Direction: Shusuke Kaneko
Screenplay: Shusuke Kaneko, Keiichi Hasegawa, and Masahiro Yokotani
Music: Ko Otani
Special Effects: Makoto Kamiya
Monster Suits: Fuyuki Shinada
Producer: Shogo Tomiyama
One of the most controversial of recent
Godzilla movies, Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, or GMK for short, is
in some ways the best of both G worlds -- highly reminiscent of Godzilla's
"glory days" from 1954-1968, yet rife with 21st century
sensibilities. Director Shusuke Kaneko, who directed the recent Gamera
trilogy, gives his “take” on Godzilla by making the Big G perhaps the most
sinister Gojira since the famous kaiju’s 1954 debut. Indeed, two of Godzilla’s
opponents – Baragon and Mothra – seem to be little more than irritants to the
towering kaiju king.
Nevertheless, the monster scenes soar, and Baragon is
probably my favorite kaiju in this one. I liked the original Baragon of
1965’s Frankenstein Conquers The World, so seeing him
"revised" with only minor alterations to his stout reptilian frame is
a real treat.
Baragon’s clash with an evil, white-eyed
Godzilla is one of the best monster wars ever. The tunnel-boring kaiju’s realization
is terrific, and he (actually “she”) gives a spirited performance; the
composite shots in these scenes are likewise impressive -- seamless and
convincing. Tenacious to a fault, GMK’s Baragon has the heart and pluck
of Rocky Balboa – but unfortunately, the kaiju lacks the physical size and heat
ray of his former self! Baragon is clearly outmatched by Kaneko’s Evilzilla.
(It would have been better for Baragon to have tunneled beneath the earth and
reappeared to battle Godzilla alongside his fellow Guardian Monsters King
Ghidorah and Mothra.)
Speaking of the big bug herself, Mothra's incarnation fares well, highlighted by effective
CGI intercutting with the mobile puppet. Mothra’s design is more
insect-like than usual, as witnessed in both her legs and antennae. Too
bad Mothra couldn't put up more of a fight against Kaneko's decidedly
sinister Big G. It would’ve been nice if Mothra had at least retained her
“poison powder” a’la Godzilla vs. The Thing.
King Ghidorah, on the other hand, turns out to be a
genuine problem for Kanekozilla – the thousand-year dragon keeps getting
whupped yet comes back for more! I liked the final touches of hearing
King Ghidorah’s otherworldly warble from his sixties days and seeing him
bombard Godzilla with a barrage of lightning blasts. Unfortunately, the
three-headed kaiju’s appearance disappoints. The stylized facial designs
appear more mask-like than organic, and the wings aren’t big enough. Ah, if
only the wonderfully designed King Ghidorah from Rebirth of Mothra III
had been used instead!
As for the storyline, it works in terms of the characters, but appears confused in
terms of the monster motivations. We are told that the souls of the many Asian
victims of World War II have invaded Godzilla and are now directing the Big G
to destroy Japan. Why? Because the Japanese have forgotten about the
horrors of the war. As others have noted, this bit of admittedly inventive G
business is never developed.
Of course, I really prefer Godzilla remain in the “science fantasy” realm in which
he was originally created. Introducing occasional fantasy elements such as
Mothra is fine, but I think the Big G works best when his existence and
motivations are confined to pseudo-science.
Converting King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Baragon from
their original film roles to “Guardian Monsters” of Japan is
okay. But seeing Mothra and Ghidorah retooled yet again (apparently for
Japanese box office purposes) was uninspired. In place of the mighty moth and
golden dragon, I wish Kaneko had gotten to use the two monsters he originally
envisioned – Varan and Angilas.
Fortunately, the character storyline works. Yuri’s blossoming from tabloid reporter to bona
fide journalist is convincing, and some of the final moments and conversations
between Yuri and her admiral father are actually touching. Too bad the ending
robs the story of the poignant heroic sacrifice it tacitly promises.
As for Godzilla, Kaneko seeks to make the monster an object of terror once more,
as he was in the Big G’s debut film. At times, Kaneko succeeds, such as during
the moody Bonin Islands sequence. But too many of Kaneko’s monster victims
overact, sometimes wildly, and some of the main cast’s thesping is virtually
over-the-top; these attempts at humor work against the re-establishment of a
scary Godzilla. After all, the original Godzilla didn’t need comedy
relief to succeed as a grim, nightmarish allegory of atom-bomb horror. Indeed,
comedy can often vitiate terror rather than enhance it.
Of course, unlike most other Godzilla movies, GMK makes it clear that
people are dying left and right. In addition, GMK’s monster king
appears deliberately cruel; dark irony is also included in at least two
sequences – one concerning a terrified hospital patient who survived a previous
Godzilla attack, the other involving a suicidal businessman. For these
reasons, the film is definitely not for small children. Indeed, the fact that GMK
was theatrically co-billed in Japan with a kiddie Hamutaro feature is nothing short of
One interesting but apparently little discussed aspect of GMK is its
depiction of Japan’s young people. For the most part, they are
portrayed as vandalizing hellions, amused by the thought of drowning a harmless
dog. Of course, they fall victim to both Guardian Monsters and Godzilla
alike. But is Kaneko saying that the youth of Japan have generally become
callous, spoiled hedonists? Apparently so.
Technique-wise, the film smarts from some unfortunate flubs. Continuity goes out the window in
at least two instances – the trees seen in the reflection of the school room
window that are not there when looking out from the classroom, and Yuri falling
from the bridge window head-first, though her boy friend then grabs her wrist
(more likely it would have been her ankle).
However, one moment sometimes dubbed a “mistake” apparently isn’t. When Yuri and her
male companion fall from the bridge and plunge some two hundred feet, we see
that King Ghidorah belches forth some sort of enormous air bubble that rushes
to the surface, apparently cushioning the couple’s blow as they hit the water.
This implies that Ghidorah is deliberately saving the courageous duo.
The special effects are mostly good, offering plenty of explosions and crumbling
miniatures. The Godzilla design is striking, aided by deft animatronics that
give the monster a distinct personality – albeit a mean one. The life-like
head and face appear especially ominous.
The CGI work involving Mothra and King Ghidorah is nice. It’s particularly
effective when Mothra, moving at high speed, buzzes past Yuri and a group of
soldiers, buffeting them with strong winds. Also, a scene in which a CGI
Ghidorah flaps over Tokyo Bay in pursuit of Godzilla makes the golden dragon appear
realistic, its beating wings and heaving body more convincing than ever before.
However, the suitmation used to bring Ghidorah to life just doesn’t match up to
the CGI Ghidorah’s credibility.
All tolled, despite its deficiencies and shortcomings,
GMK offers wonderful entertainment. Viewers are treated to spectacular
destruction, epic monster battles, and a strong human interest storyline. While
not the “great” Godzilla film that Kaneko envisioned, GMK is still a
worthy addition to the Big G canon.
Sony Tristar’s DVD of GMK is made from a clear,
sharp print, and the widescreen transfer is excellent. Viewers may choose
between an English dubbed track and the original Japanese language track with
English subtitles. Unfortunately, the subtitles are simply the dialogue from
the English dubbed track. Also, a serious mistake occurs when the subtitles
(and dubbing) have Japanese submariners exulting upon firing a missile into
King Ghidorah – though their intended target was a wound of Godzilla’s. Their
facial expressions make it clear that they aren’t really overjoyed by this
misfire. Still, it is nice to hear the actors speaking in their native
language. Sony TriStar is to be congratulated for finally presenting Godzilla
movies to the West the way they always should have been – subtitled and