Directed by Motoyoshi Oda. 1955. Japan.

GOJIRA took a drubbing from Japanese critics when it was released in November of 1954, but that did not stop it from becoming one of the year’s most profitable films. A sequel was set in motion almost immediately after release. Returning would be screenwriter Takeo Murata (again working from an original story by popular science fiction author Shigeru Kayama), producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, special effects artist Eiji Tsuburaya, and actor Takashi Shimura, albeit in a much smaller role. GOJIRA director Ishiro Honda was unavailable, already months into working on a drama titled LOVE TIDE. Also missing was composer Akira Ifukube. Replacing Honda was Motoyoshi Oda, a director who had recently finished shooting an adaptation of THE INVISIBLE MAN for Toho. Replacing Ifukube was Masaru Sato, a composer quickly rising in stature at the time. There was only one other important piece of the puzzle missing: time. The production schedule for the film would be almost unbearably brief and the sacrifices made to see that it was released quickly and on budget are all readily apparent on the screen. GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN was released in April of 1955, a scant six months after the groundbreaking original.

As usual for movie sequels, GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN aims to be a grander film than the original. In one way, it is and in another, it isn’t. While out scouting the ocean for schools of fish, two pilots, Tsukioka and Kobayashi, discover Godzilla fighting a large, spiked dinosaur on a deserted island. During the fight, the monsters tumble into the sea. Returning to land, the pilots share their story. We learn that the other monster is a prehistoric ankylosaurus called Anguirus (or Angilas depending on the translation). Fearing the same devastation that Godzilla brought to Tokyo, the military of Osaka decide to enforce a city-wide blackout. Thinking that bright lights are what attract Godzilla, the military will use flares to draw the beast away from the city.

Unfortunately, a group of prisoners on route to another part of Osaka decide to escape under the cover of the blackout. In the ensuing chase between cops and robbers, a few of the criminals steal a gasoline truck but end up crashing it. The truck explodes and Godzilla, seeing the flames, comes ashore. As Godzilla makes landfall, Anguirus rises out of the ocean and the two monsters battle it out, destroying much of the city in the progress. After defeating Anguirus, Godzilla makes his way back to the ocean.

Days go by without any sign of Godzilla. Tsukioka and Kobayashi, along with the rest of the employees of a tuna cannery that was destroyed by Godzilla, relocate to the colder, southern waters. While out on a patrol, they spot Godzilla on a snow-covered island. Seeing a chance, the military mobilizes, launching an all-out assault on Godzilla.

In synopsis form, GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN would look to be everything the original film was and more. But the film feels much narrower in scope. Instead of fearing for the lives of an entire city, we are focusing solely on a small group of individuals: the two pilots, Tsukioka and Kobayashi, and the owner of a tuna cannery and his daughter, who also just happens to be Tsukioka’s love interest. In other words, the fate of a city and millions of lives has been replaced with the fate of a tuna cannery and millions of dollars. While the devastation of Osaka (the films stand-in for Nagasaki) is intense and as starkly captured here as the devastation of Tokyo in GOJIRA, this change of focus from an attack against a people to an attack on the livelihood of a handful of people makes GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN feel less effective. It is missing that dark tone, that feeling of life changing horror that the original film had. Honda never shied away from showing us the horrors of the attack or its grim aftermath. We could feel the weight of the losses. Here, all we are supposed to care about is a single tuna cannery. The dead go unnoticed.

The film is also littered with scenes of people standing around, sitting around, joking around, reading from books, talking about this, talking about that, all these little scenes that don’t add up to much of anything. Several actions scenes are padded out with repeating shots. All of this marks the film as too rushed in its production. However, the monster battles are all impressive, easily the best moments in the film. The Godzilla suit was redesigned and slimmed down to allow for more movement. The design of Anguirus is impressive and choreography of the fights is stellar. But the technique is off. In the original GOJIRA, Tsuburaya’s team filmed Godzilla in high speed frame rates of 72 frames per second. In this film, three cameras were utilized for the battles between Godzilla and Anguirus but the frame rate isn’t constant between them. As a result, the monsters often move at varying speeds between cuts. One moment they feel massive and the next they’re slapping at each other like extras from an old Keystone Cops comedy. Still, these battle scenes are the best bits of the film and launched a tradition that the franchise would follow through the next 26 installments.

Like GOJIRA, the film was re-edited for American audiences. Released under the title GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER, the American version stripped away much of the human drama, replacing the scenes with stock footage and bits of older science fiction films like UNKNOWN ISLAND. Before the re-edit was set in motion, producers Henry Rybnick and Edward Barrison planned on stripping absolutely everything out of the film except for Godzilla and Anguirus. They would shoot an entirely new film around whatever footage was left and release the whole thing as THE VOLCANO MONSTERS. Production problems quickly shut down the project so Rybnick and Barrison went ahead with a simple re-edit. They tried hard to separate the film from its predecessor, even going so far as swapping the roars of the monsters. GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER was dumped into theaters by Warner Brothers on a double bill with TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE then promptly vanished. It didn’t leave the same mark as the American version of the original.