HCF REWIND NO. 174: GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA AKA GOJIRA TAI SUPESUGOJIRA [Japan 1994]
AVAILABLE ON DVD
FEATURED MONSTERS: GODZILLA, SPACE GODZILLA, LITTLE GODZILLA, MOGERA
RUNNING TIME: 104 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A crystal meteor strikes Birth Island, awaking Godzilla, while Godzilla cells brought into space, either by Biollante or Mothra, are exposed to intense radiation from a black hole, creating a monster closely resembling Godzilla called Space Godzilla. Meanwhile, the JSDF builds a new war machine called Mogera from the wreckage of Mechagodzilla, and a group of soldiers and scientists, which include the sister and revenge-seeking friend of a soldier who was killed by Godzilla, are setting up at Birth Island to try Project T, an attempt to plant a device on Godzilla so he can be controlled. Despite psychic Miki Saegusa’s initial adversion to the plan, it goes ahead but fails. At the same time, Space Godzilla nears Earth, and defeats Mogera when it is sent to intercept it….
Dip into a book about Godzilla and you’ll most probably read that Godzilla Vs Space Godzilla is very poor and even one of the worst of all of the films. There’s no doubt that it’s seriously flawed in both conception and execution, and a major dip from Godzilla Vs Biollante, Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah, Godzilla Vs Mothra and Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla, but it isn’t quite as bad as all that. It’s an entertaining monster movie that at least makes a decent attempt to redress one of the major flaws of Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla – its near lack of a human element. While it contains giant monsters either threatening or defending Earth, and lots of footage devoted to them, it’s more about their effect on the human characters, with the addition of a sappy ‘love conquers all’ message that perhaps seems out of place in a Godzilla film [if there is a strong romantic element, as in Godzilla, Invasion Of The Astro-Monster and Terror Of Mechagodzilla, it’s hardly a happy thing]. I can certainly see why it’s disliked by so many fans – it doesn’t even deliver on the fighting and destruction fronts – but it has its strong points and a series would get boring if all the films in it were pretty much the same.
You will recall that Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla was intended to be the last Japanese Godzilla film, at least for a while, because the Americans had got into the act, but production stalled, so Toho felt obliged to make another one, which was publicised as the 40th Anniversary film. For reasons unknown, Toho decided to make the film with a largely different crew than the last few, though Akira Ifukube was asked to do the score. He declined because he didn’t like the script. Hiroshi Kashiwabara and Kanji Kashiwa’s first draft originally brought back Mechagodzilla, but this was changed to Mogera, a new version of the giant alien robot in The Mysterians, but this time built to defend Earth and with people inside it like the new Mechagodzilla. Director Kensho Yamashita was a veteran of Japanese teen-idol movies, though he had been chief assistant director to Ishiro Honda on Terror Of Mechagodzilla. Somewhat rushed in production, it had a major sequence cut from the final print where Godzilla frees Little Godzilla from the crystal prism Space Godzilla has imprisoned him in. Supposedly too serious for a relatively light film, the scene’s removal leaves a gap in the narrative. The huge publicity for the film resulted in it being another major hit, though critically it was overshadowed a few months later by Gamera: Guardian Of The Universe, which revived Daiei’s formerly second-rate giant flying turtle franchise with extremely good results.
Right from the very first scene, there is a laziness and lack of imagination at work, with the opening scene of Moguera’s construction and the following one of Godzilla’s awakening exact copies from similar bits in Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla and Godzilla Vs Mothra respectively. The story brings the character of Miki Saegusa to the fore even more than in the previous film, but again she goes on about Godzilla’s rights, here saying he shoudn’t be controlled, then has her mind quickly changed, and this is only near the beginning. The lengthy sequence, even if it begins with another memorable Godzilla entrance from the sea, where they try to put the control device on Godzilla and Major Akira Yuki tries to shoot a blood coagulator into Godzilla’s heart, provides little excitement, though the special effects are well up to par. As time goes on though, it’s obvious that not only does Yamashita have little interest in the monster stuff but Koichi Kawakita, in charge of the effects, has lost much of his enthusiasm. Space Godzilla threatens Little Godzilla, then battles Godzilla in a lame fight done entirely with beams being fired, then goes off to attack Fukuoka where huge crystal formations rise out of the ground, destroying buildings. This sounds awesome, but the crystals wobble and are far too obviously plastic, though they’re not as good as the embarrassing early scene where Mogera and Space Godzilla battle in space amidst foam boulders obviously hanging from a ceiling. How could they?
The first half of Godzilla Vs Space Godzilla takes place on a tropical island, saving on the budget and bringing back memories of Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster and Son Of Godzilla, though later shots of Godzilla besting the navy and nearing Fukuoka are taken from Godzilla Vs Biollante and remind one more of even more cheapie entries like Godzilla Vs Gigan, though at least the suit doesn’t change in appearance this time round. The final half hour is possibly the most static, boring battle in the series. At least Mogera, who doesn’t really need to be in the fight at all, has a cool ability to split into two vehicles, but Godzilla and Space Godzilla must touch each other about three times, choosing for the most part to just stand there firing their bloody beams. Eiji Tsuburaya would have been appalled. The film relies more than on the human side, and some of this does come up trumps. The decision to bring to the fore the love story between Miki and a soldier, replete with a rather beautifully shot walk on a sunset beach, doesn’t really slow things down because the scenes are short, though it means that a secondary love story is given short shrift. The contradictory nature of most of the characters is a well-meaning attempt at depth, but doesn’t always come off. In particular, Yuki’s hatred of Godzilla is unconvincingly changed near the end when he decides to help him against Space Godzilla.
In a film which copies its predecessor in places, it’s bizarre how Godzilla no longer had the fiery breath he attained near the end of that film. Instead, it’s back to how it normally was until near the end. Space Godzilla is basically a flying Godzilla with crystals on his back, but he does look quite impressive. Less so is Little Godzilla. He may behave like a young one would, being playful, able to wander into dangerous situations and call out for its parent [sounding like a horse], but with his enormous head and green skin, he doesn’t look much like his Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla incarnation, who at least resembled Godzilla. Fairy Mothra, a miniature Mothra ridden on by the Cosmos, makes a few nice if pointless appearances. I criticised some of the special effects earlier, but there is also much that is good, including some flawless complicated matting and even some creative use of the camera, such as a bit when it tracks over Godzilla and moves past his head to reveal somebody running behind him. On two occasions, the camera even shudders with each of the monster’s footsteps. There is a wide disparity between the good and bad aspects in this film. A clever, convincing shot will be followed by one so lame you wonder how it made the final cut. A nice character moment will be followed by a really stupid piece of writing. At one point the Mafia randomly turn up, but it results in a good shoot out where a Mafia agent uses Miki strapped to a bed as a shield against the fire of the good guys.
The performances generally do the job in a more human-centred film except for one glaring flaw: Megumi Odaka. She just isn’t strong enough in the role of Miki Saegusa and leaves a hole in what is supposed to be the emotional centre of the film: her falling in love. Akira Nakao and Kenji Sahara return in their roles from Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla. The music score is by Takayaki Hattori, except some out of place uses of Ifukube’s Godzilla and Mothra themes. His quite ‘western’ –sounding music doesn’t give the monsters as much character or menace as Ifukube, but it’s a pleasant score that is quite diverse, including a nice march for Godzilla, a rather hummable jaunty tune for Mogera, a pretty theme for Miki, a comical Little Godzilla theme, a tense battle theme…and a rather obvious John Barry lift. The score is overall a good piece of work and has been unnecessarily criticised. In a way, so has the film in general. It has its really bad aspects, but had the bad luck to follow four really good Godzilla films as well as exist in a series where so many of the entries are fabulous pieces of entertainment. Taken on its own, it actually holds up quite well.