Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Part Five: Everything Old is New Again

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

There’s a problem. Saegusa is still receiving mental impressions from Godzilla, as if the monster does still exist. This is backed up by scans that show Godzilla’s energy signature in the Bering Strait. It turns out that the Soviet Union lost a nuclear sub in that area (the date this happened in not stated clearly, which is too bad, since it would have helped establish the sequence of events). Could it be that this was the event that mutated the godzillasaurus? The whole H-bomb test at Lagos theory might have been wrong. Time has not changed at all and Godzilla still exists. Maybe time cannot be changed, even if time travel is possible. Except that we will eventually see that it can.

Oxygen Destroyer

It is worth mentioning, briefly, that the Godzilla who appeared in 1954 is a separate monster in both the Showa series (Godzilla movies from 1954 to 1975) and this, the Heisei series of movies. That first Godzilla was disintegrated by the Oxygen Destroyer weapon. It doesn’t often get mentioned but it can help to occasionally remember that fact, especially when trying solve the time paradox of this movie. And it ends up being an important plot element in 1995’s Godzilla vs Destoroyah.

Why though did Godzilla appear to vanish from the Sea of Japan and then be spotted again just where the dinosaur was expected to be? Just chance, or that he felt like the Bering Straight location was a home to return to? Just a few sentences of exposition could have cleared this up. How much of this plot twisted — that Godzilla has not removed from history, though people continued to think he had — did the English translators “get”? Much of the English language version comes across as if the translators didn’t quite understand what was supposed to be going on.


Emmy’s attempted escape from the schemes of her fellow Futurians leads to another sequence where the movie attempts to emulate Hollywood — but with its comparatively meager budget. For instance there is a futuristic flying pack that Emmy uses. The prop itself looks constructed from cheap plastic and has the mass of a cheap plastic when she straps it on. Well-concealed wire works lifts her off the ground in a believable stunt, but the next shot is a composite of the actor standing still while her image is optically, and very unsteadily, moved across a background plate. It is puzzling just why this was done so poorly. Just the addition of a fan blowing across Emmy as she flew would have greatly improved the effect. When they realize she has gone, Wilson sends M-11 after her, and we have the most Terminator-like moments yet. There is a car chase, stunt driving, and an obligatory fiery wreck, where M-11 steps out, clothes burning, one side of his face stripped of human flesh to reveal the mechanics underneath. It’s fine for the money they had to do it, but does it really have a place in a Godzilla movie? Unable to resist, Emmy returns with M-11.

The submarine does finds not the sleeping godzillasaurus they expected, but a fully formed and active Godzilla, which destroys the sub and absorbs its energy, growing larger and more powerful than ever. Without any additional direction from humans (and one wonders how they had been expecting to do that in the original plan) this Godzilla heads for Japan, where King Ghidorah, under the control of the Futurians is ready for a fight. The only person who seems to think things are working out well is Shindo, who still considers Godzilla to be the spirit of a formidable Japan protecting itself. “Once again you fight for us,” he says.

Godzilla and King Ghidorah first meet in a forested countryside. Often in monster movies, such as late in the Showa series, when a confrontation is set up in a natural settings it is clearly a way to save money: no buildings or other elements to destroy. The countryside here is expansive and covered with forests and rolling hills. Ghidorah’s lightning blasts cause impressive explosions and fires. This is before computer effects so the various energy beams, lighting blasts, and futuristic blast weapons are created optically. I imagine that Ghodorah’s lightning and Godzilla’s breath are created by hand painted animation. There are some fun shots here and in a later climactic laser gun battle, where attacks and blaster bolts fly directly at the camera.

Beams, etc. need to look good because they are, increasingly with each movie, the majority of the actual conflict between monsters. In this series of movies, the monster suits become increasingly heavy and restrictive. The actors can barely walk, with most of Godzilla’s expressions being conveyed by puppetry, rather than the performance of suit-actors such as Haruo Nakajima in the earlier era of Godzilla movies. As the Heisei series continued, more and more battles consisted of monster stiffly standing and blasting each other from a distance. There are some direct confrontations here and they are striking when they do happen. In close combat Ghidorah has an advantage as its snaky heads entwine around Godzilla, biting and constricting him. At one point Godzilla is close to a suffocating defeat, spewing foam from his mouth as he suffocates.

Godzilla & Ghidorah fight

This might have been the end of Godzilla, if not for our other plot line. Emmy has convinced her fellow Futurians that 20th Century Earth has no hope and that she’s abandoned helping them. Gullible, they completely believe her, leaving her unobserved as they exult over the destruction King Ghidorah is unleashing. Emmy reprograms M-11 to consider her “Boss.” They recruit Terasawa and together sabotage the Futurian computer controlling Ghidorah. A gun play and robot-fighting-robot action sequence ensues, putting us clearly in Terminator II homage territory. M-11 now not only fights for the good guys, but drops quips as he laser blasts his former comrades. Though it is Terasawa at one point who, in English, gives us a “Make my day,” leaving me wondering if they forgot which Hollywood movie currently being referenced.

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Part Four: No Godzilla?

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.

Godzilla Special Effects Crew

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.

Ghidorah Attacks

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.

Godzilla and Submarine

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?