Kaiju Corner: Godzilla Vs. Biollante (1989)
The Return of Godzilla may not have been everything Toho had hoped for in returning the King of Monsters to his former glory as they were afraid to greenlight a sequel so quickly after the film's lukewarm reception and mediocre box office performance. After some hesitation, they decided to move forward, this time putting the story in the hands of the fans. Out of five selections, Dentist Shinichiro Kobayashi’s submission about biological engineering and paranoia revolving around the issue grabbed the attention of director Kazuki Omori, who proceeded to work the story into a script and three years later, Godzilla vs. Biollante was born.
Proceeding immediately after the events of The Return of Godzilla, Godzilla has fallen into the mouth of Mt. Mihara, leaving Tokyo in ruin. What damage has been done to the city is of little concern to a covert team working to claim any residual tissue samples of Godzilla from the attack. Their work is cut short as an assassin from from a fictional middle eastern country called Saradia eliminates the team and takes the Godzilla cells to said country’s Institute of Biotechnology. At this institute is Dr. Shiragami, a Japanese scientist who, along with his daughter Erika, are currently working towards creating an indestructible plant species with the help of the Godzilla cells. Sadly, an explosion occurs in the lab, destroying the Godzilla cells and killing Erika.
Five years later, Dr. Shiragami is continuing his research with the plants, using some of his daughter’s own DNA to hopefully keep her spirit alive. Miki Saegusa, a young psychic, is working with Dr. Shiragami in the hope that they might be able to communicate with Erika, but she hasn’t been able to sense anything. After returning to an institute for young children with ESP, Miki’s students have all been having the same dream: Godzilla's return.
Fearing the inevitable, Japanese officials work towards developing any new weapons that might be viable against Godzilla. One in particular that caught their eye is the Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria, which had been originally developed to aid in nuclear disasters. However, in order for it to destroy Godzilla, some of the monster’s cells would need to be engineered into the bacteria. With the last of Godzilla’s cells being destroyed in the Saradian explosion, hope seemed lost until a Japanese corporation lent them Godzilla cells they've kept hidden, in case they needed a weapon against any foreign enemies. Japan recruits Dr. Shiragami to help but his one condition was that he’d keep the Godzilla cells in his home, so he could secretly cross-breed the Godzilla cells with plant cells. With Shiragami now in possession of the only known Godzilla cells, the Saradia assassin and two other men from a competing organization called Bio Major break into Shiragami’s home to steal the cells but are attacked by large vines. The Saradian assassin and one Bio Major operative make it out alive while the plant creature breaks out into the nearby lake.
Bio Major, now at their peak, threaten to release Godzilla by planting bombs around Mt. Mihara to ensure the creature’s return if they are not given the Godzilla cells. Japan complies and they work with Bio Major to prevent Godzilla’s freedom but the Saradian agent interferes again and the bombs go off resulting in the King of Monsters’s release from his volcanic prison. Godzilla makes his way to Tokyo but the newly activated Super X-2 intervenes, driving Godzilla away from the city. The plant monster, now called Biollante, taking up root in the lake is now in full bloom crying out into the night sky. Godzilla senses the cry and makes his way to Biollante where the two duke it out. Godzilla’s victorious, but Biollante’s seed flies off into the night sky, proving her immortality.
Godzilla makes his way towards Osaka where Miki tries to telepathically veer him off course, but fails. The Super X-2 does its best as well against Godzilla, battling it in the heart of Osaka until Godzilla finally brings it down, a noble sacrifice so that soldiers could inject Godzilla with the Anti-Nuclear Bacteria. The Anti-Nuclear Bacteria is now in Godzilla’s system but after careful surveillance, it doesn’t seem to be taking effect. Dr. Shiragami proposes that Godzilla’s cold body temperature is causing the bacteria to work slower so the defense force enacts a weather system that uses pads on the ground to act as lightning rods and if struck by the lightning, Godzilla’s temperature would rise, allowing the bacteria to work. At first, the plan doesn’t pan out and Godzilla still has some fight in him, until Biollante returns in a new monstrous form. Round two begins and Godzilla’s knocked out this time around, falling into the ocean. Biollante, victorious, leaves once again into the night sky, this time unknown but Miki receives a message from Biollante saying “Thank you.” Dr. Shiragami, now hopeful that Erika’s spirit will live on, is suddenly shot by the Saradian assassin, whose mission was to eliminate the only man who can develop the Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria. The Saradian agent is killed but Dr. Shiragami passes away. Godzilla rises from the ocean, revitalized by the ocean’s cold temperature and swims away.
This is one of my absolute favorite Godzilla films. The monsters and effects are top notch and the overlaying message of tampering with biological engineering is a great equivalent to the nuclear scare the series is so well known for.
While I praised the score of The Return of Godzilla, I’m a little tepid to say that this film’s score doesn’t hold up so well. Composer Koichi Sugiyama, most well known for the Dragon Quest series, does a lot to match tones in this film but it's not very cohesive. Beginning with Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla theme in the beginning, Sugiyama then moves towards hard rock ballads for chase sequences, and a very John Williams-like theme for the Super X-2, making this score seem all over the place. It reminds me of the James Bond film, Goldeneye, and how Eric Serra’s score didn’t match the classic scores we normally expected from the series. He and Sugiyama instead tried something a little different that didn’t resemble the film it was presented in. However, unlike Biollante, Serra’s score for Goldeneye holds up on its own.
The Godzilla design in this film is the Godzilla I’ve come to know and love the best as it becomes the quintessential design from here until the end of the Heisei era in 1995. Moving away from the puppetry and focusing more on classic suitmation, Godzilla looks fantastic stomping around in broad daylight and even better at night with his charcoal gray scales matching his surroundings. He also moves around a lot more than he did in Return, making the character feel more like a big force of nature than a stoic tree. The few puppetry sequences there are, are executed well and the design of his puppet head matches that of the suit’s unlike the last film's.
The movie does well with what Return of Godzilla did so well and that was including the world in this film. An American reporter in the beginning of the film, the inclusion of a middle eastern country called Saradia, and an American corporation called Bio Major make this film feel huge in ways that made John Wick stand out. This movie takes the simple premise of a giant monster movie and does its best to expand upon its world in ways other films wouldn't.
The best inclusion by far is the character of Miki Saegusa, played by Megumi Odaka. Not only are telekinesis and ESP a first for the Godzilla franchise, but Miki becomes one of the most well known characters in the Godzilla series because of the Heisei era. She and her powers will develop further in the series as she grows from a quiet and calculating girl to a confident and courageous woman. The scene where she faces off against Godzilla before his landing in Osaka is her first step.
The only other memorable character is the tragic Dr. Shiragami, played by Koji Takahashi, whose research into creating Biollante is reminiscent to that of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, and even Dr. Serizawa and the Oxygen Destroyer from the original Gojira. It wasn’t until after he’d realized what he’d done that he saw himself as the true monster, not Biollante nor Godzilla.
The effects are some of the best out of any Godzilla film and still look good to this day. The entire sequence of Godzilla walking out of Mt. Mihara is still by far one of the best entrances of the King of Monsters. His return accompanied by Ifukube’s classic Godzilla theme with bombastic explosions in the background makes that sequence even more epic.
The battle that takes place in the ocean between Godzilla and some warships is another excellent sequence. The scene must have required the largest tank they could find because it’s definitely one of the most open Godzilla battles I can recall and the painted backdrops of the sky make the scene seem even more huge in comparison to past films.
The sequences with Biollante are no exception either. While the first iteration of Biollante kind of just stands there, her vines do their best against Godzilla and it’s fun to see the big G go up against a creature he hasn’t before and the vine effects are outstanding and never once did I stop to think about where the strings might be. Biollante’s second evolution, however, is exceptional and is easily one of my favorite, if not favorite, designs for a creature in the Godzilla series. Biollante is both terrifying and beautiful to look at, much like H.R. Giger’s Alien. And her size dwarfing that of Godzilla’s makes her even more horrific and the sequence when she’s crawling towards the camera is a perfect “Nope” moment. Now, if only they didn’t repeat the same shot twice in a row would I be more humble towards that scene.
Godzilla vs. Biollante is exactly what a giant monster movie should strive to be. With great world building, fantastic effects, and great story beats, it's no wonder that fans consider this as one of the best in the series and it still holds up pretty well and looks fantastic on Blu-Ray.
If my gushing about this film wasn't enough or too much to handle, stay tuned as we're starting to move towards the more goofy films of the Heisei era, as the series ditches its darker tones for some lighthearted fun.