Continuing my weeklong series examining this 1991 monster/time travel/cyborg/political philosophy epic.
When we left off last time, the twin story lines of this film merged together, as all the characters get onboard the same plot.
Despite that unification, the weight of this elaborately complicated premise begins to cause some cracks in the logical structure of this movie. The inherent paradoxes of time travel begin to show. More important is the issue of why these three from the 20th Century are required for the mission. There is some talk of needing people who have been born yet in 1944, to avoid the same person existing twice in the same time, but that doesn’t explain how they are to help in the first place. Prof. Mazaki himself states, after the mission, that “we barely did a thing.” Only Miki Saegusa has much of a function, her psychic link confirming the godzillasaurus is, or will be, “our” Godzilla. This is the first of several points in the film where I wonder if the final script, or more particularly, the English translation of the script, didn’t communicate something important from the original story.
An agreement is made that the three 20th century characters, along with Emmy and a human robot called M-11, will go back to 1944 Lagos and carry out the mission. Also along for the ride are three cute bat-like animals, called Dorats. Emmy explains that they are genetically engineered creatures, essentially emotional support pets from their future.
The time travelers arrive in 1944, just as the US Navy is about to take Lagos from the ragged Japanese soldiers stationed there. Two officers see the arrival of the time craft as it shoots over head. I mentioned that the Americans playing the Futurians have limited acting ability, but a good command of Japanese language. What works much less well is the performance of these English speaking sailors. I grew up watching Godzilla movies that were excessively edited and very poorly dubbed into English. It’s a standard joke to poke fun at them for it. Dubbing has gotten a lot better (usually; I find the English dub of Shin Godzilla to be unbearable), but it is a pleasure, in the blu-ray era, to watch subtitled and unedited versions of these movies. Yet Japanese producers have their own problems using English speakers. From the infamous “You can tell your son about it when he’s born… Major Spielberg” to the later “Take that you dinosaur!” this actual English sounds much like someone comedically making a parody of those old, bad dubs. It’s odd that they couldn’t find an actual American actor able to do basic line readings. It remains a persistent problem. Even in 2018’s Shin Godzilla, a major character, Kayoko Ann Patterson, is supposed to be a Japanese-American, a bilingual diplomat, but it’s painfully obvious the actor is not a native speaker of English —or even fluent beyond the ability to memorize lines. She at least is a capable actress in her own language, unlike Major Spielberg and company.
The US shelling of the island is just beginning as the time travelers arrive. M-11 can easily ignore the explosions and locates Major Shindo and his squad. As mentioned, this movie is not only borrowing some plot elements from the Terminator franchise, it is borrowing a Terminator as well. M-11 has robot toughness, strength, and speed. This speed is represented by a confusing mix of special effects techniques. Sometimes his run is sped up and he leaves a motion trail behind him. Other times he is in a stylized simulation slow motion run, as was done for the 1970’s 6 Million Dollar Man TV series. Most memorable are the shots of M-11 miming running motions while behing pulled along on a wheeled platform of some sort. It is a very strange, almost unsettling technique that does not look “real” in any way. What it does look like is a very similar running effect used by the “Kemur Man” in an episode of the 1966 Japanese science fiction series Ultra Q. While not widely seen in the United States, Ultra Q was such a foundational show for Japanese science fiction — and the special effects giant monster genre — that this running technique could well be an homage that most Japanese viewers would have understood.
M-11 finds Major Shindo in the middle of a speech to his men. They must fight and die bravely for the spirit of their nation. Their suicidal battle with the Americans is interrupted by the appearance of a huge carnivorous dinosaur. Recall the stories of this creature arriving to save the Japanese soldiers from their attackers. We see in the actual events that it hardly notices their presence. The American forces do attack it, and it responds, motivated by nothing more than self-defense and territory. Small arms fire has little effect and the dinosaur wipes out most of the US forces (primarily by knocking trees on them, in a sequence that borders on being humorous in its repetition). Artillery is much more effective and the godzillasaurus is badly injured in some very graphically bloody shots. These are the only scenes with blood in the entire movie, as violent as it gets. These injuries only stun the dinosaur for a moment, and it soon stomps the rest of the US soldiers. These scenes are some of the most controversial of the film, particularly for those who made an argument that it is intended to be anti-American.
Major Shindo, having seen all this, begins to develop his delusional interpretation that the dinosaur was some kind of sacred savior. He is in tears that his men cannot treat its wounds or otherwise repay its service to them. The only way that can honor the animal’s sacrifice is to return home and build a stronger Japan. Shindo’s moving speech has a profound effect on his men. A narrative is being constructed. Masukichi Ikehata must have, over the years, replaced his own memories of what happened on the island with Shindo’s interpretation. The dinosaur itself, weak and wounded, watches, but is most likely thinking that these men would make a nice snack to help get its strength back.
And speaking of watching, the time travelers have been quietly observing all these events. When Shindo and his men depart, they make their move. Miki psychically identifies the dinosaur as the same creature she knew in 20th Century — which is to say, the Godzilla who came out of the ocean in 1984, and then later fought Biollante.
In one of the movie’s few uses of (not so great) computer graphic special effects, the dinosaur is scanned and teleported away to the Bering Straight. An important question: why such effort to transport the animal away? Why not, to be blunt, just kill it? Given subsequent problems, both internal to the story, and to our external understanding of the time paradoxes that are being generated, that would have made things a lot simpler. Nobody mentions preserving it for study in some future era. Then, if they don’t want to destroy it, why do they think it won’t just drown in the ocean? This is still just a dinosaur, not the amphibious Godzilla. It’s another case where a possible explanation might not have come across in the script’s translation to English.
The time travelers consider their mission to prevent the creation of Godzilla a great success. Emmy though has one more thing to do: she releases the Dorats onto Lagos island. When questioned about what she is doing, Emmy quickly orders M-11 to take them back to the 20th Century.
The 1992 they arrive in is one where they expect the timeline has been changed. People make statements about how “Godzilla has vanished!” With the dinosaur not having been on Lagos Island during nuclear testing, it was never mutated into Godzilla. But if that Godzilla had never been, why do people even remember him? That’s seems an important question, but nobody has a chance to ask it as a new monster has suddenly appeared: King Ghidorah.