Giant Monsters All-Out Attack aka Godzilla: GMK
A darker take than usual in the Godzilla series of movies that adds a spiritual aspect to Japan’s battles with the giant lizard. While highly flawed, this is my second favorite Godzilla movie and only eclipsed by the original Gojira. It is the only other Godzilla movie in my collection other than the original and I purchased it from Hong Kong it was unavailable in the US at the time . That has since changed. It also can be watched online at Crackle.com. UPDATED: April 2012. UPDATED again September 2014 with Blu-ray details and HD screen captures.
Toho Studios gave Shusuke Kaneko, the director of the competing rebooted Gamera trilogy, a shot at reinterpreting Godzilla and this production hit Japanese theaters in late 2001. Domestically it was the most successful of the Millennium series of Godzilla movies. Yes, there have been so many films of the big ‘G’ that they are actually broken into subsets by era. GMK is a direct sequel to the 1954 movie and ignores all the others.
The movie begins with the most boring of settings, a classroom. This one is filled with Japanese naval officers being lectured by Admiral Tachibana (Ryudo Uzaki) about the only battle fought by the Japanese Self Defense Force. That battle was in 1954 against the giant monster Godzilla and was a great victory for the JSDF. Huh? Wasn’t the radioactive menace killed by the Oxygen Destroyer? Something’s fishy here.
As the lecture goes on, mention of a giant monster attacking New York and possibly being identified as Godzilla occurs. This leads to a humorous slam against the 1998 American Godzilla movie during a discussion by two junior officers. One asks if it really was Godzilla. The other replies: “Experts in America say it was, but Japanese ones disagree.”
I disagree too, most of us in America rejected the mutated French iguana. No radioactive breath? Vulnerable to conventional military weapons? That was just wrong.
The class is interrupted by a coded summons to the admiral and news of a missing US Navy nuclear submarine. As the story goes public, we see a very pretty girl notice it on a jumbo screen on a building. We’ll be seeing her again.
Two minisubs are sent down to the wreck of the nuclear submarine and they find long rents along its length and what appears to be evidence of an explosion toward the stern. Disaster strikes with the first of many deaths occurring throughout the film. While the cause of both vessels being lost is a mystery, there is the spectacle of giant glowing spine plates moving in the dark water. Cue the opening title.
The movie shifts gears, which it will do as much as a professional race car driver, and we are taken to a rural setting where a camera crew are with the previously seen young woman. They are filming a fake monster story at a lake near Mt. Myoko. Manufacturing something lurking around, the tabloid television crew gets a real disturbance when the local officials show up, upset to find out they are a tabloid show making up a scary story.
Yuri (Chiharu Niiyama), our pretty “reporter,” manages to charm the village master into thinking that it will encourage tourism. When an earthquake strikes, I couldn’t help but notice how the old lech managed to conveniently end up on top of her. A strange roar at the end of the quake unnerves everyone while Yuri sees a strange old man in the woods – who disappears as soon as she glances away.
We’ll be seeing him again as well.
Later that night, the village master and his girlfriend are accosted by Japanese style bikers (think flags and jumpsuits, not leather) as they fool around in a car. As the young hooligans circle the car, they knock over a stone idol much to the ire of the local politician. The punks head off down the road and enter a tunnel, which collapses on them when a giant monster burrows through the side.
I have to say it was gratifying seeing the gang bite the dust.
Back in Tokyo, Yuri tries to get her boss (Shiro Sano) at BS Digital Q to okay a serious documentary on what is happening at Mt. Myoko. He’s utterly disinterested because “our job is to make cheap fictional shows.” When the would be Lois Lane presses, he continues that the owners want it that way. Distressed at finding a gray hair, he quickly departs leaving the frustrated young woman behind. One has to love the snark aimed at reality TV especially with the quite aptly named network.
A brief scene of the military testing an anti-Godzilla weapon in the form of a rocket launched exploding drill head gives way to Yuri and some of her coworkers eating out. She’s had too much sake and drunkenly wishes she’d been born a man so she’d be taken seriously. Enter Takeda (Masahiro Kobayashi), a bespectacled young man delivering a book to her, Legend of Guardian Monsters by Professor Hirotoshi Isayama. He also appears to be slightly jealous of the attention she is paying to another younger coworker.
We’ll be seeing more of Takeda later. That goes for the rocket drills too, why else would so much attention be given them?
At Lake Ikeda, another group of young miscreants are seen breaking into a convenience store. Finding a dog there, they decide to drown it for kicks – using a stone idol to weigh down a crate they’ve stuffed the poor pooch in. Creepily, the strange old man appears out of nowhere to watch the animal cruelty unfold.
They row out into the lake and straight into a horror movie, one of those where wayward teens are slaughtered. A huge, dark form breaches the water to attack them.
Wait… my mistake. It’s Mothra! So far there is no sign of the traditional twin fairies associated with the creature. Not a loss.
Juvenile delinquents take a nice beating in this movie, one of the things I really like about it. There is a dark sense of humor and justice throughout the flick with it bordering on becoming a satire. No, more accurately it is more of a social commentary.
Eh, it picks on youngsters, that’s all I care about in the end.
Back in Tokyo, Yuri is drunk as a skunk and Takeda hauls her home to her father – the Admiral! Fortunately for the nervous Takeda, Yuri’s father is understanding and I got the impression this wasn’t a unique event. The sober (in both meanings) younger man makes a good impression so the next morning the admiral fishes to find out if Yuri is seeing him. A TV report on the distracts them and they go their separate ways to investigate the strange goings on.
We get to see the old guy (Hideyo Amamoto) again, this time in jail for damaging a shrine. It turns out he is the Professor Isayama who wrote the book. Yuri secretly records him talking about Godzilla and the 1000 Year Dragon, Ghidorah. Here we learn that Baragon and Mothra are companions to Ghidorah with the three being guardians of the homeland.
At the site of the damaged shrine, Yuri and Takeda find a strange stone that she takes. There an odd experience makes the crew nervous and they depart rather rattled. That’s ironic given they fabricate supernatural events for a living.
In a sequence paying tribute to the original film, a typhoon is shown hitting the Bonin Islands. A small group of people are in a community center talk of Godzilla possibly being out there revealing that in 1954 the monster destroyed a village on a nearby island. One young woman is pretty annoying, going on how they shouldn’t have killed Godzilla because he was an innocent beast. There is one in every crowd, I suppose.
Pay attention to the walls of the center, there are pictures from the investigative expedition in Gojira. You’ll see those again. Wait… no you won’t, Godzilla just stepped on the community center. The pattern of annoying people being killed continues.
Back at BS Digital Q HQ, Yuri and Takeda provide exposition to explain what is going on. Rather than being a creature of strictly radiation induced mutation, Godzilla is explained to be the embodiment of all the souls killed in the Pacific during World War II.
So that’s why he hates Japan so much.
After discussing how rocks are like spiritual CD’s ( I kid you not), the intrepid pair figure out that the idols being broken releases the spirits of the “sacred beasts” back into their dormant bodies. The new subtitles on the Blu-ray changes this quite a bit to it being souls of people just like the English dub did. Sometimes attempting to make things more understandable for an American audience achieves the opposite result.
Speaking of souls, we next see a suicidal Japanese business man using the remaining stone idol as a step stool while improvising a noose to hang himself from a tree branch. The attempt to kill himself fails as the ground caves in under the idol and he ends up in a frozen cavern where the shadowy outline of another giant monster terrifies him.
Wait a second… is that? It is! I would recognize that scream anywhere! Yukijiro Hotaru who played Osako in the Gamera trilogy makes a memorable cameo as another character who simply cannot escape giant monsters.
A quick flurry of small scenes follow, depicting the loss of a helicopter investigating the fishing village, the press demanding answers, and a survivor being wheeled into a hospital. Drat, it is the annoying gal from the community center! Bet she doesn’t think the animal should be protected anymore…
The divergent subplots finally converge together when the admiral, Yuri, and Taneko meet with the younger ones explaining their theory about what’s going on. He balks at the idea because no Japanese soldier would attack Japan. In an interesting bit, the daughter explains to her father that many Asian and Americans died during the war and their spirits joined the Japanese ones.
Seismic detectors go off in Japan and something is moving at a high rate underground. Soon a monster on all fours pops out and Baragon is fully revealed. Attention to detail is one of the virtues of the movie with the birds fleeing the forest the kaiju is tromping through being an example. A note about Baragon: this is the least effective looking monster in the movie. The silly ears combined with the unnatural movement of a human on all fours in the suit are a let down compared to the others.
Time for the big ‘G’ himself to make his big entrance, which he does in a nearby harbor. The scene is all about one upping a similar sequence in Godzilla (1998) right down to making windows break with that titanic roar of his. Oh and keep a look out for a poster memorializing one of the cargo ships from Gojira.
This Godzilla design is very alligator like, especially in the head. Using an idea from the last Gamera film, the big lizard has demonic opaque white eyes. Muscular and massive compared to previous incarnations, he is more animal looking than the typical man in rubber suit. All in all, it is my favorite out of the sixty years of Godzilla wreaking havoc on the big screen.
Menacing and bestial, Godzilla wades ashore during the most effective special effects scenes of the movie. The compositing of man in suit with miniatures, real locations, and extras work very well in this rampage. A swift cut to a hospital room reveals the annoying island girl in traction, watching helplessly as the impossibly huge creature strides toward the hospital.
This is the stuff of childhood nightmares I recall having from watching Godzilla movies. The woman is helpless and screaming, unable to move as the unstoppable giant walks by. Realizing he has passed, she begins to pull herself together unaware this movie, like Godzilla, is taking no prisoners.
A man at a stoplight watches ‘G’ approach, paralyzed by the sight. This shot is very realistic looking and for a brief moment you glimpse what a serious modern Godzilla movie could be like. The juxtaposition of every day recognizable things with the monster gives you a great sense of scale while making the whole thing very plausible. It is a pity the whole movie wasn’t like this series of scenes.
At the intersection, one incredibly loud screaming woman annoys Godzilla enough that he turns to pick her out of the crowd. Unable to do so, we see those famous spines of his light up for the first time with the sound of electricity crackling through the air around them. In a wonderful new take on the iconic attack, the air is actually disturbed by the massive inhalation of the lizard and we see energy forming in the back of his cavernous maw.
Okay, why are we suddenly in an elementary school classroom? The teacher and her students seem unaware of anything bad. A flash of white light silently fills windows of the classroom and a long delayed rumble is heard. In the silence that follows, the children slowly begin to cry. The teacher turns to the windows… The atomic fears of the 1954 film finally enter the picture in dramatic fashion during the disturbing scene that belongs in a much more serious movie.
Quietly powerful, for a moment it channels the emotional tone of the 1954 film.
Another homage to the first film follows with a group of annoying tourists trying to get pictures of Baragon in the forests below them. One posing for a shot stops smiling and stares in fear at the mountain ridge above. Peek-a-boo!
The recreation of ‘G’s’ first full appearance ends dramatically when he plows through the hill rather than walking around it. Scratch a bunch of annoying tourists! It appears the director-writer is offing everybody he’s annoyed by in modern society. As a result, there is something truly cathartic about this movie.
At least for me, your mileage may vary.
Baragon then challenges Godzilla to a classic Toho monster fight. Smaller and scrappy, Baragon is completely out classed by ‘G’ and is thrown around repeatedly. The big lizard even puts the boot in as a hovering reporter broadcasts like it is a wrestling match. Of course, he pays for that. Humans are portrayed as helpless insects scurrying for their lives during the titanic struggle.
An upset Yuri begins to understand the cost in lives that is taking place, but continues to report with her handheld vidcam. Her eagerness to get the story nearly costs her life when the building she is in collapses from the battle. Knocked unconscious she doesn’t witness the rather pathetic death of Baragon.
At least that death is flashy. In a great special effects scene, we finally see Godzilla’s radioactive breath fully revealed. The swirling of leaves from trees as he inhales distorts the air then he vomits a devastating stream of energy. End result? One spectacular explosion.
Tributes to the original movie continue with a hospital scene reminiscent of the somber one in Gojira. Here Yuri gets a moment to display something other than ruthless ambition when she reassures a frightened young boy that the guardian beasts will save them. The glimpse of her softer side doesn’t last, however.
Soon she and Takeda argue over pursuing the story becoming too dangerous. His concern for her safety is angrily blown off and she manages to obtain a bicycle in the middle of the evacuation. With it and her video camera plugged into her cell phone, Yuri broadcasts live to the studio as she follows Godzilla. It is another Lois Lane moment for the would be reporter.
Night has fallen and the Japanese government finally decides to go on the offensive by sending jet fighters in. Strangely, they are flying Russian Su-35's rather than planes actually in service like the F-15J Eagle or F-4EJ Phantom. The planes appear to be all CGI and the night time attack is one of the better effects sequence in the movie.
Of course the attack fails. Jets can never beat Godzilla, you foolish humans.
Meanwhile, Ghidorah awakens from his frozen slumber while simultaneously Mothra hatches from the cocoon on the lake. The guardian monsters are finally loose to protect Japan. What appears to be just a crowd reaction shot focuses on two girls watching Mothra fly overhead. Obviously it is a nod to the twin fairies in those films. Not so obvious is that the actresses making the cameo are real life twins Ai and Aki Maeda from Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris.
At the same time, Admiral Tachibana finds out the big secret kept hidden for fifty years – that the JSDF didn’t defeat the big lizard in 1954. Instead it was a secret weapon that is now lost. Why the cover up? Fear that the public would insist on complete disarmament drove the decision.
The build up to the big showdown is well underway. Yuri has flashes of Ghidorah when she touches the strange stone, much like the girl in the Gamera movies by the director. As a result, she begins pleading on air for the military to leave the guardian monsters alone because they are there to save Japan. Her father is put in charge of the defense of Yokohama and the drill warheads are deployed on land and sea base missiles.
Can a giant moth stop a giant radioactive lizard fueled by the spirits of countless angry dead people? Will Ghidorah, the 1000 Year Dragon, be too immature to take on Godzilla? Do the humans have any say in what happens? Can Yuri make her strange boss happy?
While I really like this entry into the Godzilla mythos, it is plagued by having way too many things going on and feels very overstuffed. To its credit, there is more character development in it than the 26 other sequels combined. Every actor gets their little moment to shine and even the minor characters are interesting, which is not a surprise after seeing the director’s previous movies.
I have to wonder if there was more studio control of the movie and whether Kaneko had more creative control in the Gamera trilogy. After the extraordinary third film of that reboot, this film is a definite comedown. Of course, it could be that this was clearly aimed at kids while those films were aimed at an older audience, which is a reversal of the original situation between the franchises.
No matter what, the movie is a tribute to all that has gone before it. Multiple scenes pay tribute to events of Gojira while many a shot is a homage to one from later films. In lesser hands this would lead to a confusing mess, but Kaneko showed both deftness and cleverness in executing the production. Particularly impressive is the editing with short cuts showing mundane tasks such as boiling ramen or fussing over hair lending realism to the characters during the kaiju free scenes.
There are multiple themes intertwined throughout the movie, from Japanese guilt over WWII to corrupt politicians to out of control youth to the decline of the culture. As I’ve mentioned before, the director seems to delight in creatively killing annoying people and in a way it reminds me of the Id monster in Forbidden Planet. In this case, the kaiju get to replace the director and we get to have snarky fun watching the carnage.
It isn’t often responsibility for the suffering in the Pacific during WWII is taken by Japanese, so it is rather extraordinary to see it in a Godzilla film of all things. This is quite a shift from the original movie’s fear of America and, to a certain degree, self pity.
Spirituality is also involved that lends a sense of wonder to the film which is unique in the series. The father and daughter relationship is another subtheme worth paying attention to and subtly reinforces the need for family. More on that in the spoilers.
The effects are a mixed bag with the rubber suits being the weakest part. But some of the scenes are top notch and compare to the best CGI of the time. Here and there CGI is used for the monsters with the unfortunate side effect of showing how really limited the suits have become. That said, this Godzilla suit one the best of all time thanks to the expressiveness of the animatronics and the more animalistic design.
Worth mentioning is the very different score by Ko Ohtani. Incorporating electronica with motifs from Mothra’s theme, it has a kinetic feel that suits the movie well while sounding totally different than anything heard in the series before.
Recommended for most everyone despite being Not Rated. If I were to rate it myself, it would be PG, due to mild oaths, monster gore, and some blood in the makeshift hospital scene and final battle. Be warned that the new Blu-ray subtitles have the F-word for the first and only time in a Godzilla movie. Other than that, it is suitable for kids around six and up especially in the English dub, with parental guidance of course.
After watching all the films of the franchise, I believe Godzilla: GMK is the only one other than the original and 2014 American version that will appeal to non fans. There is plenty of action for the kiddies and sly satire mixed with social commentary for the adults. It also has a dose of Asian spiritualism in it that some will find interesting.
It’s become my favorite out of the whole series.
After finally acquiring the US DVD release by Columbia/Tristar, I suspect the Hong Kong DVD was a well packaged pirate. With the better copy in hand, I can give the specs while wishing for a Blu-ray release.
And in September of 2014, my wish was granted. Alas, it is one of those be careful what you wish for kind of outcomes. More on that in a bit.
The DVD claims to be remastered in High Definition, but there are hairs, scratches, and specks to be seen in the picture. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture is pretty good otherwise. One thing that irks is the hard encoded overlays of titles for the release.
Video quality on the Sony Pictures Blu-ray release (paired with Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla) is a supreme disappointment. There is very little improvement over the DVD issued ten years before thanks to extreme DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) that removed most of the film grain and detail along with it. The end result looks very soft, but not quite to the level of old videotape. At least scratches and dirt present on the DVD are gone for this 1080p version.
Color saturation is quite good and the contrast is a marked improvement over the DVD release, so not all is bad news. On the DVD transfer, some of the night scenes were way too light with blacks being gray or blue, not so on the BD. Underwater scenes are no longer murky and the outdoors shots fare the best even if few are a little blown in exposure to use a photographic term. Oddly, all the indoor shots suffer more from the aggressive DNR.
Audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital in both Japanese and English. The dub is tolerable, but suffers from some badly miscast voice actors. Especially jarring is the Admiral’s English voice actor, who sounds far too young and weak for the part. Subtitles are available in English and French.
The English subs are problematic in the North American DVD release. Many lines of dialogue aren’t translated and others badly translated. Much of this is rectified for the Blu-ray, although it is of the “dub titling” school of using the script from the dub. As noted before, there is a critical difference where the F-bomb is inserted in the new subs. It isn’t present in the dub, which retains the same completely wrong word that has the opposite meaning.
Trust me, you’ll understand when you see the scene.
Sound effects are excellent and surround is effectively used. When the delayed thump of the mushroom cloud explosion is heard, it is properly channeled to the subwoofer. There are some drop outs of background sounds in the dub, however.
The Blu-ray audio has the same strengths and weaknesses, with a few exceptions. DTS-HD Master Audio is used for both languages, yet the English track really shows its inferiority more thanks to the pristine audio. I will go out on a limb and say the Japanese track is one of the best mixed surround sound experiences you’ll ever hear on a home theater setup.
Everything is placed where it should be on the speakers, perfect for all the combat and even for the mundane scenes. People and vehicles move around the speakers just as they do on screen, something small that is often overlooked in mixes. When Godzilla powers up, the electrical arcing sound effect is superb thanks to the better range of the uncompressed DTS-HD.
What really impressed was the restrained use of the subwoofer. Unlike current blockbusters that relentlessly employ deep bass, it is used precisely for proper effect. Hard to describe as it has to be heard to be appreciated.
Thanks to the incrementally improved video, the Blu-ray is only an upgrade for those who have a quality home theater setup or a player that does a bad job at scaling up DVD’s on an HDTV. It is easier and cheaper to find than the DVD, however. Plus you get another movie at the same time, so that must be taken into consideration.
Extras for both releases are nonexistent aside from the original Japanese theatrical trailer. However, you do get a code for the UltraViolet streaming version of the movie. Being one of the few services that has worked for me, UV basically gives you a backup in the cloud that you can stream to portable devices such as tablets and smart phones.
Oh and lest I forget, they have the wrong version of the big G on the menu screen of the BD!
BEWARE! HERE BE SPOILERS!!
The final battle is a long one that drags on for a good amount of time, in fact taking up nearly twenty minutes of the 105 minute running time. Mothra is fairly useless, if heroic, throughout and Ghidora is not much better. Smaller than the big ‘G’, the immature kaiju’s three heads function like stun guns by delivering jolts of electricity through biting. Godzilla is unimpressed and beats the dragon senseless.
The sacrifice of Mothra creates King Ghidorah and he fights Godzilla as an equal. Well, not really. The CGI version of the dragon makes the suit suspended on wires look very bad due to the limitations on the size of the wings that could be put on the suit.
Yuri truly does become the Japanese Lois Lane when the bridge she and Takeda are on is brought down by a stray blast from Godzilla. Dangling in peril is so much like the comic book character that it brought a smile to my face. Unfortunately for her, there is no Superman to save the plucky gal.
Luckily for her, the mystic bond with King Ghidorah does does prevent her death in another nod to the ‘90s Gamera flicks.
After much weirdness, the guardian monsters are out of the picture, though their spirits fight on. The idea of taking the minisub down Godzilla’s gullet has to be either the most ridiculous or brilliant tactic seen in a kaiju movie. There is simply no in-between. The drill warhead finally gets its big payoff when it is fired from within and blows a hole in the side of ‘G’s neck.
Tis a flesh wound! Just like Monty Python’s Black Knight, Godzilla has no clue when he should just quit. First he powers up to rid the world of tabloid reporters and instead blows a bigger hole in his neck. Proving he indeed has a walnut sized brain, Godzilla does it again and collapses into the harbor. Another attempt demonstrates why dinosaurs went extinct.
They were too stupid to live.
Some of the better moments come at the end of the film and feature the relationship between the two Tachibana’s. When knocked unconscious after being swallowed by Godzilla, the Admiral is awakened by a vision of his daughter encouraging him on. Later on, after reuniting, he will not let her near him due to fears of radiation contamination.
Remember when she sarcastically saluted him when drunk? Here she follows through while fighting back tears as she gives him respect. Ever the noble warrior, he is embarrassed by this and has her salute those who gave their lives to kill the monster.
I liked the relationship between the two and it felt natural for the most part. Kaneko does not shy away from having independent and intelligent female leads and Yuri is a exemplifies this.
The final scene of the beating heart amused me, it was such a horror movie ending and that is the genre that got the director started. Another nice was hearing the complete original theme from 1954 as the credits rolled.