Well, about a week or two ago I finally got my copy of Classic Media's DVD of Terror of Mechagodzilla (and All Monster's Attack as well, but I haven't brought myself to watch it just yet). Now I have finally seen the Japanese version, and it is indeed worth the price of the DVD.
Which is not to say the film is perfect, but at least seeing it uncut allows for a better chance to judge the film on its own merits.
And those merits of course include a set of patently rubber breasts during the Katsura operation scene. Yes, that's the infamous "nudity" you've heard so much about, assuming you didn't already know that. At least it's not as gratuitous as Yuki's ass in Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla.
As far as Ishiro Honda's Godzilla films go, this is not one of his best. Which is not to say it's awful, either. Still, there are some truly deranged directorial choices in this film. Random shots are inserted that do not seem to be related to anything and a few scenes seem to end in strange places.
This actually extends to the monster scenes, as well. When the plot calls on Godzilla to appear, he does--right in the middle of Tokyo, with no explanation of how he got there! In fact, the same thing happens with Titanosaurus in one scene. Perhaps this was a conscious decision in order to get to the action quicker, but it's still damned peculiar.
However, at least Honda's presence in the director's chair brings a darker tone to the film. Violence abounds and the film does not shy away from human casualties. Just try to think of another Godzilla film that shows one of Godzilla's opponents stepping on two young boys--one of whom is named Ken!
Akira Ifukube also returns as composer and his themes here, while rather repetitive, are appropriately grim and ominous.
The special effects are overall quite good, the standout scenes being several shots of the monsters filmed from a low angle in natural sunlight. As the creators of the 90s Gamera trilogy would later discover, filming your giant monster sequences in natural sunlight just looks better.
The Godzilla suit has been toughened up a bit from the previous two films, although he still looks rather like Smokey the Bear. It also seems the tail of the suit has been lengthened, which is good because I never cared for the stubby tail that became a constant characteristic of the suits from Destroy All Monsters on. Mechagodzilla looks about the same and that's partially because he's often represented by re-using footage from the previous film.
Of course, Titanosaurus looks great and is quite memorable. The actor portraying him doesn't always do the best job, though. I'm curious what the hell that "scratching the back of his neck" gesture he does in one shot is supposed to signify.
Sadly, the screenplay is where the film really falters. When the film opens we are given no indication of how much time has passed since Godzilla first defeated Mechagodzilla, but we can assume it's been around a year. (It must be noted, though, that the American version includes a brief voice over telling us it has been "a few days.") So, only just now someone is trying to find Mechagodzilla's head?
And then at the beginning, apparently Dr. Mafune does not yet know the people he has allied himself with the black hole aliens, so then why does he send Titanosaurus to destroy the sub looking for Mechagodzilla? Even more confusing, how long have the aliens been on Earth? These questions really get stirred up when we see a flashback explaining how Katsura became a cyborg.
In the flashback Katsura appears to be a teenager--courtesy a desperate attempt by the costuming department that sees her in a little miniskirt outfit and pig tails--and her father, Mafune, is not yet gray. This implies--based on the fact Katsura appears to be about my age (24) or a bit older in the present--it's been somewhere between five or ten years since the incident. Hilariously, this means that Mafune has been conspiring for the aliens for somewhere in the neighborhood of a decade without figuring out who they are.
Of course, that's hardly the only problem with that scene. Katsura's electrocution is realized via some truly silly silent movie-style melodramatic acting--hell even the soundtrack plays like a silent film score! Even more hilariously, is that when the aliens come into Mafune's lab from an adjacent room to carry the dead Katsura out, they're already dressed in surgical scrubs and--in the Japanese version--Mafune is frantically asking who the aliens are! I defy you to make that scene logical.
Also, this is a minor point, but why does Katsura include Rodan in her appeal to her father not to make gentle Titanosaurus into one of the "disaster monsters"? I guess the good will Rodan gained from helping to defeat King Ghidorah and save the world on three separate occasions has expired.
As for the American version, it's basically the same film as the Japanese version with a couple major differences. For one, it cuts out the "nudity." The second big difference is that it adds a new prologue.
This new prologue is basically a history of Godzilla, composed entirely of footage culled from Invasion of Astro-Monster and All Monster's Attack, the latter of which I recognized by the soundtrack present on the footage. Yes, it actually uses stock footage for its stock footage. It's horribly edited, quite frankly, with awkward cuts and odd sound effects at inappropriate moments. All of this is accompanied by an amusing voice over that tries to explain Godzilla's history. Amusingly, this prologue tries to tell us that Kumonga was an alien pawn sent to destroy Godzilla and that the Planet X aliens are actually the Black hole Aliens. It's hard to say which aliens have the goofier uniform.
The interesting thing is that this voice over continues, intermittently, through the prologue of the film proper. Hence this is where we are told that it's been a few days since Godzilla "threw [Mechagodzilla] into the sea." Never mind that we see Mechagodzilla violently explode into tiny little pieces, and Godzilla does not throw anything into the sea.
Still, either version is worth a look. This is may not be one of the best films of the Showa series, but it was a worthy denouement for that series and this DVD is simply spectacular.
Damn it, why can't Toho just sell the rights to all their Godzilla films to Classic Media?