Tomoyuki Tanaka

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964, Honda Ishirô)

I’m not sure if Mothra vs. Godzilla should be much better, but it certainly should be somewhat better. There are constant problems with the film; little things, big things, but clearly fixable things. Like the composite shots. They’re terrible. Director Honda, seemingly overwhelmed with all the landscape sets, relies on occasional composite shots to give Godzilla scale. The shots should be okay, but the composite printing is awful.

Otherwise, the special effects are solid. There’s some great stop motion in parts too. But Honda has a rough time with some of the Godzilla sequences–in Mothra; Godzilla shows up rather late and (literally) stumbles around before establishing himself to be a big old jerk. There’s no Godzilla behavioral science in Sekizawa Shin’ichi’s script. Godzilla’s just a big dumb, mean animal who acts without motive. But he also manages to be a jerk about it.

In having such a weak script as far as characterizations, which isn’t helped by the charmless lead performances–not to mention Mothra being a sympathetic giant monster (complete with accessible, religious overtones)–the film makes the giant monsters way too interesting. It pays off with the final battle, however, which Honda, editor Fujii Ryôhei and composter Ifukube Akira do wonderful work on.

There are some reasonably competent storytelling twists and Mothra always seems like it should get a lot better any moment. Leads Takarada Akira and Hoshi Yuriko–he’s a reporter, she’s his photographer, there’s some funny business going on–ought to be great. But they have no chemistry at all. Takarada seems bored by the whole film; Hoshi’s got energy, but no one to act off. As the scientist, Koizumi Hiroshi’s in a daze. He has nothing to do.

There’s a subplot about evil amusement park developers, played by Fujiki Yû and Sahara Kenji. It’s a really dumb subplot, but the actors are relatively game. Honda doesn’t direct them well. He doesn’t direct any of the actors’ scenes well. He rushes through the shots, never relying on the actors for anything.

Really bad performances from Itô Emi and Itô Yumi, as Mothra’s talking Barbie dolls.

But Sekizawa’s script does have some imagination. It occasionally sparks with Honda’s own problematic direction and Mothra vs. Godzilla nearly works.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Sekizawa Shin’ichi; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Fuji Ryôhei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Takarada Akira (Ichiro), Hoshi Yuriko (Junko), Koizumi Hiroshi (Professor Miura), Fujiki Yû (Nakamura), Sahara Kenji (Torahata), Itô Emi (Shobijin), Itô Yumi (Shobijin), Tajima Yoshifumi (Kumayama) and Tazaki Jun (Murata).


Son of Godzilla (1967, Fukuda Jun)

Strangely enough, Son of Godzilla ends well. It’s a surprise because the film loses a lot of steam throughout. Whether it’s the human plot or the Godzilla plot, the scene inevitably fails because of director Fukuda. Unless it’s one of the multiple times writers Sekizawa Shin’ichi and Shiba Kazue completely fail. Son of Godzilla constantly starts and stops. There’s no unifying style.

Directing the actors, Fukuda often shows ambition. It’s just there’s no way for that ambition to be realized. While he can intuit how a scene should play, he can’t make the scene play. Fukuda is just a bad director–and, of course, Fujii Ryôhei’s tone-deaf editing doesn’t help anything.

The film has an appealing male lead, a too enthusiastic newspaper reporter (Kubo Akira) who ends up as short order cook for a group of scientists. They’re studying weather conditions on an island where Godzilla and other giant monsters coincidentally are hanging out. The film often plays the giant monsters for laughs. Not well, but still successfully. The interactions between Godzilla and his not quite as giant son, Minilla, are endearing and fun. If incompetently visualized.

Now for a few things deserving standout attention.

First, Beverly Maeda as an island “savage” who’s always saving Kubo. She’s this great character; then, all of a sudden, Kubo’s the boss. But nothing about the characters’ personalities change, just Maeda’s place in the film. Logically, she should still be the hero but she isn’t. It hurts the film a lot. Maeda’s performance isn’t quite good, but she’s definitely appealing. At least until she’s the damsel.

Second, the music. Satô Masaru does this crazy, campy, playful score for the film. For ten minute stretches, Satô’s score makes Son of Godzilla feel like an absurdist comedy. It seems like Fukuda gets that disconnect, but then he doesn’t properly utilize it, which again makes the filmmaking appear inept. It’s as though everything good about the film–except the acting–is accidentally okay.

Finally, the giant mantises who terrorize the humans (who are more interested in the weather than these giant monsters) and Minilla. While the special effects are problematic in the film, the mantises are great. As are the backdrop paintings. Fukuda can’t direct the jungle sets, however. They’re always stagy.

But then comes Son of Godzilla’s last sequence and it’s amazing. Fukuda doesn’t screw up the direction and Satô’s score changes tone and the humans finally say something interesting. The successful ending closes the film on its highest note.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fukuda Jun; written by Sekizawa Shin’ichi and Shiba Kazue; director of photography, Yamada Kazuo; edited by Fujii Ryôhei; music by Satô Maseru; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Kubo Akira (Goro), Beverly Maeda (Saeko), Hirata Akihiko (Fujisaki), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Furukawa), Sahara Kenji (Morio), Maruyama Ken’ichirô (Ozawa), Kuno Seishirô (Tashiro), Saijô Yasuhiko (Suzuki) and Takashima Tadao (Dr. Kusumi).


Gigantis, The Fire Monster (1959, Oda Motoyoshi and Hugo Grimaldi)

There’s something rather amusing about Gigantis, The Fire Monster and not just its idiocy. It’s the American version of the second Godsilla picture and it has some amazingly bad pseudo-science–the monsters are “fire monsters,” which may or may not have been dinosaurs. They lived on Earth before the planet cooled and like it hot. They breathe fire and so on, though only Gigantis (the renamed Godzilla) does so here. The other monster doesn’t get the chance.

Unfortunately, there’s no credit for who wrote the American dialogue. It’s confusing, dumb, entertaining. There’s sadly no credit for Keye Luke either, who narrates the whole picture as one of the main characters.

The source film, Godzilla Raids Again, has a lot of problems of its own and some of them do carry over to Gigantis. First and foremost are the bad fight scenes. Japanese version director Oda Motoyoshi speeds up the action artificially; he speeds up the film. The fight scenes, with the lame inserted music–and screams from people in fires–are a real problem.

But somehow Luke isn’t a problem. Oh, the narration is stupid and all, but Luke does an excellent job delivering it. When his narration disappears for the film’s second half, he’s sorely missed. There are whole subplots in the narration and, better yet, the cast occasionally interacts with how the narration is playing out. Not often enough, but occasionally.

There’s still no reason to see this film, skip this one. Narration alone doesn’t carry it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Oda Motoyoshi and Hugo Grimaldi; screenplay by Murata Takeo and Hidaka Shigeaki, based on a novel by Kayama Shigeru; director of photography, Endo Seiichi; edited by Taira Kazuji and Grimaldi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki and Paul Schreibman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Koizumi Hiroshi (Tsukioka), Wakayama Setsuko (Hidemi), Chiaki Minoru (Kobayashi), Shimura Takashi (Dr. Yamane), Shimizu Masao (Dr. Tadokoro), Onda Seijirô (Commander), Sawamura Sonosuke (Shibeki), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Tajima), Mokushô Mayuri (Radio Operator), Kasama Yukio (Father) and Oikawa Takeo (Police Chief).


Destroy All Monsters (1968, Honda Ishirô)

Wow, it ends with Godzilla and Minya (Godzilla’s son for those unfamiliar–there’s no mama; I’m pretty sure Godzilla’s asexual) waving to the camera. How sweet.

Destroy All Monsters is barely a Godzilla movie, really. The monster only shows up at the beginning for the establishing of the ground situation–the narrator explains it is a near future and all the monsters live peacefully on one island–for a bit in the middle and then at the end for the big monster mash. The story itself doesn’t need an appearance.

It’s a sci-fi action thriller–Earth is under attack from space aliens and this crack UN team of guys races around doing stuff to save the world. It’s ripe for a remake–with the casual misogyny (all the evil aliens are female), maybe Neil LaBute could do it.

The effects are weak (it’s hard to believe it’s from the same year as 2001), but Honda’s occasionally ambitious with the effects work. It doesn’t look real, but it’s neat. Unfortunately, those moments are far and few. The film only runs eighty-some minutes but it drags often. There’s a lengthy sequence with the brainwashed humans in suits acting like it’s a shootout from a James Bond rip-off. And all the sets look like something out of “Star Trek” for the first twenty minutes or so.

The performances are generally fine, except ingenue Kobayashi Yukiko. She’s atrocious.

Ifukube Akira’s music is utterly fantastic.

Still, it’s a chore to get through.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Honda and Kimura Takeshi; director of photography, Kankura Taiichi; edited by Fujii Ryohei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Kubo Akira (SY-3 Captain Yamabe Katsuo), Tazaki Jun (Dr. Yoshido), Kobayashi Yukiko (Yamabe Kyoko), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Dr. Otani), Ai Kyôko (Kilaak Queen), Andrew Hughes (Dr. Stevenson), Tôgin Chôtarô (Ogata), Tajima Yoshifumi (General), Sahara Kenji (Commander Nishikawa) and Itô Hisaya (Major Tada).


Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965, Honda Ishirô)

So… Godzilla dances in Invasion of Astro-Monster. He also boxes a little. Unfortunately, the boxing part does little to liven up the last half, which is incredibly tiring. The dancing comes earlier—though not by much, but enough to “help.”

Godzilla doesn’t appear in the film until the middle mark. Instead, the film’s about astronauts Nick Adams and Takarada Akira discovering a civilization of aliens living on a previously undiscovered moon of Jupiter.

Adams and Takarada are both pretty bad, but Takarada is worse. Adams is visibly awful, but he’s trying. Takarada doesn’t try. Not even when he gets to be a scientist for a bit (being an astronauts means you’re qualified for anything).

There’s also the romance subplot. Takarada won’t let his sister marry her boyfriend. Sawai Keiko is fine as the sister, as is Kubo Akira as her boyfriend. He gets slightly better scenes than her; unfortunately, both of them finish the movie as Adams’s sidekicks.

The rest of the acting is lukewarm. Tazaki Jun is pretty good. Tsuchiya Yoshio is terrible as the villain, but it’s probably not his fault. I think his costume inspired Devo; it’s unbelievably silly looking.

But Honda’s direction (in Panavision) occasionally shows he’s fully capable of doing something amazing. His space shots in Astro-Monster, though brief, are phenomenally well composed. Even the later framing is also strong.

Ifukube Akira’s music is excellent; some of the miniature work is quite good.

But it’s an uphill battle—the script sinks the film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Sekizawa Shinichi; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Fujii Ryohei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nick Adams (Astronaut Glenn), Takarada Akira (Astronaut Fuji), Tazaki Jun (Dr. Sakurai), Kubo Akira (Teri Tetsuo), Mizuno Kumi (Miss Namikawa), Sawai Keiko (Fuji Haruno), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Controller of Planet X), Sasaki Takamaru (Chairman of Earth Committee), Shimizu Gen (Minister of Defense) and Tabu Kenzo (Commander from Planet X).


Rodan (1956, Honda Ishirô)

The end of Rodan makes the monster’s death tragic—there are two Rodans (giant pterosaurs) and one commits suicide after its mate dies in volcano fumes. Even more tragic is the Japanese defense force hounded these big dumb birds until they intentionally attacked populated areas and those volcanic fumes? The defense force, advised by a rather not smart scientist (Toho regular Hirata Akihiko in a terrible performance), also caused that volcano eruption by firing rockets at it to cause a cave-in. They were warned by environmentalists and humanists, but why listen to them?

It’s unclear why the audience is supposed to be sympathetic towards the creatures at the end… maybe because their painful deaths make a girl cry.

The first half of the film doesn’t even have the Rodans (either of them). It’s about a mining village discovering these gigantic, man-eating caterpillars. That part of the film—led by Sahara Kenji and Shirakawa Yumi as possibly star-crossed lovers—works. Both actors make up for lack of ability with their appeal and it’s sort of interesting.

Then the giant monster—initially in unrelated sequences—shows up and Hirata and a variety of actors playing military men take over and Rodan plummets.

There are some good miniature effects and some bad ones. If Honda had shot the film in black and white, it probably would have been fantastic. The colors just don’t work with his composition here.

Excellent sound design.

Rodan starts inoffensively enough, then drags on and on.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Kimura Takeshi and Murata Takeo, based on a story by Kuronuma Ken; director of photography, Ashida Isamu; edited by Iwashita Kôichi; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Tatsuo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Sahara Kenji (Kawamura Shigeru), Shirakawa Yumi (Kiyo), Hirata Akihiko (Professor Kashiwagi Kyuichiro), Kobori Akio (Police Chief Nishimura), Yamada Minosuke (Colliery Chief Osaki) and Tajima Yoshifumi (Izeki).


Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964, Honda Ishirô)

Maybe half of Ghidorah is interesting. Or has the potential to be interesting. After the giant monster-heavy opening credits (stills of Godzilla and Rodan in battle), that aspect disappears for a while. Instead, Ghidorah is a strange mix of reporter and political intrigue movies. Hoshi Yuriko is a reporter for a news program covering strange occurrences and brother Natsuki Yosuke is a police officer charged with protecting a foreign princess in trouble (Wakabayashi Akiko). Eventually–inevitably–the two story lines do cross, but it takes a lot longer than I would have assumed and really highlights the problem with Ghidorah. The giant monsters.

The first half hour is filled with doomsday predications and public interest in it. Wakabayashi goes amnesiac and ends up proclaiming the end of the world to whoever will listen. Sekizawa Shinichi’s script handles this part–maybe not the lead-in to it–beautifully. Watching Ghidorah, I kept wishing they’d played it straight, because the handling of her character and her effect on modern society, it works.

The movie’s hit with Natsuki’s underwhelming performance as the bodyguard, however. He’s at his best in the comedic scenes, which are good and too few. His problems in the action scenes might stem more from Honda’s direction. Honda has one or two shots for action scenes and he repeats them throughout.

Hoshi is a far more engaging protagonist, so it’s too bad she loses her story after the movie gets going. The little fairies from Mothra show up and assume her screen time. Those two actresses, Ito Emi and Ito Yûmi look so incredibly disinterested, I’m wondering if they just can’t act or what… It’s unfortunate, because Hoshi’s maybe slash maybe not romance with Koizumi Hiroshi was amusing and is forgotten. Koizumi doesn’t have a big part, but he can keep a straight face and is affable.

So Ghidorah isn’t exactly brimming with potential–it can’t overcome Honda’s poor interior direction and his action scenes and the acting–but it isn’t uninteresting. It’s a definite attempt at something and not a dumb one. Then Godzilla and Rodan show up and I started wondering how a ninety minute movie could be so long. The giant monsters are the big problem with the movie. After forty-five minutes of proclamations about Ghidorah destroying the world, it turns out it all gets resolved after a lengthy wrestling match with Ghidorah fighting the other monsters. They don’t even destroy him. He just runs away. He could have flown to China and destroyed it. That resolution makes no sense.

But then, neither do the other two endings (the one for the police officer and the princess and then the good giant monster ending).

I haven’t seen the immediate series predecessor in fifteen plus years (Mothra vs. Godzilla) so I can’t say for sure if this film is the one where they start playing the giant monsters for laughs. The opening scene with Godzilla, when he destroys a ship, doesn’t even address the hundreds of lives lost. It’s just a guy in a costume destroying a model ship–because thinking about it in the movie’s context would just make Honda glib. The giant monster fights have a lot of humor in them (who knew Godzilla had a butt?) and it’s all for kids. It’s probably not terrible for kids, but then why delay the giant monsters for half the movie and fill it with thoughtful–if poorly executed–narrative.

Usually Godzilla movies leave me mildly amused or better. This one did not.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Sekizawa Shinichi; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Fujii Ryohei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Natsuki Yosuke (Detective Shindo), Hoshi Yuriko (Naoko), Koizumi Hiroshi (Professor Miura), Wakabayashi Akiko (Mas Selina Salno, Princess of Sergina), Ito Emi and Ito Yûmi (The Twin Fairies), Shimura Takashi (Dr. Tsukamoto), Hirata Akihiko (Chief Detective Okita) and Ito Hisaya (Malmess, Chief Assassin).


Mothra (1961, Honda Ishirô)

Mothra is a strange mix of Japanese monster movie, 1950s Hollywood sci-fi and Disney. The last ingredient only becomes clear at the end of the movie, though it’s probably present throughout (as Mothra returns home with the two fairies, it’s clear Mothra would have made a fine animated feature). But the strangest element of Mothra isn’t a genre one, as Christian movies weren’t big in that era. Mothra interacts with religion–specifically Catholicism–in a way I’ve never seen in a Japanese movie, much less a giant monster movie, before. At the end of the movie, it’s revealed Mothra herself is some kind of agent of God. It’s a discrete revelation (the movie doesn’t deal with the implications at all), but it’s definitely there. Had Mothra dealt with those implications, like the origin of church bells and the cross as a Christian symbol being on a Polynesian Island since long before Christ… well, it would have been a far more interesting film.

Moving on, Mothra also features a very global community. Instead of containing the action to Japan, the movie ends in Rolisica–which is as close as Russia (and features a large Russian farming community, as well as Eastern Orthodox churches), but looks like America and everyone speaks English. Initially, the country’s only a stand-in for the USSR, so when its propping up a crazy capitalist, it’s real funny. But the unreality of the country, in terms of its national character and closeness to Japan, lends to that Disney feel (as does everyone waving goodbye to Mothra, who’s just gotten done destroying a bunch of cities and killing untold hundreds).

But the story, which is clearly influenced by King Kong–an expedition produces some good showbiz results with disastrous consequences–is all right. It follows a reporter (Frankie Sakai) and a scientist (Koizumi Hiroshi) to the expedition and back, establishing them as important and so on. There’s the reporter’s cute photographer and the scientist’s little brother who tag along for their adventures. It’s all very genial (and somewhat damning at the end, when Mothra ends on a dumb, “women are so silly” joke).

The likable cast–well, Jerry Ito is terrible as the villain, but moving on–only needs to get the movie to the special effects sequences and they do. Once Mothra’s attacking the city, the excellent miniature effects take over. There’s a lot of city work, with moving vehicles and detailed buildings and it all looks fantastic. Only when the camera holds too long on the miniature figures are there any problems (most of the editing during the destruction sequences is perfect though). And then there’s the issue of Mothra herself. The caterpillar, even with its lifeless eyes, is good. The giant moth… not so good. Luckily, Honda doesn’t pause the camera on it, instead going to the street scenes and those are fantastic. When Mothra hits the New York City stand in and blows the blocks of cars all around… great stuff.

Mothra‘s strangely ambitious–especially at the end with the Eastern Western setting and the Christian overtones–and a lot of it works real well. Great effects throughout, some good music and Honda’s got some excellent shots in the movie, sometimes just in conversation. But the end, kneecapped already with the ludicrous fond farewell to the monster, and then ending on the dumb joke, really brings Mothra down. As the movie gets more interesting from a scholarly standpoint, its quality lessens.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Sekizawa Shinichi, based on a story by Hotta Yoshie and Nakamura Shinichirô and a novel by Fukunaga Takehiko; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Taira Kazuji; music by Koseki Yuji; production designers, Abe Teruaki and Kita Taeko; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Frankie Sakai (Bulldog), Koizumi Hiroshi (Dr. Chûjô), Kagawa Kyôko (Michi), Uehara Ken (Dr. Harada), Ito Emi and Ito Yûmi (The Twin Fairies), Jerry Ito (Clark Nelson), Tayama Akihiro (Shinji) and Shimura Takashi (the news editor).


Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994, Yamashita Kensho)

To say Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla has it all is an understatement. It has more than that. It has dirt bikes, black holes, a “Muppet Babies” version of Godzilla, a superwoman, walks on the beach at sunset, and, apparently, the first butt shot in a Godzilla movie. It’s a wacky mess, proving having no story is sometimes a good thing. The 1990s Godzilla series was so dependent on continuity, at one point during the film, I thought Joss Whedon wrote it. Space Godzilla has a bunch of little details, but the thing moves at such a fast pace, they’re not used for any reason other than storytelling brevity.

I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be a comedy. While the writer did go on to do other Godzilla movies, the director only did this one, which probably means Toho wasn’t happy with his performance. How could they be? He’s created a perfect Godzilla movie. It ends with a U.N. anti-Godzilla military guy opining, “Godzilla’s not that bad, is he?” After he’s just destroyed a city–of course, so has the Japanese anti-Godzilla military guy, in a giant robot (from these films, I’ve learned the Japanese solve all their problems with giant robots)–during a pointless fight with Space Godzilla. Maybe the lack of purpose–the film flip-flops between being about the telepathic control of Godzilla and the Space Godzilla’s origins in a black hole–is what makes Space Godzilla so good. It’s a bunch of scenes strung together, some of them really big–there’s some great matte shots in Space Godzilla, probably the most impressive in any Godzilla movie–all connected through the five main characters. Oh, I forgot–in my list up above–there’s a mad scientist too. Dirt bikes, black holes, and a mad scientist. Not much else offers you those three items.

There’s also the “Muppet Babies” Godzilla, which is cute and totally absurd. But really, it’s the cast. At one point, I got thinking about Yoshikawa Towako’s performance–when she’s standing around talking about mind-controlling Godzilla–she’s actually taking this absurd acting job seriously and making it all believable. All the other principals, Hashizume Jun, Yoneyama Zenkichi, and Odaka Megumi are good. Very likable, people you want to spend an hour and a half with. The best is Emoto Akira, playing a soldier obsessed with killing Godzilla. The film treats him as a goof-ball, running around on foot trying to catch the monster. It’s hilarious.

Technically, I already mentioned the sometimes great composites (usually when there’s no urban destruction involved). There’s also a really good score in Space Godzilla, something akin to a 1970s John Williams disaster score (except the two scenes I’m convinced are homage to From Here to Eternity). The most impressive thing about Space Godzilla, besides its approach to storytelling, is its sound design. The final fight scene has little weight, since no one’s really fighting for anything (the earlier fight, when Space Godzilla is trying to beat up Little Godzilla, is much more effective), but the sound design is amazing. Some great editing in the last fight scene too.

Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla is a big dumb mess and it appreciates and understands it’s a big dumb mess and does everything it can with that condition. It’s constantly delightful.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Yamashita Kensho; written by Kashiwabara Hiroshi; director of photography, Kishimoto Masahiro; music by Hattori Takayuki; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki and Tomiyama Shogo; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki), Hashizume Jun (Shinjo Koji), Yoneyama Zenkichi (Sato Kiyoshi), Emoto Akira (Major Yuki), Yoshikawa Towako (Dr. Gondo), Saitô Yôsuke (Dr. Okubo), Sahara Kenji (Minister Segawa), Nakao Akira (Commander Aso) and Ueda Kôichi (Deputy Commander Hyodo).


Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989, Omori Kazuki)

Godzilla vs. Biollante is an odd Godzilla movie. It’s got some cool devices–there’re these Godzilla alarm system, which do a great deal to establish the film’s believability–even if the computer readouts are impossibly old. Stylistically, both in its approach to visually explaining settings and in its music, Biollante really reminds me of Star Trek II. The comparison starts at the beginning of the film and I was still thinking about it at the end. However, though there are a lot of good things about Biollante, it’s excruciatingly boring.

The good stuff is actually a lot of the characters and their actors. There’s the gung ho army commando who’s been out to pasture, played by Minegishi Tôru. Minegishi is a joy to watch. He approaches it with a sense of measured comedy. He never quite looks at the camera and winks, but you’re never sure he’s not going to do it. On the flip–in one of the film’s greatest successes–is the young colonel who’s got the huge responsibility of dealing with Godzilla, played by Takashima Masanobu. While the film’s not interested in being believable beyond it’s own setting, Masanobu makes the character real, which is quite a feat, given how few lines of dialogue the character actually speaks. There’s a similar juxtaposition with the scientists, though only the younger one, played by Kitamura Kunihiko, the ostensible lead, is actually good. The older one is a mad scientist, which is a reasonable segue into the next paragraph.

The bad stuff is mostly–besides how boring it all is to watch–how goofy Godzilla vs. Biollante gets in order to fill a hundred minutes. There’s the ominous Middle Eastern state–which is actually really funny at times, unintentionally I’m sure–the ominous, but better than the Arabs, American corporation, and then there’s the mad scientist. The mad scientist scenes are actually out of a 1950s sci-fi, with thunder and lighting and everything. The film’s effective moments are, not surprisingly, when it deals with either characters or people’s reaction to Godzilla. The special effects are a little slight in parts and the miniature city just doesn’t work, but there are a few great shots in that city scene.

Coming after the 1984 Godzilla, Biollante is a disappointment to be sure, but it does have some “real” scenes in it. Not goofy giant rubber monsters fighting each other, but real scenes of human struggle. It also has the scene where all the people run through the city. I wonder if it’s a status thing for the extras, who must just be regular people there are so many… “Did you see me evacuating the city? Did you see me? I was carrying the giant cactus.”

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Omori Kazuki; screenplay by Omori, based on a story by Kobayashi Shinichirô; director of photography, Kato Katsuhiro; edited by Ikeda Michiko; music by Sugiyama Kôichi; production designer, Ikuno Juichi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Mitamura Kunihiko (Kirishima Kazuhito), Tanaka Yoshiko (Okouchi Asuka), Takashima Masanobu (Major Kuroki Sho), Takahashi Koji (Dr. Shiragami), Minegishi Tôru (Lieutenant Gondo Goro), Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki), Nagashima Toshiyuki (Director Yamamoto Seiichi), Kaneda Ryunosuke (Azuka’s Father), Yuge Yasunori (Prime Minister), Kuga Yoshiko (Prime Minister’s Wife) and Sawaguchi Yasuko (Shiragami Erika).


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