(Author's Note: This piece was originally supposed to be published on the film's anniversary, December 9, 2015. However, news about Godzilla Resurgence broke and we felt it best to put this on the backburner. With the Holiday Season there was more time to expand on the article. It's pushed others back as well, but I hope you enjoy this one and discover something new.)
December 9th, twenty years ago, Toho released a film that marked the end of an era. Initially seen as the final Toho Godzilla entry, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) quickly became a fan favorite and is still no mere footnote—It is a pivotal transition for the franchise that many fans praise as one of the best in the series.
It's worth noting, however, that Godzilla vs. Destoroyah was never truly intended to be the final Godzilla film. Although Godzilla's “death” received stateside attention on The New York Times' front page and CNN, Toho was merely sending their Godzilla into hibernation while Hollywood produced their version. (4) "After TriStar's Godzilla is released, an entirely new Godzilla will be created by Toho," (1) said the late Koichi Kawakita, special effects director of the series from Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) through Destoroyah.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Arguably the roots of Godzilla's death began during the production of Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla. (1994) While on-set, Godzilla suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma suggested to Kawakita, "I think it would be good for us to stop soon.” The special effects guru agreed and felt the next production should have a larger impact on the audience. (2) Thus he decided that the “Heisei” Godzilla's life should come to an end. (8)
Initially, producer Shogo Tomiyama wanted to kill off the Monster King through a rematch with King Kong, but Toho couldn't justify the price for the western beast. Instead Kong's mechanical doppelganger was considered. Mechani-Kong, from the 1967 Ishiro Honda adventure King Kong Escapes, would be “rebooted” as another G-Force mecha gimmicked with the ability to inject soldiers inside Godzilla's body. The Fantastic Voyage (1966) throwback was to pit characters against bizarre anti-bodies within Godzilla, but the concept fell through with Mechani-Kong's name and image being too closely linked to the real deal. Toho simply could not afford to pit Godzilla against his old rival. (6)
Instead Tomiyama approached Kazuki Omori to write the screenplay for Godzilla's demise. Omori had previously written and directed Godzilla vs. Biollante and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991). He also wrote the screenplay for director Takao Okawara's, Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), the highest grossing movie in the Toho produced series (unadjusted) and the #1 Japanese film of the domestic box office in 1993. (5) (Following Godzilla vs. Mothra's success, Okawara helmed Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla. ) For Godzilla's 1995 outing Omori came up with a story treatment remembered as Godzilla vs. Godzilla. Okawara recalled,
“Godzilla's ghost was going to appear about forty years after Godzilla was killed by the Oxygen Destroyer. The ghost gradually was going to materialize into Godzilla, and then that Godzilla was going to do battle with the [Heisei] Godzilla seen in the last few Godzilla films.” (3)
The idea was scrapped since Godzilla had fought variations of himself in the previous two films. (Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla and Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla) Godzilla fighting the repeatedly scrapped Bagan was also tossed around, but it didn't get very far. (3) Instead Toho would create an all new monster that, like Godzilla vs. Godzilla, would tie into the Monster King's past.
Omori worked with Tomiyama on an early story outline; two drafts were submitted before delivering a final by the end of May, 1995. Kawakita and Okawara would contribute ideas, with the former suggesting Destoroyah should evolve through multiple forms. Meanwhile, Okawara made changes to the Hong Kong opening and metropolitan police vs. Destoroyah(s) scene--Specifically, he added Yukari Yamane's unfortunate encounter with an “aggregate” Destoroyah. In an attempt to make the climax more “jarring” Okawara also decided to strand Miki Saegusa and Meru Ozawa near the Haneda Airport battleground after Destoroyah obliterated their chopper. (3)
The final battle between Godzilla and Destoroyah was supposed to take place at the 1996 World City Expo. (3) The $2.35 billion urban development project was okayed in 1990. However, in late May, 1995, Governor Yukio Aoshima pumped the breaks on it--Considering a misuse of taxpayer money. Refunding advanced tickets and sponsors cost Tokyo over $67 million, but it was cheaper than completing the project which had already siphoned $249 million from the city. (7)
Regardless, Toho was pressured to set the final battle at the derelict location which was even cited on-screen as "troubled". Empty buildings and unused shopping centers served as the backdrop for the police's war with the Destoroyahs. Godzilla's final battle was simply changed to the neighboring Haneda Airport before detouring to the district's waterfront. Somewhat callously, Tokyo used Godzilla's death as publicity for the abandoned World City Expo location and went as far as holding a Godzilla film festival there to promote Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. (4)(6)
On July 15, 1995, with principle photography underway, Tomiyama announced to the world that the next Godzilla film would be the last. The slew of publicity this brought was bolstered by the less-than-subtle poster tagline, “Godzilla Dies.” (4) While Tomiyama weathered fan letters from children begging Toho not to kill Godzilla, directors Takao Okawara and Koichi Kawakita were in the middle of a rigorous schedule. (8)
THOSE WHO PLAY WITH MONSTERS
Okawara's dramatic footage was completed in almost two months with little to no improvisation. “I tried to stick to the screenplay as much as possible,” said Okawara. The director largely shot on sound stages and indoors, Omaezaki being a notable exception. (The beach where Godzilla Junior surfaces.) Additionally, Okawara was allowed to choose his own cast to play the next generation of the Yamane family. (3)
Yoko Ishino took on female lead Yukari Yamane, the niece of Emiko Yamane from Godzilla (1954). Younger sister of the popular singer Mako Ishino, Yoko also started her career in pop music. (Which lead to an odd circumstance regarding a popular arcade game based on her debut hit, Teddy Boy Blues. Ishino makes an 8-bit appearance in it.) (9)(10) Ishino began her acting career in the late 1980s, debuting with a small part in Daiei's sci-fi thriller Tokyo Blackout (1987).
Opposite of Ishino, film/television star, and wine connoisseur, Takuro Tatsumi portrayed Dr. Kensaki Ijuin--The inventor of the Oxygen Destroyer's successor, micro-oxygen. Working in television and film since the late 1980s, he recently indulged in his great passion hosting the series Wine Romanticism. (11)(12)
Yukari's younger brother, Kenichi Yamane, is played by Yasumfumi Hayashi. Winner of the 1993 Japanese Academy Prize's Best Newcomer Award for his performance in The Rocking Horsemen (1992), Hayashi started his career with voice work the early 1980s. (13) He continues to have a fruitful career and is a favorite of legendary, experimental film director Nobuhiko Obayashi's later titles.
Megumi Odaka returned as the “Heisei” series' psuedo-lead and telepathic, kaiju sympathizer Miki Seagusa. This would be Odaka's sixth and final Godzilla movie before pursuing a stage career cut short by deteriorating health issues. (According to Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah co-star Robert Scott Field she is feeling better today and may return to acting in some capacity.)
Akira Nakano's Commander Takaki Aso graces the screen for a third and final time in the series. Nakano would later be seen in Godzilla x MechaGodzilla (2002) and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003) as Prime Minister Hayato Igarashi. He also cameos as the original “Gotengo Commander” in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). Sayaka Osawa returns to the series as a new character, Meru Ozawa. Osawa previously appeared in Godzilla vs. Mothra '92 and Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla as one of the Cosmos. She also played a minor part in Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla '93.
Another notable return is Saburo Shinoda as Professor Fukazawa from Godzilla vs. Mothra '92. The actor has a long history of working in tokusatsu outside of his two Godzilla appearances. In Silver Kamen (1971) he played one of the title character's many brothers. He also made a small appearance in Ultraman Ace (1972) before landing the lead role in Ultraman Taro (1973).
Masahiro Takashima, winner of multiple awards for 1987's Totto Channel and Bu su, makes his second appearance in the Godzilla series. (13) Although fans know him best as Garuda pilot Kazuma Aoki, from Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla '93, here he plays the returning character Major Sho Kuroki. Kuroki was originally portrayed by Masahiro's younger brother, Masanobu Takashima, in Godzilla vs. Biollante. The brothers were practically born into the Godzilla series—Their father, Tadao Takashima, starred in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Son of Godzilla (1967) and other tokusatsu from the Golden Age of Japanese cinema.
Arguably the most significant homecoming is Momoko Kochi who played Emiko Yamane in the original Godzilla. Reprising her role after forty-one years, Kochi admitted to being reluctant to return,
After the first Godzilla movie people pointed at me, saying, 'Godzilla, Godzilla.' As a young woman I hated Godzilla, so I thought, 'no more Godzilla for me.' But forty-one years later I watched the film again and realized how great it was for its anti-nuclear theme.(6)
It was Tomiyama's idea to bring Kochi back, but it was Omori who added hints of isolation to her character. "[He] came up with the idea that Emiko did not marry Ogata because she was so upset by the death of Dr. Serizawa," recalled Okawara,
I worked with her for only one day. Actors and actresses of her generation were very well trained, so I was very impressed by her. I remember that Ms. Kochi was the one who suggested that the Oxygen Destroyer be referred to not as a 'weapon', but instead as an 'invention'...(3)
MAKING MONSTERS & MELTING THEM DOWN
Okawara shot the dramatic footage as well as the effects heavy metropolitan police/Destoroyah confrontation which has long been compared to the marine/xenomorph battle in Aliens (1986). The director admitted he was okay with the scene being evocative of James Cameron's film, believing a conflict with the aggregate Destoroyahs would remind audiences of the movie regardless. (3) Meanwhile, Kawakita and his team completed the special effects footage in three months. Nearly six weeks were used to build miniature sets and another week was spent on location in Hong Kong. “We shot during the day, but used a filter to make it seem that the footage was shot at night,” he explained. (1) The footage was used for the opening titles where a “burning” Godzilla rampages through the Pearl of the Orient.
Because the latest Godzilla series had failed to garner immediate interest overseas, Toho decided to cut Kawakita's special effects budget, leading to some peculiar innovations. Bandai Destoroyah figures were used in brief, albeit noticeable, shots featuring its aggregate form. Already fighting budget cuts, theft impeded on the production for days and as a result a Destoroyah and Godzilla Junior prop, "were never recovered." (1)
All of Destoroyah's forms were designed by Minoru Yoshida, infamously known for co-writing the abandoned Godzilla vs. Gigamoth project and praised for his "Super Godzilla" design in the Super Nintendo title of the same name. Yoshida also altered the design for SpaceGodzilla with Shinji Nishikawa, who had envisioned Biollante's final form in 1989. (14) The Destoroyah suit was created by Shinichi Wakasa who previously built the Rodan puppet (for Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla '93) and SpaceGodzilla costume. Wakasa would be best remembered for the "Miregoji" Godzilla suit seen in Godzilla 2000 (1999). He also worked on monsters seen in Godzilla: Final Wars, and Rebirth of Mothra trilogy (1995-99). The final connection between SpaceGodzilla and Destoroyah would be stuntman Ryo Hariya, who suited up as both adversaries.
For Destoroyah, Shinji Nishikawa also designed the MB 96 Tank (initially conceived for the cancelled Mothra vs. Bagan) and the Super X-III. The latter was characterized as "bat-shapped", thus it was based on a Northrop "flying wing". (14) Nishikawa also returned to update his Baby Godzilla design into the pivotal Godzilla Junior. (1) The son of Godzilla would be played by Hurrican Ryu whom previously played a younger version of the character in MechaGodzilla '93. (Ryu also locked claws against Godzilla as King Ghidorah and Battra in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah and Godzilla vs. Mothra '92, respectively.)
Kawakita had originally wanted Godzilla's entire body to glow red and white, but experiments with paint and tape came up short of expectation. Instead, the main Godzilla suit was an extensively modified version of the 1994 costume ("Mogegoji") used for Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla. Roughly two hundred orange light bulbs were placed inside the suit to make specific areas of his body glow. Transparent vinyl, created to look like Godzilla's chest, torso, thighs and shoulders, covered the bulbs as luminescent skin. (1)
It was also Kawakita's choice to have steam coming from Godzilla; this was accomplished by pumping carbon monoxide gas out of the suit. (1) The technique proved hazardous to stunt performer Kenpachiro Satsuma, who was returning for his seventh and final outing as the King of the Monsters. “The suit only had 12 very small holes to allow me to inhale air. When they used the gas, I'd inhale that and faint,” recalls Satsuma. (4) “I fainted four times during the first day of filming…I wasn't warned about the carbon monoxide, so I wasn't wearing an oxygen mask.” (2)
Satsuma would don two separate Godzilla costumes under these conditions: The altered 1994 suit (re-christened, “Desugoji”) and a partial suit, made from the 1993 Radogoji costume, for water scenes. Additionally, an animatronic head was used for close-ups. (1)
The suit was eventually damaged by the paraffin and liquid nitrogen used to illustrate the effects of Super-X III's “freeze laser.” “We knew that it would [damage the costume],” Kawakita acknowledged, “so we shot the Super X-III vs. Godzilla sequence last.” (1)
Although Okawara claims he stuck to the script, cutting only minor bits of the dramatic footage, Kawakita had a great deal of unused special effects shots. (1)(3) Various shots of the Hong Kong attack were dropped and Destoroyah's chest beam was cut as well. Originally, Godzilla defeated Destoroyah as he was melting down, but Kawakita and his crew felt it didn't have enough impact. Thus, they shortened Destoroyah's initial death and hastily killed it off before Godzilla's demise. (1) This explains the jarring cut where Godzilla looks like he's already been hit by the freezing weapons before he reaches critical mass. (You can view Kyle Gilmore's sound edited versions of the deleted material below.)
In the mean time let us know what you think of Godzilla vs. Destoroyah in the comments below. And make sure you review it on the site by clicking here.
1) Koichi Kawakita Interview
2) Ken Satsuma Interview
3) Takao Okawara Interview
4) Japan's Favorite Monstar – Steve Ryfle
5) Japanese Box Office Charts for 1993
6) A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series – David Kalat
7) Tokyo Goveror Kills World City Project
8) Shogo Tomiyama Interview
10) Japanese Movie Database
11) Tatsumi's Wine Romanticism
12) Destination NSW
13) Celebs by New Comer of the Year
14) Shinji Nishikawa Interview
15) Akira Ifukube Interview
16) Japanese Box Office Charts for 1996
17) Toho Kingdom
18) Reactor Accident in Japan Imperils Energy Program
19) Japan Shuts Down Last Working Reactor
20) Four Years After Fukushima Japan Makes a Return to Nuclear Power
21) Godzilla vs. Destoroyah VHS
22) Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla/Godzilla vs. Destoroyah Double Feature DVD
23) Godzilla vs. Destoroyah/Godzilla x Megaguirus Blu-ray
24) Japanese Fans Pick Godzilla vs. Biollante...
25) Ranking of Godzilla Films from Godzilla's 61st...
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