Diamonds are a monster’s best friend: Dogora

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

The movie is Dogora or to give it its full Japanese name, Uchu Daikaijû Dogora (“Space Monster Dogora”). Made in 1964, it was created by the famed studio, Toho: the studio responsible for most of the creature feature flicks, including the more well known Godzilla.

Dogora is about a monster from space that, like many Toho monsters, gets its beginning from radioactivity released into the atmosphere. Rather than stomp about Tokyo, though, Dogora wrecks havoc from the air, sucking up bridges and trucks along with its favorite food: carbon.

Dogora gets most of its carbon from coal, but it also roams the earth robbing diamonds out of mines and jewelry stores. It is this “diamonds are a monsters best friend” aspect of Dogora that forms an odd secondary story that runs throughout the movie: about a gang of diamond thieves, and the authorities searching for them. The directory, Ishirô Honda, decided to combine two forms of movies for which he was famous, gangster and monster, into one and Dogora was the rather unique result.

When I was looking for information on Dogora, I found there are two versions of the movie. The first unedited Japanese version was actually meant to be a comedy (another genre Honda was known for); however, when an American version was made, many of the comic elements were deleted in order to focus more on the monster bits and fans said this ruined the movie. Which version did I see? Hard to say, as there were comical scenes in the version I saw, but not so many that I would classify the movie as ‘comedy’.

What I found interesting, though, is the differences in the movie between watching the English dubbed version and the original with English sub-titles.

In the English dubbed version, the voices of the characters were exaggerated and comical sounded, especially the so called Japanese diamond ‘G’ man. In the English subtitled version, though, this same actor had a strong, almost sinister sound, and it completely transformed his character. Returning to the English dubbed version, the only Caucasian, some form of investigator, had a deeper, sophisticated sounding voice; but in the subtitled version, his voice was higher, even slightly comical.

More, the words were changed between the versions, sometimes enough to alter the view of a particular scene. The only characters who seemed to be left alone in both was the heroine and her boss, the learned professor who belongs to an International Organization (organization of what is never said).

The monster is the same in both, though, and it is the monster that makes this a Saturday matinee movie. Unlike many Toho monsters, Dogora actually had an element of mystery and grace, as it’s tentacles extend gently and gracefully out of multi-color clouds. Even when it’s blown into bits, forming miniature bits of the monster that look like single cell amoebas, there’s an odd beauty to this creature. At least, there is when compared to Godzilla or Mothra.

Watching Dogora, I was reminded of another space creature: the tentacled creatures from the original pilot for Star Trek Next Generation.

I’m not sure why the director introduced the American Mark Jamison into the movie. I think that much of the explanation for his role was part of the comic element of the movie and eventually cut for the American version.

I did find it odd how all of the characters in the movie referred to him by his first name, Mark, rather than his last. Even when they didn’t know him, they used ‘Mark’; adding a level of familiarity that I don’t think was intended. It ended up sounding like everyone was a friend of Mark’s.

The diamond question is: did I like the movie. The answer is yes and no.

I liked the imagery of the creature, making it one of the more beautiful of the Toho monsters. I liked the period clothing, including those absurd pointy toed shoes. I appreciated the characters. I also liked one scene where the hero is seeing the heroine home and when she gentle teases him, he says in all seriousness, “Don’t make fun of me”.

I was fascinated how different the movie was between the English dubbed version and the subtitled one.What I didn’t like was knowing that I most likely only saw part of this movie. I wonder now how many foreign movies I’ve seen, that I’ve not really seen.

I also agree with another reviewer who thought that the two different plots made for a confusing story:

While watching this movie, you become aware that this should’ve been two movies. Veteran viewers of Toho style giant monster movies have seen this problem before. Toward the end of the movie, the two plot threads, monster story and crime story, become less dependent on each other. It takes several plot contrivances to keep these two stories together to the end. And since the cops and robbers subplot is more entertaining than the monster plot, the awkwardness of these contrivances become more pronounced.

I agreed, except that I thought in the very end, the twist to bring the two stories together was actually clever rather than contrived. Do I recommend this movie? Only if you can find the original, subtitled in English. And if you do, send me a copy.

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