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Posts Tagged ‘Takehiro Murata’

One of the awkward structural tropes of the later Godzilla movies (and many other kaiju pictures) runs a little like this: most of the movie is not really concerned with Godzilla himself, who wanders around in the background like a large and exasperatingly badly-behaved dog for most of the film, while the story is really focusing on the human characters and especially the new (or revamped) monster which the movie is introducing. Inevitably, of course, it eventually becomes time for the final showdown, at which point the humans take a smart step back and Godzilla takes one forward, and the monster-rassling begins in earnest.

How well the various scripts and directors cope with this moment is often a reasonably good guide to the quality of the film in general. Unfortunately, Takao Okawara’s Godzilla 2000 (from, of course, 1999) is not really a¬†great demonstration¬†of how to do it – but then this strikes me as one of the weaker movies in the series generally.

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This is the 24th Godzilla movie, always assuming you include the American version from 1998. This was the first Japanese-made Godzilla following the little-loved Roland Emmerich version, and it’s tempting to search this one for indications of a ticked-off Toho rolling up their sleeves and setting out to show the Yankees how a proper Godzilla should really be done. As I said, if this was the intention, they don’t manage it.

The movie has a slightly surprising in media res sort of opening, and – tellingly – assumes from the start that everyone knows who and what Godzilla is and how he has come to be. (That said, there’s absolutely no attempt to either explicitly reboot the continuity or link the film to the previous Toho movie – although there’s nothing to suggest that the Godzilla in this movie can’t be Godzilla Junior following the end of Godzilla Vs Destroyer.) Anyway, we first meet the members of the Godzilla Prediction Network, who are basically a single-parent mad scientist and his precocious daughter (practically another trope of the series). The scientist is played by Takehiro Murata, who turns up in quite a few of these films: this is his biggest role. The GPN are really amateurs, with their equipment looking rather like a TV licence evasion detector van, but Murata is smart enough to figure out where Godzilla is going to show up.

Godzilla seems to be a fact of life like earthquakes or typhoons for people in this movie – all right, there’s a lot of running around and screaming from the locals when he does appear somewhere, but no-one in power seems particularly alarmed or exercised by it. The head of the Japanese crisis response agency (Hiroshi Abe) certainly isn’t fussed, but then he’s more interested in raising an ancient meteorite from the sea-bed, believing it has properties that will help with the Japanese energy crisis.

The film becomes very interested in the meteorite at this point, and Godzilla is presumably abandoned to wander around off-screen. Rather surprisingly, the big rock displays the ability to move under its own power, rising to the surface unaided and then flipping onto its edge to catch more sunlight. Clearly there is more than meets the eye going on here.

However, everyone is distracted as Godzilla marches on a coastal nuclear plant and the army have yet another go at stopping him with massed tanks and missile batteries. They even have a new armour-piercing rocket which the top brass assure Abe ‘will go through Godzilla like crap through a goose’, which doesn’t sound like an exact translation of the original Japanese dialogue to me, but never mind. Here perhaps we can see the film cocking a snook at Emmerich and Devlin, for while Godzilla indeed has chunks blasted out of him by the missile barrage, he keeps coming, just as one would expect from a giant mutant nuclear-powered dinosaur.

Murata figures out just how Godzilla can stand up to this punishment in every film: his cells contain something he christens ‘Regenerator G1’, which is the source of his incredible self-healing power. However, someone else has come to the same conclusion, and the space rock shoots off to have a close encounter of a violent kind with the big G: inside the meteorite is an ancient spacecraft, and whatever is inside has its own reasons for wanting access to Godzilla’s regenerative powers…

So, in addition to the missile-proof Godzilla, this film features a giant UFO doing battle with the big lizard. Again, it’s easy to interpret this as an attempt by Toho to do a ‘classic’ Godzilla storyline following the American debacle. The basic plot is more to my taste than that of the Emmerich movie, certainly, and to my mind it seems quite obvious that the makers of this film have been watching Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy – the shot of the UFO perched atop a Tokyo skyscraper at dusk definitely recalls one of Gyaos on top of Tokyo Tower in Guardian of the Universe, while the conclusion (a defiant Godzilla rampaging through a wrecked and burning city) is startlingly like that of Incomplete Struggle, which came out only nine months before Godzilla 2000.

However promising the signs, though, this is hardly premier-league Godzilla. I’ve already mentioned the fact that the film seems much more interested in the UFO than in its title character, and that’s obviously a problem – prior to the final battle, Godzilla’s appearances feel like contractual obligations. Is he supposed to be implacable and inscrutable? Vicious and terrifying? Grandiose and misunderstood? The film gives no guidance, perhaps because it isn’t sure itself. It doesn’t help that the UFO itself is not particularly interesting to look at. Not having bothered to do my homework before watching the movie, I did wonder if a proper monster was going to show up to fight Godzilla at all: but of course one does, and it’s the seemingly-little loved form of the mightily-clawed Orga (though he’s never named as such on screen). Orga’s one of those Toho monsters who never came back (though he did make it into some of the computer games), and it’s hard to see why – the design is striking, and the monster suit decent. Perhaps it’s just that he gets very little screen time, only appearing for the climactic battle.

As I say, at least the monster suits are good, because many of the other special effects in this movie are not that special. The CGI of the flying saucer is mediocre, and many of the shots in which models and monsters are composited into shots with ‘real’ buildings and landscapes are actually quite poor. Like so much of this film, they feel sloppy and not properly thought-through.

Watching Godzilla 2000, one is left with a terrible sense of a missed opportunity – this was a great chance to relaunch the character, to restate all the things which have made the best films in this series so entertaining, and perhaps do something new in creating a memorable new opponent for Godzilla. In the end, all the film can offer is a derivative and somewhat familiar set of visuals, a vague and poorly defined setting and set of characters, and a Godzilla who seems to have been one of the last things that the makers of the film were worried about. This isn’t a textbook example of how to make The Bad Godzilla Film, but it’s getting there.

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