Ten years ago, on October 31, 2001 to be exact, I flew for the first time to Japan to attend the 2001 Tokyo International Film Festival for the premiere of Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-out Attack. The movie was shown on November 3.
Upon my return to the United States, I submitted the following article to G-FAN magazine. It was published in the January/February 2002 issue (no. 54). Here's a look at what I wrote about the movie and experience in 2001.
Above, Godzilla lumbers onstage at the 2001 Tokyo International Film Festival. Photo by Armand Vaquer.
THE TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SHOWS "GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK"
by Armand Vaquer
Before the year 2000 ended, I had not a single thought about making a trek over to Japan to see the newest Godzilla epic. However, when fellow G-FAN contributor Richard Pusateri returned from a 19-day Japan vacation in December to see the premiere of "Godzilla X Megaguirus" and later told me of the great time he had, I then started thinking that maybe the time has come to make the trip myself.
I have always wanted to go visit Japan ever since high school when I took an Asian studies class in my senior year of 1972. When word got out that Gamera director Shusuke Kaneko was slated to direct the next installment of the Godzilla series, excitement and some anxiety flooded the fan Internet message boards and newsgroups. Will Kaneko give Godzilla a new lease on life or will his film be the death knell of this nearly half-century old character?
Fortunately, my thoughts of attending the 2001 Tokyo International Film Festival came closer to reality as I had the good fortune in obtaining a high-paying job in the insurance claims industry. As soon as the paychecks started coming in, I immediately set out to plan my trip to Japan to see the premiere of "Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack" at the festival on November 3.
The name of the film itself is a throwback or homage to the Godzilla movie titles of the 1960s. Producer Shogo Tomiyama had stated that the films beginning with "Godzilla 2000: Millennium" would be a trilogy of three separate films totally unrelated to each other or of the films of the past except, to some degree, the 1954 original. Each film would be a different "take" on Godzilla and other kaiju characters. This way, they can "play around" with the characters and see what interesting films they can come up with.
I know it has been stated in these pages and elsewhere that changing origins and motivations of established characters does a "dishonor" to the creators of the past. But I look upon this strategy as a means to an end that all fans can agree on: to keep churning out fun and enjoyable Godzilla films in the years ahead. After all, how many times had Godzilla changed in the years before "The Return of Godzilla" in 1984? The superhero Godzilla of 1975 was not the nuclear terror that started out in 1954.
To Tokyo And Beyond.
I got into the New Tokyo International Airport in Narita a couple of days before the showing. Contrary to what some have said around the Internet, I found that taking the Narita Express (N'Ex) train into Tokyo to be easy and relaxing. Who wants to sit in a cab bogged down in rush-hour traffic after an eleven-and-a-half hour flight from Los Angeles? Certainly not me! Having the Japan Rail Pass also was a great help (for about $230, the Rail Pass may be obtained through authorized travel agencies).
I elected to arrive in Japan early so that I can spend the next day touring around and get acclimated to the area. I had the unplanned fortune in making reservations at a Japanese inn in the Shibuya section of Tokyo that was within walking distance to the Bunkamura shopping complex that contained the Orchard Hall where "GMK" would be shown. Thanks to my friends in Japan at Toho Co., Ltd., I was able to obtain
tickets to the film and was able to get a hold of the festival's public relations committee in time to obtain a press pass to the festival to cover the premiere for G-FAN.
Onward to the show.
After a hearty breakfast at the Shibuya Denny's Restaurant (yes, there are Denny's restaurants in Japan), I made my way to the Bunkamura for the show. The T.I.F.F. is a well-run operation and my press credentials were waiting for me at the press center. After sending off a quick dispatch to Aaron Smith at Monster Zero, I wandered around the festival's exhibits and eventually made my way to where the line was beginning to form (three hours before the show) for "GMK."
I found some familiar American fan faces in the crowd and spent most of the time waiting with them and having a good time discussing films, kaiju toys or whatever subject that happened to come up. I became reacquainted with some old friends and found some new ones. There were many fans with Godzilla figures, models, books and magazines waiting in line and were having a grand time looking at each other's items. It was so pleasant to get away from the constant bombardment of the U.S. media's coverage of anthrax and the war in Afghanistan. Rain began to fall before we are allowed into the theater. But the spirit of the fans there refused to be dampened.
The Orchard Hall theater is a big facility that reminded me of the grand movie palaces of a bygone era, only modern. The show started with a film called "A Message to Godzilla From Godzilla" that had Japanese baseball player Hideki Matsui, whose nickname is Godzilla and flanked by Godzilla himself (or a reasonable facimile) playing around and posing with baseball bats. Then followed the live show with Godzilla producer Shogo Tomiyama, director Shusuke Kaneko and "GMK" stars Chiharu Niiyama, Ryudo Uzaki and Nobuaki Kakuta. After each gave a brief address to the audience, Godzilla enters the stage spewing out dense vapor from his mouth to the audience's delight. As one can imagine, many camera shutters went off during this portion of the show (including mine.) The show was a great warm-up for what
was to come.
After the stage was cleared, the film began. Rather than go into the storyline in great detail, what I will do is describe my impressions on what I saw and heard. Keep in mind that as producer Shogo Tomiyama stated in his remarks, this film was not quite completed. It was said that the film was about 95% completed with some special effects scenes that were in need of fixing (or perfecting) and more scenes to be added in. So, between the showing on November 3 and opening day of December 15, the film will be undergoing more refinement.
Godzilla's first appearance was actually just of his dorsal spikes as he was underwater behind a sunken American nuclear submarine. Jettisoned were the spikes of the prior two films and a return to a more traditional style. It seems that there was a "first" Godzilla that was apparently killed off in 1954 by an unknown chemical compound (a hint at the Oxygen Destroyer) and for some reason the generations of Japanese that followed caused this new Godzilla to appear because they have forgotten the horrors of the Pacific War and its war dead. The spirits of the war dead did not take kindly to be forgotten by the present generation, so they merged into Godzilla, who is still a creation of the H-bomb, but now has this new aspect to his character. Godzilla's appearance triggers the awakening of the three guardian monster "gods" of Yamato: Baragon, Mothra and King Ghidorah (also known as the 1000-year dragon.)
The designs of the four monsters were probably the best examples of modern kaiju suit designs. They remained somewhat faithful to their previous incarnations, but updated. I was told by Mr. Tomiyama that Kaneko had control over the suit designs and other facets of the film, more so than previous directors with the possible exception of Ishiro Honda. His involvement in storyboarding and directing the special effects helped to integrate the live action and the special effects scenes into a more seamless product than what we have seen in past Godzilla films.
Former special effects director Koichi Kawakita makes a couple of cameo appearances as a military leader and one of the two investigative mini-subs was named "Satsuma" (a reference to former Godzilla suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma. There is a notable "dig" at the American Godzilla early in the film that the audience immediately caught.
Although the Godzilla suit is larger than the more recent ones, it was amazing to see how maneuverable it was and expressive it could be. Mothra never looked better and never flew better. It did not suffer from the wing movements (or lack thereof) of previous films. If only Megaguirus (in "Godzilla X Megaguirus") had the wing articulation that Mothra did, it would have greatly improved that film. The Mothra larva was only briefly seen in a nighttime shot and there was an aerial shot of Mothra's cocoon floating on a lake. Unfortunately, it lacked detail, and looked like Snoopy floating in a bathtub.
The use of integrating CGI (computer-generated imaging) with the live action enhanced the effects.
The "younger" versions of Ghidorah were good, but the final form transformation of King Ghidorah was absolutely breathtaking.
What is especially striking about this movie is the daytime photography of the battle between Godzilla and Baragon. That, plus the miniatures and camera angles, made Baragon the show-stealer. The flaws usually apparent in having a human portraying a quadruped were not present in this film. One can only imagine how well Anguirus (a past Japanese monster) would have turned out if he had been included.
Baragon, while clearly out-matched by Godzilla, was tough-as-nails (like a pit bull) and fought valiantly.
The dark humor one usually associates with Kaneko's films were also apparent in this film. A man relieving himself and a girl in a hospital meet their maker courtesy of Godzilla were fun to watch. The funny part is, one instinctively knew ahead of time what was to happen, but it was fun anyway.
The battles were all well done and there was not a dull moment. The ending was a surprise, though.
Without giving it away, I'll just say that it was a very unusual one for a Godzilla film. This is obviously "not your Daddy's Godzilla film" and is more like a "thinking man's Godzilla film." It definitely cries out for repeated viewings in order to soak in all the various nuances. The score was okay, but not strong as the
one for "Godzilla X Megaguirus." The sound system was lacking and the score will be remixed before the film's general release.
Post Movie Mortems.
The movie ends and the crowd files out of the theater. It is pouring rain outside, but everyone is so pleased with the movie that they linger around to discuss it and visit with friends. Original Godzilla suit actor Haruo Nakajima was there and graciously signed autographs and posed for photos with fans. I complimented Mr. Tomiyama on a job well done. I had earlier seen people exit the theater from other movies and at no time did they stay and linger as the Godzilla crowd did. It was a communal experience with like-minded people, Japanese and non-Japanese alike.
Eventually, the crowd thinned out to different venues for dinner, drinks or whatever. I went with a group to dinner in Nakano that grew to around 20 that included Kenpachiro Satsuma. Mr. Satsuma, while quite a character anyway, really gets quite jolly after putting away a few. He's definitely a man one would enjoy partying with.
There were some who attended that I only knew from the internet and it was a pleasure meeting them in person. Sometimes, one can get the wrong impression on somebody and when you meet them and talk with them for a while, you can come away with a vastly different (for the better) view of them.
A new Godzilla film is now being planned to be made this year and if it gets premiered at the 2002 T.I.F.F., without hesitation I would suggest that you seriously consider going. Sure it costs a little money, but what's a little money in comparison to a lifetime's memory of an experience that many have only dreamed of? You only live once, so make the most of it. And if you do go, take some time to go see some of the country. You will want to return, I certainly do.
Above, Shogo Tomiyama, Godzilla and Shusuke Kaneko pose for photos with some of the movie's actors. Photo by Armand Vaquer.
It is interesting to look back at what I wrote at the time. Some of the things I wrote were a little off. For example, Godzilla's dorsal spikes weren't first seen behind the sunken submarine. They were seen glowing behind an underwater rock formation. I was going by memory at the time (along with some notes).
"GMK" is probably the most revered G-movie of the millennium series (1999 - 2004).
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