Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Return of Godzilla / Godzilla 1985 (1984)


Before the ten year break between Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) and the Legendary Godzilla (2014), the longest period that audiences had to wait between Godzilla movies was nine years, from 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla to 1984's The Return of Godzilla, released in Japan as simply Gojira.

By the '70s, Godzilla had come far from where he started in 1954. Originally a dark harbinger of destruction, Godzilla had gradually transformed into a superhero defending Earth from kaiju controlled by invading aliens, fighting pollution in the form of smog monster Hedorah, and even teaching kids to defend themselves from bullies. Although Toho Studios tried to reverse the trend a little in the mid-seventies, Terror of Mechagodzilla pulled in another low box office number, cementing the fact of Godzilla's waining popularity and ending the original series of Godzilla films.

When Toho decided to bring Godzilla back for his 30th anniversary, they settled on doing it with a direct sequel to the original movie, ignoring all the previous sequels and returning to a darker, more realistic tone.

The Return of Godzilla begins with shots of a volcano erupting, before cutting to a ship, the Yahata-maru, being tossed around by a violent storm. As if that weren't enough for the crew to deal with, the island they are passing by starts to break apart in bright flashes of light. It could almost be another volcanic eruption if not for the familiar roar that comes with it.

A reporter named Goro Maki comes across the derelict ship some time later and decides to investigate. In a scene reminiscent of the sequence in The Thing where they go to the Norwegian base, he finds the crew dead and seemingly drained of blood.


Unfortunately, he doesn't find particularly good special effects to go with the bodies.

More exploring turns up a live crew member, but before Goro can bring him to consciousness, he is attacked by a giant bug. Later we learn that it is a sea louse, mutated from living off of Godzilla. It's called Shockirus, although they never actually call it that in the movie itself.


The Shockirus effects are a little better, but the puppet is too stiff and the way it jumps/flies around is kind of goofy. You can see a harpoon sticking through it in this shot.

Goro is saved by the surviving crew member, Hiroshi Okumura, who tells him about the monster he saw destroy the island before the two of them are picked up by a helicopter (did Goro just abandon the boat he came in...?).

Okumura tries to tell people about what happened, but the only one who listens to him is Professor Makoto Hayashida. Goro wants to print the story, but the Japanese Prime Minister is aware of what's happening and orders that any information about Godzilla be kept secret to avoid panic. The public is told the Yahata-maru is still missing and Goro's rescue is hidden. It sounds like a typical plot element for a monster movie, but it kind of makes sense here. There's no reason to believe Godzilla will attack Japan, and being that this is during the Cold War, news about a monster that is essentially a walking nuclear weapon could create some big problems.

Goro visits Prof. Hayashida, whose parents were killed by Godzilla in 1954, leading him to devote himself to studying the monster. Goro recognizes Hayashida's assistant from a photo Okumura had on the boat (and that Goro now has, for no logical reason but to have audiences see the photo again to make the connection). Hayashida tells him that the girl, Naoko, is Okumura's sister. She hasn't been told about her brother being found because of the news embargo, so Goro decides to tell her. With her perfectly round head/hair, big, round eyes, and sharp nose, she looks like she stepped right out of an anime:



Meanwhile, a Soviet nuclear sub in the north Pacific fires torpedoes at an unknown target that they assume is an American submarine. Of course that doesn't stop it, and it rams the submarine, causing it to explode. By the way, the sub is captained by a guy who looks like Jay from Half in the Bag:




The Japanese Prime Minister is notified that the Soviets blame it on the Americans. With nuclear war imminent, the Prime Minister lifts the blackout and officially announces that Godzilla was responsible, with a photo from a Japanese plane to prove it. Okumura is also there at the press conference, and after talking about what happened declares that he wants revenge on Godzilla, which is pretty goofy.

There's a brief scene where Naoko sees a photo of her and her brother in the paper and voices her displeasure to Goro, who she thinks just wanted the scoop (a subplot that disappears after this scene), before we cut to the Godzilla Emergency Countermeasures Headquarters. 

The first lines there are from a guy standing in front of a map, saying "We will attack Godzilla with everything available until we defeat it! That is all I have to say," before taking a seat. What a good plan. Thankfully, the rest of them are a little more intelligent, and continue to discuss the issue of whether they can deal with Godzilla's "death ray" and actually beat him. They reveal the existence of the Super-X attack craft designed to protect the capital. The plan is to load it with cadmium missiles to use against Godzilla, "as cadmium is used in the seal of a nuclear reactor." Looking up cadmium's usage in nuclear reactors, I'm skeptical that it would work the way they use it, but they seem pretty confident about it, and I'm not a scientist. Either way, it's a cool idea.

We cut back to Prof. Hayashida, looking at the photo the plane took of Godzilla:



Hayashida sure is perceptive.

Looking at that photo, he determines that Godzilla is 80 meters tall. How he figured that out when there is nothing to judge scale from is beyond me, but like I said, I'm not a scientist.

Hayashida states for the first time in a Godzilla movie that Godzilla feeds on nuclear radiation, and that he will return to Japan to feed. There was no indication of this in the first movie, nor has there been any reason to believe it is the case so far in this one. I'm starting to think Hayashida faked his degree.

The search for Godzilla goes on in the ocean all around Japan, but somehow they don't find him until he walks right up to a nuclear power plant. Even the guard on patrol doesn't hear Godzilla's footsteps and only notices him when the ground splits open right in front of him, by which point Godzilla is already looming over him:



I hope that guy got fired.

We get the stock shots of people in the plant rushing everywhere and answering phones:



We then get the laziest excuse ever for why Godzilla was not noticed earlier:


I hope that guy got fired too.

These shots don't make sense because the footage on the screen was clearly just footage shot for the movie that they stuck up on there. There's a shot were the camera glides along sideways at almost ground level, which wouldn't be possible if someone was there filming it in real life.

Hayashida somehow arrives at the scene in a helicopter immediately, with Goro and Okumura, who has a thermal imaging camera with a directional microphone.

There's a goofy shot of some guys "falling" off a collapsing catwalk in the plant: 



Followed by a close up of one of them falling in slow motion, because why not:


Godzilla tears his way in to the reactor core and starts absorbing the radiation:


He gets distracted by a flock of terribly animated birds flying by, and wanders after them, back into the ocean:


When they get back to Hayashida Bioscience Institute (which is itself on the 20th floor of a larger building--I really don't think Hayashida is a real scientist), Hayashida proves he is a real scientist by analyzing the thermal imaging footage of Godzilla:






He must be a scientist if he can get that from just a blue splotch, right? But even though we have the Japanese Einstein in the room, it's Okumura who realizes that the birds drew Godzilla away, something even children in the audience figured out the first time around. 

And in the photo Goro took, the birds are just painted in:


What is it with this movie and not being able to just point a camera at some real birds?

Hayashida still tries to tie it in with his whole magnetism idea and sends Okumura off to visit his geologist friend, Minami, at Mount Mihara, which gives us a pointless little scene of Minami checking out the volcano. It is worth noting that Minami is played by Hiroshi Koizumi, who starred in many previous Godzilla movies, beginning with Godzilla Raids Again way back in 1955. Even after this, he turned up again in Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. in 2003. Gotta admire his dedication to the series.

Minami and Hayashida present a plan to the government to lure Godzilla to the volcano and force-erupt it. Another veteran Godzilla actor, Yoshifumi Tajima, probably best known for playing one of the villains in Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) shows up here as part of the cabinet.

While American monster movies tend to portray authority figures as ignorant, overconfident fools who ignore the people who actually know what they are talking about, Japanese kaiju movies generally go the opposite way, and this is no exception. Instead of saying "No monster can beat our army!" the Prime Minister makes sure to cover all his bases. He orders the military to be ready, but also tells Hayashida and Minami to go ahead and prepare their plan.

The Soviets and Americans send envoys to Japan to discuss the issue with the Prime Minister, and they both tell him straight up that they want to nuke Godzilla. The Soviet guy says "Nothing else will save Japan," and the American guy reaches halfway across the room to point at him and say, "He's right!" It's also funny because the American guy is not a great actor, and because the Soviet guy has such a blatantly villainous air about him.


He even makes it clear that he doesn't actually care about what happens to Japan by saying that Godzilla's next target will be a Soviet missile base, and the Soviets "have no intention to wait to be destroyed!"

The cabinet members debate things amongst themselves, and both sides have legitimate stances. A nuclear bomb would cause lots of destruction and fallout, but it could be relatively controlled and people could be evacuated beforehand. But there would be no way to predict whether the damage caused by Godzilla would be as bad, or if the bomb would even work on him. 

In the end, the Prime Minister decides against it, and the Soviet and American envoys voice their displeasure. The Soviet guy basically yells a lot and says that Godzilla already sank one of their subs so they should have the right to kill him, and the American guy says, "This is no time to be discussing principles!" The Prime Minister calmly refutes him and says he will not accede to their wishes because letting them use nuclear weapons would make them a viable option in the future again, obviously something that would rather be avoided.

If it seems like I'm going on about the political stuff, it's because this movie treats it seriously and presents things in a realistic way. One of the best aspects of this movie is that it actually gives gravity to the concept of a giant monster in our world, where most movies just skip past that.

Anyway, we cut to American and Soviet satellites with nuclear missiles on them. It's a strange editing choice, because we then go back to the Prime Minister telling his advisors that the American and Soviet leaders finally understood when he asked them to think about what it would be like if Godzilla were in their country and they had to order a nuclear strike that would kill their own people. 

Seems like they should have left those shots of the satellites out, especially since the next scene is "Soviet Political Operative Colonel Kashirin" looking all suspicious as he gets out of a car and boards a Soviet freighter. He rolls his eyes about a hundred times as he tells one of the men on the boat that "The government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided not to use nuclear weapons!" while punching buttons on a panel that, through a crosscut with a shot of the Soviet satellite, we know controls the missile launches. Why not just introduce the satellites here?

A helicopter pilot spots Godzilla's dorsal spines heading toward Tokyo Bay, leading to a mercifully brief evacuation/panic montage. Goro and the others haven't shown up for a while, so we get a short scene with Hayashida scribbling something in a notebook as Goro asks if the cadmium will be effective. Hayashida says, "Godzilla is like a living reactor. I don't think it will work." At least he didn't try to make up a bunch of stuff this time.

The military sets up explosives around the volcano and we get the prerequisite military forces preparation scene as they set up tanks and missile launchers along Tokyo Bay. They have helicopters using sonar to search for Godzilla, but I guess good observational skills aren't a big thing in Japan, because this happens:


A bunch of jets appear out of nowhere and fire on Godzilla, and he zaps a couple of them with his beam. There's explosions, and smoke, and water splashing...and we see that the Soviet ship is still there in the bay, sitting right next to the action. What??? It makes no sense, but it does give us a cool shot from the boat:


Godzilla submerges, causing a huge wave that knocks the boat into the pier and--oh, no!--damages the missile control panel. As if that weren't bad enough, Soviet Political Operative Colonel Kashirin is knocked unconscious!

Godzilla reemerges closer to shore and is absolutely bombarded by the military. There are missiles flying everywhere, huge explosions in the water, everything is obscured by smoke. Even the sound effects keep cutting each other off, there's so much going on.

And after the smoke clears...Godzilla is still standing. There's a really cool shot where the camera does a quick zoom into Godzilla's eye as he snarls angrily. We'll talk a little more about the American version later, but one thing I actually like better about it is that they added a sound effect for the zoom that fits so perfectly that it seems to be missing something without it.

The soldiers cower and back away (why are there so many soldiers just standing around with rifles anyway--what the hell were they gonna do?), but Godzilla sweeps the area with his atomic ray and, in about ten seconds, wipes out the entire force arrayed against him. The scene as a whole doesn't last long, but the intensity of it makes it one of my favorite Godzilla vs. military scenes.


Back on the Russian ship, Soviet Political Operative Colonel Kashirin recovers and tries to get to the controls--but gets fried by an explosion before he can get there.

Godzilla comes ashore and shoots down a helicopter, somehow starting a chain reaction of explosions down a car-crowded highway that literally creates as much, if not more, destruction as when Godzilla used his beam on the army. I hope Japan doesn't still build their cars entirely out of extremely explosive materials.

Then a train comes by (apparently no one on board heard about a giant radioactive dinosaur approaching the area) and the panicked conductors break it to a stop right in front of Godzilla. You can guess what happens next:




The acting from the extras in this movie is top notch.

The districts in Godzilla's path are ordered to evacuate, but of course one guy sticks around to steal food. Actually, we'll see later that there are still tons of people in the area, so I'm not sure how this works. It's also not clear if he was a vagrant beforehand, or if he just saw an opportunity and took it. Either way, he pops up here for some reason. There's even a moment where Godzilla looks down at him and roars before moving on. I don't know.


Godzilla passes by the building Hayashida, Goro and Naoko are in, and they test out the lure they created for Godzilla. It seems to work, but Godzilla gets distracted by laser cannons and slams the building with his tail. The lasers draw Godzilla away, but now the elevators aren't working and emergency shutters have come down in front of the stairs (?), so they're trapped in the building.


As a side note, I'm not sure why they thought testing the lure while Godzilla was only a few feet away was a good idea. What would have happened if the lasers hadn't drawn his attention? Proving the lure worked only to have Godzilla tear the building down wouldn't have been very beneficial. And wouldn't they have wanted to make sure it worked from a longer distance anyway? They're trying to lure Godzilla away from the city off to a volcano on an island, not to the Burger King down the street. I wouldn't trust Hayashida with being able to tie his own shoes at this point.

The Super-X finally gets launched, and as it heads for the area, they try to use the lasers to control Godzilla, but people still keep getting crushed. This is one of the few movies where we actually see people running away while buildings are coming down right next to them.

When the Super-X arrives, it launches flares above Godzilla, causing him to look up and roar, which in turn allows the Super-X to shoot the cadmium shells into his mouth. The effects of the cadmium are pretty much instantaneous. Godzilla starts to move sluggishly and we hear his heartbeat slowing. So much for Hayashida's expertise.


Unfortunately, right at that moment, a missile launches from the Soviet satellite, and Soviet Political Operative Colonel Kashirin isn't around to stop it anymore. The Soviets immediately notify the Japanese that the missile was accidentally launched and will hit in thirty minutes. What I want to know is why the missile was aimed at Tokyo. Were the Soviets just that sure that that was where Godzilla would show up? Actually, they keep saying "the missile will strike Godzilla." Is it some kind of super-smart missile that knows to target Godzilla specifically?

Godzilla fires his beam at the Super-X, but it has no effect and he succumbs to the cadmium, collapsing into a building. A massive mob of people immediately starts crowding in, only being held back by officers in riot gear. How they knew to deploy exactly there is also something I'd like to know.

Hayashida sees that Godzilla has been incapacitated, but still insists that they have to get the lure to Mt. Mihara. There is another evacuation (are all Japanese as stubborn as Hayashida and these Tokyoites?) as America launches a missile of their own to intercept the Soviet one before it hits.


Okumura returns from Mt. Mihara in a helicopter. They rescue the professor from the building and get the lure, but leave Goro and Naoko to fend for themselves. It's not really clear why. They say they 'have to hurry' and something about strong winds, but it would still make more sense to just pull them out.

I really like Naoko's response to everything. As she applies first aid to an injury Goro sustained to his arm while trying to open one of the shutters, she says, "The professor is confident of the Americans, but the missile is still heading for us. Godzilla will wake up soon, and the helicopter may not make it to the island in time. Maybe we're all going to die." Goro tries to comfort her, but doesn't seem to believe his own words when he says they won't die. Normally these kind of movies don't get so serious, and I appreciate this one for trying to maintain a realistic tone.

The American missile succeeds in destroying the Soviet missile (I wonder how this movie did in the USSR), knocking out power in the area and turning the night sky a flickering red.


The Super-X starts having difficulties, just as lightning starts flashing, striking Godzilla and reviving him. The stupid crowd finally decides to get the hell out when Godzilla comes lumbering toward them.  


The desperate Super-X crew, now out of cadmium shots, fly the vehicle around behind a building, but Godzilla blasts right through it. They unload on him with missiles and lasers, but Godzilla just keeps coming. He manages to damage the Super-X by blasting it while it's missile bays are open, forcing it to land. Then he drops a huge building on it, and that's the end of the Super-X.

Meanwhile, Goro and Naoko manage to get past a destroyed stairwell by shimmying down a fire hose they tie to a railing. That weird maybe-homeless guy shows up again to hold it steady as they climb down. I really don't know why he is in this movie.

Goro and Naoko run off safely, but for some reason Godzilla targets the maybe-homeless guy, and...well...we get this slow-motion shot (I swear I'm not making this shit up, this is not photoshopped or edited):


I guess Godzilla kills him...? We don't actually see what happens, but Godzilla then goes after Goro and Naoko. I don't know why he's focusing on these individual people when there was a huge crowd here just a minute ago. At the last second though, Godzilla responds to the lure 'Prof.' Hayashida set up at Mt. Mihara and starts to leave.

The movie wraps up pretty quickly. Godzilla makes his way to the volcano and they set off the explosives. When he tumbles into the volcano, we see his shadow fall in after him, being cast on the huge plumes of smoke. It's a really cool effect. Actually, it looks like he purposely jumps into the volcano. I don't know if it's intentional or not, but it feels like it might be. I'm not sure what that says about Godzilla either, but I like it because it implies that there's more to the monster than we understand, that he knows what he is doing and is doing it for some kind of purpose. Then again, maybe I'm full of it, I don't know. But if Hayashida can pull stuff out of his ass, I can too. I should go to Japan and get my Scientist Degree.

Interspersed with the shots of Godzilla in the volcano, we see the Prime Minister and Hayashida looking on reverently. The Prime Minister even looks like he's about to break out in tears. The moving music here also gives things a melancholy feel, as if we should feel bad for what is being done to Godzilla. It might sound ridiculous, but it really works. At least until the credits roll and we get to the (admittedly catchy) song "Goodbye Godzilla" and English lyrics like "Take care now Godzilla, my old friend."

The End.

This is an interesting entry in the Godzilla series. Obviously, most of the movies don't try so hard (or at all) to be serious. And even though there are some goofy things, occasional weird editing and effects that don't always work, the movie pulls it off. It's not as dark as the original, but it does feel like a fitting sequel.

Like the original movie, this one has clear themes underlying everything. The first one wasn't overly subtle, but this movie shoves it right in your face. At one point, Hayashida straight up says: "I think he's a monster created by man. Humans don't think about the monsters… Godzilla is a living nuclear weapon, capable of mass destruction." Later, he says, "Godzilla is a warning. I just want to send it home." It's pretty heavy handed, but I can't help liking it when Godzilla is treated as something more than just a giant animal.

As for Godzilla himself, this is something of a mixed bag. We get an unusual amount of lip action from Godzilla here, and I don't mean between him and Mothra like in your fan fictions, you pervert. I mean he snarls a lot, showing off some especially long and pointed teeth. The close ups can be a little stiff, and from the side Godzilla has a strangely shaped head, but overall these shots are very effective. You can really feel Godzilla's rage coming through.


Unfortunately, these shots of the 'cybot Godzilla,' a 16-foot (!) robot built for the movie, don't match the suit Godzilla at all. The suit used in this movie feels very stiff, especially in the face. Godzilla's eyes have a dumb zombie look to them, and he looks too chunky overall, like they had a design that they meant to refine and just never got around to it. It's not a bad look per se, but it feels too generic and lacks detail. It's the suit's stiffness and lack of emotive ability that makes it a big disappointment in a movie that strives for a realistic tone. It just always looks like a suit.


He looks like a chubby dope.

There are a few shots where we see more of the cybot Godzilla from about the waist up. The shots right after the Super-X uses the cadmium don't look bad because Godzilla is barely moving, but there is one shot in particular when the jets are shooting him that looks ridiculous, with the cybot's arms jerking up and down. It makes me think of the giant robot Kong they built for the 1976 King Kong and ended up using only briefly because it looked like shit. At least the close ups look pretty good.


Ken Tanaka (Goro) with the cybot Godzilla

The cybot was gigantic, but they still built a life-sized Godzilla foot too. The shots of the foot almost never look good. It's just too hard to work with something that big. If they just dropped it they'd probably damage it, so every time he steps it looks like he's trying to be gentle and not hurt anyone. Either that, or the foot will kind of hover as it knocks into cars or buildings. It was a cool idea, but it didn't really work out.

His beam is a little disappointing too. There's not much detail to it, it's just matted-in blue. And it curves the way it does in some of the older movies, like Destroy All Monsters, which I never understood.

The human actors do a good job overall, especially Ken Tanaka as Goro. In particular, the scene where Okumura arrives in the helicopter when the others are trapped in the building and they pull Hayashida out all feels very genuine. And I appreciate that they didn't try to push a romance between Naoko and Goro. The problem is that most of them aren't given a lot to do. By the end of the movie, you don't really care what's happening to the characters, you just want to see what happens to Godzilla.


Going back to the effects, the Super-X is a very simple design that works because it feels practical. The same goes for the mobile lasers they use to direct Godzilla, even if the optical effect of the lasers themselves isn't great. For that matter, none of the optical effects are all that good, including the lightning, the red sky and Godzilla's ray. They don't look terrible, but there's not much detail to any of them, and they end up feeling cheap.

Some of the miniatures, like the laser cannons, sometimes don't fare super well just because of how the camera is used, but generally things don't stick out as looking fake. In particular, the buildings feel much more like real buildings here than they usually do.

As I mentioned, the Shockirus doesn't quite work, but the idea behind it is great. It also calls back to the trilobite discovered in one of Godzilla's footprints in the original movie. Unfortunately, they never come up again in any of the later movies (Cloverfield had it's own take on parasites living on a larger monster though).

Akira Ifukube's classic Godzilla music is nowhere to be found here, but Reijiro Koroku's score is a good fit. It feels much more like a horror movie score than anything we've heard in a Godzilla movie up to this point, and helps to separate this movie from the increasingly child-oriented sequels of the '60s and '70s. It's also much more orchestral than typical scores for kaiju movies and can be very moving when it needs to be.

Overall, an interesting movie that unfortunately somewhat drops the ball where Godzilla himself is concerned, but still rises above the majority by choosing a serious tone and sticking to it. Along with its follow up, Godzilla vs. Biollante, this movie handles Godzilla in a far more realistic way than we are used to, and largely pulls it off.

This movie was brought to U.S. theaters as Godzilla 1985, but of course it wasn't quite the same movie. The entire thing was chopped up and reedited, and new scenes were inserted, with Raymond Burr reprising his role as reporter Steve Martin from the American version of the original movie. Those scenes are terribly written and often terribly acted, adding a level of unintentional humor. Characters will say things that make no sense and, unlike the clever reediting of the original, none of the characters end up having anything to do with what happens in the Japanese version. I do like that Martin talks even more about Godzilla being a force of nature though. He is utterly convinced that there is nothing we can do to stop Godzilla, but doesn't actually offer any beneficial information. The fact that a Dr. Pepper machine seems to stand at every corner of the Pentagon is also worth mentioning.

Unfortunately, the Japanese version of The Return of Godzilla was never released stateside, and even the American version isn't on DVD, so you might have to go out of your way for it, but if you're looking for a serious approach to a Godzilla movie, I recommend checking this one out. (UPDATE: The Return of Godzilla is being released on DVD and Blu-ray September 2016 .)

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