Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

Original title: Gojira vs. Biorante

Some time after Godzilla fell into a volcano in the dreadful Return of Godzilla (a film that is the honorary first film of the Heisei Godzilla cycle even though it was made during the Showa Era – go figure), an action scene of dubious quality ends with cell samples of the big lug falling in the hands of an imaginary Middle Eastern state, probably situated next to Qrak. There, mad scientist Dr. Shiragami (Koji Takahashi) wants to use Godzilla’s genetic structure to make super corn (or vegetables or what have you) that’ll grow in the desert. Alas, a bomb blows up his lab while he’s not in, killing his daughter as well as his mad science plans.

Five years later, various factions – an evil Japanese corporation, the Japanese government, an evil US corp whose agents are - as is traditional - played by the first Western guys the producers could grab randomly from the streets, and the Middle Eastern state are in play – are still battling over these samples, though most of them don’t want to stop the coming food crisis but use them to somehow destroy radioactivity which would of course destroy the Cold War balance of power and lead to dreadful things, and so on and so forth. This subplot full of horrible acting, bad English and shoddily filmed action scenes will haunt the viewer for the rest of the movie, even though there are much more interesting things going on.

For the kid psychics of a government institute that’ll change its name in the subtitles of every Heisei film are - in a scene that does have a friendly hint of Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu” - all dreaming of one thing: Godzilla. This can only mean that Godzilla is on the cusp of climbing out of the volcano and rampaging through Japan again. Various half-assed plans are invented, half-used and sort of used; teen psychic Miki Saegusa (Megumi Okada) who will be the only character recurring in every film of the Heisei series (sometimes even for a reason) has a staring contest with Godzilla in a pretty great scene; and Shiragami gets the opportunity to get his hands on some of the Godzilla cells.

That last bit leads to Shiragami crossing these cells with a rose bush that apparently holds some of the genetic material and the soul of his dead daughter. Obviously, this being a kaiju film, said rose bush grows into a giant monster thingie called Biollante, and just as obviously, Biollante and Godzilla will slug it out.

And if this description of Kazuki Ohmori’s first real Heisei Godzilla film sounds confused and confusing, full of plot threads that don’t pay off, I have to add I have already cut out a lot of other pretty pointless stuff, so the actual film is even less coherent. Biollante’s main problem as a narrative is that it really doesn’t have a good grip on how to fill the time between the monster fights, and so just throws basically everything at its audience anyone involved in the production might have come up with, in a valiant attempt not to bore. That, it certainly succeeds at, for while the industrial espionage action bit lacks in sense, and the action in these scenes isn’t terribly well directed, it is at least pleasantly garish and pulpy and is certainly never boring. In fact, these parts of the film have a feverish aspect which is of course only right and proper for a film that features a kaiju that is a giant rose bush (later with a reptile head) with the soul of a woman.

On the negative side, these parts of the movie do overwhelm the more thoughtful bits of the film. A tighter and more thematically conscious and coherent film could probably have found the actual tragedy and sadness in the story of Dr Shiragami’s inability to work through the loss of his daughter and express it through the monster action. As it stands, Shusuke Kaneko would use this and other elements of the Heisei era Godzilla films for his brilliant Gamera trilogy a decade later and make good on their inherent promises.

Speaking of the film’s negative sides, I really have to mention composer Koichi Sugiyama’s horrible treatment of Ifukube’s themes for the Godzilla films. There’s some horrible orchestration of wonderful music, some plain crap additions of his own, and worst of all, an electric guitar treatment of the Godzilla theme mostly used for the action scenes between humans (why?) that is so badly arranged I found myself having very rude thoughts towards the composer. Fortunately, the next film would see the triumphant return of Ifukube.

But what, I imagine the Godzilla-fond reader will ask exasperatedly, of the kaiju fights? Well, the Godzilla suit is a bit too cute for the evil bastard version of our favourite monster the film is going for, and Biollante suffers from being pretty immobile, what with it being a giant rosebush. However, there’s much more good than not so good city smashing and a general air of excitement surrounding the monsters that convinces the kaiju loving viewer to forgive Godzilla vs. Biollante’s flaws immediately. Non-boring human nonsense plus good kaiju fighting equals an excellent time.

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