We’re all familiar with those toy soldiers who get crushed in every kaiju film. Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla is their turn in the limelight.
You know the story: Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, or somebody else is tearing up downtown Tokyo during one of their regularly scheduled temper tantrums. People are fleeing, children are screaming, and buildings are being reduced to rubble then in comes the Japanese Self-Defense Force. Eiji Tsuburaya or Shinji Higuchi gives the word and miniature tanks and trucks drive onto the set, aiming their guns at the stuntman in the rubber lizard costume, and fireworks go off as the soldiers do their best to protect their homes. They fail, of course, and the stuntman steps all over the toy trucks on his way to fight one of his colleagues dressed up as another kaiju. We don’t often think about what’s next for those toy soldiers, but that’s precisely the question Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla asks. What do you do after you’ve been stepped on?
Our hero this time is Akane Yashiro, a soldier in the JXSDF’s (the X is for Xenomorph) Anti-Megalosaurus Force. In 1999, forty-five years after the first Godzilla attack that started a wave of kaiju-related incidents, Akane’s unit is called into action when a second Godzilla surfaces one dark and stormy night. The attack is a disaster, and Akane has to watch helplessly as her own soldiers die under the creature’s heel. The episode ends with her on desk duty for the next four years, while the Japanese government undertakes a special project that they hope will put them on equal terms with Godzilla. They call in the nation’s best scientists to dig up the skeleton of the original Godzilla to use as the base for a new cyborg, a Mechagodzilla. Akane gets her chance for revenge when she is called in to pilot the new super-weapon, Kiryu.
Akane’s inner turmoil is the heart of the film. Once she’s back with the JXSDF she has to contend with an angry squadmate fresh off his turn as Kamen Rider Gills,, played by Yūsuke Tomoi, who blames her for his brother’s death back in 1999. She can’t properly tell him off because she still blames herself too. She gets help in the form of scientist and single-father Tokumitsu Yuhara and his daughter, Sara. It’s a good setup backed by good performances, and Akane’s emotional arc comes full circle in satisfying fashion, mostly. The only issue there is that the real resolution happens during the post-credits sequences, which feels like it should have been a part of the main film.
Director Masaaki Tezuka and his team did a pretty good job with the kaiju half of the equation. In many shots Godzilla or Kiryu will be framed by rain or smoke to give them an extra layer of menace, as if to say all sense of normal life is obfuscated when the giant monsters come to town. During their battles Tezuka frames them like boxers in a ring. He rarely shoots them from ground height, opting instead to place the camera closer to center, tracking their every blow. The fight choreography is similarly dramatic. Godzilla and Kiryu each pull out increasingly impressive moves as the momentum of the battle sways in their favor. It’s reminiscent of a really good wrestling match, which many of the best kaiju fights usually are.
Thanks to its strong cast and effects team, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla is one of the stronger movies the Film Club’s looked at. It clearly communicates its theme on the value of life in the face of survivor’s guilt without bogging it down in melodrama. All of characters, even Japan itself, go through some sort of revelation with this idea. Godzilla, in one of his more villainous turns, is the best heel for everyone to work their issues out on. The animatronics on the suit, the most expressive by that point, aid in this depiction. It’s impressive and rare how every aspect of this film is tuned towards the same goal, and that’s why I enjoy it so much.
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