Movie Reviews

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.

 

 

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