On 16th May 2014, Toho’s greatest monster will return to the big screen in an American reboot. With just 14 weeks to go, we here at THN are counting down the GODZILLA back catalogue.
Director: Koji Hashimoto,
Starring: Ken Tanaka, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Yosuke Natsuki, Keiju Kobayashi, Shin Takuma, Eitaro Ozawa, Taketoshi Naito, Mizuho Suzuki
Plot: A man discovers a lone survivor aboard a ship inhabited by strange creatures. However, that’s just the beginning of his problems, as the survivor says he saw something else at sea. Something big. Something dangerous.
Nine years after Godzilla last appeared on screens, GODZILLA 1985 roared to life. It was time once again to remember what the big G was all about in the first place. It was time for a darker, more destructive, and more dangerous Godzilla to once again threaten Tokyo. Gone were the aliens, robots, dance moves and kung-fu fighting, and in their place was a lumbering monster of no allegiance, ready to tear the Earth asunder. If you’ve been put off by the camp and kiddy-friendly nature, then this is where to return to the franchise, because it sure isn’t going to be pretty.
GODZILLA 1985 returns to the roots of Godzilla. It’s a solo project for the atomic beast, that once again ties into the tension concerning nuclear weapons. It addresses real world issues as Japan must play the middleman between the US and USSR’s posturing. The film takes itself seriously, but is very much an 80s adaptation. A gritty colour palette has been chosen and the gradual build-up is reminiscent of many Hollywood blockbusters of the time. In the director’s chair was Koji Hashimoto, who only directed two features, and both in the same year. He had, however, had lots of experience as an assistant director on previous Godzilla films.
The film ignores all the Godzilla films apart from the original. It’s a semi-reboot that leads us down an alternate timeline. As a 30th anniversary celebration (the film was actually released in Japan in 1984), it celebrates Godzilla for the game changer it truly was and ends up giving us the best Godzilla film since the original. This was the start of the Heisei series of Godzilla films, although often referred to as the Vs. series. However, GODZILLA 1985 was actually released during the Showa era and didn’t have Godzilla Vs. anyone. What a deceptive little fiend it was. Opening with shots of lava, it reminds us of the destructive power of nature. 3 months after an eruption, a ship sails on the ocean in inhospitable weather. This is how Godzilla films should begin, as it harkens back to the original inspiration of The Lucky Dragon 5. An unclear silhouette rises from the depths and it is unmistakenly our old fiend, and although we’re familiar with his look by now, there’s something about that silhouette that is still terrifying.
We’re quickly reminded it’s the 80s thanks to a cool reporter, Goro Maki (Tanaka), out sailing on a yacht and listening to catchy tunes, who comes across the ship. He explores the eerily silent boat and soon discovers some proper old school corpses. By that I mean they are completely practical effects and the exaggeration in their contorted faces is just as sickening as anything from the bodyshock horror of the time. The whole scene reinforces the horror genre back into the franchise, with a lifeless hand falling into shot and some creature crawling around, known to us but not to Goro. He finds the only survivor, Hiroshi Okumura (Takuma), hiding away in a locker. But what could have possibly killed the crew? Was it Godzilla? Or was it that magical T-Rex from JURASSIC PARK: THE LOST WORLD? We get our answer in the form of giant…huge…big but not ginormous parasites that have sucked the blood and life from the crew. These mini-monsters offer up a gripping sequence that contrasts well with the later citywide destruction.
Dr. Hayashida visits Hiroshi in hospital to show him pictures from the 1954 attack by Godzilla. Hayashida is portrayed by Yosuke Natsuki, although the part was originally intended for legendary franchise regular Akihiko Hirata. Unfortunately Hirata was very sick at the time and would succumb to throat cancer the year of release. Natsuki is no stranger to Godzilla though, as he embodied Detective Shindo in GHIDORAH: THE THREE HEADED MONSTER. As Godzilla is identified, it is explained that the sea louses were parasites that must have fed off Godzilla and grown to such a size because of our old friend, nuclear radiation. Most interestingly of all, the focus then shifts to the Prime Minister of Japan (Kobayashi). The majority of Godzilla films have avoided politics, but GODZILLA 1985 embraces them, looking at a world in conflict, and how they would react to such events. The first act is to ban the press from reporting on Godzilla’s reappearance. It is the first in many difficult decisions that paint this Godzilla in a more realistic style as well as reflecting the times.
As Goro discusses events and tactics with Hayashida, he meets Hiroshi’s sister Naoko (Sawaguchi). It’s clear that she is unaware of Hiroshi’s survival, so Goro reveals the truth. Goro’s actions once again paint him as an idealist who does what is “right” in every instance. But his quick capitalisation on a reunion photo between the siblings results in Naoko confronting him and forcing him to question how righteous he truly is. Godzilla soon strikes again, this time taking on a Soviet submarine. Unfortunately, due to Japan’s silence, the USSR blame America for the attack and we come close to a nuclear war. This causes Japan to set the record straight, whose silence is then justified by the US and USSR’s plea to use nuclear weapons on Godzilla (which would destroy parts of Japan too). These events satirise the reactionary attitude of humans and how destruction is countered by more destruction. Fortunately, the Prime Minister is able to give a heartfelt response and alternate means are discussed.
The film then prepares for Godzilla’s big reveal. We start with a quiet shot of birds flying into the sky. We find ourselves in a POV shot accompanied by heavy breathing, putting us directly into the shoes…feet of Godzilla. A man then literally walks into Godzilla’s foot, which may question the films believability having Godzilla sneak quietly onto land, but it does lend itself to a fantastic reveal as the camera pans up. The king of the kaiju looks truly magnificent, and we also get to see his face in animatronic style, giving him new expressive facial twitches. This alone puts some distance from the rubber suited feel to the greatest monster of all time. Godzilla has come to feed off nuclear power, a twisted creature of nature now reliant on something manmade. The film constantly draws dark allegories between humanity and the rest of the living world, which is further explored in the sequel to this film. As Godzilla then makes his way to Tokyo Bay, the military get ready but are unprepared for Godzilla’s surprise attack from the ocean. During Godzilla’s battle with the military, he damages a Russian ship that accidentally activates a nuclear missile from space. Although not as satirical as DR. STRANGELOVE, it does highlight the fact that things go wrong, and in a world of nuclear weapons, these accidents could be cataclysmic.
Godzilla’s final attack on the city is stupendous filmmaking that gets everything right. The city is truly alive, with bright neon signs and advertisements lighting up the scene. The production designers have even inserted a modern glass building, which removes the constant wooden-looking structures. The skyscrapers match the size of Godzilla and look very realistic. On top of that, Godzilla is shown to be clumsy once again, forcing us to remember that he is a creature out of his comfort zone and not truly malicious. His foot goes through the ground and he stumbles about, like a creature adapting to its environment would. As Godzilla breaks his way through Tokyo, Hayashida and co. remember how Godzilla followed some migrating birds, and have designed a weapon that can lead him away from the big cities. Meanwhile, the US aid Japan as they plan to shoot down the Soviet missile. This missile is in many ways a second – and just as terrifying – antagonist. Godzilla isn’t much of a problem if the whole city is going to be destroyed anyway. Poetically, Godzilla is lured into an active volcano, as the humans use one destructive force of nature to destroy another. As in the original, it isn’t a time for celebrating, but a time to sympathise with a great creature who was out of his comfort zone.
GODZILLA 1985 may seem dated, but then again is there an 80s film that doesn’t? It captures the dramatic and symbolic resonance of the original, while also upping the ante in terms of horror and action. Very rarely does a reboot capture the true essence of the original, taking what was good from the follow-ups, and add new and interesting twists that also touch upon the time. It truly is a stupendous return to form for Godzilla, and was the start of a very impressive series. If you’re truly against black and white features, or want something a little more recent that the first, despite the fact this is also 30 years old now, then GODZILLA 1985 is a wonderful starting point for Godzilla brilliance.
Dub-Misstep: It’s 16 minutes shorter, and a lot of that is original footage shot to show the American point of view. It brings back Raymond Burr as Steve Martin, reprising his GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS ROLE, which is a nice touch, although how he is seen as an expert is beyond me. The dubbing isn’t great, and is actually worse than a lot of the older attempts. The pacing is also destroyed, with so much footage excised, everything just seems to come and go. It also makes some controversial editing decisions, such as making it seem as though the Russians fire the nuclear missile on purpose, rather than it being an accident and having the Russian captain lose his life trying to stop it. It’s almost as though the American producers missed the entire message. It would be good to see the US scenes edited into the original, as they would fit nicely and give a counter view to the Japanese governmental meetings.
Monsters: Godzilla going it alone this time and looking more terrifying than ever. He wasn’t just a guy in a suit this time, but also had a mechanical face stand in and a life size foot. There is an opening sequence including giant louses that feed off Godzilla, but they have their sequence and then make way for the star.
Notes For GODZILLA (2014): This is certainly how to do a Godzilla reboot. Take it seriously, treat it in a dark manner, and have it mean something. It certainly looks as though Edwards’ vision is running along similar lines, so fingers crossed we’ll get something just as impressive.
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.