Movie Reviews

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.

 

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