Saturday At The Movies – Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah

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With all the buzz about and rousing success of the new American Godzilla, I thought I might take a look at another Godzilla flick, one from a few years ago, that flks on this side of the Pacific might not be all that aware of. The full title is Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (or in Japanese, Gojira, Mosura, Kingu Gidora: Daikaijū Sōkōgeki), but it’s known lovingly by G-fans as GMK. Meet me after the jump and I’ll tell you why 2001’s GMK is one of the best Godzilla movies of recent memory.

The Continuity

With Godzilla being one of the longest running movie franchises of all time, one of the first questions you might have when watching a new G-film might be – where does it fit into the continuity? GMK, unlike the classic Showa (Gojira in 1954 through Terror of Mechagodzilla in 1975) and later Heisei series (the original ’54 film and Gojira 1984 through Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah in 1995) before it, is in the Millennium series (1999-2004), where most of the stories are stand alone. This, the twenty-fifth Godzilla movie, is one of those.

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GMK is predominantly a done in one flick, referencing only two other movies as being part of its continuity. The original 1954 Gojira is mentioned as the first time Godzilla attacked Japan. This is not a surprise as most G-movie continuities begin with the essential first appearance of the monster. The big shock comes early in GMK when the 1998 American Godzilla movie is referenced, and a bit sarcastically. The Americans think it was Godzilla, but obviously it was not. The way however is paved here for Zilla’s (the Japanese name for the American creature) appearance in the later Godzilla: Final Wars.

The Plot

The Japan of this world is on constant alert. Nearly fifty years ago a giant monster of incredible power destroyed their nation, and was only killed through luck. The potential thought of a similar creature returning to Japan, brought home by the recent attack on New York City, only makes the military forces of Japan more ready for such an attack. Godzilla does return, but this time it is more spiritual in origin. Rather than the radioactive mutant dinosaur we all know, this is a daikaiju possessed by the spirits of all the Japanese soldiers killed in the Second World War. This Godzilla isn’t just an unstoppable engine of destruction, it is a spirit of revenge as well.

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Godzilla’s return is foretold in legend however, and ancient safeguards are in place, in the form of the ‘guardian monsters.’ Daughter of one of the military leaders, and host of a paranormal research TV show, Yuri discovers evidence of these guardian monsters, and realizes they must be awoken to stop Godzilla’s oncoming rampage on Japan. Unlike 2014’s American entry in the film series, Chiharu Niiyama plays Yuri as a likable character in the human story of GMK. She and her team do their best to wake the monsters before Godzilla destroys Japan, and kills her father in the process.

The Monsters

The guardian monsters are all daikaiju combatants we have seen before in the Toho movie series. Loosely representing land, sea, and air are Baragon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah. These are new versions of course, making their first appearances in this continuity, and oddly, solidly the first official time Ghidorah is acting as a force for good. I don’t count Mecha-King Ghidorah, as the beast was being controlled by other forces. My favorite, Mothra, is always on the sides of the angels.

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Mothra and King Ghidorah, despite their different appearances in this film, are perrenial opponents for Godzilla, but Baragon is a new factor here. Originally only appearing against the title character in Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), and later in a cameo at the end of Destroy All Monsters (1968), Baragon has become a favorite of kaiju fans, despite so few appearances. He makes a similar cameo in the last Toho entry, Final Wars, but this is his major highlight beyond Frankenstein, in which he was eventually just a replacement for Godzilla himself.

The Designs

Godzilla is an exceptionally evil force of nature in GMK, his whited-out eyes depicting a particularly demonic visage. This suit is my second favorite Godzilla suit after the Mosugoji from Mothra Vs. Godzilla in 1964, and behind the catlike design of the later Heisei series. Still I think the GMK is quite possibly the most frightening of any of the designs, ever. The Big G is undeniably the bad guy in this flick.

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For the guardian monsters, there are more than a few tweaks as well. Most notably, this is the first and only time that King Ghidorah is actually, and surprisingly, smaller than Godzilla. All of the opponents are smaller than the Big G this time. The more colorful-than-usual Mothra is without her twin fairies and has stinger weapons as opposed to her poison powder. Baragon, almost a dog in comparison to Godzilla’s size, is completely bereft of his heat ray and breath weapon. If it’s going to take all three to take on Godzilla, I can accept these changes.

The Music and the Fights

One of the failings of the 2014 Godzilla is the lack of monster fights. Oh sure, the two-hour plus film gives us almost ten minutes of monster fights, but we always want more. GMK delivers, in spades. Accompanied by a wonderfully menacing score from Kow Otani, the initial battle between Godzilla and Baragon is awesome, and in broad daylight, so you can see how truly cool the effects, the suits, and fight choreography are. More than half of the awesome is Otani’s music however.

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When one speaks of Godzilla, the legendary Akira Ifukube comes immediately to mind. His trademark march, when played in the old school Toho films, signaled the king of the monsters about unleash hell. To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction, “and if you ever heard it, that meant your ass.” There is no Ifukube march here in GMK, Otani’s score is just as good, and I mean that from the heart as a lifelong fan.

Conclusion

Sure, it’s not the traditional Mothra or King Ghidorah, but Godzilla is evil and horrific. This is not a laughable farce like Godzilla Vs. Megalon, nor a misunderstood homage like the American 1998 movie, this is a true monster movie, done in straight kaiju eiga style. Great score, terrific special effects, and enough monster fights to keep the G-fans truly happy. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack is one of my favorite G-films, you should definitely check it out, it might be yours too.

 

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