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Posts Tagged ‘Megumi Odaka’

Well, here’s something which has kind of snuck up on me: having recently watched Takao Okawara’s Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla II, I find myself in the position of having seen all thirty-two of Toho’s Godzilla movies. This has been a long road, to be perfectly honest: there were only seventeen when I started, back in 1990, and the fact that most of the recent films are very difficult to track down in the UK did not help much. Thank the stars for the internet. It seems quite appropriate that this should form the basis of the landmark 1002nd film review on the blog (look, I do literature, not mathematics).

Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla II was released in 1993, and was apparently intended at the time to mark a pause in production for films in the series: the first big-budget American Godzilla was believed to be imminent at the time (in the end it was another five years before it arrived, so Toho made another two movies before finally putting the series on hold). Watching the movie now I suppose you can just about discern the suggestion that things are being concluded, but for the most part it resembles the films around it, not least in the way it reintroduces famous characters from the films of the 60s and 70s.

The film gets underway with the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Centre unveiling their new weapon to sort the big lizard out once and for all: the severed robotic head of Mecha-King Ghidorah has been fished out of Tokyo bay (where it ended up at the climax of 1991’s Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah) and reverse-engineered so its futuristic technology can be employed in two new vehicles: Garuda, one of those flying tanks which seem to be common in tokusatsu movies, and Mechagodzilla, which is, um, a mecha which looks like Godzilla.

(There is a bit of a departure here from the original incarnation of Mechagodzilla, which – if memory serves – was basically a robot. Here it is essentially a somewhat outlandishly-designed vehicle. This take seems to have gained some traction, for the third incarnation of Mechagodzilla – the Kiryu version, from Tokyo SOS – sticks very close to the same concept. On the other hand, this may have something to do with the same guy, Wataru Mimura, writing all the recent Mechagodzilla movies.)

Flying Garuda, to begin with at least, is lovable lunk Aoki (Masahiro Takashima). In a piece of foreshadowing about as subtle as being hit by a truck, we are informed that Aoki is a huge fan of pteranodons, not that this particularly informs the plot much. However, quite early on he is redeployed to elsewhere in the anti-Godzilla corps, which if nothing else means he gets to wear a snappy cravat with a big G on it (this is actually part of the uniform).

From here we cut to a bunch of scientists on one of those remote Pacific islands which are such a common feature in these films. They are excited to have discovered some impressive pteranodon fossils, and also an actual intact egg. Excitement shifts to alarm when they realise that another egg has already hatched, and a giant pteranodon is roosting in the vicinity. The unlikely size of this beastie is explained by one of the boffins as the result of nuclear waste irradiating the island, though I’m not sure this entirely explains what pteranodon eggs are doing on a Pacific island in the 1990s.

(Now, the pteranodon is – obviously! – a new take on Rodan, one of the A-list Toho kaiju with a long and distinguished career which extends back to his own 1956 movie and is due to continue next year in a new Hollywood incarnation. The American dub of Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla II is unique in that it reverts to using Rodan’s Japanese name, Radon. I’m going to stick with Rodan, however, as it would feel odd not to.)

The scientists go beyond alarm into actual panic when the sea erupts and Godzilla himself appears on the scene. Godzilla and Rodan catch sight of each other and promptly begin to party like it’s 1964, laying waste to most of the island in the process of their rumble. The scientists take this as a cue to make a swift departure with the egg. Being such a pteranodon nut, Aoki turns up to check out the egg in the Kyoto lab where it ends up, meeting nice young scientist Azusa (Ryoko Sano) in the process. Psychic Miki (Megumi Odaka), a regular character in these movies, is also hanging around and discovers that – fasten your seatbelts, friends – some moss sticking to the egg is actually telepathically singing to it. (Well, of course it is.)

As a result of the discovery of the singing telepathic moss, the egg hatches out, not into another pteranodon but a baby godzillasaurus, which everyone refers to as Baby Godzilla. Baby Godzilla seems essentially benign and doesn’t appear to be especially irradiated, which just adds to his cuteness. It’s never really confirmed that Baby Godzilla and the full-sized version are closely related, but big Godzilla certainly seems to take an interest in the newborn and starts heading for Kyoto. There’s only one thing to do: stand by to launch Mechagodzilla!

Well, if nothing else, I feel like I’m beginning to understand why so many of the sub-par Godzilla movies of the 1990s and early 2000s feel so samey – it’s because most of them were written by Wataru Mimura (Tokyo SOS, which is the best of the post-1992 Godzilla films, was the work of someone else). Quite apart from a rather Gerry Anderson-esque take on Mechagodzilla, what these films have in common is a tendency to treat Godzilla like bad weather – one of those annoying facts of life people just have to come to terms with – rather than the terrifying menace he is in some of the other films. Godzilla just turns up and attacks places in this film whenever the plot slows down a bit.

I say ‘plot’, but the main problem with Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla II is that in a very real sense it doesn’t actually have a plot – not to the extent that it feels in any way structured or thought-through. Things just happen one after the other, frequently without much in the way of explanation or causality, to say nothing of occasional odd tangents. The film is reliant on things happening without any real explanation – where do the eggs come from? What the hell is the deal with the singing telepathic moss? Why does Baby Godzilla seem to have psychic powers? How come Rodan mutates into a more dangerous form halfway through the movie? I could go on.

One result of this is that something rather odd happens with audience sympathy in the course of the film. To begin with, Godzilla is the same ambiguous anti-hero as in all the movies since the 1984 relaunch of the series, and the operators of Mechagodzilla are heroic defenders of Japan. But by the end of the film, one finds oneself rooting for Godzilla – or at least expected to do so – as he takes a beating from characters who are theoretically the protagonists. The only catalyst for this is the fact that the bosses at G-Force are unspeakably cruel to Baby Godzilla, using him as bait even though he is so small and cute. I suppose if nothing else this speaks volumes about the famous Japanese vulnerability to anything cute with big eyes.

Oh well. There are a few good things about this film – Megumi Odaka, perennial second banana in this series, gets some good material, and the monster suits are generally excellent. The Rodan puppet in particular is extremely impressive. The initial battle between Godzilla and Rodan is also boisterously good stuff. Apparently this was choreographed as it was due to complaints that too many monster battles in the previous few films just consisted of monsters standing off and zapping breath-rays at each other – which makes it slightly odd that the other battles in this film consist of pretty much that exact same thing. (Although the traditional scene where the massed model planes and toy tanks of the JSDF trundle out to engage Godzilla and have no effect whatsoever also makes an appearance, and it’s like seeing an old friend when it does.)

In the end, though, one has to remember that this film is predicated on the idea that, having salvaged priceless technology from the future, the best thing the UN can think of doing with it is to build a giant cybernetic dinosaur with laser-beam eyes. Normal standards of logic and sanity are clearly not in effect. In the past I have spoken of the special pleasures of a Good Bad Movie – Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla II is not quite a Good Bad Movie, but it is at least an Okay Bad Movie, and the dedicated Godzilla audience it was clearly made for will probably find stuff to enjoy here.

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In the Earth Year 1994, the Godzilla movie series was in fairly robust health – after fifteen years or so in the wilderness, with only one movie released between 1975 and 1989, they were back to cranking out a new sequel every year, and it didn’t hurt that the most recent movies had actually been pretty good, mostly. This is the situation into which Kensho Yamashita’s Godzilla Vs Spacegodzilla, sixth film in the then-current continuity and twenty-first overall, was released.

As the movie gets underway, the Japanese establishment seems to have dissolved into a (rather counter-intuitive) alphabet soup of different agencies and initiatives: we hear of the Counter-G Committee, Project M, and Project T. Naturally, most of these things are concerned with the ongoing Godzilla problem. Project M is a new weapon developed to fight giant monsters, a piloted robot called Mogera. Project T, on the other hand, is a scheme to telepathically take control of Godzilla using the psychic powers of series regular Miki (Megumi Odaka). Yeah, like that’s going to work.

However, what nearly everyone is ignoring is the approach of a hostile extra-terrestrial organism, which to begin with looks rather like Superman’s spaceship from the 1978 movie with an even grumpier version of Godzilla sticking out of the bottom of it. This, of course, is Spacegodzilla, a mutant clone of the Big G created after some of his cells ended up in space, fell through a black hole, absorbed crystalline alien life-forms, and so on. As happens all the time in Japanese monster movies. The only one who notices Spacegodzilla is on the way is Mothra (not in the movie enough) who throughout proceedings is off in space doing the stuff that a giant mystic lepidoptera has gotta do.

Mothra’s spokesfairies, the Shobijin, tell Miki what’s going on, but before Spacegodzilla arrives, there’s some other stuff to cover, namely the attempts of Project T to take psychic control of Godzilla. This happens off on a desert island somewhere, and is hampered by the presence of traumatised army veteran Yuki (Akira Emoto), who comes across as a deranged survivalist: one of his buds was killed in a Godzilla attack, and now he plans on killing the big guy with a special hand-made bullet. Yeah, like that’s going to work.

Well, the execution of Project T is a qualified success, but interrupted by the arrival of Spacegodzilla, who starts harassing both Godzilla and his offspring Little Godzilla (an irksomely twee character who’s been hanging around the movie since the start). Spacegodzilla beats the crap out of Godzilla and drives him off, traps Little Godzilla in a crystal prison, and sets off to devastate Japan, with seemingly only Mogera left to stop his rampage. Yeah, like that’s going to work…

Prior to watching Godzilla Vs Spacegodzilla, I would have confidently said that the Heisei sequence of Godzilla films (the 1984-1995 run) was absolutely your best bet in terms of your chances of finding a fun movie which was competently made and not too egregiously daft. My confidence has taken a bit of a knock, to be honest, for Godzilla Vs Spacegodzilla is in many ways a throwback to the dodgier films of the early 1970s. And in a way the 70s feel is entirely appropriate: Spacegodzilla looks like a glam rock version of Godzilla, Mogera looks like a disco version of Mechagodzilla.

The main problem is that the story is simply not very good. The first act sets up the action, reasonably competently, and includes all the messing about on the island with Little Godzilla, Project T, and Yuki’s Godzilla revenge plan. The final act is a (very) extended battle between Godzilla, Spacegodzilla, and Mogera, which basically consists of the three of them zapping each other with ray blasts and Godzilla falling over a lot.

In between… well, the thing is that there isn’t really a second act. All that’s there is a frankly ludicrous subplot about the Yakuza kidnapping Miki so that they can use her to telepathically take control of Godzilla. This plotline comes out of nowhere. It goes nowhere. It’s just a lump of weirdness plopped down in the middle of the movie. However, there are lots of elements of this movie which just pop up from nowhere or disappear to the same place (not that this is always necessarily a bad thing: Little Godzilla is basically forgotten about after the first act).

My understanding is that the aim for this movie was to create something with a more light-hearted tone than the preceding movies, and also include more character development. How they got from this to a movie about a traumatised army veteran being put in charge of flying a robot, I’m not sure; I suppose Megumi Odaka gets slightly better scenes than usual, but you can’t go overboard on things like characterisation when it comes to a Godzilla movie: I was sitting there thinking ‘Yes, this is all very nice, but can we have some monsters, now, please.’

Of course, you should be careful what you wish for, because the actual monster battle at the end of the movie goes on forever and is repetitive to the point of being boring: it nearly put me into a coma. I glanced at my watch at one point and was dismayed to see the movie still had another twenty minutes left to run. This is quite long, for a Japanese Godzilla film – it could easily stand to lose at least ten or fifteen minutes of its running time. Many – perhaps even most – of the special effects shots are arguably sub-par too.

As I said, the Godzilla franchise was in pretty good shape in 1994, but the decision was nevertheless taken to put the series on hold after the very next film, Godzilla Vs Destroyer. Am I suggesting that Godzilla Vs Spacegodzilla is so bad that it effectively killed off the franchise, or at least put it into suspended animation? Hmmm, well, maybe I am – not that I have any evidence for this, and this movie seems to have done pretty well at the box office. Nevertheless, I stand by my opinion: this is a poor movie, short on new ideas, seemingly without the imagination or affection for the Godzilla series that the best of the Heisei series have in buckets. A lowlight of the genre’s 1990s output.

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Imagine the scene as the Prime Minister of Japan, who’s out of the country on a brief golfing holiday, phones his office to find out how things are going in his absence:

‘Well, sir, do you remember a few days ago, when that mutant radioactive dinosaur had a fight out at sea with the spiky mystical caterpillar, cracked open the ocean floor, and they both fell through into the Earth’s molten core? Well, unfortunately it seems that the dinosaur swam through the superheated lava, climbed out of the volcano of Mount Fuji and is currently advancing on Yokohama. Luckily in the meantime a giant grub swam into Tokyo bay, demolished half the city, and turned into a cocoon on top of the parliament building. It just hatched out as a gigantic moth with magic powers and it looks like the moth and the dinosaur are going to have a battle to the death near Yokohama harbour.’

‘Ah. A pretty typical week, then.’

Does the appeal of a great Japanese monster movie really need any more explanation than the plot synopsis given above? I thought not. That one is from Godzilla Vs Mothra, released in 1992 (and – obviously – not to be confused with Mothra Vs Godzilla, from 1964). Directed by Takao Okawara, this was for a long time my very favourite of all the Godzilla series, and watching it again now hasn’t done a great deal to make me revise my opinion.

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Let’s have a slightly more serious look at that plot: a meteorite falls into the Pacific Ocean, setting off a remarkable chain of events. Firstly, it manages to wake up not one but two giant monsters which happened to be asleep in that area of the ocean floor – Godzilla, taking a rest after disposing of King Ghidorah in the previous film, and Battra, an ancient embodiment of the planet’s righteous fury. (Battra looks like a sort of spiky slug.) The meteorite also causes storms which trigger a landslide in Indonesia, exposing a huge egg which has been buried for thousands of years.

Having cheerily ripped off The Terminator in the previous film, the Godzilla people proceed to do the same with the Indiana Jones series as we meet our hero, Takuya (Tetsuya Bessho), a shady archaeologist and generally irresponsible fellow. In exchange for being sprung from prison, he agrees to go and get the egg, accompanied by his ex-wife Masako (Satomi Kobayashi) and a representative of a big corporation looking to exploit the site.

The expedition to the egg is not especially convincingly-mounted (Masako wears a pith helmet, the salariman a suit and tie) and it’s played for laughs, not very successfully. However on reaching the egg, our heroes meet the Shobijin (also known as the Cosmos fairies in English-language dubs), tiny twins who explain the provenance of the egg and the back-story of the film.

The egg belongs to Mothra, protector of the planet (and embodiment of Earth’s kind and nurturing side), who in the past had to work quite hard to keep Battra from destroying civilisation. With all the terrible things mankind is doing to the planet, the revived Battra is sure to be on the warpath again, and this time there’s no Mothra around to stop him…

So what’s Godzilla doing all this time? you may be wondering. Wonder no more. The boss of the corporation, who is a bit of a tool, decides to ship the egg to Japan and put it on display. Unfortunately a giant egg being rafted across the Pacific is just the sort of thing that attracts Godzilla’s attention, and he shows up looking for a fight. Battra and a newly-hatched Mothra oblige while the humans make their escape – but the boss, looking to replace the now-destroyed egg, decides to keep the Shobijin as a replacement attraction. And Mothra disapproves of this, and heads back to Japan to make this clear…

The opening twenty minutes or so of Godzilla Vs Mothra are a bit clunky and frivolous, but as soon as the Shobijin appear it starts to turn into a really accomplished and fun monster movie, with strong fantasy overtones. That said, the scenes with the humans, particularly Takuya and Masako, never stop clunking. There’s a whole subplot about Takuya being a bad husband and father and having to shape up and take responsibility which is crashingly unsubtle and rather patronising. On the other hand, it has strong competition in the crashing unsubtlety stakes, because – as you may just have guessed – this film has a strong message about protecting the environment which it beats the audience about the head with at every opportunity. It’s hard to fault the actual sentiments – I’m all for responsibility in family affairs, and sympathetic to Green ideas – it’s just the manner of their delivery which is a bit exasperating.

Never mind. Making up for this are a load of spiffy monster sequences – most of them, it must be said, focussing on Mothra rather than Godzilla. The previous two films were both fundamentally about humans trying to find a solution to the problem of Godzilla – in this, he is a much less central presence (arguably a questionable precedent being set), and if you are a Godzilla purist you may find the imbalance of screen-time between Godzilla and Mothra rather objectionable.

It’s probably as well to keep in mind that Mothra is a big-name monster in her own right, starting her career in her own movie before moving on to a distinguished career in other Toho kaiju pictures (as one of the few monsters to be able to fight Godzilla to a standstill unassisted). If you think of Godzilla Vs Mothra as being at least partly a remake of the original Mothra, and partly a method of reintroducing Mothra to the wider Godzilla continuity, the relative lack of Godzilla becomes a little easier to understand.

Of course, Mothra is almost always the good guy monster, which means that Godzilla is firmly back in the role of unstoppable menace for this particular film (no-one seems to have told Megumi Odaka this, as she seems genuinely upset every time Godzilla has a skyscraper toppled onto him). But it suits him, and when he’s on screen he’s handled respectfully, as a terrifying force of total destruction. ‘This is beyond our present knowledge or understanding,’ declares one of the government boffins in tones of awed horror, upon learning that the Big G has survived his dip in the Earth’s core. 1990s special effects mean that the climactic three-way clash between Godzilla, Mothra, and Battra more than lives up to the equivalent battle at the end of the 1964 film.

I like this film a lot, no matter how clunky or obvious many of the scenes with the human characters are. It has some really memorable visuals, very entertaining monster battles, and a terrific soundtrack – for some reason, it seems that for a kaiju to really work on-screen it needs a killer musical motif of its own, and none of the monsters here are let down. And I just enjoy the fact that people were actually prepared to make a film so way-out and imaginative in its ideas. It’s partly this kind of sheer craziness which attracts me to kaiju movies – and it’s an element that I think the makers of next year’s Hollywood Godzilla will neglect at their peril. But I digress: this is a highlight of the series, and the genre.

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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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Well, initial reports that Pacific Rim turned out to be a bit of a flop seem to have been somewhat overstated, with the film currently well on its way to turning a healthy profit. Nevertheless, what this means for the future of the Hollywood kaiju movie remains to be seen – I suspect a lot is riding on the success (or otherwise) of next year’s remake of Godzilla.

If we’re talking Japanese-style monster movies then as far as most people are concerned we’re basically talking Godzilla and Toho Studios. For the last ten or twelve years, though, I have felt vaguely guilty simply because my own personal favourites in this genre have emanated from elsewhere: specifically, the Gamera movies made by Daiei in the late 90s. Part of the problem may be that simply getting hold of the more recent Godzilla films is, in the UK, rather challenging: most of the Showa movies made between 1960 and 1975 have had some sort of proper release, but with a few exceptions it’s very hard to track down anything made since the late 80s.

In an attempt to rectify this lamentable gap in my knowledge I sat down and watched one of the mid-90s Godzilla films via the medium of a popular video-sharing website: I know this is ethically dubious, and I do feel a bit guilty, but it did mean watching the film in a dodgy Tamil dub with atrocious subtitling, so I think I paid my penance at the time.

The movie in question was… well, here’s a thing. The Japanese title is Gojira Tai Destoroyah, which is fair enough, it’s Japanese. You would therefore expect the English title to be Godzilla Vs Destroyer, right? But no: apparently it’s still called Godzilla Vs Destoroyah. Apparently this is due to trademarking issues and Toho not being able to copyright ‘Destroyer’ as a monster name. I’m not terribly impressed with ‘Destoroyah’ as a fix for this so-called problem and have half a mind to just call the beastie in the film Destroyer and let the writs fly as they may. I suppose it is just possible there are bigger problems in the modern world.

gvsd

Anyway, Takao Okawara’s movie opens in traditional style with Godzilla rocking up in Hong Kong, intent on some of the usual colossal property damage. But all is not well with the great beast: his usual greenish hue and healthy blue-white aura of Cherenkov radiation have changed to a fierce red-orange and he appears to be giving off colossal amounts of heat. (The image of Godzilla striding through boiling water, his skin glowing like lava, is a striking one.)

The world’s assembled Godzilla experts (I love the fact this film is set in a world where ‘Godzilla expert’ is a respected career) come to the conclusion that Godzilla has developed a heart condition: and as his heart is a nuclear furnace this is potentially bad news for the whole world. If the reaction inside Godzilla continues to escalate out of control, very shortly he will either detonate like a enormous nuke or melt his way through the earth’s crust.

Meanwhile – and, believe it or not, the Godzilla-is-about-to-inadvertently-devastate-the-planet plotline is arguably the B-story for much of the film – digging work in Tokyo bay is disrupted by the discovery of a colony of incredibly ancient organisms from the pre-Cambrian era. The creatures appear to have been mutated by exposure to the Oxygen Destroyer, a fearful weapon deployed in the bay in (and against) the original Godzilla in 1954 (is the Godzilla in this movie the same one or not? I must confess to having lost track). They are rapidly mutating and growing as they do so, posing serious problems for the Japanese defence forces.

The mutant creatures soon coalesce into a single giant monster, which the awe-struck boffins who’ve been prodding the plot along this far realise is the embodiment of the Oxygen Destroyer: hence, they christen it Destroyer (let’s not argue about this).

At this point, credulity goes off on one of those tangents familiar to any viewer of Godzilla’s exploits, as – faced with the unstoppable incarnation of one of the most horrifying weapons ever devised – the Godzilla experts perk up and realise they could potentially use Destroyer to solve their meltdown problem. All they need to do is lure a colossal, dangerously radioactive super-powered dinosaur into the centre of Tokyo where it can battle another even more dangerous monster to the death! What could possibly go wrong?

Well, on one level, this is a fairly standard Godzilla movie from the 90s, as you can see. Godzilla wanders around in the background being vaguely menacing for most of the film, while his final opponent is given an origin story in the foreground. Fair enough, but the thing that should make Godzilla Vs Destroyer distinctive is more apparent from one of its alternate foreign titles, to wit: The Death of Godzilla.

Some historical context for the uninitiated: this movie was made in 1995, at which point Toho had been cranking out Godzilla movies at the rate of one a year for about half a decade. A rest for the big feller was prescribed, as far as Japanese movies were concerned: meanwhile, an American remake was in the early stages of pre-production (ultimately to appear as the reviled Emmerich Godzilla). So this was the first attempt to deliberately and permanently conclude a series of Godzilla movies.

Here is the main problem with Godzilla Vs Destroyer: as a regular vehicle for its star, it’s acceptable – but as a grand finale and last hurrah for a screen legend, it’s simply not quite there. There’s an attempt to tie the plot of this film into that of the 1954 original by using stock footage from it and referring to various characters (and it’s always nice to see Takashi Shimura in a film), but it does feel a tiny bit contrived, and the fact remains that the appearance of Destroyer just at the time Godzilla enters his terminal condition is an enormous coincidence.

The nature of Godzilla’s demise is also far from satisfying. It’s never really explained just why Godzilla has gone into meltdown (although I am prepared to admit this may be down to dodgy Tamil subtitles), and it appears to happen off-screen prior to the film’s start. Apparently it’s just one of those things which eventually happens to you if you’re a radioactive mutant super-powered dinosaur. (For all of this, the actual scenes of Godzilla snuffing it are undeniably potent, even though they are instantly undercut by the final shot of the film.)

The movie also suffers from one of the key problems with the Heisei Godzilla films, which is that Godzilla doesn’t really have a consistent characterisation: it’s understandable that Toho wanted to shy away from the jolly superhero version of Godzilla who was firmly in place by the late 60s, but they never quite found a satisfying replacement for this. the result is a series of films in which Godzilla is the star, but also the primary menace. As the former, he has to appear impressive and powerful; as the latter, he has to ultimately be defeated. Needless to say some convoluted plotting results, and Godzilla remains an ambiguous, monolithic figure, difficult to identify with.

I think it would have been a much more resonant conclusion to the series if they had finally resolved this, making Godzilla a much less ambiguously heroic character in his final battle. It would have been relatively straightforward to have Destroyer brutally beat up Baby Godzilla, as happens in the actual film, and for an enraged Godzilla to embark upon a quest for revenge – but for him to have to overstretch his powers in order to defeat Destroyer, with the final meltdown coming as a result of this. This would have the advantage of making Godzilla’s death a heroic self-sacrifice, worthy of such an icon, rather than just something that happens, as is the case in the actual film.

Anyway, decent as this is by the standards of 90s Godzilla movies, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy, the first film of which was also released in 1995. This isn’t to say that the two series have nothing in common – they’re in the same genre, after all, sharing the same influences and reference points. At one point Godzilla Vs Destroyer tips a nod to Aliens in the same way that Gamera: Advent of Legion doffs its hat to Them!, while it looks like Kaneko himself was paying attention to Godzilla’s demise: a scene in which Godzilla is swarmed by multiple small Destroyer-beasts seems to me to directly anticipate an identical sequence in Legion.

Perhaps the main problem with Godzilla Vs Destroyer is the sheer weight of significance it is inevitably required to carry: the need to treat Godzilla and his demise with appropriate respect, homage the original movie and its characters, wrap up the Heisei continuity, and include various other necessary elements (ranging from music to some plot devices) doesn’t leave it with much room to be its own movie. At least dealing with a previously-ridiculed character like Gamera gave Kaneko more room to innovate. As it is, Godzilla Vs Destroyer is a workmanlike entry to the series, but it doesn’t come close to hitting the targets it sets for itself.

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