Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla

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

It takes some adjustment to go from the whimsical children’s adventures that were the Godzilla films of the the late 70’s to the grim disaster movie that was Return of Godzilla in 1984. A viewer needs another adjustment as the presentation of Godzilla swings back the other way in the later Heisei films of the 90’s. From an incomprehensible force whose very existence could distort the course of history for centuries in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991), by Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla (1994) we are being expected to sympathize with him, as Miki Saegusa implores that Godzilla “has the same feelings we do.”

Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla was directed by Kensho Yamashita and was his first time directing a Godzilla movie, though he’d worked as an assistant on earlier ones. The screenplay by Hiroshi Kashiwabara, also new to Godzilla, but with a long list of other projects before this. I really should also be mentioning the special effects director, Koichi Kawakita, as those in that role traditionally are responsible for the creating and directing the effects sequences in these movies. It was that way with Eiji Tsuburaya in the 1954 Godzilla and with Shinji Higuchi in 2016’s Shin Godzilla. Kawakita was the special effects director for all the Heisei Godzilla films. What this films does not have is a new score by Akira Ifukube and he is missed.

Over the last few films of this series, dealing with Godzilla has become more and more of an international effort, with the formation of the U.N. Godzilla Countermeasures Center and the G-Force. At the same time, Godzilla himself has been, well, not doing much. He has not been an active menace, just going about his business unless attacked or lured to a populated area. G-Force though feels that there is enough danger to warrant building yet another giant robot battle system (because the last one worked so well..?) called MOGUERA —named and designed in homage to the alien robot in 1957’s The Mysterians. MOGUERA is the most anime thing yet in these movies, not just being a giant robot, but one that is made combining two other, transforming vehicles. One of which is named, sensibly, “Land Moguera,” the other, inexplicably and incongruously, the “Star Falcon.” There is no mention of Godzilla’s weakness of having a secondary brain in the base of his spine, as in Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, any more than there has ever been of his being attracted by bird songs as in Return of Godzilla

That’s not the only plan on the table though. Miki Saegusa returns in this film as part of “Project T,” a scheme to use psychic powers to control Godzilla, though she remains hesitant to participate until a vision from the Cosmos, Mothra’s fairy companions, warn her that a great danger is heading to the Earth from space.

That danger appears to be what destroyed a NASA space mission. MOGUERA, despite being designed to fight Godzilla, is conscripted to fly into space and meet this approaching enemy. This does not seem a smart thing to do. Sending a new weapon system to encounter a mysterious enemy of completely unknown strength and capabilities? They get off lucky, in my opinion, that this danger, a new monster that is a weird half-crystal, half-mutated Godzilla/Biollante evil twin, only damaged and sent MOGUERA limping back to Earth. For all anybody knew, SpaceGodzilla could have had the power to vaporize MOGUERA with a single attack. This “let’s go fight without any tactical information or plan” is very children playing monsters, rather than a logical response to a threat, even in a monster movie. I found Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla notable in that, while the plot was relatively uncomplicated and a bit shallow, it at least made sense. Events and character actions flowed in a reasonable way, and actions led to logical consequences. Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla drifts away from that.

In much of the movie a lot of things happen that we are left to piece together to make sense over the what and why. Back on Earth, two G-Force members travel to a remote island and encounter a gruff veteran, Major Yuki camping there. Yuki is eventually revealed to be a rogue G-Force agent and maybe the others, Koji and Kiyo, were following up on Yuki’s reports of having located Godzilla? It’s hard to tell. In any case, this island is chosen to be the test ground for Project T, since Godzilla comes there, apparently to visit “Little Godzilla,” the rapidly growing (and we are left assuming, mutating) Baby from the last movie. Saegusa and two other scientists, Dr. Okubo and Dr. Gondo arrive to setup Project T. There’s a problem though from Major Yuki having no interest in being part of this. He has his own agenda, and is obsessed with killing Godzilla to avenge his brother (characters having a Moby Dick revenge fixation on Godzilla is the most exhausted trope in the genre and I wish people would just stop it). Yuki believes that Godzilla has a weak point under his arm (a new weakness mentioned for the first time) and that he can aim there to shoot a special blood coagulant poison into Godzilla to kill him. While G-Force is attempting to shoot a psychic amplifier into Godzilla that will allow Saegusa to take mental control of him, Yuki is allowed to plant landmines and tear gas bombs and to run around trying his plan at the same time. They even literally cross paths occasionally, staring at each other as if confused over whether they are both meant to be in the same scenes or even in the same movie. Yuki’s plan fails (the weak point and the coagulant are immediately dropped from the story) but Saegusa is able to gain some control over Godzilla — until the overstressed equipment burns out. Things can only get worse and they do, as SpaceGodzilla arrives, landing at a crystallized zone it had created on the island. Godzilla and his space-twin fight, but Godzilla is distracted by protecting Little Godzilla. Overwhelmed, he can’t hold off the invader, which captures Little Godzilla and imprisons him in a crystal pit. Why? Maybe in some version of the script SpaceGodzilla was meant to go around capturing power sources and using them as energy batteries? That might have been cool. Here it only accomplishes getting Little Godzilla out of the way of the rest of the film, which is a relief I have to say.

The films then stumbles into a remarkably low energy, directionless phase. Yuki has failed. Project T has failed, even Godzilla has failed. No one knows what to do, and no character has a real clear goal. Everybody just starts to pack up and go home. Saegusa is sick of the whole thing and just wants to stay on the island. Koji also stays, in order to setup a mostly unmotivated and unengaging romance subplot.

And there is SpaceGodzilla to deal with. A meeting is filled with totally wacky technobabble about SpaceGodzilla’s origins, speculating about Godzilla cells getting into space, falling into a black hole, merging with malevolent space bacteria, and then coming out a “white hole” as a giant monster. The only thing they can think to do is repair MOGUERA, and give its command to the now returned Major Yuki.

Cut to subplot of Saegusa being kidnapped off the island. Turns out Dr. Okubo wants the opportunity to try his Godzilla mind control again and has enlisted Yakuza help. Koji, Kiyo, and Yuki go and rescue her from the gangsters, engaging in the most unconvincing gunfight I’ve seen for a while. Saegusa helps out by suddenly having telekinesis as well as telepathy. And the upgrading mind control machine still doesn’t work. You could remove this whole sequence from the film and it wouldn’t be missed.

Space Godzilla arrives in the city of Fukuoka, with the usual resulting destruction. There are lots and lots and lots of scenes of people evacuating the city. The suspense of theses shots being undercut by the usual scattering of people in the crowd grinning and laughing at being in a monster movie, and by the cars and buses that are going about their normal business in the background. Godzilla also shows up, heading for a rematch. The military, for some reason, believe that this time, this time, conventional forces will be able to hold off Godzilla. They don’t.

The only character in this movie that has its act together and has any idea what it’s doing is SpaceGodzilla. It sends crystal meteors to secure a zone of operation, establishes power points and renewing energy sources, and commands the environment to hold territory and maintain the high ground against opponents. G-Force, for their part, does things such as giving command of MOGUERA to Major Yuki with orders to attack SpaceGodzilla. Orders he immediately disobeys to fly off and attack his personal nemesis, ordinary Godzilla. Koji and KIyo have to knock him out and tie him up to get back in control.

There then follows the movie’s main accomplishment: the most prolonged, effects filled battle sequence yet in a Godzilla film. Godzilla, SpaceGodzilla, and MOGUERA clash in a nighttime, nightmarish landscape made of a surreal mingling of skyscrapers and SpaceGodzilla’s crystalline constructs. The conflict is almost entirely a “beam battle” with energy rays, twisting lighting strokes, missiles, and endless pyrotechnic explosions and showers of colored sparks. One might have wanted a little more physically confrontation and less of bulky monster suits standing around almost motionless, but it is still an amazing spectacle of tokusatsu (special effects) movie making.

To wrap up the plot, Yuki is eventually convinced that SpaceGodzilla is the real threat and that they need, as much as possible, to work together with Godzilla to defeat it. Which they do. Saegusa and Koji even manage to stop Yuki from sacrificing his own life. Everybody looks like they’ll live happily every after — with even Little Godzilla shown to be doing just find and learning to create an atomic ray blast. It’s still hard to accept that the characters think the maturing of a second Godzilla is in any way a good thing.

For two movies now, Godzilla has been portrayed as a protective, sympathetic character: a father. And it hasn’t been very interesting. You might notice an increase of snarky comments in these essays and accuse me of having too high expectations for such a silly genre. Godzilla movies though have shown that they can be more, do more, and be more effective narratives. Godzilla vs King Ghidorah was an out of control mess, but had things to say and questions it wanted you to think about. The Heisei series has only one more film in it, Godzilla vs Destoroyah. I might be disenchanted with the whole kaiju genre, if I didn’t know what it tried to do in the next sequence of Godzilla films, the so-called “Millennium Series” starting with Godzilla 2000. Or for that matter, what was going on at this same time over at Toei Studios, where their reboot of Gamera was taking the giant monster film to new places and new levels of art and creativity — and of the horror and awe that 50 meter fire-breathing monsters ought to inspire.

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.