Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla (1993)

Continuing my watch of the Heisei series (1984 – 1995) of Godzilla movies.

As I wrote in my series about Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, Godzilla films are the most successful when they explore interpretations of what Godzilla means. That movie had many conflicting views. In Godzilla vs Mothra, Godzilla was an incarnation of destruction and disaster, one of the many plagues unleashed on the world and exacerbated by human action. Godzilla was the thing all the other factions teamed up to fight against. In Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla, while he is still the centralizing danger, the main interpretation the movie is presenting is Godzilla as… a parent. It’s not the first or the last time this idea will show up.

Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla was released in 1993 in Japan. The screenplay was by newcomer to the franchise Wataru Mimura, but directed once again by Takao Okawara, giving a lot of visual continuity with the previous Godzilla vs Mothra. Mimura would go on to write several other later Godzilla movies.

In overall storyline of the Heisei Godzilla series, this movie is a sequel to 1992’s Godzilla vs Mothra, but there is very little connecting the two films. No mention is made, for instanced, of how Godzilla escaped from the imprisoning seal Mothra cast on him. It more directly follows up 1991’s Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, explaining in the first scene how the salvaged technology of MechaGhidorah was being reverse engineered to build a giant robot to fight Godzilla. Psychic researcher Miki Saegusa is also around once again, in the character’s fourth appearance in a Godzilla movie.

This story gets right into it, explaining the creation of the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Force, known just as the G-Force, to deal with problem of Godzilla. The scope of this story is going to be international, with none of the political conundrums of Godzilla vs King Ghidorah or 1984’s Return of Godzilla. One can suppose the global threat of Godzilla has become enough to unite nations to one cause. A small consequence of this that there is a lot of English in this movie, particularly in the battle scenes, with English seemingly the common language of G-Force. I commented a lot on the problems this can lead to in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah. It’s a little better here as officers bark their orders in English. The chief scientist for the MechaGodzilla project, Dr. Leo Asimov is not so great, but I have seen some suggestion that his lines have been overdubbed, so the actor may not be at fault for how awkward they are. The Asimov reference is also a bit out-of-place itself, since Issac Asimov’s robot stories explored ideas of consciousness and artificial intelligence, while MechaGodzilla is in all respects a piloted machine, without any A.I. at all.

A thread of bureaucratic comedy then gets introduced. MechaGodzilla is not the only project underway. Another super-weapon, a flying battle craft called the Garuda was also in development, but has ended up deprioritized in favor of the fancy Godzilla robot. Garuda pilot and engineer, Kazuma Aoki gets reassigned to MechaGodzilla squad, though as outsider with lowest seniority he’s given a rough time. He’s also teased for being a nerd about pterosaurs. Now why exactly having a keen interest in prehistoric reptiles would seem so odd to squad being trained to fight a prehistoric reptile I’m not sure. But I guess they think the chance that knowledge of extinct flying pterosaurs would ever become useful is too ridiculous.

Meanwhile, an extinct flying pterosaur is discovered living on a remote island. Referred to as Rodan, it is believed to have become a gigantic mutant due to radiation, just like Godzilla. Additionally a huge egg is found, oddly encrusted with strange lichen-like growths. And then Godzilla himself shows up. What a funny coincidence. Godzilla and Rodan have a pretty brutal fight, with lots of physical contact and violence. Godzilla uses his atomic breath multiple times, but much of the conflict is physical, with savage beak strikes, strangulation, and stomps to the head. The humans take the opportunity to escape — with the egg.

Back in Japan the egg is studied by researcher Azusa Gojo. Several weird things are discovered. The egg seems to glow in response to Azusa’s presence and that the lichen around it is emitting a strange energy pattern. Kazuma, after hearing that a presumed pterosaur egg has been discovered, can’t help but get involved. He steals some of the lichen and takes it to Mimi Saegusa, who is back to her pre-Godzilla career of working with psychic children. In a subtle reference to the last film, Miki’s has two assistants are played by the same actresses who were the twin Cosmos Fairies in Godzilla vs Mothra. The students at the school are able to feel the emanations of the lichen and interpret it as a song. This song, when played back to the egg triggers its hatching. But what comes out is not a baby Rodan, but a baby Godzilla! Or rather, a baby, unmutated, godzillasaurus. The hatching of this baby appears to summon the adult Godzilla, who has been attracted to the egg all along. It seems unlikely that this godzillasaurus is literally Godzilla’s son, but he seems aware of the existence of one of his own, original species.

This is the chance the MechaGodzilla team has been waiting for. What ensues is the archetypal special effects battle of this series of Godzilla movies: MechaGodzilla stands a distance and unleashes a series of different ranged attacks that blast, explode, and zap the organic Godzilla. It all seems to go well — until physical cables are shot into Godzilla’s body to deliver a killing charge of energy. Godzilla is able to focus his own power to send a disruptive flow of feedback, which takes out the robot’s systems, leaving it a immobile heap of metal.

Life has conquered machine and Godzilla stomps through Tokyo, heading straight to the lab where the egg has hatched. The humans are able to take “Baby” to a location that shields the presumably psychic emanations it emits and Godzilla wanders off.

Baby, who has imprinted onto Azusa as his mother, goes into her care in a special facility. Kazuma, for his unauthorized involvement, is busted down to parking lot attendant. He uses that position though to corner Dr. Asimov in his car and present his idea of merging MechGodzilla with Garuda to make a combined weapon system powerful enough to take down Godzilla.

Miki Saegusa has also come up with her own idea. The psychic kids under her care have taken the energy patterns from the lichen and adapted them into a creepy song to sing for Baby! I guess they though he would like it. The visible effect is to drive Baby into a frenzy. The unnoticed effect is to revive Rodan from the battered coma it had been left in after its earlier defeat. More specifically this is a new, powered up version referred to as “Fire Rodan.” I guess we are to assume Rodan considers the egg and its hatchling as his (hers?) and psychically hears the song, interpreting it as a summoning/distress signal. Rodan is usually a “B” monster in the Godzilla series, either in a support role or as a secondary threat. When it flies it can create a destructive shock wave, which is shown as quite powerful in this movie. But we are in the “beam battle” era so Rodan now also gets a ranged breath weapon, described as being identical to Godzilla’s.

The G-Force plan is to use Baby as bait to attract Godzilla away from Japan and then attack with the upgraded MechaGodzilla/Garuda combo. Key to this attack is a plan called the G-Crusher. It turns out Godzilla has a secondary brain in his lower spine that accounts for some his resilience. If they use the energy harpoons to fry that secondary brain, Godzilla will be crippled. I have to note that, first, this secondary brain is based on some very-outdated ideas (like, 19th Century outdated) about dinosaurs. Second, it’s the newest example of films just inventing a new weakness for Godzilla for the sake of the current film — to be forgotten by the next movie. Targeting the weak spot will be the job of a very reluctant Miki, using her psychic powers to sense its position. She ends up wearing some sort of elaborate vision enhancing helmet, so ultimately I’m not sure what role her mental link with Godzilla ends up playing.

A lot of tokusatsu/kaiju action ensues for the film’s climactic sequence. Fire Rodan shows up to interfere with the the transportation of Baby. MechaGodzilla and the Garuda, piloted by Kazuma attack Rodan, defeating it, though knocking Garuda out of commission temporarily. Godzilla then shows up and clashes again with his robotic twin. Godzilla’s physical strength is about to prevail, but Kazuma gets the Garuda into the air and successfully combines with MechaGodzilla to form “Super MechaGodzilla” — not the most original name, though one in a style with a long tradition in the genre. The humans manage to stun Godzilla long enough for Miki to put aside her doubts about the morality of the G-Crusher. Is this finally the end of Godzilla? No! Baby’s cries of distress revive Fire Rodan (again) long enough for it to rise and merge with the crippled Godzilla and revitalize it (a concept that gets recycled in 2019’s Godzilla: King of Monsters, if it sounds kind of familiar). This powered up Godzilla, who probably has a special name, though it isn’t used in the film, takes down Super MechaGodzilla, though its human crew manage to escape.

If that sequences all sounds to you like something from an anime — I agree with you. Psychic powers, giant transforming robots, and sudden, plot reversing power-ups are all tropes common in Japanese sci-if comics and animated series. Increasingly the people working on these movies have either grown up watching anime, or are creatives from the field themselves. That’s something to keep an eye on as we progress through the Godzilla films to come.

Without a lot of argument about it, everybody comes to the conclusion that Baby would be better off with its “parent,” though the creature itself is terrified and wants to stay with Azusa. Miki uses her telepathy to convince Baby though and it and Godzilla wade off into the ocean in a touching scene that only works visually by ignoring the fact that Godzilla is about 50x bigger that Baby. Azusa and Kazuma ponder about a world returned to the age of dinosaurs, where Godzilla and Baby would be at home.

The first time we saw Godzilla as a father was 1967’s Son of Godzilla, at a point in the series where Godzilla had become more a superhero than a walking Armageddon. This motif of the “monster” causing havoc by seeking its offspring shows up in a variety of places. In Star Trek’s 1967 “The Devil in the Dark”, or closer to this genre, the 1961 British monster film Gorgo, or in Nikkatsu Studio’s 1967 Gappa the Triphibian Monster. In this movie, Baby, like Minilla (whom you might know better as “Minya” from the English dub) in Son of Godzilla and other Showa era films, has a cute design with big eyes and infant behaviors. This is actually believable given the how common cute features are in babies across the animal kingdom. Still, it can come off as trying too hard, as the filmmakers insist we like and care about Baby. The young godzillasaurus will continue to appear in the next two films, but as its matures, its design also becomes closer to its “parent.” We’ll leave off discussion of Baby’s fate until we get to Godzilla vs Destroyah. A baby Godzilla, essential the return of Minilla, shows up again in 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars, but that crazy movie is also a topic for another day.

My personal option of this movie is mixed. In many ways the writing is improved from the past few films in the series. G-Force’s treatment of Kazuma and the Garuda project can seem silly, but is also quite believable in a military bureaucracy. How psychic powers and mental distress calls work is left vague, but there aren’t fantastical plot contrivances such as time travel and ancient civilizations. If you can go along with all that, overall the story makes sense. Characters have understandable motivations and actions have logical consequences. It is just that other elements, things that can make a Godzilla movie something more interesting than a special effects extravaganza are gone.

Godzilla vs King Ghidorah tried to take the series into the company of Hollywood sci-fi action blockbusters. I think it is this movie that finally arrived there. The loopy plot complications, the splashes of political philosophy, the environmental messages — those have all been set aside for lots of action, battles, suspense, and “lite” romance. The only real thematic question brought up is “should an animal be free to protect its offspring” and that is given an easy “yes.” The risks of allowing a second Godzilla to be born and wander the Earth aren’t even questioned. And Godzilla is just an animal now, not a worldbreaker or embodiment of an idea. Everything he does in this film is assumed to be part of his parental instincts. It’s left up to the next films in the series to face the consequences, to see the cumulative results of actions taken in a world where Godzilla is always out there, somewhere.

Godzilla vs Mothra

Continuing my watch of the Heisei series (1984 – 1995) of Godzilla movies. It won’t take me a seven part mini-series to cover this one, the way it did with Godzilla vs King Ghidorah.

The screenplay for 1992’s Godzilla vs Mothra was by Kazuki Ōmori, who had both written and directed Godzilla vs. Ghidorah and Godzilla vs. Biollante. He did not direct this time, handing that job over to Takao Okawara, who had been the assistant director on the 1984 Return of Godzilla. This film is considered a sequel to Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, but the presence of psychic scientist and Godzilla expert Mimi Saegusa is the only thing that connects it with the others of the Heisei series. That is still more continuity than Godzilla movies have had in the past.

Movie Poster

The movie opens with a team of English-speaking scientists tracking a meteor as it crashes into the ocean. These exact same people are also watching a giant typhoon as it causes havoc in the Pacific. We never see them again or find out what their job is, other that being the International Organization for Watching How Messed Up Everything Is. That meteor not only awakens a sleeping Godzilla, but also… something else.

Next is a fairly long Raiders of the Lost Ark homage, which is worrisome, leaving you to think that it might be the whole theme of the film, the way Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah drew so much from Terminator. But thankfully, the script is just using it to introduce fallen archeologist Takuya Fujita. He is the human center of the story, as he tries to deal with a looming monster-filled apocalypse, while also attempting to reconcile with his estranged wife and child. That storyline has several elements in common with the family drama going on in the 2019 Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Only in Godzilla vs Mothra, once the troubled interpersonal issues are resolved, the humans get out of the way and let the monsters do their stuff. You can read my post from last year about the issues I had with the 2019 Godzilla. Fujita is caught between impulses towards greed and self-interest, and the desire to be a good, protective father. He’s symbolic of humanity in this film, which is heading towards either self-destruction or vengeance from a wrathful Nature, if it can’t get its act together.

Characters & Fairies

Much of the rest of the film is an update and remix of previous Mothra movies. There is a storm that uncovers a giant egg, an unscrupulous land developer, twin fairies, ineffectual military, and so on. Mothra in this version of things is the guardian of an ancient civilization in the Mu/Lemuria tradition, that was destroyed when they tried to control nature. The Earth responded by generating a new monster, Battra, to wipe them out. And now, Battra, awakened by the meteor, is going to clean up 20th Century Civilization as well. That’s an important point to remember here: as far as the Earth is concerned, Battra is the good monster in this story. Humans as the bad guys are embodied by industrialist Takeshi Tomokane whose greed drives him to plow rainforests into golf courses and make the survivors of a antediluvian civilization into tourist attractions… The theme of humanity exploiting, disrespecting, and destroying the Earth is laid on without much nuance. Tomokane is unrepentantly a bad guy and it’s hard not to be rooting for Battra. Fujita on the other hand, does end up choosing to work for the good of his family. That, and the inherent innocence of his daughter, might be considered the things that convince Mothra to fight for humanity, but I’m not sure if I’m won over.

And then there’s Godzilla. Honestly, it would not be hard to tweak this story and not need Godzilla in it at all. His main role is to be a common enemy for everybody to unite against. Mothra is able to convince Battra that Godzilla is an even greater threat than mankind, and the two join forces to take him down. Battra is fatally injured in the battle, though it survives long enough to help Mothra imprison Godzilla, sealing him away in what is essentially a magic circle.

Special Effects at work

The special effects work throughout the film is pretty good, updating the classic Eiji Tsuburaya style to the 1990s. There isn’t the mismatch of quality and technique found in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (though Koichi Kawakita was the effects supervisor for both). The underwater battle between Godzilla and Battra is effective for its murky suggestiveness. We can’t quite see what is going on, only that it’s intense enough to rupture the Earth’s crust, engulfing the two monsters. Battles between kaiju and human military forces only show how ineffective humanity is — and how unwilling we are to accept that we can do nothing against these monsters. The oceanic battles are impressive looking with multitudes of vessels and pyrotechnics going off, until you start to notice how inaccurate and scattershot the artillery is, with only a fraction of attacks even coming near their targets. It shows off how contrastingly impressive the attacks are in 2018’s Shin Godzilla, where the military unleashed a barrage and every missile is right on target — as you’d expect from modern, precision weapons fired at a Godzilla-sized target. There’s one disappointing effect: after a long, well-crafting sequence showing caterpillar Mothra’s metamorphoses into adult form, when Battra similarly transforms, it’s just with flashing lights and a jump cut.

Beam Battle

Most of monster fights have become the Heisei series’ characteristic “beam battles” with the creatures exchanging energy attacks at a distance. Even Mothra, for the first time, being given a ranged beam attack. Of course in this movie, adult Mothra and Battra are just puppets, hung from wires, with flapping wings, so not a lot of physical action is even possible. Mothra gets several new powers in this movie, including a sort of tranquilizing power from her wings. I’d never encountered the idea of moths or butterflies having magic wing dust until I started playing Pokémon. But I guess it’s a thing? The mixture of optical effects (I imagine still being drawn by hand in 1992), suit performance, puppetry, models, and pyrotechnics are all combined together well, particularly as the monsters level an accurate miniature depiction of Yokahama Bay.

The final revelation that Battra had been destined to protect the Earth from a planet killing meteor in 1999 is a bit out of left field. It’s the kind of thing that I wonder might have been better set up in the original Japanese script. It does give Mothra an exit from this series, as she chooses to sacrifice herself in Battra’s place. The Heisei series appears to want to keep the number of monsters in each film to a reasonable number, and it might have been awkward having Mothra and the fairy twins still hanging around in future movies.