Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Godzilla Clone From Outer Space

Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (Gojira Tai Supesu Gojira)

DVD Description:
Released by Sony/Tristar; additional material: trailers

Directed by Kensho Yamashita

Starring Megumi Odaka, Jun Hashizume, Zenkichi Yoneyama, Akira Emoto, Towako Yoshikawa, Yôsuke Saitô, Kenji Sahara, Akira Nakao, Kôichi Ueda


Over the years, Toho has presented several "Godzilla vs. Godzilla" scenarios, ranging from the various MechaGodzilla variants to Biollante (a "one-third Godzilla" amalgamation) and even to the essence-stealing Orga in Godzilla 2000. Space Godzilla is the most overt of the Godzilla clones, having been created by G-cells carried into space either by Biollante or Mothra. The monster's design is impressive enough, with a distinctly malevolent countenance, clearly based on Godzilla's features. Its body is partially composed of crystal, which alters its size and shape and provides a means of flight, both in outer space and in the atmosphere.

Godzilla himself appears stockier than in the previous Heisei films, so much so that the suit looks ungainly, with a head too small in proportion to the rest of the body. I'm not at all fond of this design, though it's still superior to some of Godzilla's more muppet-like features in the Showa-era films.

Space Godzilla follows directly on the heels of Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla and features a similarly utilized mecha-monster: an updated design of Mogera, which originally appeared as an instrument of the invading aliens in 1957's The Mysterians. Unfortunately, this version of Mogera is inferior to the 1993 MechaGodzilla (which is itself inferior to both the earlier and later MechaGodzilla variants) and even the Mysterians' Mogera. It is especially awkward-looking in flying mode, and it doesn't help that the outer space effects in general look far cheesier than those in the Toho films of the 1960s.

The story is a mixed bag, with a few superior dramatic elements offset by others that are ill-conceived and/or executed. An unknown monster appears in outer space, destroys a space station, and lands somewhere on Earth. In the meantime, a G-Force contingent, including psychic Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka) goes to Basu Island, where the little Godzillasaurus birthed in the previous film has taken up residence. They intend to experiment with telepathy (Project T) and its influence on the monster, hoping they can use it as a weapon against Godzilla. However, G-Force member Akira Yuki has a special grudge against Godzilla, who killed his best friend, Goro Gondo (in Godzilla vs. Biollante) and hopes to kill Godzilla with a special blood coagulant he has developed.

Lo and behold, Godzilla arrives on Basu Island, and the telepathy experiment shows promise, as Miki is able to partially control Godzilla. However—bad timing!—Space Godzilla shows up here, throwing a monkey wrench into the works; it fusses with Godzilla and Little Godzilla for a bit and finally entraps the young 'un in a crystal prison. It then retreats, and Godzilla follows it away.

Goodness me, now we learn that one of the G-Force scientists, Susumu Okubo (Yosuke Saito), is actually a member of the Japanese mafia and wants to use Project T to gain control of Godzilla for his organization. He kidnaps Miki and is about to use her for the Yakuzas' nefarious purpose when Space Godzilla arrives and wreaks havoc, killing Okubo in the process. Now Godzilla comes around, has it out with his monstrous clone, and with some assistance from Mogera, eventually prevails, allowing Little Godzilla to be set free. All are happy. Except Space Godzilla.

Dramatically, the whole Yakuza angle seems out of place; it adds nothing substantial to the story and contributes to what is oftentimes a plodding pace. Megumi Odaka, as psychic Miki Saegusa, who had virtually nothing to do in the past couple of films, takes on a more substantial role in this film, but too much of it involves her fussing about how messing with Godzilla via telepathy is a bad idea. Rogue G-Force Major Yuki is the most interesting character in the film, as his motivations are certainly the clearest, and his curmudgeonly demeanor can be endearing (if occasionally irritating). As in most of the Heisei series, several of the prominent cast members really do little more than take up space, and this is particularly true in Space Godzilla.

While Little Godzilla isn't quite as pitiful in design as Minya, it's pretty close. As a hatchling in the previous film, the baby Godzilla looked right respectable, even convincing. Little Godzilla is a bug-eyed, terminally cute dinosaur obviously meant to appeal to the kids in the audience. Its only really effective scene is when it is "abducted" by Space Godzilla, which succeeds in at least some measure of pathos, though you know that, before it's all over with, Godzilla's going to come to the rescue.

Takayuki Hattori turns in a reasonably interesting musical score, with a particular theme that is reminiscent of John Barry at his best. The action themes and incidental music are built on heavy, grim motifs that complement the drama as well as one could expect. The inevitable usage of Ifukube's Godzilla theme could actually be discarded, since it's at odds with the tone of Hattori's score, and the movie's original music stands on its own well enough.

One gets the feeling that Space Godzilla was Toho's attempt to propel the series in a slightly different direction, with more emphasis on character; yet it still doesn't work very well. The standard military characters are by now wearing thin, and "surprises," such as Okubo turning out to be Yakuza, offer nothing substantive. Combined with an obviously lower-than-usual special effects budget, the dramatic failings ultimately render Space Godzilla a mediocre entry in the series.

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