50 Years of Godzilla Part 3: A Monstrous Millennium – By Jordan Garren

GODZILLA (1999 – Present Day)

Height: 55 Meters (180.5 feet)

Mass: 20,000 Metric Tons (22,000 tons)

Weapons/Abilities: Atomic Ray from mouth, nuclear shockwave, and super regenerative abilities.

First Appearance: Godzilla 2000

(Millennium) Godzilla’s Complete Filmography: Godzilla 2000: Millenium, Godzilla X Megaguirus: G-Eradication Strategy, Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack, Godzilla X Mechagodzilla, Godzilla X Mothra X Mechagodzilla: Tokyo S.O.S., and Godzilla: Final Wars.

Origin: This series started off right from Godzilla’s first appearance in the 1954 original and ignored all the previous entries so Godzilla’s original origin pretty much remained intact; the Big-G was awakened and mutated by H-Bomb tests in the Pacific. However, Shusuke Kaneko’s GMK drastically changes Godzilla’s origin, saying that he’s an amalgam of all the lost souls from World War II’s Pacific theater!

Well this is it, the final (thus far) article about arguably the greatest movie monster of all time. I’ve truly had a lot of fun writing these articles, and I sincerely hope that anyone reading this can share in my joy. Together we’ve reveled in the cheesy goodness of the “Showa Series” and marveled at Godzilla’s continued adventures in the Heisei Series. Now it’s time to run the gamut and finish up with the “Millenium Series,” which began in 1999 and is still going strong. When I last left off back in December, I was beginning to speak about the worst possible thing America has done to Japan…. cinematically: the creation of an American Godzilla film! After a very expensive, yet effective ad campaign, the film opened on May 18th, 1998, in New York City (before its wide release across the country). I was still young and foolish then and had high expectations for the film. However, there was a voice deep within that was troubled by all the hoopla surrounding the film, and it kept asking me: “Why don’t they ever show what Godzilla looks like? Did they radically change his look to make him look cooler…. or did they completely botch the new design?!” When I finally did get to see Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s, “Godzilla,” I felt cheated. Naturally I was expecting a big-budget effects film and that some changes would be made to Godzilla’s origins and design, but I didn’t think that the end result would be a half-assed attempt at recreating an American monster film from the 50’s!

In Godzilla, the creature in question is a marine iguana that was hit with massive amounts of radiation from an atomic bomb test in Bikini Atoll. (And this time out, the bomb test is all France’s fault!) GINO (Godzilla In Name Only as us G-Fans call it) eventually grows into a giant, mutant, bipedal iguana with severe halitosis. This huge beastie starts tunneling through Manhattan and builds a nest in Madison Square Garden, where it lays hundreds of eggs. In the end, all but one of the eggs is destroyed (making room for a possible sequel), the mighty GINO is slain, and… what?! My tickets are non-refundable because I actually stayed for the entire movie?! Actually I’m kidding, I was disappointed with the movie, but I still find it to be a fun and entertaining monster romp full of bad jokes, some decent special effects, and plenty of bad acting (or in some cases overacting). Thankfully, Godzilla barely managed to pay for itself in theaters (the film cost roughly $125,000,000.00 to make and only brought in a little over $136,000,000.00 here in the U.S.) and was panned by the critics. (I can’t even begin to imagine what Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert thought about the film’s little joke concerning Mayor Ebert and his assistant

There was talk of a possible sequel to Godzilla (and further talk of a third installment), but the idea was scrapped due to the film’s poor reception. Oddly enough, Godzilla: The Series, the cartoon show based on GINO and the characters from the film, turned out to be a moderate success. The first episode takes place right after GINO is killed. The single surviving egg in Madison Square Garden has hatched, and the baby ‘zilla imprints Nick Tatopoulos (played by Matthew Broderick in the live action film and portrayed by Ian Ziering in the cartoon) as it’s parent. From that point on, monsters galore begin appearing around the globe and it’s up to Nick, his team of researchers and monster hunters (H.E.A.T.), and GINO Jr. to save the day. The cartoon ran for two years on FOX before it was canceled, and now some of the forty episodes are available on DVD. (Most notably the “Monster Wars” Mini-Series in which GINO Jr. battles a variety of giant monsters, including a cybernetic version of Poppa GINO.) Seeing as how us Americans flubbed with our one big chance to make a Godzilla movie, the Japanese decided to bring back the Big-G in late 1999.

In a year where every country on Earth was trying to upgrade it’s computer systems to avoid the “Y2K Bug,” and any problems that it could cause (like oh say…. nuclear war!), it only seemed fitting to upgrade Godzilla for the new millenium. For his new outing, Godzilla’s design was revamped. The suit was slimmed down a bit from the Heisei version, the neck was made shorter, the mouth was widened, and the head was made slightly smaller. Another noticeable change was the shape and color of the plates on Godzilla’s back. Said plates were redesigned to be more serrated and jagged than ever before, and painted with light purple and red hues. The most conspicuous change of all is the overall color of the suit. Godzilla was originally charcoal grey but has now been changed to a dull greenish tint. Godzilla’s main weapon was also tweaked for the new film. Instead of a sudden blast of blue flame from his mouth, Godzilla spouts forth a beam of yellow-orange fire. With their new Godzilla design completed, Toho hired Takao Okawara to film the movie. If you recall, Mr. Okawara is no stranger to the Godzilla series and directed several of the Heisei films, including: Godzilla vs. Mothra II, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. It seems fitting that the man who filmed Godzilla’s death would return to film the Big-G’s sudden rebirth.

After achieving box office success in Japan, Columbia/Tri-Star (now Sony Entertainment) purchased the U.S. rights for the film. The last Godzilla film to be seen in American theaters was Godzilla 1985, so it was definitely a big deal when Sony announced that Godzilla 2000 would see a nationwide theatrical release. I myself was there on opening weekend, in a small theater, with three of my close friends and a Godzilla action figure. (Don’t ask.) While it was great seeing the Big-G on the big screen, I was rather disappointed with the film. In Godzilla 2000, all previous Godzilla movies are ignored except for the original 1954 film. (This film started a fad in which Godzilla flicks would take place in an alternate reality where Godzilla’s first and sometimes only appearance was back in 1954!) Godzilla still makes regular visits to Japan and the military is still pretty ineffective, even with their newest weapon, the “Full Metal Missile.” Though these powerful missiles do some damage, Godzilla just heals way too fast for this advanced weapon to be effective. Meanwhile, an ancient U.F.O. is discovered off the coast of Japan, deep in the Pacific. It turns out that the craft has merely been hibernating, and once recharged it begins flying over Japan in search of Godzilla. Apparently the alien presence within the craft needs Godzilla’s cells to adapt to our world. The U.F.O. eventually does get some of Godzilla’s DNA (known as Regenerator G-1) and a new monster is created called Orga. (A.k.a. Oruga.)

Orga’s a fairly ugly-looking daikaiju with a bad temper, muscular arms, massive clawed hands, and the ability to quickly regenerate damaged tissue! So a battle ensues between both monsters with neither one gaining the upper hand. Godzilla of course triumphs over Orga during it’s attempt to become an exact replica of the Big-G. With his opponent defeated, Godzilla stomps off into the sunset, waiting for another kaiju to encroach on his territory. Godzilla 2000 is a so-so addition to the Godzilla filmography and doesn’t deliver too many kaiju battles. The mixture of suitmation, miniature sets, and CGI doesn’t always go well together, but sometimes the special effects crew really pulls off some great work. (My favorite scene in the film involves a formation of fighter-jets that attack Godzilla in unison. These jets are entirely computer generated and look spectacular!) The music in Godzilla 2000 was composed by Takayuki Hattori and he does a decent job scoring the film. Even so, I sorely missed Akira Ifukube’s compositions; if he did the music, that alone would’ve made the movie better in my opinion. (Note: The music during the end credits is Ifukube’s “Original Godzilla Theme.” Ironically, the first time I saw this movie, I did think the credits were the best part.)

A year later, the worst of the “Millenium” films was released, namely Godzilla X Megaguirus. The film held promise because of it’s “villain,” Megaguirus, a giant dragonfly and descendent of the Meganurons from Toho’s 1956 kaiju classic, Rodan. (Note: Before I learned of Megaguirus’ true identity, I thought that perhaps the creature was going to be a super powerful version of Anguirus. I still think that’s the route the film maker’s should’ve taken!) However, things ultimately go sour for this second installment in the Millenium Series. In Godzilla X Megaguirus, an anti-Godzilla force called “G-Grasper” work toward the completion of “Dimension Tide,” a weapon that can fire a black hole at any given target. With this new technology, they plan on getting rid of Godzilla permanently. What the G-Graspers don’t know is that during one of their tests on the new invention, a large dragonfly came through the black hole and laid an egg. (A second theory suggests that the weapon may have mutated a local species of dragonfly, so take your pick here folks.) Said egg is found by a young boy named Kouchi and he takes it home. Eventually he decides to do a damn foolish thing and dumps the egg into the sewer system of Osaka. The egg hatches and soon legions of Megnula are swarming througout the city. (And somehow, the insects inexplicably flood the entire city!) Godzilla soon comes into play and begins using some very effective pest control techniques against the human-sized dragonflies. While they prove to be no more than an annoyance, a real challenge presents itself in the form of Megaguirus, a gargantuan dragonfly with a bad attitude.

While the two giant monsters battle it out, G-Grasper attempts to fire their black hole cannon at Godzilla. They do succeed in firing the weapon just as Godzilla finishes off Megaguirus. Even though they believe they were successful in sending Godzilla to an alternate dimension, there are signs that Godzilla may have managed to burrow his way to safety. As I said, I think this is the weakest of the Millenium films and partial blame goes to first time director, Masâki Tezuka. While he has plenty of film experience and has served as the Chief Assistant Director on Toho’s more recent series of Mothra films, I think he was a bit unprepared for the task at hand. Another problem with the film is the overuse of computer effects. I understand that it’s a necessity, especially for scenes where Godzilla and the Japanese military battle swarms of Meganula, but the CGI, suitmation, and puppetry aren’t seamless, and that detracts a bit from the film. In the film’s defense though, the creators were clearly trying to capture some of the magic from the early Godzilla films. The kaiju battles are extremely fun and the usage of a black hole gun is completely ludicrous but entertaining, and there’s even a newly created flashback from Godzilla’s first appearance in 1954. Despite my misgivings about the film, I own it and do watch it every now and then when a “kaiju mood” hits me. (Being a true Godzilla fan means loving every G-film that’s made, regardless of it’s quality.)

A year later, arguably the best film in the Millenium series was released. Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack is one of the most original and fantasy oriented Godzilla films to come out in a very long time. Helmed by director Shusuke Kaneko (the man who upgraded Gamera in an awesome trilogy of kaiju films), GMK is a refereshing take on the Godzilla mythos. This time out Godzilla is a demonic incarnation, made up of thousands of lost souls from the World War II era. (At least, that’s what a ghostly old man in the film tells us.) Godzilla has come out of hibernation to lay waste to Japan because those that were lost in WWII have now been forgotten. To save Japan from this newly revamped Godzilla, the “Guardian Monsters” must be awakened to defeat Godzilla, namely Baragon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah. (Interstingly enough, Varan and Anguirus were supposed to be Baragon’s allies, but the Toho executives wanted Mothra and King Ghidorah in the film instead, because they are more popular.) As the film progresses, Godzilla maliciously nukes fleeing citizens, gleefully tramples cities, and mercilessly kills each of the Guardian Monsters. I was truly shocked when Godzilla incinerated Baragon in a blaze of blue fire during the first kaiju match-up in the movie. In the end, the combined effort of a brave and extremely patriotic soldier and a benevolent King Ghidorah bring about Godzilla’s downfall.

This is definitely my favorite film in the Millenium Series and gives us an entirely new Godzilla in every aspect. The Godzilla suit was completely revamped, and the Big-G’s color was changed to a light-grey hue, and the overall figure of Godzilla was made more dinosaurian. The most noticeable change was made to Godzilla’s eyes which are a pale white with nary a pupil in sight. This gives the King of the Monsters a malicious and evil look that has still yet to be matched. Another enormous change is Godzilla’s attitude and role; he is no longer a force of nature or a heroic figure. This Godzilla is a merciless, vengeful killing machine with a taste for wanton destruction. One of the most chilling and memorable scenes in the film takes place during a mass exodus out of a city. Thousands of people flee from Godzilla down a city street and one them, a women, takes a look at Godzilla and begins screeching. The enormous kaiju hears her screams and slowly turns around, its dorsal fins crackling with electric blue light. The scene then cuts to a classroom that overlooks the city. A shockwave hits and the teacher and her students gaze out of the windows towards town, only to see a huge mushroom cloud. That’s right folks, Godzilla, annoyed by a helpless screaming woman, had nuked an entire city block! I could go on and on about how this movie is the best, but I do have a few complaints. First off, I didn’t much care for King Ghidorah’s role as a hero and defender of Japan. For years this three-headed dragon has been trying to destroy Earth and that’s what he should’ve been trying to do in this film! Secondly, the fantasy elements in the film are too muddled to really comprehend. Had everything been fleshed out and explained just a little better, the storyline would’ve been much smoother.

After Kaneko’s fantastic offering to the Godzilla series, the Big-G would be back a year later to take on one of his most formidable foes ever: Mechagodzilla! Godzilla X Mechagodzilla hit Japanese theaters in November of 2002 and garnered a generous amount of money in the box-office. The film was directed by Masâki Tezuka (who years earlier had worked on the lackluster Godzilla X Megaguirus), and features yet another revamped Godzilla and a fully revamped Mechagodzilla (a.k.a. Kiryu). In G X MechaG, Kiryu is developed to defend Japan from giant monsters. While this comes as no big surprise, there is one startling secret behind this giant mechanical monster. Deep within it’s metallic skin lies the skeleton of the original Godzilla that was killed in 1954! The film takes an interesting turn halfway through when Kiryu, after hearing Godzilla’s roars, reverts back to its most primal urges and starts stomping and blowing up the cityscape around it! The film reaches it’s climax when Godzilla and Kiryu square off. Surprisingly, Godzilla is viciously wounded by Kiryu’s secret weapon, the Absolute Zero Gun. (A throwback to the main weapon used by Natal motherships in Toho’s 1959 space opera, The Battle in Outer Space.) Godzilla painfully retreats back to the sea to heal the gaping wound in his chest, leaving humanity to celebrate over their short-lived victory.

Overall, Godzilla X Mechagodzilla is an enjoyable part of the Godzilla series though it suffers from several poor special effects shots. (i.e. In a few shots where Godzilla is bombarded with a battery of Kiryu’s missiles, the Big-G is standing still! The effects crew merely used an empty Godzilla suit for these scenes! It doesn’t happen too often, but damn is it noticeable!) Director Tezuka would finish up the “Kiryu Saga” with his next film, Godzilla X Mothra X Mechagodzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.. In this installment, the Shobijin (the tiny twins from the Mothra films) contact their old friend, Shinichi Chujo (actor Hiroshi Koizumi reprising his role from 1961’s Mothra) in hopes that he can stop the use of Kiryu. They claim that using the Godzilla bones to build Kiryu is blasphemous and that the dead should be left dead. If Kiryu is scrapped, they promise that Mothra will protect Japan. However, if Kiryu is rebuilt and continued to be used, Mothra will turn against mankind! The film boils down to a kaiju melee in which two larval Mothras (a nod toward the original Godzilla vs. Mothra), Kiryu, and Godzilla battle across the Japanese landscape. At the film’s finale, the larval Mothras trap a badly wounded Godzilla in a shroud of silk, and Kiryu flies off with it’s fallen prehistoric comrade. The mighty kaiju splash down in the Pacific Ocean and sink out of sight, neatly wrapping up the film’s storyline.

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. showcases some fantastic monster battles and visual effects, and it really sets itself apart from most of the other Millenium films. The film puts a lot of focus on the human drama that unfolds between kaiju attacks and there’s even a few scenes that, dare I say, are touching, namely young Yoshito Chujo’s fond farewell to Kiryu before it plummets into the Pacific with Godzilla in tow. Tokyo S.O.S. also sets itself apart from the other Millenium films because it actually establishes a timeline in the Toho Universe. Not only is the previous film (Godzilla X Mechagodzilla) recognized, but so are other Toho classics like Mothra and Yog: Monster From Space. This film would’ve been a fine way to end the Godzilla franchise or allow for another temporary rest, but I highly doubt that Toho would want it’s biggest star to retired before his 50th Anniversary! This past year, Godzilla turned fifty and the event was celebrated worldwide with a variety of Godzilla film festivals, a slew of legitmate Godzilla DVD releases on the U.S. market, and most importantly an all new Godzilla movie! To mark Godzilla’s twenty-eighth and (supposedly) final cinematic appearance, Ryuhei Kitmura was hired to direct and put his own personal touch on the film. Ryuhei is best known for filming a series of action packed films such as the kung-fu zombie epic, Versus, as well as Alive and Aragami.

In Godzilla: Final Wars, aliens from Planet X (the Xilians) invade the Earth and it’s up to a squad of superhuman mutants and Godzilla to stop the invaders. The film boasts and impressive lineup of monster stars ranging from fan favorites like Gigan and Anguirus, to lesser kaiju like Kumonga and Kamakuras. From what I’ve read and heard, the film utilizes a lot of plot points from a variety of Toho classics including Atragon and Gorath as well as many of the Showa Godzilla films (Godzilla vs. Monster Zero especially), and the reviews have been mixed from day one. I’ve heard people angrily rave about the film’s alleged incoherence and Kitamura’s supposed lack of talent that ruined what could have been the greatest Godzilla movie of all time. But I’ve also heard praise from Godzilla fans who took the film as it was: a fun, action filled homage to the kaiju films that us G-Fans have grown to love over the years. I was hoping to see a theatrical release of Kitamura’s Godzilla opus on the big screen here in the United States, but unfortunately that hasn’t happened (yet). Perhaps we’ll all luck out and Sony will release it in the States later this year. Well that about covers the fledgling Millenium Series, but before I finish up here, I’d like to give some credit where credit is due. I’ve spoken about the men who have directed the Millenium films, but I’ve neglected to mention some of the other important people, including those responsible for the special and visual effects, the music, and most importantly, the portrayal of Godzilla. The Showa and Heisei series each had their own group of people who kept the kaiju genre going and the Millenium Series is no exception.

Shogo Tomiyama took the place of the late and beloved Tomoyuki Tanaka and has been producing films in the Godzilla (and Mothra) series since 1989’s Godzilla vs. Biollante and has even served as a writer for his latest production, Godzilla: Final Wars. Also no stranger to the Millenium series is suitmaker Shinichi Wakasa, who’s work spans across the Heisei and Millenium series as well as films like Yamato Takeru, Gamera 2: Advent of Legion, and Toho’s Mothra films. The music through the Millenium series has varied and boasts some great compositions from Takayuki Hattori (Godzilla 2000), Michiru Oshima (Godzilla X Megaguirus, Godzilla X Mechagodzilla, Godzilla X Mothra X Mechagodzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.), Kô Ôtani (Shusuke Kaneko’s Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack and Gamera Trilogy), Nobuhiko Morino (Godzilla: Final Wars), and Daisuke Yano (also Godzilla: Final Wars). Throughout the (so far) six films in the series, Godzilla was portrayed by Tsutomu Kitagawa, following in the footsteps of Kenpachiro Satsuma and Haruo Nakajima. Like his predecessors, Kitagawa has become a staple of this particular series and adds his own touch to the King of the Monsters.

So now, you may be wondering, what can all of us Godzilla fans expect in the future? Well an all new Godzilla fighting game has been released for the X-BOX and Playstation 2 consoles and it is damn fun. Of course I speak of “Godzilla: Save the Earth,” in which you can pick your favorite Toho kaiju and battle it out in a variety of cities and landscapes, play in a melee match with up to three other players, enjoy some fun mini-games, and view pictures of Godzilla: Final Wars. But truly the biggest question everyone has on their mind is this: Are there going to be any more Godzilla movies?! Truthfully I haven’t a single clue, but I highly doubt that Toho is going to retire their biggest cash cow. Not long after the completion of Final Wars, I did hear an interesting story involving an I-MAX Godzilla film directed by Yoshimitsu Banno (director of Godzilla vs. Hedorah) but that project has since dropped off the radar screen. For now, things are all quiet on the Godzilla front, but other kaiju are taking the world by storm! Rumors about an all new Gamera film have been passing around on the web recently, Thailand has released their own brand of homegrown kaiju, namely Garuda, and an all new and improved Ultraman movie is currently playing in Japanese theaters. Even as I write, I’m sure that more giant monster films are in the works; we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Personally I hope that the Godzilla series keeps going strong even though the newer films are somewhat lacking the spirit and charm that made the older Godzilla films so much fun to watch! I’ve been a Godzilla fan since I was a youngster and I don’t plan on giving up on him now! I’m going to be a Godzilla fan until the day I die! Happy (belated) 50th birthday Godzilla, and may you stomp all over Tokyo for many more years to come!

Pictures courtesy of Gojistomp.Org and Toho Kingdom.