Digging deeper into the kaiju crevices, we find a lot of minor monster flicks from the “monster factory of Nippon”, Toho, in this case being a mini-series made of 4 episodes and with a confusing release history, as it was completed in 1964, but wasn’t broadcasted on Fuji TV until 1968, after Toho realized the project involved two of their own talents, with Fuminori Ohashi (Tsuburaya’s special effects apprentice) and writer Shinichi Sekizawa, already proven for penning other kaiju classics such as Mothra, Mothra Vs Godzilla and Godzilla VS Mechagodzilla (the 1974 one), and the company was convinced that Agon didn’t directly step on the nuclear toes of their monster star.
I said a confusing release history because in mid 90s the episodes were recompiled into a feature lenght film and distributed internationally onn VHS as Agon: Atomic Dragon… and i can’t find any source that actually pinpoints when exactly it was released in the 90s, Letterboxd instead says it was in the 80s, and there’s also a japanese DVD release in 2005 by King Records.
Thankfully is not hard to find in any form, as the english subbed episodes can be found on Youtube, and you might stumble upon fansubbed releases of the feature lenght compilation version.
It’s not surprising to hear that Toho initially was about to sue the show out of existence before realizing the involvement of some of their staff, as a quick glance will inevitably lead you to believe this is a blatant Godzilla knock-off, and it’s compounded by the fact that – undeniably – Agon too is a monster created by the atomic bomb, that comes up to destroy Tokyo after being awakened from its slumber in an underwater cave, fucks shit up with his fire breath, then goes back into sea.
He eventually emerges again, kills two criminals in a helicopters, then destroys a power plant, and sods off into sea as japanese giant monster movie tradition dictated.
Curiosly, there is a bit more to it, as in there’s the quintessential (as in unavoidable for the time) kaiju movie cliche of a kid who ends up in a close encounter with the monster, here he isn’t deliberately saved or helped by it, since Agon doesn’t give a shit about “dem kids”, nor Monta thinks of the kaiju as his friend. Makes sense since the first Gamera movie released in 1965, one year after the mini-series was completed (but not aired), but intriguingly it’s similar in how both monsters are motivated by their atomic-based diet.
The plot mostly follows a reporter named Goro, the aforementioned kid named Monta, and two bandits which turn out to be smugglers, and admittely it’s funny that the main characters find the smuggled suitcase to be full of narcotics, and basically decide to “spike” the uranium the monster feeds upon with the drugs, so he basically destroys the power plant because he been roofied, before eventually going back into sea, unsure if he would emerge again or anything else, as the narration really hammers home how the monster is our responsability as we mastered the atom splitting and acquired the “third fire”, but also opened up a possible path to our own ruination, that spiel.
Otherwise, it’s pretty standard japanese monster movie fare, but not bad, as there are some funny moments, the characters are likeable (heck, even the kid character isn’t annoying for the hell of it), , it’s written fairly well, got some interesting camera work for a kaiju flick of the era, a sometimes annoying but quite unique soundtrack, as was the choice to shot in black and white with a deliberate sepia tone on top. Some choices that sadly make it less attractive to new viewers, especially the ones that refuse to see black and white movies.
In terms of the monster itself, it’s basically a slimmer and more dinosaurish looking Godzilla, with a basic but still effective array of abilities, including the standard fire breath and a notable strength he uses to even crack the earth, and the suit (one more form fitting, for better or worse) it’s fairly good for a TV mini-series, definitely a step up from the older Toho films like the original Godzilla, the miniatures set (often) aren’t as good as the ones seen in the then contemporary kaiju films of the company, but considering the production values aren’t as high due to its “made for TV” status, it looks very good for the time.
Still, despite the good work done on a less abundant budget by the production, stock footage, while not totally unexpected, it’s kinda annoying to see, with sequences of people running see in one episode and immediatly reused in the following, and just a bit too obviously implemented.
Overall, Agon The Atomic Dragon it’s honestly a very entertaining little surprise and a fun curio for kaiju film fans to track down, it typical japanese monster movie entertaiment, which is kinda impressive since this is a TV mini-series, heck, i’d argue it’s better than some (stressing “some”) of the proper theathrical full lenght releases by Toho, like Varan The Giant Monster, despite the latter having a more intriguing looking monster than the “Godzilla knock-off” Agon comes off as (which is questionable the more you examine the suit and notice that they don’t look that similar).
Not bad for a very minor release that Toho almost nipped in the bud, honestly, so while i don’t think it’s this amazing find, it’s definitely worth watching for tokusatsu and kaiju film fans in general, even if just to expand your knowledge on the matter.
There was no sequel of sorts to the life and times of Agon, despite the narrator unsure if the monster could be unleashed again in the future by the folly of mankind, but a small silver lining, as the Agon rubber suit was used in the 1966-97’s live action The Space Giants, repurposed for a normal “dinosaur” enemy that would later be upgraded to a main villain kaiju called… Aron. XD