Friday, November 28, 2014

60 Years of Godzilla - Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (2002)

Meet the Mecha of the new Millennium.

When they were deciding how to put together the early '90s installments of the Godzilla franchise's Heisei era, Toho Studios and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka conducted polls to see which monsters the public most wanted to see. The results showed that Mothra was the favorite of female viewers, while King Ghidorah and MechaGodzilla topped the list for males. So after Mothra and King Ghidorah had made their debuts in the Millennium era of the series with Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, it's rather predictable that the next installment would focus on a new version of MechaGodzilla.

Wataru Mimura, who had previously brought MechaGodzilla into the Heisei era with Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II, was hired to do the same for the Millennium era, and Masaaki Tezuka, director of Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (which Mimura also wrote, as well as Godzilla 2000) brought Mimura's script to the screen.

Like the previous Millennium entries, Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla ignores all of the Godzilla movies that came before, including the other Millennium movies, except for the original 1954 Gojira.

The events of the '54 film happened, Godzilla was reduced to a pile of bones at the bottom of Tokyo Bay by Dr. Serizawa's Oxygen Destroyer, and we're shown a recap of Godzilla's death that's presented through a mixture of stock footage and new footage of a goofy looking CG animated Goji. While other giant monsters have wreaked havoc in Japan - the original Mothra film and 1966's The War of the Gargantuas are both included in this movie's cherry picked continuity - there has never been another appearance of Godzilla.

Or there wasn't, until 1999.

As a typhoon blows in, Godzilla rises from the sea just off the coast of Tateyama, making his first appearance in this movie just 2 minutes into it.

Having sat out GMK because director Shûsuke Kaneko had wanted a taller actor in the suit, Godzilla 2000/Megaguirus Godzilla performer Tsutomu Kitagawa returned to the role in this film, wearing a newly designed suit that mixes together the looks Godzilla had in 2000/Megaguirus and in the Heisei era.

Godzilla proceeds to rampage through Tateyama, but just because he hasn't been around for forty-five years doesn't mean the military isn't prepared to deal with kaiju. The Anti-Megalosaurus Force was formed in 1966 for just such a situation and they're called in immediately.

Unfortunately for the AMF, the weaponry that was so effective against Mothra and the Gargantuas back in the day does not work as well against Godzilla. One such useless piece of weaponry is a Maser Cannon, created for use against Gargantuas, operated by a female solider named Akane Yashiro.

Akane is at the middle of a disaster that occurs - when she blasts Godzilla with the maser, which is an electricity-like stream of plasma energy, he blasts back at her with his atomic breath. Godzilla's blast hits the side of a mountain, causing a cascade of rocks to fall toward a vehicle full of Akane's fellow soldiers. The vehicle backs up into the Maser Tank just as Akane is swiveling it around, causing the vehicle to be knocked through a guard rail. The vehicle rolls down the mountain, to the ground at Godzilla's feet... and he stomps on it, killing everyone inside.

It was an accident, Akane was just doing her job, the vehicle backed into her, but after the battle has been lost and Godzilla has disappeared back into the ocean, Akane is punished, busted down to a desk job. She feels she deserves it, that she is truly responsible for the deaths of the people in the vehicle.

The military needs to design a new weapon now that there's a new Godzilla to contend with, and to help them do so they recruit scientist Dr. Tokumitsu Yuhara, who has recently "brought back" the extinct-since-prehistoric-times trilobite by putting a robotic exoskeleton run by "a DNA computer" over the muscles and nerves of a horseshoe crab.

Yuhara is joined with a collection of the finest scientific minds in Japan to create a similar robot on a much larger scale.

The skeleton of the original Godzilla was dredged up out of Tokyo Bay, and the idea is to create a MechaGodzilla called Kiryu (mechanical dragon) by building a powerful robot body around that skeleton. It will be a "bio-robot", sharing Godzilla's DNA but much more powerful than him.

Yuhara is uncertain about taking the job because he's a single father to a daughter named Sara, he can't be spending all his time working on a robot. That problem is solved by the powers that be allowing him to take his daughter to work with him.

The construction of Kiryu takes four years. By the end of that time, Sara doesn't appear to have aged a bit, and indeed the same young actress plays the character whether the scene is set in 1999 or 2003. She stops wearing her hair in pigtails, I guess that shows she has grown up.

Akane has kept up her physical training over those years, and is overwhelmed with emotion when Kiryu Squadron leader Colonel Togashi asks her to join his crew as a pilot. Akane being in the squadron causes friction with a fellow soldier named Hayama, whose brother was in the vehicle that Godzilla squashed.

Yuhara, Sara, and the sullen Akane meet in a restaurant and start to bond. Or do as much bonding as Akane is capable of. Yuhara is clearly smitten with her, and makes her an offer: If Kiryu beats Godzilla, he'll buy her dinner. If Kiryu loses, he'll apologize to her. By buying her dinner. Akane doesn't respond to his offer either way.

During the four years that Kiryu was being put together, Godzilla never returned. But as the finished robot is being presented to the public, Godzilla is coincidentally found to be swimming toward Tokyo.

Run by DNA computers, controlled by remote from an aircraft that will fly over the battleground, equipped with weapons that includes an Absolute Zero Gun that can freeze its target to absolute zero and then shatter it, Kiryu is sent to meet Godzilla when he makes landfall.

When Kiryu is placed before him, Godzilla sneers and gives his tail a wag. He appears ready to fight. From the control aircraft, Akane begins blasting Godzilla with rockets and missiles fired from Kiryu's shoulders. A maser blast is emitted from Kiryu's mouth. Godzilla begins to back off. Kiryu's chest is about to open to reveal the Absolute Zero Gun when Godzilla lets out a roar... And that roar has an effect on Kiryu at a genetic level, activating the original Godzilla's memories within the robotic body.

Godzilla heads back into the ocean as Kiryu goes out of control and rampages through Tokyo, firing its weaponry at random, blasting buildings with its rockets, missiles, and wrist lazers, and taking aim at the Kiryu Squadron aircraft when it comes too close.

The plane is shot down, and Akane saves Hayama's life as the crew escapes from the wreckage.

Kiryu's destruction of the city cannot be stopped, all they can do is wait for the robot to run out of power. Luckily, it only holds a two hour charge. When the robot goes into sleep mode, it's brought back to its base so its designers can figure out what went wrong and fix it. Of course, the answer is to not have its base computer run by the original Godzilla's DNA.

Sara is highly upset by this whole situation. Her mother and a younger sibling died in childbirth when she was four, which has made the girl passionate about the fact that every life has value, and she doesn't think it's right that Godzilla has been brought back in a mechanical body to fight one of its own kind.

Sara's appreciation of life is the exact opposite of Akane's outlook. Akane feels like her life isn't worth anything at all, that she never should have been born in the first place. Sara tries to get her to see the value in herself.

It isn't long before Godzilla is spotted stirring in the ocean again, headed for Shinagawa. As he wades toward the shore, he's met with opposition from standard military forces - and makes very quick work of them. Jets are blasted out of the sky, tanks and Maser Cannons are blown apart.

Godzilla proceeds to start smashing and setting fire to Shinagawa. The Prime Minister, reluctant to send the repaired Kiryu into the field after the mess in Tokyo, is forced to do so.

As Godzilla advances on a local hospital, Kiryu is flown into battle. Transport planes drop it from the sky and it uses rocket boosters to fly toward its enemy. Godzilla is just about to blast a fleeing nurse carrying a child with his atomic breath when Kiryu reaches him, slamming into him.

The climactic battle begins.

Controlled by Akane from the aircraft overhead, Kiryu lets loose on Godzilla with its arsenal and engages in fisticuffs with him. The fight is a good give and take, and although the robot is clearly stronger than Godzilla, the flesh and blood monster gets in his share of hits and is resilient enough that the robot starts to run out of power before Godzilla has been beaten.

When Godzilla's atomic breath damages Kiryu's control system, rendering it inoperable via remote, Akane puts her own life on the line to defeat the King of the Monsters. The aircraft lands and Akane climbs inside Kiryu to operate it manually.

Recharged with the electricity of the entire city of Tokyo, Kiryu makes its last stand against Godzilla with Akane inside of it, and Akane discovers the worth she has in this world by driving Godzilla away from Tokyo and saving Hayama's life again in the process.

Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla is about as simplistic as a Godzilla movie can get. It's basically three action sequences strung together with some sparse character work - Yuhara, Sara, and Akane are likeable characters with some depth to them, and yet it feels like Mimura and Tezuka are trying to get by with the bare minimum of that stuff so they can really focus on MechaGodzilla/Kiryu.

Because of this, GAM moves through its 88 minute running time very quickly. There's never a dull moment, things are always getting propelled forward, toward the next battle.

GAM is a very fun movie that provides exactly what you really want when you put in a Godzilla movie. (Well, unless you don't like the entries in which Godzilla is a villain and want to stick with his more heroic adventures.) Monsters fight, miniatures are destroyed, things blow up, and the viewer is entertained.

Still, in the end it feels sort of lacking. As the credits start to roll, it feels like there was only half of a story told here, and there's more to see with Yuhara, Sara, Akane, and Kiryu. Thankfully, there is a post-credits scene that resolves things a little more.

The next installment of the series does break the Millennium era pattern by being a sequel that continues on from this one, but the characters don't return. That's rather disappointing, but does the next Kiryu film hold up on its own? We'll see in the next 60 Years of Godzilla article.

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