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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla

Welcome to this week's edition of Fishing in the Discount Bin, the ol' bit on my podcast that I resurrected here on my blog.  Reviewing my notes, we're into a spate of Christmas movies, and as I mention in this entry, December is a very special time in Japanese cinema...that's when the new Godzilla movies come out!  So now, it's the Godzilla movie I actually saw in the theatres during my time in Japan:  Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla.  This review is originally dated December 19, 2010.

Alright, when I reviewed the American Godzilla a couple of weeks ago, I said that there was a proud Japanese tradition:  December means time for Godzilla movies!  No rhyme or reason to it...that's just the release schedule that Toho Studios have always stuck by.  I learned of this when I was in Japan o so many years ago, and saw that a brand new Godzilla movie was coming out that December!

During my time in Japan, I decided to spend my December holiday up north in Sapporo, hanging out with a friend of mine.  Now, around this time, was when the American remake of The Ring came out.  My friend saw The Ring, liked it, when down to the video store to find the Japanese original and its sequel, and had become infatuated with the entire Ring franchise.  He was urging me to go see it, but I declined, saying that I was just never really into horror movies.  My friend thinks I had a repressive upbringing because I don't like horror movies.  "Your parents must have NEVER let you watch anything rated R," he told me once.  And as I tried to explain to him, my parents let me watch TONS of R rated movies growing up...but the ones they let me watch were Porky's and Slap Shot...comedies filled with naked women and foul language.  After that debate, I told my friend that the only way I'd probably ever see The Ring is if he bought my ticket.

So when I arrived in Sapporo, as I literally just got off the plane, my friend takes me by the  hand and drags me to a theatre to see The Ring.  Needless to say, I was traumatized.  So to get back at my friend, I dragged him down to Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla a few days later.  "Well, I came to Japan to experience the culture,"  he said, "and I guess Godzilla is part of Japanese culture."

So...Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla

After years of fighting giant monsters, there's a collective panic in Japan when the king of all giant monsters, Godzilla, returns.  In the battle, we are introduced to our film's heroine, Akane.  During the battle with Godzilla, the retreat is ordered.  Akane's tank collides with an armored car.  The car is flung into the path of Godzilla, and all inside are killed.  Even though Akane is cleared in the ensuing investigation, her comrades blame her for the deaths.  And worst of all, she blames herself.  She accepts a desk job, and retreats from the world. 

It's realized that a new weapon will be needed to fight Godzilla, so the government gets in touch with Dr. Yuhara.  Dr. Yuhara is a cutting edge roboticist specializing in something called "DNA Computers."  Using the DNA of an extinct animal, he can create a robot duplicate of that animal.  The government then reveals that they recovered the bones of the first Godzilla -- the one from the very first film back in 1954 -- and using these bones and Dr. Yuhara's knowledge, they hope to create a robot duplicate of Godzilla -- a Mechagodzilla -- to protect the country.  Dr. Yuhara is reluctant at first, because he's a single father and it would take too much time away from his young daughter Sara.  But, the government and Sara both come up with the idea that Dr. Yuhara would be able to bring Sara to work with him every day...much like how some baseball players are allowed to bring their kids into the dugout.  Dr. Yuhara signs on. 

4 years later, and Kiryu, the name given to Mechagodzilla, is ready for action.  Akane is approached by her old commanding officer.  It seems that her old CO is now in charge of the Kiryu squadron, and he wants Akane on the team.  Akane is even given the coveted position of being Kiryu's pilot.  But while her CO may have forgiven her, the rest of the squadron hasn't, and she's still wallowing in self-pity.  And then, she meets Dr. Yuhara and he's instantly smitten.  Yuhara comes up with the perfect way to ask Akane out on a date.  If she defeats Godzilla in battle, he'll take her out for a celebratory dinner.  If she doesn't, he'll take her out to dinner to apologize for not building a stronger robot.  It's win-win for the good doctor!

Kiryu is unveiled to the public, and we are shown his awe-inspiring arsenal.  We are shown how Kiryu is operated remotely from airplanes circling the battle.  Kiryu's primary weapon is the Absolute Zero, a freeze cannon that reduces the temperature of anything to absolute zero.  During this demonstration, Godzilla is sighted approaching Tokyo, so Kiryu is summoned into action!  The battle between Godzilla and Kiryu is going well, until Godzilla roars.  The roar reaches right down to the strands of Godzilla DNA in the DNA computer, and awakens some old memories in Kiryu.  Kiryu's monstrous personality takes control.  The human operators no longer have control as Kiryu goes on a rampage, laying waste to Tokyo.  During this attack, the airplane carrying Akane is damaged by Kiryu, and crashes.  Akane is able to rescue the pilots and the rest of the crew before the airplane explodes.  Akane's heroism redeems her in the eyes of her teammates, but she's still unwilling to forgive herself.  With no way to regain control of Kiryu, and no weapons powerful enough to stop it, the military is forced to allow Kiryu to continue to rampage until it runs out of power. 

Once the rampage is done and Kiryu is back in the repair bay, young Sara is very sad at all the destruction that's going on.  She says that Kiryu is alive, and shouldn't be forced to fight.  Yuhara explains that the death of Sara's mother all those years ago has made her very sensitive towards the subject of death.  So, Akane sits down to have a talk with Sara.  Akane explains to Sara that it's OK to force Kiryu to fight because Kiryu is just like her...no friends, no family, their lives are absolutely worthless, so there's really nothing left to do but fight.  Sara points out that this philosophy is absolutely fucked up and every life is worth something.  Akane is taken aback by this tough love.

(Actually, I wish it happened like this, but because it's Japanese, and a Japanese woman talking to a Japanese girl, the entire conversation takes place with the politest of terms.) 

Godzilla returns to attack again, but because of Kiryu's earlier rampage, the government is reluctant to deploy Kiryu.  After the CO implores the Prime Minister that Kiryu's computers are fixed and Kiryu won't rampage again, the PM orders Kiryu into action.

What then follows is a truly epic battle between Godzilla and Kiryu.  But when Kiryu is about to fire the Absolute Zero and end this once and for all, Godzilla gets in a lucky shot with his atomic breath and Kiryu is down for the count.  As part of the damage, Kiryu can no longer be piloted remotely, so Akane ditches her plane, and ventures into Kiryu to pilot it from within.  As soon as Kiryu is back on its feet, though, Godzilla hits it again with his atomic breath.  Kiryu is down again, and Akane is ready to curl up and die.

But then, as her life flashes before her eyes, she's reminded of the faith her CO showed in her by giving her this position, the new found respect of her teammates, and how Yuhara is tripping all over himself to get into her pants.  With Sara's words echoing in her head, she realizes she has lots to live for, and finds the strength to keep going. 

Akane's CO, flying one of the support planes, sees that Godzilla is about to let loose with his atomic breath, so he sets his plane on a kamikaze course with Godzilla, and his plane gets wedged in Godzilla's mouth!  The CO is all like, "Take the shot Akane!  Don't worry about me!  Finish this!"  But Akane is all like, "NO!!  Godzilla will harm no more innocents!  Not on my watch!"  Akane/Kiryu charges at Godzilla, pulls the plane out of Godzilla's mouth and tosses it to safety.  With one of Kiryu's hand's covering Godzilla's mouth to prevent the atomic breath from going off, Akane drags Godzilla out to sea and fires the Absolute Zero.  And since this is in the water when this happens, a huge column of ice erupts from the ocean floor.

The ice explodes and Godzilla emerges from it.  I've got to admit, when I saw this on the big screen, it was very impressive.  Godzilla looked bruised, battered, out of breath, and bleeding.  Defeated, Godzilla returns to the sea.  Akane calls in to report that Kiryu is out of energy, heavily damaged, and unable to pursue.  The government applauds her for her good work, and is confident that they are ready for Godzilla, should Godzilla strike again.  Akane steps out of Kiryu's control room, and watches Godzilla walk into the sunrise, and she is finally free of her demons.

Oh, and in a post-credits sequence, Akana tells Sara that Sara was right all along.  She then tells Yuhara that she and Godzilla actually fought to a draw, and since he never planned for that, that means SHE'LL buy HIM dinner. 

This is just a big fun movie and watching it on the big screen in a Sapporo cinema is one of my fondest memories of Japan.  I'm so glad I bought it on DVD when I saw it was released direct-to-DVD here in North America.  But yeah...it's one of those movies where the memories surrounding it are just bigger and better than the movie itself. 

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