Tokyo International Film Festival: Introducing GODZILLA X MEGAGUIRUS -


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Tokyo International Film Festival: Introducing GODZILLA X MEGAGUIRUS

Toho Studios rolls out the red carpet for their 24th epic starring the King of the Monsters.

By Norman England     November 04, 2000

Premiering at the 13th annual Tokyo International Film Festival this past Friday, November 3, was Godzilla X Megaguirus, the 24th entry in the series. Godzilla movies first hit the screen forty-six years ago, giving Japan's preeminent mutant dinosaur the distinction of being the longest running film series in science fiction today. Recently, speculation has run hot in Godzilla fandom over what direction the latest romp of the world's most famous kaiju will take.

Through the years, Godzilla movies have seen diverse highs and lows as well as displaying an uncanny ability to reinvent themselves when needed. The first, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, stands as a powerful testimony to the ability of science fiction to successfully embody pertinent social issuesin this case, the terror of atomic weaponry. To this day it remains the film by which all kaiju movies are judged. Unfortunately, many of the later films, notably those made in the '70s, saw Godzilla subject to embarrassingly awful and truly dumb moments. Karate chopping and kicking its way to victory, the Godzilla of this age was not beyond engaging in guttural dialogue with its monster buddies as it warded off alien invaders bent on world domination. After the 'camp' decade of the '70s, for the '80s and '90s, Godzilla received a facelift while being somewhat returned to its role as cinema's supreme metaphor of atomic weaponry and war science gone astray. The films of this era, referred to as the Heisei Series, are generally held in high esteem by fans under thirty years of age. However, for those reared on 'classic' Godzilla, these more recent efforts came across as slightly heavy-handed at best, hackneyed at worst.

Last December, after a four-year absence (and, no, the Tri-Star Godzilla doesn't fit into Godzilla lore when discussing the Japanese spawned creature), Godzilla returned, once more redesigned and touted as the Godzilla for the new millennium. Mildly successful in Japan, Godzilla 2000 was given a run in US theaters this past summer, the first time a Godzilla film did so in fifteen years. Ticket sales were sparse, but G-2000 (currently re-released in second run theatres) has managed to come within a few hundred grand of distributor Tri-Star's make or break point of $10-million. G-2000, sadly, has become a kind of controversy among Godzilla fanslauded by some, loathed by others. Rather than be the unifying link between old and new, the film further divided fans due to its exceedingly morose approach and a lack of warmth that at times seemed to exhibit a total disregard for the genre.

Attempting to rectify this, Toho Studios has called to action a new director to helm GXM, Masaaki Tezuka, a self-proclaimed diehard Godzilla enthusiast. It has been the hope of fans worldwide that Tezuka's love of Godzilla would be the synthesis between the two styles, making Godzilla not only socially relevant (an essential element of Godzilla), but once again all-around fun. Tezuka had his work cut out, and the audience at the Tokyo International Film Festival was keenly aware of this with the pre-screening buzz revolving around whether the first time director could pull it off or not.

The biggest and most successful film event of its kind in Japan, T.I.F.F. showcases a variety of motion pictures from around the world. In addition to the maiden run of GXM, films such as Charlie's Angels and The 6th Day received their Japanese premier. At noon of the same day as GXM, the Korean kaiju bid, Yonggary was given a special screening.

T.I.F.F. is held in Bunkamura in Tokyo's Shibuya section. Although one of Godzilla's battles in GXM takes place there, it seems a rather odd location for a film festival, especially one boasting to be 'international'. The area can best be described as Tokyo's trendiest district thanks to its hordes of garishly dressed local youth. The walk to Bunkamura means having to rub shoulders with young girls made-up in Hawaiian styled clothes, dyed blonde hair, super high mini-skirts, and boots elevated to dizzying altitudes. In fact, one 'joke' in GXM centers on this colorful element of Shibuya. In the movie, after the area experiences a flood, it undergoes rescue operations. One of the boats pulled to shore by the Japanese army is teeming with just these types of girls. (This elicited the biggest roar of laughter from the audience during GXM's showing.)

Making up the spectators of the sold-out premier was a veritable who's who of the Japanese tokusatsu (special effect) film business. Attendees included modern Gamera series alumni Shusuke Kaneko and Shinji Higuchi. With his trademark cap pulled snug over his head, Sakuya: Yokaiden director Tomoo Haraguchi, along with several of the staff of his last feature, joined the audience. Original Godzilla actor Haruo Nakajima and Heisei Godzilla actor Kenpachiro Satsuma turned out to see for themselves on what direction Godzilla has embarked for the 21st century. Shiro Sano, one of the stars of last year's G-2000 and a Godzilla devote showed up, too. These people, together with many of the writers and artists of Tokyo's kaiju community turned out to support GXM and give the film a true royal send off. On hand as well were the cast and crew of GXM. Before the screening, members of the press were given a private photo op in the hall's lobby with the film's principles.

As with last year's premier of G-2000, this year's show took place at Orchard Hall. A massive theater designed to convert to a cinema when needed, its 1,800 seats are spread between the main floor and two balconies. Taking up the bulk of the floor seats was the most hardcore collection of Godzilla devotes from either side of the Pacific Ocean. In several cases, fans from the west had made the long journey to enjoy the show. Smiles and radiant eyes gleamed from the mostly male crowd as they prepared themselves to enter into the annals of Godzilla lore.

Before the film, the audience was treated to short speeches from the film's main crew and actors. Following a brief introduction in both Japanese and English, Producer Shogo Tomiyama, Director Masaaki Tezuka, SFX supervisor Kenji Suzuki, actors Shosuke Tanihara and Masato Eve, and actresses Misato Tanaka and Yuriko Hoshi took the stage. The speeches by the cast and crew were to the point and entertaining. One by one, each expressed their admiration over the long history of Godzilla and their gratitude for being able to enter into it. All displayed just the right mix of Japanese humbleness and confidence to fill the audience with admiration for the team of modern Godzilla creators.

Director Tezuka challenged anyone in the audience to come forward who could claim to be a bigger Godzilla fan than he. Producer Tomiyama was relieved to announce that, unlike last year, this time they had enough time to get subtitles on the print. Actor Eve got into a little tiff when the event's emcee pronounced the name of his film's character incorrectly. Recounting seeing the original Godzilla in the theater as a boy, Eve received the biggest laugh when he mentioned that as his character never actually meets Godzilla, he thinks it better to watch Godzilla films than to be in them.

Following the speeches, the true star of the film made a special appearance. Emerging from a side of the stage and enveloped by a cloud of white smoke stepped Godzilla, King of the monsters. Heavy applause deafened the theater. Reaching the edge of the stage, Godzilla growled and roared and, releasing a strong hiss of smoke from its mouth, startled the collection of press squatting between the stage and first row. Close behind Godzilla was Megaguirus. Flanking the actors, they posed for photos by both the audience and press.

Waving farewell, the actors and kaiju disappeared backstage. The lights dimmed, the audience hushed, and it was time for the King of the Monster's newest adventure to begin.


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