Jun Fukuda's extremely fun film Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is one of the few G-films that I own exclusively on VHS. As part of Godzilla's 20th anniversary, Toho decided to ramp things up, both in the areas of human and monster drama. There is a great deal of debate over which of the Showa Mechagodzilla duology is superior. Though the clear winner is Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), due to what I believe to be a more compelling human element, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla proves to be an excellent film in its own right.
An Okinawan legend has dire predictions: when a black mountain appears and towers above the clouds, a monster will appear and ravage the earth! Near the city of Okinawa, an archaeologist uncovers a statuette of the fabled Okinawan protector kaiju, King Caesar! A group of thugs attempt to steal the statuette, but are thwarted by a mysterious Interpol agent. A black mountain does appear and a very angry Godzilla arises from Mount Fuji, unleashing his fury upon Japan. Godzilla's longtime friend Anguirus notices something is wrong and confronts the nuclear leviathan. He is mercilessly thrashed and forced into retreat.
Godzilla turns his rage to an oil refinery, blasting it into bits with an oddly-hued atomic beam. However, a second Godzilla rises from the sea and clashes with the first. The agressor from Mount Fuji is finally revealed to be a robotic imposter, the aptly dubbed Mechagodzilla. Under the control of the apelike aliens from the third planet from the black hole (the Simeons), the mechanical beast overwhelms Godzilla and forces him into retreat. Mechagodzilla does not escape the fray unscathed, and the aliens soon find themselves in a mad dash to repair their prized war machine. What will become of the world, and will the mysterious King Caesar become a key player in the unfolding chain of events?
The acting in the film is pretty subpar, even despite appearances by Toho veterans Akihiko Hirata and Hiroshi Koizumi. The problem isn't overacting, it's the simple fact that nobody seems to be emoting very well. Goro Mutsumi as the alien leader does a fairly good job with the script and absolutely chews his scenery. The only performer that stands out acting-wise is Shin Kishida, the “Japanese Christopher Lee”, known for starring in Toho's "vampire trilogy" and several Japanese superhero shows. His deep voice and general coolness while portraying Nanbara, the Interpol agent, makes for one truly unique character in this production. Director Jun Fukuda does manage to do an excellent job choreographing the fight scenes between the humans and aliens, as if he were in his natural element (which is the realm of police dramas, for those unfamiliar). The camerawork is sharp and the chase sequences sophisticated. Though the acting isn't entirely satisfying, the overall direction definitely makes up for it.
The special effects by Teruyoshi Nakano are probably the best of his career. The explosions are spectacular, especially during the oil refinery sequence. Nakano has been said to have a mastery of fire and water, and it clearly shows in this movie! Besides the spectacular pyrotechnics, the monsters and fight scenes are well done (for the most part). Although the King Caesar costume is laughable, Mechagodzilla makes up for it, having a nearly terrifying appearance. He almost resembles a giant, reptilian, yet metallic samurai. The Anguirus and Godzilla suits both have the cutesy eye thing going on, but the mouths make them appear less adorable and more dangerous. Speaking of Anguirus, the sequence in which Mechagodzilla breaks the ankylosaur's jaw is frightening, even today at the age of eighteen. Blood spews all over and the jaw itself is pink and fleshy. All the bloody sequences are ludicrous for sure, but very nicely detailed.
Masaru Sato is at the maestro podium once again, and he does a phenomenal job, bringing the now famous "big band" soundtrack into the mix. Especially apparent is the Mechagodzilla theme he composed, with banging drums and blaring horns. The only issue I have with the score is the King Caesar song. It's well composed, but is poorly sung and drags on for far too long. Nevertheless, the score as a whole is a great listening experience.
Overall, despite the drab acting, this is probably my favorite of Fukuda's Godzilla films. None of his other fare is quite as action-oriented and well-paced. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is a definite must; just be sure to get the uncut version for the full experience!