In the year 2204AD, a submersible has discovered the remains of a giant, three headed dragon at the bottom of the ocean, one of the heads is missing! Back in 1992, over the skies of Tokyo, a U.F.O. is spotted. At a Dinosaur Museum in Hakata, a crazed old man claims to have seen a real-life dinosaur. What could all these things possibly have to do with one another?
Released in 1991 and directed by Kazuki Omori, Godzilla vs King Ghidorah is the 18th Godzilla film and the third in the Heisei series. Coming off the heels of Godzilla vs Biollante, this film and Biollante share very little in connection other than a previous mention early in this film, and that’s it! Godzilla vs King Ghidorah is the first time in the Godzilla series that pits Godzilla against his great nemesis in one on one competition, as all previous films have featured their fights either in a team or a handicap match. Due to a financial disappointment from the previous film, producers at Toho decided to take a page from the recently successful Back to the Future series, and create a story involving time travel. To this end Godzilla vs King Ghidorah is something of an origin story. While it is the 18th film in the whole series, you need to consider that the 16th film in the series: The Return of Godzilla acted as a reboot of sort to the series, as it ignored the existence of all preceding films bar the original 1954 film. In that film’s story, Godzilla attacked Tokyo in 1954, but had then not been seen in 30 years. So, while in film chronology Godzilla and King Ghidorah had met on at least four occasions beforehand, story wise with this film; they had never met at all! In fact, at the start of this film, King Ghidorah didn’t exist at all!
The film’s plot follows young science fiction writer Teresawa (Kosuke Toyohara) who is interested by a story of a man in Hakata who claims to have seen a dinosaur while fighting the Americans in World War 2. The man claims the dinosaur saved him and his fellow troops from the American military while they were camped out on the island of Lagos. Teresawa investigates the story and believes that the Dinosaur was caught up in a nuclear bomb test; turning it into Godzilla! While this is going on, the UFO spotted over Tokyo is later discovered, and the occupants aren’t alien, but humans from the future, who claim that Godzilla is going to cause great catastrophe to Japan. They have come up with a plan to go back in time to the battle between the Americans and Japanese on Lagos, and remove the dinosaur from the timeline, thereafter, preventing the creature from becoming Godzilla. Their plan works, and Godzilla is no longer part of Japan’s history; but a new monster has taken his place, one under direct control by the people from the future.
Godzilla vs King Ghidorah’s story is an in-depth one. This film like many other Japanese Godzilla film’s runs in at just a little over an hour and a half, but at that pace is still full. There is quite a lot packed in, and it’s a story which just gets going. This though does create a few narrative difficulties. Given it’s decision to run with a time travelling storyline, there are a few discrepancies which altogether create a few points of weak plotting. Given the time period it was made in, these could have been allowed as it is a difficult thing to do, ‘change time and make it count’; but if it was made today, you wouldn’t be able to get away with it! If the film allowed itself to be a bit longer, even by another half an-hour, the writers would have been allowed the extra room to make certain bits work a little sharper and allow a better build-up.
These difficulties with time travelling storyline include the idea that despite being removed from Japan’s historical timeline, some people still know its name! Those who go on the time travelling expedition are still likely to know about the existence of Godzilla, as they went backwards and forwards in time, but their timeline continues, so they are more than likely going to remember the existence of a Giant Lizard. However, those who didn’t go back in time, somehow still remember the existence of Godzilla. But wasn’t he removed from their timeline? Surely the creature would disappear from their own memory as; well, according to this film, those events with Godzilla wouldn’t have happened? It gets a bit ridiculous as the film carries on as some characters mention that he has gotten much bigger when he returns to the fray (how do they know if he is or isn’t taller than he was before?). The point of removing Godzilla serves its own purpose for the time travelers, but for the point of a story that goes back in time to remove something from history, it is not well incorporated. It does create repercussions for the series as well, as the events of Godzilla vs Biollante couldn’t have happened if there wasn’t a Godzilla for that event, however the ending to Biollante does get brought back up in a small scene in Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla three films later. Like I said, this kind of story telling could have been hashed out better if the film had been a bit longer, and you could give the writers the benefit of the doubt as it is something that they may never have tried to do before and had only become popular due to another series. To me though, there is one bit of the story I wish they could have provided more detail on, and that’s of the Hakata man (Koichi Ueda) who protests at a dinosaur museum about seeing a real dinosaur. Why has he suddenly decided to bring this up now, and what does he mean that the dinosaurs would come back? This part of the story is sort of brushed under the rug quickly and you never hear from this character again.
Godzilla vs King Ghidorah does have a pretty cool cast of characters who are a bit of an odd bunch at times. Teresawa is a pretty good lead and acts well as an audience narrator as his investigation into the dinosaur protester is what makes the film go. His on and off girlfriend (Kiwako Harada) though could have been used better as she is there very early on, but after the team travel back in time, she only makes two or three more appearances. She is sidelined for Emmy Kano (Anna Nakagawa) who has a connection to Teresawa but acts like a potential love interest. Emmy is a pretty fun character, but after nearly 20 minutes of early inclusion to the plot, you would have thought his actual girlfriend might be a little more involved throughout. The film’s authority figures are pretty good; however, they do carry some inequalities to each other. Fujio (Tokuma Nishioka) for instance is one of the film’s main stand out’s. He carries a great level of authority and is commanding throughout the film. He seems like a great leader; he is however not that at all, he is a senior physicist (no problem with that) but given the amount of time he spends with the head of the security agency; Dobashi (Akiji Kobayashi), you could be forgiven for thinking that Fujio is the greater and more commanding of the two. Fujio just leads the scene, but he isn’t the head; why not? Fujio looks bigger and acts stronger than Dobashi, yet it is apparently the other way around. You don’t see this though until you go back and hear them introduce themselves.
Propping up the cast are a good selection of supporting cast too. Miki (Megumi Odaka) now in her second film in the Heisei series does a pretty good job alongside Mazaki (Katsuhiko Sasaki) as a secondary narration and more on the side of the government. While Teresawa goes after Dinosaurs, she tries to connect the UFO to Godzilla. One thing you need to bear in mind is that Miki is a Psychic; not that you will learn that from this film though, as there are barely any clues to that point, you will need to watch other films in the Heisei series to learn that bit. Shindo (Yoshio Tsuchiya) meanwhile is an interesting character as he creates an aspect to the story as a link to the human past, although in some points feels like someone to be referenced to in the third person. His emotional scene with Godzilla in the final act is a great scene and carries allowances for interpretation as to why Godzilla does what he does, but it is still a pretty emotional scene, for both. I did though get confused when I saw this film again, as in the English dub; the company he said he is head of sounds like Daewoo; even the companies logo featured on the side of the building and on his nuclear submarine feature a badge very similar to the Daewoo Car brand; I don’t know if the film makers were trying to say something!
The film does do some pretty good special effects and goes all out to make the monsters look as great as possible. Godzilla (Kenpachiro Satsuma) has a fantastic look and the film features one of his best designs to date. His more upright straight back stance creates a great level of authority and power, plus his built-up scale creates a new level of power and makes him look both terrifying and dangerous at the same time, something to be both feared and revered. King Ghidorah (Hurricane Ryu) simultaneously is also well done. To date this is still my favourite design of the three headed monster. His more stable and controlled necks make him look more powerful than in the Showa series, like his targeting and attacking is more directed than random. He looks like a destructive machine and when you see his shadow flying across the sea before his reveal in Kyushu presents a level of wonderment as you begin to wonder what he is going to look like. The fight between the two is glorious and is one of the best fights in the series to date. While possibly a little quick, it doesn’t feel too long neither, and the combination of the music plus action creates a very tense stand-off as they trade blows and swap advantage; and then they both get a bit more ferocious between themselves creating some interesting shots. The fight while short is sweet, then happens again as King Ghidorah receives a makeover, and the film concludes with another superb fight, one even better than the first one creating new shocks and surprises while creating as great a tension as the first fight. It also features a moment, which at the time (and might still be) the only time a Japanese Audience has cheered when a building was being destroyed.
It’s not just Monster effects that are cool, the film makes good use of cuttings and miniature techniques to create great moments of city destruction and people running away. The attack on Sapporo is well done, the WW2 fight between the Spielberg (seriously) led naval assault on the Dinosaur, and there is even a fighter jet battle against King Ghidorah. Some uses of special effects though are a bit annoying. The Dorat creatures belonging to the people from the future can look cute, from a certain angle, but close-up look just freaky, the polar-opposite of cute.
The Soundtrack is both classic and contemporary. Seeing the return of Akira Ifukube to compose the soundtrack for the first time since Terror of Mechagodzilla; the soundtrack features some classic pieces of soundtrack from the Godzilla series, such as Godzilla’s own theme, but possibly with an updated score on it. A good portion of the soundtrack though feels more modern for a more modern film; featuring modern technology but still laced with classic instruments.
The soundtrack creates moments of monster fighting tension, mystery sounds of a deep-sea dive, grim sounds of a city being destroyed, serious sounding military maneuvers, sweet moments of a simple friendly chat and serious notes that sound like time is of the essence. It’s a fun soundtrack that works for every scene and really help to create the vibe that the scene is trying to portray. You do get the weirder pieces such as M11 (Robert Scott Field) going for a run, but on the whole, there isn’t really any bad tracks in this.
Godzilla vs King Ghidorah does have it’s issues, most of which come down to it’s off the track story which in places is just confusing and sometimes time travelling nonsense. It’s a film with some minor casting issues, and just little nitpicks here and there. Despite that though, this is a pretty good film. It could be that the monsters don’t let us down, or if there is simply enough in this film to keep it going and no side tracking that does it. The film’s story issues don’t allow thinking time as it is just time to move onto the next thing, which mean you are not looking or thinking back. The film feels like a good long length but is a pretty short film by most standards. The film’s action pieces are good, the cast are enjoyable, the fights are fantastic, and the soundtrack is awesome. It all sounds like a mess sometimes, but this film altogether is very fun and an enjoyable watch. It’s one that won’t let you down, and is compulsory viewing for all Monster Movie fans!