By Logan Blakeslee
On March 17, 1973, Japanese film audiences had the opportunity to experience a true tour de force that forever revolutionized special effects, artistic cinema, and storytelling itself. 50 years later, it stands as an underappreciated gem, a cult classic that only gets better over time. For the uninitiated, it’s a cheap blockbuster intended for children and their parents. For the enlightened, Godzilla vs. Megalon is peak kino. The characters are inspirational, the stakes are harrowing, and its progressive themes speak to the modern generation fluently.
Acclaimed Japanese screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa gifted the world with the basic plot for this spectacle, although the final script was written by director Jun Fukuda, who was known for his work on other sci-fi thrillers before helming Godzilla vs. Megalon. These creative masterminds set the groundwork for what would become one of the greatest movies ever made. This is all the more impressive given that the production timeline lasted roughly 6 months, a small fraction of the typical 4-5 years allotted to Hollywood theatrical productions.
So, what is Godzilla vs. Megalon really about? A brief summary cannot hope to capture the sheer complexity nor the narrative depth, but the conflict begins when nuclear weapons testing by humanity catches the attention of the Kingdom of Seatopia, a lost civilization that sank beneath the waves 3,000 years ago. The survivors of this ancient catastrophe hardly appreciate the geological instability created by atomic weaponry, and they seek revenge for the damage done to their kingdom by surface-dwelling humans. Their plan for retaliation is downright brilliant.
Seatopians are so advanced that their technology easily surpasses our own. They put this to their advantage when they summon their deity, the giant cyborg beetle known as Megalon. This gargantuan insect stands 55 meters tall (approximately 180 feet) and weighs 40,000 metric tons. Because the special effects are so realistic and convincing, many viewers are unaware that Megalon is portrayed by professional suit actor Hideto Date. The creature, once summoned, goes on a rampage across Japan and reduces cities to rubble.
In the best stories, villains are often just as enjoyable as their heroic counterparts. This film is no exception. Before delving into the obvious protagonist, it is important to share the spotlight with the rest of the main cast. Goro Ibuki and his best friend Hiroshi Jinkawa are two men who, alongside a young boy named Rokuro, work together on a special scientific project. This project is none other than the robot Jet Jaguar, a machine capable of flying and changing its size at will.
The real-world origins of Jet Jaguar are one of the most interesting parts of this film’s production history. A contest was sponsored by the Toho Company (the legal owners of the Godzilla franchise) in 1972, and the purpose of this contest was to have children submit their original monster designs to be featured in an upcoming Godzilla film. It is understandable to feel envious after learning this fact. Regardless, the Children Monster University contest was won by the young Masaaki Sano, who originally named the robot Red Alone.
Jet Jaguar, despite being a machine, alters its own code to give itself artificial intelligence. This ability would be considered ominous in almost any other work of science fiction, but here it is the plot element that saves the day. The robot contains a sense of empathy for humanity and uses its newfound intelligence to protect it from the Seatopian invasion. However, Jet Jaguar lacks the strength to defeat Megalon on its own. It calls upon the aid of our favorite radioactive reptile, Godzilla.
Adding further mayhem to the mix, the Seatopians respond to this unlikely alliance by summoning yet another monster to the fight. They request a small loan of a giant monster from their alien collaborators, who kindly provide a cyborg extraterrestrial with more blades than a slasher villain—Gigan. From there, it’s a 2v2 brawl of epic proportions that has put audiences on the edge of their seats for decades. Godzilla and Jet Jaguar ultimately come out victorious, and they emotionally shake hands before parting ways. Film critics would be wise to note that this scene probably moved countless viewers to tears.
The ending of the film is famous for its inclusion of the musical perfection that is the theme song, “Godzilla and Jet Jaguar: Punch! Punch! Punch!” Listening to this song even once may encourage thousands to engage in martial arts with oversized creatures or perform extensive property damage against urban infrastructure.
An eternal mystery that has followed Godzilla vs. Megalon is the fact that it did not break every box office record during its theatrical release, despite a massive marketing campaign. Perhaps human eyes were not ready for such a high-quality film. Another mystery is that the film was both more popular and more profitable in the United States than it ever was in Japan. Promotion for the film took an especially weird turn at the Democratic National Convention in 1976, where a man in a Godzilla suit advertised the release in America as part of the bizarre “Godzilla for President” campaign.
Allegedly, bikini-clad women got up on stage at the convention immediately following Jimmy Carter’s nomination for president, and they shouted out to the crowd “Godzilla for Vice President!” It can be reasoned that Carter would have won a second term had he followed the advice of these respectable ladies. Altogether, Godzilla vs. Megalon earned $20 million at the box office against a $1.2 million budget. Rentals and toy sales raked in additional cash, and the memory of the film was kept alive in various video games and comic books. Jet Jaguar even appears as a main character in the new Netflix series Godzilla: Singular Point (2021). If nothing else, please watch the scene where Godzilla does a dropkick on Megalon. It’s worth your time.