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Atragon 1963.jpg
Directed by Ishirō Honda
Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written by Shunrō Oshikawa (novel)
Shigeru Komatsuzaki (story)
Shinichi Sekizawa
Starring Jun Tazaki
Yōko Fujiyama
Tadao Takashima
Music by Akira Ifukube
Cinematography Hajime Koizumi
Edited by Ryohei Fujii
Distributed by Toho
AIP (U.S.)
Release date
December 22, 1963 (Japan)
March 11, 1965 (U.S.)
Running time
96 min. (Japan)
88 mins (US)[1]
Country Japan
Language Japanese
English (Dubbed)

Atragon, released in Japan as Undersea Warship (海底軍艦 Kaitei Gunkan?), is a 1963 science fiction tokusatsu film directed by Ishirō Honda and produced and financed by Toho. It is based on a series of juvenile adventure novels under the banner Kaitei Gunkan by Shunrō Oshikawa (heavily influenced by Jules Verne) and the illustrated story Kaitei Okoku ("The Undersea Kingdom") by illustrator Shigeru Komatsuzaki, serialized in a monthly magazine for boys. Komatsuzaki also served as an uncredited visual designer, as he had on The Mysterians (1957) and Battle in Outer Space (1959). visualizing the titular super weapon, among others.

The film was one of several tokusatsu collaborations of director Ishirō Honda, screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa, and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya. It features Jun Tazaki, an authority figure regular to tokusatsu, in his largest genre role as the conflicted Captain Jinguji of the multi-purpose warship, 轟天号 Gotengo (or Roaring Heaven). While the name of the ship is recited as "Gotengō" in Japanese, it should be rendered as "Goten" in English; as the suffix, 号 (gō), simply denotes the object as a ship. For the English-language U.S. version, released in 1965 by American International Pictures, the supersub itself was dubbed Atragon, which had been shortened from Toho's own foreign sales title, Atoragon. Confusion over the actual Japanese title of the film by non-Japanese speakers, has led many to assume the original title, 海底軍艦 (Kaitei Gunkan), to be "Undersea Battleship"; unfortunately, the Japanese term for "Battleship", 戦艦 (Senkan), is nowhere to be found in the title. Since 軍艦 (Gunkan) should be correctly rendered as "Warship", therefore, the film should be correctly transliterated as Undersea Warship.

As was the case in several other 1960s tokusatsu eiga (visual effects films), producer Tomoyuki Tanaka insisted that a daikaiju be incorporated into the storyline for marketing purposes, and to symbolize the upcoming Year of the Snake, Tsuburaya's art director Akira Watanabe designed Manda—a Japanese dragon–like sea serpent that would subsequently appear in several films in the Godzilla series. The Atragon itself, slightly modified, would reappear in several other movies, including Godzilla: Final Wars and Super Star Fleet Sazer X The Movie: Fight! Star Warriors, as well as the video game Godzilla: Unleashed.

There is also an anime version, a two episode OVA named Super Atragon based on the same novels made in 1995 by Phoenix Entertainment. A dub of the OVA was made by ADV Films.


The legendary empire of the lost continent of Mu reappears to threaten the world with domination. While countries unite to resist, an isolated World War II Captain has created the greatest warship ever seen, and possibly the surface world's only defense.

While on a magazine photo shoot one night, photographers Susumu (Tadao Takashima) and Yoshito (Yu Fujiki) witness a car drive into the ocean. While speaking with a detective (Hiroshi Koizumi) the next day they spot Makoto Jinguji (Yoko Fujiyama), daughter of deceased Imperial Captain Jinguji, who is also being followed by a suspicious character (Yoshifumi Tajima). Her father's former superior, retired Rear Admiral Kusumi (Ken Uehara), is confronted by a peculiar reporter (Kenji Sahara) who claims contrarily that Captain Jinguji is alive and at work on a new submarine project. The threads meet when a mysterious taxi driver (Akihiko Hirata) almost abducts Makoto and the Admiral, claiming to be an agent of the drowned Mu Empire. Foiled by the ensuing photographers, he flees into the ocean.

During another visit to the detective, a package inscribed "MU" arrives for the Admiral. Contained within is a film depicting the thriving undersea continent (with its own geothermal "sun") and demanding that the surface world capitulate, and prevent Jinguji from completing his submarine Atragon. The UN realizes that Atragon may be the world's only defense and requests that Admiral Kosumi appeal to Jinguji. Concurrently, Makoto's stalker is arrested and discovered to be a naval officer under Jinguji. He agrees to lead the party to Jinguji's base but refuses to disclose its location. After several days of travel, the party find themselves on a tropical island inhabited only by Jinguji's forces and enclosing a vast underground dock.

Eventually Captain Jinguji (Jun Tazaki) greets the visitors, though he is cold toward his daughter and infuriated by Kusumi's appeal. He built Atragon, he explains, as a means to restore the Japanese Empire after its defeat in World War II, and insists that it be used for no other purpose. Makoto runs off in anger, later to be consoled by Susumu. Atragon's test run is a success, the heavily armored submarine even elevating out of the water and flying about the island. When the Captain approaches Makoto that evening they exchange harsh words; again Susumu reproaches the Captain for his selfish refusal to come to the world's aid. After Makoto and Susumu are kidnapped by the reporter (a disguised Mu agent) and the base crippled by a bomb, Jinguji consents to Kusumi's request and prepares Atragon for war against Mu.

The Mu Empire executes a devastating attack on Tokyo and threatens to sacrifice its prisoners to the monstrous deity Manda if Atragon appears. Appear the super-submarine does, pursuing a Mu submarine to the Empire's entrance in the ocean depths. Meanwhile, Susumu and the other prisoners escape their cell and kidnap the Empress of Mu (Tetsuko Kobayashi). They are impeded by Manda, but soon rescued by Atragon, which then engages the serpent and freezes it using the "Absolute Zero Cannon". Jinguji offers to hear peace terms, but the proud Empress refuses. The Captain then advances Atragon into the heart of the Empire (power room) and freezes its geothermal machinery. This results in a cataclysmic explosion visible even to those on deck of the surfaced submarine. Her empire dying, the Mu Empress abandons the Atragon and, Jinguji and company looking on, swims into the conflagration.


Actor Role
Tadao Takashima Susumu Hatanaka, Photographer
Yōko Fujiyama Makoto Jinguji, daughter of Captain Jinguji
Yu Fujiki Yoshito Nishibe, Assistant Photographer
Ken Uehara Rear Admiral Kusumi (Ret.), Kokoku Shipping Company
Jun Tazaki Captain Hachiro Jinguji, Imperial Japanese Navy
Kenji Sahara Umino, Journalist/Mu Agent
Hiroshi Koizumi Detective Ito, Tokyo Metropolitan Police
Yoshifumi Tajima Seaman Saburo Amano
Hiroshi Hasegawa Lieutenant Junior-grade Fuji
Akihiko Hirata Mu Agent #23
Tetsuko Kobayashi Empress of Mu
Hideyo Amamoto High Priest of Mu
Minoru Takada Commander, Japan Defense Agency
Susumu Fujita Officer A, Japan Defense Agency
Mitsuo Tsuda Officer B, Japan Defense Agency
Shin Otomo Officer C, Japan Defense Agency
Ikio Sawamura Taxi Driver
Akemi Kita Rimako, the Bikini Model
Hisaya Ito Shindo, Kidnapped Civil Engineer
Nadao Kirino Kidnapped Civil Engineer
Tetsu Nakamura Merchant Ship Captain
Yutaka Nakayama Lookout on Cargo Ship
Wataru Omae Radar Operations Officer
Shoichi Hirose Mu Empire Subject
Katsumi Tezuka Mu Empire Subject
Koji Uno Constable, Oshima Island
Yukihiko Gondo Bus Passenger, Mt. Mihara
Yutaka Oka Bus Passenger, Mt. Mihara
Yasuzo Ogawa Mu Empire Subject, Attached to High Priest

Production credits[edit]

Production and distribution[edit]

American International Pictures theatrical poster for the 1965 U.S release of Atragon.
Eiji Tsuburaya glances up at the Manda prop during filming of the Manda vs Atragon scene

A final draft of Sekizawa's screenplay 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 (1961) were used as inserts during the scene where all-new footage of Tokyo's Marunouchi business district collapses (as well as shots of emergency vehicles responding before the collapse). Two other minor instances of stock footage were used in transitional montages of "surveillance satellites" taken from The Mysterians and Battle in Outer Space; while another montage, establishing shots of the world's major capitals, were taken from Shūe Matsubayashi's The Last War (1961).

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 1968 as the support feature for Honda's Destroy All Monsters. It was also the 1964 Japanese entry at the Trieste Science Fiction Film Festival.[2]

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 Goten-go 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). Media-Blasters had intended to use the original Titra Studios dubbing, but Toho forced the company to use its international version. This alternate dubbed version syncs up perfectly with the Japanese video, but fans generally consider these international dubs to be inferior. Its enduring popularity in Japan is evident in the number of plastic model kits, garage kits, and adult-targeted toys based on the Goten 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 Atragon for the sole purpose of reviving the Empire of Japan; and in the Empress of Mu, whose 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 Atragon—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 Atragon to die with her people.

Cultural references[edit]

Space ships resembling those seen in the movie appeared in the video game Godzilla: Monster of Monsters. The game's cutscenes suggest that these ships are piloted by evil aliens from Planet X, who declare war on Earth in the year 2XXX. Other enemies within the game resemble the creatures from Matango.

There is a Doom Metal band from Edinburgh, Scotland who take their name from the film.


  1. ^ Smith, Gary A. The American International Pictures Video Guide, McFarland 2009 p 16
  2. ^ Parish, James Robert and Michael R. Pitts. The Great Science Fiction Pictures.


External links[edit]