Friday, June 26, 2015

Terror of Mechagodzilla

Kaiju (怪獣 ) is a Japanese word that means "strange beast," but often translated in English as "monster" or "giant monster."    
Terror of Mechagodzilla

Ishirô Honda

After Mechagodzilla’s defeat in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), the aliens behind it all are looking to rebuild and find a way to beat Godzilla once and for all. They enlist the aid of Dr. Mafune (Tomoko Ai), a scientist who has discovered a massive dinosaur, Titanosaurus. Together they plot to bring down Godzilla and take over the world.

Starting with King Kong vs. Godzilla in 1962, Toho had been releasing Godzilla films almost every year, up until 1975. By then, popular interest in Godzilla had waned. Godzilla himself had become less of a giant terror and more of a cuddly superhero. Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) is considered perhaps the nadir of the Showa era of Godzilla [Admittedly, it’s not a great film, but it is one I have a very personal connection with]. The series struggled to win back audiences. That effort shows in both Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, and Terror of Mechagodzilla, but it was too late, and we wouldn’t see a Godzilla film until, Return of Godzilla (aka Godzilla 1985) (1984). Terror of the Mechagodzilla is the final film in the initial run of Godzilla movies.

I think the most difficult thing to do in any kaiju film is to make the human players interesting. Far too often they are dwarfed literally and narratively by their giant co-stars. Although, Terror of Mechagodzilla is still plagued with that 70s Godzilla hero standard, the sport coat wearing action man, it does manage to create some depth with its antagonists. The aliens behind it all are as two-dimensional as they come, they want to take over the world and offer little beyond that, but their human accomplices actually have motivation. Dr. Mafune’s daughter was saved from death by the aliens, and in the process made into a cyborg. She also happens to be the control unit for Mechagodzilla. This creates a note of conflict and tragedy that hasn’t visited the series in some time.

"Haha, you look ridiculous in that sport coat!"
Terror of Mechagodzilla is a much more serious film than the ones that immediately proceed it. Godzilla lacks some of his personality, but in return we get a character that feels more dangerous. The three-way battles between Godzilla, Titanosaurus, and Mechagodzilla, are dynamic. Godzilla is given a number of great hero moments, bursting from the ground to attack, and charging through a field of explosions to grapple Mechagodzilla are a couple of highlights. Mechagodzilla doesn’t feel quite as threatening this time around, and Titanosaurus is too boring to really stand out, but Godzilla often takes a back seat to his foes, so its nice to see him get the spotlight in his last film of the Showa era. Terror of Mechagodzilla also ties back to the original Gojira (1954) not in any direct way, but by having the climax hinge on self sacrifice.

Its not a great looking film, much of the costumes and model work is passable, but it lacks the opulence and detail of some early entries. Still, I think it has a lot of life for being the fourteenth sequel. It ends up being a great monster brawl, and a decent (temporary) finale for the Big G.

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