Run for your lives! Godzilla is coming back!
The aptly named The Return of Godzilla is the giant kaiju film of the week as Sci-Fi Saturdays revisits the giant lizard for the fourth decade in a row.
The trailer makes a big deal about Godzilla’s return. It lists the various filmmakers, including the SFX director, who made the movie and shows lots of images of Godzilla. It provides his stats: 80 meters, 50,000 tons. Some scientists muse about his creation, while the various armed forces roll out and attempt to stop the creature as it once again wanders through Tokyo. Heightened anxiety between the Soviet Union and the United States also seems to be on display here as the Japanese Prime Minister speaks to those two nations. It’s been thirty years but the big guy can still pack a punch!
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
Three months after a volcano erupts, a Japanese fishing vessel–the Yahata Maru #5–wrecks on the island of Daikoku. Explosions on the island release a monster, Godzilla, thirty years after he last roamed the land. A sailboat with reporter Goro Maki (Ken Tanaka) sails by the next day and sees the shipwreck. On board he finds the sole survivor Hiroshi Okumura (Shin Takuma) after being attacked by a mutated sea louse the size of a small pig. Maki and Okumura are rescued by the authorities.
The Japanese Prime Minister Seiki Mitamura (Keiju Kobayashi) wants to keep the shipwreck and the return of Godzilla, which is known only to a few, including Professor Makoto Hayashida (Yôsuke Natsuki), under wraps lest a panic begins in Tokyo. Maki is upset that he cannot publish his story and goes to speak with Professor Hayashida. He learns that the professor lost both his parents in Godzilla’s attack on Tokyo thirty years ago. Maki also meets the professor’s assistant Naoko (Yasuko Sawaguchi) who is Okumura’s sister and informs her that her brother is alive, but being held by authorities to keep the news quiet.
The creature attacks a Soviet nuclear submarine near Japan, destroying it. The Russians believe that the Americans were responsible, with Japan caught in between the two superpowers. Prime Minister Mitamura is forced to reveal that Godzilla was behind the attack, but reveals a new weapon he hopes will stop the monster: the Super X flying fortress. With the military on alert, Godzilla attacks a nuclear power plant, feeding on the radioactive materials.
When Professor Hayashida sees the monster distracted by a flock of birds near the plant, he theorizes that Godzilla has a magnetic gland that works similar to homing instincts of migratory birds. His plan is to induce Mt. Mihara to erupt and use a signal to lure Godizlla into the volcano, trapping him. The Russian and American ambassadors urge Japan to utilize a nuclear strike against the monster, but Mitamura will not launch a bomb against his own country.
Godzilla comes aground from Tokyo Bay attacking the town as residents evacuate. The Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) can’t stop the giant beast and soon fall to his attacks. A Russian ship, which holds the codes to launch a nuclear warhead, is damaged in the attack. The captain attempts to shut down the device before it launches but dies from wounds inflicted in the attack. Godzilla is slowed down by the Super X aircraft which fires cadmium shells into Godzilla’s throat causing the creature to pass out.
The countdown ends and a Russian missile is launched from an orbiting platform towards Tokyo. Japan asks the Americans to launch an intercept missile which they do, saving everyone from destruction. But the resulting electrical storm from the explosion reawakens Godzilla who destroys Super X by dropping a building on it. Professor Hayashida is finally able to get out of the city and starts his machine drawing Godzilla to Mt. Mihara where Okumura activates explosives burying the kaiju inside the rubble
“If Godzilla appeared in your countries, the US and Soviet Union, would you have the courage to use nuclear weapons in Washington, D.C., or Moscow without hesitation?” – Prime Minister Mitamura
History in the Making
The Return of Godzilla was released thirty years after the original Godzilla film and was the 16th film in the overall franchise. It served as a new beginning to the series appearing nine years after the previous film, Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) and ushering in the Heisei Era of Godzilla films (this period is marked by the reign of Emperor Akihito starting in January 1989). Toho studios decided that a more modern and serious take on the massive kaiju was necessary for a number of reasons. Gone were scenes of Godzilla fighting various alien monsters or teaming up with other kaiju from around Japan. There were no more comical fight moments or alien invasion subplots. It was a return to the original idea of Godzilla, a monster birthed or awoken by radioactive materials striking back at Japan. The film ignores the previous films from the Shōwa Era, instead choosing to have a reinvigorated, and larger, monster return to Tokyo 30 years later. This film also eschewed the childishness that the franchise had built up through the 60s and 70s. It returned to the more serious tone of the original film and provided a modernized look at the themes and ideas that were originally presented in 1954.
As with many sci-fi films from the 80s, this film pushes the boundary of technological aspects. Where films from previous generations had “future technology” that seemed a little too far-fetched, films of the 80s were a little bit closer to that futuristic ideal. The use of more appropriate looking computer equipment, models, and special effects all combine to provide a more cohesive look and suitably advanced look that matches the intention of the script. In this film, the humans have the ability to increase the firepower that they turn out to battle Godzilla. Besides more appropriate missiles and tanks, there’s also the invention of the Super X flying fortress that seems built to battle kaiju. The JSDF also uses laser vehicles to blast at the monster (somehow always missing it). Presumably creating a sci-fi film in the 80s necessitates the obvious use of laser guns of some kind, even if that is the most kitschy element of the film. Moving forward, this nudge into futuristic territory, inspired most likely from manga and anime sources, would become more of a staple of the giant-monster film.
Additionally, the advancements in special effects technology in the decade since the last Godzilla film allowed for the creation of better models, better pyrotechnics, and of course, a better monster. While Godzilla still has human-like proportions, he is much more of a monster in this film Besides upgrading the materials of the suit, they were also able to build a sixteen-foot tall “cybot” kaiju in order to capture more nuance in the head and face. They also created a giant Godzilla foot that was attached to a crane in order to get shots of the monster crushing a cars with people in the foreground, similar to effects that were used on the 1976 King Kong remake. The city “miniatures” were able to be made larger and more detailed creating a more exciting, and realistic, environment for Godzilla to destroy. Then there’s the Super X. The Super X looks like some sort of space pod, but contains hover fans below to lift it into position. It flies around Godzilla like a helicopter shooting him with cadmium rounds. These fans didn’t actually lift the vehicle, of course. They were only part of the model, but it seems more like a possible real vehicle, rather than an enhanced model kit, even if it does seem like it’s moving on wires.
However the biggest element to the film was its anti-nuclear themes. As with the the original Godzilla film, which dealt with the real life fallout of atomic bombs being dropped on Japan and the fears of further atomic warfare, The Return of Godzilla harnessed the zeitgeist of the 70s and 80s focusing on the tensions between the two world superpowers at the time: the United States and Russia. Godzilla inadvertently brings these nuclear powers into the story by destroying a Russian submarine. This gets the Russian diplomat worked up, convinced that it was obviously an attack by the US. The Japanese Prime Minister is caught in the middle between these bickering children. The same people that are counseling him to drop a bomb on Tokyo to destroy Godzilla (this is even after the scientists have explained that Godzilla feeds off radioactivity and there is likely no actual way to destroy him). In the end, Japan (being the protagonists of this film) stops the potential escalation between the two bickering countries as well as finding a third alternative to stop Godzilla.
Godzilla films are never solely about the monster attacking the city or fighting other kaiju. They all have human elements which the filmmakers use to link the plight of the city to the audience. As with the previous kaiju films reviewed here on Sci-Fi Saturdays, Invasion of Astro-Monster and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, the films start and end with human characters who are witness to the battles of the monstrous kaiju. In some cases, the human stories overshadow the monster action (or at least get more screen time). A Godzilla film should have a balance of human elements and giant-monster destruction, which should favor the kaiju–that is why audiences come to the movie after all. The Return of Godzilla features only five main human characters and their intertwined stories: Maki, the reporter, and his discovery of Okumura and the return of Godzilla, the Prime Minister, and the Professor with Okumura’s sister (who becomes Maki’s love interest as well). The storyline with Maki, Okumura, Naoko, and the Professor escaping the city as Godzilla topples the city is the most prevalent storyline, but not as engaging as watching the Prime Minister make the decisions to stop Godzilla. The film ends with him tearfully watching as the creature, who did nothing outside his nature, is buried in the volcano until the next film. He actually feels compassion towards the monster that destroyed his city, as it is still humanity that is to blame for it attacking in the first place. If not for the nuclear facilities that draw the kaiju to the city, and the armed forces attacking Godzilla, it would have gone somewhere else. It’s a unique perspective for this film. Even though Godzilla is a destructor, and not a protector here, the filmmakers evoke a sympathy for the antagonist of the film, no longer clearly a force of nature, but an animal following its instincts, which humans happen to be in the way of.
The Science in The Fiction
The film attempts to teach some nuclear science tips and tricks to the audience. The JSDF utilize cadmium shells fired by the Super X vehicle to hopefully stop Godzilla. While no human armament can seem to pierce his hide, they are able to fire a number of these missiles into his mouth which is able to knock him out. While the explanation is not explained as simply as it could be in the film, it has to do with modern nuclear science. Since the discovery of nuclear fission, scientists needed a way to control the reaction, preventing a full blown meltdown (as happened five years previous at the Three Mile Island nuclear facility in Pennsylvania) of the core. Viewers may know that there are a series of rods that can be inserted into the radioactive core that helps stop neutrons from creating further fission. These rods are made from cadmium, and absorb the neutrons preventing further reactions. Therefore in this film, which gives more explanation about Godzilla’s physiology (more at least than he has atomic breath) it is theorized that he has a small nuclear reactor powering him, more or less. The cadmium shells prevent the reactions inside his body, slowing down the fission and putting him to sleep. That is until a lightning strike shocks the system back to life, a trope that has been used to bring the monster back to life in other Godzilla films including the most recent Godzilla vs Kong.
The Final Frontier
This would be the last Godzilla film to get a distinctive American edit (the original 1954 film was re-edited as Godzilla, King of the Monsters with Raymond Burr, and this film, also including Burr, was turned into Godzilla: 1985). The monster would get at least six more films, which were kaiju versus kaiju action in the next decade and a half, including a film produced by the American company TriStar, simply called Godzilla (but known as Godzilla 1998) featuring Matthew Broderick. The franchise was revitalized at least two more times in Japan, plus the current Monsterverse incarnation by Legendary Pictures which include the previously mentioned Godzilla vs. Kong and the 2014 Godzilla and 2019 Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
While the film suffers from being overly long, the thematic elements are enough to make this a worthwhile watch. It’s definitely not as hoaky as some of the previous entries in the franchise and sets an interesting precedent to move the giant thunder lizard into the 80s and beyond.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.