Direction: Masaaki Tezuka
Screenplay: Masaaki Tezuka and Masahiro Yokotani
Music: Michiru Oshima
Special Effects: Eiichi Asada
Monster Suits: Shinichi Wakasa
Producer: Shogo Tomiyama
It has Mothra and Godzilla, so it has to be good, right?
I really, really, REALLY wanted to be able to pooh-pooh the views of many a G fan who dismiss Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. as okay but nothing special. Hey, didn't it have plenty of sure-fire Godzillian ingredients? Wasn't it being played as a direct sequel to 1961's Mothra? Didn't it feature the best visuals Toho's special effects stable has to offer? And wasn't Masaaki Tezuka directing it, the same Tezuka who gave us the high-powered and thoroughly entertaining Godzilla vs. Megaguirus and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla?
Well, all of the above was true enough, but sadly, the combination of these elements did not result in a freshly-baked G epic, but instead produced an agreeable but overly familiar kaiju smorgasbord.
If I were to sum up the problem with Tokyo S.O.S. in one word, it would be disjointed. The film plays very much like a connect-the-dots drawing missing several of the key dots. To call the storyline "sketchy" would be almost a compliment. It certainly has an unusually rushed feel about it, even for a Toho film, and doesn't hold together well thematically or otherwise.
First off, given that Tokyo S.O.S. is supposed to be as much a sequel to 1961's Mothra as it is to 2002's Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, the film spends scarce time on Mothra and her South Pacific atoll. In fact, the film shows us the monster insect's island almost as an afterthought. And even then, we only see the two "new" fairies beseeching Mothra's egg to hatch. So what happened to the dozens of natives dancing about in the 1961 original? What happened to the original fairies? Why doesn't Professor Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi) even ask?
Also, given that the current film takes place in 2004, what has Mothra being doing since 1961? Spinning silk? And why are the Japanese authorities the least bit surprised by Mothra's re-appearance? Actually, given the devastation the mammoth moth bestowed upon Tokyo in '61, surely the JSDF would monitor the island, keeping it under surveillance lest Mothra should again wing her way towards the Land of the Rising Sun. Also, a JSDF monitoring ship or island outpost could make sure that no more "entrepreneurs" arrived at the island to spirit the fairies away again.
At the outset of Tokyo S.O.S., the "new" fairies tell Professor Chujo that Godzilla's bones, used to create Mechagodzilla (a.k.a. Kiryu), must be returned to the sea. Why? Because if they're not, Mothra will wage war against humankind.
This seems a pretty drastic stance on Mothra's part. It also seems a tad belated. Why didn't the fairies warn against using Godzilla's bones to build Mechagodzilla either before or directly after the mechanical monster was built? Why did they wait until now to deliver their dire warning?
In addition, the fairies' reasoning seems a bit odd. They indicate that by using Godzilla's bones, the Japanese have somehow desecrated that which is sacred. Are they implying that the bones themselves contain Godzilla's soul? And that the bones of any creature contain its soul? This is certainly a novel idea, but it seems contrived and doesn't really work.
The attempt to link the Japanese authorities' apparent metaphysical meddling with the use of nuclear weapons seems especially weak. Though well-meaning, the whole "don't profane the souls of the dead" theme seems more muddled than meaningful. It doesn't help that the film's final third almost acts as if the Japanese authorities should have somehow known it would be wrong to use Godzilla's bones to construct Kiryu.
So what about the bones of prehistoric animals housed in dozens of natural museums? Are these dinosaurs' souls likewise desecrated? And if not, are only Godzilla's bones subject to being defiled? And if that is the case, how could anyone have known that?
Of course, this is but one of several script problems. Just as in Godzilla vs. Megaguirus and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, as the major protagonists we again have a female military pilot and a male special technician/scientist (this time a mechanic for MechaG). Though this "odd couple" pairing worked well in the aforementioned two movies, it comes off as formulaic in Tokyo S.O.S, leading to mediocre results.
Also, near the end of the film, the groan-provoking airborne rescue of the MechaG mechanic is ridiculous, even for a film in which giant monsters already defy the laws of physics. And while we do get to see Kameba's corpse, we don't get to see any scenes of the titanic turtle's skirmish with the Big G. It might've been nice to have shown at least a brief flashback or two of said battle.
But okay, I've pilloried Tokyo S.O.S. long enough, because there are many GOOD things about this movie. The film moves well, and it is rarely dull. We G fans are treated to several good monster battles and a plethora of pleasing special effects.
Godzilla and Kiryu once again come to blows, and perhaps the movie's most spectacular sight occurs when the battling duo crash into the Diet Building, Japan's capital shattering outward in a hail of colossal debris. In fact, all the miniatures are first-rate, as are the special effects. As G-FAN editor J.D. Lees notes in G-FAN #68, "Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is an impressive technical achievement given its limited budget; no American film with a similar budget could come close to delivering what it does."
Indeed, Mothra, a combination of sophisticated marionette and strategically used CGI, appears more life-like than ever before. Her battle with Godzilla seems regrettably brief, but what we do see rocks. Especially noteworthy are the scenes in which Mothra batters Godzilla with gale force winds, her frantically flapping wings whipping up one heckuva windstorm. Little details are also nice, such as the scene in which Mothra's winds wrench a tree from the ground.
Another particularly nice touch is the snow falling at Professor Chujo's house when the fairies first appear and Mothra waits on a ridge outside. Mothra's lift-off, wafting a gust of snow into the winter night, makes for welcome if modest movie poetry. It's also noteworthy that in this scene, as Mothra departs, her wings are barely moving -- perhaps a nod to the original Mothra whose wings sometimes fluttered only mildly.
Of course, you wish Mothra was more of a challenge for Godzilla. It might have been effective if the giant insect had clutched Godzilla's dorsal plates and lifted the Monster King from the ground, perhaps flying high into the air before releasing Godzilla, who would of course spectacularly crash into some well-known Tokyo landmark -- perhaps the "tax tower." Certainly Mothra seemed more of a menace to the Big G in the 1960's.
The twin caterpillars that show up towards the end are also well-realized. Obviously, the twin caterpillars, as well as the majority of the Mothra vs. Godzilla scenes, are clear homages to 1964's Godzilla vs. The Thing, and as such, they add a pleasant touch of nostalgia to the proceedings. It's only too bad that the movie didn't rotate more around Mothra and her fantasy milieu as it intersects with Godzilla's pseudo-science ethos; as is, the giant moth seems more like a guest star than a major player, as the "monster drama" is obviously that played out between Godzilla and Kiryu.
All in all, I'm afraid I have to concur with the majority of the G fan opinions I have read -- Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is pretty good, but not up to the level of the Big G's previous four Millennial entries. In many ways, it is a missed opportunity, and storywise, seems to signal a creative dead end. Of course, a better plot (one was possible) and more of Mothra and her island milieu certainly would have helped.
For example, here's a plotline more-or-less off the top of my head:
In 2005, Mothra is well-known in Japan and around the world, as is Infant Island, which is still populated both by the natives and by the fairies. A supposedly unarmed test ICBM launched from Rolisica (remember, this is a sequel to 1961's Mothra) goes off-course, exploding near Infant Island. To protect the atoll and its people, the adult Mothra spreads her wings and literally absorbs the atomic blast. This sacrifice kills Mothra, but not before she lays an egg -- a dark, misshapen oval unlike any Mothra has ever laid before.
The natives and fairies of Infant Island begin having nightmares of what may hatch from the egg -- children wake up screaming, "The thing! The thing!" The island's Mothra larva tries to destroy the egg, but a strange force field around the oval repels the colossal caterpillar.
Frightened, the fairies beseech Professor Chujo, now a Japanese envoy to Infant Island, to enlist the aid of the Japanese military, for their dreams indicate that the dread creature that hatches from the egg will not only be a threat to Infant Island, but to the entire world. Professor Chujo subsequently appears before the Japanese Diet, pleading for Japan's intervention.
However, the Japanese government refuses to help, the prime minister citing how Mothra once ravaged Tokyo, killing many people -- including the prime minister's parents and siblings. Mothra has never done Japan any favors, the ruling authorities say, so Japan will do no favors for her.Professor Chujo next appeals to Rolisica, who likewise decline to get involved, noting the terrible destruction and death toll Mothra visited upon New Kirk City over forty years earlier.
Discouraged, Professor Chujo returns to Infant Island, refusing to desert the fairies and their people. Only the island's current Mothra larva now stands between the thing in the egg and the Infant Island people.
After a typhoon and an earthquake rock the hapless atoll, the dark egg hatches, and a hideous, two-headed insect monster creeps forth, tentacles writhing from its misshapen thorax. The creature -- called Soggoth -- attacks the island's Mothra larva and almost kills the valiant caterpillar. It beams concentrated radiation indiscriminately, and several Infant Islanders perish. Others become ill. Pleased at its ghoulish handiwork, Soggoth sets its sites east; using its enormous wasp-like wings, the creature buzzes towards Japan.
The fairies have a horrifying revelation of what Soggoth will do when it reaches Japan -- born from intense radiation, Soggoth will drain the power from Japan's many nuclear power plants one by one, until it becomes so powerful it can never be defeated. Alarmed, Professor Chujo informs the Japanese authorities about Soggoth's dire threat, and because radar picks up the oncoming monster, the JSDF rallies. Rolisica also agrees to send in its armed forces, admitting belatedly that it was wrong to have sent up an armed ICBM test missile in the first place.
Meanwhile, on Infant Island, the severely injured Mothra larva wraps herself in a gigantic cocoon.
Rolisican and Japanese military efforts to stop Soggoth prove futile -- and deadly. The malformed monster beams lethal radiation into the fighter jets and battleships that assault it, killing the crews almost instantly.
When Soggoth reaches the Honshu coast and makes ready to drain a nuclear reactor, Mechagodzilla is dispatched. But the new monster resists the mechanical defender, and after a savage fight, it appears that Kiryu has fought his last. However, the downed mecha-monster emits a psychic call for help to its only kin -- the still living Monster King, Godzilla.
Godzilla quickly arrives to clash with Soggoth on the outskirts of Tokyo. But the plucky kaiju finds that he has perhaps more than met his match. The Japanese Prime Minister grows worried.
At this point, a new Mothra emerges from her cocoon on Infant Island. Because it was injured almost to the point of death when it spun its cocoon, the fairies tell Professor Chujo that this Mothra is, paradoxically, the strongest Mothra that has ever been born.
The Japanese authorities contact the fairies and beg them to send the new Mothra to aid Godzilla against Soggoth. But the fairies refuse, noting how the Japanese would do nothing to prevent Soggoth's egg from hatching in the first place, and furthermore, didn't see fit to defend Infant Island from the mutant monster, who killed almost a third of its people and who has left a third more ill.
Professor Chujo appeals to the fairies as well. He notes that if Soggoth drains Japan of its nuclear power plants, the monster will become so powerful and so highly radioactive that it will threaten all life on earth -- including all the natives of Infant Island, and even Mothra herself. He notes that is the fairies themselves who revealed this to him.
The fairies begun to budge, but one of them remains a holdout.
So Professor Chujo offers to make himself a hostage to the atoll's natives. If the fairies will send Mothra forth to aid in the battle against Soggoth, then he will remain a hostage to the islanders for the rest of his days.
Touched, the fairies realize that they are wrong, that resentment is a poison not unlike that spread by Soggoth, and that the right thing to do is to send Mothra to help save the world, even if Infant Island should perish.
They beseech the monster insect, who promptly agrees. This new Super-Mothra -- twice as fast and invulnerable as her predecessors and equipped with poison pollen and venomous barbs, jets to Tokyo, where she, a weary Godzilla, and a nearly vanquished Kiryu join forces to take down the kaiju abomination known as Soggoth.
Wary, Soggoth has avoided beaming radiation at Godzilla, since it instinctively knows that the King of the Monsters thrives on radiation just as it does. But when Mothra arrives, the super-insect flings stinging barbs into Soggoth, infuriating the beast. Next, Mothra flies directly at Soggoth's twin heads and begins battering them with her wings and barbed feet.
Soggoth becomes enraged, cutting Mothra's wings and head and body with its tentacled claws, but Mothra persists. Just as Soggoth fires a beam of super-concentrated radiation to kill this winged adversary, Mothra deftly zips aside -- and the radiation bolt slams into Godzilla instead.
Newly energized, Godzilla rises from the earth, roars defiantly at the monster who would replace him as king, and plows into Soggoth with all that he's got -- which proves to be more than enough to obliterate the mutant monster, especially when he has a little help from his friends Kiryu and Mothra.
Afterward, an almost totally wrecked Kiryu, his rib cage clearly visible through his ravaged armor, limps into the sea along with Godzilla so that his bones might once more rest in the ocean depths. The fairies tell Professor Chujo and the Japanese authorities that Kiryu will find peace beneath the waves. Then, the twin Shobijin climb aboard Mothra and wing their way home.
There -- see, that wasn't so hard. It may not be a great story, but I think it is a bit more original than the script for Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S., and I think it's an idea that could have been developed. (And yes, it does harken back to a few ideas both used and unused for Godzilla vs. The Thing and the never-filmed Godzilla vs. Gigamoth.)
Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. ends the Millennial series not with a sustained blast, but with a series of well-placed albeit familiar detonations. The movie has many things to recommend it -- but sadly, it also has many things to dis-recommend it. Still, who knows? Maybe ten or more years from now when Godzilla patrons re-appraise this 27th Big G opus, it may be hailed as an underrated classic.
Hey, stranger things have happened.