Monday, November 17, 2014

60 Years of Godzilla - Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack

It's like a monster convention here.

Toho's choice to hire Shûsuke Kaneko to direct and co-write the third installment in the Millennium era of their Godzilla series is an interesting one, because although Kaneko had prior kaiju experience, it wasn't with Toho's monsters. He had worked over at Daiei Studios, helming a trilogy of Gamera movies. Now Toho wanted him to move on from that flying turtle to the King of the Monsters.

The first idea Kaneko came up with has been referred to as "Godzilla vs. Uchujin", and would have had the franchise's star going up against an astronaut who has been mutated into a giant beast by some kind of virus he caught in outer space. The filmmaker quickly abandoned that concept and aimed higher.

Crafting the screenplay with Kei'ichi Hasegawa and Masahiro Yokotani, Kaneko put together a story that would return Godzilla to his 1950s villainous roots and have three monsters defend Japan against a rampaging Goji. Initially, Kaneko wanted those monsters to be Baragon (from Frankenstein Conquers the World and Destroy All Monsters) Varan (of Varan the Unbelievable and Destroy All Monsters), and old fan favorite Anguirus. Toho was into the idea, but wanted a different lineup of monsters. Baragon could stay - apparently the monster is immensely popular in Japan, despite only having been in two previous movies. Somehow his popularity was even seen as trumping Anguirus's, even though Anguirus was a beloved kaiju who had appeared in six Godzilla movies. Baragon surviving while Anguirus got cut is odd, but Toho's suggestion to put Mothra and King Ghidorah in there certainly makes sense.

Kaneko was reluctant to make the monster change and monster designer Fuyuki Shinada was disappointed to see Varan get booted, but the change was made and Kaneko found a way to make it work.

Like Godzilla vs. Megaguirus and (to a lesser degree) Godzilla 2000, Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack reboots the continuity to start fresh in its own timeline. It connects only to the original 1954 Gojira... and the 1998 American Godzilla film, in a mocking fashion. With a quick bit of exposition up front, the movie establishes that Godzilla did attack Tokyo in 1954, but that attack has been followed by nearly fifty years of peace and prosperity in Japan. A monster attacked New York in 1998 and Americans claim it was Godzilla, but Japanese officials have doubts about that.

Things have been quiet on the monster front in Japan since '54, but they don't remain that way for very long into GMK's running time. When an American nuclear submarine goes missing in international waters off the coast of Guam, Japanese submersible Satsuma (named after Heisei era Godzilla performer Kenpachirô Satsuma) is dispatched to aid in the search and rescue efforts.

Locating the sunken sub, the Satsuma sees that it seems to have been blown apart... and there are claw marks running down the sides... Just over 3 minutes in, the Satsuma crew catches a glimpse of Godzilla's glowing dorsal fins as he swims along the bottom of the sea.

Television personality Yuri Tachibana has just recently been in the area of Mt. Myoko, traditionally thought to be a gateway to a lost world, to film a documentary about the mountain's legendary monster, so it catches her attention when a biker gang, soon after busting an ancient statue, is buried alive in a tunnel by "an earthquake with a moving epicenter". (It was really the subterranean movements of the monster Baragon.) Unfortunately, her boss is not interested in her idea of investigating the situation.

At Lake Ikeda, a group of hard partying, vandalizing, thieving youths stick a dog in a box weighed down with an ancient statue and row a boat out on the lake to dump the pup overboard. Their act of cruelty is interrupted when a Mothra larva emerges from the water, capsizing the boat. Only the dog survives. The corpses of the partiers are found wrapped in a cocoon.

Yuri has in her possession a book called The Guardian Monsters, about a trio of kaiju who were worshipped as gods and are said to be 2000 years into a 10,000 year slumber. In the book is a prediction that hundreds of people will die near Mt. Fuji, and it's beginning to look like Japan is heading toward that prediction is coming true.

An elderly man was seen at both Mt. Myoko and Lake Ikeda, and when Yuri travels to the lake to investigate the latest event, she ends up talking to this old man, a doomsayer who lives in fear of Godzilla's return. He advises her to go to the place where King Ghidorah (who is somehow only 1000) sleeps and awaken the dragon before it's too late.

As a typhoon batters the Bonin Islands, the place where Godzilla first made landfall in the 1954 film, structures begin to shake as if there's an earthquake. The shaking is caused by the footfalls of Godzilla as he makes his way across an island, smashing whatever's in his path. All we see of Godzilla during this sequence is his foot crushing a building... and the man inside it...

Yuri gradually uncovers the details of this film's very unique take on Godzilla. Shûsuke Kaneko's Godzilla is a prehistoric animal bolstered by atomic energy, but he's not only powered by radiation. Godzilla is also inhabited by the restless souls of thousands of people who died during World War II. Those souls are driving him to destroy Japan in revenge for the people having forgotten the pain and agony caused by the country's choices in the 1940s.

Also inhabited by souls are the guardian monsters who are to save Japan. The theory is that the electrical energy of souls record themselves onto stones, so the old doomsayer has been busting stones at the shrines of the guardians to channel the spirits within into the monsters to wake them up earlier that they're meant to rise.

King Ghidorah has not yet awakened, as a man attempting suicide in a forest finds out when the ground gives way beneath him and he tumbles into the monster's lair to see it sleeping.

Officials come to terms with the fact that it seems Godzilla has returned. The people are alerted. Yuri's father, Admiral Taizo Tachibana of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, who witnessed Godzilla's '54 rampage up close, and the rest of the military prepare to do battle. A rematch 50 years in the making.

Godzilla is not the first monster to reveal itself to the public. Baragon (referred to as "the red Godzilla" by those who don't know the Guardian Monsters legend) burrows his way out of the ground at Gotenba and starts travelling across the surface.

Soon after, Godzilla rises from the sea, making landfall at Yaizu Harbor. 38 minutes into the film (34 minutes into the version on the U.S. DVD), Godzilla gets his first reveal. The GMK re-design harkens back to earlier iterations of Godzilla, drawing inspiration from both the '54 and Heisei era looks. His skin has its old school look, his dorsal fins are much smaller than those on the 2000 and Megaguirus suit, and his dinosaur roots are very apparent. Since Godzilla is meant to be pure evil in this film, his eyes are a blank white. Within the seven foot tall suit is Mizuho Yoshida, chosen for his height, who would only play Godzilla for this film.

Godzilla immediately begins rampaging across the land, and Kaneko makes sure to show us that innocent people are losing their lives in the destruction he causes. Godzilla even blasts a parking lot full of people fleeing for their lives with his atomic breath. A classroom full of young children see a mushroom cloud rise over the city from the parking lot in the distance.

The military scrambles to figure out a way to handle Godzilla, as he's on a clear path for Tokyo. Meanwhile, Baragon is moving on a clear path to confront Godzilla. Helicopters circling overhead, the two monsters collide in the countryside. Baragon puts in a strong effort for a fun and well directed fight sequence with some impressive special effects, but is no match for Godzilla on his own and ends up being completely destroyed.

Just as Baragon is getting killed, the old man smashes an ancient statue at the site of the sleeping King Ghidorah.

Yuri is injured at the scene of the Godzilla/Baragon battle, but that doesn't deter her from chasing after Godzilla with a camera so she can film the military's attack on Godzilla for a live television broadcast that is also streamed on the internet. Fighter jets hit Godzilla with a barrage of missiles, but they have no effect, of course. Godzilla just blasts the jets out of the sky. Some of the flaming wreckage blows a nearby house apart. Everything Godzilla does in this film results in bystanders losing their lives.

Since we last saw the Mothra larva, it has wrapped itself in a cocoon the size of an ocean liner. The cocoon breaks open and the Mothra imago climbs out and takes flight. This is a different take on Mothra, there is no Infant Island or Shobijin/Cosmos. However, in a nod to the fact that the kaiju is often accompanied by twin sisters, Kaneko takes a moment to show sister actresses Ai and Aki Maeda, wearing matching outfits, witness the flying creature passing overhead in Yokohama.

Military forces watch as Mothra blocks Godzilla's way in Yokohama. Despite having the ability to blast Godzilla with stingers, the monster doesn't accomplish much taking him on on her own. Luckily, King Ghidorah soon arrives.

It's with the new design of Ghidorah that monster designer Fuyuki Shinada was able to work in an homage to the disappointingly absent Varan - the faces of the dragon's three heads are meant to resemble the Unbelievable kaiju.

For the first time ever, King Ghidorah (smaller than Godzilla here because the dragon was awakened before it was finished re-growing) is presented in a heroic light. No longer a villain from space, now spirit-inhabited Guardian of Japan, Ghidorah wades into battle with Godzilla, and this time around we're meant to be rooting for the three-headed monster.

Root for him all you want, but King Ghidorah takes a beating and would be killed at the end of this fight if Mothra didn't swoop in and save his life.

With King Ghidorah and Mothra both down, the military steps in, even shooting Godzilla with missiles that drill into his skin before detonating. It's no use.

When Mothra is killed by Godzilla, her essence drifts over to King Ghidorah and revitalizes him. He rises as a super powered, mystical version of himself, surrounded by a swirling orb of magical energy, which lasts just long enough to absorb a blast of Godzilla's atomic breath and throw that energy back into him. This hit leaves a gaping wound in Godzilla's side.

As round two of Godzilla and King Ghidorah's fight continues underwater in a river, Admiral Taizo Tachibana comes up with the idea of using the Satsuma submersible to shoot a D3 warhead directly into Godzilla's wound.

With Tachibana closing in on the fighting monsters in the Satsuma, hoping to deliver the strike that will be fatal to the monster who has haunted him since he was a little boy, Yuri again risks her life to report on the final showdown.

And by the way, just because a Guardian Monster is dead doesn't mean you should count them out.

If you're a stickler for continuity and consistency in characters, GMK is not going to be the movie for you, with the way it ignores every Godzilla movie except for the original and completely reworks the origins and stories of Baragon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah. If you're the type of viewer who might ask "Why have Mothra and King Ghidorah in a movie if they're not the characters as we've known them?", then you should probably just skip this one.

If you can clear that hurdle and just go along with the story Shûsuke Kaneko, Kei'ichi Hasegawa, and Masahiro Yokotani are telling you, it's quite an enjoyable monster movie. It does wear out its welcome for me before the ending, I find the climactic battle goes on for way too long, making me ask questions like "How can there possibly still be 20 minutes left?", but it is a very solid monster movie with some incredible effects.

The whole "inhabited by spirits" angle goes over my western head, like most Japanese ghost stories, but it's an interesting approach, and the attempt to return to the roots of the franchise is an admirable one. There are nice references to Gojira '54 throughout, from the return to the Bonin Islands to a shot of Godzilla's head appearing over a hill.

GMK is an installment that goes all out in trying something new, taking full advantage of the Millennium era's "do whatever you want" style, which is respectable. Godzilla vs. Megaguirus had crafted an alternate history that ultimately seemed pointless because the filmmakers didn't pursue that angle enough. Kaneko fully committed to making the movie as if no other Mothra or King Ghidorah story had been told before, while also including nods here and there to show he knew what came before. His creation of an alternate history for these creatures makes sense for his story. It works.

GMK isn't one of my favorites, but it's a commendable effort.

No comments:

Post a Comment