Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (3.5/5)
October 16th, 2005 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Kazuki Omori's Godzilla vs. Biollante is one of those movies that define how I review films. I make it no secret that the movie is my all time favorite, yet I'm not dishing it out a perfect score. The reasoning behind this is simple: I don't conduct these reviews solely based on my enjoyment, but on the merits of the production and how I think the general moviegoer would enjoy the production. In the case of Godzilla vs. Biollante, I feel the film has some very strong aspects to it, but I can't ignore some of the more apparent faults. Thankfully the story isn't one of them, as it develops a lot of nice ideas but it's a difficult area to analyze as some of the elements aren't properly explained. Regardless, the weaker aspects of the movie would include the minimal character development and the poor performances. On the other hand, the film does boast some impressive special effects work, an outstanding soundtrack, and excellent pacing that keeps the action sequences coming, which is enough to make this, easily, one of the more enjoyable Godzilla movies out there.

The movie starts off following Godzilla's attack in the mid-1980's on Tokyo, which caused the monster to tumble into the depths of Mount Mihara. From the destruction, a select number of Godzilla cells have been recovered. A precious commodity, hoped to hold the secret to Godzilla's amazing regeneration, the cells cause several different factors to clash in the ruined streets of Tokyo in hopes of securing them. The Japanese military is successful, as is a lone Saradian agent who also takes a sample back to his home country. Doctor Genichiro Shiragami then experiments on the cells with plants in Saradia, trying to develop a highly resistant form of vegetation that could be mass-produced in the surrounding desert. However, Bio Major, an organization trying to monopolize genetic engineering, catches wind of the research and bombs the Saradia based laboratory, destroying the Godzilla cells and killing Shiragami's daughter, Erika, in the process.

Five years later, a group of ESP trained children, taught under Miki Saegusa, predict Godzilla's reemergence. The prime minister is skeptical, but precautions are laid into place as the Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria, a substance that eats nuclear material and is constructed from Godzilla's digestive genes, and the Super-X 2 are readied. For the ANEB, the Japanese government needs the aid of doctor Shiragami, who hesitantly agrees on the condition that he might be able to study a sample of the Godzilla cells on his own. With the cells, the doctor continues his work, combining Godzilla's genetic structure with those of a rose and the essence of his deceased daughter. However, Bio Major once again becomes interested in the doctor's work, and dispatches two agents to Shiragami's laboratory to secure the research on the ANEB. While there, the two men run across the Saradian agent and, to their surprise, Biollante, the unintended result of Shiragami's experiments. Biollante manages to kill one of the bio-agents, as the other two men escape. The genetic monster then makes its way to nearby Lake Hashi where it greatly increases in size.

Meanwhile, Bio Major has set up a contingency plan to secure the ANEB: planting explosives around Mount Mihara that, if the ANEB isn't turned over, will detonate and free Godzilla. The Japanese government gives into the demands, but the exchange is ruined by the intervention of the Saradian assassin, who kills the Bio Major agent, leaving no way to stop the explosives, and steals the ANEB for himself. Consequently, Godzilla is freed and begins heading toward the Japanese mainland. The Super-X 2 is sent to halt the monster's advance, utilizing its fire mirror to deflect Godzilla's ray, but is eventually defeated and sent flying out of control.

That night, Godzilla arrives at Lake Hashi and does battle with his genetic twin: Biollante. The fight is fierce, but short lived as Godzilla incinerates the rose-like monster before moving on. The nuclear menace then retreats back into the sea, in route to attack a nuclear power plant to restore his energy reserve. Kuroki, the commander in charge of the operation against Godzilla, notices that the beast's current path appears to be toward Ise Bay and the nuclear power plant in Nagoya. He then deploys the naval and air forces to that region to prepare for a full out assault. However, the general's prediction creates a grave situation as Godzilla instead appears in the Osaka Channel. The commander then enlists Miki in an attempt to stall Godzilla's advance through ESP; however, her efforts are for naught as the nuclear menace continues his onward trek toward Osaka. The city then is thrust into an emergence evacuation, during which the SDF manages to secure the ANEB from a Saradian shipping front located in the city.

With the might of the SDF miles away, Godzilla arrives in the city at nightfall nearly unopposed, crushing the industrial megalopolis with ease. The only thing standing in the nuclear behemoth's way is the Super-X 2, which has made its way from Ise Bay, and a quickly prepared squad of soldiers with ANEB loaded rocket launchers. The attack is successful in infecting Godzilla with the bacteria, but at the cost of both the Super-X 2 and general Gondo.

As Osaka lies in ruins, Godzilla begins a slow trek toward Yokohama and the nuclear power plant located there. Much to the SDF's surprise, Godzilla seems unaffected by the bacteria coursing through his veins, which leads to the speculation that the ANEB might not be spreading quick enough due to his low temperature. With this theory at hand, the SDF plans one final assault, amounting maser tanks and the TC system near the Yokohama power plant in a bid to raise the creature's temperature and allow the bacteria to finally place Godzilla out of commission. Luckily, the theory proves to be correct, as the weapons greatly increase Godzilla's body temperature, causing the bacteria to spread. However, the virus is not fast enough to stop Godzilla, who crushes a good portion of the attack force until a large collection of spores begin to rain from the sky. The Earth then quakes as Biollante, in her final towering form, emerges to face Godzilla head on. Evolved into a much more battle ready state, Biollante easily faces her genetic twin to a standstill until the bacteria immobilizes Godzilla, causing the creature to faint in the water nearby.

With Godzilla defeated, Biollante transforms into an airborne form and travels back into the sky in a series of spores as Shiragami and others look on. Shortly after, though, the doctor is gunned down by the Saradian agent, sealing with him the means of mass-producing the ANEB. However, the agent is not fortunate enough to leave the area with his life, as a resulting battle leads the gunman to the TC field where he is disintegrated. Following the skirmish, Godzilla awakes, having his temperature cooled from his time in the water. Fortunately, the creature is in an extremely weakened state, and travels out to sea, where he spends an indefinite period of time at the ocean's floor, hibernating.

Overall, the plot is hard to analyze, but it does seems to do more right than wrong. Its history is fairly interesting also, as Toho held a contest for the story back in 1986 to start generating early hype for the production, something which the firm had done for Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) as well. Over 5,000 screenplays were submitted, many from outside Japan. The winner ended up being Shinichro Kobayashi, a dentist and part-time screen writer, whose screenplay for Godzilla vs. Biollante was heavily adapted by director Omori before filming started.

One can't discredit Kobayashi's influence on the final product, although several of the more ingenious plot devices were actually taken from other entries or were introduced by Omori. For example, the idea of the Anti Nuclear Energy Bacteria, which did not appear in Kobayashi's screenplay, is great, especially the very sensible explanation that it's constructed from the digestive cells of Godzilla. It's also nice to see biological weapons introduced into the Godzilla series, as it's something which hadn't been touched on prior. However, it's not quite clear exactly how the ANEB would have neutralized nuclear weapons as is often talked about in the movie. It seems like the bacteria would have been used for clean up after the destruction had occurred, not something that would outright disable nuclear weapons. Still, this creates a strong sense of Japanese nationalism in the movie, as the idea of shifting world power by neutralizing nuclear weapons in Japan's favor is brought up, although thankfully it's never laid on as thick as in the director's Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991).

The sense of continuity in the movie is another aspect that the writing team does well, with small details like the “Godzilla Memorial Lounge” (a restaurant constructed from a building that the monster stepped on) being nice touches. The start of the movie being the climax of The Return of Godzilla (1984) is also nice, although a similar motif was done in Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) which was also born from a similar contest (coincide, I suppose).

Unfortunately, the Super-X2 vs. Godzilla battles seem very meager when counterbalanced with the riveting confrontations with the Super-X seen in The Return of Godzilla (1984). However, they aren't “centerpieces” in the movie and are far from boring either. One of the highlight battles, though, would have to be the film's final, mammoth SDF counteroffensive against Godzilla in the rain. Complete with waves of masertanks, the TC system, tanks, rocket launchers and helicopters. Still, the focus here is on the confrontations with Biollante, who ends up being one of the most memorable foes Godzilla has ever faced. The plant based monster is hopelessly outmatched in her “rose form”, while the sheer size of her final form makes the climax exciting. In contrast to other Godzilla films, the final battle is very short, but nearly every moment counts, in particular Biollante's awesome reveal with a huge chunk of Earth being overturned as Godzilla has to stretch his head to look up at this gigantic opponent. It should be addressed that there is a slightly anti-climatic fight between Kirishima and the Saradian Agent that follows, but it proves to be a very short tussle and is actually very well staged. It's also a nice lead into Godzilla's eventual revival in the sea, so that this doesn't seem too sudden.

For all of the praise that screenwriters Kobayashi and Omori deserve, though, there is also some scorn that needs to be squared away. What leads the way in this aspect is Erika's character. The audience can accept that she and her father had a strong relationship without this being documented too much, but it's never quite clear what happens to her following the explosion at the laboratory or exactly how she becomes a part of Biollante. It can be assumed that she is somehow connected with the roses that Shiragami keeps outside his home, which would also account for his odd reaction during the earthquake when the glass on the “greenhouse” shatters. However, it's something that is never explained and it will take the viewer more than one watching to even come to the mentioned conclusion above.

As hinted at with Erika, the character development in Godzilla vs. Biollante isn't particularly strong; in fact, it's rather weak. The audience never feels for any of the cast, as the movie introduces far too many characters to develop properly, although at least it's not so bad that their intended purpose for the plot isn't clear. Most of the characters here are pretty one dimensional, as the writing focuses on one element of their character and continues to utilize that, and nothing much else, for the remainder of the movie. The prime example of this would be the main character, Kazuhito Kirishima, and his continued outcry against using the ANEB. The film does have some minor evolving of the characters through the course of the film, such as Shiragami's changed view on his work, and how he vows never to take part in it again. Of course, then there is General Goro Gondo, whose not really developed at all but plays the part of the movie's comic relief well, while credit should go to the writing for not making him too over the top. One character which is worth mention, though, is that of Kuroki, the young inexperienced general. He is interesting for a number of reasons, although chief among them is that it's not something that the audience has seen before in a Godzilla movie. He's not simply there for scenery either, as his huge blunder of trying to predict Godzilla's arrival at Ise Bay is very refreshing. His failure can also be seen when he hopes that Miki might be able to delay Godzilla in time to remobilize the troops, only to have her faint as Godzilla continues his onward trek. It's not a character device that the writing team overuses either, and it's also nice to see the character mature slightly through the course of the movie, which is realized when his general superiors hand him his hat at the end of the film.

Unfortunately, the acting in Godzilla vs. Biollante is adequate at best, and does little to breath life into the rather simple characters. In fact, for the most part, the actors are pretty dry in their roles here. Leading the pack is Koji Takahashi as Doctor Genichiro Shiragami, who seems to sleepwalk through his character. His delivery here is extremely monotone, while his English is awful when the movie requires it. Thankfully Kunihiko Mitamura is far better here as the movie's lead character Kazuhito Kirishima, although his performance is far from noteworthy all the same. He does a decent job with the character, not giving a memorable portrayal or enhancing the scenes that he is in, but there's nothing to be cross with either. Something that shouldn't go unmentioned, though, is the English speaking actors, which are just god awful in this movie. The reporter at the start, whose delivery is so slow that it's aggravating, is just one of many examples of this. However, the greatest causality is the Saradian Agent, who I can't even tell if he is merely slaughtering the lines or his dialogue in the first place was awful (“kiss you guys”?). Although the most memorable, for both good and bad reasons, English spoken line would have to come from the American bio agents when they yell “Shit, damn we are the lethal weapon!” All in all, there is so much English being spoken in the movie that I actually prefer the International version of Godzilla vs. Biollante, as the delivery there is far superior. Everyone else here is adequate, there is not much to praise but the supporting cast doesn't drag down the movie either.

To dive into the better side of the movie, special effects director Koichi Kawakita is really at the top of his game here, although the effects of Godzilla vs. Biollante are far from perfect nonetheless. Still, if one is expecting Hollywood standard effects in Japanese films I'd say to look no further than the budgets to say that such standards would be unfair, although the work in Returner (2003) might be one of the few exceptions. For the time period, the special effects in Godzilla vs. Biollante are very impressive although, as expected from a movie constructed in less than a year, they are uneven in spots, but not to the degree that the Godzilla series is “famous” for.

To start on the positive side, the film boasts some great green screen work, which would include scenes like the SDF advancing while Biollante's Rose form can be seen in the distance, which beyond being convincing is also an amazing shot. Of course there is always the mind-boggling sequence of seeing Godzilla through the window blinds, which is so convincing that I'm not even sure it's green screen, although I have no idea how else the scene would have been created. Sadly, the matt work (paintings utilized as backgrounds) is less convincing, such as the extended view of the giant Saradia science institute, although, thankfully, it doesn't draw negative attention to itself outside of the few scenes in Saradia.

On another, slightly less positive, note the Osaka cityscape set looks a little too confined here, especially in contrast to the amazing and expansive Tokyo set seen in The Return of Godzilla (1984). However, comparing the model work in the 1984 Godzilla film to any of the other entries in the series is a little unfair, as Teruyoshi Nakano produced the best looking cityscapes seen in a Godzilla film, since or prior. All in all, though, it's not bad, in fact it probably wouldn't even be worth mentioning in other Godzilla movies, except the other special effects aspects are done so well that it draws more attention to itself.

In regards to the kaiju side of things, the Godzilla suit looks great here, although not as polished as it does in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991). For the design, the special effects team went back to the drawing board, creating a far more feral look for the monster while dropping the large fangs present in The Return of Godzilla (1984) in favor of two rows of teeth. It was a look that resonated as it was, more or less, left unchanged in the five films that followed. For this movie, Kawakita, wisely, relies on the highly detailed animatronic head and neck for a great deal of the movie, which nets him far better results then it did Nakano in the previous Godzilla entry. Godzilla vs. Biollante also lends itself to making the suit appear better, staging most of its effect shots at night and raising scenarios that keep the Godzilla suit wet, where it looks much more convincing. Some could discredit Kawakita's efforts on account of it, but, really, if the effects look good then that's all that should matter.

Equal praise could also be sung for the special effects team's efforts with Biollante, who is remarkable for a number of reasons. The first is that the monster's two forms hardly fall into line with the steam-lined “man-in-a-suit” humanoid appearance that most of Godzilla's rivals fall under, giving Kawakita the tremendous task of breathing life into this unorthodox design. To his credit, his attempt is meant with success. The rose form is pretty simple, but it plays its intended part well. The final form, and another remarkable aspect of the special effects, is something else altogether. For the second form Kawakita constructed a mammoth prop for the monster, allowing it to easily topple over the human size Godzilla suit, while constructing a large series of tentacles at the base as the creature fills the frame in most of its sequences. The size of the prop also allows for a large level of detail to be placed into the design and gives particularly good results in the head area, particularly the teeth lined mouth.

All in all, Godzilla vs. Biollante is Kawakita's finest hour. The film isn't nearly as inconsistent as the rest of his work, while the “spark happy” days are yet to come for the special effects director.

To look at the less technical aspects of the film, Godzilla vs. Biollante also excels with the film's pacing. No scenes drag on here, while the movie cycles through action sequences quickly to keep them exciting for the viewer, while not so fast that the movie seems disorienting. The film has some light set up to it, introducing the ANEB and the characters, before Godzilla is unleashed and then movie becomes a roller coaster ride tell the end of its duration. There are breaks in the action sequences, allowing the story to develop slightly, but each are interweaved well into the flow of the movie, while none of the segments feel like they are interrupting the unfolding mayhem.

Like a lot of Godzilla movies, though, the soundtrack here is easily a highlight. Overall, Koichi Sugiyama does an outstanding job on Godzilla vs. Biollante, constructing some very beautiful tunes that fit the intended sequences perfectly. The background music in Saradia is a good example of this, while the movie's main theme is excellent as well. However, what makes Godzilla vs. Biollante's soundtrack really exceptional is the interweaving of maestro Akira Ifukube's music. There are a couple of Ifukube's themes present, culled from the composer's Ostinato CD, which are placed appropriately through out the movie, and enhance the viewing experience tremendously. The movie's best track, though, would have to be the opening music cue, which is actually a perfect combination of both Sugiyama and Ifukube's work. Had the film just relied on composer Sugiyama I feel he could have risen to the occasion, but the introduction of the Ifukube themes give a very classic feel, as his music is also far better suited for the sequences that it's used in.

Pound for pound, there are some obvious faults in the film, but it's still a very enjoyable ride, and one that is required viewing for fans of the kaiju genre. In reflecting on the review, I wanted to give the movie a higher score, but couldn't under good conscience. Had this been the International version I might have been inclined to actually bump up the score to an even 4.0; not because the dubbing is especially good, but because it masks the mostly lackluster performances in Godzilla vs. Biollante and gives out better dialogue to the numerous English speaking roles. Regardless, it's unfortunate that the film didn't do as well at the box office as hoped, although in retrospect it did better than all but one of the Millennium entries, as it lackluster performance in theaters called for director Omori to go back to the drawing board by making a far campier follow-up: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991).