Saturday, May 3, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #18: GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH (1991)

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!


“2024 A.D.” is the caption that opens GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH, and from that point on, we’re on the zaniest, criss-crossiest time travel story this side of BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II. Visitors from the future (imaginatively named Futurians) arrive in present day via flying saucer. Their announced goal to Japan is to go back to the past and transport Godzilla out of our timeline to save the country from his eventual nuclear annihilation. Their plan succeeds, and the King of the Monsters is no longer a threat but AHA! Never trust anyone who arrives in a flying saucer! The Futurians leave behind three Dorats (cute, cuddly mini dragons) in G’s place to become mutated by H-bomb testing and transform into the dreaded King Ghidorah! Turns out Ghidorah was part of the secret plan to level Japan and prevent it from becoming the mightiest super power in the world in the 22nd century. There’s even more craziness going on in this movie, but I’m gonna keep this introductory paragraph short! We haven’t scratched the surface!

Luca, elsewhere online, you expressed disappointment that the mediocre box office of BIOLLANTE directed the G franchise into a more traditional route for KING GHIDORAH. Audiences felt differently however, and it was quite the money-maker in theaters, prompting Toho to pump out a sequel every year until 1995’s GODZILLA VS. DESTROYAH. It even won a special award at the Japan Academy Awards for SFX (a first for Godzilla)! One aspect I’m glad KING GHIDORAH took by going historic was to bring back Akira Ifukube as composer. BIOLLANTE and THE RETURN OF GODZILLA have good, modern blockbuster scores, but there’s a sense of weight, heft, and majesty to the kaiju scenes in KING GHIDORAH that Ifukube was brilliant at illustrating. Hearing that good ol’ Zilla march by the old master is music to the ears!

The movie goes even more historical by showing us the true origin of Godzilla! We’ll get into the political implications of this scene in a bit, but for now, let’s talk about when the Futurians go to retrieve G in the past. Landing in the South Pacific on Lagos Island during WWII, we find ol’ G as a simple dinosaur, standing only at a relatively small 12 meters. Before the nuclear testing that would cause him to tower over Tokyo with fiery flame breath, it’s revealed that he was a turning point in the war as he crushed US soldiers and drove away Navy ships, inadvertently protecting the losing Japanese force stationed on the island. It’s not only interesting to see how deeply rooted Godzilla is in his country’s history, but seeing him severely wounded to almost the point of death by the American troops shines a new, vulnerable light on the King of the Monsters. You tend to be continuity minded with franchises, Luca, so how did this long lost beat fare with you?


You know, I never even knew I was so continuity-minded until I came across this damned series. Godzilla's new origin as the lone member of a species of dinosaur living peacefully on a Pacific Island until man disturbs that peace robs him a bit of the Lovecraftian mystery element I talked about in our discussion of the very first movie, but as far as reimagined origins go, this one isn't bad. The mystery element is replaced with an even stronger thematic tie to Japan, which is something I've always enjoyed. Throughout the Godzilla series, they've always had an enjoyably ambiguous relationship with big G, flip-flopping between their National CURSE and National PRIDE. In this movie, it even vacillates between scenes: Defends us from overly aggressive Americans... wrecks our whole nation! Zilla movies, man. Ya gotta get used to 'em!

Let's talk about two characters that I thought were the beezwax -- Emmy Kano and ANDROID M-11. Two Futurians come to stop Godzilla from being created, they have a change of heart late in the game and decide to set things back as they were anyway. Well, okay, Emmy Kano has a change of heart and M-11 gets reprogrammed by her into agreeing. Why Emmy has a change of heart I do not know exactly. Was she not let into the Futurians' plans? Was she just there to wrangle the Dorats? I looked up the release dates of TERMINATOR 2 and GvKG and T2 beat GvKG into theaters by six months. M-11 has several scenes that are extremely reminiscent of both Arnold and Robert Patrick (walking out of a flaming wreckage with flesh burning off, outrunning a car) so I'm a bit wary of what happened there. Toho was never shy about "homaging" popular movies! When M-11 turns "good" (or at least, in agreement with Emmy) he turns into a lame quipster who had me lawlin' at every turn with his poorly dubbed and overly enunciated English oneliners. Doesn't help that they found a reaalllly derpy white guy to play him. "Hey BUDDIES... OVERRR HEEERRE!" *smiles as he guns down guards* -- big fan of this guy!

This movie is really bad at considering time travel! "Well I guess we erased Godzilla from existence" says everyone in the present. Uhhh... shouldn't no one know what a Godzilla is now, save for maybe the time travellers? Oh no, the nuclear blast now created KINGUGHIDORAH instead! KG is also immediately referred to as KG by our present day protagonists in tones of awe and fear. How the fuck do you know who KG is, guy? Have you seen Showa Godzilla movies? I did like the little nod to what a chump Ghidorah was in most of his Showa appearances. The little dorats that fuse into KG are said to be "highly empathetic of their owner". There you have it folks, the reason King Ghidorah is controlled by every putz with a command console: he's three Tamagotchi smushed together. BOOP BOOP BOOP CHANGE MY DIAPERS WIRUSON-CHAN


Allow me to digress with the Lagos Island scene for the next few paragraphs. Back in our BIOLLANTE review, I talked about how the Godzilla films suddenly held a critical eye towards America. Throughout the series, whether he was a friend or foe, G was often recognized as a victim of the terrible consequences brought by the United States’ nuclear testing. In KING GHIDORAH, we see him suffer even more at the US’s hands by almost being killed for only being provoked. Though Japan is the country that’s endured the trials and tribulations of G, you could say that it was America that cursed the world by creating this monster. Also notice how the two evil Futurians who want Japan reduced in stature and wealth are Anglo-Saxon. It can feel as though the Land of the Rising Sun is finally tired of America’s supposed arrogance.

Lagos Island also inspires two great scenes in the film. Probably the most bizarre incident is when rich businessman Shindo and Godzilla lock eyes and seem to share a heart-to-heart (man-to-kaiju?) flashback moment. We watch a montage of Shindo as the commander of the Japanese forces on Lagos saluting the dying Godzillasaurus for protecting them. He even sheds a tear for the innocent creature that seemingly gave its life for them. Cut back to present day Shindo and G, and even the King of the Monsters appears to recall this memory, his snarled expression slowly softening. Does he have mercy for his former comrade? NOPE! Godzilla fires off his atomic breath and ka-boom goes Shindo! Even though we’re in the rough, tough Heisei era, that’s pretty hilariously cynical for the G movies.

The other LOL scene comes from those darn US troops. When the Futurians and co. arrive in 1944 in their UFO, a Navy commander and a young major spot them flying overhead. Then this exchange happens: MAJOR: “It did look like it was from another planet but… shall I report it, sir?” COMMANDER: “What? That we’re being invaded by little green army men from outer space? Let’s just keep it as our secret. You can tell your son about it when he’s born, Major Spielberg.” MAJOR: “Sir, yes, sir!” (looks to the sky) “I will, sir.” Hahahaha, so in addition to all that innovative technology that comes from Japan, I guess you can also thank them for E.T. and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Ironically, two years later in 1993 when JURASSIC PARK was released, Spielberg cited the original GOJIRA as an inspiration. Forget JAWS; Godzilla was truly the template for the summer blockbuster!


That Mr. Shindo thing was SO MEAN! I am often a fan of mean humor in movies, but it feels so out of place in the gentle Godzillaverse. However, I must applaud left-turns like this, since it shows the filmmakers are still trying to be surprising after so many decades. You know, Travis, I’m not surprised that this is the era where Godzilla movies started getting video-only releases in the States. America is absolutely monstrous in the Heisei era! Yeah, a lot gets written about “contract negotiations”, but I’ll eat my hat if the negative attitudes towards America didn’t play a part. And damn man, the Spielberg crack… first GROANER DAD JOKE in 35 years of G-history. Waka waka! Together with M-11’s lame sub-sub-sub Arnold one-liners, I hope I’m gazing directly into the abyss that is the humorous aspect of this franchise.

One last continuity bitch – the 2024 setting of this movie will proooobably be ignored in the next movie, right? It’s just the Toho way! Gonna start buying hats so I can eat them (or not) for this blog. The financial success of GvsKG spurred Toho on to keep rehashing old Zilla foes, as they immediately jumped into GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (not to be confused with 1964’s MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA) the next year. Won’t you come with us to witness this beautiful cycle of rebirth?

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