Director: Jun Fukuda
Starring: Hiroshi Ishikawa, Yuriko Hishimi, Minoru Takashima, Tomoko Umeda, Toshiaki Nishizawa, Zan Fujita, Kunio Murai, Haruo Nakajima
Plot: A Manga artist finds work at a new theme park called Children’s Land. But why is everybody so suspect? And what is their connection with the monsters of the world?
GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH wasn’t everyone’s favourite Godzilla film. I sure loved it, but those that mattered, namely producer Tomoyuki Tanaka (who was hospitalised at the time of that film’s release) did not. Therefore with Yoshimitsu Banno vanquished from the world of Godzilla (until the upcoming reboot that is), Jun Fukuda was drafted back in after his successful turns with EBIRAH, HORROR OF THE DEEP and SON OF GODZILLA. Gone was the darkness and bizarre tone that Banno introduced, and it was time to reinsert some of that bright colour and whimsy that the younglings adored.
Although this doesn’t sound like a great start, GODZILLA VS. GIGAN never sinks to the depths of ALL MONSTERS ATTACK. It does involve a place called Children’s Land, and reintroduces the ideas of aliens, but it also manages to have some darker moments. Before it came to be, the sequel to GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH went through a number of drafts and changes. A sequel involving Hedorah was planned at one point, but talk quickly moved to getting back to aliens. A more ambitious tale involving many new monsters was planned, but budget concerns resulted in a change to just Gigan making his debut. Megalon would have to wait. It was also decided to include Anguirus, as he had had a new costume constructed just 4 years previously, whereas original choices Rodan and Varan would have required some work. The budget cuts also lead to the entire score being comprised of previously composed and recorded work of Akira Ifukube. That’s never a bad thing, and I’m always impressed with how money is saved.
The first shot is of Godzilla looking mighty fierce and releasing his atomic breath directly at the camera. It’s a fitting way to begin GODZILLA VS. GIGAN as this would be Haruo Nakajima’s last time portraying Godzilla. Not just anybody could fill this role, despite many who would declare it’s just a guy in a suit. Size and strength was everything throughout the series, with short but strong people needed to fit and carry the hefty costumes. As the credits roll, we pan across a number of high-tech instruments, announcing the return of the more science-fictiony elements. We are then treated to some comic panels with added sound, thus indicating the profession of our latest protagonist. Ishikawa plays Gengo Kotaka, a manga artist looking to create a new monster. The inclusion of this profession shows the Godzilla franchise trying to remain fresh, and although aliens return, the more creative protagonist is a nice change from scientists and soldiers. Gengo’s recent creation of a homework monster doesn’t impress his publishers too much and so he looks for a new job at Children’s Land as a concept artist.
Children’s Land is a recently opened theme park which caters to the history of Earth’s monsters. With the HQ situated in a Godzilla shaped tower, it shows that monsters have become a huge part of this world. Things smell a bit off from the outset though, with Gengo’s new boss announcing that the theme park’s goal is “Absolute peace”. I can’t even imagine Disney setting their sights so high. The inclusion of Children’s Land brings back a wider colour palette, which in turn makes it feel a lot more jovial. With Fukuda directing, his dominant colours of choice, orange and yellow, make a return, most noticeably in the deceptively approachable attire of the Children’s Land employees. As some talk turns to the existence of monsters on Monster Island, there is some stock footage, and there are parts where stock footage is used later on. Thankfully, it is mostly used as filler and is never used to forward the plot, although the change in costumes of Godzilla is distracting.
Upon returning to Children’s Land for his first day at work, Gengo bumps into a woman who drops a recording. Instinctively knowing that this woman is a good guy, or maybe just succumbing to his libido, Gengo sends the Children’s Land guards in the wrong direction and pockets the recording himself. This introduces elements of corporate paranoia which is enhanced by wonderful production design. The phones are see-through and the doors slide, and unfortunately the film is about as subtle as Godzilla himself. It’s obvious The Chairman and his lackeys are in fact aliens, and I say “unfortunate” because the film tries to set it up as a mystery. Later on, Gengo attempts to investigate the people behind Children’s Land and discovers that they died a long time ago. Had it not been so obvious, this would have been an interesting plot strand. As it stands though, it’s more of an exposition filled ramble that doesn’t add anything to the plot, with the idea of taking on bodies of the deceased quickly dispensed with and forgotten about.
Gengo soon finds himself accosted by the woman he bumped into earlier. Machiko (Umeda) as she’s known, and her weird hippy sidekick Shosaku (Takashima), ask for the recording to be returned, but Gengo faints believing the cob of corn pressed against his back is actually a gun. It shows the return of broader comedy, but works well thanks to the hammy yet not overblown performances. Here we discover that Tomoko has a missing brother who went to work for Children’s Land. The final member of the goup is introduced later on, just as some heavies come to retrieve the recording, Gengo’s martial arts experienced sister, Tomoko (Hishima), returns home and busts some balls. Together the foursome make quite the team, and a powerful female character shows that the feminist movement was in full swing, even in the world of kaiju. It also means we get a rather diverse band of protagonists that seem as though they have drawn inspiration from many investigative groups including Scooby Doo and The Famous Five.
The investigation that follows is rather pointless, as mentioned earlier, but it does show that Fukuda isn’t averse to using handheld camerawork. It’s nothing on the scale of Paul Greengrass, but it does stand out in a franchise where shots are usually static. The gang decide to play the recording, which is heard by the monsters on Monster Island, most notably Anguirus and Godzilla, whose costumes look better than ever. They both seem to have a lot more texture than before, and any hint of rubberyness is only noticeable during the joints as the monsters move. Godzilla sends Anguirus to investigate the strange noise, which is communicated in monster speak unless you’re watching the hilarious dub (see below for more details on that). As the aliens reveal themselves to be cockroach type aliens from Space Hunter Nebula M, the humans see Anguirus’ approach as a hostile act. Although probably stock footage itself, for the first time we get to see REAL tanks. Of course, they’re replaced with models during the extensive battle scenes, but seeing some real artillery with real people operating them does add realism to the battle sequences. Anguirus truly looks believable, however his movements as a quadruped still betray the fact it’s a man on all fours. That’s just not as easy to conceal as his two-legged counterparts.
Anguirus is attacked by the military and returns to Monster Island to report to Godzilla before he can even step on land. Our intrepid heroes go to the police to warn them of the goings on at Children’s Land, but in traditional cinematic style they aren’t believed. So it’s up to our heroes to rescue Machiko’s brother, Takashi (Murai), and stop the plan of these evil cockroaches. We know they’re cockroaches because their shadows give them away. I’m not quite sure how this reveal works scientifically, but it’s a cool and cheap visual effect. The human’s plan is filled with a lot of fun espionage including zip-wires and Tomoko’s hard hitting fists. Meanwhile Godzilla and Anguirus are met by two alien monsters, the ever reliable King Ghidorah (who happens to be alive because DESTROY ALL MONSTERS was set in the distant future of 1999) and a new monster, Gigan. Gigan is the weirdest looking kaiju in the Godzilla universe to date. Half machine and half alien chicken, it definitely appears as though this is a monster that’s been purposefully created for killing. After all, he has no wings nor hands, just powerful blades as appendages. The battle between the four monsters is dark and epic. Blood is even drawn, showing Godzilla as a more vulnerable monster and Gigan as a relentless and dangerous beast.However, when Godzilla and Ghidorah battle alone, sometimes it’s footage we’ve seen before. There’s also a lack of human interaction, with no running civilians, no cars driving around etc. The battle areas look empty, which makes the buildings look more like the models they actually are.
GODZILLA VS. GIGAN is a fun return to the formula that Toho was trying to get into place before the last two efforts. It gives us everything that was great about the films at the time, and aims for all audiences with its fun style but refusal to cater for the extremely young audience. The final battle is so epic, with billowing flames surrounding everything, that you forget about the human element. This is one of the worst beatings Godzilla has ever received, but rather than plotting out his comeback with a satisfactory explanation, he’s suddenly just strong again. This certainly features everything that the Showa era Godzilla films came to represent, and although the budget cutting is often noticeable, it’s also a very fun entry.
Dub-Misstep: As GODZILLA VS. GIGAN treads a thin line between enjoyable farce and cheesy nonsense, the dub helps to push it over the edge, and – comically – it works a treat. There can be a lot more enjoyment to be had from this version especially when Godzilla and Anguirus talk to each other in English. It’s just so absurdly wonderful that you just have to enjoy it. Not just the fact they are talking, but the tone and vocabulary used suggests such a love/hate relationship between the two. As Godzilla calls for Anguirus, the crotchety reply is “Whaddya want?” A bit of daft fun, certainly, but worth your time for that moment alone.
Monsters: Godzilla and Anguirus team-up and make quite the pair, as well as King Ghidorah returning. Gigan is a strange new monster that really does look like a lot of ideas just splashed across the page. Surprisingly though, it works. He may be more for the visual aspect, with rotating chainsaw body, long stabby arms, and a mixture of chicken and robot, but I would love to see a realistic and grotesque take on the character in CG.
Notes For GODZILLA (2014): Gigan may never make the leap to the big screen for a US reboot, and the convoluted plot revolving around cockroach aliens and the like would probably be a bit too much. The destruction and fight scenes are excellent though, at least in terms of pure spectacle.
GODZILLA will be released 16th May 2014. It stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, Akira Takarada, and David Strathairn.