After yet another long period of the Godzilla franchise bringing in only diminishing returns for Toho, it was once again considered that the franchise be put on an extended hold, but only after (yet another) one big final movie was made as a send off. And who better to direct than Ishiro Honda, the character’s creator, for a sequel to the well received Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla? Well, honestly, Jun Fukuda may have been better… But we’ll get into that.
After recovering the ruined remains of Mechagodzilla from the ocean floor, the relentless alien invaders from Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla unite with a mad human scientist who is obsessed with proving to the world that his own monster, Titanosaurus, is real and just as powerful as he claims it to be. By allowing the aliens to experiment on his daughter, Mechagodzilla receives an upgrade and Japan must rally to mount a defence against both Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla, who are sure to give Godzilla a run for his money.
While watching this film for the review I felt very jaunted and disorientated. Not because the film was bad, but because it had the signature style and identity that is instantly recognisable as Ishiro Honda’s. His films have always been slower burns than those made by other directors, even the sillier ones like King Kong vs Godzilla and Destroy All Monsters, and Terror of Mechagodzilla is no exception. What was jaunting about the experience was watching it after all of the schlock that the other 70’s entries into the franchise had turned out to be. And for once I don’t mean jaunting in a bad way, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the change of pace and better quality film making.
There are characters in this movie – like actual characters – who have motivations for their actions and reasons for being in places beyond “the plot says you have to be in this scene now”, which is how low the bar had been set for human drama in these movies after Destroy All Monsters happened. I mean they’re not revolutionary, but for the first time since my review of the 1954 original I can actually remember a character’s name in the film and was able to sympathise with them; That person being Doctor Mafune who is a mad scientist driven to gain mastery over nature, and ultimately Titanosaurus. It is explained to us that his motivation is to just prove everyone who told him that Titanosaurus wasn’t real wrong, but as the film goes on it becomes more apparent that this is a façade and all he really cares about is doing it simply because he can – Pushing his ability as a scientist further than he thinks he is capable of just to see what will happen. And boom, through this single character, you suddenly have a Godzilla film that actually has some degree of thematic depth beyond “pollution is bad” or “nukes are naughty”. It is quite fitting that the character is played by Akihiko Hirata who also played the Doctor Serizawa, creator of the oxygen destroyer that killed Godzilla in that movie. There is just something poetic about him and Ishiro Honda being involved in both the first and final film of the Showa Era in a way tries to add more depth to what is, on the surface, a movie about angry monsters. This isn’t to say that this film is a thematically rich piece of story telling – it’s not – but by comparison to many of the films that preceded it, it does feel nice to watch a Godzilla film attempting to be about something other than monsters throwing punches.
So no, this is not the best story in the whole wide world simply because it has a single good character is in it. The writing is a bit wonky, and I feel as though it’s a symptom of it trying to tell a dark and serious tale about tragedy and star-crossed lovers, while also being the sequel to a film about a screeching robot that shoots rockets out of it’s fingers, who was defeated when Godzilla suddenly decided he was going to become a magnet. Which is why, as much as I adore Mechagodzilla as an adversary, I don’t think he should have been in this film, especially since Titanosaurus takes the spotlight in the action and story over him for the majority of the movie, at least until the climax. Mechagodzilla far too goofy for the dark tone, and the inclusion of the aliens that come along with him do nothing but trivialise and draw away from the more interesting elements of the plot surrounding the relationship between Doctor Mafune and his daughter, who he has brainwashed and indoctrinated into his sense of hate for the larger world. The emotional pay off at the end of the film is supposed to be between his daughter and some guy (who’s name I truly can’t remember) that she was supposed to be in love with, I guess. But almost no time at all was spent on developing their “love”. He phoned her to borrow some of her father’s research once and then they went to a restaurant where all they did was talk about her father and their work lives, which she didn’t seem at all responsive to, and then at the end of the film he says he loves her as she dies. It really lacks the punch the that the film clearly wants you to feel, and I can’t help but think that if you got rid of Mechagodzilla and the aliens, and had the story focus on Titanosaurus and Doctor Mufane’s obsession, then this love story could have been better developed.
Okay, sure, there’s a little more context than that: The aliens put the controls for Mechagodzilla inside of her, because the nature obsessed Doctor Mufane criticised Mechagodzilla for being entirely devoid of a soul and mechanical, saying that it could benefit from a link to an actual brain… So the aliens did him dirty and linked it to his daughter’s brain. While it is the one and only thing that the alien/Mechagodzilla plot brings to the table, it is also under developed because those things already bog the rest of the plot down in of themselves. Again, Mechagodzilla shouldn’t have been in this film. And, given how whacky the franchise had become, I’m sure people would have accepted her father having put the controls for Titanosaurus inside of her if we were to remove the aliens and Mechagodzilla from the film.
But if Mechagodzilla absolutely had to have been in the movie (which he did, upon doing some research), Jun Fukuda should have been the one to direct. The robotic creature is so unapologetically a design from his style of bombastic filmmaking that I think only he could have bought the energy to the film required to pull off the silly premise. But then again, Jun Fukuda’s silliness wouldn’t match well with Honda’s desire for a serious plot. You can see now why this film is hard to talk about – it’s at odds with itself and being pulled between the styles of two directors who have both handled the Godzilla franchise is starkly different ways to one and other. The result is a film that is completely and utterly tonally inconsistent.
Even so, Honda does try to bring Mechagodzilla into his own style of filmmaking to the best of his ability. I did find myself enjoying the fact that Mechagodzilla actually feels like a robot in this one; He’s not constantly roaring or hobbling about like an organic creature, but rather slowly trudging behind and silently watching the action between Godzilla and Titanosaurus to play out until he spots an opportune moment to strike. I also like the touch that he still looks a bit rundown after his first run in with Godzilla.
But the unmistakably best part of this movie is it’s call back to the one that came before it. Like in the previous film, Godzilla attempts to defeat Mechagodzilla by ripping his head off and, while he does do that, Mechagodzilla is far from defeated this time. This action that had killed him in the previous film proves only to be an inconvenience to him now, as a dome under his head continues to assault Godzilla with projectiles after he is decapitated. It’s a magnificent and a truly subversive, fun call back to Fukuda’s film that got a great reaction out of me.
However, I don’t think this movie gets the same sort of reactions out of others as some discussions I was involved in online revealed that, while fans recognise it as a good movie, they never consider it as above average within the Showa Era by citing that it’s too slow. I think this is a symptom of the film’s release; Right at the end of the action packed 70’s, where Godzilla was at his most silly and aggressive. Many shared my opinion that it was a little jaunting to watch after those prior films, and it was just that they couldn’t quite adjust to it the way I did – Which is completely fair given the other tonal inconsistencies this film suffers on top of all of that.
Finally we get to the bit we all have to acknowledge: This did prove to be the last Godzilla film of the Showa Era as it was a total bust at the box office. That said, it was a fitting end. There’s no denying, for all its flaws, that a lot of effort went into this one given that the people involved knew it could be the last. And hey, even if the rest of it is a turn off for you, you can always count on the last twenty minutes to feature great miniature work and some of the best monster action a Showa Era Godzilla movie has to offer.
Overall, however, I would recommend Terror of Mechagodzilla. It is a great film in it’s own right but, despite it being a direct sequel, you’d probably enjoy it more if you watched it separate from Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla.
At the end of every Godzilla review I rate the movies I have seen so far from best to worst. The updated list can be found below.
- Destroy All Monsters (1968)
- Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
- Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974)
- King Kong vs Godzilla (1963)
- Mothra vs Godzilla (1964)
- Godzilla (1954)
- Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
- Ebirah Horror of the Deep (1966)
- Son of Godzilla (1967)
- Godzilla vs Megalon (1973)
- Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
- Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971)
- Godzilla vs Gigan (1972)
- All Monsters Attack (1969)
- Godzilla Raids Again (1955)