Sarah visits the King of the Monsters for one helluva bust-up.
Who made it?: Masaaki Tezuka (Director), Wataru Mimura (Writer), Shogo Tomiyama (Producer), Toho Studios.
Who’s in it?: Yumiko Shaku, Shin Takuma, Kana Onodera, Kô Takasugi, Yûsuke Tomoi.
Tagline: “Fight till it’s smashed up!”
IMDb rating: 6.8/10.
Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (or, to give its original title, Gojira X Mekagojira) serves as a contrast to 1954’s Gojira by portraying humanity’s ingenuity in a completely separate light. Godzilla was created in response to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an act which created a monster just as angry and just as ignorant as to who its true enemies were. However, in Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla, the Japanese create their own mechanical version of the King of Monsters in order to defend themselves from danger, thus showing that, while humanity creates its own nightmares, we are just as capable of creating our saviours as well. We are simply too determined not to.
This theme of determination can also be found in the journey of the movie’s protagonist, Akane Yashiro (Yumiko Shaku), a disgraced lieutenant who had fought a new member of Godzilla’s race in 1999, but who ultimately failed to stop it. Made into a scapegoat by the military and demoted to a desk job, Akane is offered a second chance by becoming the main pilot of MechaGodzilla, a robot constructed using the original Godzilla’s skeleton and DNA. Her fellow pilot, Susumu Hayama, is none too pleased however, as he questions her ability to lead the team. He holds her responsible for the death of his brother, who operated the Maser Cannon alongside Akane in the original battle in 1999. Not only must Akane prove her worth to both him and the others who criticise her competency, but she must also shoulder the weight of her guilt. Terrible memories lie inside her cold exterior.
If you’re confused as to why the original Godzilla is dead in this movie, its because Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla ignores all previous titles in the franchise, save for the original 1954 Gojira, plus Mothra and the War of the Gargantuas. Godzilla was destroyed at the end of the original movie, and footage is used from the latter two to showcase the impact they had on Japan in the years following the King’s demise.
The Godzilla franchise has always been visually captivating, even going so far as to (inadvertently) create its own unique Japanese genre known to loyal geeks as Tokusatsu, which translates to “Special Effects” or “Special Style of Filming.” Its more of a term rather than a genre title, but it has evolved into what it is today. Tokusatsu is known for its use of miniatures, scale models, matte paintings, and rubber monster suits, hence the name. These are used to make the Godzilla movies look so interesting, and what allows them to stand out in a crowd. They’ve gone on to be used in such Japanese shows as Kamen Rider, Ultraman, and Super Sentai, which was adapted for U.S. audiences as the Power Rangers.
Yet the most visually stunning aspect of Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla is not so special or unique. It’s a freeze-frame. The movie ends with the new Godzilla being defeated by MechaGodzilla, piloted by Akane, in what can only be described as a truly harrowing and heart-stopping final battle. Its a fight that we care about as more than just popcorn entertainment due to the movie’s investment in the characters. It certainly pays off. Godzilla retreats into the ocean while a battered and bruised Akane steps out onto the shoulder of MechaGodzilla, watching as the new King of Monsters journeys into the rising sun. The movie freezes at the end of this brilliant scene, and the mid-credits appear over it, allowing us a chance at contemplation rather than rudely fading us into black and ending with the traditional white font-on-black style. This allows us to stay in the moment; to drink it in and to process it. This is one hell of a movie.
I compare Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla’s freeze-frame to the one found at the end of François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. I studied this French New Wave classic in my college film class, and I vividly remember my professor’s lecture on its poignancy and symbolism. It’s something that’s stuck with me to this day. Perhaps that’s why I find myself irresistibly drawn to the one used here. The music fades away and all is silent. This silence speaks volumes. We look at Akane from behind, and we can only guess at what she’s thinking, but our minds are at least clear to do so. And the symbolism of Godzilla walking into the horizon is like a representation of our obstacles in life. Each day we wake to face a new one, then the day ends and it is replaced by both a new day and a new obstacle. Godzilla leaves just as the new day arrives, and this profound imagery latches onto our brains and refuses to let go. A properly executed freeze-frame is something you never truly forget. It sears itself into your memory. I’m glad this one did.
Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla is a tale of humanity’s determination set on two different fronts. On one hand, it tackles the pessimistic theme of its predecessor and offers an optimistic response. On the other, it deals with the simple but timeless tale of a person who fell from grace and has to pick themselves up again. But it’s all a very human thing. We are just too stubborn to give up.
Though it may seem sacrilegious to compare a Godzilla movie to The 400 Blows, I feel as though the movie never intended to deal with such heavy themes in the first place. It certainly feels more like a case of needing to recycle an old monster, as all the new ones had already been used, rather than wanting to provide a contrast to the original Gojira. But I would argue, whether intentional or not, that cinema is art, and art deserves a closer look. And yes, I think the comparison is well-deserved. If you’re interested in a more human story set against the backdrop of giant monster battles, then I definitely recommend Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla. If you’re wanting to get into the series to understand what all the fuss is about, then I would say this isn’t a bad place to start.
Finally, be sure to stick around for the post-credits scene, which acts as a heartwarming second ending for the movie. It isn’t played for MEME-creation, it is purely resolution in the wake of Godzilla’s defeat, and touches on one of the most compelling relationships in the entire movie in the best way possible.
- Like the other films in Toho’s Millennium Series, this was intended to be a standalone film. After production had completed, director Masaaki Tezuka approached producer Shogo Tomiyama with the idea for a sequel. It was filmed the next year as Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003). Contrary to popular belief, a second sequel was never intended.
- Famed Japanese baseball player Hideki Matsui, a member of the New York Yankees from 2003 to 2010 and a member of the Los Angeles Angels since 2010, appears as himself. He hits a massive home run as Kiryu is flown toward Godzilla for the first time and helps a group of children get to a safe place during the sequence when Shinagawa’s population is evacuated to make room for the fighting monsters. Matsui’s nickname in Japan is Gojira (Godzilla).
- Mechagodzilla’s nickname is Kiryu, which means machine dragon or mechanised dragon.