Posts Tagged ‘Ryuhei Kitamura’

There is surely no better place to conclude this current extended ramble through Toho’s series of Godzilla movies (and associated films) than with a look at the Big G’s final outing to date, the 50th anniversary picture. Godzilla: Final Wars, released in 2004, was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, and it’s a very different sort of film to most of the recent Godzilla movies that I’ve seen.


I suppose that if I had to describe it, I’d say it rather reminded me of many recent comic book projects: the ones which take a long-established and much-loved mythology and reinterpret it in a massively knowledgeable, deeply affectionate, but also smart and relatively sophisticated way. There’s a sense in which this is the first post-modern Godzilla movie (at least, the first one that I’ve seen), although to say that might suggest Final Wars has a thoughtfulness and intellectual rigour which it honestly doesn’t possess.

Godzilla: Final Wars opens by establishing its own take on kaiju mythology – environmental damage and other scientific upheaval has resulted in a world where giant monsters have been appearing for decades. At the same time, a new breed of mutant human has emerged, and these have mostly (it appears) been recruited into something called Organisation-M where they crew air cruisers and occasionally engage monsters in hand-to-hand combat (no, really).

The most powerful and dangerous of the monsters is, of course, Godzilla, and the film opens with a battle in Antarctica between Godzilla and the Gotengo (a flying battleship with a pedigree in Toho movies nearly as long as Godzilla’s). For once, a piece of military hardware proves effective in scoring a clear victory over Godzilla, and the star of the movie is trapped in an icy prison.

A rather promising start is followed by a bit of a wobble as we are treated to internal tensions between the mutant soldiers of Organisation-M, and some protracted martial arts fights. (Quite what benefits the mutation these guys have is unclear: it just seems to make them all slightly effete. Then again, as super-powered defence agency titles go, Organisation-M isn’t much cop either. Hey ho.) Then a new version of the classic monster Gigan is discovered, having apparently been buried for 12,000 years, and research indicates the monster shares essential genetic material with the human mutants. Things get even more complicated when the Shobijin fairies, associates of the legendary lepidopteran monster Mothra, put in an appearance warning that a colossal battle against evil is imminent.

As you can see, this is a movie which isn’t afraid to liberally raid the back catalogue of the entire Godzilla franchise, and this impression is only strengthened as it goes into its first major set-piece sequence – monsters start appearing all over the globe and wreaking havoc, most of them well-loved characters not seen for decades. Anguilas attacks Shanghai! Rodan attacks New York! King Caesar attacks Okinawa! And Zilla (i.e. the American Godzilla from the ’98 movie) turns up in Sydney, but you can’t have everything.

Bizarrely, though, the monster with the most screen-time in this bit is Ebirah, who appears near Tokyo. In what’s almost certainly a first, the human mutants attack Ebirah hand-to-hand and proceed to turn him into scampi. I know Ebirah is really in the Vauxhall Conference when it comes to ranking Godzilla’s various opponents, but even so, getting done over by the tiny humans must be humiliating for any kaiju. Ebirah must have been really desperate to take the role.

Anyway, all the various monsters suddenly vanish, the credit for this being taken by aliens whose spaceships suddenly appear all over the world. The aliens announce (with commendably straight faces) that they are from Planet X and have come here in peace. The UN Director General, whom the Planet X aliens appeared to rescue from Rodan, is enthusiastic about this and abolishes the United Nations in favour of a new alliance, the (groan) Space Nations – yes, trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?

However, the collection of military, journalists and boffins who serve as the human protagonists in this sort of film are suspicious and soon enough discover that the Planet X aliens are bad ‘uns, intent on farming humans to harvest their DNA. However, the Planet X aliens have the power to control anything containing a certain genetic component, and this includes the human mutants and practically every monster on Earth (quite why this should be is not quite made clear, but in this sort of movie it’s an excusable plot device).

With most of the Earth in ruins and on the brink of falling to the invaders, the last few resisters pile into the Gotengo and head south on a desperate mission: to revive Godzilla (who is immune to the alien influence) and draw him into battle against the invaders. But can even the King of Monsters prevail against every other kaiju on the planet?

As you can probably tell, this probably qualifies as a loose remake of Destroy All Monsters, somewhat retooled to give Godzilla a much stronger role as the protagonist. To be honest, though, it didn’t really feel like that a lot of the time while I was watching it – instead I got the strong impression that Kitamura would much rather have been making a Matrix movie than one with Godzilla in it, because Final Wars is stuffed with impeccably-styled young people in swirly black coats doing unnecessarily ostentatious karate kicks at each other. Seriously: there is a lot of martial arts action in this film. Now, I like martial arts movies, and I like martial arts fight sequences, but there’s a time and a place for this sort of thing and I don’t think it’s in a Godzilla movie, especially when it’s intercut with (and thus keeping me from watching) a top-quality monster battle.

There are also other ominous signs – parts of this movie are fairly camp, but then that’s often been an acceptable part of the Godzilla formula. What’s new is a vague sense that parts of this movie have been made with the dreaded Ironic Sensibility. Now, some of the in-jokes in this film are pretty good – first and foremost being the scene in which Godzilla takes on his American counterpart and utterly annihilates him in well under a minute (‘good-for-nothing tuna-eater’ is the villain’s reaction). But elsewhere I got a strong sense that the film was winking at me and laughing up its sleeve.

However, this is mostly in the first half of the film – the second half, once Godzilla is loose and ploughing his way through the ranks of monsterdom, seems to me to be pretty sincere in its affection for the Godzilla movies of the 60s and 70s in particular. The majority of the monsters from the original run of films gets revived and Godzilla fights nearly all of them single-handed (his only ally is Mothra, who gets a respectable cameo). Now, I suppose you could argue that not every monster gets the screen-time they deserve, that the organisation of Godzilla’s dance card is somewhat eccentric, and that some of the battles become a little bit silly – even inane – in places. And I would agree with much of this – it does seem a little odd that an obscure monster like Kumonga gets a set-piece fight to itself while big names like Rodan and Anguilas are forced into a team-up with King Caesar (Anguilas rolls into a ball and the other monsters start playing football with him. Honestly), and the total omission of Mechagodzilla is a shame (but then Mechagodzilla got some big screen time in the two previous movies in the series). But I suppose there are limits to what even an anniversary film like this one can include, and if you treat it as a celebration of Godzilla’s whole history then it makes sense for it to pay homage to some of the wackier battle sequences from the early 70s movies. It’s also nice to see a film where Godzilla is unambiguously anti-heroic, rather than purely villainous.

Certainly the movie has energy and a sense of fun about it, and the whole look and feel of the thing is resolutely contemporary – it feels like a Godzilla aimed at the Playstation generation. Even the classic Godzilla march has been dispensed with in favour of an upbeat, percussive new theme which I actually rather liked.

I suppose your reaction to Godzilla: Final Wars will largely depend on whether you like monster movies, and whether you like your monster movies to at least appear to be taking themselves seriously. Final Wars certainly doesn’t: it’s a big, colourful, silly, cheesy ball of martial arts action and rampaging monster fun. Not all of this was quite to my taste – specifically the sub-Matrix martial arts stuff. Had they taken all this out and left this rest, this would be challenging for a place near the top of my list of favourite kaiju movies, simply for the quality and quantity of its monster action (Gigan gets to fight Mothra, for crying out loud!). As it is, this is a fun, slightly crazy movie that clearly loves Godzilla but somehow doesn’t seem to be trying quite hard enough to be a proper Godzilla movie itself.

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