The consensus of Godzilla fandom is that All Monsters Attack (originally released in English as Godzilla's Revenge, an even less accurate title for this movie in which only a small number of monsters attack, but in which there is virtually no revenge) is made of pure evil. And this is not a difficult opinion to understand, because if there's one thing that All Monsters Attack completely sucks at, it's being a halfway decent Godzilla movie.

But I will confess to a grievous fault, which is that I don't know that I can hate it with as much fury and blood rage as I'm supposed to. Take a long look at the context of the film; consider what it is trying to be and not what we might wish it to be; it's still a crappy movie, but only a crappy movie, and by no means the crappiest. It's a damn sight better than Son of Godzilla, that's for sure.

This was the first film made after Destroy All Monsters was meant to have finished off the franchise in 1968, but succeeded instead in revitalising it. What we must remember is that the underlying problem was still there: Destoy All Monsters might have well been a hit, but the Godzilla films had been treading water for a while and Toho was still unwilling to throw a great deal of money at an uncertain series. This means two things: one is that All Monsters Attack, in a mercenary cost-cutting move, uses a massive quantity of stock footage to bring live to its giant monsters, so it's almost completely useless as a daikaiju action-adventure. The other is that even more than Son of Godzilla, All Monsters Attack was pitched at a juvenile audience, presumably because that was the only population likely to be sufficiently forgiving of giant rubber monsters in any possible form to stand still for the parsimony of this recycled, sleepy effort.

Committing to making a children's movie, right on the heels of Destroy All Monsters, was decisive and fatal. One must respect the ingenuity with which producer Tanaka Tomoyuki, writer Sekizawa Shinichi, and director Honda Ishirō (his last Godzilla film for many years) solved their many problems, without necessarily having much use for the dodgy results of those labors. All Monsters Attack takes the form of a children's fable, in which Very Special Lessons Are Taught, which is wildly unlike Sekizawa's more characteristic flights of nonsense, so I presume on no evidence that this was Honda's doing. Little Ichiro (Yazaki Tomonori) is a latchkey kid in an unnamed Japanese suburb, barely noticed by his parents (Sahara Kenji and Naka Machiko), and largely friendless. He is frequently humiliated by a bully named Sancho (Ito Junichi), whom Ichiro has privately nicknamed Gabara, and he spends all possible time at the workshop of a toy designer named Inami Shinpei (Amamoto Hideyo, uncomfortably playing a kindly man after a career of villains). The other thing Ichiro does is fantasise about the monsters of Monster Island, and one lonely night at home, he pretends to have a supercomputer transport him to that exotic, wonderful locale.

In his fantasies and dreams, Ichiro pals around with the Son of Godzilla himself, Minilla, now boy-sized and capable of speaking (the player in the suit is, as before, dwarf actor Machan, his voice provided by Uchiyama Midori). Minilla turns out to have bully problems himself: a big monster named - get this! - Gabara is tormenting him, and the stern Godzilla refuses to help, but instead watches from the sidelines over in Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. For Godzilla thinks that little monsters need to learn to fight their own battles and become strong that way. Do you get it? You had god-damned well better have gotten it.

Back in the waking world, a pair of bank robbers (Sakai Sachio and Suzuki Kazuo) are sneaking around the neighborhood, and it naturally happens that in a gentle, fantastic metaphor for standing up to bullies, Ichiro gets to put his Minilla-given knowledge to the test by trapping the thieves for the police. It is very weird. I mean, he stands up to Sancho eventually, but his big emotional release is when he fights the bank robbers who haven't been part of his problems at all, and the Sancho thing is more of an epilogue. It's very weird and completely savages the delicate domestic story that is the only part of All Monsters Attack that you can defend on any level.

Setting aside that spectacularly out-of-place finale, the film isn't completely unacceptable on its own very specific level. I do wish that Honda and Sekizawa had come down a bit more clearly on clarifying whether or not Godzilla and Monster Island exist in this reality, or if the film takes place in our world, and Ichiro watches the exact same movies we do - leaving that ambiguous was deliberate, but it's also just about the only thing that excuses the stock footage and maybe even turns it into a strength, if we imagine that Ichiro is just rehashing his favorite movies in his mind. As it stands, it's just lazy and cheap, with no fewer than three visibly different Godzilla designs cropping up, as well as new scenes shot with the Destroy All Monsters suit, in somewhat reedy condition.

I do greatly admire the design of Gabara, feeling more like a folkloric monster than a lot of Toho's kaiju (he's got some oni in him), but that's absolutely as far as I can take anything that looks like praise for the monster action in the film (which, while honorifically credited to the ill and dying Tsuburaya Eiji, was directed by Honda himself), which already steals from some of the less-exciting fight scenes, and has been crudely edited in. Particularly where Minilla is concerned; size continuity isn't even remotely a consideration in scenes that show human-sized Minilla cutting to Godzilla-sized Minilla in the space of seconds. And with Minilla being even more of a draggy irritant when he talks, that leaves basically nothing of substance or merit in any of the kaiju sequences.

The film doesn't really care, though. Those sequences are just frosting on the actual story, which is decent. Decent-ish. It feels awfully like Ozu Yasujiro's film's about the children of working class stiffs, without the twinkle or the sociology, but if I were a child in 1969 Japan, I suppose I might find Ichiro a tolerable surrogate, and his durability in the face of parentless misery to be inspiring. At the very least, Yazaki is one of the less-annoying child actors in 1960s and '70s Japanese genre cinema, and given that the film is a brisk 69 minutes, we don't have to spend too much time with him anyway. Take out the kaiju material, and All Monsters Attack is mostly painless life lesson stuff for bored kids; but "take out the kaiju material" is one of the worst things you can say in praising a daikaiju eiga. Outside of a deliriously awful, wonderful theme song (absent from the English dub, which is all the justification one needs for watching the film in Japanese), All Monsters Attack has virtually nothing in it that's much fun at all, its bargain basement production sees to that. It's not outrageously stupid enough to be as bad as the very worst Godzilla films, but it certainly deserves to be ranked among the most tedious.