Director: Ishiro Honda
Classic Media

By 1975, Toho Company Ltd. producer Tomoyuki Tanaka announced a “reunion” of sorts for the Godzilla series. After four years of Godzilla films helmed by other directors (Yoshimitu Banno for 1971’s GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER and Jun Fukuda for 1972’s GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, 1973’s GODZILLA VS. MEGALON, and 1974’s GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA), Ishiro Honda returned to the director’s chair for the first time since 1969’s GODZILLA’S REVENGE for 1975’s TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA. In addition, composer of the original Godzilla film, Akira Ifukube, returned on the music end as Richiiro Manabe did the music for GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER and GODZILLA VS. MEGALON and Masaro Sato composed the score for GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA. GODZILLA VS. GIGAN was not officially composed by Mr. Ifukube, but was instead comprised of stock themes by him for previous monster films. Now as part of their Toho Master Collection, Classic Media has released an excellent DVD which features both the Japanese and English versions with beautiful anamorphic transfers and a plethora of extras including the long unseen “prologue” added by Henry G. Saperstein for the film's American television debut in 1978.

It seems that the aliens from “the third planet of the Black Hole” are at it again. After their failed attempt to conquer Earth one year earlier with the use of a robot replica of Godzilla (Mechagodzilla), they have returned with an effort to take over once again. This time they have enlisted the aid of bitter scientist Dr. Shiro Mafune (Akihiko Hirata) and his beautiful, but enigmatic daughter, Katsura (Tokoko Ai, in an excellent and sensitive performance). Dr. Mafune has turned his back on mankind after scientists laughed him out of his profession due to his disastrous experiments regarding the discovery of a huge dinosaur, Titanosaurus. It seems that 15 years earlier, Dr. Mafune was able to develop the means to control the monster, but when his thesis was rejected, he vowed revenge. Allowing the aliens to use his daughter’s body (they revived her after she died in a laboratory accident) to house Mechagodzilla’s brain, Mafune and the aliens begin a systematic assault on Tokyo using Mechagodzilla and Titanosaurus. Only when the cyborg Katsura falls in love with Interpol agent Ichinose (Katsuhiko Sasaki) and makes the ultimate sacrifice for her planet in addition to Godzilla’s battle against the two monsters, is the Earth saved.

After some extremely juvenile and even more extremely cheap films over the last three years (1971-1974), TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA marked at least a partial return to some of the seriousness of the early years. While the last few films (especially GODZILLA VS. GIGAN and GODZILLA VS. MEGALON) were padded with a huge amount of stock footage from the 1960s films, TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA features all new monster footage and a grand score by Akira Ifukube which echoes his somber tunes from the 1954 original. Although the special effects are uneven is some scenes (Eiji Tsuburaya died in 1970) and Akihiko Hirata grossly overacts (in bad old age make-up as well) as Dr. Mafune, the scenes featuring the grand Mechagodzilla are excellent and, with the exception of King Ghidorah, this monster stands out as one Godzilla’s deadliest and most remembered enemies.

As mentioned, Mr. Hirata overacts Dr. Mafune to the point of a comic book which works against the more serious tone of the film. Hirata shows none of the pathos and pity he exhibited as the sullen and doomed Dr. Serizawa in the 1954 original GOJIRA. Katsuhiko Sasaki is handsome and earnest (although a little bland) as Ichinose. Veteran Kenji Sahara appears briefly as a general. The real stand out performance is given by young Tomoko Ai as Katsura Mifune. Her beautiful features and doe-eyed look make her enigmatic, dangerous, likable and pitiable all at the same time. One really feels sorry for her as the victim as well as the villain and her supreme sacrifice at the end (accompanied by Ifukubie’s somber music) has echoes of the doomed Serizawa/Emiko/Ogata love triangle from the original GOJIRA.

Classic Media’s presentation of TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA is on par with their other Godzilla releases in terms of quality and extras. This disc features both the English and Japanese (with optional English subtitles) versions in beautiful and anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1. The colors are vibrant and remarkably clean of blemishes and scratches. On the English version, a 1978 prologue (featuring an inaccurate biography of Godzilla made up of scenes from other UPA Toho releases) added for the film’s television release is presented in 1.85. Once the action proper begins, the film shifts to its proper 2.35:1 scope. Thankfully, Classic Media has the complete American version and not the terrible Bob Conn release which was chopped to shreds. This was the version they used for the 2002 release, but this new 2008 DVD is the way to go in every respect. The audio on both versions is excellent.

In terms of extras, there is a great and informative audio commentary by Keith Aiken and Bob Johnson which rates as one of the best commentaries in this series (second only to the commentary for the first GOJIRA). There is also a well-produced short featurette entitled, "The Women of Godzilla." This informative short illustrates the significant contribution made by the Toho actresses (like Kumi Mizuno, Yumi Shirakawa, Emi and Yumi Ito, etc.) and how much stronger and sexier they were compared to their American counterparts in such similar films made in Hollywood in the 1950s. The original Japanese trailer and an Image Gallery of movie posters round out the extras.

Now that Classic Media has released all their Godzilla titles, the company promises to give us special editions of 1956’s RODAN and 1966’s WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. If they look as good as the Godzilla films, then fans are in for a treat as FINALLY, these titles are getting the DVD respect they deserve. (Joe Cascio)