This is Part 6 of a retrospect of the Millennium Godzilla series. To read previous chapters, click below:
"There will be another Godzilla movie, but it may come from the next generation and be completely new... something beyond the current age ... Maybe there is someone out there who is just a child now who will grow up and create the next Godzilla. Or maybe it will be an international production with an American director, a Japanese producer, and a Chinese actor." - Producer Shogo Tomiyama. (15)
On December 13th, 2003, the day Godzilla: Tokyo SOS was released, Toho announced plans for Godzilla's 50th Anniversary picture. Tentatively titled The Godzilla, it was finishing pre-production in mid-December. (1) It was assumed that the next movie might be a sequel to Tokyo SOS, finally pitting Godzilla against another Godzilla, but that was never the case. Producer Shogo Tomiyama, who was promoted to President of Toho by April, 2004, stated that Tokyo SOS would complete Tezuka's Kiryu Saga. The next film would go in a new direction. (1)(2)(3)(30) "We have done all we can to showcase Godzilla, including using computer-graphics technology. And yet we haven't attracted new fans,” Tomiyama reflected. "So we will make the 50th anniversary film something special, a best-of-the-best, and then end it for now." When Toho passed on director Masaaki Tezuka's commemorative story treatment, the question was who did they grab for Godzilla's five decade celebration? (4)
Ryuhei Kitamura was the hot, young talent that had been making waves in Japan. An outlaw of Japanese cinema, a young Kitamura would skip classes to indulge in 1970s movies. At seventeen he dropped out of high school to study film in Australia. (5)(6) After the highly irregular independent film Versus (1999), he continued a resume of both ponderous and kinetic entries, such as Alive (2002) and Aragami (2003). When he impressed Toho with 2003's Japanese Academy Award winning Azumi, he became one of the most sought after directors in Japan. In May, 2003 he got the call from Tomiyama. (14)Understandably, Kitamura's enthusiasm for the Godzilla series has been met with skepticism. On the one hand he seemed to have a shining admiration for the 1970s. “I loved the Godzilla movies back in the ’70s,” he beamed. “Godzilla movies back in the ’70s were never just monster movies… There were always messages and themes that reflected the time and world within which they were made, and they combined this so well with straight-out entertainment.” (5) He cited Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (1974) as a favorite and called the offer to direct the series' “final” movie a, “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” (6)(5)
However, his opinion of anything Tomiyama had produced was less than stellar. “They were great back in the day, but after the 80s, they're all s***,” Kitamura criticized. “You guys forget to update and you just keep doing the same thing again and again.” (7) Tomiyama acknowledged that he had “made mistakes” and booked Kitamura to do something unique for the final curtain. (8) Kitamura was also harsh on the franchise's targeting of children. “The last three or four Godzilla films have been shown with children's animation. Why would anyone want to go see a Godzilla movie if it was being shown alongside a little mouse cartoon?” Although Kitamura's observation about the Hamtaru pairing (with Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack "GMK" , Godzilla x MechaGodzilla  and Godzilla: Tokyo SOS) may have been on point, his desire to make a movie like the 1970s contradicted his own words. From 1969 through 1975, Godzilla movies were produced for a children's film festival known as Toho's Champion Festival—They were shown alongside short films, many of which were animated. (9)
It would eventually be read that Kitamura's appraisal of older Godzilla movies was sardonic. “Only the first one [Godzilla (1954)], that was a masterpiece and that was something different,” Kitamura stated, “but after that, back in the ’70s, Godzilla had lots of fun in it, very stupid things and funny things.” (8) He's not entirely wrong, but his contemporaries had historically been more endearing and analytical toward the series and its weaknesses. Some film historians have found Kitamura's criticisms of the series contemptuous and disrespectful. (11) Regardless of what he really felt or feels about the series, he was convinced he would make a great film. His goal was for young men to tell their girlfriends, “'Hey, this time Godzilla looks cool. Let's check it out.'" (7)Kitamura's original story treatment, seemingly inspired by Con Air (1997), was about a group of convicts that find themselves on Godzilla's bad side. (14) “It was interesting, but everybody ignored that story,” Kitamura laughed. While he was directing Sky High (2003), Tomiyama put Wataru Mimura (Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II , Godzilla 2000 , Godzilla x MechaGodzilla) to work on another story treatment. Mimura had been penning The Godzilla for close to a year before Kitamura came to work on the film. When the two finally met, the partnership proved difficult. (6)(12) “I guess it was not easy for him to work with me,” Wataru recalled. “We had not known each other before.” (12)
When Kitamura finally joined the production eight monsters had been chosen for the epic--He turned his nose up at the number. “Why just eight? We need more—What is the record?” (6)(14) Destroy All Monsters (1969) held the record with eleven kaiju. Aiming to top it, figurines of prior Godzilla adversaries were placed on a table for Kitamura, Tomiyama, Mimura and special effects director Eiichi Asada (Godzilla: Tokyo SOS) to pick from. (6)(15) One of the chosen ones was King Caesar, the guardian of Okinawa from Kitamura's beloved Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla. Wataru's draft was then handed over to one of Kitamura's scribes, Isao Kiriyama (Alive, Azumi, Sky High). Kiriyama's additions were largely doctoring the characters and dialog to fit Kitamura's vision. (12)The new script called on suit designer Shinichi Wakasa to provide fourteen monsters. Shinji Nishikawa, who had designed Godzilla Jr. and “Kiryu” (the 2002 MechaGodzilla) designed the vast majority. (16) Kitamura brought in renown designers Katsuya Tereda (Blood: The Last Vampire ) to draft Monster X and Yasushi Nirasawa (Kamen Rider franchise) redesigned Gigan. Despite the many overhauls made to classic beasts, the only monster without a new design on paper was the title monster himself. “That was my company's creation,” Wakasa confirmed. “I thought of the Heisei Godzilla, and Mosugoji, and the '54 Godzilla. I think the new suit is a very good mix of them all.”
Because of the high volume of creature-creation, Wakasa's company, Monsters Inc., was unable to handle every kaiju. His staff handled Godzilla, Rodan, Anguirus, Minilla, Monster X and updated the Mothra prop from Tokyo SOS. The popular company Cinq Art took on the task of Ebirah, Kumonga and Kamakiras, while Star Train handled Gigan and Hedorah. The American Godzilla, now rebranded as “Zilla”, would be entirely CGI. Unfortunately, the tight budget, lack of time and newly slimmed down suit designs meant there was no room for animatronic innovation. The expressive Godzilla from GMK and Tokyo SOS would not make an appearance in this film. (17)March 3rd, 2004 brought news that the officially titled Godzilla: Final Wars would drop on December 11th of that year. (Though it would be bumped up a week early.) (18) Principle photography began in May on location in Sydney, Australia. (19) Shooting would continue through late August with more location moves to New York, Paris and Shanghai. (20) July's highly publicized Shanghai shoot required a staggering 200+ extras. (25) As the only Toho production to shoot in non-Asian territories, Kitamura was handed $20 million to complete the final war. It was the most expensive Toho film to date—And it was largely squandered. The massive budget allowed four production teams to work on the film: Live action (dramatic scenes with actors), location shooting (overseas) and two effects units. (21)
Eiichi Asada proved to be a competent, perhaps even masterful craftsman with Godzilla: Tokyo SOS. However, he would be given little room to improve on Final Wars. With much of the budget increase split across different teams, particularly the expensive costs for overseas shooting, Asada would be fighting to merely complete his material. (22) It's interesting that some of the best shots in the film are directly lifted from Tokyo SOS. For example, when Gigan is defeated by Mothra at the film's climax his chainsaw arms crash into the ground identically to Kiryu's ejected wrist cannons. The shot is so similar that it's impossible not to capture the same sense of mass from Tokyo SOS. Alternatively, much of the kaiju action is void of that same sense of weight. Godzilla suit actor Tsutomu Kitigawa choreographed much of the monster fights and was even credited as a “suit action advisor.” Capturing Kitagawa's wild stunts, which included Godzilla leaping like a soccer goalie, proved to be difficult for Asada to shoot convincingly. (23)As the year went on other outside-studio talent was invited to join Godzilla's half-century birthday bash. Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer was approached by Kitamura to do the score after attending his concerts. “I was only too honored to be invited to contribute music to such a legendary iconic character,” said Emerson, who was only given two weeks to write the score. (24) Much of his material was passed in favor of Kitamura's regular composer, and high school friend, Nobuhiko Morino (Versus). Daisuke Yano (Alive) also contributed music--Specifically Godzilla's new theme. Canadian punk-rock band Sum41 was given high billing for the brief inclusion of their latest single, “We're All to Blame,” off the 2004 album, Chuck. And title designer Kyle Cooper, known for the opening titles in Se7en (1995), Spider-Man (2002) and the Metal Gear Solid video game series, was courted to open Final Wars. Cooper would return to the franchise in 2014 to design the titles for Legendary's Godzilla.
On August 14th, a Toho newsletter seemingly confirmed that Godzilla: Final Wars would premiere in America. (26) This and other events were later confirmed as the King of the Monsters was to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (6) It was hard not to give in to the hype around Final Wars—The celebration of Godzilla's 50th was treated with such momentous gravitas that it was nearly impossible to pay attention to all the red flags.The film made its world premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, California, November 29th, 2004. (6) Immediately after the dream was over. Critical reaction was largely negative and fan reaction wasn't much better. Soon it would have to contend with Japanese audiences and the result wouldn't be in Toho's favor.
Kitamura no doubt believed he knocked Godzilla: Final Wars out of the park. He intentionally created a movie void of substance--Feeling Godzilla shouldn't be about metaphors and cultural relevance, he focused on high octane adrenaline to pound the screen into submission. Said action feels tacky and self-indulgent, as Godzilla's “final war” involves more martial arts action (a staple of Kitamura's films) than monsters waging war.The movie only superficially feels like an ode to classic Toho tokusatsu. The truth is that variables like the Gotengo, Gorath and the people of Planet X (“Xillians”) are merely vague references to better days, not tributes. In a strange defense the movie could be looked at as a satire on the entire genre, but if that were really the case, what is it satirizing? The movie is filled to the brim with unconvincing, over-the-top monster battles, poor acting, massive plot holes, uneven special effects and even bad dubbing on Toho's part. (A looped scene with a New York police officer, shot in Sydney, Australia, poorly covered some explicit language uttered on-set.) If taking all of the franchise's weaknesses and poking fun at them is Kitamura's idea of what Godzilla movies should be then Final Wars falls prey to a western cliché: The entire series is dismissive dreck.
Whereas Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin (Godzilla ) maimed the Godzilla character, Kitamura seemed to have spite for the modus operandi of the Godzilla film. Re-envisioning a Godzilla movie as an action picture is fine, draining it of all substantial worth in a bid to create the “greatest” film in the series shows a lack of understanding. Inadvertent or not, such disdain for Godzilla, especially on the 50th anniversary, was not unnoticed. “I personally get a feeling of contempt for both the character and the audience from his [Kitamura] work on Godzilla: Final Wars,” historian Ed Godziszewski stated. “Instead of a celebration of the character and a grand send-off for the 50th anniversary, what we got was a self-indulgent, Matrix-wannabe 'action' film that seemed to begrudgingly include giant monsters.” (11)After all the noise Toho and Tomiyama had drummed up for Godzilla's grand exit, Godzilla: Final Wars ended with a whimper. The film was crushed at the box office by Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle and it became the Millennium series' biggest flop. (6) Pulling in barely more than half of its budget, Godzilla: Final Wars only sold one million tickets--It remains the third least attended Godzilla movie in history, only beating Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) by a mere 20,000 tickets. (27) Although Toho was hopeful that an American theatrical release might inflate that number, an agreement could not be met. (6)
Kitamura would move to America in a failed attempt to jump start his Hollywood career. He continues to make motion pictures in Japan having recently adapted the popular anime Lupin III to live action. Shogo Tomiyama continued to produce films as President of Toho until March 31st, 2010. (30) Various crew members of the Millennium Godzilla series would move on to other tokusatsu productions, particularly Ultraman.An era had come to an unceremonious end. Toho, showing they were serious about Final Wars being the last Godzilla movie, got rid of the “Big Pool” used for water scenes. (6) Godzilla was over, the art of tokusatsu was dying and Japan was feeling daikaiju fatigue. Still, Shogo Tomiyama was hopeful about the future. “As long as Godzilla keeps [entertaining] people, Godzilla will be resurrected by a new generation of filmmakers in the future.” He was right, almost immediately there was movement on that front.
Yoshimitsu Banno, director of Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), was given the okay by Toho to create his own Godzilla film--However, they refused to fund his project. Banno's unmade Godzilla 3D to the Max was envisioned as a 40 minute feature with effects by Eiichi Asada. The story was to have ties with September 11th and Godzilla was to fight a new foe named Deathla. (29) Banno's persistence to get the movie made eventually led him to Legendary Pictures. Legendary wasn't interested in his movie, but they were struck by the possibility of producing their own. As they say, the rest is history.The Millennium era may not be the most graceful representation of Godzilla movies, but it's fascinating to watch it struggle for a quality it never quite achieves. While the Heisei films were a success for finding its niche and repeating the same formula over and over, the redundancy aged poorly. The failure of the Millennium Series is more interesting due to its shuffling of ideas and creative teams, regardless of how derivative they became.
Its place in the Godzilla fandom is a unique anomaly—The byproduct of Hollywood disappointment. The irony is that although fans got their iconic monster back, it only shined in a handful of cases throughout the 2000s. Perhaps, for some, it was enough merely to have the recognizable King of the Monsters back. Others would have to look ahead for something more to chew on...
1) Monster Zero – Toho Plans 50th Anniversary Film
2) Exisle.net - Shogo Tomiyama Interview, via Henshin.com
3) Toho Kingdom, Kiryu and Godzilla: dead or alive?, from member kpa (Keith Aiken of SciFi Japan)
4) SciFi Japan TV Ep. 27 – Tokyo SOS Director EXTRA
5) Madman Entertainment – Ryuhei Kitamura Interview
6) A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series, 2nd Edition - David Kalat
7) Otaku USA – Ryuhei Kitamura Interview: Directing with Napalm
8) SuperHeroHype – Exclusive: Azumi Director Ryuhei Kitamura
9) The Good, The Bad and the Godzilla - Book on Godzilla's Heroic Years: 1969-1975 "Godzilla 'Toho Champion Matsuri' Perfection
10) Tokusatsu Network – The Tokusatsu Network Interviews ‘Godzilla: Final Wars’ Director, Ryuhei Kitamura
11) Toho Kingdom – Ed Godziszewski Interview
12) Vantage Point Interviews - Godzilla's Screenwriter! Wataru Mimura on His Career Writing for the Big G!
13) USA Today - After 50 years, Godzilla is taking a break
14) Henshin!Online – Godzilla Final Wars Interviews: Ryuhei Kitamura...Times Two
15) Henshin!Online – Interview: Shogo Tomiyama Godzilla Final Wars
16) Shinji Nishikawa Interview
17) Henshin!Online – Godzilla: Final Wars Interview Shinichi Wakasa
18) Monster Zero News – It's Official Godzilla Final Wars
19) Monster Zero News – Principle Filming Begins
20) Monster Zero News – A Few More Items on Godzilla Final Wars
21) Henshin!Online – Let the Battle Begin! (Toho Unveils Secrets of Godzilla: Final Wars)
22) Toho Kingdom – Godzilla: Final Wars Review (by Anthony Romero)
23) IMDb – Godzilla: Final Wars
24) Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker - Keith Emerson Interview
25) Monster Zero News – GFW Films in Shanghai!
26) Monster Zero.us - US Premiere for GFW?
27) World of KJ, Japanese Box Office, from member Corpse, sourced from Kogyutsushin
28) Hollywood Gothique - Godzilla Invades Hollywood
29) Henshin!Online – Godzilla 3D to the Max
30) Toho Kingdom – Shogo Tomiyama Bio
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