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Posts Tagged ‘Kazuki Omori’

Our current city-flattening rampage through the Godzilla series reaches the 90s with Kazuki Omori’s Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah. (Yes, I know we’re jumping about within the series  – we did the 1995 movie less than a week ago – but, well, you see… oh never mind. Look, we’re going to be doing a couple more of the Heisei movies and then see how it goes, okay?) I was actually quite surprised when I saw that Omori was the same director who did the previous movie, as they are tonally rather different. Godzilla Vs Biollante comes across as quite a serious and brooding film (as Japanese monster movies go), but this one is a much brighter and more freewheeling piece of work.

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Things open promisingly enough with a UFO appearing over Tokyo in the year 1992. In a textbook example of how to crowbar the introduction of a second plotline into a movie, Terasawa (Kosuke Toyohara), a writer contacted with a view to doing a story on the sighting, is more interested in following a lead about alleged dinosaur sightings in the Marshall Islands during the Second World War.

The dinosaur plot and the one about the UFO trundle along in tandem for a while. So far there has been no sign of Godzilla or any other monsters, but the script is so engagingly bonkers that you don’t miss them that much. Terasawa, in association with a dinosaur boffin and psychic Godzilla expert Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka), comes up with the theory that the dinosaur sighted at the end of the war was eventually hit by radiation from  A-bomb tests in the 1950s which mutated it into Godzilla.

When in the inhabitants of the UFO emerge, they confirm this is the truth. Rather than aliens, they are from the 23rd century and have come back to the present day to save Japan. They claim that Godzilla will eventually devastate the country to the point where it has to be abandoned, but offer a solution to the problem of his existence. They propose a further time trip back to 1944, to locate Godzilla in his pre-mutant form and teleport him out of the way of the radiation – thus preventing him ever being created!

With the help of a cute girl from the future (Anna Nakagawa) and an android (Robert Field), the mission seemingly goes off without a hitch. But on their return to 1992, our heroes discover that Godzilla may have vanished, but he has been replaced by an equally destructive and possibly even more savage monster, King Ghidorah. Can it really be that, if catastrophe is to be averted, they’re somehow going to have to get Godzilla back…?

The temporal mechanics of this movie are essentially gibberish (having successfully averted Godzilla’s creation, the protagonists return to the present day only to find everyone still knows exactly who and what Godzilla is, apparently because the 20th century is so bursting with nuclear radiation that his creation is actually ‘inevitable’), and the overall throughline of the plot is far from the last word in elegance: protagonists want to get rid of Godzilla. Time mission to do so produces King Ghidorah. Protagonists recreate Godzilla to get rid of King Ghidorah. Protagonists realise they are now back at square one. Protagonists recreate King Ghidorah to get rid of Godzilla… you can almost imagine the various iterations of this going on forever, but the budget would only stretch to 102 minutes and the actual resolution is pretty satisfactory.

Despite these issues, Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah is rather more fun than I remembered it being: it’s pacy, colourful, and keeps whacking you with fun and interesting ideas. Other peoples’ ideas, of course – as you may be able to discern, the plot and imagery are heavily derivative of 80s Hollywood blockbusters, particularly The Terminator (although the super-human attributes of the android in this film are realised rather more variably than in Arnie’s case) – but at least the movie holds its hand up to this, by the rather knowing inclusion of a scene purporting to feature a new-born Steven Spielberg’s father.

The Second World War sequence, in which a pre-mutation Godzilla takes on a platoon of American soldiers, was apparently quite controversial at the time, and together with the overall arc of the plot (bad guys are motivated by a desire to stop Japanese economic dominance of the future world) apparently led to claims this film is anti-American. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it’s at least a film prepared to touch (briefly) on serious issues connected with history and Japan’s place in the world – at one point King Ghidorah is shown flying over the site of the first A-bombing in Hiroshima, a fairly oblique reference but still a first for the series.

But mostly it’s just about giant monsters laying into each other. Godzilla himself looks better than ever in his latest incarnation, and is just about on the cusp between anti-heroism and outright villainy in this film. Possibly wary of making him too amiable, the film-makers  include a memorable subplot about a character who was saved by Godzilla during the war and constantly insists that he is ultimately benign, a force for salvation. And when they eventually meet… well, let’s just say he gets the opportunity to amend his opinion, provided he does so loudly and very fast.

You can understand why Ghidorah was the first of Godzilla’s Showa-series opponents to be revived, as the two of them clashed more times than any other monsters and the King has a good claim to be Godzilla’s arch-enemy. Even by the 90s, though, suitamation technology was not quite up to the challenge of creating a Ghidorah who does not look ever-so-slightly camp and ridiculous. All part of the fun, of course, and the various battles between the two of them are hugely enjoyable.

So, even if the plot with the human characters doesn’t actually make sense, the character s themselves are engaging and the film is full of ideas, while the monster battles are spectacular and destructive. This is the first of the Heisei Godzilla movies to really capture the crazy spirit of the older films from the 60s and 70s, but incorporates it into a film which a modern audience could find just about credible. If you already ‘get’ Godzilla, then this is a film which will live up to expectations – if you don’t, then it’s probably one of the best places to start.

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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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