Japanese release date: December 25, 2001.
Japanese Audience Attendance: 2,500,000
American release date: August 29, 2003, on the Sci-Fi Channel.
Alternate Title: This film is often abbreviated as simply "GMK" on both sides of the Pacific.
Director: Shusuke Kaneko
Screenwriter: Shusuke Kaneko
Sfx: Makoto Kamiya and Shinju Higuchi, with assistance by Kiyotaka Taguchi
Musical score: Koh Otani (with some stock music by Akira Ifikube)
U.S. version available on home video from Tri-Star Video.
In this timeline, it's now roughly the year 2005, and Japan has enjoyed over 50 years of peace and relative economic prosperity following Godzilla's destructive 1954 attack on Tokyo. After the great dai kaiju's destruction, no other kaiju attacks have occurred in Japan or anywhere else in the world, although unsubstantiated rumors persist that a giant monster attacked New York City in 1998, which was also identified as "Godzilla." As a result of the latter unsubstantiated report, Lieutenant-General Teizo Tachibana of the JSDF (Japanese Self-Defense Force), whose parents were killed when he was a child during Godzilla's 1954 rampage through Tokyo, has been delivering lectures throughout the island nation warning about the possible return of the Kaiju King, whom he believes to be intimately connected with Japan in some manner. In fact, Tachibana's concerns appear to be justified, as soon after his lectures began, an American nuclear-powered sub is attacked and destroyed. Shortly afterwards, a Japanese research sub called the Satsuma investigates the incident, and witnesses a huge form moving amidst the area with a back full of protruding luminescent fins. This obviously does not bode well for post-Millennium Japan.
Nevertheless, the JSDF isn't overly concerned in any event, because they assert that since modern weapons technology is considerably more formidable than it was over 50 years ago, Godzilla wouldn't stand a chance against modern military weaponry anyway.
Meanwhile, Gen. Tachibana's daughter Yuri works as a troubleshooter/reporter for a TV show called "Digital BS-Q" that provides low budget coverage of paranormal events (yes the "BS" was an obvious pun). As she discusses the legendary dai kaiju of Japan's ancient history at Mt. Ryokoh, an enigmatic elderly man, dressed in traditional but archaic Japanese clothing, appears before her at a distance, and then quickly vanishes from sight the moment she turns her back on him. This peculiar old man begins appearing throughout Japan, his motives and true nature a complete mystery. Soon afterwards, Yuri's colleague Mr. Takeda discovers an ancient book called THE LEGEND OF THE GOD MONSTERS. This tome discusses how the island nation was under the protection of three giant guardian monsters called Baragon, Mothra, and the leader and most powerful of the trio, Ghidora. These monsters were created by the ancient ancestral spirits of the Land of the Rising Sun, who are a traditional feature of the nation's native Shinto religion. These monsters needed time to reach full maturity, however, and as such, they were buried by the mystic overseers of the ancient Japanese dynasties, where it was intended that they would rest for many thousands of years in a state of protracted suspended animation, thereby slowly growing into their full adult stages. It would take longest for Ghidora to reach full maturity, but once he did, he would become King Ghidorah, the most powerful monster of his kind on the face of the planet. In fact, it was stated that in Japanese mythology, Ghidora was associated with Orochi, the eight-headed dragon, thus implying that either Ghidora was actually Orochi himself [less than likely IMO, since he is short five heads] or connected in some manner to the family of Oriental dragons that also spawned Orochi [more likely IMO, since different dragons in this family may have had a different number of heads; it should be noted that Orochi was not referenced by name, though that was clearly who they were referring to when they mentioned "the eight-headed dragon"].
Wanting to learn more about these ancient native Japanese dai kaiju, Yuri visits Mt. Fuji, where she has heard that an old man resides who is an expert on the nature and abilities of these monsters. Upon arriving at a police station where she discovers his whereabouts, to no one's surprise (in the audience, that is!) the old man turns out to be the same enigmatic individual whom she spotted on Mt. Ryokoh a few days previous. The man tells Yuri, in an interview that she secretly video tapes, that her father is correct in his belief that Godzilla will return to menace Japan anew. He contends that the Kaiju King is a mystical manifestation of the many dark and embittered ancestral spirits of Japan who feel wronged by the native people of the island nation in some manner. Back in 1954, Godzilla was a manifestation of the collective ancestral spirits of both the civilian and military populace who lost their lives during WW2 as a result of the majority of the people refusing to oppose Tojo's Imperial government, thus resulting in the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since that time, however, the Japanese people have increasingly immersed themselves in Western consumerist cultural attitudes, and as a result the ancestral spirits who were dispersed from Godzilla's form when it was discorporated by the Oxygen Destroyer over 50 years earlier now feel enraged and embittered once again due to the people of Japan allegedly forgetting about the huge sacrifices that its citizens made during WW2 and the decades since then to rebuild Japan's infrastructure and native culture.
[The Oxygen Destroyer and Dr. Daisuke Serizawa were not explicitly named in the dialogue. Instead, a fairly vague reference was made to a "chemically based" weapon that destroyed Godzilla, and also mentioned was the fact that the inventor of said device destroyed his notes and sacrificed his life following the weapon's usage, something the JSDF prevented from leaking to the public, instead presenting themselves as the destroyer of Godzilla. This correlates quite well with the ending of Godzilla, King of the Monsters, and it stands to reason that these references were pointing to this timeline's analogues of the Oxygen Destroyer and Dr. Serizawa, though it's interesting that they weren't noted by name here. Since Godzilla's nature in this particular timeline was evidently bio-mystical in origin, much like other magickal monsters such as dragons, as well as non-gigantic supernatural creatures such as vampires, werewolves, and demons, it was never adequately explained why the Kaiju King of this universe would attack and destroy a nuclear sub as his atomic-based counterparts in other realities did].
Godzilla thus serves as an aggregate vessel for these angered spirits of Japan, and their ire and rage has since built up to the point where they were able to absorb enough of the biospheric ethereal energy of Japan to reform Godzilla and direct the vastly powerful monster to attack and destroy all of Japan in retaliation. Only the trio of Yamato Monsters (i.e., the "guardian monsters") are powerful enough to defeat Godzilla (now that the specifics of the Oxygen Destroyer are forever lost to science). The old man also implies that he will do what he must to see to it that the Yamato Monsters rise again to defeat Godzilla, despite the fact that they would not yet have achieved full maturity at this time.
The ascent of the Yamato Monsters begins in earnest. In Niigata, a truck driver notices the brief emergence of the subterranean monster Baragon, who quickly retreats back underground (amusingly, the driver mistakes Baragon for Godzilla…then again, panic will do that to a person). Meanwhile, a group of obnoxious college students are stealing several items from a closed shop near Lake Ikeda and then proceed to party on the beach. Just then, Mothra in larva form emerges from the lake in front of them. The following day, it's reported in the national news that the teens were found cocooned [though why Mothra slew those teens simply for being bad-mannered thieves is beyond me, and this part of the film appears to be indicative of the dislike that the adult populace of Japan has for adolescents, considering them to be nothing but a bunch of troublemakers, a type of bigotry which mirrors a rampant prejudice that we often see here in America directed against its own youth population].
Finally, near the fabled Mt. Fuji, a hiker falls into a crevice in the ground…and to his horror, he finds himself standing before one of the insensate heads of the still sleeping Ghidora.
The worst is yet to come, however, when yet another group of adolescents [all unlikable troublemakers, of course] who are hanging out in a small house located on Magonoteh Island, a small atoll off the shores of Japan next to Odo Island, where Godzilla first appeared before heading into the island nation over 50 years ago, are killed when the Kaiju King steps on the house. Sensing Godzilla's move towards Japan, the first of the Yamato Monsters, Baragon, emerges from beneath the ground near Mt. Fuji and begins heading in the direction of a harbor near the island nation where the small kaiju realizes the Atomic Titan will soon be appearing. Sure enough, Godzilla rises from the waters near the harbor in question [we could have done without the close-up shot to the King of the Monster's groin area, however], and begins wreaking havoc. As the Big G approaches the city of Yokohama, he is soon faced in a wooded area by Baragon. The small red monster attacks Godzilla in defense of the island nation, and fights ferociously. Nevertheless, Baragon is hopelessly outmatched by the much larger and more powerful Godzilla, who ends the battle by dispersing his opponent's body with his incredibly formidable "atomic" breath. His intrepid but inferior foe summarily dispatched, the Kaiju King resumes his unmerciful march towards the city of Yokohama. It's predicted by the JSDF that he will arrive there within a day, so military forces are prepared to move against Godzilla prior to his arrival, but Gen. Tachibana is skeptical of their possibility for success despite his own determination to destroy the monster.
Later that day, a huge cocoon (much like the one that enveloped the college students before, but far larger) is found in the middle of Lake Ikeda. That evening, the cocoon opens, and the adult Mothra emerges from within, spreading her enormous multi-colored wings and taking flight in the night sky, heading for Yokohama to counter Godzilla's progress. In the meantime, the enigmatic old man who has appeared and disappeared frequently in the past several days uses his power as a mystic to revive Ghidora, knowing that only with the ancient golden dragon's power can Godzilla be defeated.
However, it's noted by Yuri and Mr. Takeda after reading THE LEGEND OF THE GOD MONSTERS that the guardian monsters may may also be a threat to the people, because though they are not hostile to human beings, their goal is to protect the land of Japan itself, as opposed to the human populace, so they realize that the people should be warned to carefully stay out of their way.
As Godzilla approaches Yokohama, the JSDF launches an air strike against the kaiju, which the monster easily obliterates, thus disproving the conjectures of most of the powers-that-be that modern weaponry would fare any better against the Kaiju King than the military weapons available back in 1954. Upon reaching the city, however, Godzilla is met by a more formidable opponent, the giant mystical lepidopteron Mothra. The two engage in a fierce battle, and though Mothra is more powerful than the defeated Baragon, she likewise finds herself no match for her opponent. The odds improve, however, when Ghidora emerges and joins the fray. Nevertheless, Godzilla proves able to hold his own against both Mothra and Ghidora simultaneously, and in his immature state, the tri-headed dragon finds himself no match for the Kaiju King, also.
In the meantime, Yuri reports on the carnage as it occurs, while Gen. Tachibana works with the JSDF to prepare a new type of particularly powerful projectile weapon known as the D-3 Missile. During their investigation of the Yamato Monsters, Yuki and Mr. Takeda discover a missing piece of the stone tablet used by the old man to revive Ghidora. Due to her investigations of ghost phenomena throughout Japan since joining the paranormal investigation team of Digital BS-Q, she theorized that the spectral consciousness of discarnate humans functioned like a form of electromagnetic energy, and that this psychic energy could be stored in certain mineral compounds, including the stone that the tablet was made out of. With the piece of the tablet that they found, they would now be able to provide further power for Ghidora should he fall during the battle, provided they could get that small chunk of rock in his near vicinity.
In the meantime, during the battle in Yokohama, Godzilla manages to subdue both Mothra and Ghidora. At this point, the JSDF join the battle and hit Godzilla with their D-3 Missiles, which attach themselves via metallic gauntlets to the Kaiju King's hide, and have a drill-like extension in the front that are designed to penetrate Godzilla's skin via drilling, and then explode partially underneath his near-impenetrable hide. This is done successfully, but the Big G's various dermal layers still prove too strong, and all the missiles succeed in doing is further enraging the monster, causing him to renew his attack on the city, where he proceeds to destroy the vast bulk of the JSDF arrayed against him. Mothra soon revives and re-enters the battle, and after a short time she deliberately sacrifices herself to give Ghidora more power. Godzilla completely obliterates her with a point blank blast of his atomic breath, and the dispersed energy that made up the giant moth's bio-etheric body coalesces into Ghidora's inert form. The result is not only the three-headed monster reviving, but also being accelerated into full maturity, where his power increases and he sprouts functional wings, thereby becoming King Ghidorah.
Now battling on somewhat more equal grounds, Godzilla still proves an implacable foe for King Ghidorah, and the two plummet into the ocean, where their battle continues underwater. In the meantime, Gen. Tachibana volunteers to take the helm of the Satsuma in a bold attempt to use the underwater vessel to assist King Ghidorah in destroying Godzilla. During the battle with the tri-headed guardian of Japan, the General notes that Godzilla sustained an injury to his shoulder that the seasoned soldier should be able to fire a D-3 Missile within. His attempt to do so, however, backfires when he accidentally hits King Ghidorah instead, who is taken out of the battle as a result. Thus, the Satsuma is forced to contend with the Big G alone until Yuri hurls the last piece of the tablet containing the stored essence of many of Japan's benevolent ancestral spirits, and this energy reinvigorates King Ghidorah, who returns to the battle, taking to the air and striking Godzilla with his electro-bolts while blocking the beast's atomic breath with an etheric force field. Despite this apparent turnabout, Godzilla simply uses his power to absorb those lightening-like ethereal bolts, and uses it to enhance his own ethereal "atomic" power beam. So empowered, Godzilla projects a supremely powerful bolt of oral energy that breaches King Ghidorah's force field and completely destroys the dragon's quasi-material body. As this occurs, however, in a last ditch effort to stop the Big G, the now disembodied and dispersed etheric energy of King Ghidorah's form is collectively steered by Japan's ancestral spirits into coalescing with the similarly dispersed energies of Mothra and Baragon to project a powerful ethereal beam of energy that stuns the Kaiju King.
As the Big G falls back into the ocean after the parting blow of the Yamato Monsters, Gen. Tachibana, realizing that the task of permanently destroying Godzilla is all up to him, resorts to a desperate gambit and manages to steer the Satsuma directly into the maw of the stunned monster and down the equivalent of his esophagus. Hoping that Godzilla's body is more vulnerable from the inside, he launches the final D-3 Missile, an exceptionally large version of the projectile weapon, that successfully bores clear through the kaiju's sternum and lodges itself there. The missile then explodes, leaving a gaping hole in the Kaiju King's upper abdomen. Now unable to control the torrents of ethereal energy roiling within him, he rises from the ocean to find himself standing before a terrified Yuri and Mr. Takeda, who remained there after hurling the final part of the stone tablet into the ocean due to their concern for the safety of Yuri's heroic father. Reacting out of extreme rage and pain, Godzilla attempts to use his oral power beam to destroy the two humans before him, only to find that the energy projected haphazardly from the gaping hole in his chest area instead [!!!], thus making the wound even worse.
The seriously injured beast falls and sinks to the bottom of the ocean, and Gen. Tachibana was able to maneuver the sub outside of Godzilla's body through the gaping wound in his upper abdomen. Upon seeing the Satsuma heading towards the surface, the enraged Godzilla attempts to lash out at the vessel with another oral energy beam, only to have the energy spew painfully forth from his chest wound once again, only this time the dangerous, uncontrolled leakage completely destroys the Kaiju King's bio-etheric form.
The triumphant Gen. Tachibana manages to escape unscathed.
Yuri's crew at the Digital BS-Q begin an impromptu celebration once they witness the final destruction of the King of the Monsters, along with Gen. Tachibana's narrow escape, particularly since they succeeded in acquiring extensive news footage of the entire extraordinary event as it occurred in Yokohama [though with the number of lives that were destroyed, along with probably billions of yen in private property, I somehow doubt that many residents of the areas within Godzilla's latest trek across Japan were in such a festive mood]. However, one of the BS crew points out to Yuri that all of the footage of the old man whom she interviewed about the monsters did not appear, either in an auditory or visual manner, on film, and that upon looking up the identity of the man, it turned out that he was someone who was reported missing after Godzilla's initial rampage in Tokyo over 50 years ago, and that he was 75 years old at the time! Hence, to her astonishment [though certainly not that of the viewers, particularly those who saw The Sixth Sense, and this particular plot point was easily predictable in that movie], she realized that the old man must have been a ghost who was acting as an active agent for Japan's benevolent ancestral spirits/deities to see to it that the Yamato Monsters were successfully resurrected to stop Godzilla.
As Yuki and her father happily reunite, they pay a tribute to the Yamato Monsters who gave their lives to halt Godzilla's rampage, as well as the ancestral spirits who formed and guided them.
Unbeknownst to anyone celebrating the victory, however, deep down on the ocean floor, Godzilla's heart remains intact…and beating.
There is no doubt that "GMK" was one of the most hyped up and anxiously awaited G-film in many years, even if it ultimately failed to perform up to Toho's expectations at the box office, and only proved something close to a modest success because it was, like the previous G-film, rather incongruously played in a double feature with the then-popular animated hamster, Hamturo. Much of the excitement centered around the fact that GMK was being helmed by the great director and screenwriter Shusuke Kaneko, whose trio of Gamera films for Toho's rival Daiei during the 1990s are often held up as examples of how kaiju-films can be more than just endless monster battles and special effects with no expectation of a good script, good human drama, and competent direction. Much as the genre of pornography (whether you consider it a legitimate genre or not) is often critiqued for having a threadbare plot with terrible acting and dialogue, with these things simply serving as a needless framing sequence between the sex scenes, so too are the plots and acting within kaiju-films similarly criticized for being mere frames for what the viewers "really" want to see…the monster action. Now, though I enjoyed Kaneko's Gamera films, let me make it clear that I'm a member of the minority of kaiju-fans who believe that those Gamera movies were good, but nevertheless overrated. Though they were entertaining with decent scripts and acting, I never felt that they were quite as good as they could have been, a sentiment I share regarding George Lucas's Star Wars prequels (particularly the first two).
Also, many kaiju-fans appear to forget that evidence has long been available that kaiju-films could be decently written and well directed with good human drama and competant overall stories, and this decades before Kaneko did his admittedly good job on the three Heisei Series Gamera movies for Daiei, beginning with Gamera, the Guardian of the Universe in 1994. Let us not forget that the inaugural G-film, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, is one of the all-time best sci-fi films, and probably the best ever giant-monster-on-the-loose flick. It had an excellent script, an excellent theme, excellent human direction and characterization, and it featured excellent sfx for the time, most of which still holds up quite well today in an era where CGI is beginning to rule the roost.
Further, many kaiju-fans likewise seem to forget other good films in the dai kaiju eiga genre, including Toho's Rodan (1956), Mothra (1961), Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964), Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), and Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965). And of course, we had the first Gamera from Daiei back in 1965, a well above average kaiju-flick if there ever was one. So kaiju-films were often good before they went into a period of long-lasting decline beginning in the late 1960s, and continuing to an ever-increasing quality depreciation throughout the 1970s, until this particular genre ended up being largely considered a joke, a rep it still hasn't quite recovered from, particularly in the United States.
Now, this is not to say that GMK wasn't a good movie, just that I do not want to blind anyone to its faults. The sfx were good, though the depiction of Godzilla in this movie was something of a mixed bag. His appearance was akin to an updated version of his semi-comical appearance from the 1970s G-films during the tail end of the Showa Series, though altered sufficiently to make him look menacing and animalistic. He had mean-looking teeth, and interestingly enough, he was given opaque white eyes with no visible pupils, probably to increase the appearance of single-minded menace. His skin was also the more recent greenish in hue, but unfortunately the designers of the suit saw fit to give the Kaiju King a noticeable paunch, thereby undoubtedly causing many fans to shout "Godzilla needs to lay off the pizza!" comments. His oral energy beam (not truly radiation this time around, I would imagine) was restored to its bluish-white color, rather than having the reddish-orange hue we saw in the first two Millennium Series G-films (personally, I prefer the bluish-white).
Despite the generally good sfx, I still did not think that the G-suit was any more realistic looking than the excellent suits we saw early in the Kaiju King's cinematic career, including the great, realistic looking G-suits that Toho's sfx boys whipped up for King Kong vs. Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Mothra four decades earlier, and it was even more ponderous in its movements, if anything. Of course, it was certainly better looking than the sleek, fast moving CGI animated GINO from Tri-Star's celluloid turkey, which was jokingly referenced via the dialogue early in this film (thus implying that at least an analogue to Tri-Star's Godzilla  occurred on that timeline...or maybe Toho never forgave Dean and Roland for arrogantly bastardizing their star property so badly; I wouldn't have). Some CGI was utilized in collusion with the usual suitmation techniques, including during the scene depicting Godzilla's initial appearance in the Japanese harbor, though the result was less than stellar.
However, the effects used to realize Godzilla's famous atomic breath were extremely well done, and his oral energy beams looked truly powerful and devastating onscreen.
As for the other monsters, I believe that Mothra looked better here than she ever has before, particularly that overly plushy, giant flying "stuffed animal" look she had in the trio of Rebirth of Mothra flicks released by Toho in between the Heisei and Millennium Godzilla film series. I'm sure her many fans were quite disappointed that her larva form appeared only very briefly, and for only a quick mug shot! What's worse, and perhaps even more insulting, was that the single usage of her cocoon-spinning ability, along with her using her silk to surround herself in a cocoon where she could pupate into her adult stage, both occurred offscreen [and don't ask me why she cocooned and killed those teens for...some have suggested that this was an anti-youth dig, and I'm not saying this as a youth liberationist, but simply pointing out the theories of other G-fans who suggested that this scene made no sense outside of the idea that Mothra was punishing "naughty" teens for behaving badly, much as the human-sized cinematic killing machines like Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers would do, and there has been much social backlash against teens in Japan of late, a backlash that was the focus of the plot in other contemporary film venues such as the Battle Royale films]. This was a majorly cheap maneuver by the sfx crew, who perhaps spent a bit too much of the budget on CGI this time around, thus forcing them to neglect other aspects of the monster scenes that never would have been neglected in the pre-CGI days of the Showa Series. Nevertheless, Mothra's CGI-depicted emergence from her cocoon was incredibly beautiful and well done, and it was amazing enough in its execution that the scene could actually be described as majestic. It was one of the best dai kaiju scenes yet put on film. Mothra looked very realistically insect-like in this scene and throughout her appearances in the film (more so than Megaguirus did in the previous G-film), and she seems to have been almost completely realized via CGI, a first for a Toho film. She didn't look plushy here at all, but instead appeared very sleek, she flew with a wondrous fluid rapidity, and the new sfx crew of Kamiya and Higuchi, along with their many assistants, should be commended for this breathlessly wonderful take on the Kaiju Queen. Moreover, the CGI depicted usage of her acidic poison "bombs" was also very well executed.
However, despite Mothra's great appearance here, her fans were nevertheless likely to have been disappointed that this was probably the least formidable version of the Kaiju of Peace ever to grace the screen. Her power level was greatly scaled down simply to make Godzilla appear as more of the overpowering and unstoppable force that he was throughout the movie. This is also perhaps the only time onscreen that she has ever actually been defeated by Godzilla (unless you count the demise of the weakened adult Mothra from Godzilla vs. Mothra and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S., though in both of the latter two cases her twin larvae retaliated and took the victory away from the Kaiju King). In fact, she was defeated with relatively little difficulty this time around.
The return of Baragon was very welcome, as he has been a "sleeper" fan fave since his memorable appearance in the Showa Era Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965; his subsequent appearance in the G-film Destroy All Monsters three years after the former film was much too brief to elicit any fan response). This time around, his size was slightly increased (by about ten meters) to make him a bit more formidable, but he was still much too small to pose a major threat to Godzilla, despite his indomitable courage and determination to win. His fairly generic cry in his two Showa Era appearances were replaced by a much more "reptilian" sound that many of his fans thought to be rather cool. Also, his skin was colored a bright red in this film rather than the black skin coloration he had during his Showa years. Oddly enough, though he retained his original ability to dig underground at great speed as well as his great leaping ability, in this movie he was bereft of his oral heat beam, which made him all the more easy pickings for Godzilla (Baragon retained his oral heat beam when he appeared as a playable character in the 2004 Atari Godzilla video game 'Godzilla: Save The Earth', even though he had both his Millennium appearance and hissing roar). The battle between Godzilla and Baragon occurred fairly early in the movie, and he didn't fight the Big G alongside Mothra and King Ghidorah. Nevertheless, his return was welcome, and he looked rather cool onscreen via the monster suit that was used.
As for King Ghidorah…I think he was relatively well-realized, though (like Godzilla) a mixed bag in certain respects. Though he looked more dragon-like than ever, his size was greatly reduced so that now it was merely on par with that of Godzilla at 55 meters, so he wouldn't look more menacing than the film's titular kaiju villain. King Ghidorah was always the largest kaiju around prior to this, being 120 meters in the Showa Series and a record 150 meters in the Heisei Series. His power level was likewise reduced in relation to that of Godzilla, particularly in his initial, immature Ghidora incarnation. In his immature stage he lacked his wings, and was only able to use his electro-shock bolts (or "gravity beams," if you prefer) against an opponent if his heads were directly clamped onto his adversary. Upon transforming into his ultimate King Ghidorah form, the tri-headed champion not only acquired his wings and the ability to fly, but he now had his traditional power of being able to project his electro-bolts from a distance, and he could now surround himself in a nimbus of ethereal energy that could temporarily deflect Godzilla's atomic breath. And a very special extra treat was in store for King Ghidorah fans after he reached his full maturity…a close variation of his original, very unique cry was restored to him, after being unceremoniously (not to mention unnecessarily) dumped ten years earlier in Godzilla vs. King Ghidora. The effects used to portray King Ghidorah combined suitmation with CGI, and most of the latter were quite above par. Moreover, the scene where he rises from the sea re-invigorated was a prodigious example of CGI well done by a studio and sfx crew who are slowly…but progressively and competently…learning the intricacies of this new cinematic art.
The main problem that some have seen with the monsters in GMK was in regard to all of their relative power levels. For example, many felt that Godzilla was made too powerful in this timeline, so that his three kaiju adversaries weren't a plausible threat to him, not even when the two most powerful were attacking him in tandem (this problem was repeated three years later with Godzilla: Final Wars). Most glaring here was the contention by many G-fans that King Ghidorah was so reduced in size and power relative to that of Godzilla that he was no longer the overpowering menace that he was famous for being in the past (though I thought Godzi took him down relatively easily during their mano-a-mano skirmish as seen in Godzilla vs. King Ghidora, particularly when he lost the protective force membrane surrounding him thanks to Futurian technology, which initially protected him from Godzilla's atomic breath). Now it was Godzilla, rather than King Ghidorah, who was the evil and amazingly overpowering force that other dai kaiju had to team up against, this time led by the Tri-headed Titan, an ironically cool reversal of roles. This time around, however, Godzilla obliterated his heroic kaiju opponents in the end, unlike the days in the Showa Series when the Big G led other monsters against King Ghidorah, and it was an act of astounding human bravery combined with human technology that ultimately won the day for Japan in this movie. Other G-fans, however, were happy to see Godzilla elevated to such a powerful force of nature.
In the past, Mothra was always a hero, and she only appeared before humanity in an adversarial role when her twin priestesses (who do not exist in the GMK Timeline) were kidnapped by unscrupulous humans (Mothra , Godzilla and Mothra: Battle for the Earth ), or when she was under the control of alien invaders (Destroy All Monsters ). Baragon was clearly a menace to humankind in his first appearance, and in his second Showa appearance he went from a villian (when controlled by the Kilaaks) to a hero (when released from Kilaak control). Finally, many G-fans ignore the fact that despite King Ghidorah's predominantly villainous role in past G-films (and in his battles with Zone Fighter and Mothra), GMK was not the first time he played the role of hero. Though he started out as a villain in Godzilla vs. King Ghidora, in the latter half of the film, after being converted into the cybernetic Mecha-King Ghidorah, he battled on the side of the angels, so to speak. But seeing him as an unqualified hero this time around no doubt gladdened the hearts of many long-time fans of the Tri-Headed G, and likely added to the tremendous popularity of this G-film, though Kaneko's name being attached to the project certainly went a long way towards attracting a big audience to this movie, also.
Now, onto the plot and the human direction, both of which were well-crafted by Kaneko.
This was in many ways the most unusual G-film of them all, and it's perhaps significant in that it was intended to be the last of the Millennium Series films to feature a completely distinct timeline that included only a close version of the first G-film as part of its continuity, so that the filmmakers would be less constrained by anything that came before other than the basic events of the classic inaugural film (until the final Millennium G-film, "GFW," when Toho returned to the alternate reality premise). This cinematic modus operandi comprised the initial trio of Millennium Era G-films, but with Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002), the Millennium Series decided to stick to a consistent timeline throughout the rest of the films, though this lasted only until Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003). Toho had the desire to utilize the alternate reality theme for each of the first three Millennium Era G-films to experiment with the best approach to a 21st century version of Godzilla with which to later proceed with on a single timeline. And as much of an intriguing cinematic specimen as GMK was, it ultimately wasn't the winner in this regard, despite again sporting a cliffhanger ending that gave Toho the opportunity to continue this timeline into future films if they had elected to do so.
As to what was so unusual about this G-film, it radically altered virtually everything about the Godzilla mythos. Despite the incongruous yet familiar destruction of a nuclear sub early in the movie, this reality's version of Godzilla apparently had nothing to do with radiation, and was not a dinosaur mutation at all. Likewise, unlike their Showa Series incarnations, Baragon wasn't a dinosaur mutation this time, nor was King Ghidorah an extra-terrestrial creature or a combination of atomic radiation and future Earth genetic engineering, as he was in the Heisei Series. Mothra's status in GMK was remarkably similar to her depictions in the Showa Series, Heisei Series, and the Rebirth of Mothra trilogy, however, though this time she was sans any connection to a version of either Infant Island or her tiny telepathic priestesses (alternately known in past continuities as the Shobijan, the Peanuts, the Cosmos, the Ailenas, etc.).
For this movie, Kaneko and producers Shogo Tomiyama and Hideyuki Homa gave us a Godzilla that was mystical in nature, and had a strong, intimate connection to the vast assemblage of Japanese mythological monsters, with a strong spiritual focus upon the traditional Japanese religion of Shintoism. The term "Yamato Monsters" was obviously named after the legendary Japanese warrior-hero Yamato Tekeru, the main protagonist of the lengthy Japanese myth The Golden Bough, which was twice adapted into a live action film by Toho, first in 1959 as The Three Treasures and later (less successfully) in 1994 as Orochi, the Eight-Headed Dragon (the latter being the American release title, where the eponymous fire-spewing dragon got the title billing despite his limited role in the movie, as opposed to Takeru himself, whose name was more accurately featured as the title of the Japanese version of the film, which can be affordably acquired from Video Daikaiju).
Interestingly enough, an ancient connection between King Ghidorah and Orochi was suggested in passing.
The ancestral spirit worship that is an integral part of the Shinto belief system was a major focus of the story, as was the connection between the ancestral guardian spirits of the Land of the Rising Sun, the historical pantheon of deities connected to the ancient civilizations of Japan, and a large group of monsters, including numerous dragons, that were interconnected in a vast cosmological ecosystem as components of the island nation's theological past. Also interesting was a ghost as a central character in the story, apparently acting as an agent of the deities and ancestral spirits on the material plane for the duration of the threat posed by Godzilla.
Further, the scientific aspects of ghostly activity as often explored and studied by the unfairly maligned science of parapsychology. This included the theory that ghosts are a manifestation of discarnate human consciousness that functions in a manner similar to energy on the electromagnetic spectrum, and can be stored, trapped, or take refuge within various types of mineral matter such as crystals and certain forms of rock. The inclusion of the latter parasychological theory in the plot is a strong indicator that Kaneko and the rest of the production crew certainly did their homework here regarding this subject, and it's quite possible that Kaneko is a parapsychology buff himself.
This is also in harmony with many of the pre-Christian religions' belief in animism, the assertion that living attributes can be mystically found in objects that modern science ordinarily considers inanimate matter.
The concept of King Ghidorah being an actual dragon of Japanese legend was, IMO, an idea that was long overdue in its realization (though in GFW, Toho went back to the alien motif with its poorly received depiction of Kaiser Ghidorah).
The thematic exploration of Japan as an ancient, Eastern nation slowly succumbing in many ways to Western, particularly American, cultural patterns with its near-obsessive consumerist mindset has long been a thorn in the side of many Japanese traditionalists, both old and young, who resent this influx of "gaijin" culture and product ["Grrrr…that 'Pepsi Cola' neon sign wasn't there atop the sushi restaurant last year!"]. This has been a point of contention between American and Japanese interests since the end of World War II, though it's really escalated over the past two decades. It was interesting for Kaneko to tie his revamped interpretation of Godzilla into the spiritual tradition and customs of Japan and its native eschatological ideology, and weigh it against the commonly perceived problem of the native Western "invasion," with its cultural mores, its disparate religious and spiritual outlook, and its own traditions and products contaminating the proud Japanese culture.
It's interesting for many to learn that Christianity, specifically Catholacism, was outlawed in Japan until the late 19th century, and in a country with a considerably larger population than that of the United States, slightly less than 1% of the Japanese population practice a form of Christianity, with Shinto and various Buddhist spiritual systems making up the bulk of contemporary Japanese theological practice. This is not the place to explore this issue in detail, of course, but simply mentioning it will likely give G-fans who weren't previously in the know an interesting perspective regarding why the subject of Western influence in the Land of the Rising Sun is such a "hot" socio-political topic over there, and how it likely reflected on Kaneko's decision to take his version of the Godzilla mythos in this particular direction.
Though I usually place the events of Millennium series G-films a year after their release (since they are generally released towards the end of December each year, often on Christmas day), in this case I posit the events in this movie to have occurred no earlier than the year 2005 (but probably not much further into the future than that). The reason for this conjecture is due to the fact that this film was released in the year 2001, but it must have taken place later than 2002, since in the dialogue, it was stated more than once that Godzilla's 1954 rampage through Japan took place "over 50 years ago." Hence, the year of this story's events must have occurred no earlier than the year 2005.
As for other aspects of the film, the acting was more than palatable (though not spectacular by any means), and Chiharu Niiyama did a competent job as Yuri Tachibana and Ryodo Yuzaki gave with an admirable performance as Yuri's father Gen. Tachibana. Most of the rest of the cast was at least adequate, and no doubt Kaneko's great directorial skill brought more out of them than may otherwise have occurred if another director was calling the shots.
The script was decent enough, and certainly above the lazily written screenplays that have plagued G-films in the past, though a few inexcusably bad lines did make it into the final product. Perhaps the best example was the ludicrous statement uttered by a certain older woman when Godzilla first approached Yokohama. Shocked at the announcement that the Kaiju King was approaching the city, the woman belted out, "Godzilla!? But Godzilla is only a legend!" I couldn't help looking at the screen with a high level of incredulity on my face and saying "Huh?" aloud to myself. Um…since it was established that Godzilla appeared in this timeline in 1954, and destroyed Tokyo as seen in the first G-film, would this lady…or the screenwriter…have us believe that the Japanese government somehow covered up Godzilla's near-total destruction of Tokyo a half century earlier?
Actually, I can answer that question…absolutely not! It was revealed earlier in the film that the only part of the whole deal that was suppressed from public knowledge was the fact that the weapon of a lone scientist brought the Big G down, so that the JSDF could avoid the embarrassment of admitting to the public that it wasn't their own expertise and weaponry that saved the day (no wonder Dr. Serizawa's name wasn't mentioned by the military brass in this movie…no one remembered it!). Then again, in such a case, are we to believe that those close to him…including his betrothed Emiko and his old college buddy Steve Martin…didn't report the truth out of respect to the man, especially since the American Martin would be outside the Japanese government's legal jurisdiction once he left the island nation? But that's neither here nor there. The worst part of the deal was this woman actually implying that many citizens of Japan (including a woman her age, who was possibly a young teen in 1954 ) could possibly believe that Godzilla was a mere legend. Didn't she see footage of the monster's initial rampage through Tokyo at least once during the millions of times it must have been replayed on television during the past 40 years, or the numerous pictures of the kaiju that must have appeared in the surfeit of magazine articles and books that had to have been published over the past four decades discussing the nature of the beast and this extremely traumatic incident for the Japanese people? And how did this line get past those folks who presumably proofread the script, and demand all of those annoying re-writes? It's amazing how much dreck slips under their radar (but then again, this is minor stuff compared to the lengthy descriptions in the previous G-film alleging that Megaguirus and her nuclear energy eating insect-like progeny Meganulon/Meganula were a naturally evolved insect species from Earth's prehistoric past).
The sfx budget wasn't extraordinary, but it was quite laudable, and Toho definitely didn't pinch many pennies for this feature. As noted above, the use of CGI in a G-film has been exponentially escalating since Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995), and it was used less sparingly here than in any previous G-film, as better computer effects are now becoming available at more affordable prices, and the quality of its onscreen execution is slowly but surely becoming more a matter of the talent of those creating the visual effects than the sheer amount of lucre thrown into the computer technology itself. It should be noted here that the visual effects of this popular G-film were credited to Hajime Matsumoto.
Now, onto the soundtrack, which was one of the best aspects of the film. Koh Otani may be a newcomer to the dai kaiju genre, but his score was unique and absolutely excellent. It conveyed the menace of Godzilla and the other proceedings in this movie with great depth, and it was quite unlike anything heard in a G-film before, and as different from anything the great maestro Akira Ifukube ever did for a G-film in terms of mood as you could possibly get. I want the CD for that soundtrack! Renowned G-fan J.D. Lees, publisher of G-FAN magazine, has stated that he looks forward to the day when Ifukube's famous tracks will be completely removed from G-films, this was not to occur this time around (and frankly, I'm quite pleased that this was the case, as I believe that Mr. Ifukube's work is just too connected to Godzilla's image to be completely abandoned, much as is the case with the theme music associated with James Bond, and never abandoned for any of 007's numerous cinematic excursions). Though no tracks by Ifukube played during the film itself (the show was entirely given to Otani in this regard), one of Ifukube's famous Godzilla themes played at the very end of the movie, and over the closing title credits. Once again, I hope to see this lasting tribute to a great composer whose hand helped define the Godzilla mythos retained in some fashion for each new G-film.
As it turned out, Ifukube's tracks appeared nowhere in the next two G-films, but one of them did play over the opening credits of GFW.
Though this film didn't perform well at the box office in Japan, for what it's worth it was the highest grossing G-film of the Millennium Series, and it was certainly better than the outre' misfire that was GFW in 2004.
Oddly, this particular G-film, despite its fairly great critical popularity, and perhaps the first really popular G-film since the 1960s, wasn't released to home video and DVD by Tri-Star Video until April 29, 2004. It was released to home video and DVD at the same time as the previous year's Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, so it's clear that Tri-Star still holds the American film distribution rights for Godzilla (Tri-Star Video also released GFW to home video). It's somewhat surprising that Tri-Star Pictures didn't attempt to put together an American version of this movie for the big screen in America, though after the lukewarm reception of Godzilla 2000 by American audiences, perhaps Tri-Star didn't think it was worth the effort, despite the relatively miniscule amount of scratch they would have to put together to have this movie simply dubbed as is and to finance a modest advertising campaign (they did a good job with this in regards to Godzilla 2000's American big screen release). Instead, along with Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (the second Millennium Series G-film) GMK went direct to television, its unedited but amateurishly dubbed international version premiering right after the former G-film on the Sci-Fi Channel. If you can tolerate the putrid English dubbing by Australian voice-over actors, then you can simply tape this movie when next it appears on the Sci-Fi Channel, if you can tolerate hearing Godzilla's name pronounced "Godziller" and Gen. Tachibana yelling "Eat this, you big lizard!" with about as much emotional conviction as you would expect from the android Lt. Cmdr. Data of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" prior to having that emotion chip planted into his positronic brain. This makes the international version inferior to the Japanese version for that reason alone. For those who truly want to own the best version of this movie possible, then I recommend purchasing the highly affordable English sub-titled version of GMK from Video Daikaiju, as you will have a plethora of neat extras included with it. Granted, sub-titles aren't perfect, either, but I think they beat out dubbing in terms of quality hands down.
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