Jun Fukuda’s Son of Godzilla is possibly the most-hated entry in the Showa era of Godzilla films, and that’s mostly because people confuse it with 1969’s Godzilla’s Revenge/All Monsters Attack. In that film, we follow an obnoxious latchkey kid around his wasteland of a neighborhood and get to see his hallucinations where he has conversations with Godzila’s son Minilla. While it does have its merits, Godzilla’s Revenge is the part of a Showa* marathon most fans dread.
Son of Godzilla, however, is a great Godzilla film, full-stop. Yes, this was when the franchise really went all-in on appealing to children, but aside from its obvious value as an entry point for kids (my daughter was obsessed with “Baby Godzilla”), this is also a perfectly paced adventure film. The plot involves scientists on an island working on a weather-controlling device. A reporter crashes in, and one of their experiments leads to the further gigantification of gigantic praying mantises called Kamacuras. They dig up a gigantic egg and start messing with it, and out hatches Baby Godzilla itself, Minilla. Godzilla swoops in to save the day and eventually adopts the little tyke, training him in the finer arts of breathing fire and fighting monsters.
The film is filled with fun scenes of Minilla jumping around and acting a fool, while an annoyed Godzilla attends to parenting duties. If you can let go and be OK with this iteration of the character, then Son of Godzilla ranks as an upper-tier Showa Godzilla entry. Fukuda’s direction has always been more lively than Ishiro Honda’s, and things move at such a clip in this film that you can’t get bored. The human leads are likable, and the film ends on a surprisingly emotional note as both Godzilla and Minilla cuddle while a snow storm buries them, sending them into hibernation.
More than anything, Son of Godzilla is the perfect gateway to turn children into kaiju fans. My daughter saw me watching King Kong vs. Godzilla and was somewhat interested, mainly in the early scene of natives dancing to summon Kong. At dinner that night I told her, “did you know that there’s a baby Godzilla movie?” and her interest was immediately piqued. From that point, Son of Godzilla has been in regular rotation in our house, and even after watching the goofier Godzilla’s Revenge, she still went back to Son of Godzilla as her go-to. Flash forward to now, and she’s still a fan, and she was hyped about the recent Legendary entries too,
This is all to say that, while fans can be downright snotty about the dubs-vs.-subs debate, I still think that every kaiju film needs to have an English dub specifically for the next generation of fans. My emotional attachment to Godzilla stems directly from holiday marathons on TV, when Destroy All Monsters, King Kong vs. Godzilla, and Godzilla vs. Megalon were played throughout the day and I would sit wide-eyed in awe of these monsters on TV. And of course, these films were dubbed into English, since as a child I probably would have turned it off if I couldn’t understand what people were talking about between the fights.
But strip away emotional attachment to the franchise and this movie’s function as a gateway for young fans, and you’re left with a solid adventure film that’s still better than many other kaiju films of that era. Minilla is a charming character if you can get past being annoyed by its existence, and Godzilla as a grumpy parent is fun as hell. The villains are pretty weak (giant praying mantises and a giant spider are uninspired heels) but it’s not like you’re expecting Minilla to take down, say, King Ghidorah with smoke rings. You’d have to wait a year to get that in the follow-up, Destroy All Monsters.
* The reign of Emperor Hirohito and the “classic” era of Godzilla before the nine-year hiatus between Terror of Mechagodzilla and Godzilla (1984) — ed.