RETURN OF ROBOGODZILLA or Godzilla versus the Law of Diminishing Returns - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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RETURN OF ROBOGODZILLA or Godzilla versus the Law of Diminishing Returns

Gordon Hopkins discovers something under the sea.
The Shōwa era of Japanese history refers to the reign of Emperor Shōwa, better know to Americans by his personal name, Hirohito. It covers a period of time from December 25, 1926 until his death on January 7, 1989. Therefore, the first cycle of Godzilla movies, which ran during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, are usually called the Shōwa era.

The mid seventies saw drastic changes both to the world at large and to the world of film. Two films in particular made certain that the 15th Godzilla movie would be the last of the franchise, at least for a while.

The first was Toho Studios' Submersion of Japan (1973), a science fiction disaster movie that featured no kaiju at all. The title is the plot. A disaster movie not unlike one of “Master of Disaster” Irwin Allen's epics, the film is significant to the Godzilla series for two very important reasons. First, it showed the terrible human cost in a way that most Godzilla movies almost always failed to do, thereby further emphasizing already glaring flaws and exposing the increasingly improbable scnearios almost impossible to take seriously. Second, the movie was a huge success and highlighted a possible change in direction for Toho Studios.

Roger Corman released a butchered version of the film under the title, Tidal Wave (1975), with additional footage of Lorne Greene and other American actors plugged into the plot, a la Raymond Burr into Gojira.

In an attempt to save the series, filmmakers decided to take the next movie into a darker, less child friendly direction. The movie they made was Mechagodzilla's Counterattack (1975), a direct sequel to Godzilla versus Mechagodzilla. Despite being a direct sequel, adherence to continuity was still pretty loose. The opening of the film consists of a ten-minute recap, not just of the previous film, but Godzilla's history. Strangely, the aliens shown in the recap are not the ape-faced aliens from Godzilla versus Mechagodzilla but the silver-suited aliens from Invasion of the Astro-Monster/Monster Zero (1965). Even more confusing, later in the movie, when one of the alien's mask comes off, the face underneath isn't one of the ape-aliens but a wrinkled, mutated...actually, I'm not sure what 's supposed to be.

Anyway, the movie opens with a submarine searching for the remains of Mechagodzilla. Instead, it finds, and is attacked by, a completely new monster, Titanosaurus.
Moving away from the goofy monsters of the last few movies, Titanosaurus is actually a pretty nifty design. A colorful, undersea, long-necked dinosaur with fins, it bears a passing resemblance to the giant seahorse Aquaman rode in the opening credits of Superfriends, for those who remember Saturday morning cartoons of the seventies.

In a nice bit of camera work, the director pointed the camera up from sea level when Titanosaurus breaks the surface of the water, giving the impression of great height. When I first saw this scene, I couldn't help but wonder why this obvious camera trick was not used more often in the series, given that these were movies about giant monsters.

The existence of Titanosaurus was first postulated by the somewhat unhinged Dr. Mafune. When he revealed his theory to his colleagues, they refused to take him seriously. Dr. Mafune did not take this rejection well, At one point, there is a picture of Dr. Mafune being restrained by his fellow scientists after presumably going on a rampage.

Maybe old Mafune had a point. In a world that already has various giant monsters, dinosaurs, three-headed dragons, a giant cockroach with drills bits for hands and a giant moth, why would they dismiss the whole notion of an undersea-dwelling dinosaur living in the modern age out of hand?

Anyway, in classic mad-doctor style, Dr. Majune vows revenge on the world that refused to take his work seriously. He finds allies in the aliens that want to take over the world.

Mafune has developed a way to control Titanosaurus and also helps the aliens rebuild Mechagodzilla. Actually, I kind of wonder why Mafune even needed the aliens' help. He seemed perfectly capable of doing all this on his own.

With Shinichi Sekizawa no longer writing, Toho held a company-wide contest for a new screenwriter. The winner was Yukiko Takayama. One of the things that makes this a significant Godzilla movie is that it is the first with a female scriptwriter. As far as I can tell, this is the only movie in the series until that time that a woman has had any major input, creatively, into a Godzilla movie in any capacity at all.

Lets be honest here. Women characters have not often fared well in these things. Most human women are homemakers or assistants, there only to be rescued or to provide support to the male characters. Here, much of the movie is told largely from the point of view of Dr. Mafune's daughter, Katsura.
As I have noted previously, the only females who get to have significant roles in moving the plots forward tend to be non-human. That trend doesn't change here. It seems Katsura was accidentally electrocuted during one of her father's experiments and the aliens resurrected her as a cyborg.

She may be part machine but Katsura is by far the most interesting character in the movie. She is the only one who gets any real character development and gets to show any real pathos. She is torn between her loyalty to her father and her love for the ostensible hero of the movie, marine biologist Akira Ichinose. (Even as a cyborg, she's too good for him.)

So the aliens and Dr. Mafune once again let monsters loose on an unprepared world. The aliens want to use the monster as part of their plan to conquer the Earth. Mafune is just interested in destruction as revenge, so the aliens' plans only interest him insofar as they will lead to chaos and death.

So it is up to Godzilla to defeat the monsters while humans and aliens battle at ground level.
The American Version: I said there were two movies that doomed the original Godzilla franchise. Mechagodzilla's Counterattack was not released in the U.S., under the title, Terror of Mechagodzilla, until 1977, the same year as another genre movie you may have heard of, Star Wars. That movie, of course, changed everything about how movies were made, marketed and distributed.

Terror of Mechagodzilla required quite a few cuts to garner the “G” rating needed for the kiddie matinees that most Godzilla movies were relegated to in the seventies. In an attempted to make a darker, more mature Godzilla movie, the filmmakers included quite a bit of graphic violence and, surprisingly, nudity. In the original Japanese version, the audience gets a pretty good view of Katsura's “accessories” while lying on an operating table, being modified by the aliens.

The Denouement: Like in the previous film, Godzilla rips off Mechagodzilla's head. Only, this time it doesn't stop the mechanical brute because its brain is not in its head. Instead, the aliens have implanted Mechagodzilla's controler inside Katsura, who sacrifices herself to same humanity and, of course, her true love.

Watching this film, I couldn't help but remember the proposed but never filmed sequel, Bride of Godzilla, which shared several elements, including the mad doctor, a robot version of his beautiful daughter and the weapon implanted in said robotic daughter. Is it possible screenwriter Takayama was familiar with this earlier treatment?

The Odds: I've already covered the likelihood Mechagodzilla will return (very likely). But what about Titanosaurus? Well, to be honest, while the design of the creature is great, it is still just another dinosaur with nothing that makes it stand out and nothing really memorable about it. It may show up in another flick when the filmmakers need a whole bunch of monsters but, otherwise, I can't see any reason to bring it back. I'm going to make the odds 20 to 1 against.

Trivia: Yukiko Takayama wrote a sequel of sorts to Terror of Mechagodzilla, a novella entitled 2075: Meister Titano's Counterattack, published in 2016. Having never read it (though I would certainly like to), I cannot comment further beyond simply noting its existence.

Read all of Gordon Hopkins previous Godzilla articles here.

Gordon Hopkins is an award winning reporter and columnist for The Fairbury Journal-News, a 130-year-old newspaper in Jefferson County, Nebraska (He hasn't been working there that entire time.) He has also written a couple of crime novels (“Fraudsters” and the best-selling “Broken”) and edited a few non-fiction books.

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