So I think I’m going to need to break my no acronym rule with this one. There’s no what I’m writing that title out each time. Let’s go with the, generally accepted by the fans, GMK as the replacement title. GMK is probably the best Godzilla film other than the original. That’s probably enough review for you, but, if you like, there’s more you can read after the link.
In GMK, nearly 50 years after Godzilla’s first attack in 1954, the people of Japan have begun forgetting what happened there and what happened during the war. As a result Godzilla has returned infused with the angered spirits of soldiers that died in the Pacific. He’s no longer an indiscriminate force of nature and more a determined force of vengeance intent on reminding people of the suffering inflicted in 1954 that was brought about by the world’s meddling with nuclear power. Low rent TV station reporter Yuri Tachibana (Chiharu Niiyama) is focused on getting a story about Godzilla to help boost her stations worth. She discovers that there are three guardian monsters that may be the key to defeating Godzilla that appear to be getting unleashed on the world. Her father, Taizo (Ryudo Uzaki), harbours a resentment toward Godzilla after his parents were killed in the 1954 attack and he sets out to lead his army to defeating the King of the Monsters.
From a thematic stance this is a fair departure from the rest of the Godzilla films. Godzilla may have always been a creature that is akin to a natural disaster in the darker films but here is a full fledged weapon of mass destruction. He has one goal and that is to make Japan pay for forgetting the horrors of the past. He’s not just smashing buildings as he wanders around. He is a purposeful creature that will target people with the intent to kill. His design has been returned to a look that, in basic appearance, is more like the Showa era Godzillas, yet everything is tilted towards being a little more evil. The skin is back to being grey, after being green in the last two. The scutes have been returned to their more dinosaur like appearance. The most interesting aspect of the design is the eyes though. There’s no pupils at all. His eyes are just a cloudy white. This adds so much evil to his appearance and conveys his shift in alignment.
Some fans are not too keen on Godzilla being depicted in such a state of pure evil. I think that’s a bit of a silly issue to take seeing as he’s been depicted as everything from pure destruction to comedic father. All this is is a shift from his antagonistic position in the original to a place born of more malice and horror. I really like it. The souls of the dead soldiers may be a bit of an odd inclusion but this isn’t visualised in any way and is merely an element mentioned to add a layer to this depiction. When this Godzilla fights there’s an added level of fury in his actions. The way he deals with the monsters he fights, in this case Baragon, Mothra and King Ghidorah, is purely devastating. The first time he uses his atomic breath we just see a shot from miles away, from the window a classroom, as children see a huge mushroom cloud rise into the sky.
The hero monsters are depicted as weaker than usual, which has been a point of contention with fans, but it is a three on one fight. They’re all depicted as a little smaller than usual but this just helps to make Godzilla appear like more of an imposing figure. The monster fights are more of a way of building the threat of Godzilla in order for the human triumph at the end to hold more weight. That all said, by the time King Ghidorah is magically brought back to life for the 4th time you’ll probably be wishing for him to just stay down. The finale is one of the strongest parts of the film though, despite the skewed favour of the monster fight. Every human character gets involved, has a role to play and an arc to complete. This is crazy rare for a Godzilla film.
In pure writing terms this is probably the best in the series. Each characters goal is tied together and linked to Godzilla. There’s no pointless, time wasting, sub plots here. The film is light on comedy, unless you enjoy watching people getting crushed by monsters for being shallow and stupid. That’s actually a running theme in the film. Any person that displays signs of stupidity, such as a woman posing to have a photo taken whilst Baragon rampages, is swiftly smashed by something. In this case Godzilla pushes a whole hillside at her. Another teenage character that wanted a Godzilla pet manages to narrowly escape death. Later we see her in hospital as Godzilla approaches. She screams for her life and Godzilla appears to walk by, leaving the building intact. And then his tail swings into frame and brings the entire thing to the ground in seconds. Spoilers here, but guess who’s responsible for taking down Godzilla? Yup, it’s Taizo, the one character that really remembers the horror of Godzilla. This film is thematically solid as you could want it to be. It also avoids dipping into Japanese melodrama as much as possible, relying instead on genuine tension and stakes ramping.
Effects wise GMK is pretty damn spotless for the budget and means at the disposal of the crew. Godzilla films of the Millennium era are never going to look as perfect as the huge budgeted Hollywood productions but, with what they had, Toho managed to knock it right out of the park with this film. The model work is really good and the ways they’ve integrated monsters into the real world through composites is the most well done up to this point. King Ghidorah has a redesigned look that gives him a serious case of neck arms, meaning that two of his necks are clearly filled with the actor’s arms, but it’s a cool design none the less. There’s also none of that silly hyperactive triple neck motion syndrome that dogs the Showa Ghidorah like the plague.
The film’s direction, courtesy of Shusuke Kaneko, is very strong which helps give GMK a real big movie feel. Kaneko also directed the two Death Note films, which I’ve reviewed previously, and the quite good 90s Gamera films. Curiously, he also directed Azumi 2, the sequel to Azumi which was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, who directed Godzilla Final Wars. What a random connection. I’m unfamiliar with pretty much anything else of Kaneko’s work but I get the distinct impression he’s a bit more of an accomplished director than many that have handled Godzilla in the past. There’s also a pretty excellent score provided by Kow Otani which even manages to create a new theme for Godzilla himself that feels entirely in place. Check out the track called Godzilla’s Rage. It’s a scary piece of music that really sets the tone and mood perfectly.
Overall I do not hesitate in saying that this is a new favourite. The original film may be a classic of cinema but this comes so close that I’d happily accept if someone said this was their favourite. GMK could never hope to have the impact on cinema that Gojira did but as a piece of dramatic, monster filled, sci-fi fantasy entertainment it is pure upper tier stuff. I’m actually astonished at how much I enjoyed this one, having not seen it before, after the previous two films which bordered on the bland. It has to be that Mothra seal of quality. The next film in the series is Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. Only 3 to go before Gareth Edwards new US take on Godzilla hits theatres. I aim to have my review of that up on Thursday May 15th.