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Godzilla Debuts at Tokyo International Film Festival

Toho unveils a new Godzilla for the new Millennium.

By Norman England     November 11, 1999

For fans of Godzilla, last year's Tri-Star reworking was perhaps the biggest disappointment in the 45-year history of the preeminent giant monster's career. Despite a huge box office receipt, reviews were poor and fan consensus was that the film's creature was but a bastardized version unworthy of the name Godzilla. In Japan, where national pride in Godzilla runs deep, the movie also was met with heavy bemoaning when it opened in the summer of '98. Quickly, the cry went out from both sides of the Pacific for Toho, producers of the real Godzilla films, to redeem the beast after Hollywood's deplorable retooling.

Toho Studios has done just that, and this past Saturday, at the 12th annual Tokyo International Film Festival, they previewed a not-quite-completed print of their latest Godzilla effort, GODZILLA 2000: MILLENNIUM. The film was given a typical grand sendoff, with the main cast and crew making an appearance before the screening. Reporters from across Japan lined the front lip of the stage of Orchard Hall in Tokyo's Shibuya district, popping uninterrupted strobe flashes as each of the film's principles made a short speech. The sides of the hall were jammed with TV cameras recording the event. The large theater and its two balconies were filled to capacity with anxious fans and industry well-wishers. Just before the film was to roll, Godzilla strutted on stage. Audience reaction was akin to a national hero's triumphant return from the war front.

After cast, crew and Godzilla departed, the theater hushed, and the film began. The story of G-2000 starts with Yuji and Iyo Shinoda (Takehiro Murata, Mayu Suzuki), a father-daughter team of Godzilla researchers attempting to establish a method of early Godzilla prediction. Joining them is Yuki Ichinose (Naomi Nishida), a science journalist reporting their activities. Together, the three survive a Godzilla attack on the city of Nemuro in Japan's northern region and a direct assault from the towering behemoth.

Across Japan off the coast of Kashima-nada, a two hundred meter rock is discovered and studied by scientist Shiro Miyasaka (Shiro Sano). He concludes it to be a meteorite over 6,000 years old. A salvage of the rock goes awry when it takes off under its own power and flies away. In the meantime, Godzilla has been attracted to a nuclear power plant and is engaged by the Japanese Self-Defense Force. Key to stopping Godzilla is the deployment of a new weapon called the Full-Metal Missile that is able to penetrate any surface. Leading the attack is Mitsuo Katagiri (Hiroshi Abe) a driven, yet ruthless official of the CCI (Crisis Control Intelligence Agency).

During the attack, the meteorite joins in and engages Godzilla, who fights back with its own atomic ray. Chunks of rock fly away revealing a gleaming UFO hidden beneath. Working with Miyasaka, Shinoda and his daughter discover that Godzilla possesses an amazing ability to recover from bodily damage. It is this ability that attracts the UFO, which flies to Tokyo and seizes the city's central computer system. Godzilla appears and takes on the UFO, which during the fight manages to acquire some of Godzilla recuperative powers and uses them to transform into the gigantic life form, Orga. The two giant monsters square off in Tokyo's Shinjuku area for a final confrontation.

Despite the overwhelming applause given the filmmakers before the show, the film was met with only polite clapping afterward, and a general feeling of uneasiness passed through the crowd as they stood to leave. Yes, Godzilla is back, but is this really the Godzilla that can remove the tarnish left by the Tri-Star Godzilla?

Before the start of the film, it was announced that the print being screened was unfinished and in need of a final tweaking. With that under consideration, G-2000 features an amazing display of creativity and hard work. The approach to the effects is truly inspired with many shots the result of careful planning and orchestration. Particularly impressive is the UFO's delivery of its first ray blast against Godzilla, sending the beast flying so violently across the screen that it drew an honest that's-got-to-hurt reaction from the premiere audience.

Godzilla has gone under a revamping, which is customary since the suits used in the movies rarely survive the rigors of one film to the next. The Godzilla of G-2000, touted by producer Shogo Tomiyama as the Godzilla for the 21st century, is sleeker, with a slight feline quality to its face. The mouth has been widened, and jutting from it are wild, savage fangs. Its color has shifted from brown to green, and Godzilla's size has been reduced to fifty-five meters in an attempt to lower the scale of the surrounding miniatures, allowing for greater realism. However, the greatest change is in Godzilla's trademark dorsal fins: elongated and silver, they now jut off its back like jagged icicles.

The highly competent cast has been smartly assembled to appeal to a wide audience. Murata, marking his third appearance in a Godzilla film and first in a lead role, gives a passionate performance as a scientist driven by a desire for pure knowledge and the truth behind Godzilla. Suzuki, as his daughter Iyo, adds depth to Murata's character and together the two of them create the most successful human relationship in the movie, with, interestingly enough, Godzilla at times coming across as an estranged family member.

Appearing for the first time as Godzilla is Tsutomo Kitagawa. While occasionally lackluster, at other times he bestows Godzilla with a sense of drive and a newfound intelligence. His leaner Godzilla is more agile than the recent Toho version and shows potential of being ranked right up beside legendary Godzilla performers Haruo Nakajima and Kenpachiro Satsuma.

Director Okawara, who has created the best of what are referred to as the Heisei Godzilla films (made between 1989 1995), returns with confidence, creating for the first time in recent Godzilla films a successful integration between live action and SFX scenes. Yet, despite many separate points of excellence, overall, G-2000 is a disjointed film with Okawara never managing to construct anything more than a collage of potentially good ideas. At almost every step he ignores the chance of building real tension. For example, when Godzilla appears on shore in front of the nuclear power plant, the reaction of the military is oddly ho hum, as if Godzilla treads to shore daily, more a nuisance than a creature threatening human survival.

With this being the first Japanese Godzilla since the Tri-Star one, the media attention will certainly be higher than normal. It is unfortunate, therefore, that Toho could not have increased the movie's budget and production schedule. For while not a bad Godzilla movieand it will certainly appeal to longtime fansit will not do much at opening the door for the uninitiated, as was evident from the faces of the first ever audience after the show. That Godzilla film has still yet to be made.

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