Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
Directed by Kazuki Ōmori
After the marginal box office success of “The Return of Godzilla” four years prior, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who was one of the original minds behind “Godzilla,” decided the second movie in the Heisei era needed a classic monster vs. monster story. He was right to steer the franchise back into familiar territory, and the result—1989’s “Godzilla vs. Biollante”—ended up being the most exciting and entertaining entry in the franchise in 25 years.
A renewed focus on good characters is one of the reasons for the film’s success. The movie begins with the death of Dr. Shirigami’s (Kōji Takahashi) daughter, who was working with him in a botany lab at the time. Five years later, Dr. Shirigami is hesitant to pick back up with his work—working to create a strain a self-reproductive plant using Godzilla cells picked up from the site of his attack on Tokyo (during the events of “The Return of Godzilla”). Eventually, using the cells of not only a rose plant and Godzilla but also his dead daughter, the scientist—playing God, as all great scientists are eventually tempted to do—instead creates a monster, Biollante, who looks like if the Pokémon Roselia could use Vine Whip. While Godzilla (newly awoken from its volcano-based sleep) is contending with Biollante, the human protagonists will have to deal with an onslaught of dangerous scientists set on using Dr. Shirigami’s work for more malicious purposes.
Not since “Godzilla vs. Hedorah” in 1971 had a Godzilla movie focused so strongly on the origins of a monster. Biollante has a story behind it that makes its presence more meaningful. You have mixed emotions when it does battle with Godzilla. First, because it was created by accident and it shows the scientists (well, the good ones) that they should have left well enough alone. Second, because Biollante is an effective fighter, despite its mostly stationary position—it seems pretty well rooted, especially during its first fight. Even if this new Heisei-era Godzilla is, so far, not the nicest character, you almost pity him when he struggles in a fight. This isn’t one Godzilla is guaranteed to win.
“Godzilla vs. Biollante” builds a model Osaka that almost rivals the Tokyo seen in “The Return of Godzilla.” There is a real commitment to realism in the special effects that comes through loud and clear. This movie also did a remarkable job at compositing—layering film taken at different times to look like it was all one scene—to make Godzilla look absolutely massive. One or two times, I truly had trouble remembering that CGI wasn’t being used (and even during the best “Godzilla” movies up to this point, I was never really able to forget that Godzilla was a man in a costume). Having a budget that allowed filmmakers to crash real cars instead of toy cars greatly improved the audience’s ability to buy into the movie and focus on the story. It’s so nice not to be distracted by things that are obviously fake.
Director Kazuki Ōmori (who would return to direct the next “Godzilla” movie and help write the next three) was responsible for making one of the best “Godzilla” movies to date—on my own list, it cracked the Top 4 “Godzilla” movies to that point. By recycling composer Akira Ifukube’s classic music and writing a story that feels both fresh—while scientists in “Godzilla” movies are a dime a dozen, botany was never their focus—and nostalgic, “Godzilla vs. Biollante” earned positive reviews and reminded producers that Godzilla movies were still worth their time (even if its box office revenue didn’t exactly blow them away).