HCF REWIND NO.161. GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH AKA GOJIRA TAI KINGU GHIDORA [Japan 1991]
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 101 min
FEATURED MONSTERS: GODZILLA, GODZILLASAURUS, KING GHIDORAH
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A UFO is spotted flying over Japan. Kenichiro Terasawa, an author of books on psychic phenomena, believes he’s discovered Godzilla’s true origin. During World War 2, Japanese soldiers stationed on Lagos Island were saved from American troops by a dinosaur which mutated into Godzilla in 1954 when the island was destroyed by a hydrogen bomb test. Meanwhile the UFO lands, and out of it come some people who call themselves the Futurians. They’re from the year 2204, a time long after Japan had been completely destroyed by Godzilla. They want to time travel back to 1944 and remove the dinosaur from Lagos, thereby avoiding the creation of Godzilla. Kenichiro decides to go with them….
Back when I reviewed Ghidorah The Three Headed Monster, I said it was probably my favourite Godzilla film sequel, and probably said that Destroy All Monsters was in the running too in my review for that particular movie, though I don’t think the latter is quite as good a film as the former and this insanely imaginative science-fiction actioner, which, when I watched it last night, I thought may actually be the best. It may not be a coincidence that all three films feature Godzilla’s greatest opponent, the flying three headed dragon King Ghidorah [though he doesn’t appear for long in Destroy All Monsters]. In any case, Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah totally ‘rocks’, giving you even more monster action and balls-to-the-wall spectacle than Godzila Vs Biollante whilst also presenting an even more complex, involved and just as political story line involving time travel, changing the past and the future, and Godzilla’s origin. Many writers have commented how much of the plot doesn’t make sense and it’s best to just ignore the holes and concentrate on the awesome city stomping and the like, but after some thought, most of it actually does hold up. The problem is that, in order to create a film with no slow spots, they rush through it so fast that some details get lost. Mostly though, it’s a roaring [sorry] success.
In 1990, the writer and director of Godzilla Vs Biollante began work on Mothra Vs Bagan, reviving the giant moth along with a shape-changing monster that had been intended for Godzilla Vs Gigan, but the project was put on hold in favour of the next Godzilla film which, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka decided, needed to bring back an old favourite to help it do better business than the last film. King Kong was first considered, but Turner Entertainment wanted too much money for the rights, and even asked for the same amount when Mechni-Kong was considered, so Ghidorah was brought back instead. During production, the aging Tanaka realised he could not be as involved any more and reverted to being executive producer, Shogo Tomiyama taking over. The film, which had far more extensive publicity than Godzilla Vs Biollante, was indeed a hit. In the US though it didn’t even make it to home video [Godzilla Vs Biollante had got a decent release that way], not helped by talk of the film being anti-Japanese. As with the remaining Heisei entries, fans had to obtain the film by not-always-legal means, though it did come out on video in the UK. The Hong Kong laserdisc, for some reason, removed the first few scenes and simply began the film nearly fifteen minutes in!
We get into the plot right away as our hero Kenichiro Terasawa investigates the stories about a dinosaur helping the war effort on an island and works out it was Godzilla, but not of course the Godzilla we know. When the Futurians show up and say they want to get rid of Godzilla, we actually go back in time to 1944 and said island. We get to see Godzilla in his original form, a Tyrannosaurus-type dinosaur, and him ridding the island of US troops. The American commander tells his subordinate not to worry about reporting seeing a UFO: “You can tell your son about it when he’s born, Major Spielberg”. A shame that this joke is badly delivered, and in fact all the acting by the Caucasians in the film, few of whom had actually acted, is poor, but never mind, the tale from here on moves so quickly, hurling details and twists at you in such rapid succession that one doesn’t really have time to breath. The Futurians turn out to be liars like the Xians from Invasion Of The Astro Monster and actually want to destroy Japan, Godzilla is supposedly wiped from history but Ghidorah is created, Godzilla is born anyway, one of the Futurians changes sides, and so forth. The political aspect is interesting. In the future, Japan rules the world’s economy and even buys up nations, something which the Futurians want to stop, though the bad Futurians have more drastic ways of doing this than the good ones. The time-loop idea a la The Terminator is used, where if you go back in time and change things, you won’t actually be able to rewrite history because the changes you made already occurred. It doesn’t really tie itself in knots like many critics say, and what is claimed to be the biggest plot hole – Godzilla being erased from history but people still remember him – is not a plot hole at all if you realise that the evil Wilson is lying to everyone and Godzilla’s history is actually neither erased nor altered.
It took me several viewings to realise this, but then it’s possible to be so distracted by the non-stop action. Three cities are destroyed in this movie, with both Godzilla, who doesn’t actually appear properly until nearly an hour in, and Ghidorah given terrific destruction sequences. Ghidorah’s rampages include recreations of shots taken from his first two films, while Godzilla is given the most building smashing since Godzilla, and he fries some soldiers too. His battle with the obligatory laser firing tanks is truly impressive. Of course the two monsters do eventually meet, and it’s a slower and less comical fight than their previous one. Special effects man Koichi Kawakita didn’t like to have his monsters fight quickly because he felt it was unrealistic for creatures that size to do so. Ghidorah seems to be killed far too easily, leaving Godzilla free to destroy everything in his path, but then he returns, in the form of…Mechaghidorah, with mechanical replacements for its missing head and wings, as variety of weapons, and piloted by Emmi, the friendly woman from the future! The resulting battle amidst skyscrapers is edge-of-seat stuff and one of the series’ finest. The human story is wrapped up too abruptly though. It seems that Kenichiro and Emmi will become romantically engaged, but at the end she tells him that she’s a descendant of his so he can conveniently go back to his poor girlfriend who early on proposed to him.
The same Godzilla suit used before is employed, and this would continue, though the story allows Godzila to become even bigger, now a whopping 350 feet!. Sadly Ghidorah is a disappointment, moving stiffly both in the air and on the ground, and whereas all three heads used to make a separate tittering cry, they now all make the same sound – which sounds just like Rodan’s. Mechaghidorah though, replete with the Godzilla Grip and the Machine Hand, is simply stunning. The Godzillasaurus is a palaentologically accuate and nicely detailed dinosaur, but sounds just like…Gamera, the giant flying turtle from another Japanese monster series! An aspect of the film which really doesn’t work is the android M-11, who gets to badly recreate a couple of moments from Terminator 2 including that film’s deleted reprogramming scene, but Kawakita shows a fondness for borrowing from American films in all his films. Set against this is one truly awesome scene where Yasuaki Shindo, the ex-military commander who had been saved by Godzilla on Lagos Island and went on to create a prosperous Japan, comes face to face with his saviour, looking out of the top floor of his skyscraper. As a very moving piece of music plays, the man and the monster gaze at each other for ages, Yoshio Tsuchiya’s face showing so much emotion by doing almost nothing, and even Godzilla seeming to recognise him…until he blasts the building with his ray. What a powerful, even touching, scene!
As well as Tsuchiya, another old veteran Kenjii Sahara returns as the prime minister. The younger cast are just adequate and, while it’s nice to have Meguma Okada come back from the previous film as Miki Saegusa, she’s hardly in it. Akira Ifukube, at the behest of his granddaughter, returned to the series to do the music, now with a larger orchestra, though losing some of the distinctive sound his earlier scores had. Though it’s understandable that his Godzilla [which now fuses the dissonant opening to his second Godzilla theme with his Godzilla March] and Ghidorah themes would return, the score elsewhere is almost entirely recycled from older works. The battle theme from King Kong Vs Godzilla is speeded up and becomes a general ‘action’ theme, the ‘Futurian’ theme comes from an early cue from the same film, the Destroy All Monsters march shows up etc. Even his moving ‘Shindo’ theme is not original, being derived from Daimajin, and Emmi’s rather beautiful theme, full of hope, comes from something else too. Time constraints may have caused all this self-borrowing of course. Overall though Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah is a highpoint of the series, its time travel loopy-ness melding well with its giant monster thrills to create around 100 minutes of escapism of the very best kind.