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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Gorath (1962) review


Ryo Ikebe (Dr. Tazawa), Yumi Shirakawa (Kiyo Sonoda), Akira Kubo (Tetsuo Kanai), Kumi Mizuno (Kesuke Shinoda), Hiroshi Tachikawa (Wakabayashi), Akihiko Hirata (Endo), Kenji Sahara (Saiki), Jun Tazaki (Raizo Sonoda), Ken Uehara (Dr. Konno), Takashi Shimura (Kensuke Sonoda)

Directed by Ishiro Honda

"If Gorath comes within 200,000 kilometers of us, earthquakes... mountains crumble...and volcanoes erupt. Even Mt. Fuji would become a killer volcano. Along with this, the air and water would be stripped away by Gorath's gravitational influence..."

The giant jet thrusters move the Earth from its original orbit in an effort to avoid destruction from GORATH

When a gigantic star is discovered to be on a collision course with the Earth, civilization bands together in a plan to move the planet away from the path of the approaching star. Named Gorath by Earth's scientists, the destructive force is powerful enough to destroy the planet. Enormous rockets are built in the South Pole in the hopes Gorath can be bypassed saving the Earth from an imminent cataclysm.

An earthquake destroys the progress of the South Pole factory

Ishiro Honda, famed director of the Godzilla series likewise helmed a series of three science fiction films. Beginning with THE MYSTERIANS in 1957, Honda next took on an even bigger project, BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959). While these two movies featured aliens hellbent on taking over the Earth, or wiping out mankind, there had yet to be a serious take on the end of the world as we know it.

Above: Behind the scenes shot; Top: the finished construction in the film

In 1961, the release of a grand scale 'End of the World' movie entitled THE LAST WAR, no doubt prompted Honda to imbue his next (then) non Kaiju movie with the possibility of Armageddon. Bearing similarities to George Pal's award winning WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951), GORATH (1962) depicts various people and cultures coming together to prevent the ultimate destruction of the Earth. Featuring an all star cast, this Japanese production was very ambitious and featured some of the best effects work of Tsuburaya's career. It wouldn't be long before similar disaster movies would become big business for American studio producers.

Magma chases Kensuke, Dr. Tazawa and Dr. Konno

Originally, the sript for GORATH was a somber, yet patriotic story of civilization putting their differences aside for the greater good of mankind. Those sentiments are retained, but Tomoyuki Tanaka later insisted that a giant monster be included so as to beef up the marquee value of the picture. Already brimming with cliffhanger moments, the inclusion of a giant walrus christened Magma momentarily steers the film into full on fantasy mode. It doesn't really hurt the movie, it just feels tacked on when the film is fine without having a rampaging monster appear at all.

Tsuburaya inspects the giant walrus suit

The US release of the movie did eliminate the monster sequence. Many feel it disrupts the flow of the film. I am one of those people. I am all for giant monsters in movies, but this particular one didn't need any. It's quite jarring despite the already outrageous storyline. When Magma shows up, it throws off the rhythm the film has built up to this point. It doesn't ruin the experience, it just takes you out of the film and places you into another for about five minutes as Magma has what amounts to a cameo appearance. Blamed on the warming of the South Pole by the gigantic jet thrusters, Kensuke determines that their operation has awakened a creature frozen in the ice. If anything, it's an added cliffhanger moment, if only a bit jarring.

The clouds and the moon are sucked into Gorath

There are so many excellent sequences in the picture. Once the factory to build the thrusters is underway, an earthquake destroys it making the scientists and workers in a race against time to begin and complete the facility. Later in the film after the South Pole operation is completed, Endo and his crew make the horrifying discovery that Gorath has now grown to 200 times the Earth's mass by sucking up debris on its collision course with the Earth!

The journey to the South Pole to begin work on the operation to save the world

Then, once the operation proves to be a success, the scientists realize that more jet thrusters must be constructed since Gorath will continue to grow as the orbital shift will not be enough to save the planet. Gorath strips away the rings of Saturn, sucks up the moon and the expected scenes of destruction take place as the Earth barely manages to get out of the way.

The JX-1 fails to escape Gorath's gravitational pull during the opening of GORATH

The concept of Gorath would also seem to have been an influence on the popular second season episode of the original STAR TREK called 'The Doomsday Machine' from 1967. That episode features a 'Planet Killer', a gigantic robot construction that wanders the universe consuming planets for its food.

Behind the scenes prepping one of the numerous space shots

Japanese giant monster movie fans will recognize a great many faces here. Jun Tazaki is of special mention. Often playing military leaders, or characters of some repute, Tazaki tackles a distinguished role here. Playing Sonoda, the commander of the JX-1, a space ship sent to investigate Gorath, he and his crew become trapped within the massive stars gravitational pull. With their deaths imminent, Sonoda rallies his men to face their doom heroically. The opening ten minutes is this one sequence. It's very poignant especially the shot of Sonoda with a tear rolling down from one eye upon realizing they cannot escape the approaching Gorath. At first, his crew wish to save themselves, but after Sonoda's speech, the men welcome death with open arms in the hope that the data they have sent back to Earth will aid in saving the Earth.

This element of Japanese patriotism and unbridled superiority extends to their ability to manufacture fictional armaments that surpass anything being produced around the world. This conversation is particularly interesting...

Kiyo: How about the scientists of the United Nations?

Dr. Kanno: Some countries are building spaceships...but honestly, Japan's scientists are putting the others to shame. Our government's ship hasn't been outdone.

Dr. Tazawa: The government, the nation and we are working hard to solve this problem. America hasn't come to that point yet.

Kensuke: I don't think anyone is as comfortable with it as we are.

Despite glaring displays of National pride, immediately after this conversation, there's a big meeting at the United Nations where it appears Japan has all the answers, but a British Secretary stands and states, "Why are we gathered here? It is to save the Earth and mankind. It is time that the nations dropped all egotism and joined hands." It's at this point that ALL the worlds scientists begin patting each other on the back over their accomplishments and discoveries and decide that EVERYONE should work together to save the planet. It's quite a good moment and some of Honda's other movies included this same type of homeland nationalism such as the intriguing sci fi movie, ATRAGON (1963) with a grand performance by Jun Tazaki.

There's another dialog exchange that promotes racial harmony and equality of cutures with this statement from Endo, Captain of the JX-2, played by Akihiko Hirata (Dr. Serizawa in GODZILLA and Dr. Mafune in TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA to name two):

Endo: Mankind was separated into white, black and yellow races before the U.N. Trust, honor and cooperation was their hallmark to bring us together.

Akira Kubo is another of the most recognizable faces in the picture. Here, he plays one of the main characters and also the love interest of fan favorite, Kumi Mizuno's character, whose boyfriend was killed aboard the JX-1. Kubo alternated between playing goofy characters (the bespectacled inventor in MONSTER ZERO) and serious roles (Captain of the SY-3 in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS). Here, he kind of melds the two creating a fairly unmemorable and occasionally unlikable performance.

Japan sinks

But one really doesn't watch a movie like GORATH for standout performances. It's great when they're there, but the main focal point here is mass destruction and cataclysm, science fiction elements and spacecrafts. The first 40 minutes introduce us to the myriad of characters and the build up to the looming threat of Gorath and mankind scrambling to find an answer in lieu of setbacks.

It all comes together to create one of Ishiro Honda's most intriguing movies of his long career in addition to one of, if not the biggest Japanese science fiction film of all time. Serious fans of Japanese sci fi should seek it out, although fans who are only interested in seeing monsters stomp across the screen will be disappointed save for the slightly intrusive giant walrus, Magma. GORATH (1962) is a high point from the golden age of Japanese fantasy cinema.


The Film Connoisseur said...

This looks like a fun movie! Even though taking earth out of its orbit would prove catastrophic anyways, it sounds like it would be a blast. Great review!

Fazeo said...

I have never seen this film, another superb review.

Now to go find it.

dfordoom said...

I definitely want to see this one! Great review.

venoms5 said...

@ Francisco, Fazeo and D: Thanks for checking out this rarely talked about sci fi adventure. If you are having trouble locating it, my friend still sells his custom subbed edition here, although he has changed the cover art it seems...


His was the first fan subbed edition. Not sure if there is any others available elsewhere. The Toho DVD itself is around $50 which is average for a Japanese DVD. I've bought a handful of spaghetti westerns on Japanese discs, ones with English options at least. There are no English options whatsoever on any of Toho's releases, though. Sadly, the 30 minute Teruyoshi Nakano interview is not subbed. There may be a commentary track, too.

Carl (ILHM) said...

Just read about this one and though it is not my usual forte, I am becoming more and more interested in Japanese filmmaking outside of just Ju-On and Godzilla =D

Will put this on the list next to The Mysterians!

venoms5 said...

You can't go wrong with either film, Carl! Both are very different. I forgot to mention it here, but I think I did elsewhere, but Gorath was one of several plot points in GODZILLA FINAL WARS that was quickly dropped.

Kaijinu said...

I really do wished they use Maguma Outside this film. I've felt he needed some loving from kaiju fans like me.

venoms5 said...

I am surprised they didn't make a film with Magma in it, Kaijinu, lol.

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