Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Heisei Series Review Part 2: Godzilla vs Biollante

Continuing our series of reviews of the Heisei Godzilla movies, this week I present to you my review of 1989's Godzilla vs Biollante. This time around we can really get a feel for the changes in humanity's (particularly Japan's) response to giant monsters. If you haven't read my review for 1984's the Return of Godzilla you can find it here. I recommend watching it before Godzilla vs Biollante in order to understand this film better. As I said last time: There will be spoilers, but do we really watch giant monster movies for the plot anyways? Well, for this one... Maybe.


If you haven't read my last review in the Heisei Series, I'll give an even briefer overview of what the Heisei Series is. It's the series of 7 Godzilla movies made from 1984 to 1995 that rebooted the franchise and features a tighter continuity than the old Showa era films of the 60s and 70s. Of the 15 films in the Showa Series, only the original 1954 Gojira remains canon.

Godzilla vs Biollante picks up right after the Return of Godzilla with teams of Japanese scientists and a malicious American paramilitary team digging through the rubble of Tokyo for Godzilla tissue samples. After a brief shootout and a cut to a fictional Middle-Eastern country named Sardia, the movies returns to 1989 to introduce the audience to a more competent and prepared Japan. In the 5 years since Godzilla was "trapped" in Mt Mihara, Japan has made great strides in computer science, materials, lasers, genetic engineering, and more. If Godzilla returns again, they will be ready... Or so they think.

This movie features some interesting themes of environmentalism and ethics. Cloning and genetically modified organisms were just becoming reality at this point in time. Humilin, or synthetic insulin produced by modified bacteria, had just hit the market in 1982, and the first mammal had been cloned via nuclear transfer in 1984. The ethics and responsible use of such technology was on everyone's mind as science fiction became science fact. The monster opposing Godzilla in this entry, Biollante, is a manifestation of everyone's worst fears regarding these developments being a hybrid of human and rose DNA inserted into Godzilla cells.


For this review, I watched Godzilla vs Biollante in Japanese with subtitles since I hadn't seen it in that format before. Most of these reviews will be for the English dub of the film since that is the only version I own. (I know, sacrilege for kaiju fans.) I did find that the dialogue in this version was much more natural and informative, and I'd recommend watching it this way if subtitles don't bother you too much.

This movie is good, like really good. Critically, it's probably the best of the Heisei Series, and it's personally my second favorite. (My favorite being the emotional conclusion to the Heisei Series: Godzilla vs Destroyah) It's got wonderful effects, a fresh storyline, amazing monster design, and a good human plot line. Toho was truly firing on all cylinders when they made this movie.

While the Return of Godzilla isn't a bad movie, Godzilla vs Biollante is superior to the preceding film in just about every way. Godzilla looked much better this time around than the occasionally derpy-eyed version from the 1984 film. Also, I can't recall seeing any wires during my viewing, which is more than I can say for some of the later entries in the Heisei Series. The human characters are compelling and the plot is solid. In other words, if you were turned off of the campy monster movies with crappy effects from the 60s and 70s, give this movie a shot!

Let me break my thoughts down even further with some special emphasis on the titular villain: Biollante and the reason for this series: the human response


Biollante is one of Godzilla's strangest foes to ever grace the silver scene, and my favorite monster design in this era. As an amalgamation of Godzilla cells, rose DNA, and DNA from Dr Shiragami's deceased daughter, she has one of the most convoluted origins of any kaiju. Biollante evolves throughout the course of the film from a strange looking rose to the magnificent beast pictured below.


Biollante towers 40 meters above Godzilla, making Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors look like a common dandelion. She is for the most part stationary, but her massive size and insane reach make her a formidable foe nonetheless. It is theorized by Dr Shiragami that Godzilla is inexorably drawn to Biollante because they are essentially the same being due to being made of the same cells. Whether this is true or not, Godzilla seeks out Biollante wherever she manifests. The two clash and at the end of the day Godzilla triumphs. However, Biollante's neigh indestructible "Godzilla cells" survive and are cast into the depths of space to plague humanity again someday. (But not in a way that you would expect!)

All in all, Biollante is a fantastic foe for Godzilla, and I wish she was featured in more movies.

The Human Response

As I said before, Japan is thoroughly more prepared this time around then when Godzilla attacked in 1984. The JSDF has a lot of new toys including, but not limited to: computer science, robotics, advanced materials, biology, genetics, lasers, and ESP. That's right, psychics try to stop Godzilla. They aren't successful this time, but they return in later films with greater abilities. While the rest of the world isn't really featured this time around, we get the sense that humanity as a whole is not going to be caught off guard again. If Godzilla or another monster rears its ugly head humanity will be ready for it.

After a quick scene in the Osaka Bay to highlight the fact that conventional military can't deal with Godzilla, the JSDF deploys the new and improved Super X2.

Super X2

This version of the Super X is built from the remains of the original, but vastly improved. The new alloy armoring the Super X2 is twice as strong. This craft is also semi aquatic and piloted remotely, giving it greater reach and removing the pilots from harms way. The most impressive upgrade is the "Fire Mirror," which is made of synthetic diamonds. The "Fire Mirror" allows the Super X2 to reflect Godzilla's atomic blast back at him with more intensity, literally fighting fire with fire.

All of these improvements to the Super X show that humanity is getting better at dealing with giant monsters. This film also debuted the blue MBT-92 Maser Cannons, which are direct improvements to the red Hyper Laser Cannons used to distract Godzilla in 1984. Masers are continually upgraded and used against giant monsters throughout the Heisei Series.

The last new anti-kaiju weapon that appears in Godzilla vs Biollante is the Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria, or ANEB. This bacteria was genetically engineered from Godzilla's DNA to create an enzyme that broke down nuclear material making cleaning up fallout from a nuclear plant disaster, atom bomb, or Godzilla attack simple. This bacteria is weaponized and loaded into rockets, which are shot into Godzilla by a crack commando team. After a little coaxing (aka raising Godzilla's body temperature with masers, microwave mines, and a man-made lightning storm) it almost kills Godzilla and forces him to hibernate underwater where it is cool enough to make the ANEB go dormant again.

How Did This Film Influence Daikaiju Director?

When I first started working on Daikaiju Director in 2014, it was much more of a scenario based game that emulated specific movies, than the multiplayer free for all monster fighting game it has become. Godzilla vs Biollante as well as the American 2014 Godzilla were direct influences on the 3 player scenario I was working on where two players played as opposing monsters and the third player played as the ever evolving military.

While this type of gameplay hasn't made it's way into the current incarnation of Daikaiju Director, different game "modes" are being tested now. A military mechanic or player has always been something I've wanted to include, and I'm still coming up with new ideas everyday. I look forward to incorporating these elements back into the game now that the core game has been balanced.

What's Next?

That's it for this entry. Tune in next time for my review of 1991's Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, a very controversial entry in the Heisei Series. I'll also be posting soon about my National Game Design Month project so be on the lookout for that. Until next time, keep the good times rolling!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Heisei Series Review Part 1: The Return of Godzilla

As I posted on Facebook last month that I wanted to start increasing and diversifying posts on the Daikaiju Director website. This is the first in what I hope to be a long line of fun kaiju movie reviews with a special look at how each film influenced the design of Daikaiju Director. I'm going to begin with a series of reviews looking at the Heisei Godzilla movies paying special attention to the evolving human response to the threat of Godzilla and other giant monsters. The first film that I'll be reviewing is 1984's the Return of GodzillaThere will be spoilers, but do we really watch giant monster movies for the plot anyways?


Before I start I want to layout some background information regarding the Return of Godzilla and the Heisei era in general. If your a big kaiju movie buff then you probably already know all of this so feel free to skip to the next section.

What is Heisei Godzilla? For the sake of brevity, the Heisei era includes the 7 Godzilla movies made from 1984 to 1995. This series is characterized by practical effects and tight continuity, which is why it's such a great opportunity to examine how humanity's response to giant monsters changes and evolves over time.

The Heisei Series named after current political era in Japan, which started in 1989. Yes, I know that doesn't make total sense since the Return of Godzilla was released in 1984, but just go with it. Technically the later Millennium series and Legendary series also take place in the Heisei era of Japan, but they aren't considered part of of the Heisei film series. Confusing, I know. Maybe I should do a Kaiju History post sometime down the road...

Anyways, the Return of Godzilla is the first entry in the Heisei Series. It ignores all previous Godzilla movies besides the original 1954 film, Gojira. If you can't stand the cheesiness of some of the older films, then this is the perfect jumping on point. This movie can be enjoyed without having seen any other Godzilla movies. The only thing to keep in mind for younger viewers is that this movie was made in the middle of the Cold War and it pulls a lot from the politics of the time. This movie has only recently been made available on DVD and Bluray so it is finally easily accessible in America.

The Review

After 9 years out of the spotlight, the King of Monsters makes a triumphant return in the Return of Godzilla. While I normally prefer my kaiju films to feature the clash of two or more titanic monsters, this solo outing hits all of the right notes with me. It has the ridiculous monster movie science that I love and an interesting conflict centered around the awkward complexities of Japan's position during the Cold War.

The conflict of the movie is threefold. In one theater, you have Japan dealing with Godzilla's first appearance in 30 years. The atomic horror that is Godzilla has returned to a vulnerable Japan. The Japanese government isn't entirely caught off guard though. They quickly re-purpose the anti-nuclear aircraft, Super X, to deal with Godzilla instead of a  Russian or American attack. With its titanium-platinum alloy hull and newly added cadmium missiles, it represents the government's best hope at defeating the King of Monsters. While I can't speak to the actual properties of the platinum titanium alloy they used, cadmium is used in real world nuclear reactors to slow and control the reaction. It makes sense that these missiles would be particularly effective against Godzilla and his nuclear powered biology.

The second conflict involves the two super powers of the era: the USA and the USSR. As Japan scrambles to repel Godzilla's attack, these two countries send representatives to urge Japan to allow them to nuke Godzilla. They both say that they want to strike him while he's in the Sea of Japan, but they won't hesitate if he moves into Tokyo as projected. Obviously hits a sore spot for Japan given not only Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the plethora of nuclear tests that inspired the 1954 Godzilla movie.

Given the Cold war politics and a anti-nuclear super aircraft, how could this get any crazier? Well the third facet of the conflict involves a group of scientists that want to lure Godzilla into a volcano using birds. Yes, you read that right. The heroes of the film try to trick Godzilla into falling into a volcano by manipulating the same magnetic navigation instinct that birds have. While his magnetic navigation instinct never comes up again in the Heisei series, it does set the stage for the monster mind control technology exhibited in the later films.

All things considered, this is a serious monster movie with some great cinematic moments. While the characters are sometimes forgettable and the science can be hilariously inaccurate, it's miles better than many of the Godzilla movies Toho gave us in the 70s. It's an excellent reboot for my favorite franchise and one of the top 3 Godzilla movies I'd recommend to monster movie newbies.

How Did This Film Influence Daikaiju Director?

It didn't, at least not yet. I began development on Daikaiju Director 2 years ago and I only watched the Return of Godzilla for the first time in September. As I tinker with the military faction and armed response deck this movie will definitely leave it's mark. I want the human military player to have a variety of avenues of attack. Much how the government in the movie argues between deploying Super X, luring Godzilla into a volcano, and using nuclear weapons, I want interesting choices to be the hallmark of the human player. I'll delve more into this later in this series where I talk about the variety of super weapons developed to defeat Godzilla.

What's Next?

The next entry into this series will examine 1989's Godzilla vs Biollante and how humanity ramps up it's response to Godzilla. I hope this review was informative, and if you haven't seen the Return of Godzilla I hope you give it a shot. Until next time, keep the good times rolling!