Fun fact: The first movie review I ever wrote on my own time was for this movie, “Ebirah, Horror of the Deep” or “Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster.” I wrote it for a website I spent a lot of time on when I was a teenager, called Toho Kingdom, back in 2010. At the time, I was in the middle of my film studies in college and wanted to test the waters of film criticism to see if I was any good at it. Not only did I have fun writing the review, but I felt like I was pretty good at it.
For that reason, “Ebirah, Horror of the Deep” holds a special place in my heart, since it started me down this path and led to over 500 film reviews or articles for this site. In fact, I’ve worked it out perfectly so this re-review of “Ebirah” is the 500th piece of writing that goes up here, which is fitting now that I think about it. Anyway, let’s get to the review proper.
“Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster” is an odd-duck in the franchise, probably because it was not meant to be a Godzilla movie. During the writing process and pre-production, the role of Godzilla was to be played by King Kong and the director of the first Godzilla movie, Ishiro Honda, was set to direct. But Toho thought that this movie would do far better with audiences if they replaced Kong with Godzilla. Honda, who was extremely excited to work a vastly different King Kong film of this caliber, walked off the project when the switched to Godzilla, whom Honda believed was being overplayed by Toho. Instead, Honda would go on to direct “War of the Garganutas” in this same year and make “King Kong Escapes” later on. While Toho was still convinced this idea could do well with Godzilla and hired a relatively new director, Jun Fukuda.
While watching the movie, it is pretty obvious that Godzilla was meant to be Kong, especially given how the ape acted during “King Kong vs. Godzilla.” In this movie, Godzilla is awoken by lightning, something that gave Kong power in the previous movie, he shows affection towards an island girl, and routinely uses his strength and fists to solve his problems in fights as opposed to his atomic breath. In fact, Godzilla rarely uses his beam in this movie, just on a couple of finishing moves. But, with that being said, it still feels like the genuine Godzilla with his mannerisms and body language.
This is also the first Godzilla film to not take itself too seriously, with the previous films having dire plots that typically had the fate of the world hanging in the balance, and only some comedic moments. “Ebirah” mostly takes place on a remote island that concerns only a handful of people, while also taking many opportunities to tell jokes and create a more light-hearted atmosphere. For that reason, I do enjoy this one, if only for the human scenes.
After a disastrous shipwreck in the south Pacific, the brother of the one of the crewman is convinced that he is still alive. He contacts government agents to tell them to continue the search, but they’ve tried everything to find the ship and came up empty handed. So the brother, Ryota, sets out to find him on his own. He finds a couple of guys at a dance marathon who want a boat and the three of them go to the docks and find the nicest boat there, heading inside to admire it. Once there, the three are held at gunpoint by the “owner” who says they can stay the night on the boat if they love it so much.
But everyone wakes up the next morning to discover that the boat has been launched by Ryota, who says they are coming with him to find his brother. The other three are helpless, since they don’t know how to operate a boat. We quickly learn the owner of the boat is actually a runaway thief who was using the boat as a hideout spot.
As the boat gets closer to its destination, they get stuck in the middle of a massive storm which destroys most of the ship. But to make matters worse, a giant claw rises out of the ocean and destroys the boat as they jump out. The four land on a small island and learn it is being controlled by the villainous Red Bamboo, a terrorist organization that is building nuclear weapons on this island.
To make sure no one discovers their hidden location, the Red Bamboo have a monster guarding the island, the Sea Monster Ebirah, a giant lobster. The Red Bamboo have also been stealing island natives from Infant Island, Mothra’s territory, to use as their slave labor force. One of these natives, Dayo, escapes from the Red Bamboo and meets up with our four other characters, who begin working on a way of getting off the island while also saving the natives.
And it just so happens that our heroes stumble across Godzilla sleeping in one of the caves on this island.
My biggest problem with this movie are all the conveniences to the plot. Our heroes just so happen to pick the same boat that the thief is on. They just so happen to wind up on the same island as the Red Bamboo. They happen to come across Godzilla’s cave. In fact, Godzilla being on the same island as the Red Bamboo is very convenient. It all fits together a bit too loosely, where everything seems up to random chance that it worked out this way. It’s not a huge problem, but definitely one that shows up more on repeated viewings.
Ebirah is a very simple monster with not a whole lot to him, just a big lobster with huge claws. There isn’t much that sticks out about him but he does his job as the villain kaiju well enough.
As expected from the plot synopsis, Mothra plays a part in this movie. But it is a very minor role, since she spends all but the last 10 minutes of the movie asleep and the natives of Infant Island spent the rest of the film trying to wake her up. Once she does finally awaken, she ends up being the one to save the day and bring the natives home.
One thing I always thought about this movie when I was a kid was that this particular Mothra was the same one Godzilla killed back in “Mothra vs. Godzilla,” since they looked similar and this one spent the whole movie being asleep, which I thought meant she was dead. I honestly thought they weren’t trying to wake her up, I thought they were bringing her back from the dead through interpretive dance.
Anyway, for the first time in this countdown we have some decent acting. Akira Takarada plays Yoshimura, the thief, and he adds a lot of charm to what could have been a straight forward and dull role, especially when he outsmarts the Red Bamboo at every turn and uses their limited resources to their advantage. Kumi Mizuno plays Dayo, and she has a great ferocity to her performance, like she would kill you with any hesitation. While our other three main leads, Ryota, Ichino, and Nita, are mostly around for comedic relief and do a nice job of it.
Comedy is always tricky when it comes to kaiju movies, since it is so at odds with the rest of the genre. Typically, it is done best when used in small doses to lighten the mood and keep a pleasant atmosphere when the monsters aren’t around. But “Ebirah” goes all in on the comedy and most of the time it works out well thanks to Ichino and Nita. Their out-of-place yet kind-hearted attitudes and general sense of surprise at all the crazy things in this movie goes a long way towards this films light-hearted atmosphere.
Of all the Godzilla movies, “Ebirah, Horror of the Deep” is the most chill and relaxed one. It doesn’t set out to do much in terms of plot or action. Rather, it tells an interesting story about a bunch of odd-balls who happen to stumble into a monster movie and uses comedy at nearly every turn. For that reason, I enjoy it well enough. The monster scenes aren’t terribly impressive, especially since most of the fights are in the water, but they’re not terrible either, especially when Godzilla gets vicious on Ebirah.
One last thing I’d like to point out about this movie is something I mentioned back in my “Godzilla vs. Megalon” review, about how “Mystery Science Theater 3000” looked at two Godzilla films – “Ebirah” was the other one they looked at. But, unlike in “Megalon” where their commentary complimented the overall ridiculous and cheap nature of the movie, I don’t think they gave “Ebirah” a fair shot. Sure, they made fun of the ludicrous nature of the plot, but spent most of the time talking about how Mothra needs to get an alarm clock, how the explosion at the end of this movie was the same used in the beginning of “Megalon” (it was stock footage in “Megalon” and was filmed for this movie, so they had it backwards), and how they didn’t know the title of the movie (even though they skipped the opening credits for some reason).
Most of what they offered was pretty poor, even by their standards, which is probably due to “Ebirah” actually being a fairly good movie. The best they could do is provide dumb commentary that a wrestling announcer would normally give.
Overall, this is a fun yet different Godzilla. It is a welcomed change of pace, especially since it does well at comedy and a smaller-scale kaiju movie. It doesn’t do anything particularly special but provides a nice solid experience. My view on this movie has changed a bit since my initial review in 2010, where I admitted how much I loved it, but I still agree that it is one of the more memorable films in the franchise.