Godzilla vs. Destroyer/Godzilla vs. Destoroyah/Gojira tai Desutoroiya (1995/1999) **
When it was first released in Japan, Godzilla vs. Destroyer/Gojira tai Desutoroiya was billed as the final Godzilla movie. The tag line from the movie posters said it all: “Gojira Shizu!”-- “Godzilla dies!” After the light-hearted (okay, fine-- goofy and stupid) Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla/Gojira tai Supeisugojira, this is about the last thing in the world anyone would have expected, a follow-up that would not merely be serious, but indeed outright grim. But that’s exactly what Toho set out to make. Writer Kazuki Omori and director Takao Okawara went back to the source-- the original Godzilla: King of the Monsters/Gojira-- for inspiration, and what they came up with ought to have been the best Godzilla movie since at least the mid-1960’s. Unfortunately, every single frame of Godzilla vs. Destroyer feels permeated with boredom and lack of interest on the part of its creators.
The action begins with the inescapable Miki Saegusa (still played by Megumi Odaka, who’s looking strangely haggard this time around) taking a helicopter ride out to Bass Island to check up on Godzilla and his “adopted” offspring. (You may recall that this place was called Birth Island in Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla. I think we’re seeing an effect of the fiendish difficulty involved in transliterating from katakana to the Latin alphabet, especially where loan-words from foreign languages are concerned; the name in the original script probably reads “baasu”, which could be interpreted as any number of English words-- birth, bass, bath, boss, Barth, etc.) As we shall see over the next two hours or thereabouts, Miki has become absolutely obsessed with the Godzilla hatchling over the interval between this movie and the last one. So she’s about as unhappy as she could possibly be when she sees that not just the two monsters, but the whole fucking island has vanished, the only trace of its existence a vast plume of black smoke billowing up from the ocean.
Miki needn’t worry about Godzilla though-- at least not as much as she is, anyway. The big lizard is alive, and if not exactly well, he’s at least in good enough shape to knock down most of Hong Kong. There’s clearly something wrong with him, though. To begin with, his eyes and dorsal plates are glowing, and more importantly, his entire body is giving off smoke and seems to be lit from within by some hellish energy. Whatever ails him has also had the side effect of drastically increasing the firepower of his atomic breath and turning its color from blue to red. (I won’t tell the filmmakers that blue signifies more energy than red if you won’t...) The usual bunch of concerned desk-jockeys at Counter-G headquarters have never seen the like of it, and have no idea what could be going on. They’re all smart enough to guess that it can’t be good, though.
So Counter-G does what any government security agency would do in its position, and calls in the assistance of a civilian boy genius. The kid’s name is Kenichi Yamane (Yasufumi Hayashi), and he is brought to Counter-G’s attention by his older sister, TV news reporter Yukari Yamane (Yoko Ishino). Godzilla has long been a hobby of Kenichi’s, and his master’s thesis in grad school (as a result of which he flunked out) was a highly speculative paper on the details of the monster’s physiology. Kenichi thinks Godzilla’s heart, in addition to performing the usual circulatory functions, acts like a powerful nuclear reactor, and that its need for fissionable material is the reason why Godzilla does things like attack nuclear power plants. (See Godzilla 1985 for an example of this behavior.) When Counter-G’s scientists ask Kenichi what he thinks is wrong with Godzilla, the boy tells them that it is his opinion that Godzilla’s metabolism has somehow been sped up beyond its ability to regulate itself, and that his heart is in the process of melting down. The good news is that this will surely kill Godzilla sooner or later. The bad news is that Godzilla’s heart is so powerful a reactor that its destruction will set off exactly the kind of reaction predicted by the most alarming calculations from the early days of the Manhattan Project-- the resulting explosion will set Earth’s atmosphere on fire, destroying absolutely everything on the planet’s surface.
Meanwhile, a scientist named Kensako Ijuin (Tatsumi Takuro) has made a discovery whose implications are only slightly cheerier. His lab has developed something very similar to the Oxygen Destroyer, the device that killed the first Godzilla back in 1954. The device, I might add, whose original inventor was so horrified by its potential for harm that he killed himself and burned all his notes in order to prevent anyone from ever duplicating his work. Ijuin’s “micro-oxygen” isn’t quite the same thing, but it apparently works on the same principle (what that is, I have no idea), and could easily be used as the first step in re-creating the late Dr. Serizawa’s super-weapon. Ijuin’s work brings him into contact with the Yamane siblings because their aunt is Emiko Yamane, who had been engaged to Serizawa 45 years ago. Needless to say, she and her whole family take a very dim view of Ijuin’s research.
But not so dim a view as to prevent Kenichi from seeing the opportunity it presents to save the world from Godzilla’s meltdown. His aunt and sister may not like the idea-- hell, he may not like the idea!-- but with the whole damn world at stake, this is no time to stand on principle. So at Kenichi’s prodding, Ijuin sets about taking his work to its logical conclusion. One of the things he does while he’s at it is to collect and test some soil samples from the part of Tokyo bay where the Oxygen Destroyer was set off back in ‘54. What his tests tell him is almost as bad as the news of Godzilla’s health, though it isn’t immediately clear that this is so. It seems something is alive in one of his test tubes of dirt. That something turns out to be an anaerobic microorganism from the Precambrian age, which was so happy with the changes the Oxygen Destroyer wrought on its environment that it mutated into something that resembles a microscopic horseshoe crab. The tiny creature chews its way out of the test tube, sets up shop in an aquarium not far from Ijuin’s lab, and then inexplicably begins mutating again. The result is a horde of man-sized kaiju that rather suggest what might have happened had Aliens been made in Japan in 1966, rather than in America in 1986.
Somehow, I don’t think the resemblance is accidental. No, considering how the next scene has a heavily-armed special forces unit descend on the aquarium, packing assault rifles, flamethrowers, and motion trackers exactly like those used by the latter movie’s space marines, I’d say it was all planned very carefully. Factor in the earlier Heisei films’ marked predilection for ripping off American blockbusters of the 1980’s, and the case looks pretty close to air-tight. Godzilla vs. Destroyer does Aliens for about the next fifteen minutes, and then gets back to business when the monsters decide that the best way to handle the JSDF is to band together and form one really huge monster.
This gives Kenichi Yamane an idea. He thinks the new monster, which Counter-G has dubbed Destroyer, might be able to kill Godzilla before he melts down, if only the two monsters could somehow be induced to fight. Re-enter Miki Saegusa. She’s been very busy, hunting all over Hell’s half-acre for any sign that her beloved baby Godzilla is still alive. The search finally paid off when she and her co-pilot, another member of Counter-G’s ESP corps by the name of Meru Ozawa (Sayaka Osawa, whom the observant viewer will recognize as one of the Cosmos from Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth), spotted the young monster wading ashore to ruin a bunch of Japanese vacationers’ day at the beach. Some baby-- the thing’s almost as big as the original Godzilla now! Miki’s discovery is important, not merely because it means that Japan now has three monsters to reckon with instead of just two, but because it appears that Godzilla is following “Godzilla Jr.” wherever it is that he’s going. Kenichi has the brilliant idea that, if Miki and Meru can psychically strong-arm Godzilla Jr. into heading for Tokyo, Godzilla Sr. might be induced to follow him straight into the waiting arms (or whatever those appendages are) of Destroyer. Miki, liberal Godzilla-hugger that she is, hates the idea, but even she is not such a fucking doofus that she won’t bite the bullet and cooperate when the survival of all life on Earth hangs in the balance.
And now it’s time for the main event. Godzilla Jr. ends up fighting Destroyer first, and after a few minutes’ closely-contested struggle, beats it rather decisively. Destroyer’s answer to that is to grow even bigger! Bigger, as in about 120 meters tall, and about two and a half times the bulk of the adult Godzilla. The new super-Destroyer makes short work of Godzilla Jr., and then turns its attention to Dad, resulting in a fight scene whose epic length dwarfs even that of the climactic battle in Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla.
A close look at that fight scene reveals a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with Godzilla vs. Destroyer. Not only is it much longer than necessary, it frequently stops in its tracks to allow time for Godzilla to wander aimlessly around Tokyo looking menacing, but doing little else. The climax is further padded out with pointless shots of Miki Saegusa weeping over (okay, in the shadow of) Godzilla Jr.’s carcass. Given that the entire Earth is going to be destroyed if Godzilla wins this fight, you might think the scene would be directed in such a way as to convey a sense of urgency. That it isn’t is probably the worst failure of Okawara’s systematically failed direction in this movie, but screenwriter Omori’s script makes an invaluable contribution to failure, too. Given, once again lest you forget, that the entire Earth is going to be destroyed if Godzilla wins this fight, you might think Godzilla’s cheering section among the movie’s characters would be slightly smaller! Sure, it’s hard to root for something that looks like what would have happened had medieval theologians latched onto crustaceans rather than goats and reptiles as the principal source of Satanic anatomy, and sure, the audience is bound to have a considerably larger emotional investment in Godzilla than in his foe, but the way this script assigns the loyalties of its characters is illogical even by kaiju eiga standards. And of course, it goes without saying that the human cast is there only to set up the rationale behind the monster fights. The lack of concern displayed by Okawara and Omori even infects the special effects, which, though better than the space battle in Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla, are almost as tacky as they were back in the dark days of the 70’s!
I really wanted to like Godzilla vs. Destroyer. The allusiveness of the story, the tie-ins with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the return of Momoko Kochi as Emiko Yamane, the nifty detour through Aliens territory, and the incredibly cool monster suit representing the final incarnation of Destroyer all piqued my interest and gave me high hopes. I give the movie credit for instilling those hopes in the first place, especially in light of the bleak prospects for a cutesy future hinted at by the conclusion of the last movie, but the truth of the matter is that not a single one of them was anything like fulfilled by the time the closing credits rolled. Still, Godzilla vs. Destroyer is better than the Tri-Star interpretation of the Godzilla story that would follow three years later...