25 August 2004 | BrianThibodeau
A quintessential Godzilla movie; great for kids and kids-at-heart
GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (2002) Like others in the Godzilla series, this new entry establishes itself as a direct sequel to the 1954 original, even using digitally altered footage from that film, as well as clips from MOTHRA and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS to once again illustrate Japan's troubled history with unruly giant creatures. When Godzilla once again threatens her shores, Japan's female prime minister (Kumi Mizuno) calls together her greatest scientific minds, including cyber-biologist Tokimitsu Yuhara (Shin Takuma), whose inclusion in this group gives his precocious daughter Sara (Kana Onodera) a backstage pass to witness the creation of a new bioweapon developed using the recently-uncovered original Godzilla bones.
The elite JSDF team assembled to pilot the machine is augmented by the lone survivor, Akane Yashiro (Yumiko Shaku), of an eight minute opening Maser-gun battle with Godzilla, her presence made all the more uncomfortable by the vindictive suspicions of a teammate whose brother perished in that disaster. Christened Mechagodzilla, this robo-beast amounts to the re-arming of Japan, something the rest of the world finds rather dismaying, and when the unit's memories of its demise in 1954 are stirred by Godzilla's roar, the battle's a draw, the combatants stand down, and the Prime Minister's out of a job. When Godzilla returns, there's no choice but to reprogram MechaGodzilla and send it back into battle, during which, not surprisingly, Akane herself must take the helm to not only save her country and discourage the naysayers, but to prove to herself - and, of course, to young, conveniently motherless Sara - that no life is worthless. Both of the 'final' shots in the movie - take your pick; there's a sequence after the closing credits - are fitting.
GODZILLA VS. MEGAGUIRUS director Nasaki Tezuka returns to the series with a highly worthy effort, finding a pitch-perfect blend of suits and CGI in his impressive battle sequences, while allowing for reflection (as always) on Japan's nuclear-tainted history, nodding to the ever- increasing empowerment of women in Japanese society (though neatly reminding us that they, too can fail on a large scale before earning redemption) and, as in GODZILLA 2000 and many others in the series, cleverly constructing a modern family dynamic between the pilot, the scientist and his daughter.
People groused that Shinsuke Kaneko's GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORA: ALL OUT GIANT MONSTERS ATTACK, while simultaneously jump starting a moribund franchise with still-vastly-improved visual flare, lacked the dynamism and realism of his 90's GAMERA trilogy, but they were missing the point. Save the first film, GODZILLA has always been for kids, maybe not as young as the original GAMERA series of the 60's, but kids nonetheless. And, I suppose, kids-at-heart. The stories can be pure formula, the character dynamics refried from earlier entries (in fact, many of the most subtle FX in this movie, simple dialogue scenes on catwalks around the Mechagodzilla hangar with the behemoth in the background, are simply more convincing updates of scenes we saw in the 70's), but as long as there's enough razzle-dazzle and a vicarious point-of-entry for the kids, the movie's probably a done deal in the eyes of Toho executives. Here, the Sara character is our vicarious tour guide to the inner workings of the JSDF and all its stoic patriotism (even her friends, walking home with her from school, are slack-jawed at her privileged access to headquarters).
Where the GAMERA updates were intended to make full use of the character's added features (mainly flight) and the advances in modern special effects and high-concept screenplay writing to draw in more savvy audiences, the Millennium Godzilla series, like those that came before, have always retained a comparatively simple modus operandi: appeal to the kids, and make the adults wish they were still kids. On this level, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA probably surpasses the previous three entries and at a lean, nicely paced 96 minutes (88 in its American incarnation I'm told; WHY DO THEY BOTHER!), it's certainly the easiest on the behind and quietly sets up the sequel, GODZILLA, MOTHRA, MECHAGODZILLA: TOKYO S.O.S. (2003). I give it an 8.