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Two photographers, Susumu Hatanaka and Yoshito Nishibe, are taking photos of a woman near the water. The woman screams when she sees what appears to be a monster climb onto the dock. Susumu scares the creature away with the camera flash, and nearly gets hit by a car that drives off the pier.
The next morning, the car is lifted out of the water. The two speak with Detective Ito about what happened, and another man claims to have been strangled by the same creature. The three of them are joined by a reporter, and they are all astonished to find that no bodies were found in or around the car. Susumu and Yoshito then turn to leave, but spot a beautiful woman, and they would like to have her model for them. He takes a picture of the license plate of the car she left in.
The woman is revealed to be Makoto Jinguji, niece of Admiral Kusumi, who is retired and now runs a shipping company. The two receive a visit from the reporter from the docks, Uoto Unno, who claims he knows about the I-403. He explains that Hachiro Jinguji is still alive and working on the warship Gotengo. Kusumi passes his story off as false, but Makoto wonders if her father really could be alive.
Susumu and Yoshito have located Makoto's car and witness them get into it. They chase them down the highway, noticing the car's odd behavior. In reality, Makoto and Kusumi are being kidnapped, and are forced to get out of the car near the ocean. Susumu and Yoshito get out of the car to follow them, but find them being held at gunpoint. The kidnapper explains that they will be taken to work as slaves of the Mu Empire, and that he is really a Mu Agent. Susumu attempts to attack him with a wrench, but is stopped when the agent heats it up by merely touching it. The creatures from before appear in the water, revealed to be diving suits for the agents, and a Mu Submarine arrives to pick them up. Just as they are about to depart, Kusumi kicks the gun out of the agent's hand, and holds him at gunpoint. The agent dives into the water, and the four escape.
While speaking to detective Ito, they receive a package labeled "MU". When they open it, they discover a film. They play the film in front of the United Nations, and it details the history of the Mu Empire. It reveals that they plan on taking over the world again, and have captured the submarine I-403. They warn that unless they dismantle the Gotengo, they will destroy surface civilization. The UN dismisses the film, claiming it to be a fake.
Meanwhile, a ship is crossing the ocean. Steam is spotted rising from the water in front of it, and a Mu Submarine floats below it. The submarine lets out mines that close in on the ship, destroying it. This act convinces the UN that the threat is real, and the Red Satan is dispatched. It finds a Mu Submarine and attempts to chase it back to its base, but the depth is too great and the Red Satan explodes.
A man is discovered to be tailing Makoto, and he is arrested. The man will not speak to anyone, and he is suspected to being an agent. Kusumi talks to the man, and states his rank. The man immediately responds, claiming to be here on a mission from Captain Jinguji, who is in fact still alive. Kusumi asks if he will tell them where, but the man cannot say, but he can show them. The reporter also shows up for this revelation, and he is taken along in case he reveals the story.
After a few days, the group arrives at a strange island. After traveling across the island, they arrive at a base. They are then introduced to Captain Jinguji, who explains that the Gotengo is real and that they plan to test it the next day. The captain explains that he escaped the I-403 after it came under attack by a mysterious submarine. He says Mu Empire must have captured it along with the Gotengo plans he left behind. The group attempts to convince the captain that they need to use it against the Mu Empire, but the captain refuses, claiming it shall only be used for the glory of Japan.
The next morning the Gotengo is tested, and works perfectly. The captain says they will test the Zero Cannon the next morning. Kusumi attempts to persuade the captain again, but he keeps to his word. The captain then goes to speak to Makoto, who hates him for not helping mankind. Susumu shares her opinion, and goes off after her. The reporter then attacks Makoto and is revealed to be a Mu Agent. When he is discovered by Susumu, he attempts to say he is helping her, but ends up kidnapping Susumu also. The hangar the Gotengo is in then explodes and the reporter drives into the water with the two with him.
The captain realizes he has to help now to save his daughter, and the Gotengo is dug out of the rubble. The Gotengo then flies off to stop the Mu attack.
Meanwhile, Mu attacks have started around the world, and cities are destroyed from underground. Mu Submarines attack ships in the water, and troops attack the rest with bombs.
Makoto and Susumu are taken before the Empress of Mu, who says they will be fed to Manda. After working in the mines, Susumu manages to grab a stick of Nitro Glycerine, and uses it to kidnap the Empress and escape with the other prisoners. When they try to ship away, the Empress blows up the wall keeping Manda inside, and Manda attempts to eat them. The Gotengo arrives just in time, and saves the group from Manda. The Gotengo then freezes Manda and begins drilling into Mu.
The Gotengo reaches the inner power chamber of Mu, and sends a team to sabotage it. The team goes through and freezes any guards that attack them. They set a charge on a power generator, and get back into the Gotengo. The Gotengo then uses its Zero Cannon on the generator, freezing it. The Gotengo then surfaces, and the crew watches Mu explode. Two Mu Submarines escape, but they are frozen. The Empress then escapes from the crew, and swims back into the flames to share the fate of her people.
Staff role on the left, staff member's name on the right.
- Directed by Ishiro Honda
- Written by Shigeru Komatsuzaki, Shunro Oshikawa and Shinichi Sekizawa
- Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka
- Music by Akira Ifukube
- Cinematography by Hajime Koizumi, Sokei Tomioka and Teisho Arikawa
- Edited by Ryohei Fujii
- Production Design by Takeo Kita and Akira Watanabe
- Assistant Directing by Koji Kajita
- Special Effects by Eiji Tsuburaya and Teruyoshi Nakano
Actor's name on the left, character played on the right.
- Tadao Takashima as Susumu Hatanaka
- Yoko Fujiyama as Makoto Jinguji
- Yu Fujiki as Yoshito Nishibe
- Jun Tazaki as Hachiro Jinguji
- Ken Uehara as Admiral Kosumi
- Kenji Sahara as Uoto Unno
- Hiroshi Koizumi as Detective Ito
- Akihiko Hirata as Mu Agent #23
- Yoshifumi Tajima as Tome Amanoshome
- Hideyo Amamoto as High Priest of Mu
- Tetsuko Kobayashi as Empress of Mu
- Hisaya Ito as Shindo
- Susumu Fujita as Self Defense Force Commander
- Minoru Takada as Government Official
- Ikio Sawamura as Taxi Driver
- Akemi Kita as Rimako
- Nadao Kirino as Kidnapped Scientist
- Tetsu Nakamura as Warship Captain
- Yukihiko Gondo as Military Official
- Yutaka Nakayama as Sailor
- Shin Otomo as Government Official
- Koji Uno as Police Officer
- Wataru Omae as Police Officer
- Katsumi Tezuka as Mu Henchman
- Shoichi Hirose as Mu Henchman
- Yasuzo Ogawa as Mu Henchman
- Osman Yusuf as Mu Henchman
Weapons, Vehicles, and Races
A final draft Sekizawa's script was approved on 1963-09-05, merely three months before Toho demanded the film be theatrically released (concurrent with the fruitful Winter holiday season). On this unusually tight schedule, production was divided into one more than the usual two teams (drama and special effects) of tokusatsu production—Unit A for dramatic filming and Units B and C for special effects. Visual Effects Director Tsuburaya and Assistant Visual Effects Director Teruyoshi Nakano began work in October and concluded within four weeks, a third of the usual time granted to effects work. While the effects of Atragon are generally praised, minor stock footage of buildings collapsing from Mothra were used as inserts during the scene where Tokyo's Marunouchi business district collapses (as well as shots of emergency vehicles responding before the collapse). Two other instances of stock footage were merely used in montages of satellite surveillance taken from The Mysterians and Battle in Outer Space, while another montage, establishing shots of the world's major capitals, was taken from Shūe Matsubayashi's The Last War.
Kaitei Gunkan became Toho's top box office earner during its month-long run in Japanese theaters and is a popular feature on TV and at film festivals. In fact, it was so popular that it was re-released in 1973. It was the 1964 Japanese entry at the Trieste Science Fiction Film Festival.
American International Pictures afforded the film a successful U.S. theatrical release in 1965 with minimal changes and quality dubbing by Titra Studios. The new name Atragon, derived from Toho's international title Atoragon, is presumably a contraction of "Atomic dragon", a colorful moniker for the titular juggernaut; however, AIP's dubbed dialogue refers to the Gotengo by the name "Atragon." This shortening from four to three syllables was the choice of AIP, since several European markets released the film as Atoragon (Italy) and Ataragon (France). While Kaitei Gunkan became Toho's first tokusatsu eiga (Visual Effects Film) released on home video in 1982, and though the film is exceptionally popular among western tokusatsu fans, Atragon was not released on home video in the United States until Media-Blasters' DVD in 2005 (although the film was in constant television syndication in the U.S. until the early 1980s). Its enduring popularity in Japan is evident in the number of plastic model kits, garage kits, and adult-targeted toys based on the Gotengo continually on the market.
The predominant themes of Atragon are nationalism, patriotism, and pride. Unchecked affirmation of these principles manifests in the central character of Captain Jinguji, who built the Gotengo for the sole purpose of reviving the Empire of Japan; and in the Empress of Mu, whose overall motive to reestablish her nation's global dominance parallels Jinguji's. Much as the aggressive policies of Japan secured the nation's defeat in World War II, the former Empire of Mu continues its siege on the surface world even after the Gotengo—their only feared adversary—rises to challenge. Both leaders vehemently reject the notion of peaceful surrender, and even international cooperation, but while Jinguji is ultimately persuaded to suppress his 20-year vendetta, the young Empress sees her defeated nation through to annihilation. Whereas Jinguji revolted in order to prepare a counterattack, the Empress acts differently on her nationalistic resolve by abandoning the Gotengo to die with her people.
- The Gotengo has made appearances in several other media since this film, including the film Godzilla: Final Wars and several Godzilla-related video games.