In the year 2204 a submarine explores the ocean depths and discovers the corpse of a giant monster. The World Government Leader marvels at its two heads. “Originally there were three heads”, says plucky, time-traveller Emi (Anna Nakagawa). “Before it fought Godzilla in the 20th Century!” Cue monster roar and Akira Ifukube’s magisterial Godzilla theme, as Toho’s slam-bang, time travel epic gets off to a rousing start. 1991: a UFO appears in the skies above Tokyo. Crackpot billionaire Yasuaki Shindo (Yoshio Tsuchiya) prophesizes doom. He’s interviewed by dinosaur expert Kenichiro Terasawa (Isao Toyohara) and recounts an incident during World War Two when his platoon was saved by a prehistoric monster. Terasawa theorizes this creature was Godzilla. Meanwhile, a government taskforce, including ace psychic girl Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka) - a reoccurring character throughout the Heisei Godzilla series - intercepts the UFO and are greeted by “Futurians” - Grenchiko (Richard Berger), Wilson (Chuck Wilson) and Emi. They deliver a warning: in the future Japan will be destroyed by Godzilla. Their solution: travel back in time to 1944 and remove the dinosaur before H-bomb tests mutate him into everyone’s favourite, radioactive monster.
Aided by faithful android M11 (Robert Scottfield - the only robot built with a receding hairline), the Futurians whisk Terasawa, Miki and palaeontologist Masaki (Katsuhiko Sasaki - star of Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)) aboard their time-warp jet. Arriving on Lagos Island on February 6th, 1944 they witness a lumbering dinosaur save young Shindo’s platoon from American marines. The Futurians teleport the beast into the Bering Sea but, unbeknownst to Terasawa and co., let loose three cuddly, little bat-critters on the island. An American naval commander watches the UFO disappear with dinosaur in tow and remarks to his aide: “You can tell your son about this when he’s born, Major Spielberg.”
Back in 1991, everyone feels pretty good about themselves. Until King Ghidorah, the three-headed space dragon, arrives in a burst of flame and lays waste to Japan. Surprise! Turns out, in 2204 Japan is the world’s number one super-power. Wilson and Grenchiko pulled a double-cross! The Self-Defence Force prove no match for Ghidorah, but heroic Emi - in love with Terasawa - and bright spark Miki hatch a desperate plan: find and re-energize Godzilla with a nuclear blast. The plan works only too well: Godzilla returns, bigger, meaner, ten times deadlier than before. Emi, Terasawa and M11 fight a fierce laser battle on board the UFO, while special effects maestro Koichi Kawakita delivers an edge of your seat monster match between age-old enemies Godzilla and King Ghidorah. It reaches a thrilling climax with Godzilla’s radioactive breath slicing off the space dragon’s wings and middle head. For an encore he stomps Wilson and Grenchiko into dust. Job done? Actually, no… Japan is stuck with a resentful, 22-story-tall fire-breathing dinosaur wreaking havoc. In an audacious move, Emi travels back to 2204, gives Ghidorah a bionic makeover with new wings and a cockpit head - and returns at the controls of Mecha-Ghidorah! Will Emi fly Godzilla safely to the sea before he destroys Tokyo?
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is a fantastically entertaining, sci-fi spectacle and is easily the best of the Heisei series. The film doffs a nostalgic cap towards the past, with composer Akira Ifukube returning after a gap of sixteen years and major roles for Sixties stars Kenji Sahara and Yoshio Tsuchiya. The time travel angle has a few holes, but the film makes delightful use of its possibilities to offer an intriguing twist on Godzilla’s origin. Word of this film’s supposed anti-Americanism briefly became a hot in the USA, but the film isn’t particularly xenophobic, more fiercely patriotic. There are positive Caucasian characters including M11 and the World Government Leader. Besides, American movies play out power fantasies all the time and compared to those, this is quite innocent and benign. Political subtext plays second fiddle to the fast-paced action, laser battles and monster wrestling.
Writer-director Kazuki Omori is an interesting character. Originally a medical student, he won critical acclaim for his landmark documentary about first year residents. He fuelled his prize money from a filmmaking competition into a making a horror anthology, which secured him the director’s gig on Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989). Omori stuck with the series as screenwriter through Godzilla vs. Queen Mothra (1992) and Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995), and later resurfaced directing children’s anime, The Boy Who Saw the Wind (2000).
Koichi Kawakita later became a hate figure for his alleged egotism and dismissive attitude towards Godzilla fans, yet there is no denying his amazing special effects rank among the finest in the series. Emi’s climactic tussle with Big G is especially impressive, but the whole film is a visual feast. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah also offers something sorely lacking from other entries throughout the last fifteen years: appealing characters. While most focused upon dull, steadfast, military types, here Miki Saegusa, Kenichiro Terasawa and especially Emi are bright, fun, likeable protagonists.
Of course, everyone plays second fiddle to the king of monsters. Here, Godzilla gets to be heroic, lovable, malevolent, tragic and downright scary. The end sequence where Godzilla lies at the bottom of the ocean, only to revive and roar, glaring at the audience over the end credits, is surprisingly creepy.