I am not quite sure what’s up with Toho Pictures, but if the recent spate of Godzilla movies is any indication, I think George Lucas may have infiltrated their board of directors. See, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (or as I’ll call it for the remainder of the review GxMG) other than we’ve seen almost all of this before, in some cases DOZENS of times, within the Godzilla franchise.
What possesses them to remake these flicks; a need for perfection, or a feeling of something left unsaid? I don’t know, but I am pretty sure we’re going to keep seeing this movie over and over again for a while.
Like Tezuka’s other films in the franchise GxM ignores all the preceding Godzilla films except the original 1954 Gojira. However, unlike his other work, this one mentions a couple of other monsters that have made waves in Japan between 1954 and present day; specifically Mothra and Gairas (the green Gargantua from War of the Gargantuas) but they only appear here in file footage (which incidentally was kinda cool).
Mechagodzilla is one of the best known Kaiju from the Toho stable, so I guess it’s only natural that he’d make an appearance in the current crop of films after his stint in the Heisei series and twice at the end of the Showa series. In the Heisei series Mechagodzilla was the Japanese Godzilla Defense Force weapons of choice to destroy both Godizlla and Fire Rodan. GxMG mirrors that film in many ways, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t add Wataru Mimura’s script doesn’t add anything really new to the story. This is like the special edition of Star Wars where Han Solo shoots first and you can’t see any of the matte work.
The monster side of the plot follows pretty closely to the old War of the Gargantuas plot where two giant monster brothers, one from the sea and one from the mountains, duke it out in Tokyo beneath a barrage of Maser fire. The brothers in GxMG are both Godzilla. The actual Godzilla and a robot constructed from the skeleton of the dead 1954 Godzilla salvaged from beneath the sea where Dr. Serizawa killed it with the Oxygen Destroyer weapon. Whereas the brown Gargantua brother fought on the side of humanity (recklessly, but nonetheless on the side of humanity) the 1954 Godzilla does the same only encrusted with armor and weapons and piloted by a flawed yet plucky woman.
It really kind of irks me that they ignored the preceding two films from Tezuka’s resume and left mention of both Orga and Megaguiras in some bizarre alternate timeline. One of the problems that all of the Godzilla titles have suffered from is film-to-film continuity and the three Tezuka films compound the problem.
At least in the Heisei series we had a couple of carry over characters like Miki Sagusa and General Gondo who helped tie the whole run together. We get a slew of cameo’s here but it doesn’t do the series justice. Takehiro Murata (Shinoda from Godzilla 2000 Millennium) appears as “man picking up cans”, Kumi Mizuno (Akemi in War of the Gargantua) appears as Prime Minister Machiko Tsuge, and Akira Nakao (Commander Taki Aso from both Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla 2 and Godzilla vs Destroyah) appears as Prime Minister Hayato Igarashi.
Yes, we have a change of office in the film.
But none of this makes up for the absence of Godzilla’s other recent appearances.
Okay, on with the story.
When Maser pilot Akane Yashiro (Yumiko Shaku) panics mid-battle with Godzilla and causes the stomping deaths of 10 comrades she’s demoted to a job in the JXDF library. She is a shell of a woman, or so we infer, as we never see here anywhere but in the library for a long time.
A new Godzilla, for what it’s worth, makes landfall in 1994 during Typhoon 13, forty years after the original’s death. So this is a new Godzilla and uses a variation of the suit used in both Godzilla 2000 and GxM (more feral, pointier snout, different spines etc…).
Prime Minister Tsuge approves the creation of a super robot to combat Godzilla on its next landfall. To do so she collects the greatest minds in Japan’s science community and puts them to work. The principal scientist we’ll follow is Tokimitsu Yuhara (Shin Tokuma) and his plucky daughter Sara, a robotocist with a special fondness for DNA computers.
DNA computers process information using a variation of the base pairs of biological DNA rather than binary numbers. It’s supposed to be faster…. Whatever, you know the science in these flicks isn’t meant for careful scrutiny.
They design and build the “Kayra” Mechagodzilla over the next three and a half years. Luckily Godzilla doesn’t interfere during this time. Once the robot is ready (and we’ve had a change of Prime Ministers) the FXDF recalls Akane from library duty and puts her at the vanguard of the Kayra team much to the dismay of Hayama, brother of a soldier who was stomped to death because of Akane in 1994.
This Mechagodzilla offers a new weapon, the absolute zero gun, which can flash-freeze a target the size of a skyscraper. Godzilla makes landfall while the government is unveiling the new machine to the press.
It’s a pretty cool way of laying out the expository stuff. Each of the scientists gives a little presentation on the Mechagodzilla weapons and capabilities. Usually these sorts of things are introduced in the heat of battle, so having a moment to digest all the technoblab was a welcome change.
The government dispatches Mechagodzilla and her three control aircraft the White Herons to face Godzilla. They battle is short though and a malfunction in the DNA computer causes the Mechagodzilla to rampage through the city leaving the JXDF and all of Japan helpless until the beast runs out of power. The batteries only last 2 hours.
This is the best scene in the movie.
Mechagodzilla did successfully drive off Godzilla before the malfunction. However, the damage caused to Tokyo puts Prime Minister Igarashi’s administration in jeopardy. This is initially a really interesting point that goes nowhere and it’s a shame. We never get the sense that Igarashi is at all worried about his job other than one short scene where he waffles on whether or not to resign.
They fix Mechagodzilla just in time for Godzilla to make landfall again and again the JXDF dispatches the robot.
We get a nice long monster battle and some of the best special effects and model work in Toho history.
Like many of these films the human characters in GxMG are ancillary to giant monster madness. Sara has a deep sense of life and death because she lost her mother and fetal sibling when only 4, her dad worries that his work will take him out of her life for too long (a plot point they resolve almost immediately), Akane is overcome with guilt and a sense of worthlessness.
All standard stuff really. But what kinda bugged me was the very recent use of these character types in the preceding two films. Remember Shinoda and Io, the father/daughter team from Godzilla 2000? Yeah, it’s almost exactly the same here. Remember Kikiro Tsugimori, the girl who paniced and caused the death of her commanding officer in GxM, yep, same character as Akane. The rest of the characters are carbon copies of every other character appearing in every other Toho monster flick.
Okay, that’s a lot of negative stuff. What’s right with this movie anyway?
Well the special effects are the best Toho has ever done. I was hard pressed to find a flaw, and the few that made themselves known were extremely insignificant. The model work is flawless, as is the suit design (though, why does Mechagodzilla need eyes again??) The action sequences are great and the monster battles are lots of fun. It’s always good to see a forty-foot tall creature stomp THROUGH a building leaving a smoky hole in its wake. Even the CGI is flawless here, and that’s a stretch for Toho’s recent efforts.
Snihji Nishikawa’s suit design is great with this incarnation of Mechagodzilla being the most detailed of them all (though I still prefer the pot-bellied one from the 70’s… Hey, call me a traditionalist but I love that suit).
Tezuka even manages to work in some “deaths of people scenes” that give the film a little more emotional resonance. Though, unlike Shosuke Kaneko’s fetish for showing ordinary people being stomped, burned, and otherwise rent asunder, Tezuke keeps the casualties in the military.
Michiru Oshima’s score is great even though it incorporates NONE of Akira Ifukube’s original Godzilla marches and provides a thoroughly military take on the proceedings.
So in conclusion, GxMG is a mixed bag. It lacks the originality of GxM and Godzilla 2000 with regard to monster choices and recycles a whole mess of stuff from other movies in the franchise including (but not limited to) Godzilla vs Biolante (using Godzilla’s cells against him), Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster (Mechagodzilla), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2 (the Heisei series that put Mechagodzilla in the hands of the JDF), War of the Gargantuas (Godzilla fighting an older Godzilla), and characters from virtually every Toho monster film to date. Still the visuals are great and will make even the most jaded fan smile.
Columbia Tri-Star offers GxMG in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with the original Japanese language track (YAY!!!) and an English dub both in 5.1 Dolby Digital, English and French subs, and some trailers.
The next film in the series, already released in Japan, puts Mechagodzilla against both Godzilla and Mothra. I wonder if they will mention this film in the storyline? I certainly hope so because if anything is gonna kill off the Godzilla franchise it’s lack of continuity.
The recycling continues.