The Godzilla 28 Movie challenge: Number 14 - Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)

Happy anniversary! Twenty years and fourteen films after the fantastic Gojira, the folk at Toho treated us to a higher budget extravaganza to celebrate the longevity of their international Kaiju superstar! The last time they upped the budget we ended up with the epic Destroy All Monsters, this time we get two new monsters – one of which is now a firm fan favourite. It might have taken twenty years, but this is the first Godzilla film to give onscreen credits for the suit actors inside the Kaiju costumes. Unfortunately this started after Haruo Nakajima’s long reign as the man-inside-Godzilla.

The movie embraces Okinawa island, the film is set there and uses local folklore for inspiration. I suspect the island’s legend of “Shisha” (basis for a new Kaiju in this film) was probably only half of the appeal, not having to spend money creating models of Tokyo cities was possibly of equal benefit! Superstition features highly in this film, the first moments involve a prophecy found along with alien artefacts in a cave, and a priestess collapsing as she has vivid visions of a city burning while King Ghidorah is seen in the sky. It just so happens that the same people who have knowledge of the prophecy happen to be the ones who witness the tell-tale signs mentioned in it throughout the film. The narrative really does suffer from overly-convenient overlapping stories and a reliance on coincidence.

Superstition, the supernatural and aliens (again!) are thrown together to create the circumstances for the monster battles which appear during the film. If you ignore the dodgy plot then the rest of the film is actually enjoyable. The first bit of monster action ranks with the most disturbing scenes in the Godzilla franchise so far when we see Godzilla walking up to his good friend Anguirus, but instead of offering a warm gesture he beats him up, Anguirus looks hurt at this friend’s sudden change of attitude. 

Godzilla lifts Anguirus by his tail and slams him into the ground, the dazed Anguirus is then subjected to a tortuous episode as Godzilla grabs him by the snout and forces his mouth open, breaking his jaw! It’s actually quite shocking! 

Godzilla is left with bloodied hands as a traumatised and injured Anguilas limps away leaving a mess of blood on the ground.

It’s such an unexpected moment, especially given the bond which has been established between these two since their initial fight in 1956. But a glint of something shiny under Godzilla’s skin hints that all is not as it seems. This sets such a dark tone, you expect a grittier film with battles to make you wince, and although the actual Kaiju action is much better here and less cartoon-like than in the previous film, the hope of a more serious approach to a Godzilla film is undermined by the wafer-thin, recycled plot.

This is Jun Fukuda’s last time in the director’s chair for a Godzilla film. It’s fair to say that his time hasn’t been the smoothest. His tenure has seen Japanese cinema in decline, slashed budgets and some incredibly lazy storytelling where characterisations have been abandoned in favour of an ‘anything goes’ policy. The fact that he followed on from celebrated Japanese Director Ishiro Honda who also directed and co-wrote the original Gojira film meant that he had considerable shoes to fill. Special effects creator Eiji Tsuburaya had stood back from Godzilla (and then died in 1970) and composer Akira Ifukube was less utilised than before meaning that much of the original talent was not present during Fukuda’s time at the helm. It may be worth nothing that both the higher budget Godzilla films of this time (this and Destroy All Monsters) immediately followed what are regarded as terrible films directed by Jun Fukuda (those films being Son of Godzilla and Godzilla Vs. Megalon). So was Fukuda an incompetent director? I don’t think so, there are moments in this film and especially in Godzilla Vs. Hedorah where ‘serious’ cinema shines through, but the Godzilla franchise was becoming a franchise aimed directly at child audiences so you have to expect a drop in maturity. What isn’t excusable are the poor storylines and narrative which seem to have little effort injected and exist simply to serve as the inter-connecting scenes between monster fights. I don’t know how much of an influence Fukuda had on these, but as he does have co-writing credits for some films he must have to shoulder some responsibility. By the time of Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla there seems to be a more mature approach to filming, yes – the plot is poor, but the technical aspect seems to have developed as we see more inventive angles and techniques with shots framed for aesthetic and thematic effect to supplement the tone rather than just capture action. There have always been great moments but this film feels like more of an cinematic accomplishment which looks as though it would benefit from the big-screen treatment whereas the likes of Son of Godzilla seemed like a straight-to-video kid’s special. Perhaps he was just starting to flourish, or perhaps his accomplishments were overshadowed by some genuinely poor screenplays. Either way, this is Jun Fukuda’s best Godzilla film.

Let’s have a look at the monsters then. Before we look at the new kids on the monster block, let’s check out Godzilla.

In Godzillas Vs Megalon, Godzilla’s makeover had him looking (in my opinion) like a playful kitten. The same basic shape remains here but the face has been re-sculpted, particularly around the brow, to make it less cute. It’s not exactly imposing but definitely more intimidating than in the previous film.

I’ve already stated (admitted!) that I like the ‘cute’ face of the last suit, but that’s more for reasons of nostalgia. If I stand back and view this as a mid-thirties adult then I have to say that this is definitely an improvement. Maybe it’s a tad more fierce because it’s less expressive, especially the eyes because the detail has been removed (Godzilla had coloured irises), but looking less cartoony really benefits the film as you can take Godzilla more seriously than before.

The body is the same but the stubby spines on his back have a metallic sheen now, I don’t actually like that – they look fine on Mechagodzilla but they look too inorganic on Godzilla.

Curiously, Godzilla demonstrates a new ability after crawling onshore suffering from the after effects of Mechagodzilla's wrath. The sky is streaked with lightning and Godzilla is struck, he absorbs the electrical energy and is powered by it, just like King Kong in King Kong Vs. Godzilla. This new ability seems a bit contrived for the film, we've seen Godzilla tangle with powerlines in the past and was never powered up by it. In fact, strong electrical current has been used as a weapon/deterrent in previous films so it seems odd that electricity now provides a benefit.

If you have sharp eyes, you might notice that when Godzilla emerges from the water, it's a different suit - I'm guessing some stock footage or a different suit was used to preserve this one. The footage is actually shown twice, the obvious darker sky compared to the scenes either side do stand out though.

And if you look at the two shots below from the film, when Godzilla is in water his spines are a different size and shape - perhaps this is an old suit with the spines painted to mach the metallic look of this film.

Anguirus appears appears briefly and ends up taking a beating. It’s his last film until the monster-mashup that is Final Wars. During his short appearance he looks good though with no obvious suit damage!

Now we come to the new Kaiju, the first of the newbies to appear is Mechagodzilla, even if his appearance is a bit of a Red Herring to start with. I love the shock value of the deception when Mechagodzilla still has ‘skin’ and appears to be the actual Godzilla.

With skin he looks like Godzilla but with shiny spines and dead expressionless eyes. It’s impressive how expressionless he looks. He really does look evil. It had been a good few years since I last watched this film and I just assumed that the Mechagodzilla suit (before the skin is removed) was the same as the Godzilla one, but they are different. Mechagodzilla is a soulless killing machine.

Once the skin is off, we see him in his full mechanical glory and it is fab. Whereas Jet Jaguar (in Godzilla Vs. Megalon) looked like he was made from metallic coloured foam, Mechagodzilla looks like a metal machine, with rivets and joins.

Accompanying the robot-look are incredible sound effects, he sounds great when he walks, he sounds heavy! A metallic thud along with a collection of servos and motors all working to keep him moving help to distract from the fact that this is a man in a suit. His movements don’t just sound perfect, they are jerky and end abruptly as you’d expect with a robot. A particularly fine example being when his head rotates 180 degrees and locks into place. Spinning his head to create a force-field was a bit dumb though.

Mechagodzilla is not only strong for close range combat (we already saw how strong he was when he attacked Anguirus) but he also has killer breath like the real Big-G so that he can attack from a distance. His breath is orange rather than blue so the two can be distinguished.

He contains a whole arsenal of weaponry, from lasers to projectiles in his fingers. All of which prove to be effective against Godzilla who struggles to get near him when fighting.

It’s obvious why Mechagdodzilla is a fan favourite, I loved him as a kid (nearly as much as Mothra!), he’s like a giant toy! He flies, he has weapons, he roars – he’s just awesome! He’s the cool robot that Jet Jaguar simply could never be!

So is the other new Kaiju equally as cool? Well, not quite…

King Caesar is a based on the “Sisha” lion-based God. Caesar looks kind of like a lion, but also a bit like a horseshoe bat. He’s cute in an ugly way.– like those dogs you see on the internet with bald patches, massive underbites and boggly eyes.

He’s hairy and has no real powers, he’s just a giant furry monster, as a kid I found him to be a bit of a disappointment – a bit rubbish compared to the pizaz of Mechagodzilla, he can’t even shoot projectiles!! Just like Anguirus, he wouldn’t appear again until Final Wars, thirty years later.

At least he can raise his ears.

The fighting in Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla is impressive at times. The goofy moves of the previous film are replaced by gory, animalistic displays of violence – with technology thrown into the mix as well.

After the attack on Anguirus, which I’ve already mentioned, the next big scene involves Mechagodzilla and Godzilla, but by this stage Mechagodzilla still looks like Godzilla. It’s in this fight where you can really see the differences between the two beasts and get an idea of Mechagodzilla’s power. They spit breath at each other and the two beams cancel each other out, they grapple and they fall, but ultimately Mechagodzilla’s combination of strength and projectiles are too much for Godzilla who is left bloodied and wanting to escape.

Seeing two versions of Godzilla is one of the most iconic moments in the Godzilla film series, the nearest we've had to this in the past is when Godzilla looked in astonishment at the Godzilla Tower in Godzilla Vs. Gigan! This battle feels like an epic battle, the industrial plant location looks amazing too (more on that in a bit), and quickly enough Mechagodzilla sheds his skin and reveals his full robotic glory. It's from this moment onwards that the full range of weaponry is unleashed on poor Godzilla who is left considerably weakened and crawls off to lick his wounds.

King Caesar's battle with Mechagodzilla is a technicoloured affair with an exchange of multicoloured eye-beams! At one stage Mechagodzilla rams his hand into King Caesar's mouth, similar to with Anguirus but not with the same gory outcome. It's a fight with lots of projectiles and a good spattering of hand-to-hand combat.

Godzilla joins and ends up covered in blood! 

After Mechagodzilla fire yet more projectiles at Godzilla, they lodge in his skin. Curiously Godzilla then exhibits a power we've never seen before, he seems to use an inner energy (perhaps the electricity from before) to eject the projectiles from his scaly skin, cause sparks, and generate a strong electro-magnetic field. So strong that nearby pylons are ripped from the earth and attach to him and mg is pulled backwards through the air.

The final battle is pretty quick, far swifter than you expect but a resurgent Godzilla proves his mettle (with minor help from cheapo-chewbacca) when he rips Mechagodzilla to bits.

Although the big battle is quick, Godzilla is still bloodied but not beaten. The fact that Godzilla takes damage really convinces you of the sheer strength of Mechagodzilla, and soldiering on despite having a bloody face helps to reiterate that the Big G really is the king of the monsters.

There's actually a lot of human fighting in this film, the action aspect from the last film continues as we see plenty of clenched fists making contact with faces!

Speaking of faces - some of the Toho crew had clearly been watching The Planet Of The Apes, the aliens in this film change into chimp lookalikes once they have been injured or killed. This seems to have been thrown in with no exposition which is a shame because there could have been some great sci-fi explanation behind the transition. Presumably the human appearance is a disguise and the the chimp-like form is the 'real' shape of these beings from "the third planet of the black hole", but the shape shift adds nothing to the film, it just seems shoe-horned in.

The lead alien is identifiable by his glam-sparkly suit and dodgy eye-shadow. it's not all fun and make-up for the extra-terrestrials though, one gets shot in the throat, and his alien blue-green blood spurts out. Nasty.

The visual effects are clearly improved in this film, it looks better in almost every way. The Godzilla suit is improved to look less cute, the battles are more epic, and the miniature work is excellent. 

A fine example of excellent model work being the industrial plant, the refinery looks even better than the one in ...Hedorah (which then showed up in every subsequent Godzilla film until this one!). The integration of model scenes and actual scenery work very effectively to convince that our troupe of human onlookers are at the scene. Instead of a thrown together set, real effort has been made to ensure it looks realistic. The lighting is perfect and it looks huge - it has to be in order to contain 2 Godzillas!

It’s pyrotechnics galore too! There are so many explosions in this film! No excuse for something to blow up is wasted!

The alien base has dated somewhat but it does look like a decent set, we don’t see that much of it, but it’s very metallic and shiny, and the construction area where Mechagodzilla is docked looks like a James Bond villain’s lair! ….I am aware that I keep referencing James Bond throughout most of the late ‘60s and 1970s Godzilla movies, but there really does seem to be a strong influence.

We see some familiar faces in this film too with notable actors from previous Godzilla movies, such as Horoshi Koizumi and Kenji Sahara. But most notable is Akihiko Hirata who played the eye-patch wearing Doctor Serizawa whose Oxygen Destroyer killed Godzilla in the original Gojira.

Long standing Toho/Godzilla actors may make an appearance, but old-school Godzilla music doesn’t make a comeback though, Masaro Sato composes the score again and overall it’s a good score with a strong contemporary 1970s sound. That ‘70s sound dates though and the music sounds old fashioned now unlike Ifukube’s more classical approach to film scores. It’s during the battles where the music fails though, it just sounds too goofy and not-in-keeping with the dark visuals. I have to say though, just like Mothra, King Caesar gets his own ‘summoning’ song and I have to admit, it is quite catchy!

I tend to write about the dodgy science and insanely quick acceptance of any ‘fact’ mentioned as long as it’s convenient for the plot and this film is full of them. The Professor is quick to conclude that the first Godzilla is a cyborg, and based purely on the discovery of “space titanium” (a house brick pray painted silver!) it’s ‘known’ that Mechagodzilla must be under the control of aliens. But to be fair, there have been so many alien races controlling Kaiju by now that it’s surely the first assumption!

I’ve already mentioned that lazy coincidence helps drive the plot, and there’s no explanation concerning the ape-like appearance of the aliens, but in addition there some obvious questions. To start with, why bother disguising Mechagodzilla as Godzilla? I could understand the need to lull people into thinking that it was the actual Godzilla if it actually furthered the cause of the aliens, but there really seems to be no need! Also, given the vast weaponry science they have at their disposal, surely it would have been easier to employ good fashioned terrorism rather than a cumbersome and highly conspicuous robot? I guess though we wouldn’t have been treated to some great Mechagodzilla scenes if that were the case! It also has to be noted that the prophecy was pointless, the film could have continued with the alien/Mechagodzilla plot without the prophecy, and it wouldn't effect anything.

The plot does have some holes and it is so basic it seems childish at times. In Godzilla Vs Megalon the childish plot fit with the juvenile nature of the film, but this seems to make efforts to be a more serious piece of work – and therefore it would have benefited from a more serious narrative.


Cult Kingdom rating:  3 / 5 

A dumb film with great moments. We see two similar but distinct Godzilla’s in one of the franchise’s standout scenes, there’s grizzly fighting which is genuinely gory and an increased budget gives us great sets rather than stock footage. This film frustrates me because with a bit more effort this could have been one of the great Godzilla titles, but the sub-par, re-hashed story lets the project down. Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla relies on flimsy reasoning, superstition, and Godzilla using a power he’s never once displayed before despite having ample opportunity.

…And hang on a minute! What happened to King Ghidorah after appearing in the priestess’ vision?

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