Kaiju Corner - The Return of Godzilla (1984)
For the first time ever since 1984, Toho’s The Return of Godzilla has risen to the surface in North America. Originally released as Godzilla 1985 for American audiences and heavily edited to include actor Raymond Burr, The Return of Godzilla, which is known as the original cut, has been a film fans have waited decades to get their hands on. The only way before this was to download the film through nefarious means. Luckily, publisher Kraken Releasing procured the rights to the film and released it on September 13, 2016. Not having seen this version and seen the U.S. cut numerous times, I figured it would best to delve into Godzilla’s 80s resurrection and witness the birth of the Heisei era of Godzilla.
Set thirty years after the events of Gojira and in the middle of the Cold War between the United States and Russia, a fishing trawler has gone missing at sea after a violent storm. Reporter Goro Maki comes across the ship and finds only one witness on board who claims that a giant monster attacked his crew. While at first hesitant to believe the survivor, the Japanese government’s greatest fear is confirmed when the survivor is horrified after looking through photographs of Godzilla’s first attack on Tokyo in 1954. Japan decides to keep the existence of the creature secret for the time being as to not cause a panic; however, a Russian submarine is attacked by Godzilla and in order to deter nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia, Japan reveals the truth. The U.S. and Russia plead with Japan to allow use of nuclear weapons if Godzilla should appear on Japanese soil but Japan refuses such actions be taken. Meanwhile, Godzilla attacks a nuclear power plant off the shores of Japan to feed off the nuclear energy but is suddenly distracted by a flock of birds overhead and leaves the island. Scientist Makoyo Hayashida theorizes that Godzilla must have the same migratory sense as birds thus, using the same signal from the birds, could be lead to the pit of a volcano to be destroyed once and for all. With little time to prepare, Godzilla attacks Tokyo, obliterating Japan’s defense force until the appearance of the Super-X, a technologically advanced war machine built specifically to protect Japan if it came under attack. The Super X’s powerful cadmium missiles render Godzilla unconscious and all hope is restored until the news that Godzilla’s attack in Tokyo Harbor caused a Russian vessel’s nuclear satellite’s guidance system to activate, sending a warhead straight for Tokyo. The Americans launch a couter-rocket and destroy the warhead but the residual radiation revives Godzilla and he makes quick work of the Super X. With the lure working in full capacity, Professor Hayashida leads Godzilla towards Mt. Mihara and the creature plunges into the depths of the volcano.
First things first, the score. God, I love the score of this movie. While not the work of the master, Akira Ifukube, Reijiro Koroku’s score brilliantly compliments the tone of the film. Toho wanted to return to the darker, more metaphorical routes of Godzilla, with him being a force of nature and the consequence of when Man meddles with powers beyond their comprehension, and this score fully embraces that concept. There is no use of Ifukube’s classic "Godzilla March," but Godzilla’s theme in this film distills fear and suspense. In some ways it even encapsulates the tragedy of Godzilla and the ending theme to the film when he’s falling into the volcano always brings a tear to my eye.
This is also the first introduction of Godzilla’s new roar since the early 60s Showa era and it is certainly one of the best and most powerful. The subtle growls before and after the initial roar are subtly powerful and add a bit of character to the King of the Monsters, just like one of my other favorites in the series, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep.
The suit design of this Godzilla is a refreshing update from the Showa era but I’m not a fan of the puppetry used in some shots of the film. It’s always obvious when they cut to the puppet as the neck is skinnier and the facial design is different to that of the suit’s. It’s especially noticeable during the jet attack sequence as the puppet raises its arms up and down like crazy. And later scenes with an obviously animatronic Godzilla foot that stomps down in front of the characters looks about as bad as the 1976 King Kong animatronics. This Godzilla suit also isn’t very mobile. The early Showa suits were always versatile, allowing the actors a wide range of movement but this Godzilla doesn’t move around much and isn’t until Godzilla’s new suit in Godzilla vs. Biollante where he looked and felt truly “alive.”
Strangely, some of the best moments of this film to me are not even when Godzilla’s on screen. Just the impact of Godzilla’s return emits enough fear and political intrigue to keep you wondering when the big G’s going to show up. The hearing between the U.S., Russia, and Japan on the permission of use of nuclear weapons is a fantastic albeit slightly corny scene due to the actor playing the American vice president hamming it up. When Japan decides against the use of nuclear weapons, the actor face palms and just starts shaking his head robotically. The minute or two of that gentleman’s acting is the worst in the entire film. The rest of the scene, however, is still good and the Japanese Prime Minister weighing options such as launching nuclear weapons on Japanese soil when Japan is a non-nuclear country, the parallels to Hirsohima and Nagasaki, and whether the weapons could actually kill Godzilla really bring gravity to a guy-in-a-rubber-suit monster movie.
The beginning sequence on the fishing trawler, the Yahata Maru, has some interesting horror elements with the people on board appearing to have had the life drained out of them and then the slow reveal of the mutated sea louse that fed off of Godzilla. I remember that thing terrified me as a kid but not so much now as the Japanese cut diminishes the scene even further as it flies across the room looking more like the offspring of Hedorah and some goofy string work. What I particularly like about this scene is the introduction of the effects of Godzilla’s radiation on his environment, very reminiscent to the creatures that leap off the back of the monster in Cloverfield. It’s something that isn’t really touched upon in the earlier films and a nice addition to the mythos.
If there is one thing I’m not particularly fond of in this film are the cuts. The sea louse attack, elements of Godzilla’s attack on Tokyo and even his fight with the Super X feel awkward. When Godzilla is shot with the cadmium missiles from Super X, he roars, he’s shot again, and Godzilla stands still as the camera lingers on his chest so we can hear his heartbeat as the cadmium missiles are affecting him, in a way we’re not sure of. The scene then cuts to the Japanese control room, which is now more concerned with the Russian nuclear missile headed for Tokyo, and there’s a screen in the background that shows Godzilla swaying back and forth like no big deal. When it does cut back to Godzilla, there’s the chest shot again, pan up as he randomly uses his atomic breath on the Super X but then cut back to the control room for several minutes more where he’s again swaying back and forth in the screen. Cut back to Tokyo and he immediately topples over and crashes into a building. What the hell was that? That’s not a fight! This is petty, but there’s one scene in particular where Professor Hayashida is sitting in a chair, the camera is looking at him from the side and when he rises, you hear the stretching of the leather couch, but when the camera cuts to the front of Hayashida at standing height, the sound of the couch immediately ceases and the way he’s getting up does not match how he was getting out of the chair a cut earlier. Petty, I know, still bugged me.
Some of my biggest praises and complaints are about the film’s use of scale. There are moments when Godzilla is and should feel huge but other times not. Later in the film when Godzilla’s in downtown Tokyo and the buildings are dwarfing him, that’s a really unique shot, showing Tokyo’s growth since 1954, making this three hundred foot monster seem small in comparison but still just as intimidating. And there’s another beautiful shot when he first appears at the nuclear power plant and the camera is angled underneath him from the point-of-view of a security guard. Godzilla begins walking towards him and it’s terrifying as this lumbering beast oblivious to the guard’s existence casually steps on him. The poor use of scale comes from a scene where a helicopter is flying above Godzilla’s spines as he’s submerged underwater and it makes him look as small as that helicopter. There are several other shots of Godzilla’s spines peeking out from the water and he looks tiny in comparison to other shots.
The human story is pretty typical and the characters are your run-of-the-mill kaiju film characters but one thing I do like in particular is Professor Hayashida’s demeanor. His family was killed by Godzilla in 1954 and he was hellbent on revenge at first which lead him to study Godzilla but over the years he learned an appreciation for the monster and though knowing that the creature couldn’t be allowed to live, he knew it wasn’t Godzilla’s fault he was created.
On Blu Ray, the film looks great and even better than I remember it as a kid. The box doesn’t say to what extent the film was remastered, if at all, but it does output at 1080p in a 16:9 ratio. Sadly, it does not come with the North American cut of Godzilla 1985, which would have been nice for comparison. Even worse, there are absolutely no special features.
The Return of Godzilla is a good return for the King of Monsters after a long hiatus in the 70s. While not the magnificent return it should have been, it’s a pleasant stepping stone to what would become one of the best eras of Godzilla.