Saturday, May 28, 2011

In short: Dogora (1964)

Original title: Uchu daikaiju Dogora

A series of rather inexplicable diamond robberies shakes the world. The Japanese police, especially their inspector Kommei (Yosuke Natsuki), have their eye on a local gang of robbers as the perpetrators of the Japanese part of the deeds, but something's surely not right. Diamonds disappear from safes nobody could have opened, trucks begin to levitate skywards - it's all more than a little peculiar and just might have connection to some satellites that have disappeared from orbit. In his investigations, Kommei meets interesting people, like the scientist Dr. Munakata (Nobuo Nakamura) and his assistant/Kommei's love interest Masayo (Yoko Fujiyama), as well as the shady American Mark Jackson (Robert Dunham - look, it's emperor Antonio of Seatopia!). The former is just developing a way to cheaply make artificial diamonds, while the latter always appears where the Japanese gang tries to steal diamonds.

Of course, the gangsters, the police and Mark aren't the only ones interested in diamonds. Turns out the impossible raids are committed by a giant, floating mutant cell who just loves to snack on carbon and irritate wasps. Fortunately, Munakata is a scientist with quite broad interests.

Dogora seems to have a rather bad reputation amongst many lovers of kaiju cinema as one of Ishiro Honda's least accomplished movies, but I think when you go into the film with an open mind, it can be a pretty damn enjoyable experience.

The trick is to not expect Dogora to be your standard kaiju movie at all, but rather an attempt of Toho and/or Honda to make an irreverent, often outright comedic crime film close to the pop style the competing Nikkatsu studio had perfected, that somehow got mixed up with about twenty minutes of a competent, though not exactly spirited kaiju movie. Understandably, neither the monster nor the special effects scenes are completely up to Honda's and Eiji Tsuburaya's usual standards - the monster being more off-screen than on and a few too many strings being visible when things are flying - yet the b-game of these guys is still better than most anybody's a-game. Plus, Dogora's big scene, where it is floating in the sky, waving its tentacles and gobbling up coal is suitably impressive, and as silly as the nature of the monster and the way it is going to be dispatched in the end afford.

A basic, good-natured silliness is Dogora's biggest virtue when it's not being a monster film, but a crime comedy too. It's the sort of film where gangster molls are exceptionally pretty, policemen slightly goofy and slightly cool, where all gangsters are wearing straw hats and white gloves and attempt to kill tied-up heroes by sticking dynamite in their pockets, and where shoot-outs more often than not end without any victims. Honda's direction is as playful and fun as is proper given the amount of merry silliness he is putting on screen. The only moments when the film loses its momentum a bit are when Honda has to switch from fun crime flick to tonally much more earnest monster film mode.

That, however, is hardly reason enough for me to dislike a movie so earnestly working at being fun.


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