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Posts Tagged ‘Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla’

It increasingly seems to me that fictional universes are subject to a peculiar complaint known (to me) as Excessive Reboot Syndrome. This condition is caused by the continuity of a particular character being reset too often and most often results in the entire mythology collapsing into a homogenous mass, from which it is almost impossible for the casual viewer to unpick specific stories or particular versions of characters. Looking on the bright side, this does enable creative people to come in and adopt a sort of pick ‘n’ mix approach to storytelling, raiding the entire back catalogue without having to worry too much.

This is the state in which the Godzilla series appears to have been about ten years ago. Following the Showa and Heisei series of films, both of which at least attempted to maintain some sort of internal continuity, and the American remake, which never got as far as a sequel, the Millennium films do not, for the most part, attempt to link up with each other, but do freely take inspiration from the history of the franchise.

This is apparent in Maasaki Tezuka’s Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla, made in 2002. This is the third film to bear that title, which may explain why it is also widely known as Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla for reasons of clarity. I’m not entirely sure why they didn’t just call it Godzilla Vs Kiryu, which would have been a perfectly acceptable name – I suspect the marquee value of the Mechagodzilla name may have had something to do with it.

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Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla opens in 1999, 45 years after the first Godzilla’s rampage through Tokyo (the film adheres to the convention that the first film ‘really happened’ but discounts all the other sequels). In the interim a variety of other monsters have attacked the country (Mothra and – bizarrely – Gaira, from War of the Gargantuas, appear in stock footage) and a specialist anti-monster unit exists to deal with them.

When a second Godzilla comes ashore during a typhoon, the JXSDF is rushed into action. Manning a maser cannon is unfeasibly kawai young soldier, Akane (Yumiko Shaku), but during the battle she makes a serious misjudgement and several of her comrades are killed. She is posted to a desk job in the aftermath of Godzilla’s return to the sea.

The Japanese government realise the need for a more effective anti-Godzilla weapon and, as usual, opt for a totally bonkers solution. Recruiting a team of top scientists, they retrieve the first Godzilla’s bones from the bottom of Tokyo bay and use them to create an armoured cyborg clone, which is armed to the teeth (literally: it has a maser cannon down its throat). On the team is widowed boffin Dr Yuhara (Shin Takuma), recruited for his startling work in creating cyborg trilobites, but who only agrees to participate if he can bring his slightly annoying young daughter (Kana Onodera) to work with him. It is the kid who christens the cyborg monster Mechagodzilla; even so, most people call the beast Kiryu (‘machine dragon’).

Attached to the project as a pilot is Akane, given a chance to redeem herself by one of her army mentors, but she finds overcoming the resistance and hostility of the other soldiers difficult. Dr Yuhara’s inept attempts to hit on her appear fairly irksome too, but I suppose you can’t blame him: she is terribly cute.

Godzilla shows the decency not to attack for the years it takes them to finish building and testing Mechagodzilla, but shows up almost as soon as it’s finished. In a sequence to gladden the heart of any Gerry Anderson fan, Kiryu is scrambled to the site of his latest rampage – but the scientists have reckoned without the latent genetic connection between Godzilla and his latest clone, and in the middle of the confrontation Kiryu’s latent sentience manifests and it goes out of control, obeying its monstrous instincts…

The use of the Mechagodzilla name is a bit of a cheat, as – appearance notwithstanding – this latest incarnation of the character doesn’t really have much in common with either of the previous versions, being a cyborg rather than a robot – despite this, for most of the film it is more like a piloted mecha than a true monster in its own right. None of this really matters, as the film is enormous fun.

Now, Godzilla really isn’t in it very much, which is usually a mark against anything calling itself a Godzilla film, and the focus on the character arc of a single protagonist is also a bit of an innovation (most of the older movies have a mob of cardboard cutouts following the monsters around). But while the actual story of disgraced-soldier-seeks-redemption may be hackneyed (it’s not entirely unlike the plot of Pacific Rim), it’s still solid enough and gives the film a bit of heart and soul.

But what it mainly has are some terrific battle sequences, with the required crash-bang-wallop going off in spades. The modelwork in particular is superb, and the monster suits are also as good as any I’ve seen – a shot in which Kiryu walks straight through a tower block is especially impressive. CGI is integrated into the film with great skill, and the direction is breezy. It may not have the same sense of atmosphere and grandeur that Shusuke Kaneko brought to the Gamera films of a few years earlier, but this film has energy and spectacle and fun in abundance. That it also has a plot which actually makes sense and features characters it’s possible to care about is the icing on the cake. Not the most ambitious or surprising Godzilla movie ever made, but one which stands up in every department: as 26th-films-in-a-franchise go, this is one of the best.

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