Godzilla vs. Biolante (1989) Godzilla vs. Biolante/Gojira tai Biorante (1989/1992) ***

     A new and previously all-but-unimagined element enters the series with Godzilla vs. Biolante/Gojira tai Biorante-- continuity between one film and the next. With the old Godzilla movies, it is possible to skip around through the series with wild abandon, secure in the knowledge that few of the fifteen films require any familiarity with the events of any other in order to make sense. A couple of details might confuse you if you watch the series this way, but on the other hand, a couple of other details, particularly those relating to which monsters are allies and which are enemies, actually make more sense if you arenít familiar with earlier films. With the Heisei movies, on the other hand, watching them out of order is asking for a headache. For the first time, we unambiguously have characters who reappear for several movies at a stretch, and even something that resembles a single, unified story arc. (But only something that resembles one. Just you try reconciling the events of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah with those of Godzilla vs. Destroyer [or, for that matter, with those of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah!], and youíll see what I mean.) This turns out to be something of a two-edged sword for the series. On the positive side, it serves notice that Toho has turned its back on the sort of foolishness that caused Godzilla vs. Megalon (though I must admit that I actually like that undeniable piece of shit) and has returned to the more sober interpretation of Godzilla that informed the earliest installments in the series. Then again, it also cues us to take the new movies as seriously as their creators did, imposing a burden which most of these films are frankly unable to bear. Of the Heisei Godzillas that Iíve seen, Godzilla vs. Biolante certainly performs the best in this respect. It has a complex story that is not hobbled by glaring internal contradictions, its characters, though sketchy, are at least well enough differentiated that I did not have to spend half the time trying to figure out who was who (this would become a real problem later on), and while its plot does suffer from several bewildering non-sequiturs, the problem isnít severe enough to tear the story apart from the inside out (again, that would come with later movies).

     You do have to stay on your toes and pay attention, though. See if you can follow me. The movie picks up more or less where Godzilla 1985/Gojira 1984 left off, with Godzilla plunging into an active volcano after smashing Tokyoís financial district. In the aftermath, what turn out to be three separate, competing groups are combing the wreckage of the city for any scraps of tissue Godzilla may have left behind on any sharp pieces of rubble. Unlike the movie, Iím going to be nice to you and explain who all of these people are and what they all want up front; otherwise, it would take as long to read this review as it would to watch the movie, and none of us wants that. The Japanese military wants some of Godzillaís cells for use in an experimental bio-weapon intended to destroy him should he manage to find his way out of that volcano. An evil American corporation (youíll rapidly get used to seeing those in the Heisei movies) called Biomajor wants to keep anyone else from getting their hands on tissue samples from Godzilla so that they will have an easier time monopolizing the emerging biotech market. A secret agent from the imaginary Middle-Eastern country of Saradia wants a piece of Godzilla so that his countryís own biotech industry can solve Saradiaís chronic food-shortage problem by creating a form of grain so hardy that it can be grown even in the most inhospitable of deserts. The gist of this scene is as follows: Biomajorís agents find a tissue sample. The Japanese Army then spots them, and chases them through the wreckage. (This doesnít go very well for the army. Two guys from Biomajor manage to kill at least two dozen soldiers in the process of escaping unharmed with their prize.) Finally, the Saradian spy sneaks up on the Americans, shoots them dead, and takes their tissue sample back to his home country. We then learn that back in Saradia, an exiled Japanese geneticist named Shiragami (Koji Takahashi) has been commissioned to head up the super-wheat project. Before he can get started, though, thugs from Biomajor blow up his laboratory, killing his daughter, Erica (Yasuko Sawaguchi, somewhat confusingly returning as a different character from the one she played in the previous film), in the process.

     Five years pass, and Shiragami is now back in Japan. He still works in the biotech field, but he has scrupulously avoided involving himself in the kind of controversial projects that got him essentially hounded out of Japan all those years ago. His main work now is an unusual personal project involving a genetically engineered rose. When we next see Shiragami, he is talking to a female scientist named Asuko (Yoshiko Tanaka, from Ring 0: Birthday) about hiring one of her colleagues to assist him. He is particularly interested in another young woman named Miki Saegusa (Princess from the Moonís Megumi Odaka), Asukoís most talented protege. Just what do Asuko and Miki do, you ask? Why, theyíre psychics, of course, employed by a government-sponsored lab that rather resembles a less sinister version of the Shop from Firestarter. Shiragami wants Miki because of her ability to read the bio-energy of plants; he wants her to talk to his rose, you see. Now, thatís pretty bizarre in and of itself, but wait-- it gets even weirder. The reason that Shiragami wants to talk to his rose is that its DNA is an amalgamation of ordinary rose DNA and genes from Shiragamiís dead daughter!!!! Shiragami thinks that Ericaís spirit now inhabits the rose, and thatís why he wants to have a psychic try to make contact with it.

     Meanwhile, it turns out that the main thrust of Asukoís program is the development of a corps of psychics to help the authorities predict and deal with visits from Godzilla! This is actually one of three irons the Japanese government has in that particular fire. The second is the Super-X2, a new, unmanned version of the supremely dopey super-weapon from Godzilla 1985. The Super-X2 is larger, faster, and more heavily armored than its predecessor, and as its ace in the hole, it is equipped with something called a Fire Mirror, an array of synthetic diamonds designed to absorb and reflect Godzillaís atomic breath back at him. The third project relates to that Godzilla tissue the army was looking for back in the first scene. The government has hired a Japanese biotech corporation (like Biomajor, only less evil) to genetically engineer a strain of bacteria that eat nuclear energy the way Godzilla does, the idea being that an infection with this sort of bacteria would make the big lizard very sick indeed. The only problem is that the Japanese firmís scientists just arenít good enough; they need Shiragami. Shiragami refuses at first. After the death of Erica, he swore he would stay far away from any Godzilla-related projects. What changes his mind is the fact that something (I never quite figured out what) has happened to his rose. Itís dying for some reason, and Shiragami figures that the best way to save it would be to infuse it with genetic material from Godzilla, the nearest thing to an indestructible organism that anyone knows of.

     Youíll notice that I havenít really said anything about any monsters yet. Fortunately, thatís about to change. Through a process thatís a little too complicated to explain, Godzilla ends up being freed from his volcanic tomb by agents of Biomajor, who had intended to blackmail Japan into handing over all of its Godzilla tissue samples. While Godzilla starts blowing shit up (his battle against the Japanese navy is one of the coolest things that have ever happened in a Godzilla movie), Shiragamiís rose starts mutating into something that rather defies description. Try to picture a huge, conical mass of plant matter, surmounted by a 50-foot rose blossom and surrounded by tendrils with Venus flytrap ďmouthsĒ on the ends. This is Biolante. Godzilla seeks the new creature out (Miki says it was calling him) and apparently destroys it without much fanfare. Then he goes back to smashing Japan.

     This next part of the movie sort of reminds me of Gamera vs. Barugon/ War of the Monsters/Daikaiju Ketto: Gamera tai Barugon, because of the sheer number of gimmicky strategies that are deployed against Godzilla. Godzilla fights the Super-X2 twice (with results that suggest the military should have stuck to the original design), has some kind of psychic arm-wrestling match with Miki (Godzilla wins), and finally gets himself shot up with that anti-nuke bacteria, which fails to affect him, apparently because his body temperature is too low for the bacteria to reproduce. But there is yet a fourth gimmick up the governmentís sleeve, a device called the Thunder Control system, which somehow generates heat by creating artificial thunderstorms (you got me...). The idea is to raise Godzillaís body temperature enough to let the bacteria work. Finally, Biolante returns (I still havenít figured out how), in a new and more powerful form, to fight Godzilla in the middle of the Thunder Control machineís storm.

     Like I said, this one requires your undivided attention. I stand by my contention that Godzilla vs. Biolante hangs together better than most of its successors, but itís still pretty easy to get lost. It also suffers from some pretty bad dubbing, though that dubbing is bad in an interesting way. It was when I watched this movie for the first time that I finally understood why the characters in so many Japanese films Iíve seen that were dubbed by Japanese firms all sound like John Wayne. At first, I had thought that it was because they all used the same pool of bad voice actors, but after seeing this movie, I realized that there was more to it than that. These people are trying to talk with American accents! Itís fascinating to me to think that, to Japanese ears, this is what we sound like. Whatever its faults, though, Godzilla vs. Biolante represents a gigantic advance over Godzilla 1985. In addition to all of the improvements in characterization and story flow, the purely technical elements of this movie all work much better. To begin with, Godzilla vs. Biolante resurrects Akira Ifukubeís most memorable themes from Godzilla: King of the Monsters/Gojira, dispensing with all the crappy cues stolen from better movies that passed for the last filmís score. Secondly, the special effects are more consistent, and their best moments are even better. Finally, thereís the new Godzilla suit. Itís a bit too stiff, but itís fucking cool, and far better suited to Godzillaís new/old personality than the Muppet-faced embarrassment we had the last time around. This is probably the most dangerous looking Godzilla since the original, and itís only fitting that it would set the pattern for all of the subsequent Godzilla suits up to and including that of Godzilla vs. Destroyer.



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