Thursday, 30 April 2020

Horror Express: Series Intro.

No real explanations needed here I hope, but in case anyone was disappointed to discover that I’m not publishing an extended series of posts dedicated to everyone’s favourite ‘Cushing & Lee meet Telly Savalas and fight zombie Cossacks on the Trans-Siberian Express’ epic, I thought I’d best just drop a quick note to clarify that, as a way of getting back into the habit of writing about movies during these inevitably lifestyle-altering times, I’m planning to start posting a bunch of short(ish), self-contained reviews of horror (and adjacent genre) films – much like I do in October. I will stick these under the series title ‘Horror Express’, and perhaps eventually rope in a load of old posts under that heading too, in order to tidy up the links in the sidebar a bit. Exciting stuff, right? I’ll be getting underway tomorrow anyway, aiming at one or two posts a week.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Stuff to look at:
Imiri Sakabashira.

It’s been an age since I’ve done any posts focussed on art or design here, but given that I’ve not really had any time to write about movies during the past few weeks (believe it or not), here for your viewing pleasure are scans of a set of postcards which until recently were pinned up in my kitchen. (I’ve temporarily taken them down to facilitate some much-needed lockdown re-painting.)

These are the work of underground cartoonist and manga creator Imiri Sakabashira, a somewhat mysterious figure (to us English speakers at least) whose work first saw publication in 1989. About the only other biographical info I can find is that he was born in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1964. His gekiga manga The Box Man was published in translation by Drawn & Quarterly in 2010.

I bought these postcards from the Taco Ché underground culture/zine shop in Nakano, Tokyo a couple of years ago, and, as can be plainly observed, their combination of naturalistic urban street scenes, pseudo-Lovecraftian kaiju / yokai monstrosities and retro/pop art iconography is guaranteed to blow your (or at least, my) mind, anytime.

More of Sakabashira’s art can be seen via this 2009 post from the much missed Tokyo Scum Brigade blog, which also informs us that the artist is “..a prominent ero-guro artist from the avante-garde manga magazine Garo[sic] and “..a big name in the underground manga scene”.

I also nabbed the following doozy of a jpg from a Pinterest page.

In conclusion: rock on Imiri. This stuff is amazing.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Nobuhiko Ôbayashi

As a belated tribute to director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, who passed away last week, here are a set of screengrabs taken, not from his astounding debut feature ‘House’ (1977), but from 1981’s lesser known (in the West at least) ‘Nerawareta Gakuen’ (variously translated as ‘School in the Cross-Hairs’ or ‘The Aimed School’).

Whilst I’m not currently well placed to present much of an overview of Ôbayashi’s wider life and work, these two films alone see him carving out an aesthetic for himself which remains completely unique, mixing unashamedly mainstream (and distinctly female-focused) teen / pop narratives with extreme and disorientating avant garde visual techniques, flung together in a hyperactive and self-parodic fashion that sometimes borders on complete sensory overload.

At the risk of stating the obvious, there is something specifically Japanese about the delirious tonal disjuncture of Ôbayashi’s work which remains difficult for us Western viewers to really get our heads around, even four decades later. Although ‘House’ has (understandably) gained a pretty substantial cult following off the back of its sheer WTF factor (personally, I’ll never forget having my mind shredded to pieces when I watched a now deleted youtube video of the film’s climax, sans context, about ten years ago), it’s worth remembering that both ‘House’ and ‘School..’ were big commercial hits in Japan, and that Obayashi has continued working more-or-less within the country’s cultural mainstream right up to the present day.

From an outsider’s perspective at least, the influence of this aesthetic upon a whole a swathe of subsequent Japanese cinema – from the hyper-obnoxious ‘punk cinema’ of Sogo Ishii, to the lighter/zanier moments in the canons of Miike and Sono, to the work of directors like Tetsuya Nakashima (‘Kamikaze Girls’ (2004)) - seems self-evident.

Of course there are over forty other movies by Ôbayashi which must necessarily go unmentioned here, simply because for the most part they’ve proved pretty difficult to track down with English sub-titles. I do however have a couple of bootlegs lined up (including his 1977 adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s ‘Black Jack’, staring Jô Shishido no less), so perhaps we’ll be able to return to some of those here at some point in the future? For now though – yet another R.I.P. to add to 2020’s grim tally.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Noir Diary # 9:
Phantom Lady
(Robert Siodmak, 1944)

Before he went on to establish himself as one of the directors most closely associated with the ‘noir’ aesthetic via ‘The Killers’ (1946), ‘Criss-Cross’ (1948) and ‘Cry of the City’ (1949), German émigré Robert Siodmak’s first dip in dark waters of the retrospectively defined genre slipped out fairly quietly from Universal’s cash-strapped war-time production line in January 1944, lost in the shuffle to some extent, even as it managed to beat such first wave Film Noir landmarks as Wilder’s Double Indemnity, Preminger’s ‘Laura’ and Dmytryk’s ‘Murder, My Sweet’ to the screen by a few months.

Though ‘Phantom Lady’ stands as quintessential Film Noir in terms of its maniacal, pulpy tone, pungent urban atmospherics and brooding cinematography, it is nonetheless easy to see why it has been somewhat overlooked by critics and academics in comparison to those aforementioned, textbook-ready trendsetters. Despite the fact that its story originally emerged from the none-more-noir typewriter of Cornell Woolrich, this one is an odd duck in the line-up, to say the least.

With no femme fatale figure, no doomed ruminations on masculine guilt and no spectre of implacable fate hanging darkly over its characters, those who insist on defining the genre purely in terms of its story elements and underlying thematics will likely have a hard time explaining why ‘Phantom Lady’ even is noir, even as the film’s overall ‘feel’ screams it to the rafters.

In terms of its script in fact, this is really more of an audience-friendly mystery/suspense joint, despite traces of the characteristic pessimism underlying Woolrich’s plotting. In trying to account for this, we’re perhaps best to zero straight in on the contribution of associate producer Joan Harrison, a key collaborator of Alfred Hitchcock throughout the 1930s who followed him to Hollywood, overseeing the scripts for his early American films and gaining a coveted co-writing credit on several of them.

At this point in her career, Harrison had managed to negotiate her own contract as a producer for Universal, and ‘Phantom Lady’ became her first project in this capacity. Most sources seem to agree that it was Harrison was primarily responsible for adapting Woolrich’s book for the screen (despite the on-screen credit going to Bernard C. Schoenfeld), and if we view the film with the Hitchcock connection in mind, then, BINGO, everything falls into place.

Basically, ‘Phantom Lady’ splits protagonist duties between a sympathetic ‘wrong man’ (New York architect Scott Henderson, played by Alan Curtis) racing to prove himself innocent of his wife’s murder, and his loyal ‘girl Friday’ secretary (Carol ‘Kansas’ Richman, played by the striking Ella Raines), who continues sleuthing around trying to clear her boss’s name after he’s been sent down by the judge, going to increasingly extreme lengths to try to locate the titular “phantom lady” in whose company Henderson insists he spent the evening of the murder. Chief clue, or dare we say, ‘macguffin’: the ostentatious, one-of-a-kind hat the lady in question was wearing at the time.

In a quote-unquote ‘true’ noir, this set-up would soon have veered toward the dark side of the street. If not murder, Henderson would sure as hell be guilty of something – a ruined shell of man, tormented by the shadow of his implied infidelities and marital cruelty, likely as not – whilst Richman, for her part, would almost certainly have been coded as having an affair with her boss before Mrs Henderson kicked the bucket, casting heavy shade on the purity of her own motives.

None of this is explored here however, as Raines’ character keeps her infatuation with blame-free nice guy Mr Henderson primly under wraps until it can be safely revealed in the final reel, and Harrison’s script instead keeps things determinedly light and linear, prioritising logical plot progression, casual wit and forward momentum over introspection or moral ambiguity.

In other words, it’s exactly the kind of story one could imagine her prepping for Hitch – a breezy, engrossing yarn in which a pair of relatable, good-natured characters race against time to solve an inscrutable, clue-laden mystery, leavened with just a touch of macabre ghoulishness (the film’s initially unseen antagonist is a rampant necktie strangler, predating ‘Frenzy’ by three decades).

Siodmak may well have had his own ideas on how best to approach this material, but for the most part, he serves his producer’s vision well here. As with many of the director’s later films, ‘Phantom Lady’ sets out its stall as an exercise in stylish, efficient movie-making, offering up a few dutch angles, deep focus shots and smooth, gliding camera moves to keep us on our toes, before unexpectedly transitioning into stretches of breathless, almost overpowering, gothic / expressionistic pulp beauty, realised with a mastery guaranteed to knock even the most jaded of cineastes off their straight-backed chairs.

The first of ‘Phantom Lady’s two real stand-out ‘bits’ is a narratively inconsequential sequence which see Raines’ character tailing a desultory bartender (a great turn from veteran character actor Andrew Tombes) as he travels home across the city after shutting up shop at 4am on the dot. A classic, leisurely paced pursuit sequence of the kind we’d go on to see time after time in later crime movies, these few short scenes become a tour de force for both DP Woody Bredell and the film’s production team, showcasing a shadow-haunted back-lot recreation of nocturnal New York whose atmospheric depth and level of detail is pretty jaw-dropping.

Like just about all Hollywood movies of this vintage, ‘Phantom Lady’s street scenes were entirely confined to a sound stage, judiciously enhanced by some theatrical backdrops and stunning matte effects, but when Raines creeps her way up the creaky stairs to an El-Train station in pursuit of Tombes, and as they stand huddled on opposite ends of the freezing platform, eyeballing each other suspiciously until the train shudders into view, it’s almost impossible to believe we’re not traversing the same location used so memorably by Friedkin in ‘The French Connection’ nearly three decades later.

And, when they step off the train a few short minutes later, the mainline hit of raw, set-bound visual poetry Siodmak gives us is just immense; the steam rising from the sidewalk, the bums playing dice on the corner, the hypnotic, ever-present flash of neon, all culminating in an economically staged, off-screen hit-and-run, rendered with just a screech of tyres on the soundtrack, and someone flinging Tombes’ hat back into frame! If this ain’t Film Noir, I don’t know what is.

Actually, the presentation – or lack thereof – of violence and death in ‘Phantom Lady’ is interestingly handled throughout. Although it essentially concerns the exploits of a serial killer, and includes a body count to rival that of any ‘40s thriller, the film maintains an almost obsequious adherence to the Production Code, pushing absolutely everything off-screen. Each time though, Siodmak (I’m assuming) manages to include some kind of gut-wrenching detail to help make these invisible events real and upsetting for the viewer; witness for instance the grief-stricken Curtis berating the off-screen ambulance crew for apparently dragging his wife’s hair across the floor(!) as they remove her corpse from his apartment; brutal.

The real highlight of the movie however is ten or so minutes we get to spend in the company of everyone’s favourite natural born loser, the one and only Elisha Cook Jr, who enjoys one of his best ever roles here, playing the keen-eyed drummer in the band at the theatrical revue Curtis and his “phantom lady” attended during their ill-fated night out together.

Functioning almost as a kind of stand-alone short film, and featuring a wilder, more exuberant visual style than much of the material that surrounds it, Cook’s sub-plot finds him absolutely not believing his luck when Raines, sexily dolled up in black as a ‘bandrat’, or whatever the appropriate ‘40s synonym for ‘groupie’ is, comes on to him as he clocks out from his theatre gig, as part of an unlikely ruse to try to pump him for information.

Playing a brasher, more confident character than he was usually allowed to, Cook initially seems to be flying about fifty feet high in some bout of pre-coital amphetamine fury here (“stick with me snooks, I’ll buy you a whole carload of hats,” he tells Raines at one point), and it’s an amazing thing to witness. As he leads her through the shadowed back streets to a darkened doorway, through which muffled music can be heard, we’re expecting of course to be ushered into some dingy nightclub or basement bar, but no - when the door swings open, to our surprise, the musicians are way up close, as is the back wall.

Yes, it’s an after-hours rehearsal room jam session, half a dozen amped up hep-cats wailing away, sound bouncing off the brick, with just a low table covered in half empty liquor bottles providing a focus in the centre, and it is likewise magnificent. Chaotically framed by Siodmak and beautifully shot by Bredell, it is one of the rawest and most intoxicating musical sequences I’ve ever seen in a movie of this vintage, all the more so once the performance reaches what I’ve read several reviewers straight-facedly describe as Cook’s “erotic drum solo” – but really, what else could you possibly call it?

With his eyes bulging from their sockets, his gap-toothed grin looking as if it’s about to consume the rest of his face, Cook frenziedly beats his pagan skins whilst leering at Raines like some Big Daddy Roth cartoon come to life – an astonishing outburst of full tilt craziness from an actor most of us will remember for so expertly portraying the walking embodiment of the word “pathetic” across five decades of American film.

It’s all the more remarkable in fact given that Cook is able to segue straight back into his more familiar ‘fall guy’ persona when, after Raines inevitably gives him the slip, he returns to his apartment to find the Mad Strangler (top-billed Franchot Tone, making his first appearance in the film) waiting in for him in the darkness, his sinister, serial killer monologue all prepared.

“Oh, how interesting a pair of hands can be,” Tone reflects, staring at his appropriately massive mitts as Cook cowers before him, that unique combination of pride and outright terror dancing across his face. “They can trick melody out of a piano keyboard, they can mold beauty out of a piece of common clay, they can bring life back to a dying child. Yes, a pair of hands can do inconceivable good. Yet the same pair of hands can do terrible evil. They can destroy, whip, torture, even kill. I wish I didn't have to use my hands to hurt another human being…”.

So long, Elisha, it’s been nice knowing you.

Such is the ability of this film’s Woolrich-derived plotting to continually knock us off balance, twisting the story’s seemingly relentless linear through-line to pull the rug from under us, evoking a sense of ‘mystery’ that puts me in mind, not so much of Hitchcock, but of the weirder end of French crime fiction with which his influence cross-pollinated via the auspices of ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Les Diaboliques’ originators Boileau-Narcejac.

We can see this early on, immediately following Curtis’s evening out with the “phantom lady”. All we know of his character as this point is that he’s a seemingly carefree man-about-town who picked up a woman in a bar and took her to the theatre, but when he returns home to his cozy apartment, he, and we, are suddenly confronted with a coterie of almost surreally grotesque police detectives holding court in his living room, primed to give him a hard time. For a few moments, we’re completely disorientated, before being left to digest the news that a) this guy is married, and b) his wife is dead, all in a matter of seconds.

Subsequently, Woolrich’s touch can also perhaps be discerned in the way the film stretches the real world feasibility of its tale gossamer thin, to the point where we find ourselves almost prepared to believe there must be a supernatural explanation for the seemingly impossible (at the very least, Kafka-esque) series of events our unfortunate protagonist finds himself faced with.

Could this “phantom lady” have been an actual phantom, we’re momentarily inclined to wonder, as the police do the rounds of potential witnesses with a bedraggled Curtis in tow, only to hear a bartender and cab driver both confirm unequivocally that he was alone during his big night out. (The subsequent revelation that these witnesses have merely been bribed by the seemingly omniscient villain of the piece meanwhile snaps us back to reality with a sadistic glee that ‘Fantomas’ authors Marcel Allain & Pierre Souvestre would surely have appreciated.)

Some may find the more elaborate contrivances of ‘Phantom Lady’s script bit clunky, but approach it in the right frame of mind and Siodmak’s careful pacing and command of dramatic atmospherics will help ensure that the unlikely twists and revelations of the film’s second half hit home in an appropriately macabre, pulpy fashion.

Sadly however, the movie significantly loosens its grip on our collective throats during the final reel, wherein an emotionally weightless, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it conclusion to the drama is followed up by a pat happy ending which feels contrived and smug in the extreme, making us feel foolish for having been so engrossed in the action of the preceding 70 minutes.

If this sappy ending feels tagged on, well, that’s because it was. As with so many ‘40s studio productions, studio-mandated re-shoots were apparently inserted at the last minute before release – a decision which is reported to have enraged Joan Harrison to the extent that she resigned from her newly minted position at Universal on the spot, refusing to return to work for the studio for a number of years.

In truth, I don’t think there is any reason to believe that the film’s original ending would have been significantly darker or more ambiguous than the one we’ve been left with, but at the same time, I have little doubt that the footage signed off by Siodmak and Henderson would have at least sold us on the Hitchcock-ian happy ending a lot more successfully than the the studio’s bland and blundering amendments.

(As it is, you can almost pinpoint the moment when the original footage gives way to the reshoots – when Thomas Gomez’s detective character inexplicably barges through the door of the killer’s apartment to rescue Raines from his clutches would be my guess.)

For the most part however, ‘Phantom Lady’ is fantastically rewarding viewing – a resolutely hard-boiled, richly evocative and deeply eccentric production that does a pretty fair job of embodying everything I love about lower budget ‘40s Hollywood noir, whilst at the same time providing tons of uproarious, earthy fun.

True, there’s not a lot of psychological depth to explore here, and the tight-knit mystery plotting allows for precious little blurring of the tale’s rather arbitrary moral black & whites, but even if this rubs you up the wrong way, the nocturnal New York and Elisha Cook Jr sequences raise the movie to a whole other level – flat-out incredible films-within-films that cement ‘Phantom Lady’s status as essential viewing for all noir aficionados.


Thursday, 2 April 2020

Kaiju Notes:
Ebirah, Terror of the Deep
(Jun Fukuda, 1966)





Some kind of mangy prehistoric bird thing!

As I’ve previously observed in these posts, the success of a kaiju movie often depends upon the presence of a good human story to counterbalance the monster action, and ‘Ebirah: Terror of the Deep’ [Japanese title: ‘Gojira, Ebirâ, Mosura: Nankai no Daiketto’ (‘Godzilla, Ebirah, Mothra: Big Duel in the South Seas’)] thankfully proves a corker in this regard.

The seventh film to feature Godzilla, and the first not helmed by the monster’s creator Ishiro Honda, ‘Ebirah..’ wisely scales back on the planet-wise crises envisioned (and rather half-heartedly staged) by the last few entries in the series, instead foregrounding the tale of Ryota (Toru Watanabe), a young lad from a remote coastal village whose older brother has gone missing out at sea.

After travelling to the big city to harangue the authorities and media about this sadly routine disappearance of a sailor during bad weather, Ryota decides his only hope is to follow his brother out to sea in order to find out what happened to him, and as such he finds himself drawn to a rock n’ roll dancing endurance contest(!), the top prize of which is a luxury yacht. Although he is too late to take part himself – the contest is into its third day - Ryota hooks up with two exhausted ne’erdowells (Chotaro Togin & Hideo Sunazuka) who have just bailed out after countless hours of relentless frugging.

Noting their new friend’s overwhelming enthusiasm for all things nautical, these guys offer Ryota a lift as they swing by the local marina – a jaunt which soon leads the feckless trio to begin trespassing on one particularly swish looking yacht. As they explore the cabin however, they’re surprised by a gun-toting man (Godzilla series regular Akira Takarada), whom they assume to be the boat’s owner.

Inexplicably, the man invites the young troublemakers to stay the night and get some sleep (what?!)… but when the gang awake, they discover that the irrepressible Ryota has already rigged the sails, hoisted up the anchor, and that they are all now well on their way to the remote South Seas islands around which Ryota’s brother disappeared!

It is at this point that our protagonists discover that Takarada is not in fact the legitimate skipper of their purloined vessel – in fact, he is in fact a master safecracker, on the run with a suitcase full of stolen dough, and his gun isn’t even loaded! But, such minor details cease to matter much once a catastrophic storm blows up, capsizing the stolen yacht. Clinging to the hull of their stricken vessel, our protagonists see a gargantuan claw rise from beneath the tumultuous waves as a searing electric guitar lick intrudes upon the soundtrack. Ebirah! [“Ebi”, incidentally, is the Japanese word for prawn or shrimp, which I’d imagine must have made this monster’s name pretty amusing for the domestic audience.]

When they awake after the storm, sprawled upon a deserted island shore in the traditional movie manner, our accidental castaways soon discover that the island in question is chiefly occupied by a sinister, fascistic military organisation known as – wait for it - ‘The Red Bamboo’, whom I’m sure were not intended to bear any similarity to the forces of any real world nation with a tendency to claim sovereignty over various rocky outcrops off the coast of Japan [looks nervously over digital shoulder].

Ill-advisedly as it transpires, The Red Bamboo have chosen this island as the perfect site upon which to construct a secret nuclear reactor (its interior is big of steel gangways and groovy, primary coloured pipework), and they have furthermore begun kidnapping the peaceful, colourfully-attired natives of the nearby Infant Island – home of Mothra, you’ll recall. This is in order to put them to work manufacturing industrial quantities of the fruit-based yellow substance which has traditionally served the Islanders as a repellent to Ebirah, thus allowing shipping to move freely in the immediate vicinity of the island without being clobbered by the bad-tempered lobster-god who effectively serves as its guardian.

Before long, Ryota and his friends find themselves joining forces with Daiyo (Kumi Mizuno), a spirited and statuesque female islander who has escaped from the clutches of The Red Bamboo. Daiyo’s distinctive ‘south seas’ outfit seems to suggest a significant degree of cultural crossover between Infant Island and Blood Island, in terms of fashion at least, and her arrival prompts much charmingly bungled chivalry and attempts at non-verbal communication on the part of our ‘heroes’, before, in the course of evading her captors, they find themselves descending into a cave beneath the cliffs, where, to their surprise, they find none other than Godzilla himself taking an extended kip! What all this going on around him, it seems a fair bet that the King of the Monsters’ slumber may wind up being disturbed before too long…

I realise that the preceding paragraphs of straight plot synopsis run far longer than is usual for this blog, but I present them to you simply in order to help demonstrate the fact that ‘Ebirah..’ is a whole lot of fun even before it’s featured monsters begin knocking lumps out of each other.

Rather than filling up the runtime with boardrooms full of harried government functionaries discussing the monsters’ latest movements, and static scenes of soldiers and journalists passively observing kaiju throwdowns through binoculars, Fukuda and scriptwriter Shin'ichi Sekizawa here give us a simple, fast-moving character-driven story with enough interesting stuff going on to work on its own terms, whilst keeping the scale of the action small enough for the film’s budget to really do it justice, and the results really vindicate this shift in emphasis.

Mirroring this lively ‘human story’, the kaiju action in ‘Ebirah..’ also seems invested with a renewed sense of excitement. Just as the film saw Fukuda taking over from Honda for the first time as director, it also finds the legendary Eiji Tsubaraya assigning responsibility for the monster effects to his long-standing deputy Sadamasa Arikawa, with what appear to be very encouraging results.

In particular, the increased use of matte shots, false perspective etc really pays dividends here, with individual shots and interactions between different elements within the frame carefully planned out, in what seems like a deliberate attempt to avoid the flat, “monsters lolling about aimlessly in a field and/or alien planetscape like boxers between rounds” type approach seen in the past two films.

The shots of Ebirah’s colossal claw rising from the roiling, nocturnal waves as our hard-luck heroes struggle to keep their yacht afloat in the foreground in particular are extremely impressive; frightening and atmospheric, they convey a sense of scale and immensitude which has been lacking from these movies for quite a while.

Equally effective meanwhile are the shots which see human characters fleeing the stomping feet of Godzilla, and if, when we reach the big monster fights, they’re no less cartoon-ish than those seen in ‘..Astro-Monster’ and ‘King Ghidorah..’, they nonetheless have a sense of rough n’ ready energy and full contact violence about them which really gives them an edge.

Ebirah, when he finally emerges from the water, makes for an appealingly grisly new foe for Godzilla, and if their initial showdown begins as little more than a glorified game of catch, no over-grown playground thugs in the audience will be able to resist the simple pleasures of seeing The Big G heading a weighty looking boulder toward his opponent, who retaliating by performing the universally acknowledged “come on if you think yr hard enough” gesture with his gargantuan claws.

Balancing out all this testosterone though, it’s great too to see Mothra back in action in her full, winged form too, needless to say. Once again, her characterisation as female means she’s relegated to playing the ‘peace maker’ here, calming Godzilla’s rage after his final battle with Ebirah, putting him back in his place like a big sister, and, delightfully, carrying the Infant Islanders and their friends to safety via an ingenious makeshift basket/gondola thing, just before the island goes ka-boom. [See point #3 of my above-linked Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster post for reiteration of the reasons why I love Mothra.]

Likewise, the portrayal of Godzilla himself in ‘Ebirah..’ is interesting and a lot of fun. Taking a step or two back from the comedic/heroic persona he was moving toward in last few films, he’s a more ambiguous, slightly more menacing presence here. Certainly, he no longer gives much of a damn about humanity, carelessly trashing the Red Bamboo’s nuclear research facility and stomping their soldiers without a second thought.

But, more than anything, he really just spends the entirety of this film acting as if he really wants everyone to just leave him the hell alone, essentially staggering through the picture like the kaiju equivalent of a guy with a severe hangover who finds himself having to deal with a leaking washing machine, rotten milk in the fridge and disgruntled neighbours banging on his door; an impression I find both hilarious and endearing.

I mean, the first thing he sees after he staggers out of his cozy hiding place in the cliff-face after being rudely awakened, Frankenstein style, with a jerry-rigged lightning conductor, is this bloody giant lobster thing that wants to pick a fight with him. Then, as soon as he’s sent that guy packing, he sits down to catch his breath, and before you know it, some fucking mangy-looking prehistoric bird thing suddenly flies out of nowhere and starts pecking him! What the holy hell?! And THEN, when he’s finally pulverised that bugger, here comes The Red Bamboo’s bloody air force, zooming around his head, giving him a hard time. What a shitty day!

It’s telling I think that, in between these assorted bouts, poor old Godzilla simply sits down on the nearest mountainside, looking completely exhausted, and falls asleep. (The fact that his costume, re-used from ‘..Astro-Monster’ the previous year apparently, looks as if it’s seen better days, having suffered water-damage during the initial Ebirah fight, probably only aids this ‘hungover’ vibe.)

Poor Godzilla! All he wants is to sit in a dark, quiet hole somewhere and get a bit of rest. No wonder then that he seems so thoroughly pissed off by the time the film reaches its conclusion, kicking the shit out of the nuclear facility with reckless abandon, and tearing Ebirah’s claws straight off and battering him to death with them in a display of crazed ferocity rarely equalled in a Toho kaiju movie.

Opening with what I imagine to be the kaiju equivalent of a tormented yell of “What?! You want some more, do you?!”, this second and final Godzilla/Ebirah battle is genuinely brutal stuff, leaving us with little expectation that the movie’s title monster is going to be popping up from ‘neath the ocean waves for any jolly monster team-ups anytime soon. Having pushed The Big G way over the line when he was in a rotten mood to start with, he gets properly fucked up for his troubles.

Just as Fukuda has taken on direction, and Arikawa the effects, ‘Ebirah..’ is further freshened up by a mod-ish, light touch score from Akira Kurosawa’s go-to composer Masaru Satô, marking a notable change of pace from the bombastic, baleful (and increasingly inappropriate) Akira Ifukube compositions used in earlier films. Incorporating elements of the Ventures-inspired ‘eleki’ genre which was tearing the charts in mid-60s Japan, Satô’s work here is an uncharacteristically groovy, John Barry-esque delight which perfectly matches the bright, energetic feel of the film, with the searing guitar strings which accompany Ebirah’s emergence from the waves proving particularly memorable.

As you will probably have gathered by now, ‘Ebirah..’ is one of my favourite Godzilla sequels. Definitely in my top five, anyway. Perhaps the fact that the Big Guy doesn’t even wake up until fifty minutes into proceedings helps account for the lack of love it tends to receive from fans, but I’ve always found this to be slightly unfair, given the extent to which he gets stuck in once he is finally on the scene – not to mention the fact that the section of the film preceding his appearance cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as dull.

For some, Jun Fukuda’s entries in the series are marked by a sense of flippancy which seen to stand in contrast to the aura of solemnity associated with Honda, but this too strikes me as a lazy and unfair point of comparison – insofar as this film is concerned, at least.

As great a director as Honda could be when given the opportunity, he was clearly getting pretty tired of Godzilla franchise by the mid ‘60s, as he became increasingly disillusioned with the family-friendly direction Toho insisted on taking the series in. Fukuda’s more light touch, character focused approach, by contrast, feels like an ideal fit for the studio’s vision, allowing Godzilla to fully crash his way into the realm of ‘60s pop art / youth culture immortality, his weightier and more symbolic origins long forgotten.

In later efforts directed by Fukuda, this change in tone would inevitably begin to impact upon the overall quality of the films, but for ‘Ebirah..’ at least, the production team was still firing on all cylinders, leading to what for my money is the best entry in the series since ‘Godzilla vs Mothra’ in ’62.