HCF REWIND NO.167. GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA AKA GOJIRA TAI MEKAGOJIRA [Japan 1993]
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 103 min
FEATURED MONSTERS: GODZILLA, MECHAGODZILLA, RODAN, LITTLE GODZILLA
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 1992, the United Nations establishes the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Centre to stop Godzilla. The remains of Mecha-King Ghidorah are salvaged from the ocean and used to create two anti-Godzilla machines: a flying gunship called Garuda, and a robot Godzilla, Mechagodzilla. Two years later, Kazuma Aoki, one of Garuda’s engineers, is transferred to G-Force, the elite corps dedicated to fighting Godzilla. Meanwhile, a mission to Adona Island in the Bering Sea to examine two large Pteranodon eggs finds that one has already hatched, unleashing Rodan, who may have been irradiated by a nearby nuclear waste dump. Godzilla appears to battle Rodan and fatally wounds him while the humans escape with the other egg. In Kyoto, it hatches, to reveal…a baby Godzilla….
Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla, which doesn’t bear much resemblance to the 1974 film of the same name, seems to be usually regarded as the best of the Heisei series. I don’t think it quite reaches the heights of Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah, and I slightly prefer Godzilla Vs Biollante and Godzilla Vs Mothra too, but that’s probably more a case of personal preference than anything else. Every critic’s opinion of every single film is influenced by what he or she does or doesn’t like. Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla may very well be the fastest, most action-packed Godzilla film ever, an almost non-stop series of monster rampages and confrontations, and that’s enough for many fans. Perhaps in reaction to criticisms of the previous three films being convoluted in terms of their plots [partially justified, but at least two of them tried to do some new things], this is a much simpler affair, allowing a greater emphasis of the emotions of the actual monsters, but it’s also underdeveloped and has some things which just don’t work, while the humans are very bland. This really is one of those Godzilla films where you forget about the characters and just won’t be able to remember them after you’ve watched it! It deserves the highest of praise, though, for bringing back a baby Godzilla, making him genuinely cute and lovable, and actually getting him to look like he is an offspring of Godzilla this time unlike the freak of the 1960’s films.
In 1993, Toho decided to bring their Godzilla series to an end. The reason? An American Godzilla movie had been approved and was in pre-production. I will detail the long and convoluted history of the US Godzilla when I get to the 1998 film [if I can bear to watch it again]. For a while Toho flirted with using King Kong again, but this still time they were not allowed the rights full stop. Mechni-Kong was considered again, and amongst several treatments one sounds especially cool – people were going to be injected into Godzilla Fantastic Voyage-style and encounter creatures inside him. It didn’t happen though, so three other popular older monsters were brought back, and a new screenwriter, Wataru Mimura, employed in writing the script. Changes made in various drafts included Mechagodzilla originally being able to separate into two robo-vehicles, there originally being two normal-sized Pteranodons and one becoming Rodan, and there being a flashback set in prehistoric times where Godzillasaurus [Godzilla’s progenitor, as seen in Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah] fought a Pterandon. Director Takao Okawara wanted Godzilla to die, and for a while Baby Godzilla was going to be transformed by Godzilla’s escaping life energy into a new Godzilla. The finished film had some scenes cut to keep down the running time, Godzilla films apparently unable to run more than 106 min. Baby turned against Azuro Goro, the woman who befriends him, in one scene, while another woman in G-Force was revealed as a cyborg! Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla was another hit, and, of course, the Americans hadn’t even started filming yet.
Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla wastes no time in getting going, very much in fact like the 1974 picture. The opening introduction revealing Mechagodzilla deserves credit for not replicating the same introductory shot that had been used twice in the 70’s and also for Mechni-Kong. We quickly meet our human hero Kazuma Aoki, and it soon seems obvious that far more than the two scenes I mention above were cut from Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla. The whole human side of the story seems very rushed and appears to have scenes missing. Though Masahiro Takashima, son of Tadao Takashima from King Kong Vs Godzilla who also appeared in this film, has a likeable goofy presence as Kazuma, his character isn’t fleshed out and just seems ridiculous with his Pteranodon obsession. Never mind, we soon switch to Adona Island and meet both Rodan and Godzilla within minutes. They both have great introductions, Rodan quietly flying into view in a beautifully shot night time scene, and Godzilla’s tail, body, then head revealed as he emerges out of the water. They fight, and when the fight is over, scarcely fifteen minutes have passed! We then spend a lot of time with Baby Godzilla when he is hatched [another good introductory scene, with the camera choosing to reveal his face at the last moment and with even some POV shots helping to convey the poor creature’s confusion], and Godzilla goes back to the sea after defeating Mechagodzilla and G-Force and wrecking much of Kyoto, but both he and Rodan return soon. In Tokyo, Mechagodzilla fights Rodan, then Godzilla. Phew!
While all this virtually non-stop action is going on, we are made to feel rather sorry for Baby, who clearly belongs with his father [or mother], yet said parent is a danger to Japan and should really be destroyed. This means that we’re not sure whether we like Godzilla [who in the previous Heisei pictures is a villain] or not, but it also means we don’t know who to root for and the film doesn’t really have a villain at all, though in a way this makes it more interesting. The plotting gets rather awkward – Rodan seems to be killed but then comes back to life too many times, while I’ve never liked the idea of Rodan’s life force resurrecting Godzilla either [it was originally meant to be radiation from the exploding Garuda that did this]. The film’s stated theme of Artificial Life Against Real Life, with Real Life the superior kind, is muddled by Mechagodzilla being controlled by people inside, and the script not only resurrects the stupid old idea that dinosaurs had two brains but has Godzilla have one in his arse. The many monster fights are a mixed bag. The opening Godzilla/Rodan duel is tremendous, a really brutal, even believable brawl between two animals, but the later battles rely too much on beams being fired at each other, as is the norm in Heisei monster fights. Special effects man Koichi Kawakita said it was because the idea of huge creatures moving fast was silly, but since when were these films trying to be realistic anyway [ignoring, perhaps, the first one]? At least we see fighting going on in the city again, with much building crumbling, though the actual destruction sequences are disappointing.
Mechagodzilla, looking much sleeker than before, has an awesome arsenal of weapons: the Mega Buster, the Plasma Grenade, the Shock Anchor, and the G-Crusher, though giving him people inside weakens the idea of him actually being a monster. Rodan looks disappointingly like a normal Pteranadon and doesn’t cause huge damage by waving his wings anymore, though he’s still able to destroy things by simply flying over them. Overall the effects are impressive, with the matting especially good and allowing for more composite shots than ever before, though Kawakita still has a problem with making winged creatures fly convincingly. Rodan looks a bit stiff when he’s airborne in long shots. One of the most pleasing things about Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla is the way it pays homage to older films by recreating certain bits, like Godzilla destroying an oil refinery from Mothra Vs Godzilla, and Godzilla and Mechagodzilla both reeling when their breaths collide and cause an explosion from the 1974 Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla. Of course the idea of a parent monster wrecking a city as it looks for its offspring was in both Gorgo and Gappa The Triphibian Monster, and Gorgo’s final touching scene is virtually recreated here, though of course poor Baby Godzilla is quickly left way behind by Godzilla as they go peacefully out to sea!
Okawara again directs with vigour, though the cold, grey tone of the [probably intentional] visual approach means that this is not as pleasing to look at Godzilla Vs Mothra. The acting is reasonable but the two female leads are colourless. Miki Saegusa, the woman who has a psychic connection to Godzilla, has more to do here, though she gets roped in rather too easily to turn against Godzilla and it soon becomes obvious that Megumi Odaka is just quite not up to the part. Two teachers at her institute are played by the same girls who played the Cosmos in the previous film and even speak in unison like them! One of the nicest ideas in the film is when signals from the vine surrounding Baby Godzilla’s egg are amplified by psychic children into music, creating a very haunting tune. Akira Ifukube pulls the stops out for his score here, with plenty of new music this time. Of course he brings back Rodan’s theme, and also uses Godzilla’s Mothra Vs Godzilla one, but also creates two powerful marches, one fast and one slow, for G-Force and Mechagodzilla, and two more poignant pieces, one for Baby Godzilla, and that beautiful one for the egg. It really is a great score, diverse and grand, and one of the best features in a Godzilla film which, while it may lack in certain areas, certainly goes above the call of duty to give Kaiju fans what they want.