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Posts Tagged ‘Godzilla Vs Biollante’

All right, so I was a bit lukewarm writing about Godzilla Vs Destroyer the other day, despite the fact that a) the Godzilla movies made in the 80s and 90s are on the whole better-regarded than the earlier ones and b) this particular film is apparently considered a highlight of the series. Honestly? Clearly it behoves me to do a bit more research (watching Toho monster movies – life is such an ordeal sometimes) and revisit this particular set of films – or, in a few cases, watch them for the first time.

Such is the case with 1989’s Godzilla Vs Biollante, written and directed by Kazuki Omori, which to my knowledge has never been shown theatrically or on TV in the UK, nor released on DVD. I say written, but apparently the plot of this film came about after Toho held a competition where people could write in with ideas for the story of the latest Godzilla film. The mind boggles as to what the slushpile must have looked like, given that the plots of some of the films that got made regularly have me shouting ‘Are you serious?’ at the screen.

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This is the second of the Heisei films and the second to feature veteran stuntman Ken Satsuma, who made a career out of collapsing from oxygen starvation while inside badly-designed monster suits, in the starring role. It’s actually a rather superior Godzilla, for the most part, even if it does feature some questionable structural decisions and possibly the most bizarre monster in the history of the series. It opens with a quick recap of the previous film, The Return of Godzilla (aka Godzilla 1985), in which Godzilla ravages Tokyo (again) before being lured into falling into a volcano. In the aftermath of this latest rampage, teams of soldiers are searching the rubble, looking for samples of Godzilla’s tissue. It turns out there are several rival groups doing this, which provides the opportunity for a little human-on-human action.

One of the less successful aspects of this film is the inclusion of a subplot about the government of a country called Saradia, which is apparently mostly an oil-rich desert. From this and the appearance of the actors playing the Saradians I think we may assume that Saradia is intended to be Saudi Arabia, safely fictionalised. Anyway, for most of the film the Saradians are basically nuisance-villains who just run around causing bother for the Japanese characters. At the start of the film they are especially keen to get their hands on Godzilla’s DNA as they want to use it to create indestructible wheat that will grow in the desert (this was another ‘Are you serious?’ moment, I’m afraid). Suffice to say this project goes nowhere and the daughter of the chief scientist, Dr Shiragami is killed.¬† Wanting to grow hybrid mutant dinosaur-wheat is a questionable ambition anyway, but his daughter’s death appears to turn Shiragami into a complete nutter, as we shall see.

Five years pass and there are ominous signs that Godzilla may be about to emerge from the volcano intent on fresh havoc. The quest for a weapon that will stop him becomes of paramount importance, with the best option apparently being specially-engineered bacteria that devour nuclear material – as Godzilla is nuclear-powered, injecting the bacteria into him should result in his being thoroughly incapacitated.

The anti-Godzilla bacteria will also be an effective deterrent against other nuclear weapons, which is the thin pretext used to get some Saradian spies into the plot. Of greater import is the recruitment to the research effort of Dr Shiragami, who is still mad with grief and spending all his time growing roses. He agrees to help, but only if he’s allowed to take the Godzilla cells being used to create the bacteria into his greenhouse for a week. The Japanese authorities see nothing questionable about this (all together now: ‘Are you serious?’).

Anyway, after a rather overcomplicated plot twist where an American corporation attempts to hold the government hostage, demanding it be given the anti-nuclear bacteria or it’ll let Godzilla out, the big beast finally makes his appearance, and rather good he looks too. But many of the characters have other things on their mind: there have been strange goings-on at Shiragami’s greenhouse, with American industrial spies being throttled to death by creepers before something big and mobile smashed its way through a wall to freedom.

The appearance of a gigantic rose-like plant at a nearby lake reveals the truth: Dr Shiragami, the nutter, has injected Godzilla cells into his roses resulting in the creation of Biollante, a peculiar hybrid semi-clone. ‘I think now I may have made a mistake,’ admits Dr Shiragami. You don’t say. As if this weren’t weird enough, a passing psychic (Megumi Odaka, who’s in a whole bunch of these films) reveals that Biollante actually possesses the soul of Shiragami’s dead daughter.

Possibly weirded out by the existence of a mutant nuclear dinosaur-rose hybrid clone possessed by a ghost, the military completely ignore Biollante and instead focus on shooting at Godzilla a lot, with the usual level of effectiveness (i.e., none whatsoever). But it turns out that Godzilla objects to being cloned and turned into a floral arrangement, and he’s heading for Biollante to express his displeasure in typically forthright manner…

Okay, so the plot is vaultingly weird even by the standards of Japanese monster movies (even if we don’t get dialogue up to the standard of ‘I love you, but Mechagodzilla’s brain is in my stomach!’ – that from 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla, of course), but this is still a properly good monster movie – and it does feel like a proper monster movie, unlike some of the later Heisei movies where elements of genuine SF and fantasy started to dominate.

Despite this, I have to say that the subplots about the Saradian agents and American industrial espionage do not add much to the film – and the fact that one of them is resolved in an action sequence in the final moments of the film, after the actual climactic monster battle, strikes me as a serious misjudgement.

Set against this, though, is a movie in which Godzilla looks good throughout and is treated with a proper sense of respect and foreboding. As the series goes on one gets more and more the impression that the human characters think of Godzilla rather like a big and badly-trained dog that wanders about, occasionally smashing the odd city – an annoyance they’ve grown resigned to rather than a genuine, terrifying menace.

Here, though, everyone is clearly bricking themselves at the prospect of Godzilla’s return, and the need to develop a weapon against him is the fundamental driving force of the plot. There’s a long build-up before Godzilla properly appears, with a real sense of foreboding about it – there’s a nice scene where the teacher of a class of psychically-sensitive children asks them what they dreamed about the night before, and they all cheerfully hold up crayon pictures of fire-breathing dinosaurs as Godzilla’s theme crashes in on the soundtrack. The result is that when Godzilla eventually emerges, it’s obviously a major plot development. The film is pleasingly Godzilla-centric, in other words – possibly even too much so, given that Biollante actually gets relatively little screen-time and the final battle between the two monsters is really quite brief compared to some of the tag-team slugfests composing the climaxes of other films in the series.

As I’ve indicated, Godzilla Vs Biollante perhaps lacks the big, focussed climax that might have made it a proper classic of the genre, but this is still a really solid, fun movie that I thoroughly enjoyed on a number of levels: it’s certainly amongst the best Godzilla films that I’ve seen, and that’s largely because it takes the time and trouble to genuinely be about Godzilla and give him the star status he deserves. A good one.

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