In the 1960s, there began an era in which Godzilla became a supporting player in his own movies. Needless to say, these weren’t quite the cream of the catalysmic crop, with some films either too saccharine (All Monsters Attack) or too stiff (Invasion of Astro-Monster) for their own good. But standing out from this schizophrenic brood was a film that, by all means, should have been just as misguided as its brothers. Yet by what can only be pure happenstance, Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster is quite the grand ol’ time. It may not feature the titular lizard all that much, but it’s still a fun flick that honors the big guy and his contributions to B-cinema.
Let it not be said that Ryota (Toru Watanabe) is far from a go-getter. Even after being told by authorities that his brother is lost at sea, Ryota takes the word of a psychic that his sibling is alive and well. Determined to rescue his beloved bro, our hero hijacks a yacht and, with a few seafaring stragglers in tow, ends up shipwrecked on mysterious Devil’s Island. It’s on this tropical paradise that the troupe discovers a group manufacturing nuclear weapons, although they soon find that a few bombs are the least of their problems. The island itself is guarded by the monstrous Ebirah, a giant lobster that doesn’t think twice about gobbling up everything it comes across. With no safe way of leaving the island, how will Ryota and his pals make their great escape? Why, Virginia, with the help of none other than Godzilla, of course, who awakens from a brief respite to dole out some punishment to crustaceous cad Ebirah.
Words can’t describe the odds working against Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster. For one, it came at a time when campiness reigned supreme, when the beast that ravaged Tokyo in Gojira had been long since ousted by a walking, sometimes talking, kid-friendly MacGuffin. Plus, in the spirit of prior film Invasion of Astro-Monster, Godzilla himself isn’t even featured that much, a veritable death knell if there ever was one. Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster had every reason to resign itself to toiling in B-movie purgatory, but by the generous whim of the cinema gods, what could have just as easily been a kaiju catastrophe turns out to be loads of fun. Director Jun Fukuda institutes a colorful, Goonies-style adventure to occupy viewers, rather than trot out yet another round of drips in labcoats ready to bore you to tears. The results are more entertaining than you’d expect, thanks to Fukuda keeping the story flowing at a brisk pace and maintaining a jovial spirit throughout the production. Even the random surf music that pops up from time to time keeps things in an appropriately lighthearted mood.
Right about now, though, you may be wondering about what I mentioned earlier regarding there not being much Godzilla. It’s true, the green one doesn’t put in as many appearances as he has in previous pictures, but Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster goes to show you that, if done right, a little Godzilla does a long way. There’s a big difference between saving Godzilla for when the time is right and just whipping him out when you’ve run out of ideas. The latter is what doomed Invasion of Astro-Monster to being a bland space opera, but thankfully, Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster knows better. It does a nice job of building up the Big G before setting him off on the rampage du jour, of which no viewer will be left disappointed. In addition to the usual array of fighter jets and firepower, Godzilla gets to tangle with Ebirah on a couple different occasions, their battles among the Showa era’s finest rumbles. Even Mothra pops in near the end, though it’s infinitely more fun watching Godzilla and Ebirah engage in an impromptu volleyball match.
It’s hard to gauge how fans might react to Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster. Sure, Godzilla’s role amounts to an extended cameo, which might let down some aficionados, but it’s hard to get too mad when you’re having such a good time in the interim. It’s a hard sell, but I’d give Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster a look, since, even without the destructive icon’s presence, it’s a charming slice of ’60s cheese only the Japanese could provide.