The Dark God
Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a huge Godzilla fan. Always have been. I’d like to write a review about my new all time favorite movie. 2001’s Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidora, Giant Monsnters All-Out Attack. (That’s a mouthful) or GMK for short. I’ll focus on the ending and why it’s such a great film. This one is awesome. It’s one of the most original Godzilla movies ever made. It takes everything you think you know about Godzilla and turns it on its ear. It comes as no surprise, because it’s directed by Shusuke Kaneko who directed the Gamera trilogy of the 1990’s, which are some of the finest Kaiju-eiga (giant monster movies) ever made. I like Kaneko’s take on Giant Monsters because he puts them squarely where they belong, in the realm of fantasy, not just pure science fiction.
(Spoiler warning! If you don’t want to know how the movie ends, I suggest you change your mind and keep reading. It won’t spoil your enjoyment of the film.)
There are a total of four monsters in this film, Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah and Baragon. In this one, Godzilla is bad, and I mean really bad. The other monsters are the legendary guardians of Japan. Yes, you heard it right, Ghidorah is good. The human story centers around Yuri, a female news reporter, which harkens back to older Showa era films where journalists were often the protagonists, her co-workers and her father; an Admiral in the Japanese Self Defense Forces. The basic premise is Godzilla appears to destroy Japan, while Yuri slowly uncovers the mystery of the three guardian monsters, who one by one appear to battle Godzilla along with some help from the Japanese military. We are told early on about the secret of Godzilla’s power. He was created by the nuclear bomb, but is possessed and made immortal by the tormented souls of those killed by Japanese soldiers during WWII. I think this is a very interesting reversal. Originally, Godzilla was a metaphor for nuclear aggression against Japan, but now the director is suggesting that Godzilla’s purpose is to punish Japan for atrocities commited by the Japanese against others. I think this is a sign of the times when the Japanese are trying to come to terms with their past. Anyway, enough politics.
The special effects are great in this film and the fight scenes are fantastic. I especially like the fight between Godzilla and Baragon. It contains many long shots and set against a natural background. I always think Godzilla looks better in a natural setting than in a cityscape. Also, the sound effects and quality are really powerful. You can feel the explosions like you were there. I really like how they portrayed his atomic ray. He has to warm up. His dorsal plates glow white hot and there is an electric buzz. At the same time, he opens his mouth in a great inhale before firing. It’s very dramatic.
The thing that really drives the film is the dark nature of Godzilla himself. Godzilla really looks menacing here. He has no pupils, only the whites of his eyes which makes him look truly evil. The design of his head and face are much altered from previous millennium movies. In the previous films, Godzilla was made to look very reptilian, even lizard-like with a narrow pointed snout. A look I don’t really care for. In GMK, he has a squared, jaw and looks more like a dragon or crocodile. In profile, he is hunched over with a huge pot belly. To be honest, I didn’t like this look the first time I saw the film. He looked old. But later, I realized that was the point. If the 100 meter tall Heisei Godzilla of the 1990s was Godzilla in his prime; if he were human, say a man in his thirties, then this Godzilla is middle-aged. He’s older, but has lost nothing. In fact, he’s grown stronger and more experienced. This is the darkest incarnation of Godzilla we’ve ever seen. He’s sadistic and plays dirty. He kicks enemies when they are down and takes pleasure in destroying his opponents. He also goes out of his way to kill individual human beings. This is also the most intelligent Godzilla we’ve ever seen. He’s a seasoned general, a grey fox who’s been through a hundred battles and can’t be taken advantage of. Several times in the film, he is attacked from behind by either monster opponents or the military, but he senses it and swerves at the last moment to counter attack.
The film also offers the most unique way to destroy Godzilla. He’s killed by his own personality. In the end, the three guardian monsters are not enough to stop him, they are all destroyed. The military is helpless and Godzilla keeps coming. He rises from the depths once more and targets Yuri and her friend. Just then, a kind of drill missile emerges from inside Godzilla, being fired by Yuri’s father from a mini-sub which Godzilla swallowed earlier! The missile comes out from a wound on Godzilla’s shoulder and explodes, causing him pain. Enraged he attempts to fire his atomic ray at Yuri, but instead it shoots out of the hole in his shoulder. His internal environment has been compromised, like a punctured lung and doesn’t work properly. Though surprised, he attempts it a 2nd time with the same result and falls back beneath the waves screaming in agony.
This takes me back to another Kaiju film, this time not Godzilla, but a Gamera movie Gamera vs. Barugon(1966) In this film, which is the best of the old Gamera movies, Gamera fights yet another monster named Barugon. Barugon can fire a lethal rainbow ray from spines in its back. In true Gamera fashion, the humans use the monster’s characteristics against it and construct a huge parabolic mirror and reflect the ray back on Barugon itself seriously wounding, but not killing the monster. Frustrated, the hero, Keisuke says Barugon must produce another rainbow. That’s when the jungle girl Karen, played by the beautiful actress Bibari (Beverly) Maeda, teaches us a law of the jungle and says that if an animal does something and is injured, it will never do that thing again, and Barugon doesn’t, until its death. (Incidently, Ms. Maeda frequently appears on Japanese TV today. She’s in her 50’s, but looks good for her age.)
Now let‘s return to GMK. Godzilla falls beneath the waves and luckily Yuri’s father finds his chance to escape and pilots the mini-sub through the hole in Godzilla’s shoulder. Godzilla notices this and attempts to use his atomic ray yet a third time, but now submerged, the cold sea water comes into direct contact with Godzilla’s super-heated nuclear furnace and he explodes. This is what separates Godzilla and shows him as a true monster and not just an animal. He is so blinded by his own rage and lust for revenge that he kills himself. Profound!
Whether you’re a Kaiju fan or not, I recommend watching this movie. Long live the King!