Thursday, May 15, 2014

TOKYO S.O.S. (2003): 30 Days of Godzilla

DAY 29

TOKYO S.O.S. (2003)

Let's not bury the lead here. Tokyo S.O.S. is the absolute best that that the Millennium Series has to offer. Godzilla movies are a tricky recipe to mix -- you have to perfectly balance the human story with the monster-driven special effects -- but Tokyo S.O.S. gets it right and serves up a mouth-watering spectacle of monster mayhem. It's not only a direct sequel to Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla but also a defacto sequel to the original 1961 Mothra as well. Blending new and classic Toho kaiju mythology with a perfect blend of CGI and practical effects, Tokyo S.O.S. is sure to please new and old Godzilla fans alike.

Helmed by director Masaaki Tezuka, Tokyo S.O.S. picks up right where Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla left off. After forcing Godzilla back to sea, the Mechagodzilla built by the Japanese government from the bones of the original 1954 Godzilla is in dire need of repairs. Nicknamed "Kiyru," this bio-organic Mechagodzilla is packed up and moved back to HQ for a full repair/upgrade. With Kiyru at their disposal, Japan feels confident that it finally has the perfect weapon with which to end Godzilla's reign of terror. Everything's coming up Japan!

Designed to protect you.
Not so fast! Mothra, the giant flying monster that attacked Japan in 1961, returns with a dire warning for humanity. Return the bones of the original Godzilla, which now reside within Kiryu, back to the sea. The Fairies (Mothra's tiny spokeswomen) explain that humanity has violated the laws of life and death by using Godzilla as the biological foundation of the hybrid cyborg. Mothra promises to defend Japan against the threat of Godzilla, but if the Japanese government does not comply, Mothra will be forced to declare war on humanity.

When will Mothra face her mecha-counterpart: the Iron Butterfly?
The message is delivered by the twin Fairies to their old friend Dr. Shinichi Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi reprising his role from Mothra 42 years later) and his descendants: Yoshito (Noboru Kaneko) a member of the Mechagodzilla ground crew and his younger cousin Shun (Kenta Suga). Dr. Chujo takes the message to the government, but Yoshito is unwilling to believe it since his life is obsessed with the Mechagodzilla project. Japan has a choice: put their faith in Mothra, which once attacked Japan in 1961, or continue to use Kiryu and face Mothra's righteous wrath once more.

Godzilla's just warming up for his eventual battle with Gamera
The clock starts ticking when the corpse of a giant kaiju sea turtle washes ashore with deep wounds to its neck, suggesting a losing battle with Godzilla. Godzilla is clearly returning for a rematch against his mechanical mirror image, and this time he's extra pissed off. Once Godzilla hits the scene, Tokyo S.O.S. becomes one long monster fight between Godzilla, Kiryu, Mothra and her larva-- and it's glorious! Rarely do Godzilla films show this much monster action and find a way to have it directly involve the human characters. Staged almost entirely within a miniature urban set, the epic battle between Godzilla, Kiryu, and Mothra is the perfect marriage of CGI and practical suit and model effects. It's exciting from beginning to end!

Float like a moth, sting like a bee
Tokyo S.O.S. is not without its flaws. The human characters lack a lot of characterization and verge on simply becoming props for the plot, but at the same time they unobtrusively help facilitate the monster action, and that's what we're here to see. When the monster battle is this spectacular, all the human characters have to do is be likable and provide an extra spice of sympathetic human experience to the mix. It's the special effects that steal the show. Mothra in particular looks the best she has in a decade, and she's used to great effect. An early scene in which fighter jets pursuing a UFO through the cloudy sky only to realize they are actually chasing a giant moth is remarkably awe-inspiring. Mothra is even beautiful in death. Late in the film, Godzilla attempts to blast Mothra's larval hatchlings with his atomic breath but Mothra throws herself into the line of fire and goes up in a burst of flames like an imago phoenix. Amazing! I can't say enough about how good this movie looks and how purely exciting the action is within the context of the technology available in 2003.


Well, this is it. Tomorrow is our final installment of 30 Days of Godzilla. We've chartered Godzilla's history from his origins in 1954 as a harrowing metaphor for nuclear devastation through his 1970s metamorphosis into a Saturday Morning Kid's Hero to his most recent incarnation as a destructive antihero. And so, tomorrow we end our retrospective with one of the biggest and most ambitious monster movies ever conceived. Featuring a record-breaking 14 different monsters, it's the action-packed GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (2004).

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