Film Review: Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

Also known as: Gojira vs. Biorante (original Japanese title), Godzilla 1990 (South Korea)
Release Date: December 16th, 1989 (Japan)
Directed by: Kazuki Ōmori
Written by: Kazuki Ōmori, Shinichirō Kobayashi
Music by: Koichi Sugiyama
Cast: Kunihiko Mitamura, Yoshiko Tanaka, Masanobu Takashima, Megumi Odaka, Toru Minegishi, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Yoshiko Kuga, Ryunosuke Kaneda, Kōji Takahashi

Toho Co. Ltd., 104 Minutes, 83 Minutes (VHS screener cut)

Review:

“Godzilla and Biollante aren’t monsters. It’s the unscrupulous scientists who create them that are monsters.” – Dr. Shiragami

This is the hardest of all Godzilla movies to track down if you didn’t actually buy the VHS, DVD or Blu-ray when they came out. It’s been out of print for years and if you want a copy, you’re going to pay an arm and a leg for it. Luckily, I had a hook up because I was too poor to buy this way back when it came out and as much as I love the movie, I’m not going to pay nearly $100 for a copy now.

Anyway, we never got a real sequel to Godzilla vs. Hedorah due to Toho hating it when it came out in 1971. However, this is a sort of spiritual sequel to it in that it pits Godzilla against another environmental threat… or in this case, a biological one.

After the lukewarm reception to The Return of Godzilla and the complete failure of the United States’ King Kong Lives, Toho was really cautious about rushing out another kaiju sequel. Although, the success of The Little Shop of Horrors remake got their attention and I’d have to assume that the plant monster designed for this film was somewhat inspired by the plant monster from that picture.

Although, Toho did hold a writing contest to see if fans could come up with a great Godzilla story worth telling. So I’m not sure how much of this came from fan input or from Toho’s writers trying to emulate The Little Shop of Horrors.

Needless to say, the studio was looking for a new kind of threat for Godzilla to fight and they wanted something fresh that was born out of science run amok. Where Godzilla was born out of man experimenting with atomic energy, Biollante was born out of man experimenting with biological engineering.

The end result is one of the coolest kaiju ever created, as well as one of the greatest threats Godzilla ever faced. Additionally, the monster, like Hedorah before her, had different stages of evolution throughout the movie. This would also go on to start a trend that saw Godzilla fight monsters that would evolve into more dangerous versions of themselves as movies progressed.

Godzilla vs. Biollante is one of my favorite films in the Heisei era and honestly, one of my favorite, overall. It just looks fantastic, I love the monsters and the effects and this boasts some of the best kaiju on kaiju violence in the franchise. Between the early fight where Godzilla fights Biollante in her flower form to the big, grand finale, everything in regards to the kaiju action is tremendous!

I also really like the story, I thought the actors were better than average for these sort of pictures and this movie has pretty solid cinematography for something from the tokusatsu genre.

Plus, this movie just has an epic feel to it that builds off of the spectacle of its predecessor in a great way.

This is one of the best looking and most interesting chapters in the long running franchise.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Heisei era Godzilla films, as well as Godzilla vs. Hedorah.

Film Review: Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)

Also known as: Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, Monster Zero (alternative US titles), Battle of the Astros, Invasion of Planet X, The Great Monster War (alternative Yugoslavian titles)
Release Date: December 19th, 1965 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Takarada, Nick Adams, Kumi Mizuno, Akira Kubo, Jun Tazaki, Keiko Sawai, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Yoshifumi Tajima

Toho Co. Ltd., 93 Minutes, 74 Minutes (re-issue)

Review:

“[about the victory over King Ghidorah, while Godzilla is outside dancing] A happy moment.” – Controller of Planet X

This is the last Godzilla film of the Shōwa era that I had left to review. While I didn’t watch the movies in order, I did save one of my favorites for last. But honestly, I like all these movies and don’t think there is a bad one in the bunch. Nope, not even All Monsters Attack a.k.a. Godzilla’s Revenge.

What I liked about this film is that it is a true follow up to its predecessor Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and also features the same lineup of monsters, minus Mothra. This also introduces the Xiliens from Planet X, who were (and still are) the best alien villains in Godzilla lore. In fact, they should’ve been regular antagonists throughout the Shōwa pictures but Toho decided to introduce new hostile aliens with almost every movie after this one. Although, I did like the ape and the cockroach aliens, somewhat. But leaving the Xiliens behind, after this film, was a mistake.

Anyway, the plot in this one is interesting, as it sees the Xiliens bring two Earth astronauts to their planet in an effort to get them to agree to let them borrow Godzilla and Rodan due to King Ghidorah being a major nuisance. It’s all a trap, however, as the aliens take control of Godzilla and Rodan and force them, along with Ghidorah, to attack Earth, leaving it defenseless. I guess King Kong, Mothra and Anguirus were taking naps on Monster Island.

Despite its hokiness, I really like the set designs and costumes in this chapter. Everything just looks really unique and seeing just one frame of this film lets avid Godzilla fans know which movie it is. Especially, in regards to any scenes involving Planet X or its people.

The special effects are great and consistent with the other films where Eiji Tsuburaya handled them.

All in all, this is just another really fun chapter in the franchise during its greatest run.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Shōwa era Godzilla movies.

 

Film Review: Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Also known as: Mosura tai Gojira (original Japanese title), Godzilla Against Mothra (Japanese English title), Panik in Tokyo (Germany), Godzilla Fights the Giant Moth (Worldwide English title)
Release Date: April 29th, 1964 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Takarada, Yuriko Hoshi, The Peanuts, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yu Fujiki, Kenji Sahara, Jun Tazaki, Yoshifumi Tajima

Toho Co. Ltd., 89 Minutes

Review:

“I’m not as afraid of Godzilla as I am of the editor… he’s meaner.” – Reporter Jiro Nakamura

While not my favorite Godzilla movie of the Shōwa era, this one still holds a pretty special place in my heart, as it pits Godzilla against Mothra for the first time. Granted, they’d become solid allies after this movie, as Godzilla would evolve into a hero and Earth’s protector once King Ghidorah shows up in the picture following this one.

This is still a fun film that merges the two monsters into the same franchise, this being Godzilla’s fourth movie and Mothra’s second after 1961’s simply titled Mothra.

The story sees one of Mothra’s eggs get taken from Infant Island, the kaiju’s tropical Tiki-esque home, and put on display in Japan. Godzilla shows up, the egg hatches and we get some great kaiju action. In fact, the battles and the effects are some of my favorite in the series, so hats off, once again, to effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya.

And while I’m mentioning Tsuburaya, his miniatures in this are some of the best he’s done. The vehicles looked and performed superbly.

The film also stars some of Toho’s regular actors from the tokusatsu genre, which I always consider a good thing despite familiar faces appearing multiple times throughout the franchise as different characters. In this one, we get Kenji Sahara, who I always enjoy, and Hiroshi Koizumi.

Mothra vs. Godzilla has a simple story but it works. This is a kaiju movie from the best kaiju studio from the best era in the kaiju genre. It brings together two of the most popular characters in film history and it is pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be while slightly exceeding those expectations.

This doesn’t have much of anything wrong with it and its just enjoyable through and through: a true tokusatsu classic.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Shōwa era Godzilla movies.

Book Review: ‘Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishirō Honda’ by Peter H. Brothers

Not all books on kaiju motion pictures are considered equal. There are some good and some bad. This one, specifically focusing on the work of Ishirō Honda, is in the upper echelon, however.

I really enjoyed this, as it is well researched, covers a lot more ground with a lot more detail than I thought possible and it still finds room to include a lot of great photos.

For those unaware, Honda is the director of the original Godzilla film, as well as many of its sequels. He would also go on to be the number one tokusatsu (Japanese sci-fi) director at Toho, who were the top studio for those style of films.

This book covers Honda’s life and the bulk of his filmmaking career, looking at his kaiju films, as well as other sci-fi and horror pictures he did.

The book’s title is in reference to the atomic age that birthed kaiju cinema, as well as the mushroom men that starred in one of his greatest and most bonkers films, Matango a.k.a. Attack of the Mushroom People.

If you’re into Honda’s work or even just the genre he was the godfather of, this is certainly a worthwhile read.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other books on Toho Co. Ltd., Godzilla and kaiju film in general.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

Also known as: Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (US recut version)
Release Date: July 24th, 1971 (Japan)
Directed by: Yoshimitsu Banno
Written by: Yoshimitsu Banno, Takeshi Kimura
Music by: Riichiro Manabe
Cast: Akira Yamauchi, Toshie Kimura, Hiroyuki Kawase, Keiko Mari, Toshio Shiba

Toho Co. Ltd., 85 Minutes

Review:

“There’s no place else to go and pretty soon we’ll all be dead, so forget it! Enjoy yourself! Let’s sing and dance while we can! Come on, blow your mind!” – Yukio Keuchi

This is probably the weirdest Godzilla movie of the original Shōwa era. There are a few reasons as to why and I’ll get to that.

But first, I have to admit that this is one of my favorite films in the franchise. It’s also pretty divisive, as people either seem to love it or hate it. My reasons for liking it is its weirdness and because its visually striking, does things outside of the box, creatively speaking, and it is very musical.

The film also carries an environmental message, which is important. Especially, to the Japanese people of the time, as there was a lot of industrial pollution that was creating problems and having an adverse effect on the natural beauty of the country.

What makes this movie so unique is the fact that it had a very different creative team than the other films. This was a Shōwa era film that wasn’t directed by either Ishirō Honda or Jun Fukuda. In fact, out of the fifteen Shōwa films, only one other was directed by someone else: 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again, which was helmed by Motoyoshi Oda. The reason why this is significant is due to that rarity, as well as Honda and Fukuda both having a consistent style.

This film’s director Yoshimitsu Banno made some creative changes that set this film apart. However, I wouldn’t say that this movie becomes inconsistent, it just has some neat artistic flourishes, such as hand drawn animated scene transitions, switching from black and white to color in an effort to emphasize liveliness and music, as well as a heavy use of music itself while showcasing the Japanese club scene of the early ’70s. In its own way, this is probably the most hip Godzilla picture of the Shōwa period.

The film is also visually darker, as both major battles between Godzilla and Hedorah, the Smog Monster, happen at night amidst a pretty smoggy atmosphere. But I like the tone and it still doesn’t deter from the upbeat and lightheartedness of the youthful, hippie-like characters and the pop music.

I also really love the monster in this and he’s gone on to become one of my favorite kaiju baddies of all-time. Additionally, I like that the monster has different stages of evolution throughout the film, which I feel somewhat inspired the new Godzilla in the Shin Godzilla reboot from a few years ago.

This movie also has a cheeky sense of humor to it and it could really be looked at as the stoner’s Godzilla movie between the music, the club scene, the outdoor party and Hedorah vegging out on top of a factory, inhaling the smoke stacks like a hookah. I guess the cool animated scenes would add to this as well.

Banno was slated to direct a sequel to this film but the heads of Toho hated the final product and ended up only working with Honda and Fukuda for the remainder of the Shōwa series.

After this film, we were going to get a picture called Godzilla vs. Redmoon. That was scrapped and eventually became the film Daigoro vs. Goliath. Then the studio switched gears and planned Godzilla vs. The Space Monsters: Earth Defensive Directive, which would have been similar to the style of the Ultraman television series. That was also canned and retooled to The Return of King Ghidorah, which was also cancelled and then further retooled into the actual followup, Godzilla vs. Gigan. Luckily for Ghidorah fans, he returned in that film anyway.

As for Hedorah, the monster wouldn’t be seen on the big screen for another 33 years, as one of dozens of monsters in the over the top Godzilla: Final Wars. Despite his lack of big screen love, he’s grown to become a cultural icon and has appeared in tons of video games, comics and television, primarily featured multiple times in Godzilla Island from 1977-1998.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Godzilla movies from the ’70s: Godzilla vs. MegalonGodzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Terror of Mechagodzilla and Godzilla vs. Gigan.

Film Review: Space Battleship Yamato (2010)

Also known as: Space Battleship (Japan – English title)
Release Date: December 1st, 2010 (Japan)
Directed by: Takashi Yamazaki
Written by: Shimako Sato
Based on: Space Battleship Yamato by Yoshinobu Nishizaki, Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Naoki Sato
Cast: Takuya Kimura, Meisa Kuroki, Toshirō Yanagiba, Naoto Ogata, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Maiko, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Reiko Takashima, Isao Hashizume, Toshiyuki Nishida, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Isao Sasaki (narrator)

Abe Shuji, Chubu-nippon Broadcasting Company (CBC), Hakuhodo DY Media Partners, Robot Communications, Sedic International, Toho, 138 Minutes

Review:

“Space stretches into infinity. Countless stars die as others are born. And thus, space is alive.” – Narrator

I wasn’t aware of this film’s existence until a year or so ago. Being that I loved the Star Blazers TV series way back in the day and revisited it recently, as well as reading the original Yamato manga, I felt that I had to see how this live action adaptation stacked up.

Well, it’s pretty enjoyable and where it’s good, it’s pretty close to great. However, it does get bogged down by things but at the same time, it’s still a worthwhile and impressive take on Space Battleship Yamato.

The big thing that hinders it though, is that the original Yamato story is a friggin’ epic. It’s massive, it’s long and a ton of stuff happens on this crew’s journey into deep space to find the MacGuffin that will save the world.

The problem with that is that they try to wedge in as much of the grand story as possible into a two hour and eighteen minute movie. It is like narrative overload. And where it really effects the overall flow of the picture, is that you don’t notice the passing of time until it’s referenced towards the end of the film. That could’ve been fixed easily with captions on the screen that said Day 187, Day 429, etc.

It also could have been fixed had this just told a part of the story or left a lot of the extras on the cutting room floor and focused on just the main objective: fly deep into space, grab the MacGuffin, fly back to Earth and save humanity.

If telling as much of the full story as possible was something that they wanted to do, they could have also made multiple films. Sure, that takes more money, more time and this was still unproven as a live action movie but I’d rather have a good part one than a movie that feels like a kid’s toy box that’s so overloaded that you can’t close the lid.

This is very obviously a fan service movie though, but it’s an example of how fan service can get in the way of storytelling and flow.

But let me stop harping on all that because there are things I loved.

For one, the action is superb and it almost makes up for the film’s problems. For a Japanese space opera, the special effects are impressive. Every time the Yamato has to have a big space battle, I was sucked in like a little kid and couldn’t turn away.

Plus, the human action scenes were also superb.

I also really liked the cast, especially the two leads. They were convincing and their tender moment at the end was pretty touching after this long and arduous journey.

Ultimately, Space Battleship Yamato is an ambitious attempt at adapting a beloved franchise. It did a better than decent job and had some pretty solid high points. While I’d rather see this play out over a longer period of time, be it extra movies or as a television series, it still shows you what can be done with this property in a live action presentation.

I hope that someone else eventually comes along, learns from the mistakes of this production and gives us something next level.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: all other incarnations of Space Battleship Yamato, as well as anything created by Leiji Matsumoto.

Film Review: Space Adventure Cobra (1982)

Also known as: Space Cobra (working title), Cobra (Norway, France, Finland)
Release Date: July 3rd, 1982 (Japan)
Directed by: Osamu Dezaki
Written by: Buichi Terasawa, Haruya Yamazaki
Based on: Cobra by Buichi Terasawa
Music by: Osamu Shoji

TMS Entertainment, Toho-Towa, 99 Minutes (original), 85 Minutes (video cut)

Review:

I never knew about Space Adventure Cobra or the Cobra character until fairly recently. It must have flown under the radar when I was a kid or it was on a secret adult shelf in the video store due to it having boobies and butts in it.

Delving deep into anime space operas and cyberpunk films that I’ve missed, I did find this pretty quickly down the rabbit hole and thankfully, it was free to stream with Prime.

Had I discovered this as a kid, I would have loved it. Not just because it’s pretty racy but because the main character is cool as hell, this universe is cool and I loved the hell out of the animation style.

Tonally, it reminds me of Arcadia of My Youth while also having an aesthetic that reminded me a lot of Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s style in Wicked City, Demon City Shinjuku and Ninja Scroll.

It’s part space opera, part swashbuckling and a whole lot of kickass with a character that feels like the best parts of Han Solo and James Bond merged into one being. Plus, he’s voiced by the same actor that played Roy Fokker in Robotech and the character also has a similar look. So that really tapped into my lifelong love of all things Robotech and Macross.

This was just a really cool find and it immediately became one of my favorite anime pictures from its era. Now knowing that there are manga, a television series, other films and OVAs, I want to check them all out. Hopefully, they aren’t too hard to find.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the Space Cobra television series, Arcadia of My YouthGalaxy Express 999 and Venus Wars.