The Terror of Mechagodzilla

Mechagodzilla Kaiju fans know that Godzilla films changed in character since the Big G's introduction in 1954. As is appropriate for the King of the Monsters, fans refer to the three distinct eras of daikaiju films using terms corresponding to those describing Japan?s emperors. The Showa period (the term indicates the reign of the preceding Emperor) spans from the introduction of giant monster films with Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 1954 through the 1960s and ?70s. The Heisei era (from the term used to describe the reign of the current Emperor) spanned from 1980 to 1999, while, logically enough, the Millennium period spans from 2000 to the present.

After making his debut as the terror of Tokyo in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the character of Showa-era Godzilla changed from Walking Radioactive Beast of Destruction to Superhero Defender of Japan. Driving this change in part was Toho Studios' decision to craft the films to appeal to a more juvenile audience. But unfortunately, although generally less expensive - the low budgets of some Showa kaiju eiga are notoriously conspicuous - some of the films proved box office disappointments, and one of the milestones that concluded the Showa period was Toho's decision to put its Godzilla films on hiatus for a while. (Daiei Studios' Gamera would continue to soldier on until 1980.)

Fortunately, Toho decided to send Godzilla out in style. Toho brought back original Godzilla director Ishiro Honda after a five-year absence to helm 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla (Mekagojira no gyakushu). Although Godzilla once again defends the Earth from aliens and their daikaiju allies, Terror of Mechagodzilla offers a grimmer, more mature storyline and some truly spectacular kaiju rumble action.

Some time back, Sony released several early Godzilla films on a set of no-frills but inexpensive - $10 or so - DVDs. Featured titles included the original Godzilla: King of the Monsters (the American version, with Raymond Burr), Godzilla vs. Mothra, Rodan, and Godzilla's Revenge. Not long ago, I was pleased to discover Terror of Mechagodzilla among these cheap but decent DVD offerings.

Sure, the film sports some amusing 1970's artifacts, including groovy sideburns, ultra-wide lapels and reel-to-reel tape players. But Terror of Mechagodzilla is a serious, even occasionally grim film that recalls the series's roots as a horror film even as Godzilla once again saves Japan from invading aliens and rampaging monsters.

Sony's Region 1 DVD of Terror of Mechagodzilla retails for about ten bucks and presents the film in fullscreen format with the dubbed English-language track. Picture quality is decent, but the 30-year-old source film shows some obvious wear in places.

DVD special features are pretty sparse, which isn't surprising considering the film is pretty much a straight-from-video dub. There's the usual scene access feature, and viewers can choose between the original mono and remastered Dolby 5.1 soundtracks. The only other bonus feature is a lengthy preview of the Nintendo Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee GameCube slugfest.

By reuniting original director Honda and master composer Ikifube, Terror of Mechagodzilla ended the Showa Godzilla cycle in style. The film departs from the juvenile storylines of preceding films to attain a darker, more somber tone. And there's plenty of kaiju action, with Godzilla going solo against two fierce foes. With its price point of a mere ten bucks, kaiju fans shouldn't hesitate to add this worthy flick to their collection.