So here we are, already halfway through 2017, and somehow I’ve managed to not review a single Godzilla film. What the fuck?! Godzilla’s my mutated, radioactive bread and butter! How did this happen?
Let’s correct that right now! Between Ultraman and Mothra I’ve been living and breathing 60s golden age kaiju action, so this month I’m reviewing 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. Gimmick CGI! Time travel! Evil white people (which stirred up enough controversy to temporarily kill the series Stateside!)! This was almost a Mothra movie (co-starring fan-favorite “lost” monster Bagan!), a King Kong movie, and a Mechanikong movie! Back to the Future II directly inspired this flick (writer/director Kazuki Omori even said so!)! Ghidorah like you’ve never seen him before (or since!)!
And that’s still just a sample of the delightful (if ultimately pretty uneven) madness in this very 90s entry in the Godzilla series. We’ll talk about all that, plus the most direct (and pulpy!) Godzilla origin ever filmed, and maybe most importantly: M-11’s off-brand Terminator shenanigans. Fire up the Delorean, shit’s about to go bonkers.
There’s a LOT to unpack with this flick, so let’s start with a trailer:
No English-language trailer: Godzilla 1985 was the last G-flick to get a US theatrical release until 1999’s Godzilla 2000.
Godzilla+a year=Hollyweird gold!
The trailer focuses mainly on the “holy shit a UFO!” plotline and the monster action, giving away the big Mecha King Ghidorah reveal in a suspiciously toy-commercial-esque fashion (complete with flashy text and “NEW” branding). Then it’s followed with an actual toy commercial. The 90s, everybody!
Those sawing strings and that thundering percussion might sound familiar: the score was composed by series+genre trailblazer Akira Ifukube! My pick for this movie’s best piece of music is a little different than what I might normally go for:
“Farewell to the Dinosaur” is a melancholy ode to a fallen beast and an unlikely savior. In a movie chock-full of batshit madness, it’s a moment of surprising emotional depth. That goes for the subplot that it scores, too. It reminds me of the incredibly moving “Beauty and the Beast” music from King Kong Escapes, and that’s definitely a good thing.
“Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” is my runner-up, and a more traditionally bombastic piece of kaiju movie music. It gets runner up because it nails the lumbering power and chaos of two titans duking it out, but it lumbers so much that it verges on plodding. That kind of goes for Ifukube’s whole score (which you can listen to here): I love the dude’s work, but at times it feels old fashioned, out of place, or just too familiar. They lean heavily on the classic Godzilla march, and it starts to feel ridiculous when it punctuates every single thing Godzilla does. The “sleek”, computerized world of 90s Japan (not to mention the 23rd century) just isn’t the ideal setting for Ifukube’s more classical scores.
So we have Ifukube composing, Kazuki Omori writing and directing, plus Koichi Kawakita on special effects, and Shogo Tomiyama producing. We know Ifukube had been banging out incredible monster music since Gojira in ’54, so who are these other dudes? I talked about Kawakita (and the Heisei Godzilla flicks in general) a bit in my review of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. His visual effects career goes back at least as far as 1962 when he worked on Gorath and King Kong vs. Godzilla. With Godzilla vs. Biollante he became Toho’s go-to effects guy:
That leaves Omori and Tomiyama as the two folks I haven’t yakked about before. Previously Omori wrote and directed Biollante, and would do the same for Godzilla vs. Mothra and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. For me that’s a resume that varies wildly in quality: I personally rank Biollante and Ghidorah high-ish, while Godzilla vs. Mothra (sometimes called Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth) is in my bottom three.
Tomiyama took over for the original series producer (Tomoyuki Tanaka) when he died, and handled all of Toho’s Godzilla output from Biollante up through the meth-and-Skittles fueled insanity of Godzilla Final Wars… which he also wrote.
Tomiyama looked at Biollante’s lukewarm reception and determined that the series needed to move in a lighter, more fantasy-oriented direction. For better and/or worse, that brings us to this movie! Let’s get into it!
Ghidorah throws you face-first into time warping adventure: we open on a high-tech mini-sub in 2204, trawling the ocean floor for the corpse of King Ghidorah. Yes, the movie opens centuries after what you might have assumed would be the film’s climactic showdown.
I also realized very quickly that the picture quality on my DVD is pretty turdish. On-Demand and Starz to the rescue! Here’s a quick comparison:
I can’t speak for the Blu-ray, but I would guess that’s the version Starz is using. ANYWAYS they find Ghiddy’s rotten bod, scan it with 1991’s finest stunt CGI, and we’re treated to this movie’s deliciously dorky dub. If (for some reason) you didn’t already appreciate the terrific dubs of the 60s films, you will after a couple minutes of this. It’s fine enough, but almost every line is delivered with a sort of halting awkwardness that tends to kill any momentum or drama the movie builds up. The lines themselves sound like literal translations instead of being tweaked to sound like natural, conversational English. This is technically a bad thing, but it really adds to the charming, cheeseball nature of the film so I end up loving it as-is.
So after that hype-ass title card I posted up above, we bounce back to 1992 where a UFO is flying around and freaking everybody’s shit out!
These shots, especially compared to the fine looking mini-sub and dead Ghidorah just minutes prior, are surprisingly rough looking. That ping-ponging in SPFX quality is pretty much par for the movie (and if we’re being 100% honest, the Heisei movies at large). But hey, let’s meet our male human lead!
Kenichiro Terasawa (played by Mr. Baseball‘s Kosuke Toyohara!) writes sci-fi schlock for Super Mystery Magazine Mu (which sounds like the funnest fucking job ever), but he wants to switch to writing respectable non-fiction. His first scene establishes his motivation and also gifts us a big dose of the dub’s signature weirdness. He’s on the phone with his editor when he delightedly explains “Yeah! I’m already showered!” …C-congratulations?
He also has an English accent? Anyway he tells his editor he doesn’t want to write about the UFO, he wants to write about the whackadoo that’s been harassing people about dinosaurs down at the natural history museum. We’re whisked away to him mid-rant:
He’s Masukichi Ikehata, a World War II vet played by Koichi Ueda (who appeared in every Godzilla movie from Biollante through Final Wars!). It’s ultimately a pretty small role, but dude does such a great job playing a burned-out weirdo that even the dub doesn’t detract from his performance. Ikehata is megaphoning at everyone that a dinosaur “watches over all of us!” and will “save us from tragedy and disaster just as it did before!”
With all this in mind, I would like to point out that we are barely five minutes into this movie.
In <5 minutes we have: DEAD Ghidorah, future civilization studying dead Ghid, a for-real UFO, and a WWII vet evangelizing about our guardian angelsaurus. AND THERE’S STILL A BUNCH MORE TO ESTABLISH.
Ikehata (understandably) gets dragged out of the museum, and Terasawa tracks him to the street food hut he works in. While he’s closing down the shop, Ikehata opens up to Terasawa and explains that he was stationed on Lagos Island in the South Pacific back in the day. They were pinned down by US forces, and it all sounds pretty normal (albeit harrowing) until Ikehata explains that an honest-to-god live dinosaur came out of the woodwork and saved his (and his entire garrison’s) ass.
Ikehata says they didn’t even try to report it, knowing nobody would ever believe them (military victory via dinosaur is in the same ballpark as chance Bill Murray encounters). Also: betcha can’t guess why this movie was controversial in the US!
This is one of those rare cases where I can go “yeah, I see where you’re coming from, easily-offended moral watchdog groups.” Of course by the end of the film we see Japan suffer Godzilla’s wrath more than anybody and it’s clear that G-man doesn’t bear any special hate for the US of A. But in that immediate, isolated moment, a “heroic” proto-Godzilla slaughtering an entire battalion of American soldiers, fighting for Imperial Japan can look pretty fucked up. Oh, and our human villains look like this:
As they say, the optics aren’t great here.
But I’m getting ahead of the movie! Ikehata tells his incredible story to Terasawa, and we meet our next lead, the psychic Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka).
Miki’s a recurring Heisei-series character introduced in Biollante, and she’s been tasked with studying the UFO. She reports that it parked close to Godzilla’s last known location in the ocean after he was “driven there by Biollante.” Miki feels pretty pointless in this movie: her psychic abilities barely come into play, so she’s shoehorned into functioning mostly as a mundane government agent. I like Miki and it’s cool to see her for continuity reasons, I just wish the script made better use of her.
Terasawa’s still got dino fever so he meets up with Professor Mazaki to hash shit out. Mazaki’s a classically schlubby, Dad-ish nerd played by Katsuhiko Sasaki. Sasaki’s no stranger to Godzilla or playing nerds: dude was inventor Goro Maki in Godzilla vs. Megalon and marine biologist Akira Ichinose in Terror of Mechagodzilla (plus he was a soldier in Biollante, but that doesn’t fit with the nerd motif). Dude must also have great pipes in his native tongue: he’s not only a prolific voice actor, but the go-to dub man for Robert De Niro and Alec Baldwin.
Mazaki thinks Ikehata’s story is plausible, and that said dinosaur most likely became Godzilla: the dino is in the right time and place to get bombarded by fallout from nuclear weapons testing. Terasawa follows the
money dino-story to big business mogul Yasuaki Shindo. How big of a deal is Shindo? According to Terasawa “he’s the man who owns Dinosaur World!”
Shindo’s played by Yoshio Tsuchiya, a Kurosawa regular (including Seven Samurai and Red Beard) who insisted on being in Godzilla Raids Again back in the day. I say “insisted” because despite his leading man-level talent and charisma, dude is actually a huge nerd: he’d leave the set of Seven Samurai to sneak into the Gojira set and watch them make it. He’s crazy about UFOs too: he loves them so much he’s written books on the subject and he’d always lobby to play aliens (or people possessed by aliens) in sci-fi films.
Knowing a little background on Tsuchiya, it seems like the role of Shindo was written specifically for him. Terasawa starts grilling him about Lagos Island, and Shindo eventually opens up and reveals his awesome photos of the dino. The pics corroborate Ikehata’s story AND the Godzilla theory.
But hey, there’s still a UFO in this movie!
The JSDF creates a perimeter around the flying saucer, and it isn’t long before they start receiving transmissions from it. In classic little green man fashion, they want to talk to our leaders, who agree to cross the defense line and meet the visitors.
So are the pilots of this amazing craft big-brained, bug-eyed mutants? Tentacled terrors from another world?
Well actually, holograms of 90s douchers!
They’re not aliens, they’re time travelers! The UFO is a big ol’ time machine! It’s a fun, weird twist on an old premise that actually jives with certain schools of UFOlogy.
The time travelers (which have been unofficially but awesomely named “Futurians” by the Godzilla fan community) want to speak to Japan’s Prime Minister, so they teleport there!
The Futurians claim they’re here to warn us and help us. According to them, Godzilla’s about to go so apeshit on Japan’s “nukuler” (this dub, man!) power plants that the entire country will become an uninhabitable, nuked-to-death hellscape. Then they pull out a book by our hero Terasawa… that hasn’t been written yet! The book elaborates on the Godzilla theory he’s been piecing together, and the Futurians claim there’s a 98% chance that it’s dead-on.
The Futurians’ plan is
simple… a plan: they’re going to go back to Lagos Island in 1944, find proto-Godzilla and teleport him away from the nuclear test site, preventing his creation.
In addition to their own crew, they request Terasawa, Saegusa, and Mazaki come along. Everybody agrees, because holy shit how could you say no to a time travel trip to go see a dinosaur? But most importantly, these three blessed souls get to meet M MOTHER FUCKING ELEVEN:
Getting to go inside the massive UFO is a really fun reveal. Some of the interiors look awesome, and some look they were ripped from Tim and Eric sketches (which is awesome [show] in a very very different way):
As our heroes are getting ready for their incredible time flight, they run into the DORATS!
They are… supposed to be cute but super are not. I mean they are kind of, but they’re mostly horrifying. There’s three of these fluttery little shits, and Emi Kano (the lady Futurian) explains that they’re genetically engineered creatures designed to be perfect pets. Then she plays a light-up kazoo to make them stuff themselves into an overhead compartment:
Emi claims “they’ll be helpful if we get lost, because–” they have a natural sense of direction? They can always find their way back to the ship? We can eat them for sustenance? NOPE! “–they can always cheer us up!” ಠ_ಠ I don’t know if any pet could make me happy to be trapped in a bloodsoaked jungle warzone fifty years in the past on a remote island.
It is a suspect explanation at best, and the Futurians are sketchy to begin with. The guys at the Kaijusaurus Podcast pointed out that the Dorats seem to be inspired by the lil’ monsters in Gremlins. Their general schtick of being cute little things that turn into big evil things speaks to that, but even the weird soft focus closeup I posted earlier made me think of similar shots of Gizmo in Gremlins:
Once these ominous little stowaways get buckled in, we’re ready to blast off to the past! And if you weren’t sure about the Back to the Future connection, the Futurian time machine has a display that’s eerily similar to the time circuits in Doc and Marty’s Delorean:
It’s impossible for me to look at this and not hear Alan Silvestri’s score in my head.
The timeship rockets back to 1944, and we’re treated to this movie’s most (in)famous gag:
Our heroes land on Lagos… taking heavy fire! The Futurians assure the… Pastians? Presentarians?… the 1992 people that WWII ballistics can’t even scratch their timeship and send the super-fast and super-durable M-11 out to investigate. The way the film depicts M-11’s super-speed is both inconsistent and hilarious:
I think my favorite is when they make sure to obscure him from the waist down, and he sort of glides/rollerblades along really quickly (though his glow-running in that first screenshot is great too). I worry that this review will sound too snarky or hyper critical, because I really do mean it when I say I love all these off-kilter effects and odd choices. M-11 is genuinely a joy to watch and never stops being entertaining and engaging… even if it isn’t intentionally so. Just the simple act of him finding Shindo’s garrison is funny:
M-11 broadcasts Shindo’s rousing speech and the ensuing bloody battle back to our heroes back in the timeship. It’s all run ‘n gun WWII mayhem… until a dinosaur roar splits the eardrums of every combatant!
It is… the dopest shit ever. Dinosaur vs. WWII infantry is kick-ass imagery straight out of pulpy, bloody, old school comic books:
I’m a Marvel man first and foremost, but there’s no denying that DC cornered the market on WWII/Dino stories.
It’s probably pretty clear that this time-warping clash pushes the bejeezus out of some kind of radness button in my brain. It’s audacious, imaginative moments like this that smooth over this movie’s rough spots and make it my favorite entry in the Heisei series. M-11 usually looks accidentally hilarious, the Futurians’ UFO looks like crap on the reg, but this scene is pulled off damn well:
Godzillasaurus (the pre-Godzilla dino) is portrayed by Wataru Fukuda (who notably played Mechagodzilla in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II and MOGEURA in Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla), and he does a fine job. More importantly, Godzillasaurus is shot right: low angles and foreground elements combine to make him look appropriately huge. It’s super exciting to watch a wildly different type of monster action setpiece, especially in a franchise that at this point was nearly forty years old and 18 entries deep. Plus it gives us two of the funniest lines/line deliveries in the movie! First, “it’s attacking our BOOOYYYS”:
And more (in)famously, “Take that you dinosaur!”
It’s… so much fucking fun. Godzillasaurus makes Gamera sounds when it shrieks out in pain, and I can’t tell if that’s Toho shitting on Gamera or paying homage to him. Goofy dialogue and possible Gamera-shade-throwing aside, US battleships eventually get their shit together and nail Godzillasaurus:
Godzillasaurus effectively chased off the US forces, but he got blown the fuck up for his trouble. Shindo is acutely aware of this, and holds an impromptu memorial for their unlikely savior. Shindo passionately thanks GZ for his aid and begs his forgiveness: he and his men can do nothing to aid the fallen creature. They salute earnestly before leaving their prehistoric comrade behind.
With all the bystanders dead or vamoosed, our heroes can beam Godzillasaurus’ bullet-riddled bod someplace where he won’t get nuked into the mutated maniac we all know and love.
The teleportation sequence looks like this, because 1991.
Meanwhile Emi shoves the Dorats out the door-at so they can get nuked into a mutated maniac!
Miki tries to press Emi about the missing Dorats, but she just straight up ignores her and they all fly Back to the Future™ without discussing it further. As soon as the timeship returns to the Futurians’ UFO, they explain that Godzilla’s been wiped from existence (which can’t be true otherwise they wouldn’t, you know, know about Godzilla) and King Ghidorah has appeared in his place.
At first I took this to be the Futurians cockily and clearly admitting to removing Godzilla so they could install their new monster, but apparently our heroes don’t put that together within a couple minutes? Like it’s a real head scratcher for them and they need to consult another scientist about it? I can’t tell if this is the script being goddamn crazy (as it is wont to do) or if I just know this movie too well and the “twist” just does not work at all on repeat viewings. But who cares, King Ghidorah’s going buck-nutty on Kyushu!
King Ghidorah makes his grand entrance by doing a window-blasting flyby of Shindo’s opulent tower. It’s an awesome moment, but more in concept than in execution. The flying Ghidorah puppet is stiff and unconvincing, especially compared to the full-body suit which looks pretty damn rad:
The city miniatures are bland and featureless compared to what I’ve come to expect from a Toho production. There are exceptions (like the signage in the gif above), but the overall quality of the effects is at odds with the incredibly cool moments being staged. That combo of bitchin’ ideas and lackluster effects leaves my imagination generously filling in the blanks and making the kaiju rampage action better in my brain than it is on screen. By now the film has won a lot of goodwill from me with its out-there story, the WWII dino-attack sequence, and just how damn cool Godzilla and Ghiddy are and how good they look:
Ghiddy leaves Shindo alive to swear vengeance on the gargantuan golden gargoyle while our main heroes are still debating whether or not there’s a connection between the Futurians, the Dorats, and King Ghidorah. Once they agree the Futurians may be linked to Ghidorah, they finally manage to ask a reasonable question: WHY?!
Turns out even Emi didn’t know the full extent of their plan, and is horrified to see her fellow Futurians gleefully controlling Ghidorah during the onslaught.
Kyushu is just gone before long, and the Futurians move the Ghidster North to Hokkaido. Their plan is to level every major city except Tokyo and “show [the people of Japan] the proper way to rebuild their country.”
Emi is way not into this whole thing (which makes me wonder what the fuck they told her in the first place?) so she sneaks out of the mothership that night. Does she teleport out? Hijack the timeship? Hack the mothership’s security so she can ninja her way out undetected?
It is… so delightful. My appreciation doesn’t come from a place of snarky irony or hipster schadenfreude, it just legitimately makes me smile because it’s goofy and weird and imperfect and charming. I haven’t decided yet how it ranks compared to Mechagodzilla II’s derp-tastic pteranodon air-scooter:
Emi (wondefully) hovers out to Terasawa’s house to warn him of the Futurians’ true intentions. They’re from the Earth Union, an international revolutionary group trying to reset the balance of power between nations. Specifically they’re trying to destabilize Japan, which in their future has become an unstoppable super-power, literally buying up continents. Godzilla Chernobyling Japan was just a cover story they made up so they could get rid of Godzilla, replace him with Ghidorah, and then look like benevolent superheroes when they provide Japan with the computing power (ha, 90s!) needed to defeat Ghidorah the Explorer.
This leads us to another confusing plotpoint. Shindo’s holding a top-secret conference with the Japanese Prime Minister and some other ultra-high level bigwigs. Shindo, diehard Godzilla fan he is, offers up his company’s secret and more or less-illegal nuclear sub to find the Godzillasaurus and turn it into a new Godzilla. We get some neat (if brief) drama here: someone objects to Shindo’s plan, arguing that he’s trying to play god(zilla), Shindo tries to impart that Godzilla is a savior, not a savage.
Our heroes speculate that Godzillasaurus just happened to get teleported somewhere that also got bombarded with nuclear radiation (and they find out a nuclear sub sunk in his approximate area too). The Futurians didn’t prevent Godzilla, they just accidentally created a different one. The movie’s sort of going for the stable time loop version of time travel, but the threads of the story are getting pretty unwieldy.
Miki confirms that not only is Godzilla alive and well in the Bering Sea, he’s on the move! Terasawa and Emi haul ass to get to Shindo to try and stop him from sacrificing his (now unnecessary) sub. GUESS WHO WANTS TO STOP THEM FROM DOING THAT?!?!?!
M-11’s appearances up to now have been brief but awesome. Now he finally gets a big action setpiece of his own, and it does not disappoint! First he pulls up alongside Terasawa’s Jeep and does… this:
M-11’s awkward lean out the window is goofy, but the stunt itself is pretty dope! Shit gets even nuttier when they get cut off by a flatbed truck:
Terasawa’s Jeep “jumping” is classic movie-physics nonsense, but M-11 flipping up on two wheels is bananas. But hey, looks like he’s gonna be O.K.!
So far M-11’s Terminator-ness has been low-key: the fact that he’s kind of genial and isn’t played by an Austrian body-builder makes him feel like just as much an homage to Data from Star Trek.
In full Terminator mode, M-11 gifts us with more super-speed. Sometimes it’s only mildly funny, like when he ultra-rollerblades:
But other times it is goddamn hilarious:
In a movie chock-full of favorite things, this sequence might be the very best. It’s the perfect mix of “Oh shit he’s a Terminator!” and “HAHAHAHA!” At any rate, he stops the Jeep and takes Emi back to the UFO.
Emi is not thrilled by this, so after she tells the other Futurians that they’re dickheads, she reprograms M-11 to be a good guy.
This leads to my favorite line delivery in the entire movie. Here it is in a bunch of different languages. The English dub is the funniest, but it’s neat to hear ’em all:
Emi and Good M-11 go pick up Terasawa, while Miki and Mazaki ride around in a chopper to try and pinpoint G-money’s exact whereabouts.
Oddly enough the score introduces him with… sort of romantic sounding harp strums? I guess I get it though, we’ve been teased with him all movie long, and the suit is fantastic, making for a cathartic reveal. It’s stiff as hell, like all Kawakita suits, but his head looks great. It’s ferocious and expressively animated. Speaking of our titular monsters…
The jet assault on Ghidorah is a ton of fun. The puppet/prop actually looks pretty good here. Maybe like any human actor, it’s got a good side and a bad side, and they were just shooting it on its bad side earlier? Ifukube’s music fits perfectly, the mini jets look great, and the stock footage integrates well. This sequence is rock solid. 👍
I’m really hoping we get the 200 million dollar Hollywood version of this in Godzilla 2/King of the Monsters in 2019. Kong: Skull Island‘s chopper attack has set the bar pretty high for aerial assaults, so I’d love to see Legendary try and outdo themselves. Okay, now let’s jump back to Godzilla!
He’s made landfall, and he’s huger than ever! One shot in particular drives this home:
Our heroes speculate that modern nuclear power has made this Godzilla bigger and badder than his alternate timeline self, and the Futurians are not geeked about it. I goof on a lot of the line deliveries in this movie, but Wilson (the head Futurian) nails this scene with just the right mix of cocky swagger and frustrated rage:
Godzilla and King Ghidorah meet in a big woodsy meadow to beat the piss out of each other. This battle is one of the all-time greatest in my book, even though “two Kawakita monsters in an open field” doesn’t sound great on paper. Usually that would mean two hyper-detailed but nearly immobile kaiju standing about a screen-length apart, shooting an endless array of colorful beams and rockets at each other. Thankfully this fight is not the case:
Of course, there is some beam spammery, but it doesn’t drag on forever.
Here, let me show you the exact moment this Godzilla suit becomes one of my all-time faves:
Ghidorah gets the upper hand (he doesn’t have hands though so… upper wing? Upper head?) by peppering Godzilla with flyby shootings and then knocking his big ass down!
Meanwhile, our heroes are having better luck sabotaging the UFO! They knock out the computer controlling Ghidorah!
It’s SUPER satisfying when the actions of human characters impact the actions of kaiju characters and vice versa. It’s a really cool give and take that almost all of the best kaiju movies have in common. With Ghidorah now out of Futurian control, Godzilla gets the upper hand (he even has hands!) and just starts whomping the shit out of him.
Our heroes blast their way through the UFO and get to Wilson. He spits at them that the Godzilla they’ve brought about will destroy Japan: “You nuclear fanatics don’t know what you’ve created!” Not only that, but the UFO will automatically timewarp them to safety in 15 minutes, so it’s all been for nothing!
People are dicks in the future.
When we cut back to Godzilla, he’s still bodyslamming the bejeezus out of Ghidorah! They tussle a bit, and Ghidorah starts choking Godzilla with one of his necks! It looks incredible in close-ups:
Our heroes are about to escape in the mini timeship, but hate the thought of Wilson and his crew of time-hopping fuckbois getting away with all this. Then they remember they have a
for real goddamn time machine teleportation beam and cook up a plan! Meanwhile, Godzilla is just done with Ghidorah:
HAHAHAHA HOLY SHIT! It’s the best guys. It’s so good. Then guess which flying garbage can full of neon-suited dipshits pops up right next to G-Fresh while he’s still in full rage mode?
HAHAHA YES!!!!! HOORAY! It’s such a funny, satisfying ending for these dick-butts. Honestly, I would have been perfectly happy with them ending the whole movie right here. Everything wraps up pretty nicely at this point… and it’d make this insanely long review a little shorter. If anyone’s actually still reading this (and willing to keep reading), thank you!
So what the fuck? Why ain’t movie over? Because we’ve spent most of New Godzilla’s screentime establishing how much bigger, badder, and madder he is than Godzilla Classic. King Ghidorah tries to fly away with 2/3rds of his heads (and way less of his dignity) intact, and this Godzilla is super not into that:
Godzilla makes his way to Sapporo to fuck shit up, and is greeted by a squadron of maser tanks. Our heroes regroup and try to figure out what, if anything, can be done to stop Godzilla. They come up with something appropriately bananas: if they use 23rd century technology, they could revive Ghidorah and use him to ward of G-fresh! The best part is when they wonder if Ghidorah could still be viable after hundreds of years, and Mazaki helpfully informs us that “[he] should be well-preserved, sea water’s cold.” The “ld” in cold is italicized because the movie cuts him off mid-word, and the dub actor tries to compensate by trailing off… quickly?
It gives the line the goofy cadence of a Trey Parker character and it cracks me up every time.
But yeah, this loops us back around to the movie’s very first scene! Emi isn’t just a kaiju historian, she was scamming around for monster scraps! It’s uh… very fortunate that Emi’s able to return to the same future she left behind, despite all the fucking around they’ve done with the time-space continuum, but I guess that falls in line with this being a stable time loop?
Godzilla of course has plowed his way through Sapporo, and is on his way to punish Tokyo for existing. Despite all the warnings and evacuation efforts, Shindo refuses to leave his skyscraper in the city and bitterly laughs at the irony of his country falling to the creature that saved him so many years ago. Paying off the Shindo story thread alone justifies this chunk of the movie.
Godzilla smashes his way through the mostly-abandoned megalopolis, but mysteriously stops when he reaches Shindo’s tower!
It’s brutal! The music swells somberly (they even removed the sound effects for a few beats to heighten the drama), and we feel this moment. It’s complicated, it’s vague, and it really is emotional. Despite how wacky the rest of this movie is, it totally works. Tsuchiya delivers a slam-dunk performance, and that hyper-expressive Godzilla head can emote right along with him. The Futurians’ point-blank atomic murder is gleeful and cathartic: Shindo’s is not. But hey, LOOKA DIS!
It’s Mecha King Ghidorah! Emi’s in that thing driving it like it’s a high-tech four-wheeler!
Mecha King Ghidorah is pure 90s excess brought to gaudy, wonderful life. It’s a delightfully cuckoo premise, and the only bummer about it is that we never saw it fight/team up with Mechagodzilla.
Kawakita, having slightly restrained his beam-blasting insanity in the Godzilla-Ghidorah fight, goes full on laser crazy here and I ain’t even mad:
Now if this fight was just beam-battles it’d be pretty lame, and thankfully it’s not. We only get a little monster wrasslin’ before Emi unveils her secret weapon. It keeps the fight interesting, and it explains why they bothered building a Cyborghidorah instead of a tank with tons of laser cannons on it. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so here’s like a billion words explaining Emi’s nutso plan:
Hahaha, wheeee! It’s great. This sequence is achieved fantastically. The movie’s gotten progressively crazier as it’s gone on, and this is a perfectly dizzying height to end on. This whole thing (Stage 1 is “Godzilla Grip” and Stage 2 is “Machine Hand”) is a delightfully weird, non-lethal way to dispose of Godzilla, and it’s so damned cool they used a similar gonzo super-weapon in Mechagodzilla II. Of course, New Godzilla isn’t just going to take this loss lying down:
Emi escape pods out, everybody cheers, Godzilla reminds you he’s the fucking bawss even when he loses, and that’s pretty much it! PHEW!
This review got… it got away from me this month. I try not to write a play-by-play when I do these, but it’s hard not to, especially when it’s a movie I really like (like this one), and even more so when it’s a movie I like that’s chock full of crazy shit (like this one). Believe it or not, even though this is my longest single review ever, I still left a bunch of shit out!
Let’s do a quick behind the screams round up and call it a month! At the top of this (so like, almost 7000 words ago!) I mentioned what this movie almost was. The movie that eventually became Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah was scheduled to release on the 50th anniversary of Toho, so they wanted to do something big. King Kong vs. Godzilla still holds the record for highest ticket sales for a Godzilla film, so naturally Toho wanted to make an epic follow up to that 1962 classic.
Turner demanded an astronomical amount of money for the rights to Kong (I’ve usually read it was between 1 and 9 million dollars–maybe not a lot for Hollywood blockbusters, but a non-starter for a relatively smaller Japanese production), so Toho had to back off this idea. They didn’t secure the rights to King Kong, but they’ve always had the rights to Mechanikong!
Turner caught a whiff of that and demanded the same amount of money for a character they didn’t own. It was enough to put Toho off of any Kong, so they switched Kings and started developing Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.
Toho had plans pre-Kong, but they’re less clear. Scribe Omori was developing a script for Mothra vs. Bagan, and sources list a miasma of unused projects that starred different combinations of Godzilla, Mothra and Bagan. The Godzilla series was in kind of a weird place after Back to the Future II beat Biollante at the box office in ’89, hence Ghidorah’s time travel plot and lighter tone.
Technically, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is not a great movie. It probably tops out at good, and I can see why some would think even that’s being generous. There are a few too many characters, the story’s all over the place, and the miniature work is rough. It’s flat-out ugly in a general kind of way too: even when the special effects come off flawlessly, it always looks a little like I’m watching it through a grimy fish tank (not even watching it on Starz! helped that). …Movies like this helped me understand the big difference between “best” and “favorite.”
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is always entertaining, even if not on purpose, without ever fully falling into so-bad-it’s-good territory. It’s an uneven film where the highs are high and the lows are never actually low: instead of lows, they’re “funny & weirds.” This movie is audacious and imaginative, if flawed. It’s not the best the series has to offer, but it takes you on a totally unique ride and shows you a bunch of wild shit you’ve never seen before, and I’ll always love it for that. See you in the 23rd century, jabronis.
You know, normally I’d be inclined to disagree whenever somebody criticizes an Ifukube (or just a Godzilla score in general), but here, even though the music is undeniably great, it just doesn’t fit. Hesei is an odd-mixed bag of greatness and just odd decisions.
I love Ifukube to death, so I straight up felt like an asshole for criticizing his work. Ultimately, some of the sounds that work perfectly in a 60s kaiju classic just don’t feel right in a 90s “high-tech” time travel adventure.
100% agreed on Heisei. Shit’s nuttty!
What I personally dislike about Heisei Ghidorah is that they recycled Rodan’s roar (which they also did for Battra) rather than revamp his iconic Showa roar.
Also, Godzilla vs. Destroyah helps clarify the time travel confusion by outright revealing that the Heisei Godzilla is not the original 1954 Godzilla.
I would have LOVED to hear this Ghidorah cackle. I hadn’t even put that together until you pointed it out!
Anything that helps untangle this movie is A-OK by me! I’ll have to look for that when I review Destoroyah!
This was a great review (aren’t they all, though?) and I managed to learn a lot (octopus blood??!?) as well!
I would have rather seen the movie the trailer is selling. It has such wonderfully lured lines as “Godzilla will awaken if called by his rival, King Ghidorah” and “The people of 2204 are attacking us! The war beyond time and space has begun!” Where’s that movie? It also really plays up Godzilla as a hero in the trailer. “Godzilla is fighting back!” the announcer says as he charges at Mecha-King Ghidorah.
“Farewell to the Dinosaur” is my favorite track from this movie as well. It beautifully underscores the relationship between Godzilla and Shindo. And it’s a retooled piece from “Majin.”
While you make valid points about Ifukube’s work in the movie, the Japanese were THRILLED that he was back. They loved hearing his music in a new Godzilla movie again.
Mothra ’92 and Destroyer were directed by Takao Okawara, not Omori.
Tomoyuki Tanaka didn’t die until 1997. Tomiyama was like an assistant producer of the Heisei movies. Tanaka himself produced all these Heisei movies. In fact, the first credit in the movie is “Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka.” It wasn’t Tomiyama that looked at Biollante’s reception, but Tanaka and Corporate Toho.
I can assure you that the international dub for “King Ghidorah” is nowhere close to being a literal translation of the Japanese dialogue. That is a huge problem the international dubs had that got out of control starting with KG… the dialogue is often something completely different than what was originally said, usually far less interesting. For example, in Japanese, Terasawa isn’t excited about having showered already. In fact, he doesn’t even mention showering. It gets to the point to where it’s two different stories you’re watching.
No joke though, the international Terasawa dubber NAILS that “make my day” delivery.
“I just wish the script made better use of [Miki].”
Yup. Omori wrote this…
Dino fever… CATCH IT!
Katsuhiko Sasaki also dubbed Ken Watanabe for the Japanese dub of “Godzilla ’14”!
Have you heard that when Yoshio Tsuchiya came to G-Fest back in the 90s, fans would do the Planet X hand gestures to him and he’d do them right back? They need to bring him back…
“Douchers”… is there any better way to describe the villains of “King Ghidorah”? I have not heard it if there is.
While most people spell her name as “Emi Kano”, I’m almost sure her name is supposed to be “Emmy Kano.” At one point, she has a little CD pouch thing that she uses to reprogram M-11 and in English it has “EMMY” embroidered on it (conveniently covered up by Emmy’s hand in your screengrab).
Are we not talking about how Godzillasaurus AND King Ghidorah both have Rodan’s voice (not to mention Battra next and… Rodan after that)? No? Alright…
About the whole Godzilla’s gone/here’s Ghidorah thing. What it boils down to is other than Emmy and M-11, the Futurians are a bunch of goddamned morons. They legitimately think that they stopped Godzilla’s creation and erased him from history. They die having NO apparently clue that what they’ve done is create the Heisei Godzilla. The origin of the 1954 Godzilla (who, of course, is not this character) remains a mystery…
This is kind of difficult to follow in the dub, but in the Japanese version, it’s more explicit. What happened was the Futurians teleported Godzillasaurus into the Bering Sea in 1944. In 1977, a nuclear sub crashed in the Bering Sea (it hit the dinosaur), transforming it into the second Godzilla, who goes on to appear in Japan in 1984. Now, the question remains how did Godzila wind up buried under Daikoku Island between 1977 and 1984? My guess? BAGAN (hey, how else do you explain Tanaka actually saying that Bagan is canon to the Heisei series?).
Godzilla became 100 meters (previously being 80 meters) because he absorbed the energy from Shindo’s sub. This isn’t an “alternate timeline” Godzilla… He’s the same guy from the 1984 and 1989 movies, completely unaffected by the Futurians’ idiocy. Well, that is other than being 20 meters taller. This is Godzilla Classic (slightly altered) after all.
That tower Shindo’s in during Ghidorah’s raid doesn’t belong to Shindo. It’s the famed Fukuoka Tower because… King Ghidorah is attacking Fukuoka. Shindo’s just there for a business meeting (he mentions this in the scene with Terasawa). Godzilla would manage (with G-Force’s help) to knock it over in “vs. Spacegodzilla.”
The computer the Futurians want to give to Japan isn’t to stop King Ghidorah. The Futurians straight up tell the government they’re controlling Ghidorah. The computer has something to do with keeping Japan in check so it can’t become what it is in their future. Or something. But it doesn’t have anything to do with stopping Ghidorah.
Dat deep-voiced Spanish dub of “good, my boss” tho…
I find it amusing you call the suit fantastic when Godzilla emerges from the sea, because it’s the rejected “NG” suit from “Biollante” (NG stands for “no-good”). For that matter, the main suit (when Godzilla comes ashore in Hokkaido) is the “Biollante” suit repainted and slightly modified.
Not talking about “I’m spinning!”? Alright…
The caps you mention of “the exact moment where this Godzilla suit becomes one of my all time faves”… that’s not the suit. It’s the anamatronic Godzilla head (maybe new, but probably also constructed for “Biollante”) explicitly used to show emotion/do things the Godzilla suit cannot.
Honestly, “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” WOULD have been a better movie had it ended when Godzilla destroys the Futurian ship. Omori’s hero/villain whiplash nonsense is… well, confusing nonsense.
When I saw the movie the first time in 1992, that shot of Godzilla turning to the fleeing Ghidorah and his back lighting up like Laser Floyd FLOORED me.
If you look VERY carefully during the Godzilla/Shindo scene, you will see Godzilla crying. Kawakita said it was very difficult to make Godzilla weep in that scene. The effect doesn’t come off very well at all in the finished film (they do it much more effectively in “Destroyer”).
You do know that Kawakita did want to create a Mecha-Mothra? That why in his draft of “Godzilla vs. Mothra,” Mothra died at the end (so he could bring her back as a robot!).
I don’t know that I count the end of the Mecha-King Ghidorah fight as a loss for Godzilla. All Ghidorah does is haul Godzilla away. Godzilla is still fighting, blasting away at him, knocking them both out of the air. When they hit the seafloor, Ghidorah is destroyed/dead and Godzilla still at large. That sounds like a win to me.
There’s nothing wrong with the length of this review. It’s a good one, with good commentary (aren’t they all, though?). They should all be like this! 🙂
“Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” celebrated Toho’s 60th anniversary. 50th would’ve been 1982.
“Mothra vs. Bagan” was a project for 1990 and really had nothing to do with this movie. Godzilla was in it, but only as a cameo at the very end (to tie it in with the two prior films). Like a Marvel–or Legendary-style–teaser.
Did you know that Kawakita won the Japanese Oscar for his work in “King Ghidorah”? You heard me. I HAVE to assume it was just for the oversight of not giving it to him for Gunhed or Biollante.
YES, TED CONTENT!
I always try to keep my reviews between 3500 and 6000 words, mostly for consistency’s sake and because I like to challenge myself with some self-imposed guidelines. When I hit like the… 5000 word mark and was barely halfway through the movie I realized I’d have to let go of the fine-tooth comb and go through the movie on a slightly more macro level. Left to my own devices (and in a world where I have more time/don’t need sleep), I think I could have easily written double what I have here, all just about this one movie. There’s just SO MUCH to chew on.
Thanks for that insight into the trailer! I did not expect it to pitch Godzilla as a hero to be rooted for!
Wow, the international dub isn’t just corny, it’s also flat-out wrong? Between this and Starz making my DVD look like a monkey turd, I think it’s time to go Blu! As strange, stilted, and misleading as the international dub is, it’ll always have a very special and nostalgic place in my heart… but I want to see the “real” version of this movie.
Rodan’s roar getting used by so many different monsters is exactly why I can’t tell who has it! I recognize the sounds themselves, then get confused on where they originated from! Basically Rodan’s a prolific dubber for other monsters. 🙂
I fully support BAGAN becoming the “a wizard did it” of the Godzilla franchise!
I LOVED hearing all the different “Good, my boss”es! Some of them add a mechanical-sounding filter to his voice, which struck me as a really cool idea. That said, it is INEXCUSABLE that I forgot about “I’m spinning!.” It’s probably funnier than “Good, my boss.” There are so many great-bad lines in this dub!
Good call on this not really being a loss for Godzilla. MKG just moves the fight elsewhere, and gets its ass blow’d up for it. It gets interesting when you try to suss out Godzilla’s win-loss record, especially when you factor in his Jason-like inability to truly die. The only losses I feel consistently confident about counting are Kong and Mothra. Of course those are KOs and TKOs, rather than kills.
Hahaha, yeah let’s call that Japanese Oscar a retroactive one for Biollante. 😉
Thanks again Ted! Always enlightening! Also, Congrats on The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films, man! I’m-a buy that shit right quick! Based on your comments alone I know I’m gonna learn a lot!
PS: Here’s something else I didn’t manage to fit into the review proper: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roABuRqPWuE
Here’s an example of the international dubs ruining the dialogue. In “vs. Destroyer” when Kuroki goes out to stop Godzilla’s meltdown, he remarks “Let’s go freeze that overgrown lizard. This is gonna make my day,” right? The original Japanese dialogue was my favorite line in the whole movie– “Our budget for next year is at zero yen… then again, we may not even have a next year.”
It’s like that all over the board. When I saw “Spacegodzilla” dubbed in ’98 or so, I thought that Akira Emoto (Yuki) should have sued the dubbing team for defamation of character. And, when Megumi Odaka was at G-Fest, she fled the theater screening the dubbed version of “Destroyer” because she couldn’t stand Miki’s dubbed voice!
“I’m spinning!” is the invention of the international dub team. No dialogue in the Japanese version, because that’s a maneuver jet pilots would purposely do.
Here’s a problem with the Sony blus… DUBTITLES! Dubtitles everywhere! “Godzilla vs. Destroyer” is the only one where they seem to have translated the dialogue. But it’s a very shitty translation. I would recommend going to, say, Showa Video. English-friendly Japanese blus with decent subtitles. Sony’s blu-ray for “King Ghidorah” would be an ungrade in video only. AND you don’t even get the end title crawl (if you don’t know, the Japanese version’s end titles play over Ifukube’s Godzilla march as Godzilla snarls underwater before roaring one more time at the fade out).
I agree with you that Godzilla’s only lost to Kong and Mothra (1962, 1964, 1992, and 2003– I hate like hell a new loss was added to Godzilla’s roster that late in the game). It’s interesting that you compared him to Jason… Both of them have died twice; Godzilla in 1954 and 1995. Jason in Parts 4 and 9. And they both had a quick “death” and resurrection in one movie (Godzilla in 1993 and Jason in Part 10).
Hahahaha! They surely do like to say “dinosaur” a lot in this movie.
Thank you for buying “The Lost Films.” I hope it turns out really well… and I hope it doesn’t make me look bad as an editor (apparently, they rushed some of it that I didn’t get to go over). But we’ll see. Hope everyone likes it.
Oh! One other thing I forgot to mention. In the Japanese version, Godzilla has been underwater since the fight with Biollante because of the Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria. In short, he’s been sick this whole time. When Shindo’s sub was destroyed by Godzilla, the power boost, in addition to making him taller, cured him of the ANEB, at which point he surfaced and went to kick King Ghidorah’s ass. I don’t think they cover that at all in the English dub.
Thanks for the tip, I’ll check out Showa Video!
This international dub team… who are they? Why did they butcher the Heisei movies? That Destoroyah line is awesome, and the original script for King Ghidorah seems SO much clearer and explains so much more. Working in the ANEB (even if it’s just a line or two) is an awesome nod to the Heisei series continuity.
I don’t know who the international dub team is. They took over around 1990 or so and have been ruining Toho movies ever since (well, “Godzilla: Final Wars” has an okay international dub, but that’s mostly because the performances weren’t very good to begin with). It’s not the Ted Thomas (Kubota and Godzilla in “vs. Gigan”) crew of the ’60s and ’70s or the guys who started in the mid ’70s and went on into the 80s.
Here’s the thing though, these are Toho’s export English versions. They’re made for selling purposes only. We are not supposed to even HEAR these international dubs. They’re meant to be a guide to dubbing the movie yourself in whatever language you’re releasing the movie in. Sony’s (and other releasing companies) just lazy and didn’t dub the movies themselves, other than “Godzilla 2000”, but that was because they released it to theaters (they considered using the international dub until it was deemed “unusable”).
The Heisei movies have a really hard and fast continuity. That was a criticism that some of the Japanese had at the time– you really had to see all of them. You couldn’t just come in on one and get the most of it raw like you could the older movies.
Thanks for another awesome review! I’m ordering up some big books about lost Kaiju films as I type. That and the son and I will be watching some GZ vs. KG on the YouTube this evening!
It’s always interesting when Americans are portrayed as the bad guys – keeps it real in that we don’t always do the right thing and humbles one to realize that we have to strive to be better.
Thanks for reading! I hope Godzilla vs King Ghidorah blows your son’s mind!
I’ve always found it interesting that the Godzilla franchise (and Japanese kaiju movies in general) don’t take the easy route and caricature Americans as war-mongering imperialist blowhards. Shit, WE do it way more often than they do (Mars Attacks! springs to mind first). It certainly could be purely motivated by money (pissing off/offending a huge chunk of your viewership is not smart), but this movie (and even more so Shin Godzilla) depict a delicate, complicated relationship that is positive as often as it is negative. It just feels more honest than casting Americans as rah-rah heroes OR kill-crazy villains.
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