Toho Breaks the Rules in "Godzilla: Final Wars"

The Godzilla Series > Final Wars > Smog Monster

The Captain always oversteps his bounds, taking on any challenge presented - journalistic or otherwise. For example, expiration dates on milk cartons are always padded by at least ten days, his rule of thumb goes.

This week he is battling the "King of Monsters" in what might be the lizard's final movie. Join the Captain, and find out just what Godzilla's breath smells like.

Godzilla has now toppled his last building...well, maybe.

"Our goal was not to create the last Godzilla film, but rather to make the utterly best film. In other words, a film that nobody would be able imitate," said Shogo Tomiyama, producer of Godzilla: Final Wars for Toho Studios, during a recent news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club Japan.

For Toho, "best" means pulling out all the stops in this the latest in a series of films that started fifty years ago and has continued with a revolving cast of monster opponents for the fire-breathing beast to tackle.

"Because this was going to be the last Godzilla film I thought we could break all the rules," said Ryuhei Kitamura, the 35-year old director. "And I think we did so; I think we have created a type of Godzilla film that has never existed before."

It's been a busy past month for the "King of Monsters." Not only was he putting the final touches on Final Wars but found time to stomp on over to Hollywood to see his star set in concrete in the Walk of Fame. Whether he has clawed at Gamera for the last time is still not completely certain. What is clear is that the charm of Toho's unique special effects, which amount to a man plodding around in a rubber suit, and the monster's message for peace will continue to appeal for generations.

This latest feature broke the bank in a number of ways. The 2 billion yen budget is twice that of a typical Godzilla film and seven times the average for a movie in Japan. The number of kaiju (beasts) is unprecedented, with two separate Toho special effects units churning out action from such old hands as the winged Mothra and the web-spewing Kumonga. The 100 days of filming covered the skylines of Sydney, Shanghai, and New York.

Hollywood took the first look at the finished product. After Godzilla's star was set into the Walk of Fame sidewalk three weeks ago, 1,000 passionate fans of the reptile - actually gojira, his proper name in Japanese, is a combination of the words for gorilla and whale - jammed Grauman's Chinese Theater for the world premier.

Kitamura, a relatively young producer working for 67-year old studio whose list of screen gems include The Mysterians and The Attack of the Mushroom People, was honored to have been hired to such a position of prestige: "Until then (the premier), I of course knew intellectually that Godzilla was widely loved and widely recognized in the world. But being in California and seeing first-hand and feeling the passion of the fans, I realized that Godzilla is a superhero that people have come to recognize and place great hopes on."

Final Wars, which opened in Japan earlier this month, begins with Godzilla sealed in Antarctic ice as the world endures widespread pollution and ongoing wars. A group of monsters now roam the planet uninhibited. After the giants begin rampaging some of the world's biggest cities, aliens from Planet X arrive to ostensibly save the earth. But when the aliens' motives turn out to be not as philanthropic as advertised, it is up to Godzilla to rise from his South Pole ice bed to save the day.

As with the general theme conveyed in Godzilla's previous 28 films, the movie warns humankind about its unending push for modernization.

Kitamura sees Godzilla's message over the years as being very simple: "I think when you look back over time at the bad things that people do to each other, that countries do to each other, and that races do to each other you will see that they are pretty much unchanging. Although Godzilla gets his message across in a very strange way, by destroying everything in sight, basically what he is saying is don't hurt other people, don't do bad things.

"I think that people are basically very small beings, and it is because we are small beings that we fight amongst each other. I think, although Godzilla is something we created, in many ways he is much bigger than us. And by looking perhaps at us through his eyes he shows us that we are very small and the things that we are doing are very small."

The 1954 debut Godzilla, which sold 9.61 million tickets (second only to the 12.6 million sold for King Kong vs. Godzilla), sees the scaly beast emerging from the ocean as a result of nuclear testing, a direct allusion to the hydrogen bomb experiments the U.S. had been performing in the South Pacific. One such experiment radiated a Japanese fishing boat, resulting in the hospitalization of all 23 sailors and the eventual death of one.

Two years later the film crossed the Pacific in the form of Godzilla, King of the Monsters, an edited version (dubbed in English) with the nuclear propaganda content removed. In this version, 20 minutes of scenes with Raymond Burr working as reporter Steve Martin was inserted as compensation. This year saw the original Godzilla released in the U.S. for the first time in its uncut form.

One of reasons for the lizard's longevity, Tomiyama said, is due to the charm of an actor being in the rubber suit. With the exception of computer graphics used in the Columbia TriStar-produced, box office failure Godzilla in 1998, the kaiju's tail snaps and foot stomps have always been the result of an actor living inside the latex.

"People say modern technology could be used," Tomiyama explained, "and I understand and respect that kind of thinking but I personally feel that Godzilla comes alive because there is a person inside. That is why Godzilla has this great appeal and is loved throughout the world."

The zip-up outfit (entry behind the removable dorsal fins) is a beast all its own. The 110-pound suit, first implemented by Toho special effects man Eiji Tsuburaya, includes various wiring, a battery, an air canister, peep holes, and a breathing tube in the neck.

"Japan has spent the last 50 years researching and developing this very special technology which is a special effects technology of using people in suits," said Kitamura of Toho's advances, which often sees Godzilla overturning models of train cars or kicking aside toy military tanks. "I said from the beginning I wanted to avoid depending on computer graphics. It's because there is a human being inside that suit that you feel this kind of human energy bursting out.

"Nowadays we have Japanese films that are referred to as 'the Japanese version of Die Hard' or 'the Japanese version of Speed.' In other words Japanese films have had very low goals or aspirations. Of course that is something that disappoints me greatly. This (Toho's technology) is a way for us to kind of fight back, to fight back against Hollywood films that use all this great computer graphic technology, that uses so much money, that has thousands of extras."

Tomiyama is convinced that even if this is Godzilla's swan song, there is a future in special effects for Toho. "I believe that the special effects technology of Toho will be re-recognized throughout the world. I look forward to an era not so far distant where staff from the world over will assemble in Toho's studios to make films with us together."

Godzilla has experienced a screen slumber a number of times before. Most recently it took Toho nine years to follow 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla with The Return of Godzilla.

Tomiyama, though, said that any future adventures with Japanšs monster icon will not come from his current staff and crew. "The next Godzilla film will be something created by perhaps a new generation," he said, "and I will be in the audience to appreciate it."

The Godzilla Series > Final Wars > Smog Monster

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