Thursday, September 4, 2014

60 Years of Godzilla - Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II (1993)

Men rejoice, MechaGodzilla has returned!

Polls taken of the Japanese public had shown Toho Studios and Godzilla series franchise producer Tomoyuki Tanaka that men's favorite Godzilla opponents were King Ghidorah and MechaGodzilla, while the opposing kaiju who was the favorite of the women in the audience was Mothra. By this point in the new era of the series, the Heisei era that began with The Return of Godzilla in 1984, King Ghidorah had been featured in 1991's Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah and Mothra in 1992's Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth, so it's no surprise that the third film to come after that poll was conducted features the third character to top the results.

Wataru Mimura, who had written a rejected draft of Godzilla and Mothra, provided the screenplay for this new take on the Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla battle, with Godzilla and Mothra director Takao Okawara returning to bring Mimura's story to the screen.

The film kicks off with some exposition - Japan's Counter G Bureau, created to find a way to stop Godzilla's rampages, recruited the world's most brilliant scientists to build a machine to fight back against the king of the monsters. The first machine to be built was a robotic warship called Garuda, but its capabilities were found lacking. The scientists then began studying the remnants of MechaGhidorah, a cybernetically enhanced version of King Ghidorah that was created in 2204 and sent back in time to 1992 to battle Godzilla. (This happened in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.)

Using this future tech, the scientists built a second fighting machine, a towering robot made in Godzilla's image. MechaGodzilla. Powered by a nuclear reactor, armored with a heatproof alloy called NT-1, and equipped with a synthetic diamond protective shield that reflects heat back to its source, MechaGodzilla is Japan's greatest hope in the fight against Godzilla.

We're then introduced to a young man named Kazuma Aoki, who was on the team that built Garuda. Kazuma is proud of his creation and still believes that it's better than MechaGodzilla. Unfortunately for him, he has just been recruited to G-Force, where he will be one of MechaGodzilla's four pilots.
Kazuma's G-Force training montage makes it clear that he doesn't fit in with this group.

Meanwhile, on the "nuclear waste junkyard" that is Adonoa Island, a team doing a geological survey has discovered the fossil of a pteranodon, a winged dinosaur. Near the fossil is a large egg, obviously a dinosaur egg, and the remains of a second that appears to have hatched.

The creature that hatched out of that egg soon appears on the island: the radiation-mutated pteranodon Rodan. Rodan perches himself on a rocky outcropping... and out in the ocean, there are flashes of light, followed by a blast of atomic breath aimed directly at Rodan.

Godzilla rises from the sea, making his first appearance 13 minutes into the movie, with Kenpachiro Satsuma once against playing Goji in a suit designed by special effects artist Koichi Kawakita.

As the humans escape from the island in a helicopter with the egg, Godzilla and Rodan launch into a vicious battle with each other. Rodan repeatedly pecks Godzilla during their fight, and oddly this causes sparks to fly from the point of impact. Perhaps a misdirect that references the fact that MechaGodzilla was disguised as the real Godzilla when it first appeared in the 1974 version of Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla?

The egg is taken to Kyoto to be examined at the National Institute of Biotechnics. It's noted that the egg seems to change color based on the emotions of the embryo within. Specifically, it turned red when it was taken away from the island. Now it keeps turning red any time a female technician named Azusa isn't around.

This element reminded me of the female technicians bonding with the creatures in their care in Frankenstein Conquers the World and The War of the Gargantuas.

Coincidentally, Kazuma is a pteranodon enthusiast, so he rushes over to the National Institute of Biotechnics to take pictures as soon as he hears the place has a pteranodon egg. On his way out, he manages to pocket a sample of a prehistoric plant that was taken from Adonoa Island.

As they sit beside each other at lunch, Kazuma's psychic Counter G Bureau co-worker Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka returning to the role she had played in every Godzilla movie since Godzilla vs. Biollante) picks up the fact that something imperceptible to the average person is emanating from the plant sample he has.

Kazuma and Miki take the plant to the psychic children of the Mental Development Center, who are able to tell that what's coming from the plant is music. When that music is fed into a computer and recorded onto a cassette tape that is then played at the Biotechnics institute, the tune causes machinery to go haywire and short out and the incubator around the egg to shatter.

The egg hatches. And from within emerges not a pteranodon but a baby godzillasaur, an herbivore branch of the Godzilla family, said to be not as aggressive as the dinosaur that Godzilla was before he was irradiated.

Immediately after the egg hatches, Godzilla arrives on mainland Japan and begins wrecking the place.

MechaGodzilla is activated and sent off to confront Godzilla, with a backup pilot in Kazuma's place since he's off at the institute instead of being where he's supposed to be.

Godzilla and his robot doppelganger do battle, and first the mecha version just pummels Goji with its shoulder-mounted missiles, the energy beams it blasts from its eyes and mouth, the heat beam shot from its abdomben, and the "shock anchor" tasers launched from its wrists. The observers at the Counter G Bureau start getting cocky about their creation's abilities. But these guys haven't picked up the fact that electricity rejuvenates Godzilla, and thus employing the shock anchors against him was a very bad idea. Goji sends the electricity back up the line into the robot, shorting it out, then smashes the immobile hunk of metal to the ground.

Godzilla proceeds toward Kyoto, with the regular military forces attempting to impede his progress but proving to be as useless as ever.

Godzilla is, of course, in search of the baby godzillasaur, but is unable to locate it because he's hidden in an underground section of the institute. Sensing Godzilla's presence, the godzillasaur's eyes glow red... When Godzilla can't find the baby, he returns to the ocean.

With Godzilla gone (for now), MechaGodzilla is taken back to its home base for repairs and the godzillasaur is taken to live in the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasure Center, given its own habitat that's made to look like an area for wildlife even though it's inside a building. Azusa cares for him there, with Kazuma visiting to check in on the baby and woo the girl.

By studying the godzillasaur, scientists discover that Godzilla's kind have two brains, with the second one located low on its back, around the base of its tail. The next time MechaGodzilla goes into action against Godzilla, it will have an attack plan codenamed G-Crusher. It will attack Goji from behind, focusing on the location of his second brain, and paralyze him by destroying it.

Basically, this movie is saying that Godzilla's weak point is his ass.

When Miki brings the psychic kids over to visit the baby godzillasaur, they perform a choral rendition of the music that was emitted by the prehistoric plant. This proves to be not such a great idea, because not only does hearing the music increase the baby's strength and aggression, it also revives the Godzilla-beaten Rodan out on Adonoa Island. Rodan takes flight with energy coursing through his body, now graced with the ability to blast a purple heat beam from his mouth.

The baby godillasaur's time at the Countermeasure Center is cut short when G-Force comes up with a plan to lure Godzilla to the remote and uninhabted Ogasawara Islands using the baby as bait.

Miki is recruited to be a MechaGodzilla crew member so she can use her psychic powers to pinpoint the exact location of Godzilla's second brain and the mecha can target it more accurately.

The godzillasur is placed in a shipping container to be flown to the islands, and Azusa chooses to ride in the container with it. That turns out to be a harrowing experience for her when Rodan, sensing the baby's fear of what's being done to it, arrives to disrupt the transfer operation. When the super-powered radioactive dinosaur flies past the helicopter carrying the shipping container, the helicopter explodes. The container drops through the sky... but Rodan catches it before it can smash into the sea and carries it back to the mainland.

Rodan flies around Chiba City, causing mass destruction, and MechaGodzilla is deployed to take him on. Kazuma is no longer a MechaGodzilla pilot at this point, but he has been working on Garuda in his spare time, so when he hears that Azusa and the baby are in trouble he flies the original fighting machine into battle alongside MechaG.

Unfortunately, Garuda wasn't made to battle a flying adversary, so it doesn't fare well in the aerial dogfight Kazuma engages Rodan in.

MechaGodzilla does much better against the pteranodon, and as you can expect from this era of the films, since the movies had healthy budgets at this time and the suitmation and model work had been refined over the course of nearly forty years, the mecha/kaiju battles in this film look incredible. One moment that really wowed me was when MechaGodzilla blasts Rodan backwards into the center of a large building.

After MechaGodzilla has delivered a beating to Rodan, Godzilla arrives on the scene to deliver another beating to MechaGodzilla, smashing the robot to the ground again and whipping it with his tail for good measure. Getting Garuda working again, Kazuma flies in to save the day, attaching his robot to the back of the robot that was meant to replace it, creating Super MechaGodzilla.

Although Miki is hesitant to pinpoint Godzilla's second brain, she is ordered to do so. Super MechaGodzilla locks in on the target. The horrific G-Crusher plan is carried out. Godzilla's second brain is destroyed. It appears that this could be the end of the king's reign.

The baby godzillasur doesn't react well to the fact that Godzilla is being killed, however. It calls in a favor with its powerful "half brother" Rodan, and with his dying breath Rodan performs a very impressive feat that regenerates Godzilla's second brain and allows Goji to rise from defeat stronger than ever before.

There was consideration given to actually killing off Godzilla in this film, but having his energy then mutate the baby godzillasaur into a new Godzilla. The filmmakers decided not to do that here, but the idea was not forgotten.

Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II is a flat-out awesome movie, fast paced, action packed, exciting, and highly entertaining.

I greatly prefer this one over the three previous films, which had been written by Kazuki Ohmori. Although I like Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah and Godzilla and Mothra (and vs. Biollante to a much lesser degree), I find it relieving that Ohmori didn't return to write this movie, which benefits from not being burdened with another of his awkward scripts.

Wataru Mimura didn't do anything all that groundbreaking with the concept, but he and Takao Okawara certainly delivered a fun adventure.

The fact that the series would return to Minya/Minira/Minilla territory with the introduction of the godzillasaur is surprising, but it works because the baby is totally adorable.

Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had felt that Biollante underperformed because audiences weren't interested in seeing a monster they weren't familiar with. After three successful installments that brought Shōwa era kaiju and mecha into the Heisei era, the series was about to feature a new monster again... but one which was still very familiar, in a way.

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