Director: Ishiro Honda
Writer: Kaoru Mabuchi
Cast: Tadao Takashima, Nick Adams, Kumi Mizuno, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Koji Furuhata, Jun Tazaki, Susumu Fujita, Nobuo Nakamura, Kenji Sahara, Hisaya Ito, Yoshibumi Tajima, Akiji Nomura, Haruya Kato, Ikio Sawamura, Yoshio Kosugi, Noriaki Inoue, Keiko Sawai, Noriko Takahashi, Peter Mann, Ren Yamamoto, Yutaka Sada, Kenzo Tabu, Shigeki Ishida, Haruo Nakajima, Yutaka Nakayama, Senkichi Omura, Nadao Kirino, Yasuhiko Saijyo, Shin Otomo, Shoichi Hirose, Junichiro Mukai, Toshihiko Furuta, Mitsuo Tsuda, Hiroto Kimura, Hideo Shibuya, Yoshiko Miyata, Masaaki Tachibana, Tadashi Okabe, Rinsaku Ogata, Sumio Nakao, Ichiro Kumakura, and Goro Naya
Composer: Akira Ifukube
Release Date: 8/8/1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Transported from Germany to Japan at the end of World War II, the undying heart of Frankenstein’s monster is presumed lost in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Fifteen years later, Dr. James Bowen (Nick Adams) and his colleague, Dr. Sueko Togami (Kumi Mizuno), discover a physically deformed child who develops a strong resistance to radiation. After escaping captivity, the boy—now more than 20 feet tall—proceeds to devour a variety of animals, both wild and domesticated, located in the Japanese countryside. Before long, Baragon—a reptilian kaiju with the ability to burrow underground—engages in a terrible fight with the mutant child.
Arguably the strangest movie ever made, Frankenstein Conquers the World may appeal to fans of B-grade science fiction films. Those who enjoy Mary Shelley’s novel for its underlying themes, however, would be wise to avoid this effort.
In the opening sequence, a German graveyard is bombed by Allied forces during the dead of night. Thereafter, a Kriegsmarine officer and his three commandos barge into the laboratory of Dr. Riesendorf (Peter Mann)—a wild-eyed scientist surrounded by test tubes and electrical devices—and steal a living heart from him. Though underutilized, the horror movie tropes outlined above establish an eerie, haunting atmosphere similar to that of a classic Universal Monster film (the 1931 version of Frankenstein comes to mind for obvious reasons).
Despite offering a unique (if bizarre) twist on the subject matter conceived by Shelley, Frankenstein Conquers the World fails to provide a coherent, let alone compelling, origin story for the Frankenstein monster (referred to as “Frankenstein” in this film, resulting in confusion between the eponymous creature and the mad scientist who ostensibly gave him life). Specifically, no attempt is made to explain if the daikaiju Frankenstein began his journey as an orphan boy, later growing to a gargantuan size after consuming the irradiated heart; or if the heart itself had somehow morphed into a functioning, albeit heavily distorted, humanoid.
On a technical note, the monster Baragon lacks a realistic design by which to terrify the audience. Viewers may thus fail to take seriously the climactic showdown between Frankenstein and Baragon, the colossal nature of which is exemplified only by Akira Ifukube’s powerful musical arrangement.
While the main characters regard Frankenstein as a misunderstood antihero, the titular monster is never portrayed in a sympathetic or even tragically endearing manner—much in contrast to the Frankenstein monster played by Boris Karloff, who, in spite of his childlike demeanor, exhibits remorse after inadvertently slaughtering an innocent human being; the Japanese Frankenstein, on the other hand, gorges himself on food while laughing at the spectacle of his deceased victims. As a result of this fact, enthusiasts of the horror genre may struggle to subconsciously relate Ishiro Honda’s Frankenstein (already an incongruous creation) with the iconic flesh golem of Western literature and cinema.
Similar to King Kong vs. Godzilla, Frankenstein Conquers the World adds an American/European monster to Toho’s daikaiju lineup; but does so in a slipshod manner. There are times, however, when the dark tone of this film embodies, at least somewhat, the gothic essence with which the Frankenstein legend is commonly associated.
Overall Quality: 3/10
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