Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Part Seven: Godzillas of the Mind

Concluding my weeklong series examining this 1991 monster/time travel/cyborg/political philosophy epic.

Godzilla walks across countryside

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.

Meeting room

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.

Chuck Wilson

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.

Shindo

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.

Godzilla

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.

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Part Six: The Problem with Godzilla

Continuing my weeklong series examining this 1991 monster/time travel/cyborg/political philosophy epic.

Ghidorah lightning

With Ghidorah no longer under Futurian control, Godzilla is able to turn the battle in his favor, even destroying one of his opponent’s three heads. Ghidorah tries to escape, but a final blast from Godzilla sends it crashing into the ocean — where it will lie comatose for the next two hundred years. Remeber the opening submarine sequence? That sequence has, now, become the future. But the time paradoxes of that opening will get more tangled yet. His immediate enemy vanquished, Godzilla continue on his way to Tokyo.

Back in the Futurian’s timeship, the evil Futurians explain that while Emmy and Terasawa might think they’ve won, there are two problems: an unstoppable Godzilla has now begun a rampage that will leave Japan a radioactive ruin. The very future they lied about is going to come true. In addition, there is a fail-safe that even Emmy did not know about. An emergency countdown has started to automatically returned them to their own era. To stop this escape, and get some ironic revenge, Emmy and M-11 teleport the entire Futurian craft right in front of Godzilla, who finishes them off in his typically radioactive fire breathing style.

Shindo & Godzilla

There is still the problem of Godzilla marching through the heart of Tokyo. Even Shindo is beginning to realize things looks bad and is told “this is not the dinosaur you knew.”His savior is crushing the very reborn nation that Shindo helped build. Quietly he acknowledges that fact and refuses to evacuate even as Godzilla arrives literally at his doorstep. There is a moment of them staring into each other’s eyes. Shindo is no doubt thinking of the dinosaur he looked at back in 1944. Even though he sees Death, he accepts it from Godzilla, like a debt he owes an old friend.

Godzilla destroys Shindo’s towering headquarters, and proceeds to level everything else in his path. This sequence is again done in the classic effects style pioneered by Eiji Tsuburaya, of a man in a suit crushing model buildings amidst smoke and flame and explosions. A lot has been updated since 1954 in how this classic monster movie situation is presented. Godzilla’s ponderous tread crashes through the streets into the substructure of the city. There are multiple shots from inside the buildings as Godzilla destroys them. Most strikingly is that the modern Tokyo skyline towers above Godzilla, even after the modern rebirth of the monster has created a Godzilla of 100 meters in height, twice his size in 1954. Something that might take a moment for western viewers to appreciate is that the building Godzilla rampages through are models of real locations, very recognizable landmarks, such as the The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It’s part of the appeal of monster movies to see such familiar sites destroyed. Though for all the devastation, we can take some comfort that few lives, even fictional lives, are being lost (aside from a few courageous soldiers). There have been the traditional sequences of civilians evacuating as the disaster approaches —and as also seems traditional, you can catch glimpses of children smiling at the fun of performing in such as scene.

Japan’s only hope? Emmy and M-11 travel forward in time to 2204 and our prologue scene, where Ghidorah is found on the ocean floor. But as Emmy explains what she wants to the her companion in the sub, he comments on how Godzilla, in the current timeline, has left Japan a broken, needy nation. So this is not the future that Emmy originally left, one where Japan, led by the Teiyo Group, had dominated the world. Time can be changed, though it would seem Emmy, being outside her normal place in time, in unaffected, and still recalls her original past. The plan is to restore the crippled Ghidorah as a cyborg, and bring it back to 1992 to fight Godzilla.

Godzilla & Skyline

Back in that year, Godzilla fights off the Japanese Self Defense Force and crushes a lot of the city before the time traveling MechaGhidorah appears and attacks. The rematch is another mostly beam battle as the monsters shoot energy attacks at each other. Mechanical versions of Godzilla are a staple in the movies (and there was a MechaKong in Ishiro Honda’s 1967 King Kong Escapes and in 1993 there will be a Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla) so this cyborg Ghidorah was fun to see. In operation it is something closer to the giant robots so common in Japanese anime, being under the direct control Emmy in a pilot’s chair, with M-11 operating as an AI assistant. The MechaGhidorah suit/puppet looks cool, but is too awkward to do much else. The resolution of the battle is also unsatisfying, with an exhausted, but essentially unconquered Godzilla dumped in the ocean. There’s no anti-nuclear bacteria to restrain him, and no particular reason he couldn’t just continue his assault on Japan — for whatever motivation he had to do so in the first place.

With Godzilla at least deterred from his attack on Japan, we are on the threshold of a new future. It is not clear how many different time lines have existed, been created, and subsequently erased over the course of this movie. This is not the timeline where Shindo and the Teiyo group lead Japan to world domination. This is not the future where Godzilla reduced Japan to radioactive poverty. What future is Emmy actually returning to? We, in the present day, still have a Godzilla to deal with in this series of movies, which has a long run ahead.

Next time we conclude by looking at where we have ended up after all this. What would you see if you looked into Godzilla’s eyes?