Hitherto my experience of Godzilla consisted mainly of the Hollywood big-budget remake, unimaginatively titled Godzilla. I thought I knew the general gist of the Godzilla story — prehistoric lizard comes out of the sea and begins to run amok in downtown Tokyo, conventional weapons are useless, and so the race is on to find a weapon that can defeat the beast. In any case, when I received Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla I thought it would be a good idea to watch Ishiro Honda’s original 1954 Godzilla (any excuse will do). To put it simply, the original is a great film. As well as being a classic monster film, Godzilla effectively conveys the destruction and fear that nuclear weapons can cause.
Whilst Godzilla died in the original, the last lines of the film hinted that continued nuclear testing might give rise to further Godzilla (What is the plural for Godzilla? Godzillae? Godzills? Godzeela?). Humanity being pretty slow on the uptake, Godzilla is back in Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, the latest in a long line of sequels.
The film begins with an attack by Godzilla, resulting in the Anti-Monster Force (AMF) being called in, with Akane Yashiro (Yumiko Shaku) in charge of firing the ‘Maser” weapon. Unfortunately, things don’t go quite to plan. People are killed. Yashiro is blamed and given a desk job. In the meantime, we meet Dr. Tokumitsu Yuhara (Shin Takuma), a scientist currently developing a bio-robot, a living computer brain wrapped in a robotic body. Yuhara is persuaded by the government to develop Mechagodzilla, an amalgam of machine and DNA from the original Godzilla. Yashiro is of course the best pilot available, and is called up to serve her country. Godzilla resurfaces and the fight, as they say, is on! But will Yashiro and Mechagodzilla have what it takes to defeat Godzilla?
I found this film to be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it does contain some quite awful moments, notably when Shaku attempts to act. Her acting is wooden at best, and a cardboard cut-out could have given a better performance. On the up side, she did remember all of her lines. For the majority of the film, she maintains a single expression: a cross between a pout and a snarl. It’s hard to tell if she is trying to be sexy or sad, or just trying to remember her lines.
Scenes in which Yashiro is required to converse with others are incredibly difficult to watch. In particular, her conversations with Yuhara and his daughter Sara (Kana Onodera) are painful. At every opportunity, Yuhara attempts to seduce Yashiro with his charm and wit. Alas, he has neither, and is basically ignored by Yashiro. With Sara, Yashiro discusses life and death, trying to convince her to let go of her dead mother. However, only seconds into the conversation, Yashiro breaks down and begins to whine that nobody loves her.
On the plus side, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla is chock-full of monster-on-monster action, with a multitude of beautiful scale models being reduced to rubble. In fact the last 20-30 minutes of the film basically discards many of the story arcs that have been loosely developed, in order to devote itself to pure carnage. It’s a lot of fun to watch, but I do feel sorry for the model builders. Their creations must take ages to build, and are superbly detailed, but survive for mere seconds. It sure does look spectacular though.
Overall, if you are looking for a movie with a great deal of depth, then you’re better off with the original Godzilla. However, if you are after a movie in which two giant monsters shoot heat rays, missiles, ice beams and generally try to maim one another whilst destroying much of Tokyo in the process, then Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla will fill that niche perfectly.