Thursday, December 7, 2017

Movie Review - "The Dirty Dozen" (1967)



I want to say that "The Dirty Dozen" fits in the same vein as "The Great Escape," except where "The Great Escape" had a certain likable charm to it, where even the sour and down moments were undeniably optimistic, "The Dirty Dozen" is cynical, hardened, and fits in more with the action clichés one would expect from a war movie. "The Dirty Dozen" is the proto-typical war film that would inspire the films of today, like "Saving Private Ryan," "Fury" and "Hacksaw Ridge," trading in charm and wit for realism and big action sequences.

The film follows Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin) being given the impossible task of penetrating an impregnable Nazi fortress with only the help of twelve prisoners condemned to either death row or life in prison, that way if anything goes wrong the military can put the blame on a bunch of criminals. The majority of the film is Reisman establishing trust and honor among these men who have been locked up for years, the prisoners learning to be productive members of society again, and the military watching over Reisman's operation like a hawk.



The best scene in the movie is when Reisman's commanding officer, Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan) makes a deal with Reisman to see if his men could infiltrate Breed's command and capture him without being detected. It shows these men were always more than just hardened criminals, but intelligent soldiers who are quick on their feet. What makes this scene enjoyable is that it comes across like the dozen are truly enjoying themselves, like they take joy in messing their own army's heads, fooling them at every turn.

Still, I only ever felt like I got to know about half of the dozen characters, with the rest filling the role of cannon fodder for the final sequence. It is the typical war movie cliché of building up a straw man character just to knock him down in a storm of bullets.

Overall, "The Dirty Dozen" is a fine war movie, if a bit predictable and cliché nowadays. There are some charming moments, but for the most part this is a cold and sterile look at World War II. Not the best WWII film out there, but certainly not the worst either.

Final Grade: C+

Monday, December 4, 2017

Movie Review - "Ugetsu" (1953)



"Ugetsu" is an odd piece of work that takes two common Japanese genres, the ghost story and the jidaigeki (period drama), and combines them to produce a film that is accessible to a wide audience by giving us a uniquely human samurai tale with a supernatural edge. The film focuses on how war affects the minds of those who cannot fight and the toll it takes on them and their families, both physically and emotionally.

It starts in a small Japanese village during a time of constant civil war between rival clans. The village is populated by farmers and workers trying to make a decent living without getting involved in this conflict. These villagers include the pottery maker Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) who dreams of making it big and living a luxurious life with his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka), and Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa), who dreams of making a name for himself as a samurai. After Genjuro gets a taste of real money from selling his pottery, he becomes obsessed with getting more at whatever cost, even risking his life in the face of the evil clans.

After their village is attacked, the two families leave together and split up at the nearest town after they learn of the threat of pirates, leaving the men to head into town and make as much money as they can. But both Genjuro and Tobei get lost in their own greed and ambition, with Tobei looking for a way to make a name for himself as a samurai, while Genjuro is visited by a creepy princess who wants more than just his pottery.



There is not much else I can say about "Ugetsu" without spoiling the plot and the journey of self discovery and tragedy these two go on. But I will say that, like most Japanese period pieces, pain is a constant companion throughout their trip and the land of Japan has an odd sense of justice. While the film is slow at times, it only helps with the scenes involving Genjuro and the princess and the gnawing feeling that something is wrong with their forceful relationship.

If you are at least familiar with the genres at play in "Ugetsu" then give this film a try and see how they blend together in this sorrowful tale. And even if you do not know about the themes and atmosphere of a Japanese period piece, this is still a great tale about two small men who wish for something bigger in a harsh and brutal world.

Final Grade: B+

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Movie Review - "THX-1138" (1971)



Unless you are a diehard movie fan, the biggest thing to come from this movie is that it gave way to that annoyingly loud introduction to DVDs in the 2000s from THX.

"THX-1138" is George Lucas' directorial debut and is about as minimalistic of a depiction of the future as possible, with lots of empty white and blank landscapes, with every character wearing the same plain jumpsuit and shaved haircut. Set in the far off future, humans now live a robotic lifestyle underground where their given designated tasks, take pills to suppress emotions, and can no longer have sex. Everything is done automatically and mechanically, including the production of offspring, psychological treatment and even a Mecha-Jesus to act as a confessional. People don't even have names anymore, just numbers like a bar code.

Basically, imagine "WALL-E" if we went underground instead of into outer space.

The making of "THX-1138" is the most fascinating part of the movie - George Lucas originally made this movie while he was in college but found the final product unsatisfactory. After he graduated, Lucas was taken directly under the wing of Francis Ford Coppola, the director of "The Godfather" movies and "Apocalypse Now," where Lucas would help Coppola in pretty much every aspect of filmmaking. For one of Coppola's bigger projects, Lucas basically acted as the "assistant to everything," but Coppola couldn't find the best way to pay Lucas for doing all that work. The best thing Coppola came up with was to fund Lucas' directorial debut entirely. Lucas used this as an opportunity to redo and reshoot his final college project, and this time with a nearly $800,000 budget and A-list actors like Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence.



Lucas made "THX-1138" as a direct response to the rise of consumerism, with television, newspapers, and magazines forcing products and advertisements down our throats, treating us like mindless drones that will buy anything that's put in front of us if it has enough pretty colors. The film is also a slam against then-President Richard Nixon, as the villain of the film takes direct excerpts from his speeches to propagate his evil point-of-view.

And that's about all that's interesting with "THX-1138" - Everything else is pretty standard for a dystopian science fiction film where everything from emotions to duties to society is handled by computers. Maybe it is because of the blank voids this film uses for backgrounds, or the bland designs of the characters, but because everything looks and feels the same, nothing truly stands out. This movie just feels like one giant shade of gray.

If you're curious how the creator of "Star Wars" got his start and the his first attempt at science fiction, then give "THX-1138" a shot. But if you're truly interested in watching a worthwhile dystopian science fiction, look to other more visually interesting tales in the genre and save this one for a rainy day.

Final Grade: C

Friday, December 1, 2017

Movie Review - "Carnival of Souls" (1962)



Imagine if "Night of the Living Dead" was a ghost story instead of the first true zombie film, and you would get "Carnival of Souls."

Except where "Night of the Living Dead" was an exciting piece of horror with startling effects and poignant piece on racism, "Carnival of Souls" is a meandering tease of a movie that only benefits from having odd cinematography. Combine this with the pacing of a David Lynch film and you get a movie that feels like a chore to get through.

"Carnival of Souls" is an independent horror film about a teenage girl who miraculously survives a car accident, and tries to find meaning in her life after said accident. All the while, this girl feels like she is being followed by people who are not there, including a man that no one else can see. She is mysteriously drawn to an old carnival just off the Great Salt Lake, where she continually sees pale people who won't stop dancing.



Watching "Carnival of Souls" is like seeing someone go to a paint store, tries out different samples, literally watches that paint dry, and then leaves the store without buying anything. It comes and goes, but without anything significant or important being accomplished. The characters are dull and lifeless, especially the main female lead, and I routinely found myself checking the clock. Even though this movie is less than 90 minutes, it felt like it was nearly three hours.

Don't bother with "Carnival of Souls," there isn't much to see here outside of how it influences directors like David Lynch and George A. Romero.

Final Grade: D+
 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Movie Review - "Destry Rides Again" (1939)



When I first heard that James Stewart was the lead actor in a western in the early part of his career of the 1930s, I was genuinely shocked that the wholesome every-man would play such a rough and tumble role. I was even more surprised to learn that Stewart plays a deputy sheriff who refuses to use his guns and wins the towns people over with law and order instead of barbarianism, despite everyone initially thinking he's crazy.

In other words, Jimmy Stewart is still playing the wholesome every-man in the unlawful old west. And the strange thing is that he makes it work.

"Destry Rides Again" is set in the old west town of Bottleneck, which is run by a corrupt mayor and a power couple who run the saloon that has a vice grip on the local farmers. The attractive German dance hall queen named Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich) lures in the boys, and her boyfriend Kent (Brian Donlevy) runs a rigged poker game that makes the farmers gamble away their land and property until it all belongs to Kent. The sheriff catches on to their game and gets shot in the back for his troubles. The town elects a new sheriff jokingly, the town drunk Wash Dimsdale (Charles Winninger). But much to the shock of the townsfolk (and me), Wash sets down the bottle and gives a grand speech about how he will clean up Bottleneck and make it a town worth living in.

Wash declares that he'll do it by bringing in the son of the famous gunslinger, Destry and make him his new deputy. But, as everyone quickly finds out, Destry Jr. (Jimmy Stewart) is not like his father. He's quiet, reserved and wants to solve every problem peacefully instead of with more violence. He walks around town without wearing any guns on him and tells lots of stories about people he knew and the kind of trouble they got into. But he shares a massive similarity to his father - he's damn good at his job.



The more I thought about the setup for "Destry Rides Again," the more I realize that it has a lot in common with "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" - an official is killed in an unruly region, Jimmy Stewart is praised for being the young up-and-coming and is sent in to replace the official, but his wide-eyed innocence makes everyone see him as little more than a child wearing his dad's boots. Just replace the Senate from "Mr. Smith" with the old west and you've got "Destry Rides Again." It gets even weirder when you realize both films came out the same year, and the leading female had top billing over Jimmy Stewart in each movie, mostly because Jean Arthur and Marlene Dietrich were bigger stars than Stewart at the time.

Outside of Jimmy Stewart's lovable performance as Destry Jr., I adore this movies' charm and atmosphere. It takes the time to flesh out everybody in this town while having a sense of humor about everything. From the odd yet quirky Boris Callahan (Mischa Auer) to the heart-broken and homeless Claggett family, there is no shortage of colorful characters here. Yet even this its great slapstick comedy and wordplay, the film still finds time to have impactful and emotional scenes, the best one being the aforementioned fiery speech from the new sheriff to rile up the townsfolk.

Overall, I was extremely surprised by how much fun I had with "Destry Rides Again." It is a quirky western that is loaded with outstanding performances and a great atmosphere. Jimmy Stewart is his usual lovable self that never seems to grow old or tiresome and adds a great deal of heart and strength to this movie. I think the similarities to "Mr. Smith" make this film even stronger, making this one of the most memorable westerns I've ever seen.

Final Grade: A-

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Movie Review - "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017)



If you were ask me which film(s) was my least favorite in the Marvel cinematic universe, I would be quick to point directly at the first two Thor movies. This is because both "Thor" and "Thor: The Dark World" seem at odds with the rest of the Marvel movies and don't have fun with their ridiculous scenarios. In a way, the idea that the Norse Gods are real should lead to the most creative and awe-inspiring films in the series, yet the first two are so bland and forgettable that it makes them much worse. When you focus more on Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings than the god of thunder, you know you are doing something wrong.

Luckily, every problem I had with the previous Thor movies is fixed with the latest entry, "Thor: Ragnarok," and we finally get a film that fully embraces its over-the-top ridiculous nature. This movie reduces Thor to his most basic elements and throws away all superfluous material to give us a all-out insane ride that never skips on laughs, thrills, and impressive visuals. Nearly every scene has something memorable, whether that's a new character that steals the show, the superb acting from Tom Hiddleston or Cate Blanchett, or just the great sense of humor this movie has.

This is best brainless popcorn flick of the year.



This film takes place during the events of "Captain America: Civil War," when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns home to Asgard after failing to locate any of the infinity stones, where he learns that his adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been disguising himself as their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) for a while. The two head to Earth to find Odin, who foretells of Hela's return and her intent to retake Asgard. As Odin's power diminishes, the goddess of death Hela (Cate Blanchett) emerges and effortlessly destroys Thor's hammer and casts the brothers to some trash planet while she heads to Asgard to claim the throne as the rightful heir. Now it's up to a devastated Thor, a treacherous Loki, a fallen Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and a familiar green rage monster to retake Asgard from Hela before she destroys all nine realms with her undead army.

I would like to applaud these filmmakers for so drastically altering the tone and atmosphere of the previous Thor movies to a more light-hearted and joyous tone, while still keeping the same sense of scale and grandiose. Gone are characters like Kat Dennings' Darcy and Stellan Skarsgard's Erik Selvig, as well as a film that relies too much on Thor just swinging his hammer around a lot. Instead, we get a film that is still engrained in Norse mythology but has some of the best comedic writing of the entire Marvel cinematic series. Even the previous films' over-reliance on Loki stealing every scene is toned down here while Hiddleston still turns in a great performance.



What I enjoyed the most about "Thor: Ragnarok" was its sense of humor. I sat in a fairly packed theater, and I probably laughed out loud more than everyone else combined. There are plenty of new characters that were designed specifically for laughs, especially the gladiator Korg, an alien made entirely of different types of rocks with a soft spoken British accent who always seems to be on the receiving end of bad timing. Another standout is the eccentric and kookey ruler of the planet Thor and Loki get trapped on, the Grandmaster, played by the always awkwardly hilarious Jeff Goldblum, who turns in his best performance since "Jurassic Park."

The film takes every chance it has to tell a joke or point out the ridiculous nature of its setup. Most of the jokes worked for me, though there were a few that missed their mark.

On top of that, "Thor: Ragnarok" goes all-in on the crazy and goofy to give audiences a movie that is, above all else, fun. How can anyone hate a movie where the Hulk fights a giant wolf demon on a Technicolor rainbow bridge while Led Zeppelin is playing? How can you not have fun with Thor and Doctor Strange messing with each other? This movie had me grinning the entire time and I loved every second of it.



"Thor: Ragnarok" is the best escapist film of the year, packed with impressive visuals, great performances all around, the standard great sense of humor you expect from Marvel films nowadays, and is never short on thrills and fun. It is goofy and over-the-top, but never to the point where that gets in the way. This is some of the most fun I have had with a superhero film since "Guardians of the Galaxy," and one I wouldn't mind seeing again soon.

Final Grade: A-

Monday, November 27, 2017

Number 1 - "Mothra vs. Godzilla" (1964)



I'm not afraid to admit, for all of cinemas' subtleties, advancements, and vast range of storytelling, that would go no where if audiences did not have fun with these films. Cinema is certainly an art form, but it is also a form of entertainment, like any other media or art form. If art does not give you any enjoyment, then it fails.

The reason the Godzilla series means so much to me is because I have been entertained by its many films for most of my life. Even films as low on this countdown as "Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla" still have one or two things that I enjoyed, with each entry after that getting better than the last, until we get to the most entertaining movie I've ever seen, "Mothra vs. Godzilla."

"Mothra Vs. Godzilla" taught me it was possible for a daikaiju film to have a strong narrative that was as interesting to watch as the monster scenes. That a monster movie should not be only about the monsters, but the people effected by these monsters and their attempts to combat them, or simply survive. This is not the first time the Godzilla movies did this obviously, but "Mothra vs. Godzilla" has the benefit of having impressive effects and Akira Ifukube's best score.

 



The film starts with a massive typhoon hitting Japan, destroying an industrial park. More surprising though is that a giant egg washes up on a Japanese beach, leaving everyone surprised as to where it came from. Before researchers can find out about the egg, a business man by the name of Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima) buys the egg from the local fishermen and intends to make a theme park with the egg as the center attraction.

A local reporter, Sakai (Akira Takarada) and his photographer, Yoka (Yuriko Hoshi) look into the matter and find that Kumayama is being funded by one of the richest business men in Japan, Banzo Torahata (Kenji Sahara). As the two discuss their plans, they are visited by two unexpected guests - Mothra's twin fairies, who claim that the egg belongs to Mothra and that it must be returned to them, before Mothra hatches and causes great damage across Japan.

Though this might be the least of their problems, as it seems that typhoon washed ashore something much bigger and more dangerous than Mothra.

"Mothra Vs. Godzilla" has an interesting atmosphere, unlike any other monster film out of Japan. Other than "King Kong vs. Godzilla," this was the first film Toho would make that has two monsters battling each other. Prior to this, Toho focused on solo monster endeavors, like "Rodan," "Varan" and most notably, "Godzilla" and "Mothra." As such, Toho wanted to make this match-up feel grand and epic. They do this by combining storylines and themes from both "Godzilla" and "Mothra" to create a film that balances eerie destruction with a whimsical adventure.



"Godzilla" was a morbid, unforgiving look at the lives of a frail Japan being savagely beat down by a giant monster created by atomic fire. While "Mothra" was more about the horror of man, in particular greedy businessmen. In that film, Mothra's twin fairies are kidnapped and forced into show business, with Mothra traveling across Japan to save them and destroying anything in its path. Ultimately, "Mothra" is about the pain that man inflicts upon itself, while still feeling like a light-hearted fantasy.

"Mothra vs. Godzilla" finds the perfect middle ground between these two oddly different monster movies that makes their final clash feel like more than just two titans battling it out, but also feels like a conflict of ideals.

Much like in "Mothra," this film finds a way to use the giant moth's property into a means of profit. Both Kumayama and Torohata are unwilling to give the egg back, since Mothra has no legal power. They boast about how rich they'll be when they make an entire theme park around the egg and build up the mystery of what will hatch from it. Where this film differs is that these men are more fleshed-out than the villain in "Mothra."

Kumayama saw an opportunity to make a name for himself and refuses to let it go. It seems to be less about the money for him, and more about reputation, as his projections for how much they'll make out of this are much lower than Torohata's numbers. When the fishermen complain that they haven't gotten their money for the egg and the land to build the park, Kumayama insists that he will pay them back the next day, even though there's a rumor the park will never open due to the bad press. Kumayama ends up paying the fishermen money out of his own pocket and sells all of his stock on the egg as collateral to Torohata.

I get the impression that Kumayama is a desperate man who wanted everything to be fair, only for Torohata to betray his loyalty and use him to become even more powerful. Simply because that's how business works. Kumayama is less of a villain and more of a guinea pig and shield for Torohata, even though Kumayama is still consumed by greed and ambition to see his final outcome.

With a wonderfully charming performance from Yoshifumi Tajima that adds just enough humanity to Kumayama, his character is up there with Dr. Mafune and Katsura as one of the best characters in the franchise.

"Mothra Vs. Godzilla" takes the themes of greed and capitalism of "Mothra," but gives it a more human touch by making the characters relatable and sometimes heart-breaking, like those being destroyed in "Godzilla."

The size and scope of "Godzilla" is also still in full effect, though is enhanced by having superior effects. In particular, Godzilla's opening rampage is one of the most haunting monster sequences I can think of. It starts off with Godzilla rising out of the ground, as if he were a zombie ready to feast again. There's something even more haunting about seeing Godzilla's dorsal spines slowly rise out of the Earth instead of the water that makes his entrance stand out.

Once Godzilla reaches Nagoya, we start off with seeing Godzilla's figure way off in the distance, only for the camera to get closer and closer, until Godzilla is destroying a building right in front of our faces. It's like the opening shots of Godzilla in "King Kong vs. Godzilla," where his dominating figure continues to grow.



This sequence makes full use of rear projection and super-imposing images of Godzilla over live shots of Nagoya fleeing from this monstrosity. "Godzilla" used this a few times, but here we see Godzilla tower over the massive city landscape, to the point where it looks like he is still miles away and is already bigger than most of the skyscrapers.

For this reason, and many more throughout the film, "Mothra Vs. Godzilla" has the best effects of any Toho monster film. During the 1950s and 1960s, no other film studio was doing what Toho did and was doing so well - they made creatures bigger than anything we had constructed up to that point and made them seem believable and still terrifying. We would fight it with everything we had, even though we were sure it wouldn't do anything.

The filmmakers understand the scale and power these abominations possess, and that they provide a struggle we might lose but certainly worth fighting.

This works in "Mothra vs. Godzilla" because the defense force is intelligent for once. They understand what they are fighting and know that Godzilla cannot be stopped, but can be incapacitated or moved to less populated areas. They lure Godzilla away from the most densely populated areas with fire and explosives, with the effects crew accidentally setting Godzilla's head on fire at one point (though it is shocking to see on film). Once there, the military unleashes millions of volts of electricity on Godzilla, which do down Godzilla at one point.

This is why "Mothra Vs. Godzilla" is the most entertaining movie to me. It takes my favorite movie genre of giant monsters, never skips on a chance for exciting action with impressive effects, and still plans out every scene, character, and monster fight to the last detail to give us a movie that respects its audience. It combines eye-popping visuals with a great story, something you don't see too often in the monster genre.

Of course, the crowning moments in the film are the fights between Mothra and Godzilla. Mothra, being a creature of beauty and kindness, does not fight like any other monster. She prefers to out-wit her opponents and get them in a position where they cannot hit her, using her maneuverability and wind to keep them away. Godzilla is monster of brute strength and will take a threat directly to the face if he has to. Together, these two have a cat-and-mouse style fight, where Mothra blasts Godzilla with hurricane-force winds and drags him around by his tail.

This is made more suspenseful when we're told that Mothra is dying and has little strength left, but will use the last of it to stop Godzilla.



The battle at the end of the film is equally as fun to watch. Mothra's egg finally hatches and gives birth to two Mothra larva, who immediately head for Godzilla to fight him. This turns into a battle of brains against brawn and the monster equivalent of David against Goliath. The twin Mothra's can only dodge Godzilla's atomic ray (which apparently is now strong enough to melt solid rock) and use their webbing to slow him down.

What helps sell these fights, as well as any scenes with Godzilla and Mothra, is the music. Akira Ifukube's style of music was not to accompany the scene, but enhance the atmosphere and give some moments a bigger emotional punch. This is the film where Ifukube would nail down the classic Godzilla theme, which would be used in nearly every Godzilla film from that point on. That theme carries a power that matches Godzilla's slow methodical pace, but also his immeasurable strength, like a bomb that has crashed and could go off at any moment.

Yet the quiet almost lullaby of Mothra's theme provides a nice contrast to the Godzilla theme. These pieces of music perfectly capture their respective characters, and makes their fights far more intense when their themes are also fighting for control.

"Mothra Vs. Godzilla" is a great example of every film aspect coming together to produce the most entertaining film in the Godzilla franchise. The effects have never been better, the writing is logical and relatable, the acting matches the writing perfectly, the music is larger than life and makes so many scenes better, and the monsters are still amazing to watch. This film manages to take what "Godzilla" and "Mothra" started and makes it even better, providing a film that always makes me excited when I see it.



But above all else, it captures everything I love about Godzilla perfectly. "Mothra vs. Godzilla" takes a monster of immeasurable strength and power and uses it as a way to show people's strengths and flaws. Some people like Kumayama and Torohata grow greedy and selfish in the face of these creatures, while others like Sakai and Yoka are quicker to make their fellow man better and act selflessly.

Godzilla isn't just an allegory, or destroyer, or protector, or even a monster - he's a mirror that brings out the best and the worst in people.

And with that, we've reached the end of my Godzilla-thon. All 31 films reviewed and categorized from best to worst. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing these reviews and recounting everything that I loved and hated about this series. If you're interested in any of the Godzilla films, I highly suggest you check them out, especially since the Criterion collection just bought the rights to nearly every Showa film. Plus, there are plenty more Godzilla films being made as we speak, so don't expect me to be done with the King of the Monsters for good.

 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Number 2 - "Son of Godzilla" (1967)



"Son of Godzilla" may be a lot higher on my list than most other Godzilla fans, but I feel this one has more charm and likability than any other movie in the franchise.

When I was a kid, I despised this film. I always considered the titular son of Godzilla, Minilla, as annoying, irritating, and made Godzilla look uncool. But as I've grown old, there was a child-like whimsy to Minilla that made me smile and I soon realized that he added much more to character of Godzilla than ever before.

As I grow older, the more I appreciate and love "Son of Godzilla." Which is odd, considering that it is the most light-hearted and comical Godzilla film. Then again, this does make it more endearing and relatable.

The plot revolves around a group of researchers have been running weather experiments on a island in the south pacific, while also avoiding the large mantis' running around the island. But when one of their experiments goes wrong, thanks to unnatural brain waves interfering with their equipment, unbearable heat and radiation is sent upon the island, mutating the mantis to the size of Godzilla.

These mantis', nicknamed Kamacuras, eventually track down the source of the brain waves - an egg containing a baby Godzilla. Before the mantis' can kill the baby, the adult Godzilla shows up to reluctantly raise his adopted son Minilla and raise him in the values he holds near and dear.

What I love the most about "Son Of Godzilla" is how it evolves the character Godzilla, by actually giving him a character. Before this film, Godzilla was just a monster - a living atomic bomb that could not be stopped and would fight any other monster that got in his way. But now, he has another life to worry about besides his own. And he intends to make his kid into another version of him, a cold, uncaring, unstoppable creature of destruction.



Minilla is a curious and playful child, which leads to many comedic scenes when he wants to play but Godzilla is uninterested. Some of the better scenes are just Minilla trying to have fun while Godzilla sleeps, like when he plays jump rope with his tail.

But over the course of the film, even Godzilla begins to realize that Minilla is not like him. Minilla does not want to destroy other living beings, as he seems to avoid fighting Kamacuras, and wants to make friends with the humans on the island.

Godzilla has to stop being a monster, and become a mentor. One of the better scenes in the film is when Godzilla has to teach Minilla how to properly roar and use his atomic breath. After Minilla lets out a loud shriek, rather than his usual donkey-like noises, Godzilla nods in slight approval, though still seems a bit disappointed.

My favorite touch in the film is that Minilla hides in fear when Godzilla uses his atomic breath. His eyes widen, as if he's afraid Godzilla will use it on him. Yet Minilla knows he can emit that same fire, but chooses not to. Which is probably why Godzilla threatens to get physical with Minya when his son does not want to practice anymore, giving us Minilla's comedic smoke rings and Godzilla stepping on his tail to finally get the atomic fire out of him.

The suit acting from both Godzilla and Minilla is superb here, displaying a varied range of emotions that make these scenes so enjoyable and hilarious. Instead of Godzilla's usual bestial presence, we get a more laid-back and slightly irritated Godzilla, while Minilla is as mischievous as he is adorable.

Although, if there is one complaint I have with this movie, it is the ugly Godzilla suit. The giant head and massive eye balls are really jarring, making it hard to look at after a while. But that's just a minor nitpick to an otherwise lovable movie.

One of the themes in "Son Of Godzilla" is the current generations need to protect future generations. The reason these scientists are on the island is so they can run their weather experiments, which they could use on non-fertile lands in Africa and South America in order to produce enough food to sustain the growing human population.

The same theme is used with Godzilla. He is not just one creature now, but the provider for the next generation. He has to sacrifice his own needs and desires, so that his race can survive long past himself.



The screenplay for "Son of Godzilla" is perfectly paced, with each line of dialogue carrying weight and every scene serving a purpose to the overall story. The human characters are likable yet flawed, especially the professor in charge of the mission, who is so focused on completing the experiment that he doesn't realize that this island is taking its toll on his students.

But what really made me fall in love with "Son of Godzilla" is its ending. My most memorable Godzilla films tend to have stellar endings - "Destroy All Monsters," "King Kong vs. Godzilla," "Shin Godzilla" and "Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II" save their best scenes for the ending, and "Son of Godzilla" does the same thing.

As the human characters start up their weather machine one last time, planning to use the ensuing storm to escape from the monsters, Minilla and Godzilla get in a battle with the other giant monster on the island, a giant spider named Kumonga. The fight is slower than most, but just as exciting when the spider injects his poison into Godzilla's eye. This allows Minilla to step up and finally show some courage to protect his father.



The fight gets even better when the snow storm hits the island and three continue even as the snow builds up around them. As far as I recall, this is the only fight in the series to take place in a snow storm, which adds to the visuals as the monsters start moving slower, as well as seeing the snow and ice building up on their bodies.

The two Godzilla's use their combined atomic breaths to defeat Kumonga and they share a hardy roar in victory. With the temperature dropping rapidly, it is becoming too cold for anything to survive. Godzilla has enough strength to leave the island, but Minilla is too weak, as he stumbles in the snow, reaching for Godzilla's help. While Godzilla thinks for a second about leaving Minilla there, he cannot bring himself to do that and turns around, embracing his adopted son in a tight embrace as the two are covered up in snow together, entering a long hibernation.

And so Godzilla's character development is complete. He goes from ruthless, cold and unforgiving to a creature with a purpose. This is the one Godzilla movie where it doesn't feel like Godzilla is a monster, but instead a flawed guardian trying to protect the next generation.



This is also the only scene in the series that makes me cry. Sad scenes in cinema rarely make me cry, but incredibly happy scenes where everything works out perfectly give me the biggest smile and tears of joy. The ending to "Son Of Godzilla" is one of compassion, sacrifice and pitch-perfect character development.

It is like watching a father realize how much he cares about his son. That he loves his child more than he loves himself and he would do anything to keep that bond alive. No matter what happens him, his son deserves to live his own life. This is nothing short of breath-taking and heart-warming.

The fact that any scene between two actors in rubber suits while being covered in thick snow makes me feel emotional is true test to the power of "Son Of Godzilla."

"Son Of Godzilla" is certainly the most unique and beautiful film in the Godzilla franchise. Complimented by a vibrant color scheme, great use of its island setting and a joyful score by Masaru Sato, this film is gorgeous to behold and listen to. Minilla is adorable in his child-like innocence and curiosity, and gives the film the emotional punch that it needs. The monster fight scenes are tense and interwoven into the plot without feeling forced or unnecessary. But most importantly, this film gives Godzilla a heart alongside his awe and power.

 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Number 3 - "Godzilla" (1954)



These final three films in my Godzilla-thon are, in my opinion, all perfect A+ movies. These three movies range from deep thought-provoking tales about the horrors of nuclear aggression, to an emotional and uplifting film with superb storytelling, to one of the most exciting and fun movies I've ever seen. Each of them is a masterpiece in their own way and it is almost impossible for me to pick one of them over the other.

In that case, this comes down to my choice of favorites and which film leaves a bigger impact on me. Which is why the original 1954 "Godzilla" only comes in at number three on my countdown. Make no mistake - the first Godzilla is not only the most important film in the franchise, but the most important daikaiju film ever made. It basically created an entire genre and style of filmmaking. And while that genre has been diluted and changed over the years, "Godzilla" remains just as shocking and poignant today as it was in 1954. This is the "Citizen Kane" of giant monster movies, transcending its genre to be a great movie in general.

Part of the reason "Godzilla" still holds up today is, like "Shin Godzilla," because of the focus on Japanese identity and its people. When this film came out, Japan was still healing from their defeat in World War II. The government was in shambles, major cities were still being rebuilt from the ground up, and they had a genuine fear after having two atomic bombs dropped on them. The Japanese people were broken at this time, still searching for their new identity in this world.

"Godzilla" emphasizes this by taking its monster attacking the city concept, but turns it on its head - Instead of being about the monster, it's about the city and the people being stomped and burned by the monster. Some of the most powerful moments in this movie are smaller moments that show individuals reacting to Godzilla, including shots of people looking up at Godzilla from inside their apartment complex just as the monster destroys the entire building without a second thought, or the brave firefighters attempt to put out Godzilla's radioactive flames but end up being surrounded by a sea of fire, or the survivors of Godzilla's attack watching helplessly as the monster tears apart their city, yet cheering their hearts out when fighter jets arrive to drive Godzilla away.



Even from the opening of the film, this focus on Japan's reaction to the terror is brought into the light. "Godzilla" opens with a fishing ship bursting into flames and sinking into the ocean. As soon as the Japanese officials find out about this, they send out another ship to investigate, only for that boat to be destroyed in the same way. Their headquarters are crowded with the families and loved ones of those who were on those ships, hoping, and waiting to hear news about the fate of the crewmen. When they get word there were two survivors, the room is sent into a state of panic, everyone hoping that its their loved ones that made it out alive.

Not a lot of focus is put on these grieving widows and loved ones, but it is enough to make a point that this is a tale about people coming to terms with the horror that they now face.

But the big sticking point in "Godzilla" is its focus on nuclear weapons. Not only is Godzilla awoken from his slumber by hydrogen bomb testing, but he has been transformed by the bomb, mutated to a point no creature should be able to withstand, yet he has survived. Godzilla's design screams of pain, from the many tiny bumps and wrinkles on his skin that suggests being burned and scarred by the blast, to his amalgamation of many dinosaurs, complete with creepy piercing yet unblinking white eyes.

On top of that, Godzilla is a physical manifestation of the atomic bomb. He is indestructible, cold, uncaring, and kills without prejudice or intent. Anything he touches is reduced to rubble or ash, contaminated with radiation that would kill everything else. You cannot fight it or reason with it, and all he leaves is a massive wave of destruction. You're only hope against something like this is run, but even then you probably can't run fast enough.



This makes his rampage through Tokyo one of the most chilling scenes I've ever seen, as the living atomic bomb tears through the city without remorse or feelings. Eiji Tsuburaya's special effects almost make this scene look like a documentary as Godzilla bites into the side of a tower with news reporters on it, watching them fall to their deaths while Tokyo burns. All the excitement and thrill of monster destruction is replaced with fear and sympathy in this scene, as we bare witness to a society's obliteration.

"Godzilla" sheds a different light on nuclear weapons though. It's one thing to say that all atomic weapons are bad and should be destroyed, but "Godzilla" takes it a step further with the character of Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), who has developed a weapon that is stronger than a hydrogen bomb, the Oxygen Destroyer. Serizawa uses his creation to make an interesting point - man will always try to create a more efficient killing machine at whatever cost. This led to the creation of mustard gas in the first World War, then to nuclear weapons in the second world war, and that led to Godzilla's creation. We will always look for ways to pervert science to the benefit of weaponry and killing our fellow man, which is why Serizawa is so reluctant to hand over the Oxygen Destroyer to the rest of the world.



This not only makes "Godzilla" a sympathetic portrait of Japanese society, but a poignant film about the escalation of our weaponry, always attempting to make a bigger and better bomb than before. And the point of the movie is that we're now paying for that aggression and inherent destruction with a living incarnation of those weapons destroying us.

"Godzilla" is smart, chilling, mysterious when it wants to be, and yet surprisingly uplifting. It takes the idea of a giant monster's rampage and makes it about something relevant to the rest of the world by making it about people instead of the monster. This is one of the greatest monster movies ever made, and one of the most important movies to come out of Japan. If you only ever watch one daikaiju film, make sure it is the Japanese version of "Godzilla."

 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Number 4 - "Shin Godzilla" (2016)



I'm amazed at how divided Godzilla fans are about the newest entry in the series, 2016's "Shin Godzilla." It feels like fans are cut right down the middle, with half saying dubbing it "C-SPANzilla" and saying it is a bore, while the other half is absolutely in love with this film. Count me in the "love" portion, because I adore nearly every moment of this movie for one reason or another.

To me, "Shin Godzilla" is a smart, passionate monster movie that has one of the greatest senses of national identity I've ever seen. The film blends together a political drama about the bureaucracy of the Japanese government and a terrifying monster thriller that has more than enough twists to keep the film entertaining. This movie also acts as a nostalgic trip for Godzilla fans with its sound effects and music, but never focuses so much on it that the nostalgia is overbearing or forced.

That being said, I do understand where the negative criticism for "Shin Godzilla" is coming from. Fans come to these movies for Godzilla and, like the 2014 "Godzilla," get little of the monster. On top of that, this new Godzilla is a much different take on the classic kaiju, in terms of design, effects, and abilities. I've heard some fans argue this new Godzilla is just as disrespectful as the 1998 American Godzilla's design. The nickname "C-SPANzilla," while a bit unfair is fitting in that it focuses a lot on the busy government work that comes with a giant monster attack.

All of these criticisms make sense to me and I see where fans are coming from. With that said, I respectfully disagree with them.

To fully appreciate "Shin Godzilla," I think you have to look at it from the Japanese perspective and the state of their country at the time of the film's release. The country had recently been battered by tsunamis that leveled towns and even caused a massive nuclear disaster in Fukushima, yet the government was slow to react, getting around all the red tape and legalities of the situation before anything could be done.

In Japan, there is a massive focus on national identity over personal identity. One of their common phrases is "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down" meaning that anyone who tries to stand out or be different from others will be met with resistance and hardships until they join the rest of society. This phrase would never work in America, where individuality is often celebrated and praised. But Japan is a proud country that cherishes its society, not so much its people.

The film was a massive hit in Japan, but lukewarm in the United States and I think I understand why. "Shin Godzilla" focuses on strong Japanese values, including honor, infrastructure and the nation over the people. The Japanese hold onto those values like a tight blanket, while Americans do not necessarily hold the same values as highly.

The Japanese people came out of "Shin Godzilla" loving their country and society, while Americans went in expecting a giant monster movie and got a lot of government officials unable to do anything about a monster. Without the proper context, "Shin Godzilla" will have little to no impact on you.



I've already written up a detailed review of "Shin Godzilla" from last year and my initial thoughts on the film have changed little since I first saw the movie. I've rewatched the film a few times since it came out on Blu-Ray and I'm still in love with this well-crafted monster movie. So instead of another detailed review, I'll go over the aspects of "Shin Godzilla" I loved the most.

For those unaware of the plot, it is a return to basics - Godzilla attacks Japan and the government does its best to deal with the monster.

But the first aspect I love about "Shin Godzilla" is how incompetent and unprepared the Japanese bureaucratic system is at dealing with Godzilla. Where other Godzilla movies would be quick to attack Godzilla and come up with solutions to stop him, this film is methodical, taking out all the urgency of the situation until they've fully analyzed everything to come up with the best course of action. The government is cold and sterile about this whole incident, stopping to ask scientists and marine biologists to tell them what type of creature it is, only for them to be completely pointless and waste the prime minister's time.

This is helped visually by having many members of the government played by geriatrics and old men who have grown tired and see no reason to act quickly. It gives off the impression that these are old men comfortable in the position and power they have now, and don't wish to jeopardize that by making a crucial mistake with this monster. So they play it safe and easy, not realizing that there personal interests and lack of concern is killing hundreds if not thousands of people.

Yet, at the same time, our main character Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) is a young buck compared to the men around him and isn't afraid to speak his mind on any given matter. He's the first one to suspect that this could be a giant sea creature and not a new geological event. Of course, no one believes him and writes his claims off as insane ramblings until they are told otherwise. Yaguchi always seems to be three steps ahead of every other cabinet member, as he formulates plans to bring the greatest Japanese minds and people together to handle this, while the prime minister has a dozen voices surrounding him, trying to tell him what do, including foreign pressure from America.



If it weren't for Yaguchi, the first half of the film would fall apart. Watching the Japanese government stumble over themselves while Godzilla destroys the city is fascinating while Yaguchi is doing is best to make a difference and cut through all the red tape. Without him, it would feel more like a farce as the entire cabinet and Japanese government feel pointless. Watching the competent Yaguchi struggle to get even the simplest thing done with bureaucratic democracy makes for a surprisingly entertaining political drama.

But the only reason these scenes are so captivating is because they are fighting for something bigger than themselves. If this was just any other day for the Japanese government or dealt with a minor scandal, I would be bored out of my mind. Because this is a system that cannot handle a crisis, and they have a giant monster thrust upon them, that makes their incompetence stand out even more.

This brings me to the next thing I love about this movie - Godzilla himself. I have no problem saying this particular Godzilla is my favorite incarnation of the creature since the original, because of how jarring, terrifying and different he is from another Godzilla. Directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi take a lot of liberties with changing his Godzilla, some fans would argue too many liberties, but I feel all of the changes they made were for the better.

This version of Godzilla is an ever-evolving creature that can mutant and change itself to adapt to its current environment, or even create new defenses and weapons to better suit its needs. The first form we see him in is as a giant frilled shark that just learned to use its new legs. Its gills are red and continually spout blood as it learns to adapt to air instead of water. This is a creature that looks like it is in constant pain. His giant unblinking eyeballs and almost playful smile are jarring when you first see them.

Things get even creepier when he starts evolving in the middle of the city, nearly doubling in size and learning to stand up on two feet. Given his failed attempt to stand up in his first form, part of me believes this monster is trying to imitate the humans running away from him, like he's watching us.



At the halfway point in the film, we see that Godzilla has evolved once again and is now nearly three times bigger than his last form and this is one of the most chilling monster designs I've ever seen. His flesh looks like its bubbling from the inside, glowing bright red like his skin is smoldering, his utterly tiny arms and hands are skeleton-like with little flesh on them, and his tail seems to have a mind of its own including a distorted and warped face.

But the truly frightening aspect of this version of Godzilla is his face, with his tiny eyes you can barely see as the rest of his face dwarfs his field of vision and his messed-up teeth that have no rhyme or reason to them. Anytime this version of Godzilla is on screen, I get goose bumps just from looking at this abomination of life. This is a creature that screams of pain and agony, something that shouldn't exist, like a nightmare that found its way into our world.

And yet, I still see a traditional Godzilla in this design. Every aspect of Godzilla is there, from the massive tail, to the dorsal spines, this looks like an irradiated dinosaur turned monster. While it feels different from any other Godzilla, this version is different in all the best possible ways. Any changes made to the character of Godzilla is to add to the dread and mystery of this creature, to make him even more haunting than before.

This Godzilla isn't different for the sake of being different, but to create a more effective and memorable monster.



As soon as this form of Godzilla comes into the film, the monster scenes take on a whole new life, as we get some brilliant cinematography to showcase how Godzilla is impacting Japan. From shots of Godzilla kicking up massive amounts of cargo containers and buildings to a single take that starts a fair distance away from Godzilla and continues until the camera is underneath him, there is no shortage of wonderful visuals in this movie.

But my favorite scene that emphasizes this Godzilla's terror is when the Americans send in stealth bombers to blast Godzilla and he evolves to the point to use his atomic breath. The attack comes in three stages, first spreading a flammable gas over the city, then unleashing an unholy amount of flames that brings most of Tokyo down to a blazing inferno, and finally a concentrated beam of energy that he uses to destroy the bombers and slice through most of Tokyo's skyscrapers. There's a shot that shows an outline of downtown Tokyo's landscape as Godzilla lifts his head high into the sky, and we see a purple beam of destruction extend up into the sky with no end in sight. There's just something so hauntingly beautiful about something like that.

The final shot of Godzilla's rampage is a background of nothing but massive flames, while Godzilla's bestial form looms in the foreground, staring directly into the camera as he powers down from his first beam attack.

So not only do we get some fascinating political scenes about a government that is too caught up in the legality of the moment and the red tape, but we have this juxtaposed with a eerie monster that is constantly changing causing untold amounts of chaos and destruction.

This brings us to the third act where another element I love is on display - the pride and the strength of the Japanese people. In my initial review, I mention that "Shin Godzilla" doesn't have on particular main character and instead makes the country of Japan its protagonist. We get a nationwide response to nearly everything that happens in the movie. Not just the government's reactions, but also the businesses reacting to the ensuing stock market crash and Japan losing most of its money and funds, to the ordinary citizens protesting about scientists wanting to kill Godzilla instead of studying him. One of the biggest moments of this is when news is leaked that the Americans will be dropping a thermonuclear weapon on Godzilla while he's recharging in the middle of Tokyo. We get a reaction from nearly every minor character, each of them being distraught and on the verge of tears, learning that their country is about to destroyed in the vain hope of stopping this monster.



This is something I hope I'll never have to experience - witnessing my country get ripped apart by nuclear weapons once already, only for it to happen all over again. The film takes on a much more somber and defeated tone at this point, before the remaining members of the government announce that they will not allow their country to be torn apart by nuclear weapons yet again, even if that means going against the wishes and orders of other countries.

And while the scene with Godzilla's first use of his atomic breath is a wonderfully haunting scene, my favorite moment in "Shin Godzilla" is the final battle against Godzilla, where Japan sends in everything they have to win back their nation. This scene is a little silly at times, but is unbelievably triumphant and so rewarding to witness. The Japanese people think everything out logically, using drones to drain Godzilla's energy before sending their giant skyscrapers tumbling down on him. All the while, Akira Ifukube's heart-pounding military march plays that always brings a smile to my face.

This final battle against one of the most powerful and intimidating versions of Godzilla is one of the most exhilarating scenes in the entire series and ends "Shin Godzilla" on the highest note possible.

While I understand the hate "Shin Godzilla" gets, I can't help but love this movie. It is so different from any other Godzilla film, while still keeping the core elements of Godzilla. The monster is used to say something about the world we live in and told in a way that never feels boring or repetitive, while still being a terrifying monster in its own right. Every scene with Godzilla is visually stunning and the effects are top-notch. By making Japan its main character, "Shin Godzilla" becomes one of the most unique and intriguing monster movies I have ever seen.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Number 5 - "Terror of MechaGodzilla" (1975)



And so we come to the last Showa film ever made, "Terror of MechaGodzilla." Toho had planned to make several more films in the Showa series after this one, but none of them ever got off the ground after how poorly "Terror of MechaGodzilla" did at the box office, which had the worst numbers of any Godzilla movie. Though I attribute that to the poor state of Japanese cinema at the time, a sign that audience's had grown used to seeing Godzilla on television instead of the big screen, as well as a brewing recession.

"Terror of MechaGodzilla" brings back several of Godzilla's original creators, including Ishiro Honda to direct and Akira Ifukube to compose, their first Godzilla films in over five years. Honda brings a much different take than his typically upbeat, optimistic, and whimsical atmosphere in films like "Invasion of Astro-Mosnter" or "King Kong vs. Godzilla." Instead, this film is hardened and tough, as many of its characters fight a battle they cannot hope to win.

Of course, this is a direct sequel to the first "Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla," with the main focus being that the Black Hole Aliens have returned to Earth in an attempt to conquer it again, and plan to do so by rebuilding MechaGodzilla. But this time the aliens decide to be a bit more cunning and learn from MechaGodzilla's last fight that having two monsters is better than one, as they reach out to a disavowed Japanese scientist who has discovered an ancient dinosaur in the sea that he names Titanosaurus, so that they can more easily defeat Godzilla together.

The film opens with a recap of the events from the last film, but with two minor differences. One is that, at the end of the introduction, we see the surviving pieces of MechaGodzilla fall into the ocean. The other change is the music, as Akira Ifukube does away with Masaru Sato's catchy use of drums and horns, and replaces it with a menacing almost overpowering theme for the new MechaGodzilla.



I love how the Godzilla theme is incorporated into this theme, giving Godzilla just a tiny moment to shine, but his theme feels smothered by the rest of MechaGodzilla's theme, reflecting Godzilla's up-hill battle in this movie.

The experimental submarine Akatsuki is launched in Okinawa in an attempt to salvage the remains of MechaGodzilla. But the sub quickly finds out that nothing is down there except a giant aquatic dinosaur waiting for them, which attacks and destroys the submarine but not before they get off an S.O.S. The message is picked up by the Interpol agency, finding it odd that the message is cut off after they mention a giant dinosaur, and begin an investigation. Honestly, I'm more surprised that they find this hard to believe, given all of the other insane monsters that exist in this universe. It would be weird if a giant monster wasn't responsible for the sub's destruction.

We cut to a hotel room where the main leaders of the Black Hole aliens have gathered, discussing how cold and drab humans make life here on Earth. We learn that their plan is to start by destroying Tokyo, rebuilding it in their image, and working outward from there. They discuss how lively and grandiose this new city will be, and I can't help but love these aliens for their constant need to add style and flare to everything. They don't do anything small and love having a good time while they do it, as they enjoy booze and cigars regularly.

As great as the Xillians were in "Invasion of Astro-Monsters," the Black Hole aliens are my favorite for their style alone. Plus, unlike other aliens in the franchise, they get a second chance to take over the Earth again, learning from their mistakes.

The first part of their plan is forming an alliance with the controller of that giant dinosaur in Okinawa. Its controller is the shunned Dr. Mafune (Akihiko Hirata), who has thrown out of Japanese society 15 years ago when he performed some questionable experiments after discovering Titanosaurus and thinking he could control it. He succeeded and now has near perfect control over the giant dinosaur, but has grown to hate humanity and now wants revenge.

The Black Hole aliens work out a deal with him - Let them use Titanosaurus in their attack and they promise that Dr. Mafune and his daughter Katsura (Tomoko Ai) will be treated as equals in their new world order.



After Dr. Mafune happily agrees to the aliens deal, since this would allow him to get revenge on the society that threw him out unfairly, the aliens reveal the next part of their plan - they have been rebuilding MechaGodzilla. It has taken over a year to do so, but MechaGodzilla is nearly complete and is said to be even more powerful than before, equipped with stronger weapons and a back-up system incase his head unit gets destroyed.

The Interpol agents resume their investigation and reach out to a marine biologist, Akira Ichinose (Katsuhiko Sasaki), who recognizes the cries of Titanosaurus and leads them to Dr. Mafune's last known location. They are greeted by his cold and uninterested daughter Katsura, who lies to them and says her father died years ago and that she burned his notes and research on Titanosaurus. Akira is smitten by Katsura and the two meet up again multiple times to discuss her father's work.

This leads me into the best part of "Terror of MechaGodzilla" - the characters of Dr. Mafune and Katsura. These two are some of the best characters in the Godzilla series that are built on pain and suffering and ultimately lash out for reasons even they don't quite understand. Mafune is a tortured soul, losing everything he ever had, including his wife and daughter, and now grasps at just the slightest hope to regain that. While Katsura is actually a cyborg, kept alive by the technology of the aliens, and is as cold and lifeless as MechaGodzilla. Yet she, like her father, does her best to cling to her last shreds of humanity, even having second thoughts about the destruction Titanosaurus and MechaGodzilla will cause.



These two are tragic characters, brilliantly acted by Akihiko Hirata and Tomoko Ai to make them fully developed and sympathetic. Katsura being a cyborg that is conflicted between her programming and her humanity is unique to the Godzilla series and is just as interesting to watch as any monster scenes in this film.

The final phase of the aliens preparation is to create a better controller for MechaGodzilla, something that can't be easily destroyed like the last controls. The aliens decide to be extra creepy and put MechaGodzilla's controls inside of Katsura, so now she will be controlling both monsters. Dr. Mafune starts to have second thoughts about all this when the aliens start treating his daughter like a machine instead of a person, with the controllers reaffirming that she is more wires and circuits than blood and bone now.

In a desperate act of rebellion, Dr. Mafune sends Titanosaurus to attack Japan before the aliens are ready. But due to an earlier incident with Titanosaurus, Interpol is able to learn the dinosaur's weakness to supersonic waves and they begin working on a wave oscillator.

On his own, Titanosaurus is an alright monster. He has a unique design with his orange skin, fins and strange patterns on his body. Some Godzilla fans despise his roar, but I really enjoy it. It's like a weird monster cackle that has grown on me as much as this film has. He doesn't have many special powers, just the ability to create cyclone winds with his tail. If he were the only thing Godzilla was fighting in this movie, he'd be okay at it. So it's a good thing he's not the only evil monster in this movie.

An underrated aspect I adore about "Terror of MechaGodzilla" is how it makes Godzilla's fight to stop these other monsters feel hopeless. Not only does Godzilla have to fight two monsters at the same time, but one of them is an upgraded version of a monster that already kicked his ass, and he's lost the deus-ex-machina magnet ability that won him the fight last time. On top of that, Godzilla lacks allies. Even in his last fight with MechaGodzilla he still had King Caesar to help out, but now his best ally is the defense force that's still working on their supersonic wave oscillator.

Out of all the battles Godzilla had in the Showa series, his fight against MechaGodzilla and Titanosaurus by himself is his most difficult struggle.

We get a brief fight between Godzilla and Titanosaurus at night, which leads to one of Godzilla's best introductions as he fully embraces his super-hero attitude. But ultimately, Dr. Mafune makes Titanosaurus retreat after Katsura returns injured from sabotaging the wave oscillator. The aliens fix her circuits and also perform some modifications to make her truly loyal to the aliens.

Akira continues to make the moves on Katsura, and he ends up getting captured by the aliens for his troubles as they begin to put their plan into motion. Katsura emerges ready to command both monsters to attack and destroy Tokyo, while Akira is helpless to stop his girlfriend from killing millions of people.



The scene of MechaGodzilla and Titanosaurus destroying Tokyo is striking and grim, especially when just one blast from MechaGodzilla's new finger missiles literally uproot an entire city block before reducing it to rubble. There's a shot of the two monsters walking side-by-side while getting blasted with bombs and missiles, only for both to keep marching through the city. With Ifukube's moody music playing, it really does feel like the aliens will be successful this time.

Of course, Godzilla does show up again to fight the two monsters and we get a long, brutal fight where Titanosaurus and MechaGodzilla take turns pummeling the desperate Godzilla. Just when it seems like Godzilla gets the upper hand on one of the monsters, the other joins in and blasts him to the ground. Compared to many of the other 1970s Godzilla films, where it felt like Godzilla was hardly trying or came up with new powers, Godzilla gets scrappy and feels like the underdog most of the time in "Terror of MechaGodzilla."

I guess the reason I have this movie cracking my top five Godzilla films is because of how it perfectly balances these wonderfully tragic character moments with great monster scenes as Godzilla does his best against a much stronger opponent. Both blend seamlessly to make for a truly exciting piece.

The entire time Katsura commands the two monsters, Akira does his best to try and reason with her, attempting to bring her humanity back out and prove that she isn't a puppet of the aliens. It doesn't seem to work on her, but it does show Dr. Mafune that there are still good people out in the world and that he might be on the wrong side.



Help arrives in the form of Interpol, when they finish their wave oscillator to take care of Titanosaurus and find the location of the alien's hideout. The defense forces keep Titanosaurus busy so Godzilla can focus on fighting MechaGodzilla, leading to another all-out assault from the giant robot that sets Godzilla's spines on fire this time. Scenes like these are why MechaGodzilla is my favorite Godzilla villain.

Interpol storms the alien hideout, killing many of the aliens and fatally shooting Dr. Mafune as he tried to protect his daughter. The shock of seeing blood coming out of her is enough to bring Katsura's humanity back to the forefront of her mind, as she embraces Akira and reflects on all the terrible things she did.



But at this moment, there's a massive shift in the movie, depending on which version you're watching. In the English version of "Terror of MechaGodzilla," this is the point where Katsura's control over MechaGodzilla doesn't work anymore and he just shuts off, letting Godzilla finally kill his mechanical doppelganger. So in the version I watched for years, I was under the impression that MechaGodzilla was defeated by the power of love. Cue the Huey Lewis music.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I watched the Japanese version and learned the original version to this scene is drastically different. When Katsura learns that she's responsible for the destruction Titanosaurus and MechaGodzilla caused, she is heartbroken and inconsolable. She remembers that the controls to MechaGodzilla are inside of her and she does what she thinks is best for the entire world - she shoots herself in the chest, killing her, but destroying the controls to MechaGodzilla.

My jaw literally dropped when I saw this scene the first time. I understand why the English version cut that scene altogether, but it is one of the most emotionally powerful scenes in the entire series as Katsura takes her own life. It is a fitting end to a grim and tragic story of a father and daughter shunned by society. Ever since I saw this scene the way the filmmakers originally intended it, I've been in love with "Terror of MechaGodzilla."

With MechaGodzilla defeated, the aliens attempt to flee in their saucers, but Godzilla manages to fight off Titanosaurus and blast their ships out of the sky at the same time, as we get one final badass Godzilla moment. Godzilla defeats Titanosaurus and returns to the sea, where we get one final shot of Akira holding Katsura's lifeless body in his arms.

I can see why some people wouldn't enjoy "Terror of MechaGodzilla." It is surprisingly dark, moody and grim, especially since it was directed by a man who normally makes upbeat and cheerful films. But I think, for that very same reason, this is such a worthwhile film. It pains the world of Godzilla in a way we haven't seen since the original Godzilla, where there are no happy endings and terror does lurk around ever corner.



If you ever watch "Terror of MechaGodzilla," do yourself a favor and see the Japanese version, since it paints a complete and tragic picture of Dr. Mafune and Katsura. As the final film of the Showa series, it is unfortunate that it had to end on a sad note, but it does give Godzilla one final chance to play the ultimate hero and go out on one of his highest notes. It is one of the best Showa films and one of the more underrated Godzilla movies.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Number 6 - "Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack" (2001)



With this review, we've officially moved into the final category of the Godzilla films - the "Great" ones. From this point on, every movie left in the franchise is not just a great monster movie, but a great film altogether. You do not need to know a lot about Godzilla or giant monsters to appreciate these six remaining films. With that said, let's look at the only worthwhile film in the Millennium series - "Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack."

Yeah I know, extremely long title. From this point on, I'll simply refer to the film as "GMK."

To appreciate GMK fully, here's a quick history of the film's director, Shusuke Kaneko. From a young age, he was passionate about giant monster movies and would end up leading the wave of the next great daikaiju filmmakers. Kaneko is mostly known for revitalizing the Gamera series in the 1990s with a trilogy of serious and good-looking monster films with everyone's favorite giant turtle, with each film being better than the last. This trilogy got the attention of Toho and in 2001, they asked Kaneko to be the director of the next Godzilla film, which he happily accepted.

The unfortunate backstory of GMK is that the final product is much different than Kaneko wanted it to be. In this film, Godzilla fights ancient guardian spirits of Japan, but he wanted the spirit monsters to be Baragon, Anguirus and Varan, since their earthy and more bestial designs worked better for Kaneko's vision. Toho thought the film wouldn't turn a profit if it had monsters the general didn't know, especially odd kaiju like Varan. Instead they replaced the roles of Anguirus and Varan with Mothra and King Ghidorah and removed Baragon from the title.

This has rubbed some Godzilla fans the wrong way, since this means that King Ghidorah, the monster that's always trying to destroy humanity and the planet, is now a guardian monster that fights alongside other kaiju like Mothra. I don't have that big of a problem with it since this happened due to Toho's interference and Godzilla and King Ghidorah are still natural enemies in this movie.

One final thing to understand what GMK wants to say is that it, like the first Godzilla film and "Godzilla vs. Hedorah," is a reflection of its time. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a growing consensus that Japan's youth had little to no respect for their elders, in particular those who fought in World War II. The older generation was becoming worried that the young generation would grow up to resent the sacrifices that were made to keep Japan a live and the past would be easily forgotten.

As such, a lot the dilemmas of GMK revolve around the past coming back to haunt the newest generation. Things that they believed were just "myths" or "legends" turn out to be real. In particular, this Godzilla is different from any other version of the king of monsters. Instead of a symbol of nuclear destruction, this Godzilla is a symbol of anger and resent, possessed by all the souls of those who lost their lives in WWII, and has returned to Japan now because the Japanese people have forgotten about their sacrifices.

The film is set nearly 50 years after the events of the first Godzilla film, with the world enjoying a long peace from giant monsters. But so much time has passed since Godzilla's initial attack that the younger generation thinks he's just a legend, a scary bedtime story you tell your kids. Things change though when an American nuclear submarine is attacked off the coast of Guam and we quickly giant claw marks on the sub, along with glowing blue spines nearby.

Our two main characters are a father and a daughter. The father, Taizo Tachibana (Ryudo Uzaki), is an admiral in the SDF. He lost his parents in Godzilla's first attack on Tokyo, but unlike other protagonists in the Millennium series Taizo doesn't hold a grudge against Godzilla, and instead is just devoted to his work. His daughter, Yuri (Chiharu Niiyama), is a reporter for third-rate digital group that only makes fake reports on supernatural events such as Big Foot and the Loch Ness monster...or in this case, Godzilla. The two butt heads on their vastly different ideologies, but still come across as loving each other when Yuri finds an ancient book about the Guardian Monsters.



After Yuri’s first assignment, she sees a creepy image of an old man in the woods just staring at her. Later that night, some disrespectful punks are driving their motorcycles through the Japanese countryside, terrorizing the locals and vandalizing everything they can get their hands on, including an unsuspecting statue. But while they’re going through a tunnel, it collapses in on itself, killing all of them, though a bystander does briefly see a giant red monster as the tunnel is destroyed. The bystander, in a moment of utter shock, says the monster is Godzilla.
Yuri looks into this matter a bit deeper and finds an ancient book from her closest friend and colleague. The text tells the tale of the three Guardian monsters Baragon, Mothra and Ghidorah. These are supposedly thousand year old creatures that will be awakened when the world is put in grave danger, sleeping inside of the Earth until they’re called upon. The text says that the Guardian monsters are more interested in protecting the planet, like the forests and mountains, and not necessarily humanity. And seeing how one of them was awoken due to some people’s arrogance, it is possible they see humanity as a threat.
 
This continues as the next guardian monster awakens, when another group of teens rob a gas station up in the mountains, vandalizing the area and breaking the statue sealing Mothra away. As they go out onto the lake to party, they’re thrown into the water and taken under "Jaws"-style by Mothra and killed.

At this point, Yuri becomes convinced that the guardian monsters are real. She tries to tell her father about them, but he remains skeptical, saying the true monster here might be the return of Godzilla, especially after he sees actual footage of Godzilla’s attack on the American sub. The admiral preps the defense forces for a battle against Godzilla, including sending out battleships to track down and find him.

Meanwhile, Yuri meets with the old man she saw earlier in the movie, who now only talks ominously about Godzilla’s return. He says that modern weapons will have no effect on him and that he’ll destroy all of Japan. The old man says Godzilla is filled with the souls of those who died in World War II, including both Japanese and non-Japanese souls. The foreign souls want to avenge their deaths at the hands of the Japanese, while the others wish to punish Japan for their attempts to forget about the wartime atrocities. He finishes by saying the only way Godzilla can be stopped is to awaken all of the guardian monsters.

The idea of this in a Godzilla movie is fascinating to me. Every film the franchise up to this point was typically based on science or technology to create its monsters. Even in its most ridiculous moments, with monsters like Space Godzilla, Biollante, Jet Jaguar and Megalon, you could trace all of their origins logically back to either being abominations of science or creatures older than humans. Suddenly, all of that goes out the window and we’re left with monsters steeped in mysticism and mythology. Godzilla is filled with the souls of the dead, while the guardian monsters are literal legends created to protect the planet.

This makes GMK a one-of-a-kind film because it feels more like a modern-day fantasy instead of a daikaiju film.

After some more strange incidents, including a trip to Japan's infamous "Suicide forest" where Ghidorah is buried underground, two major events occurred nearly simultaneously, as the giant red monster from the tunnel, Baragon, reveals himself to the rest of Japan, and Godzilla rises out of the ocean to terrorize the countryside.

There's something I've felt that was terrifying and off-putting about this Godzilla's design. Maybe its his bubbly spines that look like claws reaching out from hell, or it could be his stance that feels more like a return to the original Godzilla's body movements. But, who am I kidding, it's all about his eyes. Pure white, soulless eyes, as if they've been glazed over with hatred and anger, only adding to his inhuman qualities.

Godzilla is often at his most chilling when the filmmakers change up his eyes. It is true what they say about eyes being the gateway to the soul, and it is especially true with film characters. So when you give Godzilla eyes that don't have any color or pupils, or eyes that are ridiculously small compared to his body, it is just jarring enough that you feel uneasy around those kaiju.
 
 

This leads to one of the nicest looking rampages from Godzilla, as he thrashes his way through a coastal city, destroying an oil refinery with Mt. Fuji in the background and the town's people more confused than upset, since they thought Godzilla was just a legend.

One of the great things about Shusuke Kankeo's monster movies is that they take their time to slowly build up the strength and let everything sink in for a moment. There's a brief scene in this rampage of a woman watching Godzilla walk by her window, shaking with fear because she's convinced she is about to die. But Godzilla simply keeps on walking and everything looks fine, only for his tail to swing back around and destroy the hospital. Little moments like that add so much to the scope of this movie.

We also get a taste of Godzila's atomic breath in this film, which might be his most powerful beam yet. One blast of his signature weapon caused this explosion.

 

Since both Godzilla and Baragon showed up at the same time, the entirety of Japan is confused and ends up calling Baragon the "Red Godzilla."

While this does go a long way to show how out of touch this modern world is with its history of monster attacks, I can't help but feel bad for Baragon. This monster has had a long and sad history. In Japan, Baragon is one of the more popular kaiju, mostly because he looks like a cute giant red dog. But for some reason, Toho hates Baragon. In his first appearance in "Frankenstein Conquers the World," he gets his neck snapped and body thrown off a giant cliff. Then we had "Destroy All Monsters" where he was supposed to attack Paris, but they ended up using the Gorosaurus suit instead. In the first "Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla," it was supposed to be Baragon that attacked the fake Godzilla but they changed it to Anguirus at the last minute. Baragon was also supposed to be in the title of this movie, but Toho thought it was too long and so they cut him from it, making him a glorified guest star in this film.

Things get even more weird when you factor in the Gamera series, which had a kaiju named Barugon that looked a lot like Baragon. The main difference was that Barugon could shoot rainbows out of his back...yeah, I'm still confused by that. My point is that Baragon keeps getting screwed over even though there's never been any reason to screw him with.

Baragon-rant aside, we quickly learn that Godzilla and Baragon are heading towards each other. They eventually meet up near a mountain-side resort and engage in our first monster fight, which is more-so a beatdown from Godzilla. The only time Baragon gets the upper hand is when he digs around Godzilla's feet and makes him trip. Other than that, Godzilla tosses Baragon around like a rag doll, stomps him into the side of a mountain and flings him around with just his tail.

But another great thing that Kaneko does with his monster fights is incorporating the innocent bystanders and seeing this battle of goliaths from their doomed perspectives. As Godzilla arrives to the fight, he takes out half of a fairly big hill, and we watch as people try desperately to run away, but are crushed either by the massive rocks or under Godzilla's foot. There's a shot of Godzilla throwing Baragon around and we see the red monster flying towards the camera, with bystanders trying to flee but are too late to stop the beast from falling on them.
 
 

The fight ends with Godzilla blasting Baragon with his atomic breath and creating an explosion bigger than the mountain, killing the first guardian monster. But the death of one of them seems to have freed Ghidorah from his thousand-year slumber.

After that, we get some character development for Yuri, as she desperately tries to follow the monsters around to prove her worth to her father. Meanwhile, her father leads the charge against finding a way to deal with Godzilla. After watching Baragon try to stop the giant monster, he's convinced that the guardian monsters are real and that they can and should be trusted. This begins the lead-up to the final confrontation, as Mothra's cocoon appears on top of a lake, and Ghidorah has begun moving underground towards Godzilla.

One thing I've been steadily talking about in this review is the national identity of Japan throughout the film. It starts out pretty poor with the youths that were disrespectful to the locals and surrounding area, but then we get character's like Yuri and her father, hard working people who take pride in what they do. We meet a lot more people during this time, like a friendly bicycle shopkeeper who gives Yuri a bike as he's getting ready to run from Godzilla, as well as Yuri's boss who is as eccentric as he is passionate about supernatural events.

GMK paints a vast and wild picture of Japan, probably even more than "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" did, and I think the movie is better because of that. We see a country that has personality and flaws, making the entire country look like its own character.

As Godzilla makes his way to Yokohama, Yuri's father deploys every available ship, tank and soldier to fight the oncoming threat. At the same time, Mothra hatches from her cocoon in a beautiful display in the moonlight, and flies to join in the fight.

The admiral lays out his plan - The defense force recently created D-3 missiles, explosive war heads with giant drills on them. They're made to burrow into the sides of mountains and then explode, but the admiral is improvising with this. He plans to work in conjunction with the guardian monsters, waiting for them to open up a weak spot in Godzilla's defenses and then use the D-3 missiles to land a fatal blow.

Just as Godzilla arrives in Yokohama, Mothra is right behind him and the two engage in a short fight that once again highlights the slower moments, letting the audience appreciate how majestic Mothra can be sometimes. While this version of Mothra is far more insectoid than usual, it does have a certain charm to it, like I'm watching a beautiful wasp trying to fight a hopeless battle.

Things get a bit better though when Ghidorah shows up. One point worth mentioning is that this version of Ghidorah is more based off the ancient Japanese monster Orochi, an eight-headed dragon that is all powerful. It is said in the myth of the guardian monsters that Ghidorah would rest for three-thousand years to grow all eight heads, but only slept for a thousand years and only had enough time to grow three heads. Again, contributing to the mythological feel of this movie.
 
 

This leads into a great fight sequence between Godzilla and Ghidorah, as the two are relentlessly brutal to each other, with Godzilla nearly ripping off one of Ghidorah's heads. But the most brutal part is yet to come, as after Godzilla knocks both Ghidorah and Mothra away, the defense forces launch everything they have at Godzilla and ultimately accomplish nothing outside of pissing Godzilla off. All that's left for every ground troop is to be disintegrated by Godzilla's fury and rage.

Of all the scenes that involve Godzilla's atomic breath, the shots of him unloading this insanely powerful ray on a defenseless military is one of the more impactful moments, especially when you see bodies of soldiers flying in the background and their screams can be heard echoing from the city.

Godzilla's outburst leaves just one naval ship untouched. Just as he's about to blast it, Godzilla tricks everyone and destroys the weakened Mothra instead, who was trying to sneak up on Godzilla. This leads into the best scene of the movie when all of Mothra's energy transfers into Ghidorah and finally grants him wings, giving him the title of King Ghidorah. The music swells and the whole city is coated in a golden light as King Ghidorah takes to the skies to continue fight Godzilla, even sending his atomic breath back at him, creating a small wound in his shoulder that the admiral has been waiting for.

While Godzilla and King Ghidorah take their battle underwater, we get some final bits of character development between Yuri and her father, as the two talk about their dedications to their jobs and to each other. I admit that these two aren't some of my favorite characters in the Godzilla series, but they are likable and fully developed characters that have grown on me. Certainly the best written characters in the Millennium series.
 
 

From this point, the film goes with a much different ending than one would expect. Yuri and her colleague are blasted out of the bridge they were reporting from, King Ghidorah barely saves them from certain death after getting a power-up that finally grants him the signature gravity bolts, it still isn't enough and Godzilla blasts and kills King Ghidorah, but not before the combined spirits of the guardian monsters force Godzilla down into the ocean to allow the admiral to do something pretty reckless - he flies his small submarine straight into Godzilla's mouth and launches a D-3 missile from inside of Godzilla.

He successfully detonates the missile and blasts a huge hole in Godzilla's shoulder, though it doesn't kill him. As Godzilla tries to blast the helpless Yuri with his atomic breath, he learns that his beam now shoots painfully out of his shoulder wound. So, like a complete idiot, he keeps firing his beam over and over, seemingly forgetting about his wound, until he does it one too many times and blasts himself out of existence.

While Godzilla falling for the same mistake multiple times is a little annoying, I highly enjoy this ending. It is wonderful to see giant monsters and the defense forces working together to bring down an even bigger threat and this is one of the better executed ones, especially with the brave attitude of the admiral.

The film ends with Yuri's father emerging from his submarine and everyone rejoicing, knowing that Godzilla has finally been defeated. The admiral looks off into the ocean and salutes the many lives that had been lost fighting Godzilla, including the lives of the guardian monsters. The final shot pans down into the ocean to show Godzilla's still beating heart and the classic Godzilla theme music plays.

GMK is a different kind of Godzilla movie, but in the best possible way. It keeps the core elements of a daikaiju film while still developing its own identity as a fantasy movie, while painting a fascinating picture of the Japanese people, showing both the good and bad. It continues the tradition of using Godzilla as a means to showcase the problems with Japan throughout the generations, by addressing the fact that the newer generation is ashamed of the older generations sacrifices.

When it wants to be a giant monster movie though, it is stunningly beautiful, with great use of miniatures and practical effects. The film takes its time at just the right moments to showcase its scope and size, while the Godzilla suit remains one of his more terrifying designs. While it is unfortunate that Shusuke Kaneko didn't get to make the movie he wanted with Anguirus and Varan, the final product here is nothing to be ashamed of. This is a wonderful monster movie and one of the best Godzilla films since the end of the Showa series.