Return of Godzilla/Godzilla 1985!

Return of Godzilla/Godzilla 1985 ~ 1984, Koji Hashimoto (Japan)/1985 R.J. Kizer (USA)

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After a nine year break, Toho returns with a full on reboot of the Godzilla franchise that ignores a whopping twenty years worth of movie continuity, which isn’t a problem, because ignoring continuity is something Toho has always been excellent at anyway. This time around, we acknowledge only 1954’s Gojira as cannon, and begin with a brand new storyline which would later become known as the Heisei series. Because we’ve taken thirty or so movies and completely thrown them in the trash, we’ve erased Godzilla’s transformation into the grumbling, heroic Guardian monster he had grown into in his later films, and so the monster we see now is again painted more as a horrible, planet-wide menace that must be destroyed. This movie is super, super grim, and when you look at our last dozen outings with Big G, this couldn’t be a more different experience. At the same time, however, because this is still an accurate continuation of the original Godzilla concept, and because previous films have also proven that there is enough room within the Godzilla format for more than one idea, this dramatic shift in tone does not make Return of Godzilla feel like an illegitimate sequel. It still works just fine.

THE PLOT~ Thirty years after the original Godzilla monster attacked Japan and was subsequently destroyed, a second, identical monster surfaces in the Pacific Ocean and starts smashing boasts and killing people. Japan becomes aware of the situation almost immediately, but chooses to suppress this information for fear of causing unnecessary panic amongst the already tense Global Political Stage. Soon, however, they have no choice, as Godzilla strikes down a Soviet Nuclear Submarine and causes a heated international incident. Assuming that only the United States could have been behind the attack on their submarine, the Soviet Union threatens to escalate this situation to full scale nuclear warfare, and Japan is forced to announce the existence of Godzilla as a means of diffusing the situation. This only brings Japan’s government new pressures from both the Americans and the Russians in regards to how to handle this big green bastard and his boat smashin’ ways, and everybody gets super stressed out. The rest of the picture balances Japan’s war with Godzilla and their deep seeded abhorrence of Nuclear weapons with cold war tensions and international bickering, making this film an effective means of addressing where the Nuclear Discussion had moved to in the mid 1980’s. That feels pretty appropriate, given Godzilla’s atomic bomb history, but we also see a lot of Godzilla thrashing about and being shot at, so don’t worry about spending too much time watching old dudes in suits yell at each other.

In terms of our human characters, we have several, but holy shit, who cares? They’re all fine, I guess, but we don’t really care about them all that much. Be honest, we almost never do.

I think Toho kind of assumed that since the later Godzilla films had become so popular with a younger audience, that these kids had now grown up, and were ready for a Godzilla film more their speed, and that’s fair enough. What Return/1985 does best is that it stays true to the concept behind the original Gojira film, while at the same time making it current to the early 80’s, and that’s cool. It’s all about nuclear war, how devastating it can be, what it means for humanity to now possesses this power, and above all, how we can work to avoid using nuclear weapons ever again. As I said before, I think this is a logical place for this franchise to go, and I think they’ve done it pretty well. The tense atmosphere of the Cold War is certainly captured effectively, and the seriousness with which nuclear warfare, and even Godzilla himself, are handled gives the movie a much less schlocky feel. I think it’s entertaining enough, even without another monster for Godzilla to wail on, but if I’m wrong on that, audiences won’t have long to wait for a return to the Monsters V. Monster format, cuz Godzilla Vs. Biolante is just around the corner.

GODZILLA 1985

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Like Gojira in 1954, Return of Godzilla was also re-edited for American audiences to include footage of white people, because no one knows what would happen if Americans had to watch a movie without white people in it, and for sure, nobody wants to find out. In the case of the original film, the American version became known as Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and in the case of Return of Godzilla, the American version is called Godzilla 1985. In both cases, the special Caucasian-ified American version features celebrated actor Raymond Burr as a journalist named Steve Martin, but to what degree this new footage is imposed on the original, and what effect that has on the film as a whole, could not be more different in Godzilla 1985 than it was in King of the Monsters. We do lose some of the nuclear paranoia, but we still fair MUCH better this time around.

While still a classic film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters was clearly inferior to it’s Japanese sibling, which already had excellent characters and compelling drama BEFORE we crammed in a bunch of white folks. In that case, the addition of Raymond Burr’s character only distanced the audience from the real story, and that softened the film’s impact a great deal. With Godzilla 1985, though, I don’t think this is the case at all. This time around we still spend ample time in Japan with our original characters, and their stories and relationships are not so badly cheated in the same way. Additionally, Raymond Burr adds a special connection to the first film, even if he wasn’t in Gojira we know he was in King of the Monsters, and his character is very well written and acted this time around. The best thing this Westernized version does, however, is that it expands Godzilla’s presence to a global level much better than the Japanese one does. In this version, the Americans learn about Godzilla much sooner, and we come to learn that they are every bit as stressed out about it as the Japanese are, which really elevates the tension. I may be committing some weird form of Godzilla treason here, but I actually like the American version better for exactly these reasons. And Burr is kicking out the Jams, too.

Regardless of which version you see, however, this is a nice entry in the series, and a great way to jumpstart a new slew of giant, monster clobbering adventures. Many of the effects have not held up well for their age, but they shouldn’t slow you down too much, it’s still plenty enjoyable for the seasoned Toho fan.

B-

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RODAN!!!!

Rodan ~ 1956, Ishiro Honda – Japan

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Holy smokes, yes.

Rodan is a favorite of mine going way back. This is his/her/their first appearance, dating way back to the pre-Mothra days of 1956, and it holds up pretty darn well for the most part. With the possible exception of the ultra-grim Gojira, and the deliriously funky Godzilla Vs Hedorah, this is also one of the darker, scarier films in the entire expanded Godzilla universe, which is for sure cool. Rodan is also apparently Toho’s first Kaiju film to be shot in color, but it doesn’t feel overly vibrant or gimmicky, the palette is mostly browns, reds, and Earth tones. It’s just like Honda to use the fanciest new toy available such in a reserved, controlled fashion.

THE PLOT~ When a series of bizarre murders strikes a small, rural mining community at the base of Mt. Aso in Japan, rumors begin to spread that Goro, a missing miner with a reputation for hard fightin’, had gone all My Bloody Valentine on his colleagues and was currently hiding out deep within the chambers of the mine to escape the watchful eye of the law. Goro’s sister Kiyo is pretty upset when every person in town throws her brother under the bus like crazy, and her boyfriend Shigeru does his best to console her, but really, what do you say when your girlfriend is down in the dumps because her brother is wanted for viciously mutilating his coworkers? I had a hard time turning it all around when I took my ex-girlfriend to a Vietnamese restraint that we didn’t know was closed on Sunday. This task is doomed to fail.

Well, as it turns out, Shigeru gets lucky, because the real killer turns up and attacks them both inside Kiyo’s own home, and it sure as hell ain’t Goro. No, actually, it’s an enormous, menacing insect, the size of a damn Grizzly bear, so that really changes the course of the evening pretty drastically. “Good news, honey, you brother’s good name has been cleared! The bad news is that the last thing he saw before he died was the pincher end of this fucking abomination as it lacerated the shit out of him in the cold, dark tunnels of the mine he was confined to for most of his adult life. But again, very few people probably still think he was a murderer, so that’s the silver lining here.”

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Soon, the people of this small village discover that in fact there are dozens, if not more, of these giant insects currently living deep inside the mine, and this is a problem the really kind of have to deal with right away. After participating in an offensive strike against these monster potato bugs, Shigeru is lost inside the mine and presumed eaten. Next, a bunch of scientists pow wow to try and figure out what the hell is up, and predictably, they learn that these bugs are prehistoric somehow. Japan had a real bumper crop of prehistoric monsters reemerging back in the mid twentieth century.

Speaking of …! Around this time, the entire planet starts getting divebombed by some super fast, highflying UFO that has been horrifying the shit out of everyone, tearing up any plane that tries to chase it down, and causing sonic booms which have badly damaged several cities. Nobody knows it yet, but this object is actually Rodan, or Rodans, because there are two of these critters. But just what is a Rodan? A damn giant pterodactyl, that’s what- but they fly much too fast for anyone to get a decent look at them. At this point, most people assume Rodan to be some sort of craft, a theory supported by the fact that they seems to leave a vapor trail behind him/her while in flight… Which… Like, what is that? That’s… That’s gross, actually. It’s gotta be monster farts. Rodan has no engine.

So, back at Mt. Aso, our scientists make another startling discovery; Shigeru is alive after all, but he’s dazed as hell and wandering around the mountain like a freaking zombie. They grab him and take him in for hospitalization, and initially he seems to be suffering from total amnesia. When he regains his memory, he drops some serious shit on everybody- apparently he blacked out after the attack on Potato Bug base, and when he came to, he was in a huge cavern somewhere deep within the mine, just in time to see Rodan hatch. The horror he experiences is so great that he temporarily loses his mind, which is totally H.P. Lovecraft status. Cool.

Once Rodan is identified, the rest of the movie is mostly about trying to kill them, which is all pretty straight forward, until the end of the film. See, at this point, Rodan is little more than a winged retread of the same material Gojira explored two years earlier, but the movie distinguishes itself from it’s predecessor in a few key ways, all of which are really driven home in the film’s climax.

Firstly, Rodan is never shown to be quite as horrible as Godzilla. In Gojira/Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the metaphor is clear- this monster represents atomic warfare, he is an evil man hath wrought, and now the hens have come home to roost. In Rodan, the atomic bomb thing really isn’t as cut and dry- the idea that atomic weapons may have been responsible for waking Rodan up is certainly presented, but it’s not as fact- it’s more like “Hey, how is Rodan not dead like he should be?” To which, the answer given is “I dunno. H-bomb? We’re all screwed, though.” Without the direct and implicit ties to nuclear war, Rodan sort of comes across more like an agent of our mistreated environment. For one thing, these animals are freshly hatched- so all the zooming around and flapping at buildings is more a case of children at play than the deliberately destructive monster tantrums Godzilla is known for. The finale takes this concept even further; get ready for a major buzz kill:

At the climax of the movie, our Anti-Rodan team formulates a strategy whereby explosives are used to trigger a volcanic eruption in Mt. Aso. The locals are horrified because of the damage this will do to the environment and surrounding settlements, but the military flatly declares this a necessary compromise and pushes forward with the idea. As the two sibling monsters snooze peacefully inside their cavernous nests, Japan detonates their bombs, and indeed, Aso does erupt, but not before the twin Rodans can escape. However, apparently overcome by smoke, one of the monsters tumbles down into a river of lava, and the other Rodan, apparently much more sentimental than the monsters we are used to dealing with, chooses to join it’s sibling, and willingly lands next to it, thereby committing kaiju suicide… Both monsters die, engulfed in flames, and not at all in the bitter, violent battle we expected… Which… Honestly, is sort of heavy, and probably made all the army dudes feel like serious dicks.

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In the end, Rodan manages to pull the old switcheroo on us, and leaves us feeling like we’re the real monsters, who overstepped our bounds, could not deal with the consequences, and rather than learning to live in harmony with the surroundings we have created, we choose to suppress, exploit, and kill that which doesn’t suit us, and it’s not fair. This gives Rodan a different thesis, even with similar content and themes, and it makes the movie a tragedy every bit as potent as the post Hiroshima monster film that kickstarted the Kaiju phenomena.

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The are two noteworthy flaws in Rodan, one; Rodan is a flying monster, and therefore this movie serves up numerous aerial sequences, but they are all badly hampered by technological limitations. The resulting shots may have been easier to swallow in the 50’s, but of all the antiquated effects that we see in these old movies, these aerial sequences stand out as being beyond what modern eyes can excuse, this is a few steps passed ‘retro’ and well into “shlocky.” Two; although distinct in small ways, the movie is still a bit of a rehash. I’m not too bothered by that, though. Rehashing is something Toho would earn a damn black belt at in the coming years, and they often manage to do it while still delivering a fantastic film. This is one of those times. Rodan isn’t as well loved as Gojira, but it’s a movie I’ve always been fond of, and I highly recommend it.

A

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