Kensho Yamashita’s Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) is a film I’ve always held with somewhat higher regard than most genre fans. While it’s never been one of my all-time favorites, the penultimate Heisei film has always struck me as a decent enough piece of feel-good entertainment and has charmed me from the start with its lighthearted tone, memorable characters, gorgeous cinematography (the best to be found in the post-‘80s Heisei movies, in my opinion), and one of my personal favorite soundtracks from composer Takayuki Hattori; and I was genuinely sad to learn of the passing of the film’s director three years ago—realizing then I would never have the chance to shake his hand and thank him for the many wonderful hours of joy his movie had given me as a kid.
Having said that, I am certainly not oblivious to the film’s multitude of defects—the most damaging of which inspired this article. The first time I ever saw Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla was not through any kind of home release, but rather via taping it off the SyFy Channel sometime in the early 2000s (and this was the copy I ended up watching again and again, to the point where I’m surprised the tape didn’t wear out). It wasn’t until I got the old Tristar DVD some years later that I discovered the film I’d grown up with was, in fact, a shorter, more condensed version of its original theatrical release. Seeing the film in full for the first time, I was all of a sudden being treated to a plethora of scenes unfamiliar to me. “New” moments of character interplay; “additional” buildup in the first act; “more” cutaways during SpaceGodzilla’s aerial traverse to Fukuoka; gobs of material that had technically always been part of the film but had never been part of my experience until now.
Alas, in complete and brutal honesty, I cannot say I was enthused by most of this “unseen” material. Especially in regards to what I found in the first act. It just seemed to slow the film down. Granted, pacing was, in general, not one of the Heisei series’ strongest assets; all of the post-1991 entries could’ve afforded to be whittled down; but Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, more than the others, feels like a rough cut as opposed to a polished theatrical release. The picture is hampered by pointless scenes and extraneous shots that accomplish nothing other than to pad out the runtime. And when SyFy’s editors employed their editing scissors for the sake of commercial airtime—cutting a scene here, taking out a few shots there—they actually greatly improved the film’s pace, resulting in something that was considerably more manageable and enjoyable. And these days, when I occasionally revisit Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, I find myself wishing about 90% of their edits had been in the cut that went to theaters.
Since the film under discussion is so guilty of sloppy editing, I thought it would be fun to look back on the 1994 Godzilla film, remember the most notable trims SyFy had made, and discuss how they improved the flow of the story. Very little special effects footage is going to turn up on this list (in fact, SyFy’s editors left the monster scenes largely intact, to no objection from me*). By contrast, it’ll primarily be the more lead-footed moments in director Yamashita’s live-action footage that gets called out. And once again, we’re tackling only post-production (post-post-production?) excisions that would impact the film from a pacing standpoint—there are plenty of fundamental scripting issues here that no amount of cutting could ever fix.
But I digress. On we go.
Let us begin with what I personally consider the most egregiously awful scene in the entire movie: a mind-numbing concoction so poorly executed it makes the infamous Asteroid Belt scene from later in the movie look and feel masterly by comparison. I am, of course, referring to that dreadful confab in which representatives of NASA and G-Force gather around a table and review shoddy-looking footage of SpaceGodzilla’s crystals obliterating a space station. Badly shot, ineptly paced, utterly devoid of atmosphere or tension. A truly embarrassing scene.
And one that, from a narrative standpoint, is not even necessary—as SyFy’s editors so persuasively demonstrated when they axed this abominable sequence from their cut. The NASA scene serves no fundamental importance to the story. For immediately after we’re done being told about “some sort of huge monster” threatening outer space, we cut to Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka) receiving a warning from the Cosmos that an extra-terrestrial monster is en route to Earth, repeating what we already know. And, only a few minutes after that, in an entirely different scene, we get a much tighter, more efficient scene in which G-Force picks up the inbound SpaceGodzilla on their radar—thus validating their decision to send Moguera to intercept it. So even if the NASA sequence had been well shot and edited—even if Koichi Kawakita’s effects didn’t look like something out of a television commercial—it still wouldn’t have contributed anything outside of providing excess buildup.
SyFy’s sequence of events is more efficient. We cut straight from our male leads meeting on Birth Island to Miki being greeted by the Cosmos, and the moment of SpaceGodzilla appearing on G-Force’s radar remains intact. Nothing of importance is lost (Miki and the military still learn of the incoming threat), one of director Yamashita’s most crushing missteps is done away with, and the film flows much better as a result.
A great amount of time passes between Moguera’s taking off to battle SpaceGodzilla in the Asteroid Belt and the operation to attempt to control Godzilla through Project T. During this interlude (all set on Birth Island), we get lots of undeniably gorgeous location work (filmed at Okinoerabu-Shima Island), a cute scene of Miki exploring the terrain and encountering Little Godzilla, some dialogue establishing a rapport/history between Yuki (Akira Emoto) and Dr. Gondo (Towako Kimijima) which also reveals where the former got the chemicals for his blood coagulant bullets, and a rather slow sequence of Little Godzilla accidentally setting off the tear gas mines intended for his adoptive parent.
As nice as some of these scenes are—and as good-looking as most of them are—their combined runtime does dampen the film’s pace considerably. And, truthfully, the exchange between Yuki and Dr. Gondo is needless. There’s already enough material in the film showcasing their relationship and it’s really not that essential for the audience to know where Yuki got the chemicals for his “Yuki’s Special.” He’s a soldier, he worked for G-Force, we can fill in the blanks on our own (as I did as a kid).
In the television edit, however, we promptly cut from Moguera’s space-bound departure to inside the Project T tent as Miki informs Dr. Okubo (Yosuke Saito) that Godzilla’s on his way. A four-minute deletion that drastically streamlines the pace and keeps the story moving.
This next entry concerns not the removal of any particular scene but the process of simply axing inapposite shots from scenes that run a bit long for their own good. All throughout the movie, SyFy’s editors whittled out little clips of dead air where needed, allowing individual scenes to flow more smoothly. Gone were static landscape shots, pointless shots of mines sitting inertly in the water, etc. Little cuts such as these added up in the long run and tightened the overall film for superior effect.
One scene that benefited from this practice was: Godzilla marching ashore on Birth Island while being struck by mines and tear gas bombs. The scene has a nice skirmish feel to it, but it does drag with too much of the characters moving about in search of good shooting positions. When SyFy re-edited the film, they took out a few shots here and there (such as an awkward composite placing the characters into a foreground plate before the special effects shot of Godzilla coming ashore) to keep things moving. They also brought the axe upon the moment of Yuki aiming at Godzilla, lowering his gun to put on a gas mask, and then shouldering his gun again—as well as him subsequently firing a few shots into Godzilla’s shoulder. Taking out all of this greatly improves the scene’s rhythm—and makes it a little easier to ignore the sheer stupidity of trying to kill Godzilla with a finger-sized bullet.
As far as whittling down the film’s middle section is concerned, one of SyFy’s wisest choices was trimming SpaceGodzilla’s long flight over various cities. Namely, cutting a comic relief scene set in a gaming room.
In the theatrical version, director Yamashita made a little too much room for extensions of the peculiar romantic theme that runs throughout his picture, including a little moment in which Yuki and Gondo say their farewells before the former gets ready to board Moguera for the final battle. Also present here was a silent exchange between Miki and Shinjo (Jun Hashizumi) in which the two, who had started bonding on the island, give each other a worried glimpse just before the doors shut between them. This scene was wisely removed for the television edit for it’s just additional footage beefing up character relationships that are already sufficiently defined elsewhere. (In short: most of the island scenes and the denouement after the climax provide us with everything we need to know.) In the television edit, Commander Aso (Akira Nakao) distributes helmets to Yuki and his two co-pilots, wishes them good luck—jump cut to Moguera taking off.
One of my favorite sections in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is without a doubt Godzilla’s episodic march across Kyushu, heading from Kagoshima Bay to combat SpaceGodzilla in Fukuoka. Matched with Takayuki Hattori’s exquisite theme for the character—itself charged with a sense of determination—it sticks out in my mind as a highlight. As much as I enjoy it, however, there are too many cutaways to Godzilla, especially after SpaceGodzilla and Moguera have already started their fight. At one point, we go from SpaceGodzilla knocking his mechanical opponent down and then approaching the fallen machine—and then cut to some shots of Godzilla marching through the city—and then back to the battle zone as SpaceGodzilla starts hitting Moguera with his corona beam. Here was another good editing decision when the film was adjusted for television. Instead of cutting away to Godzilla, we remain at the battle zone. SpaceGodzilla topples Moguera, roars, starts approaching, strikes him, and we immediately cut inside the machine’s cockpit as Yuki regains consciousness. Much more streamlined than its theatrical counterpart.
Not to mention: that additional footage of Godzilla is incongruent on two fronts. One, we see Godzilla plainly entering the outer rim of SpaceGodzilla’s crystal fortress even though he doesn’t actually join the battle until much later. And second—in what recalls a similarly sloppy sound editing job during Rodan’s entrance in Ghidorah the Three-headed Monster (1964)—Godzilla opens his mouth and roars…and SpaceGodzilla’s roar is heard instead of his own.
* A lot of commentators on Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, even those with a generally softer view on the film like myself, are of the opinion that the film’s final battle goes on for much too long. I sympathize with this sentiment, but it’s never been an issue for me personally. I’ve always enjoyed the visual splendor of this sequence (the unique setting of the crystal fortress helps) as well as the broad variety of battle techniques employed, many of them unseen before: the Gravity Tornado; SpaceGodzilla using his crystals as projectiles; Moguera breaking into two separate machines and fighting from the air and underground at the same time; the strategy of needing to destroy Fukuoka Tower in order to cut off SpaceGodzilla’s energy.