Concluding my weeklong series examining this 1991 monster/time travel/cyborg/political philosophy epic.
Throughout Godzilla vs King Ghidorah the question that comes up again and again is “what to do about Godzilla?” That never gets asked without also meaning “What do we do about Japan?” The fate of the two are always connected. Politics is frequently an element of Godzilla movies. An important plot point of 1984’s Return of Godzilla was the country’s refusal to allow atomic weapons to be used against Godzilla. In 1962 King Kong vs Godzilla mocked the intrusion of American commercialized popular culture into 60’s Japan. 2018’s Shin Godzilla was a satire of Japanese internal politics as much or more than a giant monster movie. In many stories, particularly in the Showa era, the primary danger is not Godzilla or other monsters directly, but some outside force trying to invade or conquer Japan, with the monsters being used as pawns or weapons. These foreigners usually appear as meddling space aliens. It is a refreshing twist in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah that we are dealing with Time Travelers. The issues they have come through time to deal with are not extraterrestrial, but the politics of Japan’s unusual position in a world heading towards the 21st Century.
Characters are in this film are defined by their goals, their reactions to the ongoing disasters. The convoluted premise results in several different factions working to deal with the looming threats. How they plan to deal with the danger, and how they choose to interact with the other groups, is shaped by their interpretations of what Godzilla actually is.
First we have the “ordinary” people of present day of Japan. Journalist Terasawa wants to understand where Godzilla came from and where he fits into Japan’s 20th Century history, as both an aggressor, and as a victim of what nuclear weapons can unleash. Miki Saegusa’s current work seems to be monitoring Godzilla status as he sleeps in the ocean, after the events of Godzilla vs Biolante. Her organization recognizes the threat of Godzilla while also having an interest in understanding him. To them Godzilla is a problem, a living natural disaster that needs to be dealt with. Knowledge is the most effective route to that goal. Professor Yosuke Mazaki also wants to learn about Godzilla as a living creature, a survivor of the dinosaur era. He does not ultimately do much in the story, besides provide some exposition. Scientists are ever-present characters in Godzilla movies. Sometimes there are of central importance to the story (as in Godzilla 1954) but other times there are just ways of getting across facts and explanations.
The official authorities, the government and military, have to deal with an immediate threat. A giant monster is stomping on their country right now and they have to do something about it. The need to act quickly doesn’t encourage the best choices. They go along with the Futurian’s plans, they call out the self defense forces, they are willing to create a new Godzilla to deal with the mess of their previous decisions. Government is not the bad guy nor run by militaristic fools, but they are primarily reactive, rather than pro-active.
The Futurian view is that Godzilla is Japan. In trying to remove Godzilla from history they are trying to remove Japan from their image of what the future should be. Within the Futurians themselves there are two factions. Wilson wants Japan weak and helpless — and thus with no Godzilla at all. Emmy’s motivations are, as I’ve mentioned, are a little unclear in the script. She believes that all nations, including Japan, should be equal. We can only assume that she saw the creation of King Ghidorah as birthing a force that could counterbalance Japan’s future aggression. I also wonder about the fate of Godzilla in her original timeline. Since in her history Shindo’s submarine would not have been sent after Godzilla, he would not have gotten his power-up. Maybe this weaker Godzilla, sickened by anti-nuclear bacteria, would have been something her century kept under control. I wish someone had asked her about that. In a story with more character motivations than any Godzilla movie since 1954, this was a missed opportunity.
The character with the most complex internal view of Godzilla is Yasuaki Shindo. He also identifies Godzilla with Japan. When the story of this film was first being publicized there was brief kerfuffle in news about the USA being the bad-guys in this movie. Americans from the future want to stop Japan from becoming a world dominating power. The truth is that while the Furturians are European-looking, nothing identifies them as American. What make the matter murky is the flashback/time travel scenes in World War II. To consider this sequence as Godzilla defending Japanese troops by killing invading US forces is to miss a fundamental theme of the movie’s story. Whatever Yasuaki Shindo came to believe, the godzillasaurus did not really appear as a protective savior to the Japanese soldiers. Shindo projects his own feelings onto Godzilla. He is a self-deluding veteran trying to find something that makes the sacrifices and suffering of the war worthwhile.
And then there is Godzilla himself. Future movies, particularly the ones made in the 2000’s, explore several variations on the “why” of Godzilla’s actions. In this film, what Godzilla truly is to himself, inside his staring, snarling head, is unknown to us. When he and Shindo stare at each other, what does Godzilla see? Does he even recognize that Shindo is a living being, let alone that they once had a very different encounter? We do not know. We do not know the mind of Godzilla.