Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Heart Of The Matter: Frankenstein Vs Baragon(1965)

When many fans of giant monster movies here the word "Toho" they immediately think of Godzilla, or Mothra, or even King Ghidorah, all three monsters major participants in many of this Japanese motion picture company's films. Toho has also produced some great giant monster movies featuring other leviathans as well, and one of my absolute favorites is a film that originally aired in Japanese theaters in 1965: Frankenstein Vs Baragon. This movie has also been released in theaters abroad under the title of "Frankenstein Conquers The World", which is also it's American title, the movie airing in American theaters in 1966.
This movie is, I think, something of a different "take" on Toho's previous kaiju films, which had featured reptilian(or reptilian like) monsters e.g.Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah and Varan. The "star" of the film is not a reptile but rather a boy, who eventually grows very, very large. This 1965 film also prominently featured an American actor, Nick Adams.

The film's story: German authorities, realizing their country is on the brink of destruction during the latter part of World War II, arrange to have Frankenstein's heart transported to their wartime ally, Japan, by submarine. The heart winds up in a Hiroshima hospital for research and study, however, the dropping of the atomic bomb on the city by a U.S. bomber prevents the planned work by Japanese scientists from happening. Fast forward to Hiroshima in 1960, fifteen years later. Dr.'s Bowen(Nick Adams), Kawaji(Tadao Takashima), and Togami(Kumi Mizuno) are all studying the effects of residual radioactivity and radiation poisoning on the local populace. Interrupting their grim but necessary work: the discovery of a young, feral like boy prowling local suburbia, stealing and eating neighborhood pets. Cornered in a beachfront hillside cave by the authorities, the boy is compelled out of hiding, and his animalistic existence, by the kindness of Dr. Togami. The boy becomes an immediate study by the scientists, but his sanctuary with them is complicated by the fact he continues to grow, presumably from effects of radiation. Angered by photographers lights one night the boy, now over twenty feet tall, breaks out of his captivity and flees into the wooded countryside. While the military and trio of scientists search for the boy giant, now recognized as the Frankenstein monster borne out of the heart from 1945, another monster appears, a subterranean, burrowing reptilian creature called "Baragon". Baragon crashes a party(literally), demolishing a large villa and consuming some local farm animals during his countryside forays. Eventually, and not surprisingly, the Franken-boy giant, now fifty feet tall, and Baragon, encounter each other in the Japan countryside and battle it out. (no other spoilers)

Observations: I remember as a kid seeing this movie listed in TV Guide, then watching it with my dad during the overnight hours. I have always considered this film to be somewhat "off the beaten path" as a kaiju film, which I wholeheartedly welcome. Seeing it for the first time it was not what I expected, but I was anything but disappointed. The score was very good, as were the makeup effects used to render actor Koji Furuhata, who played the larger Franken-boy giant in this film. I especially liked the exaggerated brow and misshapen teeth, the boy giant's choppers sufficiently misshapen to give any self respecting dentist nightmares. The various grunts, almost pig like snorts and periodic groans and truncated goofy laughter of the boy giant(while eating) add to his menace, though I don't think, as his actions in the film would suggest, he was malevolent.

Frankenstein Vs Baragon was recently released to Region 1 DVD by Tokyo Shock, a subsidiary of Mediablasters, and the DVD is outstanding, presenting the movie in it's original aspect ratio of 2:35.1 widescreen and in Japanese language(w/English subtitles) and also affording those who buy the DVD the opportunity to watch this movie in English dubbed audio as well.

The original Japanese trailer for Frankenstein Vs Baragon: