I’m a HUGE fan of Tokusatsu, especially the Toho franchise. Godzilla vs. Megalon? Godzilla vs. Destroyah? Godzilla vs Bioante? Are you kidding me? This stuff is PURE GOLD. When I heard that Tristar was going to be releasing an AMERICAN Godzilla movie, my adolescent Jon Chad heart leapt for joy. Well, we all know how THAT turned out…
As if PLEADING for my forgiveness, Tristar released the Toho Godzilla 2000 movie stateside. While not the best Godzilla movie ever made, it was the first in the Millennium series of Godzilla movies, and the only one I ever saw in theatres. It remains on of my favorite movie-going experiences.
Meanwhile, on a different arm of movie interests are submarine movies. This love is something that my father and me share. My dad sums it up best:
“It’s got all the attraction of the war genre, with the added pressure of the encompassing ocean. You’ve got an underwater fortress, manly men that have nowhere to go but straight into danger, and you’re guaranteed that some poor plucky young sailor named after a New York borough is going to have to swim into the flooded engine compartment at some point to close a valve. What’s not to like!?”
Ahhhh, truer words have never been spoken.
All of this is merely to set up these two differing cinema interests. Where they intersect is the 1963 Japanese Tokusatsu film, Atragon. To sum it up, a race of people living underneath the earth, the Mu Empire, plan to invade the surface. To accomplish this, the Muians steal the I-403 submarine from WWII veteran, Captain Jinguji. Even though Captain Jinguji has plans for an even more powerful Undersea Fortress, the Atragon, he is still upset about Japan’s defeat in WWII, and refuses to help. He eventually comes around and agrees to help the surface humans; launching the Atragon against the Mu Empire. The final battle pits the Atragon against a kaiju (Japanese giant monster) controlled by the Mu; Manda the sea serpent.
I know that I say this a lot, but this movie HAS IT ALL! There are freeze rays, submarines that can also fly and have drills on the front, explosions, monsters, you name it! Is it cheesy? Most assuredly, but that only adds to the charm. There’s something really authentic about the conceit of making a submarine fly. It’s a great combination of two distinct genres that make for a really unique movie.
In 1995, Phoenix Entertainment released a two-episode anime special based on Atragon named Super Atragon. The design of the titular craft (which, admittedly, is called the Ra in the anime) is awesome. While it plays a little fast and loose with the aliens and the story (and there's no Manda) it's pretty fun. My favorite part of the anime is the cylindrical, almost monolithic alien warships. They're not particularly inspired, but each comes with an bevy of "gravity lenses;" rings that fly around and redirect lasers. Super cool. So cool, in fact, that I drew some fan art.