Toho realized there was still plenty of life left in the Godzilla franchise when Godzilla Millennium (known as “Godzilla 2000” Stateside) drew a huge Japanese audience and even managed to reach wide release here in the USA. Without skipping a beat they had the next film slated. Following the model used in Godzilla Millennium, Toho would abandon well-known stable of monsters to find a new foe to face the Big G. This time they went all the way back to Rodan and pulled the insectoid “Meganeuron” out of retirement. Toho changed the Meganeuron from miner eating Rodan chow to a full on insectoid monstrosity bent on Godzilla’s
But the enemy monster isn’t the only new thing in this Kaiju outing. Taking a page from the Daiei Heisei series, director Masaaki Tezuka tones down the goofiness and presents a story with deep parallels to, of all things, Moby Dick.
Major Kiriko Sujimori (Misato Tanaka) an operative in the G-grasper Counter Godzilla Squad, too headstrong for her own good, causes the death of her mentor and superior officer Miyagawa in a 1996 street battle with Godzilla. For the remainder of the film she strives to take revenge and cleanse her conscience of that death.
She is Ahab. Of course, this places Godzilla squarely in the role of Moby Dick, the remaining G-Graspers become the crew of the Pequod, and Japan becomes the high seas.
Everything old is new again!
The film opens with a pretty cool newsreel montage showing Godzilla’s visits to Japan and ties them to their developing nuclear energy program. The first appearance in 1954 occurs after US nuclear tests in the Pacific. The next appearance in 1962 happens when Japan opens its first nuclear power plant. Although the Japanese government knows that Godzilla thrives on nuclear energy, they cannot produced enough alternative energy sources to feed their post-war manufacturing based economy. Thus, in 1996 the newest nuke plants draw Godzilla back to the mainland.
The story picks up in 2001 when Japanese scientist have developed “plasma energy” to replace their nuclear infrastructure. Not coincidentally, plasma energy is to Godzilla like a huge loaf of bread is to a recent Atkins dieter. As soon as the plasma plant starts working it draws the carbo-raged Godzilla out of the deep ocean.
But wait, there’s more!
The G-Graspers had a new weapon under development known as the Dimension Tide, which is sort of this cool orbital cannon that fires a mini black hole that sucks in and squishes anything in its path. Anyone who watches Godzilla can tell you that coherent science hasn’t ever been one of the series strong points. The Dimension Tide is another dorky Godzilla-science device that sits alongside the Maser, Mogera, Mechagodzilla, Super X and Super X 2, Anti-nuclear energy bacteria, and a whole host of other gadgets, gizmos and doodads designed to destroy Godzilla once and for all. What’s really funny (or annoying depending on your point of view) is how laboriously the cast explains how these doodads work.
Anyway, a Meganeuron egg slips through the back end of the mini-black hole on the Dimension Tide firing range and allows a single monster to spring forth. The Meganeuron matures after eating two people in a somewhat gory sequence, and begins to reproduce.
The G-Graspers learn about Meganeuron from a kid who accidentally witnessed the firing of the Dimension Tide. By then Godzilla is closing on Japan and it’s up to the G-Graspers to deal with their great, green, radioactive problem first.
Major Sujimori plants a transmitter on the big lizard and the G-Graspers work to get the Dimension Tide satellite launched into orbit. Meanwhile something floods the entire Shibuya district of Tokyo, not coincidentally, the Meganeura larvae develop in water.
The flooded scenes of downtown Tokyo are really good actually and use CGI to submerge the city. There is also a really cool bit where the G-Graspers explore the submerged city with a remote controlled sub and find millions of Meganeura eggs. The attention to detail in these scenes is really astonishing.
There are, of course, ancillary characters. Sujimori’s love interest is the requisite computer programmer/inventor guy (think Mr. Terry from Godzilla vs. Monster Zero only not as dorky) named Hajime Kudo, and HIS mentor and former Physics teacher Yoshino Yoshizawa who, tragically, lost all her friends when Godzilla attacked in 1996 and now heads the Dimension Tide research group of G-Graspers. A nice touch is that Dr. Yoshizawa is played by veteran genre actress Yuriko Hoshi know to Godzilla fans as news photographer Junko 'Yoka' Nakanishi in Godzilla vs. Mothra from 1964.
She looks great for her age too.
Godzilla vs. Meganeuron has a lot going for it. The suit design follows the precedent set with the Godzilla 2000 suit, and it’s never looked better. It’s streamlined, feral, and dangerous. The Meganeuron look pretty cool too, and when only one super gigantic one remains to challenge Godzilla their battle is one of the best in recent memory.
The special effects by Kenji Suzuki are some of the best in the series and only rarely offer glimpses of shoddy CGI. He opts for a careful mix of CGI and suitmation and balances the two techniques well. The model work is easily on par with the work of Shinji Higuchi of the Heisei Gamera series. And, nicely, all of the monster action takes place in the full light of day.
Well, accept one scene, when the big Meganeuron emerges from the flooded Tokyo streets we are treated to marionette theater as someone obviously forgot to digitally remove ALL THE WIRES holding the Meganeuron suit off the ground. Shades of old Rodan!
Kubu yelps, “What the hell is that?” I yelped back, “It’s a monster on strings…” But, if that’s the only real faulty I can find, then hey, Suzuki must be doing something right.
Suzuki keeps Godzilla slow and ponderous, makes certain that every footfall makes the appropriate stomp, and lets the Big G have his way with both the Tokyo and Osaka Skylines.
The acting is surprisingly good for a Kaiju-Eigah, with Yuriko Hoshi outshining all of the other cast members.
The score by Michiru Oshima compliments the story, and Akira Ifukube’s original score (which appears during the newsreel) and uses enough deep tones and heavy bass to emphasize the gargantuan proportions of the monsters on the screen.
Columbia Tri-Star releases Godzilla vs. Meganeuron in 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen with BOTH the original Japanese language track and a fresh English dub, with English and French subs.
Although it’s not quite on par with the depth and tone of GMK, Godzilla vs. Meganeuron is great fun and certainly one of the better in the long history of Godzilla titles. Toho keeps churning these out too, Columbia Tri-Star is bringing the most recent Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla to the US market soon and I expect it will receive the same treatment. Godzilla, Mechagodzilla, Mothra is either in post-production in Japan or has been released so we can probably look forward to that one too.