Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003) Movie Review

If familiarity breeds contempt, then kaiju fans ought to feel distain towards Mothra and MechaGodzilla. If appearances in the Godzilla films were frequent flyer miles, the monster pair would have accumulated enough for a round flight trip to Pluto. Despite this unavoidable familiarity, “Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.” co-scripter/director Masaaki Tezuka still manages the impressive feat of delivering an enjoyable film, even though we’ve seen this all before countless times.

Taking place a year after the events of “Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla”, “Godzilla Tokyo S.O.S.” finds the atomic breath lizard hibernating off the coast of Japan while his robotic doppelganger (MechaGodzilla) is parked at a military base in a state of disrepair. The relative quiet ends when Mothra reappears with an ultimatum for mankind: The skeleton of the original Godzilla, now incorporated into MechaGodzilla, must be returned to the sea where it was found. Using the bones is an abomination to nature, the giant moth argues, since life is meant to be lived in the time allowed for it, not reanimated after death. Mothra offers herself as a replacement to defend Japan , but warns that if the skeleton is not returned, she will declare war on the human race.

The government likes this proposal about as much as Metallica likes Napster, and Mothra’s warning goes unheeded. Shortly after, a nuclear sub is destroyed off the coast of Guam , and the carcass of Kamoebas washes ashore, showing signs of a violent death, as well as pointing to the imminent return of Japan ‘s most antisocial resident — Godzilla. When the giant reptile does eventually surface, Mothra arrives to fulfill her promise to defend Japan , and is soon joined in battle by the damaged MechaGodzilla. Japan can only watch and wait, hoping the colossal double act can prevent their country from being smashed into fiery rubble yet again.

On first glance, “Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.” looks like another tired retread of what Toho has been delivering to Kaiju fans for the past several years, but with Tezuka at the helm, the movie nevertheless manages to be more enjoyable than it has any right to be. The pacing is breezy and quickly engages the audience, making for an entertaining 91 minutes. The monster battles are fairly impressive, with frequent close up shots to give us a ringside seat to the carnage.

The creature of the hour, Godzilla, retains his nifty “millennium” look, and has a more expressive face than in previous films. Meanwhile, MechaGodzilla bristles with lethal, state of the art weaponry, and moves with an icy fluid grace. Mothra also has an improved look, with more vibrant colors to make her stand out amid all the carnage and monster action. The series’ special effects have also been given an upgrade, with the uses of matte effects, models, and CGI marking a noticeable improvement over previous entries in the series. “Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.” also has some nice nods to previous Toho films, with the cameo appearance of Kamoebas and the inclusion of Dr. Chujo from “Mothra” adding a sense of continuity that’s been lacking in the Godzilla series

Unfortunately, the majority of the film has been done so many times before that “Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.” feels more like a remake than an original movie. The characters of Mothra and MechaGodzilla are starting to seem like boring relatives that show up at family reunions telling the same stories and bringing the same desserts. No matter how much you make them over, they’re still the same characters, and they behave as they’ve done in earlier films. Hopefully, someone at Toho will realize that it’s more fun to watch a Godzilla film with new monsters than with the same, overused ones.

The main fault with “Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.” lies with the uninspired script by Mashiro Yokotani and director Masaaki Tezuka. The script has some promising ideas, with the concept of MechaGodzilla feeling kinship with its reptilian twin and the notion of the living tampering with the realm of the dead. Unfortunately, those ideas are never fully developed, and are instead introduced at the beginning only to be treated like an afterthought for much of the movie, only to resurface again near film’s end.

A lesser problem is the human cast, most of which are adequate, but predictably never make much of an impression, and seem to exist simply to fill in time between monster appearances. As a result, we’re never really given any reason to pay attention to them. Future writers would be wise to add a little more dimension to the human cast, and not use them to kill time between the movie’s monster battles. Michiru Oshima’s musical score is ineffective, being repetitive and failing to underscore the action onscreen. “Godzilla S.O.S Tokyo” as a whole is like that — well-made, but flawed and forgettable.

Masaaki Tezuka (director) / Masaaki Tezuka, Masahiro Yokotani (screenplay)
CAST: Noboru Kaneko …. Yoshito Chûjo
Miho Yoshioka …. Azusa Kisaragi
Katsuya Onizuka …. Kyosuke Akiba
Koh Takasugi …. Togashi

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