In the penultimate Godzilla film in the Millennium era, we are reintroduced to Mothra, we see the proud return of Mechagodzilla, and we learn a few important lessons about monsters’ morality. #30: Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.
Much of the dialogue in Godzilla movies is devoted to lamentation. Ever since the original, there has been a note of sadness to the human characters, and there is much discussion of how terrible the destruction is. This is ironic, given that the destruction is exactly why we go to see these movies. We like Godzilla because he is fun, and he endures because he is a symbol of strength and – in a more sophisticated way – a symbol of childhood play. His political metaphors are fluid and can be applied and removed at a moment’s notice. But he is always a symbol of the glories of destruction.
In Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S., we are re-introduced to a moral monster dynamic that has been in play since the beginning. Godzilla can be good or bad, but will eventually begin working for the good of mankind, protecting humans form threats greater than himself. He is independent, but reluctantly helpful. Mechagodzilla is only as moral as the person guiding him. If he is under the control of evil aliens, he will be evil. If he is being piloted by a stalwart human pilot, he will be stalwart. Mothra, meanwhile, is always benevolent. She has no sights on destruction, and will only act out when threatened. Indeed, in the film with Battra, Mothra proved to be so pure-hearted, that she changed an evil monster into a good monster.
So, in a way, none of these monsters are wholly evil. They are only trying to overcome their differences. The only truly evil monsters in the Godzilla canon are King Ghidorah (and even he was considered a protector in GMK), and the punk rock penguin Gigan.
Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. picks up where the last film left off, with Mechagodzilla, a.k.a. Kiryu, again squaring off against the G-Man. Dr. Chujo (Hiroshi Komizui) returns from Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) to discuss how powerful Kiryu is becoming, and how much control humans really have over something that is indeed part Godzilla. His young son figures out a way to summon Mothra, and she is back in all her glory, complete with a pair of fairies who speak in unison. This will be the only film wherein the Mothra fairies aren’t played by twins or by a Japanese pop duo. The two actresses, however, were both beauty pageant winners. Who would play the Mothra twins in an American movie? Aly & AJ? Jedward?
When Godzilla attacks again, Mechagodzilla is deployed, now armed with a weapon called a HyperMaser. The fight is an ever-escalating scene of destruction, and Kiryu definitely develops his own consciousness, eventually flying his pilot (Miho Yoshioka) to safety.
Masaaki Tezuka directed this film and the last one, and they are the best in the era. They are relaying increasingly in CGI (Mothra especially is animated in long shots), but they still look hefty and fluid; only the 1998 Godzilla film had that fakey CGI sheen over it. Tezuka knows exactly how to handle a traditional monster in a modern idiom. Overall, the Millennium films are a mixed bag, but some of the spirit is alive.
Sadly, the spirit would not continue as the final film in the Millennium era, directed by someone new, would prove to be a mess of monsters, mutants, and alien kung-fu. On paper, the final film sounds fun, but in execution, it was a whimper of an ending. We’re finally down to the wire, kiddos.
Up next: Godzilla: Final Wars (2004).