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DOWSE Guide to the
by Tony Lee editor of
An Overview of the Heisei Series
by Octavio Ramos Jr.
In the early 1950s, Toho movie producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had become interested in
American giant monster movies, such as King Kong (1933) and more notably
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (this film was arguably the first to present a
radioactive behemoth), which was released in Japan in 1953. Tanaka had begun to kick
around the idea of creating his own monster, which like the American version would be
radioactive but much larger in size. Originally, the producer titled the film "The
Big Monster From 20,000 Miles Underneath the Sea", but it was too long and boring.
Fortunately, Tanaka one day heard a peculiar nickname for an obese man
who worked at the studio. The sheer size of this guy had earned him the name
"Gojira," a combination of the words gorilla (gorira in Japanese) and whale
(kujira in Japanese). Rolling the name off his tongue for several days,
Tanaka found it appropriate for the creature subsequently labeled the "King of
The Godzilla movies have been divided into three 'series'. The first
series is called the Showa series (this is considered the original series),
the second is known as Heisei (because the first film was released during the
Heisei era in Japan), and the third is known as Shinsei. The Shinsei series
has yet to appear in countries other than Japan, but already theatres are making room
for the films (the first film made its American theatrical debut in August 2000).
The first Shinsei is titled Godzilla 2000 (1999), which will be
followed by Godzilla vs Megagiras: G-Vanishing Operation (2000). These two
films are rumoured to rival the present Gamera series with respect to
intelligent scripting, solid acting, and best of all, excellent effects.
A number of American movie distribution companies recently have released
the complete line of Heisei Godzilla films in VHS and DVD formats. Although all the
movies made the transition to video, for no apparent reason two films did not make it
to DVD. This article presents an overview of these films, as well as a critical
evaluation of each. As a rule, Godzilla fans love these films just because the 'Big G'
is in them, and because I am such a fan, you should not expect too much criticism.
What you can expect is a sincere evaluation of each film with respect to entertainment
value and its overall contribution to the Godzilla mythology.
Dir: Koji Hashimoto and R. J. Kizer
91 minutes, New World Pictures
Although technically not a Heisei release, Godzilla 1985 is placed in this
category because the film is responsible for kicking off the new series. Ignoring all
past Godzilla films except the original, this movie begins with a strange atomic
explosion close to an uncharted island. A crew aboard a vessel nearby sees the
explosion, and days later the men are found dead apparently from radiation poisoning.
Moreover, the ship has large versions of "Godzilla lice" on board, hinting that the
radiation has also caused serious mutations.
After some investigation, it is discovered that Godzilla is back. The
Japanese use the Super X vehicle in an attempt to stop the 'Big G', but the craft
fails. In the end, Godzilla is lured into a trap by playing a special sound frequency
(emitted by birds). The Japanese have created another version of an atomic bomb,
rigging explosive charges around a dormant volcano. By setting off the charges, the
volcano roars back to life, the lava consuming the Giant One.
Godzilla 1985 is a good Godzilla adventure with a literate script,
good acting, and above-average special effects. The Americanized version has flaws,
however, principally in the American-filmed scenes with Raymond Burr. The Godzilla
suit is awesome, with the monster looking very menacing. It is in this film that
Godzilla is explained as a force of nature corrupted by the ideals of mankind, a
creature that cannot be destroyed by humanity because he was created by humanity.
This idea is driven home when Godzilla 'feeds' off an atomic reactor. Later, when an
atomic bomb explodes over the Earth’s atmosphere, Godzilla is revived after his
initial encounter with the Super X.
Although not as groundbreaking or fresh as the original, Godzilla
1985 is nevertheless an entertaining and exciting film. Having seen the English-
captioned version on laserdisc, I also can say that the Japanese version is much more
literate, emotional, and involving. The American scenes and dubbing tend to simplify
Japanese themes and metaphors, and thus many plot elements are lost in the drivel. I
also find it amusing that Burr’s character is called out as 'Steve' or 'Mr. Martin'
and never as 'Steve Martin'.
Godzilla versus Biollante
Dir: Kazuki Ohmori
105 minutes, HBO Video
Technically the first Heisei film, Godzilla versus Biollante heralds the
return of the monster, who is now a metaphor for humanity’s indiscretions against the
environment, particularly with nuclear energy and caustic pollution. The film also
continues to explore science gone awry. Using "Godzilla cells" gathered from the
volcano in which Godzilla was thrown into in Godzilla 1985, Doctor Shiragami
begins to develop a special kind of grain that can grow in the desert. Unfortunately,
terrorists bomb the doctor’s lab, and in the melee his daughter Erica is killed.
Years later, Shiragami has engineered an indestructible plant (some kind
of rose, I think) that possesses Godzilla’s regenerative powers and his daughter’s
'soul'. Unbeknownst to Shiragami, a company known as Biomajor has been spying in him
and his work. Knowing the good doctor has a supply of Godzilla cells, the company
sends men to steal them, but the mutated rose bush becomes animated and thwarts the
attempt, flies off, and takes residence in the middle of a lake. Biomajor then
threatens to release Godzilla from his volcanic trap, and in the end Godzilla
emerges, much to psychic Miki Saegusa’s (the series’ recurring character) glee. After
a bout with the new and improved 'Super X2', Japan’s latest fighting vehicle, Godzilla
clashes with Biollante, and in the end the plant transforms to magic pollen and flies
into space, whereas Godzilla does his customary exit into the ocean.
This movie is quite enjoyable, although some of themes are handled
awkwardly and the dialogue is a bit cheesy (this is perhaps due to poor dubbing). I
find it interesting that Godzilla is attacked every time he makes an appearance, yet
Biollante is pretty much ignored, despite the fact that she is even larger than
Godzilla! The fight scenes in this film are excellent and exciting, and for a change
they last longer, giving the fans more 'Godzilla time'.
The Godzilla suit for this film is top-notch, as is Godzilla’s atomic
breath. Biollante is an interesting monster, particularly with her array of toothy
vines, acidic cellulose, and ability to transform into even meaner versions. The
miniatures and special effects are even more effective, particularly the scenes in
which Godzilla is attacked by the overmatched Super X2.
Many mainstream critics view Biollante as the heroine of the film, with
some even stating that she is defending the earth. However, this cannot be the case,
because it is Biollante in the end who flees for space, leaving Godzilla as king. I
see Biollante as another form of Godzilla, and although both monsters clash, they are
siblings of a kind. When Biollante comes to realize this (perhaps because the soul of
Erika retains its dominance at the end — watch as her face appears near the end of
the movie), she elects to leave. Godzilla is of the earth, mutated by humanity yes,
but still of the earth. This is the underlying theme of the film.
The film’s singular weakness is psychic Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka), who
on the one hand proclaims to be Godzilla’s ally but works with the military to lure
her into a trap. This dual nature of the character recurs throughout the series,
confusing Godzilla fans with respect to her allegiance. Interestingly enough, the
scenes in which Miki appears with psychic children remind me very much of the anime
film Akira. Miki’s psychic powers in this film are formidable, but in
subsequent films they are portrayed as much weaker. Her psychic link to Godzilla also
fluctuates from film to film.
Godzilla versus King Ghidorah
Dir: Kazuki Omori
103 minutes, Tri-Star DVD
(double feature with Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth)
Godzilla fans taking the time to dissect this film carefully will quickly discover
that this film is patterned closely after the American film Aliens and its
director James Cameron’s action-driven style. All the elements are here, from the
malevolent-appearing android "M-11" that turns out to be benevolent (just like
Aliens' Bishop) to Emmy (Anna Nakagawa), a woman from the future who helps
turn King Ghidorah into a mechanical beast (Mecha King Ghidorah) to battle a
supercharged Godzilla (in Aliens, Ripley uses a mechanical suit to battle the
alien queen). These comparisons notwithstanding, Godzilla versus King Ghidorah
is perhaps one of the most creative and exciting movies in the Heisei canon.
Godzilla versus King Ghidorah is the first film in the second
series to completely rewrite the origin of two of its most notable monsters. In this
film, Godzilla is actually spawned from a dinosaur (labelled a "Godzillasaurus")
exposed to massive amounts of radiation. In the Earth’s present history, the Big G
was born after the atomic experiments on Bikini Island. When the humans from the
future prevent this from happening, Godzilla is born when a nuclear submarine
explodes, and thus an even larger and meaner Godzilla is created.
King Ghidorah is no longer a space monster, but rather a creation of
human biotechnology from three rubbery, somewhat cute, and winged creatures called
"Gorads." In both instances, these creatures were created by human intervention,
which is the film’s underlying theme.
The film moves at a brisk pace, and even though it takes a while to get
Godzilla and King Ghidorah into the picture, the final reel of the film is worth the
wait. Psychic Miki Saegusa is back, but this time she does nothing psychically, and
in fact she misses several opportunities to demonstrate her abilities. For example,
she fails to discover that M-11 is really an android (androids would have different
thought patterns, if they have any at all). Later in the film, Miki is suspicious of
Emmy’s actions, but the psychic cannot read her mind.
Both Godzilla and King Ghidorah are more streamlined, thus giving both
monsters a more realistic look (personally, I have always liked Ghidorah, for he is a
perfect foil for the Big G). As always the miniatures are top-notch and the computer-
generated sequences are effective. The tie-in with World War II is logical, but the
Americans are portrayed as morons, particularly "Major Spielberg," who at one point
utters the film’s worst line, with "Take that, you dinosaur!"
The action sequences are exciting, particularly the final battle between
Godzilla and King Ghidorah and later the mechanized version. There are several
bizarre dialogue sequences (for example, "all scientists say that dinosaurs are
dead," when this is untrue, because alligators and crocodiles are considered
dinosaurs), but these can be attributed to poor dubbing or screenwriter ignorance.
These quibbles aside, Godzilla verses King Ghidorah comes off as an exciting and
brisk entry in the Heisei series.
Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth
Dir: Takao Okawara
102 minutes, Tri-Star DVD
(double feature with Godzilla versus King Ghidorah)
Arguably the second-best of the Heisei Godzilla series, Godzilla and Mothra: The
Battle For Earth devotes much of its screen time to the monsters, and this above
everything else makes it a truly successful entry. The film starts off with a meteor
landing in the Pacific Ocean; the massive space rock not only awakens Godzilla, but
it also sets into motion the birth of both Mothra (a giant moth) and Battra (a fierce-
After a blatant rip-off of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,
the film adds to the new Godzilla mythology. It seems Mothra and Battra were created
by an ancient civilization; Mothra is a protector of the Earth and Battra was later
created to stop scientists who had created a weather machine that had begun to have
negative effects upon the atmosphere and the environment. Mothra and Battra battled
long ago and only now are they being "reborn" because once again humanity is
destroying the environment.
The final battle between Godzilla, Mothra, and Battra is excellent.
Eventually Battra and Mothra become allies, and together they manage to overcome
Godzilla and send him back into the ocean. Unfortunately, Battra dies and Mothra
takes on the butterfly’s principal duty: to destroy another, more dangerous meteor
headed for Earth.
The last plot point is somewhat confusing, given that Mothra and Battra
were age-hold enemies bent on destroying each other. If not for Godzilla, the giant
insects never would have banded together. If Battra’s true purpose all along was to
protect the Earth, then why was she an enemy of Mothra in the first place?
All the monsters look fantastic, particularly the flying insects with
their very colorful bodies and powerful beam weapons. Mothra also sprinkles golden
dust that negates Godzilla’s atomic breath. Mothra and Battra appear initially in
larval stages, but as the film progresses, they go through a quick pupae state and
finally emerge as winged avengers.
The acting on this film is solid and even the dubbing is not too bad.
Psychic Miki Saegusa’s role is minimal; she uses her telepathic abilities several
times, but for the most part she merely reacts to the things around her. Mothra’s
twin priestesses, the Cosmos, are also back. This time, however, they represent part
of the ancient civilization. Like the old Cosmos, these twins use their melodic
voices to summon Mothra. Believe it or not, the tune is quite catchy, although after
a while it tends to grate the nerves of the sensitive.
Careful viewers will notice that the Cosmos wear necklaces that resemble
the "light key" used to reveal Mothra’s egg and the symbol Mothra creates with gold
dust to keep Godzilla underwater. This "Elder Sign" (a take on H.P. Lovecraft’s
symbol of protection against the Great Old Ones, one of whom, Cthulhu, is entombed
beneath the ocean) is one of many mythological elements that make this film a joy to
watch. There is a certain poetic sense in this film, as there is in all the films of
which Mothra plays a part. Mothra proved so popular after this film that she appeared
into three films of her own.
For those viewers not familiar with the Heisei series, Godzilla and
Mothra: The Battle for Earth is an ideal place to begin the series. Although an
excellent installment, the next film, Godzilla versus Mechagodzilla II, has
the distinction of being the best in the Heisei series.
Godzilla versus Mechagodzilla II
Dir: Takao Okawara
107 minutes, Tri-Star
The best of the Heisei, Godzilla versus Mechagodzilla II has everything a
Godzilla film should have: lots of Godzilla screen time, plenty of fights, overwhelming
power beams and assorted other weapons, the return and subsequent death of Godzilla ally
Rodan, and the "death" and rebirth of Godzilla. There are a few sore spots, though, such
as the return of "baby" Godzilla (originally known as Minilla) and psychic Miki Saegusa’s
betrayal of the Big G when she becomes part of the team operating the robotic monster;
her specific task is to find and destroy Godzilla’s secondary brain (so much for being a
"friend" of the King of Monsters). Despite these hiccups, this film should be the first
Heisei film you watch. The action and monster scenes are unmatched.
The story takes place in 1992, the year in which Japan establishes the
United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center (UNGCC), a subcomponent of the present
G-Force. Scientists from the UNGCC salvage parts from the cyborg Mecha King Ghidorah
and craft the ultimate robot, which is given the moniker Mechagodzilla (in the
original Godzilla series, Mechagodzilla comes from outer space). In the meantime, the
precursor to the robot, Garuda, is put on ice, as is its chief designer, Aoki.
While the robot is being developed, a group of scientists discover a huge
egg on a deserted island. Protecting the egg is none other than Rodan, a flying
monster. Godzilla soon makes the scene and both monsters battle it out while the
expedition members abscond with the egg, within which is not a baby Rodan but a Baby
Godzilla (a Cuckoo-egg theory is given as the reason).
Baby Godzilla screeches for help on several occasions, summoning Rodan
and Godzilla. The humans counter with Mechagozilla and Garuda, which can be combined
to create Supermechagodzilla. An all-out war breaks out, in which Rodan dies, is
reborn like a phoenix (music gives him power) and is dubbed Fire Rodan, then dies
again only to give his remaining energy reserves to a presumably dead Godzilla. In
the end Godzilla finishes off Supermechagodzilla and takes Baby Godzilla away from
all the chaos.
This film in many ways foreshadows the final Heisei titled Godzilla
versus Destroyah. For example, Rodan dies but manages to regenerate Godzilla,
much like Godzilla later dies and "passes on" his superpowers to Godzilla Junior.
There are many subtle changes during the film that can be found only after multiple
viewings. For example, Godzilla’s atomic breath beam is blue until Rodan regenerates
him, at which point it is red like Fire Rodan’s power beam.
One final quibble, this one regarding the American title. This film
should be titled "Godzilla versus MechaGodzilla III" because the films that precede
it are Godzilla versus the Bionic Monster (a.k.a., Cosmic Monster or Mechagodzilla)
and Terror of Mechagodzilla. In the end, the title doesn’t really matter. The
movie itself is excellent and you owe it to yourself to check this one out first.
Godzilla versus Spacegodzilla
Dir: Kensho Yamashita
108 minutes, Tri-Star DVD
(double feature with Godzilla versus Destroyah)
Perhaps the weakest entry in the Heisei series, Godzilla versus Spacegodzilla
borrows from too many other films to be a success, although the final battle scenes
are filled with heart-thumping excitement. This film also portrays psychic Miki
Saegusa as a true Godzilla friend, and although she is pushed into making the Big G a
telepathic slave, her overall goal is to be his ally.
The film begins with Spacegodzilla flying through the universe under the
cover of powerful crystals energized by black holes and other stars. Spacegodzilla
sends some of these crystals to Earth to set up a base of operations and in the
process wakes up the Big G. In the meantime, Miki is visited by Fairy Mothra and the
Cosmos, who tell her that Spacegodzilla is on the way. It seems that Biollante,
Godzilla, and Mothra cells have all contributed to this powerful monster and it has
one goal: to destroy Godzilla.
To combat both threats, the UNGCC (which built Mechagodzilla in the
previous film) creates a new robot, this one known as MOGUERA (which stands for
Mobile Operation Godzilla Universal Expert Robot Aerotype). While this robot is sent
to battle Spacegodzilla, Miki and several others are sent to a remote island inhabited
by Little Godzilla, a slightly older version of Baby Godzilla. The team hopes to
attract Godzilla to the island and there inject a psychic receiver into the monster’s
brain stem. On the island, however, is Major Yuki, who is waging a one-man war
When Spacegodzilla finally terrorizes Japan, Yuki and two others pilot
MOGUERA and join forces with Godzilla. In the process the giant robot is destroyed,
but as always Godzilla triumphs. A coda has Godzilla returning to the island, where
Little Godzilla is waiting. The Cosmos and Fairy Mothra thank Miki for her help.
As stated earlier, this film borrows too many elements from previous
films. For example, the concept of MOGEUERA and Little Godzilla are too close to the
previous film; Spacegodzilla is a rehash of Biollante; and Mothra adds little to the
plot except for some quaint philosophical observations. In addition to these quibbles,
the first reel of the film is slow, with Godzilla roaming about an island for what
feels like hours. There is also the "look" of Little Godzilla: the monster is just
too cute, with very little of him resembling his namesake. How do those bubble eyes
become the menacing eyes of Godzilla Junior?
Despite these drawbacks, the final reel of film is worth watching. The
battle scenes are very exciting, particularly when Godzilla and MOGUERA join forces.
In a subtle touch, Godzilla at first uses his traditional atomic breath weapon, and
it is only near the end of the battle, when he must muster all his energy, that the
Big G resorts to using the crimson Fire-Rodan version of the breath.
The subplot of Yuki’s war, as well as the actor himself, is worth noting.
Indeed, the acting all around is superior, as is the dubbing. Comedy relief is kept
to a minimum — a refreshing touch. The end sequence is a bit corny, but there is some
poetry there as well, which is fitting, given that Mothra brings out the poet in all
Godzilla versus Destroyah
Dir: Takao Okawara
102 minutes, Tri-Star DVD
(double feature with Godzilla versus Spacegodzilla)
The final film in the Heisei series, Godzilla versus Destroyah attempts to
close the circle started with the original film. The film’s underlying theme is
science gone awry, and despite this repetitive theme, the film is visually exciting
and packed with action.
The film begins with a naturally occurring nuclear meltdown deep in the
sea. This meltdown changes Godzilla’s heart, which in essence is a nuclear reactor.
Having literally "overdosed" with nuclear power, Godzilla in several days will reach
critical mass and explode. In an attempt to stop this, the G-Center seeks out a young
man by the name of Kenichi Yamane, the adopted grandson of Dr. Yamane, the paleontologist
from the original film.
In the original film, Yamane used an "oxygen destroyer" to finish off
Godzilla. It turns out that this device’s residue has affected a prehistoric
microorganism, which over time has been evolving into a three-stage creature known
as Destroyah. As the Japanese battle Destroyah during its first stage, which consists
of several dozen "raptor-like" creatures," Godzilla continues to melt down. In an
effort to slow down the process, the new "Super X3" is used. The latest version of
this craft uses only frost-driven weapons.
While all this is going on, psychic Miki Saegusa is joined by another
telepath, Meru, in the search for Godzilla Junior, an older version of Little
Godzilla. When Destroyah assumes stage two, the two psychics lure Godzilla Junior to
Japan in an effort to attract Godzilla (once gain, Miki places Godzilla and his
offspring in danger). Destroyah takes out Godzilla Junior and then sets his sights
on Godzilla. The two fight it out, and in the end Godzilla triumphs yet again.
However, for Godzilla it is too late; he starts to melt down. Fortunately, the Super
X3 uses its frost weapons on Godzilla so that the monster does not explode but rather
melts away. Fortunately, Godzilla passes on his essence to Godzilla Junior, who
literally becomes the new Godzilla.
Although Godzilla "dies" in this movie, like Mr. Spock in Star Trek
he is regenerated in a younger form. This film also serves as a transition point in
the series; at the time the Japanese were passing the torch to the Americans, who
were making the new installment of Godzilla. Unfortunately, that transition failed
miserably, and it once again was up to Toho to create a third series.
Godzilla versus Destroyah is an exciting climax to the series.
Although it borrows elements from films such as Jurassic Park (the Destroyah
larvae attacking the reporter in the car) and Alien (the Destroyah’s double-
jaw configuration), it is rousing adventure at its best. The science is way, way off
conventional organic chemistry (oxygen is destroyed, but water remains, when water is
made up of oxygen and hydrogen), but the fantasy elements and the Godzilla myth are
compelling as ever. The death and resurrection of Godzilla Junior pulls on the
heartstrings and the death of the Big G is hard to watch. Destroyah is an interesting
creature, with all three stages contributing great action sequences for the film.
Having previewed the first of the new series of Godzilla movies (Godzilla 2000),
I can safely say that Toho continues to produce exciting, action-oriented, and
entertaining Godzilla films. This latest effort absolutely puts to shame the American
version. The new Godzilla suit is amazing and the Big G’s new nemesis, Orga, has to
be seen to be believed. In addition, the script is tight and intelligent, the
characters well drawn, and the effects are incredible, particularly those in which
Godzilla is rendered in CGI.
As for the Heisei series, as a whole it can be considered a solid series
filled with action and excitement, but most importantly, the films emphasized the
monsters themselves. Unlike the original series, the Heisei series gives the viewer
unprecedented monster time; this is what Godzilla fans want most of all, and we get
it with every installment. In addition, the films use minimal comedy relief and
oddball humour; both elements helped destroy the original series.
Although I prefer the 'original' origins of the creatures, the Heisei
series remains my favorite of the lot. I would have liked to have seen an alien
invasion story line, but fortunately Godzilla 2000 has taken care of that. If
you can, seek out this latest film. Until then, look for the Heisei films, particularly
Octavio Ramos, Jr.
|Famous Lines from Famous Movies
"My mommy always said there were no
no real ones - but there are."
- Newt (Carrie Henn), to
Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), in
directed by James Cameron
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