I had seen this when it was released in the States, two years after the Roland Emmerich American Godzilla debacle, and LOVED IT. And since I’d gotten so tired of sitting through “quality” movies that are so dreary I can’t stand to sit through them, I decided the time to re-experience it was nigh. And once again, it rocked me! Hard, steady, and all night long. Or actually for 100 minutes, And except for that draggy part in the middle, with all the boring human drama.
We begin during a quiet night along the Japanese coast. The Godzilla Prediction Network [GPN] is out waiting to see if the big fella will show. This “network” consists of this sensitive bearded guy, Shinoda, and his cute, no-nonsense 10-year-old daughter, Io. With them is this young, attractive female photographer, whose one character trait is that she complains about everything, regardless of what it is. This is supposed to be adorable. Anyway, they don’t have to wait for the Big G to show, as he walks on land with a ship in his mouth. Shinoda and pals drive through a tunnel and come to a sudden stop, because Godzilla’s right there. One starts to get a hint of how this movie distinguishes itself as the car’s headlights slowly travel up the monster as he stands in repose. It’s nice and atmospheric, something we’ll be seeing a fair amount of. Then the idiot photographer, Yuki, snaps a bunch of pictures with her flash, despite the fact that she has been explicitly told not to. This of course causes Godzilla to attack them, and they make a narrow escape. Yuki is unrepentant about her idiotic mistake, and yells at anyone who tries to rebuke her. It’s so tragic to me that certain straight guys find this kind of behavior “cute.” I would leave her right out there on the road.
Anyway, Godzilla goes on to a simple introductory rampage, and for a while here we have some shots that really impressed me the first time I saw this, that attempt to show the majesty of what it might be like with this giant rampaging monster in the distance. Soon after is a shot that I also really enjoyed the first time [and this time!], as the GPN drives along the coast, with Godzilla slowly walking across the bay in the distance [above]. It’s just a different idea of special effects than we usually see in America. In American movies the special effects shots appear with a tone of “And now, here is an expensive special effects shot! Please marvel at our incredible abilities!” whereas many of the shots here integrate Godzilla into the background, and try to get across the sensory experience of what it would be like to have this giant beast walking around outside. This is not to say that the effects here are very good—because they are notably cheap—but they have an intelligence and aesthetic sense about them, and attempt to convey an experience, rather than just impress with the sheer expense, or “blow us away” with how massive they are.
Anyway, eventually it’s the next day and—this is a problem that occurs throughout the whole film—we never found out where Godzilla went or where he is now. I guess he eventually just went back into the ocean? You’d think something that big would be hard to lose, but what do I know? During the day we get the boring human story, where we met our bad guy, Katagiri, who is told they found some big thing on the ocean floor that’s been there for 70 million years. There’s some underwater sub action that again illustrates the different visual style of this film, as the whole thing is done in water that has all these white specks in it, like stars, and it makes the otherwise drab sub scenes visually interesting and approaching beautiful. So they find this big meteorite that looks like half a walnut and raise it to the surface. Something I found kind of cool is at 17:34 you see this balloon rising from the depths, and in front of it you can see, in the evenly displaced silt that slides around it, the pressure wave it creates as it moves through the water. Anyway, the thing starts to rise of its own volition, and surfaces all by itself, which freaks everyone out. The next morning, it begins to rise with the dawning of the sun, until it is finally and improbably balanced upright in the water. It seems to be powering up by the sun’s energy, and finally picks up and flies toward shore.
Meanwhile, Godzilla has decided to have a little shore leave. Katagiri has a bunch of stuff waiting for him, including these missiles that can pierce anything. This is the difference between him and Shinoda, who he apparently attended school with; Katagiri thinks we should kill Godzilla, while Shinoda thinks we should contain and study him. Controversy! Anyway. I like the shot where Godzilla walks up out of the ocean the same as any of us would walk up on the beach, only the waves don’t even come up to his toes. Helicopters shoot this, tanks shoot that, jets shoot this other thing, but none of it fazes Godzilla. Meanwhile Shinoda is out riding his little motorcycle down to Godzilla, until you’re like “WHAT does he think he’s gonna do? Pull Godzilla over for a little chat? Tell him he’d make a better impression if he destroyed less and smiled more? And a mint or two wouldn’t hurt?” Anyway. Not much happens except the meteor flies in, thwacks Godzilla, then settles down in Tokyo Bay. Only now the muck is washed off the front half, and you can see that there’s a spaceship in there.
Meanwhile Shinoda has isolated this part of Godzilla’s makeup that allows him to regenerate quickly—and I’m sure at this very moment your mind is reeling with the implications this may have for medical science. This fellow tells him that since he discovered it, he can name is, and what does Shinoda think to name it? Shinodium? The Shinoderator? Thunderthwack!!!? Regenerasorium? No, he settles on the appallingly dumb and dull-sounding Regenerator G-1. Wow, that’ll sets hearts on fire. I mention this because it seems that Shinoda goes out of his way to say “Regenerator G-1” as many times as he can during the rest of the movie, and each time that single name comes close to stopping the movie cold.
SPOILERS > > > Anyway, eventually the alien ship cleans the rest of the crap off and moves to sit atop the tallest skyscraper. It then starts sucking all the information of all the computers in Tokyo. It came here from space to collect credit card numbers! This causes Katagiri’s assistant to say [around 57:05] “I can’t believe this! This could be the end of our civilization! Oh!” and then collapse forward on the desk. You’d have to watch it—there’s no way to express in words why it’s funny. By this time the movie has simply spent too much time without Godzilla, and it’s getting quite boring. But that’s all about to change.
So the aliens have some evil plan or other that involves changing our atmosphere—it doesn’t really matter—and eventually Godzilla shows up. First the alien makes all these wires come out of the ground and ensnare Godzilla—better not ask for the scientific rationale behind that one—then it drops a skyscraper on him, which you must admit is really cool. While Godzilla’s knocked out, the alien takes form outside the ship as this giant squid/jellyfish thing [below] which is pretty cool! Unfortunately, it soon continues to transform into a relatively pedestrian guy-in-suit monster, which is a bummer—I would have liked to have seen Godzilla fight the squid. So blah blah, fight fight—by now it’s all a little tired—but I must mention that, after Godzilla blows up the alien ship with his laser breath, we have the slowest flying fireball in recorded history. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but at a certain point the alien’s tongue rolls out in this huge flower pattern and stretches open to swallow Godzilla whole and—ONLY the Japanese, folks. What is up with these people?
Once it’s over, Godzilla does his old familiar thing of coming right up to the main characters as they stand on a tall patio, and everyone runs except Katagiri, who pulls out a cigarette and prepares to meet his doom. 85% of his performance consists of him staring defiantly or in amazement and something offscreen anyway. Then someone says of Godzilla “Why does he keep protecting us?” at which point you’re like, “Um, did he not just destroy your city?” but anyway, Shinoda responds: “Maybe because Godzilla is deep inside all of us” and you’re like “Umm, I think that whatever reason Godzilla is ‘protecting you,’ IF he is, THAT is not the reason.” Anyway, as if to disprove his words, Godzilla, just for sheer malice, shoots off his laser breath and creates a circle of flame around himself, destroying several city blocks in the process. Whew, what protection!
< < < SPOILERS END
It was quite good, but like any Godzilla movie, it gets tiresome. Really the first half-hour is the best, because that’s when you have the nice atmospheric shots of Godzilla walking along the horizon or crossing the bay… but maybe this is my prejudice. I always prefer those parts over the big battles. The human story, as you can well imagine, is negligible, though less annoying than it could have been, I suppose. There were a few sequences of outright “comedy,” made worse by the fact that it’s Japanese comedy AND aimed at kids—apparently Godzilla has come to be totally a kids thing in Japan. You might think to yourself “Well, it’s impossible to screw up at Godzilla movie,” and if you did, I would simply refer you to the enduring insult of Godzilla: Final Wars, in which we had humans doing idiotic Matrixy things, rendered in the D-grade Japanese special effects, and Godzilla throwing himself around in professional wrestling-style moves. Oh yes, it can get MUCH worse. For this movie, especially the first half hour, I was thinking “Wow, they’re really getting it absolutely right.”
It does leave, however, several unanswered questions. Like, I guess Godzilla just happened to show up for no reason, and it just HAPPENED to coincide with when this alien just happened to come to life and attack mankind? What were the chances? At the beginning Shinoda looks at Godzilla attacking a power plant, as he does seem wont to do, and theorizes that he’s attacking our sources of energy, but this is the last time this theme is addressed. I really don’t know what Godzilla wants, but I know he ain’t protecting us.
I didn’t listen to the commentary, by the people who arranged the dubbing and cut this film for American release [I forgot to mention that we have charmingly ill-aligned dubbing throughout] claim it is quite interesting and entertaining, and it apparently gives the many instances in which this film subtly pokes fun at the American Godzilla of two years earlier, which they refer to as GINO [Godzilla in Name Only]. It also apparently includes several digs at Independence Day as well.
So, a really good, really fun Godzilla movies with evocative special effects and a good-enough story. In fact, at several points I thought that if you just had better effects, this could be a mass-market summer blockbuster. Sure it gets boring in the middle stretch, but then there’s a big showdown, and it ends before it can wear out its welcome. If you need a Godzilla movie—and you know you do—you could do much worse than to reach for this one.
Sure, it’s really fun and has lots of destruction caused by a giant lizard!