50 Years of Godzilla Part 2: The Heisei Heritage – By Jordan Garren

GODZILLA (1984-1989)

Height: 80 Meters (262 feet)

Mass: 50,000 Metric Tons (55,000 tons)

Weapons/Ablilities: Atomic Ray from mouth, nuclear shockwave, and super regenerative power.

First Appearance: “The Return of Godzilla” (a.k.a. “Godzilla 1985) (Heisei 1)

Godzilla’s Complete Filmography: “Godzilla 1985” and “Godzilla vs. Biollante.”

Origin: Thirty years after his first rampage, Godzilla returned to Japan. According to Dr. Hayashida from “Godzilla 1985,” Godzilla is nothing more than a mutation created from intense radiation rather than a giant species of dinosaur. What a total buzzkill!

When we last left Godzilla, he was wading across the ocean towards the sunset in 1974, signaling the end of the longest running era in the Godzilla series. It wasn’t until the 1980’s near the tail-end of the Cold War, that Godzilla would rear his head again. After Toho re-released several of their classic kaiju films, including the original 1954 Gojira (a.k.a. Godzilla: King of the Monsters), Mosura (a.k.a. Mothra), and Radon (a.k.a. Rodan), they thought that it’d be a great idea to do an all knew big-budget Godzilla film. After several false starts, Tomoyuki Tanaka (the godfather of Godzilla) pushed a new film into production. However, since a decade had passed since “Terror of Mechagodzilla,” Toho’s creative staff had to learn how to make kaiju films all over again. But as we know now, they succeeded and on December 15th of 1984, Gojira (a.k.a. The Return of Godzilla) premiered with much fanfare in Japanese theaters.

The film opens on a vessel at sea during a powerful storm. As the ship is tossed about the ocean waves, the crew begins to panic because they’re nearing the rocky shore of an island. Suddenly the island begins to move before the eyes of the terrified sailors. The ship is found the following day by reporter named Goro who boards the seemingly abandoned vessel. Once inside he soon finds that the crew has been killed and drained dry by a giant sea louse! After killing the creature Goro discovers a survivor and they soon spread word of Godzilla’s return once they are rescued. At first the Japanese government keeps things quiet and no information about Godzilla is mentioned publicly, but once the Big-G takes out a nuclear facility and soaks up some radiation, all bets are off. The Japanese government soon begins taking defensive measures using the usual weaponry plus a new addition to the military’s arsenal: The Super-X! This highly advanced mecha is an aerial assault vehicle armed with a variety of lasers and rockets, and also boasts a heat-resistant casing that can offer protection from Godzilla’s radioactive breath.

Godzilla eventually enters Tokyo and wreaks death and destruction on the Japanese military. (Side Note: This is one of the few times in the Godzilla series in which we actually see people killed during a kaiju attack. The Japanese military set up a defensive line across a bridge in once scene. After accepting a volley of missiles, tank shells, and gunfire, Godzilla answers with a powerful blast of blue flame from his mouth, incinerating every human being and vehicle on the bridge. During this sequence, there are a few shots of flaming soldiers running around and also a few scenes of soldiers cringing as they are engulfed by the blue fire.) Things look bleak until the Japanese unleash the Super-X which proves to be more than a match for Godzilla, and seemingly defeats the King of the Monsters temporarily by firing Cadmium Missiles into it’s mouth. Unfortunately for the crew of the Super-X, their victory is very short-lived. Regardless of the version of the film you watch, a Russian nuclear missile is fired toward Japan. In the uncut version of the film, the missile launch is accidental and a Soviet captain tries to stop it. In the Americanized version, the scene was re-edited in order to make it appear that the Soviets purposely fired the missile.

In any case, the missile is destroyed in the Earth’s atmosphere and the resulting electromagnetic pulse temporarily knocks the Super-X out of commission and revives Godzilla. Soon, the giant monster turns the tables on the crippled mecha and eventually destroys it. Things look bleak until a scientist named Dr. Yoshida discovers that Godzilla responds to certain ahm… bird calls. Using the signal from said bird calls, Yoshida and the routed Japanese military lure Godzilla into the crater of an active volcano and many tearful glances are exchanged. Godzilla, ye shall surely be missed! Though the film was made before Emperor Heisei’s reign began, Gojira ’84 is regarded as the first in the Heisei series of films and featured an all new design in the Godzilla suit. The film maker’s created a bulky 250 pound suit with an electronically controlled mouth and eyes and also had a twenty-foot robotic Godzilla built for closeups. Suitmation actor Kenpachiro Satsuma portrayed Godzilla and reportedly was terrified of drowning during water scenes; if he ever fell over, he would not have been able to get back up with the costume on!

Now, over the years I’ve heard many gripes with this first film. Many fans complain that Godzilla just wasn’t big enough in this movie. First off, Godzilla’s size was in fact increased in order to not be completely dwarfed by the modern Tokyo skyscrapers and buildings. Secondly, the film takes place thirty years after Godzilla’s first appearance (ignoring every other movie in between) and in those thirty years, buildings have become bigger, stronger, and better! I’ve also heard complaints about the film’s musical score and I have to totally disagree with those that dislike it. The film’s score was composed by Reijiro Koruko since Akira Ifukube was unavailable, and I think he did a fine job. The music from the main titles has an ominous tone and totally sets the mood during certain scenes in the film; usually when Godzilla is angered or is about to send some poor soul into the afterlife. The Japanese Military March and the Super-X theme in the film are both exuberant and uplifting and mingle well with the more somber tones of the film’s main theme. Finally there’s the emotionally stirring music that plays during the final moments of the film as Godzilla tumbles into the mouth of Mount Mihara. It almost adds a sense of regret to the proceedings, especially if you’re a Godzilla fan. We all know that he’s a hazard, but we just don’t want to see him take a dive into an active volcano! It’s just too painful to think about I tell you!

After the film’s success in Japan, it was only natural that it would be shipped overseas to America. Roger Corman’s New World Pictures purchased the rights to the film and it was decided that it should be re-edited with some new scenes added in with a now very old Perry Mason…. err… Raymond Burr to take up his role as Steve Martin once again. Unfortunately for Mr. Burr, a certain popular actor and comedian named Steve Martin was well known at this time, so to avoid any name confusion, Raymond’s character was only referred to as Mr. Martin or just Steven. Other changes to the film include the aforementioned launching of the Russian missile, added footage of “Mr. Martin” speaking with United States military commanders (usually near a blatantly placed Dr. Pepper vending machine), a new title (Godzilla 1985) and a shorter running time (after all the changes were made, the film was nearly twelve minutes shorter than it’s original version!). Despite the commercial success of Godzilla 1985 in American and other foreign countries, it’s sequel, Godzilla vs. Biollante wouldn’t come about for another five years!

Of all the Heisei films, I’d say that Godzilla vs. Biollante is by far my most favorite and it truly has a unique history. The storyline for the film was the result of an open story contest that was sponsored by Tomoyuki Tanaka and Toho executives. The winning entry for this contest came from a dentist (and part-time screenwriter) named Shinchiro Kobayashi! Three years after his story was picked, director Kazuki Omori wrote the screenplay and filmed the movie in 1989. This film is very different from most other Godzilla films and includes industrial espionage between competing genetics companies, a girl with psychic powers, and an all new foe for Godzilla to battle: Biollante. This new kaiju creation is made up of a genetic cross between a rose, Godzilla himself, and the DNA of a lonely scientist’s deceased daughter. The movie also boasts a fantastic musical score that was composed by Kohichi Sugiyama and is made up of several rousing themes and marches. The special effects and miniatures for the film are fantastic and the Godzilla suit used for the film is probably my favorite out of the entire Heisei series. Some of the film’s main highlights include a huge naval attack on Godzilla, tank battles during a heavy rainstorm, the all new Super-X2, and of course Biollante’s transformation.

When Godzilla first encounters his all new nemesis midway into the film, Biollante resembles a giant plant with several blossoming heads and toothed vines. Godzilla seemingly destroys Biollante with several blasts of his radioactive breath, but Biollante returns at the film’s finale as a menacing and humongous plant monster that has some very reptilian characteristics! This kaiju must be seen to be believed! At the end of the film, the combined might of the Japanese military, Biollante, and a dose of anti-nuclear bacteria lead to Godzilla’s eventual defeat, However, the King of the Monsters manages to make it back to the safety of the sea before any true harm can come from the bacteria. Godzilla vs. Biollante was the first and last direct sequel to be found in the Heisei series and eventually came to America in 1992 on television and video courtesy of HBO/Miramax Pictures! Yes folks, with the exception of Godzilla 2000, the last Godzilla film to hit American theaters was Godzilla 1985! But I’m jumping way too ahead of myself here! Before I even make further mention of the “Millennium Series,” let’s finish off the Heisei series first!

GODZILLA (1991-1995)

Height: 100 Meters (328 feet)

Mass: 60,000 Metric Tons (66,000 tons)

Weapons/Ablilities: Atomic Ray from mouth, nuclear shockwave, and super regenerative power.

First Appearance: “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” (Heisei 2)

Godzilla’s Complete Filmography: “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah,” “Godzilla vs. Mothra II,” “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II,” “Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla,” and “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah.”

Origin: Beings known as the Futurians came to Japan from the future (duh!!) and tampered with Godzilla’s past, in an attempt to stop the creature from ever being created. Instead their plans backfired and a larger, more powerful, and aggressive Godzilla was created!

1991 brought us G-Fans a new chapter in the Godzilla storyline and upgraded Godzilla into an even more powerful force of nature. In Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, a UFO containing people known as the Futurians has come to Japan with an offer. Apparently in the year 2204, Godzilla has turned Japan into a barren wasteland! In order to stop this catastrophic event, the Futurians travel back to the 1940’s (during America’s “island-hopping” campaign in the Pacific) to Lagos Island. They witness an American strike on the small island go awry when a Godzillasaurus attacks the soldiers. The giant dinosaur kills many of the soldiers (a still very controversial scene to this day) and drives the survivors from the island. The U.S. Navy retorts by firing from it’s ships and gravely wounds the large creature. (“Take that you dinosaur!”). Once the coast is all clear, the Futurians beam Godzilla out of the area to a remote location under the sea and leave. However, it seems that the friendly Futurians weren’t acting in the best interest of the present Japanese people. While on Lagos, one of the Futurians let loose three cute, golden creatures called Dorats.

The Dorats are hit with the radiation from the bomb tests that would’ve created Godzilla and they fuse into King Ghidorah! However, the Futurians evil plot to rule Japan with the three-headed beast completely backfire! In their attempt to halt Godzilla’s “birth,” they actually planted the wounded Godzillasaurus near a sunken Soviet sub. (DOH!) This in turn created a larger and more powerful and highly aggressive Godzilla. The new Godzilla soon arrives on the scene and does battle with the evil King Ghidorah, but the golden dragon does not fare well and has it’s center head blown off by a potent blast of Godzilla’s radioactive breath. While this seems like sure victory for the good guys, it turns out that this newer Godzilla has a taste for causing destruction. After making short work of the Futurians spaceship, Godzilla goes city-stomping and soon comes face to face with Mecha-King Ghidorah!. The two monstrous titans battle it out but with neither one really claiming victory in the end, but Godzilla’s short reign of terror is temporarily halted when he’s dropped into the sea. For this film in the series, the legendary Akira Ifukube was hired to compose the music and brought his classic touch to the soundtrack. Also returning from the previous film was suitmation actor Satsuma Kenpachiro who actually portrayed the Big-G in all of the Heisei films!

Now as I mentioned very briefly earlier, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah turned out to be rather controversial. During the scene on Lagos Island, the Godzillasaurus kills a large number of invading American troops. This scene was actually aired on television during an American news broadcast, which claimed that the film had a great deal of anti-American sentiment. This was also backed up with the fact that two of the Futurians are actually Caucasians (the third is a female Asian women and she tries to save humanity from Godzilla to atone for the evil acts of her two compatriots). Director Kazuki Omori on the other hand completely defended the film and stated that the scenes were in fact not meant to contain any alleged anti-American sentiment. This negative publicity probably came about because of the high economic tension between the East and West at this time. This film was followed up a year later by the newest entry of the Godzilla series, Godzilla vs. Mothra II (a.k.a. Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth). In this film, a meteor lands in the Pacific and awakens Godzilla and simultaneously creates a storm that uncovers a giant egg on Infant Island.

The egg of course is Mothra’s and it eventually hatches, unleashing an enormous larvae that tries to battle Godzilla. However, another previously unknown kaiju called Battra has also reawakened after centuries of slumber. This “Black Mothra” soon joins in the melee and attacks both Mothra and Godzilla. Eventually, both Mothra’s transform into winged creatures. Mothra is naturally a massive and beautiful creature with multicolored wings and now has new powers, including lasers that are emitted from her antennae. Battra on the other hand is rather ugly (looking like a cross between a bat and moth) and fires energy blasts from it’s eyes. The two winged creatures eventually team up together and manage to subdue Godzilla after a hard-fought battle on an amusement pier. (By the way, are there really any Ferris Wheels that big anywhere on the planet?!) As Mothra and Battra carry Godzilla far off over the sea, Godzilla mortally wounds Battra and the two kaiju splash down into the ocean below. (Hey… I’m starting to see a pattern here….). Since several of Toho’s more popular monsters had gotten their origins revamped, it comes as no surprise that Mothra’s past has been changed.

Mothra as it turns out is the creation of an ancient and highly advanced civilization that died out. Apparently they polluted the planet too much and were destroyed by Battra, their other creation. However, on a happy note, Mothra managed to defeat Battra in a battle of epic proportions and saved what remained of the human race eons ago. To bring this film to the big screen, the usual assortment of Heisei all-stars were present (producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, composer Akira Ifukube, suitmation Kenpachiro Satsuma, et al.) but a new director by the name of Takao Okawara was brought on board. Mr. Okawara would soon become a staple of the Heisei series (and several other fantasy films). In 1993, Takao was given the task of updating two more of Toho’s classic kaiju, namely Rodan and Mechagodzilla. In, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, scientists in Japan are trying to create a weapon to defend against Godzilla’s repeated attacks. Their first invention was The Garuda, a rather clumsy-looking attack jet with dual mounted laser cannons. The ship is just too damned slow and is clearly not a match for Godzilla, so the scientists soon begin work on making Mechagodzilla, working from the shattered remnants of Mecha-King Ghidorah.

And just to up the ante, the damn near useless Garuda ship can attach to the back of Mechagodzilla to up it’s firepower (thus creating Super-Mechagodzilla)! Also present in this film is Rodan who transforms early on in the film into Fire Rodan! You see, an egg was discovered by a research team and both Fire Rodan and Godzilla are drawn to it. Godzilla pretty much wins the dispute after seemingly killing Rodan in a battle, plus the hatchling turns out to be a very small creature that closely resembles Godzilla. The Japanese military decided to use the Baby Godzilla as bait to draw Godzilla into a final conflict with Mechagodzilla. The infant creature’s calls first bring Fire Rodan who is easily dispatched by the strength of Mechagodzilla (though Fire Rodan does manage to peck out one of the robot’s eyes during the scuffle)! Godzilla arrives soon after, and the two titanic Zillas battle it out. Even though Godzilla managed to wreck Mechagodzilla the first time, the odds are against him for the robot has a weapon that can
actually kill the mighty King of the Monsters!

At the height of the kaiju combat, the Mechagodzilla utilizes it’s G-Crusher weapon. The weapon is fired into Godzilla’s spine where his secondary brain lies hidden. Needless to say, Godzilla’s second brain is completely decimated by the attack and the all-powerful kaiju actually dies! In an act of complete self-sacrifice, Fire Rodan uses it’s final moments to transfer it’s waning energy to Godzilla. Soon, Godzilla is back on his feet and supercharged with fierce radioactive power! Mechagodzilla is clearly outclassed and is quickly decimated by the sheer fury and strength of the revitalized Godzilla. With all opponents defeated, Godzilla and his infant wade off into the sunset for a peaceful retreat. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II was a box-office smash and became one of the most profitable films of the Heisei series. Once again Ifukube supplied the music, Okawara lent his steady hand to directing, and the special effects were done by Koichi Kawakita who did the effects work on nearly all the Heisei films. Next up in 1994 is the black sheep of the Heisei series and a seriously underrated entry into the Godzilla filmography, namely Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla.

When I first heard that this film existed I was very excited (especially after purchasing a Spacegodzilla action figure that was released by Trendmasters) and personally I found the film to be quite enjoyable. Since Takao Okawara was busy working on an all new film version of the legend of Yamato Takeru (a.k.a. Orochi – The Eight-Headed Dragon), one-time Godzilla director Kensho Yamashita was given the task of shooting the film. Another change in the usual Godzilla movie lineup was the lack of Akira Ifukube, who was replaced by composer Takayuki Hattori. While I do enjoy the musical workings of Mr. Ifukube, I definitely welcomed this new composer and I thought he did a fantastic job with the various musical scores, especially the Moguera vs. Spacegodzilla battle march. Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla introduces two new kaiju to the mix (along with a teletubbyish Baby Godzilla): M.O.G.U.E.R.A. (Mobile Operation Godzilla Universal Expert Robot Aerotype – henceforth known as Moguera so I can avoid typing out all those periods) and Spacegodzilla. Moguera is a revamped version of the mechanical monster used by aliens to attack Japan in 1957’s The Mysterians and was built by UNGCC (United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center). This bulky and slow-moving robot can split into two vehicles: The “Star Falcon” and the “Land Moguera.”

Spacegodzilla’s origin is a little trickier as the true source of the Godzilla cells that spawned it isn’t known. There has been speculation that the Godzilla cells were carried into outer space by either Biollante or Mothra. Whatever the case, the Godzilla cells were sucked through a black hole and came into contact with a crystalline alien presence (but again, that’s just speculation). The result of the mutation of Godzilla’s cells in space is a blue-tinted clone with crystalline structures protruding from it’s shoulders. Spacegodzilla also has the upper hand on Godzilla due to it’s devastating Corona Beam and telekinetic powers. Despite these advantages, the mutant Zilla is no match for the combined might of our own homegrown Godzilla and Moguera. Moguera and it’s human pilots manage to help cripple the mighty Spacegodzilla and Godzilla finishes the job by completely obliterating his evil doppelganger. The subplots in Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla are few and pretty easy to follow. One subplot involves an attempt to control Godzilla psychically, use him as a weapon, and then sell him to the highest bidder. Another follows the character of Major Yuki who has a personal vendetta against Godzilla. Throughout the course of the film and even during the final kaiju showdown, Yuki tries vainly to wound and kill Godzilla, until even he realizes that Spacegodzilla poses a bigger threat.

Within mere months of Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla‘s release, Toho announced that they had special plans for the twenty-second film of the series: Godzilla was going to die! To finish of the King of the Monsters in style Akira Ifukube composed some of the finest music ever heard in a Godzilla film and Takao Okawara was hired as the director. It was a final reunion amongst all of the people who had brought Godzilla to a new generation and it was time to put his legacy to rest. On December 9, 1995, Godzilla was “officially” killed off in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (a.k.a. Godzilla vs. Destroyer). Due to some nuclear accident, Godzilla has become a ticking nuclear timebomb and is slowly melting down! In the meantime, a new threat to humanity is slowly growing in the oxygen deprived soil at a construction site. Apparently the Oxygen Destroyer (used to kill the original Gojira in 1954) had given birth to a new terror and had mutated a Pre-Cambrian life form into a rapidly growing and evolving creature. The film eventually boils down to a monster melee of massive proportions.

Godzilla Junior (the aforementioned nuclear accident accelerated the growth of Godzilla’s infant) attempts to battle Destoroyah and is killed by his monstrous opponent. Godzilla shortly arrives afterwards and, after failed attempts at reviving the falling youngster, is consumed in a hellish fury. Godzilla viciously battles Destoroyah and the two behemoths exchange blows with no clear victor in sight. Suddenly Godzilla begins to meltdown (and if he does in fact meltdown entirely, the entire planet could be destroyed) and is frozen solid with freezer cannons fired from vehicles and the Super-X III. The intense cold from the weapons is enough to halt a worldwide catastrophe, and proves effective at destroying Destoroyah. At the end of the film, the camera focuses on the smoky blue haze of Tokyo where suddenly a silhouette of Godzilla is seen and a mighty roar is heard! Could it be that Godzilla Junior was revived and now fully grown into an adult? Regardless of the ending, Godzilla was indeed dead and it was touted all over the world. News of Godzilla’s death even made newspaper headlines and CNN aired a long feature story about Godzilla’s fond farewell. This was officially the end the highly entertaining and special effect laden Heisei series and I’m sure many Godzilla fans grieved. The mightiest monster star on the planet and the biggest and longest running franchise in film history had finally come to a close.

Throughout the nine film series, this history and origin of Godzilla and many of his other kaiju co-stars were rewritten and a fresh spin was put on the films. In this way the Heisei series prevails over the Showa series, however it truly lacked the fun and dare I say, the heart that the classic Godzilla films had. Still, the Heisei films portrayed Godzilla as a force of nature and treated the beloved icon with much respect. An attempt was made to jump start the series again shortly after Godzilla vs. Destoroyah with Godzilla Junior as the star but that idea fell through. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel when Sony Pictures announced their intent to make an American Godzilla Film! The words resonated throughout the fan community and the world and we were all very eager to that happen. I can even recall the first teaser trailer I saw of the film in which a group of students are being led around the New York Museum of Natural History. An elderly man is giving the kids a symposium about the “terrifying Tyrannosaurus Rex, when suddenly a huge foot smashes through the ceiling and crushes the T-Rex skeleton! I thought to myself, “Oh my god! They’re making a film version of ‘Dinosaurs Attack,’ based on the popular Topps trading cards.” But when I saw the word “GODZILLA” suddenly flash across the screen I was speechless. I had nothing but high hopes for the film and this hope was fueled by the sudden emergence of the Heisei films on VHS and DVD in North America! But little did I know that my hope would soon be shattered by the biggest hype machine of all time! Well that’s it for the Heisei series so check in next month for my complete coverage of the Millennium series of Godzilla films and quite possibly a Godzilla Addendum for anything I missed in these articles!

Pictures courtesy of Gojistomp.Org and Toho Kingdom.