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Godzilla vs. Destoroyah 20 Years Later-Part II: Legacy of a Requiem

Godzilla vs. Destoroyah 20 Years Later-Part II: Legacy of a Requiem
(Author's note: This is Part II of a look back at Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. To read Part I: Making Monsters Meltdown, click here.)

The post-production process was rushed to completion in six weeks. While special effects director Koichi Kawakita worked on editing live action shots with special effects footage, the digital workload was outsourced. (1) Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) featured more CGI than any Godzilla movie before it, taking up to a month to complete. (4) He felt the CG Oxygen Destroyer (seen in the opening credits) and Godzilla's theoretical explosion were the most difficult to nail. (1)  Other notable CG sequences included Godzilla being frozen by the Super X-III and his climactic death. (4)

REQUIEM FOR A KING

One of the most revered artists in the Godzilla series, composer Akira Ifukube would return for his eleventh Godzilla film. (Not including the stock music soundtrack for Godzilla vs. Gigan [1972].) Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (1993) was originally going to be his last--He passed on scoring Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) after reading the script, but felt Destoroyah was more his speed. "When I read the Godzilla vs. Destoroyah script I saw that it was connected thematically to the original Godzilla," Ifukube explained, feeling a sense of duty to score Godzilla's requiem. “I was involved with the birth of Godzilla 40 years before, so I felt I should be there when he dies, too.” (4)

Although Ifukube was writing themes as early as July, he didn't compose the full score until late September and early October. After watching a rough cut the maestro had only four days to compose a full score. Recording sessions took place October 27th and 28th. (15)

Various themes from the original Godzilla would return, such as the main title march, used for Destoroyah's end credits, the Oxygen Destroyer motif and a variation of “Godzilla's Rampage”*. Other returning cues included the military march from War of the Gargantuas (1966), known as 'Operation L', and King Kong's theme from King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). (The latter was used as a bridge during the end credits march.) An original theme was composed for Destoroyah--Ifukube deliberately decided against using the original Oxygen Destroyer motif to underscore the monster. “I used the theme to help express the tragedy of Dr. Serizawa, so it wasn't appropriate for the monster,” explained Ifukube. (14) He felt the same way in relation to Godzilla's death,

I thought of using the same motif…But I thought about the meaning of the two scenes, and I realized that a totally different type of atmosphere was needed. In the original film, Godzilla's death is the resolution of a great tragedy, and it somehow represents hope. But in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, I believe it is more pessimistic.” (4)



The late Ifukube lamented that Godzilla's death was one of the hardest pieces of music he had composed. Starting with a modified motif written for The Big Boss (1959), the piece crescendos into a slow variation of “Godzilla's March.”

In a way, it was as if I was composing the theme for my own death. When Godzilla was born, a phase of my life began. Now Godzilla is gone, and that phase is over. It was very emotional.” (4)

Godzilla vs. Destoroyah would be the final score of Ifukube's career. He passed away almost eleven years later, February 8th, 2006.

BOX OFFICE AFTERMATH

The film was screened for Toho executives on November 17th--By December 5th they had erected a bronze statue in Godzilla's honor. It was clear Ifukube wasn't the only one feeling emotional. Fans would visit the statue and leave offerings--10 to 100 yen coins for his passage to the afterlife. (4)(15) Four days later, December 9th, 1995, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah opened in Japan.

The film was a massive box office success. Pulling in four million attendees, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah raked in an estimated $18 million on an approximated $10 million budget. (4)(6) It was the highest grossing Japanese film for the 1996 calendar year and the most successful Godzilla movie since Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992). (16) Toho had made a definite success of the King of the Monster's death, but it wasn't without immediate backlash. Three days after the movie opened Toho was swamped with over 10,000 letters clamoring for Godzilla's return. (4)(6) Toho responded with a wait-and-see attitude. Spokesperson Hiroshi Ono told fans, “We had to kill him. We're planning to come up with a monster better suited for the 21st century.” (4) Whether Ono was referring to the Millennium Godzilla series or not is uncertain. Regardless, Godzilla's death was slowly being ousted as a hiatus instead of an end. “As long as Godzilla is a star, he could make a comeback,” Tomiyama comforted. (6) Indeed the plan was never for a permanent retirement.

As the movie cashed in at the box office critics were less kind, largely panning the film. “Like the special effects, Omori's screenplay is a mixed bag,” wrote historian Steve Ryfle, critical of the latter half of the film. “The main characters fade into the woodwork or are reduced to mere commentators on the monster action.” (4) By contrast Shusuke Kaneko's Gamera: Guardian of the Universe had been released earlier the same year to both financial and critical success. It was so well liked that it received immediate State-side attention and distribution--Something the 1990s Godzilla films had failed to do. Gamera was hailed as one of the best in the genre, even by North American critics. (4)(6) It had become part of the reason Toho decided to hang up Godzilla's spines and tail. According to film historian David Kalat,

"Toho had been operating under the assumption that the Godzilla series had maxed out its possible Japanese audience and could only hope to maintain that level of popularity by steadily increasing the amount being spent … to 'go Hollywood' and spend even more. The inability to find a Western audience for the Heisei Godzilla movies was chalked up to cultural prejudices. And then came Gamera.” (6)

Off a $4.5 million budget (less than half of what Destoroyah was made for), Gamera: Guardian of the Universe pulled in more than $12 million at the box office. (17)(6) Meanwhile, the Godzilla movies were some of the most expensive in Japan--It was making less and less sense for Toho to be happy with $18 million when they were spending over half that amount to make movies. Additionally, Godzilla merchandise was bringing home $150 million per year. Yearly merchandise would be sustainable, making more money than a new production. (6) Add in Tomiyama's claim that Toho had “run out of ideas” and a hiatus was justified for the sake of rethinking their strategy, both creatively and financially.

THE FALLOUT & THE LEGACY

Although the film may not represent the highest quality or financial reassurance for the series, it does call back Godzilla's anti-nuclear crusade in a variety of ways. Director Okawara put it bluntly, “I want people to look at the death of Godzilla knowing that he was created by nuclear power and the most selfish existence in the world: mankind.” (4) That very power and selfishness caused Godzilla's death in 1995, the fiftieth anniversary year of Hiroshima and Nagasaki's bombing. Exhibits and historians of the time would argue over how necessary it was to use the weapon on Japan. Kalat points out the correlation with the film:

It is no coincidence that the arguments made on behalf of the Oxygen Destroyer against Godzilla parallel the arguments made in the U.S. on behalf of using nuclear bombs in Japan. In both arguments, the awful consequences of the weapon are downplayed as a lesser human cost than if the enemy continues unchecked. In both cases, the end result is a Japanese city devastated by nuclear carnage.” (6)

Kalat also notes that advocates for the Oxygen Destroyer were heavily influenced by America: Kenichi Yamane studied at an American university and Meru Ozawa learned to hone her psychic abilities in the States. (6) Neither regret their stance, even after Godzilla's radioactive mush has contaminated Tokyo. Their attitudes aren't nefarious, merely a different point-of-view. Meanwhile, Emiko Yamane, a representation of those who lived during the war, warns her nephew about the dangers of the Oxygen Destroyer. She's one of the few still alive that witnessed its devastation up close--Her words to Kenichi mirror the arguments for the few remaining Japanese who lived through the bomb.

It is not without irony that Godzilla's end was essentially caused by nuclear proliferation. In a sense his passing could be read as Japan accepting atomic energy and ignoring the warnings he represented. By 1995 Japan had embraced nuclear power, as seen in the many recent Godzilla films—But just as Godzilla's over-absorption of atomic energy came at a high price, so did Japan's. Incidents during the 1990s left the public in a state of unease over nuclear power. On December 8th, 1995 (the day before Godzilla vs. Destoroyah opened) an event occurred at the Monju Nuclear Power Plant. Although no radiation was released, a sodium leak caused a complete reactor shut-down. The Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp. covered up the extent of the damage, causing outrage over how nuclear energy was being managed. (18) After a number of events, notably the Fukishima nuclear disaster, fifty of Japan's reactors were shut down in 2012. (19) As of this article, in a reverse of Godzilla's death by widespread nuclear energy, only one nuclear plant is operational in Japan and the Godzilla series is thriving at both Toho and Hollywood. (20)

Godzilla vs. Destoroyah didn't make it to North America until January 19th, 1999. Released directly to video and poorly dubbed in English, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's version omitted the end credits, cutting the clip show of the Heisei films' better moments. (21) It was given less respect on DVD. Released January 1st, 2002, and paired with Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla on a flipper disc, the release was void of Japanese audio and still missing the full end credits crawl. No extras pertinent to the film were included. (22) It wasn't until Godzilla's 60th Anniversary that Sony finally delivered a worthwhile edition of the film. Released on May 6th, 2014 the two disc Blu-ray set of Destoroyah and Godzilla x Megaguirus (2000) garnered better results. The film included Japanese audio, accurate subtitles (which clarified plot points for fans confused by the dub's dialog), various trailers for the film and the coveted end credits montage. (23)

Regardless of its detractors, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is largely beloved by fans all over the world. In Japan, fans voted it the third best film in the series for Nihon's Godzilla General Election held in 2014. (24) It placed third again during Godzilla's 61st Anniversary Two Day Festival, November, 2015. (25) Although further exploitation of the series may have diminished Destoroyah's climactic impact, it is nonetheless seen as a great end to an era and a film to hold dear. The legacy of Koichi Kawakita is deeply imprinted in the production, as is Godzilla's penchant for stirring anti-nuclear dialog. The film's final shot of a resurrected, cultural metaphor and cinematic icon was initially seen as a fleeting moment of hope. Today it can be read as unbridled truth: Godzilla lives.

Read Godzilla vs. Destoroyah 20 Years Later-Part I: Making Monsters Meltdown
Let us know your thoughts on this 20 year old finale to the Heisei Series. Review Godzilla vs. Destoroyah here.

*Track title acccording to La-La Land Records' Godzilla: 50th Anniversary Edition released August 14, 2004.

--

Sources:

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
9) Otokichi.com
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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1 Fan responses to Godzilla vs. Destoroyah 20 Years Later-Part II: Legacy of a Requiem

Something Real

Jan-17-2016 3:28 PM

GMAN2887 - That was a phenomenal presentation - a perfect follow-up to your first segment! I greatly enjoyed the way in which you laid out each piece of your narrative in such a way as to build up to the final moments in which you state "Godzilla lives". How fantastic! Thank you ever so much for sharing this with us! :)

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