Netflix has been good to me this week and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003) showed up in the mail. This is a great movie and gets a hearty “thumbs up” from me. Great special effects, lots of action and Godzilla is well represented.
I was pleased to see that Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. continued where the previous movie left off. The first series of 15 Godzilla movies, the Showa Series (1954-1975), created its own continuity. Even though some of those movies took liberties it isn’t stretching things too far to say they roughly fit into the same setting. Next came the seven movies of the Heisei Series (1984-1995). Although the Heisei series acknowledged the first Godzilla movie it created its own continuity that largely ignored the movies of the Showa Series. The six movies of the Millennium Series (of which Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is one) decided to skip around. Most of these movies created their own individual continuity and ignored the events of even other movies in the Millennium Series. That was why it was so nice to see Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. pick up where the last one (Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla) left off.
Continuing from the previous movie meant they didn’t have to include long scenes that show an individual’s terror at encountering Godzilla or explain why people are so dedicated to preventing Godzilla’s rampages. The film assumes the audience knows what every Godzilla fan already knows – Godzilla is huge, terrifying and very, very grouchy. This gave more screen time to dealing with Godzilla’s current attack. The benefit? The audience gets long, beautifully done battle scenes with little need to wait for them.
Picking up where the last movie left off meant Kiryu, the latest incarnation of Mechagodzilla, got to appear again. This time the Absolute Zero Cannon couldn’t be repaired in time so a hyper maser was mounted in Kiryu’s chest instead. With reduced firepower Kiryu had to fight even harder. The Kiryu design is brilliant and probably works so well because it looks like a midpoint between the first Mechagodzilla design (1974) and the second (1993).
One of the really fun things about the Godzilla series is the sense of tradition. The series started in 1954 and the large number of films (28 if you strictly count movies where Godzilla appears) is enough to create not only its own mythos but its own traditions. Although the more recent Godzilla movies took the freedom to change some things the homages to the past are a strong part of the movies. This movie included Mothra (1961) in its continuity along with the original Godzilla movie (1954). It also recreated some scenes from Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964).
I was impressed by the special effects of Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. Although I’ve enjoyed the effects of Toho movies ever since the 1960’s they really look great in this film. As late as the 1990’s Toho felt bound by tradition to only use suitmation, miniatures and other “live” effects. With the Millennium Series Toho finally lightened up and started trying CG effects. By the time of Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. they seem to have gained mastery of the new techniques and Godzilla fans are treated to a visual feast that deftly combines live effects and CG for maximum impact. My only complaint with the effects was the decision to make Godzilla “warm up” his radioactive breath with a series of clicks and pops on his back. It made the mighty Godzilla seem like a wind-up toy or an old piece of electrical equipment.
The mysticism and philosophy made a stronger presence in this movie than the previous one. Since this sort of thing is firmly established in the traditions of Godzilla movies I was expecting it. I was pleased to see it was handled better than in previous films. Rather than another wishy-washy nod to environmentalism, the prime minister of Japan says towards the end of the film that the catastrophic events have taught mankind “humility”. Much of the plot revolves around the need to bury the bones of the first Godzilla that are housed within Kiryu’s mechanical body. The strong need for proper burial of the dead is a very Japanese theme and considering the first Godzilla’s remains to be on par with the average person fits well with the Japanese outlook.
If the chance presents itself, don’t miss buying or renting Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.