Director: Jun Fukuda
Starring: Masaaki Daimon, Kazuya Aoyama, Reiko Tajima, Akihiko Hirata, Hiromi Matsushita, Hiroshi Koizumi, Masao Imafuku, Beru-Bera Lin, Shin Kishida, Goro Mutsumi, Isao Zushi, Ise Mori, Kinichi Kusumi
Plot: A strange prophecy foretells the destruction of Earth by a monster, and that two fellow monsters will rise to stop this evil threat. However, could it be that Godzilla is the bringer of destruction and has turned back to his old ways?
The 20 year anniversary of everybody’s favourite monster (yeah I’m talking for you!) was met with an epic that not only retained all that the Godzilla franchise had become, but was also cause for a higher budget than previous films. This meant a lack of stock footage, two new monsters, and a rather intricate plot that brought about the most human characters in a Godzilla film yet. Although Godzilla’s last partnership with a robot was met with mixed opinions, what could possibly go wrong with a robotic version of Godzilla? After all, it had worked for KING KONG ESCAPES, in which the giant ape took on a robot version of himself. And as we all know, anything Kong can do Godzilla can do better.
GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, as it would become to be known, was a sign from Toho that the franchise was still very much respected and appreciated. Looking back over the decreasing use of Godzilla, the reused footage and music, and the silly plots, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the films were just being hobbled together without little regard for the finished product. This film changed all that though, and gave a villain that would reappear in multiple Godzilla series. Although, the alien apes are still a tad silly.
With exploding islands as our opening, escorted by twangy energetic guitars and a roaring Anguirus signalling trouble ahead, we’re quickly calmed by softer violins and stills that represent holiday snaps. The sudden tranquility continues with traditional song and dance, but peace never lasts long in the world of kaiju and a young Azumi priestess taking part in the traditional celebrations is soon interrupted by visions of burning, courtesy of King Ghidorah. This is actually a very awesome red herring, as King Ghidorah never actually appears, casting some shadows over the reliability of fortune telling and prophecies. The ideas of fate and destiny are well handled here, especially after more predictions are made. Obviously the big reveal is that this isn’t one of the traditional monsters, and after the true identity is revealed it’s this disguise that incurs the wrath of the original creature (that being Godzilla). We like nothing better in art than some self-fulfilling prophecy.
After this terrible vision, we’re introduced to the Shimizu brothers. First we have the younger and more intrepid Masahiko (Aoyama), who discovers some unidentifiable metal in a cave while spelunking. His brother, Keisuke (Daimon), is currently working at an excavation site where those involved soon find an underground chamber. Are the two plot strands related? You better believe it. As we see the press trying to push in and get some information on the chamber, Keisuke mistakes a pretty girl for one of the reporters but is soon left with egg on his face once finding out she is in fact an archaeologist. Brief commentaries there on the press and gender roles/equality, and although little strokes they may be, they still add to the canvas and make the final piece feel whole. Sad though that the press are still as ruthless and women are still judged in such ways.
After the prophecy is uncovered, the audience is privy to a pair of suspicious men spying on the young archaeologist, Seiko (Tajima). The first is a suited mustachioed man who looks ever so creepy, while the second is a man with shades and a long black coat. The mystery element serves the plot well here, as it is obvious one will reveal themselves to be the villain, while the other is more ambiguous. As Keisuke and Seiko travel to see Professor Wagura (Koizumi), Masahiko visits Professor Miyajima (Hirata). Having two separate plots should probably seem superfluous, but it isn’t a huge detraction from the overall story. Of course the metal and King Caesar prophecy come together later on, but their separation allows for a grander and more intricate feel to the whole production. During this time we discover that the first prophecy of a black mountain above the clouds has come true in the form of a dark mountain-shaped cloud. The mustachioed creep from earlier attempts to steal the statue from Wagura’s home, resulting in a lengthy fist-fight that has taken on some serious choreography. It never quite explodes into full-on martial arts, but you can see the temptation was there. This also enables some subtle character development, as Wagura is unable to shoot the intruder.
Godzilla is soon awoken by some explosions and is seen as a threat. This makes a nice change from recent films, where he would even answer the calls of humans asking for help. Even though we sort of know this isn’t the real Godzilla, it doesn’t paint it as painfully obvious such as the aliens in GODZILLA VS. GIGAN. Anguirus appears to stop his “friend” and gets beaten worse than an egg on Shrove Tuesday. This is the most brutal fight to date, and possibly in any Godzilla film, as it ends with Anguirus having his jaw snapped with bright red blood gushing out. It’s also not a sudden snap, but a brutal and obviously painful moment. It’s made worse by the fact that Anguirus limps off and isn’t seen for 30 years. The fight does manage to reveal that underneath “Godzilla’s” skin is a shiny metallic material.
Meanwhile, in the world of the humans, Miyajima shows his amazing pipe to the gang of heroes. When deconstructed into two pieces, any electrical appliance between the two pieces of pipe is destroyed. Some pseudo-science is given as the cause, but they may as well announce “This will somehow come in handy later,” and call it “The Pipe of Foreshadowing.” As “Godzilla” continues on his rampage through Japan, we see some truly epic destruction, best represented visually as the human characters gather in a single car and stare at the chaos while flames are reflected on the windscreen like some kind of boarder. It’s now that the real Godzilla appears, and soon melts away the coating that Mechagodzilla has used as a disguise. Mechagodzilla is a wonderful design all by itself, and never once looks like a man in a suit. Every part looks rigid and firm and the movements are kept very robotic. He is also aided by missiles in his hands and laser eyes. The battle leaves Godzilla beaten and presumed dead, but he later resurfaces in a classic scene in which he washes ashore an island during a heavy thunderstorm. The pathetic fallacy is certainly overused, as our defeated hero cries out in anger and determination while it rains and the thunder seems to reply, but it’s still awesome to see it applied to Godzilla. The lightning also strikes Godzilla and seems to give him powers, which may seem like a stretch, but since it worked for Kong in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, we have to allow it here.
As the aliens reveal themselves, looking delightfully human as ever, some of the characters, including Miyajima and his daughter are taken hostage. Miyajima is forced to fix Mechagodzilla in a race against time before King Caesar wakes. This echoes Akihiko Hirata’s role in the first GODZILLA feature, where his weapon could stop Godzilla, but he also took his own life to prevent the secret from getting out. This time he dooms the human race in order to save his daughter’s life, something no-one could possibly blame him for, but stays with him throughout the rest of the film. As the dark coated man of mystery is revealed to be an Interpol agent, he also uncovers the fact that the aliens, and their moustachioed spy from earlier, are in fact a race of apelike creatures. Causing them injury reveals their true identity, and also saves on the budget. This transformation is shown with daft fading techniques, which results in the actors having to stand very still. Once Caesar is awakened, he proves to be…well…kind of a pussycat. Although I love his design, and making him more of a mammal is a nice change, he gets taken down very easily. It’s then up to Godzilla to set things straight.
It’s another wonderful battle on film, and it was also nice to see two heroes on one villain, with the villain holding its own. Unlike the previous films, where monsters seemed just shoved in, here the focus makes for a much more satisfying smackdown. Godzilla gets his redemption with the aid of his electrical capabilities, and Mechagodzilla is a villain that can, and ultimately does, return. This was a great 20th Anniversary feature, and really went all out. Simple additions such as scenes shot on boats and planes, many changes in locale, and multiple story threads may sometimes seem excessive, but they also make the world feel expansive. With a franchise becoming reliant on recycled materials and smaller budgets, it’s great that such big characters get such big worlds to inhabit.
Dub-Misstep: Cinema Shares once again played it safe with the Toho dub, but also trimmed the violence. A strangulation scene and parts of a shoot-out have been chopped and trimmed respectively. One thing the dub did do better was the title, with GODZILLA VS. THE COSMIC MONSTER not giving away the twist existence of Mechagodzilla, but this was only after the distributors were sued for allegedly trying to cash in on the success of The Bionic Woman, with the title GODZILLA VS. THE BIONIC MONSTER. The posters gave it away anyway, so let’s not give them too much credit.
Monsters: Godzilla and Mechagodzilla really go at it in various scenes, causing some quite brutal injuries. But no one gets it worse than Anguirus, who is given no closure and would vanish from the franchise for 30 years. King Caesar is a great addition that brings in ideas of religious themed monsters and guardians, but is surprisingly weak after all the hype he gets.
Notes For GODZILLA (2014): A variation on Mechagodzilla wouldn’t go amiss for a sequel, but PACIFIC RIM has just been and gone. However, if we’re talking sequels, then who knows? That will be a few years down the road and Mechagodzilla could be good or bad depending on his origins. Evolved apes seem to be in full swing with their own franchise at the moment though, so best leave them out.
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.