Kaijin Profile: Frankenstein
Written by Astounding Beyond Belief, Les, Koopa, Surf Kaiju, Titanollante
Edited by Titanollante
Narrated by Koopa
Hey kaiju fans! I'm Koopa, and now is the time to think about Frankenstein! 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," and to celebrate we'll be covering the monsters from "Frankenstein vs. Baragon" and "The War of the Gargantuas" in the following weeks. So let's kick it off with Toho's Frankenstein!
Victor Frankenstein and his monster have been adapted to film countless times, most famously by Universal in 1931. Toho's 1965 film "Frankenstein vs. Baragon" brought the monster into an entirely new genre: their famous kaiju eiga. After the atomic bomb which destroyed Hiroshima irradiated his immortal heart, it slowly regrew into a feral boy, and eventually a giant. Frankenstein became an outcast, blamed for the crimes of the underground dinosaur Baragon and hunted by the military. Ultimately, he confronted and killed the monster before a sudden fissure sent him plummeting into the Earth's depths, his fate unknown. Though referenced in "The War of the Gargantuas" as the ancestor of Sanda, this incarnation of Frankenstein has not appeared in any media since then.
Toho's Frankenstein is a rarity among the company's stable of creatures, being a more sympathetic character who is benign toward humans, as opposed to the typical destructive brute. Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya, and Takeshi Kimura all took special care to express the tragedy and sorrow of the character. Frankenstein possesses a significant bond with the scientists who discovered him, and he actively avoids conflict with humanity as a whole.
The idea of a giant version of Frankenstein's monster originated with legendary stop-motion animator Willis O'Brien, the man behind the original "King Kong." His 1961 treatment for "King Kong Versus The Ginko" pitted the Eighth Wonder of the World against a beast created by Victor Frankenstein's grandson out of animal parts, looking something like a hairless Kong. After hiring George Worthing Yates to adapt the treatment into a script, Universal producer John Beck sold it to Toho, who decided to keep Kong but changed just about everything else. When "King Kong vs. Godzilla" became a box office sensation, the studio thought it could make lightning strike twice by having Godzilla take on Frankenstein.
Toho tapped Takeshi Kimura to write "Frankenstein vs. Godzilla." His setup for the fight was an odd one, with the Japanese Self-Defense Force deliberately awakening Godzilla to combat Frankenstein, seeming to view the kaijin as the greater of two evils. In the end, Toho chose Mothra as Godzilla's next opponent, while Kimura converted his screenplay into "Frankenstein vs. Baragon."
Frankenstein couldn't be portrayed like the usual Toho monster—the actor playing him would require makeup, rather than a full-body suit. This change elated Eiji Tsuburaya, as it had always been challenging for his monster actors to convey emotion without showing their faces. Director Shintaro Ishihara recommended Koji Furuhata, who had debuted in his segment of the 1962 anthology film "Love at Twenty," for the part. Frankenstein was to be the third and final role for this mysterious young actor, who won it through open auditions. As for Frankenstein's juvenile form, he was played by Sumio Nakao. The actors were fitted with green contact lenses in hopes of making them appear more Caucasian, since the "Frankenstein" novel and most of its film adaptations took place in Europe, and the character was intended to be German in Toho's treatment. Their prosthetics (a flattened head) and makeup (an exaggerated brow) resembled the Universal Frankenstein first played by Boris Karloff. To ensure their safety on the miniature sets, they also wore skin-colored shoes. Frankenstein's disembodied hand was realized using an elaborate scale model, which consisted of five fully-moving fingers operated by a motor mechanism.
Haruo Nakajima, who played Baragon, recalled that choreographing the fights between himself and Furuhata was easier than usual, since Tsuburaya filmed them at normal camera speed. Of Furuhata, he said, "He was mild-mannered, listened to me earnestly and obediently, and worked very hard."
Frankenstein vs. Baragon: Towards the end of World War II, Nazi soldiers confiscated Frankenstein's heart from the scientist studying it, Dr. Riesendorf. They transported the heart to Hiroshima in the hopes that Japanese scientists could use it to create an army of immortal soldiers. Before they could make any breakthroughs, however, an American bomber destroyed the city with an atomic bomb.
15 years later, the story of a boy eating animals and wandering the streets of the now-rebuilt city reached Dr. Sueko Togami, an assistant to radiologist Dr. James Bowen. Soon after, they saw the boy fall victim to a hit-and-run, though he seemed unharmed, and Togami threw him a loaf of bread. After the police cornered him in a seaside cave, she was able to convince him to travel to their laboratory for study. Bowen was amazed to find that the boy had been exposed to radiation as an infant, yet exhibited no symptoms of radiation poisoning. With the help of the press, Dr. Bowen put out a plea for any information on the boy's parentage. Through a sailor on the submarine that brought the heart to Japan, as well as Dr. Riesendorf, they learned of his possible connection to Frankenstein's heart. Riesendorf added that if the boy regrew a severed arm or leg, it would prove that he was indeed Frankenstein.
In the meantime, the boy had grown far larger than a normal human, forcing Bowen's team to house him in a cage. Bowen's other assistant, Dr. Kenichiro Kawaji, secretly attempted to remove the boy's hand to discover the truth, but he was interrupted by a TV crew who wanted to film the monster. The crew purposely agitated Frankenstein for the sake of some killer footage. Indeed, they made him a killer as he broke out of the cage. After causing panic in the streets of Hiroshima, he visited Sueko one last time before fleeing the city.
In the aftermath of the attack, two reporters found a severed hand crawling in the cage, proving that the boy was Frankenstein. The scientists attempted to keep it alive by bathing it in a protein solution, but it soon escaped and trapped itself under a grate, starving to death. Meanwhile, reports of destroyed farms and slain livestock throughout Japan convinced the police and military that Frankenstein must be destroyed. Still, no one actually reported a Frankenstein sighting until he briefly menaced a pleasure cruise ship in Byoko. Tanks pursued him across the countryside, but he escaped after one fell into a pitfall trap he had dug for a wild boar. When the military came upon a destroyed, desolate village, they assumed Frankenstein was responsible. In reality, it was the work of a subterranean monster called Baragon.
After Baragon attacked another village, two boys found Frankenstein hiding in an abandoned ammunition dump nearby. Army infantry opened fire on him, but Frankenstein was only frightened by their bullets and fled once more. Though Bowen's team was running low on funds, they continued dropping food parcels for him to retrieve. While they searched for him on foot, Kawaji revealed his plan to kill Frankenstein with explosives, as he was no longer confident that Sueko could tame the boy. Unfortunately, the first explosive he tested lured Baragon to the surface. Before the monster could devour Sueko, Frankenstein arrived to challenge him. Baragon retreated after a brief scuffle, allowing Frankenstein to rescue Kawaji and return him to his fellow scientists. As Baragon closed in on another village, Frankenstein again intervened, using hit-and-run tactics to lure the monster to his cave. There, he retrieved a pair of torches to continue the fight, accidentally starting a forest fire when he threw one. Ultimately, he was able to kill Baragon by snapping his neck. As he howled in triumph, a fissure opened up beneath his feet, swallowing both monsters.
Though "The War of the Gargantuas" is officially a sequel to "Frankenstein vs. Baragon," it takes significant liberties with the events of the previous film, seeming to recast Frankenstein as a hairy fellow named Sanda. The three researchers who raised him are renamed and (mostly) recast as well, and their lab moves to Kyoto. Many Japanese reference books state that Sanda is the spawn of Frankenstein, growing from his cells in the same way the aquatic Gargantua Gaira grew from Sanda's cells. Toho's official timeline for the Kiryu Saga goes with this interpretation as well.
Physical Abilities: Frankenstein exhibited considerable strength, able to uproot trees, hurl massive boulders, and hold his own against Baragon in hand-to-hand combat. He displayed an impressive measure of durability, unaffected by machine gun fire or Baragon's flame breath, and shrugging off the monster's physical blows. This was supplemented by his incredible regenerative powers, which were virtually limitless as long as he had a source of protein. Aside from the radiation resistance he developed in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing, he was able to regrow his severed hand after a short period of time, and even regrew his entire body from just a heart after several years. In the manga adaptation by Asakazu Arikawa, this ability is even more dramatic: he instantly grows back his arms after ripping them off to escape his cage.
Frankenstein possesses caveman-like intelligence. The monster makes his own clothing, builds traps to hunt for food, and uses fire for both warmth and offense. He is harmless to humans unless cornered and disoriented, and even then the deaths he caused were accidental. He defended the scientists who cared for him against Baragon, even allowing the kaiju to escape in order to save Kawaji. In his second bout with Baragon, he lured him far away from the village he was menacing.
In 1963, Toho planned to include a human-sized Frankenstein's monster in a sequel to their 1960 film "The Human Vapor." Shinichi Sekizawa wrote the first and only draft, titled "Frankenstein vs. The Human Vapor." In this telling, he's the minion of Dr. Gildor, a pupil of Dr. Frankenstein carrying on his experiments in Hong Kong. Mizuno, the Human Vapor, comes to them in the hopes that Gildor can resurrect his lover Fujichiyo. Though Frankenstein is quite helpful, especially after Gildor dies in a shootout, Mizuno's volcanic temper brings them into conflict. As usual, the reason for the film's cancellation is unknown, but it may be related to the disappointing box office of "Matango," which was the last human-sized monster movie Toho made in the 1960's.
Frankenstein took part in one of the most famous deleted scenes in kaiju history: the would-be American ending to "Frankenstein vs. Baragon." The film was a co-production with UPA, led by Henry G. Saperstein. During post-production, he requested that Honda and Tsuburaya shoot a new ending involving a giant octopus, since Tsuburaya's effects for the creature in "King Kong vs. Godzilla" had so impressed them. Instead of a sinkhole, Frankenstein's end came at the tentacles of a cephalopod so bloodthirsty it crawled onto land to attack him, eventually dragging him into a lake. American magazines initially reported the title as "Frankenstein vs. The Giant Devilfish," with Famous Monsters of Filmland even publishing photos of Frankenstein dueling the octopus. But, when American International Pictures distributed the film as "Frankenstein Conquers the World," they used... the original ending. According to Saperstein, the new octopus "wasn't that good." No one saw the footage until 1983, when it accidentally aired on Japanese television. Toho and Tokyo Shock have since made it available on home video, although Tokyo Shock confusingly labeled it as part of an "international" version.
"Frankenstein Conquers the World" does, however, include a number of unused and alternate shots from the scene where Frankenstein escapes from the laboratory. The Tokyo Shock DVD relegates these changes to the bonus features, as the company could only find a cropped version of the footage. Fortunately, they also appear in the German version, and the Anolis DVD adds them back into the film in their proper aspect ratio.
The American dub of "The War of the Gargantuas" by Glen Glenn Sound removed all references to Frankenstein, likely because "Frankenstein Conquers the World" had been released in the U.S. four years ago by a different company. In the film's international dub, recorded in Hong Kong, Frankenstein's name remains in the script, including this gem: "Frankenstein's ghost has apparently been eating some people."
Frankenstein's name appears in the German titles of... "Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster;" "The War of the Gargantuas;" "Ebirah, Horror of the Deep;" "Gamera vs. Gyaos;" "The X from Outer Space;" "Gappa;" "King Kong Escapes;" "Son of Godzilla;" "Destroy All Monsters;" "Gamera vs. Jiger;" "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" and "Godzilla vs. Gigan." Contrary to popular belief, the German dubs never altered the plots of these films to credit Dr. Frankenstein with creating the kaiju. Still, there were a few unexplained, offhand references throughout... 'Frankenstein's monsters?'
That's it for Toho's Frankenstein. Thanks for watching!
- Frankenstein vs. Baragon
- Frankenstein vs. Godzilla
- King Kong vs. Prometheus
- Frankenstein vs. The Human Vapor