While the Godzilla franchise, beginning with the poetically tragic original, has never cowered away from an on the nose metaphor, particularly concerning a nuclear weapons armistice, perhaps it has never become so blatant as in the seventies offering Godzilla vs Hedorah aka The Smog Monster. This particular film within the movie film franchise is quite psychedelic and indicative of so many of the films being released in Japan during the decade, including some of my personal favorites, House and Jigoku. As has been the case with so many of my hard to find Japanese films, dubbing proves inavoidable, and it is rarely decently executed. With this particular dubbing it is hard to tell if the kid is being dubbed by an actual child or a woman doing her best young boy voice, not to mention the greatest trait about dubbing Godzilla movies in particular, the fact that the speakers will use their normal voices for every word except Godzilla, in which they try their best to sound Asian, a task that always fails. Of course, this is a post-production issue that should not lead me to judge the film harshly and I certainly will not, especially since it is easily my favorite film in the franchise next to the original, which will always be untouchable in my book. The mixture of ant-beatnik malaise, experimental psychedelic costuming and setting and the somewhat unsuspecting incorporation of animation allow for a film that is both extremely watchable and equally unusual. Godzilla vs The Smog Monster has a considerable amount of educational documentary style moments throughout, which pair interestingly with the chaos of the fight scenes between Godzilla and Hedora, so much so that if it were not for the incredibly adult scenes of promiscuity in the night clubs it would be easy to claim this as a children's film. I know that Godzilla has become a thing of obscurity to many American filmgoers, particularly considering the less than stellar American version from 1998, however, it is the brilliance of these occasional masterpieces such as Godzilla vs The Smog Monster that remind me of the possibilities for the franchise in the future, hell look at what Daniel Craig did for James Bond...we can only hope similar things happen with The King of All Monsters.
This particular incarnation of a Gojira offering, situates itself in Japan in the early seventies, one that is noticeably industrialized and crowded. A young boy is shown, living on the coastline of Tokyo, along with his marine biologist dad, of course, their relationship noticeably strained as the young boy is seeks solace in his action figures of Godzilla and other monsters. It is not until the marine life around their ocean house begins to deteriorate that they come in contact with some mysterious sludge overtaking the ocean. It is revealed that the sludge consumes Earth's pollution as a means to grow, quickly expanding to insurmountable proportions, slithering and consuming everything in its path, including the drug-fueled hippy kids dancing in clubs. Of course the great and now well-loved Godzilla appears to aid the people of Tokyo, however, even his strength and poise proves lacking at the seemingly unstoppable Hedorah, causing him to flee from their initial bout. Initially befuddled as to how to challenge this nearly unbeatable monster, the doctor considers the effects trying out the monster would have, particularly considering that it appears to thrive off of being somewhat sludgelike, and while the technology initially fails due to the eruptive nature of Godzilla and Hedorah's battle, Godzilla eventually uses his ray gun powers to engergize the beam thus drying out Hedorah and making it easier to defeat. After succesfully destroying The Smog Monster, Godzilla uses some sort of bowel induce rocket fire to fly off into the distance, of course we are left to wonder if humanity has learned from yet another of their erroneous mistakes...considering the sequels it appears as though they have yet to learn.
One of the major components and personal loves I have for the Godzilla franchise is the director's and writer's willingness to make a social/environmental commentary that is obnoxiously on the nose. When it is embrace I have no problem with this, especially in relation to such an consistent franchise. However, when this fails it is nearly unbearable, refer to Birdemic if you do not believe. However, what is more brilliant about the Godzilla franchise is the concern for human suffering and unification. Often taking a backseat to the battles and explosions of these action heavy films, rarely are the tragedies of human life ignored. The narratives filling the gaps between building crumbling are always excellent microcosms of the human existence, made literal by their relative diminutiveness compared to the monsters of the title. This is certainly true within Godzilla vs The Smog Monster as we are given an incredibly earnest and heartfelt study of a man attempting to salvage a relationship with his son, one who is able to see the tragedy of human destruction and demands the initial acknowledgement of Hedorah, despite the dismissive voices of his father, and other parental figures. The closing scenes of the son and father uniting in celebration of the defeat of Hedorah provide a sweet climax to what seems like a nearly impossible rekindling of past tragedies. No longer do we expect the child to take refuge in his toys and slides, but that given the grander scale of human destruction witnessed the two will cherish their time together. Also, the film seems really anti-hippy/youth culture, but that is an entirely different critique altogether.
Key Scene: The moment when Godzilla ray blasts himself into the sky is too bad ass not to take revelry in, it is an awesome moment within a philosophically and emotionally heavy movie.
I would say buy this movie immediately, but its ticket price is a bit hefty, hopefully, a impending Godzilla movie will help many of these long overlooked classics to reemerge. Until then find a copy in any way you may...even if it means watching it online.