Combustible Celluloid
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With: Takehiro Murata, Hiroshi Abe, Naomi Nishida, Mayu Suzuki, Shiro Sano
Written by: Hiroshi Kashiwabara, Wataru Mimura
Directed by: Takao Okawara
MPAA Rating: PG for monster violence and mild language
Running Time: 99
Date: 11/06/1999

Godzilla 2000 (1999)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Stomp and Circumstance

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Is there any question in anyone's mind that Godzilla 2000 is superior in every way to Roland Emmerich's 1998 Hollywood version? Just from a quick glimpse at the trailer, we can tell that this new movie is the real thing. Instead of smarmy, overpaid Hollywood actors saying trite dialogue about an expensive and not-entirely-convincing CGI effect, we get horribly dubbed Japanese actors and a guy in a rubber suit (named Tsutomu Kitagawa).

In other words, Godzilla 2000 was made by guys who build monsters in their backyards for fun instead of men in suits who study computer printouts of demographics.

In the new movie, we know what all the rules are in the first two minutes. A subtitle tells us about the "Godzilla Detection Network", a van with a bunch of computer equipment in it. Our heroes, Shinoda (Takehiro Murata), his daughter Io (Mayu Suzuki), and cute photographer Yuki (Naomi Nishida), are waiting for a Godzilla sighting, and--lo and behold--they get one! Godzilla is back and just in time to battle a rock-shaped UFO containing a giant clam monster (called Orga) poised to take over the earth. Of course, we also have the evil corporate stooge (Hiroshe Abe) trying to gain financially while blowing up as much of Tokyo as possible.

Godzilla himself looks as great as ever. His tail swishes around now instead of simply dragging behind. He's occasionally aided by new CGI shots that are easily as cheesy as the rubber suit. And the spikes on his back are bigger and more jagged than ever; plus they glow red when he gets ready to breathe fire. And he smashes lots and lots of miniature sets (which is somehow far more satisfying than in a big-budget movie).

This is not the work of a Japanese master like Yasujiro Ozu or Kenji Mizoguchi. The camera angles are either hilariously inappropriate, or wildly illogical. During the final battle between Godzilla and Orga, which rages all over the city and covers blocks and blocks, our main characters are able to witness the entire thing from their good seats on the rooftop of a single building.

There's more. The translated dialogue is just amazing. I wish I had a copy of the screenplay to show you, but for now I'll stick with these two gems. One character asks: "What are you doing?" Another answers: "Waiting for Godzilla." Was I the only one to notice how this phrase is only a few letters away from Beckett's "Waiting for Godot"? Better still is the closing line, "There's a little Godzilla in all of us." Yes! I left the theater ready to stomp San Francisco in the name of saving humanity.

I was in exactly the right mood for a cheesy movie that knows how to do cheesy right. Godzilla 2000 makes other would-be cheesy movies like Coyote Ugly just look clumsy and safe. In its own way, this is just about the most entertaining film I've seen all year. The proof is that my friend Paul, who I brought with me and is perhaps the world's most discriminating Godzilla fan, loved it.

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