While Godzilla was Toho's most expensive film of 1954, it was also the studio's highest-grossing film of 1954, and that meant the same thing in a reconstructing Japan as it means in 21st Century America: sequel! I can't think of anything to say about Godzilla Raids Again that is more telling than this one fact: it opened less than six months after the first film did. This incredible, damn near inexplicable haste didn't end up serving the film all that well: the film turned its profit, but was not well liked, and Godzilla wouldn't show up in a new film for seven years. Seven years full of incident for the nascent daikaiju eiga genre, but that is not a story for now.

You know what? That's kind of too bad. It's absolutely the case that Godzilla Raids Again (the literal translation of the Japanese title is Godzilla's Counterattack, which is less accurate in addition to being less cool) looks like it cost what it cost and was filmed with the undue speed with which it was filmed. But I don't think I can name another effects-heavy popcorn movie written, shot, edited, and released in barely five months that turned out to be as tight and entertaining as this one is. It is absolutely, unquestionably, not up to the standard set by Godzilla itself, and not only for reasons pertaining to effects work. In fact, an argument could be fairly easily defended that Raids Again has, in general, the better effects, breakneck filmmaking pace be damned: it certainly has a better Godzilla suit for the most part, with the designers working much more closely with Nakajima Haruo's actual body shape this time to make sure that the rubber cocoon they were encasing him in allowed him greater mobility and a larger variety of movements, and this is immediately evident in the new Godzilla's ability to stalk about with thought and menace that's far more impressive than the general plodding along that Nakajima was limited to previously; to say nothing of the way that the snugger fit makes Godzilla look like a bipedal creature with consistent musculature, never suffering from the sagging and folding in weird places that occasionally can be seen in the first movie.

The downside is that the new Godzilla has a distinctly weird face, with his teeth sprawled out in a manner that can only be called "latex-esque", and there's a real possibility it's the worst that the monster looked in any of his 28 Japanese appearances, even with the noticeably more expressive eyes he's been given this time around (I have not seen all of the Japanese Godzilla features as I write this, though I've seen stills from most of them). And his opponent looks like the next thing to a big rubber toy. -Oh, yes, Godzilla has an opponent this time around, and it's that, even more than being the first among many sequels that gives Raids Again it's uppermost point of distinction, for there would not be another film until the 1984 reboot The Return of Godzilla where the big lizard starred alone without getting into any kaiju-on-kaiju scraps.

That other monster in this case is a fellow refugee from the age of dinosaurs (writers Hidaka Shigeaki and Murata Takeo don't make the same mistake as last time, accurately tossing out a figure of 70-150 million years ago) , the giant ankylosaur whose name has been rendered in a greater variety of transliterations than any other kaiju, but the one that has best survived is Anguirus. Where Anguirus came from, or how there came to be a second being on the Godzilla model (dialogue in the Japanese version makes it pretty clear that this film's Godzilla is not the same as the one thought dead last time) is left pretty open for interpretation, and the one scene where anybody even pretends to care is a hallucinatory mishmash of inconceivable paleontology (it's strongly implied that Anguirus was its current massive size even as far back as the Jurassic), but this is not something the film cares about any more than Godzilla had more of an explanation than "metaphor for nuclear warfare".

The film introduces its monsters through a crashed pilot, Kobayashi (Chiaki Minoru), who ends up on a remote island while hunting for new schools of tuna. He's rescued by his co-worker Tsukioka (Koizumi Hiroshi), but before the two men leave, they spot Godzilla, hidden behind a mountain, apparently fighting something (this slow reveal not just of Godzilla, but of Anguirus as well, is one of the best pieces of directing in the whole film, and honestly up to the level of the original). They tear ass back to Osaka, and report what they've seen, leading the government scrambling to find any way at all to keep the monsters from making land and wrecking another city, with Tokyo still being largely rubble from the previous Godzilla's attack. While this is happening, Kobayashi (a smart man and good pilot, but nobody's idea of conventionally handsome) is trying to find a girlfriend, as Tsukioka deepens his relationship with the boss's daughter, Hidemi (Wakayama Setsuko). Even as Godzilla and Anguirus take their eon-old feud to land and destroy Osaka's waterfront industries in the process, the humans still try their best to live a normal life in the face of setbacks and devastation.

And I believe that I have thus demonstrated what Raids Again has to equal the overwhelming social metaphor in Godzilla, and to at least elliptically suggest that this film has a lot of investment in the human story going on separate from the monster-fighting; not that Godzilla lacked human interest, but the A-story was always, unmistakably, about the titular creature, and Raids Again sets up the alternative track that many of the subsequent films in the series would take, telling a human story first into which monsters rudely insert themselves. That's not a terrible approach to take, of course, though this particular story is a little bit undernourished; none of the actors are as terrific as most of the cast was in the first film. It's certainly the case that director Oda Motoyoshi, a Toho employee of little historical importance, lacks the flair for weight that Honda Ishirō brought to the first film: there is absolutely nothing resembling the numbing, crawling sense of dreadful inevitability, and the destruction of Osaka, though punctuated by a similar tracking shot of ruined buildings to the one in the first film, is simply not as horrifying. Godzilla had the heft to actually live up to the demands of being a metaphoric retelling of Japanese life almost a decade after the end of World War II; Raids Again is a nice snapshot of the same moment, but not as comprehensive or emotionally exhausting (it surely doesn't help that in addition to Honda, the sequel lacked composer Ifukube Akira; if Oda makes for an uninspired but satisfactory replacement for the director, Satō Masaru was up to absolutely nothing interesting at all with the music).

Still, it's a pretty satisfying daikaiju action flick, and going forward, that will become the primary criterion by which the Godzilla films were to be judged - not a single daikaiju eiga to my knowledge reaches the artistic heights of Godzilla, nor even comes especially close, but they can still be fun and entertaining. Raids Again mostly gets the job done on that front, especially in the battle between Godzilla and Anguirus: special effects director Tsuburaya Eiji wanted it overcranked, to provide a slow-motion effect, but the camera operator made a mistake and so it is in fact sped up, with Tuburaya liked even more, and I agree with him. In concert with the bestial choreography, the effect is of two angry, frantic animals clambering at each other and ripping each other to shreds ferociously; not to peek ahead, or anything, but it's one of my favorite monster fights of all, lacking as it does the sometimes overly-presentational fighting movies of the later films. And even in the moments where Godzilla is alone, the new suit and Nakajima's performance are enough to make the monster seem far cooler, if maybe a touch less otherworldly and distinctly less menacing, than the stuff in the original film.

There are undoubtedly problems: the last act slows down massively and the visual effects take a pronounced nosedive. Still, for as little time as it took to make the movie, it's surprising that more of it doesn't consist of a plastic Godzilla stuck in ice cubes, and the artistry on display for the bulk of the film is creative enough, executed with an eye to disguising the film's production limitations by making them strengths (no time to change locations? Use the objects in the mise en scéne to break scenes into frames! Can't afford aerial stuntwork? Spin the camera around while pointing it at a plane! It looks even more disorienting than a normal plane crash!) that I think it's safe to say that Oda brought more to the table than just the ability to say "action" and get it in on time. And the human story, though a little on the prosaic side, is simple enough and sweet enough that it feels like a complement to the monster action, rather than a distraction. It would be a shame if the series never rose above this level, but as quickie sequels go, Godzilla Raids Again is smartly assembled, and at 82 minutes, it's swift enough that it's terrifically easy to watch.

A postscript: the version primarily known in the English-speaking world until very recently was a 1959 re-edit named Gigantis the Fire Monster that is a considerably different and vastly inferior thing. I bring it up only to acknowledge that it exists, not to further consider its hopeless shortcomings.