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Atragon: The Undersea Warship
[[Image:Atragon- The Undersea Warship (1963) Poster.jpg|200px|]]
The Original Japanese Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ishirō Honda
Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written by Shunro Oshikawa (story),

Shigeru Komatsuzaki (story uncredited) Shinichi Sekizawa (screeplay)

Music by Akira Ifukube
Running time 94 minutes
Budget ?

Atragon: The Undersea Warship is an 1963 Toho kaiju film,

based on the 1900 Japanese adventure novel The Undersea Warship: A Fantastic Tale of Island Adventure written by Shunro Oshikawa.



Plot[]

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SPOILER WARNING: This section may contain major plot and/or ending details. Proceed at your own discretion.

A taxi driver ignores his passenger's request to stop, burning his hand when he tries to grab him. Meanwhile, two photographers, Susumu Hatanaka and Yoshito Nishibe, are in the middle of a shoot with an actress near the ocean. She screams when she sees what appears to be a monster climb onto the dock, emitting steam. Susumu scares the creature away with his camera flash, then nearly gets hit by the taxi as it drives off the pier.

The next morning, the car is lifted out of the water. Susume and Yoshito speak with Detective Ito about what happened, along with the real driver, who claims to have been strangled by the burning hands of the same creature before his car was stolen. A reporter joins them, and they are all astonished to find that no bodies were found in or around the car. Their statement to Ito complete, Susumu and Yoshito are distracted by a beautiful woman stepping off of a nearby ship, who they view as a potential model. She ignores Susumu, but he manages to take a picture of the license plate of the car she left in. Another man in a nondescript outfit watches her leave from a distance.

Ito visits Susumu and Yoshito at their office and reveals to them that another man emitting steam has carried out a kidnapping, this time abducting an engineer at a dam. The other man was an engineer too, and both were experts on cave-ins. Their conversation is cut short by a brief earthquake. The woman Susumu and Yoshito spotted turns out to be Makoto Jinguji, the adopted daughter of former Admiral Kusumi, who now runs a shipping company. The two receive a visit from the reporter from the docks, Uoto Unno, who brings up the I-403, a powerful submarine that the Imperial Japanese Navy launched the night the Pacific War ended. He claims that its captain, Kusumi's right-hand man Hachiro Jinguji, is still alive. Kusumi dismisses him, saying that Jinguji died during the war, but Makoto wonders if her father really could be alive. She questions why he had to leave her to go off into battle; Kusumi explains that his love for his country won out over his family.

Yoshito tracks down Makoto's car and tails her with Susumu in tow. The man from the docks watches them go, and Makoto reveals to Kusumi that she's noticed him following her. Their driver turns out to be the same man who abducted the first engineer. He holds them at gunpoint, along with Yoshito and Susumu once they catch up, and explains that they will be taken to work as slaves of the Mu Empire. He identifies himself only as Mu Agent No. 23. Kusumi scoffs at the idea that the legendary kingdom said to have sunk into the Pacific Ocean millennia ago is real. Yoshito attempts to attack the agent with a wrench, but he catches it and heats it up with his touch. The creatures from before rise out of the water, revealed themselves as Mu frogmen, and a Mu Submarine arrives to pick them up. Just as they are about to depart, Susumu kicks the gun out of the agent's hand. As they fight, Kusumi picks up the gun and tries to convince the agent to come with them. Instead, he dives into the water, evading multiple shots.

While speaking to Detective Ito, the four receive a package labeled "MU" from the agent, which contains a film. Played before the Japanese government, it details the history and technological prowess of the Mu Empire, which once ruled the world and plans to do so again. It also shows the I-403 on display in their undersea city. However, the Mu were unable to capture Jinguji, who they believe is constructing an even mightier submarine called the Gotengo. They demand that humanity halt the Gotengo's construction and allow themselves to be subjugated once more. The United Nations meets about the film, but determines it to be fraudulent after only ten minutes of deliberation. A Mu submarine responds by blowing up a ship with homing mines, then carrying out devastating attacks against Venice and Hong Kong. The crew of an elite nuclear submarine called the Red Satan dives after a Mu submarine in the hopes that it will lead them back to Mu, only to be destroyed by the extreme water pressure.

Meeting with several military officials who express interest in the Gotengo, Kusumi admits that Jinguji revolted from the Imperial Japanese Navy. Their conversation is interrupted by a call from the police station, where the man tailing Makoto has been detained. He is uncooperative at first, but gives his name as Warrant Officer Amano once Kusumi states his rank, and reveals that Jinguji is still alive. An earthquake rocks the police station as Mu Agent No. 23 again demands that humanity surrender, having placed a tape in the broadcasting room. Amano refuses at first to give out Jinguji's location, but Makoto, Kusumi, and the reporter from the docks convince him otherwise. The agrees to take Susumu, Yoshito, Ito, Makoto, Kusumi, and the reporter to the site. Agent No. 23 reports their trip to the High Priest of Mu. The kidnapped engineers respond to a cave-in at a power room as the High Priest leads scores of Mu in a prayer to their god, Manda.

After a flight and three days of sailing, the group has nearly reached Jinguji. Makoto tries to sort through her complicated feelings towards her father with Susumu's help: she feels no bitterness towards him, but his motivation remain a mystery to her. Like Kusumi, Susumu ascribes Jinguji's lack of contact with his daughter to old-fashioned patriotism. The reporter quietly drops a small white orb into the sea and a Mu submarine picks it up. Their destination is an island, where they are soon met by Jinguji's troops, who lead them to their base. Captain Jinguji meets with them, thanking Kusumi for covering up his revolt but finding himself unable to speak with Makoto. He announces that he'll be testing the Gotengo tomorrow, but refuses to use it in service of the United Nations, only a resurgent Japanese navy. Makoto and Susumu storm out of the room, with the latter calling him "war crazy."

Despite their misgivings, the group watches the Gotengo's trial run. Not only does the drill-nosed submarine successfully submerge, it follows that up by taking flight. Jinguji announces that they will test the Zero Cannon tomorrow. He explains to Kusumi that the Mu attacked the I-403 and he and his crew used it as bait to escape their clutches. However, they accidentally left a blueprint of the Gotengo behind. Kusumi attempts to persuade Jinguji again to fight the Mu, but he still refuses. That night, he speaks with Makoto, who declares that she hates him for turning his back on mankind. After she leaves, he gives Susumu an old photo of himself and Makoto as a child, and tells him to take care of her. The reporter shows his true colors as an agent of Mu, knocking out Makoto with an electric shock. After revealing that he planted a bomb in the Gotengo's hangar, he shocks Susumu as well and flees with them both as prisoners. The blast demolishes the hangar.

In Mu, the Empress oversees a massive ceremony conducted by the High Priest. He presents Makoto and Susumu to her, and she orders them sacrificed to Manda. They are thrown into the same cell as the engineers, and Agent No. 23 invites them to open the window, revealing Manda himself, a massive sea dragon. Back on the island, Jinguji's men struggle to clear the rubble covering the Gotengo. The Mu continue their campaign against the surface world, sending troops to Mount Mihara to carry out rocket attacks. After working in the mines, Susumu manages to steal several sticks of a powerful explosive.

The Mu Empire warns the world of impending attacks on New York City and Tokyo. Using the Gotengo's drill, Jinguji frees it from the ruined hangar and orders it into battle against the Mu, having realized his mistake. The JSDF mobilizes and oversees the evacuation of Tokyo. Suddenly, the Ginza and Marunouchi districts are leveled by an earthquake as a Mu submarine opens fire on ships in Tokyo Bay. It retreats as the Gotengo arrives on the scene, with the super-submarine giving chase.

In Mu, Susumu uses the dynamite to take the Empress hostage. As they change into diving sets, she secretly sets off a charge to release Manda. The monster seems to have them trapped, but the Gotengo gets his attention with a barrage of torpedoes. The group uses the distraction to swim toward the submarine and climb aboard. It surfaces, and Makoto reconciles with her father. The Empress is defiant, declaring her empire's supremacy. Jinguji prepares to attack the main Mu power generator, but the Gotengo must face Manda first. The serpent tries to constrict the submarine, but its electrified hull repels it, leaving it open to blasts from the Zero Cannon. The monster is quickly rendered immobile as the Gotengo advances, drilling into the generator room.

Jinguji's troops plant explosives, using handheld versions of the Zero Cannon to freeze Mu soldiers in their tracks. The Gotengo fires its Zero Cannon at the machinery until it stops moving, then withdraws. The bombs detonate, starting a chain reaction which destroys the entire Mu Empire. A Mu submarine escapes, but its rays miss their mark and the Zero Cannon quickly halts its attack. The Empress dives into the sea, swimming into the flames to share the fate of her people.

Cast[]

  • Tadao Takashima   as   Susumu Hatanaka
  • Yoko Fujiyama   as   Makoto Jinguji
  • Yu Fujiki   as   Yoshito Nishibe
  • Jun Tazaki   as   Hachiro Jinguji
  • Ken Uehara   as   Admiral Kusumi
  • Kenji Sahara   as   Uoto Unno
  • Hiroshi Koizumi   as   Detective Ito
  • Akihiko Hirata   as   Mu agent
  • Yoshibumi Tajima   as   Tome Amanoshome
  • Hideyo Amamoto   as   High Priest of Mu
  • Tetsuko Kobayashi   as   Mu Empress
  • Hisaya Ito   as   Shindo
  • Susumu Fujita   as   Self Defense Force commander
  • Minoru Takada   as   Government official
  • Ikio Sawamura   as   Taxi driver
  • Akemi Kita   as   Rimako
  • Nadao Kirino   as   Kidnapped scientist
  • Tetsu Nakamura   as   Warship captain
  • Yukihiko Gondo   as   Military official
  • Yutaka Nakayama   as   Sailor
  • Shin Otomo   as   Government official
  • Koji Uno   as   Police officer
  • Wataru Omae   as   Police officer
  • Katsumi Tezuka   as   Mu henchman
  • Shoichi Hirose   as   Mu henchman
  • Yasuzo Ogawa   as   Mu henchman
  • Osman Yusuf   as   Mu henchman

International English dub[]

  • Nick Kendall   as   Susumu Hatanaka
  • Ted Thomas   as   Hachiro Jinguji / High Priest of Mu / Military officer
  • John Wallace   as   Admiral Kusumi / Shindo

Titra Sound Studios English dub[]

  • Bernard Grant   as   Susumu Hatanaka
  • Lucy Martin   as   Makoto Jinguji
  • Larry Robinson   as   Yoshito Nishibe
  • Bret Morrison   as   Admiral Kosumi
  • Kenneth Harvey   as   Detective Ito
  • Jack Curtis   as   Mu agent
  • Peter Fernandez   as   Hachiro Jinguji's lieutenant

Staff[]

  • Directed by   Ishiro Honda
  • Written by   Shinichi Sekizawa
  • Based on The Undersea Warship: A Fantastic Tale of Island Adventure by   Shunro Oshikawa
  • Characters inspired by The Undersea Kingdom by   Shigeru Komatsuzaki (uncredited)
  • Executive Producer   Tomoyuki Tanaka
  • Music by   Akira Ifukube
  • Cinematography by   Hajime Koizumi
  • Edited by   Ryohei Fuji
  • Production Design by   Takeo Kita
  • Assistant Director   Koji Kajita
  • Director of Special Effects   Eiji Tsuburaya
  • Assistant Director of Special Effects   Teruyoshi Nakano

Monsters[]

Production[]

Screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa based Atragon on the 1900 Shunro Oshikawa novel The Undersea Warship: A Fantastic Tale of Island Adventure, in which Japanese naval officers secretly built a drill-nosed submarine on a remote island to serve their country's imperialist ambitions. However, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka wanted the film to be set in the present, making their motivation anachronistic. Sekizawa chose to lean on that anachronism, with the character of Captain Hachiro Jinguji blindly determined to serve an empire that no longer exists, inverting the book's nationalist themes. He may have also been inspired by Affirmations of the Greater East Asian War by Fumio Hayashi, first published in 1963, which argued that the Japanese empire was a means to "liberate the Asian people from the Western powers" and recent reports of Japanese holdouts throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands who either did not know that the Pacific War had ended or did not care. The villains became the fantastical Mu Empire, taken from Toho illustrator Shigeru Komatsuzaki's book The Undersea Kingdom. He submitted his first draft on August 10, 1963; following revisions and storyboards by Komatsuzaki, his final draft was approved on September 5.

Because Toho wanted Atragon in theaters before Christmas, the film had to be rushed to completion in less than four months. Director Ishiro Honda led one unit to film the drama scenes, while special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya took charge of two units to compensate for the compressed schedule. The Gotengo was portrayed by models in five different scales, ranging from 4.5 meters in length to 30 centimeters, while the marionettes depicting the Mu Empire's monster god Manda ranged from 5 meters to 20 centimeters. The 4.5-meter Gotengo was commissioned from a shipbuilding company for ¥1,500,000. Its moving parts were operated through both radio and manual control, as it was large enough to fit a person inside. The Mu Empire's destruction of Tokyo was achieved by a truck pulling away the support beams of a raised set. Unfortunately, the driver sped away too quickly, causing the entire set to collapse at once instead of in a gradual wave. After contemplating the seemingly ruinous take, Tsuburaya decided to salvage it in the editing room, as he had shot it from six different angles using remote-control cameras. He also spliced in a few shots of buildings collapsing from Mothra. Stock footage was also used to depict satellites (The Mysterians and Battle in Outer Space), establishing shots of world capitols (The Last War), and Japanese emergency mobilization efforts (Mothra again). The Mu submarine's Tokyo Bay raid was shot in Toho's "Big Pool" from 3:00 to 4:00 PM to ensure optimal lighting, again with the six-camera setup. The set for the Mu throne room was built in Toho's largest soundstage, with the empire's ceremonies involving 600 dancers.

Release[]

Atragon was released in Japan on December 22, 1963. It became the 13th highest grossing domestic film of the year, grossing ¥175 million.

Atragon became a popular feature on TV and at film festivals. In fact, it was so popular that it was re-released in 1968 as the support feature for Honda's Destroy All Monsters. It was also the 1964 Japanese entry at the Trieste Science Fiction Film Festival.

U.S. release[]

American International Pictures afforded the film a successful US theatrical release in 1965 with minimal changes and quality dubbing by Titra Studios. The new name Atragon, derived from Toho's international title Atoragon, is presumably a contraction of "atomic dragon", a colorful moniker for the titular juggernaut; however, AIP's dubbed dialogue refers to the Goten-go by the name "Atragon". This shortening from four to three syllables was the choice of AIP, since several European markets released the film as Atoragon (Italy) and Ataragon (France). While Atragon became Toho's first tokusatsu eiga (visual effects film) released on home video in 1982, and though the film is exceptionally popular among western tokusatsu fans, Atragon was not released on home video in the United States until Media-Blasters' DVD in 2005 (although the film was in constant television syndication in the US until the early 1980s). Media Blasters had intended to use the original Titra Studios dubbing, but Toho forced the company to use its international version. This alternate dubbed version syncs up perfectly with the Japanese video, but fans generally consider these international dubs to be inferior. Its enduring popularity in Japan is evident in the number of plastic model kits, garage kits and adult-targeted toys based on the Goten continually on the market.

Titles[]

  • Atragon: The Undersea Warship (Literal Japanese title)
  • Giant Dragon Manda (巨竜マンダ Kyoryū Manda, Japanese 8mm title)
  • Atoragon (International title)
  • Ataragon (France)
  • Agent 04 of the Submerged Empire (Agente 04 del imperio sumergido; Spain)
  • Atragon, Supermen of the Seas (Άτραγκον, οι σούπερμεν των θαλασσών Átrangkon, oi súpermen ton thalassón; Greece)
  • Atoragon, the Atomic Supersubmarine (Atoragon, el supersubmarino atómico; Mexico)
  • U 2000 - Descent of Horror (U 2000 - Tauchfahrt des Grauens; West Germany)

Alternate Ending[]

There wasn't, of course, a single moment when Toho ceased to think of the daikaiju eiga as a serious genre for prestigious, big-budget filmmaking, and instead turned it into, basically, kids' stuff. Shifts like that are a process, not an executive decision, and from the vantage point of 1963, we still have a couple unabashedly sincere and relatively grown-up Godzilla films in front of us, at least. But in 1963, we also have the much more present fact of Atragon to deal with, and while something about it leaves me reluctant to stuff it into the kiddie ghetto, necessarily (there's at least some psychological nuance in all the human drama going around, and the film's relationship to World War II is awfully damn tricky), there's no denying that to a large degree, this movie feels like a feature-length ad campaign for a toy submarine. Let's be clear - a goddamn amazing toy submarine that would have made its owner the envy of all the backyard pools in the neighborhood. Let's also be clear - as far as I'm aware, the submarine that gives the film it's English title (the Japanese translates to Undersea Warship) was not made into a toy, which seems like a most pathetic waste.

Still and all, the effect of the whole movie is, vividly, that the Atragon (in the English dub), AKA Goten-go (the original Japanese),* is so freaking cool that it's not fair. Indeed, this is to no small degree the main point of contention driving the entire narrative. Also, it was adapted from a series of novels written by Oshikawa Shunrō in the first decade of the 20th Century that were openly targeting a juvenile audience, which would seem to seal the deal: Atragon is a movie about the most awesomely bad-ass super-submarine ever, and it even fights a freaking underwater dragon, man. It's a movie for boys on the hunt for awesome sci-fi spectacle, basically, though since that spectacle exists in the form in which it was practiced in Japan in 1963, I don't imagine that the 12-year-olds of the 21st Century would get anything vaguely resembling the pleasure out of Atragon that their dads or granddads would.

The film has a plot familiar from a lot of '50s science fiction: to name two extremes, it's basically the same situation as that underpinning The Day the Earth Stood Still and Plan 9 from Outer Space, only dealing threat from Earth's deepest oceans instead of Outer Space. Seems we humans have gotten big enough and advanced enough in our technology that the inhabitants of the advanced culture from the lost continent of Mu, far below the surface of the Pacific, have decided to launch an attack on the people of the surface before we have a weapon capable of resisting them. This results in something of a cloak-and-dagger first act in which several inexplicable destructive acts are interlaced with the attempts by a pair of photographers (Takashima Tadao and Fujiki Yu) and a detective (Koizumi Hiroshi) to figure out what's causing them, while someone claiming to be Agent #23 of Mu (Hirata Akihiko) attempts to kidnap retired Admiral Kosumi (Uehara Ken) and Jinguji Makoto (Fujiyama Yoko), daughter of a deceased captain who was a brilliant madman of sorts.

In short order, Captain Jinguji (Tazaki Jun) is revealed to be not dead at all, but hiding at a remote base where he has nearly finished building the undefeatable warship Atragon - the exact weapon that has scared Mu into speeding up its global domination plans. Kosumi and the governments of the world beg Jinguji to complete his great work and save them from Mu. Jinguji, a fierce nationalist who wants to use the ship only to restore Japan to prominence and glory in the wake of its humiliating defeat at the end of World War II, and it takes more than the entreaties of a long-lost daughter and former commanding officer to make him budge in the slightest. Which he of course does, because without Jinguji releasing the Atragon, there'd be no movie at all.

It's pulp nonsense - getting both pulpier and more nonsensical when the Atragon finally penetrates into the heart of the Mu Empire - though with a bite to it that couldn't really have come from any other country: I've given short shrift in my synopsis to just how much Atragon is concerned with the psychological ramifications of having lost such a major war in such a definitive way (in its Japanese version, at least; the American dub is purportedly almost identical, but I'd be shocked if there weren't some political overtones shifted). Exploring such concerns in genre plots had been bread and butter for director Honda Ishirō and producer Tanaka Tomoyuki going back to the blatantly symbolic Godzilla, but you still have to hand it to them, and screenwriter Sekizawa Shinichi, for leaving so much of that out in the open in a film with as much of a "wheee! the submarine has a frost gun AND it flies!" sensibility as Atragon. It's not the "point" of the film, but it's present to a completely unexpected degree.

Still, this is mostly a giddy old adventure, and for the most part, it's a terrifically well-made one; special effects director Tsuburaya Eiji was in particularly fine form overseeing the sea vessels and city-destroying shots in this movie, all the more impressive given an exceptionally cramped production schedule. The one major lapse is the giant sea monster Manda, inserted because the Toho executives doubted the viability of a film with absolutely no daikaiju in it (though Manda fits into the film far more comfortably than Maguma the walrus was wedged into the previous year's Gorath). It fits the general B-movie adventure notions of the film well enough - who doesn't like a sea serpent? But the design is ridiculous as hell: the creature boasts big cartoon eyes and a comical expression of mischievousness that looks more like a Legend of Zelda dungeon boss than a creature conceivably existing in the same world as Godzilla or Rodan.

Apart from Manda, though, there's hardly a missed stitch: Atragon is completely terrific, even in the dumbfounding flying scenes (which maybe work better because they are dumbfounding, and it's easy not to pay too much attention). And the less showy work is every bit as good: for the first time in any Toho tokusatsu, there are models of thing as quotidian as buses that look pretty great and are shot in a way that does not emphasis their size or their toylike qualities.

It's all great eye candy, and that's the thing the movie cares about the most. I do find that the twisty way the story is developed keeps it more interesting than a straightforward version of the plot could be, and it's great to see Tazaki rip into a larger role than he usually got. The dynamic between him and Fujiyama, a bent family relationship far weirder than the film's pulp elements require, is enough to keep the film interesting in between the effects scenes, though it's asking too much of Atragon to pretend that it's more than a fun adventure movie. The human stuff keeps it anchored and rational, but we're here for the submarine, the dragon, and the melodramatic undersea kingdom, and the film's pleasures are unmistakably shallow. Still, it's a lot more fun than a lot of very similar films from the same time can manage - the gorgeous effects has a lot to do with that - and I'm not ashamed in the least to say that I enjoyed every minute of the film. Nothing more than that, but for a 50-year-old movie, that's darned impressive. It's easy to see why this was such a big hit for Toho; it just plain works, silly pulp nonsense or no.

Sequel[]

Director Masahiko Katto made a film called Atragon 2.

Based on[]

  • The Undersea Warshipby Shunro Oshikawa
  • The Undersea Kingdomby Shigeru Komatsuzaki

DVD[]

the film was released on dvd in the early 200s with added manda roars.

Trivia[]

  • This film's titular warship, the Gotengo, has appeared in numerous pieces of media since its debut, including the films The War in Space (as the Gohten), Godzilla: Final Wars, Super Fleet Sazer-X the Movie, as well as the OVA Super Atragon (as the Ra) and several Godzilla-related video games.
  • Manda, the sea serpent kaiju introduced in this film, would later be featured in the 1968 film Destroy All Monsters, and would go on to become one of Godzilla's numerous kaiju co-stars in both film and non-film media.
  • Atragon was re-released in Japan on August 1, 1968, as a co-feature to Toho's Destroy All Monsters, in which Manda also appeared. The film was edited down to 75 minutes. The re-release version is included as a special feature on Toho's Blu-ray release.
  • In 1995 and 1996, Toho released a two-part animated adaptation of this film titled Super Atragon.
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