In 1964, Nippon Television produced a kaiju TV miniseries titled "GIANT PHANTOM MONSTER AGON" (or "AGON, THE ATOMIC DRAGON" outside of Japan). The series premiered on Fuji TV January 2nd, 1968 with part 1 of a 2-parter called Agon Appears. On January 8th of the same year, the 4th and final episode was aired.
Now, you may be wondering, why did it take four years for "AGON" to make it to the big screen? Well, multiple things got in the way of airing. First and foremost being Toho holding it back, due to the similarities between Agon and their own star kaiju, Godzilla. Funny thing is that the two don’t appear all that similar. Agon has much smaller spines than Goji, and they are very differently shaped. The Atomic Dragon’s head is longer, has a larger snout, much larger fangs, and bulging eyes, compared to The King of the Monsters. I’m also pretty sure that Godzilla’s stomach isn’t coated with plates, further dividing the two.
Alas, Toho still didn’t think that he deserved a shot on the small screen, that is, until they realized one of their own was working on it. Shinichi Sekizawa, the writer for such famous (and great) kaiju films as Mothra, Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is also the writer for the first two episodes of AGON. Along with Sekizawa was Eiji Tsuburaya’s apprentice, Fuminori Ohashi, who did the special effects for the series, and even directed the final 2 episodes. Knowing this, Toho gave the series the go ahead, and it finally aired in 1968.
Ironically, the very same studio that kept the series off the air for 4 years condensed it into a single film, and released it in the 1990s, and if they didn’t Agon may not have even had the shred of fame it has in the genre, making Toho a mixed blessing to the series.
Nowadays, the series still has trouble being seen by the average Tokusatsu fan, for plenty of reasons; especially it’s rather minor release. A minor Japan-only VHS release in the 90’s doesn’t usually equal mass popularity on the Western Hemisphere. It also doesn’t help that the series was (rather uniquely) filmed in a sepia tone, making it less attractive to an average passerby.
Personally, I think the series deserves a lot more publicity than it gets. It does a lot of new things for the genre, especially the suit itself. The Agon suit has a built in breathing apparatus in the throat area, actually making it appear as though The Atomic Dragon is drawing breath. Also, you can clearly see that Agon influenced Gomess, a creature from the sci-fi TV show Ultra Q made out of an old Godzilla suit, with the plates running down the front of his torso. It is by no means a perfect suit, but it’s main drawback is that the limbs are a little too form-fitting for my taste. Another aspect of the suit that could be considered negative would be the eyes, which bulge out pretty far, and are obviously painted on (although, so were Mosu Goji’s, proving that it doesn’t have to be considered a bad thing).
Agon has a relatively small array of powers, but he uses them to great effect during the series. First and most apparent is his fire breath. Usually considered a dreadfully generic feature, it found its place in the series. There is no visible pipe here, and it is fairly destructive, nothing revolutionary, but more than serviceable. Another attribute that could easily fly over one’s head is Agon’s immense strength (yes, even for a daikaiju). In fact, with one stop of his foot, Agon made a small ravine in the ground in the first episode of the series. Finally, Agon can breathe underwater, therefore making him amphibious, even though he subsists in a cave before being awoken. All around, he’s no Heisei Mechagodzilla, but he has an arsenal adequate to terrorize Tokyo.
The miniatures themselves aren’t too impressive, but they look good enough, and the power plant is definitely the highlight of the set. Agon’s underwater lair is a good set, along with most of the normal-scaled sets. One problem the series suffers from is the use of stock footage from earlier episodes, for instance, in episode 3, we see a crowd running away from Agon, and the very same group sprinting in episode 4.
One thing to be appreciated about the series is its rather unique camera work. Usually refraining from wide shots, and the use of the camera when Agon is carrying a child in a boat inside his maw gives the daikaiju a great impression of size.
The series itself is pretty well written, and has a decent cast with our hero, a news reporter named Goro, being the standout. He delivers his lines with pronounced body language, and a powerful presence. Everybody else carries the show along, with varying degrees of talent. There is a Kenny, named Monta (played by Yoshihiro Kobayashi) to be seen here (that is, a young child who is familiar with the monster.), although he isn’t very annoying, doesn’t know too much, and serves as a major plot point without being too distracting.
Basically, Agon is yet another creature created by the atomic bomb, which comes to destroy Tokyo, after being awakened from is deep slumber in a cave. He makes landfall, wreaks some havoc, then goes back to sea, while the main characters, even including two rather strange bandits. Finally, Agon breaks surface again, and takes a boat containing a child (the plot point the Kenny presents.). Eventually Agon puts the Kenny down, and swats the two robbers out of a helicopter, leading to their death. After a rather impressive destruction scene where Agon annihilates a power plant, he finally returns to sea, and the end kanji appears on screen.
Now, it sounds like your plain old kaiju movie, but it’s pretty great, brings a lot to the table, and keeps you entertained for 96 minutes. The suit is unique, the actors do their job, and all around, everything does what it’s supposed to. My only true problem is with the score. A rather strange string instrument that I can not pinpoint makes a very "bouncy" sound during many scenes, and just doesn’t let up. It can get very irritating, but aside from that, the score is fine and dramatic when it needs to be.
Overall, I like the series very much, and recommend it, if you can track it down. Once you can get past the sepia tone film stock, and awkward score, you can appreciate the series for what it is, a low budget installment that really delivers in the kaiju department. If you hunt long enough, you’ll find it, and its well worth your time. I give it a 4/5.