Well, this is the end of an era. The Showa era to be exact. See, Godzilla films are generally split into 3 distinct eras. The first being named Showa, the second Heisei and the third Millennium. All 3 series use the original film, Gojira, as a jumping off point with 1984’s The Return of Godzilla (Godzilla 1985) being a direct sequel to the original, as was Godzilla 2000/Millennium. None of the following eras keep any of the continuity from the Showa era. When Toho made Terror of Mechagodzilla they never intended for Godzilla to be laid to rest forever but they recognised that they needed a break. This last film almost serves as an attempt to correct some of the misguided tangents taken by some of the more recent entries in the series. Ishiro Honda returns as director and, thankfully, Akira Ifukube returns as the film’s composer. Returning too is the more serious and dark tone, though not to the same degree as the first film. How does the Showa era’s finale pan out? Click the link below for my review.
In the previous film, which I have been unable to review due to being unable to source a copy, Godzilla fought a doppelgänger that turned out to be an alien made robo-Godzilla. He defeated Mechagodzilla after one of the more flashy Showa era fights by removing it’s head. In Terror of Mechagodzilla aliens have dug up the remains of Mechagodzilla and intend to rebuild it, with improvements. They enlist the help of mad doctor Shinzo Mifune (Akihiko Hirata) who has found a way to control a monster known at Titanosaurus. They intend to use both Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla to destroy Godzilla and take over the Earth. Meanwhile the good guys, including a marine biologist named Akira Ichinose (Katsuhiko Sasaki) are attempting to discover the truth behind the destruction of a research submarine at the hands of the normally gentile Titanosaurus. Along the way he meets Mifune’s daughter, Katsuna (Tomoko Ai), who is harbouring a secret that is linked to how the aliens have such a strong grip on her father.
Overall the entire film has a much more narrative and character focused story than we’ve seen in the last few films. The alien villains may be cackling cardboard cut outs but Dr Mifune is an interesting mad scientist type. He had previously discovered the Titanosaurus and had planned to find a way to control it, but his peers felt that was unethical and shut him down. He sword revenge against them and all the human race for not believing or trusting him. Year later his daughter was killed in an accident when running trials to control the monster. This was when he met the aliens and they brought Katsuna back to life as a cyborg. Akihiko Hirata may not make the most convincing elderly man, in one scene the webbing of his grey wig is very clear but he does make for a good tragic villain as his moral boundaries become tested by what the aliens want Katsuna for.
Katsuna herself is also an interesting character as she is clearly on the moral side of good but feels compelled to help her father in his cause. Gradually she is stripped of her emotions and made to control Mechagodzilla, as was secretly her purpose when the aliens brought her back from the dead. She does play the role of a love interest for Akira Ichinose, although it is one of them strange romances where you’re left wondering why. She sees him as a good person looking to prove her father’s discovery to be real and hopes he can stop her father from completing the alien race’s work, but why they fall in love is a tricky point. The sub plot is there, it’s just very briefly handled. Another layer of interest is how her robotic components are visualised. We see her being operated on a couple of times and she appears to be built from Meccano. A very clockwork looking approach to robotics but still containing a beating heart.
Like quite a number of Godzilla films it is quite some time before the King of the Monsters himself shows up, but it’s not so much of an issue here. Because the main story is actually well handled and plotted you don’t end up with any of those long dragging sections where you’re just begging for some monster action. Godzilla’s reveal shot is also one of the coolest in the series so far. It’s just his silhouette appearing over the skyline, but it’s perfectly timed and framed. Probably my second favourite reveal so far just behind the zombie style rising from the ground in Mothra Vs Godzilla. When the final battle does kick off we’re treated to a nicely planned out fight where Titanosaurus fights up close whilst Mechagodzilla serves the role of a ranged attacker. The fight has a number of memorable set pieces, such as Godzilla being buried with Titanosaurus having a jolly good time jumping on his temporary grave.
This is honestly one of the best executed of the Showa era Godzilla films and works as both a fan satisfying action adventure and as a solid sci-fi story. It’s almost redemptive for the messes we’ve had to go through to get here, such as Son of Godzilla and Godzilla vs Megalon. A number of previous cast members return, as was common at the time. Having Akihiko Hirata, who was Serizawa in Gojira, adds a sense of a series coming full circle. Especially as he’s playing a near exact opposite take on his scientist role in the original. His morals twisted to the side of evil. his age flipped to that of an older man on the down slide rather than a promising new mind. No longer concerned with the potential corruption of his discoveries by man, he only wishes to use them to cause harm. This had to be a deliberate choice. Shame they used up the flipping of the eye patch idea on his role in Ebirah, Horror of the Deep.
Overall the film is one of the best Godzilla adventures. The return of Ifukube’s music helps to cement this film’s mood to a place much more suited to the series as a whole. Godzilla’s appearance has been made a little darker and meaner too helping to sell the shift back to a more serious tone. It would be 9 years before Godzilla returned again after Terror of Mechagodzilla and this darker tone was carried over and brought more to the forefront. Unfortunately The Return of Godzilla (or Godzilla 1985) is the last of the films I have been unable to acquire. Just like the other two it is one of the films I have seen before. It’s one of the best in the series, if a little slow moving, but it always made me wonder what direction Godzilla would have taken if they had continued. Terror of Mechagodzilla did not do well at the cinemas at the time due to a major downturn in Japanese cinema attendance. There’s a good chance that if they hadn’t ended the Showa era here a film like Return of Godzilla never would have happened. Because I am unable to attain The Return of Godzilla the next Godzilla review will be for Godzilla Vs Biollante. The next review, though, is review 300. A review that will stop the senseless killing. That’s a hint.