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At last, the 1984 show: Thoughts on THE RETURN OF GODZILLA

As I mentioned before in my overview of the Heisei Era of the Godzilla film franchise, I was unable to see the first film in the rebooted series, 1984’s The Return of Godzilla (known simply as Gojira in Japan, despite being a sequel to the film of that same name rather than a remake), due to its unavailability on home video in the US. But I’ve just discovered that the entire Japanese version of the film is available on the video site Metacafe: Gojira (1984). So now I’ve finally gotten to complete my survey of the Heisei series — which is timely, since it’s just weeks before the release of the new American Godzilla (the fourth film in all to bear that title in one spelling or another), and it should be interesting to compare the two reboots.

TRoG has a fairly straightforward story, but with some intriguing complications. It begins like its 1954 namesake, with a Japanese fishing boat coming under attack. Our reporter hero Maki (Ken Tanaka) finds the sole survivor, Okamura (Shin Takuma), who identifies the monster that attacked the ship as Godzilla. In this continuity, this is the first sighting of the big guy in 30 years. There’s no attempt to reconcile Godzilla’s survival with his death at the end of G’54; the characters are too busy coping with the ramifications of his return to theorize about how it happened. And they have no Dr. Yamane to theorize about a second Godzilla (as in Godzilla Raids Again), so it’s never really addressed whether it’s the original or another one. Which fits into my hypothesis for reconciling Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (in which he was treated as the original) with G vs. Desotoroyah (in which the same Godzilla was explicitly the second and the original was unambiguously killed), namely that the characters in the Heisei continuity simply didn’t figure out it was a second one until years after his return.

Anyway, that’s all post-game analysis. What matters in the story itself is that the Japanese government, led by Prime Minister Mitamura (Keiju Kobayashi), initially chooses to quash the news of Godzilla’s return, in order to avoid a panic. Maki investigates anyway and speaks to Godzilla expert Professor Hayashida (Yosuke Natsuki), whose assistant Naoko (Yasuko Sawaguchi) is Okamura’s sister and has not yet been informed of his survival. Maki tells her the truth, ostensibly as a kindness, but is actually using her so he can snap a newsworthy photo of their reunion, which offends Naoko.

Mitamura’s decision to keep the secret almost goes catastrophically wrong when Godzilla destroys a Soviet nuclear sub (according to Hayashida-Sensei, Godzilla feeds on nuclear energy) and the USSR blames the Americans, bringing the world to the brink of war until Mitamura reveals the truth. Both the superpowers come to Japan and insist upon the right to attack Godzilla with nuclear weapons even if he lands on Japanese shores. Mitamura sticks to his guns and insists that if nuclear weapons are used once, they might be used again for other reasons. He is adamant that nuclear weapons will never be used on Japanese soil, and asks the superpowers’ ambassadors: “What right do you have to say we must follow you?” He convinces both governments to back down, while Hayashida-Sensei, Okumara, and Naoko devise a plan to lure Godzilla to a volcano and bury him in an eruption. (Turns out he has a magnetic homing sense like a bird, which can theoretically be tapped into. This was around the time that theories on the relationship between birds and dinosaurs were coming into the public consciousness.)

But of course the superpowers have nuclear missile satellites ready to go just in case, and when Godzilla does attack Tokyo, he damages the Soviets’ control ship, starting the countdown to missile launch. The Soviet captain heroically tries to stop the launch, but dies before he can reach the cutoff switch. (Notably, in the American version Godzilla 1985, this is changed so that the captain intentionally launches the missile, which is said to be 50 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, rather than 50 percent as powerful as in the original version.) The Americans intercept the Soviet missile with one of their own, but the radiation from the aerial explosion revives Godzilla after he’s been tranquilized by a Japanese weapon. Hayashida and Okamura must try to escape Godzilla’s attack and reach the volcano with their equipment, and are forced to leave Maki and Naoko behind to fend for themselves and play out their role as romantic leads.

This is the most serious, solemn Godzilla film I’ve seen since the original, and I’ve now seen pretty much all of them, except maybe for a few of the sillier ones from the ’60s and ’70s. It’s intriguing to see a serious-minded Godzilla film made during the height of the tensions of the Cold War; the scenario of Godzilla being a wild card bringing the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust is intriguing. It echoes Godzilla’s use as an allegory for nuclear devastation in the original, but in a way that’s more topical for 1984, since the represented threat is not just the United States, but both superpowers and their hyperaggressive mentality. The film is an interesting glimpse of how the superpowers must have seemed to the rest of the world, to nations like Japan that were caught in the middle and constantly being pushed around and endangered by the superpowers’ brinksmanship. There’s an element of wish fulfillment in the scenes where the Prime Minister of Japan puts the superpowers in their place and condemns their arrogant assumption that they’re entitled to tell everyone else what to do. But it’s very effective. Who has greater moral authority than the Japanese to say “never again” to the idea of using nuclear weapons?

So I found the film quite effective as an allegory and a political statement, and the characters were fairly effective too, although the leads weren’t as richly drawn as in the original. Kobayashi is the standout as the troubled, principled Prime Minister. But the action and effects sequences weren’t nearly as impressive. The Godzilla costume (and puppet for close-ups) wasn’t very well-made, which undermined an otherwise quite effective initial reveal, starting with a panicked watchman at a nuclear plant and panning slowly up Godzilla’s body to his head. And the action sequences were kind of sluggish, unfocused, and sloppily edited. The final act features a gorgeously realized, enormous miniature cityscape of the Shinjuku district at night (not nearly as built up in 1984 as it is now, I think, but still impressive), but Godzilla’s rampage through same is somewhat desultory, like his heart isn’t in it. It’s not entirely clear why he’s even come to Tokyo beyond it just being the obligatory thing for him to do. (The US version apparently claims he was drawn by Hayashida’s experiments, but I don’t think that explanation works in this version.)

The music is okay, but lacking in Akira Ifukube’s themes (although they are used in the film’s trailer). The film’s treatment of Godzilla’s roar is pretty good, though, incorporating the familiar version with the rising flourish at the end, but enriching it with more of a deep, growly quality in the middle. (Oh, and I almost forgot — the end title song is ridiculously out of sync with the tone of the rest of the film. Its lyrics, in English, are singing to someone who’s going on a journey in search of something and wishing him well — and the refrain makes it clear that the addressee is Godzilla. “Goodbye now, Godzilla, goodbye now, Godzilla, until then! Take care now, Godzilla, take care now, Godzilla, my old friend!” Say what now?! Who thought this song was a good idea at the end of one of the darkest Godzilla films ever?)

All in all, this was a much better film than I expected based on the reviews I’ve read. It may be the best use of Godzilla as an allegorical figure other than the original film, and it’s a fairly good companion piece to the original in its tone and gravity, though it’s not on quite the same level. I’d definitely put it on my list of the most essential and important Godzilla films (and I’ll be editing that list accordingly).

The American version of this film, in addition to the changes mentioned above, brought back Raymond Burr to shoot new framing material as his character from Godzilla, King of the Monsters, Steve Martin (though they just called him “Mr. Martin” to avoid reminding people of the comedian of that name). This material was a lot less extensive than in the original, though, and mostly involved Martin advising the Pentagon on the situation. Godzilla 1985 actually referenced the events of the original more extensively than the Japanese version did, and apparently had Martin pointing out that the Japanese hadn’t found a body after their attack on Godzilla in ’54, strengthening the implication that it was the returned original. (Although the Oxygen Destroyer totally disintegrated Godzilla, so there wouldn’t have been a body anyway.) A lot more was changed as well, and reportedly the tone of 1985 is somewhat lighter than that of TRoG, to fit American audiences’ expectations (though nowhere near the campy comedy dub that was originally planned until Burr put his foot down). Wikipedia has more.

(EDIT 5/26/2019: I’ve now seen the American version, and the Martin scenes are pretty lame — a cheap Pentagon war room set, an overacted crusty general and snide hayseed major, and Raymond Burr standing around making ponderous and ineffectual declarations about how our weapons are useless and we must treat Godzilla like a hurricane or earthquake — “understand it, deal with it, maybe even attempt to communicate with it,” like you do with hurricanes, I guess. None of which goes anywhere. The bit about Maki using Naoko to get a newsworthy picture is cut, so their relationship is much simpler, leaving both of them with little personality.)

The new American Godzilla, due out in May, sounds like it’s aspiring to be far more serious and potent, in the spirit of the original. In other words, it has very similar aspirations to this film. But it’s being made in a different era with different fears and concerns, not to mention in a different country with a different perspective. The comparison should be intriguing.

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Thoughts on GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989)

When I did my overview of the Heisei era of the Godzilla franchise, I was only able to cover the last five films, since the first two were not yet out on DVD in America. In the interim, the second, Godzilla vs. Biollante, has come out, and though Netflix still hasn’t gotten it, my library has. So I’ve finally been able to see it.

This is a tough film to summarize, since it has a convoluted plot. But it has interesting and ambitious ideas that unfortunately suffer in the execution. In the wake of Godzilla’s 1984 attack on Tokyo in The Return of Godzilla (after which he ended up buried in a volcano), we see that a number of factions are battling to obtain a sample of Godzilla’s cells to study their remarkable regenerative properties: the Japan Self-Defense Force, an American terrorist group called Bio-Major, and an Arab country called Saradia, whose lead agent/assassin ends up with the prize. A Saradian biotech firm is working with Dr. Shiragami (Koji Takahashi) and his daughter Erika to develop hybrid crops to make the desert bloom, and Shiragami wants Godzilla cells to make them indestructible. Although it’s hard to figure that out from the original Japanese audio track, since the actors are speaking in awkwardly translated and badly pronounced English, with Japanese subtitles. (The first dialogue spoken in the movie is all in English, so at first I thought I’d selected the wrong audio track on the DVD.) Anyway, a Bio-Major bombing kills Erika, leading Shiragami to swear off further research with Godzilla cells, due to what I’m going to assume is a grief so profound that it permanently robs him of the ability to form facial expressions. Seriously, even the rubber Godzilla mask is less deadpan than this guy.

Five years later, Shiragami is working with the roses Erika was with when she died, and he’s working with the 17-year-old psychic Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka) because he thinks Erika’s soul is in the roses somehow. Miki, of course, will be a regular character for the rest of the series, but here her role is secondary, basically just a walking exposition engine. The female lead is Asuka (Yoshiko Tanaka), who apparently works for the “Japan Psyonics Center” [sic] that studies Miki and other psychic children. There’s a nice chilling moment where all the psychic kids draw pictures of what they dreamed, and they all hold up drawings of Godzilla. It seems he’s awake and moving under the volcano. This lets the government convince Shiragami to work on using Godzilla cells to develop anti-nuclear energy bacteria (ANEB) that can be used as a weapon against Godzilla. There’s an interesting attempt to touch on the kind of ethical questions the original film raised, because bacteria that could neutralize nuclear materials, while potentially beneficial for cleaning up disasters or fighting kaiju, could also be turned into weapons and disrupt the global balance of power. As with the Oxygen Destroyer, the threat of Godzilla compels the weapon’s development despite the risks. But the terrorist groups want the ANEB too, and Bio-Major plants bombs to release Godzilla from the mountain to blackmail the government into giving up the ANEB. But the Saradian assassin fouls up the exchange, the bombs go off, and Godzilla’s free.

I almost forgot — meanwhile, Shiragami has crossed G-cells with rose cells and some of Erika’s surviving cells because… I don’t know, he’s basically insane, I guess. And this has somehow created the plant monster Biollante, with killer vines and stuff. Biollante ends up planted in a lake, a giant fat stem with arms and tendrils and a rose-head with teeth in the middle — one of the least intimidating kaiju ever. Godzilla is drawn to it, sensing his cloned cells within it, and they have a fight that’s rather dull because Biollante is stationary throughout. Godzilla eventually sets it on fire and it seems to burn up, but sparkly spores or something rise into the sky and Shiragami says something about Biollante being immortal that everybody (including him) subsequently ignores. After this detour, we get back to the plot as the military tries to deter G from reaching a nuclear power plant to recharge, since the Heisei Godzilla feeds on nuclear energy. The main military characters are Lt. Gondo (Toru Minegishi), a snarky/tough comic hero type I rather liked, and Major Kuroki (Masanobu Takashima), who’s more ultraserious and is in charge of remote-piloting the Super X 2, a high-tech flying machine whose main weapon is the Fire Mirror, an array of synthetic diamonds for reflecting Godzilla’s atomic ray back against him, and which works about as well as human weapons ever do against Godzilla (i.e. it works at first but he then rallies and overwhelms it).

Miki’s most striking moment in the film is when she faces down Godzilla alone to try to telepathically or telekinetically nudge him to divert or delay his march on Osaka. But it’s unclear what, if anything, she accomplishes, since Osaka is soon being trampled underfoot (but maybe she gave them more time to evacuate it). Gondo retrieves the ANEB from the Saradians and puts it in shells to fire at Godzilla. Gondo gets in a nice heroic jab at Godzilla, with both weapon and wisecrack, before Godzilla gets his own back. But the ANEB doesn’t seem to work, and the brain trust deduces that it’s because this giant, intensely energetic, nuclear-powered monster has a very low body temperature because he’s cold-blooded. Uhh, yeah, right. So they use an experimental “Thunder Controller” technology to heat him up so the bacteria can grow and kill him from the inside. Oh, and Biollante’s spores rain down and it regrows into a final form whose head now looks like a cross between Audrey II and a crocodile, and she (?) holds Godzilla at bay for a while… but it’s the bacteria that finally do G in (at least enough that he has to retreat into the cooling ocean to hold them at bay, ending the threat for now). Then the various human-level plots are resolved somewhat anticlimactically.

Wow, that was a longer summary than I intended, but it’s hard to encapsulate this story briefly because there are so many entangled threads. But they don’t really come together into a very coherent story. Most frustratingly, the thread about Biollante, one of the title characters of the movie, is the most expendable plotline of the lot. Biollante doesn’t even defeat Godzilla, just has a random fight with him in the middle of a sequence of human technology defeating Godzilla. There’s some half-baked moralizing about the dangers of genetic engineering, with Biollante as the poster child for the monsters it could create, but Biollante doesn’t really cause any harm except to a couple of Bio-Major terrorists. Mostly it’s just there for Miki to stare at and talk about how Erika’s soul is inside it, or not, or whatever.

There are some good ingredients here. Gondo is a good character, well-played. The attempt to use kaiju to address ethical questions about the development of dangerous technologies is a nice callback to the original, even if it lacks payoff and is weakened by Takahashi’s totally wooden performance. And there’s merit to the idea of adding Miki, a character who can sense Godzilla’s thoughts and give him a “voice” of sorts, which is a useful storytelling device; but there’s essentially zero attempt to give her any personality yet, unless you count her one impressive moment, her fearlessness in standing up to Godzilla and making him flinch (though I’m still not clear on what the heck she was supposed to be doing and whether she succeeded). But ultimately it ends up as kind of a jumble, and the parts that don’t work overwhelm those that do. All in all I’d call it a weak film with some very good touches here and there. (Like a scene set in a Godzilla Memorial Restaurant in Tokyo, in a building that still has an unrepaired Godzilla claw mark in its wall with windows built within it. That’s a nice bit of worldbuilding.)

The music is a mixed bag too — literally a mix of reused Akira Ifukube cues (including the lively Godzilla main theme, the more ponderous Godzilla horror theme, and the oddly cheerful military march from the original film) and new music by Koichi Sugiyama, which is a mix of styles. Some of Sugiyama’s music is nice, but his Super X 2 leitmotif has a kind of cliched heroic-music sound, a very “Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder” quality. The wackiest bit is his motif for the terrorists, which is a ’70s-funk remix of the Godzilla main theme. (It’s Charlie’s Angels vs. Godzilla!) All in all, it’s pretty inconsistent, like the film itself.

By the way, I came across another series of Heisei-era reviews in this thread on the Ex Isle BBS. I raised the question I had about The Return of Godzilla, namely whether it treated its title monster as the regenerated original or a second member of the same species. As far as anyone who’d seen that film could tell me, it treated Godzilla as the original with no explanation for his return. But I’ve seen other sources say it was a “new” Godzilla, and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, the final Heisei film, treated it as such, though the third Heisei film Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah treated it as the same one.

So in that thread I formulated a hypothesis that may or may not work, which I now repost here:

TRoG is like GMK in that it’s set in a world where there have been no Godzilla attacks for several decades since the events of the original film. So maybe it’s also like GMK in that a lot of the details of the ’54 attack have been forgotten or suppressed. Perhaps the Oxygen Destroyer was classified here as well. So maybe the Heisei Godzilla is a second member of the species, but the characters believe it’s the original Godzilla returned because they don’t know that Godzilla was killed. And the folks from the future in GvKG are confused about it too, since it’s from centuries in their past. So the Godzillasaurus they relocate in the past was actually the progenitor of the second Godzilla — and maybe there was another one left behind on that or a neighboring island that mutated into the original G and attacked in ’54. And then, sometime between GvKG and the final film, the truth about the Oxygen Destroyer and the original Godzilla’s death was declassified. So it wouldn’t be a continuity error, just a change in what the inhabitants of the Heisei universe believed about their past.

Of course, this doesn’t help resolve the huge time-travel logic holes in GvKG, like how come everybody remembered the recent Godzilla attacks if that Godzilla’s history had been changed. But what I’m kind of suggesting here is that we ignore that bit of nonsense and retcon it away — pretend that the reference to people remembering recent Godzilla attacks is actually a reference to remembering the original ’54 attack.

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Thoughts on Godzilla: The Heisei Era

I’m continuing my Godzilla film survey (which began here) with the movies of the Heisei Era, the first continuity reboot which began in 1984 and returned Godzilla to his original villain status instead of the kid-friendly Earth defender he’d become in the ’70s.  Unfortunately the first two films, The Return of Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Biollante, are not available on DVD, so I could only read summaries of them online.  I gather they aren’t considered especially good anyway.

Although the Heisei series reboots the continuity, it nonetheless counts the original 1954 film as part of its canon; it just ignores everything since.  The ’84 sequel either resurrects the original Godzilla without explanation or introduces a second member of the same species; online sources are inconsistent on this.  There’s an attempt to reinject some allegory about nuclear energy and weapons, since Godzilla in this version is not merely resistant to radiation but directly sustained by it (and made larger, growing from his original 50 meters to 80), and the focus returns to Godzilla vs. humanity rather than another kaiju.  Still, it’s apparently more a conventional kaiju film with the focus more on how to defeat the beast than on allegory.

Due to economic hardships for Toho Studios, the Biollante sequel didn’t come along for another five years.  When it did, it returned to the format of films like Mothra vs. Godzilla in featuring a good kaiju (created via genetic engineering, when some scientist decided for some reason to put the genes of his dead daughter into a rose’s DNA and combine it with some of Godzilla’s cells) battling the villainous Godzilla.  The film is notable for introducing the longest-running recurring human character in the franchise — Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka), a psychic who could sense and sometimes communicate with Godzilla, and convey other psychic exposition as needed.  She’s in every Heisei Era film except the first, though her role is larger in some than others.

(UPDATE: I’ve subsequently been able to see The Return and Biollante and have reviewed them in the threads At last, the 1984 show: Thoughts on THE RETURN OF GODZILLA and Thoughts on GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989).)

The first Heisei film I was actually able to see (though only in the mediocre English dub) was 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.  This film involves time travellers from 2204 coming back with a plan to erase Godzilla from history — or so they claim.  Here we discover that Heisei is not merely a different timeline branching off of the 1954 original, but a retcon of its core assumptions about Godzilla’s nature and origins.  In the original two films, Dr. Yamane explained (assuming the subtitles in the original were correct) that Godzilla’s species had survived since prehistoric times, dwelling in the depths of the ocean like the coelacanth, but had been displaced from its natural feeding grounds by nuclear testing — and, implicitly, mutated with the ability to breathe atomic fire and to withstand virtually any injury.  The fact that the monster in the 1955 sequel was explicitly a “second Godzilla” suggests that what we saw was the natural form and size of their species.  But GvKG asserts that Godzilla was originally a much smaller carnosaur called a Godzillasaurus, maybe twice the size of a T. rex, and that it was mutated to giant size by its exposure to the atom bomb — meaning that Godzilla is a unique entity and must have somehow regenerated after “dying” in 1954.  Before then, in the waning days of WWII, it attacked the American soldiers invading its home on Lagos Island and incidentally saved a platoon of Japanese troops stationed there, who revered it as their savior.  The time travellers teleport the wounded Godzillasaurus to a distant part of the Pacific so that it will never become Godzilla — but they leave three small, genetically engineered winged lizards on Lagos so that they will instead be mutated by the bomb, and when they return to the present, the lizards have grown and merged into King Ghidorah.  The whole thing was a trick to destroy Japan and avert its destiny to become the dominant economic power on Earth (ohhh-kay, jingoist much?).  But first they needed to get Godzilla out of the way.  However, they failed to account for the proliferation of nuclear weapons; at some point a nuclear sub happened to crash where they left the Godzillasaurus, so it was mutated anyway, and the more potent radiation made it an even bigger Godzilla, now fully 100 meters.  This Godzilla is pure malevolence, and once he destroys KG he threatens to destroy Japan; but one of the time travellers who’s Japanese herself rebels against her group and helps by going back to the future, turning the 200-year-old corpse of King Ghidorah into Mecha-King Ghidorah, and bringing it back in time to defeat Godzilla.

Okay, this is weird.  I understand that the idea of the previous two films was to wipe away the later Shōwa era’s portrayal of Godzilla as a defender of humanity and restore his villainous nature.  So why is it that the first half of this film seems to be built around the notion of Godzilla as the traditional protector of Japan?  The Godzillasaurus saves Japanese soldiers from Americans, and the time travellers need to get rid of Godzilla so that Japan will be unprotected against King Ghidorah.  The “new” Godzilla is malevolent, but that’s implied to be a change from the original.

Also the treatment of mutation is silly; instead of a freak event, the film assumes that daikaijuism is a consistent and predictable response to irradiation — that even if the Godzillasaurus is exposed at a different time and in a different way, exactly the same genes will be mutated and it will transform into the same creature.  And any other creatures exposed to radiation will also grow into daikaiju.  If that’s the case, why hasn’t every human exposed to radiation grown into a 50-meter monster?  Well, granted, Godzilla Raids Again established that the second Godzilla was mutated with the same resilience and atomic breath as the first.  But mutation is normally something that happens between generations.  What if a mother Godzilla was the one exposed to the bombs’ radiation, and gave birth to mutated monozygotic twins?  The Godzillas we saw in the first two films could’ve been only a few years old — though it’s hard to imagine how much they would’ve devastated the ecosystem just eating enough to grow that big that fast.  But maybe that’s really what drove them out of their undersea feeding grounds?

The film has other problems.  The temporal mechanics are dreadful; after Godzilla is supposedly erased from history, the time travellers learn upon their return that Godzilla vanished — yet everyone still remembers he existed and was on the rampage until just hours before.  The WWII veterans who tell the story of the Godzillasaurus look hardly any older in the film’s 1992 setting than they did in the 1944 scenes.  The film’s prediction of Japan’s manifest destiny, in combination with its glorification of the nation’s Imperial forces in WWII, leaves a sour taste politically, and is strange since I gather that most Japanese themselves don’t think fondly of the military factions that drove Japan’s conquests in the 1930s-40s.  The music is by Akira Ifukube, the composer behind many of the  Shōwa-Era films including the original, but it doesn’t make use of his best themes.  And perhaps most disappointing, they didn’t get Godzilla’s roar right.  It starts out as the authentic roar, but then crossfades into a more conventional animal growl.  It’s just not Godzilla’s roar without that upward flourish at the end.

Fortunately, the next two films are better.  Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992) is something of a loose remake of both Mothra and Mothra vs. Godzilla, combining elements of both.  Again we have a greedy businessman capturing Mothra’s foot-high girl-singer heralds, here called the Cosmos rather than the Shobijin, and drawing Mothra’s wrath as she comes to rescue them; but there’s a new twist, as Mothra gains a black-sheep sibling of sorts, a “dark Mothra” named Battra — a similar but much more sinister-looking and aggressive kaiju.  The Cosmos explain that Battra is a spirit of the Earth sent to avenge the destruction of its ecology.  The environmental themes are delivered with a sledgehammer.  It’s also the most spiritual-themed of the Heisei films, and focuses more on Mothra than Godzilla (who, along with Battra, is sucked into a volcanic fissure and absent for much of the film, until they both emerge from Mt. Fuji for the climax).  Godzilla is back to being pure villain this time, though the fearsome-looking Battra is more ambiguous, initially battling Mothra but then coming to terms and joining forces against Godzilla.

All in all it’s a pretty entertaining film.  Ifukube’s music is a high point, as he reuses his classic Mothra themes and brings back more of his Godzilla themes (though he’s still relying mainly on the main-title march from the original film, rather than the more ponderous theme that served as Godzilla’s leitmotif in the original film and many of its sequels).  The Cosmos perform both of their Mothra-summoning songs from the first two Mothra films, and the melody of the second, the beautiful “Mahara Mosura” from Mothra vs. Godzilla, is again used as Mothra’s orchestral leitmotif as it was in that film.  (I don’t think I like the Cosmos quite as much as the Shobijin, though.  The new actresses are a bit prettier in repose, but they’re mostly lifeless, just staring blankly rather than showing emotion or engagement, and that makes them less appealing.)  And Godzilla’s roar is back to its original sound, here and for the rest of the era.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) is next, and its concept is pretty cool.  The focus is on G-Force, an international Godzilla-fighting organization (actually the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Division).  They’ve salvaged the remains of Mecha-King Ghidorah and reverse-engineered its future technology to build the battle robot Mechagodzilla, which is laden with all sorts of weapons and countermeasures.  It’s neat to see a story that revolves around Godzilla from the start rather than focusing on random new characters doing random stuff before they get caught up in the latest random kaiju attack.  There’s some of that too, though, as a team of archaeologists discover a live Rodan and an unhatched egg that eventually hatches into a baby Godzillasaurus, nicknamed Baby by the human woman it imprints on as its mother, Azusa (Ryoko Sano).  (Her name is pronounced “Azsa,” not “A-zoo-sa” like the California city.)  The introduction of a cute baby Godzilla into the series carries serious shark-jumping potential, considering how badly that turned out last time, but it’s handled judiciously here, with some serious themes of respect for life and animal rights coming into play.  Godzilla comes off more ambiguously here, but not in the same odd and awkward way as two films earlier; rather, when Mechagodzilla gets the upper hand, you can’t help feeling sympathy for Godzilla’s suffering, and the film reminds us that, however dangerous he is, he’s simply an animal going about his life and has the same right to existence as any creature.  Granted, there’s something to be said for self-defense, especially when the “self” is an entire city, but Godzilla is so resilient that the extensive bombardment needed to put him down feels more like torture.  I’m reminded of Dr. Yamane’s position in the 1954 original that Godzilla didn’t deserve to be killed since he was just a displaced animal following his instincts.  Ultimately, though, as per the film’s message, life triumphs over technology, and it’s an ambiguous ending since the technology was the good guys’ and the life that triumphs is a deadly threat.  But Miki psychically convinces Godzilla to adopt Baby before he leaves.  Perhaps fatherhood will tame his wild proclivities.

This time, the DVD Netflix provided actually had the Japanese-language soundtrack, and interestingly, the personnel of the international G-Force usually speak in English, although often horribly accented English by the Japanese actors and terribly acted English by the Caucasian actors.  So it’s a very bilingual film.  And interestingly, even in the Japanese-made version of the film, the people speaking English pronounce the kaiju’s name as “God-zil-la” rather than “Go-ji-ra,” and ditto for the Mecha- version.  So even the Japanese accept that as the proper English pronunciation of the creature’s name, which makes me feel better about using the American spelling.  And even Miki seems to pronounce the “ji” syllable more like “dzi” at one point when speaking Japanese.  (And these films were produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka, the producer of the whole kaiju series going back to the original.  So their officialness is not in doubt.)

All in all, it’s a cool film, with a lot of elements that come together pretty well, and a good return for Rodan, even if he plays kind of a strange role at the climax.  And Ifukube’s score is the richest assemblage yet of his classic themes; in addition to the main-title march, he finally brings back the Godzilla-rampage leitmotif I mentioned earlier in full swing, as well as Rodan’s theme and the very nice slow march from the Mothra vs. Godzilla theme.  And his Mechagodzilla theme here is wonderful, one of his best ever.  (I read it was based on his King Kong vs. Godzilla theme, but the English dub I saw of that film replaced the music.)

Unfortunately, the following film, Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, is awful in comparison, made by a mostly new and inexperienced production team (except for the FX crew) and feeling like a throwback to the cheesy Shōwa films of the late ’60s and ’70s. It opens with G-Force again, but apparently everyone was fired after the MechaGodzilla debacle except for the indispensible Miki and the G-Force leader Commander Aso (Akira Nakao), who’s in all three G-Force films and is the only human character other than Miki to appear in more than two Godzilla movies. Still, they haven’t learned their lessons, since they’ve built a new fighting robot, Mogera, an update of an alien robot monster from the Shōwa-era Toho film The Mysterians. Which is just one of several Godzilla-management schemes jockeying for the film’s scattered attention, including a project to control Godzilla by amplifying Miki’s telepathy and the vendetta of the renegade Major Yuki, seeking to kill Godzilla with a blood-coagulant bullet to avenge his partner’s offscreen death. For some reason, the telepathy team makes no effort to stop Yuki from interfering with their experiment. Maybe the point is that they don’t much care if G lives or dies; the moral ambiguity of the previous film is replaced by Miki whining to everyone that Godziwwa has feewings too and they’re all mean for trying to kill him.

All this goes down on the island where Baby Godzilla (now called Little Godzilla) lives, since Big G periodically visits there.  Unfortunately, Little G has been drastically redesigned to look more babyish and cartoony, like Minya from the Shōwa-era films but even cutesier, and he serves no purpose beyond comic relief. Earth soon comes under attack by SpaceGodzilla, which looks like the love child of Godzilla and the Fortress of Solitude from the Superman movies, and apparently was spawned from some of Godzilla’s cells which were taken into space by Mothra or Biollante, merged with alien crystal life, and were nuked by supernovae.  After a horribly cheesy space battle with Mogera that looks like it was shot in the ’70s, SpaceG lands on the island, gives Godzilla a good thrashing, and imprisons Little G in a crystal cage  — an event which is ignored by every character immediately after it happens. I suppose I should be glad the dumb thing’s out of the movie, but still.

Anyway, there’s a lame borderline romance between Miki and one of the soldiers, Koji, and there’s a pointless digression where the Yakuza kidnaps Miki and copies her brainwaves to take telepathic control of Godzilla for no clearly defined reason. (Well, I guess I can imagine. “That’s a nice major metropolitan area you’ve got there. Be a shame if anything… happened to it.”) Eventually SpaceG builds a nest around a landmark skyscraper (since kaiju can’t resist those) and Yuki, now Mogera’s pilot despite the whole loose-cannon thing, must learn to set aside his hatred of Godzilla and fight alongside him to defeat SpaceG. Miki senses that Little G is free again, and everybody’s all affectionate and chummy toward Godzilla now even though he just devastated at least three major cities in Kyushu just because they were in his path while he was coming after SpaceG.

Like I said, it’s a rehash of the Shōwa films that turned Godzilla from villain to antihero, and I feel it weakens Godzilla’s impact just as much as those did.  The film also suffers from inconsistent effects (especially the dreadful space stuff) and the lack of an Akira Ifukube score.  The music is okay, but kind of generically ’80s, even though it’s a 1994 film. All in all, a forgettable and regrettable installment.

Fortunately, it’s barely referenced in the final Heisei film from later that same year, so it can be safely skipped. The concluding film’s title is rendered Godzilla vs. Destoroyah on the DVD, but the monster’s name is clearly meant to be simply Destroyer (which is how it’s pronounced in the English dub), so that’s what I’ll call it. Little Godzilla’s island undergoes spontaneous nuclear detonation at the start of the film, the only reference to the previous movie. Miki fears that the “Little One” is dead. But there’s a bigger problem, which rears its head when Godzilla goes out for Chinese!  Yep, he attacks Hong Kong under the main titles, finally spreading the love to someplace other than Japan. And he’s glowing red-hot, which is apparently called “Burning Godzilla” mode.  Unfortunately the Hong Kong attack is a brief interlude and doesn’t lead to the awesomeness that would’ve been Jackie Chan vs. Godzilla. The world is poorer for it.

But what we get instead is still quite cool, because this is not only the Heisei finale but a 40th-anniversary tribute, and it draws on a lot from the original film, including the reintroduction of the Yamane family to the franchise.  Dr. Yamane’s grandson Kenichi — actually the son of a character from the original film who was orphaned by Godzilla and taken in by the Yamanes — is a college student who’s conveniently the world’s greatest Godzilla expert (even more so than all the employees of G-Force, somehow).  He figures out that the  island explosion has changed Godzilla, sending his nuclear-reactor heart into critical, and when he goes up, the energy release will be an extinction-level event.

Meanwhile, Kenichi’s sister Yukari, a reporter, interviews a Dr. Ijuin, who’s invented a “micro-oxygen” with the potential to help the world. This concerns the now-elderly Emiko Yamane (Momoko Kōchi reprising her 1954 role — awesome!), who fears its similarities to Dr. Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer (the weapon that killed the original Godzilla in ’54) and its potential to be the ultimate weapon. Ijuin dismisses the concerns at first, but Tokyo is soon attacked by a horde of relic Precambrian creatures reanimated and mutated by the effects of the Oxygen Destroyer 40 years before. They grow into 10-foot-high crablike monsters with really scary heads, and we get a very different kind of monster-movie sequence (inspired by Aliens) as they massacre the Self-Defense Forces. Finally, after being harried by the military with freezing beams that Ijuin believes will neutralize their micro-oxygen and kill them, they merge into a single giant creature, the Oxygen Destroyer’s power manifest in daikaiju form, and Ijuin dubs it Destroyer  (Desutoroia).

Meanwhile, the SDF has tried to slow Godzilla’s meltdown using similar freeze weapons (launched from a super-jet whose pilot is the lead actor from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, though he’s playing a different character), but it’s only been a stopgap and he’s heading for a super-China Syndrome meltdown that will destroy the world. (Though shouldn’t the Japanese call it the South America Syndrome?) Kenichi says the only way to stop Godzilla now is with the same force that stopped his predecessor: Destroyer. As it happens, Godzilla Junior (as he’s now called) has turned up alive and in a much less stupid-looking form, like a leaner, smaller, longer-snouted Godzilla, and the big G is tracking him. (We can assume that the same natural uranium deposits that caused the island to explode were also responsible for mutating the young Godzillasaurus into daikaiju form, per the concepts established in GvKG.) So we get a bit of a replay of the moral dilemma from two movies ago, since again Junior must be used as bait, and Miki must reluctantly accept the necessity of it. So G-Force orders the evacuation of Tokyo and sends Miki to lure Junior there, bringing Godzilla back to where it all started. I don’t want to spoil the rather epic, no-holds-barred battle that results, but it goes through a few different stages including one where Destroyer breaks up into mini-Destroyers that swarm Godzilla, a novel and effective twist. The battle is quite cataclysmic, though it builds to a conclusion that’s a bit abrupt and ambiguous, a weakness after the strength of what preceded it. But if the online summaries interpret it correctly, it was nonetheless a pretty satisfactory and fitting end to the career of the Heisei Godzilla (as well as that of Miki Saegusa, whose telepathy was apparently fading as she matured). All in all, it’s a good finish to the series, which is a relief after the disaster of SpaceGodzilla.  It’s also an effective anniversary film, nicely tying back to the original’s characters and themes. The first half explores some of the same ethical dilemmas about the Oxygen Destroyer that the original did, and while it doesn’t carry the same weight in a later era (and is squandered once the OD just turns into yet another big monster), it makes the film feel deeper than most of its predecessors. They even coaxed Ifukube out of retirement to score one last G-film, and while this isn’t as good as his penultimate score, it’s refreshing to hear his distinctive style again, and appropriate for this film that brings everything full circle.

So that’s the Heisei continuity, or at least the 5/7 of it I was able to see. I’d say that the 4th, 5th, and 7th films are among the best Godzilla films I’ve seen, while the 3rd is mediocre and the 6th is one of the worst. Maybe someday I’ll get to see the first two and be able to make a more complete assessment. But overall, the Heisei Era was stronger and more consistent in quality than the Shōwa Era, though the 1954 original remains in a class by itself. I liked the ongoing continuity with Miki and G-Force, though I wish there’d been a larger continuing cast (Azusa should’ve stuck around as Junior’s advocate/friend, and it would’ve been nice to have the Yamane heirs as recurring protagonists). Although it has its missteps (the worst of which, SpaceGodzilla, can fortunately be ignored completely), it’s a reasonably solid continuation of the Godzilla mythos, and the most consistent multifilm continuity in the franchise. It remains to be seen whether the standalone alternate realities of the Millennium series will be as satisfying.

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