Posts Tagged ‘Masaaki Tezuya’

Most of the time when people talk about something being ‘formulaic’, there’s a very definite negative connotation going on, as though it were always a bad thing. I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case, particularly when we’re talking about genre movies, and especially long-running series. One of the reasons why I was a little less delighted with Skyfall than a lot of people was that I didn’t think it stuck to the Bond recipe quite closely enough – I wasn’t overwhelmed by how introspective it was, and I missed the presence of a proper Bond girl. However, if we are going to talk about films which are formulaic in the best possible way, I would direct your attention to Masaaki Tezuya’s 2003 extravaganza, Godzilla: Tokyo SOS.

Fairly unusually for a recent Godzilla film, this is a direct sequel to the previous instalment, Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla. Now, I enjoyed that one a lot, although I would cheerfully concede it has a surprisingly straightforward and conventional story for a kaiju movie. If anything, Tokyo SOS fixes this particular problem by adding a big dollop of Toho bonkersness to the same formula.


The movie opens with ominous stirrings on the sea bed, as Godzilla wakes up following the lengthy nap he’s been taking since the previous movie. At the same time, a UFO is picked up heading for Japan at supersonic speed – which, naturally, turns out to be a giant moth with an axe to grind.

It’s Mothra! Mothra is heading to Japan to have a chat with old acquaintance Professor Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi, reprising his role from the original 1961 Mothra – the two films are, broadly speaking, in the same continuity). Acting as Mothra’s spokesfairies are, as ever, the Shobijin (in a particularly winsome incarnation). They explain that by building Mechagodzilla from the genetic material and bones of the first Godzilla (funny, no-one mentioned the bones thing in the first film), the Japanese government has effectively created a gigantic cyber-zombie, an offence against nature of exactly the kind Mothra exists to destroy.

So the big word from the big moth is this: scrap Kiryu, or Mothra will declare war on the human race. But the Japanese government are strangely reluctant to get rid of their cyborg zombie mutant dinosaur protector, even though the giant mystic lepidopteran has offered to fill in should Godzilla turn up again. And the signs of Godzilla’s return are continuing, with the carcass of a giant turtle washing up on a beach (apparently this is an obscure old monster from an equally obscure movie called Space Amoeba).

Former Kiryu pilot and all-around cutie Akane (Yumiko Shaku) heads off to America after what’s not much more than a cameo (sigh), leaving the bulk of the human protagonist duties falling to youthful mechanic Yoshito (Noboru Kaneko) – it’s an interesting choice to make the hero a techie rather than a pilot, although this does mean the film struggles to find things for him to do in the second act. Anyway, repairs to Kiryu proceed apace, just being completed in time for Godzilla’s eventual re-emergence. But what part is Mothra going to play in the coming battle…?

Well, Mothra’s one of those eternal good-guy characters, so you know there’s never really any chance of him or her (Mothra’s gender in this film is sort of vague) helping Godzilla tear down the city. One of the strong points of the previous film was the quality and quantity of its monster battles and effects work, and they’re just as good here. Virtually the entire second half of the film is one long rampage through Tokyo by Godzilla, opposed by various elements of the JXSDF, Kiryu, and no fewer than three different incarnations of Mothra – Godzilla really does come across as a vicious, unstoppable force of destruction.

Mothra, on the other hand, seems to be having a bit of an off-day, having a tough time of it against Godzilla. She looks as good as she ever has on screen, though: it occurs to me that in terms of sheer affection for the character and its trappings, I like Mothra just as much as Godzilla, and Tezuya takes care to include all the things you want to see in a Mothra movie – the giant egg, the larva, the Shobijin, the Mothra icon, even the Mothra song.

Tokyo SOS‘s obvious affection and respect for its monster characters goes a long way to make up for the fact that the human story in this film is rather less engaging. Initially it looks as though it’s going to be about nice old Professor Chujo, but he sort of drops out of the centre of the movie after a while. For a little bit it looks like there’s going to be a romance between Yoshito and a female pilot named Azusa (idoru Miho Yoshioka, who, to be fair, is nearly as cute as Yumiko Shaku), but she just turns out to be support-character window-dressing. In the end the human focus of the film is on Yoshito’s relationship with the strange sentience of Kiryu, but this feels very much like a last-minute addition to the script and not really thought through.

I know I go on a lot about Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy when writing about kaiju movies, but this is simply because they’re the gold standard of the genre – it would be wilfully perverse not to mention them when talking about just how good this kind of film can be. Tokyo SOS has some of the brutality of these films in its monster battles – limbs are ripped off, monsters impaled on spikes – but also some of their grandeur and imagination. Best of all is the pre-credits sequence where a flight of jets come across Mothra in mid-air, shrouded by clouds, which seems to me to owe a huge debt to a similar scene in Incomplete Struggle.

Tokyo SOS is not a particularly innovative film in terms of its story, but, as I say, sometimes you sit down to watch a movie with strong preconceptions about exactly what it is you want to see. This film delivers the staples of a kaiju movie – multi-monster action, colossal property damage, a rather implausible plot – with confidence, charm, and skill, and I think it’s a shame Toho didn’t continue in this sort of vein for a few more films. Instead they chose to put the entire franchise on hold after the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink romp of Godzilla: Final Wars. That may have its merits as an anniversary celebration of the series, but as a ‘proper’ Godzilla movie, Tokyo SOS is at least its equal.

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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.


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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