Scientist and single father Yuji Shinoda (Takehiro Murata) and his precocious young daughter Io (Mayu Suzuki) are dedicated to trailing everyone’s favourite rampaging radioactive reptile, Godzilla. For their latest escapade, the pair drag along photojournalist Yuki (Naomi Nishida) as they accumulate invaluable data that could safeguard lives and maybe help human beings to understand the big lug better. Shinoda’s exploits lead to a clash with Katagiri (Hiroshi Abe), ruthless commander of the government’s anti-Godzilla unit, who is adamant rather than studying Godzilla it is simply better to kill him. When a submarine unearths an alien meteorite from the ocean floor, scientists believe they have stumbled upon a valuable new energy source. However, the meteorite turns out to be a UFO that hacks into computer systems across Japan then morphs into a giant monster dubbed Orga. Orga blasts its death-rays at Godzilla, who swiftly responds in kind with Tokyo soon caught in the crossfire.
After a four absence and in the wake of the disastrous Hollywood version of Godzilla (1998), Toho Films took back the reins and rebooted the Godzilla franchise with their twenty-third entry, a sequel that ignored the continuity established by the Heisei series. Released as Godzilla Millennium in Japan, Godzilla 2000 became the template for the so-called Millennium Godzilla series wherein each film would start afresh in a new reality with a different take on Godzilla. This also became the first Godzilla film in fourteen years to play American cinemas although the self-consciously campy English dub, featuring dialogue nods to Dr. Strangelove (1964) and Patton (1970), suggested westerners still struggled to take Japanese monster movies seriously. Having said that, more than a few critics praised the American re-edit for tightening the original’s slack pacing and creating a far livelier end result.
Takao Okawara, director of several fan-favourite entries in the Heisei series, returned to the Godzilla fold one last time, displaying a notable change in camera style. Here, rather than observing the spectacle from a remote distance, Okawara dives headfirst into the chaos wrought in Godzilla’s wake, bringing an immediacy to this monster mash that proves impressive. The special effects uphold Toho’s high standard of miniatures and rubber monster suits and will delight anyone savvy enough to recognise the superiority of artfully-lit physical effects over flat CGI, although the film’s blend of computer graphics with traditional techniques is very creative. Katsuhiro Kato’s cinematography ranks among the finest in the series. So, on a technical level, the twenty-third Godzilla emerges a triumph, but sadly the old bugbears remain. Namely, tantalising but ultimately half-baked ideas and similarly underdeveloped characters.
At the heart of the film lies an interesting concept that Godzilla is out to attack man-made devices that harm the environment. However, the whole eco-warrior angle is fumbled and the script co-authored by Wataru Mimura, who penned the widely-acclaimed Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), displays an ambiguous attitude towards the title character. The question remains: is Godzilla hero or menace and the film awkwardly tries to have it both ways as adults shriek in terror while kids gaze rapt with wonder. With the first two acts simply building-up to the climactic monster battle, there is little in the way of dramatic meat and the characters never transcend their purely reactive roles.
While the father-daughter relationship marks a welcome change after years of stoic military dullards throughout the Heisei films, it is a shame there is so little to it and that child actress Mayu Suzuki brings nothing to her role. The cast are servicable but unremarkable, with cult actor Shiro Sano fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing a scientist in a Godzilla movie. Sano returned to the series, playing a different, altogether more humorous character in the superior Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: All Monsters Attack (2001). Hiroshi Abe, a lively and charismatic action hero in films such as The Sword of Alexander (2007) and Hidden Fortress - The Last Princess (2008), is cast against type as the remorseless Karagiri, yet inept in an ill-characterised role. At least Okawara serves up a good old-fashioned monster punch-up-cum-death-ray-duel, which includes the novel sight of a foe actually attempting to devour Godzilla. Boasting an unwieldy monster suit that looks like something Patrick Tatapoulos dreamed up for an aborted sequel to Roland Emmerich’s film, Orga - curiously, only referred to as such in press materials, never in the film itself - has an intriguing array of abilities but in its monster incarnation is not onscreen long enough to make a lasting impression. Bizarrely, the finale finds the human heroes exhibiting more sympathy for an alien out to take over the world than their prehistoric saviour, although there is a telling moment as one character ponders why Godzilla bothers to protect them. The score by Takayuki Hattori recycles several themes by the legendary Akira Ifukube but is otherwise listless.