Calling something weird in the Toho universe is nothing special. You can can’t even call something bizarre and elicit a response. Yet, that’s the only way to possibly describe Dogora. This is easily Toho’s strangest kaiju film ever, and that works with and against the film.
This one comes from the venerable team, the true monster masters of Eiji Tsuburaya, Ishiro Honda, Akira Ifukube, and Shinichi Sekizawa. You know the talent is here if you’re even remotely familiar with the Japanese monster industry. The sad thing is Dogora is bogged down with pitiful pacing, involving jewel thieves and international agencies trying to track them.
It ends up the jewels are being sucked up by Dogora, a cell in space mutated by radiation from Japan. This leads to some fantastic, yet far too short, scenes of destruction, as the creature sucks up the carbon in both coal and diamonds. This leads to three problems.
The most obvious is that it’s not possible to be scared by a monster that eats coal. Godzilla brings people down with an atomic death ray; Dogora eats stuff that ends up in stockings at Christmas time. Sure, this beast sucks up buildings and the occasional military vehicle. That doesn’t mean you’re terrified of it by the time the film works its way into battle.
The second is that Dogora, in its first form, is actually quite beautiful. These are some of Toho’s best effects ever, completely unlike anything seen in their other films or even real life. It’s a beautiful eggshell white squid that’s mesmerizing to watch in action. Even as it takes out an entire bridge, it’s impossible to see a creature that looks like this as evil.
Once that form is taken care of, Dogora switches forms into many tiny Dogoras (Dogori? Dogoresses?). This turns them into bobbing ball of light in the sky. They serve the same purpose, only they look unbearably cheesy. Studio stills and lobby cards show two of the giant sized creatures taking apart boats and Paris. None of that is here, and the single fully formed beast is on screen for about 10-minutes out of a 90-minute movie.
Does that add up to an unwatchable mess? Not really. There’s some well done suspense as the mystery slowly builds to what Dogora actually is. There’s no glimpse of the creature until close to the hour mark. It’s all explained with a lumbering pace by the key scientist, played by Nobuo Nakamura. He’s a Toho staple, ending up in the Frankenstein series (Frankenstein Conquers the World, War of the Gargantuas). Composer Ifukube gives his all as he always does, and you can hear his style from the era here.
In-between all of that, the exposition between the police and the group of thieves is boring. It was the intent of Honda however, to blend two of Japan’s favorite movie genres in the era. Both of them end up feeling cheap or not explored fully enough to come off as viable portion of the finished product. The promotional material should not have made the monsters such a focus. A young Robert Dunham, years before his entire career dive-bombed when he starred in Godzilla vs. Megalon, speaks Japanese better than you would expect for someone born in America. That doesn’t mean it’s fun to watch him act as Mark Jackson in this film.
When Dogora is over, you can’t help but feel disappointed. Even for its age, there are still special effects that are impossible to determine how they were accomplished. That makes you wish there were far more of them. (** out of *****)
As is the norm for Tokyo Shock and Media Blasters, Dogora has never looked better. Print damage is evident all the time, but it’s really taken a beating in the special effect sequences. The transfer job, however, is amazing. The color is strong, and it couldn’t do a better job of bringing it out. Black levels are flawless, and that’s usually a problem with discs from this company (watch Gappa). Compression problems are only noticeable enough to be distracting in two scenes. Given the obscurity of the film and the age, it’s incredible. (****)
The disc offers two audio options, the original Japanese dialogue and the Toho dub. The Japanese language track is in far better shape, with little or no distortion. The dubbed track is not only unbearable to listen to because it’s a dub, but also because it’s so scratchy and worn. These tracks are both mono. (***)
Features are limited, and that’s not unexpected. The original trailer is included, in fantastic condition. Four other trailers for related films make up a small gallery. The last feature is some studio stills, including the ones mentioned above that are not even close to the finished product. (*)
Dogora is one of the few monsters to never see any more action in a Toho feature film. They were dropped down to TV for some episodes in the Ultraman series. That’s where they’ll stay; yet it’s not hard to imagine a more focused film featuring the creature becoming a classic.
SC: Tan The Man