Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review - Godzilla Vs MechaGodzilla

May 29, 2014

Godzilla Vs MechaGodzilla (III) – Japan, 2002

In the opening scene of Masaaki Tezuka’s 2002 film, Godzilla Vs MechaGodzilla, Japan is hit by a double whammy. The first, an approaching typhoon, is an event that, while potentially dangerous, is not so unusual for Japan. The second? Well, that’s another story entirely, for the powerful winds and torrential rain has brought with it an unwanted guest – Godzilla. This is of course not the Godzilla. That one was killed back in 1956, and in the years since, a Godzilla has appeared at least twenty-six other times. By now, people in Japan would not be surprised by the existence of the legendary creature, and perhaps this is why the film dispenses with the usual montage of scenes in which people from all walks of life see the creature and react in horror. It is as if the film’s screenwriter Wataru Mimira decided to cut to the chase and just give the audience what it paid good money to see.

And so there is a battle early on between Godzilla and a task force knows as the Anti-Megalosourus Force, which exists for just such an occasion. However, their approach to defeating Godzilla seems amateurish at best, for they employ weapons that anyone who has seen previous Godzilla movies knows are ineffective. At last, the soldiers pull out their secret weapon – something called the Maser, which seems to be short for monster laser. It is manned by a young woman named Akane (Yumiko Shaku). Despite her efforts and perhaps because of her shock at what she sees in front of her, ten of her colleagues die, and Godzilla escapes. For this she is reassigned to the data room despite later admissions that the weapons would have been ineffective against the beast even if she had hit it head on.

So what’s to be done now? Well, first the weak must be removed from positions of authority because dealing with monsters is a task for the strong. This means that the weak, indecisive prime minister – who just happens to be a woman – must resign and confidently hand the post to someone with much more fortitude – who just happens to be a man. I wonder what, if anything, we are meant to read into this. The new prime minister decides to embark of a massive project – the construction of a giant robotic fighting machine knows as Kinyu a.k.a. MechaGodzilla.

The idea is to create MechaGodzilla from the remains of the original Godzilla, yet to make it half-robot and thus controllable by computer operators. This plotline allows the film to introduce a number of characters with scientific backgrounds, one of which is Dr. Tokumitsu Yuhara (Shin Takuma), a socially awkward widower with a school-age daughter named Sara (Kana Onodera). Yuhara is introduced as an ethical scientist, yet it is soon clear that his character primarily exists for comic effect. Sara fairs slightly better, yet she is given little to do other than clutch a plant and brood. The film attempts to establish a bond between Sara and Akane, but is only partially successful at this. One can only accomplish so much in brief scenes involving vague comments about plants, companionship, and isolation.

The first half of the film raises intriguing questions about just what a creation like Kinyu would mean in the real world. Would it mean that Japan was rearming? Would it destabilize the region? We are also asked to look at such a device in another way, for if the monster can be brought back, what about deceased loved ones? Kinyu also comes with a newly-developed weapon known as the Absolute-Zero Gun, which has the ability to freeze things and then reduce them completely to ashes, which of course entirely negates the need for Kinyu itself. But I digress. Almost on cue, Godzilla resurfaces, and Kinyu is sent into action, with the recently-reinstated Akane behind the controls.

There’s more to the story of course, but as the film progresses it becomes less and less concerned with the very ethical, moral, and political issues it brings up during its first half. A possible psychic connection between Godzilla and his clone is introduced and then quickly thrown aside. Comments that Sara makes about mankind’s lack of concern for the living are brushed aside by calls for battle and the protection of Japan. Even Akane’s fight for acceptance among her male counterparts becomes fodder for a cliché-filled storyline involving a pilot whose brother was killed in the battle the film opens with. We’ve seen this before, and the way it develops in this film is pretty much the same as it does in other ones. In fact, the film’s lack of originality may help explain why many of its “human” scenes are as short as they are.

However, to knock a Godzilla film for its substandard plot is perhaps to miss the point of a Godzilla movie. Godzilla films, with the possible exception of the first one, are more about the spectacle than the drama, more about the beasts than the humans. This Godzilla does not bring with him radiation sickness or directly relate to the atomic bomb. In fact, there is nothing to suggest a reason for Godzilla’s initial re-emergence at all. Instead, this Godzilla exists simply to create the need for a major cinematic response, in other words, to create a reason to make spectacular stretches of monster warfare.

So it must be asked: How are the scenes of Godzilla combat? The answer: Somewhat silly, yet surprisingly effective as well. Godzilla is played by Tsutomu Kitagawa, and Hirofumi Ishigaki mans MechaGodzilla. The conflicts involving these monsters are made all the more interesting by the lifelike movements and physical reactions of the actors underneath the costumes. Do they make up for the film’s simple plot and cardboard characters? Not entirely, but they do keep the film from being entirely dismissible. After all, a film that is ultimately about nothing has to have something to keep viewers’ attention diverted, and watching two Godzillas going at it isn’t a bad way of being distracted. (on DVD)

3 stars

*Godzilla Vs. MechaGodzilla is in Japanese with English subtitles.

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