Two of history’s Mightiest Rivals are Reborn!
Written by Kazuki Omori, 1991’s “Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah,” features the return of Godzilla’s most popular golden scaled arch-nemesis in one of Toho’s most complicated and controversial storylines ever. The plot involves a trio of time travelers from the 23rd century arriving in 1992 with a warning of a grim future in which Godzilla destroys Japan once and for all, but at the same time propose a plan to save it. The “Futurians” offer to help put together a team of experts to travel back to 1944, when Godzilla was still merely a long lost dinosaur living on Lagos Island in the middle of a conflict between U.S. and Japanese forces during the Pacific War. The idea is to remove Godzilla from history altogether by making sure he was never exposed to the atom bomb tests of the 1950s, which in theory saves Japan. Putting together a ragtag team consisting of a writer, a dinosaur expert, a girl from the future, an android, and everyone’s favorite psychic Miki Saegusa, they put this plan into motion and seemingly save the day…Only to find themselves knees deep in a time terrorist’s scheme to stunt Japan’s growth as a future global super power by replacing Godzilla with, yes, you guessed it, King Ghidorah! Luckily for our heroes, the King of the Monsters is not so easily dethroned, and reappears bigger and badder than ever thanks to exposure to a nuclear sub. However, one problem still remains, even if Godzilla defeats King Ghidorah, who has the Futurians backing him up, what will Japan do against the new and improved Godzilla?!
Monsters and special effects: The special effects for this film are spectacular, easily amongst the best produced during the Heisei series. The GhidoGoji suit worn by Kenpachiro Satsuma was in fact one and the same with the BioGoji suit used in “Godzilla Vs Biollante,” only slightly modified, and it looks quite imposing as Godzilla stomps through cities and battles against his old foe Ghidorah. I was especially impressed by the closeups of Godzilla’s face, so lifelike and expressive thanks to the head’s animatronics, particularly during the scene when Godzilla meets Shindo, one of the main characters, face to face for the first time since 1944, the Big G seemingly recognizing him and sharing in his painful memories before blasting him in a fit of rage. Godzilla’s normally blue atomic breath and nuclear pulse attacks occasionally showed tints of red this time around, a sign that Godzilla had grown stronger thanks to exposure to modern nuclear weapons, as would be confirmed in later films when his full powered energy attacks turned completely red after receiving a power boost from Fire Rodan. The Godzillasaurus suit worn by Wataru Fukuda was well done too, looking like a cross between Godzilla and a theropod dinosaur as it made its way through the jungle, its resilience, ferocity, and fighting spirit clear signs that he was the past and future “Monster King” to be! Strangely enough, Godzillasaurus possessed the same wailing cry as Gamera, a rival kaiju belonging to Daiei rather than Toho.
Now, as for King Ghidorah, I personally prefer him as an evil intergalactic dragon myself, but I have to give Toho props for trying something new and different in regards to his origins and motives rather than falling back on the Showa era’s old alien invasion plots. Heisei Ghidorah is spawned as the result of the Futurian’s scheme to replace Godzilla, their agent Emmy abandoning a trio of tiny genetically engineered “pets” called Dorats in the past so that they would be exposed to the atomic testing that would have created Godzilla, the radiation instead fusing them together to form an enormous three headed monster controllable via microwave impulses. The puppets used to depict the Dorats were pretty cute, though any hardcore kaiju fan will notice at a glance their foreboding resemblance to “The King of Terror,” and we’re left to assume the Futurians must have known what the Dorats would become once irradiated and designed them for that purpose, otherwise their whole plan would have been a colossal long shot. At any rate, putting aside the Dorats and the complexity of Ghidorah’s creation, “Futurian” King Ghidorah, portrayed by Hurricane Ryu, was by far the best looking incarnation of Ghidorah ever, rivaled only by Grand King Ghidorah from “Rebirth of Mothra 3.” His design stayed true to his Showa era self for the most part only scarier and more realistic, as well as having more flexible necks and larger heads, each adorned with a crown of devilish horns. Ghidorah’s movements appeared more lifelike as well, particularly during battle against Godzilla or when laying waste to buildings and city blocks. His ultimate form at the film’s climax as Mecha King Ghidorah is more impressive still, the cyborg components added to his golden scaled frame making for a visually powerful sight, and his new Laser Triple Beam, Shock Anchor Cables, and Machine Hand weaponry make him an even trickier opponent for Godzilla. Fans will enjoy the balanced mix of melee and ranged combat as Godzilla and Ghidorah not only fire away at eachother with CGI generated beam attacks but also grapple with one another tooth to claw. Heisei Ghidorah’s roar sounds different from his chiming Showa era cackle, but is still pretty menacing, no idea why the change though, perhaps they thought Ghidorah’s original roar wasn’t scary enough. Godzilla’s thunderous battle cry is impressive as always, however, “Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah” would be the last Heisei film to depict Goji with his deeper, more frightening bellowing roar, his voice becoming more high pitched for the rest of the nineties.
The model buildings were beautifully detailed, looking very real as Godzilla trekked through cities as though in the middle of a steel and concrete forest, and the military vehicles and the Futurians’ two time machines, M.O.T.H.E.R. and K.I.D.S., were well made and convincing to boot. M.O.T.H.E.R.’s design resembled that of a UFO or flying saucer in homage to the spacecrafts used by the alien antagonists of the Showa era, and K.I.D.S.’s had a nifty teleportation device that came in handy more than once, you’ll see what I mean.
Human actors and characters: The acting in the film was good, but few of the characters are all that memorable. Kosuke Toyohara plays the protagonist Terasawa, who’s basically just a writer who’s interest in the origin of Godzilla drags him into the Futurians plot and forces him to become an unlikely hero. Katsuhiko Sasaki’s character of Professor Mazaki also isn’t very memorable, not doing much beyond helping to confirm Terasawa’s Godzilla origin theory and going along on the time travel mission to Lagos. Megumi Odaka returns for the second time as Miki Saegusa, the most popular Heisei era human character in the Goji films, and while it was great to see her again after the events of “Godzilla Vs Biollante,” she sadly doesn’t do much during the film beyond participating on the time travel mission, being the first to notice the Dorats absence, and detecting Godzilla’s presence twice during the course of the movie. However, she is clearly Japan’s “go to” psychic this time rather than a promising young trainee like she was during her first appearance, setting the stage for her bigger roles in later films. Yoshio Tsuchiya masterfully plays Yasuaki Shindo, a powerful CEO who commanded the Lagos Garrison during World War II. Shindo is the most complex and well developed character in the movie, thinking of Godzilla as his savior because the dinosaur who would become the Big G inadvertently saved the lives of him and his troops from American soldiers while defending his own territory. The scenes where Shindo bids farewell to the seemingly dying Godzillasaurus, and later his face to face encounter with Godzilla outside his office are the most emotionally powerful scenes in the movie, making you feel for both Shindo and Godzilla due to their shared history.
The Futurian villains Wilson and Grenchiko are played by Chuck Wilson and Richard Berger, serving more or less the same roles as Showa era alien invaders only human. Though they certainly made for entertaining Machiavellian bad guys, they could have been less one dimensional if the story had elaborated more on how life is like in a future where Japan has bought out most of the world’s nations. Emmy Kano, played by Anna Nakagawa, is my least favorite character from the film, despite her important role as the creator of King Ghidorah as well as the Futurian who ultimately helps save Japan. To me, Emmy seems rather naive or foolish for someone who’d join a terrorist group hellbent on rewriting the history of her own homeland. It is hard to take her seriously when she turns against Wilson because she supposedly didn’t know he would be able to control Ghidorah so precisely, it literally begs the question “did she think Ghidorah would simply run amok unsupervised?” If that had been the case, then Wilson and Grenchiko’s own countries of origin and the rest of the planet would have been in danger as well, makes little sense to creature a monster via such complex means unless you are able to control it. Also, the other characters seemed to accept Emmy’s assistance rather quickly despite her involvement in Ghidorah’s birth and the role she played in the Futurians’ deception, you would think they’d be slightly hesitant to trust her at first. Despite all this, the big moment where she returns to save the day piloting Mecha King Ghidorah was pretty epic, and the revelation of her secret connection to Terasawa at the end was a nice surprise. Shoji Kobayashi assumes the role of Security Director Ruzo Dobashi for the first time, being one of the first to make contact with the Futurians, helped gather the time travel team, and contacted Shindo for the use of his secret nuclear sub. Kobayashi’s character is portrayed much more seriously during this film than he would be in the sequel, “Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth,” being one of the few supporting characters to make more than one appearance during the Heisei series besides Miki. The Futurian’s all too perfect android assistant M11 was portrayed by Robert Scott Field, and despite his overall cheesiness, is actually one of the more enjoyable characters, basically a cross between the Terminator and the One Million Dollar Man, with a cool sounding theme to accompany him during action sequences. However, I do still marvel over how easy it was for Emmy to later reprogram M11 to switch sides and obey her even after Wilson and Grenchiko had become aware of her turning against them, it seems like an obvious precaution they should have taken, especially given the manner in which she accomplished the feat, switching out M11’s old program disks for new ones during a maintenance check.
Conclusion: Despite the confusion and complexity that comes hand in hand with most films involving time travel, “Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah” is a thrilling and unique entry in the Godzilla saga with fantastic special effects and beautifully executed monster scenes. The film is often considered controversial due to the scenes of Godzillasaurus trampling American soldiers, the main antagonists Wilson and Grenchiko being of Western descent, and the whole idea of Japan buying up other countries like Africa and South America in a future where it is the strongest nation on earth. However, I, as an American myself, am not offended by these instances since I am able to remind myself it is only a movie, a science fiction tale meant to entertain rather than be taken too seriously. We see Godzilla crushing Japanese troops underfoot all the time, seeing his pre-atomic self do the same to American troops shouldn’t be that traumatizing, and Wilson and Grenchiko were clearly terrorists rather than legitimate representatives of their homelands, so its not like the film is trying to portray people of Western descent in a bad light. It is a Japanese movie so of course it is going to be told from a Japanese perspective, if you watch the film bearing this in mind it should not offend. So my recommendation is to just sit back and relax as the plot unfolds and the action heats up and enjoy the movie, which is hard not to do when you get to see Godzilla’s origin revealed in vivid detail as well as watch him duke it out with an awesomely updated King Ghidorah. I give this film a five out of five for my own personal enjoyment, but critically, I give it a solid four, check it out and be prepared for a Godzilla adventure that stands out big time from all that came before it.
On a special note, this was the first Heisei Godzilla film to feature an original score by Akira Ifukube, and the music for this movie is fantastic, ranging from powerful to emotional depending on the scene. Also, “Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah” earned a Japan Academy Award for Special Effects in 1992, thanks to the direction of Koichi Kawakita, that tells you how good the effects truly are for a kaiju flick.