18 February 2014

A History of Godzilla on Film, Part 4: The Heisei Era (1984–1996)

Other Installments

The Underwhelming Comeback: The Return of Godzilla (1984) and Godzilla 1985

After an absence of nine years, Godzilla smashed back onto screens in 1984 in a film simply titled Godzilla (Gojira) in Japan, but marketed as The Return of Godzilla to English-speaking markets. In modern movie lingo, The Return of Godzilla is a reboot. It wipes from continuity all the previous G-films except Godzilla ’54 and fashions a new continuity: The Heisei Series.

The new movies developed a recognizable style, but The Return of Godzilla looks different from the installments that followed. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka aimed to capture the somber tone of the 1954 original and transplant the Godzilla nuclear metaphor into the 1980s Cold War. The monster, having somehow survived Dr. Yamane’s Oxygen Destroyer thirty years past, heads back toward Japan, squeezing the island country between the nuclear superpowers of the U.S. and Soviet Union. Scientists and the Japanese Self-Defense Force race to find a way to stop Godzilla before a greater nuclear confrontation arises.

It’s an ambitious, admirable premise. The actual movie fails to live up to it, either as a serious tale or as a monster show. While the Cold War background is intriguing, the human action is bland and no character stands out. The exception is the Japanese Prime Minister, whose scenes dealing with the U.S. and Soviet envoys evoke a true sense of Japan’s awareness of it legacy in the atomic ago. Otherwise, the time spent away from Godzilla is a stodgy bore of people sitting around talking about all the things they aren’t doing, handled with workman like direction from series newcomer Koji Hashimoto.