The Return of Godzilla, the opening film to the Heisei series of Godzilla films, is a great 80s period piece, with a tone much like that of Virus (1980) or The Last War (1961). In 1984, the world at large believed a nuclear war was coming as demonstrated with such movies as The Day After and ThreadsThe Return of Godzilla reflects this perfectly, and the film is largely enjoyable, if you get past a few issues.

A reporter, Goro Maki, is taking a joy cruise when he spots a derelict cruiser, the Yahata-Maru. The Yahata-maru was attacked sometime before by some unknown entity. Goro is attacked by a sea louse, but is rescued by a young fisherman by the name of Hiroshi Okamura, the sole survivor of the attack. Okamura, bedridden, identifies the creature that killed the boat’s crew as Godzilla, last thought to have been alive in 1954, killed by the Oxygen Destroyer. The Japanese media-at-large issues a media blackout and orders no stories to be printed on the boat or Godzilla. Godzilla attacks a nuclear sub shortly after and the Japanese government, to avoid war between the Soviet Union and the United States, decides to cancel the media blackout and make Godzilla’s return known. Godzilla comes ashore and attacks a nuclear power plant, but Professor Hayashida, a biology expert, notices something that may be the key to getting rid of Godzilla for now. With the SDF’s new weapon against Godzilla also, can Godzilla be defeated and nuclear war averted?

The pacing is done at an alright rate but, the film is slowed down majorly by a few sequences, such as when the three main heroes are stuck in a burning skyscraper. The sequence is paced so slowly that it’s not vey climactic and ruins the epic second half. The film feels slightly slow around the middle too. Otherwise, the beginning and end are very well done.

The plot is a great counterpart to the original films message. While the original 1954 opus spoke against nuclear bombs in general, this film, mostly through Keiju Kobayashi’s Prime Minister, speaks against nuclear war, and does significant finger wagging at both sides of the Cold War arms race, however the Russian sub captain is portrayed heroically and its quite annoying to me that New World Pictures chose to change the plot to have the sub captain be a stereotypical “Bad Commie” caricature. In the end, both sides are shown to be in the wrong however. The way Godzilla is handled is great. Hayashida clearly sees Godzilla as just as much a victim of humanity as humanity is a victim of his rage, and the film makes you feel great sympathy for the big G (Which makes the theme song “Goodbye Sweetheart Godzilla” even more strangely appropriate.). As for the love story between Goro Maki and Kyoko Okamura, that is the only part of the plot that didn’t click with me. It feels largely tacked on and by the end, I feel not much has developed between the two of them. Zero (1984), done the same year, has a similar in feel love story but handles it better by bringing closure to it. This film does not. Overall, the plotting is mostly well done but falters in one area.

Prime Minister

The acting is where the film falters most. The young leads are not very convincing and are clearly just getting their sea legs. Ken Tanaka as Goro Maki is still clearly trying to get his full experience here and doesn’t really show as much emotion as he could and that also hurts the love story. Yasuko Sawaguchi as Kyoko is very pretty and emotes well, but doesn’t really contribute much to the jist of things. Shin Takuma as Okamura…he’s barely worth mentioning as he himself doesn’t really contribute anything and is underused, which is too bad because I really liked him as Teruo Tojo in Zero (1984). He is enthusiastic in his role, yes, but otherwise not that much is worth mentioning about him. The older actors is where the film shines. Hiroshi Koizumi as Professor Hayashida clearly is a very wise authority figure, written for the late Akihiko Hirata who passed away before filming began. His misgivings about Godzilla’s fate are very compelling and he as a biologist clearly sees Godzilla as a living being, which is quite moving if you ask me. And my personal favorite actor of the bunch, Keiju Kobayashi rounds out the big characters as the Prime Minister. Keiju Kobayashi is a remarkable actor to me, starting out as a highly popular comedian in Toho’s main revenue source, their salaryman comedies in the late 1950s and early 60s. Later in his career he advanced to playing figures of great authority, playing a very unsympathetic tyrannical Hideki Tojo in The Militarists (1970), and the pragmatic and calculating General Ushijima in Japan’s equivalent of Apocalypse NowBattle of Okinawa (1971). So clearly Kobayashi was a perfect fit for the Prime Minister, displaying great misgivings over the nuclear crisis and trying his best to balance the weight of the world on his shoulders and avert total annihilation. Ultimately Kobayashi’s character shows great resolve and was probably the most outstanding of the bunch to me.

The special effects by Teruyoshi Nakano once again show huge improvement over his work in the 70s, with beautifully done miniatures and intricate pyrotechnics. The Godzilla suit looks very creepy and zombielike, probably one of my favorite designs for the big G. The eyes have very small pupils in faraway shots at seem cold and distant. The cybot used for close-ups fares less better, as it looks barely menacing and nothing like the suit. The making of the film itself was very much like the first one, almost eerily so, as Ken Satsuma like Haruo Nakajima wasn’t built for the suit that ended up being used. The Super-X looks very good and moves smoothly, and is a personal favorite of mine in the collection of anti-kaiju weaponry. Overall Nakano shows his improvement.

Rejiro Koroku’s music is fantastic and gives a gothic feel to the whole movie. Koroku’s Godzilla theme is quite creepy and atmospheric. The Super-X’s leitmotif sounds like a more sinister version of John Willliams’ Superman march. One criticism of the movie I hear commonly is that the theme songs at the end of the film, “Goodbye Sweetheart Godzilla” and “I Was Afraid To Love You”, are HIGHLY inappropriate for the film. I highly disagree with this notion. Lyrical dissonance is not necessarily a bad thing to me anyway, but in a way the lyrics are very appropriate considering the themes reflected through Hayashida’s fantastic message about life. A creature that we feel causes pure destruction, but we cannot help but feel bad when it’s gone, this theme sounds familiar (species on the verge of extinction from overhunting anyone?). And both songs are composed really well. Personally I feel Koroku should have been kept as the franchise composer, Akira Ifukube‘s themes are great and all, but I am probably not the only one who finds the lack of variation in his later scores banal.

Godzilla vs. the Super X

Overall the film is very good, and so are the next two entries, but after that the Heisei Godzilla series went into a downward spiral. This film reflects the sentiments of the time well, and is a great double feature with the original opus. Highly recommended!

3 Stars