Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

Class: Staff
Author: Miles Imhoff
Score: (4/5)
November 21, 2005 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Whoa... Godzilla actually looks... big. Finally, Godzilla's true size and raw power (only hinted at in recent films) is finally resurrected in full force here. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, known simply as GMK, is the most powerful Godzilla movie in years. Very few kaiju films compare. The special effects are... wow. They're probably among the best in the history of Toho Produced Godzilla films. The plot is gripping, albeit somewhat strange (filled with nuances that are difficult to spot the first time around). The music, though repetitive, is brilliant... as it just shies away from Akira Ifukube's traditional style, while reaching a unique modern quality all its own. The acting is solid and the audience manages to (finally) form a connection with the characters. GMK is simply the full package: riveting human drama, pleasant music, and fantastic monster action all stuffed into one huge monster epic. While some of the fandom may not be impressed for varying reasons, many fans will agree: GMK just plain rocks.

By the dawn of the twenty-first century, Godzilla was a subject very distant in almost anyone's mind. The monster had attacked once in 1954, but was defeated shortly afterwards by an unknown chemical compound. Danger still remained, however. Anecdotal evidence of other monsters poured in from across the globe, and an attack by a large, reptilian creature was even confirmed in New York City in 1998. The Japanese Self-Defense Force, Admiral Taizo Tachibana reasoned, would always have to be prepared.

Without warning, a US nuclear submarine disappeared off the coast of Guam, and the anti-nuclear submarine Satsuma was dispatched to investigate. The eerily glowing fins of an unknown, and unfathomably large creature were sighted near the incident. It appeared as though a nightmare from the distant past would soon make a terrifying reemergence...

Meanwhile, the admiral's daughter, Yuri Tachibana, was in the process of filming a fictional documentary near Mt. Myoko in Niigata when a tremor struck. Yuri sighted a mysterious old man in the area, dressed in traditional robes, but he promptly vanished! Later on, in the dead of night, a motorcycle gang was suddenly trapped in a collapsing tunnel, and a witness claimed to have observed the frightening face of an awful monster, which he identified as Godzilla. In the midst of this odd occurrence, Yuri came to realize just how excellent a lead this story truly was. She also came to learn that the epicenter of the tremor, which had caused the collapse of the tunnel, had actually moved! In response to the expanding mystery, Teruaki Takeda, Yuri's adviser, located a book written by Hirotoshi Isayama that described prophecies similar to the course of events which were presently unfolding. It told of a group of legendary beasts known as the guardian monsters: Baragon, Mothra, and Ghidorah.

The following night, tragedy struck Lake Ikeda. Eleven rowdy teenagers on a bike trip from Tokyo were killed and entrapped in a strange, silk like substance in the water. With the continuing escalation of these phenomenal events, Yuri and her crew journeyed to the Motosu Police Station to chat with Isayama, a prophet who frequently claimed that Godzilla's return was imminent. Yuri recognized the man, for she could have sworn she had seen this old prophet on the day of the tunnel collapse. Isayama began to explain the truth behind Godzilla's origins and power. He revealed to Yuri that the prehistoric dinosaur may have gained exceptional survival from nuclear weaponry, but it was in fact the amalgam of tormented souls from World War II which gave the monster his invulnerability. The old man also revealed the legend of the three guardian beasts, about how they were defeated long ago and how their bodies were slowly rejuvenating. Yuri was instructed to go to the place where Ghidorah slept. Upon leaving the police station, Yuri located an amulet possessing an unknown power close to a shrine near to where the old man claimed Ghidorah was in deep slumber...

That night, Maganote in the Bonin Islands was leveled as a heavy storm passed through the area. However, it was clear that there was another destructive force that accompanied this natural disaster. A press conference revealed the government's suspicions of Godzilla-related activity to the nation and the world, and a warning was issued to watch the seas around Japan. As a new level of intensity began to grip the nation, Yuri informed her father of the legend, but he believed what he heard with a grain of salt. Even still, he was solemn and was not quick to automatically doubt, for he too experienced the tragedy of Godzilla almost half a century earlier, when he lost his parents to the horrid abomination.

Meanwhile, Motosu burst into chaos as the ground exploded in front of the police station. An enormous, red, reptilian beast broke through the ground, and it resembled Godzilla! As differing reports on the identity of the creature became confounded and confused, horror struck Yaizu Harbor in Shizuoka. A dark monolith of flesh rose from the sea, and Godzilla began to annihilate everything in his path toward his ultimate destination: Tokyo! He rampaged through Shimizu as the red monster barreled through Hakone Spa, and they finally met face-to-face in the Hakone Valley. While the burrowing, red monster managed to bite, body slam, and crash physical blows against his foe, he was outmatched in almost every aspect by his sadistic foe, and Godzilla's thermonuclear ray made short work of the beast who fought valiantly but failed miserably. There were dozens of casualties in the Hakone Valley in the midst of the cataclysmic disaster, and Yuri received a minor injury as she attempted to cover the event.

Though Takeda warned against it, Yuri purchased a bike and began to follow Godzilla as he moved closer and closer to Tokyo. She convinced her boss to air her live coverage of Godzilla's advance, as General Katsumasa Migumo ordered an air strike against the monster in the countryside. With the systematic destruction of each and every one of the jets, Godzilla's atomic ray proved this campaign to be a complete and utter disaster. However, cavalry would soon arrive, if not solely for humankind, then at least for the motherland. Mothra was just completing her metamorphosis, as Isayama watched King Ghidorah begin to emerge from his crystal tomb near Mt. Fuji...

The Yokohama Defense Line, Patrol Fleet Headquarters, and the Yokohama Garrison Post were all set up in the continuing scramble to form an effective counteroffensive in Godzilla's predetermined path. Admiral Tachibana was beginning to believe the legends as the strange prophecies began to come to light, and as he landed on the Battle Cruiser Aizu, Godzilla closed in on the defense line. The winged insect Mothra suddenly appeared on the scene and landed atop the Yokohama Landmark Tower. The two immense beings exchanged roars, and with that, the fight commenced! As Yuri watched from below, explosive stingers fired from Mothra's abdomen as Godzilla continually attempted to gain the advantage with his thermonuclear ray, and in the heat of their battle, the uppermost levels of the Landmark Tower were completely annihilated. Suddenly, the ground began to tremble, heralding the arrival of a new contender...

Ghidorah arrived to assist Mothra, and the two guardian monsters joined forces against their common enemy. Ghidorah attempted to inject Godzilla with burning bolts of electricity, but alas, he was too weak and was knocked cold by his opponent. As Godzilla attempted to finish him off, Mothra took the full force of the blast and was incapacitated as well. With no monsters left to carry on the fight, the military was forced to attack Godzilla by itself, utilizing a special drilling missile called the D-03. In retaliation, the hateful creature destroyed more than 90% of the humans' defenses. Desperate, Mothra rose from the streets, burning brightly, but Godzilla sensed her approach and destroyed the mammoth moth once and for all. Her essence rejuvenated Ghidorah, and the 1000 Year Dragon: King Ghidorah, was reborn. Looking down from a swirling sphere of surging energy, Ghidorah took the full brunt of a nuclear beam, amplified it, and sent it smashing back toward its source. Godzilla was tossed into the bay, with an open wound visible near his left shoulder.

As King Ghidorah engaged in a fierce struggle in the bay, Admiral Taizo, noticing the window of opportunity that presented itself with Godzilla's injury, requested that he take the Satsuma and shoot the D-03 into the open wound. Yuri, meanwhile, was apprehended by soldiers near the scene of the battle for entering a restricted zone. She overheard what her father planned to do over the radio, and she pled with her father not to risk his life. He explained that it was his job, and asked if it would be right for others to risk their lives instead? Yuri explained that it was her job to cover the story, and in mutual understanding, her father gave an order to the nearby soldiers which allowed her to collect information freely. As the Satsuma was readied, Yuri and Takeda arrived at the Yokohama Bay Bridge and began to transmit a live broadcast of the battle waging in the bay. Suddenly, a beam of ghastly blue plasma pierced through the water and destroyed the foundation of the bridge. The structure began to collapse! As Yuri dangled above the bay below, barely grasping onto Takeda hand for dear life, the amulet she had collected earlier fell into the water and reenergized Ghidorah (who had received a terrible wound among the chaos of the underwater fray). The monster exhaled a cushion of air toward the surface as Takeda and Yuri fell, and though they were saved from certain death, Yuri lost consciousness. Ghidorah rose into the sky and began to unleash his gravity beams, but they only managed to further energize Godzilla. The powerful synergy of Godzilla's thermonuclear ray, coupled with the energy he absorbed from Ghidorah's gravity beams, were concentrated into one powerful assault that completely wiped out the golden dragon.

The spirits of all the guardian beasts shown brightly in the sky, and their combined spiritual energy entered Godzilla. The monster began to lose buoyancy and descended deeper into the murky waters. Taizo piloted the Satsuma toward Godzilla, but the creature swallowed the submersible. As Yuri's spirit told her father not to give up, he soon regained his wits and managed to retake control of the vessel from within the belly of the beast. At the surface, Yuri spit up a little water and regained consciousness. As morning arrived, Godzilla rose from the bay, and Yuri and Takeda watched from the base of the wrecked bridge below. Suddenly, the D-03 sliced through the monster's wound from the inside out and exploded! As Godzilla attempted to fire a ray to finish off Yuri and Takeda once and for all, the beam instead forced its way through the now gaping wound. Godzilla again attempted another breath, and the same thing happened for a second time. Screaming in horror, Godzilla plummeted into the bay. As the Satsuma barely managed to escape, the furious beast, determined to muster enough power to at least destroy this one last enemy, attempted to charge another beam...

Godzilla suddenly disappeared from radar! It appeared certain that victory was in the hands of the humans, and everyone celebrated his defeat. Yuri and Takeda met up with Taizo as he emerged from the Satsuma. Though Yuri saluted him for his valiant victory, Taizo explained that not only he, but also his friends and the guardian monsters should be saluted, for Godzilla was defeated by the combined force of all of those who fought the battle. Little did anyone realize however, that while Godzilla's death appeared certain, this observation was far from the truth. Godzilla's disembodied heart suddenly began to beat in Yokohama Bay, and it appeared as though the monster might again rise to wreck havoc on the world another day...

Wow, what a rush. Ok, let's start out with the most basic aspect: the plot. In the continuing tradition of the Millennium timeline, this movie has no connection to any previous film, save perhaps Godzilla (1954). To an extent, it also has a connection with GODZILLA (1998), even though the inclusion of the lines that described the American Godzilla was meant as a joke. Besides the new continuity, there is something very special about this movie, and that is the fact that it accentuates the realism factor a tad as far as the story goes. The reaction to Baragon's sudden appearance and the inability for anyone to unify their observations in the ensuing chaos really brings home the fact that everyone is taken off guard. In fact, a great deal of the first half of the movie is everyone just trying to make sense of what is going on, with people only hearing sparse reports and bits and pieces of the information. In this regard, the film manages to capture a feeling of uncertainty, like that in the midst of a real natural disaster. This uncertainty is coupled by supernatural aspects of the plot, which are somewhat out of the ordinary (at least to this magnitude) for a Godzilla film. The supernatural subplots do explain a lot of mysteries by sheer default, such as the origin of the guardian monsters, but also more importantly, the explanation of Godzilla's invulnerability comes to light, which turns out to be an amalgam of spirits, as opposed to simply the results of intense mutation. As the film progresses from the stage of uncertainty and initial plot development into the latter half of the movie, things start to pick up as the action sequences begin. Among these scenes, the interaction between the characters is one of the key driving forces. Yuri and Taizo's separate stories, one of maturity and the other of duty, begin to cross... and in this regard, the two characters start to gain mutual understanding of the nature and purpose which they each possess. The distance that existed between the two characters early on begins to close, and respect begins to flourish. Unlike previous Godzilla movies, where it appears as though the human story runs strictly parallel to the monster drama, this one instead finds a way to meld these aspects together. For example, Yuri's artifact revives Ghidorah, and her spirit encourages Taizo to keep fighting. Taizo uses his intellect and resources to utilize the wound Ghidorah inflicted on Godzilla to ultimately defeat him. It all comes together, and while some may cry foul, due to the fact that it wasn't the monster's who in fact defeated Godzilla, it must be remembered that the whole story of Godzilla is strictly a human story... a story of recklessness, consequence, maturity, and redemption. We created him; it is up to us to destroy him. Also remember that King Ghidorah opens the initial wound, which really is half of the fatal blow. When you see how all of the pieces to the puzzle are introduced in the first half of the film, and then how they all interweave as the plot progresses into the latter half, it is clear that this story is among the best-planned works in recent Godzilla history.

As far as how well the acting is accomplished, these really are some of the better performances in recent years, at least for a Godzilla movie. Chiharu Niyama, the lead actress, may not be the best in the cast, but she does give a solid, believable performance. She handles the character well, and adds that dimension of cunning and determination that "Yuri Tachibana" requires. Her drunk-scene is a little odd, but her response to Ryudo's "You're drunk!" line is just perfect in its delivery. Unfortunately, there are some moments when her acting is a little iffy. Her loss-of-balance windmill dance in the Yokohama Bay Bridge destruction sequence certainly doesn't fit the drama of these scenes very well, for example. Ryudo Uzaki is another good actor here, as he gives "Taizo Tachibana" the sense of complexity which that character needs. He can go from a warm, personal moment with Chiharu Niyama's character, to an intense and dramatic bid for survival as his struggles in his attempts to defeat his arch nemesis. It is this range in Ryudo's abilities that ultimately makes his character a remarkable, and likeable addition to the film. Hideyo Amamoto is probably the best actor here, even despite his character's lack of development. It is obvious however, that this is intentional, as it is meant to increase the mystery of "Hirotoshi Isayama". Amamoto's line recitation, facial expressions, and mere presence add greatly to the unsettling atmosphere of the story. Other minor actors, like Masahiro Kobayashi, Kaho Minami, Takashi Nishina, and Shinya Owada are given little to work with, but their ability to fall into their respective characters is accomplished with excellence. There are few remaining actors worth mentioning, only because their characters show up infrequently and are given little development. Although, Shiro Sano's part should be brought up, if only briefly. Sano (quite unrecognizable with that ridiculous wig), may be playing a part that is a little less distinguished than that which he played in Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999), but he still manages to shine, even just a little. While there is no true comic relief in this film, his reaction to the "TV's trash heap" comment and to the realization that Isayama has, in fact, been dead for years, is priceless.

No matter what angle you look at this movie from however, one thing is certain: the special effects are the bread-and-butter of this work of art. GMK boasts a prowess in special effects unseen since the early Heisei entries, and by my observation, proves to be far more visually effective in many cases. While perhaps from a technical standpoint the effects of this movie may not necessarily be more advanced than some prior Godzilla films, there are a number of illusions and visual tricks that just make everything much more believable than ever. All right, where to start? First, let's cover the suits and props, which look beautiful for the most part. Godzilla just looks imposing. The rectangular head adds to the dinosaurian appearance, while the slight hunch and brownish reptilian hue finish the illusion (the hue was apparently added as a nod to the true color of the Godzilla 1954 suit). The advanced animatronics in the head and the organic movement of the neck increase the sense that this thing looks like a living, breathing being. The cold, bluish-white eyes compliment the supernatural aspect of the character, and remind one of the eerie glow of the original Godzilla's eyes on camera. In fact, this suit looks the closest to the timeless original design since the mid-1950s. Godzilla's suit does not alone deserve the award for prime quality, as the Baragon costume also proves to be a formidable design. The animatronics that control Baragon's face and ears create an exceptional look of realism, and the clever camera work easily distracts from the hands-and-knees quasipedal crawl. The texture and color of the suit are reminiscent of real flesh, or, at least the kind of "flesh" used in modern dinosaur movies (i.e. Jurassic Park). While Godzilla and Baragon are realized primarily through the use of sophisticated suitimation, Mothra's creation through props and CG is probably among the most fantastic representations of her character since the strictly-prop days of the 1960's. The design retains Mothra's elegance, while adding modern, insect-like properties. The flapping is accomplished to a much more believable extent this time around (save her head-on approach toward the Landmark Tower), and this is especially true in the scenes that feature a full CG model. Unfortunately, while Godzilla, Baragon, and Mothra look superb on screen, King Ghidorah suffers somewhat. First, let me just speak against naysayers if I may: good-Ghidorah is cool. The only obvious problem is one particular feature of his form. The heads are way too goofy and don't give off the regal impression that that the designers seem to be going for. Other than that, there really isn't anything to complain about as far as the Ghidorah suits go. The CG Ghidorah even looks top-notch, but only in the scenes where he flies over Yohohama Bay. His transformation scene is just too fakeish, and looks very embarrassing compared to the surrounding shots. Nevertheless, the monster designs and implementation are quite sophisticated, and really make for a very enjoyable viewing experience.

There are other special effects triumphs besides the suits. First, there is the rendering of energy effects, which are presented very skillfully. Godzilla's thermonuclear ray has never looked quite smooth. The bluish-distortion-absorption phase of the blast, followed by the lightsaberish effect of the ghostly blue plasma pillar is among the best of the breath illusions in the Godzilla series (that was a mouth full, pardon the pun). King Ghidorah's numerous energy effects, from the electrical sparks, to the buckyball shield, the bright golden glow, and the eventual arrival of the gravity beams, are also bright and vivid. Fortunately, Baragon and Mothra aren't equipped with energy beams (creating a gradual increase in the strength of Godzilla's foes). Even still, Mothra is equipped with a projectile weapon: exploding stingers. The effect is simple, but well executed. Projectiles throughout the movie are created through CG, and it the utilization of computer technology for the realization of these models has greatly advanced since the beginning of the Millennium series. The D-03, for example, looks very sleek in flight, and puts the missile effects in Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999) to shame With all this talk of the flashy effects, it's easy to forget the little things that made this movie seem so big. The high frame rate used during shooting places a lot of weight into the monster's movements, and gives that necessary sense of mass that is very difficult to produce in a film that does rely on suitimation. The dust pickup, the trembling cameras, the crisp matte shots, and the neatly detailed miniatures also bring the film into the world of giant monsters like few films have before. In fact, the simple effects are the primary boost of adrenaline that gives this movie that jolt of realism the franchise needed, especially after the miserable, uneven efforts of the previous two films.

But, what's a vivid visual environment without a vivid aural environment? GMK is a pleasure for the ears as well as the eyes. In an earlier review, I made a quick remark about how the GMK earworm might "not be a blessing among fans". I meant that despite how great the theme was, I thought that it was too repetitive and would end up being an annoying memory in a few days' time. In hindsight, I can safely say that I was wrong. The themes for this film are just outstanding, and the fact that they are highly memorable is a plus. The prevailing theme is that which plays during the opening credits. Its intensity really gets you into the film from the get go, and pulls you right into the specific scenes that it accompanies later on. It is sort of a mix between a traditional orchestral theme and a modern, synthesized theme: a perfect hybrid. It even rivals some of Akira Ifukube's classics. The other themes aren't as memorable, but there are few that disappoint. The music used during the initial phase of the Yokohama defense scenes is a much less intense piece, but its suspenseful air gets you pumped for the battle that you can safely assume will soon occur. The human drama music, which plays during the opening and closing scenes (but perhaps most powerfully as Yuri and Takeda run through the Yokohama Bay Bridge), is perhaps among the more intense and dramatic used during the course of the movie. It is used to emphasize the gravity of a situation, and in that respect, succeeds excellently. Mothra and Ghidorah are also given their own themes, the former being the more memorable. Mothra's theme has an eerie, high-pitched tone that reflects the whimsical mystery her character always possesses. Ghidorah's theme has a unique sound that gives his character a sense of regal importance by utilizing certain traditional qualities. Though it is brief, there is one musical flaw in this film, and that is the music that plays while the amulet descends toward Ghidorah near the end of the movie. It's very difficult to shake off the "pretty pony princess" feeling you get when you hear it. For the most part however, the music here is simply fantastic; it is different and has a style all its own, but it's still fantastic.

GMK is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, one of the best things to hit the Godzilla franchise in years, and its relative success at the box office single-handedly increased the longevity of the franchise after the abysmal failure of the prior two entries. This is the movie people should think of when they think of the word "Godzilla", and it is this film that deserved a wide American release, not the poorly constructed Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999). Luckily, sci-fi does show the movie here in the states occasionally (with the unfortunate loss of a few good scenes), but a Godzilla movie of this caliber (which could win the fandom a greater following and a little more respect) deserves more widespread saturation. A solid plot, innovative effects, and tight music place this entry near the pinnacle of Godzilla films. It should be emulated and it should be studied, because this is how Godzilla films should be made. It's powerful, it's rewatchable, but most importantly: it's enjoyable. GMK has universal appeal. It's just that kind of movie that simply makes you want more, and that is, indeed, how a Godzilla movie should be. It should be so awesome that it leaves you wanting more. So, what's the bottom line? It's brilliant. It's the kind of movie that will make you say: "whoa". If you haven't seen it, see it; I'm sure you won't regret it.