Continuing my weeklong series examining this 1991 monster/time travel/cyborg/political philosophy epic.
Notes of ominous, but familiar, music play. The creator of the classic music of Godzilla, Akira Ifukube, has returned for the first time in 16 years to score this film. The date 2204 AD appears as a deep sea vehicle scans the ocean floor. It discovers something as immediately familiar to Godzilla fans as Ifukube’s compositions: the body of the three-headed monster King Ghidorah — though it is missing one of heads after a 20th Century battle with Godzilla, as one of two mysterious figures aboard the sub explains to the other. Abruptly we return to 1992, as high above the lights of downtown Tokyo as we were deep under the sea.
Themes of time, the flow of history, and the effects of events centuries apart are already established. Time travel will be a major plot device in this story as it unfolds. Though how exactly it works, how history can be altered and rewritten will, unfortunately, not be well explained. Don’t forget that flash forward to 2204 and what it depicts — though the whole concept of a “flash forward” gets complicated in a time travel movie. We will eventually see that the 2204 scenes comes from timeline that actually hadn’t even been created “yet.” And that isn’t the biggest chronological paradox this movie will leave us with.
Our panorama of the huge present day city is invaded by a flying saucer. Countless thousands experience this close encounter. One witness observes from the roof of the “National Institute for Super Science.” It is Miki Saegusa, whom we met in the previous movie in this series, Godzilla vs. Biollante. Saegusa is a psychic researcher with a mysterious mental link with Godzilla. Appearing in six films of this series, she is a rare example of a reoccurring character in Godzilla movies. Many of the same actors can be seen throughout these monster sagas, but playing different roles. Curiously, while we see signs in English with the name of the organization that Saegusa works for, the subtitles refer to it as the “Paranormal Research Center.”Maybe the people tasked with localizing the movie thought an American audience would think “Super Science” sounded silly. I find “Paranormal Research Center” forgettably bland.
The next day newspapers are full of reports about the UFO. Science fiction author and reporter Kenichiro Terasawa gets a call from his editor at Super Mystery Magazine to cover the incident. Terasawa has little interest in such things. He’d rather look for a crazy old man who has been causing a ruckus at dinosaur museums. It is a little shocking that he would turn down what could be the story of the century (a real UFO!) to go after such a frivolous lead — but judging by the lavish, stylishly furnished house that Terasawa lives in, he must be successful enough to choose his own assignments. We will see that Terasawa is interested in tracking down the origins of Godzilla, which in his world is serious journalism: a very real, very imminent threat to all civilization, not a bit of column filler such as a UFO sighting could be.
For the next act, the film will continue along two plots that appear, for a time, unrelated. Scenes alternate between them, but I’ll look at them each one at a time.
Unconcerned about the UFO, Terasawa peruses his lead about the dinosaur fanatic. Masukichi Ikehata is a World War II veteran who objects to dinosaurs being taken frivolously. There is a real dinosaur out there, he claims, watching over and protecting Japan, even as the country grows too comfortable and complacent. When needed, this sacred being will return. Terasawa learns the tale of how, back in 1944, when Ikehata squad was trapped on the small Pacific island of Lagos, about to be destroyed by the advancing American Navy, a dinosaur appeared and drove off their enemies. Ikehata praises the creature for rescuing them. Yet, after a moment of retrospection, he does consider that maybe the animal was just defending its territory.
Terasawa looks into the potential of truth in the veteran’s story by checking with paleontologist Hironori Masaki. The professor is a believer that dinosaurs might still exist so doesn’t dismiss the possibility. To Terasawa this is a piece of the puzzle he’d been assembling: the dinosaur, surviving on this Pacific island, would have been exposed to radiation from H-bomb tests, and might have mutated into the monster Godzilla.
There is someone else who could support by testimony of Ikehata, another soldier who had been stationed at Lagos: Yasuaki Shindo, now the powerful and wealthy leader of the Teiyo Group, a massive industrial corporation. Shindo is an enthusiastic dinosaur aficionado, but when Terasawa interviews him, he laughs at the idea that a dinosaur could be alive today. Mention of Lagos causes him to storm out of the room — until the idea that the dinosaur became Godzilla halts his exit. Shindo backs up Ikehata’s story, and even provides photographic proof. To him, this dinosaur did not just save their lives, but inspired the survivors to return home and rebuild their country.
Meanwhile, the institute of Super Science has been assisting the government in figuring out just what the UFO was up to. Miki Saegusa explains that its path took it over the spot in the ocean where Godzilla sleeps, still under the effects of the anti-nuclear bacteria used on him in Godzilla vs. Biollante. The military is searching for the mystery vehicle, and seems to have found it when two helicopters are blown out of the sky near Mt. Fuji. Strangely, this incident is never mentioned again, even in discussions to come over whether the UFO’s occupants can be trusted. The dangerous lives of military pilots in a Godzilla movie are rarely heralded.
Contact is eventually made with the strange visitors who turn out to be, not extraterrestrials, but time travelers from the future. When I was a kid watching a movie such as Invasion of the Astro-Monster (Ishiro Honda, 1965) I thought it odd that the space aliens invading Earth looked Japanese. In my childhood racism I assumed the “default” ethnic appearance was Caucasian. But why would it be any more expected that they’d would be white westerners than Asian? Which, half a thought later, should lead to the ridiculousness of extraterrestrials appearing human in any way. In Godzilla vs King Ghidorah we at least are sticking with humans.
We meet three of these “Futurians.” One, named Wilson, seems American. Another, named Grenchiko, might be a Russian..? The third is Emmy, who proudly announces she is Japanese. American actors have appearing in Godzilla films on several occasions, from Raymond Burr being edited into the US version of the 1954 Godzilla, to Nick Adams in Invasion of the Astro-Monster, to wrestler Don Frye in Godzilla: Final Wars. Almost always though these actors get their voices re-dubbed into Japanese. The western Futurians speak in fluent Japanese, indeed that largely is why their actors were hired for the parts. Their stiff, carefully formal manner actually suits them.
It starts to sink in that much of Godzilla vs King Ghidorah is a homage to the Terminator film series. People from the future travel back in time to prevent a disaster by changing the past. Here the disaster is not a cyborg Judgment Day, but Godzilla’s eventual destruction of Japan. And even though this apocalypse isn’t caused by mechanical murder machines, the story will soon introduce M-11, a superhuman robot who does a lot of Terminator-like stunts.
The Futurians have discovered a book from our era that explains Godzilla’s origins as a mutated dinosaur: the very book that Terasawa has been researching in order to write. Their plan is to find this animal, which comes to be known as a godzillasaurus, and relocate it away from its island home. It will never get exposed to atomic testing and thus never become Godzilla. To help them in this task, they claim to need three people from our time: Terasawa, Prof. Mazaki, and Miki Saegusa. They will accompany the Futurians back to 1944.