Thursday, March 20, 2014

James Bond, Cornelius the Ape, and Giant Monsters: Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla.

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974) was produced as Godzilla's 20th anniversary film. It had a larger budget than Godzilla vs Megalon, and it shows. Jun Fukuda manages good action, both with the monsters and the humans. No stock footage is used. And the results are head and shoulders above the previous films.

This is the final film for scriptwriter Shin'ichi Sekizawa and director Jun Fukuda. Sekizawa had entered the Kaiju fray with his clever script for 1958's Daikaiju Baran, and wrote some of the Showa franchse's best scripts: King Kong vs Godzilla, Ghidorah the Three-Headed Moinster, and Mothra vs Godzilla. He was prolific, writing some fifty-seven screenplays in twenty-one years. Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla would be his last. Jun Fukuda was the also-ran of the Godzilla franchise, creating films that were overshadowed by most of Ishiro Honda's work. I consider his work competent, and if he didn't create some of the greatest Godzilla films, he didn't drop the ball, either.

Mr. Handsome from Godzilla 1954

It is also the last time we will see Anguirus, the first monster to fight Godzilla all the way back in Godzilla Raids Again, brought he returned as an ally in Destroy All Monsters. We will not see him again until Godzilla: Final Wars.

And a sad farewell to Anguirus

Like many of Sekizawa's scripts, this intersperses a mystical or religious element in with the science fiction. Although the (predictable) invaders are from the third planet from the black hole, the plot begins with a priestess and a prophecy. King Caesar, an kaiju-sized Okinawan shisha, a guardian spirit, will return and destroy a terrible foe. King Caesar is furred, something of an oddity among the Toho Kaiju. He's not exactly cute, but he's certainly more friendly-looking than most kaiju. The suit actor who plays him does so with an amazing speed. He is one of the swiftest kaiju erver committed to screen. Although he doesn't have an energy weapon himself, he can reflect the beams of Mechagodzilla, emphasizing his role as a guardian. Unfortunately, he cannot reflect rockets, and Mechagodzilla's metal skin make it impossible for him to damage the robot.

Who's a big, floppy-eared monster?

Sparking off the theme of doubles and mistaken identities from Godzilla vs Gigan, Mechagodzilla's first appearance is in a Godzilla suit. The main clues that Godzilla is not in fact Godzilla is the difference in his foley, Mechagodzilla has a high-pitched scream, rather than Godzilla's deeper roar. His footsteps also have a metallic sound to them. Mechagodzilla, in various incarnations, becomes Godzilla's most dangerous foe, crippling and nearly killing him in its Heisei incarnation, fighting him to a standstill in the Millennium series.

Mechagodzilla, still in hiding.

Although the humans are fooled initially, Anguirus is not. Godzilla's former ally attacks the imposter, and is completely overmatched by Mechagodzilla. Then, in one of the most brutal scenes in the franchise, Mechagodzilla breaks Anguirus's jaw.

That's just picking on Anguirus.

Of course, the original has to show up, and Godzilla's entrance in this film is unique. Mehcagodzilla is blowing up an oil refinery, and Godzilla erupts out of a large building. This is the first time since Mothra vs Godzilla that Godzilla doesn't come from the sea. The two fight. And Godzilla's atomic heat ray burns off great amounts of the Mechagodzilla's outer skin, revealing the gigantic robot for what it really is. Unlike the more natural monsters Godzilla had been fighting, like King Ghidorah or Ebirah, Mechagodzilla is full of ordinance, able to put a lot of firepower downrange. Mechagodzilla clearly wins the first fight against Godzilla.

Shiny, evil Godzilla robot!

After the inital encounter, Godzilla stands in a storm and absorbs some lightning. Apparently, this makes him stronger, or heals him. But this is an aspect we haven't seen since lightning woke him up in Jun Fukuda's Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. In this, after taking more than a dozen lightning strikes, Godzilla becomes so engorged with power his back fins spark with power.

Godzilla POWERS UP!

As becomes common in the Heisei series, there are a number of elements borrowed from popular Western movie franchises. The fights, spy work, and slow death trap all echo the popular James Bond franchise, which was going quite strong.

Bond, James Bond. Sorry. Interpol.

When injured or killed, the invading aliens reveal an ape-like true form, which feels like it was borrowed from the Planet of the Apes franchise.

Mr. Secret Agent Strangles an... ape alien?

The film spends a fair amount of time in the Gyokusendo caves on Okinawa, which were recently discovered at that point. Also, given the loving scenes given to the Coral Queen cruise ship that goes from Japan to Okinawa, I wonder if part of the film wasn't underwritten by the cruise line. Especially when a plot point has the mystical statue carried overboard by an ape alien, but it is revealed to have been a copy, the original kept in the Captain's safe, emphasizing the safety of the line.

Who's a big, floppy-eared monster?

The final fight is pretty satisfying. There's no stock footage, and no goofy drop kicks by Godzilla. Mechagodzilla has some excellent moves--shioting toe missiles at Godzilla while eye-beaming King Caesar in the opposite direction. It can create a force field that is impervious to Godzilla's heat ray and Godzilla himself. And it's got fantastic battery life, able to pour out powerful destruction uninterrupted.

Mechagodzilla pours out the destruction.

In a sign of the changing times, Godzilla bleeds gouts of blood when he's hit. In the middle fo the fight, Godzilla is a bloody mess, more like Gamera than the usual bloodless Godzilla fight.

Mechagodzilla pours out the destruction.

But Godzilla uses that extra power he got from the lightning to push the grenades out, and repower and magentize himself. His electromagnetic power is so great that even Mechagodzilla can't get away from him. This is a new power for Godzilla, and sort of like the Nuclear Pulse he will display through the Heisei series.

Godzilla begomes magnetic.

The fight ends with Godzilla twists Mechagodzilla's head off.

Shoulda put in exra servos.

After that, all there is to do is show the alien base blow up, watch Godzilla retreat into the sea, and King Caesar reburies himself in his sacred mountain.

I like Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla. Despite the imitative nature of the spy plot and the gorilla-like aliens, it's a relief after Gigan and Megalon. It breaks some new ground for Godzilla territory, introduces a new and deadly monster for Godzilla to fight, one that comes pretty close to cleanng Godzilla's clock. But it should be noted that this is the only time Mechagodzilla is an alien. Every subsequent Mechagodzilla was built by humans as a defense against Godzilla.

Next: More Mechagodzilla! And this time, he's got a friend!

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