Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

This stuff is fascinating, all this old science fiction. If you dig around in the US stuff from the 50s, you get noir. The fundamental noir notion is that there is some agency that controls fate, that is somehow apart from the world in which the film operates.

Typical noir has some average bumpkin caught up in some apparent accident that compounds with other accidents to create a situation that amuses us in some way (or we wouldn’t be watching). Clever noir, implies that the very act of us watching somehow drives or empowers this agent of fate: that the very fact that we are there ready to watch is what puts our hero in harm’s way.

Its an American invention, unique to film, and incredibly clever in the way it appropriates religion, making us gods merely by being entertained. In 50s America Science fiction, the monster kind, I mean (which includes the later Frankensteins and Draculas), that notion of fate is merged with science. So we have radiation (usually) creating monsters that threaten, but in a noir-like fashion.

It puts us in a dual state as watchers, identifying with the victims, but allied with the cause, especially when its in 3D.

But the US model is almost always that science is beyond our control. If humanity wins, it is an accident, or temporary. Or plain luck.

The Japanese model of this same period has humans in control. They don’t have scientists in the American sense, rather the Japanese experts are engineers. Its not a subtle difference: these guys actually design and control where their American counterparts understand. (If its not clear, you can be a good engineer without a deep understanding, in fact that usually the case.)

This is a junky movie, but almost perfect as an example of the genre. Almost the very best of its kind. Its n two halves. One half, the latter, is a gigantic battle. It starts between a robot controlled by submarine human geniuses and one controlled by human geniuses. Engineering geniuses that is. Its a standoff. The underwater guys call up a monster that we know from other movies to be radiation-caused but is under their control. Oh oh, looks bad for humanity.

But “our” robot calls in Godzilla, who kicks ass. Godzilla, star of many previous movies is now protector of humanity because he somehow speaks the same language as our robot. These four monsters fight, but on behalf of their humans.

The other half of the movie is the necessary bumph that introduces characters, individuals we can follow and watch them at risk. Contrast them with their American counterparts. Understanding versus control. Its amazing to watch because it as different in its world than any we’ll see in sci-fi. This “clash of cultures” peaked in the eighties as an almost open war.

Why go through all this? Because if I as an American want to enter the worlds of Kurosawa and Oshima, you have to be here as well.