Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

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“Kill it, KING Ghidorah!”

Godzilla’s last outing hadn’t brought in the numbers that Toho wanted, and some of the blame was laid at the feet of the new monster, Biollante.  It was something of an abstract monster, and audiences were unfamiliar with it.  So, Toho decided to dip into its impressive well of past monsters, and what better beast for Godzilla to face than his arch-enemy, King Ghidorah?  The golden dragon was re-imagined as a genetically modified animal from the future that had been mutated by a nuclear blast.  In addition, Godzilla’s origin was finally explored, and we even get a small glimpse into his psyche in a rare scene of the monster interacting directly with a human.  While the last two movies in the Heisei series had been somewhat grounded in reality (as much as a movie about giant fighting monsters can be, anyway), this movie started to veer towards the fantastic, with time travel, cyborgs, and genetically created pets from the future.  The film also exudes a bit of national pride on Japan’s part, as it had one of the best economies in the world and was starting to become a major player on the world stage.  This actually caused a few problems with localization, and this movie and the rest of the Heisei series were not released in America until several years later.

In the year 2240, a submarine searches the ocean floor and finds the body of a two headed dragon.  One of the occupants of the sub states it is King Ghidorah, and it used to have three heads before it fought Godzilla.  In 1992, a UFO is sighted over several parts of Japan.  The public interest in it is so great that the studies of author Kenichiro Terasawa have gone unnoticed.  Terasawa believes he has found the origin of Godzilla, and has been interviewing members of a Japanese garrison that claimed they were saved by a dinosaur on Lagos Island during World War 2.  Lagos Island was used as a site for hydrogen bomb tests, and one of the bombs mutated the dinosaur into Godzilla.  One of the survivors of the attack was a man named Shindo, who became a wealthy businessman.  Eventually, the UFO lands and its occupants are revealed to be time travelers from 2240.  They reveal that in the future, Japan is destroyed by Godzilla, and they have devised a plan to save the country.  A team, including Terasawa and psychic Miki Segusa, will head into the past to remove the dinosaur from Lagos Island before it can become mutated into Godzilla.  The plan is enacted, and after Miki has a small run-in with the time travelers genetically engineered pets, the Dorats, the time travelers witness the battle between Japanese and American forces, including a young Shindo and the pre-mutated Godzillasaurus.  The Godzillasaurus attacks the American forces, but is itself wounded.  Shindo and his men thank the dinosaur, but apologize for being unable to assist the creature in any way.  They leave, and the time machine transports the Godzillasaurus to an area in the Bering Sea.  The crew prepares to return to the present, but the time traveler Emmy Kano secretly releases the three Dorats into the wild on Lagos Island.

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The crew returns to the present, where they are congratulated for erasing Godzilla from history (?), however, a new problem arises.  Instead of Godzilla being mutated on Lagos Island, the three Dorats were fused into King Ghidorah, who is being controlled by the time travelers.  Emi, who is half-Japanese, betrays her time-traveling comrades and reveals that in the future, Japan became the wealthiest nation in the world and began buying up other nations.  The time travelers are from Western nations who are attempting to stop Japan’s rise to prominence.  Shindo reveals that he has a nuclear submarine that could be used to find the Godzillasaurus and mutate it into Godzilla, but as it turns out, there was a large nuclear leak in the Bering Sea that mutated the dinosaur into a larger and angrier Godzilla.  He heads to Japan and battles King Ghidorah.  Godzilla savagely destroys Ghidorah’s wings and removes its middle head, then throws the monster into the sea and destroys the time traveling UFO.  Godzilla then attacks Tokyo.  In the midst of the destruction, Shindo refuses to leave his office, preferring to die with his city.  Godzilla makes eye contact with him and the two share a moment as Godzilla remembers his time on Lagos.  He roars and destroys the building, killing Shindo in the process.  Emmy takes the small time traveling plane to the year 2204, and is revealed to be the submarine pilot from the opening.  She has Ghidorah’s body brought to the surface and turns the dragon into the cyborg Mecha-King Ghidorah.  Emmy pilots Mecha-King Ghidorah to the present and battles Godzilla.  She is able to use Mecha-King Ghidorah’s grapple claw to trap Godzilla, and the two monsters are abandoned to the bottom of the sea.

“Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” signaled Godzilla’s true return to prominence during the 1990’s.  The appearance of the familiar King Ghidorah was well received, and helped to make the movie as successful as it was.  Also welcome was the return of composer Akira Ifukube, who brought back a reworked version of Ghidorah’s theme, and added his trademark minimalist themes to the score to provide an ominous atmosphere to the action on screen.  The time travel element in this film is, quite simply, a mess.  The movie establishes time travel rules, stating that two people cannot exist in the same time or one will disappear, and then breaks them later when two Ghidorah’s are present in 1992.  It also messes with the continuity of the Heisei series a bit, as the movie implies that the original “Godzilla”, “Godzilla 1985”, and “Godzilla vs. Biollante” are erased from history, yet parts of those films are important in later installments.  It is really best to ignore the rules of time travel to enjoy the plot.  This movie was not afraid to take a few risks with the classic Toho monsters, as Ghidorah receives an updated origin, and even plays the part of hero late in the movie.  Godzilla has an interesting scene in which he makes eye contact with Shindo and tilts his head a bit before destroying the building Shindo was in.  The interpretation of this scene differs from fan to fan, with some people believing Godzilla is showing remorse about what he is about to do to Shindo, while others think it shows that Godzilla is no longer friendly and will even turn on someone he once protected, making him the true villain of the movie.  There was some controversy around the concept of evil Westerners trying to eliminate Japan, and the scenes of the Godzillasaurus attacking American military led some to label the film as anti-American.  The film does contain a strong sense of Japanese nationalism, although some of the discussion of how wealthy the country would become can be a little uncomfortable considering the state of the Japanese economy at the end of the 90’s.  “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” proved that the viewing public would watch the re-imagining of classic monsters, and so the next movie would feature another classic monster brought back to the screen…

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This movie won the Japanese Academy Award for special effects.

The perceived anti-American slant of the film led to it and the rest of the Heisei series to not be released until Tristar bought the rights to help advertise the 1998 “Godzilla” movie.

The original concept was to have Godzilla battle King Kong, but Toho was unable to secure the rights.  They then tried to have Godzilla battle Mechani-Kong from “King Kong Escapes”, but this was deemed to be essentially be Kong, and thus Toho was unable to use it.  Toho then decided to bring back King Ghidorah.

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~ by Chris on May 6, 2014.

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