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Posts Tagged ‘Rodan’

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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I know what you’re thinking: what’s with all the reviews of Godzilla movies at the moment? That’s not what I come here for. I come here for vaguely insightful reviews of new movies laden with bad puns, complaints about the current 40K metagame, and ramblings about how Doctor Who isn’t as good as it was when Rusty was in charge. All right, all right: we’ll take a break from Godzilla for a bit, I promise. So, today, it’s Ishiro Honda’s 1956 movie Rodan!

(All right, so it’s not a complete break from Godzilla. But it’s not as if you’re paying for this stuff.)

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Honda’s movie opens amongst the salt-of-the-earth coal miners of Kyushu, in western Japan. All is well down the mine – the odd spot of tension between a few of the men excepted – until there is an accident and the works are partly flooded. The rescue party sent down to look for survivors is saddened to find a corpse in the tunnels – but, strangely enough, the man doesn’t appear to have died in the accident. Instead, he has been savagely nibbled to death by something unknown.

Cripes! Speculation and gossip as to who could be responsible for the killing spreads like wildfire amongst the local workers. This gives the film the opportunity for some rather soapy goings-on between some of the characters, but this never gets the chance to become tedious: one of the soapy confrontations is rudely interrupted by the appearance of… oh, I don’t know, a giant grubby caterpillary thing. Given Toho Studio’s interest in monsters with catchy, easily-trademarked names, it is not surprising that ‘giant grubby caterpillary things’ is not how the local boffins opt to refer to the creatures, instead opting for Meganurons.

The police and army pursue the Meganurons into the mine workings, where a collapse seals one of their number, Shigeru – I suppose he qualifies as the hero of the film – in with the creatures. Things look bad for Shigeru, but following an earthquake which happens shortly afterwards, he is discovered wandering the countryside with amnesia.

This amnesia proves fairly convenient when it comes to preserving dramatic tension, as Shigeru has clearly seen something horrible down the mine but no-one has any idea what it is. At the same time, a UFO has appeared over Kyushu, causing all sorts of trouble (eating planes, that sort of thing), and no-one has any idea what it is. Could the two things possibly be connected?

Well, of course they are. Shigeru’s memory comes back and he recalls being present at the hatching of a giant egg down the mine, from which emerged a giant reptilian chick. The chick proceeded to eat the Meganurons, which is a positive, but, having grown, has now dug its way out of the mine and is flying about at supersonic speed terrorising the place.

The boffins christen the flying monster Rodan (the name is from pteranodon – quite a long way from pteranodon, if we’re honest, but…) and the model planes and toy tanks of the Japanese Self-Defence Force wobble into action. Giant mutant nuclear dinosaurs… enormous supersonic pterodactyls… it’s all in a day’s work for the JSDF.

Well, there’s what I suppose we must call a twist towards the end, and then a not especially cunning plan from the scientists and army, and a climax which has a vague air of damp squibbiness about it, and in the end the Rodan menace is well and truly ended once and for all. Provided you overlook the other five movies in which Rodan reappears, anyway…

Rodan is a movie which has acquired a certain sort of historical significance since it was made – not only was it the first kaiju movie to be made in colour, but in retrospect it marks the creation of a wider Toho universe – Rodan himself crossed over into numerous Godzilla movies, occasionally as an opponent, more usually as one of Godzilla’s main allies. Which is why it’s rather sad to have to report that Rodan itself inescapably feels slightly disappointing.

I suppose part of the problem is that Rodan is only really in the movie for the last half hour. This is not a long film, but even so: the first half is much more about the Meganurons, which are a rather less interesting and gripping monster (even they eventually got a return appearance, taking on Godzilla himself in Godzilla Vs Megaguirus). I’ve read that this movie was supposedly closely modelled on Them!, but I really can’t see much sign of it beyond giant insect monsters being chased about by the army in the first half.

The movie looks good, with bright, crisp cinematography, and it’s a world away from the two murky and primitive Godzilla movies which preceded it – unfortunately, the tone of the film is completely different too. The inspiration for the first Godzilla, as surely everyone knows by now, was the atomic bombing of Japan at the end of the Second World War. Rodan, on the other hand, appears to have been inspired by urban legends about live pterodactyls being unearthed in coal mines, a rather less resonant source for a movie. There’s a throwaway line about how atomic radiation may be responsible for Rodan’s appearance, but you can tell the film’s heart really isn’t in it. This is a meat-and-potatoes monster movie and nothing more.

That said, for the mid-50s, this is a pleasingly proficient monster movie – the model work and miniatures really do look excellent, and the scenes of Rodan laying waste to cities are quite impressive. But the human characters are utterly one-dimensional, the climax really is quite weak and I suppose I’m just biased – I’m always going to prefer a movie with a proper kaiju battle at the end of it. Historically, Rodan is an interesting movie, but on its own merits it doesn’t have a great deal to recommend it.

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