Over the next few years, I saw the movie a couple of more times on AMC, most notably on their Friday night programming block, AMC EFX, hosted by Stan Winston, and, if nothing else, I always knew it was one of Toho's most unusual monster flicks. Years later, I was fortune smiled on me again, as I got the now out-of-print Media Blasters DVD release of the movie for Christmas the year it came out, meaning that I now had access to both the original Japanese and the international version, titled Frankenstein vs. Baragon, along with the AIP American version I was somewhat familiar with. This was a real treat, not just because I hadn't seen the movie in a while at that time but also because, thanks to Classic Media releasing a number of the classic Godzilla movies on DVD in their original versions for the first time, I was a bigger fan of kaiju flicks than I had ever been and was now able to truly see their craftsmanship and artistry. Upon watching it again, I did enjoy it. Mind you, I don't think Frankenstein Conquers the World is one of the absolute best kaiju movies Toho ever produced during its heyday, as it has a fair amount of flaws (in fact, I'm a much bigger fan of The War of the Gargantuas, the semi-sequel), but it also definitely has its merits and does stand out for its bizarre story and surprisingly grim tone.
During the Allied invasion of Nazi Germany in 1945, a Kriegsmarine officer takes a case containing something that is rhythmically beating from a scientist's laboratory and transports it via U-boat to a Japanese submarine in the Indian Ocean. The case is then taken to an army hospital in Hiroshima, where one of the naval officers is shown what's inside: a beating heart, which the facility's head scientist proclaims to be that of Frankenstein's monster. They hope to study it in order to find a way to create soldiers who won't die in battle, but before they can begin their experiments, Hiroshima is hit with the atomic bomb on August 6. Fifteen years later, American scientist Dr. Bowen is working at the Hiroshima International Institute of Radiotherapentics, assisted by Japanese scientists Sueko Togami and Kawaji in his quest to find a way to combat the ill-effects of radiation poisoning that still plagues the area. At the same time, they become aware of a strange, feral child prowling the streets, feeding on small animals, with Bowen and Sueko seeing him one rainy night after he runs into a car. A year later, on the anniversary of the death of one of their patients, Bowen and Sueko are visiting her grave when they see that a mob of villagers has trapped the boy in a seaside cave. They manage to take him to the institute, where it's discovered that he's Caucasian and his body is somehow building a strong resistance to radiation; he also begins to grow at an enormous rate, to the point where they have to keep him contained in a large cell separate from the institute. The scientists are then visited by Kawai, the former naval officer who saw the Frankenstein monster's heart years before, and he tells them of it, as he felt compelled to do so after reading about the boy and the tales of him playing in the ruins of the army hospital. In Frankfurt, Dr. Kawaji meets with an elderly scientist who tells him of Frankenstein, saying that the way to tell if the creature in Hiroshima is him is to cut off an arm or a leg and see if new limbs grow back. While his colleagues object to this, Kawaji decides to go ahead with it one night, but before he can get to work, a television crew arrives to film the now gigantic boy and they end up enraging him with the bright lights they shine on him. He breaks his chains and escapes his cell, making his way into the Japanese countryside, where he's hunted by the authorities. While the scientists try to find a way to convince the authorities not to harm Frankenstein, a subterranean monster, Baragon, has made his way to the surface and is attacking villages, destroying and devouring everything he sees. Frankenstein is blamed for these attacks but when the scientists are told of the other creature's existence by Kawai, who got a glimpse of him during an earthquake that destroyed the oil field he works at, they become determined to find and save him before he's killed for something he didn't do.
The way the film came about is almost as unusual as its plot, especially given how it started from an idea by Willis O'Brien, the legendary stop-motion animator of King Kong. Late in his career, O'Brien came up with a story treatment for a would-be film called King Kong vs. Frankenstein (which would go through several title changes, being alternatively called King Kong vs. the Ginko and King Kong vs. Prometheus), which would have featured Kong battle an enormous Frankenstein-like creature created from various animal parts. When he presented the idea to producer John Beck, the latter went looking for a financier and ultimately found one in Toho, although they swapped the Frankenstein monster out with Godzilla and thus, we got King Kong vs. Godzilla. However, Toho remained interested in the idea of Frankenstein (they actually had been for for some time, as they'd attempted to make a sequel to their 1960 film, The Human Vapor, that would involve the monster) and, after King Kong vs. Godzilla became an enormous hit in 1962, they initially decided to follow it up with Godzilla vs. Frankenstein. While Godzilla would ultimately battle Mothra in his fourth outing, Mothra vs. Godzilla, Toho eventually did get to the Frankenstein concept the following year, creating the monster Baragon to be put in Godzilla's place but otherwise leaving the original story treatment intact, more or less.
Other notable actors in the film include Yoshifumi Tajima, who appeared in a number of these flicks, as Kawai's commanding officer during the opening; the distinguished Takashi Shimura (who'd appeared in the original Godzilla and briefly in Godzilla Raids Again as Dr. Yamane, as well as a newspaper editor in Mothra and a doctor in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster) as the head doctor at Hiroshima who tells Kawai of Frankenstein's heart; the gruff-looking Jun Tazaki as a military advisor; and Toho's most prolific genre actor, Kenji Sahara, in a random bit role as a soldier (both he and Tazaki would have much bigger roles in The War of the Gargantuas). One last character who's worth mentioning is German scientist Dr. Riesendorf (Peter Mann), whom you see twice in the film. You first see him during the opening in 1940's Germany, as he's looking after and experimenting on Frankenstein's heart, where he comes across like the most stereotypical mad scientist imaginable, with his classic laboratory setup and his over-the-top facial expressions and gestures. He's none too pleased about being forced to hand the heart over to the soldiers, briefly attempting to stop them, and then angrily smashing his equipment after it's been taken from him. Decades later, Dr. Kawaji meets with him in Frankfurt (here, Mann is wearing a really overdone bit of old-age makeup), where he tells him of Frankenstein's ability to practically live forever, given the necessary amount of protein, and that, in order to see if the creature they have in Hiroshima is him, they must sever an arm or leg and see if a new one grows in its place. Like Nick Adams, Mann is dubbed in the Japanese version.
One of the striking things about Frankenstein Conquers the World is how, even though the story may be quite bizarre and downright absurd at points, the overall tone and feel is fairly dark, especially considering the direction the Godzilla movies, and kaiju flicks in general, were going around this same time. There's very little levity and real, intended humor, save for the moments when Bowen is joking around and flirting with Sueko, and it almost always feels like there's a grim pall hanging over everything, a feeling that's punctuated by Akira Ifukube's music, which is often either eerie and mysterious or full-on doom-laden. Moreover, the print of the Japanese version has a very dark, somewhat desaturated look to them, with lots of deep blacks that make it almost look noirish in some scenes. I've always found the story itself to be rather creepy, with its notion that the Frankenstein monster's heart was irradiated by the bombing of Hiroshima and, over the years, has grown into an all new being, one that starts out as a child and continues to grow to monstrous proportions as time goes on. Things that start out small and grow to an enormous size in a short amount of time have always weirded me out for whatever reason; I guess it's because of the juxtaposition of how benign it started out and the level that they've reached by the end of the story (another example being The Blob). Case in point, it's quite humbling here to see Frankenstein start out as a raggedy little waif wandering the streets of Hiroshima, feeding on whatever he can get, and gradually grow to Godzilla's size by the end. Speaking of which, those scenes of him lurking the city streets, hiding and watching from the dark, waiting for a chance to get the food he needs, are among the film's eeriest moments in how they're constructed with the cinematography and music, and the same goes for the moment in the third act where Bowen, Sueko, and Kawaji search the fog-shrouded woods for him. Finally, while it's not shown in any graphic detail, this is one kaiju movie that doesn't sugarcoat the notion of death, as there are a couple of moments where people find the remains of animals Frankenstein has fed on, it's very clear that many people meet their ends during Baragon's rampages, and there's one scene where he attacks a farm and you see feathers coming out of his mouth from where he feasted on some chickens before he crushes a stable with a helpless horse inside it (yeah, said horse isn't realistic in the slightest, but the idea is troubling).
A factor that contributes significantly to the grimness of this film is how its story revolves so much around the bombing of Hiroshima. Of course, it's not the first film of its type to deal with this subject matter, as the original Godzilla, which was made over a decade before, is well-known for being a very strong allegory about the dangers of nuclear testing, and a 1958 film called The H-Man focused on irradiated people who've been turned into a deadly, liquid organism that terrorizes Tokyo, but as the kaiju genre progressed and evolved throughout the late 50's and into the 60's, it began to skirt around the subject more and more, focusing on being just pure entertainment. Nuclear tests were mentioned here and there, as in both Mothra and Mothra vs. Godzilla, where Infant Island is said to have been suffered under such tests, and Gamera: The Giant Monster (also in 1965), where Gamera himself is unleashed by an accident involving an atomic bomb, but few of them made around this time tackled the subject head on like this one. It's not used merely as an excuse and explanation for why the Frankenstein monster grows so huge, as it would have been in an American film; it's a big part of the story, at least during the first act. The film not only begins in 1945, with the end of World War II and the actual bombing of Hiroshima, signifying the first time any country has dealt with the horrors of radiation, but it also focuses on the lingering aftermath of the bombing, with people still suffering and dying from radiation sickness fifteen years later (it was even released in Japan on almost to the day of the 20th anniversary of the bombing). The issue itself is personified by a patient of Dr. Bowen's, Tazuko Tooi (Keiko Sawai), whom he's become rather close to, who we learn was orphaned by the bomb, and who's quickly finished an embroidery on a pillow for him, as she knows the end is near for her. Bowen and his colleagues lament that their research hasn't progressed far enough to where they can save her life and, when the film transitions to a year later, a shot of the pillow sitting by itself signifies that the woman has since died, with Bowen and Sueko visiting her grave in the next scene. This is also why they're so interested in the boy when they first find him, as they discover that his body has somehow become resistant to radiation, and after they discover that he's Frankenstein, Dr. Kawaji is focused mainly on having a piece of his unique tissue to use in their research after the severed hand they found dies from a lack of nutrition. Once he escapes into the countryside, the Hiroshima angle is all but forgotten, as it becomes more of a traditional kaiju film (again, much to Ishiro Honda's chagrin, I'm sure), but the inclusion of it does give this movie an edge that most of its peers lack.
Let's be frank: another thing that makes this unique is the simple fact that it's a kaiju movie that involves Frankenstein's monster! Unless you count The War of the Gargantuas being a semi-sequel (I personally prefer the American version of that film, where all connections to this one are removed), it's the only movie that can be described as such and it takes full advantage of this unusual blend. I can't think of many Japanese monster films that begin in Nazi Germany, with a laboratory setup that looks like it's straight out of a Hammer film, an over-the-top scientist who's the very embodiment of the stereotypical image of Dr. Frankenstein, and soldiers taking the heart of the Frankenstein monster in a U-boat, and then gradually transitions to Japan to give you what you'd expect from a movie of this type. What's more, it's so interesting to see scenes involving traditional Japanese culture and attire, like those dinner scenes between Bowen and Sueko and their visiting a traditional Japanese cemetery, with scenes in snowy Germany, where we see distinctively European architecture and German actors.
Much like his infinitely more famous Universal counterpart, this Frankenstein monster (Koji Furuhata) is depicted as a sympathetic creature who doesn't intend to cause destruction but does so either by accident or because he's pushed to the point of violence. He starts out as a strange-looking little boy who roams the dark streets of Hiroshima, killing small animals like dogs and rabbits for food, and is chased after and persecuted by many of the people he encounters, even getting hit by a car at one point. A year after he first appears, he's cornered in a seaside cave by some irate villagers, unable to escape, and is very guarded and ready to be attacked as he's gradually coaxed out by Dr. Bowen and Sueko. He's shown kindness when he's cared for at the radiotherapy institute and proves to be fairly gentle, acting out only when he feels threatened, like when a guy on the television show he's watching lets out a maniacal scream, prompting him to throw the set out the window, and when Bowen smashes a stool over his back when he looks like he's going to hurt Sueko. However, in that latter moment, it's revealed that he's only intrigued by her necklace, laughing happily when he takes it, and before, when he was watching the dance show on TV, he was smiling at what he was seeing. But, when his size increases to enormous proportions, he's chained in a cell in a nearby warehouse, treatment more akin to that of an animal, and is visibly frightened by the reporters who come to take pictures of him at one point. Later, another group of reporters who are overzealous in their filming of him enrages him to the point where he breaks his chain, smashes his cell, killing a couple of them in the process, and eventually escapes. He has a brief, poignant encounter with Sueko when he wanders over to her apartment and seems to want her to come with him but ultimately has to flee when he hears approaching police cars.
What's most interesting about this Frankenstein conceptually is his amazing powers of regeneration. Godzilla may be able to recover from any serious injury fairly quickly but Frankenstein takes it much farther, as any piece of him can continue to survive and grow, as long as it has the proper intake of protein, as seen from the beginning when his heart continues beating regularly as it sits in a rich liquid within its case (Dr. Riesendorf tells Kawaji that Frankenstein has been destroyed many times before, giving the creature something of a history and making me wonder if he was once the Universal incarnation). Therefore, the heart would have probably grown a new body anyway, but its being irradiated by the Hiroshima blast more than likely is the cause behind said body continuously growing after it's reformed and become resistant to the ill-effects, which is only furthered by the protein intake. As stated in the film, Frankenstein can also regrow lost limbs and it's proven when he ends up ripping his left hand off while escaping and is later seen with a new. The severed limbs are also shown to take on a life of their own, with the hand found crawling around by itself in his cell. The scientists manage to keep the hand alive with protein and it continues growing as a result, but it ultimately dies after it's absorbed every last bit of its nourishment. (It's implied that the reformative properties of his cells are what later give rise to Sanda and Gaira in The War of the Gargantuas.)
The thing about Baragon is that his appearance is very, very random. While Frankenstein gets a long and gradual buildup, which is soon after followed by a detailed explanation, with Baragon, there's a sudden earthquake at the Akita oil field and he randomly pops his head out of a fissure in the ground before slinking back in. In fact, when he begins coming to the surface to destroy villages and prey on people and farm animals, it feels as though we're suddenly in a different movie until he and Frankenstein collide at the end. And even then, save for the subplot of Frankenstein being blamed for Baragon's attacks, there's nothing to how they come into conflict: Baragon just happens to attack our three leads when they're searching for Frankenstein and he comes to their rescue, fighting the monster for the rest of the film. Going back to the inexplicable nature of Baragon's appearance, we do eventually get some theories as to what he is, which is an ancient, subterranean creature whose species has been living deep within the Earth for millions of years and he, for whatever reason, has now decided to begin coming to the surface (possibly, the earthquake in Akita drove him up); however, anything we are told is pure conjecture on the part of Kawai, who's not a scientist. Mind you, it is reasonable conjecture, as Kawai believes Baragon may be an enormous reptile related to the dinosaurs, that he only attacks at night and on foggy, overcast days because of his subterranean nature, and that the light his horn emits may be related to the bioluminescence of some deep sea fish, but none of it is verified or proven. Again, like the scenes with Baragon himself, these discussions about his nature feel like they're from a different movie than the one you'd have been watching up to this point.
If he's a dinosaur, Baragon is a very bizarre-looking one, with his big, portly body, stubby legs, the horn in the center of his forehead (I originally thought it was on his nose but, clearly, it's not), and those big, floppy ears. What's most striking about him, though, is his face, which is surprisingly dog-like when seen straight on. Four-legged monsters always looked awkward in these movies, as the suit-actors had to crawl and stand on their knees and it was sometimes painfully obvious, but in the case of this film, they often used specific camera positions, along with miniatures and parts of the set, to obscure the back legs, and they also edited the film in a way where if, you do see the knees, it's usually only for a brief moment. In addition to his ability to easily burrow through the earth, Baragon has some other abilities that make him something of a challenging opponent for Frankenstein during their fight. In spite of his enormous girth, he's able to move fairly fast when he wants to (albeit, through the film being sped up, and the look of his movements as a result cause him to feel even more like a big dog) and can leap enormous bounds to try to catch Frankenstein off-guard, although he often manages to dodge this attack. Most notably, despite the fact that he's not meant to be a radioactive mutant, Baragon has a Godzilla-like flame breath weapon that he often uses during the fight, particularly that aforementioned moment when he's trying to draw Frankenstein out of the forest. They never brought this ability back in either of Baragon's subsequent appearances, which is odd (truth be told, his only other significant role was decades later in Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack; his appearance in 1968's Destroy All Monsters is just a cameo). His roar is a distinctive loud, raspy howl that's somewhat akin to Godzilla's roar and was actually first used for the title monster of 1958's Varan the Unbelievable.
The quality of the miniatures that effects master Eiji Tsuburaya and his crew created for Frankenstein Conquers the World are very mixed. On the positive side, because of the relatively small scale of the monsters (at least when compared to the Godzilla movies), they were able to put a lot of detail into the models, some of which are downright huge, like the exterior of Sueko's apartment complex when Frankenstein creeps up to it and the ferry boat he encounters at Lake Biwa, which was constructed at 1/12 scale and, as you can see, is massive, to say the least. As was becoming the norm around that time, most of the monster action takes place in the countryside in order to save money from having to build a bunch of model buildings but, unlike the barren landscapes you often get, here we have a number of lush forests, with nicely-detailed trees and shrubs all around. And even though we're not in an urban environment that much, there are still plenty of nice-looking model houses and ranches for Baragon to trample, as well as an ocean-side oil refinery that falls apart during the earthquake where he makes his first appearance, and other miniature environments such as the large caves and tunnels where both Frankenstein and Baragon are momentarily seen. Where the quality of the effects kind of slips, though, is when you see miniature cars and tanks driving around and crashing during some of the action, as they look a lot like toys. Even worse are these little puppet animals that the effects team created, such as a boar that Frankenstein tries to trap for food and the horse that Baragon crushes to death inside its stable. It's painfully obvious that those are puppets, especially the horse, but this was not an oversight on Tsuburaya's part; in fact, he was once quoted that he used a miniature horse in that scene rather than rear-projecting footage of a real one into the environment because the puppet was more fun to do. This speaks to the philosophy of Japanese filmmakers in general, who are more interested in artistry than reality, but while I can respect that, I can't help but snicker when I see how fake-looking that horse is. The prop hand they made that crawls around doesn't look that good either but it's a lot better in comparison to that and the little doll of Dr. Kawaji that Frankenstein picks up after he's been injured, which is as limp as you can get.
Optical and compositing effects like blue-screen were never a strong-point of kaiju movies and they didn't get really good at until like the 80's. Therefore, as you might expect, those types of effects look really bad here, with lots of blue lines around the live-action components of the shots and fading on the stuff that's being composited into the background. Some of the most cringe-inducing examples are the shot from inside Sueko's apartment when Frankenstein appears outside her window, the partying teenagers running for it as Baragon smashes through the building they're dancing in, and the shots of Dr. Kawaji throwing his chemical bombs at Baragon before Frankenstein intervenes (there are exceptions, though, like when Frankenstein is shown outside the ferry's windows in a shot from the inside and a moment where he walks down the hillside where the injured Kawaji is laying). There's nothing else to say about this other than it's just par for the course when it comes to special effects films made around this time, save for Hollywood movies that had the biggest budgets and the best technology available and even then, they sometimes ended up looking archaic too.
Following the eerie opening credits, which are projected onto panning shots of test tubes and beakers filled with liquid, the film begins on the shot of a cemetery on a snowy night in 1945 Germany, with the sounds of gunfire and explosions in the distance. Dr. Riesendorf is then introduced in his laboratory, as he closes a case containing a beaker of liquid, listening to the rhythmic beating emitting from within. A knock at his laboratory door is followed by a Kriegsmarine officer flanked by guards entering, with the officer handing Riesendorf a piece of paper. Once he's read it, the guards take the case, much to the doctor's distress, but he's forced at gunpoint to keep from interfering and hands the officer the key to the case. He proceeds to smash the equipment on a nearby table in frustrated sorrow, with one guard watching before closing the door behind him. This is followed by a montage showing a U-boat transporting the case from Germany to the Indian Ocean, where it's transferred to a Japanese submarine right before it's bombed by an Allied plane, and then brought to Hiroshima. After Kawai is shown that the case contains a heart that the surgeon claims to be that of the Frankenstein monster, a cut shows him and his colleagues preparing to begin their experiments on it. However, they don't take heed to the sound of a siren or of a plane flying directly overhead, and once they do, it's too late. An enormous explosion rips through the hospital, incinerating it in an instant, and a fiery red mushroom cloud rises into the sky, as we're told the date: August 6, 1945.
Following the time-jump to fifteen years later, the first scenes with the resurrected Frankenstein monster are dark and mysterious, as he's first shown watching from the shadows of some bushes before he runs by Sueko on the street, chased by a man who's yelling at him. After the man tells her that he believes the boy took his dog and intends to eat its remains, he's again shown hiding in the dark behind a chain-link fence nearby. There's a grisly moment where some kids rushing into their classroom find the mangled remains of a rabbit on the floor and some time later, on a rainy night, Dr. Bowen is having dinner with Sueko in her apartment when they heard the sound of tires screeching to a halt outside. Heading out onto the veranda, they see a taxi cab driver jump back into his cab and peel away, revealing a boy lying on his back in the rainy street. As he sits up, Sueko asks him if he's injured, with him responding by attempting to run away, only to fall back down, clutching his leg. Recognizing him as the same strange boy she saw before, she walks back into the apartment and returns with some wrapped meat, throwing it onto a nearby patch of grass. The two of them go inside and the boy hobbles over to the food and takes it, as they watch from behind the drape. After another time-jump to the following year, Bowen and Sueko are walking along a beach after visiting Tazuko Tooi's grave, when they see a mob of yelling villagers running towards a cave on a hillside. Heading up to see what's going on, they find that the villagers have trapped the same boy in the cave, and after he tries to escape out the back, only to be cut off, the two of them join the villagers in another entrance behind the hill. Sueko convinces the officer leading the villagers to let the two of them coax him out and, once everyone else is gone, she talks softly to him as he hides in the dark, growling and moaning. He initially jumps out in a threatening manner but, once he sees that they're not going to hurt him, he settles down. In the next scene, he's being cared for at the hospital, wearing a white kimono, as reporters take photographs of him and Bowen, after telling them of his strange resistance to the ill-effects of radiation, that he needs their help in finding out all they can about him.
Back at Hiroshima, the maturing Frankenstein, oblivious to Dr. Bowen and Sueko being in the same room with him, is taken by a television program showing young people dancing wildly to music and is quite fond of it... until one of the dancers lets out a crazed yell. Startled by this, Frankenstein gets to his feet, pulls the rabbit ears off the set, picks it up, and hurls it through the window, the set smashing when it hits the ground below. Sueko chastises him for what he's just done and, as he slouches in a sheepish manner, she gets him to sit down on the couch. She tries to feed him some food, when he suddenly pushes the fork away and corners her in a seemingly threatening manner. Bowen is handed a stool and hits Frankenstein in the back with it, which only angers him. He turns around and glares at the doctor, as he threatens to hit him again if he gets too close, and Sueko attempts to run for it. Frankenstein grabs her by the arm and then reveals that he's simply interested in her lovely necklace, which he removes from her neck and holds it up to the light, giggling at it in a childish manner. Bowen and Sueko escort him out of the room as he continues laughing in a happy manner at the necklace. The next time we see Frankenstein, he's grown so large that they've had to place him in a cell in a warehouse on the grounds. Sueko brings in a group of reports in order to show him to them and he awakens and sits up when they reach his cell. After she's assured him that Frankenstein won't be violent as long as she's around, one reporter is allowed to take pictures within the cell. Groaning, Frankenstein stands up as the reporters walk in, apparently uneasy about this, and begins gesturing towards his mouth and flailing his arms. Sueko once again assures the reporters that there's nothing to fear and tells Frankenstein that she'll bring him something to eat momentarily. A few scenes later, while Dr. Kawaji is speaking with Dr. Riesendorf in Frankfurt, Sueko is again shown bringing food to Frankenstein in his cell. Happy to see her, he rises up and takes the food, sending her two assistants running for it. As he eats, Sueko notes how small the chain on his left wrist is and says that she will get a bigger one for him.
Problems start to arise when Dr. Kawaji, ignoring Sueko's objections and Bowen's insisting that they wait on the matter, heads to the warehouse one night with surgical instruments to use to remove one of Frankenstein's limbs to prove his identity, as Dr. Riesendorf told him. Preparing a large syringe filled with a sedative, Kawaji sees Frankenstein awaken and notice him. He then takes a drink of what I guess is sake, as Frankenstein sits up, seeming a little anxious. Kawaji then hears the sound of a vehicle pulling up outside, followed by a group of reporters, carrying lights and camera equipment, making their way in. The man heading the reporters tells Kawaji that they have a permit to film Frankenstein and he allows them to do so, although he warns them to be careful not to anger him; the director, however, says that Frankenstein isn't worth filming in his present state. One of his then turns on a light, shining it right in Frankenstein's face, prompting him to shield his eyes while groaning angrily. They turn on a second light and the director tells them to begin shooting, agitating him even more. Kawaji tries to make them stop, warning them that they're angering him, but by that point, it's too late. Enraged, Frankenstein pulls at his chain and eventually rips it loose, with Kawaji telling everyone to get out. He and everyone else run for it, as Frankenstein smacks and pushes against the bars, but the director and a cameraman are crushed beneath them when they're finally knocked loose. Kawaji runs to an office and calls for help, while Sueko gets a call from the facility's administrator and is told what's happening, asking for Bowen. As soon as she hangs up, Bowen, knowing what it is, has already dressed and is heading out, telling Sueko to stay behind. When he arrives at the institute, Bowen advises the staff gathered there to grab fire extinguishers and use them to blind Frankenstein.
While the authorities arrive and rush in to deal with him, Frankenstein sits down in his cell, laughing as he eats his food amidst the destruction and the bodies of the two reporters. Two soldiers walk in and begin firing, horrifying Bowen outside, as he has to held back from rushing in, yelling at them not to kill Frankenstein. The monster then bursts through the wall of the warehouse, growling angrily at the crowd and climbing up onto a small rise and running for it, as Kawaji and Bowen watch, unable to do anything. In her apartment, Sueko listens to a news report on the radio about the situation, unaware that Frankenstein is right outside of the building. She sees him when he peers through the window and, while she's startled, she tries to ensure his safety, however she can. When he walks out of view, she runs to another window so as not to lose sight of him and shouts at him not to leave. Frankenstein turns around and momentarily gestures at her, only to run when hears the siren of an approaching police car. Fearing for his safety, Sueko runs out to the street and watches as Frankenstein hides behind a concrete bank from the squad cars but, as they get closer, he panics and runs, crossing right in front of them. This causes one of the drivers to panic, skirt along the wall on the side of the road, smack the rear end of a parked car up ahead, and crash through a roadblock at the end of the street. In the aftermath, two men who examine the chain to see if negligence can be blamed for Frankenstein's escape, are horrified to see a large, severed hand crawling along the floor nearby. They run for it and bring Bowen, Kawaji, Sueko, and the authorities and reporters back to the spot. At first, they can't find it, but upon hearing someone scream nearby, they run down the hall and find it crawling towards some trashcans. Now knowing that they're dealing with Frankenstein, Kawaji places the hand in a bucket and they bring it back to the lab. Watching it flex continuously, they note that its movements are slowing and Kawaji places it in liquid protein to keep it alive. Meanwhile, the police chief gets a call that a large dog has been found half-eaten in Okoyama.
In Okoyama, the citizens are warned of Frankenstein's presence somewhere in the vicinity and the city is put under a security alert, as people run from outskirts to the city's inner sanctum. As the authorities there grasp with the problem of finding and dealing with him, at Hiroshima, the scientists manage to restore life to the severed hand for the time being. At Himeji Castle, two cleaning women arrive, only to only be horrified when they find the remains of a cow inside one of the buildings, and then, as Bowen, Sueko, and Kawaji meet with the authorities in Osaka, one of the men gets a call about something that's happened. The scene switches to Lake Biwa, as a large ferry full of dancing tourists cruises across the surface. Those on the bridge see a turbulence in the water straight ahead and as the captain orders the engines to be reversed, Frankenstein emerges from the water. Both the men on the bridge and the tourists are horrified at this, especially as the ferry is unable to stop heading towards him. Despite their fears that he'll sink them, Frankenstein merely slows the boat down and moves it aside, watching the panicking people as they pass by him. He eventually sinks back down into the depths and swims away, as everyone on the boat watches in relief. Meanwhile, Bowen and his colleagues return to Hiroshima, but when they arrive, they're told by the other scientists that the severed hand has disappeared. Rushing in, they find that all of the liquid protein it was feeding on is gone as well. They all frantically search the room for the hand, with Kawaji finding it under some grating in the floor. As he pulls it out, it's clearly dead but has grown even larger than before; Bowen then says that they made the mistake of not realizing that the hand would need more protein as it grew.
The next scene shows Frankenstein roaming the woods near a small mountain village, when he sees a bird in the sky above. Ripping a tree out of the ground, he flings it at the bird in attempt to down it so he can eat, but he misses and the tree crashes into a small shack nearby, sending the two men there running off in a panic. Discouraged, Frankenstein wanders off to the right and spies a snorting boar nearby. He proceeds to dig a large pit and cover it with shrubs, hoping to catch the boar, but he's distracted by the sound of a bell. Walking up to the ridge behind him, he sees that the sound of the bell is coming from a bustling village and he stops to watch the people milling around and a platoon of military vehicles rolling into the place. Down in the village, one of the troops is told of what happened with the shack, and Frankenstein ducks back into the forest when he sees that they're heading his way. Seeing a line of tanks coming down a path in the trees, he quickly tears one out of the ground and smacks it along the ground, scaring away the boar he tried to trap earlier, while one of the tanks falls into his covered pit. With that, he throws the tree back down and runs away. Following a scene where Bowen, Sueko, and Kawaji theorize that Frankenstein may be attracted to high elevations because it reminds him of the cold climate of Frankfurt, and as they try come up with a way to keep him from being killed, the film cuts to another village, where some teenagers are having a party in a large house (a lot of dancing in this movie, isn't there?). A guy and girl decided to join their friends, but outside, the side of a hill suddenly crumbles. The girl hears it but her date doesn't hear anything and tells her that they should just go ahead and dance. However, back outside, Baragon rips out of the hill and heads straight for the house, obviously attracted by the sound of the loud music. He smashes a large hole through the roof and completely smashes through the entire thing, as everyone runs for it. The other villagers run outside upon hearing the commotion and seeing the monster, immediately evacuate, tripping and falling over themselves in their panic. The house completely crumbles behind Baragon and he marches through the village, smashing another house in his path.
The next day, Bowen and the others are shown the remains of the village, an attack that Frankenstein is blamed for, as well as the disappearance of those who were injured, although Bowen remains skeptical that it was his doing. He and his colleagues tell some reporters that during a meeting with them, backing up their claims by stating that the village is too far from Frankenstein's last known position. In a tunnel that's undergoing some drilling, there's a collapse and some workers who search for survivors see a light deep in the bowels of an enormous cavern, but are unable to investigate before it disappears due to the danger involved. Following a scene where Bowen, Sueko, and Kawaji, surveying the land from a helicopter, note that some food they dropped the previous day hasn't been touched, which reassures them Frankenstein couldn't be responsible for what happened in the tunnel, Baragon is shown emerging from a forest and making his way onto the grounds of a farm. He helps himself to some helpless pigs and chickens, before stomping over towards a horse stable and crushing the helpless animal to death (not only does the horse look fake but the scale between it and Baragon's leg is completely off). Once he's through, Baragon leaves the place in complete shambles, and when two boys show up later, they find their home destroyed and their parents missing, along with everyone else. They check the inside of a huge cave that's used a storage, where they find Frankenstein hiding. Soon, they have the troops and the scientists investigating, with a small group going on in, followed by our leads. Heading into the depths of the cave, it isn't long before those soldiers come across Frankenstein and open fire on him. He ducks out of range, with the scientists listening to the commotion nearby, but when the soldiers run ahead to continue their attack, Frankenstein quickly grows angered by this. Kawaji and Bowen tell the soldiers to stop firing but they ignore them and continue doing so. When Frankenstein's shadow rises up on the wall, they realize that it's done nothing but enrage him and they all run for it, along with everyone else gathered at the mouth of the cave. Growling, Frankenstein wanders out of the cave and up onto a ridge, the soldiers firing on him again as soon as they see him. He lets out an angry scream and runs off into the wilderness.
Initially despondent, feeling that there's now no choice but to allow Frankenstein to be killed, our leads' morale is boosted when they receive another visit by Kawai, who tells them that he believes there is another monster causing all the death and destruction. After telling them of his first seeing Baragon at Akita and that he's traveling underground, he attempts to inform the newspapers and scientists of the same but is not taken seriously. He wishes them luck and leaves, and they proceed to circle the area near Mt. Ibuki where they believe Frankenstein to be hiding in their rented helicopter. His presence is confirmed when they see that the food they left for him the previous day has been taken and they throw some more out. As soon as they've flown off, Frankenstein appears, gathers the food up, and takes it up to a hillside cave where he's built a fire. Later, they drive up to the forest and set out on foot to find him. They trek for quite a while and, while they don't find Frankenstein, they do find signs that he's been there, like snapped trees. After a while, they realize that their map and compass aren't helping them at all; what's more, the wind's picking up, prompting Bowen and Sueko to decide to end their search for the day. Kawaji, however, intends to go on by himself, revealing that he believes Frankenstein may not respond to Sueko and has accepted that he will be killed, but he wants his heart and samples of his flesh for their research. He intends to get his hands on them by blinding him with chemical bombs to make him unable to defend himself, despite Bowen's protesting that doing so would be crueler than actually killing him and Sueko's warning of the consequences should he make a mistake. Kawaji insists that he won't miss and, to prove his point, throws one of the bombs into a nearby clearing, where it violently explodes.
However, as the smoke clears, Baragon emerges from the ground with a bellowing roar. Kawaji throws another bomb as Bowen rushes to his aid and they both follow that one up with more, emptying the entire satchel's worth onto the monster. As you'd expect, Baragon is completely unfazed by this and charges at them, sending them running. Sueko trips and falls as they run and Baragon is on her in a second. She screams and faints as he looms over her, while Bowen realizes what's happened and rushes back to her aid. He brings her to as Frankenstein comes in and begins battling Baragon, grabbing him by the horn and grappling with him. Bowen carries Sueko to safety while Frankenstein, holding Baragon by the horn and his right ear, throws him to the ground on his back. Frankenstein jumps to a nearby spot, while Baragon rolls back onto his feet and does a massive leap at his opponent, missing him but knocking over a tree in the process. He tries to turn around and face Frankenstein but he gets grabbed by the tail before he can do so. He manages throw Frankenstein off and swings around on his hind legs and blasts him with his fiery breath. Frankenstein isn't affected by it at all and charges at him. Elsewhere, Kawaji, who got separated from the others in the chaos, searches the forest for them, but ends up slipping down a steep hillside. Frankenstein and Baragon continue their fight, grappling with each other, as Kawaji tries to get up but is forced to shield his head from some falling rocks. Wrestling with Baragon, Frankenstein grabs onto his snout and side, at one point forcing his mouth open, before throwing him down to the ground. Baragon does another big leap but Frankenstein ducks and Baragon lands on his head and does a flip backwards over a ridge, sliding down the hillside across from the injured Kawaji. The doctor tries to get up again but more rocks tumble down on him. Frankenstein laughs triumphantly, as Baragon blasts open a hole in the earth and begins digging his escape. That's when Frankenstein notices Kawaji and walks down towards him, throwing stones at the retreating Baragon. He then picks Kawaji up and, in the next cut, intercepts Bowen and Sueko as they're driving away (in a different car than the one they arrived in, I might add) and places him gently down in the road in front of them, as they get out. He seems to recognize and remember them, but when he hears Baragon roar nearby, he heads out to confront him again, as Bowen and Sueko help Kawaji into the car.
A nearby village is being evacuated, but the loud sounds of the people running and yelling attracts Baragon, who emerges from the woods. Seeing easy prey, he begins heading towards the village, as Bowen arrives with the others and tells them where to run to. Just then, Baragon finds himself cut off by Frankenstein, who keeps him occupied on the outskirts while the villagers run for safety. The two monsters grapple again, with Frankenstein tossing Baragon to the ground once more, and he gets up on his hind legs and blasts his opponent, before leaping at him. This time, he manages to pin Frankenstein down when he tries to run, but Frankenstein quickly grabs a rock, shoves it into Baragon's mouth, and kicks him away, sending him tumbling over himself. Frankenstein runs towards the edge of the woods and throws an enormous boulder at Baragon when he turns around to face him, spitting the rock out of his mouth. This prompts Baragon to rear up and fire his ray again, blasting the ground near Frankenstein, which he quickly jumps back from. Baragon charges after him, chasing him into the woods, as the villagers continue making their way to safety. After running for a bit, Frankenstein takes cover behind some trees, while Baragon becomes disoriented upon losing his trail, roaming around and scanning the area. When he gets into position below the ridge where Frankenstein is hiding, he gets a boulder to the back, further confusing him. He swings around as Frankenstein runs further back into the forest and takes cover, watching as Baragon blasts the top of the ridge, trying to force him out. Frankenstein sends another large boulder rolling at his feet, Baragon becoming disoriented as a small rock-slide hits him down below.
Frankenstein runs for it again, with Baragon in hot pursuit, and makes it back to his cave, where he lights two limbs on fire. Rushing back out, he faces off with Baragon, trying to force him back with the fire. Baragon isn't fazed with this and blasts the ground at Frankenstein's feet, prompting him to toss the torches at him, both of which miss and hit the ground behind him. Baragon crawls up onto the ridge and Frankenstein runs at him, putting him into a headlock and forcing him up on his hind legs. He punches him in the head and grapples as Baragon struggles to get free, randomly shooting his ray at one point. He flings Frankenstein to the ground and butts him back when he runs at him again, but when Frankenstein tries it again, he runs around behind Baragon and jumps up on his back, pounding him repeatedly before getting rolled off. He shoves another rock into Baragon's face and flings one at his back as he tries to get back, while nearby, the fire from Frankenstein's torches begin spreading and leading to a forest fire. Following a short interlude with our characters and the villagers, as they catch their breath, they see that the forest is burning, while Frankenstein is struggling to get Baragon off of him, shoving him backwards with his feet. He kicks him, grabs him, and the two of them tumble to the ground again. Frankenstein gets back to his feet and roars, as Baragon rolls over into a ravine. He chases after him and watches as he tumbles onto his back, blasting his ray as he begins to be buried by rocks. Frankenstein rips out a handful of trees and throws them onto the side of the ravine, inhibiting Baragon's ability to climb, and jumps on his back again, grabbing and pulling at his ears. He gets flung off but comes back by whacking Baragon upside the head and face with a large rock, before grabbing his horn and snout and struggling with him. He gets flung backwards again but jumps back on Baragon's back and pounds him before grabbing his snout, trying to force it open. He flings Baragon onto his back and runs back up the hill behind as he shoots his ray, ripping out trees and flinging them at him again. Running up the hill, Frankenstein rips out another tree and tries to do something about the rapidly-worsening fire, only for Baragon to crawl back up and challenge him again. Frankenstein charges at him but flips over his back, missing him.
The troops arrive to help with the evacuation, while everybody has gathered on a hill to watch the battle, as Frankenstein is spinning Baragon around in the air by his leg. He tosses him onto his back and he shoots his flame, and then grabs his tail when he sees he's trying to escape by digging. Frankenstein tries to pull him out of the hole in the earth but Baragon's digging flings clouds of dirt in his face and he ultimately loses his grip, falling backwards. An explosion at the top of the hill sends stones raining down on Frankenstein, as Baragon blasts out from the ground and the commanding officer orders his troops to their posts. Baragon tries to run for it but Frankenstein is on him, jumping on the back of his neck and pounding him in the head. He gets thrown off but charges at Baragon again and, as the fire burns everything around them, grabs his horn, wrenching his head back and forth, before picking him up over his head, twirling him around, and slamming him to the ground. He puts Baragon in another headlock, struggling to keep him and down squeezing him tight, as the monster tries to get loose. As he keeps pulling, Baragon struggles less and less until finally, Frankenstein breaks his neck. Seeing him lying there limp, Frankenstein grabs him and pulls on him, getting no response. Realizing he's won, Frankenstein roars triumphantly, holding his arms up and clenching his fists, unaware that the ground beneath his feet is caving in. The scientists can do nothing but watch helplessly as Frankenstein disappears beneath the crumbling ground with Baragon's corpse. Kawaji insists that Frankenstein will reappear one day but Bowen says that it's better this way. Everyone then disperses, with the last image being the continuously blazing forest fire.
At least, that's how the Japanese and American versions ends; if you watch the international version, however, the film goes on a little longer after Baragon's defeat, with Frankenstein spotting a gigantic octopus climbing up over a ridge. Jumping down, he faces off with the thing, as it flays its tentacles around, as he tosses rock after rock at it, while the troops continuing trying to mobilize. Frankenstein grabs the octopus' tentacles, struggling with it, and it tries to engulf him with its girth but he manages to toss it away, onto its back. He grabs a tentacle, when the octopus begins moving backwards, dragging him with it, as everyone watches from nearby. The struggle continues down a hillside, towards a river down below; the octopus ultimately falls into the water, dragging Frankenstein with it. He's unable to fight the creature in the water and is quickly dragged beneath the water and apparently drowned, with the ending playing out the same way as in the other versions, save for a last lingering shot of the river that pans up to show the still raging forest fire. It drove me crazy for the longest time because I could never remember which version had this ending, which I never liked because of how random the octopus' appearance is and also because it completely kills the momentum of the climax. When Frankenstein finally defeats Baragon, the movie's over; nobody cares about this octopus that comes out of nowhere. The shooting of this scene was a request by Henry G. Saperstein, who apparently felt that the original ending wasn't enough of a punch (to which I ask, "What more do you want?") and was quite impressed with the little fight between King Kong and the octopus in King Kong vs. Godzilla (I think they scored it with the music done for that scene in the Japanese version). According to Ishiro Honda, this ending was actually one of several different endings made for the film, and while it didn't make it into the American version that American-International Pictures distributed (either because of the powers-that-be there or because Saperstein himself decided to cut it), all other countries outside of the U.S. and Japan got it. Honda did once say that the version with that ending accidentally aired on Japanese television one time, though.
As per usual in this era of Toho's kaiju and science fiction films, the score was courtesy of master composer Akira Ifukube and it compliments the film well. The main title is one that sets the mood perfectly, starting with light, distant cymbal-like sounds, a loud, bombastic bit when the opening credits begin, and a slow, eerie piece that sounds like it's being played on a flute as we watch the credits over a pan around some old-fashioned lab equipment. This latter piece is later made into Frankenstein's leitmotif, staying airy and mysterious when he's seen wandering around the streets and countryside as a strange child, and then, becoming much more brassy and monstrous when he grows to an enormous size. Another prominent piece of the score can easily be called Baragon's theme, as it's first heard when he attacks the mountain village and is played during all of his major appearances. It sounds similar to the Frankenstein theme but is much more doom-laden and unstoppable in its texture, culminating in a downbeat, "Bom, bom, bom," that plays repeatedly before the theme reiterates itself. That music will be burned into your mind if you see this movie, as it plays through just about all of the climactic fight, as do notable variations of Frankenstein's theme. Other notable parts of the score include this light, low-key piece during the montage of the heart being transported from Germany to the Indian Ocean; a very significant, rising theme when the atomic bomb rocks Hiroshima; an otherworldly theme whenever Frankenstein's severed hand is onscreen; a pleasant-sounding theme for the town that Frankenstein looks down on (this and the montage theme are recycled from Varan the Unbelievable); and a frantic-sounding piece when the hand disappears in the laboratory and they're searching for it. Finally, I have to mention this mysterious piece that Ifukube comes up with for the scene where they're searching the woods for Frankenstein. It starts again with the distant sound of a cymbal-like instrument, accompanied by a slightly brassy bit you here now and again, before heading into a memorably quiet, haunting main section that just has to be heard, because I can't do it justice. (I first heard that, and a lot of this film's score, in Godzilla vs. Gigan, the soundtrack of which was composed entirely of past Ifukube themes, and they've always stuck with me.)
In the end, whether you watch Frankenstein vs. Baragon or Frankenstein Conquers the World (if you think about it, the American title is a misnomer on two counts: not only does he not conquer the world, he's not even a villain), I'd say you're in for a pretty enjoyable kaiju flick. There are a lot of things to recommend this movie: an unusual and unique story for one of these types of films and one that takes on the dark subject matter of Hiroshima and its tragic legacy, a cast that does its job in a suitable manner, two memorable and fairly well-designed and conceived monsters, with one being an interesting Japanese take on a European monster, great, detailed miniatures and sets that are sometimes impressive due to their sheer scale, entertaining sequences, particularly the climactic battle, and a memorable music score that ranges from loud and bombastic to quiet and mysterious. As I've said, though, you do also have to deal with some fairly big cons, like the Hiroshima angle being discarded after the first act, Baragon's appearance feeling like it's from a complete different movie, some truly bad instances of effects work that, despite the philosophy behind them, can cause one to snicker, and long lulls between major scenes, as well as a tacked on alternate ending, given the version you choose to watch. I wouldn't say it's one of the absolute gems of the Golden Age of the Japanese giant monster movie but it is a fun romp if you can overlook the flaws and instances of sheer strangeness.