Review Date: October 24, 2007
Released by: Media Blasters
Release date: 6/26/2007
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
It’s not easy being in the public domain. Just look at the Frankenstein monster. First appearing in an 1818 novel, the story and its characters eventually became open to exploitation by any filmmaker. Although Universal seemed to keep a tight grip on the Frankenstein name during the 30’s and 40’s, by the 50’s filmmakers were exploiting it to no end. Frankenstein’s Daughter
, Frankenstein 1970
, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster
, Dracula vs. Frankenstein
and Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror
are just some of what resulted. But it would take the Japanese to produce the most outrageously conceived Frankenstein film of them all...
It’s 1945, and the Allied armies are quickly closing in on Hitler’s Third Reich. We open in Frankfurt as German scientist Dr. Reissendorf (Peter Mann
) is interrupted in his laboratory by a group of Nazi soldiers who, under the supervision of a naval officer, seize a crate from him and put it on a U-boat. The submarine sails all the way around Africa and into the Pacific, where it makes a rendezvous with a Japanese sub. The Germans hand the crate over to their allies just as an American plane appears overhead. It sinks the U-boat, but the Japanese sub is able to escape and return home, where naval officer Lieutenant Kawai (Yoshio Tsuchiya
) delivers the strange crate to an army hospital in Hiroshima. The cargo is revealed to be the still beating heart of the Frankenstein monster, which reportedly can never die. The army surgeons are amazed by the heart, but before they can conduct any real research on it the hospital and the entire city is destroyed by the atomic bomb.
We flash forward fifteen years. The war is over and Hiroshima has been rebuilt, but the effects of the atomic bomb live on as many city residents still suffer from health problems due to radioactive exposure. Dr. James Bowen (Nick Adams
) is an American scientist who has been treating such patients at a local hospital, with the help of Dr. Yuzo Kawaji (Tadao Takashima
) and the lovely Dr. Sueko Togami (Kumi Mizuno
). Bowen is frustrated by the medical profession’s continuing ignorance of how to treat radiation victims, and is thinking of packing up and going home. As this has been happening, Hiroshima begins experiencing a series of grotesque animal deaths, which are apparently being caused by a feral child that Sueko encounters several times. A year passes, and the boy is captured and taken to the hospital. Bowen, Sueko and Kawaji are astounded to discover that the boy is growing abnormally fast – in fact, it is not long before he is as large as Bowen is. The boy, though gentle, is not able to speak or understand most instructions. Eventually the group is visited by the former Lieutenant Kawai. Now retired from the military, Kawai describes his experience with the heart in 1945 and urges them to investigate the possibility that the boy’s presence might have something to do with it.
The boy – who is eventually designated as Frankenstein - keeps growing and has to be confined in a cage for the safety of everyone around. But he breaks out one night when a visiting TV crew spooks him with their heavy-duty production lights. He wanders around Hiroshima a little bit, then disappears into the mountains where the police and military are unable to find him. Soon, there are reports of mountain communities suffering tremendous destruction. Although the destruction is blamed on him, it is soon revealed that another monster – a subterranean dinosaur named Baragon – is also on the loose and causing havoc, and it’s only a matter of time before the two monsters bump into each other for an epic battle!
Frankenstein Conquers the World
is the American title for what became the first in a long line of science fiction/monster co-productions between Japan’s Toho Studios and American companies. Its original Japanese title is Frankenstein vs. Baragon
, which is much more accurate than the title used by American International Pictures during its original theatrical release. Frankenstein certainly does not conquer the world – he’s not even depicted as that much of a menace to Japan. Nevertheless, AIP head honchos James Nicholson and Sam Arkoff, along with producer Henry G. Saperstein, certainly knew what would sell in the American market, and many fans have fond memories of the film.
This DVD release includes not one, not two, but three separate versions of the movie – the original Japanese theatrical cut, the original American theatrical cut (complete with the original AIP English language credits) and an “international” cut. A rough breakdown of the differences between the Japanese theatrical and American versions is as follows:
- The U.S. version is missing a short scene on the Japanese sub before it meets up with the U-boat, in which Kawai and the sub’s captain speculate on what the German vessel could possibly be bringing them.
- When we first meet Dr. Bowen, he is talking with a female patient who he knows is going to die soon. When the action flashes forward a year, there is a sequence where Bowen and Sueko go to visit her grave. This sequence is cut from the American version.
- During the scene where the boy is first revealed as having suddenly grown, the American version is missing a line of Nick Adams’ dialog where he says that the boy should be locked up for everyone’s safety.
- After Frankenstein pops up in Osaka, there is a pan over the city skyline that ends with the camera zooming in on the Osaka police station. In the American version the shot is several seconds shorter.
- When the military first arrives to hunt for Frankenstein, the Japanese versions have shots of tanks driving while an animated map of the area is superimposed on the screen. These are missing from the American version.
- Not long afterwards there is a moment when a tank collapses into a ditch dug by Frankenstein as a trap for a wild boar. In the Japanese versions the troop commander asks the tank driver if he’s okay, and then the boar charges at them. In the American version the scene ends with the tank going into the ditch.
- Near the climax there is a scene where the giant Frankenstein rescues an injured Dr. Kawaji and delivers him to Sueko and Bowen. The Japanese versions contain some extra footage of them putting him into their car.
As far as the international cut goes, it is exactly the same as the Japanese cut except with one crucial difference – an alternate ending. Both the Japanese theatrical and American versions end with an earthquake that swallows up both Frankenstein and Baragon. The international version shows Baragon defeated, but then Frankenstein has to fight another monster in the form of a giant octopus (!) that crawls out of a nearby river. Frankenstein fights with the plastic cephalopod for several minutes until it gets the upper tentacle and drags him to a watery grave. Henry G. Saperstein had the scene cut from the American version, claiming that it didn’t look very good and that adding an extra monster at the end was unnecessary.
Although the removal of the octopus (called the “devilfish” by some sources) was probably a bad choice on Saperstein’s part, his decision to remove other footage actually helps the movie. The film is poorly paced but the cuts help somewhat. Nowadays it is almost heresy to praise someone for changing a director’s creative vision, but sometimes the producer really does know best. The most beneficial cut is the removal of the sequence where Bowen and Sueko go to visit the dead girl’s grave a year later. With this footage missing, it is no longer apparent that the story has jumped forward a year. This is actually beneficial because the Japanese version’s transition to a year later is awkward, and by removing the transition it actually serves to make Frankenstein’s development less confusing.
Yet, no matter which version you watch, Frankenstein Conquers the World
is still basically the same movie. It is a strange, incoherent, unintentionally humorous but ultimately frustrating mix of classic horror ideas amalgamated into a modern, postwar monster movie. Though it is directed by the great Ishiro Honda, when compared to some of the other monster films that Toho had produced during this period (films like Mothra
, Mothra vs. Godzilla
and Ghidorah the Three Headed Monster
, all directed by Honda as well), it is a definite step down in quality.
Japanese monster movies typically show a society in which the presence of monsters is treated as a given. The skeptical “I don’t believe such a creature could ever exist” attitude seen in the opening acts of almost any western world monster movie is not seen quite as frequently in Japanese films. In Frankenstein Conquers the World
, the fact that Frankenstein grows from a small boy to a monster in a very short period is considered unusual, but it’s not greeted with the same shock and amazement as it would in an American monster movie. Later on in the film, when there is some question as to whether or not Baragon really exists, some characters do express skepticism, yet no one seems that surprised when the creature formally reveals itself. Even the giant octopus fails to elicit much surprise when it crawls out of the (presumably freshwater) river at the end of the international cut.
Many critics complain about the inherent lack of logic seen in Japanese monster movies, including a lack of anything approaching scientific logic. It is true that virtually every single one of these films is full of cockamamie scientific theories. As a living creature, even Godzilla himself is scientifically illogical. Whether it be Toho, Daiei (producers of the Gamera films) or another Japanese studio, the scripts always contain some crazy idea about space travel, physics, monster biology or the like. Yet criticism of this is often misplaced. These movies have their own logic all to themselves, and if you look at each film you will even find that there can be a remarkably consistency to it all, despite different studios, directors and screenwriters.
Frankenstein Conquers the World
certainly has its share of the normal cockamamie scientific theories, but it makes a major mistake along the way. The mistake is not that it uses a crazy theory to explain something, but that it doesn’t explain the matter at all. Amazingly, the script never actually explains what the connection is between the boy at Hiroshima and the Frankenstein monster’s immortal heart. When soliciting the public for possible information about the boy’s identity, Bowen and company receive a letter from someone stating that after Hiroshima was destroyed by the atomic bomb they saw a little boy inhabiting the grounds of the ruined army hospital for over a year. Over the years many people have interpreted this as meaning that the boy ate the now irradiated heart, causing him to mutate into the fast-growing monster. However, nowhere in the actual film is this even hinted at. Nor is there any explanation as to the bizarre timeframe of the movie. Hiroshima was destroyed in August of 1945. The boy mentioned in the letter is said to be about three years old, meaning that he would have been born sometime between 1942-43. Yet when the story picks up fifteen years later (1960), the boy (who is seen several times during the first part of the film before the action shifts forward a year) looks to be no more than ten. When the action picks up a year later, he still looks like he’s ten. He certainly appears too young to have been born during the war, something that’s even mentioned by a visiting reporter (the boy is also referred to as fully Caucasian, even though the actor playing him is clearly Asian). There’s no explanation as to why the boy would have remained unseen for over a decade, before popping up in 1960 to kill a few animals, only to disappear again until 1961 and only then start growing into a monster.
Incoherence aside, the movie has definite qualities and liabilities. On the positive side we have Ishiro Honda’s skillful staging of so many of the monster scenes. But really, it’s Nick Adams who steals the show. Adams plays Dr. Bowen as a take charge fellow, one who is a natural leading man. Adams would appear in the Godzilla film Monster Zero
the same year, and would work in one more Japanese non-genre film before returning to the United States. Whereas some Japanese filmmakers have horror stories about working with imported American actors, Adams (who died in 1968) seems to have won the near universal respect of everyone he worked with thanks to his kindness and professionalism.
Yet, on the negative side, the movie is simply too badly paced for its own good. After Frankenstein escapes from the hospital, there follows a very long and tediously slow series of scenes involving the search for him as characters speculate on where he might be. Is he still in Hiroshima, or is he in Okayama? No, no, wait, he’s in Osaka now. Okay, now he’s heading in this direction. Uh oh – this resort at Mt. Shirane just got destroyed, could it have been him? No, wait, it couldn’t have – Mt. Shirane is too far away from where he was last seen.
This goes on and on and on as characters talk to each other and look over maps. Bowen, Sueko and Kawaji hold endless meetings with government officials and reporters as they continually state that they don’t want Frankenstein killed, while everyone else advocates his destruction. Occasionally Baragon will pop up and destroy something, or there will be a scene with Frankenstein running around the hills. Every once and awhile during this tedium, Honda will manage to slip in something worthwhile, like a well handled scene where the military confronts Frankenstein in an abandoned underground tunnel complex, but for the most part it’s all boring. All throughout my youth I watched movies like this, although I had never seen Frankenstein Conquers the World
until I received it as a promotional screener. By the time of my final viewing, I wanted to scream and yell in frustration. That’s too bad, because the film could have been a lot of fun. Instead, it’s an interesting, sometimes entertaining but largely mediocre movie that is no great credit to the careers of talented men like Nick Adams and Ishiro Honda.
All three cuts are presented in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios with 16x9 enhancement. Image quality on all three versions is virtually identical, with one exception.
The image is generally sharp and clear, but colors alternate from deep and vivid to slightly faded. Minor print damage can be seen throughout the film, and there are numerous splices throughout (though many of them appear on either first or the last frame of a shot, indicating it may originate with sloppy cutting of the original negative). Shadow detail is below average, with inconsistent black levels. All three versions intermittently display four blemishes on the upper right hand corner of the screen.
The one exception is that the Japanese theatrical and American versions have anomaly not seen on the international version. At the end of the climax the video quality takes a sudden turn for the worse, with poor contrast and clarity, blacks that appear very grayish and very poor shadow detail. In fact, it looks so different from the rest of the film that it’s likely it came from a completely separate master than the rest of the transfer, such as an older video transfer. The international version is not affected by this, since the octopus footage takes over before this point in the film is reached.
All three versions are presented in their original 2.0 Mono tracks, as well as gratuitous remixes in 5.1 Surround.
The Japanese language Mono tracks (the international cut is available only in Japanese) are adequate for their age, with decent clarity and fidelity but also some minor background noise.
The English Mono track has above average clarity, but suffers from quite a bit of hissing in the background.
None of the versions gains much from being remixed in 5.1 Surround, and the English 5.1 track has the same hissing that the Mono track does.
English subtitles are available on the Japanese language cuts.
The extras kick off with a commentary track imported from Toho’s Region 2 release from 2001. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles, it features special effects cameraman Sadamasa Arikawa alongside an unnamed moderator. Considering how old the movie was even when the commentary was recorded, Arikawa’s memory is remarkably sharp and he is able to provide considerable information on the special effects, and about working with men like Ishiro Honda and special effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya. Like the film itself, the commentary often drags, but it is worth listening to once if you are a serious “kaiju eiga” fan like me. Media Blasters’ subtitles are mostly legible, but include a few noticeable spelling goofs.
The next supplement is some deleted footage that doesn’t appear in either the Japanese or American versions. There are some extras shots of tanks driving around, and an extended version of the sequence where Frankenstein escapes from the hospital and runs through the streets of Hiroshima.
The only other extras are an extensive gallery of lobby cards, posters and production photos, two Japanese trailers for the film, and trailers for Atragon
, Dogora the Space Monster
, The Mysterians
Frankenstein Conquers the World
would be a mostly forgettable movie if it wasn’t so damn strange and off the wall. As it is, though, the movie is mediocre while still interesting and occasionally entertaining. Media Blasters has done a good job on this release though, pulling together the three versions with decent transfers.
I will also give huge kudos to them for importing and giving translation to the special features from Toho’s discs, not just on this release, but also on titles such as The Mysterians
and Varan the Unbelievable
. Although they are not alone in providing American viewers with special editions of Toho films, I find their releases are the most satisfying to me. Although Classic Media has produced some fine special editions of the classic Godzilla films, their releases always feature American-produced special features like new, English-language commentaries. Though I enjoy their releases too, I would almost always prefer to hear straight from the Japanese directors and technicians who made these movies, and Frankenstein Conquers the World
is no exception.
Movie – C-
Image Quality – C+
Sound – B-
Image Quality – B-
Sound – B-
Image Quality – C+
Sound – C
Supplements – B
- Running Time – Japanese theatrical version – 1 hour 30 minutes
- Running Time – International version – 1 hour 33 minutes
- Running Time – American version – 1 hour 25 minutes
- Chapter Stops
- Japanese 2.0 Mono
- Japanese 5.1 Surround
- English 2.0 Mono
- English 5.1 Surround
- English subtitles
- 2 Discs
- Audio commentary with special effects cameraman Sadamasa Arikawa
- Deleted footage
- Still gallery