One year after their epic clash in Godzilla x Mechagodzilla (2002), the Japanese Defence Force finally get Kiryu - the erstwhile Mechagodzilla forged using DNA from the original Godzilla - back online. At the same moment, seemingly sensing its presence, Big G stirs from the watery depths. Meanwhile, a jet fighter has a close encounter with the mystical Mothra. Mechagodzilla mechanic Yoshito (Noboru Kaneko) and his nephew Shun are startled when the Twin Fairies (Masami Nagasawa and Chihiro Otsuka) from Mothra’s island visit their grandfather, Professor Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi). Forty years ago, Chujo saw the giant moth ravage Tokyo to rescue the tiny twins. Now the fairies warn their friends that unless the bones of the original Godzilla are are lain to rest, humanity will face a monster apocalypse. But Chujo’s pleas fall on deaf ears as the government orders the military to send Kiryu into action against its organic twin. Yoshito falls for gutsy gal pilot Azusa Kisaragi (Miho Yoshioka), but his conflicted feelings about the misuse of Kiryu draw hostility from her arrogant co-pilot Kyosuke Akiba (Katsuya Onizuka). Events come to a head when Tokyo becomes ground zero for a battle between three unstoppable titans of terror.
While the Heisei era Godzilla movies maintained a loose continuity, the so-called Millennium series opted to reset each instalment on an alternate reality, rebooting the radioactive reptile’s origin every time. Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. remains the exception, being not only a direct sequel to the preceding adventure but forging links with past classics including the original Godzilla (1954), Mothra (1961), War of the Gargantuas (1966) and Yog: Monster from Space (1970) (now known as Space Amoeba) whose giant turtle Kamoebas cameos as a corpse mauled by Godzilla. Hiroshi Koizumi’s presence is another welcome allusion to the past. The veteran actor graced dozens of monster movies at Toho including five Godzilla films. For nostalgists it is delightful to see him again.
Third time is the charm for director and co-writer Masaaki Tezuka whose last two swings at bat were enthusiastic if slightly slapdash. He masterfully interweaves motifs from the iconic earlier episodes with contemporary concerns, exploring such themes as death and rebirth (both Godzilla’s reincarnation as Mechagodzilla and Mothra giving way to its twin larvae), the question of whether artificial beings can possess a soul, the ghosts of Hiroshima, and how humanity must abandon our collective hubris and learn to respect all living things that occupy this planet. Noboru Kaneko essays an especially lively and likeable hero whose core dilemma proves suitably compelling. Events reach a taut yet poetic climax with Yoshito trapped inside Mechagodzilla while the robo-saurus downloads memories straight into his brain.
Whereas many previous Godzilla instalments strained too hard to ape James Cameron movies, this revives the whimsical imagination and colourful aesthetic of the series’ Sixties glory days, which evidently irks some viewers but will likely delight Japanese genre movie purists. Tezuka delivers some of the most eye-catching visuals in the series, with arguably the finest Mothra ever seen exuding mystical grandeur and an incredibly animated Godzilla whose enraged mannerisms prove puppetry can be just as expressive as CGI, while Mechagodzilla remains an awesome sight - bristling with laser cannons and missile launchers. Last time round, Godzilla made light work of his robotic rival. This time, Masaaki Tezuka seemingly intended to redress the balance, resulting in stunning shots where missiles snake towards Godzilla or chase him underwater, plus a jaw-dropping moment when Mecha-G shanks Big G with a rotating drill then pumps lightning bolts into the gaping wound. Ouch.
The film is not perfect though, suffering the usual tedious scenes of stoic military types watching monsters battle on video screens. Miho Yoshioka somehow contrives to be even more vaccuous in the stock role of gutsy-but-vapid soldier girl than Godzilla x Mechagodzilla star Yumiko Shaku, who cameos here but still can’t muster a single facial expression. Also, after the big buildup, Mothra is neutralized far too quickly while the politicians and military led by the gruff Prime Minster (Akira Nakao) come across like infantile dolts who fail to realise the giant moth is on their side or learn their moral lesson (although this might be deliberate). Occasionally, Tezuka moves past homage and simply recycles plot points from Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964), but counterbalances this with moments of genuine pathos, wit and invention: e.g. Shun ingeniously arranging his classroom desks to make the symbol of Mothra visible from the sky; the moment an anonymous female technician solves a major problem only for her male boss to take the credit; Godzilla’s shriek when one Mothra larvae bites his tail; and Kiryu’s farewell message to his friend, Yoshito. Keep watching for that post-credits kicker which underlines the theme of rebirth. Naturally, Godzilla struck back with what proved one of the highpoints of his fifty year career: the flat-out insane Godzilla: Final Wars (2004).