PICNIC (1955), THE LAST WAGON (1956), TEACHER’S PET (1958), PILLOW TALK (1959), HELL IS FOR HEROES (1962) and TWILIGHT OF HONOR (1963…in which he was nominated for an Academy Award). Adams also spent two seasons as “Johnny Yuma” on ABC’s "the Rebel" (1959-1961). By 1965, his star was already on the dim as he started to accept roles in much less prestigious pictures (by Hollywood standards) usually filmed overseas. These include 1965’s DIE, MONSTER, DIE! co-starring Boris Karloff for AIP and Allied Artists’ YOUNG DILLINGER (1965), a low budget crime thriller filmed in Hollywood. By all accounts, Adams was very happy and enthusiastic to work in Japan and many people connected with these films from Henry G. Saperstein to Yoshio Tsuchiya to Kumi Mizuno have extremely fond memories of the actor. Speaking of Miss Mizuno, there have been long standing rumors that he was in love with the actress and that he actually proposed to her, but she declined because she was already engaged. It was also around this time that Adams divorced his wife, Carol Nugent Adams, so there may be truth to the rumors. Nick Adams died in February 1968 as a result of an overdose, but whether it was a suicide or an accident or murder (as some people assert) is something not 100% known even to this day.

This two-disc Media Blasters presentation is absolutely terrific. Both the Japanese and American versions feature gorgeous anamorphic 2.35:1 transfers with sharp subtitles on the Japanese version and (now sit down for this genre fans)…the ORIGINAL Titra Sound voice track (featuring Nick Adams’ voice) used on the American version. As with so many Toho films released on DVD, the international dubbing is used in place of the American version, however, Media Blasters (gotta love ‘em) went through a painstaking job to restore the AIP print as it was released in 1966. The opening credits feature the original titles complete with the AIP logo, the “James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff Present” card, and the original title card. It looks as though Media Blasters used the Japanese print for the actual film and synched up the English dubbing to that. The audio is in 2.0 mono and in surround sound as well.

In addition to that, this presentation is loaded with extras which up until now, were only featured on the Japanese laserdisc and DVD. This includes an “international version” which features the film (in Japanese with English subtitles) as it was intended to be with the alternate scene in which Frankenstein fights a giant octopus as well as the theatrical Japanese version with the usual ending of Frankenstein and Baragon being swallowed up by an earthquake. There is also an audio commentary by photographer Sadamasa Arikawa who gives a great deal of information about his experience working on this film. The alternate scene with the octopus is also an extra by itself, as is a photo gallery with photos of Eiji Tsuburaya directing Koji Fuhurata (Frankenstein) and Haruo Nakajima (Baragon), as well as lobby cards and posters from around the world publicizing the film. The Japanese trailer is also included, as well as a teaser trailer and previews for other films in Media Blasters’ Toho DVD series (ATRAGON, THE MYSTERIANS, DOGORA, MATANGO, VARAN). In the Japanese trailer, Nick Adams is ballyhooed as “the charm of Hollywood.”

With regard to the aforementioned alternate ending, Henry G. Saperstein had requested that an additional monster be added to fight Frankenstein after the battle with Baragon. As a result, a new ending was shot in which Frankenstein battles a giant octopus. However, after viewing the footage, Saperstein decided that the unconvincing octopus prop was not up to a similar scene in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (in which a live octopus was used) and the scene was eventually dropped by AIP and the film ended with Frankenstein and the dead Baragon being swallowed up by an earthquake. This is a bit of shame because the scene actually plays very well (octopus prop notwithstanding) with Akira Ifukubie’s ominous score in the background and is a great lead-in to the 1966 sequel, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS in which a giant octopus appears in the opening scene to battle Gaira (the green gargantua), an offshoot of this film’s Frankenstein.

All genre fans will want to go out and get this one for their collections. After years of horrible pan and scan TV presentations and low quality bootleg DVDs, it is about time this cult favorite gets a definitive release. Media Blasters also intends to follow this up with a first time DVD release of Toho’s elusive LATITUDE ZERO and if that is anything like this presentation, they’ll have another hit on their hands.
(Joe Cascio)