Godzilla vs Biollante

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Godzilla vs Biollante

Directed by
Kazuki Omori

Screenplay by
Kazuki Omori
Shinichiro Kobayashi (Story)

Special Effects by
Koichi Kawakita

Music by
Koichi Sugiyama

Kunihiko Mitamura - Kazuhito Kirishima
Yoshiko Tanaka - Asuka Okouchi
Koji Takahashi - Dr. Shiragami
Megumi Odaka - Miki Saegusa
Toru Minegishi - Lieutenant Goro Gondo
Toshiyuki Nagashima - Director Seiichi Yamamoto
Ryunosuke Kaneda - Azuka's Father
Masanobu Takashima - Major Sho Kuroki
Super X-2 controller - Kosuke Toyohara
Saradian Agent - Brien Uhl
Godzilla - Kenpachiro Satsuma
Biollante - Masashi Takegumi

Max's Review

While the above-average The Return of Godzilla (1984) gave the Heisei series an effective kick-start, it was Godzilla vs Biollante (1989) which succeeded in finally casting aside the influence of the latter Showa series, and re-inventing Godzilla for a new generation. To this day, it remains one of Godzilla’s most well-made, enjoyable and individual entries, and a landmark film in the series.

From both a technical and artistic standpoint, Godzilla vs Biollante is one of the most innovative Godzilla movies so far. From the redesigned Godzilla to the more brutal and animalistic kaiju battles, virtually every aspect of this film is a creative step forward for the series. Unlike most other directors to work on the Godzilla saga, Kazuki Omori is clearly not afraid to try new things and push the envelope for the series, and his fresh, daring approach is a welcome relief from the uninspiring efforts of most of his predecessors, and successors, for that matter. For all its achievements, the Godzilla series has an unfortunate tendency to rely on formula, and it’s always nice to see a film like this one break the mould.

One of the most notable of these creative advances is the outstanding special effects work by Koichi Kawakita, which surpasses anything previously seen in the series, and even a few of the Millennium films. There are a few disproportionate matte shots and other assorted nitpicks, but these flaws are few and far between. For the most part, the film looks great. Well-constructed miniatures, improved optical effects, sophisticated pyrotechnics, carefully placed military stock footage, clever photography and some amazingly lifelike animatronics and puppetry all combine to bring the film’s fantastic story to vivid life.

Godzilla himself has rarely looked as good as he does here, since or prior. The new suit looks and moves like a real, living creature, an illusion furthered by the very convincing head prop. There are a few shots when he roars and flexes his tongue which look as real as anything in the big-budget 1998 film.

His nemesis, Biollante, is nothing short of spectacular. Her fundamental premise, a genetic cross-breed between Godzilla, a rose bush, and a human, could’ve turn out ridiculous. Instead, she is one of the most original, well-executed and fascinating kaiju ever committed to film. Like Godzilla, Biollante is a symbolic monster, representing the dangers of genetic engineering. In her rose-like form, she is both horrific and beautiful, radiating an air of unsettling calm. Her final form, on the other hand, is simply awesome, towering over Godzilla and matching him in primal ferocity. In fact, between her creepy appearance and convincing performance, Biollante may be the closest any kaiju -apart from Godzilla- has come to being genuinely frightening. Throughout the movie, Biollante is portrayed in a highly ambiguous manner; for instance, the exact involvement of Erika’s soul is never made clear. Does her soul control Biollante to some extent, or is she trapped within the creature against her will? While this may sound like a flaw in the film, it actually enhances Biollante’s scenes, as it leaves her motives and persona open to the viewer’s interpretation.

The film’s plot is solid, complex, and filled with interesting concepts and themes, from biological warfare to industrial espionage. The latter may be silly at times, but its inclusion adds a great deal of intricacy to the plot, making the film more intriguing and rewatchable. In addition, this is one of the only Godzilla films to include realistic (or at least semi-realistic) science, an element which works well with the film’s dark and serious tone.
The character development is decent, with two positive standouts in the form of Major Kuroki and Colonel Gondo, the former for his well-executed character arc, and the latter for his defiance of the genre’s usual character types. While the other main characters aren’t as impressive, they are all given at least some development, and each play a useful part in the plot. It’s not Gojira or GMK, but it’s still the best human element the Heisei series has to offer, and an above average effort for the genre.
The acting is mixed, but on balance quite passable. The non-Japanese actors who play the American and Saradian characters give rather poor performances, which frequently cheapen their scenes. Thankfully, however, the Japanese cast do quite well, playing their respective roles believably and consistently.

The soundtrack by Koichi Sugiyama, while quite different in tone from previous Godzilla scores, is overall yet another of the film’s many highlights. From Biollante’s eerie theme, to the haunting, melancholy tune as she disperses into a cloud of golden spores, the music throughout the film is rich, varied and adds greatly to the ominous atmosphere. What’s more, a number of Akira Ifukube’s classic themes are re-used throughout the film, and their inclusion is the icing on the cake for the already excellent score.

As mentioned earlier, the kaiju battles depicted here are some of the most ruthless, realistic, and overall best the series has yet seen. Godzilla and Biollante tear into each other with teeth, tentacles, heat rays and acid, goring and blasting each other apart. It’s not pretty, but it's thoroughly convincing, highly enjoyable, and a definite step up from the wrestling matches of the latter Showa series.

The JSDF (Japan Self Defence Force) also stand out in this film. Their continued and solid attempts to defeat Godzilla, from the Super X-2 to the Anti Nuclear Energy Bacteria are well thought out, and all the more exciting because they have a realistic chance against Godzilla.

For all its riveting action and sharp innovation, one of the most memorable aspects of Godzilla vs Biollante is its captivating imagery, from a monstrous rose towering over a misty lake, to a cloud of golden spores descending from lightning-racked clouds. Beautiful, grotesque and haunting, these images offer some of the most potent visual poetry in any Godzilla film to date, matched only by the superb GMK. (2001)

While the first film of the Godzilla series, Gojira, was intended as a serious allegorical comment on nuclear warfare and the aftermath of World War II, there are only a few of its 27 sequels which aspire to a similar degree of meaning. Godzilla vs Biollante is one of those few films. Not only does it portray the dangers of genetic engineering and biotechnology through the character of Biollante, but it also demonstrates the greed and carelessness of corporations seeking to monopolise it. In addition, the contrast between the young geneticist Kirishima and the older Shiragami, in particular their differing opinions on the proper application of science, add yet another dimension of meaning to the film.

When the dust settles, Godzilla vs Biollante is one of the greatest Godzilla films yet made, surpassed only by GMK and Gojira. Sure, it has its minor flaws, but when weighed against its numerous strengths, these are only minor blemishes on what is otherwise a truly mesmerising and unique addition to the series.

Max’s verdict:

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