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Posts Tagged ‘Noboru Kaneko’

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.

tokyoSOS

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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