In the 17th installment of Godzilla Goodness, Witney looks at the first film in the second era of Godzilla’s career. #17: The Return of Godzilla.
Although it seems almost common these days to reboot and remake movies (indeed, what was the last film you saw that wasn’t an adaptation of some kind?) it was something of a rarity in 1984. Sure, we had some; The Thing springs to mind, and the James Bond canon had used three actors by this point. But for the most part, it was rare to outright restart a series. Since the 1980s were the age of ascending commercialism, though, restarting, rebooting, and repackaging were just starting to become de rigueur. As such, when the 30th anniversary of the original Gojira rolled around, Toho decided to restart their famed series which had been lying dormant for almost a decade.
Released in Japan in 1984, The Return of Godzilla was the first film in what is now called the Heisei era. There were to be eight films in this era (if you count the American re-cut of The Return of Godzilla to be a separate film, which I do), lasting until 1995. Strangely, of all the Godzilla films, The Return of Godzilla is the only one that has never been distributed in America in its original form. Well, some of the more obscure Godzilla movies are only available in dubbed versions in the U.S., but The Return of Godzilla is a drastically different cut than its American counterpart. I have been able to see it, but the DVD I tracked down (and I required friends’ help) was an import from Japan. Perhaps this year, on Godzilla’s 60th anniversary, we’ll see a proper release. I wait.
The Return of Godzilla is a sequel to Gojira, ignoring all the previous sequels that came hence. The entire Toho monster canon has been erased, and Godzilla himself is now the only monster the world has ever encountered. This will quickly change, but for now, we’re sticking with the story and the tone of the original. The original Godzilla has somehow managed to regenerate from a skeleton, and is rampaging beneath the ocean again. The appearance and declaration of Godzilla is once again slowly meted out, and glimpses of the monster are rare.
Once we see him again, Godzilla looks pretty much the same, but now has eyelids and articulated lips. It’s a better looking suit. The Heisei Godzilla also seems to be much bigger, and I think might be the biggest version of Godzilla we’ve seen yet. This Godzilla feeds off of nuclear energy, and his existence sparks the attentions of Russian army commanders who are itching to use their own nuclear bombs. This movie is clearly a comment on the Cold War and the nuclear terror of the 1980s.
And while the tone is back to being a bit somber and serious (when compared to the glorious cartoony weirdness of the 1970s), there are still a few hints at fun. For one, Godzilla is fought off by a piloted floating airship called the Super X, which fires cadmium shells into his mouth. The very phrase “Super X” implies that we’re not going full-tilt tragedy with this era.
A note: Godzilla has previously been seen stomping on small buildings, often towering over the structures around him. In this film, we see him for the first time standing next to skyscrapers much taller than he. A building falls on him, he leans against a wall, and the sense of scale is back.
The Return of Godzilla is a pretty good film, and I certainly recommend this one over its American version which was released stateside the following year. But you will have to get used to an entirely new tone. 1980s cheese is a decidedly different flavor than 1970s cheese. And, trust me, we’ll get plenty cheesy in the Heisei era, and we’ll get some of our favorite monsters back. Indeed, Mechagodzilla will eventually return in this universe, so we just have to sit tight.
Up Next: Godzilla 1985 (1985).