This was the last Godzilla film made in the Shōwa period (although it is not considered to be part of the Showa series of Godzilla films) and the first in the "VS Series" of Godzilla films (sometimes called the "Heisei Series" due to the near-coincidence of its beginning with that of the Heisei era in Japan). It was Tanaka's intent to restore the darker themes and mood of the early films in the series. To this end The Return of Godzilla disregards all previous Godzilla films except 1954's Godzilla, to which it is a direct sequel. It features the lengthiest debate over the use of nuclear weapons in any Godzilla film (making reference to former Prime Minister Satō's Three Non-Nuclear Principles) and is only the third to depict innocent people being killed by the monster(s).
This film takes place 30 years after the death of the original Godzilla in 1954. A Japanese fishing vessel is trying to find its way to shore in a horrible storm while near an uninhabited island, when a giant monster appears and attacks the boat. The next morning, reporter Goro Maki finds the vessel intact but deserted as he explores the vessel, he finds all the crew dead except for one young man called Hiroshi Okumura, who has been badly wounded. Suddenly a giant sea louse attacks but is eventually killed with some difficulty.
In Tokyo, Okumura realizes by looking at pictures that the monster he saw was Godzilla. However the news of Godzilla's return is kept secret to avoid panic until Godzilla attacks a second time and destroys a Soviet submarine. However, the Russians believe the attack was orchestrated by the Americans, and a diplomatic crisis ensues which threatens to escalate into war. The Japanese intervene and finally announce that Godzilla was behind the attack. The Japanese arrange a meeting with the Russian and American ambassadors and, after some debate over the issue, Prime Minister Mitamura decides nuclear weapons will not be used on Godzilla even if he were to attack the Japanese mainland, an announcement that the Russians can't come to terms with. The JSDF are put on alert and search for Godzilla.
Soon, Godzilla appears on an island off the coast of Japan, determined to feed off a nuclear power plant there. When Godzilla attacks the facility and feeds off the reactor, he is distracted by a flock of birds, and leaves the facility almost as quickly as he arrived. Okumura and his friends realize that Godzilla reacts to the signal the birds produce and Professor Hayashida decides to use this method to lure Godzilla away from Tokyo. Meanwhile, the Russians have their own plans to counter the threat posed by Godzilla, and a Russian control ship disguised as a freighter in Tokyo Harbor prepares to launch a nuclear missile from one of their orbiting satellites should Godzilla attack.
Godzilla is later sighted at Tokyo Bay, forcing mass evacuations out of the city and a state of emergency is declared. The JSDF attacks Godzilla with fighter jets, but their missiles are useless against him. Godzilla then proceeds to the coast, where the waiting army, equipped with tanks, rocket launchers and soldiers armed with assault rifles, proceeds to fire on Godzilla, but they are quickly subdued. Meanwhile, one of the crew-members aboard the damaged Russian vessel activates the missile or tries to deactivate it (depending on the film version), which is set for a countdown, before succumbing to his injuries. Godzilla then proceeds towards Tokyo's business district, wreaking havoc along the way. There, he is confronted by 2 laser-armed trucks and the Super X, a piloted craft constructed in secret to defend Tokyo in case of emergency, in particular a nuclear attack.
Godzilla has a bad reaction to the Cadmium shells that are fired into his mouth by the Super X, and falls down unconscious. Unfortunately, the city is faced with a greater threat when the countdown ends and the Russian missile is launched from the satellite, leaving the Japanese government and people helpless to stop it. However, the Americans intervene and shoot down the missile with one of theirs before it can hit Tokyo. Unfortunately, the atmospheric nuclear blast creates an electrical storm, which revives Godzilla once more.
Godzilla has a final battle with the Super X, eventually damaging the aircraft and forcing it to make an emergency landing where he destroys it by toppling a building on it. Godzilla continues his rampage, until Professor Hayashida is successful with his invention and uses the bird call device to distract him. Godzilla leaves Tokyo and swims across the Japanese sea to volcanic Mt. Mihara, where he notices the signal device which fascinates him. As he walks towards it, he falls into the mouth of a volcano where he is surrounded by bombs, which are detonated by Okumura, thus creating a controlled volcanic eruption that traps Godzilla.
Everyone watches Godzilla as the ground beneath him crumbles and he falls into the lava, his fate unknown.
- Kenpachiro Satsuma ............... Godzilla
- Ken Tanaka ............... Goro Maki
- Yasuko Sawaguchi ............... Naoko Okumura
- Shin Takuma ............... Hiroshi Okumura
- Yosuke Natsuki ............... Professor Hayashida
- Keiji Kobayashi ............... Prime Minister Mitamura
- Eitarô Ozawa ............... Finance Minister Kanzaki
- Taketoshi Naitô ............... Cabinet Secretary Takegami
- Mizuho Suzuki ............... Foreign Minister Emori
- Junkichi Orimoto ............... Defense Agency Director
- Hiroshi Koizumi ............... Dr. Minami
- Kei Sato ............... Gondo
- Takenori Emoto ............... Kitagawa
- Luke Johnson ............... Colonel Kashirin
- Sho Hashimoto ............... Super X Captain
- Kenji Fukuda ............... Super X Lieutenant
- Alexander Kailis ............... Soviet Ambassador Chevsky
- Walter Nicholas ............... U.S. Ambassador Rosenberg
- Yoshifumi Tajima ............... Environmental Director Hidaka
- Shigeo Kato ............... Ship Captain
- Koji Ishizaki ............... Power Plant Guard
- Tetsuya Takeda ............... Bum
Cast (U.S. Version)
- Raymond Burr ............... Steven Martin
- Warren J. Kemmerling ............... General Goodhoe
- James Hess ............... Colonel Raschen
- Travis Swords ............... Major McDonough
- Crawford Binion ............... Lieutenant
- Justin Gocke ............... Kyle
The Return of Godzilla was a reasonable success in Japan, with attendance figures at approximately 3,200,000 and the box office gross being approximately $11 million (the film's budget was $6.25 million). In terms of total attendance, it was the most popular Godzilla film since 1966's Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster.
- Veteran Akihiko Hirata (who appeared in several past Godzilla films, the best known of his roles of which is Professor Daisuke Serizawa from Godzilla) was slated to play Professor Hayashida, but he had died from throat cancer before production began. Yosuke Natsuki, another veteran, took the role instead.
- The screenplay was first written 1980, but as an entirely different film. Godzilla was to fight a shape-shifting kaiju named Bagan, and the Super X played a much smaller role. Among the SDF weapons in this script never made it to the big screen were the "Water Beetle" (an underwater mecha) and the "Giant Basu" (which is equipped with a giant arm to capture submarines.)
- Stuntman Kenpachiro Satsuma (who previously played Hedorah and Gigan in Godzilla vs. Hedorah and Godzilla vs. Gigan) plays Godzilla for the first time, as a replacement for another stuntman who backed out at the last minute. Aside from being heavy, the suit was very dangerous (it was not only built from the outside in, but not made to fit him), and Satsuma lost a lot of weight after filming was done. This mildly mirrored what Haruo Nakajima went through when he played Godzilla in the original 1954 film. Subsequent Godzilla suits worn by Satsuma were much safer and more comfortable, as they were custom made to fit him (even though the suits still had some dangers of their own).
- The incredibly un-lifelike animatronic Godzilla prop used in close-up shots is the 20-foot "Cybot Godzilla." It was heavily touted in the publicity department at the time, even though it was not used in the film as extensively as promoted. Many of the complaints about the special affects revolve around how abysmal this puppet looks and moves. A full-size replica of Godzilla's foot was also built, but all of the scenes in which it is used were removed from the American version (the sole exception being a shot of the foot crushing a row of parked cars during the attack on the nuclear power plant).
- Teroyushi Nakano, who had worked on the special effects for Godzilla's adventures since 1971, provides his final contribution to the series in The Return of Godzilla. Reportedly, Nakano considered the effects for this film to be his best work in the genre.
- In the American version of the film, a model of Gojulas, a Godzilla-like mecha from the Zoids model line, makes a brief appearance as a child's toy.
- Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka offered Ishiro Honda a chance to direct this film, but he strongly rejected the offer, because of what came of Godzilla in the 1970s.
- This film,along with Godzilla vs Biollante, is the only Godzilla film in the 1980's.
- In another, more subliminal, similarity to the original film, The Return of Godzilla contains an eerie sense of "poetic justice": In the 1950's, a 50 meter tall Godzilla attacks Japan, and in the 1980's (30 years later) an 80 meter tall (30 meters taller then before) Godzilla returns during the height of the Cold War.
After acquiring The Return of Godzilla for distribution in North America the company changed the title to Godzilla 1985. New World Pictures radically re-edited the film. Most significantly, they added around ten minutes of new footage, most of it at the Pentagon, with Raymond Burr reprising his role from Godzilla, King of the Monsters!. These scenes added little to the plot, and were at times rather insulting to intended subject matter. (As the officials in the Pentagon watch Godzilla rampage through Tokyo, destroying infrastructure and killing innocent civilians, one character intones "That's quite an urban renewal program they've got going on over there".) In addition, the scenes are often unintentionally funny for their gratuitous nature, the blatant Dr Pepper product placements, and for the outright pessimism of Burr's character ("General, I hope you succeed...but whatever happens...Godzilla will live").
New World's changes were not limited to these scenes. Much of the original version was deleted or altered. A partial list of the changes:
- Shortened and altered: Godzilla roars and the crew fell whereas we see Steven Martin after Godzilla roars.
- Shortened: Goro's fight with the mutated sea louse (an admittedly wise decision on New World's part); the louse's voice was also changed.
- Deleted: Goro calling his editor from an island.
- Deleted: Professor Hayashida showing Okumura photographs of Godzilla's 1954 attack and later discussing the mutant sea lice with an aide at the police hospital.
- Shortened: The scene where Naoko learns her brother is alive; Goro snaps pictures of them reunited, which angers Naoko because she realizes he only helped her in order to get the scoop.
- Shortened: The meeting between the Japanese prime minister and the Russian and American ambassadors. Also deleted was a scene after the meeting in which the prime minister explains to his aides how he was able to reach a consensus with both sides. Furthermore, this scene appears before Godzilla's attack on the nuclear power plant in the American version, whereas in the Japanese version it appears afterwords.
- Deleted: Hayashada and Naoko making a wave generator.
- Altered: Godzilla's first attack on the nuclear power plant.
- Added: Part of Christopher Young's score from Def Con 4 in several scenes (including Godzilla's attack on the Soviet submarine, the scene where the SDF armored division arrives in Tokyo Bay, and Okumura's near-death experience during the helicopter extraction in Tokyo).
- Deleted: A shot of an American nuclear missile satellite in space (probably done in order to make America appear less aggressive).
- Altered: Almost all of Godzilla's rampage through Tokyo. Scenes of a crowd fleeing Godzilla that appeared later in the Japanese print were moved to an earlier point in the movie (and corresponding footage of them gathering around Godzilla after he is knocked out by the Super X was removed), the Super X fight was re-arranged (in the Japanese version, Godzilla fires his death ray at the Super X after being hit with cadmium missiles, not before), and various other scenes of destruction were either placed in a different order or deleted completely. Some fans were particularly upset by the removal of a shot showing Godzilla reflected in the windows of a large skyscraper during the scene in which he attacks the Bullet Train.
- Deleted: All shots which employed a life-size replica of Godzilla's foot (mostly seen near the end); only one shot of the big foot crushing parked cars during the nuclear power plant scene was kept.
The most controversial change was the scene where the Russian submarine officer Colonel Kashirin valiantly attempts to stop the launch of a nuclear weapon. New World edited the scene (and added a brief shot of Kashirin pressing the launch button) so that Kashirin actually launches the nuclear weapon.
In addition, the theatrical release (and most home video versions) was accompanied by Marv Newland's short cartoon, Bambi Meets Godzilla.
The American version, even with the added Raymond Burr footage, only runs 87 minutes - 16 minutes shorter than the Japanese print.
It is interesting to note that Raymond Burr's character is never referred to by his full name, only as "Martin" or "Mr. Martin", for the entirety of the U.S. version (the end credits list him as "Steven Martin"). This was to avoid association with comedian Steve Martin, who had begun to become quite popular around the time this film was released in America.
The closing narration (spoken by Raymond Burr) is as follows:
- Nature has a way sometimes of reminding man of just how small he is. She occasionally throws up the terrible offspring of our pride and carelessness to remind us of how puny we really are in the face of a tornado, an earthquake or a Godzilla. The reckless ambitions of man are often dwarfed by their dangerous consequences. For now, Godzilla, that strangely innocent and tragic monster, has gone to earth. Whether he returns or not or is never again seen by human eyes, the things he has taught us remain.
The New World version of the film was almost universally lambasted by North American critics, receiving only a 13% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 8 reviews. Roger Ebert, who gave the film a mere one star in the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote:
"The filmmakers must have known that the original Godzilla (1956) had many loyal fans all over the world who treasured the absurd dialogue, the bad lip-synchronizing, the unbelievable special effects, the phony profundity. So they have deliberately gone after the same inept feeling in Godzilla 1985. Examples: Dialogue: Is so consistently bad that the entire screenplay could be submitted as an example. My favorite moment occurs when the hero and heroine are clutching each other on a top floor of a skyscraper being torn apart by Godzilla and the professor leaps into the shot, says "What has happened here?" and leaps out again without waiting for an answer. Lip-synchronizing: Especially in the opening shots, there seems to be a subtle effort to exaggerate the bad coordination between what we see and what we hear. All lip-sync is a little off, of course, but this movie seems to be going for condescending laughs from knowledgeable film-goers. Special effects: When Godzilla marches on Tokyo, the buildings are the usual fake miniature models, made out of paint and cardboard. The tip off is when he rips a wall off a high-rise, and nothing falls out. That's because there is nothing inside."
Vincent Canby of the New York Times, who had given a positive review to Godzilla vs. Megalon of all things nine years earlier, was similarly unimpressed:
"Though special-effects experts in Japan and around the world have vastly improved their craft in the last 30 years, you wouldn't know it from this film. Godzilla, who is supposed to be about 240 feet tall, still looks like a wind-up toy, one that moves like an arthritic toddler with a fondness for walking through teeny-tiny skyscrapers instead of mud puddles. Godzilla 1985 was shot in color but its sensibility is that of the black-and-white Godzilla films of the 1950s. What small story there is contains a chaste romance and lots of references to the lessons to be learned from "this strangely innocent but tragic creature." The point seems to be that Godzilla, being a "living nuclear bomb," something that cannot be destroyed, must rise up from time to time to remind us of the precariousness of our existence. One can learn the same lesson almost any day on almost any New York street corner."
One of the few positive reviews came from Joel Siegel of Good Morning America, who is quoted on New World's newspaper ads as saying, "Hysterical fun...the best Godzilla in thirty years!"
Box Office and business
Given the scathing reviews and the American public's apathy towards films with men in rubber monster suits, it should be no surprise that Godzilla 1985 failed to ignite the North American box office. Opening on August 23, 1985, in 235 North American theaters, the film grossed $509,502 USD ($2,168 per screen) in its opening weekend, on its way to a lackluster $4,116,395 total gross.
New World's budget breakdown for Godzilla 1985 is as follows: $500,000 to lease the film from Toho, $200,000 for filming the new scenes and other revisions, and $2,500,000 for prints and advertising, adding up to a grand total of approximately $3,200,000. Taking this in consideration, Godzilla 1985, though not a hit, proved to be profitable for New World - a profit that would increase with home video and television revenue (the film debuted on television with a reasonable amount of fanfare on May 16, 1986).
Godzilla 1985 was the last Japanese-made Godzilla film to play in American theaters until Godzilla 2000 fifteen years later.
- There are currently no plans to release Godzilla 1985 on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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