For someone who has loved daikaiju as long as myself, it’s a bit embarrassing how recent most of my collection of the films is. I’m picky and specific, to be sure, but there are plenty of decent Godzilla and Gamera releases around, and still some I’ve yet to purchase. I’ve watched even fewer, and more ridiculously, seen even fewer than that in general. It’s an awkward proposition though, one that was even worse before the advent of DVD (and remained pretty bad even a ways into DVD). I grew up with a Godzilla figure so old I do not even remember getting it. It was mostly lost to a family dog, but I had the thing for ages–red “lipstick” and all. In my hometown, there sprang up a video rental store called Big Lizard, which used Godzilla on its sign (thankfully I think Toho never knew, or they’d probably have sued them). They carried G-Fan, the quarterly Godzilla magazine that I so desperately wanted to read and have a subscription to. I stumbled, just prior to finding that store, onto the first copy of Fangoria I ever really looked in (having previously been filled with fear at the idea of the horrific images that would be present inside) because a stunning image of Godzilla graced the cover’s main photo spot. It was about 1995, and I read in there that Godzilla movies had been made in the past few years prior to that, and wow did they ever look good. Of course, coming across them then was not an easy thing to do. I had tapes of many of the Showa eiga for most of my life, from a heavily beaten and repeatedly viewed copy of Godzilla Vs. Megalon to a two pack of Godzilla Vs. Gigan and the original Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla. I purchased piles of the Trendmasters-produced figures when they were released, most of which are still on a shelf a few feet from me right now, other than the large (electronic, roaring, rougly 12″ tall) Godzilla that sits next to my Tv (with some simpler vinyl Gamera and Gyaos figures). I had to fight pretty hard with myself not to purchase some of the even more recent figures when a local Kay-Bee toy store was closing (hoping to get a better deal because I knew I would be effectively wasting whatever money I spent on them–but still getting so far as to check the discounted price). I read the entirety of a book entitled A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series and discovered that my culturally incongruous straightforward appreciation of the films was not foreign to the world–just foreign to my own culture. That history absolutely fascinated me and finally vindicated my approach to the films as it described the idiotic changes made by American distributors when they imported the earliest of Godzilla films. More on this later because there’s a lot to this for me, but I should really get to this particular film.
After the destruction of Mecha-King Ghidorah in the prior film (Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah), scientists have begun to develop a new weapon for use against the destructive power of Godzilla: Mechagodzilla. Designed to replicate the appearance of Godzilla, it is equipped with artificial diamond armour and the ability to absorb energy–such as Godzilla’s atomic breath–and re-distribute it to launch it as a “plasma grenade” through a lens hidden behind a panel on its abdomen. Kazuma Aoki (Masahiro Takashima) is the designer of Mechagodzilla’s predecessor Garuda, a flying vessel reminiscent of the Super X of Godzilla (1984). With his design replaced, Aoki is assigned to G-Force, the international team created to combat Godzilla, trained to operate Mechagodzilla and the other weaponry used against him. A group of scientists discover a pteranodon skeleton on a remote island, but when Professor Omae (Yusuke Kawazu) is informed there is an intact egg, he and assistant Azusa Gojo (Ryoko Sano) cannot help but inspect it. Due to its size, Omae immediately realizes it, too, was irradiated like Godzilla. The remains of a nearby eggshell precede the arrival of Rodan, the irradiated pteranodon-like monster that comes when they move the egg, as Godzilla shows up and the two clash. When the egg is returned to the Japanese mainland, Azusa is assigned to observe, inspect and otherwise examine the egg. When it hatches, it is not another Rodan that appears but a youthful Godzillasaur, which takes Azusa to be its mother, having heard her from inside its egg. When psychic Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka) brings the children from her school to see “Baby” (the name given for the young Godzillasaur), they use a song similar to the one that was played to hatch the egg and it distresses the young creature, reviving an injured Rodan and calling forth both it and Godzilla to Japan. While Aoki is fooling about with this, he’s removed from the team, but his plan for “Super Mechagodzilla” (which combines Garuda and Mechagodzilla), he is welcomed back. The might of this new form is needed to combat both monsters though, when an attempt to lure them to a remote island is cut short by the unexpected appearance of Rodan, who takes their bait away–Azusa and Baby.
For those unaware, this film has absolutely nothing to do with the most popular images of Godzilla in American culture. The films that have been shown most endlessly on television, from the 1960s and 70s are the Showa eiga, which ended in 1975 with Terror of Mechagodzilla. This series, the Heisei series (Both are named for the Emperors in power during their respective production years), known in Japan as the “VS” series (because the titles were formatted with “VS” instead of “tai”), assumes that no films followed the original Godzilla from 1954, and certainly ignores the stupid changes made by American distributors when releasing films up to 1984’s Godzilla (retitled Godzilla 1985, and with 26 minutes removed and replaced with 10 obnoxious minutes of bad jokes from American actors and a vain attempt from Raymond Burr to take the film as seriously as the original footage around him does). Godzilla has returned to a destructive force of nature, with no love for mankind (especially dreaming little boys who talk to his son!) and no real redeeming qualities. It was here, though, that a recognition of Godzilla by the people in the films as a living, sentient creature began for the VS series–mostly as a reflection of the cute, lovable and vegetarian Baby. While Miki is behind the most devastating attack on Godzilla, she is especially hesitant prior to it, and clearly regrets it afterward. She even ends up using her telepathy to encourage Godzilla and Baby to leave peacefully, with the rest of the crew of Mechagodzilla left similarly somber by similar realizations.
The most appealing aspect of the VS series, especially at the time of its release, was an increased production value in suit modelling and miniature construction. The design of Godzilla had changed quite thoroughly in the decade between his previously final appearance and his reappearance in 1984. More menacing now in actual appearance than simple stature, reputation and ability, a sort of cat-like aspect of the face gives him a predatory look, while a body that is technically pear-shaped comes off as muscular and powerful, and ultimately threatening. Suitwork is more in line with an animal than a strangely shaped gigantic person (which was in keeping with the heroic Showa Godzilla at the time it was used, of course) and is rather convincingly alien for it, with a wonderfully animated tail to nudge just the right extra bit of convincing life to the suit. Mechagodzilla bears little resemblance to his original form as well, now more rounded and sleek, with a completely different origin–humans instead of aliens–and a naturally different alignment, as well as no original covering to make it indistinguishable from the original Godzilla. Rodan has been coloured a bit more red, technically making this an appearance of “Fire Rodan,” with a look more like one of Henson’s Skeksis than a pteranodon. A major change here is the absence of a suit–only models were used to create Rodan, allowing for a more logically proportioned flying beast.
As someone who takes these films at face-value (being vehemently opposed to ideas like “guilty pleasures” and “so bad it’s good”), the VS series is an easier sell to people who think I’m off my rocker for this approach. Strong production valued for well-filmed and orchestrated kaiju scenes make them intense, exciting and believable, while the side-plotting of this particular film is more carefully associated and tied to the main-line kaiju plot, with most of it revolving around the discovery of Baby. There’s a tongue-in-cheek, intentional camp to this side of the film, especially with the rather goofy Aoki (who manages to sleep through a lot of his G-Force training), but it never comes off as out of place, rather more as comic relief. The psychic element is nothing new in Japanese cinema, either, but here is treated with a matter-of-fact accepted tone that is refreshing compared to usual attempts to legitimize, justify and explain such things. Baby is also a far cry from Minilla/Minya of the Showa eiga, far more closely resembling his parentage while maintaining enough cuteness to appeal to the humans in the film. Godzilla’s threat, though, is the most appreciable realization, with a monster that does not stumble aimlessly through buildings or appear for no clear reason, here being specifically drawn by its offspring to return to the mainland and protect it.
The DVD release of this film in Region 1 uses an irritating approach known as “dubtitles.” I’ve commented shruggingly on them before (in my review of Hard-Boiled), but the ones here take the cake. Characters have lines when no one is speaking, the opening narration continues to add information that is not translated and some lines are clear deviations (it does make a difference when I know something of the language, I suppose). I could probably shrug at this as well, were it not for those added and removed lines. This is just unbelievably sloppy and is a big part of why Godzilla films have the American reputation they do. And of course there’s the title–in America it’s called “Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla II,” which makes absolutely no sense when one considers that not only is this film ignoring the original film of that title, it’s also the THIRD Mechagodzilla film. At the same time, it’s at least something to say that this film is in the proper aspect ratio (all other Region 1 releases of the Heisei films are in fullscreen) and with the original language (yeah, the other releases are dub-only, too!). It’s not the best Godzilla film, it’s not the worst, it’s about average–a solid entry, but one that has excellent effects and, more importantly, Akira Ifukube returning to score the film, using subtle variations on his most familiar themes from the original, which are awesome as always.