Japanese release title: Godzilla ("Gojira")
International release title: The Return Of Godzilla
U.S. release date: August, 1985 by New World Pictures
Japanese audience attendance: 3,600,000
Director: Kohji Hashimoto (new U.S. footage--R.J. Kizer)
Screenplay: Shuichi Nagahara (from a story by Tomoyuki Tanaka)
Sfx: Teruyoshi Nakano
Musical score: Reijiro Koruku
U.S. version available on home video by New World Video.
A young reporter named Goro Maki, who is out sailing in his private boat, discovers and investigates the damaged freighter Yahatu Maru, which is adrift at sea. He soon finds that the hapless crew is apparently all dead, not killed in the storm, but slaughtered and drained of all their bodily fluids. Suddenly, Maki is attacked by one of the perpetrators of the slaughter, an enormous mutated sea louse known as a Shokilas. Just as the creature is about to kill him, a lone survivor of the ship, Hiroshi Okumura, appears from hiding and stabs the oversized parasite to death. Okumura was in a terrible state of shock, and he claimed that an enormous monster appeared out of the sea during the storm, and a legion of the radioactively mutated sea louses that clung to the monster’s skin as parasites were unleashed on the ship, killing everyone but him.
As he later recovered in a hospital in Tokyo, Okumura identified the monster from a photo taken 30 years ago...Godzilla has indeed returned [actually how, after his apparent discorporation by the Oxygen Destroyer, is never expounded upon in the film; presumably, the radioactive residue of the kaiju’s body came into contact with radioactive waste dumped throughout the Pacific Ocean during the preceding three decades, enabling the creature’s incredible recuperative capacity to restore himself to his original form in the course of three decades].
Soon afterwards, seeking radiation for sustenance, Godzilla attacks and destroys a Soviet nuclear submarine, and the resulting influx of tremendous energy causes the monster to increase in power and size to 80 meters in height. During an international conference convened to deal with the renewed threat of Godzilla, both the U.S. and Soviet governments insist on using nuclear weapons on the monster, but the Japanese Prime Minister Mitamura adamantly refuses to allow a nuclear device near Japan. Meanwhile, Godzilla attacks a nuclear power station in Ihama, feeding on the station’s reactor core. The beast’s attack is only abated when, strangely, he follows a flock of flying birds away from the area.
A renowned biologist named Prof. Hayashida opines that Godzilla is attracted to certain high-pitched sounds, such as those produced by the birds, and he begins working on a transmitter, which he hopes can be used to lure the monster astray. Afterwards, Godzilla appears in Tokyo Bay, destroying a Soviet freighter, which is parked there. This inadvertently triggers a time-release mechanism for a Soviet nuclear missile loaded in a satellite, and the Soviets learn to their horror that the missile will be launched at Tokyo within a matter of hours, and the U.S. government prepares an intercept missile.
In the meantime, Godzilla ravages Tokyo, resisting attacks by the Japanese Self Defense Forces with consummate ease, just as he did 30 years earlier. Deciding to release their big gun, the Japanese government launches the Super X flying battle machine against Godzilla, which is a weapon designed to withstand a nuclear assault. During the ensuing battle, the Super X crew fires poisoned cadmium bombs into Godzilla’s mouth, successfully rendering the monster insensate. However, their victory dance is later cut short when the Soviet nuclear missile is finally intercepted in the upper stratosphere by the American missile. Though the missile is destroyed, the resulting radioactive storm causes Godzilla to recover from the cadmium poisoning, and to resume his battle with the Super X. This time, he defeats the battle machine in combat, sending the proud battle machine to the ground, and then toppling a huge skyscraper on top of it.
Just when all seems lost, however, Prof. Hayashida’s sonic transmitter is completed, and the device’s sounds are used to lure Godzilla to Oshima Island. Once there, the mighty kaiju is goaded by the transmitter to fall into Mt. Mihara, a large, recently active volcano, apparently to his death.
Back after nine years, the King of the Kaiju was restored to his original modus operandi, as producer Tomuyuki Tanaka had desired for years. Thus, this movie was not a remake of the original film, as had been widely reported in the media. Rather, it was a direct sequel to the first movie, completely ignoring the continuity presented in the 14 subsequent films (and Godzilla's appearances on the Zone Fighter, the Meteor Man TV series, of course). Godzilla was not only a menace once more, but he always had been.
In another move of restoration, Toho returned to the theme of one giant monster vs. humankind, not the tired old motif of giant monster vs. giant monster, as had been featured in each successive G-film after the first. Further, Godzilla’s often campy appearance in the late 1960’s to the 1970’s was seemingly scrapped for good, and Godzilla resumed his malevolent, mindless veneer of the earliest films.
Some changes were made, however. Since many buildings in the 1980’s were much larger than those in the 1950’s, Toho decided that Godzilla’s original 50 meter height was no longer as impressive as before, so they increased his size to 80 meters. This presented problems for the sfx crew, who had to make smaller miniatures to display Godzilla’s larger size. This was one of the main reasons why Ishiro Honda said he would have refused an offer to direct the film...the monster’s size change was non-traditional [Godzilla's height would increase further as the Heisei Series progressed, until he reached a maximum height of 120 meters in Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995), the final film in the Heisei Series; by the time the Millennium G-series rolled around in 1999 with Godzilla 2000, the Kaiju King's height was reduced roughly back to the height he sported in the first film and entire Showa Series]. Also, Honda held fast to the belief that the Godzilla series should have been permanently laid to rest after the death of sfx master Eiji Tsuberaya. The new director Koihji Hashimoto was effective but non-spectacular in the human drama, and he wasn’t asked back for the following films.
Unfortunately, Teruyoshi Nakano was back directing the special effects, and he used all the same methods that he did during the 70’s, other than the much-hyped 15-foot tall ‘cybot’ Godzilla. The motors within the face of this robot enabled Godzilla to emote very convincingly. Otherwise, with the exception of the highly effective pyrotechnics during Godzilla’s fight with the military and the Super X, this film had outdated and unimpressive special effects. With the next G-film, Toho would establish a new sfx crew with considerably more modernized techniques to make Godzilla’s destructive rampages much more effective.
While the score by Reijiro Koruku was okay, and even stunning in some sequences, he was certainly no Akira Ifukube. The theme song, “I Was Afraid To Love You,” while pleasant, was felt to be inappropriate for an action-oriented movie by many G-fans (personally, I thought it was hauntingly appropriate in its own way).
The Shokilas (which was not referred to by that name in either the Japanese or American version of the film, but only in press material) was realized in the movie by a very stiff full-size prop that, while looking rather creepy, didn't come off as completely convincing onscreen. The American version clipped most of the long shots of the creature during its assault on the hapless reporter Goro Maki, very likely to attempt to hide its obviously synthetic nature by depicting its attack entirely in quick shots. Instead, however, the New World film butchers only succeeded in making this fairly exciting scene of monster mayhem rather confusing and disorienting to the American viewers, many of whom hadn't the slightest idea what the hell it was that was attacking Maki. In fact, other than a very brief offhand reference to a "huge sea louse" in the following hospital scene, the American script did nothing whatsoever to make it clear to the viewers what this creature actually was, an oversight that didn't occur in the Japanese script.
These mutant sea louses that parasitized off of Godzilla's radioactive blood, thus causing another major hazard to humans who came into contact with the Kaiju King in the ocean, were never seen in another G-film in the Heisei Series (though a large contingent of these creatures did appear in one of the Godzilla comic books published by Dark Horse Comics in the late 1980's, which was based on the Heisei version of the Big G).
Since most of the special effects were far surpassed in subsequent Godzilla films, this movie was voted the least liked of the Heisei Series of G-films by the readers of G-FAN magazine. It was still a good film, but its pacing was annoyingly slow, and the sequence depicting the human cast trapped in the burning skyscraper was unnecessarily dragged on and lengthy. This made some of the film appear boring. Further, this movie repeated the only major problem of the first Godzilla movie: an anti-climactic ending, in which Godzilla is defeated within minutes by one particular device after wading through the military with consummate ease earlier in the film. Granted, it was at least done with a measure of suspensful effectiveness in the first film, and it was necessary to the plot of that movie to display Dr. Serizawa's act of self-sacrifice for the greater good, an important and much-respected theme in Japanese culture. In this film, however, it not only happened with even greater abruptness than the first, but it appeared as nothing more than a quickie plot contrivance to end the movie, and to "tease" the audience into believing that Godzilla "might" be dead. No honorable self-sacrifice to be found here.
Nevertheless, we were treated to one of the best Godzilla entrances since Godzilla vs. Mothra, with his debut appearance at the nuclear power plant, and we finally got to view first hand the monster’s method of consuming radiation for sustenance. The broader theme of nuclear misuse, and the folly of the U.S. and Soviet’s nuclear arsenals, was well summed up here from a Japanese perspective, and the film did much to point out Japan’s perceived stance during the final years of the Cold War. As a result of the serious, adult tone and important social messages, not to mention the fact that this was done for Godzilla’s 30th anniversary, the film did very well at the Japanese box office, albeit much less than Toho had hoped, but still far better than the paltry performance of the G-films of the 70’s. When the film was exported to America in 1985 (hence the U.S. film title), many American companies were unwilling to pay Toho’s asking fee of $5 million for the exclusive American distribution rights; all of the small exploitation companies that released Toho kaiju films from the 50’s to the 70’s were now defunct. Finally, New World Pictures acquired the rights for a mere $500,000, much less than Toho had previously asked for (though when converted from American dollars to Japanese yen, it would translate into considerably more fiscal value, of course).
Unfortunately, despite the serious job Toho did with the tone of the new Godzilla, New World chose to cater to the perceived American attitude towards Godzilla that the monster was a joke. A humorous advertising campaign was launched, replete with phrases such as “Your favorite fire-breathing monster is back” and “There goes the neighborhood!” [Need I reiterate here that contrary to popular American belief, the Japanese movie version of Godzilla does not breathe fire, but actually spews concentrated radiation?] The movie was preceeded in American theaters by Marv Newland’s awful cartoon short Bambi Meets Godzilla, in which the kaiju steps on the hapless fawn.
For the first time since King Kong vs. Godzilla in 1963, original made-in-America footage was filmed for the U.S. release. Most prominently, Raymond Burr was hired to reprise his role of journalist Steve Martin (he reportedly made a lot of money for one day’s work). This was probably a good move, as it establishes an important continuity link between the first film and this one to the American audiences, although he’s given little relevant things to do in the movie, and he certainly didn’t live up to the excellent boost he gave the American version of the first G-film back in 1956. Reportedly, New World wanted to dub the film with a completely new, all tongue in cheek script, which would completely turn the flick into a comedy, but Raymond Burr was said to have adamantly opposed this approach, and won. Thus, the finished product was much less of a disaster for G-fandom than it could have been. The only intentionally humorous American dialogue left over from the alternate American script was in the character of Major McDonugh, who, after viewing footage of Godzilla’s carnage in Japan, uttered bad taste, supposed-to-be-funny comments such as “That’s one hell of an urban renovation program they got going over there!” New World also prominently featured the soft drink Dr. Pepper in the new footage, since the company had financed the studio’s reworking of the film; in fact, New World worked in concert with Dr. Pepper regarding Godzilla before the release of the movie in America, since the film was released around the same time as the two memorable, if not exactly respectful, commercials by Dr. Pepper featuring the Big G appeared on U.S. TV (the Dr. Pepper commercials featuring Godzilla are covered elsewhere on this site).
The dubbing was horrible, and many scenes were shifted and altered, giving the American version a somewhat jumbled feel at times. Most of the musical score was tampered with, and the film was given a campy tone that was directly against everything Toho wanted to do with Godzilla’s revival. In fact, many stunning scenes were deleted from the movie, particularly the impressive sequence of Godzilla walking alongside the Yurakucho Mullion Building with his image reflected on the skyscraper’s windows.
The only minor improvements the American version made was to include vintage footage of Godzilla’s first appearance, something missing from the Japanese version, and having a more impressive title credit sequence at the beginning, featuring Godzilla’s name appearing in flaming letters, rather than the mundane title card seen in the Japanese version.
However, New World’s tampering was absolutely insulting in many cases, including its most unforgivable alteration. In the Japanese version, the American and Soviet governments were both chastised for their nuclear weapons arsenal, and were seen as moral equals, in that no one could be trusted to use nuclear weapons responsibly. We also saw the viewpoint of a nation without nuclear weapons caught between the two world superpowers that did have them. Both governments agree not to use nuclear weapons on Godzilla, but a nuclear missile is accidentally launched from the Soviet satellite when Godzilla attacks the Soviet submarine in Tokyo Bay. The Soviet commander of the sub bravely sacrifices his life in a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to halt the launch of the missile. This highly effective and socially touching scene was one of the high points of the film that moved it far beyond the juvenile, entertainment-only tone that the G-films of the 70’s are often lambasted for.
Insidiously, however, New World would totally destroy this excellent scene of human drama in the American version in order to cater to typical American nationalistic biases very popular at the time. Wanting to make the movie politically correct for the Reagan era in the waning days of the Cold War, and trying to cater to the narrow-minded patriotism of the American mindset of the early 80’s [and which periodically returns whenever an American president has a serious economic rival to bash as an "evil empire" in order to rationalize its materialistically motivated agenda in the name of "freedom and democracy"] New World altered the dialogue to imply that the U.S. government was the moral superior of the Soviet government. Contrary to what was heard in the Japanese version in regards to the American and Soviet governments both agreeing to abstain from the use of nuclear missiles, in the American version the Soviet official’s lines were altered to read, “The government has told us to keep the nuclear option open.” Then, the scene on the submarine was changed (including the addition of a brief scene depicting a red button being pushed) to show the Soviet commander actually deliberately initiating the missile launch! Hence, as is often said in reviews about this movie, the Soviets were depicted as being worse monsters than Godzilla. If anyone ever tells you that political attitudes do not influence what our corporate controlled entertainment industry allows us to view on film or any other media venue, just point the American version of this movie out to them as an example to the contrary.
All of the problems in the pacing of the Japanese version were exacerbated by the alterations seen in the American version by New World, which made this movie all the more boring to view. Critics razed the film with typical biased views against Godzilla movies, often wrongly attributing the manifold problems added by the American distributors to be applicable to the Japanese creative team. American audiences expected to see a comedy, only to end up viewing something that was obviously intended to be serious by the original filmmakers receive a humorous makeover by the U.S. distributers. The American box office take was quite disappointing, although the film’s release to home video was so successful that it netted New World a fairly decent profit in the end. Serious G-fans should avoid purchasing or dubbing the dubious American version, and should instead acquire the sub-titled Japanese version available from Video Daikaiju. This was the first G-film to get a decent stateside release to general American theaters since Godzilla vs. Megalon back in 1976, and perhaps not surprisingly, due to its inept handling in America, this was the last G-film to receive a theatrical release in the U.S. until Godzilla 2000 15 years later.
For those who wish to read a much more in-depth look at the Americanization of this film, pick up a copy of G-FAN #20. For those who wish to read a detailed comparison of both the Japanese and American versions of this movie, pick up a back issue of JAPANESE GIANTS #7.
Despite the uneven nature of Godzilla’s return, the Heisei Era G-series was now underway, and this first film can be seen as a prologue to that series, or as J.D. Lees put it in one issue of G-FAN, to use comic book vernacular, “Godzilla #0.”
back to Heisei Series list