Kaiju Corner: Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah (1991)
After yet another box office disappointment with Godzilla Vs. Biollante, Toho decided to shift gears with the series. They believed the route they were taking with the franchise was too dark and alienated fans, more specifically the children. Cue Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons: “Oh please, someone think of the children!” Series creator Tomoyuki Tanaka thought that bringing backs monsters fans are familiar with would renew interest in the series while Biollante director Kazuki Omori believed it to be a result of renewed interest in time travel stories thanks to the Back to the Future franchise. The ideas of time travel being what Omori would later incorporate into what would become Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah opens in the year 2204 where two shadowy figures in a submersible are surveying the corpse of the three headed monster, King Ghidorah, at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. While one of the figures is astonished that such a creature exists and that it has two heads, the other retorts that it used to have three which it lost in a battle against Godzilla in the year 1992.
In 1992, a strange aircraft is spotted over the countryside of Japan and everyone has come to the conclusion that it must be a UFO. Miki Saegusa, still developing her psychic powers and now running the Paranormal Research Center, has been at work studying Godzilla, who’s been resting at the bottom of the ocean undisturbed thanks to the anti-nuclear energy bacteria, which has been ironically keeping him alive. Miki brings to the attention of the Japanese government a satellite image that show the UFO at Godzilla’s location the night before, leading to even more puzzling questions about the craft’s intentions.
Science fiction writer Kenichiro Terasawa is called up and asked to write an article for the local newspaper about the UFO as this is his speciality but seems to be more interested in a local fisherman terrorizing the natural history museum claiming to have lived through an actual dinosaur attack on the Lagos islands in 1944. Terasawa speaks with the man who tells him that the island had become overrun by American troops and it was up to a small group led by modern day business mogul Yasuaki Shindo to staunch the Americans approach but a large creature intervened, which the garrison took to be an omen and dubbed the dinosaur their savior. Terasawa visits paleontologist Professor Mazaki, who confirms that it is possible that the Japanese soldiers may have seen a dinosaur so Terasawa delves further into why they haven’t seen the dinosaur since. The conclusion he came to was that they have. After nuclear testing on Lagos island, the dinosaur became Godzilla.
Meanwhile, the UFO has landed and the visitors have announced themselves as citizens from the future, the 23rd century to be exact. They have come to warn them that nuclear pollution would destroy Japan, making it uninhabitable, and the sole cause was Godzilla. They foretell that when Godzilla awakes, he will destroy nuclear power plant after power plant, leaving the land irradiated. In order to prevent this, the time travelers propose to travel back to Lagos island in 1944 and stop Godzilla from ever being born, which they know about from an unreleased book called The Birth of Godzilla, written by Kenichiro Terasawa.
Joining them on their expedition would be Miki Saegusa, Professor Mazaki, Terasawa, time traveler Emi, and Emi’s android companion, M-11. Emi also brings along three winged animals called dorats, that are useful for navigation in case they ever get lost on their mission, or so she says.
They travel back in time to 1944 and watch as the Japanese do the best they can to halt the American advance but are being eviscerated. Just when hope seems lost, a loud roar and footsteps are heard as the large dinosaur reveals itself, making quick work of the troops. The Americans begin artillery bombardments on the dinosaur, damaging the creature heavily and toppling him over. The Americans approach him, but the dinosaur rises up enraged, obliterating the enemy. The dinosaur retreats, heavily injured, as the Japanese soldiers look on with gratitude.
Miki confirms the dinosaur to be Godzilla and so the team works to teleport the dinosaur from Lagos island to the Bering sea in 1992, keeping him away from the H-bomb tests. With the teleportation being successful, the team returns to 1992 but Miki notices that the dorats have gone missing. It turns out that Emi had released them on Lagos island to be exposed to radiation after which they combine to become King Ghidorah. The time travelers' intentions all along were to destroy Japan, which is revealed by Emi to be the largest and most powerful superpower in the 23rd century, and they would do that by controlling King Ghidorah and with Godzilla out of the way there would be nothing to stop them.
Out of options, Japan poses a plan to dose the dinosaur in the Beiring Sea with enough radiation to turn him back into Godzilla; however, Japan is a non-nuclear country and does not have the capabilities to do so. It turns out that Shindo, the commander of the Japanese forces on Lagos, has a nuclear submarine outside Japanese waters in preparation of Japan ever being attacked. Shindo agrees to use the submarine to bring about the second rebirth of Godzilla.
Emi, having second thoughts on what she’s done, goes to Terasawa and agrees to help thwart the time travelers’ plans to destroy Japan. Meanwhile, Miki begins to sense Godzilla’s presence, which shouldn’t be possible as the submarine hasn’t reached his location. Emi deducts that it’s possible that maybe there’s nuclear pollution in the Bering Sea, which Terasawa later confirms after finding a report that a nuclear submarine sank there in the 1960s.
Terasawa and Emi go to tell Shindo to pull the submarine back but M-11 intervenes, taking Emi back to the ship. Emi overrides M-11’s system and he’s now under her control.
The submarine makes it to Godzilla’s destination expecting a small dinosaur but Miki was right, the dinosaur had mutated and the King of Monsters had been reborn. Unable to avoid collision, the submarine is destroyed and Godzilla absorbs the radiation, making him more powerful and larger than before.
Godzilla makes landing and the time travelers send King Ghidorah to kill him. Emi, M-11, and Terasawa, meanwhile, are compromising the ship’s computer system to destroy the time travelers’ control of King Ghidorah. Godzillla and King Ghidorah battle it out and King Ghidorah goes for the kill but the computer is destroyed rendering Ghidorah immobile, giving Godzilla the upper hand. Godzilla uses his new power to send King Ghidorah reeling back and severs its middle head with his radioactive blast. King Ghidorah tries to escape but Godzilla blasts him out of the sky and Ghidorah plunges into the sea.
Emi, Terasawa, and M-11 make it to the control room where the time travelers reveal that their ship will automatically return to their time if damaged. To prevent this, Emi and M-11 teleport the ship to Godzilla’s location. Godzilla destroys the ship and Emi, Terasawa, and M-11 escape.
Though the battle is over, the war against Godzilla has begun again as he makes his way to Tokyo. In order to prevent the destruction of Tokyo, Emi returns to the future where they resuscitate King Ghidorah and infuse him with 23rd century technology to create Mech-King Ghidorah.
Emi returns to the present piloting Mecha-King Ghidorah and they do battle with Godzilla. Emi puts up a good fight but Godzilla is still too powerful for even the cyborg. As a last resort, Emi activates the capture system which traps Godzilla and Mecha-King Ghidorah flies him out over the ocean before Godzilla’s ray causes them both to plummet to the bottom of the ocean.
Emi returns to the future and reveals that she is a descendent of Terasawa as Terasaw looks on with hope for a bright future.
The final scene is that of Godzilla regaining consciousness after his battle, ready to wreak havoc once again.
It’s funny, I hadn’t seen this movie since I was maybe twelve or thirteen but I remember it being way more ridiculous in my head than I found it to be while watching it now. Yes, it’s such a drastic turn from the serious tone they were pushing with Biollante but this film does a great job of blending the seriousness with the goofiness of the earlier Showa film.
The most noticeable change right off the bat is the score. The man, the myth, the legend: Akira Ifukube, has returned to the franchise for the first time since Terror of Mechagodzilla in 1975 and it’s recognizably him. The title card sequence alone grabs you and pulls you in and again when the UFO flies over Japanese skylines, there’s this urgent pulsating theme that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. Godzilla’s revisited them is exceptional and adds majesty to the King of the Monster’s classic march. Akira Ifukube was tired of the Showa era and didn’t approve of the direction they were taking with the Heisei series, which is why he never signed onto Return of Godzilla, but it was because of his daughter’s insistence and his distaste for the use of his theme in Biollante that he came back to the franchise. And he returns to film with the most wild plot. Ironic, no?
The time travel mechanics of this film are so full of plot holes James Cameron would be proud. The film poses that erasing Godzilla from the past would erase him from the present but doesn’t establish whether his original attack took place or explain why everyone still remembers him. And again with the creation of King Ghidorah, why did Ghidorah only suddenly appear in 1992 or was Ghidorah responsible for the original Godzilla attacks in 1954 and 1984? It’s possible but it’s never really addressed. And the movie also alludes to the possibility that the 1984 Godzilla is this Godzilla? He was never resurrected, he was just swapped? What I’m getting at is maybe by moving Godzillasaurus to the Bering Sea, he becomes Godzilla, attacks Tokyo in 1984, faces Biollante in 1989 and wakes up to absorb the submarine’s power in 1992. Emi also says that Godzilla doesn’t return until the 23rd century but this Godzilla is clearly destroying everything in his path so wouldn’t this affect her future when she returns to create Mecha-King Ghidorah? Ugh, this movie is insane and poses enough questions to fill an SAT. Obiviously, I shouldn’t be questioning the logic of a movie about a giant fire-breathing dinosaur but that’s what makes this so much fun.
As a Godzilla fan, I really don’t have a problem with the origin of King Ghidorah in this film. I'm so used to him being a space monster sent by evil aliens to destroy the world so many times, this was a nice change of pace and a really unique origin for one of Godzilla’s greatest foes. My problem is that they didn’t really do much to differentiate his look from the previous films. They ditched the hair and made his horns straight instead of curved but the overall design is still intact and I understand that’s what they were going for, but I wish they would have pushed it just a little further. When standing against Godzilla, I do love how King Ghidorah towers over the big G, making him more monstrous by comparison.
Mecha-King Ghidorah’s design on the other hand is one of the best updates to the classic monsters I’ve seen and the cyborg middle head and mechanical wings make the creature more menacing than his original form. I do think that it was a little too easy for Godzilla to take him out, considering Mecha was built with 23rd century technology but it’s just an allusion to how powerful a force of nature Godzilla can truly be.
I also really like the Godzillasaurus design as well. For the first time, fans get a fully realized conception of what Godzilla looked like before his transformation and it's worthy of the king's history. Looking more like a Tyrannosaurus, the Godzillasaurus has a much longer neck than Godzilla and stands hunched over rather than upright, more like a dinosaur.
Godzilla’s design is basically that of his suit in Biollante with some minor adjustments but the added puppetry to Godzilla’s face adds more emotions to the King than ever before. When Ghidorah does something surprising, you get to see Godzilla’s reaction, which is hilarious to witness. When Mecha-King Ghidorah reveals itself, there is this “Didn’t I kill you already?” look on Godzilla’s face and it’s priceless. The scene when Godzilla stares down Shindo before killing him is also very emotional as there are glimpses that Godzilla recognizes him from Lagos. It’s touching though a little silly as it appears that Godzilla may be crying.
The battle sequences are just as good as they were in Biollante and the initial battle between Godzilla and King Ghidorah is vibrant and energetic. There’s a great wideshot encompassing the battlefield, with Godzilla on one side and Ghidorah on the other, and both look like fighters in a boxing match moving arms, wings, and tails in preparation for the fight of the century. There is a really great sense of scale and scope that Omori pulls off really well. The final fight in Tokyo again uses the modern skyline of Tokyo to dwarf Godzilla and yet the fight between he and Mecha-King Ghidorah still feels like a fight of gods.
Megumi Odaka reprises her role as Miki Saegusa but again, she plays secondary to the main characters. She’s underutilized but she adds a necessary continuity to the franchise that was never there before with the Showa films.
The other characters are pretty interesting. There’s a nice tidbit about Terasawa writing The Birth of Godzilla but apparently it sold poorly according to Emi, diminishing his excitement about his future. There are some familiar faces from past Godzilla films as well such as Katsuhiko Sasaki as Professor Mazaki, who was in Godzilla Vs. Megalon and Terror of Mechagodzilla.
There are some silly moments, specifically with M-11 and the American soldiers on 1944 Lagos. When M-11 does something superhuman, they go the Six Million Dollar Man route and show him doing said superhuman actions in slow motion with weird sound effects. An obvious motif but still super cheesy. There’s a fun action sequence where M-11’s car explodes with him inside it and he gets out, in an homage to Terminator, damaged and the actor tries to rip his shirt off but can’t so he just takes it off instead, never wincing. I couldn’t stop laughing while watching that because I never noticed it when I was a kid. The American soldiers on the other hand are the worst and just ham it up any chance they get. You could tell they just picked anyone who looked American off the street in Japan to play these roles.
I thought I was gonna really rail on this movie because in my head I remember it being worse than it actually is, but it takes that absurdity and runs with it and never compromises. If there’s one thing I love about Godzilla is the heart and soul behind each film and Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah is full of nothing but heart.