KAIJU KONNECTION: The Return of Godzilla (1984)

After a 10 year hiatus, ending with the 1974 film TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA, the king of the monsters returned with the 1984 film THE RETURN OF GODZILLA. Gone was the versus movies and Godzilla was back in a direct sequel to the 1954 classic.

THE RETURN OF GODZILLA stars Ken Tanaka, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Yosuke Natsuki, and Keiju Kobayashi, with Kenpachiro Satsuma as Godzilla. The film serves as both a sequel to the original 1954 film and a reboot of the franchise that ignores the events of every Shōwa era film aside from the original GODZILLA, placing itself in line with the darker tone and themes of the original film and returning Godzilla to his destructive, antagonistic roots. The film was released theatrically in Japan on December 15, 1984. The following year, in the United States, New World Pictures released GODZILLA 1985, a heavily re-edited American adaptation of the film which includes additional footage, and features Raymond Burr reprising his role from the 1956 film GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS!

The special effects were again directed by Teruyoshi Nakano, who had directed the special effects of several previous Godzilla films. The decision was made by Tanaka to increase the apparent height of Godzilla from 50 meters (160 feet) to 80 meters (260 feet) so that Godzilla would not be dwarfed by the contemporary skyline of Tokyo. This meant that the miniatures had to be built to a 140th scale, and this contributed to an increase in the budget of the film to $6.25 million. Tanaka and Nakano supervised suit-maker Noboyuki Yasumaru in constructing a new Godzilla design, incorporating ears and four toes, features not seen since GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN. Nakano insisted on infusing elements into the design that suggested sadness, such as downward-slanting eyes and sloping shoulders.

Suit construction on THE RETURN OF GODZILLA took two months, and consisted of separately casting body-part molds with urethane on a pre-built, life-size statue of the final design. Yasumaru personally took charge of all phases of suit-building, unlike in previous productions wherein the different stages of suit-production were handled by different craftsmen. The final suit was constructed to accommodate stuntman Hiroshi Yamawaki, but he declined suddenly, and was replaced by veteran suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma, who had portrayed Hedorah and Gigan in the Showa Era. Because the 110 kg (240 lbs.) suit wasn’t built to his measurements, Satsuma had difficulty performing, being able to last only ten minutes within it, and losing 12 pounds during filming. Hoping to avoid having Godzilla move in an overly human fashion, Nakano instructed Satsuma to base his actions on Noh, a traditional Japanese dance.

Taking inspiration from the publicity surrounding the 40-foot tall King Kong model from Dino De Laurentiis’s 1976 film of the same name, Toho spent a reported $475,000 on a 16-foot high robotic Godzilla (dubbed “Cybot”) for use in close-up shots of the creature’s head. The Cybot consisted of a hydraulically-powered mechanical endoskeleton covered in urethane skin containing 3,000 computer operated parts which permitted it to tilt its head, and move its lips and arms. Unlike previous Godzilla suits, whose lower jaws consisted of wire-operated flaps, the Cybot’s jaws were hinged like those of an actual animal, and slid back as they opened. A life-size, crane operated foot was also built for close-up shots of city destruction scenes. Part of the film was shot on location on Izu Ōshima, where the climax of the story takes place.

For this KAIJU KONNECTION, I viewed the Japanese spoken, English subtitled version of THE RETURN OF GODZILLA by Kraken Releasing. This release is the first time it has ever been available legally in the United States. It’s nice to finally be able to enjoy this film in all of its glory.

The story begins out at sea near Daikoku Island three months after a volcanic eruption. During stormy weather the fishing trawler the Yahata Maru No. 5 is being pulled towards Daikoku. Outside the island begins to erupt as something huge starts to emerge from the fire and smoke. A monstrous roar is heard just before we cut to the next day.

A sailor and reporter, Goro Maki, is out on the water and comes across the seemingly abandoned Yahata Maru No. 5. He calls out with no response. He climbs on board to find the ship a complete mess. He then goes down below, looking for life. The scene is very atmospheric with no noise and a slight mist in the air. He enters a cabin to find one of the crew dead, completely desiccated.

As he explores further, more crew are discovered in the same state. The man trips and slides in some whitish slime on the floor. As he discovers the lone survivor, something else alive makes itself known. A giant sea louse, almost as big as a human being. Though the design of the sea louse is very creepy, the way it moves unfortunately is not. With the exception of one walking scene, there is never ever doubt that this is a rubber prop. Just as it is about to suck the life out of our hero, the lone survivor kills it with a butcher knife.

Suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma practicing his moves.

The lone survivor, Hiroshi Okumura, tells Maki that they were attacked by a monster. A monster that breathed a blueish-white ray. A resuce squad arrives to take Hiroshi back to civilization. Maki tries to publish the story of the incident, including the report of the monster, but his publisher will not believe him.

In Tokyo, Okumura is kept isolated in a hospital room and meets with Doctor Hayashida, who presents him with pictures of Godzilla attacking Tokyo from back in 1954. From looking at the pictures, Okumura confirms that the monster he saw was Godzilla.

Filming a closeup of the Cybot.

The news of Godzilla’s return is kept secret by the Japanese government to avoid panic until Godzilla attacks a second time and destroys a Soviet nuclear submarine. However, the Russians believe the attack was orchestrated by the Americans, and a diplomatic crisis ensues which threatens to escalate into nuclear war. The Japanese intervene and finally announce that Godzilla was behind the attack.

The Japanese arrange a meeting with the Russian and American ambassadors and, after some debate over the issue, Prime Minister Mitamura decides nuclear weapons will not be used on Godzilla even if he were to attack the Japanese mainland, an announcement that both the Americans and Russians are upset with. The J.S.D.F. are put on alert and begin to search for Godzilla. Meanwhile, the Russians have their own plans to counter the threat posed by Godzilla, and a Russian control ship disguised as a freighter called the Balashevo in Tokyo Harbor is outfitted to launch a nuclear missile from one of their orbiting satellites should Godzilla attack. Kashirin, the colonel in charge of the ship, reluctantly orders the nuclear device to be disarmed, as the Soviet government ultimately agrees with the Prime Minister’s demands.

Soon, Godzilla appears on an island off the coast of Japan, determined to feed off a nuclear power plant in the outskirts of Mihama. When Godzilla attacks the facility near Mihama and feeds off the reactor, he is distracted by a flock of birds, and leaves the facility almost as quickly as he arrived. After some research, Hayashida determines that like birds, Godzilla follows the Earth’s magnetic field in order to navigate, and that he can be lured to any location using a magnetic transmitter. Hayashida forms a plan to construct a transmitter and lure Godzilla to Mount Mihara on Oshima Island, where he will be trapped in the volcano’s crater with a controlled eruption.

Godzilla is later sighted at Tokyo Bay, forcing mass evacuations out of the city and a state of emergency is declared. The J.S.D.F. attacks Godzilla with fighter jets, but their missiles are useless against him. Godzilla then proceeds to the coast, where the waiting military forces, equipped with tanks, rocket launchers and soldiers armed with assault rifles, proceeds to fire on Godzilla, but they are quickly obliterated with a single blast of Godzilla’s atomic breath.

As Godzilla climbs ashore, he causes the Balashevo to crash into the shore and capsize, damaging its systems and causing the nuclear missile to launch. The ship’s captain, Colonel Kashirin, bravely attempts to disarm the missile, but is killed by a small explosion before he can do so. Godzilla then proceeds towards Tokyo’s business district, wreaking havoc along the way. There, he is confronted by two Hyper Laser Cannons and the Super X, a piloted craft armed with cadmium weapons constructed in secret to defend Tokyo in case of emergency, in particular a nuclear attack.

Godzilla has a bad reaction to the cadmium shells that are fired into his mouth by the Super X, and falls down into a building, unconscious. Unfortunately, the city is faced with a greater threat when the countdown ends and the Russian missile is launched from the satellite, leaving the Japanese government and people helpless to stop it. However, the Americans intervene and shoot down the missile with one of their own before it can hit Tokyo. However, the atmospheric nuclear blast creates a radioactive electrical storm, which revives Godzilla once more.

Godzilla has a final battle with the Super X, eventually damaging the aircraft and forcing it to make an emergency landing where he destroys it by toppling a building on it. Godzilla continues his rampage, until Professor Hayashida arrives on Oshima Island and activates his magnetic transmitter, which gets Godzilla’s attention. Godzilla leaves Tokyo and swims across the ocean to volcanic Mt. Mihara, where he notices the signal device, which fascinates him. As he walks towards it, he falls into the mouth of the volcano where he is surrounded by bombs. Okumura detonates the charges and causes a volcanic eruption. Godzilla roars as the ground beneath him crumbles and he falls into the volcano’s crater, his fate unknown.

The special effects in this film are definitely a step up. The Godzilla suit looks muscular and menacing. The face is also more expressive adding to his realism. The cityscapes are wonderfully rendered and many of the shots of Godzilla trampling through them look wonderful. His slow movement and the sound effect of his foot stepping is such a wonderful touch, one that has not been done for many years.

The matte work is first rate though some of the beam and lightning work is a step down from previous films. The main disappointment is actually whenever the Cybot is used. The proportions seem off and the neck seems too long before the shoulders appear. There is also some inconsistency in foot size. At one point Godzilla’s foot is seen crushing many tiny cars beneath its feet. During the final battle, the “same” foot is shown coming down next to actual cars and it looks like, at most, it can only step on one or two cars at a time.

This movie was such a nice return to the series. The storyline is strong. The acting is well done. The miniature effects are top notch, some of which are the best in the series! Like all of these movies, there are problems. Thankfully these issues only detract from the movie a little bit. THE RETURN OF GODZILLA has needed an official release for many years and Kraken should be commended for this.

Some information provided by GOJIPEDIA.

~David Albaugh

To purchase this blu-ray, click the image below.

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