Continuing my weeklong series examining this 1991 monster/time travel/cyborg/political philosophy epic.
It turns out that most of the Futurians’ story was a ruse. In their future, Japan is actually the dominant power in the world and their true goal is not just to remove Godzilla from history, but create a different monster that will be under their control, and use it to cripple Japan. The Dorats were dropped off on Lagos to undergo the atomic mutation. Now where King Ghidorah has been since the 1950’s when it would have been created is not explained, but it not that big a plot hole. The Futurians might have included genetic programming in the Dorats so that Ghidorah would be dormant until they called on in 1992. Something like that.
With the appearance of King Ghidorah, the movie as a whole begins a transformation. It’s not wrong to say that the special effects are the main point of any Godzilla movie. Giant monster films are considered part of the “tokusatsu,” literally “special filming,” genre. Godzilla vs King Ghidorah is a surprisingly mixed bag in its effects. There are some remarkably bad compositing shots, for instance when a live character is put in front of a background made of a miniature set and models, there are very distinct matte line around their edges. The 1967 Ultraman TV series had much more impressive compositing work. That series was produced by the company founded by Eiji Tsuburaya, the man who largely created the miniature and monster suit style. By the time the 90’s Godzilla movies were being made, the special effects were done by a generation of artists and technicians trying to live up to Tsuburaya’s legacy. The rampage of the godzillasaurus worked well enough. It tried to portray humans in conflict with a very large creature, though not a towering titan such as Godzilla. There was just a bit too much reliance on shots of giant feet looming over cringing soldiers. The movie is now going to get into monster action and the destruction on the scale we expect in this genre.
It doesn’t start out well. King Ghidorah is first revealed by its shadow as it soars high above — but the cast area of darkness is ridiculously small, given the monster’s size. Several sequences follow of the airborne monster attacking with its lightning-like breath weapon. Explosions are optically combined over footage of actual bridges and buildings. That technique looks… okay. I concede that I might be an especially harsh critic on this subject, having worked in compositing visual effects myself for some years.
Soon the monster lands in an intricately modeled city and starts smashing and blasting physical models, surrounded by real pyrotechnic explosions, showers of sparks, and billowing clouds of smoke. Akira Ifukube’s score swells over the destruction and for the first time it really feels like we are watching a Godzilla movie, and not a Japanese imitation of a Hollywood blockbuster.
The Futurians have revealed themselves fully now. They will spare a little of Japan if the government agrees to surrender and install a special computer to control the nation. One person shocked by this is Emmy. She did not know the extent of her comrades’ plans. As she explains to Terasawa, after fleeing from her comrades’ UFO, in her time Japan is an unrivaled hegemonic power. Her organization only sought to equalize Japan’s place in the world. She claims to be shocked and horrified at King Ghidorah, but she was instrumental in its creation, so it is hard to imagine what she was expecting to take place. In any case she is not a fanatical terrorist as Wilson and Grenchiko are ultimately revealed to be.
How to do that since no force on Earth can match King Ghidorah, now that Godzilla no longer exists? Or does he? That’s an important and problematic question. Even though everyone has memories of Godzilla, and the events of the previous two movies still have happened, everyone agrees that Godzilla is no more. He vanished from his sleeping location in the Sea of Japan just as King Ghidorah appeared. The time mission appeared to have worked. Yet shortly after returning to the 20th Century, Terasawa gets a phone call that his book about Godzilla’s origins will be published — a book about an event he has just travelled through time to prevent from having happened. That could have been a significant clue that something is going on, something that contradicts the assumptions everyone has been working with since the time mission. It’s an example of how, with a slight reworking, many of the confusing and paradoxical elements of this movie could have been cleared up.
To fight Ghidorah they need a Godzilla, so they will make one. And Shindo is more than happy to reveal his Teiyo Group possesses a nuclear submarine! All sorts of international laws are being broken here, but at least he is keeping it out of Japanese waters. The plan is to use that sub to irradiate the godzillasaurus that has slept in the Bering Straight and make a new Godzilla to fight Ghidorah. As plans go, that has to get a prize for unrepentant craziness. Shindo is very serious about it. After all, that dinosaur from 1944 was supposed to be Japan’s spirit and guardian. “Godzilla was my savior,” he says. He gives little thought to the death and destruction Godzilla has caused in the past, or what a new monster would unleash. Shindo has a chance to make a new Godzilla, one born to fulfill the image of a sacred protector he’d held in his mind for decades. Emmy is not surprised that Shindo has such resources. In her time, the power Teiyo Group is one of the main reasons for Japan’s dominance. Maybe the Futurians have some justification to fear the coming of this future Japan?