Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994)

Written by: Kanji Kashiwa, Hiroshi Kashiwabara
Directed by: Kensho Yamashita
Megumi Odaka as Miki Saegusa
Jun Hashizume as Lt. Koji Shinjo
Zenkichi Yoneyama as Lt. Kyoshi Sato
Akira Emoto as Major Akira Yuki

In my B-Fest 2013 writeup, I lamented the choice of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah as the closing monster movie of the year. It's far and away the worst of all the 90's Godzilla movies, with a couple of solid monster action set pieces coming far too late in what somehow manages to be the silliest and simultaneously most boring human story in any Godzilla movie, period. If they were going to show a Heisei Godzilla flick, and not have it be the magnificent Godzilla vs. Biollante or the occasionally uneven but overall kick-ass Godzilla vs. Destroyer, definitely the best choice for a room full of sleep-deprived Festers would be the mile-a-minute, balls-out bonkers Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla. It's definitely not the best Heisei movie, but it's a strong contender for most entertaining. There's barely a dull minute in its nearly two hour running time.

Not wasting any time in setting things up, a mysterious object from space crashes into an island in the Pacific Ocean and sets off an underwater earthquake that wakes up Godzilla. Then while the opening credits roll, we see the finishing touches being put on of one of the silliest giant robots of all time, MOGERA. Updated from the alien robot all too briefly seen in The Mysterians, this version of the big metal penguin gets plenty of screen time, for better or worse. Mostly better. Say what you want about his ludicrous appearance, MOGERA is a great character in the Godzilla video games he's appeared in. He's one of the faster and more maneuverable options, and absolutely bristles with firepower. But I digress.

Two minutes in and we've already set up all the contestants in the big fight, now it's time to get the plot moving. Two separate anti-Godzilla groups are operating on the island that was struck with the okay-not-really-that-mysterious space object before the title. One is Project T, the current harebrained scheme from G-Force. This time they want to attach a brainwave amplifier to Godzilla's head and have the inescapable Miki Saegusa attempt to steer him away from population centers since it's obvious by this point that no amount of artillery and silly super weapons are going to do a damn bit of good. Which is of course why they have a new super weapon sitting in the garage back home... Anyway, also on the island is Major Yuki, whose friend Gondo was killed by Godzilla during Godzilla vs. Biollante, and who has developed a super powerful blood coagulant which he plans to deliver with a special bullet into a weak spot in Godzilla's armored hide. Uh, Yuki? I think you have Godzilla confused with Smaug. At any rate, neither of the two plans works worth a damn, to the surprise of no one. Yuki's special bullets have no better luck penetrating Godzilla's hide than cruise missiles and maser guns, and it almost looks like Miki might be able to control the monster with the high-tech boost to her ESP, but then Godzilla realizes he's being duped and fights back, shorting out the equipment and giving her one hell of a headache. The little hints in the Heisei movies that Godzilla is a powerful, if unfocused, psychic are something I've always found interesting, and I wish they would have developed the idea more.

Meanwhile, yet another mysterious object from space is moving toward Earth (the thing that landed on the island before turns out to be Space Godzilla's power source – he's a monster that thinks ahead), and when it destroys an international space station, MOGERA is scrambled to intercept, leading to a brief dogfight in an asteroid swarm that must be far and away the sorriest piece of special effects in kaiju history, and I'm including the most embarrassing moments of the cheapest Ultraman knockoff in that estimation. If any of you readers can come up with something even more lame and fake-looking, I would love to see it.

Handily beating MOGERA and continuing to Earth unopposed, Space Godzilla lands on the island and proceeds to kick baby Godzilla around until the Big G stomps his way across the island to put a stop to that. Except that he doesn't. Space Godzilla locks baby Godzilla in a cage of crystals, blasts Godzilla to the ground with his crazy space rays, and takes off for mainland Japan. A word about baby Godzilla. He's grown from the incredibly ugly but at least somewhat more anatomically plausible dinosaur we saw in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II into a sickeningly adorable big-eyed Hello Kitty looking cartoon creature the likes of which has no place in the Godzilla universe. The monsters have always been outlandish, sure, but even in the much maligned Godzilla's Revenge they didn't look this much like live-action cartoons. I used to hate the hell out of this thing. Like, violent, raging hatred that had me wishing Space Godzilla would rip his head off and force Godzilla eat it while watching Space Godzilla take a big ol' space shit in the corpse's neck stump. During the course of this viewing, however, he's kinda started to grow on me. His clumsy, tentative gestures of hopeful friendship toward Yuki and Miki, the weird little warbling sounds he makes, dammit, even those big stupid eyes are sort of endearing. He's still totally out of place in this flick, but he's just too cute to wish violent death on. I guess I'm getting soft in my old age.

With the results of Project T unpredictable at best and the coagulant plan a complete failure, and with a potentially even more powerful threat than Godzilla setting up shop in Fukuoka, the crew prepare to head back to Japan and pilot MOGERA against the space monster, because that worked so well the last time. Miki, however, decides to stay on the island and attempt to continue making contact. Back before the Project T team left Japan, she received a message from the Emergency Broadcast Mothra, a psychic projection of the big bug and her twin fairies, that warned Miki of Space Godzilla's approach and informed her that Godzilla might be the only thing that can save the planet from the space monster. Mothra is still too far out in space (she left Earth to divert a global killer asteroid at the end of Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth, as you may remember) to get back in time to help, so it's up to Miki to use her powers to convince Godzilla he needs to fight. Not that such a thing is really necessary since the first thing Space Godzilla did was beat up his kid. He's itching for a rematch.

Lieutenants Shinjo and Sato remain on the island with her, but their first night there doesn't go quite as planned. Let's see, so far we've got Godzilla; a bizarre crystalline clone of Godzilla created by bits of his flesh being carried into space by Biollante (they also suggest it could have been Mothra but one look at those tusks and it's obvious who the surrogate monster mommy is), sucked into a black hole, blown out a white hole, bombarded by “space rays”, and forced into hyper-accelerated evolution by symbiosis with an unknown silicon based lifeform; one cute baby monster; a giant robot penguin; more wacky ESP hijinks, and the Emergency Broadcast Mothra. What else could possibly be crammed into this movie already brimming with insanity? How about the yakuza! Miki's colleague Dr. Okubo, who designed the ESP amplifier attached to Godzilla, turns out to be a mole for the Japanese mafia, who kidnap Miki so they can control the most powerful monster in the world. You have to admit, that's a hell of a blackmail scheme. Unfortunately it doesn't get much farther than that before Shinjo and Sato rescue Miki.

That's pretty much where the plot stops. Once MOGERA launches to combat Space Godzilla, it's just one long smackdown til the credits roll. They really pulled out the stops for this one, which goes some way toward explaining the movie's uneven effects. While there's nothing else in the movie even remotely as embarrassing as the asteroid field battle, there's some pretty crummy stuff on display here. But there are also several really good composite shots, and when Space Godzilla is a full-sized suit instead of a shoddy Happy Meal toy he's a pretty cool beast. Then of course there's the slightly unhinged look on Kenji Sahara's face when MOGERA launches for the final confrontation. He's just the defense minister, all he probably did was approve the budget. It's not like he built the thing. But there he is, with a ready-for-a-straight-jacket gleam in his eyes like some kind of mad scientist. I swear they cut the scene right before he let out a bellowing, “MHWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” and did that hand-washing gesture mad scientists are so fond of.

Apparently the original plan was to have a refitted Mechagodzilla fighting Space Godzilla alongside the big lizard, but that was considered too lopsided, as Mechagodzilla would be too powerful an opponent. So instead of just not having another giant thing in the movie and letting Godzilla handle it himself, they decided that they would make the JSDF look like a bunch of morons by following up the failure of one invincible super weapon by building a much more vincible, considerably less super weapon. Eh, why the hell not. After all, it looks cool, and that's really all that matters in these movies anyway, right? We'll leave the misplaced realism for Gamera.

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