‘The Return of Godzilla’ ushered in a new era

The Return of Godzilla (1984)

Directed by Koji Hashimoto

Toho, the production studio behind “Godzilla,” ended the film’s first set of sequels after 1975’s “Terror of Mechagodzilla” failed to bring in much box office revenue. After bouncing around a few other ideas to reboot the franchise, they landed on “The Return of Godzilla,” which picks up after the events of the first “Godzilla,” in 1954, and pretends its sequels didn’t exist at all. But it also feels close to a remake of the first film—albeit, a full-color remake with a noticeably bigger budget. Koji Hashimoto (directing his only Godzilla movie) was tapped to lead the film after Ishirô Honda, who directed most of the Showa-era Godzilla movies (including the first) politely declined.

Gojira (1984)

In “The Return of Godzilla,” there’s no more Mr. Nice Godzilla. Just like in Honda’s original “Godzilla,” the monster is first seen again at sea, where he attacks a ship—leaving one survivor (Shin Takuma), who returns to share the news about his Godzilla sighting. Goro Maki (Ken Tanaka), a reporter who saved the sailor while he was out looking for the missing ship, helps spread the news, and when the news is brought to the Japanese Prime Minister’s (Keiju Kobayashi) attention, all options are on the table…except for nuclear weapons, which he is adamantly against. But Russia is pushing strongly for that option, knowing that Godzilla could potentially move to the USSR next.

Gojira (1984)

“The Return of Godzilla” is the first movie since the original not to feature a monster battle scene, though it does feature a (smaller) monster co-star—a slimy, oversized sea louse, which attacks Goro and the sailor on the ship. In fact, Godzilla does not appear as often as I had gotten used to seeing him in the Showa era’s later movies. In the film’s second half, though, we see where the filmmakers put much of the film’s $6.25 million-dollar budget. When Godzilla makes landfall in Tokyo after largely staying out to sea, we notice two things: first, this Godzilla is larger (he’s actually 260 feet tall now, instead of 160 feet tall); and second, so is Tokyo (in the late 1970s, after “Terror of Mechagodzilla” released, Tokyo got a few new buildings taller than 600 feet). As the city of Tokyo grew, so too did Godzilla. Godzilla, though actually taller, now seems dwarfed by the massive models built on the Toho soundstage to represent Tokyo. More money does not equal more problems when you’re trying to make a kaiju movie. Not at all.

Gojira (1984)

While the Showa-era films are easily obtainable through 2019’s Criterion release (if you have the financial means to purchase them), many of the Heisei-era films are much harder to find. I watched one of the two English dub exports of “The Return of Godzilla,” which, while not the critically-chided American version of the movie (which was heavily edited and retitled “Godzilla 1985”), was not exactly what I would have preferred to watch. For one, English dubs of Japanese actors’ voices have always annoyed and offended me. The voice actors sound either so unlike what they should sound like or they put on such a ridiculous Japanese accent that it must be meant for comical effect. Thankfully, this movie didn’t have any of the latter. But still, I never understood why English-speaking Japanese actors couldn’t do these dub tracks. Another reason this version was subpar, I have read, was its soundtrack—using very little of composer Reijiro Koroku’s original score, the English-language export was filled with very dated and melodramatic music typical of a sad scene from a 1980s sitcom, not an exciting monster movie. I tried not to let these things lower my opinion of the movie, which I know had to be better in its original Japanese-language version, but like a courtroom jury who’s just been asked to ignore the confession they heard in court, that’s easier said than done.

That said, there’s plenty to like about “The Return of Godzilla.” I have already mentioned the lifelike models built to look like Tokyo, for example. Another high point is the striking cinematography during the movie’s long climax. While Godzilla ravages the city and fires pop up all over, the nighttime scenes are showered in red light. It makes the movie magic a little more seamless, I imagine, but it also looked incredible. Though the special effects team, led by Teruyoshi Nakano (who had worked on five previous “Godzilla” movies), used a lot of the same tricks, nine years had made a world of difference. The franchise’s “era” designations, I assume, were retrospective, but it would have been a shame to categorize this reboot as a Showa-era movie, even though it was technically produced during the reign of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito. “The Return of Godzilla” ushered in a new period of Godzilla, in more ways than one.


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