HCF REWIND NO.156. GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE AKA GOJIRA TAI BIORANTE [Japan 1989]
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 101 min
FEATURED MONSTERS: GODZILLA, BIOLLANTE
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In the ruins of Tokyo, Japanese troops find a sample of Godzilla’s tissue, but U.S. troops working for the genetic engineering company Bio-Major shoot them and take it, only to be dispatched by a lone mercenary from a country called Saradia who steals the sample. There, scientist Genishiro Shiragami uses it to aid his research into new artificially-created wheat that may help the global food crisis, until a bomb from Bio-Major kills his daughter Erika. Five years later, Shiragami, still supposedly working for the Saradians, combines the DNA of roses with some Godzilla cells to make an anti-Godzilla bacteria and, in a fit of grief-driven madness, adds Erika’s DNA too. The result kills two thieves hired by Bio-Major who break into the laboratory, and grows and grows. Bio-Major send a letter to Japan’s Prime Minister, saying that they have planted several bombs inside Mt. Mihara and will detonate them, releasing Godzilla, if the radiation-devouring bacteria is not handed over….
To sound childish, Godzilla Vs Biollante kicks ass. It’s rarely mentioned as one of the best Godzilla movies, but I certainly believe it is up there in the top ten. It gives you all the action and spectacle you want in spades, and has some outstanding special effects that are definitely not for laughing at, but also has a fresh feel to it that still seems quite modern due to the way many scenes are filmed, has a unique antagonist for Godzilla, has a strange poetic quality to parts of the story, and suggests new pathways for the series which it didn’t really go down afterwards. It’s also burdened by too many protagonists and gets a little lost in its many subplots: for my synopsis of the first third, I had to leave out a couple of strains of the story in order not to make it overly long, and I’m not sure if the whole film would be harmed if they had been left out in the first place. However, the film deserves praise for attempting to be so involved and even political, while one can almost feel the enthusiasm coming off the screen by people who had grown up watching the older Godzilla films and couldn’t wait to be let loose and bring their own ideas and creativity to the subject matter.
As in 1975 with Terror Of Mechagodzilla, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka held a story contest for the follow-up to The Return Of Godzilla. Five finalists were selected out of 5025 entries and the winner was a dentist called Shinichirio Kobayashi who actually wrote his story at the last minute. Kazuki Omori was an up-and-coming filmmaker who was also asked to write the script. He altered much of Kobayashi’s story, notably replacing a big rat-like monster Deuatalios who fought Godzilla with an early incarnation of Biollante, a female reporter character with the psychic Miki Saegusa, and adding the Godzilla cells, lots of new characters, the Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria, and the Super-X 2. Unusually for a Godzilla film, a considerable amount of footage was cut: Godzilla destroying a lighthouse, a stop-motion sequence of Biollante’s tentacles attacking Godzilla, the first Biollante form dying and spores causing the hill sides to suddenly explode into bloom with millions of rose, and Biollante swallowing Godzilla, a scene accomplished with computer effects. New special effects man Koichi Kawakita supposedly cut them because they just didn’t look good enough. Sadly all this perfectionism didn’t lead to the film becoming a big hit, and it wasn’t released theatrically in the US at all, setting the pattern for successive entries. Toho filed a lawsuit against Miramax for backing out of a deal to distribute it in the US, the UK and Ireland.
Godzilla Vs Biollante opens with some action from The Return Of Godzilla, then cutting to the same locale but after Godzilla has been destroyed, linking a Godzilla sequel with its predecessor more closely than ever before. The action gets underway right there and then with some gun battles, but there after the story stalls as it struggles to bring in its huge cast of characters. Of course there’s Genishiro Shiragami the scientist who is forced to carry out his research on food engineering outside Japan and ends up creating a monster with not just his daughter’s tissue but her soul. Then there’s also: Kazuhito Kirishima the scientist officially overseeing the development of the bacteria who is uneasy about genetic engineering, Seido Okouchi Kirishima’s would-be father-in-law who sees the Godzilla cells as essential to Japan’s security, Major Kuroki the head of an elite military corps charged with killing Godzilla, Miki Saegusa the psychic who has a link with Godzilla, and Colonel Goro Gondo who is obsessed with killing Godzilla. Add to this a one-man killing machine and various spies, and you really have a convoluted film that, because it has to be fast-paced and not be too long, doesn’t give all these folk enough space. Worse than that, certain parts of the story leave questions, such as where did the cells being held in Japan come from!?
Never mind, just over a third of the way through Godzilla is released from his volcano prison and the thrills never stop afterwards, the film keeping up the pace as it throws set-piece after set-piece at you. Godzilla’s fights with the two forms of Biollante are quite short, but avoid laughs and are made exciting due to the many angles employed, sometimes with never the same one being used again. Both Godzilla and Biollante battle the military [and the laser cannons return, hurray!], Godzilla battles the Super-X 2 in scenes which really show up the similar scenes in The Return Of Godzilla as being dull and static, and he attacks Osaka spectacularly, a sequence which gives us one truly awe-inspiring shot which tracks across a street and looks up at a partially-seen Godzilla as he smashes one building after another. Sometimes inexperience shows: the final shoot-out involving the humans would have been better if it had taken place at the same time as the monster action rather than anti-climactically occurring afterwards, but the effects are just great throughout, the matting in particular showing a huge improvement. In some scenes, like Saegusa’s confrontation with Godzilla and Biollante’s eerie first full appearance in a lake as people rush to see it, you can’t really see the ‘joins’ at all.
Godzilla, again a powerful force of nature rather than an evil destroyer of mankind or an earth-saving hero, looks simply amazing here, the previous suit’s template being basically followed but with a smaller head, more reptilian features like the King Kong Vs Godzilla suit, the elimination of the whites around the pupils in the eyes, and, most impressively, double rows of teeth. Four robot models of Godzilla’s upper half were employed in some scenes, and this time perfectly matching the suit. Meanwhile Biollante is just extraordinary in both her fully seen forms. You would think that a giant plant with deadly tentacles that has a rose for a head would look stupid, but actually she looks strikingly odd, like something out of an anime, creepy but oddly delicate. Her human-like cry is pitiful and touching. Later on, the full reptile-like version is like Audrey 2 from The Little Shop Of Horrors combined with Godzilla, a truly menacing creation. The suit required thirty two wires to control. The whole story involving Biollante and Erika’s soul is rather moving and is the heart of a film which also comments on timely issues like food shortage, genetic engineering, world stability and nationalism in its many plot strands. Perhaps it tries to do too much here, and it’s notable that not only are the villainous characters the non-Japanese ones but the most villainous of all are American [the nasty Bio-Tech company], but when so much ambition is present, certain things that don’t work can more readily be forgiven.
Sadly the acting is generally pretty weak, the only real exceptions being Tohru Menigishi as Gondo, who brings real energy and comic ability to his potentially simplistic character, and Koji Takahashi as Shirigami, who exhibits considerable pathos. The music was mostly composed by Koichi Sugaiyama, who wrote several lengthy pieces which were then adapted by David Howell [who strangely never saw any of the film]. The music for Biollante effectively conveys mystery and a dark beauty, some of the action music, which occasionally cribs from Jaws, is exciting, and the Super-X theme is rousing, but some of the music is overly cartoon-like, while a disco variant of the first Godzilla theme sounds very out-of-place. Re-recordings of Akira Ifukube’s two main Godzilla themes and the Invasion Of Astro-Monster march, from an album called Ostinato, make welcome appearances, but overall the soundtrack is a bit messy. Godzilla Vs Biollante definitely has its problems, many of them stemming from an excess of ambition, but it’s a strong series entry nonetheless. Easily the best since Destroy All Monsters, it is imaginative, intelligent and technically quite astounding, though slightly apart from most of the other films in its unique feel, which is perhaps why it hasn’t got the praise it deserves.