Thursday, July 31, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade: Epilogue

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:

What a wild and thunderous ride it has been, Travis. I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are an evil. I will also say I think I’ve exhausted RETURN OF THE KING references thoroughly after having reached ending milestones for three different eras of Godzilla, so excuse me for going to that well again. I came to Godzilla with the vaguest impressions laid on me by children’s pop culture, a half-remembered late night viewing of a Heisei movie, and Emmerich’s 1998 disaster. I leave him thirty movies (for the moment) later, far wiser in my nerd knowledge and with a vast new wing added to my mind palace of useless information.

Real life circumstances conspired against us and saw our journey only halfway finished by the time Gareth Evans’ 2014 iteration of the big guy came out, so please accept our apologies, dear reader, for not sticking to our original mission statement. We hope that after our premature climax the remainder of the reviews were not tarnished by our appearing too tired or burned out on Big G. Unlike some Godzilla movies, it was a labor of love all the way!

On this journey through the archipelago of the Monster/Solgell/Birth islands, I have learned that while he may certainly resemble one to the untrained eye, Godzilla is no monolith. Whether your jam is the Lovecraftian spectre from the sea in the original GOJIRA, the ghost of Japan’s war crimes in GMK, the superhero from TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA or Hollywood’s most recent guardian of vaguely defined natural balance, the big guy must always stand for something. Like Batman or James Bond, there are many Godzillas, all reflective of the times that they belong to.
Modern day bard of the proletariat A.P. Clarke once said that to really understand an era, you should look to its mainstream comfort food. Watching, reading, or listening to the visions of auteurs with a real message will enlighten you and broaden your vision, but there is insight at the bottom of a box of popcorn as well. Take the unexpectedly sad little moments sprinkled throughout ALL MONSTERS ATTACK, an entry derided by fans for its lack of weight and kid oriented tone. The moral of this children’s film does not state “Make time for family”, it is “Sacrifices in daily life are necessary”. That’s unthinkable on, say, an episode of any Disney XD sitcom. In an absolute kiddie panderfest like AMA, that really says something about increasingly industrialized late 60s Japanese society.

Also: monsters smashed shit up good. Let’s not grow too big for our breeches like a derp-voiced Minilla here, and pay some tribute to the real reason why we watch these things: big rawr go boom. They sure did a lot, and it made me laugh and sometimes go “whoaa!”. And that was very cool.

I know that there is very little tolerance for cheese and earnestness among a readership who likes Godzilla, but I will venture into these murky waters anyway. My favorite thing about doing this whole series was my close collaboration with Travis Kirkland. Believe it or not, dear readers, but I barely knew the man before this besides enjoying his occasional internet witticisms! This journey I probably would not have finished without the support we gave each other constantly, and with a minimum prodding. I think I can recall maybe two or three “You okay, dude?” messages over a whole year. Yes, we kept each other going! Friendship bloomed on the kaiju battlefield…

Oh, and because I am a stickler for tradition: Sayonara, Gojira-saaaan! Sayonaraaaaaaaa!

TRAVIS:

With pop culture becoming more and more instantly archived, it's easy to be insulated in a cocoon of nostalgia.  Take one look at social media, and you could surmise that this generation is made up of perpetual children, happily lost among the cartoons and toys they grew up with.  Since studios are ready to recycle any properties for the sake of sentimental box office, anyone can be “forever young” watching new adventures of their favorite heroes.  Speaking for myself, I still enjoyably guzzle down the pop of yesteryear, yet I try not to have it dominate my life for the sake of adulthood and the reassuring wisdom that comes with it.  However, the giddy adult who sat in the dark theater to watch Gareth Edwards' GODZILLA was the same impressionable kid that spent his school night captivated by his first sight of kaiju films on midnight TV.  Forever young.

What have I learned about the big guy in the intervening years?  As Luca has pointed out, Godzilla has always been a representation of any important matters (nature, science, history, heroism, etc.)  Yet what underlies all of these portrayals?  Power.  Like many monsters, he's the grotesque that upsets our balance when arrogance is left unchecked.  He cannot be defeated; mankind can only shift and adjust to his existence.  His destruction can bring about our end, or save us from horrors more unimaginable than him.  In any case, he's a force that can't be contained.  When Toho unleashed GOJIRA in 1954, they couldn't have imagined the legions of filmmakers and fans they would inspire all these years later.  Whether you're a helpless Tokyo citizen running from his disastrous path or a fanatic filling up your room with kaiju memorabilia, it's Godzilla's world.  We're just living in it.

Before we part, I must express gratitude to a few people.  Dad and Mom indulged my childhood with its constant need for Godzilla anything, and it's truly them that set off the atomic bomb that mutated a young boy into the G-writer he is today.  A huge thank you to all the readers, friends, and fans that have joined Luca and I on our journey.  Many of you came out of the woodwork as G-fans, and it was always delightfully surprising to hear one of you ask when the next review was coming.  Much thanks for your support and nice words.  Most of all, my greatest and sincerest gratefulness is to my writing partner Luca Saitta.  I've always wanted to do a long term G-retrospective, and it was Luca who had the idea to team up for this adventure.  It's been a pleasure seeing you indoctrinated into the world of kaiju, and seeing your reactions was the true highlight of this experience.  I couldn't have asked for a better ally this side of Anguirus.

I imagine Godzilla will always be a part of my life.  A foot-tall plastic toy of the big guy given to me as a childhood present still takes residence in my room, having seen many action figures and dolls of my younger days come and go.  It stays in my life because it reminds me of pleasant times.  Of buildings smashed to smithereens.  Of roaring monsters grappling and wrestling.  Of examining film by film why he's truly earned the title of the King of the Monsters.  It's these impressions and many more that are my fondest, happiest memories of Monster Island.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #29: GODZILLA: FINAL WARS

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.

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LUCA:

Well... gee.

Ryuhei Kitamura’s GODZILLA: FINAL WARS is not a movie one should unwind with after a hard day’s work. If Godzilla movies (or kaiju flicks in general) are delicious junk food to be consumed as a guilty pleasure now and then, FINAL WARS is a cake that’s 70% frosting, 30% cookie dough and 5% XTC. I am aware that that is more than 100%, but I feel like that’s the only way to accurately describe FINAL WARS. It’s more than 100% FINAL WARS at all times. The story boils down to a remake of INVASION OF ASTRO MONSTER mashed up with a bit of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS for good measure. The Xilians even have the snappy sunglasses from ASTRO MONSTER! Rather than lying about trading a cure for cancer for the limited-time use of Godzilla and Rodan to beat back King Ghidorah, the Xilians this time lie about a huge asteroid named Gorath headed for Earth, which can only be repelled once the Earthlings gather up all their weapons in one place and… something. Before this ruse, though, the Xilians teleport all monsters to… somewhere? To gain the Earth’s trust, of course!

I was awake and conscious the entire runtime of this movie, and I did not imbibe or partake in any mind-altering substances. Maybe it was said where Earth’s weapons had to be placed or where the monsters were teleported to (one assumes on board gigantic holding ships) but honestly, after these two things occur, SO MUCH happens until the end of the movie that anyone could be forgiven for not registering such little trivialities as major plot catalysts. The aliens lie, their ruse is found out, and a young hotshot Xilian summarily executes his superior and takes over command in lieu of a more violent approach: unleash all monsters until the Earth is bludgeoned into submission! Oh yeah, there was no asteroid – it was just a clever Photoshop of a bunch of unrelated space phenomena. Luckily, there is ONE monster out there that has evaded Xilian control – Godzilla.

In the final alternate timeline (so far) of the Toho Godzilla series, Big G was contained on the South Pole after a big battle with Earth Defence Force vehicle Gotengo in… the 80s? If we assume FINAL WARS is in 2004 and Colonel Gordon (who looks about in his forties) says he was in that fateful assault, it’s probably around the 80s. Anyway, our heroic band of humans must head to the South Pole to free G so he can take the fight to all the mind-controlled kaiju and rid the Earth of that Xilian menace once and for all. Oh, did I mention that mutants have been living among humans for decades now? Their blood contains M-BASE, a substance also found in the fossilized Gigan that the EDF has hanging around. Could they be related? Our main guy Ozami is one of these mutants, and an EDF soldier to boot. He believes kindness is key to protecting humanity, while his frenemy Kazama believes mutants are made to fight, not protect humankind. I’m… not quite sure what these mutants do. They jump high and stuff? Know super good martial arts? Oh man, and there’s so much more stuff I could talk to you about here. But Travis, why don’t you tell me what you thought once your headache subsides!

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TRAVIS:

Boy howdy, Luca!  Toho knows how to take advantage of G's milestones, and GFW was the supersized birthday cake stacked to the brim with white hot sparklers as candles for his 50th anniversary in 2004 (G even got his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as commemoration!).  Even though fan reaction to the film was a bit divisive, there's no denying how joyful it was to see how packed GFW was with pure Toho-ness!  First off, what a monster roll call!  We got G, Minilla, Mothra, Rodan, Anguirus, King Caesar, Ebirah, Kumonga, Kamacuras, Hedorah, Manda, Zilla (from the '98 US film), Gigan, and King Ghidorah (reprised as the bipedal final boss Monster X/Keizer Ghidorah), as well as stock footage cameos of Varan, Baragon, Gaira, Gezora, Titanosaurus, Mechagodzilla, Megaguirus, and Godzilla Junior.  The cast too has many returning faces such as Showa mainstays Akira Takarada and Kumi Mizuno.  In addition, the main weapon of the good guys is the battleship Gotengo, which debuted alongside Manda in ATRAGON (both are seen once again in underwater battle in GFW).  Even the Xillians' faux asteroid is named after the 1962 sci fi film GORATH!  Pick up your baskets, G fanatics, because it's Easter egg season!

The mutants are a fun bunch too.  I think Kitamura only included them so he could have as many wire-fu fights as he wanted.  In the long line of Toho “borrowing” from popular American movies, the connections between Ozaki and young alien leader X are pretty much parallels to Neo and Agent Smith from THE MATRIX.  Both are powerful beings with one wanting to rule mankind as livestock while the other fights for humanity and ultimately taps into his god-like abilities to win the day.  Similarly, Smith's lively performance was my favorite from the MATRIX films, and the overacting X was my MVP pick in the non-kaiju acting department.  I particularly enjoyed watching his heartthrob status when he's surrounded by adoring teeny-bopper fans at his radio station appearance.  He's just loving putting one over on the humans!  You also gotta admire his variety of over-the-top arm gestures as he commands the various kaiju and spaceships attacking Earth.  The moment he finally won my heart was when he clenched his fists and commanded the dispatch of Gigan with an Oscar-worthy scream of “GIIIIIIGAANNNNNN!!!!!!”

You'd think a movie with all this slam packed goodness would be universally loved by G fans, but it surprisingly isn't the case.  The two biggest complaints I've heard are 1) there's too much human/mutant/alien action and not enough kaiju content and 2) the monster fights are too short.  Now, I don't think these assessments are necessarily wrong, but it seems like a case of focusing on the minutiae and ignoring the bigger picture.  To address the first complaint, there's always been human filler in the G films, and GFW is no exception.  However, Kitamura switches out ponderous scenes of people in labs or government buildings for ACTION ACTION ACTION.  What would you rather watch?  Another routine moment of scientists and military men arguing over nuclear politics or two mutants delivering flying kicks to each other on motorcycles?  As for the second complaint, while the fights are shorter, GFW makes up for it by giving us A BUNCH OF MONSTER FIGHTS.  G vs. Kumonga!  Ebirah vs. mutants!  Mothra vs. Gigan!  And so forth!  Not only are there a lot of battles, but they're so many awesome action beats stuffed in each one.  This review could've easily been just a BuzzFeed “list-icle” called 25 INSANELY EPIC MOMENTS FROM GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (gifs and all)!  I'll start off with one:  even if some G fans were disappointed with GFW, you can't deny how insane it was to watch Angy curl up into Soccer Ball Mode so King Caesar could give him the winning fly-kick at G. GFW definitely ended the Millennium era on a high note, Luca, so what were your favorite moments, and how do you feel about the M-movies in general?

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LUCA:

Yeah, I think FUTBOLZILLA was probably the high point of the movie, kaiju-wise. An entry worthy of the “Stupid Shit Toho Makes Godzilla Do For Fun And Profit” annals! Since they were sorta redoing ASTRO MONSTER again, it was only fitting that they’d try and top the Godzilla victory dance from that movie. As you said, basically everything X does is giggle-worthy. But you know what? Most things the humans do in this movie are giggle-worthy. Why is Colonel Gordon a weird katana wielding Zangief? Why is the Godzilla containment facility seemingly manned by no one but nihilistic Balrog and E. Honda? Seriously, at the news of the apocalyptic Xilian invasion, Honda says “Good! I’ll be able to read in peace!” Oh man, and the pug subplot! I was already heartily chuckling at an interview with “the first Japanese Secretary General of the UN” suddenly and pointlessly being derailed into talking about his pug Clint, so you can imagine how delighted I was that Clint became a big plot point and running gag. He’s even there to wave Godzilla goodbye in traditional Showa fashion!

Oh oh oh! I also loved the callback to fan non-favorite ALL MONSTERS ATTACK/GODZILLA’S REVENGE when Minilla was suddenly able to change size at will so the Godzilla/Minilla suit actors could interact without the interference of green screen. The fact that Kitamura even remembers that makes me think he’s not exactly a guy who doesn’t care about Godzilla who landed the gig of doing a Godzilla movie (see: Bay, Michael), just one who has verrrry specific tastes when it comes to the big G. And honestly, I couldn’t be happier. Oh oh oh oh again! When Mr. Secretary and Commander Lady are revealed to be not only alive but apparently not restrained in any way and come in John Woo guns blazing? Who cares that there’s little monster content! “They call me Mr. Infallible!” I can see why, sir!

Oh man, I think, in a way the Millennium series might be my favorite? Toho finally caving and letting directors do what-the-fuck ever with G without regards to continuity is a wonderful idea, and one that really hearkens back to the Showa era's freewheeling attitude. I respect Heisei for trying to craft a relatively "serious" series where each film builds upon the next but, as we've talked about before, there really is a limit to what you can do with big monster stories. So Millennium just went bugfuck and ran with it, man! True, G2K and MEGAGUIRUS are fairly standard (if still well done) Godzilla plots, but just for the Kiryu duology and FINAL WARS, I give them all the credit. What are your feelings on the Millennium-era, T-Hawk?

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TRAVIS:

If anything, I'm happy that the Millennium era managed to make the preposterously awesome Gigan even more crazy looking.  We've already discussed how Rob Liefeld-ian his design is, but GFW kicks it up a notch.  He's killed off early in the film by G at the South Pole, and after G's clobbered his way through the rest of the kaiju to the Xilians, he's revived and re-weaponized with a more cybernetic look.  Not only that, but his hook claws are replaced by DOUBLE CHAINSAWS.  Go ahead and slap Chainsaw Gigan on a YOUNGBLOOD cover already!  I also gotta mention Mothra's sweet finishing move to the Nebula Space M Hunter.  Gigan shoots twin razor discs at her, only to have them deflected by her wings and sent flying back at his neck.  His decapitated head falls to the ground, and Mothra incinerates the rest of him in a fiery, Phoenix explosion!  FATALITY.

There's definitely wilder experimentation in the Millennium era than the Heisei era, and I think the key difference between the two cycles can be found in the choice of directors.  They are fine Heisei flicks of course, yet most of them were made by longtime Toho company men who “stuck to formula” for better or worse.  The Millennium series could be compared to the current Marvel Cinematic Universe films in that the most vibrant entries are those where the helmers married their own idiosyncrasies with their childhood fondness of their beloved geek properties.  People like Joss Whedon and Shane Black brought excitement to Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and similarily, 'zilla-buffs Kitamura and Shusuke Kaneko breathed fresh life into the King of the Monsters for the new century.  From watching MONSTERS, it shouldn't be a surprise that G-nerd Gareth Edwards was chosen to give the big guy another shot at American fame.

And maybe it was time to cross the Atlantic again.  Despite all the 50th anniversary trumpeting, GFW ended up being the lowest grossing of all the Millennium films.  Perhaps fittingly, the final M-era flick was also the least attended G-film since TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (which ended the Showa series also due to poor box office).  Yet again, the King of the Monsters was defeated by ticket sales, and as popular US blockbusters became more prominent in Japan, competition grew fiercer than any kaiju from the sea or outer space.  America had forced Godzilla out of Tokyo's theaters, so maybe it was time to pay the United States a visit...

We've completed the entire G film series at last, but we haven't reached the end yet!  Stay tuned as Luca and I wrap up our final thoughts on Godzilla, the franchise, our histories with the big guy, and everything else in between!  Keep your eyes focused on Monster Island!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #28: GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS

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.

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TRAVIS:

By this point in the Millennium era, you're probably used to Toho hitting the reboot button again and again. But surprise! GODZILLA: TOKYO S.O.S. directly follows the events of GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA, and even Yashiro from GAM makes a cameo to say farewell to Kiryu before shipping off to America. Godzilla is still at large, and the usage of Kiryu remains a controversial topic as people fear that its sentience may cause it to run amok again. Humans aren't the only ones concerned with the big robot though. Mothra and her twin fairies soon appear in Japan to deliver a warning: the original bones of Godzilla encased in Kiryu must be brought to the sea for its final resting place, or Mothra will ravage mankind for disrupting nature. You'd think the government would learn by now to fully respect the environment lest you fear the wrath of a giant moth goddess but whatever. Moral and ethical quandaries are set aside as Mothra, her two newborn larvae, Kiryu, and the military are thrust into an epic, final battle with the King of the Monsters.

Not only is SOS a sequel to GAM, but it's also a follow-up to the original MOTHRA from 1961. G-veteran Hiroshi Koizumi reprises his MOTHRA role as Dr. Shinichi Chujo, now retired and caring for his son Yoshito and grandson Shun. It's really heartwarming to watch him reunite with the twin fairies and fondly reminisce on his time on Infant Island. We've talked before about how Mothra tends to dominate the G films she stars in, and SOS is no different. Her benevolent presence is in contrast to the rest of the rough and tumble kaiju, and she always brings a glimmer of hope to the proceedings. But oh man, let's talk about the Mothra feelz in SOS! Similar to MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA, she fights to the death with Godzilla, and her caterpillar offspring hatch out of their egg to avenge their dying mother. As a final act of bravery, she sacrifices herself by shielding her babies from G's atomic breath with her body and erupts in a Phoenix-like, moth-shaped explosion of flames and twinkling sparkles. Sure, we've seen this circle of life with Mothra play out before, but you can't help but feel a little sad when the two larvae chirp mournfully over the loss of their mom.

MOTHRA isn't the only Showa thread SOS picks up. I joked in the GAM review about including SPACE AMOEBA in this a la carte continuity, and by golly, I totally forgot that SOS drops a big ol' reference to the 1970 film in the form of the dead carcass of Kamoebas (the giant rock turtle from said movie). His body is found washed ashore on the beach, and it's assumed that he was a victim of G's attacks. The characters even talk up specific plot points from AMOEBA (retitled and redubbed as YOG: MONSTER FROM SPACE in America)! I guess if you wanna drop an Easter egg, you gotta drop it hard! Of course, SOS also follows GOJIRA as the spirit of the first G still inhabits Kiryu. Though FINAL WARS would be the last Toho entry (for now...?), there's a nice, symbolic finality to SOS's ending with the original Gojira and the Millennium Godzilla plummeting together to their end leagues below the seas. So many kaiju emotions going on in this flick, Luca!

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LUCA:

Oh man, are you kidding me with these feelz right now, Toho? TOKYO SOS really doubles down on GAM’s casual mention of MOTHRA and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS by making the events of MOTHRA absolutely crucial to the story. I was utterly delighted to see Hiroshi Koizumi again, as he was one of my favorite Showa stars! He was also one of the very few who got to reprise a role from MOTHRA to MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA. Really glad I watched our favorite moth goddess’ original outing now so that I can fully appreciate the emotions washing over me to see this classic Toho actor come back. I’m sounding super snarky, but I’m not! Koizumi has this really warm, affable energy to him that I greatly enjoyed in a series of movies where humans are usually a sideshow or an afterthought. To see him in a 2003 movie as a grandfather is almost like his destiny as an actor fulfilled. This is what you were born to do, buddy! Thanks, Toho for going full tumblr on us with this one!

It’s not just Koizumi’s return and the pick-and-choosing of what seems like the director and writer’s favorite Showa movies for background, it’s that whole tone of sorrow and regret that permeates TOKYO SOS. Mothra is already the most melancholy kaiju of all, but now it’s bleeding through to MechaGodzilla as well! Akane tells mechanic protagonist Yoshito that Kiryu looks “sad” and that “maybe he doesn’t want to fight anymore.” This is all accompanied by sweeping strings and a sad goodbye to the giant robot dinosaur as the last movie’s protagonist goes to the States for “strategy training.” I think it’s, in fact, quite telling that this movie’s human hero is a mechanic rather than a hot shot Maverick pilot or tomb raiding Indiana Jones style scientist. TOKYO SOS is all about atonement, about fixing the errors of the past, to a far greater degree than we’ve seen in any Zilla movie so far.

It’s strange to think of this movie as a direct sequel to GAM, since it makes everything in that movie look like merely a prelude to this one. That whole “Kiryu malfunction” episode that didn’t amount to anything plot-wise there, has incredible consequences in this film. You know Travis, I’m starting to think that this twosome are near my personal top? I dunno man, that whole Japanese “must atone for my sins” shit really works on me, and Michiru Oshima’s uber-romantic music reminding me of Joe Hisaishi (veteran of many a Studio Ghibli production) probably helps.

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TRAVIS:

I agree that Oshima's score is really effective, and of her three contributions to the series (GODZILLA VS. MEGAGUIRUS, GAM, SOS), this one's my favorite. I particularly enjoyed how she recalled the cosmic/tropical sound of MOTHRA'S music when the twin fairies make an appearance. Her finale accompanying the image of Kiryu and G plummeting into the depths of the ocean is also great and ranks up there with Akira Ifukube's Monsterland farewell in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS as one of the best codas in the G movies. Again, SOS would've worked as a fine last entry, but FINAL WARS decided to end it all with a bang. To compare, SOS is a dignified, slow fade for the King of the Monsters while FW is about as HYPER SMASH CUT as any Godzilla fanboy would clamor for.

Of course, fanboys always clamor for a good ol' kaiju tussle, and SOS delivers in spades. Unlike the other movies, SOS only has one monster fight, but it's quite a doozy. G and Mothra have brief skirmishes with the military before then, but it's all about the battle royale between G, Kiryu, and the Mothra clan that dominates the last two acts. The various peaks and valleys of the match are paced very well, and the sight of men in suits wrasslin' and swatting at CG things and puppets never feels interminable (to be fair though, that's something I'll never tire of myself). This is also probably the best on-screen Mothra, or at least the most fluidly animated one. Sometimes it's really hard to tell which shots are her being computer animated or puppeteered on set. Those wings are impressive too! They're not stiff as usual but instead flow and waft through the wind to give an added dimension of life.

Speaking of life, GAM and SOS spend a lot of their running time debating if Kiryu is truly alive. There's much contemplation about the ethics of weaponizing the dead '54 Gojira, and it's a pretty serious affair. However, giving Kiryu full sentience in the climax gives me a giggle worthy moment. As Kiryu and G fly to their final destination, Yoshito is trapped inside the body of robo-G. Finally an escape hatch is blown open, and Yoshito is left dangling above the ocean waiting for rescue. Before he lets go of Kiryu's body, the spirit of Gojira/Kiryu lights up the interior computer screen to deliver a final message: “SAYONARA, YOSHITO”. At long last, man and monster have an emotional understanding! It felt like the Godzilla equivalent of the T-800 giving a thumbs up as he melts away in the molten steel in TERMINATOR 2. Ya gotta chuckle at the well intentioned corniness of it all.

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LUCA:

This is probably racist, but there’s something about the Japanese that just makes me buy it. It’s corny as shit, but they really, really mean it, man. They’re not winking. They’re really trying to tell you that this robot dinosaur is sorry about his actions in a past life when he was still a regular dinosaur and killed all those people. And he’d like to thank this lowly mechanic who helped him to come to that conclusion. Sayonara, Yoshito. Sayonara. I think it’s a pretty cool inversion of the Showa trope of the movie’s human heroes standing on top of a cliff or ridge or whatever, overlooking the sea, waving at Godzilla, yelling “Sayonaaraaaa Gojiraaaaaa!” This time, it’s Godzilla saying goodbye to us.

You know, I know that the M-series movies aren’t sequels to each other (well, except this one to GAM), but there’s a beautiful symmetry here with G2K ending in that hilarious “Oh well, Godzillas gonna Godzilla” rampage, and TOKYO SOS concluding with what amounts to Godzilla’s superego taking down his id. It is totally weird that this ISN’T the final Zilla movie. I certainly wouldn’t have minded to have gone out on this high note.

But you know, if you tell me that the final Toho Godzilla movie is a big dumb blast of a cartoon, who am I to disagree with that? I, for one, can’t wait. Join us next week for one last blow-out in GODZILLA: FINAL WARS!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #27: GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA

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.

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LUCA:

I should try to dismiss things beforehand more often. When I went to see IRON MAN 3, I went out of a certain sense of obligation, being a Marvel fanboy and all. I figured I’d already seen riffin’ RDJ in two Iron Man movies, an Avengers, and two Sherlock Holmeses – why should I shell out for that AGAIN? And then IM3 was my favorite Marvel movie to date. GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA’s title made me sigh. This would be the fourth movie where G fought MG – five if you’re cynical and count Moguera in GODZILLA VS. SPACEGODZILLA. I’d seen MG as an alien robot out to conquer the Earth for its masters and as a human-operated mech employed to defend Japan against Godzilla, so I figured I’d pretty much seen it all when it came to the chrome kaiju. But GAM had a curveball to throw me: this MechaGodzilla was built around the bones of the original Godzilla. Let that Cronenberg shit sink in. This makes me curious if Toho was keeping an eye on Fox Kids’ Godzilla cartoon show, which ran in 1998 and ’99, a few years before the release of GAM. In this sequel show, aliens revive the Godzilla from Emmerich’s movie with cybernetic implants to fight the second one. They simply referred to it as “the Cyborg” because Toho had only licensed Godzilla out, so no calling it MechaGodzilla. Still, you gotta wonder if they were looking out for what Fox was doing with the license after the ’98 movie besmirched their good name so!

Masaaki Tezuka is back for his second outing directing a G-movie, after the fun but somewhat overlong MEGAGUIRUS, bringing screenwriter Wataru Mimura along for the ride. It’s funny that Mimura’s only pre-Millennium Godzilla credit actually was the Heisei GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA 2. Never change a winning team, I guess? But I’m thankful for these two bringing in one of the most welcome elements from their previous collaborations: a female protagonist.

Akane Yashiro is also a military woman who starts the movie off in a disastrous raid against Godzilla. Unlike MEGAGUIRUS’ protagonist Kiriko however, she’s the one who screws up and sends an armored vehicle flying over a cliff to be trampled by G. This makes her a pariah at work and hated by Hayama, a fellow soldier whose brother was among the trampled. The character’s journey isn’t so much motivated by revenge against Godzilla as much as it is by reconnecting with humans, a redemption that comes in the form of biologist Yuhara’s little daughter Sara. If this is all shit that sounds like tedious crap between monster fights, I wouldn’t go out of my way to naysay you. You want to get together with friends, have a few drinks and enjoy some monster smashing, this touchy feely shit is just gonna get in the way of that. Well shit buddy, that’s all good and well for you, but I’ve been watching these motherfuckers for the better part of a year now, and if Toho wants to sell me a Dead Inside™ Army Lady bonding with an emotionally traumatized yet still somehow cheerful little girl flipping burgers at an army base (???) over sleeping grass (“It moves when you touch it…”) then shit… I’ll take it over another set of poorly conceived alien plans for world domination, you know? Uhhh… Travis, how are your feelz?

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TRAVIS:

The feelz are good, Luca! “Brevity is the soul of wit,” Shakespeare once said, and he could also be talking about monster movies. GAM clocks in at 88 minutes, shortened from the 100+ minute run times of previous Millennium and Heisei flicks. Looking back on them, it seems like G films tend to outlast their mileage past the one hour and thirty minute mark. Lively fights and somewhat interesting humans are all you need for a serviceable feature, yet attempts to elongate the proceedings with various subplots and happenings for “movie's sake” just weaken the enjoyment. It again feels like Toho trying to fit Godzilla in the modern blockbuster mold. GAM is a refreshing change of pace with G and MechaG (now called Kiryu) making their appearances in the first half hour. We're now twenty six entries into the series, and stretching out the drama simply doesn't work anymore. Just gimme dem kaiju!

Gimme dat Kiryu too! Showa MG has a cool, retro look, and Heisei MG looks slick in chrome, but Kiryu is my favorite iteration of the robo-G. This is the swiftest, most agile version in the franchise, and he kicks a lotta ass. Way speedier than his previous, more stiff designs too! Favorite moment: G is about blast a hospital full of helpless nurses and patients with his atomic breath but Kiryu gives him a FLYING BODY SLAM and sends G airborne. The fact that he's a sentient android imbued with the spirit of the '54 Zilla is a cool, crazy concept too. It almost sounds like an idea straight from Marvel Comics' Silver Age!

Luca, I hope you've made mental peace with the scrambled continuity of Godzilla, because the rebooted timeline of GAM can wrack your brain. Once again, we start over from the death of the original G in GOJIRA with his appearance in GAM being his first since 1954. That's pretty common by now in the Millennium era, but it seems to imply that a few Showa movies are canon. When the Prime Minister is debating how to deal with G, we see flashbacks (aka old footage) of MOTHRA and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, laying it out that Japan's had their fair share of monster problems in the decades-long interval between G-sightings. So… what? Is Varan now canon too? Is friggin' SPACE AMOEBA in continuity as well? Let's keep Kiryu around to defend us from the return of Gezora the mutated cuttlefish just to be safe!

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LUCA:

Whooaaa Gezora is a real thing... Yeah, I had to LOL when I realized the movie was actually going there. "We developed heat cannons in our fight against Mothra... and high-powered masers in our fight against Big Foot Gayra" the Secretary of Defense solemnly intones, as the movie cuts to old footage from said movies. Nothing so hilarious as straight-faced solemnity intercut with footage of a man in a green sea-weed ape suit wreckin' shit. Doubly so as I have never actually seen WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (yet) to really make it come out of nowhere. And Showa monsters aren't the only old cameos either! The main actors of G2K (Takehiro Murata) and MEGAGUIRUS (Misato Tanaka) show up in small roles as a confused drunk and terrified nurse, respectively. Tanaka gets to witness the amazing body slam, in fact! How weird would that be to western audiences, huh? I mean, take Batman. They put so much effort into letting the audience know that 2005's BATMAN BEGINS was not a sequel to '98's BATMAN AND ROBIN, and weren't even successful across the board for all their efforts. How many people do you know who thought BEGINS was a prequel to BATMAN '89? A few in my case! To make the Godzilla analogy, this'd be like one year (!) after BEGINS, Warner Brothers makes a wholly new Batman featuring cameos from Christian Bale and Michael Caine as, I dunno, a hobo and a cop, and with some old footage from RETURNS and FOREVER spliced in. People's heads would explode!

Yeah, I've whined about this in the past, but now I just run with it and see how confusing Toho can make it. It's a fun little mini-game while watching these mostly samey movies! Mix it up, mix it up, I always say, and if they don't, I'll find pleasure in other ways. One development that really caught me off guard was Kiryu's "malfunction" in his first fight with G. It's really one of the first instances of my being genuinely taken aback at a plot development in a Godzilla movie. Where were they going to take this??? Unfortunately, besides a cool sequence that ends with perhaps the most beautiful shot I've seen featuring MechaGodzilla, they take it nowhere. They kinda just... fix it without any consequences for the rest of the movie. But for a good ten minutes or so, it looked like GAM was bringing this tired old series to new places!

Yeah Travis, I'll agree. Kiryu is the coolest MechaGodzilla so far, the iteration with the most life in it (literally). No disrespect to the Third Planet of the Black Hole edition and just the teensiest bit of disrespect to the G-Force edition, of course! I'd say I should stop dismissing things beforehand, but it always works out so well in hindsight. You know, one thing's been bugging me about Millennium movies so far is that they all feel the need to let Godzilla get away. Admittedly, in G2K this led to one of the most hilariously tone-deaf endings of all time, but in MEGAGUIRUS (post-credits scene in which the roar is heard and people look up, startled), GMK (revealing G's beating heart at the bottom of Tokyo Bay) and now GAM ("He is retreating! It is a draw!") there's simply no need. Godzilla's been a pretty consistent bad guy in the M-series, so why even bother? It's your own movie, man. No continuity or backdoors needed. “Kill the muthafucka!” as Anthony Hopkins in THE EDGE would say.

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TRAVIS:

That's understandable, Luca, but I think audiences would have a problem with G dying, no matter how much of a bad guy he is. After all, his two definitive on-screen deaths (GOJIRA and GODZILLA VS. DESTOROYAH) were pretty somber, moving moments. Perhaps he's like Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees; he's an asshole deserving of punishment, yet you wanna know that he'll be back for more. Speaking of returns, I'll also point out that both Prime Ministers are portrayed by G-film veterans. Current PM Hayato Igarashi is played by Akira Nakao, best known as the strong-headed G-Force leader Takaki Aso during the Heisei era. His retiring predecessor Machiko Tsuge might be familiar to longtime viewers as she's played by Kumi Mizuno. The image of the elder statesman might fool you because she was quite the babelicious sight during the Showa era as Planet Xian’s Miss Namikawa in INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER and fetching islander Dayo in EBIRAH.

Since we've been talking about recurring performers throughout this review, let's quickly touch upon why many actors pop up frequently in the G franchise. During the Showa era, Toho had a “new stars” program which took in aspiring thespians and mentored them for potential stardom. Eventually they'd receive film roles (many in kaiju flicks) to see how the public reacted to them, and from then Toho would decide if they fit better as leads or supporting players. This is one of the reasons many recognizable faces will show up time to time in various parts throughout the G series. This shepherding of new talent faded away after many years, but those same Showa players would appear in Heisei and Millennium entries as tributes of where they started their careers.

Next comes something no one would expect in the Millennium series... a direct sequel! That's right! The battle between G and Kiryu marches on with actual continuity in GODZILLA: TOKYO S.O.S.!