Terror of Mechagodzilla at 40: The end of one era and the start of another

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Mar 13, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT

Forty years ago, 1975 brought the arrival of a number of sci-fi, horror and fantasy films that made an impact on their genres -- some good, some not so good, but all interesting and all remembered even to this day. This is the third in a series (see previous entries here and here) that will step back 40 years and take a look at each of those films on the anniversary of its release and where it stands four decades later...

Title: Terror of Mechagodzilla

Release date: March 15, 1975

Cast: Tomoko Ai, Goro Mutsumi, Akihiko Hirata

Director: Ishiro Honda

Plot: An alien race is intent on wiping out humankind and repopulating the Earth with its own people, so they turn to an embittered human scientist named Mafune (Akihiko Hirata) to rebuild Mechagodzilla, who was destroyed in the last film (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla). But Mafune, whose own daughter Katsura (Tomoko Ai) is a cyborg, has plans of his own to raze Japan with a dinosaur he's discovered named Titanosaurus. It is up to Godzilla to defeat both menaces and save the world.

Why it's significant: Terror of Mechagodzilla was the last of the initial series of Godzilla films that started in 1954 with the masterpiece Gojira, known to American audiences as Godzilla, King of the Monsters. It was also the last of the series to be directed by Ishiro Honda, who directed the original and all but two of the series during the 1960s, including beloved entries like Godzilla vs. the Thing, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and Destroy All Monsters. Selling less than 1 million tickets in Japan, Terror of Mechagodzilla was the lowest-grossing of the series at the time, after which Toho Studios decided to put Godzilla on hiatus for almost a decade.

Terror is far from a great kaiju film in many ways, but Honda did take the series back in a slightly more grown-up direction after several entries that were geared increasingly toward small children. There were no kids in this film, and Honda treats the story -- as hokey as it is -- seriously. Even though the movie was a flop at the box office, Toho never intended to permanently shelve Godzilla. But when his nine-year hiatus ended with Godzilla 1985, the tone set by Honda in Terror of Mechagodzilla remained and was even strengthened; never again would a theatrical Godzilla film be reduced to the level of a shoddy Saturday morning cartoon.

So even though it has plenty of problems itself, Terror ended the first string of Godzilla movies in a way that pointed out the direction for all future kaiju films to come -- a more serious approach that yielded several legitimately great monster movies, like Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991), Godzilla vs Destoroyah (1995), Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) and Gareth Edwards’ 2014 American reboot, Godzilla. The monster-vs.-mecha theme, of course, has been used again and again in Japanese genre entertainment as well as Hollywood epics like Pacific Rim (2013). So while Terror of Mechagodzilla marked the end of one era of monster and Godzilla movies, it opened the door to a new one that has continued to this day.

Terror of Mechagodzilla Trivia: