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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla II
Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla II
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG // February 8, 2005
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted January 31, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (Gojira vs. Mekagojira, 1993) is considered by some to be the high point of the so-called "Heisei Series" of Godzilla movies -- that is, the Godzilla pictures made during the 1980s and '90s, before Sony's disastrous American-made Godzilla lumbered into theaters in 1998, and which in turn were followed by the Japanese-made "Millennium" films that have followed since. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is in some respects the culmination of its era, and quite good in some ways, but it also signaled a turning point in corporate monsterdom. Where in the old days the powerful special effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya called the shots, and directors like Ishiro Honda and writers like Shinichi Sekizawa were pretty much left alone by series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, by the 1990s the major creative decisions were being made by the younger suits and merchandising whizzes in Toho's corporate offices, and it's this film where the seams begin to show.

Despite its (poorly-chosen) international title, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is not a sequel to the 1974 film of the (almost) same name, Gojira tai Mekagojira. Nor is there any connection to Terror of Mechagodzilla (Mekagojira no gyakushu, 1975) or, for that matter, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (Gojira x Mekagojira, 2002). Unlike the alien robot built to conquer Earth in the 1974 film, the Mechani-Godzilla of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is man-made, the creation of G-Force, built to rid Japan of the famous city-trashing behemoth. Using the futuristic technology originally built by time-travellers for Mecha-King Ghidorah (in the 1991 film Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah), the Japanese have improbably fashioned from it an impossibly huge, rock-'em, sock-'em version of the Big G himself, complete with glowing eyes and titanium teeth.

In other developments, a giant pterodactyl, Rodan, is discovered on Adonoa Island, along with a mammoth egg that scientists spirit away to Kyoto, just as Godzilla shows up to engage Rodan in combat. Although the scientists (perky Ryoko Sano and movie veteran Yuksuke Kawazu among them) believe it to be Rodan's, the egg turns out to be a parasite, and soon enough Baby (Hurricane Ryu), a man-sized Godzillasaurus, hatches. The creature's cosmic link to its species acts as a kind of monster radar, and Godzilla is drawn to Kyoto where he trashes the city. (In one shot Godzilla is heading straight for this reviewer's home -- Aiieeeeee!... We're rebuilding now.) Eventually, the military decides to use Baby to lure Godzilla out to sea, but in the city of Chiba, Rodan returns to fight Godzilla while Mechagodzilla is dispatched for the climatic showdown.

This picture was something of an event for Toho, the owners of the Godzilla characters (a fact they're not at all reluctant to point out). The film marked Godzilla's 20th screen appearance and, with a bit of fudging, his 40th anniversary as a film star. After the highly profitable Godzilla vs. Mothra (Gojira vs. Mosura, 1992), this was given a big build-up and a slightly higher budget.

On several levels the film is quite successful. Most notable is the score by the great Akira Ifukube, whose distinctive music is as much a part of Godzilla's identity as his roar (which he also created). Ifukube, then 79, had written scores for the previous two entries, but those mostly reworked old cues. Mechagodzilla does much the same, but three new motifs were written expressly for this new film: a marvelous, epic cue for Mechagodzilla itself, a terrific fast march for a brief scene where Godzilla battles the Japanese Self Defense Forces, and a haunting choral theme, written in the ancient Ainu language.

Special Effects Director Koichi Kawakita and first unit director Takao Okawara give the film a properly epic look, and like most Godzilla films (the Millennium series especially), this one starts out well even if it loses steam later on. The film has a cozy air of nostalgia throughout, with familiar genre faces like Tadao Takashima ( Son of Godzilla ) and Kenji Sahara (Rodan) making appearances, and there are references to earlier Godzilla pictures throughout.

Another plus is the reworking of the Rodan and Baby Godzilla characters, creatures not heard from since the 1960s. Rodan, portrayed by an elaborate marionette and animatronic puppet, never looks like anything else, but it's still a big improvement over the silly, petulant creature of the 1960s films. After the clownish antics of Minira/Minya, Godzilla's "son" in some late-'60s films, "Baby" is cute but not completely absurd. Squint and Baby almost is acceptable, a sharp contrast to the ghastly, alarmingly ill-conceived reworking of the character in the next sequel, Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (Gojira vs. SupesuGojira, 1994).

Ultimately, though, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, like G-Force's robot, has a mechanical quality that permeates much of the picture. For a film whose ponderously stated theme is artificial life vs. real life, Mechagodzilla embraces the former all too often. There's a mildly cold, utilitarian air to much of the film, with too much emphasis on steely gee-whiz technology, to the point where the human element is lost amidst the rubble. Okawara's scenes with the human cast are either shamelessly manipulative (all the business with Baby and actress Sano), badly-played broad comedy (most of the scenes with star Masahiro Takashima, son of Tadao), or stiff, drab military sequences with everyone looking at television monitors.

Godzilla's battles with Rodan and the Defense Forces work because of the hand-to-wing combat in the former and the sweep of Ifukube's music in the latter. But the big battle at the end, all 30 loooonng minutes of it, goes on forever, with at least three climaxes too many. Worse, it consists mainly of Mechagodzilla shooting high-tech rays at Godzilla, and Godzilla, from a distance, responding in kind with his radioactive breath. Since being revived in 1984 Godzilla's been given almost no personality to work with, despite the athletic performances given him by Kenpachiro Satsuma. And at 108 minutes the film is at least 20 minutes too long.

Video & Audio

After such recent, visually stunning DVDs as Godzilla vs. Gigan and Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, Columbia/TriStar's DVD of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is a big disappointment. Although 16:9 anamorphic (thus preserving its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio), the image is marred with some of the worst edge enhancement this reviewer has ever seen. It's bad to the point of total distraction in some sequences. Although the colors and grain seem accurate, there's also a lot of undue digital artifacting.

Equally disappointing is the Dolby Stereo sound. Music, dialogue and sound effects on the Japanese language track are very uneven, at times muffled to the point where some tracks sound like they're playing underwater, at other times one track seems to drown out everything else. The subtitles are also sub-par and merely transcribe the English-dubbed dialog; because of this the translations are often totally inaccurate.

In what can only be described as an insult to Akira Ifukube, the end title music fades out prematurely, as there are no end titles at all save Toho's voluminous trademark and copyright notices.

Extra Features

The only supplements are a batch of trailers and previews, including a Japanese teaser trailer (in Japanese with no subtitles, in 4:3 matted format) for Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003). Toho Video put out a terrific (though outrageously pricey) CAV laserdisc loaded with behind-the-scenes footage and deleted scenes. The deleted scenes, most of them, gave its story resonance and its characters motivations and personal conflicts lacking in the final cut. Another laserdisc, The Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla Sound Collection, was a terrific 45-minute documentary about the recording of Ifukube's score. It's really a shame that none of this material was included.

Parting Thoughts

Mechagodzilla, despite the misgivings of some, was a success for Toho, and plans were soon underway for a sequel. But Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla was an almost total disaster and its timing, almost simultaneous with the release of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995), revealed just how out-of-touch, how much of a big old dinosaur, Toho had itself become.

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! The Incredible World of Japanese Fantasy Films. His new book, Cinema Nippon will be published by Taschen in 2005.

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