Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (a.k.a. Godzilla X Mothra X Mechagodzilla: Tokyo SOS)
Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.
You'd think Godzilla would get
sick of destroying that
building but noooo.
For the first time since Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) the current Godzilla movie continues the storyline from the preceding film, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002). The latest vogue in Godzilla pictures, you'll recall, was to discard previous continuities with the exception of the original 1954 Godzilla. The "Kiryu" Mechagodzilla (a robot created using certain biological components of the first monster) must have proved popular enough to bring back to fight Godzilla. This time, however, it has a little help from the most popular giant Lepidoptera character ever to appear in cinema.
Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla established that several monsters had attacked Japan over the years, though Godzilla himself appeared only twice, during the events presented in Godzilla and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. begins with the return of one of those monsters, Mothra. The giant insect flies into Japanese airspace, blithely ignoring missiles fired by Japan's Special Defense Force. The point of this incursion is to allow the Cosmos Twins (now played by Masami Nagasawa and Chihiro Otsuka, probably the least identical Twins yet) to visit Prof. Chujo, one of the people who figured out how to appease the winged behemoth in the original Mothra (1961). In a nod to kaiju history, Chujo is even played by the same actor now as 43 years ago, Hiroshi Koizumi.
"There's a book on the top shelf..."
The Twins are worried about the fact that the original Godzilla's remains were used in the construction of Mechagodzilla, which keeps the monster from its rightful eternal rest. The Twins chose to visit Chujo simply because they trusted him, but their friend's house has other advantages. Chujo lives with his nephew Yoshio (Noboru Kaneko) who just happens to be a hotshot mechanic working on the Kiryu project. However, he believes that Kiryu is necessary to fight giant monsters. Also living in the house is Chujo's young grandson Shun, who fulfills all the important Kenny needs of the movie. (For more on the Kenny factor in Godzilla movies, see our review of Godzilla's Revenge.) The Twins promise that if Japan comes under attack Mothra will fight for humanity.
Chujo and Yoshiro go about lobbying their respective causes with government officials. Chujo tries to convince the Prime Minister to scrap the Kiryu project, but distrust of Mothra runs deep -- all because Mothra trashed a major city. Just once! Those wusses. Yoshiro tries to get his superiors to understand that Kiryu must be repaired carefully if the machine is to stand up to another Godzilla attack.
Soon it becomes obvious that Godzilla is coming. Kameba, the giant land turtle from Yog: Monster From Space (1970), washes ashore in Japan, dead from a nasty bite. An American sub is destroyed. Finally the Japanese navy spots the monster heading for Shinagawa, a part of Tokyo. Godzilla comes ashore and the Japanese military does their best, which is to say they play the Washington Generals to Godzilla's Harlem Globetrotters. Tanks roll in, missiles are fired, and Godzilla ignores it all. Well, the Maser tanks annoy him a little until he blows them up.
We'd love to see the pet policy of that apartment building.
Unlike nearly all Godzilla films, Godzilla only appears in this movie in one long, unbroken scene that encompasses the last hour of the film. He never goes back to the sea or travels from city to city. This does make Godzilla a more impressive presence, because it really gives the impression that you can't get rid of him.
Precocious Shun is trapped in Tokyo, so he uses school desks to make the Mothra symbol in the schoolyard. Mothra appears almost instantly and challenges Godzilla. It quickly becomes obvious that being a giant moth doesn't count for much when you're fighting a monster like Godzilla, so the Japanese government mobilizes Kiryu. The battle is joined, Godzilla in this corner, Mechagodzilla and Mothra in the other.
If you've seen the original Godzilla vs. Mothra you'll have a pretty good idea of how this develops, right down to hatching of an egg and the emergence of twin larva. One major change is that Godzilla dispatches his winged foe in a scene that would cause Robin to declare "Holy Flaming Mothra!" There's also a subplot about how Yoshio must do some field repairs on Mechagodzilla, and learns the true value of life, or something.
Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. has attracted quite a bit of antagonism from American Godzilla fans for its muddled story and second-rate acting. Considering that even well regarded vintage Godzilla films often suffer from these problems, however, we suspect that these problems are simply less tolerable (even to Godzilla-friendly audiences) when unaccompanied by the novelty of a heavy kitsch factor or simple nostalgia. It's hard to imagine that the disappointment comes from the monster combat which, by the standards of most giant monster pictures, is first-rate even while it eschews full-on computer generated monsters in favor of the more traditional "suitmation." (There are numerous heavy assists from the CGI department, however, just to keep things from looking completely hokey.) This is the best monster action Toho has produced, approaching the new Gamera series in quality.
Some of the resentment may stem from the fact that this film seems very much to be made for a young audience. As a result the plot is fairly simplistic and the character relationships are painted in broad strokes. Perhaps most disturbing to us, however, is the fact that the producers don't seem to have much esteem for their target audience. Some plot points are glossed over or simply ignored, and character motivations are often lost. The dialogue is the worst casualty -- the writer and director must have truly believed that mere jabber, performed earnestly enough by the cast, would suffice.
Remind us again... Why would
anyone live in Tokyo?
Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. marks a general improvement in quality over the previous entry in the series, but the movie didn't do well enough financially to continue the series in this fashion. While this movie borrowed heavily from a couple of previous Godzilla movies, Toho decided to retire the series (at least for a while) with a big budget blast that will strip mine Godzilla's legacy for everything one hot director thinks is cool. That film will be Godzilla: Final Wars, directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Azumi).