I never watched the original Godzilla from 1954 in Japanese or 1956 in American English, but I think I did see one of those early films, one with Mothra or Rodan maybe. What I remember is a Godzilla that acted more like the savior of Tokyo and all Japanese children, not the embodiment of retribution against human hubris as he is today. He was more like the giant robots I played with as a kid. (Does anyone remember the robotic Shogun warriors? I had Raideen. Hey, there’s Godzilla with the warriors in a commercial.)
In this decade, the Godzilla franchise has turned back to the themes of the original movie. The King of Monsters was originally a symbol for the atomic bomb. Though they kill him at the end of the first movie, we are told another beast just like him could emerge if nuclear weapons testing continues. We were the horror we unleashed on the world, something as destructive as a giant radioactive dinosaur! There’s an argument in the 1954 movie about releasing the research done to create the weapon that kills the monster. “Bombs versus bombs, missiles versus missiles, and now a new superweapon to throw upon us all! As a scientist – no, as a human being – I can’t allow [the release of the research] to happen!”
In the new stories, the nuclear threat has been blended with pollution and all threats to the environment in summing up the reason Godzilla exists, and the anime movies I mean to review here (two parts of a trilogy) don’t try to offer a cogent reason for the monster’s existence, only hints and statements quickly abandoned to the action.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters begins with the human race on an interstellar ark searching for a new place to live. We quickly learn Captain Haruo Sakaki is the angry radical of the group who believes the leaders are cold-hearted and aimless. He’s also the one who hateses Godzilla the mostest, my precious! After a tragedy with a landing party, leadership concludes it’s been roughly 10,000 years since they left Earth (time having shifted due to their spacecraft’s warp drive). Surely Godzilla is dead and Earth can receive them again.
With little development in the story, we learn humanity has been joined by two alien peoples, both of whom lost their planets to monsters like Godzilla. One group, the Exif, is primarily represented by the priest Metphies. He calls on the others to seek a vague god figure and harmony while also encouraging Haruo to pursue his passion to destroy Godzilla (If you believe in yourself, kid, you too can kill a really big monster). The other group appear to be all logical warriors, the Bilusaludo. This group was on earth trying to build the Mechagodzilla counter-weapon before the King of Monsters smote them with his unyielding wrath.
Little time is given to understanding almost all of the characters and a lot is given to Haruo for cursing Godzilla’s ugly face. They are going to take back their planetary home from this beast or die trying! (Where do you want to place your money in that bet?)
Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle is part two, so (spoiler) whereas it appears almost everyone dies at the end of part one, several don’t, and they begin to ask how they can get off the planet. But wait, maybe they can defeat the monster after all! We must destroy that evil thing of evilness!
You might expect a handful of lines about evolutionary superiority to be thrown around, but one of the craziest arguments stated is how the planet has adapted to support its “creator.” Did Earth long for the return of humanity? No, it has chosen Godzilla over humans as its creator. I could accept the word “master,” but “creator”? Nobody around here is creating anything, not with those big guns.
If you don’t go into this story thinking Godzilla is a force of nature, little statements like, “This planet can go to hell,” said just before the speaker is vaporized easily convince you the monster is actually the Earth itself, fighting against the return of a corrosive human civilization. One of the character says that in order to kill the monster, they had to become monsters, not realizing that once you become a monster, no matter what else you do, you lose.
I like the artwork in both movies, but the dialog could use an upgrade. The story is carried largely by technobabble and military filler with many repetitions of one particular argument:
- There’s no way we can kill it.
- We must! I have a plan!
- It’s even more powerful than we could ever possibly imagine possible to think!
- Stop babbling! We must save our planet from the monster!
If I read the hints correctly, part three will reveal a new, unthinkable threat, and the survivors will stick to the sidelines, watching Godzilla defend the Earth from another incarnation of destruction. And maybe that will mean humanity will be able to live in peace with the Earth and that great menace turned planet defender. If that happens, someone will probably apologize for all of arrogant humanity and confess a loyalty or love for King of Monsters.
If that doesn’t happen, I’m sure every one of them will be dead.