After destroying an icon by crafting films aimed a child’s matinee market, Godzilla’s 1984 revival was created to return the series to its original form. While not flawless, Return of Godzilla (or simply Gojira in its native land) is by far the most critically ignored giant monster film ever crafted when viewed in its original language. It’s nearly brilliant in its depiction of the human side of an incident such as this, regardless of how absurd it may seem.
Instead of falling into a formulaic routine of a monster appearance followed by scrambling scientists looking for an answer, Return of Godzilla takes its approach in a different direction. It asks the question “what would happen if…” If a giant monster did suddenly pop up out of Tokyo bay, what would the reaction be?
Regardless of how far-fetched or ridiculous it may seem, the writers don’t craft Godzilla as a monster. In all actuality, rarely is the word “monster” spoken in the film. Godzilla is referred to as “it,” an entity which could be a stand in for a number of manmade deadly creations. This recreates the feeling and mood of the original film, keeping the creatures purpose as an after-effect of nuclear weapons, if not a direct stand-in.
Keiju Kobayashi portrays Prime Minister Mitamura. As countries begin to panic about the possibility of the creature destroying their own homes, Mitamura is faced with incredible burdens. Though dated with Cold War fears, the film creates a scenario that is as realistic as possible. Kobayashi is flawless in this role, stressed and overworked as the threat increases while the countries' firm anti-nuclear policies require a forceful stand.
The politics play out better than any other storyline in the franchise’s history. This creates additional drama as the monster nears his attack point, giving it extra weight against the human side. Every time a building is destroyed, the thought of what this would do to a country in terms of its ability to sustain itself is always present.
Godzilla himself is a lumbering beast, portrayed here by Kenpachiro Satsuma. While not his first time portraying a monster, this was his first effort inside the Godzilla suit. The oversized eyes and somewhat flat face do take away from the menacing angle of the creature, while Satsuma saves the film with a performance that sells the indestructible, unflinching angle Godzilla is known for.
Godzilla’s first sighting off the shoreline is easily the best in the series at portraying the sheer power present inside the beast. The entire dock is loaded with various weapons and troops. In one shot of his trademark radioactive breath, it’s gone. This is not only a spectacular scene to view, it gives the first impression that nothing can stop this attack, and is in line with the film’s much darker edge.
Special effects are off in spots. Toho spent a great deal of money promoting the Cybot, a massive robotic Godzilla used to increase the monster’s range of facial movement during close ups. Only a few shots go awry on camera, but the bigger issue is that a different molding was used to cover the robotics. On screen, Godzilla appears in two radically different forms. It’s not particularly well hidden either, though the Cybot does work as intended. The suit actors were never able to create the range needed to make a convincing monster previously.
The story also wraps up in the early moments. The audience is aware of how Godzilla will be eliminated within the first 20 or so minutes. It becomes a running plotline as the military sets up the trap to finish the monster, while a new Japanese super weapon keeps Godzilla stalled in the city. A sloppy connection to the original also hurts with no explanation for how Godzilla survived his death in 1954.
Koji Hashimoto directs, his first and last time in the role. His experience in the genre dates back to 1962 taking part in King Kong vs. Godzilla as a third assistant director. It shows with a keen eye for how shots need to be placed to disguise miniatures and their defects, though he’s lacking when it comes to pacing. Scenes can drag on longer than they should. There’s a lot of information being thrown at the audience and time wasted is time lost in the story.
Reijiro Koroku composes his only score for a Godzilla film, and it’s a masterful one. Haunting, epic, and even moving, the music integrates into the on-screen action perfectly. Scenes in which destruction or off-screen loss of life is prevalent are especially powerful.
Brought to the US a year later, Godzilla 1985 underwent extensive editing, even going so far as to change critical plot points to make the Russians far more aggressive. Inserted scenes included Raymond Burr reprising his role as Steve Martin, the reporter who gave United World News the scoop on Godzilla’s first rampage in 1954. These changes butcher the film, playing for camp rather than the serious angle intended by the Japanese original.
While flawed, Return of Godzilla is as good as Godzilla films can be. For its attention to details, strong non-fantasy human angle, and deep underlying message, it’s a resounding success. While it may seem like it’s overanalyzing a monster-on-the-loose romp, to view it as such is missing the point.
For its first time on DVD with any English language option, Return of Godzilla is presented rather poorly. While in the appropriate widescreen aspect ratio, the video is washed out and the print is never consistent with the strength of its colors. Interlacing issues come with fast movement, and pixelation is prevalent. The print is high quality, just transferred to DVD with seemingly no care.
Audio presents the film in its original stereo. There is some unexpected use of positional sound on a regular basis. Discs like this generally push the same audio from each speaker. The total lack of bass is a hindrance, causing the audio to lack any noticeable impact from a building being destroyed or Godzilla’s footsteps. There’s a Chinese language dub available on the disc too. Dialogue is twice as loud as the rest of the film.
Extras are almost non-existent. There’s a trailer for the follow up feature, Godzilla vs. Biollante. Subtitles are included on this release in English and Chinese. Both play at the same time, as there is no option to choose one over the other. Also note the translation is suspect. Some small English-spoken dialogue doesn’t even come close to the actual words being said. (No stars)
The Cybot is still used by Toho. The massive multi-ton creation can typically be seen during premieres for the latest entry in the series. With the future of the Godzilla series in doubt after the failing of the expensive Final Wars in 2004, the Cybot may enter retirement as well.