Thursday, September 25, 2014

60 Years of Godzilla - Godzilla vs. Destoroyah

Godzilla is dead.

There were a few different concepts considered for the 1995 Godzilla film before Toho Studios and Godzilla series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka finally landed on the idea for Godzilla vs. Destoroyah.

The first story pitched was Godzilla vs. Bagan, which would have pitted Big G against a kaiju that was originally conceived for a rejected version of The Return of Godzilla, and was then going to be the villain of a 1990 Mothra movie that was cancelled after the box office failure of 1989's Godzilla vs. Biollante. For the third time, the idea of making a movie featuring Bagan was abandoned, and to this day the creature has never been in a film. It was, however, included in the 1993 video game Super Godzilla.

The next possibility was Godzilla vs. Barubaroi, for which concept art of the huge, many-eyed fish/whale beast Barubaroi exists, but no story details are known.

Then came the idea for Godzilla vs. Ghost Godzilla, a story which would prove that the Godzilla of the Heisei era that began with 1984's The Return of Godzilla is a different creature than the Godzilla of the original 1954 Gojira by having the modern Godzilla face off against the restless spirit of its 1954 counterpart, who was liquified into a pile of bones by Daisuke Serizawa's invention, the Oxygen Destroyer.

Ghost Godzilla was scrapped because the previous two films had been Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II and Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, and nobody wanted to run the idea of Godzilla fighting versions of himself into the ground.

Still, the idea of tying the film into the 1954 original stuck, especially when the decision was made that the Godzilla franchise should go dormant for a while.

There are rumors that special effects director Koichi Kawakita was trying to get a movie or TV spin-off starring Godzilla's "son" made around this time, to be called Little Godzilla's Underground Adventure, but Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth/MechaGodzilla II director Takao Okawara has denied that this was ever the case.

Okawara was hired to direct Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, his third Godzilla film, working from a screenplay by Kazuki Ohmori, who had previously written Godzilla vs. Biollante, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, and Godzilla and Mothra, and had also directed Biollante and King Ghidorah. The plan was that this would be the last Godzilla movie produced by Toho until Gojira's 50th anniversary in 2004. The reason for this decision is the fact that Hollywood was busy toiling away at developing their own take on Godzilla, as TriStar Pictures had purchased the rights to make a trilogy of American Godzilla movies from Toho in 1992. Screenwriters were working on the U.S. Godzilla script, a director was attached, TriStar was aiming for a summer 1996 release, so Toho wanted to step aside and let the Americans do their thing for a while.

The version of the American Godzilla movie that Toho wanted to avoid competing with fell apart and a different director ultimately brought a different script to the screen in 1998. In hindsight, Toho could have fit a couple more movies in before TriStar's came out, but they couldn't have known that at the time, and Destoroyah was designed to be the end of the Heisei era.

As the film begins, it is immediately made clear that something is very wrong with Godzilla. First, Birth Island, the small island where Godzilla and Little Godzilla had been living in SpaceGodzilla, is found to have sank into the sea, black smoke pouring out of the only part of it that remains above the surface.

Then Godzilla shows up in Hong Kong, making his first appearance just two and a half minutes into the movie.

Kenpachirô Satsuma donned the Godzilla outfit for the seventh and final time for Destoroyah, and although he's wearing the same costume as was used in the previous film, Godzilla is looking very different. Patches of his body are glowing red, with red streak running through other parts of his body. His dorsal plates glow red, as do his eyes. Steam is rising off of him. As he proceeds to wreak havoc in Hong Kong, he blasts atomic breath that isn't the normal blue, but the ugly red and yellow super-charged blasts like the one he dispatched SpaceGodzilla with.

Officials are able to deduce that Birth Island was destroyed due to a fission reaction of natural uranium caused by an eruption of hot water, which has also blasted Godzilla with more radiation than he can handle. Godzilla is essentially a living nuclear reactor and now he's overheating.

Such a possibility was theorized by a college student named Kenichi Yamane, the grandson of Doctor Yamane from the 1954 Gojira and the son of the orphaned island boy Yamane adopted in that film. This young Yamane studies Godzilla as a hobby, and now believes that Godzilla's internal fission will continue to go out of control until the king of the monsters explodes in a blast more powerful than every nuclear bomb on the planet being detonated at the same time. A blast that will cause the entire world to burn.

Yamane is recruited into the counter-Godzilla team G-Force so he can try to help come up with a plan for how to handle Godzilla. He turns the offer down at first, until he realizes he'll be working alongside psychic (whose ESP is said to be fading) Miki Saegusa, the character played by Megumi Odaka who has been in each of the films since Biollante. Miki's primary concern at the moment is locating Little Godzilla, who is missing since the destruction of Birth Island.

As Godzilla continues to rampage through Asia, no measures can be taken against him in fear that attacking him will speed him along to the catastrophic explosion. Yamane eventually comes to the realization that the only way to stop him is to bring back the Oxygen Destroyer, an invention so dangerous that Doctor Serizawa sacrificed himself in using it on Godzilla in '54 so no one would ever learn the secret of how to create it.

Yamane's aunt Emiko, Momoko Kôchi reprising her role from the original film, is deathly afraid that the recreation of the Oxygen Destroyer is under consideration. His sister Yukari, a TV reporter, has already been in contact with a scientist, Doctor Ijuin, who is working in the field of oxygen himself and has recently succeeded in micro-miniaturizing it, a breakthrough which has similarities to the Oxygen Destroyer.

Ijuin is soon witness to the danger of dabbling with oxygen, as the effects of 1954 use of the Oxygen Destroyer coincidentally start to make themselves known when the construction of the Tokyo Bay Undersea Tunnel stirs up the soil in the area where Serizawa activated his creation.

An elevator shaft in the tunnel melts. Fish are liquified into bone. A life form is discovered in the soil... A simple micro-organism that had been dormant in the soil since the Precambrian era more than two billion years ago, awakened by the Oxygen Destroyer, now evolving in an abnormal way.

Soon several of these mutated life forms, having grown to a size larger than a person, infest an industrial park. Police officers and heavily armed special forces report to a sub center, where they take on and are wiped out by these energy-blasting monsters in a sequence reminiscent of Aliens. Like a xenomorph, these things even have a second set of jaws on the tip of their tongues.

Reporting from the scene, Yukari has a very close call with one of the monsters.

When Godzilla nears a nuclear power plant, something has to be done. The Super-X III, a new version of the aircraft featured in The Return of Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Biollante, is sent in to try to deter him, with the hope that its cadmium-tipped missiles and cryogenic weapons will send Godzilla away without detonating him. Even though Godzilla is steaming hot, the Super-X III succeeds in making him frosty and sinking him in the water like an ice cube.

When Godzilla thaws out, it appears that his fission is back under control. It's briefly believed that crisis has been averted. But his temperature is soon on the rise again. Now he's now building up toward an explosion, he's heading for a meltdown. In less than three days, his body will literally melt with a heat so great that it will bore a hole in the Earth.

A normal-looking but smaller and slimmer Godzilla appears at a beach. It's not actually Godzilla himself. It's the baby Godzillasaur now having become a Godzilla Junior due to the event at Birth Island. Godzilla Junior is heading toward the island where his egg was discovered in Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II, and Godzilla is following him.

As the Godzillas make their way through the sea, defense forces continue their battle against the monsters created by the Oxygen Destroyer... Monsters which soon form together into one giant flying monster. Destoroyah is born. And the defense forces can't handle it.

The Oxygen Destroyer is needed to defeat Godzilla, and now here it is in the flesh, in the form of Destoroyah. The monsters must be made to fight. With Destoroyah rampaging around Tokyo, a plan is formulated to lure Godzilla Junior into the city, causing Godzilla to follow on a collision course with Destoroyah.

A reluctant Miki and an ESP-gifted cohort draw Godzilla Junior to Tokyo with their mental abilities. Destoroyah immediately attacks Junior upon his arrival in the city, and though he attempts to put up a fight, Junior is quickly overpowered. Destoroyah begins draining Godzilla Junior's energy from him while simultaneously injecting him with Micro-Oxygen. Nearly killing him. Luckily, he's gifted with atomic breath just like his father's.

Godilla soon arrives in Tokyo and has a touching reunion with Godzilla Junior... Until Destoroyah, having mutated to an even larger size, shows up and interrupts.

Godzilla, whose temperature is now at over two thousand degrees, wades into battle with Destoroyah for a rematch 40 years in the making... And Destoroyah has some abilities that make it a tough opponent. As the monsters fight to the death, Super-X III hangs around the area, prepared to blast Godzilla with its freezing weapons if he starts to melt.

Destoroyah is destroyed. Godzilla perishes. There was never any going back from the condition he was in. It's sad to see Goji die, it's not something we're used to. But this isn't the end for Godzilla, it's simply the end of an era, and the movie doesn't leave you on a complete bummer. There is a lining of hope in there. Godzilla may be gone, but Godzilla Junior lives... This isn't an element that would be picked up on when the series would eventually continue, it's just a nice note to end on.

Not only is this the end of the Heisei era, it's the swan song for composer Akira Ifukube, the man who created the iconic sound of Godzilla back in 1954 and provided the music for many of the films that followed. Although Ifukube's theme continues to be used, he himself never worked on another film. He passed away in 2006 at the age of 91.

This was also the final Godzilla film for producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who had not only been with the series since the beginning but was also the person who initially dreamed up the idea of Godzilla. Tanaka passed away in April of 1997, just a few weeks shy of his 87th birthday.

I wouldn't call Godzilla vs. Destoroyah a great movie, but it is an entertaining one, with an intriguing plot, some fun monster moments, nice callbacks to the first Gojira, and an emotional weight to it. If this were "The Last Godzilla Movie Ever, We Mean It", I'd want a little more from it, but for what it is it totally works.

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