I was nine-years-old when "Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla" was released to Japanese theaters in December of 1994. I even vaguely remember seeing a special on my local TV news station about this film's impending release - and thus me being me, a life-long devoted fan of Godzilla, I knew right away that I wanted to see it. Unfortunately, this would not happen for another five years, not until "Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla" was finally released stateside on VHS (remember those?), along with several other Heisei-Era "Godzilla" films finally seeing their debut in the United States.
But I have to admit, I was let down by this film upon first seeing it in 1999. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Watching "Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla" today for the first time since then, I now think I know why.
The first Heisei-Era "Godzilla" film was "Godzilla 1985"/"The Return of Godzilla" (1984), which saw the return of mutant fire-breathing dinosaur Godzilla after a nine-year hiatus following his last appearance in the Showa-Era classic "Terror of Mechagodzilla" (1975). In that last film and throughout the later half of the Showa Era, Godzilla was a superhero. "Godzilla 1985"/"The Return of Godzilla" saw Godzilla returned to his roots as a rampaging menace and later on in the Heisei Era, something more closely resembling an anti-hero. "Godzilla 1985"/"The Return of "Godzilla" got the Heisei Era off on the right foot, and it was followed up five years later by the vastly superior - and Heisei-Era high point, and my personal favorite "Godzilla" film after "Gojira" (1954) - "Godzilla vs. Biollante" (1989).
But despite earning largely good reviews and having received a special cult status with most hardcore Godzilla fans, "Godzilla vs. Biollante" was a box office disappoint for Toho - which has produced every single "Godzilla" film made in Japan from 1954 until now, in 2019 - who blamed its poor box office performance on a darker, more adult tone and a lack of familiar monsters. They thought they would remedy that with the horrendous "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" (1991), by re-introducing one of Godzilla's oldest foes (the three-headed fire-breathing dragon King Ghidorah), and having a lighter tone. After "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah," this trend would continue for the next four films in the Heisei Era - seemingly reaching its "family-friendly" high point with "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II" (1993), and this film.
But "Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla" does have some things working in its favor to distinguish it from its predecessors, though not by much. It does have a very strong emphasis on character development and humor, its female characters play significant parts in the film's events and there's even some chaste romance in there, too.
But it does not make a picture that is really all that compelling in the end - especially since one would expect that the injection of fresh new talent both behind and in front of the camera would make the proceedings here a markedly different experience from past Heisei-Era entries that were causing the series to falter tremendously after such promising beginnings.
To begin things, Godzilla and his adorable - ADORABLE! - adopted son Little Godzilla (first seen in the previous "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II") have retreated to their peaceful home on Birth Island. But the Japanese government, the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and the United Nations are already implementing plans to defeat Godzilla once and for all, but the two plans are fundamentally at odds with one another.
The first plan, the "T" (Telepathy) Plan, led by Dr. Chinatusu Gondo (Towako Yoshikawa) wants to control Godzilla, by planting a device at the base of his skull that would allow him to receive telepathic commands from the young psychic Miki Saegusa (Heisei series regular Megumi Odaka, finally given her first starring role and is able to effectively carry the film on her own). The other plan, the "M" Plan, has involved the construction of a second gigantic fighting "mech" to kill Godzilla, "M.O.G.U.E.R.A.," a massive, heavily armored, heavily armed successor to Mechagodzilla (and functions in ways that are similar to the Zords from the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" TV series); as an aside, this film marks the first time that Moguera has appeared on-screen since its debut in Toho's "The Mysterians" (1957).
But Miki Saegusa has an alarming vision: she is warned by the Cosmos (Keiko Imamura and Sayaka Osawa), the miniature twin fairies last seen in "Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth" (1992), that a horrific new monster is on its way to Earth, and it's up to her to try to stop it. But it won't be easy because of her dual involvement with the competing "T" and "M" Plans. This new monster is later revealed to be the Spacegodzilla of the title, a hideous beast created by Godzilla's cells being carried off into space by either Biollante or Mothra (both of whom appear here via stock footage from previous films), falling through a black hole, and finally emerging from a white hole as a highly evolved and psychically-charged mutant version of Godzilla that is able to draw energy directly from outer space - giving it almost unlimited supernatural powers and abilities.
So, Chinatsu and Miki are forced to team up with two JSDF officers - Lt. Shinjo (Jun Hashizume) and Lt. Kiyo (Zenkichi Yoneyama) - as well as the disgruntled Major Yuki (Akira Emoto), who has a personal grudge against Godzilla that's become a major obsession for him (think, like Captain Ahab from "Moby Dick"); his best friend, Colonel Gondo (Toru Minegishi, from "Godzilla vs. Biollante"), was killed by Godzilla in 1989 and - SURPRISE! - Chinatsu also happens to be Gondo's sister. Yuki's willingness to endanger his comrades on his personal vendetta makes up the core of much of the film's emotional drama - along with some of the touchy-feeling romantic stuff, too, that develops between Miki and Shinjo.
Like all the films made during the Heisei Era (1984-1995), it does have some astonishing special effects by the late Koichi Kawakita, who first began working on the series with "Godzilla vs. Biollante." But as the series went on, I couldn't help but notice a stark shift in the quality of the special effects; I'm reminded of the dedication and effort put into "Godzilla vs. Biollante," but everything else afterward in the series was something of a mixed bag. For example, I couldn't help but notice the obvious use of wires in some of the scenes where Spacegodzilla is psychically levitating either Godzilla or Little Godzilla - which seems odd given the extensive use of mattes, miniatures, forced-perspective photography and of course, the less-obvious use of wires in "Godzilla 1985"/"The Return of Godzilla" and "Godzilla vs. Biollante." The use of special effects in those films was much more convincing for some reason - so what gives, Toho?
Aside from that, there is also the noticeable shift in tone to a more "family-friendly" enterprise, which was done at the insistence of long-time series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka (who sadly passed away in 1997 and produced every single "Godzilla" film made in Japan from 1954 to 1995), and "Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla" director Kensho Yamashita. While it may have made the films more commercially successful for Toho, it also compromised the integrity of the films, as well - since it is worth noting that Kensho Yamashita had a background in directing music videos for Japanese teen idols and even more alarmingly, long-time Godzilla suit-mation performer Kenpachiro Satsuma went on the record to state that a highly emotional (and heart-breaking) scene involving Godzilla furiously trying to free Little Godzilla from the crystal prison constructed by Spacegodzilla was cut from the final version of the movie because of its "seriousness," much to his and our disappointment.
On the plus side, the performances are pretty good, for the most part. Megumi Odaka really grows in this picture, showing the audience how much her character has matured since her first appearance as a 17-year-old in "Godzilla vs. Biollante." (The cinematography by Masahiro Kishimoto does give way to one beautifully shot sequence of Odaka on the beach watching the sun set over the horizon, and then having a short conversation with co-star Jun Hashizume.) The other really great performance belongs to Akira Emoto as Yuki, whose personal obsession with killing Godzilla is both understandable and lamentable, as it has alienated him from most of his comrades and made him particularly despised by his superiors. But still, one cannot help but like him because he gives one of the strongest performances of any actor in the entire series.
"Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla" was a commercial success in Japan, but received mixed reviews; it isn't hard to see why it got a mixed reception but performed well at the box office. But I'm glad that the Heisei Era really redeemed itself with the next film after this one, which was the final entry in the series, the epic closer "Godzilla vs. Destoroyah" (1995).
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