Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Godzilla Entry #17: THE RETURN OF GODZILLA (1984)

Directed by: Koji Hashimoto, R.J. Kizer
Written by: Shuichi Nagahara, Tomoyuki Tanaka
Starring: Ken Tanaka, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Yôsuke Natsuki, Keiju Kobayashi, Shin Takuma, Kengo Nakayama
Synopsis: 30 years after the original attack, a new Godzilla comes to terrorize Tokyo. When he destroys a Russian nuclear submarine amidst the Cold War, the tensions mount while Japan tries to find a way to defeat him.

After a ten year break, Godzilla came back to the screens in 1985 with GODZILLA RETURNS. The first of the Heisi era of the franchise, it uses the original GOJIRA as a jumping off point, only to completely ignore everything that happened during the rest of the Showa era films. Godzilla movies, for better or worse, have been able to reflect the fears and the cultural landscape of the time of the movies and after the more goofy entries of the last era, it felt a little refreshing to see that GODZILLA returns manages to reflect some of that Cold War paranoia and renewed nuclear fears.

The movie picks up 30 years after the original movie, so it's roughly about the same time as the real world. Much like the original continuity, this is not the same Godzilla from the first movie and the first appearance of the monster comes via an attack on a fishing ship. There are some pieces of dialogue throughout the movie that show continuity between the original and this one which I found pretty clever. As is customary in Godzilla movies, there is a tenacious reporter who helps drive along the plot, there's a love interest, and a sailor who is the sole survivor of the initial attack. 

This time around, the Japanese government tries to hide the existence of the new creature as much as they can. This leads to some interesting journalistic questions as to how far the "truth" should be used and what are the costs of exposing it. Once again, the threat of nuclear war is a big theme in the movie but this time around, it's due to the Cold War. America and Russia certainly have a prominent presence in the film, both figuratively and literally, with two very pushy emissaries urging immediate nuclear attacks on Godzilla.

As the movie progresses, Godzilla attacks a Russian nuclear submarine setting off a set of events that gets said foreign emissaries to Japan. At this point of the movie, we get to see a rather amazing performance by Keiju Kobayashi, who plays the Prime Minister. It's up to him to delicately deal the political waters to avert a greater catastrophe. It's obvious here that the Americans and Russians are shown to be headstrong and careless for the consequences to Japan, just as long as their assets, like their submarines, are protected. The monologues delivered here about the nature of nuclear warfare and the way that it affects us are not at all subtle, but their meaning is not at all diminished.

Much like the earlier movies of the Showa era, Godzilla isn't in the movie very much except the last part when he destroys the living hell out of Tokyo once again. His suit is once again altered in appearance. This time it hilariously has some of the creases and slits of the suit visible. The face is more menacing, and gone are the more human features that signified the "heroic" nature of the character like at the end of the last feature. Instead, this is a roaring violent and careless force of nature. There were some very obvious financial reasons (potentially cultural ones I'm not aware of) that lead the change to make Godzilla a more heroic character so given the fact that this is a reboot, I'm OK with this change.
What was interesting is seeing that there was no other kaijus around to fight Godzilla. G's big opponent is the Super X, the super powered craft that's meant to be a defender for Japan. Spotty logic of using a single aircraft as an entire country's nuclear war defense aside, I found him to be a rather weak plot point that could have been done some other way. The final battle had an added tense where the Russians have a nuclear missile accidentally go off during the fight and on its way to Tokyo. While the Americans avert the accident, it happens that the fallout from it is the reason why Godzilla actually is resuscitated after his encounter with the Super X.

There are various human plots along the way, but to be honest, they are all very thinly written with Prime Minister being the sole exception. The amount of emotion that he brings to every decision from mediating between the Russian and Americans, to the final plan of luring Godzilla to a volcano, is seen throughout the movie.

THE RETURN OF GODZILLA comes out of the gate rather strong. I enjoyed the Cold War aspect of it. It actually feels like a more "dark and gritty" reboot of the franchise to match the times. It does take more than enough cues from the previous movies, but it establishes Godzilla once again as a threat and a symbol of the man's misuse of new technologies.

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