GODZILLA VERSUS BIOLLANTE or A Rose by Any Other Name - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Gordon Hopkins smells sweet.
The reign of Emperor Shōwa, better know to Americans by his personal name, Hirohito, ended with his death on January 7, 1989. Therefore, the first cycle of Godzilla movies, which ran during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, is usually referred to as the Shōwa era. Hirohito was posthumously renamed Emperor Shōwa, as is the custom in Japan.

The next era, for both Japan and Godzilla, was the Heisie era, when Hirohito's son, Akihito, acceded to the throne on January 8, 1989 as the 125th Emperor of Japan, and continuing until his abdication on April 30, 2019.

Heisei is translated as “peace everywhere.”

Technically speaking, The Return of Godzilla (1985) occurred during the Shōwa period. Still, that film clearly marks the beginning of a new phase in Godzilla's cinematic life, plus the next film, Godzilla versus Biollante (1989), is a direct sequel. Therefore, The Return of Godzilla is generally included in the Heisei period.

In fact, the film literally picks up right where the previous movie left off, with Tokyo in ruins. This time, we see something often left out of not only Godzilla movies but pretty much any disaster movie. We see people cleaning up the mess left behind.

Among the debris a few cells of Godzilla are discovered. Almost immediately, this sets off a string of international incidents as first American and then Middle Eastern agents start gunning people down in the streets to obtain the cells.

So what makes a few scrapings from Godzilla's scales so valuable, anyway? Well according to Dr. Genshiro Shiragami, since Godzilla feeds on radioactive material, as established in the previous film, his body is somehow able to digest radiation. Therefore, in the same way that scientists have created bacteria that feed on oil, used to clean up oil spills, a bacteria could, theoretically, be created that feeds on radioactive waste.

Wait! That actually makes sense.

The cells are acquired by the generic Middle Eastern Country of Sauradia and Dr. Shiragami is recruited to use those cells to create plant life that can thrive in the desert. It seems the leaders of Sauradia are worried about what will happen to their country once their oil runs out and hope to turn their desert land into a fertile paradise that is not dependent on oil revenue. The very acknowledgment that oil is not an endlessly renewable resource already makes the rules of this fictional country smarter than those running most real countries.

Alas, a terrorist bombing destroys the cells and also kills Dr. Shiragami's lovely daughter, Erika.

We aren't that far into the movie and have already been subjected to a lot of politics. While not everyone is a fan of this film, you must give it credit regardless of where you stand. It is an attempt to do something different with the Godzilla mythos. Godzilla versus Biollante is effectively a Godzilla political thriller.

Dr. Shiragami returns to Japan and combines some of Erika's cells with that of a rose, in a poetic but entirely unscientific attempt to preserve her soul. Meanwhile, the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), convince Shiragami to work on creating the radiation-eating bacteria, in hopes that it can be used as a weapon against Godzilla. Godzilla is nuclear powered so, theoretically, a bacteria that east radiation might subdue or even destroy Godzilla.

Once again, I am totally amazed at how much sense this makes.

Obviously, things go wrong. For no fathomable reason, Shiragami merges some of the Erika/rose hybrid cells with the Godzilla cells. The result: Biollante, a giant killer rose.
Killer plants are the bane of serious science fiction. Mad scientists that create man-eating plants are usually the result of bottom rung writers who don't know how to write science fiction and tend to make the worst episodes of seventies Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoons. (Josie and the Pussycats and Speed Buggy, for example, had killer plant stories). It is telling that the best killer plant movie ever made, Little Shop of Horrors (1986), is played for laughs.

It therefore comes as a great shock to realize the monster, Biollante, actually works. As silly as a concept as it sound, it works. The first version of Biollante is basically, as already stated, a giant rose, possessing long-reaching vines with snapping teeth.

Both a villainous American corporation and a ruthless Sauradian agent are after the remaining Godzilla cells. In a scheme that even Jeff Bezos would balk at (maybe), the American company attempts to blackmail Japan by threatening to release Godzilla, still entombed in a volcano since the previous movie, with a bomb. Japanese authorities agree to hand over the cells but, thanks to the Sauradian agent, the handover goes wrong, the bomb explodes and Godzilla is set free.

Because they are made from the same stuff, Godzilla is drawn to Biollante. The first time they meet, Godzilla dispatches Biollante relatively easily. Biollante later reforms and returns in an altered form, looking like a bush with an alligator's head. This Biollante is a rare kaiju that actually dwarfs Godzilla.

The film is ambitious but a bit of a mish-mosh, as if thew filmmakers wanted to throw everything at the wall to see what stuck. Not all of it works. There is a subplot about a psychic woman who talks to plants, which probably could have been ejected entirely. On the other hand, it does result in two of the more disconcerting moments in the film. First is a classroom of psychic children who were asked to draw a picture of what they dreamed about the night before. Every one drew a picture of Godzilla. The second is the image of the lone woman standing on a pier, facing off against Godzilla and succeeding where the entire Japanese military failed, turning Godzilla away.

It is also an incredibly eighties movie. It couldn't be more eighties if it was Ronald Reagan doing coke with Max Headroom in a Jay McInerny novel. The hair, the music, the wire-frame computer animation. When Biollante is destroyed and later reforms, she is accompanied by a shower of glowing, golden sparkles, a special effect common in eighties fantasy films.

There is no need to discuss an American version here. While The Return of Godzilla did big business in Japan, the Americanized Godzilla 1985 was a flop over here. As a result, there was no widespread U.S. theatrical release. A Godzilla movie wouldn't see American theaters again for many years.

The Denouement: Biollante is destroyed a second time. Once again, glowing sparkles, which are supposed to be spores I guess, float away, revealing an image of Erika in the sky.

Dr. Shiragami succeeds in creating the radiation-eating bacteria and the military uses it on Godzilla. Only, it doesn't work. Shiragami points out that bacteria replicates at a slower rate in lower temperatures and theorizes the bacteria isn't working because Godzilla is cold-blooded. Given that Godzilla is nuclear-powered, I am dubious of this explanation. Nevertheless, a plan is hatched to raise Godzilla's temperature by luring him into a field of microwave-emitting plates that are part of an experimental weather control machine. Amazingly, it actually works...for a while. Godzilla collapses into the ocean, which cools him off and awakens him again. With Biollante destroyed, Godzilla heads back out to sea.

Like Dr. Serizawa decades earlier, Dr. Dr. Shiragami s what could happen if his work should ever fall into the wrong hands. Unlike Serizawa, Shiragami doesn't commit suicide. He is murdered by the same Sauradian agent. Said Agent gets his comeuppance when he tries to escape through the microwave field and is zapped.

The Odds: Could Biollante ever return? Hard to say. This is easily one of the best of the Heisei era, some might say the best, period. Yet, she is so completely different from any of Godzilla's other foes that it is hard to imagine how she could be worked into a modern plot, especially in a U.S. Monsterverse movie. I'm going to play it safe and lay odds at five to one against.

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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