Thursday, May 15, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #20: GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA 2 (1993)

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!

TRAVIS:

When I discovered the Japan-exclusive Heisei-zillas in my later formative years, there were things that were a bit hard to comprehend. For instance, it took me a while to understand that GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA II was not a sequel to the 1974 MECHAGODZILLA film, but that it was just an American release retitle to clear up confusion since Toho had sent it out in theaters as simply GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA. Luckily, the continuity in the actual film is less befuddling. In fact, GvMGII calls back to GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH as the government has salvaged the remains of Mecha-King Ghidorah to create a brand new weapon to finally defeat the King of the Monsters: their very own Mechagodzilla! But big G isn’t their only threat because a wild Rodan has appeared too! As if you couldn’t handle all these kaiju already, a mysterious giant egg hatches in captivity, revealing a friendly, infant Godzillasaurus nicknamed Baby! What a monster mash!

Though suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma previously cut his teeth as Gigan and Hedorah, his performance as Godzilla in GvMGII is one of the best in the Heisei era. There’s a liveliness and fluid animation to G that makes it seem like Satsuma was finally comfortable in the role after inheriting it in THE RETURN OF GODZILLA. Rodan gets a spirited refreshing too as he gets to show off a vicious side that really hasn’t been seen since his 1956 self-titled debut. Most of the G films relegated him as the goofy, flappy sidekick, but here we see him savagely peck and sonic boom the fuck outta G. Mechagodzilla himself gets a nice upgrade as well. His Showa build had that nuts and bolts “cosmic tales” look that reflected the pulpy Showa age, and for the modern Heisei age, he’s given a pristine, state of the art chrome sheen to his body. Simplified and upgraded for MGiOS 2.0.

However, the true monster heart of the film is adorable ‘lil Baby. It seems odd that even though the Heisei series was meant to be more mature that the filmmakers would still want to do SON OF GODZILLA redux. Still, this isn’t some braying, cowardly offspring like Minilla. Hurricane Ryu (who had already portrayed Ghidorah and Battra) keeps Baby animalistic in behavior, only becoming a little humane when he imprints scientist Gojo as his mother. It’s not hard to be charmed seeing a defenseless, cute version of that mighty bully Godzilla. You kinda wish you could keep him as your own pet as long as his father didn’t destroy your town searching for his kid. Were you prepared for this new delivery, Luca?

LUCA:

I wasn't, but it was a happy occasion nonetheless! Even moreso than adding Battra to GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, GvMG2 surprises by adding two more monsters than its title promises. I was genuinely surprised when the second egg from Adona Island contained not a second Rodan, but a BabyZilla! Rodan's appearance made me chuckle, by the way. He's just there in the frame suddenly, without fanfare. You can imagine my delight! MechaGodzilla gets this whole origin scene that the movie gets kicked off with, including a slow pan during the opening credits over the salvaged cyborg head of Mecha-King Ghidorah. "Yes... we will use this 23rd century technology..." Meanwhile, Rodan literally just appears out of thin air, flying along without even a musical cue accompanying him. "Okay it's Rodan, alright? Ugh fucking deal with it."

You say Rodan’s meaner in this version, Travis, but it’s all in the service of protecting Baby, so it doesn’t even register to me as meanness. What was kinda weird was their bonding through some sort of psychic plant (?) that had enveloped both of their eggs – a plant with a psychic song that got everyone who heard it ULTRA HYPED and causes little girls to sing like professional sopranos! I don’t think the plant is ever even named, which is weird for a plot element that has such a huge impact on both the plot of the movie and the character of Godzilla going forward. Then again, this is a series that off-handedly mentioned “one of the Mothra twins died” between movies so who knows! Don’t kill Baby, Tanaka-san! I couldn’t handle such FEELZ after Rodan’s noble sacrifice! I cheated a bit and checked how many movies we still had Akira Ifukube for, and I was saddened to see that after this one, there was only GODZILLA VS. DESTOROYAH left. I hope whoever fills his shoes lives up to the maestro (or at least to Masaru Sato). Man, that sad rendition of the Rodan theme at the end… I mean, I don’t even think the Rodan theme is very good, but it still kinda got me!

That about sums up the Godzilla series’ whole MO, doesn’t it? Somehow managing to remain charming despite many elements just being outright laughable. That poor (and otherwise perfectly authoritative) G-Force commander who was forced to speak in hilarious INGURISH whenever issuing commands to a flight crew that clearly spoke Japanese also. The character of DR. ASIMOV, perhaps the worst western actor in the series so far, delivers his lines in what seemed like an intentional superintendent Chalmers/principal Skinner deadpan. “Yes. Indeed. That might prove possible. Against Godzilla.” And there’s a MechaGodzilla white lady (!) co-pilot that isn’t much better with the stilted acting. I’m starting to think they just scrounged up whatever whiteys they could find and jammed ‘em in front of the camera. The Bond comparisons are never far away… So much to say and we haven’t even talked about MechaGodzilla (the titular foe) yet at all! Do you prefer MG as an alien creation or as humanity’s way to fight back, Travis?

TRAVIS:

Going back to my young days when I was trying to wrap my head around all this Heisei nonsense, it was a little difficult to conceive MG as a “good guy” at first. I warmed up this MG 2.0 though, and in attempting to ground Godzilla in reality (well… sort of), it would make sense that the Japanese government would construct their own monster to counter kaiju. His redesign seems reminiscent of VOLTRON and POWER RANGERS since he’s now controlled by a hotshot team of ethnically diverse pilots. He even gets a fun upgrade/toy accessory when the Garuda ship attaches to his back to give him more firepower. Go, go, Mecha-zillaahhhhhh!

Much like GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, this feels like another Showa throwback, and a large part of that is thanks to the iconic music of Ifukube. The familiar battle march is reprised many times, and when it’s paired up with the images of G and Rodan fighting, it takes you back to the olden days of GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER or INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER. I know I’ve said it many times before, but Ifukube simply understood the power of these monsters. During his scoring sessions, he’d actually have his orchestra face the movie screen as they played so they could watch and feel the enormity of Godzilla. Apparently he was warned by his peers to not even do the score for the original GOJIRA for fear of being typecast as the “sci-fi/monster music” composer. It’s a good thing he didn’t listen because his classical, traditionalist style would make G distinct from the other silly silver screen creatures of the day.

Back to GvMGII! Even though we’re now used to G as a wild animal in the Heisei era, it’s here we see attempts to soften up to the beast. Of course, giving him a kid will automatically gain him some sympathy, but it seems like the Japanese are little more understanding of the big guy. When Miki is on target to fire an electric probe at G’s second brain, she hesitates for a bit before ultimately delivering the kill shot. After he’s revived and heads off to sea with Baby, she wishes the both of them well on their journey. Even the tough G-force commander watches father and son disappear into the horizon and says, “After all this, I’d say the winner is life”. Hoo boy, that line’s in competition with “Godzilla is inside every one of us” from GODZILLA 2000 for BESTEST CLOSING LINE EVER. Do you think life was the true winner, Luca?

LUCA:

Yes, LIFE was definitely in it! "You mean... organic. Life against. Inorganic?" to quote the pretty blonde MechaGodzilla co-pilot who seems to speak English about as well as her Japanese colleagues. To be honest, Travis, my vague pop culture understanding of MechaGodzilla always had me picture him as a man-made machine, so it was the first alien origin of the Showa era that knocked me for a loop. The Heisei made more sense to me! Also, I kinda loved that our protagonist “Dinosaur Boy” gets hired on the basis of… his love for pteranodons? And he somehow gets assigned to the flying part of MechaGodzilla called GARUDA which nobody thinks will ever come in handy because of its weak firepower (yet excellent aerial maneuverability!). Man, what a shit detail… if only a flying nemesis would pop up for Dinosaur Boy to prove his worth… I loved that Garuda gets a little introduction during the opening voice-over, and is wholly dismissed out of hand while actually getting its traits listed. Yeah, no way will we come back to use this thing! Also a big fan of the Garuda training simulator that evoked the INDEPENDENCE DAY PS1 game. I will say that, when clicked onto MechaGodzilla’s back, the whole thing looked pretty badass.

Kudos to the script for finding a way to have the humans win and still have Godzilla be alive at the end of the movie for more sequels. It manages to make the humans look resourceful and determined, while allowing Godzilla to live to fight another day in a manner different from “yeah he was too tough to get killed by that” YET AGAIN. The status quo is changed in such a way (Godzilla is now IMBUED WITH THE POWER OF CARING) that I’m actually quite curious to see where the next one takes it. And they better not screw it up with a title like GODZILLA VS. SPACEGODZILLA!

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