Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Godzilla vs. Big-Ass Plant
Godzilla vs. Biollante (Gojira Tai Biorante, 1989)
Released by Echo Bridge, 2012; English language & Japanese language with subtitles. Additional material: Trailers, behind-the-scenes feature.
Directed by Kazuki Omori
Starring Kunihiko Mitamura, Yoshiko Tanaka, Masanobu Takashima, Koji Takahashi, Tôru Minegishi, Megumi Odaka, Yasuko Sawaguchi
The second of the Heisei-era Godzilla films, Godzilla vs. Biollante is among the last of the Godzilla films never to have had a legitimate DVD release in the United States until very recently. The Echo Bridge DVD is just what the doctor ordered — incredibly inexpensive (I got it for $4.99 via Amazon.com), decent quality, with a very a nice behind-the-scenes feature. The audio options include the standard English-language dub as well as the original Japanese soundtrack, with two subtitle options.
Biollante opens in the aftermath of Godzilla's raid on Tokyo from the previous film. A research team collecting Godzilla's cells, which have been scattered among the ruins, is attacked by mercenaries from a company called Biomajor, who abscond with the Godzilla cells. But then the Biomajor team is then killed by a lone stranger, who proceeds to grab the Godzilla cells for himself. Turns out the stranger is agent SSS9 of a Middle Eastern nation called Saradia, which is funding research by Dr. Shiragami (Koji Takahashi), who hopes to combine Godzilla cells with grain cells, in order to create an indestructible, inexhaustible food supply. Shiragami, however, also has an agenda of his own: to use Godzilla's secret of immortality to resurrect his dead daughter, Erica (Yasuko Sawaguchi). His experiments go hopelessly awry, however, resulting in a bizarre hybrid of plant, human, and Godzilla cells. Meantime, in attempt to regain a supply of Godzilla cells, used to create Anti-Nuclear Bacteria — which can, in theory, utterly neutralize Godzilla — Biomajor threatens to unleash the great beast from his volcanic prison by setting off bombs at Mt. Mihara — which they end up doing. Godzilla emerges and, after a foiling an attack by Japan's newest defensive weapon, Super X2, enters and tramples Osaka. Biollante appears and attacks Godzilla, and the two monsters tear into each other, resulting in Biollante's apparent defeat. The Japanese military attacks Godzilla with Anti-Nuclear Bacteria, but it has no apparent effect — Godzilla's body temperature is too low for the organisms to be activated. To raise its temperature, they lure it to a microwave array, which creates artificial lightning, but then a bigger, transformed Biollante appears and attacks Godzilla again; this time, Godzilla disintegrates it, sending its spores drifting toward outer space. Finally, the Anti-Nuclear Bacteria begins to work, and Godzilla retreats to the sea, its ultimate fate uncertain. SSS9 returns a final time and murders Dr. Shiragami, but Super X2 pilot Kuroki (Masanobu Takashima) activates the microwave weapon and kills the Saradian agent.
Biollante, being a mutated hybrid, proves to be Godzilla's most unusual foe since Hedorah. The science-gone-awry aspect draws on at least a semblance of a real-life fear: that of genetic manipulation creating an unexpected horror. As part rose, part human, and part Godzilla, Biollante is a terrifying yet at least marginally sympathetic character. There's no stereotypical good-monster-vs.-bad-monster scenario here; just a pair of instinctive foes grappling for survival. The complex Biollante design is novel, to say the least and, with the combination of well-constructed miniatures and effective cinematography, achieves an impressive and memorable onscreen presence.
The Godzilla suit surpasses the design used in the previous movie, closely resembling the 1954 original, and becomes the prototype for the suits used in all of the Heisei-era films. The evil-looking facial features, with the unprecedented addition of red and black eyes and a double row of teeth, imbue Godzilla with a distinctly fearsome demeanor, very appropriate to the scope of this film — and to my mind, even more menacing than its pupil-less visage used in GMK in the Millenniium series.
Like most of the Heisei-era Godzillas, Biollante features a large cast, mostly utilized to good effect. Koji Takahashi plays Dr. Shiragami as a driven, brilliant eccentric, but also with a sensitive, sympathetic side. Takahashi's performance is understated rather than over-the-top, which is the far more effective approach. Megumi Odaka makes her debut as Miki Saegusa, a psychic who develops a special rapport with Godzilla, and continues the role through the remainder of the Heisei series. This is her best appearance, for she takes an active part in locating and then attempting to psychically combat Godzilla. JSDF Lieutenant Gondo, played by Toru Minigishi, stands out as one of the film's best characters, thanks to Minigishi's subtle quirkiness. His best moment comes when he attempts — unsuccessfully — to defuse the bombs planted at Mt. Mihara that will release Godzilla. As the clock counts down, and he realizes all is futile, he stands back, defeated, and utters a simple, "Amen."
Unfortunately, Koichi Sugiyama's musical score leaves much to be desired, frequently sounding thin and frenetic, more akin to an anime score than a live-action film. Conversely, the grander orchestral themes are entirely derivative of John Williams and play more like parody than true scoring. The best soundtrack cut is the opening theme, which has an eerie undertone, building to a driving, thudding pace, punctuated by sharp brass. Fortunately, this track, with a few variations, is used to good effect at several key moments in the film.
Godzilla vs. Biollante offers some novel ideas, decent characters, an interesting new monster, and a superb redesign of Godzilla. Though the film's flaws oftentimes stand out rather painfully, its many good — and occasionally excellent — moments make it a most noteworthy entry in the Godzilla universe.