Review: Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

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It’s all coming up kaiju this year!

Inspired by Guillermo del Toro’s epic monsterpiece Pacific Rim and the upcoming 2014 Hollywood Godzilla reboot, I decided to set aside a few evenings and run through the Godzilla “Millennium Era” films and see what it’s all about really. Prior to these, I had only ever seen the classic 1954 film that started it all, and Madman have just released (and kindly sent us a review copy of) a box set, covering the six films made by Toho after the release of the Hollywood Godzilla in 1999. So I’ve no excuse, and I’ve immensely enjoyed immersing myself in rubber-suited behemoth cinema over the last few weeks.

I’ll write more about the Millennium Era series as a whole in a future post, but this film — Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (shortened to GMK for sanity) — is the third one in the series, the only one we don’t have a review of already, and it’s a serious three-toed step up from its predecessors, Godzilla 2000 and Godzilla vs. Megaguirus.

The Godzilla series hews closely to a core prototype, much like the James Bond series, and these are no exception. Here’s the usual formula.

  1. Godzilla (and a set of other assorted monsters with whom he will do battle, collectively called kaiju) is awakened, usually by the military, or a nuclear facility, or aliens;
  2. A subset of those monsters lay waste to at least one major Japanese city;
  3. All the monsters face off, and the evildoers are vanquished (along with considerable collateral damage).
  4. Everybody breathes a sigh of relief, and work begins on rebuilding Tokyo (or Osaka, or Yokohama).

One notable variation is that the nature of good and evil across the series is fairly flexible: in some movies, like the original, Godzilla is a dangerous enemy threatening Tokyo with destruction. In others, he valiantly saves Japan from far worse: aliens from beyond our galaxy, or genetically engineered horrors from the future.

Godzilla 2000 and Megaguirus, for me, contain only the minimum amount of story and character development required to support this Godzilla Movie Skeleton. GMK, however, tries a little harder: writer-director Shusuke Kaneko (who has since directed Azumi 2 and a pile of manga adaptations, including Death Note) takes his tone from the original film, making his Godzilla a destructive force of nature produced by the ravages of World War II.

Against him are arrayed a collection of other kaiju who have been recast as benevolent creatures: Baragon, triceratops-like and mildly cutesy; Mothra, ethereal and protective; and Ghidora, a three-headed golden dragon. Continuity with the rest of the series is jettisoned, except for the 1954 original and (in a wonderfully snarky put-down near the beginning of the movie) the 1999 American film.

Our human protagonist is Yuri Tachibana (Chiharu Niiyama), a plucky young reporter who wants to produce real journalism, but is currently working for a company who make dodgy docudramas. Their “report” near Mt. Myoko is derailed by an earthquake with an unusual feature: its epicenter is mobile, almost as if something huge is tunnelling through Japan beneath the surface.

In one of those movie coincidences, Yuri’s father is Admiral Tachibana (Ryudo Uzaki) of the Japanese Self-Defence Force. He vividly remembers Godzilla’s attack in the 50s and is soon attached to an urgent mission: an American nuclear submarine has gone missing… and dive footage shows a familiar set of spines lurching across the ocean floor, heading for Japan.

That’s all I’m going to say about the story. Director Kaneko manages to breathe quite a bit more life both the human characters and the backstory than usual for a film in which the main event is, honestly, a gaggle of monsters creakily beating the stuffing out of each other. There’s even a stab at a metaphysical interpretation for Godzilla’s existence, presenting him as a sort of avatar of those killed in the Pacific theatre of World War II. It’s an interesting conceit — though it’s not developed all that far — and one that provides some continuity with the anti-war message and allegorical significance of the original Godzilla concept. A couple of subplots that seem to suggest something about the dissolute youth of today and the general sneakiness of the military disappear without resolution, but by that time we’re already knee-deep in rubble anyway.

To conclude: GMK is an entertaining follow-up to 1954’s Godzilla, and one you can enjoy without any other prior knowledge of the series. It lacks the original film’s sense of gloom (I blame the bright colours and the presence of guardian monsters to barrack for!) and there’s no one in it to match the great Takashi Shimura, but it’s still a lot of fun to watch.

7 ancient sacred guardian beasts out of 10.
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