After the excesses of such entries as GHIDORAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER and GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO, it was perhaps inevitable that the series would begin to shed some of it fat and dial down the silly. Of course, we are talking about a movie where Godzilla faces a giant jumbo shrimp as an opponent, so the series wasn't exactly about to morph into or Death of a Scales Man, but GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER was the first of several films that find our atomic-breathed lizard pal not in Tokyo or Osaka, but on a remote island, with no cities to destroy. The usual director, Ishiro Honda, stepped aside (most likely to work on the bigger and wackier KING KONG ESCAPES) and Jun Fukuda took over for the first of five Godzilla films he would helm.
The "smaller is better" approach yielded good results at first. GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER may be derivative of the James Bond series, with its evil island headquarters for bad guys (DR. NO), its atom bomb ticking off in the final few minutes (GOLDFINGER) and its underwater fights (THUNDERBALL), but like the later SON OF GODZILLA, the film is still a fun Jules Verne-style adventure like MYSTERIOUS ISLAND where a small group of castaways winds up on an island they know nothing about and soon discover all sorts of strange things going on (this same setup worked wonders for six seasons on television with Lost). The sight of a giant lobster claw rising from the ocean and attacking passing boats is one of the most effective and memorable monster moments of the series, and the situation of the bad guys enslaving local natives to do their evil bidding is a perfect setup for a group of "Scooby Gang" heroes to come in and save the day. A grabbag full of Godzilla-movie veterans and newcomers have a blast playing the one-dimensional character parts for all they're worth.
In truth, GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER may have been a better film without Godzilla, especially when the script was originally intended for King Kong, making some of Godzilla's actions a little too humanizing. He is mesmerized by the site of a pretty native girl, something we could understand from the lovelorn Kong but completely out of character for Godzilla. He also taunts the oncoming bad guy fighter planes as he dismantles them one by one to a soundtrack of bad surfing music - he's got his fighter jet defense moves down to an art form. But the gags and slapstick moments clash with the tone of the rest of the film.
Mothra arrives like a deus ex mothina to save the islanders and our heroes from a nuclear bomb that is set to destroy the island, and this leads to the film's most interesting moments. After giving the the Sea Monster an off shore drilling he won't soon forget, Godzilla spies Mothra and follows her back to the island. The continuity from the earlier film GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER is maintained, as Godzilla and Mothra appear to have forged a mutual respect for each other, if not an actual friendship. What follows is a conversation in roars and screeches that is not subtitled but easily understandable. My interpretation is that Godzilla asks Mothra what the hell is going on on, Mothra warns him he must leave the island, and Godzilla throws a tantrum, stamping his feet and whomping his tail, and even breathes fire near Mothra (but significantly, not directly on her). Why? Because, damn it, all he wants is a little place where he can sleep for a few million years, and every time he finds somewhere nice, his happiness never lasts!
The final moments of the film are actually charged with suspense, as Mothra gathers the islanders and flies away. Godzilla roars as he watches Mothra, probably wondering why she is leaving when they were just starting to have some fun (tired of trying to convince the Big Guy to leave, Mothra lost her patience and resorted to slapping him around with her wings). When she is gone, Godzilla stands alone on a cliff, looking sad and lonely; no more monsters, no more humans, no more pretty native girls or fighter jets, just one big lizard who doesn't know a nuclear bomb is ticking down to its final moments just below the surface of the island.
Does Godzilla escape before the blast?
I'm not gonna spoil it! ½ - JB
Kumi Mizuno, who plays the beautiful native girl in this film, was perhaps even more memorable (or just as memorable in a different way) as doomed alien agent Miss Namikawa in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO. She also appeared in several other Toho sci-fi productions such as GORATH (1962), MATANGO (aka ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE and FUNGUS OF TERROR) (1963) and FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON (aka FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD) (1965). Like just about any famous Japanese screen star you can name, she also appeared in Hiroshi Inagaki's CHUSHINGURA (1962). A fan favorite for her beauty and versatility, she rejoined the Godzilla series in the 2000s with appearances in GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (2002) and GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (2004).