Monday, April 28, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #17: GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

LUCA:

I wish the Heisei era had started with GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE. Travis, I ain't kidding that this may be my favorite Godzilla so far. First of all, G himself looks better than he's ever looked. His nemesis for the movie, Biollante, is a visually interesting foe who -- like G -- looks fantastic in execution. But Zack Snyder movies don't magically get good by looking good either, so what else does this movie do? Boy howdy, what doesn't it! With just a few dialogue tweaks, I would totally have recommended it as the first sequel to watch after the original GOJIRA! The cold open on a computer screen showing us the different stages of what appears to be DEFCON ZILLA draws you right in. It’s a tiny, inexpensive thing, but it’s so commanding and authoritative and immersive that it just makes you smack your forehead at nobody having done something like this in the 35 years of G history up to this point. Picking up right after Zilla's 1984 rampage, GvB shows us some American troops aiding in relief efforts, only to be revealed they’re in the pocket of special interest groups and charged with retrieving bits o' Godzilla. These American troops are so evilly portrayed that they even mow down Japanese soldiers once they're found out! But o cruel fate – they themselves are then killed by a mysterious lone assassin. One could argue that the American villains are reduced to a single evil corporation that employs mercs, but the Middle Eastern assassin (who also works for an evil company) is from a country called “Saradia”. Why keep the Americans American and then make up a fictional Middle Eastern country? Just a weird thing that struck me! And oh man, the phonetical English that is spoken in this movie by people of various nationalities made me roll out of my chair more than once! Look at me being an asshole though, and talking about the silly stuff in a movie I am actually quite unequivocally positive about.

Ishiro Honda would be proud of this one! GvB tackles Godzilla as a true plague on Japan, and everything that happens is fallout (no pun intended) from the mere existence of Godzilla. Biollante the sentient rose bush is created from DNA gathered from Godzilla cells that look like big burned omelettes. There’s the aforementioned DEFCONZILLA, there’s kaiju rampage memorial buildings, there’s the Godzilla Task Force (featuring the awesome Major Gondo) and – admittedly, I’m a huge mark for this – the first combined use of the Godzilla March, the Godzilla theme and the Self-Defense Force theme in one movie… to GREAT EFFECT! One scene that really sums up my love for this movie is Miki Saegusa, a teacher at the JAPAN PSYONICS CENTER (yeah sure), informing her superior that “the children have been having dreams…” When she takes her boss to a classroom, she cheerfully asks the children how they are doing and what they are drawing. The children happily raise their sheets of paper in the air to show it and BAM – dozens of different Godzilla drawings. The way it’s cut, juxtaposing the blissfully oblivious kids with the mounting terror on the women’s faces, the quick jumps from drawing to drawing timed with Ifukube’s (look, it’s his theme) pounding, insistent strings – this scene lets you know a dragon is returning.

And the people! Major Gondo and Miki are two people who stand up to their country’s bully Godzilla; Gondo by shooting a fucking rocket into G’s mouth, and Miki by facing off with G using her psychic powers. Two instances of lone humans against the reptilian colossus, and they feel earned both times. How often have we said that the human protagonists are “okay, nothing special” in these movies? How often have we said there were not one but TWO memorable heroes? Not very often, I’ll tell ya! Travis, am I exaggerating here?

TRAVIS:

You’re certainly not exaggerating, Luca, and I share your enthusiasm for this movie! It’s one of the best of the Heisei era, if not one of the most enjoyable entries in the series. I think the bizarre storyline of Biollante makes this unique in the Godzilla franchise and actually reminds me of the work of David Cronenberg! A scientist who preserves the spirit of his dead daughter in a rose bush that horribly mutates certainly sounds in tune with the body horror theme identified with the Canadian filmmaker. Those microscopic shots of the Biollante cells morphing and spreading accompanied by the tense score would also seem right in the director’s wheelhouse. Throw in a buncha tentacles that bleed acidic goop, and you might as well put this title alongside THE FLY and THE BROOD. The only non-Cronenberg note to the Biollante plot is the creature’s demise, which is pretty unbelievable and ridiculous to watch considering we just saw Biollante violently rip through Godzilla’s hand. I’ll leave the description to you, Luca, since you’re the best at excitedly talking about the finest LOL moments of cinema.

Man, the United States of America doesn’t come off too clean in the Heisei movies. First they’re trigger happy to deploy nuclear weapons in THE RETURN OF GODZILLA, and now in BIOLLANTE Americans are constantly attempting to steal Japan’s genetic discoveries. You’d think that such vitriol would be more prominent in the Showa era since those films were generated from the direct aftermath of WWII, yet aside from the greedy nation Rolisica standing in for the US and Russia in MOTHRA, America was never as big a target as they are in this portion of the G series. We’ll also see an odd, revisionist history beat in GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH that positions Godzilla as a victim of the US army! Though Japan didn’t participate in the Cold War, nearby countries like Korea and Vietnam saw ground combat during the escalation. Was this villainization of the United States due to their revived fears of nuclear annihilation?

FUN TOHO HISTORY TIME, FOLKS! Just as Jet Jaguar originated from a kid’s drawing, the original script for BIOLLANTE came from dentist Shinichiro Kobayashi –  the winning entry of a contest held by Toho to find a follow up for RETURN. The biggest supposed difference between Kobayashi’s concept and the final film was that a rat/fish creature named Deutalios created by Dr. Shiragami was to be the first act kaiju fodder for Godzilla before Biollante appears. The other interesting side note of BIOLLANTE’s production was the disagreement between Toho and Miramax. The two studios discussed American theatrical distribution of the film, but Toho ultimately sued Miramax over money disagreements. Miramax eventually settled out of court and sent out BIOLLANTE direct to video through HBO Video in 1992. All the legal action and delays might’ve scared other distributors from the G business, as the remaining Heisei films (GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH to GODZILLA VS. DESTROYAH) would not reach the US until Sony gave them the DTV treatment in anticipation for the 1998 GODZILLA. For all you could say about the Matthew Broderick vs. lizard flick, it at least gave those films the green card for America!

LUCA:

Oh my goooddddd Biollante's EMOTIONAL demise that they botch so hardcore that even someone who was completely with the movie like me could do nothing but surrender to the tsunami of lulz! The idea of Biollante disintegrating into spores that bloom in space is a wonderful one, and seeing her as a flower orbiting the Earth is still kinda poignant but OH WHY DID THEY HAVE TO TAKE THAT MIDDLE STEP!!! You see, they were super worried that you might not feel sorry for our favorite giant rose bush, so they made sure that the heavenly golden spores briefly morphed into a glamour shot of poor dead Erica looking straight into the camera as she ascended heavenward. If it weren't for my noticing the wind briefly rustling her hair upon a rewatch, I'd have thought it was a still photograph. But still, these VAN HELSING flashbacks are not a good thing!

I think it says a lot about my affection for these silly movies (and the accomplishments of this one in particular) that bursting out in laughter at a climactic emotional moment doesn't really hamper my enjoyment or potential recommendation of GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE. If you're signing up for a man-in-suit wrestling match, there's a certain amount of cheese you're gonna have to take, and a smiling Japanese girl's face floating to heaven arising out of a melting plant monster is one of them. Travis, I believe Toho should just farm out their scripts to contest winners every time if it gives them miraculous entries like JETTOJAGAA and BIOLLANTE! Any final words on your end, because thumbs up from me's all I have left to say!

TRAVIS:

All I gotta say is thumbs up from me too! One of the interesting aspects of the Heisei era is how we see Godzilla affect the real world on the scientific level. A unique creature such as G would be the boon of the century, and certainly his molecular structure could upset the balance of nature. I think that’s what makes Biollante such an interesting kaiju, as he’s derived from the realistic consequences of Godzilla’s presence and not  simply an adversary from space/underground/psychedelic dreams of a little boy. Unfortunately, BIOLLANTE’s box office was disappointing, and Tomoyuki Tanaka believed it was because ol’ G wasn’t facing off against a more familiar monster. As every generation’s Batman must battle the Joker, the King of the Monsters would again fight the three-headed astro-monster in GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH!

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