Saturday, September 24, 2011

Kaiju Review: Space Monster Dogora (1964)

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I enjoy weirdness, especially in movies. Give me a goofy b-movie and I’m happy as a clam. Space Monster Dogora is one of those bizarre movies that I love watching.
It’s not the most well scripted film in the world, naturally. In fact, the story comes off as two separate movies that were filmed over at Toho Studios and then the directors just said, “What the heck, let’s put ‘em together!”  The movie starts with a scene of a NASA-like room full of technicians and consoles watching a satellite. Apparently Japanese TV satellites have been getting wrecked, but only on their sixth orbit. This satellite too is destroyed, by a cell-like creature that is vaguely reminiscent of the giant amoeba that Spock flew a shuttlecraft inside of during “The Immunity Syndrome” on the original Star Trek series.

Space Monster Dogora in ... well, space.

After the credits, the movie cuts to a jewel heist in progress, complete with a Rififi-esque crew of safecrackers. The police are drawn away by both the lovely Akiko Wakabayashi and a drunken salaryman, who is levitating through the streets on his side. The safecrackers are also levitated away from the safe, and off we go on a very strange celluloid journey.

Drunken guy floating to work. It is Japan, after all.
While the whole plot is somewhat segmented, it all does seem to work in a rather enjoyable way. Dogora consumed carbon, and isn't necessarily all the picky in what form the carbon is in; A string of diamond thefts around the world are later attributed to Dogora, since it does apparently like to get the purest form of the substance first. The diamond heist gang is angry because only one of the big thefts was their work, and is looking for whoever's cutting them out of the action. The rather shifty Occidental Mark Jackson (Robert Dunham) is also in the web, a lone wolf "diamond g-man" working for a special commission. His loyalties are unsure for most of the movie, as he's a thorn in the side of the crooks and Inspector Komai (Yosuke Natsuki).

Meanwhile, Dr. Munakata (Nobuo Nakamura), a professor of crystallography, has been tangentially connected to the diamond case because of his work with synthetic diamonds. He becomes more involved as after Komai and the professor's beautiful assistant, witness a colliery's coal supply being sucked into the sky. Munakata also theorizes that there's a possibility that the giant space cell could start being less discriminating in its lunch habits, noting that humans are carbon-based, too.

Munakata works with the military, led by an old friend of his, to develop a weapon to stop Dogora. Inadvertently, Dogora's end also closed the case for the diamond gang.

Dogora in the skies above Doikaiwan.

This is another film that proves that things don't always have to make sense to be fun. Dogora itself is an intriguing monster, but I think since its not a big lumbering, city-stomping lizard, we don't have the same sense of urgency about its appearances. Even when it destroys the Wakato Bridge, which is a great special effects scene for the period, there's not a lot of terror (or at least the fake terror you'd normally assume in these films). If the plot does have a flaw, its in the point that Dogora hadn't started eating people yet ... just lifting them up and moving them away from what he wanted to eat wasn't all that scary or intimidating. Dogora might as well have just said "Excuse me" first.

With these two plotlines showcased in the movie, the performances are a little stilted. The version I've watched is the original, subtitled Japanese version of the movie (I haven't gotten around to getting a copy of the American International Television cut yet), and everyone comes off pretty one-dimensional. The cast is excellent though, considering this being a monster movie. Akiko Wakabayashi has appeared in genre films before (Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster and King Kong Vs. Godzilla) and is noted for being one of the first Asian Bond Girls (along with Mie Hama in You Only Live Twice). Robert Dunham has appeared in numerous Japanese movies, including Mothra, The Green Slime and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 favorite, Godzilla vs. Megalon. The cast is further bolstered by genre veterans Jun Tazaki, Hideyo Amamoto and Hiroshi Koizumi.

Space Monster Dogora, for its obvious limitations, is really one of those rare movies that can't be compared to any other film. It is a piecemeal work that somehow manages to become a greater, and goofier, whole. This sci-fi/monster/heist flick is definitely worth watching!

1 comment:

  1. I'm practically speechless! Dogora and I are participating in the new, secret diet endorsed by that Larry Fein-esque coiffured Richard Simmons! Relative to weight, consume about 1-3% of your body in carbon. Sure; it's a bit rough on the teeth but the health benefits are purported to be exquisite.