Forget the overplayed John Hughes comedy HOME ALONE (’90). If you want to watch a fun family-friendly film during the holidays look no further than ALL MONSTERS ATTACK (’69) now streaming on the Criterion Channel of FilmStruck. This kinder and gentler Godzilla sequel was designed to appeal to kids of all-ages and features a young boy left home alone who must outsmart some hapless criminals who kidnap him. He also visits Monster Island in his dreams where he watches Godzilla battle giant kaiju and befriends Minilla (Godzilla’s son). Along the way, he learns some difficult life lessons about how to overcome his fears and deal with neighborhood bullies, which is a problem many children must contend with.
Much like THE SON OF GODZILLA (’67), which my fellow FilmStruck writer Nathaniel Thompson wrote about last week, ALL MONSTERS ATTACK has a terrible reputation and it’s often singled out as the worst film in the Godzilla franchise. There are several reasons for this including the fact that it features the divisive character of Minilla who was designed specifically to appeal to young viewers. Due to budget constraints director Ishirô Honda was also forced to recycle footage from previous movies including SON OF GODZILLA and EBIRAH, HORROR OF THE DEEP aka GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (’66). This makes ALL MONSTERS ATTACK a somewhat muddled and nebulous addition to the Godzilla canon.
Despite its shortcomings, ALL MONSTERS ATTACK is highly enjoyable and worth recommending for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is a great gateway film for young children who are unfamiliar with the Godzilla universe thanks to the variety of monsters it introduces us to. It is also a more lighthearted affair than many previous Godzilla outings and preserves its childlike sense of wonder throughout its brisk 70-minute running time.
The film’s young star (Tomonori Yazaki) plays a kind, likable latchkey kid named Ichiro who is bullied by his schoolmates. Both of his parents work long hours so they can afford their tiny apartment on the outskirts of Kawasaki, bordered by huge factories that spew toxic debris into the air. In turn, the lonely boy has developed a rich imagination and his dreams are filled with giant monsters that embody his own anxieties.
Director Ishirô Honda, who was always eager to include social commentary into his science fiction and fantasy films, emphasizes Ichiro’s polluted and hazardous neighborhood. Living conditions are crowded, roads are congested and there are very few safe walkways. The ugliness of Ichiro’s surroundings even takes the form of a background song that contains the following lyrics: “Why is earth such a hard place to live? Go-Go-Godzilla is shocked. Mi-Mi-Minilla is trembling too. Wham! Bang! Crash! They pulverize everything! But megaton smog and exhaust are worst. They’re the real monsters!”
Today, these song lyrics have more relevance than ever but Honda, along with screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa, deliver their message in an amusing and imaginative manner that compliments the story without being heavy-handed. Along with the movie’s environmental concerns, it also stresses the importance of the timeless proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” As young Ichiro wanders around the city by himself, adults encourage him to go home because his parents will worry. And a friendly neighbor makes sure the boy gets a warm meal after his mother calls to say she will be working late.
The urban setting makes a provocative backdrop for the crime story that unfolds involving a couple of clumsy thieves who break into Ichiro’s apartment. The two intimidating adults are much more dangerous than the neighborhood bullies that threaten him every day. In turn, Ichiro must rely on what he learned from watching Godzilla and Minilla interact to help him outwit the criminals.
Some critics have complained about the film’s ending, which shows Ichiro finally confronting his bullies and reluctantly participating in their gang-like activities so it’s important to point out that the director had a very different conclusion in mind. Honda wanted to finish the film with a bittersweet moment in the picture that takes place between Ichiro and his mother after he escapes the kidnappers. During the scene, Ichiro’s father is absent and his mother apologies for having to work so much. She is tearful and obviously concerned about her child, but their bleak surroundings indicate that finances are also a pressing concern. Is it any wonder that Ichiro wants to retreat to Monster Island where Godzilla and his son Minilla act out the parent-child relationship he longs for?
Unfortunately the downbeat ending did not appeal to audiences or studio executives, so it was changed but ALL MONSTERS ATTACK still packs an emotional punch. It may not be the greatest Godzilla movie ever made but it is a unique and timely entry in a film franchise that has spawned 30 sequels and countless imitators.
by Kimberly Lindbergs
Originally written for FilmStruck.com