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!
The Heisei era was intended to bring Godzilla roaring back to life in the modern movie age, and for the most part, it was quite a successful relaunch. The flicks became so profitable that Toho was churning them out annually. Though the studio and the monster could've happily lived on in Japan, America was a stomping ground too good to pass up. Sony had been developing their own Godzilla treatment since 1992, and it was planned in 1998 that the King of the Monsters would come to US shores in his own summer blockbuster from the filmmakers of INDEPENDENCE DAY. How exciting it was to actually have G in a genuine Hollywood picture! But before he could be reborn in the Land of the Free, he had to finally perish in the Land of the Rising Sun.
GODZILLA VS. DESTOROYAH opens with the big guy in meltdown mode, pulsating a fiery red glow and sizzling smoke from his skin. The radioactivity inside of Godzilla is taking its toll after all these years, and soon he'll become unstable and explode in a nuclear apocalypse that will destroy the world. Not only that, but prehistoric organisms that were mutated by the deployment of the Oxygen Destroyer back in 1954 are attacking present day Tokyo. They soon combine into a BIG BOSS MODE kaiju scientifically named Destoroyah. Oh, if only Dr. Serizawa knew what havoc he'd unleash with his Destroyer invention by bringing about purple crab monsters! Meanwhile, Baby has at last grown up to be the spitting (yet still smaller) image of his own dad, dorsal fins and Godzilla roar and all. In one last glorious send-off for the Heisei series, all three creatures converge on Tokyo for a grand final battle of emotional proportions!
For me, DESTORYAH stands as one of the finest Heisei entries and one of the most entertaining G movies of all time. The movie hits the ground running with G attacking Hong Kong in radiation overload mode, and the pace never lets up. G's upcoming meltdown works extremely well as a disaster movie countdown, as well as a sad finality that he's not going to survive. What also helps the plot move along quickly is that it sheds the most of the typical human drama of underdog civilians, morally ethical scientists, and half baked romances (though am I the only one who gets a Sapphic vibe between Miki and fellow psychic Meru?). Everyone's on the move figuring out what to do with either red G, the Destoroyah monsters, or Godzilla Junior. The whole movie is basically racing towards the final moments when Godzilla disintegrates from the terrible power that changed him forever. Though time would show that he'd be revived many times since then, it's hard for any G fan not to feel mournful when watching the demise of our hero. Was it tragic for you, Luca?
How could it not be, with lines like "Godzilla is crying... he does not understand why his child had to die..."! Man, that bastard Destroyah is my most hated kaiju of all! I was waiting for some sort of reversal, Godzilla giving up his life force to resurrect Junior or something, but no – they just both die with no ifs and buts. Last movie ended with Baby blowing blue bubbles as the final shot, and now he’s just dropped onto a stadium after being pierced in the chest by Destoroyah’s xenomorph-style (hoo let’s talk about that) inner mouth. As for Big G himself, wow, he just… well… dies. There’s no wrinkle that happens like the aforementioned “transferring energy into Baby to save him, thereby stopping the Earth-destroying explosion”. I mean, the Earth doesn’t explode, but that’s due to intervention from humans with their Super X-3 as they cool Godzilla down before he can go supernova. I was a bit unprepared at just how fatalistic this movie would get, so I was kind of off-guard for the final fifteen minutes or so and perhaps not as emotionally involved as I would have been without trying to figure out where it was going. That’s on me, however, and I commend Toho for going so all-out tragic with it. Godzilla melting down was as haunting an image as Mothra transforming a few movies ago.
I guess you could say it was GAME OVER MANNN for Godzilla. I’m sure the director would agree, big ALIENS fan as he appears to be! Before Destoroyah goes into Big Boss Mode, there’s an extended sequence of the JDSF trying to contain the pre-Cambrian organisms. The “homage” to ALIENS is absolutely overwhelming, with the soldiers having motion detectors that beep at regular intervals as they scan the rooms, using flamethrowers, one guy being impaled on a spiky tail before being waved around floor-to-ceiling and last but not least, the Destoroyah organisms having the exact same head as the Alien Queen right down to the second, inner mouth. I liked seeing our intrepid reporter character stuck in a police car being threatened by such a non-xeno, as personal monster peril has still been fairly rare over these past twenty-odd movies. Still, not unlike the sea-louse in RETURN OF GODZILLA, there’s something super stiff about these puppets. Especially in motion they look like they’re just being carted around. Sometimes they choose to focus on the creatures’ crab-legs as they skitter about, but in the full body shots… hoo boy! I wonder if it’s a result of the tight schedules (one movie a year!) that results in compositions not being particularly thought out or simply a cultural admission of unreality that doesn’t really require these creatures to look “real” at any given time. Remember, this movie was released in a post-JURASSIC PARK world and it’s still happily delivering guys in suits stomping on each other. Maybe they just (rightly) assumed making it look real was just something they needn’t bother with. Man, ever since GOJIRA, the puppets in this series have been a real sore spot with me, huh?
What I really liked was the sense of book-ending GvD provided. So nice to see Momoko Kochi again as an elderly Emiko, warning our hip 90s heroes of the dangers of using Micro-Oxygen as a weapon. Do they not wish to honor the memory of dear Dr. Serizawa, who gave his life and destroyed his notes so that his research might never again be used for destruction! Which reminds me, Destoroyah has perhaps the best monster origin since Biollante. Born out of the use of a weapon of mass destruction just like G, in this case Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer that killed the original Godzilla in 1954, Destoroyah is positioned as the ultimate Godzilla-ender. Funnily enough, most of Destoroyah’s screentime is spent fighting and killing humans. He’s even killed by humans in the end! It really recalls that “people of Japan vs. Godzilla” vibe of the original. Even Akira Ifukube’s score recalls the haunting choir from the end of GOJIRA several times. You will be missed, old man!
That closure does give a nice feeling of finality to DESTOROYAH, not only for the Heisei era but (at the time) the Toho-produced Godzilla series too. It definitely works better as a conclusion than TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA since that film was only the last Showa entry due to the franchise petering out creatively and financially. There's also an unexpected sense of fatalism to the ending of DESTOROYAH, G's death notwithstanding. Though I joked about the Oxygen Destroyer-spawned Destoroyah creatures earlier, there's something eerily prophetic that Serizawa knew his powerful weapon would unleash new horrors, even if it's used for the good of humankind. Also while the world is ultimately saved from annihilation, Tokyo is sacrificed and becomes an inhabitable wasteland due to the fallout from Godzilla's implosion. The final image of Junior fully grown and mutated to take his deceased father's place as the King of the Monsters is a good last hurrah, but the implication that we'll be forever cursed by the aftermath of WWII is kinda unnerving. The ghosts of nuclear destruction continue to echo as Japan must pay again for the arrogance of man.
Time to wrap up my feelings on the Heisei series! I'll always have a slight disconnect with these films as I grew up loving Godzilla through the Showa films, ignorant that Toho was making brand new movies during my childhood. For me, G will always be identified with his stompy adventures with Anguirus, Gorosaurus, and Manda. However, the Heisei stuff is a fine collection, though one wonders what direction it would've taken had the unusual GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE been more successful. More strange kaiju like Biollante would have been fun, but the reboots of old favorites like Rodan, Mothra, and Ghidorah were very enjoyable too. The disparity between BIOLLANTE and the other entries give the feeling that the franchise wasn't so much chasing hot genres but products that were mass produced for worldwide consumption. Not saying that G had become bland, but maybe the imitation that seemed kooky and fun in the past now felt like an old dinosaur trying to keep up with the times. Nevertheless, Godzilla proved that he was a monster for all seasons, surviving the overstuffed popcorn flick days of the 80s and 90s. Perhaps it was time for a rest. Any last words on DESTOROYAH or the Heisei times before we melt away?
Yeah, I actually just wanted to quickly confirm the sapphic vibe Miki and Meru give off, since Miki's first line to Meru is a Joey Tribbiani-esque "Ayyy you come here often??". BUT IN TERMS OF GODZILLA whoaaaa I actually took that last shot of Godzilla to be more of a symbolic silhouette shot of the big guy to close the series on, not an actual "Babyzilla full-grown and revived" thing. Holy shit, Travis, I like your reading much better. Nothing man does can put the genie back in the bottle, once opened. That's dark as fuck, and thematically completely appropriate to the rest of the movie. I bet Christopher Nolan loves the Heisei era most of all. Such tragedy... destroyed infrastructure... I now also like the military getting the drop on Destoroyah and freezing Godzilla better. If you're gonna go for the "haha man is powerless" gotcha at the end, it's probably best to balance it out with some small semblance of victory. You may not be doomed to death, humanity, but you are doomed to eternal clean-up duty. Seems like we can't be bothered in real life, though.
Oh, the Heisei era. There is, of course, a great stand-out movie among them for me (BIOLLANTE), and mostly okay ones. I'd call SPACEGODZILLA the only outright bad one. As you say though, it's that detour into the safety of updating old Showa foes that really takes the wind out of Heisei's sails. It's all good fun for the most part, with some really cool monster fights along the way. It's just that, when trying to build a series of movies centered around giant monsters fighting that also has to maintain an internal movie-to-movie continuity, I think there's probably only so many stories you can tell, so it's not for the best to then start crankin' 'em out one a year. Note that BIOLLANTE was four years after RETURN! To me at least, the advantage goes to the Showa Era here. The first movies were all about finding what worked, so there's some interesting feelers prodding around, and after that they threw stuff at the wall to see what stuck. They didn't have old formula to retreat to like in Heisei. Plus, they were all 80 minutes or less!
Join us next week as the death of Toho's Godzilla paves the way for the rise of Sony and Roland Emmerich's GODZILLA! Surely all my qualms will be addressed there with a good heapin' helpin' of Broderick and Reno!