Sunday, June 22, 2014

60 Years of Godzilla - Terror of MechaGodzilla

The end of the Showa era.

Following the success of Godzilla franchise's twentieth anniversary film, Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, Toho Studios and series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka began developing the next installment. Rather than hire one of their in-house screenwriters for the project, they held a contest, asking their audience to send in ideas for a Godzilla movie, similar to the way the character of Jet Jaguar was created for Godzilla vs. Megalon.

One aspiring writer who sent in an idea was a screenwriting school student named Yukiko Takayama. Tanaka liked Takayama's ideas and hired her to expand them into a screenplay. Takayama wrote up the script for Terror of MechaGodzilla, and over the course of a few different drafts merged the two new monsters she had created, called the Titans, into one monster. Her original idea was to have the two monsters merge together to form one large monster for the climactic battle anyway, so it doesn't seem like a big deal to make them one creature from the start.

Cutting down on the number of monsters the film would feature was a budgetary decision, one of a few changes that were made to lower the film's budget, as the Japanese economy had been hit hard by the oil crisis of 1973. Financial issues were further alleviated when American producer Henry G. Saperstein, who had previously worked with Toho on Frankenstein Conquers the World, War of the Gargantuas, and Invasion of Astro-Monster, stepped in to help fund the new Godzilla film.

Takayama's story is set in the immediate aftermath of the events of Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, and begins with an Interpol submarine searching the waters off the coast of Okinawa for remnants of the mechanical monster that fell into the ocean after Godzilla destroyed it. The submarine finds no trace of MechaGodzilla's space-titanium body on the ocean floor, it has all already been removed by the UFO that has been spotted in the area.

Instead of accomplishing their mission, the submarine is destroyed by the monster Takayama thought up and special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano brought to life with his crew - an amphibian dinosaur called Titanosaurus.

Interpol brings in Akira Ichinose from the Ocean Exploration Research Institute to help them in their investigation into what became of their submarine, an investigation that leads Ichinose to reclusive scientist Doctor Shinzô Mafune, who himself had worked at the Ocean Exploration Research Institute for years. It was Mafune who first discovered Titanosaurus living at the bottom of the sea, a finding that the scientific community disputed. In addition to his interest in undersea exploration, Mafune also dedicated himself to finding a way to control animals, another idea that was not supported by his peers. Determined to prove that he could control animals, and the dinosaur he found in particular, Mafune fled to his mansion in the forest, and there he has remained for the last fifteen years...

Ichinose goes to the Mafune mansion in hopes of seeing his research on Titanosaurus, but when he knocks on the door it is answered by Mafune's daughter Katsura, who tells him that the doctor has been dead for five years and his work was destroyed.

The girl lied to Ichinose. Mafune is still very much alive, and collaborating with the Simian aliens from the previous film, led by an alien in human disguise called Mugal. The Simians are from the Third Planet of the Black Hole, and the black hole has begun to suck their base into it, so they're planning to relocate to Earth and take the planet over. They intend to raze Tokyo to the ground, as they believe the city to be the essence of what is wrong with Earth and its cluelessness about the pollution and destruction its people cause to themselves, and build their own city over top of it.

Angry over how his discoveries and research were treated, Mafune willingly goes along with the Simians' schemes. Especially now that they have helped him take full control over Titanosaurus, allowing him to turn the harmless creature into a killer.

A second submarine is sent out to search for Titanosaurus, this time with Ichinose on board. Ichinose tries to get Katsura to go along with him, believing that it would be an honor to the memory of her father if she were to be part of the team that confirms the existence of the dinosaur. She refuses to go along and, developing feelings for Ichinose, tries to get him to abandon the investigation, too. He does not.

Once the submarine has embarked on its search, Katsura is revealed to be cybernetically enhanced, her inner workings replaced by wires and gears during an operation her father's pal Tsuda performed to save her life after she was killed in an accident in Mafune's lab. Working for the Simians, Tsuda has convinced Katsura that the purpose of her new life is vengeance and hatred. The key to controlling Titanosaurus is within her, and Tsuda makes her have the dinosaur attack Ichinose's sub.

Luckily, the crew of the submarine are saved by the flip of a switch: the sonar is turned on, and the supersonic waves have such a powerful, painful effect on the dinosaur that the submarine is able to escape from it. Having found its weakness, Interpol begins designing a supersonic gun to use against the prehistoric creature.

Their weapon has been built by the time Titanosaurus is sent to attack the city of Yokosuka... but since Ichinose told Katsura about it, that allows it to be sabotaged before it can be used against the rampaging monster.

The military's standard weapons are ineffective against the dinosaur, but as it strides through the city causing death and destruction, reinforcements arrive to help humanity fight off this threat.

48 minutes into the movie, with the sound of sirens and the panicked voices of citizens filling the streets of the dark city at night, the shadow of Godzilla rises up in the distance.

This first encounter between Godzilla and Titanosaurus is incredibly well directed. The appearance of Godzilla's shadow, followed by the dinosaur getting hit by blasts of his atomic breath, flashes of energy behind the shadow, then the light changes to reveal Godzilla's face. It's a cheer-worthy moment, and then there's an awesome shot of the two monsters advancing on each other... Unfortunately, it's very underwhelming after that, because Titanosaurus just turns and runs away.

For Terror of MechaGodzilla, the Godzilla costume, the same suit that was originally crafted for Godzilla vs. Megalon but which had undergone some tweaks over the years and films since, was worn by Toru Kawai, who had previously portrayed the king of the monsters in episodes of the television show Zone Fighter. Kawai would never play Godzilla again, but he did get a couple more suitmation monsters on his filmography after this, most notably playing Gamera in the 1980 film Super Monster.

In their base, hidden within a cave near Mt. Amagi, the Simians have also completely rebuilt MechaGodzilla, with the plan being to team their robot up with Titanosaurus for an attack on Japan. This time around, MechaGodzilla is improved by fitting it with the control device created by Mafune and by having living brain cells somehow implanted in it... These brain cells are Katsura's, and as with Titanosaurus, it is her cyborg body that is the true control center for MechaGodzilla. Her connection with the mecha is even greater, due to their shared brain cells. As he attacks humanity, MechaGodzilla will be fueled by the hate the Simians have filled Katsura with.

Controlled by Katsura's mind, Titanosaurus again attacks Yokosuka, this time aided by the similarly controlled MechaGodzilla.

Godzilla once again arrives to fight off the city's attackers, with some backup provided by a helicopter equipped with the repaired supersonic gun, and while he takes on the monsters physically, Ichinose, who has been captured by the Simians, tries to appeal to Katsura's emotions to get her to call off the attack.

The climactic battle is another area in which the finished film differs from Takayama's original vision for the story. Here the monsters do battle among a model city designed to look like Yokosuka, a model city which isn't quite as impressively made as some of those in the franchise's earlier days, and eventually the fight moves out to a desolate countryside location, as they tended to do in some of the lower budgeted entries. Filming the fight as written in the first draft of Takayama's script would've cost much more - she had the battle taking place entirely in Tokyo, with the city getting leveled in the process.

The change was a cost-cutting measure, but none of those taken on this film hampered it all that much, this movie doesn't have the off-puttingly cheap look some of its more low rent predecessors had. The final fight isn't all it could have been and it isn't one of the greatest the series has had to offer, but it gets the entertainment job done fine the way it is.

The same could be said for the film as a whole. The story is far from original, the "monsters being controlled by aliens" plot has been done numerous times by this point in the series, but the Godzilla and MechaGodzilla rematch is a welcome one, and the story is executed nicely. The character of Katsura adds an interesting new twist to the scenario, and she's played in an intriguing manner by Tomoko Ai.

With the combined might of Godzilla, Interpol, the supersonic gun, the military, and the powers of love and self-sacrifice, the forces of Earth are able to claim victory over the Simians.

This victory is the final one for the Godzilla of what is known as the Showa era of the series.

Despite the success of Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, the audience didn't return to check out the rematch. Terror of MechaGodzilla was the least attended Godzilla movie of the entire series up to that point, a fact that probably has less to do with the quality of the film than it did with the economic situation in Japan at the time. That's also a reason why Toho decided it was time for Godzilla to go on hiatus for a while - if the box office numbers were going to be as low as they were for Terror, Godzilla was not as viable as he had been.

There was a glimmer of hope that Godzilla would someday return, but the constant production of new installments had to come to an end. It would be nine years before another Godzilla was made.

Given that Terror of MechaGodzilla marks the end of an era, it is quite appropriate that Ishirō Honda, director of the original 1954 Gojira (and several Godzilla movies throughout the Showa era) and composer Akira Ifukube both returned to see off this iteration of Godzilla.

Ifukube had twenty more years of Godzilla scores ahead of him, but Terror was the last time Honda ever worked with the monster he helped create. In fact, Terror of MechaGodzilla is the last full feature film Honda made as the primary credited director.

As Godzilla wades back into the sea, this chapter of his cinematic life has come to a close. But there will be a new beginning.

No comments:

Post a Comment