Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Part Three: The (maybe?) Birth of Godzilla

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.

Dorats

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.

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Part Two: Time Travel and Super Science

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

Notes of ominous, but familiar, music play. The creator of the classic music of Godzilla, Akira Ifukube, has returned for the first time in 16 years to score this film. The date 2204 AD appears as a deep sea vehicle scans the ocean floor. It discovers something as immediately familiar to Godzilla fans as Ifukube’s compositions: the body of the three-headed monster King Ghidorah — though it is missing one of heads after a 20th Century battle with Godzilla, as one of two mysterious figures aboard the sub explains to the other. Abruptly we return to 1992, as high above the lights of downtown Tokyo as we were deep under the sea.

Themes of time, the flow of history, and the effects of events centuries apart are already established. Time travel will be a major plot device in this story as it unfolds. Though how exactly it works, how history can be altered and rewritten will, unfortunately, not be well explained. Don’t forget that flash forward to 2204 and what it depicts — though the whole concept of a “flash forward” gets complicated in a time travel movie. We will eventually see that the 2204 scenes comes from timeline that actually hadn’t even been created “yet.” And that isn’t the biggest chronological paradox this movie will leave us with.

UFO over Tokyo

Our panorama of the huge present day city is invaded by a flying saucer. Countless thousands experience this close encounter. One witness observes from the roof of the “National Institute for Super Science.” It is Miki Saegusa, whom we met in the previous movie in this series, Godzilla vs. Biollante. Saegusa is a psychic researcher with a mysterious mental link with Godzilla. Appearing in six films of this series, she is a rare example of a reoccurring character in Godzilla movies. Many of the same actors can be seen throughout these monster sagas, but playing different roles. Curiously, while we see signs in English with the name of the organization that Saegusa works for, the subtitles refer to it as the “Paranormal Research Center.”Maybe the people tasked with localizing the movie thought an American audience would think “Super Science” sounded silly. I find “Paranormal Research Center” forgettably bland.

The next day newspapers are full of reports about the UFO. Science fiction author and reporter Kenichiro Terasawa gets a call from his editor at Super Mystery Magazine to cover the incident. Terasawa has little interest in such things. He’d rather look for a crazy old man who has been causing a ruckus at dinosaur museums. It is a little shocking that he would turn down what could be the story of the century (a real UFO!) to go after such a frivolous lead — but judging by the lavish, stylishly furnished house that Terasawa lives in, he must be successful enough to choose his own assignments. We will see that Terasawa is interested in tracking down the origins of Godzilla, which in his world is serious journalism: a very real, very imminent threat to all civilization, not a bit of column filler such as a UFO sighting could be.

For the next act, the film will continue along two plots that appear, for a time, unrelated. Scenes alternate between them, but I’ll look at them each one at a time.

Dinosaur Museum

Unconcerned about the UFO, Terasawa peruses his lead about the dinosaur fanatic. Masukichi Ikehata is a World War II veteran who objects to dinosaurs being taken frivolously. There is a real dinosaur out there, he claims, watching over and protecting Japan, even as the country grows too comfortable and complacent. When needed, this sacred being will return. Terasawa learns the tale of how, back in 1944, when Ikehata squad was trapped on the small Pacific island of Lagos, about to be destroyed by the advancing American Navy, a dinosaur appeared and drove off their enemies. Ikehata praises the creature for rescuing them. Yet, after a moment of retrospection, he does consider that maybe the animal was just defending its territory.

Terasawa looks into the potential of truth in the veteran’s story by checking with paleontologist Hironori Masaki. The professor is a believer that dinosaurs might still exist so doesn’t dismiss the possibility. To Terasawa this is a piece of the puzzle he’d been assembling: the dinosaur, surviving on this Pacific island, would have been exposed to radiation from H-bomb tests, and might have mutated into the monster Godzilla.

WW II soldiers with dinosaur

There is someone else who could support by testimony of Ikehata, another soldier who had been stationed at Lagos: Yasuaki Shindo, now the powerful and wealthy leader of the Teiyo Group, a massive industrial corporation. Shindo is an enthusiastic dinosaur aficionado, but when Terasawa interviews him, he laughs at the idea that a dinosaur could be alive today. Mention of Lagos causes him to storm out of the room — until the idea that the dinosaur became Godzilla halts his exit. Shindo backs up Ikehata’s story, and even provides photographic proof. To him, this dinosaur did not just save their lives, but inspired the survivors to return home and rebuild their country.

Meanwhile, the institute of Super Science has been assisting the government in figuring out just what the UFO was up to. Miki Saegusa explains that its path took it over the spot in the ocean where Godzilla sleeps, still under the effects of the anti-nuclear bacteria used on him in Godzilla vs. Biollante. The military is searching for the mystery vehicle, and seems to have found it when two helicopters are blown out of the sky near Mt. Fuji. Strangely, this incident is never mentioned again, even in discussions to come over whether the UFO’s occupants can be trusted. The dangerous lives of military pilots in a Godzilla movie are rarely heralded.

Futurians

Contact is eventually made with the strange visitors who turn out to be, not extraterrestrials, but time travelers from the future. When I was a kid watching a movie such as Invasion of the Astro-Monster (Ishiro Honda, 1965) I thought it odd that the space aliens invading Earth looked Japanese. In my childhood racism I assumed the “default” ethnic appearance was Caucasian. But why would it be any more expected that they’d would be white westerners than Asian? Which, half a thought later, should lead to the ridiculousness of extraterrestrials appearing human in any way. In Godzilla vs King Ghidorah we at least are sticking with humans.

We meet three of these “Futurians.” One, named Wilson, seems American. Another, named Grenchiko, might be a Russian..? The third is Emmy, who proudly announces she is Japanese. American actors have appearing in Godzilla films on several occasions, from Raymond Burr being edited into the US version of the 1954 Godzilla, to Nick Adams in Invasion of the Astro-Monster, to wrestler Don Frye in Godzilla: Final Wars. Almost always though these actors get their voices re-dubbed into Japanese. The western Futurians speak in fluent Japanese, indeed that largely is why their actors were hired for the parts. Their stiff, carefully formal manner actually suits them.

It starts to sink in that much of Godzilla vs King Ghidorah is a homage to the Terminator film series. People from the future travel back in time to prevent a disaster by changing the past. Here the disaster is not a cyborg Judgment Day, but Godzilla’s eventual destruction of Japan. And even though this apocalypse isn’t caused by mechanical murder machines, the story will soon introduce M-11, a superhuman robot who does a lot of Terminator-like stunts.

Conference over book

The Futurians have discovered a book from our era that explains Godzilla’s origins as a mutated dinosaur: the very book that Terasawa has been researching in order to write. Their plan is to find this animal, which comes to be known as a godzillasaurus, and relocate it away from its island home. It will never get exposed to atomic testing and thus never become Godzilla. To help them in this task, they claim to need three people from our time: Terasawa, Prof. Mazaki, and Miki Saegusa. They will accompany the Futurians back to 1944.